Ghosts, Governesses and Cricket

I was told by a lovely lady in an email that she would really like to see some book recommendations, so: my readers’ wish is my command! Book recommendations it is.

My new disclaimer: I have met Laini Taylor and Maureen Johnson. I have not met Kendare Blake or Y.S. Lee, and the only way I shall meet P.G. Wodehouse is in another world.

Not only have I met Laini Taylor, but I have used her as a prop. In 2009, I was on tour with Scott Westerfeld, and at a festival in Portland they whisked him off to do fancy things. I was alarmed.

SARAH: But… am I to do stuff in front of people… by myself? I mean, I can! But I like… to have a friend…
PUBLICIST: You’re going to do a joint thing with Laini Taylor. She is over there. Her book Lips Touch: Three Times has Goblin Market stuff in it!
SARAH: And her hair! IT IS PINK! Hi–hi new friend! Hi!
LAINI TAYLOR: … Uh. Hey.

Later I read Lips Touch, and it was very clear to me that everyone had devised a cunning plot to make me look bad by making me go onstage with a genius. However I soldiered on! (Always nice to have someone up there saying the intelligent stuff. Let us face it, it is never me.) It was also very clear that Laini Taylor should give up this ‘novellas’ business and write a long YA book, just for me.

And she did! (Probably not… just for me.)

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

On one of my regular daughterly visits to the family homestead, I brought this book to my mamma. My beloved mamma called me about it later.

MOTHER (devoutly): Oh Sarah. It’s so good.
SARAH: I know, right? I knew you’d like it.
MOTHER: I wish you could write like this.
SARAH: Well. Well, me too.

My mother, a straightforward lady! But I knew what she meant: the writing in Daughter of Smoke and Bone is really descriptive and intricate, but clear too, the sentences and the story both beautiful and beautifully intertwining. It’s Laini Taylor’s writing voice, so different from mine that I don’t even know how she does it, I just tilt my head back and admire.

I am not much for an angel romance. It is not the angel books’ fault! I always envision that scene in Dogma where Angel Alan Rickman takes down his pants and… well. Anyway. If you haven’t seen that movie, I will draw a veil! Suffice it to say that I blame Alan Rickman for the fact I find it hard to take angels seriously as romantic interests. Also, I am pretty firmly Team Demon! The angels are our ancient enemies.

Also, angels should be scary, but in a very particular aloof way, and if there’s romance with an angel, it should feel very, very transgressive. Because–ANGELS. Such things are forbidden. I wanted to see both those things in a book: I wanted to feel both those things–but I didn’t, until this book.

Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.

This book ended well, began well, and middled well, though. Plus, blue-haired heroine who studies art in Prague, longs for love, can and does fight, and is ferociously and above all things loyal to a very untraditional family.

Anna Dressed In Blood by Kendare Blake

I truly hate it when people compare my books to the TV show Supernatural, and yet watch me… compare someone else’s book to Supernatural! I deserve to be smacked. I haven’t seen the show in years, but this book has all the things I wanted from the show–hunting very complicated monsters, hunting that has a terrible price, a really vivid conjuring of small-town America, and girls who are both amazing and essential, even seen from a boy’s eyes.

Cas Lowood is a snarky, handsome, loner ghost-hunter. He goes it alone! He carries his dead father’s blade to slay the ghosts! He does what needs to be done and he is a lone ranger, okay?

Except his life is not going at all to plan. A ghost eats his cat. Carmel, the beautiful blonde cheerleader-type he was batting his eyes at for information, has a baseball bat and is prepared to use it–potentially on him. His snark gets him concussed and thrown in a haunted house, where he is seeing two of everything, and not just the dude… who the ghost just ripped in two…

I love seeing a character be dizzy, knocked-for-six in love with someone entirely unexpected.

THOMAS THE SIDEKICK & CARMEL THE BAT-WIELDING PROM QUEEN: Cas! Cassio! Speak to us! Describe the vile ghost who just murdered a classmate before your very eyes.
CAS: Uh, black veins! Black eyes! Hair like black snakes! Dressed in, you know, blood! And–how do I put this? If ghosts were presidents, she’d be Baberaham Lincoln.
THOMAS & CARMEL: … He’s probably still concussed…

ANNA: I cannot believe you came by again. I refuse to be ghost-slain.
CAS: I am determined to ghost-slay you! So, here I am.
ANNA: …
CAS: So besides ripping people in half, what are your hobbies? I wonder if we like any of the same bands?
ANNA: … Leave before I rip you in half.

THOMAS & CARMEL: Research time! Look, here’s a picture of Anna when she was alive.
CAS: I’ll be taking that very important evidence, thank you!
THOMAS & CARMEL: And… putting it in your wallet…?
CAS: For safe-keeping. Yes.
THOMAS & CARMEL: …
CAS: *shifty eyes*

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

As my review for Anna may have indicated, I love a funny book. Not a book that’s just funny–a book should make you laugh, and something else, whether that something else is ‘admire craft’ or ‘feel scared to death’ or ‘cry like a little baby’ or ‘pound your fists against a pillow and go–It’s not fair, it’s not fair!’ (Not that I ever have any of these reactions to books, because I am very normal and behave in a totally normal and reasonable way at all times.)

Given that Maureen Johnson’s foray into the paranormal is a ghost story, focusing on Jack the Ripper in modern times and how quickly a culture of fear can spring up… or be created, set in London in a Very English Boarding School seen through the eyes of an American fish out of water, with a detailed magical system that makes the science of ghost-hunting seem plausible, I had several of these reactions. You will have to read it to see which ones.

But I really loved the intrepid heroine, Rory, who would poke an alligator with a stick or hunt a murderous ghost because that’s who she is, and I am very glad that Maureen Johnson has turned her funny, smart hand to fantasy. Because I think fantasy is where it’s at.

A Spy In the House by Y.S. Lee
The Body at the Tower by Y.S. Lee

I recommend both these books because I wasn’t quite sure about the series until The Body in the Tower, when I became suddenly very sure indeed. It had all the ingredients I love: set in a beautifully realised and researched past England, London in all its kind of smelly past glory, a lady sleuth.

Mary, who is half Chinese but can pass as white, has a secret that is a far, far bigger deal in her time, and this neatly gives us the perspective of the outsider who sees more of the game–Mary does not feel part of this society any more than we do–and the detective with a dark secret.

I love books set in England (it seems to be the fictional place of my heart) and historical novels, and what I especially like about these books is that the focus isn’t on the aristocracy. A Spy In the House is all about the sleuthing possibilities open to a governess or a companion, due to the weird in-betwixt-and-between position they have in a house. And The Body at the Tower is about bricklaying in Victorian times… because Mary is dressed up as a boy apprentice.

Cross-dressing! Including a scene where Mary is wrestling with our hero, and feels she must point out that were someone to spot them they would believe terribly distressing things about his preferences: not only is she passing as a boy of thirteen, but she hasn’t had a bath in ages.

Mike and Psmith by P.G. Wodehouse

When I was talking about The Fall of the House of Usher recently, I realised how many people are a) looking out for old books and b) potentially interested in free books! So I thought I’d like to recommend something from Project Gutenberg, where books that are out of copyright are free to the public!

I really like P.G. Wodehouse. Why? Because he is hilarious. And this is one of my favourite books he wrote, partly because it’s about kids and not adults, so it’s different from his other books–no romance–partly because it’s about cricket, my favourite sport.

But mostly because of Psmith. Our hapless hero, Michael Jackson (yes… now an inadvertently hilarious name…) sadly walking the halls of a new school, discovers a lanky, monocled youth who leans against mantelpieces referring to people loftily as Comrade, steals other people’s studies because ‘It is imperative that we have a place to retire to after a fatiguing day,’ cunningly pretends to care about archaeology, informs everyone that the P in his name is silent, and stares in polite bewilderment at the people around him who are full of go-getting spirit and love for their school. Eventually he is taken up to the headmaster’s office, and questioned. Among the questions asked: “Er … Smith, I do not for a moment wish to pain you, but have you … er, do you remember ever having had, as a child, let us say, any … er … severe illness? Any … er … mental illness?”

Naturally I have loved Psmith from childhood. Read Mike and Psmith here.

Leave A Comment