Adventures in reading

Today, I want to talk books. Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting Vanessa Chu, a reader who got in touch via Twitter. We stood outside an (unexpectedly) closed bookstore on Vancouver’s Commercial Drive and gabbed about Victorian England, the research behind the Agency novels, and books we loved. I recommended some of my favourites and realized that if, like Vanessa, you adore Victorian novels and C19 history, you might be interested, too.

I’m a huge fan of John Sutherland because he talks about literary matters in a way that makes them irresistible to non-academics. Among his many books are 3 that analyze puzzling questions in Victorian fiction: Is Heathcliff a Murderer?, Can Jane Eyre Be Happy?, and Who Betrayed Elizabeth Bennet?. They’re absolutely addictive. I dare you to pick up one and not gallop the whole way through.

I adore Dorothy L. Sayers’s detective novels featuring Lord Peter Wimsey and am on a bit of a mission to make everyone read them. They get better as the series continues but if you’re a stickler for starting at the beginning, the title you want is Whose Body? Jill Paton Walsh’s continuations are also excellent and I’ll be reading the prequel, The Attenbury Emeralds, that’s published later this month.

Vanity Fair (the novel! not the magazine!) by William Makepeace Thackeray is extraordinary – that’s news to nobody, since it’s a canonical Victorian novel. But I find Thackeray’s comprehensive vision absolutely fascinating and VF is one of the few C19 novels to depict brown-skinned people in and about London. VF‘s narrator is quite often nasty about them – this is no PC, celebratory acknowledgement of non-whites in England – but their presence is pervasive and quite possibly dangerous.

I’m sure there are more books I mentioned, but they’re slipping away from me right now. Vanessa, if you’re reading, can you remind me in the comments?

And now, I want to talk about a debut novel that had me laughing aloud with pleasure and up well past my bedtime. Here’s my full disclosure, for what it’s worth: Stephanie Burgis and I first met about 18 months ago, when she wrote to me after reading A Spy in the House. My delight in her debut novel, A Most Improper Magick, may well be tinted by her appreciation for my work, our growing friendship, and the fact that she has one of the warmest online presences I’ve ever encountered. You can’t fake that stuff. So please consider yourselves advised. Oh, and I bought the book myself.

So. On Sunday evening, on my way up to bed, I thought, “I’ll just dip into the first few pages. Maybe I’ll read it tomorrow.” STEPHANIE BURGIS OWES ME 3 HOURS’ SLEEP. My gritty eyes aside, AMIM is an absolute pleasure: a whirlwind adventure, a cheeky homage to Jane Austen, a lively tribute to sisterly love and solidarity, and an assured, beautifully paced, pitch-perfect romp. Discerning readers of middle-grade and YA fiction, this ought to be on your wish lists. It’s out now in the UK, and will be published in the US (as Kat, Incorrigible) in April 2011. You won’t regret it.

And how about you, dear readers? What books would you recommend to me?

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7 Responses to “Adventures in reading”

  1. Oh I can’t wait to read Kat, Incorrigible, it looks SO good.
    Have you read Maria V Snyder? She’s becoming one of my favorite authors.

  2. Becky Earl says:

    I agree with Jennifer’s comment, Maria V Snyder is AMAZING.
    Rachel Caine is Awesome.
    Raven Queen by Pauline Francis
    Try Rosie Rushton’s – “Jane Austen in the 21st Century” series. there are 5 in total, all books based around one of Jane Austen’s novels, Including
    Pride & Prejudice = Love, Lies & Lizzie,
    Emma = Secret Schemes and Daring Dreams
    etc
    but retold from the 21st Century. They really get you looking at them differently

    I’ll stop now or i could be here all day LOL. :D

  3. Danya says:

    If you like Regency England with a touch of magic, then I would wholeheartedly recommend Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia Wrede & Caroline Stevermer (if you haven’t already read it). It’s amazing. I’m betting I will enjoy A Most Improper Magick since it sounds like a similar setting and a lot of fun!

  4. Philipp of Upper Canada says:

    Hmmm, the only novel that comes to my mind right now is: “Turkish Gambit” by Borris Akunin. Which occurs during the Russo-Turkish War. I read it a couple of days ago, as part of my reading blitz through the local Chapters Indigo place, I probably injured an elderly woman, but all wars have its causalities. Anyways Its a neat detective novel, told from the perspective of Varvara Suvorova(hope I spelled that right), who is a revolutionary young lady, a nice compact version of Mary Quin Lol. I won’t spoil the plot, but there’s basically a spy in the Russian camp…

    Oh and it has a movie version by the same name. Though its in Russian, I watched it and the special effects were awesome but I didn’t like how it ended, it wasn’t true to the novel….as always….

    All this movie talk got me thinking, when will there be an Agency the Movie! Most importantly who shall be playing Mary Quin!?! I put my money on Sean Connery, wait wut?

  5. Ying says:

    So much love for Maria V. Snyder – will have to check out her work! Becky, thanks for the list, as ever. Danya & Jennifer, I feel that AMIM should come with a moneyback guarantee, it was that enjoyable. And Philipp, I haven’t seen the Turkish Gambit film (your comment makes me think I won’t bother) but I did really enjoy the novel. Thanks for the recs, everyone.

  6. Ying says:

    Oh, and Philipp: you think Sean Connery? “I should have been lishening to the judch…”

  7. Philipp of Upper Canada says:

    Lol, I don’t even know why I bothered to suggest a novel, its obvious that your brain is a repository for the world’s knowledge, and in my present semi-vegetated state(lying on the coach in my shorts while watching the Mythbusters…I know its a sexy image) added by the fact that I have a ridiculously small library of novels, wait….I’m not sure if those pamphlets from the Jehova’s Witnesses counts. Oh gawd! I know its sad.

    @Jennifer: I took a peek at Maria V Snyder’s novels they look very nice. Though as a rule of thumb I try to ignore novels with high magic….ever since the time I accidentally stumbled into that erotic novel…..NEVER AGAIN!!!! Philippa Gregory!!!

    That’s the last time I’ll get tricked by a beatiful looking cover!….wait that’s how I stumbled into Spy in the House..ok well that’s an exception….

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