Monday, September 28, 2015


This debut fantasy is the most sink-in-and-enjoy book I've read in quite awhile--the kind of book that makes me stop periodically and think, "Why do I bother reading anything that I like less than this? I could be reading this!"

It is also one of those books where I, to be totally honest, just want to rip off the dust jacket and write READ THIS BOOK across the cover instead. The cover is not good. The cover is a red splodge with a vaguely decipherable dragon across the top. The book, on the other hand, is a spectacularly handled regency diversion, a funny, spirited mix of disarmingly likeable characters, court politics, personal feuds, grumpy fairies, surprise dragons, and thoroughly considered, culturally diverse magical practice.

You might be reminded of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell from the premise on its own: England is losing its magic, and everyone wants to know why. Sorcerer to the Crown's protagonists are its superpower, though. Atypically for its genre, none of the three main characters is white. More typical are the harangued young gentleman and the strong-minded young woman who leads him on a chase, but this familiarity is paired with originality; generally speaking, regency heroines aren't nonchalantly traipsing through London with the majority of England's magical power tucked in their reticules.

(The third major player, by the way, is a Malaysian witch named Mak Genggang, who is so delightful that I will just leave her for you to discover on your own.)

It's a thoroughly fun book, and I'm already excited about the sequel--check it out in our scifi/fantasy section!

What To Read Next

The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer is my favorite book by the absolute queen of regency romance. There are no bodice-rippers here--she's all family friendly, the long eighteenth century by way of the 1930s. This book features a haughty man of morals finding himself aghast at the cheerfully wild behaviors of a heroine who will remind you very much of Cho's Prunella.

Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian is the starting point of this quintessential Napoleonic sea epic. Between battles against man and tide, you will learn so much about boats. Just, absolute loads about boats. You will not mind this, and the characters are wonderful.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin is a fantasy novel which drags a distant child of the emperor into the treacherous capital. There, barely restrained gods live, either the potential ruler's best hope for salvation, or an even greater danger to her than her vicious family.

Evelina by Frances Burney is where Jane Austen got her stuff. If you like Gossip Girl and Pride and Prejudice, it's time to back up to the 1770s, where hair is tall, gambling is rampant, and there's nothing worse you can be than a nice girl in London.

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison is not set in our world, but it borrows a little steampunk and drags it back to the seventeeth/eighteenth centuries. Much like Sorcerer's Zacharias Wythe, newly enthroned Maia is racially an outcast, insecure as the new emperor. It's not an action book. Instead, intrigue, threats, and all, it moves slowly and gently through Maia's growth in a role he never expected.

His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik is the natural fantasy counterpart to Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey and Maturin novels, featuring sentient dragons piloted by humans into the Napoleonic wars by brave men (and the occasional woman). Book-loving dragon Temeraire by far outshines everything else in the series, but the action is great and the human hero is noble--which I assume is something you like a little, if you like this genre at all.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell  by Susanna Clarke is a period fantasy that features Dickensian characters, heaps of intricate description, and a particularly good scene with the gargoyles of Yorkminster coming to life.

Newt's Emerald by Garth Nix is an upcoming (2016) young adult novel by the author of the Abhorsen series, mixing regency romance, magic, and mystery.

The Strangler Vine by M.J. Carter is a Sherlock Holmes-style mystery featuring a whiningly naive member of the East India Company paired with a jaded ex-member of same, trekking across India in search of a missing author and finding death and corruption along their trail. Complex, textured, and very aware of exactly what kind of role the British had in colonized India, it's a quick-paced, highly readable, fun adventure, absolutely packed with historical goodies.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Alex Is Reading...THE KIDS' CLASSICS

A lot of grown-ups looking for good readalouds come into the store trying to find more than the old standbys. This is understandable, and also wise: there is an endless flow of amazing writing for kids coming out all the time, and by sticking to the oldies, you can easily miss out on lifelong literary loves. A couple of years ago, however, I started to get both nostalgic and curious about the classics I'd been read as a child. My family (which contains no children, but if you don't read aloud to your fellow adults now, you should absolutely give it a try) started reading them over again. To my delight, the books that felt old and important and personal when I was five and six and seven feel freshly wondrous today.

So, to any parent groping for the next good bedtime book: pick something new, and pick a classic. They won't be stale for a child who has never read them, and you may be surprised at how bright and lively they feel to you.

Here are six children's classics that have not stopped making perfect bedtime, daytime, and anytime together reading.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame--The Wind in the Willows is a book with the same satisfactions as Frog and Toad, but much, much longer. The touching friendship of a brave mole and his easygoing companion the river rat is balanced perfectly against their disastrous friend TOAD, who gets way to into motorcars, and especially into motorcars he doesn't own. The book comes in a million and one editions, but I love the big gifty hardcover linked here and seen above, with full-page illustrations by Inga Moore.

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett--This one may have to be taken with several coarse grains of Victorian salt, but the saintly Sara Crewe and her troubles are still satisfying to read about. You still envy her that perfect doll, suffer with her as she slaves away for the dreadful Miss Minchin, and there's still smug gladness in watching her get her just rewards. But boy howdy does Frances Burnett look down on her poor friend Ermengarde!

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien--My own mother read me The Hobbit twice, at ages five and eight. I wasn't too troubled by the fatalities of the climactic battle, but as I child I loved (and loved again recently) the appealing pettiness of the dwarves, their various adventures, and the struggles of poor Bilbo (who would rather be home drinking tea) through goblin kingdoms, past hungry trolls, out of Gollum's slimy clutches, into the lair of Smaug, who is as good and greedy and well-spoken a dragon as you're ever likely to find.

The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis--Okay. Publishing order dictates that you don't start with The Magician's Nephew, and I grant you that it doesn't go down as easy as some of Narnia. But as a kid I was enamored of all the little treasures in this book: hidden attics, magic rings, evil uncles, wild music, practically sacred woods filled with almost dangerous peace, an ancient broken world from which a bone-crackingly terrible queen escapes.

Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers--Julie Andrews made her look 90% nice, but Mary Poppins isn't nice. She's interesting. As the hapless Jane and Michael Banks (and younger siblings) follow Mary Poppins at her whim, half of the wonder is in the adventures they have, and half is in the awe and love everything they encounter feel about Mary Poppins. You might start to notice repetitions in the themes if you read beyond the first book, but I recommend going forward. There is enormous comfort in Mary Poppins, the snippy, vain, and glorious.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum--The shoes are silver, NOT red. The series doesn't have the melodrama or black and white morals of its recent adaptations. It is delightfully bizarre, a string of slightly brutish heroines tumbling through nonsense-adventures which leave you scratching your head, but glad about it. I link here to the first omnibus, which goes as far as Ozma of Oz and its plucky Bill the Chicken, but the full color Usborne edition of the first book we carry in the store is beautiful and highly recommended.