Staff Review: Cecelia & Kate (trilogy)

Originally posted on Tuesday, 20 January 2015 at ROPL.org.

Sometimes what you’re missing is a little magic. If you’ve ever felt that way and enjoy a good mystery (or three) plus a whole lot of fun – keep reading! Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer trilogy, Cecelia and Kate, is exactly what you’ve been waiting for. Beginning in 1817, Sorcery and Cecelia follows the story of two cousins: Kate and Cecelia and their adventures in magic, growing up and falling in love.

The first of the three books, Sorcery & Cecelia: or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot, is told in letters between the two cousins. We follow Kate as she spends the season in London, while Cecelia is stuck back at home. Enduring their aunts, irritating boys, Kate’s cousin Georgy and promise of magic, the two girls write back and forth, giving us a fun and entertaining look at their daily life and adventures. The novel comes to a satisfying and fun end, good enough to stand on its own, but definitely leaving you wanting to spend more time with the two cousins.

The second novel, The Grand Tour, picks up not long after the first. Though this novel, too, is told through the written word, unlike the first, the two girls are traveling together so there’s no need for letters. Instead, we’re treated to Cecelia’s deposition and Kate’s journaling. While the format is slightly different, The Grand Tour measures up very well against Sorcery & Cecelia. Newly married, Kate and Cecelia are off on a honeymoon – across Europe! But being that they’re both intimately involved in magic (one way or another), nothing’s ever simple! But, of course, it is quite a lot of fun.

The third, and sadly final, novel of the trilogy is The Mislaid Magician: or Ten Years After. Here, as with Sorcery and Cecelia we return to the letter writing format. But unlike the previous two, we’re treated to the letters of Cecelia and Kate’s husbands, which prove to be equally entertaining as the two girls’ letters. Set back in England and ten years after the events in The Grand Tour, the third book follows up on Cecelia and her husband’s attempt to find a missing magician and a startling discovery – related both to magic and the newest mode of transportation in England – the steam engine! Kate and her husband take charge of Cecelia’s children and have their own, related, adventures. This time, though, Kate’s sister Gerogy has her own entertaining storyline.

At the heart of each of these three novels is a combination of magic and mystery. Wrede and Stevermer manage to weave these two concepts together with ease and humor. If you’re looking for a fun romp through the early 1800s, look no further.

If you like the Cecelia and Kate series, you might also like these books:

Gail Carriger’s Finishing School series:

  1. Etiquette & Espionage
  2. Curtsies & Conspiracies
  3. Waistcoats & Weaponry
  4. Manners & Mutiny (coming soon)

Kady Cross’ Steampunk Chronicles:

  1. The Girl in the Steel Corset
  2. The Girl in the Clockwork Collar
  3. The Girl with the Iron Touch
  4. The Girl with the Windup Heart

Ysabeau S. Wilce’s Flora Segunda series:

  1. Flora Segunda
  2. Flora’s Dare
  3. Flora’s Fury

Diana Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Castle series:

  1. Howl’s Moving Castle
  2. Castle in the Air
  3. House of Many Ways

Cat Valente’s The Girl Who … series:

  1. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
  2. The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There
  3. The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two
  4. The Boy Who Lost Fairyland (coming soon)

Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus and books by Robin McKinley and Tamora Pierce.

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Reading Comics: The Beginnings

When I moved back home after I graduated from college (in 2000), I indulged myself. I got into NYSNC and the Backstreet Boys, I made friends with strangers on the internet* (some of them I’m still friends with to this day) and I read a lot of Robin comics. And then I stopped. I don’t know why. Maybe it was costing my unemployed self too much money, maybe I just stopped caring. I eventually moved out and in with my sister (in a larger city). We had no AC, so we went to bookstores (remember those?). She read books, I read Sandman. But that, too, stopped. I had a brief love affair with Prince of Tennis (I’m still occasionally plowing through those, though mostly online). But pretty much my comic and manga reading stopped. I moved near Detroit for library school and it was only in 2006 that I even broadened my fiction reading away from science fiction (and into Scandinavian mysteries and YA).

Once I became a librarian, I started to read more graphic novels. I mostly read things aimed at girls (Minx did a great collection of teen-focused female-centric graphic novels), but I sometimes read other things too. The Louvre collaborated with some French artists/authors and put out some graphic novels, so I read those. I read a couple of YA novel comic adaptations (rarely as good as books, though) and random things here or there. But I wasn’t a heavy graphic novel reader, mostly because I was too busy reading YA. A friend started recommending graphic novels to me in 2010, but again it was only an occasional thing. It wasn’t until the end of 2010 (with Locke & Key and Chew) that I started just looking things up on my own.  And then, suddenly, I was reading more. Maybe it coincided with my interest in kpop (though that was at the end of 2011), but I’ve been steadily reading more and more graphic novels.

I know, the subject of this post is comics and I promise I’ll get there, but let me talk about graphic novels. In the library world, we try to keep things simple. Not everyone agrees and some libraries have graphic novel collections, some have comics and some have manga — and some have all three. Over the years I’ve read all of the above, but never seriously and never regularly. But as 2011 went into 2012, I was doing both. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed manga and discovered a whole new world out there (what with my interest in jdramas and how many of them start as manga or are turned into manga after they’ve been aired). But not comics. Why? It’s complicated.

My exposure to comics, prior to a few weeks ago was limited. Remember those Robin ones back in 2000? Yeah, I don’t either. I also picked up Marvel 1602, which I enjoyed without context. A patron tried to get me to read the Marvel Civil War series, but I wasn’t interested. Even after getting over my anti-RDJ bias and loving Iron Man, as well as the rest of the Marvel verse (though not Spider Man), I wasn’t really interested in comics. Hell, even when I was totally into the X-Men movies, I wasn’t interested in the comics. By the time I thought maybe I was, I felt it was too late. Comics are complicated and I’m a completionist. I need to read things in the right order and I need to read them from the beginning. You can’t necessarily do that with comics, there are too many story lines, too many back issues. I mean, maybe you could, but no one has that time or money — I certainly didn’t. So I quit again.

Until last week. I’d picked up the first volume of the Marvel comic Runaways a few weeks early and fallen in love. but after fighting with Wikipedia and library catalogs, I’d given up because I couldn’t figure out what to request next. Even though, prior to the second Captain America movie coming out, a friend had given me copies of some Cap comics. It wasn’t until a coworker of mine, at my new job, offered to loan me the first six Ms. Marvel issues that I thought about starting again. And start I did. I’ve since read the next two volumes in Runaways and I’m waiting on the remaining issues. And, after sorting out some confusing, I’ve also requested as much of the Young Avengers series as I can.

People often try to get me to like things. Sometimes it works (my return to loving kpop music was one of those things, thanks to my friend J) and sometimes it doesn’t or sometimes it just takes a long time. It took me four months to go through a music-related email from my friend A, because I just wasn’t ready. And the same applies to my interest in comics. I wanted to like comics, I wanted to love them, but every time I thought about reading those Captain America comics I have, it just made me tired. But now? Now I’m ready.

And that means I’m going to blog about it. You’re not going to find anything new here. You might not even find anything interesting, but it’s just a way for me to talk about getting into comics and what reading these means to me. I’ve always loved the medium, now I’m embracing it in all forms. I don’t necessarily know what I’m talking about; after all, I’m coming into this blind. The only history I have is through the movies — and that’s fine. It’s been several years since I really got a new fandom, so I’m ready. I hope y’all are ready for me.

This post is brought to you by this article from The Atlantic:  The Female Thor and the Female Comic-Book Reader

*My first foray into making friends on the internet was in the early 90s, in the pre-web days. I was on MUDs and MUSHs and my first internet friends were a boy from Iceland (we’re Facebook friends now) and another from Germany (I have no idea what happened to him, but I will always fondly remember Mark, because he used to send me letters at band camp). That was only the beginning, and even today, I’m still making friends with strangers on the internet.

Series Review: Bad Guys (OCN)

If you’ve learned nothing from reading this blog, you probably picked up on the idea that I like watching crime shows and that I enjoy Korean dramas and when you combine them? I’m a very happy camper. Add to that mix actors I like and you have a potentially winning combination. Now as we all know, that doesn’t always work. In fact, more often than not, shows usually aren’t that good. But luckily one of my favorite drama-producing stations in South Korean (cable channel OCN) decided to give me exactly what I wanted: a dark, gritty crime drama starring Park Hae Jin, an actor I really like. The drama is called Bad Guys and it is really good (I wish y’all could watch this, but finding it with English subs is tricky).

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And, to be honest, by really good I mean amazing. The story is as follows. Washed up Detective Oh Goo Tak (far right in the suit) decides that the only way he can solve serious (and violent) crimes is to use criminals to solve them. Using his influence as a mad dog detective (he bites criminals/etc), he forms his team. Assigned to work with him (aka try to keep him under control) is a young, though ambitious policewoman, Yoo Mi Young (standing up behind Oh Goo Tak). Between the two of them, they must keep their three criminal charges in line.

The criminals (L-R in the picture above): Lee Jung Moon (played by Park Hae Jin) the serial killer, Park Woong Chul the mob boss/muscle/etc and hired killer/assassin Jung Tae Soo. Together with the two police officers, they solve crimes. Of course, this isn’t some sort of charming drama where everyone lives happily ever after — all of these characters have secrets, some of them in the past and some of them occurring right as we’re watching the show.

Park Hae Jin as Lee Jung Moon

For each crime that the three criminals solve, they give five years shaved off their jail sentence, which works to motivate them. But each of the three criminals has their own stories. Lee Jung Moon, the serial killer, can’t remember killing any of the people he’s charged with killing. Park Woong Chul is in prison because he’s taken the fall for his gang (and he’s not happy about it for various reasons) and Jung Tae Soo is thinking about giving up killing. Each of these story lines play very significant and important parts in this drama.

They back all of that backstory into 10 episodes — add to that a few cases of the week, some police politics and the fact that Oh Goo Tak’s daughter was murdered two years earlier — we’re all left wondering just why did he pick those three men to help solve his crimes. We definitely get those answers and a whole hell of a lot more.

I loved Bad Guys because it was fun. I loved it because it made me cry in unexpected ways. The acting was exceptional and the story was strong — it was clear to me that the writers knew where they were going and how to get us there and that trip was really, really good. Hopefully Soompi or DramaFever will sub this so that everyone can enjoy it. I highly, highly recommend it.

Series Review: Death Note (manga)

deathnote-logoA friend of mine, a fellow librarian, recommended this series to me after finding out that I enjoy reading manga. I had heard about it (if you work in a library or known people who like manga, most likely you’ve heard about Death Note) but I didn’t know what it was about. This meant that I was rather skeptical, but completely game. I’m glad I took the risk and my friend’s suggestion — because I completely fell in love with the series.

Death Note is a manga about a teenage boy named Light (well, he’s a teenager in high school when the series starts, though not when it finishes). He happens upon something called a Death Note which he soon learns is a notebook owned by death gods (known in Japanese as shinigami). The gist is that if someone’s name is written in the Death Note, that person dies. Of course, it’s not that simple, there are all sorts of rules but I won’t go into detail — because of spoilers! It’s definitely worth reading the series to find out more.

The stories follows Light as he finishes high school and moves onto college — and what he decides to do with the notebook. This is a spoiler, but Light does decide to use it and in doing so, he ends up in a battle of wits with several different characters.

Death Note was written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata. Together, both have created a fascinating character study — not only of Light, but of several of the secondary characters as well as Lights adversaries. One of the things I liked about the writing was Tsugumi Ohba’s ability to change the way I viewed certain characters throughout the whole series. My feelings about Light changed throughout the story and I thought this was especially impressive, considering the medium of the story itself.

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My favorite character, though, was an FBI agent from the US who was briefly in the series near the beginning named Naomi Misora. Therefore, I was super excited when my friend told me that there was a spin-off novel about her. Her story, which was hinted at in Death Note was fully told in Death Note Another Note: The Los Angeles BB Murder Cases. The book, though note directly related to the manga series serves as a prequel (though it’s meant to be read after you’ve finished the original manga). It tells the story of one of Naomi Misora’s cases and gives a lot of background on her that wasn’t included in the manga. I absolutely loved it and I’m really glad it exists and was translated into English.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this series to anyone who enjoys manga. It’s probably not for everyone, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Though I’ve heard some negative things about the anime, I’d like to give that a go and, perhaps, watch the live action movies.