Tag Archives: England

Sorcery & Cecelia: or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot

Authors: Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer

Cecelia & Kate, vol. 1

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Kate has been dragged to London along with her (much more lovely and socially graceful) sister Georgina to be presented to Society. Meanwhile, her cousin (and long-time partner in crime) Cecelia is left in the countryside, staving off complete boredom as best she can. The two quickly begin an exchange of letters, sharing gossip and commiserating with each other’s woes. But somehow the two of them soon find themselves dragged into some inexplicable, magical conspiracy, unsure who to trust or what exactly is happening. But these two cousins are nothing if not sharp-witted, and they quickly begin putting their heads together (through letters sent back and forth) to figure this thing out before either of them ends up in true trouble.

Sorcery & Cecelia is an absolutely charming story! I’ve greatly enjoyed Wrede’s stories before, so that’s not particularly surprising; however, I don’t particularly have a great taste for Regency-era stories, and this most certainly is that. But it just has so much to offer, in spite of that, or perhaps because of. The setting causes so much of the story to be couched in politely-barbed wit, and the effect is quite delightful–reminiscent of The Importance of Being Earnest, I’d say. And the addition of magic to the setting is perfect. Between that and Thomas’s character, there are bits that almost remind me as well of Howl’s Moving Castle (the book, not the movie). The entirety of the story is told in letters exchanged between Kate and Cecy. It’s actually quite brilliant; this book started out as a role-play sort of game between the authors, exchanging letters in character, and sort of just happened to develop into an actual book. Because they’re cool like that. In any case, it works amazingly well. The story starts off a little slow at first, but I found myself quickly falling in love with the cousins’ wit and humor, and as actual plot began really developing, I found myself utterly pulled in. Highly recommended, and I am looking forward to reading the rest of this series.

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Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

Author: Douglas Adams

My rating: 3.5 of 5

A computer programmer out to describe the rhythms of the universe in computer-generated music. A sofa stuck in a physically impossible angle on the stairs outside his apartment. A ghost stuck between life and death. An impossible magic trick. An electric monk from an alien world, created to save the people of that world the trouble of believing things for themselves. A visit to an old college professor. The works of a dead poet. Seemingly disconnected pieces, and yet they come together surprisingly in the hands of one Dirk Gently–who firmly professes to not be psychic. He’s a holistic detective, that’s all.

I’ve enjoyed Douglas Adams’s writing in the past, and I found Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency to be an enjoyable read, but definitely a more challenging piece. Not that it’s a difficult read exactly. But it’s very fragmented, especially towards the beginning, and there are a lot of moving pieces to keep track of if you want the ending to make any sense at all. The author certainly doesn’t dumb it down enough to give the reader the full breakdown, although everything is pretty thoroughly explained by the end if you pay attention. But yeah, fragmented and kind of pretentious would be my best way to describe this book. It’s well written, though, and has some quite interesting turns of phrase. I would almost say that’s one of the biggest selling points of this book, honestly. Of note, the titular character doesn’t actually appear until, like, halfway through the book. It’s really more about the programmer Richard, honestly, than it is about Dirk. Dirk’s just the guy strange and open-minded (or something) enough to connect all the weird, impossible dots. In any case, recommended for those who enjoy some slightly older speculative fiction (the bits about 1980’s computers were cool) and who has the patience to piece together all the randomness this story offers.

Of note, since I recently reviewed the BBC rendition of this story: they aren’t even the same story. Like, at all. They can’t even be considered AUs of each other, since that would require at least some level of semblance. The only things they have in common are the name Dirk Gently–the character is completely different, despite the name–and the concept of everything being connected–the “holistic” thing. Other than that, characters, plots, everything is different, to the point that it’s possible to enjoy each completely without comparing them to each other . . . as long as you don’t go and try to make them fit, because they just won’t.

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The Case of the Unwelcome Owl (Sherlock/Harry Potter Crossover Fanfic)

Author: FayJay

AO3 ID: 120495

Status: Complete (oneshot)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

John Watson finds himself awakened in the middle of the night by the looming form of his flatmate Sherlock Holmes at his bedroom doorway . . . demanding John hand over his gun to him. Because apparently, there’s an owl in the flat, and Sherlock wants to shoot it. And oh, look, there’s a fancy envelope the looks an awful lot like a wedding invitation that definitely shows signs of being held in said owl’s beak (John’s been learning to pay more attention to the small details). Only, since when do owls deliver correspondence? And who on earth would be brave enough to invite Sherlock to their wedding?

Oh my, The Case of the Unwelcome Owl was a delightful find for me. Basically, Sherlock receives a wedding invitation from his cousin Luna Lovegood, and John finds out about the whole wizarding world and (yay!) gets to meet Luna. Bordering on crackish (okay, it may have tipped rather far past the border at some points), it manages to be a charming character study. Really, as John says once he figures out what’s going on (sort of), it explains so much! And while it is remarkably quirky, this story also manages to be true to the characters in the essence of who they are, even while bringing in some very unorthodox backstory. I actually quite loved the way the author brings out the characters’ personalities through all sorts of little details, as well as the way the plot unfolds gradually with Sherlock holding on to his secrets as much as he can. On a side note, crossing other fandoms over with Harry Potter is basically the most done thing in the world . . . but this managed to be something unique and special. I love Luna, and she really doesn’t get enough attention–she’s got so much potential as a fanfic character, too, as is clearly shown in this fic. Also, kudos to the author for bringing so much humor into this story; The Case of the Unwelcome Owl had me laughing at every turn. Definitely recommended.

Note: You can find The Case of the Unwelcome Owl at https://archiveofourown.org/works/120495.

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Giant Days, vol. 3 (Graphic Novel)

Author: John Allison/Illustrators: Lissa Treiman & Max Sarin/Colorist: Whitney Cogar/Lettering: Jim Campbell

My rating: 4.5 of 5

School politics and a mysterious individual who won’t show his (her?) face manipulating the players behind the scenes. Relationship drama on multiple fronts. Camping trips! Old friends stopping in to visit. The wonky world Susan’s brain enters after too many days with nearly no sleep. Find all that and more in the third volume of Giant Days!

As with the first two volumes, volume 3 of Giant Days delivers quite the charming, quirky slice-of-life drama as it looks into the daily lives of Susan, Daisy, Esther and their friends Ed and McGraw. It consistently follows the first two volumes in the delightfully odd look at college life, the relatable and fabulous characters, and the wonderful art that so characterize the series as a whole. I enjoyed especially that the first chapter is an Ed-centric one, giving us a closer look into his life, as well as McGraw’s. Also, although it was totally random, I loved the “Night World” visuals when Susan, and later Esther, get to that point where reality warps due to lack of sleep–the trippiness of the art there is really fantastic. And, while much of the story in this volume is pretty episodic, with the characters kind of scattered at points, the last chapter where the three girls go on a camping trip together loops us back to the beginning, to that wonderful connection and relationship that these three have. This volume managed to be relatable, full of feels, and also laugh-inducingly funny, sometimes within the same page. Recommended. (Warnings for a major cliffie at the end, though!)

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Giant Days, vol. 2 (Graphic Novel)

Author: John Allison/Illustrators: Lissa Treiman & Max Sarin/Colorist: Whitney Cogar

My rating: 4.5 of 5

The holidays are here! Which means it’s time for the ball–vintage dresses and relationship faux pas abound. Then the university is closed, and everyone is supposed to be at home resting and celebrating with family. But Esther and Daisy received an emergency text from Susan, and they have made their way to Northampton to rescue her, from what, they know not. And when the girls get back to university after the holidays, what awaits but the dreaded exams . . . it would probably help if Esther had actually bothered to attend class for most of the previous semester. Meanwhile, Susan is keeping secrets from her friends, and Daisy has developed a weird Texan alter-ego. Naturally, zaniness ensues.

The second volume of Giant Days follows faithfully in the steps of the first volume, dealing a strong combination of relatable, cute slice-of-life story with some pretty hilarious comedic randomness. I would say that I liked this volume slightly less than the first volume, but that’s a matter of levels of brilliance rather than of good versus not good. The characters are strong, developing their personalities even more and branching out to show us more of each of the girls on their own, while still giving us a good chunk of page-time with them together. (Personally, I would have preferred more time with them together, since that’s when they really shine, but it’s neat to see them developed individually as well.) We also get more involvement and character growth for both McGraw and Ed, both of whom I’m growing to love almost as much as I do Susan, Esther, and Daisy–which is quite an accomplishment. Seriously, at the risk of sounding repetitive, the level of character development for all five of these characters is just stunning. It makes me very happy to read it. So does the art, which is just perfect for the story–bright and expressive and kind of casual. Highly recommended.

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Giant Days, vol. 1 (Graphic Novel)

Author: John Allison/Illustrator: Lissa Treiman/Colorist: Whitney Cogar

My rating: 5 of 5

Susan, Daisy, and Esther became fast friends when they began their university studies together. Yes, they all have their individual quirks–you could even say that they’re very different from each other. But perhaps it’s those very differences that make them good for each other, that help them through the complications of studies, relationships, illness, and drama that plague them along the way. Certainly, those quirks keep things interesting, as long as they can survive living in Esther’s drama zone, dealing with Susan’s mysterious past, and helping Daisy handle the big, scary world despite her (shocking) innocence.

I think I’m in love! Giant Days is everything I ask for in a graphic novel. The art is charming–a contemporary style similar to, say, Nimona or Seconds or even Kibuishi’s work, but with its own unique flair–and the coloring is just perfect–vibrant but not overdone. And the tone of the story is spot on, giving us a current, relatable slice of life story that touches on deep issues but never goes so far that we lose sight of the lighter side of things. And there’s plenty of the lighter side to be found here; this graphic novel is brimming with humor in abundance. There’s just enough quirkiness to the characters and the situations they find themselves in to appeal to the nerdier audiences, but the story is such a solid, timely slice-of-life story that I think a lot of YA/NA readers will find themselves charmed by this work as well. The characters are strong and interesting, and their depiction is vivid and captivating. I’m excited to see what Giant Days will bring in future volumes.

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Fables & Reflections (Graphic Novel)

Author: Neil Gaiman

The Sandman, vol. 6

My rating: 5 of 5

WARNING: Mature Audience

Late one night, a blooming artist faces his deepest fears. In September of 1859, a man writes to the paper declaring himself emperor of the United States. For one day out of the year, Caesar leaves his position and takes to the streets, disguised as a beggar, to think and plan beyond the attention of the gods. In 1273, young Marco Polo finds himself lost in a desert sandstorm, beguiled away from the path by voices–real or imagined he cannot tell. On his wedding day, the son of Morpheus of the Endless will find great joy followed by great sorrow, enough to change his existence forever. And through all these stories and more, the presence of Dream weaving through their realities, touching people and altering their minds and hearts–as is the wont of dreams.

Fables & Reflections may just be my favorite Sandman volume to date. It’s quite an eclectic collection. The first good chunk of it–several individual stories–is all essentially historical fiction, more magical realism than true fantasy, really. And I loved the way Gaiman wrote these stories, the way he wove Morpheus into these historical lives and the way he drew attention to lesser known historical figures. The story of Emperor Norton–of whom I had never heard before this–actually moved me to tears. From there, we move to what I would consider more traditional Sandman stories: a kid wandering into the Dreaming, meeting Matthew the raven, and hearing stories from Cain, Abel, and Eve; a highly stylized story of a ruler of Baghdad during its golden age; and perhaps most significantly, a retelling of the story of Orpheus spanning multiple chapters and tying him in with Dream and the Endless directly. The storytelling in all of these tales is absolutely top-notch–clear and insightful and beautifully phrased, basically everything I love about Gaiman’s writing. I also found the art in this volume to be more appealing than that which I typically find in this medium. It’s still definitely a more comic-book style, but the flow is nice, there’s a greater focus on the text (with fonts and such used to great effect), and the coloring is generally appealing; the art suits the stories well. For those who enjoy Gaiman’s writing, I would definitely recommend Fables & Reflection. It’s probably advisable to read the other volumes first, but this could probably stand on its own and be fairly easy to follow as well.

Covers & Design by Dave McKean/Illustrated by Bryan Talbot, Stan Woch, P. Russell Craig, Shawn McManus, John Watkiss, Jill Thompson, Duncan Eagleson, Kent Williams, Mark Buckingham, Vince Locke, & Dick Giordano/Colored by Danny Vozzo, Digital Chameleon, & Sherilyn Van Valkenburgh/Lettered by Todd Klein/Introduced by Gene Wolfe

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