Category: TV

What to read after watching The Expanse

expanseLast night was the official Syfy network premiere of the new space opera tv series The Expanse, although some folks watched the show online when it went up a couple of weeks ago. Tonight will be episode two, setting the hook even deeper to get viewers sucked into this new series that promises to bring the network back to its science fiction roots. So far, it’s a stylish adaptation, with some nice acting and great scenery. I can’t wait to see how it develops as the season goes on and how faithful it remains to its source material. I promise not to spoil anything for those who haven’t watched yet!

leviathanwakesThis season of The Expanse is based on the first book of James S.A. Corey’s series, Leviathan Wakes.  In this novel, humanity has spread throughout the solar system, but no further. Divisions in human society have developed between the major outposts of Earth, Mars and the outer planets, with mutual distrust between all factions. It’s a canny choice, keeping the action close to our planetary home and the actors human. It makes the series more accessible to readers (and now viewers) who are not necessarily long-time SF fans. The other clever thing the authors (Corey is a pseudonym for two sf writers, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) have done to bring in a wide readership is to have the first volume adopt some of the trappings of another popular genre, the mystery. There is a missing person case, a hangdog cop and plenty of noir atmosphere.

If you have been loving the show so far or are a fan of the books that the show is based on, I have some suggestions of books to read.

The book (and presumably series) has two main points of view, that of Jim Holden and focused on him and his crew, and a second point of view with noir-tinged belter cop Miller. If you like the shipboard bits with Holden and how his crew work together, here are some books to try: (more…)

Great Reads for Fans of The Great British Baking Show

GBBOI know this isn’t particularly genre blendy, but I am currently grieving the end of the Great British Baking Show (aka in its native Britain as The Great British Bake Off or GBBO), which finished its run on PBS this weekend.  I usually hate reality TV. In America, it is usually about watching people acting badly, or hoping for people to embarass themselves, or trying to create drama where drama simply doesn’t exist. Even the cooking shows fall victim to this.  I’ve watched Top Chef and enjoyed it, but too much time is spent on personalities rather than food. So I had no particular desire to watch the Great British Baking Show, and in fact missed the first season aired here entirely. I don’t remember who convinced me to watch it this season (someone on Twitter, I’m guessing!), but after one episode I was completely smitten. This was a show about baking, and since it is from the UK it was often about baking things I have never even heard of like suet puddings and Victoria sponge (seriously, endless amounts of Victoria sponge). The bakers, while quite good a bit better than your average home baker, are still amateurs, and their creations often look more than a bit squiffy. We don’t get endless confessional interviews with the contestants (in fact you get virtually no info about their private lives except for a super short segment on each of the finalists). They just show up every weekend and bake. There is no big payday at the end (it seems they just get an engraved cake stand). And the biggest difference between this and every other reality show I’ve watched is that everyone is nice. Really nice. Now that it is over for another season, with no idea when they will air it again, I thought I would pull together a list of books for my fellow rabid fans of the show.  Bon Appetit!

Books for fans of The Great British Baking Show (aka The Great British Bake Off)

artofbakingblindThe Art of Baking Blind by Sarah Vaughan

This British novel is probably the closest we’re going to get to a novelization of The Great British Bake Off. It follows five amateur bakers who are competing to become the next “Mrs. Eaden”. In the 1960s, Kathleen Eaden, wife of a supermarket magnate, wrote a classic bestselling cookbook called the Art of Baking. Now she has died and the market chain wants to find a new baking mascot. If you love the show but wished they gave more backstory on the contestants, this book will scratch that itch. We learn about the five potential Mrs. Eadens and their personal struggles. We also get flashbacks to Kathleen Eaden’s story as she writes the cookbook that inspired the whole thing. There are plenty of tantalizing descriptions of baked goods, so you might want to have a snack handy while reading. It’s a charming, if not particularly memorable novel.

eatcakeEat Cake by Jeanne Ray

Ruth loves cake and bakes as a way to self-comfort and de-stress (I can relate!). When her husband loses her job, her daughter turns overnight into a bratty teenager, and both of her divorced parents move in with her, Ruth will need a lot of baking to deal with the stress. I love this novel. Like the author’s earlier Julie and Romeo, it is women’s fiction with depth and humor and a delightful, mature heroine. Ruth is beset on all sides, but she’s down-to-earth, warm, and funny. And she bakes like a dream! If I recall correctly, along with delectable descriptions of Ruth’s cakes, the author included recipes at the back.

breadaloneBread Alone by Judith Ryan Hendricks

Women’s fiction often follows a pattern wherein a woman experiences a trauma or emotional upheaval in her life and then searches for a way to reinvent herself (or usually find her most authentic self). In Bread Alone, Wynter Morrison (yeah, I hate the name, too, but she goes by Wyn) has moved to Seattle after her husband leaves her for another woman. At loose ends, she spend time in a local bakery cafe, which brings back memories of when she lived in Paris and wanted to be a professional baker. She is offered a job at the Seattle bakery and reconnects with her love of the process of making bread. This does has all the usual women’s fiction ingredients (change of scenery, wise best friend, fraught relationship with her mother, discovery of calling, new chance at love), but combined in a winning way. And yes, there are recipes for bread.


lovegoddessschoolofessentialThe School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister  

The Love Goddess’ Cooking School by Melissa Senate

These two novels get grouped together here (and in my head) because they share a structure and I read them about the same time.  Both involve a group of people attending a cooking school. They both break down into character studies of the students: what brought them to the school, the dramas and sorrows in their current lives, and works through how cooking and connecting with others helps them to a better place. In The School of Essential Ingredients, Lillian is a successful chef who hosts cooking classes at her restaurant. We get Lillian’s story alongside the story of her students, as each week they all tackle a new dish. In The Love Goddess’ Cooking School, the focus is more on the heroine. Holly Maguire returns home to Maine to take over her Sicilian grandmother’s cooking school. Trouble is she doesn’t know how to cook, much less does she have her grandmother’s secret to using food to tell fortunes. But she gamely dives in, and we get her story of reinvention alongside the stories of her first four students who also seek to change their lives.  Both of these novels are charming, light reads with mouth-watering descriptions of food.

Just about anything by Sarah Addison Allen

When I first fell in love with the books of Sarah Addison Allen, it was with her debut, Garden Spells.  It reminded me of a love child between Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic and Joanne Harris’s Chocolat and from there I was hooked.  Her books have the beautiful characters and relationships of good women’s fiction, with just the right touch of magic. In Garden Spells, Claire Waverly has been living alone in her family home with its magical apple tree in the backyard. She has a catering business that uses the family talents to be able to cook foods that are exactly what people need. Her orderly routine is thrown when her sister Sydney returns with her daughter.  The Sugar Queen has less food, but more magic than Garden Spells. Josey lives in her mother’s house, sneaking romance novels and serious amounts of candy in her bedroom closet. One day she finds local waitress Della Lee hiding in that same closet, and her life is going to get the shaking up it needs. Back to more food again with The Girl Who Chased the Moon. Teen Emily Benedict returns to North Carolina after the death of her mom to find out about the her mother’s life. She moves in with her grandfather and meets Julia, a cake baker who was friend with her mother. Seriously, if you haven’t tried Allen and you like women’s fiction with a healthy dash of magic, give her a try.

There are plenty of other great foodie fiction books out there, and don’t even get me started on foodie movies! Hopefully these will partially satisfy the hunger of GBBO fans longing for more Victoria sponge.

Books for Orphan Black Fans


orphan black

It seems like you are either a fan of Orphan Black or you haven’t seen it yet, so I have been thinking about why the show works so well. When it was initially described to me it didn’t seem that appealing: a woman sees someone who looks just like her commit suicide and assumes her life.  From that humble beginning, though, the show takes off in some crazy and wonderful directions.  There’s a mystery element, especially at the beginning – who was the dead woman? Why did she kill herself? Why does she look like Sarah? Beth (the dead one) was a cop, so add in the cockeyed police procedural mystery elements of what was she investigating before she died? Then of course we meet the other women who look just like Sarah, start to learn about how they came to be, I don’t want to get too spoilery but I have to say the “c” word if we’re going to get into readalikes: they’re clones. But why? And how many?  And at the end of the last season we get a whole new twist.  The reason the show works so well for me is at least in part the blending of that mystery element, a genuinely suspenseful thriller element, and of course the SF of the clones.  But it would be nothing without the wonderful acting of Tatiana Maslany, who plays her multiple characters so flawlessly that you will absolutely forget they are the same actress.  She is ably supported, especially by the actor who plays her brother Felix, Jordan Gervaris.

All the elements working together mean that there are several ways a readalike list could go.


Lots of excellent stories have been told about clones, most in the SF genre but a few from literature and thrillers. Here’s just a few that show the sheer range of stories to be told with the seed concept of cloning.

     Cyteen by C.J. Cherryh

Cherryh never hands things to you in her books – you have to earn them.  She creates vivid SF universes and human dilemmas, but they build slowly.  Cyteen didn’t grab me the first time I tried reading it, but I knew people who were big fans, so I persevered. So worth it. In the novel, there are clones and “azis” – genetically engineered humans that are treated as property. The lead character is a brilliant scientists who happens to also be the clone of a woman who was a leader of the Union. Her progenitor was killed, so there’s a murder mystery in the book (yay for genre blending!), but don’t expect that to be the driver of the plot. Instead we get an interesting look at identity and personality and the ethics of mucking about with the idea of what a person is.

      The Boys from Brazil by Ira Levin

Nazi make the best bad guys.  It’s just a fact.  In this classic thriller with an SF twist, Nazi Dr. Mengele is still alive, intent on creating a Fourth Reich. A nazi hunter named Yakov Liebermann gets word that Mengele is in Brazil, and that he has been sending former SS officers on missions to kill seemingly random civil servants. Why?  There is a bigger conspiracy afoot and Liebermann chases Mengele and tries to stop the killings.  It’s a classic form the author of Rosemary’s Baby, fast-paced and sinister.

      Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

I hate to spoil the central SF conceit of this novel, but I think every reviewer already did that for me.  The novel is told form the point of view of Kathy, a girl who grew up at a private institution that we first think is a school and soon learn is just a place that they are raising clones created as spare parts for rich people.  It sounds like a thriller premise, but the author is Kazuo Ishiguro, who also wrote Remains of the Day, and so you instead get a beautiful, slow-moving meditation.  What does it mean to be a clone meant to be disposable? How do you live your life with that knowledge? Gorgeous.

      Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

One of the SF classics that is so much a classic that people seem to forget that it is SF.  You probably read it in school. The book is set is a dystopian future and opens on a school trip to a “hatchery” where cloned human embryos are grown to spec, designed to be leaders or peons as society needs. Everyone has a role to play and they are all perfectly content. Well, the drugs help.

There are a LOT of clones in fiction, so here are a few more:

Stolen Identities/Assumed Identity:

Especially in the early days of season 1, the storyline surrounding Sarah assuming Beth’s identity is dominant.  Of course, there are numerous instances of one clone impersonating another throughout the series.

      The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

A rich man sends Tom Ripley to Europe to try to convince his son Dickie to come home.  He enjoys the lifestyle he experiences in Dickie’s company, and when it looks like Dickie has grown tired of him Tom kills him and assumes his identity.  Obviously darker than Sarah, Tom is a true sociopath. But the idea of insinuating yourself into someone else’s life and the dangers of discovery should appeal to those who like Orphan Black, especially season 1.

      The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

Myfanwy Thomas wakes up surrounded by dead bodies, with no memory of who she is. She finds two letters, each from herself with instructions for a choice of two lives.  She can run, taking money she has stashed away and try to make a new life, or she can impersonate herself, taking up her role in the secret society where Myfanwy has a leading role. She decides to take up her old life, faking her way as she figures out how to be Myfanwy again. And her job? Protecting England from supernatural threats, which is pretty cool. This is an amazing mix of spy thriller, SF, and fantasy, with a dash of Lovecraftian horror to boot. Myfanwy gets a chance to decide what her identity will be – the dull but efficient bureaucrat, or something new.

     Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey

If you haven’t read Tey, she is one of the official treasures of golden age mysteries – right up there with Christie and Sayers. In this twisty tale Simon Ashby is set to inherit his family’s estate, Latchetts, and the fortune that goes along with it.  Alec Loding is an actor and friend of the family who is walking down the street  in London when he sees someone he thinks is Simon.  Instead it is an American named Brat Farrar. Simon had an older twin brother, Patrick, who disappeared a decade ago, and it was presumed that he had killed himself. Seeing a way to profit himself, Alec convinces Brat to impersonate Patrick and set himself up to inherit Latchetts in Simon’s place. But as Brat insinuates himself into the Ashby family, he finds the role more and more difficult; especially as he begins to suspect that Patrick’s death wasn’t an accident.

A few more identity theft books:

Just for Alison fans:

      And When She Was Good by Laura Lippman

I love Alison, the good girl of all the clone club.  But when Alison goes bad? She’s pretty magnificent. And when bad Alison comes out to play, it’s often in defense of her family. In Lippman’s thriller, Heloise Lewis projects a perfect image of a devoted soccer mom to her friends and neighbors, but she has a dark history. Her perfect life threatens to unravel when her past catches up to her. Heloise will defend her son and the life she created for herself. Lippman writes the very enjoyable Tess Monahan series, but her standalone thrillers, often set in  the shadowy corners of the picket-fenced suburbs of Baltimore are psychological suspense winners.

Other SF issues of identity:

      Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Breq was once an ancillary – a fully integrated part of a ship called the Justice of Toren. She lost her ship, and in doing so lost her sense of identity. What was she alone and apart from the ship? There’s a lot of absolutely fantastic things going on in this award-winning novel including some really interesting gender politics, a vivid star-spanning empire led by a clone, the AI’s of the empire ships and the ancillaries that staff them, a kick-ass revenge plot… I could go on and on.  There’s a reason this swept up every SF award that exists.

      Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

This has one of those great opening lines: “I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife’s grave. Then I joined the army.” John Perry joins the Colonial Defense Forces, gets downloaded into a new and improved soldier body, and gets sent out to fight aliens. It’s a lot of fun, high adventure old skool SF, but there are also some deeper things to enjoy.  The politics of his universe are more nuanced than seem apparent on the surface, and the consequences of this soldierly do-over get some thought – although not a lot of deep thought.  There is also the character of Jane Sagan, who John meets in the CDF. She looks like his dead wife, but unlike John is simply a DNA copy rather than a personality download. One of the interesting things about the series as it develops is their relationship.

      Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan

With a very skillfully realized world where human consciousness can be downloaded into new “sleeves”, Morgan explores the consequences of life where death can be cheated by anyone with enough money. The plot revolves around Takeshi Kovacs who has recently been re-sleeved in the body of a disgraced cop. He’s been hired to find out who killed Laurens Bancroft, a Meth (short for Methuselah) billionaire. The rich man has, of course, been re-sleeved, but he is missing 48 hours and wants to know who killed him.  This is a very earthy, violent book, not for the squeamish. I loved it.

Stories of women and their control of their bodies:

Without getting too spoilery for those new to the show, the clone club is changing in the new season. We’ll see what happens, but like with any long-running tv show you have to reveal things and sometimes that knowledge changes the dynamic. For me it added a nice pervy element to think we didn’t know what the Dyad group wanted with all of the clones of beautiful women. And of course we still have a LOT of things we don’t know about the purpose of Sarah and her sisters.  SF has some great stories of women reduced to being just bodies to be used, and here are just a few.

       The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

In a future world where the birth rate has declined, fertile women are rounded up, indoctrinated as “handmaids,” and forced to bear children to prominent men. Offred is one such handmaid, living in the home of the Commander and his wife and hoping to get pregnant, as that is the only way her life will have value.  The chilling thing about this setting is that it is near-future: Offred remembers her old life when she had a job and a husband and a child of her own.  It’s absolutely essential reading.

      When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

Another dystopian work, wherein felons are not imprisoned, but have their skin dyed to indicate their crimes. They have to make their way in a society that is crushed by religious dogma with their guilt obvious to all around them. Hannah is a red; her crime the murder of her own child, as that is how abortion is viewed in this society. Yes, it is heavy-handed in its Scarlet Letter analogy, but Hannah grows a lot over the arc of the book. The pacing is that of a thriller, as Hannah flees the halfway home she has been placed in and seeks a place where she can live without fear and persecution.

      Archetype by M.D. Waters

Another story where a woman wakes up with no memory of who she is. In this case Emma wakes to find a man who claims to be her husband. Declan is loving and cares for her tenderly, explaining she was in an accident. But she begins to have nightmares that tell a different story. Is she a comfortable wife, or is she a rebel who fought against the forces trying to keep women as property? She remembers civil war, and another man that she loved.

Women banding together:

One of the most appealing things about Orphan Black for me is the way the clones support each other.  Beyond the impressive fact that it is really one actress, I can lose myself in the belief that these are individual women who are in a scary, dangerous situation and they rely on each other to find their way through it.  When I was thinking about books that had that dynamic, I was actually really hard-pressed to think of anything SFF that qualified.  There are tons of stories in women’s fiction and chick lit of women banding together and supporting each other through rough times (probably a reason I have always enjoyed the genre) but I would love more suggestions of the band of sisters trope in SF or Fantasy, if anyone can think of more.

      Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear

This is one of the only recent examples I could think of, where women pulled together to save themselves. Yes, there are men in the book, but – refreshingly – no romantic subplot where the man saves the poor females. Set in a steampunk old west that is rough, violent and chock full of prostitutes. Karen is a “soiled dove” working at Madame Damnable’s establishment, where she and her sisters in trade serve a more respectable crowd than the poor girls who work the cribs at the waterfront.  When one of those girls escapes the cribs and runs to Madame’s for help, she brings the wrath of crib owner Peter Bantle on the house.  Bantle, on top of being a vicious bully, seems to have a device that can control people’s minds. Karen and the other women at Madame Damnable’s work together to defeat Bantle.



New Fall TV Genre Benders

As a break from all the books, I thought I would round-up some of the new TV shows this fall that combine genres.  In my book The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Blends, I have a whole chapter on blends in other formats, including lots of great examples of blends on TV. As a readers’ advisory librarian, asking what TV shows a person likes is a great icebreaker for working with readers not used to articulating what kinds of books they like to read.  Folks who like genre blending in their TV might also like it in books, movies, comics, etc. But increasingly, librarians need to be comfortable helping people not only find books to read, but should also be prepared to help patrons find TV and movies they might like in our DVD collections. It might not be cool in the book world to admit you like TV, but I am unabashedly fond of a lot of shows on TV these day. TV can be a great medium for genre blending, as the episodic nature of the format gives creators lots of opportunities to play with different storytelling styles. So I watch a lot of TV, in between all the book reading, and these are my picks for new shows that are doing interesting things with genre.