Tag Archives: Television

Westworld: An If/Then Reading List

For those of you still having feelings about Superbowl LII…we see you, and we support you.  For those of you good readers who watched the Superbowl for the commercials, it was a pretty decent showing, all in all.  Particularly those Tide ads, that played heavily on genres, tropes, and gimmicks within familiar commercials.

But for fans of the series, there was no ad quite like the trailer for the upcoming season of Westworld, which debuts on April 22.  You can catch that trailer below if you missed it:

For those who aren’t familiar with the show, Westworld is a science-fiction western thriller airing on HBO.  The television show was inspired by a 1973 film of the same name that was written and directed by Michael Crichton, and stars Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin, James Brolin.  The story takes place in the fictional Westworld, a technologically advanced Wild West-themed amusement park populated by android (robotic) hosts. Westworld caters to high-paying guests, who come to experience life in the frontier town of Sweetwater, and interact with the robotic “hosts”, whose advanced programming allows them to follow a pre-defined set of intertwining narratives, and to deviate from these narratives as visitors interact with them. The hosts repeat these narratives anew each day, having their memories wiped of the previous day, until they are re-purposed or put away in storage. For the visitors’ safety, hosts are unable to harm any other living life forms, allowing visitors nearly unlimited freedom to engage in whatever activities they want without retribution. A staff oversees the park, develops new narratives, and performs repairs on hosts as necessary.  The series begins when a routine update in the hosts’ programming causes unusual deviations in their behavior that allows some of the hosts to understand the truth about themselves and their world…

Though there was some behind-the-scenes drama that postponed the premier of the show from 2015 to 2016, the finished product has been, according to nearly everyone, sensational.  The debut of the series garnered one the HBO’s highest viewership ratings and remains one of the most-watched series on HBO (which, given some HBO series’ devoted followings, is saying quite a lot).  And there are plenty of reasons why it’s continued to be such a talked-about and intriguing show.  First off, the sets, costumes, and scenic details are sensational (hats off to costume director Ane Crabtree, whose historic research paid dividends).  But beneath the stunning veneers, the story of the show itself is a deeply unsettling, curiously arresting consideration of what it means to be human, and what lengths humans are actually capable of going in order to feed their appetites, and what consciousness really means.  As The USA Today wrote, “The reward, beyond the visual splendors you’ve come to expect from big-budget HBO productions, is a set of characters who grow ever more complex.”  Mary McNamara of Los Angeles Times wrote that Westworld “…isn’t just great television, it’s vivid, thought-provoking television that entertains even as it examines the darker side of entertainment.”

So, for those of you looking for a new binge-watching treat, Westworld might very well be the series for which your searching, especially as one series isn’t, comparatively speaking, a huge amount to watch before the Season Two premier on April 22.  But for those of you who are already long-time visitors to Westworld, fear not!  We have a wealth of suggestions to keep your imagination spinning and your gears gyrating until the next episode airs!  Check out some of our top picks below:

Silver on the Road: Readers who are taken with scenes of the ‘Wild West’ in Westworld, and intrigued by the idea of women finding their identity while traversing it, look no further than Laura Anne Gilman’s sensational Devil’s West series.  The series is set in a fantasy west, ruled by The Boss…some might call him the Devil…and full of spirits, stories, and other things too terrible to name.  On her sixteenth birthday, Isobel decides that her true calling is in working for The Boss.  In turn, she is made his Left Hand–but what that title truly means is a mystery.  Rather than explain, The Boss places Isobel in the company of a man named Gabriel, and sent to explore the territory that is now hers.  The story that unfolds is a gently-paced, deeply emotional, and utterly vivid one, that will have you trying to brush the dust from your coattails after every scene.  Isobel’s comradeship with Gabriel is fascinating, unexpected, and stunningly equitable, the lessons she learns about herself and her role along the road are unforgettable, and the best part is that this is just the first book of an outstanding series.  So anyone looking for a Wild West that is just as weird as Westworld, but with a lot more occult and feminism thrown in, look no farther that this book.

Karen MemoryElizabeth Bear takes inspiration from the very real Seattle Underground to create a story about airships, gold miners…and, most importantly, Karen, and her fellow “soiled doves” working at  Madame Damnable’s high-quality bordello.  When a badly injured young woman arrives on their doorstep, pursued by the man who holds her indenture, Karen realizes that trouble has fixed its eye on Madame Damnable’s.  But when a body is soon left on their rubbish heap, all hell seems near to breaking loose around them.  While the steampunk genre deals less with robots than automatons (the distinction can be found in the power keeping the machines working and, often, the level of autonomy and consciousness afforded to them), there is a lot of the same high-tech, Wild West skull-duggery going on in this sensational story as in Westworld.  Best of all, once again, we get a feminist perspective on violence, history, and tech, that is heartily welcome.

Utopia: Lincoln Child has terrific fun with the tech-thriller genre, and this book, set in a futuristic theme park, deals with many of the same themes as Westworld, including huge conspiracies, techno-wizards and techno-pocalyspes, and elaborate sabotage schemes going on behind the idyllic scene.  Utopia is a technologically advanced, family-friendly theme park off the Las Vegas strip.  Not only do people flock there for a day of fun, they come to see the system known as the Metanet, a highly secretive and enormously ingenious robotics system designed by Dr. Andrew Warne–a system that essentially runs the park on its own.  But when Andrew is brought in to consult on the possible expansion of the park, he soon uncovers evidence of tampering with the system–from the inside.  His worst fears are realized when one of the rides is sabotaged–and park officials are unable to turn off the rest of the park due to threats of further violence.  Full of fancy techno-details that will appeal to those who love programming potential in Westworld, and told in a thrill-a-minute, breakneck pace, this story is sure to feed your need for danger until Westworld surges back onto the screen.

FantasticLand: This one is a bit of an outlier, but for those of you drawn to the premise of an amusement park from hell, look no further than Mick Bockoven’s vivid, violent novel about an abandoned theme park–and the people who were abandoned inside it.  When the (fictional) Hurricane Sadie threatened Florida with inevitable destruction, the decision was made to evacuate visitors from FantasticLand, but to leave park staff behind with some supplies in order to hold down the fort, so to speak.  But when help finally arrives five week later, they find gruesome and visceral evidence (literally) that something went terribly wrong at FantasticLand.  This book is presented as a dossier of testimony from survivors about what precisely happened during those weeks, when the staff broke into tribes–complete with names and mottoes–and began hunting each other.  There are a number of echoes of Lord of the Flies in this book, and though there is a lot of Milennial-bashing in Bockoven’s work, this is just the thing for a reader whose looking for another dystopian theme park full of menace to tide them over until Westworld‘s gates re-open.

Books–Coming to a Screen Near You!

How do we feel about film adaptations of books, dear readers?

To be honest, I don’t have a personal consensus about this issue, so I doubt we as a group are going to come up with a unilateral stance.  If Games of Thrones has taught us anything, it’s that books can be adapted well…and that they can also get in the way of the books (figuratively and literally!) just as easily.  On that note…stop toying with us, George R.R. Martin.  We are suffering enough.

Anyways, there are precious few adaptations that I enjoyed more than the books–like The Painted Veil with Edward Norton and Naomi Watts, as I think I’ve mentioned previously here.  It’s difficult (as I know we’ve discussed here) to stuff a many-hundred page book full of literary symbolism, sensory detail, and emotional descriptions into a two-hour film.  Yet books still form the basis of a significant number of films and tv shows, precisely because they come with so much insight, intrigue, and development pre-packaged.   And, regardless of what Some People say about the death of literature, there is clearly a devoted following of literary fans who make these shows and films popular, and create the drive to make more.

So here, for your reading and viewing pleasure, are a few of the bookish film adaptations that have been discussed recently.  Feel free to air your opinions on them here, and to come into the Library and check out the books before they hit the screens, so as to taunt your friends and family with non-spoilery spoiler hints for months to come!

Little Women: I love Little WomenMy adoration of this book, of Louisa May Alcott, and of her family, has been well-documented.  And for that reason, I personally cannot bear another adaptation of the book, even if it is PBS Masterpiece putting it all together.  It’s like having a little bit of my soul taken out and manhandled by a major production company.  Nevertheless, there are a lot of people who are genuinely excited about this one, and I want there to be a really good adaptation on film, so I can only hope that this is the one that will prove that Little Women can be made into a meaningful, timely, and non-hokey production (if you’ve seen the BBC adaptation from the 1960’s, you know what hokey looks like).  As the Masterpiece website notes, “Little Women is a truly universal coming of age story, as relevant and engaging today as it was when originally published in 1868″, and we need those messages of hope, of strength, of determination, and of everyday feminism and female support that the March sisters learn from each other during their coming-of-age.  So please, please, please, Masterpiece, get this one right.  On the plus side, Angela Lansbury, Tony Award winner and creator of my personal heroine Jessica Fletcher, is slated to play Aunt March.  I will tune in for that, if for no other reason.

Alias Grace No doubt the huge popularity of The Handmaid’s Tale, convinced the Powers That Be that adaptations of Margaret Atwood’s books were a good idea.  No doubt Margaret Atwood’s stunning writing and incredible insight helped, as well.  Though one of her lesser known works, Alias Grace is another fascinating (and feminist) book that centers on the 1843 murders of Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery in Canada. Two servants of the Kinnear household, Grace Marks and James McDermott, were convicted of the crime. McDermott was hanged and Marks was sentenced to life imprisonment.  Atwood’s tale is told by the fictional Doctor Simon Jordan, who is ostensibly researching criminal behavior, but finds himself swept up into Marks’ story, and the paradox of the mild-mannered woman he knows, and the horrors she is supposed to have committed.  This new adaptation of Alias Grace will air in Canada beginning in September and will be streamed to Netflix afterwards.  For those eager for a taste of what’s to come, take a look at the trailer here.

Bird Box: One of the newer announcements regarding literary adaptations is the production of Josh Malerman’s dystopian horror novel Bird Box (soon to be starring Sandra Bullock) about a mother and her two small children must make their way down a river, blindfolded, lest they behold the dreadful entity that has destroyed everyone else around them.  Malerman’s use of sensory details and creeping weirdness made for an absolutely immersive page-turner of a book…but it is, nevertheless, a book about about a world that’s been devastated by “The Problem”, and one glimpse of those…’Problems’ is enough to induce a deadly rage into anyone who sees them.  Though there are flashbacks and traditional scenes, the most memorable, heart-pounding moments of this book come when the characters are blindfolded.  So how is that going to translate onto a screen?  Can it?  We’ll see when Netflix brings this adaptation to life…

So what say you, dear readers?  How does it feel to watch books on the screen?  Are there any adaptations you’re eagerly awaiting?

Saturdays @ the South: Fun with Time Travel (and also Murder)

Time after Time on ABC. Image from tvguide.com

I’m not sure how I nearly missed the memo that there was a new show starting last week that I can easily see fulfilling my need for campy fun with a somewhat-literary twist. I found out only just in time to set my DVR to a season pass for Time after Time an ABC drama that, while I don’t think it’s intention is to be funny, seems to be cracking some viewers up all the same.

The premise for the series is this: Legendary and groundbreaking sci-fi author H.G. Wells built a time machine prior to his authorial turn and while bandying about in Victorian times, manages to have said time machine stolen by Jack the Ripper. Both travel to modern-day New York City. Murder & mayhem ensue, Wells feels guilty and tries to track Jack the Ripper down and stop him. The series is also apparently very meta as it is based on a movie which was based on a 1979 novel by Karl Alexander (sadly, unavailable in NOBLE at this time).

For those of you looking for a more reality-based primer prior to watching (or completely ignoring) this show, here’s some brief info. H.G. Wells (1866-1946) was a British author most well known for writing The Time Machine and War of the Worlds but was also a sociologist, journalist and historian. His first book was, surprisingly, given his reputation for fantastical fiction in later life, a biology textbook. Jack the Ripper‘s true identity has never been officially proven , but numerous theories and obsessions abound about the pseudonymous murderer who struck in London’s Whitechapel district between August and November of 1888. It is also possible that the killer committed murders prior to and after those dates, depending upon how certain crimes of that time are viewed. Jack the Ripper has captured the imagination of many true-crime aficionados who still speculate who he was.

I’m not going to lie, I’m surprised to see these two figures in a television show together, given that the only link between them is that they were both alive in England in 1888. But I suppose that when one writes speculative fiction, it leaves those of us who read that work scads of leeway to speculate on our own.  If you’re interested in this show, or if aspects of time travel or Jack the Ripper appeal to you, you’re in luck. Here are some options for your reading and viewing pleasure:

Ripper by Isabel Allende

This is a fast-paced thriller in which true-crime aficionados around the world convene in an online role-playing game called Ripper. Most of these players are teenagers solving real-life mysteries on the game based on information fed by a game master, who gets her information from her dad, the Chief Inspector of the San Francisco police. This book is ideal for those who perhaps have some of their own theories about Jack the Ripper or who like Time after Time‘s modern caper appeal.

I, Ripper by Stephen Hunter

This is a historical thriller set in Victorian London. The main protagonist is none other than Jack the Ripper and Hunter goes to great lengths to get deep inside the mind of a killer, re-imagining how and why he might have done what he did. This is a natural pick for those intrigued by Jack the Ripper but would also appeal to those fascinated by the likes of Hannibal Lecter .

Ripper Street

This TV series, already discussed here on the blog is just fantastic. It follows the capers of the H Division detectives in London’s police force just after the Ripper murders as it delves into a re-imagined Whitechapel with several characters based on real-life investigators who were involved in (and somewhat undone by) the Ripper investigation. It is stunning, visually, in character development and in plot twists and is well worth watching.

Just One Damned Thing after Another by Jodi Taylor

This is the first book in the Chronicles of St. Mary’s series in which Madeline “Max” Maxwell is a time-traveling historian (quite possibly the coolest job description ever). There’s one major rule that all in that profession must follow: no interaction with the locals; observation only when time-traveling. Naturally, this doesn’t work out particularly well and Max realizes that being a historian who time-travels is a pretty dangerous activity.

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

Tom Barren’s 2016 is not the same as our 2016. It is the 2016 imagined by those living in the 1950s, complete with flying cars and moving sidewalks. Then, through a time-traveling mishap, he winds up in our version of 2016, complete with punk-music (which never needed to exist in his world) in what seems to him like a dystopian wasteland. His ultimate question is whether he fixes the tear in reality that occurred during the mishap and get back to his idealistic world, or learns to live and survive and possibly change for the better, the horrors of the time we live in.


This Showtime show is a perennial favorite at the South Branch and involves a nurse in 1946 who time-travels back to 1743 Scotland. Her heart is torn between the husband she loves and left behind in her own time and the man who she is forced to marry in the past in order to save her own life.

Till next week, dear readers, I’m going to try to get the Cyndi Lauper song out of my head…

My New Year’s Resolution…

Someone at a holiday party started talking about New Year’s Resolutions yesterday, which is a conversation I generally despise…but this time around, I came up with an answer.

I want to learn to be more like Jessica Fletcher.


For those of you who have never had the good fortune to meet Jessica, she is the main character on Murder, She Wrote, a character played by the incomparable and sublime Angela Lansbury.

Jessica Beatrice Fletcher lives in Cabot Cove, the most stereotypical Maine town to ever have been brought to the screen–698 Candlewood Lane, to be precise.  Though she studied journalism in her youth, she worked as a teacher for many years before becoming a world-renown mystery author, a change that only happened when her nephew, Grady, submitted one of her manuscripts to a publisher without Jessica knowing.  Over the course of twelve seasons, she published some 42 books, and solved nearly 300 murders, but my count, anyways (there were 268 episodes of the show, and 4 tv movies).

angela-lansbury-at-her-typewriter-murder-she-wroteThe format of these shows are pretty reliable in terms of plot–Jessica in involved in some endeavor that is broadening her horizons, whether that is traveling, preparing for visitors, finishing a new novel, working on her garden, or teaching a class (I remember that she taught writing and criminology, though I am sure there were more).  In pretty short order, someone turns up dead under mysterious circumstances, and Jessica proves herself the only person capable of unmasking the murderer (if it were real, Cabot Cove would have one of the highest murder rates in the nation–higher than a city 20 times its size!).  Usually, she is assisted or threatened in some way by a famous or soon-to-be famous guest star (this blog post does a good job pointing out some of the most famous names that appeared on the show).  From Lansbury’s fellow Broadway stars, like Jerry Orbach and Harvey Fierstein, to television familiars like George Takei and Neil Patrick Harris, Cabot Cove was awash with talent.

As a kid, I was allowed to stay up past my bedtime to watch Murder, She Wrote, and now that I am grown-up (or at least doing a decent impression of a grown-up), I am lucky enough to have a group of dear friends with whom I intend to grow old and curmudgeonly, and who enjoy Murder, She Wrote with the same unabashed relish that I do.

And the more I think about, the more I am convinced that I want to be more like Jessica Fletcher.

flat800x800075fI am not alone in this quest.  There have been several internet posts dedicated to Jessica Fletcher as an anti-ageist paragon for the ages, which wisely points out that she begins a new life and embarks on new adventures at precisely the age when ‘society’ tells us that we should stop adventuring.  Another post talks about Jessica’s courage, facing the world as a single, older lady, and taking down snarky law-enforcement agents, rascally businessmen, and lecherous retirees with equal aplomb and grace.  And I agree with each of them whole heartedly.

But for me, Jessica Fletcher isn’t just who I want to be when I get older, but who I want to be now.

On the surface, Jessica wears whatever she wants to, and doesn’t apologize to anyone (this is also proven by Mrs. Fletcher’s Closet, a blog, which chronicles Jessica’s wardrobe by episode and by season).  My favorite moment of the series, as my friends know, is in Series 1, Episode 2, when Jessica dons her enormous fish cardigan:

The Cardigan, front and back, courtesy of http://www.fantasi.net/knittedgoods.html
The Cardigan, front and back, courtesy of http://www.fantasi.net/knittedgoods.html


Even in the not-so-subtle eighties, I feel like this was a bold fashion choice.  But Jessica doesn’t let her cardigan boss her around–she wears those leaping trout and whale-things with pride and a confidence that I really would love to emulate.  I’m not sure that I myself could ever successfully pull off a wooly homage to our friends of the sea, but in a world that seems convinced it has the right to tell people, particularly women, what they “can” and “cannot” wear, when, and why, the fish sweater is a source of constant inspiration.

Which leads me to another point–Jessica Fletcher has guts.  And not only because she faces down murderers, criminals, and ne’er-do-wells, often without back-up, and often at the risk of her own safety and well-being.  What I love is that Jessica lives fearlessly–she glides from Connecticut to Ireland, from the American southwest to New York City, frequently on her own.  And she turns each of these trips into an adventure, making new acquaintances, trying new things, hunting down criminals, and nearly always making allies with local law enforcement.

s01e01-jessica-joggingNo matter where she goes, Jessica makes friends, from multi-millionaires to homeless wanderers.   She respects other people’s stories and journeys without regard to the material benefits they can provide her, but, more importantly, without compromising her own needs or beliefs.  When visiting the estate of a ridiculously wealthy friend, Jessica is to be seen jogging around his estate of a morning in her quintessential tracksuit, hair and make-up stunning and intact (see the photo on the left).  While helping some local immigrants to Cabot Cove, Jessica not only faces down the US government, but a Soviet spy, as well.  And then serves dinner without missing a beat.

1395591810-0More than anything, as these examples show, Jessica is strong enough to live her life on her terms.  She doesn’t shrink from living alone after the death of her husband, from starting a new career later in life, from venturing into a new romance (though no man ever got the best of Ms. J.B. Fletcher), from escaping from an ancient Irish castle, or from adopting one of her many impromptu disguises and swanning around where she is not otherwise allowed.  And, no matter how many demands her friends, family, and her crime-fighting may make on her time, Jessica doesn’t let anything stand in the way of her writing.  For twelve years (at least), she put out an average of two-and-a-half books a year.

And, speaking of which, Jessica is a dedicated patron of the Cabot Cove Library.  To the point where she is allowed to lock up after the Librarian leaves.  There is no higher honor than that, dear readers, I can assure you.


And so, for all these reasons, and so many, many more, I hope that, in 2017, I can learn to be more like Jessica Fletcher.

If you would like to learn a little more about the Jessica Fletcher Lifestyle, check out the first season of Murder, She Wrote, as well as the many spin-off books that the tv series inspired.

Some catching up to do…

I have to admit–and this will come as a shock to anyone who joins us frequently at the Free For All (sarcasm)–but I am not much of a TV person, if left to my own devices.  I certainly enjoy a good series as much as the next person, but, in part due to commitment issues, and in part due to the fact that the shows I love are nearly always cancelled, I generally stick to the tried and true stuff that will never let you down.


Thankfully, I am surrounded by friends and co-workers who are not only extraordinarily good at providing book recommendations, but are also far more daring than I when it comes to television, and are always ready to offer advice on what shows I should have started watching a year or so ago.

downloadIn addition to all the super-terrific books waiting for you, it turns out that the Library is an ideal place to catch up on your favorite, and soon-to-be-favorite TV shows…or to discover new-to-you shows.  We are constantly updating our DVD collections to bring you the latest seasons of popular and foreign tv shows, and, thanks to our Hoopla subscription, you can also stream tv shows right on your computer or handheld-device, for free!  As all the major networks are gearing up to launch new seasons and new series in the next few weeks, this is a perfect time to catch up on past seasons of shows that will be launching soon.  On top of that, the Internet and cable channels like HBO have helped television shows evolve far, far beyond what many imagined the small screen was capable.  The result is that your upcoming binge-watching session will come with all the depth of plot, special effects, and production qualities of many movies, but with plenty of episodes to keep your heart pounding and your mind whirling.

Here are just a few recommendations from me, with un-ending thanks to my fellow Library Staff who were kind enough to introduce me to many of these stellar series:

3453785EndeavourLady Pole had recommended this series to me a while back, but it wasn’t until this summer that I was able to see just what she was raving about, and enjoy it for myself.  While this series can easily be enjoyed by all viewers, fans of Colin Dexter’s world-famous Inspector Morse mysteries (a series of books that is very close to my heart) will find an added level of enjoyment here, as the hero of this series is none other than Endeavour Morse himself.  This series, however, takes place in the 1960’s, when Morse (who we met at the end of his career) is a young rookie Constable, solving murders and righting wrongs in his native Oxford.  The set, costumes and mysteries in this show are all delightful, immersive, and very well-plotted, however, for me, the real treat here is getting to know another side of Morse, and seeing how he evolved into the man Colin Dexter described, thanks to a marvelous performance by Northern Irish actor Shaun Evans.

3652814American Horror Story: This is one show I never, ever would have considered, were it not for the suggestions of others–even though I love horror novels and scary stories, I am not at all good at watching them unfold on the screen.  But while this series indubitably fulfills every horror fans’ hunger for jump-scares, blood, and gore, and revels in the grotesqueries of its characters, it is also a surprisingly well-plotted, comprehensive, and remarkably well-made show that features some of the most impressive costuming and prosthetics that I’ve ever seen.  I began this show with Season Three: Freak Show, which features Elsa Mars, the proprietor of a troupe of human “curiosities”, who, while traveling through rural Florida in 1952, discover an evil that threatens local inhabitants and ‘freaks’ alike.  However, it’s important to note that, which each series of this show is an independent one that can be enjoyed by anyone, each series hangs together to form a huge, metaplot that viewers can only hope, soon, to understand, so I would recommend acquainting yourself with other series, as well, in order to fully enjoy the ups and downs of this truly unique show.

3749607London SpyThis mini-series was one of the few that I discovered on my own, and while the plot might be a wee bit uneven, I was basically incapable of functioning until I understood how this incredibly twisty, complex plot unfolded.  Danny (played by the utterly remarkable Ben Whishaw) is a hedonistic, romantic young man who seems content to simply float through life, until a chance encounter with a stranger one lonely morning makes him think of a future.  Alex is nothing like Danny–he is an introverted genius, seemingly more interested in computers than in other people.  But together, Danny and Alex forge a beautiful, honest, and life-changing relationship that ends abruptly when Danny finds Alex murdered in his flat.  In the aftermath of the discovery, Danny finds out that Alex was actually employed by the British Secret Intelligence Service–and that everything he thought was true about their relationship might be a horrible lie.  As I said, the plotting of this show is a little uneven at times, and the final revelations are downright silly at times, but what makes this show so utterly, completely gripping is the power of the relationships portrayed, and the depth of the main characters.  Danny’s quest for the truth is downright terrifying, heart-wrenching, and totally immersive, making me more than willing to forgive the rather convoluted way in which this show drew to a close.

We hope these recommendations give you some hours of great viewing!

DRAGONS! A Game of Thrones If/Then Post

Courtesy of The Guardian: www.guardian.co.uk
Courtesy of The Guardian: www.guardian.co.uk

As I mentioned a little while back, when I’m not hanging out with the books, I teach at A Local University.  And, as it happens, all my students are obsessed (seriously…obsessed) with HBO’s Game of Thrones.  To the point where we make Game of Thrones analogies in class to help them better understand the History of the British Empire.  To the point where we had to delay class for ten minutes today so that everyone could finish venting, speculating, wondering, and lamenting what was, apparently, a stellar episode.

For the record, I love when students bring their outside lives to class, because 1) It means they are comfortable enough in class to bring their whole selves, 2) It means they are engaged with their other students, 3) It gives me ideas for blog posts to listen to them talk.

Episode 6 scene 20

As many of you may have heard, George R.R. Martin, the author of Song of Ice and Fire series (the first of which is titled A Game of Thrones) had always intended the books to be ahead of the series, so that readers would know in advance what was going to happen (to the extent that the show and the books aligned).  Lately, however, life has gotten in the way, and Martin missed the deadline for the seventh book in the series, The Winds of Wintermeaning that, for the first time, the show was ahead of the book in term of “what happens next” (sources report, however, that we may see the book by the end of this year, or early in 2017).  While this was certainly a blow to readers, who adore Martin’s detailed prose, his insanely complex world-building, and the sheer grandeur and goriness of his books, it’s made this season of Game of Thrones as much of a surprise for long-time fans as it is for those who discovered the series through HBO’s adaptations.

It turns out, my students fall into both categories.  Many are just discovering the addicting power of Martin’s work, but there are a number of students who are casting around for something to keep them going through the long, dragon-less days ahead.  And so for them, especially (and for you, of course!), I started putting together a list of other epic fantasy series that will tide even the most devoted Game of Thrones fan until the next scintillating episode, or series installment….

If you enjoy/enjoyed Game of ThronesThen be sure to try:

2255985The Darkness that Comes BeforeR. Scott Bakker’s The Prince of Nothing novels are perhaps a bit more philosophical than Martin’s books, as it focuses on a world undergoing a Second Apocalypse and all the holy men, crusaders, magicians, and prophets that herald its coming, but it does have that sense of dark foreboding that makes Martin’s work so compelling.  Bakker also does an impressive job balancing the epic scope of his fiction world, known as Eärwa, its armies and teeming streets, with court intrigue, love affairs, and personal interactions, making this book a page-turner on a number of levels.  There are two other books in the Prince of Nothing series, all of which have been published, so you won’t have to wait to find out what happens next.

51LyGnWecTL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Chronicles of the Black Company: For those whose favorite parts of Game of Thrones are the scenes on the Wall with the Night Watch, then this book is definitely for you.  The men of the Black Company wander their shadowy world, doing the work that no others are brave enough–or foolhardy enough–to do.  But as rumors of the White Rose begin to filter into their camps, the promise of a source of good in their bleak days, the world as they know it begins to change.  Glen Cook brings the world of epic fantasy down to the individual in these books, and the relationships and interactions between the men of the Black Company is what makes this book such a success.  As before, this the the beginning of a full series, so you can enjoy all their exploits without worry.

3613007The City Stained Red: For what it’s worth, Sam Sykes is my favorite author on this list, not only because I love the world that he has created in his Bring Down Heaven series, but also because his books are delightfully funny, his characters quirky, and its evident he is having so much fun creating this world that its impossible to not have fun while reading.  In these books, a rag-tag band of adventurers, lead by Lenk,(a man whose past is in itself the stuff of legends) must somehow defeat an ancient god who is tearing the city of Cier’Djaal apart at the seams.  Their quest will bring them into the heart of a deeply complex city, and up against the might of two frighteningly powerful armies, with plenty of action and some great plot twists to keep things interesting.  The adventures continue, and the stakes grow even higher, in the recently released The Mortal Tally.

Saturdays @ the South: Getting Cozy

Allow me to start with sincerest apologies for the lack of Saturdays @ the South last week. It is the first time since this column’s beginning over a year ago that it hasn’t appeared and I certainly hope it will be the last. In the meantime, let’s move forward with this week’s content (and, hopefully, your forgiveness…).


I’ve noticed that television seems to be getting mighty cozy lately. I don’t necessarily mean that TVs have gotten smaller (if anything TVs have gotten bigger…) or that they’ve gotten warmer, but they are showing more cozy mysteries. What exactly is a “cozy mystery,” and how is it different from any other mystery you might ask? A cozy mystery is a book that’s generally defined as a mystery where the person following the clues and solving the puzzle is an amateur sleuth (as opposed to a police detective or private investigator who do such things professionally). Another characteristic of the cozy mystery is that they consist mostly of “offstage” violence, meaning that even though a murder (or sometimes several) take place, the action of the murder doesn’t take place on the page. It’s referred to or stumbled upon, but not “seen” by the characters and, therefore, not by the reader, either. Lastly a cozy mystery usually involves an insular community where people usually know each other, either a small town or a specific neighborhood in a large town, so the murder is often considered more shocking or potent.

MV5BMTkwMjg2NzczNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzg5ODcyMQ@@._V1_UY268_CR3,0,182,268_AL_If any of these characteristics are ringing a bell to you, it could be because television gave us over a decade of a classic (though not derived from a book) cozy mystery: Murder She Wrote. Those who didn’t settle in after 60 Minutes on a Sunday night in the late ’80s and early ’90s are people unknown to me. Murder She Wrote has all the makings of a classic cozy mystery: an amateur sleuth (the inimitable and ever-classy Jessica Fletcher), offstage violence and an insular small town (the fictional Cabot Cove, ME, inspired by  real-life inlet in Kennebunkport, but actually filmed on the wrong coast in Mendocino, CA), though Jessica had to travel far and wide to keep solving crimes for 12 seasons. In many cases, cozy mysteries found on television or film are often based on books (as we shall see), but in this case, such was the love for Jessica  Fletcher that the TV series inspired a still-running series of books which can be found both in paper copies and in Overdrive as e-books.

It is usually the other way around, however, in which a book (or usually in the case of cozy mysteries, a series of books) inspires a TV series. Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple mysteries are generally considered the birth of the cozy (and has had several iterations on television), but the genre has exploded into a massive number of sub-genres (including pet cozies, culinary cozies- with recipes!, crafting cozies, paranormal cozies, historical cozies and so. much. more), so there are *plenty* of cozies to choose from when it comes to adapting television scripts. If you’d like to get a sense of the variety of the cozy-mystery world, I highly recommend you check out http://www.cozy-mystery.com/, which in my opinion is THE source for all things cozy. While I find the pseudonymous Erin Martin who runs the site to have a broader definition of a cozy than traditionally used (she includes some gentler police procedurals like the South Branch favorite Death in Paradise, in her cozy TV roundup), there is no denying that she has created a comprehensive resource that is regularly updated and broken down in many searchable ways.


Cozies have graced the screen easily since the late 1970s, early 1980s when Murder She Wrote was in good company with the likes of Miss Marple, Father Brown based on G.K. Chesterton’s series, Lord Peter Wimsy based on Dorothy L. Sayers’s mysteries and many more, but lately, I’ve been seeing somewhat a resurgence. Perhaps it’s just that I’m noticing them more on television or maybe there’s a genuine uptick in production (is there a grant out there that will allow us to research this?), but I’ve found several book-to-TV cozies out there that I thought would be fun to share with you all.


This is a British import brought to our TV screens by PBS but was inspired by James Runcie’s Sidney Chambers mystery series. I am familiar only with the TV series (it was only until I was actually paying attention to the credits that I noticed they were based on books) but Grantchester is a delightful series that takes its 1950s setting and uses it to discuss some of the more pertinent issues of today (abortion, racism, domestic violence). Lest you think a cozy get too heavy, it is also about the Sidney Chambers, the local vicar who has a kindly nature, helps the locals and has a rewarding friendship with the town’s detective, but battles his own personal flaws as well, making him a more complex character than can often be seen in a genre that can, at times, feel cookie-cutter.

Photo Credit: Katie Yu/Crown Media - as used on http://www.soapoperanetwork.com
Photo Credit: Katie Yu/Crown Media – as used on http://www.soapoperanetwork.com

Murder She Baked

This is a Hallmark Movies and Mystery channel offering of several movies. Murder She Baked is based on Joanne Fluke’s bestselling Hannah Swenson mysteries in which a baker in a small town in Minnesota occasionally solves murders in her hometown. The series is fairy true to the text when it comes to adapting the books (so far: A Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder, Plum Pudding Murder and Peach Cobbler Murder with a new special A Deadly Recipe, based on the Fudge Cupcake Murder, on June 19th). This is a great way to see characters from a beloved series come alive and it has a great twist on the amateur sleuth angle. While Swenson is very capable in tracking down clues because she’s such an integral part of the town, the police investigators are not the bumbling screw-ups that one often finds such books. They are smart and capable and are often one step ahead of Hannah, she just happens to uncover one or two clues that the townspeople are otherwise unwilling to reveal to the police.

MV5BMjMwODYzMzAzMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTQ1MTk5MDE@._V1_SX640_SY720_Death Comes to Pemberley

This is another British export brought stateside by PBS, this miniseries is taken from PD James’s book of the same name. James (and the miniseries) takes the beloved characters from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and transports them six years after the action of Austen’s novel takes place. When Elizabeth’s disgraced sister Lydia returns crying that her husband has been murdered. it is Elizabeth Darcy (nee Bennett) who must look into the clues to prevent an execution. As someone who utterly adores Pride and Prejudice, I was hesitant to like this series, but the stellar acting and genuinely intriguing plot left me in suspense in all the right ways with a satisfying, but not too easy solution.

Aurora-Teagarden-Mystery-A-Bone-to-PickAurora Teagarden Mysteries

This is another TV movie series put on by the Hallmark Movies and Mystery channel. what was surprising about this series is not that it was adapted from books, but from who wrote these cozy mysteries. Charlaine Harris writes the Aurora Teagarden series, but she is better known for her other, considerably less-cozy paranormal Sookie Stackhouse mysteries that inspired the HBO series True Blood. Harris certainly proves that authors are in no way limited by their creativity and imaginations. In this series, Aurora Teagarden is a member of the Real Murders Club, in which amateurs study famous crimes, often gets herself involved in real murders taking place in her small town.

I hope this look into cozy mysteries currently or recently on TV has whet your whistle for the expansive genre both on TV and in books. There’s plenty more to choose from, so feel free to stop by the South Branch anytime to chat cozies! There are so many out there, you’re bound to find one that suits your tastes. Till next week, dear readers, whether you’re staying in and getting cozy or enjoying the beautiful weather, never forget the library is here to recommend books and much more!