Magic, Mayhem… and Laughter? 15 Tales of Fantasy and Humor

Our teen librarian, Kelley, has some book recommendations for those who like their fantasy with a dash of humor.

 

While most folks may not head to fantasy novels for the laughs, there are lots of fantastical books out there that provide some escapism and comic relief at the same time. Here are fifteen delightfully funny fantasy books that shake up the genre– there are high fantasy parodies, taking on tropes of faux-medieval fantasy worlds, sometimes with a meta-fictional twist. Then there are satirical takes on urban fantasy and the paranormal, tongue-in-cheek updates of myths and fables, and books that are just plain funny and/or weird. So if you need a break from the darker end of the fantasy spectrum, consider one of these triumphs of fantastical humor and get ready to fall down a rabbit hole of laughter and wonder!

 

The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud . If you somehow missed out on reading the Bartimaeus Sequence when you were younger, now is the time to read it. If you read it as a kid, now is the time to read it again (and pick up on all the historical jokes that whizzed over your head the first time around). It all begins when a magician’s apprentice decides to skip ahead in his studies and secretly summon a 5,000-year-old djinni for his own purposes. Unfortunately for him, this djinni happens to be the snarkiest magical being the world has ever known, and he is none too happy to be working for a bratty kid. A novel of alternate history, magic, and sarcasm which successfully bridges the divide between children’s and adult fiction.

 

The Big Over Easy : a Nursery Crime by Jasper Fforde. Humpty Dumpty, a known ladies’ man, has been found dead next to a wall. Did he fall… or was he pushed? It’s up to Inspector Jack Spratt, head of the Nursery Crime Division, and his partner, Mary Mary, to find out all the dirty details. The Big Over Easy is brimming with wit and word-play, as well as clever references to pretty much every fairy tale or fable out there (and also there are aliens, somehow?). It’s a smart, literary, pun-laden riot, with a genuine mystery at its heart.

 

The Blacksmith Queen by G.A. Aiken. Keeley is a blacksmith who doesn’t pay much mind to the old king’s passing and a prophecy declaring that the new sovereign will be a queen to usurp the kingdom’s princes. War is good for her business. But she has to start caring when she discovers that the prophesied queen is her younger sister, and a band of mountain warriors are determined to see her on the throne. Powerful women, irreverent snark, and humor are layered into bloody battle scenes- it sounds unlikely but somehow the author pulls it off. Romance takes a back seat to the main storyline and the hilarious interactions between all of her characters- sit back and enjoy a sometimes gory, truly funny feminist romp that just screams girl power.

 

Carry On : the Rise and Fall of Simon Snow by Rainbow Rowell. Simon Snow and his roommate Baz are mortal enemies. Simon is the Chosen One, and Baz is evil, but they have their routines and when Baz goes missing, Simon is concerned. It’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up. Carry On is a ghost story, a love story and a mystery. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story – but far, far more monsters.

 

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir.  Set on an abandoned space station, Gideon is a sword-fighting cavalier sworn to protect her worst enemy as she uses necromancy to figure out how to win the emperor’s competition. The winners get immortal life, but it’s not an easy prize to obtain, especially when the murders begin. Gideon the Ninth is too funny to be straight horror, it’s a mix of science fiction and fantasy, and is much more gory than your average romance. It is gothic and irreverent- brilliantly original, messy and weird straight through with surprising depth and appeal.

 

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.  Someone has misplaced the Antichrist. But, according to “The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch” the world is to end next Saturday. And only Aziraphale, a finicky angel, and Crowley, a chilled out demon, seem to have any problem with that. Comedic fantasy great Terry Pratchett teamed up with Neil Gaiman, another all-time master of the genre, to create top-notch apocalyptic humor. This book is laugh-out-loud funny, and it doesn’t skimp on the plot, either. Plus, not only is the situation a hilarious, horrifying mess, but the characters are some of the most memorable in any genre. (Check out the BBC series once you’ve read the book!)

 

The Hike by Drew Magary.  An epic fantasy adventure with a simple premise: a guy gets lost in the woods. But getting lost turns into a journey across a strange world populated with hungry giantesses, witheringly sarcastic crabs, dog-men, and dwarves. In short, things get very, very weird. One of the strangest and funniest fantasy sagas unlike any you’ve read before- weaving elements of folktales and video games into a riveting, unforgettable tale of what a man will endure to return to his family.

 

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune. Linus Baker works in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, and his latest assignment is rather odd: He must travel to Arthur Parnassus’s orphanage and evaluate six children to determine what the chances are that they’ll bring about the end of the world. But when Linus arrives, it’s clear that Arthur is safeguarding some pretty big secrets about these children, and will do whatever it takes to keep them safe. A balance of crazy humor, a keen sense of storytelling, and a gentle romance infuses this tale of found family, the importance of kindness and the courage to speak up for those who need it most.

 

Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames.  Clay Cooper and his band were once the best of the best, the most feared and renowned crew of mercenaries this side of the Heartwyld. Their glory days long past, the mercs have grown apart and grown old, fat, drunk, or a combination of the three. Then an ex-bandmate turns up at Clay’s door with a plea for help–the kind of mission that only the very brave or the very stupid would sign up for. It’s time to get the band back together! A comedy, an adventure tale, a consideration on growing older, and rock ‘n roll all rolled into a fantastically original romp of a book.

 

The Princess Bride by William Goldman.  Rich in character and satire, the novel is set in 1941 and framed cleverly as an “abridged” retelling of a centuries-old tale set in the fabled country of Florin that’s home to “Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passions.” This is one of the most unique books you will ever read: a cynical, ironic, hysterical, and somehow stunningly romantic fantasy novel (and don’t miss out on watching the movie!).

 

Small Gods by Terry Pratchett. Terry Pratchett is the master of the fantasy humor genre, so it’s hard to go wrong with any book from his Discworld series. The Discworld is, of course, a flat disc balanced on the backs of four elephants which are standing on the back of a giant turtle, and it’s populated with some of the funniest oddballs that fantasy has to offer. Small Gods is not the first book in the series, but it’s a stand-alone novel set in the Discworld, and it’s got some of Pratchett’s absolute sharpest wit. The Great God Om has run into a bit of a problem: How do you go about being a god if no one believes in you?

 

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho.  In Zen Cho’s witty debut novel, Zacharias Wythe is the Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers, tasked with overseeing that all magic in England is kept in balance. But when magic drains away, he goes to the edges of fairyland to discover the cause–and meets a young woman with formidable powers that he won’t soon forget. A wonderful and charming book that combines regency romance and fantasy while at the same time exploring some of the problematic aspects of those genres in regards to race and gender. It examines the relationship between politics and power all the while managing to remain light, delightful, endearing, and funny.

 

Soulless by Gail Carriger.  All of Gail Carriger’s Victorian steampunk novels populated with vampires and werewolves are hysterically funny, but you might as well start out with her debut novel and the first in the Parasol Protectorate series. Lady Alexia Tarrabotti is a spinster, and she’s soulless- her touch renders an immortal mortal. For that reason she’s feared, but when someone tries to kill her, she must work with a brooding werewolf earl in order to get to the bottom of the mystery. Light-hearted and fast-paced, Soulless is a mix of historical fantasy and paranormal romance with a touch of screwball comedy you won’t want to put down.

 

To Say Nothing of the Dog : or How We Found the Bishop’s Bird Stump at Last by Connie Willis. The invention of the time machine has opened up the past to historians in a way that their forebears could only dream of. There are rules, though: You aren’t supposed to bring anything back with you from the past- least of all a cat. Now an overworked Oxford Don has to return to the 19th century to set things right. A comedic frolic through an unpredictable world of mystery, love, and time travel.

 

Welcome to Night Vale : a Novel by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor.  Located in a nameless desert somewhere in the great American Southwest, Night Vale is a small town where ghosts, angels, aliens, and government conspiracies are all commonplace parts of everyday life. Whether you’re a fan of the strange and upsetting Welcome to Night Vale podcast or you’re new to Night Vale and its quaint desert conspiracies, it’s never a bad time to visit Night Vale. As their tourism board says, “We’ll show you the fun in a handful of dust!” Night Vale is the hysterical, paranormal Gothic novel you never knew you were looking for (but it’s most certainly been looking for you).

Rules for Living a Bookish Life

Bookworm tips from our Teen Librarian (and voracious reader), Kelley:

Book lover, bookworm, bookhound, bibliophile, reader, no matter how you phrase it, that’s me. I read every spare moment I can scrounge, and I’ll read pretty much anything –  the back of cereal boxes will do if there’s nothing else available. It makes me happy to spread a love of reading- I drop breadcrumbs connecting books and readers everywhere I go. I do this for my job as a librarian, of course, but it goes further than that for me- my whole life is enriched by books and reading. I live a bookish life, and I highly recommend it. Interested? Here’s how I do it:

RULES FOR LIVING A BOOKISH LIFE

1. Read, read, read – and read widely. Carry a book or eReader everywhere with you. Don’t ever be ashamed of what interests you. Just read!

2. Don’t continue reading books you don’t enjoy.  Life is too short, and there are too many other books out there. Quit books with reckless abandon.

3. Give yourself permission to read non-linearly, and don’t read every word of a book just to say you did. Skip chapters, jump around- you decide if what you get out of a book is sufficient or enjoyable.

4. Read just one book or multiple books at a time, and don’t feel obligated to “speed read”. Feel free to linger on passages that strike you as interesting or mean something to you.

5. Reconsider books you didn’t enjoy in the past. Time never stands still, and your attitude and life experiences are always changing and evolving.

6. Don’t worry about having more unread books than read ones. They remind us that we still have much to learn. That in life, there is always the next thing to discover.

7. Make use of your local library, and collect book recommendations everywhere. Ask people for their favorite books. Check bibliographies, look for references to books in other books.

8. Give yourself permission to re-read books you enjoyed in the past. You’ll probably remember things you had forgotten or notice things you never did before.

9. Don’t treat books as sacred (unless they are borrowed). Fold the corners, write and sketch in the margins. It’s the story that is sacred, not the container.

10. Break these rules! Don’t let me, or anyone else, tell you how to read. Find what’s right for you, stick to it- and enjoy.

After waxing all philosophical about books and reading, I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least take the time to offer up some suggestions for a selection of interesting new(ish) books from a variety of genres- click on the titles to learn more and hopefully you’ll discover a new literary love. And remember- there’s no wrong way to read. As long as we’re learning, enjoying, and expanding our minds, we can only get better and better.

 

 

British Mysteries from Book to Screen

Today’s post comes to us from our Deputy Director Deb, who loves a good mystery!

Many devoted mystery readers began with Agatha Christie’s classic golden age mysteries featuring Miss Jane Marple and Hercule Poirot. I certainly did! These distinctly British offerings are a perfect gateway into the world of mysteries. And like so many other British mysteries, they have been made into marvelous television series, which you can watch using the library’s new streaming video service, Acorn TV. Or you can download the books in e-book or e-audio from the library’s website.

Here are some suggestions to get you started.

Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple are both well represented on Acorn TV and in our e-book and e-audiobook collections. Consider reading or listening to Murder on the Orient Express, The ABC Murders or The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Check out Acorn TV and watch Marple, Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime, The Agatha Christie Hour and Agatha Christie’s Poirot. Also try Christie’s classic locked-room mystery, And Then There Were None, considered to be the world’s best-selling mystery, available in e-book and e-audio and on Acorn.

The Agatha Raisin series by M.C. Beaton features a middle-aged woman who sells her London PR firm and moves to the country (the Cotswolds, to be precise), where, in true amateur detective fashion, she encounters—and solves– murders galore! Try the first book in the series, Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death, available in both audio and ebook. Or read any of the others—like so many long-running mystery series, it isn’t necessary to read them in order. Then watch Agatha Raisin on Acorn, a top pick for fans of cozy British mysteries.

One of my favorite village cozy series, also by M.C. Beaton, features the unambitious and charming policeman Hamish Macbeth who patrols the village of Lochdubh in the Scottish Highlands. I have listened to all of them on audio. The reader, Graeme Malcolm, imbues the audiobooks with such charm and personality that I’m betting you, too, will be hooked! We have more than a dozen titles available on e-audio, including Death of an Honest Man and  Death of a Gossip. Then check out Hamish Macbeth on Acorn.

The Phryne Fisher series by Kerry Greenwood, featuring a glamorous private detective in 1920s Melbourne, is actually Australian, but close enough to fit in with our British theme. The supremely independent Miss Fisher has class, sass and the means to pull it all off! Try Cocaine Blues, the first in the series, or The Spotted Dog. The clothes alone make the series worth watching Miss Fisher on Acorn!

Ann Cleeves’ series featuring Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope is considerably darker than the other series in this post. DCI Stanhope is a solitary, obsessed, caustic, brilliant investigator near the end of her career working in northern England. Try listening to the first in the series, The Crow Trap, or read The Seagull. And be sure to watch Vera on Acorn TV.

Set in Ireland, the long-running Jack Taylor series by Ken Bruen has been thrilling readers (and now TV fans) for years. Taylor is a classic ex-cop turned seedy private eye prowling the underbelly of Galway. Try e-book or e-audio  Galway Girl or e-audio Purgatory and check out Jack Taylor on Acorn.

A Playlist of Inspiration and Hope

Bill, our Head of Adult Services, has put together an online playlist of uplifting songs.

Music unites, inspires and comforts us. Songs express strength, joy and sadness. They are a common thread through our culture and our lives. Music unites us across the country. It ties us together whether we live in Connecticut, Florida or California – and these songs resonate across generations and offer hope in our troubled time.

This song list is dominated by Boomer Generation songs (alas, what can I say? I’m a Boomer) – but they are timeless inspirational tunes that speak to everyone.

Song Sequence

(click on the artists’ names to see more titles by them in our physical collection):

  1. Lean On Me – Bill Withers
  2. In Times Like These – Mavis Staples
  3. The Weight – Robbie Robertson, Ringo Starr & others
  4. Bridge Over Troubled Water– Simon & Garfunkel
  5. You’ve Got a Friend – Carole King
  6. Make You Feel My Love – Adele
  7. Secret of Life – James Taylor
  8. If You Want to Sing Out – Cat Stevens
  9. Here Comes the Sun – The Beatles
  10. Somewhere Over the Rainbow – Israel Kamakawiwo’Ole

***

Lean On Me (Lyrics)

In Times Like These

The Weight

Bridge Over Troubled Water (Lyrics)

You’ve Got a Friend  (Live at Farm Aid 1985)

Make You Feel My Love

Secret of Life

If You Want to Sing Out

Here Comes the Sun (2019 Mix)

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

The Magic of Mindfulness and Meditation

This post comes to us from our Head of Adult Services, Bill:

“Slow down, you move too fast You got to make the morning last Just kicking down the cobblestones Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy” ~ from The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) by Paul Simon (1966)

Our world in 2020 indeed moves too fast for many of us! This can have negative effects on our mental and physical well-being. What can we do to counteract these negative effects? Maybe try a little mindfulness…

Mindfulness is a form of meditation and its magic comes in the form of improved concentration and happiness, and physiological improvements that often include lower heart and blood pressure rates. It can also reduce stress and chronic pain as well as improve sleep.

A few years ago, Forbes Magazine published and article detailing  6 Scientifically Proven Benefits Of Mindfulness And Meditation:

  1. Mindfulness reduces anxiety
  2. Mindfulness meditation reduces implicit age and race bias
  3. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) may prevent and treat depression
  4. Mindfulness meditation helps increase body satisfaction
  5. Mindfulness meditation improves cognition
  6. Mindfulness meditation helps the brain reduce distractions

Though the practices of mindfulness and meditation have been around for centuries, the science behind it has only recently become more understood. Health practitioners, and even the  business world, have begun taking the concept of mindfulness quite seriously as more and more evidence comes to light on how the practice can actually change the “wiring” of our brains.

Want to learn more about the practice of mindfulness and what it can do for you? This month Cheshire Library is presenting a 3-part Mindfulness Series:

Check out these books for even more information:

Mindfulness and Meditation : Your Questions Answered by Blaise Aguirre

Aware : The Science and Practice of Presence by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D

Bliss More : How to Succeed in Meditation Without Really Trying by Light Watkins

Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics by Dan Harris and Jeff Warren, with Carlye Adler