‘I fell out of bed laughing’

Funny Books poster

‘There’s a snobbishness in our literary world that equates laughter with shallowness. How untrue that is’ … Deborah Moggach. Illustration: Leon Edler

At The Guardian, David Nicholls asked some writers to name their favorite funny book. I was happy to see that one of them picked ‘Three Men in a Boat’ by Jerome K Jerome because that’s the funniest damn thing ever.

Another one of my choices would be a book I have tried to read out loud to my husband several times but never succeed because I continue to crack up when trying to do so — ‘The Once and Future King’, an Arthurian fantasy novel written by Terence Hanbury White. The duel scene between Sir Grummore and King Pellinore in the forest is exquisite and belly-aching funny, as well as the construction of the Questing Beast (“Puce? what is that? And anyway, we don’t have any!”)

And we can’t forget “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson,  

You can see all the other writers’ choices at The Guardian HERE


Some kind words about my words.

Cary Ballew-Renfro wrote on Facebook:

I am starting a new series of posts, talking about the best books I read in 2016. First off, the great series by Alma Alexander. Random, Wolf, and Shifter. Without giving anything away, let us just say werewolf stories told as science fiction, not fantasy, thus perhaps a new genre – urban SF.

At the end of Random, I had to read Wolf to see what happened next.

At the end of Wolf, you guessed it – had to read Shifter.

At the end of Shifter I was in tears – truly a three hankie ending and if you read it and aren’t bawling you don’t have a heart.


On Sherlock

Now that the last episode of this season of Sherlock – and possibly the series – is out of the way, a moment of reflection. If you are leery of spoilers please look away now.  

Sherlock exploded on the scene with its first season and it was UNBELIEVABLE. Everything we thought we knew about the story and the characters was still there but it was beautifully brought forward into the world of high tech and high science and smarphones and computers.

And I loved what it did to ancient established relationships. John Watson was fleshed out and made into a Real Boy (TM) to the point that had never even been attempted before, made into Sherlock’s almost-equal in all but that insane deductive reasoning ability. And Mycroft emerged from the shadows as a brilliantly re-drawn character.

When they brought in Moriarty, it was another epiphany. That character has never been more elegantly sketched, and the casting was nothing short of perfect. It all worked beautifully.

Loved it. LOVED IT. It was a glorious thing.

And then the series gained a fan following. That perhaps is the reason the series fall in love with itself, and the results… were not so great.

In Season 3 the introduction of Mary the love interest… might well have worked, and did, in small doses – but then somebody made the fateful decision that MARY MUST HAVE AN EXPLOSIVE ENOUGH BACKSTORY to make her rank up there with the two stars, and in stepped the ex-secret-agent-assassin-who-just-wanted-a-normal-life.

That got away from them fast. The show became ‘clever’ in that it tried to weld together two stories which didn’t go together very well. The moment Mary became a front-and-center thing, the main relationship of the series got upset and wobbled dangerously.

In the Season 4 it fell over. The whole Holmes gestalt got thrown out in favor of some sort of psychological game which put Holmes and Watson in supporting roles. Mycroft devolved into a caricature. And the whole promise of that cliffhanger Moriarty “Miss me?” thing which had ended Season 3 – turned out to be a massive smelly decaying red herring.

I was BORED during the vast sequence of improbabilities in the final episode of Season four — the weird game playing and random murders orchestrated by the randomly invented wild-card Evil Sister who appears to be omnipotent and who is so much cleverer than EITHER Sherlock or his ‘smarter brother’. Mycroft is, in fact, suddenly transformed into a complete blithering idiot. Moriarty? With THAT SISTER? Unsupervised? For a “Christmas treat”? Please.)

I don’t know if they plan on bringing Sherlock back for another season and the worst thing is that right now, I don’t really care. In the past I had eagerly awaited new Sherlock episodes. In Season 4 I went from anticipation to trepidation, and now I’ve gone beyond, to disinterest.

Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE complex stories and complexity in story telling. Read any of my own books and you’ll find that out, in spades – I practice what I preach.

But what I resent, here, is throwing in things because they thought they were shiny, clever. This sister thing, where did that come from? And could they not have even TRIED to make it remotely plausible?

The early Sherlock seasons gave me, the viewer, the fan, respect. This last season was a jigsaw puzzle which was forced together from pieces that almost but not QUITE fit and then hammered in where the series creators wanted them, whether they organically fit there or not.

I am vastly disappointed, Sherlock. The game may have been wonderfully afoot, but somehow it twisted its ankle and fell in an ungainly heap by the wayside. And no amount of crutches, in this last season, could possibly suffice to hide the fact that what once flew now stumbled, limping badly, towards the shadows which were gathering under darkening clouds  ahead of it on the story road.

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Which fairytales are best?

Well, my five candidates would be:
Little Mermaid 1Sulamith Wolfing, Hedgehog Studios

1) The Little Mermaid (Hans Christian Andersen) – the ORIGINAL version, thank you – the tragic one, no Caribbean singing lobsters anywhere near it, thank you so much

2) The Nightingale and the Rose (Oscar Wilde) – another tragic one (begin to see a pattern…?) and if this doesn’t make you fall in love with language itself nothing ever will.
Neverwhere3) Neverwhere (Neil Gaiman) why yes, we are doing modern and novel length by the rules of the original list – and this is a magnificent modern fairytale.
Match Girl4) Little Match Girl (Hans Christian Andersen) – oh, okay, another tragic one – this one always made me cry – I think it was the Grandmother that always slays me in the end because of the way I loved my own grandmother and I could FEEL THE LOVE.

5) The Once and Future King (T H White) – just to BREAK the pattern, here’s another (relatively) recent book – and it is SO a fairy tale – and it’s one of the few books which has ever made me laugh out loud.
At The Guardian, Marina Warner discusses her top 10

When I first began working on fairytales,” she writes, “they weren’t really considered a proper subject of study, and I felt inhibited about my enjoyment of them: was I betraying my feminist loyalties? Was I letting down the cause of high art and serious literature?

But fairytales had grown up in the 70s: Anne Sexton’s savage poems and Angela Carter’s celebrated revisionings took them out of the nursery. Since then, they have been growing ever darker and more disturbing, especially as the Grimm brothers’ violent, deadpan ways of telling now dominate definitions of the genre. Parents are rightly puzzled as to whether they should be reading them to their children, though children relish the gore and vengeance.

The most lingering and powerful tales don’t always have an original written text, but shapeshift through time, bobbing about on the streams of story. I’ve tried to choose 10 of the most inspiring, and include some of the great collectors; but as in any exercise of this kind, there are so many that I have had to leave out.

Read the article

Why we need fairytales

Oscar Wilde’s magical stories for children have often been dismissed as lesser works, Jeanette Winterson writes at The Guardian, but as examples of how important imagination is to us all – young and old alike – they are a delight.
selfish giant oscar wildeLove transfigured by imagination … ‘The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde. Illustration: Grahame Baker-Smith

Reason and logic are tools for understanding the world. We need a means of understanding ourselves, too. That is what imagination allows. When a child reads of a Nightingale who bleeds her song into a rose for love’s sake, or of a Selfish Giant who puts a wall round life, or of a Fisherman who wants to be rid of his Soul, or of a statue who feels the suffering of the world more keenly than the Mathematics Master who scoffs at his pupils for dreaming about Angels, the child knows at once both the mystery and truth of such stories. We have all at some point in our lives been the overlooked idiot who finds a way to kill the dragon, win the treasure, marry the princess.

As explanations of the world, fairy stories tell us what science and philosophy cannot and need not. There are different ways of knowing.

Read the article

The top 10 stories of mothers and daughters

From the Book of Ruth to Pride and Prejudice, here is Meike Ziervogel’s pick of literary mother-daughter relationships

I write to understand myself better. Each story is an exploration, a journey, a search for something I cannot express in any other way. Mother-daughter relationships have been my preoccupation over the past 20 years. Here are some of the books that have inspired me.
Anne SextonPoet Anne Sexton – Photograph: Virago

Searching for Mercy Street: My Journey Back to My Mother, Anne Sexton by Linda Gray Sexton

Anne Sexton wrote brilliant poetry. But she was also bipolar and incapable of fulfilling her role as mother. Linda Gray Sexton’s intelligent, harrowing account of her childhood made me realise that women artists and writers who descend into a dark space for their art have a duty towards their children to climb back into the light on a daily basis.

Read the article

Chin Up: 5 Utopian Sci-Fi Books Perfect for Adaptation

One of the most recent bizarre trends in contemporary cinema, Lisa Rosman writes in Word & Film, is the rise of the dystopian sci-fi flick. Do we really need a new movie every week to remind us of how dour our future may be? Frankly, it’s high time Hollywood made utopian sci-fi tales, instead. We could use some positive models for a change, and we know just the books that would make great adaptations.

Woman on the Edge of TimeWoman on the Edge of Time: Written in 1976, Marge Piercy’s feminist utopia is astonishingly prescient. It follows a woman subjected to experimental brain surgery, She develops the ability to time travel, and she visits a 2137 in which all people can biologically nurse their children; gender, race, and corporations no longer exist; human reproduction now takes place in labs; and everyone thrives in small, Quaker-like communities. To date, this is one of the most radical sci-fis ever conceived; its rejection of biological determinism (and gendered pronouns!) dovetails nicely with today’s transgender movement.

Read the article


25 Songs That Reference Books

Artist/Song: Led Zeppelin – Ramble On (from 1969’s Led Zeppelin II)
Book: Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings
Lyric: “‘Twas in the darkest depths of Mordor/I met a girl so fair/But Gollum, and the evil one crept up/And slipped away with her.”

Songs and books

Words you think you know
Unabashed by these 10 Difficult-to-Remember words

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Gossip is charming! History is merely gossip. But scandal is gossip made tedious by morality.” ~ Oscar Wilde

Alma Alexander
My books

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Meet the Author

Meet Alma AlexanderRandom, The Were ChroniclesI’ll be at “The Author visits” all week, the first stop on a blog tour for Random, the first book in The Were Chronicles, my new YA series. There will be a book giveaway, an exceprt from Random, a review, a guest blog post from me, hints about What’s Next.

From today’s interview:

Which character in a book would you enjoy having drinks and dinner with?

I’d love to share a rowdy dinner party with the entire royal family of Amber (if I could sit next to Corwin), or perhaps I could visit the Wales of Llewellyn’s era, as portrayed by Sharon Penman, and share Llewellyn’s table (one assumes these invitations mean one can speak a shared language, although my current knowledge of 13th century Welsh is pretty much nil…), or maybe I could have tea with Merlyn from “The Once and Future King”…?

The whole interview here

10 Best Historical Novels

My novel, The Secrets of Jin-Shei, takes place in an Imperial China that never existed. In fact, I called my version of ‘China’ by another name and in an endnote discussed the differences between my world and historical Imperial China.

That didn’t stop my publisher from trying to position it as a historical novel, some
reviewers from discussing it as such, and some bookstores putting it in the history section.

This comes to mind now because of a story in Publishers Weekly by Alix Christie, author of Gutenberg’s Apprentice, in which she picks 10 of her favorite historical novels. One on her list is the novel, Memoirs of a Geisha, a book that Jin-shei and its sequel, Ember of Heaven, have been compared to.

Memoirs of a GeishaMemoirs of a Geisha by Arthur GoldenMuch has been made of how a male writer could so convincingly inhabit the character of a Japanese geisha. But the novel’s real strength lies in the lucidity and modesty of its storytelling, a lack of fussiness that mirrors spare Japanese aesthetics. Golden’s achievement is to open up a sealed and foreign world in the form of an affecting coming of age tale.

“The historical novels I admire,” Christie writes, “inhabit their worlds so fully that as a reader I feel I’m breathing the air of that distant place or time. This has less to do with historical detail than with a freshness of language, tone and incident that makes the concerns of the characters so recognizably human that they feel almost contemporary. The ability to transport us into different minds is a hallmark of good literature generally; the bar is set even higher when a story’s setting is truly foreign.”

Read the article

Buzzfeed asks:
Debut novelsFor example:

Try your hand at all 81 titles





Top 10 health and safety fails in children’s books

From The Hunger Games to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, children’s books can demonstrate a somewhat lax approach to disaster and death. Ross Montgomery, author of The Tornado Chasers, shares his favorite books for danger lovers.

The Tiger Who Came to Tea


The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr: Look, if you open the front door and there’s a tiger outside, the first rule is that you don’t invite them in. Don’t come to me acting all surprised when he’s eaten all the sandwiches and drunk all the tea in the teapot.



Read the article


Oxford Dictionaries Book Quiz of Last Lines

Though a book’s opening lines may determine whether or not you take the book home at all, it’s as likely to be the last lines that stick in your memory long after you set the book down: they may tidily tie up events, or make you question instantly if there is a sequel, or see you muttering “Thank goodness that’s over!”

Take the quiz

An Anti-Feminist Walks Into a Bar: John Scalzi brilliant’s Play in Five Acts
ScalziRead his blog

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee has been challenged for the past seven decades, the same amount of time it’s been in publication.

22 Mind-Boggling Facts About Banned Books In America

Terry Pratchett’s Fury

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Alma Alexander
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