Giveaway: “A Queen in Hiding”

45046606Book: “A Queen in Hiding” by Sarah Kozloff

Publishing Info: Tor Books, January 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Book Description: Orphaned, exiled and hunted, Cérulia, Princess of Weirandale, must master the magic that is her birthright, become a ruthless guerilla fighter, and transform into the queen she is destined to be.

But to do it she must win the favor of the spirits who play in mortal affairs, assemble an unlikely group of rebels, and wrest the throne from a corrupt aristocracy whose rot has spread throughout her kingdom.

Giveaway Details: I was lucky enough to receive two copies of this book, and while I’m enjoying finishing up reading mine, I thought I’d offer a giveaway for the other! I won’t go into my full thoughts on the novel itself, but the publisher is trying something new with the way they are publishing this series: bingeable books!

I’ve said in my reviews of Michael Sullivan’s books that part of my enjoyment is due to the reassurance that all the books in the series have already been completed. This has allowed them to be published one after another every six months. This is an aggressive publishing schedule for any author, but particularly for epic fantasies that tend to run long. Even Brandon Sanderson, one of the most prolific and fast-producing fantasy authors currently writing, has several years go by between books in his epic “Stormlight” series.

With Kozloff’s “The Nine Realms” series, Tor Books is upping the ante and releasing all four books within a  month of each other. That’s incredible, and I’m, at least, not aware of another publishing run similar to this. Even a fast reader would struggle to keep up with a release schedule like that. And judging by the first book that is almost 500 pages long, these aren’t short books! It will be pretty  interesting to see how readers respond to this strategy. If anything, like Sullivan’s works, it’s reassuring to know that the series will be completed in a timely manner. But what’s more, with books coming out at this rate, it should be easy enough to finish one book and simply pick up the next, making the entire series read as one, super long, book all in itself.

So, get started as soon as possible and enter to win a paperback copy of “A Queen in Hiding.” The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and ends on January 29.

Enter to win!

Kate’s Review: “Stargazing”

40864836Book: “Stargazing” by Jen Wang

Publishing Info: First Second, September 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Moon is everything Christine isn’t. She’s confident, impulsive, artistic . . . and though they both grew up in the same Chinese-American suburb, Moon is somehow unlike anyone Christine has ever known.

When Moon’s family moves in next door to Christine’s, Moon goes from unlikely friend to best friend―maybe even the perfect friend. The girls share their favorite music videos, paint their toenails when Christine’s strict parents aren’t around, and make plans to enter the school talent show together. Moon even tells Christine her deepest secret: that she sometimes has visions of celestial beings who speak to her from the stars. Who reassure her that earth isn’t where she really belongs.

But when they’re least expecting it, catastrophe strikes. After relying on Moon for everything, can Christine find it in herself to be the friend Moon needs?

New York Times–bestselling author-illustrator Jen Wang draws on her childhood to paint a deeply personal yet wholly relatable friendship story that’s at turns joyful, heart-wrenching, and full of hope.

Review: Back in 2018 I read the incredibly sweet graphic novel “The Prince and the Dressmaker” by Jen Wang. It was one of my Valentine’s Day ready books, and I was very eager to see what Wang was going to come out with next. Though I was a little late to the party with “Stargazing”, Wang’s newest graphic novel, once I did manage to get a copy to read I was eager to start. Much like her previous book, I devoured “Stargazing” in an afternoon, completely taken in by another sweet, gentle, and sometimes bittersweet story about identity and friendship.

Our main characters are Christine and Moon, unlikely friends who are both Chinese American girls with very different personalities and experiences. Christine is diligent and reserved, and feels the pressure to excel at her schoolwork and extracurriculars. Her parents are loving and supportive, and also want Christine to be connected to her culture, be it through Chinese language classes or through the church community. So it’s not terribly surprising that Christine is drawn to Moon, who is more of a free spirit and whose mother is doing her best to raise Moon on her own. Moon and Christine are perfectly suited foils for each other, as Moon loosens Christine up and Christine helps Moon adjust to a new community. Wang is very talented at showing how their friendship blossoms, and how it becomes multi-faceted and complex as time goes on. Christine envies Moon for her joyful and gregarious personality, but it’s clear that not everything is perfect for Moon and that she has some issues that go beyond usual childhood ups and downs. Eventually we get a reveal as to what is going on with her, which was a little out of left field and probably could have used a little more time dedicated to it if I’m being honest, but that isn’t really the main focus of the story. The focus is the two girls and how they change each other’s lives, and how great true friendship can be, even if it’s a little difficult to navigate when things get complicated. I liked both Christine and Moon a lot, for their strengths and weaknesses, and found them both relatable in a lot of ways, from Moon’s artistic bent to Christine’s nervousness about what others may think about her. She also does a really good job of showing the small rebellions that kids that age like to partake in, from Christine sneaking nail polish to Moon sneaking out of Chinese language class to make faces in the window. It was little things like that that I thought made this story all the more charming.

But the less obvious yet really on point (at least to me) theme of this book was that of identity, and how there isn’t one way to be part of a culture. Both Christine and Moon are Chinese American, but come from very different experiences. Christine’s parents are deeply involved in her life, and very focused on Christine’s academic and extracurricular schedules, thinking that she should leave distractions behind in order to succeed. Moon is a latchkey kid due to her mother’s need to work to support the two of them, and she doesn’t speak Chinese or have as much deep experience with various aspects of that part of her identity. But Wang doesn’t show either of these as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in regards to how these girls grow up and live their lives. If anything, the message is clear that both Christine and Moon are examples of what it’s like to be Chinese American girls, and that both experiences are perfectly normal.

On top of that, I’m still totally tickled by Wang’s drawing style. Her characters and panels are still seemingly influenced by manga or other similar styles, and yet the overall style is unique to Wang. I loved the little details that she puts in there, from a mild change of facial expression to the incredibly tantalizing images of food to the celestial beings that Moon is convinced she is seeing in her day to day life.

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(source)

“Stargazing” is a quick and cute graphic novel that is aimed towards kids, but can be enjoyed by adults as well. If you’re looking for something fast and sweet and a little bittersweet as well, this might be a good fit!

Rating 8: A cute and pathos filled examination of friendship, culture, and childhood, “Stargazing” is a sweet graphic novel that shows the power of childhood relationships and all the ups and downs that come with them.

Readers Advisory:

“Stargazing” is included on the Goodreads lists “Asian MG/YA 2019”, and “NPR’s Favorite Books of 2019”.

Find “Stargazing” at your library using WorldCat!

May The Books Be With You: A “Star Wars” Book List

Few forms of media have garnered the pop culture following that is the “Star Wars” fandom. Having spanned almost fifty years of tales from a galaxy far far away, it has been the obsession of fan boys and girls alike. Now that the last three movies of the so called ‘Skywalker Saga’ have wrapped up in the “Star Wars” universe, we thought that it could be fun to wax nostalgic and speculate about what kinds of books some of the characters from the saga would like to read. 

Luke Skywalker: “Dune” by Frank Herbert

“Dune” seems to have a lot that might appeal to former farm boy turned Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker. The first is obvious: it’s about a chosen one who, against all odds, seemed to fulfill a role that wasn’t meant for him. Paul Atreides is a boy who trains as a Bene Gesserit, a social force within the “Dune” world that gives its followers superhuman abilities. Along with that, as the “Dune” books go on, Paul has to ultimately face the consequences of his rise to power thanks in part to these superhuman abilities, which leads to heartache, sacrifice, and guilt on his part. And the final point is perhaps one that Luke would have the hardest time with: so much sand! While Luke doesn’t hate sand as much as his father, Tatooine was a desert planet that had harsh conditions and harsh creatures, just like Dune itself.

Leia Organa: “Code Name Verity” by Elizabeth E. Wein

Leia may have been raised as a princess, but she was also a military leader, politician, and spy for the Rebel Alliance, not to mention attuned to the ways of the Jedi. Her devotion to the Rebel Alliance at such a young age is why I think that she would absolutely love the book “Code Name Verity”. Taking place during WWII, spy “Verity” is taken by Nazis after her plane crashes in enemy territory, with her best friend and compatriot Maddie having to find a way to save her. The espionage and harrowing spy stuff is sure to be something Leia would see herself in, and unfortunately so are the torture scenes that “Verity” has to endure at the hands of her captors. But like Leia, “Verity” is dedicated and strong, and won’t break that easily. Both “Verity” and Leia have the guts and the strength to help take down Empires.

Han Solo: “The Gunslinger” by Stephen King

It was surprisingly difficult to come up with a perfect book for Han Solo. How do you find a book with enough layers to incorporate all that makes up this great character? There’s the sense of adventure, the loner tendencies, the buddy drama, the gruffness to cover a heart of gold, the “yes, he definitely did shoot first.” But I finally settled on “The Gunslinger,” leaning rather heavily into the cowboy/loner side of Han’s character. Roland, too, starts out on his own mission, tracking down the mysterious Man in Black. But as he goes, he finds himself gathering others around him, that begin to worm their way into his small sphere of things he cares about. Like Han, he begins to learn that perhaps being out only for yourself and your own mission isn’t always the best route.

Rey: “Mistborn” by Brandon Sanderson

On the other hand, there are a bunch of stories, especially in YA now, of young women following their own “Chosen One” paths. But after going through many lists, “Mistborn” seemed to be the best fit. It’s main character, Vin, is a young woman who has grown up on the streets, surviving through sheer will and scrap. That’s until she gets caught up with a rebel crew who are looking to take down an evil empire. And, of course, Vin too discovers that she has great power within her and, over the course of the book trilogy, she grows to be the strongest fighter in the group and a de facto leader. They each start off taking care of only themselves and soon find the fate of entire worlds resting on their shoulders.

Kylo Ren: “And I Darken” by Kiersten White

Kylo Ren was another toughy as his redemption comes only after sinking all the way to the bottom and can only end in tragedy. He’s not an anti-hero, even; he’s just a villain for much of it, even if there are bits you can sympathize with. So, finding a book with a character who is similarly torn between loyalty and love to family and their own ambitions was hard. But “And I Darken” fits the bill. It’s a fictionalized story of Vlad the Impaler, the thought-to-be origin of the Dracula legend, but re-imagined as a young woman, Lada, who early in life recognizes brutality as her only way forward in a world that will only put obstacles before her.

Rose Tico: “Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter

Rose Tico was definitely done dirty in “The Rise of Skywalker”, as she was basically erased from the narrative altogether. But what people love about Rose is that she is optimistic and filled with hope, even in the darkest times. This is why I think she would enjoy “Pollyanna”. Pollyanna is an orphan girl who has to go live with her uptight aunt, and while those around her are somewhat cold and dour, Pollyanna is filled with joy and optimism. She has a knack for spreading this joy wherever she goes, and instills it in those around her. And when tragedy strikes, it becomes a question as to whether she can persevere and continue to find that optimistic sense of the world. Given that Rose grew up in poverty and lost her sister during the fight against the First Order, one would think she would give up. But she never does.

There are so many other characters that we haven’t touched upon. What books would you recommend to those characters, or the ones that we covered? Tell us in the comments!!

My Year with Jane Austen: “Sense and Sensibility” Part II

14935._sy475_Book: “Sense and Sensibility”

Publication Year: 1811

Book Description: Marianne Dashwood wears her heart on her sleeve, and when she falls in love with the dashing but unsuitable John Willoughby she ignores her sister Elinor’s warning that her impulsive behaviour leaves her open to gossip and innuendo. Meanwhile Elinor, always sensitive to social convention, is struggling to conceal her own romantic disappointment, even from those closest to her. Through their parallel experience of love—and its threatened loss—the sisters learn that sense must mix with sensibility if they are to find personal happiness in a society where status and money govern the rules of love.

Part II – Chapters 32 – End

Story – “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”

Elinor relates Colonel Brandon’s tale to Marianne, and while it does shine more light on Willoughby’s character, she is still greatly affected. The Willoughby’s marry and leave town and Marianne can be convinced to begin returning to the world. Around this time, the Miss Steele’s and Mr. Dashwood and Fanny all arrive in town as well, greatly expanding their social groups. While out and about, the Miss Dashwoods run across the younger Mr. Ferrars who does not recommend himself by being rather vain and full of himself; he aligns perfectly with what they know of the rest of the family (barring Edward), however.

The Middletons, Steeles, Dashwoods, and Ferrars all begin to mix and mingle forming various opinions on each other. Elinor is caught up in it all and ends up being present when Lucy Steele first meets her future (unbeknownst to her) mother-in-law. The Ferrars, however, are so busy subtly, or not so subtly, slighting Elinor, that Lucy ends up with a good deal of praise and attention. Mariannne, still out of sorts, finds this intolerable and has a few break-downs while in company.

Later, Lucy crows to Elinor over how well-received she was. Elinor makes an effort to temper her enthusiasm, but gives up eventually. Edward arrives and they are all awkward together. From there, the days continue with Elinor and Marianne being thrown routinely into the company of various Steeles and Ferrars. The younger Mr. Ferrars only further proves himself to be ridiculous and Lucy Steele takes every opportunity to throw more barbs Elinor’s way.

Eventually, the Miss Steeles recommend themselves so much to the Ferrars and Mr. Dashwood/Fanny Dashwood that they are asked to come stay with the family. While there, however, the elder Miss Steele lets it slip that her sister is engaged to Edward. The sisters are immediately banished from the premise, but Edward stands by Lucy, losing his own family fortune in the process. With this shocking truth, Marianne finally realizes what Elinor has been suffering  through the last several months. Mr. Dashwood visits and drops several hints that as much as the Ferrars family might have disapproved of other prospective wives for Edward, they would have much preferred that person to Lucy Steele.

Colonel Brandon hears of Edward’s plight, and knowing him to be friend of Elinor and Marianne’s, he offers him a small estate from which Edward can go into work with the church. Elinor is tasked with delivering this news to Edward, which she does, knowing that it will be the final nail in the coffin of what could have been between her and Edward.

Finally, Marianne and Elinor begin their trip home. On the way, they stop at the Middletons and while there Marianne comes down with a bad fever. Over the next few days the fever worsens to the point that Colonel Brandon rushes off to fetch Mrs. Dashwood, in case the worst should happen. Over the night, Marianne’s fever finally breaks. And in the early morning, Elinor receives an unwelcome visitor: Mr. Willoughby. He heard of Marianne’s illness and traveled through the night to check on her. He explains his side of the story, that knowing his own selfishness and after being cut off by his wealthy aunt (after she heard of the incident with Colonel Brandon’s ward), he immediately set off to marry an heiress. He claims that his true love will always be for Marianne, however. And now that his aunt has forgiven him and restored his wealth, he lives in even more regret for not remaining faithful to her. Elinor tells him that none of this does any good for Colonel Brandon’s ward and that Marianne is lost to him forever, though Elinor does now pity him more than she had before.

Later, Mrs. Dashwood arrives and is relived to find Marianne recovering. Eventually, they make their way back home. Elinor relates what Mr. Willoughby told her, and Marianne acknowledges it all in a much more calm manner. From that point, Marianne makes a conscious effort to settle herself and try to emulate Elinor’s approach to life more fully.

One day, they hear from one of their servants that a Mrs. Lucy Ferrars has been spotted in town nearby with her husband. This seems to settle the matter until not long after, Edward himself arrives. After some confusion, it becomes clear that Lucy had broken her engagement with Edward once he lost his fortune and instead attached herself to the younger Mr. Ferrars who now, conveniently, has all of said fortune to himself. Thus, Mrs. Ferrars ends up with Lucy as a daughter-in-law either way. Edward proposes to Elinor, they marry, and move into the small estate near Colonel Brandon’s home. Marianne, eventually, comes to recognize the more important points of character in Colonel Brandon’s person, though less overtly romantic they may be, and they, too, marry.

Heroines – “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures.”

The first half of this half is really torturous for poor Elinor. She first has to contend with an onslaught of jabs from Lucy, all while caring for a despondent Marianne. And then when the truth finally comes out, she’s the one tasked with delivering the news that through Colonel Brandon’s generosity, Edward and Lucy will be able to marry immediately. Marianne finally knowing the truth turns out to also not be as helpful as one would suspect, as she seems to at first think the only way Elinor could have managed to keep this all a secret was if she didn’t truly love Edward anyways, so there wasn’t much real loss. Not one of Marianne’s finer moments. It is, of course, gratifying to see Elinor rewarded in the end. However, I will say that all the traits that make her such an upstanding woman, do, unfortunately, also make her one of the less exciting Austen heroines. She reads more like a commentary from Austen on how women should behave (with Marianne serving as a not-too-subtle example of some of the worst flaws of the women of that time), than as a true character herself.

Marianne, for all of her ridiculousness, is definitely the more entertaining read of the two. Some have reviewed this book and commented that perhaps Marianne’s punishment for giving way to the full onslaught of sensibility common to teenage girls is a bit harsh. She’s smacked down fairly publicly with the Willoughby situation, and then ends up on death’s doorstep to boot. And, as I’ll discuss a bit later, her “romance” with Colonel Brandon reads more as a reward for him being a good person than as anything truly for Marianne herself. There is perhaps also some humor to be found in Marianne’s endeavors to make herself more like Elanor. With the same dogged pursuit that she gave romanticism, we see her here tackling a reading list and strictly minding her own temper. There’s not too much of the book left after her illness, and plot points are being covered quickly one after another. So there isn’t a lot of time devoted to how Marianne ultimately turns out. One can hope that she still retains some of her liveliness and wit, if a bit more evened out by a better sense of reality and calm. If given that, I think she could turn out similar to Emma Woodhouse in some ways. Both are clever and driven by extreme emotions, sometimes to the point of foolishness, but both are also clearly good women who love those in their lives fully.

Heroes – “What are men to rocks and mountains?”

I didn’t really remember this fact as well, since it had been several years since I had read this book before this re-read, but Colonel Brandon is by far the more fully fleshed out character. Not only are we given many more insights into his own history, he simply has at least twice the amount of page time as Edward. I feel like if I went back through the book, I could count on two hands the number of pages that have actual dialogue from Edward on them. I’ll have to keep my eye on it in future books, but I seem to think this is one of the only examples of a primary romantic hero suffering from “tell instead of show” writing. It’s not a common flaw on Austen’s part in general, and definitely not of her main characters. But here, Edward is less of a main character than a plot device, really. We’re simply told of many of his good qualities and, like Colonel Brandon, really, we form most of our opinion on him based on the fact that we know Elinor and she has good judgement. So if she says he’s good, then he must be good.

Colonel Brandon, on the other hand, is given much more room to shine. Not only do we have a better understanding of his character when he lays out his own history prior to meeting the Dashwoods, but we see several examples of his innate goodness. His offering of the rectory to Edward and Lucy is an act of kindness that is almost hard to believe. Again, he doesn’t know this man at all and is doing this purely based on the Dashwoods’ good opinion and his sympathy for a plight that reminds of his own early life. Beyond that, we see the devotion he had for his former love and the care he has taken of her daughter. And, of course, his extreme agitation at Marianne’s illness and how he takes it upon himself personally to fetch her mother. He is definitely deserving of happiness, and it’s gratifying to see Marianne acknowledge the true nobility of his actions.

Villains – “I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.” 

The Ferrars family takes center stage in this second half, putting on full display why, while Edward may be a loss to Elinor, being part of their family more than she already is, is not. Lucy is also in rare form. She continues to gloat over Elinor and, while we’re told she has some sense, she still seems unable to grasp the bigger story going on: that her seeming easy acceptance by the Ferrars family is meant more as a dig against Elinor than as praise of herself. We’re meant to feel bad for Edward when their engagement is discovered, but I have to admit part of me always revels in Lucy’s take-down, short-lived as it is. I think the biggest tell, however, as far as her character goes, is that even after she’s married the younger Mr. Ferrars, she goes out of her way to send her good wishes to Elinor as “Mrs. Ferrars.” There is no point to this action other than being one last petty dig to a woman who was nothing but tolerant and understanding of her and who had done her no personal wrong. Lucy is a small, small woman.

Willoughy’s explanation to Elinor always read as a bit odd to me. I’m not quite sure I really see the point of his apology. Perhaps in so far as it lets Marianne better understand his character and that in his own selfish way he was in love with her at one point and thus she is able to get full closure? But as a modern reader, I’m even less sympathetic to his plight than Elinor is. She seems to come away from the conversation with some pity for him, but still firm in her censure over the way he treated Colonel Brandon’s ward. But between that action and the pure self-centeredness, lack of empathy, and flagrant pursuit of wealth at all costs, I have a hard time pitying him as Elinor and Marianne do. If he is unhappy, he has brought it on himself. There is no pity from me for someone who treated others as poorly as he did, with eyes wide open about his own actions and priorities.

Romance – “A lady’s imagination is very rapid: it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”

Again, the romance is very muted in this last half, even when the happily-ever-afters start rolling in. Edward and Elinor’s actual proposal and acceptance aren’t included, and the story moves quickly to the facts of their new life with them moved into the rectory. Marianne’s story is even more hastily wrapped up, with her “romance” with Colonel Brandon probably reading as one of the least romantic pairings for a heroine in all of Austen’s work. Indeed, it is almost implied that she marries Colonel Brandon with the expectation of coming to love him fully, rather than actually being in love at the moment. It makes sense for the larger points about sense and sensibility that are being made in the book, but purely from a romance satisfaction stand-point, it leaves a lot to be desired. If anything, I’m more disappointed on Colonel Brandon’s part than anything. I’m sure Marianne comes to love him as he deserves, but it doesn’t quite sit right with a modern reader to think of her as “settling” for him based purely on his merits rather than actually feelings.

Comedy – “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

There is mostly dark comedy to be found in this second half, specifically in the round-about way the snobby Mrs. Ferrars ends up with Lucy as a daughter-in-law in the end anyways. Between the serious nature of Edward’s future, the continued fall-out of Willoughby’s actions, and Marianne’s life-threatening illness, it’s rather a serious second half. Mrs. Jennings, in fact, one of the primary comedic characters in the first half, really rises to her own and we the steadfast loyalty and real concern she has for the Miss Dashwoods, even if some improper comments still slip out. It’s gratifying to see Marianne finally acknowledge all that Mrs. Jennings has done for them, even if she has her moments of crassness.

Favorite quotes – “What did she say? Just what she ought, of course. A lady always does.”

“Elinor agreed to it all, for she did not think he deserved the compliment of rational opposition.”

The put-down we all wish we could think of in the moment.

“Always resignation and acceptance. Always prudence and honour and duty. Elinor, where is your heart?”

To some extent, I agree with Marianne here. This is probably why Elizabeth, Emma, and Anne stand out more to me as Austen heroines. All (with the exception of Emma at times) are respected and proper ladies of their time, but they also seem to have more heart to them. Their emotions are better understood and conveyed to the reader. Perhaps the simple fact that each in their way has a more apparent flaw than Elinor makes them read more fully as people and thus easier to become attached to and root for.

“Elinor could sit still no longer. She almost ran out of the room, and as soon as the door was closed, burst into tears of joy, which at first she thought would never cease.”

Finally. And we’ll see that the movies all have fun with this moment of final release for Elinor.

Final thoughts – “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!”

Here at the end of the first book in this re-read, I’m already thinking of some type of summary post I’ll have to do at the end of it all. Mostly because re-reading this one made me fully realize how much of my memory of some of the books has been impacted by my more frequent watching of movie adaptations. I had forgotten just how little page time was devoted to the men in this book and even more so the specifics of how Marianne/Colonel Brandon’s romance played (or didn’t play) out. That’s just one example, but I caught myself doing comparisons many times.

I’m also curious to see how my memory does with each of the heroines of the other books. I’ve re-read “Pride and Prejudice” and “Emma” more than the others, so I feel fairly confident there. But this re-read also highlighted just how little I remembered of how Elinor and Marianne are described on page. In this read through, I really found myself focusing, almost to the point of distraction, more on what Austen was trying to say through her very different depictions of Elinor and Marianne. In some ways, it made this book feel more like “Northanger Abbey” than her other books. Both that book and this seem to be making a fairly distinct commentary on a particular subject rather than reading as a simple story.

Here, Austen is really laying it on thick with her opinions on women who give way to flights of romanticism to the point that they lose sight of reality and perspective. Knowing Austen’s own life, particularly the fact that she never married, it’s easy to see how she might condemn this type of overly-sentimental approach to life. Marianne routinely makes grand pronouncements that anyone who has lived in the world would know won’t hold up. Instead, Elinor is a constant presence as a reminder of all that is good, reserved, and true. She may not be flashy, but she’s clearly Austen’s response to the type of flighty, unmitigated sentimentality that she must have been seeing around herself and that she reflected in Marianne.

I found myself stopping and thinking about passages in this book fairly often as I was reading. While the story was lacking much of the comedy and romance that I think we often expect from Austen’s work, I think this book was tackling an important topic for Austen. Much as “Northnager Abbey” was her attempt to poke fun at the type of silly Gothic romances that were so popular at the time, this was her call to arms for women to give credence to their own self-control and sense. I think it’s also fairly interesting that these were two of her earlier written books. Perhaps, in some sense, she was able to get these larger points “out of her system” (that phrase implies it was a bad thing, but that’s not really it) in these early books, and thus allowed herself more leeway to fully indulge in her storytelling in her later books. We’ll see if my memory holds more true for those when I get there!

In two weeks, I’ll review the 1995 movie of “Sense and Sensibility.”

Kate’s Review: “Scarred”

49895887._sx318_sy475_Book: “Scarred: The True Story of How I Escaped NXIVM, The Cult That Bound My Life” by Sarah Edmondson and Kristine Gasbarre

Publishing Info: Chronicle Prism, September 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: In 2005, Sarah Edmondson was a young actress getting her start in Vancouver and hungry for purpose. When NXIVM, a personal and professional development company, promised to provide the tools and insight to reach her potential and make an impact, Sarah was intrigued. She would go on to become one of the cult’s most faithful (and effective) devotees. Over her twelve-year tenure, Sarah enrolled over 2,000 people and operated her own NXIVM center in Vancouver.

Of course, things were not what they seemed. As Sarah progressed up NXIVM’s “Stripe Path,” questions kept coming up about the organization’s rules and practices. Why did the organization prevent members from asking questions? Why did those who did ask questions promptly leave or disappear? These questions came to a head in 2017 when Sarah accepted an invitation from her best friend, Lauren Salzman, to join DOS, a “secret sisterhood” within NXIVM and headed to the headquarters in Albany for the initiation ceremony. Thanks to Sarah’s fearlessness as she put her life on the line, that ceremony would mark the beginning of the end of NXIVM.

In this tell-all memoir, complete with personal photographs, Sarah shares her true story from the moment she takes her first NXIVM seminar, revealing in-depth details of her time as a member, including what happened on that fateful night in Albany, and her harrowing fight to get out, help others, and heal. This is also a true story about abuses of power, the role female friendships play in cults, and how sometimes the search to be “better” can override everything else.

Review: While I didn’t watch the teen show “Smallville” on a regular basis, I watched it enough to know that I enjoyed the character of Chloe Sullivan, Clark’s BFF and fellow student journalist. Part of the charm was because of Allison Mack, who played Chloe with quirkiness and a relatable awkward bent that I really connected with back in the day. Serena watched the show regularly, however, as anything Superman is up her alley. So you know that we were texting each other like mad the night the news broke that Mack had been arrested for sex trafficking within the cult NXIVM.

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Me at the taco restaurant that night as we dished on the downfall of Chloe Sullivan. (source)

I had never heard of NXIVM, the multi level marketing organization turned psychologically and physically abusive cult, but once this news broke I wanted to know EVERYTHING. So a podcast and a lot of article perusing later, I felt like I had learned a lot about the group and Keith Raniere, its creator, and how an actress like Mack could become a right hand confidant to a charismatic sociopath. But when I found out that Sarah Edmondson, a former NXIVM member who exposed the bizarre and disturbing ‘branding’ practices NXIVM performed on a number of women, had written a memoir about her time in the cult, I was deeply, DEEPLY interested.

Edmondson is one of the key players in the exposure of NXIVM, Raniere, Mack, and numerous others who had been brought down after the smoke cleared. A former member whose association with NXIVM was more than ten years, Edmondson finally realized how deep in she was when she found herself branded with Raniere’s and Mack’s initials. Until that point Edmondson had been, mostly, all in, but that isn’t to say that she was without some doubts before then. This memoir gives us an honest insight into her thought process while she was still with the organization and hoping to garner favor with the higher ups, and has some true introspection about why she fell in so deep and stayed so long. Her honesty and candor is definitely appreciated, and it never feels like she tries to completely deflect her own culpability and blame in regards to the role that she played. True, she emphasizes that she too was manipulated into manipulating others, which sometimes feels like a bit of a ‘I’m sorry but it’s not totally my fault’ strategy, but that said given the psychological manipulation this group deals in, I don’t doubt the manipulation at play. And besides, it does seem like she is trying to make amends by getting this story out there, and by doing her best to expose the group before the spotlight really shone down on Raniere, Mack, et al. I don’t think I can pass judgement on her at the end of the day, but others may feel differently, and that’s okay too.

In terms of NXIVM itself, as I definitely read this in part to learn some of the ins and outs of the group beyond the knowledge I already had, I feel that Edmondson (and co-author Kristine Gasbarre) set up the narrative in an effective way, and showed the way that the group can pull people in slowly and surely. One can definitely see the appeal of this multi-level marketing scheme to those who are feeling vulnerable and insecure, and how it can slowly build and build until said people are in way over their heads and allowing themselves to be branded or to be used in sexual coercion plots. It’s deeply fascinating, and terrifying, stuff. I would suggest that if you want a larger deep dive, check out the podcast “Uncovered: Escaping NXIVM”. Edmondson is not only a consultant on that, it also has a broader scope about the group as a whole, and will probably give you more comprehensive information than this memoir does.

All in all, “Scarred” is upsetting and hard to put down. Edmondson gets to tell her story on her own terms, and is another reminder about the dangers of group think and a cult of personality.

Rating 7: A disturbing and personal memoir from a former member of a cult, “Scarred” sheds some insight into NXIVM and continues to try to make amends.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Scarred” isn’t on many Goodreads lists as of now, but it is included on “Canadian NonFiction- Fall 2019”, and I think it would fit in on “People Who Have Left Cults or Religious Fundamentalism (Memoirs and Biographies)”.

Find “Scarred” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Ship of Smoke and Steel”

34618380Book: “Ship of Smoke and Steel” by Django Wexler

Publishing Info: Tor Teen, January 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: In the lower wards of Kahnzoka, the great port city of the Blessed Empire, eighteen-year-old ward boss Isoka comes to collect when there’s money owing. When her ability to access the Well of Combat is discovered by the Empire—an ability she should have declared and placed at His Imperial Majesty’s service—she’s sent on an impossible mission: steal Soliton, a legendary ghost ship—a ship from which no one has ever returned. If she fails, her sister’s life is forfeit.

Review: Our bookclub has been doing a Secret Santa book exchange for the last several years (have we mentioned how awesome our bookclub is recently??). It’s great because A.)more books! and B.) having librarians as friends means you’re sure to get a great new read that has been careful tailored to your own reading preferences. I’d seen the sequel for this book coming up on “most anticipated” lists for a few months now and am not sure how I missed this first one when it came out last year. But this has now been rectified, and I’m now halfway through said sequel. So, spoiler alert, I loved this book.

Reigning as a crime lord on the streets of Kahnzoka may not be an ideal life, but it’s a living, and one that Isoka is particularly skilled at. With her Well of Combat, she can be as brutal as she is efficient. But behind her cold exterior, her true purpose is one of love, the protection and future of her beloved younger sister Tori. But it all goes awry when she is captured and sentenced to an almost sure death on the mythical ship Soliton. There, she realizes that what once had seemed only a fable is all too real, and the powers that had made her almost legendary on the streets may be only a drop in the bucket against the new foes that await her.

I’ve only read one other book by Wexler, a military fantasy fiction novel which I quite enjoyed. This was the author’s first foray into YA fantasy fiction, and I have to say, I think this might be the key to it. Having been an adult fantasy author first, there seems a decent chance that Wexler was less influenced by the pervasive YA tropes that all too often undercut many potentially good YA fantasies these days. This book has all of the originality, spunk, diversity and grimness that one would find in an adult novel. The only thing that makes it YA is the age of our main characters. And that’s what makes it so good.

Isoka may be a teen, but she is completely believable as young woman who grew up on the streets and whose sense of morality and survival have been worn down to just the basics. This book doesn’t shy away from the grim reality that would take over a character who has had to fight for her own, and her much younger sister’s, very survival almost from infancy. Isoka is a bringer of death, and while over the course of this book she learns to take others under her wing as well, her lack of angst over the harshness of her life was incredibly refreshing. She may not be a “good” person by the standards a modern individual would set, but she’s a survivor and doesn’t apologize for doing what she thinks is necessary to protect those she loves.

The magic system was also very compelling. It’s simple enough to be understood easily, with a variety of Wells that users can pull from that grant them different abilities. But as the story progresses, we learn that not all is fully understood about these Wells. And even by the end of the story, there are mysteries still to be unraveled here. Isoka’s own power, the Well of Combat, is an excellent choice for our main character. The action is riveting, feeling almost cinematic as Isoka battles monstrous beasts with her twin power blades and armor. There are also those with powers such as speed, fire, and shadow, and the greater battle scenes paint an epic-feeling picture of these incredible individuals battling alongside one another.

Most of the action takes place on board the mysterious ship Soliton. I don’t want to spoil anything, as discovering the horrors and wonders of this ship was half the fun of the book. Just as you feel you understand one layer of this creepy place, another unfolds. Again, like the magic system itself, by the end of the book the reader feels as if they have only scraped the surface of what is really going on behind this secretive ship.

This was an excellent read. I blew through it in only two days. It’s a fast read, full of action and creepy fantasy elements. There’s also a lovely romance between Isoka and her friend Meroe, a girl with her own barely understood abilities. I already have the second book loaded up on my Kindle, so expect a review for that one up soon. If you’re looking for a fun new fantasy series, definitely check this one out!

Rating 9: Epic, action-packed, and best of all, the start of what promises to be an exciting trilogy!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Ship of Smoke and Steel” is on these Goodreads lists: “2019 Queer SFF” and “Best Fantasy 2019.”

Find “Ship of Smoke and Steel” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.7): Spider’s Thrash”

22426Book: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.7): Spider’s Thrash” by Warren Ellis, Darick Robertson (Ill.), and Rodney Ramos (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, November 2002

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it!

Book Description: The hammer has come down on him but outlaw journalist Spider Jerusalem has managed to stay one step ahead of his detractors – I.e. the President of the United States and his authoritarian lackeys in publishing and law enforcement.
After losing his byline, bank account, and apartment, Jerusalem and his Filthy Assistants have legged it underground, the better to implement his plan. What plan, you say? Why, the plan to bring down the President of course!

Review: Back in 2016, in the wake of the devastation of the Presidential election I decided to start a re-read of “Transmetropolitan”, the dystopian cyberpunk comic about corruption in Government and society and the tenacious and bonkers reporter who wants to take it all down. Then I let it fall to the wayside for reasons I can’t really figure out, outside of having so much to read and so little time. But now it’s 2020, our Government keeps pulling awful bullshit, and I’m getting very scared about what the next Presidential election could possibly bring. So, I decided to pick back up with Spider Jerusalem, his filthy assistants, and The City.

Spider Jerusalem had made a quasi comeback after being silenced by the incredibly evil President Callahan, aka The Smiler in Volume 6. In Volume 7, he has moved beyond his own personal voice and has once again found a publication that will take him on, even if it’s a small press with perhaps not as much reach as before. But once Spider has a platform again (which is the first part of this volume), he starts to use his voice for causes that until now we haven’t seen much of within these pages. True, Warren Ellis has always been very political in the “Transmetropolitan” stories, but in “Spider’s Thrash” we get to see direct parallels to our own grievous political decisions in the late 20th century, laid out in The City and a cyberpunk dystopia. Spider’s aim isn’t directly at The Smiler and his administration, rather it’s at the callous policies it has quietly started implementing. One of the most glaring is that more and more mentally ill people have started ending up on the streets, and have become more and more relegated to dangerous and impoverished areas. The Smiler has decided that spending money on mental health social services isn’t his problem and that he trusts citizens to take care of the less fortunate rather than having any social safety nets in place for them through the Government. Gee, where have we heard this before?

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OH THAT’S RIGHT. (source)

But along with the upsetting and biting social commentary that is reflective of past and present political quagmires (as the press is still being stifled and vilified, with Spider having a target on his head), “Spider’s Thrash” also starts to peel back some character truths that are harbingers of more issues down the line. Most importantly, Yelena, Spider’s personal assistant and reluctant confidant, has started to notice that Spider may not be doing well, physically. This is when the series takes a heartbreaking turn, for multiple reasons. The first is that Yelena (and Channon to a lesser extent) has always acted as though her affiliation with Spider is burdensome and frustrating, and that she’s there just to make sure he doesn’t totally fuck up and/or kill himself and her in the process. But when there is the possibility that he could be sick or dying it becomes clear that they mean so much to each other. Channon, too, is worried about Spider, but right now this is Yelena’s beast of burden, as the possibility of losing Spider is too much for her to think about. The other reason that this is a bit sad in hindsight is because Spider Jerusalem is very clearly based on Hunter S. Thompson, whose own ailing health and medical problems are thought to have played a role in his suicide in 2005.

But Spider can’t be kept down. And by the end of this volume, we have started hurtling towards a final showdown between Spider and The Smiler. 2020 is the year that this country is going to have to once again choose who is going to run our country, and what direction we want that choice to take us. God I wish we had Spider here to help us. I’m not leaving him by the wayside again, because he may be the only thing that gets me through this uncertain and terrifying future.

Rating 8: After a far too long break I’ve once again been reminded that Spider Jerusalem is incredibly relevant to today’s society.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Transmetropolitan (Vol. 7): Spider’s Thrash” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best of Cyberpunk”, and “Bibles for the Revolution”.

Find “Transmetropolitan (Vol.7): Spider’s Thrash” at your library using WorlCat!

Previously reviewed: