Serena’s Review: “The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan”

44059557._sy475_-1Book: “The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan” by Sherry Thomas

Publishing Info: Tu Books, September 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: CHINA, 484 A.D.

A Warrior in Disguise

All her life, Mulan has trained for one purpose: to win the duel that every generation in her family must fight. If she prevails, she can reunite a pair of priceless heirloom swords separated decades earlier, and avenge her father, who was paralyzed in his own duel.

Then a messenger from the Emperor arrives, demanding that all families send one soldier to fight the Rouran invaders in the north. Mulan’s father cannot go. Her brother is just a child. So she ties up her hair, takes up her sword, and joins the army as a man.

A War for a Dynasty

Thanks to her martial arts skills, Mulan is chosen for an elite team under the command of the princeling–the royal duke’s son, who is also the handsomest man she’s ever seen. But the princeling has secrets of his own, which explode into Mulan’s life and shake up everything she knows. As they cross the Great Wall to face the enemy beyond, Mulan and the princeling must find a way to unwind their past, unmask a traitor, and uncover the plans for the Rouran invasion . . . before it’s too late.

Review: There are certain stories out there that I always think about wistfully. They are the ones that have so much potential and yet, while tried, have still not (to my mind at least) come out with a definitive version (like “Beauty” by Robin McKinely is for me for “Beauty and the Beast). Even worse, sometimes, are those that have so much potential and have been attempted only to muck it up badly. “Mulan” is one of those tales. It has all the right ingredients to make a great story and to be (seemingly) easily adapted into a story that is sure to appeal to many readers right now. And yet…for me, it definitely falls in the latter category of disappointment: attempts have been made but not only are they not the definitive version (again, my own opinion of it at least), but I had varying levels of frustration with these attempts. From boredom to out-right anger. cough”Flame in the Mist”cough. But…but…finally!

Mulan has spent much of her life disguised as a boy and training to compete in an age-long duel between her family and another over the possession of two incredible swords. Her days are filled with swordplay, catching flying arrows while blindfolded, and other incredible feats. She has defined her life around this role, though secretly mourns the loss of her own identity as her father’s only daughter. But when war strikes, thoughts of the duel are set aside and duty rises to the forefront. Now, marching to battle, Mulan finds herself in the company of a handsome prince who seems somehow familiar. And all too soon her fighting skills are put to the test, not in an organized duel, but out in the wild with death on the line.

I was incredibly hopeful for this version of “Mulan” when I saw that Sherry Thomas would be the author writing it. Not only is Thomas a Chinese American who was born and lived in China during her childhood, but she’s successfully tackled retelling other well-known historical stories, like her “Lady Sherlock” series (guess what review you’ll be reading from me next??). Like that series, here Thomas not only masterfully recreates the character of Mulan but deftly draws a version of early China that not only feels authentic but is very informative of a time and culture that many Western readers may not be familiar with.

The central conflict, for example, doesn’t center  around the ubiquitous, largely undefined Huns as many past versions have done. Instead, it dives into the various political maneuverings of North and South China, their differing cultures, and the challenges of bringing together a nation as large and diverse as that. It also speaks to the seeming randomness of borders and how being on one side or another can define much about a person and have lasting effects on the way one group is perceived over time.

But don’t get me wrong, the story isn’t just an exploration of cultural definitions in China; Mulan and her fellows are going to war. I very much enjoyed the action of this story. From the beginning, we see the differences between how Mulan has been raised to fight, seeing it as something bound in duty and a form of art, and what fighting looks like on a battlefield when your life depends on your choices. Here we see Mulan struggle not because she is a woman and has to somehow overcome more due to this “deficiency” (no, she is largely acknowledged as one of the most skilled fighters from the beginning), but because she is human, and being human makes fear and courage very real things that must also be learned and mastered. Here, we have not only the exploration of these themes through Mulan’s experiences, but some really great examples seen in the princeling himself.

I think of them all, much as I love Mulan herself, the princeling struck me as the most interesting character. Thomas goes some surprising routes with this character and deftly sidesteps the pitfalls that other versions have fallen into where his “manliness” is used to bluntly contrast Mulan’s own femininity. Much as I love Disney’s “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” song, this version provides a much more layered character and one who contrasts Mulan, but not in the ways one would expect.

I’m not terribly familiar with the original tale of Mulan, but this one feels right. The added layer of the ancient sword duel and the use of this aspect of the story to delve into family, honor, and trust fleshed the story out beyond the confines of a war story where a girl disguises herself as a man. Mulan’s conflicts are not only battles and war tactics, but the challenge of understanding one’s parents and the choices of those who came before us. Through this understanding, she is better able to find peace with her own walk of life.

I absolutely loved this story. It’s everything I could have wanted for a “Mulan” retelling. If I had to ding it, HAD to, I would say I could have used a tad bit more of the romance. But this is such a niggling thing that it barely is worth mentioning. Overall, I found the romantic plotline, like everything else, to be very satisfying. This story not only retells the known tale (at least what most readers know of it, probably, again, based on Disney), but it adds new layers to the main characters and the conflict itself. If you, like me, were waiting for the version, your wait is over! Check out this book immediately!

Rating 9: Absolutely brilliant. Thomas has done for “Mulan” what she did for Sherlock: taken a challenging-to-get-right story and blown it away!

Reader’s Advisory: 

“The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan” can be found on these Goodreads lists: “Retellings of Mulan” and “YA East Asian Fantasy.”

Find “The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Mooncakes”

44774415._sy475_Book: “Mooncakes” by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Lion Forge, October 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: A story of love and demons, family and witchcraft.

Nova Huang knows more about magic than your average teen witch. She works at her grandmothers’ bookshop, where she helps them loan out spell books and investigate any supernatural occurrences in their New England town.

One fateful night, she follows reports of a white wolf into the woods, and she comes across the unexpected: her childhood crush, Tam Lang, battling a horse demon in the woods. As a werewolf, Tam has been wandering from place to place for years, unable to call any town home.

Pursued by dark forces eager to claim the magic of wolves and out of options, Tam turns to Nova for help. Their latent feelings are rekindled against the backdrop of witchcraft, untested magic, occult rituals, and family ties both new and old in this enchanting tale of self-discovery.

Review: Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book!

I know that not everyone has the same love and affinity for all things horror that I do. And while I know that for me the month of October is all about the ghosts, ghouls, slashers, and monsters that I want to associate with, for others that may not be as appealing. So for today’s Horrorpalooza book, we’re actually inching away from the horror, and looking at a kinder, gentler kind of book of the season, where witches and werewolves fall in love, and magic can lead to self discovery. Today I’m going to talk about the sweet and romantic graphic novel “Mooncakes” by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu, a story about a witch named Nova and a werewolf named Tam and the magic that surrounds their lives, for better or for worse.

“Mooncakes” takes the kinder, gentler witch story and gives it some new and unique twists. Nova’s family life is the familiar matriarchal witch household, as she is living with her grandmothers Quili and Nechama and learning about magic and spells from them. While I do love a vengeful or spiteful witch, or one who has legitimate grievances with society and the patriarchy, I do have to say that I also like the positive stories of witches empowering other witches through education, family, and love. “Mooncakes” really embodies this positive trope, and Quili and Nechama are the perfect supportive and bustling mother figures that fill the void of Nova’s parent’s deaths. Nova herself is a unique main character. She is Chinese American, so her culture influences not only her home life but also her magic. Along with that she also has hearing aids, and after she lost her hearing she began to master the art of nonverbal magical spells, a concept that we may see (as sometimes witches don’t have to say ANYTHING to make magic happen in stories), but is rarely explored. But it’s her romance with Tam that is the center of the story. Tam and Nova were childhood friends, but Tam left town and has been wandering on their own, living as a werewolf and distancing themself from an abusive home life. When Tam and Nova reconnect, their lingering feelings for each other start to re-boot. Their romance is sweet and not terribly complicated, and I liked that Tam’s nonbinary identity wasn’t the focus of the conflict, and that they were easily and readily accepted by the other characters.

The plot and the magical aspects of this story, however, weren’t as strong as I had hoped they would be. We know that Tam is being targeted for some kind of nefarious spells, as when we meet them they are in conflict with a horse demon in the woods. Nova is there for Tam and is determined to figure out what is going on, but I never felt like that aspect of the plot was really focused on. We get hints as to who may be behind it, and while I feel like Walker tried to hide the culprit, it felt pretty obvious as to who it was going to be. While we are told that Tam is in some serious danger, it never feels like the stakes are all that high. And once we got to the big showdown, things resolved themselves rather easily, and threw in some obvious tropes that have been seen many times before for good measure in terms of resolution. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily! I love a ‘the love for the other person is able to fight through a spell’ twist as much as the next person, but when the rest of the magical plot and conflict feels a little haphazard, that doesn’t exactly make the twist seem stronger. I think that had this story paid more attention to building up the conflict and magic issues, it would have worked better. As it was, it felt more like an afterthought.

The art, however, is totally adorable and sweet! I really like Wendy Xu’s style, and I love the details and designs that she brought to the characters.

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(source)

If you want a sweet romantic story with magical elements, “Mooncakes” could be a good choice. I wouldn’t go in expecting a whole lot of magical system building, but it does have charming characters and some great representation. And if you don’t want something scary this witchy season, it’s a good alternative.

Rating 6: A cute and romantic story about witches, family, and magic, “Mooncakes” is filled with a lot of sweetness, though not much complexity.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Mooncakes” is included on the Goodreads lists “Comics for Witches”, and “Graphic Novels Featuring LGBTQ Themes”.

Find “Mooncakes” at your library using WorldCat!

Scary Reads from Silver Screams: Book Picks from Spooky Movies

We are deep into the Halloween Season, and while scary stories and creepy books are all well and good, a huge part of the season, at least for Kate, is consuming all the horror and spooky movies that she can. For those of you who also enjoy a good festive movie for this time of the year, here is a list of book recommendations that could be a good pairing with your favorite spooky film!

Movie: “Suspiria” (1977) / Book: “The Walls Around Us”

The original “Suspiria”, directed by Dario Argento, is a surrealistic and completely bananas horror film with vibrant colors, a kick ass soundtrack, and an unnerving setting in a ballet academy where strange, supernatural things are afoot. The reasons that it would pair well with Nova Ren Suma’s “The Walls Around Us” are numerous. “The Walls Around Us” involves a ballet school, death, and a dancers who find themselves behind bars in a juvenile detention center for murders they may or may not have committed. But, like “Suspiria”, there are strange and surreal supernatural elements that come into play, and make the reader feel like they don’t know which way is up when all is said and done. Both “Suspiria” and “The Walls Around Us” are creepy and unsettling, and fans of the movie would definitely find a lot to like in this book.

Movie: “The Blair Witch Project” / Book: “Hex”

“The Blair Witch Project” is still one of Kate’s all time favorite horror movies, as any movie involving scary witches is going to be a must watch in her book. Three grad students go into the woods to film a documentary about a folktale involving a woman who was killed as a witch, and disappear. The movie is the found footage of their disappearance, and the slow realization that someone, or something is in the woods with them. This movie is going to be perfectly with Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s “Hex”. Like “Blair Witch”, it involves a town that is haunted by it’s history, and literally haunted by the ghost of a witch that was killed in puritan times. Not only are the themes of witches from olden times at play, so are the themes of technology, as the filmmakers in “Blair Witch” are filming the whole time, and the townspeople in “Hex” use cameras and tech to keep an eye on the witch as she moves about. Both are disturbing as all get out.

Movie: “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974) / Book: “Off Season”

For those who aren’t afraid of a little brutality in their horror media and literature, this pairing could be for you. In “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, a group of young adults run afoul a family that has started killing people for sport and profit after they lost their livelihood at the local slaughterhouse. It was a notorious sensation at the time of it’s release, and yes, it’s one that Kate watches every Halloween Day. And Jack Ketchum is the go to author for visceral horror with lots of depravity and violence. Like “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, a group of friends are traveling together, those in this case to a coastal retreat deep in the wilderness, while a group of inbred cannibals starts to hunt them down. This book is NOT for the faint of heart, especially if you get the most recent edition that restored all the violence the initial publication did away with.

 Movie: “The Ring” (2002) / Book: “The Girl from the Well”

The movie that turned all dark, long-haired girls into immediate Halloween hits simply by creating a wet, comb-forward look and pairing it with a nightdress. This pairing is also pretty obvious. The book description of a murdered girl who died in a well hunting down humans even references the same Japanese horror ghost story that inspired “The Ring.” Serena is particularly terrified of this movie having, for some unknown reason, been conned into watching it several times in highschool and never having recovered. So much so that she hasn’t read the book, even being a fan of Chupeco’s other work. But for those who were not scarred permanently about girls drowned in well and then climbing out of TVs, this book is the perfect pairing!

Movie: “A Quiet Place” (2018) / “In the After”

For those who like their scares to blur the lines between sci-fi and horror, creature flicks are often a go-to pick. “A Quiet Place” seemed to come out of nowhere but soon struck a chord with fans of many genres with its spooks but also its heart-wrenching deep dive into the love of a family trying to survive in the most difficult of circumstances. All told with very few words as any sound at all will attract the deadly creatures who now roam earth. “In the After” follows a very similar concept, that creatures have shown up on Earth who hunt by sound thus making silence the only source of safety. The main character, a teenage girl, has survived for years not speaking while also raising a young little girl who has mysterious origins. Fans who enjoyed the basic concept at the heart of “A Quiet Place” are sure to be pleased to see the same idea play out on the page.

Movie: “28 Days Later” (2002) / “The Walking Dead”

And, of course, no Halloween list isn’t completely with some nod to the zombie genre. “28 Days Later” is a favorite zombie movie of Serena’s largely based on the fact that the story explores the horror at the heart of humanity. “The Walking Dead,” mostly known for the hit TV show, has been the be all, end all for zombie stories for quite a while. But for those who haven’t read the original graphic novel, it’s a perfect pairing for fans of “28 Days Later.” It, too, tells a zombie story, but readers soon learn that the zombies are largely only a natural disaster phenomenon to be dealt with; the true horror lies in how humanity responds to this sudden loss of society and civilization. Some rise to the top, while others sink into the worst of the cruelty and inhumanity that can exist in some.

Those are our picks! What other movies and books are your favorites during the Halloween season?

Serena’s Review: “Fireborne”

36578543Book: “Fireborne” by Rosaria Munda

Publication Info: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, October 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: BookishFirst

Book Description: Annie and Lee were just children when a brutal revolution changed their world, giving everyone—even the lowborn—a chance to test into the governing class of dragonriders.

Now they are both rising stars in the new regime, despite backgrounds that couldn’t be more different. Annie’s lowborn family was executed by dragonfire, while Lee’s aristocratic family was murdered by revolutionaries. Growing up in the same orphanage forged their friendship, and seven years of training have made them rivals for the top position in the dragonriding fleet.

But everything changes when survivors from the old regime surface, bent on reclaiming the city.

With war on the horizon and his relationship with Annie changing fast, Lee must choose to kill the only family he has left or to betray everything he’s come to believe in. And Annie must decide whether to protect the boy she loves . . . or step up to be the champion her city needs.

Review: I’m always interested in a good dragon book. And for as popular as the subject matter is, it’s rare that I find one that really hits the spot for me. Maybe it’s just that the more I like something, the higher standards I set for it. But combined with an intriguing book description and comparison to “Red Rising,” I was excited to see what new take “Fireborne” had to offer!

Revolutions are bloody and brutal, but what comes after can be just as hard. The decks have been shuffled leaving those who survived living very different lives than the ones they had before. For Annie and Lee, these changes hit very close to home, but in very different ways. Now, together, they are slowly climbing their way through the ranks as dragon riders, each hoping to build their own future in this new world. But the old regime has only gone underground, and when it becomes clear that the revolution is not over, Annie and Lee must now, once again, choose sides.

I can definitely see how the comparisons to “Red Rising” came about. For all that a dragon is on the cover, this story is mostly a deep dive into the moral grey zone of what a revolution really looks like. Similarly to that book, it explores complex issues spending extra time highlighting that no choice is perfect and consequences are to be had no matter how good one’s intentions are going in. In our current political and cultural environment, I really appreciated the attention that went into this portrayal and the challenging questions it poses to not only its characters but to readers as well. It’s always refreshing to find a story that goes past the simple (and often unbelievable) “good” and “bad” of it all.

Both Annie and Lee provide insights into the past events of the revolution, the current regime, and, of course, the challenges posed by the resurgence of the conflict. At various times it was easy to side with one or another only to skip to the next chapter, read the other character’s perspective, and feel conflicted once again. I will say that Annie, by the nature of her story, had the easier sell, leaving Lee more often in the role of the character who needed to experience more growth and perspective.

However, at times, the writing itself seemed to let down these greater themes. For one thing, as I’ve gone into before, it’s always challenging to write two perspectives. Yes, Annie and Lee tell different stories and have differing challenges and views on events. But the writing itself is doing very little to differentiate their voices. Take away the actual story beats, and these two characters sound the same and it would be challenging to identify which of the two is speaking. This flaw makes it hard to truly connect to either character as they feel less like people and more like vessels through which to communicate the overall conflicts of the story.

The writing was also a bit slow. It did pick up towards the end and became quite engaging at that point. But it still took a bit to reach that point. This may, again, have to do with the challenge of feeling truly emotionally invested in either character. There were a lot of characters and connections between them that never felt fully explained leaving me more often than not still trying to pin down who was who about half way into into the book. A whiff of a love triangle was also a bit of a detractor even if it never became fully fledged.

I still really enjoyed the dragons, of course. And the overall story has a lot of potential growth. It’s tackling some big concepts and putting in the work to approach the realities of such decisions, actions, or inactions. Perhaps the second in the series will help cement to the two protagonists more fully into their own. I’m still game to check it out! And, if you’re interested in getting your hands on a free copy, don’t forget to enter our giveaway for “Fireborne!”

Rating 7: The story and themes outshine its own main characters at times, but there’s still a lot of potential in this first in a new trilogy!

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Fireborne” is a newer title so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but, funnily, it is on this “We Fire the Darkness And Flame At Night.”

Find “Fireborne” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “White Tears”

30780283Book: “White Tears” by Hari Kunzru

Publishing Info: Knopf Publishing Group, May 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: From one of the most talented fiction writers at work today: two ambitious young musicians are drawn into the dark underworld of blues record collecting, haunted by the ghosts of a repressive past.

Two twenty-something New Yorkers. Seth is awkward and shy. Carter is glamorous and the heir to one of America’s great fortunes. They have one thing in common: an obsession with music. Seth is desperate to reach for the future. Carter is slipping back into the past. When Seth accidentally records an unknown singer in a park, Carter sends it out over the Internet, claiming it’s a long lost 1920s blues recording by a musician called Charlie Shaw. When an old collector contacts them to say that their fake record and their fake bluesman are actually real, the two young white men, accompanied by Carter’s troubled sister Leonie, spiral down into the heart of the nation’s darkness, encountering a suppressed history of greed, envy, revenge, and exploitation.

White Tears is a ghost story, a terrifying murder mystery, a timely meditation on race, and a love letter to all the forgotten geniuses of American music.

Review: There has been a strange narrative that has come out lately that I’ve had a hard time swallowing when it comes to the horror genre, and that is the idea of ‘elevating’ horror. While I think that there has been a healthy respect from creators of newer horror movies that manage to gather more from the story than just jump scares or cliches (Jordan Peele, for example), there are others that seem to think that they can ‘improve’ the genre by being more artistic or surrealistic. For example, while I liked aspects of the new “Suspiria”, I definitely felt like it had a very high opinion of itself, and I didn’t enjoy it as much as I had hoped I would because it took itself almost too seriously. It’s not really something you see as much in literature, so I don’t go into horror stories with these worries. But I will say that I was a LITTLE worried about “White Tears” by Hari Kunzru, if only because a few people who I know who really liked it seemed to be saying that this was superior to genre horror specifically because of the literary style. That said, I was definitely interested in the themes of social justice and cultural appropriation and violence, and decided that it was finally time to pick it up. I will admit that the horror elements weren’t very horror based, at least for this fan. But everything else was executed wonderfully.

I will actually start with the weaker points in this review, just to get them out of the way. This is advertised as a horror novel, and while it absolutely has horror themes that involve possession, ghosts, and slow descents into instability, none of these themes or moments really made me feel scared, nor did they instill much dread in me. I think that part of this was the writing style choices that Kunzru made, be it the way the dialog was written or the way that sometimes things would jump around. This made it so that the scares couldn’t build up as much as they might have were the beats written in other ways. I tend to have a harder time with literary horror because of these kinds of things, and while I can appreciate authors experimenting and doing their own thing, it didn’t make the action as exciting or ‘unputdownable’ as I wanted. Even moments that could have felt merely unsettling as opposed to outright scary didn’t quite get to that level.

But honestly, the strengths of this book outweigh those issues, specifically the commentary about cultural appropriation, violence, and racism in American culture and society. Our protagonists are Seth and Carter, two white college students who think that because they study and have a fascination with American Blues that they have ownership over it. Seth isn’t nearly as entitled as Carter, whose wealth and status has really inflated his ego, but Seth definitely shares similar views when it comes to music. It’s an entitlement that is seen in American culture as white audiences consume and repackage facets from Black culture and market it to wider audiences and profit off of it. The idea that these two men think that they create a unique song and performer, only to find out that this person and his music was real, is very reminiscent of this view (even if there is something a bit supernatural about this specific instance within the story). I liked the contrast between Carter and Seth, as while Carter is clearly toxic from the get go, Seth is almost more damaging because he thinks that he is immune to these critiques because he doesn’t think he has the privileges that Carter has. Which is, of course, flagrantly ignoring his White privilege. You see a lot of White entitlement in this story, and when we finally start to see the voices of African American characters, specifically Charlie Shaw, the hypocrisy and scumbaggery of Seth, Carter, and others is highlighted and really punctuates the overall violence that artists like Shaw had to endure. I liked how Kunzru did a good job of applying the ideas of possession and haunting to the idea of cultural appropriation and the damages and injustices that it can foster. This is the kind of ‘horror elevation’ that I greatly enjoy, specifically because horror fiction, be it movies or literature, has always had some political and social commentary elements to it. “White Tears” knows how to weave those messages into this story seamlessly.

While I wish that “White Tears” had done a little bit more to scare me, I really enjoyed it for everything else that it had to offer! I should be more adventurous when it comes to literary horror, because this had some serious chops.

Rating 8: While the story wasn’t as horror centric as I had hoped, the social commentary more than made up for that.

Reader’s Advisory:

“White Tears” is included on the Goodreads lists “Books White People Need To Read”, and “Diversity in Fantasy and Science Fiction”.

Find “White Tears” at your library using WorldCat!

Giveaway: “Fireborne”

36578543Book: “Fireborne” by Rosaria Munda

Publication Info:G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, October 15

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from BookishFirst

Book Description: Annie and Lee were just children when a brutal revolution changed their world, giving everyone—even the lowborn—a chance to test into the governing class of dragonriders.

Now they are both rising stars in the new regime, despite backgrounds that couldn’t be more different. Annie’s lowborn family was executed by dragonfire, while Lee’s aristocratic family was murdered by revolutionaries. Growing up in the same orphanage forged their friendship, and seven years of training have made them rivals for the top position in the dragonriding fleet.

But everything changes when survivors from the old regime surface, bent on reclaiming the city.

With war on the horizon and his relationship with Annie changing fast, Lee must choose to kill the only family he has left or to betray everything he’s come to believe in. And Annie must decide whether to protect the boy she loves . . . or step up to be the champion her city needs.

Giveaway Details: “Fireborne” is an October release that has been getting a decent amount of buzz in the months leading up to it. I had it on several TBR lists (yes, I categorize those; I’m a librarian, no one should be surprised) and saw it repeatedly highlighted by other readers as a title they were looking forward to.

Dragons are pretty popular right now. But really, when were they not?? I think the bigger standouts for me were the “similar to’s” that have made their way into the marketing. Some of the earlier buzz highlighted that the book was drawing inspiration from Plato’s “The Republic” which was part of my initial interest. What a cool concept! And unique! My last experience with a book drawing on a lesser known inspirational story (“The Lady and the Tiger”) was a bit of a no-go, so we’ll see if this book does a better job of it.

I also recently saw that the new promotional materials are now making comparisons between this and “Red Rising” which really just confirms things for me. I loved the heck out of the entire first trilogy in that series (the next installment of books have so far been a bit more dark than I prefer, but I’m still liking them). Even with this book’s description, I can see the connections to that story. Both seem to deal with the realities of revolution and how the differing sides can each be right and wrong at the same time.

My full review for this book is coming up this Friday, but don’t wait until then to enter to receive your copy! The giveaway is open to U.S. residents and ends October 15.

Click here to enter!

Kate’s Review: “The Turn of the Screw”

12948._sy475_Book: “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James

Publishing Info: The Macmillan Company, October 1898

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: A very young woman’s first job: governess for two weirdly beautiful, strangely distant, oddly silent children, Miles and Flora, at a forlorn estate…An estate haunted by a beckoning evil.

Half-seen figures who glare from dark towers and dusty windows- silent, foul phantoms who, day by day, night by night, come closer, ever closer. With growing horror, the helpless governess realizes the fiendish creatures want the children, seeking to corrupt their bodies, possess their minds, own their souls…

But worse-much worse- the governess discovers that Miles and Flora have no terror of the lurking evil.

For they want the walking dead as badly as the dead want them.

Review: I’ve mentioned in the past that I have a huge gap in my literature experience when it come to ‘the classics’. I took a rather unconventional load of English and Lit courses in high school and college, and because of that a number of stories have been left behind. The horror genre is no exception, surprisingly enough. I have had “The Turn of the Screw” in the back of my mind since I was a teenager, and it sat on my Kindle for a few years after I purchased a few old school horror reads that then just sat there. My motivation to finally read this book came from two places; I read “The Turn of the Key” by Ruth Ware and knew I was probably missing less known references, and the next Mike Flanagan “Haunting” series is going to be based on this Henry James ghost story. It was obviously time to dive in and read the tale of terror that has influenced so much of the genre.

“The Turn of the Screw” was one of those game changing tales that pushed the ideas of horror and what you could do within the genre itself. There is no denying that Henry James paved the way for modern haunted house tales like “The Haunting of Hill House” and movies like “The Others” when he took ideas of unreliable narrators and unsettling ghosts vs over the top ghosts and put them on the page. Some of the things that I really liked about this book were because of these tweaks and experimentations. “The Turn of the Screw” takes great Gothic elements and completely acknowledges the influence from Gothic stories, be it references to “Jane Eyre” or “The Mysteries of Udolpho”. Bly is isolated and distant, and the unnamed Governess is left there with two strange children, another servant, and no head of house for guidance or direction. As she falls more and more into physical isolation, so too does her mind fall into mental isolation, which is really what you need for a Gothic theme to really have a punch. I also really appreciate how James wrote this story in a way that makes the Governess a completely unreliable narrator, and that we can’t quite figure out whether or not there are actual ghosts and Bly that want to take the children, or if she is slowly descending into madness and she is the actual threat the whole time. It’s left up to interpretation, and arguments can be made for either scenario. I honestly don’t know where I fall on the ‘was it ghosts or insanity’ argument, James was so convincing of both. And frankly, I don’t know which would be the worse answer, given how the story ends. Along with that, in my mild bit of research into the background of this story, James was one of the first people to write ghosts in an unsettling way as opposed to over the top and melodramatic. And that really stands out in this story, as the ghosts of Quint and Miss Jessel are more inclined to move through the grounds or appear in dark hallways and merely stand there as opposed to rattling chains and wailing. And for me, that’s far more creepy and disturbing. There were moments of imagery in this book that sent chills up my spine.

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Was it a mistake to read this book after dark while my husband was out of town? Almost assuredly. (source)

However, the reason that I am giving “The Turn of the Screw” a lower rating than one might expect from my praise is because of the writing style of the time period. This almost always knocks me off my game and distracts me when it comes to ‘classic’ stories, and “The Turn of the Screw” definitely fell into the trap of a lot of flowery language and slogging scenes with not as much action as I would have liked. When comparing it to another classic haunted house story like “The Haunting of Hill House”, I felt like it didn’t have the kind of pacing where the stakes were being repeatedly raised and the dread was building after every incident. I appreciate how this would have been groundbreaking for the time and how much it has done for the ghost stories that came after it. But for me, it was more of a slog to get through than I would have liked.

I think that reading “The Turn of the Screw” was ultimately a good choice, as I see how it works as a foundation for so many stories that I love. But it’s not one that I see myself revisiting as time goes on, as I might with “The Haunting of Hill House” or other classics like “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”.

Rating 6: A classic horror story that paved the way for many themes within a genre, “The Turn of the Screw” has moments of dread, but sometimes is held back by the style it was written in.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Turn of the Screw” is included on the Goodreads lists “Books With Unreliable Narrators”, and “Quick Books”.

Find “The Turn of the Screw” at your library using WorldCat!