Serena’s Review: “The King of Attolia”

40159Book: “The King of Attolia” by Megan Whalen Turner

Publishing Info: Greenwillow Books, January 2006

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: By scheming and theft, the Thief of Eddis has become King of Attolia. Eugenides wanted the queen, not the crown, but he finds himself trapped in a web of his own making.

Then he drags a naive young guard into the center of the political maelstrom. Poor Costis knows he is the victim of the king’s caprice, but his contempt for Eugenides slowly turns to grudging respect. Though struggling against his fate, the newly crowned king is much more than he appears. Soon the corrupt Attolian court will learn that its subtle and dangerous intrigue is no match for Eugenides.

Review: We’re back for some more of Eugendides’ hi-jinks and even more fantasy political drama. After the shake-up with narrative style that came with the previous book (going from a first person narrative from Gen’s perspective in the first book, to a third person POV with multiple characters in the second), I wasn’t sure what to expect with this one. How can an author keep her main character so tricky when readers are on to the cons after two books? Well, without spoiling it, Whalen Turner is definitely up to the task!

Our story starts with poor Gen exactly where he never wanted to be: ruling a country. Further, he’s now the King in a land ruled by a clear-headed, hard-handed Queen who rules over a land that was often at odds with his own native Eddis. I very much enjoyed the exploration of this relationship. This is by no means the happy, fluffy, “ever after” story that one is used to seeing after a royal wedding. Gen and Attolia have a complicated relationship, both in regards to their own rather, ahem, strife-ridden history, but also due to the aforementioned political power posturing that comes with a foreigner gaining a position of authority in a new land. Attolia is not the easiest woman to understand, as is made clear in the last book. And Gen plays his own thoughts and feelings close, for all that he seems so lackadaisical about everything. The exploration of this relationship was excellent.

Further, while the third person POV style was kept for this book, we are introduced to a new character, Costis, a guard in Attolia’s court. Costis is our eyes and ears representing both the feelings of many in the land of Attolia after Gen’s ascension to the throne, but also the necessary fop to be conned by Gen’s playacting. And while it is, of course, immensely enjoyable watching Costis’s eyes be opened to the true genius that is Gen, I continue to be impressed by how effectively Whalen Turner can still con the reader, as well. From the last two books, it is clear that Gen is the type of character who would chafe under the restrictions of royal life. This being the case, even I had a hard time knowing what was or was not an act on his part.

Other than Gen’s struggles at court, the larger plot of this story deals with the continued political turmoil going on in this region between the three main power houses: Attolia, Eddis, and the often-aggressive, Sunnis. Between this and the corruption in Attolia’s own court, the book’s plot is mainly political strategy and lighter on the action than both previous books (though after the action-packed “The Thief,” the previous book’s action was also much lighter). With this, the third in the series, it increasingly feels as if the first book stood alone in many ways, both in style, tone, and the type of story it was telling. These last two books seem represent the true direction that Whalen Turner is wanting to take this series. While I very much enjoyed “The Thief,” I’m loving these last two. If you’re looking for a series that doesn’t fall into any of the tropes or familiar storylines that are often present in fantasy series, definitely check out this series!

Rating 9: Excellent. I continue to be impressed with the author’s ability to retain Gen’s “trickiness!”

Reader’s Advisory:

“The King of Attolia” is on these Goodreads lists: “Political themed YA fiction” and “Jesters, Fools, and tricksters.”

Find “The King of Attolia” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed: “The Thief” and “The Queen of Attolia”

Kate’s Review: The “March” Trilogy

Book: The “March” Trilogy by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Top Shelf Production, August 2013 (1), January 2015 (2), and August 2016 (3).

Where Did I Get These Books: The library!

Book Description: Congressman John Lewis (GA-5) is an American icon, one of the key figures of the civil rights movement. His commitment to justice and nonviolence has taken him from an Alabama sharecropper’s farm to the halls of Congress, from a segregated schoolroom to the 1963 March on Washington, and from receiving beatings from state troopers to receiving the Medal of Freedom from the first African-American president.

Now, to share his remarkable story with new generations, Lewis presents March, a graphic novel trilogy, in collaboration with co-writer Andrew Aydin and New York Times best-selling artist Nate Powell (winner of the Eisner Award and LA Times Book Prize finalist for Swallow Me Whole).

March is a vivid first-hand account of John Lewis’ lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Rooted in Lewis’ personal story, it also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement. 

Review: John Lewis, noted Civil Rights Activist and Georgia Congressman, can now add another fabulous moniker to his name: National Book Award Winner. On November 16th, 2016, he won the National Book Award (in the Young Readers category) for his book “March: Book 3”, the conclusion to his autobiographical graphic novel series about his time during the Civil Rights Movement. I caught his acceptance speech, and like many other people, cried deeply because I was so happy for him, and it clearly meant so so much on so many levels. By total coincidence, I had just read “March: Book 2” that morning. It had been awhile since I read “Book 1”, and was playing catch up. So then all I had to do was wait for “Book 3” to come in, vowing that once it did I was going to review the entire work as a whole. Because that’s what the “March” Trilogy is: it’s one large story about a remarkable man during a tumultuous time, a story about a movement that changed the nation and a movement that seems all the more relevant today. So I waited. And “Book 3” finally came in for me. So now, let me tell you about this fabulous series.

“March: Book 1” starts with Lewis’s childhood as the son of a sharecropper in rural Alabama and goes through the Lunch Counter Protests in Nashville. From a young age Lewis had a drive and a passion to lead and learn, his early aspirations of being a preacher evolving into the leadership and commitment that he put forth while in the Nashville Student Movement, and then into the broader Civil Rights Movement as a whole. “March: Book 2” talks about his time with the Freedom Riders and the violence they faced during their non violent protests and demonstrations, all leading up to the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech. This book deals more with the growing aggression of the white citizens and government, as well as the Federal Government starting to waffle and teeter and struggle with the role that it should be playing. It’s also the book that shows Lewis and his own inner struggles, as while non violence is always the mission and the goal, his resentment and anger threatens to boil over. “March: Book 3” is the conclusion, and addresses Freedom Summer, Voting Rights, and Selma. And this story is told all within the frame of the Inauguration of President Barack Obama. Stunning framework, absolutely beautiful. There are multiple parallels between things in “Book 1” that come up again in “Book 3”, and there are themes that link all of them together not just with Lewis, but with other prominent figures as well. Lewis sets out to tell all of their stories as best he can, and the result is one of the best damn graphic novel series I have ever read.

This series is so powerful and personal, and it goes to show just how remarkable John Lewis is. He’s one of the ‘Big Six’, aka one of the most influential members of the Civil Rights Movement, and one of the only ones left, as he reminds us in “Book 1”. These books are very straight forward and simple, but they are so honest and personal that the power they have is immense. I found myself crying many times during my reads of all these books, but also laughing, and cheering, and seething. Lewis brought out so many emotions in me with his story, and his immense talent as a storyteller comes through, just as his charisma does. We get to see the story of the Civil Rights Movement through his eyes, and he tells us the stories of those involved within the movement and those who influenced it from the outside as well. Yes, at times these books are violent, and upsetting, but they need to be, because the horrors that fell upon many people during their non violent protests must never be forgotten. I think that the entirety is an accomplishment, but I understand why they gave the National Book Award to “Book 3”. After all, while it is probably symbolic of awarding the whole darn thing, I think that “Book 3” was the most powerful in terms of emotion being served, be it pride, fear, rage, or determination. It certainly was the one that had me weeping from the get go, as the very first moment was the bombing of the 16th Baptist Church that killed four little girls. The violence is absolutely horrifying, but it cannot be forgotten or glossed over. It absolutely cannot. “March: Book 3” also was the one to really address the differences of ideologies within the movement as a whole, not just between King and X, but Lewis and SNCC as well. And Lewis also has no qualms addressing the fact that LBJ, while he did ultimately get things going on a Federal level, was incredibly reluctant to do much in terms of help until he absolutely  HAD to. I think that realities get lost in the historical narratives that come in our educations, and that is absolutely why the “March” Trilogy is fundamental reading when it comes to the Civil Rights Movement in this country.

And, like other graphic novels before it, I want to address the artwork in this series. Because it is beautiful in it’s simplicity, and yet powerful in it’s design. It’s all black and white, and stark and striking on every page. Nate Powell brings the story to life on the page, and he did it both with bits of humor to go along with the hope, horror, and courage. There were bits of realism to accompany the distinct style, but it always felt very tangible and very authentic. As I mentioned before, the illustrations do not gloss over the violence that was prevalent during the time, and while it certainly is disturbing, it’s done in a way that could never be dismissed as exploitative or ‘over the top’. It is incredibly honest and upsetting, but it needs to be. The reader needs to be upset and outraged by it. Because it IS upsetting, and it is outrageous.

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I cannot stress enough how important the “March”Trilogy is in these uncertain and scary times. John Lewis is a treasure and an inspiration, and I feel that this is required reading. Get this in schools, get this in curriculums, get this in peoples hands. And you, you should likewise go out and get your hands on this series. You will not regret it. You will learn something. And you will be moved. Thank you, John Lewis. Thank you for so much.

Rating 10: A phenomenal and deeply personal series, John Lewis tells his story of activism through this astounding graphic novel trilogy. He speaks on the Civil Rights Movement from his perspective, and shows parallels to recent fights for rights and freedoms.

Reader’s Advisory:

The “March” Trilogy can be found on the following Goodreads lists: “Civil Rights Reading List”, “History Through Graphic Novels”, and “Activist Memoirs”.

Find The “March” Trilogy at your local library using WorldCat! Book 1; Book 2; Book 3.

Serena’s Review: “Vassa in the Night”

28220892Review: “Vassa in the Night” by Sarah Porter

Publishing Info: Tor, September 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: In the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn, the fashionable people put on cute shoes, go to parties in warehouses, drink on rooftops at sunset, and tell themselves they’ve arrived. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now—but not Vassa’s working-class neighborhood.

In Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and bickering stepsisters, one might stumble onto magic, but stumbling away again could become an issue. Babs Yagg, the owner of the local convenience store, has a policy of beheading shoplifters—and sometimes innocent shoppers as well. So when Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs in the middle of night, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission.

But Vassa has a bit of luck hidden in her pocket, a gift from her dead mother. Erg is a tough-talking wooden doll with sticky fingers, a bottomless stomach, and a ferocious cunning. With Erg’s help, Vassa just might be able to break the witch’s curse and free her Brooklyn neighborhood. But Babs won’t be playing fair…

Review: Another book that I had on my highlights post for Septmeber that finally showed up a week or so ago! I wasn’t familiar with the original Russian fairytale that inspired this book, so I came into it with very little idea of what it was going to be. Magic in Brooklyn and a Baba Yagga villain. Sounded awesome.

And large parts of it were! The general worldbuilding was very interesting. Your mileage with this will largely depend on how willing you are as a reader to “just go with it” as far as explanations and magic systems. There’s really no explanation for why and how magic exists in this area of the world. Further, the type of magic that is presented is much closer to the nonsense magic seen in “Alice in Wonderland” than to a more outlined and rule-bound magic like “Harry Potter.” That being the case, there is a lot of things popping up here and there with no rhyme or reason and then disappearing just as quickly. Some of these things I particularly enjoyed, like a group of swans that Vassa befriends, and a pair of sinister hands that operate as Babs’ henchmen, essentially.

Other parts felt a bit contrived, however, and as if Porter was simply trying too hard. Particularly some of her efforts to involve nonsense word-play (similar to the Fairyland books I had just read). And maybe having just come off those which were almost the perfect example of nailing this writing style, I was a bit biased against Porter’s attempts here. But I also feel that it was simply not executed well. While nonsense writing can be very insightful, this was clunky and actually confusing. At several points I had to re-read section to try and understand them and then, more often than not, came away with the conclusion that this was just another unexplained element. And while some of these unexplained magical oddities were enjoyable, it didn’t translate here. Dialogue and descriptions needs to be clear, regardless of how little you as an author are providing insights into other magical elements.

Vassa was a very strong protagonist. Her voice was unique and interesting, and I especially enjoyed her relationship with her sisters, especially her elder sister. As I’ve said, I always like sister stories! And, of course, Vassa’s primary partner in crime: Erg, the animated doll. I was both creeped out by and intrigued by Erg. I don’t think I was supposed to be as creeped out as I was, but there were certain elements of her and Vassa’s relationship that was confusing to me. Erg is definitely an intelligent individual with her own opinions, motives, and outlooks on life. So it was very strange switching from her and Vassa debating what do do about some problem or another to Vassa petting and nuzzling her the way you would a kitten. It was strange. But, as I’ve said, so was the whole book.

Ultimately, this book was stronger as a concept than it was as an actual story. There were almost too many weird things thrown in at every moment which prevented me from ever becoming fully invested in the story. I was too busy being confused by some of the writing choices and bouncing from one thing to another to really be able to draw a connecting line throughout the book or form real attachments to characters. There were random chapters inserted here or there attempting to provide some background information that only opened up more doors and left more dangling plot lines (Vassa’s father’s storyline was one of these). While this book is probably the closest thing I’ve seen to an actual dark fairytale set in an urban setting (vs. most urban fantasy which often is the usual, generic, vampires and witches and such in an in every other way normal city), it was too weighed down by its own concept to every really take off.

Rating 6: A unique concept and interesting worldbuilding places too much burden on a confusing plot.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Vassa in the Night” is a new book and isn’t included on many Goodreads lists. However, it should be on “Dark Fairy Tales.”

Find “Vassa in the Night” at your library using Worldcat!

 

Kate’s Review: “Outcast (Vol.3): This Little Light”

29277919Book: “Outcast (Vol.3): This Little Light” by Robert Kirkman and Paul Azaceta (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Image Comics, June 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Kyle is faced with the most emotional exorcism he’s performed yet… as he begins to learn more about his abilities and what’s really happening around him. Secrets are revealed that will change everything.

Review: If Volume 1 was set up and Volume 2 was getting the wheels into motion, “Outcast: This Little Light” is the pay off, and boy does it pay off and then some. Kirkman has always done a good job of taking a well worn trope (be it zombies in “The Walking Dead” or superheroes in “Invincible”) and breathing new, unique life into it, and “Outcast” is doing the same for the demonic possession story. I’ve said it before, I’m not as scared or disconcerted by demonic possession stories, but “Outcast” is exceeding my expectations.

When we left off in “A Vast and Unending Ruin”, Kyle and Anderson had the daunting and heart wrenching task of performing an exorcism on Kyle’s sister Megan. What could have been a frustrating and emotionally manipulative scene was actually done very well, as Megan’s danger didn’t feel like solely a way to get at our male protagonist. Given how these demons work, and given that this plot point is resolved pretty darn quickly and opens up some new plot paths, I was willing to give it a pass. Megan is a character that I am very fond of, as even though this happens to her, she bounces back and remains the tough and awesome sister that I really, really enjoy (yeah yeah, spoiler alert, but it needs to be said). It also opens up more for her to do because of some of the consequences of her temporary possession, especially in regards to her and her husband Mark. Mark is another really well done character, as while he could have easily been the skeptical and cruel brother in law who only serves to doubt Kyle, he’s taking an interesting turn as well. His and Megan’s relationship is one of the more well done and honest portrayals of marriage I’ve seen in a comic, and it serves as a nice counterbalance to the star crossed relationship between Allison and Kyle. While Kyle and Allison may be the couple that you are supposed to root for and invest in, with demons and misconceptions keeping them apart, I am far more invested in the one between Megan and Mark.

We also get a bit more insight into what exactly is going on with the demons regarding their motivations and their weaknesses. Kirkman continues to move the mythology out of the solely Judeo-Christian realm, giving us a bit more to chew on and getting a bit more creative. This, of course, is only adding more tension between Kyle and Anderson, as Kyle is pretty convinced that it has little to do with God, while Anderson is clinging to the belief that it has everything to do with that. It may be easy to say that I’m biased when it comes to this, as yes, I am an agnostic, but I think that by opening up the potential in demonic possession does a few positive things for the narrative. The first is that it makes it unique to other possession narratives. Adding your own spin to a classic story or device is going to make it stand out more, and “Outcast” is definitely standing out against other similar stories that I’ve seen in the past few years. It’s not just the demon mythology either, I am also very interested in what an ‘Outcast’, like Kyle, is, and how it all plays into this mythology. Another is that there’s lots to be said for being inclusive in stories like this, and by opening up more possibilities of explanation, Kirkman is speaking to a wider audience who may be reading this book and hoping for a more relatable evil to vanquish, and a more relatable way to combat it. And finally, at least for me, it’s scarier this way. Without going into specifics, I think that this kind of demonic force is hitting closer to my own personal fears. I like being scared, and this is giving me some serious willies.

“Outcast (Vol.3): This Little Light” left on a pretty hardcore cliffhanger, and now that I have fully succumbed to this comic I am definitely itching to see what happens next. Don’t keep me in suspense too long, Image Comics! When does Vol. 4 come out?

Rating 8: Now that the story is in full swing, “Outcast (Vol.3): This Little Light” is doing new and interesting things with the demonic possession trope. It’s still a bit weak in some areas (Kyle and Allison), but it’s thrilling in most others.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Outcast (Vol.3): This Little Light” is still not on any lists on Goodreads. Again, try “Hellblazer”, “Hellboy”, and “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”. Oh, and for another intriguing take on possession, give “My Best Friend’s Exorcism” a whirl too!

Find “Outcast (Vol.3): This Little Light” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously reviewed: “Outcast (Vol. 1): A Darkness Surrounds Him”, “Outcast (Vol.2): A Vast and Unending Ruin”.

Not Just Books: November 2016

While we do love us some books, believe it not, we do have a life outside of reading. So to highlight our other pop culture interests, on the last Monday of each month, we each will highlight three other “happenings” from the last month. Big events on favorite TV shows, new movies we’ve watched, old movies we’ve “discovered,” etc. Pretty much whatever we found of particular interest outside of the book world during the last month. Share your own favorite things in the comments!

Serena’s Picks

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Movie: “Doctor Strange”

As has been maybe, once or twice, a few times mentioned on this blog, both Kate and I are much more familiar with DC than Marvel, as far as comics goes. And Doctor Strange is by no means the best known character for Marvel either. All I really know going in was magic, “looks like ‘Inception,'” and Benedict Cumberbatch. And…that’s pretty much what it was, though much better on all three counts. I loved the introduction of magic into a current Marvel line up that is feeling a bit tired at this point what with its millions of super-powered beings. The special effects were amazing. Seriously, go to this in 3D if you can, it’s one of the few movies where the extra money would be worth it. And Benedict Cumberbatch was very good. For many people, that’s probably a given. But, while I like him generally, I’ve never bought into the “Cumberbatch worship” fully. In this movie, however, I feel like he proved that he wasn’t a one trick pony (though yes, that trick is very good) showcasing a surprising talent for humor combined with action. Definitely check this out if you have a chance!

mv5bmjeymzexmdcznv5bml5banbnxkftztgwmzyzmjczote-_v1_sx214_al_Trailer: “Beauty and the Beast”

Kate and I may have spent a whole Facebook chat essentially “squee-ing” over this one. We have both been obsessively following the complete production of this movie, getting way more excited than 30 year olds really should over things like casting announcements, first look images, and teaser trailers. But here, with the first full length trailer, our excitement seems justified. This looks amazing, especially Emma Watson’s Belle. She feels so perfect for this part. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still terrified that they will somehow mess this one up. But…so far…I’m cautiously optimistic? I would say that my only concern still has to do with the CGI, but it’s also hard to get a sense of that from a trailer. All I have to say is that they better be including all of the songs!!

Here is the trailer.

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Netflix series trailer: “A Series of Unfortunate Events”

I promise that in the future I won’t just pick trailers, but I couldn’t not include this one as well. I confess to having not read the entire series, somewhere at about the 7th or 8th book I became a bit burnt out watching these poor kids just get the wrong end of the stick every time! That said, I loved the first few and the premises’ wacky tone and crazy characters are perfect for a televised series, especially on Netflix which has proven it has the chops to handle just these types of projects (“Stranger Things”/all of the Marvel series). I also wasn’t in love with the movie with Jim Carey. I don’t know, I think I just don’t prefer Carey’s comedic style in general, though I know that he was widely loved for his portrayal of Count Ofal. But Neal Patrick Harris? Love him! I’m really excited to see how this turns out!

Here is the trailer.

Kate’s Picks

mv5bndi4mja2mzuxov5bml5banbnxkftztcwnje0mje2mq-_v1-_cr5369306401_Mini Series Rewatch: “Anne of Green Gables” and “Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel”

In anticipation of the new adaptation that aired on PBS this past Thanksgiving, I watched both “Anne of Green Gables” and “Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel” (and no, I don’t count the odd third movie in the series as being canon). These movies are so perfectly cast, with Megan Follows playing the very best Anne, but also Colleen Dewhurst as a sufficiently exasperated Marilla and Johnathan Crombie as a DREAMY and earnest Gilbert Blythe. Each and every single character has depth and heart, and it stands the test of time. When I need a serious pick me up, these movies do the trick! And as much as I love Martin Sheen (aka the New Matthew), no one will play Matthew as well as Richard Farnsworth. Ugh. I’m tearing up just thinking about it.

beware-the-slenderman-691x1024Trailer: “Beware The Slenderman”

I can get in on this trailer stuff too! Mainly because I’m really looking forward to an HBO Documentary that is coming out early next year, and have watched this trailer a few times. “Beware the Slenderman” is the documentary about two girls who stabbed another girl multiple times, and blamed in on the Internet made urban legend Slenderman. As a fan of the Slenderman lore and a fan of true crime documentaries as well (this should surprise no one), I am very much looking forward to this. Plus, it should be an interesting examination of childhood and Internet culture as well.

Here Is The Trailer.

mv5bnju2nza5mzgym15bml5banbnxkftztgwndawotuxmdi-_v1_sy1000_cr006741000_al_Netflix Series: “The Crown”

As someone who considers herself a quasi-Anglophile, I really do love reading about and following the Windsors in England, and really do like Queen Elizabeth II for her pluckiness and toughness. “The Crown” is a new series on Netflix that is about her rise to power, and the scandals that accompanied the Windsors around that time (oooh, Princess Margaret!). Claire Foy plays Elizabeth in this series, and shows her vulnerability along with her dignity and grace. You see the misogyny and sexism that she had to confront when she was heir apparent and then queen as well (even from her own HUSBAND), and it astounds me that Queen Elizabeth has weathered so much in her life because I would have probably cracked pretty early. Plus, you have John Lithgow as WINSTON FREAKING CHURCHILL, which my GOD, isn’t that amazing?  I really do enjoy the series thus far and it makes me want to go back to London….

 

 

Serena’s Review: “Shades of Milk and Honey”

8697507Book: “Shades of Milk and Honey” by Mary Robinette Kowal

Publishing Info: Tor Book, August 2010

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Shades of Milk and Honey” is exactly what we could expect from Jane Austen if she had been a fantasy writer: “Pride and Prejudice” meets “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.” It is an intimate portrait of a woman, Jane, and her quest for love in a world where the manipulation of glamour is considered an essential skill for a lady of quality.

Jane and her sister Melody vie for the attentions of eligible men, and while Jane’s skill with glamour is remarkable, it is her sister who is fair of face. When Jane realizes that one of Melody’s suitors is set on taking advantage of her sister for the sake of her dowry, she pushes her skills to the limit of what her body can withstand in order to set things right—and, in the process, accidentally wanders into a love story of her own.

Review: As a fan of Jane Austen, I routinely find myself picking up books that have any hint of similarities. And as the description with this one promised a mix of Jane Austen PLUS fantasy, I knew I would have to read it immediately.

In many ways,  Jane lives in typical Regency England. Manners, gentlemen and ladies, balls, and lots of sitting in breakfast rooms gossiping about one’s neighbors. Except, to be a proper, accomplished lady, alongside skills in embroidery, painting, and music, one must also master the art of glamour. Described as folding and weaving light, a glamourist is able to create magical scenes and movement, often for the purposes of impressing one’s neighbors at dinner parties. It seems equivalent with hiring a master painter to create unique portraits for one’s family, essentially. And while Jane’s sister Melody received the looks and charm of the family, Jane is the sister skilled in this specific art.

I really enjoyed the descriptions of this glamour magic. It is such a unique idea and seems to have endless applications. It’s curious seeing it primarily as an art form, as I would imagine there would have to be many other more practical uses for something like this, other than just decorating rich people’s houses. But, like many historical “manners” stories, we are mostly focused on the very privileged lives of our gentry main characters, so I guess seeing it mainly as a form of art makes sense. The whole idea is fascinating and the descriptions of the process of weaving light and the end results were engaging.

As for characters, they were fairly typical fare for a book that is purporting itself as a “Jane Austen read-alike.” It was an interesting mix of storylines and character types from both “Pride and Prejudice” and “Sense and Sensibility.” For fans of Jane Austen’s work and those two books specifically, it was fun spotting the tie-ins. Jane, herself, was a likeable heroine, if perhaps lacking some of Elizabeth Bennet’s spunk. Vincent, too, plays the role of the broody leading man effectively. His backstory was interesting and I enjoyed learning more about his character and motivations.

There were a few problems with the writing itself. For the most part, the language is descriptive and elegant. However, there were times where it seemed that the author couldn’t decide how fully to commit to the language of the time. Words would go back and forth from being spelled in the traditional manner to the modern. And there were even a few words of the time that it seemed the author didn’t fully understand. She used the word “droll” in place of the word “dour” it seemed, several times using “droll” to describe a character who was behaving in a gloomy and stern manner. This was frustrating to see in what was otherwise a very competent novel.

All in all, language quibbles aside, I very much enjoyed this book and will be checking out the next one. As all of Jane Austen’s stories were one-offs, it will be interesting to see what the author does with this story, now that we are beyond the point that any of those books cover.

Rating 7: A very unique magic system, if only marked down for some peculiar language mistakes.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Shades of Milk and Honey” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Fantasy of Manners” and ““Sister” Novels.”

Find “Shades of Milk and Honey” at your library using WorldCat.

 

 

Kate’s Review: “Before The Fall”

26245850Book: “Before the Fall” by Noah Hawley

Publication Info: Grand Central Publishing, May 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: On a foggy summer night, eleven people–ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter–depart Martha’s Vineyard headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the passengers disappear into the ocean. The only survivors are Scott Burroughs–the painter–and a four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of a wealthy and powerful media mogul’s family.

With chapters weaving between the aftermath of the tragedy and the backstories of the passengers and crew members–including a Wall Street titan and his wife, a Texan-born party boy just in from London, a young woman questioning her path in life, and a career pilot–the mystery surrounding the crash heightens. As the passengers’ intrigues unravel, odd coincidences point to a conspiracy: Was it merely dumb chance that so many influential people perished? Or was something far more sinister at work? Events soon threaten to spiral out of control in an escalating storm of media outrage and accusations–all while the reader draws closer and closer to uncovering the truth.

The fragile relationship between Scott and the young boy glows at the heart of this novel, raising questions of fate, human nature, and the inextricable ties that bind us together.

Review: For the past couple of years I have been OBSESSED with the FX show “Fargo”. I love the movie, but the show has knocked it out of the park the two seasons it has been on, with a third coming up in the nearish future. I seriously can’t wait because I LOVE this show, and I love how it portrays the deep and violent underbellies of Minnesota life. While still being so damn Minnesotan.

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Little did I realize that Noah Hawley, the showrunner for that series, is also an author. I didn’t realize this until after I had checked out his most recent novel “Before The Fall”, and once I did I was pretty damn excited and even more intrigued by it. Hawley has a skill for writing and creating complex and nuanced characters, as seen in Bear and Peggy and Molly and Lorne Malvo on the show he’s in charge of. It shouldn’t be much surprise that he brought that same skill and nuance to a number of his characters in “Before The Fall”. Well, a few of them anyway.

Since the cast is characters is pretty big and their fates sealed from the get go, Hawley only has to really show a little bit of motivation for how each person got on this ill fated plane, and what role, if any, they played in it’s crash. Much of the focus, however, is on former addict and down on his luck painter Scott, an artist with a need to try and understand tragedy and accidents even before he survives a plane crash. Scott is by far the most interesting character in this book, because it is mostly through his eyes that we see the aftermath of such a tragedy. I liked Scott as a character, a pretty good guy trying to figure himself out who finds himself the center of a tragedy, and the person that everyone is trying to get answers from. He wasn’t necessarily a hero in a stereotypical sense; he did what he could in an emergency and was able to save himself and J.J., the four year old lone survivor to a media fortune. But of course the fact he isn’t perfect or the ideal heroic figure, that works against him in the eyes of some, which was a fascinating angle to take. He is a wonderful foil to Eleanor, J.J.’s aunt through his mother, who has been thrust into motherhood while in intense grief. Both Scott and Eleanor care very deeply about J.J., but neither of them really know how to adjust to their new roles that have been heaped upon them, be it hero or mother. It seemed kind of on the nose that Eleanor’s husband Doug was just the worst, more interested in dollar signs than his wife or nephew as they navigate their grief, but he just goes to show that Eleanor is strong, and deep. Perhaps his two dimensional characterization is just there to bolster her when she can stand on her own two feet, but I liked having a clear person to hate, so that’s fine!

And along with that, we see how the world tries to make sense, and tries to point fingers towards blame, and how the media (especially media with vested interests in outcomes) can drive a narrative. The media has been accused of influencing people’s opinions a lot lately, especially in the sense of putting info out there that isn’t totally true, or is flat out false. “Before The Fall” focuses a lot on this plot point, as one of the victims, David Bateman, was the head of a Fox News-esque network that is very controversial because of how it spins things or emphasizes sensationalism over facts. The face of the network, Bill Cunningham, is both incredibly stereotypical and yet one of the more intriguing character in the book, as his need to know what happened to his friend and mentor completely clouds his already super cloudy professional judgement. This of course leads to a very bloodthirsty Witch Hunt that his viewers, and other media, partake in. On one hand you feel for him because he’s very clearly in mourning, but on the other he’s such a bastard for exploiting this tragedy for ratings that you can’t help but hate him as well. So yeah, a bit stereotypical, but at the same time you kind of have to wonder about him. He never really gets a full exploration like many of the other players, but isn’t just flat and boring in his wretchedness like Doug. Friggin’ Doug.

I enjoyed how this book slowly revealed the backstories of the victims of the plane crash, showing the things happening in their immediate lives right before their deaths, or in some cases the events that REALLY put them on this path. I do think that it was kind of a fizzle out in some ways, however, as while we get all this background, so much of it doesn’t really end up being totally relevant to the plot and the outcome. But then, that in and of itself is kind of perfect, because that’s the point. Sometimes things happen, randomly, coincidentally, and these things may not actually matter in the long run, at least at the end of all things. These things may just happen but other things outside of your control can change your destiny. That’s the problem Cunningham never quite figures out, and while some may find it to be pointless, I find it poignant as all get out. And so very “Fargo”.

So while it ended up taking me on a long chase and sometimes superfluously, I did end up really enjoying “Before The Fall”. The twists and turns were a fun ride, and I liked how it ended even if it wasn’t what I have come to expect from thriller mysteries such as these. I say check it out.

Rating 8: A well characterized thriller with a lot of interesting plot paths. Though some characters are flat and obvious, many are very intricate and fascinating, and the ideas the book explored were very good.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Before the Fall” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Best Books of Secrets”, and “What She’s Reading This Summer”.

Find “Before The Fall” at your library using WorldCat!