Serena’s Review: “The House in the Cerulean Sea”

45047384._sy475_Book: “The House in the Cerulean Sea” by TJ Klune

Publishing Info: Tor Books, March 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret.

Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.

When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.

But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.

Review: Cover art alert! Cover art alert! Yes, again, I selected a book almost completely based on the cover art itself. I’ve never read any of TJ Klune’s work before, though I believe he was largely a self-published author before the break-out into big publishers with this title. I did see a few references to “The Umbrella Academy” thrown around, so that was the last bit of justification I needed for placing a request for a book just because I thought the cover was pretty! But it is! Look at all of those colors! For some reason, the cover art put me in mind of the covers for “A Series of Unfortunate Events.” Not a bad thing at all, as I enjoyed that series for the most part. In the end, I did enjoy this book quite a bit.

While not ecstatic about life, Linus Baker is quite content with the solitary existence he’s created for himself. A stable job, a small, cozy house, and, of course his beloved cat and records. But this quiet life is suddenly interrupted when Linus finds himself given a peculiar assignment: to travel to a remote orphanage and evaluate the state of things. Once there, Linus discovers six wondrous, but dangerous, children and their charming caretaker Arthur. As Linus learns more about these wards and Arthur himself, he finds himself more and more drawn to this small family, danger and all.

I’m not typically a fan of contemporary fantasy (though I will concede that that’s a pretty catch-all subgenre so my preferences therein aren’t particularly well-defined), but this book was a great opportunity for me push my comfort levels a bit. And it was a bit of a stretch, as the fantasy elements were fairly low, other than our magical children. But they were delightful enough that the parts of me that was missing world-building and magic systems was satisfied enough.

The comparisons to “The Umbrella Academy” (only watched the Netflix show) is very apt, and, similar to story, this one lives and dies on its characters. The collection of bizarre orphans are where Klune’s work really shines. They were all perfect blends of heart-wrenching and heart-warming, misfits and fitting perfectly together, witty but hiding deep emotions behind their words. The dialogue for these character in particular was quite good, and I found myself really speeding through the book once Linus met up with them.

Linus himself was a solid main character and his slowly built relationship with Arthur and the kids was lovely to explore. There was a lot of exploration around themes of found families, trust, and how we judge those around us. The romance was definitely more on the sweet side, and I would say that the book overall would appeal to a varied range of ages from middle grade to adults (a very good thing, as the cover definitely speaks to a younger audience, I think).

There were a few moments where the story did strike me as trying a bit too hard, just a bit too bizarre for its own good. But readers will have different experiences with this, depending on their preferences for fantasy writing and modes of humor. The book was also a tad longer than I would have liked. Most of it read very quickly, but I felt that there were times when Klune was simply having fun with his characters and the book got away from him a bit. I mean, the characters are a blast, so I can easily understand getting carried away with all of these moments, but it did end up with the book having a bit of a bloated feel. Overall, I really enjoyed this book, and fans of contemporary fantasy, found family stories, and ensemble casts of characters are sure to have a blast!

Rating 7: A bit long, a bit silly at times, but its characters were so heart-warming that they carry it through.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The House on the Cerulean Sea” is a newer book so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “Books released in 2020 I’m curious about.”

Find “The House on the Cerulean Sea” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “Saint X”

43782399Book: “Saint X” by Alexis Schaitkin

Publishing Info: Celadon Books, February 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Claire is only seven years old when her college-age sister, Alison, disappears on the last night of their family vacation at a resort on the Caribbean island of Saint X. Several days later, Alison’s body is found in a remote spot on a nearby cay, and two local men – employees at the resort – are arrested. But the evidence is slim, the timeline against it, and the men are soon released. The story turns into national tabloid news, a lurid mystery that will go unsolved. For Claire and her parents, there is only the return home to broken lives.

Years later, Claire is living and working in New York City when a brief but fateful encounter brings her together with Clive Richardson, one of the men originally suspected of murdering her sister. It is a moment that sets Claire on an obsessive pursuit of the truth – not only to find out what happened the night of Alison’s death but also to answer the elusive question: Who exactly was her sister? At seven, Claire had been barely old enough to know her: a beautiful, changeable, provocative girl of eighteen at a turbulent moment of identity formation.

As Claire doggedly shadows Clive, hoping to gain his trust, waiting for the slip that will reveal the truth, an unlikely attachment develops between them, two people whose lives were forever marked by the same tragedy.

Review: Whenever I hear the phrase ‘missing white woman syndrome’ I immediately think of Natalee Holloway. Holloway was an eighteen year old on a school sponsored trip to Aruba when she went missing. Her disappearance was all over the news, her face practically everywhere even as little new information came up. While her case is technically still unsolved, the general consensus is that she was murdered by a local whose father was a judge, and therefore had a lot of protection (it just so happens the same guy was eventually convicted of murdering another woman in Peru). A very sad and mysterious case all around, and it was all I was thinking of when I read the description for “Saint X” by Alexis Schaitkin. But instead of a run of the mill thriller that takes inspiration from real tragedy for lurid entertainment (I know that I’m one of the people who perpetuates that problematic issue by reading books like that), I instead found a literary thriller that had a lot of deep thoughts and haunting themes.

“Saint X” is less about Alison’s disappearance, and more about the fallout and consequences for those involved with the case, specifically her sister Claire and one of the accused but cleared suspects, Clive. Both Claire and Clive have had their lives completely upended by what happened to Alison. For Claire, it’s the grief and trauma of loss that her family never recovered from, and her obsession of wanting to find out what happened. This is sparked when she sees Clive in New York City. For Clive, being suspected and never officially cleared made his life back on Saint X one of suspicion, and he felt the need to start over and leave it all behind, which meant leaving everything he ever knew and loved. They are both damaged people with one commonality, and Schaitkin really brings out the pain that both of them have been dealing with. Along with these two and their trauma, we also get snippets of other people’s associations with Alison’s death. These bits are left to the end of chapters, and not only shed light into how Alison’s death sent shockwaves through many lives, but how she was as a person before her ill fated trip and during it as well.

Alison herself is a bit more of a mystery, but I thought that that was deliberate and I enjoyed that. We see her through Claire’s eyes, and Clive’s eyes, and the eyes of others. But those eyes can’t really know who Alison was as a person. Even the audio diary entries that Claire finds and listens to don’t quite capture who Alison was, because Alison was still trying to figure all that out. It’s a really interesting way to call out this obsession people get with missing and murdered (usually white and attractive) women, and how we project our own ideas of who they are upon their memory, even if those ideas are totally of the mark. I also liked that what we DO know about Alison is that she is very human, in that she isn’t perfect. Alison is at that tenuous age where she is trying to find herself, and yet still trying to be seen in a certain way by others. She is privileged and naive, and sees the colonizer issue of a resort in the Caribbean, but doesn’t see that her presence, as judgemental of the system as she is, is still perpetuating the problem.

And that was another thing that I liked about this book: Schaitkin definitely takes shots at the resort society on Saint X. It’s an industry that drives the economy, but relies upon a population group that is underprivileged and taken advantage of. Clive is doing his best to support himself and his loved ones, and has to kowtow to wealthy white tourists who see his home as an escape, but doesn’t see the inequities outside of the resort walls. This theme wasn’t at the very front of the story, but it was simmering underneath.

I wasn’t expecting what I got from “Saint X”, in that I was ready for a tense and addictive thriller. What I got instead was a little more ruminative. That isn’t a bad thing, but I will admit that had I known it was more literary I would have probably enjoyed it more. I did enjoy it, but it didn’t grab me as much as I think it would have had I had the expectations it called for. That said, I think that “Saint X” is a worthwhile read. Just go in expecting something more nuanced.

Rating 7: A haunting and evocative literary mystery. It wasn’t what I was expecting. But it’s definitely worth the read.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Saint X” is included on the Goodreads list “Psychological Suspense for 2020 (U.S. Publications January-July).

Find “Saint X” at your local library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Storm from the East”

45043929Book: “Storm from the East” by Joanna Hathaway

Publishing Info: Tor Teen, February 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: Battles, revolution, and romance collide in Joanna Hathaway’s stunning, World Wars-inspired sequel to Dark of the West

Part war drama, part romance, Storm from the East is the second novel in Joanna Hathaway’s immersive, upmarket YA fantasy series that will appeal to readers of Sabaa Tahir, Marie Rutkoski, and Evelyn Skye.

War has begun, and the days of Athan’s and Aurelia’s secret, summer romance feel a world away. Led by Athan’s father, the revolutionary Safire have launched a secret assault upon the last royal kingdom in the South, hoping to depose the king and seize a powerful foothold on the continent. Athan proves a star pilot among their ranks, struggling to justify the violence his family has unleashed as he fights his way to the capital—where, unbeknownst to him, Aurelia has lived since the war’s onset. Determined to save the kingdom Athan has been ordered to destroy, she partners with a local journalist to inflame anti-Safire sentiment, all while learning this conflict might be far darker and more complex than she ever imagined.

When the two reunite at last, Athan longing to shake the nightmare of combat and Aurelia reeling from the discovery of a long-buried family truth come to light, they’ll find the shadow of war stretches well beyond the battlefield. Each of them longs to rekindle the love they once shared . . . but each has a secret they’re desperate to hide.

Previously Reviewed: “Dark of the West”

Review: I really enjoyed “Dark of the West” when I read it last spring. It wasn’t a book that had been on my radar much, but I was instantly drawn in by the complicated world-building and the even more complicated deep dive into themes regarding revolution, warfare, and a world shifting between monarchy, democracy, and everything that lies in between. The sweet romance between our two teenage main characters who represent vastly different positions was also a big draw. So, when I saw the sequel was coming out, I placed a request immediately. I did struggle with this one a bit more than the first, but it still comes out solidly in the “win” category.

Athan and Aurelia are separated by much more than distance, as Athan, unknown to Aurelia, is the son of the war-mongering leader of the Safire nation. They now find themselves involved on opposite ends of a war to determine the future of the last kingdom of the South with a monarchy at its heart. Aurelia finds herself in this capital in an attempt to use her family connections through her mother (born a Southerner herself) to stave off a growing war. But while there, Safire makes its move, and with it Athan, leading the aerial forces, they draw ever neared to the city where Aurelia is staying. But as they each move unknowingly closer together, they discover new truths about their parents, about themselves, and about the people and causes they’re fighting for.

This is a complicated book, and that’s both a good and bad thing. One way in which this complication is a good thing is the very honest approach it takes to themes that are very complicated and all to often are written about in black and white terms, with good guys and bad guys seeming to pop straight from the earth fully formed in their one-sided moralities. But this book lives in shades of grey. At one point or another, the reader finds themselves sympathizing with every angle involved in this quickly changing world. And I say angle, and not side, because that’s another good thing the book does: there aren’t just two sides to the conflicts here. Sure, it’s a war with one country invading another. But we also see the complicated relationships that allies have with both the invaders and those being invaded. There are other forces involved as well. Some would call them terrorists, others would call them freedom fighters. These names are completely dependent on who is doing the telling and who is listening, and even that can change with just the slightest readjustment of context, history, and priorities. But this same nuanced look at the fact that there are no “good guys” in war also leaves the reader in a precarious state, emotionally.

At the beginning of the story, it is all too easy to dismiss Aurelia’s viewpoints and plans as foolishly optimistic. And they are. Of the two main characters, she has the more limited view of  the world. Growing up in a privileged and traditionally monarch-ruled country has left her with a very simplistic idea of how the world work. Like many young people, she thinks that only she sees the full picture and if others would simply listen to an argument from her, they’d all see that their feuds are pointless and agree to a peaceful resolution. It was both heart-breaking and a relief to see her have to confront the folly of these views.

But it was also just a very depressing story arc, overall. By the end, between Athan’s struggles in the midst of some truly terrible acts of warfare and Aurelia’s slow sink into the grim realities of the world, it was hard not to feel a bit hopeless. We see all the shades of grey. We see all the wrongs committed by every group, each playing victim and aggressor in different points of history and with regards to various groups. It’s very realistic and believable, but also a tough story to feel happy reading.

I also wish there was a prequel series to this story. We learn much more about both Athan and Aurelia’s parents in this book, and it’s all pretty fascinating. One part really stood out, a moment when Aurelia discovers a secret about her mother and realizes, in a very honest and true-to-life moment, that her mother was a person with a life before Aurelia was born. It was the kind of moment that is hardly ever felt in YA books. Aurelia comments that she has fallen into the trap of feeling like these conflicts and histories all started in her own life. But this moment reminds her that people had lives, had fights, had secrets, had allegiances and enemies, all long before her. That she was plopped down in the middle of it all. Just like her parents were plopped down in the middle of it all. And back. I loved this thought. Like I said, most YA books do nothing to discourage this way of thinking in its protagonists, that the world starts and ends with them. And yes, they are the main character of their story and thus their’s is the one we care about, but it’s a nice reminder that there is more to it than all of that. I mean, most YA books either kill off the parents or conveniently forget to mention them for much of the story. They definitely rarely presented as fully fledged people with histories of their own (outside of some direct connection to the main character). But this series is really excelling at creating a story that is clearly about Athan and Aurelia but still puts them down in the middle of an already complicated world, not making them the whole world in and of themselves.

But yes, it’s all very complicated. Having a year-long break between these two books was frankly very challenging. It took me a long time to re-orient myself to the world and the players in it. I’ve been reading e-ARC versions which don’t have maps, and I’m not sure if the finished books do either? If not, they could really benefit from one. It took me quite a while in the first book to picture this world, and almost just as long here in the second to re-create it in my mind. And all the weavings in and out of secret relationships and allegiances were hard to keep up with. I’d have to constantly remind myself who knew what, who had betrayed whom, and which of our main characters knew which pieces of the greater puzzle. It was a lot.

The pacing was also pretty slow in the beginning, so between these two factors, it took a bit to really get into this story. Having liked the first book, I was wiling to do the work, but for anyone feeling more middling about the series, this could be a challenge. But one definitely worth facing if you’re looking for a complicated political series! And ultimately, fans of the first book should be happy with this second outing, and, like me, anxious to see where it all ends up in the third book. We still have that prologue from the first book looming over us. How, oh how, do our main characters get to that awful place? And, more importantly, how do they get out of it??

Rating 8: A beautiful, horrible world of greys where I just want my two precious main characters to be happy.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Storm from the East” is a newer title so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists yet, but it should be on “Original Stories . . . a Breath of Fresh Air.”

Find “Storm from the East” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale”

38452822._sx318_Book: “Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale” by Lauren Myracle and Isaac Goodhart (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Ink, May 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Selina Kyle is fiercer than she knows. For 15 years, she’s put up with her mother’s string of bad boyfriends, but when Dernell, her mom’s current beau, proves crueler than the others, Selina reevaluates her place in her home. There’s no way Selina and Dernell can live under the same roof, and since Dernell won’t leave, Selina must.

From New York Times bestselling author Lauren Myracle (ttyl) and artist Isaac Goodhart comes a story about learning how to survive the world when you’ve been forced to abandon your home and finding allies in the most unexpected moments.

Review: If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it many a time: I love Catwoman. I have always loved Catwoman. And because of my deep and unabiding love for Catwoman, I am VERY picky about how Catwoman is portrayed. Some portrayals I’ve loved, other’s I’ve despised, but at the end of the day while it’s a gamble, I am always up for giving any version a chance. So when I discovered “Catwoman: Under the Moon” by Lauren Myracle, I absolutely had to take the bet and roll the dice.

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It will probably never live up to this, but a good effort can do a lot. (source)

I always find it a little risky to try and give Selina Kyle/Catwoman an origin story, for a couple of reasons. The first is that Selina is such a mysterious character at her heart that learning too much can sometimes take away some of the allure. While I like getting into her head and seeing vulnerability, I think that part of the appeal of her is that she has secrets to hide, and don’t you wish you knew them. The other is that some origins have become so iconic over the years (“Batman Returns” really nailed it), I’m always going to be comparing new origins to well done old ones. I think that, for the most part, Myracle is able to fight back both of these pitfalls, as her backstory for Selina is filled with pathos and empathy while still feeling very believable in a lot of ways (I’ll get to the problems I had with it in a bit). And I also think that it feels different enough from other origins I’ve read and unique enough that I wasn’t constantly being like ‘well that’s not how I see it’. Selina’s story in this balances a good line between too unbelievable tragic, and not dark enough. And given some of the darker themes that Myracle brings in, like domestic abuse, animal cruelty, mental illness, and homelessness, she also has a large list of resources in the back of the book so that any readers that may see themselves in Selina’s story may have a place to turn to. I really liked that. 

But then there were the issues I had with it. The first was that, for whatever reason, Bruce Wayne had to be brought in as a childhood friend of Selina. Look, I love Selina and Bruce, no question, they are definitely a top ship for me in the DC universe. But I had really hoped that Selina could have just stood on her own two feet without him being around. It also just didn’t make sense that he had to tell her that his parents had been murdered and what was why they grew apart, and she seemed to not know that. I mean, I feel like the murders of two of the most powerful people in Gotham would have been news that most people would have heard of. And given that Selina was in a middle school setting with Bruce, that teenage gossip mill would have CERTAINLY clued her in, right?! On top of that, there were a good number of plot ideas and strings that were introduced in this book, but I didn’t feel like many of them were fully explored. The biggest one for me was when Selina started running with other homeless kids, and met a girl named Briar Rose who doesn’t speak and has a tragic backstory. There was a lot of potential in the friendship between Selina and Briar Rose (or Rosie as Selina starts calling her!), especially since Myracle left Selina’s younger sister out of this backstory. But we didn’t really get to see their friendship grow, as there was a time jump with small flashbacks to show that they were now thick as thieves so that the plot could progress as such. I never really care for that kind of storytelling.

“Under the Moon” was an alright backstory for one of my favorite DC ladies, but it had the promise to be so much more. That said, if Myracle continued this story, I’d probably pick it up!

Rating 6: A pretty okay origin story for Selina Kyle/Catwoman, but there were a few too many ideas that didn’t get explored enough.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale” is included on the Goodreads lists “Ladies of DC”, and “DC Comics by Women”.

Find “Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale” at your library using WorldCat!

Not Just Books: March 2020

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

mv5bogriodezm2qtotuyyi00mwrlltg4mzmtzgi0ymuznwuymjq0xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymda4nzmyoa4040._v1_sy1000_sx675_al_Movie: “Emma”

I had it all planned out. My husband and I were going to delay our Valentine’s celebration until March and then make a whole day of it with dinner and a viewing of this, the latest feature film adaptation of a Jane Austen novel. And then COVID-19 struck, the ruiner of all good things. So instead I ended up watching it in pieces at home while trying to wrangle a very mobile one year old. Not quite the same thing. Overall…I’m not quite sure what I think about this? I’ll have to re-watch it at some point when I can focus more fully. I know that I enjoyed Anya Taylor-Joy’s performance a lot, and I thought the costuming and set design were excellent and offered up something unique and new compared to other Austen adaptations. But as for the story itself and its take on several of the other main characters, I was a bit less satisfied. I think Knightly was too young and his friendship/relationship with Emma was not sufficiently set-up to make the payoff as satisfying in the end. Mr. Churchill, for all that he appears on the poster, felt like almost a non-entity. And overall I think the comedy angle, while very good at moments, also overwhelmed the heart of the story and sometimes even the heart of Emma herself. Kate also watched this one, but we haven’t discussed it yet. I’m excited to hear her take!

cards-promo-300x300-1Online Game: Trickster Cards

My family are all huge card players. I mean, my sister and I were playing since we were in single digits and it’s a shock if any family get-together goes more than 30 minutes before someone suggests we play pinochle or bridge. But, again, raging pandemics have hit hard on things like this. Luckily, one of my aunts discovered this online card site where you can form games with people and set up times to play. It has video chat options which makes it all the better. My mom, sister, said aunt and I now have weekly standing dates to get together and play pinochle. Obviously not a complete replacement, but I’ll take what I can get!

mv5bnjzknzy4m2itowy0ni00y2vilwe1njitotiyyzzjmzg5m2e1xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtkxnjuynq4040._v1_sy1000_cr006751000_al_TV Show: “Locke and Key”

I started watching this show kind of on a spur of the moment basis. And then suddenly I had finished it all within two days! I’m pretty sure Kate has read the original graphic novels it was based on, but from what I do know of them, I’m pretty sure this is quite different. For one thing, it’s definitely not as dark as I think the originals were. Instead, it’s more of a “Stranger Things”-like family adventure with elements of fantasy dashed all over it. The Locke family, after a great tragedy, move back to an ancetstral home that has been abandoned for years. While there, the three kids discover magical keys with fantastic abilities. Of course, there is also a big bad out to get the keys and a bunch of clueless (or not so clueless??) adults running around getting in the way. I really enjoyed all of the younger actors, which can sometimes be a sticking point for shows like this. There was also a great balance between the real-life challenges that many young people face (moving to a new town, dealing with grief and fear, meeting new friends, etc.) and the fantasy elements that slowly play a bigger and bigger role in the story. Again, I’ll have to ask Kate what the original was like, but for fans of “Stranger Things” or “Chronicles of Narnia,” this is definitely worth checking out!

Kate’s Picks

81s8etnyprl._sl1500_Video Game: “Animal Crossing: New Horizons”

This pandemic has been ramping up my already present anxiety like the dickens. But lucky for me I had the foresight to order “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” before everything went to hell! The “Animal Crossing” games are already super chill and laid back, and the new one for The Switch is even more so. Or perhaps it just feels more so. Regardless, I’ve been enjoying building a town, fishing, catching bugs, building things, and visiting friends on their own islands. For the unfamiliar, the basic premise is that you are a new villager on a remote island (with a few other villagers) and you can build up the community with very low stakes attached. Things change from day to day, and the open sandbox format means you can do pretty much whatever you want. It’s been a true saving grace during this quarantine period.

1fgprxwpkfxhmfsnsus8dtgNetflix Show: “Tiger King”

I was familiar with the, um, “eccentric” zookeeper Joe Exotic before Netflix dropped this new true crime documentary series. “Last Podcast on the Left” had referenced him and his murder for hire plot he allegedly tried to carry out towards nemesis Carole Baskin. So when I went in I was thinking that it would be fine, but wouldn’t tell me anything new. I was SO. WRONG. “Tiger King” is one of the craziest Netflix docuseries I’ve ever seen, with a bunch of unstable weirdos who own big cats at the forefront. Now I knew that Joe Exotic was a nut. But honestly, I came away more concerned about just about everyone else in this series than I was about this guy. From cult like leaders who lure in teenage girls to drug trafficking kingpins to a missing husband (WHO MAY HAVE BEEN FED TO A BUNCH OF TIGERS), “Tiger King” has EVERYTHING. Truth is stranger than fiction, guys, and this one will probably make you say “WHAT?!?!” over and over and over again.

91aofmfmzwl._ri_TV Show: “RuPaul’s Drag Race”

It’s springtime, which means that “RuPaul’s Drag Race” is back! I can’t believe we’re on season twelve, and while I still contend that the show’s quality hasn’t been the same since it moved to VH1, RuPaul and the queens always bring me back for more. This season has been promising, though I do have to mention that it hasn’t come without controversy. One of the contestants, Sherry Pie, was exposed for predatory behavior, as he would pretend to be a talent scout and solicit explicit videos from unsuspecting men under guise of an ‘audition’. The good news is that once this was exposed, the show officially disqualified her, and has put a disclaimer ahead of the episodes noting of this. A tricky situation to be sure, but I think it was handled as best they could in fairness to the other queens. Who are a super talented bunch this time around. I have my favorites already, and I can’t wait to see how far they go!

What non-book related things have you enjoyed this month?

My Year with Jane Austen: “Pride and Prejudice” [1995]

mv5bmdm0mjflogytntg2zc00mmrkltg5otqtm2u5zjuyytgxzthixkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyntayodkwoq4040._v1_sy1000_sx706_al_Movie: “Pride and Prejudice”

Release Year: 1995

Actors: Elizabeth Bennett – Jennifer Ehle

Mr. Darcy – Colin Firth

Jane Bennett – Susannah Harker

Mr. Bingley – Crispin Bonham-Carter

Comparison – “Indulge your imagination in every possible flight.”

I am definitely in the camp of fans who believe that this version of “Pride and Prejudice” is the definitive, will-never-be-topped, adaptation of this book. Pretty  much everything is perfect, as far as I’m concerned. The casting in particular is so spot-on that I find it impossible to read the book now without picturing these people as the characters. There are stand-outs, of course, but I don’t have a single quibble with any of the choices. If I had to pick, I might say that I thought Matthew Goode’s Wickham in “Death Comes to Pemberley” might be a smidge better. But that’s only if I was forced to pick, as I have no complaints with Adrian Lukis’ take.

The fact that is a six part mini series allows this version to include not only all the big moments in the book (and many of the little ones to boot), but even add in some smaller, quieter moments that just help to flesh out characters even further. We see hints at Lizzy’s active, independent nature with scenes of her frolicking through the fields (of course making sure she’s not watched; she is a proper lady after all!) Bingley and Darcy have moments as friends, riding horses and viewing Netherfield; and in the end we get to actually see the scene where Darcy apologizes for meddling in his love affair with Jane. The camera drifts through the Bennett household through out the show, giving us small glimpses in the day-to-day ways each member of the household spends their time when not caught up in grand balls and the like. For the romance angle, we get lovely scenes like a recently bathed Darcy being entranced by Elizabeth as she play with a dog during her stay at Netherfield. And, of course, the lake scene, an added element that pretty much turned into the defining moment of this adaptation (so much so that it was listed All of these moments and more just add to the joy that is this story.

The one area in which is lacks, however, is the ending. A proposal while on a walk serves its purpose well enough on the page. But in a movie/mini series, the movement and inability for the actors to look directly at each other as they speak hurts the romance of the moment. And, for all of its length, much of the last few chapters of the book are cut out leaving us without some of the nicer moments of Darcy and Elizabeth while engaged and interacting with various family members. It’s really too bad as the inclusion of these post-proposal scenes was something that really stood out to me in this re-read as a strength of the book. Instead, this movie jumps almost directly from the proposal to the marriage (other than a nice scene between Jane and Lizzy, which, to be fair, if you’re only going to include only one, this was the right choice by far!).

I also love the light, bright score that makes up much of the music for this version. It fits so perfectly with the overall mood  as well as feeling

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

Jennifer Ehle is a treasure. Even more so than Firth’s Darcy, hers is the character that most perfectly fits how I imagined the book character and who now always serves as my mind’s image when I re-read the story. She perfectly balances the wit and vivacity of Elizabeth while never losing touch with the propriety of the times for which Elizabeth was also credited. She has a great ability to, I don’t quite know how to say it, but keep her face active? There’s a lot of sitting and talking in this story, but her face is always telling a story of its own, even if she’s not speaking and it adds to the sense of Elizabeth’s lively and playful nature. Even when she doesn’t laugh out loud (that would be improper!), it’s easy to see that she’s laughing on the inside. Her eyes even do sparkle, for heaven’s sake! I also liked that they really emphasized her independent nature by not only having her out walking about on her own (often used to indicate the passage of a season), but by setting several scenes around walks and being in out of doors settings.

Ehle also has great chemistry with Susannah Harker who plays Jane. The moments between the sisters at night in their bedroom are just the sort of scenes that ground this story in a realistic place that one still recognizes today: sisters sprawled out in their rooms talking about the hot gossip. Of course, they look much more refined while doing it than any of us do, I’m sure. Harker’s Jane is also pitch perfect. She is quiet, calm, and willing to go to great lengths to look for the good in people. But, like Bingley (who I’ll discuss next), Harker gives Jane enough earnestness and sense as to not come across as silly and foolish.

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

Of course, I love Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. He manages perfectly to be both highly unlikable in the first half of the movie, and then, practically on a dime, turn to being highly likable and heroic. He’s handsome the entire time, which doesn’t hurt. But the movie definitely doesn’t shy away from showing Darcy at his worst in the beginning. He’s rude in public and in private, snobby and insulting of those around him, and, worst of all, playing along with Caroline’s own disdain.

I will, say, however, that the one misstep in this willingness to show Darcy at his worst was the letter he wrote Elizabeth. In the book, there’s a long section in which he details not only his problems with Elizabeth’s family, but also goes on at length about how he was convinced Jane didn’t return Bingley’s affection. There’s a brief line or two about this in the letter in this movie, but there isn’t nearly the amount of explanation around this that we have in the book. There, while still pretty harsh, it is easy to understand that Darcy could really have been lead astray here and, like Elizabeth, begin to forgive him for even that. But in the movie, it’s left feeling still pretty bad on his part. Luckily the Wickham stuff comes next and that’s the part that sticks with you, but it still leaves Darcy kind a worse light than I think he was in in the book.

I do like how they added scenes showing Darcy’s search for Wickham. Not only did it give him more action, but we got to see his heroics in action and it was clearly more than just a rich guy paying someone off to fix it. He’s out there on the streets tracking Wickham down.

I really like Crispin Bonham-Carter’s Mr. Bingley, too. He’s sweet, charming, but, unlike some adaptations, not a buffoon. His romance with Jane is adorable, but his relationship with his sisters and Darcy also makes sense. I particularly enjoy one scene when they’re back at Netherfield and he keeps trying to get a word in only to be interrupted by Caroline. It’s funny and also just adds to the “love to hate” quality for Caroline. I also really enjoy having the scene where Darcy apologizes to Bingley included. It’s also another good moment for Bingley in that we see him angry at Darcy but, just as quickly, go back to wishing for his friend’s approval. But, again, Bonham-Carter manages to play this quick switch with a sense of sincerity and earnestness that doesn’t leave Bingley looking foolish.

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

As I said above, Adrian Lukis would be my only tough call if I had to pick a character whose been done better elsewhere. But even then, I think it is context dependent. The Wickham in “Death Comes to Pemberley” has a very different story than the Wickham we see here. Most notably, he’s already a known villain, so much so that he’s suspected of murder. Here, however, Wickham must not only be an unknown, but immediately likeable enough to fool our beloved Elizabeth. And in this, Lukis excels. He is charming, easy-going, and completely believable as just an average, good kind of guy. And to contrast that, he’s also equally smarmy at the end of the movie when he attempts to continue ingratiating himself to Lizzy after his “elopement” with Lydia. It’s uncomfortable to watch and just excellent.

Catherine de Bourgh is also particularly good. She sneers with the best of them, and I love the image of her literally chasing Elizabeth through the yard shaking her cane at her as she tries to get her to promise not to marry Darcy. There’s a particular facial expression, a narrowing of the eyes at Elizabeth, that the actress does during the first meeting at Rosings Park that my mom says is a look that I give. To this day I can’t decide whether to be insulted or pleased.

I also enjoy Anna Chancellor’s Miss Bingley quite a lot. She entirely hateable in the most fun way. One particular moment that comes to mind is when she confronts Darcy early in the movie asking what he’s thinking about. He says fine eyes and Chancellor does a very distinct flick of her own eyes at just the right point in her line to make it clear that Caroline is expecting herself to be the answer. It’s great.

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

There are quite a few added moments that help build the romance. Of course, the lake scene where its implied that Darcy is so tormented by his love for Elizabeth that he literally has to cool down by diving into the nearest body of water. But there are several other goods ones too. I already mentioned the early moment when he spots Elizabeth playing with a dog outside (notably, another opportunity for the movie to show a drenched Colin Firth as the scene involves Darcy bathing). There’s also another great moment where we see Darcy in London practicing dueling. At the end of a bout, he exclaims to himself “I shall beat this, I shall.” What woman doesn’t  want a man to be so besotted with her that he tries to drive it out of himself physically?

And, of course, the coup de gras: the look of pure adoration that he gives Elizabeth while she plays piano during her visit to Pemberley. My mom, sister and I once put together a list of romantic moments from movies that when put together would make the perfect romantic hero. This look from Darcy to Elizabeth was always top of the list. Firth practically trademarked it, and it’s immediately recognizable when he pulls it out again in “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” a modern retelling of “Pride and Prejudice” where he once again plays Darcy. We’ll get to that movie in a few weeks!

Like I said above, the movie does cut out many scenes from the end of the book as well as one of the visits Darcy and Bingley make before Bingley and Jane’s engagement. The visit makes sense, but I do wish they had included a few more moments of Elizabeth and Darcy happy together. Mostly, we just get a kind of somber wedding scene at the end, before it closes with a few joyful minutes of the happy couples riding off into the sunset. Notably, I think this is the only time in the entire movie that we see Colin Firth smile with teeth.

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

Lydia really shines in this adaptation. In the book, she’s mentioned often enough as ridiculous, but we don’t really get to see her in action other than small snippets of dialogue here and there. But here, she really comes to life: all of the giggling, the running about, the forwardness. By the time she runs off with Wickham, it feels more like it was only a matter of time than a shock. There were a lot of great moments, probably best all around for comedy in general was the ball at Netherfield where we really feel how much of a challenge the elder miss Bennetts have at finding good husbands when surrounded by so much foolishness. But for Lydia in particular I really enjoyed the juxtaposition of her and Kitty coming to meet Elizabeth on her return trip from Rosings Park and Lydia saying how jolly a party they’ll make on the carriage ride home. The scene then immediately switches to the next day and we hear Lydia and Kitty squabbling as the carriage pulls away.

Mr. Collins is also excellent in all of his smarminess. The actor portrays him as hunched over in a false sense of humility and often has him out of breath when accompanying the ladies on walks. The book makes a brief reference to the fact that he doesn’t know all the steps to the dances at the Netherfield Ball, but here we actually get to witness it as he bumbles head first into another lady when dancing with poor Elizabeth.

And, of course, Mrs. Bennett is great, particularly with the actor’s portrayal of when Mrs. Bennett is taken to her room with nerves while Lydia is missing. She’s over-the-top, emotional, and irrational. Throughout the entire movie, this representation of Mrs. Bennett does nothing to excuse her ridiculous behavior as a worried mother figure going to extremes. And, given that so many of her lines are directly from the book, I feel that it’s a pretty honest take on what Austen had in mind.

Fun facts – “Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings.”

Jennifer Ehle wanted the part so badly that she dyed her eyebrows a darker color and didn’t wash her hair the day before casting as she was worried that her naturally blonde color would be a mark against her.

Ehle was perhaps right to be concerned about hair color as Colin Firth was almost passed over for being “too ginger.” Andrew Davies, the showrunner, had to be talked into giving Firth a chance with hair dye as an option.

Joanna David (Mrs. Gardiner) and Emilia Fox (Georgianna Darcy) are  mother and daughter. David was cast first and when they were looking for a Georgianna (they went through 70 or so actresses) David’s daughter, Emilia was mentioned.

Susannah Harker, Jane, was pregnant while filming but the flowing outfits worked well enough for her to conceal it. She is also the daughter of Polly Adams who played Jane in the 1967 version of “Pride and Prejudice.”

Best Movie Gif/Meme: “I dearly love a laugh.”

This has been a favorite of mine for quite awhile:

In two weeks, I’ll review the 2005 version of “Pride and Prejudice.” 

Kate’s Review: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.10): One More Time”

9968822Book: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.10): One More Time” by Warren Ellis, Darick Robertson (Ill.), & Rodney Ramos (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, June 2004

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: The final volume in the saga of outlaw journalist Spider Jerusalem written by comics superstar Warren Ellis. At last, it’s the final showdown between Spider and the absolutely corrupt President of the United States in this new printing of the finale to the classic dystopian saga from Vertigo.

Review: It was a re-read almost four years in the making. Ten volumes, two awful presidents, two awesome lady assistants, one literally two faced cat, and numerous bowel disruptor guns later, and I have finally reached the end of Spider Jerusalem’s return to Gonzo reporting in a dystopian cyberpunk future. My re-read of “Transmetropolitan” has been wild to say the least. And if you remember from the end of my last review, I was a little worried that it had ended in a way that feels a little dated given recent political shenanigans. But let’s jump on into “One More Time” and begin our fond farewell.

The good news is that “One More Time” immediately assuaged the fears I had at the end of “The Cure”. It wasn’t going to be so easy as a sex scandal to bring down The Smiler, much as it didn’t do much of anything in our own present reality. But Spider, Yelena, and Channon weren’t going to give up so easily, and the beginning of the final confrontation between Spider and The Smiler is underway. What that means for Spider and his assistants is a bit murkier. Warren Ellis is known for brash and over the top themes as well as a dark cynicism, and we find both of those things in abundance. But there is also a whole lot of hope in this last volume, and that hope is something that I myself am clinging to. Again, you don’t know how things are going to completely shake out, but as Ellis unfolds everything and makes it all come together, reaching far far back in the series to do so, we go back to other storylines and other characters from the past who all have their parts to play, and it makes you wonder if Ellis had known from early on where they were going to end up. It works that well. In terms of the final confrontation, I was of two minds when it came to how impactful I found it. On one hand, it felt a little rushed and neat and underwhelming. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll be vague, but it just kind of ended with less of a bang and more of a pop. I certainly wouldn’t call it a whimper. But it wasn’t the big to do that perhaps one would expect. But on the other hand, maybe that’s how this kind of thing would have to end. Maybe it does have to be more muted, because that shows that the monster who causes so much grief and havoc is really just pathetic and fallible. So while I had wanted more, less may be more appropriate.

It’s the ultimate message of this story that truly resonated with me and made “One More Time” a satisfying end to a series that I still love. And that is that the truth is the most important thing above all else, and that the true heroes are the ones that sacrifice and give their all to make sure that it comes out. Spider Jerusalem is violent, grumpy, antagonistic, and a bit of a jerk. But he is devoted to making sure that the world knows the truth of how things are, and he will fight tooth and nail and to his own detriment to make sure that it all gets out. And along with him we get Channon and Yelena, two ladies who have tenacity, brashness, brains, and the drive to help him get that truth out as well as pursue their own goals. This trio is by far one of the best in comics, even if they aren’t exactly the most likable, because they are entertaining and chaotic and filled with hope. “Transmetropolitan” is teeming with hope. And as someone who has at times felt hopeless in our own political and social climate, this was a true antidote to that hopelessness. At least for now. But if there’s one thing you should take from “Transmetropolitan”, it’s to keep fighting that good fight. I don’t know what the next election will hold. I don’t know if we’re stuck with our own Beast/Smiler for another four years or not. But I know that we can learn something from Spider, Yelena, and Channon. 

I am going to miss The City. I’m going to miss The Filthy Assistants. I’m going to miss Spider. At least until I decide to re-read again. Until that time, “One More Time” was a fabulous end to a fabulous series.

Rating 9: A great end to a great series, “Transmetropolitan (Vol.10): One More Time” perfectly wraps up Spider’s story and gives this reader hope.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Transmetropolitan (Vol.10): One More Time” is included on the Goodreads lists “Bibles for the Revolution”, and “Best of Cyberpunk”.

Find “Transmetropolitan (Vol.10): One More Time” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed: