Serena’s Review: “My Lady Jane”

22840421Book: “My Lady Jane” by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

Publishing Info: HarperTeen, June 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book description: The comical, fantastical, romantical, (not) entirely true story of Lady Jane Grey. In “My Lady Jane,” coauthors Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows have created a one-of-a-kind fantasy in the tradition of “The Princess Bride,” featuring a reluctant king, an even more reluctant queen, a noble steed, and only a passing resemblance to actual history—because sometimes history needs a little help.

At sixteen, Lady Jane Grey is about to be married off to a stranger and caught up in a conspiracy to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But those trifling problems aren’t for Jane to worry about. Jane gets to be Queen of England.

Review: I listed this book as one of my picks for June Highlights without any real knowledge of what it would be. A comedy of the definitely-tragic life of Lady Jane Grey? Something about a horse? But the comparison to “The Princess Bride” is what truly sold me on it, and I immediately requested it from the library. And it was a blast!

King Edward is dying. Or so he’s been told. And in a brilliant scheme of his (not) own making, he decides to line up his best friend and cousin Lady Jane Grey to inherit the throne behind him. But to do so, she should really be married so the male heirs can take over eventually, because women are questionable leaders, Edward has to believe. And so enters Lord Gifford, or “G” who has a bit of a “horse” problem. That is, he becomes a horse from dawn to dusk every day. So now, poor Jane must mourn Edward (or does she?), become queen, and deal with a husband who prefers apples. It’s all quite lovely.

I am generally hit-and-miss on the concept of duel protagonists, even more skeptical of three. But this book pulls it off! We have chapters from Edward, G, and, of course, Jane, to tell us their story. Naturally, it would be easy for Edward’s chapters to fall to the wayside in a story that is largely about Jane’s queenship and her burgeoning relationship with G, her husband/horse. But I was surprised to find myself truly enjoying Edwards contributions and his journey to self-awareness. Yes, Edward, maybe women can rule…maybe, your half-sister, even, Ness (also known as Elizabeth…)?

G and Jane, however, were the true heart of the story and I enjoyed them both immensely. Jane loves books, so there was a natural kinship between us there.

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At one point, in the early more rocky stages of their relationship, Jane builds a wall of books between herself and G in the carriage because there was not enough room in the trunks. This is my kind of girl. G, too, had a great voice and sense of humor. His perspective from his “horse self” was hilarious.

Really, the humor is what made this book. The dialogue was witty, and the authors fully embraced the ridiculousness of their concept, and it as almost impossible to not feel their own laughter emanating from the pages.

And yes, the comparisons to “The Princess Bride” were on point. The use of a narrator inserting thoughts and opinions throughout the story was used in the same way, and there definite nods to the story itself. In one scene, G refers to a large bear by some long acronym and proclaimed he didn’t believe it existed (ala “ROUSs? I don’t believe they exist!”) However, while I enjoyed these nods and the style in general, there were points where I felt like it was leaning too heavily on elements from that story. A nod here and there, sure, but there were a few too many, especially with the parenthetical narration bits that struck a bit too closely to “The Princess Bride.” It’s one thing to follow a format, it’s another to almost copy an idea. Parts of this made me uncomfortable.

I also really liked the twisting of history. Instead of the actual struggle between Catholics and Protestants that was going on during this time period (and lead to the conflict in rulers with Mary and Elizabeth fighting for different national religions, essentially), this book changes it to a conflict between the Verities (people who stay people and believe this is the RIGHT way to be) and the Ethians (those who can turn into nifty creatures like horses/dogs/etc). It was fun seeing what was actually a very serious conflict be turned into such a creative fantasy adventure.

Which speaks to tone over all. Like I said, this is definitely a comedy story. If you’re looking for anything regarding a serious, historical book, this is not for you. The story/characters/narrator consistently make fun of elements of the time period (see: sexism regarding women rulers), and the dialogue is full of anachronisms. But, if you’re in the mood for a quirky, fun, romantic comedy, this book is definitely for you!

Rating 8: Super fun story, with three great leads. If you liked “The Princess Bride,” you’ll like this. But was also a bit too close to this original, at times.

Reader’s Advisory:

“My Lady Jane” is a very new book, so it’s not on many lists. Obviously, if you liked this and haven’t read “The Princess Bride,” go do that now! And another great comedy fantasy series I love is called the “Hero” series by Moira J. Moore and starts with “Resenting the Hero.”

Find “My Lady Jane” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Rev-Up Review: “Finders Keepers”

22453035Book: “Finders Keepers” by Stephen King

Publishing Info: Scribner, June 2015

Where Did I Get This Book: The Library!

Book Description: “Wake up, genius.” So begins King’s instantly riveting story about a vengeful reader. The genius is John Rothstein, an iconic author who created a famous character, Jimmy Gold, but who hasn’t published a book for decades. Morris Bellamy is livid, not just because Rothstein has stopped providing books, but because the nonconformist Jimmy Gold has sold out for a career in advertising. Morris kills Rothstein and empties his safe of cash, yes, but the real treasure is a trove of notebooks containing at least one more Gold novel.

Morris hides the money and the notebooks, and then he is locked away for another crime. Decades later, a boy named Pete Saubers finds the treasure, and now it is Pete and his family that Bill Hodges, Holly Gibney, and Jerome Robinson must rescue from the ever-more deranged and vengeful Morris when he’s released from prison after thirty-five years.

Not since Misery has King played with the notion of a reader whose obsession with a writer gets dangerous. Finders Keepers is spectacular, heart-pounding suspense, but it is also King writing about how literature shapes a life—for good, for bad, forever.

Review: The flashback to the “Bill Hodges Series” continues with the middle book, “Finders Keepers”. I got my grubby little paws on this book shortly after I had listened to “Mr. Mercedes” on audiobook, but couldn’t wait for the CDs to arrive so I just grabbed the print book. Sorry, Will Patton, I was just too anxious to dive right in. The upside with reading this book in print form was that I basically devoured it once I had it in my hand. I read faster than Will Patton speaks, after all. Eager was I to fall back into the world of Private Detective Bill Hodges and his assistants Jerome and Holly. Eager was I to revisit that horrible and evil Brady Hartsfield, who was left beaten and practically brain dead by Holly in an effort to stop him from blowing up a concert of teenage girls. Eager was I.

So it was too bad that “Finders Keepers” kind of let me down.

It certainly wasn’t the writing. King brings some more great suspense to this narrative, building layer upon layer of serious tension. He starts out with a horrific murder, and doesn’t let the action or intensity die down. Morris Bellamy is like a male and more expansive version of Annie Wilkes, his obsession with his favorite writer pushing him over the edge into violence and madness.He is a very clear threat, and I definitely felt a lot of fear for poor Pete Saubers, a boy whose family is falling into financial ruin and is looking for a miracle. So of course he’s going to take that money that he finds, any empathetic reader would understand it. Had this been any other Stephen King book, I probably would have loved this and bought into it 100%. The problem for me is that this is Book 2 in the Bill Hodges Trilogy. And Bill, Holly, and Jerome do not make an appearance in this book until about one third of the way, and to me that is just far too long to bring these characters back when it is supposed to be the middle part of a Bill Hodges Trilogy. It kind of felt like that King had a new fun idea, and then, knowing he wanted to write more Bill Hodges stuff, decided to throw both themes together to kill two birds with one stone. He did it in a believable way, even connecting the Saubers family to the Mr. Mercedes massacre (Mr. Saubers was one of the victims, left with a permanent limp and few job prospects because of it), but it still felt cobbled together. Perhaps this could be written off as a good way to show that Hodges and Holly and, to a lesser extent, Jerome have started their own detective business together (called Finders Keepers), but it still was a bit too long to keep them away for the sake of the new characters.

And plus, I feel that this story as a whole has just as much to do with Brady Hartsfield as it does with Bill Hodges. Hartsfield has a small role in this, but being something of a vegetable lying in a hospital bed makes it kind of difficult to give him much to do. Given all the weight he was given in the first one, I was expecting a bit more from him, especially since it was pretty clear from the get go that there was more to his story. I think that if this series was more than just three books I would have been a bit more forgiving with not focusing on him as much. I would have felt like there was plenty of time. But with three books in this series, to barely have Hodges’ nemesis, and to keep Hodges and his gang out of it for the first third as well, it just doesn’t feel right.

But there are things here that I really did like. Jerome’s sister Barbara, relegated to role of potential victim in “Mr. Mercedes” gets to do a bit more in “Finders Keepers”. She’s the friend of Pete Saubers’ sister, who is worried about her brother and her family. Barbara is the one who prompts her to go see Hodges about what’s going on in her life. I like the fact that King is trying to have more diverse people in his books as of late, and Jerome and Barabara Robinson work very well as characters and as helpers to Bill Hodges. Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of this book, however, is the progression of Holly Gibney. When we met Holly in “Mr. Mercedes” she was a nervous, unstable wreck who was conquered by her demons. But in “Finders Keepers”, her new found freedom and purpose (and friend group of Hodges and Jerome) has helped her bloom into a confident and savvy detective in her own right. True, she still has some of her hang ups, and her less extreme personality quirks are still quite present (being too literal and lacking any kind of filter), she is far more in control of her nerves and feels a lot better about herself and her life. I love Holly, and she brings her own bit of diversity to the story, being a character who has mental disabilities and may be on the spectrum. King still writes her tenderly and with a gentle touch, but never condescends to her as a character either. Her character development is really the best damn thing about this book, and her friendship with Hodges is very satisfying.

And then there is the fact that Brady Hartsfield seems to be gaining some strange powers…. I thought that this was a real world King story, not necessarily a supernatural one. That isn’t to say that I was irritated with this. I like that King decided to go back to his roots, ALL the way bak to his first book, “Carrie”.

“Finders Keepers” wasn’t as strong as “Mr. Mercedes”, and something of a disappointing distraction from the Hodges/Hartsfield story that is at the heart of this series. But distracted or not, my girl Holly Gibney got some time to shine in this one, and that was worth it. Up next I will take on the last of the trilogy, “End of Watch”.

Rating 7: A solid mystery on it’s own, but it feels like a strange, out of place add on to the overarching story of Bill Hodges. Frankly, it needs more Brady Hartsfield. But Holly Gibney really shined bright.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Finders Keepers” is included on these Goodreads Lists: “Quirky Books”, and “Stephen King’s Non-Horror Books”.

Find “Finders Keepers” at your library using WorldCat!

Previous Reviews in this series: “Mr. Mercedes”

August 2016 Highlights

We have entered the Dog Days of summer, everybody, and as such it is time for our highlights and choices we’re most excited about for the month! Let’s see what we are looking forward to!

Serena’s Picks

26114291Book: “Ghost Talkers” by Mary Robinette Kowal

Publication Date: August 16th, 2016

Why I’m Interested: Set in an alternate-Earth where a Psychcorp division of the military helps with the war efforts in World War I, this unique stand-alone definitely seems worth checking out. The lead character, Ginger Stuyvesant, is a medium who becomes caught up in the war efforts and the possibility of a traitor in their midst when her fiance is sent to the front line. This has the potential to be very tragic, but I’m willing to risk it!

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Book: “The Obelisk Gate” by N.K. Jemisin

Publication Date: August 16th, 2016

Why I’m Interested: This is the second in Jemisin’s “The Broken Earth” series, and alas, I haven’t even gotten to the first one, “The Fifth Season,” yet! But I have read other works by this author and love them all, and she’s a highly praised name in the fantasy community right now. Featuring her trademark world building and incredibly high stakes (see: a world with repeated apocalyptic events), the release of this book just highlights the fact that I need to prioritize this series pronto!

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Book: “The Swarm” by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston

Publication Date: August 2nd, 2016

Why I’m Interested: “Ender’s Game” is one of my all-time favorite sci-fi books. I’ve read sporadically within the rest of the series and spin offs with mixed feelings. This story is essentially a prequel, and features Mazer Rackam, Ender’s mentor in the original, during the second second war with the Formics. This seems to be the first in a trilogy set during this period of time and is also a first pairing for Card and Johnston. I’m curious to see how the authors merge their styles and how this series will hold up against the original.

Kate’s Picks

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Book: “The Smaller Evil” by Stephanie Kuehn

Publication Date: August 2nd, 2016

Why I’m Interested: Stephanie Kuehn is one of my favorite YA authors writing today, as I love her book “Charm and Strange” and quite enjoyed both “Complicit” and “Delicate Monsters”. Now she’s back with a new one, which is sure to be as tense as her others. This one seems to deal with a strange group that is leading a self help retreat in the remote Big Sur mountains, and the teenage boy who has found himself in it’s fences. I smell a cult story, and I love a good cult story.

28815474Book: “The Couple Next Door” by Shari Lapena

Publication Date: August 23rd, 2016

Why I’m Interested: This book sounds like it has it all: a seemingly perfect family, a terrible crime, and secrets and lies that are about to come out. I wanted something like this when I read “The Magpies” by Mark Edwards, but didn’t quite get it, so hopefully “The Couple Next Door” will fill my insatiable need for terrible things happening to suburban bliss. It seems to have some pretty okay hype, so I am looking forward to this.

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Book: “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Book 1” by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Robert Hack (Illustrator)

Publication Date: August 16th, 2016

Why I’m Interested: So you know how the Archie Comics are kind of getting a more edgy and darker make-over, or have had some darker themes at least? Apparently the same can be said for Sabrina the Teenage Witch!! I loved the show when it was on and I liked the comics when I was little, so seeing that it’s been given the horror treatment makes me so relentlessly excited I can’t even begin to contain my excitement!! This has the potential to bring in some fun witch themes to an old favorite.

What books are you guys excited for that are coming out this month? Let us know in the comments!