My Year with Jane Austen: “Sense and Sensibility” [1995]

mv5bnzk1mju3mdqyml5bml5banbnxkftztcwnjc1otm2mq4040._v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_Movie: “Sense and Sensibility”

Release Year: 1995

Actors: Elinor Dashwood – Emma Thompson

Marianne Dashwood – Kate Winslet

Colonel Brandon – Alan Rickman

Edward Ferrars – Hugh Grant

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

At two hours and 20 minutes, this was definitely a longer film for what was the norm in the 90s, though even that required a lot of adjustments of the original text. Quite a few characters are cut out, as well as several scenes throughout the story. It doesn’t exactly make the case that there were superfluous characters in the book, but I will say that other than some of the humor from the elder Miss Steele (who is cut in the movie), I never really missed any of the characters who were removed. The small changes made to the order of reveals (Brandon’s history comes out much sooner) and the cut scenes towards the middle and the end all feel natural and smooth. This is truly the test of a good adaptation, and this movie passes with flying colors. The heart of the story remains true even when drastically shortened.

Beyond the cuts to scenes and characters, the screenplay works hard to give its heroes a bit more to do, particularly Edward who barely speaks in the first half of the book. We see a lot of scenes with him bonding with Margaret and through this attention gaining notice by Elinor. There’s also an interesting addition here where Elinor responds to Edward’s complaints about not having an occupation that even his situation is better than what women have: no chance of even having an occupation so without income, they have very few options. It’s only a brief scene, but it does shine an important light on the differences between their situations.

Overall, it seems that this movie was quite well-received, both critically and by audiences. Alan Rickman, in particular, is still pointed to as the quintessential Colonel Brandon, and I think many Austen fans file this movie in the positive category of adaptations. I hadn’t re-watched it for quite some time, but now that I’ve been reminded just how good it is, I’m sure it will not be nearly as long before I pull it out once again.

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

Emma Thompson is a treasure. There is no denying this one universal truth. With regards to her casting, I would say that she reads as a bit older than what the book Elinor was supposed to be (around 19 or 20, I believe). However, in some ways, this older version of Elinor fits even better with the character we are given. The age difference being greater between Elinor and Marianne both makes Elinor’s own perfection when dealing with family trials more believable, but also makes Marianne’s youthful naivety and foolishness seem more in line with the silliness of younger person, leaving her basic sense and intelligence intact with the thought that she, like most, only needed to age out of the follies of youth.

The movie also made a few early efforts to give Elinor opportunities to show emotion which I think also helped translate her character better. In the very beginning of the movie, Edward comes across her silently crying as she watches Marianne play a sad piano piece, knowing that it will be one of the last times Marianne will have a chance to play. Towards the middle of the movie, she also shows more emotion when revealing her prior knowledge of Lucy and Edward’s engagement to Marianne.

Kate Winslet does well with Marianne’s character. Her hair is atrocious, but we can forgive her for that, I guess. She plays Marianne’s love affair with Willoughby with a lovely sense of naive innocence and shines in many of the scenes with him early in the movie. As the movie cuts out some things in the second half of the story, she fades largely into the background during the second hour. Though the scene when she looks down upon Willoughby’s home while standing in the raging storm has all of the classic tragic romance once could possibly want.

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

Seeming to recognize the want of action given to the heroes in the book, it is clear early on that the movie is trying very hard to give the audience opportunities to connect with our leading men during the few chances they get. Edward has a lot more screen time during his initial visit to the Dashwood family home, going on horse back rides with Elinor, playing swords with Margaret, etc. Hugh Grant does a good job lending his typical affable charm to the character and playing up the humorous side of the script. I’ve never loved Hugh Grant as an actor, but there’s no denying how charismatic he is and he makes Edward immediately appealing. Which makes it all the more weird when Edward disappears for a large chunk of time only to reappear briefly to deal with the Lucy situation, disappear again, and then show up for 5 minutes to reuinite with Elinor. The seriousness of the Lucy situation also makes for an awkward transition from funny, charming Edward to morose, gloomy Edward. Grant clearly does better with the former.

Ah, Alan Rickman. Another actor, like Thompson, who will always be a treasure. He is perfectly cast as Colonel Brandon, I think most people agree. The book itself gave more opportunities for Colonel Brandon to shine than Edward, and the movie follows this. Unlike Edward, his presence is more steady throughout and his characterization seems to flow more naturally. The movie also lets us in on his past much earlier in the story, with Mrs. Jennings revealing much of his past to Elinor even before Willoughby arrives on the scene. With this knowledge in advance, it’s easy to connect with Rickman’s serious, but endearingly earnest, take on Colonel Brandon. His romantic actions during Marianne’s illness also play directly to his strengths, rounding out the almost gothic romance of that entire scene.

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

Greg Wise is a convincing Willoughby. He has enough of a good-natured face that viewers immediately want to like him, an important aspect of the character to more fully sympathize with one of our heroines being so taken in. He also does a good job with the scene in which he leaves Marianne behind and the one where he meets her again at the ball. In the former, he really sells the idea that it is a torment for him and that he truly feels the loss of his connection with Marianne and the family (even if we later learn it is of his own deciding). And at the ball, he still seems affected, but has a good sense of coldness to his demeaner. The movie, however, omits his later visit while Marianne is sick, so all of the coldness of his letter is left as is and not revealed to have been dictated to him by a cruel fiance/wife. Instead, all of Willoughby’s history is delivered by Colonel Brandon, and we are never given Willoughby’s version of events from his own mouth. This seems like a worthwhile cut, in my opinion, as that scene in the book did little to change my feelings towards Willoughby. And as far as the movie is concerned, there is no reason to attempt to redeem him after the fact.

Imogen Stubbs’ Lucy Steele is particularly slimy feeling. From the very first, the actress manages to instill a certain look into Lucy’s eyes that immediately triggers suspicion to the viewers. This suspicion is, of course, immediately gratified by her revealing her history to Elinor. The movie cuts out her older sister, so instead we see Lucy herself revealing her history to Mrs. John Dashwood. What follows, Mrs. John Dashwood physically attacking her, plays for great comedic value and also as a satisfying moment for the viewers themselves.

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

The movie does hard work to try to up the ante for the romance in this story. As I mentioned in my review of the book, there is really very little there. Like I said above in the heroes section, they gave Edward a lot more time in the beginning of the movie to show his growing attachment to Elinor and general character as a whole. This does a lot of good work making their relationship one that viewers become invested in. The movie also adds a scene in the first act where we see Edward begin a confusing conversation with Elinor about his early education that later pays off when we discover his relationship with Lucy and can connect it back to Edward’s attempts to let Elinor know what his hold up is. But, again, there’s no escaping his total absence for much of the rest of the movie. The story also cuts out his visit to the cottage, which is probably for the best, but this choice also just expounds the problem of his dropping off entirely for much of the movie. By the time we get to the romantic conclusion, I, for one, felt more joy in Elinor finally being rewarded just in general than in any real investment in the relationship as a whole.

Colonel Brandon still comes out as the more romantic of the two. Though here, even the movie struggles to really develop a relationship between its two “lovers.” The early scenes between Marianne and Colonel Brandon are barely worth mentioning. We see them playing yard bowling, but never really hear them even talk to each other. But through Rickman’s superb acting and the fact that many of his scenes are with the equally superb Thompson, it’s still easy for viewers to become invested in at least his side of the romance. They add to the ending for Marianne and Brandon as well, since the verging on “marry with the expectation of love to come later” theme of the book for these two wouldn’t work well with modern audiences who want their fairytale ending. So, instead, we get nice scenes of Brandon reading poetry to Marianne quietly as she recovers.

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

They cut out several of the comedic characters, like the elder Miss Steele. But, of course, Mrs. Jennings and Sir John are left intact, re-imagined as living together after Mrs. Jenning’s daughter, Sir John’s wife, died. The actors play off each other very well and the other characters are barely missed.

Hugh Laurie, bizarrely, shows up as the grumpy Mr. Palmer. Just another example of the fact that if you watch enough Jane Austen adaptations and Harry Potter, you’re almost sure to run into every famous British actor we know from the last 30 years or so. His Mr. Palmer is just as surly as ever, but he does bring a more sympathetic turn to the character when he expresses worry for Marianne and regret in his family needing to essentially abandon them when they move due to a concern for their young baby.

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

Emma Thompson was nominated for “Best Actress” for this movie and won for “Best Adapted Screenplay.” I believe she is the only actor to be nominated for two categories like this in one film?

The movie ends with a double wedding, a change from the book in which the two sisters marry several months apart. But, the fun fact of it all, is that the scene itself is very like that of the ending of the BBC “Pride and Prejudice” which also features a double wedding for two sisters and also came out in 1995. Collusion? Coincidence? You decide!

Gemma Jones, who plays Mrs. Dashwood, will next appear in this re-read as another famous Austen mother: Mrs. Jones (Bennett) in “Bridget Jones’s Diary.” She will be joined by fellow cast mate, Hugh Grant, who plays the Wickham character in that adaptation.

Greg Wise and Emma Thompson are married. Wise was told by a palm reader, or some such thing, that he would have a love connection with someone in the movie. He went on a date with Winslet, the only single person at the time, but it wasn’t a match. Later, he and Thompson, who got along well on set, married after she split from the cheating Kenneth Branagh (who cheats on Emma Thompson!? A question we all asked of Alan Rickman’s character in “Love, Actually.” If you’re not careful, the recurring cast members in these films can feel a bit inbred when you start putting them all together…).

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

This is a blatant abuse of category creation purely for self-indulgence.

Image result for sense and sensibility 1995 gif

My best friend in college and I had a running joke/list of the most ridiculous crying scenes in movies, and the performance given by Thompson when Elinor discovers that Edward isn’t married was always at the top of this list. This is not to say that the scene is poorly acted, just that, for a crying scene, it’s definitely not subtle.

In two weeks, I’ll review the much longer 2008  version of “Sense and Sensibility.”

Kate’s Review: “Disappearing Earth”

34563821._sy475_Book: “Disappearing Earth” by Julia Phillips

Publishing Info: Knopf, May 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: I borrowed it from my Mom

Book Description: Beautifully written, thought-provoking, intense and cleverly wrought, this is the most extraordinary first novel from a mesmerising new talent.

One August afternoon, on the shoreline of the north-eastern edge of Russia, two sisters are abducted. In the ensuing weeks, then months, the police investigation turns up nothing. Echoes of the disappearance reverberate across a tightly woven community, with the fear and loss felt most deeply among its women.

Set on the remote Siberian peninsula of Kamchatka, Disappearing Earth draws us into the world of an astonishing cast of characters, all connected by an unfathomable crime. We are transported to vistas of rugged beauty – densely wooded forests, open expanses of tundra, soaring volcanoes and the glassy seas that border Japan and Alaska – and into a region as complex as it is alluring, where social and ethnic tensions have long simmered, and where outsiders are often the first to be accused.

In a story as propulsive as it is emotionally engaging, and through a young writer’s virtuosic feat of empathy and imagination, this powerful novel provides a new understanding of the intricate bonds of family and community, in a Russia unlike any we have seen before.

Review: I was visiting my parents when I saw “Disappearing Earth” by Julia Phillips on their coffee table. I asked them who had read it, and my Dad said ‘Your Mom got it for me. I read it. I didn’t like it at all.’ Not the highest of praise, but I also knew that it was probably less a reflection of the quality of writing, and more of the kind of writing. I know my Dad, and I know that literary fiction isn’t really his style. Therefore, I was definitely interested in giving it a go, especially since it had so much praise from the book community. Because that’s what “Disappearing Earth” is at it’s heart: it has the plot of a thriller, but the foundation and bones of a literary novel.

While it’s true that “Disappearing Earth” starts with, and deeply connects, to the disappearance of Alonya and Sophia, two sisters who vanish in an isolated town in Kamchatka, Russia. But it’s definitely more about life in an isolated town in a country that is still feeling the effects of a fallen empire, and the people who live their lives there every day. Each chapter takes place in a different month after the disappearance, spanning over nearly a year, and has a different perspective of a member of the community, or the surrounding communities. Each character has their own connection to the missing girls, from their mother, to a police officer, to the only witness, to members of the Even community who had their own disappearance a few years prior (but more on that later). But focusing on the various people in the town and their own connection to the girls and their disappearance, as direct or indirect as it may be, we get a slice of life narrative that is steeped in sadness, resilience, and a little bit of hope. Can I understand why this perhaps wasn’t my Dad’s kind of book? Sure. It’s not your typical thriller/mystery, even though Alonya and Sophia’s disappearance is always at hand. It’s really more about how these girls went missing, how different people react to it (from disbelief to coldness to determination to know what happened).

The theme that really stood out to me, however, was that of the Even community and characters, specifically Alla Innokentevna, the mother of the missing Lilia, and Ksyusha, a University student who is torn between her community at home and the community she has at school, specifically her boyfriend, a white Russian named Ruslan. One of the big reveals of this book is the disappearance of Lilia, whose disappearance was like Alonya and Sophia’s, but went largely unnoticed by those outside of Esso and the natives who live there. I know so little about Russian society, and the little that I do know has very little to do with the rural communities and the relationships between the white Russians and the native communities. And like in other parts of the world, the non-white victim has gone largely forgotten while two white girls have their faces splashed all over town and beyond. It’s not a mystery what happened to Alonya and Sophia, as we see what happens to them in the very first chapter, but we do find ourselves wondering if Lilia did actually leave by her own volition, or if she fell victim to the same predator as the two younger girls. And Phillips does a very good job of making you fear the very worst, and wrings out some truly heart wrenching moments involving her family. Especially when Alla interacts with Martina, Alonya and Sophia’s mother.

And finally, Phillips completely captured what life is like in this village, making the village feel like a character in and of itself. I got a very good feel for not only the location and the people, but also the day to day emotions and experiences that the communities as a whole had, and how they were shaped by where they live. This was so well done, and I was a bit astounded by how real and evocative the place of this story was.

“Disappearing Earth” may not be the kind of thriller I usually cover, but it’s so damn good. Phillips has blended two genres to make a satisfying and compelling read. I’m no doubt going to have to have a long conversation with my Dad to try and plead its case!

Rating 9: Evocative and melancholy, “Disappearing Earth” is about life on an isolated peninsula, and the way lives change yet continue when a community is rocked by tragedy.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Disappearing Earth” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best Books on the North”, and “Russia Based Thrillers”.

Find “Disappearing Earth” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “City of Stone and Silence”

34640582._sy475_Book: “City of Stone and Silence” by Django Wexler

Publishing Info: Tor Teen, January 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: After surviving the Vile Rot, Isoka, Meroe, and the rest of Soliton’s crew finally arrive at Soliton’s mysterious destination, the Harbor―a city of great stone ziggurats, enshrouded in a ghostly veil of Eddica magic. And they’re not alone.

Royalty, monks, and madmen live in a precarious balance, and by night take shelter from monstrous living corpses. None know how to leave the Harbor, but if Isoka can’t find a way to capture Soliton and return it to the Emperor’s spymaster before a year is up, her sister’s Tori’s life will be forfeit.

But there’s more to Tori’s life back in Kahnzoka than the comfortable luxury Isoka intended for her. By night, she visits the lower wards, risking danger to help run a sanctuary for mage-bloods fleeing the Emperor’s iron fist. When she discovers that Isoka is missing, her search takes her deep in the mires of intrigue and revolution. And she has her own secret―the power of Kindre, the Well of Mind, which can bend others to its will. Though she’s spent her life denying this brutal magic, Tori will use whatever means she has to with Isoka’s fate on the line…

Review: After blowing through the first book in this trilogy in about two days, I immediately nabbed a copy from NetGalley. What a joy to find a new series that you absolutely love and have the second book come out the very month you finish the first! While I think the first book stills ranks ahead of this, I was quite pleased with the direction the series seems to be headed in and the surprises that were in store here!

It seems that the ghost ship, Soliton, has finally reached its port. But answers here are as illusive as they were on the mysterious ship. In a land riddled with the walking dead, Isoka must untangle the complicated history of the ship and its makers if she has any hope of returning to her beloved sister, Tori. Back in her home city, Tori has been getting out and about much more than Isoka knew or would have wanted. She spends much of this time volunteering at a hospital for the poor, but her own street instincts have not been lost or forgotten either. With her eyes constantly on an exit strategy, Tori has been carefully cultivating her own connections. But when the city begins to teeter on the bring of revolt, Tori finds herself thrust into the spotlight in a way that may expose secrets that she’s kept even from her own sister.

The introduction of Tori was quite the shift for this book, with the chapters now alternating between the two sisters and their experiences. I enjoyed the addition of this new character quite a lot, though I will also admit that Isoka was still by far my favorite character and I found her story here the more intriguing of the two. But it’s a brave choice to make, and I think it was pulled off well. Tori’s story lays a lot of groundwork for the final confrontation in the third book and brings some complicated themes into a story that, before, was pretty solidly a fun adventure fantasy.

Isoka is still as brilliant as ever. Brave, straight-forward, but with a hard shell that she is only beginning to shed. In the first book we saw her confront her own ability to care for others, both in the immediate and personal, as well as in the whole, as she leads the other Soliton residents to the last remaining safe space on the ship. In this book, she confronts the challenge of lasting leadership when the goal is not so obvious or so black and white in what needs to be done to achieve it. More than anything, she learns what it means to trust others to help her. She’s just the sort of prickly, gruff, super competent hero I like.

The mystery of the port of Soliton is also incredibly intriguing. In the first book, we really only scraped the surface of the ghost ship, knowing just enough to know that we didn’t know anything. This book takes that one ship and now explodes it out to an entire lost city with mysteries that reach back thousands of years. There are answers here to more than just the strange ship and its solitary mission to collected young people with access to magical Wells. There were a lot a lot of legitimately creepy elements. The crabs from the first book read like the type of exciting monsters that one finds in Japanese monster flicks. But here an element of horror is painted over top it all. And I’ll just say this…dinosaurs. Take from that what you will.

As I said above, while I still enjoyed the adventure of Isoka’s story and her own character arc best, Tori was overall an excellent addition. It becomes clear early on that Tori’s own experiences of life on the street were not so effectively wiped away as Isoka had hoped. But, being a very different girl than Isoka with very different gifts, Tori has taken her own route in building up a life for herself, one that is still always prepared for the worst. Through her story, we get a much deeper look into the geo-political state of the Empire Isoka left behind. And the story of growing unrest, a tipping point, and the uprising of the common people against an Empire that has pushed too far is very compelling.

Tori’s own role in this revolution was a very interesting contrast to Isoka. Both have been thrust into leadership roles that they feel ill equipped to manage. Both have incredible power that others can both admire and fear (though Tori’s is kept under wraps from those around her for much of the book). The classic “with great power come great responsibility” motif is explored thoroughly from both angles. But the book takes an interesting approach to the idea. The power itself isn’t in question, it’s more what does responsibility actually look like when one has power? The story explores how power can bring out both the best and worst of people. And that similar experiences of having power, and more importantly here, responsibility thrust upon a person can have very different outcomes, depending on the person. Power alone does not good or evil make.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this sequel. Tori was a fantastic addition, adding new themes into the story as well as creating more shades of grey to the ones already being covered. The world-building and magical history seemed to multiply in this book, and what had been contained to a strange ship, expands out to provide insights into the entire world and magical system itself. And, of course, I love Isoka. I have no filter for this type of powerful, yet emotionally walled off, heroines it seems. If you enjoyed the first book, be ready to kick into the next gear!

Rating 8: A fantastic second outing that highlights the author’s meticulous story-telling techniques, leaving so many goodies and reveals for the second book that one can only wonder at what will come in the third!

Reader’s Advisory:

“City of Stone and Silence” is a newer title so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it is on “Can’t Wait Sci-Fi/Fantasy of 2020.”

Find “City of Stone and Silence” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “One of Us Is Next”

One of Us is Next FINAL cover.inddBook: “One of Us Is Next” by Karen M. McManus

Publishing Info: Delacorte Press for Young Readers, January 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The highly anticipated sequel to the New York Times bestselling thriller everyone is talking about, One of Us Is Lying! There’s a new mystery to solve at Bayview High, and there’s a whole new set of rules.

Come on, Bayview, you know you’ve missed this.

A ton of copycat gossip apps have popped up since Simon died, but in the year since the Bayview four were cleared of his shocking death, no one’s been able to fill the gossip void quite like he could. The problem is no one has the facts. Until now. This time it’s not an app, though—it’s a game.

Truth or Dare.

Phoebe’s the first target. If you choose not to play, it’s a truth. And hers is dark. Then comes Maeve and she should know better—always choose the dare. But by the time Knox is about to be tagged, things have gotten dangerous. The dares have become deadly, and if Maeve learned anything from Bronwyn last year, it’s that they can’t count on the police for help. Or protection.

Simon’s gone, but someone’s determined to keep his legacy at Bayview High alive. And this time, there’s a whole new set of rules.

Review: Back in 2017, I was super impressed by Karen M. McManus’s debut YA thriller “One of Us Is Lying”. It felt like “The Breakfast Club” was mashed up with a soapy murder mystery, and had interesting and complex characters to boot. Because of this I was stoked to find out that McManus had written a sequel called “One of Us Is Next”, which takes the original premise, twists it up, and brings in some new and some familiar faces. It took a little while for my library to get it, but as soon as it was in my hands I set a day aside and basically devoured it in one go.

“One of Us Is Next” is a semi-direct sequel in that it takes place at the same school but has a mixed bag of characters. The Original Bayview Four, as the protagonists from the first book are called, are definitely around, but the focus is not on them. Rather, we have a few brand new characters, and a few former supporting characters turned leads. I really liked this choice, as it gave us a little bit of familiarity while still giving us fresh faces and new possibilities along with a new tech based threat. In this case the threat is a Truth or Dare game, in which if you are chosen you have to pick one or the other. If you pick Dare, you have to do something based on the person in control’s whims. If you ignore it or pick truth, something humiliating will be exposed. I LOVED this new game, as McManus gave a similar premise completely new stakes. The three main character focuses are Maeve, Bronwyn’s sister who played a very important role in the first book; Phoebe, a semi popular girl who is the first target of the Truth or Dare game; and Knox, a geeky theater kid who is Maeve’s best friend. Once again McManus is great at making these characters all have their own secrets and insecurities while showing their vulnerabilities when they could easily fall into stereotypes. Of the three I was the most enamored with Phoebe, which caught me by surprise given that she is almost right off the bat painted in a light that’s less than flattering (no spoilers here though!). While she has made bad and selfish decisions in the past, once her bad decisions are exposed we get to see into her mind, her thought process, and what she’s been dealing with at home (recently deceased father, downsized living situation, a formerly close relationship with her sister in shambles). I ended up really loving Phoebe, rough edges and all, as she (like Nate and Addy in the previous book) had so much depth and so much heart it was impossible not to root for her. And Maeve has her own issues that felt very heavy and weighted, and McManus was able to give it the serious tone that it needed without making it feel like it was overshadowing everything else.

Kind of like the first book, the mystery itself left a little bit to be desired in the sense that I figured it out pretty quickly, at least part of it. But, also like the first book, that didn’t really matter, as I was more than happy to go along for the ride of building up to the endgame solution. Our cast of characters is immensely likable, and I liked seeing how the Truth or Dare game escalated to the breaking point AND how it all came together in the end. Like, ALL of it. McManus does know how to weave multiple strands, and even if I saw one of the bigger threads from a ways away it was still well done. And I also liked how she incorporated the characters from the previous books into said mystery, without leaning too much upon them. I loved seeing what Bronwyn, Nate, Addy, and Cooper have been doing, and it was nice getting reassurance that they are all still doing well (for the most part. There has to be a LITTLE drama, after all).

Fans of “One of Us Is Lying” will not be disappointed with “One of Us Is Next”! If McManus wanted to continue the soapy and twisty adventures of Bayview High, I would happily follow her wherever she takes it!

Rating 8: A gripping mystery and worthy follow up to a runaway hit, “One of Us Is Next” is a twisty tale that kept me guessing, and gave us a new set of characters that were easy to root for.

Reader’s Advisory:

“One of Us Is Next” is included on the Goodreads lists “YA Thrillers and Mysteries 2019-2020″, and “Popsugar 2020 – A Book That Passes the Bechdel Test”.

Find “One of Us Is Next” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously reviewed: “One of Us Is Lying”

Not Just Books: January 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

mv5byjbhmmrjzdgtowuzyi00nweylwi3ndetyjq5ogvknjdhndqyxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvynjyznde4oda40._v1_TV Show: “The 100”

My sister had actually been recommending this show for a while, and I’m not quite sure what was stopping me. A post-apocalyptic, YA, sci-fi romp is definitely in my wheel house, and I’ve been a big fan of many of the genre shows on CW, including my beloveds “Supernatural” and Smallville.” So finally, for no reason in particular, I started watching it a few weeks ago. And now I’m on season 4 and facing an entirely different conundrum: I now love it so much that I’m worried about how it will end and with the last season coming out later this spring, do I follow my typical rule about quitting while I’m ahead until the end has proven worth while? (“Game of Thrones” recently proved how necessary this rule is to my sanity, as I didn’t actually watch the final season for this reason and was so thankful I didn’t by the time I heard all about it and was still enraged.) Or do I throw caution to the wind and continue my binge and hope for the best? I still haven’t decided, but if all goes well, you might be hearing about this one again when it does finally come to a conclusion this summer.

mv5by2qzytqyyzitmzawyi00yjzllthjntutnzmymddkyzjinwm4xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtkxnjuynq4040._v1_sy1000_cr006741000_al_Movie: “Little Women”

Like the many Jane Austen adaptations my mom, sister, and I watched when I was younger, “Little Women” was another beloved classic that was in our rotation of re-watches. Other than my general, and lasting, dislike of Christian Bale, I always really enjoyed that movie and its take on the novel. And now they’ve re-made it. My husband and I had just recently gotten into a bit of a debate about the pros and cons of endlessly remaking things, and, while I can understand his frustration about “nothing new under the sun” and often agree, this movie proved my overall point: sometimes even something that was very good the first time can, years later, be done even better. Yes, I liked this movie even more than the 90s version! And, even more amazing, I think Amy was my favorite character in this one! Laury, on the other hand…Amy is too good for him! Anyways, this movie lived up to all the buzz surrounding it, so it’s definitely worth checking out!

mv5bn2rjnwqzntqtmmy4yi00yzk5lwfiodity2eyzjbmnjzmymi2xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtkxnjuynq4040._v1_sy1000_sx600_al_TV Show: “His Dark Materials”

The other side of the same argument about adaptations is that sometimes the first attempt is just abysmal. The first adaptation of the “His Dark Materials” series was a godawful movie that was so terrible that its own creators changed the ending, knowing it wouldn’t get the sequel necessary to the original story. It’s also served as my go-to example of how movies can royally screw up beloved books and as my standard answer for “most disappointing” adaptation ever. So, while I was optimistic that with the change of format (from movie to much longer mini-series with, hopefully, three seasons) and a stellar cast (though, to be fair, I had no qualms with the movie cast and really liked Nicole Kidman, in particuarl, as Mrs. Coulter), I was still quite nervous. I’m not even all the way through it (see the above about my strategy about waiting until seasons are finished to start them), but so far I’m really loving it. All the changes that have been made are for the better, and the cast is blowing it out of the water. I’m super excited to see how the rest of the season plays out and what will be in store for the next season!

Kate’s Picks

220px-you_season_2Netflix Show: “You”

Joe Goldberg is back, and not a moment too soon. While I continue to wait for the third book in the “You” series (but apparently it’s in process, so YAY!), Netflix has kindly continued the TV adaptations, this time tackling “Hidden Bodies.” Season 2 is just as fun and dark as Season 1, and while it continues to deviate from the source material, in some cases drastically, Penn Badgley continues to shine as my favorite psychopath. Joe has run to L.A. in hopes of getting away from his hellbent on revenge ex-girlfriend Candace, and hopes to better himself and stop with his, uh, murderous and obsessive tendencies. But when he meets Love, a chef with baggage of her own, he finds himself once again fixated. Season 2 has a lot of twists and turns, and while it’s very different from “Hidden Bodies”, I quite enjoyed it.

c_spinning_courtesyNetflix Show: “Spinning Out”

This was a show that I just kind of stumbled upon one Saturday. I was looking for something to watch while I did stuff around the house, and when I saw that not only was is soapy and dramatic, but also had to do with figure skating, I was one hundred percent in! “Spinning Out” concerns Kat, a figure skater who is suffering from PTSD after an accident on the ice. Along with that she has to contend with a mentally ill mother and a determined but drama filled sister. When she’s approached by Justin, a golden boy skater in need of a pairs partner after an accident, she has to decide if she’s ready to try and achieve her dreams again. Not only does “Spinning Out” address real issues about mental illness and the cost of trying to achieve greatness in skating, it also is truly sudsy and fun and filled with all the juicy drama of a water cooler show. I loved it.

quotchilling-adventures-of-sabrinaquot-season-3-trailer-brings-hell-to-the-forefrontNetflix Show: “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”

My favorite Netflix show has finally returned!! We didn’t get a Halloween timed fix, nor did we get another Christmas Special (super bummed about that), but now “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” is back and our favorite teen witch is going to Hell. Literally. At the end of last season Sabrina’s boyfriend Nick had to use his body as a vessel for Lucifer, and was taken to Hell by Lilith, who has decided she’s going to rule as queen. Now Sabrina wants Nick back. The usual gang is back, though we also get a few new faces too. I haven’t finished it as of this writing, but so far, so good, and I’ve really warmed up to Nick and have high hopes that Sabrina will be able to rescue him from his role as a cage for Satan!

What movies or shows stood out to you this month?

 

Serena’s Review: “A Queen in Hiding”

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

Publishing Info: Tor Books, January 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

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

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

Review: I think I would have been interested in this book purely based on the description. Not super unique, but the kind of thing that I generally go for. But when I looked into it more, the “binge style” publication plan for the series as a whole is what really sold me: all four will be coming out within a month of each other! I love nothing more than binge watching a good show and if I’m re-reading a beloved series, I often “binge” that as well, reading all books in the series one after another. But it all still came down to how I felt about this first book, and overall…ok?

The Queens of Weirandale all have had abilities given to them as a birthright. As they age, these unique gifts make themselves known. But Cerulia’s are late in coming, not yet identified into mid-childhood. And then, even that becomes a minor concern as she is forced into hiding, now orphaned and alone. As she grows, she must discover the power within her, not only her magical abilities, but those of a leader who must now reclaim her throne.

I both enjoyed this book and struggled with it. The opening chapter is amazing. It’s only a few pages long, but the style of writing is strong and compelling, laying the groundwork for a mystery that readers long to solve and a new fantasy world that one is eager to dive into. However, in the next few chapters it feels like the brakes are laid on big time.

The book turns out to be a very slow read, spending a lot of time in council meetings and introducing a plethora of characters. This all works to make the book read like a fantasy epic, but it also fights against the time most readers need to become fully attached to a main character in the beginning of the story. We have a few chapters for Cerulia and her mother early in the book, and both are immediately interesting and hooked me in. But as the story continued, it broke away from these characters more and more often, introducing a whole host of new characters, many of whom I struggled to care about. Like I said, it made the book feel as if it was fighting with itself or was in such a rush to expand its scale outwards that it left readers without enough time to fully invest in any of it.

But whenever we were back with Cerulia herself, I really enjoyed the story. While somewhat familiar, that of a lost queen working to regain her throne against a group that overthrew her family’s reign, there were enough interesting aspects thrown in that kept it feeling fresh. I also liked the fact that the magical elements of the story are used sparingly. This is a human drama, often focusing on the political machinations of various parties on a grand scale and then zeroing back in on small, but important, moments between individuals. Cerulia’s own abilities, once discovered, are used sparingly and there aren’t many others with magical abilities either.

As I said in my notes for the giveaway, one of the more intriguing aspects of this series is the “binge-style” reading that the publisher is aiming for, releasing all four books in four months. Judging by this one, however, these will be long books. This one comes in just under 500 pages. For some readers, that could be several weeks of reading right there. So one has to be fairly invested in this series (or a fast reader) to really want to commit four months to this large series. It is reassuring to know that they will all be out (not leaving readers waiting years for news of the next installment), so even if you can’t keep up with them as they come out this spring, they will still be there when you do get to them. I will likely continue on, but I wasn’t quite as caught up as I hoped to be and don’t necessarily feel the urge to binge read them myself. You might find that you do, however, so make sure to enter to win a paperback copy of this book! 

Rating 7: A bit slow and very long, this was still an interesting start to a new series that will all be published shortly!

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Queen in Hiding” is on this Goodreads list: “Upcoming 2020 SFF with female leads or co-leads.”

Find “A Queen in Hiding” at the library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “A Line in the Dark”

28096526Book: “A Line in the Dark” by Malinda Lo

Publishing Info: Dutton Books for Young Readers

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it!

Book Description: The most important thing is that Jess Wong is Angie Redmond’s best friend, even if Angie can’t see how she truly feels. It’s okay that Jess is the girl on the sidelines that nobody notices. That means she’s free to watch everyone else and be at Angie’s side. But when Angie starts falling for Margot, a girl from the nearby boarding school, Jess can already see what’s going to happen. And suddenly her gift for observation is a curse.

As Angie drags Jess further into Margot’s circle, Jess finds more than her friend’s growing crush. Secrets lie just beneath the carefree surface of this world, and when they come out, Jess knows Angie won’t be able to handle the consequences. When the inevitable darkness finally descends, Angie will need her best friend.

Review: A couple years ago Serena and I went to the Twin Cities Book Festival, and given that neither of us have any will power we both left with a few books in tow. One of the books that I brought with me was “A Line in the Dark” by Malinda Lo, which had been on my Highlights list in October 2017. Suffice to say, it languished on my shelf for awhile. Like, two years and a fourth years awhile. Definitely my bad. But since I’m trying to read books that I’ve been putting off as of late, I decided the time had come for “A Line in the Dark”.

It takes a little while to get there, but ultimately “A Line in the Dark” is a mystery. But the bigger themes involve friendship, loyalty, privilege, and jealousy. Jess and Angie are best friends, but the tension that exists between them is almost immediate, and prevalent throughout the narrative. Jess is infatuated with Angie, and her devotion to her best friend is exacerbated even more so because of her attraction for her. So when Angie starts dating the privileged and potentially toxic Margot from the local boarding school, Jess’s jealously starts to fester and stir. It’s hard to know much about Margot, as this book spends a lot of the time in Jess’s head, and her opinion is skewed because of her jealousy. We don’t know if Jess is an unreliable narrator, which adds to the mystery that appears when Margot’s friend Ryan (another mean girl from the boarding school) goes missing after a party that all of the girls attend. Ryan’s disappearance and it’s aftermath is told through Jess’s POV, transcripts of police interviews, and a sudden shift in perspective as the narrative turns to third person. While the first person POV and transcripts worked well together, the sudden shift to third person felt a little forced, especially since it happens later in the book as opposed to being established right away. That said, I did like the mystery and how the clues unfolded, as well as how we eventually got to the solution through these three devices. Even if the third device wasn’t as strong, in my opinion.

That said, I did have a problem with how the characters were presented. There were already some limitations due to the majority of the novel being in the first person, but I do believe that a first person POV doesn’t necessarily hinder an author from character development. I’ve read a number of books in the first person where I still got a really good sense of the surrounding characters, but “A Line in the Dark” didn’t have that. I never really got a good sense for what Angie was like outside of being an object of affection for Jess. We’re told that Jess’s parents think she’s a bad influence, but I never could really figure out why that was. Margot gets a little more to work with, but that isn’t clear until we’re basically done with the story. And even though we have Jess’s first person perspective throughout a lot of the narrative, I felt like the only thing I really knew about her was her love of art and her devotion to Angie. I did like that Lo does comment on classism and racism within this book, as Jess is Chinese American and has to deal with privileged and racist wealthy kids during her art program and when she hangs out with Angie and Margot and Margot’s group. I thought that while it was subtle commentary, it packed a punch.

Not so compelling characters aside, I enjoyed “A Line in the Dark” for it’s mystery. I will definitely be looking into reading more works by Lo, as it’s undeniable that she knows how to craft a tense story.

Rating 6: A solid mystery that keeps the tension taut, “A Line in the Dark” kept me interested, even if the characters weren’t as drawn out as I’d hoped they would be.

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Line in the Dark” is included on the Goodreads lists “Bi and Lesbian Psychological Thrillers”, and “Sapphic Boarding School Books”.

Find “A Line in the Dark” at your library using WorldCat!