My Year with Jane Austen: “Pride and Prejudice” Part I

1886._sy475_Book: “Pride and Prejudice”

Publication Year: 1813

Book Description: The romantic clash between the opinionated Elizabeth and her proud beau, Mr. Darcy, is a splendid performance of civilized sparring. And Jane Austen’s radiant wit sparkles as her characters dance a delicate quadrille of flirtation and intrigue, making this book the most superb comedy of manners of Regency England.

History – “I read it a little as duty, but it tells me nothing that does not either vex or weary me.”

 When “Pride and Prejudice” was first completed, Jane Austen’s father, believing it to be quality writing, submitted it for publication. It was rejected. Austen then moved on to writing “Sense and Sensibility” and self-publishing that title herself. After its success, she sold the copyright to “Pride and Prejudice” to a publisher who listed the title as by the author of “Sense and Sensibility.” Like that first novel, “Pride and Prejudice” was an immediate success, and the publisher ordered several reprints of the story after the first  run sold out. This, of course, resulted in the publisher profiting much more from this title than did Austen who only earned 110 pounds on the original copyright sale. Austen, however, was pleased with its success and especially with the critical praise that was garnered by her heroine, Elizabeth Bennet. (source)

“”I must confess that I think her [Elizabeth] as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print, & how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least, I do not know.” 

 —Jane Austen, letter to Cassandra Austen,  January 29, 1813

Part I – Chapters 1 – 34

Story – “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”

We are first introduced to the Bennet family as we hear Mrs. Bennet share the exciting news that a wealthy gentleman has moved into the neighborhood. To her, this provides much hope that one of her five daughters might marry well, a necessity in a family that is by no means wealthy, has no sons, and whose estate is entailed away to a distant cousin. After teasing his wife and the sillier of his daughters, Mr. Bennet does visit Mr. Bingley.

The rest of the family then meets him at a ball. There, the eldest Miss Bennet, Jane, does in fact gain the attention of Mr. Bingley. But Elizabeth, the second oldest, gets spurned by the more rich but more proud Mr. Darcy, a friend of Bingley’s. Elizabeth finds this mostly amusing and is happy enough to see her sister be happy. As the weeks progress, they see more of Mr. Bingley and his snobby sisters. Jane is invited over for a dinner by the sisters, but comes down with a bad cold after her mother insists she ride in the rain (hoping for an outcome where Jane is forced to stay the night, though illness was not part of the plan.) Elizabeth goes to care for Jane and spends a good deal of time with the entire party. She draws more and more of Mr. Darcy’s attention (who, we learn, has begun to admire her fine eyes), but neither are particularly pleased by this fact. Jane recovers and the two go home.

The Bennet family is then visited by their cousin, Mr. Collins, who is in line to inherit their home. Mr. Collins is a silly, pompous man, much inclined to give nonsensical speeches and praise his wealthy patroness, Catherine de Bourgh. He also sets his eyes on marrying one of the Bennet sisters and decides on Elizabeth once he learns that Jane is out of the question due to her informal attachment to Mr. Bingley. The family also meet a new officer (a regiment of the army is stationed in the town nearby, much to the delight of the two youngest, and silliest, of the sisters), Mr. Wickham. In the process of making their first introductions, Mr. Darcy and Mr Bingley stop by. Elizabeth notes the cold meeting of Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham and privately wonders about it.

They are all charmed by Mr. Wickham’s easy nature and open temperament, but Elizabeth is the lucky woman who is singled out by him for more attention. In the course of an evening on their second meeting, he shares the shocking history between him and Mr. Darcy. The two grew up together, Wickham’s father being the late Mr. Darcy’s groundskeeper, and Mr. Darcy’s father was very attached to Wickham. So much so that he left a valuable estate to him on his death. But when the tragic event happened, the son refused to uphold his father’s will and Wickham was cast out into the world to fend for himself. Elizabeth is shocked that Darcy, whom before she had thought was only proud and rather rude, is as bad as this. She later retells the story to Jane who warns her about making quick judgments against either man.

Mr. Bingley hosts a grand ball at Netherfield, an event all of the Bennet sisters look forward to greatly. Once there, however, Elizabeth is disappointed to find that Wickham has decided not to come, not wanting to be near Mr. Darcy. Instead, she ends up having to dance first with Mr. Collins, and then, shockingly, with Mr. Darcy himself. The two have an awkward dance filled with alternating silences and conversation hidden with double meanings as Elizabeth tries to get to understand Darcy better. The evening is a disaster from there on out. Mary, the middle daughter, makes a poor display on the piano, followed by an even more awkward display by Mr. Bennet has he tries to get her off the piano. The two youngest flirt wildly with everyone in their path. Mr. Collins confronts Mr. Darcy without introduction having found out that Darcy is the nephew of Lady Catherine. And Mrs. Bennet loudly congratulates herself on what she suspects to be the likely marriage between Jane and Mr. Bingley.

The next morning Mr. Collins proposes to Elizabeth. She turns him down. And then has to keep turning him down for quite some time before being forced to just leave the room as he insists on not getting the point. But, to everyone’s amazement, his trip does not end with him returning home, still single, because he then proposes to Elizabeth’s dear friend, Charlotte, who, being in her late 20s and from a family without many prospects, agrees.

Around this same time, Jane receives the distressing news that Mr. Bingley and his entire party have removed themselves back to London. His sister, Caroline, even goes so far as to say that she and her sister are hoping for a quick engagement between Bingley and Mr. Darcy’s younger sister, Georgiana. Jane is distressed, but Elizabeth is quick to tell her that this is clearly a plot by the sisters and friend who never approved of Jane and Mr. Bingley’s attachment. But weeks go by with no news of their returning. Their Uncle and Aunt Gardner come to visit and Jane is asked to go back with them to London when they return home. All are hopeful that she will meet with Bingley again there.

Charlotte asks Elizabeth to come visit her in her new home with Mr. Collins. Elizabeth agrees, though not particularly looking forward to it. Once there, she gets to meet the famed Lady Catherine. She’s a overly proud woman who takes a great deal of interest making proclamations about even the smallest aspects of the Collins’ lives. While there, Mr. Darcy and his cousin Colonel Fiztwilliam come to visit their aunt. Charlotte notes that Mr. Darcy is making more of an effort to call on her family than usual and says it must be due to Elizabeth. Elizabeth scoffs at this idea, though she does wonder at the number of times she meets him while on walks around the park.

She finds Colonel Fitzwilliam to be a very charming man and gets along with him well. On one walk, Colonel Fitzwilliam share some details about how his cousin, Mr. Darcy, congratulates himself on recently saving his dear friend, Mr. Bingley, from a bad marriage. Elizabeth is furious and hurt that her sister’s happiness was ruined by his friend’s interference. Later, alone at the parsonage, Mr. Darcy arrives and unexpectedly proposes to Elizabeth. She refuses. The encounter ends with the two fighting. Elizabeth accuses Darcy of separating Jane and Bingley and also points to his dishonorable treatment of Mr. Wickham. Mr. Darcy makes more belittling comments about Elizabeth’s family and her situation saying that he was kinder to Bingley than to himself in preventing his friend from a connection so beneath himself. He is shocked by the accusations about Wickham but doesn’t directly refute them. He leaves and Elizabeth remains behind, stewing.

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

I think it can be reasonably assumed that Elizabeth is one of the most beloved heroines to ever be penned. Her character is one that could be appreciated in the time she was written but who also appeals to modern readers who can be put off a bit by the more reserved leading ladies of books written at a similar time. She handles a lot of uncomfortable situations in a way that I think most of wish we could, with a smirk, a witty reply, and the ability to say what she thinks without offending others. She’s romantic, wishing to marry for love, but also the most practical of her sisters, being much more cynical than Jane. She’s also flawed. But unlike Emma, the other famously flawed Austen heroine, Elizabeth’s flaws are of the sort that many of us can sympathize with, especially her own lack of awareness that she even possesses this flaw. For the most part, she’s clear-eyed and an excellent judge of character. So it’s easy for her to then slip into a judgement of someone and not question or challenge her own thoughts further. It’s not until the second half of the book that she has to confront this challenge, but I think this self-reflection and learned self-awareness is still very appealing to modern readers. That, and, as I’ll go into later, she has the best lines, especially when arguing.

Jane is our other heroine. She’s an interesting character, really. Elizabeth clearly respects Jane, and Jane is spoken about as being of good sense and rationality. But she pairs these traits with an almost aggressive level of optimism that leaves her almost paralyzed in the face of the evils of the world. And yet Elizabeth, and the reader by proxy, never judges her as foolish. Yes, she’s wrong about Caroline. Yes, when she tries to make both Darcy and Wickham into good guys somehow it’s fairly silly. But she’s written so well that it all feels truly earnest; readers are left, like Elizabeth, wishing they could think so well of others as Jane does.

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

Our two heroes benefit greatly from the increased time with their respective heroines as well as the added scenes we have of them on their own. This does away with most of the problems that the heroes suffered from in “Sense and Sensibility.” While we don’t see a lot of Mr. Bingley and Jane’s actual romance, we do see enough of the two individually interacting with friends and family to easily understand their relationship. Indeed, I’m inclined to agree with Mr. Bennet’s assessment at the end of the book that, if anything, Jane and Mr. Bingley are almost too alike. It is nice to see so much of Bingley and through the more clear eyes of Elizabeth even. Her time at Netherfield cements readers understanding that Bingley deserves all the credit he gets as a charming, good natured gentleman. Even in the face of his sisters’ poor manners and Mr. Darcy’s standoffishness, Bingley holds true as an excellent host and the only one among them to truly behave well under the circumstances.

And, of course, we see much of Darcy as well, both the good and the bad. In the beginning of the book there’s no denying that he could use some improvement. Even if he has always behaved properly (in his dealings with Georgiana and to gain the respect and friendship of a man like Bingley), he is still fairly lacking. His open rudeness to Elizabeth at their first meaning and general aloofness at his surroundings makes him deserving of the early poor reputation he has in the neighborhood (even if Wickham’s contributions to it aren’t true). And we see even further with his snobby comments after the fact when he willing plays along with Caroline’s game of mocking everyone around her, including Elizabeth.

Knowing what we do about his growing interest in Elizabeth, it’s easier to see his actions through a lens of expressing interest. His attentions at Rosings in particular stand out. But, without that inner knowledge, it’s also very easy to see Elizabeth’s side of things. Even without Wickham’s lies, she’s right about his actions with Jane and at best, he’s taken an interest in her to debate points and to sit in silence. Maybe a big concession from his standpoint, but not so for any reasonable woman.

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

Since at this point in the story Wickham’s version of his history with Darcy is all we have, we’re left in the awkward position where we at best have no real villain and at worst…maybe the villain is Darcy himself? Obviously even the most oblivious reader sees the writing on the wall about Darcy and the inevitable revelation that he is the true hero of the story and the bogus tale Wickham put out there is just that, bogus. But that fact aside, we’re left with a lot of comedic characters who maybe dabble in wrong-doings but mostly get into trouble more due to buffoonery than any actual ill intent. Mr. Darcy, on the other hand, outright admits to separating Jane and Bingley. Which, again, at this point in the story, is the only real, known, and accepted by the perpetrator himself, wrongdoing we have! We get a better understanding of his reasoning in the letter to come in the second half, but by the end of the book Mr. Darcy still reflects back on his actions with regards to this pair as in the wrong.

Caroline, of course, is the other more true villain. She was complicit in convincing Bingley that Jane didn’t care for him. The text never states this, but one would suspect their her view of this matter might have held even more weigh than Darcy’s. She’s a woman (assumed to be more knowledgeable in matters of the heart, whether true or not) and is still considered to be a dear friend of Jane. Of course she should have knowledge of Jane’s inner heart, and if she  says Jane doesn’t care, it’s pretty understandable that Mr. Bingley would believe her. And, unlike Jane, we see Caroline’s behind-the-scenes cruel commentary about her friend and her friend’s family, especially Elizabeth.

This, truly, is a testament to the wrongness of Darcy’s pride in action, that he tolerates and even agrees with some of Caroline’s early snobbery. By the end of the book, Darcy tells Elizabeth that he had been left to follow the good morals he’d been raised with in pride and conceit and would have still been like that if not for her. More so than even Elizabeth saw, we, the readers see this to be true in the change of his private behavior from a man who criticized Jane for “smiling too much” to the one who welcomes the Gardners to his home and shuts down Caroline when she tries to start up the “Elizabeth isn’t all that much” speech again.

But for much of this half of the book, Caroline and Darcy are on the same side of many matters and work together to quell Jane and Mr. Bingley’s burgeoning love affair. Caroline’s treatment of Jane in London is also a good example of why she deserves to be solidly in this category. The reader, however, like Elizabeth, is almost gratified that at least Jane won’t be duped any more as Caroline has now so thoroughly shown her true colors.

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

The most interesting commentary on romance in this first half is the ongoing disagreement between Elizabeth and Charlotte on how to go about courtship and what to expect from matrimony. Charlotte, early in Jane and Bingley’s romance, comments to Elizabeth that Jane should show more affection than she feels to ensure a quick engagement.  Elizabeth laughs at this idea, but later Charlotte puts her own words in action, agreeing to marry Mr. Collins, who she knows to be foolish, after only a few days acquaintance. While Elizabeth is quick to come down harshly against this action, Jane herself weighs in on the argument that different temperments and circumstances will call to different actions. While it is clear that Austen is writing true romances where love is of course necessary for her main protagonists, Jane’s argument here, and even Elizabeth later acceptance of Charlotte’s situation, are nice balances to these lucky few women. Many women of the time would have made a similar choice to Charlotte and, in many ways, her was the more practical and realistic option. We can’t all wait around for handsome, kind, 10,000 pounds a year men to come around! Austen carries this point further in Mansfield Park where we see the other, more unfortunate, side of the “marry for love” choice in Fanny’s mother’s situation.

But, of course, the main romance is between Elizabeth and Darcy. One of the major differences that stood out to me in this re-read, especially reading this one directly after “Sense and Sensibility” is how important are the scenes we witness of Darcy that Elizabeth isn’t privy to. Not only are readers aware of his admiration the entire time, in general, we get a much better understanding of him as a character than we did the romantic leads in the previous book. And there are simply more scenes between Elizabeth and Darcy than we had there, too. We witness scenes of their verbal sparring which reinforce the idea that Darcy would naturally be attracted to her lively nature. There is also Caroline Bingley lingering about as a perfect contrast to Elizabeth.

The failed proposal scene has to be one of my favorite scenes in literature. It’s just so painfully perfect! Darcy’s terrible original attempt, his slow slip into shocked bewilderment at the realization that he’s being turned down, and the sharp anger when the accusations start flying. And Elizabeth’s righteousness and masterclass put-downs are priceless. But what makes it a perfect fight is that in between the honest anger and words, we clearly can identify the moments when each goes overboard in their anger and just gets mean. It’s a point in fighting that almost everyone is familiar with and everything about this scene reads so true to life.

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

There are so many great comedic characters in this book! I mean, other than the four characters from the two couples, almost everyone else in this first half play for laughs at one point or another. But there are two that always come up when talking about this book and for good reason: Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Collins.

There has been a more sympathetic eye turned towards Mrs. Bennet recently, given the very real uncertainties and struggles of the future should Mr. Bennet die and none of the daughters be married well. It would definitely be hard, and the girls’ future is largely left to Mrs. Bennet to worry about. This is the kind of thing that would almost always fall on the mother anyways, and Mr. Bennet is particularly unsuited to be of help, what with his general lack of concern regarding what he largely sees as frivolities.

But in many ways this is similar to the circumstances of Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters. But there, while Mrs. Dashwood could be sentimental and romantic to the extreme, she didn’t materially damage the very goal she had in mind. Mr. Darcy’s letter in the second half of the book will lay this out more clearly, but it doesn’t take an astute reader to pick up on the fact that Mrs. Bennet’s nonsense would have a impact on potential suitors wishing to pursue her daughters. Not only would they have to look forward to a future of her as a mother-in-law, but many would likely assume the daughters to be the same and not bother getting to no them further and discovering that the eldest two, at least, have seemed to escape this familial trait.

All of this to say, while I do have some sympathy for Mrs. Bennet, I think she is pretty firmly written as a ridiculous person, a detriment to her daughters, and a character that is not meant to be largely felt for by the reader. One can both be in a bad situation and also make that bad situation worse, and that’s Mrs. Bennet. But with all the seriousness of the situation aside, she’s great fun to read about. Her inconsistencies (particularly with her quick about-face with regards to Darcy’s handsomeness), her nerves, her crowing over her neighbors. Good stuff all.

And, of course, Mr. Collins. No attempt here to redeem him as he just gets worse in the second half of the book. His humor is tinged with a greater feeling of awkwardness and embarrassment. Reading over some of his interactions with others, I almost felt my own discomfort for what Elizabeth and Jane must have felt. Secondary embarrassment for a fictional character! But, again, it’s the proposals where Austen shines in this book. His “wooing” of Elizabeth is the best/worst. There is a very fine line here that is walked perfectly: his buffoonery and pompousness are at a peak, but it’s also still believable enough that a man like him could exist. And, of course, Elizabeth once again shines in her repeated refusals. This scene in particular is almost impossible for me to read now without picturing the 1995 movie version of it. Spoilers: I loved that movie (but doesn’t every Austen fan??).

Favorite quotes – “What did she say? Just what she ought, of course. A lady always does.”

A decent number of the quotes I use in my section titles come from this book, so there’s that. And one cannot write a “Pride and Prejudice” review with a “favorite quotes” section and not highlight one of the most famous opening lines in all of literature:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

And, if he had left it at this, perhaps…

“You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”

But I always like this meme with regards to Darcy’s first proposal:

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In two weeks, I’ll review the last half of “Pride and Prejudice” and share my final thoughts on the book as a whole.

Kate’s Review: “Deathless Divide”

38124119._sy475_Book: “Deathless Divide” by Justina Ireland

Publishing Info: Balzer + Bray, February 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The sequel to Dread Nation is a journey of revenge and salvation across a divided America.

After the fall of Summerland, Jane McKeene hoped her life would get simpler: Get out of town, stay alive, and head west to California to find her mother.

But nothing is easy when you’re a girl trained in putting down the restless dead, and a devastating loss on the road to a protected village called Nicodermus has Jane questioning everything she thought she knew about surviving in 1880’s America.

What’s more, this safe haven is not what it appears – as Jane discovers when she sees familiar faces from Summerland amid this new society. Caught between mysteries and lies, the undead, and her own inner demons, Jane soon finds herself on a dark path of blood and violence that threatens to consume her.

But she won’t be in it alone.

Katherine Deveraux never expected to be allied with Jane McKeene. But after the hell she has endured, she knows friends are hard to come by – and that Jane needs her, too, whether Jane wants to admit it or not.

Watching Jane’s back, however, is more than she bargained for, and when they both reach a breaking point, it’s up to Katherine to keep hope alive – even as she begins to fear that there is no happily-ever-after for girls like her.

Review: A couple years ago, Justina Ireland wrote the YA horror/historical fiction book “Dread Nation”, a novel about the zombie uprising during Reconstruction in the U.S. Her main character, Jane, was a black teenage girl being trained to be a personal bodyguard for upper class white people, as after the zombies came Black and Indigenous people were recruited to protect the white people of society. It ended with an overrun town and Jane, her frenemy and fellow attendant Katherine, her old flame Jackson, and a group of refugees deciding to head West to California, as Jane was hoping to find her mother. When I heard about “Deathless Divide”, the sequel to “Dread Nation”, I was anticipating another zombie horror novel with the usual apocalypse themes. What I got was something completely different. This time, we get a horror historical fiction novel with distinct themes of a Western, and the lonesome redemptive attempts that come with that genre.

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Spoiler Alert: It does. (source)

“Deathless Divide” picks up right after the end of “Dread Nation”, and almost immediately it gets turned on it’s head as to what I had expected from the narrative. For one thing, we are not only getting Jane’s POV, we also get the POV of Katherine, the high strung, prim, and incredibly talented classmate and sometimes friend of Jane. I wanted to know more about Katherine in “Dread Nation”, so when we got to get inside her head in “Deathless Divide” I was overjoyed. Katherine always intrigued me the most from the first book because I loved that she is unabashedly feminine, and is still an incredible fighter, perhaps the best in the book. Too often we see women characters who are made ‘strong’ at the expense of having their femininity stripped away. This is fine, of course, as there are lots of ways to write female characters, but women can fight and kick butt in a corset if they want to, dammit! I also liked getting a deeper exploration of Katherine and the issues that she has to contend with as a very attractive woman who is constantly underestimated, and who, as a woman who passes for white, doesn’t always feel like she has her identity all figured out. Getting to see more of Katherine was delightful. 

The other unexpected shift in the narrative was, as I mentioned before, the fact that it has a distinctly Western theme about it. Usually as a rule I am not a fan of Westerns, as the themes usually don’t grab me AND so many of the Westerns that I think of feel imperialistic. But in “Deathless Divide” Ireland does a really good job of taking the theme of the lone gunslinger and applying it to Jane as her journey progresses, especially since the usual trope of that is a white man. I loved the role for Jane, as she has endured so much trauma and loss and violence because of her race and the fact that Black and Native people have been used as protectors and bodies to protect the White people in a zombie ravaged society. It’s no wonder she would become morally ambiguous as she travels the west looking for revenge. It makes the idea incredibly tragic. And it’s just another of many ways that Ireland once again explores themes and issues of race and racism in America, and like in “Dread Nation” it works very well. From POC being used as guinea pigs to further scientific research to race and class relations in urban settings and capitalism to colorism, “Deathless Divide” shows that some times don’t really change much, and that we still have a long way to go. 

As for the zombies, not much has changed from the first book, and they aren’t as centered this time around. But that said, we do get to delve into the ideas of potential cures, and how different science experiments can bring different outcomes when it comes to the zombies and how they interact with their potential prey. I don’t want to spoil anything here, but just know that Ireland still manages to make the zombies feel fresh and interesting even when they aren’t at the forefront. After all, like in all good zombie stories, it’s the humans that are the bigger threat.

(note: As I mentioned in my review for “Dread Nation”, there had been criticism of the Native characters in that book. I’ve not seen anything in that regard about this book, and I don’t think that I as a white woman can say if Ireland has been more responsible this time around. We do get a more complex and deeper dive into the character of Daniel Redfern, however. If anything changes on this front I will update this post.)

“Deathless Divide” is the end of the road for this world and characters (at least for now; Ireland has said that it COULD happen that more gets written, maybe), and I think that it’s a great follow up and completion. I’ll miss Jane and Katherine.

Rating 8: A satisfying ending with a bold new genre take, “Deathless Divide” wraps up a world of zombies, racism, and empowerment for Black women.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Deathless Divide” is included on the Goodreads Lists “Black Heroines 2020”, and “LGBT SciFi and Fantasy 2015-2020”.

Find “Deathless Divide” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “Night Spinner”

45046766Book: “Night Spinner” by Addie Thorley

Publication Info: Page Street Kids, February 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: Before the massacre at Nariin, Enebish was one of the greatest warriors in the Sky King’s Imperial Army: a rare and dangerous Night Spinner, blessed with the ability to control the threads of darkness. Now, she is known as Enebish the Destroyer―a monster and murderer, banished to a monastery for losing control of her power and annihilating a merchant caravan.

Guilt stricken and scarred, Enebish tries to be grateful for her sanctuary, until her adoptive sister, Imperial Army commander Ghoa, returns from the war front with a tantalizing offer. If Enebish can capture the notorious criminal, Temujin, whose band of rebels has been seizing army supply wagons, not only will her crimes be pardoned, she will be reinstated as a warrior.

Enebish eagerly accepts. But as she hunts Temujin across the tundra, she discovers the tides of war have shifted, and the supplies he’s stealing are the only thing keeping thousands of shepherds from starving. Torn between duty and conscience, Enebish must decide whether to put her trust in the charismatic rebel or her beloved sister. No matter who she chooses, an even greater enemy is advancing, ready to bring the empire to its knees.

Review: Another beautiful cover! It seems like I’m a broken record recently in my praise of the cover art of my books, but it’s also just true that many of them have been extraordinary! It’s nice to see original cover art that properly reflects the book itself rather than trying to brazenly mimic other successful titles in an attempt to trick readers into picking books up. I mean, I get it, publishing is a business and all of that. But a beautiful cover will do the job just as well, as many readers, myself included, will pick up titles like this because the cover is lovely and unique. The book was also marketed at a retelling of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” And because I can’t even really picture what that looks like, this was an immediate request for me!

Enebish’s life is now one of seclusion and repression, a far fall from a few years ago when she had been on the cusp of becoming a great warrior and great leader for her people. But when a horrific accident occurs, killing many and crippling Enebish, her life takes a drastic turn, leaving her hated and feared by those who used to respect her. But, after years of hiding from her own powers and ignoring the temptations of the night, she is finally given a path forward to redeem herself. As she chases down a notorious criminal, however, she learns that there are many secrets in the night, not least of all her own.

While this book wasn’t the home run I’d been hoping for, there was still a lot I ended up liking about it. For one thing (and in my book, most importantly), Enebish was an excellent character. While some of her secrets and the reveals she discovers throughout the book were easy to guess, her own process of exploring these new insights was always sympathetic and relatable. As the story progresses, we see more and more clearly that her physical injuries are not nearly as crippling as her fear. Fear of her past, fear of the judgement of others, and, of course, fear of herself.

I was also a fan of the writing style and world-building. It was the kind of book that I was able to immediately sink into. Writing is always one of the hardest aspects of a book to review because what makes one author’s style work and another’s struggle can be both very subjective to the reader as well as almost impossible to pinpoint with specifics. I can usually tell within the first few chapters of a book whether the writing is going to click for me, and right off the bat, this one did. The world-building was also interesting, and I was able to easily picture the various locations that Enebish travels to.

The romance is definitely on the slow-burn side and there were hints of a love triangle at points. Luckily, the story didn’t commit fully to said triangle and the romance itself was very sweet, what little we had of it.

My struggles had to do with the length/pacing of the story, as well as the comparison to ” The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” To the latter point, I found this expectation more distracting than anything. I can see the base elements for why this was referenced in the blurb, but frankly, in the first half of the book I spent way too much time comparing characters and events to that story and not enough appreciating the book before me. I think, as a whole, the comparison is too weak to add anything to the story and is likely to prove more distracting to readers. I recommend trying to put that thought out of your head immediately to better enjoy the book. The middle of the story also lagged a bit, and, overall, I think the book was a bit longer than what was necessary. As the writing and characters were strong, these were minor concerns, but still worth noting.

Overall, I thought this was a really interesting read. I’m not biting at the bit to get to the second one, but it laid down a decent foundation for the plot going forward, and I’m fairly invested in Enebish herself. If you’re looking for an original fantasy novel this spring, this might be one worth checking out!

Rating 7: A bit longer than was necessary, but a compelling lead character and interesting magic system pulled this one into the “win” column.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Night Spinner” is a new book, so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists. But it is on “Profiles in Silhouette.”

Find “Night Spinner” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “Black Canary: Ignite”

44433717Book: “Black Canary: Ignite” by Meg Cabot and Cara McGee (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Zoom, October 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Thirteen-year-old Dinah Lance knows exactly what she wants, who she is, and where she’s going. First, she’ll win the battle of the bands with her two best friends, then she’ll join the Gotham City Junior Police Academy so she can solve crimes just like her dad. Who knows, her rock star group of friends may even save the world, but first they’ll need to agree on a band name.

When a mysterious figure keeps getting in the way of Dinah’s goals and threatens her friends and family, she’ll learn more about herself, her mother’s secret past, and navigating the various power chords of life.

Review: While it’s hard to rate my favorite DC ladies in a specific order (as there are so many who are wonderful in their own unique ways!), I can say that Dinah “Black Canary” Lance is very high up on the list, like assuredly Top 5. Dinah has been given a lot of attention in the New 52 and DC Rebirth, and her back story has almost always been bleak and dark and indicative of how hardass she can be at times. When I stumbled upon “Black Canary: Ignite” by Meg Cabot, I was a little surprised that the woman who wrote “The Princess Diaries” took on a Black Canary origin story. But then, given that this is a graphic novel written for tweens, I did expect it to be far less dark than some of the stories Dinah has had in the past. Since I’m always looking for more Black Canary content, I checked it out. And what a good decision that was, because Meg Cabot gave Dinah a delightful and plucky storyline that I greatly enjoyed!

We meet Dinah as a rambunctious and snarky thirteen year old. She is in a band with her friends Kat and Vee, she wants to join the Gotham City Junior Police Academy, and tends to butt heads with her parents, as most thirteen year olds do. What struck me the most from the get go is that her life is functional, and she’s surrounded by people who love her and support her. Given that the most recent Black Canary storyline I read involved some serious Mom angst for Dina, thank you Meg Cabot for letting her live a happy early teenagehood! Dinah is funny and awkward, and she is flawed with her temper but cares for her friends. She is also perplexed by the fact that when she yells, things around her tend to break. Cabot was awesome in how she approached this, as Dinah, again, like most teenagers, just wants to be normal, and this crazy scream is hindering that. The situations when this arises are rather innocuous, but still hold pretty high stakes for a kid in middle school. As Dinah has to contend with his, she also has to contend with a strict principal who seems to be out to get her, and with her Dad, Detective Lance, who doesn’t want her to join the Junior Police Academy but won’t really tell her why. Dinah’s relationships are definitely the strongest aspects of this story, as I loved seeing how she interacts with her best friends Kat and Vee (even when things aren’t going great between all of them), and how she both loves but is frustrated by her parents, unaware of the secrets that they have that may shed light on her abilities. By the time she does have to reckon with her parents identities and what that means for her, Cabot had created a great coming of age story to go along with the origin theme.

Cabot’s dialogue is witty and snappy, which is what I’ve come to expect from her. She gives Dinah and those in her circle authentic voices, and had me laughing out loud multiple times as I read. The mystery, however, as to who is following Dinah and what they want with her, isn’t as compelling, if only because it’s pretty straight forward and then ends with a semi-interesting twist that wasn’t terribly surprising. While I was fine with the mystery taking backseat to what was going on with Dinah’s personal discovery of her Canary Cry, I’m not certain that it was supposed to be taking back seat. But it’s also important to keep in mind that this is written for an audience that is quite a bit younger than I am, so the way that I received and parsed out the mystery isn’t necessarily how it would be received by tweens. Therefore, I can’t really speak to its effectiveness.

And finally, the artwork by Cara McGee is so on point and charming. I loved the facial expressions, I loved that she would put hearts around Dinah’s parents when they were feeling loving towards each other or Dinah, and I loved the action moments. It’s the perfect accompaniment to the story at hand.

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“Black Canary: Ignite” is a charming as hell origin story for one of my favorite DC ladies. If you’re like me and love Dinah Lance, definitely find this story and read it.

Rating 8: A fun and clever origin story for Dinah “Black Canary” Lance with the Meg Cabot wit, “Black Canary: Ignite” does justice to one of my favorite super ladies!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Black Canary: Ignite” is included on the Goodreads lists “Strong Female Protagonist”, and “DC Comics by Women”.

Find “Black Canary: Ignite” at your library using WorldCat!

Not Just Books: February 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!

Joint Pick

mv5bmjazymq4ntutmgvjos00owrhltlmyjktzdlkztk2ogq2yje5xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyodkzntgxmdg40._v1_TV Show: “Picard”

We are both “Star Trek” people, and like many it’s safe to say that “Star Trek: The Next Generation” is our favorite series of the franchise. One of the many reasons is because of Captain Jean Luc Picard, Patrick Stewart’s iconic leader of the Enterprise. So when it was announced that Picard was getting his own show (called “Picard”, appropriately), we were both pumped. It takes place a couple decades after the end of “TNG”, and shows a retired Picard trying to live his life after Star Fleet, and his controversial exit from the organization. But when he encounters a mysterious stranger, he finds himself drawn back into the messy politics of Star Fleet, a potential conspiracy, and a dangerous rescue mission. Not only does Stewart come back, we also get to see Data, Riker and Troi, and Seven of Nine. It’s a dark show, but we are both greatly enjoying it.

Serena’s Picks

mv5bmja3odmxmzm5nf5bml5banbnxkftztgwmdm1nju0ote40._v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_TV Show: “Bones”

Emily and I used to watch this show quite a bit while we were in college. We even rented a bunch of seasons from Blockbuster…so, yeah, we’re old. But at some point or another, amidst all of the vast amounts of shows available, I fell off the wagon for this show. The other side of the coin of all these different shows is the exhausting effort of trying to weed through it all to find a next thing. And finding myself at that point, it felt like the time was right to go back to this show and finish off the last 3 or so seasons I had missed. It’s a fairly standard procedural forensic show that gained much of its popularity on the chemistry between its main characters, Dr. Temperance Brennan and FBI Agent Seely Booth. By the point I fell off, the two characters were married and had a child together. But I was happy to see the show continue well past this point as it proves that it’s not only OK to have you main couple romantically pair up (avoiding the 10 year saga of will they/won’t they ala “Friends” which is also exhausting), but that your show can continue to succeed and be interesting after this point.

mv5bmtk1nzkymtuyn15bml5banbnxkftztgwntm0nzm2ode40._v1_Mini Series: “The Night Manager”

My husband and I watched this mini series over a couple of nights. He had already watched it, but I, for some reason, had never gotten around to it. I haven’t read any John le Carre, a very esteemed spy thriller author who’s book the show is based on. But again, my husband has and had really loved most of them. For me, the stellar cast was the main point of interest. Obviously Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie are excellent, but I also always love Olivia Colman in whatever she does. Between all of that talent, and a tense story of a hotel manager who, through various circumstances, ends up going under cover into the inner workings of a weapons dealer, I was on the edge of my seat throughout most of this show. If you like spy thrillers or have read le Carre’s work, this is definitely a mini series worth checking out.

Kate’s Picks

pokemon-sword-and-shield-legendary-625x352-1Video Game: “Pokemon Sword and Shield”

As someone who has loved Pokemon since she was a tween, I was very excited to try out the new Switch Pokemon games, “Sword” and “Shield”. My husband and I got each other the games for Christmas/Hanukkah, and I was able to dive back in this past month after taking a break post holiday down time. Both “Sword” and “Shield” take place in a whole new region of the Pokemon world, this time seemingly based on the U.K. Not only are there brand new Pokemon (some of which do, admittedly, verge on the ridiculous), there are a lot more side things you can do outside of catching and training Pokemon. Not only can you trade and design Trainer cards, you can change your character’s outfits and hairstyles, and you can also cook recipes for your Pokemon! I’ve enjoyed getting to know my Pokes a little better in this game.

mv5bzwewztcynjctmjazzc00zgu0lwixywqtmdawmmu1nzq1zjq3xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyodk4otc3mty40._v1_uy1200_cr9106301200_al_Prime Show: “Hunters”

Hunting down and killing Nazis who have infiltrated American society? Sign me the fuck up. This new show is part historical fiction, part spy show, part action movie. The premise is simple: in the 1970s a number of Nazis have come to America and are hoping to establish the Fourth Reich. It’s up to a rag tag group of hunters to track them down and kill them before their plan can succeed. The story is thrilling, clever, and chilling, and the cast is superb. Al Pacino plays a holocaust survivor in charge of the hunters, Carol Kane is an older member of the group, and both Lena Olin and Dylan Baker are a couple of the Nazis in hiding, and boy oh boy are they terrifying. Throw in Jordan Peele as a producer and you know you’re going to have a subversive and well thought out story with a lot of emotional prowess. Also, given the recent rise in vocal white supremacy, it’s a cathartic, if not sometimes difficult, watch. But content warnings abound: the anti-semitic and racial violence is VERY hard to watch.

Serena’s Review: “The Queen of Raiders”

45046587Book: “The Queen of Raiders” by Sarah Kozloff

Publishing Info: Tor Books, February 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Book Description: The soliders of Oromondo have invaded the Free States, leaving a wake of misery and death. Thalen, a young scholar, survives and gathers a small cadre of guerilla fighters for a one-way mission into the heart of an enemy land.

Unconsciously guided by the elemental Spirits of Ennea Mon, Cerulia is drawn to the Land of the Fire Mountains to join Thelan’s Raiders, where she will learn the price of war.

Previously Reviewed: “A Queen in Hiding” 

Review: It’s really fun being able to review an entire series like this, one book a month for four months to the series’ conclusion. It makes the whole process so much less painfully unsure. I can read this book, confident that any questions I still have or tension points that are left hanging will be followed up on in only 30 short days! (Well, less, because the publisher was kind enough to send ARCs.) But! Even the public has a very short wait between books, and for a fantasy series that started off as well as this one did, that’s something, indeed!

Cerulia, or Wren as we now know her, is still a queen without a home. Her quest back to her throne is by no means clear, but she is determined to find her way. In many ways, she is still learning the ins and outs of her Talent and is still coming to know her own strengths and weakness as a leader. In this book, her story converges with that of Thalen and his raiders who continue to work towards their own political goals.

This is definitely a complicated political fantasy novel. I’m in the midst of reading another book like this right now. It, too, is the second book in a series. But unlike this one, the first book came out a year ago. It took me quite a while to re-orient myself to the various players, the known (and unknown) alliances, the character motivations, etc. All this on top of the secrets and reveals that were still coming out in the book. It was a lot. This is one of the biggest strengths of releasing a series like this one after another. It’s a decision that may work better or worse for various types of books, but I think Tor picked the best option right of the gate choosing this series to release this way. All of these intricate moving pieces are a lot to keep in mind, but having the books come out one right after another allowed me to jump right into this book with very little adjustment needed.

We get most of the same POV characters that we had before, but between keeping up with Cerulia and Thalen, we also see behind enemy lines into the maneuverings of Lord Matwyck who is currently serving as Lord Regent. Through his son’s eyes, we see the corruption at the heart of Matwyck regime and the priority he places on his own power above that of the country he is meant to care for. I still continue to enjoy Thalen and Cerulia/Wren/Kestrel’s journey. It was fun trying to anticipate how their choices and actions would affect other aspects of the story, and it was great watching some storylines begin to converge (always a point of excitement for books with large ensemble casts like this).

I liked the detailed look into the effects of warfare on an entire region, not only the country first immediately targeted by an army itself. The book explores how war is a long-term disaster, one that doesn’t wrap up neatly or quickly, but instead spreads out with ripple effects touching far and wide. We also look into what rebellion looks like, both on the macro and micro level, from the organized actions of a group of raiders to the personal choices of those with varying levels of influence and power.

My one criticism of the book is one that I had in the first book, as well, and it has carried over here, too. For me, there is something a bit stilted about the writing style of the story. I think part of this is simply word choice and sentence construction. She has a very frank, and to the point, way of writing. But while this leaves a lot of room for detail, it also makes it hard to become emotionally invested in what is going on. The other part comes down to editing: a good editor could potentially identify parts of the story that could be trimmed down, giving the pacing a boost that I think it could use at times.

Overall, I continue to enjoy this series and am excited to get started on the third book in the series! I’ll have a giveaway for that title and my review coming out in March! In the mean time, don’t forget to enter the current giveaway to win a paperback copy of “The Queen of Raiders!”

Rating 7: The short wait time definitely plays in this series’ favor as the author only presses down harder on the complicated-political-fantasy gas pedal in this second novel.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Queen of Raiders” is a new book, so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “Upcoming 2020 SFF with female leads or co-leads.”

Find “The Queen of Raiders” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “Cirque Berserk”

04 Cirque Beserk CoverBook: “Cirque Berserk” by Jessica Guess

Publishing Info: Unnerving, February 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I was sent an eARC by the author.

Book Description: The summer of 1989 brought terror to the town of Shadows Creek, Florida in the form of a massacre at the local carnival, Cirque Berserk. One fateful night, a group of teens killed a dozen people then disappeared into thin air. No one knows why they did it, where they went, or even how many of them there were, but legend has it they still roam the abandoned carnival, looking for blood to spill.

Thirty years later, best friends, Sam and Rochelle, are in the midst of a boring senior trip when they learn about the infamous Cirque Berserk. Seeking one last adventure, they and their friends journey to the nearby Shadows Creek to see if the urban legends about Cirque Berserk are true. But waiting for them beyond the carnival gates is a night of brutality, bloodshed, and betrayal.

Will they make they make it out alive, or will the carnival’s past demons extinguish their futures?

Review: Thanks to Jessica Guess for sending me an eARC of this novella!

If there are two things you should know about me and my pop culture affinities, I love slasher movies, and I love the 1980s (in terms of the art and music scene, NOT the political one). And if you give me slasher movies from the 1980s, I’m golden. When Jessica Guess contacted me asking if I would be willing to read her new novella “Cirque Berserk”, the description alone sucked me in. A haunted/evil carnival? Urban legends? A mention of the 1980s? And then, the cover had ROLLER SKATES?! I was IN!! If anything I figured it would be campy and entertaining, but “Cirque Berserk” was more than that. It achieved something I’ve seen a few horror novels fail: it felt like I was reading a slasher movie.

Guess creates a fun urban legend, some visceral gore and violence moments, and wicked characters that are easy to root for even when they are committing horrendous acts of violence. You assume that you’re going to be reading a novella that hits the usual slasher tropes and check boxes: the supernatural or unstoppable/ faceless killer, the final girl, the innocent but expendable teenagers, and on and on. But Guess takes those tropes and manages to subvert them in various ways that kept catching me by surprise. I thought I knew where certain characters or scenes were going, and then the rug would be yanked out from under me and I’d be genuinely surprised. I really don’t want to spoil anything about the plot’s big reveals, and I found them to be fun and effective, but I WILL say that Guess created not only a good mythology for Cirque Berserk and the horrifying things that go on there, she also gives the baddies some real motivation, motivation that the reader can, in some ways, relate to. She also gives the killers identities and backgrounds that aren’t generally seen as much in slasher stories, at least in the sense of how they are fully explored and given some actually tangible and relatable reasons for why they do what they do, at least at first. The focus is less on the expendable teenagers who’ve wandered into the fairgrounds, and more on the baddies, and how they got to where they are when we meet them.

And honestly? This novella is, pardon the bad pub, a scream to read. It opens with a classic slasher movie situation, and goes balls to the wall in terms of visceral horror violence as well as showing the stakes that we are dealing with. We get flashbacks to the fateful and dreadful night when Cirque Berserk went bad, we get some really gnarly kills right out of the Tom Savini playbook, and we get some pretty creepy moments and concepts AND a cameo from my favorite Biblical demon Lilith. On top of all that, it becomes quite clear, quite quickly that this candy coated fever dream of a slasher story is going to be accompanied by a bitchin’ 80s sound track, including tracks by Whitney Huston, Bonnie Tyler, and A-ha.

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Honestly, if you like old school slasher movies that are dropping in day glo 80s nostalgia, “Cirque Berserk” is a novella that you should absolutely check out. It’s fun, it’s a quick read, and it has some great curveballs.

Rating 8: A hell of a fun ride that reads like a slasher movie on the page, “Cirque Berserk” was an entertaining read that I greatly enjoyed.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Cirque Berserk” isn’t on any Goodreads lists as of now, but for a similar read I would steer you towards “My Best Friend’s Exorcism”.

“Cirque Berserk” isn’t in WorldCat yet, but you can find it HERE at Unnerving Magazine.