My Year with Jane Austen: “Sense and Sensibility” [2008]

250px-s26s_dvd_cover_2008Movie: “Sense and Sensibility”

Release Year: 2008

Actors: Elinor Dashwood – Hattie Morahan

Marianne Dashwood – Charity Wakefield

Colonel Brandon – David Morrissey

Edward Ferrars – Dan Stevens

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

The biggest difference between this movie and the 1995 version is the added length. It has at least an hour of extra running time which allows the story to both add in scenes and characters that were cut from the book as well as create some unique scenes that, for the most part, do enhance the story. That said, there were also a few mishaps in these added scenes and in the characterization of Willoughby. But overall, I think it did more right than wrong, in this aspect. Watching the two adaptations back-to-back was an entertaining process. It was clear that as much as this story was attempting to be faithful to the novel and be its own thing, the 1995 version was too beloved to completely ignore. There were several scenes or character beats that were clear mirrors to similar ones in the older movie, like some of the early scenes with Edward, Margaret, and Elinor in the library. It wasn’t a scene in the book, so it was a clear nod to the earlier, beloved movie.

I’ll go into more detail below, but I think I liked both actresses in both movies about equally. But the heroes are more split. I preferred Dan Stevens’ Edward here much more than Hugh Grant’s take on the character. Some of this is due to my own dislike of Hugh Grant, but some of it is also simply due to the choices that were made with the character here. Colonel Brandon is a tougher call. I think Alan Rickman’s is probably better, but the added time, again, does a lot for the character here and David Morrissey is still a good fit.

I really liked the use of the dramatic scenery in this movie. There are several moments when nature itself is used to highlight or mirror the internal emotions of the characters. The waves crashing, the driving rain, even the quiet of a seaside cave. It was all beautiful, and paired with a lovely score, the overall tone of the story felt perfect.

I’ve definitely watched this version more than the 1995 version. As I said in that review, I had almost forgotten how much I liked it and will likely increase my re-watching of it in the future. However, I think this one will likely to continue to beat it out overall, if only because, being longer, there’s just so much more of it to enjoy.

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

Both actresses are superb in their roles. They also both bring very different vibes to the characters than Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet did to theirs in the 1995 version. Morahan’s Elinor feels a bit more in line with the character, perhaps. Emma Thompson was almost a bit too perfect, making Elinor, a character who already walks the line of being unbelievable in her perfection, stand out even more above those around her. The solemnity of Morahan’s Elinor is combated by her wide-eyed bewilderment and innocence to the failings of many of those surrounding her. Wakefield leaned in strongly to the lively aspect of Marianne’s character. Due to the increased run time, more of the original lines from Marianne that highlight some of her more extreme romanticisms were included which helped flesh out her character here. Winslet’s version was a bit more refined, I think, but both are enjoyable. I’d have a hard time picking favorites between the four versions and can only really say that I enjoyed them all thoroughly in the adaptations they were in.

The longer running time was also nice in that it gave the story more room to focus on the the small moments in the Dashwoods family. We see a lot of added scenes with Elinor and Marianne, Elinor and Mrs. Dashwood, and even Mrs. Dashwood and Margaret. The movie was very successful in making the viewer feel that this was a real family with real relationships between them that were just as important, if not more so, than the romantic ones that are developing before us.

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

Like the 1995 adaptation, we see the most changes to the original text with how the heroes are depicted. Edward is given many more actual scenes interacting with Elinor in the beginning of the story, and, due to the increased length of this adaptation, we gain back a few scenes with him that were cut in the 1995 version, such as his visit to the Dashwoods about halfway through the story. I particularly liked this inclusion again as it helped keep Edward in the front of the mind (in the 1995 version he kind of fades into the background, making his reappearance towards the end of the movie a bit jarring). It also allowed for an additional small moment where we see him working off his feelings while cutting wood for the Dashwoods. He comments about how little help they have at the cottage and cuts himself off from saying more, though it is clear to the viewer that he is thinking about what he could do for them if he was free to marry as he wishes. I think it works really well as a wholly original added segment, giving viewers a better peak into Edward’s current mindset.

Colonel Brandon, too, benefits from the added time. We see more moments between him and Sir John while they’re hunting, a nice insight into Brandon’s friendship with characters who, on the surface, it would seem are not the type to attract his attention. The movie also adds back in the duel with Willoughby and a few added scenes between these two characters. Unlike the Edward moment, I’m not sure if these added scenes worked as well. I’ll go into more about the Willoughby/Brandon problems below, but even the duel was a bit strange. It seemed out-of-step with the rest of the movie and a Jane Austen story as a whole, feeling too dramatic and too unecessary. Nothing is actually resolved from this duel, it’s never mentioned again, and it doesn’t provide any insights into either character, except, perhaps, lowering Brandon to the level of petty dueling which feels amateurish and boorish and more inline with Willoughby than Brandon overall.

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

One of my biggest criticisms of this adaption is the character of Willoughby. There are several things working against it for me, but two really stand-out: the choice of actor and several added scenes to the script. As I have more conflicted feelings about the latter choice, I’ll begin with the first. Dominic Cooper is routinely type cast as villainous characters. He’s not super well-known, of course, but for anyone who is familiar with him, it’s an instant giveaway for Willoughby’s being bad. He’s also type cast this way for obvious reasons, he’s simply excellent at being sleazy! So much so, however, that it’s almost impossible to buy his love for Marianne as being anything other than nefarious. This, in turn, makes her own blindness towards him (as well as her mother’s and Elinor’s as well) harder to understand and sympathize with. In the 1995 version of it, it’s easy to see the appeal of Willoughby, and Winslet’s Marianne is blithely shrouded in easy-to-understand youthful naivety.

What’s more, the script makes no effort to keep Willoughby’s villainy a secret. The movie actually opens with the scene of his seduction of Brandon’s ward and her abandonment. Cooper’s face isn’t shown, but he does speak, so careful listeners are immediately alerted when he later shows up. The creator mentioned that this scene was added because they felt that the seduction of Brandon’s ward, a truly awful act, is often easily skipped over, both by book readers and viewers of the 1995 movie. But, while I do think this concern has merit, particularly where the book is involved, it does hurt the movie as far as Willoughby himself. This problem is only compounded when only shortly after meeting Willoughby, the movie adds a scene between him and Brandon in which Brandon asks what his intentions are. Willoughby is shady, Brandon is honorable, it’s all fairly easy to put together.

This movie does include the scene where Willoughby shows up during Marianne’s illness to explain his side of things. But, by token of highlighting the true villainy of his previous acts, the movie undercuts the sincerity of feelings that Willoughby expresses for Marianne. In the book, it’s easier to discern the grey areas in which Willoughby exists and that his decisions are ones that will truly haunt him with the loss of Marianne. Here, you’re too busy disliking him to care about any true regret he may have.

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

Like the 1995 movie, this version also flip flops the order of marriage proposals for Marianne and Elinor. It, too, recognizes the greater investment that the viewer likely has in Elinor’s relationship, thus using her happily ever after as the grand finale of the movie. While we don’t have Emma Thompson’s flamboyant crying, Morahan’s break down and frantic cleaning is perfect for the, up to this point, put together Elinor. I also liked how they showed the different circumstances of Marianne and Elinor once they’re married, with Marianne being romantically swept off her feet into a grand house and Elinor and Edward sharing a small domestic moment, laughing together as he chases chickens around their yard. It’s a nice coda to the different versions of love that they both have always aspired to. I also like how it helps highlight that while Marianne’s first choice wasn’t right and some of her extreme sensibilities were taken too far, she’s not “bad” or “wrong” for wanting the typical, romantic ending with the fancy house and grand husband.

This version also, like that earlier movie, makes more effort to show the growing love of Marianne for Brandon, unlike the book with its quasi “love will come with time but I kind of owe him this” approach. There are only a few short scenes, but they are compelling and classically romantic, highlighting the natural fit of Marianne and Brandon.

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

Since this version is so much longer, there was a lot of leeway to add back in characters who were missing in the 1995 version. This includes several characters who played pretty much solely for comedic purposes, like Lady Middleton and the elder Miss Steele. Miss Steele, similarly to her character in the book, has a bigger presence than Lady Middleton, who by definition is bland and uninteresting, and I was glad to see the character return. This also returns the story to the original version where she, not Lucy, is the one to reveal Edward and Lucy’s engagement. As vindicating as it was to see Lucy slapped down in the 1995 one, it did stretch the bounds of the imagination to think she’d be so taken in as to reveal a secret that she felt was important enough to have kept for 5 years prior. Her older sister, perfectly primed as a rather thoughtless blabber mouth, always made more sense, and it plays perfectly here.

While perhaps not “comedic,” I also enjoyed the extended scenes we get with their older brother, Mr. Dashwood. Mark Gastiss, who I knew of mostly from his role as Mycroft in “Sherlock,” is excellent in the role. He’s almost pitiable in how completely ruled he is by his wife, with his every small, good intention being quickly squashed by her.

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

Hattie Morahan and Dan Stevens appear together in “Beauty and the Beast” with him as the handsome prince/Beast (Edward is supposed to be plainish, so we can all agree that the “Beauty and the Beast” casting was better suited to Stevens’s natural good looks than Edward) and she as the Enchantress.

I knew of Dan Stevens first from “Downton Abbey,” so seeing him as a romantic hero was easy enough. David Morrissey, however, was more familiar as the Governor on “The Walking Dead,” so that was a bit of an adjustment. He also reportedly questioned whether another Jane Austen adaptation was necessary, but eventually signed on once he saw how much more action the men were given. Glad he came around, because he does an excellent Brandon here, a tough job after the superb Alan Rickman’s take on the character. But he shall never live down questioning the necessity of another adaptation!

There are a bunch of period costumes that are used repeatedly in Jane Austen adaptions. The actors, of course, are fun to spot popping up in various things, as I mentioned in the 1995 movie review. The re-used houses and locations are the next step of fandom obsession. But costume spotting between adaptations is truly where you know that you’ve arrived at perhaps an unhealthy state of re-watching. There were a bunch in this one, but the dress I did notice was a dotted dress that Marianne wore in this movie that Winslet’s Marianne wore as well in the 1995 movie. Apparently it’s also seen in “Mansfield Park” and “Persuasion,” so I’ll look for it there, too, when I get to those.

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

The script writer, Andrew Davies, is well-know for his work with many other Austen adaptations. In an interview, he mentioned that he felt pressure to do for “Sense and Sensibility” what he did for the 1995 “Pride and Prejudice,” which is commonly seen as the best adaptation of that work even today, going on 30 years later. To that purpose, he created this scene of Edward chopping wood in the rain in a flimsy white shirt to mirror the iconic scene where Colin Firth parades around in a similarly see-through shirt after jumping in a lake.

In two weeks, we jump into our next novel, the first half of “Pride and Prejudice!”

Kate’s Review: “The Third Rainbow Girl”

37655694Book: “The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia” by Emma Copley Eisenberg

Publishing Info: Hachette Books, January 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: In the afternoon or early evening of June 25, 1980, two young women, Vicki Durian and Nancy Santomero, were killed in an isolated clearing in rural Pocahontas County West Virginia. They were hitchhiking to an outdoor peace festival known as the Rainbow Gathering, but never arrived. Their killings have been called “The Rainbow Murders.”

For thirteen years, no one was prosecuted, though suspicion was cast on a succession of local men. In 1993, the state of West Virginia convicted a local farmer named Jacob Beard and sentenced him to life imprisonment. Later, it emerged that a convicted serial killer and diagnosed schizophrenic named Joseph Paul Franklin had also confessed. With the passage of time, as the truth behind the Rainbow killings seemed to slip away, its toll on this Appalachian community became more concrete—the unsolved murders were a trauma, experienced on a community scale.

Emma Copley Eisenberg spent five years re-investigating these brutal acts, which once captured the national media’s imagination, only to fall into obscurity. A one-time New Yorker who came to live in Pocahontas Country, Eisenberg shows how that crime, a mysterious act of violence against a pair of middle-class outsiders, came to loom over several generations of struggling Appalachians, many of them
laborers who earned a living farming, hauling timber, cutting locust posts, or baling hay—and the investigators and lawyers for whom the case became a white whale.

Part “Serial”-like investigation, part Joan Didion-like meditation, the book follows the threads of this crime through the history of West Virginia, the Back-to-the-Land movement, and the complex reality contemporary Appalachia, forming a searing portrait of America and its divisions of gender and class, and its violence.

Review: I’ve mentioned this in the past about how my mother likes to send me book reviews from the New York Times or the Washington Post or what have you if she thinks that the book will be of interest to me. Such themes have included cults, murder, and a first scene which involved two men hooking up in a Bulgarian public restroom. Suffice to say, I’m always intrigued when a new review shows up in my inbox. So when she sent an article about “The Third Rainbow Girl” by Emma Copley Eisenberg, I knew that it was bound to be a spot on recommendation. And not only was it spot on, it was about a true crime cold case that I had never heard of until that moment! Mom comes through once again with the creepy and salacious reads!

Who knows what kind of story will arrive in my inbox next? (source)

“The Third Rainbow Girl” is a dual narrative. One is the examination and dissection of a cold case murder from 1980 in which two women were found murdered in Pocahontas County, West Virginia, and the woman who was their friend and narrowly missed being murdered herself. The other is a personal memoir by Eisenberg, who spent a few formative years working in Pocahontas county decades after the fact. These two narratives come together to paint a portrait of the community, the culture, and the various hardships and struggles the people have, as well as how the murders and the fallout affected those who live there. But they also tell the story of women trying to find their freedom in different ways, and how misogyny and violence can have a hefty price. The story of Nancy Santomero and Vicki Durian is a familiar one of women who meet a violent end, but the way that Eisenberg slowly peels back the layers of their story is haunting and depressing in how incomplete it feels, even if it’s kind of solved. From thrown out charges to an overturned conviction to the confession from notorious serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin (that ultimately was never pursued as charges because he was already on death row for two other murders), Santomero and Durian’s case has been a mystery, even if the case is technically closed. And the idea of the ‘hillbilly monster’ trope has been one that haunted it from the get go, as everyone in town was sure that it was someone local who was taking aggression out on the ‘hippie’ girls. And yet, if Franklin is to be believed, he was an outsider and certainly not the monster we’ve come to associate with pop culture depictions of Appalaichian predators, though far more dangerous than some “Deliverance” backwoods hick. For whatever reason, be it misogyny, or two victims who didn’t fit the ‘missing pretty white woman’ mold to a t (as while they were both white, neither Santomero nor Durian were seen as ‘pretty’ by media frenzy standards, and as hippie chicks had certain stigmas around them), or a community that had turned on itself, this murder is still incomplete, and still haunts Pocahontas County.

The other narrative, that of Eisenberg’s own experiences in Pocahontas County while working for VISTA, gives a little more context to the culture of the area, though it sometimes treads into ‘this could have been ME!’ territory. The title of the book refers to the Third Rainbow Girl, a woman named Elizabeth Johndrow who had been friends with Durian and Santomero but narrowly missed becoming a victim due to timing and sheer luck. You can see that Eisenberg relates to Johndrow, and on other levels Durian and Santomero, because of the need to explore the world and to find herself when she was young and living in the area, without knowing what would come of that need for adventuring. She experienced first hand the highest highs of living in Pocahontas County, and also saw the way that women are both taught to be tough while being cut down because of circumstance and the misogyny that is rampant in that culture, as it is in other American cultures, though Appalachia gets more scrutiny than some supposedly more progressive parts of the country. I thought that the memoir section of this book, along with the history lessons, definitely made me approach the subject matter with more compassion and a more open mind that I would have had it not been there. But that said, I did find some of the comparisons made between her life and the victims lives, even if not overtly, to feel a little self centered. Because of this, I wasn’t as connected to this part of the story, and wanted to get back to the case at hand as it unfolded and shifted.

Overall, “The Third Rainbow Girl” is a unique take on the true crime genre, and it examined themes that many true crime books don’t. I think that if you are looking for straight true crime it may not be the best fit, but if you want a little reflection and contextualization, you should definitely give it a whirl.

Rating 7: A cohesive and deep dive into a cold case that I was unfamiliar with, and while I liked the background provided to West Virginia, the memoir aspect felt a little shoehorned in.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Third Rainbow Girl” is included on the Goodreads list “True Crime by Women and POC”.

Find “The Third Rainbow Girl” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Age of Death”

30613608._sy475_Book: “Age of Death” by Michael J. Sullivan

Publishing Info: Riyria Enterprises LLC, February 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: e-ARC

Book Description: Winter blankets the land, and more than just hope has died. Prevented from invading the Fhrey homeland by the tower of Avempartha, the western army seeks a way across the Nidwalden River before the fane obtains the secret of dragons. As time runs out for both humanity and the mystic Suri, the only chance for the living rests with the dead. Having made their fateful choice, can a handful of misfits do the impossible, or are they forever lost to an inescapable grave? Do gods truly exist? Is it possible to know the future? And what lies beyond the veil of death? In the tradition of Virgil’s Aeneid, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and Milton’s Paradise Lost, the most epic of tales transcend the world of the living. It’s time to see what lies in Elan’s Age of Death.

Previously Reviewed: “Age of Myth” , “Age of Swords”, “Age of War” and “Age of Legend”

Review: Sullivan is not only an established fantasy author, but I have to think he’s one of the most successful as a self-published author. Not only did he start out his career that way and manage to break into the major league standard publishing circuit, he also has now managed to go back to self-publishing and break all kinds of Kickstarter records for books. It also works well for his fans, as I, like many others, was able to get my hands on an early ebook copy. Kind of important after that cliffhanger in the last one! Alas, a cliffhanger was here too (warning!), but, a Kickstarter campaign starts up again shortly, so my wait time is again cut down. Thank god! All of that is neither here nor there to my overall review of the book, but it’s a kind of neat unique trait of these books that I like to highlight. But, the long and the short of it: per the usual for this series, I had a great time reading this book and am now hanging on hooks waiting for the grand finale!

The last book ended with our grand party sinking to their “death” in a disgusting bog, hoping to journey through the land of the dead to the realm of the Fhrey where their dear friend and most powerful ally, Suri, is being held captive. This book picks up immediately from there as our party begins to make their way through the various lands of the dead, meeting up with old friends and new foes along the way. Suri, on the other hand, is caught up in the political maneuverings of the power that be among the Fhrey people, trying to determine friend from foe while protecting the deadly secret of dragon-making, the only advantage the human army has had on their side during this decade-long war.

As this is the fifth book in the series, the characters are all pretty well-established. Aside from a one or two new character that we meet in the underworld, we spend most of our time with these familiar faces. Of course, the challenges they face in the underworld bring new elements of their characters to light, but for the most part, they are all largely as we have come to expect. Of them all, I seem to be enjoying Moya more and more. In this book we see her face some incredibly hard decisions and losses. But the characters who saw the most growth were the two that have walked the line of villainy to some extent to this point, who both feel that they may deserve to be in some of the deeper levels of this underworld.

As far as the underworld itself went, I enjoyed the version we were given here. There were elements of it that were fairly predictable, the groundwork being laid early in the story and predictably coming to fruition later. However, I didn’t feel that this detracted much from the story. There were a couple of character introduced here that did take me completely by surprise, however, and it was exciting to finally see them on the page given how often they had been referenced in other books.

My biggest struggle with this book, however, was the pacing. All of the books are clearly part of six part, epic series, so none of them can truly be read as standalones. That said, they all felt like they had clear beginnings and endings with at least one character seeming to experience an entire arch through the one book. Even the last with its massive cliffhanger felt fairly complete on its own. Here, however, it’s like we were given the Moria scene from “Lord of the Rings”…and that’s it. Nothing before and nothing after. There’s another cliffhanger, yes, but I went in expecting that. It’s more that the story as a whole didn’t really feel like its own thing in its own right. More than any of the others, this one felt like a chunk that had been removed from a larger book and then made its own book. Like it could have been the “Part II” of a bigger book. Again, this wasn’t a game changer or anything, but it did stick out more in this book than in others.

Per the usual now, I really enjoyed this book. On its own, I probably enjoyed it less than others just because it didn’t really feel like a complete book so much as a long section of the previous book and, likely, the last book combined. I also missed not seeing as much of Persephone. But I’m excited for the direction the story is taking with Suri and the Fhrey and, of course, the cliffhanger leaves a lot of tension built up that can’t be resolved quickly enough. Fans of the series so far will be both satisfied with this one and left in a similar position as before: impatient for the next (and last!) book to come!

Rating 8: Gearing up for the final book, this fun fantasy adventure struggles to hold its own as a complete work, but rocks as the next step in the whole.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Age of Death” is a newer title so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “Adult Sci-Fi/Fantasy Releases of 2020.”

Find “Age of Death” at your library using Worldcat!


Kate’s Review: “Cheshire Crossing”

42583942Book: “Cheshire Crossing” by Andy Weir and Sarah Andersen (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Ten Speed Press, July 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The three meet here, at Cheshire Crossing–a boarding school where girls like them learn how to cope with their supernatural experiences and harness their magical world-crossing powers.

But the trio–now teenagers, who’ve had their fill of meddling authority figures–aren’t content to sit still in a classroom. Soon they’re dashing from one universe to the next, leaving havoc in their wake–and, inadvertently, bringing the Wicked Witch and Hook together in a deadly supervillain love match.

To stop them, the girls will have to draw on all of their powers . . . and marshal a team of unlikely allies from across the magical multiverse.

Review: I recently went back to work after taking my maternity leave, and one of my first tasks was to weed the children’s graphic novel section. I love a good weeding project, and whenever I go through graphics I usually find a few that I want to read, and by checking them out I spare them from being culled from the collection. This was how I stumbled upon “Cheshire Crossing” by Andy “The Martian” Weir. Was I surprised that the guy known for science fiction with hard science themes and snarky humor had written a graphic novel for kids/teens? For sure. But the fact that it starred Wendy Darling, Dorothy Gale, and Alice was incredibly fascinating to me (especially since these three have been brought together in graphic form before in Alan Moore’s, erm, shall we say ‘controversial’ “Lost Girls”.).

“Cheshire Crossing” is a cute and witty mash up of three well loved characters who played rather passive roles in their initial stories. While it’s true that Wendy, Dorothy, and Alice are all important figures within the stories they are from, and have become absolutely and rightfully beloved, they all kind of have things happen to them while the people and worlds around them do the ‘doing’. They wander through Wonderland, Oz, and Neverland acting as surrogates for the reader to explore, which is perfectly understandable. But in “Cheshire Crossing”, Weir gives them a lot to actually do, special powers that they bring to their initial visits, and explores what the consequences would be if three girls came back to their usual lives after going to magical places. It’s not too surprising that they are all seen as ‘crazy’ or ‘hysterical’, and have had to spend time in asylums before coming to Cheshire Crossing, which knows that they are portals to other worlds. The idea of hysterical women, especially at the time that these books were originally written, was very common, and I really enjoyed that Weir explored how our world would have no doubt marginalized and taken any kind of agency from these girls (and something I noticed was that there was no mention of Michael or Peter Darling, which makes me think that the two boys haven’t been institutionalized). Alice especially has a lot to contend with, as her time in Wonderland wasn’t exactly ‘pleasant’. She is by far the most traumatized, and dour, of the girls, and the most interesting because of it.

The one criticism I had about this story is that not very much time was spent at Cheshire Academy itself. While I appreciated that Alice, Wendy, and Dorothy very well may be sick and tired of being taken from place and place and poked and prodded, I had hoped that we would be able to see a little bit more of the motivation of Cheshire Crossing, as the idea of a school that is teaching these girls to harness the powers that they have inside of them (as opposed to the powers that have been lent to them at their various magical visits) is really appealing to me. Instead the three girls hop from world to world, getting into more trouble and inadvertently hooking up Captain Hook and the Wicked Witch of the West. Which is, admittedly, kind of the perfect pairing. Their nanny from Cheshire Crossing does follow them and try to keep them out of trouble (and it’s very heavily implied that this woman is Mary Poppins, though she isn’t called that by name), but she was cleaning up their messes as opposed to actively teaching them how to use their powers. Was it fun visiting Oz, Neverland, and Wonderland in this context? Sure! But I also wanted the grounding of the school so that the three girls could harness their powers even more. That said, this ended on something of a cliffhanger, and therefore there may be more stories in the future.

And finally, the illustrations are absolutely charming. They are done by Sarah Andersen of “Sarah’s Scribbles” fame, and the style is dreamy and pleasing to the eye.


“Cheshire Crossing” is a fun exploration of three girls who deserve a little more credit and an expansion of three well loved fantasy stories. People who love Oz, Wonderland, and Neverland will find a lot to like!

Rating 7: A very cute mash up of three beloved children’s lit heroines, “Cheshire Crossing” has some good commentary on female marginalization during the time the original books were written.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Cheshire Crossing” isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Women Kicking Ass (Graphic Novels/Comics)”, and “Curiouser and Curiouser”.

Find “Cheshire Crossing” at your library using WordCat!

Book Club Review: “Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood”

9516We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “American Girl Readalikes”, in which we each pick an American Girl book and a book that can be connected to it, however tenuous as it may be.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood” by Marjane Satrapi

Publishing Info: Pantheon, June 2004

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

American Girl Book: “Samantha Learns a Lesson” by Susan S. Adler

Book Description: Wise, funny, and heartbreaking, Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi’s memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah’s regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. The intelligent and outspoken only child of committed Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran’s last emperors, Marjane bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country.

Persepolis paints an unforgettable portrait of daily life in Iran and of the bewildering contradictions between home life and public life. Marjane’s child’s-eye view of dethroned emperors, state-sanctioned whippings, and heroes of the revolution allows us to learn as she does the history of this fascinating country and of her own extraordinary family. Intensely personal, profoundly political, and wholly original, Persepolis is at once a story of growing up and a reminder of the human cost of war and political repression. It shows how we carry on, with laughter and tears, in the face of absurdity. And, finally, it introduces us to an irresistible little girl with whom we cannot help but fall in love. 

Kate’s Thoughts

While it’s true that I read and reviewed “The Complete Persepolis” a couple years back, I really wanted to read it for book club. It was my turn for the American Girl theme, and I knew that I wanted to do “Samantha Learns a Lesson” (as Samantha has always been my favorite American Girl). So I decided that “Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood” would be the match up, as both are about girls from upper classes who have to learn hard social justice lessons about the lower classes in the society in which they are living.

My opinion of “Persepolis” hasn’t changed since I last addressed it here. It’s still one of my favorite graphic novels of all time, like top ten no question. But with the focus specifically on Satrapi’s childhood for this reading, mixed with the lens I had on social class, AND the current tensions the U.S. is having with Iran, this reading was all the more meaningful for me. Satrapi does a very good job of disseminating how Iran changed so fundamentally as a society in the aftermath of the fall of the Shah, and addresses the complexities of those changes, showing how it isn’t a black and white, right or wrong situation. She also points out her own privileges within Iran during the Cultural Revolution. While she was a girl and her family wasn’t as socially favored as some, they had enough wealth and means that not only could she carefully rebel against societal norms with little repercussions (though some of this was pure luck), she also wasn’t part of the social class that was being used as cannon fodder during the war with Iraq. Along with all that, she also had the means to be sent away for school in Austria when it was becoming clear that being a teenage girl was becoming more and more unsafe.

I’m so pleased that we read “Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood” for book club! It fostered a lot of good conversation, and I will take any excuse to revisit this stunning memoir.

Serena’s Thoughts

My only previous familiarity with this book was through reading Kate’s glowing review of the complete collection. But with that strong recommendation, I was excited to finally get the excuse (more like the push, but “excuse” sounds better) to finally read it myself. And, put simply, like always, Kate was spot-on in her stamp of approval for this title!

I will admit to having only the barest understanding of the events that happened during Iran’s Cultural Revolution. I knew the end result, of course, but had very little clarity on the progression of events. In that way, this book does a fantastic job at bringing reader’s down to the street level of a topic that is often discussed, at least here in the U.S., at very global levels. Her life also offers an interesting window, coming from an educated and modern family who have many privileges at their finger tips that can help mitigate the experience.But, with those privileges, we also see the increased strain of a change that is felt quite acutely, especially for a young girl growing into her teenage years. We see the burgeoning of the obligations towards social justice weighed against the practicalities of safety and one’s own welfare.

I also loved the illustration style of this book. The choice to use only black and white colors not only parallels the movement of a society towards a more black and white way of thinking about life, but leaves the readers to focus largely on the content before them. It is not “prettied up” in anyway that could distract from the fact that this is based upon a woman’s real life experience. That said, the style of drawing is also very approachable to young readers and nicely balances out the stark color palette.

I really enjoyed this book and am so glad Kate picked it for bookclub. Like the broken record I often am, I’m yet again thankful to be part of a group of readers who expose me to books that I would likely not get around to reading on my own.

Kate’s Rating 10: An all time favorite of mine that I will happily revisit over and over.

Serena’s Rating 10: A must read for fans of graphic novels and those looking for more insights into life growing up in Iran during the Cultural Revolution.

Book Club Questions

  1. What did you think of the choice to tell her personal story in graphic form? How do you think it would have been different had it been written in a traditional narrative structure?
  2. “Persepolis: A Story of a Childhoold” is set before, during and after the Cultural Revolution in Iran. How much did you know about this historical period before reading this book?
  3. Like Samantha, Marjane is a child who has to learn some hard truths about the society she’s living in as a child. Are there any obvious differences between how Marjane experienced this period vs other Iranian children from other backgrounds may have?
  4. In an interview Satrapi said that she wanted “Persepolis” to show that Iran wasn’t only the society and culture that is shown through western lenses (that of a fundamentalist culture). Do you think she succeeded? Why or why not?
  5. Captivity and freedom are themes that are prevalent throughout the narrative. What are some of the ways they are presented within the story?
  6. How does a persons personal history interact with the history of a society or a culture they live within? How do you think your own personal history ties with the history of your country?

Reader’s Advisory

“Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood” can be found on the Goodreads lists “Best Memoir Graphic Novels”, and “Reading Recommendations for a Young Feminist”.

Find “Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood” at your library using WorldCat!

Next Book Club book: “It’s Not The End of the World” by Judy Blume

Serena’s Review: “Woven in Moonlight”

40877706._sy475_Book: “Woven in Moonlight” by Isabel Ibnez

Publishing Info: Page Street Books, January 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: BookishFirst

Book Description: Ximena is the decoy Condesa, a stand-in for the last remaining Illustrian royal. Her people lost everything when the usurper, Atoc, used an ancient relic to summon ghosts and drive the Illustrians from La Ciudad. Now Ximena’s motivated by her insatiable thirst for revenge, and her rare ability to spin thread from moonlight.

When Atoc demands the real Condesa’s hand in marriage, it’s Ximena’s duty to go in her stead. She relishes the chance, as Illustrian spies have reported that Atoc’s no longer carrying his deadly relic. If Ximena can find it, she can return the true aristócrata to their rightful place.

She hunts for the relic, using her weaving ability to hide messages in tapestries for the resistance. But when a masked vigilante, a warm-hearted princess, and a thoughtful healer challenge Ximena, her mission becomes more complicated. There could be a way to overthrow the usurper without starting another war, but only if Ximena turns her back on revenge—and her Condesa.

Review: This book was a no-brainer for me to request. I mean, look at that gorgeous cover? I’m not sure I can remember a book with a cover like that; it immediately stands out and I’m sure the book will benefit from many a spur-of-the-moment pick-up while on the shelves at stores. The book description itself was also incredibly unique-sounding and dealing with a people, place, and culture that I am only passingly familiar. In many ways, the cover and description reminded me greatly of “Gods of Jade and Shadow” which I read last summer and loved. Unfortunately, this comparison didn’t hold true in the actual reading experience…

Ximena has lived most of her life pretending to be someone else, a queen, the Condesa. But mostly a queen under siege: managing dwindling supplies, sending out scouting parties, and dreaming of one day returning her people to their homeland and the city that is now occupied by the cruel king Atoc. Now, with a demanded-marriage between the two leaders of these divided peoples, Ximena has the greatest of all performances before her. She must marry the usurper and serve as an embedded spy, searching for that crack that can benefit her people and her sister-friend, the true Condesa.

Even typing up that description makes me excited about the story this could have been. Yet, alas, could have been, but wasn’t. This is one of those strange books where I question whether I read the same story others read. Currently, it’s rated over 4 on Goodreads, so many people are loving it. Perhaps I can see elements of what all of these other readers are latching on to, but it all seems like too little, too familiar, and too inexplicable to really earn those 4 stars.

The biggest strength this book has going for it is the unique setting, the unique culture (what little we really get of it), and the descriptions of Ximena’s weavings. There are some truly lovely depictions of these detailed creations, and having a mother who is an avid weaver, I could see the magic in her abilities here, even without the actual magic involved. What descriptions we received of the countryside and the city itself were intriguing, but this is also where the bare minimums began to show. I had just enough to form loose images, but I have to admit that many of these were probably drawing from stereotypical images of South American culture (there isn’t even such a thing, hence the extreme stereotype of my mental images that were just drawing from random images from other books and movies set in South American countries). I wish there had been a more detailed look into the daily life of the people, a clearer image drawn of their lives and the world they lived in. Half of the reason I picked up this book was because of the uniqueness to be had here. Finally not another European fantasy novel! But then it felt like the author only went halfway, and I was left wanting.

From the “too little” we move to the “too familiar.” Most of this plot will read as incredibly predictable to anyone who reads a lot of YA fantasy. I could quickly guess who El Lobo was as well as predict several of the other major plot points of the story. Perhaps for readers who aren’t as well versed in current YA fantasy tropes this would read better. Or even age it down to middle grade readers who simply haven’t had the time to build up these stores of memory that make stories like this feel rote and tired. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it; I’ve just read it too many times before. And when the surprise has been taken out of most of the twists, there’s not a lot of drive behind speeding through the rest of the story.

And lastly, the “too inexplicable.” I really struggled with Ximena herself. The love story was, again, predictable. And she kept referring to said characters as “the boy” which I just found cringe-worthy. I get that typing out “young man” seems kind of silly and obviously “guy” is anachronistic and has its own issues. But given the situation we’re meant to be in (she’s there to marry a king), I think we can just stick with “man” and be done with it. Regardless of age, this is an adult situation, and she’s been an adult for many years, making decisions as a ruler and now serving as a spy meant to marry the enemy. Referring to someone as “a boy” can only be a demeaning comment in these circumstances. But she uses it as a bland, seemingly objective description, and it bothered the heck out of me. If he’s “a boy,” he’s a kid and my mind will neatly file him away in the “non-love-interest” section.

Beyond that small nit-pick that I blew out of proportion with my own annoyance, it was hard to understand Ximena. We’re meant to believe that she’s been training, and acting, as the Condesa for almost all of her grown life. Not only would the real Condesa have to be well-versed in self-control, cool thinking, and precise speaking/acting, someone who grew up to serve as a decoy in this role would have to be all of that twice over. But Ximena routinely and regularly loses all self-control. It’s hard to believe that she wasn’t immediately seen through. Or, if not that, it would seem that all respect would be quickly lost for “the Condesa” as a leader since she can’t stop behaving like a rash, easily provoked youth. Ximena spends way too much time caught up in her own personal angst and far too little behaving as a true Condesa would. Sure, she always comments after the fact on how that was really “un-Condesa-like,” but that doesn’t do away with the fact that had she been trained to do this her entire life, there should be nowhere near as many outbursts as there are in the first place.

A book is always going to be a hard sell for me if I can’t connect with the POV character. I found Ximena unbelievable at best and incredibly annoying at worst. From there, the predictable story just lowered it further. I’m really sad that this wasn’t a great read for me. So many people are enjoying it, and I really wish I had read whatever book they’re loving so much. There are many great elements of this story, particularly with the snippets of the world, culture, and history we get. Unfortunately, there’s not enough of any of those things to counteract the weak main character and tired story. But, like I said, lots of people are liking it, so if you’re looking for an ownvoice, Latinx story, it might still be worth a shot.

I didn’t love this one, but a lot of people do. So I’d like to share it with someone who will appreciate it more than I was able. If this sounds like something you would enjoy, make sure to enter the giveaway for a hardback copy!

Rating 6: A really confusing read where I’m not sure what I’m missing that so many other people are loving.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Woven in Moonlight” is on these Goodreads lists: “Latina Leads in YA and Middle Grade Fiction” and “Upcoming 2020 SFF Books with Female Leads or Co-Leads.”

Find“Woven in Moonlight” in your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.8): Dirge”

7784056Book: “Transmetropolitan (Vol. 8): Dirge” by Warren Ellis, Darick Robertson (Ill.), & Rodney Ramons (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, January 2003

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it!

Book Description: After the events of TRANSMETROPOLITAN: SPIDER’S THRASH, outlaw journalist Spider Jerusalem has lost his press credentials and has been forced underground by the President of the United States. Now with a sniper loose in the Print District, Spider is the only man who can expose the conspiracy behind the destruction of the City and the simultaneous disappearance of its police force. Unfortunately, Spider is currently suffering through blackouts and episodes of mental confusion and may never bring the truth to the masses again.

Review: As 2020 continues on and my anxiety about the upcoming election skyrockets into the stratosphere, Spider Jerusalem is giving me solace. I’m going to be wrapping up my series re-read of “Transmetropolitan” soon, given that after this volume we only have two left. Which means that the stakes are on the rise, as the final confrontation between Spider and The Smiler (and possibly Spider and his own mortality) is going to be here before we know it. And, like most epic stories, it had to get darker before the dawn. “Dirge” goes dark.

It starts with a case of Blue Flu, in which the police in The City have all called in under guise of illness. It just so happens that this occurs the day that a sniper starts to murder people in the Print District. Spider, Yelena, and Channon, down and out without press credentials but still eager to catch the story, are on the case, but find themselves in the middle of a conspiracy that, at this point, the reader saw coming from a mile away. But that doesn’t matter, because the important point that “Dirge” is trying to make is that of COURSE the establishment has become entrenched in these kinds of tactics. These are the tactics that The Smiler thrives upon and uses to consolidate his power. This is what Spider has known for awhile now, ever since Vita Severn was murdered by her own campaign colleagues to boost the approval ratings of her boss. The issue now isn’t that this is what The Smiler does. I feel like at this point, Ellis wants the reader to be completely overwhelmed with the lack of hope, and to feel that The Smiler (who in this volume takes his Vita Severn tactic and does something even more horrific) is so unstoppable that the apathy and despair is the only way a society would be able to react as he slowly destroys everything just to make himself all powerful. God DAMMIT does this continue to feel all too real.

But the biggest blow in this volume is the reveal about Spider’s memory lapses and health issues, and how his role as the voice of truth to the people is almost assuredly coming to an end sooner rather than later. Spoilers here, but it doesn’t really ruin anything and it’s going to come to my larger point: Spider has been exposed to an agent that is eating away at his cognitive functions. His mind is slowly slipping away, and in the end he will be a vessel ravaged by dementia before he ultimately dies from it. Spider has always been the beacon of hope in this series, the one who will bring the truth in any way, shape, of form, and can be the one to spell it all out for the masses so that they can see the ways they are being lied to. And that’s about to come to an end. Reading it the first time I was definitely bummed out. But reading it now, in the context of a press under attack and a time of misinformation, or in some cases people who just don’t care to know the truth, this plot point is devastating. Ellis is taking a risk here, as it’s always a bit ballsy to hobble a character with something debilitating. But that just gives more time for Yelena and Channon to shine, as they are determined to help Spider carry on his work, no matter what. Their identity as a team has come to full bloom, and seeing their character development get to this point is incredibly satisfying.

Warren Ellis is sure to bring the hope to this story, as while Spider, Yelena, and Channon are all hot messes and incredibly crude and rude, you know that they have the greater good in their intentions. And while Spider may be dying, he is still determined and ready to expose The Smiler and his violent, horrendous bullshit so that good can triumph over evil. These days I wonder if this is a naive fantasy. But “Transmetropolitan” is so earnest and dripping with the hope that this can be achieved, that I still want to believe in Spider. I want to believe that information and truth will shine a light on lies, and deception, and that the corrupt will lose in the end. “Dirge” is the point that I feel we are at. We can all take a lesson from Spider. He’s the hero we need. And I hope, I REALLY hope, that we can follow in his footsteps and not give up.

Source: Vertigo Comics

Up next is the penultimate collection: “The Cure”.

Rating 8: One of the darker entires to this fantastic comic, “Transmetropolitan (Vol. 8): Dirge” goes bleak, but once again lets a little bit of hope shine through.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Transmetropolitan (Vol. 8): Dirge” is included on the Goodreads lists “Bibles for the Revolution”, and “Best of Cyberpunk”.

Find “Transmetropolitan (Vol. 8): Dirge” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed:

Giveaway: “Woven in Moonlight”

40877706._sy475_Book: “Woven in Moonlight” by Isabel Ibnez

Publishing Info: Page Street Books, January 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: BookishFirst

Book Description: Ximena is the decoy Condesa, a stand-in for the last remaining Illustrian royal. Her people lost everything when the usurper, Atoc, used an ancient relic to summon ghosts and drive the Illustrians from La Ciudad. Now Ximena’s motivated by her insatiable thirst for revenge, and her rare ability to spin thread from moonlight.

When Atoc demands the real Condesa’s hand in marriage, it’s Ximena’s duty to go in her stead. She relishes the chance, as Illustrian spies have reported that Atoc’s no longer carrying his deadly relic. If Ximena can find it, she can return the true aristócrata to their rightful place.

She hunts for the relic, using her weaving ability to hide messages in tapestries for the resistance. But when a masked vigilante, a warm-hearted princess, and a thoughtful healer challenge Ximena, her mission becomes more complicated. There could be a way to overthrow the usurper without starting another war, but only if Ximena turns her back on revenge—and her Condesa.

Giveaway Details: Though it did take me until February to get around to it, I was excited enough about this book to include it as one of the three titles I was most looking forward to in January. And now the time has come! My full review comes up on Friday, so I won’t go into any spoilers as to my opinions here.

I will say that the concept is an intriguing one, intertwining a unique magic system with the political upheaval and history of Bolivia. It’s an ownvoices work, so the author brings much vibrancy to her story and world. And here, the cover artist really upped the ante creating a cover image that perfectly communicates the heart of the story and is sure to draw readers in. I know it worked well on me!

It’s always great to see young adult fantasy escape from the often overwhelming European-centered stories that are everywhere. And this one presents an area of the world and history that I’m sure many readers are only passably familiar with. For myself, I knew very little and, while this book is still clearly fictional and, you know, magic, it did inspire me to do some research of my own into the country’s history.

So, for those of you who still haven’t gotten around to this book, or for those of you who have already read it and loved it (according to Goodreads, there are many of you!), here’s your chance to get your hands on a hardback copy! The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and closes on February 12.

Enter now!

Kate’s Review: “Foul is Fair”

42595554Book: “Foul is Fair” by Hannah Capin

Publishing Info: Wednesday Books, February 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley.

Book Description: Elle and her friends Mads, Jenny, and Summer rule their glittering LA circle. Untouchable, they have the kind of power other girls only dream of. Every party is theirs and the world is at their feet. Until the night of Elle’s sweet sixteen, when they crash a St. Andrew’s Prep party. The night the golden boys choose Elle as their next target.

They picked the wrong girl.

Sworn to vengeance, Elle transfers to St. Andrew’s. She plots to destroy each boy, one by one. She’ll take their power, their lives, and their control of the prep school’s hierarchy. And she and her coven have the perfect way in: a boy named Mack, whose ambition could turn deadly.

Foul is Fair is a bloody, thrilling revenge fantasy for the girls who have had enough. Golden boys beware: something wicked this way comes.

Review: Thanks to Wednesday Books and NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

When I was in ninth grade my English class read “MacBeth”, the Shakespearean tragedy involving assassination, witches, torment, and revenge. I loved it from the very start, from reading the book itself to when our teacher showed a group of fourteen and fifteen year olds the Roman Polanski film adaptation, which is horrendously bloody and disturbing. I remember turning to my friend Blake at one point and both of us clearly thinking ‘whaaat the fuuuuuck?’ By the time my younger sister got to that class they’d replaced Polanski’s version with the offbeat “Scotland, PA”, a retelling of the classic story set in the world of fast food. It’s hilarious and dark, and I had been waiting for a long time to see another retelling of my favorite Shakespeare play. You can imagine how excited I was when “Foul is Fair” by Hannah Capin was in my email box. A YA retelling of “MacBeth”, from the female point of view, as a revenge story? On paper, this seems like everything that I would want for the Scottish Play. And yet, it became pretty clear pretty early that this wasn’t really going to work for me as much as I’d hoped it would.

I had certain expectations when I opened up this eARC, and I’m incredulous that basically none of them were met. (source)

Okay, let’s start with the good. Frankly, these days given the repeated reminders of the misogynistic and sexist culture that we live in, and the prevalent stories of abuse and trauma that have been exposed due to the #MeToo movement and powerful abusers falling from grace, I am all for a story that wants to tackle these issues with unrelenting rage. Catharsis is important, especially when it feels like some things never change and that privileged abusers will never see any true consequences (or sometimes hold high places of power, be it a Supreme Court seat or the Oval Office). So the fact that “Foul is Fair” is a power fantasy in which a rape victim is taking out all of her rage  and revenge against her rapists and taking her power back does give it lots of points. Especially since justice in the real world can be so hard to come by. Plus, I really did like the writing itself, as it’s vivid and visceral with a raw power that makes it almost burn off the page.

But when it comes to the characters within this book, I was supremely disappointed. One of the things about “MacBeth” is that while there are clear heroes and villains, each hero and villain has some complexity and nuance to them. MacBeth and Lady MacBeth in particular have moments of ruthlessness and vulnerability, and you understand the motivations for both of them even if you don’t necessarily agree with them, like the whole regicide thing. In “Foul is Fair”, all of the characters feel like two dimensional beings that aren’t defined by much else beyond their scumminess, or their unrelenting rage, or their weirdness. Can this be entertaining? Sure. But I didn’t feel like I really got to know our protagonist, Elle/Jade, outside of her understandable anger about what the golden boys at St. Andrews did to her. Effective plot? Absolutely. But it does not characterization make. Her interactions with her ‘coven’ (I’m also a little confused here, as she is clearly the stand in for Lady MacBeth, but she’s hanging out with Jenny, Summer, and Mads, who are the stand ins for the Weird Sisters. I don’t want to be a purist to the original material, but why was this a choice?) always felt a little ‘2edgy4me’ as they always, ALWAYS talk with coolness and malevolence, and even when they start turning on each other it still comes off as trying way too hard to be badass when all I wanted was to see some relatability amidst the badassness. And on top of all that, sure, there are some “MacBeth” aspects to it, but it definitely felt like it picked and chose the themes that would work best for the story at hand as opposed to actually trying to make it a “MacBeth” retelling. You take away the character names that reference the characters they’re based upon, and it’s not so easy to find the “MacBeth” aspects, it was shifted and changed so much. You can definitely adapt old texts to modern times and do it in ways that still give the original intent and feel of the source material (one of the best moments of this is in “Clueless” where Josh gives summation of Knightley’s dressing down and scolding of Emma with ‘you’re such a brat’. PERFECT!). “Foul is Fair” did not achieve this.

(and as a side note, poor Lady MacDuff gets thrown under the bus in this ‘reimagining’. The poor woman and all of her children are brutally slaughtered because MacDuff is a threat to MacBeth. In this she’s turned into a bitchy queen bee who is complicit in rape. It’s like ya didn’t even TRY to adapt that character! There were other instances of pick and choose feminism, but whatever, I don’t need to get on a soap box.)

There is something to be said for the ultimate rage message of standing up against violent misogyny, and that maybe it needs to be beaten over the head to get the point across. But I had hoped for a little more vicious and biting satire with Shakespearean flair.

Rating 5: The beat down of misogyny and the overall power fantasy was cathartic, but “Foul is Fair” had two dimensional characters and a grasp on the source material only when it suited.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Foul is Fair” is included on the Goodreads lists “YA Shakespeare Retellings”, and “ANGRY LADIES’ BOOK CLUB”.

Find “Foul is Fair” at your library using WorldCat!

Highlights: February 2020

Love is in the air, but so is the snow and wind up here in Minnesota. February is both fun for romance, but also kind of the middle of the longest (seeming) season. Luckily, we have books to look forward to! Here are the titles that have captured our interests this month!

Serena’s Picks

30613608._sy475_-1Book: “Age of Death” by Michael J. Sullivan

Publication Date: February 4, 2020

Why I’m Interested: I’ve been enjoying the heck out of this action-packed, yet surprisingly heart-wrenching, epic fantasy series. And the last book, oof, talk about a cliffhanger! Unfortunately, I hear this one also has a cliffhanger, but, luckily, thanks to the author’s self-publication schedule, it will only be another short wait until this summer before the final book is out. As it stands, after the last book, I’m excited to see all of my heroes tackle what they find in the underworld. And, of course, poor Suri who is captured in the heart of enemy territory. Things are definitely starting to feel like a sprint to the end, and I can’t wait to see what this penultimate book has to offer!

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

Publication Date: February 11, 2020

Why I’m Interested: The first book in this series came out of nowhere to really strike my interest. It’s definitely a more politically focused story in a fantasy world. But instead of court politics (though there are those too), this book takes a much larger focus on the manueverings of large countries with and against each other. But at the heart are two young people on opposing sides who have somehow formed a connection. However, neither knows the full truth of not only the other one, but often, not even their own country or allies. In this second book, again separated, Athan and Aurelia once again find themselves caught up in the schemes of the powers around them. The first book had a crushing prologue, and I’m both intrigued and also super nervous to see how our characters end up in the future situation that was presented there. I think this is a trilogy, however, so I’m not sure how close we’ll get in this second book.

45046766Book: “Night Spinner” by Addie Thorley

Publication Date: February 11, 2020

Why I’m Interested: The book is being marked as a mix of the Grishaverse (mixed feelings about this) and a retelling of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (intrigued by this). It tells the story of Enebish, a young woman who only a short time before had been on the cusp of becoming a great leader for her people. Now, after a terrible accident, she’s exiled and mocked, crippled and shunned. But when she’s offered a chance at redemption, she finds herself with only more questions, about herself, her country, her sister, and the mysterious criminal she’s sent to track down. There are elements of that description that seem way too familiar (mostly the “mysterious criminal”), but I’m still interested enough in the “Hunchback of Notre Dame” angle that I’ll be giving it a shot soon.

Kate’s Picks

38124119._sy475_Book: “Deathless Divide” by Justina Ireland

Publication Date: February 4, 2020

Why I’m Interested: I greatly enjoyed Ireland’s zombie/alternate history/historical fiction novel “Dread Nation”, which reimagines Reconstruction with a zombie story. So yeah, I’ve definitely been looking forward to “Deathless Divide”, the sequel to this breakout horror hit! Picking up after the events in “Dread Nation”, Jane is hoping to keep moving through a zombie ravaged America and to find her mother out West in California. With her is Katherine, the less combat savvy but still sharp companion that Jane doesn’t think she needs. As they suffer more losses and have to deal with zombies and the awfulness of a racist society, Jane and Katherine have to stick together if they hope to stay alive. I am VERY interested in seeing what Katherine gets to do in this story, as she was one of the more intriguing characters in the first book.

47899437._sy475_Book: “The Chill” by Scott Carson

Publication Date: February 11, 2020

Why I’m Interested: I’m honestly not completely sure what to expect of this one. The description is a bit vague, but in it’s vagueness it’s capturing my attention. Is this cosmic horror? Occult horror? Folk horror? I don’t know. But I do know that Stephen King gave it a positive blurb! At the turn of the 20th Century, a small town in upstate New York was purposely flooded by the construction of a dam, deemed necessary for the good of the many over the good of the few. Now a century later, things are getting strange at the dam, and an inspector sees something that cannot be explained. And it becomes more clear that those who were displaced by the dam’s construction may not have gone too far, and some may not have left. And that something is looking for a new sacrifice. What does this mean? I don’t know. Do I want to find out? Why, yes I do.

46408162._sy475_Book: “Follow Me” by Kathleen Barber

Publication Date: February 25, 2020

Why I’m Interested: This sounds like a mix of an Instagram influencer’s dramatic shenanigans and Caroline Kepnes’s “You”. So I, of course, want to read it NOW NOW NOW. Audrey’s social media presence covers hundreds of thousands of followers. Now that she’s working a prestigious job at the Smithsonian, she has the opportunity to carefully mold and shape it even more, and to show all her followers the interesting work she’s doing. What she doesn’t realize is that someone has been watching her online for years, and her new job in D.C. has brought her even closer to him. Now he’s more determined than ever to possess Audrey, and is willing to use the dark web to do it. I’m ready to be creeped out!!

What books are you looking forward to this month? Let us know in the comments!