Kate’s Review: “Ghosted in L.A. (Vol. 1)”

52295766._sx318_sy475_Book: “Ghosted in L.A. (Vol.1)” by Sina Grace and Siobhan Keenan (Ill.)

Publishing Info: BOOM!Box, May 2020

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

Book Description: Daphne Walters moves to Los Angeles and finds that the only ones who can help her find love and live life to the fullest are the ghosts of her new home!

In Los Angeles, finding an apartment is killer—unless you live with the dead. Daphne Walters moves to Los Angeles for her boyfriend Ronnie, ready to live her happily ever after. But when happily ever after turns into happily for a month, she’s stuck in a strange city with no friends, family, or prospects for fun. Desperate to escape the lingering ghost of Ronnie’s presence everywhere, Daphne sets out to explore the city—and ends up encountering ghosts of a more literal kind! Rycroft Manor is abandoned, beautiful, and haunted. Will the dead be able to help Daphne find the life she’s been missing in the big city? From GLAAD Award-nominated Sina Grace (Iceman) and illustrator Siobhan Keenan (Jem and the Holograms) comes a story about learning how to make friends, find love, and live life to the fullest with a little help from some friends whose lives didn’t end at death. Collects Ghosted In L.A #1-4.

Review: Thanks to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this graphic novel!

When the writing was on the wall about the social distancing measures we as a society would need to take regarding COVID-19, I knew that my library pile wasn’t going to sustain me through the long weeks of staying at home. So I hopped onto NetGalley and began to request books that captured my interest. One of those was “Ghosted in L.A. (Vol 1)” by Sina Grace. I saw a cute looking graphic novel style and the promise of ghosts, which was enough to pique my interests. What I got, however, was something more than I anticipated, and something that I ended up really enjoying.

For one, yes, we have a ghost story, people. I love a good ghost story, and it doesn’t even have to be scary for me to enjoy it. The ghosts in “Ghosted in L.A.” (for the most part) aren’t all that threatening, but have mysterious reasons as to why they have continued their afterlives in the abandoned Rycroft Manor. Before each chapter, we get a bit of insight into the backgrounds of each ghostly character, from ringleader Agi to kindhearted Bernard to toxic Maurice, which makes their interactions with Daphne more layered an interesting. It also means that they aren’t relegated to ghost sidekicks, and that we get to see their motivations and backgrounds. I am very interested in learning more about them, and given that we’ve discovered some pretty dark and even dangerous things about some, it makes me feel like there are no guarantees that these ghosts are all going to be the kindhearted roommates that Daphne wants.

But surprisingly, the aspect of this comic that I liked the most had less to do with the ghosts, and more to do with the coming of age journey that our protagonist Daphne is on. She’s an 18 year old who has followed her boyfriend to Los Angeles for school, but then finds herself single and in a city that she knows very little about. 18 is already a confusing and scary time, so this, of course, sets her on a path of making some questionable decisions, and having to contend with not always pleasant people who are going to be supportive of her. Daphne is definitely a flawed and sometimes frustrating character. Sometimes I wanted to shake her because she was being foolhardy or blissfully un-self aware, but at the same time I remember what it was like being an 18 year old in the middle of a huge identity shift. From problems with her standoffish and judgmental roommate to conflict with her at home best friend to trying to reconcile her newly single status (especially since her ex Ronnie is really a good guy), Daphne is all kinds of realistic and relatable. I find myself really wanting her to succeed, even when she’s being all kinds of unreasonable.

And finally, I really love the artwork. It’s upbeat and colorful, and all of the characters have their unique feels while still being very of the style at hand. Plus, I love the coloring on the ghosts, which makes use of the darker side of the color wheel without being limited to just different shades of grey.

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(source)

I really enjoyed “Ghosted in L.A. (Vol. 1)”, and I will definitely be on the look out for Volume 2!

Rating 8: A super cute and creative comic about finding oneself and ghosts, “Ghosted in L.A.” has a lot of potential to become a new favorite comic series of mine!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Ghosted in L.A. (Vol.1)” is included on the Goodreads list “Paranormal Romance/Urban Fantasy Set in California”.

Find “Ghosted in L.A. (Vol.1)” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The City We Became”

42074525._sy475_Book: “The City We Became” by N.K. Jemisin

Publishing Info: Orbit, March 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: Every city has a soul. Some are as ancient as myths, and others are as new and destructive as children. New York City? She’s got five.

But every city also has a dark side. A roiling, ancient evil stirs beneath the earth, threatening to destroy the city and her five protectors unless they can come together and stop it once and for all.

Review: I’ve been a fan of Jemisin’s since years ago when I first read “The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.” But my love for her didn’t really set in until after I read the “Broken Earth” trilogy. Those books blew me away with the sheer scope of imagination and dexterity of language that were required to pull off such a feat. With those in mind, I went into this book knowing that if anyone could handle the strange set-up that was offered in the book description, it would be Jemisin. And she definitely does! Sadly, this book didn’t hit quite the same mark as the others of hers that I’ve read, but I suspect much of that is just down to my own reading preferences.

Birth is a painful, messy business. It can be as frightening as it is beautiful. A city’s birth is no different, especially for one such as New York City, a behemoth whose very soul can’t be contained in one vessel. Instead, when things begin to go wrong as NYC strives towards its own new life, five individuals are selected to represent the myriad of faces and lives that make up this one spirit. Together they must become the protectors the city needs and fight off a great evil that threatens this new life.

Even though this book wasn’t the huge hit for me that I was hoping for, there is still a lot to praise it for. As always, Jemisin’s creativity is without bounds. The idea of great cities developing souls is just fantastic, and the book takes that theme and runs with it into some crazy and unexpected places. The strength of writing needed to make some of these completely foreign fantasy elements make sense is mind boggling, and it’s here that Jemisin has always shined. There were a bunch of lines that not only jumped off the page, but more so slammed into my unprepared mind with all the beauty and shock of a firework. It was truly impressive.

Part of my struggle, however, also had to do with the writing. Not so much maybe the writing, but the way that it was so clearly an homage to New York City and the many cultures made up within that huge city. I’ve only visited NYC on one frantic, 24 hour period visit. So I know very little about the actual city itself. And for a book so focused on the heart of this city and the pieces that make it unique and tick, I was often left feeling like I was an outsider looking in. Many of the stronger pieces of writing I could see objectively as great, but I couldn’t connect to personally as it was so clearly talking about a specific place and people that I personally don’t know much about. And, unlike most second world fantasy where all readers are “newbies” learning about a world they don’t understand, this was clearly written to some extent with the idea that readers would know and connect to some of these elements, without the book itself needing to do that extra legwork. So, in this way, some of the mileage of this book might depend on the reader’s own familiarity, and to a lesser extent, interest, in New York City itself.

I also had a hard time feeling truly connected to many of the POV characters. The story starts off quite quickly and doesn’t spend much time laying out many details for readers. In some regards, this is a staple trick of Jemisin’s and one can have faith that the answers will come eventually. They do here as well. But this trick then depends on the reader connecting to and investing in the main characters themselves early on to carry one through until plot details begin to clarify. I’m not sure quite what the problem was here for me. Perhaps there were just too many characters, and combining that with the slow moving pieces of putting the plot together, was just too much.

Jemisin is also well-known for putting diverse characters first and foremost in her books, often strong women of color. And here, too, the cast is diverse across all kinds of lines. But there were also moments where I felt like the message (for lack of a better word) was a bit more hamfisted here than the incredibly powerful observations and mirrors that were held up in her previous works.  Really, it felt in some ways like this entire book was a bigger statement (particularly in response to the Lovecraft stuff that has pervaded SFF for so long) that the author needed to get out into the world.  And that’s a good thing! But it also, again, left it a bit harder for me to fully sink into this book as a reading experience.

Overall, I think this book is incredibly powerful and highlights again the strength of Jemisin’s skill as an author, both in her masterful world-building as well as just the strength of her writing. That this one didn’t really hit home for me could, in part, simply be due to my own lack of knowledge of (or real interest in) NYC itself. But for those with a stronger connection to that city, I’m sure some of these elements in particular will strike a much stronger chord. Fans of Jemisin’s work should definitely still try this out and those looking for an urban fantasy novel that breaks the mold for what urban fantasy typically offers are sure to be intrigued!

Rating 7: Incredibly unique with a widely diverse cast, but it was a bit harder to become invested in than other works by this author.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The City We Became” is on these Goodreads lists: “Adult Sci-Fi/Fantasy Releases of 2020” and “SFF Set in Global Cities (No YA).”

Find “The City We Became” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “Follow Me”

46408162._sy475_Book: “Follow Me” by Kathleen Barber

Publishing Info: Gallery Books, February 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Everyone wants new followers…until they follow you home.

Audrey Miller has an enviable new job at the Smithsonian, a body by reformer Pilates, an apartment door with a broken lock, and hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers to bear witness to it all. Having just moved to Washington, DC, Audrey busies herself impressing her new boss, interacting with her online fan base, and staving off a creepy upstairs neighbor with the help of the only two people she knows in town: an ex-boyfriend she can’t stay away from and a sorority sister with a high-powered job and a mysterious past.

But Audrey’s faulty door may be the least of her security concerns. Unbeknownst to her, her move has brought her within striking distance of someone who’s obsessively followed her social media presence for years—from her first WordPress blog to her most recent Instagram Story. No longer content to simply follow her carefully curated life from a distance, he consults the dark web for advice on how to make Audrey his and his alone. In his quest to win her heart, nothing is off-limits—and nothing is private.

Kathleen Barber’s electrifying new thriller will have you scrambling to cover your webcam and digital footprints.

Review: As you all know, I love the book “You” and it’s sequel “Hidden Bodies”. One of the creepiest aspects of those books is that we follow the stalker and creepazoid Joe Goldberg and get to root around in his head when he is obsessing over women, and going to violent lengths to get near them. As much as I LOVE those books, part of me has wondered how they would have been different if we’d been able to get a little more in the heads as his victims as much as we did his. So as I was reading “Follow Me” by Kathleen Barber, I was struck by the fact that that was basically what I was getting: insight into the stalking victim’s thought process and motivations.

“Follow Me” is another thriller novel that will make you want to double check your privacy settings on all of your social media, as the slow cat and mouse game of watching a mysterious stalker hone in on social media influencer Audrey is tense and freaky. Barber switches the perspectives between three distinct voices: ‘Him’, the stalker; Audrey, the ambitious and a little self involved social media influencer; and Cat, Audrey’s best friend from college whom she has reconnected with after moving to D.C. We get insights into each of the characters through these narratives, and while they aren’t always the most reliable, they all give key clues to the overarching mysteries at hand. I thought that all of them had distinct voices, and that Barber did a really good job of parsing out the pertinent clues between them. The pacing of their narratives really kept me interested, and the building suspense held a grip that kept me reeled in. Plus, at the beginning Barber has an author’s note that really lays out and explains some of the extra invasive and stalker-y tricks that some of these creeps will pull, like RAT software and spyware. This stuff is what nightmares are made of.

But what I appreciated most about this book was that it really humanized, but didn’t glamorize or infantilize, our stalking victim Audrey. Too often do we find narratives in the thriller genre in which women are either innocent and naive victims, or conniving bitches and/or whores who somehow deserve what is coming to them. Even “You” sometimes treads towards this, though I think that it ultimately doesn’t fall into this because EVERYONE in that book is horrible so it’s an even playing field (plus, what Joe does to Beck is horrifying). But in “Follow Me”, Audrey is given a lot of grace, even if she’s incredibly flawed. I was both hoping that everything would be okay for her, and also wanting to shake her because of her self involvement and mistreatment of those around her. I do wish that the same grace had been granted to Cat, as while we did learn a lot about of things about her past that explained her strange quirks, she felt a bit more two dimensional than I wanted her to be.

I will say that I thought that there were some hasty plot twists thrown in, and that the end fell apart by the time we got there. There were just some things that felt obvious and slapdash, and had the foundation been laid out a bit better it would have paid off more. But the journey getting to the end was so suspenseful and engaging that I didn’t really care about some of the ill conceived twists and turns.

“Follow Me” was a fun and unsettling read. Definitely pick it up if you want a suspenseful book, but also make sure you have something to cover your computer camera with once you are done with it.

Rating 8: A fast paced and suspenseful thriller that was enjoyable. It kind of fell apart at the end, but the time getting there was far too entertaining to discount.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Follow Me” is included on the Goodreads lists “Psychological Suspense for 2020 (U.S. Publications Jan-July 2020)”.

Find “Follow Me” at your library using WorldCat!

Not Just Books: April 2020

While we do love us some books, believe it not, we do have a life outside of reading. So to highlight our other pop culture interests, on the last Monday of each month, we each will highlight three other “happenings” from the last month. Big events on favorite TV shows, new movies we’ve watched, old movies we’ve “discovered,” etc. Pretty much whatever we found of particular interest outside of the book world during the last month. Share your own favorite things in the comments!

Serena’s Picks

mv5botqymza1nzg4ml5bml5banbnxkftztcwntqxmtg4mw4040._v1_TV Show: “Miranda” 

I originally came across Miranda Hart in “Call the Midwife” where she plays one of the beloved midwife characters. And then more recently, she was one of the bright points in the new “Emma” movie as Miss Bates. So I was super excited when I strayed across this, her own show, while browsing Hulu. It was even more shocking to realize it had been around and my beloved Tom Ellis was the romantic lead (before his “Lucifer” days, as this is like a completely opposite character). They’re both just so delightfully lovable. And the humor is just the right brand of wacky British comedy that I like best. In particular, Miranda’s overbearing mother has a bunch of lines I’ll probably be, what I call, quoting (inside joke for those who’ve already watched!) for quite a while. Such fun!

facebook-share-default-04812acb25dba13239f3dbe52750ff0f4ae58cc52b5924e7cf6ffea5e1b8993d4f07bb5918b25cb9f8bb8f626f694e20e579f8eb50a43de1c1fd2fc1d6c81a60Phone Game: “Hearthstone”

I’m one of those people who played “Magic: The Gathering” for quite a while there. I never actually got into buying the physical cards, but I played the free Xbox versions quite a bit for a few years. Hearthstone is essentially the “Magic” equivalent for your smartphone. There are pay-to-play options, but it’s quite doable to play a bunch of this game without spending any money, something that’s a must for me with phone games. If you have any interest in extremely geeky card battle games, this is definitely a fun one to check out.

p17483205_b_v8_acTV Show: “Project Runway”

I definitely was one of those people who swore off this show once I learned that Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn were leaving. But, quarantine folks, it calls for desperate measures! So the other week I started watching…and then binge watched the two whole seasons that I missed. And, I came around. I still prefer Heidi and Tim, but Christian Siriano, especially, grew on me as the new mentor. He doesn’t try to be Tim Gunn and has his only little pet-peeves and things he focused in on. He also wasn’t an overwhelming presence, which was my initial concern when I heard he was taking over that role. Karlie Kloss is also fine as the host. She doesn’t add that much, but she’s also not a distraction. I also really liked the winners of both seasons with these two, so that’s always a plus!

Kate’s Picks

happy_death_day_posterFilms: The “Happy Death Day” Movies

It probably comes as a surprise to absolutely no one that one of my comfort activities is to watch horror movies. Well, horror movies that purely entertain and don’t make me uncomfortable. One of my favorite horror movie series of the past decade is the “Happy Death Day” Duology, in which a young woman named Tree is living the day she was murdered over and over and over again in a “Groundhog Day” like time loop, hoping that finding the killer can stop it. The original, “Happy Death Day” is funny as hell and very creative, and the second one, “Happy Death Day 2 U”, manages to expand upon the mythos without ruining anything. And the biggest reason I love these movies is Tree herself. Tree is a subversion of the ‘Final Girl’ trope, as when we meet her she isn’t very nice, and breaks all the ‘rules’ of surviving a slasher movie. But Tree grows and changes as her story goes on, without losing her edge. She’s the best Final Girl since Sidney Prescott. I love these movies so freaking much.

harveybirdmantitleTV Show: “Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law”

I almost shrieked when I saw that this was streaming on Hulu. “Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law” was a huge favorite of mine during the end of it’s run. I was in college, I subsisted on Adult Swim, and “Harvey Birdman” was up there with “Venture Bros” and “Metalocalypse” for favorites. It’s essentially Birdman, a Hanna Barbera character, reimagined as a lawyer, representing other Hanna Barbera characters for committing various crimes (that more often than not riff on the character’s schtick. Think Shaggy and Scooby getting busted for pot, things like that). It takes clips from old shows and mixes it with new footage to make something weird and hilarious. Gary Cole plays Harvey, and other cast members include John Michael Higgins, Paget Brewster, and Stephen Colbert. It’s so snarky and funny and kind of nostalgic. And filled with lawyer humor, a humor I am VERY familiar with.

pic1900075Card Game: Sushi Go!

So Serena and I have been doing our best to keep in touch during quarantine. One of the ways we’ve done that is by playing online adaptations of various card and board games on boardgamearena.com with our husbands. My favorite of the games we’ve been playing is Sushi Go! It’s a card game where you basically collect sushi dishes for points. It’s simple, it’s really cute (as the sushis all have little faces and stuff), and the only downside is that it’s making me crave sushi during a time where sushi isn’t as easy to come by.

My Year with Jane Austen: “Bridget Jones’s Diary” [2001]

mv5byjc3nju1ztetnmnjni00yznilwi3owqtmtjmytrkzdc1nde2xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtqxnzmzndi40._v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_Movie: “Bridget Jones’s Diary”

Release Year: 2001

Actors: Bridget Jones – Renee Zellweger

Mark Darcy – Colin Firth

Daniel Cleaver – Hugh Grant

Bridget’s Mum (actually the character title, according to IMDB!) – Gemma Jones

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

As I mentioned in our comfort reads post on Monday, “Bridget Jones’s Diary” is one of my go-to comfort reads when times are stressful. But, I think like most Americans, I watched the movie before I was aware there was a book. And in many ways, it has served a similar purpose, if in a different format. It’s definitely one of those movies I go to when I need a quick laugh and a guaranteed happy ending.

Having just re-read the book this last winter, however, it was interesting to note the various differences between the two stories. While it’s clear that the book was inspired by “Pride and Prejudice,” in many ways the movie leaned much more into this theme than the book ever did itself. Most notably, the similar history and confusion between Mark Darcy/Mr. Darcy and Daniel Cleaver/Mr. Wickham is missing from the book. There, Bridget simply doesn’t get a long with Mark until she begins to be around him more and appreciate his good qualities. But she doesn’t have any false impressions based on lies from Daniel. Similarly, Daniel is a scumbag for actions he takes in this book itself, not any personal history of breaking up Mark’s marriage. It works well in the book, but with much less time to establish its story, I really like that the movie went full throttle with upping the similarities between these two stories.

The characters themselves (other than perhaps Daniel) are a fairly far cry from the originals. Bridge is not a refined lady who earns respect in spite of a nonsense family. Mark Darcy, while stuck up, is not nearly as clueless with women as Mr. Darcy is (especially with that first proposal in the book). Bridget’s mum (an interesting combination of Mrs. Bennet and Lydia) is probably the most similar to her book counterparts.

I’ve watched the two sequels as well, but they don’t capture the same magic as this one. Having lost the connection to the book, the movies fall back on some tired comedy moments, repeating great scenes from this book to lesser effect. I don’t hate them, but they’re definitely not up to the standard that this one. The most unforgivable aspect of them both are the hurdles that are thrown up between Bridget and Mark. The third one is especially bad on this front, and I’ve still not forgiven it.

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

Bridget Jones is no Elizabeth Bennet, that’s for sure! But that’s not a complaint, as this  movie is clearly not attempting to be a straight modern adaptation (unlike “Clueless” is for “Emma”). Her comedy elements are also not similar to any of the Bennet sisters. In the book, the things that make us laugh at the Bennet sisters are also things that make us, not dislike them, that’s too strong of a word, but things that would disqualify them as leading ladies themselves. Their silliness is of the conceited variety, and they all lack self-awareness. While Bridget is ridiculous, it’s clear that she’s aware of it (if still not able to prevent it in the moment). She’s just the sort of character who is endearing to many women, I think.

We can all sympathize with her struggles with body image. Though I will say that her complaints about weight when starting out from a “whopping” 135 lbs are a bit hard to stomach. I’m not sure if this is a changing times thing or what, but it really stood out to me in this re-watch, how off-base her actual weight was to her struggles. While in some ways this is highly accurate (many women struggle with concerns over weight that wouldn’t occur to anyone looking at them), the way the movie (and book) present it makes it seem like most women are supposed to fall in Bridget’s category. I can’t speak to average weights of women, but I do think that to present 135 lbs as some great normal of “women who want to lose weight” is a bit out of touch. All of that aside, however, the general struggles of beautifying oneself that Bridget goes through are highly relatable.

So, too, her feeling that she always comes across as awkward and ridiculous.

“Because every time I see you, you seem to go out of your way to make me feel like a complete idiot. And you really needn’t bother. I already feel like an idiot most of the time anyway.”

Of course, being an extreme, the character often is those things. But her feelings are just the sort that many women struggle with when stuck in a self-critical spot. What makes this really great, however, are the few moments when the camera shifts perspectives to show us Bridget through Mark Darcy’s eyes. Suddenly, through his lens, she is bright, funny, and magnetic in her ease of just being herself. It’s a wonderful way of contrasting the inner struggles that many women have with self-worth with the way they are viewed by those who love them.

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

There’s no exaggerating the sheer perfection it was on whomever’s part who had the idea to simply recast Colin Firth as the Mr. Darcy character. In 2001, the BBC version was still fresh enough in everyone’s minds that I’m sure it was a challenge to think of a replacement actor. So whoever was smart enough to just say “Hey, why not just get the same guy?” deserves serious kudos. It’s the kind of thing that could read as very campy in a different movie or with a different character/actor. But here, it works perfectly. Just by having the same actor play the part, the movie benefits from a bunch of unspoken and carried over assumptions. Very little leg work needs to be done to lay the foundation of Darcy’s character or his gradual shift in appreciation for Bridget.

There first meeting is one of the moments that is very similar to the book’s version: an immediate distaste on Darcy’s part, an overheard conversation of rudeness, and the stage is set. However, unlike in the book, here it is almost worse because of Bridget’s more real vulnerability to these types of nasty statements. Elizabeth was self-assured and could see the sheer ridiculousness in Darcy’s rudeness in the book and laugh it off. Bridget has real insecurities she’s dealing with and Mark Darcy’s works strike at painful parts of herself and are harder to take for the viewer who is already rooting for her.

But to contrast this more harsh meeting, we also get to see more of Mark Darcy’s kindness and humor. His offer to let Bridget interview his client when she was on the verge of being fired is very noble, not the least because he’s aware of her tendency to make these types of formal moments rather ridiculous and still goes forward with a live TV interview. And, of course, the birthday dinner that follows. Luckily, unlike the 1995 “Pride and Prejudice,” we get to see Colin Firth smile and laugh a lot more in this section. It’s a very necessary moment to establish the good chemistry between these two when they’re on their own, uninfluenced by the negative forces often swirling around them (their parents, Natasha, Daniel, etc).

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

Natasha, Mark Darcy’s law partner and brief-fiancee, is the Miss Bingley of this story. Though, ending up with even a short engagement, she has much more success than the latter character ever did. She’s only around briefly in a few scenes, but she always serves as a stark contrast to Bridget: cold, uptight, and condescendingly disapproving of anything that approaches fun. Her statements of Bridget and Daniel’s childishness while on their weekend giveaway are in complete opposition to the clear wishfulness that is plastered all over Mark’s face as he watches the other couple goof around. Beyond the comparison, any woman who snaps her fingers at someone to get them to “come along” is by definition a villain. One only wishes that this movie had a similarly cathartic scene between these two as the one where Mr. Darcy shuts Caroline Bingley up with his comments about Elizabeth being one of the handsomest women of his acquaintance.

Daniel, of course, is the true villain. Like Wickham, it’s easy to see the allure and immediate attraction of the character. He’s charming, good looking, and just the sort of confident that makes one feel quite singled-out if he pays you any attention. Bridget is quick to fall under his sway. Unlike Wickham, however, I feel like Daniel is also more obviously sleazy from the start. I’m not sure if it’s just my general “meh”-ness about Hugh Grant or not, but Daniel definitely has a “player” vibe right from the get go that immediately puts up flags. It’s really no shock when Bridget finds another women at his flat half way through the movie.

But his true sleazebag qualities don’t become clear until the last third. Especially during the scene where he breaks up Bridget’s birthday dinner. All of his lines here are just terrible and no woman in her right mind should go for it: “If I can’t make it with you, I can’t make it with anyone.” Yuck! Talk about veiled insults. Luckily, Bridget isn’t taken in a second time. Though it still isn’t until much later that she realizes that Daniel lied about his relationship with Mark, that Daniel slept with Mark’s wife, not the other way around.

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

I’m halfway convinced that Colin Firth was cast as Mark Darcy just so we could get the exact same adoring look from him to Bridget as we had from Mr. Darcy to Elizabeth. It’s so distinctive that you can’t help but notice the similarities between the two. However, extra props go out to the child actor who plays the young Mark Darcy in the flash-back credits scenes we get. Towards the end of the sequence, we see him give the same adoring look to young Bridget, and it’s nearly pitch perfect to Colin Firth’s look. Bravo!

Mark Darcy definitely has one up on Mr. Darcy when it comes to the “first proposal” scene in this movie. Obviously not an actual proposal, but it serves the same purpose: letting the clueless heroine in on the fact that she’s attracted the attention of the hero, someone she’s hated up to this point and thought hated her. But, unlike Mr. Darcy, Mark avoids too many direct insults to her family and doesn’t have the same overarching pride throughout his speech. He does list off some of Bridget’s quirks, but sums it up by saying that he “likes her just as she is.” Notably, not “in spite of what she is,” which is essentially what the original Mr. Darcy said. Bridget’s later meet-up with her friends highlights just how special this little phrase is, with each of her friends bewildered and asking for clarification, is she sure he didn’t mention a smaller nose or something?

Bridget, of course, follows up with her own speech towards the end of the movie. She slips in a funny little line about rethinking the length of his sideburns (something I think most audiences would agree with here and potentially also in the 1995 movie), but she ends with her also liking him. Of course, this is all followed with his engagement announcement and the grand romantic finale doesn’t come until later.

The last scene is really great in that it commits fully to the romance of the moment, but doesn’t lose sight of the comedy. Bridget’s avoiding kisses so she can escape and change into skimpy underwear is hilarious. Leading, of course, to the final “misunderstanding” where Mark spots her journal and leaves suddenly. My only quibble with this final scene is Mark’s last line after Bridget comments that nice guys don’t kiss like that. His line is “Oh yes they fucking do.” And, I don’t know, I’m not a prude about swear words or anything, but this line just feels so off. Colin Firth seems to stumble with the delivery, and it’s unclear what the tone is really supposed to be. I always find it distracting and that it takes away from the climax of romance we’re supposed to be in the midst of. The one line in the entire movie that I think should have been work-shopped some.

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

Gemma Jones is simply excellent as Bridget’s mother. Whenever she’s on screen she captures the moment and is hilarious. The movie does an interesting thing by essentially combining the characters of Mrs. Bennet and Lydia into one character here. We have the ridiculous mother, desperate to marry off her daughter on one hand. And then the silly, frivolous woman who dashes off with a sleazy man, leaving her devastated family behind. Of course, it all works out better for Bridget’s mum than it did for Lydia, as she gets to return to her loving, and shockingly forgiving, husband in the end and essentially pick her life back up where she left it.

Bridget’s friends are also good for some laughs, particularly her snobby co-worker Perpetua, and Tom, who is always trying to pick up men with his fading fame from a one-hit-wonder song. I also really love the dinner scene where Bridget finds herself surrounded by “smug married couples” and each couple introduces themselves with matching “hi’s.” It’s cringe-worthy and perfectly puts you in Bridget’s corner during the entire thing.

But, by and large, much of the comedy comes from Bridget herself. It’s really hats off to Zellweger for carrying to much of this movie herself. With the wrong casting, so much of this could have gone poorly.

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

We’ve seen Gemma Jones and Hugh Grant before in “Sense and Sensibility” [1995]. I think they’re each better cast in their roles here. As I said, Hugh Grant isn’t a favorite of mine, but I think he shines in roles like this where he can lean into some of the sleaze. And Gemma Jones, while fine as Mrs. Dashwood, is much better when she’s allowed to spread her wings with the comedy.

Zellweger committed fully to the part and the accent. She used it throughout the entire shooting of the film, even when the cameras weren’t rolling. Apparently, Hugh Grant didn’t hear her real accent until a party after the movie was finished. She pulled it off so well that she was able to pass as a British citizen while studying for her role and working at a publishing industry for a month.

She also gained 25 lbs for the movie. I had heard this fact several times before as some  big deal of commitment to the part. But to my mind, it just adds to the weirdness of 135 lbs being treated as some huge weight that someone would struggle against. If anything, this fact just makes me think that Zellweger was unhealthily skinny before hand if she came in at 110. The book has a nice bit where Bridget gets to her dream weight, and everyone around her comments that she looks sick and looked better before. It was a nice balance to all the concern about weight throughout the rest of the book. The movie, without this bit, does struggle in this area, though luckily it doesn’t focus on it too much.

It’s ironic that the character who plays Jude, Shirley Henderson, is introduced in this movie as crying in a bathroom. She went on to play Moaning Myrtle in “Harry Potter,” a ghost who haunts a bathroom, often crying and flooding it. Also, it’s weird that she plays a teenager in that film which came out a year after this one and a 30-something here.

We will see Embeth Davidtz, who plays Natasha, again in “Mansfield Park” [1999] where she appears as Miss. Crawford.

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

This scene, with Bridget drinking alone and singing “All by myself,” has to be one of my favorite title card sequences ever.

And this is just a favorite reaction gif of mine in general:

In two weeks, I’ll review the YouTube adaptation, “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries”

Kate’s Review: “Something She’s Not Telling Us”

44594911Book: “Something She’s Not Telling Us” by Darcey Bell

Publishing Info: Harper, April 2020

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

Book Description: She’s on the verge of having it all…

But one woman stands in her way.

Charlotte has everything in life that she ever could have hoped for: a doting, artistic husband, a small-but-thriving flower shop, and her sweet, smart five-year-old daughter, Daisy. Her relationship with her mother might be strained, but the distance between them helps. And her younger brother Rocco may have horrible taste in women, but when he introduces his new girlfriend to Charlotte and her family, they are cautiously optimistic that she could be The One. Daisy seems to love Ruth, and she can’t be any worse than the klepto Rocco brought home the last time. At least, that’s what Charlotte keeps telling herself. But as Rocco and Ruth’s relationship becomes more serious, Ruth’s apparent obsession with Daisy grows more obvious. Then Daisy is kidnapped, and Charlotte is convinced there’s only one person who could have taken her.

Ruth has never had much, but now she’s finally on the verge of having everything she’s ever dreamed of. A stable job at a start-up company, a rakish, handsome boyfriend with whom she falls more in love with every day—and a chance at the happy family she’s always wanted, adorable niece included. The only obstacle standing in her way is her boyfriend’s sister Charlotte, whose attitude swerves between politely cold and outright hostile. Rebuffing Ruth’s every attempt to build a friendship with her and Daisy, Charlotte watches over her daughter with a desperate protectiveness that sends chills down Ruth’s spine. Ruth knows that Charlotte has a deeply-buried secret, the only question is: what? A surprise outing with Daisy could be the key to finding out, and Ruth knows she must take the chance while she has it—for everyone’s sake.

As the two women follow each other down a chilling rabbit hole, unearthing winding paths of deceit, lies, and trauma, a family and a future will be completely—and irrevocably—shattered.

From its very first page, Something She’s Not Telling Us takes hold of readers’ imagination in a harrowing, unforgettable thriller that dives deep into the domestic psyche and asks the question:

Is anyone ever really who they say they are…?

Review: Thanks to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this novel!

When the movie “A Simple Favor” came out I was interested in seeing it, but knew that I should probably read the book first. So I listened to the Darcey Bell thriller while driving in the car, and while it was fine, I ultimately liked the movie version better. Scandalous, I know. But I did like it enough that I wanted to see more from Bell. So when I saw that her newest novel, “Something She’s Not Telling Us”, was up on NetGalley, I requested it, hoping that I would get to read it. There’s definitely something about Bell and the way she writes and crafts a story, in that it can suck you in and be unrelenting.

What I will say about “Something She’s Not Telling Us” is that, once again, I got sucked in pretty handily. It’s told from (mostly) two perspectives of two different women. The first is Charlotte, a high stung and privileged wife and mother living in New York City. She has a loving husband, a darling daughter named Daisy, and a job that she enjoys, though she is constantly fretting about Daisy’s well being and judging her younger brother Rocco for his poor taste in girlfriends. The other perspective is that of Ruth, Rocco’s current girlfriend who is desperate to impress Charlotte and hoping that Rocco is The One. As the two women interact we are treated to two unreliable narrators in their own ways, one seemingly wearing her heart on her sleeve while the other is trying to control a narrative. As we switched between their perspectives, the pacing was such that I felt like it was very easy to keep going between the two. It was incredibly readable, and I devoured the book in a couple of sittings in a weekend.

But ultimately, “Something She’s Not Telling Us” had the same pitfalls that “A Simple Favor” did. The first is that the mystery was perfectly fine and one I was invested in, but I kind of figured out a number of aspects to it quickly. It was clear from the get go that both Charlotte and Ruth were going to be unreliable in their own ways, but it wasn’t very difficult for me to tell which one was the one to be keeping my eye on. On top of that, there were very few actually likable people in this book, which was the same problem I had with “A Simple Favor”, the book. None of them felt particularly complex in their characterizations, so their nastiness didn’t really have any sort of softened blow. Sure, some tragic childhood stuff was tossed in, but not enough exploration or depth was done to make it feel like much more than a catch all. And the problem with unlikable or unrelateable characters at the end of the day is that ultimately, you aren’t invested in what happens to them. I did want to keep reading, but it wasn’t because of any of the characters that I was following. And frankly, when it gets down to it there wasn’t really anything unique or new about the various reveals and twists that we saw here. Readable, yes, but not exactly unique or memorable.

I’m still interested in reading what Bell may come out with in the future, mainly because there still continues to be a certain something that kept me going and reading. But “Something She’s Not Telling Us” didn’t stand out from other run of the mill thrillers that are coming out at the moment.

Rating 5: A very readable thriller, but not one with a lot of new things to say, “Something She’s Not Telling Us” has some okay twists, but not many interesting characters or plot developments.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Something She’s Not Telling Us” is included on the Goodreads list “Crime, Mystery, & Thrillers, 2020”.

Find “Something She’s Not Telling Us” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “A Murderous Relation”

35530507Book: “A Murderous Relation” by Deanna Raybourn

Publishing Info: Berkley, March 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: Veronica Speedwell and her natural historian colleague Stoker are asked by Lady Wellingtonia Beauclerk to help with a potential scandal so explosive it threatens to rock the monarchy. Prince Albert Victor is a regular visitor to the most exclusive private club in London, known as the Club de l’Etoile, and the proprietess, Madame Aurore, has received an expensive gift that can be traced back to the prince. Lady Wellie would like Veronica and Stoker to retrieve the jewel from the club before scandal can break.

Worse yet, London is gripped by hysteria in the autumn of 1888, terrorized by what would become the most notorious and elusive serial killer in history, Jack the Ripper–and Lady Wellie suspects the prince may be responsible.

Veronica and Stoker reluctantly agree to go undercover at Madame Aurore’s high class brothel, where another body soon turns up. Many secrets are swirling around Veronica and the royal family–and it’s up to Veronica and Stoker to find the truth, before it’s too late for all of them. 

Previously Reviewed: “A Curious Beginning,” “A Perilous Undertaking,”“A Treacherous Curse” and “A Dangerous Collaboration” 

Review: I was even more excited than usual to pick up the latest “Veronica Speedwell” mystery when it came out. Finally, at the end of the last book, it seemed like Veronica and Stoker were finally confirming their romantic interest in one another. But, in a cruel twist of authorial spite, readers were left right at the brink of these two actually acting on their feelings. So here, in the next book, how would this newly forming relationship affect their working relationship and would we finally see them actually together? Well, yes, but not necessarily in the way I would have preferred.

Immediately upon their return to London, Veronica and Stoker once again find themselves caught up in mystery and scandal. This time, rather than solve a mystery, they are tasked with protecting Veronica’s “family,” the monarchy that has not acknowledged her. To do this, they must go under cover into an elaborate private club in hopes of retrieving a rare jewel that can be used to implicate Prince Albert Victor. But things are never as simple as they seem, and soon enough Veronica and Stoker find themselves mixed up with familiar foes and wandering streets that are plagued by a horrific serial killer.

So, this was a bit of a frustrating read for me. It seems that recently the books in this series have been see-sawing a bit as far as my enjoyment goes. The third book I found to be a bit lagging, but I loved the fourth book. Sadly, here, we see a return to some of the dragging bits. Ultimately, I struggled with two aspects of this: first, like in the third book, it felt like the author was not willing to deal with the burgeoning romance she had started and instead created roadblocks and delays that didn’t feel natural to the story; and second, there was a distinct feeling of familiarity and lack of new material to this particular story.

When I said “immediately” in my book description about how quickly the mystery started, I meant immediately. So much so that the entire question of the burgeoning romance between Stoker and Veronica is effectively sidelined right off the bat. From there, the book is quick to establish how tired they both are, how the beginning of a case is not the right time, etc, etc. And then the rest of the book happens with the entire mystery taking place in one full swoop spanning a hectic day and a half or so. Right there, we have a problem. Regardless of how silly and obvious some of the “tiredness” and “not the right time” conversations felt, the mystery itself did not gain anything for having to frantically move fast enough from one element to another in order to prevent addressing the romantic elephant in the room. Emotional moments didn’t ring as true or feel as earned. The build-up, crescendo, and conclusion to the mystery itself felt rushed, making it hard to feel invested in what was happening. It all felt forced and I think hurt the story more than it accomplished…whatever it was trying to accomplish.

My second problem had to do with the actual elements involved in the story. Almost all of it were retreads of themes, characters, and dilemmas that were found in previous books. We’ve already covered much of the emotional groundwork to be had with regards to Veronica and her feelings towards a royal family who doesn’t want to acknowledge her unless she can do them some favor. There has already been an entire book about a salacious secret society, so the escapades at the private club feel all too familiar. Even the villain, for the most part, is a return to a motivation and individual we’ve seen before. And for all of that, the Jack the Ripper portions that are teased in the book description are barely worth mentioning.

The primary strength of the series has always been Veronica and Stoker themselves. But even they, when given tired material that offers no room for new personal growth, can only do so much. Veronica’s voice is still strong and compelling, but that’s probably the best that can be said. Stoker felt largely absent from the story, even when he was right there on the page. And the small bits of emotional groundwork covered between the two of them felt like, again, retreads of conflicts that had already been resolved. There is a payoff for these two at the end, but I found it to be too little too late.

Overall, I was pretty disappointed by this book. It felt like the author had ran out of ideas as far as the mystery went. And then was too scared to confront the changing romance she had started in the last book, so she threw in a bunch unnecessary and ridiculous roadblocks in order to write one more book between these two prior to any romantic commitment. I honestly don’t understand the concern here. I’ve often compared this series to the “Amelia Peabody” books. And in that series there was only one book before our main characters not only paired up, but got married! And then only one more book or so before they had a kid along with them! And that series never lost anything for resolving the “will they/won’t they” aspect early, let alone 5 books in like this one. Frankly, I feel like this shying away from resolving “will they/won’t they” relationships in general, across all media formats, needs to die a quick and final death.

I believe the author has a contract with a publisher to write at least two more books, so of course I’ll be reading them. And, at least given the events of the end of this book, this whole relationship thing should be settled. Hopefully she’ll come out with some more unique themes and elements, too. But if I catch even a whiff of forced drama to the romance of this story again, I’m pretty sure I’m out.

Rating 6: A disappointing follow-up after one of my favorites in the series so far. The author seemed to run out of ideas and resorted to pulling old tricks out of her hat. And then became a deer in the headlights with the romance she had written herself into at the end of the last book.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“A Murderous Relation” is a newer title so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “Historical Mystery 2020.”

Find “A Murderous Relation” at your library using WorldCat!