Kate’s Review: “Salvation Station”

48927102._sy475_Book: “Salvation Station” by Kathryn Schleich

Publishing Info: She Writes Press, April 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from Book Publicity Services

Book Description: When committed female police captain Linda Turner, haunted by the murders of two small children and their pastor father, becomes obsessed with solving the harrowing case, she finds herself wrapped up in a mission to expose a fraudulent religious organization and an unrepentant killer.

Despite her years of experience investigating homicides for the force, Captain Linda Turner is haunted by the murders of the Hansen family. The two small children, clothed in tattered Disney pajamas, were buried with their father, a pastor, in the flower garden behind a church parsonage in Lincoln, Nebraska. But Mrs. Hansen is nowhere to be found—and neither is the killer.

In St. Louis, the televangelist Ray Williams is about to lose his show—until one of his regular attendees approaches him with an idea that will help him save it. Despite his initial misgivings, Ray agrees to give it a try. He can’t deny his attraction to this woman, and besides, she’d assured him the plan is just—God gave her the instructions in a dream.

Multiple story lines entwine throughout this compelling mystery, delving into the topics of murder, religious faith, and the inherent dangers in blindly accepting faith as truth. While Reverend Williams is swept up in his newfound success and plans for his wedding, Captain Turner can only hope that she and her team will catch the Hansens’ cunning killer—before more bodies surface. 

Review: Thank you to Book Publicity Services for sending me an ARC of this novel!

There is one particular scene in “The Silence of the Lambs” where I find myself closest to relating to Hannibal Lecter (Go with me, I promise this isn’t creepy). When Clarice Starling visits him after finding a human head in a storage space, he is being punished for goading on a fellow inmate into committing suicide. His punishment is having to sit in the dark of his cell with a televangelist station on at full blast. I’m with you, Lecter, that sounds awful. When Book Publicity Services contacted me about “Salvation Station” by Kathryn Schleich, the aspect that really stood out to me was the televangelist preacher who may be putting his faith into the wrong person. So that angle was what compelled me to read and review the book, even if I didn’t know what to expect. I don’t know if it was my lack of other expectations or what, but I dove into “Salvation Station” and found myself completely taken in its web.

The first aspect of this book I liked is that from the get go, we know who the bad guy is. We know that this Susannah Baker character is assuredly the same woman who was married to the murdered Reverend that our protagonist is trying to catch. So instead of writing a thriller that’s mostly whodunnit, it is instead a cat and mouse tale in which you are desperate to know if Susannah is going to exposed as the conniving murderer that we know her to be. Schleich is pitch perfect in making the villain a character you love to hate. She is so venomous and so calculating that I found myself just ACHING for her to get what was coming to her. The pious woman of God act is both extra maddening, but it also rang super true in that unfortunately there have been plenty of con artists who have abused people’s faith in order to make them victims. We don’t get as much of an insight into Ray, the televangelist who is taken in by Susannah’s flattery and supposed born-again life, but that perhaps that was the point. At the end of the day he’s a guy who is devoted to the idea of devoted and pious wives, and so Susannah knew exactly how to play him like a harp. Perhaps it’s a greater commentary on the evangelical culture, but that’s not my business. Ultimately, Susannah is the center of this part of the story, and she is pitch perfect in her psychopathy. She is THE WORST.

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So clearly Schleich nailed it. (source)

On the flip side of this cat and mouse game is Linda, a tenacious Nebraska police captain who is on Susannah’s trail. Linda was horrified to find a local reverend and his two children buried in a garden, and has made it her mission to track down his wife, who they have deemed responsible. Linda was also a great character to follow, as she is the perfect foil to Susannah who is driven by the need for justice. You get the feeling that this case is a little personal to her, and as we get to see her own background and the things she’s been through she makes all the more sense in her choices and motivations. I also really enjoyed the steps that we take to see her investigate while we see Susannah laying out her new traps. It served as a satisfying juxtaposition, and made me want to read quicker and quicker to see how it was all going to play out. Plus, she has a fun relationship with another investigator that doesn’t overtake her story, but adds some fun spice to it.

There was one issue that I had with this book, though it’s a nit pick to be sure as it’s just a single moment. Still, it left enough of a bad taste in my mouth that I wanted to address it here. At one point Linda is musing about the kind of woman who could kill her own children, and she draws comparisons to both Susan Smith and Andrea Yates. Smith is apt to be sure, but I really wasn’t happy that Yates was mentioned, as she was in a post-partum psychotic break when she drowned her five children in the bathtub. She wasn’t a psychopath, she was severely, SEVERELY mentally ill. As horrific as her actions were, and they were HORRIFIC, it wasn’t a fair comparison.

Overall, I really liked “Salvation Station”! Fans of the hunt in a thriller novel really need to give it a go, I think you will find lots to like!

Rating 8: A fun and complex thriller that addresses the dangers of blind faith and the lengths greed will go, “Salvation Station” was a great read.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Salvation Station” isn’t on any Goodreads lists as of yet, but I think that it would fit in on “Con Men, Gamblers, and Hustlers”.

Find “Salvation Station” at your library using WorldCat!

Giveaway: “A Cerulean Queen”

45046550Book: “A Cerulean Queen” by Sarah Kozloff

Publishing Info: Tor Books, April 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Book Description: The true queen of Weirandale has returned.

Cerulia has done the impossible and regained the throne. However, she’s inherited a council of traitors, a realm in chaos, and a war with Oromondo.

Now a master of her Gift, to return order to her kingdom she will use all she has learned—humility, leadership, compassion, selflessness, and the necessity of ruthlessness.

Previously Reviewed: “A Queen in Hiding” and “The Queen of Raiders” and “A Broken Queen”

 

Giveaway Details: Continuing my partnership with the publisher, I’m back to offer the final giveaway for the final book in the “Nine Realms” series! I’ve included links to my reviews for the first three books, so check those out to see how far we’ve come and what my thoughts were on each of those. A quick review though, I liked them all and particularly enjoyed the most recent book, “A Broken Queen.” On that high note, I was excited to see how things would finally wrap up here at the end. My review for “A Cerulean Queen” comes out this Friday.

For those who have been keeping pace with the series (I love this publication style, but I’ll admit it’s a challenge, the best kind, of course, to keep up with things), here’s your opportunity to win a finished copy of the final book in the series. Of course, even if you’re still a bit behind, now’s your chance to have the last book all queued up for when you do catch up!This giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and ends on April 22.

Enter to win!

Kate’s Review: “The Book of Koli”

51285749Book: “The Book of Koli” by M.R. Carey

Publishing Info: Orbit, April 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I was sent a copy by the publisher.

Book Description: Beyond the walls of the small village of Mythen Rood lies an unrecognizable world. A world where overgrown forests are filled with choker trees and deadly vines and seeds that will kill you where you stand. And if they don’t get you, one of the dangerous shunned men will.

Koli has lived in Mythen Rood his entire life. He knows the first rule of survival is that you don’t venture beyond the walls.

What he doesn’t know is – what happens when you aren’t given a choice?

The first in a gripping new trilogy, The Book of Koli charts the journey of one unforgettable young boy struggling to find his place in a chilling post-apocalyptic world. Perfect for readers of Station Eleven and Annihilation.

Review: Thanks to Orbit for sending me a copy of this novel!

I requested to read “The Book of Koli” in early March. The plot of a post-apocalyptic ravaged world overrun by killer plants sounded both wholly unique and super intriguing, Given that, in general, post-apocalyptic wasteland dystopias are my jam, I was excited to get a book not only about that very subject, but by M.R. Carey, whose works I have mostly enjoyed.

And then the COVID-19 shit hit the fan and it started to feel like we were living in an actual precursor to a post-apocalyptic world.

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The timing…. wasn’t great. (source)

I honestly cannot get on board the ‘let’s read all the apocalyptic fiction!’ train that I’ve seen as of late. My husband joked about starting to read our baby “The Stand” and I pretty much yelled at him that he wasn’t and has never been funny. So yeah, the idea of reading this book had me a bit wound up. Anxieties off the charts, I knew that I needed to read this book so I jumped in trying not to think of the doom and gloom of the real world. And what happened next was not at all “The Book of Koli”‘s fault. Extenuating circumstances like whoa made it so I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I thought I would.

But there is a lot that this book has going for it, and I’m going to really focus on that. Because the fact this book didn’t connect as much with me at this moment in time probably has very little to do with the actual content. The first thing that struck me was how Carey was toying with the idea of language, and how the language in this world (a future set England) has changed and evolved over time. It’s not as slang driven as “A Clockwork Orange” does with it’s dystopia, but it tweaks things enough that it’s slightly off, but you know what the characters are trying to say. There is also a bit of toying with the idea of technology and what can happen when it is lost to us, which is implied to have happened with the plants (genetically altered and then out of control) overtook civilization and drove humanity into heavily protected clusters (and allowed some to consolidate power). The first half of this book is the heavy world building to create this world, and to let us as readers get to know Koli as a character and who he is as a character. After he snags some tech from the Ramparts (aka those in charge of the tech) in the town he lives in, he meets Monono Aware, the AI within the tech he takes. Monono and Koli have a fun banter, and through him meeting her he discovers that tech can be wielded by anyone… which would be bad for the Ramparts if that secret got out. Sometimes this section dragged, but overall Carey used his time very well to show us what kind of society/dystopia we are dealing with. And I liked Monono a lot, even if she sometimes felt a little twee.

The second half of the book is after Koli has been banished into the wilderness, in danger of being killed by either killer plants, or roving bands of ‘shunned men’. This is where the book really started to build upon the action and the tension, and this was the part that I enjoyed most even if it was the part that stressed me out the most as well. Carey is no stranger to post-apocalyptic scenarios, and this one feels like he’s thinking outside of the box. He creates enough here that I can definitely see how he’s going to be able to pull enough material from this world and its characters to make a complex and well paced trilogy. I especially liked Ursala, a doctor who Koli meets while he’s still at Mythen Rood. She is the key to Koli starting to learn the truth of things, and her place in the story becomes even more apparent once Koli is out in the wilderness.

As I mentioned above, I had a hard time dealing with a post-apocalyptic story when it feels like we are at the start of our own. I think that it’s really just a matter of timing, as were we not in the middle of COVID-19 I truly believe that I would have been able to get into this story more. So while “The Book of Koli” didn’t connect with me as much as I thought I would, I really do think that that’s on me and not on Carey at all. So if you are one of those people who has been reading “The Stand” or watching “Contagion” in these trying times, and you also like dystopian fiction, “The Book of Koli” will fit the bill SO well. Once all of this is over, I will probably go on to the next book in the series, as I recognize that any of my apprehensions are solely on me during a literal global traumatic event.

Rating 7: While I had a hard time enjoying it as much as I could have in the moment of global pandemic, “The Book of Koli” is fresh and deep dystopic fiction.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Book of Koli” is included on the Goodreads lists “Sword and Laser Sci-Fi List”, and “Can’t Wait Sci-Fi/Fantasy of 2020”.

Find “The Book of Koli” at your library using WorldCat!

Bookclub Review: “This Place: 150 Years Retold”

39351184._sx318_We 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: “This Place: 150 Years Retold” by Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, Jen Storm, et al.

Publishing Info: Highwater Press, April 2019

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

American Girl Book: “Meet Kaya” by Janet Beeler Shaw

Book Description: Explore the last 150 years through the eyes of Indigenous creators in the graphic novel anthology, This Place: 150 Years Retold. Beautifully illustrated, these stories are an emotional and enlightening journey through magic realism, serial killings, psychic battles, and time travel. See how Indigenous peoples have survived a post-apocalyptic world since Contact.

This is one of the 200 exceptional projects funded through the Canada Council for the Arts’ New Chapter initiative. With this $35M initiative, the Council supports the creation and sharing of the arts in communities across Canada.

Kate’s Thoughts

Book club opens my eyes to books I haven’t heard of on occasion. This time around, when I looked at “This Place: 150 Years Retold” I was both excited to start it, and also sad that I hadn’t heard of it before then. While short story collections in regular print form rarely work for me, I almost always like graphic novel short story collections. The stories in “This Place: 150 Years Retold” are incredibly varied and unique, and they all have a lot of things to say when it comes to the Native experience throughout Canadian history.

I really liked the range that these stories had, from historical fiction to mini biographies or memoirs to fantasy to Sci-Fi. Each story had a bit of context written before it by the author, as well as showing where in the timeline that said story fit, which I REALLY liked, especially since I have such little knowledge of Canadian history. And while the stories all took place in a different point in history, the themes are still, unfortunately, very relevant to Indigenous lives today. My favorite example of this was the story “Like a Razor Slash” by Richard Van Camp, which was a tribute and interpretation of a speech given by Chief Frank T’Seleie when speaking out against the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline. Water Rights and pipeline protests have been more in the public eye in the U.S. as of late given DAPL and Standing Rock, and it really hit home that this has been an issue for decades for Indigenous communities. But that isn’t the only topic that hits home. From fishing rights to broken treaties to residential schools and family separation, “This Place: 150 Years Retold” doesn’t hold back when looking at the injustices that Canada has shown towards it’s Native population. Given that the stories are by different authors, there are many different artwork types as well as story types. The ones that worked best fell in the middle of super realistic and super abstract or more stylized, but they all served their stories fairly well.

Not all of the stories worked for me, but the fact that almost all of them did shows the strength of the collection as a whole. Definitely pick this one up if you can, because you will learn a lot as well as be moved.

Serena’s Thoughts

I really enjoyed this collection. While I won’t claim to have an encyclopedic knowledge of even U.S. history with regards to Native American stories, I definitely had very little knowledge of Canadian history. I was familiar only with a few pieces that touched on legends and mythology found in these cultures, such as the Wendigo creature and some parts of the Inuit understanding of shaman. Each story was proceeded by a brief description of the history that inspired the author, and I found all of this, plus the timeline included in each, to be incredibly interesting. Grounding each story in these mini historical lessons really helped add another layer of understanding to what the author was trying to get across.

A few stories stood out in particular. “Nimkii” tells the story of one women sharing her experience in the foster care system. It was so tragic and beautifully told. Again, this was a part of Canadian history that I wasn’t aware of. Apparently, so many Indigenous children were taken during the 1960s that it was given a name: “the 60s scoop.” I also really liked “Peggy” which tells the story of a man who was called to war as a sniper. He was a leader through that time and awarded multiple times over. This is then contrasted by his return home where he struggles to be afforded even the most basic rights to make a life for himself and his family in the country he went to war to protect.

I will say, however, that there were a few stories that I had a hard time understanding or connecting to. I liked the Wendigo story for the most part. It highlighted a lot of important factors about mental health and the contrast between law enforcement in native communities and western cultures. But I also felt like I was perhaps missing a part of this story. Maybe not, but I was unsure. There was also an Inuit story about shaman and the importance of names. This story had really amazing art work, but I’ll be honest, I didn’t know what the heck was going on for about 80% of this story. I even re-read it a few times. I’m hesitant to say it’s a failing of the story, as it could have just been me not picking up on things. But, all of this to say, there were a few stories that took a bit more work to really understand.

Overall, I really liked this collection. The artwork throughout was varied and interesting. Many of the stories spoke to portions of history that I was unaware of, and I think it’d be a great learning tool for anyone looking to know more about this portion of time in Canada.

Kate’s Rating 9: A powerful and varied collection of Indigenous stories that give voice to many themes.

Serena’s Rating 8: A powerful collection of stories detailing lesser known sections of Native American history in Canada.

Book Club Questions

  1. Were you familiar with any of historical events or fables that inspired these stories prior to reading this? And if so, how did the stories presented here offer greater insight into these events?
  2. There are a variety of different artistic styles used throughout this book. Which one was your favorite? Which do you think paired best with the story it was trying to tell?
  3. The last story in the book jumps into the future. How did this story succeed or not succeed at representing the world and the issues that would exist in this time?
  4. Many of these stories focused on dark events. Were there any that stood out to you as being particularly successful in delving into tough topics?
  5. This is a collection of stories based on Canadian relations with Native peoples. In what ways do these events and histories differ from the U.S.? In what ways are they the same?

Reader’s Advisory

“This Place: 150 Years Retold” can be found on these Goodreads lists: “Best Canadian Aboriginal Literature” and “Graphic Novels & Comics By The Aboriginal, Indigenous and Native Peoples Of The World.”

Find “This Place: 150 Years Retold” at your library using WorldCat!

Next up is “God’s of Jade and Shadow” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia.

My Year with Jane Austen: “Pride and Prejudice” [2005]

mv5bmta1ndq3ntcyotneqtjeqwpwz15bbwu3mda0mza4mze40._v1_sy1000_cr006741000_al_Movie: “Pride and Prejudice”

Release Year: 2005

Actors: Elizabeth Bennett – Keira Knightley

Mr. Darcy – Matthew Macfadyen

Jane Bennett – Rosamund Pike

Mr. Bingley – Simon Woods

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

So I’ll just preface this entire post with the fact that I’ve never particularly cared for this movie. For me, there are several problems with it as an interpretation of “Pride and Prejudice,” several characters seem to be completely out of character, and…ok, I also really dislike Keira Knightley almost always and this is by no means an exception to that.

I think it’s important to note, when comparing this movie to the BBC version, that the additional length is not a trump card for the latter. It isn’t simply better because it had much more time (though of course this doesn’t hurt it either.) But in this review series, this comparison is directly following “Sense and Sensibility,” a book that was successfully translated into BOTH a longer mini series and a feature length film to great effect. And I would go as far as saying that every other book has a feature length version that is more successful as an adaptation than this one is for “Pride and Prejudice.”

There are good things about it, of course. The cinematography is beautiful, vibrant, and definitely out classes the 1995 version that, not only due to age and time but style choices, is very washed out at times. The score is also dramatic and, combined with artistic uses of weather, brings an increased vitality to the story. I would also say that Rosamund Pike stands out as one of the characters who is better cast in this movie than Jane was in the 1995 version. Her beauty better matched the type of rare good looks that Jane was described as having. There’s also no denying that Keira Knightley is beautiful, too, but Pike’s glowing good looks do put even Knightley to the test, adding to the sense that Jane, not Elizabeth, would be credited as the beautiful one.

But as for many of the other characters, I think they were woefully miscast. Either miscast or their interpretations of the characters were so far from the ones we’re given on page that it feels as if either they or the writers (or both!) didn’t actually read the book. I’ll go into more specifics about the cast in the sections below as most of them neatly fill all the categories.

To end this section on a good note, there were some additions to this movie that were left out from the 1995 one that I liked a great deal. It’s only a little part, but I loved that this Lydia has the bit where she sticks her hand out the window to display her ring when she returns home after marrying Wickham. It’s only a small line in the book, but it perfectly illustrates how unchanged Lydia is by this whole debacle, and I love that it was included here. While I don’t like Knightley or Matthew Macfadyen in their roles, I do like that the movie added the bit of the two of them at Pemberley after they’re married. I wouldn’t have picked this scene and dialogue in particular, but it’s a nice nod to the fact that the book had several pages of story left after the proposal (something we didn’t really see in the 1995 version other than the weirdly-toned wedding itself).

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

Like I said, I don’t care for Keira Knightley as an actress in general, so this was always going to be a hard sell for me. I think she often overacts, and she has a few particular quirks that she brings to every role that I find incredibly distracting. Most notably, her mouth is always hanging open. Once you see it, you can’t stop seeing it! But beyond my personal distaste for her style, I think she was miscast in this role. That, or like I said before, the writing/directing really missed the mark if she was lead to this performance in any way. It feels like she read the character description and all she saw was “independent woman” and completely blocked out “refined and polished.”

Her emotions are all over the place, and even smaller confrontations, like that between Lizzy and Charlotte, feel blown completely out of proportion. And then there’s the proposal scene….oof. Looking at how this entire thing was staged, it’s clear the director was going for a dramatic, powerful scene (I don’t like this take on the scene in general, but that’s not on the actress). But for me, it was simply melodramatic and Knightley’s antics completely lost me. She in no way fits the bill of a lady of her time, all too often presenting Lizzy more like a “Jo March” type character than the respected, accomplished lady she was supposed to be. Lizzy stood out for her wit and sense (most of the time), not for wild bouts of adventure and emotion. Her liveliness was expressed in smaller moments, as typical of a lady of her time. Instead, Knightley translates that liveliness much more literally in a way that undercuts the respectability that is so important to the character, especially as it’s meant to be a contrast to the other three sisters.

To give props where props are due, I think Knightley does the best in the more comedic moments in the script. In particular, I always laugh at the part where she’s just heard the news of Lydia and Wickham’s “elopement” and is pacing in and out of the scene. Like in”Bend It Like Beckham,” Knightley is at her best in a comedy role rather than a dramatic one. So, too, her stronger moments in the original “Pirates of the Caribbean” were also centered around comedy. As that series progressed and the character moved in a more serious direction, Knightley’s performance followed a similar dip in quality.

I already mentioned Rosamund Pike as one of the standouts in this movie. She fits the bill perfectly for Jane, and unlike Knightley, her interpretation of the character felt more grounded in the time period of the movie.

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

Matthew Macfadyen definitely brings a unique take on Mr. Darcy. I get that he wanted to distance his performance from Colin Firth’s, especially considering how iconic Firth’s take on the character had become over the years, but I’m also not a fan of this interpretation of the character. Between Macfadyen’s take on the character, making Darcy seeming to simply suffer from excessive shyness more than anything, and the styling that has his hair all over the place and him looking like a general mess most of the time, I felt that the entire thing didn’t read Darcy at all. He definitely reads as a generic romantic hero, but Darcy he is not.

During the first proposal, readers (and viewers) should feel equally justified in Elizabeth’s righteous anger towards Darcy as she does. At that point in the story, her opinions seem solid and Darcy’s behavior is atrocious. But here, with Knightly getting right up in his face reaming him one over, I just felt sad for the poor, pathetic Darcy that Macfadyen gave us. It’s not the type of role reversal that does either character any favors in the long run.

I also hate, hate, hate this version of Bingley. I’m not sure if this was the actor’s decision or just the writing, but I have the exact same problem with Bingley here that I do with how Ron is presented in the Harry Potter movies versus the book. Both adaptations took a character who is all heart over head and reduced that down to a bumbling fool playing almost entirely for comedic value, completely at the expense of the character, leaving both as nothing more than caricatures. How are we to believe the friendship between Darcy and this dunderhead?

Again, one of the few moments where I think these versions of the characters do well are in the overtly comedic moments. Particularly, I like the scene where Bingley is practicing his proposal. It’s light, funny, and does a good job portraying the friendship between them.

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

I have mixed feelings about Rupert Friend’s Mr. Wickham. On one hand, he’s much more good-looking than the 1995 actor, so it’s easier to understand Elizabeth being so quickly and thoroughly taken in by him. And everyone else for that matter also being enamored by him! But he also seemed too young. Obviously there doesn’t need to be a huge age difference, but I need to buy that this is a guy whose has already gone far enough in life to have tried to seduce a 16 year old and is now moving on to different strategies. He just seemed a bit too fresh faced for that aspect of things.

Judi Dench is fantastic as Lady Catherine. I like the 1995 version of this character, but in a comparison between the two, it’s easier to understand how others could be intimidated by Dench’s version of the character. The 1995 version of the character was more ridiculous seeming in all of her pomp and ego. It’s almost impossible to not take Judi Dench seriously, and it’s very believable that people would be quelled by her sheer presence. The way her visit to Longbourn was staged added drama and made her come across as truly sinister.  Like the broken record I am, I again had problems with Knightley’s take on this scene, but Dench killed it.

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

I genuinely think that if this had simply been a historical romance completely disconnected from the book, I would have enjoyed it a lot more. Again, Knightley was always going to be a problem for me, but that’s neither here nor there. Her acting aside, there’s no denying the great chemistry she has with Macfadyen. And if I wasn’t so distracted by how far off these characters are from what we were given in the book, I think I’d really appreciate the love story that’s presented.

This movie is simply beautiful to look at, and many of the more dramatic images are connected with important moments in the development of the romance. For a “Pride and Prejudice” retelling, I don’t like the overly dramatic rain proposal scene. For a generic romance though? It’s gorgeously shot. And the long, drawn out moment when Elizabeth and Darcy meet in the dawning morning towards the end? Lovely to look at, though perhaps a bit too long. I also really enjoyed the Netherfield ball scene, especially the long single shot that sweeps through many different rooms catching small moments with all of the characters.

As a romance story, all of these moments come together well. The actors have great chemistry, and if they were original characters, their personalities and the conflict, misunderstanding, and slowly built love story would all come across very well. I can just never escape the comparisons and how off they both felt from the original characters. I suspect, however, that this movie is much beloved by viewers who haven’t read the book or only read it once or twice. And I think a lot of that appreciation goes to how well the romance plays out.

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

This movie definitely presents a different take on Mrs. Bennett, Mr. Bennett, and their relationship. Essentially, it’s much more kind to them all than the 1995 version or the book were. As I said in my review of the book, there really isn’t anything given on page that would hint that Austen was offering any true commentary on the plight of mothers with only daughters and very little income to justify Mrs. Bennett’s actions. She’s comedy all the way at best, and at worst actively hinders her daughters’ chances. Here, the movie goes out of its way, even offering up direct lines from Mrs. Bennett herself, to attempt to redeem some of the character’s antics. Overall, I’m fine with this, I guess, but I think it’s yet another example of this movie drifting away from the actual book characters in an attempt to make the movie more palatable to the average movie goer. I think this can be seen here, in the adjustments to Mrs. and Mr. Bennett (making them both more likable and their marriage better overall), and in the Elizabeth we are given who is definitely trying to check a more modern box of an “independent woman.”

I also want to touch on Tom Hollander’s Mr. Collins. This Mr. Collins is much easier to take than the one we saw in the 1995 version. Yes, he still has his ridiculous moments, but he’s nowhere near as smarmy as the Mr. Collins of the previous film. In this way, it makes Elizabeth’s even stronger negative reaction to Charlotte’s agreeing to marry him even more off-putting. This Mr. Collins is by no means the worst of the worst, and her extreme distaste to the union does in fact seem very judgy and snobby. The book definitely offers up this scene as an example of Elizabeth “not making allowances for differences in temper and situation” as Jane says, but *sigh* again this scene is way more dramatic than that small moment was in the book. It actually makes Lizzie quite unlikable, which is never a good thing for your heroine.

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

I wrote this section of the post last. This is important to note because you’ll have already read the part where I specifically mentioned the scene of Lizzie pacing in and out of the room when trying to deliver the news about Wickham and Lydia as one of my favorites. Turns out, Emma Thompson was brought in for a re-write of the script, and this was one of the specific scenes/directions that she gave. I knew I liked it for a reason, and it makes sense, then, that it stood out for me in this movie (one that I overall don’t particularly care for), given how much I liked Thompson’s script for “Sense and Sensibility.”

Also (again, just researching this bit after writing the rest of the post already), apparently the practice proposal scene was supposed to be much shorter and was lengthened because of how funny Simon Woods was. So…I think the takeaway is that I don’t really like the original writing/directing of this movie. And the parts that I did like came from other places!

Romola Garai auditioned for the role of Elizabeth. She was later cast as Emma in the 2008 version of “Emma.” She also played alongside Keira Knightley in “Atonement.” Keira Knightley also appears with Tom Hollander in the last two “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies in the original trilogy.

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

The one part of this movie that has stuck the most with me over the years is this delivery of lines by Tom Hollander as Mr. Collins. I find myself quoting it pretty regularly. Pretty much whenever we have potatoes for dinner. This, and the lines by Sam in “Lord of the Rings” also about potatoes. There’s something about the way both actors over-enunciate the word that makes both sets of lines immensely quotable.

In two weeks, I’ll review a modern adaptation, “Bridget Jones’s Diary.”

Kate’s Review: “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires”

44077284Book: “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires” by Grady Hendrix

Publishing Info: Quirk Books, April 2020

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

Book Description: Fried Green Tomatoes and Steel Magnolias meet Dracula in this Southern-flavored supernatural thriller set in the ’90s about a women’s book club that must protect its suburban community from a mysterious and handsome stranger who turns out to be a blood-sucking fiend.

Patricia Campbell had always planned for a big life, but after giving up her career as a nurse to marry an ambitious doctor and become a mother, Patricia’s life has never felt smaller. The days are long, her kids are ungrateful, her husband is distant, and her to-do list is never really done. The one thing she has to look forward to is her book club, a group of Charleston mothers united only by their love for true-crime and suspenseful fiction. In these meetings, they’re more likely to discuss the FBI’s recent siege of Waco as much as the ups and downs of marriage and motherhood.

But when an artistic and sensitive stranger moves into the neighborhood, the book club’s meetings turn into speculation about the newcomer. Patricia is initially attracted to him, but when some local children go missing, she starts to suspect the newcomer is involved. She begins her own investigation, assuming that he’s a Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy. What she uncovers is far more terrifying, and soon she–and her book club–are the only people standing between the monster they’ve invited into their homes and their unsuspecting community.

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

While it’s certainly not up there with my favorite vampire movies, I really do have a soft spot for “Fright Night”. The original, not the new one. There’s just something about it that is so cheesy and 80s, but also feels very sinister and menacing. That’s probably because Chris Sarandon’s Jerry Dandrige is so outwardly charming when he’s a literal monster next door. It’s a great example of suburban horror, as suburbs were created so affluent white people could flee the dangerous city to feel safe, when danger is everywhere. Even in the handsome bachelor next door. If you took “Fright Night” and mixed it with “Steel Magnolias”, you would get Grady Hendrix new horror novel, “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires”. It’s no surprise that Hendrix would be the one to make that combination into one of his quirky horror novels, as his offbeat and campy scary stories have true elements of terror. “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires” almost dethroned “My Best Friend’s Exorcism” as my favorite of his works. And you guys know how much I love “My Best Friend’s Exorcism”.

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Remember when Marcy Darcy and Prince Humperdink basically boned during an awkward dance sequence? Gosh I love “Fright Night”. (source)

The quirkiness and humor is a bit of a given with Hendrix’s stories, and “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires” is no exception. It’s very funny at times, and has it’s tongue planted in cheek, though it does take itself seriously enough to create some legitimate scary moments. Our main character Patricia is an awkward and goodhearted book worm who loves to read tales of the macabre, as her husband is patronizing and her kids take her for granted. So she and her Southern Belle lady friends focus their book club on books about serial killers, murder, and other creepy things. I found Patricia relatable in some ways, mostly her general anxiety and her love of creepy books, and I liked how she is easy to root for, but also has flaws that are deeply human. Her initial encounter with James, the new neighbor, is right out of a horror movie, as she catches him in a trance of some sorts and his reaction is basically to scare her to death. But Patricia’s been raised in a culture (Southern, white, 1990s) in which she is more inclined to doubt herself and her own perceptions of James when he comes by later and just seems so nice, and so gregarious, and takes interest in her and her interests when her family does not. In fact, in contention for biggest SOBs up against James the vampire (more on him in a bit) were the husbands of the book club members, as they ranged from patronizing and gaslighting asshats like Patricia’s husband Carter to actual spousal abusers. And once Patricia starts to question if James is more dangerous than he seems, the men in the story are more inclined to believe the new man in town over their wives and any suspicions that they may have. It’s a tale as old as time, and it added an entire layer of suspense to this book that made my blood boil and had me concerned for Patricia. 

The vampire mythos that Hendrix has created for this story is centered around James, the deadly but enticing neighbor. Hendrix has created an original set of vampire rules for James, some of which are rooted in various folklores and some that feel totally original. Like Chris Sarandon in “Fright Night”, he’s the perfect villain because he just seems so wonderful, when he’s actually a vampire that is killing children in an impoverished part of town that is mostly black people. While some of the ways that Hendrix took on this part of the story felt a little clunky when it came to the racial issues at hand, I did appreciate that he wanted to talk about the fact that, indeed, in a situation like this the greater community of Charleston probably wouldn’t notice or care too much if these were the people being victimized. And he doesn’t spare Patricia and her book club friends from criticism in this way, as they are taken to task for their places of privilege in relation to the people that James uses as initial victims. 

I did have one big hang up with this book, however, and this is what knocked it down from a serious contender for top Hendrix novel. This is a mild spoiler, just to get that out there. There is a moment in this book that involves the implied rape of one of the characters, and the fallout thereafter. This moment was used as a way to up the stakes within the story, and I am so very sick of authors using rape in that way. There were plenty of other ways that Hendrix could have really reiterated how dangerous the situation had become, so to be like ‘ah, I’ll just use rape for that’ is something I am completely sick of. We can do better.

Overall, I thought that “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires” was a very fun and entertaining read. Grady Hendrix has once again written a scary and funny horror novel, and I am happy he continues his streak of cheeky horror triumphs.

Rating 8: An original, eerie, and deeply funny vampire story from the master of quirky and cheeky horror, “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Vampire Slaying” is both scary and amusing!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Vampire Slaying” is included on the Goodreads list “2020 Horror to Scream For”.

Find “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Vampire Slaying” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Chosen Ones”

40944762._sy475_Book: “Chosen Ones” by Veronica Roth

Publishing Info: John Joseph Adams/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley!

Book Description: A decade ago near Chicago, five teenagers defeated the otherworldly enemy known as the Dark One, whose reign of terror brought widespread destruction and death. The seemingly un-extraordinary teens—Sloane, Matt, Ines, Albie, and Esther—had been brought together by a clandestine government agency because one of them was fated to be the “Chosen One,” prophesized to save the world. With the goal achieved, humankind celebrated the victors and began to mourn their lost loved ones.

Ten years later, though the champions remain celebrities, the world has moved forward and a whole, younger generation doesn’t seem to recall the days of endless fear. But Sloane remembers. It’s impossible for her to forget when the paparazzi haunt her every step just as the Dark One still haunts her dreams. Unlike everyone else, she hasn’t moved on; she’s adrift—no direction, no goals, no purpose. On the eve of the Ten Year Celebration of Peace, a new trauma hits the Chosen: the death of one of their own. And when they gather for the funeral at the enshrined site of their triumph, they discover to their horror that the Dark One’s reign never really ended.

Review: I read the “Insurgent” trilogy like everyone else, seemingly, back when it was published around a decade ago. I didn’t fall in love with it, which worked in my favor in this instance as I wasn’t too broken up by the ending of the last book (most fans of the series were quite displeased). I also had heard that Roth published another duology, but that same indifference to the first trilogy didn’t lead me to getting around to it. But when I saw this book start to pop up, I was very intrigued. There are a million and one stories documenting the adventures of a “chosen one” in their grand battle against an ultimate evil. There aren’t many that tackle what comes after, other than perhaps brief epilogues or small cameo appearances in another “chosen one’s” book/series. This book turned out to be everything I was hoping for and more.

It’s been ten years since Sloan and her friends, the other Chosen Ones, defeated the Dark One, an evil being they had battled throughout their teen years. And in this last decade Sloane has…hid. Not interested in the celebrity status she’s garnered, barely invested in the relationships she’s formed, Sloane’s life is simply going from moment to moment, not caring about much at all. When tragedy shakes her out of this numbness, however, Sloane finds herself caught in circumstances that she won’t survive unless she returns to her life as a soldier and confronts the horrors in her past.

This book was particularly interesting coming off my fairly recent re-read of the “Animorphs” series. That series follows a group of 6 teens, chosen ones, essentially, as they battle a big bad for years on end. The books deal a lot with the realities of a childhood given up to warfare and the life and choices of being a soldier. But after 50+ books, there’s only a small, final book that is dedicated to life after these events. It does a good job for what it is, only a hundred and fifty or so pages dedicated to wrapping up the lives of six characters over the years that follow the end of the war. It’s clear that the story is only scratching the surface of what life would be like for these kids. And this is only one example. We have so many chosen one stories, but so few deal with the aftereffects.

I wasn’t quite sure what we would get from Roth here. I wasn’t a huge fan of her original trilogy, and I also read that she had some ideas for this book based off “The Hurt Locker,” a movie that, while I can see the importance of the topic, I didn’t particularly enjoy. But, man, did I enjoy the heck out of this book. Not only did it tackle many of the tough topics around life after war, the isolation and distancing that many veterans experience, and how “moving on” can look very different to different people, including whether it is possible at all, but it had some amazing characters at its heart and some genuine surprises in the increasingly twisting world-building.

I loved Sloane so much in all of her broken, dark, and even sometimes cruel ways. The characters in this book definitely challenge the reader in that they often barely resemble the golden Chosen Ones we all imagine. Even a few of Sloane’s comrades who more closely mimic the typical hero pastiche often betray signs that they are simply using different coping mechanisms to deal with similarly twisted inner lives. But this is Sloane’s story, and it is Sloane’s darkness and path forward that we explore as we slowly learn more about her time during the war and how she’s been managing (or not) in the ten years since. She has some very unlikeable moments, but for me at least, these simply grounded the story all the more in a what reality would look like for young people whose life was essentially consumed by a prophesy and a seemingly never-ending battle against a more powerful evil force. There are no easy answers or easy fixes here, and even by the end of the book, it’s clear that any “completeness” for Sloane comes at understanding and accepting her entire person.

The world-building was almost the biggest surprise. I didn’t really know what to expect and the book description gives only the barest hints. But wow, I didn’t expect where this book went at all. There’s a huge twist that comes in the first third and when we got to that I thought “Ok, that was a surprise, but now I’m on the right page.” Nope! The twists and turns kept coming one after another from there on out. Even after finishing the book I was having to think back over it and try to piece things together.

I don’t remember a lot about Roth’s particular writing style from the “Insurgent” series other than it felt like a fairly standard YA style ala “Hunger Games.” But I have to think Roth has grown by leaps and bounds to create this. The writing is confident and sure, even as it tackles topics that can be hard to deal with and discusses moments and choices that, if not handled well, could turn readers off from some of our main characters and themes. The same world-building and all of its complexities also speaks to an increased dexterity in juggling many balls at once. There are layers within layers, but the story and character arcs are never consumed by the increasingly complicated world, history, and magic system.

This was a great book. I think Roth’s work has grown by leaps and bounds here, and she deftly tackles a topic that is rarely explored in fantasy works. It looks like on Goodreads it is listed as the first in a series, but to those who were burned by the “Insurgent” trilogy and have long memories and lasting wariness, I think this book reads perfectly as a standalone. If I hadn’t looked, I wouldn’t have known otherwise. This is also published as an adult fantasy novel, but I think it would appeal to YA readers as well. I’m pretty confident this will end up on next year’s Top 10 list for me; it’s that good.

Rating 9: Dark and twisty in all the right ways.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Chosen Ones” is a new title, so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists. But it is on this very informatively-titled list: “2020 – Book Release.”

Find “Chosen Ones” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Last Book on the Left”

43261154._sx318_Book: “The Last Book on the Left: Stories of Murder and Mayhem from History’s Most Notorious Serial Killers” by Ben Kissel, Marcus Parks, and Henry Zebrowski

Publishing Info: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley, and I own it!

Book Description: An equal parts haunting and hilarious deep-dive review of history’s most notorious and cold-blooded serial killers, from the creators of the award-winning Last Podcast on the Left

Since its first show in 2010, The Last Podcast on the Left has barreled headlong into all things horror, as hosts Henry Zebrowski, Ben Kissel, and Marcus Parks cover subjects spanning Jeffrey Dahmer, werewolves, Jonestown, and supernatural phenomena. Deeply researched but with a morbidly humorous bent, the podcast has earned a dedicated and aptly cultlike following for its unique take on all things macabre.

In their first book, the guys take a deep dive into history’s most infamous serial killers, from Ted Bundy to John Wayne Gacy, exploring their origin stories, haunting habits, and perverse predilections. Featuring newly developed content alongside updated fan favorites, each profile is an exhaustive examination of the darker side of human existence. With appropriately creepy four-color illustrations throughout and a gift-worthy paper over board format, The Last Book on the Left will satisfy the bloodlust of readers everywhere.

Review: Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book.

I first discovered the podcast “The Last Podcast on the Left” in early 2018. I had just left my job, I was feeling a little aimless and sad (not to mention a bit taken advantage of), and was looking for any kind of distraction. It’s not too hyperbolic to say that hosts Ben Kissel, Marcus Parks, and Henry Zebrowski brought me the most joy I had felt since leaving that position. Not only were they very funny, the research and presentation of stories about serial killers, aliens, supernatural incidents, and other tales of the macabre was phenomenal. So I was, of course, overjoyed when they announced that they were going to release a book. And when I was approved to get an eARC from NetGalley? I could have exploded from excitement.

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I actually screamed. (source)

Now I did have my reservations. After all, while I mostly enjoyed the other podcast based book that made a splash in the book community, I was a little nervous that this would be similar in that it just wouldn’t capture the essence of the source content. Let’s be real, “Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered” is a fun book, but it’s not true crime, which is the draw of the podcast to begin with. But I was foolish to doubt Parks, Zebrowski, and Kissel. “The Last Book on the Left” is everything I wanted it to be and more.

As I vaguely mentioned before, one of the things that I love the most about the podcast is that Marcus Parks, the head researcher for the show, does a fantastic job of researching and presenting the topics that they cover in each episode. And he brings the same zeal and drive to the book. This book covers a number of notorious serial killers, from Ted Bundy to BTK to Son of Sam and many more. While I’m familiar with a lot of the cases in this book, I still found myself learning new information because of the deep dives that Parks does. I also appreciated that the book made the note that while all of their subjects have been covered on the podcast, they have tried to bring new information and content to the book. How easy would it have been to do an easy copy paste job from past scripts and witty rapport (looking at you, “Lore” podcast!)? And yet Parks, Kissel, and Zebrowski want to do their very  best for their fans and for the people reading the book, and refuse to cut corners, and because of that the reading is wholly original and fresh. Throw in some really fun and darkly funny graphics and imagery, and you have a fun and informational reading experience!

And if that wasn’t enough, “The Last Book on the Left” also achieves what I thought would be the unachievable: they manage to translate the podcast format to the page without being clunky or untrue to their natures. The premise of the podcast is that Parks will tell the stories, and Kissel and Zebrowski will make commentary and banter throughout the narrative. I figured that it was going to be straight information, which was completely okay in my book. But then “The Last Book on the Left” went and surprised me. Using graphics and color coded speech bubbles, they manage to put the witty and dark humored Kissel and Zebrowski commentary throughout the narrative, using their likenesses with varying facial expressions depending on the tone of the comment. It works, it’s creative, and it’s ingenious. I found myself laughing out loud probably as much as I do during each podcast episode, and was thrilled to see that they managed to translate their wicked charm to book form.

Now I do have to admit that I’m probably wholeheartedly biased when it comes to “The Last Book on the Left”. I was pretty much guaranteed to love this book given how much I love the podcast and it’s creators. So I’m going to try to level with everyone here for a moment. Do I think that this book is going to be for anyone and everyone? Probably not. If you aren’t into true crime it’s really not for you, and I am the first to admit and acknowledge that the comedy aspects of the podcast are not going to sit well with everyone. The book tones it back a lot, but it’s still not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. That said, as a fan of the show, I loved it. And I do think that the impeccable true crime content and research is God tier.

I loved, LOVED “The Last Book on the Left”. It was everything I hoped it would be, and it’s a true testament to the talent that these three hosts have.

Rating 10: “The Last Book on the Left” is a well researched and presented overview of a number of notorious serial killers, and manages to capture the banter and charm of the podcast and put it to the page. Well worth the wait. Hail yourselves, fellas!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Last Book on the Left” is included on the Goodreads list “Books of Podcasts”, and I think it would fit in on “Best True Crime”.

Find “The Last Book on the Left” at your library using WorldCat!

Highlights: April 2020

So. This is a very strange time to be alive, isn’t it? Here in Minnesota we’re on a shelter in place order for now, followed by continued social distancing. Walks around the block can be calming, and opening the windows too, though we admittedly miss the get togethers that come with spring. With all this time at home, we have plenty of time for reading thanks to digital collections at our libraries and local bookstores that are willing to ship! So here are the books we’re looking forward to this month!

Serena’s Picks

40944762._sy475_Book: “Chosen Ones” by Veronica Roth

Publication Date: April 7, 2020

Why I’m Interested: I haven’t read anything from Veronica Roth since the first two Divergent boos. That right there should say something: I only read the first two and didn’t even bother with the last one. Since then, I know she’s written a few other things, but I was never very intrigued until I say the description for this, her first adult fantasy stories. What happens after the chosen ones has defeated the villain? Such a simple question with so many potential answers. For Sloane, she’s not only a chosen one, but one of a group, all of whom have been scarred in different ways from their great battle that ended ten years ago. And now, when a new battle may be before them, Sloane must decide not only how to, but if she wants to pick back up that mantle.

51318896._sx318_sy475_Book: “The Body in the Garden” by Katharine Schellman

Publication Date: April 7, 2020

Why I’m Interested: I randomly came across this title while browsing NetGalley. I’m always interested in a new historical mystery series, and this one seemed like it might provide a breath of fresh air to a genre that can some times feel a bit predictable as far as its characters go. Lily Adler is a widow still suffering the loss of her beloved husband over a year ago. So when she returns to London society, she’s looking for more than a quiet home and a few social distractions. Instead she finds murder. And suddenly nothing seems more important than finding justice for the young man murdered and left forgotten by the police. With the help of a naval captain, Lily soon finds herself suspecting everyone, both friend and stranger alike.

51113661._sx318_sy475_Book: “The Ranger of Marzanna” by Jon Skovron

Publication Date: April 21, 2020

Why I’m Interested: Honestly, the first thing that struck me was the cool cover. Badass women on beautiful horses? Sign me up! This Russian-inspired fantasy features two siblings that end up on opposing sides of a war. The invading Empire killed Sonya and her brother’s father. Now Sonya, a ranger in training, will travel across the land to gain allies in her fight against her father’s killers. But her brother, a powerful sorcerer, goes another route and fights on the side of the Empire. As they each hone their skills, an ultimate confrontation brews. I’m not sure based on this description whether this will be an alternating POV story or not. Probably? It will be interesting to see how we’re supposed to sympathize with this brother who seemingly sides with his father’s killers?? We shall see!

Kate’s Picks

43261154._sx318_Book: “The Last Book on the Left” by Marcus Parks, Ben Kissel, and Henry Zebrowski

Publication Date: April 7, 2020

Why I’m Interested: While I’ve experienced a mixed bag of podcasts that write books, when I heard that the guys of “Last Podcast on the Left” had one coming out, I KNEW that it was going to be fantastic. Not only is it my favorite podcast, the research and delivery skills of Marcus Parks, Ben Kissel, and Henry Zebrowski are so on point that they will surely be translated to a book in perfect fashion. In this book, they do deep dives on a number of the most notorious serial killers the world has ever known. Given how seriously Parks takes his research, and how sly and clever Kissel and Zebrowski are in their commentary, there is no doubt in my mind that this is going to be a home run for fans of the podcast and true crime alike.

51285749Book: “The Book of Koli” by M.R. Carey

Publication Date: April 14, 2020

Why I’m Interested: I have greatly enjoyed a few of M.R. Carey’s books in the past, especially his last one “Someone Like Me”. So of course I was eager to see what he was going to do with a post-apocalyptic story that doesn’t involve zombies (as “The Girl With All The Gifts” did). Of course, that was before we started living in our own dystopic nightmare, but I’m still really excited to read “The Book of Koli”. After plants have started to take over and choke the life out of humans, mankind has retreated to village walls and are trying to survive as best they can. This is the only life that Koli has known, and doesn’t ever think about going outside the walls. Until, that is, he doesn’t have a choice in the matter. Sounds unique and creepy, which is no surprise given that Carey knows how to capture those tones with ease.

44077284Book: “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires” by Grady Hendrix

Publication Date: April 7, 2020

Why I’m Interested: Grady Hendrix is one of my favorite horror authors writing right now, and that is because he brings such quirkiness to his stories! His take on demonic possession was great, his haunted Ikea-esque tale was entertaining, and his cursed metal band was brutal (in the metal linguistic sense). So I am, of course, VERY happy that he’s finally decided to take on vampires, AND that he’s melding it with a Southern Lady Book Club motif! Patricia Campbell and her book club friends are obsessed with reading about true crime and macabre things, and when a new neighbor moves into her neighborhood at first she thinks he’s a kindred spirit, as he too likes to read. But when children in the community start dying and strange coincidences involving the handsome stranger start to pile up, Patricia starts to wonder if he’s hiding something. But while she thinks he may be a serial killer, the truth is far more… supernatural. I’ve been waiting for Hendrix to create a vampire lore, and now that he has I couldn’t be happier.

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

Serena’s Review: “The House in the Cerulean Sea”

45047384._sy475_Book: “The House in the Cerulean Sea” by TJ Klune

Publishing Info: Tor Books, March 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret.

Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.

When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.

But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.

Review: Cover art alert! Cover art alert! Yes, again, I selected a book almost completely based on the cover art itself. I’ve never read any of TJ Klune’s work before, though I believe he was largely a self-published author before the break-out into big publishers with this title. I did see a few references to “The Umbrella Academy” thrown around, so that was the last bit of justification I needed for placing a request for a book just because I thought the cover was pretty! But it is! Look at all of those colors! For some reason, the cover art put me in mind of the covers for “A Series of Unfortunate Events.” Not a bad thing at all, as I enjoyed that series for the most part. In the end, I did enjoy this book quite a bit.

While not ecstatic about life, Linus Baker is quite content with the solitary existence he’s created for himself. A stable job, a small, cozy house, and, of course his beloved cat and records. But this quiet life is suddenly interrupted when Linus finds himself given a peculiar assignment: to travel to a remote orphanage and evaluate the state of things. Once there, Linus discovers six wondrous, but dangerous, children and their charming caretaker Arthur. As Linus learns more about these wards and Arthur himself, he finds himself more and more drawn to this small family, danger and all.

I’m not typically a fan of contemporary fantasy (though I will concede that that’s a pretty catch-all subgenre so my preferences therein aren’t particularly well-defined), but this book was a great opportunity for me push my comfort levels a bit. And it was a bit of a stretch, as the fantasy elements were fairly low, other than our magical children. But they were delightful enough that the parts of me that was missing world-building and magic systems was satisfied enough.

The comparisons to “The Umbrella Academy” (only watched the Netflix show) is very apt, and, similar to story, this one lives and dies on its characters. The collection of bizarre orphans are where Klune’s work really shines. They were all perfect blends of heart-wrenching and heart-warming, misfits and fitting perfectly together, witty but hiding deep emotions behind their words. The dialogue for these character in particular was quite good, and I found myself really speeding through the book once Linus met up with them.

Linus himself was a solid main character and his slowly built relationship with Arthur and the kids was lovely to explore. There was a lot of exploration around themes of found families, trust, and how we judge those around us. The romance was definitely more on the sweet side, and I would say that the book overall would appeal to a varied range of ages from middle grade to adults (a very good thing, as the cover definitely speaks to a younger audience, I think).

There were a few moments where the story did strike me as trying a bit too hard, just a bit too bizarre for its own good. But readers will have different experiences with this, depending on their preferences for fantasy writing and modes of humor. The book was also a tad longer than I would have liked. Most of it read very quickly, but I felt that there were times when Klune was simply having fun with his characters and the book got away from him a bit. I mean, the characters are a blast, so I can easily understand getting carried away with all of these moments, but it did end up with the book having a bit of a bloated feel. Overall, I really enjoyed this book, and fans of contemporary fantasy, found family stories, and ensemble casts of characters are sure to have a blast!

Rating 7: A bit long, a bit silly at times, but its characters were so heart-warming that they carry it through.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The House on the Cerulean Sea” is a newer book so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “Books released in 2020 I’m curious about.”

Find “The House on the Cerulean Sea” at your library using WorldCat!