Serena’s Review: “The Ranger of Marzanna”

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

Publishing Info: Orbit, April 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher

Book Description: When their father is murdered by imperial soldiers, two siblings set out on opposite paths—one will destroy the Empire forever and the other will save it—in this thrilling new Russian inspired epic fantasy from Jon Skovron.

Sonya is training to be a Ranger of Marzanna, an ancient sect of warriors who have protected the land for generations. But the old ways are dying, and the rangers have all been forced into hiding or killed off by the invading Empire.

When her father is murdered by imperial soldiers, she decides to finally take action. Using her skills as a ranger she will travel across the bitter cold tundra and gain the allegiance of the only other force strong enough to take down the invaders.

But nothing about her quest will be easy. Because not everyone is on her side. Her brother, Sebastian, is the most powerful sorcerer the world has ever seen. And he’s fighting for the empire.

Review: Between the beautiful cover art and the intriguing book description, this was a no brainer for me to request. I always love stories about warrior women, and the fact that it was based on Russian folklore is just the cream on top. I was definitely getting some “The Bear and the Nightingale” vibes off this, which couldn’t have been more of an inducement since I’m still in mourning that that trilogy ended…like more than a year ago now. Get over it! Sadly, however, this book wasn’t quite that. There were some strengths to it, but not quite what I was looking for, in the end.

Sonya is in training to be a Ranger, a member of an elite fighting force. In pursuit of this goal, she travels around the countryside attempting to help her people against the doings of the invading imperial soldiers. While away, however, her family is attacked and her father killed. Her brother, however, a powerful sorcerer-in-training, survives and begins to make a new life for himself, one that sides with the very people who murdered their father. Now these two siblings find themselves on very different paths, paths that will eventually intersect to devastating effect.

So, to start with a few things I liked. I did like the Russian/Ukranian influences on the culture, location, and folklore of the story. The elemental magic system was also interesting enough. It’s not a super new concept, but I felt like the author put enough new twists into how it all works to keep it from feeling flat. I particularly liked the cult-like religion that followed Marzanna and the sacrifices that were required of those who committed themselves to her path (as we see through Sonya’s story.) But, sadly, I had a really hard time connecting to either of the two main characters, and I felt like the pacing and writing of the story weren’t helping matters out.

First, Sonya. I did end up liking her half of the story better than her brother’s, but again this was mostly due to the intriguing concept of having to give up parts of oneself to become a full follower of Marzanna. However, even in this part of the story, I didn’t feel like the author truly explored this concept completely. In many ways, it mostly just made Sonya less likable. She starts out incredibly bad-ass and so some of her struggles then appear out of character. But at the same time, growth for the character comes out of these moments, but never felt like it was really being applied completely. It’s hard to get at exactly what my problem was. I think maybe it was just that the actual character herself felt too flimsy to hold up the more grand adventure she was supposed to be having. And by the time we got to some of the darker portions of her tale, the part where readers have to begin questioning her actions and motives, it’s too late to really feel invested enough in it all.

As for Sebastian, I didn’t like him from the start, and it didn’t get any better as we went along. In the very first chapter we meet him, his father his killed and he and his mother are shipped back to the capitol city. His entire inner thought process of these events was summed up with an actual line saying that he didn’t really get along with his father that much so that must be why he’s not really grieving. From there, it just got worse as he literally teams up with the very people who killed his father and pretty much goes “meh” about the idea that his powers are now going to be used against his own people. There simply wasn’t enough (or any!) real conflict shown between Sebastian and his father to justify to bewildering turn for his character. Sebastian is either a sociopath who can’t care about others or an outright villain. Neither are likable. It’s especially confusing as he’s presented in a way that makes it clear that the author expects you to sympathize with him and read him as an equal protagonist. I just didn’t get it, and what I did get, I didn’t like.

I also felt like the writing and pacing of story were just a bit off. The characters spoke in a very YA manner, but this didn’t mesh well with the super violent descriptions that came with the action scenes. What’s more, the author had an unfortunate habit of info-dumping in his dialogue making it read as unnatural and stiff. Overall, I was pretty disappointed by this book. I know that the author has a fairly popular series already published, so I’m not sure if this was an aberration or whether this story just didn’t mesh with me specifically. If you are a fan of his other work and want to give this one a shot, don’t forget to enter the giveaway for an ARC copy of this book!

Rating 6: The two unlikable protagonists were too much for me to get past.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“The Ranger of Marzanna” is a newer title, so it isn’t on any Goodreads lists. But it should be on “Warrior Women.”

Find “The Ragner of Marzanna” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Mountains Sing”

49631287._sy475_Book: “The Mountains Sing” by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

Publishing Info: Algonquin Books, March 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: With the epic sweep of Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko or Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing and the lyrical beauty of Vaddey Ratner’s In the Shadow of the Banyan, The Mountains Sing tells an enveloping, multigenerational tale of the Tran family, set against the backdrop of the Viet Nam War. Tran Dieu Lan, who was born in 1920, was forced to flee her family farm with her six children during the Land Reform as the Communist government rose in the North. Years later in Hà Noi, her young granddaughter, Hương, comes of age as her parents and uncles head off down the Ho Chí Minh Trail to fight in a conflict that will tear not just her beloved country but her family apart.

Vivid, gripping, and steeped in the language and traditions of Viet Nam, The Mountains Sing brings to life the human costs of this conflict from the point of view of the Vietnamese people themselves, while showing us the true power of kindness and hope. This is celebrated Vietnamese poet Nguyen Phan Que Mai’s first novel in English.

Review: I’ve decided that every once in awhile I’m going to branch out from my usual genres that I review on here and dive into something different. Don’t worry, reviews of all that’s scary, thrilling, or picture heavy will still be dominant when it comes to what I talk about on here! But when I come across a book like “The Mountains Sing” by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai, I really want to share it with anyone who will listen! Because while I love me horror and thrillers, I also really love family sagas in my fiction. And “The Mountains Sing” is the best family saga I’ve encountered since “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi.

“The Mountains Sing” is a lyrical and bittersweet family saga that follows the Tran Family in North Vietnam. There are two main perspectives. The first is that of Hương, a young girl who is living with her grandmother during the last days of the Viet Nam War as her parents are fighting on the Ho Chi Min Trail. The second is the story of her grandmother, Dieu Lan, who had to escape her farm during the Land Reform Movement lest she and her children be murdered as landowners. These two stories follow significant moments in North Vietnamese/Vietnamese history, and the repercussions for the people who were living there during those times. Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai paints a beautiful picture of the setting, and draws complex and engrossing characterizations. Both Dieu Lan and Hương have to confront difficult decisions for themselves, and the difficult decisions of others. As someone who grew up in the United States, Vietnamese history isn’t something that was covered in the classes I took in high school. Hell, even though I went to a pretty progressive private school with better and more honest history texts than others, we still didn’t take a deep look into the Vietnamese side of the Viet Nam War. So reading this book from the perspective of a Vietnamese author whose characters had to live the consequences of the war as civilians on the Northern side, it was eye opening and very worthwhile. It should also be noted that the deep complexities living under the North Vietnamese Communist Party’s rule aren’t ignored or swept away. I had never heard of the Land Reform, and it is absolutely horrific. That said, the horrors of being attacked by the United States with imperialist motivations isn’t dismissed as nothing. If anything, this story shows how those seeking power will exploit those below them to do their dirty work, be it French colonists trying to take over and using locals to inflict rule, or farmers murdering landowners to take land for the movement, or soldiers from America being sent to fight a war for the upper classes and killing civilians on the ground.

I also greatly liked the characters and the various journeys that each one took, and the emphasis on family. Hương learns the truth about her family history, just as she learns the truth about the things that her family members have had to do to survive during times of great violence and tragedy, and you see her grow in empathy and character. But it was Dieu Lan’s story that really hit me in the heart, as she tries to keep her children safe as they escape their village and go on the road to Ha Noi. The horrible choices that she had to make, and the repercussions of those choices, were heartbreaking and left me in tears many times, and seeing her become more resilient and tough was a character journey that had the most effect on me. I enjoyed the contrast between these two women and their experiences, and how each of them had ripple effects upon the other. Their strengths manifest in different ways, but it’s a great way to show that strength comes in many forms.

“The Mountains Sing” is a heart rendering and hopeful story from a gifted voice. I eagerly await any other novels that Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai may write in the future.

Rating 9: A beautifully written family saga set in Viet Nam, “The Mountains Sing” gives the perspective of the Vietnamese people during times of conflict and shows how hope and family can get people through difficult times.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Mountains Sing” is included on the Goodreads lists “Family Saga Novels”, and “Books by Vietnamese/Vietnamese-Diaspora Writers”.

Find “The Mountains Sing” at your library using WorldCat, or at your local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Giveaway: “The Ranger of Marzanna”

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

Publishing Info: Orbit, April 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher!

Book Description: When their father is murdered by imperial soldiers, two siblings set out on opposite paths—one will destroy the Empire forever and the other will save it—in this thrilling new Russian inspired epic fantasy from Jon Skovron.

Sonya is training to be a Ranger of Marzanna, an ancient sect of warriors who have protected the land for generations. But the old ways are dying, and the rangers have all been forced into hiding or killed off by the invading Empire.

When her father is murdered by imperial soldiers, she decides to finally take action. Using her skills as a ranger she will travel across the bitter cold tundra and gain the allegiance of the only other force strong enough to take down the invaders.

But nothing about her quest will be easy. Because not everyone is on her side. Her brother, Sebastian, is the most powerful sorcerer the world has ever seen. And he’s fighting for the empire.

I was excited to receive an ARC copy of this book from Orbit. For one thing, the cover is absolutely stunning and the exact sort of thing that would draw me in when browsing the shelves at a bookstore (oh, how I long to return to browsing shelves…). I was also really interested in the idea of two siblings coming towards some sort of conflict. The book description definitely focuses on the sister more, so I’m curious to see if this book will be a duel narrator situation or what. Her side alone, however, sounds pretty badass!

My full review for the book will go up this Friday. But get a head start on things and enter to win an ARC copy of this book. The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and ends on May 20.

Enter to win!

Kate’s Review: “Catherine House”

51934838Book: “Catherine House” by Elisabeth Thomas

Publishing Info: Custom House, May 2020

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

Book Description: You are in the house and the house is in the woods. You are in the house and the house is in you . . .

Catherine House is a school of higher learning like no other. Hidden deep in the woods of rural Pennsylvania, this crucible of reformist liberal arts study with its experimental curriculum, wildly selective admissions policy, and formidable endowment, has produced some of the world’s best minds: prize-winning authors, artists, inventors, Supreme Court justices, presidents. For those lucky few selected, tuition, room, and board are free. But acceptance comes with a price. Students are required to give the House three years—summers included—completely removed from the outside world. Family, friends, television, music, even their clothing must be left behind. In return, the school promises its graduates a future of sublime power and prestige, and that they can become anything or anyone they desire.

Among this year’s incoming class is Ines, who expects to trade blurry nights of parties, pills, cruel friends, and dangerous men for rigorous intellectual discipline—only to discover an environment of sanctioned revelry. The school’s enigmatic director, Viktória, encourages the students to explore, to expand their minds, to find themselves and their place within the formidable black iron gates of Catherine.

For Ines, Catherine is the closest thing to a home she’s ever had, and her serious, timid roommate, Baby, soon becomes an unlikely friend. Yet the House’s strange protocols make this refuge, with its worn velvet and weathered leather, feel increasingly like a gilded prison. And when Baby’s obsessive desire for acceptance ends in tragedy, Ines begins to suspect that the school—in all its shabby splendor, hallowed history, advanced theories, and controlled decadence—might be hiding a dangerous agenda that is connected to a secretive, tightly knit group of students selected to study its most promising and mysterious curriculum.

Combining the haunting sophistication and dusky, atmospheric style of Sarah Waters with the unsettling isolation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, Catherine House is a devious, deliciously steamy, and suspenseful page-turner with shocking twists and sharp edges that is sure to leave readers breathless.

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

If you are going to market a book as a Gothic novel, I am most likely going to be interested based on that alone. The isolated creepiness of the average Gothic novel gets me amped, and I’m glad that more and more authors, both adult and YA, are paying more attention to this genre. And when you throw in a mysterious boarding school/university setting, that’s practically catnip for me! “Catherine House” by Elisabeth Thomas, therefore, caught my eye. I downloaded it from NetGalley, eager to dive into a Gothic boarding school thriller with twists, turns, and nefarious misdeeds. Unfortunately, “Catherine House” missed the mark for me, by quite a bit.

Starting with the positive, this book has a LOT of potential. As I said, it both aspires to be a Gothic read set in a mysterious school that serves as alternative to university, and it promises to give its graduates all sorts of power and keys to mysterious opportunities. It can make powerful politicians, business people, power players of all stripes, and all you have to do is master it’s odd and super secretive curriculum and devote your entire life to Catherine House for three years, with no contact to the outside world. Ines, our protagonist, is fleeing a checkered past in hopes of starting on the right foot and with huge advantages to a new life. It’s pretty standard fare for this kind of book, and that’s not to say that that’s a bad thing. I liked seeing the odd quirks to Catherine House, the little shifts from what one might consider a ‘normal’ college experience, from food to decor to class types. There is also the fact that students at Catherine, Ines included, are involved in strange rituals involving something called plasm, and pins that you can insert into your body that can help harness the potential of this so called plasm…..

I mean, I think. Honestly, this wasn’t very clear to me. While it’s very possible I may have missed something, it seemed to me that the sticking point of the mystery of this book was at the plasm storyline and what it does, and why Catherine House wants to mess with it. So the fact that I could have missed the big conflict resolution doesn’t really imply that there was much detail or due diligence paid to said conflict. There is also the plot line where Ines’s roommate Baby has tragedy befall her all in hopes of fitting into the strict and high standard mold that Catherine House has, but I didn’t really get the sense that Ines was terribly concerned with it. Sure, I was TOLD that Ines was concerned, it’s even in the plot description. But there is very little actual time devoted to Ines feeling guilty, or suspicious, or vengeful over Baby’s fate. When that is touted as a main plot point in the description, I expect it to be more at the forefront. It just felt like more time was put into describing the quirks and strangeness of this place than there was devoted to the actual main plot. Because of this, I was mostly confused and uninvested throughout the narrative. Which is a shame, because there were so many good ideas here that had a lot of potential.

Suffice to say, I was quite disappointed with “Catherine House”. Hopefully the next time I find my literary catnip I will have a better experience.

Rating 4: While this book had a lot of promise, ultimately I didn’t feel like it committed to any of the themes it set out to explore.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Catherine House” is included on the Goodreads lists “Dark Academia”, and “Black Heroines 2020”.

Find “Catherine House” at your library using WorldCat, or at your local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Books with Memorable Moms

Yesterday was Mother’s Day in the U.S., and we were celebrating with our families (or perhaps celebrating by ourselves, as one of the joys of Mother’s Day is being given a break from our kids in our honor!). Today we’ve created a list of books with memorable mother figures, some good, some…. not. 

9822Book: “Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH” by Robert C. O’Brien

In this classic children’s book, our mom is a mouse named Mrs. Frisbee. Having been recently widowed thanks to the farmer’s cat, Mrs. Frisby is left to care for her four children. Unfortunately, her home needs to be relocated due to the upcoming harvest, and it’s exactly when her youngest son, Timothy, gets sick with pneumonia and can’t be moved. So she has to turn to rats who have become hyper intelligent thanks to medical experiments performed on them, in hopes that they can help her family move safely. Mrs. Frisby will go to any lengths to protect her kids, including tangling with a cat, meeting with an owl, and putting her faith in rats she doesn’t personally know. Perhaps an unconventional mother for this list, but a wonderful one nonetheless!

89551Book: “Ramona and Her Mother” by Beverly Cleary

Ramona Quimby is well loved in the children’s literature world because of her precocious nature and her relatable and funny adventures. As she tangles with usual childhood issues, she perseveres due to her spunky nature and her family. In “Ramona and Her Mother”, Ramona (and the rest of the Quimby Family) has to adjust to both of her parents working full time, which leads to a bit of strife. Along with that, Ramona finds herself jealous of the relationship her mother has with older sister Beezus, but it’s clear that Dorothy loves both her daughters, even if they are very different people. Ramona and Dorothy have a sweet relationship between a patient mom and her free spirited child, and their realistic and fun interactions are very lovely.

7763._sy475_Book: “The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan

This generational family saga is filled with the stories of mothers and daughters and the complications that can come with that relationship. Especially when culture clash and the different experiences between first and second generation immigrants can cause even more strife. But it’s the heartbreaking sacrifices and choices that some of the mothers make in this book that really show the pain and uncertainty that motherhood can have, and how these choices can reverberate and have consequences for everyone. As a daughter tries to reconcile the mother who had to make unthinkable decisions, with the mother she knew, who never seemed to be understanding, the stories of all her mother’s friends come out and show the ups and downs of being a mom in difficult situations. Bring a box of tissues to this one.

233661._sy475_Book: “Carrie” by Stephen King

Mrs. White is the textbook definition of a  not good mother. She’s abusive, a religious zealot, violent, and unrelenting, and she makes her teenage daughter Carrie’s life even more a hell than the awful kids as school do. She locks her daughter in a closet when she deems her as misbehaving, she psychologically torments her, and even goes so far as to trying to kill her when Carrie’s powers become impossible to hide. Flat out, she’s one of the worst mothers in literature! But she makes this list because she is the kind of fictional mother who makes those of us with imperfect but good mothers thankful that we have them.

1885Book: “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen

While nowhere near Mrs. White’s levels of bad mothering, Mrs. Bennett is another famous fictional mother who is best known for her…unique parenting tactics. Dead set on marrying off her daughters to the richest gentleman she can find, she’s the heart of most of the comedy in this story. Sadly for her, her high ambitions are met equally with her obnoxious tendencies which often work in direct opposition to her goals. Full of nerves, gossip, and the will to shove her daughters at any eligible gentleman, she’s just lucky that her two eldest girls are charming enough to attract attention in spite of her. She’s definitely one of the more memorable mothers in classic literature and the go-to example for my own mother whenever she wanted an easy out whenever my sister and I complained or were embarrassed: “At least I’m not Mrs. Bennett!”

3._sy475_Book: “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” etc.

Molly Weasley is the quintessential mother figure in the Harry Potter series. Lily Potter, obviously, deserves a shout-out as well for her series-making decision to sacrifice her life to save her son. If she hadn’t done that, we wouldn’t even have a book. But in every meaningful way, Molly Weasley is the true mother figure in Harry’s life. And she’s everything cozy, loving, and fierce that one would expect and want from a woman who has 7 children and adopted the friends of many of those children. Throughout the series, we see many sides of this character, from her fears for her family when evil is at their door, to the smaller, domestic moments when she banishes her sons outside to take care of pesky garden gnomes that are continuously invading. And, of course, her shining moment in the last book with her rebel yell “Not my daughter, you bitch!”

Who are some of your favorite mothers from literature? Let us know in the comments!

My Year with Jane Austen: “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” [2012]

mv5bmtg1otk0mzg4nf5bml5banbnxkftztcwotm3mtm5oq4040._v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_Web Series: “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries”

Release Year: 2012

Actors: Lizzie Bennet – Ashley Clements

William Darcy – Daniel Vincent Gordh

Jane Bennet – Laura Spencer

Lydia Bennet – Mary Kate Wiles

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

I watched this for the first time a few years ago. It had been out for a while as “Emma Approved” was also up and concluded. I remember flying through both series pretty quickly and enjoying the heck out of them (and, for the first time, being really annoyed by all the YouTube ads that were breaking up my experience). So, to get a wide range of examples of Jane Austen adaptations, I wanted to include both of these web series in this year’s project.

Sadly, it doesn’t quite hold up as much a second time around. This isn’t a mark against it overall, just that I think it’s the kind of thing that is more of an “experience” watching the first time and less enjoyable the second go around where the limitations of the format begin to glare more when the novelty has worn off. But I’ll start with a few of the positive things that stood out this go-around.

First, I think the series is very creative, especially with the way it changed certain aspects of the original story to fit a modern setting. Woes about family finances become more grounded in talks about second mortgages. Different approaches to marriage become different approaches to career paths. Pemberley becomes Darcy’s media company and Catherine DeBourgh becomes a venture capitalist who is funding Mr. Collins’s own media enterprise. Lydia is a party girl and Wickham is a dumb jock. Even small things like changing Mr. Bingley’s name to Bing Lee are creative as heck. I have to imagine it was really fun writing this series.

Also, for the most part, all of the actors are well-cast and, while clearly distinctive from their book counterparts, they all fit well with the same basic personalities and storylines from the original. I’ll obviously talk about some of the big players later, but I’ll just add here that I particularly liked this version of Charlotte (the hilarious and practical behind-the-scenes counterpart in the production of Lizzie’s videos) and of Georgiana/Gigi (a fresh faced and bubbly presence who gets much more involved in the matchmaking side of things with regards to her brother and Lizzie than the original would ever have dreamed of).

However, this go-around, the story felt unnecessarily drawn out and was rather tedious during the middle portion. It takes a long time to even get to the first “proposal,” let alone everything that came later. I think a good number of episodes probably could have been cut and the series would have ultimately kept up its pace and rhythm better. I have to imagine that this was a lesson learned for “Emma Approved” which has a shorter run time even though it is based off the longer book of the two.

The series also struggled with some of its more serious moments. The actors all felt more at ease with the comedy than the drama and there were times where some of it seemed to slip in quality from the rest. It’s just the kind of thing that is going to play more naturally with a comedic topic. Once we get into the drama with Lydia, I was not only beginning to feel the length of the show again but started to become more uncomfortable watching it. Like the romance, it was hard not to feel voyeuristic about these more serious portions. Yes, my brain knew it was all acted out anyways, but the other part of me cringed for seeing these intimate moments of seemingly “regular” people.

Overall,  I think it’s well worth checking out by all Austen fans. Though I will say that for me, at least, it was an experience that didn’t hold up to a repeat. Which is totally fine! I still remember loving it the first time and anyone who hasn’t seen it and loves these stories will probably feel the same. I do remember liking “Emma Approved” better, so we’ll see how that does the second go-around.

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

While the show is definitely bringing new twists to this story, I’m not quite sure how I feel about this Lizzie herself. Due to the nature of this story, her prejudice against Darcy does seem extreme to the point of rather obsessive. I mean, we’ve all met rude guys, but she takes it pretty far. And, overall, this Lizzie is much more cynical and judgmental of almost everyone around her than the version in the book. Elizabeth Bennett definitely jumped to conclusions, but she also seemed to generally treat people with a bit more kindness than this Lizzie. Again, the nature of this series, being a video diary for Lizzie, kind of sets her up for failure here. Most all of it is her talking about other people. And what are diaries made up of?

Yep, diaries = talking crap about a bunch of people behind their back. But when it’s a web series and that’s all you have…your heroine kind of comes off like a bit of a jerk to those around her. True, by the end of the series she does come around on all of this, but it’s still a bit much at times.

The worst was her fall-out with Charlotte. The idea is good, to exchange practicality about marriage with practicality about careers, with Charlotte not subscribing to Lizzie’s “go for the dream” job approach. But, like the problem I had with the 2008 version of “Pride and Prejudice,” this Mr. Collins isn’t that bad (at least not for a first boss, and we’ve all had bad bosses, so c’mon) and Lizzie’s reaction seems completely overblown. Even more so here than in other versions of this story.

Charlotte lays out her reasoning pretty clearly: her family is poor, she thinks much of career success is based on luck, and often a job is a job, something that you make a living doing. I mean…this speaks so much truth to my generation, a bunch of people who graduated from college with massive debts right into a recession where jobs were scarce and those that did exist barely paid.  It’s the RIGHT outlook! And, unlike marriage, a job isn’t meant to be forever. This is the exact sort of golden opportunity that you’d be stupid, and Lizzie is stupid for turning down! You start out with a company in a great position, and after a few years, leverage it into your dream job. This is just reality, and it has all the luck that Charlotte mentioned written all over it: just handed to Lizzie, and then Charlotte, on a gold platter for really no good reason other than a past connection and them being in the right place at the right time. And then Lizzie just tears into Charlotte over it. It’s pretty obnoxious, really. Granted, she does come around pretty quickly. But it’s a tough thing to recover from so early in the show. Not a good look for Lizzie.

I also had a few qualms with the acting itself. I think the actress was best in her comedy moments, especially the dramatizations of past scenes with her parodies of other people. But when the script called for more serious moments, be it the angry confrontation with Darcy, the sister squabble with Lydia and eventual reunion, and even the more serious parts of the romance…I just didn’t feel like the actress was really cut out for it. She tended to overact and her expressions and reactions felt a bit forced.

On the other hand, I really liked the actresses who played Jane and Lydia. I’ll talk more about Lydia in the comedy section. Jane, however, was pretty solid. She’s sweet, kind of quiet, and a great interpretation of the book character into a modern woman. We only see her on and off, but she’s a nice balance to both Lizzie and Lydia.

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

We don’t really see much of our heroes in this version. Bing shows up early enough, thinking the videos are just messages to Charlotte. I really like this interpretation of Bing. He’s charming, funny, and easy going. But! Importantly, he’s NOT an idiot. Yes, he does get lead around by his friends, but the series makes great efforts at the end for him to experience his own personal reflection and start making choices for himself. He drops out of med school, admitting he had only been doing it because that’s what his family wanted. And instead he was spending his time working with charities. Jane at first turns down his offer to follower her to NYC where she gets a new job. But after hearing about these moments of clarity on his part and his efforts to begin to make his own choices, she relents and the two are together at least. It’s a nice mini arc for the character, and it ties up some questions about his character quite nicely by allowing him to experience his own personal growth.

I mention this a bit more in the romance section below, but it’s really too bad that we don’t see more of Darcy until at least halfway through the series. Even Bing, we have a face to connect to the stories much earlier which goes a long way for how much we care about his and Jane’s storyline. But I do like the character a lot when we do meet him. His mannerisms are of the sort that it’s easy to see how Lizzie’s interpretations of his rudeness and coldness came to be. And it’s fun to see him loosen up gradually. I particularly liked the last few episodes after they’re together. There’s some fun nods to the book with a mention of his learning to be teased and dealing with Lizzie’s mother and father.

I also liked the way the show used career opportunities instead of proposals as the big kicks for each of the ladies. And through these moments, the heroes also had their moments to shine, with Bing prioritizing Jane’s work and going with her to NYC rather than asking her to stay, and Darcy, perhaps foolishly, originally asking Lizzie to work at his company. She is quick to point out the problems with this, but we also see how he plans to use his network connections to help her with her start-up.

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

I really liked this take on Wickham. He’s only on a few episodes, but it’s enough to see how charming he can be. It’s also enough for the viewers, at least, to see what a complete idiot he is. He’s full on “dumb jock” through and through. Even Lizzie seems embarrassed by him at a few points. The adjustments to his storyline also work very neatly, switching out an estate for a full ride to Harvard, money that Wickham blows through in one year before asking for more.

His affair with Gigi is also a nice twist, with them forming a relationship and living together until Darcy shows up unexpectedly and proves that Wickham was only in it for the money by offering him a check to leave, which he takes and does. It’s nearly as traumatic as the elopement would have been in the book, but it serves well enough. The only thing that is a bit of a sticking point is that, given the current culture, while it may be embarrassing for Gigi, it’s definitely not the kind of secret that should affect her at all if widely known. It could be easily told and sink Wickham, and I sincerely doubt anyone would think anything bad about the poor girl caught up in it all.

The sex tape with Lydia is far more effective as a stand-in for the life-long horror he intends to bring down on her. The internet is forever, and that kind of thing, once published is almost impossible to put back in a box. It would have followed Lydia forever. It’s a pretty basic practice for most employers to run Google searches on their prospective candidates, so it’s easy to see how this would have had real, tangible effects on her ability to lead a normal life. And, in the end, she gets off way easier than the Lydia in the book. Doesn’t have to have anything to do with Wickham ever again rather than ending up married to the guy.

Lastly, Caroline is the other main villain. I really liked this depiction of Caroline. She’s much more cool and calculated in her manipulation, even hoodwinking Lizzie about her true character. Some of the early videos of her are particularly interesting as the viewer can see Caroline actively fanning the flames of Lizzie’s dislike for Darcy while Lizzie is completely clueless to this manipulation. And then, ultimately, Caroline is the one behind much of the Bing/Jane drama. She arranges a situation at one of her parties to have some drunk guy kiss and unsuspecting Jane right when Darcy is watching. With this in mind, it’s easier to defend Darcy’s interference: he legitimately thought Jane was pulling his friend’s chain. Caroline, however, is the true evil mastermind behind it all.

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

Yikes, the actual romance in this story is by far the most awkward thing in existence. The format of the show is never more working against itself than in these parts. I just felt super uncomfortable and voyeuristic watching the final kiss and conclusion to Lizzie and Darcy’s story. The build-up to this moment is fine, but the actual kiss itself…oof.

I wish there had been a way of introducing Darcy earlier in the series. The way the story is presented, this isn’t really possible, but once we can actually see the interactions between Lizzie and Darcy’s, it’s much easier to feel invested in their relationship. Really, if this wasn’t a retelling of “Pride and Prejudice” which conditions viewers to put importance on the Lizzie/Darcy drama, much of the first half of the series would seem oddly focused on a character we never seem to meet. It makes Lizzie’s fixation and extreme dislike feel all the more strange. Sure, the enactments give us an idea of Darcy’s personality and the social interactions that put Lizzie off in the first place. But all of Lizzie’s enactments are clearly extremes of characters, so when you only have those to rely on for such an important character…It’s just hard to feel invested in any of it, without seeing their awkwardness together. But once he shows up, it’s much better. And it’s even better as we see them develop a tentative friendship with him even participating in some of her mini dramas.

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

Lydia is by far the funniest character in this series, especially in the first half of the show when she’s mostly just freely being herself , extremes and all. Once Lizzie starts pushing her to be more grown up and the Wickham drama comes in to play, it all gets a bit too serious almost. In the books what you loved about Lydia was also what you couldn’t stand about Lydia: nothing fazed her. Even in the face of social shaming and shunning, she never seemed to bat an eyelash about it and behaved the same way. Here, the story gets more much serious with how Lydia reacts to Lizzie’s perceptions of her, and even more so, the near miss she has with the sex tape.

But! In the beginning, she’s just hilarious. The actress brought a bunch of fun ticks to the character, with all of the hair flipping and camera poses. She also has a bunch of fun catchphrases, and it’s easy to see why she, of all the characters, ended up with some side videos in her own little series. I didn’t watch any of these for this re-watch, so I can’t speak to what those have to offer. But in a lot of ways her character is a breath of fresh air to the earnest and sweet Jane and the cynical Lizzie. She’s bouncy, bright, and ridiculous and brings new levity to all of her scenes.

I also really liked this version of Mr. Collins. While he is pretty ridiculous, he’s not nearly has intolerable as the character in the books. I really liked how he was always name dropping his VC (venture capitalist) Catherine DeBourgh. It was one example of the many perfect substitutions this series made for aspects of the book that wouldn’t work in a modern setting. Lizzie’s impressions of Catherine DeBourgh were also excellent, but only made me wish we could have actually seen the character on screen somehow!

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

Kitty becomes Lydia’s cat, “Kitty” who follows her everywhere. Mary is a cousin whom most of them seem to regular forget exists.

The movie “Bridget Jones’s Diary” exists in this world as one of the sisters mentions that Darcy’s name is the same as “that character Colin Firth plays.” So, Colin Firth makes it into even this adaptation, if only in name. It seems that the book “Pride and Prejudice” does not exist, however.

Mrs. Bennet has several plans to get Jane stuck over at Netherfield. One includes sending her over with a jello that, due to the rain, is sure to ruin her dress and force her to stay. Mrs. Bennet also arranges for home improvements which force Jane and Lizzie to stay there for several weeks.

Pemberley is the name of William Darcy’s media business, and he mentions it is named after the part of England that his family is originally from.

Caroline Bingley will make a reappearance in “Emma Approved.”

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

The Mrs. Bennet impersonations were by far the best.

In two weeks, I’ll review the first half of “Emma.” Yes, I know this is out of order, but my quarantine brain read this one first and I didn’t want to do either it or “Mansfield Park” a disservice by speed reading the latter and then trying to review the former months after I actually read it. So, it is what it is!

Kate’s Review: “If It Bleeds”

46015758._sy475_Book: “If It Bleeds” by Stephen King

Publishing Info: Scribner, April 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: A collection of four uniquely wonderful long stories, including a stand-alone sequel to the No. 1 bestseller The Outsider.

News people have a saying: ‘If it bleeds, it leads’. And a bomb at Albert Macready Middle School is guaranteed to lead any bulletin.

Holly Gibney of the Finders Keepers detective agency is working on the case of a missing dog – and on her own need to be more assertive – when she sees the footage on TV. But when she tunes in again, to the late-night report, she realizes there is something not quite right about the correspondent who was first on the scene. So begins ‘If It Bleeds’ , a stand-alone sequel to the No. 1 bestselling The Outsider featuring the incomparable Holly on her first solo case – and also the riveting title story in Stephen King’s brilliant new collection.

Dancing alongside are three more wonderful long stories from this ‘formidably versatile author’ (The Sunday Times) – ‘Mr Harrigan’s Phone’, ‘The Life of Chuck’ and ‘Rat’ . All four display the richness of King’s storytelling with grace, humor, horror and breathtaking suspense. A fascinating Author’s Note gives us a wonderful insight into the origin of each story and the writer’s unparalleled imagination.

The novella is a form King has returned to over and over again in the course of his amazing career, and many have been made into iconic films, If It Bleeds is a uniquely satisfying collection of longer short fiction by an incomparably gifted writer.

Review: Quarantine has been hard, but books have been helping me get through. And I’m very thankful that Stephen King happened to have his new book “If It Bleeds” arrive right when I was most needing a helping of my favorite author. True, short stories collections are things that I tend to be wary of, but King hasn’t failed me yet, so I jumped into this collection of four novellas without much trepidation. For me, King’s works and adaptations are like pancakes. Even when they aren’t as good, they’re still pretty enjoyable.

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Me during this Stephen King New Golden Age of Content. (source)

“If It Bleeds” is a collection of thriller and horror tales, the tried and true genres that King does best. I’m going to talk about all four, and then try to pull it all back together at the end. Bear with me, as this may get long.

“Mr. Harrigan’s Phone”: We start off with an age old story about being careful what you wish for, as well as the wholesome bond between a young man and an elder in the community. Mr. Harrigan is an isolated rich man living in a small town, and he asks a boy named Craig to come read to him every week. Their friendship builds, and eventually Craig gets Mr. Harrigan connected to the Internet world with an iPhone. After Mr. Harrigan dies, Craig will call his phone to hear his voice again, and leave a message when he’s feeling down. But then Craig starts to wonder if he’s getting through to Mr. Harrigan beyond the grave… and what the consequences of that may be. This felt the most like an old school and straight forward Stephen King tale, with ambiguity, a bit of humor, and a coming of age tale laced with a bit of malice. It wasn’t really reinventing the wheel, and it also felt a lot like King’s story “Obits”, but it was a fun enough read.

“The Life of Chuck”: I had to go back and reread this one, as it’s definitely the most experimental of the stories within this collection. It’s not horror, and it’s not thriller. It’s more of a meditation on life, death, and the unknown impacts that our lives, and deaths, have. It was also a difficult one to read during the COVID-19 pandemic, as one of the big themes was about the end of the world. People are dealing with the end of the world, as a man named Chuck is dying in a hospital. We see Chuck’s life in reverse, starting with his death, and ending near the beginning. After reading it a second time I fully grasped what King was doing, and this story was neither scary, nor was it a thriller. It was a very quiet, meditative tale, one that added a more tender edge to this collection.

“If It Bleeds”: This was the story I was most looking forward to, as it brings us back to Holly Gibney, Jerome Robinson, and the world of the “Mr. Mercedes” Trilogy and “The Outsider”. Holly has been a top tier King character of mine ever since her debut in “Mr. Mercedes”, and seeing how she has grown and flourished through other tales has really been rewarding. So it’s probably no surprise that I greatly enjoyed “If It Bleeds”. After a middle school is bombed in a supposed terrorist attack, Holly starts to fixate on a good samaritan on the scene. This leans more towards “The Outsider” than the Bill Hodges Trilogy in terms of genre, but it still reads like a thriller at the heart of it, even Holly is once again after something supernatural. I was admittedly a little nervous that Holly may have a harder time carrying a story on her shoulders, since she does sometimes edge a bit towards King’s idea of a quirky savant. But Holly really has grown and edged out since her first adventure, and seeing her on her own tracking down something malevolent was suspenseful, poignant, and fun. And along with that, both Jerome and Barbara Robinson are back and are given some good things to do. King could keep coming back to all of these characters and I don’t think I’d ever get tired of them.

“Rat”: This felt the most like an old school Stephen King short story, as it has everything I’ve come to expect of that. A troubled writer, a secluded cabin, danger, and a potentially talking rat that can grant a wish at a great cost. Drew is an author who think that he is on the brink of another great novel, and since it’s been awhile since his last hit, he’s desperate to make something of it. He isolates himself in a remote cabin, and begins his work. But when a storm comes through and Drew is felled by illness and isolation, he turns to a talking rat who says that it can guarantee his book will be a hit… if he makes a sacrifice. It’s your usual Faustian deal, but it’s what led up to it that was the most interesting. As a storm rages and illness messes with Drew’s perceptions of reality, you get the suspense and questions as to how sound his mind is in that moment, and if he’s going to ultimately sacrifice everything for his craft. I also liked how King brought in how a marriage can suffer when one person is more dedicated to their own dream and ego than they are to those that care about them.

Overall, “If It Bleeds” was a solid collection from King. None of the stories blew me out of the water, but they all connected with me on one level or another. And right now, I just liked having the familiarity of my favorite author to help me get through.

Rating 8: A well done and comfortable collection of thriller stories, and a new story for a favorite character.

Reader’s Advisory:

“If It Bleeds” is included on the Goodreads list “Crime, Mystery, and Thrillers 2020”, and would fit in on “Great Dark Short Stories”.

Find “If It Bleeds” at your library using WorldCat, or at your local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Serena’s Review: “The Body in the Garden”

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

Publishing Info: Crooked Lane Books, April 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: London 1815. Though newly-widowed Lily Adler is returning to a society that frowns on independent women, she is determined to create a meaningful life for herself even without a husband. She’s no stranger to the glittering world of London’s upper crust. At a ball thrown by her oldest friend, Lady Walter, she expects the scandal, gossip, and secrets. What she doesn’t expect is the dead body in Lady Walter’s garden.

Lily overheard the man just minutes before he was shot: young, desperate, and attempting blackmail. But she’s willing to leave the matter to the local constables–until Lord Walter bribes the investigating magistrate to drop the case. Stunned and confused, Lily realizes she’s the only one with the key to catching the killer.

Aided by a roguish navy captain and a mysterious heiress from the West Indies, Lily sets out to discover whether her friend’s husband is mixed up in blackmail and murder. The unlikely team tries to conceal their investigation behind the whirl of London’s social season, but the dead man knew secrets about people with power. Secrets that they would kill to keep hidden. Now, Lily will have to uncover the truth, before she becomes the murderer’s next target.

Review: I’m always on the look out for a new historical mystery series. And while I love my Amelia Peabody and Veronica Speedwell mysteries, the two together can begin to feel a bit repetitive. They each are excellent on their own, but Amelia and Veronica have similar personalities and their strong women personas both play of the gruff-with-a-heart-of-gold romantic interests in very similar ways. The mysteries and settings are very different, but reading this last Veronica Speedwell book (I didn’t love it in general, so that doesn’t help), left me feeling a bit like the genre was starting to all feel the same. So I was both excited and nervous when I saw the book description for this one. On one hand, a recently widowed heroine is definitely different than those other stories. But then you add “roguish navy captain”…and would this really be all that different? Yes, it was, and it was just the breath of fresh air I was looking for!

Only one year into mourning her beloved husband, Lily Adler decides that enough is enough: it is time to rejoin the world and what better place than London itself in the midst of a Season? With the help of her dear friend, Lady Walter, Lily is quick to fall back into society, making new friends and visiting with old acquaintances. But amid all the typical gossip and small dramas that are always to be found in society, Lily suddenly finds herself caught up in a mystery: a young man murdered in Lady Walter’s own garden. A murder that no one seems to care much about but Lily and a few of her new friends. Soon enough, however, it seems that this young man’s death was only one small part of a much greater scheme and one that now begins to threaten Lily herself.

I really loved this book. And mostly this was down to the refreshing new characters that the story centers around. Lily is by no means the plucky, go-get-em leading lady that we see in Amelia Peabody or Veronica Speedwell. Instead, her strength comes in a calm, steely resolve to do what she sees right, while always maintaining a strong sense of dignity and knowledge of where her own particular strengths and weaknesses lie. She doesn’t seek out this investigation out of any sense of adventure, but rather she pursues it only because of her strong sense of justice. If, by the end of it all, she finds a new direction for her life, it’s not due to any intrepidness that has always persisted throughout her life. She’s a much more quiet, reserved leading lady, but just as skillful in being more withdrawn. Indeed, I think some of her observations, not only about the case but about people’s general behavior, were even more striking for being discussed in cool tones without much flair or fanfare.

I also really liked Jack Hartley, the aforementioned navy captain. Lily’s recent loss and continuing grief over the loss of her husband is never forgotten, which leaves this book to build up a solid friendship and partnership between these two without any real vibes of romance. Whether the series goes that direction or not is yet to be determined (I’d guess yes, but I’m also fine with it staying as is). One that that really stood out for me with this character were a few brief moments when Jack’s beliefs of himself as a man who greatly respects women was truly put to the test. We all to often see these historical pieces with men that “respect women” in the most obvious ways, but the story never really addresses the underlying tones that undermine this supposed respect. Lily calls Jack out on a few of these points, making him aware that as much as he does respect her, he still can fall into traps of limiting his perception of her due to her gender. These are smaller moments, but they are the kind of observations that often are left without being addressed in historical books like this.

I also really liked the inclusion of Ofelia Oswald, a POC heiress who becomes the third partner in this little crime team (Jack Hartley is also of mixed heritage). It’s rare to find historical books that include many POC characters, let alone two in prominent roles in the story. The author also included a great note at the end about her research into the challenges POC people faced in London society at this time and how she chose to position her characters in a way that was historically accurate but also put them at the forefront of the story.

The story was a bit on the slower side, but as I enjoyed the three main characters so much, I never had a problem with this. But I do want to put it out there for those thinking to pick it up: this book is definitely meant to feel immersive and spends a lot of time putting together all the details and pieces of the mystery and the characters involved. I really enjoyed the mystery itself, too. I was able to guess the villain about halfway through, but I didn’t get all of the pieces to fit together until much later in the book. The mystery was well thought out and the pieces were laid craftily throughout the story. Readers looking for a new take on historical mysteries should definitely check this one out!

Rating 9: Excellent. Lily Adler may be quieter than some other heroines in the mystery market, but she’s definitely one to pay attention to!

Reader’s Advisory: 

“The Body in the Garden” is a newer title, so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “Historical Mystery 2020.”

Find “The Body in the Garden” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Long Bright River”

43834909Book: “Long Bright River” by Liz Moore

Publishing Info: Riverhead Books, January 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Two sisters travel the same streets, though their lives couldn’t be more different. Then, one of them goes missing.

In a Philadelphia neighborhood rocked by the opioid crisis, two once-inseparable sisters find themselves at odds. One, Kacey, lives on the streets in the vise of addiction. The other, Mickey, walks those same blocks on her police beat. They don’t speak anymore, but Mickey never stops worrying about her sibling.

Then Kacey disappears, suddenly, at the same time that a mysterious string of murders begins in Mickey’s district, and Mickey becomes dangerously obsessed with finding the culprit–and her sister–before it’s too late.

Alternating its present-day mystery with the story of the sisters’ childhood and adolescence, Long Bright River is at once heart-pounding and heart-wrenching: a gripping suspense novel that is also a moving story of sisters, addiction, and the formidable ties that persist between place, family, and fate.

Review: My sister and I aren’t thick as thieves or anything like that. We get along pretty well, though we’re very different people. Lockdown has actually made us interact more than we have in awhile, vis a vis our Switches, playing “Mario Kart” and “Animal Crossing” together. But even though we aren’t best friends, I do love her very much (and am trying not to worry about the fact she and her wife are in New York City, the worst hit place for COVID-19 in this country). So whenever I see a story about sisters, I am bound to relate to it at least a little bit, which was part of the reason I was drawn to “Long Bright River” by Liz Moore. I figured that I could kind of justify it within the mystery or thriller genre, but once again this is a bit more literary than most thrillers I read.

While there are a couple of mysteries that “Long Bright River” centers around, this is more of a character study about two sisters who grew up in poverty, dealing with generational trauma and addiction. Mickey became a police officer, persuaded in part by her need to escape her familial situation, and by a cop who took an interest in her when she was a teen. Kacey, however, was swept up in drugs and addiction, like many people in their community as the opioid crisis looms. We see Mickey as she tries to find her sister as a serial killer starts to prey on addicts and sex workers on her beat, and as Mickey searches for her we get insight into both sisters through the present and through flashbacks. Moore really captures the complications of their relationship, exploring how their differences and their upbringing influenced them and changed them, and the ways they have both loved and hurt each other over the years. Though the perspective is Mickey’s, I felt like I knew both sisters by the time we came to the end, and could understand both of them, even their darker and rougher sides. You see how their sad home life (raised by their grandmother after their young mother died of a drug overdose and their father fled the coop) shaped them both, and can see why each took the paths that they did.

The mystery of the serial killer targeting addicts and sex workers definitely takes a back seat the the sisterly relationship, but the story of the sisters was so well done and so emotional that I didn’t really mind, even though I thought it would be more of a mystery than a character study. The character study was damned good, and it doesn’t limit itself to a sister theme. Along with the themes of childhood trauma and generational poverty and addiction, we also get a hard look at police corruption, and how communities seen as expendable are easily ignored by those who are supposed to protect them. Or sometimes, even explicitly targeted by them. I feel like sometimes books about police officers or detectives are more inclined to either ignore the systemic problems within the police, from racism to corruption to militarization that targets some groups while upholding the power of others. Or, if it’s not outright ignored there is assurance that the protagonist, and the protagonist’s unit, are not part of that problem, that they are good cops. But what I really liked about “Long Bright River” is that Moore acknowledges that Mickey is in it for the right reasons…. but a lot of the time, that isn’t enough.

I also really enjoyed the writing style of this book. Similar to the works of Cormac McCarthy, the dialogue isn’t in the usual punctuation. Instead it’s minimal, with dashes and not a lot beyond that. It always takes a little bit for me to get into this style, but once I’m in I’m in, and I thought that it was a complement to the overall story. I also liked that Moore played with the timeline, as mentioned above, going back in time to expand upon the narrative and to provide insight along the way. And finally, there are many, many references and moments that acknowledge the opioid crisis that has many people firmly in its grip. The story starts off with a list of people who have OD’d within the community that Mickey and Kacey have grown up in, which really sets the scene and serves to show that there is a pall that hangs over the story, just as there is a pall that’s hanging over society right now.

“Long Bright River” was a fantastic and heart rendering mystery that kept me on the edge of my seat. Steel yourself for something dark. But definitely take it on.

Rating 9: A dark and gritty mystery that examines police corruption, the opioid epidemic, and the powerful, if sometimes fraught, relationship between sisters, “Long Bright River” is a fantastic read.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Long Bright River” is included on the Goodreads lists “Sister Mysteries”, and I think it would fit in on “Books of Philadelphia”.

Find “Long Bright River” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Highlights: May 2020

We think that we’re finally in the clear up here in Minnesota when it comes to snow, which is always nice. And with nicer weather means more opportunities to go outside and enjoy the scenery (responsibly, of course). This means backyard patio time to be sure, and what better way to enhance that kind of relaxation than with a book or two? Here are the new titles we’re looking forward to this month!

Serena’s Picks

23654840._sx318_Book: “Age of Empyre” by Michael J. Sullivan

Publication Date: May 5, 2020

Why I’m Interested: It’s finally here! The last book in the “Legends of the First Empire” series! It’s gone by all too quickly (though this is, of course, nothing against the amazingly fast publication schedule the author has set for himself, love that!). The last book ended on a pretty massive cliff-hanger with several of our heroes seeming to fall to their doom and the most powerful of them is still caught in enemy territory. I also have to say that I love this cover and am really interested to see who the person with the sword is. And is that Suri’s dragon? Or…did the enemies manage to create one themselves? The grand finale will be something else! I’m so nervous.

44603554._sy475_Book: “House of Dragons” by Jessica Cluess

Publication Date: May 12, 2020

Why I’m Interested: While I was kind of burned by the end of the last trilogy I read by Cluess, she did create a pretty fascinating new fantasy world. And, of course, I’m a sucker for anything and all dragons. This book seems to be a combination of the *sigh* oh so prevalent ensemble POV YA stories and some type of “Throne of Glass”/”Hunger Games” competition. Five different royal houses are meant to compete for the dragon throne. But this time things are different and a group of outcasts end up competing instead. I’m definitely interested in checking it out, but if I get many whiffs of love triangles, love squares, etc., I’m probably out.

51182650._sx318_sy475_Book: “Girl, Serpent, Thorn” by Melissa Bashardoust

Publication Date: (now) July 7, 2020

Why I’m Interested: You may have noticed that this book is set to be published in July, not May. Well, a bunch of books on my May list have pushed back publication dates due to the pandemic. So…I’m cheating. I’ll include some of the others when they do come out, but I thought I’d throw this one in here anyways (let’s be honest, most of them were switched and I was running out). In this original fairytale, a young princess is cursed with a fatal touch, dooming her to a life of distance and lack of physical contact. But as her brother’s marriage approaches, Soraya begins to question the direction her life is headed. Is she a monster or is she gifted with a power beyond reckoning? This book sounds super interesting and you know I’m all about original fairytales! I have an advanced copy due to NetGalley, so I’m sure I’ll be taking advantage of having that and not needing to wait until the delayed publication date!

Kate’s Picks

52757827._sx318_sy475_Book: “Something Is Killing the Children (Vol. 1)” by James Tynion IV

Publication Date: May 26, 2020

Why I’m Interested: I am always on the lookout for a solid horror graphic, and the title alone of “Something Is Killing the Children” gives me the serious creeps. When children start to go missing in a small town, everyone is scared that their kid will be next. It’s when a mysterious woman shows up and tells the children that are left that it’s monsters that are behind it, and that she is going to take care of it, that a little bit of hope can be seen. Monster hunting, a scary premise, and a badass heroine with some baggage and a will to kick ass? I’m into it! I’ve read some of James Tynion IV’s work in the past, so I am very interested in seeing what he does with this concept.

52518111Book: “The Silence” by Susan Allott

Publication Date: May 19, 2020

Why I’m Interested: This has had some comparison’s to Jane Harper’s books, and given that I’ve become a fan of hers over the years, I am absolutely interested in giving any read-alikes a whirl. And this one involves family secrets, the darkness of small towns, and a disappearance, all things I LOVE. In 1967, a woman named Mandy disappeared from her Sydney neighborhood, and people assumed that she had left her family to start life anew. But years later, no one can find her, and people start to suspect that her neighbor at the time, Joe, had something to do with her disappearance, as he was the last person to see her alive. Now his daughter Isla is having to confront that past, when Joe and Mandy and their spouses were neighbors, and things weren’t always as they seemed. Definitely sounds twisty and mysterious, so I’m very interested in getting my hands on this one.

46015758._sy475_Book: “If It Bleeds” by Stephen King

Publication Date: April 21, 2020

Why I’m Interested: This is a bit of a cheat, I concede that. But in my defense, I thought that Stephen King’s new novella collection was coming out in May until it’s release date in late April. So I’m just going to highlight it here because IT’S STEPHEN KING! This time he takes four novellas and puts them into a collection. One involves a phone that can perhaps exact revenge beyond the grave. Another involves an author who is desperate to write another hit, and makes a deal with an unusual, and perhaps dangerous, animal to do so. And another involves my girl Holly Gibney, trying to solve a mass murder where someone planted a bomb at a middle school. I’m so very happy to be able to read more King! I like feeling like some things have consistency in times like these, and King brings that to me.