Kate’s Review: “Grace Is Gone”

44890088Book: “Grace Is Gone” by Emily Elgar

Publishing Info: Harper Paperbacks, January 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received a paperback copy from Harper.

Book Description: From the bestselling author of If You Knew Her comes this harrowing tale of suspense—a story ripped from today’s headlines—of a tight-knit English community, who’s rocked by the murder of a mother and the mysterious disappearance of her daughter, and the secrets that lie concealed beneath a carefully constructed facade.

A small town’s beloved family.

A shocking, senseless crime—and the dark secret at the heart of it all.

Everyone in Ashford, Cornwall, knows Meg Nichols and her daughter, Grace. Meg has been selflessly caring for Grace for years, and Grace—smiling and optimistic in spite of her many illnesses—adores her mother. So when Meg is found brutally bludgeoned in her bed and her daughter missing, the community is rocked. Meg had lived in terror of her abusive, unstable ex, convinced that he would return to try and kidnap Grace…as he had once before. Now it appears her fear was justified.

Jon Katrin, a local journalist, knows he should avoid getting drawn back into this story. The article he wrote about Meg and Grace caused rifts within his marriage and the town. Perhaps if he can help find Grace, he can atone for previous lapses in judgment. The Nichols’ neighbor, Cara—contending with her own guilt over not being a better friend to Grace—becomes an unexpected ally. But in searching for Grace, Jon and Cara uncover anomalies that lead to more and more questions.

Through multiple viewpoints and diary entries, the truth about Grace emerges, revealing a tragedy more twisted than anyone could have ever imagined… 

Review: Thank you to Harper for sending me a paperback copy of this book!

I always love when I find surprise books, be they ARCs or otherwise, in my mailbox! I never expect it, and it feels like my birthday every time. So when “Grace Is Gone” arrived on my doorstep, I was tickled pink, and threw it on my ARC pile until it was time to take it on. I hadn’t heard of “Grace Is Gone” until that moment, and didn’t know what it was about until I started reading it. Well folks, we have another thriller about Munchausen’s By Proxy on our hands. Perhaps one might think I’d be bored with that by now, but I can assure you that I am absolutely not.

While I had read “Darling Rose Gold” in the past few months and while the parallels are there (given that Gypsy Rose and Dee Dee Blanchard once again seem to serve inspiration), “Grace Is Gone” not only came out first, but approaches the whole story in a different way. While “Darling Rose Gold” was from the perspectives of the mother and daughter duo, “Grace Is Gone” is from the outsiders who may have missed the signs that something was terribly wrong. The first perspective is Cara, the friend of Grace, the girl who has gone missing after her mother Meg was found murdered. Cara always thought that Grace was an ill and naive teenage girl, and she never questioned Meg’s love for her daughter. But now that Grace has disappeared, and things start coming out about Meg, Cara starts to blame herself for not seeing that her friend was in trouble. Along with Cara we get Jon, a journalist whose marriage is on the rocks and who wrote an unfavorable story about Meg and Grace in the months before the murder and disappearance. This story made him a target for the angry public, and now he’s wondering if his misgivings were worse than he thought. As we see these two people work together to try and find Grace, we get to see how abusers can present a certain face to those around them to hide their true selves. I really liked that we had two outsiders telling this story, as while I right away knew what this was based on, the mystery at the heart has good bones and a different way to explore a theme that we’ve seen before.

As characters, neither Cara nor Jon really break away from tropes that we’ve seen before. Cara is the sullen but curious young woman drawn into something bigger than she imagines, and feels like her unwitting complicity means she needs to do right by Grace. Jon, on the other hand, is the disgraced reporter who has something to prove, though his obsession with one story may cost him more than he imagines. While looking at the overall story through outsiders eyes is new to me, the outsiders themselves are pretty standard, and not as interesting as perhaps a focus on Grace and Meg may have been. But all of that said, the mystery at hand is compelling enough that I think it will keep the reader going just to see how it ends. Hell, even though I kind of knew where it was going to go, I was perfectly alright taking the journey to get to the destination.

“Grace Is Gone” is a decent thriller that kept me interested. If you want to explore a familiar story from another angle, it will suit you just fine.

Rating 7: A solid mystery thriller about small town secrets and uncovering disturbing truths, “Grace Is Gone” is a familiar theme with some interesting angles to explore it, even if the characters are some we’ve seen before.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Grace Is Gone” isn’t on many Goodreads lists as of yet, but it would fit in on “Intense Female Relationships”.

Find “Grace Is Gone” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Books with Memorable Dads

Our timing is a bit off, but we have a joint review we want to post next Monday, so…Happy early Father’s Day! And since we did a post highlighting books with memorable moms, it is only right that we create similar list of books with notable fathers! We both have great husbands who we’ve seen turn  into great dads over the last year, so we’re excited for this theme. Again, however, our list will include memorable father figures, so some may be good while other…not.

6969Book: “Emma” by Jane Austen

I’m in the middle of my reviews for this book for my “Year with Jane Austen” re-read, and it’s really reminding me how much of a figure Mr. Woodhouse, Emma’s father, plays in the story. (Plus, I featured Mrs. Bennett from “Pride and Prejudice” in the last post, and what’s a good list without some shoe-horned Jane Austen book wedged in??) But Mr. Woodhouse is truly a great father figure. While he’s eccentric and needy, it’s also clear that he loves Emma more than anything. Emma herself declares early in the book that there’s not a wife alive who has a better position in her own than she does with her father. And even in the end, Emma is prepared to put her own marriage with Mr. Knightley on hold indefinitely because she knows that her father needs her more. But, luckily for all, Mr. Knightley decides to move in with them instead, making for a nice, little happy ending for all!

38619Book/Series: “Kate Daniels” series by Illona Andrews

I can’t spoil the series for you, but I will say that the Kate Daniels series does include a fairly notable father who plays an important role in the series. He doesn’t actually show up for several books in, but he’s referenced pretty often and only grows in importance as the series progresses. This is one of my favorite urban fantasy series, and it’s also complete, which is another bonus for anyone looking for something to jump into without needing to worry about being strung along by prolonged publishing schedules. Kate Daniels starts out as your fairly typical, badass urban fantasy heroine. But she goes through several evolutions throughout the series and is a completely different character, in many ways, by the end of the series. It also features a romance, of course, but luckily that never takes over the story or overshadows Kate’s on compelling journey.

11588 Book: “The Shining” by Stephen King

And now time for some not great examples of fatherhood: Jack Torrance. The book is pretty different than the famous movie featuring Jack Nicholson, but it’s also the same in as far as the father’s role goes. After taking a remote job as a winter caretaker for an old hotel, Jack and his family soon begin to feel just how isolated they truly are. And what once felt like a beautiful retreat, suddenly begins to feel like something more. Each, in their own way, will be touched by the powers growing around the Overlook Hotel. But Jack especially doesn’t handle things well and won’t be winning any “father of the year” awards any time soon. But he’s definitely notable, and one of the most famous fathers in literature.

6288._sy475_Book: “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy

We’re going to be staying in a darker place for this book, but unlike Jack, the father in “The Road” is a man who protects his son at all costs in the wake of an unspecified extinction event. After the world has turned into a post-apocalyptic wasteland, a man and his son are trying to make their way South in hopes of finding safety. Along the way they face harsh conditions, cannibals, violence, and a tragic past. “The Road” is not for the faint of heart, as the bleakness and disturbing imagery is all encompassing. But the relationship between father and son is deep and incredibly emotional as a man tries to keep his son safe on their journey. Definitely bring a box of tissues with you to this book. Just because Oprah picked it for her book club, that doesn’t mean it’s going to go easy on you. But the love a father has for his son is a constant shining light.

2657Book: “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee

While it’s true that the longevity of “To Kill A Mockingbird” may not be as long as we used to think in terms of how it approaches racism, one theme that still holds true is fatherhood. Atticus Finch is the single father to precocious Scout and serious Jem, and he instills patience, hard work, and tolerance into his two children. He tries to shield them from the ills of the world, but is also realistic enough that when he needs to have hard talks with his kids he is game to do so. And while he is a bit of a white savior when it comes to the African American community in the book, one aspect that still holds up is how he encourages understanding when it comes to recluse neighbor Boo Radley. Plus, raising two children on his own as a working widower during the Great Depression was never going to be easy. but Atticus does it, and raises two empathetic and curious individuals. Truly a simple but powerful depiction of fatherhood.

32075671._sy475_Book: “The Hate U Give”

While this book mostly centers on teenage girl turned activist Starr Carter, she is shaped and supported by her two parents, especially her father Maverick. When Starr witnesses a policeman shoot her unarmed friend Khalil, she is traumatized, and then begins to speak out more and more about what she saw, even when people on multiple fronts want to silence her. Maverick supports Starr in whatever she wants to do, and has also become a supportive and well respected member of his community through his own activism and role as an organizer. He not only supports the children he has with his wife, but the son he had when he was a younger man and making not very good choices. Maverick is driven and filled with pride for all of his children, and instills them with pride in their Black identities and their neighborhood. But he always prioritizes his children and their safety, especially and tensions surrounding the murder and his daughter begin to roil.

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

Serena’s Review: “The Obsidian Tower”

50147675._sx318_sy475_Book: “The Obsidian Tower” by Melissa Caruso

Publishing Info: June 2020, Orbit

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

Book Description: The mage-marked granddaughter of a ruler of Vaskandar, Ryx was destined for power and prestige at the top of Vaskandran society. But her magic is broken; all she can do is uncontrollably drain the life from everything she touches, and Vaskandar has no place for a mage with unusable powers.

Then, one night, two terrible accidents befall her: Ryx accidentally kills a visiting dignitary in self-defense, activating a mysterious magical artifact sealed in an ancient tower in the heart of her family’s castle.

Ryx flees, seeking a solution to her deadly magic. She falls in with a group of unlikely magical experts investigating the disturbance in Vaskandar—and Ryx realizes that her family is in danger and her domain is at stake. She and her new colleagues must return to the family stronghold to take control of the artifact that everyone wants to claim—before it destroys the world.

Review: I really loved Melissa Caruso’s original trilogy, rating and reviewing them all pretty highly. So I was excited to see that she was coming out with a new series so quickly, and one that is set in the same world, no less! Vaskandar and its very different society and approach to magic was one of the more intriguing aspects of the original series, so I was particularly interested to see how that would work in this new story. While I wasn’t quite as blown away as I was with the first book in her other trilogy, overall, I still very much enjoyed this one.

While Ryx’s life has never been ordinary (her broken magic that kills anything she touches has prevented that), she has managed to make a place for herself in her powerful grandmother’s land. She not only manages the large familial estate that houses an ancient secret, but she’s become adept at political maneuvering and negotiation. These skills become all the more important when things go deadly wrong the eve before important negotiations between Vaskandar and Ravera. But they won’t be enough to combat the ancient evil that has been unleashed, forcing Ryx to turn to a society made up of magical experts in whose hands might rest the future of both nations.

As I said, I was really interested in checking out this book when I learned it was set in Vaskadar. That country had played a fairly large role as the villains in the previous series, and their approach to magic, culture, and societal structure differed greatly from Ravera. Ryx is an interesting entry point into this world. She is born into a powerfully magical family and does have the important ring in her eyes that designates her as a magic user, a marker that distinguishes her as someone important. However, her experience with magic has been the opposite of that of most everyone else’s. Instead of opening doors and leading to a  life of power and influence, her magic has done nothing but close them. With anything she touches dying on contact, the only life she can make for herself is one that is strictly guided by distancing rules and made up of people who know to keep their distance. Where in the previous book, we saw mages struggle against the restrictions that wearing a jess (a magical tool that contains a magic user’s power) brought on, Ryx has always longed for the freedom that one would grant her.

Her story throughout this book was very compelling, learning more about her own magic and the unexpected roles she can play in a world that she had thought off limits to her. We see a character who has never felt like she belonged in her powerful family, but whose very identity is caught up in the guardianship of the land and people that family holds dear. She’s a novice at forming relationships with new people, and we see her struggle to learn how to have friends and, maybe, even romantic relationships.

I also liked the greater exploration of Vaskandar and the rules and cultural norms that were so different than what we saw of Ravera in the previous series. The power structure is built into every aspect of Vaskandar society, and we see both the strengths this gives their society as well as the weaknesses it opens up. Because their power and long lives are connected to the land, Vaskandar has an uneasy relationship with borders, and it’s easy to see why tensions have historically been high with its neighbor nations. But here, the book veers off the expected course, and we see a new enemy arise. This was a nice switch from the Vaskandar vs. Ravera tensions from the first series which would have felt like a retread had it been repeated here.

I did struggle with the pacing of the story. Thinking back over it, while there are definitely tense moments, action-packed scenes, and a nice climax at the end of the book, while reading it, I felt like it was moving very slowly. The first half in particular seemed to really strain to get going. Some aspects of the story felt rushed (the building of character relationships, for example), but many of the actual plot points were talked about quite a lot before they actually happened. I think it could have been edited down and streamlined a bit.

But, like I said, other bits felt rushed. Ryx seems to meet the members of this magical society, and then in a hot minute become instant friends with them all and implicitly trust them. She shares crucial information with them and seems to be immediately accepted on the same level. I get that her joining up with these folks was a large point of the book and the series as a whole, but it kind of felt like the author was in such a rush to get to that, that she just skipped the natural build that is needed in developing these types of relationships. I had similar problems with the romance which seemed to kind of come out of nowhere. Ultimately, I was able to get on board with it, but it was a bit jarring.

While not the perfect start to a new series, this book definitely set the stage for what could be an excellent series. Ryx is a great main character, and the author has expanded the world-building out quite a bit with the introduction of the new evil force they will be working against. I found some of the twists and turns slightly predictable, and the pacing felt off at times. But I think if you enjoyed the author’s first series, this one is well worth checking out as well!

Also, don’t forget to enter our giveaway to win a ARC version of “The Obsidian Tower!”

Rating 8: Not without flaws, but a solid start to what promises to be an interesting new series!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Obsidian Tower” is a newer title so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists. But it is on “2020 Queer Sci-Fi Fantasy.”

Find “The Obsidian Tower” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Tigers, Not Daughters”

52776262._sx318_sy475_Book: “Tigers, Not Daughters” by Samantha Mabry

Publishing Info: Algonquin Young Readers, March 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: The Torres sisters dream of escape. Escape from their needy and despotic widowed father, and from their San Antonio neighborhood, full of old San Antonio families and all the traditions and expectations that go along with them. In the summer after her senior year of high school, Ana, the oldest sister, falls to her death from her bedroom window. A year later, her three younger sisters, Jessica, Iridian, and Rosa, are still consumed by grief and haunted by their sister’s memory. Their dream of leaving Southtown now seems out of reach. But then strange things start happening around the house: mysterious laughter, mysterious shadows, mysterious writing on the walls. The sisters begin to wonder if Ana really is haunting them, trying to send them a message—and what exactly she’s trying to say.
 
In a stunning follow-up to her National Book Award–longlisted novel All the Wind in the World, Samantha Mabry weaves an aching, magical novel that is one part family drama, one part ghost story, and one part love story.

Review: Give me a story with a good old fashioned haunting and I’ll probably be on board. Make that haunting a little deeper in meaning and I’ll be even happier. Sure, a random ghost is fine, but the ghosts of your past can be far more scary, given that’s the kind of haunting most people deal with in their day to day lives. I had this theme in mind when I bought “Tigers, Not Daughters” by Samantha Mabry, a story about sisters, loss, and unfinished business in both the spiritual sense and the literal sense.

“Tigers, Not Daughters” examines the life of the Torres sisters, girls who live in a house with their negligent and manipulative father, and who are grieving the loss of this oldest sister Ana, who died after falling out of a window. Jessica is filled with rage and making reckless decisions, while being caught up in an abusive romantic relationship. Iridian has pulled herself into her favorite book and into her own writing. And Rosa is trying to keep herself, and her sisters, together, while looking for a mysterious hyena that may or may not be roaming the neighborhood. All three perspectives of these sisters give us insight into how they’ve been coping with their loss, and how they are trying to move forward in spite of their own feelings of guilt and grief. We also occasionally get the perspectives of outsiders, usually from a chorus of neighbor boys who have been watching the Torres sisters for a long time. I felt that the way that Mabry interspersed all of these perspectives gave us an encompassing understanding of each sister and their emotional and mental states. The different ways each of them grieves are all very different, but they all felt realistic and well explored. And the ghostly presence of Ana adds a lot to their perspectives, seeing their personal interactions with her spirit and how that reflects how they left things before her death was clearly well thought out. I greatly enjoyed the haunting, an the unsettling descriptions of it.

What didn’t work as well for me was how rapid fire some of these perspective shifts could happen, as that tended to make the pacing feel a little rushed and stilted. We would be in Iridian’s perspective, then we’d jump to Jessica’s, then it would be Jessica’s again, then maybe the neighbor boy chorus. I also felt like the perspective that we were really lacking, and that we really could have used, was that of Ana. I definitely understand that by leaving her side of things out really emphasizes her absence, and how each sister feels like they were left not knowing Ana as much as they would have liked in the wake of her death, but the problem I had with that is that it made her feel more like an idea and just there to be a symbol, as opposed to a fully fleshed out person. And while I don’t think that Rafe, their father, needs to have much time spent on him, craven creep that he is, I feel like we could have known more about him. Was he this way before the girls’s mother died? Is his behavior a result of trauma, or mental illness, or sociopathy, or what? Again, we don’t need to focus in on him TOO much, but I think we could have known more.

So while it’s true that “Tigers, Not Daughters” didn’t quite explore as much as it could have for higher emotional impact, I did enjoy the straight forward haunting aspects of it. But something that also intrigues without much answer is that this is listed as the first in a series on Goodreads. Where could the Torres Sisters go from here? I’m kind of interested to find out where that ends up.

Rating 6: A ghost story about trauma, grief, and familial dysfunction, but it felt a little harried as it jumped from perspective to perspective without much time to process.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Tigers, Not Daughters” isn’t on many Goodreads lists yet (?!), but I think that it would fit in on “Latina Leads in YA and Middle Grade Fiction”, and “Latinx MG/YA Speculative Fiction”.

Find “Tigers, Not Daughters” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Giveaway: “The Obsidian Tower”

50147675._sx318_sy475_Book: “The Obsidian Tower” by Melissa Caruso

Publishing Info: June 2020, Orbit

Book Description: The mage-marked granddaughter of a ruler of Vaskandar, Ryx was destined for power and prestige at the top of Vaskandran society. But her magic is broken; all she can do is uncontrollably drain the life from everything she touches, and Vaskandar has no place for a mage with unusable powers.

Then, one night, two terrible accidents befall her: Ryx accidentally kills a visiting dignitary in self-defense, activating a mysterious magical artifact sealed in an ancient tower in the heart of her family’s castle.

Ryx flees, seeking a solution to her deadly magic. She falls in with a group of unlikely magical experts investigating the disturbance in Vaskandar—and Ryx realizes that her family is in danger and her domain is at stake. She and her new colleagues must return to the family stronghold to take control of the artifact that everyone wants to claim—before it destroys the world.

Giveaway Details: I really enjoyed Melissa Caruso’s original trilogy, so I was super excited when I saw that she was coming out with a second series set in the same world. Her first trilogy stood out for its amazingly competent and practical leading lady, the strong female friendships, a completely unique world, and an interesting take on a love triangle. From this description, it looks like we’ll have at least one of the same: an interesting-sounding young woman protagonist!

This description doesn’t really clarify when this story is set in comparison to the original, but I have to imagine it’s some time after. One of the things I’m most intrigued by is the fact that it is set in Vaskandar and our heroine hails from that nation. In the previous series, Vaskandar was largely an enemy nation. Their vivomancers wielded incredible power and their succession system was full of conflict. It will be interesting to see what this story has to offer featuring a main character from this land. Are the political tensions the same? I’m assuming she will feature in some type of heroic role, so how will that feature in Vaskandar’s competitive and sometimes brutal society?

I’m also really interested to learn more about Ryx’s broken powers. In the previous book, our main character herself didn’t have any magical abilities, but instead was a Falconer for her powerful, fire-wielding friend. And we know that Riverra and Vaskandar place very different values on those with and without magic. How will Ryx feature in this when she technically seems to have abilities, but they’re so dangerous that she accidentally kills her fellows?

I’ll have my full review for this book this Friday. But in the mean time, make sure to enter to win an ARC copy of “The Obsidian Tower.” The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and ends on June 17.

Click here to enter the giveaway!

 

Kate’s Review: “The Sandman (Vol.1): Preludes and Nocturnes”

23754Book: “The Sandman (Vol.1): Preludes and Nocturnes” by Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth (Ill.), Mike Dringenberg (Ill.), and Malcolm Jones III (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, 1989

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: New York Times best-selling author Neil Gaiman’s transcendent series SANDMAN is often hailed as the definitive Vertigo title and one of the finest achievements in graphic storytelling. Gaiman created an unforgettable tale of the forces that exist beyond life and death by weaving ancient mythology, folklore and fairy tales with his own distinct narrative vision.

In PRELUDES & NOCTURNES, an occultist attempting to capture Death to bargain for eternal life traps her younger brother Dream instead. After his 70 year imprisonment and eventual escape, Dream, also known as Morpheus, goes on a quest for his lost objects of power. On his arduous journey Morpheus encounters Lucifer, John Constantine, and an all-powerful madman.

This book also includes the story “The Sound of Her Wings,” which introduces us to the pragmatic and perky goth girl Death.

Review: After re-reading “Transmetropolitan”, I knew that I wanted to re-read another comic series that I have great affection for. I wasn’t sure which one I wanted to tackle, as I have a few that I REALLY love, but then fate interceded and announced that Audible was going to do an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s magnum opus, “Sandman”. “Sandman” is probably up there with “Watchmen”, “The Dark Knight Returns”, and “Maus” when it comes to influential graphic novels and comics. It is absolutely my favorite of Neil Gaiman’s works, and now the time has come to get reacquainted with Dream, Death, and all the other Endless and dream worlds.

giphy
I don’t know why I waited so long. (source)

When we first meet Morpheus, aka Dream, he’s become a prisoner to those who wanted to try and capture his sister Death for their own devices. “Preludes and Nocturnes” is not only the story of how he escapes, but his quest to gather his three sacred objects: his bag, his helmet, and his ruby. Along the way Morpheus meets familiar faces from the DC Universe, as this is a Vertigo title (RIP you magnificent company) and we’re bound to see other licensed characters. It’s great seeing the likes of Martian Manhunter, Scarecrow, Mr. Miracle, and more, as it gives us a familiar footing to introduce us to a VERY complicated world and mythos that Morpheus is coming from. As of now in the story, Morpheus is rather one track minded, desperate to get his objects back and going to many lengths to do so. His journeys lead him to some very dark places, and the plot and tone is what tells you that this is starting out as dark fantasy that is right in the middle of fantasy and horror. I had forgotten how dark this volume goes until I was in it, and it gave me chills. There are moments of sheer horror, absolutely, but they almost always have a dreamy feel to them, as they should (though I’m excluding all the stuff that happens with John Dee in the diner… You’ll know what I mean when you get to it. It’s just complete nightmare fuel). All the while, Morpheus remains stoic and intimidating, and yet feels ruminative and introspective as well. As of now we don’t know much about him and his backstory, but you still get the feel that he contains multitudes that are just waiting to be explored. It gets you hyped to keep going on.

For me, however, the most effective and greatest tale of this volume, and one of the best of the entire “Sandman” story, is the standalone “The Sound of Her Wings”. It is within this tale that we actually get to meet Dream’s older sister Death, the original target for the capture that Dream got caught up in. It’s a quiet, bittersweet tale of Dream accompanying her as she makes her rounds, releasing mortals from their lives, and seeing the peace for the dead, and the anguish for those left behind. Death is a Top 3 Sandman character for me, and probably most fans, as she is kind, bubbly, and compassionate. She also looks like a fan of the Cure circa 1987, but that just adds to her charm. This is probably the story I remembered best in all of the “Sandman” lore, and reading it again was just as lovely and emotional as it was the first time.

Finally, the artwork is so of it’s time but also very well done. Sam Kieth has been seen on this blog before, probably most notably in the review of the “Alien” comic series. While I didn’t feel that Kieth’s work matched the tone of that endeavor, it is pitch perfect for “Sandman”. The use of shadow and blanched colors is great on it’s own, but it’s the weird little details that are put in to give an extra sense of unreality.

 

dreamalittledreamofme
Look at that cape!! Just look at it! (source)

Honestly, if you are a fantasy fan and you haven’t read “Sandman”, I really encourage you to do so. It’s Gaiman’s best work, and “Preludes and Nocturnes” will get you hooked with just a little taste of what is to come.

Rating 9: A dark and dreamy introduction to one of the greatest comic series of all time, “Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes” builds a world that is wholly unique and almost otherworldly.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Sandman (Vol.1): Preludes and Nocturnes” is included on the Goodreads lists “500 Essential Graphic Novels”, and “Quality Dark Fiction”.

Find “The Sandman (Vol.1): Preludes and Nocturnes” at your library using Worldcat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Book Club Review: “My Invented Country”

16528We 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 “Around the World”, in which we each picked a continent and had to match a book that takes place there and/or is written by an author from that continent.

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: “My Invented Country: A Nostalgic Journey Through Chile” by Isabel Allende

Publishing Info: Harper, May 2003

Where Did We Get This Book: Kate owns it;

Continent: South America

Book Description: Isabel Allende’s first memory of Chile is of a house she never knew. The “large old house” on the Calle Cueto, where her mother was born and which her grandfather evoked so frequently that Isabel felt as if she had lived there, became the protagonist of her first novel, The House of the Spirits. It appears again at the beginning of Allende’s playful, seductively compelling memoir My Invented Country, and leads us into this gifted writer’s world.

Here are the almost mythic figures of a Chilean family — grandparents and great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends — with whom readers of Allende’s fiction will feel immediately at home. And here, too, is an unforgettable portrait of a charming, idiosyncratic Chilean people with a violent history and an indomitable spirit. Although she claims to have been an outsider in her native land — “I never fit in anywhere, not into my family, my social class, or the religion fate bestowed on me” — Isabel Allende carries with her even today the mark of the politics, myth, and magic of her homeland. In My Invented County, she explores the role of memory and nostalgia in shaping her life, her books, and that most intimate connection to her place of origin.

Two life-altering events inflect the peripatetic narration of this book: The military coup and violent death of her uncle, Salvador Allende Gossens, on September 11, 1973, sent her into exile and transformed her into a writer. The terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, on her newly adopted homeland, the United States, brought forth from Allende an overdue acknowledgment that she had indeed left home. My Invented Country, whose structure mimics the workings of memory itself, ranges back and forth across that distance accrued between the author’s past and present lives. It speaks compellingly to immigrants, and to all of us, who try to retain a coherent inner life in a world full of contradictions.

Kate’s Thoughts

I am sorry to say that while Isabel Allende has been on my reading list for a long time, I haven’t actually picked up any of her novels. So “My Invented Country” was my first interaction with her as an author. In terms of the history of Chile, I did have a small familiarity with the Pinochet government/dictatorship, as in high school we learned about him. But all of my experience reading about him was through an American lens, which is problematic enough on its own without even adding in the fact that the CIA was the one to help put him into power in the first place. So I went into this wanting to get familiar with Allende, and to see a perspective on Pinochet through a Chilean’s eyes.

“My Invented Country” is a collection of recollections of Allende’s childhood in Chile, and what her life was like when she had to flee after Pinochet came to power. She also makes a lot of connections to how her childhood influenced her books, with a lot of references to “The House of the Spirits”. Given that I haven’t read her other books, I didn’t feel like I was getting as much from this book as one who had read them might have. Along with that, it took a long while to actually get to the information about Pinochet and what that dictatorship did to the country. By the time we did get to that, however, I really liked seeing her insights and how complicated it was in society, and even within her own family. And it’s undeniable that Allende’s writing is gorgeous. The way she described the people in her life, the people in Chile, the landscapes and settings, I felt like I was there and getting a full view.

So while I probably didn’t get as much from “My Invented Country” as I might have, it has encouraged me to actually pick up some of Allende’s books in the near future.

Serena’s Thoughts

I have to echo a lot of what Kate already said. I had heard of Allende before, but of all the subgenres of fantasy, “magic realism” is probably my least preferred. So while her books have been on my radar for a while, I’ve never actually gotten around to reading any of them. And, like Kate said, that might have helped my reading experience with this.

In many ways it was clear that Allende was directing this book almost exclusively to her fans. There were a lot of references to her previous books, and this type of insider knowledge is just the sort of information I would gobble up if one of my favorite fantasy authors wrote a biography of this sort. It was also clear in the overall tone of the book. The writing was often light and witty, obviously tailored to be appealing to even the most strident “only fiction” readers out there who may be new or less used to memoirs. I think she was very successful in this regard, as I would fall in that category of readers who rarely picks up memoirs, and I found her writing to be very engaging.

On the other side of that coin, however…I also know very little about Chilean history, and I had been looking forward to learning more. Like Kate said, it takes quite a while to really get into the more informative aspects of the story, and here the writing style worked a bit against what I was looking for. She had some very good insights here and there, but all too often the actual deeper analysis of the time, people, and political upheaval was only briefly skimmed over. She would often continue to throw in the light, airy commentary amidst all of this. And while still entertaining, I was left wanting more.

Overall, while this may have not been the best introduction to Allende’s work, it did confirm that I enjoy her writing style itself. Her books will remain on my reading list, and I hope to get to one of them soon!

Kate’s Rating 7: Her writing is gorgeous and I really liked the information about the rise of Pinochet, but having not read other books by Allende I feel like I didn’t connect as much as I could have.

Serena’s Rating 7: Struck an awkward balance between a great writing style but one that seemed to, at times, work against the more informative take on the country and times that I was looking for.

Book Club Questions

  1. Had you read anything by Isabel Allende before reading this book? Did you see the connections that she made between her life and her other writings?
  2. How familiar were you with the history of Chile before reading this book? Did you feel like you got a sense of the history and the people who live there? Why or why not?
  3. What kinds of parallels can you draw between Allende’s childhood and your own childhood?
  4. Did this book make you want to visit Chile someday? Why or why not?
  5. Allende talks about moving from one place to another, and how having two homes an sometimes make you feel like you don’t quite fit in perfectly in either. Have you ever experienced anything similar?
  6. If you haven’t read anything else by Allende, did this book make you want to explore her bibliography more?

Reader’s Advisory

“My Invented Country” is included on the Goodreads lists “Chilean Literature”, and “South America: History and Culture”.

Find “My Invented Country” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Next Book Club Book: “Picnic at Hanging Rock” by Joan Lindsay

My Year with Jane Austen: “Emma” Part II

6969Book: “Emma”

Publication Year: 1815

Book Description: Emma Woodhouse is one of Austen’s most captivating and vivid characters. Beautiful, spoilt, vain and irrepressibly witty, Emma organizes the lives of the inhabitants of her sleepy little village and plays matchmaker with devastating effect.

Note: Yes, this is out of order. I blame the quarantine and general craziness of watching over a one-year-old, but I finished reading “Emma” about a week or two ago, and only then realized that I had skipped “Mansfield Park.” I probably could have banged “Mansfield Park” out in this last week, but I didn’t want to rush my read of that rather hefty book. And then when I would finally get to “Emma,” around July, I’d be several months removed from my actual read through. So, I think this is better than doggedly sticking to my original order. It is what it is!

Part II – Volume 2, Chapters 11 – End

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

Frank Churchill is called back to his ill aunt, leaving the entire neighborhood bereft. Before he leaves, however, he visits Emma and seems to be on the cusp of some great confession. He doesn’t get it out, but Emma assumes it was a profession of love. She believes she must be in love, too; how could she not be?

Soon enough, however, a new distraction arrives in the return of Mr. Elton with a new bride. Mrs. Elton soon makes a poor impression on Emma, coming across as snobby, full-of-herself and, especially bad, overly familiar with Mr. Knightley, calling him “Knightley” after only one meeting. Mrs. Elton soon cools towards Emma, too, and between herself and Mr. Elton, the two become quite unpleasant neighbors, though Emma puts on a good face about it. For a new companion, Mrs. Elton takes Jane Fairfax under her wing, eagerly hoping to help with Jane’s need to look for a governess position soon. Jane attempts to dissuade her, but Mrs. Elton is persistent.

Frank’s aunt decides to take up residence much closer to Highbury, so he becomes a much more frequent visitor of the neighborhood. Emma finds, on his return, that she didn’t seem to miss him much at all and must not have really loved him. He, too, seems to be less in love, though the two still enjoy joking around with one another. Frank, Emma, and the Westons arrange to have a ball in the town center. It’s a fancy affair and everyone arrives decked out, though Frank comments negatively on Jane’s looks.

Early in the dance, while most people are paired up already, Mr. Elton rudely and publicly snubs Harriet who is still sitting alone without someone to dance with. Mr. Knightley arrives and asks her to dance, pleasing Emma to see her friend so happy. Later, she admits to Mr. Knightley that she was wrong about Mr. Elton, and Mr. Knightley concedes that Harriet has some first rate qualities that the new Mrs. Elton with without. The two dance together.

A while later, the neighborhood is thrown into confusion when Harriet and her friend are set upon by gypsies while walking. Frank arrives in the nick of time and whisks Harriet back to Hartfield. Emma believes she may see a spark between the two after this incident. Later, when she and Harriet are talking, Harriet confesses that she no longer plans to marry and Emma guesses to her that it may be because the man she prefers is so far above her. Harriet confesses that it is true. Emma reassures her that unequal marriages happen all the time and its no wonder Harriet fell for him after he rescued her like that. Harriet goes on about her feelings at the moment, though both she and Emma agree not to name the gentleman in question so there are no mistakes this time around.

As the summer progresses, there are many opportunities for the group to gather together. They all go to Mr. Knightley’s home one summer day do pick strawberries; even Mr. Woodhouse is convinced to come and Mr. Knightley makes great effort to make sure he is comfortable. Mrs. Elton continues to hound Jane about her future as a governess, and in a quiet moment, Emma catches Jane sneaking away. Jane begs her to let her go on her own and claims that she is emotionally exhausted. Emma helps her and worries about her health. Soon after Jane leaves, Frank Churchill arrives in a poor temper, saying his life is a series of frustrations and he will soon leave the country. Emma convinces him to come on a trip to Box Hill that they are all are taking.

The trip is immediately a poor affair. It is hot and everyone seems to be in bad moods. After wandering around, they all sit down for a picnic lunch though no one seems to talk much. Frank and Emma try to carry the conversation with Frank becoming more and more exuberant and ridiculous, prodding Emma that she must find him a wife who is just like her. Emma thinks of Harriet. Jane pipes up that it is hard to truly know someone on short acquaintances, and Frank seems put out. He insists everyone play a game in which they must say something clever, two things sort of clever, or three things dull indeed. Miss Bates says she will succeed easily as she always says dull things. Emma laughingly says that the struggle will be only saying three at one time. This hits with a thud. Everyone gradually wanders away. As Emma is walking, she is caught up by an angry Mr. Knightley. He berates her for being so cruel to Miss Bates and says it was badly done. Emma feels the truth of his words, but he walks away before she has time to apologize.

The next day, Emma gets up early to call on Miss Bates in an attempt to apologize and start to behave better by her. When she gets there, she meets with Miss Bates but Jane refuses to see her. Miss Bates says that Jane has accepted a governess position, taking them all by surprise, though Jane seems very sad about it. Upon returning home, Emma meets with Mr. Knightley who is just taking his leave. He is told about her trip to the Bates’ and seems to know what she was about. He says that he is leaving on a substantial trip to London. Emma is saddened to see him go.

Over the next few weeks, Emma tries to befriend Jane but is turned away at every attempt. Eventually, news comes that Frank’s aunt has passed away. Soon after, Emma is called to the Westons for urgent news. It turns out that Frank and Jane have been secretly engaged since before either of them came to Highury. Mrs. Weston is beside herself, worrying that Emma was in love with Frank and knowing that that is what she and her husband had been wanting. Emma is hurt and confused by Frank’s behavior, but reassures Mrs. Weston that she never loved Frank. She understands, now, why Jane avoided her, however, seeing as Frank flirted with her constantly in front of Jane.

Emma goes to Harriet, feeling the awful weight of having to deliver the bad news once again that the man Harriet loves is with someone else. But Harriet seems unaffected! Emma soon learns that she was again, mistaken: Harriet never meant Frank Churhill when she spoke of being in love, she meant Mr. Knightly. They go over all the details of their confusion, and Emma sees how she, again, misinterpreted things. Harriet feels confident that Mr. Knightley returns her affections and Emma admits that he is the last man who would ever intentionally lead someone on. The entire affair makes one thing blatantly clear: she, Emma Woodhouse, is in love with Mr. Knightley.

Wretched, Emma returns home. A few days later, Mr. Knightley arrives at Hartfield. He and Emma walk about the house and Mr. Knightley hurries to reassure Emma that Frank is a scoundrel who never deserved her. Emma confesses that while Frank did use her to continue his scheme of hiding his relationship with Jane, she was never in love with him. Mr. Knightley says that he is jealous of Frank in a way, that Frank’s secret is known. Emma cuts him off quickly, not wanting to hear his confession of love for Harriet. Shortly after, however, she feels what she has done and rushes to tell Mr. Knightley that he can say anything to her, as her friend. Mr. Knightley says he doesn’t want to be just friends and asks if he has a chance with her? Emma realizes that she was mistaken once again, and the two confess their love for each other.

Eventually all is settled. Harriet, again heart broken, manages to find love for a third time with Mr. Martin and the two are married. Mr. Knightley, knowing Emma cannot leave her father who depends on her so much, decides to move into Hartfield after they marry. John and Isabella come to stay with Mr. Woodhouse and give Emma and Mr. Knightley the chance to go on a honeymoon to the seaside.

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

I think what really sells Emma to the most readers, something that Austen didn’t put enough stock into when she worried people wouldn’t like her heroine, is just how much page time is devoted to her feelings of regret, sorrow, and duty. She makes mistakes, huge ones and small, but it can be argued that she pays equally high prices for those mistakes.

In her misleading of Harriet, she ends up in a situation where Harriet sees a future for herself with the very man Emma now knows she loves. And the book spends pages really exploring how Emma realizes all of the little mistakes and steps that she took that lead to this situation. But on top of her regrets, there are even better small moments, like a line detailing Emma’s inner thoughts about how she had no right to crush or criticize Harriet’s dreams of a life with Mr. Knightley. Emma recognizes that it was she who formed this friendship with Harriet, she who encouraged attachment and the trust Harriet now puts in her sharing these deep secrets. Emma has no right to smack her down, and so she stays quiet and says what needs to be said: that she will support Harriet and that Mr. Knightley would never lead any woman on.

We also see Emma pay the price of her foolishness with Frank Churchhil. Delayed, yes, but she does try to form a friendship with Jane and gets no where. Once the truth comes out, she sees the part she played in Jane’s ongoing torment and deeply regrets her behavior. She admits to Mr. Knightley that it is her own behavior more than anything that pains her when she thinks back on that entire situation.

And, of course, the Miss Bates situation. Unlike Mr. Knightley, we see how immediate is Emma’s reaction to his words. She not only recognizes how right he is in this situation but sees how easily she has given way to selfish neglect of Miss Bates in the past. The scene where Emma visits Miss Bates the next morning is awkward and uncomfortable, but we see a reformed Emma who is willing to pay that price to begin again on the right foot.

Beyond all of these moments where we see Emma confront her own inner demons, there is plenty of opportunity given throughout the series to appreciate her innate good qualities. Any and every interaction between Emma and her father shows just how good-hearted Emma can be. She does sacrifice much of the independence and fun that many young women in her position would crave to make sure her father is comfortable and happy. She recognizes her own power in his life, either as a force of good or evil. And she always chooses the good, arranging his evenings to be quiet and comfortable and not pushing him too much as far as her own social plans go. And, obviously, in the end we see just how far she is willing to take this. She fully expects to only be engaged to Mr. Knightley for many years. It never crosses her mind to leave her father, and instead she is ready to put off the biggest happiness of her life, marriage to her true love, in an effort to keep him happy and comfortable while he lives.

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

We see a lot more of Mr. Knightley in general in this second half. And not only does it feel like he’s around more often, but he has some pretty great moments. Rescuing Harriet at the ball, of course, serves as a pretty major lynchpin in the following romantic confusion. He has some excellent lines with regards to Mrs. Elton, effectively putting her in her place when he refuses to let her invite whomever she wants to his house for strawberry picking, noting that only “Mrs. Knightley” will have the privilege of doing that. And he’s the only one to pick up on the weirdness between Frank Churchill and Jane. He even goes so far as to warn Emma about what he suspects, though she laughs him off. You’d think that after admitting to Mr. Knightley himself that he saw things in Mr. Elton that she didn’t, she might be more open to his maybe cluing in on things she isn’t. But, again, she really has no reason to suspect anything like this, what with Frank’s unnecessarily rude comments about Jane’s hair and such.

The only thing he gets wrong is Emma’s regard for Frank, and you can hardly blame him for that given the two of them and their behavior. But it’s funny to see how much of Mr. Knightley’s opinion of Frank depends on Emma’s opinion of Frank:

He found [Emma] agitated and low. – Frank Churchill was a villain.- He hear her to declare that she had never loved him. Frank Churchill’s character was not desperate. – She was his own Emma, by hand and word, when they returned to the house; and if he could have thought of Frank Churchill them, hi might have deemed him a very good sort of fellow.

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

Frank Churchill is the closest thing to a villain in this second half of the story. As Mr. Knightley rightly points out, he treats everyone poorly and then everyone is eager to forgive and forget. He is lucky that Emma didn’t fall in love with him, what with his constant flirtations. And for what? He by no means needed to have another object of interest to deflect attention from his engagement to Jane. It’s pretty clear that no one would have put those pieces together (except, obviously, Mr. Knightley).

What’s more, we’re meant to think that he truly loves Jane. And yet, he continually goes out of his way to hurt her by his behavior. Some of it to her face and some of it behind. Talking badly about her appearance to Emma? Why?? For no obvious reason other than his poor character. And then, again, flirting continuously with Emma. He’s at his worst at the picnic at Box Hill, but it’s pretty bad the entire time. Getting Emma to tease Jane alongside him and everything. He really doesn’t deserve Jane, who, other than the questionable decision of being in a secret engagement, really does seem like a nice woman. All of it throws back to Mr. Knightley’s original assessment of Frank: that any man who knows what is right but chooses not to do it is not a man to be admired. Mr. Knightley says this in context of Frank not visiting the new Mrs. Weston, but it applies here, too. Of the two, Jane is the one who suffers more for their secret engagement. And at least half of her torment is due to Frank’s own, intentional behavior. It’s no way to treat someone you claim to love.

Even in the end, with his apologies to Emma, it seems clear that Frank is only half-heartedly feeling the true weight of his poor behavior. He’s still quick with a joke and seems barely able to remain serious long enough to get the basic words out.

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

I have a note in my Kindle that flags the first real signs of romance in this book, and it comes about two thirds into the story in the second chapter of the third volume. It’s certainly another example of how “Emma” differentiates itself from Austen’s prior novels. Emma herself, as we’ve discussed, is very different than the other heroines. And here we see how much of a back burner the romance plays in this story to the comedy itself. Of course, once it comes it’s immensely gratifying, but again…two thirds of the way through. And even then, it’s Emma admiring Mr. Knightley’s fine figure at the ball and still placing him right aside Frank Churchill as being uncomparable in the room.

It’s kind of an odd thing, but having talked to many “Emma” fans, both of the book and of the various film adaptations, two scenes often stand out between Emma and Mr. Knightley and they both involve the two fighting. Or at the very least, Mr. Knightley scolding Emma. The first, of course, is the fight over Harriet’s future in the first half. And the second is Mr. Knightley’s lecture to Emma about her bad behavior at Box Hill. Let these instance note that for centuries now, people have found romance in this kind of “enemies to lovers” story. Obviously, Mr. Knightley is never Emma’s enemy, but why do people always comment on his “badly done, Emma” as such a notable, almost romantic line? It’s an interesting thing, I’ll say that.

Readers are too sauvy to ever buy into the whole Mr. Knightley/Harriet thing like Emma does. But Austen does do a good amount of work to lay groundwork for why Harriet might think what she does. And really, the entire reason she thinks these things is due to Emma herself. Not only the obvious line about unequal marriages, but the entire way she essentially trained Harriet to look for romance. During the Elton situation, Emma raised even the smallest interaction to heights of importance that of course Harriet would adapt this same method for evaluating all men’s actions. Simple conversations suddenly mean interest. Small moments of kindness mean true love. This all goes to say, that Emma is right when she says she only has herself to blame for the Harriet situation, even if she was more hands off in this second round.

But, of course, it all turns out well. The scene between Mr. Knightley and Emma is everything one could want. We see personal growth on Emma’s side when she catches herself being selfish and turning away from hearing Mr. Knightley. We see how long Mr. Knightley has struggled against his feelings for Emma, going back to the very beginning of the book when he was criticizing Emma, even if he wasn’t aware of it at the time. And we see Emma finally be wrong for one last time, but in the best way possible.

And, ultimately, I don’t think there’s another Austen hero that pulls off as romantic a gesture as Knightley does here. Moving in to Emma’s house for her. Giving up large portions of his own independence, something he has had probably for the last 18 years of life. Now, to live in another man’s house and a man who is by no means the easiest person to live with. And all for Emma. I mean, Darcy’s got some moves, but in all practical senses, I think Mr. Knightley has him beat with this one.

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

Mrs. Elton could also be in the villains category, such as it is. But I think she fits better in comedy in that she really has very little power to inflict real harm on people, unlike Frank Churchill. Instead, her jabs and barbs are more of a nuisance to most than any real threat. Emma, herself, feels very little other than annoyance that Mrs. Elton doesn’t like her. And it seems that by the end of the book, that even Mrs. Elton herself sees the writing on the wall with regards to her dwindling power over those around her. Mr. Knightley proves he won’t be bullied by her on his own, and the combined forces of the Knightleys and Woodhouses once they are married will be more than enough to quell any further major maneuverings by Mrs. Elton.

Because Emma is so secure from Mrs. Elton’s attempts to make her unhappy, Mrs. Elton instead comes off as the kind of non-threatening character who is made all the more fun for being so unlikable. One does feel bad for poor Jane, and it does serve as another example of Emma’s failings in that respect. But Mrs. Elton on a whole is pretty funny. All of her fancy-schmancy mannerisms, her false humility, her assurance that she is the most fashionable, the most influential. Good stuff.

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

The classic favorite line, of course. But I think this is also proof that besides the fact that she wrote romances, Austen seemed to struggle the most writing the actual romantic dialogue. There’s really very little in many of the books, if you actually look for spoken lines specifically.

“If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more.”

Emma is redeemed largely by how much time Austen devoted to her really feeling the weight of her actions, both in the Miss Bates situation and with Harriet’s love for Mr. Knightley.

With insufferable vanity had she believed herself in the secret of every body’s feelings; with unpardonable arrogance proposed to arrange every body’s destiny. She was proved to have been universally mistaken; and she had not quite done nothing – for she had done mischief. She had brought evil on Harriet, on herself, and she too much feared, on Mr. Knightley.

And a small line, but one that I found extremely funny this read through:

Mr. Knightley seemed to be trying not to smile; and succeeded without difficulty, upon Mrs. Elton’s beginning to talk to him.

Final thoughts – “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!”

I’ve always loved “Emma.” Perhaps less romantic than some of the others, I think the balance of comedy and romance plays perfectly. The fact that Emma has more to her life than her love interest (in fact, he’s a literal afterthought!) is a perk for modern audiences. And I think the personal growth she experiences and her original flaws make her all the more relatable to many readers.

While Mr. Knightley is by no means the most overtly romantic of Austen’s heroes (Darcy has the brooding and grand gestures, Captain Wentworth has that letter), he’s the kind of romantic lead that always appeals to me. I always love the friends-to-lovers storyline, and he has the rare ability to somehow make lecturing sexy.

There are also very few “villainous” characters in this story. The Eltons are more just nonsensical than anything, and Frank Churchill’s wrongs are quickly gotten over, for better or worse. As I’ve discussed previously, Emma herself causes the most actual harm to poor Harriet. Harriet not only loses a year of a presumably happy life as Robert Martin’s wife, but also spends much of that year caught up in foolish ploys followed by crushing disappointments. The fact that their friendship wanes in the end of the book is definitely best for both of them. And while Mr. Knightley may not have been completely wrong when he said they’d both do each other harm, he wasn’t far off base either.

I’m excited to get into the movie adaptations of this movie. From my general memory, “Emma” is the book that has the most versions that I generally liked. So we’ll see if that holds true in the coming weeks!

In two weeks, I’ll review the 1996 version of “Emma.” 

Kate’s Review: “The Silence of Bones”

44280973Book: “The Silence of Bones” by June Hur

Publishing Info: Feiwel & Friends, April 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: I have a mouth, but I mustn’t speak;
Ears, but I mustn’t hear;
Eyes, but I mustn’t see.

1800, Joseon (Korea). Homesick and orphaned sixteen-year-old Seol is living out the ancient curse: “May you live in interesting times.” Indentured to the police bureau, she’s been tasked with assisting a well-respected young inspector with the investigation into the politically charged murder of a noblewoman.

As they delve deeper into the dead woman’s secrets, Seol forms an unlikely bond of friendship with the inspector. But her loyalty is tested when he becomes the prime suspect, and Seol may be the only one capable of discovering what truly happened on the night of the murder.

But in a land where silence and obedience are valued above all else, curiosity can be deadly.

June Hur’s elegant and haunting debut The Silence of Bones is a bloody tale perfect for fans of Kerri Maniscalco and Renée Ahdieh.

Review: Book buying is my version of retail therapy, so you can imagine that lately I’ve been doing a lot of it. While I mostly decide to get print books I can hold from local booksellers, on occasion I will snag something for my Kindle, to save space on my physical shelf and to get some instant gratification as well. “The Silence of Bones” was that kind of scenario, as I had heard of it on and off various book circles online and was interested to check it out and just have it at the ready. I finally dove in over the weekend as chaos and unrest overtook the Twin Cities, needing moments of escape to a completely different place. 19th Century Korea seemed like the perfect place to visit, so “The Silence of Bones” by June Hur was the right book to pick up.

What struck me most is the time and place of this YA mystery thriller. While you can find oodles of historical mysteries that take place in the U.S., or Europe, or other Western cultures, I’m not as aware of the genre branching out to other parts of the world that often. That very well just may be my own levels of exposure to such things, but because of this “The Silence of Bones” felt incredibly unique to me. I know so little about Korean history that I felt like I was learning a lot as I was following Seol as she tried to solve a series of murders as she works as an indentured servant for the police. The descriptions of the urban settings and rural settings alike were vibrant and detailed, and I felt like I could picture the places in my mind and got a good sense for how the society was structured. June Hur clearly did her research, and it really paid off. I especially liked the way that geopolitics of the time entered into it, with hints and whispers of Western Influences starting to move in no matter how local Governments try to stamp them out, sometimes in extreme and violent ways. The sense of impending threat from Catholicism, and the actions taken towards Catholics and other Western traditions, was a very fascinating angle to throw into this story, as knowing what we know about Imperialism in that part of the world now (and other parts not addressed in this book) there was a lot of nuance to parse through.

I also just really liked Seol as a protagonist and the mystery at hand. Seol definitely felt like a sixteen year old girl, even though she was living in incredibly difficult and different circumstances than one sees for sixteen girls in YA today. Her story addresses indentured servitude, the oppression of lower classes, misogyny, and trauma, and her perseverance (and at times stubbornness) was really satisfying to read. Being taken from her home and losing everything to go serve as an indentured servant is quite the backstory, and I really liked it. She sometimes makes mistakes and jumps to conclusions, which makes her all the more real and complex, but overall you can’t help but really want her to figure out what is going on, especially when she begins to find herself in danger. The mystery of who killed a local noblewoman is very well crafted, and Hur throws in a lot of twists and turns that keep the reader wondering and on their toes. There is also the mystery of what is up with Seol’s boss, Inspector Han, who Seol is drawn to and forms a friendship with before he becomes a suspect in the mystery. Han feels like he is steeped in a lot of greys, and I was genuinely on the edge of my seat wondering if Seol’s faith in him is unfounded. By the time everything comes together, you can trace how it does so and it is done seamlessly.

“The Silence of Bones” is a unique and thrilling mystery, and if you like historical mysteries I cannot recommend it enough!

Rating 7: A unique and fascinating historical mystery in a not as seen setting, “The Silence of Bones” has a lot to offer to fans of YA mysteries!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Silence of Bones” is included on the Goodreads lists “Historical Fiction: Korea”, and “2020 YA/MG Books with POC Leads”.

Find “The Silence of Bones” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Serena’s Review: “The Guinevere Deception”

43568394Book: “The Guinevere Deception”  by Kiersten White

Publishing Info: Delacorte Press, November 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description: There was nothing in the world as magical and terrifying as a girl.

Princess Guinevere has come to Camelot to wed a stranger: the charismatic King Arthur. With magic clawing at the kingdom’s borders, the great wizard Merlin conjured a solution–send in Guinevere to be Arthur’s wife . . . and his protector from those who want to see the young king’s idyllic city fail. The catch? Guinevere’s real name–and her true identity–is a secret. She is a changeling, a girl who has given up everything to protect Camelot.

To keep Arthur safe, Guinevere must navigate a court in which the old–including Arthur’s own family–demand things continue as they have been, and the new–those drawn by the dream of Camelot–fight for a better way to live. And always, in the green hearts of forests and the black depths of lakes, magic lies in wait to reclaim the land. Arthur’s knights believe they are strong enough to face any threat, but Guinevere knows it will take more than swords to keep Camelot free.

Deadly jousts, duplicitous knights, and forbidden romances are nothing compared to the greatest threat of all: the girl with the long black hair, riding on horseback through the dark woods toward Arthur. Because when your whole existence is a lie, how can you trust even yourself?

Review: I’ve been a big fan of White’s work since I read her re-imaging of the life of Vlad the Impaler, gender swapping the main character and creating a tension-filled and deeply stressful (but fantastic) trilogy. From that reading experience, when I heard of this book, a re-imaging of the Camelot story from Guinevere’s perspective, I knew the author was up to the task! And I wasn’t wrong!

Guinevere arrives at Camelot with a mission: to marry Arthur. But that’s only the beginning of her story, for she’s not really Guinevere at all, but a protector sent by Merlin to watch over Arthur himself from all magical threats. While well-versed in magical protections and wards, Guinevere soon learns there is much more to this task than simply being on the look-out for threats to the king. She must actually be the queen, as well, something she feels much less suited for. And as she begins to peel back the layers of the mysterious Camelot and its political maneuverings, she starts to see that there is more at stake than she had thought, and that even she, the woman sent to protect Arthur, may not know the whole story.

This book surprised me in many ways, not least of all in its protagonist herself. We soon discover that Guinevere is not a reliable narrator. I love it when books can pull off an unreliable narrator approach as it opens up so many new doors for discovery as the story unfolds. Here, Guinevere herself isn’t aware of her own unreliability, and in many ways, the reader begins to put together pieces before she does herself. We know that she is an envoy sent by Merlin to protect Arthur. But we don’t know much more than that. It’s only as the story begins to move forward that the layers in Merlin’s plots become clear, and Guinevere begins to suspect larger things at play than a simple protection task.

She’s a very sympathetic character, a necessity for one of fiction’s most vilified female characters. Like she did with Lada Dracul, White builds open and adds to the original character blocks in such a way that the character is easy to understand and root for. Beyond that, the author doesn’t hold back from re-imaging all of the characters involved. If you suspect you know the role that any given familiar name will play, prepare to be surprised. I saw a few of these twists coming, but there were definitely one or two that took me by surprise. Luckily, one of the biggest twists towards the end was one of those surprises.

This was also one of the books I referenced a few weeks ago that has a love triangle that I miraculously didn’t hate. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised since White also included an unconventional love triangle in her “And I Darken” series. But, again, here I was very pleased with the direction this love story ended up taking. Again, knowing the author’s way, I won’t pretend that this book really establishes any end game as far as the romance goes, but for this book, I was satisfied. It’s always nice to be reminded that even much-detested tropes can be done right by a skilled writer.

The story also doesn’t answer all the mysteries it sets up. There are still a bunch of questions on the table, and I have my own theories about Guinevere’s past and the role she will play going forward. The stage has been set with magical mysteries, old villains and new, and a main character who has only now realized just how under-prepared she really is. I can’t wait to see where it goes from here!

Rating 8: Another excellent twist on a classic tale from Kiersten White!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Guinevere Deception” is on these Goodreads lists: “Best Retellings of fairytales, legends and history” and (just for kicks) “Covers With Beautiful Art.”

Find “The Guinevere Deception” at your library using WorldCat!