Not Just Books: August 2020

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

Serena’s Picks

mv5byjk0mtgzmmqtzmy2my00nme5lwexngutyjzknta3zdkymtjixkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtkxnjuynq4040._v1_uy268_cr00182268_al_Movie: “Palm Springs”

I’m a sucker for “Groundhogs Day” type stories, so this was movie was sure to appeal with its premise of two people caught up in a time loop at a wedding. The fact that it’s at a wedding makes it all the better, for, other than a few exceptions, weddings are often really crazy things. Some people are at their best, sure, but many others are often at their worst. So add in two messed up individuals who have literally nothing to lose and some pretty funny stuff is on hand. The movie also introduced a few different concepts that I hadn’t seen before in time loop stories, so that made it fun. There were moments where it erred a bit too far into the “stupid comedy” that I don’t usually like, but for the most part, it was a really funny, enjoyable time.

mv5bnza5mjkwyzmtngy2ms00ywrjlthkntktotnmmzdlzje3y2ixxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymjkwmzmxodg40._v1_uy268_cr00182268_al_Netflix Show: “The Umbrella Academy” Season 2

This is one of those rare beasts where I think I ended up liking the second season even better than the first! I mean, the first was so wackadoo that it took a bit to really settle into what it was trying to be. This time, you’re prepared for all the ridiculousness and great soundtrack. Add in a new time period of the 1960s, a new set of Swedish assassins, and all of the usual family drama in a family made up of superheroes with serious daddy issues, and you’re in for a romp! I still think Ellen Page is probably the weakest link in this show, which is too bad because she also gets top billing. But overall, the cast is really great and all have excellent chemistry. Like the first season, though, it does end on a cliffhanger and as of now, there’s no word on whether Netflix has renewed it for a third season. Don’t you dare, Netflix…

mv5bntc1ytexn2ytzwq2ms00mwqzltkwmwqtmdy3odexndm2mgqwxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymzu3mtc5ote40._v1_uy268_cr40182268_al_TV Show: “Alone”

During a daze of post-long-day-with-a-toddler TV browsing, my husband and I found the 6th season of this survival reality show on TV. I think we both went into it fully expecting to mock the crap out of it for an episode or two and then turn it off never to be thought of again. Several days later…we’ve pretty much gone through the entire season and are on the lookout for ways to get our hands on the earlier seasons (side note: it’s so weird how Netflix randomly gets late seasons of shows like this instead of the first one, ugh). Both my husband and I love camping and consider ourselves fairly knowledgeable about the outdoors, but what makes this show fun is how clearly well-versed the contestants are in survival tactics. Unlike “Survivor,” this show really is only about people alone in the wilderness having to get by. You absolutely HAVE to know how to hunt/snare/fish and build a really good shelter. Plus, film yourself while doing it, since there are no camera people out there. If you like survival shows, this is definitely a fun one. Warning: there’s lots of hunting, so be prepared for that.

Kate’s Picks

mv5bmdllmwrjnwmtm2u3ny00yjawltlhntgtothjztc2ymi2zmrmxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyodkzntgxmdg40._v1_TV Show: “Perry Mason”

Am I familiar with the original “Perry Mason” stories of yesteryear with Raymond Burr as the relentless and successful lawyer? Nope! Am I familiar with the fact that Matthew Rhys is a hottie and I also like courtroom dramas? Hell yes! My parents were the ones who told me to give the new “Perry Mason” on HBO a look, and boy am I glad I did. While some people think that the idea of giving Mason a gritty reboot was a bit silly, given that I have no reference point for the mythos it worked out just fine for me. Mason is working as a Private Detective in 1930s Los Angeles, and his friend, lawyer E.B. Jonathan (played by John Lithgow) hires him to help on the case of a kidnapped baby who ended up dead. As Mason investigates, he also has to deal with his own personal demons that have been brought on because of his time in WWI. As Mason digs, he finds connections to the local police, the wealthy grandfather, and an Evangelical Church, headed by a woman preacher named Alice who swears she can work miracles. To sweeten the deal of this show, Tatiana Maslany plays Alice, and boy oh boy is she excellent. This is a dark take on the classic character, but I, for one, was hooked.

220px-eurovision_song_contest-_the_story_of_fire_saga_posterNetflix Film: “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga”

Sometimes you just need a fun, goofy, lighthearted movie to lift your spirits. And when my husband and I decided to give “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” a shot, we were very happy to realize that it was just what we needed. This earnest and cute comedy follows Lars (Will Ferrell) and Sigrit (Rachel McAdams), two Icelandic musicians who have dreams of performing in Eurovision. When a twist of fate gets them a spot in the competition, their dreams are just within reach… but Lars’s desperate need to win makes him blind to Sigrit’s feelings for him. Ferrell is back to his classic comedic act, but it’s McAdams who really shines by bringing goofy charm, and some genuine pathos, to Sigrit. Plus, the music is awesome, AND look for Dan Stevens as a flamboyant Russian contestant who may be getting between Lars and Sigrit. If you want fluff with great music, check this one out!mv5bm2jiyzq0otatzjzhmy00mjixltgzmmitmdaxn2jhnzbmmjzmxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymdm2ndm2mq4040._v1_uy1200_cr9006301200_al_

TV Show: “Why Women Kill”

Some of my fondest memories from college were when my friends Tom and Prerna would come over on Sundays to watch “Desperate Housewives” so we could get our trashy TV on. While the show eventually fell out of my favor (the time jump is where I can pinpoint it all going wrong), I did miss guilty pleasure TV. Well lucky for me, Marc Cherry has a new trashy show on CBS All Access called “Why Women Kill”! It follows three couples, all who live in the same house in different decades, and the secrets they keep, the lies they tell, and the eventual murders that one of the members of each couple may commit. While all of them have interesting storylines, it is Lucy Liu’s Simone whose story I love the most. In the 1980s she is the spoiled and sarcastic wife of a wealthy man…. and it turns out that he’s gay. Seeing her maneuver the secret along with trying to feel desirable again is quite fun… especially since she and Jack Davenport, who plays husband Karl, have delightfully bitchy banter. Soapy sudsy dialogue and an addictive mystery, it’s at the level “Desperate Housewives” was when it was at its best.

My Year with Jane Austen: “Mansfield Park” Part II

45032Book: “Mansfield Park”

Publication Year: 1814

Book Description: Adopted into the household of her uncle, Sir Thomas Bertram, Fanny Price grows up a meek outsider among her cousins in the unaccustomed elegance of Mansfield Park. Soon after Sir Thomas absents himself on estate business in Antigua (the family’s investment in slavery and sugar is considered in the Introduction in a new, post-colonial light), Mary Crawford and her brother Henry arrive at Mansfield, bringing with them London glamour, and the seductive taste for flirtation and theatre that precipitates a crisis.

Part I – Chapters 25 – End

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

Henry Crawford continues his stay and attention to Fanny. Much to her dismay, he even proposes renting out the home destined for Edmund, with the idea that Edmund can stay on at Mansfield Park once he takes orders. Fanny is dismayed by this plan, both its implications towards Edmund as well as herself.

Eventually, the idea of hosting a ball during William’s stay takes hold and arrangements begin to be made. While Edmund debates the chances of a future with Miss Crawford (whose dislike of the clergy has been well, and rudely, established, Fanny’s mind is occupied by finding a necklace to wear with a small cross that William gifted her. On a visit to Miss Crawford, Miss Crawford presents Fanny with an array of her own chains to choose from. Fanny resists, but after much pressing, finally selects the chain that she feels Miss Crawford is most often putting forward and thus most likely to wish to part with. She then discovers that the chain had been a gift from Mr. Crawford and attempts to give back, to no avail. She suspects that Mr. Crawford himself had some hand in this affair. Later, Edmund presents Fanny with a simple chain that he had purchased for her for the same purpose. Fanny is gratified to find that Miss Crawford’s chain won’t fit the cross, but determines to wear both chains together in acknowledgement of each gift.

The day of the ball arrives, and Fanny is horrified to learn that she is meant to open the ball, and with Mr. Crawford nonetheless. For his part, Mr. Crawford continues to lavish attention on Fanny, Fanny continues to be put off by it, and Miss Crawford continues to push the attachment, confused by Fanny’s reluctance. Over the course of the evening, Sir Thomas, himself, becomes more and more convinced of Mr. Crawford’s sincere attentions to his niece.

William leaves the next day, Edmund goes away for a week as well, and Mr. Crawford, too, goes to London,leaving spirits much depressed. Miss Crawford realizes she misses Edmund and confides in Fanny about it. Mr. Crawford, for his part, confesses to Miss Crawford that he is going to propose to Fanny; she is shocked. Both siblings laugh at the shock this will bring to the two Bertram sisters. The next morning, Mr. Crawford arrives when Fanny receives the news that William has received a promotion and she learns that he had went to London to have his Uncle see to just this event. He then uses this opportunity to begin confessing his feelings to Fanny, much distressing her. She negates all of this and rushes away. She is made further uncomfortable by receiving a note from Miss Crawford insinuating much about Fanny’s soon-to-be relationship to herself. Fanny writes back a note saying she knows neither Miss Crawford or Mr. Crawford mean anything by it.

The next day, however, Sir Bertram finds Fanny in her room (he notices that she has no fire) and announces that Mr. Crawford had come to speak him that very morning, asking for Sir Thomas’s blessings on his plans to ask Fanny to marry him. Fanny is shocked and tells Sir Thomas there must be a mistake as she had clearly rebuffed Mr. Crawford just the other day on this very topic. Sir Bertram is shocked as well, asking several times for clarification that Fanny means to be refusing Mr. Crawford. Fanny is dismayed to find that in a man whom she had thought so just, that her simple answer of disliking Mr. Crawford is not enough of a reason for her to deny marrying him. Sir Thomas gives a harsh speech in which he calls Fanny obstinate, selfish, and ungrateful, making Fanny cry bitterly. Sir Thomas sends Mr. Crawford away and has Fanny take a walk to calm herself. When she returns to her room, there is a fire to warm the room.

When Fanny finally does have to speak to Mr. Crawford, she is dismayed to find that he is unrelenting, even in the face of her firm refusals. Fanny, at least, thinks they are firm, but her gentle nature tempers everything she says. What’s more, Mr. Crawford, really believing himself in love, cannot fathom the idea of not succeeding. For his part, when Sir Thomas speaks to Mr. Crawford later, he is encouraged by Mr Crawford’s steadiness of purpose and believes him in his idea that Fanny will come around. Sir Thomas decides to recuse himself from all further proceedings, and tells Fanny that they need no longer discuss it and he will no longer push the alliance on her. But her aunts must be told of what is going on.

Edmund returns home and is informed of all that has happened. He’s not as shocked as Sir Thomas, but takes his father’s view of it being generally a good thing that he is hopeful Fanny will realize for herself. But he knows enough of Fanny not to push the topic on her or embarrass her further about it. When witnessing the two together, however, Edmund doesn’t know if he could have gone on wooing a woman who so clearly wasn’t expressing any interest back. Crawford, however, persists.

The next day Edmund and Fanny walk about together. Fanny is gratified to know that Edmund does not blame her for refusing, but they do disagree about whether there is any future there. Fanny proclaims there is not, while Edmund says they have enough things in common to make it work. Fanny suspects Edmund may be trying to talk himself into more comfort about himself and Miss Crawford without realizing what he is doing. Fanny, in her attempts to make Edmund understand her true qualms about Mr. Crawford’s character, even brings up the disastrous play and Crawford’s toying with Maria and making Mr. Rushworth jealous. It becomes clear that Fanny, still, has a much better grasp on that entire affair than Edmund. The conversation ends with Edmund realizing Fanny wishes to speak no more of it, and Fanny realizing that Edmund is too caught up in Miss Crawford to perfectly understand what she, Fanny, is saying.

Miss Crawford visits one last time before she and her brother mean to leave the for a period of time. Fanny learns during this meeting that it had been entirely Mr. Crawford’s idea that Miss Crawford should offer Fanny a chain for her cross and had given her just the one Fanny took for that purpose. Fanny also tells Miss Crawford that she saw Mr. Crawford’s treatment of Fanny’s cousins, and, thus, could not take him seriously with regards to herself. Miss Crawford laughs the whole thing off and takes her leave.

William comes home again to Portsmouth to and Sir Thomas, after consulting Edmund, decides that this would be a good opportunity for Fanny to not only spend more time with her beloved brother, but to visit the rest of her family as well. He also suspects that a longer visit back home will encourage Fanny to miss Mansfield and the luxuries of the life she has become used to, the life that Mr. Crawford is offering her. Fanny is delighted by the scheme, eager to visit the rest of her family. Before leaving, Edmund hints that he will write Fanny when he “has anything meaningful to write about;” Fanny mentally braces herself for this future announcement.

Home is not how she remembers it. It is too loud, to uncivilized, and overall too much for Fanny’s weak nerves. She sees poor behavior everywhere about her and is saddened to see a mother much in over her head and seeming to have no idea of it herself, and a father who drinks and goes out on the town too much. She also finds herself to be largely an afterthought to many of her family members. For his part, William’s ship is soon called away, and Fanny finds her happy homecoming scheme to be largely a disappointment.

Eventually, Miss Crawford writes and notes that she has met with the Rushworths and Julia; she also notes how discomposed Mrs. Rushworth became at the mention of Fanny and Mr. Crawford. As Fanny’s stay continues, she finds worth in one of her siblings, a younger sister Susan who, while often lead astray, still seems to sense what is right and wrong in her family. Fanny makes an effort to spend more time with this sister and hopefully instill in her some of the same lessons that she, Fanny, learned from Edmund while growing up.

For his part, Edmund is now due in town and Fanny anxiously waits to hear from him and his meetings with the Crawfords. Alas, no word comes, week after week. Instead, Mr. Crawford himself makes a sudden appearance at her home. After catching up some, they go for a walk where Fanny is dismayed to find them quickly running into her father. Luckily, Mr. Price is on his best behavior and does not shame Fanny too badly. Mr. Crawford visits the next day as well. He notes her fatigued looks and asks when she is to return to Mansfield, noting that he has seen their treatment of Fanny and that she can be often forgotten. He offers to fetch her at a moments notice. Eventually, he takes his leave.

Eventually, Edmund writes. Much of his subject revolves around his pains at Miss Crawford’s changed spirits while in the company of her friends. He sees all of her formerly bad spirits coming up again; but at the same time, he confesses that he cannot give her up and is the only woman he can think of as a wife. He also notes that he has seen Mr. Crawford and Maria together and can admit that they did not meet as friends. Shortly after this letter’s arrival, Fanny gets one from her Aunt Bertram who notes an upsetting event: Tom has fallen severely ill while travelling with friends. Over the next few days, Fanny hears more and more. Tom is removed to Mansfield Park and everyone is distressed by how poorly he is doing.

Among these regular notices, Fanny once again hears from Miss Crawford. In this letter, Miss Crawford casually talks about Tom’s eventual death and all the benefits this will see to such a deserving younger brother as Edmund. She also mentions that Mr. Crawford is heading off to visit some friends where Maria Rushworth is also currently visiting. A week or so passes before Fanny hears again, this time in just a short note from Mary that mysteriously alludes to some scandalous rumor involving Henry that Fanny should disregard completely.

A few days later,  Fanny learns what this rumor is from a notice in the paper: Maria had run off with Mr. Crawford. And a few days later, still, Fanny finally hears from Mansfield in a letter from Edmund confirming the notice in the paper and adds even more bad news in the form of notifying her of Julia’s elopement with Mr. Yates. But the good news includes the fact that Edmund will be coming the very next day to fetch her and that Sir Thomas has even extended an invitation for Fanny to bring along Susan back with her.

Edmund comes and they all journey back to Mansfield, where Fanny is greeted with much enthusiasm from her Aunt Bertram who had truly been missing her. The entire family persists in misery, though Fanny does think to herself that now, at least, she must be fully justified in her refusal of Mr. Crawford. Eventually, Edmund tells Fanny of his last interactions with Miss Crawford. He had been invited to see her after the scandal with her brother had gotten out, and he went with all the strong feelings that he attributed to her and knowing that she must know this will be their last visit as friends. But instead, Miss Crawford spoke with only a modicum of seriousness and persisted on referring to the entire affair as only “folly” and bemoaning only that the whole thing had not been better hidden. She even goes so far to say that if Fanny had only accepted Mr. Crawford he would have too busy to have gotten into this mess. Edmund admits that the Miss Crawford he’d been pining over for the last several months had been a woman of his own imagination.

While the others get through their struggles, Fanny at least is happy for once. For most, her value has been finally recognized, she is free from Mr. Crawford, and Edmund is freed of the influence of his sister. Sir Thomas struggles the longest, having to recognize the failings in education given to his daughters who behaved so wrongly. Tom recovers, both physically and gaining some level of sense and duty. Maria fails to convince Crawford to marry her and ends with nothing more than a fall from society, divorce from her rich husband, and Mrs. Norris’s company in her solitude (Sir Thomas comes to recognize all the evils of Mrs. Norris, so the situation is seen as a winning one.) Eventually, Edmund comes to realizes how superior a woman he has right in front of him and professes his love for Fanny.

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

Fanny definitely comes into her own more in this second half. First, she stands up for herself and for her choice to refuse Mr. Crawford even in the face of all the displeasure of the Mansfield party. Sir Thomas, though he improves later, is initially quite harsh with Fanny, and while she’s hurt to think that he views her this way, she never falters in her convictions. Even to Edmund, the one person she’s always looked to for guidance, she trusts her own judgement rather than his (though, of course, she’s had ample evidence of his failures to really discern people’s characters as he’s gone on and on about Mary Crawford for the last several months).

Second, when she faces all of the disappointment and hardship at her home in Portsmouth, she still finds a way to be useful and to put to practice what she’s learned from Mansfield and Edmund. She recognizes the good qualities in her younger sister Susan and takes her under her wing, hoping to help her cope with her situation and grow into a better woman than much of the rest of the family. This pays off to such an extent that Susan, too, is brought to live at Mansfield, and, we can presume, to thrive.

Here, too, when Mr. Crawford comes to visit, she’s not swayed even by his improvements. She notes that he seems gentler and more caring of those around her, and she inwardly praises him for it. But as far as her own scruples go, she sees these improvements only in the light that, if he is this much better at caring for others, he will quickly realize how hurt she is by his continued pursuit of her and give her up for good. She never wavers about accepting him.

And, when she gets Edmund’s letter bemoaning Miss Crawford’s modern flaws but still insisting that she’s the only woman for him, Fanny becomes quite sharp (if even only in her own mind.) She practically calls Edmund foolish for delaying asking Miss Crawford if he’s so set on marrying her, and thinks he’s set on dooming himself, regardless of his own better insights and the knowledge that she, Fanny, has shared with him.

She’s also aware enough to be critical of Sir Thomas for delaying fetching her once Tom becomes ill, as Lady Bertram clearly suffers for Fanny not being there during this tough time. Many of these moments are small and never actually spoken aloud by Fanny, but it’s still a big change from the Fanny of the first half who just seemed to go along believing everything that was told to her.

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

Man, it’s almost hard to list Edmund as a “hero.” At best, he’s completely delusional about those around him, and at worst he willfully ignores his own better judgement and that of a woman he professes to respect, Fanny. Again and again, we see Fanny attempt to point out to him the inconsitencies in his views of Miss Crawford and the reality of what she says and does, and he just refuses to see it! And then writes letters to Fanny, even, bemoaning Mary’s latest issues (blaming her friends for leading her astray, though Fanny is quick to realize that it’s likely the other way around) while at the same time proclaiming that she’s the only woman he can see himself marrying. I mean, I get it, he’s infatuated with her. But this is coming about 85% of the way through the book, and it’s a bit hard to really respect him when he’s so willfully blind. We’ve been told he has good judgement, but in reality, the book doesn’t offer a whole lot of evidence of it. He’s also a terrible listener to Fanny.

While he doesn’t push the connection with Mr. Crawford on her, he also seems completely clueless  about why Fanny is not attached to him. Edmund blames Mr. Crawford’s approach as being poor, rather than truly understanding anything about Fanny herself, even when she’s blatantly (well, for her, she’s being blatant) telling him why she’s not interested. To his credit, he knows when to back off, but again, it’s because he seems to think she’ll come around on her own better without people prying than understanding that what she really needs is someone to BELIEVE WHAT SHE IS SAYING.

He so much doesn’t listen to her that when Crawford finally does show his true colors and run off, Edmund attributes Fanny’s poor health to her deep feelings for Henry. And then he piles on by immediately pivoting to how much worse he has it for being longer attached to Mary Crawford than Fanny was to Mr. Crawford. It’s pretty bad, when you really look at it. And then, in the end, sure, he comes around. But…like I’ll talk about in the romance section, it’s a bit too little too late to redeem much “heroism” for poor Edmund. He’s not a bad guy by any means, but he sure doesn’t seem to deserve Fanny, and it’s pretty hard to argue that he’s not the weakest of Austen’s romantic leads.

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

The villains in this book all get their comeuppance in quite the dramatic fashion. No half measures here! The groundwork had all been laid for both Crawford siblings, so it’s really no surprise when they both show their true colors. But man, they both do it in quite the extreme way! Of the two, it’s almost more shocking that Mr. Crawford would stoop so low. It’s one thing to be an obnoxious flirt, but it’s entirely another to go all the way and run off with a married woman. That’s the kind of thing that, while unequal between the man and the woman in this time period, would still have a lasting affect on his reputation. Before, his other flirtations were of the sort only really noticed by the very discerning and only truly felt by his targets. He could move through society easily enough doing all of that with very few negative affects taken on himself. But his future now seems pretty grim.

Miss Crawford, on the other hand, her big villain moments seem completely in line with what we’ve seen from her before. Fanny always pointed out how thoughtless Mary Crawford was and how very wrongly she thought about things on a truly moral level. So here, when we read the letter she sends pretty much congratulating herself on Edmund’s “good fortune” on the death of his older brother and incoming inheritance, it’s bad, but not shocking. And then that she would talk about the entire Henry/Maria matter in such a cavalier manner to Edmund…more of the same of what we’ve heard from her. As readers, we’ve also been privy to private conversations between Mary and her brother and have heard her express pretty cold, laughing comments about his flirtations with women. So, to the reader, it’s no shock that she would continue to talk about his actions in this way. But to poor, poor, delusional Edmund…oof.

And, of course, Maria and Mrs. Norris get the mutual reward of a lifetime together in their shared displeasure and poor temperaments.

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

Oh, the romance in this book. Or, more to the point, the lack of romance. I obviously haven’t re-read the last two books in this review series yet, but I’m pretty confident in making the proclamation that this is the least romantic of Austen’s fully-realized and published novels. Not only does the hero spend 99% of the book infatuated with another woman, when he does come around to falling in love with our heroine, we literally see zero of it. Austen simply informs us that when the time was right, his feelings changed towards Fanny, and Fanny was happy about it. No dialogue, no romance scenes, no build-up. Just stated as a fact, almost an afterthought, even. It’s pretty anticlimatic, even for Austen, who, as we’ve established so far, often skipped out on really writing the final romance scenes (or at least much dialogue for them).

Instead, again, like the first part of the book, we hear a lot more about all the failures of relationships. We see Henry Crawford cave to his own inner demons even though we’re lead to believe that he did truly love Fanny (the omniscient narrator tells us so, so I guess we have to believe it, much as it grates on modern readers who may recognize his type). Mary, too, spoils her chances at happiness with Edmund and almost seems to ruin herself for future men, having a hard time in the comparisons to him. Maria ends up divorced and living along with Mrs. Norris. Julia does better than the others, but, again, based on what we actually saw of Mr. Yates, he doesn’t seem like that much of a catch and more one that was made hastily by Julia in an attempt to retain freedom than due to any real attachment. It’s all pretty glum.

Instead of the romance, most of the joy of the ending of the book is seeing Fanny finally elevated to the position she deserves. Lady Bertram and Sir Thomas both recognize her as the best “daughter” they had in the lot. She’s useful to her sister Susan, bringing her to the Mansfield party where her life is sure to be improved. And, of course, she’s rewarded with Edmund. Some have interpreted this ending as Edmund being rewarded with Fanny, but, really, I think it goes the other way. She’s the one to get what she wanted through the entire book, the one to actively wish for something that is gained in the end. And Edmund seems so passive in the entire affair that it makes much more sense to me that he is the reward.

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

There is also even less comedy in this half than the first. We don’t see any more of Mr. Rushworth, and as Fanny spends so much of her time away from Mansfield, Lady Bertram’s opportunities to provide humor are also greatly reduced. There may be a sort of dark humor to be found in Fanny’s family in Portsmouth, but as we hear so much about the negatives of it all, it’s hard not to see most of it in a sad, tragic sort of light.

Mrs. Norris, for her part, also recedes into the background. Again, we don’t see much of her, and by the time we do, she’s suffering the loss of her beloved Maria and quickly losing popularity among the rest of her family. There’s a line in the end of the book about how she was never able to gain the love of those she loved. Which is just sad! Even for such a mean-spirited character.

So, um, yeah. Not much comedy. It’s pretty easy to see why Austen might have needed a pivot to the much more comedic “Emma” after writing this book.

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

Poor, silly Edmund:

His objections, the scruples of his integrity, seemed all done away, nobody could tell how.

And, the classic Edmund reproach:

Fix, commit, condemn yourself.

And finally:

She was of course only too good for him; but as nobody minds having what is too good for them he was steadily earnest in the pursuit of the blessing.

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

“Mansfield Park” is a strange Jane Austen novel. It stands out for having much less comedy and much less romance than her other standard books. Fanny, too, is unlike any of the other heroines we typically find. And Edmund…well, he barely counts as a hero. It is gratifying to get to the end and have Fanny so rewarded for dealing with just so many terrible people, but that still leaves 99% of the book reading about her being abused by them. Even Edmund regularly forgets Fanny and/or fails to really listen to what she is telling him.

In many ways, as I’ve noted before, this book seems to spend a lot more time emphasizing just how wrong people can get it in the romance department. Even the good ones like Edmund who is so thoroughly taken in by Miss Crawford. All of the marriages we see are at best indifferent ones, and at worst, openly hostile, like the aunt and uncle who raised the Crawfords. In this second half, we get to see first hand how badly Fanny’s parents’ marriage is going as well, their temperaments seeming mutually unsuitable.

And by the end of the book, it almost seems like only through the sheer luck of Mr. Crawford’s poor self control that we escape two other bad marriages, that of Edmund and Mary Crawford, and, according to the narrator, the eventual marriage of Fanny and Crawford (there’s a decent sized section devoted to how, had Crawford persisted and Edmund and Mary married after all, Fanny likely would have given in after moving on from Edmund. The idea sits uncomfortably, but lucky us, we don’t have to see it.)

This book is more of a struggle for many Austen fans for all of these reasons, I think. It’s also one of Austen’s longest titles, and given the lack of comedy and romance, much of that page time is devoted to either unlikable characters or long discussions/speeches on topics that aren’t necessarily that compelling to modern audiences (like the role of a clergyman in society). For these reasons, it’s definitely the last one I suggest when people ask me where to start with Jane Austen. You have to be a pretty established fan to be able to read this book and get the good things out of it. It is funny, but mostly in the dry, sometimes hard to recognize way that Austen can be at times. And Fanny is the type of heroine that you have to believe is a heroine due to past experience with Austen’s work.

It’s also a very hard story to adapt as a film. We’ll be looking at two examples over the next few weeks, both with very different approaches to how they manage it.

In two weeks, I’ll review the 1999 movie version of “Mansfield Park.”

Kate’s Review: “Heartstopper (Vol.1)”

50160417Book: “Heartstopper (Vol.1)” by Alice Oseman

Publishing Info: Graphix, May 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Boy meets boy. Boys become friends. Boys fall in love. A sweet and charming coming-of-age story that explores friendship, love, and coming out.

Shy and softhearted Charlie Spring sits next to rugby player Nick Nelson in class one morning. A warm and intimate friendship follows, and that soon develops into something more for Charlie, who doesn’t think he has a chance.

But Nick is struggling with feelings of his own, and as the two grow closer and take on the ups and downs of high school, they come to understand the surprising and delightful ways in which love works.

Review: Sometimes you just need a good romance. While it’s not really my go to genre, I do have a soft spot for a kissing book every once in awhile, and in graphic novel form that’s all the better. Given how things have been going as of late, when I was throwing money at my local indie bookstore I decided to order “Heartstopper (Vol.1)” by Alice Oseman, given that a few of my friends had read it and enjoyed it. I waited for a day where I was stressed out and needed a nice fluffy distraction. And if you too are looking for a nice fluffy distraction, “Heartstopper (Vol.1)” will do you just fine.

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This book showing up to shower you with romantic goodness. (source)

“Heartstopper (Vol.1)” is about two teenage boys. The first is Charlie, a shy and introverted 10th year at his school who is out and used to be bullied because of it. The other is Nick, a gregarious and charming rugby player who gets along with all sorts of people. After being seated next to each other in class they strike up a friendship, and then perhaps something more starts to develop. This is a very straightforward story about two boys who are still trying to find themselves, and by finding each other they grow and change and blossom. While there isn’t much in terms of twists or turns or crazy drama or conflict, the quiet pangs of seemingly impossible crushes and the confusing moments of shifting (or perhaps merely expanding) sexuality bring enough relatable angst and joy to the reader that you will still be invested. Charlie and Nick’s friendship is realistic and darling, and seeing Charlie yearn for Nick while thinking he has no chance, and seeing Nick become more and more drawn to Charlie makes it so that you are completely taken in by their tale and will want to see what happens. Both Charlie and Nick are extremely likable, and I loved seeing how they interacted with each other and how their potential romance slowly built up through these interactions. What I found the most satisfying about this story is that while Charlie makes mention of past bullying, and while there are definitely moments of ‘soft’ homophobia from some characters (by no means to I mean not harmful, but more thinking in stereotypes of what a gay person is ‘supposed’ to be), it isn’t the main conflict for Charlie within the narrative. After all, while addressing the oppression that members of the LGBTQIA+ have to face is important, it’s also important not to define their stories by that oppression. So to have Charlie and Nick navigating the highs and lows of a potential romance in very run of the mill ways was refreshing. I also appreciated how Oseman addressed that one’s sexuality can shift and change when you are trying to figure out who you are, as Nick is going through a lot of self discovery. And that can be hard. The story is definitely soft and sweet, and while it does end on something of a cliffhanger you also have hope going into the next volume. Whenever that may be. Soon, I hope!

And finally, I really liked the artwork for this comic. Oseman’s style is very simple, but there are little hints of originality that I found very endearing. Be it sometimes writing out sound effects to have in the panel, or how the words are hand written and typed out letters are reserved for texts and messages between characters, or how body language gets translated into words, there is something very endearing and charming about how Oseman tells her story with her imagery.

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Please ignore the not so good quality picture, I had to improvise. (Source: Graphix)

“Heartstopper (Vol.1)” is a lovely start to this pleasant story, and I am very eager to see where Charlie and Nick go from here.

Rating 8: Soft and sweet, “Heartstopper (Vol.1)” is a darling romance with lovely characters and a charming coming of age plot line.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Heartstopper (Vol.1)” is included on the Goodreads lists “Great M/M Webcomics”, and “Let Boys Be Soft”.

Find “Heartstopper (Vol.1)” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Serena’s Review: “The Girl in Red”

42881101Book: “The Girl in Red” by Christina Henry

Publishing Details: Berkley, June 2019

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

Book Description: It’s not safe for anyone alone in the woods. There are predators that come out at night: critters and coyotes, snakes and wolves. But the woman in the red jacket has no choice. Not since the Crisis came, decimated the population, and sent those who survived fleeing into quarantine camps that serve as breeding grounds for death, destruction, and disease. She is just a woman trying not to get killed in a world that doesn’t look anything like the one she grew up in, the one that was perfectly sane and normal and boring until three months ago.

There are worse threats in the woods than the things that stalk their prey at night. Sometimes, there are men. Men with dark desires, weak wills, and evil intents. Men in uniform with classified information, deadly secrets, and unforgiving orders. And sometimes, just sometimes, there’s something worse than all of the horrible people and vicious beasts combined.

Red doesn’t like to think of herself as a killer, but she isn’t about to let herself get eaten up just because she is a woman alone in the woods….

Review: This is another book that I put on my list sometime last year and forgot about. I rediscovered it on my audiobook list and placed a hold on it recently. All of that without really looking at the book description again. I had the idea that it was some sort of fairtyale retelling (I know, where could I have gotten that idea from??). Well, turns out it’s not so much that as a survival story after a massive global pandemic wipes out most of the population. Womp womp. Perfect timing there Serena! But I still really enjoyed this read, even if it hit a bit too close to home at times.

We first meet Red as she’s making her way through the woods, on her way to Grandma’s house. But life has not always been this lonesome, often terrorizing and violence filled trek. Through a series of flashback, we see Red’s world slowly come apart at the scenes as a global, deadly pandemic begins wiping out the population. And of her family, only Red fully realizes the extent of change ahead of them and the seemingly drastic steps they should be taking to prepare. Told in alternating chapters between past and present, we travel alongside Red as she navigates the dangers of this new reality and learns there is more to this pandemic than even she had prepared for.

So, like I said, I thought this was a fairly straightforward fairytale retelling when I requested it. I’m sure when I put it down on my TBR pile, I was aware of the actual subject matter as it’s right there in the book description. But I’d forgotten it over time. And, as with most audiobooks I read from the library, without an actual physical book to look at, I went into this one mostly blind only to realize what I was reading later. It was definitely an interesting reading experience, I have to say. There are plenty of books throughout my life that I can point to as having had different effects depending on the real-life events going on in my own life at the time I was reading them. And this was definitely one of those cases.

On one hand, Red’s extreme attention to detail and planning was intimidating for those of us just managing to get by in these times. Obviously, her pandemic, one that killed off 80% or so of the those it infected, was very different than our situation. But the human behavior that resulted was largely the same. There were those who stuck their head in the sand. Those who came up with wild theories. Those who were skeptical of the “help” being offered by the government. And those who took matters into their own hands. It was all incredibly believable and, of course, off-putting for that same “realness.”

I also really liked how we delved into Red’s own mindset in the midst of it. Unlike many other post-apocolypic/survival stories, this one doesn’t shy away from the way pop culture and media would shape the views of those going through it. Again and again, we see Red compare her own situation to that of a character in a movie and base her decisions around what those same characters did. We also see how there are both pros and cons to this inevitable comparison. On one hand, she has a healthy dose of skepticism about dark corners or splitting up as a group. But on the other hand, we see her have to grapple with the very real problem that there is never always a right choice. And not only will every choice come with its own risks, but the time spent over-analyzing which might be best comes with its own distinct risks and dangers. I really enjoyed this deep-dive into the psychology that an individual living through something like this might experience.

And, while there were definitely sad parts to the story, I appreciated that this book never wallowed in the direness of the situation. This is no “The Road,” by any means. It’s still an action/adventure book at its heart, and while tragedy is an inevitable part of it, Red herself is a hopeful character and one who keeps the story buoyed up and free from becoming overwhelmingly grim.

My only real criticism of this book comes with the ending. It kind of came out of nowhere. I looked down at my audiobook at one point and realized there were only 30 minutes left in the story and seriously thought maybe I’d made a mistake when downloading it. There was no way it could wrap up from where it was at that point to a satisfying ending! And while the ending was technically satisfying, it did feel like the author just kind of left off after the last big action scene and skipped to a final few pages of an ending. It almost read like a writing school project in that way. Like the author ran out of steam completely and just jotted something down so that they could check off the box for “has an ending” in the assignment criteria.

But, even with that, I still very much enjoyed this book. The audiobook was also very well down and the narrator did an excellent job of bringing Red’s voice to life. If you have the mental/emotional capacity for a book on this subject matter right now, I really recommend this one. Like I said, it could be tough at times, but as far as survival/pandemic stories go, it was surprisingly approachable and manageable, even during Covid times.

Rating 8: A surprising read full of twists and turns, but told from a primarily hopeful place and one that manages to pull the book up past what could have been an overly grim subject matter.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Girl in Red” is on these Goodreads lists: “Books that are so exciting your heart palpitates like mad!” and “Smart Apocalyptic and Dystopian Fiction.”

Find “The Girl in Red” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Rico Stays”

53148827._sx318_Book: “Rico Stays” by Ed Duncan

Publishing Info: Independently Published, May 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received a print copy from Book Publicity Services.

Book Description: After enforcer Richard “Rico” Sanders stepped in to protect his girlfriend from a local mob boss’s hot-headed nephew, all hell broke loose.

When the smoke cleared, the nephew had vanished, but three goons who had tried to help him lay dying where they’d stood. Fighting for his life, Rico was alive but gravely wounded.

Out of the hospital but not fully recovered, he needed a place to crash – a place where he wouldn’t be found by men who surely would be looking. A place like the cabin owned by lawyer Paul Elliott, whose life Rico had saved more than once. Trouble was, Paul’s girlfriend hadn’t forgotten Rico’s dark history. Or Paul’s fascination with him.

Using Rico’s girlfriend as bait, vengeful killers soon would be coming for him. The only question was whether he would face them alone or with help from Paul.

Review: Thank you to Book Publicity Services for sending me a print copy of this novel!

When I got the summary for “Rico Stays” by Ed Duncan in our email box, the premise was intriguing enough to catch my interest. I had recently finished my first watch through of “The Sopranos”, so taking on a thriller centering around a hit man trying to lay low while also trying to keep his girlfriend safe sounded like it could have promise. Once I picked it up and began reading, I started to get the feeling that something was off. The characters seemed like they were established already, in that we got some little blips about them, but it was a lot of telling in small summaries instead of slow unveiling of characterizations. I went back online to do some digging, and I realized something that I missed the first time: this was the third book in a series, not a standalone. A series I had not read.

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(source)

I definitely take some responsibility for this, as within the email there was a link to more information that does mention “Rico Stays” is part of a series within the broader information summary. I didn’t realize that. But I made a commitment to review this book, so review it I shall. But know that this review is going to be a little…. different.

So what I did like about this book is that there is no denying that it is action packed. The conflict and action sequences basically start up right away, and it’s written in such a way that it feels like you could see it on a TV screen. Did I imagine some of these characters as “Sopranos” characters? Why yes I did. I also really liked Rico’s girlfriend Jean, whose kind and supportive character is also no nonsense and a problem solver. I greatly enjoyed how she advocated for Rico after he was in danger, and was able to connect with Paul, a lawyer who has a connection to Rico from past books. Also, Paul! I liked Paul too, as he clearly has a clear set of morals that he wants to abide by, and that sometimes comes in conflict with the various morals and ethics of his profession as a lawyer… namely, providing shelter for a hitman whom he owes a life debt to. That’s an interesting conundrum for this character, and it definitely puts not only his conscience, but his relationship, on the line.

But as a whole, I spent a fair amount of “Rico Stays” a bit… lost, shall we say? There were clear background plot points feeding into this story, be they as to why Rico is being targeted in the first place or why he and Paul have a tense but amicable relationship, or even as to how Rico and Jean’s relationship has progressed and changed. Without knowing these things, I had a harder time connecting to the story as a whole, and didn’t really find myself terribly invested in Rico’s predicament even as the stakes continued to mount. But I can’t be sure as to whether or not that is the fault of the story, or the fault of my ignorance.

So I think I’m going to have to do something I haven’t done before, and not really GIVE a full on rating on this book. It’s not a DNF because I finished it, but it also feels like I missed a good deal of context because this was the third in a series. So I am creating a new rating:  N/A. I can’t give this book a fair rating because it would be like jumping into the third installment of a movie trilogy that has a linear story, and trying to get the whole story from that alone. “Rico Stays” has solid moments on its own, but without the full context, I don’t really know what to think of it as a whole.

Rating N/A: I don’t know enough about the characters and the overarching plot line to really say if this book stuck the landing for the trilogy, but I did find some things about “Rico Stays” that were enjoyable. If you like Mafia or hitman stories, maybe go back to the beginning with “Pigeon-Blood Red” and start there.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Rico Stays” isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but I’m sure if would fit in on “The Mafia Connection Group’s Favorite Mafia Themed Reads”!

Find “Rico Stays” and the rest of the “Pigeon-Blood Red” Trilogy at Ed Duncan’s website! Or on Amazon!

Faster Than a Reading Bullet: A DC Characters Book List

While some may think that this is a reference to the much, uh, chattered about “Snyder Cut” of “Justice League,” it’s more due to the fact that 1) We are both DC fans and thought that they, too deserved a list of books, and 2) ARE WE EVER GOING TO GET TO SEE “Wonder Woman: 1984”!?!?!?! The heroes, heroines (and yes, villains) of the DC Comics universe have been around for a long time, and if we thought that while they, too, wait for their time to come back into the spotlight, we could recommend some books that a few of them may enjoy!

Wonder Woman: “Sherwood” by Meagan Spooner

Like Diana, in Spooner’s take on the Robin Hood legend, Maid Marian must face what it means to be a hero in a world that’s not ready to see women in this light. Unlike Wonder Woman, however, Marian doesn’t have any super strengths, other than some skill with a bow. So instead of operating in the light, she must take on the name and persona of the recently deceased Robin of Locksley. Her story is one of bravery in the face of those who would tell her to stay in her place and that of a woman working to carve out her own space in a time and place that sees only one future for her, much like Wonder Woman’s own story.

Superman: “Lord of the Rings” by J. R. R. Tolkien

This may seem like an odd choice, pairing up a more “sci fi” hero with the most traditional fantasy series out there…but stick with me. One of Superman’s defining characteristics is his strong sense of moral obligation to his self-appointed role as protector of Earth. He’s by no means forced to do it and, largely, suffers from taking on this burden more than he possibly gains. But he does it because he knows that only he can do it and thus feels that he must do it. In this way, he’s a perfect match for many of the reluctant heroes found in the LOTR series. Most, if not all, of the members of the Fellowship join because they feel that it is the only way forward and they are the only ones who can take on their particular role. Frodo just wants to go back to the Shire. Aragorn has no interest in his kingly heritage. But they, like the others, see a void that only they can fill and so they sacrifice their own wants for the greater good. Pretty Superman-like, huh?

Joker: “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding

Who wants to see the world burn and feel justified in his belief that, removed from any societal pressure, humanity would break down into chaos?? Joker would! This classic tale of a group of boys stranded on an island who, over time, slowly lose sight of their own humanity is the perfect pairing for a villain who revels in trying to prove Batman wrong in his faith in the good at the heart of humanity and Gotham. The book description itself lists it as a novel about “the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart.” You can’t get any more Joker than that.

Batman: “The Maltese Falcon” by Dashiell Hammett

Batman has gone through many interpretations, versions, adaptations, and characterizations since his debut as a superhero for DC. But we must remember that before he was known for being a brooding vigilante or a playboy millionaire, he was known as the world’s greatest detective. Which is why a nice noire would undoubtedly appeal to him, and where else can one turn but to Dashiell Hammett’s classic “The Maltese Falcon”. This story serves as the introduction of hard boiled private eye Sam Spade, and is one of the go tos for old school noire mystery love. Like Batman, Spade searches for the truth relentlessly, gets caught up in his darker feelings, and has a weakness for the bad girls that he meets while on assignment. There’s no doubt in my mind that Batman would at least find this book relatable, if not entertaining.

Lois Lane: “Ten Days in a Mad-House” by Nellie Bly

Lois Lane, intrepid reporter and super-heroine in perhaps a more subtle way (as searching for truth in journalism is pretty darn heroic!), would have so many things to love about “Ten Days in a Mad-House”. For one, Nellie Bly was one of the first really well known woman journalists in this country, doing her work during the Victorian Era. “Ten Days in a Mad-House” would also appeal to Lois because it’s the story of Bly going undercover, pretending to be ‘insane’ so she would be committed to a mental institution so she could investigate claims of abuse and neglect of the inmates. Lois is known for being fearless, and I’m sure that she would love seeing the process and the work of a pioneer in her field.

Harley Quinn: “Nobody’s Victim: Fighting Psychos, Stalkers, Pervs, and Trolls” by Carrie Goldberg

Much like Batman, Harley Quinn has gone through a number of changes, though hers have been comparatively fast. While she used to be Joker’s codependent (and much abused) lady ‘love’, now she has found herself more independent, though still off the wall and a bit nutty. That said, the girl has a Ph.D in psychiatry, so with her own personal experiences and her love of the human mind, “Nobody’s Victim” would certainly be right up her alley. Carrie Goldberg is a victim’s rights attorney who targets serial harassers, violent exes, rapists, trolls, and stalkers, getting the kind of justice that her clients seek in hopes of preventing further victimization in the future. Her work has put her in dicey situations, but she’s tough as nails and doesn’t take crap from anyone while she confronts misogyny and abuse. Harley has had her own emancipation from this kind of thing as of late, and I think that she would love this book because of that.

There are so many other DC heroes and villains that we haven’t talked about. What books do you think some of them would like? Let us know in the comments!

 

Serena’s Review: “Driftwood”

9781616963460_b1ce2Book: “Driftwood” by Marie Brennan

Publishing Info: Tachyon Publications, August 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: Who is Last?

Fame is rare in Driftwood- it’s hard to get famous if you don’t stick around long enough for people to know you. But many know the guide, Last, a one-blooded survivor who has seen his world end many lifetimes ago. For Driftwood is a strange place of slow apocalypses, where continents eventually crumble into mere neighborhoods, pulled inexorably towards the center in the Crush. Cultures clash, countries fall, and everything eventually disintegrates.

Within the Shreds, a rumor goes around that Last has died. Drifters come together to commemorate him. But who really was Last?

Review: I requested this book mostly on the premise that I have enjoyed the two books by Marie Brennan I had read before. Both were in some way part of her “Lady Trent” dragon fantasy series. This….sounded different. But as I felt that her strong writing was one of the biggest pluses for both of those other books, I was curious to see how this skill set would apply to a completely different story, one that seemed to much more science fiction and post-apocalyptic than high fantasy. And boy was I pleased!

It turns out that even worlds have a place to go when they die. Or, more accurately, when they’re still in the process of dying. After whatever sort of apocalypse suits any particular world, it makes its way to Driftwood, a place made up of many different worlds slowly shrinking and moving inwards towards the Crush where the last bits of them and their people will disappear for good. But there is one being who seems to have been around forever, Last. No one remembers his world or his people, but many remember stories of ways that Last touched their lives. Now, when he has disappeared, maybe for good, they gather to share those stories.

I wasn’t aware of this from the book description, but it turns out that this book is more of an anthology-like story than a plot-driven storyline about any specific character. I guess it’s there enough in the blurb, but I didn’t pick up on it. But it turned out to be a really nice surprise and a perfect way of creating such a unique, creative world. As much as this book is about Last and the influence he had on many people’s lives, it’s also about Driftwood. And by telling the story through these smaller narratives, we get to dip our toes into not only a bunch of really interesting new worlds, but into a variety of ideas and coping mechanisms that people have for dealing with death, the end of the world, and inevitability as a whole.

I also read the author’s blurb at the back and discovered that the author was trained as an anthropologist. This all makes so much sense. Not only for this book, but now in hindsight looking at the way the Lady Trent books were written and their focus. But here, we can really see those skill sets shine. When describing all of these different worlds and peoples, it’s not as simple as describing different ecosystems or different body types. No, Brennan creates religions, cultures, hierarchies, ways of speaking, all of the little things that really go into forming a “people.”

Last was a great character in and of himself. But he is also the type of character that we know so little about (even by the end of the book), that it quickly becomes clear that what we do “know” about him are only impressions left by those telling their unique stories of him. But through them we can parse together a really interesting character who has existed in a space that, by definition, operates to undue existence. To be the only one of his kind. To not be “known” by anyone. To go on while the “world” is shifting constantly around you. Learning new things, but also constantly losing what you know. I really liked the brief insights we got into the kind of mentality that Last had to develop to survive. And that, while bleak at times, we’re left with a character who values hope and love above everything.

The only real ding I have for this book was the ending. It felt like it came out of nowhere, was very sudden, and left me with a bunch of questions. On one hand, I’m ok with there still being secrets hidden in this world and about Last. Indeed, that’s half of what makes the book so intriguing, the feeling that you’ve only scratched the surface. But there were a few “reveals,” for lack of a better word, toward the end that left me scratching my head. I couldn’t figure out whether I was missing some grand point or not. Part of me really feels like I am. But I re-read it several times and…I still don’t really know what point the author was trying to come to, if any. Maybe others will have more success.

If you’re a fan of this author, than this is definitely another of hers to check out. But, overall, if you’re a fan of anthologies, science fiction, and stories that explore what “humanity” really is, this is an excellent read. If I had the “Beach Reads” list to do over, this is definitely the kind of book that I’d throw on there.

Rating 9: Beautifully written and incredibly unique. This is definitely a book to check out this summer!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Driftwood” is a newer title, so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “Hugo 2021 Eligible Novels.”

 

Kate’s Review: “Displacement”

39908611._sx318_Book: “Displacement” by Kiku Hughes

Publishing Info: First Second Books, August 2020

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

Book Description: A teenager is pulled back in time to witness her grandmother’s experiences in World War II-era Japanese internment camps in Displacement, a historical graphic novel from Kiku Hughes.

Kiku is on vacation in San Francisco when suddenly she finds herself displaced to the 1940s Japanese-American internment camp that her late grandmother, Ernestina, was forcibly relocated to during World War II.

These displacements keep occurring until Kiku finds herself “stuck” back in time. Living alongside her young grandmother and other Japanese-American citizens in internment camps, Kiku gets the education she never received in history class. She witnesses the lives of Japanese-Americans who were denied their civil liberties and suffered greatly, but managed to cultivate community and commit acts of resistance in order to survive.

Kiku Hughes weaves a riveting, bittersweet tale that highlights the intergenerational impact and power of memory.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this graphic novel!

I am always going to keep hammering home the point that if we don’t know our own history, we are going to repeat it, especially now when our country seems to be determined to undercut civil liberties of its own citizens. Between police brutality, towards minorities (particularly Black people), a Muslim ban, and children in cages at the border, it feels like we are slipping more towards times in American history where we committed terrible atrocities that we haven’t really faced as of yet. That brings me to “Displacement” by Kiku Hughes, a graphic novel on the Japanese American Internment during World War II. I’ve read my fair share about this horrific practice (and reviewed another graphic novel on the topic, “They Called Us Enemy” by George Takei), and figured that this would be another powerful, but familiar, take on this period in history. And I can safely say that “Displacement” wasn’t really what I was expecting.

“Displacement” is both fiction, and non-fiction. The non-fiction aspect is that Kiku Hughes’s grandmother Ernestina was held prisoner at both Tanforan and Topaz Internment camps, and that Kiku and her mother did a lot of research into it as Ernestina didn’t open up about it while she was alive. But the fictional aspect is a device that works very well, in which Kiku tells a story of herself being transported back in time, or ‘displaced’ to the 1940s, and ending up at the same Internment sites as Ernestina, therein letting the reader see this historical atrocity through the same modern lens that Kiku may. It’s very similar to “Kindred” by Octavia Butler, and Hughes mentions her specifically in her acknowledgements. I thought that it worked really well because it makes the story feel more personal than perhaps a textbook would, and more relatable since Hughes is a young adult who doesn’t know that much about the camps and what life there was like for Ernestina. It’s a perfect read for tweens and teens who might be wanting to learn about this topic, as while it’s ‘fantasy’, it’s also very realistic and provides the same perspective that they may be going in with. I read “Farewell to Manzanar” by Jane Watasuki Houston when I was in seventh grade, and while I did like it and got a lot from it, I think that if I had something like “Displacement” I may have connected more with it just because of the modern lens. Hughes also makes very clear connections to the current political climate we are in today with Trump and his goons in power, and how there are stark, STARK similarities between the prejudices they hold and the policies they are inflicting upon marginalized groups, and the ones inflicted upon the Issei and Nisei in this country during the Internment.

While “Kindred” is the book Hughes mentions specifically as influence, I also see a lot of similarities to Jane Yolen’s “The Devil’s Arithmetic”, in which a modern day (well modern when it came out) Jewish girl named Hannah is transported back to Poland right as the Nazis take over. I kept going back to that story as I saw Kiku pre-displacement, thinking about how Hannah, like Kiku, doesn’t feel that much connection to her heritage. While “Displacement” certainly does a great job of talking about what specifically happened to her grandmother during the Internment, Hughes also makes direct connections as to how the Internment facilitated a loss of identity for Japanese Americans, and played a part in generational trauma that still lingers today. It’s a theme that I haven’t seen as much in other books, be they fiction or non-fiction, about the Internment, and it is a really powerful way to show that there are far reaching consequences that touch later generations when it comes to trauma and violence directed towards a group of people. Kiku recounts (in the true story part of this book) how she and her mother decided to do their own research about Ernestina’s life in the camps, and about the camps themselves, and find out things that neither of them knew because of survivors not wanting to talk about it due to trauma and shame. This was the aspect that stood out to me the most.

And finally, I really liked Hughe’s artwork style. It feels not dissimilar to what you might expect from modern comics, but there are undercurrents of more realistic artwork and imagery that kind of remind the reader that this is based on something real, and terrible.

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(source)

“Displacement” is a book that I really think educators should have in their curriculums when teaching teens about the Japanese American Internment. It’s easy to understand, easy to parse, and has a whole lot to say about identity, racist policy, and trauma that can last beyond a generation.

Rating 8: A powerful graphic novel and the perfect introduction to the subject for tween and teen audiences, “Displacement” takes on a reprehensible part of American history with a magical realism twist.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Displacement” is included on the Goodreads lists “Surviving in the Japanese Relocation Centers of WW2”, and “2020 YA/MG Books With POC Leads”.

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

Serena’s Review: “The Faithless Hawk”

41022295._sy475_Book: “The Faithless Hawk” by Margaret Owen

Publishing Info: Henry Holt and Co., August 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: As the new chieftain of the Crows, Fie knows better than to expect a royal to keep his word. Still she’s hopeful that Prince Jasimir will fulfill his oath to protect her fellow Crows. But then black smoke fills the sky, signaling the death of King Surimir and the beginning of Queen Rhusana’s merciless bid for the throne.

With the witch queen using the deadly plague to unite the nation of Sabor against Crows—and add numbers to her monstrous army—Fie and her band are forced to go into hiding, leaving the country to be ravaged by the plague. However, they’re all running out of time before the Crows starve in exile and Sabor is lost forever.

A desperate Fie calls on old allies to help take Rhusana down from within her own walls. But inside the royal palace, the only difference between a conqueror and a thief is an army. To survive, Fie must unravel not only Rhusana’s plot, but ancient secrets of the Crows—secrets that could save her people, or set the world ablaze.

Previously Reviewed: “The Merciful Crow”

Review: I listened to the first book in this duology as an audiobook. And in my review I credited the narrator with really pulling her weight to imbibe this story with an extra level of emotion and sense of character that helped push the book forward past what, at times, was rather slow-paced storytelling. With that in mind, I was a bit nervous when I picked up this book as a standard e-ARC through Edelweiss. Would it hold up without the narrator’s perfect voice for Fie? Yes, yes it did and not only that, but it was better than the first in all ways.

With Prince Jasimir delivered to relative safety and with an army at his back, Fie’s hope for the future, a future where Crows are protected from the vicious groups that hunt them, seems within grasp. As a Chief now herself, Fie feels this sense of responsibility to her people more strongly then ever. But one things goes wrong after another, one devastating loss after another, until Fie wakes up one morning with her people in hiding and a choice of either a future of starvation and being hunted down, or of leaving her people and going into the heart of her enemy, the castle itself, to do what needs to be done. But even there, Fie must rely on half-lost Crow magic and unravel an erased history to truly find a path forward for not only her own people, but everyone in Sabor.

As I mentioned in my intro, while I did enjoy the first book this duology overall, I did finish it with some lingering questions about the book’s pacing and ability to carry a more plot-driven storyline. So I was incredibly pleased to see both of those issues fully addressed in this second book. Not only does this book have a more action-packed plot than the first, but the pacing was sustained throughout the book without any of portions that seemed to lag (something that happened for a fairly substantial portion in the middle of the first book.)

I also really liked how much this book expanded on the magic-system and history of Sabor. I thought the hierarchy system and the unique abilities assigned to each group was interesting in the first book, so I was really excited to see this book dive much more deeply into not only how it all worked, but in the history of the system itself. I hadn’t even realized until this book started answering them how many lingering questions I had had from the first book, particularly about the Crows and Fie’s own magic. And all of this information seemed to unfold in a very organic, natural way, without any infodumps or unbelievable revelations.

I also really liked Fie’s own part in the story. She takes on a very active role in this book and faces completely different challenges than the ones she dealt with the first go-around. We see not only how she is better prepared for these greater ordeals this time, but also how the increased feeling of responsibility and the new closeness to others affects her own abilities to trust and make decisions on a grand scale vs. personal feelings. Jasimer also featured more heavily in this book than I expected, and, as I didn’t love his character so much in the first book, I was extremely pleased with what we had from the character here. We got to see a lot of the growth he experienced in the first book pay off, and, overall, he was incredibly likable this go-around. Something about being a “cat wrangler” didn’t hurt my impression of him either!

I was also pleased with the romance in this story. Things definitely didn’t go the route I expected. But some of the “twists” here were also easy enough to see through that for those of us who were worried, you can rest fairly assured that all turns out well, though perhaps not how you expected.

Overall, I was really pleased with this book, both in and of itself and as a conclusion to the duology as a whole. There were some legitimate surprises and twists that I didn’t see coming, and those that I did were so purely satisfying that I didn’t care that I could predict them in advance. I think the author had a better handle on the pacing in this book and really came into her own with the strength of writing. For those who enjoyed “The Merciful Crow,” definitely don’t miss out on this one!

Rating 9: A completely satisfying conclusion in pretty much every way!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Faithless Hawk” is a new title, so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it is on “2020 YA Sequels.”

Find “The Faithless Hawk” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “This Is My America”

52855111._sx318_sy475_Book: “This Is My America” by Kim Johnson

Publishing Info: Random House Children’s Books, July 2020

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

Book Description: Dear Martin meets Just Mercy in this unflinching yet uplifting YA novel that explores the racist injustices in the American justice system.

Every week, seventeen-year-old Tracy Beaumont writes letters to Innocence X, asking the organization to help her father, an innocent Black man on death row. After seven years, Tracy is running out of time—her dad has only 267 days left. Then the unthinkable happens. The police arrive in the night, and Tracy’s older brother, Jamal, goes from being a bright, promising track star to a “thug” on the run, accused of killing a white girl. Determined to save her brother, Tracy investigates what really happened between Jamal and Angela down at the Pike. But will Tracy and her family survive the uncovering of the skeletons of their Texas town’s racist history that still haunt the present?

Fans of Nic Stone and Jason Reynolds won’t want to miss this provocative and gripping debut.

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

Though I don’t live right in the city, I live close enough to Minneapolis that I was following the aftermath of the George Floyd murder with a heavy heart and no small amount of anger. Anger towards the MPD, anger towards racists who were saying awful shit, anger at the white supremacists who came into the city to stir up trouble (a bit of fear of that too; given that we’re a Jewish household, for a few nights there we were taking precautions). While I hope that this senseless murder and the protests that came after will start to produce some change when it comes to race in this country, I also know that racism is a deep part of our society and not easily swayed. It was around this time that I got “This Is My America” by Kim Johnson. While I love that more books are being published that address the racism in our country, be it societal or systemic, it’s terrible that things have changed so little that these books continue to be necessary. Circumstances aside, “This Is My America” is another serious contender for one of my favorite reads of the summer.

First and foremost as mentioned above, the themes of this book of racism in the American Justice System and in America itself are pressing and emotional, and I thought that through Tracy’s story Johnson has a more unique perspective. I’ve read a good number of YA books where an unarmed Black person is murdered by the police, which is of course a horrific reality, but in “This Is My America” we look at a different injustice: wrongfully convicted/accused Black men who end up on Death Row. Tracy’s father has been on Death Row for seven years and his date of execution is less than a year away, so for her and her family the hope of his case being revisited is imperative. We see how the trauma has affected her family, from the financial burden laying on their mother, to her younger sister Corinne never knowing her father at home, to Tracy’s obsession affecting her relationships at home and at school. It’s an angle that we don’t get to see as often, that even when ‘justice’ is supposedly served, for a lot of Black men in prison there is no actual justice. Tracy’s desperation is compounded when her brother Jamal is accused of murdering his friend Angela, a white girl who had an on and off again relationship with the sheriff’s son. Jamal didn’t do it, but given that he’s Black he doesn’t trust the police, so he runs. And as Tracy starts to dig into what happened to Angela, she starts to see that it’s not the Black community in their small Texas town that is the threat, but a hidden rot of White Supremacy that has started to rise in the current social conditions. Add into that a corrupt police force and sheriff’s office and you have Tracy trying to find justice on her own. Johnson addresses all of these themes with care and shows the complexity, and it never feels like she’s talking down to her audience. The only time that it feels like it’s being spoon fed or explained is when within the story one would be carefully explaining the ideas, so it fit and didn’t feel out of place. And on top of all that, Johnson included a very substantial Author’s Note at the end that provided a lot of context and resources for the topics in this book.

As if a fabulous overall thematic wasn’t enough, we also get a really well done and well thought out mystery! I wanted to know who killed Angela, just as I wanted to know what actually happened to the couple whose murder sent Tracy’s father to prison. Johnson lays out a lot of clues, a lot of suspects, and a lot of suspenseful moments as Tracy takes the investigation into her own hands, and manages to weave a lot of complexities into the story. I was kept in suspense and on the edge of my seat as more sinister clues were unveiled, and genuinely taken in with each reveal.

One qualm that kept it from a perfect rating: there is a love triangle between Tracy, her best friend Dean, and her childhood friend Quincy (whose father was killed by the police while Tracy’s father was arrested). I don’t really know why there is a love triangle, but there is. I found it a little hard to believe that Tracy would even be entertaining the idea of romance with two different boys when her brother is wanted for murder, her father’s days on death row are dwindling, and there is a potential threat of the Klan being directed towards her family. But at the same time, I know that teenagers can get caught up in hormones maybe? It wasn’t distracting enough to totally throw me off, but it felt out of place.

But really, “This Is My America” is fantastic. It absolutely deserves to  become the next YA sensation, and given how a lot of the themes in this story seem to have come to a head this summer, it feels all the more relevant and all the more pressing. Kim Johnson, I cannot wait to see what you do next!

Rating 9: Incendiary, powerful, and still far too relevant, “This Is My America” peels back systemic racism in the American Legal Justice System, and has a compelling mystery to boot.

Reader’s Advisory:

“This Is My America” is included on the Goodreads lists “YA Books Similar to THUG”, and “YA Contemporary by Black Authors”.

Find “This Is My America” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!