Kate’s Review: “Containment”

41xlqrp7yslBook: “Containment” (The Cerenia Chronicles Book 2) by Angela Howes

Publishing Info: Fine Tuned Editing, January 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: The author provided me with a PDF copy.

Book Description: She made her choice. Now, she must live with the consequences. As Phoebe’s family and friends fight for their lives, she finds herself drawn further into the enigmatic world of the Council, caught in a struggle between lying low and inciting war. But as more allies emerge from the shadows, Phoebe must decide whether she has what it takes to lead a rebellion … especially when it could mean losing everything and everyone that matters to her.

Review: First I want to extend a special thank you to Angela Howes for reaching out and sending me a copy of this book!

YA dystopia seems to be mostly out of style, at least in the circles of YA enthusiasts that I associate with or follow. But given that I haven’t lost my interest in it, I was pretty excited when Angela Howes reached out to me with news that her second book in the Cerenia Chronicles, “Containment”, was coming out! Given that I enjoyed the first in the series, “Assignment”, I was eager to see where things were going to go for our protagonist Phoebe, her two suitors Sky and Noah, and the rest of the mild dictatorship of Cerenia. Especially since we left it on such a cliffhanger.

When we left off, Phoebe, Sky, and Noah had all achieved freedom by making it to The Jungle, where defectors and former prisoners of Cerenia have been building a rebellion. Phoebe decided to infiltrate the Cerenia Council in hopes of overthrowing the corruption. Unfortunately, Noah and Sky have ended up in captivity because of this, with Noah in prison and Sky in a Box, an almost guaranteed death sentence. The book flip flops between these three perspectives, with Phoebe hoping to outwit and influence the Council members, Sky hoping to escape his death sentence (and I mean, of course he does, mild spoiler alert but it happens pretty quick), and Noah hoping to get out of jail. Of all three perspectives, Phoebe’s was by far the most interesting. I liked watching her have to play 3D chess and having to make really difficult decisions, sometimes decisions that would be life or death, all to try and fit in in hopes of taking down corruption from the inside. I thought that her inner struggles and her ruthlessness meshed well together, and thought that it was a huge benefit to her characterization. Sometimes her calculations were cold and unnerving, and yet I believed that she would be making them. I also liked getting into Sky’s head as he has to rally the rebellion on the outside, all without knowing if he would ever see Phoebe, the love of his life again. Team Sky, all the way. His voice is fun and snarky, but he has enough sprinkles of vulnerability and self doubt that he doesn’t come off as an obnoxious trope.

But that leaves Noah’s narrative, which to me felt a bit superfluous if only because we don’t really have a reason to care about Noah. Or at least, I don’t have a reason to care about him. I mentioned before that I don’t like love triangles, but this particular point on this love triangle really doesn’t work for me, especially now. At this point, Phoebe has made her choice, and that choice is Sky. It’s also hard for me to let go of the fact that Noah was such a goddamn chickenshit in the first book that he was perfectly happy stringing along the girl he’d been matched with Darya, while having an affair with Phoebe, which put not only himself but Darya in danger. To me it feels like the love triangle has been resolved, and his backstory and characterization hasn’t been developed or built up enough for him to be a character we need to care about. Unless we’re going to get another love triangle plot in the third book, and boy oh boy am I hoping that isn’t the case.

There is indeed going to be a third book, as “Containment” ended on a cliffhanger. But with the way things ended this time, I’m even more interested to see where this goes this time around than I was last time around. I think we’re building to something that could be really unique, and I can’t wait to see what that may be.

Rating 7: The political intrigue and maneuvering is upped and the stakes continue to rise. “Containment” continues a solid dystopian narrative and explores the difficult decisions a person has to make for the greater good.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Containment” isn’t on any Goodreads lists as of yet, but if you like books like “Divergent”“Matched”, or “The Testing” you will probably find this one fun as well!

“Containment” isn’t in very many libraries as of now, but you can find it on Amazon.

Previously reviewed: “Assignment”

 

Serena’s Review: “Jade City”

43587154._sy475_Book: “Jade City” by Fonda Lee

Publishing Info: Orbit, June 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Book Description: The Kaul family is one of two crime syndicates that control the island of Kekon. It’s the only place in the world that produces rare magical jade, which grants those with the right training and heritage superhuman abilities.

The Green Bone clans of honorable jade-wearing warriors once protected the island from foreign invasion–but nowadays, in a bustling post-war metropolis full of fast cars and foreign money, Green Bone families like the Kauls are primarily involved in commerce, construction, and the everyday upkeep of the districts under their protection.

When the simmering tension between the Kauls and their greatest rivals erupts into open violence in the streets, the outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all Green Bones and the future of Kekon itself.

Review: This book has been on my TBR list for quite a long time. It received tons of praise when it first came out, but somehow I still missed the action. But when I saw that its sequel had come out recently, I knew that now was the time to get on board. So off to the audiobook library I went, and here we go! Another great fantasy trilogy to get caught up in!

Jade is what makes Kekon special, but also dangerous. Granting incredible abilities to those trained and predisposed to use it, controlling and possessing jade has forged the future of the small island nation. Now, run by several gangs made up of jade-enhanced warriors, Kekon sits in a precarious place in a world that wants what it has. To determine this future, however, each gang must continually prove its strength. The Kaul family, the head of one such gang, finds itself at an important crossroads as the reigns of power have been handed down to the next generation. Each of the three Kaul siblings have chosen very different paths, but each will soon learn that they all have an important role to play if the future of their family, gang, and nation are to be secured.

Having not read any  books that feature gangs prominently (at least that I can think of off the top of my head), most of my mental comparisons for this book came from movies like “The Godfather” and “Gangs of New York.” Which, again, each of which I’ve only seen once. All of this clearly highlights my lack of familiarly with the genre. But that aside, I think this was an exemplary take on a gang drama featuring a unique fantasy world that flowed together seamlessly.

The world-building was thorough and detailed, laying out a complete history of Kekon and how the abilities of jade warriors have shaped its trajectory. Now, in the modern world, we see how this power influences economic and political decisions, all while still being steeped in ancient tradition and rituals that weave their way throughout the country’s society and culture. The gangs themselves that primarily use and manage this jade are much more than the criminal enterprises we often associate with that term. Instead, they are acknowledged players on the world stage, even if their operations on the ground level still incorporate many of the aspects of crime lords: rigid territories, monitored petty crime, and a tightrope walk between peace and violence breaking out on the streets.

To make a story about a gang family really work you have to have strong main characters at the heart, and that’s definitely one of the biggest strengths of this book. The story centers around the three Kaul children, Lan, Hilo, and Shae. We also get several chapters from an adopted son, Anden, who is still in training to be a Green bone (a jade warrior). Each had their strengths, but I particularly enjoyed Hilo and Shae, together and separately. Hilo, as Horn of the gang, is essentially the enforcer, a role that suits him well with his charming personality disguising a brutal strength as a fighter. Shae, on the other hand, is the family member who got away, starting a new life for herself in a foreign country. But slowly, throughout this book, she realizes that one can’t simply cut family out of one’s life, and we see her clever mind and knowledge of politics and economics come more into play. She and Hilo naturally clash with their very different approaches to problem solving, and it’s the kind of fraught relationship that’s thrilling to follow. The reader is privy to both of their thoughts, so depending on whose mind you’re in currently, it’s easy to sympathize with one position over another. Until you switch, and then oh yes, maybe this one of the two has the rights of it.

This a detailed and thoughtful story, taking its time to fully develop its world, the players, and the various histories that were at play to create the situation the Kaul clan currently find themselves in. There were a couple of surprises along the way and some good action scenes towards the end, but go into it expecting an immersive, slow read. It was very clear that this was the first book in a series, and that it was setting the stage for larger conflicts to come. I already have my copy of “Jade War” on hand, so I’m excited to see where things go from here! If you enjoy urban fantasy, specifically ones set in unique worlds with political maneuverings at their heart, this is definitely the book for you!

Rating 8: A fully realized urban fantasy that feels like one is only scraping the tip of the iceberg on what is sure to be an excellent series.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Jade City” is on these Goodreads lists: “Diverse Fantasy and Science Fiction Settings” and “2018 Sci-Fi Award Nominees.”

Find “Jade City” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Jane Anonymous”

37650881._sy475_Book: “Jane Anonymous” by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Publishing Info: Wednesday Books, January 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I was sent an eARC by the publisher via NetGalley

Book Description: Bestselling author Laurie Faria Stolarz returns with Jane Anonymous, a gripping tale of a seventeen-year-old girl’s kidnapping and her struggle to fit back into her life after she escapes.

Then, “Jane” was just your typical 17-year-old in a typical New England suburb getting ready to start her senior year. She had a part-time job she enjoyed, an awesome best friend, overbearing but loving parents, and a crush on a boy who was taking her to see her favorite band. She never would’ve imagined that in her town where nothing ever happens, a series of small coincidences would lead to a devastating turn of events that would forever change her life.

Now, it’s been three months since “Jane” escaped captivity and returned home. Three months of being that girl who was kidnapped, the girl who was held by a “monster.” Three months of writing down everything she remembered from those seven months locked up in that stark white room. But, what if everything you thought you knew―everything you thought you experienced―turned out to be a lie?

Review: Thanks to Wednesday Books and NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

In so many books the involve missing people or missing women, if the missing person is found alive and is able to return home that is usually the end of the book. The investigator is a hero, the victim gets to return to their life, and the story is considered to be happy, or at least positive. But the truth of the matter is that in real life, anyone who survives a harrowing and violent experience such as that has a lot more story to live and tell after they are rescued or recovered. And “Jane Anonymous” ventures to examine that concept, that the ‘happy ending’ isn’t necessarily guaranteed, and that the fallout of the trauma isn’t easily reconciled with the joy of returning to one’s life. Is it a rough book because of it? Hell yes. But it’s a theme that I haven’t encountered as much as I have the ‘happily ever after’ conclusion in stories like these.

“Jane Anonymous” is told through two timelines. The first is Jane’s time directly before and during captivity. The second is Jane’s life in the weeks and months after she escapes, and how she is coping after her trauma. Both of them create an entire story labeled as ‘Then” and “Now”, and it’s told as though Jane is writing down her experiences as a way to try to make sense of everything. Stolarz is vague about the details of setting, as Jane not only refers to herself as Jane Anonymous, but she also says that she’s living in ‘New England Town’ so the reader can feel like this could be a number of places. We juxtapose what happened to her in captivity along with how she is functioning back in her life with the trauma of it, and it’s honest and raw and very tense. Stolarz does a very effective and believable job of conveying just how the trauma would effect a person who was held in a small room all alone for seven months, and how coming back to her old life is going to be incredibly difficult. I thought that coping mechanisms and panic attacks and PTSD symptoms were portrayed convincingly, and also thought that the strain on not only Jane’s experiences but also the experiences of those that love her was also very well done. The ‘Now’ sections were almost harder to read because the idea of being ‘home’ is so dismantled and examined, and Jane and her family are still in such turmoil. It reminded me of the book “Room”, but tackled more head on since it wasn’t through the eyes of a little kid who can’t comprehend what happened. Jane comprehends. And therefore we are forced to.

The ‘Then’ sections read more like a traditional thriller, and while it was indeed suspenseful there were parts of it that were predictable. While it’s a foregone conclusion that Jane is going to escape, Stolarz does attempt to create a tension about how she is going to do it. The thing that sustains her is Mason, the voice in the vents who says he’s also been captured by the same lunatic. As Jane and Mason cling to each other and their relationship is all that can sustain her, you see how having one person there gives Jane the strength that she needs, and seeing he determination to survive is definitely a compelling part of these sections. That said, there are a couple of twists that I called pretty early on, and I’m not sure if that’s because they weren’t hidden particularly well, or because I have just read so many books like this that I know what to look for, trope wise. That said, it wasn’t like that ruined anything for me when it came to the story. It may have been the weaker of the two time frames, but it was still highly enjoyable.

“Jane Anonymous” doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to showing the fallout of trauma. It’s honest and upsetting, but also pulls at the heartstrings as you see a girl try to begin to heal, as hard as it may be.

Rating 7: An emotional and at times a little predictable thriller about having to rebuild your life after a horrible trauma, “Jane Anonymous” was both suspenseful and moving.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Jane Anonymous” is new and not on many relevant Goodreads lists, but I think it would fit in on “Kidnapped!”.

Find “Jane Anonymous” at your library using WorldCat!

Highlights: January 2020

Happy New Year and Happy New Decade! It really seems like we are getting a fresh new start as we roll into a new version of the roaring twenties. What will the new year, and new decade, bring? Well we know that January will bring a new slew of books! Here’s what we are looking forward to this month!

Serena’s Picks

40877706._sy475_Book: “Woven in Moonlight” by Isabel Ibanez

Publication Date: January 7, 2020

Why I’m Interested: The cover alone is enough to make me want to check this book out. Beautiful and unique, it’s always lovely to see covers put together with such care. I’m sure it will get picked up off bookstore shelves quite frequently. Beyond that, it’s a YA fantasy novel inspired by Bolivian history and politics. I know next to nothing about these topics, so I’m excited to see what this book has to offer. The main character, Ximena, has been serving as a double for the Condesa, the last member of a royal family who is now living in exile with her people. But when the usurper “offers” a political marriage, Ximena goes in her place in search of a way to restore her people to their homeland. So far the reviews seem very positive, so I’m excited to see what this book has to offer!

9781250184627_fe33eBook: “Hostile Territory” by Paul Greci

Publication Date: January 28, 2020

Why I’m Interested: I love survival stories, and it’s been a long time since I’ve read one. To be fair, I also know I have unreasonable standards for survival stories and often end up coming down rather hard on them. Knowing that, I have to limit myself so I don’t just go into a rage over the entire genre. But given that it’s been a while, this book about a group of teens who end up stranded in the Alaskan wilderness after an earthquake takes out their camp and some of their friends sounded like a prime opportunity to get back in the genre. I’m a little concerned about the reference to military aspects in the cover and description. But then again, I loved “Tomorrow, When the War Began” and that was both a survival story and a military action adventure. We’ll see what this one brings!

45046604Book: “The Bard’s Blade”  by Brian D. Anderson

Publication Date: January 28, 2020

Why I’m Interested: Another fun cover, another hooked reader! I haven’t read any of Anderson’s books, though I know he’s written several fantasy series. This one, about two young people who grow up in an idyllic country, protected from evil and the outside world by a magical barrier, who now have to venture out to stop a growing malevolent force, sounds pretty fun. I’m curious to see what role music will play in the story since it’s part of the title, and one of the main characters, Lan, is mentioned as being a talented musician. Is there a magical element to music? I’m really not sure about much about this book, but it will be fun to dive in and find out!

Kate’s Picks

37650881._sy475_Book: “Jane Anonymous” by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Publication Date: January 7, 2020

Why I’m Interested: Usually when you read a thriller that involves a kidnap victim, you are going to get one of two scenarios. The first is that it’s going to be from the side of the investigators and/or family members who are hoping that the victim will come home safe. The second is that it’s going to be from the perspective of the victim themself during the ordeal. So the fact that “Jane Anonymous” is both from the victim’s perspective during their captivity AND following her in the aftermath really caught my attention. “Jane” is trying to readjust to her life after she was held prisoner for almost a year. While her family and friends are happy she is home, she isn’t feeling connected to them, and is having a hard time coping with coming back to a life she will possibly never relate to again. It sounds dark and deep, and I love that Stolarz wanted to explore a reality that victims may have to come home to, and how hard it can be.

One of Us is Next FINAL cover.inddBook: “One of Us Is Next” by Karen M. McManus

Publication Date: January 7, 2020

Why I’m Interested: I loved the first in the series, “One of Us Is Lying”, and I also loved Karen M. McManus’s second book “Two Can Keep A Secret”. So it’s really no surprise that I’m feeling VERY excited for the follow up to “One of Us Is Lying”, “One of Us Is Next”. It looks like this time around we’re back to Bayview High, and dealing with a new malicious app and group of students! Instead of a gossip app it’s now a game, and if you don’t play by the rules your truths will be exposed. Oh hell yes. I am hoping that McManus will be three for three with her YA thriller mysteries, and given how strong she has been with her past two books she will probably deliver!

45046527Book: “American Dirt” by Jeanine Cummins

Publication Date: January 21, 2020

Why I’m Interested: This one is less thriller and more of a literary work, but given how much buzz I’ve heard about it, I couldn’t leave it off this list. Lydia is a book seller in Acapulco, and has mostly been shielded from the slowly building violence that is being perpetrated by the cartels. But one day, one of the higher ups in a cartel comes to her store, and takes interest in two of her favorite books. Lydia is unaware that this man is a powerful and dangerous individual, and the fact that her husband is about to publish a tell all expose on him is going to rock all of their lives. This sounds like it’s going to be a guy punch of a novel, and I, for one, cannot wait to read it.

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

My Year with Jane Austen: “Sense and Sensibility” Part I

14935._sy475_Book: “Sense and Sensibility”

Publication Year: 1811

Book Description: Marianne Dashwood wears her heart on her sleeve, and when she falls in love with the dashing but unsuitable John Willoughby she ignores her sister Elinor’s warning that her impulsive behaviour leaves her open to gossip and innuendo. Meanwhile Elinor, always sensitive to social convention, is struggling to conceal her own romantic disappointment, even from those closest to her. Through their parallel experience of love—and its threatened loss—the sisters learn that sense must mix with sensibility if they are to find personal happiness in a society where status and money govern the rules of love.

History – “I read it a little as duty, but it tells me nothing that does not either vex or weary me.”

“Sense and Sensibility” was Jane Austen’s first published work, but it was a long time in the making. It is thought that work was likely started on this book when Austen was only 19 in 1975. The manuscript was originally titled “Elinor and Marianne” and went through several re-writes, including likely a major change from an epistolary format to the current form, before settling as the book we now know. Austen self-published the book with its author only listed as “a Lady.” Over the next two years, the entire first run of the novel was sold out and Austen was able to publish a second run and collect earnings on it for several years. (source)

“I am never too busy to think of S & S.  I can no more forget it, than a mother can forget her sucking child; & I am much obliged to you for your enquiries.”

 —Jane Austen, letter to Cassandra Austen, April 25, 1811

Part I – Chapters 1 – 31

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

In this first half of the book we meet the Dashwoods, a family consisting of Mrs. Dashwood and her three daughters, Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret. They are left without a fortune of their own after Mrs. Dashwood’s husband dies. Their half brother and his wife move into their home bringing with them Mrs. Fanny Dashwood’s brother, Mr. Ferrars. Elinor and Mr. Ferrars form an attachment. Seeing the match as unsuitable, Fanny Dashwood puts pressure on the Dashwoods to leave and find an establishment of their own. Thinking it for the best that Elinor and Mr. Ferrars continue their relationship out of sight of his meddling sister, Mrs. Dashwood and her three daughters move to the countryside into a cottage rented to them by a distant cousin, a Sir John Middleton.

Sir John and his family are all oddities, though mostly harmless. The Dashwoods also meet a family friend, Colonel Brandon, who, in his upper 30s, is seen as an established bachelor. It is quickly noticed, however, that he seems to have an interest in Marianne. She, however, quickly dismisses him as both too old and too reserved. Instead, through a romantic first introduction, she forms a fast, strong, and apparent to all attachment to a Mr. Willoughby. The two are incredibly open and frank about their attachment, but no formal engagement is ever mentioned. Elinor warns Marianne to curb her enthusiasm and behave in a more reserved manner as her and Willoughby’s current level of attachment is drawing the eyes and gossip of those around them.

Willoughby and Marianne’s attachment reaches a point where her family and friends cannot but assume they are secretly engaged. More questions are raised however when Willoughby suddenly quits the neighborhood and returns to town; Marianne is devastated, but still sure of his attachment. Presently, Mr. Ferrars does appear, though he is out of spirits. The family notes a new ring on his finger that looks to have a lock of hair the same color as Elinor’s. There is speculation, but Elinor says she never gave him any of her hair.

Eventually, a new party of two young women, the Ms. Steeles, join the party. Through the endless jokes of Mrs. Jennings, Sir John’s mother in law, the younger sister, Lucy Steele, guesses that at some point Elinor and Mr. Ferrars might have been speculated to have an attachment. She privately shares with Elinor that she, Lucy, has been in a secret engagement with Mr. Ferrars for several years, only kept secret due to the sure disapproval of his family; it is revealed that it was her hair in the ring. Elinor is hurt, but understands that Mr. Ferrars never made any promises or outright overtures to herself. Instead, she grieves at the poor match between the sensible Mr. Ferrars and the conniving Lucy Steele.

Mrs. Jennings asks Elinor and Marianne to join her in London. They agree, with Marianne becoming increasingly excited by the likelihood of meeting again with Mr. Willoughby. When there, she writes him several times and waits for him daily to make an appearance; he does not. Eventually, they meet at a ball and it becomes clear that Willoughby has broken with her and is now only days away from being engaged to a wealthy young woman. He writes a cruel letter to Marianne, apologizing for her “having been mislead” and returns Marianne’s letters. Marianne confides in Elinor that they were never engaged formally. Marianne sinks into a deep depression, confused and inconsolable.

Colonel Brandon appears, and still attached to Marianne and concerned for her welfare, shares his own personal history. He lost his first love when she was forced to marry her brother. The marriage went poorly and she ended up bereft. Colonel Brandon only rediscovered her when she was on her deathbed with a young girl child. Brandon took the girl under his wing. Early in this year, the girl disappeared from her keepers. When Brandon rediscovered her, she was pregnant and had been abandoned by her lover, Willoughby. Elinor is shocked and agrees that this news must be made known to Marianne.

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

First off, I think that book description is very misleading. For one thing, it represents Marianne as the primary sister of the two, where the book reads very much from Elinor’s perspective (the reader is in on the same secrets she knows, is unclear on the same information she is, and is privy for private conversations between her and other characters). I also think the last line is misleading about the overarching conclusion that Austen leads readers towards in this book, but I’ll go more into that in my concluding thoughts in the second part of this review in a few weeks.

It’s hard to be objective about Elinor and Marianne because of this greater focus on Elinor and said conclusion at the end. We are told that Marianne is sensible, clever, and a fine lady but we see her behave fairly poorly in this first half. But really, she mostly behaves the way most seventeen year old girls would. We are simply used to our young historical fiction leading ladies often doing better. But, of all Austen’s heroines, other than perhaps Catherine in “Northanger Abbey” (who also behaves poorly and like a teenage girl at times), Marianne is the youngest heroine we get. It’s a testament to Austen’s strength as an author that she is able to walk the fine line when creating a character such as Marianne that the reader is never pushed too far over the edge into dismissing her as romantically foolish and not worth rooting for. From the beginning, given that we are seeing things through Elinor’s eyes, the reader understands that Marianne’s actions are not ideal. Beyond that, the reader on their own can read her grandiose statements and see in them the naivety of youth.

Elinor, of course, is our solid rock. Throughout the entire book, we never see her make a misstep. At times, however, this leaves her as reading a bit more dull than some of Austen’s other ladies. She definitely falls on the Fanny Price side of the spectrum, being more reserved and providing most insight through personal reflection rather than witty dialogue. She’s not the most exciting heroine, but there’s a certain comfort in knowing that the story is safe in her hands, and, because it’s Austen, she’ll be rewarded in the end. Her handling of Lucy Steele is probably her at her finest. Here she almost takes her sense of propriety too far! Yes, Lucy told her a secret. But it’s hard to imagine taking that so to heart that you don’t even tell your beloved sister. Marianne, however, while not a blabber mouth, is also not the most discreet in her actions, so I do understand to some extent. However, it is never specified that this is a factor in Elinor’s thought process. Had she had Jane Bennett for a sister, one of the most demure and trust-worthy characters in all of Austen’s books, we can only assume that Elinor would still keep it to herself. Perhaps it is technically the right and honorable choice, but it is also one that almost stretches the believability of Elinor’s character to the breaking point. Is anyone really that dedicated?

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

We will get into this more when I review one of the movie adaptations for this book, because I think it’s the director who addresses this same thought in a commentary section, but the heroes of this book are, in my opinion, the weakest offerings Austen has to offer. Mr. Ferrars and Colonel Brandon are both decent characters and good men. But as romantic heroes, they are lacking. Mostly this because we are given next to nothing as far as interactions between them and our two ladies.

In this first half, Edward and Elinor’s burgeoning relationship happens entirely off page. We get zero examples of their interactions together and only hear about their relationship through the eyes of others and through Elinor’s modest, restrained discussions of her views on him. When he does finally appear again, we are once again limited to few interactions and zero between only Elinor and Edward. Indeed, I think it’s fair to say we hear more dialogue between Marianne and Edward debating various points on appreciation of art. And from there, we are mostly left with a man who is described as being withdrawn and moody. We later learn why, but compelling it does not make him.

Colonel Brandon fairs better as we do get to see more from him. To a certain extent, we can see his admiration for Marianne grow. And through his later communications with Elinor about his past and the comparisons he sees with Marianne, we get real insights into the emotional depth he has. But, again, there is very little to no interactions between him and Marianne herself. We hear their feelings on each other as communicated to Elinor, and very little else.

In this first half, it is clear who the heroes are, but frankly, they don’t feel very heroic. Brandon will ultimately fit this description much better than Edward, but as far as romantic plots lines goes, this first half clearly illustrates why this book fell lower on my preferences when I was looking for a swoon-worthy read.

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

There are two main villains in this first half, Fanny Dashwood and Willoughby. Mr. Dashwood is also a villain, but mostly from being weak-willed and lead by his wife. In many instances, this plays more for comedic value than as a villainous depiction.

We get more from Fanny in the second half of the book, but the beginning scenes of the book with her talking Mr. Dashwood out of giving his sisters anything are a masterclass in despicable manipulation. That, and her snide comments to Mrs. Dashwood about Elinor and what does/does not belong with the house really cement readers’ feelings towards her early on. Through her, we’re set up pretty well to hate on the rest of the Ferrars family, Edward aside, when we later meet them.

Willoughby is a classic Austen villain. He shows up on the scene under mysterious, romantic circumstance, is charming and charismatic, attracting not only our main ladies, but the general esteem of the neighborhood, and while maybe not the absolute best prospect (Willoughby at least seems more financially secure than other similar characters in other books), would still be an agreeable match. Fans of Austen all know to beware of this type of character, but as we also see him and his courtship of Marianne through the sensible Elinor’s eyes, readers are immediately clued in to all not being well in this arena. While criticism is also thrown at Marianne for her behavior, Willoughby’s independence and control over his destiny, as a man, makes his actions much more reprehensible and Elinor quickly notes the dishonor in what she believes must be partially, if not all, his insistence that the assumed engagement remain secret.

We see most of his villainy laid out in this book, and in many ways he is one of the worst of the men presented in Austen’s books. He does become more pitiable in the second half when he can make his own case, but there is no ignoring the way he treats Colonel Brandon’s ward, a girl whose life has now been upended, her reputation beyond repairing, and at best has a future of quiet isolation in the country to look forward to. Marianne fairs better for being better protected and Willoughby’s own regard seeming to be stronger. But in the end, he makes the selfish decision to give her up for a fortune that has been lost to him (he at least thinks forever) due to his own reprehensible prior actions. Even in his affair with Marianne we see signs of his lack of regard for her reputation, bringing her to his future home and asking for a lock of her hair, all while knowing they are not engaged and these are not appropriate actions.

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

As I said above in the heroes section, this book is particularly light on the romance. The biggest romance we see on page is between Marianne and Willoughby, which is obviously not meant as an enjoyable love story so much as a cautionary tale. Elinor reflects quite a lot on both that relationship and that of the one between Lucy Steele and Edward. Lucy, while also perhaps fitting under the villain category, is an interesting character and I had forgotten just how manipulative and cleverly snide she was in her interactions with Elinor. To her credit, Elinor doesn’t downplay any of Lucy’s wits, but is given ample opportunity in personal reflection to list out Lucy’s flaws in case any reader remains unclear. With what little we have of Edward, it’s hard to fully picture how these two came together, but in many ways I see their future together, had it happened, to be somewhat similar to that of Mr. and Mrs. Bennett: a marriage where neither partner can love or respect the other.

We see several other flawed marriages as well. Mrs. Fanny Dashwood clearly manipulates her husband much of the time and he is too weak-willed to hold firm judgments himself. Sir John and his wife seem content enough, though they are painted as two individuals who take pleasure in very different things. And we have Mrs. Jennings’ other daughter and her husband, a marriage that Elinor reflects on with bewilderment. The wife is all smiles and laughs, tittering away about how silly her husband is. For his part, he is rude and dismissive of her and those around her. Elinor wonders at how a woman can be so happy with a husband who is so consistently saying unhappy things about and to her. But, as Austen often notes, marriage is peculiar thing.

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

I’ll have to reflect on this more as I go through this re-read, but I think this book might be one of the less humerous of the bunch. Sir John and Mrs. Jennings are clearly the main comedic figures who don’t also have an element of villainy to their characters. Mrs. Jennings is a familiar neighborhood great lady who often appears in Austen’s works and due to her age and position can get away with saying all kinds of ridiculous things. While many of these are funny to the reader, we also see how it can be very painful for others to be around her. Elinor in particular ends up suffering for Mrs. Jennings essentially cluing Lucy in to Elinor’s past with Edward. But in the second half we see much more of the good of Mrs. Jennings that makes up for some of this.

The elder Miss Steele is also a good comedic figure. She doesn’t get a whole lot of page time, but what she does have is probably some of the funniest parts of the story. Her obsession with “beau” and her constant attempts to get others to ask her about them. She has some great lines of dialogue and there are even several good lines from the narrative itself that really go to town with the silliness of this character. With a page-time to laughs ratio, I think she wins hands down.

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

“If I could but know his heart, everything would become easy.”

I’m sure most of us can sympathize with this thought.

“It is not everyone,’ said Elinor, ‘who has your passion for dead leaves.”

Simple, but a lovely illustration of Austen’s clever writing even in small moments. Plus, one of Elinor’s few funny lines of dialogue.

“She [Marianne] expected from other people the same opinions and feelings as her own, and she judged of their motives by the immediate effect of their actions on herself.”

This is a spot-on observation about people in general. I think most all of us fall in this category at one point or another. These are the type of lines that are just casually inserted in a larger scene that make you do a double-take as you realize that some tidbit of profound wisdom and insight has just been dropped on your lap.

In two weeks, I’ll review the last half of “Sense and Sensibility” and share my final thoughts on the book as a whole.

Kate’s Review: “The Rust Maidens”

40874196Book: “The Rust Maidens” by Gwendolyn Kiste

Publishing Info: Trepidatio Publishing, November 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Something’s happening to the girls on Denton Street.

It’s the summer of 1980 in Cleveland, Ohio, and Phoebe Shaw and her best friend Jacqueline have just graduated high school, only to confront an ugly, uncertain future. Across the city, abandoned factories populate the skyline; meanwhile at the shore, one strong spark, and the Cuyahoga River might catch fire. But none of that compares to what’s happening in their own west side neighborhood. The girls Phoebe and Jacqueline have grown up with are changing. It starts with footprints of dark water on the sidewalk. Then, one by one, the girls’ bodies wither away, their fingernails turning to broken glass, and their bones exposed like corroded metal beneath their flesh.

As rumors spread about the grotesque transformations, soon everyone from nosy tourists to clinic doctors and government men start arriving on Denton Street, eager to catch sight of “the Rust Maidens” in metamorphosis. But even with all the onlookers, nobody can explain what’s happening or why—except perhaps the Rust Maidens themselves. Whispering in secret, they know more than they’re telling, and Phoebe realizes her former friends are quietly preparing for something that will tear their neighborhood apart.

Alternating between past and present, Phoebe struggles to unravel the mystery of the Rust Maidens—and her own unwitting role in the transformations—before she loses everything she’s held dear: her home, her best friend, and even perhaps her own body.

Review: I honestly couldn’t tell you where I heard about “The Rust Maidens” if you asked me. I THINK that it was on a Goodreads list at one point, but I can’t tell you what the theme of said list would be. Probably horror, but still. All I know is that it came in for me at the library, and when I picked it up I thought to myself ‘oh yeah….’ The reason I say that I only think that it was probably on a horror list but am not certain is because “The Rust Maidens” is one of the most unique horror stories I’ve read in the past year or two, based on the themes that it decides to take on along with some good old fashioned body horror you might see in an early Cronenberg film.

“The Rust Maidens” is a tale of decay, both the decay of the human body and the decay of a once prosperous part of Americana. In Cleveland, Ohio in 1980 Phoebe is a working class teenager living in a working class neighborhood. The community has put on a face of togetherness and wholesome American values, while the livelihood of a number of the men, the mill, has been experiencing more and more uncertainty. Phoebe’s story is told during the summer of 1980, and also almost thirty years later when she has to return to the neighborhood after years of grief and guilt. Spunky and rabble rouser Phoebe of 1980 is a stark contrast to the jaded and affected Phoebe of later life, and the changes over the years, which seemed to catalyze with the Rust Maidens, are now very apparent in her old neighborhood. The fact of the matter is that “The Rust Maidens” is a story of degeneration, not just of the afflicted girls, but of the community around them, and the decay of the American Working Class once the 1980s hit. While the Rust Maidens are slowly wasting away, Denton Street and the blue collar workers who live there are facing yet another potential strike at the mill. Phoebe’s family and neighbors believe that the promise of that job will always be there for them, even as the union gets continuously beaten down and the specter of the upcoming Reagan years lingers. Decay takes on many meanings in this book, and Kiste isn’t afraid to point out that when people are scared, scapegoats are sought out. And the Rust Maidens are the perfect scapegoats. It’s fully intentional that Kiste made the neighborhood turn on a bunch of scared and ‘sick’ teenage girls, given that they had already turned on Phoebe before for daring to not conform. The aggression comes from all sides, from deadbeat boyfriends to angry old men to women who think that girls should be and act a certain way. The metaphors are real, and the feminism in this horror story is angry and apparent.

And on top of the themes, the body horror is VERY real. The descriptions of the Rust Maidens as their bodies start to change and wither away/transform is unsettling at best, and revolting at it’s worst. But on top of that, it’s also very upsetting on an emotional level to see these girls be maligned and feared, and to see how some of them react to the revulsion towards them. Being extra sensitive to such things right now, one of the Rust Maidens is a new mother, and her child whisked away from her because of her condition. She is constantly drawn to the baby, who is placed with the father and his family even though he’s a complete lout. The descriptions of the mother’s pain, even when she was starting to become something else, had me crying pretty handily, so thanks for that, Gwendolyn Kiste!

“The Rust Maidens” is a unique and fascinating horror novel. Those who like their body horror with a little bit of metaphor should check it out post haste!

Rating 7: A bleak and angry examination of decay and the expectations of teenage girls, “The Rust Maidens” serves body horror and feminism in heaping, scathing doses.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Rust Maidens” is included on the Goodreads Lists “Best First Novels: Bram Stoker Award Winners”, and “2018 Indie Horror Book Releases”.

Find “The Rust Maidens” at your library using WorldCat!

Introducing “My Year with Jane Austen” Re-read

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It has been several months since my beloved “Great Animorphs Re-Read” ended, and I have since felt a certain void in my reviews on the blog. I love reviewing the books I am currently reading, but I will admit that sometimes the standard book review format, be the book good or bad, does start to feel a bit rote at times. Over the last several years, my “Animorphs” re-read was a lovely break of format and a pretty straight forward opportunity for self-indulgence (be it nostalgia or ranting).  So, now that we are in a new year, I felt it was time to start up a new re-read series. And what could be more different than a middle-grade sci-fi story that focuses on aliens taking over earth and the shape-shifting teens who fight them off than Jane Austen and her lovely historical romances?

mv5bmdm0mjflogytntg2zc00mmrkltg5otqtm2u5zjuyytgxzthixkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyntayodkwoq4040._v1_I am, and always have been, a reader of multitudes. While I do tend to stay pretty well within certain genres (fantasy, sci-fi, history, mysteries) and avoid others (contemporary, thrillers, etc.), I do usually enjoy the full extent of said genres. This is how, at age 12 or around about there, I was equally immersed in reading all of Jane Austen’s works while also still blazing through my favorite “Animorphs” series.

I was first introduced to Jane Austen through my mother and her (deserved) obsession with the 90s BBC mini series “Pride and Prejudice.” My dad was out of town for the weekend, and my mom, my little sister and I rented all 6 VHS tapes of this mini series from the library. We then proceeded to binge watch it , before binging was even a thing. I’m pretty sure we started it on a Saturday morning and got through the whole thing in one day. With sadness, we watched the credits roll on the last tape. We sat in silence. And then my mom said, “So, should we watch it again?” And we literally stuck the first tape right back in and started all over again. This is where I get it, to my husband’s endless confusion as I re-watch TV shows and movies over and over.

jane_austen_coloured_versionAfter the weekend of watching was over, I immediately began reading “Pride and Prejudice.” And then, like a good little binge reader, I read all the other books, too. Since then, I’ve re-read the entire series in fits and starts, with favorites getting more read-throughs than others (though I love them all). I took a very disappointing college class on Jane Austen (the professor had us take an actual test on plot points from “Pride and Prejudice”…again, this was in college). I wrote a few papers on her books, one focusing on romantic heroes in her books and the heroes in their contemporaries, and what makes Darcy stand out to modern readers. And, as always, I continued to devour every new iteration of the stories, from new movies, to new mini-series, to YouTube versions.

From this long history of disorderly Austen obsession came my idea for this read-through. I obviously can’t review every version of all of her books, as that would take over all of my blog posts for years, probably. But I intend to try and get a decent representation of the most popular (by my own made up metrics, of course) versions.

I will review each book, typically in two parts. The first part of each book review will include a brief history of the book and Jane Austen’s work on it. The second part of each review will include my overall thoughts on the book as a whole. And then I will review a few movies/mini-series/other versions of the story. Each book should end up with around 4-6 posts devoted to it, and I hope to complete my read through in the next year. Posts should come out every other Friday following a similar format to that of the “Animorphs” re-read. It’s a big project, and very different from my “Animorphs” re-read, but I’m excited to dive in! If you’re an Austen fan, I hope you’ll have as much fun as I will revisiting these stories. And if you’re not an Austen fan already, you sure better be by the time I’m done brainwashing you over this next year!