Bookclub Review: “Picnic At Hanging Rock”

34785405._sy475_We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Around the World”, in which we each picked a continent and had to match a book that takes place there and/or is written by an author from that continent.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “Picnic at Hanging Rock” by Joan Lindsay

Publishing Info: Penguin, 1967

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Continent: Oceania

Book Description: It was a cloudless summer day in the year 1900. Everyone at Appleyard College for Young Ladies agreed it was just right for a picnic at Hanging Rock. After lunch, a group of three girls climbed into the blaze of the afternoon sun, pressing on through the scrub into the shadows of the secluded volcanic outcropping. Farther, higher, until at last they disappeared. They never returned. . . .

Mysterious and subtly erotic, Picnic at Hanging Rock inspired the iconic 1975 film of the same name by Peter Weir. A beguiling landmark of Australian literature, it stands with Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, and Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides as a masterpiece of intrigue.

Kate’s Thoughts

Back when I first got my Netflix account where discs were the main platform, I went through a few months where I would request obscure-ish films that maybe I’d heard of, or maybe I stumbled upon. One of those films was “Picnic At Hanging Rock”, an Australian cult classic. When book club decided that our theme this time around was Continents, I was the only person who wanted to call dibs on a continent. That continent/region was Oceania. I eventually settled on “Picnic at Hanging Rock”, knowing full well it would probably be a controversial read as I’m one of the few people who like a good high strangeness thriller in the group. But did that stop me?

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I’m sure they understood where I was coming from. (source)

Reading “Picnic at Hanging Rock” was a weird and dreamy experience, as author Joan Lindsay has created a story filled with frustrating ambiguity and an ethereal tone. Three star pupils and a chaperone disappear during a picnic in the Australian countryside at a rock formation called Hanging Rock, and while people go searching, mysteries and darkness seem to follow those involved. On its surface the book is a pretty compelling mystery with few answers, though perhaps that’s the point of it. But what struck me more as I was reading it, and this may not even be intentional, is how many themes involving sex, class, colonialism, and nature were just below the surface. In many ways, “Picnic at Hanging Rock” is very of its setting and of its time. The fact that it takes place in an upper class, white boarding school in the middle of the Australian wilderness just screams so many things. Privileged people thinking that nature is their playground, it’s very colonialist and it’s VERY Victorian, so when these women disappear, and most don’t reappear, the shock and disbelief feels very realistic. I’m sure that for these characters, wilderness picnics back in England were very safe, as the terrain and flora and fauna are well known and predictable. But when you apply that complacency to a totally different continent, a continent that is notoriously tricky and dangerous to those who are unfamiliar (or who take it for granted), disaster surely can follow.

On top of that I was deeply intrigued by the various relationships between the characters, and what was said or not said. You have the friendships between the adolescent girls, in particular Sara and Miranda, and how intense they can be (as Sara is deeply dependent on Miranda, so when Miranda goes missing Sara spirals). You have the relationships between the adults and the children, in particular Mrs. Appleyard who seems to loathe all the girls, lest they be wealthy and their families be benefactors. You have the upper class English boy Michael, who is infatuated with Miranda and who has a very macho (homoerotic?) friendship with the lowerclass Australian valet Albert. This was the relationship that was of most interest to me, as Michael doesn’t know shit about the world because of his privilege, and it’s Albert who is almost constantly bailing him out or bringing him back to reality.

And what of the ending? I like ambiguity myself, so I was a-okay with the fact that there are no real answers. At one point Joan Lindsay had a definitive end attached to the story, but was told to leave it out upon publishing. You can find the end if you want definitive answers, but honestly, not knowing, to me, is far more unsettling.

There were a few things that didn’t quite work for me in this book. It’s not a very long book, but it still felt a little extended beyond its means. There was a side plot involving another woman who worked at the school who ends up wanting to leave, and while I understand the point of it, in terms of adding to the tension and the mystery, it felt a little off the beaten path. And while it isn’t surprising, given the time period in which this was written and the setting itself, there was very little mention of the Indigenous Aborigines outside of an ‘abo tracker’ who is sent in to look for the missing girls. A real life tidbit that makes this all the more unsettling is that Hanging Rock is an actual place, its original name Ngannelong (possibly. There may have been a translation issue). It was originally a very important site to the local Aboriginal groups, and now it has basically been overrun by the popularity of this book and film, erasing the importance to the Indigenous people who were there first.

All this said, I mostly enjoyed “Picnic at Hanging Rock”, if only because I found so much hidden beneath the surface. Don’t read this if you want solid answers. But do if you want to be mystified.

Kate’s Rating 7: A dreamy and odd mystery filled with high strangeness and a lot of commentary (be it intentional or not), “Picnic at Hanging Rock”, while a little babbly and in some ways problematic, is still mysterious all these years later.

Book Club Questions

  1. This takes place at the end of the Victorian Era, during which the idea of Nature was very intriguing to Western cultures. What do you think this story was trying to say about human’s relationship to nature?
  2. The Appleyard College for  Young Ladies is an Upper Class attended boarding school in the Australian countryside. Why do you think having it take place at a wealthy boarding school was the choice Lindsay made?
  3. This book was chosen as a representation of Oceania, specifically Australia. Do you think that there was anything about this book that could be uniquely Australian?
  4. What were your thoughts on the relationships between the characters (between the students, between the students in relation to authority figures, friendships, potential romantic relationships – do you think that there were sapphic/romantic/homoerotic elements to this story?)?
  5. What do you think happened to the people who disappeared at Hanging Rock? Doe it matter? Was the ambiguity frustrating for you?
  6. There had at one time been an ending that had a solid answer and conclusion as to what happened to the missing women, but has since been left off of the book as it wasn’t part of the original story as published. Would you want to know what happened? Or do you prefer the open ended end?

Reader’s Advisory

“Picnic at Hanging Rock” is included on the Goodreads lists “Female Authored Weird Fiction”, and “Best Books Set in Australia”.

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

Next Book Club Book: “A Thousand Beginnings and Endings” by Ellen Oh and Elise Chapman (eds.).

Serena’s Review: “Ashes of the Sun”

52822248._sx318_sy475_Book: “Ashes of the Sun” by Django Wexler

Publishing Info: Orbit, July 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher

Book Description: Long ago, a magical war destroyed an empire, and a new one was built in its ashes. But still the old grudges simmer, and two siblings will fight on opposite sides to save their world, in the start of Django Wexler’s new epic fantasy trilogy

Gyre hasn’t seen his beloved sister since their parents sold her to the mysterious Twilight Order. Now, twelve years after her disappearance, Gyre’s sole focus is revenge, and he’s willing to risk anything and anyone to claim enough power to destroy the Order.

Chasing rumors of a fabled city protecting a powerful artifact, Gyre comes face-to-face with his lost sister. But she isn’t who she once was. Trained to be a warrior, Maya wields magic for the Twilight Order’s cause. Standing on opposite sides of a looming civil war, the two siblings will learn that not even the ties of blood will keep them from splitting the world in two.

Review: This will be the third Django Wexler book I’ve read this year, so I’m definitely on a roll! I had read a book by him before, but I think because it was the first in a long-ish series, I became intimidated and kind of let it slide. But I loved his new YA series and am looking forward to the final one in that coming out soon. Which made me all the more surprised when this, a beginning to a new adult series, suddenly popped up! I’m not sure how long of a series is planned, but based on this first book, I’m all in!

When his little sister, Maya, is taken away at age 5 by the powerful Twilight Order, Gyre’s idealic family life is broken. Years of simmering anger build until he comes of age to make is own way. And that way includes spending every resource he has delving into the underworld of the Republic in search of a power strong enough to destroy the organization that stole his sister and, in many ways, controls his world. Maya, raised by the Order and on the bring of becoming independent, is committed to the ideals of her organization. Raised to believe that the Order protects and serves, Maya sees the good that she and her people can do for the common folk who are plagued by dangerous monsters. But as she comes closer and closer to striking out on her own, she begins to see cracks among her people and a corruption that may go deeper than she thought.

The world-building in this story is excellent. It almost seems to be set in a post-apocaptic version of the “Star Wars” universe. Kind of an odd comparison, but once you read the book, you’ll totally see it. The author has a great afterward where he even states “Star Wars” as an influence, but it’s so subtly done, that at no point does this in any way feel like a “Star Wars” book. So it feels both familiar as well as incredibly unique all at once. I really liked the glimpses we have into the history of this world, and there were a lot of great reveals that game out over the course of the story. Of course, most of these just raised more questions than they answered, but what else can you expect from the first book in a series?

I also really liked both Maya and Gyre. This is one of those rare, great examples of a book where the duel narrators are equally strong and compelling. Especially since they are essentially representing opposing forces. It’s quite difficult to write two such characters and maneuver your reader into rooting for them both, a losing battle from the start. Gyre was perhaps a bit less sympathetic to start, but he definitely grew on me. And Maya is just the sort of bad-ass warrior women I gravitate towards. They also each had unique romance arcs that were at times quite unexpected.

The story is also action-packed from start to finish. It did take quite a while to get into the main conflict, with what felt like a bunch of side/mini quests taking up the majority of the first half. But as the main conflict begins to unfold, we see the importance of these early action scenes in setting the stage for the character choices are two leads make and how they end up where they are. Each also came with their own set of side characters, sidekicks, and enemies, so there was a lot of groundwork that needed to be laid out to really set the stage for the grand finale.

And while the grand finale itself was pretty intriguing, it was also clear that this was only the beginning. Sure, the current big bad was dealt with, but Maya and Gyre, while both questioning their own goals, are still clearly on opposing sides of a brewing conflict. I can’t wait to find out where their adventures lead them next and how or if they will ever be able to find a middle ground between them.

Also, don’t forget to enter to win an ARC copy of this book! I also had an e-book copy, so this is a completely fresh ARC ready and waiting for its first reader! Enter to win!

Rating 8: A rollicking adventure story with two fantastic leads at its heart.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Ashes of the Sun” is a new title, so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists. But it is on “Can’t Wait Sci-Fi/Fantasy of 2020.”

Find “Ashes of the Sun” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “Child Star”

44280824Book: “Child Star” by Box Brown

Publishing Info: First Second, June 2020

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

Book Description: Child Star is a fictional documentary-style graphic novel about how growing up in the spotlight robs young actors of a true childhood.

Child star Owen Eugene had it all: a hit sitcom on prime time, a Saturday morning cartoon, and a memoir on the bestseller list. The secret to his success was his talent for improvisation . . . and his small size. On screen he made the whole world laugh, but behind the scenes his life was falling apart. Hollywood ate him alive.

Inspired by real-life child stars, bestselling author Brian “Box” Brown created Owen Eugene, a composite character whose tragic life is an amalgam of 1980s pop culture.

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

My love for “The Lost Boys” meant that when Corey Haim died I sat down and cried very deeply. He (and his costar and friend Corey Feldman) were two child stars who were plagued by personal demons that were brought on by fame (and all the bad things and people that come with it), so his death by overdose was tragic, but not surprising. He was just one in a long line of child stars whose life turned to tragedy. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t thinking of Corey Haim, Corey Feldman, Gary Coleman, and so many others as I read Box Brown’s new graphic novel “Child Star”. Which is, of course, the point.

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My heart….. (source)

This is kind of new for Brown, as up until now his graphic novels have been non-fiction. “Child Star” is written in a faux documentary style, so the approach feels like a ‘True Hollywood Story’ kind of tale. I definitely found it interesting that even in a fictional take (though arguably this is the life of Gary Coleman, fictionalized) Brown approaches the content in a just the facts manner. We are told the story of Owen Eugene, a child actor whose popularity exploded due to a 1980s family sitcom, and his small stature as caused by a genetic disorder. We see Eugene’s rise and fall through the eyes of family, friends, and colleagues, and trace how his life in Hollywood changed, and ruined, his life. I really enjoyed the documentary style put on the page, and liked how it truly felt like I was watched a seedy VH1 TV show as I read it. From his parents who clearly took advantage of their son’s fame to the predatory higher ups in Hollywood to the people who knew Eugene due to personal and professional settings, Brown creates a very well thought out, and incredibly tragic, tale of a person all based on the perceptions of those around him, and the reliability and unreliability of their words. Owen Eugene as a character is always a bit of a mystery because of this secondary source template, but I think that we get a nuanced and complex characterization, even if it’s being told through the eyes of others. He has a lot of analogs in real life, and while Gary Coleman is clearly the main influence the sad truth is that so many child stars suffer similar paths and fates that you can see many others inside of this tale.

There is a certain nostalgia on these pages to go with the pathos, and that is for 1980s family sitcoms. I was a little too young to experience it in real time, though I saw my share of reruns of “Growing Pains” and “Who’s The Boss” thanks to syndication. “Child Star” taps into the feel for how these sitcoms would play out, their plots derivative and their casts charming if not a little generic. What struck me the most, however, was how Box worked in the whole way that politics and Nancy Reagan’s ideals would weasel their way into these shows and put forth ‘very special episodes’ about various societal ills. Looking back at those episodes through more modern lenses usually means that we see how cloying they are (especially the ‘don’t do drug’ episodes; I remember rewatching the “Growing Pains episode where frat boys offer Michael cocaine and then mock him when he says no. Coke is EXPENSIVE. No one is going to mock you for saying no, it’s more for them!). It also comments on how Owen was just used in a whole different way for other peoples motives, even if those other people were the President and First Lady.

I will say that while I haven’t had issues with Brown’s art style in the past, for some reason in “Child Star” it felt a little out of place and took away from the impact. I think that part of it is because in the other books I’ve read by him, the stories do have emotional aspects, but are also filled with hope and a little bit of whimsy. In “Child Star” it just feels like a tragedy, and therefore seeing the very cartoony illustrations was a little jarring.

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(source)

Overall, “Child Star” is another well done graphic novel by Box Brown. It’s a bummer to be sure, but also interesting to look at these issues that no doubt still haunt various celebrities.

Rating 7: A poignant and sad faux documentary graphic novel that explores the wrecked life of a child actor, “Child Star” makes you think about the dark side of fame, especially for those who are too young to handle it.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Child Star” isn’t included on many Goodreads lists, but honestly any memoirs by former child actors, like Corey Haim’s “Coreyography”, and Tatum O’Neal’s “A Paper Life”.

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

Giveaway: “Ashes of the Sun”

52822248._sx318_sy475_Book: “Ashes of the Sun” by Django Wexler

Publishing Info: Orbit, July 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher

Book Description: Long ago, a magical war destroyed an empire, and a new one was built in its ashes. But still the old grudges simmer, and two siblings will fight on opposite sides to save their world, in the start of Django Wexler’s new epic fantasy trilogy

Gyre hasn’t seen his beloved sister since their parents sold her to the mysterious Twilight Order. Now, twelve years after her disappearance, Gyre’s sole focus is revenge, and he’s willing to risk anything and anyone to claim enough power to destroy the Order.

Chasing rumors of a fabled city protecting a powerful artifact, Gyre comes face-to-face with his lost sister. But she isn’t who she once was. Trained to be a warrior, Maya wields magic for the Twilight Order’s cause. Standing on opposite sides of a looming civil war, the two siblings will learn that not even the ties of blood will keep them from splitting the world in two.

Giveaway Details: I’ve only recently rediscovered Django Wexler. Several years ago, I read a military fantasy by him which I really liked. But for some reason (too many books!) I never got back around to finishing the many other books in that series. Then this past winter, I was blew through two of his new YA fantasy books, and it really cemented him as an author worthy keeping my eyes on. So I was really excited when Orbit sent me an ARC for his upcoming fantasy title releasing this summer. It’s been a challenge holding off on reading it right away as I had many other books I wanted to get to and review first, but finally the time has come!

The story seems to be some combination of a post-apocalyptic tale and a traditional fantasy story with a bunch of new elements. It also seems like Orbit has went all in on this “siblings on the opposite side of a battle” theme, as this will be the second fantasy story from them I’ve read with that premise this spring/summer. But, while I wasn’t a huge fan of “The Ranger of Marzanna,” I have full faith that Wexler will be able to better pull off this type of set up. Mostly, I know that he can handle multiple POV characters in one book, the most important element in this type of storytelling. Both the military adult fantasy novel I read several years ago and the second in the YA fantasy series I read last winter had more than one POV character. I usually had preferences for one over another, but I always liked reading about them both. So I’m super excited to see what he’ll do with these two characters!

I’ve also skimmed through the book and noticed that there is a fairly extensive glossary of terms at the end of the book. That, and books that have maps, are often some of the first signs I look for in a fantasy book that has a lot to offer. An extensive glossary, in this case, hints that the world-building and magic system are extensive and complicated enough to warrant this type of added explanation.

So, overall, I’m really excited to jump into this one. I’ll have a full review of this book coming out this Friday. But, as the book itself doesn’t come out until later in July, make sure to take advantage of this opportunity to win an ARC copy of this book (I also had an eARC so this copy is completely untouched). The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and ends on July 15.

Enter to win!

Kate’s Review: “Survivor Song”

52581895Book: “Survivor Song” by Paul Tremblay

Publishing Info: William Morrow, July 2020

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

Book Description: “Fresh and surprising. Survivor Song may be one of Tremblay’s best—beautifully detailed, viscerally frightening, and deep with emotional resonance. —Dan Chaon, New York Times bestselling author of Ill Will

A riveting novel of suspense and terror from the Bram Stoker award-winning author of The Cabin at the End of the World and A Head Full of Ghosts.

In a matter of weeks, Massachusetts has been overrun by an insidious rabies-like virus that is spread by saliva. But unlike rabies, the disease has a terrifyingly short incubation period of an hour or less. Those infected quickly lose their minds and are driven to bite and infect as many others as they can before they inevitably succumb. Hospitals are inundated with the sick and dying, and hysteria has taken hold. To try to limit its spread, the commonwealth is under quarantine and curfew. But society is breaking down and the government’s emergency protocols are faltering.

Dr. Ramola “Rams” Sherman, a soft-spoken pediatrician in her mid-thirties, receives a frantic phone call from Natalie, a friend who is eight months pregnant. Natalie’s husband has been killed—viciously attacked by an infected neighbor—and in a failed attempt to save him, Natalie, too, was bitten. Natalie’s only chance of survival is to get to a hospital as quickly as possible to receive a rabies vaccine. The clock is ticking for her and for her unborn child.

Natalie’s fight for life becomes a desperate odyssey as she and Rams make their way through a hostile landscape filled with dangers beyond their worst nightmares—terrifying, strange, and sometimes deadly challenges that push them to the brink. 

Paul Tremblay once again demonstrates his mastery in this chilling and all-too-plausible novel that will leave readers racing through the pages . . . and shake them to their core.

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

Given that I have greatly enjoyed everything that Paul Tremblay has written, it was a no brainer that I was super interested when I found out that he had a new book coming out called “Survivor Song”. I am pretty sure it was this past winter that I requested it on NetGalley to read an advanced copy, maybe January or February. I tend to like to hold off on reading the ARCs I get from NetGalley until it’s closer to the publication date, just so a review is fresh in my mind. So it wasn’t until we were in the clutches of a pandemic, with PPE shortages, high death rates, a mysterious virus, and quarantine that I picked up a book about an epidemic…. with PPE shortages, high death rates, a mysterious virus, and quarantine….

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For. Fuck’s. Sake. (source)

BUT, we beat on, boats against the current etc, because it’s Paul Tremblay, a favorite author of mine. And I knew that if anyone was going to make the best of it, it is him. And hey, given another significant theme in this story at least I’m not pregnant too! You have to look for the bright side.

“Survivor Song” is a terrifying epidemic story that takes the zombie tale and twists it around into something else. I’d say that the closest comparison I could draw would be to “28 Days Later”, as in this story it isn’t the undead that are wreaking havoc, but people infected with a sped up rabies-like virus. But unlike “28 Days Later”, “Survivor Song” has a whole lot of hopeful heart beating at its center, and that is because of the enduring friendship between our protagonists, Romola and Natalie. These two women are racing against the clock, as very pregnant Natalie was bitten by an infected person and they hope to get her to a hospital where they can administer a vaccination. As one can imagine, it doesn’t go as planned, and both women have to venture forth in hopes of a plan B as the clock ticks away. Tremblay so effortlessly paints their relationship and friendship that you are immediately rooting for them, and the reader can see themself and their best friend in these characters very easily. I loved how realistic their friendship was, from the compassion and support to the sniping and the desperation. They meet a few people along the way, from teenage wise asses to terrifying milia members, and as they journey forth and the stakes rise higher and higher, the tension spikes and will leave you scared for them, and hoping they make it through. Both women feel real, and their motivations are laid out plainly. Even though it is made clear at the beginning that this is no fairy tale, you still have hope. Tremblay always knows how to give the reader hope, even when things are dark and despairing. It’s one of the things I love about his work.

In terms of the horror, oh boy. The timing of this book, as mentioned above, couldn’t have been better or worse depending on how you want to look at it. Tremblay nails every issue that we are currently experiencing with the COVID-19 pandemic, from PPE shortages to anti-scientific thought to conspiracies run amok to a government that doesn’t act and dooms thousands. As I was reading this book I just shook my head. It’s too real. That would be the only reason that I wouldn’t rate this book as high as I might have otherwise. That isn’t Tremblay’s fault. Hell, if anything he nailed it. But as of now, when I don’t feel safe going into public for extended periods of time, or feel like my parents can hold my kid, or I see more and more deaths as people say that having to wear a mask is tyranny, “Survivor Song” just hits a little too close to home.

Don’t let that stop you from reading this book. It’s really quite good, even if it’s hard to handle. Paul Tremblay is one of my faves for a reason. “Survivor Song” reiterates that.

Rating 8: Definitely a little hard to ‘enjoy’ in this moment, “Survivor Song” is both terrifying and emotional, but showcases the power of lady friendship above all else.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Survivor Song” isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet, but I think that it would fit in on “Smart Apocalyptic and Dystopian Fiction”, and “Books for a Pandemic”.

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

Highlights: July 2020

Well, the hot, humid weather can definitely confirm that summer has arrived, even if it doesn’t look like a typical Minnesota summer. And while we can’t do all of the fun things we usually do (we’re definitely both still in mourning over the cancellation of the ALA convention at the end of June), it’s still been nice to have some backyard, socially distanced meet-ups. The babies are a bit less understanding about the space requirements, but I guess we can give them a pass. And, of course, the hot weather means plenty of excuses to read outside under a tree! Here are a few of the books we’re looking forward to this month!

Serena’s Picks

36205188._sy475_Book: “Unconquerable Sun” by Kate Elliot

Publication Date: July 7, 2020

Why I’m Interested: Well, for the obvious reason, Kate Elliot is one of my short-list authors whose books I just automatically put on my “to read” list with very little further investigation into what the book’s actually about. But then the blurb for this one is “gender swapped Alexander the Great in space!” and…yeah…sign me up! What a weird, cool concept! It puts me in mind of “As I Darken,” the gender-swapped Vlad the Impaler story. But this one takes it a step further even by placing the story in a sci-fi setting. It’s also been quite a while since I’ve read a good space opera, so I’m super excited to check this one out!

43603825._sy475_Book: “The Princess Will Save You” by Sarah Henning

Publication Date: July 7, 2020

Why I’m Interested: Princesses. Stable Boys. True Love. Sound familiar? And while not connected officially in any way to “The Princess Bride,” this book definitely sounds like a reimagined version in which the princess does the saving of the captured farm boy rather than the other way around. When Princess Amarande comes of age, she must either marry a prince of the realm or lose her role as the future queen. But never one to sit back and let others decide her future, and with her actual love kidnapped to boot, Amarande sets off on a quest full of adventure and excitement. I also really like this cover. It’s definitely not of the sort you typically see, so it stands out great!

52822248._sx318_sy475_Book: “Ashes of the Sun” by Django Wexler

Publication Date: July 21, 2020

Why I’m Interested: I’ve read Wexler’s work in the past, but this year seems to be the year that I really discovered him. After blowing through the first two books in his new YA trilogy, I was super excited to see that he had yet another new book coming out this summer. And a new beginning to a series none the less! In what seems to be a sort of post-apocalyptic fantasy world, the feature jumps between two siblings that find themselves growing up on opposite sides of a brewing conflict. One, raised as a warrior in an elite group tasked with protecting the realm. And the other making his way through the underbelly of the world, looking for ways to bring much needed freedom to the common people. I’m really excited for this one, and you’ll be hearing more about it soon!

Kate’s Picks:

52581895Book: “Survivor Song” by Paul Tremblay

Publication Date: July 7, 2020

Why I’m Interested: Perhaps I’m foolish to be picking up a book about a mysterious virus that is ravaging the population during a global pandemic. But it’s Paul Tremblay, guys, so what choice do I have? When a strange accelerated strain of a rabies-like virus has started making people sick and dangerous, friends Ramola and Natalie are trying to stay calm. But when pregnant Natalie’s husband is killed and she is bitten, she seeks out doctor Ramola in hopes that they can get her to a hospital and get her a vaccine before she is overtaken. They have to maneuver through a landscape of sick people, broken down infrastructure, right wing reactionaries, and other dangers in hopes of saving Natalie and her baby. Given how Tremblay can bring the tears with the scares, one can probably guess that this will be both terrifying and emotional. Bring it.

49789629Book: “The Year of the Witching” by Alexis Henderson

Publication Date: July 21, 2020

Why I’m Interested: Bring on all the stories of witchcraft! Bring on all the stories of oppressed women rising up against their oppressors! And if you combine those two things, BRING IT ON EVEN MORE! “The Year of the Witching” is about Immanuelle, a girl living in the zealous community of Bethel where the Prophet is in charge and you best follow his word. Immanuelle’s mother and father learned that the hard way, her father being burnt alive and her mother running to the Darkwood, where witches are said to tread, only to return in time to give birth, and then pass away. What Immanuelle doesn’t know is that she has a dark power in her blood, and that the Darkwood may have secrets that could be deadly… but could also lead to her liberation. A feminist witchcraft tale AND a story with a Black girl as a witch, sometime we don’t see nearly often enough? You know this is a book I have high on my list.

48717769Book: “The Cold Vanish: Seeking the Missing in North America’s Wildlands” by Jon Billman

Publication Date: July 7, 2020

Why I’m Interested: Strange missing person stories where someone seemingly vanishes into thin air both scare the hell out of me and also deeply intrigue me. Jon Billman wrote an article for Outside Magazine about people who go missing on public lands, and then expanded this into an entire book. Thus, “The Cold Vanish” ended up on my reading list. Billman explores various missing persons cases involving public lands in North America, and looks into the circumstances in which a person could disappear, the people who are left behind, and the difficulty of not only having to look for someone in a dense and vast nature, but also having to contend with little to no help from those who have control over said lands.

What books are you looking forward to this month?

 

My Year with Jane Austen: “Emma” [2009]

mv5bmtgxmdc1mzqxmv5bml5banbnxkftztcwmzy0mzuwmw4040._v1_TV Mini Series: “Emma”

Release Year: 2009

Actors: Emma – Romola Garai

Mr. Knightley – Jonny Lee Miller

Harriet Smith – Louise Dylan

Frank Churchill – Rupert Evans

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

As it is so much longer than the previous version, this mini series was able to do what the 1995 BBC version of “Pride and Prejudice” was able to do for that story. Every  major scene and character is included, and the series doesn’t shy away from adding its own touches here and there which further flesh out side characters like Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax. The series also plays fairly fast and loose with the dialogue, but overall it retains the spirit of every exchange and there are few instances where these changes stand out.

One of the more major changes from the book is in the framing of the story around Emma, Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill and how their lives were greatly influenced by the losses they experienced as children. This version of the story devotes quite a bit of time to the story before where the book itself picks up. In this way, we really do see how Emma has always been the center of attention. Unlike the other two children without a parent(s), she stays home. We see that even as a governess, Miss Taylor is bewitched by the charming Emma. And, of course, her father can see no flaws in her. Mr. Knightley is the only one to critique her, and even he admits privately that she’s the most beautiful and smart of her family. The movie also does a lot of groundwork to set the stage for Emma’s matchmaking. This version has Emma claiming to be the influence behind her sister and John’s marriage, a change from the book. So by the time she gets to Miss Taylor and Mr. Weston and has success there, it’s hardly any wonder that she believes herself an expert in this area.

The cast is also superb. There’s not a single misstep in the entirety. If forced to single someone out, I might say that this version of Jane Fairfax leaned very heavily into the reserved portion of her character at the expense of her elegance. In this way, the 1996 version may have come out ahead. The Jane we saw there was undeniably elegant, and it was easy to see why Emma would be threatened by her. This Jane had a tendency to fade into the background and read as more shy than anything else. But other than that small quibble, I really loved everyone who was cast in this. Michael Gambon is probably the standout as far as excellent side characters, and he really helps sell the loving, but dependent, relationship Mr. Woodhouse has for his daughter.

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

Romola Garai’s Emma is very different than Gwyneth Paltrow’s. Where Paltrow’s version was more cool and collected, Garai’s is joyous and exuberant.  This version of Emma seems to ground more of her flaws in youth and actual inexperience with the world and people than in any true character flaws. In many ways, I think this is very accurate to the book. Both there and here, we see a character who has always been the center of every social situation she’s in: family, friends, and the greater neighborhood overall. It’s like Frank Churchill notes later, “she presides over all.” It’s no wonder that this early regard from almost everyone in her life, regard pushed to the point of adoration even, would have this effect on her. We only ever see Mr. Knightley be critical of Emma and her decisions and even he can’t resist pairing his criticism with compliments (to her looks, when he is talking to Mrs. Weston, and to her wit, however misused, when he’s fighting with Emma herself).

Garai’s version of the character definitely pops on the screen, and it’s easy to see how the eyes of all would be drawn to her. She has a much more playful take on Emma’s matchmaking than we’ve seen before, but is still able to capture the more serious moments as well. When she confesses to Harriet, after revealing the truth about Mr. Elton, that she would be lucky to resemble Harriet in any small way, it’s very touching.

I also like all the attention that is given to Emma’s relationship with her father in this version. We see many small moments of the two of them together, with Emma fretting over her father’s scarf and worrying over the brewing conflict between him and John Knightley. I also really liked the way they dealt with the situation about their living arrangements after Emma and Mr. Knightley get engaged. It works both as a comedic scene, with Emma barging into Knightley’s office and declaring they can never marry and rushing out again, and as a serious one, as we can also see the true pain Emma is feeling about the prospect of hurting her father and her refusal to put him through that.

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

I absolutely love Jonny Lee Miller in most everything, and his take on Mr. Knightley is probably one of the strongest selling points for this version of the story for me. I really have zero criticisms for the way he portrays this character. In the book, Mr. Knightley really doesn’t have a lot to do in the first half of the story. He kind of pops in and out, has a big fight with Emma, and then disappears for a good bit until reappearing about halfway through the story. But this version makes good work of including him better in scenes and giving him more lines here and there to keep him ever present in viewers minds.

Miller has great delivery on some of the more comedic lines, like his and Emma’s teasing about the use of carriages. And, of course, he excels in the scenes in which he fights with Emma. This version’s fight over the Harriet/Mr. Martin situation is the most extended of all the versions, and it’s great watching them both shine. And then in the Miss Bates scolding, I love the way he delivers his lines, especially the “badly done.” You can see a marked difference in this fight versus the first. Miller’s able to add a new layer of disappointment and concern that speaks well to the character’s change in perspective to Emma.

I also liked all the scenes they include of Mr. Knightley walking about the countryside, playing in the snow with his nieces and nephews, etc. It’s a good highlight of the type of active, outdoorsman that he is presented as. This version also gives us personal insight into Mr. Knightley’s own thoughts. After the ball scene, we see him imaging Emma in his own home. It’s a good contrast to the two scenes we had before where Emma imagines Mr. Knightley married to Jane Fairfax. It’s great having both scenes with the different insights into their different thoughts and feelings.

The movie also includes several little scenes between Harriet and Mr. Knightley. We see them walking together, sitting next to each other, and talking privately. It all comes across in a very natural way, but then when Harriet brings up her hopes for the future, we, the audience, can see the groundwork lain. And it’s easier to understand Emma’s real concern that Harriet may be a true threat to Emma’s future happiness.

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

The Frank Churchill of this version leans heavily in on the villainous side of the character. He takes every opportunity to criticize Jane behind her back, commenting to Emma about her hair being ugly and how unlovable a reserved person is. He seems to be criticizing her when he sidehandedly comments about the mistake he made in bring up Dr. Perry’s carriage plans when hardly anyone else knew about it. And the flirtation with Emma is at a peak. At the Box Hill party we see him making more snide comments to Jane, all while being completely overboard with his compliments to Emma, even laying on her lap at one point, a shocking level of familiarity at that time.

He also seems often poor tempered. Whining and complaining about his life to Emma during the strawberry picking, and then, again, being a poor tempered brat at Box Hill. The actor’s take on the character really works well with this interpretation of the character, as he has a bunch of perfect facial expressions that highlight how shallow and spoiled Frank can often be. All in all, it’s hard not to agree with Knightley’s assessment of the situation: that Jane could do much better.

There is an interesting added twist to his character in that we see early in the movie the scene where he is sent away from home after his mother dies. And then towards the end, we see him return to the same spot. It seems to be implying that he holds some bitterness towards his father for sending him away. But the movie just barely brushes on this angle, and even the interpretation I’m making from it is by no means super clear. It’s an odd little track that I wish they had either more fully committed to exploring, in context of the character traits Frank exhibits as an adult, or left out entirely. As it is, it’s a bit weak, and like I said, I don’t feel fully confident that I even understand fully what they were going for.

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

I really, really like what they do with the romance in this version. Like I pointed out in my review of the book, the romantic plotline isn’t really even hinted at until over halfway through the story. So if readers aren’t invested in Emma’s comedy and antics, it can be a bit of a letdown. And in a movie version of the story, it’s even harder to pull of this type of late-game introduction of a romantic storyline.  If not handled right, it can make the romance seen as an afterthought and not properly built to.

Here, however, by giving Mr. Knightley more to do and more lines, the movie is careful to lay a thorough groundwork for the romance throughout. There are at least two instances that I can think of specifically where the movie goes out of its way to show how Mr. Knightley’s actions are often motivated by his feelings for Emma. First, when John and Isabella are visiting and John begins to become snappish with Mr. Woodhouse, the camera cuts to Mr. Knightley’s face and we see him observing Emma becoming more and more distressed. Even though they are still fighting a bit over the Harriet/Mr. Martin thing, it’s clear that Mr. Knightley’ speaks up to redirect his brother in an effort to bring Emma more peace. And secondly, at the ball, we see Emma become increasingly upset as she dances nearby Harriet and witnesses the rudeness of Mr. Elton. Again, the camera cuts to Mr. Knightley and we see his face as he watches Emma becoming more and more upset before he steps forward to aide Harriet. Both of these are very small moments, but they are so important for constantly fixing audiences’ attention on the importance of Emma to Mr. Knightley. And in both instances, Emma expresses thanks for Mr. Knightley’s actions, either in a quiet smile towards him or directly spoken to him.

I also really like the way they film the proposal scene and the moments directly afterward. I would say I wish they had filmed it in a bit less of a sunny location as you can tell both actors are having to squint at each other while talking. But as for the added dialogue and the delivery of lines, I think it’s excellent. Miller has perfect delivery on the “If I loved you less, I could talk about it more” line. And I really liked the added lines they gave Emma for her response to his declaration. As the book doesn’t include these lines, all the movies have to make something up here, and I think they did very well.

I also like the scenes after, the quiet, intimate moments when the two are sitting on a private bench discussing when they realized they loved each other. It has a nice balance of romance and a continuation of the type of friendly teasing that will always be in their relationship. And, of course, we get to see them go on their honeymoon and go to the seaside. The movie does a good job of introducing this fact, that Emma has never been to the seaside, early in the movie and then touching on it here and there throughout. So it’s a neat little button on the movie to end with her and Knightley standing on a cliff side looking out over the ocean.

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

Louise Dylan does a fantastic job as Harriet Smith. She perfectly captures the character’s simple beauty and charm, but also her lack of real depth. I love her facial expressions as she’s posing for her portrait and trying to secretly sneak Mr. Elton’s pencil. I also think one of the funniest lines in the entire movie is when she’s trying to work out Mr. Elton’s riddle and when asked by Emma to put the words “ship” and “court” together, she excitedly comes up with “Ship court!” Good stuff.

The Eltons are also always good for a laugh in more of a love-to-hate them sort of way. Mr. Elton’s exuberance early in the movie is overwhelming. And he’s at his peak at the Christmas party where he rudely snaps at one of the servants not to crush Emma’s coat. And then constantly bothers her with questions and, later, literally wedges himself in between her and another guest. You have to wonder if Emma was beginning to question whether Elton would even due for Harriet, let alone herself.

One of Mrs. Elton’s best moments is when she commenting about abhorring being over-trimmed while literally being covered with feathers and ruffles. The movie also does a great just with some quick cuts between characters when Emma is trying to plan the trip to Box Hill. We see how instantaneously Mrs. Elton dominates every social plan to make herself the center of attention. It’s also a nice little karma moment for viewers when we see Mr. Elton struggling to pull along the donkey that Mrs. Elton insisted on riding to strawberry picking. It’s completely ridiculous, but he literally yoked himself to this situation, so…

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

I remember hearing in some commentary or another that the stylists exaggerated Mr. Elton’s puffed up hair do more and more throughout the movie to signify is growing ego and ridiculousness.

Jonny Lee Miller and Blake Ritson (Mr. Elton) had both previously played the same Austen hero, Edmund Bertram, in two different adaptations of “Mansfield Park.” We should have seen them both in those first had I reviewed these in the right order, but alas. I bet everyone can guess who I thought did the character better…

There was a surprise spattering of snow outside the house that was staged as Hartfield one day.  And when the director was notified of it, they rushed cameras down, along with the signature swan that was often shown outside of the house, to capture the view for the winter scenes.

Christina Cole (Mrs. Elton) played Caroline Bingley in “Lost in Austen.” A pretty good fit, I’d say.

Emma is often shown at Hartfield wearing a small watch adornment attached to her dress. This was included to signify that she was the lady of the house.

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

Have I mentioned that I love Jonny Lee Miller’s version of this character? Even in small moments like this, when he’s being exasperated by Emma’s silliness:

And this movie has one of the best Austen dance scenes, as we get to see our two main characters dance together while clearly enjoying each other’s company. It’s also fun because Miller makes several awkward facial expressions throughout that show that he is becoming more and more aware of how in love with Emma he is, even though she’s still obviously clueless.

In two weeks, I’ll review a modern adaptation, “Clueless.”

Kate’s Review: “The Sandman (Vol.2): The Doll’s House”

25099Book: “The Sandman (Vol.2): The Doll’s House” by Neil Gaiman, Steve Parkhouse (Ill.), Chris Bachalo (Ill.), Michael Zulli (Ill.), Mike Dringenberg (Ill.), & Malcolm Jones III (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, June 1990

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: A being who has existed since the beginning of the universe, Dream of the Endless rules over the realm of dreams. In The Doll’s House, after a decades-long imprisonment, the Sandman has returned to find that a few dreams and nightmares have escaped to reality. Looking to recapture his lost possessions, Morpheus ventures to the human plane only to learn that a woman named Rose Walker has inadvertently become a dream vortex and threatens to rip apart his world. Now as Morpheus takes on the last escaped nightmare at a serial killers convention, the Lord of Dreams must mercilessly murder Rose or risk the destruction of his entire kingdom.

Collecting issues #9-16, this new edition of The Doll’s House features the improved production values and coloring from the Absolute Edition.

Review: Our revisit of this classic comic series presses on, and now that Morpheus/Dream has reclaimed his power over The Dreaming, he has more work to do! As I continue my re-read I have been struck by how visceral and enchanting “The Sandman” universe is, and while it does still harken to other DC characters and mythos on occasion, we have started to stay firmly within a world of Gaiman’s making. And it is just as engrossing this time as it was the first time.

I don’t know why I waited so long to revisit Dream, The Endless, and the Dreaming, because going back to “The Sandman (Vol. 2): The Doll’s House” really hit home how much I love this series. There’s dark humor, there’s lovely fantastical world building as you get more familiar with The Dreaming (Dream’s domain he rules over) and begin to meet other Endless (specifically Desire in this arc), and there’s an undercurrent of horror to go along with the fantasy. Our main drive this time is that of Rose Walker, a woman who is, unknown to her, a Dream Vortex, and therefore something very dangerous for The Dreaming as her very existence could damage it beyond repair. On top of that, a few of Dream’s Nightmares have escaped, and are wreaking havoc in different ways. In this volume Dream is still trying to re-steer his ship after his captivity, and we see just how far the damage of his absence has  gone. Rose has her own mission, and it is to find her little brother, who has gone missing. With the help of a mysterious but kind man named Gilbert, Rose goes looking for her brother, just as Dream starts looking for her. We see a few callbacks to other parts of “Preludes and Nocturnes”, which were done in slow and subtle ways, which made them feel all the more satisfactory as they were peeled back and revealed. The dreamlike atmosphere of this series is still present, as is the darkness. This time that horror aspect is in the form of a ‘Cereal Convention” that Rose and Gilbert stumble upon, which is actually a gathering of serial killers that are hoping to share insight with each other. I had forgotten how twisted this entire thing was, and let me tell you Gaiman doesn’t hold back. To the point that I really feel a need to give a content warning for abuse and sexual assault (and also a note that there is descriptions of violence against trans people in particular. Which felt very problematic but also very of the time that this series was going).

But once again, it’s a standalone story that has a lot of philosophical oomph and a lot of heart that stood out to me in this volume. While the arc of Rose Walker and the ‘cereal’ convention is definitely stellar, it was the story “Men of Good Fortune”, in which Dream and Death decide to give a man named Hob Gadling eternal life after they hear him waxing philosophical about mortality in a pub in 1389. Every hundred years, Hob and Dream meet at this pub, and Hob tells Dream about what he is doing with his eternity. There are highs and lows as Hob experiences the evolution of London, and we get to see how he changes the direction of his life and how it leads to success and devastation. What struck me the most about this story, outside of seeing how one person might shift and evolve with the world they live in were they to have eternity to do so, is that Hob and Dream are an unlikely set of friends whose friendship feels natural and touching. I remembered that Hob pops up here and there throughout the series, but I had forgotten how lovely his introduction was.

The art is still excellent. We’ve started to see more experimentation in design, style, and placement, and while sometimes there is a very traditional art style (like in “Men of Good Fortune”), sometimes it is very abstract. It really just adds to the flavor of the atmosphere that they’re all trying to create, and for the most part it works.

“The Sandman (Vol.2): The Doll’s House” opens up the series to more possibilities, and more darkness. You can tell that this is something very special on these pages.

Rating 9: More chills and world building along with introductions to more of the Endless, “The Sandman (Vol. 2): The Doll’s House” keeps the horror elements up while also showing moments of true tenderness.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Sandman (Vol.2): The Doll’s House” is included on the Goodreads lists “Great Non-Superhero Graphic Novels”, and “Psychological and Philosophical Comics”.

Find “The Sandman (Vol.2): The Doll’s House” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Previously Reviewed: 

Serena’s Review: “There Will Come a Darkness”

41823536._sx318_Book: “There Will Come a Darkness” by Katy Rose Pool

Publishing Info: Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, September 2019

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

Book Description: For generations, the Seven Prophets guided humanity. Using their visions of the future, they ended wars and united nations―until the day, one hundred years ago, when the Prophets disappeared.

All they left behind was one final, secret prophecy, foretelling an Age of Darkness and the birth of a new Prophet who could be the world’s salvation . . . or the cause of its destruction. As chaos takes hold, five souls are set on a collision course:

A prince exiled from his kingdom.
A ruthless killer known as the Pale Hand.
A once-faithful leader torn between his duty and his heart.
A reckless gambler with the power to find anything or anyone.
And a dying girl on the verge of giving up.

One of them―or all of them―could break the world. Will they be savior or destroyer? 

Review: June has been the month of “better late than never” as far as my reading goes. This is at least the second book that I’ve read this month that was hugely popular last fall and yet…I didn’t get to it until just now. But there’s just so much good fantasy out there, and, I’ll admit, I’m always a bit hesitant about these books that seems to flare up as “the next big thing” in YA fantasy. My track record with these super popular new fantasy series hasn’t been good. But I liked “The Merciful Crow” more than I was expecting, so I thought I’d give another big title a chance. Sadly, this wasn’t as much of a hit for me, though I’ll likely still keep reading the series.

Five young people are living very different lives in very different spheres. Some from wealth, some from poverty, some who are running, and some who know that it is up to them to find what no one else can. But their world is on the brink of change, with powerful forces moving against those with magical abilities and a prophesy that has loomed over the heads of the people for generations. Each with their own role to plays, these disparate lives begin to cross and the pieces begin to fall in place. But who is the savior and who is the source of destruction?

I already gave away that this book wasn’t a hit for me, but I will start with a few positives before getting into my critiques. As the description gives away, this is an ensemble cast, but I was so pleased to find that it wasn’t another YA fantasy ensemble ala “Six of Crows.” For one thing, it’s centered around a prophesy and not heists, and more importantly, besides one exception, all of our main characters start out not knowing anything about the others. And this holds true though out most of of the story. Some characters weave in and out of other’s stories, but by the end, only a few of them have even ended up together with others still scattered to the wind.

But other than the unique approach to its ensemble cast, this book was barely even a book. Instead, it read much more like an extended prologue before the last few chapters sort of got into things. With such a large cast of characters and the fact that they all have unique histories and no nothing about each other (losing the opportunity to cross-tell their stories through various POVs that you often see in other books with large casts), the book has to devote almost two thirds of the story to introducing its main characters. The chapters were also short, so just when I felt like I was settling into one character’s life, struggles, and thoughts, I was suddenly bounced into a completely different character’s story. Between all of these switches, it was hard to become truly invested in any of them. And, like I said, it left very little room for the story to actually develop.

Frankly, very little actually happens in this book. We do get some action towards the end, but even that was a bit of a letdown. Some of the “reveals” I could see from a mile off and fell flat when they came. There was a big bad character who was talked about through much of the story, but when he finally appeared on page, he, too, felt like a let down and not nearly the threat he was meant to represent. The prophesy itself seemed interesting, but we barely scratched the surface of that here. Like I said, it read more like an extended prologue and introduction than a book itself.

Beyond that, I struggled to actually like any of the main characters. Several of them continued to make poor decisions that didn’t seem to fall in line with the roles they were in. Even as things fell apart around them and they began to see the negative consequences of their choices, they just continued to do so. It ended up being incredibly frustrating. One of the main characters, also, has an incredibly predictable story arc and was simply pretty dull all around. There were maybe two characters who I could kind of become invested in. But even I even struggled with them at times. A lot of the character choices and plot points just made several characters very unsympathetic. Even by the end of the book, it felt like many of them had learned nothing at all. This also played into the feeling that the book was an extended introduction. We don’t really see much true character growth on the page, and it ended with them all still feeling rather half-baked.

Overall, I was pretty disappointed by this book. But, like I said in the beginning, I’ll likely give the second one a go just because of the fact that this one read so much more like a prologue than a story itself. I want to see if the action will actually pick up in the next one! If you really like ensemble stories and want one that isn’t focused on heists, this may be worth checking out. But don’t go in with your expectations too high.

Rating 6: Not fully realized on its own, the plot was lacking and the characters shallow, leaving a lot of work for the sequel to improve upon.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“There Will Come a Darkness” is on these Goodreads lists: “Prophecies” and, amusingly enough, “The books that I bought during the pandemic to make me feel better….”

Find “There Will Come a Darkness” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “I Killed Zoe Spanos”

50202540Book: “I Killed Zoe Spanos” by Kit Frick

Publishing Info: Margaret K. McElderry Books, June 2020

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

Book Description: This gripping thriller follows two teens whose lives become inextricably linked when one confesses to murder and the other becomes determined to uncover the real truth no matter the cost.

What happened to Zoe won’t stay buried…

When Anna Cicconi arrives to the small Hamptons village of Herron Mills for a summer nanny gig, she has high hopes for a fresh start. What she finds instead is a community on edge after the disappearance of Zoe Spanos, a local girl who has been missing since New Year’s Eve. Anna bears an eerie resemblance to Zoe, and her mere presence in town stirs up still-raw feelings about the unsolved case. As Anna delves deeper into the mystery, stepping further and further into Zoe’s life, she becomes increasingly convinced that she and Zoe are connected–and that she knows what happened to her.

Two months later, Zoe’s body is found in a nearby lake, and Anna is charged with manslaughter. But Anna’s confession is riddled with holes, and Martina Green, teen host of the Missing Zoe podcast, isn’t satisfied. Did Anna really kill Zoe? And if not, can Martina’s podcast uncover the truth?

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

In case you were wondering, I’m still on my bullshit when it comes to True Crime podcasts. I haven’t really strayed into new territory outside of the old reliables, but if you have some recommendations, send them my way! More and more we’re seeing podcast themes making their way into mysteries, perhaps in part due to this true crime boom within the listening world. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t, but I’m always game to try that kind of book out. So of COURSE “I Killed Zoe Spanos” by Kit Frick caught my eye! It has elements that I greatly enjoy in my thrillers: a luxurious summer setting, a missing girl, secrets that the privileged and the non-privileged alike keep close to their vests. SO, you throw in a podcast angle and I am gonna be there! “I Killed Zoe Spanos” really hooked me in, and it was just the kind of read I could see myself reading on the beach. You know, if I was going to the beach this summer. Which I’m not.

giphy-1
Goddamn pandemic. (source)

“I Killed Zoe Spanos” follows two distinct perspectives. The first is of Anna Cicconi, a teenager who has come to the Hamptons town of Herron Mills to be a live in babysitter. Herron Mills has a lot of money, a lot of privilege, and is currently haunted by the fact that local girl Zoe Spanos has gone missing that past New Year’s. Eventually Anna confesses to killing Zoe, even though as far as anyone knows there is no connection between the two. The other perspective is that of Martina Green, a local teen who is best friends with Zoe’s sister Aster, and puts out a podcast about the case. Anna’s perspective is mostly in the past and in the first person, while Martina’s is in the present and in the third. Sometimes I have a hard time when there are two kinds of POV styles in a book unless I feel it’s warranted, and with “I Killed Zoe Spanos” I felt like it worked fairly well. It made it so that we could get both the unreliability of Anna’s perspective, given that we have no idea what her connection to Zoe is, even though there is clearly something going on, and also the outside third person lens that Martina has as she is trying to solve the mystery herself. Throw in the transcripts for Martina’s podcast, which adds a whole other layer of potential unreliability (or at least bias), and you have a lot of potential for looking at Zoe’s disappearance and death from all sides. I thought that these three views all complemented each other pretty well, and had enough potential for red herrings within them all to make the mystery interesting. I enjoyed a few of the twists and turns quite a bit, though I will admit that I think that there was a bit of an overreach that came up right at the end. You don’t have to overdo it is all I’m saying.

As far as the characters go, no one really stood out too much in terms of going beyond their templates. Anna is unreliable and mysterious, perhaps threatening but maybe not. Martina is tenacious and truth seeking. I think that there was some interesting potential in some of the side characters, particularly Zoe’s boyfriend Caden, a transracial adoptee whose skin Others him within a very wealthy, and white, insular community. But we didn’t really go looking too deeply into many of these side characters, no matter how interesting they might be.

“I Killed Zoe Spanos” is definitely the kind of book that will take you in this summer! If you are a thriller fan and do find yourself able to safely go to a beach, or sit by a pool, this would be a great read to accompany that kind of excursion!

Rating 7: A fun mystery with some interesting turns, “I Killed Zoe Spanos” is a reliable summer read for thriller fans and fans of true crime podcasts alike.

Reader’s Advisory:

“I Killed Zoe Spanos” is included on the Goodreads lists “What’s My YA Name Again”, and “Can’t Wait Crime, Mystery, & Thrillers 2020”.

Find “I Killed Zoe Spanos” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!