Serena’s Review: “Chosen Ones”

40944762._sy475_Book: “Chosen Ones” by Veronica Roth

Publishing Info: John Joseph Adams/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley!

Book Description: A decade ago near Chicago, five teenagers defeated the otherworldly enemy known as the Dark One, whose reign of terror brought widespread destruction and death. The seemingly un-extraordinary teens—Sloane, Matt, Ines, Albie, and Esther—had been brought together by a clandestine government agency because one of them was fated to be the “Chosen One,” prophesized to save the world. With the goal achieved, humankind celebrated the victors and began to mourn their lost loved ones.

Ten years later, though the champions remain celebrities, the world has moved forward and a whole, younger generation doesn’t seem to recall the days of endless fear. But Sloane remembers. It’s impossible for her to forget when the paparazzi haunt her every step just as the Dark One still haunts her dreams. Unlike everyone else, she hasn’t moved on; she’s adrift—no direction, no goals, no purpose. On the eve of the Ten Year Celebration of Peace, a new trauma hits the Chosen: the death of one of their own. And when they gather for the funeral at the enshrined site of their triumph, they discover to their horror that the Dark One’s reign never really ended.

Review: I read the “Insurgent” trilogy like everyone else, seemingly, back when it was published around a decade ago. I didn’t fall in love with it, which worked in my favor in this instance as I wasn’t too broken up by the ending of the last book (most fans of the series were quite displeased). I also had heard that Roth published another duology, but that same indifference to the first trilogy didn’t lead me to getting around to it. But when I saw this book start to pop up, I was very intrigued. There are a million and one stories documenting the adventures of a “chosen one” in their grand battle against an ultimate evil. There aren’t many that tackle what comes after, other than perhaps brief epilogues or small cameo appearances in another “chosen one’s” book/series. This book turned out to be everything I was hoping for and more.

It’s been ten years since Sloan and her friends, the other Chosen Ones, defeated the Dark One, an evil being they had battled throughout their teen years. And in this last decade Sloane has…hid. Not interested in the celebrity status she’s garnered, barely invested in the relationships she’s formed, Sloane’s life is simply going from moment to moment, not caring about much at all. When tragedy shakes her out of this numbness, however, Sloane finds herself caught in circumstances that she won’t survive unless she returns to her life as a soldier and confronts the horrors in her past.

This book was particularly interesting coming off my fairly recent re-read of the “Animorphs” series. That series follows a group of 6 teens, chosen ones, essentially, as they battle a big bad for years on end. The books deal a lot with the realities of a childhood given up to warfare and the life and choices of being a soldier. But after 50+ books, there’s only a small, final book that is dedicated to life after these events. It does a good job for what it is, only a hundred and fifty or so pages dedicated to wrapping up the lives of six characters over the years that follow the end of the war. It’s clear that the story is only scratching the surface of what life would be like for these kids. And this is only one example. We have so many chosen one stories, but so few deal with the aftereffects.

I wasn’t quite sure what we would get from Roth here. I wasn’t a huge fan of her original trilogy, and I also read that she had some ideas for this book based off “The Hurt Locker,” a movie that, while I can see the importance of the topic, I didn’t particularly enjoy. But, man, did I enjoy the heck out of this book. Not only did it tackle many of the tough topics around life after war, the isolation and distancing that many veterans experience, and how “moving on” can look very different to different people, including whether it is possible at all, but it had some amazing characters at its heart and some genuine surprises in the increasingly twisting world-building.

I loved Sloane so much in all of her broken, dark, and even sometimes cruel ways. The characters in this book definitely challenge the reader in that they often barely resemble the golden Chosen Ones we all imagine. Even a few of Sloane’s comrades who more closely mimic the typical hero pastiche often betray signs that they are simply using different coping mechanisms to deal with similarly twisted inner lives. But this is Sloane’s story, and it is Sloane’s darkness and path forward that we explore as we slowly learn more about her time during the war and how she’s been managing (or not) in the ten years since. She has some very unlikeable moments, but for me at least, these simply grounded the story all the more in a what reality would look like for young people whose life was essentially consumed by a prophesy and a seemingly never-ending battle against a more powerful evil force. There are no easy answers or easy fixes here, and even by the end of the book, it’s clear that any “completeness” for Sloane comes at understanding and accepting her entire person.

The world-building was almost the biggest surprise. I didn’t really know what to expect and the book description gives only the barest hints. But wow, I didn’t expect where this book went at all. There’s a huge twist that comes in the first third and when we got to that I thought “Ok, that was a surprise, but now I’m on the right page.” Nope! The twists and turns kept coming one after another from there on out. Even after finishing the book I was having to think back over it and try to piece things together.

I don’t remember a lot about Roth’s particular writing style from the “Insurgent” series other than it felt like a fairly standard YA style ala “Hunger Games.” But I have to think Roth has grown by leaps and bounds to create this. The writing is confident and sure, even as it tackles topics that can be hard to deal with and discusses moments and choices that, if not handled well, could turn readers off from some of our main characters and themes. The same world-building and all of its complexities also speaks to an increased dexterity in juggling many balls at once. There are layers within layers, but the story and character arcs are never consumed by the increasingly complicated world, history, and magic system.

This was a great book. I think Roth’s work has grown by leaps and bounds here, and she deftly tackles a topic that is rarely explored in fantasy works. It looks like on Goodreads it is listed as the first in a series, but to those who were burned by the “Insurgent” trilogy and have long memories and lasting wariness, I think this book reads perfectly as a standalone. If I hadn’t looked, I wouldn’t have known otherwise. This is also published as an adult fantasy novel, but I think it would appeal to YA readers as well. I’m pretty confident this will end up on next year’s Top 10 list for me; it’s that good.

Rating 9: Dark and twisty in all the right ways.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Chosen Ones” is a new title, so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists. But it is on this very informatively-titled list: “2020 – Book Release.”

Find “Chosen Ones” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The House in the Cerulean Sea”

45047384._sy475_Book: “The House in the Cerulean Sea” by TJ Klune

Publishing Info: Tor Books, March 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret.

Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.

When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.

But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.

Review: Cover art alert! Cover art alert! Yes, again, I selected a book almost completely based on the cover art itself. I’ve never read any of TJ Klune’s work before, though I believe he was largely a self-published author before the break-out into big publishers with this title. I did see a few references to “The Umbrella Academy” thrown around, so that was the last bit of justification I needed for placing a request for a book just because I thought the cover was pretty! But it is! Look at all of those colors! For some reason, the cover art put me in mind of the covers for “A Series of Unfortunate Events.” Not a bad thing at all, as I enjoyed that series for the most part. In the end, I did enjoy this book quite a bit.

While not ecstatic about life, Linus Baker is quite content with the solitary existence he’s created for himself. A stable job, a small, cozy house, and, of course his beloved cat and records. But this quiet life is suddenly interrupted when Linus finds himself given a peculiar assignment: to travel to a remote orphanage and evaluate the state of things. Once there, Linus discovers six wondrous, but dangerous, children and their charming caretaker Arthur. As Linus learns more about these wards and Arthur himself, he finds himself more and more drawn to this small family, danger and all.

I’m not typically a fan of contemporary fantasy (though I will concede that that’s a pretty catch-all subgenre so my preferences therein aren’t particularly well-defined), but this book was a great opportunity for me push my comfort levels a bit. And it was a bit of a stretch, as the fantasy elements were fairly low, other than our magical children. But they were delightful enough that the parts of me that was missing world-building and magic systems was satisfied enough.

The comparisons to “The Umbrella Academy” (only watched the Netflix show) is very apt, and, similar to story, this one lives and dies on its characters. The collection of bizarre orphans are where Klune’s work really shines. They were all perfect blends of heart-wrenching and heart-warming, misfits and fitting perfectly together, witty but hiding deep emotions behind their words. The dialogue for these character in particular was quite good, and I found myself really speeding through the book once Linus met up with them.

Linus himself was a solid main character and his slowly built relationship with Arthur and the kids was lovely to explore. There was a lot of exploration around themes of found families, trust, and how we judge those around us. The romance was definitely more on the sweet side, and I would say that the book overall would appeal to a varied range of ages from middle grade to adults (a very good thing, as the cover definitely speaks to a younger audience, I think).

There were a few moments where the story did strike me as trying a bit too hard, just a bit too bizarre for its own good. But readers will have different experiences with this, depending on their preferences for fantasy writing and modes of humor. The book was also a tad longer than I would have liked. Most of it read very quickly, but I felt that there were times when Klune was simply having fun with his characters and the book got away from him a bit. I mean, the characters are a blast, so I can easily understand getting carried away with all of these moments, but it did end up with the book having a bit of a bloated feel. Overall, I really enjoyed this book, and fans of contemporary fantasy, found family stories, and ensemble casts of characters are sure to have a blast!

Rating 7: A bit long, a bit silly at times, but its characters were so heart-warming that they carry it through.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The House on the Cerulean Sea” is a newer book so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “Books released in 2020 I’m curious about.”

Find “The House on the Cerulean Sea” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “Storm from the East”

45043929Book: “Storm from the East” by Joanna Hathaway

Publishing Info: Tor Teen, February 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: Battles, revolution, and romance collide in Joanna Hathaway’s stunning, World Wars-inspired sequel to Dark of the West

Part war drama, part romance, Storm from the East is the second novel in Joanna Hathaway’s immersive, upmarket YA fantasy series that will appeal to readers of Sabaa Tahir, Marie Rutkoski, and Evelyn Skye.

War has begun, and the days of Athan’s and Aurelia’s secret, summer romance feel a world away. Led by Athan’s father, the revolutionary Safire have launched a secret assault upon the last royal kingdom in the South, hoping to depose the king and seize a powerful foothold on the continent. Athan proves a star pilot among their ranks, struggling to justify the violence his family has unleashed as he fights his way to the capital—where, unbeknownst to him, Aurelia has lived since the war’s onset. Determined to save the kingdom Athan has been ordered to destroy, she partners with a local journalist to inflame anti-Safire sentiment, all while learning this conflict might be far darker and more complex than she ever imagined.

When the two reunite at last, Athan longing to shake the nightmare of combat and Aurelia reeling from the discovery of a long-buried family truth come to light, they’ll find the shadow of war stretches well beyond the battlefield. Each of them longs to rekindle the love they once shared . . . but each has a secret they’re desperate to hide.

Previously Reviewed: “Dark of the West”

Review: I really enjoyed “Dark of the West” when I read it last spring. It wasn’t a book that had been on my radar much, but I was instantly drawn in by the complicated world-building and the even more complicated deep dive into themes regarding revolution, warfare, and a world shifting between monarchy, democracy, and everything that lies in between. The sweet romance between our two teenage main characters who represent vastly different positions was also a big draw. So, when I saw the sequel was coming out, I placed a request immediately. I did struggle with this one a bit more than the first, but it still comes out solidly in the “win” category.

Athan and Aurelia are separated by much more than distance, as Athan, unknown to Aurelia, is the son of the war-mongering leader of the Safire nation. They now find themselves involved on opposite ends of a war to determine the future of the last kingdom of the South with a monarchy at its heart. Aurelia finds herself in this capital in an attempt to use her family connections through her mother (born a Southerner herself) to stave off a growing war. But while there, Safire makes its move, and with it Athan, leading the aerial forces, they draw ever neared to the city where Aurelia is staying. But as they each move unknowingly closer together, they discover new truths about their parents, about themselves, and about the people and causes they’re fighting for.

This is a complicated book, and that’s both a good and bad thing. One way in which this complication is a good thing is the very honest approach it takes to themes that are very complicated and all to often are written about in black and white terms, with good guys and bad guys seeming to pop straight from the earth fully formed in their one-sided moralities. But this book lives in shades of grey. At one point or another, the reader finds themselves sympathizing with every angle involved in this quickly changing world. And I say angle, and not side, because that’s another good thing the book does: there aren’t just two sides to the conflicts here. Sure, it’s a war with one country invading another. But we also see the complicated relationships that allies have with both the invaders and those being invaded. There are other forces involved as well. Some would call them terrorists, others would call them freedom fighters. These names are completely dependent on who is doing the telling and who is listening, and even that can change with just the slightest readjustment of context, history, and priorities. But this same nuanced look at the fact that there are no “good guys” in war also leaves the reader in a precarious state, emotionally.

At the beginning of the story, it is all too easy to dismiss Aurelia’s viewpoints and plans as foolishly optimistic. And they are. Of the two main characters, she has the more limited view of  the world. Growing up in a privileged and traditionally monarch-ruled country has left her with a very simplistic idea of how the world work. Like many young people, she thinks that only she sees the full picture and if others would simply listen to an argument from her, they’d all see that their feuds are pointless and agree to a peaceful resolution. It was both heart-breaking and a relief to see her have to confront the folly of these views.

But it was also just a very depressing story arc, overall. By the end, between Athan’s struggles in the midst of some truly terrible acts of warfare and Aurelia’s slow sink into the grim realities of the world, it was hard not to feel a bit hopeless. We see all the shades of grey. We see all the wrongs committed by every group, each playing victim and aggressor in different points of history and with regards to various groups. It’s very realistic and believable, but also a tough story to feel happy reading.

I also wish there was a prequel series to this story. We learn much more about both Athan and Aurelia’s parents in this book, and it’s all pretty fascinating. One part really stood out, a moment when Aurelia discovers a secret about her mother and realizes, in a very honest and true-to-life moment, that her mother was a person with a life before Aurelia was born. It was the kind of moment that is hardly ever felt in YA books. Aurelia comments that she has fallen into the trap of feeling like these conflicts and histories all started in her own life. But this moment reminds her that people had lives, had fights, had secrets, had allegiances and enemies, all long before her. That she was plopped down in the middle of it all. Just like her parents were plopped down in the middle of it all. And back. I loved this thought. Like I said, most YA books do nothing to discourage this way of thinking in its protagonists, that the world starts and ends with them. And yes, they are the main character of their story and thus their’s is the one we care about, but it’s a nice reminder that there is more to it than all of that. I mean, most YA books either kill off the parents or conveniently forget to mention them for much of the story. They definitely rarely presented as fully fledged people with histories of their own (outside of some direct connection to the main character). But this series is really excelling at creating a story that is clearly about Athan and Aurelia but still puts them down in the middle of an already complicated world, not making them the whole world in and of themselves.

But yes, it’s all very complicated. Having a year-long break between these two books was frankly very challenging. It took me a long time to re-orient myself to the world and the players in it. I’ve been reading e-ARC versions which don’t have maps, and I’m not sure if the finished books do either? If not, they could really benefit from one. It took me quite a while in the first book to picture this world, and almost just as long here in the second to re-create it in my mind. And all the weavings in and out of secret relationships and allegiances were hard to keep up with. I’d have to constantly remind myself who knew what, who had betrayed whom, and which of our main characters knew which pieces of the greater puzzle. It was a lot.

The pacing was also pretty slow in the beginning, so between these two factors, it took a bit to really get into this story. Having liked the first book, I was wiling to do the work, but for anyone feeling more middling about the series, this could be a challenge. But one definitely worth facing if you’re looking for a complicated political series! And ultimately, fans of the first book should be happy with this second outing, and, like me, anxious to see where it all ends up in the third book. We still have that prologue from the first book looming over us. How, oh how, do our main characters get to that awful place? And, more importantly, how do they get out of it??

Rating 8: A beautiful, horrible world of greys where I just want my two precious main characters to be happy.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Storm from the East” is a newer title so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists yet, but it should be on “Original Stories . . . a Breath of Fresh Air.”

Find “Storm from the East” at your library using WorldCat!

My Year with Jane Austen: “Pride and Prejudice” [1995]

mv5bmdm0mjflogytntg2zc00mmrkltg5otqtm2u5zjuyytgxzthixkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyntayodkwoq4040._v1_sy1000_sx706_al_Movie: “Pride and Prejudice”

Release Year: 1995

Actors: Elizabeth Bennett – Jennifer Ehle

Mr. Darcy – Colin Firth

Jane Bennett – Susannah Harker

Mr. Bingley – Crispin Bonham-Carter

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

I am definitely in the camp of fans who believe that this version of “Pride and Prejudice” is the definitive, will-never-be-topped, adaptation of this book. Pretty  much everything is perfect, as far as I’m concerned. The casting in particular is so spot-on that I find it impossible to read the book now without picturing these people as the characters. There are stand-outs, of course, but I don’t have a single quibble with any of the choices. If I had to pick, I might say that I thought Matthew Goode’s Wickham in “Death Comes to Pemberley” might be a smidge better. But that’s only if I was forced to pick, as I have no complaints with Adrian Lukis’ take.

The fact that is a six part mini series allows this version to include not only all the big moments in the book (and many of the little ones to boot), but even add in some smaller, quieter moments that just help to flesh out characters even further. We see hints at Lizzy’s active, independent nature with scenes of her frolicking through the fields (of course making sure she’s not watched; she is a proper lady after all!) Bingley and Darcy have moments as friends, riding horses and viewing Netherfield; and in the end we get to actually see the scene where Darcy apologizes for meddling in his love affair with Jane. The camera drifts through the Bennett household through out the show, giving us small glimpses in the day-to-day ways each member of the household spends their time when not caught up in grand balls and the like. For the romance angle, we get lovely scenes like a recently bathed Darcy being entranced by Elizabeth as she play with a dog during her stay at Netherfield. And, of course, the lake scene, an added element that pretty much turned into the defining moment of this adaptation (so much so that it was listed All of these moments and more just add to the joy that is this story.

The one area in which is lacks, however, is the ending. A proposal while on a walk serves its purpose well enough on the page. But in a movie/mini series, the movement and inability for the actors to look directly at each other as they speak hurts the romance of the moment. And, for all of its length, much of the last few chapters of the book are cut out leaving us without some of the nicer moments of Darcy and Elizabeth while engaged and interacting with various family members. It’s really too bad as the inclusion of these post-proposal scenes was something that really stood out to me in this re-read as a strength of the book. Instead, this movie jumps almost directly from the proposal to the marriage (other than a nice scene between Jane and Lizzy, which, to be fair, if you’re only going to include only one, this was the right choice by far!).

I also love the light, bright score that makes up much of the music for this version. It fits so perfectly with the overall mood  as well as feeling

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

Jennifer Ehle is a treasure. Even more so than Firth’s Darcy, hers is the character that most perfectly fits how I imagined the book character and who now always serves as my mind’s image when I re-read the story. She perfectly balances the wit and vivacity of Elizabeth while never losing touch with the propriety of the times for which Elizabeth was also credited. She has a great ability to, I don’t quite know how to say it, but keep her face active? There’s a lot of sitting and talking in this story, but her face is always telling a story of its own, even if she’s not speaking and it adds to the sense of Elizabeth’s lively and playful nature. Even when she doesn’t laugh out loud (that would be improper!), it’s easy to see that she’s laughing on the inside. Her eyes even do sparkle, for heaven’s sake! I also liked that they really emphasized her independent nature by not only having her out walking about on her own (often used to indicate the passage of a season), but by setting several scenes around walks and being in out of doors settings.

Ehle also has great chemistry with Susannah Harker who plays Jane. The moments between the sisters at night in their bedroom are just the sort of scenes that ground this story in a realistic place that one still recognizes today: sisters sprawled out in their rooms talking about the hot gossip. Of course, they look much more refined while doing it than any of us do, I’m sure. Harker’s Jane is also pitch perfect. She is quiet, calm, and willing to go to great lengths to look for the good in people. But, like Bingley (who I’ll discuss next), Harker gives Jane enough earnestness and sense as to not come across as silly and foolish.

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

Of course, I love Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. He manages perfectly to be both highly unlikable in the first half of the movie, and then, practically on a dime, turn to being highly likable and heroic. He’s handsome the entire time, which doesn’t hurt. But the movie definitely doesn’t shy away from showing Darcy at his worst in the beginning. He’s rude in public and in private, snobby and insulting of those around him, and, worst of all, playing along with Caroline’s own disdain.

I will, say, however, that the one misstep in this willingness to show Darcy at his worst was the letter he wrote Elizabeth. In the book, there’s a long section in which he details not only his problems with Elizabeth’s family, but also goes on at length about how he was convinced Jane didn’t return Bingley’s affection. There’s a brief line or two about this in the letter in this movie, but there isn’t nearly the amount of explanation around this that we have in the book. There, while still pretty harsh, it is easy to understand that Darcy could really have been lead astray here and, like Elizabeth, begin to forgive him for even that. But in the movie, it’s left feeling still pretty bad on his part. Luckily the Wickham stuff comes next and that’s the part that sticks with you, but it still leaves Darcy kind a worse light than I think he was in in the book.

I do like how they added scenes showing Darcy’s search for Wickham. Not only did it give him more action, but we got to see his heroics in action and it was clearly more than just a rich guy paying someone off to fix it. He’s out there on the streets tracking Wickham down.

I really like Crispin Bonham-Carter’s Mr. Bingley, too. He’s sweet, charming, but, unlike some adaptations, not a buffoon. His romance with Jane is adorable, but his relationship with his sisters and Darcy also makes sense. I particularly enjoy one scene when they’re back at Netherfield and he keeps trying to get a word in only to be interrupted by Caroline. It’s funny and also just adds to the “love to hate” quality for Caroline. I also really enjoy having the scene where Darcy apologizes to Bingley included. It’s also another good moment for Bingley in that we see him angry at Darcy but, just as quickly, go back to wishing for his friend’s approval. But, again, Bonham-Carter manages to play this quick switch with a sense of sincerity and earnestness that doesn’t leave Bingley looking foolish.

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

As I said above, Adrian Lukis would be my only tough call if I had to pick a character whose been done better elsewhere. But even then, I think it is context dependent. The Wickham in “Death Comes to Pemberley” has a very different story than the Wickham we see here. Most notably, he’s already a known villain, so much so that he’s suspected of murder. Here, however, Wickham must not only be an unknown, but immediately likeable enough to fool our beloved Elizabeth. And in this, Lukis excels. He is charming, easy-going, and completely believable as just an average, good kind of guy. And to contrast that, he’s also equally smarmy at the end of the movie when he attempts to continue ingratiating himself to Lizzy after his “elopement” with Lydia. It’s uncomfortable to watch and just excellent.

Catherine de Bourgh is also particularly good. She sneers with the best of them, and I love the image of her literally chasing Elizabeth through the yard shaking her cane at her as she tries to get her to promise not to marry Darcy. There’s a particular facial expression, a narrowing of the eyes at Elizabeth, that the actress does during the first meeting at Rosings Park that my mom says is a look that I give. To this day I can’t decide whether to be insulted or pleased.

I also enjoy Anna Chancellor’s Miss Bingley quite a lot. She entirely hateable in the most fun way. One particular moment that comes to mind is when she confronts Darcy early in the movie asking what he’s thinking about. He says fine eyes and Chancellor does a very distinct flick of her own eyes at just the right point in her line to make it clear that Caroline is expecting herself to be the answer. It’s great.

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

There are quite a few added moments that help build the romance. Of course, the lake scene where its implied that Darcy is so tormented by his love for Elizabeth that he literally has to cool down by diving into the nearest body of water. But there are several other goods ones too. I already mentioned the early moment when he spots Elizabeth playing with a dog outside (notably, another opportunity for the movie to show a drenched Colin Firth as the scene involves Darcy bathing). There’s also another great moment where we see Darcy in London practicing dueling. At the end of a bout, he exclaims to himself “I shall beat this, I shall.” What woman doesn’t  want a man to be so besotted with her that he tries to drive it out of himself physically?

And, of course, the coup de gras: the look of pure adoration that he gives Elizabeth while she plays piano during her visit to Pemberley. My mom, sister and I once put together a list of romantic moments from movies that when put together would make the perfect romantic hero. This look from Darcy to Elizabeth was always top of the list. Firth practically trademarked it, and it’s immediately recognizable when he pulls it out again in “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” a modern retelling of “Pride and Prejudice” where he once again plays Darcy. We’ll get to that movie in a few weeks!

Like I said above, the movie does cut out many scenes from the end of the book as well as one of the visits Darcy and Bingley make before Bingley and Jane’s engagement. The visit makes sense, but I do wish they had included a few more moments of Elizabeth and Darcy happy together. Mostly, we just get a kind of somber wedding scene at the end, before it closes with a few joyful minutes of the happy couples riding off into the sunset. Notably, I think this is the only time in the entire movie that we see Colin Firth smile with teeth.

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

Lydia really shines in this adaptation. In the book, she’s mentioned often enough as ridiculous, but we don’t really get to see her in action other than small snippets of dialogue here and there. But here, she really comes to life: all of the giggling, the running about, the forwardness. By the time she runs off with Wickham, it feels more like it was only a matter of time than a shock. There were a lot of great moments, probably best all around for comedy in general was the ball at Netherfield where we really feel how much of a challenge the elder miss Bennetts have at finding good husbands when surrounded by so much foolishness. But for Lydia in particular I really enjoyed the juxtaposition of her and Kitty coming to meet Elizabeth on her return trip from Rosings Park and Lydia saying how jolly a party they’ll make on the carriage ride home. The scene then immediately switches to the next day and we hear Lydia and Kitty squabbling as the carriage pulls away.

Mr. Collins is also excellent in all of his smarminess. The actor portrays him as hunched over in a false sense of humility and often has him out of breath when accompanying the ladies on walks. The book makes a brief reference to the fact that he doesn’t know all the steps to the dances at the Netherfield Ball, but here we actually get to witness it as he bumbles head first into another lady when dancing with poor Elizabeth.

And, of course, Mrs. Bennett is great, particularly with the actor’s portrayal of when Mrs. Bennett is taken to her room with nerves while Lydia is missing. She’s over-the-top, emotional, and irrational. Throughout the entire movie, this representation of Mrs. Bennett does nothing to excuse her ridiculous behavior as a worried mother figure going to extremes. And, given that so many of her lines are directly from the book, I feel that it’s a pretty honest take on what Austen had in mind.

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

Jennifer Ehle wanted the part so badly that she dyed her eyebrows a darker color and didn’t wash her hair the day before casting as she was worried that her naturally blonde color would be a mark against her.

Ehle was perhaps right to be concerned about hair color as Colin Firth was almost passed over for being “too ginger.” Andrew Davies, the showrunner, had to be talked into giving Firth a chance with hair dye as an option.

Joanna David (Mrs. Gardiner) and Emilia Fox (Georgianna Darcy) are  mother and daughter. David was cast first and when they were looking for a Georgianna (they went through 70 or so actresses) David’s daughter, Emilia was mentioned.

Susannah Harker, Jane, was pregnant while filming but the flowing outfits worked well enough for her to conceal it. She is also the daughter of Polly Adams who played Jane in the 1967 version of “Pride and Prejudice.”

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

This has been a favorite of mine for quite awhile:

In two weeks, I’ll review the 2005 version of “Pride and Prejudice.” 

Serena’s Review: “Jade War”

41716919Book: “Jade War” by Fonda Lee

Publishing Info: Orbit, July 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Book Description: On the island of Kekon, the Kaul family is locked in a violent feud for control of the capital city and the supply of magical jade that endows trained Green Bone warriors with supernatural powers they alone have possessed for hundreds of years.

Beyond Kekon’s borders, war is brewing. Powerful foreign governments and mercenary criminal kingpins alike turn their eyes on the island nation. Jade, Kekon’s most prized resource, could make them rich – or give them the edge they’d need to topple their rivals.

Faced with threats on all sides, the Kaul family is forced to form new and dangerous alliances, confront enemies in the darkest streets and the tallest office towers, and put honor aside in order to do whatever it takes to ensure their own survival – and that of all the Green Bones of Kekon.

Previously Reviewed: “Jade City”

Review: After it took me so long to get around to reading “Jade City,” I wasn’t about to let the same happen for the second book in this series. I promptly started reading the sequel, and, sure enough, Fonda Lee has done it again. It was both everything I was expecting/wanting while also blowing wide the world and stakes that were set up in the first book.

Over a year after the events of “Jade City,” the Kaul family is still entrapped in the ongoing feud with their rival clan, the Mountain. While the Mountain was hurt by the sudden loss of one of their leaders, their calculating leader is nowhere close to finished. Throughout it all, Hilo and Shae continue to try to grow into their unexpected roles of leadership, while those closest to them try to find their own places. Wen, Hilo’s wife and secret ally of Shae, works in the open to provide an heir to the No Peak clan, while working behind the scenes to help gather information for Shae. And their adopted brother Anden finds himself exiled to a foreign land experience life for the first time out of both the shadow and the privilege of his powerful family.

“Jade City” was impressive in its detailed world-building, solid plotting, and nuanced characters who anything but paper cut-outs of typical staple roles. While the story left off with a wide open path ahead, I didn’t expect it to expand outwards as much as it does forwards. Meaning that the story moves ahead in unexpected ways, but the world itself and even our understanding of our main characters expands outwards in such a way that by the middle of the book I felt like I had been barely scratching the surface when I read the first book.

Through Anden’s perspective, the story expands past the borders of Kekon giving us not only new insights into the geo-political stagings of this unique world but offering a lot of commentary on the immigrant experience. Anden must learn new cultural norms, a new language, and confront the differences between the Kekon he grew up knowing and the smaller Kekon that his fellow immigrants have created for themselves in a new country. It was a really fascinating window into the feeling of familiarity yet continued displacement that is unique to an immigrant experience. While Anden sees elements of his familiar home, there are enough small changes and minor differences that highlight how the immigrant Kekonese community is essentially subculture all of its own.

The characters were also expanded upon and there were a bunch of twists here, specifically, that I didn’t see coming. Hilo, especially, had a few moments that really shocked me, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. But this mix of traits that makes it hard to label him is the same thing that makes him read as so real. Flawed, desperate, constantly holding in his inner demons that push him towards foolish action. Shae also had an interesting story arc that I hadn’t anticipate. I continue to enjoy both Shae and Wen for the solid women characters they represent. Like Hilo, they are complex and we see their weaknesses and strengths laid out through the cool, objective, narrative of the story.

It’s a large book, and it fills it pages with as much continued world-building and expanded character moments as it does with plot. Readers looking for solid action might struggle with some of the slower paced portions. But if you enjoyed “Jade City,” than this book is a superb successor.

Rating 8: Bigger and better in every way! “Jade War” will leaving you craving for more!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Jade War” is on these Goodreads lists: “Essential Silkpunk” and “#ReadPOC: List of Speculative Fiction by Authors of Color.”

Find “Jade War” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “A Broken Queen”

45046564Book: “A Broken Queen” by Sarah Kozloff

Publishing Info: Tor Books, March 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Book Description: Barely surviving her ordeal in Oromondo and scarred by its Fire Spirit, Cerulia is taken to a recovery house in Wyeland to heal from the trauma. In a ward with others who are all bound to serve each other, she discovers that not all scars are visible, and dying can be done with grace and acceptance.

While she would like to stay in this place of healing, will she ever be able to leave the peace she has found to re-take the throne?

Previously Reviewed: “A Queen in Hiding” and “The Queen of Raiders”

Review: And we’re back with the third book already! Man, I’m really loving being able to read an entire series like this. In the “My Year with Jane Austen” series I’m writing, I’m getting near to reviewing the 1995 mini series version of “Pride and Prejudice.” It’s excellent for many reasons, but I’ll be honest, a large part of my love for it is simply that it’s nearly six hours long, meaning I can sink into one world with one set of characters for an extended period of time all once. It’s been a similar experience with this series.

Cerulia is badly injured, both physically by the scars left on her body by the flames, but also internally, unsure of her own role as a leader and queen going forward. In the quiet and peace of the healing ward where she is recovering, she is badly tempted to give up her quest of regaining her throne. The path has been harder than she ever thought, but she comes to see her responsibility to her people is greater than her own insecurities and fears. But without an army and with her sister poised to marry the son of her great enemy, Cerulia must work hard to remain free and in a position to challenge Matwyck for her throne.

I actually ended up liking this third book a bit more even than the first two, especially portions in the first half of the book while Cerulia is struggling to find her way again. For an individual who has been in exile for so long, jumping from one place to another, one entire identity to another, it’s no wonder that questions would arise about whether it is worth it and who she really is beneath all of the disguises. Through these reflections, she’s forced to confront her own insecurities and fears. She also come across the tried and true “with great responsibility” way of thinking, recognizing that her own struggles are ultimately not about what she has lost as a princess/queen forced from her home, but in the service of a greater duty to the country that’s been left behind. All of the people who don’t have the option to flee and re-create lives for themselves with the help of magical abilities and a grand heritage.

After this period of reflection, the action picks up again with Cerulia returning home, reuniting with her foster family, and facing the stark reality of the challenges ahead of her on her journey to the throne. There are also some interesting discussions regarding the necessity of a queen at all. It was fun seeing Cerulia go full circle and finally return to her home and her foster family, and it’s a great set-up for the final conflict to come in the last book.

But, with the increased interest I had in Cerulia’s story, I found myself feeling more disconnected from the other characters’ portions of the story. While there have been some moments where these other characters’ perspectives have added strength and context to the story, at this point, as we near the end of the series, their portions felt like more of a distraction than anything. I was always eager to return to Cerulia’s story and found myself more and more impatient with any breaks in the momentum of her plot line.

Lastly, I want to throw out a brief kudos to the cover art for this series! I always like covers that don’t include models, so that was a great start. But mostly I think the understated changes to the crown and how it reflects the action of each story was very clever. The first cover had a crown that was literally hidden behind vines. In the second, we see a crown being consumed by flames, a direct nod to Cerulia’s own perilous experience with fire. And here we have the broken remains of that ordeal, cracked but not destroyed. The final cover, of course, finally brings the crown to it’s completed state: regal and whole, free of damage or concealment. It’s a very simple little theme, but I think it works perfectly for this story.

Only one more month to go until we wrap this all up! In the meantime, make sure to enter the giveaway for a finished copy of “A Broken Queen.”

Rating 8: Poignant reflections on the responsibility of privilege and the definitions of self set a solid foundation for the final book to come.

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Broken Queen” is a newer title so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “Upcoming 2020 SFF with female leads or co-leads.”

Find “A Broken Queen” at your library using WorldCat!

Giveaway: “A Broken Queen”

45046564Book: “A Broken Queen” by Sarah Kozloff

Publishing Info: Tor Books, March 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Book Description: Barely surviving her ordeal in Oromondo and scarred by its Fire Spirit, Cerulia is taken to a recovery house in Wyeland to heal from the trauma. In a ward with others who are all bound to serve each other, she discovers that not all scars are visible, and dying can be done with grace and acceptance.

While she would like to stay in this place of healing, will she ever be able to leave the peace she has found to re-take the throne?

 

Previously Reviewed: “A Queen in Hiding” and “The Queen of Raiders”

Giveaway Details: In partnership with the publisher, I’m happy to be able to offer an ongoing giveaway for each book in this series as they come out! I’ve reviewed the first two in the series and am excited to see what come in the third book! There was a bit of a cliffhanger at the end of the last, but luckily, due to the quick publishing schedule for this series, I haven’t had to wait long to find out! My review for “A Broken Queen” comes out this Friday.

If you, too, have been speeding through this series and can’t wait to find out what next, here’s your opportunity to win a finished copy of the third book in the series! And don’t forget to check back in April when we host a giveaway for the fourth and final book. This giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and ends on March 25.

Enter to win!