Giveaway: “A Queen in Hiding”

45046606Book: “A Queen in Hiding” by Sarah Kozloff

Publishing Info: Tor Books, January 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Book Description: Orphaned, exiled and hunted, Cérulia, Princess of Weirandale, must master the magic that is her birthright, become a ruthless guerilla fighter, and transform into the queen she is destined to be.

But to do it she must win the favor of the spirits who play in mortal affairs, assemble an unlikely group of rebels, and wrest the throne from a corrupt aristocracy whose rot has spread throughout her kingdom.

Giveaway Details: I was lucky enough to receive two copies of this book, and while I’m enjoying finishing up reading mine, I thought I’d offer a giveaway for the other! I won’t go into my full thoughts on the novel itself, but the publisher is trying something new with the way they are publishing this series: bingeable books!

I’ve said in my reviews of Michael Sullivan’s books that part of my enjoyment is due to the reassurance that all the books in the series have already been completed. This has allowed them to be published one after another every six months. This is an aggressive publishing schedule for any author, but particularly for epic fantasies that tend to run long. Even Brandon Sanderson, one of the most prolific and fast-producing fantasy authors currently writing, has several years go by between books in his epic “Stormlight” series.

With Kozloff’s “The Nine Realms” series, Tor Books is upping the ante and releasing all four books within a  month of each other. That’s incredible, and I’m, at least, not aware of another publishing run similar to this. Even a fast reader would struggle to keep up with a release schedule like that. And judging by the first book that is almost 500 pages long, these aren’t short books! It will be pretty  interesting to see how readers respond to this strategy. If anything, like Sullivan’s works, it’s reassuring to know that the series will be completed in a timely manner. But what’s more, with books coming out at this rate, it should be easy enough to finish one book and simply pick up the next, making the entire series read as one, super long, book all in itself.

So, get started as soon as possible and enter to win a paperback copy of “A Queen in Hiding.” The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and ends on January 29.

Enter to win!

Serena’s Review: “Ship of Smoke and Steel”

34618380Book: “Ship of Smoke and Steel” by Django Wexler

Publishing Info: Tor Teen, January 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: In the lower wards of Kahnzoka, the great port city of the Blessed Empire, eighteen-year-old ward boss Isoka comes to collect when there’s money owing. When her ability to access the Well of Combat is discovered by the Empire—an ability she should have declared and placed at His Imperial Majesty’s service—she’s sent on an impossible mission: steal Soliton, a legendary ghost ship—a ship from which no one has ever returned. If she fails, her sister’s life is forfeit.

Review: Our bookclub has been doing a Secret Santa book exchange for the last several years (have we mentioned how awesome our bookclub is recently??). It’s great because A.)more books! and B.) having librarians as friends means you’re sure to get a great new read that has been careful tailored to your own reading preferences. I’d seen the sequel for this book coming up on “most anticipated” lists for a few months now and am not sure how I missed this first one when it came out last year. But this has now been rectified, and I’m now halfway through said sequel. So, spoiler alert, I loved this book.

Reigning as a crime lord on the streets of Kahnzoka may not be an ideal life, but it’s a living, and one that Isoka is particularly skilled at. With her Well of Combat, she can be as brutal as she is efficient. But behind her cold exterior, her true purpose is one of love, the protection and future of her beloved younger sister Tori. But it all goes awry when she is captured and sentenced to an almost sure death on the mythical ship Soliton. There, she realizes that what once had seemed only a fable is all too real, and the powers that had made her almost legendary on the streets may be only a drop in the bucket against the new foes that await her.

I’ve only read one other book by Wexler, a military fantasy fiction novel which I quite enjoyed. This was the author’s first foray into YA fantasy fiction, and I have to say, I think this might be the key to it. Having been an adult fantasy author first, there seems a decent chance that Wexler was less influenced by the pervasive YA tropes that all too often undercut many potentially good YA fantasies these days. This book has all of the originality, spunk, diversity and grimness that one would find in an adult novel. The only thing that makes it YA is the age of our main characters. And that’s what makes it so good.

Isoka may be a teen, but she is completely believable as young woman who grew up on the streets and whose sense of morality and survival have been worn down to just the basics. This book doesn’t shy away from the grim reality that would take over a character who has had to fight for her own, and her much younger sister’s, very survival almost from infancy. Isoka is a bringer of death, and while over the course of this book she learns to take others under her wing as well, her lack of angst over the harshness of her life was incredibly refreshing. She may not be a “good” person by the standards a modern individual would set, but she’s a survivor and doesn’t apologize for doing what she thinks is necessary to protect those she loves.

The magic system was also very compelling. It’s simple enough to be understood easily, with a variety of Wells that users can pull from that grant them different abilities. But as the story progresses, we learn that not all is fully understood about these Wells. And even by the end of the story, there are mysteries still to be unraveled here. Isoka’s own power, the Well of Combat, is an excellent choice for our main character. The action is riveting, feeling almost cinematic as Isoka battles monstrous beasts with her twin power blades and armor. There are also those with powers such as speed, fire, and shadow, and the greater battle scenes paint an epic-feeling picture of these incredible individuals battling alongside one another.

Most of the action takes place on board the mysterious ship Soliton. I don’t want to spoil anything, as discovering the horrors and wonders of this ship was half the fun of the book. Just as you feel you understand one layer of this creepy place, another unfolds. Again, like the magic system itself, by the end of the book the reader feels as if they have only scraped the surface of what is really going on behind this secretive ship.

This was an excellent read. I blew through it in only two days. It’s a fast read, full of action and creepy fantasy elements. There’s also a lovely romance between Isoka and her friend Meroe, a girl with her own barely understood abilities. I already have the second book loaded up on my Kindle, so expect a review for that one up soon. If you’re looking for a fun new fantasy series, definitely check this one out!

Rating 9: Epic, action-packed, and best of all, the start of what promises to be an exciting trilogy!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Ship of Smoke and Steel” is on these Goodreads lists: “2019 Queer SFF” and “Best Fantasy 2019.”

Find “Ship of Smoke and Steel” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Bard’s Blade”

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

Publishing Info: Tor Books, January 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: Mariyah enjoys a simple life in Vylari, a land magically sealed off from the outside world, where fear and hatred are all but unknown. There she’s a renowned wine maker and her betrothed, Lem, is a musician of rare talent. Their destiny has never been in question. Whatever life brings, they will face it together.

But destiny has a way of choosing its own path, and when a stranger crosses the wards into Vylari for the first time in centuries, the two are faced with a terrible prophecy. For beyond the borders, an ancient evil is returning, its age-old prison shattered.

The two must leave their home behind, and in doing so will face sorcerers and thieves, con-men and assassins, treachery and greed. How far down this path will they have to go to stop the rising darkness and save their home? And how much of themselves will they have to give up along the way?

Review: I requested this book based mostly on the super cool cover art. It’s walking some line between hokey 70s pulp fantasy art and the neat modern covers you see on some of Brandon Sanderson’s books. Either way, I love it. The book description itself sounded kind of meh and familiar. In some ways, it surpassed these expectations, and in other ways…the cover’s still cool.

Vylari is an idyllic land full of happy people going about simple lives. Here, Mariyah and Lem have grown up each able to focus on their own particular skills (Mariyah’s business savvy with her family’s wine business and Lem’s amazing musical talents) while focusing on the future they will soon have together as a married couple. All of this falls apart, however, when a stranger arrives and brings news of an evil that is coming, an evil that not even the magical barrier protecting Vylari can stave off, and somehow they are connected to it. Now, out in a dangerous new world, Lem and Mariyah must not only learn how to exist in a place so different than their peaceful home, but they must also discover the secrets in Lem’s past and how to prevent the evil that is coming.

This book was kind of hit and miss for me. While I did read it quickly and it was enjoyable enough, looking back on it, there’s not a lot that stands out as super unique. It checked all of the right boxes: world-building, strong characters, a good balance of action and reflection. But there was never much more given to any of these aspects to make the book really rise above the mediocre.

For me, the strongest aspect was its two main characters. Lem and Mariyah are both compelling and interesting, each approaching their time in the strange new world they find themselves in with bravery and cunning. It was particularly interesting seeing them come across aspects of life that we would take for granted but are clearly new to them. We spend only a limited amount of time in Vylari, only enough to get a general idea of how peaceful and simple it is. It’s only once we enter the greater world that readers begin to realize just how limited Vylari was. Yes, conflict and violence are almost unheard of there, but also, horses? As a reader, I just assumed things like that exist until we come across Lem, when first entering a village in the outside world, describing some strange beast with a long neck pulling a cart. From there, I always had my eyes open for other things that one would take for granted but might be new to our main characters.

I was also intrigued by the religious institution that forcibly runs much of the world outside of Vylari. Through the innocent eyes of Lem and Mariyah, we see how shocking some of the choices are that people who are ruled by ruthless leaders would make. The people in this world expect darkness and deceit. Lem and Mariyah are completely out of their element when first experiencing it.

However, while these aspects of the story were interesting enough, I was never able to become fully invested in the story. I wasn’t able to sink into it and instead was very aware of the process of reading it. It’s always hard to pin down in a review the quality in some books that leads to a reading experience like this. This makes it doubly unfortunate: I don’t have an exciting read and then I struggle to explain why the book was a bit of a miss for me. Like I mentioned earlier, I think much of the problem was simply that nothing felt super new. Lem and Mariyah, while strong enough characters, didn’t really stand out in any particular way. They weren’t annoying or problematic, they just were…people. And the idea of a world kept magically away from another was a concept I’ve run across several times in other fantasy works, and there wasn’t a whole lot here that differentiated this book from those. It’s a fine read. But not much more than that, unfortunately.

Rating 7: Nothing made me super excited. Nothing made me angry. Ultimately, nothing made me really care that much.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Bard’s Blade” is a newer title, so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “Best Books 2020.”

Find“The Bard’s Blade” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “Jade City”

43587154._sy475_Book: “Jade City” by Fonda Lee

Publishing Info: Orbit, June 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reader’s Advisory:

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

Find “Jade City” at your library using WorldCat!

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

14935._sy475_Book: “Sense and Sensibility”

Publication Year: 1811

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

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

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

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

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

Part I – Chapters 1 – 31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introducing “My Year with Jane Austen” Re-read

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serena’s Favorite Reads of 2019: Picks 5 through 1

Another a year, another almost impossible task trying to each choose our Top 10 Reads of the year! For me, the word “favorite” is an important part of this list. As I go through the last year’s worth of reading, I often found that some books would strike particular chords within me more deeply than others, even if, quality-wise, another book might be stronger. Of course, this just makes it all that much harder to put them in any order. But here it goes! Today I’m going to countdown my favorites reads, ten to six. And since it’s the end of the reading year, don’t forget to enter our “12 Days of Christmas Giveaway!”

36510722#5: “Gods of Jade and Shadow” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

“Gods of Jade and Shadow” Review

I’ve only read two books by Moreno-Garcia, but both have made my top reads list. And yet, they are completely different stories! It’s truly impressive how versatile of an author she is, combining beautiful imagery, new magical systems, and jumping between cultures and time periods. This fairy-tale like story is set in the Jazz Age and travels from a small village in southern Mexico up through the country. One thing that really stands out about Moreno-Garcia’s work is the page time she devotes to her villains who are just as fun to hate (while also somehow still sympathizing with?) as her protagonists are to love. This book was gorgeously written and so unique and fresh with its setting. Definitely check it out if you’re looking for an original, non-European fairytale fantasy.

40698027#4: “A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World” by C. A. Fletcher

“A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World” Review

This book wins the award for “most recommended” read of 2019. I’ve given it as a gift to numerous people and recommended it to countless more. Not only is it a quality book in its own right, but its the perfect blend of so many genres that I think it appeals in some way to almost any reader. Thus, perfect gift book. It’s a post-apocalyptic tale but focuses much more heavily on the personal journey of the main character in search of a beloved, stolen away dog. Throughout the journey, more comes to light about the world itself, what went wrong, and how people are living now. But at its heart, it’s a very human tale and not so bleak as to be gut-wrenching or hopeless feeling, as many post-apocalyptic stories tend to be. If you have a reader in your family and you’re looking for a great Christmas book gift, this is a good option!

43575115._sy475_#3: “The Starless Sea” by Erin Morgenstern

“The Starless Sea” Review

I think this is the most recently read book on this list, so it’s also one of the ones that’s still the most on my mind as I write. A couple of weeks past my first read now, I can remember fewer of the details of the exact plot of this story, other than it being a young man’s adventure into whimsy, sparkles, and shadow. More clearly, I remember the overpowering feeling of want that this book imparted. I wanted to be in this world so badly, wanted it to be real, even if I never went there. Beautiful rooms devoted to reading and stories. A magical kitchen that knows your every whim. And cats winding in between your legs as you traverse. Morgenstern’s return to writing was a triumph and this book was a masterclass.

36621586#2: “The Winter of the Witch” by Katherine Arden

“The Winter of the Witch” Review

It’s always particularly satisfying when a trilogy or series finishes and you now can rest assured that no, nothing will be irreparably screwed up or simply fall flat on its face there at the end. Even better are those series that seem to only gain steam as the go along, and that’s what I feel happened with this trilogy. “The Winter of the Witch” picks up immediately where the last book left off and yet, somehow, none of the predictions I had then turned out to be right. Maybe some vague ideas, but the paths that were traveled and the ultimate destination were completely unexpected. I love this series so much. I now own the complete set and will likely read them again soon as they are perfect winter reading material, in my opinion. If you’ve been reading this series so far and somehow missed this one (or were a bit gun shy about endings, I understand that!), never fear, this one was completely satisfying!

42201395#1: “Sorcery of Thorns” by Margaret Rogerson

“Sorcery of Thorns” Review

And lastly, this lovely book. For me, “Sorcery of Thorns” was the complete package. In every way, this is the exact type of book I most love. The main character was spunky, a bit foolish, loved books, and followed the call to adventure. The love interest was quippy but flawed, and, most importantly, only slowly developed into even being a love interest. The magic and world were uncomplicated, yet fully realized and detailed. There was adventure around every corner, action, female friendships. And, oh yes, warrior librarians and sentient books. As I was going through some of my top-rated books from this year, I always kept flipping back to this one based purely on the enjoyment I took in reading it. And really, there is no higher praise for a book than that: bringing sheer, unadulterated joy to its reader.

So there’s my complete list! What were your top five reads of 2019?