Serena’s Review: “Fable”

Book: “Fable” by Adrienne Young

Publishing Info: Wednesday Books, September 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: For seventeen-year-old Fable, the daughter of the most powerful trader in the Narrows, the sea is the only home she has ever known. It’s been four years since the night she watched her mother drown during an unforgiving storm. The next day her father abandoned her on a legendary island filled with thieves and little food. To survive she must keep to herself, learn to trust no one, and rely on the unique skills her mother taught her. The only thing that keeps her going is the goal of getting off the island, finding her father, and demanding her rightful place beside him and his crew. To do so Fable enlists the help of a young trader named West to get her off the island and across the Narrows to her father.

But her father’s rivalries and the dangers of his trading enterprise have only multiplied since she last saw him, and Fable soon finds that West isn’t who he seems. Together, they will have to survive more than the treacherous storms that haunt the Narrows if they’re going to stay alive.

Review: Pirate stories definitely had their day in the sun in the YA publishing world. It hits its peak probably about 2 years ago I’d say and has noticeably tapered off since then. During its peak, I think I only read one duology in this subgenre that I really liked (“Song of the Current”). Many of the others couldn’t quite strike on the right tone, in my opinion, too often falling into angsty, drama traps that didn’t befit the dangerous but cavalier nature of what I was looking for in a pirate story. But I’ve liked Adrienne Young’s work in the past, so I was happy to pick up her most recent book and see if she could crack the code!

The last four years of Fable’s life have been a mad scramble for survival. Abandoned on a island made up of thieves and murderers, every day is a danger. But Fable is driven: she will earn her way onto a ship and track down her powerful sea trader father and reclaim what is hers. But getting off the island is only the least of her struggles, she soon realizes. Alongside West, a secretive ship’s captain with mysteries of his own, and his ragtag crew who don’t trust Fable farther than they can throw her, Fable makes her way back out onto the ocean where storms are only the tip of the iceberg as far as dangers go.

This is what I like in a pirate story! The action is non-stop, the stakes are high, and death could be right around the corner for practically anyone, and that’s just life. Fable’s story starts out with the loss of her mother, but from there on out, Young doesn’t let up on the gas. These pirates have teeth and they’re not afraid to use them. The world-building sets up a nautical trade war where different factions vie for power using whatever methods they have at their disposal.

To live in this world, Fable is equally ruthless and accepting of living life on the edge of a knife. While her arch includes self-discovery, she also begins her journey from a solid foundation of trusting her own judgement, determinedly facing down challenges before her, and pursuing goals single-mindedly. Rather predictably, perhaps, many of her lessons come from learning the value of others, be they crew members, friends, or lovers. But even in the midst of these learning moments, I liked how practical and sure-footed Fable felt. She meets hardship and disappointment head-on and is a character that is easy to root for.

I also really liked the world Young created here. The various trading organizations, the tensions between captains, ships, and their crews, and the small dash of magic here and there that roots the entire thing in a fantasy setting. There’s just enough magic to make it feel “other,” but it’s also very recognizable as a “Pirates of the Caribbean” type place and culture. Could perhaps have dealt with a bit more humor and gallows humor to really fit that pirate stereotype, but it walks pretty close to the line.

The side characters were all interesting enough but weren’t breaking any boundaries, really. Most of them fell into fairly predictable roles, and their initial feelings and their changes of heart towards Fable all follow a paint-by-numbers format. The romance is also nothing special. I didn’t dislike West by any means or the romance as a whole, but there simply wasn’t much new there. West’s original motives and interest in Fable are left fairly unexplained. He seems to just kind of fall for her offscreen. And her own feelings develop in the usual way. The minute West shows up, you pretty much know exactly what you’re going to get here. I am curious to see what the second book will do with this, though. There’s less of a format for continued love stories than there is for their initial set-up.

Overall, I really liked this book. It didn’t blow me out of the water, but it also presented a solid pirate story of the sort I couldn’t seem to find even at the peak of the subgenre’s popularity. The story does end on a bit of a cliffhanger, so be aware of that going in. I think the next book is slated to come out this very spring, though, so the wait is short for those who want to dive into this now and not worry about being strung along for years and years. If you like pirate stories or are a fan of Young’s past work, this book is definitely worth checking out.

Rating 8: A solid main character and interesting new world make up for the fairly predictable romance.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Fable” is on these Goodreads lists: Nautical Tales and Most Exciting Upcoming YA Books.

Find “Fable” at your library using WorldCat!

My Year with Jane Austen: “Persuasion” Part II

Book: “Persuasion” by Jane Austen

Publication Year: 1818

Book Description: Twenty-seven-year old Anne Elliot is Austen’s most adult heroine. Eight years before the story proper begins, she is happily betrothed to a naval officer, Frederick Wentworth, but she precipitously breaks off the engagement when persuaded by her friend Lady Russell that such a match is unworthy. The breakup produces in Anne a deep and long-lasting regret. When later Wentworth returns from sea a rich and successful captain, he finds Anne’s family on the brink of financial ruin and his own sister a tenant in Kellynch Hall, the Elliot estate. All the tension of the novel revolves around one question: Will Anne and Wentworth be reunited in their love?

Part II – Chapters 15 – End

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

In Bath, Anne is reunited with her father, Elizabeth, and Lady Russell. She is dismayed to see that Mrs. Clay remains with them and appears to be going nowhere anytime soon. She’s also clearly risen in the estimation of Sir Walter who comments much less on her freckled face. In other developments, she hears that Mr. Elliot is also in Bath and has completely reconciled with the family who are all delighted with him. Anne is confused by his sudden interest in being on good terms with people he’s ignored for years, but, upon meeting with him again, can’t help but acknowledge that he is quite charming. He also is delighted to discover that Anne is the very woman he was so interested in when in Lyme, and he quickly becomes a frequent visitor of hers. Lady Russell begins to hope for an eventual union between the two.

While in Bath, Anne reconnects with an old school friend who has fallen on hard times. Widowed and ill with very little money, Mrs. Smith is practically bed-ridden but still presents a optimistic face to the world and is a breath of fresh air to Anne in her reasonableness. Mrs. Smith is also a good source of information, as her nurse seems to know the goings-on of everyone in the city.

Eventually, Anne hears news of the Musgroves. Louisa is mostly recovered, and in a shocking turn of events, has become engaged to Benwick. Anne can’t imagine a bigger mismatch, but is also extremely relieved and happy to know that Captain Wentworth is still single, even if it means nothing to her, practically speaking. One by one, various parties begin making their way to Bath as well. First the Crofts come, followed shortly by Captain Wentworth himself.

Anne runs into him unexpectedly in a shop where she is waiting for Mr. Elliot to escort her home through the rain. She immediately notices that Captain Wentworth seems much more self-conscious and uncomfortable. They have a brief discussion about Louisa and Benwick in which Captain Wentworth makes some surprising (and pleasing) speeches about how first loves to superior women can never be gotten over, that Louisa is sweet, but nothing to Benwick’s first fiancé. Anne is confused but pleased, seeing hints that he may be talking about more than Benwick and Louisa and more of himself and her. Mr. Elliot arrives, however, and whisks her away.

They meet again at a music concert where Anne goes out of her way to approach Captain Wentworth. Her family publicly shuns him however, not acknowledging that they know him. He seems more stilted than he had in the shop, though Anne makes efforts throughout the night to make herself approachable. She isn’t helped by Mr. Elliot who continues to try to dominate her time and attention.

Soon after, she is called to visit Mrs. Smith. At first, Mrs. Smith is eager praise Mr. Elliot, hinting that she has a favor she’d ask Anne to speak to him about. Anne is bewildered to learn that it is generally understood that she will soon become engaged to Mr. Elliot. She insists to Mrs. Smith that it isn’t so. Mrs. Smith then lays out her true feelings about Mr. Elliot. Not only did he lead Mrs. Smith’s late husband into ruin, but he wrote and spoke horribly of the Elliots the entire time. Mrs. Smith believes that he is only now making an effort because he has suddenly learned to value the rank that will be bestowed on him with Sir Walter’s death and fears any upsets in the form of Mrs. Clay getting her claws in Sir Walter and providing an alternative heir. For her part, Mrs. Smith’s own finances are largely in ruin because a piece of property her husband owned is not accessible to her without the executor of her husband’s will, Mr. Elliot, who so far has refused to even speak to Mrs. Smith about it. Anne is horrified to learn all of this, but also not completely surprised as she never fully trusted Mr. Elliot’s strange motives to reconcile with her family.

The Musgroves also come to Bath to buy wedding clothes for Henrietta. This causes concern for Sir Walter and Elizabeth, as they aren’t very proud of Mary’s lower connections. One morning, Anne goes to visit the Crofts where she finds Captain Wentworth as well as Captain Harville. Captain Wentworth sits down to write a letter while Anne and Captain Harville stand nearby. The two get into a debate about lost love and men and women. Anne insists that women love longest, when all other hope is lost. Captain Harville points to poetry and books as proof of women’s fickleness but Anne argues that those are all written by men. Throughout this discussion, she gets the sense that Captain Wentworth is eagerly listening. Eventually, the party begins to break up and everyone leaves the room while Anne waits behind. Captain Wentworth rushes back in and quickly passes off a letter to Anne.

The letter is a proclamation of love, love that has lasted this entire time. He confesses to being angry and proud, and that he confused this anger for no longer being attached. But that he came to see that she was the most superior woman he has ever known, and can’t go on any longer, especially not hearing her discuss how men’s feelings fade faster. He goes on to say that he will come to a dinner at her family’s house to which he’s been invited and there, all it will take is a look from her to have his answer one way or another.

Mr. Musgrove returns to walk Anne back home. On the way, they meet with Captain Wentworth. Mr. Musgrove asks if Wentworth can take her the rest of the way as he has business elsewhere. The two walk together and confess their feelings for each other. Over the next few days, the news is broken to the family and to Lady Russell. Anne’s family now sees more value in Captain Wentworth since he’s made is fortune and has become popular in society. Lady Russell also is more determined to like him. He also intercedes on Mrs. Smith’s behalf and sees her land restored to her and her financial situation made right. For his part, Mr. Elliot runs of to London with Mrs. Clay: his best bet of preventing a marriage between her and Sir Walter is to take her on himself, though Anne suspects she may have the right of him and become mistress of Sir Walter’s home and fortune one way or another, through the father or the nephew heir.

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

Anne really comes into her own in this second half. She stands up to everyone around her to some degree or another and makes an effort to put herself forward to Captain Wentworth in a way that likely encouraged him to act more quickly than he would have on his own. She’s also the only one to continuously suspect Mr. Elliot’s sudden interest in her family.

To her family, she refuses to give up her acquaintance with Mrs. Smith, standing her ground in the face of her father’s anger. She also doesn’t worry about their disapproval when she approaches Captain Wentworth at the concert. For Lady Russell’s part, Anne is briefly tempted by her paintings of a life with Mr. Elliott, but she also points out her concerns with him and is not swayed by her overly much.

As for Captain Wentworth, though it’s not stated in the text explicitly, one has to imagine the near miss with Louisa inspired Anne somewhat to put herself more forward. The fact that, when they first meet when waiting out the rain, he is so clearly more discomposed than he was before, of course helps. And then makes that interesting speech about past loves. But Anne doesn’t let it rest there and goes out of her way to speak to him at the concert and to maneuver her seating arrangement to be more available to be approached (I think most of women can sympathize with tactics like this!)

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

I really like that we get so much information on Captain Wentworth’s thoughts and feelings here in the end. Throughout the book, not only does he not speak to Anne directly often at all, we really hear very little from him. We hear a lot about him, but not directly from him. Like Anne, we’re left trying to piece together what his actions reflect about his inner emotions.

But here at the end, not only do we get his entire letter detailing his emotions throughout, but Austen goes into even more detail later about what he’s been up to while Anne has been in Bath. Captain Wentworth admits that his pride almost got the better of him in the end. He let himself be too free with Louisa Musgrove in an attempt to prove (mostly to himself, one has to think) that he was over Anne. Not only did this leave Anne open to being poached by the likes of Mr. Elliot (as he began to see and worry about at Lyme), but he comes to realize that his actions almost spoke for him, with an engagement being expected to the point of it being dishonorable if he didn’t. We hear about how he took himself away in the hopes to weaken the connection and then set off for Bath once it was clear he as free.

But all of that, still, and he was almost set back again by the such a small thing as a meeting or two’s worth of jealousy over Mr. Elliot. Captain Wentworth is clearly an honorable, good man, but I think it’s pretty clear that Anne will be the more steady, sure-footed of the two. Wentworth is, to some extent at least, ruled by the emotion of the moment. Not only did he not spend the time to work out Anne’s true motives at 19 (something that was definitely possible if he hadn’t been brooding and resentful), but he continued to let his emotions get the better of him even after he had the fortune her family wanted. One has to assume that when she turned him down she gave some explanation. He admits, here at the end, that he did them both a disservice by giving in to resentment all of these years and losing them both much happiness in the meantime.

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

Mr. Elliot is revealed to be the true villain of this story. It’s not such a shock as Anne, like Fanny, is firmly established at this point as the best judge of character in the book, and she’s always skeptical of Mr. Elliot’s motives. But, in a strange twist, his true villainy is really directed at any of our main characters. Instead, poor Mrs. Smith seems to be the one who suffers the most. Sure, Sir Walter gets some insults thrown at him in a letter and Elizabeth didn’t come off super well in that initial flirtation, but really, neither of them have it too bad. Sir Walter largely deserves criticism and isn’t ever made aware of the letter, and Elizabeth’s ego seems fine too. But poor Mrs. Smith! Not only to have her husband lead astray throughout the marriage, but then to be fooled by Mr. Elliot into thinking he was their friend altogether and have him abandon her in her time of need after her husband’s death!

As for the current circumstances, Mr. Elliot seems to be genuinely interested in Anne to some degree (as much as he is capable of at least). And his abandonment of the family once again is probably not any bigger of a shock the second go-around. Indeed, one would think that Sir Walter and Elizabeth would be more hurt by Mrs. Clay’s defection than anyone’s! And, in the end, it kind of seems like these two deserve each other and no real harm is done to anyone, especially after Captain Wentworth and Anne can help restore Mrs. Smith.

For her part, we see Lady Russell and Anne’s family come around on Captain Wentworth. Sir Walter and Elizabeth will probably always be a trial, but it seems like there is hope that with a concentrated effort on both Lady Russell’s and Captain Wentworth’s part, that they will get along well enough in the end. They both love Anne, which is what they have going for them.

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

This second half of the book is much more romantic than the first. It’s clear to the reader (and even Anne pretty quickly) that Wentworth has finally come to his senses and gotten over himself and is interested in re-connecting. He, himself, attributes it to noticing Mr. Elliot stare at Anne at Lyme and realizing that he could still lose her if he continues playing games. That, and the fact that he realizes that he is seen as half-engaged to Louisa already and only narrowly misses that bullet by the lucky chance of Benwick interceding.

His speech about Harville’s sister, Louisa, and Benwick’s change in attachment is pretty revealing, and it’s a credit to Anne that she understands him fully. None of this silly drama of miscommunication. She’s picking up what he’s laying down. Instead, any remaining drama comes from him when he gets jealous of Mr. Elliot and becomes cold again at the musical concert. Anne has to make a lot of effort there to engage him and then it still doesn’t seem like he was going to take any action soon until he overheard her conversation with Captain Harville while writing the letter. I think the general understanding is that they would have gotten there eventually, though, either way. But it’s nice to see Anne putting out this much effort to encourage him, proving to him that she is just as capable as pursuing what she wants as others, even if she is still very humble and willing to put others before herself.

We again don’t see the actual proposal or exchange of declarations of love between the two, a staple move of Austen’s at this point. But I think that Captain Wentworth’s letter probably goes down as the most romantic “speech” we have in all of Austen’s works. Darcy has his moments, yes, but the letter wins over by sheer length. It’s the longest and most extensive declaration of feelings that we see from any of our heroes. And, not only does Anne deserve this level of romance, but us readers do, too! If you look at the book as a whole, we probably have the least dialogue between our hero and heroine as we’ve seen in all the books. And probably by a lot, at that! So it’s nice to finally have this nice, long love letter at the end to shore up all those romantic pinings.

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

Again, not a lot of comedy in this second half. Most of the humor probably comes from how obsequious Sir Walter and Elizabeth are towards the Dalrymples when they come to town. Anne looks on with pity at their antics, and in a shared moment, she and Mr. Elliot discuss the lack of true interest these high and mighty relatives deserve based on their own merit. There are some good lines about the definition of “good company,” but here we also see the first ideas of Mr. Elliot caring more for rank than Anne does or than he had previously in life.

Really, other than that I can’t think of any comedy bits. The Musgroves show up and Mary has a few funny lines here and there, mostly at Anne’s expense (that see, Benwick is marrying Louisa, of course he was never interested in Anne!) We also see Sir Walter and Elizabeth having to properly balance their obsession with keeping up a good face for the Dalrymples but still include these lesser relatives they have through Mary’s marriage to the Musgroves. No need to acknowledge the fact that the Musgroves are much nicer, more entertaining people on the whole!

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

This good one from Anne in the discussion about loving longest between men or women:

“Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.”

And, of course, the classic romantic line from this book. I’m pretty sure this line would still work today. If some man said “you piece my soul” to you…c’mon, we’d all fall for that.

“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope…I have loved none but you.”

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

“Persuasion” is probably the book that’s went through the biggest change in my estimation as a reader from the first time I read to my re-reads as an adult. “Pride and Prejudice” and “Emma” were always favorites. “Mansfield Park” was always a bit more of a struggle and “Sense and Sensibility” and “Northanger Abbey” were always solidly in the middle. “Persuasion” originally was lower down. The lack of interaction between the romantic characters was a detriment, and, on the face of things, Anne had similarities to Fanny as being a bit too reserved and shrinking to immediately appeal to my teenage self. But as an adult, it’s risen to be one of my favorites, pretty much equal with with “Pride and Prejudice” and maybe even above “Emma.”

I don’t think this change is even all that surprising. Anne is an older, more mature heroine, and much of her story surrounds the changes in her perspective on life and love that has come through a decade of adult life. Without having gone through my 20s myself when I originally read it, I didn’t really connect to this arc in the same way I do now. Beyond that, the story of lasting love over a decade of separation now appears as the most romantic of all the romances we’ve seen in the books. Having gone through the ups and downs of romantic pitfalls, false starts, etc., this sure, steady love appeals in a way I couldn’t understand when first reading it.

It’s also probably the most serious of Austen’s books other than “Mansfield Park.” But I think, overall, this one feels much more settled in its overall tone. “Mansfield Park” had odd breaks in the “action,” for lack of a better word, to hear long speeches from various characters on topics that weren’t directly tied to anything outwards of themselves.

For another thing, this book is shorter which I think works better for this type of more serious story. Anne is also a more engaging heroine than Fanny is, which helps carry the story. Not to mention that Captain Wentworth is a more romantic hero than Edmund. Unlike Edmund, his flirtation with Louisa is pretty obviously a shallow, reactionary thing from the very start. We don’t get any silly proclamations of “not imagining any other woman as his wife” either. Instead, much better, we have grand romantic statements of Wentworth’s having loved “none but her.” Much more appealing.

Overall, this was a great book to end this re-read on. I was particularly looking forward to re-visiting it, and it didn’t let me down. Now for reviews of two movie adaptations and, I think, a last “bonus” review of a few other Austen adaptations/spin-offs that didn’t directly fit into the review series as I had it originally planned.

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

Serena’s Review: “Deadly Curious”

Book: “Deadly Curious” by Cindy Anstey

Publishing Info: Swoon Reads, June 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: 1834. Sophia Thompson wants nothing more than to be one of the famed Bow Street Runners, London’s most elite corps of detectives. Never mind that a woman has never before joined their ranks–and certainly never mind that her reclusive family has forbidden her from pursuing such an unladylike goal.

She gets the chance to prove her capabilities when an urgent letter arrives from her frantic cousin Daphne, begging Sophia to come look into the suspicious death of Daphne’s brother.

As Sophia begins to unravel the tangled threads of the case–with the help of a charming young policeman–she soon realizes that the murderer may be even closer to her family than she ever suspected.

Review: I’m fairly predictable in the types of books I’ll select when I have no previous knowledge of a series or author. If it has a pretty cover, is a historical fiction mystery novel, and features an intrepid female detective, there’s a fairly decent chance I’ll pick it up. This method has lead me to some of my favorite series, sure, but it’s also not a very surefire way of finding quality books. Alas, here is proof of the failures of this particular approach to book selection.

With no marriage prospects on the horizon, Sophia Thompson has set her mind on an alternative path, namely becoming a Bow Street Runner and investigator herself. Of course, she’ll need to solve some actual mysteries for this plan to move forward. Luckily (?) a mystery finds her in the murder of her cousin, a case she’s begged to solve by her frantic, beloved cousin Daphne. But she won’t be alone. A down and out current Bow Street Runner, Jeremy, has also been sent to the solve the case with the warning that if he can’t manage it, he need not return. Between these three, will they be able to solve this deadly curious case?

I really struggled with this book. Honestly, it was half a page away from being a DNF for me. Not because it was overtly offensive in any way, but because it was just so…nothing. It had all the pieces of being a YA historical mystery, but they were the most flat, cardboard versions of these tropes that I’ve come across in a long while. I’m really struggling to come up with many pros to really point to before diving into my complaints. I guess the cover is still pretty. But now I just view that as yet another negative as it draws in unsuspecting readers who are looking for a quality story and are likely going to be disappointed by the shallow work on display.

The characters were all supremely disappointing. We immediately learn that Sophia’s supposed interest in being a detective has come about after reading one, that’s right, one!, book on the topic. Based on this, she feels her self perfectly capable of not only solving this murder but joining an entire organization dedicated to this career. The naivete is astounding to the point of being comical. It would be more comical, in fact, if it wasn’t quite so sad that the story expects us to take this, and Sophia herself, seriously. It doesn’t help matter that the mystery itself is incredibly simplistic. When the reader can figure out the murder long before the supposed detective, it’s never a good sign. Even less for for a wanna-be as sad as Sophia. In the end, it felt like the answer came through sheer luck than any deductive abilities on her part, providing the last nail in the coffin of my interest in her story.

Jeremy isn’t any better. Did he even have a character arc or personality to speak of? Not that I remember. Mostly his good looks and fine eyes were elaborated upon by Sophia, solidifying his role as “generic love interest” right from the start. Here, too, the book had very little new to offer and the characters trotted obediently through the standard set pieces expected of a romance such as this.

The writing was also weak in my opinion. There were anachronisms all over the place (something that I can look past if the characters and story are strong). And there were numerous jumps in time, scene, and logic that left me confused. Simple elements like the timeline of the murder itself were often garbled, and I felt like I had missed something. The style of writing was also fairly generic, and I struggled to feel truly invested in anything that was going on. It felt utilitarian and bland.

This book wasn’t for me. It felt like the author simply cobbled together basic plots and characters from other popular works in the genre and spun out a book as quickly as possible. There was such a lack of passion to the story that it’s hard to feel like anyone really cared overly much about this book. There are numerous better examples of this type of story out there, so I suggest reading those instead of spending any time on this.

Rating 5: Mediocre to the extreme.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Deadly Curious” is on these Goodreads lists: Georgian Era in YA & Middle Grade Fiction and Profiles in Silhouette.

Find “Deadly Curious” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “My Calamity Jane”

Book: “My Calamity Jane” by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

Publishing Info: HarperTeen, June 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description:

Welcome ​to 1876 and a rootin’-tootin’ America bursting with gunslingers, outlaws, and garou.

JANE (a genuine hero-eene)

Calamity’s her name, and garou hunting’s her game—when she’s not starring in Wild Bill’s Traveling Show, that is. She reckons that if a girl wants to be a legend, she should just go ahead and be one.

FRANK (*wolf whistle*)
Frank “the Pistol Prince” Butler is the Wild West’s #1 bachelor. He’s also the best sharpshooter on both sides of the Mississippi, but he’s about to meet his match. . . .

ANNIE (get your gun!)
Annie Oakley (yep, that Annie) is lookin’ for a job, not a romance, but she can’t deny there’s something about Frank she likes. Really likes. Still, she’s pretty sure that anything he can do, she can do better.

A HAIRY SITUATION
After a garou hunt goes south and Jane finds a suspicious-like bite on her arm, she turns tail for Deadwood, where there’s been talk of a garou cure. But things ain’t always what they seem—meaning the gang better hightail it after her before they’re a day late and a Jane short.

Previously Reviewed: “My Lady Jane” and “My Plain Jane”

Review: I’ve really been enjoying these strange little tales. The authors take familiar characters or historical figures named “Jane” and then just go to town with wild imaginings of alternatives to their stories. We’ve had shape-shifters, ghosts, supernatural detectives, you name it! So, really, other than knowing that this story is tackling the Wild West and some of the familiar figures we associate with it, I had really no idea what I was getting into. It was a rip-roaring good time, of course, but I did find that I was less enthralled with this story than the two others.

In this version of the story, our famous trio work for a Wild West show that is only half show business. The other side of their profession includes hunting garou, or werewolves. All that sharp-shooting has to be good for something, after all! But on a hunt for the Alpha, things go wrong for our titular character and she ends up with a suspicious bite and on the run herself. Her friends, Annie and Frank, won’t let her go so fast, and soon enough the three find themselves on their own wild adventure!

So, while this book did have some of the classic elements I’ve come to expect from this series and these authors (good characters, romance, wack-a-doodle comedy), I did struggle with it a bit more. To start with the good things, the characters, like always, were all super strong. I liked that we got POV chapters for all three of the main characters, Jane, Annie, and Frank. They each had some interesting arcs and perspectives on the goings-on around them. I think I probably liked Annie the best, though Frank was a close second. Strangely, for all that she is the title character, of the three, Jane seemed to fade the most into the background of the story. I think this was somewhat similar to my feelings about the Jane character in the second book, where she, too, was secondary to the other main character.

The comedy was just ok in this one. For some reason, it all seemed to be trying a bit too hard and came across as more forced and unnatural than it did in the first two books. It might just be a combination of genres. “My Lady Jane” is trying to adapt a tragic bit of history and “My Plain Jane” is re-telling a gothic romance. Each of those stories are working from a more serious foundation and layering comedy and nonsense on top of it. Westerns, however, especially Wild West stories, already have an inherent performative sense to them. So between the over-the-top nature of the original tall tales, the comedy just heaped on more of the same, leaving the entire thing feeling a bit over-worked.

There were also some strange moments of social commentary that seemed to be sporadically dropped in. I have no problem with fantasy books tackling social issues. In fact, I think sometimes the nature of fantasy allows authors to get at thoughts and ideas in a way that really elaborates on the bigger issues without getting too caught up in a modern, political statement. But they sat oddly in this book. A bit too preachy. A bit too on the nose. A bit too out of place.

Part of my struggle may just be that I don’t typically care for westerns. Sure, I know the tall tales and characters that are used in this book, but the genre as a whole doesn’t hold a lot of appeal to me. Overall, it just felt like a bit of a let down when compared to the two books that came before, which I really enjoyed. If you’re a fan of the series so far, and especially if you enjoy westerns, this is probably worth checking out. But for me it was the weakest of the three.

Rating 6: The shine has worn off just a little on this particular formula.

Reader’s Advisory:

“My Calamity Jane” is on these Goodreads lists: 2020 YA Historical Fiction and Jane Titles.

Find “My Calamity Jane” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Navigator”

Book: “The Navigator” by Erin Michelle Sky and Steven Brown

Publishing Info:  Trash Dogs Media, LLC, October 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: Wendy’s troubles are far from over. Hook wants her in irons, the crew wants to throw her overboard, and Pan’s magical compass is the only thing standing in their way. But Pan himself is nowhere to be found.

When a new everlost captain appears on the horizon, it will take everything Wendy has to survive.

Previously Reviewed: “The Wendy”

Review: This is definitely an “under the radar” little fantasy series. I pretty much only strayed upon it after scrolling way, way into the backfiles on NetGalley. But man, I’m glad I did! I, obviously, love re-tellings, and “Peter Pan” is definitely one of the more rare ones, mostly because of how hard it is to get right, I think. But the first book definitely proved that the authors had a new take on the story, so I was really excited to pick up this sequel and see where things went from there!

Wendy has finally made it: she’s the navigator of a ship. Of course, no one but herself is very pleased about this fact and without the magical compass that only she can read, she’s fairly certain they would all toss her overboard at their first chance. But still. Challenges are still ahead, however. Not only must she continue to try to prove herself to this new crew, but loss and uncertainty await on the horizon as a war brews around her.

So, overall, most everything that I enjoyed from the first book continued on here. I love the twists and turns that the authors are bringing to a well-known story. There were several that took me quite by surprise. I was also pleased to see variations on other familiar characters make an appearance, like Tigerlija. It’s always fun to see new takes on characters like this, especially ones that had fairly minor roles in the original story (not to mention…um…questionable ones at that).

I also still really enjoy Wendy herself. Her story tackles a lot of emotional legwork with her struggles to gain the respect of her male crew. But she also doesn’t fall into all of the trope-y “strong woman” moments that can be seen everywhere. Instead, we see her have to become more vulnerable when confronted with unexpected losses that strike her where it hurts. She’s dealing with a war, after all, so I’m glad the authors didn’t shy away from the dangers and realities that that would present.

Hook and Pan, of course, are also still great characters. Hook’s POV chapters were especially interesting. It’s definitely a challenge to write chapters from the perspective of the villain of the story, but if done right, it can add many additional layers to the story and the interactions between characters. It’s hard not to like Hook, frankly.

Overall, I really liked this book. If you’ve read the first one, this is pretty much more of the same. Which, in this case, is not a criticism but a bonus! And if you haven’t read this series yet, but like “Peter Pan,” then I definitely recommend checking out these books. They deserve more attention than they’re getting!

Rating 8: Still a rollicking good time to be had here!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Navigator” isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on this strange, little list Clean Peter Pan Retellings.

Find “The Navigator” at your library using WorldCat!

My Year with Jane Austen: “Persuasion” Part I

Book: “Persuasion” by Jane Austen

Publication Year: 1818

Book Description: Twenty-seven-year old Anne Elliot is Austen’s most adult heroine. Eight years before the story proper begins, she is happily betrothed to a naval officer, Frederick Wentworth, but she precipitously breaks off the engagement when persuaded by her friend Lady Russell that such a match is unworthy. The breakup produces in Anne a deep and long-lasting regret. When later Wentworth returns from sea a rich and successful captain, he finds Anne’s family on the brink of financial ruin and his own sister a tenant in Kellynch Hall, the Elliot estate. All the tension of the novel revolves around one question: Will Anne and Wentworth be reunited in their love?

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

“Persuasion” was the last novel Jane Austen completed before her death only a few short months later. At the time of its completion, it didn’t appear as if Austen had any immediate plans for publication. The book had already went through one re-write where she added two additional chapters to the end of the story. She could have been considering further edits to the entire work before moving forward with publication.

After her death, the copyright for her published works was transferred to her sister and her brother. Her brother worked to have both “Persuasion” and “Northanger Abbey” published after her death. Notably, the set of books also included a biography of the author written by Austen’s brother which first identified Jane Austen by name. Looking at many of the initial reviews of both “Northanger Abbey” and “Persuasion,” it is clear that reviewers were just as focused on the revelation of the author of these books as in the books themselves. Both books garnered praise and some critiques, but many reviews spent much of their time writing glowing praise of Austen herself as an author would remain popular in the future. They were right. (source)

“You may perhaps like the Heroine, as she is almost too good for me.”

Part I – Chapters 1 – 14

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

Anne Elliot is the middle daughter of Sir Walter Elliot. Having lost his practical and more sensible wife when Anne was a teenager, Sir Walter has gone on to slowly but surely run his family into unsustainable debt. He and his eldest daughter, vain and thinking much of themselves, are finally convinced to let their house to and Admiral Croft and re-locate to Bath. This news is significant to the 27-year-0ld Anne due to a past connection to the Admiral’s wife’s brother, Captain Wentworth.

When Anne was 19, she formed a mutually strong and loving relationship with Captain Wentworth. But at this point, Captain Wentworth’s prospects were questionable and he wouldn’t be able to marry immediately or, possibly, even in the near future. Given her youth, her family’s position, and Wentworth’s questionable prospects, Anne’s family and the family friend (Lady Russell) who had often served as a mother-figure to Anne, strongly opposed the union. Eventually, Anne was persuaded to believe that it was her duty to give up the engagement. Wentworth left, hurt and angry. Over the years, Anne followed his career through the papers and saw him garner all the success any of her family could have wanted, and more quickly than any of them could have imagined. She never heard from him, however. Now, at age 27, Anne’s prospects are low, and while she doesn’t blame her younger self for her decisions, she knows that now, if asked, she would give very different advice to a young person.

Sir Walter and Elizabeth move to Bath (taking with them a companion for Elizabeth, a widow named Mrs. Clay whom both Lady Russell and Anne suspect of having designs on Sir Walter). But Anne, who dislikes Bath, is called to stay with her younger sister, Mary, who lives nearby. Mary is a silly woman who often believes herself to be ill in an attempt to gain attention. However, she’s happy to have Anne’s company. Mary’s husband’s parents and their two daughters, Louisa and Henrietta Musgrove, live a short walk away and often come to visit Anne and Mary. Soon enough, the news travels that the Crofts have moved in and Mrs. Croft’s brother, Captain Wentworth is expected shortly. Anne is able to avoid a first meeting by staying home to care for Mary’s injured son, but she soon hears more than enough: everyone is enchanted by Captain Wentworth, particularly Louisa and Henrietta.

Eventually the two are forced to meet again. It is clear to Anne that Captain Wentworth has not forgiven her and is cold and distant. His attention is all for the two Musgrove girls, and everyone spends much time debating which of the two he prefers. Anne finds all of these meetings and discussions very painful, as she sees the same man she fell in love with all those years ago. The debate between the two girls comes to a head with the return of a cousin who had previously made much headway with securing Henrietta’s affection.

One day, a large party forms to make their way to the house of this cousin. It consists of Anne, Mary and her husband, the two Musgrove girls, and Captain Wentworth. The walk is long and tiring, so when they get to the cousin’s house, Anne is happy to stay behind with part of the group as Henrietta and her brother go on to visit. While sitting quietly, she is able to hear Captain Wentworth and Louisa talking nearby. Louisa is sharing a history of her family, that originally Mary’s husband had wanted to marry Anne, but Anne had refused him, presumably due to Lady Russell’s persuasion. Captain Wentworth is surprised, but he expresses high praise of Louisa’s insistence that her character is much more firm and she should never be persuaded out of doing what she liked. Anne is greatly hurt by this discussion, seeing it the way Captain Wentworth must: that Anne is of weak character and that Louisa is a highly desirable woman who has the very trait he has just expressed such praise of.

On the way back, Anne becomes increasingly tired. When they run across the Crofts who are out on a buggy ride, Captain Wentworth makes an effort to ensure that Anne has a ride home. Anne sees that while he can never forgive her, he also can’t forget their history and let her suffer. She is gratified, but even more sad at her loss of such a good man.

The group then decides to make a mini trip to Lyme, a coastal town where Captain Wentworth has a few friends from the Navy. Once there, they are all delighted with the town, even if it is the fall and the off-season. They meet up with Captain Wentworth’s friends, which includes a man named James Benwick who is staying with a Captain Harville as he mourns the loss of his fiance, Captain Harville’s sister. Anne goes out of her way to talk to Benwick. They both enjoy reading, though Anne suspects that Benwick’s love of morose poetry is not helping him boulster his spirits. While out on a walk by the ocean, they pass by another gentleman who is quite obviously struck by Anne’s beauty. Captain Wentworth takes notices, and Anne wonders if perhaps she’ll have a second bloom of beauty later in life.

The next morning, on her way to breakfast, Anne runs into the same gentleman at the inn. Later, the party sees him driving off and asks about him. It turns out to be William Elliott, the nephew of Sir Walter who will be the heir of the estate. He had a falling out with Sir Walter years before after marrying a lower-class lady for her money and cutting off contact with the Elliots, including Elizabeth whom Sir Walter had hoped would marry Mr. Elliot.

Before they leave, they group takes one last walk down to the beach. They must descend a steep set of stairs to reach the beach, and Louisa insists on being jumped down by Captain Wentworth. After one go, she runs back up even higher and insists on jumping again. Captain Wentworth protests that it is too high but she won’t listen and jumps. She falls and hits her head hard on the ground, knocking her out. The entire party goes into hysterics, except for Anne who quickly instructs someone to fetch a doctor and that they should carry Louisa to the the nearby house of the Harvilles. Once there, she continues her steady nursing abilities.

She overhears Captain Wentworth and Mr. Musgrove making plans. Captain Wentworth suggests that Anne stay behind as she is clearly the most capable nurse that Louisa could hope for. When hearing this plan, however, Mary falls into fits insisting that she means more to Louisa than Anne so she should be the one to stay. Anne relents in the face of this fit and Captain Wentworth looks on in dismay. He, Anne, and Henrietta return home to inform Louisa’s parents of what has happened since it is likely that Louisa will need to remain in Lyme for some time to recover. Anne does what she can to help, but eventually must make her way to Bath to meet up again with her father and older sister.

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

As Jane Austen herself stated in the quote I shared above, Anne Elliot is almost too good of a character. She’s practically perfect in every way. Sure, she’s persuaded into giving up her love at age 19, but as this first half goes out of its way to establish, this is due to an excess of familial loyalty and a sense of obligation to put others before herself. But unlike Fanny, one of Austen’s other seemingly “perfect” heroines, Anne is not sunk under this sense of obligation and duty. She’s still confident enough to put herself forward when she sees that she can help, watching over her injured nephew when Mary wants to go to the family dinner at the Musgroves, and, more importantly, taking charge of the Louisa situation when all turns to havoc. But soon after, we see her again step back in the face of Mary’s hissy fit about staying on at Lyme instead of Anne. It’s more like true humility than some of Fanny’s more weak-willed withering under the criticism of Mrs. Norris and such.

Anne is also a keen observer. She accurately sees those around her, for their strengths and their weaknesses. She can properly judge the good spirits of the Musgrove sisters while also understanding the limits of their true characters as being somewhat shallow. She notes the dangers of Mrs. Clay when her sister, Elizabeth, is blinded. And she sees Wentworth’s struggles with regards to herself, his lingering anger but inability to completely shun her. All of this good judgement is also recognized by those around her, and she finds herself in the uncomfortable position of being everyone’s confidant but with very little ability to do much about any of the complaints she hears.

The Anne we see here, of course, is the older, more adult version of the character who made the important decisions in the past that lead to the current circumstances. She’s also the oldest heroine we’ve seen in any of the books, so her strong sense of self is pretty in line with that. But what we see here also makes it easy to understand the character of the 19-year-old version of Anne, a young woman who would have the same sense of duty and humility but with a less strong sense of her own self and trust in her own judgement. It’s mentioned, further, that the teenage Anne believed that she was ultimately helping Wentworth by freeing him from an engagement that might have bound him for an unknown length of time.

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

Captain Wentworth is an interesting hero. His anger and hurt over Anne’s actions are all very understandable. And his similar wish to avoid much contact with her rings true to, I would guess, many of our own experiences with exes. Austen provides us with a few brief insights into his mentality that highlight how her actions were particularly painful for him, being the exact opposite of the strong, confident way he himself approached decisions. I would say that he doesn’t make appropriate allowances for gender, in that as a man, he was always much more capable of carrying forward his own plans without much reference to others. Anne, on the other hand, being a young woman of 19, had very few real options She is/was beholden to her family in a way that he would never be, and had the engagement went forward, she would be the one remaining home with constant disapproval surrounding her.

We do see much evidence of why Anne was initially attracted to him. While we don’t get a lot of dialogue, we hear a lot about how charmed everyone is by him. He’s also considerate of Anne when it matters, making sure she has a ride home when she’s tired, etc. We can also make some judgements based on what we know of his friends and family. The Crofts are generally described as a very good set of people. And Captain Wentworth’s two Navy friends are also of estimable character. We hear stories from each that reinforce the good of Captain Wentworth, notably that Wentworth takes it upon himself to deliver the awful news of Benwick’s fiancé’s death to him and stays by his side as he mourns.

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

There really aren’t any outright villains in this first half. Much can be said against Sir Walter, both for his general personality and for his poor financial decisions that lead to the family being evicted from their family home. On top of that, he and Lady Russell are both behind Anne’s current unhappy situation. But while these aren’t factors in either of their favors, it doesn’t really make them villains either. It’s clear that Anne still has a very close relationship with Lady Russell and doesn’t even really blame her for the advice she gave Anne when she was 19.

Elizabeth and Mary are definitely not great sisters, but neither is really a villain either. Elizabeth is cut from the same cloth as her father and is vain and dismissive of Anne. Mary values Anne more, but in more in the sense of Anne’s being a captive audience to her endless complaints of illness than anything else.

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

There’s very little romance in this first half, other than much reflection on the past whirlwind romance between Anne and Wentworth when they were young. Austen’s strength as a writer is on clear display as she’s able to paint a lovely image of this happy couple of the past, even though we never see it for ourselves. She then contrasts that with the sad state of their relationship now. Anne refers to it as a “perpetual estrangement,” which is all the more painful for there once never being “two hearts so open.” It’s beautifully tragic.

We do see the beginnings of change coming though. Captain Wentworth’s reaction to the news that Anne turned down another proposal in the years since he left can raise a few flags as to his thoughts. We also see the steps that he takes to care for Anne when others forget her and the high value he puts on her judgement during the situation with Louisa. And, of course, the marked look he gives Anne when he notices Mr. Elliot staring at her. We later learn that this small moment is one of the real eye-openers Captain Wentworth needed to view how risky his current behavior was to his future happiness.

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

Mary is probably the funniest character we have here, but often its funny in the infuriating sense. I think many of us know a Mary-like character, which is always the way with Austen’s best comedic characters: they reflect nonsense traits that we see often ourselves in those around us. Mary’s constant complaints about illness to gather attention. Her easy offense at Anne’s getting any sort of attention, even if it’s of the sort that would just result in more work, like nursing Louisa.

Really, it’s hard to come up with much other comedy in this first half. “Persuasion” is a fairly serious, solemn book with more reflection than anything else. Most of the characters are of a serious nature and many of the weaknesses of the lesser characters are of the sort that aren’t necessarily funny and more just kind of sad. The Musgrove girls are described as charming, but it seems that they more have high spirits than any truly great sense of humor.

Probably one of the funniest moments in the entire first half comes from a very brief description of Anne’s ride back home in the buggy with the Crofts. She notes how casually Mrs. Croft reaches over and re-directs the buggy to safety as the Admiral drives so casually they almost hit ditches and fences. Anne reflects that this likely illustrates the nature of their relationship as a hole. As we’re lead to believe that the Crofts are both very good people and truly attached, it’s a funny little insight into the different ways couples manage their lives and relationship together.

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

This quote is from Mary in reference to her husband going to the dinner party and leaving her and Anne behind with injured boy. But, given that she then promptly leave Anne to shift alone, I think we can only take it with a grain of salt. Though it’s still pretty funny and tempting to pull out now and then:

“If there is any thing disagreeable going on, men are always sure to get out of it.”

This is just a nice quote, I think:

“She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older: the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning.”

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

Serena’s Review: “The Awakening”

Book: “The Awakening” by Nora Roberts

Publishing Info: November 24, 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: When Breen Kelly was a girl, her father would tell her stories of magical places. Now she’s an anxious twentysomething mired in student debt and working a job she hates. But one day she stumbles upon a shocking discovery: her mother has been hiding an investment account in her name. It has been funded by her long-lost father—and it’s worth nearly four million dollars.

This newfound fortune would be life-changing for anyone. But little does Breen know that when she uses some of the money to journey to Ireland, it will unlock mysteries she couldn’t have imagined. Here, she will begin to understand why she kept seeing that silver-haired, elusive man, why she imagined his voice in her head saying Come home, Breen Siobhan. It’s time you came home. Why she dreamed of dragons. And where her true destiny lies—through a portal in Galway that takes her to a land of faeries and mermaids, to a man named Keegan, and to the courage in her own heart that will guide her through a powerful, dangerous destiny…

Review: I read a few of Nora Roberts’s more traditional romances back in the day (way, way back in the day, now that I think about it). But I know that she’s written a lot of books in other genres, too, most notably, perhaps, mysteries. I’ve also seen that she’s released more fantasy novels recently, and having missed the “Year One” trilogy when it was coming out, I thought I’d jump on the first book in a new fantasy series she started up this fall. And so, I nabbed an e-ARC of ‘The Awakening.” Sadly, it wasn’t all that I was hoping it would be.

Breen has lived a simple life full of doing what is expected of her and not expecting much in return. But when she discovers that her mother has been keeping a massive secret from her, a massive 4 million dollars worth secret, Breen decides that enough is enough and it’s time to take control of her life. And the first thing she decides to do is to travel to Ireland, the homeland of the father who left home never to return when she was a child. But she discovers much more than a new country, instead finding herself in a completely new land and one that comes with a destiny for her even greater than she had ever imagined.

To start with the pros for this book, there’s simply no denying that Roberts has a very appealing and approachable style of writing. She’s able to deftly paint a picture of all kinds of locations and peoples and immediately create connections between the reader and her story. These strengths were particularly on display in the opening chapter of this book that is set in the fantasy world. I was quickly drawn in and curious to know more about Keegan and the history of his people and land.

Unfortunately, the strengths of this opening chapter made the switch to Breen’s story land with quite a thud. For one thing, Breen simply isn’t the most exciting character. Yes, that is part of her story, her learning to come more into her own. But it’s still a long slog through the thoughts and actions of a character who is bland to the extreme. It got to the point where I was even beginning to be frustrated by the friends around her who were all described as being great people. It’s almost a constant stream of support and encouragement from everyone around her to the point that A.) the friends are almost unbelievable in their goodness and B.) Breen’s complete inability to expect better for herself and have confidence without all of this validation becomes strange.

I also felt that some of these friendships fell into pretty stereotypical patterns. Her friend, Marco, read as the “gay best friend” straight out of the early 2000s. He’s right there telling her to update her wardrobe and reclaim her natural hair color, etc etc. It felt a little shallow and dated, to be honest. And then she starts a blog, which of course immediately takes off and she has a bunch of followers and has found a natural ability in writing. Which…don’t even get me started on that. Obviously, being a writer and blogger myself, this raised some serious eyebrows on my part. I mean, I have an easier time believing in a magical land of dragons and fairies than that someone started a random travel blog and somehow immediately has thousands of followers reading and commenting.

The story got better when she finally makes her way to the new land, but it was a bit too late for me. It took a long, long time for her to even get there, and by the time she does, I was already struggling too much with Breen herself to really redeem the book for me. I did like the romance and fantasy elements when we go there, though. This is the first book in a trilogy, but I’m still unsure whether I’ll keep on with it. Fans of Nora Roberts will probably like this, but it could have been better, in my opinion.

Rating 6: A decent fantasy story, but the main character dragged it down.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Awakening” is a newer title, so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it is on Books with parallel world.

Find “The Awakening” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Eidolon”

Book: “Eidolon” by Grace Draven

Publishing Info: Smashwords Edition, April 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: from the library!

Book Description: In a bid for more power, the Shadow Queen of Haradis has unleashed a malignant force into the world. Her son Brishen, younger prince of the Kai royal house, suddenly finds himself ruler of a kingdom blighted by a diseased darkness and on the brink of war. His human wife Ildiko must decide if she will give up the man she loves in order to secure his throne.

Three enemy kingdoms must unite to save each other, and a one-eyed, reluctant king must raise an army of the dead to defeat an army of the damned.

A tale of alliance and sacrifice.

Previously Reviewed: “Radiance”

Review: It’s been a bit since I read “Radiance,” the first book in this fantasy romance series. But it has stuck with me ever since as an excellent example of creating a romantic storyline that is free of angst and drama but still incredibly compelling. Turns out, people being nice to each other and falling in love in a natural way can be entertaining! No need for love triangles, failures to communicate for no good reason, or constant misunderstandings! So, with that happy memory in mind, I was excited to see what this sequel had to offer, especially since it was going where most romance stories fear to go: after love has been discovered and the relationship is established.

At the end of “Radiance,” we saw Brishen’s mother, the Shadow Queen, unleash a force of demons (much to her instant dismay as she was immediately killed). So when this story begins, Brishen and Ildiko are blissfully unaware of the monstrous force that is about to threaten their entire world, but that soon ends when they hear about the mass casualties and destruction that is coming their way. But with the Kai’s magical abilities greatly reduced since their ancestors faced such a force, Brishen and Ildiko’s choices are limited. Not only must they face a dangerous magical decision, but with the crown of the Kai people suddenly coming to Brishen, their marriage itself will face its greatest test.

Writing a sequel is always a challenge. Writing a sequel to a romance novel in which your main characters are already married and in love is practically unheard of. Of course, this series also has the fantasy angle going for it, but the love story is really at its heart. So right off the bat, I have to applaud the author for taking such a risk and secondly, for succeeding so well!

The nature of the demon disaster that is sweeping the country side works in two ways. On one hand, the description of this force is truly terrifying, and we immediately see the power that the Kai (and the entire world) faces. As fantasy monsters go, they’re creepy in all the right ways. But they also work in that they immediately take out a large chunk of the royal family, forcing Brishen into the role of leader of the country. Naturally, this brings a lot of added pressure and stress to his and Ildiko’s lives, not least of which is the unconventional nature of the relationship was never meant to be one that must sustain a monarchy.

I really enjoyed the way both of these threats highlighted the different strengths and weaknesses that Brishen and Ildiko bring to their relationship and their roles now as future monarchs. And while we see the beginnings of cracks, what I appreciated the most was the very adult way that each continues to deal with the other, even in the midst of misunderstanding and fear. Yes there is drama. But no there is no unnecessary angst or silliness. We have two different people dealing with an impossible situation in different ways. I can’t rave enough about how lovely it is to read a love story about two people who actually behave like well-adjusted adults and treat those around them with respect. It’s such a refreshing take on romance when many insist on miring themselves in silliness almost constantly.

Beyond the romance, I also really enjoyed the action of this story. The dial has been turned up to 10, and it’s clear from the beginning that no one will escape this situation unscathed. Indeed, choices are made that will affect the entire nature of Kai society going forward perhaps forever. I see that there is a third book in this series, but it looks like it will pivot to new characters. On one hand, due to the events of this book, I’m super curious to see what the fallout will be in that one. But on the other hand…I just love Brishen and Ildiko so much that I’m not sure I’m ready to switch to a new pair!

Rating 8: An excellent sequel. Fans of the first book will definitely be pleased with this one!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Eidolon” is on these Goodreads lists: NEW ADULT fantasy & paranormal romance and YA and NA Royalty.

Find “Eidolon” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “A Memory Called Empire”

Book: “A Memory Called Empire” by Arkady Martine

Publishing Info: Tor, March 2019

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

Book Description: Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court.

Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion—all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret—one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life—or rescue it from annihilation.

Review: I feel like I’ve been on the audiobook holds list for this title for…forever. The wait made worse by the fact that I was continuously being barraged by stellar reviews, recommendations, and notifications of the awards it was sweeping in. But, finally, my time has come! Time to, belatedly, say pretty much the same thing every one else has been saying for over a year now!

Teixcalaan is both the wonder of many galaxies as well as a persist threat: an empire that is the heart of culture, but that is also an ever-hungry beast looking for the next part of space to absorb. As such, Ambassador Mahit has always balanced a strange love for the very empire she is sent to protect her independent Station from. But what is already a delicate balancing act is made all the more challenging when she’s called to duty by the mysterious death of her former Ambassador. Upon arrival, Mahit quickly discovers that her predecessor has been into things much deeper than she could possibly have imagined. And now, not knowing who to trust in this polished world, Mahit must begin untangling a knot of intrigue and politics that will determine not only the future of her own Station but perhaps the future of Teixcalaan itself.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a sci-fi novel, but man, did I choose the right one to jump back in with! Like I said earlier, it’s a bit hard to review a book like this, one that’s been out for over a year and has been very popular in its genre. And unlike the hype for many YA fantasy novels that I often feel is undeserved and more pushed on readers by hopeful publishers than anything else, sci-fi still has a comparatively smaller readership, so if a book is popular in the genre, it’s usually for good reason. And that’s definitely true here!

The world-building alone make this book an excellent read. Teixcalaan and the idea of empire as a whole is immediately appealing. It’s easy to see the comparison to the Roman empire or the British empire or any culture that swept across our own world seemingly unstoppable in the way it centered the entire planet around itself. I loved the deep dive this story took into the complicated nature of empire, how it is at once a destructive, violent force, but also one that holds a strange appeal to even those potential new conquests quivering in its path. How it can be like a shining sun of culture and sophistication while also overshadowing and consuming others that may have their own lights to add. It’s really fascinating while also not coming across as preachy. The book allows the reader to view Teixcalaan through their own eyes and form their own opinions.

Mahit is also an excellent character to take this journey with. As a scholar of Teixcalaan from an early age, she’s always struggled with her fascination and love for this empire that views her and her people as barbarians. And while there, she’s clever with her use of this knowledge, both in how others view her and how her actions are interpreted. But, at the same time, she still feels herself drawn to the language and poetry of this culture and longs to belong as one of them. This tension is at the heart of all of her decisions, and it’s supremely relatable.

And even with all of this reflection and grander commentary, the story itself feels action-packed and fast-moving. The mystery surrounding Mahit’s predecessor is compelling and trying to untangle the political maneuverings of everyone Mahit comes in contact with was definitely a challenge. I also really liked that this book wraps up its main storyline while also leaving a sufficient number of clues and shadowy threats to spur interest in the next book that comes out this spring. I’ll definitely be checking it out!

Rating 10: Succeeds in every way and introduces a fantastic new sci-fi world.

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Memory Called Empire” is on these Goodreads lists: Hugo Awards 2020 Finalists and Excellent Space Opera.

Find “A Memory Called Empire” at your library using WorldCat!

My Year with Jane Austen: “Northanger Abbey” [2007]

Movie: “Northanger Abbey”

Release Year: 2007

Actors: Catherine Morland – Felicity Jones

Mr. Tilney – JJ Field

Isabella Thorpe – Carey Mulligan

John Thorpe – William Beck

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

I really like this adaptation of “Northanger Abbey.” To be fair, I haven’t seen any others, so there isn’t much of a comparison to be had. But in comparison to the book itself, I feel like it hits all the right points. The characters are all perfectly cast. The tone is just right, landing somewhere happily between romance and comedy. And it manages to use a clever device of dream sequences to capture Austen’s satiric intent with Catherine’s preoccupation with gothic novels and the fanciful thoughts they can bring about.

The dream sequences are probably the most notable point out of those three. They’re handily sprinkled throughout the movie, so from the very beginning, we have a clear idea of Catherine’s own head space. The movie also cleverly uses the same actors in many of the fanciful imagings, highlighting how Catherine herself is casting those around her. Henry, of course gets to be the hero, while John Thorpe and Captain Tilney are villains. Isabella, before Catherine wakes up to her true character, is a helpless victim of Captain Tilney’s.

There are a few bigger changes towards the end of the movie with the order of operations between Henry discovering Catherine’s suspicions about his family and her being turned out of the house. It does lose some of the gallantry of Henry, but probably makes for a more dramatic move overall. The audience, like Catherine, is left in suspense of his thoughts and feelings. And, what’s more, we’re given a red herring explanation for why she is suddenly thrown out by General Tilney.

The movie also makes good use of the narrator. The voice, meant to be Jane Austen I believe, only really picks up at the beginning and the ending of the movie. But it does a nice job of bookending the story and, again, giving it that meta sense that the book itself had with regards to stories: stories talking about stories, heroines inspiring heroines, and so on.

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

Felicity Jones is pitch perfect for Catherine. She’s an excellent balance of youthful naivete and earnest goodwill. Catherine could easily come across as silly, what with her dramatic and rather silly mental dramas. But Jones manages to reign that in, leaving Catherine seeming simply young, but at her heart, good-natured. Her wide-eyed depiction of the character also makes it easy to understand why Catherine is so easily forgiven and taken in by the more level-headed characters around her.

She also does a good job portraying the balancing act that Catherine undertakes initially, between the silly vivacity that her first friends, the Thorpes, are encouraging, and her own wishes to be esteemed by the more polished Tilney siblings. At the same time, Jones’ Catherine is never overshadowed by the larger-than-life characters around her, and she has excellent chemistry with JJ Field.

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

For his part, JJ Field also fits the role of Henry Tilney perfectly. He’s affable, charming, and wholesome. As I mentioned in my review of the book, Tilney stands out as the most approachable and easy of all of Austen’s main heroes. He doesn’t have any angst to speak of and his road to romance is the most straight forward. Field has great delivery with many of the Tilney’s comedic lines, teasing Catherine and being teased back himself. There’s a joyousness to his portrayal that is very appealing.

Of course, he also has a bit harder of a sell towards the end, in that unlike the book, he’s not given the chance to fulfill Tilney’s most romantic overture: the immediate forgiveness of Catherine for her silliness and all the effort put out afterwards to make her feel secure again. Instead, he has to do all the lifting in the final scene that includes the explanation of his father’s behavior, his feelings towards Catherine despite her imaginings, and the proposal itself. It’s all handled neatly, and I think is a testament to all the goodwill that has already been built up for the character. Even if we don’t see him immediately forgive Catherine, it’s easy to believe that that was the case. He even admits that his own teasing of Catherine early on, mentioning a certain sort of vampirism at Northanger Abbey, makes him at least partly responsible for her wild theories.

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

The villainous characters are all also well-cast. We can see the appeal of Isabella to Catherine, but the viewer is never quite as taken in as she is. Isabella’s obvious disappointment in the lack of wealthy coming her way through her engagement to James is pretty telling. And from there, it’s just a skip and a hop to talking to Catherine about how Captain Tilney is the heir of the family. Of course, the movie goes a much more dire route with this entire affair, having Captain Tilney actually seduce Isabella into his bed, a much bigger transgression than the book presents.

The book does hint that he must have given Isabella some strong signals for her to give up her engagement in pursuit of him, but I don’t think it really meant that things had went as far as the movie portrays. For one thing, it makes Captain Tilney into quite the villain himself. In the book, he’s fairly disagreeable and obviously pursues Isabella inappropriately. We know he means to marry well. But that’s about it. Here, he’s cast with characters such as Wickham and Willoughby, the blackest scoundrels of Austen’s villains, in following their footsteps in ruining young women.

General Tilney is also presented in a fairly foreboding light from the start. The book does a lot of work talking about how thickly he lays on the charm for Catherine, but how oppressive his presence still is overall. That comes through very clear here, it perhaps not too clear. He’s fairly off-putting from the very beginning, and the few lines he gets hint fairly heavily to his confusion about Catherine’s coming wealth from the Allens. The movie is even more strict with his comeuppance, however, as it does away with the bargaining aspect of Eleanor Tilney’s engagement. Instead, it implies that both Eleanor and Henry marry against their father’s wishes leaving him lonely and angry at the gloomy Northanger Abbey.

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

The romance is also very sweet in this movie. Like I said early, the chemistry between Jones and Fields is great, making all the flirty dialogue ring true and their mutual teasing is very cute. I like the effort that is put into building this relationship, not only at Bath but at Northanger Abbey itself. There, we see Henry and Catherine going on walks, with Catherine quizzing him on his feelings about marrying not to great wealth. There are also nice smaller moments of them and Eleanor roasting food by the fire. The movie also replaces the entire family’s visit to Henry’s estate with a horseback ride taken by just Henry and Catherine.

I also really like the final scene with the proposal. Most of Austen’s other stories all are still attempting to resolve misunderstandings or greater dramas by the time the proposal comes along. So it’s often a bit more of a serious situation. Here, that’s not so much the case. Yes, there are misunderstandings that are cleared up. But here the entire thing is played with a much lighter feeling and the semi-awkward fumblings of two youngish people declaring their feelings for each other. The movie then goes straight into them having a baby to round out the story, which, from a modern perspective, feels very strange given said young-ness, but you know, such were the times.

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

I really liked the comedy in this movie, too. Obviously, as I’ve mentioned, Tilney is the most comedic hero we see in Austen’s books, so it’s important that they hit that right with the casting and with the script. But they also did good work with the Allens, giving them almost more of a presence than they had in the book. We see less of Mrs. Allen’s insipidity, but she retains her preoccupation with clothes, even mentioning Tilney’s good eye for muslin and a recommendation for him still even after the bewildering events that lead to Catherine’s being sent home alone.

John Thorpe is also pretty funny in just how intolerable he is. He perfectly captures the brash, loud, uncouth character that Austen describes. And his attempts at hinting around to Catherine about a second wedding after the engagement between Isabella and James is pretty funny. It’s clear to the audience what is happing, but Catherine is so obviously clueless, and even John doesn’t seem to really want to clue her in on what he’s getting at.

I think one of the funniest little bits comes towards the very end of the movie. Henry Tilney is visiting the Morlands and suggests Catherine show him the way to the Allens’ so he can pay his respects. And then one of the younger sisters points out that you can see their house from the window before being quickly cut-off by her mother, who knows what’s what. The actress who plays Mrs. Morland doesn’t have tons of screen time, but she nails this little moment, and it’s pretty funny.

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

There weren’t too many fun facts that I could find, other than costume-related things. But the one costume thing did stand out: that Mr. Tilney wears the same green coat and tan pants as Mr. Darcy does in the 1995 film.

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

Just some good, ole reaction comedy here:

I also like this one:

In two weeks, I’ll review the first half of “Persuasion.”