Serena’s Review: “Scarlet”

11983940Book: “Scarlet” by A. C. Caughen

Publishing Info: Walker Childrens, February 2012

Where Did I Get this Book: bought it from the library’s weeding cart!

Book Description: Will Scarlet is good at two things: stealing from the rich and keeping secrets – skills that are in high demand in Robin Hood’s band of thieves, who protect the people of Nottingham from the evil sheriff. Scarlet’s biggest secret of all is one only Robin and his men know…that she is posing as a thief; that the slip of a boy who is fast with sharp knives is really a girl.

The terrible events in her past that led Scarlet to hide her real identity are in danger of being exposed when the thief taker Lord Gisbourne arrives in town to rid Nottingham of the Hood and his men once and for all. As Gisbourne closes in a put innocent lives at risk, Scarlet must decide how much the people of Nottingham mean to her, especially John Little, a flirtatious fellow outlaw, and Robin, whose quick smiles have the rare power to unsettle her. There is real honor among these thieves and so much more – making this a fight worth dying for.

Review: I found this one on the weeded cart at my local library and snatched it up right quick! I love Robin Hood re-tellings, and this one has gotten quite a bit of positive attention in the last few years. (I only discovered after finishing it that it is the first in a trilogy. *Sigh* Sometimes, just sometimes, it would be nice to find a nice, simple stand-alone novel in YA fiction!) The book description gives a good summary for the book and didn’t lead me astray, both with the positive aspects of the book (a female Will Scarlet!) and the negative aspects (a love triangle!).

In the positive arena, Scarlet is a strong protagonist for the story. The book is written from her perspective and the author made an interesting choice to word Scarlet’s narrative using the unique dialect in which Scarlet talks. I can’t speak to how historically accurate it may be, but it did align with what we traditionally think of as a “British commoner” dialect, substituting “were” for “was” and other, similar changes. At first I was put off by this, even quickly skimming further in the book to see if ever changed, but after discovering that it did not and reading on for a few more chapters, I found that I actually appreciated the added layer this writing style gave the story. Readers’ mileage may vary on this point, as it still was a bit jarring to get used to.

Further, towards the back half of the book, I did have a few questions about the authenticity of this choice given Scarlet’s own history. Some of this history was fairly easy to guess and I’m sure many readers will be looking for this outcome from the start, but there were a few added elements to the tale that added some unexpected twists to what was, largely, an expected reveal.

From the get go, I appreciated Scarlet’s spunk and often brass approach to life as an outlaw. She doesn’t let herself be pushed around by the men in her life, and from the very beginning, we are shown that she has the skills to backup her talk. Further, Scarlet discusses the challenges she went through to gain those skills as well, referencing her scarred hands that came from learning to wield her knives. Too often in YA lit readers are simply told that the heroine is a badass, but given very little evidence to back up this claim. Further, any attributes that they do have seem to just appear from nowhere ala “maybe she was born with it!” Not so with Scarlet.

Alas, there were also negatives to this story, both a few that were expected and a few unexpected. Firstly, yes, there is a love triangle between Scalet, John Little, and Rob and it is just as unfortunate as it sounds. As with many love triangles, the “true pairing” is projected from the beginning of the story, there is some event that pushes the heroine to fall into the arms of the second best option during a moment of weakness, “true pairing” dude finds out, much angst ensues, but in the end, in a complete and utter shocker to all, heroine ends up with “true pairing” guy anyways. There was absolutely nothing new in this set up.

The more unexpected negatives had to do with Rob himself. For the first half or so of the book, I really liked Rob, the author’s take on his history, and the relationship he had with his men and Scarlet. Then the love-triangle-angst-moment happened, he discovered Scarlet’s hidden past, and he went crazy saying horrible things and calling her a “whore” at one point. The whole scene and his reaction is so completely blown out of proportion that I had a hard time every getting back on board with him as a character. Love triangle confusion aside, Scarlet’s decision to keep her past a secret was completely her own to make and one that has been keeping her alive for years. She didn’t owe those around her anything more than she felt comfortable giving. His reaction to this choice is deplorable, as is the use of the word “whore.” Later in the book, he attempts to explain his maltreatment of Scarlet in these moments by saying something along the lines of “Don’t you understand? Hurting you was the best way to hurt myself!” Unpacking all the craziness in that statement is not worth my time. But all of this did add up to a very weak reaction on my part to Scarlet and Rob’s inevitable pairing at the end.

I have very mixed feelings about this book. I loved Scarlet herself, and the added twists at the end of the story makes me curious to read more. However, I’m very much not on board with the current direction of her relationship with Rob, and, call me crazy, but not loving the Robin Hood character in a Robin Hood re-telling series seems like a recipe for disappointment as a reader.

Rating 5: A strong leading lady, but a predictable love triangle and rather horrid Robin Hood character.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Scarlet” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Fictional Robin Hood” and “Kingdoms and heroines.”

Find “Scarlet” at your library using Worldcat!

 

 

Serena’s Review: “Without a Summer”

15793208Book: “Without a Summer” by Mary Robinette Kowal

Publishing Info: Tor Books, April 2013

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Jane and Vincent go to Long Parkmeade to spend time with Jane’s family, but quickly turn restless. The year is unseasonably cold. No one wants to be outside and Mr. Ellsworth is concerned by the harvest, since a bad one may imperil Melody’s dowry. And Melody has concerns of her own, given the inadequate selection of eligible bachelors. When Jane and Vincent receive a commission from a prominent family in London, they decide to take it, and take Melody with them. They hope the change of scenery will do her good and her marriage prospects—and mood—will be brighter in London.

Once there, talk is of nothing but the crop failures caused by the cold and increased unemployment of the coldmongers, which have provoked riots in several cities to the north. With each passing day, it’s more difficult to avoid getting embroiled in the intrigue, none of which really helps Melody’s chances for romance. It’s not long before Jane and Vincent realize that in addition to getting Melody to the church on time, they must take on one small task: solving a crisis of international proportions.

Review: I continue on with my reviews of this series! As I commented on in the first reviews, the books’ ties to the Jane Austen novels that the author attempts to mimic has been the difference maker between my enjoyment levels of the first two in the series. The first tried to tie it too closely to “Pride and Prejudice” and “Sense and Sensibility,” leaving original characterization and plot to suffer. While the second seemed to step away completely from this format presenting readers with a completely original story and being stronger for it. This third book strikes on the perfect balance of the two with its very loose connections to “Emma” while also building on its original stories and characters.

I was most excited when picking up this book to realize that Melody was again going to play a central role to the story. Her absence was one of the few low points of the second book, in my opinion. And she was featured even more than I originally thought! Jane, back home with her husband Vincent and now recovered from her experiences and trauma dealt in the end of the last book, is realizing how alone and sad her sister is feeling. Country living just doesn’t have enough variety, particularly in the potential husband arena. So, upon receiving a commission for Jane and Vincent’s work on a glamoural for a wealthy family in London, Jane decides the change of scenery would do her sister good. And so we begin to see the set up and ties to “Emma” in this story, with Jane standing in as our poor, struggling matchmaker.

As I said, this book really seemed to hit on the formula for emulating, but not becoming bogged down by, an original Austen work. Only the loosest ties to “Emma” are visible (and three lines from the novel, for those looking closely!). Jane makes many mistakes as a matchmater, but they are of a different variety than Emma’s, both due to differences in their personality and position. Jane is a married woman, so her own romantic confusion is not involved in this. Further, Jane is a very different character than Emma. Emma is lovable for her blissful naivety. Jane is a much more earnest character and one who is used to being on the right side of most conflicts.

I actually found this to be a very interesting take on a matchmaking failure, and one that can speak to a quandary that many people can find themselves in. In many ways, Jane is a very open-minded, justice-oriented character. In the last several books, she is always on the right side of situations that deal with prejudice and injustice. So, in this way, its not surprising that she has become a bit complacent with her own perception of the world, sure that she does not fall into the same traps that other, less wary and more judgemental, people do. But alas, we can guess how this turns out! I really enjoyed this take as it is a pitfall that I think many of us can fall into, becoming falsely secure in our own perception of the world and failing to recognize that we are still susceptible towards opinions and thoughts that are convenient and not as open-minded as we may think. Vincent’s sly hints that she might be a bit off track were also great. It was a nice little wink to the maneuverings of marriage where battles must be picked carefully and opinions offered gently.

The other main storyline of this book was the complete and utter awfulness that is Vincent’s family. We’ve heard about his past some in the previous books, but here we get to meet the whole cast and man, weren’t they all just a bundle of joy. His father in particular reached truly astonishing levels of evil. There were a few scenes where they are all getting together for family gatherings, and just coming of Christmas, which can have familial challenges for some, I think we can all just count ourselves lucky that at least it wasn’t this. The snark was high with these ones.

The pacing of this book was a bit strange, I have to admit. The first half is fairly slow, with a lot of groundwork being laid, but not a lot of action coming of it. But the book did take a big, unexpected turn towards the end that really brought a new life to the story. While the resolution was very convenient, I did enjoy the tension that was brought to the story in this last third.

All in all, I think this book was a great addition to the series. I enjoyed the ties to “Emma,” but was relieved to find that the story was still also very much its own thing. The action towards the end was appreciated, and I’m excited to see where the books will go next and if we’ll see any other Jane Austen storylines! As long as its not “Northanger Abbey”…

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(source)

Rating 7: Series seems to be still going strong!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Without a Summer” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Alternate England” and “Napoleonic Novels.”

Find “Without a Summer” at your library using WorldCat.

Previously Reviewed: “Shades of Milk and Honey” and “Glamour in Glass”

Serena’s Review “In the After”

12157407Book: “In the After” by Demitria Lunetta

Publishing Info: HarperTeen, June 2013

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

Book Description: They hear the most silent of footsteps.
They are faster than anything you’ve ever seen.
And They won’t stop chasing you…until you are dead.

Amy is watching TV when it happens, when the world is attacked by Them. These vile creatures are rapidly devouring mankind. Most of the population is overtaken, but Amy manages to escape—and even rescue “Baby,” a toddler left behind in the chaos. Marooned in Amy’s house, the girls do everything they can to survive—and avoid Them at all costs.

After years of hiding, they are miraculously rescued and taken to New Hope, a colony of survivors living in a former government research compound. While at first the colony seems like a dream with plenty of food, safety, and shelter, New Hope slowly reveals that it is far from ideal. And Amy soon realizes that unless things change, she’ll lose Baby—and much more.

Review: This is the kind of book that walks the line between Kate’s preferred genres and mine. There is definitely horror and suspense, but it’s also a post-apocalyptic story, the type which, especially in YA fiction, often falls under the all-encompassing “speculative fiction” category. Either way, it was a nice change from my usual reading, and while I can’t say that it was necessarily a “fun” read, its very lack of “fun” is what lends me to rating it more highly.

This book could easily be split into two separate books. The first is a fairly typical survival story. Strange creatures have invaded the earth and swiftly killed off the majority of the population. Our heroine, Amy, survives purely due to lucky circumstances (a fact that is refreshingly not glossed over), but over the course of years, she grows to become an expert at living in this new “After” world. There were several portions of this first part that I really enjoyed.

First is the inclusion of Baby, a toddler that Amy finds and adopts after the first month of devastation. These two’s relationship is key to the plot and it was so refreshingly new. All too often the primary relationships in these types of YA books are romantic. This, a sisterhood/parental relationship between a teenage girl who raises a toddler for several years alone, is completely unique. Further, I was very impressed with the author’s ability to portray Baby so completely. As a small child, it would have been very easy to simply gloss over her as an actual person while instead simply relying on general child attributes as fill-ins.

Second, the use of a substantial time jump is well executed. Through clever positioning of flashbacks, we see Amy’s journey through this new world and the events at each step that directed her ability to survive the many challenges of this new world, from how to survive the creatures themselves to how she evolved her approach to interacting with other survivors. Amy doesn’t just become a badass survivor out of nowhere. We see her mistakes and understand what lessons she had to learn to become who she is in the present day.

The second half of the book is a complete switch to what living in a community built in this post-apocalyptic world would be like. The horror, too, takes a sharp turn away from the monsters-in-the-night to what monsters humans can be. This part, while maybe slower than the first half, was even more horrifying to me. It was a strange reading experience because I was so frustrated, angry, and uncomfortable on Amy and Baby’s behalf throughout it all that I had a hard time enjoying reading it. In this section, you know that something awful is coming and you’re just watching these beloved characters walk towards their doom. (I wish I had read this book before we did our “Walking Dead Read Alikes” list as this would definitely have been included based purely on its similar exploration of the different ways that communities of people find to live in a world where society has fallen away.)

In the later half, there were a few twists that I felt were a bit expected. It’s definitely not a unique set up, but I don’t think that lessens the overall effect. It’s also a bit jarring to suddenly have many other characters introduced halfway through the story, and while I enjoyed many of them, I was sad to see Baby fading into the background a bit. However, I did enjoy most of these characters. I also appreciated the fact that what little romance is introduced in this part of the book is very light and never overpowers both the action/horror of the story or the primary relationship between Baby and Amy.

I also listened to this as an audiobook and I thought the reader did a very good job. Especially in the second half of the book, she made some clever choices with her general reading style that allows listeners to immediately identify flashback sequences from the other portions.

Ultimately, I very much enjoyed this book and will be checking out the final book in the duology. I might need to give myself a break between the two as they are definitely not light reading, but I’ll be getting there soon, I hope. This book does end on a cliffhanger, fo sorts, so for anyone going into it, beware of that.

Rating 7: An intense ride with a unique primary relationship, though it did get a bit predictable towards the end.

Reader’s Advisory:

“In the After” is included on these Goodreads lists: :Less Known Doulogies/Trilogies I Might Check Out” and “Strong Womances In YA.”

Find “In the After” at your library using Worldcat!

Serena’s Favorite Reads of 2016: Picks 5 Through 1

The end of the year is upon us, and we are about to embark into 2017. Given that we both did a lot of reading this past year, and had a lot of opinions about what we read, we thought that we would reveal our top picks of the year this entire week! Today I’m finishing my countdown with my top 5 favorite books of the year!

 22567184Pick Number 5: “Den of Wolves” by Juliet Marillier

“Den of Wolves” Review

Juliet Marillier is one of my absolute favorite authors, so it’s no surprise that any book published by her will most likely end up on a list like this. This year we had the final (what looks to be the final, at least) book in her “Blackthorn and Grim” trilogy. I’ve really enjoyed this whole series as it represent a combination of many of Marillier’s staples (lyrical writing, an Irish historical fantasy setting, romance/adventure) and mixes it with new aspects (two lead characters, both older, a healthy dash of mystery/suspense, and a much slower burn romance). While I’m sad that the series seems to be over, “Den of Wolves” was an excellent final chapter for Blackthorn and Grim.

40158Pick Number 4: “The Queen of Attolia” by Megan Whalen Turner

“The Queen of Attolia” Review

Many of the books I’ve already listed have been the final entry into a series, so this is perhaps a strange choice as it is the second book in an ongoing series (there have been two that followed it with a third on its way this spring). But this book was really a game changer for the series. “The Thief” was brilliant with its sudden reveal towards the end of the book, but that just set the bar all the higher for this book. How do you keep your series interesting when the cat’s out of the bag with regards to your protagonist’s brilliance? Further, Whalen Turner sets the stakes even high by attempting a complete 180 with the villain of the previous book, bringing to life the nuanced and complex inner-workings of the Attolia herself. This book highlights how to do YA political fantasy right.

City of StairsPick Number 3: “City of Stairs” by Robert Jackson Bennett

“City of Stairs” Review

This book caught me completely off guard. It had been on my list for a while, but honestly, whenever I looked at it I was put off my an uninspiring cover and rather confused book description. But man, this book was great. It’s lead characters were brilliant: Shara, a “Hermione Granger” like chatacter, and her “secretary,” Sigrund, a giant Viking of a man. The world-building was amazing and creative: a world full of complicated history regarding colonialism and religion. Philosophical musings! Witty mannerisms! It was great. It’s technically the first in a series, but can also be read as a stand alone. I have to admit, it was such a high that I’m still scared to pick up the second. Maybe in 2017…

9591398Pick Number 2: The “Fairyland” series by Catherynne M. Valente

  1. “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making” Review
  2. “The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There” Review
  3. “The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two” Review
  4. “The Boy Who Lost Fairyland” Review
  5. “The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home” Review

Look, I had to just include this whole series, other wise the entire list would have just been populated with individual entries for each, and no one wants that! The “Fairyland” series features some of the most beautiful, creative writing that I have read in…maybe forever. It’s a modern day “Alice in Wonderland” with more heart. September, Saturday, A Through L, and the many friends (and enemies!) they meet throughout the story are just so brilliant. Valente walks the perfect line between nonsense and poignant wisdom. What could have come across as saccharine in another author’s hand, instead reads as a beautiful and insightful look into childhood, friendship, love, and growing up.

311326Pick Number 1: The “Amelia Peabody” series by Elizabeth Peters

  1. “The Crocodile on the Sandbank” Review
  2. “The Curse of the Pharaohs” Review
  3. “The Mummy Case” Review
  4. “Lion in the Valley” Review
  5. Deeds of the Disturber” Review
  6. “The Last Camel Died at Noon” Review

Second verse, same as the first! All ten entries could have been just this and the “Fairyland” series, essentially. But truly, I do find it fitting that my top two spots went to a young adult fantasy series and a historical/mysteries series, covering all of my loves! This series made it to the top spot based on the pure, unadulterated enjoyment that all of the books delivered. There are probably other entries on this list with stronger, over all writing. Other books with more creative worlds. Still others with more complex plots. But none of them were as much fun to read as all six of these have been so far. What’s most impressive is the longevity of the series. It was easy to worry that the “shtick”  could wear off with repetition. How could the books retain their charm? Wouldn’t the wittiness of the characters become tired? Just how many murders can happen around this family? But hats off to  Elizabeth Peters. Thank you for bringing Amelia Peabody to life.

So there’s my list. So many great reads in just one year! Challenge to you, 2017.

 

 

 

Serena’s Favorite Reads of 2016: Picks 10 Through 6

The end of the year is upon us, and we are about to embark into 2017. Given that we both did a lot of reading this past year, and had a lot of opinions about what we read, we thought that we would reveal our top picks of the year this entire week! So today I’m going to countdown from ten to six.

22840421Pick Number 10: “My Lady Jane” by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

“My Lady Jane” Review

My first pick is this quirky, historical comedy that completely blindsided me. It was a book that I had thrown on to a Highlights lists simply based on the wackiness of the plot synopsis (Lady Jane Grey’s story re-told in a manner similar to “The Princess Bride” and featuring a love interest who turns into a horse during the day). But it sold me! It sold me on solid writing, hilarious dialogue, a great heroine, and just the right amount of camp to become a real page turner. Just teaches me not to judge a book based on the weirdness of its description!

18068907Pick Number 9: “Court of Fives” & “Poisoned Blade” by Kate Elliot

“Court of Fives” Review & “Poisoned Blade” Review

Ok, so this is kind of cheat-y, but I literally rated these two equally in my reviews of them both, and as they are part of a series…yeah, I can justify this decision all day long, if you want! Featuring a spunky heroine, a diverse and unique world, and lots of action (not just the typical fantasy fare of sword fighting and such, but actual sports competitions) these two books were a blast. As a few more cherries on the top, it presented a YA heroine who has her priorities in the correct order and a love interest/romance plot that is believable and enjoyable.

17378527Pick Number 8: “The Raven King” by Maggie Stiefvater

“The Raven King” Joint Review

Kate and I read and reviewed this entire series, and it was one that only got better as it went along. So, while I loved them all, I chose to feature this, the last book in the series, as my pick for this list. Enough can’t be said about Stiefvater’s skills as a young adult fantasy novelist. Her writing is so incredibly poignant and lyrical, her world-building is unique and often quite dark and daring, and her characters always pull at the heart strings. The balancing act that she pulls off with this series (especially with nailing an ending in this book that she had been laying the groundwork for from the very start), featuring so many distinct characters, perspectives and voices, all while never losing her way with a complex plot, is truly impressive.

27190613Pick Number 7: “As I Darken” by Kiersten White

“As I Darken” Review

I’m pretty sure I featured this book in the same bizarre “Highlights” post that included “My Lady Jane” and pretty much for the same reason: too weird not to read! And again I was blown away by another fantastic story! What if Vlad the Impaler was a woman? And she had a brother? And they had a complicated relationship, made all the more complicated by growing up as royal hostages and developing feelings for their mutual friend, the prince who will one day rule? This book is dark and deeply lovely, setting up complicated characters whose struggles are heartbreaking and wonderful.

The Last Mortal BondPick Number 6: “The Last Mortal Bond”

“The Last Mortal Bond” Review

I reviewed this entire trilogy on the blog, but only read this, the last in the series, for the first time this year. As we all know, sticking the landing is challenging in the best of situations. Even more so here, as Staveley had set up his three protagonists, the siblings and children of the recently passed Emperor, as at odds with each other, each one with different pieces of a very large puzzle at their disposal. The world building and plot are driven by a complex web of different political, religious, and cultural perspectives, so if you’re in the mood for detailed high fantasy that does have an ending not only in sight but in print (coughGAMEOFTHRONEScough), then this series is for you!

So that’s ten through six. Next time I will give a countdown of my top five. What have been some of your favorite reads of 2016?

Serena’s Review: “Ice”

6321845Book: “Ice” by Sarah Beth Durst

Publishing Info: Margaret K. McElderry Books, October 2009

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: When Cassie was a little girl, her grandmother told her a fairy tale about her mother, who made a deal with the Polar Bear King and was swept away to the ends of the earth. Now that Cassie is older, she knows the story was a nice way of saying her mother had died. Cassie lives with her father at an Arctic research station, is determined to become a scientist, and has no time for make-believe.

Then, on her eighteenth birthday, Cassie comes face-to-face with a polar bear who speaks to her. He tells her that her mother is alive, imprisoned at the ends of the earth. And he can bring her back — if Cassie will agree to be his bride.

That is the beginning of Cassie’s own real-life fairy tale, one that sends her on an unbelievable journey across the brutal Arctic, through the Canadian boreal forest, and on the back of the North Wind to the land east of the sun and west of the moon. Before it is over, the world she knows will be swept away, and everything she holds dear will be taken from her — until she discovers the true meaning of love and family in the magical realm of Ice.

Review: I recently read and liked “Conjured” by Sarah Beth Durst, and after putting together our list of favorite holiday reads that included a re-telling of “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” I discovered the perfect combination of the two with “Ice!” Or…what I thought would be the perfect combination. Sigh.

The story starts out strong enough. I enjoyed the unique approach of setting the story in the modern world with Cassie and her father living in a research station in the Arctic. Cassie herself is introduced as a capable and intelligent protagonist. She conducts research herself and knows much about the Arctic environment and local wildlife. Enough to know that the polar bear tracks she’s seeing are much too large for the regular animals that roam the area.

Another plus has to do with some of the fairytale aspects and their interpretation in this story. The mythology and characters that were introduced were interesting and cleverly tied together, working well within the original fairytale mold while not feeling too tied down by it. The author struck a nice balance between incorporating these portions while also tying the story neatly into Intuit culture and folklore. I also enjoyed the more proactive role that Cassie originally takes in this tale> She makes a bargain of her own with Bear, insisting that she would only agree to marry him if she saved her mother. That said, this initial level of competence and independence on Cassie’s part only serves against the story later when she loses these exact traits in rather disturbing ways.

Most of the portions of the book that I enjoyed most arrived in the first half of the book, and I was pretty fully on board. But then…look, one of the main falling points for retellings of this story is giving the character of Bear a strong enough personality that he stands on his own and makes the slow-burn romance believable. And, while Bear does have somewhat of a personality, the story starts faltering right off that bat. Their relationship, one based on distrust and a forced situation, develops far too quickly to friendship and love. And while this is frustrating, it’s a familiar pitfall. But then…it’s the story takes a nosedive into “Breaking Dawn” territory with a forced pregnancy. Essentially, Bear magically deactivates Cassie’s birth control and then informs her of this after she’s three months pregnant. And from there on out the story just kind of died for me.

While Cassie is initially angry, she comes around to things way too easily. Bear as a romantic lead was killed for me, as this type of behavior is the epitome of abusive. Further, not only has Bear treated Cassie as the human equivalent of an incubator taking no consideration for her own choices about motherhood (she’s 18, remember!), but for the last half of the story, almost every other character she interacts with takes the same approach. Her decisions are constantly questioned with the worry that she’s “risking the baby” and it all gets to be too much. First, the fact that there is no concern expressed for Cassie herself, but only for the child, is saddening. And secondly, Cassie has already had the decision to be a parent taken out of her hands, but now her decisions for how to prioritize her life, protect those she loves, not just the baby, and operate as an individual are being questioned at every moment, as if she has no other purpose than to be pregnant. All of this was incredibly frustrating to read. And I could never get back on board with any romance between Cassie and Bear.

This was a very disappointing read for me. I have read other books by this author and really enjoyed them, so I had high expectations for this story. And the first half is so strong that it makes the large missteps of the latter half all the more frustrating for potential squandered. I really can’t recommend this book. There are much better re-tellings of this story, like “East,” the one I recommended in our “Holidays Favorites” post.

Rating 2: A strong start brought down by some really poor story decisions and an icky non-romance.

Reader’s Advisory:

Note: I don’t agree with this book’s deserving of being on these lists, quality-wise,  but hopefully there are some better ones to be found!

“Ice” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Fairy Tale Retellings: Hidden Gems” and “Fractured Fairy Tales & Story Retellings.”

Find “Ice” at your library using WorldCat.

 

Serena’s Review: “Northanger Abbey” – Jane Austen Project #2

18778806Book: “Northanger Abbey: Jane Austen Project #2” by Val McDermid

Publishing Info: Grove Press, April 2014

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Cat Morland is ready to grow up. A homeschooled minister’s daughter in the quaint, sheltered Piddle Valley in Dorset, she loses herself in novels and is sure there is a glamorous adventure awaiting her beyond the valley’s narrow horizon. So imagine her delight when the Allens, neighbors and friends of her parents, invite her to attend the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh as their guest. With a sunny personality, tickets every night and a few key wardrobe additions courtesy of Susie Allen, Cat quickly begins to take Edinburgh by storm and is taken into the bosom of the Thorpe family, particularly by eldest daughter Bella. And then there’s the handsome Henry Tilney, an up-and-coming lawyer whose family home is the beautiful and forbidding Northanger Abbey. Cat is entranced by Henry and his charming sister Eleanor, but she can’t help wondering if everything about them is as perfect as it seems. Or has she just been reading too many novels?

Review: I found this book while wandering around my library one afternoon. I have a usual reading test that I apply to re-tellings of Jane Austen stories which simply involves reading the first chapter. Mostly this is due to the fact that Austen’s signature writing style is so tricky to duplicate and it is often what sinks many re-imaginings. I’ve wasted too many hours where what might have been a good book on its own is ruined for me by the simple fact that I am too distracted by the writing style itself to focus on the story. Well, this one passed this initial test and so I gave it a go!

First off, since style of writing is usually a major factor for me with these types of books, I will give credit to McDermid for what she does with it in this story. The book is helped by the fact that it is set in the modern day so there is no need to replicate the style of speaking and writing that came with the original. Beyond this, McDermid does a good job converting several of the scenes and dialogue from the original directly into the story with very minimal changes that are both believable and, in some cases, quite creative. Perhaps at times some of the slang that is used for the teenagers who are speaking is a bit much, but for the most part, McDermid avoided overdoing it in this area.

I also appreciated the parallels that were drawn between the original and this book with regards to the parody angle. Austen’s “Northanger Abbey” was largely written in response to the over-done, and often poorly written, gothic horror/romances that were popular in the time. Her heroine loves these stories, but throughout the book learns an important lesson with regards to these books’ failures to depict real people and real life. In this, gothic romance is substituted for the “Twilight” series, which is not only funny, but very accurate when it comes to being a wildly popular book/now genre that is much loved by teenage girls. It has also been highly criticized for portraying unrealistic people and unhealthy world views for these same adoring fans. So to use that series/genre in a re-telling like this is very true to the message and structure of the original.

That said, there are some big problems using this set up as well. In the original, Catherine fears the Tilneys are hiding dark secrets having to do with the suspicious death of the mother, perhaps at the father’s hand. In this, Catherine suspects the Tilneys…are vampires. Look, this is just not the same. Murder, especially at the hands of an emotionally abusive spouse, while rare, is an actual thing. So Catherine’s suspicions can be offensive to the family, but ultimately can be forgiven as fanciful foolishness. In this story, Cat’s suspicions of actual vampires are ridiculous. Every time it came up, I immediately lost respect for Cat. And in the end, when she actually puts voice to her suspicions, it made me judge Henry as well for not dumping her on the spot. If a love interest suddenly made it known to me that not only do they actually believe vampires exist, but they suspect me and my family are these monsters (very specific sort of vampires ala “Twilight” nonetheless who can go out and about in the day and eat rare meat to survive), I’d be out of there immediately.

Image result for gif sparkly Edward
Apparently, real vampires sparkle. (source)

Cat is supposed to be on the verge of adulthood, and these imaginings are worrisome with regards to her actual sanity, not just teenage silliness like the original character.

Further, Henry was downgraded even more as a romantic hero when it came to the reason that Cat is evicted from the family home and his belief in that reason himself, not just the General’s belief. I don’t want to spoil things, but the changed reason was ridiculous, and almost offensive, in many ways. I honestly don’t quite know why this had to be changed at all. The original reason, Catherine’s not having a fortune at her disposal, is still a legitimate stumbling block for the type of snobby, pretentious father that the General is made out to be in both books.

To end on a good note, I very  much enjoyed the portrayal of the villains in this story. Bella, Johnny, and the eldest Tilney, Freddie, were all spot on as modern adaptations of the original characters. They were all three highly entertaining and the types of characters you loved to have around just to hate them.

All in all, I was very disappointed with this book. The language was so strong (my usual criticism for this type of story) and many of the characters were perfect. But for some reason the author felt it necessary to adapt portions of the book in ways that severely detracted from the story as a whole. For a book that was so on-the-nose as an adaptation (there were many scenes and conversations that were almost directly lifted from the original), it was shame to have it fail due to unnecessary and weak plot changes.

Rating 3: One point for strong writing, another for good villains, and a third for adapting original scenes and dialogue for a modern setting in a believable way. Ultimately, a failing rating for a terrible choice with regards to Cat’s belief in actual, real life vampires.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Northanger Abbey” is included on these Goodreads lists: “YA Gothic Retellings” and “Retellings of Jane Austen’s ‘Northanger Abbey’.”

Find “Northanger Abbey” at your library using WorldCat.