Not Just Books: March 2020

While we do love us some books, believe it not, we do have a life outside of reading. So to highlight our other pop culture interests, on the last Monday of each month, we each will highlight three other “happenings” from the last month. Big events on favorite TV shows, new movies we’ve watched, old movies we’ve “discovered,” etc. Pretty much whatever we found of particular interest outside of the book world during the last month. Share your own favorite things in the comments!

Serena’s Picks

mv5bogriodezm2qtotuyyi00mwrlltg4mzmtzgi0ymuznwuymjq0xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymda4nzmyoa4040._v1_sy1000_sx675_al_Movie: “Emma”

I had it all planned out. My husband and I were going to delay our Valentine’s celebration until March and then make a whole day of it with dinner and a viewing of this, the latest feature film adaptation of a Jane Austen novel. And then COVID-19 struck, the ruiner of all good things. So instead I ended up watching it in pieces at home while trying to wrangle a very mobile one year old. Not quite the same thing. Overall…I’m not quite sure what I think about this? I’ll have to re-watch it at some point when I can focus more fully. I know that I enjoyed Anya Taylor-Joy’s performance a lot, and I thought the costuming and set design were excellent and offered up something unique and new compared to other Austen adaptations. But as for the story itself and its take on several of the other main characters, I was a bit less satisfied. I think Knightly was too young and his friendship/relationship with Emma was not sufficiently set-up to make the payoff as satisfying in the end. Mr. Churchill, for all that he appears on the poster, felt like almost a non-entity. And overall I think the comedy angle, while very good at moments, also overwhelmed the heart of the story and sometimes even the heart of Emma herself. Kate also watched this one, but we haven’t discussed it yet. I’m excited to hear her take!

cards-promo-300x300-1Online Game: Trickster Cards

My family are all huge card players. I mean, my sister and I were playing since we were in single digits and it’s a shock if any family get-together goes more than 30 minutes before someone suggests we play pinochle or bridge. But, again, raging pandemics have hit hard on things like this. Luckily, one of my aunts discovered this online card site where you can form games with people and set up times to play. It has video chat options which makes it all the better. My mom, sister, said aunt and I now have weekly standing dates to get together and play pinochle. Obviously not a complete replacement, but I’ll take what I can get!

mv5bnjzknzy4m2itowy0ni00y2vilwe1njitotiyyzzjmzg5m2e1xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtkxnjuynq4040._v1_sy1000_cr006751000_al_TV Show: “Locke and Key”

I started watching this show kind of on a spur of the moment basis. And then suddenly I had finished it all within two days! I’m pretty sure Kate has read the original graphic novels it was based on, but from what I do know of them, I’m pretty sure this is quite different. For one thing, it’s definitely not as dark as I think the originals were. Instead, it’s more of a “Stranger Things”-like family adventure with elements of fantasy dashed all over it. The Locke family, after a great tragedy, move back to an ancetstral home that has been abandoned for years. While there, the three kids discover magical keys with fantastic abilities. Of course, there is also a big bad out to get the keys and a bunch of clueless (or not so clueless??) adults running around getting in the way. I really enjoyed all of the younger actors, which can sometimes be a sticking point for shows like this. There was also a great balance between the real-life challenges that many young people face (moving to a new town, dealing with grief and fear, meeting new friends, etc.) and the fantasy elements that slowly play a bigger and bigger role in the story. Again, I’ll have to ask Kate what the original was like, but for fans of “Stranger Things” or “Chronicles of Narnia,” this is definitely worth checking out!

Kate’s Picks

81s8etnyprl._sl1500_Video Game: “Animal Crossing: New Horizons”

This pandemic has been ramping up my already present anxiety like the dickens. But lucky for me I had the foresight to order “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” before everything went to hell! The “Animal Crossing” games are already super chill and laid back, and the new one for The Switch is even more so. Or perhaps it just feels more so. Regardless, I’ve been enjoying building a town, fishing, catching bugs, building things, and visiting friends on their own islands. For the unfamiliar, the basic premise is that you are a new villager on a remote island (with a few other villagers) and you can build up the community with very low stakes attached. Things change from day to day, and the open sandbox format means you can do pretty much whatever you want. It’s been a true saving grace during this quarantine period.

1fgprxwpkfxhmfsnsus8dtgNetflix Show: “Tiger King”

I was familiar with the, um, “eccentric” zookeeper Joe Exotic before Netflix dropped this new true crime documentary series. “Last Podcast on the Left” had referenced him and his murder for hire plot he allegedly tried to carry out towards nemesis Carole Baskin. So when I went in I was thinking that it would be fine, but wouldn’t tell me anything new. I was SO. WRONG. “Tiger King” is one of the craziest Netflix docuseries I’ve ever seen, with a bunch of unstable weirdos who own big cats at the forefront. Now I knew that Joe Exotic was a nut. But honestly, I came away more concerned about just about everyone else in this series than I was about this guy. From cult like leaders who lure in teenage girls to drug trafficking kingpins to a missing husband (WHO MAY HAVE BEEN FED TO A BUNCH OF TIGERS), “Tiger King” has EVERYTHING. Truth is stranger than fiction, guys, and this one will probably make you say “WHAT?!?!” over and over and over again.

91aofmfmzwl._ri_TV Show: “RuPaul’s Drag Race”

It’s springtime, which means that “RuPaul’s Drag Race” is back! I can’t believe we’re on season twelve, and while I still contend that the show’s quality hasn’t been the same since it moved to VH1, RuPaul and the queens always bring me back for more. This season has been promising, though I do have to mention that it hasn’t come without controversy. One of the contestants, Sherry Pie, was exposed for predatory behavior, as he would pretend to be a talent scout and solicit explicit videos from unsuspecting men under guise of an ‘audition’. The good news is that once this was exposed, the show officially disqualified her, and has put a disclaimer ahead of the episodes noting of this. A tricky situation to be sure, but I think it was handled as best they could in fairness to the other queens. Who are a super talented bunch this time around. I have my favorites already, and I can’t wait to see how far they go!

What non-book related things have you enjoyed this month?

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

mv5bmdm0mjflogytntg2zc00mmrkltg5otqtm2u5zjuyytgxzthixkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyntayodkwoq4040._v1_sy1000_sx706_al_Movie: “Pride and Prejudice”

Release Year: 1995

Actors: Elizabeth Bennett – Jennifer Ehle

Mr. Darcy – Colin Firth

Jane Bennett – Susannah Harker

Mr. Bingley – Crispin Bonham-Carter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This has been a favorite of mine for quite awhile:

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

Kate’s Review: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.10): One More Time”

9968822Book: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.10): One More Time” by Warren Ellis, Darick Robertson (Ill.), & Rodney Ramos (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, June 2004

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: The final volume in the saga of outlaw journalist Spider Jerusalem written by comics superstar Warren Ellis. At last, it’s the final showdown between Spider and the absolutely corrupt President of the United States in this new printing of the finale to the classic dystopian saga from Vertigo.

Review: It was a re-read almost four years in the making. Ten volumes, two awful presidents, two awesome lady assistants, one literally two faced cat, and numerous bowel disruptor guns later, and I have finally reached the end of Spider Jerusalem’s return to Gonzo reporting in a dystopian cyberpunk future. My re-read of “Transmetropolitan” has been wild to say the least. And if you remember from the end of my last review, I was a little worried that it had ended in a way that feels a little dated given recent political shenanigans. But let’s jump on into “One More Time” and begin our fond farewell.

The good news is that “One More Time” immediately assuaged the fears I had at the end of “The Cure”. It wasn’t going to be so easy as a sex scandal to bring down The Smiler, much as it didn’t do much of anything in our own present reality. But Spider, Yelena, and Channon weren’t going to give up so easily, and the beginning of the final confrontation between Spider and The Smiler is underway. What that means for Spider and his assistants is a bit murkier. Warren Ellis is known for brash and over the top themes as well as a dark cynicism, and we find both of those things in abundance. But there is also a whole lot of hope in this last volume, and that hope is something that I myself am clinging to. Again, you don’t know how things are going to completely shake out, but as Ellis unfolds everything and makes it all come together, reaching far far back in the series to do so, we go back to other storylines and other characters from the past who all have their parts to play, and it makes you wonder if Ellis had known from early on where they were going to end up. It works that well. In terms of the final confrontation, I was of two minds when it came to how impactful I found it. On one hand, it felt a little rushed and neat and underwhelming. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll be vague, but it just kind of ended with less of a bang and more of a pop. I certainly wouldn’t call it a whimper. But it wasn’t the big to do that perhaps one would expect. But on the other hand, maybe that’s how this kind of thing would have to end. Maybe it does have to be more muted, because that shows that the monster who causes so much grief and havoc is really just pathetic and fallible. So while I had wanted more, less may be more appropriate.

It’s the ultimate message of this story that truly resonated with me and made “One More Time” a satisfying end to a series that I still love. And that is that the truth is the most important thing above all else, and that the true heroes are the ones that sacrifice and give their all to make sure that it comes out. Spider Jerusalem is violent, grumpy, antagonistic, and a bit of a jerk. But he is devoted to making sure that the world knows the truth of how things are, and he will fight tooth and nail and to his own detriment to make sure that it all gets out. And along with him we get Channon and Yelena, two ladies who have tenacity, brashness, brains, and the drive to help him get that truth out as well as pursue their own goals. This trio is by far one of the best in comics, even if they aren’t exactly the most likable, because they are entertaining and chaotic and filled with hope. “Transmetropolitan” is teeming with hope. And as someone who has at times felt hopeless in our own political and social climate, this was a true antidote to that hopelessness. At least for now. But if there’s one thing you should take from “Transmetropolitan”, it’s to keep fighting that good fight. I don’t know what the next election will hold. I don’t know if we’re stuck with our own Beast/Smiler for another four years or not. But I know that we can learn something from Spider, Yelena, and Channon. 

I am going to miss The City. I’m going to miss The Filthy Assistants. I’m going to miss Spider. At least until I decide to re-read again. Until that time, “One More Time” was a fabulous end to a fabulous series.

Rating 9: A great end to a great series, “Transmetropolitan (Vol.10): One More Time” perfectly wraps up Spider’s story and gives this reader hope.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Transmetropolitan (Vol.10): One More Time” is included on the Goodreads lists “Bibles for the Revolution”, and “Best of Cyberpunk”.

Find “Transmetropolitan (Vol.10): One More Time” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed:

Serena’s Review: “Jade War”

41716919Book: “Jade War” by Fonda Lee

Publishing Info: Orbit, July 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

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

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

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

Previously Reviewed: “Jade City”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reader’s Advisory:

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

Find “Jade War” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Return”

46354144Book: “The Return” by Rachel Harrison

Publishing Info: Berkley, March 2020

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

Book Description: A group of friends reunite after one of them has returned from a mysterious two-year disappearance in this edgy and haunting debut.

Julie is missing, and the missing don’t often return. But Elise knows Julie better than anyone, and she feels in her bones that her best friend is out there, and that one day she’ll come back. She’s right. Two years to the day that Julie went missing, she reappears with no memory of where she’s been or what happened to her.

Along with Molly and Mae, their two close friends from college, the women decide to reunite at a remote inn. But the second Elise sees Julie, she knows something is wrong—she’s emaciated, with sallow skin and odd appetites. And as the weekend unfurls, it becomes impossible to deny that the Julie who vanished two years ago is not the same Julie who came back. But then who—or what—is she?

Review: Thank you very much to Berkley and NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

I cannot tell you how excited I was when Berkley emailed me a link to the eARC of “The Return” by Rachel Harrison. I had been waiting and searching NetGalley to see if a request for this book would go up, eager to read a book that was being called a mash up of “The Shining” and “Girls”.

giphy-5
So… like this???? (source)

In my mind this meant super disturbing horror AND soapy catty girl fights (though a serious lack of Adam Driver, the only redeeming feature of that dreadful show in my mind). It took a fair amount of willpower to save it for a later date, and honestly I dove in a lot earlier than I normally do with eARCs that I get. I clearly had high hopes. And they were met. And HOW.

From the get go “The Return” sucks you in and lets you know the kind of story and people you’re going to be dealing with.  Julie has disappeared, and her best friend Elise doesn’t want to believe that this is anything more than a histrionic call for attention. Julie has a history of this, after all, so when mutual friends Molly and Mae are concerned Elise refuses to be. Until Julie doesn’t come back and is declared dead, with a funeral and everything. So when she returns two years later claiming no memory, the reader knows that something is amiss, both in Julie’s story AND the relationship she has with her best friend. Therefore, isolating the four friends in a strange hotel and letting them slowly realize that Julie isn’t ‘the same’ is the perfect slow burn horror that especially resonates with anyone who has had a friendship that has potentially run its course. The horror elements are on point, from the descriptions of Julie’s emaciated look to the quirks and strange changes at the hotel that may or may not be Elise’s imagination to the imagery of dark beings in the corners of vision. There were numerous moments where I found myself incredibly unsettled, or had to set the book down for a bit and regroup. There is one especially suspenseful scene near the end the effectively lets the scene build up from everything being okay, to minor unease, to outright terror, so the reader experiences everything that the character is going through within the moment as you read it. I loved it, even if it deeply upset me and really put me off going exploring in our nation’s national parks by myself… And some of the descriptions of Julie’s physical transformation were absolutely disgusting, really amping the body horror aspect up to sit alongside the Gothic themes of an isolated location, as bad weather rolls in and people start disappearing…

But the other theme that struck me about this book is how well it captures the last dying gasps of a friendship on the skids. Elise, Julie, Molly, and Mae were all close back in the day, but now have drifted apart geographically and emotionally. With the four of them scattered across the country, some of them settling down, others making poor romantic choices, and others are stagnating and refusing the see it. Seeing the four of them try to force a reunion in the wake of Julie’s remarkable reappearance is something you could see in a tawdry drama, and the story would work even if you pulled the horror elements out. You especially see the tumultuous friendship between Elise and Julie, told through references to the past and seen in interactions in the present, as Julie has come back very much not herself. But then, I couldn’t help but think that it’s all a very well done metaphor for when you don’t know a person anymore, even without the strange body horror aspects, or the rotting teeth, or the fact that bodies may be piling up. Elise and Julie are codependent on each other’s friendship, no matter how damaging it could be for both of them.

“The Return” blends an effective Gothic and body horror tale with the deterioration of a long standing friendship. It’s a horror story that was worth the wait and the anticipation, and one that may be more relatable than you would think.

Rating 9: A sudsy and creepy horror story that not only brings the scares, but examines tough realities about friendships that start to fade away.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Return” is included on the Goodreads list “2020 Horror to Scream For”.

Find “The Return” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Hunkering Down: Book Series For The Long Haul

So, given that a good majority of people may be staying at home and away from crowds for awhile (or even in quarantine), we here at Library Ladies thought that we’d recommend some books that could help pass the time. Because the thing about these recommendations is that they are multi-book series! Here are some of our favorites that will keep you busy and engaged for a long while. See if your local bookstore will deliver an order to you, or if you can find them as downloadable content from your local library! But please don’t physically go to your library if it’s open. And remember everyone: be mindful, practice social distancing (or just stay home), check in on your loved ones, and wash wash wash your hands!

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Series: “The Temperance Brennan” Series by Kathy Reichs

For fans of the TV show “Bones”, did you know that it started as a book series? Well, kind of. Temperance from the TV show is very different from Temperance from the novels, but if you are in it for the forensic anthropology based mystery of it all, this series is for you! Temperance is a forensic anthropologist who works in both North Carolina and Quebec, hoping to help identify the remains of people who may not be identifiable otherwise. And she also gets into some pretty hot water, and finds herself solving dark and engaging mysteries. I love Tempe and the crimes she tackles, and while sometimes her personal life can be exhausting, she is incredibly charming as a character. Plus, given that Reichs herself is a forensic anthropologist, there are a lot of great science-y tidbits within these books!

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Series: “The Dark Tower” by Stephen King

We all know that Stephen King is the king of horror, but he’s also dabbled in fantasy. His best known fantasy series is “The Dark Tower”, a dark fantasy about a gunslinger, a man in black, and multiple universes that are all potentially in danger. Roland Deschain is a member of an important order of knight like beings called Gunslingers, and his world seems to be falling apart. He hopes that if he can find a place called “The Dark Tower”, as it may be the key to saving not only his world, but also all the worlds in all dimensions. But, of course, there is a man who thrives on the chaos and violence of these universes, and a showdown between Roland and The Man in Black (aka RANDALL FLAGG!!) seems almost inevitable. This is what I like to call a ‘commitment’, as many of the books in this series are looooooong. Therefore, they will take up a lot of that time we will all need to kill while we wait out our social distancing measures.

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Series: “The Sandman” by Neil Gaiman

If you haven’t read anything by Neil Gaiman, a wonderful place to start would be with his epic comic fantasy opus “Sandman”. This epic fantasy series deals with Dream, or Morpheus, the being that controls sleep and dreaming and stories. This series is about him and his siblings, The Endless, and how they control and represent many powers of the universe. Part fantasy, part horror, part mythology, “Sandman” is one of the greatest comic series of all time, being  one of Vertigo’s first titles and beloved by many fantasy and comics fans to this day. It’s hard to really describe this series, in it’s eerie, ephemeral and philosophical leanings. But it’s captivating and lovely, and will no doubt take you to a world you never expected, and may not want to leave.

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Series: “Wheel of Time” by Robert Jordan

Any epic fantasy fan is at least passingly familiar with Robert Jordan’s mammoth “Wheel of Time” series. In fact, Jordan was the OG Geore RR Martin when it came to complaining about an author not finishing their series. And in Jordan’s case, fans’ worst fears were realized when he passed away before finishing the 14 book series. Luckily, Brandon Sanderson, another beloved fantasy author, was able to pick up the notes that remained and bring a conclusion to this sprawling story. Not only are there 14 books, however, each book is also hundreds and hundreds of pages long. So if you like fantasy (especially of the high fantasy variety with swords, staffs, and unique world-building), this series should have you set for quite some time. Amazon is also currently working on developing a TV series for these books, so now is a good time to get a head start before it is released!

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Series: “October Daye” by Seanan McQuire

If epic fantasy isn’t your jam, there are a bunch of long-running urban fantasy series to check out. I’ve reviewed the “Mercy Thompson” and “Kate Daniels” series on this blog, so if you haven’t read those, they are also good options. But I wanted to shine light on another great series that I’ve been making my way through (though haven’t reviewed yet.) Like the two others, this series focuses on a young woman with connections to a secretive supernatural world. October Daye has one foot in the realm of fae and one in the human world. With her experience in both worlds, and as a knight with a liege in a fairy court, October solves mysteries and goes on adventures throughout this 13+ book series. However, while the story does eventually build towards a romance, it is much less heavily featured (at least right off the bat) than the central romances in the “Thompson” or “Daniels” series.

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Series: “Amelia Peabody” by Elizabeth Peters

Of course, no list featuring long book series could be complete without a nod to my beloved “Amelia Peabody” series. Fantasy lends itself well to long-running stories, so it’s a bit more challenging to find long series that don’t feature magical elements. But for those who enjoy mysteries and historical fiction, Amelia Peabody is the best of the best. Taking place largely in Egypt, Amelia and her family solve a range of mysteries and murders. But what makes this series really stand out is the hilarious narration of our leading lading herself! I’ve listened to a bunch of these on audiobook as well, so I recommend that option as well. Bonus, if your library has digital audiobooks available, you can listen to a bunch of these without ever leaving your house!

What are you planning on reading while spending time at home? Let us know in the comments!

Serena’s Review: “A Broken Queen”

45046564Book: “A Broken Queen” by Sarah Kozloff

Publishing Info: Tor Books, March 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reader’s Advisory:

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

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