Book Club Review: “Cold Comfort Farm” by Stella Gibbons

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We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last year and a half. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Books with Movie Adaptations.” 

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for bookclub. We’ll also post the next book coming up in bookclub. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own bookclub!

Book: “Cold Comfort Farm” by Stella Gibbons

Publishing Info: Penguin Classics, October 2006 (First Published in September 1932)

Where Did We Get this Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: ‘I saw something nasty in the woodshed’

When sensible, sophisticated Flora Poste is orphaned at nineteen, she decides her only choice is to descend upon relatives in deepest Sussex. At the aptly named Cold Comfort Farm, she meets the doomed Starkadders: cousin Judith, heaving with remorse for unspoken wickedness; Amos, preaching fire and damnation; their sons, lustful Seth and despairing Reuben; child of nature Elfine; and crazed old Aunt Ada Doom, who has kept to her bedroom for the last twenty years. But Flora loves nothing better than to organise other people. Armed with common sense and a strong will, she resolves to take each of the family in hand. A hilarious and merciless parody of rural melodramas, Cold Comfort Farm (1932) is one of the best-loved comic novels of all time.

Kate’s Thoughts:

Something I have come to learn as I’ve been reading more outside of my comfort zone is what kinds of books work for me, and what kinds of books just don’t. I really do have to thank our book club for picking books that I wouldn’t otherwise try out, as I do think that that makes me a stronger reader. Of course, this means that sometimes I just don’t connect to a book, and that is what happened with “Cold Comfort Farm”. And it isn’t the books fault. “Cold Comfort Farm” is just one of those books (specifically the ‘eccentric people living in the country being charming and strange as parody’ books) that I have no interest in. The same thing happened with “I Capture The Castle”. That isn’t to say that there weren’t things about the books that I did like. I really liked Flora as the protagonist. I liked that she was very smart and very determined, but I also liked that Gibbons was having a little fun with her and how clueless she was when it came to her privilege. Classism in Britain is so evident and prevalent in a lot of the literature and pop culture that comes from there, and when authors give a nudge-nudge wink-wink to it I find it a bit easier to swallow. Flora certainly means well and isn’t cruel by any stretch, but she is definitely cringe-worthy at times when she’s interacting with the people at the farm and looking through her very urban rose colored glasses.

I also have a feeling that a lot about this book was pretty transgressive when it came out. You not only have a woman coming in and taking over an estate, competently and kindly to boot, but you also have the same women bringing modern ideals and ideas, some of which are still controversial today. I was blown away when there was a scene in which Flora was encouraging Meriam, a farm hand who had just had her fourth unplanned baby, to look into using birth control when she and Seth Starkadder are hoping to give in to their urges. At first I wasn’t certain that that could have been what I was reading, and was very pleased when I confirmed that it was. But then of course for every progressive moment there were moments that betrayed the time period in their sexism and, yes, classism. There was another scene regarding Meriam, who became the object of affection of a bachelor named Urk who had previously been obsessed (And I mean creepily obsessed) with Flora’s cousin Elfine. There was a throw away line about Urk possibly dragging Meriam off and drowning her, but no one really knew, and who would care if he had? Given that Meriam has FOUR CHILDREN I feel like THEY would care. That didn’t sit with me well at all. Perhaps it was meant to be a part of the parody, but it didn’t feel that way.

This book wasn’t for me, but I do see it’s merits to be sure. If you like tongue in cheek books about country eccentrics, definitely check out “Cold Comfort Farm” because it seems to be a classic of the genre.

Serena’s Thoughts:

I agree with a lot that Kate said. Bookclub has been a great learning opportunity that has helped me refine my thoughts on what I do and do not enjoy reading. Before bookclub, I would have said that I enjoy almost all historical fiction, especially the kind about eccentrics living out in the British countryside. However, like Kate, I couldn’t get completely behind “I Capture the Caste” and had similar problems with “Cold Comfort Farm.” Perhaps celebrating Jane Austen’s complete collection doesn’t necessarily translate to loving all British, comedic novels.

For me, it was the same aspect of the book that both made and broke the story for me. I went into it knowing that it was written as a parody of similar romantic, pastoral novels that were popular at the time. And while I enjoyed the elbow-nudging humor this book used to critique the tropes of these stories, I was also unable to become truly attached to any of its characters for the same reason. They served their purpose in highlighting the more ridiculous aspects of the stories Gibbons set out to mock, but they were also distracting.

There are also aspects of the humor that I think are lost on modern audiences who do not have a strong knowledge of rural dialects in 1930s Britain. Apparently, Gibbons took the Shakespeare-route and dropped in several made up words. Words such as “mollocking” and “clettering.” This is a fun idea, especially since Gibbons apparently included this aspect of parody in her novel as an expression of frustration at other authors’ attempts to use phonics in their writing to capture local accents. Which is something I abhor as well. I’ll immediately put down any book that, say, is set in Scotland, and insists on having characters sprinkle in “didnae” or “woudnae” in their speech. Especially when the rest of their dialogue is unchanged. Maddening.

All in all, I struggled with this story, but I can see why it would have been very popular when it was published and can continue to be appreciated today. I actually enjoyed the book much more on a line-by-line basis. Maybe I could get a coffee table book version of it with some of the best witty lines? That I would really like. But as far as a story, I found it wanting.

Kate’s Rating 5: I definitely get why this book is beloved and a classic, but it wasn’t for me. Flora was enjoyable, but the story didn’t connect with me.

Serena’s Rating 5: Samsies. I think I had more fun reading about the book and Gibbons methods of mockery than I did reading the story itself, sadly.

Book Club Notes and Questions: 

The theme continues to be watching the movie adaptation of the book. The selection for “Cold Comfort Farm” (as there have been a few adaptations) was the 1995 version starring Kate Beckinsale, Ian McKellan, and Joanna Lumley. Unfortunately, the copy that Kate had didn’t play, so she watched clips on youtube. The acting was good, the tone seemed true to the book, and Ian McKellan can really do no wrong as far as we’re concerned.

1. “Cold Comfort Farm” was written in the early 1930s. How do you think some of the themes (feminism, birth control, emotion vs reason) were received back when the book was published? Do they still feel as powerful in 2016?

2. Ada Doom is always saying “I saw something nasty in the woodshed” throughout the novel, though we never find out just what that nasty thing was. Do you think it should have been revealed? Were you happy it wasn’t revealed?

3. This book is a parody of British pastoral stories and melodramas. Do you think that it works as an effective parody of this genre?

4. Have you read other books in the genre that this book sets out to parody? Were you able to spot similarities to other stories like this, and if so, which books and how so?

5. What did you think of the ending? Were you satisfied with how everything got resolved?

Reader’s Advisory:

“Cold Comfort Farm” is included in these Goodreads lists: “All Kinds Of Classics That Should Be Read At Least Once” and “Strong Female Characters Written By Female Authors”

Find “Cold Comfort Farm” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Other Side of Midnight”

The Other Side of Midnight Book: “The Other Side of Midnight” by Simone St. James

Publishing Info: NAL Trade, April 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: Audio book from the library

Book Description from Goodreads: London, 1925. Glamorous medium Gloria Sutter made her fortune helping the bereaved contact loved ones killed during the Great War. Now she’s been murdered at one of her own séances, after leaving a message requesting the help of her former friend and sole rival, Ellie Winter.

Ellie doesn’t contact the dead—at least, not anymore. She specializes in miraculously finding lost items. Still, she can’t refuse the final request of the only other true psychic she has known. Now Ellie must delve into Gloria’s secrets and plunge back into the world of hucksters, lowlifes, and fakes. Worse, she cannot shake the attentions of handsome James Hawley, a damaged war veteran who has dedicated himself to debunking psychics.

As Ellie and James uncover the sinister mysteries of Gloria’s life and death, Ellie is tormented by nightmarish visions that herald the grisly murders of those in Gloria’s circle. And as Ellie’s uneasy partnership with James turns dangerously intimate, an insidious evil force begins to undermine their quest for clues, a force determined to bury the truth, and whoever seeks to expose it…

Review: This book had many things going for it that fit into my preferences. Mystery: check. Historical time period: check. Dash of romance: check. All in all, right up my alley. And, for what it was, it met these expectations. It didn’t blow me away, but I enjoyed it.

Right off the bat, this book has been marketed as a gothic, ghost story. I’m not sure that’s right. This is a mystery. Yeah, there are some ghosts in it, but if you’re expecting horror, you’re going to be disappointed (also, it’s Kate’s job to read those so I don’t have deal with the nightmares!) But as a mystery novel, it does succeed. Ellie is a unique narrator and detective. She doesn’t start out with the goal of becoming an investigator and falls into the role purely from chance. But it becomes clear that she has a natural inclination, and her decisions are smart and she deals with the challenges thrown her way in a believable manner.

Often, mystery novel investigators fall into the category of “the next Sherlock Holmes.” They make wild leaps of logic, and their deductions are impossible for the reader to follow. We’re meant to just go with it and realize that we couldn’t possibly follow the thought process with our normal brains, which is what makes the author’s main character such a special investigative snowflake.Sometimes this can work. I love me a Sherlock Holmes esque character, believe me.

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Preach, Rob Lowe!

But, at other times, it comes off as lazy writing and a way for the author to avoid laying down the clues necessary for the reader to follow the mystery appropriately. This book, however, succeeds very well in this regard and provides just enough to keep the reader guessing without feeling completely lost.

I really enjoyed the psychic angle for the story. While this could fall under the category of “easy outs” like I was just ranting about a second ago, I gave this book an pass for it because of the attention given to this portion of the story. It is as much about how these different women have chosen to handle being given this gift as it is about the murder mystery. Ellie, her mother, and Gloria all handle this power in very different ways. [Insert Spiderman quote: “With great power comes great responsibility.”] The isolation of this gift is fully explored, especially in the context of the time period when operating as a businesswoman alone without a husband would have been isolating on its own, psychic abilities aside. There is a fascinating bit where Gloria discusses her role as a woman in society and what it means that out of everyone, three women were given this amazing ability.

With all of these details, however, the story did feel a bit bogged down in the middle. There are frequent jumps back in time to explore Ellie’s relationship with her mother and Gloria. And while these scenes are necessary to flesh out the story, there comes a point where I just wished we could move on with the real mystery. A killer was lurking in the city! Get a move on!

I also liked the romance included in the story. It felt a bit rushed towards the end, but I was impressed by how fully the author was able to explore James’ PTSD and experiences from the war without the the ease of an omniscient third person narrator. There were moments when James edged into “protecting the little woman” territory, but I appreciated how quickly and effectively Ellie stomped down on this while remaining true to the perspective and realities of a woman living in the 1920s.

As far as the audiobook goes, I enjoyed the narrator quite a lot. They got a British narrator for the story and the inclusion of a variety of London accents helped flesh out the many characters. Full marks for the audiobook version!

Rating 7: Good mystery novel. Not doing anything super new, but the psychic angle and time period made it a very fun read.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Other Side of Midnight” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Fiction set in the 1920s” and “Historical Mysteries and Thrillers Featuring Women.”

Find “The Other Side of Midnight” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Secret Six: Villains United”

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Book: “Secret Six: Villains United” by Gail Simone, Dale Eaglesham (Ill.), and Brad Walker (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Comics, February 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Collecting the series that led into INFINITE CRISIS! Six of justice’s deadliest enemies band together to start a revolution. Together, they want to take a stand to stop the super-heroic community from tampering with their minds and to prove how deadly they can be! But not everyone agrees to this agenda. Six rogues are recruited by the enigmatic Mockingbird, charged with opposing the Society and given assignments to thwart their rivals and even help their enemies. Who is Mockingbird? Could it be one of the six? The status quo is rocked by the Society’s formation and the revelations along the way make certain that when the Secret Six are done, nothing in the DCU will ever be the same!

Review: Remember how I screwed up when I started reading the Secret Six trades? Remember how I jumped into “Unhinged” and felt like I’d missed something, and came to understand that I had missed the entire backstory comic miniseries “Villains United”? Well guess what! I went back and read not only the prequel series, but two other prequel arcs that were included inside the collection “Secret Six: Villains United”. Let me tell you, so many things make so much more sense now. And being reintroduced to these characters in their original introductions was a bit surreal, though very helpful.

Like the summary says, the Secret Six was originally formed in opposition to Lex Luthor’s group the Secret Society of Supervillains. The recruits included Scandal Savage, Deadshot, Ragdoll, Parademon, and Cheshire. Catman joined after Luthor had his pride of lions killed. The group isn’t exactly doing this of their own volition, as Mockingbird is using blackmail as a weapon against them. Secret Six has to help their enemies as ordered by Mockingbird, and has to contend with the fact that they may all betray each other. As far as a set up series goes, I liked “Villains United” for what it was. Sometimes it felt muddled when it came to motivations, and the plot got a little bloated for a six issue arc. But the fact of the matter is that this story was far more about the characters and less about the mess that surrounded them. Finding out why each of these villains joined made me love many of them even more. I was probably biased going in, given that the team has switched up between this story and “Unhinged”. I unapologetically love the current line up, and when the line up didn’t involve them, I stubbornly refused to be on board (mainly because I just love Jeanette, and Cheshire didn’t do anything for me outside of irritate me. Yes, I know that Jeanette didn’t even get introduced until “Unhinged”, but I never said I was rational).

But I really liked Catman again. Seeing his pretty tragic backstory and seeing why he would be so resentful for his current situation shed some serious light on his character. I like that he’s a villain, but is also very conflicted about being one. I doubt that he will become a hero by any means, but he’s a breath of fresh air in how sarcastic and crabby he is, while having a good heart that he resents. I also liked seeing Scandal’s own back story, from her love story with Knockout to her broken relationship with her assassin father who is ashamed that his daughter is a lesbian, and wants her to produce an heir to their line. Deadshot is still just a snark machine who makes questionable decisions, and Ragdoll is definitely the quirky weirdo that I loved in “Unhinged”, but this time he has an adorable friendship with Parademon, who is convinced that he’s a clown that must be protected AT ALL COSTS. Their friendship even got my misty-eyed at one point, a sign of Simone’s writing skills. She does such a good job of humanizing these villains while still making them, ultimately, villains. I just wish that it hadn’t been so convoluted at times.

Just to note as well, Doomsday showed up, and I’m still not totally over “Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice”, so I was both happy to see him and also suffering teary flashbacks.

Now that I’m all caught up in Secret Six I’m going to charge on through the series. Simone has a great group of characters, and a lot of heart and humor with edgy stories.

Rating 7: A good origin story with fun characters, but sometimes felt a little bloated and muddled.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Secret Six: Villains United” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Current DC Titles”. Yep, that’s it. You can find more on my initial “Secret Six” post here.

Find “Secret Six: Villains United” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Reviews: “Magic Shifts”

"Magic Shifts"Book: “Magic Shifts” by Ilona Andrews

Publishing Info: Ace, August 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: After breaking from life with the Pack, mercenary Kate Daniels and her mate—former Beast Lord Curran Lennart—are adjusting to a very different pace. While they’re thrilled to escape all the infighting, Curran misses the constant challenges of leading the shapeshifters.

So when the Pack offers him its stake in the Mercenary Guild, Curran seizes the opportunity—too bad the Guild wants nothing to do with him and Kate. Luckily, as a veteran merc, Kate can take over any of the Guild’s unfinished jobs in order to bring in money and build their reputation. But what Kate and Curran don’t realize is that the odd jobs they’ve been working are all connected.

An ancient enemy has arisen, and Kate and Curran are the only ones who can stop it—before it takes their city apart piece by piece…

Review: So, now that we’re all caught up with the “Kate Daniels” series, let’s jump right in to her next challenge! Life in the suburbs! I feel ya, Kate. Shockingly, Kate and Curran are not exactly ideal neighbors now that they’ve chosen to abandon living at the Pack fortress and have bought a home and property in suburbia. Curran’s habit of turning furry and huge and Kate’s late night excursions are most unwelcome.

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Ew. Shapeshifters.

Curran seems to have been helping Kate with her usual tasks of cleaning up the city. Even more of a chore, now that she has “claimed” Atlanta as her own territory in an attempt to save it from her power-mad father, Roland. But, of course, something must go wrong and their friend, werebison Eduardo (I told you every creature that was ever imagined is in this series!) has gone missing and some new big bad is in town with a score to settle.

After having taken a break from this series for about a year and now jumping back in, I kind of forgot what a madhouse this world is! I mean, this book is comprised of not only a werebison, but the family drama of a werebison/werebear relationship, evil unicorns, a pegasus, and, count them, three giants! What is this book?! Fun, that’s what it is.

Kate is her usual snarky, badass self which is always the primary joy for me with this series. It was also fun seeing Curran outside of his role as the Beast Lord. In a lot of ways he was the Robin to Kate’s Batman in this book, which was a fun change from the usual Pack politics drama that he had been tied up within from the last few books. At the same time, it seems like he will now be running the Mercenary Guild, so he might fall back into the same type of position, just with another group. This probably makes sense for a character like this. Too much Robin is no one’s favorite thing. One book of it was probably enough!

Several of my favorite characters were noticeably light in this book, which was too bad. Saimen and Derek barely showed up. But we did get to meet Martha, a werebear who is the alpha of Clan Heavy. She was only there for moments, but I love her already. There was also a delightfully awkward family dinner with Kate, Curran, Julie, and Roland.

Roland’s all: “Family bonding time!”

Kate’s all:

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As far as the villain goes…meh? It was another new creature, and all in all it was an interesting concept. But at the same time, now that Roland’s on the scene, stories like these feel more and more like filler. And, not only did we not get a real showdown there or much progress beyond an info-dump at Applebee’s (Roland’s restaurant of choice??), Kate didn’t seem to even enhance her abilities in any way that could be read as progress towards that inevitable clash. So that was too bad.

That said, I still enjoyed this book for what it was: a quick foray into a messed up Atlanta that I’m sure as heck pleased NOT to live in. Though, I’d take the pegasus.

Rating 7: On par with my rating of the series over all

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Magic Shifts” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Badass Female Leads” and “It’s All About The Swords!”

Find “Magic Shifts” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Dear Daughter”

 

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Book: “Dear Daughter” by Elizabeth Little

Publishing Info: Viking, July 2014

Where Did I Get this Book: I own it.

Book Description from Goodreads: As soon as they processed my release Noah and I hit the ground running. A change of clothes. A wig. An inconspicuous sedan. We doubled back once, twice, then drove south when we were really headed east. In San Francisco we had a girl who looked like me board a plane to Hawaii.

Oh, I thought I was so clever.

But you probably already know that I’m not.

LA It Girl Janie Jenkins has it all. The looks, the brains, the connections. The criminal record.

Ten years ago, in a trial that transfixed America, Janie was convicted of murdering her mother. Now she’s been released on a technicality she’s determined to unravel the mystery of her mother’s last words, words that send her to a tiny town in the very back of beyond. But with the whole of America’s media on her tail, convinced she’s literally got away with murder, she has to do everything she can to throw her pursuers off the scent.

She knows she really didn’t like her mother. Could she have killed her?

Review: Two years ago, Serena and I (and a few of our near and dear library friends) took a trip out to the American Library Association Annual Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. Many happy memories, valuable lessons, and crazy stories to whip out at cocktail parties were cultivated there, but one of the best aspects was having access to many, many books. And a number of these books were ARC copies of upcoming (as of June 2014) publications. In the flurry and excitement, I got a copy of “Dear Daughter” by Elizabeth Little. And then it sat on my bookshelf until, oh, three days ago. It was always there, waiting patiently, and I knew that I was going to get to it eventually. Which I finally did.

Boy oh boy is Janie Jenkins an unlikable person! That’s the first thing I noticed about this book. Janie joins the ranks of anti-heroine protagonists who have started flooding thriller fiction, who have more baggage than a fully booked Boeing. This time we have Janie, who has just been released from prison on a technicality. She was convicted of murdering her mother ten years prior, and even though she’s out no one actually believes that she’s innocent. After all, she spent a lot of her teenage years making headlines for courting controversy while her nouveau riche mother just let it happen (usually with cutting insults and cruelty). She’s earned the chip on her shoulder, but then, it sounds as thought she’s always been this way, even before her stint in the slammer. I suppose that I should be happy that we are getting more realized female protagonists who neither virgins nor whores, but the trope is kind of overstaying it’s welcome. That said, I did like Janie, at least for how entertaining that she was and how delightfully bitchy she was. Sometimes I like watching a crazy train wreck character, usually if he or she makes me laugh.

I was pleasantly surprised that I liked a lot of the side characters almost as much as I liked(?) Janie. I feel like it’s sometimes really easy to just have side characters fulfill minimal plot progressions, or be people that the main character can bounce off of, especially in thrillers like this one. But many of the side characters were enjoyable, and I liked getting information about all of them. It’s true that sometimes they were a little two dimensional, but the small town connections meant that everyone had some association with each other and made way for good interactions. One character I especially liked was Leo, the town cop that is on to Janie as she makes her way through the town history in an effort to figure out who she is. He was certainly abrasive, and probably would be considered problematic in how they interacted with each other, but I liked that he gave Janie a run for her money when it came to her nastiness.

This book also could be classified as partially epistolary, as some of the story is told in texts, news reports, blog posts, and other forms of correspondence, which really worked in this book. The notoriety of Janie Jenkins in this world makes her a prime target for gossip sites and bloodthirsty news organizations, and getting that whole other side of the story as the paparazzi closes in on her was great and effective at building the tension. For me the best mystery was the identity of one of the obsessed and relentless bloggers that was hounding Janie and convinced of her guilt, as the way that he was harassing her and practically stalking her made me very uncomfortable. I like being uncomfortable when I read books like this.

My main critique with this book is some of the dialogue that Little gave to Janie, be it outward or inner monologue. There were a number of times that I actually rolled my eyes because it went from being slick and snide to overdone and overcompensating. I’m sure that it was very over the top to show just how snarky and wicked she is, and that was hard to stomach because of the ham fisted way that it skewed a good amount of the time. I get it. She’s unpleasant and mean but vulnerable too. No need to oversell the point.

“Dear Daughter” was a book that I practically couldn’t put down, and I really wish that I’d thought to pick it up sooner. I hope that Elizabeth Little keeps writing thrillers, because this was a zippy read that I would definitely recommend to those who like books in the genre. Consider me a Janie Jenkies supporter through and through, and I think that I wouldn’t be the only one.

Rating 7: A solid mystery and an interesting protagonist, but sometimes on the nose and unsubtle with its dialogue.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Dear Daughter” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Books for Serial Podcast Lovers” and “If You Enjoyed ‘Gone Girl’, You Might Also Like…”

Find “Dear Daughter” at your library using WorldCat!

Movie Review: Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice

As much as we like books, sometimes we like to check out the movie world as well. Today we reviewed “Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Watch the video to find out all about Superman’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and why Batman’s theme song should be “We Don’t Need Another Hero.” Stay tuned at the end for our book recommendations if you liked this movie. (Titles also posted below).

Kate’s Recommendations:

"The Dark Knight Returns"

“The Dark Knight Returns” by Frank Miller

 

 

 

"The Secret History of Wonder Woman"

“The Secret History of Wonder Woman” by Jill Lepore

 

 

 

Serena’s Recommendations:

"Lois Lane: Fallout"

“Lois Lane: Fallout” by Gwenda Bond

 

 

 

"Steelheart"

“Steelheart” by Brandon Sanderson

Serena’s Series Review – “Kate Daniels” Series

Kate Daniels SeriesA couple of years ago, I went on an urban fantasy binge. Urban fantasy, as a genre, has been very hit and miss for me. On paper it looks like something I would love. In reality? Most of what I’ve read has been fairly “meh.” There are a couple of series, however, that have caught hold and Ilona Andrews’ “Kate Daniels” series was one of them. Her newest book, “Magic Shifts” was published last August with the next in the series is coming out this September. I’ll be reviewing “Magic Shifts” soon and definitely have her newest on my mental list of books to look forward to this fall. But there are like 7 books in this series before this point! In lieu of an exhausting, and frankly, likely boring, review of each and every one of these books, I’m going to combine them all into a mega series review! We’ll see how this goes!

Books: “Magic Bites,” Magic Burns,” “Magic Strikes,” “Magic Bleeds,” Magic Slays,” “Magic Rises,” and “Magic Breaks” by Ilona Andrews*

Publishing Info: Ace, 2007, 2008,  2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014

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

Review: This series takes place in post-Shift Atlanta sometime in the near future. The Shift, a near apocalyptic event where magic suddenly re-entered the world, occurred years before and humanity is still adjusting to what this means for the world order. Suddenly there are shapeshifters, vampires, ghouls, and who knows what else running around the world wreaking havoc on the ordinary folk. The government has adjusted accordingly and attempted to set up systems to maintain order. One piece of this system is the Mercenary Guild. Its name is self-explanatory. Some creepy critter shows up, people can hire a mercenary to take care of it. Kate Daniels is one of the best, and this series is her story.

Throughout the series, Kate explores the mysteries of her past, while saving the day and forming close relationships with a ragtag group of other mercenaries, shapeshifters, vampire controllers, mages, etc, etc. Basically, she knows everyone in Atlanta. And, per typical urban fantasy requirements, there is a strong romantic element in her growing relationship with the Beast Lord, Curran, who is a werelion and the alpha of the Atlanta shapeshifter pack. Steaminess ensues.

What makes this series stick for me in ways that other urban fantasy series did not is our heroine, Kate. The spunky, snarky, warrior woman in these kinds of books is a well-trodden trope. However, Kate stands out not only in her consistency and general ability to avoid making ridiculous, self-sacrificial, dramatic decisions (per other frustrating heroines in series-that-shall-not-be-named), but also in the genuine evolution of her character throughout the books. While there are weaker books in the series than others, and there are moments where she falls into these stereotypes, overall, Kate learns from her mistakes, accepts who she is, and doesn’t devalue those around her, their feelings, or what they can contribute to her cause.

Curran, also, works well as the romantic lead. There are times, especially in the early books, where he plays a bit too much into the classic “alpha male” role which didn’t rub me the right way. But over the course of the series, he, too, evolves as a character and becomes a strong partner for Kate. And, even at his worst, he still acknowledges Kate’s independence and does not interfere in her adventuring ways.

There does come a point towards the last two thirds of the series where I call relationship shenanigans. Up to this point there had been the usual relationship set-up drama, but at this stage in the story, Kate and Curran were firmly an item and had worked through many of their issues. And then. And then!

Enough, I'm tired of your shenanigans

The wedge that was used to insert drama into their relationship felt very contrived. Both Kate and Curran behaved out-of-character, in my opinion, and it was all highly disappointing for a series that had handled its core relationship so competently up until this point. Luckily, this gaffe only lasted through the one book and things have returned to normal since. During this section in the series, it felt like Andrews was coming up against a sort of wall, having gotten her couple together and fleshed out many of Kate’s familial mysteries. She did recover, however, and I am happy to report that the next few books were on par once again.

When I said earlier that Kate knows everyone in Atlanta? Yeah, I meant everyone. There are so many characters in this series! And most of them are tons of fun. A few of my favorites are Aunt B, a werehyena, Andrea, a sharpshooter merc, Julie, a street kid with magical flare, and Saiman, a….who knows what really? But he snarks at Kate and makes her uncomfortable and is fun all around. And there are many, many more! This is both a plus and a minus. As the series continues, it becomes impossible to spend enough time with all of these great characters in each book. One book will spend extra time with one or two and only have brief appearances from the others, and vice versa. So, depending on which characters you like, and how much page time they get in each book, there can be a dramatic difference in your enjoyment of one book in the series as compared to another. Luckily, if you’re just there mostly for Kate, like I am, you’re good to go the whole time.

Each book also seems to live and die by its villain. Some are stronger than others. There are some genuinely creepy magical beings in these books. But, in general, the creativity of the world and how civilization has adapted to all of the craziness is what makes this series so fun. I burned through the first 3-4 books in this series in a matter of weeks. I’m not sure I would recommend this approach, as aspects of the stories became a bit too familiar from one book to the next. But it can’t say anything too bad that I was invested enough to fall into that trap in the first place. If you like urban fantasy, definitely check out this series, and look out for my upcoming review of “Magic Shifts” where Kate beats up on some giants!

*Can we take a moment to ask why urban fantasy novels have such terrible names and covers? I mean, look at those things! Sigh.

Rating 7: Fun urban fantasy lark. You know what you’re getting, but it’s the good kind.

Reader’s Advisory: Since this is a series, it’s not really on a list, per se. If you liked this series, however, I would recommend the “Mercy Thompson” series by Patricia Briggs and “October Daye” series by Seanan McGuire.

Find the first book in this series, “Magic Bites,” at your library using WorldCat!