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.

Serena’s Review: “Never Ever”

22840374Book: “Never Ever” by Sara Saedi

Publishing Info: Viking, June 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Wylie Dalton didn’t believe in fairy tales or love at first sight.

Then she met a real-life Peter Pan.

When Wylie encounters Phinn—confident, mature, and devastatingly handsome—at a party the night before her brother goes to juvie, she can’t believe how fast she falls for him. And that’s before he shows her how to fly.

Soon Wylie and her brothers find themselves whisked away to a mysterious tropical island off the coast of New York City where nobody ages beyond seventeen and life is a constant party. Wylie’s in heaven: now her brother won’t go to jail and she can escape her over-scheduled life with all its woes and responsibilities—permanently.

But the deeper Wylie falls for Phinn, the more she begins to discover has been kept from her and her brothers. Somebody on the island has been lying to her, but the truth can’t stay hidden forever.

Review: My unfortunate streak of disappointing reads continues. It always seems to happen like this, you’ll be on a roll and then BAM! A few books just fail to live up to expectations and it is very disappointing. I included this title in my “Highights” picks for June based on two things: 1) a pretty cover (my first mistake) and 2.) a Peter Pan retelling! a Peter Pan retelling! And sure, the cover lived up to its hype and is very pretty in person. The Peter Pan retelling itself, not so much.

So, first off, a Peter Pan retelling has a lot of things going for it, in theory. The fantasy set up is all there, the adventure, the story of friendship and family, and depending on the route you take, the romance. All the ingredients for things I like in my fantasy stories. And pros first, the author did have a creative take on how adapt what is a story about children into a young adult novel. It was entertaining to see the nods to the originals (though the on-the-nose naming conventions were a bit much at times. Wylie is a coyote, not a teenage girl protagonist. There’s even a bit where she talks about how much she likes her name as if, very secretly, the author could see my eyebrows raising into my hairline…). The close sibling relationship between Wylie and her brothers is sweet and reminiscent of the original, as well.

Sadly, that’s about it for things I liked from this book. My biggest problem was the writing and plotting of the story. Listen, I have read a good amount of fanfiction in my day, and there is a lot of really great stuff out there. But this? This read like the worst kind of generic, stereotypical Peter Pan fanfiction: clunky dialogue, the author’s hands all over the plot which you can spot from outer space, the worst kind of tropes. Tinka (these names!) is everything you’d guess for a Tinkerbell-like character in this type of story. At one point, Wylie, out loud in her own head, admires Tinka’s “perky breasts.”

tinkerbell_laughing

And the story never recovered from the very first few chapters where Wylie made repeated decisions that earned her a too-dumb-to-live badge of honor. At a party, Wylie meets a strange boy who has been staring at her from across the room. And then what does she do? Immediately leaves the party with him! Sure, she tells her friends that’s she’s leaving, but I’m awarding her zero points for this as it is still inexcusably dumb. She later consumes a very sketchy plant that he just  casually offers her at McDonald’s (where he took her, which should have been her…well, not first sign, that was much earlier…how about tenth sign to get the hell out of there). And then, after convincing her brothers to also take this plant-drug (it allows them to fly, you’d never guess!), it turns out the plant also, conveniently, knocks them all out cold when it wears off. And they wake up being born away on Phynn’s super sweet sail boat. So…Phynn pretty much rufied them all and then kidnapped them. But don’t worry, this doesn’t hinder Wylie’s insta-attraction to him.

What we all wanted from a Peter Pan lead:

giphy5

What we got from Phynn:

giphy6

I won’t bore you with a review for the rest of the book. There was a decision towards the end of the story that did finally bring a bit more creativity to the novel, but nothing could save it from what was, sadly, very poor writing. Of course, there will be sequels. I won’t be checking them out.

Rating 3: A ridiculous heroine, a creepy hero, and writing that did the story no favors.

Reader’s Advisory: This is a very new book, so it isn’t on many lists. But, as it happens, I have read some Peter Pan fanfiction in my day and much of it was lightyears better than this. One of the best Peter Pan fanfic authors I’ve found is “weezer42.” Here is her page of Peter Pan stories. “Whither by Moonlight” is probably my favorite.

 

 

 

Kate’s Review: “Girl Last Seen”

27070146Book: “Girl Last Seen” by Heather Anastasiu and Anne Greenwood Brown

Publication Info: Aw Teen, March 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The Library!

Book Description: Kadence Mulligan’s star was rising. She and her best friend, Lauren DeSanto, watched their songs go viral on YouTube, then she launched a solo career when a nasty throat infection paralyzed Lauren’s vocal chords. Everyone knows Lauren and Kadence had a major falling-out over Kady’s boyfriend. But Lauren knows how deceptive Kadence could be sometimes. And nobody believes Lauren when she claims she had nothing to do with the disappearance. Or the blood evidence As the town and local media condemns Lauren, she realizes the only way to clear her name is to discover the truth herself. Lauren slowly unravels the twisted life of Kadence Mulligan and sees that there was more to her than she ever knew. But will she realize she’s unknowingly playing a part in an elaborate game to cover up a crime before it’s too late?

Review:  Sometimes I take a chance on a book that I have never heard of. Working at a library means that I see a lot of books pass by me, so I get tempted to be spontaneous fairly often. “Girl Last Seen” is one of those books that I decided to take a chance on. I had a long plane trip ahead of me, and something fluffy and easy sounded really good to me. However, I didn’t want it to be THAT fluffy and easy. And unfortunately, “Girl Last Seen” fell very much into that camp. It was kind of like the idea was ‘what if we took “Gone Girl” and made it for teens?’ I have news for you. Teenagers could just read “Gone Girl”. And I didn’t like “Gone Girl” either. So you know that this isn’t looking good for this book.

First of all, none of the characters were very interesting. You have Lauren, a musician and lyricist who is part of a musical duo with her best friend Kadence. But of course the moment that Lauren lost her voice semi permanently due to a nasty infection she contracted, Kadence dropped her and went solo. Lauren is your typical victimized best friend, who did crappy things to become popular, like dropping her old best friend Nathan. Then there’s Nathan, who became a pariah after he lost Lauren, so much so that he left school for awhile. He’s back now, though, and conveniently hot. And he’s going by the name Jude. He’s also kind of stalkery and hell bent on revenge against Kadence and Lauren, but not really Lauren because he’s still madly in love with her. This is normally a trope that I’m on board with, but in this case he wasn’t sympathetic enough for me to pledge my alliance to him. Then there is Kadence’s boyfriend Mason, the guy who put another wedge between Kadence and Lauren by kissing Lauren in the heat of the moment. Which is just another reason that people in their community think that Lauren has something to do with Kadence’s disappearance. All tropes that we’ve seen before. I’m fine with tropes, but only if they are made into their own well rounded characters and plot points, and none of them are.

There was also a strange choice in writing with this book, in that it tried to take an epistolary approach for the chapters that concerned Kadence. But instead of using written things like texts, or emails, or instant messages (is that still a thing?), the authors try to write out what is happening on web videos or news reports. When trying to write out something that is so visual, it comes off as very stilted and strange. I didn’t understand why that choice was made, when it could have been something like a blog post or a bunch of tweets. Instead we got a lot of things like ‘she looks away from the camera and looks upset’, which is the EPITOME of telling and not showing!!! That is a huge pet peeve of mine. If this were an actual web series, sure, a girl looking away from a camera and looking upset may show instead of tell, but in this case it just was awkward and irritating.

And there wasn’t really any big mystery to this whole thing. I pretty much knew what was happening from the beginning, and while the authors tried to throw some red herrings in there, it didn’t really fool me. That said, there was one final big twist that I didn’t see coming, which I do have to give them props for. It was much better than what the initial explanation was, and I did take that at face value at first. So kudos in that regard, as not only was it surprising, but it did end up being the most satisfactory of endings that I could get from this book. But one small twist that shocked me didn’t make up for lots of other things that didn’t quite add up in my eyes.

Seriously, teens could just read “Gone Girl” and get basically the same gist. It’s a shame because the summary was intriguing and I like being spontaneous, but when my spontaneity isn’t rewarded I feel more of a need to stick to planning out what I’m going to read.

Rating 3: This one just didn’t do it for me. The characters were flat, the mystery has been done, and most of the twists were predictable.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Girl Last Seen” is included on these Goodreads lists: “YA Music Books”, and “2016 YA Contemporary”.

Find “Girl Last Seen” at your library using WorldCat!

Bookclub Review: “City of Bones”

City of Bones

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: “City of Bones” by Cassandra Clare

Publishing Info: Margaret K. McElderry Books, March 2007

Where Did We Get this Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder― much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It’s hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing―not even a smear of blood―to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy?

This is Clary’s first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It’s also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace’s world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know…

Serena’s Thoughts:

As the professed fantasy-lover on this blog, I feel like it’s a bit unfortunate that this happens to be the first fantasy novel I’ll be reviewing. Ah well! I will blame my bookclub friend who chose this as her selection for bookclub and leave the regret with that.

I approached this book with what can by only described as extreme trepidation. It’s a staple in the YA fantasy genre and one I knew I should be getting around to, even now, many years after its publication. Cassandra Clare is nothing if not prolific with her writing given the number of sequels and prequels she’s rolled out! And, alas, my trepidation was warranted. While I love fantasy and young adult novels, “City of Bones” was not my cup of tea, and by the end I was frankly skimming along.

Positives first! I can definitely see why this book took off the way it did. Clare’s writing is fast-paced, her characters are witty, and the story includes every fantasy angle a reader could ask for. Negatives? The writing is so fast-paced that the story seems frenetic, ALL the characters are eerily similar in their witticisms, and the story includes every fantasy trope there is in the book. Vampires! Werewolves! Zombies! Hidden fantasy world in a major city! Heroine is more than she seems! It was a bit much. Don’t even get me started on the tired love-triangle trope. *sigh*

And, full disclosure, I came into this book having heard about the trials and tribulations of Clare’s fanfiction history. And while I’m not here to delve into that, I read a good amount of Harry Potter fanfiction in my day, and Jace? Jace was fanfiction!Draco. Clary’s connection to Ginny was harder to spot which was only a disservice to Clary, as Ginny is by far a more appealing protagonist. Clary did grow on me towards the end of the novel, but it was a bit too little, too late. And honestly, “Twilight” has forever biased me against a YA novel where the heroine describes herself as “clumsy” within the first 20 pages.

If you haven’t read this book by now and are a completest about YA fantasy series, than purely for the sake of popular relevance, you might want to check this book out. But for me, I won’t be continuing on.

Kate’s Thoughts:

Gosh, I’m not even certain of where to begin with this book. I had heard of it around the time that it first came out, but since back in 2007 I hadn’t really discovered YA Fiction and since it hadn’t really taken off yet as its own industry I wasn’t interested in reading it. But then it was picked for our YA Book Club and I found myself finally about to fill the void that not having read it admittedly left in my YA repertoire. But having gone through it now, I think it probably would have been just fine if that void had not been filled.

My main problem with it is that even though it was probably one of the first series to do the things that it does, coming in almost ten years after it was published made the themes and tropes seem VERY old hat. I can’t say that I was a fan of Clary being not only the point on a love triangle, but also a ‘chosen one’ figure AND incredibly snarky and witty and quirky. These themes are so commonplace now that I can hardly abide them anymore. I do think that there is some potential in this world, however, as I think that the magical system does have a pretty strong foundation. The Shadowhunter mythology is something that does intrigue me. It’s just that the focus is too much on Clary and how special she is when she was convinced that she wasn’t special at all. I liked Jace enough as a character, though knowing that this story is derived from a Harry Potter Fan Fiction that Clare wrote made it all the more clear to me that Jace is really Draco Malfoy, at least what he is seen as within the Harry Potter Fan Fiction Fanon. It’s too bad, because I wanted to see more ‘Jace-ness’, less ‘Draco-ness’.

The most intriguing character to me was Isabella, a female Shadowhunter (apparently such things are rare in this world. Hi, mild sexism, how are you?) who comes from an elite family and is used to all the male attention being on her. So of course she’s going to be threatened by Clary, who is so plain yet all the boys love her. What I liked about Isabella is that she did have glimmers of being pretty interesting, and it was evident that she cared about her cause and those around her. I have nothing bad to say about Isabelle, and I would probably read the entire series if it was about her. I can definitely see why this book could and would appeal to teenage readers, though. I know that when I was a teenage girl living a pretty normal, sometimes stressful, life, I would have loved the idea of having a completely different life, with two hot guys in love with me and a set of special powers to boot. And besides, I’m pretty sure that this book wasn’t written for me. So all in all I can’t fault it too much for being what it is. I just think that it could have been better.

Serena’s Rating 3: Too many YA fantasy tropes, not enough substance

Kate’s Rating 4: Predictable and shallow, but had some merits

Book Club Notes and Questions:

We also watched this movie, per the instructions of this bookclub season’s theme. It was what one would expect. The cinematography was beautiful, it adhered to the plot as much as a movie can within its time frame, and it had many of the same failings as the book did. It also bombed in the theater which is actually a bit of a surprise given the series’ popularity and the fact that most popular YA book-to-movie adaptations have been met with success. Sadly, since a sequel is not in the works, movie-goers will be forever left with…that ending…you know the one I’m talking about…

  1. “City of Bones” came out in 2007, and is nearly ten years old. Given that YA literature has changed so much in that time, do you think that this story would follow a similar path if it were written today? If not, how do you think it would change?
  2. What did you think of the magical world and magical system that Clare created for her series? Did it feel well thought out and complete? Did you want more?
  3. Was Clary a relatable protagonist for you? Did you find it easy to sympathize with her? If not, how could she have been more relatable?
  4. If you have read the book and watched the movie, how do they compare? Were there choices that the movie improved upon? Failures of omission?
  5. This book was influenced by Cassandra Clare’s very popular Harry Potter fanfiction writing. Were there resemblances between this world and the Harry Potter world that were easy to spot? Did it stand well enough on its own?

Reader’s Advisory:

“City of Bones” is included in these Goodreads lists: “All The Great Guys Books Have to Offer”, and “If You Love Harry Potter, Read These!” 

Find “City of Bones” at your library using WorldCat!