4.5 Snuck this one in in-between review books because I remembered how much fun Texas Gothic was; do not regret. And yes, I know snuck is not a word. Y4.5 Snuck this one in in-between review books because I remembered how much fun Texas Gothic was; do not regret. And yes, I know snuck is not a word. You can pry it from my cold dead lips....more
I had originally intended to have a vlog in defense of Lydia Bennet filmed to go along with today's review, but alas, I somehow managed not to accountI had originally intended to have a vlog in defense of Lydia Bennet filmed to go along with today's review, but alas, I somehow managed not to account for Labor Day, and that just didn't happen. Next year, I suppose, but I do have to say, I've come to look at a lot of Austen characters differently as I've gotten older and pondered more, and I can't seem to muster up the annoyance and dislike of Lydia that I once held. (And even though I didn't end up talking about her in it, Lydia was actually one of the main inspirations behind this book chat about Austen's bitches, in which I found myself defending characters I never thought I would, including the likes of Caroline Bingley and Mrs Norris! I know, I surprised myself. And we're all just gonna ignore that unfortunate lipstick choice, 'k?)
But all of this is to say, since I am always on the look out for Austen rewrites that address characters beyond just Lizzie & Darcy, I've been finding myself especially curious to see what writers would do with Lydia's story, and whether she can be made sympathetic and still retain her Lydia-ness — so of course, I was very happy to learn that the second book in Maria Grace's Queen of Rosings Park series was tackling "the Lydia problem"! And for the most part, I think it does so quite well.
Now, before I get into all of the pros and cons and whys, I need to make clear that the Queen of Rosings Park series takes a very different approach to the canon of Pride & Prejudice, shaking pretty much everything up and creating a whole new (and rather unpleasant) upbringing for the Bennet sisters. This means that the Lydia we know from P&P is already on quite a different path than what we're used to. I mean, she's still Lydia, and she still does the traditional thoughtless-Lydia things. But her life and the events that have formed her are just not the same, and that really comes into play in this story, in how her transformation comes about. But though her life and experiences are so different, and her internalized feelings maybe more extreme as a result, I found them to be a pretty fascinating and potentially accurate reflection of who she is or could be.
The idea of Lydia as a creative, who loves to draw and paint and seems to have almost an inexplicably exceptional natural talent for it, at first seemed a little off to me. I couldn't picture Lydia applying herself to something, and I wasn't sure if she really had that spark of creativity and intelligence needed to be the talented artist that she appeared to be. But then — silly as it is — I recalled the scene with the bonnet, the very ugly bonnet, that she might as well buy as not; she had plans, you see, to pick it to pieces and rework it. On first reading, this seems like another bit of frivolity on her part -- shallow, heedless, bad with money, idle hands and devils work and all that. But actually it speaks to a a self-assuredness that she can remake it into something more, and a desire for creativity and occupation -- albeit not one she finds boring. Add in the fact that the Bennet girls never had masters to teach them such things, or seek out the seeds of such a talent, and it becomes a little less far-fetched that those seeds could be inside Lydia, just waiting to burst forth.
It actually became one of my favorite aspects of the story, seeing Lydia's burgeoning ability, almost an awakening, and watching how it brings her to life. (Having this an aspect of her brain and personality also makes sense in other ways: many creatives struggle with the mundane, some with learning things in a traditional manner; many are flamboyant, messy, and flout convention -- there are a lot of aspects of her personality that actually dovetail quite nicely with this choice on Grace's part.) Her growing passion for art, and the realization that she has a talent and isn't just a trifling, silly girl, actually works (in a rather sad way), with some of the negative aspects of her life — and I don't just mean the altered course that Maria Grace has laid out. Even the treatment of her family in the original text plays well with Trouble-Lydia's need for approval, and general amazement that she's good for/at something. It is actually very sad, and sadly realistic, and makes you question whether her unchecked penchant for fun at all costs is a distraction from how unhappy and undervalued she feels — and how in turn, this would make her exceedingly easy prey for Wickham...
I found these things very fascinating, and they added such a nice layer to the story, because not only do they serve to give Lydia more depth, but they also cause me to reflect back on the original text in new ways, which is part of why I love Austenesque stories so much. (This, by the way, is something I find Maria Grace particularly talented at.) I had only two real detractions, and these are they:
1) There came a point where the male lead made my skin crawl a little bit, and I was almost really put off by him, and their relationship. BUT I came to realize that this is just as much a story of redemption for him as it is for her, and if I can forgive her some things, I can forgive him, too, so long as he's demonstrated a willingness to be better (and he has. He certainly has).
and 2) It definitely needs a little more Lydia feel. I make allowances for the fact that this is, as mentioned, a totally new interpretation of her (and all of the characters), and so, because her life has been so different, she's obviously not going to behave quite as Austen's Lydia would. Bus she starts out a bit too demure and tractable, and she learns and grows too easily. I can't help but feel Lydia would dig in her heels more, and she's certainly not an easy character to make feel shame (as evidenced by her wedding and reaction in the original text -- she was essentially ruined, and still found it all a lark). Even in her manner of speech, she feels a bit too mature and buttoned up, right from the start, for me. I need a few more "Oh, la!"s and general noisy exclamations. This Lydia is no wallflower, certainly, but she's lacking that characteristic boisterousness that makes Lydia Lydia. And frankly, I want to see a Lydia that can be "reformed" and have a Happy Ever After while not being totally dampened or losing her spark.
But again, Grace has a juggling act of being both true to Austen and to the quite altered retelling that she's set out to tell, and I do make allowances for that. All told, this is another strong book in a fascinating series, and though it may be too far removed from the original to make it to everyone's liking, I think it is an excellent example of what a classic-inspired retelling or continuation can be. Definitely recommended for fans of the series, JAFF, and those curious about Lydia (as well as those who just plain like historical romance that falls on the more wholesome, rather than steamy, side). If you're reading it for the Austen: definitely read book 1 first; you'll really need that world-building. If reading it for the histrom, you could probably jump right in, without knowing more than the basics of P&P, and still find it completely enjoyable.
Those of you who watched my First Impressions video on Interference will likely have suspected I was going to love this. I was smitten right from the first page, couldn't get over the voice and the fantastic dry humor, and well, everything, basically. There may have been "delighted jazz hands" in the video, so. . . Basically I said it was on track to be a favorite of 2016, unless it took a nosedive, so now the question is: did it?
Thankfully, thankfully, it did not. Interference was strong from beginning to end. It was warm and endearing and funny, and captured the place-feel very well. As I said in the video, it set up a lot of interesting contrasts well right from the beginning (there vs here, then vs now, us vs them). I can't speak to the Friday Night Lights of it all, as I've never watched it (couldn't get past the nauseating shaky-cam of the first episode; someone tell me if the camera work gets better and its worth sticking around?), but I'd imagine that any YA small town slice-of-Americana that heavily features football probably garners the same comparison.
What I can speak to is the Austen of it all, and I gotta say, it hits Emma notes in very clever ways, much the same way Clueless did: not over-the-top, but with all these little nods and easter eggs for Austen fans, while interpreting and reinventing the story in fresh, fun ways. There's some really smart thinking in using the daughter of a politician to reframe the story of Emma for the modern day -- the theme of manipulation for the greater good and that sense of well-meaning superiority that is such a part of Emma's world fits perfectly with a daughter who has been raised on the campaign trail and in front of cameras. It's one of those strokes of perfect obviousness that is borderline genius — of course! Of course a modern Emma would get her manipulation skills and ability to spin things to her benefit from a politician father! Of course someone whose grown up in a world where people are both passionately fighting for what they feel is right while also being absolutely sharks would pick up some of Emma's puppet master tendencies. It's really a very clever mash-up.
Now, like Emma, whom many readers have MAJOR likability problems with, some readers may never connect to Kate, or may want to jump ship before she learns some lessons and wins her likability points. But as I've always said, Emma is one of my favorite characters, and I relate to her a lot. I relate to her hard, y'all. I've got as much Emma in me as I do Lizzy (that's right, I'm a self-important smartypants who knows whats best for everyone else, but never takes her own advice. Soz!), so I loved Kate from the start. One of the joys of Emma for me is that, even when Emma is getting herself (and those around her. Oops) into colossal snarls, following her own misguided compass, you can always see why she thinks she's right. Her actions, though inevitably wrong, make sense. The same is true of Kate; she doesn't listen when people tell her that she's interpreting something incorrectly, and she doesn't kowtow to someone else's greater understanding of a person's character that they've known their whole life — she knows how things have worked for her in the past, where she's from, and she knows how she'd expect people to react, and why should here be any different? She goes full-steam ahead with her schemes, convinced that she's right and someone just needs to try, and that may frustrate some readers, but I get her — because how do you know if you don't try? And frankly, I like a confident (some may say cocky, I say confident) YA heroine or young woman in general. (I think that's part of the reason that I actually resent Knightley a little bit. He just had to be right. =/)
I don't know what else there really is to say. In many ways, it's a typical, familiar story; that doesn't bother me, because it just makes it seem relatable and familiar-like-a-friend, rather than just the same old, recycled storylines. (And I mean, it is a retelling, so... I expect that feel.) Its main character may put some people off, but I love her; but then, I do tend to love the MCs that no one else does (and I'm okay with that). As always, I'd say just know yourself as a reader: if you're not a fan of Emma, there's a good chance you won't like her rewritten. If you love fluffy, fun contemporary,* you might like this. And if you're not, you won't.
I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments, especially if you've read this or watched my First Impressions and have thoughts on the style! Also, can I hear from some fellow Emma lovers out there? It was many, many years before I realized that a lot of people didn't actually like her (like, seriously, many years. I read it when I was 17, and I think I only realized last year when our read along was Emma. I was baffled(ish), startled, and a little bit heart-broken.) And if you end up picking this book up, please come back or find me on twitter and let me know what you thought!
*Speaking of, the synopsis compares this to Elizabeth Eulberg (with which I agree) and Sarah Dessen, and now I wanna know: is this how Sarah Dessen writes? Is this the kind of story she tells? Because if so, I've been missing out and need to change that. Someone who's read this, let me know, pls!
Initial thoughts: Just under a 5 for a bit of a rush-job on the ending, but for the most part, lurved it. And really lurved Vassa.
Review: Now, I’m goiInitial thoughts: Just under a 5 for a bit of a rush-job on the ending, but for the most part, lurved it. And really lurved Vassa.
Review: Now, I’m going to say right off the bat, this story is certainly not for everyone. It’s weird and it’s odd (and somehow those are different things). The nights are getting longer and longer, even though the clock stays the same (weird), and there’s a talking doll who could eat several times her weight in…well, anything (odd). But more than that, it’s an occasionally non-linear story (something some readers struggle to follow or stay engaged in), where nearly everything is off-putting and slightly discordant—or should I say diskordant, because every single ‘dis’ word that has a C in it (and you’d be surprised how many there are), instead has a K—and this is yet another layer of the strange and bizarre and weird and odd that will be found in Vassa’s pages. And yes, though that may not seem like much, it is a symbol of just how thoroughly The Odd pervades this book. It’s written to make you a little uncomfortable, to keep you more than a little unsettled. Plenty of people struggle enough with “weird” books when it’s just the contents that are weird, but when the storytelling itself goes wonky, that’s enough to drive some readers away.
What’s more, it’s disturbing and it’s dark, and yes, those are most definitely separate things, though they certainly go hand in hand. I mean, there’s a dancing store on giant chicken legs (disturbing), surrounded by a fence of heads on spikes (dark). There are glitter nail polish –wearing disembodied hands (disturbing) who wield axes and are bloodthirsty to tear people apart (dark). There is a missing father who has made possibly one of the strangest fey deals in any story I’ve ever read (no spoilers, but…disturbing and odd and weird), and a half sibling who sends her sister to the dancing chicken-legged store at night, knowing it could very well end with her head on a spike (and hoping it will—dark). There are no cookie cutter happy endings here, where resolution is given to each bit of each story line; where the good guys always win and the bad guys always get what’s coming to them, and any real damage done is undone. Vassa’s world is one that is pretty downtrodden and unsettling even before she gets snarled up in Babs’ murderous machinations*, and even if she should prove victorious and manage to survive her very long nights at BY’s, she still has to go back to that small, unhappy world.
But—there is hope. As with any fairy tale worth its salt, there is some small chance of a silver lining, an improvement in one’s lot. And there is the realization of self that only the really good fairy tales possess, that newfound understanding of one’s own power and competency and agency. And all of these things—these weird, odd, disturbing, dark things—are what drew me in and made me love the book. No, it won’t be for everyone, and the lack of perfect resolution may mean that even some readers who were enjoying the book will feel as if the rug has been pulled out from under them by the end, or as if they’ve invested their time for not enough pay off. But for those—like me—who enjoy the surreal and the bizarre, who like their fairy tales dark and their retellings darker, and who appreciate a good Coming Into One’s Own type of story, you may find it doesn’t get much better than Vassa. It’s fantastical and strangely compelling and has a great voice, and it hits a lot of right notes (the thrills! the chills! the funnies and tinglies!).
I’ve seen some people say it was slow, but you all know I’m not the person to ask about a book’s slowness, because I always seem to love them more when they build and burn and luxuriate in setting the scene.** (Though I will definitely agree with those who felt the ending seemed rushed by comparison, because it most definitely did.) Though it doesn’t seem there are plans as of yet for a sequel, I’m hoping there will be, because I would like to fall into Vassa’s world again, to see what becomes of her and some peripheral characters, and also to see if we get any resolution of some of the weirder storylines—but all in all, I find myself heartily recommending it to those who think they are likely to like the weird things I like, and only cautiously recommending it to those who don’t – and fully curious to know the thoughts of any who do end up reading it!
*Claiming for future bad punk band name… ** To an extent, because there are definitely some books that my godddddd are too slow. And I can not abide info-dumping, which makes a book insta-slow.
I don't love the shift in the art direction (though I understand why there *was* a shift), but still in love with the stories. And I DO like the art,I don't love the shift in the art direction (though I understand why there *was* a shift), but still in love with the stories. And I DO like the art, it's not like the style change in this is bad -- in fact, it's something I would have commented on very positively in a review; it's unique and a sort of dreamy/realistic blend. BUT I just loved the expressiveness of the first issues -- Roc Upchurch's handle on character and emotion through facial expression was seriously some of the best I have EVER seen, so when it changed, I really missed that. (Also, Sawyer was just so damn hot in his hands...) Stjepan Šejić's art was still really great, but it wasn't my Queens, you know? It wasn't the ones I'd come to love. But still, excellent series, and I'm looking forward to getting into the next vol. of issues and seeing how I respond to the art once it changes hands again (to Tess Fowler)....more
I don't know who was the first to recommend these comics to me, and I can't even begin to list all of the people who have since, but THANK YOU ALL YOUI don't know who was the first to recommend these comics to me, and I can't even begin to list all of the people who have since, but THANK YOU ALL YOU ARE RIGHT I LURVE YOU. I freaking love this series....more
Dark and tense and unsettling and brutal, and I'm not sure if there's going to be a sequel, but I think so (hope so?) and will be looking forward to iDark and tense and unsettling and brutal, and I'm not sure if there's going to be a sequel, but I think so (hope so?) and will be looking forward to it. (Not that I'm opposed to a dark, un-pretty ending. But there are still questions to be answered!)...more
This was cute, had great humor throughout, and the art was very clean, crisp and colorful (yay, alliteration!). Also, roller derby. What more could yoThis was cute, had great humor throughout, and the art was very clean, crisp and colorful (yay, alliteration!). Also, roller derby. What more could you want? =D...more
3.5 This started out pretty strong, and in some ways I really liked it, but man, there were some really questionable plot and character choices; once y3.5 This started out pretty strong, and in some ways I really liked it, but man, there were some really questionable plot and character choices; once you hit the 2/3 mark, things start falling apart. Full review to come....more
Good, very quick, and not as much of a sobber as I was expecting (though also not as impactful as I was expecting -- but still very good). Video revieGood, very quick, and not as much of a sobber as I was expecting (though also not as impactful as I was expecting -- but still very good). Video review of this one, which you can find here. (live 2/27/16)...more
I got off to a rocky start with this one (frame stories like this, especially where the frame can seem very intrusive, often have a bit of an uphill bI got off to a rocky start with this one (frame stories like this, especially where the frame can seem very intrusive, often have a bit of an uphill battle to win me over), and so I didn't think I was going to like this one (and even thought I'd probably end up DNFing). But once I got over the hurdle of the first 30 or 40 pages, and really into the meat of the story, it became very engaging and interesting, and from there I flew through it pretty quickly. More thoughts in this video review (along with a few others). ...more
4.5 This had a fantastic opener, and was pretty damn solid throughout. Really enjoyed this, and now it makes me want to dig out my copy of Struck, Jen4.5 This had a fantastic opener, and was pretty damn solid throughout. Really enjoyed this, and now it makes me want to dig out my copy of Struck, Jennifer's debut, which has been sitting around on my shelves since it came out, and see if it's as good. ...more
Say "kitchen witch" and I'm there. (Especially when said kitchen witch tells me, personally, that I should eat nasturtiums, which I love...) There's jSay "kitchen witch" and I'm there. (Especially when said kitchen witch tells me, personally, that I should eat nasturtiums, which I love...) There's just something so. . . charming and quirky and endearing in stories around the theme of kitchen witchery, and this was no exception. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it's like magical realism's more universally palatable cousin (and we all know how I feel about magical realism). Think Practical Magic. Just Say Yes is the even more palatable cousin, actually – the kitchen witchiness is subtle, never beating you over the head with quikry magicfulness, which I imagine many people will appreciate.
If you’ve been around for awhile, or follow my Austen event, you’ll probably already be aware that I tend to find Goodnight’s stories equal parts cute, funny, and sexy; they never fail to win me over and put a smile on my face. This was fun and funny and quirky and cute, as expected. There's charm and warmth to her characters, always balanced by a sharp, incisive humor, coated in a veneer of light sarcasm (never bitter or obnoxious, just witty). She seems to do well at fleshing out her casts, too, with great side/peripheral characters that you always want to see more of (which means you’re seeing just the right amount of them – always leave ‘em wanting more, and all that). There’s a great mother/daughter relationship, and other friend and family relationships and interactions that help ground the story and build it up nicely. There were times I questioned Max, the male lead, and whether he’d really be so gung-ho about all of the goings on, and the way Jade consistently pushes him away, but I still think it worked – and frankly, maybe that's my own biases clouding my perception of him. But it was never enough to thrust me out of the story or make me dislike either of the romantic leads, or their relationship.
Speaking of the relationship, which is kind of a central focus in a romance, this one was sexy and fast-building in a way that could go really wrong and feel like it’s fleeting and meaningless, but it managed to keep from going off the rails into cheesy territory. It's – for the most part – believable, and there seems like a solid-enough foundation and chemistry for it to go somewhere after the book has run its course. Goodnight wisely tests the romance and characters, beyond that initial getting-together/will-they-won’t-they. She gives them obstacles, and opportunities to grow stronger together, which is something that really elevates a romance novel for me. It takes it out of the realm of quick fluff, and makes it that much more believable. On top of all that, there’s a good streak of nerdery that pop culture/nerdom fans will appreciate. All in all, I’m glad to hear there's more in the series AND I totally want there to be an offshoot business, with recipes and label designs and all of it.