Book Review: Piratica

Piratica
(Being a Daring Tale of a Singular Girl’s Adventure Upon the High Seas)
By My Queen Tanith Lee

My Edition:
Hardcover, 288 pages
2003, Dutton Children’s Books
ISBN: 0525473246

Art has been banished to the Angels Academy for the last six years of her life, learning deportment and other ladylike qualities that bore her to death. A fall down the stairs and a knock to the head suddenly causes her to remember her childhood, which was spent at her mother’s side on a pirate ship. Art quickly escapes the academy, finds her mother’s old crew and revives their spirits by basically forcing them back into a life of piracy as she lives in the spirit of her legendary mother, Piratica.

-screams- TANITH! Er, ok, so, I’ve read a ton of middle-grade this month and, sadly, none of it has impressed me. It was time for a change and I knew just what would do the trick – Tanith Lee! I’ve been sitting on this Piratica series for FAR too long and I don’t know why. I love how atmospheric her Claidi series is and my semi-recent re-read of The Unicorn Trilogy made me recall the special place her middle-grade/teen (I feel like all these series fall somewhere in between) books have in my crusty little heart.

From the first page, I was giddy at the thought of diving into another of Tanith’s worlds and Art’s didn’t disappoint. Tanith has created a semi-Victorian (Regency? I don’t know time periods, sorry!) world in the year of Seventeen-Twelvety (how awesome is that?!) which somewhat resembles the actual year of 1802. This world primarily differs from our own in how the countries are laid out and there’s a handy map in the front that I actually referenced for once. But because this is Tanith and I am a flappy-handed fangirl for everything she’s written (ugh except Greyglass  -tosses if off a cliff-) I felt there was something subtle about her world that differed from an actual historic period. I can’t explain this further and likely I am crazy.

Art is fantastic. She’s bold and witty and smart and super talented at being a pirate, despite not having been one for the past six years. She could potentially suffer from special snowflake syndrome, but she doesn’t because she has to work to win over her crew and she doesn’t have the shining, sapphire eyes and porcelain doll-like features of your usual heroine. And oh, the sun doesn’t shine out of her ass. Anyway! She’s a great lead, but her crew is small enough that most of them actually (I think I’m saying this word too much in this review, but I’m too lazy to change it) feel different and developed, where they could easily have fallen to the wayside (portside?)

There’s a lot to the plot that I can’t talk about or I’ll spoil the fun, but from the moment Art rediscovers her crew and takes on her new life as a pirate, I had this underlying sense of something more. I knew something else was up and it was a nice feeling, knowing that the plot had another element that wasn’t being revealed, even though the plot was acting like everything had been revealed.

Look, I have a hard time analyzing Tanith’s work because I am super biased. But I can say, if you’re looking for a witty, semi-middle-grade-semi-teen pirate adventure with swashbuckling, a fantastically charming ragtag group of pirates, talented parrot and dog companions, a strong female lead and totally hawt boi, but no love triangles and no breaths being held unbeknownst to the holder, then Piratica may be just what you’re looking for! I can’t wait to read the other two books (even though the third was never published in hardcover and therefore doesn’t match the first two.)

Sadly, Tanith doesn’t really have a website, but her Wikipedia page does a decent job of at least listing out all her work.

Book Review: A Sliver of Stardust

A Sliver of Stardust
By Marissa Burt

My Edition:
Paperback, 376 pages
2015, Harper
ISBN: 9780062291561

Wren Matthews is desperately trying to win the Science Trivia Olympiad, if only the large white falcon swooping around the room would disappear. The falcon does disappear, after dropping off a packet of sparkling papers containing nursery rhymes and an invitation to a place she’d never heard of. Joining her sort-of friend and rival in science, Simon, Wren embarks on a journey into a magical world that’s been right under her nose her whole life. Using nursery rhymes and stardust, Wren and Simon learn to weave the magic of the Fiddlers, but they may be in over their heads when an ancient evil threatens to resurface.

Not gonna lie, I was lured in by the cover of this book (and you can check out my Judging post for more detail). Naturally, the fact that it is also a middle-grade fantasy novel appealed to me as well. Sadly, it didn’t impress me, though I don’t think it’s a bad book.

What I enjoyed most was the way Burt wove familiar nursery rhymes into the story, using them to hint at things to come in each chapter and making them essential in the way Fiddler’s weave their spells. Fiddlers, those with the ability to use magic, use stardust and rhymes to perform all their spells. Some of the rhymes are twists on ones I remember from my childhood and others are crafted to suit specific needs like healing or creating light. Actually, all the rhymes used could be derived from others that I’m just no familiar with. Either way, I liked this part.

I also enjoyed Wren’s insecurities and emotional response to using magic. She takes everything in stride as she finds out about her new life and skills, but once immersed in the world of the Fiddlers she struggles to learn simple spells that Simon appears to master. Paired with strange dreams and little moments of shock about how her life has changed, this made Wren feel more solid than the other characters. One thing I can’t stand in any book is when someone from a non-magical world finds out they’re actually magical, or that magic exists, just says “oh, ok” and instantly adapts to their new surroundings. Simon fell into this category and I thought Wren was headed that way at first, so I’m glad she had a little more depth than that.

Otherwise, the story didn’t grab me and I didn’t feel immersed in the world of the Fiddlers. Many of the adult characters were paper thin (wokka wokka) and when Wren wasn’t having prophetic dreams most of her time was spent doing chores for Fiddlers or in Fiddler magic classes. Even though I don’t constantly read “magic school” type books, I am tired of that plotline.

Rhymes aside, the plot and characters weren’t strong enough to hold my interest and despite the action-packed ending, I won’t be reading the next book in the series.

Here is Burt’s website.

Book Review: Furthermore

Furthermore
By Tahereh Mafi

My Edition:
Hardcover, 401 pages
2016, Dutton Children’s Books
IBSN: 9781101994764

Alice of Ferenwood was born without color. In a world where color is riotous and magic is currency, twelve-year-old Alice often feels like she doesn’t belong. When her father goes missing, Alice loses what might have been her only friend. But when a childhood bully comes to Alice for help and lures her in with the promise of being able to save her father, Alice leaves behind all she knows for a land even more strange and magical than her home.

When Mum sent me a picture of this book and asked if I wanted it, I immediately said yes. I knew it was middle grade and strange and the cover was beautiful so I figured I’d love it. It seemed like it would be a take on Alice in Wonderland, especially considering the main character is named Alice. While this book was just as whimsical as Alice, the silly tone and oddball world building lost me so completely that I couldn’t enjoy the story.

I don’t have much to say about this book because it’s hard to describe and most of the time I had no idea what was happening. If you’ve seen Disney’s animated Alice (a movie I still enjoy to this day), Furthermore is very similar in that up is down and left is right and right is wrong and people eat flowers. Alice’s hair and skin are devoid of almost all color and the world she lives in has something called “rainlight” and townspeople use magic that has somehow been compressed into objects that look like buttons as currency. Alice loves to eat flowers and her mother eats hard to find berries to cure her depression and everyone is a vegetarian. I know it sounds like I’m just naming random things from the book, but that’s sort of what reading it felt like.

The land is magic and somehow gives magic to its people, who are born with different gifts. Alice believes her gift is dancing to the music of the land. She’s been practicing and hopes to win the Surrender, the annual ceremony where all children who turn twelve present their gifts and are then given different tasks that will benefit their society in some way. Alice hopes to win the Surrender and earn a great adventure so she can finally leave town and hopefully find her missing father.

I did actually enjoy the idea of the Surrender and it was one of the few parts of the story that made sense. Alice doesn’t win however, but her old rival Oliver presents her with a chance to leave Ferenwood for Furthermore, a strange land that Alice thought was a myth, and search for her father.

Futhermore is even more wild and nonsensical than Ferenwood and their magic flows more freely. It’s a dangerous place as almost all inhabitants are cannibals – they like to eat visitors with magic in order to gain their magic. I have no idea if they actually physically murder and devour people or just do something to gain their magic that also kills them, but if they are truly cannibals that lends a much darker tone to the story that would be out of place with its general silliness.

Furthermore seemed odd for the sake of being odd. Maybe it was because I was somewhat tuned out and thoroughly confused, but I didn’t understand the point of much of what took place in this alternate world. Alice and Oliver were constantly making blunders that endangered their lives because Alice wasn’t open-minded enough to accept the strangeness of Furthermore and Oliver couldn’t be bothered to explain the rules of the world to Alice because the plot needed him to remain aloof.

My favorite part in the whole book was a deliciously described filet mignon, that, of course, the kids don’t eat because they’re vegetarians and Alice doesn’t even know what filet is. Maybe most twelve-year-olds don’t, but I really wanted to eat that dinner.

The takeaway from this book is to embrace your differences and be proud of your skills and keep an open mind in order to better understand others. While that’s a nice message and an important one for young readers, it was really hammered home at the end and it frustrated me that it was the only clear point in the whole book. Maybe if I’d been younger when I read it I might have enjoyed it more. Perhaps, like Alice was at the start of the story, I was too close-minded to enjoy the strangeness of this book. Whatever the reason, it wasn’t an enjoyable read for me.

Stay tuned for a Judging post though – it is a well-designed book and I’m crazy about the cover art.

Visit Mafi’s lovely website here.

Book Review: Phoenix Rising

Phoenix Rising
By Bryony Pearce

My Edition:
Hardcover, 333 pages
2017, Sky Pony Press
ISBN: 9781510707344

Toby grew up on his father’s ship, The Phoenix, scouring the seas for any bits of their previous society that they can salvage while avoiding the government, who is after several crew members, including Toby’s father. Now they’re questing for near-mythical solar panels that would eliminate their need for fuel. Before they can set follow the coordinates Toby’s father has found, rival pirates from The Banshee attack and jeopardize The Phoenix’s shot at the panels.

A middle-grade book about pirates in a post-apocalyptic setting? Sign me up! When I initially requested this book I thought it would give me Shipbreaker vibes. Unfortunately, I was disappointed on all counts and wish I’d just re-read Shipbreaker.

My biggest issue with this book was my inability to picture most of what was going on. The bulk of the story takes place on the ship and the trash-filled sea and I couldn’t clearly picture either. From what I gather, a series of natural disasters destroyed the society as we know it and knocked out much of our technology. The sun disappeared for a few years, but now it’s back. The ocean has some sort of deadly levels of salt or acid or something and it’s full of trash and old vehicles and all sorts of stuff that pirates could salvage. None of this information gave me a clear picture and it felt like disaster overkill.

The Phoenix is mostly wood, I think, but maybe also had some metal parts and the bridge is made of glass (not sure why that’d be beneficial, but what do I know?) It has two different types of engines, one for traditional fuel and another for combustibles, and it also has paddles. There is a diagram of the ship at the beginning of the book but when it came to trying to imagine the characters navigating the ship, I simply couldn’t do it and just imaged the deck of a basic, ye olde pirate ship.

Pair my confusion with the fact that next to nothing happens for the first 50% of the book and I was ready to call it quits. I primarily kept going because I requested the book and the writing isn’t bad, it just didn’t capture my attention and I think perhaps the book was taking on too much at once. Even with the low level of action at the start of the book, the characters didn’t feel well developed either.

The crew of The Phoenix is forgettable. The captain is kind but firm and dedicated to his ragtag crew of semi-criminals. Various crew members are mentioned throughout the book – some more than others, and they seem to either like Toby or dislike him. There’s a pair of bully brothers, who I think are much too old to be tormenting and threatening the fourteen-ish-year-old son of the captain. Toby feels much younger than his age and is more caring and trusting than I think a child who grew up with a hard life at sea, amidst a ship full of wanted men and women, should be.

There’s even a mechanical parrot who goes by the clichéd name of Polly. She was apparently created by the captain before the world completely fell apart and though I think she’s supposed to add a steampunk feel to the novel, she felt magical instead. She has a metal skeleton and many of her abilities are explained with her “biomass” something-or-other and she has real feathers and looks real, but she needs to vacuum up pellets (of unknown substance) for power. She can store and download information like a computer and her personality is “cares for Toby.”

No one on the rival ship really matters except its captain, Nell, and her daughter and second in command, Ayla. Nell is mean, bent on vengeance and not very violent considering she’s so ruthless and her crew is supposed to frighten the pants off everyone else. Ayla is pretty, smart, good with a sword and doesn’t require her head shaved and a skull tattoo like every other crew member (male or female) likely because she’s the captain’s daughter and Toby’s potential love interest. Despite her purported awesomeness, I didn’t understand why she was chosen as second in command as a fifteen-year-old and I didn’t peg Captain Nell as one for nepotism.

The plot picks up somewhat at the end, but based on the opinion I’d formed of Toby I didn’t find his role in a rescue mission believable. His relationship with Ayla is an awkward back and forth of trust issues and unwarranted care for each other and I kept forgetting they were teens because they behaved more like ten-year-olds. The stakes felt low because I had no connection with any of the characters and there was some info-dumping that could have fleshed out the characters some, but I was too tired to care at that point.

I think Pearce was trying to cram too much into one book and as a result, the world-building, characters and plot all fell flat for me. This book is clearly a setup for the next in the series, but I won’t be continuing.

I received this book for free from Sky Pony Press in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions in this post are my own.
Here’s Pearce’s website.

Book Review: Bats of the Republic

Bats of the Republic
By Zachary Dodson

My Edition:
Hardcover, 445 pages
2015, Doubleday
ISBN: 9780385539838

Zeke Thomas lives in the heavily controlled Republic of Texas, moving through the life phases of the system that was in part created by his own grandfather. Writing is forbidden and his every conversation could be recorded and monitored by the government – for posterity of course, because they don’t want to lose any of their history like they did after The Collapse. Every surviving document has been carbon copied and when Zeke’s grandfather passed away, he finds himself in possession of a sealed letter, an uncarbon’d document, and this could put him in serious trouble with the government. Zeke’s storyline parallels that of his ancestor some 300 years prior, Zadock Thomas, who is on a mission to Texas to deliver a mysterious letter.

Once upon a time I came across this book in Barnes & Noble, added it to my Amazon wishlist and promptly forgot about it. I think I spotted this book shortly after its release and it wasn’t until my friend Mel read it (and raved about it) recently that I was reminded of its existence. Holy crap, I’m so glad I read this book.

First off, I love any book that’s as thoroughly and well designed as this book (and you can see my Judging post here) – Dorst’s S anyone? There are illustrations, conversation transcripts, scanned pages from books, handwritten letters and even a real sealed letter at the back of the book! The dust jacket is sort of double-sided with a fantastic alternate author photo too. The color scheme of brown, beige and a sort of bright mint green worked fabulously and I was pleased to find they included a ribbon bookmark. Full marks for design, 10 out of 10, I 100% love the way this book looks! I wish more books were as well thought out as this glorious looking book.

After beautiful title pages we’re given some quotes, the third of which made me laugh out loud (the obnoxious “HAH!” kind):

“I’m not happy.” favorite saying of my grandfather’s

This quote is followed up at the end with another quote that made me chuckle:

“Who are you?” favorite saying of my grandson, probably

The character tree (yes, I know I’m still talking about design elements, but I promise I’ll get to the plot and stuff too) in the front is not only beautiful but helpful. Normally, I give these things a cursory glance when I start a book and then forget they exist (much like maps…which I did to the map in this book), but with Bats I found myself glancing at it periodically. First, it was to remind myself of who was who, but later I started connecting some dots and using it to further highlight parallels I was noticing between the two storylines.

Ok, so, there’s a lot going on in this book. Not quite as much as there was in S, but I’m willing to bet there are tons of details and connections I missed and I think the overall message sailed right over my head. What a fun book this was to read though! I mean, referencing S –again– I missed like, everything in that book and still loved it and I think I’ve talked in the past about how I’m not a very “deep” reader.

Zeke isn’t a very compelling character; he’s addicted to laudanum, he seems unable to make important decisions even when it comes to saving his own life or those of his loved ones and he’s generally listless and unhappy. But the world he lives in was intriguing so I saw him as more of a vehicle to show me the Big Brother-esque world he inhabits and thus he was somewhat less annoying. He lives in a world where his every move could be recorded and flagged and where a person’s lineage (or bloodline) matters.

Similarly, Zadock, Zeke’s distant relative, wasn’t particularly engaging either, but I was interested in his journey as well as the book (within a book, yes!) written about his lady love, Elswyth. Zadock was actually more frustrating than Zeke because at the end of the book I just kept asking him, “What the hell are you doing?” Perhaps Dodson intended the characters around Zeke and Zadock to be more compelling and likeable?

As I mentioned before, the letter that drives the plot of the book is included in a sealed envelope at the back of the book, with “DO NOT OPEN” boldly scrawled across it. Naturally, I wanted to immediately tear into the envelope and knowing that letter was in the book ate me alive the whole time. I’m pretty sure Dodson knew what kind of torture this would put his readers through. There’s even one part where I thought I was supposed to open the letter and I frantically made Sweetbeeps scour the internet to see if he could find out whether I should open it then or at the end. I waited and I suggest you too.

That being said, the letter and the ending left me going “Wait, what!?” I stayed up past midnight (on a work night, ugh) to finish this book and perhaps that was a bad idea. I was overtired and the resolution of the story totally confused the hell out of me. I don’t think the payoff was really worth the buildup. Again, however, I’m not a deep reader and was likely missing something or many somethings.

This book is a blend of post-apocalyptic dystopia, alternate history and found documents and despite my feelings on the ending, it was a great trip through Dodson’s world. I highly recommend this book, especially if you love layered stories and well-designed books!

Dodson is a book designer and the founder of featherproof books.

Book Review: Arabella of Mars

Arabella of Mars
By David D. Levine

Not My Edition:
Hardcover, 350 pages
2016, Tor
ISBN: 9780765382818

Arabella Ashby was born and raised on Mars on her father’s plantation. For seventeen years, she and her brother Michael were tutored by their Martian nanny, Khema, and Arabella often participated in hunting games that her mother considered unladylike. After one such game, Arabella takes a blow to the head that requires stitches and it’s the last straw for her mother. Arabella and her two young sisters are shipped back to Earth in the care of her mother to grow up as true English ladies should. Once there, Arabella is miserable and struggles to bend to the rules society places on ladies of her stature, as well as the heavier gravity. However, the death of her father and a threat against Michael’s life forces Arabella into action and she soon finds herself disguised as a boy and enlisted as a crew member aboard a Martian airship, racing against the clock to get home and save her brother.

This book checks a lot of boxes for me, so I assumed I was going to enjoy it (spoiler: I did!) We’ve got Regency England (check), steampunk (check), space travel (check) and one tough chick that can’t stand to be forced into societal and gender roles (check).

I can’t recall having read a book set in the 1800s where space travel is not only possible, but done via wooden ships much like the ones they use to sail across the ocean. This was a fun, fresh setting for me and what was especially unique is that the air in space is breathable! Yeah, this requires maybe more suspension of belief than usual, but I jumped right on board. Imagining being able to ride what’s essentially a cross between a zeppelin and a pirate ship straight into the sky, then beyond into space and floating around in zero gravity with air that’s breathable made me want to be a part of the book!

Arabella is possibly your clichéd tough girl with a heart of gold and determination of steel, but I liked her. I’ve always liked the whole girl-dresses-up-as-boy-to-gain-access-to-something-she-never-could-as-a-girl element and Arabella fit right into that role. She does struggle at her new job aboard a ship and has to navigate testosterone flooded waters and initiation into the manly world of interplanetary travel.  I do think hiding her ladyness was explained away with the ease of one sentence and then not really addressed again. I would have liked to see her struggle a bit more with keeping her identity a secret, but it wasn’t essential to the plot, so whatever.

The only other stand-out character is the incredibly lifelike (and possibly sentient?!) automaton navigator, Aadim. He doesn’t play a big part, but I was interested in how he worked and his silent influence on other characters. In fact, I wanted more automata! Give me all the robots, please.

I did struggle with imagining some of what took place on the ship when it came to daily routine and ship maintenance. I’m not at all familiar with nautical terms and adding no gravity into the mix left me constantly wondering why everyone didn’t just bounce away from the ship and never come back. I also wondered how their…uh…business…stayed in the head (toilet) when everything else seemed to float around the ship. Again, this is not essential and probably I shouldn’t have spent so much time wondering this. Anyway, some of the action scenes played out murkily in my head.

I don’t want to shout about this book from the rooftops, but it was excellent. I’m hoping this will be a series – I actually thought it already was one with multiple books in it and I’m not sure what series I confused it with. If you’re looking for a Regency romp through space, pick up this book (and then we can talk about the logistics of Regency era bathroom use in zero gravity together!)

Here’s David’s hotrod lookin’ website.

Book Review: Strange Magic

Strange Magic
By Syd Moore

My Edition:
Paperback, 392 pages
2017, Point Blank
ISBN: 9781786070982
Expected Publication Date: May 2017

Rosie Strange has inherited a witch museum from her estranged uncle and pays it a visit hoping to give it a quick survey and then list it for sale. Instead, she meets the infuriating, yet charming curator Sam and a visitor begging for Sam’s help in a possibly magical matter. Not one to be left out of something that concerns someone who is now her employee, Rosie tags along and finds herself chasing after a skeleton to save a boy who may be possessed.

When I first saw this book listed on LibraryThing’s monthly giveaway, I was initially enamored by the cover art and found the urban fantasy-sounding plot intriguing. Unfortunately, I found the cover more interesting than its contents.

I felt no initial excitement upon being introduced to Rosie and the museum she inherited, nor did I care about who I assumed would be her potential love interest, and current museum curator with a passion for all things witchcraft, Sam. The two are asked to help recover the bones of a long-dead local witch who was hung, as her son appears to have taken possession of a boy who fell from a tree and the strain on the child is killing him. I didn’t find myself invested in this quest either, but at least hoped for some magic, as the title and plot summary implied.

Rosie was an adequate main character, but nothing about her personality had me rooting for her. Her relationship with Sam was puzzling, as they initially didn’t like each other and he seems to have little faith in her navigational and driving skills – he’s constantly giving her driving instructions and telling her to slow down throughout the whole book, and boy is there a lot of driving – and I didn’t find myself hoping they would get together, though it appeared Rosie did, when she wasn’t cursing Sam for being a nuisance. I know the whole, ‘you annoy me and we seem to hate each other but then actually grow to love each other’ is a common romantic trope, and I enjoy it when it’s done well. But Rosie and Sam primarily seemed to annoy each other or just be on neutral ground, with the occasional flirty scene that felt out of place and never truly culminated into any meaningful relationship.

Characters aside, the plot didn’t grab me either, though I felt it should have. They were questing after these old bones, which had been sold to various different people since they’d been accidently dug up from their original resting place. The boy was clearly exhibiting signs of possession and needed rescuing or death was imminent – yet I felt there were no stakes in this novel. Maybe it was because I knew the boy wouldn’t die – I mean, I didn’t truly know for certain, but it was a pretty safe assumption – and maybe it was because there was no actual magic happening that my interest flagged.

Mostly I was bored while reading – especially during the driving scenes; why is there so much driving!? There was a lot of historical information, which I assume is accurate, but most of it was delivered via infodumping, so I tended to skim those bits. I was expecting an urban fantasy novel with “real” magic, but Strange Magic takes a more skeptical approach and lets the reader decide whether some scenes in the book are truly magical or just strange coincidences and character belief. From my perspective the magic felt more like the product of Rosie’s hyperactive imagination and thus, I was left disappointed.

It seems like there will be a sequel to this novel, but I won’t be reading it. If you’re interested in reading about the background of some of those who were killed as witches in England and you enjoy a vague, implied sort of magic, this book may be for you. It was not what I expected however and I didn’t find anything about the characters or writing style that particularly stood out for me.

I received this book for free from LibraryThing in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions in this post are my own.
You can Tweet at Syd here.

Book Review: Death Comes to Pemberley

Death Comes to Pemberley
By P.D. James

My Edition:
Paperback, 291 pages
2011, Vintage
ISBN: 9780307950659

Elizabeth and Darcy, happily married for six years and parents to two boys, are having their annual ball. The night before the ball, Lydia appears unexpectedly, frantically screaming that her husband has been murdered in the woods of the Pemberley estate. An investigation is launched and the Darcys and their family are pulled into a murder trial that could affect the rest of their lives.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, as I’ve read some disappointing sequels and reimaginings of Pride and Prejudice, but from the start I found myself pleasantly surprised by the tone of characters. James has done an excellent job keeping the narrative voice true to the original and the characters behaved as I think they would have should Austen have decided to pursue this genre. I expected a murder mystery involving the Darcy family would have been a bit hokey, but I was interested in the story and constantly trying to guess who the murderer was.

James sets the scene by revisiting some of the events from the original novel and detailing how Elizabeth and Darcy have children now and how they’ve fared since their marriage. There’s also some speculation from the neighborhood as to why Elizabeth and Darcy married and this felt like a natural follow up to the end of the original. James also has Mary happily married and though she’s really not mentioned beyond that in the book, it was nice to see her settled rather than turned into an even more obnoxious character, as is common in other renditions of Pride and Prejudice. As usual, I can’t stand Lydia or Wickham and James managed to make me dislike the couple even more throughout the events in her book.

Lady Catherine even makes a small appearance and has a fantastic little monologue on life and death which made me chuckle:

“The de Bourghs have never gone in for prolonged dying. People should make up their minds whether to live or to die and do one or the other with the least inconvenience to others.”

There’s even a nod to characters from Persuasion and Emma, implying they run in some of the same social circles as the Darcys.

The mystery turned out to be more complex than I expected and my only real complaint with this book is with the latter portion where all is revealed. A murder trial is held and of course the witnesses are asked to speak and in doing so they repeat a lot of what has already been revealed to the reader. After the trial, even more details are revealed and due to the conversational nature of how everything took place, it turned into a massive infodump. The book really slowed down and was dull for me, despite the interesting details being discussed. I don’t think there was any other way the story could have wrapped up other than everyone talking about what happened, but it was tough to get through.

If you’re an Austen fan and the idea of her characters being involved in a murder trial sounds interesting, I think you should give this book a chance. It didn’t disappoint me and if James has any other Austen-inspired work I’d certainly read it.

Book Review: Attachments

Attachments
By Rainbow Rowell

My Edition:
Paperback, 357 pages
2012, Orion Books
ISBN: 9781409120537

It’s 1999 and Lincoln has started a new job at a newspaper who has finally given their staff computers complete with the internet and email. Lincoln’s job is to monitor flagged emails and issue warnings to associates who are breaking the rules (ie: no vulgar jokes, no personal conversations, business only!), but he gets sucked into the life of two women, Beth and Jennifer, as they send almost daily emails full of their thoughts and feelings. Rather than issue them warnings, Lincoln becomes wrapped up in their correspondence and feels as though he’s a part of their lives.

First off, this is part of my genre switch-up challenge. I asked my friend Chelsea for a romance and this is what she suggested. I decided to read it in February because who doesn’t love romance in February!? Granted, the premise of the book seems a little creepy and my blurb probably didn’t help, but Chelsea assured me this would be a cute, contemporary (wait, is 1999 still contemporary?) read and she wasn’t wrong!

I was intrigued by the plot right away – how could I like a character who reads other people’s emails, even if it’s part of his job? Yet Lincoln is almost instantly sweet and charming and it’s clear he hates what he does, despite enjoying reading Beth and Jennifer’s emails. It was also strangely nostalgic to think about a time when computers and the internet were new to a workplace, as I still remember when my family first bought a computer and my limited access to the internet (oh how it’s changed!) I also remember the Y2K scare, which is touched upon in this book, and how everyone went crazy thinking our computers would crash as their internal calendars reverted back in time.

These three characters sent me on a rather unexpected emotional rollercoaster. I was more invested than I imagined I could be and up until the last few pages I couldn’t see how the book could resolve in a way I’d find satisfying. Certainly not the experience I expected from a contemporary romance.

I’ve owned Elinor and Park for quite some time, primarily because I scored a lovely edition at a book sale for $0.50 and had no real plan to read it. The majority of Rainbow’s work doesn’t sound appealing to me, but I’m glad I gave her a chance. I’m not sure when I’ll get to E&P, but I certainly won’t ignore it on purpose now.

If you’re looking for something quick and cute, and a little nostalgic if you remember a time before computers were friggen’ everywhere, then I highly recommend this.

You can visit Rainbow’s website here.

Book Review: Emma

Emma
By Alexander McCall Smith

My Edition:
Paperback, 361 pages
2014, Anchor Books
ISBN: 9780804172417

Emma Woodhouse has grown up on her father’s large estate, complete with a governess. She’s just finished school and decided to start her own interior design business, but finds herself more interested in the doings of her friends and neighbors. She starts with her governess, Ms. Taylor and after taking credit for successfully fixing her up with family-friend Mr. Weston, Emma decides matchmaking is her new business. She begins sticking her nose into everyone’s business and soon learns that they don’t view her as helpful, but rather meddling and snobby.

I’m now all caught up on the books in this modern Austen project and I’m satisfied with how they’ve all turned out. Despite each novel having its own author and varied voices, I still think they have all captured the spirit of Jane Austen’s novels and feel like a series that belongs together.

Smith’s Emma stands out as more of a spoiled, meddling, brat than the original (though I didn’t dislike her and was naturally excited to see her character growth) and I think that’s because our modern language and times allow her character to be depicted more bluntly. As a result, I think her change of heart and her efforts at self-improvement stand out more as well.

Mr. Woodhouse is a charming hypochondriac and his constant worries about the air quality of London (where Emma’s sister resides with her husband and growing brood) and the evils of microbes had me chuckling. George Knightley was less developed than I would have expected however; he doesn’t play a large part in Emma’s life until the latter part of the novel and I had been hoping for a bit more of a build-up in regards to their relationship.

The ending wrapped up a little too quickly for my liking, but overall this was a cute, contemporary take on the classic. As with the others, I recommend it if you enjoy Jane’s work – really, if you haven’t read any of her work, these modern adaptations might be right up your alley, to give you a feel for her stories without the potential intimidation of an older writing style.

You can check out Smith’s website or Tweet him or visit his Facebook page.