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review 2015-12-31 11:23
#CBR7 Book 152: Longbourn by Jo Baker
Longbourn - Jo Baker

Quick question - can you give me the name of a single servant in Pride and Prejudice? Despite having read the book multiple times and having just finished the audio version of the book, I certainly couldn't do it. Jo Baker has taken the classic novel and imagined what the lives of the invisible people behind the scenes, so to speak. The very essential people who wash the mud out of Lizzie's petticoats after she's been walking the countryside, who help the Bennett sisters do their hair, make the beds, empty the chamber pots, sweep the floors, cook the food, tend the horses, open the doors, run errands no matter the state of the weather, carry messages back and forth and make life so much easier for the main cast of Pride and Prejudice


There's the housekeeper, Mrs. Hill; her husband, the butler; the maids Sarah and Mary (who because the middle daughter of the family is also a Mary is forever called Polly instead). There's also the mysterious and newly hired footman, James. Their lives' work is to make things as comfortable and effortless for the family they serve, but they have hopes and dreams and pasts of their own. Sarah, orphaned at an early age and taken into the household after a stay in the poor house, especially dreams of travelling and seeing the country, not content to be a servant her entire life. She's suspicious of James, the ruffian who showed up from nowhere and was suddenly hired on as a footman. All the other servants seem to adore him, and Mrs. Hill dotes on him, but Sarah's sure he's lying about his past and is determined to figure out what he's hiding. Both James and Mrs. Hill are concerned when Sarah seems to form an attachment with one of Mr. Bingley's handsome and exotically dark-skinned footmen.


The servants, like everyone else, hope the elder Bennett sisters will make good matches, and worry when Lizzie spurns Mr. Collins, who after all will be their new master at some point in the future. They all think it would have been easier if he married a Bennett daughter, but can see he should have set his sights on Miss Mary, who was a much more suitable match for him.


While the Bennett women and all their acquaintances seem charmed by the dashing Mr. Wickham, the servants are not so easily fooled by his looks and easy charm. They recognise a predator when they see one and when he shows a very worrying interest in little Polly, James forgets all his hard-earned instincts to keep his head down and steps in to protect her. Wickham shows just how dangerous he can be and causes great upheaval in the household. Both Sarah and Mrs. Hill are shattered by the aftermath.


The book is divided into three parts, and the third part is the one that's the most removed from the main plot of the source novel. In this part we discover more of Mrs. Hill's past, her connection to James the footman and why he wished to keep his past hidden from everyone. It offered a perspective on the Regency period you certainly don't see in the romance novels, not just because it concerns the lives of the working classes, but because it's easy to forget when reading about balls and dresses and courting that the Napoleonic wars were also raging at the time. While so many romances are populated by officers back AFTER the Napoleonic wars, with varying degrees of PTSD, they rarely show any of the realities of the actual fighting, and certainly not what it would have been like for the foot soldiers. Longbourn, however, doesn't shy away from such unpleasantness.


This book is a very interesting take on what I think of as "literary fan fiction". I really liked the different interpretations of the already known characters from the beloved novel, as well as a fascinating look at all those servants who get completely forgotten about, but were oh so necessary for the wheels of society to turn. At first, I was worried I'd find the book boring, but I pretty much raced through it, just as invested in the lower born protagonists that I was reading about Lizzie and her sisters finding love. 


I'm not entirely sure I liked some of the choices Baker made in the book, however, and wish that Mrs. Hill's past could have been handled differently. I did like that Baker continued the story past the pages of the original, with glimpses of Lizzie's life as Mrs. Darcy and showed what life might be like for a maid at Pemberley. I can't really fault Sarah for the choices she eventually made, although I doubt I would have chosen the same if I were in her situation. There have been several very favourable Cannonball reviews of this in the past, I'm glad I finally got round to reading it.

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.no/2015/12/cbr7-book-152-longbourn-by-jo-baker.html
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review 2015-12-25 23:17
#CBR7 Book 146: Ms Marvel, vol 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona
Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal - Jacob Wyatt,G. Willow Wilson,Adrian Alphona

Kamala Khan is a pretty ordinary geeky teenager from Jersey City, until she's suddenly given the extraordinary powers of the superhero Ms. Marvel. She's both excited and confused. Can a Muslim girl even be a superhero? She certainly feels that the outfit could be a bit less revealing. How is she going to combine the responsibilities of fighting crime, rescuing people and righting wrongs if she also has to worry about obeying her parents and keeping cerfew? 


Before she's even entirely aware what she's doing, she uses her powers to save a class mate. The press catches wind of it, and soon everyone is wondering about the identity of the new Ms. Marvel. After trying to rescue her friend Bruno from a botched convenience store robbery, he discovers her new secret identity and promises to help her in any way he can. There's some hints about a sinister new villain, but as this trade only collects the first five volumes, it's mainly an origin story.


I really liked Kamala and while I've seen a lot of people claim that all the other characters are stereotypes, I'm not sure I agree. I would assume that since G. Willow Wilson herself is a Muslim, she's a bit more sensitive to the cultural stereotypes than some other authors might be. I work with teenagers from many religions, and thought most of the teen characters rang true. Stereotypes are built on generalities, but a lot of girls of Pakistani descent DO have protective parents. Their brothers are traditionally allowed a lot more freedom and it can be a tricky thing to have a foot in two cultures.


The comic is fun, but not perfect. I'm still not entirely sure how or why Kamala actually got her superpowers, that bit was a bit vague. I am assuming that the supporting cast will be fleshed out as necessary in future issues and that readers will also discover the motivations of the villain. I don't know a whole lot about the Marvel comics universe, having only really watched the films, but am unsure if this is the comic that will really make me more familiar with the whole of it. I supect it will mainly focus on Kamala's adventures in Jersey City. The series certainly seems more diverse in its representation than a lot of comics, and is clearly aimed more at a middle grade to YA audience. It's still refreshing to see a comic about a young woman that doesn't play up the physical aspect or overly sexualise her. I liked the writing and the art, and will be looking for the next volume soon.

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.no/2015/12/cbr7-book-146-ms-marvel-vol-1-no-normal.html
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review 2015-12-10 02:10
#CBR7 Book 133: Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins
Hex Hall - Rachel Hawkins

Sophie Mercer is a witch and because of the various bad incidents her magic has gotten her mixed up in, she and her mum have moved a lot during her lifetime. After Sophie seriously misjudges the oomph of a love spell at her current high school's prom, and there is a huge scene, Sophie's normally absentee father, a European warlock of some kind, gets involved. Sophie is sent off to a boarding school. On a remote island, where she will stay until she graduates at 18.


Hex Hall, as it's known among the kids there, is a magical reform school where wayward witches, shapeshifters and faeries are sent until they come of age. As an attempt at greater inclusion, there is currently also a vampire attending the school. Jenna the vampire also just happens to be Sophie's new roommate. After Jenna's former roommate ended up dead under mysterious  and suspicious circumstances (with two little holes in her neck) the year before, Jenna is pretty much feared and/or shunned by the whole school. Sophie doesn't want to jump to conclusions, however.


Before her first week is up, Sophie and Jenna are starting to bond; a trio of powerful Mean Girl witches want Sophie to join their coven so they can maximise their power (and are NOT pleased to get no for an answer); Sophie has detention for the rest of the term and an inconvenient crush on the most popular boy in school. She also learns that her father is in fact the head of the Order that sent most of the kids to Hex Hall, and as a result, he (and his daughter) are not really popular. Sophie is rumoured to be just as powerful as him, but having grown up around normal humans, never interacting with other magically abled, things that others consider child's play are completely new to her. She finds the most basic spells incredibly challenging and on top of that, she has to try to survive magical high school intrigue.


Sophie refuses to join the crusade against Jenna, which gets more intense after another girl is attacked, with Jenna having been one of the last to interact with her. Sophie wants to solve the mystery behind the attack and get good enough at magic that she can tell the coven to stuff it. At least she gets to spend lots of quality time with Archer (her crush) during their detention sessions. Now if she could only make him forget about Elodie, his current girlfriend and her nemesis.


Hex Hall is fairly highly rated on Goodreads and when I saw it cheaply in an e-book sale, it seemed a fun enough read. As an added bonus, the X in the title would allow me to finish my Alphabet Soup challenge for the year. It's a fairly generic YA paranormal fantasy, where the usual high school intrigues are made a bit more interesting as there is magic, witches, ghosts, various shapeshifters, faeries and possibly an evil demon on the loose. 


Sophia is a likable, snarky, independently-minded heroine. She doesn't really fit in with any of the popular kids and has a tendency to speak before she thinks. This sometimes backfires badly. Despite her disgust at being a cliche, she can't help but fall for the ridiculously handsome Archer Cross, and the more time she spends around him, discovering that he's actually smart, funny and kind, as well as well-liked around the whole school doesn't help. His only flaw is dating Elodie, the head of the coven, whose main goals seem to be to recruit Sophie to enhance the coven's power and to get Jenna expelled from the school. 


There are some fun ideas here - Lord Byron being a vampire sentenced to teach at the school. Detention is being forced to catalogue magical artifacts, that move to a new area every day, in a huge creepy basement. Supernatural teens who can't keep under the radar being sent to magical reform school at a remote location. 


I also like that Elodie, Sophia's initial nemesis and the Regina George of the coven, turned out to be a bit more multi-faceted than she seemed at first. I liked Sophia's fish out of water experience. The friendship between Jenna and Sophie was also a nice feature, and the revelation that Jenna was gay made sense without just seeming like a "insert token LGBT character here for diversity" thing. 


I didn't really care about the many shadowy groups who are out there trying to destroy the supernatural, although it's clear from the synopsis of the next book (and to anyone who's ever read a narrative) that they'll play a more significant part in the sequels. Sophia turning out to be the only child of the head warlock, with a legacy of super special power was a bit too convenient.


Not sure I got invested enough in this world and the characters to bother reading the sequels any time soon. I won't rule it out if I find them at a decent price in a book sale, but I doubt I'll be seeking them out in the immediate future. The book didn't stand out enough for that.

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.no/2015/12/cbr7-book-133-hex-hall-by-rachel-hawkins.html
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review 2015-11-15 21:20
#CBR7 Book 119: Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood
Six Impossible Things - Fiona Wood

Dan Cereill (pronounced "surreal", NOT "cereal") is not having an easy time of it. He and his mother are left shocked, abandoned and nearly penniless after Dan's father simultaneously announces that his business has gone bankrupt and that he's gay. Dan's great-aunt Adelaide recently passed away, the terms of her will stating that Dan and his mother could live in her house (although the house and it's contents were left to the National Trust). The house is ancient, drafty, cold as hell and reeks overwhelmingly of urine, but Dan can cope because it's also next door to his dream girl, Estelle. By accident, he discovers that the two houses have connecting attics, and Estelle has made herself a sort of refuge up on her side. Lonely, miserable and conflicted, Dan can help himself from snooping through Estelle's private things, including her notebooks and diaries, seeing how much they have in common.

He makes a list of six impossible things he hopes to achieve, the most important of which is that he wants to kiss Estelle. Of course, he gets completely tongue-tied and awkward talking to ANY girl. Estelle is so far out of his league it's not even funny, and he's deeply ashamed about the fact that he snooped through her diary, betraying her trust before they'd even properly met. His parents' sudden financial difficulties means his mother is trying to make money by starting a wedding cake business. She doesn't really sell any wedding cakes, instead more often than not breaking the couples up after their consultations with her. Dan therefore needs to get a job, in an attempt to help out with bills.

He also has to leave his fancy prep school and get used to going to public school, where he manages to make himself a target for bullies on his very first day. He struggles to make friends, admiring Estelle and her friends from afar, cursing his bad luck and painful lack of cool or social skills.

While Dan reading Estelle's diaries early on is a very bad thing to do, he clearly feels extremely bad about it, and he's in a very bad place emotionally when he succumbs to the temptation. So while it can seem a bit stalkery and inappropriate, he is very sorry and tries not to do it again (too much). He's adorably clueless about girls, and extremely annoyed that his reputation as a prep school kid marks him out as some sort of sad nerd. When he befriends Lou, who seems to be the female flipside of his best friend Fred, it's clear that his penchant for saying exactly the wrong thing to Estelle has more to do with nerves and anxiety than anything else.

Dan feels very betrayed about his father's revelations and feels abandoned by him. He stubbornly refuses to speak to his dad at all, or open the birthday present his dad sends him. He tries as best he can to help his mother, who is very effective at breaking up affianced couples, but not really in securing a single client for her baking business. When she's not making brides reconsider marriage, she mainly mopes around, obsessing about Radiohead. Money is clearly very tight, which becomes more of a problem when Howard, the elderly dog Adelaide left them needs some serious vet's attention. Dan manages to get a part-time job, but discovers that a 15-year-old waiter doesn't exactly make a fortune.

Going for runs with Howard and lifting weights in his room, not to mention some advice from Oliver, the cool market analyst who lives in the mansion's carriage house, means Dan slowly builds both muscle and confidence and as the school year progresses, he starts fitting in better at school. The bullies mainly leave him alone, and as he works in the same café as Janie, Estelle's best friend, he is eventually roped in to help in a harebrained scheme to get Janie to Sydney without their parents discovering. While their parents discover their deception and Estelle and Janie end up grounded for ages, it means he's finally earned the trust of the girl he adores. She uses their shared access to sneak into Dan's house and they spend a lot more time together.

By the time the big dance comes around, Dan is going mad with jealousy because he knows Estelle is taking someone else. When he discovers she's going with a girl from a different school, he finally summons up the courage to show her how he really feels. His guilty conscience about killing her diaries is nearly killing him, though. Will he ruin all his chances with Estelle just as he's finally managed to get her to really see him as a romantic prospect?

Some aspects of this book reminded me of Rainbow Rowell's Attachments, mainly the fact that Dan gets to know Estelle and falls for her by reading something very private to her, the way Lincoln falls for Beth by reading her e-mail correspondence with her best friend. The way Dan works hard to make himself fit and healthy and tries to improve himself looks wise also reminded me of Lincoln. The similarities certainly don't make me like this book any less.

Dan's by no means a perfect guy, and in many ways a very typical teenager. He goes far too long before talking to and forgiving his father and gives his mother a hard time occasionally, feeling very sorry for himself (not entirely without reason). The sixth goal on his list of impossible things is to be good, however, and most of the time, while he doesn't think so himself, he manages very well.

I first heard of this book years ago (not entirely sure where), but it wasn't available in print or e-book outside Australia. Recently, it was released in both print and e-book in the US, though and I finally got my hands on it. I'm glad to see it was worth the wait.

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.no/2015/11/cbr7-book-119-six-impossible-things-by.html
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review 2015-11-15 20:44
#CBR7 Book 117: Rat Queens, vol 2: The Far Reaching Tentacles of N'Rygoth
Rat Queens Vol. 2: The Far Reaching Tentacles of N'Rygoth - Kurtis J. Wiebe

In The Far Reaching Tentacles of N'Rygoth the readers are given more back story into each of the Rat Queens, and they face a much bigger threat than a horde of goblins or some Black Khali assassins. Someone has a serious grudge against Sawyer, the captain of the City Watch, and is not afraid to summon some truly dark powers to get even. Dee is visited by an individual from her past, come to tell her that the ceremonial Death Mask of the High Priest of N'Rygoth has been stolen. In the wrong hands, it can unleash murder, madness, chaos and horrible tentacled monsters in the skies. The Rat Queens and the other warriors in Palisade have to band together to fight against unspeakable horrors, before their town is completely destroyed.

As I said in my review for volume 1, Rat Queens is a great comic, full of violence, adventure, sex, humour and swearing. The protagonists are fast-talking, foul-mouthed, hard-hitting and great friends. Not only is this comic very diverse, I would be surprised if it didn't pass the Bechdel test in every issue. I was given the first volume as a Christmas present by my husband, but didn't get round to reading it until a while after volume 2 came out. I highly recommend it to anyone who likes fantasy, role-playing games, adventure or just good comics.

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.no/2015/11/cbr7-books-116-117-rat-queens-vol-1-and.html
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