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My name is Ardis and I am an avid reader and budding writer. I want to share my love of books with others. I work with kids and am interested in finding and creating books that will ignite the reader in everyone. Contact me at: ardis.atkins@gmail.com

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I Owe You One
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Love, Hate & Other Filters
The Wartime Sisters
The Belles
The Gilded Wolves
Hey, Kiddo
Blackberry and Wild Rose
Queen of Air and Darkness
Firestarter
The Retribution of Mara Dyer
The Evolution of Mara Dyer


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Wednesday, March 3, 2021

ARC Review: A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine



Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this novel from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions in my review in any way.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

An alien armada lurks on the edges of Teixcalaanli space. No one can communicate with it, no one can destroy it, and Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus is running out of options.

In a desperate attempt at diplomacy with the mysterious invaders, the fleet captain has sent for a diplomatic envoy. Now Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass—still reeling from the recent upheaval in the Empire—face the impossible task of trying to communicate with a hostile entity.

Whether they succeed or fail could change the fate of Teixcalaan forever.

Review:

The first book in this series, A Memory Called Empire, was one of my favorite books of last year.  This space opera explored colonialism, and how cultures see other societies, often as less than.  It also looked at what it means to be a person, as the main character, Ambassador Mahit, has the memories of her predecessor, Yskandr. embedded into her brain.  Is she Mahit, or is she Yskandr, or somehow both?  If memories can live on, is a person really dead?

Author Arkady Martine explores this further in A Desolation Called Peace.  With poetic language as a key component to the plot, there are new species of life, more wonderful characters, and a plot that kept me guessing.  This was a wonderful book.

What I Liked:

Language/Communication:

One of the themes of the book is communication.  How do species communicate with each other?  Is it only through spoken language?  Can it be done in other ways?  Is one way superior to another?  As the Teixacalaanli Empire encounters a new threat, it has to confront the ideas of how communication works. If a species communicates, in whatever form it does, can they be recognized as people?  Since the Empire always sees themselves as superior (and any other species as "barbarians"), this is a challenge.  

But the book also uses poetry, a form of language that Teixicalaanlis revere, to create haunting imagery.  Just the names of the Teixicalaanlis, from Three Seagreass, to Nine Hibiscus, evoke such beautiful depictions.  Pay special attention to the title of the book, A Desolation Called Peace.  The beginning of the novel begins with what this means.  When both sides destroy everything, then there is nothing left but peace.  It is both terrifying, and sadly how some wars resolve.

Characters:

Besides Mahit, and Three Seagrass, we learn much more about Eight Antidote, the eleven year-old clone of the deceased emperor, Six Direction.  Many of the chapters are from his point of view.  This is really a smart device, that lets us see how a new perspective, albeit from within the Teixicalaanli society, can be catalyst for fresh solutions.  

There are also several new military characters, like Nine Hibiscus, her second in command Twenty Cicada, and the ambitious Sixteen Moonrise.  There are strong bonds forged from years of shared experiences, to petty rivalries that all feed the story.  Their characters bring out the human costs of war, and the choices soldiers have to live with once a war is over.

Relationships:

I loved that many of the relationships from the first book continue on in A Desolation Called Peace.  We get to see how the feelings between Mahit and Three Seagrass are more complex than we can imagine.  Is Mahit Three Seagrass's "pet", as many refer to her as?  Is Three Seagrass drawn to Mahit mainly because she is an exotic foreigner?  We also see the very complex relationship that Mahit has with Yskandr (both old and young versions).  Will they be constantly an echo in her head, or can they all integrate?  Does Mahit even want that?  And I loved the relationship between Eight Antidote and the current emperor, Nineteen Adze.  Eight Antidote is the heir of Nineteen Adze, so they are much like a parent and a child.  But Nineteen Adze alway is aware of the burdens Eight Antidote will bear when he ascends to the throne.  With this in mind, she never treats him as a child.  She is a patient teacher and mentor for Eight Antidote, showing him how politics work.  Even when she was being ruthless, I liked that she never was impatient with her young heir.

Plot:

The story follows the start of a war (one that Mahit kind of started in the first book), that Mahit's people hope will keep the Teixicalaanlis busy so they won't be conquered themselves.  Clever.  But the new enemy is powerful enough that the Stationers (Mahit's people) may be caught in the crossfire, anyway.  

When Three Seagrass is sent to try and negotiate with this new life-form, she brings in Mahit to help.  But why would a Teixicalaanli bring in a "barbarian"?  The actual motivation for Three Seagrass is that she really misses Mahit.  But who will believe that a Teixicalaanli would want to spend time with a "barbarian"?  There's got to be a secret reason!  Could it have something to do with Yskandr's closeness to the Emperor?  It's what makes all sides suspicious of Mahit.

With all the various factions so jaded, Eight Antidote lives up to his name, as he is a fresh set of eyes on the situation.  

The story moves from the battlefield to the Palace through time and space, in such an urgent manner, that I couldn't put the book down.  It was thoroughly entertaining, and thought-provoking.   


Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Release Date:  March 2nd, 2021

Author:  Arkady Martine

Publisher:  Tor Books

Genre:  Science Fiction

Page Length:  496 Pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  With beautiful language and thought-provoking themes, this is a worthy sequel to A Memory Called Empire.  

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Tuesday, March 2, 2021

ARC Review: Down Comes The Night by Allison Saft



Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this novel from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions in my review in any way.


Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Wren Southerland’s reckless use of magic has cost her everything: she’s been dismissed from the Queen’s Guard and separated from her best friend—the girl she loves. So when a letter arrives from a reclusive lord, asking Wren to come to his estate, Colwick Hall, to cure his servant from a mysterious illness, she seizes her chance to redeem herself.

The mansion is crumbling, icy winds haunt the caved-in halls, and her eccentric host forbids her from leaving her room after dark. Worse, Wren’s patient isn’t a servant at all but Hal Cavendish, the infamous Reaper of Vesria and her kingdom’s sworn enemy. Hal also came to Colwick Hall for redemption, but the secrets in the estate may lead to both of their deaths.

With sinister forces at work, Wren and Hal realize they’ll have to join together if they have any hope of saving their kingdoms. But as Wren circles closer to the nefarious truth behind Hal’s illness, they realize they have no escape from the monsters within the mansion. All they have is each other, and a startling desire that could be their downfall.

Review:

YA fantasy is one of my favorite genres.  Besides all the fantasy elements, there are characters that have very relatable motivations.  They want to be seen, and loved, for who they are.  I was very drawn to the character of Wren in Down Comes The Night, by Allison Saft.  She want's what everyone wants, to be accepted for who she really is.  Finding that acceptance is a challenge, as all those who should love Wren unconditionally do not.   This was a book filled with excellent world-building, empathetic characters, and a compelling story. I loved this book.

What I Liked:

World-building:

The world in this book has countries at war, magic, and political intrigue.  Throughout Wren's life, her country has been at war with it's neighbors.  There have been countless battles with many dead.  That is why all young people are conscripted into the military, especially if they have magic.  But Wren's magic is of a very particular kind.  She is a healer.  So she sees the worst injuries after a battle. She also is the Queen's illegitimate niece.  But, the Queen finds her to be an embarrassment.  So instead of being a court favorite, Wren is constantly in trouble.  That is because of her natural tendency toward empathy, even with the enemy.  The book sets up this problem of talented people being asked to do terrible things in the name of country in a way that one can see parallels in real life.  It's easy to see the Other as the enemy, less so when you get to know the people on the other side of a conflict.

Characters:

I really liked Wren, who just couldn't find acceptance, not from her girlfriend, and not from her aunt, the Queen.  She was treated always as a problem.  So she was constantly chasing affirmation from others.  This compelled her to take lots of unnecessary risks, that usually got her in trouble.  When she meets Hal, an infamous warrior from the enemy nation, she immediately judges him by his reputation (something everyone else has done to her).  But there is more to Hal than meets the eye.

Hal is a tortured soul.  His magical talent is the opposite of Wren's.  He can kill someone just by looking at them. Whether he want's to or not, Hal has been pushed to use his deadly magic to benefit his country, and his family.  But he is sick of war, and his part in it.  When he becomes seriously ill, he needs to convince Wren that he is worth saving.  But first, he needs to believe it himself.  Even if someone shows remorse, are they worth redemption?

Story:

This book was full of schemes and intrigues!  I loved that you weren't certain of any character's motives for a while.  Even with a terrible war that is costing both nations dearly, it seems like neither one wants peace.  No one can be trusted.  When Wren uncovers who is really behind a series of disappearances, she can hardly believe it.  It's up to Hal and Wren to find the proof that will stop the war.  But there are betrayals ahead that Wren can even imagine. I enjoyed all the misdirection, as the plot twists and turns.  It made for a page-turner of a book!


Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Release Date:  March 2nd, 2021

Author:  Allison Saft

Publisher:  Wednesday Books

Page Length:  400 Pages

Genre:  YA Fantasy

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  A fun, YA fantasy filled with characters who you will root for. This is a must read for fans of the genre.

 

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Monday, March 1, 2021

ARC Review: The Secret Life of Kitty Granger by G.D. Falksen



Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this novel from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions in my review in any way.


Synopsis (from Goodreads):

London, 1967: Sixteen-year-old Kitty Granger has always known that others consider her peculiar. She hates noise and crowds, tends to fixate on patterns, and often feels acutely aware of her surroundings even as she struggles to interpret the behavior of people around her. As a working-class girl in London’s East End, she’s spent her whole life learning to hide these traits. Until the day when she notices the mysterious man on the bus and finds herself following him, driven to know why he seems so out of place…only to accidentally uncover the location of a Russian spy ring.

When Kitty’s keen observation and quick thinking help her survive a dangerous encounter, two secret agents working for Her Majesty’s government offer her a job in their espionage operation.

Kitty's first mission pits her against a conspiracy led by a prominent politician―who's also a secret fascist. With help from an unusual team of fellow spies, Kitty must use her wits, training, and instincts to get out alive. And she might as well save the country while she's at it.

Review:

What a book!  Set in nineteen-sixties London, Kitty Granger is introduced to the world of Cold War spies and conspiracies, where she is uniquely qualified to succeed.  Kitty, although it doesn't explicitly say so, is autistic.  In her regular existence, she is considered strange, and a burden by her protective father.  But, in the world of espionage, her unusual traits are valued.  This was a fun, and exciting book.

What I Liked:

Setting:

Who doesn't love London's swinging sixties?  The mod fashion, music, and general feelings of optimism and change are apparent in the details from the author.  Growing up in London's East End (a very poor area), Kitty is used to scraping by in life.  Despite this, her neighborhood is comfortable and home.  I loved that Kitty instantly felt at ease when she met another fellow East Ender.  

The Sixties were a time of great change in England.  As more immigrants started to settle in England, some people became alarmed by what they considered an invasion of foreigners.  A reactionary element in politics gained momentum.  This is the political climate in which the novel takes place, and it becomes important to the progression of the story.  The author did a good job of explaining the foundations of this movement to the reader.

Characters:

Kitty is autistic.  The book does a wonderful job of describing how Kitty sees the world.  She uses many different coping skills when she becomes overwhelmed.  But the author also highlights many positive aspects of Kitty's mind.  She can focus intently on an issue, and notices small details that others miss.  She can also mimic other's voices, and has an amazing memory.  I love how the author shows that Kitty can use her talents when others give her a chance.  

But some situations are more challenging than others.  Kitty has to really think through social interactions before understanding what others expect out of her.  Loud noises and large crowds can trigger a panic.   This is really stressful for Kitty.  I could empathize with her struggle to maintain control.  Having just finished The Queen's Gambit on Netflix, I can see Anya Taylor Joy as Kitty.



One of the other stand-out characters, in my opinion, is Mrs. Singh.  She is a glamorous, independent woman.  I could definitely see Jameela Jamil playing this character in a movie.  Calm, and always prepared, she was such a great role-model for Kitty.



Story:

I love a good spy story.  I found Kitty's training: learning martial arts, how to fire a gun, and using spy gadgets, to be really fun.  The part of the story where Kitty finally gets to use all her training as she goes undercover was exciting.  I couldn't put the book down!  

Strangely, the plot central to the book is rather timely.  Fascists push the slogan, Britain for the British, a racist reaction to immigration.  Groups of these people are plotting something big to create change,  I do not want to spoil it, but what happens echoes events happening today.

A Note about this novel's category designation:  This book is being marketed as young adult fiction.  But it would also be very appropriate for middle grade readers.  There is no cursing, and I think younger readers in middle school will enjoy the action.

Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Release Date:  March 2nd, 2021

Author:  G.D. Falksen

Publisher:  Carolrhoda Lab

Genre:  YA Historical Fiction

Page Length:  280 Pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  This was a fun novel that I hope will become a series.  I would follow any adventure where Kitty Granger is headed!  Read this book!

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Friday, February 26, 2021

ARC Review: Band of Sisters by Lauren Willig



Please Note:  I won an advance copy of this book from the publisher from a Goodreads giveaway.  This did not influence the opinions in my review in any way.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A scholarship girl from Brooklyn, Kate Moran thought she found a place among Smith’s Mayflower descendants, only to have her illusions dashed the summer after graduation. When charismatic alumna Betsy Rutherford delivers a rousing speech at the Smith College Club in April of 1917, looking for volunteers to help French civilians decimated by the German war machine, Kate is too busy earning her living to even think of taking up the call. But when her former best friend Emmeline Van Alden reaches out and begs her to take the place of a girl who had to drop out, Kate reluctantly agrees to join the new Smith College Relief Unit.

Four months later, Kate and seventeen other Smithies, including two trailblazing female doctors, set sail for France. The volunteers are armed with money, supplies, and good intentions—all of which immediately go astray. The chateau that was to be their headquarters is a half-burnt ruin. The villagers they meet are in desperate straits: women and children huddling in damp cellars, their crops destroyed and their wells poisoned. 

Despite constant shelling from the Germans, French bureaucracy, and the threat of being ousted by the British army, the Smith volunteers bring welcome aid—and hope—to the region. But can they survive their own differences? As they cope with the hardships and terrors of the war, Kate and her colleagues find themselves navigating old rivalries and new betrayals which threaten the very existence of the Unit.

With the Germans threatening to break through the lines, can the Smith Unit pull together and be truly a band of sisters?

Review:

With so many historical fiction books dealing with war, I've read novels with many different premises.  Most of these books take place in WWII. But the new novel, Band of Sisters, by Lauren Willig is set in WWI, and is based on a group of real-life super women:  The Smith College Relief Unit.  This was a group of Smith College alumni who went from New England over to France to work with the women and children affected by the still raging war.  They had no idea what they were getting themselves into.  This book shares all the incredible feats of these women, with amazing details, and characters who you will love.  This is historical fiction at its best.

What I Liked:

Premise:

This was an incredible story.  Twelve women actually paid to do volunteer work in the French countryside in 1917.  This was mere miles from where the fighting was still actively taking place.  Most of these volunteers were society women in their late twenties and early thirties.  They had already gone through college.  Now they were expected to settle down and get married.  If one was adventurous, this would have been an irresistible opportunity at at time when women had few options in life.  

The Smith Relief Unit had to learn a variety of tasks such as building machines, tending livestock, planting crops, and driving trucks.  There was no one to give instructions, they just had to figure it out!

Historical Details:

This book was well researched with each chapter beginning with letters based on the real correspondence between the volunteers and their families.  The book was rich in details from the clothing to the types of food that were available in wartime.  I loved how all the supplies were precious to the people.  They used everything without waste.

Story:

The story followed the real events of this group during the war.  I actually checked what actually occurred because the events in this book were harrowing.  The first part of the book chronicles the steep learning curve of the volunteers. They had to be resourceful and persistent to get anything accomplished.  As their work progressed, they became beloved by the French citizens. 

The book really got compelling when the Germans orchestrated a final push in France.  Of all the books I have read on war, this one had some of the scariest scenes of being under siege I have ever read.  And throughout all of this, the women of Smith College performed amazing acts of bravery that were thrilling to read.

Romance:

Often when there is a romance in a book about war, things can get sappy very quickly.  But the romance in this book was a slow burn, and believable.  There is no rush to jump into bed, even if their lives are in danger.  The two people get to know each other though conversation and letter writing.  It was really lovely.


Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Release Date:  March 2nd, 2021

Author:  Lauren Willig

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Publisher:  William Morrow

Page Length:  528 Pages

Source:  Goodreads giveaway contest

Format:  Paperback ARC

Recommendation:  This historical fiction has it all:  amazing details, compelling characters, and an incredible story based on real events.  If you love historical fiction, this is a must read!

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Thursday, February 25, 2021

Audio ARC Review: The Chicken Sisters by K.J. Dell'Antonia



Please Note:  I received an advance audio copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions in my review in any way.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In tiny Merinac, Kansas, Chicken Mimi's and Chicken Frannie's have spent a century vying to serve up the best fried chicken in the state--and the legendary feud between their respective owners, the Moores and the Pogociellos, has lasted just as long. No one feels the impact more than thirty-five-year-old widow Amanda Moore, who grew up working for her mom at Mimi's before scandalously marrying Frank Pogociello and changing sides to work at Frannie's. Tired of being caught in the middle, Amanda sends an SOS to Food Wars, the reality TV restaurant competition that promises $100,000 to the winner. But in doing so, she launches both families out of the frying pan and directly into the fire. . .

The last thing Brooklyn-based organizational guru Mae Moore, Amanda's sister, wants is to go home to Kansas. But when her career implodes, Food Wars becomes her chance to step back into the limelight. Mae is certain she can make the fading Mimi's look good--even if that pits her against Amanda and Frannie's. With a greedy producer stoking the flames, their friendly rivalry quickly turns into a game of chicken. Yet when family secrets become public knowledge, the sisters must choose: Will they fight with each other, or for their heritage?

Review:

I first heard about this book from my book club.  Several people loved it.  So when I was offered an advance audiobook copy from Penguin Random House Audio, I was eager to listen to it.  The book had been described to me as hilarious, full of family shenanigans, and a cutthroat food competition.  However, I found nothing funny about this book.  This was a serious family saga, with the added element of how manipulative reality television can be.  I think I would have enjoyed this book more if the book had been marketed differently.  While the narration was excellent, I had a hard time empathizing with the main characters.  I do feel this is a well-written book, but it was hardly amusing.

What I Liked:

Narration:

The narrators, Xe Sands and Cassandra Campbell, did a wonderful job of portraying the two sisters, Mae, and Amanda.  Xe Sands has just the right voice for Mae, a  career-driven New York transplant.  Cassandra Campbell, shows just how naive Amanda was.  I particularly enjoyed how Campbell voiced the presenter of Food Wars, the cynical, two-faced Sabrina.  That character could go from sweet and concerned to conniving in a heartbeat.   This illusion for television, and the breaking of it, is central to the plot of the book.

Behind The Scenes of Reality Television:

Mae's highest ambition is to become a reality show host like super organizer, Marie Kondo.  The book gives us a behind the scenes look at these type of shows.  One could tell that the author used shows such as Restaurant Impossible, Cake Wars, and Hoarders, as inspiration.  But while it seems like everything is unscripted, the book shows how the producers of these shows set up conflict, and then use video footage to create a narrative with villains and heroes.  While I would like to think that the tactics used by the producers in the book are an exaggeration, I have a feeling they're not.

Hoarding:

I did like how the book approached the topic of hoarding. Mae and Amanda's mother, Barbara, is a hoarder, an open secret in their small town, but not something they want advertised to the world on television.   I could really identify with some of the guilt and embarrassment as a child of a hoarder.  I appreciate that the book explores the psychology of why people hoard things.  Hoarding is a sign of deep problems.  Blaming the family of the hoarder isn't helpful.  And just cleaning up the mess will not solve what's wrong.  People who hoard need empathy, love, support, and counseling to get to the root of the issue.

What I Was Mixed About:

Characters:

I really had a problem with Mae and Amanda.  Yes, they both had childhood trauma that shaped their choices as adults.  But they were incredibly mean to each other.  Mae is constantly judging Amanda for staying in their small hometown.  She was all too eager to underestimate her sister's talents.  Amanda never misses up a chance to point out Amanda's shortcomings to others.  Considering how secretive they each were about their mother's issues, it was surprising that Amanda was so eager to wave around all the dirty laundry.  The author explained it away as Amanda not understanding how the producers of Food Wars would use Amanda's comments.  But I didn't find that plausible.  

Mae was also generally awful to everyone.  She constantly makes important decisions about her family without consulting her husband.  When Mae makes the decision to take her kids hundreds of miles away to hustle her way to be featured on Food Wars, she shouldn't have been surprised that her husband, Jay was upset.  She continually looked for ways to market herself (and her family) on social media in order to further her career.  I found her sudden interest in the welfare of her mother to be a giant leap.


Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐

Release Date:  December 1st, 2020

Author:  K.J. Dell'Antonia

Genre:  Literary Fiction

Audio Publisher:  Penguin Random House Audio

Narrators: Xe Sands, Cassandra Campbell

Audio Length:  12 hours, 22 minutes

Print Publisher: G.P. Putman's Sons

Print Length:  352 Pages

Source:  Penguin Random House Audio

Format: Audiobook

Recommendation:  

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Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The Russian Cage by Charlaine Harris



Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This did not influence the opinions in my review in any way.


Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Picking up right where A Longer Fall left off, this thrilling third installment follows Lizbeth Rose as she takes on one of her most dangerous missions yet: rescuing her estranged partner, Prince Eli, from the Holy Russian Empire. Once in San Diego, Lizbeth is going to have to rely upon her sister Felicia, and her growing Grigori powers to navigate her way through this strange new world of royalty and deception in order to get Eli freed from jail where he’s being held for murder.

Russian Cage continues to ramp up the momentum with more of everything Harris’ readers adore her for with romance, intrigue, and a deep dive into the mysterious Holy Russian Empire.

Review:

Charlaine Harris is best known for her Sookie Stackhouse novels that were turned into the HBO series, True Blood.   The world of The Russian Cage takes place in an alternate universe where the United States has dissolved into several countries, one of which is the Holy Russian Empire.  This is the third book in the series, and I must confess, I had to quickly read the first two books before I felt right about reading, and reviewing, this book.  I'm so glad I did.  This is a fun series that feels like a cross between a western, and a supernatural thriller.  There's a strong female lead, along with many other colorful supporting characters.  With a suspenseful plot and a touch of the supernatural, this was a page-turner.

What I Liked:

World-Building:

This takes place in an alternate universe where the United State is now made up of several countries.  Mexico has taken over a large portion of Texas and the Southwest.  There are other countries such as Dixie (you can guess where that is), and then there is the Holy Russian Empire on the west coast.  The time period is not spelled out but it seems to be set in about the 1930's.

What I liked about this universe was that it was interesting, even without the magic.  Much of the former U.S. is made up of lawless areas where people who travel need to hire "gunnies" for protection from highway bandits.  That's where Lizbeth Rose comes in.  She is a gunnie who's mother was raped by a russian. She may have some magical power, or may be useful to the HRE (Holy Russian Empire).

In the previous books, Lizbeth has only heard about the HRE.  But in The Russian Cage, Lizbeth has to walk straight into the lion's den to save a russian she is in love with.  This book shows us this world up close, with it's complicated royal etiquette, and social hierarchy.  It also explains more about the magical aspects of this world.

Characters:

Lizbeth is such a strong person, that it's hard to imagine she is only nineteen years-old.  But, given her upbringing, she is used to scrabbling for survival.  Her character finds it hard to trust people, even her russian lover, Eli.  I enjoyed how she finally forms a bond with her younger sister, Felicia, and even begins a tentative friendship with Eli's family.

One of the struggles of this character is that she is often called upon to kill people in her job.  But where does she draw the line between what is necessary and revenge?  There are no black and white answers.

I also really liked the supporting characters, particularly Eli's mother Veronika, and his friend Felix.  Veronika, at first, seems like a snobby rich aristocrat.  But because her late husband was so involved in politics, she has had to learn to maneuver carefully through treacherous social situations and royal plots.  This has made her a survivor.  Maybe that's why Veronika isn't as put off by commoner Lizbeth as I would have initially thought.

Felix is another character who is more than he seems.  The magic he specializes in is death magic.  Most people give him a wide berth.  But he has formed a deep friendship with Eli over the years.  His fierce loyalty to Eli has him taking all kinds of risk for his friend.  Over the course of the novel, Lizbeth learns to really appreciate him.

Plot:

Eli has been thrown in the HRE prison, but due to politics, no one even knows what the charges are.  Lizbeth decides she must rescue Eli. But since she doesn't know anything about the HRE, there are dangers she can't imagine.  This is a classic fish out of water story where Lizbeth must learn about this society and then figure out how to help Eli.  This plot device was perfect for the reader to discover, along with Lizbeth, the HRE.  

Lizbeth is also in danger because she secretly is part russian, and could possibly have blood that can help keep the Czar alive.  Hiding this part of herself is critical if she doesn't want to become a prisoner, herself.

Also, since the main character is a gun-slinger, there are plenty of shootouts, murder plots, and other dangers that keep this book going at a brisk pace.  This was a very entertaining book.

Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Release Date:  February 23rd, 2021

Author:  Charlaine Harris

Publisher:  Saga Press

Genre:  Fantasy

Page Length:  304 Pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book 

Recommendation: With plenty of action, and rich world-building, this was a highly entertaining book.  Be sure to read the first two books in the series in order to get the most from the story.



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Thursday, February 18, 2021

Book vs. Movie: Earwig and the Witch by Diana Wynne Jones

I recently watched the Studio Ghibli movie, Earwig and the Witch on HBOMAX,  This was so different from the moviemaker's usual work, that I decided to read the book and compare the two works.  Sadly, neither were very good.


Movie:



I was so thrilled when I saw that HBOMAX advertised a new Studio Ghibli film!  Earwig and the Witch is done in a 3-D animation style similar to what Pixar does.  So it was immediately apparent that this was a different sort of film for the studio.  Despite it's break from the usual style, I was eager to watch this movie.  However, I found the movie very disappointing.  

What I Liked:

Animation:

While the animation is done in a completely different style from what the studio usually does, they did do a wonderful job.  I loved how the animators did the hair for each character. Earwig (Erica) has high ponytails that look like the pincers of an earwig bug!  The hair for the two female witches, are also beautifully done.  The witch that must be Earwig's mother has giant corkscrew curls that are used in spells.  The voluminous hair of the other witch, Bella Yaga, look heavy and foreboding.

Settings:

The movie did spend time at the orphanage, where it seemed as though Erica was very happy. I really loved the moments when the children were pretending to be ghosts.  It was charming.

The house where Bella Yaga and The Mandrake live has a magical charm to it..  Like the TARDIS in Doctor Who, rooms can be bigger on the inside, and don't follow the laws of physics.  Walls change to suit the needs of Bella Yaga.  It almost seemed like the house had it's own personality.

What I Didn't Like:

Characters:

Erica (Earwig) starts out as a manipulative child in an orphanage, and ends up as a manipulative child in a home.  There is no growth for this main character.  Shouldn't she have learned to see others as people, rather than as tools to get what she wants? I really wanted Erica to view her new family as individuals, and form actual attachments.  Instead, the only thing she learns is to find ways to cow Bella Yaga, and use The Mandrake.  And Bella Yaga doesn't change either. She is abusive (actually hitting Erica at one point), and berates her at every opportunity.  The only reason she is less abusive at the end is because she is afraid of The Mandrake.

Story:

There really isn't any story.  At the beginning of the film, Erica is left on the doorstep of an orphanage with a cryptic note.  There are twelve witches after Erica's mother. She will return to claim her when she has gotten rid of the witches.  With such a strong lead in, it was a huge disappointment when nothing comes of this.  And I mean, NOHTHING!  We never hear about it again.  I really wanted to see a parallel storyline where we follow the adventures of Erica's mother.

The story goes something like this:  Erica (Earwig) gets left on a doorstep of an orphanage, she learns to charm (or is it spell) others to do as she wants.  Then she is adopted by a strange couple.  She goes to their home and learns how to manipulate them.  The End!  Literally, nothing else happens.  There are some enticing moments where we see the origins of Erica and her possible connection to the couple.  But, again, it is never fully fleshed out.  A missed opportunity. 

Book:



I found the movie so strange, that I had to read the original children's book by Diana Wynne Jones, to see if I missed anything.  Maybe there was more to the story?  But, again, the story didn't go anywhere,

What I Liked:

Illustrations:

The children's book does have many whimsical illustrations.  They reminded me of drawings one might see in a Roald Dahl book.  

What I Didn't Like:

Lack of Story:

As with the movie, there are hints of an exciting book at the beginning with the note attached to baby Erica.  But it is never mentioned again!  Earwig simply goes from the orphanage to Bella Yaga's home, and continues to be rude and manipulative.  Nothing really happens in the book.

Movie Differences:

There is a significant difference between the movie and the book.  In the movie, the witches belong to a band called, Earwig.  In flashbacks, we see a relationship between Bella Yaga, The Mandrake, and Erica's mother.  Could The Mandrake be Erica's father?  There is lots of music which helps Erica begin a connection with The Mandrake.  But this is never fully developed in the movie. I can only think that Studio Ghibli added this to try and have something happen in the movie, as the book's story is so slim. 

I can only think that Studio Ghibli made this movie on the strong reputation of Diana Wynne Jones.  She did write Howl's Moving Castle, one of Studio Ghibli's most successful films.  This movie had potential.  But with a children's book so slim, the movie was doomed from the beginning. 

Ratings:

Movie: ⭐⭐⭐

Book:  ⭐⭐


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