I've said a number of times that I love Abigail Reynolds stories, but I have a confession to make: it wasn't always so. Now, hear me out - I spent hal...moreI've said a number of times that I love Abigail Reynolds stories, but I have a confession to make: it wasn't always so. Now, hear me out - I spent half a dozen+ years obsessively reading and rereading Austen's books before I knew there was such a thing as an adaptation or retelling. I stumbled upon them completely by accident when I was looking for more authors similar to Austen via a book recommender. To learn that people had actually taken Austen's worlds and characters and written new stories... well, needless to say, I was equal parts excited and dubious (and a little unsure of whether that was even legal? Haha). Of course, like any desperate Austenite, I checked out a stack of about 20 of these books from my local library, and decided I was going to have a "Summer of Jane"... This was 2008, pre-blog, and I needed a project. So I sat outside every day in the glorious weather and just read and read and read...and the more I read, the more disheartened I became. This wasn't my Austen. This wasn't my Darcy, my Lizzie. It wasn't the world and the manners I'd come to know... What was this? Every book I read made me more convinced that Austenesque fanfiction wasn't for me, and if I hated one, I hated them all. (It was too fresh, you see. I couldn't allow for such mucking about in my beloved stories.) One good traditional retelling and one good playful modern story would change that, and teach me to let go and have some fun with it (and, um... you've seen the result of that), but before those 2 stories convinced me to give it a chance, I couldn't seem to like the adaptations I'd read. And unfortunately, Impulse & Initiative was one of them.
Flash forward to 5 years later, when I have decidedly embraced the whooooooole genre - and still devote my summers to it - and I found myself kinda in love with these stories, these "Pemberely Variations," that Abigail Reynolds writes. And I was on the hunt for more, so while browsing on Better World Books, I came across one with a familiar title: Impulse & Initiative. I'd blocked out most of what I read That Summer, but Goodreads informed me that I'd read this one (or thought I had), and hadn't been too impressed. Figuring that it'd come at the height of my denial phase, when I wasn't willing to accept any sexytimes in my P&P, I thought I'd better buy it and give it another chance. And I'm certainly glad I did. (I probably need to track down all of the books I read that summer and give them another, less prejudiced* chance.)
Impulse & Initiative, which has since been republished as To Conquer Mr Darcy - and I have no idea if the story was changed at all for the repackaging - is a story that takes a more controversial (to my Regency sensibilities) variation, in that Darcy and Lizzie can't keep their flipping hands off each other before they're married. It's smexy. And though I like a fair dose of smexy on occasion now, it was too akin to a bodice-ripper then, and I was a book snob. I'll admit it. It probably is too much sexytimes for some readers, especially those who still hold Darcy and Lizzie - and the pace of Regency courtship - sacred, so reader, know thyself, and know that going in. But though it does take away some of the sweetness of the romance, and though it does replace it with a liberal smattering of lusty kisses and, you know, bodice ripping, it's really neat to see Reynolds attack the same story from yet another angle.
This time around, I appreciated the idea of Darcy not taking no for an answer - not in an aggressive, pushy Lord of the Manor way, but in an "I'm not going to let myself eff this up" way. I liked seeing him pursue Lizzie and actively try to win her over, and come out of his shell a bit. It's an interesting - and not entirely unbelievable - way to approach the story, and it's nice because it's active; we don't have to be told that Darcy goes away and changes offstage, we get to see the efforts and the fruits of those efforts, right there as they happen. It's fun to see Lizzie, too, won over despite herself. It's nice to see them both come a little undone, and frankly, there are times when it's hot as hell.
The key to enjoyment of Reynolds' Variations - the key to any retelling, really - is to allow yourself to go with it. I love exploring the "what-ifs" in any story, all the branching paths and possibilities and might-have-beens. And though sometimes those might-have-beens are probably best left as should-nots, in Reynolds' hands, there's always enough understanding of the characters and love of their stories and who they are, combined with a willingness to push that a bit and test those boundaries, that makes for really interesting, fresh, dependably enjoyable variations. And if you find things too far-fetched on occasion, too sexy or too straying-from-"reality," the fact is, Reynolds' writing is compulsively readable. She moves the reader along at a break-neck pace, making it near impossible not to devour her books in one sitting. And even if she changes things, and even if you can't be quite happy with every change that's made, she creates worlds and characters that, if you're anything like me, you can't help but love and find yourself craving rereads of.
So, all I can say is: Misty-of-5-years-ago, and Janeites out there who feel as she felt - lighten up. Let go, explore the possibilities, and if you can't bear to see your Darcyand your Lizzie do things you don't think they'd do, then pretend they're someone else. Because you're missing out on some good stories and some scenes that would set your Regency heart a-flutter. You're invited to the party, so come. You're missing all the fun.
When I finished this on Goodreads, a GR friend asked me "Have you no shame?" and I just want to state for the record: no, I do not. I will pick up eve...moreWhen I finished this on Goodreads, a GR friend asked me "Have you no shame?" and I just want to state for the record: no, I do not. I will pick up every damn thing with "Pride and _________" or "___________ and Prejudice" in it... Nor do I regret that, because sometimes they turn out to be worth it. This was actually really enjoyable, though certainly aimed at a particular segment of the reading public.
It started out really rocky for me, actually, because it just felt like James was getting the characters (or the characters of the characters) wrong; Chloe-aka-Lizzie was really closed-off and downright rude, and Taylor-aka-Darcy was too suave and likable. I mean, Darcy's not likable - he's an ass. You grow to love him, and you appreciate him for appreciating the fantasticness that is Elizabeth, but he didn't write the book How to Win Friends and Influence People, ya know? (Well, maybe How to Influence People, but not so much the making of the friends...) The dynamic that works so well about this story is that Elizabeth is strong, smart, and lovable - but blinded - and Darcy is honorable, caring, and thoughtful - but doesn't show it. When you mess with that dynamic, you may have a pleasant story that works in its own right, but it fails as a P&P retelling by default. (For me, anyway.)
So on some level, yes, this did fail as a P&P retelling, because I don't think their characters were ever fully rectified, though they did have the classic moment of understanding and the reversal. But that aside, it's very recognizable as P&P, even as modern and young as it is, and (amazingly, because I wasn't expecting it), it did even inspire some of the same feelings I had with P&P. It pulls you in in a similar way, and you find yourself loving how the characters are always talking at cross-purposes and misunderstanding each other (willfully or otherwise), just as in P&P. The story moves very quickly, and other than a tendency towards telling over showing and some general cheesiness (especially in the dialogue, which is rough, and which was a big part of what was throwing me off in the beginning), it remains charming and wholesome throughout.
Now, that being said, I think I should share the author's disclaimer:
If you are hoping to find a YA book full of paranormal beasts, sex, or teens who act much more like under-aged adults, I suggest you save your money and do not buy this book. In fact don't buy any of The Jane Austen Diaries. However, if you are looking for a clean, lighthearted, sweet romance, where teens are good and happy and normal--like all of the teens I know (including my own!) then read on. You've come to the right place. :) --Jenni
This is going to be the major deciding point for most readers. Pride and Popularity is a very youthful, very wholesome retelling, definitely geared toward younger readers, and those hoping to avoid even the whiff of anything "questionable" - and readers should know this going in. I didn't know, and just plunged right in, and it took me a bit to readjust my perception of what the story was going to be and who it was aimed at. The characters are, I wanna say, fifteen, which inevitably means the content is going to be cutesied up and a bit fluffier - and even more immature - than some Janeites may be looking for in their adaptations. I myself am hesitant when it comes to "fluff" but I think in this case, it's well done fluff. It's just wholesome and harmless, and it made me smile. And as I mentioned, it's a very quick read, so certainly not a waste of time for insatiable Janeites or those looking for something age-appropriate and sweet to introduce P&P to their pre/young-teens.(less)
Dracula in Love isn't just a fill-in-the-gaps retelling of Dracula, fleshing out the story from Mina's point of view. No, it is a sort of femini...more4-ish.
Dracula in Love isn't just a fill-in-the-gaps retelling of Dracula, fleshing out the story from Mina's point of view. No, it is a sort of feminist retelling in which Mina asserts that the story that everyone knows, the story that's been told by men, is false. True to their Victorian beliefs and morés, the men have cast the women of the story as either saints of harridans, relegating them to sidelines to seethe or swoon as they may. But thinking, feeling, intelligent Mina isn't having it. There is so much more to Mina's story, things her husband and the doctors and lovers who have spun the story so far have no idea about. Because for Mina, the story begins long before Jonathan travels to the continent to do business with a Count...
It's been a long, long while since I read Dracula. I was thirteen, and I devoured it, but in some ways, it left me unsatisfied. I think that same dissatisfaction may have been the impetus for Essex's reimagining of the tale, at least in part. I mean, the story is so wrought with Victorian fear of female sexuality and human passions in general, so to have it told by a female character who is neither sinner nor saint but just human and humanly flawed, with human cravings - it fills the tale out and makes it more authentic and powerful to me. I really, really liked the idea of getting Mina's side of the story, and of having Mina be lass passive and perfect and more passionate and strong. In that respect, I got what I wanted out of the story.
But what I wasn't expecting, and what I found most fascinating, was her interactions with the men of the story, human and inhuman alike. Dracula's role in this is not the demonic, power-mad, lustful creep of a villain. Or at least, not for the most part. There is certainly a fair amount of lust and a good deal of power and submission. But he bears no resemblance to this guy in looks or manner. Though he is somewhat...unnatural, I guess you'd say, he's not really the villain of the piece. Dracula doesn't appear to be all-encompassing evil. He was terrifying to the Victorians for what he made them confront (lust, mortality), but a thinking, passionate woman need not necessarily fear, so Mina's reaction to him, slowly evolving, intrigued, is appropriate and enjoyable.
All of the domineering men, Drs. Seward and Von Helsinger, Arthur Holmwood/Godalming, even sometimes Mina's husband Jonathan, they're the ones you have to watch out for. And they're the perfect types of villains to creep the bejeezus out of me, because they are overzealous fools given unchecked power they shouldn't have, over people who have no real defense against them. Reasons this makes my skin crawl more than monsters under my bed: a) they feel completely justified in the awful things they do, b) their victims have no real recourse, because in the eyes of the law, they are justified, c) just by virtue of being men, they win control, and anything one could try to take control back would further cement their authority and add to their claims that everything they're doing is justified, and d) they are 100% real. I mean, not these particular characters, of course. But men like them, Victorian psychiatrists and the like, really did exist and practice horrific things on people whom we would consider completely sane. It's this horrible vicious circle that meant that any woman in the Victorian era who had the audacity to express a lustful thought was fair game for their experimentation and "curing" and if she dared stand up for herself and fight, it was further proof that she was insane and needed curing.
I think this is where Essex's book shines. Her human characters can be pretty monstrous, and her portrait of Victorian life and what it meant to be a woman, especially a passionate woman, is very well realized. You can tell she has done a lot of research and a lot of work to bring Mina's world to life. Mina herself straddles the line between proper Victorian woman and fully-realized, passionate woman. She has friends in her life who aren't afraid to express their passions and break the mold, and they are presented in realistic ways, as forward-thinking suffragettes, etc, lending more authenticity to the tale. Because of them, Mina doesn't feel out of place, and the story doesn't feel false or as unrealistic as it could have, given the setting. It was reminiscent of the original, but modern and feminist and womanly enough to be believable. I'm sure Mina would have struggled with some of the things she struggled with, and the feelings and dreams and ordinary experience of sexual awakening and how startling that is for her. From this aspect, it is very well done.
There were some minor setbacks for me. There were times, especially in the beginning, when I just wanted the story to move on. I am not a big fan of excessive description; I am all for setting a scene, and for showing, not telling, but I get more than a little antsy when I feel like useless description has brought the action to a halt. This is a style preference, and I know there are plenty of readers out there who love to have all the minutia described so that they can really see everything in detail. But for me, there were times when I wanted to skim or set the book aside because it wasn't getting on with it at a quick enough pace for me. This was less a problem for me as the story moved along and got into the meat of it, especially once they reached the asylum.
I think there are also those who will be put off by the sexualization of the story. I never found it to be pornographic per se, but it certainly leans toward the erotic at some points. I think this is in keeping with the original in a weird way, since it was so very much about repression and forbidden sexuality (ie, everything that screams Victorian...). While it's never what I would really call explicit, it will most certainly make some people blush; I wouldn't suggest reading it to your grandma. (Well, I may have read this to my grandma. She would have cracked up.) There were times when everything was a little over the top for me, or a little timed ("It's been X pages, time for some writhing..."). But overall, I found it an interesting way to modernly explore what was actually a sexualized tale à la Victorian morés.
I don't remember Dracula enough to really compare specifics, but I think it's certainly an interesting riff on the story. Especially to have Mina telling the tale, firmly and with conviction, because Mina was always the focal point for me anyway. The added gothic elements, like Mina's lifelong bouts with supernatural and Essex's take on the vampire mythology, as well as the very creepy, very gothic and very authentic use of early psychiatry, really brought the book to another level, and made it creepy in a new, modern way. (That sounds like a contradiction, that the use of the Victorian beliefs made it creepy in a modern way. But I think you know what I mean. I hope.) It didn't completely sweep me off my feet, but for the most part, I was pretty pleased with Essex's take and the Mina she presents. If you're not adverse to a little lovin', and you enjoy the gothic ambiance, I'd recommend this one. (less)
Hmmm... Wrote this review last year but somehow missed posting it here. So:
This one is kind of an odd one for me because I'm really torn. On the one h...moreHmmm... Wrote this review last year but somehow missed posting it here. So:
This one is kind of an odd one for me because I'm really torn. On the one hand, there were times when I was completely in the flow of things and enjoying it. It was pleasant and I liked the story and where Hamilton was going with it - even though it is not at all what I thought it was going to be. I settled in prepared (purely based on the title and my own preconceptions) for the story of Darcy's time away from Lizzie after his disastrous proposal. I thought it was going to be a fill-in-the-blanks story that took us into Darcy's mind during their time apart, when he has his (seemingly miraculous, unexpected) transformation from arrogant ass to thoughtful heartthrob. I didn't think it was going to be a "variations" type tale that would take the story to a point and then branch off into a different direction, which is what happened. So I wasn't prepared for the story that was presented, and though I was able to adjust my thinking to that and go with it, I was a little disappointed that I wasn't getting the story I had prepared myself for.
But that was a tangent; sorry. As I was saying, I was able to go with the story Hamilton set out, and enjoy it most of the time. But what held me back - and really had me actually considering setting the book aside, despite the fact that I liked it most of the time - was that there was an incredible amount of dialogue. It was endless. They talked and talked and talked, and talked about talking before they talked some more. I wanted to trim away so much of it. It was unnecessary and unskillful, with so many things placed in people's mouths rather than exposition, where they should have been. Darcy is very reserved, and Lizzie, though outspoken, doesn't necessarily wear her heart on her sleeve, so to hear both characters (and every other) spilling their guts and blathering on about every thing, all the while dancing around each other in formal Regency politeness - needless to say, it's not something I have a taste for.
I wanted so very badly for some of it to be internalized or shown through actions and subtle non-verbal cues, which Austen does so very well. Not to mention that it always sends up a red flag when any character gets to speak uninterrupted for 1/2 a page or more. That's not realistic in any setting, but especially not in a close-lipped, reserved Regency setting. Add to this the characters didn't seem to speak like themselves, and it really knocked me out of the story.
There was a shifting back and forth between characters, too, that didn't really work for me. I wanted Darcy's story and would have preferred to see things only filtered through his eyes, or to have action only happen when he's onstage, and everything else be relayed (much as generally is with Austen, only centering around a female). This swung back and forth between a multitude of characters, and though I could see there was a good attempt at making the transitions as smooth as possible, it would have been better not to be in everyone's heads. If you don't know what other characters are thinking, but simply have to really on conjecture based on their words and actions, there is room left for an element of doubt and tension, which is always good.
Also, even though I could tell effort was made at smoothly transitioning, sometimes the transitions would be out of left field and leave me baffled. One sentence would take you days, weeks or months in advance of the present action, only to have the character "remembering" right back to where you just left off, so that the scene could be finished. It was weird and unnecessary.
So those are two huge negatives, and they make me hesitant to give this a hearty recommendation. And that's where this gets tricky, because there were times when I really, truly did enjoy this and felt the take on the tale and the characters was an interesting one. I guess in the end, whether you decide to read this or not is really going to come down to personal preference. If you enjoy a lot of dialogue in which everything is laid out and ground is well covered, and if you like shifting perspectives, then the things that bothered me probably aren't going to bother you, in which case you should pick it up. If you dislike those things, or they are particular pet peeves, you should probably avoid this. I find myself somewhere in the middle, liking it but wanting more.(less)
Though I was familiar with Abigail Reynolds and her Pride and Prejudice/Pemberley "variations" series (and had even seen this book with a different ti...moreThough I was familiar with Abigail Reynolds and her Pride and Prejudice/Pemberley "variations" series (and had even seen this book with a different title, From Lambton to Longbourn), I had never actually read anything by her. I'm not sure why, maybe it was the covers or that there were just so many of them I was afraid they were churned out and passionless. Whatever the reason, I didn't pick them up, and I see now that I need to rectify that.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Did I enjoy it unreservedly on the level of Austen? No, and I doubt I ever will of any Austen fanfic. But did I enjoy it more than I generally do a fanfic? Absolutely. Reynolds captured the language and, more importantly, the feel and tone of Austen really well. I actually felt like her Darcy and Lizzie were quite close to the Darcy and Lizzie I know and love, which is one of the tests for me: too many times, I barely recognize my Darcy and my Lizzie in fanfics, or their brightness shines through only sporadically. This not only felt more authentic to who they are as Austen set them out, but it also expands on their characters rather nicely. I was pleased with her treatment of Darcy, especially. There were things revealed about him that made me actually reconsider Austen's Darcy in a new light, which is a rarity. I felt that my knowledge and understanding of him was expanded, and I found myself rethinking some of the events of Pride and Prejudice and saying, You know, that kinda makes sense... This was especially impressive to me because it was unexpected and doesn't really happen. Reynolds showed great insight into the story and the chararacters, and human nature in general.
Another thing I really enjoyed was that it takes one teeny, tiny line from a pivotal moment and expands out down a path of "what-if?" in ways that seem realistic and make sense. Reynolds stays true to the original story, working in key moments as if they are fixed, but also creates a new timeline and interactions and stays true to the path she sets out to explore. With the fixed points, readers don't miss out on some of their favorite tension filled and/or swoonworthy moments; they just see them come about in a different way. I especially liked that the path Reynolds took means that we see more of a struggle for Lizzie. Knowing that Darcy spends months upon months in the original in the pain of love, it is nice to see some of that visited on Lizzie, and feel that they are on equal footing when it comes to overcoming obstacles and working and desiring each other on the same level.
For a more modern sensibility, Reynolds has given us some sexytime, which I have to say, I am always very hesitant about when it comes of Austen fanfic. Not only does it bother me from the standpoint that a makeout sesh is wholly historically inappropriate for their stations, and would have been grounds for some duelage, but it also often just devolves into one smexy-but-meaningless encounter after another. And though I don't mind that in other books (dotdotdot) I do mind it in my Austen. Part of what I love about Austen is that things are kept so close to the vest, and that passion, no matter how strong and hard to restrain, is restrained (if only barely). I love the struggle and the tension and the anticipation. But many authors are writing from and to modern sensibilities, which often demand some sexytimes, and that can be disastrous. Fortunately, Reynolds does a pretty good job with this. There is good tension and the stirring up of butterflies, and some naughty but not too naughty make-out seshes that take it far enough without making the reader say "Really?" There's also a sense of fun about it, too, that makes it work.
Needless to say, I will be reading more from Abigail Reynolds. ;P(less)
Just under 4. There were some things that bothered me (pet peevishly), but for the most part, good fun.
I wasn't sure what I'd be getting with this one...moreJust under 4. There were some things that bothered me (pet peevishly), but for the most part, good fun.
I wasn't sure what I'd be getting with this one. It has a super cute cover (one of my faves in my big ole' Janeite stack), but I am always a little apprehensive when it comes to anything that smacks of romance. I find it even more dubious when a Janeite novel opens with a mangling of Austen's famous "truth universally acknowledged" line. But the fact of the matter is, as clichéd as this could be, it was also great fun, and enjoyably readable. I kid you not when I say I knew exactly what was going to happen by page 4 (I was actually on page 4 when I said it aloud), but it was still fun getting there.
It reminded me very strongly of Austenland (in plot and in tone), and though this made it that much more predicatble, it was welcome, as Austenland is one of my favorite Janeite books. I still like Austenland more, but Weekend had the same sort of self-indulgent funness to it. It was cute and bubbly and there were numerous times when I found myself not just casually smiling, but grinning. The whole thing sort of reads as a nod to Janeites, with lots of in-jokes and other retellings and authors mentioned. It's a fangirl's homage to fangirliness.
As fun as it was, there were some things that held me back in my enthusiasm a bit. Emotions ran a little too high and were a little too easy for me, if that makes sense. I know part of the whole point of the story is the magic of this Jane weekend, and how it weaves its spell, but the main characters didn't seem very realistic, especially the men, and when people start tossing around the word love after a day, I can't help but roll my eyes and think they are doomed. And yes, I get that these uber-thoughtful, expressive, gorgeous men fulfill the stereotype and the wish of the ultimate Austen hero made flesh, but I would have liked a little more groundwork and struggle to get declarations of undying whatever. Part of what builds butterflies in your stomach when you read is that things take time and are difficult. Anticipation is built, and there are near misses where you think they are never going to get together and you just can't wait. I would have liked a little more waiting (which was impossible from the start, since the bulk of the book takes place over 3 days).
From the Jane-ish standpoint, it was a good take on the common tropes. I've already mentioned the men being the embodiment of the swoon-worthy Austen hero (and they certainly did their best), but the two main characters, Katherine and Robyn, were good Jane-inspired female leads. They each were reminiscent of several Austen heroines, without ever being a straight copy of any. It was more a nod to Austen, in a modern woman and setting, and I enjoyed that. Katherine at times was a little too petulant for my tastes - she is a grown woman; I don't ever want to read the word 'pout' applied to an adult character I'm supposed to like. That being said, I still did like her and root for her. Robyn had my heart from the beginning, surprisingly (I thought it was going to be all about Katherine for me). And I loved seeing how their lives came together in the end and all of the storylines were resolved - even if I did see them coming. They were infused with enough believable emotion that I fully enjoyed it and never wanted to set the book aside. It was like watching a chick flick - you may know exactly what is going to happen, but that doesn't stop you from wanting to watch it (again and again and again...)(less)
I feel like this is more a 3 for writing and story, but what bumped it up was that I actually found myself wanting to read it. Normally, if it's just...moreI feel like this is more a 3 for writing and story, but what bumped it up was that I actually found myself wanting to read it. Normally, if it's just a 3-er, I'm not too concerned about getting back to it, but I stayed up later than intended and was a couple minutes late punching in from lunch because of this book, which leans it toward 4 star material. Super cute and fluffy. Review to come (soon!)(less)
When I agreed to be part of the Android Karenina blogsplosion, I knew it was going to be an interesting experience. I've read the P&P inspired boo...moreWhen I agreed to be part of the Android Karenina blogsplosion, I knew it was going to be an interesting experience. I've read the P&P inspired books -- and obviously am familiar with P&P -- so I got the in-jokes and the references, and could compare it to the original. With this, I haven't read Anna Karenina (and am generally not big on the Russians, save Pasternak's Dr. Zhivago), so I knew that I would have to approach this mash-up differently.
On the one hand, I wouldn't be biased comparing it to the original because I wouldn't know what was the original, and what was not (save the robots -- pretty sure that's all Tolstoy... ;p). At the same time, though, there was a potential to be greatly confusing, and for me to wonder if there was some significance to the addition of robots.
Basically, the latter is what happened. Even though the writing flowed smoothly for me and I couldn't really tell where Tolstoy left off and Winters began, I still found myself wondering what it was all about. Was the insertion of robots really necessary? Was this needed in literature, did it add something to the story? Basically, what's the point? I found I kept asking myself this. The thing is, I think there may have been a subtle reason. I remember reading once about Anna's dream of beaten iron (a famous scene from the original) and assume that this was Winters "in" for the story he created -- there's a groundwork for the horror in Anna's metaphor. And I think there were times when the cruelty exhibited toward the robots (as at Princess Tverskaya's house, when the Iron Laws are tested) did add a layer of humanity (albeit at its worst) that made the robot aspect a bit more believable and linked the desperation of their case with Anna's. They also seemed to act as mirrors of their masters, externalizing the internal, which was interesting. (<-- though I found myself wondering if this took away from the beauty and subtlety of the original; of course, not having read it, I have no idea. It was just one of the many "wonderings".)
The somewhat steampunkish element was interesting, too. I wouldn't call it straight steampunk (note to purists) but that mash-up aspect was there, and I liked it. Ball gowns and polished copper faceplates just work for me, I guess. (Also, the idea of a "float" was fabtastic. What is a float, you ask? A float is what happens when technology enables you to ramp up the excitement of a formal ball -- you simply puff jets of air on the "ballroom floor" to lift dancers off of the ground, creating new -- and even more difficult to master -- dance steps. Genius.)
But I still found myself questioning. I kept wondering what the point was, and how it fit into the big picture, and I kept feeling like I was missing something. I think, had I read the original, I may actually have enjoyed this more. I did enjoy it on a somewhat forgettable level, but I may have found it more compelling if I were familiar with the story, which is not the fault of Ben Winters. I think he did a good job from what I can tell, but I feel like I'm in a place where I just don't know what to do with it. I'm missing the in-jokes, so the humor seems like it's just detracting from the famously sad and serious story, which leaves me with a feeling of a weird tone and confusion. I think if you're reading it because you've read Anna K and are curious, it may work for you; if you're reading it in place of Anna K, it may not.
One last note: the illustrations did nothing for me. Sorry, illustrator... (less)
Beatrice "Bertie" Shakespeare Smith has lived in the Théâtre for as long as she can remember. She loves the crazy cast of characters who populate her...moreBeatrice "Bertie" Shakespeare Smith has lived in the Théâtre for as long as she can remember. She loves the crazy cast of characters who populate her life and she loves getting up to crazy antics with them. She loves the stories and the Stage and everything about it. (Well, maybe she doesn't love the Stage Manager...) But when Bertie's antics go too far, the Theater Manager asks her to prove herself to be a valuable member of the Théâtre -- or leave. Desperate not to be exiled from her favorite place in the world, the only home she's ever known, Bertie sets out to find her place in this zany world -- and she may find more than that.
I had been foaming at the mouth wanting to get my hands on this book ever since the cover was released. When my bookclub decided it was going to be one of the books we read this year, I agreed to be a good girl and wait to read it. And hey! I actually kept my word and was a good girl! Go figure. So after all that anticipation -- which is sure to kill anything -- that month's bookclub meeting was one of the most disappointing for me, ever. [frowny face:]
But here's the thing -- I loved the book. It's just that I was the only one, and after the cursory "ehhs" from all around, everyone moved on to what else they've been reading. This disappointed me, because though I love that portion of our meetings, I actually did want to talk about this book, but I wasn't going to keep dragging the conversation back to a book no one liked and listen to them bash it.
So my warning is, if you're a smart woman well into adulthood, you may hate this book. That seemed to be the consensus. But I loved it, and I'm about to tell you why...
I dig literary allusions. I accept that I am a nerd and embrace it. I was a bit worried about the allusions in this going in, though, not because I didn't think I'd like them, but because it is a YA book, and I wondered if it would even be accessible to the YA audience. Since I'm not a teen, I can't speak to this other than to say that a)I was the kind of annoying, precocious/pretentious teen that thought herself very literary, and I would have eaten them up, and probably looked into the ones I didn't get and expanded my drama base; and b) I've read a few reviews of the book that were written by teens, and they all seemed to love it, literary allusions included. Oddly enough, it was among adults that there seemed to be a problem. Except those of my friends actively involved in theater, the adults did not like the allusions; they appreciated them, but they admitted that 1/2 the time, they didn't get them. So I'm thinking that maybe I underestimated teens (and overestimated adults), and that really, Mantchev didn't take as big a risk here as I thought, because teens are still in school, after all, and the references are more current for them than they would be for an adult who doesn't read or watch dramas. Personally, I loved the allusions. There are a few in the quotes section below that tickled me to no end; they become these little inside jokes for those who do know about -- or enough about -- theater to get them, but I think you can still enjoy this without knowing all of them.
Another big draw for me was the world and the style in which Mantchev presented it. I loved the Théâtre and the Players and the world Mantchev created. It was really fun to become immersed in, and it was very visual and interesting. She took something well-known (the world's most famous stories and characters) and made them her own while still staying true to the original, and it came off very nicely. I could picture everyone, I could see them in my head -- her dramatic almost-play style was very effective and made me feel like I was, indeed, a part of the audience. The whole thing came off as very fresh and creative and unique, and I love that. There's just not enough of that.
But perhaps the biggest draw for me was Bertie. I never thought I'd like a character named "Bertie," I'm not going to lie, but like her I did. Berite is funny and feisty and creative and I adored her. There's a quote below that demonstrates her feistiness quite nicely, so I won't waste your time going into all that other than to say that she will win you over. She just will.
So that's why I liked it. But to be balanced, I am going to give you a few of the drawbacks that my bookclub found, and that you may not like, either:
The tone does come off a bit young. Not unbearably so, and I think it's really just a part of the lightness, the breeziness of it, but it does read younger than I expected, and than my bookclub was willing to stomach.
The allusions, again, may not be everyone's bag.
The love triangle(ish). This is actually a drawback of mine. It's not that I didn't like the 3 characters involved, or the tensions between them, because I did. [side note: Ariel is one of my fave lit characters, so I loved his role in this. And nothing to do with the triangle, but Ophelia is another fave, and I loved her role, too.] But I am so sick of the Team _________ shit, really I am, that I just kind of cringe when I see someone using that formula. You will never hear me say that I am Team anybody. It irks me. Someday there will be a rant on this, but I'm not going to take up this review to do it. But seriously. Enough with the Teams and the triangles.
There is a certain predictability that may bother people, but I don't think it's overwhelming or detracts all that much from the story. Just a fair warning.
Some of my favorite scenes and quotes: "What are you doing here?" "I heard the water running." Ophelia lifted her arms up and smiled into the ghostly, aquamarine lighting. "I thought I'd come and drown myself. I won't be in the way, will I?"
~ ~ ~
A sudden, trumpeted fanfare sent them leaping apart, the blast of noise precefing the messenfer from Act Four of Richard the Third. He entered Stage Right, unrolled a parchment scroll, and cleared his throat. In a strong, sonorous voice, honed to cut through the bedlam at court or merely backstage, he proclaimed, "And now, the bane of your existence, the killer of all joys, the Stage Manager --" He was interrupted when the murderers from the same production leapt from the flies and stabbed him repeatedly with big rubber knives. The messenged pulled crimson scraves from holes in his tunic and did a lot of unnecessary groaning before his assassins dragged him offstage by the ankles. "What was that all about?" Nate demanded. "Early detection system," Bertie said. "I get advance warning that the Stage Manager is coming, and the messenger gets extra stage time."
~ ~ ~
Something darkly tempting and longing-filled bloomed under the sun-warmed grass and damp earth. She opened her eyes, wanting to ask a question she didn't yet know, but before she could find the words, Ariel turned away.
~ ~ ~
"I think they'll make excellent mummies, as they've already had their brains removed."
~ ~ ~
Mrs. Edith had told her once that the costume made the character, but only now did Bertie understand what she'd meant. The corset was dainty, demure, pin-striped, and it wanted her to slap Ariel across the face. But Bertie was more than the sum of her clothing, so she cocked her arm and punched him as hard as she could in the stomach.
~ ~ ~
Gertrude pointed at Macbeth, who was holding up a cruller and muttering, "Is this a doughnut I see before me?" Then he noticed the raspberry jam on everything and started to shriek.
~ ~ ~
The Brigands charged in with weapons drawn. "Who are you?" Young Bertie asked. "We're the bad guys!" their leader announced. "What are you going to do?" "Plunder and pillage!" one of them yelled. The others immediately shoved him "Not in front of the kid. Ralph! Fer cryin' out loud..." "Oh, yeah. Sorry! We're here to take your candy!"
In Jane Greensmith's Intimations of Austen, I've found something that I generally feel lacking from Austen spin-offs and sequels. It's hard to put...more4.5
In Jane Greensmith's Intimations of Austen, I've found something that I generally feel lacking from Austen spin-offs and sequels. It's hard to put my finger on, but it's a pleasurable something. I think it's in the fact that, where many writers strive to "sound like" or feel like Jane -- and fail -- or imitate her characters in a sort of cardboard way, Greensmith chooses instead to give us embellishments on the characters and stories that we love, but in her own style and her own voice. Her stories don't just recycle what Austen wrote, they play off of them and expand them, taking them in new and interesting directions. They are short and sweet little snippets of maybes and what-ifs.
Greensmith often adapts a darker, more somber tone than some may like to see on their beloved Austen, but I think she also shows great insight into the stories, characters, and more importantly, the time and realities of the era. It also seems like her stories are the result of real ponderings, philosophical think-sessions brought on during rereads of Austen; they read like they've been mulled over and considered, not as if they are writing prompts (Imagine Darcy has synesthesia: go!) or challenges to distort Austen and see what comes out. They touch on or answer some of the things I've wondered myself when I reread Austen, or the odd little train-of-thought pieces that crop up and lead you somewhere that you were expecting to go, but maybe always knew you would. You find yourself confronting what-ifs, like what would happen if Darcy had been forced to promise not to propose to Elizabeth, or confronting real possibilities, like how does Fanny trust Edmund's love is real, and does she learn to speak up? Things that I've always asked myself when reading Austen are present in this book in really interesting ways, sometimes sublte with a kicker, and sometimes head-on.
Perhaps one of the things I found most impressive was the little links or overlays within the Austen realm. The twists and plays on one Austen story have implications for another, and this interconnectedness was really enjoyable; there were great "aha" moments. I need someone else to read this, because they are the kinds of things I want to discuss. I am so itching to get spoilery on you, but I absolutely won't do that, because the twists and revelations are what make these stories what they are. But I feel like this would be such a great book to read with fellow Jane-lovers and discuss over tea (or margaritas). [So if any of you read this book and want to have virtual tea/booze time with me...:]
So if you're in the mood for embellishments on the stories you love, I'd say pick this up. At 9 short stories and just over 100 pages, you certainly won't regret the time spent, and I think it will have you thinking long after you close the book.
I am a bit in love with the idea of this book. I've always been so caught up in Lizzie and Darcy's story that I've sort of ignored all of the other co...moreI am a bit in love with the idea of this book. I've always been so caught up in Lizzie and Darcy's story that I've sort of ignored all of the other connections in the book. I think each is really worth being explored - Lydia's disastrous marriage to Wickham, Charlotte's desperate marriage to Collins -- but especially the nearly thwarted love between Jane and Bingley. Here we have a couple who are enamored almost from the start, and there has to be a reason more than their general amiability. The idea of getting to explore this and experience all of the little flutters of budding love between these two, and then their painful separation, in which each is convinced the other doesn't love them, culminating in their glorious reunion -- this really appeals to me, and I think there is a lot of potential in it for a great stroy.
Unfortunately, I felt like I was reading a first draft of this story. I don't know if I've ever talked about my years spent as a college-level writing tutor (helping people write better papers, not helping people learn to write -- it always amuses me when people mistake what I did), but reading this, I felt Tutor Misty kick in. My hand was itching for sticky tabs and colored pens. I often had to read things over a second time to get the correct tone of it -- commas were misplaced or misused, or not in use at all when they whould have been; quotes were unattributed, and pronouns were often unclear (ie: who the hell is talking, and who the hell is being talked about?). There were missing and incorrect words (dual v duel, etc -- and that's setting aside the fact that there was an effing duel in the story). I know there are people who can set things like this aside, or who don't know grammar rules themselves, so things like this just slip by them. I, however, had a hard time getting past it. I couldn't get into the flow becuase I was constantly wanting to correct.
I also wasn't totally convinced of the story Miller created. Jane and Bingley's time apart was filled with instances that I just didn't buy, and I felt the characters through out the book (not just J & B), as well as their dialogue and actions jsut felt a bit forced and inauthentic. Things felt obvious and heavy-handed at times, and the prose was underdeveloped in favor of placing info and actions in the words of the characters, creating forced and unnatural dialogue, as well as a sense of dissatisfaction overall -- like I wasn't getting the meat of it, I was never really getting to delve into this hidden in plain site love affair, which I was looking forward to doing.
Now, I hate writing really negative reviews, and I don't want to completely warn people off of this book. I think that with work and development, I could actually like it quite a bit, but the combination of a pure "fanfic" feel, my expectations and desires for a nuanced and somewhat bittersweet love story, and my uber-tutor spideysense worked together to make me pretty critical of this one. I'm sorry that's the case, and I hope I don't make Ms. Miller mad, or regret participating in Jane in June, but such is life. I am always honest, if not completely tactful. (less)
In Dreams Begin is such interesting for me, in concept and execution. Though I think there are a lot of people out there that are like "W B who?" and...moreIn Dreams Begin is such interesting for me, in concept and execution. Though I think there are a lot of people out there that are like "W B who?" and who would hate a storyline that bounces back and forth between past and present (and between different characters bodies), these things really attracted me to it. I'm not going to lie, I like me some poetry, Yeats included. And I also am a fan of stories that strive to recreate or even rewrite the life of a real person, not in a biographical way, but as a work of fictitious art. It fascinates me. I also like stories that shift back and forth, so long as I don't feel like it's a cheap device used to build suspense and keep me on edge in an otherwise laaame story (I'm talking to you, Dan Brown). Skyler White does it well. When the story shifts -- even frustratingly in the middle of something -- it feels natural and real, not gimmicky. I liked both worlds that were created, and I like who Laura is in both.
The romance, too, worked for me. Things come quick, and you know I'm normally not a fan of that, but in this, again, it felt right. It worked for the story and the fantastical aspects of it. All of this -- the time-shifting, the body-switching, the revolutionary ideals, all of it work together in this grand way to create a sense of destiny, in which case the romance between Laura and Yeats doesn't seem at all far-fetched: it seems fated. I feel a little differently about Ida, the little nutjob, and her 'romance' but the fact is, I liked her, too, and it worked on its own level. And there was sexytime. Boy, was there sexytime. Occasionally in crypts, but who's counting?
I talked a bit in my review for White's debut and Falling, Fly about her poetic style. There, it didn't always do the story justice, but here it almost always works very nicely. There are times when it's a little overwrought or confusing, but for the most part, White has a knack for phrasing something just so. Things will be going along as normal and then she'll describe something in a certain way, or say such and such of the characters, and it just kind of stops you in your tracks. You can see it. As strange a turn of phrase as it may be, you absolute
I do have similar warnings as I did in and Falling, Fly, though. This book is not for everybody. Because of the time- and body-switching, it probably could get very confusing for some people, and it definitely takes it out of the 'light read' category; you do have to pay attention. Also, the poetic prose will turn some off and confuse others, without a doubt. And of course, there is AFF's steamy test*. But all in all, I think In Dreams Begin is an improvement over AFF. White has found her niche and created something pretty compelling here. And she made me want to read about the real lives of Maud and Yeats. And that's saying something.