**spoiler alert** In The Last Man in the World, Reynolds imagines a world in which Lizzie is compelled to accept Mr. Darcy’s proposal at Rosings, desp...more**spoiler alert** In The Last Man in the World, Reynolds imagines a world in which Lizzie is compelled to accept Mr. Darcy’s proposal at Rosings, despite her disdain and dislike of him. Forced into the very thing she swore she would avoid – a loveless marriage – Lizzie must reconcile her feelings with her new life as she comes to a greater understand of the man she married and herself.
I truly enjoyed the opportunity to imagine how things might have been, especially considering all the misunderstandings and half-truths Lizzie and Darcy believe. It was also quite fun and interesting to see how Reynolds portrayed the shifts and changes in their personalities, each one reacting to the other. I liked how she weaved in original plot points, to keep the story familiar, while at the same time, adding her own spin and flair to a beloved classic.
There were a couple of things, however, that did irk me a bit. First, and foremost, was Reynolds’ depiction of Lizzie as being extremely passive and quiet after her marriage. Though she attempts to explain it as Lizzie’s way of avoid Darcy’s displeasure, it seemed so very un-Lizzie-like to me. Gone was the spirited, playful, witty and intelligent young woman that first caught Darcy’s eye. In Reynolds’ alterna-world, Lizzie is fearful and obedient, never pushing back (no matter how gently) to Darcy’s stoic reserve. Though this slowly abates as Lizzie and Darcy grow closer together, it still seemed like such a drastic departure from one of Austen’s most vivid heroines.
The other thing that I’ve questioned is the assumption of a happy ending. Now, don’t get me wrong – I love a good happy ending and firmly believe that every Pride and Prejudice, Lizzie/Darcy variation should have a happy ending. I’m just not convinced it should have happened in this case. I’m speculating that all of Reynolds’ Variation books end with Lizzie and Darcy together – the assumption being that, no matter what happens, Lizzie and Darcy belong together and will always end up as such. That’s all good and happy, but it’s not very realistic.
In the particular case of The Last Man in the World, Lizzie is essentially rushed into a marriage she doesn’t want. While it is conceivable that she could eventually come to love Darcy (as she does in Reynolds’ book), it’s also just as conceivable that she would end up resenting him, quite strongly, for taking away her choice in the matter and for (possibly) preventing her from ever marrying for love. Though romance writers would love for us to believe differently, the truth is that many loveless or convenience marriages during Jane Austen’s lifetime never did overcome that particular obstacle. As much as we would want them to be, why would Lizzie and Darcy be the exception?
Still, those are relatively minor criticisms of an overall enjoyable book – which I think is obvious by the fact that I immediately sought out more of the Pemberley Variations from my library once I completed the first. I would definitely recommend Abigail Reynolds’ The Last Man in the World to any ardent Pride and Prejudice fan, if only for the chance to imagine all the possibilities of the road less traveled.(less)
Laurie Viera Rigler’s Confessions of a Jane Austin Addict is exactly the kind of fun, light-hearted book every Jane Austen fan should read. A co-worke...moreLaurie Viera Rigler’s Confessions of a Jane Austin Addict is exactly the kind of fun, light-hearted book every Jane Austen fan should read. A co-worker let me borrow her copy and I couldn’t put it down. A modern-way woman with a broken engagement wakes up in Regency England, suddenly having to live a Jane Austen life. It’s sweet and funny, just the right bit of fluff (and I mean that in the best sense) for a summer weekend. It’s similar in some ways to the Lost in Austen TV-movie that aired in the U.K. Fans of Rigler’s book might also like Emma Campbell Webster’s Lost in Austen: Choose Your Own Jane Austen Adventure or Alexandra Potter’s Me and Mr. Darcy.(less)
Jane Mansfield, a proper young lady and a gentleman’s daughter in 1813, is in for quite the surprise w...more Originally published on The Librarian Next Door:
Jane Mansfield, a proper young lady and a gentleman’s daughter in 1813, is in for quite the surprise when she awakens in the body of Courtney Stone, a modern-day woman living in 21st century Los Angeles. Needless to say, Jane is completely overwhelmed and out of her league. How did she end up here? And what is she going to do about it? As Jane inhabits Courtney’s life, she finds some aspects quite enjoyable – the fact that she has her own rooms, special machines to wash clothes and bodies and a full six novels by Jane’s favorite author, Jane Austen! But even as she relishes the new independence and privacy, Jane must also contend with Courtney’s disastrous love life, in a world where sex before marriage is commonplace and navigating romantic relationships is no easier than it was in the 19th century. But most confusing of all for Jane are the memories that aren’t her memories. Why is she remembering Courtney’s life and what does it all mean?
Laurie Viera Rigler had a lot of success with her novel Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict in which Courtney Stone was magically sent back in time to live in Jane Mansfield’s body and life. In Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict, Rigler tells the flip-side of that story, the story of Jane sent forward in time as she gets a crash-course in modern technology, 21st century dating rituals and the delightful wonders of working for a living. Rude Awakenings is quirky and funny, as Rigler revels in the details of Jane discovering the magic of Google, the exhilaration of swimming in the ocean and the heart-racing excitement that comes with attraction.
One of the highlights of Rude Awakenings is seeing seeing the modern world through Regency eyes. Jane’s observations about life in 2009 are both hilarious and revealing. Rigler also has an eye for details and her knowledge of Regency England is spot-on. Jane’s speech and mannerisms retain their 1800′s formality, which makes for an entertaining comedy of errors when she’s faced with modern slang and concerned friends who think Courtney has watched Pride and Prejudice one too many times. And speaking of Austen’s best beloved novel, Rigler delights in including quotes from all of Austen’s novels throughout the book as Jane looks to her favorite author for comfort and advice as she contends with a very strange world.
I do not know how I have come to be in this time, in this place, in this body. But I do know that any place where there are six novels by the author of Pride and Prejudice must be a very special sort of heaven.
There were some aspects of the novel that I didn’t quite like. Jane’s formal speech, while accurate, did start to grate after awhile and Jane herself was often so judgmental and self-righteous that it took me awhile to warm up to her as a character. Furthermore, I probably should I re-read Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict before reading this second novel because the two really are companions, meant to be taken together. I confess I’m still not really sure how the whole time-body switch thing worked. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t worry about it, but in every other aspect, Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict is grounded in reality. The slight fantastical part of the novel didn’t quite make sense and, as a result, I feel it took away from my overall enjoyment.
Not surprisingly, any true Janeite will find a lot to love about Laurie Viera Rigler’s Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict. It’s an original and quirky, with heart-felt characters and plenty of important not-so-hidden lessons about making the most of the time we’re given. Though it wasn’t perfect, there was enough to make my Austen-loving heart happy. If you are a Janeite, like Courtney and Jane (and especially if you loved Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict), you’ll want to check out Rude Awakenings.(less)
In Prom and Prejudice, author Elizabeth Eulberg takes Jane Austen’s beloved classic, Pride and Prejudice,...more Originally posted on The Librarian Next Door:
In Prom and Prejudice, author Elizabeth Eulberg takes Jane Austen’s beloved classic, Pride and Prejudice, and updates it for the 21st century teen. Lizzie Bennett is lucky to attend the prestigious Longbourn Academy, but her status as a scholarship student sets her apart from her classmates. Luckily, she has kind Jane as a roommate. At the start of the spring semester, the school is all abuzz with preparations for the upcoming – and highly anticipated – prom. Jane’s prospects for a prom date are promising, since she’s getting closer to Charles Bingley, a student at the nearby Pemberley Academy. It’s too bad Lizzie doesn’t get along with Charles friend, Will Darcy, at all. They are always at odds; only time will tell if Lizzie’s prejudices and Will’s pride will prevent them from finding happiness – and, perhaps, a prom date.
Eulberg’s delightful book is fun, cute and enjoyable. Her affection for and knowledge of Austen’s original novel is obvious throughout, as she updates and adapts the classic story for a new generation of readers. Many of the major players are here, from shrewish and calculating Caroline Bingley to impetuous and impulsive Lydia. Eulberg’s modern-day Collins is particularly spot-on. In this story, he becomes Colin, but retains the same idiotic pompousness that made him such a laughable caricature in Pride and Prejudice. I also liked the few original touches Eulberg added to the story, such as the music thread. Here, Lizzie becomes a piano virtuoso, a passion and talent that ends up linking her to Will Darcy’s mother. And, without giving too much away, I did really like how Eulberg resolved the prom issue between Lizzie and Will; I appreciated that she took a less-than-conventional route.
There were, however, a few things that kept me from truly loving Prom and Prejudice. At certain points in the novel, for example, I found the dialogue and language a bit too formal for a “normal” or average teen. I also found myself wishing for more chemistry between Lizzie and Will. The foundation was there, but I wanted more swoon. It was a bit PG and, since this was a young adult novel, I feel like the intended young adult audience could have handled a relationship between Lizzie and Will that was more PG-13.
Most importantly, though, Austen’s sharp social satires and witty criticisms of the world around her are missing in Eulberg’s novel. Much attention is brought to the fact that Lizzie is a scholarship student, but the class division between her and her peers is only dealt with on the surface. Austen brought a richness and depth to her story, whether in the interactions between Darcy and Elizabeth or in her observations of the world they lived. Much like my reaction to April Lindner’s Jane, I think Eulberg’s novel was too much of a literal adaptation. It would have been stronger if she had taken Austen’s big ideas and main characters and then added her own twists and creativity. In the end, I wanted more from Prom and Prejudice: more depth, more swoon, more story – it could have easily been twice as long and just as good, if not better.
I do think Eulberg clearly loves Austen and Prom and Prejudice is a good starting point for younger readers new to Austen. I definitely enjoyed reading it and would most likely recommend it, though probably to older middle grade readers, as opposed to young adults. The basic story and the wonderful relationship between Lizzie and Will is all here; it just needs a bit of something more to measure up against the original Pride and Prejudice.(less)
Books like Melissa Jensen’s Falling in Love with English Boys were written for me and my Anglophile-livin...more Originally posted on The Librarian Next Door:
Books like Melissa Jensen’s Falling in Love with English Boys were written for me and my Anglophile-living heart. It’s a funny, lighthearted and thoroughly enjoyable story with two narrators to root for. First-person diary (or, in Cat’s case, blog) narration doesn’t always work. Here, Jensen has written two first-person narrators with distinct voices and personalities. This dueling narration does take a little while to get used to – it can be confusing and frustrating at first. It is jarring to jump from Cat’s hybrid American/British 21st century slang to Katherine’s proper 19th century English. But as the similarities between Cat and Katherine come to light and as their stories intertwine, the back-and-forth starts to work really well. Just when you want more of Cat’s blog, Jensen switches over to Katherine’s diary, compelling you to keep reading.
Cat and Katherine appear quite different at first, but are actually very similar. Both start out self-centered and highly observant, with a penchant for making catty and even selfish remarks about the people around them. But as they both experience and learn more during the course of the book, they grow and change. I loved Cat’s snarky wit and her unexpected adventures, whether she was making friends with the Iraqi newsstand owner and his daughter or accidentally falling into a protest in front of the U.S. Embassy. Her adoption of British slang, her clever puns and her constant mental head-case worries could have been annoying, but I found them funny and adorable. Her offbeat humor was responsible for more than a few laugh-out-loud moments, including this one:
“I had a great-great-grandsomething at Waterloo. Well, we all did, didn’t we?” The aristo inside joke. She laughs up at Will.
No, actually, I want to say, we didn’t. We had great-great-grandsomethings who cleaned out stables in Philadelphia, then took their pitchforks and kicked your great-great-grandsomethings’ posh English asses off the continent.
Katherine is a bit harder to like at first, perhaps because her 1815 concerns seem frivolous when compared to contemporary life. Sometimes, I wanted to shake her and say, “wake up!” because as a reader, you know more than she does (i.e., that her father’s a jackass, for one, and that Thomas Baker and Nicholas are both not entirely what they seem). But when Katherine starts to wise up, you’re rooting for her right alongside Cat because you want to know how her story turns out.
Among the added bonuses in this book: a London that is vibrant and alive, Cat’s new-found friends in London, who are all so real and well-written that I want a sequel or companion novel just so I can find out more about them, and a serious swoon factor. Whether you’re reading about Cat and Will or Katherine and her suitors, Jensen’s scenes crackle so much chemistry, you can practically feel the heat and hear their hearts beating.
The only part of the book I didn’t like was when Cat lapsed into writing via text speak or email speak. It was used sparingly, so it didn’t distract too much, but I’m still not a fan. That was the only blip, however, in an overall delightful book that is a must-read for any Anglophile who hopes to find their own English boy to fall in love with. (less)
Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy are now happily married and settled into life at Pemberley. As...moreOriginally published on The Librarian Next Door:
Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy are now happily married and settled into life at Pemberley. As Lizzie sets out to learn about being the mistress of such a grand home, she tries to help Georgiana overcome her shyness and attempts to reconcile her husband with his disagreeable aunt, Lady Catherine. But it’s the gossip and innuendo from local families that threatens to destroy Lizzie’s hard-won happiness. Hints of hidden secrets swirl, leaving Lizzie unsettled. Meanwhile, Darcy is adamant that Georgiana marry quickly – and not for love, but for money. Suddenly, Lizzie isn’t sure she knows her husband at all.
Picking up where Pride and Prejudice left off, Jane Odiwe’s Mr. Darcy’s Secret explores the possibilities of Lizzie and Darcy’s life after the wedding. While there is certainly no dearth of Pride and Prejudice “sequels,” Odiwe’s book stands out for being both original and highly Austen-ish. Reading this book, you can almost imagine that Austen herself is continuing her story. While familiar faces continue to grow and evolve, they still resemble the people we know and love from the original. Add in an intriguing and intricate plot with new characters, secrets to discover and mysteries to unravel and you have a thoroughly enjoyable story.
As with Pride and Prejudice, everyone’s favorite literary couple are front and center. Odiwe’s Lizzie and Darcy are very much like Austen’s – Lizzie is still spirited, quick-witted and intelligent, while Darcy can still be arrogant and conceited. But they also learn from each other, changing over time. Lizzie is determined to fit into her husband’s world and prove the naysayers wrong, so she begins to bite her tongue and passively accept the things she cannot change. Darcy, meanwhile, realizes the benefit of tempering his pride and admitting his mistakes.
Any Austen fan wants a happily-ever-after for Lizzie and Darcy, of course, and while Odiwe does give it to them, she makes them work for it. The Lizzie and Darcy of Mr. Darcy’s Secret don’t have a perfect marriage. It’s flawed, but it’s also completely realistic and watching them stand up and fight for one another is my favorite part of this book.
A handful of subplots include Georgiana discovering her own strength and a certain talent for rebellion, a still-bitter Caroline Bingley falling for an artist and hilariously attempting to impress him, and near-perfect representations of Austen’s most outrageous characters, including Mrs. Bennett and Lady Catherine. The eponymous secret of the title keeps you guessing right up to the end of the novel and, to her credit, Odiwe doesn’t necessarily resolve the mystery neatly. There’s still just a hint of ambiguity, leaving the smallest seed of doubt in readers’ minds.
Jane Odiwe’s Mr. Darcy’s Secret is a beautifully written and well-told story that echoes Austen’s original and then takes off in a new and creative direction. It’s a great addition to the ever-growing world of Pride and Prejudice inspired literature – a must-read for any Austen fan or even anyone who has ever wondered what happened after Lizzie and Darcy said, “I do.”(less)
Sometimes you just have to wonder what Jane Austen would think if she ever had a glimpse of the passio...more Originally published on The Librarian Next Door:
Sometimes you just have to wonder what Jane Austen would think if she ever had a glimpse of the passion and enthusiasm her books inspire these days, nearly two centuries after their publication. Austen herself never saw much fame or fortune from her novels, but nowadays, Austen-inspired spin-offs, sequels, prequels and other such creations fill bookstore shelves and movie collections. Thanks in part to Colin Firth in a wet shirt, Austen and her novels are probably more beloved today than they were when she wrote them.
And now, there is a new collection of original short stories to pay homage to Austen and her legacy. Jane Austen Made Me Do It: Original Stories Inspired by Literature’s Most Astute Observer of the Human Heart is a wonderful, heartwarming, witty and all-together delightful mixture of stories from some of the best contemporary Austen-esque authors. These original stories are varied and diverse, from historical fiction and romance and gothic-inspired tales to contemporary continuations of previous novels and even a few epistolary stories that pay tribute to Austen’s penchant for including letters in her books. Throughout the collection, the respect, love and admiration these authors have for Austen is abundantly evident, which makes this book a real treat for any ardent Austen fan. Edited and introduced by Laural Ann Nattress, the blogger behind the Internet’s number-one Austen blog, Austenprose, reading Jane Austen Made Me Do It is like gossiping with Emma Woodhouse and commiserating with Jane and Lizzie Bennett – it leaves you feeling comfortable and satisfied.
The collection as a whole works very well, though there were a few stories that stood out as my favorites:
In Jane Odiwe’s “Waiting,” Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth are put through one more test as they anxiously await approval from Anne’s father for their engagement. Persuasion is my favorite Austen novel and I loved being able to return to it through Odiwe’s imagination. She manages to recreate Austen’s delicate balance of anxiety and anticipation as Anne and Wentworth face yet one more obstacle on their way to a happy ending. Even when you know that their happiness is most likely assured, it’s still agonizing to wait with them.
In “Jane Austen’s Nightmare,” Syrie James conjures up a slightly paranormal story as some of Austen’s greatest characters come to life and interact with the author herself. Thoroughly confused by the appearance of her creations, Miss Austen is also quite distraught to realize that many of her heroines are quite unhappy with the personalities and characteristics Jane had given them. I loved the cleverness of James’ story as well as her supposition that only Elizabeth, Mr. Darcy, Jane and Bingley end up happy with Austen’s depiction of them. Austen wrote such wonderfully flawed characters that it is interesting to wonder what they would have thought of themselves.
And I was especially impressed with Brenna Aubrey’s story, “The Love Letter.” Aubrey won the online story contest hosted by the Republic of Pemberley, of which the grand prize was having her original story included in this collection. “The Love Letter” is a heartwarming, bittersweet and hopeful look at first loves, love lost and the unexpected opportunity for a second chance. Inspired by Persuasion, Aubrey does a tremendous job at recapturing the feel of Anne and Wentworth and I found I really liked the twist of having a man as her main character.
Among my other favorites in the collection were Beth Pattillo’s “Only a Darcy Will Do,” a sweet story about a young woman’s encounter with her very own Mr. Darcy; the hilariously imaginative “Intolerable Stupidity” by Laurie Viera Rigler, which finds Lady Catherine presiding over a trial in which Mr. Darcy decides to sue the authors of Austen spin-offs and sequels; and Janet Mullany’s highly original “Jane Austen, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!” in which a high school teacher manages to reach out to students by comparing Austen’s heroes in Sense and Sensibility to the Beatles.
In truth, all of the stories shine brilliantly because the authors are so clearly enamored with Austen and took their assignment – explore Austen through her novels, her wit, and her takes on life and love – quite seriously. Nattress does include a collection of Austen quotes and reading group questions at the end of the book, both of which make Jane Austen Made Me Do It an excellent choice for book clubs. But you don’t need a book club to enjoy these stories. Any Austen fan, whether fair-weather or lifelong devotee, will devour this collection. It simply should not be missed.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. (less)
In the introduction to The Sense & Sensibility Screenplay and Diaries, producer Lindsay Doran writes...more Originally posted on The Librarian Next Door:
In the introduction to The Sense & Sensibility Screenplay and Diaries, producer Lindsay Doran writes that it took 15 years just to develop the project (write the script, find a director, etc.) before filming ever started. The insider-y bits of information from Doran and from Emma Thompson’s diaries are wonderful peeks into the heart, passion and love that went into bringing Austen’s classic to the big screen.
The Sense & Sensibility Screenplay and Diaries, which I read as part of Austenprose’s Sense & Sensbility Bicentennial Challenge, includes illustrations, the full screenplay (which won Emma Thompson an Oscar) and an appendix of extras, in addition to Thompson’s diaries. The diary entries are the star of this volume, as Thompson’s delightful Austen-esque wit shines through abundantly. She writes about the entire process, from start to finish, and it’s clear she was devoted to ensuring the film was as excellent as it could possibly be (in one entry, for example, she claims she hid her television, radio and newspapers prior to filming in order to stay in her 19th century mindset).
Thompson’s diary entries reveal things both interesting (they were not only taught how to curtsy, but also why Elinor and Marianne would have done so) and hilarious (at various points, she panics about the script, convinced Austen would hate it). Her eye for detail and her laugh-aloud descriptions of the cast and crew is worth the read alone:
…Everyone looks a bit done in. Except for Ang [Lee, the director], who brings self-contained calm wherever he goes. Just looking at him makes me feel frazzled in comparison… Hugh Grant breezes in… Repellently gorgeous, why did we cast him? He’s much prettier than I am.
Thompson reveals herself as an actress and a writer deeply involved in every part of the film and divulges pieces of Sense & Sensibility trivia unknown to most fans – for instance, Thompson apparently wrote the part of Edward specifically for Hugh Grant. And Kate Winslet was immediately, always exactly Marianne. My favorite parts, however, are when she talks about the process of writing the script itself. She relates a tale of going to sleep with Austen’s letters clutched in her hands and admits to nagging the cast about the proper terms and words to use when filming:
It’s true I’m always at them. The language in the novel is complex and far more arcane than in the later books. In simplifying it, I’ve tried to retain the elegance and wit of the original and it’s necessarily more exacting than modern speech.
Jane Austen is a popular choice for Hollywood, but not every adaptation takes a great deal of care with her stories and words. Reading this book can only be described as a joy for this Austen fan, because it is obvious – through the words of Thompson herself in The Sense & Sensibility Screenplay and Diaries – that Emma Thompson, Ang Lee, Lindsay Doran and everyone else involved with the film was firmly committed to creating a movie that evoked the very best of Austen herself.(less)
Jane Hayes is a 30-something New Yorker with a good job, supportive friends and one deep, dark secret: sh...more Originally posted on The Librarian Next Door:
Jane Hayes is a 30-something New Yorker with a good job, supportive friends and one deep, dark secret: she’s obsessed with Mr. Darcy and Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. In fact, her obsession has ruined her love life on more than on occasion, since she inevitably compares her dates to Mr. Darcy and finds them lacking. When a wealthy relative leaves her a trip to Austenland, an English resort that takes guests back in time to Regency England, Jane sees this as a chance to rid herself of her obsession once and for all. But as Jane struggles to stay in character as a young Regency miss, she’s constantly reminded that this vacation is all a game and everyone around her is an actor – or are they? Jane came to England to try to rediscover herself, but she just might end up with a Mr. Darcy of her own.
“I don’t think I could explain it to a man. If you were a women, all I’d have to say is ‘Colin Firth in a wet shirt’ and you’d say, ‘Ah.’” (pg. 77)
Given my love of all things Austen, it’s a wonder to me that it’s taken me this long to read Shannon Hale’s Austenland. Clearly written by a fellow Austen fan, Austenland is an ode to the passion, enthusiasm and off-beat obsessions Miss Austen herself inspires. It’s funny and clever and though it never gets especially deep as it explores Jane Hayes’ life, you still feel like rooting and cheering for Jane as she stumbles her way to her own happy ending. There’s a bit of mystery alongside Jane’s journey of self-discovery and, of course, romance (no Austen-inspired novel would be complete without a little romance, after all). Mostly, Austenland lets readers live vicariously through Jane. What Austen fan hasn’t fantasized about such a place existing?
As the heroine of the story, Jane Hayes is refreshingly real. She’s insecure and somewhat neurotic, someone who is a bit lost in reality. She’s really just trying to figure out what she wants from herself and her life, even if she does go about it in an unconventional way. I really related to her habit of getting too caught up in fictional worlds with fictional characters. It’s a habit I’ve been known to indulge in myself from time to time. I could easily understand how the world of Mr. Darcy held more appeal than the drudgery of day-to-day life.
“It was getting hard to keep her eye on the ball. She was not who she’d thought she was. No one was.” (pg. 149)
I especially loved how Hale balanced Jane’s attempts to be herself with knowing she had to play a certain role. In many ways, Jane’s balancing act was a long extended metaphor on what it’s like to try to find yourself in real life. We all have moments when we much reconcile what we know to be true about ourselves with what other people might expect from us. On any given day, we might “play” several different versions of ourselves as we interact with different people. Throw in the fact that other people around us might also be playing a role sometimes and it’s easy to see how we – and Jane – might find it difficult to hold on to our sense of self when we are unsure of what’s real and what’s not.
Of course, Austenland doesn’t disappoint on the romance front either. It was a lot of fun trying to decode the intentions and motivations behind Jane’s two suitors, Martin and Nobley, to figure out if they were playing a part or were truly interested in Jane. It would be too easy to classify them strictly as the Mr. Darcy character and the Mr. Wickham character, though they did evoke Austen’s creations from time to time. They each had their own secrets as well as their own reasons for being a part of Austenland. For her part, I liked that Jane tried to avoid making the same mistakes she had made in her past, even if she wasn’t always successful. I liked that she was self-aware enough to recognize her own warning signs.
There must be, literally, thousands of books that take Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice story and reinvent it in a new way. There’s certainly no lack of contemporary updates to the story either, but Shannon Hale’s Austenland is a delightful spin on the familiar story. She lets one Austen fan live out her obsession and fantasy and we readers get to go along for the ride.(less)
Still reeling from her husband’s affair and their subsequent divorce, Charlotte Kinder decides to leave h...more Originally posted on The Librarian Next Door:
Still reeling from her husband’s affair and their subsequent divorce, Charlotte Kinder decides to leave her old life behind for a two-week stay at Pembrook Park, the preeminent role-playing manor/vacation for Austen lovers. Charlotte is hoping for a relaxing break from her real life, but the lines between fantasy and reality are blurry at Pembrook Park and she’s not sure what to make of the guests. When a seemingly innocent parlor game turns frightening, Charlotte is left to wonder what, exactly, is going on, who she can truly trust and whether that dead body in the secret room was just in her imagination – or not.
Shannon Hale returns to her Pembrook Park once more with Midnight in Austenland, a fun, entertaining and clever companion novel to her popular Austenland novel. While not a sequel – this is a completely new tale with a few familiar characters – Midnight in Austeland is just as enjoyable and just as Austen-ish as the first novel, though with a different tone and feel. Here, there are elements of Northanger Abbey, Austen’s critique of the lurid gothic novels young girls (like Catherine Moorland) were so fond of in her time. During Charlotte’s visit, mystery and murder abound and Hale does an excellent job of keeping you on your toes and making Charlotte – and the reader – second guess every clue and unexplained bump and thud.
Our heroine, Charlotte, is forever being described as “nice.” Though she’s a highly intelligent woman who started her own successful business, she had let her niceness blind her to her husband’s infidelities. Hale alternates back and forth between Charlotte’s time at Pembrook Park and her memories of her childhood and marriage. She came to England hoping to reclaim her sense of self and, in attempting to do so, begins to see just how much she missed. Charlotte is a bit beaten down and anxious at the start of the novel, but over the course of the book (and after surviving a few harrowing situations), finds an incredible inner strength she didn’t realize she had. I literally wanted to stand up and cheer at the end of the novel when she finally speaks her mind to her ex-husband.
At the same time, I did have some trouble relating to Charlotte. As an older, married then divorced woman with children, I couldn’t quite relate to her as well as I could to Hale’s other Austenland heroine. At times, Charlotte’s wild imagination got the best of her and I grew tired of waiting for her to finally trust her own instincts. Luckily, Hale knows just when to turn the narrative and I never stayed annoyed with Charlotte for long – especially not with a murderer on the loose and a mystery to solve!
Like Shannon Hale’s first foray into Pembrook Park, Midnight in Austenland isn’t perfect, but it is the perfect amount of escapist fun for any Austen fan. Haven’t we all wondered what it might be like to be courted by a dashing gentleman or attend a fancy ball? And though we may have scolded young Catherine Moorland for her flights of fancies, we all have let our imaginations run wild from time to time. So enjoy Midnight in Austenland, because two weeks might never be enough.(less)
I won't give this a star rating b/c I didn't finish, but a full explanation is below (originally posted on The Librarian Next Door):
From the publisher...more I won't give this a star rating b/c I didn't finish, but a full explanation is below (originally posted on The Librarian Next Door):
From the publisher: Emily and Jessamine Bach are opposites in every way: Twenty-eight-year-old Emily is the CEO of Veritech, twenty-three-year-old Jess is an environmental activist and graduate student in philosophy. Pragmatic Emily is making a fortune in Silicon Valley, romantic Jess works in an antiquarian bookstore. Emily is rational and driven, while Jess is dreamy and whimsical. Emily’s boyfriend, Jonathan, is fantastically successful. Jess’s boyfriends, not so much—as her employer George points out in what he hopes is a completely disinterested way.
Bicoastal, surprising, rich in ideas and characters, The Cookbook Collector is a novel about getting and spending, and about the substitutions we make when we can’t find what we’re looking for: reading cookbooks instead of cooking, speculating instead of creating, collecting instead of living. But above all it is about holding on to what is real in a virtual world: love that stays.
I started reading Allegra Goodman’s The Cookbook Collector as part of my participation in Austenprose’s Sense & Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge. Goodman’s book has been compared to Austen’s Sense & Sensibility thanks to its focus on the complicated relationship between two very different sisters. I’ve heard nothing but praise for this novel, so I had high hopes upon starting it. Alas, it turned into a “did not finish” book for me.
On the one hand, Goodman writes with incredible and exacting detail, making you believe in the minutiae of her characters’ lives. Her descriptions of the book’s Northern California setting are beautiful and every little piece of the book, from George’s antique bookshop to Emily’s gleaming high-tech offices, leap off the page and into the reader’s imagination. Unfortunately, this focus on detail slows the pace of the novel down. I finished about 100 or so pages before giving up because nothing much had happened – I could picture the bookstore perfectly, down to every last shelf, but I couldn’t tell you what the book was about because very little action of consequence had taken place.
The other major factor in my decision to stop reading was Goodman’s ever-growing cast of characters. Each chapter introduced two or three new players into the mix, all of whom are, apparently, of equal importance to the plot (or at least to the author). The book kept wandering off on tangents about different people and I kept getting confused as to why I was supposed to care about these characters when I thought I was reading a book about the relationship between two sisters. I kept wishing Goodman would get back to Emily and Jess, the two characters I wanted to know more about.
I’m disappointed I didn’t feel compelled to finish The Cookbook Collector, because I did have such high hopes for it. And maybe, in the end, that was my undoing – my high expectations made it difficult for the book to measure up. I read a few reviews and saw a couple of critics refer to Goodman as “a modern-day Jane Austen.” That’s both high praise and something of a burden. Perhaps if I had approached The Cookbook Collector without the comparisons to Austen in mind, I might have given it more of a chance. But that was not meant to be, and this is one book I did not finish. (less)
It’s never easy being the new girl at school; it’s even worse when you’re mother is the new principal...more Originally published by The Librarian Next Door:
It’s never easy being the new girl at school; it’s even worse when you’re mother is the new principal and you obviously stand out. When Elise Benton and her family move from quiet Amherst, MA to glitzy Los Angeles, Elise quickly realizes she is out of her depth. For her new classmates at Coral Tree Prep school, it’s all about who your parents are and how much money they make – which is why Derek Edwards, the son of two of Hollywood’s biggest stars – is practically royalty. Elise has no intention of becoming one of Derek’s adoring fans, but when her sister Julianna starts dating Derek’s best friend Chase, she’s thrown into situations where she has to interact with Derek. It isn’t long before Elise begins to suspect that maybe there’s more to Derek than his parents’ bank accounts, but before they can get their happy ending, they must first contend with embarrassing family members, a series of misunderstandings, the social outcast with a mysterious connection to Derek’s family and a few prideful prejudices.
In Epic Fail, author Claire LaZebnik creates a modern update of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, moving the action from England’s countryside to present-day Los Angeles. It is a lighthearted, cute and enjoyable novel that captures the overall feeling of the classic romance between Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy. Though Epic Fail lacks Austen’s scathing social satire and sharp, accurate insights into social situations, it’s still a lot of fun to read, with Elise and Derek filling the Lizzie and Darcy roles quite well. Some of Austen’s more memorable characters are missing – poor Collins! – while others seem like they’re channeling their Regency counterparts (in particular, Webster as the Wickham character, Layla as the Lydia character and Elise’s parents as Mr. and Mrs. Bennett are especially spot-on). LaZebnik does follow the Pride and Prejudice story fairly faithfully, but still adds her own touches and doesn’t let the plot drag on.
By placing Epic Fail in modern-day Los Angeles, LaZebnik makes a classic story her own and taps into our society’s current culture of celebrity obsession and worship. Whenever any author updates Pride and Prejudice, there’s always the issue of addressing the class differences between the Lizzie character and the Darcy character. In Austen’s time, one’s status in society was a binding standing that not only dictated how people acted and behaved, but was also difficult to overcome, especially for woman (barring an advantageous marriage, of course). But, while social classes still exist in the contemporary world, they aren’t as restrictive and so it’s sometimes problematic when updating the story.
By making Derek the son of highly sought-after actors and Hollywood celebrities, LaZebnik creates the gulf between Elise and Derek and gives their misunderstandings context. In her determination to prove that she won’t fall all over Derek simply because of his parents, Elise misses out on the opportunity to really get to know him at first. It also allows for situations in which Elise’s mother might foolishly fawn over a student because of his famous parents or Elise’s father might scornfully scoff at Hollywood-bred young man based on his own prejudices.
Most importantly, it gives Derek a legitimate reason to be wary of people. He never knows if they like him or his parents, and so his aloofness and reserve feel justified and understandable. Likewise, Elise’s initial dislike of him is also justified because she assumes he’s arrogant and full of himself precisely because his parents are famous actors. Both Derek and Elise share many things in common with Austen’s Darcy and Lizzie, which makes Epic Fail all the more enjoyable. I especially liked Elise’s quick wit and sarcasm – she is as spirited and intelligent as Lizzie Bennett was and equally comfortable when it comes to sparring verbally.
Jane Austen left a daunting legacy that’s not easy to match or surpass, but Claire LaZebnik does an admirable job of updating the classic Pride and Prejudice story for a new generation with her novel, Epic Fail. It may not be especially deep or thought-provoking, but it’s fun for what it is: a young adult version of a beloved classic. Any fan of Austen’s original Lizzie and Darcy will enjoy reading Elise and Derek’s story.(less)
Review originally posted on The Librarian Next Door:
The Dodge sisters – responsible Ellen and flighty Mimi – have never really been close, but their m...more Review originally posted on The Librarian Next Door:
The Dodge sisters – responsible Ellen and flighty Mimi – have never really been close, but their mother’s recent death has sent them on a walking tour of Jane Austen’s Hampshire. In order to receive their inheritance, they must follow in Austen’s footsteps and work together to figure out what to do with a priceless Austen artifact: the diary of Austen’s sister, Cassandra. Complicating matters even further are Ellen’s reunion with a long-lost college love, Mimi’s ill-fated flirtation with the roguish Ethan and the shrewdly careful and watchful eyes of Mrs. Gwendolyn Parrot. As Ellen and Mimi get to know Jane from her sister’s point of view, they learn to that they are not so different after all and the bond between sisters is a familiar one, in fiction and reality.
In The Dashwood Sisters Tell All, author Beth Pattillo brings Austen’s Sense and Sensibility to new life by exploring Austen’s relationship with Cassandra and her inspiration for the story of two very different sisters. Just as Ellen and Mimi mirror Elinor and Marianne, so too do Jane herself and Cassandra, as Pattillo re-imagines the close bond between the two Austen sisters. This is the third book in Pattillo’s loosely connected Austen-esque novels, all tied together by the presence of the formidable Formidable Mrs. Gwendolyn Parrot and the secret society devoted to protecting Austen’s secrets. Part contemporary romance, part travelogue, part mystery and adventure and part historical fiction, The Dashwood Sisters Tell All has something for everyone.
Any Austen fan will immediately recognize the parallels between Ellen and Mimi’s relationship and that of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. The two sisters take turns narrating the story, with each chapter alternating back and forth. Ellen and Mimi are each given distinct voices and personalities. Ellen bears the burden of being the oldest; quiet, reserved and only sort of happy with life, she’s judgmental towards Mimi and is so afraid of letting go that she almost misses her chance to reclaim her one great love. Mimi, meanwhile, fears being alone and avoids responsibility in her pursuit of life’s finer things. While strikingly different and tangled up in their own romantic quandaries, the mystery surrounding Cassandra’s diary forces Ellen and Mimi to work together to discover the real truth behind the story of Sense and Sensibility.
Pattillo expertly captures the Hampshire countryside, giving readers such incredibly descriptive details about Austen’s world and the walking tour Ellen and Mimi embark upon. From Steventon to Chawton, the places that the real Austen knew and loved so well come alive so that even readers who have not had the good luck to explore Austen’s England can still easily imagine being there. The Dashwood Sisters Tell All also keeps you guessing, as Ellen and Mimi try to determine if Cassandra’s diary is real. Supporting characters with questionable motives lurk behind corners as the Dodge sisters realize that someone does not want them to discover the truth. Pattillo throws in enough twists to keep readers wondering just want might happen next.
In the world of Austen-inspired literature, it is usually Lizzie Bennett and Mr. Darcy who get all the attention, so Beth Pattillo’s The Dashwood Sisters Tell All is a refreshing change that sheds new light on Sense and Sensibility and reimagines Jane Austen’s relationship with her own sister. Creative and enjoyable – with just enough intrigue and romance – The Dashwood Sisters Tell All is the perfect book to curl up with on a rainy day, cup of tea completely optional.(less)