The Family Fortune by Laurie Horowitz

Return to Paradise
Laurie Horowitz

This week has been a week full of free time – I’m waiting around in the jury selection phase of jury duty. I’m not going to go into it, but let’s just say I’ve had HOURS AND HOURS of reading time this week (and it’s not over).

This was a book recommended to me in the comments of my Forgotten Treasure post for Book Blogger Appreciation Week. I had recommended a Jane Austen retelling, Pride, Prejudice, and Jasmine Field and Emily mentioned loving The Family Fortune. I already ordered it from paperbackswap, but I was almost done with the book I had brought to Jury Duty, so I went to the library (conveniently next door to the court house) and picked it up there too.

This is my 2nd review for the Everything Austen II challenge

The Premise: This is a modern day retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, that centers on Jane Fortune, member of an upper-crust Bostonian family that has just realized that it is broke. Jane’s father Teddy, and her sister Miranda flit from party to party, and indulge themselves often. Jane’s married sister Winnie, is an attention-seeking, lazy hypochondriac. And Jane is of course, the sensible one, who spends her time working on her literary journal, The Euphemia Review and giving grants to up-and-coming writers through the Fortune Family Foundation, which she runs. Years ago, Jane met and almost married struggling writer, Max Wellman, the first person to win a grant. Family friend Priscilla and her father intervened and it never happened. Now Jane is a 38-year-old woman who feels spinsterhood beginning to settle around her, while Max is a well-known literary heart-throb, and of course, their paths cross once again.

My Thoughts: This is Persuasion in a high society, high literary setting. There’s always the underlying knowledge of how people should act within Jane’s circles. In this aspect it mirrors Jane Austen in regard to the societal mores of the wealthy very well. The literary journal, The Euphemia Review, and Jane’s friendships with critically acclaimed writers and her “genius for finding genius” feels like another facet in this lifestyle. Like her family name, Jane has some clout in the literary world. This book is told from Jane’s first person point of view, and it’s suggested that The Family Fortune comes from Jane’s journals. Her literary fiction background feels reflected in the language of the book.

When this book first begins, Jane is a creature of steadiness and routine. Jane admits to wearing dark, shapeless clothes and not caring about her appearance. This life is a little drab and depressing, but when she discovers that it’s her old flame may be coming to the area because his sister is renting the Fortune home, a little reevaluation happens, and Jane starts to change for the better. Jane discovers a new literary talent in a writer named Jack Reilly, and becomes a little obsessed with finding him. She begins to pay attention to her appearance. She realizes she does have outside respect for her work with her family’s foundation and her literary work, but she also looks for things to do with her life besides The Euphemia Review.  Much of the focus is on what Jane is doing and what friends and family she sees as she goes about her life, but we are aware as she is, of looking out from the corner of her eye for Max Wellman.

Max appears first when Jane’s father and sister go off to Palm Beach for the winter.  Jane went to visit her sister Winnie, and runs into Max, who is a friend of Winnie’s husband, Charlie. Jane retells their back story and we see her reaction to seeing him again. Of course her feelings are still strong, and she thinks Max is as handsome and charismatic as he ever was, except now everyone else sees him as successful too, while she is the same sensible, reliable Jane. Max is a character I feel like we don’t see much of, even though he is the hero. He appears, and Jane reacts internally and we know she still loves him after all these years, but we have to rely on her side of the romance with little clue about him. What we see of his feelings has to be gleaned through Jane’s description of his expressions. I would have liked to see more from his side of things in this book, particularly in the ending.

There are a lot of secondary characters in this story, but Jane is definitely the main one. Even Max as I said above is like a secondary character. There’s first Jane’s family, and Priscilla, the family friend, then later on we meet characters that represent the Louisa Musgrove, Mrs. Clay, Captain Benwick, and Mr. Elliot characters. These characters mirror the Austen characters very well, at least in spirit. I thought that the modern day representation of Mrs. Clay was well done, and the Mr. Elliot character here took creepily manipulative to new levels (he started benign, but by the end of it he made my, and no doubt Jane’s, skin crawl) . Outside of these characters, there are other secondary characters which (I think) are original to this retelling. Most of these “new” characters are related to Jane’s work with literary fiction.

After I was done, I think I had two problems with the book. I think that these problems are in comparing Jane to Anne Elliot and Max to Captain Wentworth. First Jane. Next to her father and her sisters, Jane is the least self-absorbed, but because the story is told from Jane’s point of view, there are times when she notes things in others that cast her in a mean light. I realize it’s so that the reader can see her family for the people they are, but I don’t recall Anne Elliot in Persuasion as being someone who lists the faults in others. That was reserved for the third person narrator. So when Jane says for example “Miranda’s face was lined with excessive sun exposure. She should know better.” or that someone needed to “take care of the dark roots in an otherwise brassy head of hair”, it only makes her seem secretly as shallow as the rest of her family.  I didn’t like this side of her. She also gets drunk and does something in this story I didn’t think Anne Elliot would do. Max on the other hand was much more of a playboy than I considered Captain Wentworth to be. Maybe I have too high  moral expectations of two of my favorite characters but I thought his character was a little disappointing in this regard. This is something that falls under personal taste.

Overall: I think this is definitely to be recommended for that niche of people who love a good Jane Austen retelling, but are OK with an Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth who are not as pure as the original. I think that I have my particular standards of what my favorite characters should be like and this book doesn’t quite fit them (I found Jane a little unkind sometimes in her descriptions, Max a little too much of a playboy), so in the end I wasn’t completely satisfied. I still want to keep a copy of this book around though. While I had qualms about Jane/Max (YMMV), the upper crust Boston and high literary societies were unique spins on the society found in Persuasion, and the commentary and many details of the original are well reflected here.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Emily and Her Little Pink Notes – 9/10
Steph Su Reads – 4/5

Goddess for Hire by Sonia Singh

Goddess for Hire
Sonia Singh

I picked this up in the last BookCloseouts sale (psst – they’re having another one – a summer fiction sale) because I don’t often see chick lit with Indo American characters. It also looked like had a little bit of a supernatural aspect to it (a heroine who is a reincarnated goddess), so I was sold.  It languished in my TBR until I needed a change in genre after all the fantasy I’ve been reading lately.

The Premise:
Maya Mehra just had her 30th Birthday. Her big extended Indian family (all doctors except Maya), want her to settle down and get married, but Maya is in no hurry. She’s a California girl, living with her parents in Newport Beach, and while she’d like to find a man, she doesn’t believe in arranged marriage or a man who would marry her for the green card. Unfortunately for her, Aunt Dimple has been matchmaking and sets Maya up with a man from India (Tahir). Maya dutifully goes to the airport to pick him up (and tell him she’s not interested), and is surprised to find Tahir gorgeous and also not interested in her. And then in a bizarre twist, Maya is told that she’s the incarnation of Kali, a Hindu goddess who is the Dark Mother, the Goddess of Destruction – “the bringer of death so that life my resurrect”, and she’s supposed to save the world.

Read an excerpt of Goddess for Hire (from google books)

My Thoughts: This is very much a breezy chick lit novel which reads very fast. It took me a few hours to read – each chapter is very short, often 2 or 3 pages, and the font is not small. I was in the mood for something mindless and this satisfied that craving.   The problem with this breezy chick lit California thing is that that Maya can come off as extremely superficial. She’s thirty years old, but she has no problem spending her days shopping with her parents money in her big yellow H2 Hummer (and she drops brand names like nobody’s business). And although she makes some off the cuff comments about the difficulty in being Indian and a minority, and brings up childhood bullying because of being Indian, she also says some things about her own ethnicity that feel uncomfortably bratty.  I decided to push past my initial qualms in the first few pages, and although I think that Maya acts more like a twenty year old than a thirty year old, she grew on me. I enjoyed her chemistry with Tahir (they trade insults and sarcasm back and forth), and finding her direction in life enables her to grow.  Although I get the impression Maya considers herself a modern girl and therefore does not like many traditional Indian things on principle, she’s set up with a hero who sees things differently (he likes women in saris, Kathak dances, and his parents blessing), so I think he will be a positive influence her.

I enjoyed reading this book mostly for all the Indian cultural references. Indian terms pepper the story but are explained in English (sometimes it felt unnecessarily explained but I suppose not everyone knows what Dharma or Roghan Josh are).  There was an element of nostalgia for me because I grew up close to India and I can relate to her big noisy family when my Asian half has something similar. I think that this made me enjoy the book a little bit more – a vague Southeast Asian homesickness which I know not everyone shares, but maybe people will enjoy it’s different cultural viewpoint.

The reincarnated goddess storyline was pure fluff. Maya feels malevolent energy and runs towards it to ward off  some evil – usually in the form of someone about to commit a crime, and then bungles her way through preventing a disaster.  Her interactions with a swami named Ram who teaches her how to use her powers are hilarious though.  I really liked Ram, and he has the best lines in the book (although I also like the interactions Maya and Tahir have). The Kali story overall just felt silly, but this book isn’t trying to be serious. It dovetailed very nicely with Maya’s problems with her family (they want her to get serious – get a husband, get a job), and with her romance with Tahir (Maya keeps disappearing because of it, often right after Tahir says something particularly rude, which delighted me).

Overall: Chick lit with an Indo American flavor. This was a very breezy, very quick read with a cute I-Act-Like-I-Don’t-Like-You-But-Really-I-Do romance and a heroine who is superficial and spoiled, but she grew on me.  I don’t think I’d recommend this to everyone but overall I’d say I enjoyed it because I was in the mood for something light and mindless and that’s what this was.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
I couldn’t find any – please let me know if you have reviewed it and I’ll link to it.

Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella

Remember Me?: A Novel
Sophie Kinsella

This was a thrift store buy on vacation here in Arizona.

The Premise: Lexi Smart is a young woman down in the dumps because her father’s funeral is tomorrow, and she missed getting a nice holiday bonus by a week because she hadn’t worked at her job a full year, and her boyfriend is blowing her off. That’s the last she recalls when she wakes up in a hospital bed and she’s been told that she was just in a car crash. Apparently Lexi has amnesia and has forgotten the last three years.  Three years where she’s lost weight, fixed her hair and teeth, married a gorgeous man and become the boss at her job. What happened? How did she get here? And is her life as perfect as it seems or is what her husband’s architect Jon right — that she was about to leave her husband for him?

Read an excerpt of Remember Me? here

My Thoughts: This reminds me of the Talking Heads song, but you know where it’s going a little bit — of course there’s no story if she wakes up and discovers she’s made something of herself, and that’s it. There’s got to be a problem, and that is that Lexi doesn’t remember her husband at all, and she doesn’t remember doing her job as head of the carpeting department of Dellar Carpets. Lexi is also surprised to find she’s lost her friends and become known as a tough boss (to put it mildly). If you have ever watched the movie 13 Going On 30, you will know Lexi’s reaction to some of what she finds out about her new self.

There’s a certain amount of predictably in the storyline — Lexi being confused by her new life and by who she has become, and some soul searching if this is what she really wants. It’s a light read but not really fluffy — although there are a few glimpses of humor here and there, it’s not as amusing as other Kinsella books. The emotions Lexi goes through doesn’t lend itself to it.

The romance is not as straightforward in this book. Lexi is married, but while he’s handsome and nice, and a millionaire, he’s a complete Type-A personality, with a hatred of disorder and a love of ambition which is at odds with who Lexi is. After a while I started to get creeped out by his over-perfectness, which I guess was the aim of the author, because in contrast, Jon accepts Lexi as she is. He’s her husband’s architect, and he tells her that she was planning to leave her husband for him.  While Lexi finds Jon annoying at first, it’s obvious she finds him attractive, and is freer with her words around him than around her husband.  If you don’t like unfaithfulness in your books, this may be an issue.  I think some of the moral issue is taken away with the idea that what Lexi did in the 3 forgotten years was like it happened to someone else, and although Lexi is shocked at herself, she can’t really feel that guilty about something she doesn’t remember deciding to do. It bothered me a little, but the book doesn’t dwell on it.

Buy: Amazon | Powells

Overall: I thought the book was alright. It was what I expected; a pleasant way to spend the afternoon, with some amusing bits and sweetness in the romance, but not a book that really moved me. I wasn’t wowed, but I wasn’t disappointed either.

Reviews elsewhere:
Rosario’s Reading Journal – B+
Confessions of a book addict – loved it
The Good, The Bad and The Unread – B- (I think I was closest to this reviewer’s feelings on this book)

Originally posted on janicu.vox.com

Vanity and Vexation: A Novel of Pride and Prejudice by Kate Fenton

I couldn’t really recall what books I was planning to borrow from the library for Everything Austen and I’d stumbled on this book online while idly perusing sales on Bookcloseouts (50% off certain fiction titles, I eventually resisted, I am so strong), so I picked it up there. Vanity and Vexation was originally published as Lions and Liquorice in the UK and renamed for US publication. I suppose Vanity and Vexation was a closer approximation to Pride and Prejudice than Lions and Liquorice was, although Lions are briefly mention in the book (name of a pub), as is liquorice (in a conversation between the hero and heroine). I’m going to add this to the #everythingausten pile as number 4 of the 6 Austen related works I’ve read and watched this year.The Premise: This is another of those modern-day Jane Austen retellings I seem to love, this time with Pride and Prejudice and gender reversals. Lizzy Bennet’s alter-ego is Nicolas Llewellyn Bevan, a suspense/thriller author and part-time journalist, who lives and writes in North Yorkshire. His Mr. Darcy is Mary Dance, the director of a Pride and Prejudice production which has taken over his town: “Tall, dark and arrogantly handsome – not to mention distinguished, powerful and rolling in money. Mr Darcy? No, that’s just the woman director of Pride and Prejudice…'” Nicolas’ neighbor John is a blond-haired, blue eyed, boyscout who is the Jane equivalent, and the star of the production, actress Candia Bingham.

An Excerpt of Vanity and Vexation

My Thoughts: This is sort of chick-lit but the writing is heavier than the typical chick lit. The characters are more moody than fluffy, and do a lot of smoking, drinking (so much drinking!), swearing and occasionally, having sex. It’s also very British (or should I say Welsh, because Nick is Welsh?), peppered with words like Dettol and talk of Bank Holidays. The writing is intelligent without being overbearing (I hit a few vocabulary words I didn’t know, like “Hogarthian” and “anodyne”, but it didn’t interrupt the flow of the story).

I thought the role reversal idea was very clever and had a lot of fun identifying the alter-egos to Jane Austen’s original cast. Mr. Bingley and Darcy and Jane and Elizabeth were easy. Side characters were identified relatively easy as well, like Mr and Mrs Bennet in the local bar owner and his wife, Lydia in a 17 year old teen named Christopher, and Caroline Bingley as a lead actor in the production, but there were some characters I am still not quite sure about. Was Lady Catherine de Burgh’s alter ego, Mary’s father, a hotshot Hollywood producer? Or was it Sir Gerant Price-Evans? And although Nicolas’ friend Charlie seems obvious as Lizzy’s best friend Charlotte Lucus, he spends much more time talking to his ex-wife Caroline about what’s going on than to Charlie.

I liked the way Fenton translated the problems in Pride and Prejudice into modern times. Nicolas does not need Mary for money, but her connections as a director who could option his book for the screen is another matter. The modern translation for whisking away Lydia and Darcy finding her and marrying her to Wickham is also smartly done – I think I was more concerned for Nick and others in the debacle in this book than I ever was for Lydia. That particular part of the book, actually, the last 100 pages really grabbed me.  The first two thirds I read in a day, but with some putting it down and picking it up again.

The romance between John and Candia (the Jane and Mr. Bingley characters) was rather sweet and stayed true to the original with love at first sight at a dance, but while the Nick and Mary (Liz and Darcy) romance followed the basic path that was in Pride and Prejudice, and it had it’s moments, it was not the same. First, I wish there were more scenes from Mary’s side of things to show her interest in Nick. Maybe it’s because this book was in the third person but following Nick that we only see the beginning of his infatuation, but not hers. Secondly, there’s really never any true animosity between them. Nick never starts off with a bad impression of Mary Dance. She seems aloof but not enough for him to dislike her the way Lizzy Bennet dislikes Darcy at first.  And Mary/Darcy never really does the infamous misstep in pointing out the inferiority of Nick/Lizzy’s connections and his feelings despite his better judgement, not quite in the way Mr. Darcy does. It’s more like they do like each other, Mary thinks Nick doesn’t dress very well, and isn’t sure they’re well suited but still wants him. Other factors strive to separate them, like the misunderstanding caused by the Wickham character, and Nick’s discovery of Mary’s role in keeping John and Candia together.  Like I said, it had it’s moments, especially in the second half of the book, but it wasn’t quite as delicious.

Another thing that bothered me was that this book suddenly changed after chapter 12. Suddenly the writer decided to go in a completely different direction, hits reset on character names, and the style is suddenly more relaxed. The style was an improvement but I did not like having an explanation for the switch. How annoying!

Note: I’m beginning to notice how many P&P related chick lit seem to have a writer or journalist as a main character (Austenland, Pride and Prejudice and Jasmine Fields, Me and Mr. Darcy, Vanity and Vexation), or an actor or director (Austenland, Pride and Prejudice and Jasmine Fields,Vanity and Vexation). Hmm.

Overall: A clever idea and fun to spot the gender role reversals and modern take on the Pride and Prejudice plot. Not a bad weekend read, but not without it’s flaws, including an iffy switch-up 12 chapters in, and a romance that was lovely but doesn’t quite live up to the original.

Buy: Amazon | Powells

Other reviews:
I couldn’t find any in the blogs I follow, but here’s the author’s notes on this book.

Jane Austen in Scarsdale Or Love, Death, and the SATs by Paula Marantz Cohen

This is part of my reading for the Everything Austen Challenge, hosted at Stephanie’s Written Word. I wanted to read this one because it’s set in Scarsdale, New York, which is very close to where I live, and I wanted to see how Westchester County would get portrayed. I also loved that Anne Elliot is now Anne Ehrlich and comes from a wealthy Jewish family!

The Premise: This is a modern day retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. I’m going to be lazy and type out the inner jacket flap today. It really explains the story better than I could:

“Anne Ehrlich is a dedicated guidance counselor steering her high-school charges through the perils of college admission. Thirteen years ago, when she was graduating from Colombia University, her wealthy family-especially her dear grandmother Winnie- persuaded her to give up the love of her life, Ben Cutler, a penniless boy from Queens College. Anne has never married and hasn’t seen Ben since – until his nephew turns up in her high school and starts applying to college.

Now Ben is a successful writer, a world traveler, and a soon-to-be married man, and Winnie’s health is beginning to fail. These changes have Anne beginning to wonder…Can old love be rekindled, or are past mistakes too painful to forget?”

My Thoughts: At first when I read this book I thought “this is really different from the original Persuasion“.  Anne has a grandmother and only one sister, her family’s house is being sold (not leased), Ben’s sister has a son (and she’s not married to an admiral), Ben is engaged, the list went on. You see very loosely based versions of Lady Russell, Captain Benwick, Mrs. Clay, Mrs. Croft, and Louisa Musgrove, but a lot of other characters are missing, and a lot are added. On top of all of this, Anne’s job is a huge part of the book. Most of the time Anne is dealing with one crisis or another to do with college admission. I learned A LOT about what college’s may be looking for and the college application process, and I was reminded of all the fun (said sarcastically) of applying to college myself. It was interesting to see some of the impressions the author had certain schools, including the one I ended up going to, but at times I felt that all of this took up way too much of the book in comparison to the romance.

After thinking about it, I decided that the book had to be really different to translate to modern times. Nowadays Anne can have a job, and she would if her family is no longer wealthy. So she can’t be visiting people the way that Anne Elliot seems to do throughout the original book. Which means there’s no need for some of the characters in the original Persuasion. Anne’s character of quietly and steadily helping people with all their little dramas in Persuasion works very well with Anne’s job as a guidance counselor. It also wouldn’t make sense if Ben was still single. In Persuasion, Anne was considered too old to marry, but today, she wouldn’t be, but she has to feel like Ben is no longer available to her, thus the fiancee.

The writing itself is well done. Easily readable and full of amusing anecdotes about the college application process, I had no trouble getting into the book and enjoying it. The description of the over-achieving parents didn’t make me think of Westchester in particular, but as parents stressed out about college as a whole, it seemed to fit that bill. It was a bit over-the-top at times, but went with the lightness of the story.  Anne’s father Elihu, a man of leisure who just likes to spend money, and her sister Allegra, a poet, who does the same, also brought in some amusement with their self-indulgence and lack of common sense.

After all this, I was still left a little wanting. Not because of the way the setting, time, and people changed, but because of the way the romance changed. We see very little interaction between Anne and Ben. We get most of her side of the story here (she remembers their past together, and tortures herself by googling him), with very little about Ben and what he’s going through. That is much like the original, but we don’t even get a letter from him in this version! I think they spoke to each other directly maybe two times, and yet of course they get back together. I’m not quite sure HOW if they hardly were in the same room. We don’t even have any situations where one overhears the other or where Ben realizes how Anne is the most capable and levelheaded in a crisis (or was it so subtle I missed it?). The only clues we have are one possible case of jealousy and secondhand information. The way things resolved conveniently with hardly any talking between the hero and heroine left me a bit irritated.

Overall: An innovative re-telling of Persuasion, and not bad if you’re looking for a fun read, but not without it’s flaws (too much about the college application process, too little interaction between hero and heroine). I still want to read this author’s other retelling, Jane Austen in Boca (which is Pride & Prejudice set in a retirement community).

Other reviews:
Austenblog – similar response to mine, maybe a bit more glowing

Buy: Amazon | B&N

Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler

I saw this book recommended by Jane Austen fans because the author apparently spent a lot of time researching properly (six years working on the book is what I read). She is also a member of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA).

With credentials like that I was a little afraid this book was going to be somewhat dry and rely more on facts than plot, but I was quite happy to find that this was not the case. There is quite a bit of humor in here and an enjoyable heroine, and the research is reflected in the descriptions of the surroundings, but doesn't bog down the story.

Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict is about an L. A. woman, Courtney Stone, who after a bad breakup with her fiance, and a big fight with her best friend, drowns her sorrows in a Jane Austen novel, then wakes up in the Regency era in the body of someone named Jane Mansfield. The writing is in the first person present tense so the reader experiences Courtney/Jane's confusion at the same time she does.

Overall: This is a time travelling story involving Jane Austen, but the author doesn't attempt to put the heroine into one of the original stories to meet Mr. Darcy or any of the other heroes in the Austen novels (like the recent miniseries Lost in Austen). In this case the author Courtney discovers the lack of woman's rights and hygiene, along with the clothes, manners, and customs of the time. The era is not romanticized, and Courtney reacts in a believable way to her situation, sometimes acting anachronistically, but also realizing she has to blend in to survive. Being put into a mental institution in those times would have been a horror, so Courtney/Jane doesn't do supremely idiotic things. Instead, she pretends to be Jane and goes about her days in which Jane would have – meeting her friends and suitor, dealing with her parents, and also remembering the life she left behind. Courtney has no idea what happened to the real Jane, but as time passes she begins to pick up her memories, which sit next to her other memories in L.A. Along with episodes in the courtship of  Mr. Edgeworth, Courtney remembers feelings for her best friend Wes, who she thinks betrayed her. It felt like there were two love stories playing out even though the focus of the book is in England, which I guess is the one problem I had with the book. Courtney is in Jane's life and interacting with Mr. Edgeworth, while also thinking about her past life in California, and I felt sort of torn about where she should be. I wasn't sure she should be in Jane's life, so that was my one quibble with the novel that kept me from enjoying it as much as I could have. It made me a bit sad! However, I just found out that there is a companion book coming out – with Jane taking Courtney's place in modern day L.A – Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict (more info at the author's website here). That book comes out May 2009 according to Amazon.

Links:

Author Interview at Booking Mama

Dear Author Review

The author's website is great – lots of Jane related videos and links, worth spending some time there – http://www.janeaustenaddict.com/ .

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Austenland by Shannon Hale

Austenland: A Novel
Shannon Hale

Shannon Hale is another one of those authors whose back-list I want to read, just haven't gotten around to it. Before Austenland I've only read young adult books by her. Just looked it up, yes she as mostly written young adult books. I have only read The Goose Girl, but mean to pick up Enna Burning and The Princess Academy one day. Anyway, when I saw Austenland on display in Barnes and Noble, my gasp was rather audible. An adult book, Austen AND Shannon Hale?

So I kept going to the bookstore and visiting this book, but thinking about my TBR and putting it back down. Yeah, I do that with a lot of books. I visit them at the bookstore and think of how I have to finish what I have…

 After getting into an Austen remake kick with the Melissa Nathan book I read, I went to the library and picked this up (but I have also ordered it online).

This is a bit different from the previous chick-lit + Austen related books I've read as in it doesn't really retell Pride and Prejudice, and it doesn't have any time travel to see Mr. Darcy, but we do have a Jane Austen obsessed heroine, single, who decides to go on an Austen themed holiday. This reminded me a bit of Me and Mr. Darcy, except instead of going on a tour, Jane Hayes goes and lives at Pembrook Park, where actors play the roles of Austen era gentility, and guests' dreams of a pretend romance while wearing Regency clothes come true. This expensive vacation was willed to Jane by her great-aunt so she can get over her very serious view of relationships (she starts off by hoping for forever, and after disappointments mount, starts to rely more and more on the fantasy of Mr. Darcy). Jane Hayes becomes Jane Erstwhile, back from the New World and visiting her aunt Saffonia and her husband Sir Templeton, and meets other guests staying with her "aunt".

Overall: This was a fun read. I found it a bit short though, only 194 pages in my copy, which is more of a young adult length, but it was still a good read. Jane is an amusing character – very forthright with her feelings and quite quick on her feet. Some of her dialogue made me laugh. The book was segmented by short paragraphs about boyfriends Jane has had in her life (13 so far), which added to the amusement and explained some of Jane's character. Because her love interests in this book were both actors (a Mr. Nobley who finds her "impertinant" and Martin Jasper, who breaks role and secretly watches basketball with her in his room), we don't see very much about their backstory, except for a bit when Jane uses her journalist friend's connections. I think that adds to the surreal feeling of – is she really doing this? Pretending? And the oddity of a whole household of people pretending to be in the Regency era for a few rich people's amusement. Jane struggles with this throughout the book, but manages to still be herself while in the ridiculous surroundings.

A complaint I see a lot from people when reading this type of book is how cliched it is – repetition of the same stories created by Austen in the modern world, or trying to continue her books in a bad fan-fiction way. I admit, if that's not your thing, you may not like this book, because this had a lot more references to the BBC adaptations than to the actual books. I'm not sure that accuracy is the point though. This is just a fun story, and I think it does point out the value or real life over fantasy. And while Jane she does meet someone who she at first considers rather Darcy-esque, we don't have an as obvious Lizzy/Darcy parallel as in other books. OK there is one, but it's not bad. It was a fresh spin and I enjoyed it.

Hale's Austenland webpage

An Excerpt

Alternate endings!! <— spoilers therein


Also reviewed:

@ The Written Word (she liked it)

@ Em's Bookshelf (also liked it)

@ AustenBlog (hated it!! Well, I'm giving you a second opinion here).

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The Nanny by Melissa Nathan

The Nanny
Melissa Nathan

Like Linnea Sinclair, I think I'm just going to HAVE to read everything this author has ever written. After I read Pride, Prejudice and Jasmine Field, I went online and got a copy of Persuading Annie, the second one of her modern retellings of Jane Austen. Persuading Annie is a retelling of Persuasion. Meanwhile I also hopped to the library and borrowed The Nanny. Unfortunately, this is the only Melissa Nathan novel my library has, so I have to get her other two books The Waitress and The Learning Curve elsewhere.

This is I think Nathan's third novel and is her own story, not based on an Austen novel. I liked it probably a smidge less than Pride, Prejudice and Jasmine Field, but more than Persuading Annie.

The Nanny is about a twenty three year old nanny, Jo Green, who feels stuck in a rut with her life in Niblet-upon-Avon. Her boyfriend Shaun has proposed a few times, and each time she has turned him down, while her parents think he has never asked and keep wondering aloud what could be wrong and what he's waiting for. When Jo sees an ad for a nanny in London, she decides to apply for the job and just have a change of pace. She gets hired by Dick and Vanessa Fitzgerald, who have three children – eight year old Cassandra, six year old Zak and the youngest, Tallulah and gets sucked into their busy family life. To complicate matters Dick's sons from his first marriage arrive – his teen-aged son Toby and his grownup son Josh. Josh even moves in and sleeps in Jo's living room, and tensions mount.

Overall: This book started off a bit slowly as we got introduced to all the people in Jo's life, but everyone had their own personality and story within the book which made it enjoyable. We not only see Jo's struggle with her relationships but we also see complications in the marriage of Dick and Vanessa, Jo's parents and even the relationships among the kids. This ended up being a feel good story so things ended well for everyone involved, maybe in a too pat way, but it was just the type of book to cheer you up after a bad week. It did not feel short and fluffy, it felt like it had more depth than that, and it was a satisfying read. There are some comments here about being a working mother in need of a nanny, and family dynamics – the woman's role versus the man's, which made it a well thought out book for me. I also enjoyed the humor throughout the book – although sometimes the sarcasm was surprising, it was refreshing to read a book about the trials of parenting that come along with the joys, and to see a parent who loved their kids but may not be cut out for staying at home with them. The romance in this book was sweet as well.

P.S. This was written in third person (FYI for those who hate reading in first person)!

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Pride, Prejudice and Jasmin Field

This book is one of those modern day retellings of Pride and Prejudice. Jasmin Field (Jazz) is a reporter at a woman’s magazine who signed up for an audition for a one day “Pride and Prejudice” play, with director Harry Nobel. She finds Harry really arrogant and her contempt is cemented when she overhears him calling her “the Ugly Sister” compared to her actress sister George. What follows is a parallel of the Pride and Prejudice, which is very obvious considering the play and the title of the book, but there are several things I thought made things more interesting – the author focusses on the characters of Elizabeth and Jane Bennet, Mr. Bingley and Darcy more than others in the Jane Austen Novel and there are some twists to the Wickham scandal, the Bennet family and Mr. Collins.

Nits:

  • Well I saw reviews complaining about the main character being called “Jazz” and her best friend and sister were “Mo” and “George” – like there are too many cool names here. This didn’t bother me, but maybe avoid it if it’s a peeve.
  • There’s apparently a lot of swearing. I barely noticed though, I thought this was all part of Jazz’s lifestyle as a young woman with snarky female friends. They are all very blunt with each other.
  • This was my only really complaint: it was so obvious that the story paralleled the Jane Austen book, but the characters who were doing a play were rather oblivious except to kind of laugh when their words paralleled lines in the play maybe a couple of times. You have to suspend some disbelief here.

 

Good things:
OK, the rest of the book – I really liked it and enjoyed myself. I found it hard to put down. Even though I knew what was likely going to happen because I know the Pride and Prejudice story, I thought that Pride, Prejudice, and Jasmin Field was originally done and was humorous. It was very different from the original because of the modern setting, with Jazz/Lizzy having a job as a reporter and her work issues, while Harry’s actor background is very different from the Darcy in Jane Austen’s book. It was fun to see Nathan’s creativity in translating the Austen book to this setting. I thought the romance was very sweet too. Jazz is often really angry at Harry and he’s a bit intimidated, but she doesn’t realize this, so when they get together at the end, it was nicely done, and showed his insecurity. I also thought Nathan’s version of the scene where Lizzy first sees Darcy’s house was very different – you wouldn’t easily guess it until you see it. So discovering what scenes translated to what was fun. I read this book in just a few hours and quickly googled the author as soon as I was done. I was really sad to find that Nathan died of cancer only a couple of years ago, but she has another Jane Austen based novel which I plan to read (Persuading Annie), as well as other books. I think I’m likely to go and devour her backlist, I think I found a new author I love. Judging from amazon though, it was definitely either loved it or hated it regarding this book. Don’t read it if you want something serious and similar to Austen, it’s more like irreverant, chick-lit Austen.

 

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Girl’s Guide to Witchcraft by Mindy Klasky

This is the first book in a series about a librarian who discovers a room full of books on witchcraft, and then learns that she has magical ability. 

The Girl's Guide to Witchcraft is from the Red Dress imprint, which is Harlequin's "chick lit" line, so this book has a combination of chick lit along with the urban fantasy/ paranormal elements that you'd expect from the title. Our heroine Jane Madison juggles problems with finding a decent boyfriend (her ex for many years turned out to be a huge jerk who was cheating on her with several people), while trying to figure out her magic. Jane stumbles on her talent when her first spell woke her familiar – a cat statue that turned into a snarky, gay man (Neko). This brings another man to her door – her warder David. Meanwhile, Jane has a crush on an assistant professor named Jason who often researched at her library who she calls her Imaginary Boyfriend.

Overall: It was a pleasant read, but I did find myself putting it down and doing other things before coming back to it later, so it had a sort of sedate pace. I enjoyed it, and I liked Jane so I'll probably read the next book soon. The strength in the writing is really the relationships Jane has with her friends and family, with a couple of magical hijinks Jane gets herself into, her man trouble, and the return of her estranged mother to add interest.

Jane really does seem to have a "good girl" personality – she loves her work at the library and tries to help it with it's financial problems, she has a good relationship with her grandmother who raised her, and she has routine girl's night with her long-time best friend Melissa. She's a typical single woman juggling work and family while also looking for someone to share her life with. The only problem is that Jane isn't always as aware as she thinks she is, especially about relationships with men. Her taste isn't great and I felt that she was rather blind sometimes. I have the feeling that Jane is going to remain oblivious to the fact that David, her warder, is someone who she fits with a lot better than who she goes after for the length of this series. The question as to who Jane will finally get together with (I predict David despite both their denials in this book) will likely not be resolved until the final book, but I'm not sure how many books are in this series. 

Excerpt of this book.

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