Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman

Return to Paradise
Polly Shulman

Another book bought because of book bloggers. I think the one review that had me paying attention was over at The Hiding Spot, although I see that the usual suspects have also reviewed and recommended this book. The Jane Austen connection also had me interested (of course).

The Premise: Julia (Julie) Lefkowitz’s best friend (and next door neighbor) Ashleigh is an Enthusiast. Every few weeks or so Ashleigh has a new interest which she throws herself into with unabashed vigor, dragging Julie along. Julie follows her friend, a little exasperated but knowing that nothing will dissuade Ashleigh. One day Ashleigh’s newest craze is one of Julie’s favorite things – Jane Austen. Determined to find her own Mr. Darcy, Ashleigh talks Julie into crashing the Columbus Cotillion at Forefield Academy. There she decides the Mr. Darcy role will be filled by Grandison Parr, the boy Julie has been secretly crushing on.

My Thoughts: I was in a not-really-in-a-reading mood, so the length of Enthusiasm appealed to me (198 pages). When I started, I was pleasantly surprised by how soon I was caught up in this cute story. Julie narrates to keep us informed about everything going on in her life, and it’s a pretty normal one. The people around her are as you’d expect: a best friend, her parents (divorced and living separately, sharing custody of Julie), kids in school, and boys. What I really enjoyed was how amusing this normal life could be, seen by the reader, as Ashleigh came up with another crazy idea which Julie would try to suppress, or as misunderstandings abounded.

I liked the dynamic between Julie and Ashleigh, particularly their loyalty to one another. Sure, Julie feels a twinge of annoyance that Ashleigh is appropriating an interest that was once hers alone, but even that twinge makes her feel guilty. She doesn’t want to begrudge Ashleigh anything, when she knows that Ashleigh would bend over backwards for her. This quiet suppression of how she feels so she doesn’t hurt her friend is fine sometimes, but when it comes to her feelings for Parr, that’s when I felt a little frustrated for her.  Ashleigh has a personality that takes over a room, and she can railroad Julie unintentionally, which she does when she assumes (and announces) that the man for Julie is Parr’s friend Ned, a Mr Bingley to her Mr. Darcy.  Julie of course keeps her real feelings back because she loves Ashleigh, but we readers know that Julie has noticed Parr around town long before the Cotillion and had nicknamed him the Mysterious Stranger. Of course, this secret from her best friend only serves to bite her in the butt. It’s not Ashleigh’s fault that she doesn’t know how Julie really feels, and it’s admirable that Julie puts her friend before herself, but throughout the book it seems to be a theme that Julie stays silent, not just with her best friend. It all works itself out, but I really wish that Julie had said something in at least one of the situations instead of being quiet. Maybe the merits of speaking up is a lesson she’s learning.

Julie loyally follows Ashleigh in Ashleigh’s schemes to see more of Parr, internally pained by the idea of seeing him with someone else, but trying to keep herself apart from him. What romance there is, is low key because it stays in the background until it’s time, but when romance does come to the forefront, it’s quite satisfying. Ultimately I really liked how things played out, and I loved how poetry was incorporated into this.

Overall: This is a perfect sized book for an evening when you find yourself craving something sweet but not without substance. I enjoyed how friendships and being a teen was conveyed, and the good-natured humor that overlaid everything made it a fun,  feel-good read.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository | Book closeouts ($3!)

Other reviews:
The Hiding Spot – A
Tempting Persephone – positive review

This is #4 for the Everything Austen challenge

Pride and Prejudice: A Latter Day Comedy

While looking around for modern day retellings of Pride and Prejudice I ran across the movie Pride and Prejudice: A Latter Day Comedy. It seemed like an odd combination but it looked cute. I couldn’t get it through netflix, but the whole thing seems to be up on youtube. Here’s the trailer:

Elizabeth Bennett is a college student in Utah who works part time in a bookstore and has dreams of publishing her book, the world’s only “Napoleonic Techno Fantasy”  (Heh, I’d read that).  She lives with four other girls. Jane is from Brazil and is Elizabeth’s best friend and roommate. Lydia is their landlord, and Kitty is Lydia’s younger sister. Mary is the awkward roommate.

Lydia and Kitty are devotees to “The Pink Bible” which is a popular self-help book about getting a man, and they plan to use it at a party at Charles Bingley’s house. This party is where we basically meet all the major characters and the story is set up. Of course Lydia is after Charles, but when he sets eyes on Jane, she’s the only one he’s interested in. This is also where the girls meet Darcy, Charles’ best friend. At this point Darcy has already managed to put himself in Elizabeth’s bad books when he was an arrogant jerk at her bookstore. Also circling Elizabeth is Collins, the resident church bore, and bad-boy Jack Wickham, both who ask Elizabeth to marry them, for different reasons. Things get complicated when Darcy begins to fall for Elizabeth and Elizabeth’s book catches the eye of a publishing company, which turns out to be Darcy’s.

This was story very loosely based on the original with only the core group of characters. It’s a fun movie, and I think that it falls under the made-for-TV romcom. The type of movie you’d see on some weekend movie marathon on a cable network. It isn’t supposed to be taken seriously. The movie had a lot of goofy moments and pretty much everyone was gently made fun of. And although it’s set in Utah and the characters mention church (and there is a funny scene at church), I didn’t find this religious at all. It just feels like part of the setting.  I think if goofball romcoms are your thing, and you don’t mind something mindless, this is the movie for you, but if you can’t stand that sort of movie, skip this one.

I set up a playlist to watch the movie in it’s entirety

This is #3 for the Everything Austen 2 challenge.

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

Becoming Jane

I finally watched Becoming Jane this month as part of the Everything Austen 2 challenge at Stephanie’s Written Word.

This is a fictional biopic of Jane’s life that takes facts from her real life and massages them to make a romantic story. Anne Hathaway plays a young Jane Austen who is interested in writing but hasn’t much use for men until she meets Thomas Lefroy, a young lawyer. They don’t hit it off immediately. In fact Jane dislikes him, but of course his rakish ways somehow charm her and soon they are in full blown love. Unfortunately Tom needs his uncle’s blessing to marry her because he’s dependent on his uncle’s money, and Jane may be a lady, but she’s a poor one.

This was the second time I tried to watch this movie. The first time I tried was last year, and I was so bored after the first ten minutes I switched to something else. This time I made it half an hour before losing interest again. I took a break for a couple of days but made myself keep going for the challenge. The problem was I just did not care about this Jane or about Tom, and the story was just.. uninspiring. Jane spews off quotes directly taken from the real Jane Austen, and it felt like the screenwriter was trying really hard to make Jane seem as witty as she was supposed to be in real life.

The romance annoyed me. First Tom points out how much more worldly he is in comparison to Jane and suggests she is missing out on knowing real love in her novels. It felt kind of like he was using her curiosity to lure her in (and the fact that she IS lured puzzled me since she’s supposed to be smart), and then suddenly, they’re both in love with each other! Did I miss something? It didn’t make much sense.

The best part of the movie may have been the decisions Jane ultimately makes, along with the response of Mr. Wisley (who I liked better than Tom Lefroy), but you have to watch the whole movie to get there. Everything else.. I found myself picking it apart, perhaps unfairly, so I won’t go into it.

In summary – MEH. It was pretty, and it’s about Jane Austen, two positives, but with the exception of one or two scenes, it was bland.

Everything Austen 2

Everything Austen Challenge
Everything Austen Challenge

I didn’t do so well with last year’s Everything Austen Challenge (I somehow forgot it was only 6 months long, so I managed 5 Austen-related books and movies not 6, although I did watch more Austen movies than I had posted about). I am trying again!!

Here are the details: “The Everything Austen Challenge will run for six months (July 1, 2010 – January 1, 2011)! All you need to do is pick out six Austen-themed things you want to finish to complete the challenge. You have until Thursday, July 15th 2010 to officially sign up.” More over at Stephanie’s Written Word

The books/movies I’m thinking about reading/watching:
1. Such a Girl by Karen Siplin (modern day Persuasion)
2. Love, Lies and Lizzie (Jane Austen in the 21st Century) by Rosie Rushton
3. Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler (had this on my list last year but didn’t get to it)
4. Jane Austen in Boca by Paula Marantz Cohen
5. Becoming Jane movie
6. TBD BBC Jane Austen miniseries –  (I’ve watched them all but rewatch them periodically. Of course)

These choices are subject to change

Possible alternatives are books I didn’t get into last year: