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

Photobucket
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:

Pemberley by the Sea by Abigail Reynolds

I am still working on my Everything Austen challenge (ummmm… 2 months after it officially ended), and so I picked up Pemberley by the Sea at my library when I did a search of their catalog for Jane Austen and this showed up.

The Premise: This is a modern day Pride and Prejudice with Cassie Boulton, the Elizabeth Bennet character as a marine biologist, and Calder Westing, the Darcy character is a Senator’s son. They first meet in summer at Woods Hole, Cape Cod, where Cassie asks Calder to dance to avoid an ex-boyfriend but is coldly turned down. Cassie’s best friend Erin his the Jane character and has a relationship with Calder’s best friend, Scott (the Mr. Bingley of this book).

Excerpt of Chapter 1 of Pemberley by the Sea (link is to a .pdf file)

My Thoughts: Yes, yes, I am quite a sucker for the modern-day Jane Austen stories. Avert your eyes if you hate them, for I am an addict. This author has quite a few Jane Austen books – but she specializes on Pride and Prejudice what-ifs (What if Elizabeth accepts Darcy’s first proposal? What if Elizabeth gets engaged to someone else while Darcy is away?) and veers off from the original story from that point onward. This is her first modern-day retelling.

I would say that this really a exact retelling, it more takes the basic frame of Pride and Prejudice: Elizabeth and Darcy meet, Elizabeth dislikes Darcy from this first meeting while he starts to be intrigued by her in their subsequent meetings. The Jane and Mr. Bingley story in the meantime is even more loosely based on the original: they meet and date but encounter problems when summer is over. There isn’t really a Wickham, lots of sisters, or a silly Mr. Collins.

The focus is instead on the two characters and their relationship. The book is modern in that there are a few intense sex scenes, but I didn’t find them distasteful.  From the beginning there is substantial chemistry between Cassie and Calder, which is obvious to the reader, but maybe not so obvious to the characters themselves. The tension is palpable, and when their relationship becomes physical (in a very memorable way) it’s too early for them to turn it into a relationship. When they move their separate ways, but keep running into each other anyway, the tension continues.  Calder assumes how he feels is obvious, but to Cassie, his face is unreadable, and she assumes that she doesn’t belong in his world, especially with her low beginnings and a brother in jail. The revelation of how Calder really feels in the form of his “letter” to Cassie was one of my favorite parts of this book.

I enjoyed the setting of this story. The academia that surrounds Cassie’s day to day life was really well done – her hours in the lab or in the field, looking at results or teaching students worked well as a backdrop to her story. I liked the camaraderie and traditions, like playing Trivial Pursuit while eating the lab stew.  The author does a good job of making the characters lives seem real. Likewise their pasts and family backgrounds are delved into deeply and are an integral part of the plot.  I already mentioned that Cassie comes from a low income background. She distances herself from her past and hides it from her associates, thinking that they would judge her for it. Calder too has a childhood that haunts him. His upbringing as a Senator’s son was full of trauma and he’s learned to put on a mask to the world because of it. It explained why he came off as stony to Cassie, and it’s really sweet to read how he really felt and how she responds.

The only problem I had with this book, was that it seemed to continue far past where you’d think the Happily Ever After was. There was a lot of drama from both Cassie and Calder’s pasts that kept coming between them, but then they’d find away around it, and something else would come up. I didn’t feel like this part of this book was uninteresting, and it is original stuff (very different from the Pride and Prejudice story), but it seemed to go on much longer than it needed to. I found myself wanting to move ahead and flipping past to find out that Calder and Cassie were OK, then coming back to reread from where I skipped. One part I managed to miss the first time was what happened to Scott and Erin, and at first I thought the author had left their story unfinished – the focus was so much on Cassie and Calder’s family dramas that the other relationship was swallowed up in it if you get too impatient. I think I would have been a little happier with this book if the second half was edited substantially, because it doesn’t have the same pull for me as the first half, which I adored.

Ooohh, *gasp*, I just discovered that there is a sequel to this book which is coming out this year, called Morning Light, and it sounds like it retells Persuasion but in the same world – in Woods Hole, and the protagonist Annie Wright is friends with Cassie. I will definitely look for it.

Overall: This was a keeper, I plan to buy myself a copy. I loved the first half of this book, but the second half was a little long once the author continued the P&P story past it’s original end (and there was a lot of family drama that didn’t interest me as much as the romance did).

Buy: Amazon | Powells

Other reviews/ Links
Diary of an Eccentric – a positive review (“impressive”) – also an interview at this link
Diary of an Eccentric – interview with the author about another book

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.

Lost in Austen: Create Your Own Jane Austen Adventure by Emma Campbell Webster

Lost in Austen by Emma Campbell Webster
Lost in Austen
by Emma Campbell Webster
This is a book I picked up at Powell’s during my Portland trip and is one of my 6 things for the Everything Austen challenge (3 down 3 to go).

The Premise: This is a Choose Your Own adventure story where you are Elizabeth Bennet, and “your mission is to marry both prudently, and for love”. You start out with high Intelligence and Confidences points, low Fortune, and no Accomplishments or Connections and throughout the book, decide what path you want to take to increase these numbers.

My Thoughts/Overall: This isn’t meant to be read end to end, so it could be a really quick read or a really long one, depending on what choices you make and whether you want to keep trying once you fail. I kept trying to see where all the different paths could take me, which made the book longer, but after I got the general idea, I put the book down. Basically, you could end up with any of the heroes in every Jane Austen story, so there are a lot of familiar names and storylines intertwined with the Pride and Prejudice one.  Of course, Elizabeth is meant to be with Darcy, so any other marriage tends to end up in failure, and if you know P & P, you know what decisions Elizabeth should take to marry him.

As a bit of entertainment, this book works, and there are pretty line drawings throughout to illustrate the text, but it didn’t really keep my attention the way another book would because it’s really just a clever presentation of all the Jane Austen books I already know. It’s amusing to see how the author managed to interweave all the Austen books into Pride and Prejudice so you could meet Mr. Knightley or Captain Wentworth, and she throws in some curves like falling and breaking your neck or having a scandalous affair (points where you need to go back and try again), but it’s ultimately not interesting enough to keep reading for more than a few minutes at a time. It felt like it belonged in the “coffee table” book category – meant to be picked up every so often and provide brief pleasure and then put down again.
Buy: AmazonPowells

Other reviews:
Austenblog – thought it was very entertaining

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

Persuasion (1995)

I haven’t had a chance to mention it earlier, but I watched Persuasion, so one down, 5 to go in my Everything Austen Challenge. This is the 1995 version with Ciarán Hinds and Amanda Root . Liked this version just as much as ever. I like this about equally to the 2007 version with Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones, but for slightly different reasons. Um. I don’t usually review movies here, so just saying I watched it (for the eighth time or something) suffices I hope?!

Here’s a couple of things I found on youtube that are related. The Masterpiece Theatre trailer for this movie, which I thought made more sense than the Sony Classics trailer is for those who haven’t seen this Persuasion yet, and a fan video which hits all the highlights of the romance is for those who have: