For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfeund

This review is based on a uncorrected proof won through a contest on the author’s blog.

For Darkness Shows the Stars
Diana Peterfeund

The Premise: (from the back blurb) “It’s been several generations since a genetic experiment gone wrong–the Reduction–decimated humanity, giving rise to a Luddite nobility who outlawed technology.
Eighteen-year old Luddite Elliot North has always known her place in the world. Four years ago she refused to run away with her childhood sweetheart, the servant Kai, instead choosing duty to her family’s estate. Since then the wold has changed: a new class of Post-Reductionists threatens Luddite control; Elliot’s estate is floundering; and she’s forced to rent land to the Cloud Fleet, a group of explorers that includes a renowned Captain Malakai Wentforth–an almost unrecognizable Kai. And while Elliot wonders if this could be their second chance, Kai seems determined to show Elliot what she gave up when she abandoned him.
But Elliot soon discovers Kai carries a secret–one that could change the society in which they live…or bring it to its knees. And she’s faced with a choice: cling to what she’s been raised to believe or cast her lot with the only boy she’s ever loved, even if she’s lost him forever.”

My Thoughts: The premise of For Darkness Shows the Stars was pretty much guaranteed to make me read it. It’s a retelling of Persuasion, my favorite Jane Austen book, and a futuristic romance? Um, yeah, sold.

In the futuristic world of For Darkness Shows the Stars, the social classes have been cleverly structured to mirror that of Regency England. The Luddite lords own all the land, and lives lives of noble leisure. Almost everyone else is Reduced. They are servants, trained by the Luddites to do simple tasks, and unable to take care of themselves. Many years ago, technology was abused, leading to to generations born with developmental difficulties (the Reduced) and world war. The Luddites were spared by their own caution, and now reap the benefits. But now there is also a new class – the Posts, rare children born from the Reduced that are just like the Luddites, but without their social position. As can be expected, their appearance has begun to shake up the social structure. Some Posts have run away from their estates and made their own fortunes in exploration and enterprise, forming a new class that is wealthy, if not noble.

Within the current social structure, the Norths are high ranking nobility. Elliot’s position allows her to manage the household since her sister, Tatiana, and her father, Baron Zachariah North, have no interest, but as the younger daughter of an estate to which she’s not an heir, Elliot has little power against her father. In the years since her mother’s death, Elliot has deflected the worst of his selfishness, but as far as Baron North is concerned, he is lord and master. He reinforces his supremacy over Elliot subtly, with punishments designed to hit Elliot where it hurts the most. His latest act is to cut down a field of wheat that Elliot had secretly modified to end the food shortage on the North lands. Beneath his casual callousness, Elliot fears that her father choose her wheat field on purpose.

The loss of the genetically modified wheat leads Elliot to convince her family to rent out her grandfather’s shipyard to the Cloud Fleet, even though the Fleet is staffed entirely by free Posts. Admiral Innovation of the Cloud Fleet brings with him an interesting assortment of wealthy and adventuring Posts, among them his wife Felicia, Captains Andromeda and Donovan Phoenix, and finally, Captain Malakai Wentforth. But when Elliot lays her eyes on Captain Wentforth, she gets a shock. He’s Kai, the young Post boy she fell in love with but failed to run away with four years ago.

The set up of the book has quite a few nods at the original Persuasion, with Elliot in reduced circumstances, her frivolous family spending money while she worries about bills, and a newly wealthy lower class as a means for the Norths to survive. But For Darkness Shows the Stars really takes at most the skeleton of the original as a guide, choosing to make social commentaries in it’s own, very different way. Instead of drama playing out under the surface in drawing rooms, this story is more out in the open. Elliot has a close relationship with Posts and Reduced on her estate, relying on her Post foreman Dee and others for advice, and often visiting Ro, a pretty Reduced girl her age, for company. While Elliot works with the Posts and Reduced, others in her social class treat them no more than indentured servants or slaves. There are several examples showing the huge divide between the Luddites and others. For instance, the birthing and healing houses for the Reduced and Posts. These places are ill-staffed, and inadequate. Many Posts, in no need to be treated like the Reduced are, leave their estates but fall prey poverty and new forms of abuse.

Kai/Malakai keenly feels the unfairness of the class system and questions it — why should he be servant and answerable to the Luddites when he has skills and a mind just as sharp if not sharper than theirs? Letters between Kai and Elliot through the years break up the story and are evidence of their attachment, but also show the two questioning the Luddite beliefs. The dynamics between classes plays a more obvious role when Kai left the North Estate, and Elliot stayed, and later, Kai more openly holds a grudge over Elliot’s rejection than in the original. When Malakai shows up again with other successful Posts, what he’s done to achieve that success also becomes a plot point.

I liked these differences from the original story. I’ve read a lot of retellings, and I always end up liking the stories that take the bones of the original but infuse it with its own flavor over those stories that rigidly follow the script. Baron North is more scary than he is vain. Several characters no longer exist or are in very different forms, and of course, names have been changed, but characters are still recognizable, if different. I liked the concept of a future where events have produced a class system similar to the Regency period, and that use of technology was linked to religion. I liked that this was cleverly incorporated into the conflict between characters. More cleverness: the clues about where the story was set (not in the U.K). I enjoyed that the settings for many of the scenes were unique to this retelling.

And how did I feel about the romance? Kai and Elliot’s correspondence peppering the book showed their early friendship as children, with only a few hints of their romance later. Where the romance really resonated for me was in Elliot’s internal anguish over Kai. Her emotions now, which she takes great pains to keep hidden, tell me more than anything else. Kai is harder to read — the third person narration focuses more on Elliot — and he was surprisingly bitter at the start of the story. Later on, I felt like he showed a different emotion but you had to read between the lines to guess how he felt, until the expected letter. Like the original, Kai’s inscrutability makes Elliot’s feelings more palpable, and it was on Elliot’s behalf that I rooted for the couple.  This wasn’t a story that was about a new love, it was about already being in love and sick with it. I wanted them to be reunited. I liked the way that happened, and how some of the class issues (at least at the North estate) were resolved. Some readers may have wanted more social issues settled, but I didn’t think the scope of the story would have made that realistic. This ending was a beginning, and I was happy with that.

For Darkness Shows the Stars is out June 10th, 2012.

Overall: This is one of my favorite retellings. Readers should not go into this expecting a story that follows the Persuasion formula to the letter, but since For Darkness Shows the Stars is set in a post-apocalyptic society where new advancements are frowned upon, things are bound to go off script. And they do, in the best way. I liked this for being an homage but also for being incredibly original at the same time.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Book Harbinger – “While overall this didn’t work for me”, recommends with reservations.
Angieville – “Everything about this book soars, from its supernal setting to the dreams its characters hold in their hearts.”

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The Trials of the Honorable F. Darcy by Sara Angelini


 

I was curious about this one, touted as “A thoroughly modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice“, with Darcy as a judge, and Elizabeth Bennet as a trial lawyer. Hmm. Liked the idea, wasn’t sure how it would play out.
 
The Premise: (taken from the back blurb) “Judge Fitzwilliam Darcy is terribly bored — ready to hang up his black robe and return to the life of a country gentleman–until he meets Elizabeth Bennet, a fresh-faced attorney with a hectic schedule and no time for the sexy but haughty judge. Sparks fly as the two match wits and battle their overwhelming attraction”
 
My Thoughts: OK, so the very first page of The Trials of the Honorable F. Darcy worried me a little. He’s with Charles Bingley, who is debating whether to buy a Lamborghini Murcielago, and throws out a comment about selling his McLaren to Ralph Lauren a few years back. The in-your-face over-the-top wealth was semi-eye rolly, but Darcy is supposed to be very wealthy. Thankfully, by page two, when Darcy begins what starts off as a typical day at work as a judge, he started to become less like a fantasy and more like a human being. His wealth, thanks to inheritance, and his interest in American law, thanks to an American mother and a barrister father are established, as is why he is a judge at a young age (and why he’s tired of it). Despite his wealth and power as a judge, I thought Darcy was likable, even funny, at least in his head.
 

“Still irked by the sudden transfer of Judge Clayton’s calendar, the Honorable F. Darcy entered the courtroom with an annoyed swirl of black robes. Sometimes he imagined himself as Professor Snape when he wore them. Considering how frequently he wished he could zap some people out of existence, it was fitting.”

Pretty soon, Darcy meets Elizabeth Bennet, but his toughness as a judge does not make him very likable to her on her first day as a trial lawyer.  Since he also slicks down his hair and wears glasses to appear more experienced, Elizabeth mistakes him as older, not thirty-seven. Later, when she overhears him say about her, “Look, she’s not pretty enough to tempt me. Do you have any idea what kind of a headache even the appearance of impropriety could cause?”, she doesn’t focus on his sensible statement, but on his dismissing her as not pretty. Now she really doesn’t like him, but while she nurses her resentment, an oblivious Darcy notes her attractions:

“Having experienced the mortification of being found not tempting, Elizabeth found it very hard to take Judge Darcy seriously. On the contrary, she thought of him as a sort of joke.  She showed her indifference to him by refusing to take the bait when he said something offensive — as he did on a daily basis. While professionally she was without fault, she danced on the edge of disrespect with pert glances and cryptic Yes, Judge Darcys. She dubbed him Clark Kent — without the sparkling personality– and made fun of him on every opportunity. The ember of resentment had taken root and burst into a full-fledge flame of defiance.
Oblivious to her true feelings, Darcy quickly concluded that she was the most capable and intelligent attorneys he had the privilege to work with, crafting creative settlements and persuasive briefs. He was always impressed by her dedication when he ran into her at the elevator after hours or on the weekends.  She met each of his challenges with spirit and never backed down when he ruled against her; he enjoyed sparring with her. If he found himself looking forward to her cases, it was in a purely intellectual sort of way. It had nothing at all to do with her velvety brown eyes.”

 
While Darcy and Elizabeth are misunderstanding each other in the courtroom, Elizabeth’s sister Jane begins her residency at Meryton Hospital, and meets the very affable pediatric surgeon, Dr. Charles Bingley. Pretty soon they’re dating, which causes Elizabeth and Darcy to run into each other even more. On one occasion, a Halloween party, Darcy is in disguise as a racecar driver complete with helmet, and makes an impression on Elizabeth who doesn’t know who he is. Of course, he doesn’t reveal himself, but later, in a proposal-type scene with a law related twist, he finds out Elizabeth can’t stand him, and is horrified.
 
Until they start their relationship, this is a story with a delicious amount of slow burn and great exchanges where their hidden feelings (Darcy’s crush and Elizabeth’s dislike) bubble beneath the surface. I was enjoying the read, but then, things get VERY physical. I was actually surprised by the level of heat in this book because of the amount of slow burn before it. I had expected the story to continue to be demure, or for there to be a sex scene or two, but no, this Elizabeth and Darcy, they are quite sexually compatible. I feel like a prude, but it was a bit much for me, and I think a big part of this was feeling uncomfortable with all the sex and the characters are named Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. If they were named something else, or if this book wasn’t described as a modern Pride and Prejudice, I’d have felt differently about the sex scenes and their frequency. Maybe it just made me uncomfortably aware of the line between homage and fanfiction.
 
Of course, the characters don’t change just because they had sex. Elizabeth and Darcy continue to be likable, and I enjoyed the banter between them. However, once their relationship changed, so did the story. After they took that step into intimacy, their problem is that it is wrong for a judge to be involved with a lawyer to appears before him in court. This is where the story is most unlike the original — their feelings in the face of their responsibilities. I thought this was a great moral dilemma that they had to wrestle with and I was interested in how it was played out, at least half the book involves this issue and I wished it wasn’t so drawn out! It felt like they were going around in circles and rehashing the problem for a long time until a decision was finally made. It felt a bit like forced drama.
 
I would also say this is pretty loosely based on Pride and Prejudice. Darcy’s aloofness and Elizabeth’s initial dislike, followed by a sort of proposal and rejection, while her sister Jane and Bingley fall in love — these are there, but there are so many differences. Bingley doesn’t need Darcy’s permission to do anything, and is a much less codependent friend. Caroline Bingley is Darcy’s friend with benefits. Charlotte Lucus is a lawyer friend of Elizabeth’s, she’s a lesbian, and Bill Collins has a bit part as a habitual offender. Georgina and Darcy are both close, but Wickham is in Georgina’s past and is practically a non-entity in the story. I wouldn’t read this book expecting the same story as that of Pride and Prejudice, because you would be disappointed. I feel like the characters could have been renamed and the Jane Austen association taken away, and this could be perfectly fine if packaged as a contemporary romance.
 
Overall:  The Trials of the Honorable F. Darcy is the one I would recommend for fans of the Romance genre, but not for those looking for something that exactly follows the Pride and Prejudice formula. This one falls squarely under the contemporary romance label, but it also contains a lot of sexual situations. The sex surprised me – It’s several months into the story before things get physical, but when they do, they really do! A part of me wished the characters were named something other than Elizabeth and Darcy because of this. I also felt the story could be tighter; I wouldn’t have missed some sex scenes or minded if the moral dilemma of a judge dating a lawyer weren’t so drawn out. Other than that, I enjoyed the way Darcy and Elizabeth were re-imagined as a judge and a lawyer, and the author wrote with authority on the judicial system. I also liked the easy humor in the characters and the great natural dialogue.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
I didn’t find any in my blogging social circle, let me know if I missed yours!

Such a Girl by Karen Siplin


 

Such a Girl
Karen Siplin

As a lover of Jane Austen retellings, I HAD to read this book when I heard that it was a retelling of Persuasion. Unfortunately I was disappointed in this one, and I think the big issue I had has to do with my personal aversion to angst in the books I read.
 
The Premise: Kendall Stark is a phone operator in a well-known New York City hotel. Nine years ago, she left the love of her life, Jack Sullivan, because her college friends didn’t think he was going anywhere. Now he’s a successful owner of a brewery who is visiting Kendall’s hotel, and Kendall is stuck in a lowly job and in an unfulfilling relationship with a married man.
 
My thoughts: When I began Such A Girl, expected it to be a light story based on the other modern-day Austen retellings I’ve read, but this story isn’t quite that. It begins with Kendall taking a smoke break and seeing her ex, Jack Sullivan crossing the street towards her. There is an awkward exchange as Kendall realizes that while Jack has done well for himself as the owner of a brewery, she’s still stuck where she is. In the hotel hierarchy, a job as a phone operator is low on the totem pole, and from Kendall’s descriptions of it, it’s a job with backstabbing co-workers, a micromanaging boss, and lots of angry guests screaming in your ear.
 
Kendall’s life of listening in on the hotel guests, hating her job, and her relationship with a man who was married was a big downer. Instead of amusing anecdotes from working at the hotel there is nothing but negative stories about the place.  I hoped that the tone would change as the story progressed, especially when Jack reenters her life, but this was not so. Instead Jack stays at Kendall’s hotel and begins to pay visits to her friend’s dinner parties, as a way of showing off his success. As a result there are arguments between the two (usually when Jack puts his foot in his mouth), that are really uncomfortable to read. Kendall seemed to divide people into those who are like her — living paycheck to paycheck but not looking to do more, and people who do have money, like the guests in her hotel. Jack did not help. I found Jack’s behavior passive aggressive, and Kendall’s reaction defensive. After these fights (which were frankly not sexy at all), I could believe that these two dated nine years ago, but that there was anything still there was harder to buy. Either way, neither Jack nor Kendall acted particularly likable and I had a hard time buying any chemistry between their characters.
 
At this point I figured out that: this is a really loose retelling of Persuasion. The only thing it takes from it is the story of two lovers who are separated and reunite years later, but all the side plots and side characters from that story are not here. Instead of the Elliot family, Kendall has her friends, Amy, Nick, and Gary, who didn’t think Jack’s antisocial and unambitious personality was right for Kendall, who was a sunny girl with goals in college (something she is not now). The rest of it isn’t there. Instead it’s replaced by numerous stories of hotel guests treating employees badly and conflicts with management, or Kendall and Jack’s repetitive fights that go no where.
 
Outside of Kendall’s life at the hotel and dealing with Jack’s return, are her home and love lives, and neither are tranquil. Her home is an apartment she and Gary rent, but a disruptive neighbor moves into the apartment upstairs making Kendall’s life even more miserable. I think I was supposed to side with Kendall, but frankly, I thought she was just as much in the wrong as her neighbor. Their conflicts just made me feel secondary rage. And as for her romantic relationships, Kendall has a casual relationship with Sage, a married man that she doesn’t love. Basically there was no where in Kendall’s life where she wasn’t unhappy or doing something self-destructive.  Things ultimately work out for her at the end of this story, but the ride was not easy.
 
Overall: This is a very readable story but at the same time it is very real.  I think it is best not to approach Such a Girl expecting a light-hearted retelling of Persuasion, because that’s not what this is. I really wanted to like this one because of the promise of a retelling, but every facet of Kendall’s life felt dreary to me.  I couldn’t connect to it.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

A Weekend with Mr. Darcy by Victoria Connelly


 

A Weekend with Mr. Darcy
Victoria Connelly

The Premise: Katherine Roberts is a university lecturer going to an annual Jane Austen weekend at Purley Hall, Hampshire. For the past three years she’s been invited to talk, but this year, she’ll also be meeting romance novelist Lorna Warwick for the first time. Lorna and Katherine have been exchanging letters for a while and have developed a close friendship through their mail. What Katherine doesn’t know is that Lorna Warwick is really a man named Warwick Lawton. Warwick never expected a fan letter from Katherine to turn into such a great friendship, and from his side, love. He’s panicked that when Katherine finds out he’s Lorna, all that they share will be destroyed. The Jane Austen weekend is Warwick’s chance to meet Katherine and tell her the truth, but when he sees her, he may not be able to go through with it.
 
Going to the same conference is Robyn Love, a Austen fan whose boyfriend Jace is completely insensitive to her and her interests. Her hope for a nice weekend by herself is thwarted when Jace invites himself to her trip at the last minute, and then expects her to rearrange her plans to spend time with him. When Robyn meets Dan at Purley Hall, it brings her incompatibility with Jace into sharp contrast. While Jace has completely different interests and can’t stand Jane Austen, Dan shares her love of animals and the country, and he’s willing to read Jane Austen. On the other hand, Jace wants to take their relationship to the next level and has been with her through a bad time. It all leaves Robyn very confused about what she should do.
 
Read an excerpt of A Weekend With Mr. Darcy here
 
My Thoughts: This is a story told in the third person, but it is a very intimate, confiding type of third person, often revealing the streams of consciousness of each of the characters as the story goes along. The three people that the narrative centers around are Katherine, Warwick, and Robyn. Katherine is a university lecturer tired of lying boyfriends (one caught with an ex-girlfriend, one caught with a wife!), Warwick is a popular romance novelist afraid of telling the world his real identity, and Robyn is a sweet Austen fan stuck in a bad relationship.
 
This is the first in a series called the Austen Addicts, and for good reason. When the book begins we are allowed a brief glimpse of Katherine, Warwick, and Robyn’s everyday lives, and then the setting changes to Purley Hall, where their three fates converge. Their reason for being there is of course the Jane Austen weekend, so a lot of the book is about the conference, which includes the lecture Katherine gives, the various events they go to, and general conference goings on. It is all Jane Austen, all the time! I enjoyed this to some extent.  The conference was a good way to show the characters meeting and getting to know each other over a shared passion for Austen and mutual dislike over the caustic Mrs. Soames. I was also really interested in some of the creative ways that Austen was celebrated at the conference.
 
The issue was that after a while, I wanted the story to be more about the individual characters instead of going into every minute detail of the conference. It got a little tedious, especially since, on top of the conference, the characters muse about Jane Austen whenever they can. At first it was cute when Robyn packed her Jane Austen books and went into detail about the state of each of her reading copies (of course she has more than one copy of each book), and when Katherine thinks about how her period drama DVDs got more use after a bad break-up. But over the course of the book, when Austen was referred to in every other page, and some small part of their life would begin a long internal monologue on Jane Austen, it felt like repetitive “filler”, and I started to feel irritation when the narrative went on another Austen-related rumination.
 
Warwick, Robyn, and Katherine were all likable characters, but I wanted to know more about them, and less about Jane Austen. The bones were there for what could have been an interesting set of characters: Warwick’s reasons for hiding the truth of his identity to Katherine, Katherine’s reasons for being wary of lying men, and Robyn’s conflict between what she knows (Jace), and what she wants (Dan). The story maintains a sort of light touch when it came to going into these issues. I think of all the three characters, Robyn’s story is what went the furthest, but it still felt like it could have gone a lot further. I felt like the narrative was playing things safe by focusing on Austen and the conference so much and avoiding character development.
 
Overall: This felt like one for the Austen-super-fans, because it’s a love letter to Jane Austen. The Austen conference in a beautiful country house and characters who can’t help thinking about their favorite author is great for a Janeite who wants to live vicariously, but as a chick lit novel, A Weekend with Mr. Darcy isn’t very substantial. The plot and character development were on the simple side of the spectrum. Once the charming setting wore off, I found the story flat.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
About Happy Books – “Lovely, charming, entertaining and beautiful”

Prom & Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg


 

Prom & Prejudice
Elizabeth Eulberg

This is a review of an ARC copy I forwarded on from another blogger.
 
The Premise:
This is Pride and Prejudice set in the prestigious world of uber-elite boarding schools where the most important thing in the world is the prom. Prom at Longbourn Academy can make or break a girl, and the student body doesn’t want a repeat of a few years ago, when a scholarship student not only snagged the most eligible boy from neighboring Pemberley, she showed up in a department store-bought dress and was featured in the New York Times Style section. For her predecessor’s faux pas, the newest scholarship student to Longbourn Academy, Elizabeth Bennet, is routinely hazed. The only people who treat Lizzie like a human being are her sweet roommate, Jane, and the other scholarship student at the school, Charlotte. Lizzie perseveres however. She has no interest in the Prom, but she’s delighted for Jane when she falls for the unpretentious Charles Bingley, but can’t stand his best friend, Will Darcy.
 
My Thoughts: This was a very quick read – I read it over the course of one evening in a couple of gulps. There’s only 227 pages and a lot of it is dialog so it goes very fast.
 
I thought that the idea of doing a retelling of Pride and Prejudice around a boarding school and around Prom was a really great one. The wealth of the characters and the visits to different houses translates well to this setting, and the reduced circumstances of the Bennet family is reflected in Lizzie Bennet as a scholarship student and Jane and her sister Lydia as daughters of a recently laid off executive. The core characters of the original are there (Lizzie, Jane, Lydia, Charles, Carolyn, Charlotte, Darcy and Mr Collins – Colin here), without the Bennet parents or any interfering great aunts.
 
That said, this Lizzie and Darcy are very different from the originals. Lizzie is determined and talented, but she doesn’t have the personality that observes the world and remarks upon it that the original does. In fact, she seems to build a wall between herself and the wealthy. Maybe this should be expected from the way she’s treated at school. In any case, Lizzie’s prejudice is against the very rich. Similarly Will Darcy different from the original. For most of the story his character basically stands there while Lizzie willfully misunderstands him and tells him off. I knew very little about him and had no idea why he keeps trying to see Lizzie after she repeatedly yells at him, except that this was a retelling of Pride and Prejudice and that’s just what he’s supposed to do. It is fine that Darcy and Lizzie are not the same as the original, but I didn’t feel any chemistry between them for most of the book, and didn’t understand why Darcy liked Lizzie. It’s only after they figure out their misunderstandings that their relationship becomes more believable and sweet, but the original attraction was something that felt unexplained unless I think about the original and what happens there.
 
Darcy doing something just because that’s what his character is supposed to do exemplifies what I had problems with in this story. I think it’s biggest flaw is a stiffness which seems to be the result in rigidly following a certain path. Take the dialog for example. As I already mentioned, there’s a lot of it, so it was a shame that I’d regularly hit a phrase that has odd, formal quality, especially when it’s coming out of the mouth of a teenager.  Maybe this was done deliberately, but in this setting, it’s jarring.  I had a hard time imagining teens who begin conversations with “Bennet? I’m afraid I don’t know your family. Where do you vacation?” or the a teenage boy saying, “How could you say such a thing to me?” during an argument.  When particular dialog was taken from the original and mirrored in Prom and Prejudice (take Darcy’s first declaration to Lizzie for example), it feels like it’s a pale copy that doesn’t hold the same feeling.
 
Similarly, the brilliant observations of high society that are in the original are missing from this retelling. Instead there’s a stereotypical view of the very rich, which makes any observation about them kind of moot. While I really liked the idea of the boarding school setting, I found the execution very shallow. A whole school is so obsessed with Prom that everyone would pick on some lowly scholarship student because of what another scholarship student did years ago?  Perhaps if it was one pocket of mean girls or some girl with a particular grudge, I’d have gone along with the idea, but this scenario of a whole school holding a grudge didn’t fly.
 
I wanted to like Prom & Prejudice, I really did, but it didn’t quite hit the mark.  It’s only when the story veers away from the original and focuses on Lizzie’s love of music that I felt like the story shone. These were the cute moments in the story and what ultimately made me kept reading and actually like how the story ended. I think that if this book broke script like this more, I would have been happier with it.
 
Overall: There are some cute moments in this high school version of Pride and Prejudice, and I liked the ending, but it has a stiffness throughout that kept me from enjoying it as much as I wanted to. It felt like the book spends too much time trying to emulate the original. I would have been happier if this book veered off into its own path and spent more time making the romance between Darcy and Lizzie believable and its own. However, I may be in the minority in my opinion, as I see a lot of reviews with a more positive response than mine.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
She is Too Fond of Books – positive
Steph Su Reads – 2.5 out of 5
The Compulsive Reader – positive
Amaterasu Reads – 4 out of 5
Galleysmith – mixed
Austenprose – 4 out of 5
 
Loved the trailer for this one:

Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale


 

Midnight in Austenland
Shannon Hale

In Austenland, actors play courting gentlemen and cater to fantasies of Mr. Darcy and other Austeneque heroes for rich female customers. Austenland was about a reporter working on a story about this place, and I enjoyed it, so I was excited to see that Shannon Hale was releasing a follow-up, Midnight in Austenland. This is a review based on an eARC copy.
 
The Premise: Charlotte is a nice and practical woman who is also rather clever. She has two children, a nice husband, and a flush retirement account, thanks to her business sense. Then her husband James became not-so-nice. He slowly pulls away from their marriage until one day, Charlotte finds herself divorced, older, and a little bit lost. With her kids staying with their father and his new wife for three weeks over the summer, Charlotte decides to book a vacation. Admitting to the travel agent that she’d love to be in an Austen novel, Charlotte finds herself with a booking at the exclusive Austenland.
 
Unfortunately for Charlotte, she can’t stop her clever mind from chugging along. Worrying about her kids is driving her crazy, so instead she focuses on the people around her. Wondering if Miss Gardenside’s sickness is real or feigned, what is stressing out Mrs. Wattlesbrook, and if Mr. Mallery is sexy or sinister keeps Charlotte busy until she discovers a dead body. At least, she thinks that’s what it was, but she can’t prove it. Suddenly everything and everyone in Austenland is suspect.
 
My Thoughts: Charlotte is a very likable heroine –  successful in her online landscaping business, a protective mother, and just a little bit of a over-thinker (in an endearing way). For a long time, she felt her husband moving away from her, but no matter what she did to try to mend their marriage, nothing worked.  I felt for her as the only person trying, while James had already checked out. When she finds herself single again, her self-consciousness about not knowing what to do with herself. She worries about what the divorce will do to her teenage daughter and her young son, and she tries to date (and fails miserably). Even in Austenland, where Charlotte can pretend that she’s someone else, she realizes that she can’t stop being the person she is.
 
So to distract herself from her usual worries, Charlotte begins to look at the guests and actors she’s surrounded by in Austenland. These characters are sketched quickly but distinctly.  The gentlemen/actors courting the three guests are her friendly pretend brother, Mr. Edmund Grey (Eddie), the affable Colonel Andrews, and the dark and broody Mr. Mallery.  The guests: repeat visitor Miss Charming, the sickly Miss Gardenside (who Charlotte recognizes as a pop singer her daughter adores), and her nurse, Mrs. Hatchet.  Then there is household staff, including Charlotte’s lady’s maid, Mary. And finally Mr and Mrs. Wattlesbrook, the owners of Austenland. With all these personalities before her, and with the parlor mysteries that Colonel Andrews devises, Charlotte has plenty keep her imagination going. That is, until one of the games takes a dark turn and the story becomes less about Charlotte on vacation and more about Charlotte solving a mystery.
 
Because of this mystery, Midnight in Austenland was a very different story than Austenland. If Austenland is chick lit with shades of Pride and Prejudice, Midnight in Austenland is a suspense-comedy reminiscent of Northanger Abbey.  Charlotte’s thought process is a funny thing, and she can’t decide at first if she really felt a dead body or not. Was it part of the game? Was it her imagination? Or was it a man’s corpse? There’s no way to say for sure until she gets to the bottom of things, so she uses her clever mind to investigate. In the meantime, Charlotte finds herself extremely aware of the dark and mysterious Mr. Mallery (and the feeling appears mutual). This is a man so at home in Austenland, Charlotte can’t imagine him anywhere else. If Mr. Mallery is the bad boy of the place, Eddie, her ‘brother’, is the nice guy.  While Mallery exudes danger, Eddie is safety, even if Eddie seems to treat Charlotte’s strange behavior as a joke or product of his ‘sister’s’ overactive imagination.
 
This is a fun romp with some humor and suspense, and an interesting cast of characters. I enjoyed that Charlotte was not the typical chick lit heroine (twenty-something young working girl), but a older, divorced suburban mom with a brain she can’t stop from churning. But it’s also not a story with huge surprises. It’s clear early on who is behind things and who Charlotte should be with. The mix of the Gothic mystery in the modern day makes the story humorous for some, possibly too farcical for others. For those who want a romance, the mystery leaves less room for the relationship to develop. This also felt like a really short book. Now, my nook has 189 pages for the eARC, while the publisher says the hardcover is 288. Maybe my ARC is missing some scenes added on later? I enjoyed what was there, but it all ended a little quickly for me.
 
Overall: Charming but not what I expected. Don’t expect this to be your typical chick lit or to be the same type of book as Austenland was. This is more Northanger Abbey than it is Pride and Prejudice, but it was a nice little romp. I wished for a little more romance and a little less farce, but I also went into this book expecting something in the same vein as Austenland. If I hadn’t had this expectation, I think I would have fared better. If I reread this book knowing what I now know, I’d like it more.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
Searched but didn’t find reviews within my blogging friends circle. Let me know if I missed you and I will link your review here.

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

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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Persuading Annie by Melissa Nathan

Persuading Annie
Melissa Nathan

Persuading Annie is the second Melissa Nathan book based on a Jane Austen novel. I reviewed Pride, Prejudice and Jasmine Field here. This time it's Persuasion which is getting a modern-day retelling.

This book starts off with Annie Markham, an heiress to the Markham fortune, going through a pregnancy scare in college with her boyfriend Jake Mead. Because of some well-meaning but overbearing relatives (her godmother Susannah and Susannah's daughter Cass), Annie is persuaded that Jake isn't the right guy for her, and they break up.

Seven years later, Annie's father, George Markham, CEO of Markham PR is in trouble, and the whole family is on the brink of financial ruin. With Susannah's advice, they hire an expensive consulting firm to save the company – a firm run by Jake Mead, the very same Jake that left Annie years ago. Annie's sisters Katherine and Victoria fawn over their expected savior, but Annie cringes at having to see Jake again. On top of that, she'll be seeing a lot of him, not only in board meetings, because in an effort to cut costs, Jake's people are staying on the first floor of the Markham mansion.

Overall: It's pretty easy to see the parallels between the original Jane Austen novel and this book, but I think this one didn't work as well for me as Nathan's other retelling. The problem I had was I never really fully bought into Annie and Jake, because at the beginning of the novel, when we see them as young and scared, I guess I didn't see much chemistry between them or reasons why they were together. Later when the two reconnected, I was haunted by the earlier impression.  On top of that, Annie's personality was a quiet one. Despite being the main heroine, and having her own life apart from her family (with art and the Samaritians), and some quiet backbone, I thought that she mostly looked good standing next to her obnoxious relatives, especially her selfish sisters. This didn't make me really dislike the book, more like bought down the book from being a really good read. As usual the writing is well done - I had no trouble feeling bored or wanting to put the book down, and the ensemble of other characters also helped the story a lot. I liked the side story of Victoria and Charles – they went from annoying to human over the course of the book. There were a few sweet scenes with Annie and Jake, but as I mentioned – didn't completely work for me. Anyway, I have no trouble imagining this book as a romantic comedy, complete with the typical ending that comes with those movies, and I'm not sure if it's just me that didn't fully believe the romance (it may be). It's a good book to read now, at the start of the holiday season – the timeline for this book ends in Christmas and the New Year.

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