Shelf Control #158: Definitely Not Mr. Darcy by Karen Doornebos

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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A little note for 2019: For the next short while, I think I’ll focus specifically on books I’ve picked up at our library’s fabulous annual sales. With all books $3 or less, it’s so hard to resist! And yet, they pile up, year after year, so it’s a good idea to remind myself that these books are living on my shelves.

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Title: Definitely Not Mr. Darcy
Author: Karen Doornebos
Published: 2011
Length: 374 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

There’s no place for pride in this Austen misadventure. Chloe Parker was born two centuries too late. A thirty-nine-year- old divorced mother, she runs her own antique letterpress business, is a lifelong member of the Jane Austen Society, and gushes over everything Regency. But her business is failing, threatening her daughter’s future. What’s a lady to do?

Why, audition for a Jane Austen-inspired TV show set in England, of course.

What Chloe thinks is a documentary turns out to be a reality dating show set in 1812. Eight women are competing to snare Mr. Wrightman, the heir to a gorgeous estate, along with a $100,000 prize. So Chloe tosses her bonnet into the ring, hoping to transform from stressed-out Midwest mom to genteel American heiress and win the money. With no cell phones, indoor plumbing, or deodorant to be found, she must tighten her corset and flash some ankle to beat out women younger, more cutthroat, and less clumsy than herself. But the witty and dashing Mr. Wrightman proves to be a prize worth winning, even if it means the gloves are off…

How and when I got it:

LIBRARY SALE!

Why I want to read it:

After last week’s Shelf Control post — featuring a horror story about the Donner party — I thought it might be a good idea to switch things up and go for light and fluffy. Can’t get much lighter or fluffier than an Austen-inspired story involving reality TV! I’d never heard of this book before I stumbled across on the paperback fiction table at the library sale, but something about the cover and description reeled me in and made me NEED to take it home with me. And hey, I’m always up for some good Austen fangirl reading!

What do you think? Would you read this book?

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

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The Monday Check-In ~ 1/28/2019

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

What did I read during the last week?

Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro: My (audiobook) review is here.

The Wartime Sisters by Lynda Cohen Loigman: My review is here.

Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal: My review is here. (Loved it!)

Outlander, baby!

Season 4, where did you go???? I can’t believe it’s over!

Here’s my reaction post for the season finale, Episode 413, “Man of Worth” (aired 1/27/2019).

Pop culture goodness:

My husband and I had a night out! We went to the theater to see Come From Away, and loved it. It’s based on a true story (which is also told in an amazing book I reviewed last year, The Day the World Came To Town). If you have a chance to see the show, do it!

Meanwhile, my son and I have just about wrapped up our Game of Thrones binge! We’re down to the last couple of episodes from season 7. Now the waiting begins!

Fresh Catch:

Once again, no new books purchased this week… unless you count Kindle books, in which case — I may have over done things a bit. Plus, I got this book from the library — and despite not have small children in the house, we all loved it:

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse: Our local library picked this book as a citywide read for January/February. I’ve only just started, but I’m really liking it so far.

Now playing via audiobook:

The Last Days of August by Jon Ronson: I’ve become a fan of Jon Ronson’s audiobooks, both because of his always interesting subject matter and his skillful narration. This investigation into a porn star’s death is fascinating so far.

Ongoing reads:

Two ongoing reads with my book group:

  • A Plague of Zombies by Diana Gabaldon: Continuing our journey through all of the Lord John books and stories.
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston: Our new group classic read starts today! We’re discussing two chapters per week. I’m giving it a shot via audiobook — so far (chapter one), I’m loving the narration!

So many books, so little time…

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Book Review: Unmarriageable (Pride and Prejudice in Pakistan) by Soniah Kamal

 

In this one-of-a-kind retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in modern-day Pakistan, Alys Binat has sworn never to marry—until an encounter with one Mr. Darsee at a wedding makes her reconsider.

A scandal and vicious rumor concerning the Binat family have destroyed their fortune and prospects for desirable marriages, but Alys, the second and most practical of the five Binat daughters, has found happiness teaching English literature to schoolgirls. Knowing that many of her students won’t make it to graduation before dropping out to marry and have children, Alys teaches them about Jane Austen and her other literary heroes and hopes to inspire the girls to dream of more.

When an invitation arrives to the biggest wedding their small town has seen in years, Mrs. Binat, certain that their luck is about to change, excitedly sets to work preparing her daughters to fish for rich, eligible bachelors. On the first night of the festivities, Alys’s lovely older sister, Jena, catches the eye of Fahad “Bungles” Bingla, the wildly successful—and single—entrepreneur. But Bungles’s friend Valentine Darsee is clearly unimpressed by the Binat family. Alys accidentally overhears his unflattering assessment of her and quickly dismisses him and his snobbish ways. As the days of lavish wedding parties unfold, the Binats wait breathlessly to see if Jena will land a proposal—and Alys begins to realize that Darsee’s brusque manner may be hiding a very different man from the one she saw at first glance.

Told with wry wit and colorful prose, Unmarriageable is a charming update on Jane Austen’s beloved novel and an exhilarating exploration of love, marriage, class, and sisterhood.

Pride and Prejudice retellings come in so many flavors and varieties — but Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal makes it all feel new and fresh again by setting the familiar story in her native Pakistan in the early 2000s.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a girl can go from pauper to princess or princess to pauper in the mere seconds it takes for her to accept a proposal.

So begins this enchanting story. You know the basics, of course. A formerly prosperous family, rather down on their luck, has five daughters in need of husbands. Their small-town life gets a dose of excitement when a new, very eligible, very wealthy young man arrives on the scene and instantly attracts attention from all the mothers dying to make good matches for their daughters.

In Unmarriageable, the Binat family lives in the less-than-exciting town of Dilipabad. Having been cheated out of the family fortune, they’ve adapted to their reduced circumstances, and meanwhile mother Pinkie obsesses over the futures of her single daughters, exhorting them to make sure to “grab it” whenever they have a chance to meet a wealthy man. The oldest two sisters, Jena and Alysba (Alys) teach English at a private school for girls. In their early 30s, the sisters are practically over the hill, but Pinkie has not given up on them just yet. When the family is invited to the big society event — the NadirFiede wedding — it’s another opportunity to find eligible men for the girls to make “you-you eyes” at.

Alys, our main character, is smart and independent, not willing to accede to her mother’s insistence on marriage as the be-all and end-all of a woman’s purpose. She loves her family and her friends, loves to read and think, and is not about to pursue a man or agree to a match because it’s expected or provides access to a fortune. At the wedding, she and Jena meet Bungles, a lovely young man who’s instantly smitten with Jena, but his friend Darsee is rude and stand-offish, and Alys takes an immediate loathing to him.

We all know where the story goes, right? Unmarriageable hits all the major marks of the Pride and Prejudice story, but the Pakistani setting keeps it fun and different. Some retellings just don’t work within a 21st century timeframe, because the emphasis on social standing and marrying for money doesn’t necessarily translate well in a way that makes sense. Here, though, we’re led to understand that among the upper class society circles (and those longing for acceptance into those circles), the pursuit of successful marriages is everything. It’s really entertaining to see the traditional butting up against the modern, whether through the descriptions of the clothing, the marriage rituals, or the expectations for women to fulfill their prescribed roles in respectable society.

I loved the introduction to Pakistani culture — the foods, music, clothing, literature, and unique ways that the English and Pakistani languages are interwoven. The use of close-but-not-exact names to mirror Austen’s characters is really clever too.

My only minor quibble is that it doesn’t quite work for me to have an Austen retelling in which the characters read Jane Austen! In many of the modern-day retellings I’ve read, it’s never acknowledged that the original stories even exist. But here, in Unmarriageable, Alys teachers Pride and Prejudice in her English classes, and returns again and again to thinking about Austen’s themes. So given that, how does she understand her own life and the people in it — sisters Jena, Mari, Qitty, and Lady; her suitor Kaleen; Darsee and his sister Jujeena; and the dastardly Mr. Jeorgeullah Wickaam? Wouldn’t you think she’d end up in some sort of existential crisis, wondering if she really exists or if she’s just a character in a book?

That silliness aside, I do love the writing in this story, which captures some of the archness and intelligence we’d expect in a P&P retelling:

The clinic was an excellent facility, as all facilities that cater to excellent people tend to be, because excellent people demand excellence, unlike those who are grateful for what they receive.

The story doesn’t dwell on serious matters for too long, but there are little moments that let us know that the lives of women are particularly fraught at that time, and that the issues facing women go well beyond securing a rich husband:

She grabbed the newspaper no one had opened yet and flipped through the usual news of honor killings, dowry burnings, rapes, blasphemy accusations, sectarian violence, corruption scandals, tax evasions, and the never-ending promises by vote-grubbing politician to fix the country.

But overall, there’s plenty of lightness and joy to go around:

Alys laughed. “O’Connor, Austen, Alcott, Wharton. Characters’ emotions and situations are universally applicable across cultures, whether you’re wearing an empire dress, shalwar kurta, or kimono.”

And finally, something that I know will ring true for all the booklovers out there:

It was a truth universally acknowledged, Alys suddenly thought with a smile, that people enter our lives in order to recommend reads.

It’s my pleasure to recommend Unmarriageable! If you love Austen and are ready for a new take on a well-loved story, definitely check this one out!

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The details:

Title: Unmarriageable
Author: Soniah Kamal
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication date: January 22, 2019
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Library Reading Round-Up: A classic re-told, spooky scarecrows, and the invention of a monster

It’s been a busy week, but not so busy that I couldn’t pick up the books waiting for me on the library hold shelf! Here are the three library books I’ve read in the past few days:

 

Pride by Ibi Zoboi: A contemporary YA retelling of Pride and Prejudice, Pride is the story of Zuri Benitez, who lives in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. When the wealthy Darcy family moves into the mini-mansion across the street, it seems that gentrification has really and truly arrived, and Zuri is not at all happy. What will become of the neighborhood’s way of life? Zuri’s sister Janae falls for Ainsley Darcy, but his brother Darius is rude and stuck-up and immediately sets Zuri’s teeth on edge. Well, if you’ve read Pride and Prejudice, you know where this story is going, but it’s nice to read this take on the classic. Jane Austen’s stories don’t necessarily translate well to the 21st century, but Pride does a pretty good job of sticking to the bones of the original while infusing a new and different vibe. Will the target YA audience love it? No idea. I think Pride works well as a contemporary story about family, culture, loyalty, and teen romance, even without the context of the Austen original. As an adult who’s an Austen fan, I wasn’t 100% sold, but then again, I’m more than a little bit outside the demographic for this book!

Small Spaces by Katherine Arden: Moving on to middle grade fiction… Small Spaces is a spooky treat, perfect for the month of October, with some great scares and a memorable main character. Ollie is a sixth-grade girl in a small rural town. In the year since her mother’s death, she’s withdrawn from friends, activities, and everything that once gave her joy. When she’s forced to go on the class field trip to visit a local farm, she sneaks along a copy of an old book to keep her company. The book tells a ghostly story, and as the class explores the farm, Ollie starts to realize that the story may be true. There are sinister scarecrows, spooky fog, a creepy corn maze… and daring escapes, lots of bravery, and the forging of strong bonds of friendship. Katherine Arden is the author of the beautiful adult novels The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower. It’s fun to see her turn her writing skill to a middle grade ghost story!

Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein by Linda Bailey, illustrated by Julia Sarda: A gorgeous picture book about the life of Mary Shelley, showing her early years and the events that shaped her development into a writer. The story is told simply, and the beautiful illustrations give life to Mary’s imaginations and dreams. A lovely book.

 

Three books, three target age ranges, all quite fun — overall, a nice way to amuse myself during an otherwise crazy week. And now I can return them, and come home with even more new books to stack on my nightstand.

Book Review: Pride and Prometheus by John Kessel


Pride and Prejudice meets Frankenstein as Mary Bennet falls for the enigmatic Victor Frankenstein and befriends his monstrous Creature in this clever fusion of two popular classics.

Threatened with destruction unless he fashions a wife for his Creature, Victor Frankenstein travels to England where he meets Mary and Kitty Bennet, the remaining unmarried sisters of the Bennet family from Pride and Prejudice. As Mary and Victor become increasingly attracted to each other, the Creature looks on impatiently, waiting for his bride. But where will Victor find a female body from which to create the monster’s mate?

Meanwhile, the awkward Mary hopes that Victor will save her from approaching spinsterhood while wondering what dark secret he is keeping from her.

Pride and Prometheus fuses the gothic horror of Mary Shelley with the Regency romance of Jane Austen in an exciting novel that combines two age-old stories in a fresh and startling way.

My thoughts:

The classic/monster mash-up may seem played out by now, but I promise you that Pride and Prometheus is something quite different, and definitely worth reading.

This isn’t a case of an author putting otherworldly creatures — zombies, werewolves, vampires — into an existing story. Sure, those are fun, but once the charm of the gimmick wears off, so does the entertainment value.

Instead, Pride and Prometheus is a continuation of two stories, Pride and Prejudice and Frankenstein. The author takes two narratives, and imagines what might have happened to these familiar characters if their paths crossed.

We begin more than a decade after the events of Pride and Prejudice. Mary Bennet, at age 32, has mellowed and grown since we last saw her. She’s learned more about herself and others. From the scorn and dismissal she experienced as a teen, she’s learned to be more thoughtful, to understand how her lectures and self-righteousness come across to others, and as a result, she’s become a young woman who’s more self-contained. She knows her own mind, but imposes less on others. Meanwhile, Kitty too remains unmarried, and the sisters live at home with their aging parents, growing closer to one another but neither particularly happy about their approaching spinsterhood.

Meanwhile, the story of Victor Frankenstein and his Creature picks up soon after the events in Frankenstein. The Creature has sworn vengeance on Victor, threatening to destroy everyone he holds dear, unless he makes a mate for him so he’ll no longer be so alone in the world. In Pride and Prometheus, we follow Victor as he travels to England to try to escape his suffering — and we also follow the Creature, who pursues Victor relentlessly.

Mary has developed an interest in science, and when she meets Victor in a social setting, they seem to hit it off. He responds to her interest in his work, and she’s enamored of his intellect, his scientific curiosity and daring, and his treatment of her as if she were both intelligent and interesting. But with the Creature stalking Victor, things soon take a dark turn, and Mary becomes embroiled in the drama of Victor’s attempts to keep his promise to the Creature, while at the same time developing sympathy for the Creature and becoming convinced that he too is a soul worthy caring for.

The author’s writing approach in Pride and Prometheus is just so clever and well-done. In alternating chapters, we see the story from Mary, Victor, and the Creature’s points-of-view. As the narrator changes, so too does the writing style. The Mary chapters, told in 3rd person, have an Austen-esque tone, and the Victor/Creature chapters, told in first-person, have the gothic feel of Mary Shelley.

Familiarity with both original works — Pride and Prejudice and Frankenstein — is helpful if you truly want to enjoy Pride and Prometheus, although maybe not completely essential. The story would still be entertaining, I suppose, without having read the original works, but I’m not sure the reader would get as much out of it. For me, it’s been many, many years since I read Frankenstein, and I realized soon after starting this book that I needed a refresher. Of course, there are tons of synopses available online, which helped, but reading Pride and Prometheus piqued my interest in going back and reading Frankenstein again.

Pride and Prometheus stands on its own as a creative, moving, and engaging story, and it’s also an absolute treat for anyone with a fondness for the original works that inspired it. With terrific writing that manages to capture the flavors of the originals while also telling a story that’s new, startling, and compelling, Pride and Prometheus is a great read that I hope will find an appreciative audience. I know I really enjoyed reading it… and I can’t wait to find other people who’ve read it too, so we can talk about it!

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The details:

Title: Pride and Prometheus
Author: John Kessel
Publisher: Saga Press
Publication date: February 13, 2018
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Speculative/science fiction/classics
Source: Library

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Take A Peek Book Review: By the Book

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

An English professor struggling for tenure discovers that her ex-fiancé has just become the president of her college—and her new boss—in this whip-smart modern retelling of Jane Austen’s classic Persuasion.

Anne Corey is about to get schooled.

An English professor in California, she’s determined to score a position on the coveted tenure track at her college. All she’s got to do is get a book deal, snag a promotion, and boom! She’s in. But then Adam Martinez—her first love and ex-fiancé—shows up as the college’s new president.

Anne should be able to keep herself distracted. After all, she’s got a book to write, an aging father to take care of, and a new romance developing with the college’s insanely hot writer-in-residence. But no matter where she turns, there’s Adam, as smart and sexy as ever. As the school year advances and her long-buried feelings begin to resurface, Anne begins to wonder whether she just might get a second chance at love.

Funny, smart, and full of heart, this modern ode to Jane Austen’s classic explores what happens when we run into the demons of our past…and when they turn out not to be so bad, after all.

My Thoughts:

Hmm. I tore through By the Book, and definitely had a good time while I was reading it. At the same time, for a book being billed as a retelling of Persuasion, it’s pretty loose when it comes to making the plot stick.

Anne spends much of the book in a relationship with a smarmy writer who drops lines about being on the front lines in Fallujah and his battle-related PTSD, but it’s just so clear from the get-go that he’s a con artist and a fraud. When Adam makes a comment to Anne about Rick’s shady past, I couldn’t help but wonder how Darcy and Wickham sneaked into Persuasion! Anne is a decent protagonist, a smart woman who’s chose her professional career over love (although the history of her break-up with Adam on the eve of their college graduation didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.) Of course, as a retelling, the ending is inevitable — but if I didn’t know Persuasion, I wouldn’t have been convinced that Anne had actually been mooning over Adam and regretting their break-up the whole time. When they do finally declare their love, it’s about as out of the blue as it gets.

Still, I wouldn’t want to imply that this isn’t a fun read. Anne’s best friend Larry is a hoot, even if his romantic indulgences are ill-advised. The big blockbuster movie that’s all the rage is called Jane Vampire (a supernatural version of Jane Eyre, of course), and it becomes a pretty silly recurring subject throughout the book. Anne’s family life is messy and has a realistic ring to it, and I enjoyed seeing campus life through a professor’s eyes, showing that behind the intellectual, scholarly facades are real people, looking for love and friendship and just a little bit of fun once in a while.

Don’t expect anything too deep, and don’t expect an Austen retelling that’s particularly attached to the original — but given those caveats, By the Book is an entertaining, funny, and even charming read.

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The details:

Title: By the Book
Author: Julia Sonneborn
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication date: February 6, 2018
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Shelf Control #101: The Three Weissmanns of Westport

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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Title: The Three Weissmanns of Westport
Author: Cathleen Schine
Published: 2010
Length: 304 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Betty Weissmann has just been dumped by her husband of forty-eight years. Exiled from her elegant New York apartment by her husband’s mistress, she and her two middle-aged daughters, Miranda and Annie, regroup in a run-down Westport, Connecticut, beach cottage. In Schine’s playful and devoted homage to Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility,” the impulsive sister is Miranda, a literary agent entangled in a series of scandals, and the more pragmatic sister is Annie, a library director, who feels compelled to move in and watch over her capricious mother and sister. Schine’s witty, wonderful novel “is simply full of pleasure: the pleasure of reading, the pleasure of Austen, and the pleasure that the characters so rightly and humorously pursue….An absolute triumph” (“The Cleveland Plain Dealer”).

How and when I got it:

I found this book on the book swap shelf at work, and based on the title alone, I thought I’d adopt it.

Why I want to read it:

As soon as I saw the Westport, Connecticut setting, I had to grab this book. I grew up in a town near Westport (although nothing like it), and I was curious to see how the area is portrayed and whether it seems recognizable to me. I had no idea until just now that the plot is an homage to Sense and Sensibility — that makes me want to read it even more!

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

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