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:

  • 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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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

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten books (or series) I can count on to lift my spirits

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Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Books to Pull You Out of a Reading Slump. I’m not sure I actually have reading slumps — I mean, I can ALWAYS find something that gives me a reading energy boost! So, twisting the theme just a bit, here are ten books that make me happy (even though their stories are not only rainbows and kitties.)

1) The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon: Sure, terrible things happen to the characters throughout the series, but there’s just something so wonderful about spending time with them all, no matter how dire the circumstances.

2) The Parasol Protectorate books by Gail Carriger: Supernatural shenanigans plus Victorian manners — definitely a winning combination.

3) Alpha & Omega by Patricia Briggs: I love the Mercy Thompson series as well as the Alpha & Omega series by Patricia Briggs. This novella in particular is one that I love reading and re-reading. It’s short and sharp and just so perfect.

4) Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling — need I say more?

5) Pretty much anything by Jane Austen: I love them all, and they always make me smile. The audiobooks are sheer delight!

6) And also, anything by Georgette Heyer! I’ve read 6 or 7 of her books so far, but plan to read lots more! Just happy, fun reading experiences.

7) The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley: It’s been a while since I last read this one, but I know it always makes me happy.

8) Fables by Bill Willingham: Such an amazing graphic novel series. I’m definitely looking forward to starting again from the beginning one of these days.

9) The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams: Such silly fun.

10) Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins: Not necessarily this book specifically, but sweet YA romances in general are sometimes the perfect solution to a gray and cloudy mood.

 

What books made your list this week? Please share your TTT link!

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Book Review: Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld


This version of the Bennet family and Mr. Darcy is one that you have and haven’t met before: Liz is a magazine writer in her late thirties who, like her yoga instructor older sister, Jane, lives in New York City. When their father has a health scare, they return to their childhood home in Cincinnati to help and discover that the sprawling Tudor they grew up in is crumbling and the family is in disarray.

Youngest sisters Kitty and Lydia are too busy with their CrossFit workouts and Paleo diets to get jobs. Mary, the middle sister, is earning her third online master’s degree and barely leaves her room, except for those mysterious Tuesday-night outings she won’t discuss. And Mrs. Bennet has one thing on her mind: how to marry off her daughters, especially as Jane’s fortieth birthday fast approaches.

Enter Chip Bingley, a handsome new-in-town doctor who recently appeared on the juggernaut reality TV dating show Eligible. At a Fourth of July barbecue, Chip takes an immediate interest in Jane, but Chip’s friend, neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy, reveals himself to Liz to be much less charming. . . . And yet, first impressions can be deceiving.

This is the most fun I’ve had with a book all year! (Okay, it’s only January 20th, but that sounds impressive, doesn’t it?)

Eligible is a Jane Austen retelling, part of The Austen Project, in which modern-day authors are matched up with Austen novels, retelling Austen’s classic tales in a modern setting. Eligible is the 4th of the Austen Project books to be published, and I’d have to say it’s the most enjoyable so far.

The author opens this Pride and Prejudice reinterpretation with a quote by Mark Twain about Cincinnati being 20 years behind every one else… and thank goodness she does, because this mindset certainly help Eligible make sense. The problem I have with most modern-day interpretations of Austen stories is the unrelenting emphasis on marrying well, which definitely isn’t a notion that fits with a 21st century outlook.

In Eligible, Mrs. Bennet is a Cincinnatian who wants nothing more than for her five daughters to be married off to wealthy, successful men, so she can go brag about it at the country club. Mrs. Bennet is just as insufferable here as she is in Austen’s original. Liz and Jane have found lives and careers in New York, but when they return home due to their father’s health crisis, they’re sucked right back into the Bennets’ world, full of gossip and obnoxious younger sisters and oblivious parents.

The story is quite fun. Darcy is a snobbish neurosurgeon who forms terrible impressions of Cincinnati and the Bennets. And he does have good reason, as Kitty and Lydia are crass and embarrassing every time they open their mouths. Jane is lovely, of course, and Chip is smitten… but complicating matters is the fact that Jane had decided to pursue single motherhood right before returning to Cincinnati, and a pregnancy could definitely throw a wrench in the romance.

The modern-day touches are sprinkled throughout the story. The use of a reality TV show as a catalyst is quite brilliant, especially as Chip’s ongoing connection to the show comes back into play later in the book. Lydia’s story take an unexpected turn as well, and fortunately, she ends up being more sensible and much happier in Eligible than she does in the original.

MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD!

I don’t want to get too far into the details, because the fun is in encountering all the little ways in which the author takes the original P&P story elements and turns them on their head and makes them fit in a contemporary novel. Still, I’ll mention just a few things that I thought were great twist, such as Jasper Wick (Eligible‘s version of Wickham), a married man with whom Liz has an affair for far too long (prior to the events of the story), and who ends up being just the sort of ass we’d expect. Fortunately, Lydia does NOT get involved with Wick/Wickham in this story… but the way the author makes Lydia’s elopement work out is fitting, and I only just now got the play on names that the author pulls off with Lydia’s love interest.

The one thing I had a really hard time with in Eligible is that about mid-way through, as Liz and Darcy keep running into each other, being rude to one another, and clearly expressing their dislike… Liz asks Darcy if he wants to have hate sex, and he agrees, and they end up in bed together! A lot! Okay, fine, I don’t have any problem with consenting adults doing whatever they like, but somehow it’s shocking to think about Lizzie Bennet and Darcy getting physical! I felt like I was going to have an attack of the vapors. Quick, fetch the smelling salts! It actually all works in the context of the plot, but somehow putting those characters in that situation was quite outrageous for my poor, proper sensibilities.

Okay, end of spoilers.

The writing in Eligible is fun and light-hearted, and the short chapters keep the plot moving right along, even though the book itself, by pure page-count, is on the long side. Despite knowing overall how the story must work out, given the premise, getting there was really a blast.

I haven’t entirely loved the Austen Project books that I’ve read so far, because I do find the notion of Austen’s plots really hard to force into modern retellings. In the case of Eligible, though, it’s a great fit, and so well done. If you’re an Austen fan, Eligible is worth checking out, and I suppose even someone not familiar with Pride and Prejudice (gasp!) would enjoy the story as well.

For more on Austen Project books, check out my reviews of:
Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid
Sense and Sensibility by Joanne Trollope
Emma by Alexander McCall Smith

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The details:

Title: Eligible
Author: Curtis Sittenfeld
Publisher: Random House
Publication date: April 19, 2016
Length: 512 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Purchased

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Take A Peek Book Review: The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay

“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)

After years of following her best friend’s lead, Mary Davies finds a whimsical trip back to Austen’s Regency England paves the way towards a new future.

Mary Davies lives and works in Austin, Texas, as an industrial engineer. She has an orderly and productive life, a job and colleagues that she enjoys—particularly a certain adorable, intelligent, and hilarious consultant. But something is missing for Mary. When her estranged and emotionally fragile childhood friend Isabel Dwyer offers Mary a two-week stay in a gorgeous manor house in Bath, Mary reluctantly agrees to come along, in hopes that the holiday will shake up her quiet life in just the right ways. But Mary gets more than she bargained for when Isabel loses her memory and fully believes that she lives in Regency England. Mary becomes dependent on a household of strangers to take care of Isabel until she wakes up.

With Mary in charge and surrounded by new friends, Isabel rests and enjoys the leisure of a Regency lady. But life gets even more complicated when Mary makes the discovery that her life and Isabel’s have intersected in more ways that she knew, and she finds herself caught between who Isabel was, who she seems to be, and the man who stands between them. Outings are undertaken, misunderstandings play out, and dancing ensues as this triangle works out their lives and hearts among a company of clever, well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation.

My Thoughts:

Although I’ve enjoyed other books by this author, The Austen Escape never particularly grabbed me. It’s very reminiscent of Austenland, although here, the Austen experience isn’t played for laughs. Instead, it’s a luxurious retreat for people of means, a chance to live in Austen’s world. The guests dress up, have dinner gatherings, dance, ride, and are treated as esteemed guests. They’re encouraged, but not required, to adopt the personae of Austen’s characters, although the point of this is a little lost on me. Maybe it’s the execution, but I couldn’t particularly see how it mattered if one guest was supposed to be Emma Woodhouse and another Catherine Morland. None of them enacted enough of their characters’ stories or personalities to make a difference.

The key issue for me is that Mary, the main character, never actually gelled for me. I liked (adored) that the lead female here is an engineer, a tech superstar with a drive to succeed and a brain that thinks of the world in scientific terms at all times. That’s really awesome, truly. But (yes, there’s a but), Mary didn’t click for me as a person. We get a lot of explanation, but I didn’t quite see what her issues are. Why is she hesitant to pursue (or accept pursuit from) the man she likes? Why has she never traveled? How does she feel about Isabel’s presence in her life, and why has never addressed this before now?

The synopsis is a little deceptive too. Isabel doesn’t get conked on the head and lose her memory — instead (minor spoiler) she has a sort of nervous break from reality after an emotional blow, and her doctor from home advises Mary to keep an eye on Isabel, play along, and wait for her to snap out of it. I’m sorry, but this seems like terrible advice.

The Austen escape — the luxury vacation — does seem pretty amazing, but even there, I’m not sure in truth how much fun it would be. There are only five other guests when Mary and Isobel arrive, and the options for a true Austen adventure, with socializing and balls and fancy dinner, seems very limited. I think I would have been bored silly within about 48 hours.

The story itself held my attention, and I read the entire book in about a day and a half. It’s a fun read, but the lack of connection to the main character makes this a book that I can finish and not look back at. All in all, I’d say The Austen Escape is enjoyable light entertainment, but on the deeper, emotional level the author seems to be aiming for, it just doesn’t work.

Interested in this author? Check out my reviews of:
Dear Mr. Knightley
Lizzy & Jane
The Brontë Plot
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The details:

Title: The Austen Escape
Author: Katherine Reay
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Publication date: November 7, 2017
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Book Review: Unequal Affection: A Pride and Prejudice Retelling

When Elizabeth Bennet first knew Mr. Darcy, she despised him and was sure he felt the same. Angered by his pride and reserve, influenced by the lies of the charming Mr. Wickham, she never troubled herself to believe he was anything other than the worst of men–until, one day, he unexpectedly proposed.Mr. Darcy’s passionate avowal of love causes Elizabeth to reevaluate everything she thought she knew about him. What she knows is that he is rich, handsome, clever, and very much in love with her. She, on the other hand, is poor, and can expect a future of increasing poverty if she does not marry. The incentives for her to accept him are strong, but she is honest enough to tell him that she does not return his affections. He says he can accept that–but will either of them ever be truly happy in a relationship of unequal affection?

Diverging from Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice at the proposal in the Hunsford parsonage, this story explores the kind of man Darcy is, even before his “proper humbling,” and how such a man, so full of pride, so much in love, might have behaved had Elizabeth chosen to accept his original proposal.

While I’m a fan of Pride and Prejudice (and all of Jane Austen’s works), I’ve never read a P&P spin-off or retelling or any of the other hundreds of variations on the story. Somehow, I stumbled across Unequal Affection, and thought the premise was interesting enough to make me want to give it a try. And I’m glad I did.

In a nutshell, what would have happened if Elizabeth Bennet had not refused Mr. Darcy’s initial proposal?

Yes, all the circumstances leading to this moment remain the same as in the original. Elizabeth is stuck on her initial impressions of Darcy, dislikes him, and believes he dislikes her. She’s flabbergasted by his proposal, and insulted by his presentation of it, especially by his statements about how inferior she and her family are to him.

But what if? It’s not unreasonable to think that a young woman in Elizabeth’s situation might actually pause and consider. Here’s a very wealthy, very prominent man, educated and handsome, who says he’s in love with her. He’s offering her a life beyond anything she could imagine. And what’s more, he’s prepared to care for her mother and sisters and provide them with a secure future, rather than the poverty that seems to be lurking just over the horizon.

Now, we know that Elizabeth is an unusual woman for her time. She’s outspoken in her likes and dislikes, and has sworn that she’ll marry for love. But, here is a man who loves her and is offering her a secure life. Is it so farfetched to think she’d at least consider his offer?

In Unequal Affection, she does just that. She asks for time to consider, rather than rejecting him on the spot. She’s stunned to learn of his regard for her, and realizes that she may need to rethink her former opinions of him. From there, the story follows the seven weeks from Darcy’s proposal to the agreed-upon wedding, during which both have time to get to know one another properly and to acknowledge their faulty assumptions and mistreatment of one another.

It’s interesting to see how some familiar scenes play out. Lady Catherine’s visit to Longbourn still takes place, with much the same tone, but with the circumstances rather different. Lydia’s elopement is prevented before it ever happens, because with Darcy as the future brother-in-law, her well-being is now his concern as well. Certain secrets come out much later, so that Wickham’s undermining of Darcy is allowed to continue much longer — but even so, this gives Elizabeth time to start to realize that Wickham’s charm might be a cover for a lack of character.

Overall, Unequal Affection is quite charming and well-written. This clever retelling lets us see familiar events unfold differently, and yet the dialogue and writing style feel very true to the spirit of Jane Austen’s masterpiece. The developing understanding and affection between Elizabeth and Darcy work in light of what we already know about them, and this different path to marriage feels quite natural and plausible.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. I mean, if the original is perfect, why tinker with it? Author Lara Ormiston proves that there can still be something new to say about a classic, and presents an engaging, compelling tale about favorite characters in a brand new way.

And now, a question: For those of you who have read Austen spin-offs, are there any in particular that you consider outstanding and worth checking out? I’ve read three of the Austen Project books, and have Eligible on tap for future reading. How about any others? Recommendations welcome here!

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The details:

Title: Unequal Affection
Author: Lara S. Ormiston
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing
Publication date: January 7, 2014
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Fiction
Source: Purchased

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A book and a movie: Lady Susan

I can’t say that I’m a true Janeite — but I guess you could call me an amateur Austenphile. I love Jane Austen’s novels, but not to the point of obsession. I mean, I don’t go to Jane conventions, and I tend not to be interested in the (seemingly) thousands of continuations of the stories written by contemporary authors.

I have, however, read the six novels and listened to the audiobooks. Read all of the novels more than once or twice, in fact. And love the movie adaptations, and love discovering new versions that I’ve never seen before. I recently went on an Emma-watching binge after my book group finished a group read, and even more recently, watched the Keira Knightley version of Pride and Prejudice back-to-back with Pride & Prejudice & Zombies (awesomely fun).

I had not read any of Austen’s other writings… until now!

Lady SusanOver the past couple of days, I finally read Lady Susan — and loved it! For those not familiar with it, Lady Susan is a shorter work — a mere 80 pages! It’s Jane Austen’s first written work, although it was not published during her lifetime. Told in letters between the main characters, Lady Susan is quite different from Austen’s well-beloved novels.

From Goodreads:

Beautiful, flirtatious, and recently widowed, Lady Susan Vernon seeks an advantageous second marriage for herself, while attempting to push her daughter into a dismal match. A magnificently crafted novel of Regency manners and mores that will delight Austen enthusiasts with its wit and elegant expression... Lady Susan is a selfish, attractive woman, who tries to trap the best possible husband while maintaining a relationship with a married man. She subverts all the standards of the romantic novel: she has an active role, she’s not only beautiful but intelligent and witty, and her suitors are significantly younger than she is.

I’m delighted to have finally read Lady Susan. It’s so smart and funny and unexpected! Lady Susan is older and more wicked than the typical Austen heroine — conniving, manipulative, and scandalous, she looks out for herself to get what she wants. She toes the line of respectability and is a master when it comes to the cover-up, but her true nature and intentions are expressed loudly and clearly in the letters she writes to her closest friend, an accomplice in Lady Susan’s affairs and indiscretions.

I should admit, though, that I’d never had more than a passing acquaintance with the title of this novella and knew nothing about the actual content until the movie Love & Friendship was released earlier this year.

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Love & Friendship is a glorious movie, graced with an incredibly talented cast. Kate Beckinsale absolutely sells every nuance of Lady Susan’s manners and character, and Chloe Sevigny is pitch-perfect as Mrs. Johnson, Lady Susan’s close friend. I love that the movie has Mrs Johnson as an American living in England, so that Chloe Sevigny’s own accent fits the role — which helps emphasize that her character is an outsider, not quite a part of established society, and possibly even a little uncouth, a perfect confidante for Lady Susan.

Check out the trailer… and tell me it doesn’t look amazing!

I saw the movie with a friend, thought it was hilarious, and now having read the book, can’t wait to watch the movie version again.

Lady Susan v2Usually I’m a stickler for reading the book first — but I have to admit that in this case, having seen the movie helped me get into the story immediately. I’d actually picked up the e-book version of Lady Susan several months ago, but found the letters hard to get into without any advance knowledge of the characters or plot. On top of which, the e-book was horribly formatted, to the point where it was basically unreadable.

BTW, the purple-covered edition is the version of Lady Susan which I’ve just finished, courtesy of my local library. It’s part of a series of novellas published by Melville House. The list of other novellas in the series appears at the back of the book, and includes some titles that I need! It’s such an adorable little edition.

Summing it all up — I really adored both reading Lady Susan and watching Love & Friendship, and highly recommend both!

Need further convincing? I leave you with a selection of quotes from the book:

My dear Sister,

I congratulate you and Mr. Vernon on being about to receive into your family the most accomplished coquette in England.

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What a woman she must be! I long to see her, and shall certainly accept your kind invitation, that I may form some idea of those bewitching powers which can do so much — engaging at the same time and in the same house the affections of two men who were neither of them at liberty to bestow them — and all this without the charm of youth.

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Some mothers would have insisted on their daughter’s accepting so great an offer on the first overture, but I could not answer it to myself to force Frederica into a marriage from which her heart revolted; and instead of adopting so harsh a measure merely propose to make it her own choice by rendering her thoroughly uncomfortable till she does accept him.

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I have never yet found that the advice of a sister could prevent a young man’s being in love if he chose it.

Shelf Control #32: Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters

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Welcome to the newest weekly feature here at Bookshelf Fantasies… Shelf Control!

Shelf Control is all about the books we want to read — and already own! Consider this a variation of a Wishing & Waiting post… but looking at books already available, and in most cases, sitting right there on our shelves and e-readers.

Want to join in? See the guidelines and linky at the bottom of the post, and jump on board! Let’s take control of our shelves!

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My Shelf Control pick this week is:

S&S&SMTitle: Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters
Author: Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters
Published: 2009
Length: 340 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

From the publisher of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies comes a new tale of romance, heartbreak, and tentacled mayhem.

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters expands the original text of the beloved Jane Austen novel with all-new scenes of giant lobsters, rampaging octopi, two-headed sea serpents, and other biological monstrosities. As our story opens, the Dashwood sisters are evicted from their childhood home and sent to live on a mysterious island full of savage creatures and dark secrets. While sensible Elinor falls in love with Edward Ferrars, her romantic sister Marianne is courted by both the handsome Willoughby and the hideous man-monster Colonel Brandon. Can the Dashwood sisters triumph over meddlesome matriarchs and unscrupulous rogues to find true love? Or will they fall prey to the tentacles that are forever snapping at their heels? This masterful portrait of Regency England blends Jane Austen’s biting social commentary with ultraviolent depictions of sea monsters biting. It’s survival of the fittest—and only the swiftest swimmers will find true love!

How I got it:

My daughter gave me this book as a gift a couple of years ago (after she saw me reading Pride & Prejudice & Zombies).

When I got it:

It’s been a few years…

Why I want to read it:

What kind of mother would I be if I didn’t read a gift from my daughter??? Anyhoo… I think the classic mash-up genre has been done to death by now, but this one actually does appeal to me. I mean, come on! It’s got ultraviolent sea monsters in a “masterful portrait of Regency England”. What’s not to love?

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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 below!
  • And if you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and have fun!


For more on why I’ve started Shelf Control, check out my introductory post here, or read all about my out-of-control book inventory, here.

And if you’d like to post a Shelf Control button on your own blog, here’s an image to download (with my gratitude, of course!):

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The Monday Check-In ~ 10/26/2015

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.

Life:

I’m back! I took last week off from blogging, reading, and pretty much everything else except my son’s bar mitzvah. It was a wonderful experience, and we were all so proud of our lovely young man. But, whew! Between the event itself and the whirlwind arrivals and departures of various visiting relatives and friends, it was all pretty exhausting. I’m happy to have had a quiet weekend to read in the sun, do laundry, go for a couple of walks, and just chill.

On a related note, earlier this week I shared a beautiful poem that really resonated with me as I thought about my son, his big milestone, and my hopes for his future. Check it out here.

What did I read last week?

I’m finally reading again! I managed to finish just one book:

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Sense & Sensibility by Joanne Trollope: Check out my review, here.

Fresh Catch:

This week’s new arrivals:

Carry OnAfter Youmurder of magpies

One purchased and two from the library… quite a fun mix!

I also received an ARC of a gender-bended twist on a classic, which fits right in with my year of Austen:

Prej&Pride

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:
After You

I’m starting with After You by Jojo Moyes, since it’s a library book with a wait list. Can’t keep folks waiting too long!

Now playing via audiobook:

PrideCall of the Wild

I’m on a classics roll! I just finished listening to Pride and Prejudice (outstanding!), and decided to listen to The Call of the Wild next. This should be fun! I’ve never read the book.

Ongoing reads:

ABOSAAN&S

My book group is getting so close to the end of both of these — only two weeks to go for North and South, and we’ll finish A Breath of Snow and Ashes in early December.

So many book, so little time…

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Book Review: Sense & Sensibility by Joanne Trollope

Sense & Sensibility_TAPAnother Austen Project book… read!

As I discussed in my review of Val McDermid’s Northanger Abbey, The Austen Project is a publishing concept that pairs up bestselling contemporary authors with the works of Jane Austen, with the goal of creating six reimagined versions of the classic novels. So far, three have been published, with the next projected for release in 2016.

This new version of Sense and Sensibility is written by bestselling author Joanna Trollope, who imagines the Dashwood family in almost familiar terms — finding themselves displaced from their lovely home by their half-brother and his money-hungry wife, having to rely on the kindness of distant relatives to start fresh, and figuring out the ups and downs of love, infatuation, and everything in between.

But this Sense & Sensibility is set in the 21st century, and of course, there are changes from the original. Elinor, practical as ever, is an architecture student. Marianne, frail and subject to the whims of passionate feeling, is severely asthmatic and must always be looked after. The often overlooked youngest, Margaret (or here, Mags), petulant and whiny, always plugged into her headphones, appreciates any cute boyfriend of her sisters’ —  so long as he drives an awesome car.

The cast of characters is much the same as in the Austen version, with Marianne’s love interest Willoughby portrayed here as gorgeous but shiftless Wills, all too ready to throw Marianne over for the sake of romancing a millionaire’s daughter. We also have Bill Brandon, an utterly good guy running a non-profit home for mentally challenged individuals at his Delaford estate, and hapless Edward Ferrars, whose controlling mother has bullied him into utter dependence. The awful characters — especially Fanny Dashwood and the Steele sisters — are every bit as awful here. After all, selfishness, emotional manipulation, and obsessions with money are timeless!

The essential storyline follows the familiar path, but with elements changed to make more sense in the modern setting. There are hospital visits and interior decorators, school carpools and even a job for Elinor. But the sisters’ defining characteristics are what we know from Austen: Elinor is steady and logical, steering the family through hard times through her practical management when everyone else in her family is busy feeling all the feels — and Marianne, throwing herself headlong into love with no regard for anything but listening to her heart and relying 100% on her emotions to lead the way.

Start to finish, I was pretty charmed by this version of Sense & Sensibility. It’s no replacement for the classic Austen novel, and I’m not convinced that it would  work as a stand-alone. But as a companion piece to the classic, it’s quite endearing. While the rush to marriage may feel a bit forced at times in a modern setting, as framed in the context of status-hungry social climbers and defiantly old school, old money families, it makes a sad sort of sense. Throw in social media, and you have Marianne devastated not just by a broken heart, but by public humiliation via YouTube.

The writing is light in tone, with just enough winking acknowledgement that this is a retelling:

“Hasn’t she got a boyfriend yet? She’s old enough.”

“She’s fourteen. Honestly, Abi, it’s all you ever think about. You’re like those nineteenth-century novels where marriage is the only career option for a middle class girl.”

Joanna Trollope’s Sense & Sensibility is a fun read that’s sure to amuse anyone who loves the Jane Austen classic and is open to seeing the story retold with a modernized twist. It doesn’t require a whole lot of concentration, but it should at least make you smile!

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The details:

Title: Sense & Sensibility
Author: Joanne Trollope
Publisher: Harper
Publication date: January 1, 2013
Length: 362 pages
Genre: Fiction
Source: Purchased