The Monday Check-In ~ 7/29/2019

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.

Life.

My little vacation last week was lovely (but too short). Sun, sand, good books! Some strawberry tiramisu too. What more could I ask for?

What did I read during the last week?

My vacation reading (all reviewed here):

  • Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev
  • We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory
  • I Hate Everyone But You by Gaby Dunn and Allison Raskin

And since returning home, I’ve also read:

Ellie and the Harpmaker by Hazel Prior: A sweet, engaging debut novel. My review is here.

Fresh Catch:

Oof. I bought myself a copy of Wanderers by Chuck Wendig. This book is BIG. I need to steel myself a bit before diving in.

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Unholy Land by Lavie Tidhar: Israeli science fiction revolving around alternate realities. Really mind-bending! I’ve read about 75% — can’t wait to see how it all works out.

Now playing via audiobook:

Anne of Ingleside by L. M. Montgomery: The 6th Anne book! Loving the series, although I’m not sure that I love the shift of focus from Anne herself to her big brood of children. Still, carrying on…

Ongoing reads:

Two ongoing book group read right now:

  • The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens — our current classic selection, reading and discussing two chapters per week.
  • Virgins by Diana Gabaldon: Our newest group read — a novella telling the story of teen-aged Jamie and Ian during their time as mercenaries in France. I’ve read it before, but I”m excited to be sharing it with the group this time around.

So many books, so little time…

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Vacation reading wrap-up (summer 2019)

I haven’t done a vacation wrap-up post in a while… mainly because I haven’t had a real vacation (i.e., travel plans not involving family health visits) in AGES! As vaactions go, this week’s was a mini — just four days, but hey: I found sunshine!

My husband and I drove down the California coast to San Luis Obispo county, where we spent a few days hanging out in beach towns, enjoying balmy weather, good food, and even venturing into ocean water that was just a shade warmer than ice. But seriously, it was a good time, even if a bit too short.

And now I’m back, waiting for my laundry to finish (yes, I lead an exciting life), so I thought I’d share a taste of the reading I did these past few days. Because hanging out in beach towns means lots of time basking in the sun on comfy chairs, beach mats, and towels — book in hand, sunglasses on face, not enough sunscreen on body. (Ouch).

Here’s a quick wrap-up of what I read on vacation, with my take on the vacation-worthiness of each book. The number of little beach umbrellas reflects my own personal feelings about whether or not this is a good choice for tucking into your beach-tote!

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Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev: A modern day retelling of Pride and Prejudice (obviously), set in the Bay Area and featuring the unlikely pairing of world-class neurosurgeon Trisha Raje and up-and-coming master chef DJ Caine, whose initial meeting is fraught with haughtiness and false impressions. As it turns out, Trisha is the only doctor offering a cure for DJ’s beloved sister’s brain tumor, so despite their mutual dislike, the two are forced together again and again. I liked that the author didn’t follow the P&P plotline 100% — there are plenty of familiar beats, but the story here stands on its own and isn’t shoehorned into unnatural shapes just to make it fit the pattern. I also like that it’s Trisha who’s in the Darcy role here, hiding behind her snobbiness and self-image and repelling the very person she finally realizes she wants to attract. The story moves quickly, has some key emotional moments, LOTS of mouth-watering descriptions of DJ’s culinary creations, and definitely succeeds as a love story with plenty of modern twists. Quite fun — I’m hoping Sonali Dev writes more in this world!

A five-umbrella vacation read for sure! Between the romance and the food, what more could you want?

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We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory. This book (and this author) have been recommended to me repeatedly — so I finally tossed it in my beach bag and gave it a go. What a weird but oddly compelling story! We Are All Completely Fine is about a group therapy session for people who’ve survived encounters with the supernatural, and have the scars to prove it. Each of the group members has their own horrifying story to tell, and all are joined together through their process of sharing and healing, ultimately banding together to fight off a big bad coming after one of their own. It’s a short read, easily digestible in one sitting. I really liked it, and now that I’ve dipped my toe into his work, I’ll definitely be reading more by Daryl Gregory!

Giving this one 4 beach umbrellas — easy to read on the beach, but the subject matter didn’t really meld well with the bright light of day.

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I Hate Everyone But You by Gaby Dunn & Allison Raskin: I went at this story a little bit backwards — this is book #1 of 2, but I read #2 first (reviewed here). Oh well. It still works! In this first book, we meet Ava and Gen, two best friends embarking on their freshman year of college on opposites sides of the country. The story is told through their emails and texts, which really capture their personalities and their quirky friendship. It’s light and sunny, but also contains moments of self-discovery, pain, and challenge, as the two characters discover new aspects of themselves and question whether their friendship still works as they grow into their college selves.

Another 5-umbrella read — once you start, it’s impossible to stop!

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And that’s it! Not too shabby for a four-day vacation!

Now I need to go plan my next get-away… I’m not ready for a return to reality just yet.

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: 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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Book Review: Longbourn

Book Review: Longbourn by Jo Baker

longbournThose Bennet girls! What a delight to be around them! But do you think the servants found them all quite so lovely? In Longbourn, we find out.

Longbourn is Pride and Prejudice turned upside down… or rather, as viewed from below-stairs. I think every blurb I’ve seen about Longbourn so far has described it as “Downton Abbey meets Pride and Prejudice“, and that’s a fairly good place to start.

In Longbourn, maidservant Sarah is our main point-of-view character. Sarah has been in service to the Bennet family since she was a small girl, and while we readers of P&P all probably share a rather rosy view of the Bennet’s idyllic country life, it’s not quite as pretty when presented by Sarah. Through Sarah, we see what it really takes to run a household of that nature — laundry days, incessant scrubbing, tending to the girls’ bodily needs, turning pig fat into soap. Author Jo Baker doesn’t shy away from the nastier bits, and there are plenty.

It’s all very well to admire Elizabeth Bennet for her pluck and adventurous streak, but as Sarah ruminates:

If Elizabeth had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah often thought, she’d most likely be a sight more careful with them.

In P&P, all is managed. Dirty clothes are taken care of. We never hear about chamber pots or dirty dishes, sweaty clothing or soiled sheets. In Longbourn, these are all the stuff of daily life. Through the effluvia of the Bennet household, the serving staff get to know the family intimately, and while it’s agreed that they are a decent sort to work for, it’s still shocking as a P&P fan to realize the utter cluelessness that the girls have regarding what a servant’s life is really like.

Even wonderful Elizabeth — so beloved by all of us! — comes across as unaware at best or insensitive at worst, as her interactions with Sarah make clear that Sarah’s life is of no concern. Not that Elizabeth has harsh feelings toward Sarah — just that it doesn’t really occur to her that Sarah has feelings or issues of her own to deal with.

Besides the household muck and mire, we see the country in quite different terms than in P&P as well. Yes, the important families and estates have their dinners and balls… but in the town, there are people going hungry, young men are enlisted to fight in pointlessly brutal foreign wars, and meanwhile the local garrison of the militia strut around like heroes while conducting their dirty business elsewhere. We may think of pretty BBC productions when we think of the Regency era, but in Longbourn, that pretty illusion is shattered. Make no mistake, this was not an easy time to live in without family money and connections, and the lives of the working class are not to be envied. Even for Mr. and Mrs. Hill, long established as head of the Longbourn staff and considered to hold a very desirable place in the household, it’s clear that this is not a comfortable or secure life.

The lives of the servants are harsh and yet full of vitality. They are not shielded by manners and customs from the realities of their world. Matters such as fashion and reputation and whispers and inheritances are of small matter to people whose future security rests entirely on the whims of those they serve, who can be turned out at any moment into a world in which decent work is scarce, and whose ability to even secure a position is completely dependent on the willingness of a former employer to provide a reference. Seen through the servants’ eyes, the possible tarnishing of a young lady’s reputation is small potatoes compared to the specter of starvation and homelessness.

Interestingly, for me Longbourn is at its strongest when it goes “off-book” entirely. The third section of Longbourn goes outside of the confines of the P&P world and explores the lives, secrets, and histories of the Longbourn characters in a way that’s completely unrelated to P&P. I loved this part of the book the most. The characters really feel alive to me here, and perhaps they need this extra freedom from the original story in order to become fully formed, with purposes and hidden desires of their own.

Jo Baker clearly knows P&P inside and out, and as she explains in the author’s note: “When a meal is served in Pride and Prejudice, it has been prepared in Longbourn. When the Bennet girls enter a ball in Austen’s novel, they leave the carriage waiting in this one.” It’s fascinating to page back through P&P at random and find all of these points of intersection — the meals, the guests arriving at the door, the gowns fetched and fluffed — and seeing the work involved on the part of the Longbourn servants to make all of these things happen.

The writing in Longbourn is simply splendid, both in passages exposing the darker side of the pretty pictures we’re used to from Austen’s world and in simple sentences that convey quite a bit about the Bennets and the servants alike:

Some of my favorites:

Jane and Elizabeth confided with each other in anxious virginal huddles, whispering over letters, scandalized by the gossip that was now leaking back to them.

And another:

Life was, Mrs. Hill had come to understand, a trial by endurance, which everybody, eventually, failed.

And one more:

The house was all up and down and front and back, and nothing sideways to it at all.

Sarah is the main character, but we also read sections told from the perspectives of footman James, Mr. and Mrs. Hill, and the small serving-girl Polly. Sarah is a strong, smart, determined, and utterly wonderful main character, and James too becomes completely fascinating as we get to know him better. Early on in the book, the shifting voices are a bit jarring, but as Longbourn progresses and we get to know each one on their own, the story is enhanced by allowing readers to see  unfolding events through different eyes — especially as each character often has access to a different piece of the puzzle, and so a fuller picture emerges as we witness multiple views of the people and actions involved.

Jo Baker is very faithful to the overall characterizations of the Bennets and their associates, although Mr. Bennet comes off in a less favorable light, and surprisingly, Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Collins are both much more sympathetic. In fact, I doubt that I’ll ever allow myself to feel my usual scorn for Mrs. Bennet, now that Jo Baker has given me a quite plausible (and sad) explanation for how she ended up the way she is.

Overall, I’d say that there’s a lot to love about Longbourn. P&P afficionados will be pleased by the respect shown by the author toward Austen’s original text — and yet she also doesn’t hesitate to pull back the curtains and show us what else might be going on in this familiar world.

Longbourn certainly stands on its own outside of the shadow of Pride and Prejudice. In fact, I could see the story of Sarah and the serving class making a fine novel without needing the framework of P&P — although undoubtedly the connection to P&P will help tremendously with the marketing and publicity for Longbourn.

While I enjoyed the brief glimpses of the Bennets (and even Mr. Darcy, who makes only fleeting appearances in this book), Longbourn‘s main characters are compelling and their struggles and challenges held me captive. I didn’t need to see Elizabeth and Jane and the Bingleys — I had Sarah and James, and they’re pretty spectacular.

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The details:

Title: Longbourn
Author: Jo Baker
Publisher: Knopf
Publication date: 2013
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of Knopf via Edelweiss

Thursday Quotables: Longbourn

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Welcome back to Thursday Quotables! This weekly feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines of the week will be, and you’re invited to join in!

This week’s Thursday Quotable:

It was one of those strange handicaps that afflicted gentlefolk, that they could not open a door for themselves, nor get in or out of a coach without someone to assist them.

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Source: Longbourn
Author: Jo Baker
Knopf, 2013

What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

If you’d like to participate, it’s really simple:

  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now. And please be sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (http://www.bookshelffantasies.com), if you’d be so kind!
  • Click below (next to the cute froggy face) to link up your post! And be sure to visit other linked blogs to view their Thursday Quotables too.
  • Have a quote to share but not a blog post? Leave your quote in the comments.
  • Have fun!

Wishlist Wednesday: Longbourn by Jo Baker

Welcome to Wishlist Wednesday!

The concept is to post about one book from our wish lists that we can’t wait to read. Want to play? Here’s how:

  • Follow Pen to Paper as host of the meme.
  • Do a post about one book from your wishlist and why you want to read it.
  • Add your blog to the linky at the bottom of the post at Pen to Paper.
  • Put a link back to Pen to Paper somewhere in your post.
  • Visit the other blogs and enjoy!

My wishlist book this week is:

Longbourn

Longbourn by Jo Baker
(release date October 8, 2013)

From Goodreads:

Pride and Prejudice was only half the story •
 
If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah often thought, she’d most likely be a sight more careful with them.
 
In this irresistibly imagined belowstairs answer to Pride and Prejudice, the servants take center stage. Sarah, the orphaned housemaid, spends her days scrubbing the laundry, polishing the floors, and emptying the chamber pots for the Bennet household. But there is just as much romance, heartbreak, and intrigue downstairs at Longbourn as there is upstairs. When a mysterious new footman arrives, the orderly realm of the servants’ hall threatens to be completely, perhaps irrevocably, upended.

Jo Baker dares to take us beyond the drawing rooms of Jane Austen’s classic—into the often overlooked domain of the stern housekeeper and the starry-eyed kitchen maid, into the gritty daily particulars faced by the lower classes in Regency England during the Napoleonic Wars—and, in doing so, creates a vivid, fascinating, fully realized world that is wholly her own.

Why do I want to read this?

I’m a Pride and Prejudice fan, although I do usually try to avoid re-tellings, which mostly strike me as attempts to cash in without being terribly original. (Notable exceptions, for me, are Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Death Comes to Pemberley — and in movies, Bride and Prejudice!) From the description, I’d say that Longbourn sounds a bit Downton Abbey-ish, with the focus on the happenings below stairs and how those crazy Bennet sisters create chaos for their mostly silent servants.

This strikes me as being a fresh approach to a familiar story, and I have high hopes for it! I’ve just received an ARC, which I plan to get to in the next few weeks, and I’m hoping Longbourn will be as fun and entertaining as it sounds.

What’s on your wishlist this week?

So what are you doing on Thursdays and Fridays? Come join me for my regular weekly features, Thursday Quotables and Flashback Friday! You can find out more here — come share the book love!

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Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Movie Versions of Classic Books

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Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is — well, it’s a freebie. Everyone participating can make up their own theme, so mine is:

Top Ten Movie Versions of Classic Books

I’m planning to see the Les Misérables movie tomorrow, and that got me thinking: What other movies, inspired by classic books, have I loved over the years? (Unlike most top 10 lists coming out at this time of year, my list is not specific to 2012). This is a totally subjective list, based on nothing more than my own enjoyment of the films. The only consistent criterion I’m applying here is that I’ve actually read all of the books mentioned.

So here goes:

1) ??Les Misérables??

Reserving judgement, of course, until I’ve actually seen the movie, but just seeing the trailers has blown me away. I first saw the stage version of the musical in London many years ago, which was memorable for many reasons, not least because I had last minute tickets for cheap seats about a thousand balcony levels up and found the experience positively dizzying. Following that, I decided to read the book — not an abridged version, thank you very much — and walked away from that experience in love with the characters and with a deep and abiding knowledge of Parisian sewers and convents. I’ve since seen the musical several times, have listened to the soundtrack enough to have it memorized, and may even have splurged on a French version of the soundtrack. (But don’t tell; it makes me sound obsessive).

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2) Pride and Prejudice: The BBC version, of course. There are countless other versions, remakes, modernizations, and reimaginings, and I even liked the Keira Knightley version (mostly because of Donald Sutherland as Mr. Bennet), but the BBC (Colin Firth) production wins hands-down for me. Although… Bride and Prejudice — c’mon, that one rocked.

3) Vanity Fair: Did anyone else read the book after seeing the movie? I loved Reese Witherspoon, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and James Purefoy in director Mira Nair’s adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel… but I ended up loving the book even more. Becky Sharp is not a nice woman, but boy, does she know how to make waves!

 

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4) Romeo and Juliet: As with the Jane Austen books, there are countless movie versions of Romeo and Juliet, but the one that is unparalleled, for me, is the 1968 movie directed by Franco Zeffirelli. Perhaps because I first saw it at a young, impressionable age, I remember it as being incredibly sensual and beautiful and utterly romantic. I suppose I should watch it again one of these days and see how it’s held up, and then perhaps check out the Claire Danes/Leonardo DiCaprio version for comparison’s sake. And if we’re talking “inspired by”, mustn’t forget West Side Story either. Oh, Tony. Oh, Maria.

5) 10 Things I Hate About You: Sure, if we’re talking adaptations of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, I suppose I could have picked the Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton movie (which is wonderful, by the way) or perhaps the 1953 musical Kiss Me Kate, but in my mind, 10 Things I Hate About You is tops. This charming adaptation captures the comedy of the original, and Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles are just superb.

6) Emma and Clueless: Two great movies from one great book. I really love the Gwyneth Paltrow version of Emma (Jeremy Northam makes a dreamy Mr. Knightly), and Alicia Silverstone’s Clueless is a pitch-perfect ’90s update.  Both movies are terrific. Don’t make me choose.

7) Dangerous Liaisons: Based on the 1782 epistolary French novel by Choderlos de Laclos, the movie was a perfect forum for a dazzling cast. Glenn Close and John Malkovich are absolutely deadly in this movie. Even Keanu Reeves was not too bad. Must. Watch. Again.

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8) Jane Eyre: Again, another classic with many different movie adaptations. But for purposes of this list, I’m going with the most recent. The 2011 movie starring Mia Wasikowski was lovely to look at and wonderfully acted. Sure, the plot was a bit compressed at times and parts were skimmed over entirely. Still, the gothic mood of the moors was perfectly captured. My only complaint might be that Michael Fassbender is, in fact, too handsome to play Rochester. Not that that’s much of a complaint, really.

Room with a view

9) Hard to choose — pretty much anything featuring Helena Bonham Carter (without insane wigs and bad teeth) could go here. Wings of the Dove, based on the Henry James novel, was the first HBC movie that came to mind, but in the end, I’ll go with A Room With A View. So beautiful, so romantic…

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10) For my 10th and final choice, I’m going with a movie that has not been released yet, but which I’m oh-so-eager to see: Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Joss Whedon, and featuring a Whedon-verse array of favorites, including Nathan Fillion, Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, and Fran Kranz. The movie is scheduled for release in June 2013. Who’s with me?

So what are your favorite movies from classic books? Which Pride and Prejudice do you love best? Can you sing along with Tony and Maria on “Tonight”? And do prefer Helena Bonham Carter as a young ingenue or as a crazy minion of the Dark Lord? Sound off in the comments!

(And wishing, for one and all, health, happiness, and love during the holidays and in the coming year. May your days be merry and bright!)

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