Category Archives: Jane Austen

#CBR10 Review #3

The Making of Jane Austen by Devoney Looser

If you have ever read any of my CBR Reviews the last several years, you know that Jane Austen is my literary ride or die. I don’t typically read Jane Austen fanfic (with the marvelous exception of Longbourne), but I *do* read a lot of scholarship and intellectual thinkpieces that are not mansplaining Austen to wimminfolk. And that is how fate led my husband to point out The Making of Jane Austen to me at our local library and caused me to glint with recognition. I do not know Professor Looser personally, but my MA thesis advisor does through Jane Austen scholarship and 19th century academic connections, and my former department chair at Marquette gets a shout-out in her acknowledgments! It’s fun playing the Six Degrees of Academic Kevin Bacon. Name recognition made me pick up this book, but the content is a game-changer for Austen scholarship.
Looser focuses on less-known aspects of scholarship or culture surrounding Jane Austen. In so doing, she opens up avenues for future researchers to explore. The part on dramatizing Austen is perhaps the most fascinating, because it shows the origin of the “sexy Darcy” which has been popularly attributed to Colin Firth, who took his performance from Laurence Olivier, who has HIS roots in a theater adaptation in the 1930s and an ever-evolving screenplay. It’s fascinating, and a great accompaniment to The Cinematic Jane Austen (which I own and find utterly fascinating, as well).
Looser proficiently bridges the gap between scholarly and general writing, and this book is all the more worth reading, because of it. If you like reading about Jane Austen culture, this book is for you. If you are interested in cultural literary movements and authors’ afterlives, this book is also for you.


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#CBR9 Review #21

Heartstone by Elle Katherine White

Historically, I’ve always been skeptical of Pride and Prejudice or anything by Jane Austen being sequel-ized or remade, though I’ve started to realize that it’s not a hard-and-fast rule. I do enjoy some Austen adaptations—but it’s more about treatment and approach than fidelity to the story. Sometimes, a cracking good Austen adaptation is about how you transmute the story’s major ideas into a totally different world and create something that’s a nod to the original while giving us a new story with new ideas. I’m pleased to report that Elle Katherine White’s Heartstone fits that model.

Aliza Bentaine lives in a quasi-feudal world where gryphons have descended upon the land and attacked innocent creatures and people—including one of her beloved sisters. Riders have been hired to ward off and weed out the gryphons at Merybourne Manor, including the haughty Alistair Dairead. Aliza is put off by Dairead’s manner, but she soon realizes that the problems about to face the world are much larger than she or Dairead can even begin to understand. The survival of their very world is at stake. This is a novel that is both lighthearted and heavy, with a serious and heavy thread at the end.

This is a thrilling and suspenseful story, with some terrifically plotted worldbuilding. White also adores Pride and Prejudice, you can tell, because she treats so many plot points with respect and complexity. The Charlotte Lucas counterpart, for example, receives a great deal of empathy. And the point where Aliza goes to see Dairead’s manor is also terrific, because it sparkles with the tension that we all thrill to in the original. As I said in a Goodreads status update, White captures the moment where Elizabeth is past hate but not quite realizing she’s falling in love, so well. We the audience know it, but Elizabeth/Aliza doesn’t, and it’s thrilling. If you like Jane Austen and fantasy/romance, you’ll probably find this enjoyable, too.

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…and my favorite Glamourist Histories novel is this one.

I just got done talking about Without a Summer. I’m sure you’re all getting tired of me harping about how much I enjoy the series–but I can’t help it! It’s just such a great series. Valour and Vanity is definitely my favorite one by a long shot, and I’ll explain as much as I can (without spoilers).

The Vincents are heading back to the Continent with the Ellsworth family for a brief vacation before heading off to Italy to work with a glassmaker. While sailing to Venice, their boat is attacked by pirates, their money is robbed, and they place their trust in the wrong person. Cut off from support and correspondence with their contacts, Jane and David have to rely on each other, their skills, and their intelligence to outwit the conspiracy against them.

The blurb describes this novel as “Jane Austen writes Ocean’s Eleven,” and I couldn’t agree more. The novel twists and turns, making it the best fantasy-driven novel in the series so far. I obviously can’t say anything else, because it would ruin the surprise. I read it in less than 24 hours–last night before bed, and this afternoon on my travels back from vacation. I am really impatient for 2015 to get here. Kowal’s finale to her series, Of Noble Family, is promised to be published and advance reviews are already raves.

On a final note: this is my last review of 2014. I have greatly enjoyed reading and reviewing books for the Cannonball/Pajiba community. I have read so many interesting books, and I have enjoyed reading your reviews. I cannot wait for the 2015 Cannonball Read season to arrive!

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#CBR6 Review #98: Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

Paging Jane Austen enthusiasts! Paging Jane Austen enthusiasts! Here’s an enjoyable and delightful read that merges Austen’s Regency-era novel of manners with fantasy and science fiction. It’s delightful and entertaining and innovative at once. My sister recommended this book to me–and since I recommend so many books to her, it seemed only fair to read one of her choices. So glad that I did!

Jane Ellsworth is a single woman in her late twenties, part of a respectable family and a skilled glamourist. While her sister Melody is known for her great beauty, she is known for her intelligence and glamour abilities (loosely defined in the book as working folds of energy to create illusions, beauty, and great artistic simulacra). She meets the great glamourist, Mr. Vincent, just as Melody is trying to finagle a match for herself, and that’s where the novel takes off. Jane must keep secrets for other young women of her acquaintance, uphold her family’s honor, and learn to move her art beyond technique to passion in order to become the heroine of this tale.

Kowal’s writing voice is deliciously droll and relies on several Austen-like phrases (“la!” is just one delightful example) to recreate a Regency-era fantasy text. This text is written in the vein of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, another Regency-like favorite, and it works just as well.

If you like Jane Austen, read it. If you like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, read it. If you like historical fantasy, read it. Seriously, it’s quite a delight.

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#CBR6 Review #63: For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

Paging Jane Austen enthusiasts! Paging Jane Austen enthusiasts! This is pretty much the greatest Austen adaptation I’ve read–and I’m including Longbourn, which is the second-greatest Austen adaptation (and I’ll be honest–it was a close call. If you don’t like sci-fi or speculative fiction that much, you may give the preference to Longbourn, which is totally understandable. But you really don’t have to like sci-fi to enjoy this novel).

I first heard of this book, because scootsa1000 read it and gave an excellent summary and review. Read it, and you’ll understand what’s at stake.

Why did I like it?

First of all, it felt like Jane Austen meets Margaret Atwood. I never thought I would have reason to type this sentence, and it gives me joyful chills to do so. It’s a novel about Anne Elliott and Captain Frederick Wentworth, but it’s also about the problems of society dictating the moral codes and preventing the betterment of a people. Diana Peterfreund makes an interesting commentary about the nature of humanity, as well as the nature of science, and it’s intriguing.

Second, it engages with the Persuasion novel, but it does so in a way that feels original and fresh. You don’t need to have read Austen to enjoy this story. But if you have, I think your enjoyment will triple. Let’s just say Peterfreund reworks the letter in a way that felt genuine and satisfying.

Third, the world is intriguing. Peterfreund sets up a world with juuuuust enough information to make you curious, but you are able to draw your own conclusions as you read. It’s a smart means of storytelling that allows your questions to be answered without being didactic. Plus, it’s a world of potential. Peterfreund can continue to write without being limited to the Austen adaptation frame that has held this novel together.

I polished this novel off on a leisurely summer afternoon. I highly recommend it.

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#CBR6 Review #35: Longbourn by Jo Baker

I cap off my month of Pride and Prejudice with Jo Baker’s Longbourn. I had read several favorable CBR reviews already, and I was eager to see what the fuss was all about. Can I just say, I would like to see this as a PBS special over Death Comes to Pemberley? Because I just did. If you *have* to make a fanfic, do it right: give us something new.

We all know the plot to Pride and Prejudice. But we often don’t think about the comfortable lives built on the backs of servants, or the fact that there was an invisible class partitioned behind the parlor, forced to make others’ lives their own. Jo Baker makes the servant class the focus of Longbourn, and, in so doing, brings a different story to light. It’s not a rehash of Pride and Prejudice: it’s the untold story.

Sarah is the housemaid at Longbourn, working with Mr. and Mrs. Hill and a young girl named Polly. Just as Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy enter town to disrupt the peaceful lives of the Bennet women, a young man named James enters the servants’ hall and brings with him an array of untold secrets.

I felt that Ms. Baker respectfully engaged with her subject material while challenging the untold perspectives inherent in the novel. I enjoyed it greatly, and it didn’t try so hard to emulate Austen’s stylistic prose that it ended up sounding pedantic. It was a great example of bringing new life to a popular story by making something new. I really enjoyed it, and if you enjoyed Pride and Prejudice, I bet you will too.

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#CBR6 Review #34: Bridget Jones: Mad about the Boy by Helen Fielding

So. I finally read Mad about the Boy. I don’t know what to do with it. But I know that I didn’t love it.

After two books, in which Bridget was navigating life as a 30-something Singleton, we skip right over her married years to Mark Darcy and skip ahead to 2013, where he’s been dead for five years, and she’s left to think about dating again with two young children. There are numerous dating hijinks and misunderstandings and a refried Elizabeth-and-Darcy relationship, to boot. Thankfully, there is a delicious Daniel Cleaver cameo, and [SPOILER] he’s as skeezy as ever.

As far as a reading experience, I felt like I’d been reading something I’d already read before. I guess what I didn’t need was more of Bridget Jones dating and getting herself into wacky physical comedy. I felt sort of cheated that I missed out on the Bridget-Mark marriage and the good years. It sort felt like the ending of How I Met Your Mother (not that I watched it, but I heard *plenty* from the internet)–what’s the point of getting Bridget and Mark together if we don’t actually see them together?

I don’t have much more to say besides that. The love stories felt kind of forced, and I missed Mark Darcy. The best part about this novel was the indignant comment thread on Pajiba when the news broke about Fielding’s offing of Mark. Otherwise, I felt lots of “Meh” while reading this, and that’s not how I want to feel when reading Bridget Jones, ya know?

There’s an argument to be had about the compelling story of widowhood, of learning to fall in love when you’ve already fallen in love with your soulmate, had his kids, and then lost him. But I don’t know that Bridget Jones is that venue–I think that Fielding could have done better with the story, had she written an original novel instead of ending the series this way.

So. Long story short: I will not be watching the inevitable adaptation.


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