Category Archives: Jane Austen

…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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#CBR6 Review #32: Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason by Helen Fielding

I had forgotten how many ties Edge of Reason shares with another Austen novel, Persuasion. In fact, some of the sly references made the reading that much more enjoyable. As a sequel, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason is v.good, but as a Persuasion contemporary adaptation, it does quite nicely. Not like the movie. In fact, let’s never mention the second movie, shall we?

This novel finds Bridget Jones knee-deep in a new relationship with Mark Darcy, enjoying the highs and lows of new relationship, new relationship sex, and new relationship companionship. Threatening to mar all that is Rebecca, a woman great physique and social cache with the verbal sparring abilities of a jellyfish–that is, she wraps around you and you don’t know you’ve been stung until you’re stinging already. Anyway, Bridget suspects her of trying to steal Mark away, hijinks ensue, and there’s a showdown in Thailand.

Fielding does an excellent job of building on the first novel and bringing something new and enjoyable for faithful readers. There’s an interview with Colin Firth that is quite hilarious (and when you consider that Colin Firth plays Mark Darcy in the films, well…the meta becomes labyrinthine). There are also some great moments of self-reflection that elevate the novel from single-girl-chick-lit to genuinely readable adult fiction (not that there’s anything wrong with chick-lit–I just find most of it to be more poorly written or plotted than the potential, but that’s another blog for another time). I’m really wondering what induced Ms. Fielding to take the series in such a vastly different direction that she would willingly kill off one of her best characters as the premise of the story. I’ll find out when I read Mad about the Boy

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#CBR6 Review #31: Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding

I first watched Bridget Jones’s Diary as a freshman in college, something like ten years ago, borrowing a beloved prof’s DVD and huddled in my dorm room, laughing at all the sexual innuendos and silly pratfalls Bridget found herself in. It was also my go-to comfort food movie when I was single on Valentine’s Day or needing a pick-me up after a bad day. I read the book ten summers ago, after recovering from painful jaw surgery–I didn’t enjoy it as much then, because I was 19 and somewhat loopy from the anesthesia and drugs and not being in tune with contemporary British culture and not understanding some of the clever references. So when I re-read it this time, I appreciated it so much more.

Bridget Jones is a 34-year-old Singleton amidst a sea of Smug Marrieds (which is a very accurate descriptor for that subset of married couples who act smug simply because they are Married) trying to cut down her calories, cigarettes, and alcohol intake while finding a sensible boyfriend. Of course, getting involved with her boss, Daniel Cleaver, is not the way to do this. But can you blame her?


Nope. Seriously, one of the film adaptation’s best choices was in casting Hugh Grant. I don’t much care for his aw-shucks, floppy-haired stuttering hero in almost all his films, but the man was born to play Daniel Cleaver.

Of course, she also crosses paths with the somewhat aloof and cold Mark Darcy, the son of her parents’ friends. It’s instant dislike until a series of mis-events makes her reconsider her stance on both Daniel and Mark.

As an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, it’s lightly entertaining and somewhat silly. That’s what I latched onto when I read it ten years ago. As a piece of contemporary adult British fiction, however, it’s a bit more complexly interesting. There’s an undercurrent of what it means to be a woman in Cool Britannia, and there are some interesting discussions regarding feminism that should not be discounted.

Of course, I the nerdy academic, greatly enjoyed the famous contemporary British Booker-winner cameo in the novel (I won’t spoil it, but it’s not Salman Rushdie, as the film depicts it…).

I am looking forward to my re-read of The Edge of Reason and finally breaking my resolve not to read Mad about the Boy. Despite the lack of a certain reindeer-jumpered gentleman:

'Bridget Jones's Diary' film - 2001

Darling, I’m sure Helen Fielding is sorry.

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