First, an explanation
Dear reader — it is so weird to have posted nothing these last few days when I’ve been posting daily since the first week of January! But I have good excuses — Mr. Lisa moved the site from one provider to another and just in time too. The old provider’s web server was awful — site timed out, WordPress would constantly break, I lost posts because of the aforementioned and there was no way for me to fix it other than keep opening up tickets which the provider was ignoring. Mr. Lisa works as a systems admin by day so he took on the job of the moving and maintaining the site to a different provider. (Mr. Lisa also maintains the back end for my regular blog, Exit, Pursued by a Bear, and my profesh site, lisarabey.com. Do come visit!)
I’ve been remiss in keeping up with my own book club, Austen Weekly! This week should cover chapters 13 – 15 of Mansfield Park and um, I’ve been a bit lax on the reading. However, I’ve loaded myself up with Jane Austenesque library books and I’ve been in touch with a few authors about getting their books to review here so!, I will be doing some kind of book review every Monday. Phew.
Jane Austen paraliterature and how I review
Paraliterature, to me, is anything that expands, deviates, complements, enhances, or is somehow related to an author or a theme. If you’re a Janeite, you already know there is hundreds if not thousands of such books from fan fiction to indie publishing to big name presses. I created an Austenesque Amazon wish list which is bordering on 500 items (and I know there is more) most of them books. I haven’t even dived into indie publishing. My lofty goal is to, ha ha ha, read them all but l let us say I will try to read many.
So back to the paraliterature and reviews – what I look for is a good story, well constructed plot, good pacing, solid research, if about a specific period, and good writing. I’m particular, I know, but after working in a bookstore for many years, you learn to find the best needles inside of the haystacks for recommendations. That’s what I want to do – I want to give an honest and unbiased review on what I’m reading to people with similar interests. If you have Elizabeth Bennet in space and Darcy is an alien – if you can make me believe all of the above requirements, I’d totally give you a great review. So the subject matter doesn’t matter so as long you hit on my requirements, then you’re golden.
Finally, it’s totally okay for you to disagree with my reviews. We all have different tastes and requirements from a story. If we all liked the same thing, life would be pretty boring.
Finally! the Review!
Syrie James has made a living by writing and complementing works of Austen and the Brontë’s, which is great for her and great for us. I’ve recently started reading James, beginning with The Lost Manuscripts of Jane Austen, and have really enjoyed the book and her work. The story was fresh, the romance, not really needed, was subtle. The pacing is good. There was constant moving forward of the plot. The writing was a bit sloppy at times but overall it was well written. While the primary time period was contemporary, James seemed to have a grasp of the machinations of the Regency period, which pleased me. (Nothing like sloppy research to ruin a good book, no matter how well written.) So when Jane Austen’s First Love became available at the library, I checked it out with working knowledge it would follow the same formula described above and be a delightful read.
Jane Austen’s First Love is not that book.
Let’s start with the characters — first, we must admit, we know nothing of how Jane Austen was as what is known is based on gossip, James Edward Austen-Leigh’s sketchy biography, and the few letters not burned to a crisp by Cassandra. With this, James had carte blanc in fleshing out Jane’s personality. She failed. James portrayed Austen as this 15 year old chatterbox, worried about fitting in with her peers and stressing about boys – essentially James distilled Lydia Bennet as Austen’s personality. There were some bright moments — she made Austen fearless which seems reasonable given what we can glean from Austen’s books, if we assume Austen injected herself into some of her heroines. There was, very scant times, when James’ Austen rejected what society had planned for her. But overall it was Austen’s pining for Edward Taylor that threw the story off for me.
Secondly, the Jane / Edward romance? No chemistry!
For this book , I read far more than my usual 50 page allotment to see if a book is worthwhile to continue and this one I got to page 165! But as I read, I realised I was reading it not because I so much enjoyed it BUT because it fulfilled Jane Austen paraliterature criteria. The book isn’t so bad as much as it has a tendency to be flat and the plot isn’t moving forward and there seems to be little action with the characters themselves. Jane Austen’s First Love reminds me a lot of the Lord of the Rings trilogy where in LotR, there are hundreds of pages of “we’re walking and we’re walking,” without really any action happening which begins to get tedious and nervewrecking. DO SOMETHING, I screamed at the book (internally) at least. Jane Austen’s First Love strikes me as a book people are either really going to love, Jane Austen has a romance!, or something people are going to be put off by. I am giving this 3/5 stars because the book did fulfil some of my criteria but overall I found it flat and wanting.
I will end this with saying I’m not dissuaded by reading more Syrie James – The Lost Manuscripts of Jane Austen was really good and one meh book does not mean to reject an autor completely.