One of my Erika’s, who is also a librarian, an Austen fan, and my weekly date for trashy reality TV shows so when she asked if I had read this new release as of yet, I said no but immediately set on getting it.
The concept of Austen and reality TV really hits the mark with me as it covers two of my favorite subjects.
In the beginning, I was irritated with Phaedra with her billowing Regency gowns and ballet slippers. It was a bit too on the nose for me. Phaedra’s argument is that by wearing Regency clothes as she teaches gives an “Immersive experience,” which seems kind of fun, the irritation began when it seemed that she wore Regency gear all the damned time. It’s in the 21stC and yes, while there may be those who wish it were back in the 1810s, you would be hard pressed to find someone who actually honestly wants to live in pre-electricity, air con, and contemporary indoor plumbing days. Oliver it seems gave up the idea of having Phaedra always in Regency mode when she started introducing Phaedra wearing contemporary clothes, driving a Mini, and having a laptop and cellphone. Thank god.
The mystery was solid and there were a few twists and turns that Oliver took you down that was interesting. Nothing too obvious or out of sync with the character, which was good. The settings seemed genuine and believable and nothing seemed to be too stretch of the immagination.
I did adore several things about the book:
Name checks of Pride and Prejudice characters sprinkled throughout the like Phaedra’s cat Wickham and her best friend’s maiden name is Lucas
Oliver set Phaedra up with not one but two potential love leads. Neither seem to strike particularly smarmy such as Wickham and both seem to be as haughty as Darcy so it’ll be interesting to see where this goes
The one massive hiccup is that the use of the “Jane Austen Tea Shop” group was sparse and Phaedra didn’t really need them to suss out the murder so to name it as such and attempt it as such was a bit of a misnomer.
tl;dr Overall the book was a fast read and was sturdy in its compensation. Nothing too obvious seemed to be off and the ends of mystery tied up a bit nicely. The writing was competent. Austen fans who happen to be cozy mystery fans will love this and the series is worth exploring.
First impressions: A fun, frothy book perfect for curling up with a hot cup a tea, comfy clothes while a fire roars and snow falls.
When it comes to Pride and Prejudice variations, it’s not so much how true to the story the author remains but rather how do the characters “sound.” Are they funny? Witty? Do their behaviors match the time period they are in? Can we see the original characters within the variations? Can the author create characters that not only resemble their origins but most of all, are the characters fun?
These are all very serious questions that take hold in my mind when I read a variation. Whether or not I like a book is not so much how the setting is placed, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies anyone?, but rather can I see the traits within the characters are they were originally written and can I or do I give a damn about them? Make no mistake, most of the variations come under the unfairly genre umbrellaed as Chick Lit which usually gets pounced on by snobby lit reviewers but as someone, that would be me, who’s spent more than half their life somehow entrenched in books professionally, I thumb my nose at these assholes because what is important is that someone is reading and not what they are reading.
A bit of a rant there.
This brings me up to Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe. I am not afraid to say my opinion once lost is not lost forever as variations come in all shapes and sizes. What drew me, and eventually charmed me, about Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe is the following:
Darcy Fitzwilliam is a female high powered hedge fund manager and not some simpering female character with no mind of her own
She’s from Pemberly, Ohio. Any book where the setting is connected to the Midwest always appeals to me
Darcy’s best friend, Bingley Charles, is gay
Luke Bennet and his ideals and mores closely match Lizzie Bennet
it is Darcy’s father that is the shrew and not her mother
de la Cruz sets updates the book to current times so we easily relate to the characters
Fitzwilliam Darcy came from money. Darcy Fitzwilliam was disinherited and made her own way in the world. This is important because Darcy does not need a man to make her happy or to save her. Her choices are very deliberate and show the expanse of the character’s emotional and mental worth.
Darcy is not a female archetype that permeates through most of Chick Lit. You know the type: The heroine is wronged in love but she remains pure of any responsibility for her decisions and actions. One of the big reveals in these stories is the heroine suddenly “discovers” her faults and works to change them. Darcy, on the other hand, knows her faults form the get-go and her struggles are yes, the prejudices of what she is and what she is perceived to be.
Also, Darcy says “shit” a lot which I really enjoyed.
Oh yes, the story:
Darcy Fitzwilliam is called home when she finds out her mother has cancer. Her relationship with her father is thin and much of Darcy’s interactions with her family, including her mother, have been strained for a number of years. During the family’s annual Christmas party, she comes across Luke Bennet who she has sworn to hate forever since he taunted and teased her all through school. There is one drunken night of did they or didn’t they which sets the course as Darcy and Luke battle it out over: is this the real deal, an infatuation, or some kind of revenge? There are almost marriages, break-ups, misunderstandings abound through the secondary characters. We know already where the story is heading so nothing is a big surprise here and de la Cruz is certainly not creating new ground but the book is a fun, a fast read, and enjoyable.
Even with this very positive review, I would be remiss in not mentioning the book is maligned over at Good Reads and LibraryThing even though it was given a positive review in Publisher’s Weekly which typically is a good indicator on how well a book sells.
What are the complaints?
Bingly and his boyfriend contemplating moving in with a few days of meeting each other is “unbelievable” and “not realistic.” (Lydia and Wickham.)
Darcy’s on and off relationship with her boyfriend since high school is also not plausible and how dare she drag him around. (No one has ever, ever been in a relationship that went off and on for years? Only me? Ok.)
Luke’s younger brothers are terrors that destroy school property and Darcy swoops in to pay for it, and the complaint here is how DARE the principal take the money from Darcy. (Male Darcy tracking down Lydia and paying everyone off so she doesn’t lose her reputation.)
Darcy and her dad having an acrimonious relationship for eight years? Also not believable or realistic. (My mom and I had an acrimonious relationship for most of my adult life. So why is this unrealistic again?)
Darcy’s dad to push her to marry her high school boyfriend was also seen as “how can that really happen?” (Mrs. Bennet, anyone?)
Fans of Pride and Prejudice are the harshest critics when it comes to variations because if it is not on point, it’s worthless trash. This is frustrating because yes, it’s not Austen but it doesn’t make the story any less fun to read. I just don’t get this mentality when it comes to deviations of Austen’s work. For Pete’s sake, The Davinci Code is given nearly 4 stars and it reads as a misogynistic piece of trash written by a third grader.
Take all of that information as you will but I would give this a solid would recommend to fans of P+P variations and those looking for a fun read that won’t strain the brain too much.
P.S. The Hallmark Channel is releasing a movie of the same name for their holiday season titles. As I recall, Luke becomes a personal chef at the end of the book which doesn’t jive with his work as an award winning carpenter he’s touted to be through the book. In the movie, Luke is a personal chef who owns a restaurant so maybe a mistake in book editing is now a major plot point in the movie? Whose to say! Movie will be shown on November 23 on the Hallmark Channel.
First impressions: A brilliant mash-up of Jane Eyre and serial killer novels, Jane Steele is an utter original in both plot and scope. I cannot gush enough on how much I love this book.
First, I cannot tell a lie. I started this book in the summer of 2017 but my own laziness that summer in reading was heightened when the print copy of the book was due back to the library before I finished. Sometime in the early spring of this year, I prowled through my library’s ebook collection and lo! Jane Steele was available to check out. Again, laziness intervened and finally, I gave myself a stern talking on checking out titles and not reading them, sat myself down and read. (I read seven books the week we were on vacation in May. Feast or famine!) I am kicking myself for not finishing this last year!
Jane Steele tells the story of Jane Steele whose life runs parallel to Jane Eyre’s. Once Jane Steele’s father dies, she and her mother are whisked from their grand house by Jane’s aunt and creepy son to a small cottage on the property. One day, Jane accidentally kills her cousin who attempts to rape her and not long after, Jane’s mother succumbs to her madness from long held grief and dies. While the house was to be inherited by Jane upon her father’s demise when Jane was a toddler, her mother leaves behind no document or paperwork listing as such. Jane is shuttled off to a girl’s school where she accidentally murders the head teacher and this is when the story takes off.
When you think “Jane Eyre mixed with serial killers” as a pause in the material you will read, I can assure you it’s not as trite as it sounds. Faye takes very good care in honoring Jane Eyre, in fact, Jane Steele mentions much throughout the book Jane Eyre is her favorite novel and quotes from the book begin each chapter as well as Steele’s fondness for noting the parallels in their lives.
It’s meta upon meta.
Steele, for I must call her that to prevent further confusion, pulls herself up by her proverbial bootstraps, killing others until her body count is up to five, and attempts to win back her home. She changes her last name and presents herself as a governess to the new lord of the manor, Mr. Thornfield, for Thornfield’s adopted charge. The secrets that bound Thornfield are not a mad woman in an attic, but PTSD of sorts as well as secrets from his time in the Punjabi war. Coupled with Steele’s secrets including those dastardly murders of hers, Steele must reconcile her feelings for Thornfield along with her past. Will he accept her if he knows she’s a murderess?
You might be thinking, “No! She’s a murderess!” which yes, she is but she has very good reason to do so. She’s not a female Jack the Ripper but rather she kills accidentally and for good reason. Sorta like Dexter.
Jane Steele‘s subtitle is A Confession which it very much is with occasionally breaking the fourth wall as the story progresses. This plot device does not feel contrived or heavy-handed which was a bit of concern when I started reading and I was relieved to find out Faye handled that device with deft and care.
The book comes in at a hefty 500 pages which can be daunting to some but I promise the story will fly by quick. Steele is very much a character with whom you can empathize and hell, even cheer for. For its originality, character development, and unique take on Jane Eyre, I highly, highly recommend this book.
(I cannot leave this post off without quoting the following from the author’s note in the book because I genuinely lol’d
…if (Emily) Brontë lived today, it wouldn’t be impossible to picture her replying to troll tweets and one-star Amazon reviews…)
First impressions: A wholly unique tale of the last remaining fictional survivor of the Bronte family, their legacy, as well as her grief of loss, a tiny bit of romance, and a mystery to bring closure to very important things(tm). I was captivated by the story and found myself falling in love with Samantha Whipple within the first few pages. An engaging and clever read that I was ultimately disappointed it had to end.
Whenever I read a book review on an upcoming or new published book, “unique,” “original,” or “clever” get thrown around a lot which makes me pucker my lips. I’m a firm believer there is rarely any “unique,” “original,” or “clever” works.
Reader, I was wrong. (I was so wrong, the next book I review also is unique, original, and clever.)
Samantha Whipple is a first year at Old College, Oxford University. Her mother left their family when she was a teen, her beloved father had recently died, and she was the last inheritor to the Bronte legacy only there isn’t a legacy to be inherited and if there is, no one in the Whipple family have any idea what it is despite the insistance of Bronte scholars and academics. Even with the romance as one of the subjects, this book is not chick lit or a romance but it is a woman’s story of how she works through grief, romantic love, academia, redemption, and finally forgiveness.
The Madwoman Upstairs was published a few years ago but it’s only recently I’ve seen it pop up in my internet reads as comparisons to new Bronte related fiction. I had a blase attitude towards it—the summary does the book no favors but once I got into the story, I became obsessed with finishing the book ASAP. Samantha is feisty, snarky, and in emotional pain—all the things I, and perhaps many, can relate to. Her relationship with her mother is fraught as she reconciles her mother’s relationship with not only her own but with Samantha’s father. Samantha is academically gifted and is often compared to her father who was a brilliant novelist and academic but gives two nothings about her place in academia.
Then there is the Bronte legacy.
The Madwoman Upstairs is many things and surprisingly does not get lost in its many things, but its heart is a mystery of Samantha reconciling and understanding her father more after his death and the dogged pursuit of Bronte scholars absolutely intent on the Whipple family to cough up an imaginary legacy. Samantha is on the hunt for the last remaining pieces of her father’s life, set up as a treasure hunt reminiscent of her childhood, and as she digs deeper into the mystery, Samantha not only learns much about her father and family but also about herself.
It’s rare for a debut to come out of the gate so strong with a finely tuned plot, the writing is sharp and clever (I tell you, I live for Samantha’s dialogue), and there is not a word wasted. At times the story is heart-breaking and uproarious and if you enjoy Bronte related fiction it’s a book not to be missed.
First impressions: Imaginary and imaginative text messages from fictional and non-fictional characters that will have you in stitches.
Originally appearing on The Toast (RIP), Daniel Mallory Ortberg cultivated a following with their insightful, witty, and often painfully funny recreations of texts as if the characters and persons from the literature and history were writing them. Ortberg takes no prisoners covering from Gilgamesh to The Wife of Bath to Gone With The Wind. From Scarlett’s drama with Rhett and Ashely to William Blake’s texting his wife that no, he did not draw anything horrifying for her.
Jane Eyre Rochester: JANE / MY LITTLE SUNBEAM / WHERE ARE YOU / I NEED YOU BY MY SIDE Jane: I’m taking a walk / be back before dinner Rochester: AH YES MY CAGED SPIRIT / COMMUNE WITH NATURE AND UPON YOUR RETURN RELATE TO ME THE VAGRANT GLORIES OF THE RUINED WOOD Jane: do you really want me to describe my walk with you Rochester: MORE THAN ANYTHING YOU POCKET WITCH Jane: it’s fairly cloudy out / looks like rain soon Rochester: AHHH TO THINK MY LITTLE STARLING JANE SHOULD RETURN / TO PERCH ON MY BROKEN MALFORMED SHOULDER / SINGING A SONG OF GREY AND WRACKING SKIES / MAKES MY HEART SWELL TO BURST Jane: all right
Even Jane is included:
Pride and Prejudice Mrs. Bennet: You must see to it your sister invites Mr. Bingley, Lizzie Lizzie: He isn’t here, Mother Mrs. Bennet: isn’t here? / He must be here / The ball is in seven days / and if he is not here then how will we convince our Mr. Darcy to attend? Lizzie: Mr. Darcy is not here either Mrs. Bennet: no? / But I thought he was in London / for business / and return in time for the ball Lizzie: No / he’s not in London / he is on a ship / he is going to war Mrs. Bennet: but this is terrible news Lizzie: There is an actual war going on right now / against Napoleon Mrs. Bennet: How could this have happened Lizzie: He was commissioned months ago Mrs. Bennet: And Mr. Bingley? Lizzie: Probably yes
Texts from Jane Eyre is an anthology of sorts that you can dip in and out of and the chapters are well marked if you’re looking for a particular text to make the dipping in and out of easier. Clocking in at 240 pages, it shouldn’t take you too long if you read them from start to finish (which I did). 90% of the texts are hilarious while some are obviously Ortberg phoning it in but overall, whether if you’re an avid reader, like satire, or need a gift for someone who seems to have it all, you can’t go wrong with Texts from Jane Eyre.
First impressions (ha!): the book is excessively diverting (double ha!).
I recently decided to get my reading lists in order. Between books I’ve bought, books I check out from the library, and books I review for No Flying, No Tights and NetGalley, my reading list is a hot mess and I tend to return tons of books I never got around to reading. So one day I sat down and drew up a list of what books I had in chronological order from whom they were from and when the books were due. Not surprisingly this list has been instrumental in finishing titles in quick succession and it was even more helpful when I took MegaBus to Chicago last weekend for C2E2.* As the adventure was 14 hours round trip, I downloaded nearly 20 ebooks for reading. What can I say, I can comprehensively read on average of 75 pages per hour and I was ambitious.
An hour before I arrived in Chicago, I started Camp Austen and found myself surprised we were at the bus stop in what seemed like minutes. While the prose teetered between academic and layman’s terms, Scheinman is at first an academic, this did not deter the book as an engrossing read. While he does make use of popular vernacular such as “Lizzy Bennet dropping the mic on Lady Catherine in Volume II of Pride and Prejudice,” I did not find distracting or out of place and it seemed appropriate in Scheinman’s balance between pop culture with a bit of high brow thrown in since some academics who write books to appease the general populace tend to get caught up in their $5 words with disregard to their audience. This is not Scheinman as he presents, and sometimes worships, Austen as a lingua franca: that commonality between the academics and fans where scholarship can expand (and yes fun can be had). Scheinman goes on to say he has no desire to protect Jane from the masses nor the masses from her. Take that crusty academics.
The story is thus: Scheinman finds one of his mentors wants to do Jane Austen Summer Camp (inspired by the Dickens Universe at UC Santa Cruz) where there would be a week of lectures, balls, and other refinements. Additionally, Scheinman’s mother is well thought of through the Austen world and since she was laid up for most of Scheinman’s time with the Janeites with bad knees, Mrs. Scheinman’s popularity granted Scheinman himself easier access to the upper echelons of Janeiteism for this project that may not have been accessible to him without that introduction. Scheinman also splices his easy entryway into the story and is upfront about his easy admittance and it’s clear while he’s doing his mother a favor, he does indeed find himself as an “accidental superfan.” With that in mind, Scheinman as well juxtaposes his work with the camp with his introduction to Austen, via his mother, Austen’s works, and his travels to AGMs which is all research for a series he’s writing on Austen superfans for a magazine (he doesn’t say which).
While Scheinman admits he’s stepped back from the Austen world since his days of dancing and playing Mr. Darcy, he writes about Janeites with much respect while poking a bit of fun on the superfans who take on Janeitism to a whole new level. He provides the example of an Austen themed tea company whose slogan was a cheeky take Austen was a loose woman (referring to Austen liked her tea loose) and one Janeite proclaimed haughtily how DARE the tea company imply Jane was “loose” (in regards to her morals). Even I rolled my eyes at that one and Scheinman agrees even Jane would have rolled her eyes as well.
Another pleasing theme that runs through the course of the book is Scheinman’s recounting of Austen’s history both personal and professional. He recounts a story of John Wallop, 3rd Earl of Portsmouth, a most unsavory character, who may have been the basis for a few of Austen’s villains in her novels. I did not know this. While granted I am not at a superfan level, I do take pleasure in knowing much about Austen’s personal history so reading Camp Austen was a history lesson that turned out to be much desired and fulfilling.
A day or two into C2E2, I found myself awake before my roommates so I headed down to the lounge with my iPad and to get coffee and I then proceeded to finish the book as the sun rose in Chicago. It wasn’t too long before the book was finished and I then closed the Kindle app with a sigh. This is the one failing of Camp Austen: it’s only 160 pages long so it makes for a quick read but additional detail would simply be filler.
I give this book a 5/5 and I heartily recommend it to anyone who is an Austen fan or has a passing interest in Austen since it’s a good introduction to Austen’s world and history coupled with a light critique and observation of the world of her fans and admirers. It’s got something for everyone.
*C2E2 is a comic-con held in Chicago every year and with the exception of 2017, I’ve gone every year since 2012. I’ve only cosplayed once (as the Ninth Doctor from Doctor Who) but I am thinking if one of my BFFs and I don’t go as Good Janet/Bad Janet from the TV show “A Good Place” next year, I’m going to see if I can get my druthers up to go as Lizzy Bennet from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (and yep, I do adore the movie of the same name).
Saints preserve us, I am done with this book and I detested every moment I was reading it.
The plot: Lizzy, a chef in New York, has burned out and retreats to Seattle to recharge and take care of her sister, Jane, who has cancer. While in Seattle, Lizzy struggles with who she is, her purpose in life, and how to strengthen, and build, her romantic, familial, and platonic relationships. Which choices will she make and what life will she lead?
(The book does reference Jane Austen but only that Lizzy and Jane are named after the two Bennett sisters and our Lizzy and Jane are Austen fans and often turn to her works for comfort. My mea culpa was I assumed based on the title the book would be a retelling of P&P but I was most certainly wrong.)
At first glance, the plot seems to be your typical chick lit plot which is fine. I do enjoy a bit of chick lit now and then. But ugh. It’s a hot mess.
This book was tedious, boring, and contrved. I nearly threw it against the wall a few times and the only reason why I finished it (five minutes before I wrote this review actually) was because I was hate reading it. Typically I give books the first 50 pages treatment: if you don’t succeed in hooking me within the first 50 pages, I do not finish your book. There are too many good books out in the world that need to be devoured and wasting time on lesser books is a crime.
There was no action. Sure, the characters did things but it was more “we are going to do this” and that lead to “we are going to do that.” The pacing was slow to the point of snooze-worthy and I felt reading this book was like watching paint dry. I could not connect to any of the characters and I found Lizzy to be a bit on the wishy-washy side and her sister Jane to be a bit of a snot. Sure there are conflicts, like Lizzy and Jane fighting over their relationships with their parents, but it felt forced. The characters seemed to be going through the motion of what they were supposed to be doing rather than feeling what they were doing, you know, like sociopaths.
Note: While this book is not marketed as such, it definitely should be shelved as Christian fiction. I am not against Christian fiction as a genre but I feel the use of God and faith as a plot point should be consistent throughout but here it wasn’t. The first 100 pages were your standard “will they or won’t they” chick lit fare and then BAM! Faith, God, and religion are heavy-handedly thrown in on the characters decision process and I won’t mince words to say this is a bit off-putting.
Reay has a shtick using various Austen and Bronte characters and personalities as the focal point of her books: In addition to Lizzy & Jane, there is The Austen Escape, Dear Mr. Knightley, and The Bronte Plot. I own Dear Mr. Knightley but I have decided not to read it. But!The Austen Escape is time travel to Regency Engand and The Bronte Plot is a nod to my current favorite sisters and both titles are available from the library so I am checking those out and hopefully my mind will be changed on Reay’s writing style.
I’m donating my Lizzy & Jane and Dear Mr. Knightley to my local JASNA group (not only am I a member but also the librarian) in hopes that someone will give them the love I could not. Despite my misgivings, Reay’s books border on 4/5 stars at GoodReads and LibraryThing so her books have some appeal so it’s pretty clear they are not for me.
I read Wuthering Heights in high school when I decided to read the classics they weren’t teaching me in school. I remembered being pissed at Heathcliff and Cathy—why for the love of god could they not get their shit together! After nearly flinging the book at my bedroom wall, I hightailed it back to my beloved Jane Austen because with her books there were less brooding and more happily ever afters. My brother and I grew up in a rough environment where love and encouragement were rarely seen and when they were, metered out so dealing with brooding anti-heroes were the last thing I wanted to deal with.
So! Brontës were shelved and it would be twenty years later before I would reach for them again.
Why now? That’s a question I have been asking myself quite a bit since I started this blog but I think the answer lies when I read the review for Take Courage: Anne Bronte and the Art of Life and I thought, “You know, I relate to Anne and I can see bits of her in me.” That lead me down the rabbit hole you see as the blog before you.
And it is the latter book we’re going to review today.
(Sorry, long-winded introduction here.)
When I got in touch with Pennington to review her book, I was excited by the book’s concept. Stories that combines memoir with touchstones of some kind are books I can relate to because I think we all, and myself, in particular, have items and things that speak to us that other things may not.
Pennington’s book traces her love of the Brontës, in particular Charlotte (everyone seems to love Charlotte), from Pennington’s middle teen years when she was introduced to Jane Eyre to present day. Using primarily Jane Eyre as her guide, Pennington traces her life events to Jane Eyers such as how Jane handled bullying from Rochester when Pennington was getting bullied herself. “What would Jane do?” became the mantra of Pennington’s life from her everyday decisions down to her decisions on working with her now husband on the early days of their relationship.
I was afraid Pennington’s book was going to be more of a book report than a personal look into her life that I’m delighted to say it is not. It’s very much a story of Pennington’s life with Brontë ancedotes that line up with Pennington’s life. She uses a lot ofendnotess. I LOVE end and foot notes, Terry Pratchett I am looking at you, because it gives the reader a way to look at other sources to glean more information about the Brontës and their influences.
We learn a lot about Charlotte’s life, influence, and writing, and less so about Anne and Emily, which isn’t too surprising as Charlotte is the more dominant force in the Brontë household and because of admiration, I think the title of Pennington’s book is misnamed, or should I say the subtitle is incorrect. It’s predominantly Charlotte that charts the course of Pennington’s life and Anne and Emily (and very rarely Branwell) are occasional visitors. Jane Eyre takes center stage here and there is also less about “woman’s work” as the subtitle suggests. Pennington doesn’t define or explain what that term means to her so it seems superfluous to mention.
Overall, I really loved this book more than I thought I would. I found Pennington’s voice refreshing and warm, not stodgy and impersonal which, surprisingly, many memoirs tend to be. The provided bibliography and end notes are a great boon to dig deeper into the Brontës life and works which as a curious person is a delight.
A Girl Walks into a Book can be used as a great introduction to the Brontës life and works for those who have only a superficial knowledge of the family or their works. Pennington does a great job on being very thorough on the Brontës life and works that while I knew more than the average person, I came away with a much richer experience and my admiration for Anne, and yes, Charlotte is next in line, Emily, and Branwell.
In one of my many bios across the internet, I proclaim I contain multitudes and I make a good addition to any trivia team. This is most certainly true as my interests range from Jane Austen to Doctor Who to Formula 1 racing and back again to the Edwardian age (and everything in between). One of the things I do is I write reviews for No Flying, No Tights, a graphic novel review site that is geared for parents and librarians. Since I am a librarian and I love graphic novels, here we are!
With that said, a few years ago I did a review for Stacy King’s Manga Classic: Emma. I love some good paraliterature so I snapped this up in a hurry. While I cannot reproduce the review in whole here, copyright and all that (but you can find the full review link at the bottom), I can summarize to say I liked this quite a bit, I gush about it in the review, and I recommend it if you were interested in reading manga as this would be good entry point (Udon, the publisher, has other classical tales in manga form) as well as it would be a good entry point for someone who is intimidated by the classics.
In a world not dissimilar to our own, there is but one large difference: time travel exists. Not Doctor Who time travel where you can manipulate time and space, but a possibility that for most characters in this world can do once and very rarely more than once in their lifetime but they can do it nonetheless. Time travel here is not quite fleshed out or really given even fake physics view from it other than they are traveling via wormholes, but no matter, the premise of the story is delightful enough to keep reading
Trained at the Royal Institute for Special Topics in Physics, doctor Rachel Katzman and actor-turned-scholar Liam Finucane have a singular purpose: to steal the letters of Jane Austen to find out what happens to Jane’s incomplete works and to see if they can cure and save Jane from her mysterious ailment that kills her at the age of 42 in 1817. They are to do all of this without changing the course of history (too much).
We are dropped immediately into the story when Rachel and Liam land in Leatherhead, Surrey dressed in period garb and affecting mannerisms of 1815 England. Posing as brother and sister, Rachel and Liam must not only integrate themselves into Regency society but also become intimates of the Austen family. Educated in the whereabouts, personalities, and eventual deaths of the Austens as well as the time period itself, Rachel and Liam must skilfully navigate society as to a:keep up appearances of their assumed personalities, and b: do not disrupt anything in the timeline, specifically with the Austens, that could change the outcome of history.
There is much that I love about this book. First and foremost, Flynn’s characterization of Jane is brilliant and how I would have expected Jane to be —slightly sarcastic but without malice, fiercely protective of her family, and curious as hell about the world. Rachel’s relationship with Jane is a bit sticky in the beginning: Both are independent and fierce in their own right, but watching Jane and Rachel become the most intimate of sisters felt real and not contrived. I was especially buoyed by Flynn’s rendition of Jane as another novel I just finished with Jane as the main character drew Jane as slightly flighty and a bit too sweet, which clashed with everything we know from the meager number of letters on about Jane. Flynn drawing Jane from those personal accounts really set the tone of the story.
As Rachel and Liam become more involved with their subjects, some conflicts appear. While having a secret engagement with Henry Austen, Jane’s most beloved brother, Rachel finds herself in love with Liam which one can expect is most delicate as they are portraying themselves as brother and sister. Liam seems to return Rachel’s affections but their affair, obviously kept in secret, seems one-sided as Rachel comes off as a teenager in the first throes of her first boyfriend while Liam remains steadfast and stoic. Perhaps that was the intent? It should be noted there is definitely nothing chaste in their joining which didn’t put me off, I slightly adored it, but there is no next chaptering it in these love scenes. Fear not dear reader! The Rachel/Liam romance is very secondary in the book and it does not detain from the story.
Jane eventually finds out Rachel and Liam’s true purpose in their real reasons for becoming close to the Austen family and that they are also from the future. This wasn’t too unexpected, Jane would have to find out after all, but Jane’s near immediate acceptance of Rachel and Liam’s objective was a bit disappointing. Flynn captures Jane as headstrong and independent through 90% of the book and drops it during these scenes— Jane’s quick acceptance seems out of character.
When Rachel and Liam return to present day, they discover their true purpose was not to just capture Jane’s letters before they are destroyed but to prolong her life, which Rachel eventually does. Upon their return, not only have they changed world history—Jane lives, publishes over 20 novels, and lives a long full life, but Rachel and Liam’s personal history have also been changed. In some ways, drastically such as Rachel’s mother, who in her first time line is living when Rachel leaves for the past, but in her new current timeline, her mother had died when Rachel was young.
The ending, I thought, was a bit clunky. We are left hanging of the “will they or won’t they” in regards to Rachel and Liam and Flynn writes as if she’s not too sure either on what’s going to happen. I re-read the last chapter several times and I am still finding it a bit uneven.
Nevertheless, Flynn’s research is near immaculate and it really shows. She captures the period beautifully down to the wordplay, mannerisms, and period correct lifestyles. 90% of the characters are well thought out (oh, Cassandra! I would have loved to have seen more of you!) and vibrant. The story flows evenly despite the slight hiccups along the way and the clunky ending. While I would recommend this title to anyone looking for a fine read, I would most especially recommend it to those who are into Jane Austen paraliterature as it makes a fabulous addition to any collection.