Book Review: A Girl Walks Into A Book

Jane Austen Reviews

Title: A Girl Walks Into A Book: What the Brontës Taught Me about Life, Love, and Women’s Work
Author: Miranda K. Pennington
Pub date: May 16, 2017
ISBN: 978-1580056571

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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.

2017 has also seen much of the celebration of not only the 200th anniversary of Jane’s death, but it’s the 200th anniversary of Branwell’s birth and the interest of the Brontës has skyrocketed as a side effect. In addition to Take Courage: Anne Bronte and the Art of Life , which doesn’t seem to be published in the States yet, there is also The Secret History of Jane Eyre: How Charlotte Brontë Wrote Her Masterpiece, Cat Valente’s The Glass Town Game, and Miranda K. Pennington’s A Girl Walks Into A Book to name a few books on the market this year and this does not include movies, theatre, and trinkets coming out this year.

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.

Highly recommended.

Book Review: Manga Classics: Emma

Jane Austen Reviews

Title: Manga Classics: Emma
By: Jane Austen and Stacy King
Pub date: June 24, 2015
ISBN: 978-1927925355

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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.

You can find the full review here.

 

Book Review: The Jane Austen Project

Jane Austen Reviews

Title: The Jane Austen Project
By: Kathleen A. Flynn
Pub date: May 2, 2017
ISBN: 978-0062651259

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Review: HERE BE SPOILERS

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).

Simple enough.

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.

 

 

 

Review: Jane Austen’s First Love by Syrie James

Jane Austen's First LoveTitle Jane Austen’s First Love
Author Syrie James
Reviews Goodreads / LibraryThing
Rating: 3/5

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 Austenand 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.