Sunday, May 31, 2009

Jane Austen videos,Part 1

As a bonus, I'll be posting some of my favourite Jane Austen-related videos with each of my Jane Austen book reviews. This one comes courtesy of the BBC comedy show Dead Ringers and is particularly apt, given Alan Rickman had such a memorable role as Col. Brandon in the 1995 version of Sense and Sensibility.

Sense and Sensibility

The title: Sense and Sensibility
The author: Jane Austen
Publication: Crown, 1981 (org. 1811)
Got it from: Mom, Easter 1996

Whenever anyone asked, "Do you love Jane Austen?" I would reply, "Of course!" I have, after all, seen all the movies. Often more than once, some more than four, five, six times. As for the books...

Crickets chirping.

Oh, dear. Herein lies my shameful secret. I do recall (vaguely) starting to read Sense and Sensibility around the age of 14, at least halfway completing Emma around 15, and reading the entirety of Pride and Prejudice when I was 18. That's it. For as much as I love the movies, as much as I love Regency romances, I haven't the books themselves.

So this summer, I'm out to change that. Picking up the hefty, thin-papered, fine-printed Complete Jane Austen my mom gave me eons ago, I'm going to read my way through the books. One a month, just like the Jane Austen Book Club.

May's selection (going in the order in which they are printed in my set) is Sense and Sensibility. This is an interesting place to start with me, because of all the JA movies Emma Thompson's 1995 version of Sense and Sensibility is the one I've seen the most. I estimate at least ten times, maybe more. It is also the first Austen ever wrote, with an early draft completed at the age of 19 in 1795. I've heard from various people that it's not her best work; it suffers in comparison to her later, great novels.

As I was reading, I was struck by two things. The first was that I was going to be picturing the actors from the 1995 movie in my head, even hearing them say their lines. Which is a shame, because I didn't get to see the characters the way I wanted to, from my imagination. The other is that I really enjoy Austen's writing. I definitely appreciate it more than I did during my brief readings as a teenager. In particular, her sarcasm is a hoot. She can really make some characters so memorable, so annoying and so obsequious with just one well-placed line. And with Austen, it's all about the characters.

I won't bother summarizing the plot, because it's so well-known, and can be found just about anywhere. Rather, I will say how much I enjoyed visiting these characters a little bit each night before I went to sleep. At first, I wanted to give some of them a hearty smacking. Particularly Marianne, when she talks about how a woman of seven-and-twenty could never hope of securing any man's affections, but also, later, Elinor for not standing up for herself. As the characters grow and learn, it's that much more rewarding. When they suffer terrible blows, it's that much more satisfying when it all works out in the end.

I'm looking very much forward to seeing Austen's writing develop even more and her stories become even more entertaining.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Penderwicks

The title: The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits and a Very Interesting Boy
The author: Jeanne Birdsall
Publication: Alfred A. Knopf
Got it from: La Library

I've just finished reading this book and it reminds me a lot of those old-fashioned kids' books I used to read over the summer holidays. There's a few references to modern things like computers, but other than that it could easily take place in the 1950's. It concerns four sisters: Rosalind, the oldest and mothering one; Skye, the brainy, math-loving and temperamental sister; Jane, who's forever composing stories in her head and loves soccer; and Batty, whose name pretty much describes her personality (she's always wearing butterfly wings).

In this adventure, their father takes them to the Berkshire Mountains for a three-week holiday (their mother is dead, natch) and they end up befriending the rich, lonely boy whose family owns the estate their cottage is on. Cue various wholesome adventures, including catching runaway rabbits and shooting arrows at cardboard cutouts of their enemies. There's more than a hint of homage to the first few chapters of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and Rosalind's unrequited crush on a local teenage boy reads almost exactly like that of Nora's in Kit Pearson's brilliant Looking at the Moon (complete with the dramatic heartbreak scene). If you like your summer days filled with nostalgic fun and your villains literally mustache-twirling, you could do a lot worse than this.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Ransom My Heart

The title: Ransom My Heart
The author: Princess of Genovia Mia Thermopolis (aka Meg Cabot)
Publication: HarperCollins, 2009
Got it from: Amazon

He's a tall, handsome knight with a secret.

She's an adventurous beauty with more than a few secrets of her own.

Finnula needs money for her sister's dowry, and fast. Hugo Fitzstephen, Earl of Stephensgate, returning home from England from the Crusades, has money, saddlebags of gold and jewels, and lots of it. What could be simpler than to kidnap him and hold him for ransom? Especially when he's more than willing to allow himself to be caught by such a winsome captor.

This is the romance novel that Princess Mia wrote for her senior year project. I don't think I'm giving away any secrets by telling you that at the end of the last novel, she gets it accepted for publication. Meg Cabot has quite the task set out for her: to write a romance novel in the voice of her own 17-year-old character. Fortunately she's up to the challenge. Ransom My Heart reads exactly like it came from a 17-year-old who's done her homework and has a good editor.

Here's the deal: if you're the sort of person who gets upset at historical inaccuracies and blanches at medieval characters telling each other to shut up, you should probably skip this. But if you're willing to overlook the pure silliness of the whole thing, the story is quite entertaining and should amuse. Forsooth!

Rating: seven bliauts out of ten (would someone please explain what the heck a bliaut is??)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Good Girls Don't

The title: Good Girls Don't
The author: Kelley St. John
Publication: Warner Forever, 2005
Got it from: WBBS, Toronto

If you're into romances that have strong side characters with romances of their own, you've come to the right book. Colette Campbell, a former cheerleader, is now working for My Alibi, a company that provides cheating spouses with alibis. When her sister Amy begs Colette to cover for a friend, Colette agrees. Amy's friend is only eighteen and doesn't want her overprotective uncle to find out she's run off with a biker dude. Only problem is, the uncle turns out to be Colette's best friend from high school...and the guy who's been in love with her forever. He sets out to woo Colette, and she has major angst as she finds herself having to lie while falling in love with him. Meanwhile, sister Amy has problems of her own. She's having trouble coming up with new ideas for the sex toy company she works for. Sexy co-worker Landon Brooks may be just what she needs to "inspire" her. Meanwhile, Bill's neice Erika is discovering that her biker guy isn't so nice after all, and there's this new guy who seems more than a little interested...

If you've read Kelley St. John before, you know you can always expect at least two things from her books: lots of sex in strange locations and a catchphrase that gets repeated over and over again. The characters in this book say "have mercy!" enough times to put Uncle Jesse to shame (well, Uncle Jesse never did it at an amusement park before...I hope). Her books tend to be thin on plot but strong on character, which buoys them up from being standard beach reads. Although the characters may do strange things like lie for a living and make sex toys, they're good people at heart so it's hard for me to banish them to the realm of awful chick lit. While it may not be memorable, Good Girls Don't is cute, fun and lighthearted.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

112th post spectacular: or; Forever Princess

The title: Forever Princess
The author: Meg Cabot
Publication: HarperCollins, 2009
Got it from: Amazon

This is the tenth and final book in the Princess Diaries series (except for "Mia's" romance novel, which I will get around to reading...eventually. I swear.) Mia is graduating from high school, and there's a lot going on. She's been dating J.P. for almost two years, she has to decide which college she wants to go to, it's her eighteenth birthday, Michael is returning from Japan, Lilly still won't speak to her, she's in therapy...oh, the drama. Not to mention she's been writing a romance novel for her senior project, which she wants to get published.

While I'm sad the series is ending, in some ways I'm kind of ready for it. It's hard to believe, but when this series started getting published, I actually was the age Mia is in the final book (eighteen). Weird, I know. It seemed like in the earlier books, I understood her more. But now, what with the text messaging and Blackberries and cell phones...geesh, I guess I just don't get teenagers these days (shakes head mournfully). When I was in high school, nobody had a cell phone. Passing notes was way more fun, because you could draw cartoons on them. Not that I ever wrote notes when I should have been paying attention. Moving on...

Of course, this being Meg Cabot, I plowed through in three days because you just can't put down a Meg Cabot book. Were some things resolved? Yes, of course. I'd still like to know if there was something going on between Grandmere and Dr. Knutz, the psychologist - I totally think there was. I'm not a big J.P. fan anymore, but I'm still not on the Michael bandwagon either. Sure, he comes back from Japan rich and buff and smelling so good. I just don't think he had much of a personality.

Was it good? Yes. Does it matter what I say, because if you're reading this book you probably love the series anyway? Probably not.