Monday, August 31, 2009

Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict

The title: Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict
The author: Laurie Viera Rigler
Publication: Dutton, 2009
Got it from: The library

Back when I started this blog, I reviewed the book that came before this one, Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict. I gave that book a poor grade because I didn't care for the heroine. Luckily, I enjoyed this second outing much more.

In the first book, 21st century L.A. woman Courtney Stone time-travels back to Regency England in the body of one Jane Mansfield. In this book, Jane awakens in our time in Courtney's body. She gets to deal with all sorts of new and interesting things: hot showers, Facebook, TV, cars and Courtney's messed-up love life. I rather enjoy time-travel stories where people from the past get to see our world, rather than the other way around. Jane is a much more likable character than Courtney, and her Regency dialogue in modern-day L.A. is highly amusing. I zipped through this book in two days, anxiously hoping that Jane would get Courtney's love life sorted out.


My original complaint of neither Jane nor Courtney having interesting lives still holds, though I give points to Jane for having some backbone. My real complaint, however, is the ending. I really, really, REALLY* didn't like it. In my head, they returned to their own lives with the lessons they'd learned and applied it to their own times. Instead, we're left with ambiguity. What was the point of them switching and learning if they couldn't make it work in their own times? The ending just didn't work for me and left me with a sour feeling I'd have been better off without.

* I can't stress this enough.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


The title: Emma
The author: Jane Austen
Publication: Crown, 1981 (org. 1815)
Got it from: Mom, Easter 1996

And so August belongs to Emma. Austen once said that she had created a character that nobody would like, being such an insufferable snob. I must protest, and vindicate her. I cannot help but feel, given the same circumstances, that I would be just as snobbish. She lives in a narrow society, in a boring village, with nobody around who can equal her wit and vivacity and only Mr. Knightly her equal in intellect. After reading page after page of Miss Bates prattling on, who wouldn't get frustrated and be tempted to make a joke at her expense? After enduring Mrs. Elton's pretensions and selfishness, who wouldn't loathe her as much as Emma does? After putting up with years of praise of Jane Fairfax, and then receiving only coldness from the same lady, who wouldn't roll her eyes at the mere mention of her name? In short, Emma is a snob, but does it necessarily follow that snobbery is a bad thing?

As to the novel itself, I must give credit where credit is due. Nobody creates more memorable characters than Jane Austen, and nowhere does she do this better than in Emma. The trick, I think, lies in her ability to draw her caricatures from recognizable people. Mr. Woodhouse is a hoot in his self-inflicted infirmity and feebleness, but who hasn't known somebody who invents obstacles when there are none? Likewise, we all know people like Miss Bates, good-hearted and selfless to a fault but agony to be around because of their pointless chatter. It makes one shutter to think of all the nonesense Austen herself and other Regency ladies endured in the name of politeness.

I found the first part of Emma to be the best, with everything up until Mr. Elton's botched Christmas proposal just ducky. Unfortunately, it drags after Frank Churchill's arrival and I confess I found the book overly long and meandering in parts. However, the last few chapters picked up the pace and the book was finished with satisfaction.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Borrower of the Night (Vicky Bliss #1)

The title: Borrower of the Night
The author: Elizabeth Peters
Publication: HarperCollins, 1973
Got it from: Chapters

There have been few authors as consistently enjoyable for me as Elizabeth Peters. I am still working my way through the brilliant Amelia Peabody series, but a crazy notion (must be the August heat) had me reaching for Vicky Bliss instead. I'm sorry I haven't tried reading the Vicky Bliss series earlier. Vicky's no Amelia Peabody, but she's a pretty bad-ass modern counterpart.

Peters is the master of the romantic comedy mystery, no matter which era. As usual, the mystery is enjoyable but takes second place to the (sarcastic, wonderful, lovable) main characters. This book was written in 1973, but remains fresh 36 years later. Vicky is an American professor - tall, blonde, buxom and determined not to marry. Like Jacqueline Kirby, Peters' other droll heroine, Vicky flirts and spars with her male counterparts but rejects them all in favour of her independence at the end (though not without a bit of self pity. As she runs for help at the end of the novel, she muses in what may be one of the best paragraphs I've ever read: "I was sick. I was thirsty. I was all covered with dirt, and nobody loved me.") Supposedly she takes on a lover later in the series, someone more worthy of her. I can't wait.

The mystery feels a bit Agatha Christie-ish, with some Indiana Jones thrown in. Vicky and some of her university colleagues go to Germany in pursuit of long-lost shrine. A crumbling medieval castle plays a large role, as does the ubiquitous knife-wielding suit of armor. Of course it's all very silly, with moonlit chases in graveyards and fainting damsels, but I ain't complainin'. There's something comforting about a good mystery on a thunderstorming summer night (and we've had one every night for about a week). I am very much looking forward to reading more Vicky Bliss.

Saturday, August 1, 2009


The title: Stars
The author: Kathryn Harvey
Publication: Avon, 1992
Got it from: Freemont Books

Stars follows the trials and tribulations of Phillipa Roberts, the long-lost twin sister of Beverly Highland, the heroine of the fantastic Butterfly. While Stars is by no means as good Butterfly, it has quickly become one of my favourite summertime reads. It was so delicious I could hardly put it down and could easily have read it in one sitting.

Warning: do not attempt to read the sequel until you've read the original first. So much of the plot hinges on the events of the first book, you'd be totally lost. The villain of the first book, the psychopathic Danny McKay, comes back from the dead and begins stalking the main character, whom he mistakes for her twin. Phillipa Roberts has become the head of a highly successful weight loss empire, and is almost as rich and powerful as her twin, who is now the owner of a posh resort called Star's. The plot follows a similar route as Butterfly, with the story of the main character's troubled childhood and rise to fame interspersed throughout present-day events.

There are two things I love very much about this book. One is the jumpy timeline, where the reader gets to guess who in the past is who in the present with a new identity. It's fun to guess right and watch the puzzle pieces fall into place. The other is that this story focuses almost solely on women's lives. The men never become more than passing romantic interests and are never called to rescue the women, who can fend for themselves, thankyouverymuch. In fact a lot of the story focuses on the love between older women/younger men, which is a complete turnaround from most romances of the day. In this and in Butterfly, the women hold all the power and control their own companies, and that's awesome.

In short, it's the perfect cracktastic summer read. The only jarring scenes belong to the villain, who's so creepy I could almost feel the slime coming off him. I almost wish he hadn't been in the book at all, there was plenty of conflict without him.

Four and a half Stars (heh) out of five.