The Mansfield Trilogy // by Lona Manning

Do you ever read a trilogy that (a) should have only been two books at the most, not three, and (b) just kind of gets worse the further you go along?  That’s what happened to me with this retelling of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.

  • A Contrary Wind
  • A Marriage of Attachment
  • A Different Kind of Woman

So basically this trilogy explores what would have happened if the winds blowing Sir Thomas home had remained contrary – meaning that the scandalous play being rehearsed at Mansfield Park went on as scheduled, and the various relationship train wrecks that almost happen in the original DID happen.  I really enjoyed this concept, especially since the version gives Fanny a little more backbone – she leaves Mansfield Park to find a post as a governess, following her own path.  I really enjoyed the first book.  Even though it was a little over-the-top in places, I felt like, for the most part, Manning did a good job capturing the essence of the original characters and took the story in a direction that felt possible.  I felt like Manning had a lot of leeway in her variation because most people don’t actually like the way Mansfield Park ends.  So basically if someone writes a Pride & Prejudice variation, you KNOW Darcy and Elizabeth are going to end up together – otherwise, what’s the point?  But few people view Fanny and Edmund the same way, so basically no hard feelings when Manning decides to have their romances go in different directions.

Things started to come apart a little in the second book, mostly because there were long sections that just felt like padding.  In the first book, Fanny falls in with an abolitionist group (which actually read really well), but here the societal-improvement sections began to feel a little preachier.  This series is also about lots of other characters besides Fanny – the Crawfords, Edmund, and Fanny’s brother William are the main other characters.  Some of their storylines got a little ridiculous, but on the whole I still was engaged enough to delve into the third book.

For me, the third book just felt like Manning was dragging everything out.  There wasn’t really any kind of plot, so when she was jumping around between characters, it felt clunky and manufactured instead of like things were coming together as it was in the first two books.  All the preaching about doing good and helping the poor was a lot more polemic, and there was this whole side plot with Mary Crawford and the real-life poet Shelley that just felt like it was NEVER going to end and also felt COMPLETELY pointless.

Overall, I did like the conclusions for the various characters, and I did love the way that Manning decided to develop Fanny’s character.  There were several side plots that I thoroughly enjoyed, but while I gave the first book 4*, the second book only got 3*, and the finally book got 2*.  However, there were a few of us reading this at the same time on Litsy and the others seemed to enjoy the concluding book more than I did.  So, if you’ve always felt vaguely that Fanny got a little ripped off, I think it’s well worth picking up because Manning does go some creative directions.

Seeking Mansfield trilogy // by Kate Watson

This trilogy has actually been on my radar for a while, so when I reread Mansfield Park in March, it seemed like a great time to pick up this modern adaptation.  I’d been putting it off because it had been so long since I read MP that I couldn’t really remember the details.  At the time that I added this one to the TBR I didn’t realize that there were two sequels (or maybe there weren’t two sequels at the time… we all know how long books linger on my TBR lol).

  • Seeking Mansfield (2017)
  • Shoot the Moon (2018)
  • Off Script (2020)

In Seeking Mansfield, Fanny’s character has been updated to Finley, a teenage almost-orphan (her father has died and her mom is in prison) who has been adopted by her parents’ best friends, the Bertrams.  Mr. Bertram is cool but busy with business, Mrs. Bertram has some chronic health problems, and the four children of the original story have been reduced to three (although let’s be real, we didn’t really need both sisters since they act almost exactly the same anyway) – Tate (in college), Oliver (Finley’s crush), and Juliette (a total brat).  Finley’s older brother is a professional soccer player, so even though they’re close, she doesn’t get to see him often.  Shy and a little uncertain about her place in the world, Finley is nonetheless drawn to the theater (in stage manager/director roles) and is hoping to seize an opportunity to work with the prestigious Mansfield Theater over the summer.  Finley’s dad was a famous actor, so in many ways the theater is in Finley’s blood.

Of course, everything changes when teen stars/heartthrobs Harlan and Emma Crawford move in next door to live with their aunt and uncle for the summer.  Emma immediately sets her sights on Oliver, and Juliette is desperate to date Harlan, even if it means ditching her son-of-a-local-important-politician boyfriend.

It’s YA, so there is plenty of angst to go around, but overall I thought this was a really solid modernization of MP, despite the characters in this version being a lot younger than the characters in the original – the drama of the intersecting love lives actually fit the YA scene pretty well.  I felt like the essence of the original story was captured really well and enjoyed watching Finely find her inner strength.  There were a few times where the drama felt pretty over-the-top, but I was willing to roll with it.  It also seemed like there could be more/better resolution between Finley and her mother – I wasn’t sure how I felt about the whole “Finley HAS to visit her mom and forgive her” – it was just a really complicated and nuanced situation that felt like it was kind of shoehorned in for no real reason.

Shoot the Moon focuses on the oldest Bertram, Tate.  In Seeking Mansfield we find out that Tate has a gambling addiction.  When we start the second book, he’s going to therapy and meetings, but doesn’t really think that he has a problem, despite the fact that he’s also secretly running a underground gambling ring in his friend’s apartment.  When his dad finds out, Tate is in huge trouble.  His aunt Nora offers to let him work for her on her political campaign, where Tate also runs into his old crush/nemesis Alexandra.

This book was pretty terrible and I honestly more or less hated the entire thing.  First off, we meet Aunt Nora multiple times in Seeking Mansfield, and as the modernized Aunt Norris character she’s DREADFUL.  She’s constantly saying hateful, cruel things to Finley for no reason, is obsessed with political/societal posturing, and is just an all-around jerk.  But suddenly, in Shoot the Moon, she’s the good guy??  She’s the kind, understanding, empathetic relative who is the only one willing to stick her neck out to help Tate.  I couldn’t get over the fact that I spent the whole first book hating this character, but am supposed to magically love her in the second book AND totally support her running for public office!  Sorry, but I would not vote for this woman – she had ZERO redeeming qualities, but anyone who didn’t like her or who pointed that out was just labeled as someone who “hates women” and doesn’t want them to be in politics.  *HUGE EYE ROLL!*

On a similar note, we find out in the first chapter that Finley and Oliver have broken up?!  I mean, seriously, what was even the point of the first book if every single aspect of character development is completely mitigated in the first few pages of the second book??  There was also a lot of personal family drama going on in my life in early April, so honestly a book about a spoiled brat refusing any and all advice from the people who actually care about him, insisting that he has no problems/any problems he does have are the fault of his family and not him, and that character never really acknowledging that he said or did anything wrong just wasn’t the story that I needed.  I get that Tate is supposed to be self-centered and self-destructive, but I was really over watching him make the same mistakes over and over and over and over and then whining about how hard his life was.  The love interest, Alex, was pretty much just as bad – she’s completely self-absorbed and consistently a jerk, but for some reason I’m supposed to think she and Tate will make a great couple??  I literally never shipped them for even a second, and honestly wished that the story had ended with them realizing that they weren’t good for each other – because they WEREN’T!  This book was an incredible disappointment and I almost bailed on it multiple times.

And in fairness, I think I should mention that Oliver and Finley do end up together again by the end of the book, but they’re really just extremely peripheral to the entire story, so it just felt like Watson had broken them up so she could create awkward love triangles.  It was super annoying.

That said, I approached Off Script with trepidation, especially since it was supposed to be a riff on Emma, my other least-favorite Austen.  However, this book was significantly better – much closer to Seeking Mansfield in story quality – and ironically I didn’t need to have read Shoot the Moon at all in order for this one to make sense (although I would definitely recommend reading Seeking Mansfield.)  This story follows up on the Crawford siblings from the first book, and I thought the modern/YA adaptation of Emma’s character (and story) was done extremely well, with Emma Crawford focusing on the career of her new assistant (she’s so beautiful that she has to be a movie star!) and the Knightley character being filled by Finley’s older brother, Liam, who is totally fine with calling Emma out on her nonsense.  There was a lot about this book that I really enjoyed, although it did definitely go off into an extremely preachy/polemic #MeToo essay at the end that didn’t feel particularly organic or natural.  Like I thought the decision that Emma made to create the organization she did made total sense, but listening to expound on the evils of the patriarchy for paragraphs at a time felt clunky. I also felt like things could have been better resolved with her brother.

In the end, if you enjoy YA and are interested in Austen variations, I would totally recommend reading Mansfield Park and Off Script.  Definitely skip Shoot the Moon, though, because it’s pretty terrible and adds nothing to the overall story arc of the series.

April Minireviews

Heck yeah, now we’re talking!! I’m also down to only 1250 unread emails, so I’m really making progress LOL

I actually read three series in April, so here are all the one-offs, and I’ll be posting some series reviews hopefully soon!

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis – 5*

Another enjoyable reread, I’ve always been fond of this one, maybe because I absolutely LOVE the name Caspian. So perfect.

A Lady’s Guide to Mischief & Mayhem by Manda Collins – 3*

//published 2020//

This one was a read for the traveling book club, although it’s also one that was on my TBR, so score.  In the end, it was just a little too “sassy independent women are the only kind who get anywhere in the world” for me.  I don’t mind sassy independent women as characters, but when it’s combined with an attitude that all other women are just sad little victims of the patriarchy, it starts to grate on my nerves, especially in “historical” novels.  The timing also felt weird in this one – the main character meets a woman and they hit it off and start hanging out – then literally two weeks later they’re just going on and on about how they’re BFFs and basically inseparable and it just felt odd.  It was the same with the love interest, who goes from a complete stranger to the most important person in her life in about five minutes.  It was also a book that would have benefited from deciding what it wanted to be – either a romance OR a mystery, because in the end it was just pretty muddled.  It wasn’t a bad story, and I can see why some people really like it, but it wasn’t a good fit for me.

Parker Pyne Investigates by Agatha Christie – 3.5*

//published 1934//

This is a collection of short stories based around the character of Parker Pyne, who isn’t a detective at all but someone who says he can make people’s lives happier.  While these were fairly entertaining, they were also a bit ridiculous.  Not a bad read, but not a particularly strong collection.

Mansfield Park Revisited by Joan Aiken – 3.5*

//published 1985//

After reading Mansfield Park in March, I read a few MP variations that had been on my TBR in April.  In this one, Aiken writes a sequel that focuses on Fanny’s younger sister, Susan, who comes to live at Mansfield Park towards the end of the original story.  This wasn’t a bad story, it was just kind of boring.  Aiken also ruthlessly kills off Sir Thomas in the first chapter and since he’s actually pretty much my favorite character in the original story, I was sad to see him go haha

Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling – 4*

//published 1999//

Not my favorite in the series but still a decent installment.  I’m really enjoying reading the British edition of these books as well.  I’m a strong believer that if a book is written by someone who is British, and set in Britain, there should be no “translation” into American English.  It’s just silly!  So it’s fun to read these with their original British slang and terms.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis – 5*

//published 1952//

This is probably the most episodic of the series, with each chapter or two being its own little adventure.  I really do love the redemption of Eustace, and while Reepicheep can be a bit much, I still can appreciate his valor.  There are a lot of interesting little tales here, some better than others, but on the whole a delightful revisit.

March Minireviews – Part 3

I dream of a day where I’m reviewing books from only, like, two months ago instead of three!

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen – 3.5*

//published 1814//

It’s tough to decide sometimes which Austen is my least favorite – Mansfield Park or Emma.  I just finished the latter, after reading the former in March, and I’m still kind of undecided. The problem with MP is that Fanny is so freaking apathetic about everything in her life except for Edmund.  She’s definitely the Austen heroine most influenced by being “in love” and unfortunately I really don’t like Edmund either (such a twat) so it’s hard for me to really empathize with Fanny even on that.  The ending is also so strange and rushed, just basically “haha they get married after all, eventually, and trust me, they’re super happy!” like… I’m not actually convinced, Jane.  MP has its moments and definitely has some Austen humor to get it through, but I do think it’s overall the most boring of Austen’s novels, with Fanny as the most passive of heroines.

Andy & Willie by Lee Sheridan Cox – 4*

//published 1967//

This is just some old random 1960s book I picked up somewhere along the line.  I think I may have read it way back in the day, but it had been so long I couldn’t even remember if I liked it.  (One would think that since it is still on my shelves, it meant I liked it.  Unfortunately, that’s not always true haha)  But I actually really did enjoy this one a lot.  It was surprisingly funny.  Basically, it’s just a kid telling about his life and adventures in the small Indiana town where he lives.  He and his best friend are always getting into scrapes, and Cox does a great job of letting the older readers in on the reasons why some of Willie’s adventures end up the way they do, even if Willie himself is perplexed by the way adults’ minds work.  This isn’t really a book you’re likely to find around, but if you do, it’s definitely worth a read.

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie – 2*

//published 1904//

This was March’s fairy tale for the #FairyTaleReadAlong on Litsy.  For most of the fairy tales, I read an adaptation, but in this case I had never actually read the original so I decided to give it a try, and wow was it dreadful.  It’s violent and creepy and weirdly hateful towards adults in general and parents in particular.  I think maybe some parts were supposed to funny, or tongue-in-cheek??  But to me it just came across as bizarre and I didn’t like it at all.  What really sent me over the edge was a line in the final chapter/epilogue – “Mrs. Darling was now dead and forgotten” – just… wow.

The Boomerang Clue AKA Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1933//

First off, real talk, why would you ever publish this book under the second title??  It literally gives away half the plot?!  At any rate, this was another great Christie novel with absolutely delightful main characters and plenty of entertaining humor and rather ridiculous adventures.  And let’s be real, the actually question is, why didn’t they KILL Evans?!  I mean seriously!

Defiant Dreams by Cheri Michaels – 3*

//published 1985//

This was one of those random paperbacks from the box of Regency romances I bought from ebay eons ago.  This one is actually set in the US during the Civil War and is about a southern belle who has to go north for safety and ends up staying with relatives in Gettysburg.  Spoiler alert: the war comes to her!  Of course she falls in love with a northern soldier, etc. etc.  This wasn’t a terrible story, but it jumped around a lot instead of actually explaining things.  There are also scenes that just make no sense, like when she calmly removes a bullet from a soldier’s side as though she’s had literally any kind of training in this??  There were just too many moments like that, where the protagonist magically knows how to do something, for me to really get into this one.

November Minireviews – Part 3

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

Well, here’s the last batch of November reviews – at least I’m getting them done before January!!

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen – 5*

//published 1817//

This was only my second time reading this gem, and I was struck afresh by Austen’s snarky humor throughout. Catherine isn’t my favorite Austen heroine, but Henry may be my favorite Austen hero. Also, for some reason I didn’t really notice last time how Henry’s sister gets this entire complicated story in a few paragraphs at the very end of the book – she’s been secretly engaged this entire time?? Where’s my Eleanor Tilney story?! I need one!

Love, Life, and the List by Kasie West – 3.5*

//published 2018//

West is pretty much always good for some clean YA entertainment, so while this one wasn’t particularly memorable, it was still perfectly enjoyable. I did think that Abby’s reaction to the whole art show thing was completely over-the-top… but on the other hand, she’s 17 so maybe West is just being realistic. I really appreciate that West likes to include adults in her stories who aren’t total losers, and Abby’s relationship with her parents and grandpa really made this story for me.

The Illyrian Adventure by Lloyd Alexander – 2.5*

//published 1986//

I really, really love Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles, but haven’t really tried any of his other books. This one is the first in a series about a character name Vesper Holly. First off, the cover is completely misleading, as it appears to be a modern girl, so I was thinking that this was going to be a time-travel book or something – but no, it’s set in 1872 and Vesper is supposed to be a “normal” young woman from that era – except she isn’t, she’s super obnoxious. Recently orphaned when we meet her, she doesn’t act remotely sorrowful or sad, but instead bosses everyone around and decides that they should go on an adventure to the other side of the world to continue her father’s research. The entire book is told from the point of view of Holly’s new guardian, which was the other thing that made this book clunky and awkward – Holly is the main character, but we are completely cut off from her thoughts/motives – everything is viewed through the lens of middle-aged Brinnie, who spends much of his time being completely thick-headed and naïve and completely startled whenever Vesper does something unladylike, despite the fact that pretty much is always doing something unladylike.

This book is aimed for the middle grade audience, so perhaps for them the plot would not be so painfully obvious, but there was absolutely no surprise, twist, or anything unexpected in this entire story. The villain is obviously the villain, the hero obviously the hero, and the only person who can’t figure it out is poor old Brinnie who insists on trusting the wrong people and saying the wrong thing to them at the wrong time so everyone ends up in hot water from which Vesper must once again rescue everyone.

In short, formulaic, boring, and a narrator so dumb I can’t believe he made it to adulthood. On the brightside, a book off my shelf and a series I don’t need to read.

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville – 3.5*

//published 1851//

This is one of those books that I’ve always felt like I “should” read but never really had any desire to do so. But a fellow Litten had a buddy read for this book scheduled in November, reading the book across the entire month, so I thought it was a good time to give it a go. In the end, I can appreciate what makes it a classic, but it definitely isn’t for me. I was mostly surprised at the complete and total lack of action for 95% of this book. I was expecting a roaring Captain Ahab pursuing his nemesis across the open seas, but instead it’s just a regular whaler drifting about and every once in a while they come across another boat and Ahab demands to know if they’ve seen the white whale and sometimes the answer is yes and sometimes it’s no and it doesn’t really matter because they don’t know where he is right now anyway so they just keep cruising along and then they hunt a regular whale because they do need to make some money so we spend a chapter chopping it up and then another five chapters listening the narrator natter on about whales and philosophy and random pointless stories that go nowhere and have nothing to do with anything else.

I don’t exactly regret reading this one but I would never read it again. Someone else told me that they love this book because the rhythm of it reminds them of being at sea – long stretches of quietude followed by a short frenzy of activity. In that way I can appreciate the book, but on the whole it just wasn’t for me.

Room-Maid by Sariah Wilson – 3.5*

//published 2020//

This is one of those “rich girl has to work for a living but doesn’t know how to do anything” stories, which can sometimes be annoying but overall here was good fun, mostly because the main character is a genuinely nice person, although she is a little too air-headed for my personal taste. (Like, I get that you may not look up everything you don’t know how to do because some things seem obvious, but when you’re faced with a major crisis, like spilling something on a couch that you have no idea how to get out, why would you not Google it first??? Multiple catastrophes could have been avoided with the power of the internet.) The pros here were that this book was completely clean and there wasn’t even any “grey area” cheating – not sure why these things are so difficult to find in modern romcoms, but here we are.

While this wasn’t my new favorite, it was still a fun and fluffy story that made for a relaxing read.

October Minireviews – Part 1

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

Oh look, it’s November and I’m just starting to review the books I read in October!!! :-D

Anne of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery – 5*

//published 1939//

Some people complain about this book not “fitting” with the rest of the series since this one (along with Anne of Windy Poplars) was written out of order, but I never knew that until a few years ago and I’ve always loved this one. While the focus shifts off of Anne and onto her children for the most part, it’s still a lighthearted and happy book. I really appreciate that Montgomery didn’t find it necessary to give Anne a horrible life, or make her and Gilbert unhappy together later – instead, they continue to grow together, and now have a whole houseful of little ones as well. A thoroughly enjoyable addition to the series.

My Kind of Wonderful by Jill Shalvis – 3.5*

//published 2015//

When I started reading Second Chance Summer, I didn’t realize it was the first book in a series, so it took a minute for the second and third books to come in at the library. While I really enjoyed returning to Cedar Ridge, Colorado, I didn’t find this one quite as engaging as the first book, mainly because I was seriously distracted by the fact that the whole reason that Bailey is at the lodge is so she can paint a mural… outside… in the middle of winter… in the Colorado mountains… ????? I don’t feel like any kind of paint would work under these conditions??? There’s even one point where she finishes the mural in the dark???

Aside from sketchy connections to reality, it was still a perfectly enjoyable piece of fluff romance. There are a few too many sexy times for me, but otherwise a fun little read.

Nobody But You by Jill Shalvis – 3*

//published 2016//

Sadly, the third book in the series was my least favorite, mainly because it was just… boring. Nothing really happens. Sophie’s divorced and she ended up with her husband’s boat, mainly to tick him off (despite the fact that she didn’t get anything else…) and since she’s broke, she has to live on it. So she’s wandering around in the boat working random temp jobs around the lake while intermittently running into another one of the siblings from Cedar Ridge Lodge, who is suitably hot and awesome. It wasn’t a bad book exactly, just really unexciting. I was never interested to pick it up after I had set it down, but wanted to finish the series itself. I was also annoyed when the big conflict between the main characters is Sophie accusing Jacob of lying to her… when he literally didn’t. When they first met, Sophie thinks he’s a Lake Patrol Officer, but she never actually says that to Jacob, so he doesn’t even know that that’s what she thinks. Later, she gets mad at him for “lying” to her about being an officer??? And his response is to be all apologetic?! My response would have been, Wow this chick is crazy, no thank you.

Not a bad story, but an overall rather apathetic ending to the trilogy.

Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen – 5*

//published 1813// And yes, I totally got the Chiltern edition – SO worth it!!!! //

Since I love reading P&P variations of all kinds, it seemed like I was overdue on a reread of the original story. There isn’t much I can say here that hasn’t already been said – it’s a really fabulous novel with fun characters, an entertaining story, and plenty of romance. I always forget how delightfully snarky Austen is. This classic is definitely worthy of that title, and definitely worth a read.

The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1930//

This is the first appearance of Miss Marple, an elderly spinster who lives in the small village of St. Mary Mead. The book itself is narrated by the vicar (who is extremely likable), but Miss Marple drifts in and out of the story a great deal with her habit of observing everything that is going on and drawing out similarities between situations that most people overlook. One of my biggest take-aways from the this read-through was just the reminder of how, at our core, people are basically alike, which is kind of the point of all the Miss Marple-isms. There is one big coincidence in this mystery that always is hard for me to get over, but for the most part this is a great story and an excellent place to start if you’ve never read a Miss Marple tale.

June Minireviews – Part 4

Oh yeah, rolling through these June reviews now!!

Winterwood by Shea Ernshaw – 4*

//published 2019//

This one was for the traveling book club, but also happened to be a book that I own and was planning to read anyway.  This book had a few things that made it feel odd – for instance, it’s set in modern times, but because they are so isolated and the power is out the entire time, it feels like it should be set in a much older time period, which mean that every time something modern came up (“Why don’t we have cell signal?!”) it felt oddly disorienting.  It’s fantasy, but more what I would consider magical realism, where it’s a natural part of the world.  The overall tone is very melancholy, and sometimes the writing was more flowery and not enough plot, but I still liked it as a one-time read and may even pick it up again sometime.

Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen – 4.5*

//published 1811//

It had been quite a while since I had revisited this one, and it was lovely to read through it again at roughly a chapter a day with a group on Litsy.  I splurged and bought this absolutely gorgeous Chiltern edition… which I love so much that I actually bought the rest of Austen’s books in the same editions!  (I told you I’ve been out of control on book buying lately!)  Just as an aside, the Chilterns are the perfect size, they lay flat while you’re reading them, have gilt edges, and somewhat glossy pages.  They’re just SO pleasurable to read!

The book itself – what can be said that hasn’t already been said?  Austen’s humor is so subtle and wry.  I love how gentle she is – she makes fun of people, but it never feels cruel.  Her writing is more of a celebration of how we’re all a little bit ridiculous sometimes.  This time around I was really struck by how Mrs. Jennings is presented as a somewhat obnoxious character in the beginning, but the more time the sisters spend with her, the more they – and the reader – come to realize that while she is a bit over-the-top, she’s also incredibly kindhearted and generous.  There were several times in this story where Austen gives the reader an initial impression of a character, only to gently, slowly reveal different aspects of that person until you couldn’t help but feel differently about them.

Sense & Sensibility is frequently listed as the “boring” Austen, but I have a soft spot for it, as it’s the first of her books that I ever read.  I greatly enjoyed reading it again, and see myself revisiting this irresistible edition again.

Tweet Cute by Emma Lord – 4.5*

//published 2019//

Finally!!  This book was EXACTLY what I had been looking for in my romcoms.  While it’s technically YA, it has that absolutely delightful humor and just-short-of-ridiculousness that makes romcoms so much fun.  This story is about two seniors in a private school in NYC, both of whom come from restaurant families.  Pepper lives with her mom, who is now the CEO (or something like that) of their restaurant chain, but Pepper misses the days when it was just one building out in the country, small enough that they all felt like they were a part of it.  Even though the company has expanded like crazy, Pepper’s mom still leans on Pepper to do all sorts of random things, especially helping their social media person run the social media – Pepper has a natural flair for coming up with clever little slogans and tweets.

Meanwhile, Jack’s family also owns a restaurant right there in NYC.  Jack loves it there, but isn’t sure if that’s what he wants to do with his life.  He feels like he’s always in the shadow of his twin brother, who gets better grades and is more popular than Jack.  When Pepper’s mom’s company steals the recipe for the special grilled cheese sandwich that Jack’s grandma invented, the two high schoolers get involved in a semi-ridiculous Twitter war.  Through a series of events, they’re also getting to know each other in real life.

The whole story is, like I said, a little ridiculous, but so much fun.  It had all the snark that I had been looking for, and is all about the friendship/romance that is building between them without pages and pages of them thinking highly-sexualized thoughts about each other, which tragically most modern romcoms (and even some YA) seem to find necessary these days.  I was absolutely in love with both of these characters and shipped them so hard.

Downsides – I wished there was more resolution with the situation between Jack and his brother, and I also thought that Pepper’s mom was just too much.  She acted pretty immature and annoying the entire time, and that never really changed.  But for the most part, this book was genuinely great fun, and if you’re looking for something lighthearted and humorous, I highly recommend this one.

Death in the Air by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1935//

This Poirot mystery wasn’t my all-time favorite, but it still had plenty of the usual Christie humor and a decent conclusion to the mystery.  This one is usually published as Death in the Clouds, but mine is Air, and I’m not sure why.  Usually those are differences between US and UK publishing, but this time it just seems to be that it was briefly called Death in the Air for no real reason.  Mysteries of publishing.

The Dating Charade by Melissa Ferguson – 3.5*

//published 2019//

I really wanted to like this book, but just couldn’t quite embrace it wholeheartedly.  The main issue that I had with this one was that it’s billed as a fluffy romcom, but actually deals with a lot of really serious themes and issues.  In many ways, I felt like I was reading two books.  There would be a section where the two main characters are joking around and having a good time, and then the next scene is dealing with the realities of our messed up foster care system.  I really felt like Ferguson would have written a better book if she had focused on the foster care/adoption theme, because she handled that really well.  It’s super complicated and difficult to find a balance between giving parents a chance to get their lives together so they can keep their children, and recognizing when it’s basically hopeless and the children need to find a more secure environment.  There is also the difficulty of keeping sibling groups together, especially when one of the children is older – the list goes on.  Ferguson addressed a lot of these realities in such a sensitive, thoughtful way – which is what made the “romcom” aspects feel especially jarring.

The other thing was that in order to make the situation work, the main characters had to have just met/not been dating long, because obviously if something as huge as “I might be adopting these kids” came up in an actual relationship, your partner is the first person you would talk with about it.  But having them be almost-strangers just added to the “what even” aspect of the romance, making it difficult for me to believe that these two would have even bothered continuing to date when they each thought the other wasn’t going to be interested in the children that were such a huge part of their lives.

The synopsis seems to imply that the children that the main characters end up with are temporary – I was expecting more of a “oh my gosh my sister just decided to take a trip to Jamaica” scenario, not “my sister is on drugs and just dumped her kids here and I think I’m going to end up keeping them forever.”  Temporary, fluffy reasons for ending up with unexpected children would have made the “I don’t want the other person to find out about this” funny and lighthearted.  Instead, because the reasons that the kids were staying with each of these people were so serious and so probably permanent, trying to keep that information from the other person felt very dishonest and unnecessary.

And so another book that was worth a one-time read, but that overall wasn’t for me.  I really appreciated the way that this book handled the themes of foster care and adoption, and also liked that sex wasn’t the only thing the two main characters wanted to get out of each other, but in the end the juxtaposition of campy romcom mixed with the incredibly serious foster care themes just didn’t jive for me.

Persuasion // by Jane Austen

//published 1817//

I’m positive that I read Persuasion somewhere back in the mists of time, but it had been years, and possibly decades, since I read it.  So, when my sister asked if I wanted to read it along with her, I said sure!  Especially since I had a shiny new copy that I’d purchased for my birthday back in 2016 and never got around to reading!

Persuasion is actually my sister’s favorite Austen, mainly because it employs one of her favorite tropes – lovers reunited after a space of time.  Funnily enough, that’s one of my LEAST favorite tropes.  Mary Rose (my sister) sees the romance in two people still loving each other after that time apart.  I just see the years wasted because someone, or both someones, weren’t willing to fix the problem – which probably illustrates the differences between our personalities haha

At any rate, I quite enjoyed my reread of this one.  It had been so long since I had read it, that I couldn’t remember exactly how events unfolded.  In brief, in case you, like me, don’t really remember, the story is about Anne Elliot, who lives with her father and her older sister.  Her father, a baronet, is rather a silly man, quite stuck on himself, and the older sister, Elizabeth, fits the same mold.  Lady Elliot passed away several years before the story opens.  There is a younger sister, Mary, who is married and lives a couple of miles away.  The Elliots’ neighbor and close friend is Lady Russell, who is especially fond of, and influential over, Anne.  In general, Anne is rather underappreciated and overlooked by her family, as she is a quiet, unassuming, helpful person past the blush of her first youth.

When Anne was but 19, she fell in love with a young sailor, Frederick Wentworth.  Frederick wanted Anne to marry him, but Anne allowed herself to be persuaded by Lady Russell, and by the overall sense of disapproval of her father and sisters, to say no.  Frederick left in a huff, and in the intervening eight years has gone on to become successful and moderately wealthy, and is now a Captain.

The story opens with Sir Walter being somewhat in debt and having to lease out their ancestral hall.  Sir Walter and Elizabeth decide to stay in Bath, but Anne goes to stay with her sister Mary for a few months.  Meantime, the individuals who lease out the house turn out to be Frederick’s sister and her husband – which means that, after all these years, Anne and Frederick will come together again!  *cue dramatic music*

This is a rather quiet, domestic tale.  Unlike some of Austen’s other stories, there are no moments of grand drama (like Lydia’s elopement or the betrayal of Willoughby), yet I was still completely drawn in by the entertaining characters and subtle humor.  I didn’t find myself laughing out loud like I did while reading Northanger Abbeybut there were still plenty of entertaining moments.

I especially enjoyed the hustle and bustle of the time when Anne is staying with Mary, who lives next door to her in-laws.  Here, there is a whole lively cast of characters all virtually living together, despite their differences in personality and hobbies.  Honestly, this little paragraph reminded me so strongly of my own (large and lively) family that I couldn’t help but laugh –

It was a very fine November day, and the Miss Musgroves came through the little grounds, and stopped for no other purpose than to say, that they were going to take a long walk, and therefore concluded Mary could not like to go with them; and when Mary immediately replied, with some jealousy at not being supposed to be a good walker, “Oh, yes, I should like to join you very much, I am very fond of a long walk;” Anne felt persuaded, by the very looks of the two girls, that it was precisely what they did not wish, and admired again the sort of necessity which the family habits seemed to produce, of everything being to be communicated, and everything being to be done together, however undesired and inconvenient.

I, too, have a family in which “everything being to be communicated, and everything being to be done together,” and honestly long walks are a frequent event.  And no matter how much you’d rather not have the entire family along, there seems to be some compulsion to invite everyone!

At any rate, Anne’s story unfolds gently and steadily.  She’s a very likable and relatable heroine, and I was glad that she eventually landed her happily ever after.  I do feel that she and Frederick have a very good chance of making a go of it, having tested their love through separation, and having matured past the impulsiveness and sensitivity of a younger age.  It did seem that once Anne and Frederick did finally talk it out, that everything immediately fell into place and then the story was over – it felt like I didn’t get to see very much interaction between the two of them.  But Frederick’s letter is everything swoonworthy for sure – You pierce my soul.  I am half agony, half hope.  

I also very much liked that, in the end, Anne realized that, despite her sufferings, she didn’t really regret telling Frederick no originally.  She had followed her conscience, and had she gone against it, hers was the type of personality that would have always felt residual guilt over going against the advice of everyone else she loved.  Frederick also acknowledges his own folly and pride as being part of the problem, asking her if she would have accepted him if he had come back after his initial success on the sea.  Anne says that yes, she most certainly would have, and Frederick realizes that while Anne’s refusal separated them originally, it was his pride that kept them apart for so long.  The balanced blame is part of what makes me so confident in the overall success of this match.

While Persuasion isn’t my favorite of Austen’s tales, it was thoroughly enjoyable and a worthwhile read.  It’s also on the shorter side, and I was surprised at how quickly I flew through the pages.  4.5* for this classic, and highly recommended.

April Minireviews

Usually this space is reserved for books I felt kind of “meh” about, but this time around it’s just a way of trying to catch up on some of the backlog.  I’m ready for summer break!!!

Paper Towns by John Green

//published 2008//

I really was going to write a whole long review complaining about this book, but who has time for that?  I read this book because I felt like I needed to actually read one of Green’s books before dismissing him as a pretentious and condescending guy who just says whatever young adults want to hear so he’ll stay popular.  (These days, they call that “being relevant.”)  Now I can be quite smug about not liking him, because, after all, I have tried his books!

Paper Towns was about what I expected.  The main character was completely unrealistic, a high school senior who cared about grades, grammar, and making his parents proud.  And it wasn’t really those things that made him unrealistic, it was just his entire manner and way of speaking.  He spends most of this book running around trying to solve a mystery, following clues he believes his neighbor/crush has left for him.  I’ve heard Green get a lot of flack for perpetrating the “manic pixie dream girl” method of creating a story, but I’m not sure I buy that.  Like half the point was Quentin realizing that he saw Margo as a manic pixie dream girl (although he doesn’t use those words), and understanding that he’s only ever seen her as a very one-dimensional character instead of an actual person.  Yes, Margo is weird and quirky; and yes, she helps Quentin appreciate his life more fully; and yes, we don’t really get to know her from her own perspective – but I still felt like Quentin’s realizations of her were above the MPDG level.  A little.

Overall, the story was just dumb and kind of pointless.  It was a book that desperately was trying to be poignant and deep, but really just came through as cliched and boring.  I compare that to something like The Scent of Waterwhich doesn’t at all try to be poignant and deep and yet manages just that, and can’t believe that people hail someone like John Green as a genius and brilliant writer.  OVERRATED is the main word that comes to my mind, as this book was desperately boring, the characters were flat, and the entire book read like one long cliche.  2/5.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

//published 1817//

Somehow, I had never gotten around to reading this particular classic, and I’m quite sorry that I waited this long.  While this book didn’t have the character studies of some of Austen’s other works, I found myself laughing out loud on multiple occasions.  Austen’s wry sense ofhumor was at the forefront of this rather frivolous tale, and I loved the way that she poked fun at all sorts of things, but all in such a gentle and kindhearted way.

I purchased the perfect copy of this book, a wonderfully-sized paperback that I love.  My only problem was the “introduction,” in which I was treated to a ten-page synopsis of the story (complete with all the spoilers) and not a word of actual insight or thought!  I’m really heartily tired of introductions that are actually a CliffNotes version of the book.  Just because it’s a classic doesn’t mean that everyone who picks it up has already read it!  I mean really.  If the foreword isn’t going to actually give information, what’s the point?!

But the story itself is adorable and fun, and although this may have been my first reading of it, I don’t anticipate it being the last.  5/5.

Wild Palomino: Stallion of the Prairies by Stephen Holt

//published 1946//

This is another book in the Famous Horse Stories series, and one that I’ve had on a shelf for years and never actually read.  I wasn’t really missing all that much, as Wild Palomino was a wildly impractical tale from page one through the finish.  At the time that I actually read it I kept thinking, Wow, I should make sure to point out that crazy plot twist when I review this book!  But I honestly don’t remember many of specifics as this was an easily-forgotten story.  It’s perfectly fine, and the younger audience for whom it was written would probably enjoy all the drama and excitement, but it was just too implausible for me to really get into.  2/5.

The Prince and Betty by P.G. Wodehouse

//published 1912//

So I mean, sure, some people complain about Wodehouse’s books being a little samey.  I’ve never found that to be an issue for myself personally, because each one has its own unique charm, despite following more or less a set of guidelines.  But I found myself getting major deja vu when I was reading this book, mainly because it wasn’t my imagination – Wodehouse actually used part of one of his other stories!

The part I haven’t been able to figure out completely is whether or not this book or Psmith, Journalist came first, mainly because of the whole thing where Wodehouse wrote lots of his books as serials before printing them as a book, and also tended to have some of his books published first in the U.K. and then in the U.S.  or vice versa.  Either way, this whole book felt weird because of the inclusion of virtually the entire plot of Psmith, Journalist, including a character named Smith!

The Prince and Betty starts as its own story, with Betty’s rich stepfather (or possibly actually father or possibly uncle, I’m not sure which as it has been a while) deciding that his next big scheme is going to be opening a casino on a small European island country.  Complicated hijinks begin, including the rich guy’s attempt to  make Betty marry the prince of said small country.  Of course, Betty and the prince already knew each other from before (except she didn’t know he was a prince… and neither did he!), but Betty thinks that the prince is just trying to appease her father (or stepfather or uncle), so she gets angry and runs away.  So far, so good.

Except next the story takes a strange turn.  Betty lands a job as a secretary for a small newspaper and – well, insert the entire plot of Psmith, Journalist here!  It’s a shame because I actually love Psmith, Journalist  – like, a LOT – but it didn’t feel like it fit into this book at all.  I’m not sure if it’s because I had already read Psmith, or if it really did read like two different books mashed together.  So yes, both halves were good reads, but they didn’t go well together, but that could have just been me…

Jane Fairfax

004

by Joan Aiken

Published 1990

Jane Fairfax was the second Emma sequel that I wanted to read.  I vaguely remembered reading it a long time ago, but really couldn’t recall any of the details.

I have always liked Jane, and been intrigued with her.  And to me, hardly anything illustrates Emma’s immaturity and selfishness more than her treatment of Jane.  And that poor, poor Jane must be railroaded into a friendship with the dreadful Mrs. Elton…!!!  Such tragedy!

Aiken does a truly wonderful job telling Jane’s story.  Her writing is very plausible, and the story intriguing.  And it is quite nice to be reminded that Emma was not the only heroine who was rewarded with a happy ending.

4/5, and a must-read if you at all enjoyed Emma.