Austenland (Austenland, #1)Austenland by Shannon Hale

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thought this was great fun, but great literature it is not. Jane is a thirty-something woman with the emotional IQ of an 18-year-old. She is obsessed with the idea of having the perfect boyfriend, yet she doesn’t really have a clue what she wants in a man. I love the idea of Pembroke Park – does such a place actually exist? The characters are shallow stereotypes, and the novel lacks any real depth, but for sheer escapism you don’t want anything that actually makes you think. The ending is predictable, but one wonders if Jane’s experience has really taught her anything in the end.

Description: Jane is a young New York woman who can never seem to find the right man — perhaps because of her secret obsession with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Predjudice. When a wealthy relative bequeaths her a trip to an English resort catering to Austen-obsessed women, however, Jane’s fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman suddenly become more real than she ever could have imagined. Is this total immersion in a fake Austenland enough to make Jane kick the Austen obsession for good, or could all her dreams actually culminate in a Mr. Darcy of her own?

Bridget Jones’s Diary

Bridget Jones's DiaryBridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Well, I didn’t hate it. It has some funny moments, and I can see where it would make a great comedic movie, but I really don’t get the hype for this book. It may have been inspired by the 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice, but any resemblance to Jane Austen’s book or characters is extremely superficial. Everything is funny for about two chapters, and then it becomes ridiculously obsessive and repetitive. Bridget desperately needs to get over herself and not take superficialities so seriously. She also needs to learn to say no to her mother, her boss, and her own indulgences. I suppose I might read the sequels just to see if she grows up any.

Description: The devastatingly self-aware, laugh-out-loud daily chronicle of Bridget’s permanent, doomed quest for self-improvement – a year in which she resolves to: reduce the circumference of each thigh by 1.5 inches, visit the gym three times a week not just to buy a sandwich, form a functional relationship with a responsible adult – and learn to program the VCR. Over the course of the year, Bridget loses a total of 72 pounds but gains a total of 74. She remains, however, optimistic…

Addendum 8-5-13 : Just watched the movie this week, and I’d give it 4 stars. Liked it much better than the book! I thought the screenplay accentuated the parallels to Pride and Prejudice, and of course, having Colin Firth as a costar was perfect casting.

The Cape Cod Caper

The Cape Cod CaperThe Cape Cod Caper by Margot Arnold

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This second book in the Penelope Spring and Toby Glendower mystery series was just as delightful as the first. Maybe more, as it didn’t seem quite as outdated to me. Still nothing of Toby’s Welsh connections, but I am assured that that does feature later on in the series.

Description: When a mutilated corpse is found in a cranberry bog on the Dimola estate, Penelope Spring is summoned to the Cape by Zeb Grange, an old flame. But by the time she arrives, an attempt on Zeb’s life has been made, leaving him in a coma. As Penny’s suspicions gradually point to the wealthy Dimola clan, her colleague Toby Glendower begins to probe into the family’s past in Italy. There is another murder, and Penny resolves to set up a trap for her prime suspect, using herself as bait. But what Toby uncovers sends him racing back, fearful that Penny is making a disastrous mistake – maybe her last.

Oh My Stars!

Oh My StarsOh My Stars by Lorna Landvik

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This had some wonderful bits, but at times I felt like I was slogging in the mud, wondering where I was going. The back and forth between first person and third person telling was a little weird. Despite the tragedies of life, compounded by the Depression, and the prejudice of the times, the author keeps a lighthearted tone which maybe didn’t do justice to the issues. It’s a story about miracles, and surviving, and even thriving against great odds. It’s a feel-good story, but I could have used a little more meat. The characters weren’t quite believable, and other than Violet, never really came alive for me. I haven’t read anything else by Lorna Landvik but I’m thinking perhaps this isn’t her best book.

Description: Tall, slender Violet Mathers is growing up in the Great Depression, which could just as well define her state of mind. Abandoned by her mother as a child, mistreated by her father, and teased by her schoolmates, the lonely girl finds solace in artistic pursuits. Only when she’s hired by the town’s sole feminist to work the night shift in the local thread factory does Violet come into her name and bloom. Accepted by her co-workers, the teenager enters the happiest phase of her life, until a terrible accident causes her to retreat once again into her lonely shell.

Realizing that she has only one clear choice, Violet boards a bus heading west to California. But when the bus crashes in North Dakota, it seems that Fate is having another cruel laugh at Violet’s expense. This time though, Violet laughs back. She and her fellow passengers are rescued by two men: Austin Sykes, whom Violet is certain is the blackest man to ever set foot on the North Dakota prairie, and Kjel Hedstrom, who inspires feelings Violet never before has felt. Kjel and Austin are musicians whose sound is like no other, and with pluck, verve, and wit, Violet becomes part of their quest to make a new kind of music together.

Oh My Stars is a tale of love and hope, bigotry and betrayal, loss and discovery – as Violet, who’s always considered herself a minor character in her own life story, emerges as a heroine you’ll laugh with, cry with, and, most important, cheer for all the way.


Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (The Wicked Years, #1)Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I started this book in 2009 when our Daytimers bookclub read it, but never finished it, and never got back to it until I saw the audiobook on the shelf at the library and decided it was time. The hook is that it is about the characters from the childhood classic The Wizard of Oz. But this is definitely for adults only. The fantasy world here is much more complex, with religious and political divisions, sentient Animals, clockwork servants (robots), the problems of poverty and natural disasters, discrimination, ethics, the misuse of power, etc. In short, it is our own world seen through different eyes. I loved the first part of the book, about Elphaba’s birth and growing up, and her relationship with Galinda/Glinda in college. But I wasn’t really satisfied with the developments in the second half. It seemed to kind of meander towards its conclusion without satisfactory answers to what changed her. There is much food for thought, but many loose threads. Perhaps a lot went over my head listening to it, and I missed things. But I didn’t like the book enough to want to reread it.

Description: When Dorothy triumphed over the Wicked Witch of the West in L. Frank Baum’s classic tale, we heard only her side of the story. But what about her arch-nemesis, the mysterious Witch? Where did she come from? How did she become so wicked? And what is the true nature of evil? Gregory Maguire creates a fantasy world so rich and vivid that we will never look at Oz the same way again. Wicked is about a land where animals talk and strive to be treated like first-class citizens, Munchkinlanders seek the comfort of middle-class stability, and the Tin Man becomes the victim of domestic violence. And then there is the little green-skinned girl named Elphaba, who will grow up to become the infamous Wicked Witch of the West, a smart, prickly, and misunderstood creature who challenges all our preconceived notions about the nature of good and evil.