Longbourn

LongbournLongbourn by Jo Baker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have undoubtedly over-rated this, but I had so few 5-star reads last year, I am trying to even out my 3, 4, and 5 star reviews. So anything even slightly over 4 will be rated a 5 – for now. Obviously I have mixed feelings about that! This book does not try to retell the story of Pride and Prejudice, but it does serve as the framework for a story of the servants at Longbourn. The lives of the Bennets take a definite backseat here, with a lot of gaps. This is its own story. Jo Baker has taken some liberties with their back stories, which might raise some eyebrows, but to say more would be spoilers. I liked the framework. I liked the different point of view of the servants. But I thought the love story between Sarah and James was a bit weak. It sort of lost continuity in the last third of the book – perhaps a few chapters from James’ point-of-view might have been illuminating. The ending was only so-so for me. But there is a lot to enjoy along the way, especially in the day-to-day lives of the servants and their thoughts and feelings. Definitely a book that I could see myself re-reading some day, perhaps alongside P&P and Pride and Prejudice: The Scenes Jane Austen Never Wrote.

Book Description: In this irresistibly imagined belowstairs answer to Pride and Prejudice, the servants take center stage. Sarah, the orphaned housemaid, spends her days scrubbing the laundry, polishing the floors, and emptying the chamber pots for the Bennet household. But there is just as much romance, heartbreak, and intrigue downstairs at Longbourn as there is upstairs. When a mysterious new footman arrives, the orderly realm of the servants’ hall threatens to be completely, perhaps irrevocably, upended.

Enthusiasm

EnthusiasmEnthusiasm by Polly Shulman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was pleasantly surprised by this sweet little book. It’s a quick read about friendship, high school crushes, school activities, embarrassing parents, and other teenaged angst. The love story aspect is a little weak, but this is high school after all, and it’s G-rated, so okay for younger teens. I enjoyed the interplay between the two girls. I was the quiet bookworm among my more outgoing friends. I would have liked a take-charge friend like Ashleigh, but Julie seemed much too passive about everything. I probably was like that in high school, too. It takes time and experience to learn to be assertive and stand up for yourself. Not that Julie is bullied – it’s just that her agreeableness and fear of hurting someone’s feelings are bound to do more harm than good in the long run. The boys were far more charming and thoughtful than I remember any boys being in high school! Heck, I’m still looking for my poetry-writing, fencing and sailing enthusiast Mr. Darcy myself! I enjoyed the side-plot of the high school musical, and Julie’s relationships with her parents, the mother coping with unemployment, and her remarried father and the attempts (unwelcome!) of his new wife to ingratiate herself into Julie’s life. I might have rated this higher if I weren’t so far removed from my teenage years! Still, it was a nice bit of fluff in-between more serious reads, and I enjoyed the Jane Austen angle.

Book Description: Julie is a quiet bookworm. Her best friend Ashleigh, on the other hand, is an “Enthusiast.” As long as they have known each other, Ash has been obsessed with one thing or another. Now it is Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, which just happens to be Julie’s favorite book. Before Julie knows what hit her, she and Ash are decked-out in 19th-century garb, smelling like mothballs, and crashing the all-boys prep school formal dance. Their mission is to find their personal Misters Darcy. But when they set their sights on the same young gentleman, their journey into the world of proper English courtship looks like it might cause a broken heart or two.

Death Comes to Pemberley

Death Comes to PemberleyDeath Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is fluff, but enjoyable fluff if you aren’t expecting either a murder mystery, or the continuing voice of Jane Austen. P.D. James has her own style – that of omniscient narrator – but it fits the time period admirably. Still, it is narration, and lacks the sparkling dialog that characterizes Jane Austen. Those who are intimately familiar with Pride and Prejudice may tire of the endless rehashing of those events. Those who are not, may appreciate the filling in of the back story. I enjoyed learning where P.D. James has taken our familiar characters in the six years since the end of P&P. As for the murder mystery, this is not so much a who-done-it as it is an exploration of how the characters react to these events and the unfolding murder trial. All in all, this is probably better than most of the P&P sequels out there.

Description: It is 1803, six years since Elizabeth and Darcy embarked on their life together at Pemberley, Darcy’s magnificent estate. Elizabeth has found her footing as the chatelaine of the great house. Elizabeth’s sister Jane and her husband, Bingley, live nearby; her father visits often; there is optimistic talk about the prospects of marriage for Darcy’s sister Georgiana. And preparations are under way for their much-anticipated annual autumn ball. Then, on the eve of the ball, the patrician idyll is shattered. A coach careens up the drive carrying Lydia, Elizabeth’s disgraced sister, who with her husband, the very dubious Wickham, has been banned from Pemberley. She stumbles out of the carriage, hysterical, shrieking that Wickham has been murdered. With shocking suddenness, Pemberley is plunged into a mystery and a lurid murder trial.

Pride and Prejudice and Kitties

Pride and Prejudice and Kitties: A Cat-Lover's Romp Through Jane Austen's ClassicPride and Prejudice and Kitties: A Cat-Lover’s Romp Through Jane Austen’s Classic by Jane Austen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Pride and Prejudice told from a cat’s point-of-view, interspersed with passages from the actual Pride and Prejudice. The retelling was clever – Kitty doesn’t just cough, she coughs up hairballs; the balls are the kind you bat around, maybe extra special with a bell inside; the estate has been end-tailed; etc. This is obviously a contemporary adaption – otherwise references to pill pockets and Fancy Feast would be anachronistic. If you like comparing the changes to the original, you will like the juxtaposition of the two texts. I thought it made the story a bit repetitious. The photos were obviously carefully staged with Jane Austen props. I loved the little inside jokes, and featuring other P&P related books like “Jane Austen for Dummies,” “The Jane Austen Cookbook,” and “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” I would have liked the “kitty” adaptation to have been illustrated using the same cats for Jane Austen’s characters and to have been separate from the other type of photos. All in all, I think it could have been less story, more photos.

From the inside flap:
“If I can but see one of my kittens happily purring at Netherfield,” remarked Mrs. Bennet to her husband, “and all the others equally well-mated, I shall have nothing to yowl about.” Pride and Prejudice and Kitties juxtaposes wacky photos of cats with the wicked humor of Jane Austen. Soulful Mr. Darcy gazes at Elizabeth Bennet in fascination; hysterical Mrs. Bennet yowls that no one understands her; somnolent Mr. Hurst passes out on the sofa after dinner; arrogant Lady Catherine hisses at Elizabeth. Each photo includes a hilarous caption that goes along with the text of Pride and Prejudice, told from a feline perspective.

Opening chapter:
“Netherfield Park is marked at last.”
The news caused much romping at the Bennet household for, as every cat knows, a handsome young tom in possession of his own territory must be in want of a mate.

Austenland

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.

Lost in Austen

Lost in AustenLost in Austen  (2008)

Starring: Jemima Rooper, Elliot Cowan as Darcy, Hugh Bonneville, Alex Kingston

Director: Dan Zeff

Length: 180 minutes

 

I’ve taken a break from the Moby Dick stuff to revisit Pride and Prejudice. I had hoped I would be doing a presentation for the Minnesota Library Association on this in the fall, but alas my proposal was not selected. I still hope to do it somewhere, sometime, somehow so I will revisit this topic from time to time and work up a page like I did for the Moby Dick project.

I’ll give this film 4 stars. Basically, a 21st-century woman unwillingly changes places with Elizabeth Bennet and manages to screw up all her efforts to make the story come out the way it is “supposed to.” Along the way, there are some hilarious twists on Jane Austen’s story. Several of the characters are not what they seemed in the original P&P.

I didn’t love the Amanda character, but the rest of the cast was, well, perfectly cast. Elliot Cowen is my favorite Darcy to date. He had the perfect blend of haughtiness and arrogance without being wooden, and yet his transition into the passionate, in love Darcy was seamless and believable. Alex Kingston as Mrs. Bennet was also outstanding. I thought her interpretation of the hysterical Mrs. Bennet was perfect without being over the top silly. I loved that all the Bennet girls, Caroline Bingley, and Georgiana Darcy were all played by actresses that seemed the appropriate age instead of being 10-plus years too old. And Mr. Collins – deliciously creepy. And wait until you meet his brothers!

Very well done! I would love to see this cast do the original P&P.

Description: Amanda Price is sick of the modern world. She yearns for the romance and elegance found in the books by her favorite author, Jane Austen. But she’s about to get a rude awakening as one fateful evening, she is propelled into the scheming 19th century world of Pride and Prejudice while that book’s Elizabeth Bennet is hurled into hers. As the book’s familiar plot unfolds, Amanda triggers new romantic twists and turns within the Bennet family circle as she clumsily tries to help the sisters nab husbands and even captivates the tantalizing Mr. Darcy herself. But what about Elizabeth…and what will become of one of the world’s greatest love stories?