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review 2018-01-05 12:56
A great reimagining of Emma, in a wonderful setting, and with some very heart-warming touches.
I Could Write a Book: A Modern Variation of Jane Austen's

I recently reviewed a book called Dangerous to Know: Janes Austen’s Rakes & Gentlemen Rogues Ed. by Christina Boyd (you can check my review here), a collection of stories about some of the male characters (the rakes and rogues of the title) in Jane Austen’s novels and loved it. The editor of the book kindly got me in touch with some of the authors featured in the book, and now I have some of their books waiting in my e-reader. And this is the first book I’ve read, partly because of the cover, partly because of the title (well, I’m a writer after all), and partly because I had read great reviews of the book, that has received the prestigious RBRT (Rosie’s Book Review Team) Award for historical novel. Although I’m a member of this fabulous group of reviewers, I can’t catch up with all the great books that come up, but if you have not checked the list of awards yet, I leave you the link here (and if you’re an author or a reviewer, don’t miss the chance to explore Rosie’s great blog and her team).

I thank the author for providing me a copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

This book is a reimagining of Jane Austen’s novel Emma. I’m not an Austen scholar (I wouldn’t even call myself a devoted fan) but I enjoy her novels, some more than others, and I have always been intrigued by new versions, adaptations, and sequels of well-known books (not only other books but also movies, plays, ballets, TV programmes…). What gives a novel, or a film, its meaning? What makes it recognisable? Can we change the setting, the historical period, the medium used, and make it maintain its identity somehow? Can we improve on the classics, or can we create a completely new work that retains some of the charms of the original, but is different enough to gain new readers and make it accessible to a new generation? I Could Write a Book manages to do many things at the same time. The action is moved from Regency England to 1970s Kentucky. The setting is a rather gentle and charming small town, where everybody knows everybody, and where although modern ideas are making inroads, there is still an underlying culture of Southern tradition, hospitality, class, and good manners. Appearances are important, and although some of the old families have lost their properties, or at least no longer manage them in the manner they were used to, names and reputations still count for a lot. The Woodhouse and the Knightley families have known each other forever, the men of both families created a joint law firm, and the children grew up together (and now two of their children are married). Emma, by her own confession a modern young woman, although annoying due to her meddling in the lives of others and her self-assurance, is more likeable than Austen’s eponymous heroine. She has a big heart, and she truly loves her family and puts their needs before her own. She suffers several tragedies at a young age. Her mother ends up in hospital severely disabled when she is very young and she keeps looking after her when others find her condition difficult to cope with. And when her father suffers a stroke, she decides to give up her dreams of a college education away from home and transfers back to the local college. Although financially she has no problems, and she can (and does) access help, her way of looking after the father is heart-warming, and that gives her a depth of feeling that is not always evident when we observe her behaviour in the social sphere.

Emma lives vicariously through the love lives of others, and in that, Emma Woodhouse is no different to the original. Although some of her match-making works well (it is difficult to know if it is because of or in spite of her), she can be remarkably clueless at times and thinks that she knows what others think much better than she does (notwithstanding her degree in Psychology). I won’t rehash the plot, as you are probably familiar with it, be it through the novel or through one of the many versions available. Let’s just say that there is much plotting, interfering, match-making, misunderstandings, blunders, embarrassing moments, and yes, plenty of romance. And in this version, much Southern charm and tradition.

The story is told by two of the characters, by Emma, in the first person (and that allows us to understand her motivations, and see that although misguided at times, there is no true malice in her, and she doubts herself more than she lets on), and by George, in the third person (until the last chapter, when we finally hear from George in his own words). George is a true gentleman and a worthy hero of one of Austen’s novels, although he is not perfect. He has a long list of short-term girlfriends and can be, at times, as lacking in insight as Emma. But he is tall, handsome, and he always behaves impeccably (something we cannot say of all the male characters). The two points of view help us get a wider perspective and we get to see Emma from the point of view of somebody who knows her well and still loves her, with all her faults and quirks. We also get a good insight into the different roles played by men and women in the society of the time and get a good understanding of what being a member of such society is like, from an insider’s perspective.

The setting works well, as although it is a more modern period, is not the present, and the location and the type of society reflected in the novel translates well the characteristics of the small, tradition-laden era of Austen’s novel. Emma’s naïveté is justified in part by the insular society she lives in, and by her self-appointed role of her father’s carer, that keeps her somewhat isolated and less likely to mix with others outside of her social circle. Although she is not the easiest of characters to identify with (her lifestyle is very different from what most of us have experienced and many of her difficulties are of her own doing, rather than due to any hardship or real-life problems), she does love her family, and although we might not like to be reminded of it, we have all been, young, naïve, and believed we knew everything.

There are misguided characters, some not-so-nice characters (some can be mean but I would hardly call any of them truly bad, although Tim is very self-involved, although he is a politician, so it fits) and some lovely characters as well. (I was particularly fond of Nina and Helen and found John, Emma’s father, endearing and sympathetically portrayed). The locations and the social setting is brought to life beautifully by the author, who shows an in-depth knowledge of the subject, and I wished I could have been there with them at many of the events (although I’m afraid I’d stick out like a sore thumb). There is even some sex, although not very descriptive (and as you know I’m not a lover of erotica or sex in novels), and the final chapter brings us up to date with the fates of the characters, with some lovely and funny surprises.

The novel has some touching moments, plenty of romance, some moments when we feel embarrassed on behalf of the central character (and many when we want to strangle her), and some funny ones. It is a light read although it will make us think about family and remind us of our youth. There are also some great questions for book clubs at the back, which I think would engender much discussion for readers.

In sum, an amusing and light read, a great reimagining of Emma, in a fabulous setting, with a heroine we’ll love and hate at times, a gorgeous love interest, and a great period piece for those who love the genteel South.  

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review 2016-04-14 06:43
Sweet one
By Force of Instinct: A Pride & Prejudice Variation - Abigail Reynolds

What do you know, I liked it. Every once in a while I come across a nice one, and despite some unnecessary drama, I liked the focus on slow developments, and the differentiation between infatuation, passion and trust.

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text 2015-07-01 19:23
Book Haul from my Giveaway Card!
Shards of Honour (Vorkosigan Saga, #1) - Lois McMaster Bujold
The Tea Rose - Jennifer Donnelly
The Dragon Variation - Sharon Lee,Steve Miller

Ok. So after winning HFK's Amazon card giveaway (still doing a happy dance over that :) )  I went and took a hard look at my to-buy list.  


I stopped just short of graphs and flow charts (what's funny is you think I'm kidding)  before I settled on these three books. These are all books that I have been dying to get.


Shards of Honour by Lois McMaster Bujold - I'm finally going to start the Vorkosigan series! This is on every "Best of Sci-Fi" list that I've read. I'm telling you - these books taunt me in bookstores, at the library, on the net - If one more person or webpage tells me to read this series - so finally I'm gonna see what all the hype is about. I read the sample and it looks good - I got pulled right into the story.


The Dragon Variation by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller  is an ominibus that includes three of the books of the Liaden Universe - Local Custom, Scout's Progress, and Conflict of Honors. I've been told it's a good starting place. What drew me to these books? 1) It's received good reviews online and amongst my friends and family. 2) It's been described as Georgette Heyer in space.  3) I read the forward of the omnibus written by the authors, explaining why they write and their philosophy of writing this series and it made me smile.


The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly  - I picked this up because the sample was solid.  I also like that it's well reviewed and that it's a sweeping historical fiction saga. There's three books- though each one is a tome at 700+ pages. I tried to get it at the library but upon seeing it,  decided I would buy a paperback or Kindle because I didn't want to lug the book around. I'm excited to read it.


Yet another thanks to HFK!!!!!!


Happy reading guys!

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review 2014-10-30 02:04
Review: The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet (Audiobook)
The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet - Bernie Su,Kate Rorick,Ashley Clements

There’s always something a little startling about reading (and/or watching) a retelling of a classic piece of literature. There’s also something a little cringe-worthy about it. Sure, there’s always going to be gems out there but there’s also going to be a lot of duds and you never know what you’re going to get until you’re beyond the sell-by date and have invested serious time into it.


For me, this retelling of Jane Austen’s famous Pride and Prejudice was neither gem nor dud. It was something in between the two – there really needs to be a word for this; something that’s more layered and complex than simply saying ‘average’, which, in this case, would really be a misnomer. Before I get to that, though, I really need to preface my thoughts by saying that I, like most people, watched the Youtube series first and so went into this with certain expectations.


These expectations were not necessarily high – I enjoyed the Youtube series and thought the retelling was fun and unique, but I didn’t love it like others did (I had some serious issues with some of the actors – well, acting (surely I wasn’t the only one who cringed at how poorly some of pivotal and most memorable scenes from the book were acted out? It was almost as if the actors felt the weight of the audiences’ expectations’ and just couldn’t quite get it to work) and how the vlog style storytelling narrowed the view) – but they were still there.


I wanted to like this but I wasn’t invested. Not like I was with the original. That’s probably to be expected, though.


Expectations aside, however, I thought this book was actually better than the Youtube series. I know, I know: this wouldn’t even exist without the Youtube series. But that’s the thing: even though this is a companion to the series, it actually gives you a chance to get invested.


Yes, we’re only getting a view through Lizzie’s eyes (it’s her diary after all) but there’s still a lot of stuff going on that never actually made its way into the Youtube series. Sure, Lizzie brushes over certain topics in some of the videos but, really, I never felt like Lizzie and Darcy got enough time to connect to make the whole proposal/love confession/etc. happen. In the show, it just felt rushed and sloppy and misplaced.


Here, though: I totally got it. The same stands true for a lot of other situations as well. For example, when Lizzie goes to shadow Pemberley Digital and spend time with the Darcy’s, we never actually see it - understandable considering how the show was styled and time constraints – but it still loses something in the translation.


Being able to read about it in Lizzie’s diary? It really showcased how pivotal to their relationship that time was. Also how devious (and sweet) Georgiana could be (not a bad thing!).


Regardless, however, I did really enjoy this. It wasn’t perfect – if this was Lizzie’s diary, there’s no reason why she’d recap, word for word no less, certain conversations or bring up obvious facts about her own life that both she and we already knew about – but neither was the series itself. That they had the actress who actually played Lizzie come in and do the reading for the audiobook was similarly a mixed blessing but I digress.


In the end, I think if you were to take the two pieces together – and why wouldn’t you? – this retelling was probably closer to gem than dud but still has a long way to go before it can be called either.


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review 2014-10-11 00:00
The Loki Variation
The Loki Variation - Sabrina James Riley I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review on a book tour promoted by Girls Heart Books Tours.

The Loki Variation is an engaging and intriguing novel about a group of survivors of a zombie apocalypse. It sets itself apart from other zombie books in its own way, not only with the zombies and how they are and look, but because of the way the virus is and works. Sasha is a woman who has everything she's ever known torn away from her and is given the responsibility to take care of a child, and even has her own faults and misgivings. Derek is is a man who we watch and see his way of handling a zombie apocalypse with his dog Riley. Both of these characters are compelling and we watch them grow and face their own struggles over the novel. Admittedly, there aren't zombie attacks every other page (a fantastic thing by the way), and that makes it all the more interesting whenever they do show up. I loved this book, even with its small faults here and there, and I can't wait to read it again!
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