Book Review: Heartstone

I’ve rarely heard a better premise than Pride and Prejudice retold with dragons.  So I guess it’s not that shocking that Heartstone by Elle Katharine White couldn’t quite live up to hopes.  I enjoyed it–someone else might love it–but I didn’t quite love the book as much as I loved the concept.

Heartstone centers around Aliza Bentaine and her sisters, living in a faux-England where magical creatures abound, some friendly, many not.  A band of Riders comes to their small village to fight the horde of gryphons plaguing the area, and among them are the charming Brysney, who swiftly falls for Aliza’s sister Anjey, and the arrogant Daired and his dragon.  And we all kind of know where this is going, right?

That knowing-where-it’s-going may be why I didn’t love this book as much as I hoped to.  Every character and most plot elements exist in a one-to-one relation to Austen’s original book.  There’s some fun in seeing how White re-imagined Austen’s plotline in this new, monster-ridden world…but it was never quite innovative enough to really capture me.  I mean, it is clever that Anjey gets swiped by a gryphon rather than catching a cold.  But it still seemed like we lost too much without gaining enough to compensate. Continue reading “Book Review: Heartstone”

Classic Review: The Mischief of the Mistletoe

Happy holidays!  My reading celebration of the day involves re-reading one of my very favorite Christmas-set novels, The Mischief of the Mistletoe.  Still delightful on a third read, still one of my favorite romantic couples!

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 The Mischief of the Mistletoe by Lauren Willig is set in Regency England, what I can only think of as Jane Austen’s England.  Jane herself is in the book as a supporting character, as the sympathetic friend of our heroine, Arabella.  Arabella is the lead character of the book, but has clearly been a supporting character all her life.  A shy, unassuming wallflower, she’s the one at the party whose name no one can remember.  I have a soft spot for characters who think they’re unimportant.  I love watching them discover their inner depths and come into their own, and I loved watching Arabella find new strength and confidence.  Here we have the extra bonus of watching the other lead, Turnip, also discover Arabella’s value.

Reginald “Turnip” Fitzhugh…where to begin?  The name, I suppose.  I can’t tell you how much I love it that the hero has a vegetable for a nickname.  And not even a tough vegetable (I don’t know what vegetable would be tough–asparagus spears, maybe?–but I’m pretty sure turnips are not the heavyweight champions of the vegetable world).  It fits him–and he’s a wonderful character!  Endlessly well-meaning, charming and gallant, not a brilliant intellect, capable of throwing a punch when the situation calls for it, but not really all that good at derring-do and dashing exploits, frequently bumbling, very thoughtful, given to outlandish waistcoats.  Somehow, it works so well and is so much fun.  I love dashing heroes, but this time I really enjoyed a hero who stumbles more than he dashes–but rushes forward anyway, well-intentioned and grinning. Continue reading “Classic Review: The Mischief of the Mistletoe”

Book Review: Lost in Austen

I recently wrote about the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and today I have another very unusual Pride and Prejudice retelling…Lost in Austen by Emma Campbell Webster. If you’ve heard of the movie by the same name, they’re related but not actually remotely the same. The book is a choose-your-own-adventure through Austen novels.

Written in the second person (you, your), the story begins in the familiar opening pages of Pride and Prejudice, with Mr. Bingley recently moved to the neighborhood and “your” mother eager to introduce “your” sisters to the eligible bachelor. But very soon you start having choices—which path will you take to Mr. Bingley’s house? Will you speak to Mr. Darcy at the dance or remain silent? And as the story goes on…will you accept this marriage proposal or that one? Will you confess your family’s scandal to Mr. Darcy or keep it secret? And in the end…will you achieve your mission of a successful marriage? Continue reading “Book Review: Lost in Austen”

Favorites Friday: Movies from Books

In certain circles, movie adaptations of beloved books are a highly controversial subject!  My expectations are usually low for movie versions of books, because I’ve been disappointed too many times.  But…sometimes the movies do justice to their books–or, dare I say it, even do better!

I visited this topic once before, but I must have been watching (and reading) some good things in the last few years, because I find myself with a few more to add to my own list of great movie adaptations.  In no particular order, and with links to reviews…

sherlock1BBC’s Sherlock

Well, no particular order except for this one!  Something amazing happens here because it’s a huge departure from Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes (like being in a different century) and yet it’s so true to the original too.  I think the key is that the window-dressing (gas lamps and horse-drawn carriages) has changed, but the characters still feel the same…just told through modern story-telling.  Besides, I went on a Sherlock Holmes Walking Tour in London, and the guide pointed out that at the time of writing, Holmes was set in the present-day–and it was actually several decades before retellers stopped modernizing, and started placing him in his original decade.

Catching FireThe Hunger Games: Catching Fire

I liked the first movie in this trilogy too, but it was the second that really impressed me.  With some very careful character tweaks, the movie stayed true to the book but made me like Katniss so much better.  What had felt like a girl flailing helplessly became a girl trying her best, and that’s a character I can enjoy much more.

Return of the KingThe Lord of the Rings

I made a conscious decision when I finally read the books to rewatch the movies at the same time (each movie just before the book, in fact).  I enjoyed every book and movie, but I have to give the edge to the movies.  Sorry, Tolkien.  Actually, he might not mind–the movies brought the characters to life for me much more, but since Tolkien’s focus seems to have been on the lore and the history anyway, he might not see that as an issue.

Northanger AbbeyNorthanger Abbey (Masterpiece Theatre)

This is my favorite Austen novel, and the movie is delightfully frothy and fun.  Colin Firth makes us wait six hours for a smile, but Mr. Tilney grins throughout this whole movie.  It also features the wonderful Carey Mulligan as Isabella Thorpe, not to mention one of moviedom’s most adorable first kisses.

Princess BridePrincess Bride

I’m not sure I can think of any other book/movie combination where they feel so completely like they’re exactly the same thing.  It may help that William Goldman wrote the book and the screenplay.  There are some extra details in the book–but the movie has the adorable frame story–and really, everything that’s most important is in both!

Stardust

Neil Gaiman was being complex and innovative and subverting expectations with some aspects of this story.  The movie decided to be funny and romantic and, yes, more traditional in its pay-offs.  I respect Gaiman, but the movie makes me feel all warm and fuzzy and happy!

Your turn!  What movies do justice to their books?

Favorites Friday: Romantic Couples, Revisited

I was planning to finish up my Wrath of Khan spoof this week…but then it occurred to me that Valentine’s Day fell on Friday, and it just didn’t seem appropriate.  A couple years ago I did a post on Favorite Romantic Couples, and since I’ve read some wonderful romantic stories in recent years, I thought another list would be in order!

I don’t think any of these are big surprises within their books, but if you’re particular about spoilers, this post will give away everything about who ends up with whom.  I warned you!

Heir to SevenwatersClodagh and Cathal, Heir to Sevenwaters by Juliet Marillier

Marillier is one of my favorite authors for truly lovely romances.  And this book features a romance between two of my favorite archetypes: the dark hero with a good heart, and the “ordinary” woman who has to find her strength.  Besides being good characters individually, these two simply fit together so beautifully.

Return of the King

Eowyn and Faramir, Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien

It shocks me that Tolkien got a couple on this list.  But I love these two characters–and to be honest, after the whole trilogy with barely a woman in sight, Tolkien had set the bar low.  The fact that he spent any time on the romance was thrilling.  And, well, the credit should really probably go to Peter Jackson, since the extended edition of the movie features the world’s most beautiful forty-eight second love story.  It works because I’m assuming this isn’t their first conversation–and because both characters are so beautifully developed and complex that I can see why they belong together without needing to be told.

Magicians and Mrs. QuentThe Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett

This is the extraordinarily rare book (trilogy, for the full picture) with a love triangle where I actually managed to get enthusiastic about both romantic pairings.  Details feel more spoilerific here than for the other books, so perhaps I’ll just leave it there…

Northanger AbbeyCatherine Morland and Mr. Tilney, Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

I know everyone’s favorite is supposed to be Mr. Darcy–but Mr. Tilney actually smiles!  And is witty and personable!  And has a first name (Henry) that comes up more than once!  And I suppose I just like a romance between two people who meet, like each other and go on liking each other.  Sure, there’s a fight in there, but basically, they just like each other.  It’s refreshing.

Gryphon's EyrieJoisan and Kerovan, The Crystal Gryphon Trilogy by Andre Norton

On the other hand, even though these two so clearly need each other and belong together, they still take an entire trilogy to quite sort things out.  However, even if I find Catherine and Mr. Tilney refreshing, I suppose I also have a soft spot for romances between two people who both care about each other but need to do some growth as individuals and as a couple before getting to the happily-ever-after part.

Thrawn TrilogyHan and Leia, Star Wars

I don’t usually think of romance when I think of Star Wars, but I just read the Thrawn Trilogy and Han and Leia really are a wonderful couple.  Typically, books seem to focus on the falling-in-love part.  This trilogy, and other Star Wars Extended Universe novels, give us that rare story, a happily married couple!  And there’s also the aspect of Leia being so amazing, and Han being so unthreatened by that.  He remarks at one point in the book trilogy that some men might be uncomfortable with a wife who can think faster than they can, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.  AWW!

Your turn–what romantic stories do you like?  Any suggestions on ones I should read?

Life in Austen’s England…sort of

Midnight in AustenlandI first got interested in Austenland by Shannon Hale because I’ve enjoyed her fantasy novels so much.  The movie’s release helped push me to finally pick up the book (though I still haven’t watched the movie…)  One of my goals this year is to read sequels, so I recently read Midnight in Austenland too.  Consider this a two-fer review!

Both books are set in Pembrook Park, which promises a true Austen experience to devoted fans.  Women (it’s all women) come to the manor house for two weeks, where they dress up in period clothing, assume a character and interact with actors hired to entertain–and romance (in an Austen-appropriate way, of course).

Austenland centers on Jane, perennially unlucky in love and slightly too obsessed with the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice.  She sees the trip to Pembrook Park as a kind of immersion therapy to finally kick the habit and move on.  Once she arrives, though, she begins to wonder where the line between pretend-romance and real-romance actually lies (hint: not where she thinks it does!)

Midnight in Austenland takes a Northanger Abbey spin, bringing in a murder mystery to liven (deaden?) things up.  The heroine this time around is Charlotte, trying to cope with her divorce (from her lying, cheating, remarried-to-his-mistress husband).  She finds comfort in Austen’s novels, and hopes that a bit of pretend will help ready her for living real life again.  But then Charlotte thinks she finds a real dead body–and the question becomes whether there could be a real murder behind a pretend-mystery.  And there’s some romance too, of course!

I enjoyed both of these books quite a bit, but surprisingly enough I have to say I preferred the sequel!  Of course, Northanger Abbey is my favorite Austen novel…

The first book focuses almost exclusively on Jane’s romances, which is entertaining but still a somewhat thin thread.  There are also some themes around acting and reality.  One of the biggest arcs is about letting go of unhealthy fantasies but the ending, well, up-ended that message completely, and left that all rather confusing.  Leaving us pretty much with a light romance.  Still, a fun if somewhat slight book.

And then we get to Midnight in Austenland.  And there’s murder, and ghost stories, and a seriously brooding hero and a rather witty hero, and two truly unpleasant anti-heroes, and Charlotte’s struggle to find her confidence–which she does.  Spectacularly, I might add.  The romance was slightly out-of-left-field, but was sweet enough when it came that I’ll take it.

A few characters return from the first book, gaining more depth and becoming more sympathetic in the process.  Pembrook Park itself got much more interesting too.  Jane’s experience convinced me that I would be unutterably bored in Austen’s England (probably true).  Guests during Jane’s visit primarily sit around, drink tea, and do needlepoint.  Charlotte gets to play parlor games and go riding and take an excursion to a ruined castle.  So much more fun!

I think you could probably pick up the sequel before the first one without too much trouble, though reading them in order will explain a few points in the second book.  They’re really both worth reading anyway.  I can’t figure out from Hale’s website if she’s planning a third book, but I hope so–maybe a send-up of Persuasion, with two former lovers meeting at Pembrook Park?  I’d read it!

Author’s Site: http://www.squeetus.com/

Other reviews:
PG CWWN
Diary of an Eccentric
The Page Sage
Anyone else?

Buy them here: Austenland and Midnight in Austenland

Top Ten Tuesdays: Fictional Worlds Not Suitable for Housekeeping

I’ve been reading other people’s Top Ten Tuesday posts for quite a while, and always enjoy the lists of books on interesting topics.  This week I’m finally joining in myself!

toptentuesdayHosted by The Broke and the Bookish, this week’s topic is: Top Ten Worlds I’d Never Want to Live In

This is an interesting reverse on how I usually look at books–as places I enjoy spending time.  That’s why I read them!  Still, I found some books with worlds I enjoy reading about…but would never want to live in.  Links, naturally, go to reviews, and the order is entirely random.

1) Tarzan’s Jungle, in the Tarzan series by Edgar Rice Burroughs – This is an exciting setting for stories, but if I ever found myself here, I’d probably be dead inside of one afternoon.  The first lion would get me, as Burroughs’ characters are constantly scrambling up trees to escape charging lions.  And if a lion didn’t get me, then I’d definitely starve.

2) Jane Austen’s England – Austen gives us lovely, serene stories of elegant women and dashing men…but Shannon Hale’s Austenland convinced me that I would probably run mad with boredom living in Austen’s England.

3) Airstrip One, Oceania, in 1984 by George Orwell – Big Brother is watching everything.  And this is not a pleasant place to live at all.

4) The Districts, in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – I don’t suppose this one requires any real explanation?  The Capital controls Districts 1-12, life is nasty, brutish and short, and every year kids are offered up in the Hunger Games.

5) Ceti Alpha V, in To Reign in Hell by Greg Cox – The few minutes of sandstorm we see in The Wrath of Khan are bad enough, but the book gets into far more detail about dwindling water supplies, acidic oceans, and the complete lack of vegetation and animal life–apart from the eels that crawl into people’s ears and drive them mad.

6) Jonas’ Community, in The Giver by Lois Lowry – Life here is controlled, ordered, clean and pristine.  The organizers have removed all doubt, all fear, all negative emotions–and taken away all creativity, individuality and positive emotions too.  No one really feels anything, and most terrifying of all, they don’t even have the vocabulary or understanding to articulate what’s missing.

7) Earth circa 2044, in Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – The economy has collapsed, the climate is shifting, and the entire population spends as much time as it can in a virtual world.  The virtual world is pretty amazing, but the outside world is hideous–and all the worse because it feels alarmingly plausible as a future.

8) London circa the Traction Era in Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve – Cities have all gone mobile, which doesn’t mean they’re on cell phones.  They’re all on enormous treads and travel across the Earth.  Like Ceti Alpha V, plant and animal life are all but destroyed, and the cities survive as hostile scavengers preying on each other.

9) Brakebills Academy and/or Fillory, in The Magicians by Lev Grossman – The academy and the magical world of Fillory are clearly set up as deliberate contrasts to, respectively, Hogwarts and Narnia.  As such, they’re crude, uncomfortable and (worst of all) populated by dull, unpleasant characters who spend a lot of time complaining about their existential crises.  I don’t want to live in any of the books on this list, but this is the only book I don’t recommend (with the note that many people love it–so make of that what you will).

10) Earth circa 2083, in Surviving Antarctica: Reality TV 2083 – Similar to Ready Player One, in a collapsing economy people have turned towards television for everything, from school to entertainment to hope for a better life.  You might win a scholarship in a game show–or by participating in Historical Survivor, a reality show taken to an extreme, re-enacting history with deaths included.

Whew…it makes the present world look pretty good, doesn’t it?  Have you “spent time” in any of these worlds?  Or do you know of another world that’s good for a visit, but not to live in?