I'm an instant gratification book blogger. I read a book, put it down, and post a review. So it was REALLY hard for me to wait to post the review of the first book in this post, but I thought it'd be fun to do a themed post with several reviews. I really should have done that with Wife in the North and Queen of the Road, since they begged to be compared to each other. Anyway, if you're not a fan of Jane Austen books, movies, and derivative works (the endless spin-offs, alternate point-of-views, sequels, and mystery novels), you can skip this post. If you are an Austen junkie, please enjoy this review of the good, the bad, and the hilarious in Austen-lit, and don't miss the EXCITING GIVEAWAY at the end of the post!
Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler: I won this book through Reading Group Choices, a neat site that offers great suggestions for book clubs. This book had a lot of potential, but it never lived up to it. After Courtney Stone nurses a broken heart (both her fiance and her best friend, Wes, have betrayed her) with vodka and Jane Austen novels, she wakes up in another body, in another time and place. Everyone calls her Jane Mansfield (ha!), and she struggles to assimilate into her new world (where it appears she's engaged, or close to it) while figuring out how she got there and how to get back. There are some really, really funny parts to this book (Jane's mother is a horrible woman who threatens to have Jane committed if she doesn't do as she's told by marrying well and Courtney's snide internal monologue and passive-aggressive dealings in letters and conversation are gems), but ultimately, it was disappointing. Courtney is plagued by memories from Jane's brain, leading her to wonder about her identity and the nature of self, and this novel suffers from a similar identity crisis. Is it a gentle satire of Jane Austen's works, sharing the "truths" that Austen leaves out (it's smelly, the air is polluted, bathing is rare, chamber pots are disgusting, tooth powder-ew, not to mention what happens in a Tampax-free world when a woman has her "monthly courses")? Is it a reflection on modern society and how it compares to "simpler" times? Is it a scifi/fantasy novel about a woman dropped into another place and time who must find her way back? Is it a romance between Courtney and Wes? Rigler can't seem to decide, so it ends up doing most of these things, but none of them terribly well. The main problem is the Courtney/Jane dichotomy. I had trouble even thinking of her as Courtney because her life in LA is barely part of the story. I didn't care if she got together with Wes because I never saw Wes except in a couple of flashbacks. It would have been better if she and Jane had shared a name. Courtney spends too much time overanalyzing the situation--if I'm going to have to suspend disbelief in such a major way (and I'm fine with that!), I'd rather get it over with and skip Courtney's wondering about whether she's dreaming for pages and pages when it's obvious she's not. The explanation for what happened isn't particularly satisfying, and it might have been better to have skipped an explanation entirely or made the explanation more central to the story. Instead, the storytelling is caught between "What happened?" and "How do I cope in this time/place?" and "Do I love Wes?" The last was the least interesting. It would have been more cohesive if either the story had started before Courtney wakes up as Jane so I could see her interaction with Wes and what's-his-name-the-fiance and what happens to send her to Regency England OR (my preference) if the novel focused on her assimilating into Regency England. There is a lot to like here--the parts with Courtney struggling to act like Jane are lots of fun, and she gets to go to London and Bath in addition to her country home. It's fun to see this life through the eyes of a modern woman. The novel as a whole just fails to hang together. Die-hard Austen fans will probably enjoy the description of real life in Regency England, though--I did.
Austenland by Shannon Hale: What a fun, fun book. This one knows EXACTLY what it is--fluffy chick lit with a Jane Austen bent, and it does it well. Jane Hayes has a bit of an addiction to Colin Firth's Pride and Prejudice (Hale adds a tongue-in-cheek dedication to Colin Firth), and it's ruined her for normal men. Her great-aunt finds this out and leaves her a trip to Austenland in her will. Austenland is the ultimate haven for Austenphiles, a realistic Regency resort where guests (all female) dress up in empire waist gowns and corsets and basically pay to have Regency gentlemen court them. Jane thinks Austenland might be the perfect way to rid herself of her Mr. Darcy obsession, and off she goes. The resort is hilarious, and Jane waffles between enjoying the experience and needing something more "real" in the form of an attractive, forbidden gardener. She's intrigued by the gentlemen, especially the infuriating Mr. Nobley, but she realizes they're paid to be intriguing. Meanwhile, Jane, a graphic designer, rediscovers her love of painting (it beats sitting around doing embroidery) and figures out what she actually wants from life and relationships. This isn't great literature, but it's cute and entertaining.
Lost in Austen: Create Your Own Jane Austen Adventure by Emma Campbell Webster: This is exactly what it sounds like, a choose-your-own-adventure with Austen's novels as the storylines. If that sounds stupid, don't buy it (though amazon had it for $3.99, which is why I picked it up), but I really enjoyed it for what it was. It's silly, yes, but I haven't done choose-your-own-adventure in decades. I always loved them, but I'd peek at the options I didn't choose :( I know, it's a character flaw, and I still do it. Anyway, I've had fun with this! There are optional scorekeeping categories, but I didn't bother with that. The scorekeeping notes and other commentary are hilarious. You start out in Pride and Prejudice and can veer into other novels. Make the wrong choice and end up ruining your family, having a tragic marriage, or even dying a horrible death. I would have liked to see more choices, as there are several long sections during which important decisions are made, and not by you. But it's a fun little game, and I enjoyed it.
Edmund Bertram's Diary by Amanda Grange: I really wonder how many more of these Amanda Grange will do. She's done Mr. Darcy's Diary, Mr. Knightley's Diary, and Captain Wentworth's Diary. And I see that she's done Colonel Brandon's Diary, but it doesn't seem to be available in the US. I wonder if she'll do Northanger Abbey next, or Edward Ferrars from S&S. At any rate, I enjoy these! They're like popcorn for Jane Austen addicts. Is it necessary to have the diaries of the heroes of Jane Austen's novels? No, the novels stand on their own just fine. But it's awfully fun. Grange does a good job of blending the familiar scenes with the addition of offstage occurrences, and Edmund's diary is no different. It actually made me remember why I think Edmund is a bit of a doof, but he's a lovable doof, so that's fine. It's a fun, extremely quick read.
NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!! I happen to have a spare copy of Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict. Among these four books, that was my least favorite, but I hope I made it clear that it has its enjoyable parts. There must be other Jane Austen fans who would enjoy a FREE hardcover copy. If you would like this one, here's how to enter:
1. Leave a comment with your e-mail address and your favorite Jane Austen hero (and why).
2. For an extra three entries, blog about this post and tell me you did.
3. Enter by Sunday, September 14 at 11:59 p.m. EDT.
Don't forget about our Anatomy of a Boyfriend giveaway! Enter by the very last moment of THIS SUNDAY for your chance to win.