Austenites: No Need for Smelling Salts

I’m a wee bit possessive about Jane Austen. I often wish her books were my secret, because all the starry-eyed gushing over romance plots and dopey quizzes on facebook telling you which heroine you are most like irritate me beyond belief.

Why would I want to be so selfish? What’s wrong with different people enjoying something at their own level and for their own reasons? In general, the answer should be there’s nothing wrong with people approaching something in their own unique fashion and evaluating it how they will–EXCEPT, that is, when they’re missing out on what makes something extraordinary.

There are thousands of Regency romances. There are thousands of costume dramas (admittedly, there’s only one scene where Colin Firth emerges soaking wet out of a fountain). There are many, many stories inspired by Austen’s works. But there’s only one Austen.

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Colin Firth as Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice Photo: BBC

Austen is special because she created the kind of fiction that people have been loving for over 200 years now. We love the romance plots, of course. We also love the characters she brought to life. Even though people dress and occupy themselves differently, those sorts of characters still roam about the world. We all recognize the guy who thinks he’s God’s gift to humanity; the lonely old lady who wants nothing more than some company every now and then; and the reckless young person who is about to get a taste of reality.

She is special because her writing is elegantly restrained, her observations about human behavior are sharp, and, although she can be critical of people, she reigns her observations in with great sympathy.

Given my snobbishness on this subject, I may not have been the best person to review  Miss Bingley Requests by Judy McCrosky. Except I’m exactly the sort of person who would never pass up an opportunity to read something based on Pride and Prejudice. I am Ms. McCrosky’s target audience.

Bingley

The problem with writing a novel based upon such a famous work is the same problem my friend Ted encountered when he was planning his set list for a musical gig. He suggested creating a special arrangement of Strawberry Fields. His teacher tried to talk him out of it. She said, “It doesn’t matter how well you play it. People love the Beatles so much that any other version just won’t hold a candle to the original–at least in their minds.”

Ted played Strawberry Fields anyway and he did a great job. However, he’s not one of the Beatles.

Miss Bingley Requests is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice from Caroline Bingley’s point of view. If you will recall, Caroline Bingley is the sister of Mr. Darcy’s best friend. She believed that she and Darcy would marry someday because it was the most sensible match imaginable–at least to her. They were connected by friendship and both belonged to the same social class. Much to her confusion, Mr. Darcy doesn’t respond to her flirtations and she finds herself dreaming of another man, Mr. Tryphone.

There’s a lot to recommend this book to a devoted Austenite. First, the author vividly paints the world we know and love and she ties in some of our favorite scenes from the original. It also contains some funny lines and observations:

“Great ladies are like onions,” Caroline said, and then paused for a moment when Lady Amesbury looked puzzled. “So many layers,” she hastily added…

Unfortunately, it was impossible for me to sympathize with Caroline Bingley throughout most of the novel. She is headstrong, blind to obvious clues, and snobbish. The moment when I finally felt like she showed some evidence of her humanity was when she was mortified by her brother’s chastisement. I held out some hope that she would use that feeling to make some changes and find true happiness, but that wasn’t meant to be. Miss Bingley didn’t change one bit.

Those are two faults Jane Austen wouldn’t have committed in her work. Every one of her heroines learns something and makes changes before the last chapter of the book. Even the character Austen thought would appeal to fewer readers–Emma–was cast in a sympathetic light. Emma is egotistical at first, but through a variety of experiences, she is humbled and learns to appreciate people who she once deemed beneath her.

What’s more, for a character who refuses to change, it becomes tedious to read her many expressions of the same sentiments and convictions in the face of ever more convincing evidence that she’s deluded. This is compounded by the fact that we already know how everything is going to turn out. I’m sure I’m not the only reader who would become exasperated with her.

At the risk of sounding like a prude, I will also admit that I did not care for the more blatant treatment of sexual attraction in this book. I like a steamy sex scene as much as most hot-blooded women, but when set in the context of an Austen world view, it feels cheap and silly.

“What is it like, Louisa, between a man and a woman?”

Sexual tension was rife in Austen’s books, but it simmered under the surface, it was never spelled out in vulgar fashion. Austen was more concerned with the minds and hearts of her characters, than their bodies.

I really wanted to like Miss Bingley Requests, and did appreciate certain scenes, but I had to slog through it. Fellow Austenites, I’d save your fits of the vapours for other works.


N.B. I received a courtesy copy of this book from Netgalley for an honest review. The publication date is November 23, 2018.

Ten Books to Make You Salivate

I like food. Do you like food too? I bet you do.

In addition to actually eating food (an activity I highly recommend), reading about it  gives me a great deal of pleasure. In fact, I can’t seem to turn away from a book that contains these ingredients: bread and/or cakes (big or small), redemption, self-discovery, empowerment, and LUUUUUUUV.

Dear Reader, you look famished. Can I tempt you with one of the following?

Sourdough by Robin Sloan. Lois Clary is a software engineer who was entrusted with a special sourdough starter. As she learns to care for it, her life is transformed and magical things begin to happen. I created my own starter after reading this book and baked several loaves of bread. MMM…

The Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy E. Reichert. This is the love story between a talented chef and a food critic. A coconut cake played an important role in the main character’s journey towards self-knowledge and opens her up to the possibility of love. I’m tempted to bake Grandma Luella’s coconut cake to see if it brings me the same sort of understanding and deep bond with my special person. Plus, I’m sure it would be deeee-lish-ous!

Bread Alone by Judi Hendricks. After her husband leaves her for another woman, Wynter Morrison runs away to Seattle and gets a job in a bakery, where the ritual of kneading dough and feeding customers provides her with the healing she needs. This appealed to me on three levels: recovery after divorce, living in Seattle (my hometown), and baking bread. It was just what the doctor ordered at a particular time in my life.

A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from my Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg. This book is not like the others. It’s not fiction; rather, it’s a heartfelt memoir by one of my foodie heroes. Each story culminates in a recipe that evokes certain memories and feelings for the author. I’m curious about the pickled grapes!

How to Eat a Cupcake by Meg Donohue. Two friends, one, a free-spirited baker, and the other, a wealthy business woman, try to heal the rift in their friendship by opening a bakery together. There are tearful scenes, hunky men, and sweet treats. This is junk food for the brain. I enjoyed it thoroughly!

Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan. This plot might sound familiar. Polly Waterford moves to a new town after experiencing a tough breakup. She begins baking and selling bread from her shop, and in so doing, forges ties with the small community, finds herself, and falls in love. This is a thoroughly satisfying read, particularly for the bread baking details and the description of the seaside resort.

The Cake Therapist by Judith Fertig. And now for something different: Claire O’Neil can taste feelings (!) and knows just how to customize her creations to help the people who come to her shop. (It’s not so different that the comfort factor is lost: girl whose life is a mess moves into town, sets up shop, bakes a lot of yummy things, finds herself, and falls in love.)

One for the Money by Janet Ivanovich. This one is different from all the others because the main character can’t cook anything to save her life; however, she eats with gusto. I swear, every time I read a Stephanie Plum novel I end up with a craving for fried chicken and donuts. Her grandmother also shoots a roast turkey by accident (or on purpose?) one time, so there’s that. I love Stephanie, the bumbling bounty hunter. The whole series is hilarious and bad for your waistline.

The Lost Recipe for Happiness by Barbara O’Neal. Elena Alvarez moves to Aspen, Colorado to pursue her dream of cooking in a celebrated restaurant. She makes a lot of delectable meals and spars with the restaurant owner who is as delicious as any entrée she whips up.

Bliss by Hilary Fields. Serafina Wilde moves to Santa Fe to get away from a disastrous relationship and to pursue her dream of running a bakery. Her Aunt Pauline gives her the jump start she needs by allowing her to take over the family business, Pauline’s House of Passion, provided she maintain the “back room.” It’s a fun and sexy romp…with cupcakes.

(Full Disclosure: Hilary Fields is a college friend of mine.)


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Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week.

This week’s topic is Books with Sensory Reading Memories. These are the books that are linked to very specific memories for you: where you were, what time of year it was, who you were with, what you were eating, etc. Ideas include books you read while on vacation, books that made you hungry for certain foods, books you’ve buddy read with loved ones, etc. (Submitted by Jessica @ A Cocoon of Books)

Blackbird by L.E. Harrison

Blackbird

Summary:

Ten years ago, Michael left an alternate world where a druid-like tribe worshiped the shape shifting god, Corvus. He sought asylum in Maine. During his exile, he developed a rare disease, which he believed could only be cured by returning home to seek out the magic of his people.

Alena is strongly attracted to Michael from the first moment she sets eyes upon him. Should she heed her instincts or comply with tribal rule, which would have her shun him?

 

What I Liked:

crow Originality

Blackbird puts an original spin on the werewolf/shapeshifter genre that has become so popular these days. In it, you will not find the typical pack full of buff men and lithe women who strut around in the nude all the time because of magically induced wardrobe malfunctions. There is no snarky heroine who is reluctantly brought into the fold. There are power struggles, but not between alphas and betas where fur flies and blood spills. Instead, there are back room deals and betrayals. There’s intimidation and manipulation. Magic is both part of religious worship and oppression.

Continue reading “Blackbird by L.E. Harrison”