Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Someone Thinks She's a Big Girl...

When I read Prom and Prejudice a few weeks ago, everyone (well more than one person, I think) asked me if I had read Enthusiasm (another P&P-inspired, though only in a very loose sense, high school chic lit). I said no, because I had heard from a few sources that it wasn't great (s.b. that she gets together with the wrong guy - I have no idea why I even listen to her anymore on that subject :) and the sp.s that it was weird or something).  But I heard from a few other sources (Aliza) that it was decent, and since Sarah Sp. owned it, I figured it was worth giving a whirl.  First of all, as it turns out, I had read it, which I realized as certain parts seemed very familiar.  Can't remember whether I liked it or not the first time... though my guess is that I mostly enjoyed it at the time, since it's a fairly innocuous high school romance. Uh oh, I know you're saying (just let me have that one :))... Rochel has no patience for high school anymore, right?

That's exactly what I said... but the truth is, this really was the chip on my shoulder talking.  The book wasn't high school in the sense that it dealt with the usual young adult sagas of friendship, parents, school and of course boys.  I mean, it dealt with all those things, but Julie (main character)'s voice isn't so whiny I can't stand it or anything.   And I don't feel any marked lack of sympathy for her petty little issues... well maybe a little bit annoyed with the way she gives into Ashley (best and crazy friend), but in general, she's a good kid ;).  The problem is actually in quite the direction - I felt like I'd taken a wrong turn from the parking lot and stumbled into the Globe Theatre or onto the Yorkshire moors (was that not poetic? :)) Julie's secret longing for the man (boy) she (thinks she) can't have... Parr/Grandison/whatever his name is penning anonymous poetry in her honor.  Never mind that I'm not quite sure what took them so long to get together, because I wasn't convinced they couldn't have sorted everything out months earlier, you cannot expect me to believe high schoolers ever achieve this depth feeling, or that if they do, it has any lasting meaning whatsoever.  It was actually ridiculous... but I think that was kind of the point. The book was an homage to Jane Austen, I suppose, because Ashley and Julie love P&P... but I think it drew more than a bit on Romeo and Juliet and such, and I think was deliberate.  Nothing like a light take on a tragedy as a stage for subtle humor, I suppose.

And in that vent, it was on the funny side, I guess.  Not laugh out loud or anything, but it's certainly less annoying to think of it that way than to take it seriously.  Or not too seriously anyway... but it's not entirely farcical.  The truth is, the only enjoyment to be got out of it relies on suspending all skepticism and buying in to the romance.  As a reward, you get... well I suppose you get angst, but I have to say I didn't even really enjoy the angst... maybe because I failed in total suspension, I don't know.  But I just couldn't see enjoy the pining like I usually do :) Still, you know, he's a nice guy, very talented, and all that other stuff too :) and she's got plenty going for her too.  It was nice when they got together at the end, and it wasn't total torture waiting for them either.

Verdict: 2.8/5

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Good Ride, If a Slow Finish

After my grand rush to post last Friday afternoon, I didn't even finish a book last Shabbos.  I didn't finish one this whole week in fact, until last night.  But, not to get behindhand, I brought my laptop home with me from work (yes I did, and mostly just for this :)) and am writing this on the train.  So what is this? It's a review of a book I started back in December, brought home with me a few weeks ago, but which kept getting pushed back in the queue because I had borrowed it from Sarah Sp. rather from the library. It's a book I borrowed almost immediately after finishing its predecessor, #1 in the series, which I reviewed back in October (and which, incidentally, also took me a few tries to get through).  It's a book falling in my exception to the rule, written by a male author who is also English and comic.  In short, it's The Rope That Strings The Handman's Bow (or something close to that), #2 in the Flavia de Luce series by Allan Bradley.  It's not actually a book that particularly deserves that fanfare-ish introduction, but it was fun to write :)

If you recall (and do I even need to say it? I know you don't :)) I enjoyed the first one despite its mystery genre, because I found Flavia delightful and the setting, 1950's English country, just like home :) (well home a century late, maybe :)) But Sarah Sp. had told me that Yaffa had told her that the second wasn't quite as good, and anyway, in a book that owed so much to the freshness of its narrator, the second one would be hard pressed to deliver.  That's not particular to this series; in general, you can get away with less of a plot in the first one, because whatever little twist led you to write the book can carry the day on its own.  But by the second, you usually need to bring something extra, or it's just more of the same.  Anyway, I was ready to be forgiving of #2 not quite living up to #1.  And specifically, I was kind of expecting the mystery to take more of a central role than it had in the first one, which of course means more of the book in which I am less interested.

To my surprise, I found that the mystery was not in fact front and center at all.  Well… that's not quite true, the book did revolve around the newly introduced characters of Nialla, Rupert, the Inglesbys, Dieter, etc. all of whom are involved in the whodunit.  But the murder doesn't even happen until about a third of the way in, and for most of the rest of the book, Flavia isn't directly after the culprit.  She's chasing around answers here, there, and everywhere, but not in a particularly directed manner.  Just your usual (or unusual) nosy eleven year old.  So in that sense, it doesn't even feel much like a mystery.  Just good old suspicious Flavia, poking her nose in everyone's business.  And doing a great job of it too! That's really the main reason to like Flavia, she is a very capable girl.  Thinks on the fly, puts it all together, and pretty near unflappable.  She's just fun to hang around.   Especially in short twenty minute bursts of reading, which is mostly how I got this book finished.  And it's a sign of how much I enjoyed it that it wasn't easy to close the book at the of the train ride, especially as I got closer to the end.

Yesterday, I was almost thinking of reading it at work, it was getting so exciting.  But then, I didn't.  And when I finally read the last few chapters last night, it was kind of weird… because it never really ended.  The mystery was solved, but it stayed in the background as much as it had been the whole time.  Flavia just figures it out, tells Inspector Hewitt the whole story and that's it. Now the truth is, this was better than repeating the first book's tense and dangerous climax when the culprit nabs Flavia, but it was so non-eventful I was like… that's it? There's not another chapter? A bit of a letdown…. but only for a second.  And that I got over it.  It's not like I was left without closure.  It was just that the book never really reached the peak of the crescendo I was expecting.  But that didn't make the rest of the climb less captivating.  

Verdict: 3.5/5

Friday, February 11, 2011

Chic Lit Fails Its Litmus Test

I've been a very lazy girl... and now it's a few minutes before shabbos, and I might be finishing more than once book this shabbos, and certainly one, and I still haven't reviewed last Shabbos's reading, so here it is, nice and fast. I finished all my library books, was supposed to make progress on my non-library book backlog, but then I went home and for Shabbos and someone had gotten out the Jill Mansell book that I hadn't read, Rumor Has It.  If you really read this blog carefully, you would remember that I reviewed another one of her books a while ago, to high praise, for being a piece of good chic lit.  This book was the same I suppose... well not quite, it was classic Jill Mansell, light, bright, easy, romantic comedy with lots of interlocking stories... but the main story was frankly not compelling at all.  Likeable characters, but no mystery, no tension, as both basically acknowledged they liked each from the beginning.  Oh well, easy to read, but not the best in the universe.

Verdict: 3/5 - b/c this is my genre, when all is said and done

Friday, February 4, 2011

Man, Men Just Can't Write (chic lit)

After some delay, here's the third of those P&P books that I mentioned were on the agenda - Pemberley Ranch, by Jack Caldwell.  Jack, you say? Would that be Jack as in John, an undoubtedly male appellation? That's what I said too, which is why I was initially not really interested in this book.  It's a retelling of P&P, which I never object to, in the Old West, which is a familiar and well-enough beloved setting, but I approach all male-authored books with a deep sense of caution, if not one of suspicion (and with good reason, as there are at least two previous examples on this blog of men writing books the way men do... and that means not in a way I enjoy.  Anyway, I didn't really pay attention to the review on Austenprose, but then Sarah Sp. emailed me a link, and since she seemed interesting and the library had it, I thought I'd give it a whirl.

Laurel Ann on Austenprose had mentioned that this book is only *very* loosely based on P&P... I'd say it's loose to the point that P&P is more of an inspiration than a basis.  The characters have similar names... Beth Bennet, Will Darcy... and some of the same relationships (though not all... Colonel Fitzwilliam is Darcy's employee, not his cousin).  Their personalities... some follow as closely as is reasonable, while with others no attempt is even made.  As for the plot... well there was hate-at-first-sight , two proposals, and Darcy saves the day... but I have to say, that was about it.  My point is, this was *not* P&P... but who cares? It's not like it would have been P&P done right anyway.  The front cover had a quote saying it was P&P crosses Gone With the Wind... it does take place in the aftermath of the civil war, but I'm not sure how much they have in common other than that.  It was closer to Harvey Girls than to either of those two, I'd say, or to the Virginian.  It feels wrong to compare those classics in any way with this book, but hey, if it's P&P crosses anything...

So let me evaluate this book without reference to P&P, or GWtW, or whatever else... yes, it was stupid.  It's published by Sourcebooks, which seems to be the premier source for Austen paraliterature of all varieties of fluffiness and junk.  Huvi pointed out a few rather infelicitous phrases, but nothing I hadn't seen before... non-sequiters, overly dramatic flights of fancy... but I found it rather easy to ignore.  The truth is, I think I knew right away this book was going to be stupid, so I didn't bother investing.  It moved pretty slowly, but actually picked up speed whenever it veered from P&P, maybe because I didn't actually know the story already :) And the western drama was... western drama.  Guns, cowboys, and lots of blustery speech.  So... well, so male.

In the end of the day, that's what amused me most about this book.  How utterly male it was.  First of all, the women are totally less sympathetic than usual, more sappy and idiotic.  And the men are strong, wise and brave.  Oh and the guns.  A lot of threats and a fair smattering of violence too.  And then there's the male perspective of romance... really it almost takes all the fun out of it.  Just so much less subtle.  But you know, almost funny in a way, at least in this book.  When I first read the author blurb, I'm like who is this guy? What kind of guy writes a Jane Austen inspired novel? But after reading, my conclusion is that whatever inspiration Ms. Austen offered Jack Caldwell, it's not exactly what she intended or what we would necessarily expect.  And I guess it worked for him, because he certainly had fun with his fairly unrealistic but very faithful-to-form cowboy romp (is that word too sissy? sorry 'bout that, I reckon :)) It sure was funny to see Darcy in jeans and hear the uncouth syllables of Texas emanating from that silver-spooned filled mouth.

So yeah this book was dumb, don't get me wrong.  But I don't actually care, since I never thought it was going to be decent.  And I was of course, proud to be right was again... men just can't write books I want to read (except English comic writers, of course :))

Verdict: 2/5