Friday, June 29, 2007

Austenland by Shannon Hale

Jane Hayes, who feels the need to hide her addiction to Jane Austen and its many film/TV adaptations (including the Colin Firth one), learns that an elderly aunt has left her a gift in her will - an all-expenses paid trip to Pembrook Park. This English "resort" is a place for women who are obsessed with Jane Austen to immerse themselves in the Regency period and in the society depicted in Austen's novels. To Jane, it's a perfect opportunity to get this obsession out of her system once and for all so she can move on with her life.

This book didn't quite do it for me. I love the concept, of course, but the execution felt so contrived. Hale's writing is a curious overlap of modern English (which she does quite well) and her attempt to write like Jane Austen (which she doesn't do so well, especially when it comes to dialogue). The result feels alternately over- and under-written. And the story - well, it is mostly just ridiculous, with its rather heavy-handed attempt to recreate the story of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy within the artificial setting of Pembrook Park.

Ahh well - many books written by Austenites are not as satisfying as the original source material, so I'm not all that disappointed.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Baby Proof by Emily Giffin

Claudia Parr is a woman in her early thirties who decided long ago that she didn't want to have children. Fortunately, she has found a "soul mate" in Ben, a wonderful man who also says he doesn't want children. Unfortunately, after a couple of years of marriage he changes his mind and starts badgering her ceaselessly about wanting a baby, even going so far as to make hints about their future parenthood in front of in-laws. Claudia quite rightly gives Ben the boot, and then she spends the rest of the book moaning and groaning over her divorce, her lost love and the fact that she doesn't want babies. Honestly, for someone who seems to be fairly confident in her decision she sure doesn't appear to be at peace with it - she goes on and on and on about this issue of not wanting kids, even to the point where she gets mad that people who are interested in becoming mothers (ie, every other female she knows) have the gall to *talk about babies* at her birthday dinner. Honestly, the nerve of some people!

As you can tell, this book didn't quite work for me. Partly it was that I didn't really connect with Claudia (maybe you can tell that already?!). Partly it was Giffin's writing style - it relies a bit too heavily on first-person description and narrative, and the dialogue is sparse and somewhat stilted. Another thing that grated on my nerves was the way people in this book are unable to communicate effectively. A lot of the plot was "driven" by misunderstandings and lack of open dialogue between people who really should be able to talk to one another - ie, spouses, friends and sisters who have loving and open relationships. And oh! The endless, tiresome descriptions of shoes, clothing, furniture and other such Name Brand items. Constant clothing changes and brand-name-dropping do not a good novel make -- and not all readers of the chicklit genre want to read such things!

I think I'll be giving Emily Giffin's other novels a miss.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Mail-Order Wings by Beatrice Gormley

I read this book as a child, and for some reason it came back to me very vividly a week or two ago and I decided to try and find it. Fortunately, it was available at the library last night and was a quick enough read that I'd finished it by early afternoon today.

Mail-Order Wings is about a nine-year-old bird lover named Andrea who finds an offer she can't resist on the back of a creepy comic book - for a mere $5.98 she can get her very own pair of wings and fly just like the birds she spends hours watching from her window and the local bird sanctuary. Andrea is old enough to realize that this is probably a scam, but she still can't resist sending off a money order and putting the kit together once it arrives. To her delight, she finds that the wings actually work and she tries her best to learn how to use them in secret. Naturally, though, there is a catch to this wonderful experience and it turns out to be a particularly nasty catch.

Mail-Order Wings makes for a pleasant enough read -- I'm not going to gush and rave about it, but it was a nice trip down memory lane. Now, where has my old dog-eared copy of Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing gotten to...

Sleeping Arrangements by Madeleine Wickham

I checked this out of the library because it was written by the same author who wrote all the books by Sophie Kinsella. (Was that an awkward sentence or what? I realize that both names may be pseudonyms.) Honestly, I'd never know it was the same person just based on the writing. This was a fluffy, overwritten and melodramatic romance novel - sort of like someone trying too hard to write the kind of book that Joanna Trollope would.

The basic premise is that two families find themselves double-booked in a friend's Spanish villa for a week, and they try to make the best of the situation by sharing the villa. It turns out that Hugh, who is married to Amanda, had a past relationship with Chloe, who has since become "life partners" with Philip (she and Philip are very clear on the fact that they are NOT MARRIED, and they make a point of saying so to others on many occasions throughout the book - you'd think after thirteen years together they would have become more comfortable with this idea!). Hugh took off on Chloe very suddenly fifteen years earlier, the worm, and clearly they both have unresolved feelings about this; unsurprisingly, they still have unresolved feelings for each other too. Thrown into the mix is the fact that Hugh works for the big, horrible corporation that has just taken over the bank that Philip works for, and the big, horrible corporation is planning to shut down Philip's branch and put him out of work. Ahhh, the drama!!

In spite of my flippant dislike of the book, I felt compelled to keep reading. It was like a train wreck. There was some element in this story that kept me curious to see how things would turn out. Would Ms. Wickham/Kinsella/Whatever-her-name is follow in Trollope's footsteps and have both Amanda and Chloe reject their spouses for good? (In almost all Joanna Trollope novels, men are bastards and women are far better off without them.) Would Hugh save Philip's job? Would the dreadlocked Aussie nanny hired by Hugh and Amanda end up sleeping with Chloe's sixteen year old, hormonal son? All these tantalizing plot lines await you if you should decide to check this book out -- but honestly, I'd recommend that you wait for the next Sophie Kinsella book (or if you're feeling particularly rabid toward men, why not pick up some of Joanna Trollope's better books - "The Choir" and "The Rector's Wife" being two engaging novels which will make you hate men for days afterward?)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks

Ahh, another wonderful teen/YA novel to sink my teeth into! Evil Genius sort of plodded along for the first 200 pages or so - it was amusing enough, reading about the childhood and school experiences of the quirky Australian genius Cadel Piggott, but then somewhere around page 250 this novel suddenly became un-put-downable. I found myself carrying it everywhere I went so I could sneak in a few pages' worth of reading. Cadel becomes caught up in a very complicated and deadly web of intrigue centering around a school he attends called the Axis Institute, which is supposed to teach him how to be the perfect evil mastermind so he can take over the world and get rid of all the non-genius people. The problem is that Cadel turns out to have a mind of his own (along with his genius IQ). At some point he has to make a decision about just who is friends are what he really believes in - but that's hard to do when you've been brainwashed your whole life by an evil psychologist who claims to have your best interests at heart, and who has taught you one fundamental truth - to never trust anyone.

The Ionian Mission by Patrick O'Brian

Captain Aubrey and his pal the doctor are sent off to join a blockade near Toulon, France. After a few months of mind-numbing blockade action, their ship falls apart and they get to reunite with their beloved Surprise. As Aubrey sails off on a dangerous and politically vital mission to enlist Turkish aid in the war against France, he gets to prove that when you put a good Captain and crew on a good ship, lots of exciting action ensues. Prizes galore await Jack and his shipmates in the Ionian Sea!

This wasn't a particularly memorable installment in this series but it was still an enjoyable read.