Review: By the Book

by the book

Details: Sonneborn, Julia. (2018). By the Book. Gallery Books.

Keywords: Book nerds, retellings, Jane Austen, academia, romance

So, full disclaimer: Persuasion is my favorite Jane Austen novel.

Don’t get me wrong, Pride and Prejudice, the perennial favorite, is amazing. Elizabeth is the bookish, sharp witted heroine that we all want to be, and Darcy is the brooding hunk (Kate Beaton has an excellent set of comics on this) with an appreciation for bookish, sharp witted women that we all pine for.

But I always had a soft spot for Anne. Shy and self- sacrificing, I found her journey more interesting in that she learned to stand up to people (especially her crappy family) and fight for her happy ending. And Captain Wentworth is just woof. Honorable and able to see Anne for who she really is, and forgiving? Yes and please. So all this is to say that I had pretty high expectations for this book.

I was not disappointed.

This book was delightful. It was one where I felt warm and fuzzy reading it, like returning to an old favorite but with new surprises. At a few points I made a girly squeal because of the cuteness of something that happened. It was well paced, and the writing was breezy without feeling superficial.

I loved the college setting. It evoked and environment of brick buildings and fall leaves and most importantly, BOOKS. Books were almost a character unto themselves (only to be expected from a retelling), even representing the state of the relationship between Anne and Adam. It also worked well for the placement of the characters in terms of career and love life, like Adam becoming the president of the university, or Rick being a writer in resident (like a soldier wintering for the season! So clever).

Also, Anne was a scholar of women writers who was constantly having to defend why they deserved to be studied. I loved this inclusion of the struggles of women in academia and the literary world.

In terms of the retelling aspect, the book actually combined a little bit of Persuasion with elements of Pride and Prejudice. This is evident in the character of Rick, who is something of a Wickham. He was delightfully despicable. I’m not sure who Larry, Anne’s good friend represented, but he was wonderful and brought great humor to the story.

The only thing I didn’t like was that there weren’t enough interactions with Adam, in terms of rebuilding the tension between them that leads up to the end. The story focused more on her relationship with Rick and her friend Larry, which is fine, but I feel like I needed to see Adam and Anne together more, learning about the people they have become and thus that they are even more in love with each other than ever. I also felt like there needed to be a little bit more of Dr. Russell’s character. In Persuasion Lady Russell is directly responsible for Anne and Wentworth’s parting, and I wanted to see more of that pressure behind this Anne’s decision to end it with Adam.

This is definitely going to be put on myself with other favorite retellings like The Madwoman Upstairs, and right next to Persuasion, so that I can look at my own library and smile.

Excitement Level: Five Austenesque stars

Disclaimer: I was not paid for this review. I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

Review: The Wrath and the Dawn

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Details: Ahdieh, Renee. (2015). The Wrath and the Dawn. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

Keywords: Retellings, Arabian Nights, Young Adult, Fantasy

Review:

I was expecting to like this book based on all that I had heard about it. Not only was it talked up at the bookstore where I currently work, but I had the opportunity to see the author on a panel at ALA about diverse books. The panel was excellent and got me pretty excited about reading all the books featured which I plan to do.

That being said, I enjoyed it even more than I thought I would. The writing while beautiful, was not overly purple, but just rich enough to really capture the imagination. The world building was brilliant, evoking a historical Arabia with a hint of the fantastical. And I am a huge sucker for retellings and I liked that although this was inspired by Scheherazade, it was not hemmed in by trying to be ultra-faithful to the original, but truly became its own story. I would also like to give kudos to the author for including a “big misunderstanding” but not drawing out to the point of hair ripping. It was really refreshing to have the answers when they needed to be revealed.

The characters were probably the strongest part of the book. Shahrzad was complex and interesting, and definitely qualifies as a super badass lady. Smart and strong and not willing to take crap from anyone, but also possessing enough faults that I did not find her to be the perfect heroine. Really, all the characters were complex, even ones that don’t appear as often, like Shahrzad’s father (who does have a rather important part, but appears very little).

I also want to mention the relationship between Shahrzad and her handmaiden, Despina. I always like when there is a relationship between women that seems real. Their mix of wanting to be friends and not trusting each other rings true for the situation that they are in, but the friendship that develops between them is awesome and full of hilarious snark.

My only real problems with the book were one, Shahrzad’s overnight acceptance of Queenliness. Like, she starts ordering people around right away. It just seemed a little out of the blue for someone of her personality. I also felt there was a tad bit of insta-love that went on, but it is kind of explained later so I wasn’t as annoyed by it as I usually am. And the romance is pretty steamy is some parts, so I was placated, because damn, do I like a good steamy love story (for further details, see my extensive romance novel reading list).

Excitement Level: Swirling Sands of Awesomesauce

I received a free copy of this book at the American Library Association Conference. I was not asked to do this review, just decided to do it all by my onesie.