Wishlist Wednesday #8

Wishlist Wednesday is a weekly feature hosted by Pen to Paper. Post about one book per week that has been on your wishlist for some time, or just added (it’s entirely up to you), that you can’t wait to get off the wishlist and onto your shelves.

As I’ve mentioned multiple times on this blog, I regularly lust after a well-designed book. I recently came across Penguin Classics’ Faux Leather Editions designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith. They are absolutely stunning, and won’t hurt your wallet as much as something like the Folio Society’s works (still coveting their Austen collection, though!).

I have a lot of these already (Frankenstein, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice and The Brothers Grimm), but I would quite happily fork out $30 for these gorgeous editions!

Webseries Wednesday: Edgar Allan Poe’s Murder Mystery Dinner Party

Webseries Wednesday is a new monthly feature that I created to discuss my favourite literary inspired webseries!

So, I have officially jumped on the bandwagon and become a fan of Shipwrecked’s Edgar Allan Poe’s Murder Mystery Dinner Party. Unlike a lot of literary inspired webseries, instead of being inspired by classic literature, this one has been inspired by the authors themselves.

All of your favourite classic lit authors, poets and playwrights are featured – Charlotte Brontë (Ashley Clements), Emily Dickinson (Sarah Grace Hart), George Eliot (Lauren Lopez of A Very Potter Musical fame),  Louisa May Alcott (Tara Perry) and Mary Shelley (Whitney Avalon). On the male front, there’s Oscar Wilde (Tom DeTrinis), Ernest Hemingway (Joey Richter), H.G. Wells (Blake Silver), Fyodor Dostoevsky (Clayton Snyder), and, of course, Edgar Allan Poe (Sean Persaud).

The premise of the show is that Edgar Allan Poe holds a murder mystery dinner party in order to impress Annabel Lee (Mary Kate Wiles, and yes, that Annabel Lee), and he invites some of the world’s most renowned authors. However, things start going awry when people actually start getting murdered.

One of my favourite gags in the series is every other character ignoring Emily Dickinson, a reference to the fact that she didn’t achieve any fame until after her death. Oscar Wilde aside, I’m not familiar with a lot of the male authors’ works, which means I often need to look them up on Wikipedia to understand the jokes. Nevertheless, it is quite glorious as far as webseries go, and if you’re a fan of classic literature, I encourage you to check it out!

Top Ten Tuesday #22

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by the Broke and the Bookish. Each week, they post a book-related prompt for book bloggers to answer. This week’s prompt is an  All About Audio Freebie! I have chosen to talk about my Top Ten Current Favourite Songs.

I love music. I grew up singing in choirs, listening to early rock’n’roll, blues, and jazz music (thanks Dad!), and a day does not go by without me listening to music. For this week’s #TTT, I decided to list some of my current favourite songs – some are old(er) gems that I forgot existed until recently, some have only been recently released, but all of them make me want to get up and dance whenever I hear them.

Top Ten Tuesday #21

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by the Broke and the Bookish. Each week, they post a book-related prompt for book bloggers to answer. This week’s prompt is Top Ten All Time Favourite Classics

I love classic lit! As you probably know – because I mention it every chance I get – Jane Austen is my literary queen. However, she’s not the only one – the Brontë sisters, Elizabeth Gaskell, Sylvia Plath, and Virginia Woolf are just some of my favourites.

  1. Emma by Jane Austen: Jane Austen is the master of social commentary, and she contributed to much to what we know as the modern day novel. A lot of the techniques she used are pretty commonplace today, but she was actually the pioneer of these techniques, most notably free indirect discourse. Emma is Austen at her best – so simple, and yet so brilliant. It also features my favourite Austen heroine, Emma Woodhouse, who is an ‘obstinate, headstrong girl’ if you ever saw one.
  2. Villette by Charlotte Brontë: If you only read one novel by Charlotte Brontë in your lifetime, make sure it is Villette. It is fascinating how much you come to care for a protagonist that does not care for you.
  3. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë: Anne combines the social commentary you’d expect from an Austen novel with the absolute madness that is basically the Brontë trademark. It is so much more mature than Agnes Grey, and rumoured to be a response to Emily’s Wuthering Heights.
  4. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell: This is kind of like a politically charged Pride and Prejudice, if Lizzy had the personality of Darcy and Darcy was new money. I didn’t sell it well, but
  5. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath: People often associate this book with angsty teenagers who want to be different. It is full of dark, biting humour and bleak truths, but is mostly a poignant tale of an individual trying to come to terms with their personal demons.
  6. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: Who doesn’t love Little Women? My lifelong dream was to be one of the March sisters, and while everyone adores Jo, I always wanted to be Beth. As a child, I was impatient and a little fiery (not unlike Jo), and I always felt like Beth was the person I should aim to be. No matter how many times I reread, it always manages to break my heart (Beth, no!). This one is purely on the list for sentimental reasons, but always a fun, quick read.
  7. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery: This one is mostly on the list because it is one of the defining series of my childhood. Before Harry Potter, before A Series of Unfortunate Events, there was Anne. There is something so charming about Anne, and I was always jealous of her red hair as a child (even more insulting: she didn’t appreciate it!). I enjoyed reading stories that revolved around a flawed heroine who constantly found herself in trouble. I appreciated the fact that Anne struggled with her temper, something that I struggled to do as a child. I identified with Anne, and her story is one that I love to revisit.
  8. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf: Whenever I read Woolf, I get the impression that she understands life better than anyone else. She has such a beautiful voice – it’s so dreamy and wonderful. While reading, you float in and out of characters’ consciousness, and learn more about them in a few pages than other authors could pack into an entire book. It’s a wonderful character study.
  9. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie: Is this not the most classic piece of children’s literature? It’s a complex story disguised as children’s literature, and has everything: brimming with adventure, tinged with nostalgia and filled with beautiful prose, I always walk away from this book wanting to hug my mum.
  10. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll: Okay, so Alice in Wonderland has no plot and is a bit nonsensical – but therein lies its charm. It is whimsical and is able to bring me so much joy, even as an adult.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

25805776
Title:
Eligible
Author:
Curtis Sittenfeld
Series: The Austen Project
Publication Date: 19th April 2016
Publisher: Borough Press
Pages: 514
Format: Paperback | Purchased
Add on GoodReads
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Summary: Liz and Jane are good daughters. They’ve come home to suburban Cincinnati to get their mother to stop feeding their father steak as he recovers from heart surgery. With five sisters under the same roof, old patterns return fast. Soon enough they are being berated for their single status and it really is too much to bear. That is, until the Lucas family’s BBQ throws them in the way of some eligible single men…
My thoughts: Here’s the thing about Jane Austen: people are so busy talking about how much she contributed to English literature and holding up her books as examples of Great Literary Works, that they forget that Austen spent a lot of her time poking fun at others and her books were intended to be parodies of the social conventions of her time. Pride and Prejudice comments on social class, and largely mocks the idea of marriage as some kind of game. I’m probably going to have my Austenite card revoked for saying this, but in this sense Eligible is a great adaptation of the original.

Easily the best book to come out of The Austen Project, Sittenfeld has avoided the mistakes made by other authors in the series (Val McDermid – Northanger Abbey, Joanna Trollope – Sense and Sensibility and Alexander McCall Smith – Emma), by updating Austen’s novel so that it works in a modern context, and still retaining the original spirit of the characters (sorry, but what’s with your Emma Woodhouse, McCall Smith? I’m still offended – yes, offended – by that retelling).

In this adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, Liz and Jane Bennet are single thirty-somethings that have returned home to help out their family after their father’s heart attack. All five of the Bennet sisters have been updated wonderfully. They are adults and, with the exception of Jane and Liz, are still living at home and doing absolutely nothing with their lives. All are true to the original – I have a soft spot for Mary Bennet (probably because I spent five months of my life being her) and tend to argue that she got an unfair rap, but even I couldn’t help but giggle at Sittenfeld’s Mary.

It always strikes me how hard it must be to write Liz(zy) – she’s judgemental, but cannot come across as hypocritical or a bossy know-it-all. She’s intelligent, but constantly misjudges those around her. She manages to find the humour in almost every situation – she’s kind of like wonder woman. Toss in the fact that she is one of the most beloved character in English literature, and there must be an enormous amount of pressure on your shoulders. Sittenfeld did an admirable job in creating a modern Liz, although I did feel there was something lacking in Liz and Darcy’s romance.

Mr & Mrs Bennet have been drawn beautifully – Mrs Bennet is everything I imagined a 21st-century version of her behaving: she’s racist, homophobic, transphobic, anti-feminist and constantly waxing on the importance of social propriety and is casually cruel to her family (all the while being completely oblivious). Mr Bennet retains his signature dry wit (and neglectful parenting style).

Sittenfeld includes her own social commentary – not just limited to televised love stories, but also weaving in identity politics (race, gender) into the mix. It was refreshing to see a transgender character, even if I did think the handling of it was a little clunky.

A few little complaints (teensy, tiny ones!):

  • As a result of the updated setting and moving the story to the US – Cincinnati, to be exact – the humour is a lot cruder and more in your face than I was expecting it to be.
  • I will never be a fan of the short chapters- you know, the ones that are a page or two long? This book had a few, and it annoyed me no end.

Also, there were a lot of filler scenes and Sittenfeld would often go off on unnecessary tangents. This book could’ve been a lot shorter, although Sittenfeld has a distinctive voice and her work has this readability factor, so even though this book was 500+ pages long, it felt more like 300.

All in all, a wonderful nod to Pride and Prejudice and probably the saving grace of the Austen Project.

 

 

 

 

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye

25868918
Title:
Jane Steele
Author:
Lyndsay Faye
Publication Date: 22nd March 2016
Publisher: Headline Review
Pages: 432
Format: Paperback | Purchased
Add on GoodReads
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Summary: Like the heroine of the novel she adores, Jane Steele suffers cruelly at the hands of her aunt and schoolmaster. And like Jane Eyre, they call her wicked – but in her case, she fears the accusation is true. When she flees, she leaves behind the corpses of her tormentors.

A fugitive navigating London’s underbelly, Jane rights wrongs on behalf of the have-nots whilst avoiding the noose. Until an advertisement catches her eye. Her aunt has died and the new master at Highgate House, Mr Thornfield, seeks a governess. Anxious to know if she is Highgate’s true heir, Jane takes the position and is soon caught up in the household’s strange spell. When she falls in love with the mysterious Charles Thornfield, she faces a terrible dilemma: can she possess him – body, soul and secrets – and what if he discovers her murderous past?

My thoughts: This book is easily one of the most over-hyped books I’ve read all year. After being promised that it was one of the best retellings of Jane Eyre ever published, I was let down a few pages in when Jane Steele started referencing Jane Eyre and I realised that this was actually just published fan fiction – you know, when the authors begin inserting themselves in their stories? It was a bit like that.

Regardless, it was a compelling read. Jane Steele has such a present voice, and is driven by her desire for vengeance. Despite it being increasingly clear that Jane is a bit cray-cray, Faye somehow manages to convince the reader that the crimes that Jane commits are completely warranted and her victims deserved to die. Attempted rapists, husbands who abuse their wives, religious hypocrites – the world that Jane lives in is filled with horrible people, and it is possible to understand her motivations.

The second third of the book where Jane is at boarding school and later moves to London is probably the high point of the book. Honestly, it was filled with such misery and mistreatment that it made me angry while reading, and I always appreciate a book that can elicit that kind of emotional response in me. There were also some great female friendships (hurrah for females supporting one another), and Jane ran around behaving kind of like I expected Celaena Sardothien to behave (should the infamous assassin ever actually kill anyone, ever).

Once Jane returned to her childhood home and settled into life with Mr Thornfield, the pacing of the novel slowed right down and I found my attention wandering while reading. The romance was okay – it wasn’t instalove, Jane and Mr Thornfield accepted each other warts and all, and they became better people because of the other’s influence – but I picked up the book because I was intrigued by the “Jane Eyre if Jane was a serial killer” hook, so it didn’t really do anything for me. Also, Thornfield didn’t have half as much personality as Rochester, so the story really lagged.

The ending was so much weaker than the beginning, so it’s hard for me to form a coherent opinion on it. I couldn’t even tell you if I would recommend it to a friend – is it possible to recommend the first half?

 

 

Austen Mania: The Cate Morland Chronicles

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a huge Jane Austen fan. Anyone who knows me knows my love for Literary Inspired Webseries (LIWs). My most recent obsession is with The Cate Morland Chronicles, an adaptation of Austen’s Northanger Abbey.

If you’re not familiar with Austen’s works (or if you’re only familiar with her big name books), Northanger Abbey follows Catherine Morland who was not born to be a heroine. She believes that novels are a realistic depiction of life, which wouldn’t be a problem except she reads Gothic novels, which were the trashy novels of the Regency period – think of them as the 50 Shades of Grey of their time. They were terrifying and sensationalist for the sake of being terrifying and sensationalist, and Austen, being the witty woman she was, decided to write a parody of Gothic romance novels, and thus Northanger Abbey was born.

In The Cate Morland Chronicles, Cate is a recent journalism grad who is obsessed with all things fandom, particularly The Mysteries of Udolpho, a short-lived TV series that now has a cult following. After she gets a job at an LA-based entertainment magazine, she comes into contact with Henry Tilney, the star of The Mysteries of Udolpho, and all the fun begins!

What appeals to me about this webseries? Cate is exactly how I imagined Catherine would be when reading the book. She’s equal parts charming and winsome, there’s a little bit of naivete and innocence about her, but most importantly – she’s a rabid fangirl of all things fandom. She’s relatable and sweet, a little dorky but a lot of fun to watch. Of all of Austen’s heroines, Catherine was the most likely to have her own vlog (with Miss Emma Woodhouse coming in a close second because of course everyone would want to watch her give advice about everything under the sun).

If you’re involved in the LIW fandom, you’ll probably know that another Northanger Abbey adaptation finished airing a few months ago – Northbound. I loved that adaptation dearly, although it wasn’t what I expected from a webseries inspired by a parody of Gothic lit. This Catherine was relatable and quirky, but the tone of Northbound was very different to The Cate Morland Chronicles.

It’s very sweet and very watchable, and I encourage you all to watch it if you have a couple of hours to kill!

If you’d like to jump down the Austen Inspired Webseries rabbit hole, here’s some to try:

The OG: The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice

 

Emma Approved, an adaptation of Emma (full disclosure: I am incredibly critical of this webseries as an adaptation, something that probably stems from me loving the novel so much. However, it is very popular amongst the LIW fandom and is still the best webseries adaptation of Emma I have found, so…)

From Mansfield With Love, an adaptation of Mansfield Park:

I am yet to find webseries adaptations of Sense and Sensibility and Persuasion that I can stick with, but when I do – you guys will be the first to know!

Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard

27255774
Title:
Glass Sword
Author:
Victoria Aveyard
Publication Date: 9th February 2016
Publisher: Orion
Pages: 444
Format: Paperback | Purchased
Add on GoodReads
Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Summary: Mare Barrow’s blood is red—the color of common folk—but her Silver ability, the power to control lightning, has turned her into a weapon that the royal court tries to control. The crown calls her an impossibility, a fake, but as she makes her escape from Maven, the prince—the friend—who betrayed her, Mare uncovers something startling: she is not the only one of her kind. Pursued by Maven, now a vindictive king, Mare sets out to find and recruit other Red-and-Silver fighters to join in the struggle against her oppressors. But Mare finds herself on a deadly path, at risk of becoming exactly the kind of monster she is trying to defeat. Will she shatter under the weight of the lives that are the cost of rebellion? Or have treachery and betrayal hardened her forever?

My thoughts: I had a lot of high hopes about Glass Sword; convinced that Aveyard would be able to grow from Red Queen. Sadly, I was wrong. Mare is not an interesting enough character to carry a series, and Aveyard is not a good enough author to bounce back from Glass Sword.

I am well aware that the YA fantasy pool is largely fluffy romances disguised as fantasy, but I am usually able to find something I like about a book regardless. This is one of the rare instances where I’m stumped for something nice to say. “This book was a hot mess” is probably the nicest thing I can say about it, considering it is a hodge-podge of basically every young adult fantasy book that came before it.

My main problem with Glass Sword is that Mare is so damn unlikeable. Now, I am all for unlikeable protagonists that worm their way into your heart – the one that immediately comes to mind is Katniss Everdeen. She kept everyone at arm’s length, including the reader, but she still managed to make you love her. Mare is not that kind of unlikeable. She’s arrogant, whiny, self-indulgent and rude – there’s no space for any other character, because she demands your full attention. She treats her brothers like brutes, her parents like simpletons, and those around her as if they are constantly in her way. She doesn’t allow other, more experienced, individuals to voice their opinions – her opinion is the only one that is worth anything. She doesn’t listen to those around her, and then complains when things don’t go her way. It is frustrating as a reader to have to spend 400+ pages with someone so awful.

The secondary characters are so bland that it is impossible to keep track of who is who and why they are important to the very thin plot, which is mildly problematic when a new character is being introduced every few pages. Both the characters and scenes exist only to further Mare’s mission, which is tiresome and dull. The writing is contrived and derivative. Multiple characters died, and their deaths had zero emotional impact on me.

There is very little world building – it’s hard for me to situate myself in the story, given that we jump around from location to location. A map would be handy, given how much Mare moves around, and I’ve read middle-grade books that provide its readers with a map. It’s a nitpicky thing, but when the scene setting is as abysmal as Aveyard’s, it comes in handy.

There is nothing special about Mare as a heroine – you can shelve her amongst the other forgettable YA heroines. Aveyard has attempted to create a morally questionable, mysterious, super special heroine that will be the next big name in YA.  If you’d like a morally questionable heroine, check out Isaboe and Quintana in The Lumatere Chronicles. Both got less page time than Mare, and both made a better impression. If you’d like a heroine with a bit of mystery surrounding her, try The Colours of Madeleine. If you want a super special heroine, stick with Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Basically, I can think of a dozen authors who write better characters – better stories – than Aveyard, despite getting less recognition.

Much like its predecessor, Glass Sword introduces the action far too late. This time, the cliffhanger ending wasn’t enough to save it, nor make me want to read the next book. It is a run-of-the-mill young adult fantasy that does nothing to distinguish itself from the crowd. You’d be better off saving your money.

 

The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

25526307
Title:
The Winner’s Kiss
Author:
Marie Rutkoski
Publication Date: 24th March 2016
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 484
Format: Paperback | Purchased
Add on GoodReads
Rating: ★★★★★
Summary: War has begun. Arin is in the thick of it with untrustworthy new allies and the empire as his enemy. Though he has convinced himself that he no longer loves Kestrel, Arin hasn’t forgotten her, or how she became exactly the kind of person he has always despised. She cared more for the empire than she did for the lives of innocent people—and certainly more than she did for him. At least, that’s what he thinks.
In the frozen north, Kestrel is a prisoner in a brutal work camp. As she searches desperately for a way to escape, she wishes Arin could know what she sacrificed for him. She wishes she could make the empire pay for what they’ve done to her. But no one gets what they want just by wishing. As the war intensifies, both Kestrel and Arin discover that the world is changing. The East is pitted against the West, and they are caught in between. With so much to lose, can anybody really win?

My thoughts: When I first started this series, I thought what I’d get was a light romance. Three books later, I can honestly saw that this one of my favourite YA trilogies. It was an absolute rollercoaster, filled with action and political intrigue.

Rutkoski is such an engaging storyteller. She has such an easy, flowing style – the story moves seamlessly, each page balancing dialogue and tension. The romance is present, but it isn’t the focus of the story. Much like Maggie Stiefvater, it doesn’t feel like Rutkoski is telling you a story, it feels like she is painting you a picture. She somehow manages to convey so much more than what is written. Usually I glaze over when authors start info-dumping or start discussing war tactics, but Rutkoski manages to explain complex battle scenes, political manoeuvers and war tactics/strategies without confusing the reader or putting in too much information.

The Winner’s Trilogy is one of the few series that manages to strike the perfect balance between plot and character – you could say that is both plot-driven and character-driven. We are able to watch Kestrel and Arin grow as characters, we are able to watch their relationship develop as they come to understand each other more and overcome obstacles to trust one another. Their struggles felt real – it wasn’t the fantasy world that was causing problems for their relationship, it was real-life issues: a lack of communication, trust issues, struggling to accept faults in character. It made for a so much more satisfying communication, and as far as emotional reactions go, it made me feel so much more.

For those of you who like the series’ secondary characters, you’ll be pleased to know that Rutkoski doesn’t push them aside. Special mention to the resolution of the relationship between Kestrel and her father (such a complex relationship, it fascinates me endlessly), and the friendship between Arin and Roshar. Their friendship is such fun, lots of banter and bickering. Roshar is sarcastic and witty, and will often come out with the book’s best one liners. His presence is often needed when the romance takes centre stage, providing comedic relief when the tension becomes too much.

It is always sad to say goodbye to a series, to beloved characters, but I loved everything about this series and cannot wait to revisit Kestrel and Arin in the future. I never expected to love The Winner’s Trilogy as much as I have and cannot stress enough how brilliant its conclusion is.