"...that Jane Austen is still alive today — as a vampire."
That's the premise of Jane Bites Back, the clever and highly amusing new novel from Michael Thomas Ford.
Jane Fairfax is the owner of Flyleaf Books, located in a sleepy little town in upstate New York. Jane Fairfax is also a 234-year-old vampire and the author of some of the most beloved works in English literature. Being undead isn't all it's cracked up to be, though. She hasn't seen a royalty check in centuries, while an entire industry cashes in on her fame with sequels, prequels, film adaptations, self-help books, and worst of all… finger puppets. Then, there's Constance, the novel Jane's been trying to publish since before her "death." One hundred sixteen rejection letters later, Jane finally hits on success, but at what price? Her carefully crafted existence is imperiled by the need to tour and promote her book; a scholar who knows Charlotte Brontë a little too well is threatening to expose her; and a mysterious figure from Jane's past returns to haunt her.
From beginning to end, Jane Bites Back was a fun, engaging read. Drawing on both the current vampire craze and the unstoppable wave of "Austenmania" which began with the 1995 adaptations of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, Ford successfully skewers them both. For readers who love English literature but aren't too sacrosanct about it, there's plenty to enjoy here. In addition to Austen, Lord Byron is a major character (and as big a literary rock star as ever!), serving as both irritant and potential romantic interest. Another major literary figure plays a key role in the novel, but to tell who would be to spoil a deliciously hilarious scene that comes at about the two-thirds mark.
Ford, best known for his gay-themed fiction and non-fiction, successfully makes the jump to 'chick lit' with Jane Bites Back. I've never read him before, but I was sufficiently impressed and entertained that I'm eagerly awaiting the next of his vampire Jane Austen novels, Jane Goes Batty.
Right before I started reading The Time Traveler's Wife, I read Octavia Butler's Kindred. It was a strange transition to make since they both deal with involuntary time travel, but it was easy to appreciate both books. In Kindred, Dana, a modern, African-American woman is pulled back in time to a plantation in the early 1800s. There, she saves the life of Rufus, a young, white, slave-holding boy, whom she later discovers is one of her ancestors. Dana is then pulled back in time again and again in order to help save Rufus's life, their relationship growing both closer and more contentious as time goes on.
Although I thoroughly enjoyed The Time Traveler's Wife, I felt that Butler did a better job than Niffenegger at examining the potential ramifications of time travel. For example, would you save a person if you knew that he was going to end up raping a woman, but if you also knew that that act would lead to your own birth? Butler manages to deal expertly with that issue and others, such as slavery. This was one of the most thought-provoking novels I've ever read.
Octavia Butler was a terrific story-teller, and if you haven't read any of her books yet, this would be a good place to start.
My commute, nearly two hours (one way!), affords me ample reading time. I generally read two books a week and I've been doing this commute for close to five years. That said, All the Living -- a spare but moving tale of damaged lovers struggling for redemption on a Kentucky tobacco farm in the early 1980's -- is one of top 10 books I've read over that time span. Morgan's novel is sure to be among the most raved about debuts of 2009, and, you heard it here first, but I'll bet it's nominated for the National Book Award too!
After reaching the end of Breaking Dawn (Stephanie Meyer, Twilight saga) I, like thousands of others, felt a void and wondered what I could possibly find to fill it. While I am particularly fond of vampire stories, a vampire story alone is not enough to make a good read. I actually picked up Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side because my name is Jessica and I needed something quick to read on a break. As it turned out I couldn't put it down and kept thinking about it in between breaks and longing to return to the pages. It is written as a teen book but, like Twilight and Harry Potter, it is a great adult read also. It is not a romance in the traditional sense because Jessica resists her arranged marriage to Lucius right from the beginning. The story more tells the tale of coming of age in an entirely new way and becomming who we really are. The novel kept me guessing the whole time. With a great deal of teen fiction, I often find myself accidentally guessing how it will end but I was wrong every time I thought I had this one figured out! This is Beth Fantaskey's first novel and I hope she plans to write many more. So curl up in a comfy place because, once you start this book, you'll be there until it's done!
As the new book begins, the couple is settling into their first house on an idyllic street in a picturesque Philadelphia suburb. Cornelia is inexplicably drawn to "this unsurprising place" that she yearns to call home, but her neighbors are less sure of how these transplanted, apparently childless urbanites will fare in their midst. Especially Piper Truitt. The epitome of blonde cool, this demanding mother of two has created her own version of perfection within the walls of a home that sits across the street from Cornelia's. From their early encounter at a dinner party, the two are at odds, a situation that Cornelia, adrift from her familiar surroundings, cannot conceive how to navigate.
As the novel progresses, new characters emerge. We meet Elizabeth, Piper's best friend, who's battling cancer, as well as Toby, Cornelia's brother, and Clare, the bright and compassionate teen familiar to readers of Love Walked In. Then there's Lake, a single mother working at a local Italian restaurant, who throws Cornelia a timely lifeline in the form of a dish of spaghetti alla puttanesca. Lake's son Dev, a preternaturally gifted 13-year-old, becomes Cornelia's unexpected kindred spirit. Deftly blending several tales at once, de los Santos's narrative is richly embroidered with intertwined lives and loves. As present circumstances are threatened by the revelation of past secrets, the friends forge a circle of strength and forgiveness that the reader, too, belongs to — and will hate to leave when the last page is turned. A triumphant testimony to the power of love, Belong to Me hums with the hope that pulls friends through the ups and downs that the years hold in store for everyone.
I know of few novels - except Pride and Prejudice - that inspire as much fierce lifelong affection in their readers as I Capture the Castle. - Joanna Trollope
One of my favorite books (outside of Jane Austen's canon of course), I Capture the Castle is a contemporary classic originally published in 1948, but still as fresh and vibrant today. Dodie Smith, more famously remembered for her children's classic 101 Dalmatians, has humorously assembled an eccentric cast of characters living in less than genteel poverty in a crumbling castle in England. The story is revealed through 17-year old heroine in the making and aspiring writer Cassandra Mortmain in a series of journals, an she attempt to improve her skills as ticket out of her dire circumstances. Her sister Rose will use more avarice means to free herself from her parent's neglect by setting her cap for their wealthy new landlord Simon, and easily succeeds. Less of a schemer, Cassandra is attracted to his younger brother Neil and is hopeful for her own romance. As the wedding plans proceed, Rose's vain and selfish nature blossoms with her newly elevated social position causing conflict. Cassandra, left out of the plans and Simon, who Rose is treating as an annoyance are drawn into their own romance.. Rose, on the other hand, is drifting away from Simon and secretly into the arms of his brother Neil. An elopement will cause a family panic, a change of heart and an unusual ending.
Filled with allusions to Pride and Prejudice, this coming of age story is more a gentle nod to Austen's style than a copy of her novel. Witty and moving, Smith connects with readers through perceptive observation played against dry wit resulting in a moving and memorable story. It's what makes for great literature, and also what Austen is valued for today. Enjoy!
Laurel Ann, Austenprose
A wondrously unpretentious novel that offers a funny, free-spirited feminine take on roads taken and not taken.
When Lanie Coates and her family uproot themselves from Houston to Cambridge, Massachusetts so that husband Peter can pursue his musical aspirations, this mother of three slides into a giant-sized mid-life crisis. The crush of three young sons and the absence of a support system leave her reeling, doubting even the authenticity of her marriage. Suddenly, without notice, an old camera found a storage closet offers not just release, but also exciting new vistas. Novelist Marisa de los Santos said that “I laughed, winced in recognition, and cheered wholeheartedly (sometimes out loud) for Lanie as she struggles to learn how to love everyone enough and still give part of herself to herself.”
The Flowers of Reminiscence Imagine waking up in a nursing home a thousand miles from your home without a clue as to why or how you ended up there. There is that battered cardboard box in the corner someone was kind enough to leave you. Oh, near the bottom is your journal. The one your mother started for you in 1901, and you have added pressed flowers and inscriptions to it as you journeyed through life. Maybe it will help you solve the mystery of how you ended up here at Beacon Manor on the outskirts of a small Texas town. Let's hope it does.
She needs her memories to survive, and you will never forget her. Can each trip back in time heal her memory? One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, meets, Fried Green Tomatoes in this touching, illuminating novel of an elderly woman's seach for answers. A vivid, historical, and an inspiring read that women say they cannot put down.
The Summer We Read Gatsby is a charming story about two half sisters who inherit their beloved Aunt Lydia's home in the Hamptons when she passes away. Peck and Cassie could not be more different and as they go through the summer they work through their grief, their sisterly bond, and their desires in life.
Each sister has a past in the Hamptons that reconnects with each and that was my favorite part of the story. It was also fun to read all of the interactions between the two half sisters who are so incredibly different. The story is told from Cassie's point of view, but the eccentric nature of Peck is every evident.
This was an easy read and entertaining, but not a quick read. It left me wanting to relax on a hammock on the beach. This would be a great book for vacation.
This book grabbed me from the very first line. Marnie and her friends gather every December to make cookies, support each other and give to a local hospice. This novel will make you laugh, cry and rush to the kitchen to try all the cookie recipes that are dotted through out the book. Complete with compelling information on the history of our favorite cooking spices and staples, this book was heart warming and made me think about the things in my kitchen that I take for granted every day. Like sugar, and flour. The history and world changing power of ginger. Wow. And who knew the peanut wasn't a nut at all?
Let Marnie and her friends warm your holiday with the power of friendship, the magic of romance, a little food history and some great recipes that will have you thinking about your own cookie club.
A Regency era historical fiction with a navy man in blue! Need I say more?
Inspired by her love of C.S. Forester's dashing Royal Navy hero Horatio Hornblower and Jane Austen's novel Persuasion, new author Kaye Dacus' Ransome's Honor is a moving Regency era historical fiction infused with naval lore and engaging characters. The novel is set in Royal Navy port of Portsmouth and begins in 1802 as the war with France has come to end. Seventeen year old Julia Witherington will never forgive Lieutenant William Ransome for not proposing to her when she and all of Portsmouth society expected it. He is a promising young naval officer who has earned his advancement but no fortune. She is an heiress and the daughter of his Captain. Feeling he will be tagged a fortune-hunter, his honor prevents him from proposing. Reunited twelve years later, the intelligent and proud Julia is still harboring strong resentment and Captain Ransome his regrets. Pressured by her unscrupulous relatives into an alliance with her ne'er-do-well cousin Sir Drake Pembroke, she enters into a bargain with Captain Ransome for a one year marriage in exchange for her dowry. He is not interested in her money, but is honor bound by his promise to her father his commanding officer and his own heart to assist her. Will Ransome's honor prevail and soften Julia's resolve and rekindle her affections?
A sweet romance, this novel is actually classified as Christian fiction, but I did not find the religious vein imposing. A most delightful voyage with the distinguished and dishy Captain Ransome, I am all anticipation of his further adventures in romance, and the sea, when the next installment of The Ransome Trilogy, Ransome's Crossing makes port next July.
Laurel Ann, Austenprose
In the fifth installment in her Pink Carnation Series, more Napoleonic espionage ensues as Lauren Willig spins her captivating tale following the exploits of Robert Lansdowne, the reluctant Duke of Dovedail and his bookish young cousin Charlotte. Set in England in 1803, Robert's unexpected return after a decade in the Army in India to his ducal estate in Sussex rekindles Lady Charlotte's idealistic romantic fantasies. Fueled by her passion for popular 'novels' such as Evelina, she is hopeful that Robert has come home to rescue her from the embarrassment of three failed London seasons and her grandmother's succession of unacceptable eligible bachelors. However, Robert's main objective is not romance, but to track down the spy who murdered his mentor during the Battle of Assaye. Even though their reunion sparks a quick romance, Robert abruptly ends their relationship and departs for London in pursuit of the elusive spy whose signature scent is the heady and seductive night jasmine. Meanwhile, Charlotte acting as lady in waiting to Queen is witness to the madness of King George, or is she? Robert and Charlotte must join forces to thwart the plot to kidnap the king, and learn to trust each again before they can catch a spy, and, re-fall in love.
Reverently harkening to her predecessors Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, Willig handles comedy, historical context, and dialogue beautifully. In addition to The Temptation of the Night Jasmine, the Pink Carnation series included The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, The Masque of the Black Tulip, The Deception of the Emerald Ring and The Seduction of the Crimson Rose. Her next novel in the series is The Betrayal of the Blood Lily is due out in January, 2010. If you re in the mood for a Regency era romantic spy comedy romp, I recommend this book highly.
Laurel Ann, Austenprose
Strohmeyer has taken this economic crisis to heart and written a book that all of you cheapskates will love to read!
Kat Griffiths is the typical New Jersey housewife right down to her Starbucks Venti Latte addiction. She spends the money and lets her husband pays the bills. On the night of her 20th Wedding Anniversary she discovers the email evidence that her husband is having an affair and is planning to leave her once their daughter graduates high school.
With the help of her former housekeeper, Kat joins The Penny Pinchers Club. A group of financial misfits who show Kat that there is hope. There is light at the end of her $37,000 worth of debt. And she WILL be able to afford the divorce lawyer that she fears is in her future. Or is it? Their relationship seems stronger than ever. Does her beloved husband really plan on leaving her for his research assistant? Read the book and find out!
At first glance, Kat looks like a spoiled brat. She is irresponsible with money and I was ready to shut the book and be done with her. But as the Penny Pinchers do their audit of their finances, you can almost see Kat's backbone mysteriously grow right into her spine. She becomes strong in her resolve to get out of debt and it is admirable. As we read about Kat's hi jinx in saving money and getting out of debt, the reader gets to pick up a few money saving tips along the way. Do I advocate Sarah Strohmeyer as a financial adviser, no of course not. But she writes a book relevant to the lives of millions of women in this country trying to get out of debt. And she does it in a fun, light hearted way. The Penny Pinchers Club is a fun, fluffy book to help you put your financial woes into perspective.
An elegant debut novel that serves up an epicurean concoction as memorable as Like Water for Chocolate.
Every Monday evening, eight men and women come to Lillian’s Restaurant to learn cooking and, perhaps, also find a healing recipe for the very diverse problems in their own lives. Lillian, a master chef in more ways than one, knows that she teaches lessons more subtle and far-reaching than chopping or blending or achieving the ideal texture. In her classes, she imparts wisdom through the essential ingredients that she combines and shapes into aromatic, delectable treats.