Book of the Week, new releases

Book of the Week: Miss Austen

So a bit of a strange week in reading.  I really enjoyed Alexa Martin’s Blitzed – but I gave a rave to Intercepted in May last year, so it’s inside my statute of limitations for repeats really.  There were a few things that I really didn’t like and a few more that I was a bit ho-hum about. But I also finished Miss Austen – which I wrote about in my 2020 preview post, so I thought I ought to revisit it now I have some thoughts.

Miss Austen: Spotted in the wild in Heffers at the end of January

So, the plot: in 1840 Jane Austen’s sister Cassandra goes to stay with the family of her long dead fiancé, in a quest to find a cache of letters sent by her sister.  It’s 20 years since Jane died, and Cassandra sees herself as the guardian of her sister’s legacy and image.  What is in those letters – and what damage could they do to the picture that Cassandra has carefully nurtured of her sister?  The story jumps backwards and forwards between the present day – where Cassandra is an unexpected (and not altogether welcome) visitor in a household in turmoil and Cassandra’s past with Jane, where her future looked to be going down a different path.

As I said in my 2020 preview, I will always take a second look at an Austen-related book.  Some of them work better for me than others – I loved Death Comes to Pemberley and still regularly recommend Eligible, but couldn’t stand Pemberley and didn’t even finish Longbourne. This is billed as the untold story of the most important person in Jane’s life and that was the hook that drew me in.  I finished it nearly a week ago and I’m still trying to decide what I thought of it. I liked the writing style and it has some really witty moments – both in the Jane and Cassandra timeline and in the Cassandra and the Fowle’s timeline. I’m not enough of an Austen scholar to be able to pick holes in the accuracy – which is probably a good thing for my enjoyment. But I’m still not sure what it was trying to do – things happened, but I think it petered out a bit at the end.  Several people have asked me about it and I’ve struggled to articulate what exactly the problem was. Thinking about it now, I think that it maybe that the plot is sold as being about the hunt for the letters, but actually when you’re reading it that isn’t as central to the action as you expect. But I did enjoy it – Cassandra’s time as an old, meddling house guest is fun – as is her sparring with the maid. Cassandra and Jane’s relationship with their sister-in-law Mary is fun – as Mary insists that her husband was the better writer, and the sisters wonder if she will spot herself in Jane’s work.  There are some other interesting characters though and Jane and Cassandra feel very real and true.

It feels strange to pick it as a BotW in a way, because this isn’t a whole-hearted thumbs up – and I can’t even explain some of my thoughts about the book very well.  But I have kept thinking about it since I finished it last week and so that makes it worthy of a bit more attention than just a shrug and move on.  It’s also had a lot of buzz – and it’s not often that I’ve read a literary fiction book like this early doors! I see a TV adaptation is in the works, and I will definitely watch that to see how it all translates.

My copy of Miss Austen came from NetGalley, but it is out now in hardback – and should be available in any decently stocked bookshop – as my photo from Heffers proves. It’s also available on Kindle and Kobo.

Happy Reading!

reviews

Books of the Year 2016

Now 2017 is well underway, and I’ve told you about my obsessions, the state of the (enormous) pile, and my #ReadHarder ambitions, it seemed like a good time to finally work out what my favourite books published last year were.  I know.  Everyone else did this weeks ago, but I didn’t want anything really excellent that I might have read at the end of the year to get missed out.  And yes, fractured elbow.  It’s my excuse for everything.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

“Fred!” the nurse said, though they had never met. “How are we today?” Reading the nurse’s name tag, Mr. Bennet replied with fake enthusiasm, “Bernard! We’re mourning the death of manners and the rise of overly familiar discourse. How are you?”

Considering how much I loved this book, I have said remarkably little about it on here.  I recommended it in the Christmas gift post and back in the Summer Reads post, but it wasn’t a Book of the Week – because I was expecting to be reviewing it elsewhere.  And I don’t think that adequately conveys how much I adored it.  But Sittenfeld’s modern reworking of Pride and Prejudice is my favourite book of last year.

If the quote at the top makes you laugh or smile (even if it’s only inside because you’re too cool) then you need to read this book.  I’ve read a lot of Austen retellings, reworkings, sequels and the like and this manages to strike a perfect (for me) balance of retelling the story but modernising it so that it feels relevant to today.  Lizzie (nearly 40 rather than 20) and her sisters are trust fund babies in Cincinatti, but the money is running out, their father has medical problems and their mother has a shopping problem.  Darcy is a surgeon, Bingley a reality TV star (don’t let that put you off) and Lydia and Kitty are obsessed with Crossfit.  I want to read it again – but my copy is still out on loan.   The paperback isn’t out until June, but you could pre-order from Amazon or Waterstones and have a lovely treat in the summer, the Kindle and Kobo versions are £5.99 at time of writing or you could go nuts and buy the hardback from Amazon, Foyles or Waterstones – Waterstones was cheapest when I was writing – doing it on click and collect for £7.50 which is a total bargain for a hardback.  I don’t think you’ll regret it.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad
The Underground Railroad
As I said in my BotW post last month, this book is going to win all the prizes and will be on English Literature sylabuses in years to come.  Cora’s story is incredibly tough to read – and it’s partly the contrast between the realism of the terrible things that are happening and the magical realism of making the Underground Railroad a real, actual railway with stations, and trains that makes this such an incredible read.  And the writing is beautiful.  As you all know, I don’t read a lot of “literary fiction” – and I don’t have a lot of success with books that have been nominated for awards, but I’m so glad I read it – and I’ve been singing its praises to my literary fiction-reading friends.  Still only in hardback I’m afraid, but bizarrely the paperback comes out the same day as Eligible – even though this was released six months later than the Sittenfeld.  Odd.  Anyway.  In hardback from Amazon, Foyles, Waterstones, on Kindle and Kobo or pre-order the paperback on Amazon or Waterstones.

The Barista’s Guide to Espionage by Dave Sinclair

The Barista's guide to Espionage
The Barista’s guide to Espionage
Yes I know.  You’re sick of my Fahrenheit obsession.  Well tough.  Their books made up nearly 20 percent of my 5 star books last year, so they were bound to figure here.  Sorry, not sorry.  Anyway, this story about Eva Destruction – James Bond and Stephanie Plum’s lovechild – was another BotW and I defy anyone not to enjoy Eva’s battle to try to stop her evil supervillain ex-boyfriend from taking over the world.  It’s an action thriller film in book form but with a smart woman doing the saving not a suave bloke in a suit (he tries, but she’s better than him).  Get it on Kindle or in paperback.

Death of a Nobody by Derek Farrell

From Eva Destruction to Poirot on Poppers, the second Danny Bird book is the second Fahrenheit book on this list.  The first book (Death of a Diva) is funny, but this book feels like a series hitting its stride.  It’s got a great, off-beat cast, zingy one-liners, lashings of sarcasm and an up-and-coming gastro pub with a rising body count and a gangster breathing down Danny’s neck.  I’m recommending this to my friends who read cozy crime who want something that’s not cupcakes, bakeries or crafting.  I can’t wait for book three. Get it on Kindle or in paperback.  You can thank me later.

Grunt by Mary Roach

Grunt by Mary Roach
Grunt by Mary Roach
And this is why I’m glad I wrote this post so very late.  This was the last book I finished in 2016 and it was one of the very best – definitely the best non-fiction book I read last year.  It was BotW last week – so there’s no need for me to say anymore about it really because it’s less than a week since I raved about it at you.  I think it’s going to be this year’s go-to pick for a non fiction book to give as a gift.  Buy it (paperback!) from Amazon, Foyles and Waterstones or on Kindle.

And there’s your five. If this had been a top ten the other five would probably have been: Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts, Best of Dear Coquette, The Madwoman Upstairs, Carry On (sneaking in because the paperback came out in 2016) and You Can’t Touch My Hair.