A Higher Education by Rosalie Stanton

It is a truth universally acknowledged that first impressions are a bitch.

In a sea of college freshmen, Elizabeth Bennet feels more like a den mother than a returning student. She’d rather be playing Exploding Kittens than dodge-the-gropers at a frat party, but no way was she letting her innocent, doe-eyed roommate go alone.

Everything about Meryton College screams old money—something she and Jane definitely are not—but Elizabeth resolves to enjoy herself. That resolve is tested—and so is her temper—when she meets Will Darcy, a pompous blowhole with no sense of fun, and his relentlessly charming wingman, Charlie.

Back at school after prolonged break, Will Darcy is far too old and weary for coeds. Yet even he can see why Charlie spontaneously decides the captivating Jane is “the one.” What throws Will is his own reaction to Jane’s roommate.

Elizabeth’s moonlight skin and shining laugh hit him like a sucker punch. And he doesn’t like it. Elizabeth Bennet is dangerous, not only because she has a gift for making him make an ass of himself, but because she and her razor-sharp wit could too easily throw his life off course, and he can’t afford for that to happen again.

Yet he also can’t seem to stay away.”

Okay, I feel like I shouldn’t have enjoyed this as much as I did, but damn, it was a fun read.  I’ve been a little hard on people who try to re-write P&P, especially when they change the characters beyond all recognition (I’m looking at you, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies).  Because of that, I was a bit hesitant going into this book.  But I can happily say that my fears were unfounded.  This is a deliciously naughty, incredibly snarky, skillfully modernized retelling that had me laughing out loud.

What really impressed me was how the conflicts in the original novel were translated for the here-and-now.  For example, instead of Jane being scorned by the Bingley sisters for her bad connections, in this story the problem lies in the fact that Jane is Black.  It’s a bold choice, but one that resonates strongly, especially in the racially charged climate of today.  In another example, Wickham tells everyone that Darcy framed him for possession of cocaine and got him thrown out of school, instead of denying him a lucrative position in the church.

The one thing that wasn’t in this novel that I really missed was the inclusion of the smarmy Mr. Collins.  I can see that it would have been difficult to put him in this version of the story, though, and shoehorning him in just for the sake of having him present would have been worse.  His wife Charlotte makes a brief “on-screen” appearance, but Collins himself is never seen.  He’s one of my favorite comedic character portrayals and in some ways, the story of Darcy and Lizzy isn’t the same without him.  The tension that he provides the tale is expressed in different ways, and it works pretty well, but I do miss him.

One warning: there are some pretty explicit sex scenes in the book.  They’re well done, and don’t come across as unnecessary to the narrative, but I know that such things aren’t for everyone.  If the thought of reading about Darcy and Lizzy getting it on in a janitor’s closet freaks you out, you should probably skip this one.  Otherwise, read on and have fun!

This book was a personal purchase.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

Sexual Assault is Not a Vehicle for Character Growth: Suicide Notes by Michael Thomas Ford

For the first time ever, I’m doing a book review as a feature, because I feel strongly that this book has issues that should be addressed.  I got so angry after reading this that I decided to sleep on it and see how I felt in the morning.  My anger has not abated.  If you check out this title on Amazon or Goodreads, you’ll see a bunch of good reviews for it.  You’ll also see some passionate one-star reviews, and they all focus on much the same thing: this novel uses sexual assault to promote character growth.  In my opinion, this is a dangerous trope that needs to be dealt with.  Worse, the author himself has no understanding of what he has done and actively refuses to consider that what he wrote was non-consensual.  We’ll get to that later, but first, let’s start from the beginning.  And, by necessity, this review contains major spoilers.

“Fifteen-year-old Jeff wakes up on New Year’s Day to find himself in the hospital—specifically, in the psychiatric ward. Despite the bandages on his wrists, he’s positive this is all some huge mistake. Jeff is perfectly fine, perfectly normal; not like the other kids in the hospital with him. But over the course of the next forty-five days, Jeff begins to understand why he ended up here—and realizes he has more in common with the other kids than he thought.”

Okay.  I’m not sure where to begin with all the things that bothered me about this book, but I’ll try to do this in some kind of logical order.  Let’s start with Jeff.  If you’ve read past reviews of mine, you know that I’m not averse to unlikable main characters.  You don’t always have to like the person you’re reading about, as long as their story is well told.  In this case, I deeply disliked Jeff, and there really wasn’t anything in the story that–for lack of a better word–redeemed him in my eyes.  He comes across as an unrepentant jerk for much of the book.  He backs that off a little towards the end of the novel, but for me, it was too little, too late.  There are scenes of him making fun of other teens in his ward, and although the author tries to counterbalance those with his kindness towards a young patient named Martha, it didn’t work very well.  Basically, I didn’t believe Jeff’s change of heart, as he isn’t show experiencing any real growth–he just gets tired of fighting the people who want to help him and gives in.  To me, there’s a big difference.

My next complaint concerns the depiction of the hospital.  There are several things about it that are not true to real life.  I have had occasion to visit someone in a psychiatric ward, and I can tell you for a fact that, in a facility with teen suicide risks, other patients would not be allowed to possess or use a razor unsupervised.  The teens would not have had such lax supervision as to allow them to sneak into each others’ beds.  And when you’re given medication, you have to swallow it in the presence of a nurse, so building up a stash of pills with which to commit suicide wouldn’t happen.  If by some extreme event that did occur, the aforementioned supervision would have that patient down in the ER and their stomach pumped within a short period of time.  Staff would not leave patient files in a patient’s room, nor would it be tolerated for security guards to gossip about patients with other patients.

In this story, Jeff forms a friendship with another patient named Sadie.  He sneaks into her bed one night and they fool around, but he realizes that he’s not sexually attracted to her and leaves the room.  Later, after some other events happen (which we’ll get into later), Jeff’s psychiatrist blurts out in the middle of a session that Sadie killed herself.  The manner in which he broke the news was just… no.  Doctor finds out that patient fooled around with another patient, and then feels that it’s imperative to immediately tell him that said other patient offed herself?  What the hell?

And now we get to the big thing that made me scream “Oh hell no!” at this book, and the thing that forms the title of this post.  A patient arrives named Rankin.  One night, Jeff catches Rankin masturbating in the shower.  (Showering without supervision?  Nope.)  Rankin notices Jeff watching and isn’t fazed.  He sneaks into Jeff’s room, gets into bed with him, and start masturbating Jeff.  Jeff says “Don’t,” but Rankin continues.  They eventually pleasure each other, although Jeff is disgusted by the whole thing.  The next time they meet in the bathroom, Rankin has obviously twigged into the fact that Jeff may be gay and disrobes in front of him and beckons Jeff into the shower with him.  Jeff, rather confused by everything, goes.  Rankin pushes Jeff to his knees and orders him to perform oral sex on him.  He doesn’t ask Jeff what he wants, he just does it, and again he’s disgusted.  And then, one night, Rankin sneaks into Jeff’s room, and Jeff wakes up with Rankin trying to penetrate him from behind, and when Jeff seems about to say something, Rankin covers Jeff’s mouth with his hand.  Jeff is portrayed as struggling to get away when they are interrupted by the staff.  Later, the encounter makes Jeff come to terms with the fact that he is gay.

Now, I can understand sexual confusion.  I imagine many gay teens go through a period of confusion and possibly even disgust as they come to grips with their sexuality.  But there are two major issues here: one, that last scene is definitely rape and is never characterized as such, nor does Jeff ever come to that realization; two, it is dangerous to portray a sexual assault as a way for a teen coming to grips with their sexuality to make that leap and admit who they are.  This is a damaging trope that shows up in far too many books.  An author that I read, Seanan McGuire, has received e-mails from fans asking when her female main character is going to be raped, because too much fiction portrays this act as crucial for someone to grow in strength and understanding.  In this book, Rankin is transferred to a different facility, presumably with no warning that he’s a rapist.  Jeff doesn’t deal with the trauma at all.  It’s glossed over as just an unfortunate sexual encounter or something.

And somehow, this manages to get worse.

After reading this book–and wanting to throw it against the wall–I hopped onto Amazon to look at the reviews.  I didn’t think I could be the only one to feel this way.  Sure enough, there were other reviews pointing out what I’ve talked about above.  One of those reviews was graced by comments from… the author himself!  And may I just say, it would have been much better for him to do the traditional author trick of ignoring the comments.  He accuses “I am going to go out on a limb here and guess that you haven’t actually read the novel and the so-called ‘rape scene’.”  He continues, “It might interest you to know that the industry review journal including PUBLISHERS WEEKLY and BOOKLIST–both of which have a deep understanding of young adult literature and its readers–have given the novel rave reviews.”  He doesn’t stop there, and goes on to address the scene in question: “[s]omething happens to Jeff that he wants to happen (in the sense that he longs to experience sex with another boy) but that he’s afraid of because it means accepting who he is.  He can’t express what he wants.  He’s not violated.  He’s not raped.”  As evidence to the contrary, I offer the following excerpt:

“I was sleeping, and then I felt something pressing against my back.  Rankin had pulled my shorts down, and he was pushing himself against me.  I was still only half awake, so I didn’t realize what he was doing at first.  He put his arms around me and pulled me closer.  I could hear him breathing in my ear.

Believe it or not, that’s not even the bad thing.  If that was all, I could probably handle it.  Probably.  But that was just the beginning.

Like I said, Rankin was holding on to me and trying to… I don’t think I can even say it right now.  But he was getting close.  As soon as I realized what he was doing, I woke up fast.  I even opened my mouth to tell him to stop.

And that’s when the screaming started.

At first I thought it was me screaming.  Then I realized it was a girl’s voice.  I don’t know what Rankin thought was going on, but he pulled me closer to him and put his hand on my mouth.  Maybe he thought I was the one screaming too.”

That right there?  That’s sexual assault.  It doesn’t matter if Jeff is scared of admitting that he’s gay, it doesn’t matter if can’t accept that part of himself.  The simple facts of this scene are as follows: Rankin initiated sex with Jeff while he was asleep, and therefore, unable to consent.  When Jeff woke up, he didn’t want the encounter to be happening and he tried to say no, but he’s prevented from doing so by Rankin physically muffling him.  None of those facts are overshadowed by what Jeff does or does not think about his sexuality.  What matters is Rankin’s actions.  What also matters, in this case, is the author’s attitude towards this scene.  He implies that, because Jeff is curious about having sex with a boy,  he must necessarily be ready for sex with any convenient boy, regardless of circumstance.  No, he doesn’t say that, but that’s the implication of his statement that Jeff “wants to happen”.  Also, implying that teenagers can’t “express what they want” strips them of a lot of agency.  None of this is in the book itself, of course, but it does provide some backdrop to how the author was thinking about this situation while writing it.  And I firmly believe that thoughts like that will inform an author’s writing.  Mr. Ford is conveying a skewed and dangerous view of consent.

Then, to make matters worse, it’s that encounter that appears to be the catalyst for Jeff accepting that he’s attracted to men and beginning to accept himself.  Jeff even states that he realizes that he wants to have sex with men, just not with Rankin.  That scene I quoted is not just a case of deciding that you aren’t attracted to a particular person.  That scene is assault.  Jeff never realizes that and never deals with it.  His psychiatrist is never shown giving Jeff any assurance that he believes Jeff when he says that he didn’t invite what happened to him.  Nor does the doctor do anything to help Jeff deal with the event.  It just… gets glossed over in Jeff’s acceptance of his sexuality.  I’m sorry, but that’s just not something that teens need to be integrating into their worldview.

I freely admit that after reading this novel, I was angry.  After reading the author’s views on what he wrote, I was incandescently angry and disgusted.  I laid in bed for two hours fuming over the whole thing and woke up not much cooled down.  Mr. Ford, if you ever read this, I sincerely hope that you have educated yourself on rape, sexual assault, and consent and can better convey any such scenes you may write in future books.  I don’t fault you for defending your work, but please, please, listen to people who come away with different views of what you think you wrote.  You can learn something.

This book was borrowed from the Yolo County Public Library, Davis branch.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

“On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today. Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure and to live a lifetime in a single day.”

Let’s not mince words: this book is going to rip your heart out.  Don’t expect last-minute reprieves for the characters you will come to love.  Death comes for everyone, and the message of this book is that since you never know when it’s going to happen, you shouldn’t waste your life.  In the case of this story, yes, Mateo and Rufus get an extra day to accomplish some of that living, but the endgame is still the same.  Rufus wanted to travel and take photos, and Mateo wanted to be an architect.  Neither will get to live their dreams, and no amount of living in the course of less than 24 hours can make up for that.

One of the things that this book does extremely well is in highlighting the relationships in our lives and what they can mean to us.  Each boy has people in their lives whom they love, but not in the sense of romantic love, and when they finally get to express that love, the sense of freedom is palpable.  I especially liked Mateo’s deep connection with his friend Lidia, seeing how the two loved each other in a way that transcended any attempts to pigeonhole it.  I have just such an opposite-sex friend myself, one who means the world to me, and seeing something similar in a story was so heartwarming.

I felt connected to this book on a really personal level, because in many ways, I identified with Mateo.  He was someone who holed up in his room a lot, watching movies and playing online, and he wasn’t one to get out and experience the world.  I was like that myself for a long time, but I’ve been able to change that in recent years.  In fact, I’m in the middle of planning a trip to Ireland; as a result Mateo’s journey towards life, and his realization that it’s okay to have a place to feel safe, is one that I can vouch for as accurate.

I haven’t said as much about Rufus, but not because I didn’t like him.  I just identified more with Mateo.  But Rufus is a portrait of someone who is heading down a darker path and is lucky enough to be able to turn his life back around.  The fact that it takes place in less than 24 hours doesn’t make it any less true.

That’s another message from this book: the amount of time that something takes is less important than the fact that it happens.  Mateo and Rufus find each other when each has less than a day to live.  That in no way invalidates what they do for each other, and what they become for each other.  The experience is what counts, in whatever form you want that experience to take.

I hope that this book gets widespread attention, because with all the fears and uncertainties of life lately, a story with a message to get out and live is so incredibly vital.  They Both Die at the End reminds of us where we’re all going, but also what we can accomplish along the way if we truly want to.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

The Lost Book of the Grail by Charlie Lovett

“Arthur Prescott is happiest when surrounded by the ancient books and manuscripts of the Barchester Cathedral library. Increasingly, he feels like a fish out of water among the concrete buildings of the University of Barchester, where he works as an English professor. His one respite is his time spent nestled in the library, nurturing his secret obsession with the Holy Grail and researching his perennially unfinished guidebook to the medieval cathedral.

But when a beautiful young American named Bethany Davis arrives in Barchester charged with the task of digitizing the library’s manuscripts, Arthur’s tranquility is broken. Appalled by the threat modern technology poses to the library he loves, he sets out to thwart Bethany, only to find in her a kindred spirit with a similar love for knowledge and books and a fellow Grail fanatic.

Bethany soon joins Arthur in a quest to find the lost Book of Ewolda, the ancient manuscript telling the story of the cathedral’s founder. And when the future of the cathedral itself is threatened, Arthur and Bethany’s search takes on grave importance, leading the pair to discover secrets about the cathedral, about the Grail, and about themselves.”

I think that the most important thing to realize about this novel is that it is a love letter to books.  Lovett’s description of being in an old library is filled with sensual details–the quality of the silence, the scent of the ancient manuscripts, the way the light falls through the windows.  I defy any book lover to read some of these passages and not feel an aching need to head for the nearest library, just to spend some time hanging out.  To the author, a former antiquarian bookseller, the printed volume is something to be cherished and celebrated, and it truly shows in his writing.

That being said, Lovett isn’t shy about tackling the digital divide that sometimes seems to separate readers.  It’s obvious that his sympathies lie with physical books; however, he acknowledges that digital has its place and its purpose.  More than anything, I feel that this novel was advocating for both to exist harmoniously in the modern world.  It’s hard to deny the appeal of holding a book in your hands, turning the pages, connecting with all those who read it before you; by the same token, the ability to search centuries of knowledge with the click of a mouse has revolutionized our intake of information.

Those centuries of knowledge are on full display here, as the author slyly leads you through the story of the protection of books–and of their suppression–throughout British history.  The Viking raids, the depredations of Oliver Cromwell’s troops, and the simple march of time, all contribute to the story of the titular manuscript.  Although the cathedral and town in this novel are fictional, the things that happened to the characters that populate them were all too real, and it makes me glad to know that people over time have sacrificed so much to protect knowledge.

I will warn you, though, not to expect a grand, Da Vinci Code style adventure.  Arthur and Bethany’s quest is that of the scholar, putting together clues and doing much of their traveling through the medium of the printed word and their imaginations.  But to me, that made it more realistic.  While there is certainly room for adventure in today’s world, it’s increasingly in the library or the lab that discoveries are being made.  It’s only near the end of the novel that you get a taste of the hidden passages and lonely crypts that Indiana Jones would be familiar with, and it is all the more fun because it wasn’t overdone in the preceding pages.

I also appreciated that the reason for leaving behind a puzzle instead of clear directions to what is being sought is a logical one.  In other novels, I’ve often thought “There’s no need for anybody to have gone to this much trouble!”, but this one doesn’t fall into that trap.  Again, it’s the realism that helped this novel to shine.  Armchair treasure hunters, take note: one day, this could be you!

For someone like me, who loves books and libraries and all the wonders you can find in the printed word, this book was its own kind of treasure.  I foresee reading this one many times over the years.  The only thing that I didn’t like?… Barchester Cathedral and its lovely library isn’t real, and now I yearn for a place to which I can never go.

This book was borrowed from the Yolo County Public Library Davis branch.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

Monterey Bay by Lindsay Hatton

monterey-bay-199x300“In 1940, fifteen year-old Margot Fiske arrives on the shores of Monterey Bay with her eccentric entrepreneur father. Margot has been her father’s apprentice all over the world, until an accident in Monterey’s tide pools drives them apart and plunges her head-first into the mayhem of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row.

Steinbeck is hiding out from his burgeoning fame at the raucous lab of Ed Ricketts, the biologist known as Doc in Cannery Row. Ricketts, a charismatic bohemian, quickly becomes the object of Margot’s fascination. Despite Steinbeck’s protests and her father’s misgivings, she wrangles a job as Ricketts’s sketch artist and begins drawing the strange and wonderful sea creatures he pulls from the waters of the bay. Unbeknownst to Margot, her father is also working with Ricketts. He is soliciting the biologist’s advice on his most ambitious and controversial project to date: the transformation of the Row’s largest cannery into an aquarium. When Margot begins an affair with Ricketts, she sets in motion a chain of events that will affect not just the two of them, but the future of Monterey as well.”

Well, this book was certainly not what I expected, and unfortunately, I don’t mean that in a good way this time.  From top to bottom, from plot to characters, there was very little about this book that I enjoyed.  My disappointment is especially keen given that the book is about an area that I absolutely love: Monterey Bay, one of the biggest conservation success stories in the world.

Let me start by saying that I feel really misled by the novel’s premise as written.  The tagline that precedes the above description says that the book is “set around the creation of the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium–and the last days of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row”.  None of that is really correct.  No part of the novel deals with the actual creation of the aquarium–there is a completely fictitious move in that direction during the portion of the novel set in 1940, but all it mentions is the possible purchase of the building.  The rest of the novel, set in 1998, is almost a decade and a half after the aquarium opens its doors.  Also, Cannery Row hung on until the mid-1950s, when the fisheries collapsed and the canneries closed, so the novel doesn’t happen during that period either.

This is, unfortunately, one of the problems of writing a purely fictional account that takes place in the middle of a well-established historical setting.  It’s all too easy to either fail to mesh your story with reality, or to twist reality to the breaking point to fit your story.  Neither option works well.

It feels like this novel was a warped love story between a teenager and an older man, and the author chose to try to shoehorn that plot into a setting that she’s familiar with.  The closest the story comes to any kind of conservation narrative is Ed Ricketts’ assertions that the sardines are being overfished.  The main character does sketch sea creatures for Ricketts, it’s true, but she eventually moves on the more lucrative business of drawing pornographic pictures to sell at local brothels.

And that leads into my other main complaint about this book: I intensely disliked the main character, Margot.  When not obsessing over Ricketts, her observations about the bay are almost uniformly negative.  She comes across as self-centered, emotionally distant even in the midst of her pursuit of Ricketts, and caring nothing for the area in which she finds herself living.  She only gets worse, in some ways, during the 1998 sequences.  Here, we see her as the head (and founder) of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  We are readers are then expected to believe that someone could create a world-class research and education institution while simultaneously thinking to herself that she could easily see herself hating the place.  At one point, during the planning of the release of a giant sunfish (something that actually did happen in 1998), she even feels disinclined to put in the effort to plan the release and talks about just killing the fish instead.  Any modicum of sympathy that I might have had for her was lost at that point.

I do hope that the main character doesn’t reflect how the author feels.  From what I’ve read, she lived on the Monterey peninsula, worked at the aquarium, and supposedly loves the area.  None of that comes through in this book.  I know that the Monterey of the 1940s was substantially different from the Monterey of today, but I would hope that the present day beauty would, at least a little bit, inform the squalor of the past and show the hope of better things ahead.  It’s just not there.

There were moments when I could see a glimpse of something skillful in Hatton’s writing.  Some of her prose is quite lovely, although oftentimes she seems to be trying to hard to be “literary”, for varying values of that concept.  I caught hints of the Monterey that I know, and it just made me hungry for more.

I so wanted this novel to be more than it was.  Had it been as advertised, it could have been.  Instead, I followed the tale of a girl that I couldn’t like, doing things that made no difference to me.  Readers who are familiar with the gorgeous landscape of Monterey Bay and its incredible wildlife will find little to appreciate here.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

eligible“This version of the Bennet family—and Mr. Darcy—is one that you have and haven’t met before: Liz is a magazine writer in her late thirties who, like her yoga instructor older sister, Jane, lives in New York City. When their father has a health scare, they return to their childhood home in Cincinnati to help—and discover that the sprawling Tudor they grew up in is crumbling and the family is in disarray.

Youngest sisters Kitty and Lydia are too busy with their CrossFit workouts and Paleo diets to get jobs. Mary, the middle sister, is earning her third online master’s degree and barely leaves her room, except for those mysterious Tuesday-night outings she won’t discuss. And Mrs. Bennet has one thing on her mind: how to marry off her daughters, especially as Jane’s fortieth birthday fast approaches.

Enter Chip Bingley, a handsome new-in-town doctor who recently appeared on the juggernaut reality TV dating show Eligible. At a Fourth of July barbecue, Chip takes an immediate interest in Jane, but Chip’s friend neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy reveals himself to Liz to be much less charming. . . .

And yet, first impressions can be deceiving.”

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS.

Normally I wouldn’t do a review with spoilers, but it’s hard to talk about this one without them.  Since this is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice, part of my review has to do with how the changes in this modernization stack up against the original, and I can’t really do that without revealing a few things.  So, consider yourself warned!

For the most part, the characters stay pretty true to the originals, in the sense that you can see their personalities translating into modern times fairly well.  Mr. Bennet’s trademark wit is on display, as is the empty-headedness of Kitty and Lydia (shown here in their passion for fads).  Mary is still studious, Jane is still mild-mannered (probably all that yoga), and Mrs. Bennet is predictably obsessed with her daughters getting married.

There are more deviations in the other characters than there are in the core family.  For instance, Mr. Collins, a pompous rector in the original book, is here a socially inept computer nerd.  Darcy is a surgeon who rarely spends time at his grand estate.  Wickham (Jasper Wick in this story) is still angling for money out of marriage, but in a different way.  I think the biggest change is Lady Catherine De Bourgh, who barely has a role in Sittenfeld’s work and is a much nicer person than her inspiration was.

Many of the modernizations of situation work well: instead of the Bennet’s house being entailed, they’re about to lose it due to medical bills; Bingley is well known for being on the marriage market because he was on a Bachelor-style TV show; and Liz’s characterization as the “sensible” sister comes through as she helps to navigate her family through their upheavals.

There were a few things that didn’t work so well, though, and they’re pretty big.  For one thing, having Liz and Darcy be “friends with benefits”, while possibly more realistic, doesn’t work with how the two are supposed to be at odds for most of the story.  Also, Lydia’s marriage, not to Wick, but to a transgender man, is uncomfortable for portraying a trans person as being socially unacceptable (as a parallel to Lydia and Wickham running off together is social suicide in the original).

In the main, I think much of the pleasure of this book will come from fans of the classic reading this and noting how the story has been translated to 21st century American culture.  Those who have no familiarity with the Bennets in their native land and time may not respond as strongly to this book, because I think some of the writing and plot twists hinge on knowing how the original played out.  This doesn’t make the book a failure; it just means that you’ll get more out of it if you’ve read Austen’s source material.

I’d caution the author to be careful about using sexual orientation and gender identity as plot devices, but otherwise, Eligible is an fun read for the Pride and Prejudice geeks among us.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

Voyager by Diana Gabaldon

voyager“Their passionate encounter happened long ago by whatever measurement Claire Randall took. Two decades before, she had traveled back in time and into the arms of a gallant eighteenth-century Scot named Jamie Fraser. Then she returned to her own century to bear his child, believing him dead in the tragic battle of Culloden. Yet his memory has never lessened its hold on her… and her body still cries out for him in her dreams.

Then Claire discovers that Jamie survived. Torn between returning to him and staying with their daughter in her own era, Claire must choose her destiny. And as time and space come full circle, she must find the courage to face the passion and pain awaiting her…the deadly intrigues raging in a divided Scotland… and the daring voyage into the dark unknown that can reunite—or forever doom—her timeless love.

Gabaldon mesmerized readers with a love story that spanned two centuries in Outlander and Dragonfly in Amber. This new novel in Gabaldon’s highly acclaimed time-travel saga again features intrepid time traveler Claire Randall and Jamie Fraser, the gallant 18th-century Scottish clansman who stole Claire’s heart and whose memory will not loosen its hold on her, even across the chasm of centuries.”

Okay, I admit it: this series is a guilty pleasure, and one that I’ve recently rediscovered.  You see, I read the first two books in the series a long time ago, and then didn’t continue (mostly because the books are so darn long).  With the new TV series out on Starz, though, I picked up the series again, starting with re-reading the first two books and progressing onto those that are new to me.

Of the first three, I think this one is the weakest.  It’s not that it’s bad–like I said, it’s a guilty pleasure–but it doesn’t have the driving force of the first two.  Outlander focused on Claire’s attempts to return home to her own time through the standing stones, and Dragonfly in Amber dealt with Jaime and Claire’s doomed bid to stop the 1745 Jacobite uprising.  Voyager had that same drive, that same firm goal, throughout the initial third of the novel: Claire discovers that Jaime didn’t die at Culloden Field as she’d thought, and she tracks him through history to find out if he survived long enough for her jump back in time to seek him out.  It’s paralleled by Jaime’s own story, filling in the gaps of the sparse facts dug up by Claire.

Once Claire gets back to 1700s Scotland, though, the narrative wavers.  For most of the book’s middle section, there is no main plot.  Claire and Jaime’s reunion is something any reader will want to see, of course, but you can’t look at events and see where the book as a whole is going.  It continues somewhat even past the point where a goal presents itself, because achieving that goal becomes so convoluted.

Said goal also involves some pretty outlandish (pardon the pun) events.  Pirates, sweeping disease on the high seas, shipwrecks, hurricanes, voodoo rituals–that’s just a taste of what you’re in store for.  Although I have to say that in the middle of all this preposterous upheaval, there were some great moments.  Specifically, a character believed to be dead returns in fine fashion and brings certain events hinted at during the book’s opening chapters full circle.  My fangirlishness was pleased at some of the images and events near the end, and I’m not afraid to admit that.  I do love a good plot twist!

Wandering plot aside, I did enjoy this book thoroughly.  Gabaldon’s research is exhaustive and meticulous, and she knows how to give readers a real sense of the time period.  And now, on to Drums of Autumn!

This book was a personal purchase.

(Description nicked from B&N.com.)