‘Eligible’ by Curtis Sittenfeld gives ‘Pride and Prejudice’ a Fresh and Fun Makeover

‘Eligible’ by Curtis Sittenfeld gives ‘Pride and Prejudice’ a Fresh and Fun MakeoverEligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfeld
Also by this author: You Think It, I'll Say It
four-half-stars
Series: The Austen Project #4
Published by Random House on April 19th 2016
Genres: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 512
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Synopsis from Goodreads: From the “wickedly entertaining” (USA Today) Curtis Sittenfeld, New York Times bestselling author of Prep and American Wife, comes a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. A bold literary experiment, Eligible is a brilliant, playful, and delicious saga for the twenty-first century.

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. Wonderfully tender and hilariously funny, Eligible both honors and updates Austen’s beloved tale. Tackling gender, class, courtship, and family, Sittenfeld reaffirms herself as one of the most dazzling authors writing today.

My review: 

Prior to requesting Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible from Netgalley, I was completely unfamiliar with the Austen Project, in which six prominent modern-day authors have been tasked with giving contemporary makeovers to Jane Austen’s classic novels.  Because I’ve been a Jane Austen fan since I first read Pride and Prejudice in high school, I was immediately intrigued by the project and eager to see what kind of modern spin these authors would put on some of my beloved favorites.

I’m happy to report that Eligible, Sittenfeld’s modern take on Pride and Prejudice, did not disappoint.  For those who are familiar with the original classic, Eligible preserves its main characters, primary storylines, satirical elements, as well as its overriding themes:   Mrs. Bennet is still obsessed with finding suitable husbands for her five daughters to marry, and Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett again steal the spotlight as they verbally spar their way from hate at first sight to eventual true love.

In spite of the many similarities to Pride and Prejudice, however, Sittenfeld skillfully infuses Eligible with enough modern elements and unexpected plot twists to keep her story fresh and hilariously entertaining rather than simply a rehash of the original.

Highlights for me:

There were so many things I loved about this book that it’s impossible to name them all. The contemporary spin on the Liz/Darcy storyline is a given, but here are some of my other favorites:

The Americanized setting.  Swapping out the English countryside for the suburban landscape of Cincinnati, Ohio gave the original storyline an instant facelift, as did replacing fancy dress balls and strolls around formal English gardens with barbecues and jogs around the block.  The change in scenery was instantly relatable, and of course, there was the added amusement of learning that our oh-so-dignified Mr. Darcy was a big fan of Cincinnati chili.

The aging  of the Bennet sisters.  Since it would have been somewhat old-fashioned to be worried about twentysomethings and the danger of spinsterhood, Sittenfeld deftly updates both the ages of the Bennet sisters as well as the driving forces behind Mama Bennet’s desire to find them all men.  Eldest daughter Jane is now 40, with Liz not too far behind her at 38, so the relevant issue at hand for them, Jane in particular, is fertility.  If they want to have children, they had better get busy.

For the younger three Bennet sisters, the issue is more just about having them grow up and start fending for themselves.  Here, Sittenfeld has woven into her narrative a powerful, albeit humorous, criticism of millennials, and particularly of what she refers to as the ‘boomerang effect’ when the grown children return home to live with their parents.  Even though all five Bennet sisters are grown women, only two of them, Jane and Liz, have moved out of their parents’ home and secured careers for themselves.  Kitty, Lydia, and Mary have instead chosen to remain living at home and behaving like children.  They do absolutely nothing to help out around the house either through monetary contributions or by helping to care for their father when his health declines.  Instead of needing husbands, what these three girls need is a swift kick in the pants to get them out of their parents’ home and living independently.

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four-half-stars

About Curtis Sittenfeld

CURTIS SITTENFELD is the bestselling author of five novels: Prep, The Man of My Dreams, American Wife, Sisterland, and Eligible. Her first story collection, You Think It, I’ll Say It, will be published in 2018. Her books have been selected by The New York Times, Time, Entertainment Weekly, and People for their “Ten Best Books of the Year” lists, optioned for television and film, and translated into thirty languages. Her short stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Washington Post, and Esquire, and her non-fiction has appeared in The New York Times, Time, Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, Slate, and on “This American Life.” A graduate of Stanford University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Curtis has interviewed Michelle Obama for Time; appeared as a guest on NPR’s “Fresh Air,” CBS’s “Early Show,” and PBS’s Newshour; and twice been a strangely easy “Jeopardy!” answer.

5 Stars for Emma Donoghue’s ‘Room’

5 Stars for Emma Donoghue’s ‘Room’Room by Emma Donoghue
Also by this author: The Wonder
five-stars
Published by HarperCollins Publishers on September 15th 2015
Genres: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 432
Amazon
Goodreads

Synopsis from Goodreads: Now a Major Motion Picture starring Brie Larson and William H. Macy#1 International BestsellerWinner of the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction PrizeWinner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book (Canada and Caribbean region)Winner of the Hughes & Hughes Irish Novel of the Year.

To five-year-old-Jack, Room is the world. It’s where he was born. It’s where he and Ma eat and sleep and play and learn. There are endless wonders that let loose Jack’s imagination-the snake under Bed that he constructs out of eggshells; the coziness of Wardrobe beneath Ma’s clothes, where she tucks him in safely at night, in case Old Nick comes.
Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it’s the prison where she’s been held since she was nineteen-for seven long years. Through her fierce love for her son, she has created a life for him in that eleven-by-eleven-foot space. But Jack’s curiosity is building alongside her own desperation, and she knows that Room cannot contain either indefinitely . . .
Told in the inventive, funny, and poignant voice of Jack, Room is a celebration of resilience-and a powerful story of a mother and son whose love lets them survive the impossible.

 

My review:  

I have to confess I had never heard of Emma Donoghue prior to the Oscar buzz that surrounded the film ‘Room’ earlier this year.  Because I have a rule that I never watch a movie that is based on a book until I have actually read the book, I immediately purchased a copy of ‘Room’ and settled in to find out why this story was generating so much interest.

There are some books that are out of sight, out of mind as soon as you finish reading the last page, and then there are others that crawl into your brain and won’t let go. ‘Room’ is most definitely the latter of the two.  I finished reading it a week ago and literally cannot stop thinking about it.  It’s just that mind blowing.

‘Room’ is a 12’x12’ shed where ‘Ma’ and her son, Jack, are living when the novel opens.  Ma was abducted when she was 19 years old and has been held captive in this room for seven years.  Jack, who is five years old (so yes, a child of rape), was born in this room and has never been outside of it.  This one room is literally his whole world.

What makes this story so unforgettable is the unique point of view from which it is told.  Instead of having Ma tell her story, which is what I would have expected, five-year old Jack is actually the narrator.  Because we are seeing the story unfold from Jack’s innocent perspective, rather than being plunged immediately into a horrific tale of kidnapping, imprisonment, and rape, instead we are presented with a view of everyday life in what Jack refers to as ‘Room’ and a beautiful story about a mother’s love for her child.  The first half of the novel paints a vivid picture of the world within ‘Room’ that Ma has painstakingly created for Jack.  The reader can see that Ma has clearly poured her heart and soul into shielding Jack from the reality of their imprisonment and into making his life as close to normal as she possibly can, given the circumstances.  And she has succeeded.  Jack truly believes that ‘Room’ is all there is and that anything else he sees on television is just make believe.  He has no idea that he and his mother are being held captive and that terrible things have happened to his mother since before he was born.

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five-stars

About Emma Donoghue

emma donoghue

Emma is the youngest of eight children of Frances and Denis Donoghue. She attended Catholic convent schools in Dublin, apart from one year in New York at the age of ten. In 1990 she earned a first-class honours BA in English and French from University College Dublin, and in 1997 a PhD (on the concept of friendship between men and women in eighteenth-century English fiction) from the University of Cambridge. Since the age of 23, Donoghue has earned her living as a full-time writer. After years of commuting between England, Ireland, and Canada, in 1998 she settled in London, Ontario, where she lives with her partner and their son and daughter.

Book Review: Go Set a Watchman

Book Review: Go Set a WatchmanGo Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
three-half-stars
Published by HarperCollins on July 14th 2015
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 278
Amazon
Goodreads

Synopsis from Goodreads: From Harper Lee comes a landmark new novel set two decades after her beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird.
Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch--"Scout"--returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise's homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in a painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past--a journey that can be guided only by one's conscience.
Written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman imparts a fuller, richer understanding and appreciation of Harper Lee. Here is an unforgettable novel of wisdom, humanity, passion, humor and effortless precision--a profoundly affecting work of art that is both wonderfully evocative of another era and relevant to our own times. It not only confirms the enduring brilliance of To Kill a Mockingbird, but also serves as its essential companion, adding depth, context and new meaning to an American classic.

 

 

My review:

Count me as one of the many readers who considers Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird one of the most powerful works of fiction ever written.  Assigned to me as required reading when I was in eighth grade, To Kill a Mockingbird was the first ‘grown-up’ book I had ever read and a far cry from the books I was used to having my nose buried in – namely, those fun and fluffy tales of the Wakefield twins from Sweet Valley High.  Viewing racism through the eyes of an innocent child, the novel’s eight year old narrator, Scout Finch, coupled with Harper Lee’s beautiful prose, spoke to me in ways that no book that I’ve read before or since has.   I was thrilled therefore to hear that after so many years, we were finally getting another novel from Ms. Lee with Go Set a Watchman.

I think the key to fully appreciating Go Set a Watchman is to read it with the knowledge that it is not meant to be a sequel to “To Kill a Mockingbird.”  As HarperCollins explains on its website, this is the first book that she submitted to her publisher for consideration and it was believed to be lost until it was recently discovered.

Originally written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman was the novel Harper Lee first submitted to her publishers before To Kill a Mockingbird.  Assumed to have been lost, the manuscript was discovered in late 2014.  HarperCollins.com

Business Insider is a bit more explicit in discussing the relationship between the two novels:

Her publisher rejected it and suggested Lee explore the childhoods of the characters in the original novel, which led to the now-famous “To Kill a Mockingbird.”  BusinessInsider.com

In light of this information, I chose to view Go Set a Watchman as an early draft of what later became the much beloved To Kill a Mockingbird, basically an alternate universe if you please, and in viewing the novel as such, I quite enjoyed it.

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three-half-stars

Book Review: Glory over Everything

Book Review:  Glory over EverythingGlory over Everything: Beyond The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
four-half-stars
Published by Simon & Schuster on April 5th 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Synopsis from Goodreads: A novel of family and long-buried secrets along the treacherous Underground Railroad. The author of the New York Times bestseller and beloved book club favorite The Kitchen House continues the story of Jamie Pyke, son of both a slave and master of Tall Oaks, whose deadly secret compels him to take a treacherous journey through the Underground Railroad.
Published in 2010, The Kitchen House became a grassroots bestseller. Fans connected so deeply to the book’s characters that the author, Kathleen Grissom, found herself being asked over and over “what happens next?” The wait is finally over.
This new, stand-alone novel opens in 1830, and Jamie, who fled from the Virginian plantation he once called home, is passing in Philadelphia society as a wealthy white silversmith. After many years of striving, Jamie has achieved acclaim and security, only to discover that his aristocratic lover Caroline is pregnant. Before he can reveal his real identity to her, he learns that his beloved servant Pan has been captured and sold into slavery in the South. Pan’s father, to whom Jamie owes a great debt, pleads for Jamie’s help, and Jamie agrees, knowing the journey will take him perilously close to Tall Oaks and the ruthless slave hunter who is still searching for him. Meanwhile, Caroline’s father learns and exposes Jamie’s secret, and Jamie loses his home, his business, and finally Caroline. Heartbroken and with nothing to lose, Jamie embarks on a trip to a North Carolina plantation where Pan is being held with a former Tall Oaks slave named Sukey, who is intent on getting Pan to the Underground Railroad. Soon the three of them are running through the Great Dismal Swamp, the notoriously deadly hiding place for escaped slaves. Though they have help from those in the Underground Railroad, not all of them will make it out alive.

My Review:

With its heartbreaking and brutally honest depiction of how slaves were treated in the American South, Kathleen Grissom’s The Kitchen House stands out as one of the most memorable novels I’ve read in recent years. Because it had such a profound effect on me, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the sequel, Glory over Everything: Beyond the Kitchen House. Thanks so much to Netgalley, Simon & Schuster, and of course, Kathleen Grissom, for making it possible for me to obtain a copy prior to the novel’s April 5th release date.

So, how best to describe Glory over Everything? Think Nella Larsen’s Passing and Solomon Northup’s Twelve Years a Slave, with a smattering of Gone with the Wind thrown in for good measure. While The Kitchen House explores the horrors of slavery by showing how hard it is to live as a slave in the South, Glory over Everything tackles the same theme but from a different point of view, that of the free black or mixed race individual who has managed to escape from the South. Grissom exposes the ugly truth that until slavery was finally abolished in this country, freedom was merely an illusion if you had any ‘color’ in your blood. It could be stolen from you anywhere at any time, and so you lived life constantly looking over your shoulder.

The offspring of a white slave master and a slave, our protagonist James Pyke learns this lesson the hard way. When the novel opens, James has already escaped from slavery once, traveling via the Underground Railroad to freedom. He is now living in Philadelphia as “James Burton”. Because of his pale complexion, he has been able to ‘pass’ as a white man for a number of years now and is a respected businessman and artist in his community. Using a series of flashbacks, the first half of the novel returns us to when Jamie first arrives in Philadelphia and retraces the path he takes to become James Burton.

Two events transpire, however, that threaten to destroy this new life he has worked so hard for: 1) his lover Caroline becomes pregnant and 2) James’ servant, a young boy named Pan that James loves like a son, is kidnapped and shipped south to be sold into slavery. Although he is frightened to return to the South because of his own past, James promises Pan’s father, Henry, that he will find and return Pan home. Initially James is conflicted between his duty to Caroline and their unborn child and his oath to Henry. However, ultimately James is forced to flee Philadelphia when he is betrayed by someone who knows of his past and uses it against him. With nothing else left to lose at this point, James swallows his own fears and heads south to find Pan. The second half of the novel focuses on this potentially dangerous rescue mission.

Highlights:

I loved nearly everything about this novel, but here are some aspects of it that really stood out for me.

The suspense – While the first half of the novel moves along at a slow and steady pace as it traces James’ backstory and focuses on character development, the rest of the novel becomes very Mission Impossible. It’s so intense that I stayed up nearly all night long to finish it because I was so desperate to know how it ended. Every chapter is suspenseful and filled with potential dangers as James, first of all, must lie to everyone he encounters on his journey to create a plausible cover story that allows him to search for Pan. Then, once he locates him, he must come up with a feasible plan to free Pan and bring him home, all the while without revealing his own true identity, especially once he hears that his former slave master is not only still alive, but is still actively looking for him.

Pan – I know James is the protagonist in this novel and a wonderful character in his own right, but I guarantee that you will fall in love with Pan. Just as Mama Mae was the heart and soul of The Kitchen House, Pan is the heart and soul of this novel. He’s a precocious young boy with a heart as big as Texas, who instantly enchants everyone he meets. After Pan was taken, I waited anxiously to hear more of him and wished I could give James a kick in the pants to hurry him along on his journey to rescue him.

Underground Railroad – The chapters that deal with the Underground Railroad stand out as the novel’s most memorable moments. On the one hand, what an absolutely terrifying experience to have an escape route that passes through a swamp containing bears, wild cats, poisonous snakes, and who knows what other dangers. But on the other hand, it was heartwarming to see so many people along the way who were helping as many as they could escape to freedom.
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four-half-stars

Book Review – The Red Queen

Book Review – The Red QueenRed Queen by Victoria Aveyard
Also by this author: Glass Sword
three-half-stars
Published by HarperTeen on February 10th 2015
Genres: Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 383
Amazon
Goodreads

 

 

 

My review:

At its heart, Red Queen is a story about oppression. Reds are deemed inferior to Silvers, not because of the color of their skin, but rather, because of the color of the blood that flows through their veins. Reds live in poverty, while Silvers live as nobles who deem it their right to treat all Reds as dirt beneath their feet.

And I guess it’s pretty easy to keep another group of people under your thumb when it’s not a fair fight because these Silvers are not your average, everyday nobles. Not only do the Silvers have silver blood running through their veins, but each one of them is also born with X-Men like super-human powers. It might be the ability to harness fire, water, or even metal, or it might be the gift of mind reading, just to name a few. From an early age, they are trained to understand and master these special talents, not so they can use them for good, but so as to effectively wield them as weapons. The irony here is that even though the Silvers possess all of these super-cool and destructive powers, they still force Reds to fight and die for them in a war against other Silvers that has been going on for generations.

Enter Mare Barrow, a Red girl who accidentally discovers she has super-human powers that rival the Silvers. She teams up with the Scarlet Guard, a group of Red rebels who have decided it’s time to fight back against the Silver’s oppression of their people, and you have the makings of an epic David vs. Goliath- style matchup.

What I liked about Red Queen:
The Superpowers! – The superpowers were, by far, one of my favorite things about the book. The author’s descriptions of these characters, both in training and in actual combat, were so vivid that all I kept thinking while reading was “Wow, this would make for such a cool movie!” The action-packed ending in particular was spectacular, probably the highlight of the story for me.

The Plot Twists – The lies and endless betrayals kept me guessing every step of the way and I love a book that is unpredictable. The lies were convincing enough that I fell for all of the same tricks that the characters did and was just as shocked at the betrayal as they were.

Strong Women – From Mare and Farley on the Red side to Evangeline and Queen Elara on the Silver side, this novel is filled with some pretty fierce female characters leading the charge on both sides of the rebellion.

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three-half-stars

About Victoria Aveyard

In her own words:

“I’m a writer repped by Suzie Townsend at New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc. I split my time between my hometown East Longmeadow, Massachusetts and Los Angeles. After graduating with a BFA in Screenwriting from the University of Southern California, I decided to try my hand at writing a novel. My debut RED QUEEN came out of the terrifying, unemployed year after college. The sequel GLASS SWORD released in February 2016.

Currently I’m working on the third book in the RED QUEEN series, along with pursuing other projects in literature and film. My proudest achievements are riding a horse in the mountains of Montana and navigating from London to Edinburgh without GPS.”