Thursday, April 14, 2011

Persuasion: Jane Austen

Persuasion is like a tween movie. Very little happens, and what little action the book does contain, is reserved to longing sideways glances and bated breath. Someone takes a bad fall. Some folks fall in love. In the typical Victorian ways, many people go calling on other people. One gentleman is exposed as a cad. In the end, they all live happily ever after. It's not a complicated plot, and it's certainly not unique. It is, however, like every Austen novel I've read, simply charming.

Anne Elliot is an old maid. She's 27 years old and unmarried. She may as well be dead (I can relate!). What makes her situation so much worse is that she had a suitor in her younger years, but was persuaded to forego the attachment because of Mister Frederick Wentworth's lower standing. The poor girl is now alone and heart-crushed, watching as her friends and sisters marry (I can relate!). Then things take an interesting turn when, down on his luck, Anne's father, Sir Walter, must rent out their estate at Kellynch because they have fallen so far in debt. And wonder of wonders, who should be the new renters, but The Crofts--sister and brother-in-law of the newly Captained Frederick Wentworth! Now that Wentworth is a Captain, he is welcomed into the neighborhood and the two sisters of Anne's brother-in-law, Louisa and Henrietta, begin vying for his attention, hoping to make a fortuitous match. A chain of events follows that ultimately shows Captain Wentworth that he never stopped loving Anne--who, of course, has never stopped loving Wentworth. There is a bit of manipulation in which William Elliot--Anne's cousin--makes a few overtures in her direction, but she sees through him, and has no trouble shutting him down. And they all live happily ever after.

Maybe I've been blind to it before, but I have never heard Austen write with such sexism before. I felt like throwing the book across the room on multiple occasions. While Anne is a lovely character, she is so stifled. She is surrounded by people, all telling her what to do, who to marry, what to think. And she does it! The insipid characters of Louisa and Henrietta are no better. Anne's elder sister, Elizabeth is a pushy broad, and the younger sister, Mary, is a hypochondriac. The only female character I can respect is Lady Russell, who also happens to be the woman who persuaded Anne not to marry Wentworth. Where are the Elizabeth Bennets? The Emmas? Austen, you have failed me with this one.

Aside from the characters, the plot was just too played out for me. There is so little romance in this romance novel, that I lost interest multiple times. Of course Miss Austen regales us with plenty of sweeping landscapes and rich tapestries of conversation, but there's very little to get excited about. The biggest event in Persuasion comes when a young lady takes a fall and gains a concussion.

An interesting tidbit about this novel; Jane Austen once played the role of Lady Russell in the life of her own niece. It is commonly believed that Jane Austen later regretted having such an influence over her niece, wishing instead that the young lady had made her own decision. This, her last completed novel, examines the many ways in which we can be persuaded, and how we may be effected. It is with my dearest wishes that I choose believe that Jane Austen wrote a novel full of weakly women as an illustration of what kind of person can be so easily swayed. Surely it is a farce--an encouragement to women everywhere to avoid being an Anne by making their own decisions and choosing happiness before it's too late.

Rating: $$

Thursday, April 7, 2011

S'Mother: Adam Chester

As a person with a slightly crazed mother, I was drawn to Adam Chester's book, S'Mother, which is basically just a collection of his mother's crazed letters. What's that? Humor? Crazy Mother? Count me in! Adam Chester is, like myself, the only child of a single parent. We are a special group of people who know the realities of overprotective mothers and the complete inability to shrug off some of mom's nuttiness onto someone else. We are often victims of complete and utter public humiliation. We are frequently leaned upon, forcing us into responsibilities beyond our age. We are undoubtedly loved in the very best ways that our cuckoo mothers are able. Chester just happens to have kept all of the panicked little notes and letters that his mother sent him, so that we now have them here in a lovely collection of neuroses.

S'Mother begins with an introduction to Adam's Mother in a seemingly harmless tale about the day she brought his sweater to him at school. Except Adam's Mother isn't like any normal mother. Adam's Mother marches herself into the boys locker room while Adam is in gym class and embarrasses him in front of the entire Junior High by handing over his sweater and loudly stating "You forgot to bring your sweater. It's going to rain today!" I mean really, Junior High? Into the locker room? The woman has no boundaries. And so begins the saga of an overprotective mother constantly intruding on her son's life--mostly with regards to her Will, should she suddenly pass away.

Here's my hesitation. The letters are sort of funny, in an oddball kind of way. Chester's narration is kind of funny. There are a few formatting things that distracted me (for example, not everything in parentheses needs to be italicized), but that was minor. So why didn't I laugh? I kind of expected to find some truly humiliating stories that would make me laugh out loud. Or at least chuckle a little. I was certainly captivated by the narrative, and I enjoyed the stories about Chester's life experiences (a bear hug from Barry White! Christmas cards from Elton John!), but the letters from his mother were just...letters from his mother. Sure she's a little wacky. Of course there's no need for an adult man to be reminded to wear a coat in the snow. But she's a little old lady with practically nothing else do, given she has no husband or children. Her uber-involvement in his life is to be expected. Then again, considering my own mother-daughter situation, I may be biased???

I'd like to know what "normal" people think of this book. Is it funny if it isn't quite so familiar?

Rating: $$

ARC provided courtesy of Abrams

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Goddess Test: Aimee Carter

I'm not sure what I expected to find when I chose to read The Goddess Test, but I somehow didn't think I'd be reading about the Greek gods again. However, this is not another Percy Jackson story.

Kate's mother is dying of cancer. Her last wish is that Kate take her to the little town of Eden, where she can end her days peacefully. While trying to care for her ailing mother and spend as much time with her as possible, Kate also has to battle the challenges of being a new student at a new school. Ava, the pretty, popular girl, takes an almost immediate disliking to Kate, making her life in Eden hellish. Kate's one friend is an outcast named James. However, Eden is not what it appears to be, and when Ava plays a sickening trick on Kate, things get really strange. A man appears from out of nowhere to bring Ava back to life and make Kate an offer of immortality. Henry is dark, handsome, and mysterious...oh yeah, and he also happens to be the god of the underworld, Hades. He has the power to offer Kate more time with her dying mother, but only if Kate agrees to spend 6 months of the year with him in Eden, attempting to pass seven tests of character to determine if she is fit to rule the underworld with him. Initially Kate shrugs him off as a crazy person, no more powerful than a rich eccentric. But when her mother falls into a coma and Ava's miracle of life is revoked, Kate is willing to try anything, including moving in to Henry'd home. Life in Eden manor is exquisite, and Kate finds herself falling in love with Henry. The only problem is that Henry is still heartbroken over Persephone--the woman he loved, who loved a mortal, causing her to give up her immortality and leaving Mount Olympus forever. Kate continues to learn her Greek mythology (except in Eden it's history and not mythology), and as she grows more determined to stay with Henry, he softens towards her, anxious to make her his wife and thereby saving his job as god of the underworld. Unfortunately someone is trying to prevent Kate from passing the Goddess Test and if she fails the test, she may lose Henry and her life.

I can't tell you how much I enjoyed this book. I admit, I was confused at first. Hades appearing in the middle of a small town was so incongruent that I spent the first few chapters trying to wrap my head around the basic idea. But then Henry became a central character and I was so in love with the god of the underworld that I didn't care that the story was implausible. Aimee Carter is a creative writer with new ideas about the Greek gods--fresh ideas about a cast of characters that have nearly become as passé as vampires and werewolves. Carter shifts the focus off of Zeus and Hera, to highlight some of the lesser known gods and their myths. The cast of characters--including the mortals and the undead--is fresh-faced and fascinating. Kate is endearingly flawed and self-conscious, with just enough courage and strength to make her a goddess candidate.

The only thing I didn't like about this book is that it appears to be the first in a series, which means I have to wait to find out what happens next!

Rating: $$$

ARC received courtesy of Harlequin Teen