12.03.2013

Top Ten Tuesday: 2014 Releases We're Dying to Read


Hello, and welcome back to TLG for another Top Ten Tuesday. Top Ten Tuesday is always hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic:

Top Ten 2014 Releases We're Dying to Read

I'm cheating, with 10 new ones I'm excited about, and one anniversary release that I want to buy right now:

1. Shirley, a novel by Susan Scarf Merrell
  A literary thriller about the novelist Shirley Jackson, due from Blue Rider/Penguin in June 2014

2. Invisible Love by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt
From the author of The Most Beautiful Book in the World (which I adored), due out from Europa Editions in July 2014

3. The Lullaby of Polish Girls by Dagmara Dominczyk
This one doesn't reeeeally count because the hardcover was released in June, but the paperback comes out in February, and I want it!

4. Creativity, inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull
For the Pixar lover, which I am... Due out in April.

5. Careless People: Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of the Great Gatsby by Sarah Churchwell
Released in the UK in 2013, this examination of Fitzgerald & co is due out from The Penguin Press in January. 

6. Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War by Mark Harris
Because I'm a nerd. Due out in February.

7.  The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch by Lewis Dartnell
...and a geek. Due out in April. This will be like reading The New York Times' Guide to Essential Knowledge, but shorter and more practical. 

8. The History of the Hudson River Valley: From Wilderness to the Civil War by Vernon Benjamin
What? I need a new New York-ish book! Due out in April from Overlook.

9. Alena, a novel by Rachel Pastan
A modern take on Rebecca (which, you know, for its time was a modern take on Jane Eyre...so it goes). Due out from Riverhead Hardcover in January. This really should have been at the top of the list.

10. The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price Purveyor of Superior Funerals by Wendy Jones
Europa Editions. Quirky Title. You know I want it. Published in the UK in 2012, due out in the US in March 2014.

11. BONUS: 75th Anniversary Edition of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, due out from Viking in April.

Now to do some shopping...

12.02.2013

Review: Undressing Mr. Darcy, by Karen Doornebos

Undressing Mr. Darcy
by Karen Doornebos
Berkley Trade
December 3, 2013
368 pages
"If adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad."

Vanessa Roberts, Chicago PR maven and known Austen non-enthusiast is tasked by her aging aunt Ella to do what any Austen non-enthusiast might find unthinkable -plan for and host Darcy-esque Julian Chancellor's book tour and visit to the Jane Austen Society of North America, of which Aunt Ella is a founding member. When Julian, who is promoting his book My Year as Mr. Darcy in the hopes of garnering funds and support for the refurbishment of his ancestral home in Chawton, arrives it's all business for Vanessa...or is it? Top Julian and Vanessa's escalating chemistry with her aunt's late-in-life illness, a suitor from another time and genre, Vanessa's somewhat delayed discovery of Austen's appeal, and a journey across the pond and back, and you've got the set-up for what could be yet another great flirtation with Jane Austen.

In 2011, Karen Doornebos debuted on the literary scene with her sweet and none-too-raunchy Definitely Not Mr. Darcy which, in case anyone has missed my numerous mentions of it, I loved. I loved the way that Doornebos took on the romance novel without making it completely gratuitous. I loved how fresh the plot felt, even in the light of comparison with Shannon Hale's Austenland, Laurie Brown's What Would Jane Austen Do? and even Channel 4's "Regency House Party." As a sort-of follow-up to Definitely Not... (the two main characters show up in this one) it's hard to resist the urge to compare the two.

As you might guess from this title, Doornebos has stepped up the raunchy end of things with Undressing Mr. Darcy. Once again, there are two very attractive men vying for the affections of our new main character, and both seem to have their ducks in a row. Really, things couldn't be going greater for Vanessa, a woman whose childhood was difficult and whose adulthood has been mostly work, almost no play, and entirely rooted in a fear of commitment. All told, there are some great allusions to Austen's works in this book including, but not limited to, a sincere effort to draft Vanessa as a sort of Catherine/Marianne hybrid.

Julian Chancellor seems to be the answer to a question that Vanessa has been too-long afraid to ask herself. But where Definitely Not... succeeded, Undressing has unfortunately failed. The former maintained the strong narrative and the stronger protagonist. Chloe fell for the guy, but she didn't let the guy change who she was. Vanessa, unfortunately, is not as strong. Not only does she let Julian change her (don't worry, it's not forever) but, in the author giving in to the genre and giving us these raunchy gratuitous sex scenes (which have their place and time, but this wasn't really it), she has sacrificed the characterizations that we could have had.

As a result, many of the characters and plot points are somewhat juvenile and, frankly, shoddy. Sherry, as Vanessa's new friend, has zero development. Lexi's grind to a halt is too black and white, too easy. We're cheated out of so much. Julian's actions are explained away, but not truly explained. For a good portion of the book you think his backstory might be going in a completely different direction, and I'm fairly sure that this was unintentional. The worst of it, though, was the simple, basic, and unfair transformation of Vanessa from a non-enthusiast to an Janeite.

Yes, she's let the man get to her. That's plain and simple. Sure, she picks up the books and starts watching the movies. Great. All is as it should be. But then she starts wearing pink. And then she starts wearing floral skirts. And then she devolves from the savvy PR workaholic we know into an insipid swearing-on-Sanditon boy-crazy idiot. It would be enough for her to believe herself in love with the man. It would be enough for her to be Austen-hungry. It's a completely different thing to be equating a love of Austen with stupidity, which is what has happened here.

I know this is unintentional. I know that Karen Doornebos has a love for Jane Austen that few could match. That's the really frustrating part of this - I wanted it to be so much better. It could be so much better, because Doornebos' first book was so much better. Definitely Not Mr. Darcy is among my favorite books that I love to savor over and over. But I'm afraid its younger brother just isn't going to make the cut. I'm going to chalk this up to sophomore slump and look forward with anticipation to Doornebos' next effort.

9.04.2013

I Know What I Did This Summer, or On Writing and Stress

That dinosaur
knows what's up.
At the beginning of the summer, I started a review on a book I had just finished reading. In the middle of writing, I entered into a very stressful and emotional period of time, and I shot out of gear. Sure, it wasn't a book I'd really enjoyed, and the review wasn't going to be stellar, but I felt like I could no longer really write. I was having regular anxiety attacks, I wasn't sleeping, and even my regular journaling started to suffer. It has taken me three months and a lot of stress-eating/drinking, but I think I'm starting to get back on track. My liver may have something else to say, but she'll have to get her own blog for that.

In this time, I kept reading, though not as much as I'd have liked to; I read George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series. My roommate and I flew through the first four books, and now I'm about 325 pages into the fifth. It's a little slow-going, but I'm trying to plough through. Not just because I want to get to the end so I can talk about it, but because this kind of reading has always lead to a more fertile time in my writing. Whenever I've put down an epic kind of fantasy series like this (the last one I think was Stephen Lawhead's King Raven trilogy), I've followed it up with some ferocious reading and writing. And that's what I'm really excited about. I'm ready to get back into the swing of things.

In this time, I managed to find my entertainment elsewhere. I saw one of Roundabout's productions called The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin. I didn't think it was fantastic, but its main themes were writing, families ties, and stress...so I related. I also (finally, after living here for ten years) went to Shakespeare in the Park. Twice. I saw both main productions there this summer - The Comedy of Errors and a musical adaptation of Love's Labour's Lost. And I went to my first NYMF show which happened to be the show I did at Fringe (and the Westchester Square Festival) last year, The Hills are Alive.

I also did a lot of movie watching (on Netflix) and movie-going. My roommate introduced me to A Fish Called Wanda and Delirious (I also watched The Hunger Games for the first time, but still haven't read that series) and we watched the entire series of Battlestar Galactica (Jamie Bamber, not Richard Hatch...actually, that's confusing since Hatch was in both, but you know what I mean) and I re-watched Lost. Yep...that kind of summer.

For the record, on second watching, the finale made a teeny bit more sense.
But not by much.
In June, I saw The Purge (which was good, not great, and super-predictable) and Man of Steel...which was what it was...frankly, Russell Crowe wasn't singing, so it was already 400x better than the last thing I saw him in....

In July, I saw Now You See Me which was entertaining, and The Way Way Back which mostly just made me wish I was watching Adventureland. But Sam Rockwell was great. I saw The Heat which was unfortunately not all it was hyped up to be, and The Conjuring which wasn't terrifying, but it was just scary enough to make me happy about my decision to see it with a group of friends; it was akin to The Woman in Black and The Amityville Horror in that I spent most of the film with my sweater over my eyes. Good times, those.

Then, in August, I went to the midnight screening of Sharknado which would have been a litttttle more enjoyable if it weren't at midnight and/or if I didn't have to be at work at 10 the next morning (I must be getting old) but, as everyone knows, that film is just...stellar. It's art, man. I also saw We're the Millers which was pretty funny, and was made even more hilarious by the fact that I was sitting in an almost empty theatre on a Wednesday morning with a bunch of sixty-year-old women who thought it was to die for. I thought one of them would have a heart attack when the trailer for Bad Grandpa was rolling. And then the roomie and I saw The World's End which was everything I wanted it to be - Shaun of the Dead + Hot Fuzz + alcohol + those creepy kids with glowing eyes from Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" music video.

Last night, I finally broke down and saw Austenland, based on the Shannon Hale's novel of the same
name. Keri Russell was sufficient and Jennifer Coolidge was perfect. And JJ Feild (who played Henry in the '07 Northanger Abbey) was appropriately Darcyesque and satisfactory. But the nicest surprise was James Callis (that's right, bringin' it back to Battlestar!) who plays Coolidge's scripted "lover," the Colonel.

Anyway, I think I'm getting back to where I want to be. And, as soon as I actually finish A Dance with Dragons (and come back from my mid-month vacation all refreshed and stuff) I'll be ready to begin again. Until then, let me leave you with my review of Karen Doornebos' Definitely Not Mr. Darcy which, in my opinion, tackles the Austenland conceit with more skill.
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