Review: Nocturnes by John Connolly, pt. 5: "Nocturne" and "The Wakeford Abyss"

Demons, ghosts and murderers that look like children play games with our senses and emotions. On the one hand, there is an easy innocence to them, but beyond the light there is something at odds with the good. The juxtaposition of light and dark is reflected in the piano keys that bring the name of the collection to life. The idea that the house's demon could take a form similar to that of a boy's dead brother and try to lure him into the dark is the stuff of horror films. The use of the color yellow in the dead boy's outfit is essential in highlighting everything wrong with the figure inhabiting that body. When the narrator destroys and burns the piano in an effort to exorcise the demon, the yellow of the fire gives contrast to the dark figure writhing within it. And yet, he remains afraid of the music, knowing that behind each white key is a black one; knowing that even if the music is beautiful again, it may be played by something terrifying.

"The Wakeford Abyss"
 Again with the spiders. Gross. And these are big ones, too. Deep in the earth, lurking, waiting to corrupt. This story is about a fall from grace. Two men who used to climb moutains opt to reverse their trajectory and rappel into a crevice, ignoring the lore.  The dark calls to them, lures them in. Even when they see the horrifying paintings near the lip of the abyss, they continue to sink further and further until the spiders claim them. The rope falls, giving the last one left no hope of redemption, no way out. The light will not take him back. He can only listen and wait for the beasts to take him, and regret having left the mountains.


Review: Nocturnes by John Connolly, pt. 4: "Some Children Wander by Mistake," "Deep, Dark Green" and "Miss Froome, Vampire"

“Some Children Wander by Mistake”
The more I analyze this story, the less it creeps me out. Which is good. The first time I read it I actually got chills. Clowns are creepy. Of course the idea that we could be exposed to clowns while in the womb and end up as clowns is pretty darn creepy, too.

But I can argue myself down to understanding that it’s not about exposure to clowns, but about exposure in general. The boy’s parents made the mistake of going to the circus while he was in utero, and it has caused him to be infected. Like an M. Night Shyamalan movie, I found color to be of some importance. Red is the color most mentioned. The red of the womb. This makes the reveal extremely dramatic.

We’re shocked by the initial behavior of the clowns, but when they begin to lick the boy’s face with their rough tongues like a mother cat with her young, the point becomes rather evident. He has emerged from the womb and been cleaned of his fleshy makeup to reveal his birthright. He was born a clown and shall always be a clown, whether he likes it or not. This argument for nature over nurture is a little horrifying, but it makes its point.

“Deep, Dark Green”
Parents can only protect their children so much. They can bury what they believe to be wrong, evil, and destructive, but children will always seek it out anyway. Much of the time, when children are cautioned, it is for the wrong reasons. We over-protect. We caution by our own motives.
Parents try to bury everything from war to gay marriage, but children will find it for themselves and most of the time it doesn’t cause them harm. More, they are offended that their parents kept things from them. In this case, however, the demon was truly a threat. Yet youth sought it out. And the lust devoured them.

“Miss Froome, Vampire”
In a world where far too many vampire tales have been told in the last 15 years, I’m glad that this one was only twelve pages long. I’m also glad that it didn’t result in Miss Froome falling in love with a human and being tormented over her vampiric tendencies. Because I’ve had enough of that.

All the same, I was a little disappointed that she didn’t have what lore says she should. She spends time in the sun, garlic and crosses don’t bother her. She’s seductive as ever, though. And, as a twist, it’s not just blood she wants. She uses the man’s ground bones to fertilize her garden. Tasty, yes?

The sexes are at odds and man’s worth seems to be prevalent. Men are “of use” in this context. They serve as a comparison for Miss Froome’s superior gardening, they serve as sustenance for Miss Froome’s thirst, and they go to provide for her garden. I have to wonder what she does with the organs, though, since she removes them before putting the body through the wine press. Hmmm.


Review: Nocturnes by John Connolly, pt. 3: "The Underbury Witches," "The Inkpot Monkey" and "The Shifting of the Sands"

“The Underbury Witches”
The story, from what I know of the witch trials, seems loosely based on what happened in Salem. I have absolutely no background in English history during the 17th century so I have no idea of the validity of the information he gives us, but for my own understanding we’re going to use Salem.

In hindsight, we can pretty much rest assured that the women condemned for witchcraft were not really witches, or in league with the devil, or anything like that. The women (and few men) were persecuted for mostly absurd reasons. For the purpose of this story, Connolly explains that many of the women had “proto-feminist” beliefs, all of the effects of their “craft” affecting men.
The trials were analyzed and deemed unusual, but lacked any real proof of the devil.

Perhaps the most important information we’re given in the italicized history is this: “Kramer and Sprenger pinpointed the seed of witchcraft in the very nature of the female species. Women were spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally weak, and motivated primarily by carnal lust. These fundamental flaws found their most potent expression in witchery.” That was the assumption. According to our histories, their feministic tendencies did not cause them to join forces with the devil.

But what if it had? This is the premise of the story. What if the witches had, actually, been witches? In this case, they’ve reappeared in the present, either by way of reincarnation or possession. Which one, is not really determined. Possession explains the hole in one of the grave markers, but reincarnation explains how one of them could have known to put a hole in the grave marker. I suppose it doesn’t really matter, the point is they’re back. And they’re doing damage.

And they’ve somehow managed to find the perfect time to come back. Most of the virulent young men have been drafted into the war. It’s the prime time for strong women. For the period, they’re welcome. This is a different time, after all. Women are expected to demand equality. They’re not, however, expected to violently murder a man, whether or not his name is Mal (appropriate).

“The Inkpot Monkey”
The main theme of this story seems to be desire as it ties into sacrifice. The author desires to write – to be included – to get rid of his writer’s block. So he spends more money than he can afford to on a kitschy inkpot, relying on the item’s mythic background to solve his problems. When he accidentally cuts himself and the blood (just like in The Ritual of the Bones) causes the Monkey to come to life, he continues to sacrifice his blood in order to complete his masterpiece. Very “Little Shop of Horrors,” no?

We know, by the end, that the monkey has taken over the author’s life. He has become the author. The assumption, then, is that the author – who got all he wanted (he wrote his masterpiece, after all) – has become the monkey on the inkpot, waiting to be awakened by the next person who desires to write more than anything else. At least, that’s my assumption. It seems only right.

I base this on the episode of the Twilight Zone called “A Game of Pool” in which Jack Klugman plays a man who has beaten everyone else at pool, but never had a chance to beat the greatest player. That self-same player has been dead many years but, through an agreement made with the devil, he comes back to play Klugman’s character. When Klugman beats him, gaining exactly what he had wished, he becomes “the best” and is doomed just as his predecessor had been – to play all men foolish enough to desire a game with him, more than anything else.

“The Shifting of the Sands”
This one took me a while to understand. I’m still not sure that I understand it, nor do I know whether it means anything at all. What I’ve gleaned from it is a loose sketch of the war between Religion and Modernity, or more specifically, Religion vs. Technology. Religion has been abandoned in this town and when someone tries to reintroduce it, they find themselves seduced by the black sand which represents the technological world.

Here, the black sands stand like Greek gods, demanding sacrifice. Technology is always shifting, always changing, moving with the wind, absorbing the impact of everything that comes its way. And so when a Nazi bomb lands in the sand and sinks, it is simply absorbed, sunk into technology’s memory, a stepping stone.


Review: Nocturnes by John Connolly, pt. 2: "The New Daughter," "The Ritual of the Bones" and "The Furnace Room"

"The New Daughter"
I'm excited because APPARENTLY this one was made into a film starring Kevin Costner (which, with me, can only mean one thing) that had a limited release by Anchor Bay last month. Now I have to find it.... *UPDATE* Click here for the film

This story expands on a parent's fear of a child growing up. She leaves her toys behind, she rebels, she dabbles a bit on the edge. And what she goes through is something that parents can only understand on the surface. If they try to dig any deeper, they will hit a stone wall and their understanding will begin to crumble and fade. Connolly uses his gift for folklore to explain this change as related to the stories of faeries exchanging human children for changelings. This kind of abrupt change in a pre-teen girl must   be paranormal, right? Right? I appreciated the father seeing a "red flicker" in his daughter's eyes. On the surface, it appears to be merely visual, and symbolic of her changeling nature. I think it's more than that, though. It seems (in the least disgusting way possible) to refer to menstruation, something that her father would not only have trouble understanding, but of which he would (like most fathers) avoid any kind of contemplation.

It's the same as it's been since the dawn of time: girl tries to grow up. Father tries to stop her. Father blames other people when she grows up anyway. And she does, for all intents and purposes, become his new daughter. And she knows, better than anyone, that no matter how vigilant her father is, her brother will one day grow up as well. It expresses the futility of parenting. You wish to do right by your children and, because you are their parents, everything else in the world seems somewhat malicious.

"The Ritual of the Bones"
This is a (hopefully) fanciful and disturbing exaggeration of the exploitation of the lower classes, for the benefit of the higher. As with many of the stories in this collection, Connolly has taken a common occurrence (like feeling alone in a new school or a little girl growing up) and dramatizes it to the point of a twilight zone-like-feel. The Montague School for Boys is almost four centuries old. At least, by that name.

The existence of the fossilized spider-like-creature under the school could make the ritual of the bones date back even further. The bones have been passed down the bloodlines for ages, keeping the power among the powerful. By bleeding a member of the lower class, the bones continue the mark of superiority. The word Montague (if you've ever taken an in-depth Romeo & Juliet class, you might know this) is french, meaning "pointed hill" which is highly symbolic given the preservation of the class structure even within the gates of the school.

I'm somewhat intrigued that Connolly has chosen a spider-like symbol yet again. In "The New Daughter" Louisa's doll is replaced with "a rough form made of straw and twigs", a homunculus with a distended stomach that is tightly woven, the strands through which her father spies a large spider. When he removes the figure from Louisa's arms, the spider curls up and dies. By the next morning, the figure itself has "fallen to pieces." I took this as being strongly symbolic of a father's lack of understanding, and of a girl's growth from needing playthings, to needing something...other.

I wonder, though, if Connolly had something a little different in mind considering the arachnoid presence in "The Ritual of the Bones." There is of course a very obvious reason for the fossil/creature to be a spider, since spiders do in fact drain their victims (and are, therefore, often related to vampiric stories).  Unfortunately, I'm out of ideas on this one. I've done some pretty extensive searching using Google as a resource, and I can't come up with a good enough reason for the two spiders to be related. *Sigh*

"The Furnace Room"
We know, almost immediately, that our narrator is not to be trusted. He doesn't really remember how he came to this town, it was a bad time in his life, he was trying not to bring the past with him - this all makes him very suspect. The story develops in a very Hitchcock way, and feels even more like an Episode of the Twilight Zone (the original, not that crap from the 80s that they're always showing on the Chiller network. Bleh.) This story is about justice...or, at least, just punishment. Some sort of fate-like force brings our narrator to this town, gives him a job, and sets him up for his trial.

I love all the foreshadowing in this story: the narrator casually mentioning that people think his wife has left him, but he "knows better," the odor of burnt powder lingering on his clothing even after he's decided that what he saw was an illusion, and even in the old character of the town being covered by the gloss of tourism. All of this builds us up for the conclusion in which our narrator finds himself confronted his wife, whom he had murdered and buried in a shallow grave some time ago.

That from which he'd been running had now caught up to him. And the only way he could go, was down. Some of the symbolism is a little obvious, but the terror of the dead, dirt-covered wife holding the gun up to her husband's doomed temple is worth it. I wish someone would adapt this one. M. Night Shyamalan could potentially do it justice. Food for thought. Hmm.


Review: Nocturnes by John Connolly, pt. 1: "The cancer cowboy rides again," "Mr. Pettinger's Dœmon" and "The Erlking"

Mr. Connolly is an incredible writer. His The Book of Lost Things was a revelation to me. I have every intention of reading as much of Connolly's work as I can. So far, Nocturnes is a vibrant and pulsing collection into which I have endeavored to climb using every limb available. It is very easy to get lost in Connolly's prose, and I have, in the last day, found myself reclining in awkward positions as I come to the end of a story. Just yesterday I found myself frantically attempting to exit the train at my stop because I had managed to wrap my arm around one of the bench's poles, and was holding the book with that hand, while I laid on the bench with my bag between my knees. I tried to get up three times before I realized I had to put the book in my other hand before trying to pull it through the poles again. Silly me.

Nocturnes is a collection of short stories. Since I cannot critically nor analytically examine the entire collection as a whole (yet) and because I do not wish to starve myself of writing, I have chosen to take it apart for the purposes of this blog. My goal in separating the stories from one another is to explore a branch of myself I really haven't touched on in few years. I find, on reading these stories, that I have a wealth of literary opinions and analytical viewpoints that I kept to myself in college. In my English classes I spent a lot of time listening, and learning, but very rarely applying.

In an effort to better myself in something that I take great pride in - my reading - I plan on focusing in on these stories somewhat differently than as I have with the novels I've recently blogged about. Please understand: if you find yourself lost, or that perhaps you're not quite following my take on the work because I have not divulged the details, it's not about you. I am exploring the wealth of this trove for myself. If you have questions, by all means I shall endeavor to answer them. But I am not here to give you Entertainment Weekly's Tell-All Literary Review for January 2010. This blog has always been about me. That being selfishly said, I give you the gritty and undeniably wonderful Nocturnes.

"The cancer cowboy rides again"
 When you find yourself figuratively "touched" by someone, I imagine that refers to a happy motivation, or even a sad pitying sort of feeling. We watch "Extreme Home Makeover" to be touched. We are inspired. But are we ever touched by evil? I imagine an idea like this never really crosses one's mind. Can evil inspire? I suppose. But not in the same way as a happy or sad occasion. But what if it did? What if evil moved us? Connolly takes this idea and moves out of the figurative, making evil a dark, slimy and tangible disease. The parasite seems to have only one true host (at a time) but it can be passed and one can be infected, by a simple touch.

In one of the final scenes - the showdown at the bar - Connolly inverts the happy passion of Christian belief at the last supper, and as Buddy Carson stretches his arms in crucifix-style, he infects everyone within his reach by touching them. Evil does not control him, nor does he control it. Buddy has free will - he acts on it in everything he does, but he seeks to follow the course of evil in order to save himself from the agony it causes within his wreckage of a body when he does not touch anyone. He, like all of us, desires human connection. Many times our own requirements for human contact are not wholly pure. We lust and we crave and we covet. And Buddy's are not wholly malicient. He takes great pleasure in some things, though not enough to stave off the infinite relief of releasing his agony into a new victim.

Buddy, who seems old and young all at once, is only one in an infinite line of hosts that evil provides in this world. The host awakens in the middle of the desert, clad in blue jeans and lizard skin boots, bathed in burning sunlight, but unharmed, knowing nothing of a past, only something of the pain he feels in his gut. A pain that will move him to find the nearest human being and make a connection. Who among us has not had that feeling of emptiness, of being unsure as to where to turn, only knowing that we must turn to someone?

Buddy Carson is, you see, not all that different from the everyman. Within his organs is everything damaging to life - death, greed, power, hunger, anger, murder - he embodies all of this. And just as any one of us may enjoy inspiring someone else, Buddy looks forward to the corruption his touch will cause. Because it is a connection. In reality, the potential for any evil exists in all of us. But not all of us are inspired to keep the disease moving.

"Mr. Pettinger's Dœmon"
One of the key themes in this story is divinity. Who has it? Who is allowed to have it? Does it exist at all? How can we be sure? Pettinger notes for us that perhaps the pipe-smoking bishop is the kind of man who sees the concept of God as a way to tame the masses, and secure and exert his own authority. I believe Mr. Pettinger on this issue very easily, given his description of the bishop's clothing looking as a bloddy dagger. It also explains why he would send Pettinger to check on Mr. Fell.

Mr. Fell, Pettinger speculates, was so determined to believe in the divine that he risked and lost his life trying to prove the existence of its opposite (and therein divinity itself). Mr. Fell digs into what seems to literally be the depths of hell. It seems only right, with Pettinger's having been in the war, that he should follow and put an end to what Fell's been doing. Perhaps the bishop has it planned that the beast shall kill him as well. But I believe that the bishop knew that Pettinger would be able to keep the demon from coming into the light, and that he would be able to exert even more power over Pettinger by granting him the living that Fell had abandoned in his futile and deathly attempt to uncover the truth. He acknowledges the existence of the beast (and knows that Pettinger is too psychologically damaged by the war to bring it up when it will remind him of the trenches) but he knows that if its existence were known, people would turn to their god, instead of to "god"'s liaison.

"The Erlking"
This story has two themes - sense perception, and lies. Our narrator knows the power of a lie. Parents tell their children fairy tales to keep them safe and teach them lessons. But they're often fearful themselves of telling their children the truth. Most parents shelter their children. They keep them from the world. They do not admit impediments when it comes to their version of the world. As a result, children are often in even more danger.

And we know that our narrator believes what he says because he gives us so much sense evidence. He knows what he has seen, smelled, heard, touched, and tasted. He lives in the memory of the Erlking. For this reason, he warns parents not to keep the big secrets from their children. The Erlking exists in many forms, the most fanciful of which is his horned crown and ambiguous mouth. But he could be anyone. Children, heed your parents. Parents, heed your children.


Review: Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, and Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict, both by Laurie Viera Rigler

Hello, everyone. My name is Lauren, and I am a Jane Austen addict. (All chime in with a staggered "Hi Lauren.")

I was not aware that there was so much Jane Austen-related time-traveling fiction. I suppose it is only to be expected. After all, what Janeite wouldn't want to travel back to the Regency era, even if only for a day, and meet some reasonable facsimile of Darcy or Knightley or even a Willoughby? It's okay to admit it. With the recent release of the BBC miniseries "Lost in Austen," that desire has, I'm sure, become more of a desperate need. And that series is, I find, the closest thing that I may compare these books to.

But instead of two women stepping through a threshold in a bathroom, into fictional England (and Amanda forever resigning herself to a life inside of a book), here one soul seems to stretch itself out across the ceaseless expanse of seamless time, reverse its polarity, and contract over our story. As a result, a 32 yr old from Los Angeles who hits her head in 2009 ends up switching bodies, accents and cellular memories with a 30-year-old British woman in 1813. Some sort of shape-shifting gypsy seems to be at the root of the issue, but the fact is they've both hit their heads in their respective centuries. This has to be fate.

The two novels are meant to be read back-to-back and in order. So read Confessions first. If you reverse it, you'll be completely lost and probably somewhat disappointed. Let the story tell itself, don't go seeking answers by trying to read them in-tandem. If you do that, not only will you confuse yourself, but you won't get the answers you're looking for. Best to wait until you've finished both.

In Confessions, we follow our modern Janeite (Courtney Stone) who has been dropped into the body and living of a Jane Mansfield. Whilst there, we're treated to a good deal of historical "behind the scenes" business of everyday life in 1813, making it a great deal similar to that bit of fluff I read last week, What Would Jane Austen Do?

But it's not the same. At first, getting into Courtney's head was kind of disheartening because she seemed so much less educated than Laurie Brown's heroine. The way she thought and conversed was much more "idle-movie-watching-Janeite" than "fanciful-book-reading-Janeite" and I almost put the book down. But as she began to remember her host's life and as she started fumbling through her relationships, I took pity on her. She began to try and make amends with Jane Mansfield's would-be-fiance, and I started to realize how very like Amanda Price she was, except that Jane Mansfield is no fictional character with a script to be carried out. This plot is much more reliant on the presence of fate and of free will. Once Courtney/Jane begins to exercise that free will, she's much more likable.

As for Jane Austen, since she hasn't written this script, one wonders where she will turn up - and whether she is only a host, herself, for this proverbial literary Star Trek convention. In Laurie Brown's book, the heroine agrees to go back in time with the promise of potentially meeting Austen. In these novels, those for whom fate stretches time have no choice and no motives in trading places, but in a way the outcome is similar. For Courtney, she does in fact run into Jane Austen and scares the poor woman with her talk of novels that have not been published and knowing that she is the lady authoress, and foretelling all sorts of fame for the poor spinster who only wished to buy gloves that afternoon. For Jane Mansfield who - as you may have guessed - is now residing in Courtney's body in 2009, her introduction is a little different.

In Rude Awakenings we follow poor Jane Mansfield whose very first morning in 2009 is spent in more confusion than a newborn. Of all places, quiet country Jane has been dropped into Los Angeles. Poor girl. Jane is quite a different Austen fan. Being from 1813, there are only 2 Austen novels published - Pride & Prejudice, and Sense & Sensibility. So when she arrives in a land where there are 6 full-length Austen novels, and countless film representations, one imagines it is quite as fulfilling as meeting Austen, herself.

In a way, I enjoyed Rude Awakenings more. That could be because I already had the backstory of the first book and wasn't feeling my way around 2 characters as I had to in the first one. But even taken out of the context of these particular novels, Jane Mansfield is already of an age. She's period - so her reactions to the world are a little more predictable, and even then, a little more interesting. In "Lost in Austen" we don't really see how Amanda adapts to Georgian England. We get that she does, but were it not for Darcy, she would have gone back home and brushed her teeth and enjoyed the 21st century. But we do see Elizabeth Bennet embrace her modern life quite well.

And I think in a way that's why Jane's stumbling around 2009 was more interesting - she has very few memories from Courtney (in the beginning at least), but there's a great deal to be said of cellular memory. Courtney's had a computer for probably 15 years. Her keyboard memory is, well, key. Jane doesn't even need to look at the letters when she steps into this host, because it's all, uh, spelled out for her. And with that, she has the world at her fingertips. Anything she wants to know, she can find it on the internet. Would that the internet had existed in 1813 - Courtney might have had an easier time of things. Cellular memory of embroidery and dancing can only get her so far.

The humor of the second book made its writing feel superior to the first. It's much funnier watching Jane stumble around as Courtney and finding out what vodka is, than it is to watch Courtney, in Jane's lithe and well-balanced body, fret about the sanitary conditions of Bath. It's understandable, it's just not really funny. We also don't really understand the outcome of the first book until the very end of the second. What will happen to Courtney and Jane? What about the memories they've still not regained? Will they be able to change back to their own bodies, their own time? Do they even want to? What about Courtney's ex-fiance Frank? Will things ever get settled with him? And what of our shape-shifting gypsy? The novels took me a day apiece to read. Even if you don't read that fast, they're worth picking up.

Special thanks to Gevalia Coffe from Gevalia Kaffee. I fell asleep writing this blog last night and woke up to all sorts of repeated rows of letters and misspelled words. Fortunately, Gevalia sent me a little sample of their signature blend, and even more fortunately I own a french press. I only dozed off once this morning while typing this all out. Yay coffee.

Next up, Nocturnes by John Connelly, because if I read another Austen-related novel this week, I'll never get the 1813 vocabulary and phrasing out of my head. Seriously. Yesterday, someone called the office to see if they could exchange into today's performance of Bye Bye Birdie, which is sold out. I told them "I sincerely apologize, but as the production is reaching its conclusion it is becoming increasing unlikely that we shall have the pleasure of securing your attendance at tomorrow's performance." And it doesn't help that I watched the most recent film adaptation of Sense & Sensibility yesterday, either.


Review: What Would Jane Austen Do? by Laurie Brown

I promise there will not be many of these. I'm not wholly into the whole 300-page trashy romance novel with only about 8 pages worth actually reading, thing. That's my best friend, Ali. She can tell you all about Nora Roberts (Eleanor Robertson, who also writes as J.D. Robb) and her tawdry characters with their tawdry affairs.

Reading this book wasn't about that...so I'm going to skip bringing up anything around pages 197, 249, 287 and also the last 3 chapters. No, reading this book was only inherently about the tawdry affairs of others. Appropriately, it was about something bigger, the development of Jane Austen as a character in modern-regency crossover fiction. That subject is, of course, somewhat boring. So I'll go back to the inherent nature of the book.

It's a fun bit of fluff that neither bored me (contrary to my anticipations), nor shocked me. It was nothing out of the common way in its storytelling, and it retained the happy ending that so many of these romances tend to latch onto. I did actually enjoy the inclusion of Jane Austen into the story itself, but I do wish she'd been somewhat more centrally figured. It was well-balanced and well-meted in its speed and delivery, and it is barely shocking at all.

Though, I find it amusing to read some other reader reviews from librarything where some of them have been shocked. It's frightening to know that some Janeites have focused so much of their intent upon being Janeites, that they've forgotten to be women. The tawdry bits are really not so bad. But I can see how, coming from a world of reading Jane Austen and her contemporaries, one might wish to remain in the dark. But sex, especially in novels, is nothing to be ashamed of, nor to run and hide from. It's not hurting Jane Austen's reputation, it's not hurting yours and it's certainly not hurting mine. If I hadn't had Ali to really induct me into the world of this kind of literature, I might be just as wary, but therein the cost of education.

Next Up, appropriately, Confessions of  Jane Austen Addict.


Review: The Matters at Mansfield, or The Crawford Affair, by Carrie Bebris

After Ms. Bebris' last novel, North by Northanger, I wasn't quite sure what to think. The first two novels had been a bit of a thrill, but the third was somewhat limp and predictable. I ordered the fourth installment in the Mr. & Mrs. Darcy Mysteries at the beginning of this month and watched for it in the mail frantically. When, after two weeks, it still had not arrived I panicked and started contacting the company to find out what had happened. Happily, it eventually arrived on the 16th. I had it in my hands yesterday and read the entire thing today.

I'm happy to report that it was not only my anticipation, nor only my wealth of time at work today that let me finish the novel in one day. The story is actually quite good. Ms. Bebris has improved her methods and has certainly made the plot, as they say, thicken. Much in the way that Pamela Aidan did in her Mr. Darcy, Gentleman series, Ms. Bebris has breathed life into Anne de Bourgh, making her as real and a vivid character as if we knew her like we know Elizabeth. And she is not the only secondary or tertiary character getting a second chance at life. After all, she ends up marrying Henry Crawford!

Henry Crawford, cad and rake that he is, has always held a soft spot in my heart. I'm sure much of that spot takes root in the fact that, in the Rozema film, Crawford is portrayed by Alessandro Nivola, who is beautiful. But also, I found upon reading Mansfield Park for the second time that while he plays the second string with a technical skill akin to Willoughby, Wickham, Frank Churchill and Mr. Elliot, his motives make the music sound so much sweeter. Jane Austen sets it all up for us. We know, before anyone else, that his end will be bittersweet.
      "He was in love, very much in love; and it was a love which,
      operating on an active, sanguine  spirit, of more warmth than
      delicacy, made her affection appear of greater consequence,
      because it was witheld, and determined him to have the glory,
      as well as the felicity, of forcing her to love him."
      (Mansfield Park, Vol. 3, Ch. 2)
Anyone who knows anything knows that Austen's heroines (pale and weak as some of them may be) shall not be forced into love, even by a man who loves as fervently as Henry Crawford.

All of that being said, Ms. Bebris has given us quite the puzzle to work out. She has highlighted his character to such a degree that even someone who despises him must come to like him a little. After all, he seeks to save Anne and succeeds in doing so, though it does not have the ending that he, nor anyone, expected. I enjoyed this novel so very much because it actually kept me guessing. When a man is murdered I was sure I knew who the culprit was, based on the previous books in the series, but I was wrong. Not only that, but I was waiting for the supernatural aspect to hit. In book one, it was some sort of bayou witchcraft, in book two it was a cult, in the third book it lent itself to religion. This novel had no magic, but I mean that in a good way.

I don't mean to say that it was not cohesive, nor that it lacked the proper vivacity. What I mean is that there's literally no magic. Yes, there's a mystery and for a moment I thought for sure there were going to be zombies, but it turned out to be a good old fashioned whodunnit mystery with people killing people. It was like being in the middle of MurderWatch Mystery Theatre, starring Lady Catherine de Bourgh, her soliciter, a mystery guest at the inn, Mr. & Mrs. Darcy, Mr. Crawford, Anne Crawford (neé de Bourgh), Colonel Fitzwilliam, Sir Thomas, and the feeble old Lord Sennex. This was a treat. Great, now this will be in my head.

In parting, because I know many people dislike Henry Crawford, I just want to quote some more Austen, because I feel that in doing so I am doing justice to his character, as Ms. Bebris has in this book.
      "In this world, the penalty is less equal than could be wished; but
      without presuming to look forward to a juster appointment
      hereafter, we may fairly consider a man of sense like Henry
      Crawford, to be providing for himself no small portion of vexation
      and regret--vexation that must rise sometimes to self-reproach,
      and regret to wretchedness--in having so requited hospitality,
      so injured family peace, so forfeited his best, most estimable and
      endeared acquaintance, and so lost the woman whom he had
      rationally, as well as passionately loved."
      (Mansfield Park, Vol. 3, Ch. 17)
Yes, that's one sentence.

Next up, What Would Jane Austen Do? by Laurie Brown, a tawdry romance that will probably bore me to tears, and at the same time fulfill my need for lusty fiction.


Review: Jane Austen Ruined My Life, by Beth Pattillo

When I set out to read this book, I didn't bother to read the back. It left me in anticipation of what kind of disheartening conclusion the narrator must have come to, to inspire the title and events of this quick 270-page read.

As most people would expect, it begins with the aftermath of a romantic betrayal. I say it is expected because many people credit Jane Austen with being their rock and resource in the world of courtship and love, and the betrayal of something that Jane would have inspired would indeed lead to ruin. Our narrator, Emma Grant, has recently divorced from her husband whom she found, shall we say, "laying the table," and as a direct result she has also been ousted from the academic community. She determines then and there to take up the hopeless task of discovering the lost letters of Jane Austen and exposing her as a fraud who lived a sad and depressing life, despite what her novels touted. Through a series of coincidences she manages to take an old friend along for part of the ride.

At first I thought that the book would follow the line of A.S. Byatt's Possession in which the two main characters are tracing the history of two different authors (in this case it would have been Austen and Sir Walter Scott) and discover a common history and eventually a lineage between the two that leads directly to one of the main characters. This was not to be so. It does however focus on a period of time from which we have no letters at all from Jane Austen (similar to the situation in Possession), which is akin to Barbara Ker Wilson's The Lost Years of Jane Austen which has Jane travel to Australia during this period. Instead of going a little too far into fantasy, though, we remain in England and the "excerpts" that are eventually discovered do fit in rather well with what history and what letters we do have.

In the end, to me, it felt a little more like reading Lauren Willig's The Secret History of the Pink Carnation while already knowing the story of the Scarlet Pimpernel: I already knew most of the facts, it was simply the introduction of an alternate theory that went along with the facts that was intriguing. The state of things in the novel makes sense because the truth is so very mysterious. We know that, in her adolescence, Jane made up fake entries in the church register, having herself married to three different persons. We are told that Jane's sister Cassandra burned most of Jane's correspondence after her death. We are told that Cassandra passed on a story (to a niece) about Jane having cared for a man on one of her visits by the sea. But that is all we know. Serial hearsay.  Ms. Pattillo takes us through a course of what-if's following that mystery.

Almost every new "fact" that she gives us is very plausible. The book made for an easy read not only because I already knew the facts, but because I wasn't stumbling over new ones. They felt real. They felt as if I were reading them right out of the collection of her letters that we do still have. And along the way we go on a course of healing with the narrator. She mends her heart in a very Jane way and life goes on, just as Jane would have had it. The only bit of material that tripped me up was a "letter" included towards the end in which Ms. Pattillo has Jane writing to Cassandra, from her bed in which she died three days later. "Jane" reassures Cassandra that she has been very happy to have Cassandra by her side for her whole life, that she does not regret living as such, and she goes on to tersely state how the heroes out of 5 of her 6 novels have factored into her life. To me this seemed a bit much. I can't imagine Jane lying in her bed in immense pain, citing herself--and leaving out Edmund altogether at that!

All in all it was a very quick read but very enjoyable. The characters in our narrator's life make one somewhat hopeful. Especially Adam. Adam does not quite fit in to any of Austen's molds, but we know that he functions well as a means to a happy ending. But if there's anything to be taken from this book, it's a reminder of what, to me, Mansfield Park is about (even though Ms. Pattillo seems to ignore Mansfield Park for almost the entire novel): that one should not always go about seeking that happy ending, and ignoring the view along the way. Make sure you appreciate the people taking the journey alongside of you.

Speaking of Mansfield Park, next up, The Matters at Mansfield (Or, The Crawford Affair), by Carrie Bebris - the 4th installment of Bebris' Mr. & Mrs. Darcy Mysteries.

Review: Peter and the Sword of Mercy, by Ridley Pearson & Dave Barry

I've always loved the story of Peter Pan. I grew up watching the Disney cartoon and the VHS we had of Mary Martin in the filmed stage musical. Around the time I turned 10 or 11, I found a copy of J.M. Barrie's novel at a used book store. It was already an old copy, but I didn't care for a new one. I had already cultured a love of old books. I read it for the first time with fervent interest. I'd had no idea that the story of the boy who won't grow up actually extended past the worlds of what the films portrayed. Reading Peter Pan for the first time was like sitting in a fairy garden while the fireflies zoom above my head, whispering their secrets with me, alone.

I've read it a few times since that first time, but once I went to high school I had so much else to do that I nearly forgot about it. So I grew up. Lives do not change so much, you see, from century to century. No matter how much technology we have, people still lose touch, people will still suffer memory loss, time still moves on.

Then two years ago, as a Christmas present, I received a series of books called Peter and the Starcatchers. I had no idea what it was, but my mother had purchased the 3 hardcover books, and the third one was a signed copy. It was explained to me that they were related to Peter Pan, and that they were co-authored by my favorite humorist and journalist, Dave Barry (no relation to J.M. Barrie) and by thrill-writer Ridley Pearson, who has done other work with Disney in recent years. I looked at the Hyperion (Disney) label on the back and groaned inwardly. I was afraid that I was entering into a tawdry Disney mess.

When I took the books home, they stared at me from the bookshelf for 2 weeks before I gave in and began the first one (from which the series takes its name ).

Within a week, I had finished all 3, and I craved more. I immediately took out every single Peter Pan-related work from the New York Public Library. I read the original play, then the other plays written by Barrie. I read Pearson & Barry's supplemental interludes to the series, and then a ton of material on the psychology of the story, etc. The child was back. The series had reawakened the kid I left behind when high school started. She woke and returned to the fairie garden where the story was waiting to be re-attended.

The series takes place about 20 years before the events of Barrie's novel. Wendy's mother (Molly) is the youngest in an almost eternal line of persons meant to protect one of the world's most ancient and most dangerous secrets. How Peter and the other orphans get involved is something I'll leave out since I do strongly recommend the series. I will say, though, that at one point Peter either falls or is thrown from the ship. Molly dives into the ocean and saves him. Peter never forgets this, and once he stumbles upon his eternal youth and ability to fly, he does everything he can to keep Molly safe.

It is, however, the beginning of his tragedy. Molly mustgrow up and, according to this series' mythology, Peter could not leave and grow up to be Robin Williams even if he wants to. Peter, with his love for Molly, is trapped in a boy's body and will never be able to understand his feelings for her. And once she does leave him, one can easily assume the 20 year jump between the end of the third novel and the beginning of Barrie's.

But then, last year, Pearson & Barry published a fourth book in the series - this Peter and the Sword of Mercy. We pick up about 20 years from where we left off. Yes, just before Barrie's story begins. Molly has married George Darling (whom I believe is introduced in the third book, but it could have been earlier; Peter never got along with George). The Darlings have three children--yep. Wendy, John & Michael. And they've never heard of anyone called "Peter Pan."

Now, I haven't read the other novels in about two years so the glow of the starstuff has worn off and I'd forgotten quite a bit. And Pearson isn't really one for exposition. He kind of catches you up along the way instead of briefing you before the story happens. I love him for that. Eventually I remembered it all and I wanted to go back and read them all again! But it seems more right this way. By delaying the fourth book, I feel like Molly. She's grown up, and she's not so much a part of the adventure anymore. It's time for her daughter to step up and save the day with Peter (blushing) by her side. Molly's feelings are much more adult now, though a part of her will always wish that she'd found a way to stay on the island with Peter.

The newest addition to the series retains most of the charm of the first three, but it's not only Molly (and the gang) who has grown up. England has as well. There are phones and giant steamships and underground subway tains. Mollusk Island (what the reader knows to be Neverland) is now separated so much more from the world we know. And the evil's a little bit scarier. And life is a bit more tragic. I said before that one could have easily leapt from the end of the third installment, forward 20 years, and into Barrie's Peter Pan. Not so for this book.

Barrie's Peter has been a boy in Neverland since almost before he can remember. Peter is forgetful. He barely remembers Wendy after an hour, let alone remembering her mother after 20 years. Barrie's Peter is selfish and undeniably vain - faults that could have been easily explained by Molly's leaving him. Peter goes through fairies like candy. Fairies don't live very long and when Barrie takes us forward to when we see Wendy's daughter, Wendy inquires after Tinkerbell, and Peter has no idea who she refers to. Pearson and Barry have the whole island affected by the youthfulness that Peter endures, yet they do not introduce a key character like Tigerlily. And then there's the matter of George Darling. After the events of this novel, there is no way that he would act with the ignorance and fervor that he does in Barrie's story.

So what does all this mean? Are we meant to assume that J.M. Barrie's version is a mere story told by Wendy as an elaborate ruse? The end of the book leaves it open to a potential fifth book, but the evil of the first four has been dealt with soundly. There's not very far to go--Wendy cannot get much older between this and the original tale. So where do we go? It leaves me unsure. But if there's a fifth book, it'll definitely make it onto my shelves. Perhaps all of the discrepancies will be fixed and the questions answered. If, however, they're not planning a fifth book, then I should forever wonder why I have two distinct and unresolved versions of Peter in my mind.


Review: Venetian Holiday, by David Campbell

I usually keep my "thriller" reading to a minimum. The closest I get to it most of the time is my fantasy reading: series like the Kingdom Keepers, Harry Potter and Star Wars. Back when Dan Brown became popular I changed my tune for a very long night of reading and read The DaVinci Code in about 10 hours. I then spent the next two months sneaking in snippets of Angels & Demons between reading for school and working on shows.

Years later, I recognize them for what they are -- well written and certainly page-turners, but really just shells compared to what I'm used to. They're written to sell and be read quickly so that the public gets it out of the way and craves more. They're not written to be classics. At some point last year I had nothing to read at work and I wandered into the lending library and found a hardcover copy of The Pelican Brief. Yet another one that was enjoyable but little more than a shell of the depth I'm used to. To me, novels such as these feel like a puppet show with puppets made of marble and curtains made of history papers. Lasting, expensive, well-researched, but with no real life to them. David Campbell's Venetian Holiday is no different.

It's your basic art heist shindig. Woman with a past is the art thief. Gets betrayed. She messes up. Gets involved with a police inspector by accident. Messes up again. Blows up a building. Comes to terms with herself. Gets saved by the same person who betrayed her. Leaves the country with $1.5 Million. Oh yeah and breaks some statues in a Venetian church. Whoops.

This novel kind of tried to be something else, too, though. And I'm not really sure if the author meant for the added zombie and voodoo business to be amusing--that much is unclear, but it does provide an ample amount of comic relief from the fact that Mr. Campbell likes to repeat things. A lot. Bumbling monks, an abbot subjected to a damp zombie curse that has him somnambulating all over San Sebastian, and a trail of salt in his wake. Those were perhaps my favorite parts. I think the somewhat dead Abbot had more character than many of the novel's other players.

The main character, Kate, is analyzed enough that I feel like she was whole, but her counter the Inspector (Limoni, but you can call me Lemons) is somewhat one-sided. We don't go much further than establishing that he has a nascent pot-belly and he likes old American films (and he seems to attract very very strange women...) The closest thing to a real villain (or at least the only one who seems to know what their motive is)--Robie, a man sent to exert vengeance on Kate for a previous heist--is British and that's about it. I think I spent more time imagining his accent than picturing his character.

And then the "other" villains, whose names are even escaping me now as I struggle to tear the tattered history papers from my brain, kind of wander in and play rogue the whole time. The reader feels like they're the one aspect that no one in the novel has control over, and it feels like the author doesn't retain that control either. The girl is just a spitfire that I can put away. The old guy, though, is a little more disturbing. I remember now, he's referred to as "P.B."....I remember because late in the novel there's a typo and it refers to him as "B.P." and my reaction was "the gas station??" He's....creepy. I would be very surprised if he wasn't modelled after the actor Ian Abercrombie. Kind of Batman's Alfred-gone-bad. He's briefly intriguing, but dies too soon after becoming such that he's almost a waste.

This book wasn't a disappointment because of course I had no expectations. Another one that Rory bought me, more as a gag gift than anything else. Ah, well.

Next up, Peter and the Sword of Mercy. Love.


Review: Mr. Darcy, Vampyre by Amanda Grange

Fitzwilliam Darcy is a vampire (oh, excuse me, vampyre) who can walk/swim/ride a horse/stare broodingly in the sunlight. Oh, Amanda Grange, how very Twilight of you.

I did not plan to read this book. My sister brought it to my attention one day when she called me at work (and I laughed and laughed and laughed). And then she gave it to me for Christmas. The concept alone caused me enough trepidation. But when I realized it was authored by Amanda Grange I was filled with a sense of both curiosity and horror. And not because it's about vamp(y)res. Amanda Grange (www.amandagrange.com -- she ALSO needs a website designer. Geez. C'mon authors! Make it work!) who I'm sure is a lovely woman and who surely writes better fiction than I do, has written many books that I call "mirror" books. These are ones, like Mary Street's The Confession of Fitzwilliam Darcy that give us Jane's novels from the male perspective. In Ms. Grange's case she suggests them as diaries.

I had the misfortune about a year and a half (?) ago of reading her take on Emma (titled, of course, Mr. Knightley's Diary). After reading it, I didn't even want to put it back on my shelves. I handed it down to the lending library at work, hoping to never see it again. It was pretty terrible. Not only was there no passion in it (and I think Mr. Knightley is fairly passionate....especially when portrayed by Jeremy Northam. Yum.) but there was no revelation in it. We learned nothing new. So when I realized I was about to dip my toes into another of Ms. Grange's pools, I was a bit apprehensive.

And rightly so. Though this is not a mirror book. It doesn't live in Jane Austen's world. It's a sequel that begins on Jane & Lizzy's joint wedding day, and moves on from there. So the entire thing is Ms. Grange's creation. And there's no mystery in it at all. We know from the TITLE that Mr. Darcy is, in this incarnation, a vamp(y)re. And unfortunately, the story is not built up with enough drama to make the dramatic irony worth it. Elizabeth is not stupid. Give her clues like 1. oh, a bat. 2. you don't like sunset? 3. hey you were fighting and...where'd they all go and why is your lip bloody? and 4. oh honey why do you look so sad when you look at my neck? ...and she's going to figure it out. Not so for Amanda Grange's Elizabeth. It takes her until page 239 (of 308) to put it all together. Come. On.

Dragging it out does manage to land us in two new countries, but the reader becomes more focused on why Darcy is being a prig and not just being freaking honest with Elizabeth than on anything else. I'm sure Ms. Grange meant for us to take note of her Paris, her French Countryside, her Venezia and her Rome, but the images are skewed by the insignificant storytelling. Our European tour feels more like watching a commercial for Perillo Tours on TV. If Darcy had turned out to be not a vamp(y)re, but Steve Perillo, the book might have actually been interesting.

What is interesting is that Ms. Grange seems to have taken several pages from Stephanie Meyer's book (note to my mother - Stephanie Meyer wrote the Twilight saga). Not only is Darcy a vamp(y)re (no, he does not sparkle, but he is somewhat transparent at sunrise and sunset) who walks around during the day, but he (and his family/friends) don't feed on humans, and Elizabeth is (for lack of a better term and, looking to Ms. Meyer again) Darcy's cantante. While Ms. Meyer's vampires seem to each have their own gift or talent, Ms. Grange's have their own weakness.

For instance, crosses/crucifixes and garlic do not bother Darcy as they would the next vamp(y)re, but he does turn transparent at sunset/sunrise so, you know, people might freak out. And finally, Edward Cullen of the Twilight series was turned because he was ill and Carlisle had made a promise yadda yadda yadda. In this case, Georgiana was dying of the plague and Lady Catherine turned her. Darcy insisted on being turned as well so that he might care for his sister.

And the really big comparison lies in the fact that Ms. Grange's book is driven by the notion that Darcy wants to be able to have a safe and happy life with Elizabeth and allow her to go on being normal blah blah blah and therefore he refuses to go to her at night. So the whole novel is angsty. Just like the entire Twilight saga is driven by the fact that Edward Cullen doesn't want to ruin Bella's life even though he knows he can't live without her and he therefore denies her sex. Until the fourth book, of course.

Unlike in the Twilight series, and I tell you all this in the hopes that you never actually bother to pick this book up, Darcy does not end up making Elizabeth a vamp(y)re. As found in many poorly contrived novels (and Greek tragedies!) there is a deux ex machina who of course saves the day and Darcy becomes just plain old human again and they live happily ever after (excepting the fact that Georgiana is still a vamp(y)re and still looks fifteen and will probably have to live with the Darcys until they die. Whoops. )

Granted, I'm looking at all of this quite sourly from a post-apocalyptic-er....Twilight point of view. If this novel had come out 10 years ago and I'd read it in the midst of my Buffy+Angel=4Eva phase, then the novel would have probably made me weep for the fact that Angel will never be human because if he is then he won't be able to protect Buffy and save the world blah blah blah and I would have cried for days over the fact that Angel can't go to this coast of somewhere in Italy and find this monestary built over a Roman temple, built over something else where there's a petrified forest just waiting to flood and wash away the bite marks on his neck. But thank goodness we're no longer living in the year 2000. And thank goodness David Boreanaz has moved onto bigger and better things - the best being "Bones," the worst being a non-thriller-thriller with a killer nose-bleed film called "Valentine."

Next up, some 229-page ditty called Venetian Holiday because it's somewhat related (uh...Venice?) and because I need to get out of Jane Austen's head for a day and a half. Maybe Steve Perillo will be in this one.

Review: Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters

Part of my enjoying this book's predecessor Pride and Prejudice and Zombies lay in the fact that much of it was plausible given the original material. By this I mean that not much of the work was altered to make way for Zombies. Perhaps the largest indiscretion was handing the Bennett patriarch the task of having his girls trained in China. Obviously, Austen's Bennett family would not have had the means. But in a zombie-ridden world, one does what one must, I suppose. Most of the novel's other issues stem from that root. In Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, the issue is somewhat bigger, and much more overt.

Similar to Zombies, Sea Monsters involves a sort of plague that has hit the world many years before the novel takes place. In the former, it was a plague of mankind; in the latter it is more of a plague on mankind. If you've ever read the source material or seen a film version, it will probably have occurred to you by now that - uh - there's no water involved. Well, okay, if you've seen the Ang Lee version of the film, there are two tremendous rain storms - in the first, Marianne is carried back to Barton Cottage by Willoughby. In the second, Marianne is carried back to Cleveland, the Palmers' estate, by Colonel Brandon. The former happens in the novel, the latter does not. It's installed as a comparison for the movie-goer. Perhaps to win them over to Brandon's side or something. Anyway. No water. So in order to effect this terrific plague on mankind and bring them to the water, the story must change a bit.

For one thing, Devonshire is a county 69 miles in length; it is not an archipelago. London is not an underwater glass-domed city. Colonel Brandon does not have octopus appendages on his face (or anywhere else for that matter. Thanks, Ben Winters. That particular comment at the end of the book was completely unnecessary. Oh and speaking of Ben Winters, his website is utterly nonsensical and very hard to follow. Someone should fix that for him and then tell him to stop adding unnecessary shit to the book when we've already stretched our imaginations quite far. Thanks. www.benhwinters.com )

For the most part, the characters (somewhat alarmingly) tend to ignore the maritime threats. When the swordfish are knocking on the glass dome no one seems to do anything until the last moment. Which brings me to my other point. London does not get destroyed/drowned. The only mayhem in the source material consists of the fuses in Mrs. Jennings' head which seem to drive every action and inaction, every motive and feeling, every conception and every opinion. Speaking of mayhem, I hate to ruin the end of the book for anyone who hasn't read it but chances are you won't get to the end --- I almost didn't.

So... SPOILER ALERT. Barton Cottage is on an island called Pestilent Isle. It's not an island. It's a leviathan. And it would be completely unnecessary, except that Mr. Winters felt the need to both explain Mr. Palmer's character, and give Margaret something to do. UNNECESSARY. In the case of Mr. Palmer, we don't care. Hugh Laurie gives an excellent reading of the role in Ang Lee's film and it makes perfect sense with Imelda Staunton as his wife. If you just go on imagining that Charlotte Palmer neé Jennings is Imelda Staunton, Mr. Palmer needs no explanation. As to Margaret, there's no point in giving her the job of proving that children should be heeded. Margaret is of little to no interest and in enlisting her in such a way that she somehow becomes this manic creature that portends the apocalypse of leviathan's waking, etc.... it's all just so boring. At that point, no one cares. Elinor has got Edward and Marianne already has her reasons to love Brandon. The fight against the sea monsters is not over, there's no need to add a bigger sea monster.

And if sea monsters are such an issue, why doesn't everyone move inland? They never explain why everyone is so conveniently lined up on the coast to be slaughtered and eaten. Sure, it's convenient to the plot, but that shows a lack of creativity, I think.

Oh, and it looks like I'm going to need to replace all of my Signet Classics. I love the smell of an old, worn book as much as the next bibliophile. But My Signet Classics (Persuasion, Northanger Abbey, Sense & Sensibility and Mansfield Park) all smell disgusting. It must be the glue because they smell like vomit. None of my other books smell like that so I know it's not my shelving issues. Just these books. Gross.

Next up, Mr. Darcy, Vampyre by Amanda Grange (blame Rory for that one). I'm a little concerned going into it, but I'll expand on that when/if I finish it.


Review: The Confession of Fitzwilliam Darcy, by Mary Street

Perhaps when it was published back in 1999, this book was a sufficient reflection in Fitzwilliam Darcy's mirror. It's very well-written, captures his voice quite well, and does not draw censure from parties who wish Austen-based novels to remain in pure form. There are no new characters introduced, the time line is in-tact and the silent character development for which Austen laid the foundation is tolerably built up. And in 1999 that was fair. Mary Street was, perhaps, less influenced by Colin Firth than many more recent adaptations and continuations have shown their authors to be.

For instance, in the Colin Firth version of Pride & Prejudice, he has his valet dress him in his green coat when he goes on a solitary ride to Lambton and seeks Lizzy out (just after she has read Jane's letters re: Lydia & Wickham). Also, the scene in that version where Jane says "Mr. Darcy? Does he know our troubles?" and Lizzy goes on to explain that he happened upon her just as she finished the letter, etc. And they discuss how he shall not be renewing his addresses and will make sure his friend, etc.... and the assumption is that Darcy meant to propose again. Okay. Both of these are conjecture on the part of that script.

Ms. Street does not adhere to it. For the former, she refuses to acknowledge any sort of color choice. For the latter, she chooses another cause for his visit in having driven the narrative to its likely conclusions. Instead of a proposal, he has gone to seek out her opinion of Jane's feelings for Bingley so that he knows how to proceed with his friend. Though I must admit, Ms. Street's Darcy -- had he found Lizzy in a less distressing situation -- may have ended up renewing his addresses anyway. But see how her choices are not affected by the new popular culture.

In comparison, Pamela Aidan's These Three Remain (the third book of her Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman series) which covers the second half of Austen's novel, from Darcy's perspective, shows how the Colin Firth Syndrome has spread in more recent years. Her novel from 2005 not only has him about to renew his addresses (in a dashingly romantic and wonderful fashion) but has him select a green coat!

That being said, the purist in me preferred Mary Street's light and reflective first person prose and I enjoyed the expansions of certain characters. But Pamela Aidan's trilogy allows my inner romantic to smother my Janeite purist in her sleep. The distinction I think lies in the target audience. Both sets of people want to read a Darcy-perspective version of P&P. But one group wants to get to the point, the other group wants to enjoy the book. I think that's why Aidan's got not one, but three books to be enjoyed. She doesn't seek to get to the point because she knows her audience is not only made up of staunch Janeites, but of book-lovers. And when, in Aidan's series, Darcy retains the lock of silk embroidery threads that Elizabeth had accidentally left in the library, installed as a bookmark in Milton's Paradise Lost and uses it throughout the series as a charm....the romantic in me stomps all over the purist and cries tears of joy.

But enough of that. Next on the list - Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters.


Review: The Darcy Mysteries (Books 1-3), by Carrie Bebris

I've never really been one for Austen continuations. I read P+P+Zombies because I felt I must. And it's more of an alternate reality than continuation. I read Pamela Aidan's Mr. Darcy, Gentleman Trilogy because they were recommended to me and they are beautifully written and, again, they're of a parallel nature. I've been very stubborn about Austen continuations and Austen fanfiction. I've always been a purist when it comes to my Janeite membership.

But somehow or other I was led to read Carrie Bebris' Darcy mysteries. I believe the suggestion came through librarything.com. I figure a database that has all of the books I've read and what I think of them must have some good suggestions. Turns out, they were right. Unfortunately, I'm only 3 books-in. Ms. Bebris has created a fictional--though logical and realistic and very very appropriate--"ending" to Pride and Prejudice in the form of a series in which Mr. and Mrs. Darcy begin their new lives and (like many couples) experience bump after bump in their new road of life together. But their bumps, in Ms. Bebris' world, are extremely-well-researched mysteries in which the author has managed to pull the Darcys on a fine thread through all of Austen's novels.

The first of these is Pride and Prescience in which the couple is married, only to immediately have Caroline Bingley announce her immediate engagement and impending marriage to an American we have never heard of. And instead of a happy honeymoon, we get a dangerous and murderous mystery that ends up being much more interesting than the smut and fluff that so many other adapters have dragged Austen's characters through. And while the mysticism at the root of the events is a little lackluster, it's enough to make you want to read the next one. The second novel is Suspense and Sensibility which takes an even deeper turn into the darker realms. Now Ms. Bebris is on a roll.

She has literally steamrolled us into Sense and Sensibility but about 15 years later AND has expanded the original story's origins. In this story, the magic is darker and more volatile. This story is much more dangerous and as a result is much more interesting, especially because it expands the character of Kitty Bennett. While the first novel resisted expanding Caroline's character by subduing her through the magic, this one is more willing to take steps beyond the inspiring work and gives Kitty a chance to breathe.

 The third novel is North by Northanger in which our Darcys (now only months away from the birth of their first child) are tied into the story of Northanger Abbey. This one was interesting because there was no man-made magic. Most of the mysticism relies on religious faith and on the trust we place in love. It has its share of mystique, but this one was more predictable to me. I don't know if Ms. Bebris intended the dramatic irony, but I knew right away who the culprit moving things in the bedroom was. Not only that, but I was waiting and waiting and waiting to see who else would be in the novel besides Mr. Henry Tilney (we learn almost immediately that "Frederick" is not actually Frederick so I won't mask that from you). I thought surely that the imposters played as "Frederick" and "Dorothy" must have been in the Northanger story. I scoured my brain and, for the woman I could only come up with one answer. Hence, it was no surprise when Henry recognized her and her companion towards the end of the book. I wanted to love this book and, for all my love of old letters and gardening, I put up a good fight. But it was just a bit too predictable for my tastes. I will say, though, that making the mystery a bit more spiritual and more ABOUT Elizabeth's connection to that spirit did win me over.

Ms. Bebris has finished 2 other novels of the series - The Matter at Mansfield and The Intrigue at Highbury; the former is already out, though I don't have it yet, and the latter is due out in March. I only want for her to get around to adapting Persuasion to her scheme. And I only hope it doesn't involve Sir Walter--though his family ledger would make an interesting starting point. Hmm. Think it over, Ms. Bebris.