Treasure Island!!! by Sara Levine – Book Review

Treasure Island!!! by Sara Levine
Published by Europa Editions

A pet lending library (yes, that it just what it sounds like) is perhaps not the most prestigious place for a college graduate to work, but then again, it wasn’t all the great being an ice cream-scooper or gift-wrapper either. Not only is our unnamed protagonist stuck in the deadest of dead end jobs, but her relationship with her live-in boyfriend (read: the guy she mooches off of) is somewhat sub-par as well. But, while she’s not really happy, she’s also not motivated enough to change anything about how she is living – until she reads Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Never has a book had such a deep and immediate impact on a reader as Treasure Island has on her, that it is life-changing is not even hyperbole. Armed with what she sees as the books Core Values of boldness, resolution, independence, and horn-blowing, our unnamed protagonist is now ready to take on the world with hilarious results that are both predictable (to the reader) and unexpected (to her).

Never has a book been so poorly interpreted as Stevenson’s Treasure Island is by the narrator of Levine’s Treasure Island!!!. Her assessment of the Core Values may not be too far off, but her method of attempting to live them out is, frankly, bizarre, and generally involves taking little to no responsibility for her actions. Now, none of this is in any way meant to be a criticism of Levine’s Treasure Island!!!, she has actually created a wryly story about an incredibly misguided and socially inept girl who completely misses the point of what she considers to be incredibly transformational literature.

Levine’s Treasure Island!!! is fun and funny, and may make you wonder if you have ever completely missed the point of a book. If you’re interested in Levine’s process and how she came to write Treasure Island!!!, check out our interview with her on What’s Old is New.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher, for an episode of What’s Old is New.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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Jane Austen Made Me Do It edited by Laurel Ann Nattress- Book Review

Jane Austen Made Me Do It edited by Laurel Ann Nattress
Published by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House

The past few years in particular have seen a plethora of Jane Austen retellings and adaptations. Many of these adaptations are beloved almost as much as Austen’s original stories are. It is gratifying to see an author who has been dead nearly 200 years inspiring such love and devotion that an entire subgenre has developed out of her work. Laurel Ann Nattress, a lover both of Austen’s original books and the “Austenesque” novels, decided to bring together some of the very best authors in the Austenesuqe subgenre – as well as some other authors who have been heavily influenced by Austen’s work – for a collection of original short stories: Jane Austen Made Me Do It.

Sometimes I’m not sure if there has ever been a review written of a short story collection that does not include the word “uneven.” Unfortunately, there are few short story collections that manage to avoid needing such a designation. That reality becomes particularly obvious when the collection is pulled together from the stories of twenty-two different authors. With the exception of Brenna Aubrey, a new writer whose story was included after she won the Jane Austen Made Me Do It short story contest, most of the featured authors are beloved in their genres.

However, though they are incredibly well-respected, these authors are primarily novelists, and many of them did not transition well into the short story form. The second story in particular, Waiting, read as if it were a scene from a novel, rather than a story in its own right. Waiting stood out the most for this issue, but it was evident in other stories to a lesser degree as well. Interestingly, Aubrey’s story, the one submitted through the short story contest, was one of the best.

Certainly, though, there are bright spots in Jane Austen Made Me Do It, in addition to simply Aubrey’s story. Lauren Willig and Jo Beverley’s stories stand out in particular. The casual fan of Austenesque stories might do better to pick a novel by one of these generally esteemed writers, but die hard fans will find enough to love in Jane Austen Made Me Do It that it is worth buying.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher for an episode of What’s Old is New.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy
Published by Signet Classics, an imprint of Penguin

Recently Nicole and I read The Scarlet Pimpernel for a classics rip episode of What’s Old is New. Now, this isn’t the first time that I had read – or blogged about, for that matter – The Scarlet Pimpernel. Almost three and a half years ago, I read Baroness Orczy’s book alongside Lauren Willig’s flower spy series (as an aside, how is that I have blog posts that are almost 3.5 years old?!?) and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Still, even though it was a relatively recent read, I was afraid that The Scarlet Pimpernel might not hold up, since I’ve probably read 600 books since then.

What I found was that I loved The Scarlet Pimpernel just as much as I did three years ago. As a classic action adventure novel it is an inordinate amount of fun. There are the requisite misunderstandings and thwarted love affairs, dashing heroes rescuing people from certain death, and a villain readers will love to hate.

Of course, nobody is going to be super surprised that I enjoyed The Scarlet Pimpernel since I loved it three years ago and suggested it for this classics rip episode. Nicole was a skeptic, though, and only really agreed to read it at all because I told her it was very short. If you want to know if she liked it too, though, you’ll have to listen to the episode.

By the way, in this episode we also announced a contest for the first person who can recommend to us a Dickens book we actually both like. If you have suggestions, please add them to the comments on the episode.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Personal copy.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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The School of Night by Louis Bayard

The School of Night by Louis Bayard
Published by Henry Holt & Co, an imprint of Macmillan

On a recent episode of What’s Old is New, Nicole and I had the pleasure of speaking to Louis Bayard about his latest book, The School of Night. The School of Night is a dual time period piece, the modern piece dealing with rare manuscript collectors and the historical piece dealing with a secret society of Elizabethan scholars who took their name from a line in one of Shakespeare’s plays. Shakespeare himself plays an integral role in The School of Night.

Louis had a lot of fascinating things to say about the influence that classic authors continue to have today, but that isn’t terribly surprising, considering the homages he has included to so many classic authors in his published work.

In The Pale Blue Eye, Edgar Allen Poe helps Bayard’s main character solve the mysterious death of one of Poe’s associates. Unlike the other books which focus on the real men themselves, Mr. Timothy reimagines as an adult one of the best known characters in Western literature: Charles Dickens’s Timothy Cratchit.

Bayard’s thoughts on the continuing importance of the classics, especially their importance for modern authors, is truly inspiring and I encourage you all to listen to this episode. Just a warning, though, it may cause you to add to your TBR pile.

Buy The School of Night from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher, for an episode of What’s Old is New.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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When She Woke by Hillary Jordan – Book Review

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan
Published by Algonquin Books

After The Great Scourge, abortion is considered an especially heinous crime as the country tries to recover its birthrate. Women who get abortions have their skin turned red through the process of melochroming, a sentence that eliminates the need for the government to house the convicted, while still allowing the citizenry to feel safe from criminals. Hannah Payne finds herself a Red after aborting her baby. She would never have done so, but if she had given birth to a child out-of-wedlock, she would have been compelled to name the father, and she simply cannot do that to the man she loves. Naming her child’s father would have destroyed both his personal and public life. Now Hannah must decide what life looks like as the shamed woman she now is.

When she woke, she was red. Not flushed, not sunburned, but the solid, declarative red of a stop sign. -p. 1

If Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale had a slightly futuristic baby, it would be When She Woke. Jordan makes it quite clear that this is a retelling of The Scarlet Letter, not only giving Hannah a situation and name very similar to Hawthorne’s Hester Prynne, but when Hannah is compelled to name the baby she would have had, she calls her Pearl, which was Hester’s daughter’s name as well.

Unlike Hawthorne, however, Jordan is not content to deal just in the themes of sin and legalism. Instead, she goes deeper into her protagonist’s life to focus on personal choice, agency, and faith. At one time Hannah was a faithful, Christian girl in a conservative society. After her fall for something that initially seemed so heaven-sent, she has an entirely understandable crisis of faith and must decide whether she and God have abandoned one another, or if she can make sense out of her faith and what her life has become.

While there are some moments of the book that lose steam, the story is an incredibly compelling one overall, and a likely a modern classic in its own right. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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