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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A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz – Audiobook Review

A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz, narrated by Sean Pratt
Published in audio by Penguin Audio, published in print by Penguin Press

Deresiewicz was recently interviewed on the podcast I cohost, What’s Old is New

Synopsis:

When Bill Deresiewicz was in graduate school, he knew exactly the authors he wanted to study, including among them some of the manlier men of literature in the 20th century. Jane Austen was nowhere on his list of authors that intrigued him. In fact, when he was finally assigned one of her works, Emma, for class he was annoyed just thinking of the girly drivel he was going to have to read. And then something happened.

After complaining about the minutia-laden novel for nearly half the book, Deresiewicz had a revelation when Emma behaved cattily towards her friends and neighbors:

By creating a heroine who felt exactly as I did, and who behaved precisely as I would have in her situation, she was showing me my own ugly face…. Austen, I realized, had not been writing about everyday things because she couldn’t think of anything else to talk about. She had been writing about them because she wanted to show how important they really are. All that trivia hadn’t been marking time until she got to the point. It was the point. Austen wasn’t silly and superficial; she was much, much smarter – and much wiser – than I could have imagined. -p. 12 (Emma)

This realization changed Deresiewicz’s life in more ways than one. First, it transformed his interactions with friends and family:

There was one more thing about my life that had to change, now that I’d read Emma: my relationships with the people around me. Once I started to see myself for the first time, I started seeing them for the first time, too. I began to notice and care about what they might be experiencing, and they began to develop the depth and richness of literary characters. -p. 36-37 (Emma)

Perhaps more importantly, though, this experience with the transformative power of Jane Austen’s work led Deresiewicz into a life-long love affair with Austen that would teach him what it really meant to be a human being.

Thoughts on the story:

Part memoir, part literary criticism, and part Austen biography, A Jane Austen Education is an absolutely wonderful little book. Particularly impressive was the balance Deresiewicz struck while explaining the revelations Jane Austen brought him. It is not uncommon in this sort of memoir for either the events/books or the lessons to feel shoehorned in. This was simply not the case in A Jane Austen Education. Every lesson seemed to be authentically in tune with what was happening in Deresiewicz’s life at the time.

In addition to outlining the lessons learned, A Jane Austen Education also serves to educate the reader about Austen and her work. A number of biographical details are included in order to ground Austen’s oeuvre in her reality. Also offered was a scholar’s understanding of Austen’s work, including a comparison of Austen and her great detractor Charlotte Bronte that I myself found revelatory in understanding why I enjoy Jane Austen and couldn’t really stand Jane Eyre:

In Pride and Prejudice, reason triumphs over feeling and will. In Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte’s own typically Romantic coming-of-age story, emotion and ego overcome all obstacles. Those of us who chose Pride and Prejudice couldn’t imagine how you could stand to read anything as immature and overwrought as Jane Eyre. Those who chose Jane Eyre couldn’t believe that you would subject your students to something as stuffy and insipid as Pride and Prejudice. -p. 70 (P&P)

Thoughts on the audio production:

Sean Pratt did a fabulous job narrating what at times was a really very personal memoir. Like all of the best memoir narrators, he became Deresiewicz for the duration of the audiobook, to the point where I was momentarily taken aback when I spoke to Deresiewicz for What’s Old is New and he sounded different than the voice who had relayed his story to me

For a more completely review of this as an audiobook, please see my review for Audiofile Magazine.

Overall:

Highly recommended in either print or audio for fans of Jane Austen, or anyone who is interested in the power of literature to shape lives.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Print*
Indiebound: Print*
Audible.com

Source: Audiofile Magazine.
* 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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Madame Bovary’s Daughter by Linda Urbach – Book Review

Madame Bovary’s Daughter by Linda Urbach
Published by Bantam, an imprint of Random House

Berthe Bovary is perhaps one of the most interesting characters in Madame Bovary, if only by the virtue of being one of the least developed. Finding herself a penniless orphan at the end of her parents’ story, Berthe goes off to her grandmother’s house and then to a workhouse, and then Flaubert feels no need to tell us anything else about her.

It is at this point that Linda Urbach picks up Berthe’s story, beginning with her moving to her grandmother Bovary’s house. Urbach balances the beginning of her story quite well, addressing both Berthe’s current situation and some of the background of her parents’ story. In fact, Berthe’s memories lend additional depth and meaning to moments of Emma’s story, such as the moment when Emma is effectively dumped by her first lover.

“Felicite gave Berthe one of the apricots to eat. Beautiful as it was to the eye, the flesh of the fruit was pulpy and strangely without flavor or sweetness.” -p. 108

Berthe is an engaging character, and her story is an interesting one. As a young woman finding her footing, it follows very well from her mother’s story that she would be attracted to the world of fashion, growing up surrounded by Emma Bovary’s beautiful clothing and then going to having nothing. Unfortunately, Madame Bovary’s Daughter suffered a bit from the at malady of historical fiction where the character becomes involved in every major advancement in his or her field.

“What followed was to be known thereafter as the world’s first fashion show. After much commotion, Worth’s models came out one by one, dressed in his most recent creations.” -p. 391

Of course, Berthe’s character is associated with this leader in the world of fashion at the time, but that doesn’t go quite far enough to explain just how influential she is claimed to be.

That historical fiction foible notwithstanding, Madame Bovary’s Daughter is a fun book that provides some much needed closure to Berthe’s story. Recommended.

Nicole and I had the opportunity to speak with Linda for our most recent episode\ of What’s Old is New, a show about Madame Bovary.

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 White Devil by Justin Evans – Book Review

The White Devil by Justin Evans
Published by Harper Books, an imprint of HarperCollins

Andrew Taylor is on his last chance. After getting in trouble time and time again back at home, Andrew has been shipped overseas to Harrow School in London, with the promise that if he steps out of line again, he will be disowned. It becomes obvious very quickly that Andrew can’t escape trouble, when students begin dying and getting desperately ill. Somehow this is all linked to Andrew, and the fact that he is a spitting image of the school’s most famous student – Lord Byron. Suddenly Andrew must court the very trouble he was hoping to avoid to solve the mystery of Lord Byron’s past and figure out how to save his own life in the present.

Evans has written a spooky and engaging story. The way he melds Byron’s story with Andrew’s is smooth and effortless, bringing the past into the present in a truly horrifying way.  I love the idea that it is only by solving the mysteries of history that Andrew can save himself, it brings to life the ways in which the past influences our lives today – even if the past is not typically so visceral, in more ways than one. Byron is not a literary figure I know much about, but The White Devil inspired me to learn more about him and even try his work (although I only made it about a page into Childe Harold when I did try).

Any book that can alternately terrify me and interest me in literary history is a winner no matter how you slice it. 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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