Tag Archives: Reviews

Ranking Recent Pride and Prejudice Retellings

In my end of the year reviews for 2019, I compiled a list of all the Jane Austen retellings I read during the year. Though extensive, the list barely touched the surface of available “Pride and Prejudice Variations”–a genre that continues to grow with the increase in popularity of self-publishing and fan-fiction. In the list, I mentioned two recently popular ethnic Pride and Prejudice retellings and a third one I was eyeing that I finally finished last month.

So, time has come for a more thorough review of the three popular modern, ethnic P&P retellings published in 2019.  Added bonus that  y’all are probably quarantined and want something interesting to read. I present: Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin,  Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal,  and Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev. 

Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin

Ayesha at Last presents the most “realistic” P&P retelling. Set in Canada, it follows two Muslim immigrant/refugees from India (possibly Pakistan but my notes say India) and contrasts Khalid (the Mr. Darcy character) who is a very traditional Muslim with Ayesha (the Elizabeth Bennet) who is equally devout but a bit more liberal in her faith (i.e. wears a hijab instead of a full burka.) While following the familiar P&P plot, the story deals with racism, stereotyping, forced marriages, and a variety of other emotionally weighty topics. 

Pros:

  • Lovely, diverse characters that exist as people and not as tokens
  • Genuine emotions and discussions about stereotypes and cultural expectations
  • The blending of cultures and the immigrant/refugee experience (Canada/India)
  •  Lovely couple/romance (they are both a little awkward but they mesh well and believably)
  • Subtle Pride and Prejudice retelling (especially at the beginning. There aren’t random P&P scenes or quotes shoved in unnecessarily.

Cons:

The book attempts to be both a social commentary and a “swoon-worthy” Jane Austen retelling and because it tries to be both, it fails at both. On the one hand, the author directly confronts issues of racism, stereotyping, and human rights abuses, even and especially within the Islamic faith. On the other hand, she is writing a Jane Austen retelling where everything must end with Happily Ever After. The result is dissatisfying. As a look at Muslims and much of the inner and outer challenges they face, it falls short because it veers into drama…possible kidnapping, trafficking, wrongful termination, embezzlement, etc. Which then feels extra weird when everything wraps up with a bow.  But as a Jane Austen retelling, it lacks the romantic punch that makes you swoon at the end because it takes itself so seriously and handles such mature themes. 

3.5/5 stars

Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal

Unmarriageable takes place in Pakistan and also involves Muslim characters, but it presents a much less hard-hitting exposé. Or any exposé, really, at all. It is the drama and fun of P&P, but in modern day Pakistan with Mr. Darcy as Valentine Darsee–a young jet-setter in town for a wedding–and Alys Binat, a rural school teacher from a once wealthy family. He’s got pride. She’s got prejudice. You know the drill. 

Pros:

This was a fun read. It is ridiculous at times and sometimes felt like a poor quality Crazy Rich Asians, but the story flowed well. I mean, the reason I love P&P retellings is because they give me a familiar story but in a slightly different setting, and this does just that. Five sisters. Three suitors. Lots of miscommunication. Sign me up! 

As a sort of pro and sort of con, the author frequently has characters rattle on about Pakistani movies, music, and literature. The goal, I assume, is to pique your curiosity and make you more interested in Pakistani culture. But too often it came across as reading a Comparative Literature syllabus for undergrads–not quite informative enough to be useful but still mildly informative. 

Cons:

There is something weirdly meta about reading a story where the characters live in a universe where Pride and Prejudice exists and they discuss it and yet don’t see how their own lives perfectly mirror the novel. Like, sure, pretend names like Binat, Darsee, and Bingla have nothhhinnnnggggg in common with Bennet, Darcy, and Bingley. I see you. Pure coincidence that there are five Binat daughters who behave exactly like their literary counter-points. The story also contrasts weirdly with Ayesha At Last because while the characters are nominally Muslim, they’re extremely loose Muslims. As an example, alcohol gets consumed frequently and the story ends by praising the Jane and Elizabeth characters for “requesting the right of divorce” on their wedding day. I struggled to understand what tone the author was going for. 

3/5 stars

Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev

Unlike the other two, Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors does not really play the ethnic card as much as I expected. Set in the United States, the Darcy character comes from a family of immigrants from India but the main connection to the country mostly revolves around eating Indian food. And the Elizabeth Bennet character comes from England and works as a Michelin chef in France. But this story has other things going for it because…

Pros:

THIS IS A GENDER BENDER STORY! The Darcy character is actually the female (a brain surgeon named Trisha) and Elizabeth Bennet the male (the chef, DJ Caine.) It shakes things up a bit and adds several new layers to the story. Now she’s got pride and he’s got prejudice. Though it nominally follows the P&P plot (complete with a female Wickham!), the real drama centers on DJ’s sister, a painter about to lose her sight to a brain tumor and the fight to make her realize that life is still worth living even without her sight. And, oh yeah, something something about Trisha’s family…

Cons:

Trisha’s family is priming her brother to become the next governor of California and they blame Trisha for something the Wickham character did years ago that could ruin his campaign…yada, yada. It is all over-the-top and didn’t hold my interest very well. Romance also got unnecessarily edgy near the end. Unlike the other two, I don’t have as many “concrete” complaints for this story except that the Wickham story line made me roll my eyes so hard they got stuck in the back of my head. 

3/5 stars

 

 

Have you read any of these? What rating did you give them?


Cozy and Popular How?!: My 1 Star Reads from 2019 (Part 3)

In which I pay penitence by confessing to all the books I finished and hated in 2019. Part 3.

How To Marry a Marquis by Julia Quinn

I won’t repeat my Goodreads rant about novels that create heroes only barely better than villains but I will say that this otherwise mediocre Regency romance irritated the snot out of me with an entitled jerk for a hero who rages until the heroine agrees to wed him. 

Starting Now by Debbie Macomber

I really need to take a vow not to read any more books that have a female attorney as the main character. They are universally terrible. This was a mediocre read that jumped right onto my “hate” list by having a stereotypical female attorney as the main character and tackling questions about career and motherhood with a heavy-handed horribleness that left me wanting to go work more billable hours. Awkward and overdone and all the romances sucked.

Naughty Neighbor by Janet Evanovich

I give the relationship a year. I thought maybe I could shuffle this one under 2 or 1.5 stars but the ending just left me gagging. The “political thriller” bit totally fell apart. The relationship itself is all lust and hormones. It won’t last. And if it does? Well, I’d be sad for the heroine. She gets the short end of the deal. She should dump the loser and go to law school. 

The Big Kahuna by Janet Evanovich

Despite the fact that Evanovich appears on this list twice, I actually was really enjoying her Fox and O’Hare series. They consistently received 4 stars from me. Then this book happened. The biggest problem? This is a heist series but this is not a heist book. The jokes fall flat and the characters pretend like the last two books never happened. Evanovich switched co-writers for this one and I’m wondering if that is where it went wrong. 

Rumble on the Bayou by Jana Deleon

In general I enjoy Jana Deleon’s cozy mysteries but this one fell quite flat. It is basically a reverse Louisiana Longshot. Instead of a female government agent in a small Louisiana town sparking up a romance with the overly qualified and good looking male deputy, it is a male government agent in a small Louisiana town sparking up a romance with an overly qualified and good looking female deputy. Even the towns come across interchangeably. Except where Louisiana Longshot keeps things lighthearted and funny with a series of quirky side characters, Rumble on the Bayou focuses on the couple and not for the better. 

Belle of the Ball by Pam McCutcheon

Her name means beauty but Belle is not beautiful. Her sister’s name means charming but Charisma is not charmig. Her other sister’s name means grace but Grace is not graceful. If that is the kind of heavy-handed characterization you like, you might like this book. It is full of on-the-nose plot points and awkward, overstated jokes. The best thing this book has going for it is its $0 price tag. 

A Most Extraordinary Pursuit by Juliana Gray

All the technical plot points are there to make this an exciting, fun adventure story but it falls quite short. The problems are twofold: annoying characters and unclear plotting. The heroine demonstrates all of two reactions at any given moment: seasickness or judgment. She’s got the soul of a poet but keeps it firmly in place in case she finds herself tempted to crack a smile. She is joined on her journey by the sort of person one meets so regularly in fiction and so rarely in real life: the irresistible man. And that is about all the depth his character has. Wrapped up with some unclear plot-lines (ghosts? time travel?), this story truly misses the mark.


2019 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reviews, Part 1

I read 319 books in 2019 and quite a few turned out to be gems! Here are some of my favorites.

The Boy With Wings by Berta Ruck

Written in 1915, this novel contains multiple levels. At its most basic, it is the romance of a Welsh girl and her aviator boyfriend. At another level, it is the story of how war came to England from a woman’s perspective. And finally, at an even deeper level, it is a work that provided social identity to women in a rapidly changing era. I honestly think it should rank as a classic and I cannot believe there are only two reviews of it on Goodreads (and one is mine!) I did not necessarily like the story, but I am amazed by how it captures emotions I still feel–and don’t always know how to express–over a hundred years later. The writing’s very timelessness makes it beloved.

Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians by Martin Luther

Martin Luther writes about Paul as one writes about a mutual friend. It brought passages I thought I was pretty well familiar with to light in new ways. I found it a wonderful reminder of the power of justification by faith alone and the work overall uplifting, thought-provoking, and encouraging.

EntreLeadership: 20 Years of Practical Business Wisdom from the Trenches by Dave Ramsey

Dave Ramsey is obviously a very familiar name in financial circles and in EntreLeadership he talks about what it takes to to succeed as a leader, manager, and entrepreneur. This is a pretty foundational read and full of relevant advice and experience. He comes across curmudgeonly at times and I personally would never want to work for him, but I sure enjoyed learning about how he structures incentive and such. This was particularly good as an audio book. 

Daring to Hope: Finding God’s Goodness in the Broken and the Beautiful by Katie Davis Majors

I really love Katie’s first book Kisses from Kate and her second memoir did not disappoint. For those not familiar with her story, Katie did a ‘gap year’ in Uganda…and  ended up staying and adopting 13 orphan girls. Katie experiences more pain and suffering daily than I think most of us ever will fully know. But the point isn’t the magnitude of pain, but the commonality of wondering where God is amidst the pain. Katie opens up about her heartbreak. She writes of losing children and watching friends die, of unanswered prayers and unexpressed doubts. She writes of the gospel and the prophets and patriarchs and in doing so reveals the many cries of God’s people within the Bible. Although different in scope and nature, it reminded me of C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed. Powerful, strengthening, and inspiring.

On Fairy-Stories by J.R.R. Tolkien

“Very little about trees as trees can be got into a play.” A lovely essay about truth and fairy tales and creation and…oh, everything worth thinking about. I want to memorize every word. (Though admittedly, this is an area I’m interested in so I was predisposed to love it.) An excellent read following Letters to a Diminished Church by Dorothy L Sayers. The two works touch on the Christian’s role as creator, but in very different ways.

In Plain Sight: Impunity and Human Rights in Thailand by Tyrell Haberkorn

I recommend this book to anyone seriously interested in human rights violations and the way a nation can zealously uphold human rights in name while simultaneously violating them in reality. While this book centers on Thailand specifically, the author does an incredible job describing a universal reality. He describes the class attitudes that uphold the rights of some but not others. Interspersed with theory and facts, he tells compelling stories of human rights violations in Thailand. Throughout he holds that human rights violations did not appear and disappear with each coup d’etat, but rather existed consistently throughout them all. Besides containing a great combination of stories, data, and theory, In Plain Sight was very well written. I read it in one sitting. Great topic sentences! Engaging and well worth the time. 


My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business by Dick Van Dyke

(Wrote this review a few weeks ago but honestly it is this or my rambles about the evidence quiz I just completed. Consider yourself fortunate.) 

My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business by Dick Van Dyke – 2/5 stars

I struggle with giving this book a low rating: I mean, it is Dick Van Dyke! He is classic. He is defining. We all cheered loudly when he appeared in Mary Poppins Returns because he is, simply, an icon of multiple generations now. Picking up this book, my question was not if it would be great but how great.

The thing is…there is not much of interest here. Oh, I suppose as a recap of Dick Van Dyke’s life it is interesting enough. He worked hard, embraced many cool opportunities, and overcame quite a bit. But it fails to satisfy in any regard.

  • As a look at life in Hollywood, it provides very few details besides a list of people he met, worked with, or particularly liked.
  • As a narrative of his varied acting experiences, he gives very few (almost no) details besides how much he loved the Dick Van Dyke Show. (Did you know everyone thought his co-star was his wife? He will remind you of it. Often.)
  • As a story of his life, it provides the facts but often with little more than you would expect from a Wikipedia page. His wife’s early miscarriage, his own alcoholism and affair, the loss of a granddaughter…none of it gets more than lightly brushed over.

If there is one reoccurring theme, it is his seemingly deistic perspective on “love” and “good works.” In short, his worldview boils down to everyone should be the affable, non-confrontational person that Dick Van Dyke is. And really, what this book is.

It is a very bland, very polite, very grateful, but altogether uninspiring story. Which is too bad. It didn’t need lots of Hollywood gossip. But it did need a little more vulnerability to make it more than an informational, and yet somehow uninformative, story.


All Roads Lead to Austen by Amy Elizabeth Smith

Two stars

Professor Smith started with a question: does Jane Austen’s writing transcend culture and language? To find answers, she traveled in South America for a year and conducted Jane Austen book clubs in Spanish. Her readers ranged from scholarly academics to stay at home moms. 

At least in theory, the idea works well. Better yet, sometimes Professor Smith “lets her hair down” and expresses her frustrations with living abroad. She comes across whiny, cranky, and exhausted. I loved it.

But unfortunately, it does not last. For the most part, All Roads Lead to Austen presents a very careful, very sanitized, and fairly politically correct look at a few reading groups Professor Smith pulled together while traveling around South America. 

The book clubs all sounded the same. It did not matter if they were discussing Pride and PrejudiceSense and Sensibility, or Emma. The same comments about Jane Austen and her applicability to modern audiences get rehashed with the same results and conclusions. While this ought to have been “further proof” of the author’s hypothesis about Austen’s universal applicability, it mostly left me saying, “Yeah, duh.” 

Perhaps because the author is translating conversations that took place in Spanish, or perhaps because her own Spanish was still rather basic, the conversations and commentary all sounded very…juvenile. I think the problem lies with the fact that despite Professor’s Smith optimistic plan to form Austen reading groups across South America, most of her readers are exhausted, regular people who often either didn’t finish the book or just wanted to comment on the movies instead. Does it still make the writing interesting? Sure, but it lacks an academic edge. It turned any “evidence” the book provides about readers and Austen into little more than anecdotes. 

I like what the author tried to do. I just don’t think it worked the way she planned and it falls short of really making much of a difference in the Austen literature. 

 

 

(Also, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ELLA!)


Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

I am super late to the party but let me just echo all the reviews I’ve seen elsewhere and say…Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was an awesome movie. 

It was interesting. It was funny. It blended humor and action in a way that didn’t feel at odds. It had cool animation. There was a great lesson at the end. It left me wanting more while simultaneously wrapping everything up enough to be satisfying.

I won’t lie, I was skeptical about the hype. But there is a reason for it. 

Totally worth watching. 

Image result for into the spider verse


Tuesday Teaser #TuesdayBookBlog

Tuesday teaser is a weekly bookish meme hosted by http://www.booksandabeat.com

Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Open to a random page.
  • Share two or three *teaser* sentences from somewhere on that page.
  • Be careful not to include spoilers ~ make sure what you share doesn’t give to much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others.

Share the title and the author too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR list if they like your teasers!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“You want to order? I got other customers to think about.”
He looked around the deserted cafe as the 7UP clock clicked loud and lonely on the far wall. “Other customers? Where?”
“On their way over here.”
“Oh.” (pg. 6-7)

I just finished a business book and a psychological thriller, so now I’m aiming for something a little more light-hearted. I think this one will fit the bill quite nicely.