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Reading List by Jennie for April and May 2013

Northanger Abbey by Jane AustenNorthanger Abbey by Jane Austen

I’ve found reports of this book off-putting in the past; dire warnings about the heroine’s silliness have made me wary in the extreme. I have a limited tolerance for 19th century silly English characters; the reason Emma is my least favorite Austen is that everyone in the book is basically an idiot save for Mr. Knightley, and even he is slightly creepy given his initially paternal and eventually romantic relationship with Emma. Anyway, I always heard that Catherine Morland was insufferably silly. So far, she’s not bugging me too much, but I’m only about a third of the way into the book, so we’ll see, I guess. I am finding the Thorpes to be just awful, though, in the way that only Austen can seem to make characters awful and yet somehow convince me that the portrayals aren’t completely over-the-top.

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bruce-peter-ames-carlinBruce by Peter A. Carlin

Bruce Springsteen was my first rock star crush (I may be dating myself here) – when Born in the U.S.A. came out, I was 14, and it affected me the way music really hadn’t before, at least not in such a complete way. Bruce was my first concert, as well. I’ve been following him and his music for almost 30 years now. This is a fairly workmanlike biography and it took me a while to get through it; aside from some stuff about Springsteen’s early childhood (he was the adored pet of his paternal grandparents, a substitute for the daughter they’d lost to a runaway truck 20 years before he was born), there wasn’t a whole lot of new, insightful, or even just plain gossipy information. Still, I enjoyed it, even when the subject doesn’t come off as entirely likable.  (For all his man-of-the-people street cred, Springsteen often comes off in the bio, as so many artists do, as essentially pretty self-centered, driven, unhappy, a perfectionist and a loner.)

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True by Erin McCarthyTrue by Erin McCarthy

I continue to be drawn to the NA genre, even if I haven’t had great success with it. This one was more successful for me than most; though it was ultimately pretty familiar in terms of plot and characterization, the writing mostly worked for me and the story did as well. If I’m going to read a contemporary with a naive virgin heroine and a bad boy hero (though Tyler really isn’t all that bad in actuality), it’s so much more palatable to me when the heroine is 20 rather than 25 or 30. For that matter, I can accept an immature man-slut hero better at 22 than 32, though Tyler isn’t really an immature man-slut, either. His tattoos and rough upbringing give him a rebel patina, but he’s nearly Dudley Do-Right in practice. I thought Rory’s logical, scientific mind was oversold at times, but I appreciated that this was a fairly realistic depiction of a heroine with real social anxiety and shyness issues – she doesn’t just blossom under the hero’s regard and undergo a total personality change. Like Jane, I liked that the story wasn’t wrapped up in an overly optimistic ending – the h/h get their HEA (well, their H-E-for-now, as is appropriate for their ages), but there are challenges facing Tyler that won’t be easily overcome. I definitely would like to read the second book in the series. My grade for this one is a B+.

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Dead Ever After by Charlaine HarrisDead Ever After by Charlaine Harris

I didn’t even realize until about a month before this was published that it was the last book in the series; shows you how in touch I am. I spoiled myself for the controversial resolution to Sookie’s complicated love life, and while I was initially a bit disappointed (or maybe just kind of “meh”) about it, in actuality the pairing worked pretty well for me, and I think it helped that I was expecting it. (See, spoilers aren’t *always* bad!) I’ll miss Sookie – I’ve written before about what the series means to me, I think – but I can’t argue with those who say that the books ran out of gas a while ago. I have always enjoyed my yearly visit with the residents of Bon Temps, though. But all good things must end, and this was a good end to the series. My grade is an A-. Robin’s review is here.

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A Shilling for Candles by Josephine Tey  A Shilling for Candles by Josephine Tey

I had long heard of Tey but never tried her (and probably wouldn’t have, honestly) until a friend lent me this slim little mystery, published in 1936. I’m not a big mystery reader, but a historical setting makes a mystery much more appealing to me, for some reason. I think it’s because I just like historical novels in general, but I’m wary of unknown literary fiction; genre fiction, be it romance or mystery or whatever, seems like more of a known quantity. Anyway, I ended up liking this quite a bit. The mystery involves a famous actress who washes up on an English beach, drowned. At first it’s thought to be an accident (she’s wearing her swimsuit and was known to swim at that beach), until a small button is found snagged in her hair, as if someone perhaps held her under water and the button came off in the struggle. The suspects are plentiful and the red herrings numerous; the actual resolution of the mystery didn’t matter too much to me, and the victim never really came alive to the point where I lamented her loss. But I really liked the detective, Inspector Alan Grant (he’s apparently featured in several Tey mysteries), as well as some of the other colorful characters, and the time and setting were superbly rendered. I’d give this one a B+, and plan to try more of Tey’s work.

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Bossypants by Tina Fey

I bought this on impulse when it was on sale for the Kindle a while back. I’d meant to read it when it came out, but never got around to picking it up. I love Tina Fey, both on Saturday Night Live and the recently departed (sniff) 30 Rock. So far I’ve found the book a bit hard to get into, though; Fey details her upbringing with a focus on her teenage adventures as a theater nerd. It’s funny; but it’s not that funny. I’m perservering in the hope that it gets more entertaining later on.

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has been an avid if often frustrated romance reader for the past 15 years. In that time she's read a lot of good romances, a few great ones, and, unfortunately, a whole lot of dreck. Many of her favorite authors (Ivory, Kinsale, Gaffney, Williamson, Ibbotson) have moved onto other genres or produce new books only rarely, so she's had to expand her horizons a bit. Newer authors she enjoys include Julie Ann Long, Megan Hart and J.R. Ward, and she eagerly anticipates each new Sookie Stackhouse novel. Strong prose and characterization go a long way with her, though if they are combined with an unusual plot or setting, all the better. When she's not reading romance she can usually be found reading historical non-fiction.

18 Comments

  1. Willaful
    Jun 12, 2013 @ 12:11:01

    A Shilling for Candles is not even Tey at her best — please try Miss Pym Disposes (boarding school story! I suppose it would be considered NA now), The Franchise Affair (has a little bit of romance in it, extra fun!), Brat Farrar (also has a bit of romance) or The Daughter of Time (mind-bogglingly fantastic — and since you like historical nonfiction, right up your alley!)

  2. Arethusa
    Jun 12, 2013 @ 12:16:04

    I love Catherine! But then I love silly, or at least her particular brand. I am trying to re-read “Emma” but I find the title character too insufferable and she’s on almost every page. If it weren’t for her father — who is my kind of ridiculous — I don’t think I’d bother to continue.

  3. Janine
    Jun 12, 2013 @ 13:04:29

    Funny that you are reading Josephine Tey. I recently purchased a copy of Brat Farrar after it was recommended on Twitter, but I haven’t read it yet. It’s good to know that one of her mysteries worked for you.

  4. Isobel Carr
    Jun 12, 2013 @ 13:04:49

    I’ve always read Northanger Abbey as Jane Austen’s send-up of the Gothic novels that were so popular during her era. When read that way, it’s hilarious and quite entertaining.

  5. Emma
    Jun 12, 2013 @ 13:26:41

    While Pride and Prejudice may be everyone’s favorite Austen (mine included), I have the most affection for NA. My kids are actually named Henry and Eleanor (not really after the Tilneys, but when I realized the parallel, it was sort of funny to me). Henry Tilney absolutely makes the book, I think. He’s my favorite Austen hero: smart and funny, his rebukes to Catherine are gentle (unlike Knightley’s to Emma; every time I re-read that book I want to throw things at him). He’s just delightful. Beyond him, I find Catherine’s flaws so relatable, I think Isabella Thorpe is hilarious, all of the Gothic send ups are fantastic. And it’s optimistic and hopeful. There’s a sort of bitter undercurrent to Austen, I think, that doesn’t get much play in discussions about her. After reading her letters, I have difficulty overlooking the sharp, almost cruelness, which I find in most of her other novels but which isn’t present in NA. All this by way of saying I think it’s a great book and if you aren’t out of Bath yet, stick with it because it gets better!

    (Edited for awkwardness)

  6. Jane Lovering
    Jun 12, 2013 @ 15:02:48

    Seconding the rec for Daughter of Time, it’s the book that first got me into Richard III, and it’s wonderful. And Northanger Abbey – the bit with the laundry list cracks me up every time! It’s a terrific warning to all of us who take our fiction a little bit too seriously…

  7. Michelle
    Jun 12, 2013 @ 16:16:19

    Daughter of Time is fantastic, I think it is my favorite of hers.

  8. EGS
    Jun 12, 2013 @ 16:48:59

    Read Northanger Abbey for Henry Tilney. He is a witty and sexy dude. He’s right up there with Mr. Darcy as my favorite Austen hero. I agree that Catherine is silly, but she’s 1) 17 2) sheltered. And, as per Austen, learns from her silliness. I find her endearing (but, I also love Emma Woodhouse).

  9. Maili
    Jun 12, 2013 @ 18:28:06

    @Willaful: Well said!

    Tey was actually the reason why I read Mary Stewart (The Ivy Tree is a homage to Tey’s Brat Farrar) and others. So it’s nice to see that Tey is still a notable influence. I found out only a couple of weeks ago that one author – Nicola Upson – makes Tey the protagonist of her 1930s-set mystery novels, which I admit is kind of weird. I haven’t read them yet, though. It’s also worth pointing out that the main inspiration of Sarah Waters’s The Little Stranger is The Franchise Affair. Waters was nice enough to acknowledge this in her interview at Penguin (she’s also mentioned Angela Thirkell, which still thrills the feck out of me).

    /a self-confessed Tey/Thirkell fangirl

  10. Willaful
    Jun 12, 2013 @ 18:35:26

    [Rushes to library to get The Little Stranger and The Ivy Tree.]

    Jo Walton has an interesting piece on Brat Farrar — it inspired her Farthing, which is also a hell of a book: http://www.tor.com/blogs/2010/09/a-pit-in-dothan-josephine-teys-brat-farrar

  11. Willaful
    Jun 12, 2013 @ 18:38:17

    Something to keep in mind about Tey, btw, is that her books rarely take the form of a conventional mystery. They’re not really “whodunnits” — actually, amusingly enough, The Daughter of Time is probably the closest thing to a traditional whodunnit she wrote. They’re more about the intersection of crime and personality, if that makes sense. And it works because she writes such memorable characters.

  12. Willaful
    Jun 12, 2013 @ 18:48:21

    My library’s one copy of The Ivy Tree is in Collection Management Services for selector review. I got in in the nick of time!

  13. Rachael
    Jun 12, 2013 @ 19:35:25

    One thing, besides Tilney (yum!), that is interesting about Northanger Abbey is that it is Austen’s first book. Not the first book she published, but the first book she wrote. Because of this, it’s interesting to see where she started as an author and how her writing developed into writing such masterpieces as P&P.
    I’ve always had a fondness for NA, particularly when I was younger and I really related to Catherine in all my sillyness.

  14. Willaful
    Jun 12, 2013 @ 19:59:17

    @Rachael: Northanger Abbey — the original NA! :-)

  15. Jennie
    Jun 12, 2013 @ 23:54:52

    Re Josephine Tey: I think I’ve definitely heard A Daughter of Time mentioned as the Tey to read. I’m interested in trying some of her other books, but I might as well start with the best.

    Re Northanger Abbey – I’ve definitely heard that it’s a parody of the gothic novels of the time, but since I haven’t read any of those novels, I can’t really appreciate that aspect of it. I think I’m surprised that so much of it is not set in the titular location (I’m probably at least 50% in and they are just on the way to NA now). I haven’t really seen Catherine act “silly” so far but I expect more of that at the abbey, where I’m assuming her fondness for the gothic will cause her imagination to take flight. So far she is likable if naive – I actually don’t find her silly at all, at least not in the way that I think Emma is silly or some of Austen’s other comical characters. She’s not as sharp and emotionally sophisticated as Lizzie Bennet or as dignified as Anne in Persuasion – she’s just a very young and impressionable woman. I actually appreciated her backbone in resisting the pressure that the baddie brother and sister (have forgotten their names!) put on her to once again bail on the Tilneys once she’d committed to them. Of course, part of that is that she has the hots for Henry Tilney, but still, I thought her was quite strong there.

  16. Rosario
    Jun 14, 2013 @ 11:04:56

    @Jennie:

    I actually appreciated her backbone in resisting the pressure that the baddie brother and sister (have forgotten their names!) put on her to once again bail on the Tilneys once she’d committed to them. Of course, part of that is that she has the hots for Henry Tilney, but still, I thought her was quite strong there.

    Exactly! I read (well, listened to) NA very recently, after many years, and was struck by how NOT silly I thought Catherine this time. She’s not very good at seeing the real Isabella (the baddie sister!) behind all the flattery and pretence, but she’s very firm about what she thinks is right. The pressure Isabella, John Thorpe, and her own brother put on her in the episode you mention is quite strong, and yet she doesn’t buckle.

    The other thing that was different was that I remembered it as mainly a gothic parody, but this element turns out to be pretty minor, really. There are some funny moments in it, but it’s not what the book is about.

  17. Jennie
    Jun 14, 2013 @ 17:38:12

    @Rosario: That’s what I’m finding; the gothic parody stuff is really only ramping up in the second half, though we did just have quite a humorous moment when Catherine attempts to open an old chest, sure that it’s the key to some secret passage or that it contains something dreadful. It contains a blanket.

  18. Monte Hellman's Mayonnaise
    Jun 18, 2013 @ 09:28:45

    @Emma: I can’t agree with you enough, not just on your take of NA but of your perception of Austen as bitter and that being a very overlooked quality of her writing. I think it’s funny that a lot of people view Pride and Prejudice as a romance – if you notice, Darcy declares his love for Elizabeth but she never does the same. I think there’s a subtle imbalance to their relationship at the end that many tend to ignore or romanticize rather than accept for what it is.

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