Anne of Green Gables

Anne of Green Gables  - L.M. Montgomery I really hated this book the first time I tried to read it.

I still hate some things about it now.

The only reason - and I mean the only reason - that I was even tempted to give it another go was because of the wonderful web series Green Gables Fables. I didn't really mean to start watching it, but the acting charmed the pants off me. And eventually the characters did too.

Second time round I found this... okay.

The prose is unforgivably purple. Not to mention repetitive. There's a lot of ridiculous god-bothering and sentimentality of a Christian nature that I don't really approve of, plus much moralising and such along the same lines. Marilla is an asshat a lot of the time. There are numerous "kids say/do the darndest things!" moments, which, puke.

But the basic story is quite sweet, Matthew is a dear (even if I wanted to strangle him every time he said "well, now...") and I rooted for Anne a good bit harder than I would have before. The last few chapters of the book are especially well done, and I wish more of this tone had carried over into the sequels, as I think it's genuinely good writing. Plus, I'm fairly invested in Shirbert now, so that helped a bit.

Just goes to show how your mind can change!

All the Bright Places

All the Bright Places - Jennifer Niven Largely well written but Finch's character's [manic] depression and eventual suicide is completely written in such a way as to enable Violet's character development. Not a bad book, but certainly not one I can recommend. No, you know what? This is a bad book. I keep getting angrier the more I think about it.


Warning, this is a deeply negative review.

TL,DR: apparently it’s better to commit suicide than live with mental illness. Who knew.

I hated this book.  I hated everything about it.  It has become the first – and hopefully the last – book that I have deleted from my Kindle immediately I read it.  I was so angry that I cried for about the last third of this book and genuinely had to seek comfort from my boyfriend.  This book is a lie.  I genuinely believe it could be dangerous.

A brief summary:  Finch and Violet have a meet-cute on top of the bell tower of their school.  Violet is there because she is suffering from suicidal thoughts after being in a car accident in which she lost her older sister.  Finch is there because he suffers from undiagnosed bipolar disorder (this is later confirmed, I’m not speculating) and has been suffering from suicidal thoughts on and off for a number of years.  They pair up to complete a class project, and fall in love.  However, it soon becomes apparent that their love may struggle to endure under the weight of Finch’s mental illness.

Much has been made of the similarity of this toThe Fault in our Stars.  I disagree that it’s in any way similar.  For one, the writing in TFioS, while undoubtedly pretentious, is both dark and light.  It shows the good and the bad in the world.  The writing in this book is sometimes lovely, but is unrelentingly cynical.  Even the “up” moments are downers in Niven’s hands.  Secondly, the medical issue in TFioS is, essentially, an unsolveable one.  Cancer can be incurable.  People can become terminally ill from it, in such a way that they are beyond medical help.  They may live one month, one year, or five years – but they will die from it.  That is a key difference in the way issues are handled in TFioS – with a certain air of inevitability – and the way they ought to have been handled in this book.  Depression, bipolar disorder, and many other medical issues which surround the brain, can be cured, or at least, can be managed indefinitely.  Obviously, not every potential suicide can be prevented.  But the strong message I got from this book was that, if you have a mental illness, you might as well have a terminal disease – because you are incurable.

I was not fond of Violet as a character.  I felt she was flat, even after she made her recovery.  I didn’t like her attitude towards her friends, towards school, towards her parents.  She didn’t seem to feel any conflict between being depressed and bereaved and wanting to try to recover and at least be able to participate in her school work.  Instead, she was written in a way that seemed to imply that she thought that she was right not to participate, right not to have to communicate with anyone, in any way.  I think I could have been more forgiving of her, though, if it wasn’t for the way Finch’s character is treated with respect to her character.

Finch, essentially, exists to further Violet’s character development.  His behaviour – and his presentation of his illness – changes with every “milestone” she reaches – from getting back in to the car, to losing her virginity, to her eventual complete recovery from her almost fugue-like state at the start of the book.  From Violet’s perspective, Finch is just portrayed as this wacky guy who shows up every time she needs help with something and needs to feel better.  Finch’s own difficulties – with his parents, with his mind – are minimised so much.  The author never feels the need to have Violet directly help him (until some ill-advised intervention-ing far to late in the game) or to have her recognise that Finch is genuinely struggling and needs help.  Okay, she’s seventeen, so maybe we shouldn’t expect too much from her.  But Finch at one point or another directly shows or tells pretty much every adult in the entire story that he is on the point of breaking down completely and no one ever does anything.  Except expel him from school.  Maybe I’m being naive, but he’s still a child at school.  Where is the intervention here?  The school is responsible for him while he is there – does it not seem completely shady that they barely make any effort to get in touch with either of his parents?

And even if this is all buyable, I cannot forgive the way Finch is treated by the author herself.  From Finch’s perspective, we get all this bumph about a diagnosis being a label, about medication fogging up your brain.  Fair enough – it’s natural to feel like that when you’re struggling with your mental health.  But it’s never challenged by anyone else in the text.  There is never any indication to the reader from the author that this is not in fact the cold hard truth of being mentally ill.  Still further, the author goes on to heavily imply that nothing anyone could have done could have prevented Finch from committing suicide.  This despite the fact that Finch is missing for weeks before he eventually does kill himself.  There are heavy overtones of him being “too special to live”.  This is an absolutely appalling thing to aim at teenagers struggling with mental illness. What part of this is supposed to be comforting?  What part of this says anything other than: “you are right about yourself.  You are right that you cannot live with this and you never will be able to live with this.”

After Finch’s death, Violet goes on this wacky treasure hunt to fulfil the rest of their “wandering Indiana” project.  Again, this is all about her – about how the things he left her behind can help her grow and change as a person.  Not about what he was.  Not about how he was failed. Not about who he could have been. It’s heavily implied that no one could have done anything.  That suicide was not preventable.  Bullshit.

Niven notes in an afterword that she had a romantic partner who committed suicide.  This book comes very much from that perspective – of the person left behind rather than the person doing the leaving.  Written differently, perhaps written entirely from Violet’s perspective, maybe, just maybe this could have been a feasible tack to take.  However, the choices that Niven makes in the book, especially in light of this information, leave a very bitter taste in my mouth and leave me very wary of her motives in bringing this personal experience to the fore in this work, especially when it’s aimed at a young adult audience.  On a personal note, I, too, have someone very close to me who has struggled with these thoughts.  The thought that his struggle is as meaningless as this book makes it out to be is downright insulting.

I cannot recommend this book in good conscience.  I genuinely believe it could have a wholesale negative effect on the mind of someone already plagued by these kind of thoughts, these kind of illnesses.  From my point of view, as a person with more than one close friend with these issues, it was deeply affecting in an almost completely negative way.  I was made angry by Niven’s dismissive attitude towards Finch, and anguished beyond belief at the resolution of his story.  Do not read this book.  I give All the Bright Places one out of ten.

PS: I actually think that it would have been more interesting to have cut Violet from the book completely and substitute her with a stronger character – even Amanda, who is brought up in the book as a stereotypical mean girl who turns out to have her own depression issue, would have made a more suitable foil to Finch, I think, as she seemed to have a more well-defined personality and social role that it would have been interesting to see him interact with AND it would have been interesting to seem him interact with someone who is receiving (seemingly) successful treatment for issue related to his own.

Emma

Emma - Jane Austen Mr Knightley > Mr Darcy. Discuss.

***

Let me just get this out of the way: I love Jane Austen. I’ve read all of the major novels. I’m not an expert or anything, and I haven’t read much in the way of the juvenalia or Sanditon or anything, but it’s telling that I would have a hard time ranking five of those six novels in any sort of sensible order. This one, Pride and Prejudice, and Persuasion are probably my favourites, but I don’t have an order in which I could sensibly put them. Then Sense and Sensibility and Northanger Abbey sort of bounce around somewhere below that – they both have things I mildly dislike but I don’t think I’d go so far as to find actual fault in them. I loathe Mansfield Park but that’s down to me just plain (probably unreasonably) hating the main character.

But if I had to pick one heroine that I identify the most with, for worse and for better, it’s Emma.

I feel like she’s got a bit of that “only-child” syndrome (despite not actually being one). She’s headstrong, and self-assured, and like a lot of people, definitely thinks she could run other people’s lives better than they could. Unlike Emma, I’m not comfortably wealthy (or, at least, I wasn’t brought up wealthy). So my machinations have mainly been contained to complaining archly to my boyfriend. But, I don’t know, there’s just something about me that loves Emma’s silliness, loves how she really does think she’s doing the right thing, and how she learns to finally actually do it.

Her relationship with Mr Knightley can seem a little bit weird to a modern audience. He’s a bit older than her, and he can tend to be a bit paternalistic towards her. What I liked about their relationship, though, and why I tend to be forgiving towards it, is that it has a naturalness and, in particular, an honesty which I felt was refreshing. Mr Knightley is never double-faced to Emma (or at least not intentionally. It’s arguable that his jealousy of Frank led him to criticise him more strongly than was necessary to Emma, but I’d wager that was not consciously done, as such). He tells her what he thinks because he respects her enough to know that she can handle it. In a lot of ways, he does actually treat her as an equal – he knows the upstanding kind of person she can be and he expects her to live up to that. Mr Knightley would never be rude or sullen in the mode of a Mr Darcy.

One thing I enjoyed even more this time around was the relationship between Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill. Because I was properly watching out for it this time, I noted a lot more of the clues from before Mr Knightley airs his first suspicions of the truth. I enjoy Frank’s enthusiasms, even though they don’t always come from a place of sense. And I like Jane a lot more than I did previously. Also, this book has some of Austen’s best side characters – Mrs Elton is a particular treat. She’s so excruciating that I couldn’t help but cringe every time she opened her mouth.

Emma has had several modernisations recently, including the Austen Project one I mentioned earlier, but probably more notably the Emma Approved series brought to you by Pemberley Digital, the Youtube channel that created The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. It’s not as good as LBD – the characterisation and cast weren’t quite as on point – but it’s definitely worth a watch if you enjoy Austen and like modernisations of her work. In particular, the actors who play Emma, Mr Knightley, and Frank, are really interesting, fun interpretations of what the characters could be in a modern day setting. Harriet is a bit one note, and I had a strong dislike for their characterisation of Jane Fairfax, but I think that was mainly due to the slight change to the nature of her relationship with Emma which I felt made it deeply inappropriate for her to behave as she did.

There’s very little for me to say about this book that hasn’t been said already. I’d encourage anyone who’s read Pride and Prejudice to go here next. Emma is a deeply flawed heroine, but I think that’s why I love and identify with her so much – even the most flawed of us can come good. Even the most flawed of us can be loved.

I give Emma ten out of ten.

Emma

Emma - Alexander McCall Smith The Austen Project is a group that have commissioned six modern-day authors to tackle one Austen novel each, and set it in a 21st century setting. We’ve already had Sense and Sensibility, written by Joanna Trollope, which really was almost an exact retelling of the original, except people occasionally (and I really do mean occasionally) mention things like mobile phone. However, all the key events take place, and I always find it amusing when modern storytellers contrive to have this happen despite the obvious problems they must run into (for example, in S&S, you can hardly have the scandal be, in the modern day, that Marianne was alone with a man for all of half an hour!). Then Val McDiarmid took on Northanger Abbey, which proved to actually be pretty good, despite VM obviously having no idea how to approximate text messages from a teenager.

And now Emma. I’ve just finished rereading the original, as you can see from my most recent review. Out of the three so far, this book is by far the most dear to me in its original form. I love Alexander McCall Smith – not only is he my fellow countryman, but he, for a long time, worked in the same field that I plan to go into, although his speciality is medical law. So I expected a fair amount from this retelling. Unfortunately, it didn’t deliver.

The first problem is that AMS spends the first 100 pages of the novel going into life at Hartfield prior to the beginning of the original novel. This was definitely a good idea, and there’s a lot of merit in it. I enjoyed the story of Mr Woodhouse’s birth, some of the interaction with Miss Taylor, and, most especially, getting a snippet of John and Isabella’s courtship. However, this comprises more than one quarter of the novel itself. This left only 260 pages in which to tell the story of the original book in its entirety. The “history” part often drags, with people musing on what Emma will turn out to be like, child as she is at that time. Except this isn’t particularly interesting for the reader as we already know what Emma will turn out like! I read modernisations like this to see the take the author has on the events as they happened in the book, not for deep insights into the characters which are pretty impossible given the nature of the retelling.

Secondly, several events from the original are omitted completely. There’s no strawberry picking, barely any Mrs Elton, the Box Hill picnic is curtailed so as to be unrecognisable, and the events between this point and Mr Knightley’s proposal are compressed in such a way that several minor but important events are missing in action. Again, I don’t expect retellings to be point for point faithful (although the preceding two largely have been) but I felt like it was a waste to spend so long on the “history” part of the novel only to then omit so much of what was interesting and dramatic about the original. Characters get very little development – there’s very, very little Jane, and hardly any Mr Knightley at all! It’s hard to imagine why he falls in love with Emma when he barely speaks two words to her throughout this version.

Worst, however, may be some of the inexplicable changes made to established events in the original. The lesbian undertone in Harriet’s and Emma’s relationship was, I thought, almost well done at first – I mean, who hasn’t been utterly mesmerised by the sheer beauty of someone of the same sex almost to the point of wondering if it’s romantic before realising that it’s just aesthetic? However, the weird nude drawing scene was, I thought, poorly done. Frank pretending to be gay made absolutely no sense at all – a double bluff that just left me more confused than sympathetic. The revelation that Mr Knightley had been confiding in Harriet, whom in this version he seemed to think abjectly stupid, was just bizarre, and that Harriet had been seeing Robert all along was even worse – Harriet herself didn’t seem to have had any idea of this until she actually said the words.

The thing is – and this is broadly a criticism of all the modernisations, though most particularly this one – is that there are easy to find analogues for a lot of the stuff that goes on in these. Okay, no one has a ball anymore, but couldn’t they go to a posh club night opening? That’s just one example, but there are plenty of times in this book where the changes made just didn’t make sense and actually made it feel more antiquated rather than less.

It’s not terrible. There are some great moments – the opening about the Cuban missile crisis, some of Emma’s asides are hilarious – but it’s just enough to make it as entertaining as the other entries in this series. I give Emma five out of ten.

Unseen Academicals (Discworld, #37)

Unseen Academicals (Discworld, #37) - Terry Pratchett I was not a huge fan of this book. On the face of it, it should have been a great fit for me - I love watching football, I love Ankh-Morpork, and I love a good love story. But I was went into this book with trepidation as I'd heard "less-than-good" things about the story from sources that I trust. And sadly, those opinions were - in my opinion - well founded. This was one of the weakest Discworld titles I've read to date.

The story, in brief, follows the attempts of Lord Vetenari, he of the dog-bothering, to clean up the game of football and, to that end, the wizards, who have their own vested interests in the matter, are roped into putting a team together. While all this is going on, an unlikely love story develops between one nice-but-dim couple and one equally-nice-but-less-dim couple "downstairs" in the university, as it were.

The first problem this book has is pacing. It take about two-hundred pages (out of over five-hundred) for any of the different plot strands to begin to advance. You know from the outset that there's going to be difficulty getting a team of wizards to "play ball", that there's going to be opposition from the kind of people who think a kick about means you literally kick the opposing team about the pitch. You know that there's something a bit weird going on with Nutt, that Glenda is going to rise above what she sees as her station and cast off her downtrodden way of thinking, and that Juliet is going to prove to have a bit more about her than meets the eye - though not too much more. I don't mind a predictable plot, where Terry Pratchett's concerned. However, much like the forwards for Unseen Academicals, it all feels a bit flabby. There's plenty of dithering on the way there, and at such a lengthy page count (is this one of the longest Discworld novels?), it really shows. While it's always fun to spend time on the Disc, it doesn't really work when almost none of the usual magic and sparkle is there.

The second problem is the writing. It doesn't feel as tight and precise as it has in previous Discworld novels. There are run on sentences and paragraphs all over the place, and I noted what felt like far less clever wordplay than I'm used to in one of Pratchett's novels. I'm used to feeling lost in the middle of at least five jokes I haven't picked up on yet, but here, it often felt like the joke was either obvious, or that it wasn't there to get in the first place. Also, there are quite a few "oo-er-missus" jokes about gay men and balls/sex/general campness and while it doesn't come off to me as homophobic in the slightest - bearing in mind that I'm straight so please take what I say with a pinch of salt - it's just a bit tired and unfunny in general. It's like in The Last Continent where he makes several jokes about sex and the jokes are all literally "HAHAHA ISN'T SEX FUNNY?"

Finally, the characters. For me, and this is really a personal thing, none of the characters really shone. They're all areas which Pratchett's covered before - the buxom forthright girl with an understanding of the commonfolk, the special person who doesn't know he's special, the stupid pretty girl who isn't really so stupid, and the complete bleeding psychopath - but that he's done better and in more interesting circumstances. I liked Glenda and Nutt a lot, but I didn't love them.

It's an okay book, really. There's about 350 pages of decent material here. But I found my attention wandering a lot of the time, and, as it was largely obvious where the plot was going, I couldn't really get invested in much else about the book. Even the worst Terry Pratchett doesn't deserve to be lumped in with anything really terrible, and I still like it more than Monstrous Regiment, but I really can't give Unseen Academicals anything more than five out of ten.

Where She Went

Where She Went - Gayle Forman Mia is a complete dickhead and a toxic person, and Adam is a complete wimp with no personality. Plus ca change.

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories - Rainbow Rowell, Holly Black, Myra McEntire, Kiersten White, Stephanie Perkins, Laini Taylor, Gayle Forman, Matt de la Pena, Jenny Han, Ally Carter, Kelly Link, David Levithan So far...

Midnights (Rainbow Rowell) - 3.5 Stars

This was cute, but I didn't feel like I got to know Mags as well as I did Noel and that hindered my enjoyment somewhat as I felt unable to understand her actions (why didn't she just let him know she liked him sooner?)

The Lady and the Fox (Kelly Link) - 4 Stars

I liked this - I don't know if it was based on a specific folk tale but I got a very "Tam Lin" vibe off this whole story. Which is one of my favourite folk tales and never fails to draw me in. The writing was kind of quirky and different and I would now like to read more from this author.

Angels in the Snow (Matt de la Pena) - 4.5 Stars

This was extremely unrealistic but I really liked it. I could really sympathise with the main character (despite sharing very little of his background; for example, the muffin scene nearly had me in bits. I feel like there were a couple of points that were dropped that felt like they should have been significant but weren't (him possibly not returning to college and so on) but those are minor details. Recommended.

Polaris is Where You'll Find Me (Jenny Han) - 2 Stars

I feel bad about not liking this one - it was just incredibly bland. I didn't get a great impression of the main character, and I just didn't care about what was happening. Everyone felt like a caricature. I really didn't like Flynn much.

It's a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown (Stephanie Perkins) - 4.5 Stars

It's likely I'll bump this up to five after I finish the collection. I just love Stephanie Perkins, man. She writes fluffy romance in such a non-sentimental, humorous, elegant way that I just can't help but be suckered in. She has a really good sense of what mindset a particular main character would be in - be it Marigold, Anna, Lola, or Isla - and what sort of romance would work for them and be convincing in the situation. I'll definitely revisit this one in future years.

Your Temporary Santa (David Levithan) - 3 Stars

Again, I wanted to like this so much more than I did. There's something weird about Levithan's writing that I don't get - in this, he often didn't use contractions in the main character's internal narration in a way that didn't sound natural and didn't work for me. I couldn't buy that someone would want their boyfriend to sneak into their house like that - I don't know. I liked the relationship between Connor and the main character, and I would have been interested to explore the reasons for Lana's reaction more (it's fairly easy to guess at the basics, but if the implication was about her dad, then doesn't it make Connor wanting his boyfriend to take on that role kind of creepy?)


Labyrinths

Labyrinths - Jorge Luis Borges This book made me feel stupid.

To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee One of my absolute favourites. I can understand some of the criticisms that have been levelled at it as regards the perceived "white-saviour" theme, but I think it mostly averts that problem, for what my opinion's worth (note: not much). On another note, reading this as a tomboyish kid, I just felt like Scout understood where I was coming from. Also, the moment near the end with Boo Radley still makes me tear up a bit, possibly even more than the outcome of the "main" storyline (I cry at everything, though).

If on a Winter's Night a Traveler

If on a Winter's Night a Traveler - William Weaver, Italo Calvino What the fuck did I just read

Cold Comfort Farm

Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons, Lynne Truss, Roz Chast Yeah, I'll maybe reattempt this someday in a different mindset, but I strongly disliked the "voice" of the author - the humour was overly knowing and a bit smug.

Dear Enemy

Dear Enemy - Jean Webster I knew beforehand about the eugenics that pervade the plot of this book. For whatever reason, it bothered me enough that I couldn't finish this, because it seemed to be entwined with the romance to the point where I just couldn't ignore it. I may give it another shot at some point, but I somehow doubt it. I do get that these views were seen differently one-hundred years ago but there's only so much I can take sometimes.

Winger

Winger - Andrew  Smith I don't know how I feel about this book.

All I know is I shouldn't have read the last 10% in public!

A Streetcar Named Desire (Modern Classics Penguin)

A Streetcar Named Desire (Modern Classics Penguin) - Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller I'm really struggling between three and four stars for this. The dialogue is fantastic, and the atmosphere is really well evoked, but the implied rape ruined the whole thing for me in a lot of ways, but mostly because I feel it happened purely so something bad happened, if you know what I mean? It felt like it ruined any of the subtlety in the characterisation of either Blanche or Stanley. I struggled to feel any sympathy at all for Blanche up until that point, especially after it turned out that she had sexually exploited/assaulted one of her school pupils, and I felt that scene went too far in trying to reverse how I felt about her.

The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet

The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet - Bernie Su;Rorick Kate;Kate Rorick Cross posted from Humble Womble's Bits 'n' Books

Let two things be known. First, that I’m a massive Jane Austen fan. Second, that I’m a sucker for modern updates of classic literature or drama. Thus, Clueless, 10 Things I Hate About You, She’s the Man? Totally my thing. So, obviously The Lizzie Bennet diaries were going to be totally up my street. Thankfully, I didn’t discover them until they’d almost finished. That way, I got to binge on them to my heart’s content during my final exams for my undergraduate degree. They were definitely a great way to take my mind off things when I was feeling just a little stressed out.

So, it was pretty natural that I would love this book. And I did. It directly follows the plot of both Pride and Prejudice and the Lizzie Bennet Diaries videos, the premise being that this diary is a supplementary document for Lizzie to submit as part of her thesis to flesh out the gaps between her own private life and the private-public version of herself that she presents in her videos. It’s a really interesting idea, and I found myself being totally immersed in this world, to the point that I almost couldn’t remember what had happened in which version!

The format obviously has a few problems. While many of the entries offer more detail on things we saw in the videos (and some deal with things we didn’t see, more of which in a second) some are very, very close to being exact rehashes of what happened on screen. And two of the entries – at two pivotal points in the story! – are transcripts from the video. This just feels lazy. I also occasionally felt the voice strayed away from something that would be natural to write in your private diary into directly aping Lizzie’s (and other characters’) voices from the videos. Few people write the way they speak. I can accept this more in an ordinary novel; for example, many thought the voices of Hazel and Gus were unnatural in The Fault in our Stars, but I saw it more as an idealised version of how we think we sound as teenagers, as opposed to something that was supposed to directly mirror reality. However, in this diary, I found that sometimes Lizzie could have done with having a looser, more natural voice, as that’s how one tends to write in such a personal account.

However, reading this was more than worth it for all the extras and bonuses that the writers through our way. Chief among these was the choice to give a few extra details about Jane and Bing’s relationship and the detailing of the day out in San Francisco. The diary did have the unfortunate side effect of making me like Lydia less rather than more but I guess I’m just never gonna love her. I get that it’s from Lizzie’s often biased perspective, but I don’t like how her irresponsible behaviour in this iteration gets turned round into being everyone else’s fault but hers. Maybe that’s just my perspective getting in the way, though. There are some genuinely sweet moments in this books between all the characters.

I’d recommend this to anyone who liked the Youtube show, but I don’t know if it would necessarily work outwith that. I think it would, but I think the Youtube show is ideally viewed first. How do you know if you’ll like the Youtube series? If you like “quirky”, modern takes on classic literature that aren’t too serious, and are relatively faithful to the source material (but aren’t too anal about exact detail-matching) then I would definitely recommend it. Also, it certainly is light-years beyond the vast majority of the Jane Austen “sequels” and other such stuff that have been written.

Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbey - Jane Austen, Alfred Mac Adam This is my final Jane Austen book - the only one I hadn't read. It's definitely not up with my top three (Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Persuasion), but at the same time I did really like it. I'd probably place it on about a par with Sense and Sensibility (I didn't like Mansfield Park at all). There's something totally endearing about the whole thing, the satire being a little more obvious than in the others I've mentioned. I read somewhere that although this was the last book published, it was the first one she wrote? It definitely shows, particularly in the lack of subtlety, but it's no bad thing. The story is also notably slighter than some, but again, this isn't necessarily a critcism. It's just a completely different beast to the other books.

I loved Catherine. She was so charmingly naive, which is refreshing, given that Austen has a tendency towards very knowing protagonists. She's a little younger than her typical protagonist, which probably accounts for this somewhat, but I just liked her being a little less streetwise than perhaps Elizabeth or Emma (who obviously had their own blind spots, but that's for another review). I felt some elements of Henry's character weren't really fleshed out properly - I couldn't really "see" him the way I could see Knightly or Darcy, for example - but, again, given that this is more of a straightforward story than the others, it was kind of acceptable. I do wish Eleanor's affair had been a little more fleshed out, but again, I mostly put that down to the youth of the author at the time.

John Thorpe (who I kept accidentally calling Iain in my head - sorry, Iain!) was a complete git, which I know was the intention, and made me really, really angry. I find it a little annoying when authors use a set of crossed wires to (in particular) keep couples apart, but the few instances of this are resolved pretty quickly, so I can't complain too much.

In comparison to most other things, this is definitely five stars. I only gave it four because it's not quite a classic Austen, but a very good one nonetheless!