Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors

by Sonali Dev

HRH’s take on it was this advice to his children: “This is our home. This country is yours. Take everything you need. Give everything you have. From the beginning of time, humans have migrated. We’ve claimed land and let it claim us. Don’t ever fulfill anybody else’s definition of your relationship with your country. How many generations ago their forefathers got here may be how some people stake their claim, but I stake mine with how much I give. How wholly I love. This place called to me, I’m here, it’s mine. And now, it’s yours.”

I’m a soft touch for novels that are re-imaginings of or sequels to Jane Austen‘s works in film or on the page. I have a soft spot for even ones that are not all that good. This is one of the best ones. Sonali Dev did a masterful job of using P and P as an inspiration for similar themes while making it wholly her own. The looseness of the adaptation worked very well. A reader who enjoys contemporary romance or women’s fiction would enjoy this even if they haven’t read Pride and Prejudice. There are many characters in Dev’s novel that are not in the original and many characters and situations Austen’s classic that are not in Dev’s novel. Yet while they diverge in interesting ways, they also mirror each other in the essentials. There is the prideful, arrogant, but socially inept aristocrat (Trisha), the formidable love interest from a suspect background (DJ), victimized loved ones past and present, the evil opportunist, The cold and powerful head determined to “protect” the family from scandal, and the sweet and good sister. But they are deliciously shuffled up. A few scenarios are faithfully and delightfully reset in today’s times. One of the highlights of Austen’s work and this one as well is when Trisha (Darcy) pours out her heart to DJ (Elizabeth) and is rejected.

“I have absolutely no interest in you, Dr. Raje,” meeting the wild pleas in her eyes…it hadn’t struck her for one instant that he might not lap up her proposition or whatever this was.
“This might baffle you, but despite not being a physician, I do have some pride. Although most certainly not enough to withstand the kind of beating you’re capable of dealing to it. The kind of beating you’ve repeatedly dealt it from the first time we’ve met. You’re right, I value honesty, so I’ll tell you that I make it a practice not to find women who insult me at every opportunity attractive.”
…she looked entirely devastated. Had no one ever denied her anything?

One thing I really liked about it was how the black hero in the book was portrayed. Too often, lately, it seems like authors are using diverse ethnic characters to make a political statement but they are ethnic in looks alone. In one book I read recently, we’re told that the swoony successful love interest looks like Barack Obama, but other than that, he might as well be a white guy. Maybe I’m being too harsh, but it’s like the author wanted points for having a diverse cast of characters but didn’t want to make her mostly white readership too uncomfortable. Kind of like the Hallmark channel checking the boxes. Oh well, baby steps. In this one, Trisha, although “brown” has always had power and privilege. Unlike DJ who knows very well what is probably going to happen if a white cop sees him breaking into his own luxury car.

“Are you laughing because you think you taught me some sort of lesson?” Because he had, he had pulled the world from beneath her feet…DJ had stood there helpless as a cop reached for his gun for no reason other than fear based in prejudice…Trisha didn’t want him to be standing there in that inequitable ocean, unable to do anything about it. She wanted to live in a world where the waves hit everyone the same way, where everyone could choose how they surfed them. Where the only thing that mattered was ability. And she had allowed herself to become oblivious to the fact that they did not live in that world. 

I was not too impressed with the first book I read by Ms Dev. This one also slowed to a crawl in several places. It was repetitive (the constant rhapsodizing about food got old and kind of creepy in places, to me) There were a little too many tangents explored and too much detail which did little to advance the story. But even so, it kept my interest. Sometimes the sentence structure seemed a little off and sentence meaning was a little obscured at first. But this book was a really good novel and a superbly creative riff on Pride and Prejudice. I love books about interesting families and especially ones I have to do a family tree to keep everyone straight. 4 stars for the novel and 5 stars for the Pride and Prejudice connection. 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

May 16, 2020

A Bollywood Affair

by Sonali Dev

The concept of this story was unusual and intriguing. Mili was married in India at 4 years old. She hasn’t seen her husband since he lives in America. Now grown, Mili wins a fellowship to study in Michigan and is looking forward to reuniting with her husband. Meanwhile, thinking the marriage had been annulled, her husband has gotten married and has a child. He sends his famous Hollywood director brother to get an annulment from Mili. The possibilities were exciting. Mili was a throw-back to the very early romantic heroines, as was Samir, the bad-boy who at heart was a true knight in shining armor. Yet, because Mili was an Indian and a stranger in a strange land it did not offend my modern sensibilities. Unfortunately, right at about page 100, I lost interest. It became repetitive, the plot was not advanced and it seemed to go around in circles. I still liked the characters, but I got bored, and skipped through the rest of the book to the big reveal, and lingered over an unexpected plot development regarding Samir. However, the comeuppance was ruined by severe over-reaction on the part of our heroine, and not balanced by enough groveling on the part of the hero. A great plot, but a missed opportunity.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

March 4, 2015

How to Capture a Countess

by Karen Hawkins

“Financial standing, a social position beyond what she has now, and a husband to dote upon her every wish. What more could she ask for?”

“Maybe youth. Vigor. Teeth.”

“Lord Cameron has his own teeth.” Margaret narrowed her eyes at the other candidate. “I’m not so certain about Munro. They seemed somewhat clacky at dinner, so I’m suspicious.”

Tolerable. Karen Hawkins is a better writer than most of the historical romance writers I have found these days. She writes like she enjoys writing. This is the first book I have read by her, and I will give her another chance with next in the series. Humorous situations, though not laugh out loud funny. Doesn’t have the wit or the voice of some of my favorites, but she is one of the better writers in a genre I have grown weary of. Unfortunately, she follows the same hackneyed romance formula as most of her sister writers do. By page 30, X has to happen; by page 75 xx has to happen etc., etc. I had to skip through the last third of the book. This book was flawed by a silly and immature hero who was also kind of a jerk. When he threw our heroine in a lake because she dared best him in a contest and then accused her of cheating, I almost quit the thing. Still, she is engaging.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

July 31, 2015

Doctor, Soldier, Daddy

By Caro Carson

I took a chance on this author because it came highly recommended by one of my favorite authors who reads Ms. Carson herself when she wants some super light reading. This is still another time I was disappointed by a favorite author’s recommendation. Yes, it was light. Boy, was it light. As far as sentence structure, vocabulary, and complexity, and depth of feeling, it was on the level of maybe 5th grade. But I can’t really even say that, because the first 3 Harry Potters are 5th grade. There were some other promising signs that this might be worth reading: the publisher was a real one, Harlequin, which has published some really good books and given many a talented author their start. My library had a number of titles of Caro Carson available, she has decent ratings on Goodreads, and of course, words of praise by a beloved author. She must have some talent and a loyal following, right? Obviously, it’s me. Wow, what a disconnect.

But I finished it, so the writing was at least good enough not to make me mad. I just kept telling myself to give it a few more minutes, but by that time, I was so close to the end, that it would have been a shame to quit. And it was a very fast read because I could speed read or skip without missing a thing. The characters were cardboard; I didn’t care about them in the least; there was no humor, the prose was not entertaining, Let me count the ways.

Simply, (“spoilers” ahead! )a nice hot doctor needs a mother for his son he brought home from Afghanistan. He settles on a nursery helper who seems to have a special connection to his son, who has health problems (they both have health problems-she has allergies, his are more serious). She is poverty-stricken and plain and is treated unkindly, sometimes, by the nurses who work with her. She (finally) accepts his proposal, and the rest is just them getting together and making a real marriage of it. There is a little bit of suspense as he learns that the Afghan woman might have already been pregnant before our hero met her. So he takes a genetic test. I won’t include the result of the test, but does it really matter?

The plot summary of the book appealed to me. I like a fake-marriage story. I like a good Cinderella/make-over story. But that angle was wasted. There was no comeuppance for the mean nurses, no shock and awe over the plain little mouse becoming a cool chick. (Her make-over consisted of a new haircut and her nose stops running constantly because she can now afford allergy medicine.) But because of the simplistic writing and lack of character development, the book generated as much emotion and caring about these people in me as my paragraph summarizing the book did just now.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

December 13, 2018

Suspense and Sensibility: Or, First Impressions Revisited (Mr. & Mrs. Darcy Mysteries, #2)

by Carrie Bebris

I’m a sucker for anything based on Jane Austen if it is well done. And sometimes when it is not. This is evidenced by the fact that I’ve read all of these Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Mysteries, though this is the only one I have actually written anything on. It starts off pretty well; the characters seemed pretty true to the originals, though Kitty is given a more positive spin. It is an improvement over Pride and Prescience. I actually chuckled a few times. Sadly, it degenerates pretty quickly once the mystery kicks in. Unfortunately, it is another paranormal mystery and it is positively outlandish. It was nice to see the Dashwood women again. Lucy Ferrars nee Steele starts out true to form, but her ultimate fate is positively ludicrous and cringe-worthy. The resolution has some tragic aspects considering the fluffy way it starts out. I was considerably less patient with the rest in the series, just skipping through the mystery part. I remember looking forward to more of Georgiana as she was pretty intriguing, and also an appearance of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Unfortunately, I do not remember anything about any of the other stories, which I guess is a review of the whole series in and of itself.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

September 15, 2014

The Astronaut Wives Club

By Lisa Koppel

“On his previous Apollo 10 mission, a “dry run” for Apollo 11, Geno had radioed back to Houston that riding around the Moon was a piece of cake. “It was definitely not a piece of cake for me,” said Barbara. “If you think going to the Moon is hard, try staying at home.”

This book was very much a page-turner for me. At turns funny, dishy, and sad. It’s a great thumbnail sketch of what women’s lives were like in the ’60s. It would have been improved had the author scaled down a bit and focused more on the original 7 or maybe 9 and gone deeper.

I picked this up because I loved The Right Stuff and have read it several times. I would have liked to have had more of the wives’ reaction to that book which really defined them in the public eye in such an irreverent but ultimately respectful way. The only mention was when the author reported that one of the women threw TRS across the room because of her objection to Tom Wolfe comparing their group to the Officers Wives Club. Huh? That’s what was cherry-picked? And what is the name of this book again? It seems very self-serving of Koppel to only use this reference to Tom Wolfe’s book when any book on the astronauts or their wives owes so much to it.

The Right Stuff really gave the Astronaut Wives their due in both lyrical and hilarious prose. Many of the anecdotes were first told in Wolfe’s masterpiece and told much better. The dramatic confrontation between John Glenn trying to protect his shy wife from the press and Vice-President Johnson made you bite your nails and then stand up and cheer. Especially when the other 5 had his back regardless of their rivalries and jealousies. Tom Wolfe’s incisive reveal of the travails of Betty Grissom, and their self-aware inside jokes such as Mr. and Mrs. “Primly and Squarely Stable” when they were anything but are included here. I wish it had taken off from there and gone deeper rather than lamely rehashing entertaining but old material. I would have loved to read what Wolfe would have had to say about Pat White and her ultimate suicide, Alan Shepard barring one of the widows from her dead husband’s things, the interesting characters of Buzz Aldrin, Edgar Mitchell, and Alan Bean, and many others.

That being said, I have to hand it to Lily Koppel: she does give a glance at some of the quirkiness and bizarre personality traits some of the wives had to cope with in their husbands. Unfortunately, it is only a glimpse. It is more of reportage rather than interpretation and insights into the great drama and comedy it was. The book would also have benefited from getting some of the men’s perspectives and musings, now that they are old.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

July 17, 2013

The Enchanted April

By Elizabeth Von Arnim

“And the more he treated her as though she were really very nice, the more Lotty expanded and became really very nice, and the more he, affected in his turn, became really very nice himself; so that they went round and round, not in a vicious but in a highly virtuous circle.”

This was a lovely book narrated beautifully by Nadia May. The story is already well known, I think, if not from the book then by the multiple award-winning and Oscar-nominated movie, directed by Mike Newell. I saw the movie again a couple of months ago, was inspired to (finally) read the book, and now I want to see the movie again!

Four very different women disappointed by life and love, strangers to each other, decide to rent a beautiful villa in Italy together. Two are married and two are not. The two married ones, Lottie Wilkins and Rose Arbuthnot were once in love with their husbands and vice versa but time and temperament have estranged them. Lotty is shy and spiritless and her husband squashes her. She has very little filter and is sometimes awkward and imprudent. She has not been an asset to his career. Rose has driven her husband away by her devotion to her church and doing good works for the poor. She coldly disapproves of him. He leaves her to herself and to her religion. She is confused by her unhappiness. Rose and Lotty are getting away from their husbands as much as they are attracted by the prospect of escaping London for beautiful Italy. Mrs. Fisher is a dried-up selfish old snob who lives in the past. Beautiful wealthy Lady Caroline is trying to escape men altogether. They all inevitably fall in love with her at first sight, much to her dismay, and won’t leave her alone. She calls them “Grabbers”. She was the most interesting of the four women, to me. Improbably nicknamed “Scrap,” She is self-absorbed, but I loved her. All she wants is solitude, but people won’t stop bothering her. Her lovely countenance hides inner bitterness, boredom, and disillusionment.

“…but it was her fate that however coldly she sent forth her words they came out sounding quite warm and agreeable. That was because she had a sympathetic and delightful voice…. Nobody in consequence ever believed they were being snubbed. It was most tiresome. And if she stared icily it did not look icy at all, because her eyes, lovely to begin with, had the added loveliness of very long, soft, dark eyelashes. No icy stare could come out of eyes like that… it got caught and lost in the soft eyelashes, and the persons stared at merely thought they were being regarded with a flattering and exquisite attentiveness. And if ever she was out of humour or definitely cross— and who would not be sometimes in such a world?—-she only looked so pathetic that people all rushed to comfort her, if possible by means of kissing. It was more than tiresome, it was maddening. Nature was determined that she should look and sound angelic. She could never be disagreeable or rude without being completely misunderstood.”

Poor lady!

One by one, by the end, all four of the unhappy women, have their lives transformed by the enchanted beauty of San Salvatore. Two marriages are restored when their husbands visit and see their wives transformed. Lady Caroline learns gratitude and sees herself with clear eyes, and finally realizes that love is a blessing, not a curse, and, perhaps, lets it into her life. Mrs. Fisher, who was thoroughly unlikeable and badly behaved for almost the whole book, learns life still holds love and value for her despite her age, starts to look ahead and not back. As they walk away from San Salvatore and the (enchanted?) villa, we hope and pray they take the enchantment with them permanently. We think they do.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

October 11, 2021

The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase

By Mark Forsyth

“if you say, ‘Full fathom five thy father lies’, you will be considered the greatest poet who ever lived. Express precisely the same thought any other way – e.g. ‘your father’s corpse is 9.144 metres below sea level’ – and you’re just a coastguard with some bad news.”

This is a very clever and funny book about the wonders of rhetoric. This book is to be enjoyed for the overall appreciation it will give you for the myriad ways great writers wrote and why they were effective and why we remember their thoughts, sentences, lyrics, and paragraphs today. A little tweak here and there and many immortal passages would have perished in the ashes of time. If your goal is to learn specific vocabulary words and be able to give examples of each and every type of rhetorical conceit, you will be disappointed unless you have a photographic memory. My advice is: don’t even try to memorize the elements in order to, what? pull erudite and esoteric knowledge out at cocktail parties? Just enjoy. The great strength of the book is the many examples, perfectly chosen, of each trick and technique great writers used to get their point across. From the Bible to the Beatles; from Shakespeare to Lewis Carroll and Bob Dylan, Mr. Forsyth leaves no secret or subtlety unrevealed. His tone is full of fun, irreverent, and even joyful, even as its scholarship is impeccable. I’ll include one more long quote:

“John Ronald Reuel Tolkien wrote his first story aged seven. It was about a “green great dragon.” He showed it to his mother who told him that you absolutely couldn’t have a green great dragon, and that it had to be a great green one instead. Tolkien was so disheartened that he never wrote another story for years.
The reason for Tolkien’s mistake, since you ask, is that adjectives in English absolutely have to be in this order: opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose Noun. So you can have a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife. But if you mess with that word order in the slightest you’ll sound like a maniac. It’s an odd thing that every English speaker uses that list, but almost none of us could write it out. And as size comes before colour, green great dragons can’t exist.”

I also want to include a remarkable review by another reader which ably and cleverly summarizes the books contents: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1095810566?book_show_action=true&from_review_page=1

Rating: 4 out of 5.

June 17, 2015

Juliet

By Anne Fortier

“I’ll be back tomorrow,” he said, “at nine o’clock. Don’t open your door to anyone else.”
“Not even my balcony door?”
“Especially not your balcony door.”

This was well written with an intriguing premise. I love books that educate one painlessly. I learned lots about Siena, Italy, and Romeo and Juliet. Of course, I spent some time on Google Earth exploring Siena. It’s bound to come in handy sometime, I hope. I was much more interested in the contemporary story rather than the concurrently running medieval story of R & J (The true story). I confess I kind of skipped through that part of the novel. Because we know that did not end well.

Dashes of humor and an engaging voice kept me going to the end, which featured several twists and revelations I didn’t see coming. Good stuff for those who like good old-fashioned romantic suspense, with family drama included. I’m always a sucker for good twin/evil twin tropes and with a little redemption thrown in… well, what’s not to like?

Rating: 3 out of 5.

February 26, 2014

The Trail of the Green Doll (Judy Bolton Mysteries #27)

By Margaret Sutton

“This must be the entrance to the cave…We never would have found it if Judy’s shoe hadn’t scraped against it when she fell.”
You were determined to find it, with or without me,” she retorted. “Isn’t anybody going to ask me if I hurt myself?”
Apparently nobody was.

Judy’s adventure starts out with her putting a sign on the road advertising her home as a place for tourists to stay. Without consulting her husband who is a secret FBI agent with an office in his house. Not Good, Judy, Not Good. Of course, It quickly attracts some really sketchy men and Judy comes to her senses. Anyway, a young single mother with two children whose car had just been forced off the road and her purse stolen also saw it, and Judy is off to the races.

What follows is a mystery involving a valuable jade collection that is missing from a mansion that has just burned to the ground. The rather flaky and secretive widowed mother was traveling to see her Uncle Paul, the owner. Besides being the key to the missing jade, her history includes a soap opera-ish love triangle between her, her late husband, and his identical twin brother, three cousins who grew up there.

This effort by Margaret Sutton is notable for its exploration of the Hindu mythological tale, The Ramayana, which permeates the story and the mystery. It surely would have been very strange and very educational to her young readers.

This book is not a favorite despite its exotic and interesting aspects. The little family and their troubles did not appeal to me, and one of the mysteries (Talking Trees!) had a very far-fetched explanation. Almost as implausible as the secret tunnel in The Black Cat’s Clue.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

October 8, 2021