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

One Day in December

By Josie Silver

I listened to this book on audio with Elinor Tomlinson reading the main protagonist Laurie’s part. She did a great job but boy her voice is very posh. The reader who voiced Jack was good too, but for some reason, I didn’t think the timbre of his voice matched the character. But that’s just me. Not his fault.

This was a good love story and well written. I was attracted to the story because something similar happened to me once except we were in cars, not at a bus stop. Nothing came of it. We never met. The ending was very happy for the two main characters and almost made up for the problems I had with the story. It was very cinematic. I can just see it as a movie scene in my mind’s eye. Since this was a Reese Witherspoon book club pick, It just may be a film someday, although it would probably be a little difficult given the limited plot. I almost feel it is more of a love story between two best girlfriends rather than a romance.

Now, my problems. Throughout a lot of the story our hero, Jack, behaved badly. Cringingly so. The man Laurie married was such a good guy and behaved with amazing trust, maturity, and patience. He also loved her so much. He would make a great hero in his own book.

**spoiler**

As far as her relationship with her husband, Oscar, she was hypocritical and stubbornly self-deluded. she made a conscious decision to marry (“I choose you, Oscar, every day.”–or words to that effect) Nice words, Laurie. Too bad you didn’t walk the walk. Having chosen Oscar, and made her vows, she decided not to continue with the marriage on the lamest of excuses. She betrayed him and her vows in her heart. I felt like she was casting around for an excuse to divorce him and Oscar’s promotion and permanent transfer to Brussels full time just fell into her hands and boy did she pounce on it. She didn’t want to admit to herself that she was in the wrong and a less than sterling character. Or the author did not want to paint her in that light, I should say. I feel like Ms. Silver wrote herself into a corner in that she could not split them up without contradicting their established characters, or something tragic happening. The excuse that Laurie did not want to move to Brussels with him was so phony and lame. I can’t help but think she, indeed, was setting him up for a sequel. In my opinion, killing him off certainly would have ticked all the boxes as a solution to getting Jack and Laurie back together. This was a big problem with me, but another problem I had was with the temporary estrangement between Sarah and Laurie. I think Sarah really over-reacted and skipping out on Laurie’s wedding where she was maid of honor was really despicable and over the top. It just didn’t ring true. Their reconciliation was largely “off-screen,” thus missing an opportunity for some good emotional drama and tears. As such, it was very anticlimactic.

**end spoiler**

So, Ms. Josie Silver, I have told you the problems with the book and even told you how they could have been corrected. Now the least you can do is write a sequel featuring Oscar’s love story. Then all will be forgiven!

Rating: 3 out of 5.

February 15, 2019

Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice

By Curtis Sittenfeld

“Fred!” the nurse said, though they had never met. “How are we today?” Reading the nurse’s name tag, Mr. Bennet replied with fake enthusiasm, “Bernard! We’re mourning the death of manners and the rise of overly familiar discourse. How are you?”

Pastiches on Austen novels number into the hundreds in film and literature. They usually range from terrible to not too bad with a few real gems. This one is 4 stars. Would have been 5 but for a too drawn-out tacked-on ending. The book could have been 75 pages shorter. Eligible is a very clever, and funny homage to Pride and Prejudice set 2013. Elizabeth is a 38-year-old journalist, who along with her sister Jane, a mellow, sentimental, kind-hearted yoga instructor whose biological clock is ticking, goes home to her Cincinnati home to make sure her caustic, cynical, but lazy ivory tower father is cared for after his heart attack. God knows, the rest of their family would probably kill him with their incompetency and neglect. Lydia and Kitty still live at home though in their 20’s, supported by what’s left of their inherited money, which Mr. and the shopping-addicted Mrs. Bennet have frittered away over the years. Mr. Bennet’s medical bills have thrown the Bennets to the brink of bankruptcy. The 2 girls are idle, though beautiful and toned due their dedication to CrossFit. They are potty-mouthed and have no filters. Mary is an unpleasant recluse, and working on her 3rd master’s degree, with no thought to getting a real job and becoming self-supporting.
The book parallels the original as well as it possibly could, although does get off track towards the end. Part of the pleasure of this book was anticipating what Curtis would do with characters and situations that you knew were coming. It mirrors the overall tone and diction of the original as well. When it went astray was when she diverged too far from the Austen story when the family went west to film their parts in the reality series.
Lady Catharine de Bourgh has no relation to Darcy in this one but is a lauded 80-year-old feminist icon, Kathy, whom Elizabeth seeks to interview throughout much of the book. Her character is a surprise. Think Gloria Steinem. Georgy is a Stanford student: sheltered, shy, and anorexic. “Chip” Bingley is a doctor by profession, but seems to gravitate towards reality TV stardom (The Bachelor) as he is really a bit of a dim-bulb. He would rather try to parlay his fame into a medical TV talk show than actually be a doctor. His friend, Darcy, is an old-money renowned San Francisco surgeon in Cincinnati to head a new brain surgery facility. Elizabeth’s long-time toxic (married) boyfriend of 25 years is Jasper Witt, whose dirty secrets are ultimately exposed by his fellow Stanford schoolmate, Darcy. Everyone is there, plus some fresh new characters, but with a modern spin. They are so well-realized, and sometimes so out of the box and witty, that the book actually gives fresh insights into Austen’s original characters. Some plot and character threads proceed as expected, some take some unlooked-for twists and turns. By the end, Elizabeth sorts out her family’s financial problems and all of the sisters are happily pared off and standing on their own two feet, including Mary. Except she prefers bowling to romance.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

June 23, 2016

My Kind of You

By Tracy Brogan

“There are no bears on the island.”
“Really, are you sure because I was hiking with my Dad and I’m sure I saw one? Either that or it was a humongous man-eating badger, with fangs. It might have been frothing at the mouth.”
“Man-eating, huh? No problem then. I’m a girl.”

Tracy Brogan’s first in the Trillium Bay trilogy about the three Callaghan sisters has a lot in common with a Hallmark romance movie. A really good one. It is set in a picturesque and authentic vacation spot. Because let’s face it, Winnaway island on northern Lake Huron is Mackinac Island on northern Lake Michigan. Horses and bikes and no cars, ferries, fudge, and the view of Mackinac (Petoskey) bridge, big famous hotel, etc. Our heroine is a spunky single mother obliged to come home from the big city to the small town she grew up in. She has some family reconciling to do, there’s an eccentric granny and a couple of big secrets that add suspense and tension. There is a big misunderstanding close to the end of the story which threatens the lovers and is tidily cleared up at the last minute. The romance is relatively angst-free with them professing their love without mentioning marriage, and everyone’s super nice. There’s even a festival!

I enjoyed it. It was lighthearted, fun, and well-written without digging too deep emotionally speaking. It was amusing with a downright funny horseback riding scene, among others. Emily’s inner dialogue was cute as well as her descriptions of the local eccentrics. I’m not sure how much the narrator contributed to my enjoyment but she was fantastic and included authentic Michigan accents. She added to the humor for sure with her delivery and made Emily and Ryan very likable and relatable. Almost 4 stars.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

September 30, 2021

Vinegar Girl

By Anne Tyler

“Hi Kate! We went to get marriage license!

Who’s we?

Your Father and I.

Well I hope you’ll be very happy together.”

I enjoyed this little novel very much. I believe the bitter criticism that it has received is because most of the readers read it because it was an Anne Tyler novel and were quite taken aback by her little foray into chick-lit. I’m not sure what they expected given it is a retelling of The Taming of the Shrew, but I’m pretty confident that romantic comedy fans would like this very well.

“In my country they have proverb: ‘Beware against the sweet person, for sugar has no nutrition.’ ” This was intriguing. Kate said, “Well, in my country they say that you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”“Yes, they would,” Pyotr said mysteriously. He had been walking a couple of steps ahead of Kate, but now he dropped back and, without any warning, slung an arm around her shoulders and pulled her close to his side. “But why you would want to catch flies, hah? Answer me that, vinegar girl.”

It is a funny story about family relationships, and a grouchy heroine who might be somewhere “on the spectrum” as they say, who gets forced out of her rut of life and finds her true self and love through no fault of her own. And it is interspersed with little jewels of writing such as

He had the foreigner’s tendency toward bald, obvious compliments, dropping them with a thud at her feet like a cat presenting her with a dead mouse.

And it ends with a dandy epilogue. Love epilogues. I never met an epilogue I didn’t like. My only complaint is that the book was too short.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

April 8, 2019

The Heir Affair (Royal We #2)

By Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

We put on our Pleasant Walking Faces as we entered the museum through its gift shop, before switching to our Pleasant Greeting Faces as we shook hands with the gallery director.

What with the holidays and my mission to look at every Christmas TV movie ever made, It took me forever to finish this book. Meanwhile, I had developed a hankering to read one of my favorite author’s still unread backlist books so I tried to skip ahead but whenever I came back to it, it just wouldn’t let me do that. That’s a sign of a good book. It was just as good as The Royal We, I thought. The two authors have a real knack for patterning their fictional characters with enough verisimilitude in their personality and situations and events that it gives the reader a sense of being behind closed doors. At the same time, they put the characters in fresh and fascinating situations and dilemmas. Yet I never thought, “Oh that could never happen!” It is very well written, if a bit too long, with lots of intrigue, romance, humor, a mystery, and a shocking development that leads to some suspense. The book is chock-full of characters and it’s hard to keep them all straight. Their nemesis does not get any comeuppance. And one intriguing character from the last book does not make an appearance. Maybe a setup for a third novel? This one ends with everything tied up pretty neatly though, which I very much appreciated. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

January 1, 2021

When We Found Home

By Susan Mallery

This was a good concept for a moving, funny, romantic novel. Two half-siblings from very diverse backgrounds (one is a convicted felon) come to live with another very wealthy and successful half-sibling. One is an old for her years 12-year-old. Unfortunately, it fell short in the writing department. Mallery falls into the habit that I have noticed in some competent but uninspired writers which is to spell. out. every. single. thing. about inconsequential parts of the story. Like she is getting paid by the word.

Delaney noticed that several of the booths around them were empty and realized it was much later than she’d thought. Malcolm had long since paid the bill and they were on their second cup of decaf. “This has been great,” she said with a smile. “Thank you for asking me out to dinner.” “Thank you for taking care of Keira.” They both stood and walked out front. “How are you getting home?” he asked. “Uber.” Because no one drove in the city if they didn’t have to. “Me, too. Want to share?” “Sure.” He opened the app on his phone and entered her address, then requested the car. “Three minutes,” he said, sounding unhappy. “Sometimes they’re too efficient.”

At which point he grabs her for a kiss. No build-up or chemistry. It might be OK if it were a scene from a movie, but not in explained in words.

The writing seems geared for juvenile readers, except for the bordering on crude sex scenes that seem discordant with the tone of the book as a whole. The author writes like she is a bored and uninterested transcriber typing out what happens in her story and with her characters. For the first third or so of the book, the plot was interesting, and the characters promising enough that I kept reading. It moves along pretty well, and I love a good fish out of water story. But I became as disengaged as the author seemed to be and so had to skim over the rest of it. I am amazed at the great reviews. She is not a horrible writer but her narrative voice has no personality. In this one, I felt like she was on autopilot.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

March 11, 2019

31 Dream Street (Roommates Wanted)

By Lisa Jewell

When Karen had left him fifteen years ago he’d filled his house with people from all walks of life, people with stories to tell and journeys to share, but instead of learning from them he’d used them to insulate himself from the world. And now that he was finally unpeeling all the layers and revealing himself, it was very disappointing to see that he wasn’t an eccentric struggling artist with a fondness for unusual people, that he was just plain old Toby Dobbs, the tallest boy at school, the disappointment to his father, the man whose own wife hadn’t wanted to live with him for more than a month.

I wanted to try a Lisa Jewel because of the good reviews and because I was intrigued that she started off writing chick-lit type books but has more recently become known for her psychological thrillers. I chose a chick-lit type because that is a genre I am more comfortable and familiar with. I chose 31 Dream Street, (aka Roomates Wanted) because the story intrigued me. It had lots of diverse characters coming together and seemed to have more to offer than a more romance-oriented novel.

Toby, the main character of the ensemble owns a beautiful unusual old house which would be worth around 1.000,000 pounds with some refurbishment and redecorating. It was a gift from his absent and uncaring father. Toby starts off as a loser with a capital L. Through the years he has rented rooms for rock bottom rates or sometimes no rates to various people who needed a helping hand. In order to sell the house and jump-start his life, he needs to get rid of his current tenants. But he is so soft-hearted, he will not just kick them out until they have gotten their lives in order and have someplace to go. Thus, he takes the advice of his appealing next-door neighbor whom he gets to know: find about about them and do what you can to help them settle elsewhere.

Along with Toby, we get to know his 4 tenants and eventually uncover the pasts and secrets which are holding them back. We also get to know Toby and Leah, his next-door neighbor and eventual friend, both of whom also need some guidance and rehabilitation in their own lives. Throughout the book it is a matter of two steps forward, one step back, or vice versa, for all but one, who is all steps back, until the very conclusion.

Lisa Jewell is an excellent writer. The narrative voice drew me into the story. Her descriptions and dialogue were sharp and evocative. The success of the story rested on whether the characterization of the players hit home. They did. The characters were involving and interesting. Unfortunately, they usually were not very likable except for Leah. My emotions were not engaged. With some, I went back and forth as to whether I cared for them at all depending on their actions. Toby especially was bothersome. Even though his looks, outlook for the future, love life, and general well-being go through many positive changes, he continues to be a wet noodle. His reaction to a bad setback in his house renovation, his reaction to his unintended make-over, his lack of resolve overall, but especially with Leah. He was a constant disappointment after seeming to finally grow up over and over. It was Leah was the catalyst for positive change throughout. I also regretted the lack of closure with his father. His father standing him up at the end was a message in itself, but I didn’t want a message. Especially considering the long setup. I wanted drama, emotion, and maybe an epiphany. 

The fates of the tenants had positive outcomes, but three were bitter-sweet, and the one totally positive fate seemed contrived and unearned. Actually one of the bittersweet ones did too. Toby and Leah’s fate was nothing short of idyllic, which left me with a positive impression of the book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

September 17, 2021

Meet Me at Beachcomber Bay

by Jill Mansell

This was a perfectly fine romance/chick-lit novel. It was well-written and kept me interested. It just lacked that special spark. It was amusing, not funny. I liked the characters but didn’t love them. The one character I hated came straight out of the Milly Johnson bad-guy playbook. I wasn’t tortured with him for long, thank goodness. The super-nice character he was threatening saw right through him and was strong enough to dispatch him fairly quickly. Another badly behaved character was at her worst during a confrontation with our main heroine, and then she turned around within minutes. She just changed her mind, apparently. While this was easy on my stress level, it prevented a strong catharsis that is so enjoyable in my more favorite novels. Another storyline resolved itself too easily as well. There’s a fine line between torturing the reader with our protagonists’ cluelessness and bad decisions and building up to a “stand up and cheer” break-through. This was a pleasant read, but a little too pleasant to make it memorable. No real lows, but no real highs either. No more Jill Mansell for a while, I guess. This was the second chance book. Never say never, though

Rating: 3 out of 5.

March 5, 2020