The Watsons & Emma Watson–Jane Austen and Joan Aiken

A month ago I read a Jane Austen sequel by Maria Hamilton and a story of a modern writer tasked with finishing a Jane Austen fragment by Elizabeth Aston.  Neither was overly successful.  Joan Aiken, however, pulled it off.  Her addition to Jane Austen’s fragment was seamless.  Emma was sent to live with her aunt, but when her aunt is widowed and then remarries, Emma is sent home to her dying father and one kind brother and sister and two terrible sisters, who do not live at home  and one terrible brother and sister-in-law.  Her sister is written off as a spinster left to care for their father.  One terrible sister returns with an older doctor as her husband.  The other spends a lot of time trying to secure one.  Emma cares very little for herself and much for her two good siblings.  When their father dies, Emma and her spinster sister are sent to live with their terrible sisters and watch as both self destruct.  All ends well when, in the one departure from Austen, Emma leaves her situation to care for her newly re-widowed aunt and give music lessons.  Emma ends up married to a war hero amputee, her spinster sister to her recently widowed sweetheart.  Also missing is the long postscript to explain how everyone felt while the story was playing out.  Other than that, Emma Watson was a successful Austen sequel. 

Finished 11/6/2011


All In One Place–Carolyne Aarsen

This is another Christian chick-lit book and a sequel to The Only Best Place.  In this sequel, Terra runs away from an abusive relationship to her more stable and married (and newly Christian) sister, Leslie,  in Montana.  The girls grew up with an alchoholic and often absent-minded at best mother and Terra, the elder sister, seems to suffer from those scars more deeply than Leslie.  However, there is room for another novel as Leslie rejects her mother and has not found Christian forgiveness for her. 

Terra has trust issues.  She has self-esteem issues.  She has man issues.  She runs into an incident with some thugs in a bar when she first comes into town.  He’s the one who leaves bloodied, however, which shows a character with some spunk.

The story isn’t bad, which is why I picked it up and put it in my bag.  However, like much Christian chick-lit, it follows a basic pattern:  plot, plot, interesting characters, oops, time for some moralizing, which is then plopped in very awkwardly.  Terra finds it awkward and tries to escape it for most of the novel and I found myself sympathizing with her–and I’m Christian.  Why can’t the characters’ Christianity just be an organic element of who they are?  Why does someone have to be saved from the perils of unbelief and have the merits of Christ thrown at them like a Sunday sermon? 

Clearly this lit appeals to many, but I’d really like to see editors, and Christian readers, demand that the elements of romance, chick-lit, and Christian characters be integrated in a more realistic and less cartoonish way.  When I run out of books, I may go back to The Only Best Place just to see if Aarsden was as stiff with the Christian piece there as in this one and to see if Leslie is more likeable character, because she’s a bit of a self-righteous B in much of this one.

Finished 11/16/2011

Duty and Desire: A Novel of Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman–Pamela Aidan


I may have a problem.   A Pride and Prejudice problem.  Apparently I’m not alone.  I chose Duty and Desire because it was in the A section that I’m working on, was paperback, and is a P&P novel.  It’s the second in a trilogy, but my library did not have the first, so I risked it.  This particular novel deals with the “silent period” of P&P when Darcy goes off with Bingley and apparently tries to overcome his feelings for Elizabeth Bennet. 

This is not a good book.  The first half is full of melodrama about Georgiana and her recent depression due to the Wickham affair and Darcy’s struggle to deal with, and hide, her “born again” status, which has helped her come out of that depression.  Providence plays a thematic role here.  The second half of the novel has Darcy deciding to find a suitable wife and, to that end, visiting an old Cambridge friend.  Thence commences a Gothic mystery complete with sacrificed piglets and charms created from blood and bits of hair, a castle with shadowy corners and an Irish princess.  Darcy does not seem much like Darcy in this half of the book as he flirts and chatters and becomes a sleuth with his valet as a Shakespeare-quoting side kick. 

What is it about P&P spin offs that encourages the mediocre?  And why are they published?  Are those of us with P&P addictions so desperate that we’ll do anything to meet Darcy again and again and again?  Clearly publishers believe this to be true.  And it seems to have worked as I noticed, in looking for the image of the book, that one reviewer on Amazon counseled skipping P&P and reading Aidan’s trilogy.  I could not have forced myself to continue this volume of Aidan’s trilogy if I weren’t already addicted to Austen’s characters.  Austen’s characters, whom she crafted through witty dialogue and engaging plot lines.  There’s a reason it’s the most loved novel in the English language.  And probably a reason my library has only this volume of the trilogy.  Sorry, Ms. Aidan, this one just wasn’t for me.

Finished 11/5/11

The Librarian–Larry Beinhart

 Beinhart’s 2004 novel is a barely veiled morality tale about the presidency of George Bush, 9/11, and the rising power of government via Homeland Security and the USA PATRIOT Act.  Beinhart’s president is Scott.  He is running against Dr. Anne Murphy, who, unlike Scott, served time in Vietnam as a combat nurse.  Like Scott, she is well versed in television, having been a host for her own talk show.  The story opens with the billionaire Alan Stowe’s desire to create a legacy through his personal library, for which he hires a librarian.  When she disappears, David Goldberg, a university librarian looking for summer work, takes up the task.  Stowe’s cronies, steeped in paranois, believe he’s a spy for the Murphy campaign, and we’re off and running.  One of the best scenes of the novel involves a number of wealthy Republican men and their women watching the covering of a thoroughbred mare.  Not exactly a subtle commentary on gender and power, but memorable.

The scariest part about this book is that I found myself believing it possible–that people in power would desire so immensely to stay in power that they would engineer a major catastrophe to make that continuation in power certain. 

Beinhart leaves the election undecided and puts the burden on the reader to rally, to lobby, and to just plain wake up.  Sadly, I don’t know if we have. 

Finished 11/3/11