Darcys and The Bingleys, Marsha Altman – Book Review

the-darcys-and-the-bingleysThe Darcys and the Bingleys: A Tale of Two Gentleman’s Marriages to Two Most Devoted Sisters, by Marsha Altman

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Publication Date: September 1, 2008

Format: Trade Paperback, 432 pages

I am always open to perusing a sequel to find out whether someone has been able to do an adequate job in following up dear old Jane. While this book was funny, well-written and endearing, The Darcys and the Bingleys is not for Pride and Prejudice/Austen purists. After reading the first few chapters I gave up hope of trying to see this as a sequel picking up where the characters that I loved so much left off. It’s essential to think of this as a novel set around the same time period as P&P, focusing on two wealthy friends and their engagements and marriages to two sisters, then this works as a light-hearted and romantic comedy set back in the day in England.

The novel begins with Charles Bingley admitting that he doesn’t know much about what goes on in the bedroom and as such he is showing much concern about his upcoming wedding night.  He goes to his friend Darcy to get some help and advice which leads them to begin reminiscing about how they first met. We flashback to them as young bucks making their way through Oxford, and this is where the sequel deviates questionably from the original.

Darcy and Bingley meet at a fencing party they both attend during their freshman year. Darcy has not yet grown into the proud man whom Elizabeth meets and eventually marries, but is instead uncomfortable about his station in life and intimidated by the wealth of the other men at Oxford. Excuse me? Darcy isn’t titled but he is supposedly one of the richest men in England. I highly doubt that he would have felt out of place with the wealthy especially by the time he reached University. He would have been bred with the people he is supposedly intimidated by, they would have run in the same circles, and he have very well would have known his position in society.

Darcy is also uncomfortable around women to the point that he runs off at a hint of their approach and apparently is a lightweight who can’t hold his alcohol.  Bingley and Darcy are so gauche as to both discuss the source of Bingley’s wealth and how he is barely suitable for society.  It all rather odd and the behavior doesn’t really fit with any wealthy men of their time even if you don’t take Pride and Prejudice into account.  Needless to say Darcy isn’t to happy to stroll down memory lane and he puts an end to all of it by riding off to bring Bingley his very own copy of the Kama Sutra to help him figure it all out.

The rest of the novel follows the subsequent pregnancies of the sisters, and the rivalries of Charles and Darcy
through pretty much everything and anything you can think up.  If you can get past a lot of the mis-characterizations and treat this as a separate entity from Pride and Prejudice then this novel is charming and a fun romance.  The banter between the couples Darcy and Elizabeth, and Jane and Charles is endearing and witty (I particularly love that Elizabeth has Darcy wrapped around her finger). The conversations between Elizabeth and her father, Mr. Bennett were surprisingly true to form and Mr. Bernnet, if no one else, was true to character. And watch out, Miss Caroline Bingley is back on the scene and her story gives us a little more insight into why she behaves as she does.  You almost feel for her…almost!


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Have you read The Darcys and the Bingleys? Please e-mail me your link or leave it in the comments, I’d love to have it here.

Thanks to Renee from I Just Finished for sending me this book to review.  Head over that way to read lots of other great reviews, or join in the fun and sign up to be a reviewer yourself.

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Life After Genius, M. Ann Jacoby – Book Review

life-after-geniusLife After Genius,  M. Ann Jacoby

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Publication Date: October 29, 2008

Format: Hardcover, 400 pages

The premise of M. Ann Jacoby’s debut novel, Life After Genius, is an interesting one.  18 year old Theodore “Mead” Fegley turns up in a cab, with a broken arm no less, at his parent’s house less than two weeks before his college graduation, and just days before he is to present his groundbreaking findings on the Riemann Hypothesis to a room full of eager mathematicians. Something has gone wrong, but Mead, as he prefers to be called, offers no explanations and just begins working alongside his stoic father and angry and intemperate uncle in the family business- undertaking and furniture selling.

There is a lot about this novel, which is intriguing and thought provoking.  Right off the bat there is this feeling of tension throughout the book, and it never lets up as the reader tries to puzzle out what went wrong between Mead and his enigmatic, wealthy frenemy Herman.  All that is known is that some sort of confrontation between the two has left Mead feeling he has no other choice but to move back home, abandoning his degree a mere weeks before graduation.

Told in third person narrative, and entirely from the protagonist’s perspective, Life After Genius jumps around Mead’s life in non-linear fashion; equally rewarding readers with tantalizing additional pieces of the puzzle and tormenting them when puzzle pieces just aren’t enough to draw the hoped for definitive conclusion. While the basics aren’t extremely hard to decipher, and are easily guessed by the novel’s midpoint, the more compelling questions seem to be why and how it all happened, and if Mead will go back to school and set things right.

In some respects, Mead is a typical teenager grappling with issues that teenagers face at some point or another- feeling different and like an outsider, struggling to make the right choices, trying to figure out who he is and who he should be- but he is doing all this with the additional handicap of being socially inept and isolated because the genius factor has always played a dominant part of his existence and thereby affects all of his relationships.

Jacoby is to be commended for writing a novel with such a firm characterization of her protagonist. Mead engages and forces the reader to walk the line between sympathizing with his experience and wanting to throttle him for his stubborn blindness and naivete.  He is complex, and not always likable, nor is it always easy to agree with his very limited viewpoint, but he never deviates from who he is no matter what situation he is facing, and whether or not he has similar experiences from his past upon which he can draw.  It is hard to tell by the end whether his path through the novel has lead to any significant change or growth, although he gets flashes of awareness here and there.

The emotional issues are spot on.  Jacoby weaves Mead’s story of isolation and feelings of being misunderstood in such a way that we are able to have some sympathy but also see how he- and all people- misunderstand others as they try to get what they need and make people into whoever it is they feel they should be. Mead does this consistently with Herman, as he purposely misunderstands him in order to first, consider him a friend, and second, to navigate the rules of friendship, which he doesn’t understand.

While it is easy to get caught up in all the mystery in the novel- drama also unfolds around Mead’s aunt, uncle and cousin in which he heavily factors- there are a few trouble spots.   The major ones, which can’t be easily overlooked, are with his age, and Mead’s own limited perspective which is the only one available throughout the book.

Jacoby addresses Mead’s age in myriad ways throughout the novel, yet it is glaringly ignored as an aspect of his attendance at college, upon which the whole story hinges.  When he arrives at Chicago University he is fifteen- years-old, and tells the other students that he will be sixteen in two weeks.  He goes home for break in his first semester but then he mentions that he doesn’t go home for another two years.  He stays in the dorms in between semesters and over summers, and figures that his dad would have paid for him to live off campus if he had expressed such an interest.  He isn’t frequently in touch with his family.  It was hard to fathom that a sixteen-year-old would be allowed such freedom. When his mom leaves him at school, she tells him what time he should go to bed and what shirt he should wear the next day, so it almost unbelievable that a few months later, and then over the ensuing years, she wouldn’t require him to come home and spend some time with his family, or call him at frequent intervals.  Even if it is to be believed that his parents don’t care, it seems like the school would have had some sort of procedures in place to deal with a minor child on their premises for such long periods, if only for issues of liability.

The narrative perspective in this novel is a double-edged sword.  It allows the reader to fully experience Mead and the choices that he makes, but if when there aren’t enough situations that successfully illuminate the other characters, it makes it hard to get to know them, and they aren’t given the opportunity to rise above their stereotypic nature.  One of the pitfalls of a story like this is that it needs to deal with types whom are easily recognizable- the overbearing and pushy mother, the long suffering father, the insufferable rich kid, the person who sees and loves you no matter what- they are all there, but given only Mead’s rather warped perspective, they are never able to escape those roles to become three dimensional people whose motives go beyond the cursory to the truly understood.

Jacoby’s first novel is ambitious in subject matter and has a lot going on to recommend it.  The suspenseful storyline keeps you wanting to know what happens in spite of a frustrating main character.  However, in that character’s defense, the author has created a seemingly thorough and accurate portrayal of some of the personality quirks and liabilities of the genius mind.  The balance of math in the story is pretty much perfection.  Enough that some of the basics are just barely understood- you know you are out of your league without feeling completely overwhelmed by alien concepts.  The cliff hanger ending makes for great discussion, book club or otherwise.

Want a second opinion?  Check out some of these other stops on the blog tour for Life After Genius.

The Medieval Bookworm
Books By TJ Baff
The Printed Page

Wanna read this book and see what it’s all about?  Leave a comment here and I will enter you to win it.

U.S and Canada entries only.  No P.O. boxes. Enter by Sunday, 8pm (EST).  Winner will be announced the same day.

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On The Way Home, by Laura Ingalls Wilder – Book Review

on-the-way-home

On the Way Home, by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Publisher: Harper Trophy
Publication Date: October 20, 1976
Format: Paperback, 112 pages

August 9- Started at 8:30. Awfully hilly roads and stony. We saw a milk-house built of stone with a spring running through it, a splendid thing. Improved land here is $15 to $25 an acre. Could buy an 80 on the Blue bottoms, well improved for 3,000. The bottom land is all good farms. The bluffs are stony. -Laura Ingalls Wilder, On The Way Home

This book has been sitting on my bookshelf for, literally, at least a decade. I was s a big fan of the Little House Books as a kid and thought it would be great to read an actual diary of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

This diary was written as Laura and family, husband Almanzo and daughter Rose, are traveling across country from South Dakota to Missouri to find better land and build a new home. I spent a month or two of entries thinking they were going to New York because they kept referring to the trip as going to the “Land of the Big Red Apple”. The “Land of the Big Red Apple” is very different from “The Big Apple”; in actuality  the term “The Big Apple” wasn’t used to refer to New York City until 1924. Anyway, that made me laugh. I was so confused.

More than anything else, On The Way Home is great as a primary source for the life and times of a small farmer out west in the 1890’s. Laura and Almanzo Wilder spent months driving across country looking for a suitable piece of land to farm and carefully studied the kind of crops that it would support. Laura catalogued everything in sight, hoping to find the best place to settle with her family. The plants they saw, land prices, the bounty of the crops and the prices they were getting on the market, water conditions, temperatures, weather patterns, the immigrants and how there were so many of them (“Saw five emigrant wagons”, “Eight emigrant wagons trailed our three through several streets of the city.”). At times this short work read more like a checklist, than it did as a personal account of a life. But of course, that was their life.

It was interesting to read her comments on the things that she saw, like whether people and towns were industrious or lazy- particularly the immigrants. She was attempting to assimilate a lot of information rather quickly and often relying on appearances and snap judgments. It reminds me that our problems and the source from which they stem, never really change. They worried and we worry about the price of land, housing, food and immigrants. The same issues of that time crop up in our newspapers and elections today.

I was looking at some of the publication information on Amazon and they recommend this for nine-to-twelve year olds and I would have to disagree. While that is a good age to read the Little House Books, On the Way Home doesn’t read like them at all. This would not have been of much interest to me at nine or maybe even twelve. I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate what the information conveyed. I would not have been able to take these entries of weather conditions and agriculture, and build a story. Thirteen and up- would be my recommendation- and that’s if I were looking for information on a research project or maybe just particularly gung-ho about farming and agriculture.

You can see the bare bones for the Little House stories here, but without a lot of the warmth and the charm that have come to characterize Laura and her family in the books, and later the television series. I also wouldn’t recommend a child (or an adult for that matter) reading this in tandem with the Little House books because they are reality, and could in fact temper your love for the characters if read too young (or curb the magic as an adult). Laura as the fiery girl who battles Nellie Olson, lives in a sod house and plays on Plum Creek is very different from contentious adult Laura, who has a temper and a cool relationship with her 5 year-old daughter. She definitely comes across as less charitable than in the children’s stories which she based on her life.

The most interesting parts of On The Way Home from a relationship perspective, are the chapters written at the beginning and end of the book by Rose Wilder Lane. They provide context for the Wilder’s trip, Rose’s relationship with her parents and their relationships with each other, which struck me as less than warm. Rose relates an incident where a hundred dollars is lost and how she cries because she is suspected of having been careless and either told someone outside the family the location of the money or playing with it and losing it herself. Her mom is very abrupt and Rose seems particularly upset that Laura could think that she had anything to do with the disappearance of the money. It’s a strange to contemplate their exchange and realize that it is between a mother and her seven year old child.

At another point Rose spoils a surprise that her father, Almanzo, has for Laura because she is excited that he has been able to sell a wagon load of firewood and he chastises her for not letting him be the one to tell. The way she still thinks of the incident is rather surprising. “You do such things, little things, horrible, cruel, without thinking, without meaning to. You have done it; nothing can undo it. This is a thing you can never forget.” It’s so interesting to look back and see the things that stick with us and really get under our skin; the little things we carry from childhood to adulthood. To me, Rose’s action were those of an excited child, but after being chastised by her father, Rose, seemingly for the rest of her life, interprets her own actions with malice.

Rose’s writing style in her pieces in On The Way Home are interesting as well. I remember reading somewhere that there was some dispute on whether Laura actually wrote the Little House Books and that maybe they were actually written by her daughter Rose. Rose’s writing style is very homey, familiar and descriptive in the way Laura’s journal was not, so I can see why people could come to that conclusion just from a reading of this book.  The contrast in writing styles is stark. While I don’t know that my own journal writing would compare favorably with pieces that I meant for publication I feel like some element of my style show up in everything I write.  But in the case of the Wilder’s, unless definitive evidence was uncovered I don’t think that true authorship can ever be known for sure. It is also important to note their  strong collaborative partnership and in instances like that it can be hard to make those types of calls; where editing leaves off and authorship begins. It was interesting to see the contrast their styles.

I have to say, that in sitting down and reflecting upon this little book, I came away with a lot. I wouldn’t characterize this as a fun read, and I didn’t particularly enjoy it as I was reading it, but it was interesting and I feel like I have greater insight into how hard the frontier/homesteading lifestyle must have been, and a fascinating little glimpse into the relationship of this mother-daughter duo. Give it a try if you are interested in “the real” Little House on the Prairie, or if you like your history directly from the source.

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Uncharted Depths, by Taylor Nash – Book Review

uncharted-depths

Uncharted Depths, by Taylor Nash
Publisher: Booklocker.com, Inc.
Publication Date: June 12, 2008
Format: Hardcover, 196 pages

In “Uncharted Depths,” Trisha Reilly has returned to the small town where she was raised by the parents of her friends Jennifer and Braden after her family dies in a fire. Ostensibly, Trisha has come back to bury her aunt and then return to the life that she as built for herself as a private investigator; but while she’s in town Jennifer hires her to investigate mysterious letters that her brother Braden has been receiving. Braden is an ex-convict who fell in with a rich crowd and was accused of the murder of his lover’s wealthy husband, has been convicted and has already served the time. Braden says that he doesn’t want anyone snooping around in his past, but Trisha will stop at nothing to help a friend and the only man that she has ever loved.

Taylor Nash has a strong sense of story and she writes a compelling and suspenseful one. Her story is strongly plotted and supported by a relatable and sympathetic main character. Because I was able to connect with Trisha, and wanted to know how her story ends, I turned the pages to find out what was going to happen next. All of the elements of a successful suspenseful romance novel are present in this book: the mysterious ex-love with the shady past, the wholesome heroine with a heart of gold, their brief love affair that ended abruptly and left hurt feelings and misunderstandings, but there are several elements that have been overlooked or that the reader must look through for this to truly be a good book.

Trisha Reilly is a wonderful character; easily Nash’s best. She is warm and compassionate, she has a sense of humor, and you can tell that she has worked hard on herself to overcome what could have been obstacles and limitations and created a vibrant life and career. She still has doubts and issues she is working on, and I loved to see her confront those things throughout the novel. Nash is also very adept at writing the characters in action. The prose flows freely and it is very easy to see the action as the characters are talking and to understand their physical placement and environment.

My biggest complaints with the novel are the lack of description of the characters, the lack of development for the secondary characters, and some key elements going unexplained. I felt that I knew their types and had an idea of who they were, but I never had a real picture of any of the characters, including Trisha. They were tall, with hair or without hair, they were thin or fat; but I didn’t feel that I had enough to see what they looked like- what would distinguish them from others with similar physical characteristics. To some extent all the characters in the novel fit a type, but in the case of Trisha, she was so human and fleshed out that it was easy to see past that. Not so much with the others.

Originally reviewed for Reader Views.

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The Lost Weekend

I managed to read about 65 pages in the read-a-thon before life stepped in and changed my plans. I liked my plan better!

About halfway through hour 3 I came down with either food poisoning or one of those 24 hour bugs, not sure which and was basically incapacitated for the rest of the weekend. No reading, no computer, no bocce (and we were playing a particular rival of ours) but instead nausea, fever, chills, delerium, vomiting…I had to call in mom…you get the picture.

Of course now that I’m starting to feel human again, it’s time to go to work.

I have giveaway winners to announce. Another thing I didn’t get to do over the weekend.

I’ll use random.org and post them this evening when I get home from work.

Happy Monday everyone!

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24 Hour Read-A-Thon/ Hour 2 Wrap Up

Title of book(s) read since last update:Home Girl, Judith Matloff
Number of books read since you started: i started in the middle of my current read
Pages read since last update: 55
Running total of pages read since you started: 55
Amount of time spent reading since last update: 1 hour and 20 minutes
Running total of time spent reading since you started: 1 hour and 20 minutes
Mini-challenges completed:
Other participants you’ve visited: in the 4th hour I will cheerlead
Prize you’ve won: none

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24 Hour Read-A-Thon/ Hour 1

Dewey at The Hidden Side of A Leaf is hosting a 24 Hour Read-A-Thon today and I am pulling double duty as a host and as a cheerleader.

We’re starting off with a meme. How fun!

Where are you reading from today?
New York City

3 facts about me …
I’m a songwriter, among other things.
I play bocce in a league on Sundays.
I like to have dinner parties.

How many books do you have in your TBR pile for the next 24 hours?
14 on the night stand and many other on the floor beside my bed and sitting in my window sill. Overboard? Definitely but I like to be prepared. I’m also afraid I might get bored reading the same thing all day. i usually have lots if breaks in my reading since I read on the train and between other activities. We’ll see

Do you have any goals for the read-a-thon (i.e. number of books, number of pages, number of hours, or number of comments on blogs)?
Nope. Since this my first time, I just want to see how it goes.

If you’re a veteran read-a-thoner, Any advice for people doing this for the first time?
N/A

Oh yeah, and typos people. They will be out in force today as I am choosing speed in getting posts up over accuracy and presentation. Consider yourself warned. 🙂

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Bookkeeping~ September/ October

I can’t even believe that it’s October 15th! Where does the time go?

I didn’t get to do a wrap -up post last month, and there are several things going on this month that I have not mentioned either. So hopefully I will remember everything.

September Reads
I managed to read eight books in September, which when I think about it is astounding. Work has been crazy this fall, which it usually is, and I have been putting in time at the studio which is fun, but of course everything eats into my reading and blogging time. I’m still trying to find the balance between reading books, reading and commenting blogs, and posting. All things I love, so it’s so hard for me to get a schedule going.

Still I managed to read:
Peony In Love: A Novel, by Lisa See
Uncharted Depths, by Taylor Nash
Woman’s Field Guide to Exceptional Living, by Corrie Woods
Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Run, by Ann Patchett (which I have to review because I loved!)
The Confession of Max Tivoli, by Andrew Sean Greer
Immortal, by Traci Slatton
An Exact Replica of A Figment of My Imagination, by Elizabeth McCracken (giveaway)

I also finished two reading challenges by the September 30th deadline- Non-Fiction Five and The Novella Challenge. That’s probably news to the hosts Joy and Trish. Thank you both for hosting them. They were fun!

My Non-Fiction books were:
Hurry Down Sunshine, by Michael Greenberg
Lost, by Cathy Ostlere
An Exact Replica of A Figment of My Imagination, by Elizabeth McCracken
How To Read and Why, by Harold Bloom
The “F” Word, Kelly Bare

My Novellas were:
Foe, by J.M. Coetzee
The Penelopiad, by Margaret Atwood
Property, by Valerie Martin
I, Tituba, The Black Witch of Salem, by Maryse Conde
Recent History, by Anthony Giardina
Reunion, by Alan Lightman

Blog Spotlight:
J. Kaye from J. Kaye’s Book Blog chose Linus’s Blanket for her Blog Spotlight. J. Kaye has such a great blog. There is a constant stream of new reviews, guest posts, and interviews and chats on books. You should definitely check it out. It’s so easy to get lost in all the wonderful posts and features. I often do on the weekends when I have the time to indulge.

I actually have more to report. To be continued…

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Giveaway: Testimony, by Anita Shreve

testimony2My review – Wanna Read It? – Win it!

I. Simply comment for one entry.  Make sure you leave a way for me to contact you when you win!

II. Comment and blog about it for three  entries. Show me the link.  If you don’t have a blog you can just e-mail it to three people who might be interested and let me know that’s what you did.

III. Comment and blog/e-mail it and also get a total of five entries if you are entered as a cheerleader or a reader at Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-A-Thon over at The Hidden Side of a Leaf.

The last day to enter is Sunday, October 19th by 8 AM (EST).

Drawing will take place later in the day on October 19th after I have awakened from my post Read-A-Thon induced coma sleep.

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