This edition of Book Beat has some quick takes on a trio of Pride and Prejudice retellings, a novel non-novella and some (gasp!) non-fiction books. Wish me good fortune as I leave in a few days for sunny San Diego and the annual madness known as Comic Con! After 14 years, you’d think that it gets old, but it never does!
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
I did a quick take on Eligible when it released a few months ago so you can read the details here. I’m including it here since it’s a great read and anchors one end of this Pride and Prejudice spectrum as the book is most faithful to Jane Austen’s characters and the plot.
If you’re looking for other recent, modern takes on this classic, I’ve got two more suggestions which stray a bit afield: one follows roughly half the plot and the other borrows the characters and the overall theme.
The Season by Jonah Lisa Dyer and Stephan Dyer
Pitch: Half of Pride and Prejudice with a soccer-playing Texas debutante
Story: “She can score a goal, do sixty box jumps in a row, bench press a hundred and fifty pounds…but can she learn to curtsey?
Megan McKnight is a soccer star with Olympic dreams, but she’s not a girly girl. So when her Southern belle mother secretly enters her in the 2016 Dallas debutante season, she’s furious—and has no idea what she’s in for. When Megan’s attitude gets her on probation with the mother hen of the debs, she’s got a month to prove she can ballroom dance, display impeccable manners, and curtsey like a proper Texas lady or she’ll get the boot and disgrace her family. The perk of being a debutante, of course, is going to parties, and it’s at one of these lavish affairs where Megan gets swept off her feet by the debonair and down-to-earth Hank Waterhouse. If only she didn’t have to contend with a backstabbing blonde and her handsome but surly billionaire boyfriend, Megan thinks, being a deb might not be so bad after all. But that’s before she humiliates herself in front of a room full of ten-year-olds, becomes embroiled in a media-frenzy scandal, and gets punched in the face by another girl.
The season has officially begun…but the drama is just getting started.”
Quick take: Texas high society is a perfect place to transpose Pride and Prejudice since the layers of society and its unwritten rules can be just as complicated. The book simplifies much of the story and modifies the characters a bit. I really don’t like brash, self-entitled teens so Megan doesn’t really feel like Elizabeth Bennet to me. Andrew is obviously smitten with Megan which isn’t Mr. Darcy who is supposed to be more prideful at the start. So the characters are different, but it’s still a fun read.
First & Then by Emma Mills
Pitch: Take the characters from Pride and Prejudice and put them into Friday Night Lights
Story: “Devon Tennyson wouldn’t change a thing. She’s happy watching Friday night games from the bleachers, silently crushing on best friend Cas, and blissfully ignoring the future after high school. But the universe has other plans. It delivers Devon’s cousin Foster, an unrepentant social outlier with a surprising talent for football, and the obnoxiously superior and maddeningly attractive star running back, Ezra, right where she doesn’t want them: first into her P.E. class and then into every other aspect of her life.
Pride and Prejudice meets Friday Night Lights in this contemporary novel about falling in love with the unexpected boy, with a new brother, and with yourself.”
Quick take: This books has some of the characters from Pride and Prejudice (and Emma), but the plot is original, but, somehow, First & Then is still a story about first impressions. It’s a quick read that you can devour in one setting. Lots of heart, lots of fun and a sweet love story. I really enjoyed this book as a tribute to Jane Austen and for its own original voice.
This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab
Pitch: Romeo and Juliet set in a city divided by monsters and humans.
Story: “There’s no such thing as safe in a city at war, a city overrun with monsters. In this dark urban fantasy from author Victoria Schwab, a young woman and a young man must choose whether to become heroes or villains—and friends or enemies—with the future of their home at stake. The first of two books.
Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives.”
Quick take: The characters go to high school, but this really isn’t a YA fantasy. Like other Victoria Schwab books, this takes about a third of the book to warm up the story. If you don’t mind the slow burn or if you can push through it, then you’ll find an intriguing story of two opposites drawn into a battle for power over the city. There are lots of (bloody) action scenes, big twists and lovely emotional character scenes so there’s lots of good stuff if you can make it though.
Exile for Dreamers by Kathleen Baldwin
Pitch: Historic fiction where a group of girls may turn the tide against Napoleon
Story: “It’s 1814. Napoleon has escaped his imprisonment on Elba. Europe is in shambles. Britain is at war on four fronts. And at Stranje House, a School for Unusual Girls, five young ladies are secretly being trained for a world of spies, diplomacy, and war.
Tess Aubreyson can’t run far enough or fast enough to escape the prophetic dreams that haunt her. Dreams bring nothing but death and grief, and Tess refuses to accept that she may be destined for the same madness that destroyed her mother. Until her disturbing dreams become the only means of saving Lord Ravencross, the man she loves, and her fellow students at Stranje House. Tess’s old friend, the traitorous Lady Daneska, and Ghost, the ruthless leader of the Iron Crown, have returned to England, intent on paving the way for Napoleon’s invasion. Can the young ladies of Stranje House prevail once more? Or is England destined to fall into the hands of the power-mad dictator?”
Quick take: This is the second book in the Stranje House series and focuses on Tess’s point of view. There’s a ton of action as the ladies plan to use Lady Daneska’s return to their advantage. The story and the world are richly detailed and things move along swiftly. There is also clear set up for the next book which continues the saga. It’s a fun adventure with a strong romantic element. A fun series for people who like historic fiction with a dash of steampunk.
Mayhem & Magic #1 by Sarah Fine, Alex De Campi, Dennis Calero
Pitch: A short story about Asa from the Reliquary novels in a comic book format
Story: “Bestselling author Sarah Fine (Marked, Sanctum) gives hard-boiled noir a magical edge in this stand-alone four-issue comic book adventure—where crime collides with conjuring in the spellbinding world of her Reliquary series. Featuring an action-packed script by Alex De Campi (No Mercy, Grindhouse) and stunning art from Dennis Calero (X-Men Noir)
Freelance thief-for-hire Asa Ward’s latest job is heisting a powerful magic relic from a gangster’s lair. But what should be an easy payday quickly becomes larceny the hard way—when he’s dragged into a three-way crime war where mind-bending, body-racking magic is the most lethal weapon of all. And just when Asa thinks he’s scored, the ruthless kingpin he’s ripping off strikes back…threatening the only life Asa values more than his own.”
Quick take: Here’s something different. Many book series feature short stories in between books. For the Reliquary series, there are comic books. The four issues feature a story about Asa (and Gracie) before the events in Reliquary. It’s a nice change of pace to see the world and to get some background on Asa’s mysterious past. The first two issues are available electronically now. All four issues will eventually be rolled up into a graphic novel as well.
Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
Pitch: There’s much more to the sinking of the Lusitania than you may remember from history class
Story: “From the bestselling author and master of narrative nonfiction comes the enthralling story of the sinking of the Lusitania
On May 1, 1915, with WWI entering its tenth month, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were surprisingly at ease, even though Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone. For months, German U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era’s great transatlantic “Greyhounds”—the fastest liner then in service—and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack.
Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger’s U-boat, but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small—hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more—all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history.
It is a story that many of us think we know but don’t, and Erik Larson tells it thrillingly, switching between hunter and hunted while painting a larger portrait of America at the height of the Progressive Era. Full of glamour and suspense, Dead Wake brings to life a cast of evocative characters, from famed Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat to pioneering female architect Theodate Pope to President Woodrow Wilson, a man lost to grief, dreading the widening war but also captivated by the prospect of new love.
Gripping and important, Dead Wake captures the sheer drama and emotional power of a disaster whose intimate details and true meaning have long been obscured by history.”
Quick take: It’s fascinating to read about this event which is so much more than the “trigger to the US involvement in WWI” that we tend to remember from history class. Erik Larson does a great job of introducing a wide arrange of people to set the scene. Some of these vignettes are entirely engrossing and surprising while some may be of less interest. The book covers the event itself, of course, and the two year road to the US entering the war after the Lusitania sank. Yes, two years later — which contradictions my fuzzy history class memories. So, no, this isn’t the feel good book of the year, but there are fascinating parts of history that I might have otherwise missed.
The Fangirl Life: A Guide to All the Feels and Learning How to Deal by Kathleen Smith
Pitch: Pretty much the title says it all
Story: “You’d probably know a ‘fangirl’ when you see one, but the majority stay relatively closeted due to the stigma of being obsessed with fictional characters. However, these obsessions are sometimes the fangirl’s solutions for managing stress, anxiety, and even low self-esteem. Fangirling is often branded as behavior young women should outgrow and replace with more adult concerns. Written by a proud fangirl, The Fangirl Life is a witty testament to the belief that honoring your imagination can be congruous with good mental health, and it’s a guide to teach fangirls how to put their passion to use in their own lives.
The Fangirl Life encourages you to use an obsession not as a distraction from the anxieties of life, but rather as a test lab for your own life story:
How can a character girl crush be useful instead of a waste of time?
How can writing fan fiction be a launching point for greater endeavors?
How do you avoid the myths that fictional romance perpetuates?
By showing you how to translate obsession into personal accomplishment while affirming the quirky, endearing qualities of your fangirl nature, The Fangirl Life will help you become your own ultimate fangirl.”
Quick take: Maybe it’s just the company I keep, but I don’t think fangirls are quite as rare and shy as Kathleen Smith might suggest. The book is written in a very easy voice so it’s easy to read as she discusses fangirl behavior and how to deal when they get overly emotional. So for a card-carrying fangirl, it’s an amusing read, but not necessarily a useful one.
Thanks to Penguin Teen (The Season), HarperTeen (This Savage Song), Kathleen Baldwin (Exile for Dreamers), Jet City Comics (Mayhem & Magic) Crown Books (Dead Wake) and Kathleen Smith (The Fangirl Life) for providing the books for review. Want more details on my impression of these and other books? Check out my ratings and full reviews at Goodreads.