Definitive Ranking of Jane Austen Novels by a Biased Reader

One of the greatest romance novelists in history for good reason, Jane Austen will always retain a place in my heart and on my bookshelves.  My favorites in a list from least to most adored are as follows:

6) Sense and Sensibility.  Lets admit it– the bad guys end up with all the wealth and not paying for their crimes.  That may be how reality often works, but that doesn’t mean it should be tolerated in fiction.  I know there are some deep and abiding morals in this novel, but I can’t help but be annoyed with the fact that Eleanor– clearly the true protagonist in this novel– ends up with a man who is punished for having good character, and her sister, Marianne, who was always annoyingly flighty and didn’t seem to give a care for anyone but herself (quite like Lydia for P&P) ends up with a perfectly lovely and wealthy fellow who is nearly twice her age.  This is not a satisfactory ending.

5) Emma.  While she does have some redeeming characteristics, one cannot deny that it is occasionally difficult to love Emma.  She is often proud and meddlesome and sometimes does things that are really rather hurtful.  Jane Austen, as she sometimes does, inserts a side heroine that one almost wishes were made the real heroine of the story in the form of Jane Fairfax.  While Emma has been spoiled, pampered, and secure for the entirety of her existence, Jane has been cast off to the reaches of the country without a penny and become a charming young lady in spite of that.  She is always kind to her dotty aunts and strives to be the best that she can in spite of the fact that the man she loves has seemed to abandon her.  Emma seems a little mean and petty in comparison– which is one of the points, I suppose, and one that is hardly lost on her in the end.  Fortunately, Knightly loves Emma a great deal and doesn’t tolerate her nonsense which manages to redeem her (Though, again, there is a shocking age gap here.  Don’t this women realize just how long they are likely going to be widows for?)

4) Mansfield Park.  Admittedly, Fanny Price is often a bit dull, but toward the middle-end of the book you can see her developing a slightly sassy character.  She’s a bit of an acquired taste– but the most recent movie version which imbued her with some of Jane Austen’s characteristics does make her much more interesting.  I’m aware that this is not a good reason to like a book, but I did say that this was a biased review, so reader, you were justly warned.

3) Northanger Abbey. Ah, the mockery of gothic novels!  Jane Austen is at her most sassy during this book, and I adore it.  Catherine is a normal girl, not very pretty, not extraordinary bright, not possessing any of the usual characteristics of a heroine… and sadly no one informed her that she was in an Austen novel instead of a Bronte novel.  Her adorable misadventures and abiding love for Mr. Tilney (Who fell in love with her partially because of her clear adoration for himself– a most unromantic reason) make this book one of my favorites.

2)Persuasion.  Possibly the most somber of the Austen novels, this book focuses on a love once lost.  While eventually Anne and Captain Wentworth end up together, the potent feeling of heartbreak, of loss, of something precious that slipped away, permeates the novel with a sense of ennui.  Yet… that very sadness, the heart-wrenching hurt, is what makes the ending so satisfying.  Altogether its a novel about hope– that some things once gone can be restored, and when they are our appreciation for them becomes stronger than ever.

1) Pride and Prejudice.  He had too much pride, she had too much prejudice…. it works.  Also, the characters in this book come alive and sweep you into their world.  Darcy, Elizabeth, Jane, Bingley, Lydia, Kitty, Mary, Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Bennet, Lady Catherine De Burgh… Mr. Collins!  The characters and scenes are unforgettable.

 

Advertisements

Noble Bastards Research

The series I’ve been working on for the past year focuses on something that has fascinated me while reading “real historical” and “written-right-now historical” romance novels: Bastards.

In modern day America the stigma may not be completely lost, but it is much lessened from what it used to be.  After all, now over 40% of first-time mothers in the US are unmarried.  This would have been an unthinkable concept in 19th century England, where bastard children were kept a shameful secret.  Just think of Sense and Sensibility where Colonel Brandon’s poor ward, Eliza Williams, and her mother both bore illegitimate children and came to a tragic fate.

Many of the great people in history have had bastard children that are either kept secret or exposed.  At one point the future king of England was simply chosen from the offspring of the king without regard to legitimacy, until the pope issued a decree saying that the offspring needed to be of a legitimate marriage.  Regardless, Athelstan and William the Conqueror where both bastard children.  FitzRoy was often the last name of a bastard child of a king, and King Henry I fathered at least 21 bastards and Charles II fathered at least 20—and these are just examples from the royals that were acknowledged.  Nobility could be just as promiscuous and often refused to acknowledge their offspring.

In the 19th century bastards were regarded with a mixture of pity, caution, and disgust.  People knew that the state of their birth was not a bastard child’s fault, but at the same time they saw the threat that a bastard presented to the legitimate family unit.  The general opinion was that a bastard could not help but envy the things that were a legitimate family member’s right and thus they would try to take it, try to sneak in where they didn’t belong.  Thus there was a stigma of bastards being jealous, spiteful, and generally malicious (Think Don John the Bastard from Much Ado About Nothing).

Often times people tried to conceal the birth of a bastard child by passing the child off as one of its grandparent’s children or by sending it off to live with a relative in a different part of the country.  Nobles often gave their illegitimate children away to be apprenticed or bought off the mother to quietly raise the child far away from them.  Occasionally there were Nobles who fell in love with their mistresses and treated their bastard children much as legitimate children, but much more often they were considered nuances to get rid of.  On rare occasions, where there was a bastard child and no legitimate children, the bastard was brought up as an heir.  Bastards couldn’t inherit titles or entailed land, but they could inherit property and wealth.

In the Noble Bastards series, I had an interesting time exploring the different types of relationships an illegitimate son could have with his parents.  Peter Gale, the protagonist of A Noble Secret was sent off to live with an older couple and never even met his father until he was in his early thirties.  Astor, another one of the bastards, grew up seeing his father much more often than his father’s legitimate family did.  Carrington, the product of his mother’s infidelity, processes the title meant for her husband’s son and heir.

Their different circumstances led to very different relationships with their parents and with the world around them, but they all have one thing in common, one thing that keeps them bound together in brothership: they are all Noble Bastards.

Top 5 Things I Learned About Trying to Be a “Real” Writer

So, for the past few months, I’ve been trying to become a more serious writer.  It has always been a dream of mine to have a book published and for people to actually read it.  The problem was, I had no idea how to go about being a “real” writer.  I wrote– I wrote every day, I wrote what I loved, I wrote what I knew– but when reading what I wrote I realized that simply writing isn’t enough.  So I started looking into things and taking classes.  It wasn’t until I was able to meet a real writer (Thank you again, Danica) that I started to understand just what was necessary to make a “real” novel.  There is a lot that goes into it.  I even swallowed my pride and bought Writing a Romance Novel for Dummies, a very helpful resource by Leslie J Wainger, a top romance editor (though  I still object to being called a dummy.)

When I was doing all of this, I realized that there were some things that I was doing right and some things that I was doing very wrong. In case there is someone out there that is in the same position that I was, here are the top ten things I learned.

5.  Write, write, write.  It can be difficult to do so without encouragement and the first pages can be daunting, but if you don’t write consistently, you’ll never have anything to work with.  I remember a couple of years ago I was moping about how I wanted to be a writer, but I never could be because I didn’t have a whole story and my sister encouraged me to write a page a day.  A page a day doesn’t take much time and keeps you writing consistently.

4.  Some ideas are good.  Some suck.  A good writer can make a sucky idea a great story and a bad writer can make even the best idea a travesty.  So its important to hone your craft and become a good writer– as well as developing good ideas.

3. Concentrate.  Finding a spot to work on your writing is important, as well as getting your friends and family on board with letting you do your thing.  Otherwise there will always be something to distract you from your work– and your goals.

2. Don’t live in a bubble.  This might seem contra to the last item, but its also important.  There are plenty of great ideas for inspiration out there, and secluding yourself can sometimes keep you from them.  It also helps you to see what ideas are selling, which is important when you are writing commercial fiction.  Being out there, having a social presence, ext, can also help you to sell your book (so I’ve heard).

1. Research.  Especially if you like to write historical fiction, like myself, this is vital.  Nothing can pull a reader out of a story more quickly than a glaring inaccuracy.  Admittedly this part can be a pain– you have no idea how long it took for me to discover how long it would take a carriage to get from Hertfordshire to London in 1817– but if you research something well and learn your topic, it helps pull a reader in, which is ultimately the goal.

Smoke and Ashes Book Review

The mark of any good book is when you have to sequester yourself in your room and scream, “Don’t come in!  The house is on fire!” whenever someone knocks.  Well, the sequestering yourself in your room thing, at least.  But Dancia Winter’s Smoke and Ashes did make that exact moment possible for me, so I stand by my statement.

I usually can guess the end of a book before I’ve even started it, but Smoke and Ashes completely caught me off guard.  I’ll try to explain why without spoiling anything.

First of all, I had no idea who the arsonist was.  At points I think I suspected every character in the entire book, including the hero, the heroine, and the dog.  And frankly, I’m not even sure if there was a dog.

Secondly, by reading the back cover I was entirely expecting Heather to have ran off from her abusive husband months ago, hiding away in Montana when she met this new neighbor of hers.  I was not expecting to get a solid look into Heather’s relationship with her husband, let alone such a realistic one.  What type of sick man doesn’t let his wife eat cake?

Answer: a very realistic sadist.

Especially if he’s allowed to eat cake.

The heroine still being married was an extremely interesting twist that I haven’t seen often, and it adds a complicated, interesting level to the book that makes it even more satisfying at the end when everything comes together.

Another thing that really impressed me about this book was the level of research that faded seamlessly into the background.  It’s one thing to do research on bombs, which Danica totally did, but another to bring to life a real-life town like Missoula.  Having lived there for two years, I was occasionally startled by the references to mundane real-life things like the Missoulian newspaper that most Missoulians take for granted.  This added a level of reality for me that made reading the novel almost like reading the world’s most interesting newspaper.

Except with a lot more romance, of course.

Dancia Winters managed to create a couple of entirely imperfect, realistic people who are completely perfect for eachother if they can just manage to overcome the obstacles between them.  In the end, the relationship between the protagonists is what draws the reader in and keeps them turning the page until the pulse-racing finish.

Altogether, I would strongly recommend this book.  Danica Winter promises to deliver, “Real Life Danger and Everyday Heroes,” and in Smoke and Ashes, she more than lives up to expectations.

 

* I have met Danica a couple of times and she is a wonderful person as well.  I don’t believe this has biased my review, but it’s always a good thing to point out.

Book Review: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

This is an important book for any reader or writer of historical fiction because it is the cause of all of the references to the “Crazy Wife in the Attic.” But more than that, it’s a truly beautiful book.  It take a little while to get into because Jane goes on and on about her fairly tragic (she is one of the many orphans in literature) and strangely dull childhood for about 10 chapters, but once she arrives at Thornfield Hall things become very exciting very quickly.  First we have a strange little french girl of unknown origins and a maid who speaks not a word of English.  Then we have a crazy maid who laughs in a disturbing manner.  Then Jane happens across a mysterious stranger who can’t stay on his horse and mistakes her for a fairy.  Then the mysterious stranger turns out to be her mysterious employer who demands her attention and pushes her away in turn.  Mr. Rochester goes on to tell this sheltered eighteen-year-old governess all about his exploits and how Adelle may or may not be his spawn, and the next thing you know he is nearly burned to death in his bed!  (I love a good fire in a gothic novel!)  He continues to be very intense and distant at turns, bringing his ex-girlfriend over to come and mock Jane and then posing as a gyspy-woman to try to ascertain her feelings for him.  Then he shocks everyone by asking her to marry  him, but, of course, he has a crazy wife locked in the attic, so–

But this is a review, not a summery, so I digress.

Bronte is able to create characters with depths and levels that are so vivid that they have fascinated readers for decades.  This is a must-read for anyone who has not already done so and a must-re-read for anyone who hasn’t done it in a while.

On a side note, the movies are also wonderful.

tumblr_nt5mhn0zbY1u38mzbo1_500

Book Review: Mine Till Midnight by Lisa Kleypas

Ghosts, a handsome gypsy, and an eccentric family thrown into unforeseen circumstances: What’s not to like?

Lisa Kleypas has been a favorite author of mine for a while, and this book is definitely part of the reason.  Kleypas creates a cast of vivid characters and sweeps you along the arch of the story like a master, caught up in the mysterious romance between the ever-practical- Amelia and the dashing roma gypsy Cam, who readers might recognize from Kleypas’ Wallflower series.  The book is filled with bright, witty humor and a storyline that has me  turning the pages with anticipation even after reading it a dozen times.

Altogether a wonderful way to start a series, and a favorite of mine.

(Mine Till Midnight is the first book of the Hathaway Series)

Book Review: Warning

So, I’m about to start writing a bunch of book reviews about my favorite books through the years.  I have two rather distressing tendencies when picking books that you might note:

  1. Once I find an author I like, I will not stop reading her books until they have all been read.  Thus you are going to see a lot of reviews for Kleypas, Feehan, Dodd, Lindsey, and a few others recurring frequently.
  2. I grew up spending the majority of my time in a not-so-well funded public library which has exposed me to a large selection of non-current books, so it’s likely that many of the books I’m reviewing will be rather old.  That doesn’t mean they aren’t wonderful, but it does mean that if you are looking for the newest publications, you probably won’t find too many of them in my reviews.

Writer’s Block

Currently I am suffering from writer’s block, and so I’m just going to write down a bunch of prompts and see if any take off and make my imagination happy.

  • A young lady is stranded on a desert island with a man deathly afraid of water.  She’s within swimming distance of the next island, but there isn’t a sign whether it has people on it or not, and she doubts she would have the strength to make it back if there wasn’t anything there, which would leave both people to die on their own.
  • A man has a mysterious ability to change into a muskrat.  But only every other Thursday.
  • A man and a woman fall desperately in love.  The only problem?  They’re both invisible, cursed by a gypsy queen long ago that they would never be able to see the thing they needed most.
  • In the Wild West a group of outlaws hyjak a stage coach full of riches.  The only problem?  A sassy and stubborn young lady is still inside, and she’s just as good with a pistol as they are.
  • Someone accidentally transforms the world into a game of candyland.  Now that everything is edible world hunger is over, but new problems ensue as the monsters come to life as well.  Annie, brave and diabetic young lady, is the only one who can stop them.
  • A nymph, bound to her tree for thousands of years, longs for something more.  A soldier from the modern age, shipwrecked after a mission gone wrong, finds himself in her enchanted garden, only wants to escape.
  • A tiger, lost at birth, tries to make his way through the tall, terrifying jungle, only to find that he does not belong.  His mission to find his family and save his own life is only the beginning.
  • After hundreds of years of allowing technology to progress and take over, nature rebels, seeking to destroy the ones who tried to destroy them.  In the midst of the chaos star-crossed lovers from each side must find a third way to survive.

Why Poetry Leads to Tragedy

Being perfectly honest, I hate poetry.  I am never happier with Elizabeth Bennet when she starts talking about how poetry can absolutely kill a fledgling love.  Why is this?

Poetry signifies DEEP thought.  Perhaps too deep of thought.  When one lulls too long on petty details like the exact number of syllables in a sentence, one is inevitably caring too much about trivialities.  Had Shakespeare written “Would not a Lilly by any other name not smell as sweet?”  I’m sure Romeo and Juliet would still have become a hit.  When someone focuses too much on one little thing they inevitably start to realize the flaws in something, which inevitably leads to their lulling on said flaws and coming to despise those flaws more than they love the hundred other perfections.

You might say that this is taking things a little too far, and you could be right.  I’ve never been one to enjoy things that I don’t understand (a human failing/ flaw of my own) and I have very little patience for unwarranted tragedy, which seems to be the focus of much of poetry.  I believe there is quite likely a direct correlation between reading too much poetry and coming to a tragic end.  Poetry dwells on emotion and emotion, like most things, is best for you in moderation.  Many tragedies, particularly in fiction, could be avoided with a simply application of common sense and communication, both very rare qualities in poetry.

Having mentioned my distaste for the subject in general, there are exceptions.  Most of these exceptions I believe occur because of a lack of serious and tragic thought involved in the writing of it.

Examples of acceptable poetry:

Anything that flows so sweetly that it moves you like a ship drifting on a quiet sea, like this:

 

Lesbia, you ask how many kisses of yours

would be enough and more to satisfy me.

As many as the grains of Libyan sand

that lie between hot Jupiter’s oracle,

at Ammon, in resin-producing Cyrene,

and old Battiades sacred tomb:

or as many as the stars, when night is still,

gazing down on secret human desires

–Catullus

 

Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice.

From what I’ve tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.

But if it had to perish twice,

I think I know enough of hate

To say that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice.

–Robert Frost

Examples of unacceptable poetry:

Basically anything in Romeo and Juliette, anything written less then fifty years ago, anything without punctuation, and anything that uses the words: gash, gaping, crouch, squat, uninhibited, and gouge.  Anything that makes you long to rip your own eyes or ears out in anguished repentance that they had consumed said poetry, and anything that makes you squirm in a desire to get away.  If you heard it in a mandatory high school lit class it is probably just a quiet form of torture your English teacher decided to inflict on you as punishment for their own mental angst.   (Unless they made you read Frost, Silverstein, or Byron.  Then they were merciful and you were fortunate.)

 

I know there are many who would disagree,

and I’m glad that you haven’t been as tormented as me,

but I will stand by my decree:

poetry leads to tragedy.

Fictional Men Say the Sweetest Things

Your heart starts beating faster as the hero and heroine come to their final confrontation. He says something, she snaps back indignantly, declaring her independence, and whips around, adamant she’ll never speak with him again.  He grabs her arm, refusing to let her go, and spins her into his embrace.  His lips descend on hers in a passionate kiss that makes your toes curl as you repress a feminine shriek of pure, estrogen-driven delight.  He breaks off the kiss, both of the protagonists stare at eachother for a half-second of indescribable connection, and then he says it.  The line that makes butterflies swarm in your stomach as your heart squeezes in a throb too harsh to let any oxygen go to your brain.  The words that are eternally engraved on that portion of your soul that contains your deepest, most ardent longings.

Coming out of the scene is like coming out of the best dreams; reality seems dull and pale in comparison, and all you can do is think about that line, that simple stream of words that calls to you, seduces you, overcomes you.

Isn’t it a shame they aren’t real?  Why aren’t men (and lines) like that a part of our lives? Are boys/ men in books just better?

These are questions I really don’t know the answer to.  Maybe it’s fate, maybe it’s destiny, maybe it’s pesky reality intruding where it has no business.  But instead of thinking about it, let’s just go over some of our favorite lines, shall we?

  • The Princess Bride: “As you wish,”

X0Dql

Every time he says that line he means, “I love you,” EVERY TIME!

Also, he has some epic lines in the book, such as,  “Do I love you? My God, if your love were a grain of sand, mine would be a universe of beaches.”

Sadly, Buttercup isn’t very bright in the book…

  • Pride and Prejudice: Pretty much everything that crosses Mr. Darcy’s lips

tumblr_inline_n5jhcg0If01rh3k1r

“You have bewitched me, body and soul, and I love… I love… I love you. And I never wish to be parted from you from this day on.”  *Swoon*

“In vain I have struggled this will not do, allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” *Swoony, Swoony Swoon!*

  • Jane Eyre: “You transfix me, quite.” (And, again, pretty much anything that Mr. Rochester says)

tumblr_nt5mhn0zbY1u38mzbo1_500

She literally hears his voice when he calls to him even though they are thousands of miles apart.  Also, the tormented fellow has quite a talent for prose.

  • Wuthering Heights: “If he loved with all the powers of his puny being, he couldn’t love as much in eighty years as I could in a day.”

tumblr_ljxl9xcVty1qdth1ho1_500

Ah, Heathcliff.  So many more from this man, too!  He begs her to haunt him, for goodness sake:

“Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living. You said I killed you–haunt me then. The murdered do haunt their murderers. I believe–I know that ghosts have wandered the earth. Be with me always–take any form–drive me mad. Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! It is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!”

Admittedly, he’s crazy.  But who is to say that all of the good men aren’t?

  • Romeo and Juliet: ” It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.”

tumblr_npsqhaqbtl1t1fo16o1_500

This play is a stereotype for a reason.  Romeo might be a flighty fellow, but he is also poetic to a fault.  It’s good to remember that that ended with a tragedy, as romance often does.  (Except in fiction.  Read reviews to control your fate.)

  • Tangled: “You were my new dream”

At_Last_I_See_the_Light

Okay, okay, I know this doesn’t really fit with the theme of everything else (romantic literature) but I feel that Eugene Fitzherbert (Flynn Ryder) needs to be recognized as a truly epic fictional man.  They literally had meetings when they created him, trying to pinpoint the traits of a perfect man.  Unrealistic expectations in men can start early.

There are many other fictional men with fabulous lines: which is your favorite?