Saturday, September 29, 2012

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Lydia Bennet's Story by Jane Odiwe -- Austenesque/Sequel to Pride and Prejudice

The first half of this book tells the story of how innocent, silly Lydia became infatuated with Mr. Wickham. The second half of the book picks up where Jane Austen left off. The Wickhams arrive in Newcastle as newlyweds but soon Lydia becomes disenchanted with married life. The local ladies like to gossip about Wickham; gossip Lydia refuses to believe until she is forced to face the uncomfortable truth. Poor Lydia, sobered by her experience, takes advantage of the generosity of her older sisters and their loving husbands. She learns what a true marriage should look like and knows hers is not it. Then Wickham causes another scandal - one that will cause certain social ruin for Lydia. Through it all, her close friends Isabella and Rev. Alexander Fitzalan, siblings of Harriet Forster, are there for Lydia. Lydia feels uncomfortable around the sober clergyman. He's very serious and seems to despise Lydia for her high spirited ways, but when scandal breaks, Alexander proves to be someone whom Lydia can lean on for support like a father or brother, making her regret her hasty marriage and long for a real partnership. She decides to help her friends along the path of true love with some very unexpected results. I picked this book up wondering if the author could possibly make Lydia a sympathetic character. In the beginning, Lydia is silly and makes a lot of really bad decisions but then she redeems herself. The author does a good job developing Lydia's character while still keeping Lydia the high spirited, fun loving young woman she really is. The timeline of events is really fast and should be longer given the kind of transformation Lydia goes through, but the author succeeds in making Lydia a character to root for. Wickham is not portrayed as being a very clever villain whereas I had always had the impression that he was clever and used his smarts for evil purposes. Here he comes across like the villain of a bad melodrama that the audience would boo and hiss at. The introduction of new secondary characters is a bit confusing. Isabella is a bit two-dimensional and Alexander isn't developed enough. I suppose he's supposed to be Mr. Darcy minus the snobbery. I would have liked the story to have begun with Lydia's marriage so there was more time to develop the later plot. It feels a bit rushed towards the end. The outcome is also rather predictable. I'm not sure that this plot is at all what Jane Austen intended. She does pretty much tell us what  happens to the characters but I like this re-imagining anyway. I do not think this book warrants buying. I do not think it merited publishing either but it's a bit of fun, fluffy fan fiction that Janeites might enjoy as a bit of fun reading.

Princess Academy Palace of Stone by Shannon Hale -- Young Adult Historical Fantasy

The prince has chosen Britta to be his princess and soon they will wed. Britta wants all her friends from the Princess Academy to be her ladies in waiting and she has arranged for Miri to study at the Queen's Palace. Miri can't wait to see her best friend again and learn all their is to know from books. Miri's classmate Katar, now a delegate to the King, sends word that she needs Miri's help. When the traders bring the girls down from the mountain, the girls can't believe the size of the capital city Asland. Miri is a bit frightened, especially when someone tries to assassinate the king on her very first day in the palace. The Queen's Palace also turns out to be more daunting that Miri realized with lessons in ethics and rhetoric. Miri will soon have to learn to apply her lessons to real life when she discovers that the "shoeless" peasants and working class are rising up to protest the king's unfair tributes. When Miri becomes unwittingly involved, her friend Britta's life may be in danger. It's up to Miri to discover how to use the powers of the palace of linder stone to help save her friend. Can she manage to save her friend and stop the unfair tributes? She's only one small insignificant girl. This book reads more like a Middle Grades novel than Young Adult. I did not find it as compelling as I did Princess Academy when I first read that book. This one gets rather preachy at times with events that mirror the French and Russian Revolutions inserting Miri as the heroine. The outcome is rather obvious since it's a story for children but getting there is not too bad. The story gets a bit preachy with lessons in ethics forcing the reader, along with Miri, to make a choice. The story presents issues in black and white for most of the book which really bothered me. It wasn't until the last half of the book that events begin to develop but they don't develop fully to create a convincing backstory. Even so, I appreciated the attempt at making sure the issues were a bit more complicated. I was a bit confused by the fantasy element of the story in the end. It wasn't quite as developed as I would have liked and seemingly came out of nowhere. It was certainly very exciting though! I liked how this story paralleled going off to college or leaving home for the first time. The message is a little heavy handed but it's good for kids to realize what will happen when they leave home. The characters are likeable enough. Miri is sweet as always, as is Britta. They were mostly the only two rounded characters. The others were pretty much two-dimensional and could have used more development. There's a sweet romance plot with some kissing which may push the age level up a bit, otherwise I'd recommend this book to 9-12 year olds. As it stands, I'd recommend it to kids 10+ but probably not to adults. I loved the original Princess Academy and now I need to reread it to see whether I still love it.

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