Sunday, August 31, 2014

What I Read in August Part III

What I Read in August Part III . . .

Footsteps in the DarkFootsteps in the Dark by Georgette Heyer -- Historical Mystery

Siblings Peter, Margaret and Celia, and Celia's husband, Charles have inherited an old priory in the English countryside. Celia tells Charles it's like getting a country house for nothing, but Charles, a lawyer, is skeptical : the house is huge and rambling and lacks electricity. Then there are the rumors of a mysterious and dangerous ghost known as "the Monk" who haunts the Priory. Their aunt, Mrs. Bosanquet, is convinced The Monk is an actual ghost,Charles and Peter are skeptical. When they hear footsteps in the dark, they're determined to get the bottom of it. They suspect a stranger, Michael Strange, whom they've seen wandering their grounds, or perhaps an eccentric neighbor who claims to study moths. Despite repeated warnings, Charles won't leave until he solves the mystery.

I had a hard time getting to the story at first. The characters are really bland and boring. I didn't care much about any of them. Mrs. B provides some chuckles but other than that, they're all pretty flat. Then, as they kept getting closer to solving the mystery and yet not coming any closer, I got sucked in. I couldn't put the book down until the mystery was solved.

It seemed a little fake that the characters were so shocked by the big reveal. They were also surprised by the true identity of someone else that wasn't much of a surprise. I figured out the identity of the Monk pretty easily. The romance was dreadful. It seems to begin and end out of nowhere and is mostly off-page. I found the story rather too gothic for my tastes. The characters are not as well drawn as her Regency characters and the story just wasn't her typical witty style. 

Northanger AbbeyNorthanger Abbey by Val McDermid -- Contemporary Fiction

If you know Jane Austen's original story, you know the plot for this book. The differences being a modern setting, in which Cat Morland, a home-schooled vicar's daughter, goes with neighbors to the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland. She's excited to her boring village and finally have adventures. At first she finds herself being dragged along with Susie Allen into the exhausting and not super fun social whirl, but when she meets Henry Tilney at highland dance lessons, she finally begins having fun. When Henry disappears from her life, she tries to forget about him, though it's hard. When she's introduced to the Thorpe family, she immediately finds a friend in Bella. Bella introduces her to the Herbridean Harpies series of novels and her boorish brother Johnny. When Henry Tilney finally returns, he brings his charming sister Ellie with him and Cat is eager to make the acquaintance of her crush's sister. Cat finds Ellie a good friend in her own right and is eager to hear more about the Tilney family home Northanger Abbey. When she's invited to visit Northanger, Cat is thrilled, except for when she finds out it's off the grid. What reason do the Tilneys have for being shut off from the world? Why is there no trace of the late Mrs. Tilney? Why are the Tilneys so obsessed with the weather and not going out when the sun is strong? Do they actually have reflections? Could it be... are the Tilneys vampires? It's either that or General Tilney is some kind of cruel monster who abused his wife and could be keeping her locked in a tower! OMG! Cat is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery but her curiosity may jeopardize her friendship with Ellie and her growing relationship with Henry.

Out of all of Austen's books, I think this one is the most easily translated into modern times, except that's where the book fails. The author took each scene and tweaked it and rewrote the dialogue and references to fit the modern setting. I think that created a lot of problems, such as: why would the Morlands let their teenage daughter go off to visit strangers they've never met? My parents would never have allowed it without first speaking to Gen. Tilney. It makes more sense in the smaller social setting of the 18th century when the Morlands would be looking to make an advantageous match for Catherine and probably would have been aware of the Tilneys and Northanger Abbey. Also, why is a grown man with a job still under his father's thumb? I get his and Ellie's sympathy for their father, but that doesn't mean Henry has to put up with his father's martinet ways. Ellie has an excuse, still being dependent on her father for financial support and making her dream come true. Another problem I had with the book is the relationship between Henry and Cat. He's a young adult in his 20s, an up and coming lawyer and he's interested in a 17 year old? It happens but it's a little more icky today than it was in the 18th century when Jane Austen wrote her original story. The reason Gen. Tilney gives for kicking Cat out of the house came as a huge surprise. It was so completely out in left field and didn't make much sense with the rest of the story.

This story also lacks the beautiful language and witty dialogue that marks Jane Austen as a master. It's funny at times, and I especially liked the dialogue between Cat and Henry when they were alone, but it's not completely at the level of Jane Austen. She poked fun at the craze for novels and created a whole new genre of literature. It's hard to match that. I don't feel the story quite manages to poke fun at modern teens but instead serves up a mild message at the end.

The characters aren't really new. Cat is at times a ditzy teenager and a typical young woman of the modern world: constantly on her phone checking Facebook and e-mail, gossiping about hot male celebrities and loving the Twilight movies. She doesn't have any ambition or thoughts beyond the present. I kept groaning and thinking "Oh my god! How can she think that? She's so stupid!" Yet, I kind of liked her because she's polite and she is mildly interested in good literature. She references Jane Eyre (and The Wide Sargasso Sea) and has access to other classics like Dracula. She's intelligent enough to know vampires aren't real, but can't resist letting her imagination run away with her. I liked her character development and how she grows up and learns to think about her future. I especially like what she had to say to Henry Tilney at the end when he comes to apologize. Unfortunately, what she says next made me annoyed with her again. Overall, she's a bit more appealing that her original counterpart.

The Tilneys are slightly different from their original counterparts. I really liked Henry. He's funny and fun to be around for the most part. He's intelligent and well-read, but sees the value in popular literature. I always thought the original Henry was gently poking fun at Catherine but this Henry and this Cat manage to match wits and she understands his teasing. He's a good big brother, an excellent lawyer, yet I disliked how he allowed his father to control him. I wanted him to go for his dreams. Ellie is a sweet girl. She's not well developed but has potential to be the heroine of her own story. I felt sorry for her because Gen. Tilney is almost exactly the same as he was in the original. He belongs in a Jane Austen novel. Freddie is also as Austen described.

The Allens are unappealing characters. Susie is the type Jane Austen liked to make fun of and Mr. Allen isn't much better. They very shallow people and shallow characters without any depth. The Thorpes are exactly the same as they are in the original. Isabella or Bella, as she prefers, is incredibly annoying and self-centered. Johnny is worse and pretty much as Austen wrote him. They're the characters you love to hate.

This book is best read by young adults who can't or won't read Jane Austen. There's some mild swearing but nothing most teens haven't heard or said before.

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