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A Review From the desk of Shelley DeWees…of The Uprising.

I am thinking of enlisting. One of my acquaintances happened to recommend his regiment to me this morning, and as I have nothing better to do I believe I will join. It will get me away from London, where my creditors are once again pressing me, and take me into Hertfordshire, a place where I am not known. Then I can begin again, and at the very least, run up some new bills. And at the most…There will be impressionable young women in Meryton, no doubt, and they will all be susceptible to a charming and handsome young man in a red coat.”

So says that feisty George Wickham, with such a feisty future ahead of him, in the quazi-coming-of-age tale Wickham’s Diary by Amanda Grange. Although you may think this little novella is going to give a sneaky glimpse into the wooing of Lydia Bennet or perhaps a strange view of Wickham’s wicked scheming, alas, it doesn’t. In fact, Wickham’s Diary has next to zero connection the Bennet tale (you know the one I mean) and can be more easily likened to the history of George Wickham and his family.

The introduction on the back of the book explains, “He wasn’t always this cold-hearted.” But…um…well, according to this, he actually was. He grows up, as you, a learned reader, already know, in the shadow of Darcy and his sweet sister Georgiana, as the son of the steward with nearly nothing to his own name. Childhood almost-friendship with Darcy withers away in favor of rabid jealously, and Wickham decides at a young age that the situation just isn’t fair. “Why should I be beneath him?” he asks. “I am just as handsome as he is; I am just as intelligent, even though he works harder at his books; and I am just as amusing; in fact, I dare say I am a great deal more amusing, for Fitzwilliam is so proud and he will not take the trouble to entertain other people. Yet altogether he is no better than me, when he grows up he will inherit Pemberley and I will inherit nothing.” Tough break Georgie, but hey, that’s life. Regency life. Now of course he could take what he’s been given, which is truly not a bad situation, and apply himself toward a worthy, amiable path and a generally secure future. But as we know, he’s the villain and must therefore take the lowest possible road: planning, scheming, and plotting against everyone and everything, never blaming himself when things go awry. He looks around every corner for someone to exploit, usually while still experiencing success with his last victim, pocketing their money and breaking their hearts with no qualms. He’s conniving and rude. He’s spoiled and foolhardy. He is, naturally, a scoundrel.

I’d say that’s pretty cold-hearted behavior.

The reader is briefly shown the world of George Wickham as he works his way up the “Biggest Jerk in the Universe” ladder, tossing people aside who stand in the way of his ultimate goal to marry an heiress and be done with it. Darcy has long taken his own path, only reappearing to pay Wickham the value of the living he’s denounced and then quickly evaporating out of the picture, never to be seen again. Though I enjoyed the interesting and albeit unhealthy relationship Wickham has with his mother, I found myself disappointed that this teeny weeny 12-dollar novel ended without exploring Wickham’s character in any in-depth sense. The reader learns a bit about his motivations for villainy, yes, but nothing much about him as a person. No one commits a crime against humanity without some measure of mental back-and-forth…didn’t he ever have second thoughts? Blank pages abound in the book itself, and the type is shamefully over-sized.

The phrase that comes to mind with Wickham’s Diary is “hastily-written.” It’s a fair read and represents some of the author’s good attributes. But considering the 2 hours you’ll spend with it, you might want to save your 12 dollars.

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From the desk of Shelley DeWees… Gentle reader, guest writer Shelley DeWees, blog author of Uprising, writes book reviews for me. A Darcy Christmas: A Holiday Tribute to Jane Austen by Amanda Grange, Sharon Lathan, and Carolyn Eberhart is her first review for this blog. Welcome on board, Shelley.

A collection of stories designed to awaken the holiday spirit, A Darcy Christmas is a quick read showcasing veteran and amateur Austen spinoff writers. In the beginning, I was excited. I really wanted to be seduced by the magic imagery of the winter festivities, feel the warmth of some imaginary fire, manifest the taste of hot chocolate on my tongue while gazing at grainy photographs and luxuriating in a wool blanket…but success wasn’t to be mine.

The first problem was easy to spot: the short stories are printed in the wrong order. Books are like sandwiches in the way they should be designed. The fillings are important, yes, but they can be made to be better with the introduction of really delicious bread. Is your PB & J not to your liking? Too much jelly? Not enough peanut butter? Is the crunchy peanut butter a bit too crunchy? We all have our preferences. However, they seem to go by the wayside if the bread, beautiful in its simplicity and perfect in its splendor, is amazing. Who cares if the jelly to peanut butter ratio is off when the bread is wonderful?

If the first short story had in fact been the second, and Christmas Present by Amanda Grange had been the opening glimpse into Christmas à la Darcy, perhaps the subpar fillings would’ve been less noticeable. Instead, the book begins on its weakest leg, Mr. Darcy’s Christmas Carol by Carolyn Eberhart. As a fledgling author, Ms. Eberhart deserves commendation for her first publication. That being said, her portion of A Darcy Christmas was wholly unoriginal, insipid, and fraught with characters whose predictability astounded me. The connection to Charles Dickens’ timeless classic was, in my humble opinion, more than should’ve been allowed. Darcy essentially fills the shoes of Scrooge and does some soul searching, this time about whether he should renew his offer of marriage to Elizabeth (and with a little less snobbery, hmm?). The ghosts visit him, they show him the same humdrum imagery we’ve come to expect from the original story, and he has an easily-foreseeable revelation. Though a story about Darcy’s inner broodings over the loss of Elizabeth would be interesting, this one fell short and needn’t have taken place during Christmas at all.

Amanda Grange’s Christmas Present represented a noticeable uptick in the book’s procession. The story is engaging and sweet as we watch Elizabeth and Darcy bring their first child into the world, and the imagery is full-on wintery goodness. Familiar characters make their appearances including Mr. Collins, Lady Catherine, Kitty and Mary Bennet, and Bingley and Jane who have also become new parents. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet emerge too, albeit with Mrs. Bennet’s overly prominent vulgar comments and an odd social presence that seems a bit far-fetched. Beyond that though, everything is copacetic. Darcy and Elizabeth have no worries on the horizon and thus, no reason for their story to continue. This ever-positive view of their life together seems to have saturated the imaginations of all brilliant authors including Sharon Lathan, whose contribution rounds out A Darcy Christmas.

Her story, which shares the same title as the book, is another rendition of Darcy-and-Elizabeth-lived-happily-ever-after. Elderly and rich beyond measure, Mr. and Mrs. Darcy are busy hanging a family portrait when they begin to look back on their days, first as infatuated lovers and then as a cohesive couple. We see Darcy brooding over his first proposal, quietly but thoroughly berating himself, followed by a picture-perfect honeymoon scene, the birth of 5 children, the death of Mr. Bennet, and the marriage of their oldest son. There are, of course, few problems. In fact, the only recognizable woe comes in the form of a slightly disfigured daughter who is otherwise healthy, spunky, and smart.

It is at this point that I let out an audible sigh positively reeking of been-there-read-that. Isn’t there anything else that Darcy and Elizabeth could do with their lives? What about “Darcy and Elizabeth: The China Years”? Or how about a story where they lose all their money, move to a slum, and learn their true love for eachother as they slowly move forward? Though I realize that Jane Austen’s writings are most assuredly focused on the upper class, I tire of the same ‘ol “Everything is Perfect” spinoffs where Christmas means finery and feasts, gifts, treasures, and luxuries. A Darcy Christmas embodies some of the worst qualities of the holiday season, overconsumption and stuff-mongering among them.

And so it was that I felt no kinship with Christmas because of this book, no sudden urge for eggnog, no desire to buy things for my best Janeite friends or to call my Mom just because. This book left me wanting for a real story of life as a Regency twosome, with all the ups and downs that were part of everyone’s daily existence (even the very rich people of English high society). I’m tired of the “Look how happy we are!” stories that seemingly have no substance, no vulnerable underbelly, no challenge to them. A Darcy Christmas was a disappointment, not only as a vehicle for the Christmas spirit but as a statement of values as well.

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Gentle readers, Due to my pressing duties as companion to a terror terrier and my inability to keep my house clean and blog at the same time, I asked my coffee house companion, Kate, to read Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Ben H. Winters. The very fact that this book is offered on a site entitled Geeks of Doom speaks volumes. Here then is Kate’s review, which slithers with pithy insights. BEWARE! Those who purchase this fishy book, and who think that it is even remotely connected to Jane Austen’s genteel Regency tale, are bound to be DISAPPOINTED. If you are a sea monster afficionado, however, or a jaded cynic, you will be delighted.

“Mrs. Dashwood grasped a spare oar from its rigging, snapped it in twain upon her knee, and plunged the sharp, broken point into the gleaming, deep-set eye of the beast.”

sense and sensibility and sea monsters 2 With my book in hand, my local Starbucks barista, most likely in his late teens, offered the following commentary: “Wow! Is that like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? I hear that, you know, people who love Jane Austen like really hate these books.” And then he went back to making cappuccinos.

I am a full quarter of the way through Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, and I feel that it is time to stop. I feel this strongly. During my quarter-length romp with this fascinating adaptation of the classic novel, I have laughed out loud, rolled my eyes so far into the back of my head that it hurt a little, and felt myself transported back into my seventh grade life science class, encountering a phylum of vocabulary I long since forgot.

However, once the novelty of encountering Marianne, Elinor, and Mrs. Dashwood in their new Amazonian personages wore off, so did my desire to finish the book.

This is by no means Austen, but the names are familiar, and the plot vaguely reminds me of a book I once read by Jane Austen. Occasionally, a line from the classic favorite works its way into the prose, but it is hard to continue any kind of comparison to the original when Elinor’s and Marianne’s worth as prospective wives is no longer measured in dowries or feminine accomplishments, but rather in their stamina as swimmers, in their lung capacity, and in the strength of their calves.

danger at seaInstead of arranging picnics and dinners to encourage courtship, Sir John hosts “tiki dances, crawfish fries, and bonfires,” taking the necessary precautions to ensure the safety of his guests, including “drawing a large quadrangle upon the beach in an admixture of squid ink and whale blood.”

In a cataclysm referred to as the Alteration (the source of which, the book explains, is unknown), the creatures of the deep turn against all land-roving mammals with untiring vengeance. This is the event around which all of Sea Monster society revolves.

A hammerhead shark ate Mr. Dashwood, leaving the widow Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters destitute and thrown into the company of Sir John, his exotic and ominously quiet wife, and the octopus-faced Colonel Brandon. Our beloved Dashwood women live in constant fear of marauding sea mammals (and crustaceans), and all the lovely sensibility of the original novel is gone.

I first found the novel wildly amusing and cleverly written, and then I found it sad, because I didn’t care about the characters whom I had loved in Sense and Sensibility. I’m genuinely happy that they can swim well and that they are strong women, capable of defending themselves from demonic sea creatures, but I miss their unconditional love for each other and their genuine struggles to find happiness in a world not at war with the sea. But most of all, I miss courtships that don’t necessitate a discussion of flipper size and writhing facial tentacles.

2009-07-15-sense_seamonstersWhile I’ve stopped reading the book for now, there are a few mysteries in the plot (for example, how an octopus ended up on Colonel Brandon’s face) that I dwell on, and they very well could induce me to pick it up again.

My barista’s comment about the reactions of devoted Austen fans may be true. But I cannot find a reason to be upset about this very liberal adaptation. In fact, this book made me appreciate the original even more. But that could be because I’m just not thirteen anymore.

Review submitted by Kate after ingesting gallons of Mr. Starbucke’s DARKE & Mysterious Caffeinated LIQUIDS.


tentaclesIncredulous reader: Our rating for this book is five out of eight tentacles. After all, Jane did write 60% of this book, which you can purchase at this link.

Not yet completely horrified? David Itzkoff at Arts Beat points out a few discussion questions suggested in the book, which leave the reader with no small impression that Mr. Winter’s enormous literaSEA effort might well be the result of his quest for the almighty dollar:

2. In “Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters,” painful personal setbacks often occur at the same moment as sea-monster attacks, suggesting a metaphorical linkage of “monsters” with the pains of romantic disappointment; for example, Marianne is rebuffed by Willoughby at Hydra-Z precisely as the giant mutant lobsters are staging their mutiny. Have you ever been “attacked by giant lobsters,” either figuratively or literally?

5. Which would be worse: being eaten by a shark or consumed by the acidic stomach juice of a sand-shambling man-o’-war?

8. Have you ever been romantically involved with someone who turned out to be a sea witch?

10. Is Monsieur Pierre a symbol for something? Name three other well-known works of Western literature that feature orangutan valets. Are those characters also slain by pirates?

Is author Ben Winters into Sushi?

Is author Ben Winters into Sushi?

Other monsterly reviews on this blog:

The Geek Beat: More Sense and Sensibility and Less Sea Monsters

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Jane Austen, Vampyre Critic

Jane Austen, Vampyre Critic

Inquiring Reader,

Here then is Lizzie’s last letter to her sister relating her adventures with Mr. Darcy, Vampyre. She had divided her thoughts into three missives, not wanting to burden Jane with all of her emotions at once. For another take on the book, please click here and read Laurel Ann’s well thought out review on Austenprose and a favorable review on Austenblog. Three bloggers, three points of view.

My dearest Jane,

Well, what a crock, as they say in 21st century America! I’ve had to delve a full 250 pages into Mr. Darcy Vampyre to find out what was going to happen to us. And then the plot was so rushed and jumbled that I never did received an adequate explanation of how vampyres came to be, or what exactly Mr. Darcy ate in order to survive for 150 years. Upon my honor, Jane, I am aware that men are not particularly conversant when it comes to giving out details, but I’d had no notion that Mr. Darcy suffered from a verbal disability. He could not for the life of him adequately explain his strange tale. In describing one of the most important events of his life – that of turning into a vampyre – he took all of 21 words. (STOP!: Major Spoiler Alert: “The woman turned to me, her fangs dripping red and then she was next to me and my neck was pierced”).

Ms. Anne Rice took pages and pages to describe the writhing tormenting death that humans go through to turn into vampyres, and even Ms. Stephanie Meyers hinted that the transformation was quite unpleasantly painful, but all I got from Mr. Darcy was twenty one itty bitty little words. In addition he made it sound as if turning into a vampyre was an ordinary event, with Mrs. Reynolds, the housekeeper, choosing to join the merry Pemberley vampyre band, although, to give Ms. Grange her due, my husband’s face WAS shadowed as he related these events.

Any discerning reader knows that Ms. Meyers can’t write her way out of a paper bag, but at least with Twilight she told a rousing good tale. Ms. Meyers also gave the reader ample glimpses of Edward Cullen’s mental torment and extraordinary physical skills. Ms Grange’s story of my life with Mr. Darcy is, frankly, missing the otherworldly touches and sensuality that vampyre fans have come to expect as their due. (Either that or humor, which is also absent. And you know how I am renowned for my BITING wit, hah!)  Her hints about my husband are so thinly scattered in 5/6th of the book that they left me feeling confused rather than threatened. To say that suspense was lacking in our tale is to state the obvious. In the instances when Ms. Grange eschewed Bram Stoker’s lore, her vampyre rules seemed jerry-rigged, for they sprung up from nowhere, unsupported by a well thought-out back story. I could never quite tell (except in a few meagre scenes at the end) which super powers my husband had supposedly acquired, how ancient vampyres ruled their vampyre empire, or how conflicted Mr. Darcy felt watching those he loved grow old and die whilst he lived on forever.

Never was a more sensual and sensuous vampyre created than The Vampire Lestat, and I felt that my Mr. Darcy deserved at the very least the rich, decadent and multi-layered descriptions that Anne Rice gave to her own vampire. But it was not to be. There was a lot of telling in this book, but very little showing, and scent and touch were largely missing. Ms. Grange turned Mr. Darcy into a milque toast vampyre when I frankly would have preferred someone darker.

To add insult to injury, I am also suffering from a major letdown. When Mr. Darcy and I finally came together as one, Ms. Grange glossed over our glorious moments in a single paragraph. I kid you not. My love for Darcy SAVED him from eternal damnation and hell, (and crumbling buildings, fissures, and falling statues). I think that at the very least I deserved to sing soprano as our entwined souls soared to the rafters! Instead I merely trembled and weakened. I’m done and refuse to lend my good name (and Mr. Darcy’s) to another sequel. My husband and I are headed for England and the hallowed halls of Pemberley, for I am genuinely concerned about your last letter. Your cryptic statement informing me that our friends the Misses Dashwood were abducted by a giant octopus leaves me most anxious to use my zombie slayer warrior skills to save them.

Love,

Mrs. Darcy, Once sang alto, now sings soprano

Mr Darcy, Vampyre coverVic gives this book One and 1/2 fangs out of four fangs, mostly for trying, for as a travel log the book is quite satisfying. Read the other reviews here:

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colin darcy as vampireInquiring readers,

Mr. Darcy, Vampyre by Amanda Grange took me one month to read. For 200 pages the interminable plot seemed to twist in endless slow circles, like flotsam in the wide Sargasso Sea, before true vampyric action began. Mrs. Darcy’s (nee Bennet’s) letters, recently uncovered in a dusty attic, illuminate what actually transpired in her mind as she traveled from castle to castle during her honeymoon. Her first letter to her sister Jane can be found in the post below, or in this link. Her third letter can be read at this link. Here then, is the second of three installments. So much hoopla has surrounded this highly anticipated novel, that I felt it incumbent upon me to share all three of Lizzie’s letters.

My dearest Jane,

I must be going mad, for inexplicably I find myself living a life I would never have chosen inside a book entitled Mr. Darcy, Vampyre. First, the author, Ms Grange, has got my character wrong. Had Mr. Darcy announced before our wedding that he was planning to take me on a Grand Tour of the Continent instead of a proper honeymoon, I would have delicately persuaded him to take me to Pemberley, for it was inside that grand edifice that I expected to be fully made his bride! Instead, we have been wandering over Swiss hill and Italian dale on an aimless journey, with Mr. Darcy disappearing at the most inopportune moments. For 200 pages I have been consorting with strangers for whom I care not one whit. One even let slip that she believes she is 500 years old, at which point I heard the cuckoo clock strike thirteen times.

Jane, I am most perplexed at my husband’s continued lack of “amore”. He gives me “looks”, not of the yearning variety either, but simply “looks.” Having observed barnyard animals and their straightforward approach to reproduction, I have a good notion of where my wifely duty lies (for as we both know our parents were sadly lacking in educating us on this topic), and I know that begetting an heir requires more than merely looking. Thus I was as all prepared to shut my eyes and think of England as Mr. Darcy had his wicked way with me, but Ms. Grange has my Fitzwilliam shirking his husbandly responsibilities! In fact, I feel as if I’m trapped inside a book whose plot seems to have no point

I’ve had so much alone time on my hands that, as with Father’s study, I’ve spent hours in my husband’s Venetian library pouring over his enormous collection of books. He seems to have a strange fixation with vampyres, owning dozens of ancient, well-thumbed tomes containing vivid descriptions of immortal beings who must suck the blood of humans to survive. Does Mr. Darcy believe he is a vampyre, as the title of Ms. Grange’s book suggests? If so, is this the reason why he has been avoiding me? But of course this could not be so! For I’m as hot blooded a woman as they come, and what self-respecting vampyre could resist the rich red corpuscles pulsing through my blue veins? I have one bulging vein on my left wrist that is particularly tempting, not to mention those  that lie close to the surface of my neck. The ancient books also describe vampyres as suffering mightily from internal struggles, for they are doomed to kill those they love or turn them into vampyres, but frankly, the biggest struggle Mr. Darcy has demonstrated in this novel thus far is deciding on whether to join me for dinner  and …

Pray, is that a noise coming from the corridor? I must lay my quill aside, for perhaps it is my husband finally coming to claim my virginal self.

Mr Darcy, Vampyre coverAdieu for now! Your ever hopeful sister,

Lizzie

  • Living Girl Reads suggests that Henry Crawford, predatory male that he is, would have made a better vampyre. What think you?

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