Weekly Roundup: July 12 – July 18 Helen Mirren and Martinis

Welcome to the weekly roundup on Ink in the Archives! Every week I will share what I’ve been up to and interested in and ask you to fill me in on your week too.

Eventful Events and Happening Happenings

We purchased a little square ottoman with storage underneath and we bought French vermouth to make martinis (these were the highlights of the week).

The first time my husband and I made a martini, we were newly 21. We thought martinis were going to be our thing. Because Mad Men. And sophistication. And cocktail parties. So we made a martini using the vermouth that had been at the back of my parents liquor cabinet for lord only knows how long. And it was the most disgusting thing ever! We dumped so much olive juice in to cover up the taste. And it was not enough. We promptly declared that martinis are not our thing and that vermouth is terrible.

But! We have learned better. For his birthday, I took my husband to a cocktail making class (because though we thought better of martinis for years, we still love cocktails), and we found out that we had been doing martinis wrong. It turns out that vermouth is wine. Fortified wine, but wine nonetheless. And wine, when you open it, goes bad after a relatively short period of time. So please, do not repeat our mistakes. Buy a small bottle of vermouth (I use a dry French for martinis) and keep it in the fridge. Use it up in a week or so and you won’t have grimace inducing drinks. You’ll have a martini that doesn’t even need an olive.

That was pretty much the most eventful part of the week. Otherwise, it was fairly awful. We were both very grouchy. I can’t even blame that on a full moon or anything.

Books Read

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen : Last year I decided to reread all Jane Austen’s books. I chose to read them in alphabetical order because that’s the order they come in in my box set. I’m glad that I saved P&P though because one of my favorite Booktubers recently read the whole thing on Instagram live over the course of about a month and then uploaded it to YouTube as a sort of casual audiobook. So I read it along with her. You can find the playlist here. The way Jen reads is just delightful–her Mrs. Bennet voice cannot be beat.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Dark Monk by Oliver Pötzsch : This is a sequel. I really enjoyed the first book in this series, The Hangman’s Daughter. This book went in a totally different direction, but still follows a Bavarian hangman and his daughter through a new mystery involving the Knights Templar. It’s set in the 17th century and has a lot of action as well as interesting and engaging characters. I think I did like the first one a bit better than this one, but I am eager to read the third and fourth books since my Mom found them all at her favorite used bookstore and put them in my stocking a couple years ago.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia : I don’t normally read a lot of horror, but I really enjoyed the last Moreno-Garcia book I read, Gods of Jade and Shadow, and I didn’t want to miss this one. I found myself kind of surprised by how much I enjoyed it and its gothic overtones. It was horrific but not so horrifying that I won’t be able to sleep tonight. I call that a win.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Movies Watched

I have a lot of free time this summer. So I thought I’d use it to work down my ever-growing movie backlog. This is what happens when you’re a film student–you’re so busy reading philosophy and criticism there’s no time to watch the movies everyone is referencing. I’ve challenged myself to watch one movie from this list a day.

The Good Liar (2019) Starring Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen. I missed this one in theaters, but luckily HBO came to my rescue. My husband took one look at this movie and said it was going to be sad. I don’t know how he knows these things. The end of this movie about a con man and his mark was sad, but not in a way you probably won’t see coming.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Tempest (2010) This is a baffling adaptation of Shakespeare’s play. Baffling mainly because of the musical choices, which are jarring and bizarre, and the special effects. I actually really like Mirren as Prospero. In fact, most of the casting is really well done. Everyone can actually act. But it’s just lacking something. I don’t know if it’s the way it’s shot or cut together, but it just feels really….distant. Like you can’t really get into any of the characters.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Gosford Park (2001) You know when a film kind of feels familiar but also doesn’t? It’s very likely I’ve seen this before, but it held up to another viewing, so I can’t even be upset about it. If you’re missing the world of Downton Abbey and you haven’t seen this film, you should add it to the top of your list. There are so many great actors in this movie that revolves around the lives of servants and the upstairs people and then of course there’s the murder…

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Berlin, I Love You (2019) A compilation of 10 different stories in Berlin woven around the story of a thrown together couple that sort of anchors and weaves through the other narratives. Some of the stories are really compelling and interesting, while others fell flat for me.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Frank (2014) There’s just something compelling about a guy who wears a papier mache head and doesn’t take it off. Ever. And who composes bizarre music. This film is odd and a little uneven, but it has a lot to say about creativity and mental illness without trying to impose too much of a lesson.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Heathers (1989) After watching this movie I feel pretty confident in saying that Christian Slater may be one of the most annoying teen stars of the 80s. But I really enjoyed Winona Ryder in this film about popularity run amok. I kind of can’t believe I hadn’t seen it before because I love 80s teen movies, but all the murder must have put me off. Maybe I thought it was going to be scary. It isn’t. It’s not a great film, but it was probably the most fun out of everything I watched this week.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Last Christmas (2019) I’ve never really understood the whole Christmas in July thing, but this is a Christmas movie, and I did watch it in July, so I guess it counts. I know this movie only did okay at the box office and even less well with critics, but it’s just as endearing as any Christmas movie on Netflix and has better actors than most. I mean–yes the big reveal at the end is ridiculous in only the way a Christmas movie can be–but it’s still pretty sweet.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

3 Things I Learned This Week

Why do 18th and 19th century novels have —- in them for omitted information? For example in Pride and Prejudice, there are lines like “At length, however, our kind friend procured the wished-for direction. They were in —- Street.” This has always baffled me. If you don’t want to give the street name, why not just remove the sentence altogether? Is this a censorship thing? The internet was not entirely clear on this point, but it looks like they were used for several reasons including to avoid potential libel and other lawsuits, to add verisimilitude (by not having to make up place names), to keep the reader in the world of the novel by being vague, and other similar reasons.

Don’t leave your cast iron skillet in the sink overnight because you’re too tired to deal with it. You will have to re-season it.

All the Myers-Briggs personality types correspond to court cards from the tarot deck. I am an INFJ, which corresponds to the Queen of Cups. My husband is an INTJ–the Knight of Pentacles.


Please know that I’m not paid for my opinions about anything. I just like to share things that strike me as interesting, useful, or engaging.

I really enjoyed this exhibit from the Eric Carle Museum about picture book artists and how they’ve been coping and adapting to shelter in place. This free online exhibit is really worth a look if you enjoy picture books and/or tours of artist studios.

Little konjac sponges. I bought a charcoal infused one.

Normally I am not the kind of person to rave over beauty products, but I have to admit that I am in love with this one. It’s a konjac sponge that I bought at Zero Waste Outlet. I am trying to transition my things as I use them up to less plastic-y alternatives, and this plant-based exfoliator comes as a little hockey puck that you soak in warm water and then cleanse your face with it. It’s hard to describe how great it is. And I feel like in the week I’ve started using it, my skin is clearer and smoother. Not bad for $3.99.

Poll of the Week

How was your week? Was it more of the same or did something good happen? Let me know in the comments!

What I’ve Been Reading This Week

I subscribe to lots of things–probably too many–and as such whenever I go on vacation (or don’t feel like reading things), I develop a huge backlog of reading. While I was cleaning this week, I’d take I-can’t-stand-it-one-more-minute breaks that I told myself were productive because I was clearing out the back log of feminist newsletters, book/literary news, and daily poetry.

Here are a few pieces from Lit Hub that I really enjoyed reading this week:

Poetry is one of those things that I never seem to be motivated enough to buy and read collections of, which is a shame because there’s so much good poetry out there–even if you don’t think you like poetry. This list is broken down by types of readers and includes some great poets–ancient, modern, and contemporary. A lot of them are famous enough that your library might have them, which is great because I don’t often return to a book over and over again.

I may be borderline obsessed with Jane Austen, but it’s only because I think she is such a great observer of humanity. Korducki shares her opinion in this essay that marriage is still mired in the bizarre mix of practical considerations and affection that was just starting to make itself known in Austen’s time. She also shares her own experience of coming to Austen’s work, which is less of my fan-girl type experience and more of a this-is-an-18th-slash-19th-century-English-class-and-you’re-an-English-major-so-reading-Austen-is-compulsory type of experience.

I love 90s movies. And adaptations. And Shakespeare. Some of my favorites like Much Ado About Nothing and 10 Things I Hate About You are on this list as well as some others I haven’t seen and now have to add to my watch list, which is always growing.

And, saving the best for last:

My obsession with Shakespeare, Austen, and film is only rivaled by my love of fairy tales. Fine’s essay about the nature of desire in fairy tales (and the consequences of getting what you want or wanting too much) was riveting for me. A totally different way of looking at what a fairy tale is meant to do.


Have you read anything that sparked your interest this week? Let me know in the comments.

Jane Austen Week: Northanger Abbey


Hamlette is hosting a Jane Austen week, where lots of bloggers are posting on one of our favorite authors. There are discussions of her books and the various adaptations they’ve spawned in film and further. You can find all of the other posts here!

I chose to write about Northanger Abbey, one of the more overlooked Jane Austen books. It’s quite different in tone from Pride & PrejudiceEmma, or Sense & Sensibility. The heroine is a bit more naive, easily excited and frightened, and in the end learns that life isn’t like the Gothic novels she loves to read. It’s still social commentary, but in a very different way. Instead of being a novel of manners and conversation, it tends towards the meta-fictional; it’s a discussion about the nature of writing itself and how the novel and its author fit into the shape of the culture.

Northanger Abbey was the first book Jane Austen completed for publication, but it was not actually published until after she died. She sold the manuscript under a different title to the London bookseller Crosby & Co. They never published it, and eventually sold it back to Jane Austen’s brother. She ended up changing the main character’s name from Susan to Catherine and did some more revision, but ultimately it wasn’t published until six months after her death in 1817.

The story is a fairly simple one. Catherine is invited to stay in Bath with some friends of the family. While she is there she makes some friends, and is ultimately invited to Northanger in the days when “visits” lasted for weeks on end. She has a few anti-climatic adventures, and then is asked to leave, but this is Jane Austen so in the end everyone ends up happily.

At its core, Northanger Abbey is a satire of and confrontation with the popular Gothic novel. These novels, which had very little in them except for the macabre and the sensational, were designed to thrill and titillate. Jane Austen, through this work and her others, sees literature fulfilling a different purpose–that of entertainment and instruction. This goes against the more “serious” writing at the time, which suggested that anything written for entertainment at all was not worth the  paper it was written on and was meant for less serious people. In other words, it was meant for women. Austen pushes back against this idea to straddle the line between the two extremes, and by doing so makes her own monumental contribution to literature.

It’s also a novel about a women who learns how to read, not just the books that she so fancies, but the world around her as well. She has to see through what people say and learn to read their motivations.  It’s about a young woman learning that life isn’t as lurid as books would suggest, and that the truth or core of something is usually more mundane than it looks as well as much less good-natured. Austen suggests that this is a good thing–imagination has its place but being realistic means that you won’t be taken advantage of. This is pure speculation on my part, but I suspect that this is a lesson Austen herself had to learn as a writer and a young woman. The fact that this novel was ready for publication first suggests that it might be something of a manifesto for what Austen would attempt to do as a writer in the future.

Catherine Morland is not exactly the picture of a Gothic heroine, which Jane Austen makes clear from the opening sentence, “No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her to be born an heroine.” She is missing some of the more essential attributes, namely a dark and dismal past (her family being squarely middle class and still living and her childhood pleasant), a beautiful face (hers is only so-so), and intuition or a sense of fate. In short, she’s exactly the kind of girl who might be fascinated by Gothic novels because they represent the exotic and adventure. As Mr. Tilney tells her, she’s more likely to judge people based on her own good intentions and positive motivations, leaving her unable to understand or sniff out malice or even a lack of candor.

Mr. Tilney is an interesting character who is quite clever and observant. He’s not my favorite Austen leading man because his relationship with Catherine never feels quite as equal as Emma’s and Knightley’s for example or Lizzie’s and Darcy’s. However, he does his best to try and teach Catherine about herself and the world.

Northanger Abbey itself is a particularly intriguing setting for Austen. She often uses great houses as her settings (all of her heroines, no matter their sometimes precarious financial circumstances, live in what I would term a large house and have plenty of servants), but very few of them have the kind of historical weight or Gothic atmosphere that the Abbey does. But Austen does not allow the reader to bask in the romance of the setting, instead she focuses on the prosaic details. Even if Catherine doesn’t realize it at first, Northanger is nothing more than a big house, and is nothing to be in awe of or swoon over.

Catherine Morland wants to find adventures, and surely there is no better way to do so than uncovering secret letters and ancient mysteries. She’s caught spying around the house, of course, invading Mr. Tilney’s deceased mother’s rooms, but the most iconic episode of the book is her discovery of the lists. Catherine gets herself in a tizzy one stormy night and her eyes fall on a cabinet. She simply has to explore it, and she does while the wind howls. Conveniently, the key is in the cabinet, though it takes her several attempts to open the door. She searches every cranny (leaving the locked middle drawer for last)–remembering to check for false bottoms. Then she opens the last drawer and there at the back is a rolled up piece of paper. Before she can read a single word, her candle is promptly extinguished by the wind and she hops into bed, dropping the papers to the floor in her fright. She reads it in the morning, sure that it will contain all kinds of hidden secrets, and find that it contains…a few bills for the laundry and farrier. No episode could more clearly illustrate Austen’s feelings about Gothic novels. After being so scared, after building the episode in her mind up so much, there was nothing there but the trappings of economic privilege.

While Northanger Abbey is not my favorite Jane Austen novel, I think it’s a great one–especially to learn about Austen’s place in the literature of the era and to understand her opinions on novels. Although she’s often lumped together with the Bronte sisters, her goals in writing were very different. She presents herself in this first offering as a witty and independent mind whose goal is to reflect society back to itself, showing how the world has shaped the lives of the women living in it. Catherine may be one of her sillier protagonists, but she still shows the pressures of growing up into womanhood. If you haven’t read this one before, or you haven’t read it in a while, it may be time to pick this book up.

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten of My All Time Favorites: 100 Years Old or More Classics Edition


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature from The Broke and the Bookish.

I usually don’t like being asked about my favorite book (or my favorite film). There are so many books I love, and it’s difficult to give any answer. Do you say the book you’ve loved the longest (The Wizard of Oz)? The book that influenced you so much when you were growing up (The Diary of Anne Frank)? The series that you reread at least once a year because it’s still amazing (Harry Potter)? The series that blew your mind as a teenager (The Incarnations of Immortality)? Your favorite book by your favorite author (The Importance of Being Earnest and/or Emma)? The best contemporary novel you’ve read in a long time (White Teeth and/or Possession)? Your favorite modern classic (The Master and Margarita)? I have no idea how to judge this. Does poetry count? Do plays? Do you pick one per genre?

And then there’s the classic problem–that when asked this question I forget all the books that I’ve read. Or that I’ve ever read books. I just sit there.

I really need to prepare an answer to this question…

So when presented with this week’s topic–10 all time favorites–I knew I’d have to break it down by genre. So I chose classics. And to make it easier on myself I only picked classics that have been around for over a hundred years. And I didn’t include poetry, though a few plays snuck in. They couldn’t help themselves. They really wanted to be on this list.

Here we go. These are in chronological order.

  • Don Quixote–Miguel de Cervantes (1605)

This book is great–it wasn’t an easy read in high school–but I love that it inspired it’s own adjective (quixotic) and that it talks about a man who believes his own fairy tales.

  • Much Ado About Nothing–William Shakespeare (first performed 1612)

This is my favorite Shakespeare play. Benedick and Beatrice are so witty–I think this is Shakespeare’s most humorous work.

  • Pride & Prejudice–Jane Austen (1813)

Can you even create a favorites list without this book?

  • Emma–Jane Austen (1815)

My favorite Austen work. I have no idea why it speaks to me more than P&P (I honestly identify more with Lizzie). I think it might be because I love Mr. Knightley more than Mr. Darcy. Also the matchmaking is priceless.

  • Jane Eyre–Charlotte Bronte (1847)

I only recently read this book, but it was everything I hoped it would be and now I have to read it again.

  • The Portrait of a Lady–Henry James (1881)

This book was recommended to me by a professor and she was spot on. This book is amazing with a heroine that is as naive and hopeful as she is intelligent.

  • One Thousand and One Nights–translated by Sir Richard Burton (1885)

These stories will always have a special place in my heart. I tend to collect different editions when I find them.

  • The Picture of Dorian Gray–Oscar Wilde (1890)

O Wilde! I will love you forever. Your wit, your charm, your imagination…

  • The Importance of Being Earnest–Oscar Wilde (1895)

Hands down one of the wittiest/silliest plays ever. It’s definitely more a product of its time than anything by Shakespeare, but it does its job so well. And it has the most quotable lines like “In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing.”

  • Pygmalion–George Bernard Shaw (1913)

Maybe it’s because I’ve seen My Fair Lady far too many times. But really I don’t see how anyone could not like this play. It reads really well, and I love the way it discloses its source material right in the title.


Did one of your favorites pop up here? Did I miss your favorite classic? Let me know in the comments!


Top Ten Tuesday: In Which it Is Described How My Enjoyment of Certain Books Has Changed Over Time…Or Not


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature from the book lovers over at The Broke and the Bookish.

So I sort of struggled with today’s topic, which was 10 books that you’ve changed your opinion about over time. I have to be honest, my opinion of books doesn’t usually change all that much. In fact, there are only three series/books I can think of that I’ve fallen out of like with over the years and that I will never willingly read again (my good opinion once lost, is lost forever). The reason for this is pretty simple–for pleasure I pretty much only read the books I like and I’m fairly good at evaluating them and moving on. Even though my reading of texts change (I don’t read Harry Potter the same way that I did as a kid), my pleasure at reading doesn’t diminish just because the book isn’t similar to other things I’m reading. I tend to strike a balance between judging a book on its own merits and seeing it within a larger body of works and in its time period–I’m big on context. Because of this, I think I have fairly reasonable expectations on books and so they don’t disappointment me very often. However, every rule has its exceptions, and these are mine:

  • The Twilight Series by Stephenie Meyer–I read the whole series twice, and it wasn’t until the second reading that I really wasn’t so sure about the books. I was so interested in the story the first time, and I read them so quickly I didn’t really evaluate the writing. And then on the second read-through, that’s all I could see–and it wasn’t all that pretty.
  • Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James–Again, another book that I read really quickly and was fascinated by, but I didn’t even have to read it again to start questioning it. As I learned a little bit more about the lifestyle depicted in the book via various feminist websites, I realized that the book really fails at the major issue of consent, which leaves a bad taste in my mouth. And it’s not really realistic either. It’s really your average romance novel with a more risqué premise.
  • Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls–The first time I read this book, I thought it was fine. But from third to eighth grade (I changed schools a bunch) I was either required to read this book or watch the film. So now I can’t stand it.

And here are seven books/series that I’ve continued to love, even if I don’t get exactly the same things out of them as I did when I first read them:

  • The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling–After all this time? Always. I’ve read these books more times than I can count. And they’re still the best.
  • The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank–I read this book for the first time in 6th grade, and I identified with the protagonist in a very different way then than I do now, but the book is still amazing and there’s so much to it and the story of this family.
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen–This one speaks for itself.
  • The Wizard of Oz series by L Frank Baum–Still the charming and magical world I loved as a kid.
  • The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde–This is one of my favorite works by any author in any period. It just makes me laugh.
  • The Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot–I recently reread this series and I still think it holds up.
  • Sorcery and Cecelia or the Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer–I bought this book again the other day, (I donated it when I went to college, along with a lot of other books. The only thing I ever regret getting rid of is books…) and I started reading it immediately. It only took me a few hours to read, and it instantly put me in a good mood. Can’t ask for more than that.


Have you read (or reread) any of these books? What was your opinion of them? Is there any book that you’ve changed your opinion about over time? Or is there a book that you always stay constant to? Let me know in the comments.


Top Ten Tuesday: My 10 Favorite Female Authors

This calligraphy “Top Ten Tuesday” picture is free to use, but please give credit to Allison of Aliza Shandel. Your respectfulness is much appreciated!

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature from the Broke and the Bookish.

Since today’s topic was actually a freebie, I thought I’d do a list on the life blood of this year’s reading challenge, which is all about female authors. Making this list wasn’t as easy as I’d thought, as my true favorite author list would be a pretty equal combination of both male and female authors, so I had to broaden my favorites. This means that I went backwards in reading history, and selected authors that made my childhood/young adulthood come to life.

So here they are in alphabetical order:

Margaret Atwood: Atwood is a relatively new discovery for me, as I read her book The Handmaid’s Tale just before 2015 had begun. Her deft mix of social commentary and science fiction is not to be missed, and when she isn’t writing science fiction she has an amazing mastery of character and description that allow her to hop from genre to genre. One day I’d like to be able to write like her–just a little bit.

Jane Austen: Some people claim that music or sports or certain groups of friends got them through high school, but I certainly think Jane Austen receives a lot of thanks for getting me through that period of time. Each of her heroines give different insight in what it means to be a woman, what it means to be in love, and what it means to navigate through an unyielding social system. Beyond the romance, Austen makes her characters people and she gives them the chance to improve themselves.

Meg Cabot: This woman is simply inspiring in the sheer volume of her work combined with its total readability. Her characters are just insecure enough and just strong enough to conquer all of the bizarre challenges she throws their way. Cabot got me through middle school without a doubt, though she did plant an absurd idea in my mind that it was possible to suddenly find out you’re a princess…

Angela Carter: A new discovery of mine also from last year, I can already tell Carter and I are going to be very happy together. Her short story collection The Bloody Chamber was dark and magical and completely enchanting. Her fairy tale adaptations were nothing short of brilliant–innovative, but still capturing that grim and slightly gruesome fairy tale mood.

Emily Dickinson: I tried to keep this list geared towards novelists and not poets, but I couldn’t resist adding this one. Dickinson’s poems capture little microcosms. Her small poems cut right to the heart of the matter and the person reading them.

Gail Carson Levine: Levine and I go way back. I read Ella Enchanted and loved her. Her adaptations have so much light and hope and her heroines have so much gumption. Her books were mainstays in my childhood.

Sylvia Plath: There are some writers you wish you could be as brilliant as, and then there are some you knew you would go crazy (literally) if you attempted to emulate them. Plath is just scary dark and scary good. Her writing makes mental illness accessible–more human and more possible for the average person. If you haven’t read The Bell Jar, you really should.

JK Rowling: All Potter fans think they’re the biggest ones. My love of these books runs very very deep. I’ve read them countless times and I reread them every summer. They capture something that is very hard to explain. She really understands teenagers and the universe she creates is vast and so easy to see yourself living in. I think she’ll continue to capture hearts for years to come.

Zadie Smith: Can I just say I read a lot of good books last year? This is another author I’ve just recently found for myself. Smith’s writing is humorous, witty, poignant, and tight–she has such control over her narrative and her characters. She’s obviously fond of them, but she doesn’t let them get away with just anything. White Teeth is one of the most amazing first novels I’ve ever read.

Patricia C Wrede: Another mainstay of my childhood, Wrede is another of those fantasy authors I couldn’t put down, whether it was Sorcery and Cecilia (cowritten with Caroline Stevermer) or the Enchanted Forest Chronicles. Her heroines were just so feisty and the stories were playful and gripping.

I think what you can tell from these books is that I love well written female protagonists, fantasy, and whimsy mixed with just the right amount of feminism, wit, and gothic sensibilities.

Do any of these authors make your favorites list? What is your favorite book written by one of these amazing women? Let me know in the comments.

Women Writers Reading Challenge #30: Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid


Every so often, you come across a book that you’re excited for, but when you actually come to read it, you’re a bit disappointed. That’s how I felt reading this updated version of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey.

Now I’ve never read Val McDermid, though I know she’s a well-known mystery writer who has sold a lot of books, so I cannot speak to her writing in general, only to what I read in this book. I do know this book was most likely commissioned, so many of the choices might not have been the author’s to make. In that case, I feel like the restrictions posed were a mistake.

There were a few things that were really well done, namely giving her heroine a taste for vampire fiction to parallel Austen’s Catherine and her taste for gothic novels. McDermid’s Catherine is an interesting figure, a romantic feminist who sees good in all she meets. Her friendships with other characters are also convincing, and I particularly enjoyed the relationship she had with her hosts in Edinburgh. I thought setting the novel in Edinburgh was a good choice, and I wish the setting had informed the story even more.

If you’ve read Austen’s novel, you know the plot of this book. It is an episode for episode retelling. I felt like this was a little forced in certain places, and I would have liked to see the author’s perspective on how the character of Catherine Morland would operate in present society beyond the confines of the original storyline. I would have preferred her to take liberties with the plot and with other details, such as Catherine’s age. A 21 year old young man dating a 17 year old in our modern society is looked at a little differently than in the early 1800s. She can’t have a drink in a pub, she’s not in college–it’s just strange. It makes the hero seem a little bit creepy for pursuing her at all.

The two things I felt were most lacking was the social commentary of Austen’s work and a good representation of Catherine’s character. She was a contradiction, and I had no clear picture of her as a person. At times she seemed so sensible, at others hopelessly gullible. Her dialogue was sometimes eloquent, her points well argued, at others she fell into (really awful) slang, she swore…and there seemed (to me at least) to be little rhyme or reason to these character swings. In the Austen book, Catherine’s character is fairly dynamic, but she is interesting in her naïveté and she’s easy to relate too, even in her silliest moments. I felt nothing like that for this Catherine.

It also is devoid of the social criticism that is such an important part of Austen’s work. This is what makes Austen so hard to copy or replicate because underneath the stuffy drawing rooms filled with eligible gentlemen is an astute depiction of society–and what it means to be men and women operating within it. While Austen’s Northanger Abbey has elements of the gothic novel, it goes far beyond these elements, speaking to ideas about what innocence and experience mean as well as the role of the novel itself. This novel in contrast, is a vampire book without vampires, which makes it deeply unsatisfying.

This book is one in a whole series of Austen updates, and though I may read one more to satisfy my curiosity, I certainly won’t make it a priority if this book is any indication of what the chosen authors were asked to do. It’s an interesting writing exercise to update an existing work, but it doesn’t become a good adaptation unless something new is brought to the original.

What is your favorite Austen adaptation/inspired work (movies count too!)? Or which of Austen’s novels are your favorite?

Women Writers Reading Challenge #20: Longbourn by Jo Baker


I haven’t read much in the way of Jane Austen adaptations, but I was really excited to read Jo Baker’s book because it had such an interesting point of view–that of the servants in the Bennet’s household. There was plenty of drama to appreciate, lots of intrigue, some feel-good moments, and plenty of food descriptions (you have a lovely post to look forward to tomorrow).

I really enjoyed this book and its new perspective on this well known story. The writing was engaging and the characters were well-defined and interesting. If you’re a fan of Austen’s work, Upstairs Downstairs, or Downton Abbey, I think you’ll definitely enjoy this one.