Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Pemberly Shades

Pemberly Shades
Dorothea Bonavia-Hunt
5/5 stars

(update: since this was originally written, this book has been reprinted.)

It's a real pity that Pemberly Shades is out of print! To me it's the best Jane Austen continuation/imitation that I have read so far. And, being a Jane Austen fanatic, I've read a lot of them! This one has the humor, character depth and interesting plot, not to mention slow, rambling narration style, of Miss Austen herself.

Ms. Bonavia-Hunt set the Austen style on the first page:
"Who could have foretold that Dr. Robinson, who had done nothing of note in all his lifetime should, by the common and natural act of dying, set in motion a train of events so strange, so startling, so far removed from probability, as to emulate the riotous fancies of a disordered mind?"

It takes place, as you might have guessed, at Pemberly three or four years after Darcy and Elizabeth wed. Lady Catherine makes an appearance, as does Mr. Bennet, and the conversations of both could have been lifted from Pride and Prejudice. Mr. Collins joins us by letter, sounding just as pompous and ridiculous as ever. Elizabeth and Darcy keep that same sparring attraction that they developed in Pride and Prejudice.

Only Kitty has changed, and at first I found it a striking, drastic change. But after thinking about it, several years away from the terrible influence of Lydia (who is never even alluded to!) could easily make a major difference in Kitty's life.

The new characters in Pemberly Shades have all the flavor of Austen originals. The Misses Robinson remind me of all of Austen's gossipy old maids, Mr. Acworth is a cross between Wickham and Willoughby and Major Wakeford is an unluckier Colonel Brandon.

If you love Austen and the Austen style, then I highly recommend this novel! Run down to your local library or used bookstores and see if you can come up with a copy of it. You'll thank me later.

(Originally read/reviewed 2003.)

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Mutilation of the Herms: Unpacking an Ancient Mystery

The Mutilation of the Herms: Unpacking an Ancient Mystery
Debra Hamel
5/5 stars

In this short work, Hamel writes succinctly and humorously about the an unsettling event for the citizens of ancient Athens--the night that most of the herms (priapic statues of the Greek god Hermes)were vandalized. Hamel explains why this incident was important and gives an interesting account of the both the response of Athens and the possible reasons for the vandalism. This is a quick, well written and fascinating read, which is happily accessible to the layperson.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Baking Cakes in Kilgali by Gaile Parkin

Baking Cakes in Kilgali
Gaile Parkin
5/5 stars

(I was given the ARC by Amazon Vine in return for an honest review.)

Angel Tungaraza moved to Kigali, Rwanda from her native Tanzania when her husband took a job at the local university. An accomplished cake maker, Angel adds extra income to her large family and gives herself much joy by making custom-ordered cakes for friends, neighbors, and strangers who have heard the good word about her fabulous creations. In addition to being a "professional someone" (as she would call herself), Angel is Mama to her five orphaned grandchildren, confidant of friends and strangers, and a true example of a good woman.

Each chapter centers around one of Angel's cakes, giving the reader shorter stories inside the larger story. It is a story of family, of community, of all manners of love and reconciliation, and of course, of beautiful cakes. I wish I could explain the plot better, to show how desirable a read this is, but I simply can't. Suffice it to say that it is a surprisingly complex plot, despite this books benign face, with Angel facing several interesting ethical issues as well as the range of various good, bad and amusing situations.

Ms. Parkin uses the fact that Angel is an outsider to Rwanda to easily explain the current situation and the bloody past of this country. It never feels contrived; the explanations happen very naturally--as does most everything in this book. . . It all feels very natural. Customs are clarified, situations set up, the reader gently led here and there and yet, it just feels "real" and lifelike, always smooth and believable. Even the conversations, held in a manner so different from Western conversations, become so real that when a Westerner does appear, using typical Western speech, it seems brash and out of context.

This is truly a masterpiece, a first novel of the highest quality. It is a lovely, heartwarming book that sparkles with gentle wit, at times tugs the heartstrings, but is above all, a joyful experience. I can not recommend this novel highly enough. What a pleasure, what a delight. I expect to see much more of Ms. Parkin in the future

(originally read/reviewed in 2009)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Duty Free by Moni Mohsin

Duty Free
Moni Mohsin
1/5 stars

I was given this book by the Amazon Vine program in return for an honest review.

The heroine of Mohsin's novel is an unnamed Pakistani, whose spoiled and ridiculous voice distracts from what might otherwise be an interesting book. The story is told in the first person, using an affected "pigeon English" type of Pakistani, which is amusing for the first few pages but quickly becomes tedious before becoming so frustrating that the book is nearly unreadable. The novel is touted as "Jane Austen's Emma transported to 21st century Pakistan", but the similarities are few and superficial. Overall, the plot is a good idea poorly executed and is nearly impossible to read to the end.

Note: This is my opinion; 45% of the reviews on Amazon are 4 stars.