Northanger Abbey

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5
Author: Jane Austen
Genres: Fiction, Classics
Pub. Date: 1817 (read Dec. 2020 on Audible)
Narrator: Emma Thompson & Cast

Did I read this entire book in a day? Maybe, but honestly with the pandemic there’s not much else to be doing these days and I had the most wonderful time doing a jigsaw while listening.

I thoroughly loved this! 4.5 stars! I know NA does not have the same depth as her other works, but it was just so much fun to read! Catherine Morland is the spunkiest heroine and I loved watching her grow up and learn how to read people and navigate the world. She’s so hopelessly naïve, but it was endearing. Even though most of Austen’s heroines are young, I felt NA much more a coming-of-age story than any of her other books, and I do love a good coming of age story.

I don’t have as much to say about this one because, as I said, the themes don’t really have the same depth as P&P or S&S, but as far as humour and satire go I think this might be one of Austen’s best books. The way she satirizes gothic novels and literature in general in this book is just hilarious! There’s quite a difference between the first and second halves of the book, but I got a kick out of Catherine’s naïveté in the first half and her dramatization of Northanger Abbey in the second half.

I did find the ending a tiny bit jarring (may be a theme) with Catherine being sent away so unceremoniously, but overall I thought NA was comedic brilliance. It showcases Austen’s witty dialogue and her ability to convey characterization through discussion. Isabella and John are quickly shown to be totally insipid, while Henry showcases his intelligence and wit. That said, I loved the introduction of a female villain in this book!

My personal highlights were (in no particular order):
– Catherine thinking the General either murdered his wife or was hiding her in a dungeon
– Catherine having no idea about flirting or subtlety, with every comment going over her head
– Isabella’s incessant chatter and John’s egotistical ramblings
– Catherine finally dumping the Thorpe’s to go walking with the Tilney’s
– Austen’s defense of novels
– Catherine’s disappointment at Northanger Abbey being totally normal
– how Catherine’s imagination runs away with her after hearing Henry’s story
– how Catherine grows and finally learns how to judge the character of those around her

Sense and Sensibility

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Jane Austen
Genres: Fiction, Classics
Pub. Date: 1811 (read Dec. 2020 on Audible)
Narrator: Gugu Mbatha-Raw & Cast

Despite having already made one attempt at this book, I decided to make it my third read in the audiobook series. I never finished it on my first read-through and despite having read 60% of it, I remembered nothing of the content, so I knew a re-read would be more like a first read now that I’ve discovered my appreciation of Austen.

I read the full cast audiobook in just 2 days and loved it so much more! I’d still place P&P at the top of my list, but I’m between S&S and Persuasion for the second. I think I’d give the edge to S&S as overall I enjoyed it more than Persuasion, I just didn’t like the ending quite as much. Had the ending gone a different way I think this might have been a 5-star read for me, but alas, I have a few criticisms.

First let’s talk about what I liked though. This book was about sisters! I know her other books have sisters too, but the relationship between Elinor and Marianne was really central to the theme of this book (though I do love Elizabeth and Jane’s relationship in P&P as well). Elinor and Marianne embody the title of the book and despite their close relationship, could not be more different from one another when it comes to their approach to love. Elinor is sensible while Marianne is wildly romantic.

While the book starts with Elinor’s flirtation with Edward Ferras, we are quickly swept up into Marianne’s whirlwind romance with Mr. Willoughby. Elinor makes no assumptions about her relationship with Edward, but Marianne abandons almost every sense of Victorian propriety in her desire for Mr. Willoughby. And through it all Colonel Brandon stands patiently by wishing both sisters all the best. I definitely related more to Elinor and found Marianne to be too impulsive, but I did come to love her romantic heart and appreciate that though over the top – her feelings were thoroughly encouraged by Willoughby and that she shouldn’t held too much to blame.

The one thing I did remember from this book from both readings was the conversation between Mr. Dashwood and Fanny in the first chapter of the book. I bring it up because I think it is such a fine example of Austen’s brilliance. It’s not often that you see so much dialogue in a book, but Austen really is the master of it. One conversation between John and Fanny about the fortunes of the Dashwood sisters told me everything I needed to know about both their characters. They really are the most odious people and if I was Elinor I would have found it so hard not to call them out on their selfishness and greed.

As a villain, I think Mr. Willoughby may be one of my favourites thus far. He is so deliciously evil, yet we get to see something from him that is absent from both villains in P&P and Persuasion: remorse. He’s still a total scoundrel, but his final conversation with Elinor humanizes him and I enjoyed getting to see a more 3-dimensional villain. That said, I also loved Elinor’s observation of his fickleness. He’s able to regret that he married for money rather than love now that he has the comfort of money. But had it been the other way around, he likely would have had the same regret that he married for love now that he had no money.

What I liked about S&S as well was the return to a well developed love interest. Colonel Brandon was such an example of caring and goodness. He’s a constant throughout the novel, yet he never asks anything of the Dashwood sisters. He supports them both, assists them in any way he can, and only wishes them both every happiness. We get an interesting back story about him that again, demonstrates the strength of his character.

What disappointed me was how the romance was resolved. I liked both Elinor and Marianne, but as the main focus of the novel, I related much more with Elinor and wanted so much to see her happy. I thought everyone was misreading Colonel Brandon’s intentions and that he was actually going to end up with Elinor. I cared much less for Edward. The whole saga with Lucy only served to make me care more for Elinor and resent both Lucy and Edward. I know we’re told he no longer cares for Lucy, but has too much honour to get out of it, but the treatment of the whole thing made me think him unworthy of Elinor.

He lead her on in the beginning and though he had real feelings for her, I felt he should never marry Lucy just because he made a promise to her. I understand that the thought was very different in Austen’s time and that couples came to really know one another after the marriage and that once a proposal was made, it should be kept, but Austen was ahead of her time and I thought Elinor and Colonel Brandon would have made a better couple. I would have been totally fine with Marianne not finding love at all in this book. She showed a lot of growth at the end and came out of her heartbreak with renewed love for her sister and appreciation for her family.

Which brings me to my final point. While I could see Elinor with Colonel Brandon, I just couldn’t see him with Marianne. They had little interaction throughout the novel and less chemistry. He was enamoured with her musical talent, but I thought he shared an emotional connection with Elinor and I found it hard to believe Marianne would fall for him. Likewise with Elinor becoming attached to Edward at the end, I felt we never really got to know Edward and I struggled to understand Elinor’s love for him.

So overall I really enjoyed the characters and storyline, but the ending left something to be desired. Austen is still a romanticist and I just wasn’t feeling the final pair-ups.

Highlights of the book for me were (in no particular order):
– the opening dialogue between John and Fanny Dashwood
– the relationship between Elinor and Marianne
– everything about Colonel Brandon, particularly his backstory
– Marianne’s unbridled desperation to see Willoughby
– the added depth to Willoughby’s character
– John Dashwood hoping everyone else but him would provide for his sisters
– John Dashwood not understanding why Colonel Brandon would selflessly help someone not from his family
– Lucy Steele being ridiculous
– Elinor constantly telling Marianne to restrain herself
– Marianne corresponding with a man out of wedlock *gasp*

Persuasion

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Jane Austen
Genres: Fiction, Classics
Pub. Date: 1818 (read Dec. 2020 on Audible)
Narrator: Florence Pugh & Cast

Persuasion was my second pick from the Audible suite of full cast Jane Austen audiobooks. I understand it’s one of her less popular books, but I’ve heard some good things about Anne Elliot and decided to jump into it.

It was definitely a different beast than P&P, though I’m coming to recognize a bit of pattern in many of Austen’s books. At 27 years of age, Anne is one of Austen’s much older heroines and definitely the member of her family with the most sense. She fell in love earlier in life to Captain Wentworth, but was advised by her family to decline him due to his lack of fortune and title.

In contrast to P&P, Anne’s family comes from high breeding and so they had a bit more pride than I’d come to expect from the Bennet family. While the Bennet’s were concerned with marrying up, the Elliot’s were concerned with maintaining their social status. The recurring theme of Austen’s novels being that regardless of money and class, women are really at the mercy of their marriage as their social status will drop or advance to that of their husband when they marry.

I liked Anne – she was sensible, considerate, and much more tolerant than I would have been in her circumstance. Next to her character, many of the other characters seemed childish and frivolous. Even though marriage is the ultimate achievement for these women, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at the Musgrove sisters as they flirted with the various men in the book. Next to them, Anne felt so mature, it was hard to understand how all the men weren’t taken with her.

I found the structure of this book interesting though. It works up to a climax just a little past the halfway mark, when Louisa has her accident and the plot seems to ramp down from there even though there’s a lot of book left. I was also surprised by how much Anne seemed to judge others by their birth and title as well. Although I suppose it makes sense as she ultimately turned Wentworth down the first time because of his lack of title or fortune.

I liked that Anne was older and more mature, but as far as romance goes, I wasn’t as sold on this book. I liked Anne and I had nothing against Wentworth, but I also felt that I really didn’t know very much about him. Austen takes the time in P&P (and in S&S and Emma) to introduce us to her male characters are well. We get their backstories and through their actions become endeared to them. In Persuasion, I felt like I got limited backstory of Captain Wentworth. I didn’t really know why Anne fell in love with him to begin with and they had limited interactions that gave me a sense of his true character.

Their relationship grows towards the end of the novel and you start to see an inkling of their desire for one another, but I felt the romance of it was wrapped up too suddenly. While Wentworth’s letter was certainly romantic, I wanted more action to back up the goodness of his character. Overall I still liked it, but it was certainly different from her other novels.

Some of the highlights for me were (in no particular order):
– Wentworth’s letter to Anne at the end
– Mary’s selfishness and general ridiculousness
– Charles Musgrove’s good nature
– Mary calling out the sexism of motherhood
– The Crofts love for one another
– Anne’s conversation with Mrs. Smith where all is revealed
– The manner in which Louisa becomes injured (wtf)
– Sir Walter and Elizabeth being idiots about being unable to reduce their lifestyle despite having no money
– Anne’s sensibility and ability to be happy for others despite her own heartbreak

Pride and Prejudice

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Jane Austen
Genres: Fiction, Classics
Pub. Date: 1813 (read Dec. 2020 on Audible)
Narrator: Claire Foy & Cast

I’ve read 3 Jane Austen’s in the last month and the narratives are already starting to run into each other in my mind, so I figured it’s time I write some of my reviews.

P&P was not my first Austen, but it was the first that I’ve read and loved. For some reason I seem to have an interest for classics only in audio form and I listened to both Emma and S&S in the last two years. The version of Emma I listened to was free and while I listened to the whole audiobook, I found it a little tedious. I followed that up with Rosamond Pike’s version of S&S and had even less luck and DNFed at 60%.

So I’m not sure what possessed me to make another attempt, but when I saw all 6 books available for 1 credit and narrated by a full cast, I couldn’t resist. I’ve always felt that Jane Austen aught to be an author I should love. Her wit and sarcastic commentary about social class, wealth, and romance just screams my kind of book and I’m thrilled to have finally realized my love for her!

I can’t recommend these audiobooks enough! I’m halfway through and have loved them all so far. They’re each narrated by a different actress and feature a full cast for the characters and dialogue. I do find Austen’s casts a little daunting at the start of each book in trying to keep all the characters straight, so I think the full cast has helped immensely in this regard. Claire Foy does an excellent job narrating P&P and to date the cast of P&P was also my favourite. Especially the actress who plays Elizabeth, I thought she did a wonderful job!

Apparently I’ve read retellings of P&P and seen the movie, and yet have never picked up the original text. I watched the Kiera Knightly movie in high school and hated it, but I’ve resolved to rewatch it now that I’ve actually read it as I’ve heard it’s quite good. I’m tempted too by the mini series because I think Colin Firth is just the best Mr. Darcy, but I’m not convinced I’ll ever find the time to watch the whole thing.

So despite already knowing the story, I loved this so much more than I expected! There are a lot of subtleties with the family that I never picked up on in the past and I found myself so amused by Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Collins. Austen’s humour is something I’d read about but never really fully appreciated until this read through. Her characters are both hilarious and exhausting – it’s a wonder women don’t agree to the first marriage proposal that comes their way because the whole process of ensnaring a husband seems so tiring and tedious.

So I laughed a lot at the secondary characters, was enthralled by the drama of it all, and fell totally in love with both Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. I didn’t realize Austen’s novels were so full of villains and I definitely got caught up in the intrigue of it all. I love that despite knowing her characters are all going to have happy endings, I never know which characters I can truly trust and to never let your first impression of a character carry too much weight.

I’m not going to both getting into a plot synopsis, we all know the story of P&P, but I found myself much more endeared to Mr. Darcy in this book. I feel like some of the retellings and other renditions don’t quite capture the goodness of his character and despite feeling resolved not to like him, I found myself falling for him just as strongly as Elizabeth.

The novel highlights for me were (in no particular order):
– Mr. Collins assured proposal to Elizabeth
– Mr. Darcy’s unexpected and insulting proposal to Elizabeth
– Mrs. Bennet blaming absolutely everyone but herself for her family’s failures and her general ridiculousness
– The Gardiners goodness
– Elizabeth telling Lady Catherine to suck it
– Mr. Darcy’s selflessness in trying to help the Bennet family at the end
– Lydia being an idiot
– Jane’s sweetness
– Mr. Bennet supporting Elizabeth when she declines Mr. Collins
– Elizabeth’s feisty character

Watch Over Me

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Nina LaCour
Genres: Fiction
Pub. Date: Sep. 2020 (read Dec. 2020)

Watch Over Me was an impulse buy at a local bookstore. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Nina LaCour’s other book, We Are Okay, and the phrase “aged out of foster care” in the book synopsis intrigued me. Plus the cover art and end pages for this book are absolutely gorgeous, so I wanted it for my shelf. Publishers, never underestimate the power of beautiful end pages! I really wish more books had them.

Anyways, I started reading this almost right away and it’s one of those slow burn character driven novels that I absolutely love. The plot wasn’t quick paced, but I was sucked into the story and more or less read it in two sittings (it’s a short book). This was a weird mix of magical realism and ghosts and it just really worked for me.

18 year old Mila has aged out of foster care and been accepted to work as a teaching intern on a farm. The owners, Terry and Julia, have supported many foster children over the years and offer Mila room and board in exchange for help teaching some of their existing foster children. Mila eagerly accepts and travels to the remote farm to stay in her little one room cabin.
 
At first everything seems too good to be true. Everyone on the farm is extremely welcoming and she finally has a little space and family to call her own. But she soon discovers that the farm is haunted and that she may be forced to confront the trauma of her past. 

It’s a bit of a weird book and I could definitely see this not being for everyone, but I really loved it. First off, the writing is gorgeous – I really felt that there were no words or ideas out of place. At 250 pages, with a large font, it’s a short book, but I felt that the author said what she needed to say and then ended it. She spent time on what mattered and didn’t waffle around on what didn’t. 

Ultimately this is a story of grief and loss and learning to forgive ourselves. Mila had a very traumatic childhood, which compelled her to make choices that she’s not proud of. Yet she’s still an incredibly kind and loving person – her mistakes have not influenced her caring demeanor and ability to see good in others. But they are tearing her apart inside and not permitting her to grow and flourish. 

I really didn’t know how this book was going to go once Mila showed up on the farm. There’s an atmosphere of grief and longing that permeates throughout the entire novel and I wasn’t sure whether to expect good or bad things from the farm and the people who lived there. Everyone was so kind at the farm that I kept waiting for a big reveal for what’s actually going on underneath the surface. This happened, but not in the way I expected.
 
Overall, LaCour does a really good job of conveying the longing we all feel to be loved and accepted. Though Mila is forced to confront her demons, she finds everything she’s ever been longing for on the farm. We can always begin anew. We don’t have to be defined by the mistakes of our past and we are always still worth being loved. Especially in these pandemic times, aren’t we really all just longing for home? Sometimes it’s a place, sometimes it’s a person, but we all long to belong.