Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Column 14

Jane Austen is the quintessential chick-lit author. She is the original. Before Sophie Kinsella’s “Shopaholic” series, or Jennifer Weiner’s “Cannie Shapiro” books, there was Jane Austen. Elizabeth Bennet, Elinor Dashwood and Fanny Price are the original feminist heroines of literature. How can you read about these strong women, and the men they love, without falling in love yourself with the very idea of Regency-era romance?
    Even though Jane Austen has only six full novel titles to her credit, there are so many people who have tried to duplicate the Jane Austen experience. There are those who have written sequels and prequels to each of the six novels. There are spoofs of her books. There are books about people who love her books and books about people who obsess about Jane Austen and her life.
    This week’s book is about someone who wants to escape into that Regency time period of “turns around the room,” gallant men in breeches, and women being saved by tall, dark, handsome men—of considerable means—on horseback.
    In “Midnight In Austenland” by Shannon Hale, Charlotte Kinder is recovering from a disastrous marriage and wants nothing more than to escape to an immersive Austen experience where actors compete for her affections and cater to the guests’ Austen fantasies.
    While “Austenland,” the first in this series, was strictly a romantic comedy (which is currently being made into a film), “Midnight in Austenland” mixes things up a bit with a murder mystery twist.
    Of course, there is a great deal of humor in this book. I love Hale’s wit and the way she writes her characters as flawed-but-endearing women. The self-deprecating humor makes the reader root for the heroine from the beginning and hope that she can find the love that she craves in the fantasy world of Jane Austen.
    Perhaps you have heard of Hale and read some of her young adult fiction like “The Goose Girl” and “Princess Academy.” These fantasies are great reads if you are looking for a fairy tale. With “Midnight in Austenland,” we see a different side to Hale. The writing is geared toward adults, and the main character is a strong, adult heroine.
    While nothing beats the real Jane Austen, I love these fun Jane Austen-like add-ons and adaptations. Hale does not disappoint in this category!
    In general, I quite enjoy Hale’s books written for adults. This is the third of her books aimed at an adult audience, and I rush to get a copy of each one as it is released. Besides the two books in the Austenland series,  there is also “The Actor and the Housewife,” which is one of my favorite books. I can count on it for a great laugh and a good cry.
    If you like Shannon Hale’s young adult fiction but are looking to branch out, “The Actor and the Housewife” and the Austenland series
 should be the next books on your list!   

Friday, March 2, 2012

Lucky Column No 13!

            I have not done a lot of traveling, but I have moved a lot. In the process of those moves I have traveled across the country too many times to count. But I have not really stopped anywhere and experienced the cultures or seen many sites. I have been to most of the states in the continental United States and I have even been to a few of the Canadian provinces, but most of these experiences were brief rest stops on my way to final destinations that were as exciting as, well, Rexburg, Idaho.
            It has been a dream of mine to see different places in the world. But I hate traveling. I get airsick, carsick, and seasick. Because of this, my traveling experiences are limited. The women in the book I am reviewing for this week had no such issues and found the world at their disposal despite the limitations of the early twentieth century.
            “Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West,” by Dorothy Wickenden, is the true story of Dorothy Woodruff and Rosamond Underwood, two close friends and graduates of Smith College who spent their time touring the world for fun until happening upon teaching jobs in the wilds of northwestern Colorado.
            These two high society girls from Auburn, New York are tired of their luncheons, charity work, and the silly young men trying to court them for their money. They set out on an adventure to teach in a remote mountain-top school in the Wild West.
            They endure long rides by horseback to the schoolhouse every day. They survive blinding blizzards. They come to love and care for unruly children who have never heard of the Pledge of Allegiance, who ski to school on barrel staves, and whose clothes are no more than rags tied together with string.
 The year Dotty and Rose spend in the West changes not only their lives but the lives of all of those who live in the tiny settlement of Elkhead, Colorado. There are many cowboys vying for their attention, and they see one of their dear friends kidnapped by two coal miners.
            This true story is captured in letters home by Dorothy and Rose, as well as interviews with descendants of the young women and with descendants of those who grew to love them in Elkhead. The story is delightfully thrilling and exciting. I learned so much about the western United States in those early years of the twentieth century that I did not know before.
            I love to read historical nonfiction. It makes me feel smarter than I am. Most of the time I read novels. Lately, I have been reading a lot of paranormal fiction and young adult fiction because of requests for reviews. It was nice to change things up a bit with this fun and witty trip with two society girls.
            Growing up on the East Coast, I did not learn western history. I did not learn about the building of the railroads. I knew that there were cowboys and western towns—I mean, I am a huge fan of “Little House on the Prairie”—but I really had no idea how recent this history was.
            This book gave me a small glimpse into the history of our great Wild West. After reading this book about two brave and inspiring girls, I do feel a little bit smarter, and maybe a little more adventurous.