Review – Unsheltered, by Barbara Kingsolver


Unsheltered
by Barbara Kingsolver

Genre: Literary Fiction

Length: 464 Pages

Release date: October 16, 2018

Publisher:

The New York Times bestselling author of Flight Behavior, The Lacuna, and The Poisonwood Bible and recipient of numerous literary awards—including the National Humanities Medal, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and the Orange Prize—returns with a timely novel that interweaves past and present to explore the human capacity for resiliency and compassion in times of great upheaval.

Willa Knox has always prided herself on being the embodiment of responsibility for her family. Which is why it’s so unnerving that she’s arrived at middle age with nothing to show for her hard work and dedication but a stack of unpaid bills and an inherited brick home in Vineland, New Jersey, that is literally falling apart. The magazine where she worked has folded, and the college where her husband had tenure has closed. The dilapidated house is also home to her ailing and cantankerous Greek father-in-law and her two grown children: her stubborn, free-spirited daughter, Tig, and her dutiful debt-ridden, ivy educated son, Zeke, who has arrived with his unplanned baby in the wake of a life-shattering development.

In an act of desperation, Willa begins to investigate the history of her home, hoping that the local historical preservation society might take an interest and provide funding for its direly needed repairs. Through her research into Vineland’s past and its creation as a Utopian community, she discovers a kindred spirit from the 1880s, Thatcher Greenwood.

A science teacher with a lifelong passion for honest investigation, Thatcher finds himself under siege in his community for telling the truth: his employer forbids him to speak of the exciting new theory recently published by Charles Darwin. Thatcher’s friendships with a brilliant woman scientist and a renegade newspaper editor draw him into a vendetta with the town’s most powerful men. At home, his new wife and status-conscious mother-in-law bristle at the risk of scandal, and dismiss his financial worries and the news that their elegant house is structurally unsound.

Brilliantly executed and compulsively readable, Unsheltered is the story of two families, in two centuries, who live at the corner of Sixth and Plum, as they navigate the challenges of surviving a world in the throes of major cultural shifts. In this mesmerizing story told in alternating chapters, Willa and Thatcher come to realize that though the future is uncertain, even unnerving, shelter can be found in the bonds of kindred—whether family or friends—and in the strength of the human spirit.

rating

four

Unsheltered is definitely one of those “you’ll love it or you’ll hate it” kind of books; it’s polarizing to the extreme. As of this writing, the two top rated Goodreads reviews of this book are a five star review… and a one star review.

Personally, I found myself enjoying it, but I do understand why it doesn’t work for a lot of people. The pacing is somewhat slow, making it feel overly long at times. It’s very wrapped up in political musings and borders on being preachy, to say the least. If you go to fiction for escapism, this book will be torture for you.

That being said, I found myself drawn into both timelines of the story. It took me longer to get invested in the historical timeline than the modern timeline, but it eventually became my favorite. This was in large part because this novel introduced me to Mary Treat, actual historical figure, correspondent of Charles Darwin, and scientist in her own right. Kingsolver’s portrayal of her is eccentric but intensely likable. Mary was a huge highlight of the novel for me, and I’m dying to read more about her life and work now that I’m done.

Kingsolver’s treatment of social issues may come across somewhat heavy-handed, particularly because it relies heavily on dialog and outright debates between character. (Not simply arguments, by the way; at one point in the earlier timeline, there is an actual formal debate on the subject of creationism vs. evolution.) If you enjoy debates as much as I do, this won’t be a detriment at all, but judging by some of the negative reviews, I may be a minority opinion in that regard.

Unsheltered is structurally interesting, with the closing of each chapter leading into the themes of the following one as Kingsolver swaps timelines. Despite the difference between the two stories in the specifics, there were a lot of thematic similarities which I thought were handled really well. Both sets of characters are living in times of social upheaval in very different ways. In the modern timeline, Willa’s family struggles with issues that will feel familiar to most readers: cost of medical care, political polarization, and the seemingly vanishing middle class. Thatcher Greenwood struggles to be taken seriously in a small and somewhat backwards town as an early supporter of Darwin’s theory of evolution. In both timelines, the decaying house looms large as a source of anxiety.

Unsheltered may not be for every reader. It’s somewhat long and meandering, and seems to be trying to do a lot by thoroughly exploring both the person and political in not one but two separate timelines. However, I found myself intensely invested in many of the characters as well as the broader social issues Kingsolver has woven into the narrative. Fans of Kingsolver’s past work should definitely give this book a chance.

Purchase links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | IndieBound

Thank you for reading! Have you read any historical fiction where real historical figures played a major role lately? Share in the comments!

Capture2

Other places to follow me…
Tumblr | Facebook | Instagram | GoodReads

Review – The Only Woman in the Room, by Marie Benedict

46680914_298444814335039_1337786028127158272_n.jpg
The Only Woman in the Room
by Marie Benedict

Genre: Historical Fiction

Length: 272 Pages

Release date: January 8, 2019

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Synopsis: 

She was beautiful. She was a genius. Could the world handle both? A powerful, illuminating novel about Hedy Lamarr. 

Hedy Kiesler is lucky. Her beauty leads to a starring role in a controversial film and marriage to a powerful Austrian arms dealer, allowing her to evade Nazi persecution despite her Jewish heritage. But Hedy is also intelligent. At lavish Vienna dinner parties, she overhears the Third Reich’s plans. One night in 1937, desperate to escape her controlling husband and the rise of the Nazis, she disguises herself and flees her husband’s castle.

She lands in Hollywood, where she becomes Hedy Lamarr, screen star. But Hedy is keeping a secret even more shocking than her Jewish heritage: she is a scientist. She has an idea that might help the country and that might ease her guilt for escaping alone — if anyone will listen to her. A powerful novel based on the incredible true story of the glamour icon and scientist whose groundbreaking invention revolutionized modern communication, The Only Woman in the Room is a masterpiece.

rating

four

My thanks to Sourcebooks Landmark, Booktrib, and The Girly Book Club for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by the publisher. 

“Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.”
-Hedy Lamarr

The Only Woman in the Room is infinitely engaging, but woefully brief, coming in under 300 pages. Hedy Lamarr, a Jewish woman who married and Austrian arms dealer and eventually fled Europe during Hitler’s rise to power, found fame and fortune as an actress in America. What she wanted more than anything, however, was for the world to see beyond her pretty face and for her intellectual efforts to be taken seriously.

While this novel is historical fiction, the woman it portrays was quite real. As much as I enjoyed the reading experience, I can’t help but feel that, in the interest of brevity, hugely formative periods of her life which involved rapid change were glossed over rather quickly. Hedy Lamarr has been the subject of nonfiction books, a documentary (Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, which is available on Netflix) and there was a memoir published under her name but written by ghost-writers (Ecstasy and Me: My Life As a Woman). Those who are already quite familiar with Lamarr may not find anything particularly enlightening in this novel. If you are like me, however, familiar with Lamarr only through a vague awareness of her as an actress and inventor, this may be a great place to start. The documentary is a great follow-up to this novel, as it delves into Lamarr’s later life, which The Only Woman in the Room does not.

The Hedy Lamarr portrayed in Benedict’s novel is deeply introspective; her attempts to help with the war effort are fueled in part by a sense of survivor’s guilt. Her first husband, a man she agreed to marry mainly because she thought he would protect her, became quite abusive and aligned himself with Nazi interests when it became clear Austria could not stand against Hitler. When Hedy flees Europe, she initially throws herself into Hollywood without reservation. Benedict does an excellent job of portraying the slowly rising sense of guilt and anxiety which compels Hedy to alter the world as we know it, albeit not in the way she ever envisioned.

Hedy Lamarr’s development of what she termed “Spread Spectrum Technology” is addressed briefly in terms of ramifications for today’s technology in the author’s note at the end of the novel. In short, her patent formed the backbone which allowed later inventors to develop all sorts of wireless technology, such as cell phones, fax machines, wifi, and more. Our daily lives are impacted today by her work, which was largely forgotten in favor of her silver screen accomplishments for most of her life. Benedict’s novel attempts to draw the focus back onto Lamarr’s intellectual excellence as opposed to the image of the ornamental damsel many may think of when they hear her name. The Only Woman in the Room is artfully written and imbued with a sense of respect for its subject.

Purchase links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | IndieBound

Thank you for reading! If you’ve read The Only Woman in the Room, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.
Do you prefer historical fiction which revolves around real historical figures or original characters? Let’s discuss in the comments!

Capture2

Other places to follow me…
Tumblr | Facebook | Instagram | GoodReads

 

Review – Lilac Girls, by Martha Hall Kelly


Lilac Girls
by Martha Hall Kelly

Genre: Historical Fiction

Length: 502 Pages

Release date: April 5, 2016

Synopsis: 

Inspired by the life of a real World War II heroine, this debut novel reveals a story of love, redemption, and secrets that were hidden for decades.
 
New York socialite Caroline Ferriday has her hands full with her post at the French consulate and a new love on the horizon. But Caroline’s world is forever changed when Hitler’s army invades Poland in September 1939—and then sets its sights on France.

An ocean away from Caroline, Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish teenager, senses her carefree youth disappearing as she is drawn deeper into her role as courier for the underground resistance movement. In a tense atmosphere of watchful eyes and suspecting neighbors, one false move can have dire consequences.

For the ambitious young German doctor, Herta Oberheuser, an ad for a government medical position seems her ticket out of a desolate life. Once hired, though, she finds herself trapped in a male-dominated realm of Nazi secrets and power.

The lives of these three women are set on a collision course when the unthinkable happens and Kasia is sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious Nazi concentration camp for women. Their stories cross continents—from New York to Paris, Germany, and Poland—as Caroline and Kasia strive to bring justice to those whom history has forgotten.

rating

five

“But it’s fitting in a way—Father loved the fact that a lilac only blossoms after a harsh winter.”

Lilac Girls follows the stories of three women during World War II who come from very different circumstances. The author expertly strikes a very difficult balance in this novel in the sense that the villains of the story are fleshed out and feel more human than monster, without the tone ever veering into the territory of feeling too sympathetic towards them. This exploration of the inner thoughts and feelings of one of the worst people in the novel, uncomfortable as it was at time, was incredibly interesting to read.

Herta Oberheuser (based on the real woman of the same name) gets drawn into working at a concentration camp with the hopes of advancing her medical career. (No spoilers here, by the way; this can be inferred pretty easily from the blurb and I will not delve into details surrounding specific plot points.) Martha Hall Kelly uses Herta as a window into the thinking of the “ordinary people” of Germany who got swept up into complicity during the Holocaust.

Herta, as well as those who work with her, engage in a variety of psychological defense mechanisms to cope with what they do, but one thing that seemed to come up over and over was the point that, if they did not do what they were asked to do, then the German government would find someone else who would. Consequently, they seemed to be able to view their participation in atrocities as an almost value-neutral decision. I often found myself reminded of the old quote, “No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.” Because Herta was not capable of stopping what was happening, her own sense of personal responsibility for her complicity was practically nonexistent.

I also liked that the history felt realistic, as I’ve read so many WWII novels which seem to view the US through rose-colored glasses. Hall doesn’t shy away from addressing the fact that antisemitism wasn’t exclusive to Germany, nor the fact that a lot of Americans viewed what was going on in Europe as someone else’s problem. Caroline, the New York socialite/charity worker, provided a window for exploring these themes. The novel extends well past the end of the war, and Caroline is horrified at the indifference she sometimes faces when trying to raise funds for camp survivors. This is not to say that it was all bad; I actually think the tone was remarkably hopeful at times considering the subject matter, but Hall isn’t afraid to show the ugly side of all parties.

Kasia, the Polish teenager, was by far the most engaging of the characters to me. She starts the story as a young and naive teenager, who seems to view the danger of the resistance as glamorous in a way, and she is forced to grow up quickly and become a survivor above all things. I won’t say much about her because it’s difficult to go into detail about her without giving away major plot points, but her story involves an exploration of anger, trauma, survivor’s guilt, and the struggle to find peace and acceptance.

The three women’s stories cannot possibly be more different, but they are interwoven expertly throughout this novel. Lilac Girls is a must-read for fans of historical fiction like The Alice Network (Kate Quinn)and The Nightingale (Kristin Hannah). For fans of non-fiction who are interested in reading about the real women behind this novel, there is Ravensbrück: Life and Death in Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women, by Sarah Helm.

Purchase links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | IndieBound

Thank you for reading! Have you read Lilac Girls? Martha Hall Kelly has a prequel due to be released April 9, 2019, Lost Roses

Capture2

Other places to follow me…
Tumblr | Facebook | Instagram | GoodReads

Review – The Atomic City Girls, by Janet Beard


The Atomic City Girls
by Janet Beard

Genre: Historical Fiction

Length: 353 Pages

Release date: February 6, 2018

Synopsis: 

In the bestselling tradition of Hidden Figures and The Wives of Los Alamos, comes a riveting novel of the everyday women who worked on the Manhattan Project during World War II

“What you see here, what you hear here, what you do here, let it stay here.”

In November 1944, eighteen-year-old June Walker boards an unmarked bus, destined for a city that doesn’t officially exist. Oak Ridge, Tennessee has sprung up in a matter of months—a town of trailers and segregated houses, 24-hour cafeterias, and constant security checks. There, June joins hundreds of other young girls operating massive machines whose purpose is never explained. They know they are helping to win the war, but must ask no questions and reveal nothing to outsiders.

The girls spend their evenings socializing and flirting with soldiers, scientists, and workmen at dances and movies, bowling alleys and canteens. June longs to know more about their top-secret assignment and begins an affair with Sam Cantor, the young Jewish physicist from New York who oversees the lab where she works and understands the end goal only too well, while her beautiful roommate Cici is on her own mission: to find a wealthy husband and escape her sharecropper roots. Across town, African-American construction worker Joe Brewer knows nothing of the government’s plans, only that his new job pays enough to make it worth leaving his family behind, at least for now. But a breach in security will intertwine his fate with June’s search for answers.

When the bombing of Hiroshima brings the truth about Oak Ridge into devastating focus, June must confront her ideals about loyalty, patriotism, and war itself.

rating

two

I adore historical fiction and WWII is definitely my go-to time period when it comes to this genre. Reading the blurb, I had high hopes for Atomic City Girls, but rereading it now after finishing the book really brings into focus how much of a false impression of the book it gives.

First and foremost, the romance storyline felt like it took up more of the novel than was justified. All of the major characters are working on developing a nuclear bomb. Some of them know what they’re working to develop and some of them do not. The political and moral implications of their work and the fact that some of them have been roped into working on it essentially blind felt like something that warranted more development and focus than an unhealthy romance that starts with a 30-year-old scientist taking home a drunk 18-year-old girl. (Yeah, that happens.)

Don’t get me wrong; June’s relationship with Sam Cantor isn’t overly romanticized, and I did appreciate that the morally dodgy nature of their relationship wasn’t sugarcoated. I do have a few feelings about the fact that the only Jewish character in this WWII historical fiction novel is an alcoholic man who takes advantage of a younger girl, though. (I’m not saying that this was necessarily done with any intent, but I do wonder if it ever occurred to the author that, given the rampant antisemitism of the era, making the only Jewish character kind of an awful person might not be a value-free narrative choice.)

The book was trying to do a lot; themes about the moral implications of their work (while underdeveloped, in my opinion) were present, and multiple POV characters allow us to explore the story from varying levels of privilege. (Race, gender, age, and level of education all come into play.) Most of the characters felt underdeveloped, however, and that really hindered the author’s ability to explore this in any real depth. Joe Brewer (the African American man mentioned in the blurb whose fate is going to be “intertwined with” June’s) in particular felt like a missed opportunity. First of all, his relevance to June’s storyline feels severely overstated in the blurb. But beyond that, feels very one-dimensional. It would have been interesting to have a bit more depth to a character who is treated like a second class citizen in a country he’s working to serve.

The pacing also felt a tad slow to me, and the writing style was pretty simple. Not once while reading did any particular passage or quote jump out to me as memorable.

Overall, I feel like I liked the idea of this novel a lot more than the novel itself. The subject matter was really ripe for exploring complex moral themes, but Beard uses cardboard cutout characters and the more interesting aspects of the plot are relegated to the background while Beard tells a story of a doomed romance and a rivalry between roommates. Atomic City Girls brings up a lot of interesting themes, but only ever superficially and fleetingly, leaving the reader thinking, “Okay, and???”

Purchase links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | IndieBound

Thank you for reading! Have you read this novel? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments! What’s your favorite novel that takes place during WWII? Let’s discuss! Capture2

Other places to follow me…
Tumblr | Facebook | Instagram | GoodReads

 

Review – The Air You Breathe, by Frances de Pontes Peebles


The Air You Breathe
by Frances de Pontes Peebles

Genre: Historical Fiction

Length: 464 Pages

Release date: August 21, 2018

Synopsis: 

The story of an intense female friendship fueled by affection, envy and pride–and each woman’s fear that she would be nothing without the other.

Skinny, nine-year-old orphaned Dores is working in the kitchen of a sugar plantation in 1930s Brazil when in walks a girl who changes everything. Graça, the spoiled daughter of a wealthy sugar baron, is clever, well fed, pretty, and thrillingly ill behaved. Born to wildly different worlds, Dores and Graça quickly bond over shared mischief, and then, on a deeper level, over music.

One has a voice like a songbird; the other feels melodies in her soul and composes lyrics to match. Music will become their shared passion, the source of their partnership and their rivalry, and for each, the only way out of the life to which each was born. But only one of the two is destined to be a star. Their intimate, volatile bond will determine each of their fortunes–and haunt their memories.

Traveling from Brazil’s inland sugar plantations to the rowdy streets of Lapa in Rio de Janeiro, from Los Angeles during the Golden Age of Hollywood back to the irresistible drumbeat of home, The Air You Breathe unfurls a moving portrait of a lifelong friendship–its unparalleled rewards and lasting losses–and considers what we owe to the relationships that shape our lives.

rating

five

“Fame is longing. Not yours, but the audience’s. A star is nothing more, nothing less, than the public face of private desire.” 

The Air You Breathe is a story about music, ambition, power, and love. Dores has a lopsided friendship with Graça, tainted by Graça’s selfishness and Dores’ position as a servant in her home. As the girls grow older, sexuality further complicates things. If your reading experience is anything like mine, you will find yourself in the unusual position of disliking Graça while totally understanding why Dores loves her. Despite all her flaws, she is charismatic, almost magnetic, and Dores would do almost anything for her.

While factors like classism make the scenario in The Air You Breathe particularly extreme, I think most of us will relate to Dores on some level. We’ve all had a friend or significant other who was clearly less invested in the relationship than we were. We’ve all felt unappreciated and stuck around anyway, at least for a while. The relationship between the two girls is so well developed and believable, and watching it change as they grew up together was captivating, with love and resentment playing equal parts.

“If remembering tells us who we are, then forgetting keeps us sane. If we recalled every song we’d ever heard, every touch we’d ever felt, every pain no matter how small, every sadness no matter how petty, every joy no matter how selfish, we could surely lose our minds.” 

The novel is intensely atmospheric, transporting us from 1930’s Brazil to 1940’s Hollywood. Bazil is characterized by the samba music both Graça and Dores fall in love with. Hollywood is equal parts glamour and struggle, as fame and success can’t shield the characters from racism and suspicion.

The author’s writing style is eloquent, almost poetic, and simply watching her play with words was one of the highlights of the novel. This worked particularly well as it is told from Dores’ point of view, and she is passionate about writing. Dores develops a distinct voice and her love of language shines through on every single page. The Air You Breathe is an emotional, beautiful read.

Purchase links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | IndieBound

Thank you for reading! If you’ve read The Air You Breathe, please share your thoughts in the comments! What’s another novel you’ve read lately where relationships between female characters were integral to the plot?

Capture2

Other places to follow me…
Tumblr | Facebook | Instagram | GoodReads

Review – On a Cold Dark Sea, by Elizabeth Blackwell


On a Cold Dark Sea

by Elizabeth Blackwell

Genre: Historical Fiction

Length: 279 Pages

Release date:

Synopsis: 

On April 15, 1912, three women climbed into Lifeboat 21 and watched in horror as the Titanic sank into the icy depths. They were strangers then…

Con artist Charlotte Digby lied her way through London and onto the Titanic. The disaster could be her chance at a new life—if she hides the truth about her past. Esme Harper, a wealthy American, mourns the end of a passionate affair and fears that everything beautiful is slipping from her grasp. And Anna Halversson, a Swedish farm girl in search of a fresh start in America, is tormented by the screams that ring out from the water. Is one of them calling her name?

Twenty years later, a sudden death brings the three women back together, forcing them to face the impossible choices they made, the inconceivable loss, and the secrets they have kept for far too long.

rating

three

Elizabeth Blackwell’s On a Cold Dark Sea is a rather ambitious novel in a certain sense. It seeks to sketch out the lives of three separate women, each from varying backgrounds and social classes, over the course of 20 years, with the focal point being the moment their lives converged: the sinking of the Titanic. Charlotte, Esme, and Anna end up on the same lifeboat and their lives are forever changed in drastically different ways.

While I found each of these characters interesting in her own right, particularly Charlotte with her background of a life of crime sparked by her infatuation with a disreputable man, it felt like the novel did not have enough space to fully develop each women’s stories, with its length of less than 300 pages.

The twenty years between the sinking of the Titanic and the later part of their stories are largely skipped over, with some rough sketches of the intervening years filled in through the reminiscing of each woman in the later timeline. While recounting each of these twenty years for each woman would surely make for an overly long and tedious novel, I can’t help but feel like there was something missing.

However, there were some things Blackwell accomplished quite deftly in this novel. One of the running themes of the story is that of survivor’s guilt and the varying degrees to which different characters suffer from it. In a way, this can become a defining trait of a person, and Blackwell illustrates the wildly different ways this can manifest; can a sense of being unfairly spared lead a person to try to live a more virtuous life? What are the ways this niggling doubt can destroy someone entirely?

“It was very dark and very cold. We did our best in trying circumstances. We survived.”

These doubts are exacerbating in some cases by the lack of understanding from the general public. Blackwell draws heavily on historical resources to make this point. There are passages loosely based on the transcripts from the Titanic Disaster Hearings which exemplify how difficult it was for the survivors to express the pressures and panic they endured as the ship went down. Why were lifeboats deployed at less than half capacity? Why was a safety drill cancelled the morning before the sinking? How could any one person, having endured the chaos of unthinkable disaster, reasonably answer these questions?

Blackwell also seems to have a great interest in exploring the moral quandaries raised by some of the survivors. Again, drawing on real historical resources, she posits scenarios which are clearly meant to make the reader ask what they would do in the given situation. Survivors on the under-loaded lifeboat are forced to ask whether or not they should attempt to rescue passengers who are stranded in the water, fearing their boat may be capsized in the attempt.

Overall, this was an interesting exploration of a real-life disaster, but its length left it feeling a bit lacking. The story was atmospheric and the characters were interesting, but they could have been fleshed out more thoroughly than they were. The 20 years between the sinking of the Titanic and the remainder of the story feel a bit hazy despite Blackwell’s attempts at filling in the gaps. On a Cold Dark Sea is an enjoyable read, but had there been a bit more substance to it, I think it would have been truly great.

Purchase links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | IndieBound

Thank you for reading! Do you enjoy historical fiction? Do you find yourself gravitating towards a particular time period in the books you read? Let’s discuss in the comments!

Capture2

Other places to follow me…
Tumblr | Facebook | Instagram | GoodReads

 

Review – My Plain Jane


My Plain Jane
by Cynthia Hand,
Brodi Ashton,
& Jodi Meadows

Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Retellings

Length: 464 Pages

Release date: June 26, 2018

Synopsis: 

You may think you know the story. After a miserable childhood, penniless orphan Jane Eyre embarks on a new life as a governess at Thornfield Hall. There, she meets one dark, brooding Mr. Rochester. Despite their significant age gap (!) and his uneven temper (!!), they fall in love—and, Reader, she marries him. (!!!)

Or does she?

Prepare for an adventure of Gothic proportions, in which all is not as it seems, a certain gentleman is hiding more than skeletons in his closets, and one orphan Jane Eyre, aspiring author Charlotte Brontë, and supernatural investigator Alexander Blackwood are about to be drawn together on the most epic ghost hunt this side of Wuthering Heights.

rating

two

Let me preface this by saying that I thought My Lady Jane was loads of fun, and I went into this book with high hopes. My Plain Jane, like the prior installment of “The Lady Janies,” relies heavily on the reader connecting with the humor of the narrators. While My Lady Jane was good for more than a few chuckles, My Plain Jane fell rather flat. I was left with the overall impression that it was simply too ridiculous, which is really saying something, considering the prior book had a main character who frequently transformed into a horse.

But aside from the issues with the humor, I think I failed to connect with this book because the titular character simply did not feel like Jane Eyre to me. The narrators’ Jane is boy-crazy, unambitious, and bland. Her ability to see spirits should have been an easy route to make her more interesting, but her character simply never clicked with me. On a similar note, I was never cared much for Mr. Rochester in the original source material, but if you were, be forewarned that you will not be a fan of his characterization in this retelling. Despite Jane’s doe-eyed adoration, Mr. Rochester is not presented in flattering terms, to say the least.

Charlotte Brontë herself has also been inserted into the narrative; she was at Lowood with Jane and follows her after she leaves. She considers Jane to be her very best friend, and she is (of course) writing a novel with a protagonist inspired by Jane. The problem with the insertion of Charlotte is that she draws the focus away from Jane in a big way. While Charlotte is deeply attached to Jane, her story is also largely dominated by a desire to work with The Society (essentially, to become a ghost hunter) and a love interest. Jane has become almost a secondary character in the retelling of her own story. This is not necessarily a problem, but the plot lines pushing Jane out of the story must be sufficiently interesting to justify it. They were… not.

Perhaps My Lady Jane was too tough an act to follow. It was a weird, hilarious delight. My Plain Jane unfortunately fell short in comparison. I’m still curious to see what comes next in The Lady Janies series, but I’d recommend skipping this installment.

Purchase links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | IndieBound

Thank you for reading! Have you read or watched anything based on a classic novel lately? What did you think? Let’s discuss in the comments!

Capture2

Other places to follow me…
Tumblr | Facebook | Instagram | GoodReads