Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Bittersweet by Sarah Ockler

Waiting on Wednesday is the awesome meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine to highlight tantalizing upcoming books.  This week, I'm looking forward to:

by Sarah Ockler
January 3, 2012

Once upon a time, Hudson knew exactly what her future looked like. Then a betrayal changed her life, and knocked her dreams to the ground. Now she’s a girl who doesn’t believe in second chances... a girl who stays under the radar by baking cupcakes at her mom’s diner and obsessing over what might have been.

So when things start looking up and she has another shot at her dreams, Hudson is equal parts hopeful and terrified. Of course, this is also the moment a cute, sweet guy walks into her life...and starts serving up some seriously mixed signals. She’s got a lot on her plate, and for a girl who’s been burned before, risking it all is easier said than done.

It’s time for Hudson to ask herself what she really wants, and how much she’s willing to sacrifice to get it. Because in a place where opportunities are fleeting, she knows this chance may very well be her last.... 

 How awesome is this!  The excellent Sarah Ockler and friends decided that they'd give us her new book a full six months early!  I adored the old title The Language of Impossible Dreams, but the title/cover combination here works really well too.

It's a book about cupcakes and second changes and getting back up after failure, and I just can't wait.  I wasn't a huge fan of Fixing Delilah, but I loved Twenty Boy Summer, and any new book by Sarah Ockler is worth an immediate read.  ...also her blog mentioned something about a hockey boy, and you all know how I feel about hockey (hint: sliiiiight obsession).

What books are you waiting for this Wednesday?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Review: I Was Jane Austen's Best Friend by Cora Harrison

I Was Jane Austen’s Best Friend
by Cora Harrison
September 28, 2010

Borrowed from Library
Goodreads Page
Amazon Page
Grade: A-

When shy Jenny Cooper goes to stay with her cousin Jane Austen, she knows nothing of the world of beautiful dresses, dances, secrets, gossip, and romance that Jane inhabits. At fifteen, Jane is already a sharp observer of the customs of courtship. So when Jenny falls utterly in love with Captain Thomas Williams, who better than Jane to help her win the heart of this dashing man?

But is that even possible? After all, Jenny’s been harboring a most desperate secret. Should it become known, it would bring scandal not only to her, but also to the wonderful Austen family. What’s a poor orphan girl to do?

In this delicious dance between truth and fiction, Cora Harrison has crafted Jenny’s secret diary by reading everything Jane Austen wrote as a child and an adult, and by researching biographies, critical studies, and family letters. Jenny’s diary makes the past spring vividly to life and provides insight into the entire Austen family—especially the beloved Jane.

It's true, I overuse the word delightful, but this book was absolutely delightful in every sense of the word.  From the design and little pictures accompanying the text to the characters of a teenage Jane Austen and her cousin Jenny Cooper, everything about it made me want to buy my very own copy so I could read it on rainy days to cheer myself up.

The author made an excellent choice in writing this book as a series of diary entries by Jenny Cooper.  A more typical third-person narrative would have either invited comparison with Miss Austen or worse, caused the author to attempt to mimic that style.  As it is, the diary entries are in an entirely new and original voice, giving the reader a very different look at the famous novelist.

I loved Jenny's voice as conveyed through her diary.  She's both sweet and naive as she attempts to navigate her new life first as a ward of her brother and his less than congenial wife and then as she becomes a fixture in her cousin Jane's enormous and slightly rowdy family.  Jenny’s also coming to terms with the slight prospects of a gentleman's daughter without a fortune.  If it sounds like the plot of a Jane Austen novel, well, yes.  And that’s part of the brilliance of the book.  Any reader familiar with Austen’s novels will recognise situations, partial quotes, and even characters, and the fact that this is handled so well just made me smile. 

Some readers may find Jenny overly sweet.  In Pride and Prejudice terms, she’s much more a Jane than a Lizzie, but I found her gentleness and delicacy a nice change from the more usual YA heroine.  Jane is the character with all the fire, and while Jenny is both diplomatic and at times stubborn, Jane’s wit and sense of humour nearly flares off the page.  The friendship that develops helps both girls come of age.  Even as a teenager, Jane’s writing plays a major role in her life, and we get to see some of her rough stories and sketches.  I’m not familiar enough with Austen’s Juvenilia to know if these snippets come from her actual teenage work, but I based on how well the pieces fit into the action and themes of the book, I doubt it.

Not all the members of Jane’s large family are fully developed, and even towards the end, I was getting some of the brothers’ names mixed up, but they all are endearing.  I definitely sympathize with Jane though - I think if I had that large of a family, I’d want some peace and quiet for writing too!

If you’re a reader interested in Jane Austen or just want a lovely little story about two girls in Regency England, I’d definitely recommend this book.  It would be lovely “cuddled up during a snowstorm” reading!