Tag Archives: rating 2.5 of 5

Secondhand Charm

Berry, Julie. Secondhand Charm (2010). 342 Pages. Bloomsbury. $16.99

From the Cover

Deep in the forest, in a secluded village, a young girl has become known for her unique powers as a healer. Even gypsy charms– mere trinkets when worn by others– seem enchanted when Evie ties them around her neck. The love charm may be especially  potent, since Aidan, the handsome stonemason’s apprentice, has been unusually attentive lately. But Evie wants more than a quiet village and the boy next door. She longs to travel to the city, to study at University.

When His Majesty the king pays an unexpected visit for the town’s annual feast day, Evie gets her chance. He awards her a scholarship, and suddenly– accompanied by both Aidan and her best friend, Prissy– Evie is on her way. But this story is no simple fairy tale*. Her journey takes unexpected twists, from the high seas to t he royal palace. And Evie will discover not just intrigue, adventure, and romance, but a most incredible legacy… a magic within herself she is only beginning to understand.

First Lines

“What will you do when school is done, Evie?”

Priscilla peered at me through her thick spectacles. They had the unfortunate effect of making her already watery eyes swim large and fishlike. That didn’t bother me. After eight years as academic rivals at Sister Claire’s school, Priscilla and I had both decided that it was much easier being friends. And what were fish eyes between friends?

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Filed under Book Review, Children's Fiction, Fantasy, High Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult Fiction

Petty Magic

DeAngelis, Camille. Petty Magic: Being the Memoirs and Confessions of Miss Evelyn Harbinger, Temptress and Troublemaker (2010). 320 Pages. Crown Publishers. $24.00

From the Cover:

Evelyn Harbinger sees nothing wrong with a one-night stand. At 149 years old, Eve may look like she bakes oatmeal cookies in the afternoon and dozes in her rocking chair in the evening, but once the gray hair and wrinkles are traded for jet-black tresses and porcelain skin, she can still turn heads as the beautiful girl she once was. Can’t fault a girl for having a little fun, can you?

This is all fine and well until Eve meets Justin, who reminds her so much of a former lover that one night is no longer enough. Eve’s coven has always turned a blind eye to her nighttime mischief, but this time they think she’s gone too far– and they certainly don’t hesitate to tell her so. Dodging the warnings of family and friends, Eve must also defend her sister, Helena, when another beldame accuses Helena of killing her own husband sixty years previously.

As the evidence against Helena begins to pile up, Eve distracts herself by spending more and more nights– and days– romancing Justin as her former self. There are so many peculiar ways in which Justin is like Jonah, her partner behind enemy lines in World War II and the one true love of her life. Experts in espionage, Jonah and Eve advanced the Allied cause at great personal sacrifice. Now Eve suspects that her Jonah has returned to her, and despite the disapproval of her coven and the knowledge that love with a mortal man can only end in sorrow, she can’t give him up. But can she prove it’s really him?

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Book Review, Contemporary Romance, Fantasy, General Fiction, Historical Romance, Romance, Urban Fantasy

Jane Austen in Scarsdale

Cohen, Paula Marantz. Jane Austen in Scarsdale or, Love, Death, and the SATs (2006). 275 Pages. St Martin’s Press. $23.95

From the Cover

Anne Ehrlich is a dedicated guidance counselor steering her high-school charges through the perils of college admission. Thirteen years ago, when she was graduating from Colombia University, her wealthy family– especially her dear grandmother Winnie– persuaded her to give up the love of her life, Ben Cutler, a penniless boy from Queens College. Anne has never married and hasn’t seen Ben since– until his nephew turns up in her high school and starts applying to college.

Now Ben is a successful writer, a world traveler, and a soon-to-be married man, and Winnie’s health is beginning to fail. These changes have Anne beginning to wonder… Can old love be rekindled, or are past mistakes too painful to forget?

First Lines

“Great speaker last night, right?” Vince Flockhart, Fenimore’s principal, looked hopefully down at Anne Ehrlich, head of guidance, as she ate her grilled cheese sandwich in the faculty cafeteria. Report had it that the parents had been impressed by the speaker– though half had left in tears and the other half had been digging in the bottom of their bags for Valium.

Thoughts

I do not know much about Persuasion, as I’ve never actually read it, and I don’t recall watching a film version. From what I know, the main point is that Anne Elliot is from a good family, and falls in love with a handsome naval officer named Wentworth. Because her father, elder sister, and mentor disapprove of the match, Anne breaks it off. Several years later– when she is beyond “marriageable” age– Anne again encounters Wentworth, only now he is a successful, rich Captain. Things happen, and Anne ends up marrying Wentworth*.

If Jane Austen in Scarsdale were merely being judged on its ability to follow the general plot of Persuasion, I might have been more impressed. It does a decent job re-telling the story in modern New York. There are difficulties– as there always are when “updating” a classic– and it is hard to explain why a smart young woman would let her grandmother’s snobbery prevent her happiness.

However, it got very bogged down with the guidance counselor aspect. Several chapters were dealt dealing with “the parents,” who were all certifiable, and obnoxious. Additionally, the children were as crazed and driven as their parents, but whinier.** It didn’t really add to the story in any meaningful way, rather, it seemed to slow it down and distract from the main plot– which was supposed to relate to Persuasion. As either a retelling of Persuasion or a romance about a guidance counselor, this would have done very well, but it seemed to be suffering from an identity crisis at times.

The story still managed to be entertaining, and others may (and clearly have, judging by amazon’s rating) disagree with me, but I don’t think I particularly enjoyed it.  It scores a 2.5/5, for managing to be funny, at times, but still not good enough for me to really like it.

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* It’s been around for nearly 200 years, so I’m not concerned about spoilers.

** Good Lord. It drove me crazy to read about this. I went to one of those schools where it wasn’t “Are you going to college?” but rather, “Which college are you going to?” and I still wasn’t that crazed. I had reasonable expectations, and had worked hard enough to be near the top of my class without trying to get a 4.02. I didn’t even involve my mother very much, and she didn’t worry, because she had confidence in me, which mattered more than whatever the hell the parents in this novel seem to be doing. It felt like a little too much hyperbole, and it may have benefited from being a little less crazed.

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Filed under Book Review, Chick-Lit, Contemporary Romance, General Fiction, Realistic Fiction

Sirena

Napoli, Donna Jo. Sirena (2000). 210 Pages. Scholastic. $4.99

As Greece gathers their troops to go to war with Troy, the mermaids of the Mediterranean Sea sing their siren-songs to attract men. Sirena is one of these mermaids, doomed to the death of a mortal unless she can “love”* a man. While the other mermaids thoughtlessly lure men to their deaths, Sirena sees the inherent flaws; they kill many men, they are hated, and they are costing lives for the sake of their own.

After an especially brutal scene where men beat a mermaid to death- and bash in her head and ribcage- and scream at the “whores” before they die, Sirena realizes that something might be wrong about this situation. (Gee, ya think?) She ventures out on her own- which is strange, because mermaids are social creatures – since none of the others seem to care that they are murderers.

She finds herself sharing an island with a man** who has been abandoned by his comrades. Of course, we can all see where this is going; she takes care of him, keeps him alive, and eventually gains her immortality through him. The two are “married”, and live in a strange sort of harmony. He spends his time on land, exploring the deserted island, missing humanity. She spends her time in the sea, dreaming about a different future.

Eventually, Sirena must make an important decision, one which will change both of their lives forever.

The story overlaps with The Illiad, a story which I love. The setting is also pretty good- the Mediterranean is a great backdrop for a fantastic*** tale. However, I am frustrated by the volume of mythology- it seems overwhelming at times- and how it sometimes seems forced. I dislike the point of view- first person present- and do not feel that it helps the story, third person limited would have been more comfortable to read.

The Quick Version:

I feel like this story would have sat better with me if the ending had been different. I like happy endings, or at least the sort where it’s clear that they will eventually be happy. This is not one of those endings. Occasionally, I feel like I’m drowning in mythology, and I’ve got a pretty solid grip on it. It gets roughly a 2.5 out of 5, because I’m a stickler for endings- they are the part which sticks with you the most, after all.

If you actually want to read it, you can get it on Amazon or through Swaptree.

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*By “love”, this book really means to have sex with. And when they have sex, it is vague- how do a man and a fish copulate?

** Philoctetes, for those of you who are mythology-savvy.

*** In the sense of “fantasy-like” rather than “very good”

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Filed under Book Review, Fairy Tales Retold, High Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction