Monday, July 30, 2018

Ending my High Summer Readathon with Jane Austen goodness and a bittersweet surprise

Officially, the High Summer Readathon at Seasons of Reading ends tomorrow but it is permitted to wrap things up when you're ready,which is what my post today is all about.

I did read four out of the six books that were on my TBR for this readathon,not a bad accomplishment there. Granted, two of them were rereads yet since both of those were Jane Austen related, I find that connection to be noteworthy indeed.

After reliving Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, it was delightful to take a similar trip into modern times with Val McDermid's retelling. The adjustments to be made to fit Catherine "Cat" Morland into the present day were well tailored such as having her visit the Edinburgh Book Festival instead of Bath, a more lively location these days for young people.

What was extra fun was having Cat and her dubious friend Bella(who makes for a pitch perfect mean girl type) be into vampire/paranormal fiction. Twilight is name checked but the series that our heroine is taken with is called The Hebridean Harpies by Morag Fraser, with titles such as Vampires on Vatersay and Banshees of Berneray.

Sadly, it's not a real set of books(unlike the Gothic tales that Austen had her Catherine Morland and Isabella Thorpe read) yet you can tell McDermid enjoyed creating her own mock versions of such popular YA lore:


While McDermid stays pretty close to the source material for this story, she does add a few extra tweaks of her own there. In particular, having Cat and Eleanor "Ellie" Tilney decide at one point to write and illustrate their own books for children.

Giving Ellie the desire to break free from her controlling father and pursue an art career is a nice modern touch, allowing her to more nuanced than Austen intended(to be fair, the original NA was an early work and since it was published posthumously, there was no chance for a solid rewrite of the character). It's a bit subtle but a good piece of character development nonetheless.

The best parts of the book come from Henry, Ellie and Cat hanging out and getting to known each other better at the abbey, despite the intimidating presence of General Tilney(whose reason for ultimately throwing Cat out of the house unexpectedly is different than the original and just as completely reprehensible). I have found that e-mail and text messaging work rather well when it comes to adapting Austen for modern times and that fits right into place here.

All in all, this double decker reread of mine was entertaining and I may do that for other Austen books in the future. As for this take on Northanger Abbey, it's a good intro for someone who hasn't read Jane Austen yet as well as amusing for Janeites to have proof that classic tales are like a little black dress: suitable for all seasons and perfect for updating your literary wardrobe:


 Now, I did intend to read one of the other books on my High Summer TBR pile but alas, my attention was lured away to one of my recent library loans and I really don't regret that at all.

Terri-Lynne DeFino's The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers(and Their Muses) is the true definition of an enchanting read. While the main action of the story is set in 1999, where legendary author Alfonse Carducci arrives at the title location to live out his last days, a good chunk of the book is set in the 1950s.

That portion is a work in progress, as the ailing Alfonse regains his desire to write again due to Cecibel Bringer, a young woman working as an orderly whose scarred face matches the emotional scars on her soul. At first, Alfonse keeps his work a secret but then one of his contemporaries, the still feisty Olivia Peppernell , is asked for her opinion on his story and winds up adding a few chapters of her own.

The spark of literary inspiration jumps to two more of their fellow residents(one of which is an editor suffering from early memory loss) and Cecibel is given the chance to read along as they write along. You're not only following the lives of Alfonse and friends, you're also following the forbidden romance of Aldo and Cecilia, who are trapped by their social roles in the fifties to be together and yet always apart.

Both stories come to a moving and thoughtful conclusion, giving the reader a double blessing and a few surprises for each set of fictional folk. It may be bittersweet at times but DeFino balances the changing tones of both stories with a sure hand and infinite grace. If you haven't read this book yet, I strongly urge to do so as soon as you can. A good story that showcases the joys and sorrows that real love possesses is a pearl that needs to be treasured, even if it's just the once:


My thanks to Michelle Miller from Seasons of Reading for setting up another wonderful opportunity to catch up and find great books to read. I hope everyone else who took part in High Summer had as much of a good time as I did and look forward to seeing all of you again for Fright Fall later this year.

As for the rest of my summer, I do have Bad Movie Month to contend with(that's going to be a bit bookish since the first two films are Bridget Jones sequels) and plenty of other books to explore. I may also indulge in more Jane Austen as it's going to be awhile until that new adaptation of Sanditon airs on PBS! Reading Austen is like having the perfect ice cream creation, cool and refreshing and especially so in the dog days of summer left to us:


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