Tuesday, March 22, 2011

In Which Trai Reviews 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dreadfully Ever After'

The Book: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dreadfully Ever After

The Author: Steve Hockensmith

How I Found It: Those of you who have been following this blog for a while know that I heartily support Quirk Books, and they've been awesome at letting bloggers in on their books. I participated in the blogsplosions for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls and Android Karenina, and here I am again! :) Thanks, as always, to Quirk for providing the advance copy.

The Review: As we all know, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was the unexpected hit of 2009. It was exactly what it said on the tin: Pride and Prejudice with the addition of zombies, ninjas, and gore. And as most of you who follow this blog know, hi, I'm Trai and I'm a helpless Janeite. As someone who has a twisted sense of humor and an appreciation for the macabre, I follow the mashup trend, and was more than happy to review this one for Quirk, especially after reading and enjoying the first two books. This is the conclusion to the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies trilogy, and for a man tasked with giving the story a beginning (Dawn of the Dreadfuls) and an end (this book), he's certainly done an admirable job.

When the book opens, Elizabeth and Darcy have been married for four years, although not quite as happily as we might have expected from PPZ's couple-who-slays-together-stays-together ending. Elizabeth, as a gentleman's wife, has been forced to retire her katana and stay idle, something that dampens her happiness at life with her husband. Having seen Jane through the birth of her newest child, Elizabeth is also beginning to realize that perhaps she doesn't want children. As she and Darcy are trying to talk through this matter, the unexpected occurs: Darcy is bitten by a zombie.

As Lady Catherine was the one who helped Charlotte Collins when she was bitten in the original novel, Elizabeth and Darcy are forced to turn to her for help. Darcy is taken to Rosings and Elizabeth is tasked with obtaining a cure--but not in a way she ever wanted. It is rumored that a Scottish physician working at the notorious Bethlem ("Bedlam") Hospital has made a successful cure, but to get it, Elizabeth must pose as a widow and seduce him. Failing that, her sister Kitty must go after the doctor's son. Throw in Mr. Bennet, Mary, a ninja named Nezu, and the mysterious man-in-a-box Mr. Quayle, and, well, we've got one hell of a time on our hands!

One thing I will say right off is that I think I enjoy Hockensmith's work a bit more than Grahame-Smith's original because there is no Austen to work off of. Hockensmith can use his own interpretations of the characters, which makes this no different than other types of Austen paraliterature (variations, sequels, retellings, etc.) other than the fact that it has zombies. Hockensmith is very funny and has a way with writing zombie literature, and it's just good fun if you're looking for action and gory zombie battles.

I found it easier to forgive, this time around, quibbles I'd had with Dawn of the Dreadfuls. The expressions used are sometimes modern and somewhat Americanized, but it's for the sake of humor, and I'm not sure anyone reading this is going to be really uptight about what's proper. There are a few editing mistakes (Jane is referred to a few times as "Mrs. Bingham"?) but that kind of thing happens.

People who come into this looking for Lizzy/Darcy interaction will, admittedly, be disappointed. They really do spend the majority of the book apart; they are only together at the very beginning and very end. What I liked most about this book, though, was that it focused on Kitty and Mary. One of the things I pointed out in my review of Dawn of the Dreadfuls was how much I liked the glimpses into Mary's thoughts, and I was very pleased to see that expanded upon greatly here. Other paraliterature authors focus on Elizabeth, Jane, and Lydia, as they're the three sisters that are most important in the original PPZ, so it was great to see Kitty and Mary get some screentime.

Actually, I think this one is worth it alone for the attention it gives Kitty and Mary. Kitty's characterization in particular felt very real and almost touching. With Lydia married off and no longer around to give Kitty purpose, Kitty feels very lost and is coming to the realization that others view her as frivolous. As the book goes on, she seeks to assert herself and prove that she's really worth something, and I found myself cheering her on. Mary, meanwhile, is obsessed with Mary Wollstonecraft's feminist texts and is seeking independence of her own. Both subplots felt very plausible and true to the characters they concerned, and I was really happy to find that, considering I went in expecting a novel about Lizzy. We do get a lot of Lizzy, too, but mainly it's her concern for Darcy and the situation she must put herself and her family in.

One thing I felt was a bit too distracting was the number of romance subplots. We have Kitty's attempts to seduce Bunny, the doctor's son, even as she begins to notice Nezu, the ninja who has been sent to accompany her, Lizzy, and Mr. Bennet. We have Mary and the mysterious Mr. Quayle, and then we have Darcy and Anne de Bourgh's attempts to snare him, even though he is married. The number of romances made the book a bit topheavy, and I could have done without the Darcy/Anne subplot, if I had to choose something to cut, although it did give Darcy something else to do. My judgment, though, is probably clouded by all the paralit I've read recently where Anne shows not a whit of interest in Darcy, who returns the favor by not loving her romantically, either. Lizzy's concerns about seducing Dr. Macfarquhar were addressed and suitably examined; she resigns herself to doing whatever she has to in order to save Darcy. Even if Lizzy and Darcy barely interact, their love for each other is still palpable here.

Besides all the romance and characterizations, we come to the other point: is the zombie stuff well-written? Are the fight scenes worth reading? Admittedly, I'm not the right one to ask--I'm never a huge fan of action scenes--but there is more than enough gore here to satisfy the interested reader. Zombie mayhem is abundant and it's always funny to read about the proper Bennet girls beheading and slicing their way through hordes of undead.

Overall, this book was really entertaining and fun, and one element had me wishing it had a book all to its own (the adventures of Quayle's dogs, Ell and Arr, please? I'd pay good money, seriously). Those who are looking for a fitting conclusion to the wonderfully fun Pride and Prejudice and Zombies series won't be disappointed, and I know I wasn't. Recommended to fans of the series (those who haven't read the previous two books are advised to start with those).

Monday, March 21, 2011

In Which Trai Reviews 'Only Mr. Darcy Will Do'

The Book: Only Mr. Darcy Will Do (previously self-published as Something Like Regret in 2008)

The Author: Kara Louise

How I Found It: It was very highly regarded while it was out initially, and I decided to take the leap and read it once Sourcebooks reissued it earlier this month.

The Review: For the sake of being comprehensive, and because there will be a comparison or two later on, I'm going to link to my review of another P&P variation, Abigail Reynold's Mr. Darcy's Obsession, that had similar themes to this one.

Both Obsession and this book picked the same variable: what if Mr. Bennet had died, forcing Elizabeth and her family out of Longbourn, and Elizabeth into employment as a governess? While Obsession had a really strong take on the seamy underside of society at the time in addition to its romance, Only Mr. Darcy Will Do is more of a straight romance, and a very, very good one.

Shortly after she rejects Mr. Darcy's proposal and is given his letter of apology and explanations, Elizabeth receives word of her father's death and has to quit Rosings immediately. When we open, it is not yet a year since Mr. Bennet's passing, and Elizabeth is still in mourning as she works as governess for little Emily Willstone. Elizabeth is tormented by regret, wondering what her life could have been like if she had only said yes to Mr. Darcy and become mistress of Pemberley. With her social status even lower than it was before, she now has no hope of catching his eye again, even if their paths were to cross...

... and as it turns out, they do cross, because Mr. Bingley and Miss Georgiana Darcy move in the same circles as the Willstones. Elizabeth has not yet seen Mr. Darcy, but it is only a matter of time. Things are made even worse by the arrival of Mrs. Willstone's younger sister, Rosalyn Matthews, who has been carrying a torch for Mr. Darcy for some time. Once Rosalyn hears that Elizabeth has a previous acquaintance with Darcy, she begs Elizabeth for her help in figuring out how to capture his interest.

When the Willstones are invited to spend two weeks at Pemberley, Elizabeth has no choice but to go. She will have to stay at Pemberley, constantly running into the man who once admitted to loving her, walking the halls of the home that could have been hers. The two weeks will give her plenty of opportunities to see Darcy at his best, but there's no hope of a romance between them when class stands in their way...

First off, can I just say that I really, really wish Sourcebooks had kept the original title? Many Sourcebooks authors have expressed mild displeasure over the title changes (Sourcebooks has numbers that indicate that books with the word "Darcy" in the title sell more, hence the changes to many self-published titles that have been picked up). Not only is the phrase "something like regret" repeated at least a few times in the novel, regret itself is such an overwhelming theme that it just really would have been a better choice.

I had a bit of a bumpy start with this one. I just wasn't drawn into it right away--it wasn't until the gang arrived at Pemberley that I started turning the pages faster and faster. So for me, it had a slow start, but I can honestly say that this book had some of the best characterizations I've yet seen in P&P paraliterature.

It is the characterizations, particularly of Lizzy and Darcy, that were the real highlight of this novel. Louise didn't take the easy way out, either--the book is almost entirely third person limited to Lizzy, so we don't get Darcy's point of view almost the entire time (excepting the prologue, and a few brief paragraphs where other character's inner thoughts are gone into). We get to see Darcy grow in Lizzy's estimation right alongside her, instead of seeing things from Darcy's perspective and getting that view right off.

The interactions between Lizzy and Darcy were incredibly well done, especially a scene where the two duel at chess. Sure, it was laying it on a bit too thick at points that Darcy was awesome (saving a cat from a storm? It was sweet, yes, but a little trite). But darned if it wasn't incredibly romantic. This book actually reminded me why I loved Darcy four years ago when I first read P&P. I swear my allegiance primarily to Colonel Brandon and Edmund Bertram (though I'm not going to deny having an "I Love Mr. Darcy" t-shirt), and sometimes I can forget what makes Darcy awesome. This book served as a good reminder: he's a good big brother, a great landlord, and is willing to take another look at himself and change for the girl he loves. Ultimate romantic hero? I think so.

The plot could have been a bit more original--the portrait of Elizabeth's regret over turning down Darcy's proposal and the potentiality of his being in love with Rosalyn struck me as a little too Anne/Wentworth/Louisa, and Rosalyn and Elizabeth's interactions resembled those of Lucy Steele and Elinor Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility. A reader who is just familiar with P&P, however, won't notice these things. I will say that it is probably necessary to read P&P or at least have seen a movie version before picking this one up, because certain crucial events from that are referenced assuming that the reader has familiarity enough to get it.

For readers who really want more time with P&P, or to those who just want a look at what sequels and variations are like, this one is perfect. We get Lizzy/Darcy and a really good look at Lizzy as a character (her relationship to her father, her sisters, etc.). We get Jane/Bingley and a few glimpses of the rest of the Bennet family. We get a pretty good subplot about being a governess, and what that might mean to social standing. The romance, especially towards the end, gets a little too saccharine, but other than that, this is an expertly done, wonderfully romantic variation that earns my highest recommendations.

Monday, March 14, 2011

In Which Trai Reviews 'After You'

The Book: After You: A Novel

The Author: Julie Buxbaum

How I Found It: I saw it in a bookstore one day and decided to pick it up sometime after I'd read The Secret Garden, the book part of the plot hinges on. Now that I've read it, I gave it a shot (thanks, inter-library loan!).

The Review: Ellie Lerner is in London, picking up the pieces after another family's tragedy. Her best friend, Lucy, was murdered only a few days before by a drug addict who wanted her jewelry, and all of it happened in front of Lucy's eight-year-old daughter, Sophie. Ellie, as godmother, flies straight over to help Greg, Lucy's husband, and a traumatized Sophie.

Sophie has stopped speaking, and Ellie is desperate to help her, turning to their mutual love of reading as a solution--they will read The Secret Garden together, a book that helped Ellie cope after a family tragedy years before. Ellie makes the decision to stay in London longer than she expected, both to look after Greg and Sophie and to try and make sense of her failing marriage, still reeling from a loss that took place two years before.

I've been lucky, thus far, to find "chick lit" that actually has surprising emotional depth. I don't like the term "chick lit" for precisely this reason. Emily Giffin has wrote some really intricate explorations of friendship and infidelity, Jennifer Weiner wrote about body image, Jodi Picoult wrote about family, and now I've found Julie Buxbaum's sad but hopeful book on grieving and moving on.

Many passages struck me as true to life, the type of thing I can remember thinking during similar experiences I've had. A particular favorite of mine, whose page number I can't recall: "Certainly she can’t be lost if there is still the matted diploma from the Columbia School of Journalism on her wall, a pair of her favorite flip-flops, solid pink, soles worn thin, still on the floor, a pile of research for an article still unwritten. Too many stills—an identity frozen by things—for the object they represent to be gone." There's so much in this book that I feel would ring true with anyone who has experienced a loss like Ellie's, but the book isn't just about loss. It also delves into a marriage that's falling apart, into how Greg and Sophie deal with their tragedy, into the lives of Ellie's slightly insane parents, and into the things Ellie is now learning about Lucy, things she wishes she never heard of.

Most reviews I've seen have found Ellie an unsympathetic character, mostly because of her not-entirely-selfless motivation for taking care of Sophie, but I felt that I could understand her pretty well. The passages dealing with her and her husband's personal tragedy were definitely plausible, at least to me. Her concern for Sophie was well-done, as were their interactions. Sophie is a bit too precocious at times, but it's not done to be precious or cute; it's actually touchingly used to show how much of an outcast Sophie is to her classmates. I didn't have it as bad as Sophie did as a kid, but I can certainly relate to being the girl on the playground who'd rather read than play. Greg, the widower, gets a few good scenes where we get to see the scope of his grief, even if he, like Ellie, is struggling to believe that Lucy wasn't always honest. The other characters don't get as much screentime, but their plots are at least entertaining--Ellie's brother Mikey gets a fun, sweet romance with Sophie's teacher, and Ellie's parents are trying yet again to reconcile.

I was expecting to get a book filled with flashbacks to Lucy, to her and Ellie's friendship, but I was surprised to get a pretty clear picture of their friendship without them. We get a picture of Lucy mainly through Ellie's thoughts about her, and I can only remember one or two flashbacks offhand. Buxbaum was able to craft our perception of Lucy through snippets of memories triggered for Ellie, and I was pleased by how well that worked. We get the same sense of Lucy that Ellie did--maybe we don't know her as well as we thought, but we still love her and feel sorry that she's gone.

I'll admit that certain plot devices were very predictable, and maybe in the end it doesn't have all that much that makes it stand out from any other book in the genre. All things considered, though, it gives a very clear, surprisingly hopeful look at a handful of people coping with tragedy, with some very true observations about the nature of grief and friendship. Recommended to anyone with an interest in well-written "chick lit."

Sunday, March 6, 2011

In Which Trai Reviews 'The Phantom of Pemberley'

You haven't gotten rid of me just yet; I'm still going! :) My last review for today, and that takes care of the backlog.

The Book: The Phantom of Pemberley: A Pride and Prejudice Murder Mystery

The Author: Regina Jeffers

How I Found It: I'd heard of it through the various Austen-related blogs I follow, but only picked it up on the emphatic recommendation of a friend. Thanks, Tori!

The Review: Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy have been married for just over a year, and their partnership is still going strong. Elizabeth has bonded well with Georgiana Darcy, she and Darcy are more in love than ever, and they've settled into a very comfortable routine when it comes to managing Pemberley.

All of this is upended fairly fast, once strange sightings of a phantom man begin occurring around the premises, and when several unexpected visitors end up housed at Pemberley, unable to leave. Lydia Wickham is coming to visit her sister, and when a horrible snowstorm hits, she invites some of her fellow travelers to come and stay at Pemberley. Elizabeth and Darcy are in a bind and can hardly refuse, and so they end up with an interesting mix of relations and strangers: Lady Catherine, Anne, and Anne's traveling companion Mrs. Jenkinson; Lord Stafford, a viscount and acquaintance of Darcy, and his mistress Cathleen; Mr. Worth, a solicitor with knowledge of George Wickham's destructive behavior; and Mrs. Williams, a naval widow.

So many unexpected guests would be a strain on any hosting pair, but Elizabeth and Darcy are left in an unpleasant situation when accidents and then murders begin to occur at Pemberley. There is a shadow man lurking around the estate, and he has some kind of grudge against Darcy. It could be one of the travelers, or it could be one of the household staff. Either way, Mr. and Mrs. Darcy find themselves with a difficult time ahead: they must race to find the murderer before more lives are lost, even as they struggle to protect their family from treachery.

I ended up liking this one more than I thought I would, even with its occasional flaw. Jeffers did a pretty good job at the characterizations and the pacing of the mystery, and even if the book felt the teensiest bit overlong at times, I don't regret reading it. Any attempt to turn Jane's work into something it never was (i.e., mysteries like this one, monster mashups, erotica) can fall very, very flat, but this one succeeded fairly well.

At 409 pages, I started to feel towards the end like the book could have been trimmed, but Jeffers really did a good job of unfurling the clues very slowly and drawing the reader further into the mystery. I'll admit that I did have (correct) suspicions about who the murderer was all along, but not every reader will guess (indeed, many reviews I can see report surprise at the reveal), and the solution is certainly an interesting one.

There are many things to like here. There's enough romance to satisfy someone interested in that aspect of paraliterature, and the secondary couples, even those comprised of the original characters, still managed to hold my interest. There's some social commentary; we get a glimpse into Stafford and Cathleen's relationship and the societal expectations for people like Stafford and Darcy. There's a mystery in a big sprawling house, deaths caused by different methods each time, and there could even be multiple murderers. The Regency language is fairly accurate for the most part (though there is the occasional modern term like "send him packing" and "all ears").

Whatever small quibbles I had came from the elements I felt were a tad overdone. Fans of the way Lizzy and Darcy's relationship is portrayed in the 2005 adaptation will definitely enjoy this one. There's a lot of... well, it's perfectly clear that Lizzy and Darcy love each other very much. I'm talking four (non-explicit) sex scenes in the first hundred or so pages, and a fair amount of them after that. I'm talking many terms of endearment for each other. I'm talking about fairly liberal quoting from P&P to the original characters who don't know the circumstances of how Lizzy and Darcy met. Yes, a lot of it was sweet, but in moderation. It started grating on me a bit after a while, because while the other characters in the novel didn't know, I'm a Janeite, so is most (if not all) of Jeffers' audience, and I did know, very well.

There are also a few touches in the Lizzy/Darcy relationship that seemed a smidge too modern, as well. I don't quite know if Darcy would compliment the way Lizzy's butt looks in breeches, or if Lizzy would delight in repeatedly saying the word "ass" during a household production of Much Ado About Nothing. Funny? Yes. Period-correct? Maybe not quite.

Despite the occasional slip-up, Jeffers manages the characters well, and we get nice glimpses into the happily-ever-afters (or lack thereof) of Lizzy and Darcy, Georgiana, Colonel Fitzwilliam, Lydia, and Lady Catherine and Anne. The supporting characters all had my attention; I was actually sad when the book ended, because I got pretty attached to one of the supporting characters and would've liked to see how his life turned out beyond this book! There's a lot of subplots stuffed all in one, but they all tie together somehow in a pretty well-paced plot. Overall, I'd recommend it to someone who doesn't mind the occasional false note and would like a really interesting, suspenseful take on the further lives of some beloved characters.

In Which Trai Mini-Reviews 'Fahrenheit 451' and 'Long Day's Journey into Night'

Mini-Reviewing The Classics!

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury: You wanna hear about the ultimate lesson in irony? After I'd finished the book, on our last day of discussing it, I'm listening to one of my classmates read a selection aloud and coming to the realization that, you know, all those swear words aren't in my edition (granted, it was a very old one). Yeah. I had a censored edition of Fahrenheit 451, the ultimate anti-establishment book. I got a good laugh out of it, but now I really have to track down an unexpurgated edition.

This was one of those books that everyone read in high school but me. I somehow ended up in the classes that didn't read it, for some reason or other, and I never seemed to hear much about it from people I knew in the other classes. I'm glad I didn't, because I went into this one pretty blind, not knowing anything about it other than it being about book-burning, and it made reading this a really eye-opening experience.

I've stated before that I love books and movies about books and reading. It's a subgenre I've just come to adore, because reading is such a huge part of my life, and it's always interesting to see how other people put that experience into words and visuals. I expected to be horrified, reading about a world without books, and I was, but not in the way I expected to be. I was horrified by how prescient Bradbury's vision has turned out to be.

Guy Montag lives in a future where firemen have one purpose: not to put out fires, but to start them. Homes have long since been fireproofed, and the only threat to society now is books. Montag is fairly content with his profession, until a run-in with a very odd teenager, Clarisse, makes him take another look at his life. Clarisse makes him notice the things he's long since forgotten about: that there's dew on the grass in the mornings, that advertisements didn't always pervade every inch of society. Once Montag notices these things, he finds it difficult to revert back to his old way of thinking.

Things spiral fast, and Montag finds himself fighting back against the restrictions of his society--most particularly, the menace of his boss, the fire chief Beatty. A former English professor, Faber, becomes his only ally in a struggle against a system that has long since stopped caring about the welfare of humanity.

Stylistically, this book put me to sleep at first (the sentence structure was a bit too simple for me, although some passages were really striking), but I came to love it over time. Any one of us has the tendency to forget the little things, and Clarisse pointing them out to Montag was pretty poignant. It's not quite about the fight against censorship, though that's definitely part of it. A larger part of the book's message concerns how entertainment gradually replaced the printed word, how television and movies rendered it unnecessary. What was beginning to frighten my class was that so many of the inventions in the book are around today. The parlor walls are our flatscreen televisions. The "seashells" are our iPods or Bluetooth headsets. Paper books are disappearing due to the Kindle and Nook.

Even if how dead on it was scared me at times, I ended up loving the ending and all of this book stands for. I recommend it wholeheartedly to every person who didn't read it in high school, to any person who loves to read.


Long Day's Journey into Night, by Eugene O'Neill: Another one that played straight into my literary preferences: a nice, involved, slow-moving drama about a family and its problems. Wow, I was not expecting to feel as much as I did reading this one. I was expecting a story about a family that hated each other, and I ended up being proven wrong: these family members love each other very much indeed.

This was a semi-autobiographical effort by O'Neill, one he didn't want performed until fifty years after his death, but one that got performed before that anyway thanks to his wife. It concerns James Tyrone (mainly referred to by his surname), his wife Mary, and their two sons, Jamie and Edmund. James, Jamie, and Edmund are all alcoholics, and Mary has demons of her own. And the fun doesn't stop there: Jamie has been racking up debts due to his drinking and visits with prostitutes, Edmund might have consumption, and Tyrone's money--which could go a long way towards solving the family's problems--is all tied up in real estate. Hooboy. We get one day in the life of this family, as they fight their way towards some sort of understanding.

Like I said, this one surprised me. Just when I thought I knew something about a character, I'd find out I was wrong. I thought Tyrone felt nothing but disappointment for his sons, but then we get a scene or two where Edmund voices that assumption, only to be proven wrong by a very hurt Tyrone. As always, I'm a sucker for well-written dialogue and well-developed characters, and they were in full force here. I can see that O'Neill really did take this one from life. I'd love to see this one performed; as it is, I'm hoping to, someday soon, check out a few of the different film versions.

I'd like to read this one again, simply because the sheer amount of references to other works made me extremely curious to look them up, and because I was so enthralled by reading this that I just want to revisit it and get that experience again. I'd definitely recommend this one to fans of classic drama that haven't read it already, or to someone that just wants a really good, suprisingly dense and issue-filled play.

In Which Trai Mini-Reviews 'The Importance of Being Earnest', 'Peter Pan', and 'Pygmalion'

Many apologies about the lack of reviews in February. My courseload this semester has a lot of reading, as in a few books a week, and while it's great to read so much, time for reading outside of class has been incredibly scarce. I'm hoping things will settle down, but for now, reviews might be few and far between.

Mini-Reviewing the Classics!

The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde: This was one of those times when I only knew vaguely about the plot, mostly through osmosis. All I could remember was that it had to do with leading a double life, and that it was, symbolically, the play that Peter tries to see Mary Jane starring in in Spider-Man 2.

So yes. There went the extent of my acquaintance with Oscar Wilde, besides a long-held resolution to read The Picture of Dorian Gray. Eventually. I was pleased to finally read this play, having wanted to ever since the Spider-Man thing, and I wasn't disappointed. I found it witty, ironic, and really fun to discuss.

We go into The Importance of Being Earnest knowing two men: "Ernest" and Algernon. Algernon is very confused as to why his friend "Ernest" has a cigarette case declaring him to be someone's "Uncle Jack." As it turns out, "Ernest" is an identity fabricated by Jack, one that helps him escape from his duties as a guardian to his ward and go out on the town. Jack is also very much in love with Gwendolen Fairfax, and wishes to propose to her. They are forbidden to marry by the formidable Lady Bracknell, Gwendolen's mother, but Gwendolen swears her allegiance to him anyway. Algernon, meanwhile, is determined to disguise himself as Ernest in order to meet Jack's pretty young ward, Cecily. All of this would be fine--if Cecily and Gwendolen were not both convinced that they're engaged to the same Ernest, and Jack has already decided to conveniently "kill off" his Ernest persona.

This play was a quick read and also a really hilarious one; I truly enjoyed it and will definitely read it again sometime. I got a good laugh out of the many ironic lines, and I'm surprised at how well it holds up today. I'm sure all of us are guilty of occasional "Bunburying"--inventing a sick relative to get out of some social obligation! This was a welcome break from my habit of reading dramas whenever I sit down to read a play, and I'd definitely recommend it for fun book club discussion or something of that sort.


Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie: This was one book that I was returning to after a previous acquaintance--I'd gotten most of the way through it around the time the 2003 live action movie debuted, but never had the chance to finish it. I was excited to finally read the whole thing, and as I read it, I could remember exactly which parts had made my 12-year-old self happy and which parts had confounded me slightly.

We start, of course, with Wendy, John, and Michael, three children who are whisked off by Peter Pan to Neverland. Peter believes that the Lost Boys of Neverland could use a mother to tell them stories, and Wendy agrees. Once in Neverland, however, the siblings have to contend with a few different dangers: Peter's sometimes mercurial nature, for one, and for another, the threat of Captain Hook and his fellow pirates.

This was a really, really interesting book to discuss in a college classroom. Gender roles are huge here, in a way that younger readers might not pick up on. There's a lot of underlying messages about growing up into mature adults, and the ending, when it comes, is bittersweet. Most of my classmates were surprised at the violence of the story: there are several instances when the boys are really threatened by the pirates, and there's actual deaths, not the Disneyified kind. (In addition, Tinker Bell can sort of be a bitch sometimes.)

This is actually one that I'm glad I didn't fully read until now--I wouldn't have appreciated it as much eight years ago, and I'm now really curious to break out my DVD of the 2003 version and see how it stacks up (pretty closely, according to my memory). This can be read to kids pretty safely--they won't even notice the violence, as it isn't lingered on too much--but is also a really thought-provoking and emotional read for adults.


Pygmalion, by George Bernard Shaw: My only acquiantance with anything Pygmalion-esque had been seeing My Fair Lady a few years ago, a show I wasn't quite enamored with. (I had a tough time understanding the Cockney accents, for one thing, which isn't an issue now that I've become acquainted with several British TV shows and other works of literature whose characters have strong accents, such as Wuthering Heights.) With that in my memory, I fully expected to hate this play with a passion.

I really should learn by now that more often than not, when I expect to hate something, I end up at least liking it. Shock, shock, surprise, surprise: I loved this play with everything I have. It wasn't the conventionally romantic drama the musical is. It's a really well-written look into the hearts and minds of two strong-willed individuals, Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle, and I enjoyed every page.

I'm sure we all know the story, but to recap: Eliza Doolittle is a poor flower-seller who comes to Professor Henry Higgins seeking lessons in elocution. She has aspirations to rise from the gutter of her current life and start anew in a flower shop, and to do that, she must reform the way she speaks. Hugely confident in himself and viewing Eliza as an intriguing project, Higgins takes her on, making a bet with his friend Colonel Pickering that he can pass her off as a duchess in a few months.

After that, we get a brief glimpse into Eliza's lessons, and then into her development into someone who can pass as an upper-class lady. I was really pleased with the depth of the play's characterizations and the range of issues it brought up. After all, don't we still judge people by the way they speak? Should we do as Higgins does, treating everyone exactly the same, or as Pickering does, treating Eliza with respect as he would a lady, even when she isn't one? What hold does a creator have over his creation?

Spoilers ahoy! What pleased me most about this one was the ending, as unpopular an opinion as that is. Shaw could have taken the easy way out and gone for the traditional romantic ending, but he didn't, and the play is so much the better for it, in my opinion. End spoilers.

All of these awesome classics can be found for free via Project Gutenberg. Go forth and read!

The Importance of Being Earnest: here.
Peter Pan: here.
Pygmalion: here. If anyone is looking for a print edition, I can't recommend this one enough. I'm a huge fan of the Enriched Classics line; their edition of Jane Eyre helped my understanding mightily, and this edition of Pygmalion had great notes and even some scenes that are normally excised.