When I’m With You (The Jane Austen Academy Series), by Cecilia Gray – A Review

When I'm with You, by Cecilia Gray (2013)From the desk of Lisa Galek:

I read a lot of young adult fiction and I notice that there’s often a tendency to feature a female main character who’s smart, sassy, and in-control. Of course, these self-confident heroines are important and lots of real-life girls can relate to them. But, some girls are a little less sure of themselves. A little more naïve and a little too trusting. In fact, that’s something that many women struggle with long after they leave high school. No one knew this better than Jane Austen. Her heroines fit into a huge range of personalities and life experiences. In When I’m With You, Cecilia Gray gives us an update on one of Jane’s most underutilized, yet relatable teenage characters, Catherine Morland from Northanger Abbey

Kat Morley just knows that one day she’s gonna be a famous actress. She’s been the lead in five different productions at her high school, the Jane Austen Academy, so it can’t be long until her name is up in lights. When Kat’s classmate (aspiring actor, Josh Wickham) asks her to travel with him to the set of a movie he’s starring in over Christmas break, it’s practically her dream come true! Things get even better once Kat arrives and starts rubbing elbows with the stars. Izzy Engel is not only beautiful and famous but she’s also decided to befriend Kat! And Henry Trenton (son of Hollywood legend, Tom Trenton) has invited her out for hot cocoa! Swoon!

But, it isn’t long before Kat starts to see the dark side of being famous. Constantly being stalked by the paparazzi. Lack of privacy. Having to act and dress a certain way to maintain your image. When Kat is invited to stay at Henry’s home in Los Angeles, she also uncovers some secrets about his famous dad and starts to have some doubts about her new celebrity friends. Maybe being a star really isn’t as wonderful as Kat always imagined? 

When I’m With You is the third in Cecilia Gray’s Jane Austen Academy series. Each of Austen’s six main heroines gets her own story and a transplant to a modern-day boarding school in California. The girls – Lizzie, Ellie, Kat, Fanny, Emma, and Anne – befriend each other over the course of the six books and, of course, get involved with lots of cute boys. I think Jane would be amused.

Even though I wasn’t familiar with any of the other Jane Austen Academy books, reading this one out of order was no problem. I chose to start with this title because it’s based on one of my favorite novels – Northanger Abbey. You don’t see too many modern updates of it, probably because it’s one of Austen’s lesser-read and lesser-known works. That’s actually a shame. I always saw Northanger as particularly relevant to modern folks. Sure, the original book is poking fun at 18th-century gothic novels, but the idea of satirizing pop culture isn’t outdated at all. Here, the author riffs on our modern obsession with fame, Hollywood, and celebrity gossip. The parallels to Austen’s work and the critiques of the world we live in are spot on. And very funny.

Catherine Morland always seemed to me the perfect character to star in a modern young adult novel, too. Here you have a teenage girl away from home and forced to rely on her (still developing) wits to navigate the world around her. She’s naïve, imaginative, and a little too trusting at times. Kat Morley is a great modern parallel to Catherine. Kat wants to be a famous actress one day, but she really has no idea what being a celebrity is all about. She’s a little too awed by fame and filled with enough self-doubt to keep herself from realizing people’s true intentions and feelings. Whether it’s a friend she should be avoiding or a romance she should be pursuing, Kat just doesn’t quite know what to do.

This might make Kat sound a bit dull and indecisive, but she was actually a really fun character to spend an afternoon with. She’s driven and spunky, but filled with a lot of uncertainty in herself that I found very true to life and relatable. Her journey from dreams of stardom to a more realistic vision for her future was very well done, natural, and satisfying. Her friendship with the subtly devious Izzy was perfect and even takes an unexpected turn in the end. And her romance with the quirky and light-hearted Henry Trenton was fun and engaging without taking center stage. Sure, Kat might fall in love, but that never takes away from her growth and development in the story.

The book is very short and, at less than 150 pages, I was able to get through it in a few hours one afternoon. That means that the author cuts away a lot of side plots from the original to focus on Kat’s core journey. There’s no John Thorpe to pursue her. No Eleanor Tilney to befriend her. No James Morland to fall in love with Izzy and no Captain Tilney to lure her away. So, it’s true that the book isn’t as meticulously plotted as the original, and normally, I would miss these little bits and pieces. But, the main story is really juicy and engaging and still flows well. Even as the author trimmed, she was still able to dive deep and do justice to what was left.

Overall, When I’m With You is a short, fun, well-written update on a much neglected, but much loved story. What more could you ask for? I liked the book so much, that I plan on checking out the rest of the series. Amazon is also featuring the first book in the Jane Austen Academy series, Fall for You, (based on Pride and Prejudice) for free. Why not download a copy? I already did and am looking forward to reading more adventures featuring the young ladies of the Jane Austen Academy.

5 out of 5 Stars

When I’m With You (The Jane Austen Academy Series), by Cecilia Gray
Gray Life, LLC (2013)
Digital eBook (147) pages
ASIN: B00ASCHFR6

Additional Reviews:

Cover image courtesy Gray Life, LLC © 2013; text Lisa Galek © 2014, Austenprose.com

The Trouble with Flirting: A Novel, by Claire LaZebnik – A Review

The Trouble with Flirting, by Claire LaZebnik (2013) From the desk of Lisa Galek:

There are tons of ways to flirt… and just as many ways to break hearts in the process. A casual smile or a wink can lead to long-awaited romance or lots of unwanted attention. Claire LaZebnik explores all this and more in The Trouble with Flirting, her contemporary young adult update on Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.

This story is all about Franny Pearson, a high school student from Phoenix looking to get some real world experience for her college admissions essay. When Franny lands a summer internship as a costume designer with her Aunt Amelia, she ventures from home to work for the prestigious Mansfield College High School Theater Program. Even though her days are filled with sewing and sequins – Franny is determined to make some friends among the theater kids this summer.

Franny quickly runs into an old classmate – Alex Braverman, the dreamboat she’s had a crush on since eighth grade. Could this be the summer Alex finally notices her? Not if Harry Cartwright has anything to do with it. It’s bad enough that Harry’s constantly flirting with every girl in camp, but it really gets annoying when he sets his sights on Franny. Of course, she only has eyes for Alex and would never fall for a notorious flirt like Harry. Or would she?

Though this novel is based on Mansfield Park, it follows the original pretty loosely. Other young adult Austen updates like Prom and Prejudice or Clueless are almost scene for scene reimaginings. This story may have similar characters and the same basic premise as the original – poor girl mixes with rich kids and falls in love – but it’s not afraid to take us to different places.

Franny, for one, isn’t much like Fanny Price. This, of course, will make some people very happy. This Franny is much less passive and morally upright than her predecessor. She’s also a lot more like a typical seventeen-year-old girl. Sure, she isn’t as spoiled, self-involved, and boy crazy as the girls around her, but she also doesn’t shy away from meeting new people or ring her hands any time there’s rule-breaking going on. This Franny would love to be part of a lively production of Lover’s Vows.

Other characters start with Austen as their jumping off point and then move from there. Alex and Harry stay pretty true to their counterparts (Edmund Bertram and Henry Crawford), but keep surprising us until the end. Naturally, Alex has his own Mary Crawford-esque temptress in the beautiful and talented Isabella. Fellow campers, Marie and Julia compete tirelessly for Harry’s attention with not-so-great results. Even Franny’s Aunt Amelia has a bit of Mrs. Norris in her.

It’s to the story’s credit that these characters always feel fresh and surprising. Though this is essentially a retelling, it doesn’t feel like it. By making new and interesting choices for her characters, the author keeps the spirit of the original, while still helping us stay invested and interested in what’s going to happen next.

In the end, this update asks a very interesting question – who really deserves to be with Franny? Is it the long-time crush and all-around-nice-guy who’s spent the whole book courting someone else? Or is it the self-absorbed flirt who’s willing to change his ways for the right girl? In the original, Mary Crawford asserts that if Fanny had only accepted her brother Henry “she would have fixed him.” The Trouble with Flirting makes us wonder if Mary wasn’t right after all.

I picked up the book one night just to start the first few chapters and just couldn’t put it down. I happen to love young adult fiction, but this one was especially good. The author nails the tone and dialogue. The flow of the story was perfect and, most important, believable. I could actually see high schoolers having these conversations, relationships, and dating dilemmas. This would be a great choice for any teenager who you want to introduce to Austen, or, really, anyone who can appreciate a fun and well-written high school romance.

4.5 out of 5 Stars

The Trouble with Flirting A Novel, by Claire LaZebnik
Harper Teen (2013)
Trade paperback (336) pages
ISBN: 978-0061921278

Cover image courtesy Harper Teen © 2013; text Lisa Galek © 2013, Austenprose.com

For Darkness Shows the Stars, by Diana Peterfreund – A Review

For Darkness Shows the Stars, by Diana Peterfreund (2012)From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder

Several months ago I kept hearing a lot of buzz about a book by Diana Peterfreund entitled For Darkness Shows the Stars. Nearly every blogging friend I had seemed to be reading and raving about this novel.  As I did some research on it I discovered that it’s a young adult, sci fi/dystopic version of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. I was 100% interested. When Laurel Ann suggested I review it for Austenprose, I was at first super excited and simultaneously nervous. What if it didn’t live up to my expectations? Nerves aside, I dove in eager to see how Persuasion translated into a dystopic world.

Many years ago, the scientific over-manipulation of food, animals, and even people resulted in an event known as the Reduction, which set humanity back hundreds of years technologically and socially and ushered in a new nobility that outlawed most forms of technology. Elliot North is a member of this group, and understood that it was not her place to run away with her childhood sweetheart, a slave known as Kai. Now, years later, the world has begun advancing back to its former glory. A new generation is beginning to reignite progress and cause change, and with this comes the stagnation of the old elite. Therefore, Elliot’s estate is forced to rent land to the Cloud Fleet, a mysterious group of shipbuilders, in order to make ends meet. Little does she know that one of these men is Captain Malakai Wentforth, the same man she loved but dutifully left so many years ago, now under a new name. Although she wonders if this may be her second chance at love, Kai does not seem so sure. He also holds a secret which could alter the very course of their humanity for good or otherwise. Will Elliot be able to persuade him to give her a second chance? What will Kai do with his secret?

At first this book moved very slowly in my opinion. It took me a good 70 pages to really become invested in the story and understand the history as to how the world got to be in its present state. The terminology of all the different social classes was confusing at first, as the “racist” terminology that the upper class used was completely separate from how the underprivileged classes spoke. After I understood this, however, the book definitely caught my attention. Elliot is a conundrum of a character, as she’s stuck in this in-between place of fearing how modernization and technological advancement could harm society again, but also seeing how said advancements could help the depressing current state of affairs. She has all these people on her farm that she needs to feed, yet doesn’t have enough money or time to grow enough food. Therefore, she sees what genetically modifying food could potentially do to save hundreds around her. On the opposite spectrum her grandfather is extremely sick, but comes to find out that there are medications and procedures that had they not been outlawed could have prevented his continual deterioration. She’s a revolutionary in her own right, doing everything in her power to help those around her. The inner battle that she experiences for the majority of the book is an understandable one, and one that can be relatable in multiple contexts. She has all these things that she has been taught to fear, yet sees the benefits of certain modifications once Kai and the Cloud Feet people become a part of her life. She learns that not everything has to be a lesson in extremes, that everything doesn’t have to be either one way or another, and that sometimes the hardest sacrifices you have to make yield the best and worthiest results.

One thing that truly surprised me about this book was the characterization of Elliot’s father and Kai. Elliot’s father was extreme and harsh. The events towards the end of the novel and his reaction to certain revelations were frankly shocking. Upon first glance he seemed aloof, but he’s actually very observant and conniving. He knows exactly what buttons to push to get the results he expects. Additionally, I felt similar feelings about Kai. The level of his anger, rudeness, and spitefulness was too extreme in my opinion. At one point he violently grabs Elliot and is unforgivably rude to her. It’s understandable that he is angry over what happened between the two of them four years prior, but it just seemed a tad too much at times.

Upon finishing this book, I read the prequel, Among the Nameless Stars. The prequel delves into Kai’s journey after he leaves the North State but before he returns to it for the events of this novel. It definitely helped me get a better understanding of the emotional turmoil that Kai faced alone. His anger became more understandable, but only slightly. I’d recommend reading the prequel after For Darkness Shows the Stars, as there are things revealed that are better left as surprises.

I truly enjoyed the way that Peterfreund adapted Austen’s work into this dystopic world. It fit surprisingly well, especially the whole idea of differentiating social classes. The small pieces of the novel told in an epistolic fashion made me all the more anxious for the “Wentworth letter” (I can happily tell that you the letter does not disappoint.) Peterfreund has definitely earned a new fan in me, and I’m excited to continue this new series with her as she adapts The Scarlet Pimpernel next. 

Peterfreund’s website describes this series as, “In a distant future, teens work to rebuild their societies in breathtaking adventures inspired by timeless classics.” This series is made up of novels about hope, change, love, and redemption. I can’t think of traits I’d want the current teenage generation to learn more. This is definitely a series I’d recommend sharing.

4 out of 5 stars

For Darkness Shows the Stars, by Diana Peterfreund
Balzer + Bray (2013)
Trade paperback (448) pages
ISBN: 978-0062006158

Cover image courtesy Balzer + Bray © 2012, text Kimberly Denny-Ryder © 2013, Austenprose

Emmalee: The Jane Austen Diaries #4, by Jenni James – A Review

Emmalee: The Jane Austen Diaries #4, by Jenni James (2012)From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder

Several months ago I had the opportunity to read Persuaded by Jenni James, a modern YA (young adult) adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion.  I was really impressed with James’ ability to keep the depth of Austen’s works when translating them into the modern world, and make them appealing to the YA crowd. When offered the chance to review her adaptation of Emma, I jumped and said yes! I’ve always found that Emma Woodhouse is a difficult character to relate to. (At least to me) The film Clueless did an excellent job showcasing her naivety while also reflecting that deep down inside she was a good person with good intentions. I was interested in seeing if James could also reflect this naïve nature while still making Emma appealing to teens.

Emmalee Bradford, the modern day equivalent to Emma, lives a very satisfied life.  She believes that she is an expert matchmaker, and never misses and opportunity to set her friends up on dates. She takes special interest in Hannah, whom she decides to devote all her energy towards in order to make her popular. What she doesn’t realize, however, is all this energy expended on others leaves her alone and partner-less. Will she be able to find a match for herself despite being so adept at finding matches for others?

As I said before, Jane Austen’s Emma is a difficult character to relate to. Emmalee, on the other hand, is surprisingly refreshing. This may be because of her age. We’ve all had those awkward teen years dealing with growing up, moving on, difficult parents, friendship/relationship woes, and all the other difficulties being a teen brings. On the surface Emmalee seems like a spoiled rich kid, but when you get in her head, she genuinely thinks that what she does and says is completely unselfish. By the end of the novel, we see her begin to look at her actions from a different perspective and take responsibility for them. This highlights an emotional growth that was missing in Emmalee in the beginning, and is now beginning to transform her into a much more mature person. James weaves this into the plot perfectly, much like Austen made Emma transform from a slightly superficial matchmaker to a woman who has finally found true fulfillment in her own life. It is this transformation that makes Emmalee such a great read (and of course Emma too by extension!)

This book is filled with all the things that teen girls love: trips to the mall, cute boys, crushes, first kisses, Edward Cullen v. Jacob Black of Twilight discussions, puppies, fashion, texting, etc. James does an exquisite job in making her works appeal to her audience. Parents too will love these books for their clean nature, fun-loving prose, and moral lessons. If you know a young adult who has yet to give Austen’s classics a try, I recommend you have them read The Jane Austen Diaries series by Jenni James as encouragement.

4 out of 5 Stars

Emmalee: The Jane Austen Diaries #4, by Jenni James
Walnut Springs Press (2012)
Trade paperback (230) pages
ISBN: 978-0983829386

© 2013 Kimberly Denny-Ryder, Austenprose

Turning Pages, by Tristi Pinkston – A Review

Turning Pages, by Tristi Pinkston (2012)From the desk of Lisa Galek. 

I really love a good Jane Austen contemporary update, especially one geared at teens. There’s something so refreshing and lovely about the idea that, 200 years later, young readers are still eating up the drama between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy.

When college student and aspiring librarian, Addie Preston, meets Blake Hansen, they clash immediately over everything. They have different tastes in books, different ideas about love… and Blake just so happens to have stolen the job that Addie had been hoping for – Assistant Librarian. Not only is this guy insufferable (and pretty well filled with pride), but he’s now also Addie’s new boss.

But, this isn’t the only reason Addie has to be upset. She’s been through a lot in the last year. Her father died just a few months ago and her family is being forced to move from their home. Soon, she suffers another blow – her beloved library is closing. Cutbacks in staff and the need to move quickly into a new location force Blake and Addie to work together. Addie slowly realizes that Blake isn’t the uptight (if well-read) jerk she thought he was. Now, just one final thing stands in the way of their love – Blake’s fiancée.

Since most of Addie’s life revolves around the library, this setting really takes center stage in the novel and becomes kind of like a character in its own right. There are some really humorous scenes of Addie’s misguided attempts to protest the library’s closing (like when she accidentally assaults the mayor with a placard). But, otherwise, there’s almost too much going on in the library with no real purpose. We get information on cataloging books, screwing in shelves, discarding worn out titles, which (as much as I love a library) sort of detracts from the romance.

No sparks really fly between Addie and Blake until the very end of the novel, so there’s not a lot of the will-they-won’t-they drama that makes Pride and Prejudice so fantastic. This is mostly owing to the introduction of Blake’s fiancée, the Caroline Bingley-esque, Tara. Though she’s completely wrong for him, Blake is far too good of a guy to even consider ditching or cheating on Tara. (Darcy never would have gotten mixed up with her in the first place). For a while it looks like Blake is about to take a large Edward Ferrars-shaped bullet in the name of Love and Honor and Wedding China.

The author does have a really good ear for dialogue and the characters are always cracking jokes or having fun swooning over their favorite books. Just about every single person in the story is well-drawn and relatable and you’re truly rooting for it all to turn out right in the end. It was also nice to read a young adult novel featuring college-aged character, too (which is, surpsingly rare). It makes more sense, for this story at least, to have older characters contemplating life and love without worrying if they’re going to make it to fifth period geometry on time.

Overall, Turning Pages is a bit of fun for anyone who loves a sweet romance or a well-stocked library. Its ties to Austen’s original are slight — there’s some boy-and-girl-don’t-initially-get-along tension and a tiny Wickham-esque subplot – but the novel has enough other good traits to recommend it on its own.

4 out of 5 Stars

Turning Pages, by Tristi Pinkston
Walnut Springs Press (2012)
Trade paperback (240) pages
ISBN: 978-0983829362
 

© Lisa Galek, Austenprose