October 9, 2012

Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson

Okay. So there's a difference between retellings and readalikes, yes? Retellings (which I adore when done well) take the original story and carry it into hitherto unexplored places. Perhaps Mr. Rochester becomes a washed up rock star. Or Beauty becomes a drug dealer's neglected daughter. Robin Hood can actually be a very reluctant, very bad archer indeed. And Captain Wentworth can pilot ships through the sky rather than the sea. Anything is possible. As long as you understand and stay true in some sense to the spirit of the original tale, I am on board. Readalikes (which I avoid like the plague), on the other hand or in my experience or what have you, tend toward the fawning, toward the somewhat less mature forms of imitation. And as readalikes go, the Austen ones seem to be the most prevalent. To be honest, I've never read one. The notion always seemed a bit laughable to me. I've read Austen retellings I've loved, and even a few that rather subtly nod their head in her direction that I have thoroughly enjoyed. But I'd firmly stayed away from pastiches. Then everyone and their dog went and loved Edenbrooke, and when I asked for your best recommendations a little while back, this one popped up a number of times. I decided to put away my preconceived notions and jump right in.

Marianne Daventry is not fond of Bath. She's been relegated there by her father, who fled to the Continent upon the death of her mother and has yet to be seen since. The anniversary of her death and his departure has come and gone and Marianne is beginning to come to grips with the notion that he is not coming back. That she is, in fact, stuck in Bath with an inappropriate maid, an impossible suitor, and a grandmother who despairs of her. Then she receives word from her twin sister Cecily that she is to be invited to Edenbrooke--the estate of the man Cecily intends to marry. Or rather it is his parents' estate. But he is to be there. And therefore Marianne is to meet Cecily there and accompany her on her quest to land a wealthy husband. Cecily's ruthless pursuits aside, Marianne is monumentally relieved to be escaping Bath and returning to the countryside she loves. But calamity overtakes her on the journey to Edenbrooke. And when a mysterious stranger helps her along the way, Marianne has no way of knowing how quickly he will pop up in her life again. And in the most unexpected (and not necessarily welcome) of ways. Torn between wanting her life to return to the way it was and being tempted to explore the new possibilities in her path, Marianne must navigate her new life with care.

Sounds like a fun setup, right? And it is. The problem is that nothing surprising whatsoever happens in this book. No, more than that--no one character stands out, no turn of phrase delights, and no twist or development captured my attention in the slightest. Everything about Edenbrooke is perfectly competent. And everything about Edenbrooke falls desperately short of its inspiration. The dialogue mimics Austen to a fault, though in a decidedly less sophisticated and cheesy manner. I lost count of the number of times I winced at the banality of it all, and found myself silently begging the characters to do something less predictable. That is not to say that the writing is not clean. It is nothing if not smooth and clean and  . . . utterly unremarkable. The entire time I was reading it, I was put in mind of The Secret History of the Pink Carnation--another readalike (of the Scarlet Pimpernel variety) that fell massively short for me due to its terminal silliness and lack of complexity. I wanted to like them both so much. But, in the end, they both required more. More in the way of subtlety, more in the way of character nuance to work for me. This reaction may be a personal quirk when it comes to the classics or possibly some kind of hang up I have related to retellings vs. readalikes. I've certainly been known to enjoy a number of breezy, even silly reads. But when I do, I still have to connect with the writing and with the characters on a visceral level. I have to feel like they themselves are not contemptible or that there is something to figure out or guess at along the way, even if I can see the ending coming. That was not the case here. I'm sorry, guys. I'm afraid, for me at least, Edenbrooke was a case of charming veneers masking very little at all.

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Linkage
The Allure of Books - "Edenbrooke by Julianna Donaldson is totally a keeper, y’all."
Babbling About Books, and More - "Edenbrooke is a book that had me at hello."
The Bluestocking Society - "This is a great romantic book. It has a strong heroine. It has nuanced characters. It will give you the ending you crave."
Book Harbinger - "Edenbrooke is the perfect anytime read."
The Brazen Bookworm - "In true Austen fashion, everything is tied up nicely in the end and everyone gets who or what they deserve."
It's All About Books - "A perfect book for when you are in the mood for light and gentle."
Truth, Beauty, Freedom, & Books - "If I was between ten and twelve years old, I probably would have enjoyed Edenbrooke a lot more."

27 comments:

  1. Hm, I have heard many great reviews of this. It's nice to see a different perspective. I'll probably get to this eventually. And I love your pointing out the difference between retellings and readalikes. Interesting thoughts.

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    1. I always enjoy the lone reed review, so I hoped this one could be helpful. Despite how poorly it worked for me.

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  2. So, tell me what you really thought....he he he. I love you Angie. You write so beautifully that I even love reading reviews about books that you don't like. I think I will get around to reading this one anyway just to see what everyone is talking about. I had heard such great things about this one that I am sooooo glad I read your review first so that I can go in with much lower expectations. Maybe I will be surprised. Anyway, I just picked up My Brother Michael and This rough Magic from the library. Mary Stewart weekend, here I come!!!

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    1. I know, I know . . . the gloves came off a bit with this one. But wow did it bore me. And I just feel like if you're gonna do it then DO IT. Back it up with solid writing skills and a plot that exists. Ah, well.

      YAY for a Mary Stewart weekend! I can't wait to hear your thoughts.

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  3. OK, I spent some time puzzling over what a readalike is. So basically an original story in a similar voice to some classic author, like Austen? Wow, there are too many ways it may not work for a reader. I think mimicking style is so much harder to do than mimicking a plotline. I don't know if I would go for readalikes either.

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    1. It's a more pedestrian term for a pastiche essentially. I tend to use it when it's not elevated enough to merit the pastiche term. IMO. Lol.

      Yeah, the mimicking just kills me. You gotta have made skillz to be able to make it work. And this one . . . just no.

      That said, everyone else on the planet finds it utterly charming. So there's that.

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  4. I'm sorry you didn't enjoy it! I didn't think of it as a readalike at all - so without anything to compare it to, maybe I was left free to enjoy it more? hmm.

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    1. Yeah, could be. I mean, I've read several regencies and enjoyed them. For the most part. I just . . . I don't know. It was predictable, I guess.

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  5. Well, I didn't love it, I thought it was cheesy and silly. If you'd never read another Regency romance, though, you'd probably enjoy it.

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    1. It was both those things, yes. :)

      There may be something to having not read any other regencies, you're right. I have and this one just didn't measure up.

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  6. Anonymous10:08 PM

    Have you ever tried anything by Jude Morgan? Indiscretion and An Accomplished Woman are my favorite Austen-like pastiches.

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    1. I haven't. I'm happy to have the recs, though. Love the titles, too. :)

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  7. I'm sorry this didn't work for you Ang, but I understand your points. I noticed the ways it paled in comparison to Austen but somehow it still worked for me.

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    1. Yeah, I didn't care about any of them. Just too watered down across the board.

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  8. I really appreciate your explanation of retellings and readalikes. I've tried (really tried) some readalikes, and haven't been able to finish them.

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    1. *sigh* Yeah. Me no likey.

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  9. I still really want to read Edenbrooke, I guess mainly because of your last paragraph about The Secret History Of The Pink Carnation, because I liked that book, so I figure I won't mind this one.

    ALSO.

    What is the drug dealer daughter Beauty book I NEED TO KNOWWWWWWW.

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    1. You may still enjoy it. I think I was just definitely not in the mood for something this cursory.

      The book is BEASTLY by Alex Flinn. Lol.

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  10. Well, now I know that the little voice inside me telling me to pass wasn't wrong! I've not been able to do read-alike Austens either. Thanks for giving me a guilt-free pass on this one. :)

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    1. It was a wise little voice. I regret overriding mine and am happy to steer others clear of it.

      Thanks for letting me know it's not just me. The Austen readalikes are so prevalent and beloved and I just cannot get excited about them in the least.

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    2. Nope. Austen did them well. Everyone else should just enjoy hers, and move along to create something else. :) With that said, the well-done re-tellings (I'm glad you drew a nice distinction there) bring something fresh to a beloved story. I thought Diana Peterfreund found a great way to re-visit Austen without bng trite.

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    3. Yes, yes, yes. They remain distinct in my mind because I am so fond of retellings and so there must be a disconnect between the two, right? RIGHT?! Lol.

      Loved FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS so much. I'm really so tickled you did, too.

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  11. I'm rather inclined to agree with you. Retellings can make me shudder...

    Thanks for your clear insight into this book! Your review was stupendous! :) I'm starting to look forward to reading your blog very much.

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  12. Angie! What is this??? I have no words.... except... I loved this book! :)

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    1. I know! Awful, isn't it? Everyone else wanted to hug it and kiss it and love it forever. I, on the other hand, could not stop rolling my eyes. Alas.

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  13. Oh Angie. I'm so sorry that I recommended a book that you didn't love. I actually loved many of the things that you listed specifically as not working for you. I don't think it is anywhere near the echelon of Austen. But I thought it was a very well done Regency "proper" romance.

    But this difference of opinion is one of the things that I love about discussing books. It changes your world view to have someone you respect disagree with your opinions. It also makes you think harder about your own position. So I won't hold it against you. ;)

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