Some books are just meant to be especially for men or women, and here are two that really are best for us ladies. So brew a cup of tea, curl up, and escape.
None of us at the library had heard much about The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Café before it arrived, but on the top of the lovely cover, James Patterson wrote: “If you liked The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society,… you will devour The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Café.” We all immediately put holds on it, since all of the copies in front of us were on hold for patrons. The anticipation was delicious.
I wonder if Mr. Patterson has actually read either Guernsey or Irresistible Blueberry, since we cannot figure out the connection. Guernsey is an epistolary novel and Blueberry has a few letters in it, and they both have romances. That’s about it. However, this debut novel by Mary Simses is a very sweet read. Big-shot Manhattan lawyer travels to Maine to deliver a letter from her recently-deceased grandmother to her grandmother’s first love. While there, she walks out onto an old dock, falls through the rotted timbers, and is caught in a riptide. Just before she drifts out to sea forever, she is rescued by a hunky construction worker, and her feelings for him shake up her neatly planned life as the fiancée of an aspiring politician in New York. While visiting the tiny seaside town, she finds out fascinating details of a grandmother she only thought she knew. This book is exactly what you think it will be, and sometimes that’s just what the doctor ordered, isn’t it?
On the other hand, Longbourn, by Jo Baker, was not at all what I expected it to be. I’ve been reading Jane Austen devotedly for forty years now, and anyone who hears my hour-long rant about the ignorance of the producers and directors of the Keira Knightley version of Pride and Prejudice will know that I am a purist. However, Longbourn— a retelling of Pride and Prejudice from a servant’s point of view— received so many starred reviews that I was thrilled to get my hands on an advance reader’s copy. In the beginning, I was very glad to know that there was an author out there who was ready to answer today’s readers’ burning questions, such as, “How did those women wear thin, white dresses every day of the month?” As we went on, though, I began to think that Ms. Baker had read Pride and Prejudice, became furious that we were all so enamored of Jane Austen, and set out to write a rebuttal. As a story, Longbourn is wonderful. We see all of the events of P&P, with the added benefit of the downstairs soap opera, much like Downton Abbey. In a blaze of political correctness, however, Ms. Baker twists events and characters to showcase racism, slavery, classicism, homophobia, pedophilia, male domination, and the horrors of war. About two-thirds of the way through, we suddenly leave the quiet village life of England and land on the front lines of the Napoleonic Wars. Jarring.
Our current desire to shred the character of anyone we’ve admired from the past betrays a completely unwarranted smugness about our current state of societal virtue. Human beings and civilizations have never been perfect, and we have managed to turn a blind eye to shocking evils in every age. Slavery was not outlawed in England until 1833, sixteen years after Jane Austen died. The slave trade was abolished in 1807, and of the 11 million Africans who were transported on slave ships, 1.4 million died horrible deaths en route.* This is almost exactly the same number of our own children we slaughter by abortion every single year in the United States alone. We have not evolved.
As for the starred reviews, Longbourn is a beautifully written, engrossing story with more than one heartbreaking romance. Perhaps the professional reviewers applaud political correctness, as well. If you love Jane Austen, and are better than I am about glossing over anachronisms, you may truly enjoy it.
*Note: These dates were verified by the William Wilberforce article on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Wilberforce. For an excellent study of the abolition of the slave trade in England, see Eric Metaxas’ biography of Wilberforce, Amazing Grace.
Disclaimer: I read a library copy of The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Café and an advance reader copy of Longbourn. Opinions are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.