Sanditon Character Review: Sidney Parker

The schedule for the Character Review posts will be changing to Friday (or Saturday at the latest from now on).

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the book and the television show Sanditon. Read at your own risk if you have not watched the show. There is something to be said about a well-written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front of us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.

It is easy to judge a book by its cover. It is harder to get to know them and understand the circumstances that made them into who they are. In Sanditon, Sidney Parker (Theo James) does not make a great first impression. Like his predecessor, Fitzwilliam Darcy, he comes off as rude, arrogant, and a snob.

One of four children (three boys and a girl), Sidney is the dark sheep of the family. Tom (Kris Marshall) is the dreamer. Arthur (Turlough Convery) is the layabout. Diana (Alexandra Roach) is the worrier. He has been away for many years and would rather be anywhere else than be in the company of his family.

When he meets Charlotte Heywood (Rose Williams), it is hate at first sight. Sidney perceives Charlotte to be a naive country girl. Charlotte thinks that he is a little too full of himself.

Things start to change when there is an accident in the town and Charlotte steps in to help. He begins to see her intelligence and her willingness to step in when necessary. They go back and forth for a while. It gets rocky when Charlotte does not understand the pressure that Sidney is under to keep his ward, Georgiana Lambe (Crystal Clarke) safe from golddiggers.

When they finally get together, it is a moment that has been a long time coming. It seems that Charlotte and Sidney’s future is all settled. But before Sidney can properly pop the question, he has to settle some business issues for Tom (again).

When he returns, he has bad news. The only way to save the family is to marry his ex, Eliza Campion (Ruth Kearney). Eliza is a wealthy widow who abandoned Sidney for her late husband. Upon previously encountering Charlotte, she promptly switched into Mean Girls mode, mocking her for her “low” upbringing.

Unfortunately, the next time we hear of Sidney, he is dead, leaving everyone around him heartbroken.

To sum it up: Sidney’s arc is one of opening up and learning to love. Not just romantic love, but the love of family. It is that love that forces him to make the decision to ultimately marry for money.

Which is why he is a memorable character.

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Happy Birthday, Jane Austen

Anyone who knows me (or has read this blog regularly), knows that I am Janeite. In layman’s terms, I am a Jane Austen fangirl. Her books are a huge part of my world.

Today is Austen’s birthday. One of the many things I admire her for is her writing. She had the unique ability to blend satire, romance, and societal criticism in such a way that it takes multiple reads to recognize how perfectly these elements are intertwined.

The focus of yesterday’s episode of The Thing About Austen podcast (which I highly recommend) is Robert Ferrars, the younger brother of Edward Ferrars (Sense and Sensibility). I won’t give the conversation away (which is why I recommend that you listen to it). But what I will say is that her ability to give the reader just enough detail about the character without under or overexplaining is a skill that many writers are unable to accomplish.

Wherever you are Jane, thank you for everything. Our world would not be the same without you.

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Sanditon Character Review: Lady Denham

The schedule for the Character Review posts will be changing to Friday (or Saturday at the latest from now on).

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the book and the television show Sanditon. Read at your own risk if you have not watched the show. There is something to be said about a well-written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front of us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.

In a society in which rank and wealth rule, the belief by some in the upper classes is that their advantage also gives them the right to be a know it all. Whether or not others have this same perception depends on the individual. In Sanditon, Lady Denham (Anne Reid) is the town’s queen bee.

She is a woman of a certain age who has been widowed twice. As a result, her fortune is substantial. Lady Denham hangs her fortune over her neighbors and family like an anvil, threatening to take it away when she is displeased.

The largest investor in the town’s growth, she is not one to idly sit by and trust that her money is being put to good use. When Tom Parker‘s (Kris Marshall) plans are met with a few speed bumps, she is quick to threaten the withdrawal of her funds.

When it comes to marriage, she believes that it is a business arrangement and not based on love. She married both of her late husbands for their bank accounts. While one of her nieces, Esther Denham (Charlotte Spencer) marries Lord Babington for love (Mark Stanley) and becomes a wealthy woman in the process, her other relations are not so lucky.

Sir Edward Denham (Jack Fox) tries to court heiress Georgiana Lambe (Crystal Clarke) as per his aunt’s wishes, but it does not go well. When he and Clara Brereton (Lily Sacofsky) scheme to find a copy of her will while she is ill, they are found and disinherited. They also get pregnant and ultimately walk away from their son, giving him to Esther to raise.

In an interesting twist, Lady Denham seems to semi-understand that Charlotte Heywood (Rose Williams) has a different opinion when it comes to matrimony. Though she completely disagrees with Charlotte, she gets to the point at which she gives up. That, however, does make up for the racist questions directed at Georgiana.

To sum it up: Though Lady Denham is similar to other Austen villains who are wealthy and titled, she does show a streak of humanity every now and then. In doing so, she proves that she can be more than the dragon lady who lords over everyone.

Which is why she is a memorable character.

First Impressions: A Contemporary Retelling of Pride and Prejudice Book Review

One of the earliest examples of the hate-to-love narrative within the bounds of a romance novel is Jane Austen‘s 1813 book, Pride and Prejudice. The up-and-down courtship between Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy has thrilled readers for more than two centuries.

Debra White Smith‘s 2004 tale, First Impressions: A Contemporary Retelling of Pride and Prejudice is set in a small town in Texas. From the moment they meet, Eddi Boswick and Dave Davidson dislike each other. Eddi has just opened her own legal practice. Dave has also just moved in with his aunt, preferring that his neighbors know nothing about his past.

When they are cast as Lizzie and Darcy in a local dinner theater production of the book, sparks fly. As much as they hate each other, they cannot deny the mutual attraction. When push comes to shove, will they walk into the sunset together or will Eddi and Dave go their separate ways?

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The title alone, speaks to how much the author respects Austen. First Impressions was the original title before it was changed to Pride and Prejudice. White Smith perfectly balances the original text with the place and time that her story is set in. It is a challenge that many writers (myself included) have taken on and well, taken their best shot at.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

First Impressions: A Contemporary Retelling of Pride and Prejudice is available wherever books are sold.

Mr. Malcolm’s List Movie Review

Warning: minor spoilers.

Jane Austen, is if nothing else the Queen of the modern romantic comedy. Her tales of love, loss, growth, and sometimes forced humility has entertained fans for over 200 years.

The new movie, Mr. Malcolm’s List (based on the book of the same name by Suzanne Allain), was released in movie theaters last weekend.

Julia Thistlewaite (Zawe Ashton, replacing Gemma Chan) has been publicly spurned and wants revenge. After four seasons on the marriage market, she is still single. The man who spurned her is Mr. Jeremy Malcolm (Sope Dirisu). Mr. Malcolm is the most sought-after bachelor of the season and has the pick of the litter when it comes to his future wife.

To fend off the masses, he has created a list of qualities that a woman must have if she is to become Mrs. Malcolm. When Julia finds out about the list via her cousin, Lord Cassidy (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), she concocts a plan to get back at him. Enlisting her old school friend Selina Dalton (Freida Pinto), she and Lord Cassidy (known to his friend as Cassie) turn Selina into marriage bait. The final result is for Selina to reveal her own list and reject Mr. Malcolm.

But as things tend to go in this genre, the scheme is turned on its head. Jeremy and Selina genuinely fall for one another. Making this love story even more twisted is the addition of Captain Henry Ossory (Theo James). Captain Ossory seems also to be courting Selina, creating a very interesting love triangle.

Though it helps to know something about the regency era and/or Austen’s writing, it is not a requirement to enjoy the film. There is enough to keep the modern fan entertained and laughing.

Like its streaming counterpart, Bridgerton, the main actors all come from different backgrounds. What drew me in and kept me going was the organic romance between Pinto and Dirisu’s characters. These are two people who are perfect for one another, if only they can put down their individual baggage.

My only complaint is that the secondary relationship between Julia and Henry was a little underdeveloped. They are supposed to be the Jane Bennet and Mr. Bingley to Selina and Jeremy’s Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. The problem is that while Austen fully developed both couples, Allain (who wrote both the book and the screenplay) left Julia and Henry hanging.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Mr. Malcolm’s List is presently in theaters.

P.S. The costumes are gorgeous. Wearing any of them (specifically the ones worn by Pinto) would be a dream come true.

Fire Island Movie Review

One of my favorite things about a book like Pride and Prejudice is that the story can be taken out of the Regency era and still be relevant.

The new Hulu movie, Fire Island, is a modern LGBTQ-centric adaptation of the beloved Jane Austen novel. Noah (Joel Kim Booster, who also served as the screenwriter and executive producer) and Howie (Bowen Yang) are part of a group of five queer friends who spend a week every summer on Fire Island. They stay with Erin (Margaret Cho), who is their unofficial “mother”.

While on the island, Howie has an immediate connection with Charlie (James Scully), a handsome doctor. Noah, on the other hand, gets off on the wrong foot with Charlie’s lawyer friend Will (Conrad Ricamora). Over the course of the week, there is miscommunication, possible romance, and unspoken feelings that will force these men to speak their truths and find the courage to open their hearts to love.

I love this movie. It is funny, charming, entertaining, and adorable while being true to Austen’s original text. It proves that love is love and underneath it all, we are all human beings. These days, representation counts more than ever. This film is a lovely romance, a delight to watch, and the perfect thing to watch during pride month.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Fire Ireland is available for streaming on Hulu.

Hot and Bothered Podcast Review

The thing about a book like Pride and Prejudice is that with every reading, there is something new to discover.

The new season of the podcast Hot and Bothered is about Pride and Prejudice. Specifically, the romantic aspect of the narrative. Subtitled Live from Pemberley, hosts Vanessa Zoltan and Lauren Sandler dive into Jane Austen‘s most famous novel in bites of two chapters per episode. Reading from the text and interviewing experts whose work is related to the novel, they explore how the wider world of the time contributed to the book as a whole.

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A friend recommended this podcast and I am so glad she did. Both Zoltan and Sandler nerd out in a way that I would expect them to, but not so much that it alienates those who have not memorized every tiny detail of the story. I laughed, I learned, and best of all, I smiled.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

New episodes of Hot and Bothered are released every other Friday on various platforms.

Best Books of 2021

  1. The Four Winds: Kristen Hannah has done it again. Her Cinderella-esque tale of a woman who resecues herself from a live of drugery, poverty, and low self esteem is one to be read again and again.
  2. Jewish Pride: Rebuilding a People: Ben M. Freeman‘s treatise on Jews, and Jewish history is a must read for anyone who for once and for all wants to defeat antisemitism and all forms of hate.
  3. Girly Drinks: A World History of Women and Alcohol: Mallory O’Meara‘s non fiction book explores how inspite of a certain image, women have been creating and drinking all forms of alcohol for centuries.
  4. I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J Trumps Catastrophic Final Year: The subject of you know who will be on the lips of writers and political historians for years to come. Authors Carol Leonning and Philip Rucker examine how the former President believed that he did not need help in running the country.
  5. Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood: Writer and podcaster Mark Oppenheimer tells the story of how a single neighborhood was affected by the murders of eleven Jewish residents in 2018.
  6. Peril: Bob Woodward and Robert Costa take a deep dive into how close the American democracy got close to destruction.
  7. The Heiress: The Revelations of Anne de Bourgh: This JAFF by Molly Greeley gives the spotlight to Anne de Bourgh, a minor Pride and Prejudice character who has yet to be fully seen or appreciated.
  8. Three Ordinary Girls: The Remarkable of Three Dutch Teenagers Who Become Spies, Saboteurs, Nazi Assasins-and WWII Heroes: This fascinating and powerful tale of three young ladies who led an underground war against the Nazis during World War II.
  9. Why She Wrote: A Graphic History of the Lives, Inspiration, and Influence Behind the Pens of Classic Women Writers: Written by the Bonnet at Dawn podcast hosts, this book examines the life and works of the women writers we have loved and respected for generations.
  10. The Matzah Ball: A Novel: Jean Meltzer’s Chanukah themed rom-com about two people who are secretly in love, but cannot speak the words due to the current and past trauma.

Here’s to the books we loved in 2021 and the books we will love in 2022.

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The Matzah Ball: A Novel Book Review

The beauty of a romantic comedy is the nearly endless narrative possibilities. The reader/audience can only hope that the writer(s) chooses to color outside of the lines instead of sticking to the same story we have all seen far too often.

The Matzah Ball: A Novel, by Jean Meltzer, was published in September. Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt is living a double life. To her readers, she is the best-selling writer of Christmas romance novels. In real life, she is the daughter of a respected Rabbi and Doctor who has been living with a debilitating illness for years. When her publisher requests a tale based around Chanukah, Rachel is at a loss.

Enter Jacob Greenberg, her preteen camp crush/nemesis. Returning to New York after his mother’s death, he has a successful career as a party planner. His sole intent is to host the Matzah Ball, a party celebrating Jewish music on the last night of the holiday. He has every intention of returning to Paris the night after the event. What he does not know is that Rachel will come back into his life, needing a way into the festivities.

Their initial meet-cute after nearly twenty years of separation does not go well. But as they spend more time with each other, the hurt and questions from their mutual summer together may turn into something else completely.

I loved this book. It has a perfect Pride and Prejudice undertone with layers of complexity, characters who are thoroughly human, and a holiday chronicle that is utterly charming, My only problem is that I found the character of Mickey, despite his background, to be a little too cookie-cutter. The role of the GBF (gay best friend), is usually nothing more than a stereotype and a sounding board for the female lead. It would have been nice if the author had stepped out of the box a little and not relied on the 2D trope that has been done too many times.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Throwback Thursday: Pride and Prejudice (1940)

The reputation of an on-screen adaptation of a beloved novel is based on the response from the fanbase. It can also be a generational thing. While the original audience may adore that version, future generations may have another opinion.

The first time Pride and Prejudice hit the big screen was in 1940. With a screenplay co-written by Aldous Huxley (Brave New World), Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier played the roles of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. As in the book, misunderstandings turn into appreciation, which then turns into love.

Anyone who follows this blog (or knows me), knows that I have nothing but adoration and admiration for Jane Austen. Her most famous novel, Pride and Prejudice, is literary perfection. That being said, I cannot stomach this movie. The problem is twofold. The first is that I am missing Austen’s famous sardonic wit and sarcastic observations that elevate her stories beyond the standard romantic comedy or drama. The second is that the costumes are closer to the Victorian era than the Regency era.

I get that it was made during World War II and movie-goers at the time needed a pick me up. But I wish that the creative team had not taken as many liberties as they did.

Do I recommend it? Not really.

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