Wednesday, February 01, 2012

First Wednesdays Book Review: Austentatious by Alyssa Goodnight

Austentatious, by Alyssa Goodnight

As much as some of us might contend that genre is an arbitrary slot to fit books into--and that all books are basically a story--that's not really true IMHO. If the main thrust of a story is a crime or criminals, we might correctly call it crime fiction even if the writer is Tolstoy. If the main circumstances are set in a hard-scrabble town beset by troubles with cattle rustlers in 1870, we might call it a Western.

If the conflict is between two planets hurling toward each other in outer space, that would certainly be science fiction to me. And if the protagonist is mostly looking for a companion, that is romance in my book.

Now the argument that there is no genre might work better for me if people read outside their preferred setting more often. And some readers do. But a heck of a lot of people only read what is classified as literary fiction-and I find it very hard to persuade them that they might like Started Early, Took My Dog, for instance. Likewise it is hard to convince me to try fantasy, science fiction, or in the case today, chick lit or romance. Although I can be persuaded to watch a movie like FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS, I probably would never read the book.

Looking over the books I have read in the last fifteen years or so, I see only one book that might be classified as a romance and that is THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. It was one of those arm-twisting cases too.

I have also read no science fiction or fantasy over these years. Am I missing something? Of course.

I just finished AUSTENTATIOUS by Alyssa Goodlight for Barrie Summy's monthly review group. It was clever, well-written, enjoyable, and light-hearted. I liked the use of Austen and Austin, TX in it. I like that music figured into it. It felt real, populated with real people despite its magical elements. Let me tell you a bit about it.

The Austin setting was perfect for the story. Nic James, a newly minted engineer, is browsing in a shop in weird South Austin (been there and this brought that street back to me) and comes across a vintage journal. The journal is tucked between a set of Austen novels so it seems fortuitous to our Austen lover. (I never met an engineer who liked Austen but I suppose there are some). She takes the journal home and once she enters her first thoughts into the journal, those words are magically changed to push her in the direction any good Austen heroine will take--look for romance.

Fairy Jane as Nic calls her steers Nic right onto the path of a perfect romantic figure, Sean, a musician from Scotland. Austin and music are certainly a perfect fit. I pictured Hugh Grant in his younger days. The path of this romance changes Nic in the ways Elizabeth Bennet was changed by her love for Mr. Darcy. And that's a good thing for them both. The corset comes off or is at least loosened.

Alyssa Goodnight says that Jane took over the book at some point and isn't that how the best stories get told. I think anyone who likes a well-written romance will enjoy this book and maybe a few of the rest of you too.

Disclosure: this book was sent to me by the publisher in the hope I would like it enough to review it.

For more looks at books, visit Barrie Summy right here.


Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - Thanks for this review. You make such a very good point that reading different genres gives one a very good perspective on fiction. If you think about it, those labels can put someone off from reading, even reading an excellent book.

Sarah Laurence said...

Patti, this must be my favorite review you've written, and it's not just because Alyssa is one of our reviewers, and I was very curious about her book. I really appreciated your discussion on reading outside your comfort zone in genre. The premise of this book might have put me off, as I'm more into realistic fiction, believe that fairies are for kids and have read too many novels inspired by Jane Austen as of late, but your review makes me question those assumptions/prejudices of mine. It sounds like Alyssa has written a witty and fun story with original characters. I started out in the sciences before switching to the humanities, so yes, an engineer could appreciate Jane Austen, and maybe I could connect with this novel too. I'm downloading a sample chapter to my Kindle now. Congratulations, Alyssa!

Scott Parker said...

Okay, you had me at "Austin, TX". That you continued to talk about the vibe of the book and how real Austin seemed, I'm there. Like you, I would not have tried this book based on its genre label--literally, the only romance book I've read is the first J. D. Robb book--but it's definitely on my list now.

Anonymous said...

Nice piece and I agree with you. Back in the early 1970's I read a bunch of science fiction along with the mysteries and in recent years I've tried to make sure to fit some in. In some years I think I was reading up to 90% mysteries so have made a concerted effort in recent years to expand that, with sf, fantasy, horror, westerns, young adult (which can be in any of those genres) and "straight" fiction. And of course there are the short stories.

That said, I do not read chick lit or, for the most part, cozies. If it's about quilting or a cupcake shop or a knitting group it is not for me. My loss, perhaps, but you can't read everything.

I've gone through various mystery sub-genres over the years. At one point I was only reading first person private eye fiction (this after the Golden Age stuff), then I discovered Reginald Hill and Peter Robinson and Ian Rankin andstarted reading only British stuff again.

Jeff M.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I've read 38 stories in January (I might have missed a few before I started writing them down), including books by Robert Bloch (mystery, horror, etc.) and Lord Dunsany (more fantasy than anything else), plus the beginning of Arthur Conan Doyle's ROUND THE FIRE STORIES "suspense and adventure...the mysterious and the fantastic"). The rest were from EQMM.

Last January I read 10 books; this year, 13.

Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I really like the challenge of reading a story a day. It has made me dig out some anthologies I haven't open in years already.

Stacy said...

I'm really eager to read Alyssa's book.

Genre classifications can be helpful, yet at the same time encourages stereotypes that keep us from reading awesome books. Some of my favorite books are ones that I would have never picked up if I had not received them as a gift or been assigned them in book club.

Anonymous said...

My problem with that is, believe it or not, that I've pretty much read every short story collection I have in the house. I had to save a few to bring with me. I do have about six months worth of EQMMs and AHMMs which I get for a friend in England and look through before I send them.

Jeff M.

Todd Mason said...

What Stacy said about genre. And, of course, that nothing in the arts escapes genre, and yet nothing is defined (certainly not fully defined) by genre except, well, the most generic work. Joe Lansdale and Cormac McCarthy both write westerns, crime fiction, and science fiction. Do you see either of them as hewing to traditional expectations or worrying about keeping within "genre" "rules"? And that just to cite two of the most obvious current examples.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Jeff-there are so many short stories online nowadays. You can get many classics that way.
Todd-absolutely right.

Alyssa Goodnight said...

Thank you so much for your review, Patti! I'm so glad you enjoyed AUSTENTATIOUS even though it is not your typical read. :)

I totally agree about slotting yourself into a genre. That's one reason I love being a part of this Book Review Club--I'm exposed to so many books I probably wouldn't otherwise pick up.

Beth Yarnall said...

I've been making a conscious effort to read genres I normally wouldn't and have come across some gems (see my reviews this month). There are some really terrific writers out there that I never would have been exposed to if I hadn't made this challenge for myself. Thanks for the review.

Ellen Booraem said...

My partner and I have a strict "books only" rule at Christmas, and I love it when he gives me something I wouldn't normally read. Great comments on the pros and cons of genre, Patti. And Alyssa's book sounds like a lot of fun!

Lucy said...

I've been looking forward to this book coming out so I'm glad to read your review. :)