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What We've Been Reading

Jenny Milchman - Cover Of Snow

Small towns have secrets. That’s no surprise to anyone who’s ever lived in one, but the depth of those secrets is what Nora Hamilton has to explore in Jenny Milchman’s debut, Cover of Snow (no signed copies that we’re aware of, but if that changes, obviously we’ll let you know).

Nora’s husband, Brendan, is a police officer in their small town of Wedeskyull, NY. And one snowy January morning, Nora wakes up to an awful silence; her husband has hanged himself. She is beyond stunned, and as she tries to make sense of what has happened, Nora discovers that things in Wedeskyull are not as peaceful as she has always believed, and that the secrets the town hides go back farther than she could have ever imagined.

Cover of Snow might very well have slid beneath my radar except that Jenny and her husband stopped by to discuss it this past summer (the personal touch matters!), and had I missed it, that would have been a shame. This is an excellent book! Milchman captures the biting winter cold, the sense of isolation that Nora feels as an outsider and her growing fear as she realizes she doesn’t know who she can trust. Having lived in a small town, I understood the fine line that residents can walk beween feeling wrapped in the comfort of knowing everyone and how quickly that comfort can turn into a feeing of being trapped.

While the first chapter seemed a bit choppy to me, the story was so compelling that I couldn’t stop reading it, and Jenny Milchman’s style smoothed out and took off. She has created memorable and astonishing characters, and I feel like I really know these people. Her ability to use the weather and the town almost as characters on their own is excellent.

I love finding debut authors, and Jenny Milchman is one to take note of!

Val McDermid - Northanger Abbey

Cat Morland is ready for an adventure. She’s read so many novels about heroes and heroines performing daring feats and surviving great hardships, Cat’s worried she will never have her chance to face the same sort of challenges. But a lucky star shines on her, to her delight the Allens invite her to accompany them to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Cat is beside herself with excitement: books, theater and fun, who could ask for more?

It is here that she meets Bella Thorpe and Henry Tilney and where her adventures begin.

I must confess, Northanger Abbey was one of the few Jane Austen novels I hadn’t managed to read previously. However when Fran mentioned she’d received an advanced reader of a new novel by Val McDermid based on this classic it gave me the final push, more like gentle nudge, to read it so I read them back to back. I have to say McDermid did a fantastic job in updating this classic. I have not read any of the Jane Austen pastiches which holds a candle to McDermid‘s version.

One key to this book’s success is McDermid, while updating the language style of the original kept many of the words and turns of phrase from the original. This helped to create a solid foundation for the book and created an authentic feel in the new version. McDermid also kept the short chapter structure of the original as well, which helps amplify the tension in both versions.

Another great thing was that she took very few liberties with the original text -- there are no zombies, ghosts or Cat wearing hot pants and worshiping the Kardashians. Thank goodness! There is only one major departure to speak of from the Austen original, which is instead of going to Bath Cat goes to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which revolves around the arts and completely works for the story. Plus the fact that McDermid is Scottish and is describing (what I am assuming) a city she’s been to many times, helps to lend extra authenticity to her descriptions of the city.

A very minor detail which I will pick at is the novels McDermid used in her version. There are the eight novels mentioned in Austen’s version, where Catherine pulls her romantic notions from; The Mystery of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe is by far the most well known. The other seven (often called the Northanger Horrid Novels) became so obscure that experts thought them to be fictional, until they were rediscovered and reprinted in the 1960‘s. However in the new version of Northanger Abbey only one of novels used is a real book (I looked and couldn’t find the novels McDermid referenced). While I understand why this might have been done, to keep the book from becoming dated or legal issues. I think there is some really great YA fiction out there that using real titles would not have been amiss. But all in all, this such a small detail of the story it really doesn’t effect the quality in the least. I just love YA fiction, as you well know, and would have loved to see the choices McDermid would have made to round out Cat‘s reading list.

The reworked Northanger Abbey is part of The Austen Project which takes modern bestselling authors and asks them to rework one of Austen’s classic novels. Last year Joanna Trollope penned her version of Sense and Sensibility (which I must go out and read now…) and Curtis Sittenfeld is reworking Pride and Prejudice which will be out this fall; leaving Emma and Persuasion (couldn’t find info on their authors) for publication, I am assuming, next year. I will be interested in taking a crack at these other titles and see how their authors confront their versions.

I cannot stress how lovely I think Val McDermid’s version of this classic is! I would recommend this book to anyone who has an open mind about reading pastiches. Or to any teen who is looking to cut her teeth into a classic but is a bit to intimidated to try the original text. This book is a great stepping stone to allow a shy reader to gain confidence before taking the next step and reading the book Austen penned herself.

I cannot wait to review Alexander McCall Smith's version of Emma out on April 7th!