Monday Musings | Are You #TeamAusten or #TeamBronte?

Bronte Penguin Classics Oxford Classics

Over the past few years, I’ve spoken to a lot of book lovers and whenever the subject of Jane Austen and any of the Brontes come up, there’s almost always a debate between Team Austen and Team Bronte. (For the record, I’m Team Bronte, as you might have guessed from the photo above.)
I find this so fascinating because, more often than not, people do have a strong preference between the two. Now, I’m not saying that Bronte fans actively dislike Austen and vice versa, but I do find a divide between the two camps and I wonder why that is. (Even when thinking about it myself, I am clearly identify that I really like the Brontes and always felt like Austen was hard to get through, with the exception of Northanger Abbey.)
It’s been a while since I’ve read an Austen novel so I can’t pinpoint the differences between authors — I can’t even explain how it is that I’ve loved every single Bronte novel that I’ve read, no matter which sibling wrote it– so I’m hoping you can help me out here!
Do you have a clear preference between Austen and the Brontes? Why do you think there’s such a divide?

Book Review | Worlds of Ink and Shadow by Lena Coakley

Young adult fiction, Bronte family

Warning: This post contains a lot of fangirling.

Once in a while a book will come along and check off all of your readerly boxes and if you’re lucky, you’ll get to read an advanced copy of it. Lena Coakley’s Worlds of Ink and Shadow was such a book for me. Like, (please excuse the casual tone – I love this book too much to be formal about it) I feel like this book was tailor-made for me: it’s a little magical, it’s about sibling relationships, and it’s about the Brontës.

If you’re a fan of Victorian literature, you might know that the Brontë siblings had a pretty tough life. They were not rich and thus were sent to an inexpensive school where the two eldest siblings (Maria and Elizabeth) fell ill with tuberculosis, passing away weeks after returning home. The death of their siblings was, unsurprisingly, difficult for Charlotte, Patrick Branwell, Emily, and Anne. I can’t confirm whether this is true or not, but it’s said that the remaining Brontë siblings would write to escape their dark reality, creating their own worlds such as Verdopolis, Glasstown, Angria, and Gondal. Some of the stories written in those worlds have been published (See: Tales of Angria).

The Brontës’ lives have always fascinated me but I never got around to reading any in-depth biographies. That’s why I appreciated Worlds of Ink and Shadows so much. It’s still considered fiction (especially when you get to the more magical parts), but Coakley draws inspiration from real events experienced by the family, making it almost like an intro course to the Brontës. Of course, readers should take the biographical details in the novel with a grain of salt, but I found that the book did teach me things about the family that I didn’t know before.

Aside from the biographical details of the Brontës, Worlds of Ink and Shadow is really just a well-written, well-plotted book, so even if you’re not specifically interested in the Brontë family, I think you’ll still enjoy the story. In the book, readers learn that Charlotte and Branwell have tried to resist the lure of writing but have failed, and it is only until later that you start to suspect that there may be a reason for it. Coakley expertly blends the in-universe reality with the stories the characters write, making the readers question what is real and what is not. This is a story about the price of art, but it’s also a story of family, and how far we would go to save one another.

If what I’ve said so far appeals to you, then you should definitely read Worlds of Ink and Shadow. (I really, seriously, cannot love this book enough.)

Verdict: A book that I can’t stop raving about. It gripped me from start to finish, and even had me excitedly explaining the biographical details of the Brontës to my friends. It was a fun read and reignited my interest in learning more about the Brontë family. LOVE.

Read if: You’re a fan of literary biographies with a fictional twist, you are a Brontë fan like me, you want to lose yourself in an imaginative story with well-developed characters that you’ll grow to love.

Are you a fan of the Brontës? Do you have a favourite Brontë novel?

Wishlist Wednesday | Reader, I Married Him Edited by Tracy Chevalier

Jane Eyre Inspired Short Stories One More Page Blog

Happy Wednesday, friends! In an effort to give some structure to my blogging schedule, I’ve decided to bring back my weekly Wishlist Wednesday posts for the time being. They’re always so fun to write, and I am never out of ideas for it. 😉 If you’re unfamiliar with it, I basically pick a title (frontlist or backlist) that I haven’t read but am dying to read. If you’re a bookworm with a massive TBR, you’ll understand just how large my selection is when deciding which books to feature. That being said, here’s one book that will be at the top of my reading pile when it comes out.

Ever since I found out about Reader, I Married Him I’ve been so anxious/excited to read it. According to its description, it’s a collection of short stories, edited by Tracy Chevalier, that all start with one iconic line: “Reader, I married him” (from the classic Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë). As an English lit nerd (more on that in Friday’s post!), I absolutely love the idea of this and I can’t wait to see where the selected authors take their stories. I’m willing to bet that each story will be wildly different despite the common sentence. I seriously can’t wait for it! Here are some of the writers that are involved in this project: Emma Donoghue (Room), Evie Wyld (All The Birds, Singing), Patricia Park  (Re Jane), Audrey Niffenegger (The Time Traveler’s Wife), etc.

It comes out on March 22nd this year, and you bet I’ll be reading it soon after.

What are you guys looking forward to reading soon?

Book Review | Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar

Vanessa and Her Sister Priya Parmar Book Review Cover

[I received a copy of Vanessa and Her Sister by its Canadian publisher Random House Canada. This does not affect my opinions on the book.]

If I’m being honest, I have to admit that I knew next to nothing about Vanessa Stephens (or, Virginia Woolf’s older sister) before reading Priya Parmar’s wonderful novel Vanessa and Her Sister. In fact, I hardly knew anything about Virginia Woolf (née Stephens) either, other than the fact that she is a well-regarded writer, famous for works such as Mrs. Dalloway and A Room of One’s Own. Because of this, I was extremely excited to pick up this book and learn more in a fun, non-academic way.

Vanessa and Her Sister covers the life of the Bloomsbury Group — an intellectual group that came together in the Stephens’ house in Bloomsbury — from 1905 to 1912. As the book’s title suggests, the story is mostly focused on Vanessa’s point of view, though it does do a great job of narrating the other group members’ stories as well in the form of letters and Vanessa’s second-hand accounts via her diary. These letters and diaries are tied together by a third-person narration, which gives Parmar space to check in with certain characters while keeping Vanessa at the forefront.

When the novel begins, the Stephens family has just moved into their new house in Bloomsbury. The Bloomsbury group has just been formed, and the Stephens sisters are still unmarried. A portion of the novel focuses on various courtships, where other parts explore the relationship between the members of the Stephens family and their friends.

As someone who doesn’t know a lot about this particular set of people, (I read Mrs. Dalloway in university but that’s about it), it was interesting to find out that I recognized some of the names that made up the Bloomsbury group, like John Maynard Keynes and E. Morgan Forster. It was also eye-opening for me to see Virginia Woolf cast in a sort of temperamental, showy light, as I had never imagined her to be that way. Even more intriguing was the relationship between Vanessa and Virginia; it was riddled with intense love, but also jealousy and competition. I really admire Parmar’s understanding of each character; she must have done a lot of research as everyone seemed completely believable to me. Soon after I began the book, I could picture Vanessa Stephens clearly in my head and anticipate her reactions to certain events. I also grew attached to the characters extremely quickly, and admired their quirks and personalities as they were presented to me.

That being said, I was reminded by a friend that this is, ultimately, a fictionalized story that is rooted in truths. So, while I thoroughly enjoyed the book, I still have to remind myself that parts may not be one hundred percent true (though, this is obviously expected in a work of fiction). For me, my need to remind myself to take everything in the book with a grain of salt was less of a detractor from the book than it is a nod to its ability to make me believe in the writing. Vanessa and Her Sister was an extremely fun read, and it has definitely pushed me to want to learn more about these famous intellectuals.

Verdict: A fabulous introduction to the Bloomsbury group, and of Vanessa Stephens and Virginia Woolf in particular. You don’t need to have previous knowledge of the characters to be able to enjoy the book – the drama and plot really pushes the book forward – but having an interest in the group doesn’t hurt. The book is well-paced and captivating, and I was sad it had to come to an end. Bonus: It made me want to learn more about the Stephens sisters, which speaks to its effectiveness in drawing me in and painting a realistic picture that was both intriguing and gratifying.

Read if: You are in any way interested in Vanessa Stephens, Virginia Woolf, or the Bloomsbury group; simply want to read about two sisters and their group of intellectual friends; want a touch of romance and family matters mixed into your reading.

Monday Musings | Classic Literature

Literature Classics Penguin Classics Oxford Classics One More Page

As someone who studied literature a lot in school I’ve come across my fair share of classics, from Shakespeare to the Brontes to Kafka. And while I have had varying degrees of enjoyment (one day I will try to read Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend again…), the “Classics” categorization has always intrigued me. Over the years, these are the works that have been selected to represent “good” literature; they’ve stood the test of time and now are widely studied and, in most cases, admired. But how was this decided? Who decides what’s considered a classic?

I feel like I always pose impossible-to-answer questions in my Monday Musings posts but I’m always so fascinated by the responses that I just had to ask this one and see what you guys think! I think there are many reasons why a work can be considered classic – perhaps it’s an artifact of a past time, where ladies amused dinner guests around the pianoforte and parents discussed dowries and matchmaking; maybe it’s because its themes are still relatable and relevant in the present day; or, it could be that the stories are so ingrained in our culture that it’s been passed along from generation to generation, making it a “classic.” What do you think?

In the same train of thought, I always wonder which modern day books will be regarded as classics in 50 years or even 100 years. Will the prize winners become the classics that are studied in high schools and universities? Or are we not giving enough attention to a forward-thinking book that will later be revered?

What do you think? Why are some books considered classics and others not? Which books do you think will be considered classic in 100 years?