Review – Sense and Sensibility (Jane Austen)

Keywords: fiction, classic, romance, drama, Regency period, for older readers (Year 8+), old-fashioned language.

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Jane Austen

So. We’re finally here: the moment where I review something by Jane Austen. As one of the most famous and venerated authors of all time, it was inevitable that I talk about her. This is where things get a bit controversial, though. You see, despite all of the hype and acclaim, I’ve never really liked Jane Austen’s books.

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One of the prettiest book covers ever.

I know, I know, but let me explain! While I grew up adoring all the films – Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey etc. – I never really got into the actual books. It’s one of the rare occurences where I found the films better than the books (as blasphemous as that sounds). Austen’s writing style and tendency to focus on unnecessary details made it difficult for me to enjoy her work. On average, I’d spend 80% of the time sludging through descriptions of money and social activities that I just did not care about. Perhaps it’s because of how books have evolved since the 18th century. We’re just much more used to books that get to the point rather than waltz around a topic. While many people enjoy that lengthy writing style, I do not (unless it’s particularly gorgeous and interesting, like Tolstoy’s stuff).

Having said all of that, there are still some parts of Austen’s books that I enjoy. For example, I love it whenever she’s sarcastic (which is fairly often!). Also, the scenes where characters confess their love are second to none. Mr Darcy’s proclamations of love in Pride and Prejudice, for example, will always be one of my favourite moments in literary history. It makes me sigh just thinking about it!

Anyway, I’m getting off-topic. Let’s talk about Sense and Sensibility, the first book Jane Austen ever published.

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Elinor Dashwood played by Emma Thompson (you might know her as Nanny McPhee!)

The story is based on one of my favourite tropes: two main characters who are polar opposites. Sisters Elinor and Marianne are completely different in disposition. Where Elinor is completely sensible and in control of her emotions, Marianne is a hopeless romantic. They are on totally different sides on the spectrum of emotion management. Marianne’s tendency to fully give into her emotions and be as clear as possible with her opinions can seem a bit much, especially when compared to Elinor’s behaviour. However, we soon see that Elinor herself is pretty flawed too. She’s able to control herself, yes, but she never communicates about her emotions. Ever. When the sisters meet men they’re interested in – soft-spoken Edward for Elinor and rambunctious Willoughby for Marianne – their personality flaws come into full view. Basically, Sense and Sensibility is a classic tale of “two opposites learn from each-other and become better people by the end”.

The drama and plot twists add to the novel’s spiciness and were by far the most enjoyable parts to read. I also loved whenever Colonel Brandon was in a scene. Despite being rejected by Marianne, he still cares about her and strives to make her happy. He’s just such a sweet guy and I want to give him a huge hug. The fact that he’s played by Alan Rickman in the 1996 film probably influences my opinion too. 🙂

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Colonel Brandon played by Alan Rickman (you might know him as Snape from Harry Potter!)

As for the flaws, I’ve already detailed them at the beginning when I ranted about Jane Austen. There were many unnecessary descriptions and scenes that added little to the plot or to my own enjoyment. The writing style was a bit difficult to comprehend sometimes, but that’s because of how old-fashioned it is (I mean, it was written in the early 1800’s!).

Please know that I don’t hate this book. On the contrary, I recommend it! For one thing, it’s a good reading comprehension exercise. If you’re finding your reading to be too basic, try challenging yourself by reading this. It’ll certainly add muscle to your reading comprehension skills as well as your vocabulary! Also, I found it fascinating to see the differences between the book and the 1996 film adaptation (a movie I’ve seen approximately 50 times). The actress who plays Elinor, Emma Thompson, wrote the screenplay and she basically did what I would’ve done: she trimmed out the unnecessary details and focused on the main plot. Plus, she added one or two things that made the film so much more enjoyable. Definitely consider watching the 1996 film after reading the original book!

Clearly, this is a classic book. Because of its historic value, Dmitri heartily recommends it. The book is technically slice-of-life since it shows the daily lives of those in the 18th-19th century. So, Jenny also quite enjoyed Sense and Sensibility.

Review – Candyfloss (Jacqueline Wilson)

Play this narration while you read!

Keywords: fiction, light reading, slice of life, female protagonist, friendship, family, comedy, growing up, illustrations, stand-alone book, recommended by a friend.

Maple 🙂

This book was recommended to me by one of my closest friends: Maple! When I asked her for books that she loved as a child, Candyfloss was the first one she suggested. She said she loved it for its interesting story and cute illustrations. I agree! This might be a bit of a long review. (There are just so many things to talk about!)

The first thing you’ll probably notice about this book is the extremely pretty front cover. I mean, look at it! How often do you come across a book cover of this quality? In fact, it’s so pretty, it deserves to be in the centre of the page:

Now that we’ve basked in the glow of the front cover, let’s talk about the story itself!

Candyfloss tells the tale of Flora Barnes, a 12-year-old girl who likes to be called ‘Floss’. Her family is a bit all over the place; Floss’s mother has remarried to a flashy guy and has had a son with him (‘Tiger’). They live fairly comfortably. On the other hand, Floss’s father owns a struggling cafe with a specialty in chips and chip butties. (Chip butties are basically chip sandwiches!) Floss is able to spend every weekend with her father but has to live with her mother and her new husband for the rest of each week. Floss highly prefers to be with her father, as he gives her all the love and attention that her mother doesn’t seem to provide.

So, when Floss’s mother and new family move to Sydney, Australia for six months, Floss has to make a decision: should she move with her mother or stay with her father?

While all of this is happening, Floss also needs to deal with her so-called ‘best friend’ Rhiannon. I don’t want to spoil too much, but let’s just say that Rhiannon is, um, not a good friend. You’ll see what I mean.

Poor Floss! The entire book is such a rollercoaster for her. So many things change in her life that you cannot stop reading! Every chapter is engaging and filled with life. The dialogue and behaviour of every character is realistic. (That’s surprisingly uncommon in books!)

The illustrations for the first chapter!

One of the best things about this book is the illustrations. Before every chapter there’s a page of drawings. Each drawing represents something that will happen in the chapter. It’s fun to look through each illustration and try to guess what’s going to happen next!

The best best thing is the relatability. I have read many books meant for children and teenagers. One of the most annoying habits of these books is that sometimes, the characters don’t act realistically! They’re either too nice or too evil with no complexity. What I love love love about Floss is that everything she does makes sense. She doesn’t always like what’s happening around her, yet she acts as kindly as possible. She shows the most kindness to her father. She knows exactly how sad he is and how much he fears failure. Because of this, she pretends to like everything he does even if it doesn’t go quite so well. Here’s an example:

“Oh, there’s your swing. How…lovely.” Rhiannon said.

“I know it’s not lovely,” I whispered. “But Dad’s fixed it all up for me especially.”

“Sure. OK. I understand,” said Rhiannon. She raised her voice so that Dad could hear in the kitchen. “Oh, Floss, your swing looks great hanging on the apple tree.”

Do you see what I mean? It’s genuinely relatable!

Candyfloss!

One last thing: Candyfloss teaches you a lot of British words. Of course, they speak English in England, but they have some slang words that we don’t have in Australia. For example, I didn’t know what ‘Candyfloss’ meant until I read the book. Apparently, it’s the British word for fairy floss! I suppose ‘candyfloss’ makes a bit more sense, but I still prefer ‘fairy floss’ 🙂

Because of its easy-to-read writing style and relatability, Jun and Jenny recommend this book!