Monday, January 22, 2018

[Book Review] By The Book by Julia Sonneborn





My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Paperback Edition, 384 pages
Genre: Contemporary Romance, Women's Fiction, Persuasion Retelling

Disclaimer: As a member of NetGalley, I received this galley in exchange for an honest review.


Part 1: From The Book Cover

An English professor struggling for tenure discovers that her ex-fiancĂ© has just become the president of her college—and her new boss—in this whip-smart modern retelling of Jane Austen’s classic Persuasion.

Anne Corey is about to get schooled.

An English professor in California, she’s determined to score a position on the coveted tenure track at her college. All she’s got to do is get a book deal, snag a promotion, and boom! She’s in. But then Adam Martinez—her first love and ex-fiancĂ©—shows up as the college’s new president.

Anne should be able to keep herself distracted. After all, she’s got a book to write, an aging father to take care of, and a new romance developing with the college’s insanely hot writer-in-residence. But no matter where she turns, there’s Adam, as smart and sexy as ever. As the school year advances and her long-buried feelings begin to resurface, Anne begins to wonder whether she just might get a second chance at love.

Funny, smart, and full of heart, this modern ode to Jane Austen’s classic explores what happens when we run into the demons of our past...and when they turn out not to be so bad, after all. 


Part 2: Recommendation

By The Book is the first fiction novel from Julia Sonneborn, a contemporary retelling of Jane Austen's Persuasion. Because I read Persuasion last October 2017, the plot line is still fresh in my mind so when I downloaded this galley, I was kind of expecting to see all the plot lines covered. If memory serves me right, By The Book did not cover all the plot lines. Instead, it has the main elements of Persuasion: a broken engagement, the reunion of the two main characters 10 or so years later and the emotional struggle of the two main characters revealed, towards the end. There's also the part where both the readers and a few of the characters are playing at guess who Adam's going to end up with between Tiffany and Bex. Overall, the main plot lines were satisfied to easily match and identify with Persuasion. I mean, for a contemporary retelling with a limited word count, it was good enough, otherwise it wouldn't be 384 print pages. 

As for the characters, Jerry Corey and Lauren Corey Winston perfectly matched Sir Walter and Elizabeth Elliot except that I feel Jerry and Lauren are very slightly more likable than their Persuasion counterparts. I truly detest Sir Walter & Elizabeth and I'm still wishing them both ill luck. Unfortunately, Dr. Russell was not as strong of a character (for me) as Lady Russell was. Don't get me wrong, the dialogue in that flashback scene between Anne and Dr. Russell was awesome and quite pivotal and showed the reader exactly who Dr. Russell is but let's face it, she's not as warm and caring like Lady Russell is to Anne Elliot. Then we have Tiffany and Bex who are very similar to Henrietta and Luisa Musgrove in the sense that they both were portrayed as Adam's current love interest but mostly for Bex, I get the feeling that it was forced to look that way for the sake of having a Henrietta counterpart. Rick Chasen, is definitely charming and likable but you get the feeling that he's not what he seems just like how you'd feel about William Elliot. And when all is revealed, you just want to see him in all manner of suffering. Very well done on this one. As for Larry, I'm not quite sure who his Persuasion counterpart is other than to play the part of Capt. Harville in that one scene where Anne [Corey and Elliot] talk about how women "kept loving someone, even when you know there's no hope" since Anne Corey can't very well just talk to herself about this in order for Adam to overhear her and write her that note. 

Now, for the two main characters, let's start with Adam Martinez. He definitely is Capt. Frederick Wentworth with a little more heart compared to Wentworth. Wentworth was very aloof, guarded and properly civil, almost cold. But Adam is shown to be more caring in the way he built his home library with Anne in mind, how he was there for Anne at the ER and during the funeral service and that New Year's Eve scene. Sure, he was sometimes portrayed as a bit guarded and civil especially when Rick was around but that could also easily be because Adam doesn't trust Rick because they've known each other back at Houston which is the exact opposite of Wentworth and William Elliot's lack of previous acquaintance, which is fine I suppose since we don't really have a Mrs. Smith counterpart. As for Anne Corey, she does seem a bit more introverted than Anne Elliot and far less loved. I mean, Anne Elliot has a lot of friends and is loved by Mary and Charles, the Musgrove sisters, the Crofts, the Harvilles and Lady Russell whereas Anne Corey only has Larry on her side (I'm not counting Dr. Russell as she was really cold and harsh in the flashback scene and Emily, Anne's star student, was just there to validate Rick's infidelity and dastardliness). Compared to Anne Elliot, Anne Corey is more worried about getting a book proposal, getting tenured, and book revision deadlines than caring for people. Sure, she was supportive of Larry while he was having a breakdown over Jack and she thought Bex would be a great professor but that was about it. The author did try to show Anne Corey as having that compassionate and understanding spirit that Anne Elliot has in the final scene with Emily but somehow it didn't come out as strong as I would've liked it to be. And that scene with Anne and Lauren when Jerry died and throughout the whole funeral and thank you card scenes, it felt like it had to be there for closure and continuity of the story. It didn't make Lauren any more likable or Anne more complex. I truly wish there's something more to Anne Corey.


In conclusion, By The Book by Julia Sonneborn is a short, fun read for a contemporary Persuasion retelling as long as you are reading for pleasure without thinking of parallels too much. But if you love Persuasion, and if you can look past the differences in characterization and some of the plot lines, you might enjoy this book, otherwise you've been warned.