ARC · Contemporary Literature · Retellings

By the Book

I am pretty much always down for a retelling, and particularly a retelling of classic lit by one of my fav women: Jane Austen. She and the Brontës are pretty much my “lady writers of history” goals. I realize that’s a very specific category. I have lots of lady goals. Regardless, this book is right up my alley and I jumped at the chance to receive a ARC. Also, this is the time of year (the deep cold of winter…ugh) that I am always looking for a little bit of a feel-good read, something that makes you feel warm and fuzzy and isn’t overly intense. So for many reasons, this was the right book at the right time.

By the Book by Julia Sonneborn

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“‘It’s like something out of a dream.’
‘No,’ I said, smiling into his eyes. ‘It’s like something out of a book.’”

To be perfectly honest, Persuasion is one of Austen’s books that I know the least about. Just…I haven’t read it as often as some of her others and I haven’t seen the most recent movie adaptation, so the story wasn’t really fresh in my mind. However, I know the gist of the story, and that was definitely enough. By the Book has all the same basic traits as the original, a second chance love story and secondary (current day) suitor who threatens to keep our main couple apart (despite the reader knowing that they should still be together!). This retelling also had some really fun additional characters and story lines, like the unlucky in love gay best friend and a fun pop culture vampire Jane Eyre retelling/movie (but seriously, can that be real, please??). Also, the whole thing took place at a university and our main character, Anne, is an English professor writing a novel about love interests for famous classic women writers. Honestly, it felt like she was living my best life: books and libraries every day!

There was definitely lots to love about this novel. It does a great job taking pieces of the original and spinning them into something similar, but unique. And the modern-day updates to the story are handled nicely. The “string the reader along” pacing of the story was on point. So many times you’d think it would be about happen for our “meant to be” lovers, but then something would come up and we’d be disappointed once again! But it was all written smoothly enough that you couldn’t entirely lose hope. And it really built up the tension and expectation, so that what we finally get our denouement it’s perfectly fulfilling. Some of the little details, like the mirroring of the proposals, are super sweet and just made me smile so much. I do wish we had seen a little more of Adam (the second chance guy), but that’s not in the cards for this story line. I get that. And of course, we do get more of his perspective than we ever usually get in the originals, so I shouldn’t complain. I’m just greedy for more adorable love story sappy right now.

The one criticism that I have is that, and I find that this is often an issue with retellings, there is a little too much reliance on the reader knowing the original story. I can’t put my finger on what any of it is exactly, but for some reason, there are a few moments where explanations seem rushed or details fall through, but it’s kind of just assumed that since the storyline is, in essence, already known, that takes care of these little breakdowns. Maybe that’s not a retelling issue and instead it’s just a “not quite polished and any book can have those problems” issue, but I think it’s particularly common in retellings. Also, and this is a small thing, I think Anne’s intermediary love interest was, perhaps, a little too much…in all senses of the word. He was just written to an extreme from all angles, both the good and the bad, that made it slightly over the top.

All in all, this is definitely the light-hearted, happy ending, classic lit nostalgia that I was looking for. An uplifting and cozy end of the year winter read. Very satisfying.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher, Gallery Books, for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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9 thoughts on “By the Book

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