The Mermaid and the Unicorn

Title: The Mermaid and the Unicorn

Author: Elizabeth Amy Hajek

Nutshell: Daphne is an American in Paris! Specifically a timid, sheltered, American collegiate on a study abroad semester in Paris. Overwhelmed her first night, she takes a walk in the evening and meets a sophisticated woman who invites her to her nightclub and then mysteriously disappears. Days later, accompanied by her bubbly roommate Maddie, she does visit, and meets some very interesting characters. She has a fine time, not aware of the threads of conspiracy woven through the place. She is too busy enjoying Paris, soaking in the art and the atmosphere, and of course struggling with the language. She even begins dating one of her classmates. But she will not be allowed to remain ignorant forever. In the first place, she saw something astonishing in a courtyard garden. In the second place, a stranger with a covered face attempted to kidnap her. Twice. And in the third place, someone needs her help.

Read-alikes: Lots of “intro to how the fantasy world is still with us” books are like this one, although this is a milder-mannered book: City of Bones, by Cassandra Clare and The Iron King, by Julie Kagawa. This also reminds me very much of A Ring of Endless Light, by Madeleine L’Engle. Also, of books I have read recently, Her Royal Spyness is similar in feel, because of how the main character is a sheltered young woman finding her way in a city, although the content is vastly different.Read More »

Top Ten: Northanger Abbey

Title: Northanger Abbey

Author: Jane Austen

Nutshell: Catherine Morland does not have any of the hallmarks of a heroine. She is not an orphan, nor a ward, nor even a dead parent. She does not have incomparable beauty or strength of character to suffer trials that would break a person’s spirit. She is barely above plain in looks and has an uncomplicated, straighforward character. Indeed, nobody would suspect her of being the leading lady in a novel. Yet she is one.

A childless couple from her neighborhood are staying in Bath for a time and invite her to go with them. Bath is nothing like her plain home. The people are unlike anything she has ever met, and as she makes friends, it begins to be obvious (but not to her) that the people who profess their admiration for her are trying to use her. Her family friend, in charge of her care, is happy to let her get into whatever trouble she likes. Will Catherine be taken advantage of because of her virtues, or will she escape with her reputation intact?

Read-alikes: If you wanted, you could try Anthony Trollope, or Charles Dickens, or the Brontë sisters. Frankly, though, these are from a later era of literature, and have a very different tone. You could get ahold of Ann Radcliffe, but only if you want to roll your eyes a great deal. To find that dry humour and sense of a bygone era, you’ll have to find Georgette Heyer. For similar style applied to a very different genre, try The Princess Bride. For a modern book with a somewhat similar theme, the Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield.

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