Thursday, September 5, 2013

Elizabeth The First Wife by Lian Dolan

Elizabeth The First Wife by Lian Dolan
Published May 2013 by Prospect Park Books
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Elizabeth Lancaster, an English professor at Pasadena City College, finds her perfectly dull but perfectly orchestrated life upended one summer by three men: her movie-star ex-husband, a charming political operative, and William Shakespeare. Until now, she’d been content living in the shadow of her high-profile and highly accomplished family. Then her college boyfriend and one-time husband of seventeen months, A-list action star FX Fahey, shows up with a job offer that she can’t resist, and Elizabeth’s life suddenly gets a whole lot more interesting. She’s off to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for the summer to make sure FX doesn’t humiliate himself in an avant-garde production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.  

My Thoughts: 
Lian Dolan writes chick lit with a brain. Rarely will you learn as much from a chick lit book as you will from Elizabeth The First Wife chock full as it is with references to Shakespeare and, surprisingly, quantum physics. While Dolan gets snarky, it's a  gentle snarkiness blended with a clear love of her setting and its denizens. Her voice rings out throughout the book; the sense of humor so many have enjoyed for years listening to her on the Chaos Chronicles apparent in her writing.

Dolan draws on stereotypes for some of her characters but they are such fun, with just enough depth to make them feel like real people, that readers will mostly forgive her. Elizabeth can come of a little Bridget Jones-y at times, finding herself repeatedly in the center of trouble, but more because of her trusting nature than her own poor choices a la Jones.

It was fun to see characters from Dolan's first novel, Helen of Pasadena (also, obviously, set in Pasadena), reappear in Elizabeth The First Wife. 

One of the things I enjoyed most about Elizabeth The First Wife are the magazine-like sidebars that start every chapter which look at Shakespearean power couples and characters through a pop-culture filter. For example, one is titled "The MacBeths" and includes the bit "Who They Remind You Of: The Reagans, the Clintons, the Eminems, the Jolie-Pitts." Another is titled "3 Guys Your Mom Will Love" and lists three of Shakespeare's characters and lists "Who He Reminds Us Of," "Why Mom Would Love Him," and "Major Drawback." One of my favorites of these is a two-page comparison of Romeo Montague, Hamlet and Edward Cullen (of Twilight fame). Dolan compares personality traits, hobbies, and hangups (Hamlet's is, of course, his mother). I know I'm not doing these pieces justice here; trust me, much chuckling was involved in the reading!

Elizabeth The First Wife was my last "summer" read before launching into all of the fall events and it was the perfect way to end the season.

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