One Thread Pulled: The Dance with Mr. Darcy (Volume 1), By Diana J. Oaks – A Review

Image of the book cover of One Thread Pulled: A Dance with Mr Darcy (Volume 1), by Diana J. Oaks From the desk of Jeffrey Ward

How differently would Pride and Prejudice have proceeded if Miss Elizabeth Bennet had not overheard Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy’s insulting remarks during the Meryton assembly?  Differently? Yes, very-very differently according to this debut author’s totally diverting and brilliant re-imagining of Jane Austen’s timeless romance.

Starting at page one and continuing all the way to page 457 (rather lengthy for a work of this nature), it never falls off or fails to delight at any point or on any page. So, if you love Elizabeth and Darcy, please read on…..

Two years in the writing, and perhaps more in research, validate the author’s mastery of the Regency period, especially her intimate portrayals of Elizabeth and Darcy, clear down to the least significant character. I am astonished at how the author totally re-charts the course of Miss Austen’s most famous story, yet manages to respectfully maintain and indeed significantly expand upon the expected attributes of its most important personalities. Just about every Austen character makes an appearance and I love the way the author chooses to highlight Miss Anne de Bourgh, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, Miss Caroline Bingley, and Miss Georgiana Darcy. Just name ANY other character from P&P; they’re all in there in some capacity.

The story centers on Netherfield, Meryton, and Longbourne with a brief Sojourn to London. That would seem restrictive for a lengthy novel but this plot device allows the author to deftly focus on the complex and ever-evolving emotional relationship between the heroine and hero. With the “prejudice” portion removed, the encounters between Miss Bennet and Mr. Darcy begin with initial wariness but grow gradually to respect, regard, affection, and ultimately love. The angst generated over this two-steps-forward-one-step-back romance is the foundation that makes this story so irresistibly seductive.

Putting aside my blathering plaudits, how better to recommend this book than to read samples of the author’s delicate wit? Darcy and Elizabeth meet by chance on their outings as they witness a beautiful sunrise. The incongruity is priceless as Miss Bennet admires nature but Mr. Darcy admires only her, yet cannot gain her regard.

“Look, Mr. Darcy.  Is the sight before you not a fair prospect?  I do not know how to bear it sometimes, to gaze upon such beauty and not be able to ever hold it, to be limited to just looking.  It seems a hardship.”  “Yes,” Mr. Darcy said, looking at Elizabeth, the sunlight glinting off her hair, and her face flushed from exertion.  “I believe I understand how you feel.” p. 145

Here is a rousing verbal joust between two strong personalities as Darcy’s insistence on teaching Elizabeth how to ride disguises enormous romantic implications:

“I taught Georgiana.” Darcy replied.  Elizabeth shook her head. “I do not feel safe on a horse.”  “you will be safe with me,” Darcy said.  “How many ways must I refuse before you relent?” Elizabeth laughed.  “How many times must I offer before you accept?” Darcy countered with a smile.  “It is not in me to back down, Miss Bennet.  Once I have set my course, I persist.  “Mr. Darcy, it is my course you are setting, not your own.” Elizabeth replied.” p. 221

I laughed over this classic regency eaves-dropping moment as Mr. Darcy leaves Elizabeth’s sick bed following a supposed private attempt to confess his love for her:

Darcy backed silently to the door where he would leave, his eyes never leaving the woman he hoped to make his wife.  Upon reaching the door, he opened it, only to find that Jane, Bingley, Anne and the colonel were all pressed up against it.  Only the colonel actually fell. p. 276

I must make mention of some threads not “pulled” but “woven in” by the author that may raise both curiosity and doubt: Mr. Collins attempting to compromise Elizabeth Bennet? Miss Caroline Bingley mentally unsound? Elizabeth Bennet collapsing in the middle of the Netherfield ball? Mr. Wickham extorting Mr. Darcy? Mr. Bennet’s almost impossible courtship demands on Darcy and Elizabeth? Mr. Bingley’s secret sister? Mr. Collins’s entail invalid? As I initially read these threads, I thought “That’s far-fetched.” No worries whatsoever, because the author neatly and plausibly explains each of them in a very convincing and satisfactory manner which makes the entire book breathlessly unpredictable.

The conclusion comes abruptly and would be a disappointment for most readers if a sequel was not forthcoming.  It is! This reviewer keeps top-five lists of his very favorite works from a variety of genres and this one has easily parked itself in my top 5 list for favorite regency romances which puts it in with some distinguished titles indeed. That upcoming sequel, Constant as the Sun, can’t get into my hands quickly enough!

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

One Thread pulled: The Dance with Mr. Darcy (Volume 1), By Diana J. Oaks
CreateSpace (2012)
Trade paperback (456) pages
ISBN: 978-1475149616

Cover image courtesy ©Diana J. Oaks 2012; text ©Jeffrey Ward 2013

Darcy’s Decision: Given Good Principles Volume 1, by Maria Grace

Darcy's Decision: Given Good Principles Volume 1, by Maria Grace (2011)From the desk of Jeffrey Ward

For 200 years, I suspect many enthralled readers of Pride and Prejudice have silently pondered the question “What would Darcy do?” Author Maria Grace endeavors to put her own spin on this with her debut prequel novella Darcy’s Decision, in her Given Good Principles trilogy.

Spanning a brief but significant moment in time, the main gist of the story deals with Darcy’s rival Mr. Wickham, his demands for a living, and his alleged compromising of Georgiana and how young Mr. Darcy finally deals with it.

It is six months following the death of his father and Fitzwilliam Darcy struggles with how to honorably and properly manage the vast holdings of Pemberley, care for his 15 year old rapidly-maturing teenage sister, and deal with the prickly problem of one Mr. Wickham –his boyhood friend who shows up to claim the curacy that was thought promised to him by Darcy’s father. A dinner at Pemberley with some cherished neighbors, the Bingleys, Georgiana, the newly-appointed curate John Bradley and Mr. Wickham reveals the complications Darcy is up against:  (Georgiana speaking of Wickham)

“You came to pay your respects?” Lackley dabbed his chin with his napkin. “No, he did not.” Everyone gasped, staring at Georgiana. “Stop it!” Rebecca hissed, reaching for Georgiana’s hand. “He was promised the living given to Mr. Bradley.” A hush fell over the table. Darcy’s pulse thudded in his temples as the blood drained from his face.

With admirable originality the author has created a morality drama with Biblical undertones stressing mercy, forgiveness, and what makes a man truly great. She showcases the familiar well-loved characters of Pride and Prejudice quite accurately: Darcy, Wickham, Richard Fitzwilliam, the Bingleys, Mrs. Reynolds, as well as introducing her own cast of loveable loyal neighbors and old family friends. Chief among these is John Bradley, the vital mentor to both Darcys – father and son. The wise old Clergyman counsels young Darcy and the dialogue is beautiful in its timeless truth:

“I am not like him.”Darcy grimaced and swallowed hard against the rising bile. “I lack his wisdom, his discernment.” But you were given good principles, the ones your father stood.” The wind whipped his coattails and scoured his face. “Are they enough?” “He found them so.” Bradley clapped his shoulder.

But as Darcy reads his father’s private journals, a shocking confession is uncovered which will test the young man’s mettle and may change forever his attitude towards his late father and young Darcy’s relationship with his immediate family.

No Elizabeth? Sorry, but I believe she makes her appearance in the author’s trilogy installment #2 – The Future Mrs. Darcy. Until then, the romantic interest in this tale features the obnoxious Caroline Bingley as she sets her cap at poor Fitzwilliam. The off-and-on banter between Darcy, Charles Bingley, and Richard Fitzwilliam regarding how and who they may find as wives is utterly charming and really sets the stage for #2 in the author’s trilogy.

At scarcely 120 pages, the author still manages to lavish her debut work with historical accuracy, helpful footnotes, and scintillating dialogues. The author’s unique voice is most apparent in her descriptions of facial expressions, posturing, gestures, and mannerisms. A scene where Wickham is bound up and is being interrogated by Darcy and his buddies is so vivid and comical that I was in raptures mentally visualizing the entire episode.

About the only minor criticism I can level against this work is the character of Georgiana who Jane Austen describes in chapters 44 and 45 of Pride and Prejudice as exceedingly shy and quiet. This author’s Georgiana, on the other hand, is quite the feisty outspoken teenage girl, but I suppose that can be excused off as the emotional frustration of no longer being a girl, but not quite a woman yet.

I found Darcy’s Decision richly entertaining with a very plausible variation on “what if?” If Darcy doesn’t wear the mantle of hero yet with you, dear readers, I predict he will once you finish this read. Next stop? The Future Mrs. Darcy, or course!

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Darcy’s Decision: Given Good Principles Volume 1, by Maria Grace
Good Principles Publishing (2011)
Trade paperback (154) pages
ISBN: 978-0615582771

© 2013 Jeffrey Ward, Austenprose

Edmund Persuader: A Romance, by Stuart Shotwell – A Review

Edmund Persuader From the desk of Jeffrey Ward

Would Jane Austen love reading this book today? She admired Sir Walter Scott, Frances Burney, and Maria Edgeworth but what about this epic regency romantic adventure encompassing some 1,500 pages? Within its sweeping span are familiar elements of the gothic in her Northanger Abbey, the ironic humor in Emma, overcoming class barriers in Pride and Prejudice, the romantic treacheries of Mansfield Park, the familial loyalty of Sense and Sensibility, and the steadfast endurance of love in Persuasion. Yes, dear Jane, I think you would!

The “persuader” is larger-than-life hero Edmund Percy who fits the description because he is aptly tall, strong, and handsome. But what elevates him to heroic status is his unique melding of courage, insightful intellect, persuasiveness, humility, and a loving generous heart. The youngest son of a landed gentleman, he has dedicated himself to the clergy.

It is 1810 and his father asks him to temporarily suspend his clerical studies and sail to Antigua to rescue his failing sugar plantation. There, he encounters exhaustive work and intolerable slavery conditions, but ultimately Janetta, the exotically beautiful mulatto daughter of a cruel neighboring slave master. Wild and unpredictable, the slaves fear her bewitching power. Edmund falls madly in love and a torrid erotic relationship ensues, but he is torn by guilt and lost virtue. The supernatural scene of Edmund being confronted by Janetta over a chilling vision only she can see but neither can understand is the story’s ultimate mystery:

“No,” she said bitterly. “I see this woman – I see this dark queen; and you will love her more than you ever loved me.” He laughed and tried to take her in his arms, but she would not let him; she evaded his embrace and slipped away from him. “You will love her more than me! “she said angrily. “Who is this woman? Janetta!” he said soothingly. “Do not be silly, I know no queen; nor is it likely I ever shall. You are the one I love…” p. 307

Only Janetta is aware of the hopelessness of their love and she accurately predicts their ultimate separation. At the loss of his first love, heart-broken Edmund returns to England. On that return voyage he becomes a notable English hero as he prevents an American privateer from boarding and capturing the ship he is on. This action proves pivotal to his future.

Edmund confesses his sins to his mentor and is still encouraged to take up the clergy. Seeking a living, he travels to Hampshire to visit Andromeda, his beloved aunt and mother-figure. She describes the most noble, wealthy, and powerful family in the area—the Esquith De Foyes—and strongly warns him to avoid at all costs their untouchable daughter Mariah and her companion, the lovely but enigmatic Elizabeth Brownton, who manifests an autism-spectrum syndrome. Yet, at a ball the inevitable happens as he meets the entire family. Mariah is regal, impossibly beautiful, and brilliant of mind, and like Edmund, gifted with a supremely compassionate heart. Edmund also meets Mariah’s brother and family heir Tarquin Esquith De Foye. Reckless, competitive, and fiercely protective, “Tark” and Edmund become closer than brothers. The family has learned of Edmund’s high-sea heroics and motions are put into place to award him a living as temporary rector in their village church.

Mariah’s compassion and Edmund’s exceptionally persuasive gifts improve the lives of everyone within their sphere of influence, and they become more than just a friendly partnership. Yet, in spite of their growing love for each other, Edmund cannot persuade Mariah to marry him and is unaware that she is none other than the prophesied “dark queen!” Her own deeply-hidden secret prevents her marriage and will eventually turn deadly enough to threaten her entire family if Edmund fails in his quest to uncover it.

With a half-million words to work with, all of the characters are so totally and fully fleshed out that I found myself weeping over their misfortunes, laughing with their moments of merriment, and hoping beyond hope for their happy future. Yes, there are places in the story that may plod for some readers, such as an entire chapter describing a fox hunt, the intricacies of chess games, and side-plots drawn out in the minutest detail. Yet, soaring above all and not-to-be-missed is what I consider to be the most magnificent unconsummated love story I’ve read since Jane Eyre. In attempting to compare the romantic grandeur and Gothic underpinnings of Edmund Persuader, only Charlotte Bronte’s masterpiece comes to mind. Don’t be intimidated by its length. The determined reader will seldom encounter a more soul-satisfying reward for the effort.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Edmund Persuader: A Romance, by Stuart Shotwell
Mermaid Press of Maine (2009)
Trade paperback (1555) pages
ISBN: 978-0984103218

© 2012 Jeffrey Ward, Austenprose

The Jane Austen Marriage Manual, by Kim Izzo – A Review

The Jane Austen Marriage Manual, by Kim Izzo (2012)Review by Jeffrey Ward

Is it a truth universally acknowledged that a woman of forty, with nothing left to lose, could commit random acts of desperation against her normal sensibilities?  Meet Kate, the heroine of Kim Izzo’s debut novel, who is considering marriage for money and is charged to write a feature magazine article on just that:

“Let me get this straight.  I’m to write about finding a rich husband, at forty, as a guide for women, as though nothing’s changed since Pride and Prejudice was published?” p. 28

In The Jane Austen Marriage Manual, Kate Shaw is savvy, stylish, and seductively attractive at forty.  She has everything going for her, but wait….In short order, she loses her glam job at a fashion magazine, her life savings to an unscrupulous ex-boyfriend, her beloved grandmother to cancer, and her home to her pathetic mother’s gambling addiction.

To cheer her up on her fortieth birthday, her best friends buy her a gag gift of a square foot of land on a noble Scottish estate and a trumped-up title to go with it: Lady Katherine Billington Shaw.  Kate’s magazine editor and close friend Marianne asks her to write an exit feature on how to land a rich husband.  Thus, the idea Kate perpetrates with her phony title and article assignment becomes her foot in the door.

Kate’s quest begins in London where she reunites with her dear English friend Emma and husband Clive.  At a night club, Kate is introduced to romantic interest #1, Griffith Saunderson, the manager of an upscale bed and breakfast.  A handsome Englishman, Griff is thoroughly ridiculed by a drunken Kate.  Little does she know yet that Griff gets even by turning up throughout Kate’s adventures and turning her on at the most awkward moments.

Next stop is a posh Palm Beach resort where she meets Fawn Chamberlain, a ditzy former beauty queen, who is filthy rich by way of two ex-husbands.  Fawn gushes over who she thinks is titled nobility in “Lady Kate” and tutors her on the “in-crowd.”  At a polo match she meets romantic interest #2, dashing billionaire financier Scott Madewell.

Then Kate’s off to glitzy St. Moritz where she encounters romantic interest #3, Vladimir Mihailov, a wealthy Russian developer.  But who should also be there but Fawn, Scott, and Griff to stir the pot.

From there it’s back to London with the same cast of characters and the relationships between Kate and romantic interests #1 and #2 develop more serious undertones.  Desperately poor at this point, she must decide between following her heart or her purse as it seems each may be equally attainable.

I found Kate to be a very un-Austen-like heroine: deceptive, profane, promiscuous, and heavy on the Pinot Grigio.  However, the story triumphs largely on the author’s wicked sense of comedic timing which carries the dialogues, sight gags, and precarious romancing.  The situational antics Lady Kate gets into and her mental gyrations to protect her true identity, purpose, and poverty are just rolling-in-the-aisle hilarious.  Here’s Lady Kate at a polo match in Palm Beach as she endures an up-close encounter with a horse:

“I was just within reach, my heart pounding, trying to steady my hand to stroke him, when he suddenly shook his head like a wet dog, sending sweat flying everywhere, followed by a huge roaring sneeze that sounded like an elephant.  I felt the spray hit my face, my chest, and arms.  If you think horse sweat is bad, you haven’t seen the amount of snot that comes out of a horse’s nostrils.  I couldn’t help it.  I screamed and leapt backward, but instead of hitting solid ground my heel slipped in and I fell toward the moist, soft earth that wasn’t earth, but manure.” p. 96

Alas, right up until the very end, I was still disconnected from naughty Kate and often had difficulty fathoming what the men saw in her at times.  And, what of the outcome of romantic interest # 1 and #2?  Sorry, I spoileth not!

Just because her name is in the title, does The Jane Austen Marriage Manual pass muster as Jane Austen Fan-fiction?  I suppose, but I found the references to Jane Austen a bit contrived, forced, or tacked on.  Still, the author’s creative wit is evident in the chapter headings which are cleverly named and are replete with appropriate Jane Austen literary quotes.

Ultimately, what does it matter since a great read is still a great read, regardless of its genre?  I found Kim Izzo’s debut novel slow-starting but accelerating with dramatic intensity.  Whether you’re expecting a full-pull of “Austen Prose” or not, this is a worthy adventure, full of outrageous humor, endearing relationships, and breathless romantic suspense.

3.5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Jane Austen Marriage Manual, by Kim Izzo
St. Martin’s Press (2012)
Trade paperback (336) pages
ISBN: 978-1250003454

Jeffrey Ward, 65, native San Franciscan living near Atlanta, married 40 years, two adult children, six grandchildren, Vietnam Veteran, degree in Communications from the University of Washington, and presently a Facilitator/designer for the world’s largest regional airline.  His love affair with Miss Austen began about 3 years ago when, out of boredom, he picked up his daughter’s dusty college copy of Emma and he was “off to the races.”

© 2007 – 2012 Jeffrey Ward, Austenprose

Northland Cottage: Where the Heart Comes Home, by A. P. Maddox – A Review

Northland Cottage, by A. P. Maddox (2012)Review by Jeffrey Ward

Many readers may think a contemporary retelling of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility the ‘lazy way’ to a debut novel.  Just hang everything on the framework of the classic original since Jane Austen did all the work.  Easy? Not!  Can you imagine the adjustment difficulties in making the two-century quantum-leap in technology, societal mores, and the fleshing-out of contemporary characters from the original to author A.P. Maddox’s Northland Cottage?  Let’s find out of it worked…

Having visited both locales myself, I was thrilled the author chose North Carolina for the setting of Northland Cottage because I consider it nearly as romantic a location as Sense and Sensibility’s South Devon, England.

I’d almost forgotten how complex the cast and plot is for Sense and Sensibility but I’ll make a “go” at first introducing the characters in Northland Cottage, then their Sense and Sensibility counterparts in parentheses, followed by a brief plot synopsis.  (Take a deep breath and plunge ahead)

The Hathcocks (Dashwoods) are an old-moneyed traditional southern family whose wealth came from agriculture, textiles and furniture.  Following the death of their father, the Hathcock ladies’ beloved Hamilton Estate (Norland Park) is inherited by Brother Frank (John Dashwood) and his wife Dottie (Fanny Dashwood) who brashly move in and take over.  Dottie makes life miserable for Mrs. Hathcock (Mrs. Dashwood) and daughters Caroline (Elinor), Ashelynn (Marianne), and Maggie (Margaret), who look for a means of escape.  Before they move out, Caroline is introduced to Dottie’s brother Conner Burroughs (Edward Ferrars) and the mutual attraction is instantaneous.  The Hathcock ladies are invited to live in a vacant cottage on their cousin Lloyd Honeycutt’s (Sir John Middleton) Northland Estate near Winston-Salem.  Kindly and generous, Lloyd and his wife Ilene (Lady Middleton) love society and dote upon Sarah and her daughters.  The ladies are introduced to Lloyd’s busybody matchmaking mother-in-law Mrs. Johnson (Mrs. Jennings) and a wealthy close friend, Afghanistan war hero Captain Harrison Lowder (Colonel Brandon).  Despite being much older than Ashelynn, he is immediately smitten by her.  But before he can make a romantic move, Ashelynn injures herself while hiking and is gallantly rescued by handsome young Will Houston. (John Willoughby)  Ashelynn tells her sisters about Will’s advances:

 “He kissed me,” Ashelynn sighed with a dreamy smile…”Aw,” Maggie sighed, enraptured.  “I hope my first kiss will be that wonderful.  How about your first kiss Caroline?  Was yours that wonderful?”  Both sisters looked at Caroline, expecting to be thrilled with another amazing first kiss story…”When or if it ever happens, I’ll let you know.”

Ashelynn is head-over-heels in love, but before they can plan an engagement, Will mysteriously escapes to the city of Charlotte with no further explanation.  Lydia (Lucy Steele), Nancy Anne (Anne) and their parents visit Lloyd at Northland and Caroline is shocked to learn that Lydia is secretly engaged to Conner! No wonder his behavior towards Caroline is so ambivalent.  Scheming Lydia encourages Randall’s (Robert Ferrars) advances at a Halloween masquerade:  

 “Well, you’re a Pirate,” Lydia giggled.  “Why should I trust anything you say?”  “Don’t trust me,” Randall warned with a devious gin.  “My only purpose here tonight must be to steal someone else’s treasure.”

Harrison tries unsuccessfully to keep a family secret from Ashelynn. He has a young ward named Kathryn (Eliza) who has been taken advantage of by Will and is expecting.  Caroline and Ashelynn are invited to attend college in Charlotte and live with Mrs. Johnson.  Will avoids Ashelynn at all costs and Conner seems miserable.  Harrison continues to be a loyal and helpful friend to the Hathcock ladies, but especially to Ashelynn, whose love he fears he will lose to Justin Holliday.  For those of you who have not read Sense and Sensibility, I’ll stop here, for fear of spoiling the original masterpiece because Northland Cottage is that accurately rendered.

A.P. Maddox’s bio reveals she has written for children and young adults and cherishes traditional family values.   The book is thus squeaky clean and returns us to a time not long ago when young people fell in love and actually wanted to (gasp) get married!  The author’s writing style is wholesome and seems aimed squarely at the young adult market.  That shouldn’t put you off one bit because I think Jane Austen herself would heartily approve.  The author’s North Carolina is lush and scenic.  Her updated characters are instantly recognizable.  Finally, after you have enjoyed this timeless romance, you can pass it down to your daughter or even granddaughter with complete confidence in its appropriateness.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Northland Cottage: Where the Heart Comes Home, by A.P. Maddox
Brighton Publishing LLC (2012)
eBook (293) pages
NOOK: 2940014225779
Kindle: B007RO91LG

Jeffrey Ward, 65, native San Franciscan living near Atlanta, married 40 years, two adult children, six grandchildren, Vietnam Veteran, degree in Communications from the University of Washington, and presently a Facilitator/designer for the world’s largest regional airline.  His love affair with Miss Austen began about 3 years ago when, out of boredom, he picked up his daughter’s dusty college copy of Emma and he was “off to the races.”

© 2007 – 2012 Jeffrey Ward, Austenprose

My Particular Friend: A Charlotte House Affair (Volume 1), by Jennifer Petkus – A Review

My Particular Friend, by Jennifer Petkus (2012)Review by Jeffrey Ward

In her fledgling foray into the growing field of Austenesque fan fiction, author Jennifer Petkus takes an entirely new direction from her first novel, Good Cop, Dead Cop, with My Particular Friend, mixing up Regency match making and mystery, which some may argue are one in the same. My attempts to further sub-categorize it utterly fail.  But, let’s try a recipe: Combine the crime-solving of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the location and dialogue of Jane Austen, the humor and romance of Frances Burney, mash-up thoroughly and you get something like “Matrimonial private investigators, Inc.”

The adventure is set in Bath, England during the Napoleonic Wars and showcases three totally un-alike heroines: The first is the mastermind, Miss Charlotte House, who is one of the most fascinating fictional personalities this reader has yet come across.  She is stately tall; her elegance turns heads all over Bath; her presence commands awe and respect; her enigmatic mind is near-genius in its capabilities; nothing in Bath of any consequence escapes her notice.  She is relentless and unconventional.  Neither is she above thievery or deception in order to accomplish her mission.  Mercurial and unpredictable, she can be fiercely loyal, generous with her wealth, and often kindly to everyone.  Or, she can be mercilessly uncompromising in the demands on her partners and clients.  The second is Miss Jane Woodsen, the first-person narrator of the tale.  She is young and naïve but shows the potential analytical skills that Miss House seeks.  The third is Mrs. Margaret Fitzhugh, the mother-figure whose relationship to the leader is a closely-held secret.

Miss Woodsen is in desperate straits since her gentleman father committed suicide over losing his fortune and his property has been entailed away.  Miss House rescues destitute Jane off the streets of Bath and offers her a situation.  In exchange for shelter, raiment, and a living, all Miss House desires of Jane is for her to become a “particular friend” and protégé’.  She is thus welcomed into Charlotte’s home as a respected “gentlewoman.”

What is Miss House’s “living?”  In her own words: (Charlotte conversing with Jane) “I suppose you could say I’m an intermediary. Mothers come to me and ask my aid in the matter of their daughter’s matrimonial prospects.”  “I see,” I said, puzzled.  “And of this service….”  “I am NOT in trade, my dear.”

Within this affair are five matrimonial episodes that defy solving until the parties seek Miss House for assistance.  The episodes tax the ladies and their informants to the limits of their abilities.  Each Episode contains its own distinct mood from the sinister to the wildly funny to the deceitful to the romantic.

The prime cargo is the suspense generated within these romantic mysteries but the engine that drives that cargo along is the exquisitely entertaining dialogue between the three ladies, their friends, acquaintances and clients. In true Austen style the author just nails the quaint civility and manners that predominated that time period without any overt sexuality, profanity, or unnecessary violence.

A sample quote from the clever wit of the author had me laughing out loud in its ridiculousness: (Jane speaking to Charlotte) “I often wondered aloud how troublesome it would be to retain so much knowledge, but she always said when information no longer was useful she promptly forgot it. I found difficulty believing her statement and asked her to give me an example of knowledge she no longer found useful.  She countered that she could not because she had forgotten any examples.  I countered that she could not cite an example because knowledge never becomes useless.  She merely looked at me, blinked twice and said ‘I’m sorry, what were we talking about?’”

Two significant threads woven through the entire affair bind the episodes together.  A tantalizing romance slowly blossoms between Miss Woodsen and one Mr. Wallace, an erstwhile military field physician who assists Miss House in her tasks. And, what is the source of the tragic sorrow of Miss House that surfaces at times but remains a mystery for the entire affair?  Why does this oh-so eligible lady, with such beauty, wealth, and brilliance remain single into her late twenties?

The conclusion of the affair is enticingly open-ended as the ladies plan a season in London. Will there be new romantic tangles to solve? Will Mr. Wallace follow them?  Will Charlotte find love?  These questions BEG for a sequel! Or, will author Jennifer Petkus take an entirely different direction? Perhaps the author’s fertile imagination will prove to be as unpredictable as Miss Charlotte House herself.  Whatever the outcome, I sense we have uncovered an emerging literary talent here of considerable promise.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

My Particular Friend: A Charlotte House Affair (Volume 1), by Jennifer Petkus
Mallard Classics (2012)
Trade paperback (302) pages
ISBN: 978-0615597461
Kindle: ASIN: B005UF4Z6U

Jeffrey Ward, 65, native San Franciscan living near Atlanta, married 40 years, two adult children, six grandchildren, Vietnam Veteran, degree in Communications from the University of Washington, and presently a Facilitator/designer for the world’s largest regional airline.  His love affair with Miss Austen began about 3 years ago when, out of boredom, he picked up his daughter’s dusty college copy of Emma and he was “off to the races.”

© 2007 – 2012 Jeffrey Ward, Austenprose