So Jane: Crafts and Recipes for an Austen-Inspired Life, by Hollie Keith and Jennifer Adams – A Review

So Jane Crafts and Recipes from a Jane Austen Inspired Life, by Hollie Keith and Jennifer Adams (2014)From the desk of Lisa Galek:

If you’re like most Janeites, it’s never enough just to read Austen’s novels. You want to live in them, too. That means decorating your house with Austenesque items, baking Regency era goodies, and throwing fabulous book-based soirees. So Jane: Crafts and Recipes for an Austen-Inspired Life by Jennifer Adams and Hollie Keith is the perfect book for bringing your Austen obsession to life in your very own home.

So Jane is an extensive collection of recipes and craft projects inspired by the works and life of Jane Austen. Organized into six chapters—one for each of Austen’s major novels—the book is filled with well over 100 pages of ideas for Austenesque décor, gifts, crafts, and entertaining. There’s Breakfast in Bath (Northanger Abbey), Tea with the Middletons (Sense and Sensibility), Dinner at the Great House (Persuasion), Emma’s Picnic (Emma), A Rustic Dinner (Mansfield Park), and Netherfield Ball (Pride and Prejudice). Each chapter features a full menu and six adorable craft projects inspired by that novel and its characters.

This book is billed as a way to “help you bring all things Austen into your home in a contemporary way” and it completely succeeds. With pages and pages of gorgeous full-color photographs that really bring to life the look and taste of each section, you’ll find tons of Austenesque ideas that you’ll be dying to create. The instructions and steps are very easy to follow. The layout of the book is simple, too—just choose an entire menu or book theme and go from there. If you want to get a little more creative, you can branch out and mix and match ideas from different sections or adjust the projects and recipes for your skill level. The ideas are so creative and inspirational that the possibilities are endless. Continue reading

The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet, by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick – A Review

Secret Diaries Secret Diaries of Lizzie Bennet by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick 2014 x 200From the desk of Lisa Galek:

In 2012, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries debuted on YouTube. Smart, confident (and only slightly prejudiced) grad student Lizzie Bennet posts videos twice a week all about her life, friends, and family. The Internet promptly fell in love. But, there were some things Lizzie couldn’t share in her videos. Luckily, she kept a diary… and now we finally get to see it.

The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet is a companion book to the excellent LBD web series. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’re definitely missing out. Elizabeth Bennet is transformed into a 24-year-old graduate student from California with her own video blog. She posts all kinds of insightful and hilarious content about her wacky family, which includes her two sisters—sweet Jane and energetic Lydia. Oh, and a certain boring, stuffy, and unbelievably rude guy named William Darcy occasionally pops up (but let’s not talk about him because Lizzie just cannot stand him). The videos are an absolutely amazing update on Pride and Prejudice. Very smart, very funny, and very Jane.

But, if you’re not already pretty familiar with this information, The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet won’t really make much sense to you. The book is very tied into the web series—so much so that it often feels like a retelling of the content from the videos. Lizzie begins and ends her story like her vlogs do. She starts off by explaining the new online project she’s about to embark on and ends with a happily-ever-after that will make any Austen fan smile. She sometimes even transcribes whole scenes directly from the videos. (To be fair, it’s only the really important ones.)

The big draw for this book is the promise of new content (in fact, that seems to be their main marketing message per these new videos from Lizzie and Darcy). I was hoping that the book would really deliver in this area. After all, the web series is based on a 200-year-old story that anyone with access to Cliff’s Notes can figure out the ending of. Yet, every video makes Austen’s original feel fresh, engaging, interesting, and really funny. If anyone could pull off a great tie-in novel, it would be the folks at Pemberley Digital.

Unfortunately, these new tidbits might not be enough to justify a whole book. Sure, it’s neat to see Darcy’s letter to Lizzie in print and to get some more time with Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. There’s even some cool behind the scenes type stuff about making the videos and more frank details about the Bennet sisters and their sexy times that didn’t make it to the air. But, all this stuff sort of existed in the background of the videos as subtext already. Are those small, new details really worth the price of admission?

One of the things I did love about the book is that we’re in Lizzie’ s head the whole time. Sure, she narrates almost all the videos, but those are for public consumption. Sometimes she’s holding back what she really thinks, and here we’re getting more unfiltered access. And, since the book is written by two of the writers from the web series, they really nail Lizzie’s voice. On the page, she’s just as smart, funny, and awesome as she is on video. Honestly, the fact that the writing is really strong and compelling saves this book from getting a little dull at times.

Because I’m such a huge fan of the web series, I was super excited to read The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet. Sadly, the additional content just can’t justify an entire book. If you love her vlog and can’t get enough of every little Lizzie Bennet detail (or just want to support the creators), I’d definitely suggest getting a copy. Otherwise, you might be safe re-watching the series or developing a healthy obsession with Pemberley Digital’s latest Austen update, Emma Approved. I’m already way ahead of you there.

3.5 out of 5 Stars

The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet: A Novel, by Kate Rorick and Bernie Su
Touchstone (2014)
Trade paperback (400) pages
ISBN: 978-1476763163

  • Catch up on the Lizzie Bennet Diaries by reading our closer look at the hit web series in our LBD archives.

Cover image courtesy of Touchstone © 2014; text Lisa Galek © 2014, Austenprose.com

Disclosure of Material Connection: We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Once Upon a Second Chance, by Marian Vere – A Review

One Upon a Second Chance by Marian Vere 2012 x 200From the desk of Lisa Galek:

Little girls grow up on fairy tales. From a young age we’re inundated with stories about handsome princes who ride in on their white horses and sweep heroines off their feet. Everyone wants that happy ending. But, what if Prince Charming came by and you missed him? In Once Upon a Second Chance, Marian Vere explores what happens to a heroine after she lets her happily-ever-after slip through her fingers.

Ever since she was a little girl, Julia Basham dreamed of finding the guy of her dreams. When she meets Nick Kerkley, a college dropout with big plans for starting his own tech business, she thinks he might be the one. After a whirlwind romance, Nick pops the question and Julia finally sees a happily-ever-after in her future. Her older sister, Lisa, is less thrilled. Lisa convinces Julia to break off their engagement, which also breaks Nick’s heart. The two part ways, but Julia convinces herself that it’s for the best.

Fast forward eight years. Julia’s dreams haven’t exactly come true. She works as a secretary for a financial consulting firm and still has yet to stumble across “the one.” Nick, on the other hand, is doing pretty well. The tech company he started has made him big money. 17.7 billion dollars to be exact. When Julia’s firm takes Nick on as a new client, she’s forced to come face to face with her biggest regret. Julia realizes that she let the love of her life get away all those years ago. Will she let it happen again? Or is it time for a second chance?

Once Upon a Second Chance is a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, but with a few little twists. Sure, it’s updated and told from the point of view of a modern day woman living in New York City, but the author also sneaks in some fun references to folk tales and fantasy. Julia keeps waiting for a fairy godmother to come take her hand and make her world magically better, but, sadly, that’s just not in the cards for her.

Julia is actually a really interesting character. Part of her emotional journey—like Anne Elliot’s—is discovering her inner strength, though there were times when I wished she would just figure it out already. Julia spends a whole lot of time and energy (and internal monologues) freaking out about Nick. She panics when he becomes a client for her firm. She panics when he walks into a room. She panics when he looks at her. And she panics when she even thinks about talking to him. It was a bit much at times.

Even though Julia could be overwhelming, the romance between her and Nick was really well developed and enjoyable. We get to see some flashbacks of their life together, how they met, and how things ended so badly between them. The moments that they shared in the present were pretty magical, too. Even when it was just a stolen glance across a room, I was getting butterflies in my stomach. I truly wanted these two crazy kids to just kiss and live happily-ever-after.

The story trimmed some of the subplots from Persuasion and simplified a lot. Mr. Elliot makes a brief appearance, but he doesn’t pose much danger to Julia. Lisa is obviously a variation on Lady Russell and Julia’s best friend and co-worker, Bree, has a bit of Louisa Musgrove in her. None of these characters feels as weighty or important as they did in the original. Julia and Nick are the main focus here and everyone else just seems to orbit around them. I didn’t mind much because the romance was so good, but the story did lose a bit of the complexity by slimming down these minor characters.

In the end, the novel really does pull off its goal. Not only is it a fun romance, but it’s a great critique of the ways that women are taught to be passive. Sometimes we’re told to ignore our instincts and listen to other people’s judgment. Other times we hear that we should just wait around for love and life to just happen to us. Julia has to learn to take charge of her own life and to figure out that she’s the only one with the power to make her dreams come true. No Fairy Godmothers necessary.

Once Upon a Second Chance is a light, bright, sparkling read. It’s well-written, funny, and very romantic, but it also has some interesting things to say about life and love. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

4.5 out of 5 Stars

Once Upon a Second Chance, by Marian Vere
Omnific Publishing (2012)
Trade paperback (210) pages
ISBN: 978-1623429157

Cover image courtesy of Omnific Publishing © 2012; Text Lisa Galek © 2014, Austenprose.com 

Disclosure of Material Connection: The reviewer purchased a copy of this book. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Margaret Dashwood’s Diary: Sense and Sensibility Mysteries, Book One, by Anna Elliott – A Review

Margaret Dashwoods Diary by Anna Elliot 2014 x 200From the desk of Lisa Galek:

Margaret Dashwood is only rarely mentioned in Sense and Sensibility. She starts the story as a girl of thirteen who loses her father and her home and then sits back to watch her two older sisters fall in love and get married. But, what kind of adventures did Margaret have after Jane Austen’s classic was done? In Margaret Dashwood’s Diary, Anna Elliott explores the life and loves of the youngest Dashwood sister.

As the title indicates, this novel takes the form of a diary and we begin with a brand new entry. See, Margaret has just burned her old journal after breaking off an engagement to a very eligible and rich young bachelor. She means to start fresh and has gone to stay with her sister, Marianne Brandon, at Delaford House for a change of scenery.

Colonel Brandon is away hunting down some dangerous smugglers that are operating in the neighborhood, but Margaret still runs into all kinds of old favorites. Elinor and Edward pop up every now and then. Mrs. Jennings is still poking her nose into everyone’s business. And even Mr. and Mrs. Palmer are in town to add to the laughs. But, when John Willoughby and his wife rent a house in the neighborhood things start to get a bit awkward for everyone.

Margaret is not only worried that her sister might be tempted by her first love, but her life is further complicated by the appearance of Jamie Cooper, a young man who also happens to be a gypsy that Margaret knows from her childhood at Norland Park. Jamie might have information about the local smuggling ring, but as Margaret gets closer to him she realizes that she might be falling in love with the one man she could never have.

The Margaret Dashwood presented here is a very charming character. She’s based mostly off the 1995 movie version of Sense and Sensibility. This Margaret is spunky and bright, but also understands her place in the world. Her voice as the narrator was light and yet very compelling. She begins by breaking off an engagement and it’s delightful to watch her develop as a young woman who not only falls in love but digs deep into some pretty dangerous mysteries.

We are dealing with a mystery here and pretty good one. From the opening pages of the novel the author starts to drop clues that will eventually be unraveled. It’s actually rather tightly plotted and there aren’t many details that get left hanging. Even a runaway horse ties in nicely in the end. The story sets up several characters as possible leaders of the smuggling ring, but it left me guessing until the end as to who to true criminal mastermind was.

The one side plot that wasn’t exactly right was Margaret’s broken engagement. It’s the starting point for the novel, but, later, her ex-fiancé appears for the sole reason of acting like a jerk. He never ties into the wider story, so I wouldn’t have minded leaving him in the background all together. It would have been nice to allow the broken engagement to be a growth opportunity for Margaret’s character rather than adding another villain she has to outwit.

Otherwise, the author does a nice job of using old characters like the Palmers and Mrs. Jennings as well as introducing us to new characters like Margaret’s handsome love interest, Jamie. Mrs. Willoughby isn’t new, but her personality is (and she’s just as horrid as you might imagine). The author even brings in some little-seen characters from the original novel to add a few twists and turns to the story. I really liked her take on Eliza (Colonel Brandon’s ward and the mother of Willoughby’s illegitimate child) and how her story was expanded and wrapped up.

The diary format also works perfectly as a story-telling device. Margaret’s voice is well done and you could imagine a Regency-era young woman writing as she does. The entries also felt realistic and were even sometimes abruptly cut off, not for dramatic, but for comic effect:

He helped Marianne into the curricle seat, got up beside her, and then drove off. Glancing at Elinor, I saw that she looked as stunned as I felt. 

She was the first to break the silence. “But that was—”

“I know,” I said. “That was John—”

********* 

I suppose that was a narrative break worthy of any chapter ending in a gothic tale of horror. But I did not actually stop writing there for the sake of heightened drama; Marianne came into the room to remind me that dinner would be served soon, and I ought to be going up to dress.

Overall, the novel was a fun and interesting read. The old characters are true to Austen, the new characters are well-drawn and fit in seamlessly, and the mystery was pretty darn good. It’s no easy feat to take a minor Austen character and make her shine in the spotlight, but this novel has definitely pulled it off.

4.5 out of 5 Regency Stars 

Margaret Dashwood’s Diary: Sense and Sensibility Mysteries Book One, by Anna Elliott
Wilton Press (2014)
Digital eBook (244) pages
ASIN: B00HQY3GR2

Cover image courtesy of Wilton Press © 2014; text Lisa Galek © 2014, Austenprose.com 

Disclosure of Material Connection: The reviewer purchased a copy of this book. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Jane Austen, Game Theorist, by Michael Suk-Young Chwe – A Review

Jane Austen Game Theroist Michael Chwe 2013 x 200From the desk of Lisa Galek:

According to Wikipedia, game theory is “the study of mathematical models of conflict and cooperation between intelligent, rational decision-makers.” So, what the heck does that have to do with Jane Austen and her novels? A lot, as it turns out. In Jane Austen, Game Theorist, we explore how Austen’s works tie into contemporary theories about strategic decision-making nearly two hundred years before they came into fashion.

The book doesn’t presuppose any familiarity with game theory. This was a very good thing, as I knew next to nothing about this branch of the social sciences before picking up the book. Really, the simplest way to explain game theory is to say that it’s the study of how people make strategic decisions. Most people will make a decision based on what they would like to do. In other words, they make a personal choice. But, a good strategic thinker will also consider what others might do in turn. Basically, when choosing, you also consider how others will act.

Let’s look at an example from Pride and Prejudice to illustrate the point. Mr. Darcy agonizes over whether or not to marry Elizabeth Bennet, a woman who he is slowly falling in love with despite his best efforts to resist her charms and fine eyes. A choice like this can be represented visually through a decision tree. Mr. Darcy’s would look something like this:

Jane Austen Game Theorist image 1

As Mr. Darcy sees it, he must decide whether or not to marry Elizabeth. In the end, his objections can’t outweigh his love and he makes the choice to tell her how ardently he admires and loves her.

But, one of Mr. Darcy’s biggest mistakes is that he doesn’t seem to realize that the decision tree that will lead him from love to matrimony with Elizabeth actually looks something like this:

Jane Austen Game Theorist image 2

Mr. Darcy’s choice isn’t to marry or not marry Elizabeth. He can only choose to propose. He seems to forget that the lady also has the right of refusal. Or else he never really considers that a viable possibility. Elizabeth must be wishing and expecting his addresses, right? That’s why he lets her in on his honest feelings and struggles, which she considers highly insulting. Mr. Darcy has made his choice, but he has entirely forgotten about Elizabeth’s preferences. She would prefer not to marry an arrogant, prideful man who has insulted her along with her family all while trying to profess his undying love.

Luckily, Mr. Darcy’s strategic thinking improves throughout the course of the novel and he’s able to turn Elizabeth’s point-by-point refusal into a strategic plan for winning her heart. Or at least that’s what game theory would say.

The author goes through each of Austen’s six novels giving countless examples of both good and bad decisions, characters that excel in decision-making and those who don’t. Elizabeth Bennet may be a good strategic decision-maker, but she is also blinded by prejudice when it comes to Mr. Darcy. Anne Elliot and Elinor Dashwood come ready-made with good strategic skills. Catherine Morland and Fanny Price must learn to act strategically. Emma Woodhouse completely overestimates her own ability to guide others, read situations, and see eventual outcomes.

We not only dive into the ways in which Jane Austen’s work ties in with contemporary game theory, but the author explains how he believes Jane breaks new ground with her novels. Her characters use strategic thinking within themselves to control the interior picture they present to he world—think Anne Elliot or Elinor Dashwood. They also sometimes change their preferences (which is a very good thing for Mr. Darcy). In the end, Austen seems to be saying that the best spouse is someone who you can partner with to work strategically in the world. It’s more romantic than it seems.

One of the most interesting points the author makes about game theory is that good strategic thinking often develops naturally among people who find themselves in an “inferior” or “outsider” position in society. Austen writes as a female in a world where women are almost totally dependent on men. Her heroines don’t think strategically in order to win wars or navigate economic markets. They do it to survive and insure the best possible life for themselves in a system that’s stacked against them. Indeed, characters in positions of power—such as Lady Catherine, Sir Walter Elliot, and General Tilney—often have the biggest blind spots when it comes to making good decisions.

Since the book was written by a professor who teaches game theory and political science at UCLA, the language sometimes felt overly academic and scholarly. While he does a good job explaining complicated concepts to readers, the book isn’t aiming to simplify game theory or Austen for a mass audience. It’s no Freakanomics or The Tipping Point. It definitely doesn’t qualify as light reading, though it is extremely interesting. I tend to like academic writing, but I found some chapters very difficult to get through because the material was so dense.

One of the things that made the book so tough was that it seemed to lack balance throughout. In the beginning, the author spends quite a bit of time (helpfully) explaining game theory. But, he uses examples from other literary works such as Shakespeare or folk tales. It isn’t until Chapter Five that we start to get into Jane’s novels. At that point, the Austen examples became so dense and numerous that it began to feel like I was reading a laundry list of quotes that had been culled from her six novels. More Jane was needed in the beginning, and less, more illustrative example from her work would have helped the last part be much more clear and impactful.

I’d recommend the book if you have an interest in learning more about the science of game theory or if you’re already on your way to being an expert. Austen is a fun backdrop to that. The casual Janeite, though, may be overwhelmed with how dense and academic the language is throughout the book. I know I had my moments of confusion even though, overall, the subject and ideas were really engaging.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Jane Austen, Game Theorist, by Michael Suk-Young Chwe
Princeton University Press (2014)
Trade paperback (296) pages
ISBN: 978-0691162447

Additional Reviews:

Cover image courtesy of Princeton University Press © 2014; text Lisa Galek, Austenprose.com

The Highbury Murders: A Mystery Set in the Village of Jane Austen’s Emma, by Victoria Grossack – A Review

The Highbury Murder 2013 x 200From the desk of Lisa Galek:

Many fans of Jane Austen’s Emma have described it as one of the first mystery novels. A mystery novel with no major crimes or dead bodies. Well, The Highbury Murders seeks to change all that. The game is afoot!

The novel takes place about a year after the events of Emma. Mr. and Mrs. Knightley are happily married and living with Mr. Woodhouse and their infant son at Hartfield. Emma still socializes with her friends Mrs. Weston and the new Mrs. Martin, while Mr. and Mrs. Frank Churchill are staying in London. Austen’s original began with a marriage, but this story opens with a death. Mrs. Bates has passed away and the village of Highbury must get to work making arrangements for her funeral, comforting her daughter, and generally mourning her passing.

Even with all these new developments in Highbury, Emma still can’t help letting her active imagination run a little wild. Will the Churchills arrive in time for the funeral? Why do the Eltons seem so concerned about money all of a sudden? And who are the strangers that Harriet saw lurking outside her back door? When serious crimes begin occurring, Emma must use her wit and intelligence to help her husband get to the bottom of these dastardly deeds. Will Emma and Mr. Knightley be able to figure out whodunit before tragedy strikes again?

This story is a continuation of Emma and it really blends very seamlessly with the first book. The plot flowed perfectly from the original, so I could imagine all these things happening to the folks we know and love in Highbury. The author also writes very well. As soon as I started reading, I was impressed with the way she captured Jane Austen’s language, tone, and style. That’s no easy feat and it really helped me to get invested in the story.

The characters, too, are natural extensions of the original. Emma is just as witty and spirited as always, though marrying Mr. Knightley has helped to make her a little bit wiser. I really enjoyed reading the details about their married life together as they are one of my favorite Austen couples. Other minor characters have expanded and delightful roles. Mrs. Elton is as ill-mannered, obnoxious, and comical as ever. And poor Mr. Woodhouse! How can he even think about walking in his garden with murderers afoot?

The big draw of this story is the mystery that’s lurking in the background. Clues are regularly dropped throughout to give you the sense that something sinister is coming. The book is short, but, it’s not until nearly a third of the way through that a major crime truly hits Highbury. And we’re halfway in before the mystery starts to really pick up steam and get juicy. In my opinion, the story started to drag a bit after Mrs. Bates funeral and it took a while to get to the good detective work. But, it all turned out to be worth it once the criminals really came out.

In the end, the whole mystery wraps up rather nicely. We try to solve the crimes along with Emma and Mr. Knightley, but these dirty deeds aren’t so easily unraveled. There are many suspects (I know I had my suspicious about certain a vicar from the beginning), but the book finishes with a twist ending that I never saw coming. It was actually one that clearly tied back with the original and fit perfectly with everything that had come before.

Emma may indeed be a detective novel with marriage instead of murder as its focus. The Highbury Murders promises all the same mystery, intrigue, and fun of the original. Except with a whole lot more dead bodies.

4.5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Highbury Murders: A Mystery Set in the Village of Jane Austen’s Emma, by Victoria Grossack
CreateSpace Independent Publishing (2013)
Trade paperback (162) pages
ISBN: 978-1482627459

Cover image courtesy CreateSpace Independent Publishing © 2013; Text Lisa Galek © 2014, Austenprose.com

When I’m With You (The Jane Austen Academy Series), by Cecilia Gray – A Review

When I'm with You, by Cecilia Gray (2013)From the desk of Lisa Galek:

I read a lot of young adult fiction and I notice that there’s often a tendency to feature a female main character who’s smart, sassy, and in-control. Of course, these self-confident heroines are important and lots of real-life girls can relate to them. But, some girls are a little less sure of themselves. A little more naïve and a little too trusting. In fact, that’s something that many women struggle with long after they leave high school. No one knew this better than Jane Austen. Her heroines fit into a huge range of personalities and life experiences. In When I’m With You, Cecilia Gray gives us an update on one of Jane’s most underutilized, yet relatable teenage characters, Catherine Morland from Northanger Abbey

Kat Morley just knows that one day she’s gonna be a famous actress. She’s been the lead in five different productions at her high school, the Jane Austen Academy, so it can’t be long until her name is up in lights. When Kat’s classmate (aspiring actor, Josh Wickham) asks her to travel with him to the set of a movie he’s starring in over Christmas break, it’s practically her dream come true! Things get even better once Kat arrives and starts rubbing elbows with the stars. Izzy Engel is not only beautiful and famous but she’s also decided to befriend Kat! And Henry Trenton (son of Hollywood legend, Tom Trenton) has invited her out for hot cocoa! Swoon!

But, it isn’t long before Kat starts to see the dark side of being famous. Constantly being stalked by the paparazzi. Lack of privacy. Having to act and dress a certain way to maintain your image. When Kat is invited to stay at Henry’s home in Los Angeles, she also uncovers some secrets about his famous dad and starts to have some doubts about her new celebrity friends. Maybe being a star really isn’t as wonderful as Kat always imagined? 

When I’m With You is the third in Cecilia Gray’s Jane Austen Academy series. Each of Austen’s six main heroines gets her own story and a transplant to a modern-day boarding school in California. The girls – Lizzie, Ellie, Kat, Fanny, Emma, and Anne – befriend each other over the course of the six books and, of course, get involved with lots of cute boys. I think Jane would be amused.

Even though I wasn’t familiar with any of the other Jane Austen Academy books, reading this one out of order was no problem. I chose to start with this title because it’s based on one of my favorite novels – Northanger Abbey. You don’t see too many modern updates of it, probably because it’s one of Austen’s lesser-read and lesser-known works. That’s actually a shame. I always saw Northanger as particularly relevant to modern folks. Sure, the original book is poking fun at 18th-century gothic novels, but the idea of satirizing pop culture isn’t outdated at all. Here, the author riffs on our modern obsession with fame, Hollywood, and celebrity gossip. The parallels to Austen’s work and the critiques of the world we live in are spot on. And very funny.

Catherine Morland always seemed to me the perfect character to star in a modern young adult novel, too. Here you have a teenage girl away from home and forced to rely on her (still developing) wits to navigate the world around her. She’s naïve, imaginative, and a little too trusting at times. Kat Morley is a great modern parallel to Catherine. Kat wants to be a famous actress one day, but she really has no idea what being a celebrity is all about. She’s a little too awed by fame and filled with enough self-doubt to keep herself from realizing people’s true intentions and feelings. Whether it’s a friend she should be avoiding or a romance she should be pursuing, Kat just doesn’t quite know what to do.

This might make Kat sound a bit dull and indecisive, but she was actually a really fun character to spend an afternoon with. She’s driven and spunky, but filled with a lot of uncertainty in herself that I found very true to life and relatable. Her journey from dreams of stardom to a more realistic vision for her future was very well done, natural, and satisfying. Her friendship with the subtly devious Izzy was perfect and even takes an unexpected turn in the end. And her romance with the quirky and light-hearted Henry Trenton was fun and engaging without taking center stage. Sure, Kat might fall in love, but that never takes away from her growth and development in the story.

The book is very short and, at less than 150 pages, I was able to get through it in a few hours one afternoon. That means that the author cuts away a lot of side plots from the original to focus on Kat’s core journey. There’s no John Thorpe to pursue her. No Eleanor Tilney to befriend her. No James Morland to fall in love with Izzy and no Captain Tilney to lure her away. So, it’s true that the book isn’t as meticulously plotted as the original, and normally, I would miss these little bits and pieces. But, the main story is really juicy and engaging and still flows well. Even as the author trimmed, she was still able to dive deep and do justice to what was left.

Overall, When I’m With You is a short, fun, well-written update on a much neglected, but much loved story. What more could you ask for? I liked the book so much, that I plan on checking out the rest of the series. Amazon is also featuring the first book in the Jane Austen Academy series, Fall for You, (based on Pride and Prejudice) for free. Why not download a copy? I already did and am looking forward to reading more adventures featuring the young ladies of the Jane Austen Academy.

5 out of 5 Stars

When I’m With You (The Jane Austen Academy Series), by Cecilia Gray
Gray Life, LLC (2013)
Digital eBook (147) pages
ASIN: B00ASCHFR6

Additional Reviews:

Cover image courtesy Gray Life, LLC © 2013; text Lisa Galek © 2014, Austenprose.com

Project Darcy, by Jane Odiwe – A Review

Project  Darcy, by Jane Odiwe (2013)From the desk of Lisa Galek:

There’s one thing that’s true about Janeites – we love a good romance. Whether it’s a couple exchanging glances nearly two hundred years ago or a modern guy and gal sharing their first kiss on the streets of London, there’s something so magical about experiencing the feeling of falling in love… even if we’re only reading about it. In her new novel, Project Darcy, Jane Odiwe combines love stories from the past and present to give us an interesting spin on the life of Jane Austen.

When Ellie Bentley agrees to volunteer for an archeological dig at the site of Jane Austen’s childhood home in Steventon Rectory, she’s looking forward to spending a nice summer with her four closest friends – Jess, Martha, Cara, and Liberty. But almost as soon as she arrives, Ellie starts to see strange things: a man who looks just like he could be the ghost of Mr. Darcy and visions of a romance that happened 200 years ago. As the days pass and Ellie learns more about the secrets of Steventon, she gets drawn deeper and deeper into the life and loves of Jane Austen.

Meanwhile, the five friends are finding that their lives are playing out just like one of Austen’s romances. A handsome Oxford student named Charlie Harden has his eye on Jess, while Ellie is convinced that his friend, Henry Dorsey, is the most arrogant man who ever lived. Cara and Liberty are busy flirting with anyone and everyone in their path – even Greg Whitely, a gorgeous TV star who might not be as charming as he seems. Could the visions that Ellie keeps seeing hold the key to figuring out all their modern-day romantic entanglements?

Project Darcy is a bit of a literary mash-up. It’s part modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice and part Austen-inspired magical realism. Not only is Ellie on a journey to find her own Mr. Darcy, but she also has the ability to see into important moments from Jane Austen’s past. While this idea is really interesting and has a lot of potential, in the end, the book sometimes struggled to bring the two stories together.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good contemporary update on Austen. It’s so fun to see her stories play out with modern couples. I also don’t take any issue with characters who randomly travel back in time and help us get to know Jane Austen a little bit better – there’s something delightful about letting our imaginations fill in the gaps in our favorite author’s personal story. But, combining these two is apparently a tricky business.

In this novel, we have a character from the present who randomly falls back into the past every so often. These transitions were always smooth and well-written, but they did sometimes interrupt the flow of the story. One moment we’re with Ellie as she’s about to confront Henry, the next, we’re at a ball in 1796 gazing across the room at Tom Lefroy. Sometimes, it was hard to figure out which love story to focus on. Just when you wanted more of one – poof! – it was gone.

There are lots of Austen-inspired novels that play with some kind of time travel. One of the things I’ve always noticed about these books is the main character will usually spend some time coming to terms with what’s happened. But, Ellie isn’t worried at all when she unexpectedly begins to see visions of the past. The author explains this by saying that Ellie always had a gift for seeing ghosts and such. But, these visions are so intense that they made me wish Ellie would have at least stopped to check in with her doctor and make sure everything was all right.

Aside from all this, the author does write well and the characters are well-developed and vibrant. The love stories, also, are passionate and sweet and will really draw you in. And the event that brings everyone together – the archeological dig at Steventon – really happened. The dialogue is fun and witty, but, at times, it got a little outdated. Occasionally, during the scenes that took place in the present, the characters just came off sounding a bit too formal to be 21st-century guys and girls.

Overall, the book gives us two intriguing romances. It just has a little trouble making them come together. At times, it felt like I was reading two excellent love stories, not one cohesive one. In the end, the author tries to tie everything together in an interesting and surprising way, but, sadly, I don’t think she’s completely able to wrap up all the loose ends.

4 out of 5 Stars

Project Darcy, by Jane Odiwe
Paintbox Publishing (2013)
Trade paperback (326) pages
ISBN: 978-0954572235

Cover image courtesy of Paintbox Publishing © 2013; text Lisa Galek © 2013, Austenprose.com