Young Mr. Darcy in Love: Pride and Prejudice Continues (The Darcys and the Bingleys, Volume 7), by Marsha Altman – A Review

Young Mr Darcy in Love by Marsha Altman (2013)From the desk of Shelley DeWees:

“Geoffrey Darcy considered himself a reasonable person. He was calm and patient, and not given to impulse. His father had taught him that, and he tried his best to keep his first reaction in check and judge the situation dispassionately. The last few weeks, however, he had been devouring the post. It wasn’t worth his time to deny that each time he saw her handwriting and return address on the envelope he smiled. [Today] was such a day…when the mail arrived, Geoffrey jumped at the announcement.” 

The problem with long-distance love is that it’s…well, long-distance. One partner is there, the other here, each living a life separate from the other and receiving only from letters all the affection and tenderness that passes between two lovers. Some people can do it, and others can’t, but the time in history where Young Mr. Darcy in Love is set was more attuned to those who could. Boys went there, girls stayed here. One was in Ireland, the other in London, then Brighton, then Eton — it’s a wonder ladies and gents were able to cultivate relationships at all!  But if you could figure it out, if you could keep him interested via post with all your aimless musings, boy oh boy, you’d hit the jackpot! Romantic letters from a romantic boyfriend? How romantic!

We wish. If you’ve been following Marsha Altman’s epic six-volume tale of life after Elizabeth and Darcy became Mr. and Mrs., you already know that Geoffrey (Darcy Jr, or the ‘young Darcy’ of our tale) and Georgiana, the Jane and Charles’ oldest girl, have been flirting for a while now. They’ve grown up shoulder to shoulder, been through the ups and downs of family life; even seen one another through more than a few major mixups. It’s a match, for sure(ish), but a regrettably long-distance one. In this seventh installment, Geoffrey has packed up and moved to school, a world of mumbling professors and demanding tutors, but Georgie has stayed home to perfect her not-so-girlish pursuits so the couple must turn to letters to get things moving. And very unfortunately for Geoffrey, Georgie’s unconventional life doesn’t leave much time for letter writing, and he is forced to console himself with short, silly notes that completely disguise her real feelings. Will she finally, after six books worth of foreplay, marry him? Will he have enough patience to wait it out?

The subplots of Marsha’s story circle nicely around this core issue, some cleverly derailing the Geoffrey/Georgie plans and others reinstating them, chapter by chapter. Will they or won’t they?  There seem to be a lot of reasons why not — both families are seemingly in a race to see how many disasters each of them can field before turning to round-the-clock scotch consumption.  Darcy is losin’ it with worry over his first daughter reaching the age of marriageability while Elizabeth is laughing into her sleeve. Geoffrey and Dr. Maddox both have serious physical maladies. Georgie is consistently covered with bruises and assuaging her mother’s apprehension with quippy remarks. Again. George the Younger, Frederick, and Charles the Other Younger are all giving college the ‘ol college try with mixed results. Brian Maddox has an embarrassing legal encounter with the King of England and Charles Bingley is, as usually, totally fine, even when he probably shouldn’t be. It’s a crazy world for this clan, necessitating trips back and forth to Ireland, Darcy-style financial interventions, and more than a few flips to the family tree cheater page at the front of the book to find out…wait…who’s doing what with whom again? Was that the same guy as before? Crazy!

Altman’s dialogue is as snappy as you’ve come to expect, her research as thorough as it had been in the previous novels, but this time her pacing was a bit wibbly and some sections were zipped through rather hastily. The problem gets worse as the story nears its end, and this compounded with gratingly provincial sexuality and the excessive display of Georgie’s character flaws left me slightly wanting for quality, the kind seen in her earlier works. However, the seventh installment expediently confers upon the reader a grand sense of scope, the huge expanse of this universe, and the thoughtfulness and dazzling efforts of its creator. The book is worth the effort, especially if you’ve been a series devotee until now, so pick it up and see…will Geoffrey and Georgie finally make it official?

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Young Mr. Darcy in Love: Pride and Prejudice Continues (The Darcys and the Bingleys, Volume 7), by Marsha Altman
CreateSpace (2013)
Trade paperback (642) pages
ISBN: 978-1490593708

Cover image courtesy of Laughing Man Publications © 2013; text Shelley DeWees © 2013, Austenprose.com

Jane Austen’s England, by Roy and Lesley Adkins – A Review

Jane Austens England, by Lesley and Roy Adkins (2013)From the desk of Shelley DeWees:

“In her novels Jane Austen brilliantly portrayed the lives of the middle and upper classes, but barely mentioned the cast of characters who constituted the bulk of the population. It would be left to the genius of the next generation, Charles Dickens, to write novels about the poor, the workers and the lower middle classes. His novel A Tale of Two Cities starts with celebrated words: ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.’ This is a succinct summary of Jane Austen’s England, on which we are about to eavesdrop.” p. xxvi

You’ve been warned. Should you wish to maintain the sanctity of your internal imagery of Jane Austen, turn back now, before you step into the not-so-forgiving light of real history. Do thoughts of frocks and frolicking and tea cakes and rainbows seen through the thin gauze of parasols really blow your skirt up? Wishing you could be amongst the ladies and gents of an Austen ball? Hoping against hope that somehow, magically, you could be transported into Jane’s idyllic agrarian life? Jane Austen’s England, in all its cool clarity and detail, is probably not where you should look for inspiration, and may in fact leave you reeling; your perfect imaginary life forever ruined! The humanity of it!

But if you’re still with me (and I hope you are), prepare yourself for an eye-opening journey, most especially if this is your first foray into the real daily experiences of English Austen life. You’re in for more than a few surprises. Those who have already dabbled in history will find themselves going, “Huh! Really?” often enough, too! Don’t believe me? Behold the following snippets that stupefied me, an Austen lover well versed in the ways of history who, even still, wasn’t at all prepared:

  1. Able-bodied men were constantly worried about being forced to join the Royal Navy. Many thousands were dragged out of their lodgings and off the streets, fitted for a uniform, and directed toward the nearest ship despite having foreign citizenship and the passports to prove it. A rude way to wake up indeed, and ruder still if you found yourself fighting against your own country. Score one for England!
  2. Jane Austen’s visits to her brother’s fashionable London apartment took place only blocks away from unspeakable squalor. Traveling there, she would have undoubtedly passed at least a few decomposing corpses strung up alongside the road as a warning to criminals. Seeing as how death was the penalty for almost every crime, even trivial ones, sights such as these were commonplace but probably still fairly distracting.
  3. In an effort to free the local parish from the unwanted costs of raising illegitimate children, the pregnant woman was compelled, under the Bastardy Act (giggles!) of 1733, to name the father of her child, who then had the choice to either pay the church for the upkeep of the kid or to go to jail. Barring the ability or desire to do one of those things, he could choose to marry the lady, or run away. A perfect beginning to a perfect marriage, it would seem. Extremely desirable, right?

Candles smelled like the slaughterhouse, income gaps between rich and poor were ridiculous, and medical staff were almost hysterical in their ineptitude. But, all of this is ignored in Jane’s masterpieces, swept under the rug along with the burned remains of last year’s dress that, oops, accidentally set on fire (small price to pay for sitting in the part of the room with a temperature above 30 degrees, because seriously, that corner over there is literally frozen). Austen’s works were created by a lovely lady who, despite her apparent grace, must’ve been stinky beyond all comprehension. And even though it hurts to say it, she probably, just like the rest of her monied comrades, possessed an excessive amount of free time and thus, led an epically idle lifestyle. I suppose it’s no great astonishment that she chose to leave that kind of information out.

Oh, it stings, but it stings so good. While this beautiful, impeccably-researched volume will rob you of your fancies, it leaves in their place a much more interesting and dynamic picture of Austen’s life and times. Never will you have more appreciation for Jane until you fully understand the world she occupied while spinning peaceful, blissful tales of country life, tales that always, somehow, end just the way they’re supposed to despite being outlined on a napkin in the back of a filthy carriage, squelching through 3 inches of mud. Jane Austen’s England is the first book to address the daily lives of Austen’s contemporaries, stocked full of interesting facts and firsthand accounts (those of governess Nelly Weeton are particularly intriguing). The considerable skills of Mr. and Mrs. Adkins have never been put to better use, something which will become obvious after you stroll brightly from cradle to grave through marriage, child-rearing, fashions and filth, sermons and superstitions, and wealth and work. You’ll be clinging to your wool socks and smartphone like never before. Also, inquisitive researchers and flippant dabblers alike will find lots of goodies lingering in the back pages: a chronological overview, chapter-by-chapter notes, a full index, and a dazzling bibliography all await.

So pull up your petticoats and start trudging through the mess, because the real world is truly an amazing place, even more amazing that Jane Austen was a part of it all. Jane Austen’s England will leave you dumbfounded! And for those of you who fear the lamentable loss of your Regency idealism, don’t worry, there’s always Colin Firth.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Jane Austen’s England, by Roy and Lesley Adkins
The Viking Press (2013)
Hardcover (448) pages
ISBN: 978-0670785841

Cover image courtesy of The Viking Press © 2013; text Shelley DeWees © 2013, Austenprose.com

Sons and Daughters: Darcy and Fitzwilliam Book Two, by Karen Wasylowski – A Review

Sons and Daughters: Darcy and Fitzwilliam Book Two, by Karen V. Wasylowki (2012)From the desk of Shelley DeWees

Care for a slice of dialogue?  I promise that you’ll find it irresistibly juicy, bursting to the seams with wit and character.  This is Karen Wasylowski’s work, after all, and you may still have the lingering juices from her first book Darcy and Fitzwilliam on your tongue.  It tasted like Pride and Prejudice, but more tangy, more modern, more real (if you haven’t read it, you should, posthaste).  This is totally worth the indulgence.  Go ahead.  Live a little.

Just then the door opened and in walked Fitzwilliam Darcy.

            “Darcy!  It’s about time you arrived!”

            “Wonderful to see you as well, Fitz.”  Darcy then turned to O’Malley.  “Hello, Patrick.  Good to see you, how is Mrs. O’Malley?”

            “Grand, sir.  Just grand, and, I thank you for askin’.  She’s got a proper cap to wear now she does, enjoys bossin’ around her new maid.”

            Fitzwilliam slammed a cup down to kill a roach.

            “Excellent news, and well deserved I might add.  And the boys?  Getting quite tall I’ll warrant.”

            “Growin’ like weeds, they are, another on the way and, again, so good of you to inquire.”  Patrick swept away the dead bug with his hand then wiped his hand on his trousers.

            “My, aren’t you two delightful?  A regular Tristan and Isolde without all that lovely prose to distract the mind.  Well, as much as I hate to break up this heartwarming tableau I’m famished and you’re nearly a quarter hour late, Darcy.”

            “And you’re in a foul mood.  Has he been like this all day, Patrick?”

            “Naw.  Most time, he’s worse.”  Patrick then turned and left before he was sacked once again.

Brazen, boyish Fitzwilliam stands in stark contrast to his upstanding cousin, Darcy of Pemberley, of Pride and Prejudice, of the deepest wanderings of all your Colin-Firth-look-a-like fantasies of fiction male stardom.  Next to a man like that, Fitzwilliam appears undignified, unmannered, even silly — totally real.  Fitzwilliam isn’t like other male characters in Austen and Austenesque literature, because he isn’t a courtly, noble person yet remains on the side of good.  He’s as unlikely to hurt someone as Georgiana Darcy, and far more apt to offer you a toast of health and good cheer.  Sure, he’s doing it with a foul mouth and an attitude fit for a brothel, but who cares?  Charming and enthusiastic, Fitzwilliam is a breath of fresh air.  Darcy is…well, Darcy.  All that you love of him, and more, but unsurprisingly nice.  His stately, composed personality makes up for all of Fitzwilliam’s shortcomings, which is perhaps why the two make such a wondrous pair in Sons and Daughters, the second installment in the series from Karen Wasylowski.

The early portions of the story find Darcy doing his Darcy thing, wandering around his lovely homes and out into London to meet people and talk about stuff.  He pays his bills, meets his solicitors, goes “on up to Parliament” and around to see his deliciously-styled Aunt Catherine who is fabulously, unapologetically drunk on “medicinal liquid” most of the time.  I can’t help but see Judi Dench and a big pile of frosted grey hair, but what’s better than that?  Nothing.  Nothing is better than Lady Catherine de Bourgh, especially as seen through the brilliant character depiction that Karen Wasylowski employs.  Fitzwilliam is another one of these creations, though he finds himself with much less time on his hands.  As the Surveyor General, he is busy and overtaxed (hence the snarky attitude) but still manages to find time to hang out with his wife and family.

And believe me, that includes plenty of people.  Darcy and lovely Elizabeth (who remains a back-burner voice in this interpretation — don’t be surprised) have a respectable number of offspring with a respectable, quiet life and a respectable, quiet group of helpers around them.  Their kids are sweet, generous, and well-spoken.  But of course, Fitzwilliam’s brood stands in contrast, both in numbers and in personalities.  While Darcy’s children are playing the pianoforte and researching Chinese history, Fitz’s are monkeying around like hoodlums, dropping bags of flour from 3rd-story windows, sliding down banisters, and causing their parents untold amounts of torment.  It goes so far that by the end of the book, I determined that Fitz and Amanda are bloody bad parents.

But remember, this is Karen Wasylowski’s work.  She’s the master of modern Austen, unafraid to throw in little gems and goodies like these.  The faults of the parents become the faults of the children in the real world, and such is the case here.  You’ll find yourself stunned at the lack of discipline and responsibility from Amanda and Fitz’s crazy children, the end of the book exploding with the bad behavior and carelessness that only ungoverned children can enact (now that they’re grown, you see, the cracks in their foundations really begin to show).

It’s a refreshing ride through Austen territory, but not your typical trip at all.  You’ll find bits of tradition, sure, but I found myself scratching my head at their placement, almost like they were included as a token gesture to those who search for them.  Everyone seems to live the same life over and over, cooling in passions and slackening in pursuits as the years mount, forcing the narrative to focus on the offspring simply to find something interesting again!  This tiresome path simply didn’t fit alongside the edgy, flashy prose.  However, I was consistently kept afloat by Ms. Wasylowski’s excellent skill as a writer.  She is a gifted storyteller with exceptional talent, especially with character development.  Sons and Daughters won’t leave you wanting!  Saddle up and don’t forget your boots!

4.5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Sons and Daughters: Darcy and Fitzwilliam Book Two, by Karen V. Wasylowski
CreateSpace (2012)
Trade paperback (416) pages
ISBN: 978-1480002913

© 2012 Shelley DeWees, Austenprose

The Knights of Derbyshire: Pride and Prejudice Continues, by Marsha Altman – A Review

Knights of Derbyshire, by Marsha Altman (2012)Review by Shelley DeWees – The Uprising

Tell me.  Do you think this sounds like a Jane Austen novel?

“Gawain!” he screamed as he pulled himself free at the sound of his dog’s cry.  From the corner of his eye, he could see his assailant grab the other man’s cane out from under him and raise it to strike, but that did not register until the blow came down, fast and hard on the man’s head, and he still had not reached his dog.  Somewhere between the slam of wood into his own temple and the completion of his fall backwards he saw it all – the limping dog running off, the men shouting, one grabbing the wall for support.  It all became a haze as Gawain disappeared from his vision entirely.  “Go,” he whispered, and hit the ground.  The shock of it was too much for his head to take, and everything went black.

Or how about this?  Jane Austen?

Jane was already gone when he rose that winter morning.  With nothing pressing on his schedule while his business partner was abroad, he yawned luxuriously and washed his face before thinking about preparing for the day.  He was still toweling his face when he heard the scream. 

Perhaps.  Perhaps it was Jane Austen’s tormented twin whose dreams bubbled to the surface unbridled, unrestricted, and unbelievable—maybe writing them down was an exercise in sanity.  Perhaps this is what Jane Austen would’ve written if she lived next door to Sherlock Holmes.  Who knows?

In all reality, The Knights of Derbyshire is Marsha Altman’s work, fantastic and engaging, so one can only assume that she is either channeling Jane Austen’s thrilling parallel universe, or we’ve got a seriously talented writer on our hands (or both).  Those looking for a tea-and-crumpets kind of read, one dripping with “my my, your fine eyes are positively beguiling” or any phrase that might bring to mind “well ma’am, I’m just so charmingly befuddled” should look elsewhere.  Altman’s Austen doesn’t exist as a world away from our own, floating up in the sky, untouched by troubles, unmoved by reality.  Rather, it is chock full of stimulating dilemmas both modern and historical, brimming with questions about trust and mistrust, family, money, and conformity into societal norms.  A perfect world?  No.  A living world it is, dear readers!  Altman has superimposed real-world life onto Austen’s characters and settings, seamlessly and with spectacular results!  Are you ready?!

The fifth book in her series The Darcys and the Bingleys, The Knights of Derbyshire finds Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth, Jane, and Charles in their late thirties and forties, hurdling toward old age as the elderly Mr. Bennet hangs on, his body giving into the time but his mind staying sharp as a knife.  Their mess of children has grown up through the past four books and is now about to go out into the world for themselves, a new generation raised on Bingley cheer and Darcy-ish smirks and winks.  And what a world they’re walking into!  There may be peace on the shores of France but England has begun to roil with disorder and chaos as many of the lower people begin to revolt against aristocracy.  Geoffrey (heir to Pemberley, with all its rights and privileges), George (son of nasty Mr. Wickham and the now-remarried Lydia), and Georgiana (oldest daughter to Charles and Jane Bingley) lead the plot of this moving tale while the older, wiser characters take a back seat.  But you won’t miss their presence because just like any good parent, they come in when they’re needed, when times get desperate, when the occasion calls for it…and it will.  Disaster comes to Pemberley, and not the kind that can be soothed by taking some air.  I have no wish to spoil it for you, but I will say that this predicament requires help from abroad, Darcy’s checkbook, Elizabeth’s cunning, Georgiana’s considerable fighting skills, and many many, many swigs of bravery-inducing whiskey.

Altman’s style, even while tackling these challenging issues, still manages to remain light-hearted, funny, even silly at times, so don’t for one second think you’ll frown your way through this delightful read!  The Austen folks are alive and thriving, and what’s better than that?  Her prose is elegant yet unpretentious, just as you expected, and she has an amazing way of taking the original characters to new, modern heights without compromising their integrity as Austen creations.  This is real life, baby, with an Austen undercurrent.  The Knights of Derbyshire won’t disappoint!

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Knights of Derbyshire: Pride and Prejudice Continues (Volume 5), by Marsha Altman
Laughing Man Publications (2012)
Trade paperback (406) pages
ISBN: 978-0979564536

© 2012 Shelley DeWees, Austenprose

Glamour in Glass, by Mary Robinette Kowal – A Review

Glamour in Glass, Mary Robinette Kowal (2012)Review by Shelley DeWees – The Uprising

“Accustomed as she was to the more retiring life on her father’s estate, Jane had not looked for any honors when she married Mr. Vincent.  The few months of their marriage had been filled with work and the joy of learning to shape their lives together.”

It’s a sequel!  To Shades of Milk and Honey!  Are you excited?  After the resounding success of that, Mary Robinette Kowal’s first book, you probably should be.  But beware as you peruse this, gentle readers, for I have written it under the assumption that you’ve read and enjoyed the lovely first novel.  Spoilers abound!

The end of Shades of Milk and Honey brought an explosive duel, the victory of a suitor, and, as all Regency-era novels tend to do, a wedding.  Vincent and Jane are as happy as they’ve ever been, enjoying life not only as a romantic pair, gazing into each other’s eyes and invoking pet names at every opportunity, but also as a creative partnership.  They effectively go into business together as England’s Best Glamourists and are swiftly snapped up by the Prince Regent and his cohort.  Jane soon finds herself rubbing elbows with the aristocracy, and feels a certain apprehension at the new attention.  Any mistake in her creations now affect her partnership, her place in the world…everything!  Needless to say, she’s always the first one to leave the party and go upstairs.

Not that she’s unproductive.  Much of the story is taken up by the discovery and implementation of Jane’s transport theories for magic, something she discovers by accident as she’s bouncing around Belgium on a working vacation/honeymoon.  She explores, experiments, figures a few interesting things out…a few, uh, remarkable surprises.  One is highly predictable.  One is not.  Another is utterly absurd. Blowing the cover on all of them now would be unkind, suffice to say that Jane’s life is again thrown into turmoil and she’s forced to call upon all her knowledge and expertise (and call in a few favors) to get everything to settle down again.

All of this is superimposed over Ms. Kowal’s elegant magic system, “glamour” as she calls it.  Using the language of textiles, glamourists pull sheets and strands of glamour out of the “ether” and manipulate them in the way a master weaver would.  Folding, braiding, knotting, and tying-off are all common acts with glamour, but it’s in the doing where creativity and deftness of hand where Jane really shines.  She’s totally devoted to her craft, her confidence having grown exponentially as she took her first timid steps away from her father’s home.  Yes, it’s a lovely arrangement, yet it still remains as mysterious and under-explained as it was in Shades of Milk and Honey.  The only moderate salvation to the magic-curious people who take up Glamour in Glass is in a 2-page Glamour Glossary, tucked into the back of the book almost as an afterthought.  Now, to be fair, Ms. Kowal does make the attempt to showcase the logistics of the magic with Jane’s stay at a school for glamourists, an innovative move but one that still left me guessing.  For an author who’s so widely known for her fantasy and science fiction work, I’m still wishing for more!  Certainly more than a glossary.  Please?

But in general, the story bounds along in an elegant way.  Kowal’s writing style is beautiful and engrossing, not to Regency-y but still conforming to the canon of the time.  It’s a noble effort for a second novel, and displays a lot of growth and maturation for her second attempt.  Her characters are still a little shallow, her pace a bit too quick, but a trip through Glamour in Glass shouldn’t leave you disappointed.  If you enjoyed Shades of Milk and Honey, give this one a shot!

4.5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Glamour in Glass, by Mary Robinette Kowal
Tor Books (2012)
Hardcover (336) pages
ISBN: 978-0765325570
NOOK: ISBN: 9781429987288
Kindle: ASIN: B006OLOUQY

© 2007 – 2012 Shelley DeWees, Austenprose

Second Impressions, by Ava Farmer – A Review

Second Impressions, by Ava Farmer (2011)Guest review by Shelley DeWees – The Uprising

With her husband’s solemn assurances that he did not regret his marriage to her as the cause of no heir, his generous and reasonable reflections on the matter, and his half-jest that , ‘should Georgiana never marry, one of the Bingley boys will do very well,’ Elizabeth could have no cause to repine.  She had daily the very pleasant female society of Georgiana, and could visit the Bingleys whenever she chose.  Mistress of her days, spent in the informed intercourse and agreeable companionship of her husband and his sister, Elizabeth regarded her own as the best of blessings.  Elizabeth was as happy as even the wife of Mr. Darcy should be.

As a continuation of Pride and Prejudice, Second Impressions is a monolith of good Austen example, a shining beacon of this-is-how-we-do-it research technique that is so prettily put together – the original author of Pride and Prejudice would be dazzled.  And me?  Well, I was dazzled too.

The very first, uh…impression that you get of Second Impressions is this.  The amazing proficiency that Ava Farmer shows is astounding, and as she flexes her Regency muscles on the page your mind will reel.  Just how long did it take her to figure this out?  To write as Jane Austen wrote without second guessing every word or running to an encyclopedia, making it seem as natural as if she were simply channeling our beloved author?  26 years, actually.  It took Ava Farmer 26 years to put this baby together and believe me, it shows.  Paragraphs about architecture, medicine, education, climate, horticulture, and the care of animals bubble up everywhere and fly out of every character’s mouth, both in England and abroad.  Beyond the research, Farmer’s writing positively smacks of Austen, even down to inserting the next word after the page-turn at the bottom of the one before it, a cute and clever addition to the elegant prose.

The story loosely revolves around Georgiana, Elizabeth, and Darcy while they live out their days in all the luxury and stimulation that Pemberley has to offer.  They wine and dine and dance and visit and play music, all the while shaking their fists at the sky over the lack of an heir.  Elizabeth’s sister Jane’s pregnant with her fifth, however, and seems to slowly be settling into exhaustion just as younger sister Kitty nails down a suitor for herself.  The reader becomes privy to the fabulous background stories of Cousin Fitzwilliam and Lady Catherine DeBourgh as the story continues, and later, even familiar Austen characters show up, both as representations and as the real thing.  Darcy asks Mr. Knightley (from Austen’s novel Emma) “on a tour of the Pemberley collieries” and “often of a morning joins Captain Wentworth (from Persuasion) at the Corn Exchange to review the news.”  Sidney Parker from Sandition is a favored confidante of Mr. Darcy, and the less-than-loveable windbag character found in Emma’s Miss Bates is reproduced for the portly, voluble Parson Overstowey.  Yes, it’s a veritable feast for any student of Austen or lover of Pride & Prejudice, and certainly not unworthy of enormous praise and passion.

Yet despite all the beauty of Second Impressions (First Impressions was the original title of Pride and Prejudice…but you already knew that), I did find flaw with the tendency for all the scholastic research to cloud and impede the forward movement of the story.  There were a few moments that drew out like a stick through molasses, slowly and heavily trudging toward an unknown end, and one particular comment from Elizabeth that forced my brow to furrow and my mouth to form the words, “Uh…when would Jane Austen ever write something like that?”  The characters sometimes act more like caricatures, intricately arranged to display the research in greater detail rather than take part in the scene.  The resulting plot is a bit slow, and is particularly arduous during the Darcy’s family trips abroad.  BUT!  My quibbles are small, and yours will be too.  There was great enjoyment during my time in Ava Farmer’s world, and truly, the study and examination that went into its creation cannot be lauded enough.   This one should go on your shelf.

4.5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Second Impressions, by Ava Farmer
Chawton House Press (2011)
Hardcover (412) pages
ISBN: 978-1613647509
Kindle: ASIN: B0079M51RY

© 2007 – 2012 Shelley DeWees, Austenprose

A Summer in Europe, by Marilyn Brant – A Review

Summer in Europe, by Marylin Brant (2011)Guest review by Shelley DeWees – The Uprising

“A chorus of Happy Birthday roused her into greater awareness of the rest of the group.  Her aunt, who’d managed to light candles on a big, chocolate, sprinkle-covered birthday cake, came forward in song and demanded Gwen’s attention.  She thought about her wish: to be happy, secure, loved by someone and not so very afraid her life would end before she got to experience this.  She took a breath and blew.

Every candle went out.  All except one.”

So begins the 30th year of the life of Gwen, a beige-slipper-wearing, commitment-obsessive, scrupulously diligent Iowa girl.  She loves Andrew Lloyd Weber, meticulous flossing and fruit kebabs, and she knows in her heart that all she wants is to be engaged…to an insurance agent with the company motto on the back of his car.

If you think it sounds dull, you’re right!  Gwen is lost in a life of muted and measured structure, swimming in bowls of bran cereal and floral peach skirts, Barbara Streisand, pearl earrings, and crippling juvenile embarrassment about her own sexuality.  She’s the dreariest 30-year-old you’ll ever meet, but you’ll hope for the best as Gwen’s feisty Aunt Bea surprises her with a trip to Europe.  Think of the possibilities!  She can walk among the ruins of Rome!  She can eat Sachertorte in Vienna and meander the watery streets of Venice!  She can live for once!  That is, if she’s ready to be alive at all, to breathe in and out, to take it all in.

I had my doubts, actually.  Gwen is chronically detached from everything around her, constantly moping and pouting as she participates in the classic American-in-Western-Europe experience: Italy, Austria, Hungary, France and England with a tour guide and a group of octogenarians.  As she wanders around, uninspired and lifeless, she begins to slowly understand how much she’s missing as a result of her fear and mistrust of the unknown.  Where was her path leading?  What the hell was she doing, traipsing around like a lost puppy?  Where’s the life in her life?  Gradually, she begins to figure things out with the help of a gregarious English man and his spontaneous younger brother, her aunt, and the other tour mates whose sparkling personalities utterly dwarf her own.

Having read Marilyn Brant’s work before, I was unsurprised when the prose and phrasing of the book rolled through my mind like honey, beautifully structured and carefully executed with the clarity of a practiced writer.  A Summer in Europe reads a lot like a travel guide, with snippets of history and accounts of heavily-visited landmarks and restaurants, hotels and gelato stands, coffeehouses and boutiques, an undertaking that must’ve been challenging and complicated.  Again Ms. Brant’s commitment to quality sings true, as seen in her previous works like Friday Mornings at Nine.

But just like Friday Mornings at Nine, my scruples with the book came with the depiction of characters, both main and supporting.  I rolled my eyes at Gwen’s lack of strength, passions, or pursuits and her inability to order her own meals, but I let out an audible “UGH!” at her girlish blushing in front of David in Florence.   I found myself saying, “REALLY?!” when Gwen bounced back and forth between two men, entertaining the idea of being with both of them but never considering what would happen if she were to simply be alone, to wander off the beaten track by herself and think things through.  Gwen is on a non-adventure adventure, and her determination to be a woman of the world seems disingenuous and totally insincere by the end.  A Summer in Europe’s secondary roles are filled by wholly predictable creatures, complete with bad jokes, gender stereotypes, and rounded off with an absurd encounter with “Surrey With the Fringe on Top” that I’ll leave open to your imagination.

With all the talent that seems to be pouring out of Marilyn Brant’s fingers, I still greatly look forward to another contribution.  A Summer in Europe may absolutely be worth your time if you appreciate the simple beauty of seamless prose, or if you’re thinking about visiting Europe for the first time, but you may also find that you’re better off waiting for her next book.

3.5 out of 5 Stars

Summer in Europe, by Marilyn Brant
Kensington Publishing (2011)
Trade paperback (352) pages
ISBN: 978-0758261519
Nook: ISBN: 978-0758274212
Kindle: ASIN: B005G023VI

© 2007 – 2012 Shelley DeWees, Austenprose

George Knightley, Esquire: Charity Envieth Not, by Barbara Cornthwaite – A Review

George Knightley Esquire: Book One, by Barbara Cornthwaite (2009)Guest review by Shelley DeWees – The Uprising

The fact that he was in love with Emma had been confronting him for some time, but he had pushed it away and given other names to the emotions that ought to have enlightened him. He had blundered on, deaf to the pleadings of his heart until the revelation of them burst on him in a surprising and, it must be said, inconvenient way.  No doubt he had appeared as a complete imbecile tonight, standing there in a trance and unable to do anything but watch Emma as he acknowledged to himself for the first time that it was not because he was a partial old friend that he admired her dancing and her figure and her liveliness—it was because he wanted her for himself.

Ever prudent, inner-directed and thoughtful, George Knightley struggles with his feelings for Emma.  Is she more like a little sister or a girlfriend?  Can he really handle her conceited and sometimes impudent ways?  Would marriage with her be a constant string of reprimands and eye-rolls for being so precocious?  Boy oh boy Mr. Knightely is confused, and probably more so than you thought from your Emma readings.  George Knightley, Esquire, by Barbara Cornthwaite, is a delightful re-telling of Emma that gives Mr. Knightley a chance to shine.

Truth be told, I went into this review kicking and screaming.  Emma is my least favorite Jane Austen novel, mostly because it seems like a story that happens in high school (and as the movie Clueless shows us, I’m not entirely wrong).  Emma herself seems an over-inflated child of idle pleasures to me, a quality which might really lend itself to a story if only something would happen!  It plods along with the pace of a turtle walking through molasses.  Despite the work being from the lovely Jane Austen and therefore commanding instant respect, Emma gets a big ‘ol “meh” and a dismissive hand wave from me.  I tell you this only so you can fully understand the breadth of my meaning when I ask, is it a crime to like the re-telling better than the original?

Because well, I did.  SURPRISE!  George Knightley, Esquire was a delight.  Written from the perspective of the oft-unexplored quiet life of the neighborhood bachelor, it makes the reader privy to all kinds of mindful musings, delicious realizations (WOW!  I LOVE EMMA!), and even bouts of loneliness spent in front of the fire in the soft gloom of Donwell Abbey’s library.  George Knightely goes about his business keenly aware of his surroundings and indeed, of all Emma’s schemes and shortcomings while he moves about his lands.  It was wonderful to see the rarely-exposed work life of a gentleman, with all his account balancing, estate visits, charity donations, and efforts to rebuild a cottage for one of his residents.  It was even more wonderful to point and laugh at Emma, whose actions seem positively absurd when seen through the clear mind of Mr. Knightley.  I found myself laughing more than once.

George Knightley, Esquire is but half the story of Emma and her silliness, leaving off at the moment when Frank Churchill heads for the hills instead of the dance floor and leaves Mr. Knightley to muse about whether he should be open with Emma about his feelings.  He’s consumed with love for her but won’t say it.  How very English.  Hope remains, however, and it becomes obvious that Knightley and Emma are truly great friends with a mutual adoration for one another (despite the fact that many days go by where one is ignored by the other or haunted by japes and snarky comments).  It’s really quite adorable, made only better by Barbara Cornthwaite’s mastery of prose and storytelling.  The book is teeming with interest and intrigue and will leaving you grumbling when it’s over, especially when you realize that the sequel isn’t available until August 25th.  No matter, though!  This will keep you entertained until then!  This is Emma, but better!

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

George Knightley, Esquire: Charity Envieth Not, by Barbara Cornthwaite
CreateSpace (2009)
Trade paperback (260) pages
ISBN: 978-1449587079

© 2007 – 2011 Shelley DeWees, Austenprose

The Road to Pemberley: An Anthology of New Pride and Prejudice Stories, edited by Marsha Altman – A Review

The Road to Pemberley, edited by Marsha Altman (2011)Guest review by Shelley DeWees – The Uprising

Did you ever wonder about Georgiana Darcy, cooped up in her big mansion waiting for a few letters from her big brother?  Or how about a mushroom trip at the dinner table, with only the snide Caroline Bingley to keep any clear-headed company?  Ever wonder what that would be like?  What about Kitty Bennet?  Whatever happened to her?

Yes, if you’ve ever wondered about these things, then The Road to Pemberley is for you.  Stemming from our beloved Pride and Prejudice, this anthology of twelve short-stories rolls nearly every character, plot device, setting, and love interest into a big wad, smashing and smooshing, mixing and fixing, wringing out story after story of creative fan fiction where every sentence is dripping with possibility.  And really, many of them ooze with NEW possibility!  Things you’ve never thought of before!  Things more exciting than Darcy and Elizabeth with a gaggle of children and millions of dollars to play with!

Edited by The Darcys and the Bingleys series author Marsh Altman, she also supplies the introduction and her own short-story “Pride and Prejudice Abridged.” Regina Jeffers is another familiar Austen sequel writer and offers up “The Pemberley Ball.” The remaining ten authors are debuting fan fiction writers: “But He Turned Out Very Wild” by Sarah A. Hoyt, “A Long, Strange Trip” by Ellen Gelerman, “An Ink-Stained Year” by Valerie T. Jackson, “The Potential of Kitty Bennet” by Jessica Koschnitzky, “A Good Vintage Whine” by Tess Quinn, “Georgiana’s Voice” by J.H. Thompson, “Secrets in the Shade” by Bill Friesema, “A View from the Valet” by Nacie Mackey, “Beneath the Greenwood Trees” by Marilou Martineau and “Father of the Bride” by Lewish Whelchel.

These short-story writers are to be commended for a number of reasons, not the least of which being a complete and utter destruction of my expectations in terms of plain ‘ol creativity.  There are few accounts of a perfect, problem-less life between the Darcy  pair, and instead many more anecdotes from angles I never expected: a gander at Darcy as a rambunctious child (a story that also features actual, properly-formatted citations and footnotes….thank you!), a Downton Abbey-esque retelling of Darcy’s life through the eyes of his valet, a mysterious tale of extortion from a rare male Austen fanfic writer, and a what-if scenario featuring Darcy, Bingley, a locked cellar, and many bottles of port.  What else could an Austen worshipper ask for?

These stories all stand out in a sea of Jane Austen materials, and to see them bound together in one volume will enamor every Austen lover out there.  Characters will come alive again, if only briefly, and sing their tale with new energy and enthusiasm that will take your beloved copy of Pride and Prejudice virtually apart, throw the pages in the air, then stitch them back together in a manner you never thought possible.  Wickham’s story especially will grip you, and you’ll find yourself wondering if Ms. Austen didn’t deliberately leave out some important details…ahem.

Though we have Marsha Altman to thank for collecting the words of these budding authors, her own additions are not her best efforts.  The introduction is a confusing foray into the beginnings of Austen fanfic with a decidedly sarcastic tone, and the short prefaces that begin each story serve more as a platform for Altman’s opinion and less as a space to share excitement for the new author.  Those add-ons, compiled with references to her own works that dot the book, cloud the pages of The Road to Pemberley in a disappointing way.  Having been overjoyed at her Ballad of Gregoire Darcy, I was taken aback by her methods here!

Nevertheless, The Road to Pemberley might be just what you’re looking for: short, engaging stories for these hot, summer days.  Though you might be wearing a bathing suit on the outside, The Road to Pemberley will make you feel like you’re wearing a Regency dress on the inside…no doubt sweating your booty off.  But don’t worry.  I won’t tell anyone.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Road to Pemberley: An Anthology of New Pride and Prejudice Stories, edited by Marsha Altman
Ulysses Press (2011)
Trade paperback (400) pages
ISBN: 978-1569759349

© 2007 – 2011 Shelley DeWees, Austenprose

Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal – A Review

Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal (2011)Guest review by Shelley DeWees – The Uprising

“Of his younger daughter, Melody, he had no concerns, for she had a face made for fortune.  His older daughter, Jane, made up for her deficit of beauty with rare taste and talent in the womanly arts.  Her skill with glamour, music, and painting was surpassed by none in their neighborhood and together lent their home the appearance of wealth far beyond their means.  But he knew how fickle young men’s hearts were.”

Presumably, one sister is “milk” and the other is “honey.”  They complement each other, yet stand alone, one with sweetness and flashy, showy pizazz, and the other with banal yet comfortable stability.  Sound like any other story you’ve heard?  Two sisters vying for attentions of the neighborhood menfolk with two completely different approaches: one passionate, erratic and overly capricious, the other steady and mindful and only dimly lit in terms of beauty.  Sound familiar?

It did (and does) to me, too.  Indeed, the similarities to Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility are palpable, from the easily-placed characters and their tastes, feelings, and under-developed motivations, to the plot, with a cadre of viable bachelors parading around and only one of them noble in his intentions.  The passionate sister even falls and twists her ankle; the scoundrel is attracted; the sensible sister tries to keep a lid on things.  The difference with Shades of Milk and Honey, Mary Robinette Kowal’s debut novel, though, is that many of the plot twists carry a strong sinister twinge.  Jealously and bitterness prevail on more than one occasion, bringing rise to an explosive ending as the consequences of deceit, unrequited love and unspoken truths boil over.  Add dueling pistols and you’ve got yourself a Regency-era party!

Add in magic, too.  Kowal weaves a beautiful magic system in Shades of Milk and Honey, its only shortfall being that it wasn’t fully explained or explored to the extent that I craved.  Jane, the Elinor Dashwood of this story, is particularly talented at manipulating “folds of glamour” that are “taken out of the ether.”  She laces them together, twisting and winding and pulling them into gorgeous imagery that is both pleasing and purposeful.  But how the heck is she doing it, Ms. Kowal?  Is there a wand involved?  Are we talkin’ spells or hexes or what?  All the reader ever discerns about this graceful system is that the efforts spent using it are physically draining, so much that the magician can collapse under the strain or even die.  I found myself desperate for more information on this front, and though I could feel an explanation bubbling up from time to time, thinking, “Okay, she’ll finally talk about it now,” it remains a mystery.  Dang.  That would’ve been cool.

The story itself is moderately compelling and kind of…well, charming in its simplicity.  Jane and Melody Ellsworth seek husbands.  Melody uses her strikingly well-formed looks to wrangle her potential suitors, not to mention girlish impulsiveness and her attractive yet overly-fluffed sense of confidence in her appearance.  Jane is much different, only grudgingly allowing her heart to feel a pang of wanting, being surprised when she discovers that she may not have to be a spinster.  Several men waltz through their quiet lives in Dorchester, including the dashing Captain Livingston, the prudent protector of a young sister, Mr. Dunkirk, and a tortured artist as well, Mr. Vincent.  Things play out, hearts are attracted some places and then others, secrets and scandals are uncovered, and both the sisters eventually figure out where their affections belong.  Dinners and dancing and picnics abound, most of them accentuated by the presence of magic and “folds of glamour” working delightful tricks.  The ending is, as previously mentioned, a whirlwind of emotion and heartbreak that leaves all involved parties shaken and changed forever.

The author clearly has a well-honed approach to writing, her prose and structure is lovely and flowing.  I did at times feel the characters were far away, intangible, and a bit of a mystery.  Still other moments found me wishing the story would slow for a bit of fleshing out.  The end almost reads like a fable, with blistering pace, summing up years and years in only a sentence or two.  Yes, the characters are archetypical, the brainiac and the fickle beauty queen battling again, in this unexplained world of magic and mayhem, but I still enjoyed it with a kind of reserved enthusiasm.  Shades of Milk and Honey represents a solid good ‘ol college try on Ms. Kowal’s part, and I look forward to reading more of her work as she matures and blossoms.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal
Tor Books, New York (2011)
Trade paperback (304) pages
ISBN: 978-0765325600

© 2007 – 2011 Shelley DeWees, Austenprose

The Ballad of Gregoire Darcy: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice Continues, by Marsha Altman – A Review

The Ballad of Gregoire Darcy: Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice Continues, by Marsha Altman (2011)Guest review by Shelley DeWees – The Uprising

If there was ever an “About the Author” section that seemed to speak to me, directly to me, it is this one:

Marsha Altman exists more as a philosophical concept than an atom-based structure existing within the rules of time and space as we know them.  She is the author of four books set in Jane Austen’s Regency England as well as the editor of an anthology of Pride and Prejudice-related fiction.  When not writing, she studies Talmud and paints Tibetan ritual art, preferably not at the same time.  She lives in New York, New York, and does not own any cats.

Diverse.  Engaging.  Just plain cool.

And somehow, someway, Altman’s distinctive personality (at least the one she’s chosen to portray publicly) has been transposed onto a 432-page doorstop of a book that is just as diverse, engaging, and cool as she is.  The Ballad of Gregoire Darcy is the fourth installment in Altman’s what-happens-after-pride-and-prejudice universe, and it will have you hooked within moments.  Want to travel the world with Darcy and the gang?  Want to say HI to his illegitimate brother Gregoire in Spain before he shows you what crazy apparatus he wears?  How about India?  What would Charles Bingley look like with a monkey on his shoulder?

All this, and more, can be yours.  The story drips with spirit and intrigue while unique characters, characters who still somehow manage to stay in the realm of Jane Austen’s originals, carouse and laugh and pray their way around their various estates.  Gregoire Darcy is forced to leave his lonely monastery on the windswept shores of Spain, abandoning his life in the church and returning to England to live out the rest of his life.  But how shall he cope?  What will he do now?  With the support of Fitzwilliam Darcy and his every-expanding family, Gregoire finds himself free to explore the world and his own inner mysteries, and is quite surprised at what he discovers!

Elizabeth Darcy herself is in the background most of the time, along with all her sisters and a mountain of nieces, nephews, and children from her own loins (4 of them).  Caroline Bingley and her husband, Dr. Maddox, along with all their offspring often frequent the pages, while Georgiana and her husband, Dr. Maddox’s brother and his wife and their cohort Mugin, and even Charlotte Collins and her own brood are all present as well (which will make you very thankful for the family tree Altman has so thoughtfully included).  Gregoire himself, Darcy’s half-brother, is a likeable person, generous and reverent to the end, and although his story is mired in trouble and heartbreak while he attempts to conform to English society.  Problems are many, and finding solutions makes each character bloom all the more.

Yes, it’s a rip roarin’ good time.  Funny, well-written, and projecting the image of one seriously practiced researcher and writer.  The structure is beautiful with frequent page breaks being the only exception…but you’ll get used to it.  The book as a whole flows with a lovely sense of development and prose, which becomes all the more enjoyable when you stumble upon sassy scenes like these:

“What are rich people like?”

He laughed.  She hadn’t meant it seriously—there was no way that she could have.  That didn’t mean he was exempted from providing an answer, so he took a piece of potato floating in the soup and put it in his mouth, chewing on it to give himself time to mull over the question.  “Do you wish to know a secret?”

She squealed, “Aye!”

“They are terribly, terribly bored.”

Neither of them could hold back their laughter at that.  He was glad that he had swallowed his food properly, as he could not have held it in.  “They have their servants do every menial task.  The do not even dress themselves, and are left with nothing to do.  So they read books and go own walks and then sit down for long dinners where they discuss reading books and going on walks.  And then they write people about it, because writing takes time.”

Read this book, take a long walk, then come home for dinner and tell everyone about it.  They’ll want to read it too!

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Ballad of Gregoire Darcy: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice Continues, by Marsha Altman
Ulysses Press (2011)
Trade paperback (432) pages
ISBN: 978-1569759370

© 2007 – 2011 Shelley DeWees, Austenprose

Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World, by Claire Harman – A Review

Janes Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World, by Clarie Harman (2011)Guest review by Shelley DeWees – The Uprising

“The books went out of print, and Jane’s generation of Austens aged and died secure in their belief that the public’s curiosity about their sister had been satisfied.  But almost two hundred years and tens of thousands of books on Austen later, her fame and readership worldwide continues to grow.  Her six completed novels are among the best-known, best-loved, most-read works in the English language.  She is now a truly global phenomenon, known as much through film and television adaptations of her stories as through the books themselves, revered by non-readers and scholars alike.”

Oh, sorry.  Does that sound like every other Jane Austen biography you’ve ever read?  Let’s try another quote because, really Jane’s Fame is not like the other Jane Austen biographies.  Behold:

“Her influence reaches from the decoration of tea towels to a defense of extreme pornography, and her fans have included Queen Victoria, E.M. Forster, B.B. King (“Jane Austen!  I love Jane Austen!”), and the editor of the men’s magazine Nuts. Who else is cited with equal approval by feminists and misogynists, can be liked to nineteenth century anarchism, twenty-first-century terrorism, and forms part of the inspiration behind works as diverse as Eugene Onegin and Bridget Jones’s Diary?”

If the theme of this book could be anything (expect for, of course, Austenmania), it would be assumption-crushing-mania.  Was Jane Austen really the most humble person ever known?  Did she really not care about the money her books made?  And was she really not mortified by the seemingly endless stream of publisher rejections?  Your logic would tell you that, no, she probably wasn’t any of those things.  But what does your heart tell you?  How do you want to see her?  Is it weird that I’m asking you that?

Chock full of quotes, primary and secondary resources, and letters from every possible angle, Jane’s Fame is a treat for any Janeite.  I need not balk when I say that it truly is the most engaging biography of anyone I’ve ever read.  Ever.  And though Jane’s Fame contains a lot of statements like that first quote, most of it is populated with information you’ve probably never been exposed to.  Using correspondence between family and friends, publishers, critics, and neighbors, and wives of sons of sisters-in-law, Claire Harman constructs a dizzying portrait of our beloved Jane.  She goes further to describe just how much Jane has affected us, infiltrating our minds, hearts, and pop culture to the point of, ahem…mania, and continues on to explore those strange assumptions we’ve made about her.

The book sets in motion a thorough unraveling of everything Austen we thought we knew, presenting the life and times of our most revered author amongst a myriad of head-scratching possibilities.  The dichotomy is interesting: Was she a “fire-poker” or a saint?  Was she a “husband-hunting butterfly” or the epitome of quiet, thoughtful femininity?  Did she love children or struggle to connect with them?  Claire Harman attempts to answer these questions but, in the end, she leaves it up to you.  She instead brings to light to oddities that exists in our asking them, since we all seem to think we own Jane somehow.

Harman’s depiction is strong (especially in the beginning), but also seems to bear the impression of an Austen purist and has more than a few acidic words for any attempted manipulations of the original works.  Her quotations can get a little out of hand sometimes, twirling the reader about in a “Wait…who’s talking?” kind of way, and the book has come under the gun for suspected plagiarism and un-attributed references.

Yeah, the book has a few faults, but it’s nothing you can’t handle.  I think you’ll love Jane’s Fame since you are, in all probability, as much a member of the We Worship Jane Austen cult as I am.  Who can blame you?  She lives in our hearts and in our minds.  She’s special to all of us in different ways.  How many authors have the same claim to fame as Jane?

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World, by Claire Harman
Picador (2011)
Trade paperback (320) pages
ISBN: 978-0312680657

© 2007 – 2011 Shelley DeWees, Austenprose