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! Continue reading

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! Continue reading

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)From the desk of Shelley DeWees: 

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? Continue reading

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