Attempting Elizabeth, by Jessica Grey – A Review

Image of the cover of the book Attempting Elizabeth, by Jessica Grey © 2013 Tall House BooksFrom the desk of Veronica Ibarra

Ever love a book so much that it is committed to memory? Have a favorite book that provides comfort and escape from life’s more troublesome realities? Pride and Prejudice is just such a book for many, including Kelsey Edmundson, the heroine of Jessica Grey’s new Jane Austen-inspired novel Attempting Elizabeth, who is magically transported through time and dimension jumping right into the story.

Kelsey is a grad student with a deep and abiding geeky love for TV, movies, and books, particularly Pride and Prejudice. She is also in recovery after a bad breakup. In an effort to help Kelsey get back into the game of life, her roommate Tori Mansfield coerces Kelsey into putting on her shortest dress and best boots for a night of dancing. Kelsey, however, is not at the top of her game, suffering through a dance with an overly grope-y acquaintance, manages to insult the Aussie hottie Mark Barnes, and then utterly fails to redeem herself as the evening comes to a close.

If that is not bad enough, the next day Kelsey’s given a second chance to make a better impression with Mark on a group hiking excursion. Unfortunately, hiking is not really Kelsey’s thing and her foul mood prompts more ill-judged comments. Then without a chance to freshen up, the group goes out for dinner, where Kelsey’s downward spiral continues as she spills her drink and the sight of the woman who had put the nail in the coffin of Kelsey’s last relationship hanging all over Mark sends her into a bit of self-pity relapse.

This is when Kelsey seeks comfort in the way so many of us can relate. Dressed in her “rattiest sweats” and armed with a glass of wine and her favorite book, she settles on the couch for some escapist reading. Kelsey escapes far more effectively than she intends as she comes to inexplicably inside the body of Georgiana Darcy. Kelsey is confused. Not only is she inside the world of her favorite book, but being Darcy’s sister is no way to enjoy the experience.

Kelsey’s efforts to cope with her “delusion” are hilarious until she finally discovers the key to returning to her reality. However, reality finds Kelsey still unable to say or do the right thing around Mark, who fate seems to keep throwing at her. Kelsey wonders if it was just a fluke that got her into Pride and Prejudice or if there is a way to repeat the experience. With the exciting discovery that it is possible, Kelsey’s mission becomes jumping into Elizabeth in order to be with Pride and Prejudice’s hero, Darcy. But Kelsey finds that becoming Elizabeth is not so easily done and that her emotional baggage may have something to do with it.

Through Kelsey’s various character jumping Grey demonstrates a keen understanding of the characters Jane Austen created, and also looks at them through the eyes of a modern woman dropped into their world as a participant and not merely as an observer. This presents an added challenge for Kelsey who must fight against her desire to deviate from Austen’s story or suffer on repeat—to truly understand that, you really have to read Attempting Elizabeth.

While Kelsey can jump into Pride and Prejudice and live there with the Regency society, it is Regency as Austen wrote about it. Still the need of maids for dressing, how bathing is handled, and even how relieving oneself is done are only hinted at, but not explored in detail. How the lack of indoor plumbing alone does not kill Kelsey’s determination to be Elizabeth can only be explained by her desire to be with the real Darcy. If you have read Pride and Prejudice then you know that Elizabeth and Darcy do not hit it off from the get go and that there is a lot of time between meetings, we are talking months of time. Even having an escape hatch, I am not sure I would have the same determination as Kelsey.

Kelsey’s journey to true love and through the pages of Pride and Prejudice is fun and quirky. Her internal dialogue is full of references to things Austen would have known nothing about, such Star Wars and Quantum Leap. At the beginning of every chapter there is a quote from a movie, television show, or book, but the details are not given until the end of the story. I am not sure if Grey intended it to be a guessing game or not, but I had fun playing it that way as I read. I got sixteen out of twenty-two. Not sure how geeky that makes me, maybe slightly above average. It is also kind of interesting how the quotes fit with the chapters, but even without them the book is a fun read I would recommend.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Attempting Elizabeth, by Jessica Grey
Tall House Books (2013)
Trade paperback (320) pages
ISBN: 978-0985039660

Cover image courtesy © 2013 Tall House Books; text © 2013 Veronica Ibarra, Austenprose

Georgiana and the Wolf: Pride and Prejudice Continues Volume 6, by Marsha Altman – A Review

Georgiana and the Wolf by Marsha Altman (2012)From the desk of Veronica Ibarra

As if reading about the continued lives of our favorite characters from Pride and Prejudice and that of their children is not fascinating enough, send one Georgiana Bingley to seminary in France, throw in a murder with the rumor of a werewolf, and you potentially have something quite interesting. Such is Marsha Altman’s Georgiana and the Wolf, the sixth installment of her Pride and Prejudice Continues series. If you have not read any of the previous books then you are in luck as this one, though connected via Georgiana, can stand on its own without any confusion that reading a series out of order can cause.

Inspector Robert Audley has been pulled off a case in Paris and ordered to a small country town where the Marquis de Maret is rumored to be a werewolf and a murderer. With his engagement to Lady Heather Littlefield threatened by these rumors the marquis is eager for Inspector Audley to put an end to them. But things quickly become complicated as “the famed inspector of Paris” Audley uncovers a tangled web of clues that point to not one but two killers as more are found dead, and finds that Lady Littlefield’s companion Georgiana Bingley seems to be far more adept at gathering information than he.

Georgiana Bingley is the daughter of Charles Bingley and Jane Bennet, but little is made of this. All that is familiar to the avid Austen fan goes largely by the wayside because even though Georgiana is central to the story, where she comes from, who her family is, and any dowry attached to her is of little significance to this story.

The main character of this tale is Inspector Audley. It is through his eyes (and thoughts) that we are led through his investigation and distraction. Because of this we are kept focused on the case, but even as Audley finds the case baffling, it is clear that his distraction is the only thing really keeping him from solving the case. Though the particulars were interesting enough to keep me reading, I did not find myself baffled by it in the least.

When the main suspect in a murder is rumored to be a werewolf, there is a certain expectation I have of what would fuel that sort of belief, and in a rural community the belief in superstition is generally part of the driving force no matter how enlightened the population. But Altman keeps things light on the supernatural, staying focused on your standard investigative practices with the kind of lead following an inspector would under any circumstance. There is even enough attention given to the relationships between characters with the kind of reserve one expects with rules of etiquette and decorum, though being in France we are not dealing strictly with the English sensibilities Austen fans are most familiar with.

I am no great historian, so I cannot speak to the historical accuracy of the French setting Altman uses, though she freely admits that there are “probably a lot” in the historical note at the end of the story. There was an interesting inclusion of Japanese philosophy in regards to elements and the code of the samurai, which historically appropriate or not, provided some characters with an added layer of depth and worldliness. The Japanese cultural influences, though enjoyable for me to read, however, did leave me with a sense of slight disappointment that Altman did not pull much from French legend or folklore, or even really mention Japanese legends that could have given the story a bit more supernatural eeriness without overwhelming the main plot.

It is important to note that in the introduction Altman herself admits that “events of previous books don’t matter a lot in this one.” This would seem to mean that the tale has little connecting it to the Austen world or to the world Altman has created with The Darcys and Bingleys. Not having read any of Altman’s other work to know how this book might fit in with the series, I cannot say if it adds anything to or strays from the character of Georgiana Bingley as established in Altman’s series. Certainly her inclusion is the connecting factor, and without Georgiana an Austen fan would have no reason to read, though an Altman fan might.

Over all, though I enjoyed reading Georgiana and the Wolf I found the Austenesque connection thinly made, and the mystery not very mysterious. Being forced to muddle through things with Inspector Audley felt limiting at times and unnecessary. There never seems to be a sense of urgency, though there clearly should be as one murder becomes another. The greatest point of interest is the character of Georgiana Bingley who I would have much preferred following, but which would have changed the story entirely.

3 out of 5 Regency Stars

Georgiana and the Wolf: Pride and Prejudice Continues Volume 6, by Marsha Altman
CreateSpace (2012)
Trade paperback (376) pages
ISBN: 978-1480232129

© 2013 Veronica Ibarra, Austenprose