Lizzy and Jane: A Novel, by Katherine Reay – A Review

Lizzy and Jane Katherine Reay 2014 x 200From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder:

Anyone with siblings can tell you how tumultuous of a relationship you can have with them. There are times where you love them to death for being a shoulder to cry on or a voice of reason. Then there are the times where they think they know everything and refuse to see you as your own individual. Katherine Reay explores the complex relationship of two sisters undergoing some intense situations in both their personal and professional lives in Lizzy and Jane.

After losing her mom to cancer, Lizzy cannot deal with the emotional burden and leaves home. She turns her anguish into a relentless energy to create in the kitchen, and works endlessly to become a respected chef. Eventually Lizzy becomes the owner of a swanky New York City restaurant, Feast. After a good amount of success, she begins to lose some of her earlier skills and the restaurant begins to falter. Paul, the restaurant’s financial backer, brings another chef in to fix this, and Lizzy does what she does best—runs away. Unfortunately she runs into another cancer diagnosis, and this time it’s her sister, Jane. Lizzy decides to finally stand her ground and deal with this new blow, and as she tends to her family she finds her abilities to create amazing foods return to her. Now, Paul attempts to woo her back to New York, but how will she react to this now that old hurts with Jane are healed?

Having a sister myself I immediately connected with this book; Lizzy and Jane’s journeys were deeply relatable for me. Due to the circumstances of their adolescence, Lizzy feels like her role is being a caretaker and a tasker. She knows what makes her tick as a professional, but lets her personal life derail her. Her sister’s cancer diagnosis as well as all of the unresolved anger that exists between the two over their mother’s death continuously eats away at her. As a person who lives her life putting her feelings and emotions into her profession, this doesn’t make for a good recipe for Lizzy’s future in the restaurant.

Jane on the other hand has an overwhelming amount of guilt and fear ruling her life. Her cancer diagnosis has made her think of her mother and the unsettled issues that stem from her death. She’s let it eat away at her marriage and the relationship she has with her children. In the end, Lizzy and Jane both exist in these self-created worlds of isolation. Their only hope to is help one other heal and in the process learn how to allow others in.

I cannot express in words how much I truly loved this book. Reay’s writing is incredibly touching and well-developed. To see how alike Lizzy and Jane were to each other and how blind they were to the parallels was astonishing. But I guess that’s life, right? We don’t always see how we’re the same as others. We all strive to be individuals, but sometimes the best way to heal is to connect with someone on a level of similarity.

Lizzy and Jane is a tale of great individual growth and familial healing that will move your heart and soul. With themes of love, family, and the power of forgiveness, this is the perfect read for the holidays.

5 out of 5 Stars

Lizzy & Jane: A Novel, by Katherine Reay
Thomas Nelson (2014)
Trade paperback & eBook (352) pages
ISBN: 978-1401689735

Additional Reviews:

Cover image courtesy of Thomas Nelson © 2014; text Kimberly Denny-Ryder © 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.”

Remember the Past…only as it gives you pleasure, by Maria Grace – A Review

Remember the Past by Maria Grace 2014 x 200From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder:

Complete re-imaginings of Jane Austen’s novels are always interesting fan-fiction works to read. There are essentially no rules or paths that the characters must follow. One of my favorites has been Darcy’s Voyage by Kara Louise. I enjoy how creative some authors get in the trials and tribulations they make their characters endure. With that being said, I was excited to read a new re-imagining of Pride and Prejudice entitled Remember the Past by Maria Grace. With how much I enjoyed Grace’s Given Good Principles series, I knew I was in for a treat.

The Bennet family thought they had everything one would need for a successful season in London. Elizabeth’s father, Admiral Thomas Bennet, has just retired from the navy with a sizable income, and his friends in high places should provide them with enough social standing to make the challenges of entry into London’s high society a non-event. Not all goes as planned, however, when a disaster forces them to flee from the riches of London to the mundane existence of Derbyshire. How can they ever survive such an abysmal area with no one of interest around?

Enter Fitzwilliam Darcy, a widower who finds all of his time devoted to taking care of his two sons. He despises the intrusion that the Bennet family has forced upon his life, and his sons’ insistence on going to meet the Bennet twins makes his aggravation rise to new heights. That is,  until he meets Elizabeth, who seems to hold a certain spell on his consciousness. His efforts to help and assist the Bennet family go horribly awry at first, and Darcy finds himself in a deeper hole than when he began to make their acquaintance. Will he be able to see himself out of this mess?

First of all, I really enjoyed Grace’s creative take on the tale. I thought it was interesting that Lizzie and Jane were the only Bennet sisters, and that there were two twin brothers from Mr. Bennet’s second marriage. I liked that there were still traces of Austen’s Mr. Bennet, but there was a freshness brought to his character that was intriguing. Additionally, while Austen’s influence was still present with other characters, it was nice to see a Lady Catherine stripped of her usual officious demeanor and Jane bolstered with more confidence and an outspoken personality. Seeing Lady Catherine dote on Darcy, and imagining Darcy as a father was endearing, even without Elizabeth as the mother of the children (the late Anne de Bourgh was their mother.)

Despite all these changes, take heart that not everything falls far away from Austen purism. Darcy still sees himself as needing to take care of everyone, Elizabeth is still witty and outspoken, and Mr. Bennet is still at times aloof. Fear not, Wickham is still around, and he manages to get in trouble even without Lydia. Grace sprinkles in enough of the familiar, while still allowing room for change and growth to highlight her creativity and abilities in weaving a tale. I believe that this is what she does best, blend old and new together to create a story that has the framework of Austen and her characters, but contains enough new and exciting content to keep me turning the pages. Yes, there were a few moments where I believed the story needed tightening, but overall it was a great read that pulled me in. For those that enjoy a classic Jane Austen re-imagining this is a no-brainer. Grace’s style is not to be missed.

4 out of 5 Stars

Remember the Past…only as it gives you pleasure, by Maria Grace
White Soup Press (2014)
Trade paperback & eBook (316) pages
ISBN: 978-0692263174
ASIN: B00M3MENT2

Additional Reviews:

Diary of an Eccentric

Cover image courtesy of White Soup Press © 2014; text Kimberly Denny-Ryder © 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.”

The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen: A Novel, by Shannon Winslow – A Review 

The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen, by Shannon Winslow (2014)From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder:

It seems to be a great injustice indeed that we, as lovers of all things Jane Austen, spend such a small percentage of our time thinking about Jane’s own love life, as we are instead wrapped up in the lives of her amazingly-created characters. With that in mind, I was excited to hear that one of my favorite Austen authors, Shannon Winslow, was dedicating a book to Ms. Austen herself and the potential influences she had in writing one of her two posthumously published works, Persuasion. It is aptly named The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen. I couldn’t wait to read this once it came out, given how much I admired Winslow’s previous works, The Darcy’s of Pemberley and Return to Longbourn. So, without any more fanfare, I eagerly began reading.

The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen is based on the premise that Austen had her own object of affection: a sea captain by the name of Philippe Devereaux. Introduced to the Captain by her cousin Eliza at her wedding to Jane’s brother, Henry, we see Jane thrown into a whirlwind of emotion upon meeting Philippe. In fact, she behaves not unlike her own characters when they find themselves in much the same predicament. Winslow tells us of Jane’s personal love story with Captain Devereaux via entries of Jane’s own personal journal, penned alongside the pages of Persuasion itself. Winslow slowly begins to intertwine these two tales, and we get to see Jane go through the emotions of loss, love, and finally (what she really deserves) a happy ending.

This is definitely Winslow’s best work to date. The writing is emotional, moving, and my heart was stirred for Jane and her tribulations. Winslow is one of the few authors who can channel Austen’s style of prose so well that I could not tell the two apart if I tried (the only other who comes to mind is Meg Kerr and her novel Experience.) The style of the book (in a journal format which weaves in Persuasion) was a perfect choice, because Winslow’s prose is so like Jane’s that it is incredibly believable that you could be reading actual diary pages written by Jane years ago. It’s obvious that Winslow put a lot of research into where Jane was at certain points of her life to make this story so believable.

I’m glad that Winslow chose to write about Persuasion instead of Pride and Prejudice, for although P&P only slightly edges out Persuasion as my favorite book, Persuasion is often relegated to second fiddle in the fan fiction world, with less work devoted to it. I’m glad such a prolific author in the Jane Austen Fan Fiction world was able to introduce the love and beauty of Anne and Frederick’s story to a new generation. My challenge to you, dear readers, is to download a sample of the first chapter of this book, in which Jane begins writing Persuasion, and not be moved by the frail humanity Jane expresses:

“To begin is to risk everything – crushing defeat, utter failure or, worse still, mediocrity. However, not taking the risk is unthinkable. I have come through successfully before, but that hardly signifies. With each new work the familiar doubts and niggling questions resurface, chiefly these. Do I really possess whatever genius it takes to do it again? And if so, what is the best way to go about it?” (9-10)

The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen is one of the most moving, soul-filling, and beautiful stories I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. The wait for this book was totally worth it, and I’m already eager to see what beauty Winslow will create next.

★★★★★ 5 out of 5 Stars

The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen: A Novel, by Shannon Winslow
Heather Ridge Arts (2014)
Trade paperback (266) pages
ISBN: 978-1500624736

Cover image courtesy of Heather Ridge Arts © 2014; text Kimberly Denny-Ryder © 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.”

A Fair Prospect: Disappointed Hopes, A Tale of Elizabeth and Darcy, Volume I, by Cassandra Grafton – A Review

A Fair Prospect: Disappointed Hopes, Vol I by Cassandra Grafton 2013 From the desk of Kimberly Denny Ryder:

To be honest, I’ve never been a fan of open-ended endings in movies and books. Just ask my husband, who has seen me yell after reading a book or seeing a movie that ends with the reader/viewer not knowing what has happened to the main characters. One example that comes to mind is Pride and Prejudice itself! I’ve always wondered what happened after the wedding (maybe that’s why I read so many Pride and Prejudice sequels!) So, when I heard that A Fair Prospect: Disappointed Hopes by Cassandra Grafton was actually the first in a three-part series and it wouldn’t actually have a proper ending, I was a bit skeptical.

In volume I of the A Fair Prospect trilogy, Disappointed Hopes, we find Fitzwilliam Darcy back in London after his failed engagement proposal to Elizabeth, obviously upset by her refusal of such a beneficial match. Elizabeth, on the other hand, finds herself on the way to London, the result of a request by an old family friend to meet in town. Already emotional after her encounter with Darcy, she finds comfort when finally reaching London and meeting this friend, Nicholas Harington. The son of a wealthy family not unlike the Darcy family in both holdings and standing, Nicholas’ family provides a formidable opponent to Darcy’s in the matters of Elizabeth’s heart. Darcy and Elizabeth’s paths cross unexpectedly in London when Bingley begins courting Jane again. Darcy is introduced to Harington, who seems by all to be the perfect suitor for Elizabeth now that Darcy has failed. Or, has he?

I’ll be honest; this first volume was definitely quite dense. A vast majority of the plot was inner turmoil; there really wasn’t much external conflict to keep the plot moving forward. I’m no stranger to inner turmoil and self-reflection; in fact I love when a character overcomes emotional obstacles and discover something new about him/herself. I think it’s a great plot device and it really helps to flesh out a story. However, as this story was mainly composed of inner turmoil, there wasn’t much else for the plot to fall back on when I got tired of hearing about Elizabeth and Darcy’s inner musings.

Col. Fitzwilliam was a wonderfully embellished addition to this work. Darcy and Elizabeth’s thoughts at times can be dark as they both begin to realize their own faults. Col. Fitzwilliam’s comedic presence was a great counterweight to this mood, and it provided moments of brevity that I really enjoyed. I also loved watching him work his way through Darcy’s bad moods. Knowing Darcy as intimately as he does, it was funny to see him cut to the heart of his issues and be his confident, whether he actually wanted this or not, (Georgiana too).

Finally, seeing the depth of Elizabeth’s feelings for Darcy change has been super rewarding (I’m currently reading volume 3). Watching her discover her love for him makes me just as happy as when I first read Pride and Prejudice. Introspective, detailed, and well-written, this clean Pride and Prejudice retelling is a great primer to what’s sure to be a rewarding trilogy.

3.5 out of 5 Regency Stars

A Fair Prospect: Disappointed Hopes, A Tale of Elizabeth and Darcy, Volume I, by Cassandra Grafton
White Soup Press; 1 edition (2013)
Trade paperback (260) pages
ISBN: 978-1482098358

Cover image courtesy of White Soup Press © 2014; text Kimberly Denny Ryder © 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.”

Haunting Mr. Darcy: A Spirited Courtship, by KaraLynne Mackrory – A Review

Haunting Mr. Darcy A Spirted Courtship by Karalynne Mackrory 2014 x 200From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder: 

One of the best parts about the Jane Austen fan fiction scene is its unlimited possibilities. Almost every genre and plot device has been molded and formed to accommodate the style and characters we all know and love from Austen herself. One of the more unconventional styles that has made its way into this arena is the paranormal genre. However, in all of these variations, I have yet to come across a book where ghosts have been included, until now.

Haunting Mr. Darcy by KaraLynne Mackrory begins with a terrible carriage accident involving Elizabeth Bennet. Although she survives the accident, she is left in a coma and doctors are unsure as to whether she will ever regain consciousness. While she is unconscious, a curious thing happens. Her spirit parts with her physical being and is magically transported to Fitzwilliam Darcy’s London home, where we find Darcy, residing alone for the winter. As if this wasn’t enough to agitate Lizzy, Darcy does not believe that her ghost is real and instead thinks that she is a manifestation of his amorous thoughts about her. How can she possibly begin to get him to trust and believe in her if he doesn’t even believe that she is a real ghost? Somehow, Lizzy has to convince Darcy of her fate, and together they must work to get her spirit back in touch with her physical body before it’s too late. Will this even be possible with Lizzy lacking any physical properties at all?

This book is a little present, wrapped up in charm and emotion and love. In a word, it’s adorable. One important thing to note is that the emotional content of the work is high. Darcy’s despair over losing Elizabeth is highly palpable and I felt as if I was Darcy and had lost a loved one myself. It brings to mind the way I felt when reading Consequences by C. P. Odom (LINK). Both novels weren’t afraid to “get dirty” with the writing. It went to dark places that made you feel despair, so when you arrived at positive point in the work they were that much more poignant compared to the depravity beforehand. I felt the same way with Haunting Mr. Darcy. Darcy’s actions after losing Elizabeth are stark compared to the lighter portions. He locks himself away at Pemberley, immersing himself in work at a breakneck, exhausting pace to distract him from the pain. All he can think about is work so that his mind has no time to think of Elizabeth. Conversely, the absolute beauty of when Darcy and Elizabeth first tell each other that they love one another, as well as their subsequent first kiss, are made that much better when contrasted with these previous dark portions.

For those of you who are skeptical about reading a book that involves ghostly spirits and all the tropes that go along with them, I highly encourage you to throw away all your preconceived notions. As I said earlier, this book is just charming. Elizabeth as a spectral apparition is at times hilarious, especially when she tries to have conversations with Darcy knowing he can’t respond to her due to the presence of others. His reactions to the things that she says cause the people around him to think that he is going mad. One particular occurrence is when Col. Fitzwilliam gets drunk and begins yelling obscenities and Darcy is mortified of Elizabeth hearing this. His strong retort to Fitzwilliam to watch his language only garners more strong language from him. Another scene that follows this example is when ghost Elizabeth accompanies Darcy to his fencing club. Her exclamations about the good looking men and Darcy’s jealous reaction had me chuckling.

In all, this was one book that caught me by surprise. With its sharp writing, deep emotional connections, and great comedic scenes this has definitely been a highlight of my summer reading.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Haunting Mr. Darcy – A Spirited Courtship, by KaraLynne Mackrory
Meryton Press (2014)
Trade paperback (286) pages
ISBN: 9781936009350

Cover image courtesy of Meryton Press © 2014; text Kimberly Denny-Ryder © 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.”