Prelude for a Lord: A Novel, by Camille Elliot – A Review

Prelude for a Lord Camille Elliot (2014)From the desk of Katie Patchell:

In the Regency era, the only acceptable musical instruments a woman was allowed to play were the harp and piano, and if she played any other, particularly a violin, she would be looked-down upon in society and considered unfeminine. But in Camille Elliot’s recent debut novel, Prelude for a Lord, the heroine defies conventions and plays this beautiful but forbidden instrument, which stirs her heart, makes her forget her past and society’s censure, and ultimately, entangles her in a web of romance, mystery, and danger.

At the age of twenty-eight, Lady Alethea Sutherton has accepted her fate: that she will never marry, and will always be looked down upon by society as an eccentric. With her height, striking (rather than classical) features, and her unconventional country ways, she is whispered about by the Bath gossips, but it is Alethea’s consuming passion for music and her skill at the extremely unfeminine instrument—the violin—that has her scorned by polite society.

When she meets Lord Bayard Dommick, the man who eleven years ago convinced her to pursue her violin playing with his offensive statement that it was “unfeminine for a woman to play the instrument” (53), Alethea plans to ignore him at all costs. But when Bayard offers to help her discover why her old violin has suddenly become the obsession of two shady individuals, Alethea has no choice but to accept this potential ally. As she spends more time with him and his two best friends, the remaining members of the famous string Quartet, Alethea discovers that Bayard is far from insufferable, and instead, one of the only people to understand her love of music and the violin.

When their search for answers as to the origin of her violin results in a dangerous pursuer and threats to their families, can they protect those they love and in the end, be able to solve the mystery of the violin? And will Alethea and Bayard be able to put aside society’s view of musicians—female and male—to play their own soaring music together in a new Quartet?

I loved Prelude for a Lord’s premise of a female violinist going against the societal norms in the Regency period in order to play a beautiful instrument. I’ve never come across this topic in Regency fiction, and I’ve never even considered the fact that some instruments were seen as inappropriate for either men or women to play (in the eyes of some, or most, of society). I also loved the three-dimensional and wildly entertaining supporting characters, specifically Alethea’s aunt, Ebena, Bayard’s sister, Clare, Ian and Raven (the remaining members of the Quartet), and the precocious Margaret. Something else that I loved about this novel was the picturesque and beautiful descriptions of music. The characters’ (and author’s) love of music was clearly evident and effectively translated to the reader.

Reading Prelude for a Lord gave me the feeling of sitting in an opera, seeing all the bright costumes, hearing the drastic rise and fall of the full-voiced dramatic soprano, and watching the sometimes shocking and unbelievable, but always fascinating, dramatic storyline unfold. This is the theatrical feel of the novel—it isn’t in the style, language, or customs of Jane Austen, and the drama and mixing of genres, (described by one Amazon reviewer as a blend of Jane Austen and Castle) made this novel less of a comedy of manners and more of a combination of a Regency setting with a modern perspective, rules (societal and courtship), and dialogue (including words like brat, ugly mug, and greedy guts). But while there were parts that were not period, those that were included were interesting, and shed light specifically on society’s view during the Regency in regards to female musicians.

Prelude for a Lord is full of action and drama, including (some small spoilers): kidnapping, someone sold (literally) into marriage, Bedlam, a man who killed his first wife, a marriage of convenience, larger-than-life villains, and two main characters with secret traumas in their pasts. As a lover of the ‘comedy of manners’ style of Regency fiction (with more under-the-surface elements than dramatic action), at times I grew tired of all the melodrama that tended to overshadow the characters and romance, which I admit, lessened my overall enjoyment of the novel. But this can (and should) be chalked up to personal preference, and should not dissuade any future reader from reading and enjoying this novel.

Overall, Prelude for a Lord was a light and entertaining read, and while the romance and story were not always true to the time period, this was still a dramatic, exciting story with a touching romance that will interest music-lovers and mystery-readers alike.

3.5 out of 5 Stars

Prelude for a Lord: A Novel, by Camille Elliot
Zondervan (2014)
Trade paperback & eBook (352) pages
ISBN:  978-0310320357

Additional Reviews:

Cover image courtesy of Zondervan © 2014; text Katie Patchell © 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.”

Jane Austen: In Her Own Words & The Words of Those Who Knew Her, by Helen Amy – A Review

Jane Austen In Her Own Words, by Helen Amy (2014)From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

We are spoiled for choice when it comes to biographies of Jane Austen these days, but that was not always the case. As Helen Amy notes, it was not until fifty years after Austen’s death that a growing number of readers wanted to know more about her life. At that time, the only outlet for this increasing public interest was Austen’s grave in Winchester Cathedral. Flocks of people began visiting the site, causing a puzzled verger to inquire, “Is there anything particular about that lady?” (172)

This interest coincided with the death of Jane’s last surviving sibling and prompted her nephew Edward Austen-Leigh to write his biography of her in 1869. Other family biographies were subsequently published in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and by this time Austen was regarded as an important literary figure. Later scholarly works have uncovered a somewhat different Jane than the quiet homebody her family described. Since Helen Amy’s work references the family biographies extensively, I was curious to see the portrait of Austen that would emerge in Jane Austen In Her Own Words & The Words of Those Who Knew Her.

From the first chapter “Childhood 1775-1786” the Austen family home is described as cheerful and harmonious with Jane growing up in a “well-educated, intellectual and cultivated family whose members were close, loving and united.” (13) However, this fondness for one another did not blunt the acerbic wit within the family. For example, Jane’s mother remarked upon her young daughters’ close relationship by saying, “if Cassandra were going to have her head cut off, Jane would insist on sharing her fate.” (13)

Jane’s own words, apart from her novels, come to us in her letters. Many of these may be familiar to readers, such as the letter she wrote under an assumed name to urge a publisher to take action on her novel Susan (later Northanger Abbey) where she signed her name “M.A.D. Mrs Ashton Dennis” (93) or her correspondence with her niece Fanny in which she famously advised “anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without Affection” (126). Amy does not use the letters to fill pages, but has chosen excerpts to bring out Austen’s ease with language and mastery of her trademark humor. The exchange of letters between Jane and the prince regent’s librarian is an excellent example that Amy includes in the chapter “The Later Writing Period 1815-1816.”

While Amy has focused on family accounts of Jane as beloved sister or aunt, when the Austen mythology differs from documented reality she points out the disparities:

“The extensive travelling undertaken by Jane in 1799, and the varied scenes she encountered, disprove the claims of some early biographers that she led a sheltered life, largely confined to the quiet backwaters of rural Hampshire. Another myth about Jane Austen, which was started by some early biographers, including her nephew, was that she led a calm and untroubled life. Jane’s life, like that of most people, was touched by trouble and tragedy.” (60)

The author includes Jane’s second-eldest brother George in the Austen family tree. He suffered from epilepsy, learning disabilities and possibly deafness. George never lived with his family and is not mentioned in any of the family histories. Similarly, Amy covers the incident of Jane’s Aunt Leigh-Perrot who was accused of shoplifting a piece of lace in Bath and was subsequently kept under house arrest for several months before being tried and acquitted. This incident might sound trifling to contemporary readers, but had Mrs. Leigh-Perrot been found guilty she would have been deported.

The structure of the biography is a great aid in charting the course of Austen’s life. Chapters are titled with milestones such as “Juvenilia 1787-1793” or “The Parson’s Daughter 1794-1796” as well as geographical locations “From Bath to Southampton 1805-1809.” Following “The Last Months” detailing Austen’s illness and death in 1817, Amy includes accounts of her “Growing Fame” and “Observations & Opinions on the Novels” by writers such as Sir Walter Scott, Charlotte Bronte, and Virginia Woolf. Appendices include “The Austen Family After 1817,” “Words of Wisdom” containing quotes from Austen’s novels and letters, and a short list of “Places to Visit” in Bath, Chawton, and Winchester.

Amy presents a concise and highly readable account of Austen’s life story while integrating passages from her letters and early family biographies. This is not the sort of heavily footnoted biography that some readers might struggle to finish or enjoy. With just under one-hundred illustrations, including ones in color from Victorian editions of the novels, Jane Austen In Her Own Words & The Words of Those Who Knew Her will appeal to a variety of readers, especially those who enjoy learning about the Jane Austen her family and closest friends she knew: a lively, kind, talented, and above all, much-loved person.

★★★★★ 5 out of 5 Stars

Jane Austen: In Her Own Words & The Words of Those Who Knew Her, by Helen Amy Amberley Publishing (2014)
Trade paperback (224) pages
ISBN: 978-1445641430

Cover image courtesy of Amberley Publishing © 2014; text Tracy Hickman © 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.”

Sense & Sensibility: Little Miss Austen (BabyLit), by Jennifer Adams – A Review

Sense and Sensibility Babylit Primer by Jennifer Adams 2013 x 250From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress:

Board books are a brilliant concept. A child’s first book sized for their little hands printed on cardboard pages that are practically un-rippable, and, it doubles as a teething ring for toddlers. Add to that a Jane Austen theme and you are on your way to creating the next literati in the world.

In 2011, Jennifer Adams introduced us to Pride & Prejudice BabyLit, her first Little Miss Austen board book. It was a big hit. She has now created a cottage industry out of board books inspired by classic literature for very young readers including: Jane Eyre, Moby Dick, The Hounds of Baskerville to name a few! Each one is exquisitely illustrated by Allison Oliver and handsomely published by Gibbs Smith, who excel at gift books and illustrated editions.

Sense & Sensibility: Little Miss Austen (BabyLit) is a beautiful package with a clever theme. On the front cover we find the image of Jane Austen’s two heroines Marianne and Elinor Dashwood. Anyone who has read the original book, or seen any of the popular movie adaptations, will recognize the two divergent sisters and understand the irony that they have been chosen to represent an opposites primer. The fact that Marianne is impulsive and overly-romantic and Elinor stoic and even-tempered will matter not to toddlers or kindergartners. It is the adult that is buying the book. They will connect with the association and want to teach their child about it too. After-all, you can never start too early with the education of Janeites.

SandS Little Miss Austen image 2 x 200 SandS Little Miss Austen image 1 x 200

The book has eleven illustrations of opposites helping the child learn the differences between big Norland Park and little Barton Cottage, happy Mr. Willoughby and sad Colonel Brandon and single Marianne and Elinor and then married, symbolically standing on top of their own wedding cakes with their bride grooms by their side. While the choices in Sense & Sensibility do not relate to the story as directly as they did in the Pride & Prejudice BabyLit counting primer, I still found the illustrations charming and the concept interesting and creative.

The BabyLit series is a fabulous way to introduce your budding scholar to the charms of  literary classics, and ultimately introduce them to Jane Austen. I highly recommend them.

4 out of 5 Stars

Sense & Sensibility: Little Miss Austen (BabyLit), by Jennifer Adams, illustrated by Alison Oliver
Gibbs Smith (2013) 22 pages
Board book ISBN: 978-1423631705
Digital eBook ISBN: 978-1423631712

Cover image and illustrations courtesy of Gibbs Smith © 2013; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2014, Austenprose

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.”

Emma and Elizabeth: A story based on The Watsons by Jane Austen, by Ann Mychal – A Review

Emma and Elizabeth Ann Mychal 2014 x 200From the desk of Jenny Haggerty:

For those who love Jane Austen’s novels her early death is a tragedy we feel anew each time we contemplate the scant space she takes up on our bookshelves. What Austen fan doesn’t long for more than six completed novels, especially since she left behind several tantalizing story fragments? Of these Sanditon is the most polished. Austen was working on it as a mature author shortly before she died, but it’s an earlier fragment, The Watsons, that has one of my favorite scenes in all of Austen’s work. Emma Watson’s exuberant dance with 10 year old Charles Blake caught the eye of every man at the winter assembly and won my heart. Though Austen never finished Emma’s story, her sister Cassandra knew what she planned, and several authors, including Austen’s niece, have written endings. Ann Mychal’s version titled Emma and Elizabeth intrigued me because Elizabeth is Emma’s older sister. I was eager to read an adaptation featuring both sisters.

Mychal’s opening is wonderfully Austenesque: “When a young woman, on whom every comfort in life is bestowed has the misfortune to inhabit a neighborhood in which peace and harmony reign, her ability to perceive and understand the world must be diminished and, consequently, in need of adjustment.” Emma’s adjustments start as the book begins. After years of living with her wealthy uncle and aunt she is returning to the family of her birth whom she hasn’t seen since her mother died when she was five. Though their father was ever dutiful to his parishioners, the other Watson children lived like orphans, with eldest sister Elizabeth shouldering the drudgery of caring for them all.

Emma however was raised with the undivided loving attention of her guardians and every advantage their wealth could offer her. She learned to ride, draw, sew, speak French, and play the pianoforte well enough to be considered accomplished, but tragedy struck again when her uncle dies. Grief rushed Emma’s aunt into a second marriage, and Emma was sent to join her siblings.

Before arriving home, Emma’s coach is waylaid by rock throwing rioters and she faints into the arms of Lord Osborne. In spite of his gallantry Emma is unimpressed because Osborne has stiff speech and awkward manners. Emma is equally unmoved by popular Tom Musgrave’s charms, though her sister Elizabeth enjoys bantering with him. But Emma is smitten when she meets upright Mr. Howard, known for his long sermons. When Howard’s widowed sister invites Emma to stay at their house, Elizabeth is as thrilled as Emma. Though the sisters were raised in very different circumstances, Emma and Elizabeth are truly fond of each other.

The visit brings Emma into frequent contact with Lord Osborne, but Emma’s low assessment of him doesn’t change, in spite of his obvious interest in her and his kind attentions to young Charles Blake. Emma longs for a match with serious Mr. Howard, so when teased about Osborne by Tom Musgrave she gives her unguarded negative opinion with all the blunt confidence her privileged background has afforded her. Emma cares deeply about doing what’s right. She’s adjusting to her new circumstances and helping Elizabeth with chores, but her upbringing has given her the appearance of an heiress and everyone in the neighborhood assumes she will inherit her late uncle’s fortune. How will Lord Osborne and Mr. Howard react when they discover she’s penniless?

It surprised me at first that Mychal doesn’t start with Austen’s fragment, which is interspersed throughout the text in italics. Mychal writes scenes that precede Austen’s events, and though initially unsure about that, I ended up appreciating the rich, layered story Mychal creates, especially the way she develops characters and backstories Austen could only touch on. There is Miss Carr, a highly entertaining young woman with a Caroline Bingley determination to marry Lord Osborne, and Tom Musgrave with a rakish charm that’s hard to resist. Also fleshed out are Emma’s ever quarreling sisters Margaret and Penelope, her self-important brother Robert, and her needy invalid father, but as befits the title it is Emma’s cheerful, spirited, devoted sister Elizabeth who, though she had none of Emma’s advantages, almost steals the show.

I love that the story incorporates current events, but felt mildly cheated that the ending cut away before all the lovers fully declared their passions–readers learn how the relationships resolve in a somewhat confusing last chapter that takes place years in the future. But that’s a minor quibble, and Mychal’s book has some final, ultimately delightful, surprises because her ending is unlike the one Cassandra Austen said her sister had imagined. Mychal discusses her choices in an interesting afterward, and this reader ended up enjoying her book immensely.

★★★★★ 5 out of 5 Stars

Emma and Elizabeth: A story based on The Watsons by Jane Austen, by Ann Mychal
J. G. Books (2014)
Trade paperback & eBook (306) pages
ISBN: 978-0992879501
ASIN: B00L6GLEPM

Cover image courtesy of J. G. Books © 2014; text Jenny Haggerty © 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.”