Northanger Abbey: The Austen Project, by Val McDermid – A Review

Northanger Abbey Austen Project Val McDermid 2014 x 200From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress:

In the second installment of The Austen Project, bestselling Scottish crime writer Val McDermid takes a stab at a contemporary reimagining of Jane Austen’s most under-appreciated novel, Northanger Abbey. Written in the late 1790’s when Austen was a fledgling writer, this Gothic parody about young heroine Catherine Morland’s first experiences in Bath society and her romance with the dishy hero Henry Tilney is one of my favorite Austen novels. Fresh and funny, the writing style is not as accomplished as her later works but no one can dismiss the quality of Austen’s witty dialogue nor her gentle joke at the melodramatic Gothic fiction so popular in her day. I was encouraged by the choice of McDermid as author and intrigued to see how she would transport the story into the 21st century.

Our modern heroine, sixteen-year-old Cat Morland, is a vicar’s daughter living a rather disappointing life in the Piddle Valley of Dorset. Her mother and father seldom argued and never fought, and her siblings were so average she despaired of ever discovering any dark family secrets to add excitement to her life. Homeschooled, she can’t comprehend history or French or algebra, but delights in reading to fuel her vivid imagination, favoring ghost stories, zombie and vampire tales. After years of exploring the narrow confines of her home turf she craves adventure abroad. Rich neighbors Susie and Andrew Allen come to her rescue by inviting her to travel with them and attend the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland where Cat “is in her element, seeing potential for terror and adventure around every twist and turn of the narrow streets.”

Introduced to theater, art and books, and thanks to fashionista Mrs. Allen, Cat soon acquires a new wardrobe and dancing lessons where she partners with a charming and witty young attorney, Henry Tilney. After researching Henry on Facebook and Google she discovers that his father is the much-decorated general who made his name in the Falkland’s war before she was born. Even more interesting to Cat’s Gothic infused imagination, he owns Northanger Abbey, a medieval Borders abbey in Scotland. Cat also meets Mrs. Allen’s long-lost school friend Martha Thorpe and her three daughters, one of which is just Cat’s age. Bella, who recognizes the Morland last name, knows Cat’s elder brother Jamie who is attending Oxford with her brother Johnny. Before long they were “gossiping about the things that entertain young women of a certain age and type,” and becoming bff’s.

Blowhard Johnny Thorpe arrives in his racy red sports car with friend James Morland in tow. He attempts to court Cat but all she can think of is Henry and his sister Ellie. When Cat attends a céilidh, she anticipates dancing the Highland fling and hopes to encounter Henry Tilney again, who will surely save her from the unwanted attentions of crude Johnny Thorpe. As she and Bella scout the room they notice a beautiful, pale young woman dressed all in white:

“Who on earth was that?” Bella asked, “She acts like she’s in Pride and Prejudice.”

“That’s Henry Tilney’s sister Ellie.” Cat stared after the disappearing figure. There was something about Ellie, something out of time and out of style, like there would be if you were a two-hundred-year old vampire, she thought with a mixture of dread and delight.”

The story continues, mirroring the text of Northanger Abbey page for page, and scene for scene. Cat travels to Northanger Abbey as guest of the Tilney’s and the story turns Gothic and mysterious – just as Austen had devised.

McDermid made clever, creative and sensible choices in modernizing Northanger Abbey by moving the action from England to Scotland. The Edinburgh Festival easily replaces eighteenth century Georgian Bath allowing for a social hub similar in context: theater, shopping and country dancing. Later, we are treated to a really creepy medieval setting for a Scottish castle/Northanger Abbey. Cat is appropriately addicted to modern Gothic novels rivaling the famous Northanger Canon: Herbridean Harpies, Ghasts of Ghia and even Pride a Prejudice and Zombies! McDermid builds the vampire theme slowly, allowing Henry and Ellie to be pale in complexion, anachronistic in demeanor and just mysterious enough to trigger Cat’s imagination. Her characterizations are spot on: Henry is droll and swoon-worthy as ever, Cat a bit air-headed and impressionable, Bella a slick piece of work, and General Tilney deceptive and tyrannical.

The plot plays out as one would expect, and if you had not read Northanger Abbey before you would not notice that the author has really created a complete translation, scene for scene, and sometimes word for word—a No Fear Shakespeare version of Northanger Abbey. While I admired McDermid’s creative choices to bring the story into the modern world (cell phones, Facebook, language and culture), I was immediately puzzled by her choice of narrative style. This novel is really a retelling instead of the reimagining that it was advertised as. The downside of a translation is in its creative limitations, resulting in McDermid’s sentences being affected and unnatural. I just wanted her to break out of the stranglehold she had placed on herself and use the plot and characterization as a spring board, and not a noose. Limiting herself in this manner may have been her way of honoring Austen, but I think she has done a great disservice to her own writing. Having not read any of her acclaimed crime novels I have no idea of her real talent. I believe that Austen herself, who honed her craft so precisely, would be baffled at one author lessening their gifts at the expense of another.

Like the reaction to Joanna Trollope’s contemporary reimaging of Sense and Sensibility published last year, whenever you fiddle with the classics there are bound to be those who are open to the concept and those completely closed off. I read this novel in anticipation of enjoying it. In hindsight, I do not think that it was written for an Austen fan familiar with the original, but for the uninitiated who may view it in a completely different light.

3.5 out of 5 Stars

Northanger Abbey: The Austen Project, by Val McDermid
Grove Press (2014)
Hardcover (368) pages
ISBN: 978-0802123015

Cover image courtesy of Grove Press © 2014; text Laurel Ann Nattress, 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.”

Happy Birthday Mr. Darcy: Austen Addicts Vol. 5, by Victoria Connelly – A Review

Happy Birthday Mr Darcy by Victoria Connelly 2013 x 200From the desk of Christina Boyd:

The Austen Addicts series has evolved through the years into a guilty pleasure for me. Happy Birthday Mr. Darcy is Victoria Connelly’s fifth installment in this contemporary romance series loosely inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The novella reunites us with her original characters from the first in the series, Weekend with Mr. Darcy, and opens a week prior to when Warwick Lawton (Austenesque author who writes under the female nom de plume, Lorna Warwick) is to pledge his troth to his Austen scholar/fiancé, Katherine Roberts.

Katherine is enchanted with the Regency themed wedding plans, her antique Russian engagement ring, and her empire-styled gown. She had never seen anything so beautiful. Well, not since Matthew Macfadyen had strode across the dawn meadow in the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. She really didn’t feel worthy of such a dress and it felt like a terrible extravagance to have something so lovely for just one day. Though passionately in-love with her fiancé, not unlike many brides, doubts about the marriage state and how her life is to change loom overhead right up until the wedding hour.

A colorful cast of characters with nods to Austen’s own characters, including Warwick’s marriage-cynic of a sister and his handsome, jovial best man, add to the wedding festivities. Dame Pamela, a favorite from Weekend with Mr. Darcy, opens her manor home to host the wedding and quips these two Janeites are marrying the same year that Pride and Prejudice celebrates its two-hundredth birth. “Mr. Darcy is doing well for his age,” Dame Pamela said with a little chuckle. “Pleasing women for two centuries is no mean feat!”

It was autumn of 2011 when I first discovered Victoria Connelly. I was in high dudgeon as it was the weekend of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Fort Worth, Texas and I would be missing the festivities. Austenprose blog mistress Laurel Ann Nattress had left me with a copy of A Weekend with Mr. Darcy, the first in the Austen Addicts series, as some consolation; I could not help but commiserate with Kitty Bennet when her sister Lydia left her home at Longbourn for her adventure at Brighton! Although not the thrill of attending an AGM Regency ball, Connelly’s first in her Austen Addicts series was a balm to my battered spirits. Since then, the Austen Addicts’ series continued: Dreaming of Mr. Darcy, Mr. Darcy Forever, and then the novella, Christmas with Mr. Darcy.

There are no big surprises in Happy Birthday Mr. Darcy. But I must agree with the sage Mr. Knightley from Emma: “Surprises are foolish things.” However, despite being a harmless bit of Austen pastiche, this little darling of a book was but a light, nibble of meringue that left me wanting more.

4 out of 5 Stars

Happy Birthday Mr. Darcy: Austen Addicts Vol. 5, by Victoria Connelly
Cuthland Press (2013)
Trade paperback (118) pages
ISBN: 978-0956986672

Cover image courtesy of Cuthland Press © 2013; text Christina Boyd © 2014, Austenprose.com

When I’m With You (The Jane Austen Academy Series), by Cecilia Gray – A Review

When I'm with You, by Cecilia Gray (2013)From the desk of Lisa Galek:

I read a lot of young adult fiction and I notice that there’s often a tendency to feature a female main character who’s smart, sassy, and in-control. Of course, these self-confident heroines are important and lots of real-life girls can relate to them. But, some girls are a little less sure of themselves. A little more naïve and a little too trusting. In fact, that’s something that many women struggle with long after they leave high school. No one knew this better than Jane Austen. Her heroines fit into a huge range of personalities and life experiences. In When I’m With You, Cecilia Gray gives us an update on one of Jane’s most underutilized, yet relatable teenage characters, Catherine Morland from Northanger Abbey

Kat Morley just knows that one day she’s gonna be a famous actress. She’s been the lead in five different productions at her high school, the Jane Austen Academy, so it can’t be long until her name is up in lights. When Kat’s classmate (aspiring actor, Josh Wickham) asks her to travel with him to the set of a movie he’s starring in over Christmas break, it’s practically her dream come true! Things get even better once Kat arrives and starts rubbing elbows with the stars. Izzy Engel is not only beautiful and famous but she’s also decided to befriend Kat! And Henry Trenton (son of Hollywood legend, Tom Trenton) has invited her out for hot cocoa! Swoon!

But, it isn’t long before Kat starts to see the dark side of being famous. Constantly being stalked by the paparazzi. Lack of privacy. Having to act and dress a certain way to maintain your image. When Kat is invited to stay at Henry’s home in Los Angeles, she also uncovers some secrets about his famous dad and starts to have some doubts about her new celebrity friends. Maybe being a star really isn’t as wonderful as Kat always imagined? 

When I’m With You is the third in Cecilia Gray’s Jane Austen Academy series. Each of Austen’s six main heroines gets her own story and a transplant to a modern-day boarding school in California. The girls – Lizzie, Ellie, Kat, Fanny, Emma, and Anne – befriend each other over the course of the six books and, of course, get involved with lots of cute boys. I think Jane would be amused.

Even though I wasn’t familiar with any of the other Jane Austen Academy books, reading this one out of order was no problem. I chose to start with this title because it’s based on one of my favorite novels – Northanger Abbey. You don’t see too many modern updates of it, probably because it’s one of Austen’s lesser-read and lesser-known works. That’s actually a shame. I always saw Northanger as particularly relevant to modern folks. Sure, the original book is poking fun at 18th-century gothic novels, but the idea of satirizing pop culture isn’t outdated at all. Here, the author riffs on our modern obsession with fame, Hollywood, and celebrity gossip. The parallels to Austen’s work and the critiques of the world we live in are spot on. And very funny.

Catherine Morland always seemed to me the perfect character to star in a modern young adult novel, too. Here you have a teenage girl away from home and forced to rely on her (still developing) wits to navigate the world around her. She’s naïve, imaginative, and a little too trusting at times. Kat Morley is a great modern parallel to Catherine. Kat wants to be a famous actress one day, but she really has no idea what being a celebrity is all about. She’s a little too awed by fame and filled with enough self-doubt to keep herself from realizing people’s true intentions and feelings. Whether it’s a friend she should be avoiding or a romance she should be pursuing, Kat just doesn’t quite know what to do.

This might make Kat sound a bit dull and indecisive, but she was actually a really fun character to spend an afternoon with. She’s driven and spunky, but filled with a lot of uncertainty in herself that I found very true to life and relatable. Her journey from dreams of stardom to a more realistic vision for her future was very well done, natural, and satisfying. Her friendship with the subtly devious Izzy was perfect and even takes an unexpected turn in the end. And her romance with the quirky and light-hearted Henry Trenton was fun and engaging without taking center stage. Sure, Kat might fall in love, but that never takes away from her growth and development in the story.

The book is very short and, at less than 150 pages, I was able to get through it in a few hours one afternoon. That means that the author cuts away a lot of side plots from the original to focus on Kat’s core journey. There’s no John Thorpe to pursue her. No Eleanor Tilney to befriend her. No James Morland to fall in love with Izzy and no Captain Tilney to lure her away. So, it’s true that the book isn’t as meticulously plotted as the original, and normally, I would miss these little bits and pieces. But, the main story is really juicy and engaging and still flows well. Even as the author trimmed, she was still able to dive deep and do justice to what was left.

Overall, When I’m With You is a short, fun, well-written update on a much neglected, but much loved story. What more could you ask for? I liked the book so much, that I plan on checking out the rest of the series. Amazon is also featuring the first book in the Jane Austen Academy series, Fall for You, (based on Pride and Prejudice) for free. Why not download a copy? I already did and am looking forward to reading more adventures featuring the young ladies of the Jane Austen Academy.

5 out of 5 Stars

When I’m With You (The Jane Austen Academy Series), by Cecilia Gray
Gray Life, LLC (2013)
Digital eBook (147) pages
ASIN: B00ASCHFR6

Additional Reviews:

Cover image courtesy Gray Life, LLC © 2013; text Lisa Galek © 2014, Austenprose.com

Unleashing Mr. Darcy, by Teri Wilson – A Review

Unleashing Mr. Darcy, by Teri Wilson (2013)From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder:

Contemporary Pride and Prejudice re-tellings are my second favorite types of Jane Austen fan fiction. (What-ifs own my heart!) I love seeing how authors attempt to believably transport Elizabeth, Darcy, and their story into a modern setting. Seeing the juxtaposition of such a timeless story with modern technology and social cues is always an interesting and fun experiment. Therefore, when I saw Unleashing Mr. Darcy by Teri Wilson available on NetGalley I knew I had to request it! Mr. Darcy and dogs? Could there be a better combination of things on Earth!?

Elizabeth Scott has no need for a man in her life. Especially after the havoc one man in particular wreaked on her career.  The only thing in her life she cares for now is her show dog, Bliss, whom she shows at competitions and loves more than life itself. After a scandal rocks her career as a teacher in Manhattan, she finds a way out of the mess by agreeing to care for a group of show dogs in England.  Now thousands of miles from her problems, she breathes a sigh of relief, until a Mr. Donovan Darcy takes her breath away. A wealthy dog breeder from London, Darcy has a healthy dose of arrogance to counterbalance his charm, and Elizabeth seems determined to ignore him and devote her time to her dogs. However, she can’t deny the sparks that are beginning to fly between them, and she must make a choice: should she stay single or let another person join her pack?

I was completely charmed by this Pride and Prejudice re-telling! From Elizabeth and Donovan’s first meeting I was hooked. Their flirtatious dialogue was a perfect blend of equal annoyance and attraction to each other. I looked forward to each scene they shared with an eagerness I haven’t felt in a long time. I simply could not read fast enough. When I finished reading the entire book I was so disappointed that it was over, I promptly started it again. I should also mention how effortlessly the world of dog showing was weaved into their relationship and the story overall. Although at first you wouldn’t imagine show dogs in a traditional love story, Wilson made the two pair wonderfully.

All of the supporting characters (The Gardiners, Jane, and Bingley-esque people) added so much to the story. Elizabeth’s relationship with her sister Jenna (read: Jane) was fantastically written. Having a sister myself, I could relate to their sisterly conversations. The Jenna/Henry (Jane/Charles) storyline was as adorable as you would expect it to be. We’re even given a Caroline Bingley character (Helena) that is the true epitome of a villain.

Wilson’s writing is in a word, excellent. She’s given new life to a classic story in a bold way, making it fresh and unique while staying true to its roots. I’m greatly looking forward to reading her next venture into contemporized classics, Unmasking Juliet, a contemporary version of Romeo and Juliet which is due out in May.

5 out of 5 Stars

Unleashing Mr. Darcy, by Teri Wilson
Harlequin HQN (2013)
Trade paperback (368) pages
ISBN: 978-0373778355

Additional Reviews:

Cover image courtesy of Harlequin © 2013; text Kimberly Denny-Ryder © 2014, Austenprose.com

Undressing Mr. Darcy, by Karen Doornebos – A Review

The Pride Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge (2013)This is our twelfth and final selection for The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013, our year-long blog event honoring Jane Austen’s second published novel. Please follow the link above to read all the details of this reading and viewing challenge. Sign up’s are now closed but you can read the reviews and comment through 31 December 2013.

From the desk of Christina Boyd: 

With a title like Undressing Mr. Darcy, author Karen Doornebos’ new release is sure to turn a few heads this holiday season. “Sex sells, even to smart, liberated women, and Mr. Darcy was the smart girl’s pinup boy.” p. 7 And like the novel’s heroine, a master PR rep who has turned tweeting into an #artform, Doornebos has carefully crafted another contemporary romance novel about an ambitious, highly energized, very modern woman who meets a charming Mr. Darcy re-enactor, sure to draw the attention of Janeites and romance readers alike.

When Vanessa Roberts, PR extraordinaire with the perpetually-present smartphone and ever-ready clever social media tweet or posting, takes on a pro-bono job as a favor for her elderly Jane Austen loving aunt, little does she expect promoting the English author of, My Year as Mr. Darcy, to turn her organized world topsy-turvy. When she finally meets Julian Chancellor, who has capitalized on his good looks “as he gives a little historical background on his Regency-era clothing as he proceeds to take it off –down to his drawers” at his book signings, she finds she too, like the throngs of Darcy fans in the audience, is caught by his artful allurements.

When she realizes his incentive for writing his book is to raise money to support the restoration of his ancestral home, coupled with his charm and gentlemen-like behavior, she can’t help herself but start to fantasize what a fling, nay relationship, with him might be like. As they all attend the Jane Austen Society North America (JASNA) Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Chicago, while surrounded by Austen lovers fully immersed in the hubbub, Vanessa is busy promoting her author, “Want to tie the knot with Mr. Darcy? He’s in Cravat Tying 101 right now.#JASNAagm #UndressingMrDarcy #OrDressingMrDarcy?” p. 71 Surprisingly amongst all the bonnets and lace, she discovers she might be open to the possibilities of something more to life than constantly being plugged in.

It felt as if some of his Austen quotes were speaking directly to her at times, and it occurred to her that it might be time that she gave the author another chance. Perhaps her aunt had been on to something all these years. Was there something beyond the happily ever after stories and the demure portrait of a woman in a white ruffled cap that popped in Vanessa’s head every time ‘Jane Austen’ was mentioned?” p. 36

Undressing Mr. Darcy by Karen Doornebos (2013)As Julian’s clothes come off, the heat turns up. But it’s not just his fine person that captivates her; his endearing friendship with her beloved aunt coupled with his affection and knowledge of all things Austen soon bewitch her body and soul. “‘The conversion has begun. It’s in your blood. Resistance is futile.’ He looked into her eyes and took a step backward. ‘You’re becoming an Austen fan.‘” p. 9

But like in life, ever dry spell has its flood. And for the lonesome, loveless Vanessa, soon after meeting Julian she meets a handsome, amiable pirate! Turns out HeroCon is happening simultaneously at the same Chicago hotel. Is Chase MacClane a rogue of the highest order or is he the hero in disguise?

Two Austen events later, Vanessa finds herself in England for the celebrated ten day Jane Austen Festival in Bath. As soon as the plane lands, the consummate media maven posts, “‘Here I am once more in this Scene of Dissipation & vice, and I begin already to find my Morals corrupted.’ Could a girl ask for more? All sorts of sordid things happen in London.” p. 209 But all may not be how it appears. Later as she scampers about London and Bath on a wild, Austen-inspired scavenger hunt, she questions the authenticity of her relationship with Julian, her friendship with Chase, her aunt’s imminent Alzheimer’s diagnosis, and what she is going to do about any of it. “She laughed at her own folly. Folly? Had she ever used that word before? Why did she palpably feel Jane Austen’s presence across the room, near the trio, with folded arms and laughing at her?” p. 214 Doornebos’s storytelling had me biting my bottom lip until the very last, guessing who, if anyone, our fair heroine might choose!

Karen Doornebos, the author of Definitely Not Mr. Darcy, has certainly delivered me good tidings of comfort and joy this holiday season with this latest offering. Because of her concise research of Austen, in concert with the believable dialogue and madcap romantic antics, I am compelled to tweet: “@xtnaboyd Undressing Mr. Darcy is the #perfectstockingstuffer for Austen & Darcy lovers everywhere- regardless who are naughty or nice!”

5 out of 5 Stars 

Undressing Mr. Darcy, by Karen Doornebos
Berkley Trade (2013)
Trade paperback (368) pages
ISBN: 978-0425261392

Cover image courtesy of Berkley Trade © 2013; text Christina Boyd © 2013, Austenprose.com

Project Darcy, by Jane Odiwe – A Review

Project  Darcy, by Jane Odiwe (2013)From the desk of Lisa Galek:

There’s one thing that’s true about Janeites – we love a good romance. Whether it’s a couple exchanging glances nearly two hundred years ago or a modern guy and gal sharing their first kiss on the streets of London, there’s something so magical about experiencing the feeling of falling in love… even if we’re only reading about it. In her new novel, Project Darcy, Jane Odiwe combines love stories from the past and present to give us an interesting spin on the life of Jane Austen.

When Ellie Bentley agrees to volunteer for an archeological dig at the site of Jane Austen’s childhood home in Steventon Rectory, she’s looking forward to spending a nice summer with her four closest friends – Jess, Martha, Cara, and Liberty. But almost as soon as she arrives, Ellie starts to see strange things: a man who looks just like he could be the ghost of Mr. Darcy and visions of a romance that happened 200 years ago. As the days pass and Ellie learns more about the secrets of Steventon, she gets drawn deeper and deeper into the life and loves of Jane Austen.

Meanwhile, the five friends are finding that their lives are playing out just like one of Austen’s romances. A handsome Oxford student named Charlie Harden has his eye on Jess, while Ellie is convinced that his friend, Henry Dorsey, is the most arrogant man who ever lived. Cara and Liberty are busy flirting with anyone and everyone in their path – even Greg Whitely, a gorgeous TV star who might not be as charming as he seems. Could the visions that Ellie keeps seeing hold the key to figuring out all their modern-day romantic entanglements?

Project Darcy is a bit of a literary mash-up. It’s part modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice and part Austen-inspired magical realism. Not only is Ellie on a journey to find her own Mr. Darcy, but she also has the ability to see into important moments from Jane Austen’s past. While this idea is really interesting and has a lot of potential, in the end, the book sometimes struggled to bring the two stories together.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good contemporary update on Austen. It’s so fun to see her stories play out with modern couples. I also don’t take any issue with characters who randomly travel back in time and help us get to know Jane Austen a little bit better – there’s something delightful about letting our imaginations fill in the gaps in our favorite author’s personal story. But, combining these two is apparently a tricky business.

In this novel, we have a character from the present who randomly falls back into the past every so often. These transitions were always smooth and well-written, but they did sometimes interrupt the flow of the story. One moment we’re with Ellie as she’s about to confront Henry, the next, we’re at a ball in 1796 gazing across the room at Tom Lefroy. Sometimes, it was hard to figure out which love story to focus on. Just when you wanted more of one – poof! – it was gone.

There are lots of Austen-inspired novels that play with some kind of time travel. One of the things I’ve always noticed about these books is the main character will usually spend some time coming to terms with what’s happened. But, Ellie isn’t worried at all when she unexpectedly begins to see visions of the past. The author explains this by saying that Ellie always had a gift for seeing ghosts and such. But, these visions are so intense that they made me wish Ellie would have at least stopped to check in with her doctor and make sure everything was all right.

Aside from all this, the author does write well and the characters are well-developed and vibrant. The love stories, also, are passionate and sweet and will really draw you in. And the event that brings everyone together – the archeological dig at Steventon – really happened. The dialogue is fun and witty, but, at times, it got a little outdated. Occasionally, during the scenes that took place in the present, the characters just came off sounding a bit too formal to be 21st-century guys and girls.

Overall, the book gives us two intriguing romances. It just has a little trouble making them come together. At times, it felt like I was reading two excellent love stories, not one cohesive one. In the end, the author tries to tie everything together in an interesting and surprising way, but, sadly, I don’t think she’s completely able to wrap up all the loose ends.

4 out of 5 Stars

Project Darcy, by Jane Odiwe
Paintbox Publishing (2013)
Trade paperback (326) pages
ISBN: 978-0954572235

Cover image courtesy of Paintbox Publishing © 2013; text Lisa Galek © 2013, Austenprose.com

Finding Colin Firth: A Novel, by Mia March – A Review

Finding Colin Firth by Mia March (2013)From the desk of Christina Boyd:

What Janeite would not stop dead in her tracks when she spies “Colin Firth” in the title of a book? Mia March’s latest offering Finding Colin Firth: A Novel certainly set off all my bells and whistles. The smolderingly sexy British actor not only won our hearts when he emerged dripping wet from Pemberley pond as Mr. Darcy in the 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, he has had an acclaimed career, winning the best actor Academy Award in 2011 for The King’s Speech. Who wouldn’t want to find Colin Firth? But no, dear friends, this is not a “How to” book sharing tips and advice on how to track and successfully have a Firth encounter. Eeesh! It’s a work of fiction about three women unknowingly bound together and whose lives intersect when the actor is slated to film a movie in a coastal Maine town. Daily rumors of Mr. Firth’s arrival fuels fantasy and stirs the excitement in their lives and aspirations. (Just imagining spotting Mr. Firth in my little town sets this fan-girl’s heart racing!)

A year after her mother’s death, (who incidentally was a Colin Firth fan), 22 year-old Bea Crane receives a mysterious letter from her deceased mother, confessing she adopted Bea as a newborn. “…Now that I feel myself going, I can’t bear to take this with me. But I can’t bear to tell you with my final breaths, either, I can’t do that to you. So I’ll wait on this, for both of us. But you should know the truth because it is the truth.” Shocked, Bea tracks down her birth mother to Boothbay Harbor, Maine and decides she must see this unknown woman for herself.

In Boothbay, Bea learns that 38-year-old Veronica Russo is an unmarried waitress-slash-magic pie baker-slash-Colin Firth fan who has only in the last year returned to her hometown. After years of failed relationships, her friends worry she will end up alone.  “…she’d started saying what felt light-hearted but true at the same time, that she was holding out for a man who felt like Colin Firth to her. Her friend Shelley from the diner had known exactly what she meant. ‘I realize he’s an actor playing roles, but I get it,’ Shelley had said. ‘Honest. Full of integrity. Conviction. Brimming with intelligence.  Loyal. You just want to believe everything he says with that British accent of his –and can trust it.’” Having failed to escape haunting memories of her youth, Veronica has come home to confront her past then “maybe her heart would start working the way it was supposed to. And maybe, maybe, maybe, the daughter she’d given up for adoption would contact her.” Now back to those magic pies by Veronica… She calls them elixir pies claiming to cast hope, love or banishment– or anything that conjures up a solution to one’s troubles. “For a heartbroken friend, Healing Pie. For a sick friend, Feel Better Pie. For a down-in –the dumps friend, Happiness Pie. For the lovelorn, Amore Pie.” And they seem to work! On everyone except Veronica. At least so far.

After seeing her birth mother at the diner, but not brave enough yet to approach her, Bea decides to take a tour of Hope Home, a home for unwed pregnant girls where she was born. There she meets a Manhattan journalist, Gemma Hendricks. Upon first coming to town, the recently fired Gemma thought she could curry favor with her old magazine by scooping a coveted human-interest story on Colin Firth. Instead she is offered a free-lance gig at the local newspaper to write a story on the 50th anniversary of Hope Home.  At a crossroads herself, Gemma has only just discovered she is pregnant but has yet to share the news with her devoted attorney husband. She loves living and working in the city but already knows her husband wants to move to the suburbs and start a family.  “How would she ever get back what she had at ‘New York Weekly’? Alexander would realize this in a hot minute and argue her into that Dobbs Ferry house before she new it.  He’d make his own case until she had no arguments of her own. And once she had the baby? He’d bombard her with articles about working mothers and bad nannies and reckless day cares.”

Although this is an intricate concoction, cooking up a potentially emotionally heated story, it would be a failing indeed were I not to mention the elephant in the room. A glaring error, in fact. And I mean GLARING—Red-light GLARING error—in the beginning of the book. Veronica is baking a pie while supposedly watching the mini-series Pride and Prejudice. The Colin Firth, 1995, A&E five-hour version. March writes, “Fitzwilliam Darcy’s face filled the TV screen. ‘If, however, your feelings have changed, I will have to tell you; you have bewitched me, body and soul, and I love, I love, I love you. I never wish to be parted from you from this day on…’” Although it’s not Austen’s prose, this Janeite loves that line and all it’s saccharine sweet sentiment. I know for a fact it’s what the Matthew Macfadyen’s Mr. Darcy from the Joe Wright 2005 version of P&P says to Kiera Knightley’s Lizzy Bennet as they meet in a mist covered field at daybreak!  So, I went back and made sure I hadn’t missed something—something like, Veronica was watching the newer version. But no, she is supposed to be watching the Colin Firth version. Ugh! It is incredulous any author writing about the namesake of her book, or her editor, or the layers of people who read it before publication could let such an obvious blunder slip through unnoticed. From then on I had my doubts March was a fan of Colin Firth or P&P – and speculated maybe she wrote this bit of pastiche to take advantage of the current popularity and ready-made fan base of both. Prejudiced thereafter, I read any mention of Mr.Firth or his movies with a cynical eye, thinking this could be any popular actor and his movies dubbed in. Nevertheless, I soldiered on because honestly, I liked the premise—and was hopeful.

Did I enjoy the book? Hmmmmm… Yes, I did. It was an interesting story with strong plot lines. Although Finding Colin Firth: A Novel dealt with powerful issues regarding teenage pregnancy, adoption, marriage and relationship struggles with a happy ending for all, I must admit I never felt overly invested in any of the characters to really like them. There seemed no shortage of disjointed “telling” from the three main characters’ point of view but scant, soulful interaction. Given the themes, I thought there would have been more depth. Pity. In short, it’s a good book. Easy, breezy bit of chic-lit that I liked. Not loved.

Yes, there is a Colin Firth sighting, eventually, but then again, he’s not really the story. Just the bait.

3.5 out of 5 Stars

Finding Colin Firth: A Novel, by Mia March
Gallery Books (2013)
Trade paperback (336) pages
ISBN: 978-1476710204

Cover image courtesy of Simon & Schuster © 2013; text Christina Boyd © 2013, Austenprose.com

Emmalee: The Jane Austen Diaries #4, by Jenni James – A Review

Emmalee: The Jane Austen Diaries #4, by Jenni James (2012)From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder

Several months ago I had the opportunity to read Persuaded by Jenni James, a modern YA (young adult) adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion.  I was really impressed with James’ ability to keep the depth of Austen’s works when translating them into the modern world, and make them appealing to the YA crowd. When offered the chance to review her adaptation of Emma, I jumped and said yes! I’ve always found that Emma Woodhouse is a difficult character to relate to. (At least to me) The film Clueless did an excellent job showcasing her naivety while also reflecting that deep down inside she was a good person with good intentions. I was interested in seeing if James could also reflect this naïve nature while still making Emma appealing to teens.

Emmalee Bradford, the modern day equivalent to Emma, lives a very satisfied life.  She believes that she is an expert matchmaker, and never misses and opportunity to set her friends up on dates. She takes special interest in Hannah, whom she decides to devote all her energy towards in order to make her popular. What she doesn’t realize, however, is all this energy expended on others leaves her alone and partner-less. Will she be able to find a match for herself despite being so adept at finding matches for others?

As I said before, Jane Austen’s Emma is a difficult character to relate to. Emmalee, on the other hand, is surprisingly refreshing. This may be because of her age. We’ve all had those awkward teen years dealing with growing up, moving on, difficult parents, friendship/relationship woes, and all the other difficulties being a teen brings. On the surface Emmalee seems like a spoiled rich kid, but when you get in her head, she genuinely thinks that what she does and says is completely unselfish. By the end of the novel, we see her begin to look at her actions from a different perspective and take responsibility for them. This highlights an emotional growth that was missing in Emmalee in the beginning, and is now beginning to transform her into a much more mature person. James weaves this into the plot perfectly, much like Austen made Emma transform from a slightly superficial matchmaker to a woman who has finally found true fulfillment in her own life. It is this transformation that makes Emmalee such a great read (and of course Emma too by extension!)

This book is filled with all the things that teen girls love: trips to the mall, cute boys, crushes, first kisses, Edward Cullen v. Jacob Black of Twilight discussions, puppies, fashion, texting, etc. James does an exquisite job in making her works appeal to her audience. Parents too will love these books for their clean nature, fun-loving prose, and moral lessons. If you know a young adult who has yet to give Austen’s classics a try, I recommend you have them read The Jane Austen Diaries series by Jenni James as encouragement.

4 out of 5 Stars

Emmalee: The Jane Austen Diaries #4, by Jenni James
Walnut Springs Press (2012)
Trade paperback (230) pages
ISBN: 978-0983829386

© 2013 Kimberly Denny-Ryder, Austenprose