First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen, by Charlie Lovett – A Review

First Impressions A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen, by Charlie Lovett (2014 )From the desk of Ruth Anderson:

Jane Austen’s unparalleled wit, biting social commentary, and sharply-drawn characters have transformed works that were once private scribblings, shared only with family, to classics beloved the world over. For the spinster daughter of a clergyman, Jane Austen’s work has proven to have a remarkable staying power, the unforgettable characters and storylines having been indelibly imprinted on the public consciousness, giving rise to a wide array of interpretations – from stage plays to films – as well as sequels or spin-offs. When I was approached with the opportunity to review Charlie Lovett’s First Impressions, I was simultaneously intrigued and wary, as it promised to address the creation of two of my most beloved characters in all of literature – Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy from Pride and Prejudice.

Happily, Lovett’s charming sophomore effort won me over on all counts. This is both a loving homage to the enduring power and appeal of Austen’s stories and the passion that her works inspire, but the power of story. Bibliophiles of the type featured within these pages such as Lovett’s heroine Sophie are uniquely wired to grasp the inherent power and potential of words, and of how stories can forge connections across time and experience, knitting together authors and those who love their words in a community of common ground birthed from the shared reading experience, no matter how varied the respective interpretation.

First Impressions is a dual-narrative, a difficult feat to pull off successfully in my reading experience. In these cases, typically one half of the story thread resonates more strongly than the other, but here Lovett proves equally adept at balancing his contemporary narrative with the historical thread. The historical portion of the novel introduces a young Jane Austen, crica 1796, deep in the first draft of Elinor and Marianne, the epistolary novel that would serve as the genesis for Sense and Sensibility. She strikes up an unlikely friendship with Richard Mansfield, an elderly and retired clergyman whom she is shocked to discover shares her passion for novels. Despite the wide disparity in their age and experience, Jane and the reverend prove to be a meeting of remarkably like minds from which a fast friendship is born. This friendship, and the trust that comes to underscore their every interaction, transforms Jane’s life as Reverend Mansfield becomes the staunchest support of Jane’s writing efforts (outside of her family). When Jane confesses a secret shame to her friend and mentor, a story called “First Impressions” is birthed from their joint project of reconciliation and redemption – the genesis of a love story between one Elizabeth Bennet and one Fitzwilliam Darcy.

The contemporary thread of the novel tells the story of Sophie Collingwood, a lifelong book lover and recent Oxford graduate, facing the daunting task of deciding what to do with the rest of her life post-studies. A self-described outsider in her family, as a child Sophie found a kindred spirit in her Uncle Bertram, a bright spot of imagination in her less-than-bookishly inclined family. Bertram taught Sophie to love books and to savor both the experience of reading and collecting cherished favorites. When tragedy strikes, Sophie finds herself heir to Bertram’s legacy determines to solve the mystery of his death. Armed with an extensive knowledge of books both rare and classic, Sophie embarks on a career in bookselling, marrying her passion for the printed word with her need for both work and an outlet for her grief – and the ever-growing certainty that her uncle’s passing had something to do with his book collection.

Potential suitors are introduced – one of the prickly-but-honorable Darcy variety, and one a slick customer in an appealing, hard to deny package reminiscent of Wickham or Willoughby. Sophie’s romantic options prove inextricably entangled in a shocking discovery that could set the literary world on fire and upend a multimedia empire built on Austen’s legacy. When she discovers indications that Austen may have stolen the story concept that would become Pride and Prejudice from an unknown clergyman named Mansfield, she’s devastated by the implication and determined to prove her literary idol’s innocence. But this bombshell proves to be more dangerous than simply threatening the hearts of Austen’s legions of fans – this is a literary coup that someone feels is worth killing for to acquire.

Sophie’s increasingly dangerous quest to prove the provenance of Austen’s work is seamlessly woven alternating chapters detailing Austen’s progression to full-fledged, publish author, and the indelible impact her friendship with Mansfield had on her life. As a mystery, First Impressions is a gently paced one, perfectly tailored to appeal to fans of classic cozy mysteries such as Agatha Christie – the types of works that are as endlessly in demand as Masterpiece Theater adaptations as Austen’s own tales.  But more than any mystery or love story that unfolds within these pages, Lovett has crafted a tale that pays tribute to a bibliophile’s love affair with the written word. Sophie and Jane’s experiences, separated by centuries, are tied together by a single common thread – the power of story to transcend barriers of age, class, and experience to enrich, empower, and transform. First Impressions is a wholly charming, fresh look at old and familiar literary friends, and Lovett is an author I’m thrilled to have met via these pages.

4.5 out of 5 Stars

First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen, by Charlie Lovett
Viking (Penguin Group USA) 2014
Hardcover and eBook (320) pages
ISBN: 978-0525427247

Cover image courtesy of Viking Adult © 2014; text Charlie Lovett © 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.”

Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Bet, by Marilyn Brant – A Review

Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Bet, by Marilyn Brant (2014)From the desk of Katie Patchell: 

Why is it that Jane Austen’s novels, particularly Pride and Prejudice, have had so many continuations, sequels, and contemporary versions based off of the originals? It’s not just the fact that her books are classics—after all, you don’t see many contemporary versions of Jane Eyre. Or Dickens. How many modern versions of Oliver Twist have you read lately? Don’t get me wrong—the brooding hero, quiet governess, gothic mystery, and melodrama are characters and themes loved by many fans, but there’s just something about Jane Austen’s wit, happy endings, realistic romance, and down-to-earth heroes and heroines that transcends space and time. Whereas Jane Eyre and Oliver Twist (and countless other classics) can only be updated with difficulty because of their two-dimensional characters and highly improbable circumstances, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Persuasion, etc. have complex characters facing realistic issues, and can be updated to virtually any situation, generation, or social class.

In Marilyn Brant’s latest contemporary reimagining, Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Bet, the story focuses not on Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, but rather on the often-overlooked secondary characters in Austen’s original, Jane Bennet and Mr. Bingley, as they participate in the perfect bet—the bet of true love!

Bingley McNamara has only known one female who hasn’t fallen for his charming front, and he has the current misfortune to be constantly thrown together with her as the Best Man and Maid of Honor at his cousin’s wedding. Ever since his kiss with Jane Henderson at Beth Ann Bennet and Will Darcy’s engagement party, the Maid of Honor’s been giving him the silent treatment. With a hatred of being ignored almost as high as his hatred of being disliked, Bingley sets out to exploit the one chink in her perfect armor—her temper. Everyone else seems taken in by her nice front, but he’s convinced—with teasing, irritation, and of course, betting—that he can draw out her angry side.

Jane hates Bingley McNamara with a passion. He refuses to be serious, always manages to appear calm and in control, and is a complete flirt. Not to mention the fact that he’s the only person who has a problem with her niceness! It’s bad enough that she has to relive their kiss (and the subsequent betrayal she experienced on overhearing the bet he made about her), but she also has to spend the entire wedding and reception with him as well.

Just as the bride and groom drive away and Bingley and Jane breathe sighs of relief that they’ll never have to see each other again, they get recruited to help take care of Charlie, Beth’s son, while the Darcy’s are on their honeymoon. When their hatred turns into friendship and their truce turns into trust, will they both be able to stop hiding behind their masks and admit their growing feelings for each other?

At the end of Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Bet there is a blurb (media quote) saying that Marilyn Brant is known for her “complex, intelligent” heroines, and while I haven’t read any of her other books, I definitely agree with this for Jane. She was a multifaceted character whose realistic dilemmas and feelings made it very easy to empathize with her. This also applies to Bingley—he was a complicated and imperfect character who had his own issues to work out, which made his strengths all the more endearing.

While based on Austen’s original characters, Brant’s Jane and Bingley have some key differences that may disappoint Jane Austen purists. Bingley is Mr. Darcy’s cousin, and a bachelor playboy who is much more forthright (and has more depth) than Jane Austen’s Mr. Bingley, and Jane is Beth’s best friend–a woman who covers her true emotions by always acting nice, but who has a temperament more like the original Elizabeth Bennet. While these differences (and others) can be seen as a negative, Marilyn Brant added enough of a twist to Jane and Bingley that they stand out as both a tribute to Jane Austen’s originals and an entirely new literary creation.

Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Bet is a light read—but I don’t say that to trivialize it. This book has emotional depth, and the insight found in its pages both entertains and teaches the reader. But like Jane Austen’s novels, which focus on characters in realistic situations, Perfect Bet doesn’t use melodramatic surprises like an insane woman locked in the attic, or an evil Fagan villain tormenting children. As with the original Pride and Prejudice, it ends happily, and is a touching, funny, romantic, and entirely enjoyable read.

4.5 out of 5 Stars

Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Bet, by Marilyn Brant
White Soup Press (2014)
Trade paperback (236) pages
ISBN: 978-1500473907

Read our review of Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Match

Cover image courtesy of White Soup Press © 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.”

Pride’s Prejudice: A Novel, by Misty Dawn Pulsipher – A Review

Pride's Prejudice by Misty Dawn Pulispher 2014 x 200From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder:

We all make first impressions. Every time we meet a stranger we immediately form an initial opinion, whether it be good, bad, objective, subjective, or any other form. Sometimes, after meeting this person, his/her actions fall so far opposite to your initial impression that it simply astounds you. I myself am guilty of developing a wrong first impression. When I first met my husband, I felt he was a bit odd. Yet here we are, still blissfully happy after 9 years! Anyway, back to wrong first impressions. Such was the case with Beth Pride in Pride’s Prejudice by Misty Dawn Pulsipher, who after seeing a handsome man at a benefit auction soon realized he was in fact an arrogant and selfish idiot. Does her original assessment do William Darcy justice? First, some backstory:

At the Hartford College Children’s Benefit Auction, a chance to dance with Beth, along with other women in attendance, is auctioned off. Dejected after no one bids on her, her hopes are lifted when Darcy steps forward, only to be crushed shortly thereafter when he pays the bid and leaves her, telling her he only felt sorry for her. She then decides to never speak to this man again, but sadly her plans are foiled when her roommate Jenna begins to date Darcy’s best friend, Les. While they are again thrust into each other’s company, Beth continues to try and keep up her hatred of Darcy, but his looks and surprising banter make a serious attempt at breaking down that wall. She begins to rethink her original assessment of Darcy, but doesn’t want to fall for this handsome man a second time without seriously thinking it through. Will Beth’s pride (no pun intended) keep her from letting her true feelings out, or can she learn to trust this man who she up until recently has sworn off?

When I first started reading this novel, the writing voice was a bit odd. The book changes tenses from using pronouns to describe the characters to using their names. After a few chapters, however, this change seemed to be for the better and became permanent, and I began to become more involved in the story. One of my favorite aspects of Pulsipher’s story is that she was able to take events that would be difficult to translate now (i.e. Jane can’t leave Netherfield Park due to her cold) and believably contemporize them. For example, the above storyline turned into a sprained ankle on a camping trip that kept all of the characters in a centralized location due to a mudslide on a mountain.

While there were editing issues (namely continuity) I really enjoyed the work as a whole and got really involved in William & Beth and Les & Jenna’s stories. Darcy wins the prize at being my favorite character of the novel because of his snark. He knows that he doesn’t have a shot at getting Beth’s attention by normal means, so he decides to try and win her by alternative means:

“Dude.” Les said in an accusatory tone. “You’re shooting yourself in the foot.”

“Nope,” William said in a firm tone, swigging his water generously. “I’m coming in at an angle.”

“You honestly think she’s ever going to like you if you keep this up?”

“I’m not into the ‘liking’ phase of my plan yet. Right now I’m on ‘getting her attention even if it’s negative.’”

“She’s going to hate you,” Les said candidly.

“She already does. But love and hate have a common denominator: passion.” (67-68)

Additionally, it should be noted that this is a very clean story, with no premarital sex as the characters don’t believe in it. I thought that this was interesting considering the more modern trends in today’s literature. It’s not often that you read a story centered around 20-somethings that share such views. I’ve read other stories like this that rang as unbelievable and difficult for me to enjoy, but Pulsipher deserves kudos for implementing it in a realistic fashion. I won’t reveal why Darcy feels the way he feels as it is a major spoiler, but it makes his lifestyle choice believable, understandable, and downright chivalrous. If you’re in the mood for an engaging contemporary version of Pride and Prejudice, give Pride’s Prejudice a try this summer.

3 out of 5 Stars

Pride’s Prejudice: A Novel, by Misty Dawn Pulsipher
CreateSpace (2013)
Trade paperback (312) pages
ISBN: 978-1484917848

Additional Reviews:

Cover image courtesy of CreateSpace © 2013; 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.

Once Upon a Second Chance, by Marian Vere – A Review

One Upon a Second Chance by Marian Vere 2012 x 200From the desk of Lisa Galek:

Little girls grow up on fairy tales. From a young age we’re inundated with stories about handsome princes who ride in on their white horses and sweep heroines off their feet. Everyone wants that happy ending. But, what if Prince Charming came by and you missed him? In Once Upon a Second Chance, Marian Vere explores what happens to a heroine after she lets her happily-ever-after slip through her fingers.

Ever since she was a little girl, Julia Basham dreamed of finding the guy of her dreams. When she meets Nick Kerkley, a college dropout with big plans for starting his own tech business, she thinks he might be the one. After a whirlwind romance, Nick pops the question and Julia finally sees a happily-ever-after in her future. Her older sister, Lisa, is less thrilled. Lisa convinces Julia to break off their engagement, which also breaks Nick’s heart. The two part ways, but Julia convinces herself that it’s for the best.

Fast forward eight years. Julia’s dreams haven’t exactly come true. She works as a secretary for a financial consulting firm and still has yet to stumble across “the one.” Nick, on the other hand, is doing pretty well. The tech company he started has made him big money. 17.7 billion dollars to be exact. When Julia’s firm takes Nick on as a new client, she’s forced to come face to face with her biggest regret. Julia realizes that she let the love of her life get away all those years ago. Will she let it happen again? Or is it time for a second chance?

Once Upon a Second Chance is a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, but with a few little twists. Sure, it’s updated and told from the point of view of a modern day woman living in New York City, but the author also sneaks in some fun references to folk tales and fantasy. Julia keeps waiting for a fairy godmother to come take her hand and make her world magically better, but, sadly, that’s just not in the cards for her.

Julia is actually a really interesting character. Part of her emotional journey—like Anne Elliot’s—is discovering her inner strength, though there were times when I wished she would just figure it out already. Julia spends a whole lot of time and energy (and internal monologues) freaking out about Nick. She panics when he becomes a client for her firm. She panics when he walks into a room. She panics when he looks at her. And she panics when she even thinks about talking to him. It was a bit much at times.

Even though Julia could be overwhelming, the romance between her and Nick was really well developed and enjoyable. We get to see some flashbacks of their life together, how they met, and how things ended so badly between them. The moments that they shared in the present were pretty magical, too. Even when it was just a stolen glance across a room, I was getting butterflies in my stomach. I truly wanted these two crazy kids to just kiss and live happily-ever-after.

The story trimmed some of the subplots from Persuasion and simplified a lot. Mr. Elliot makes a brief appearance, but he doesn’t pose much danger to Julia. Lisa is obviously a variation on Lady Russell and Julia’s best friend and co-worker, Bree, has a bit of Louisa Musgrove in her. None of these characters feels as weighty or important as they did in the original. Julia and Nick are the main focus here and everyone else just seems to orbit around them. I didn’t mind much because the romance was so good, but the story did lose a bit of the complexity by slimming down these minor characters.

In the end, the novel really does pull off its goal. Not only is it a fun romance, but it’s a great critique of the ways that women are taught to be passive. Sometimes we’re told to ignore our instincts and listen to other people’s judgment. Other times we hear that we should just wait around for love and life to just happen to us. Julia has to learn to take charge of her own life and to figure out that she’s the only one with the power to make her dreams come true. No Fairy Godmothers necessary.

Once Upon a Second Chance is a light, bright, sparkling read. It’s well-written, funny, and very romantic, but it also has some interesting things to say about life and love. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

4.5 out of 5 Stars

Once Upon a Second Chance, by Marian Vere
Omnific Publishing (2012)
Trade paperback (210) pages
ISBN: 978-1623429157

Cover image courtesy of Omnific Publishing © 2012; Text Lisa Galek © 2014, Austenprose.com 

Disclosure of Material Connection: The reviewer purchased a copy of this book. 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.”

Passionate Persuasion: A Date by Mistake Novella, by Rosemary Clement-Moore – A review

Passionate Persusion Clement Moore 2014 x 200From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder:

Perhaps one of the most relatable parts of any book is heartbreak. Most of us have experienced it, and it leaves one with such sorrow and sadness that won’t soon be forgotten. Such is what makes the story between Anne and Frederick in Jane Austen’s Persuasion so riveting. When considering a modern retelling of this story, why not try and imagine it from a flipped perspective, with the man doing the heartbreaking and the woman being wooed. Such is the case with Rosemary Clement-Moore’s Passionate Persuasion, where we meet Alex and Kiara, an everyday couple who experience their own version of heartbreak and rekindled affections.

Alex and Kiara have a past not unlike many couples in today’s society. After having dated for a while in college, Alex unexpectedly and suddenly ended their relationship, and the two drift apart, losing contact after graduation. Nothing about this past is extraordinary, except for the fact that it all comes roaring back eight years later, after Kiara and Alex meet again at what Kiara thought was supposed to be a blind date at a bar. While trying to compose herself from the shock of seeing Alex after so much time has passed, Kiara has to try even harder to maintain her composure after she realizes Alex is coming on to her with no reservations. Will drudging up old emotions bring back the fire of their relationship, or is it destined to bring up the pain of their breakup all over again?

So what roped me into this novella was definitely the character of Kiara (Anne Elliot.) She’s pretty badass and snarky from the moment we first meet her. Having gone through heartbreak myself, I could totally relate to how she built walls up around her heart for protective purposes.  From the moment that Kiara and Alex meet again, the dialogue filled with snark and double-entendres was both hot and hysterical at the same time. Alex has a great way of interjecting statements into their dialogue that forces Kiara to realize that he knows her and to remember what she was like before all those walls were erected. A great example of this was this particular exchange between Alex and Kiara:

“Well, I wouldn’t say it to just anyone,” he said, leaning an elbow on the bar. “We have history.”

Ancient history,” she hissed, with a glance to assure herself that it only felt like everyone was staring. No one in the busy bar was actually paying attention.

Alex gave an innocent shrug, “If you’re going to sit there all ice maiden, I’m going to remind you that I know you’re not.”

She blushed even deeper, feeling gauche and young again, feeling – heaven help her – the ghost of arousals past. “By reminding me you’re a Neanderthal?” (8)

What was most enjoyable to me was that everything was based in modern reality. In a lot of relationships today you meet someone at a younger age, and you’re both not in the correct mindset and don’t possess the correct maturity level to deal with the emotions you’re experiencing. Once you get older and you do have the experience to fully form your expectations of a relationship, it’s much easier to immediately fall into a deep and fulfilling relationship, just as Alex and Kiara do. It’s realistic because both of them have had the time to develop their own needs and therefore they’re able to communicate better and hit the ground running. Overall, Passionate Persuasion, like Jane Austen’s Persuasion, is filled with sharp dialogue and two very likeable and realistic characters which will have you finishing this 65-page novella in a heartbeat.

4 out of 5 Stars

Passionate Persuasion: A Date by Mistake Novella, by Rosemary Clement-Moore
Entangled: Indulgence (2014)
Digital eBook (65) pages
ASIN: B00IHCJ5U4

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

Disclosure of Material Connection: The reviewer purchased a copy of this book. 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.”