The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet, by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick – A Review

Secret Diaries Secret Diaries of Lizzie Bennet by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick 2014 x 200From the desk of Lisa Galek:

In 2012, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries debuted on YouTube. Smart, confident (and only slightly prejudiced) grad student Lizzie Bennet posts videos twice a week all about her life, friends, and family. The Internet promptly fell in love. But, there were some things Lizzie couldn’t share in her videos. Luckily, she kept a diary… and now we finally get to see it.

The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet is a companion book to the excellent LBD web series. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’re definitely missing out. Elizabeth Bennet is transformed into a 24-year-old graduate student from California with her own video blog. She posts all kinds of insightful and hilarious content about her wacky family, which includes her two sisters—sweet Jane and energetic Lydia. Oh, and a certain boring, stuffy, and unbelievably rude guy named William Darcy occasionally pops up (but let’s not talk about him because Lizzie just cannot stand him). The videos are an absolutely amazing update on Pride and Prejudice. Very smart, very funny, and very Jane.

But, if you’re not already pretty familiar with this information, The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet won’t really make much sense to you. The book is very tied into the web series—so much so that it often feels like a retelling of the content from the videos. Lizzie begins and ends her story like her vlogs do. She starts off by explaining the new online project she’s about to embark on and ends with a happily-ever-after that will make any Austen fan smile. She sometimes even transcribes whole scenes directly from the videos. (To be fair, it’s only the really important ones.)

The big draw for this book is the promise of new content (in fact, that seems to be their main marketing message per these new videos from Lizzie and Darcy). I was hoping that the book would really deliver in this area. After all, the web series is based on a 200-year-old story that anyone with access to Cliff’s Notes can figure out the ending of. Yet, every video makes Austen’s original feel fresh, engaging, interesting, and really funny. If anyone could pull off a great tie-in novel, it would be the folks at Pemberley Digital.

Unfortunately, these new tidbits might not be enough to justify a whole book. Sure, it’s neat to see Darcy’s letter to Lizzie in print and to get some more time with Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. There’s even some cool behind the scenes type stuff about making the videos and more frank details about the Bennet sisters and their sexy times that didn’t make it to the air. But, all this stuff sort of existed in the background of the videos as subtext already. Are those small, new details really worth the price of admission?

One of the things I did love about the book is that we’re in Lizzie’ s head the whole time. Sure, she narrates almost all the videos, but those are for public consumption. Sometimes she’s holding back what she really thinks, and here we’re getting more unfiltered access. And, since the book is written by two of the writers from the web series, they really nail Lizzie’s voice. On the page, she’s just as smart, funny, and awesome as she is on video. Honestly, the fact that the writing is really strong and compelling saves this book from getting a little dull at times.

Because I’m such a huge fan of the web series, I was super excited to read The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet. Sadly, the additional content just can’t justify an entire book. If you love her vlog and can’t get enough of every little Lizzie Bennet detail (or just want to support the creators), I’d definitely suggest getting a copy. Otherwise, you might be safe re-watching the series or developing a healthy obsession with Pemberley Digital’s latest Austen update, Emma Approved. I’m already way ahead of you there.

3.5 out of 5 Stars

The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet: A Novel, by Kate Rorick and Bernie Su
Touchstone (2014)
Trade paperback (400) pages
ISBN: 978-1476763163

  • Catch up on the Lizzie Bennet Diaries by reading our closer look at the hit web series in our LBD archives.

Cover image courtesy of Touchstone © 2014; text Lisa Galek © 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.”

Unequal Affections: A Pride and Prejudice Retelling, by Lara S. Ormiston – A Review

Unequal Affections, by Lara S. Ormiston (2014)From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress:

Have you ever read a book that culminated in such a passionate love/hate relationship that you were compelled to read it again to understand what it was that evoked such a profound reaction? I have. Like failed love affairs, I can remember each of them without hesitation: Wuthering Heights, Tess of the D’Urberville’s, Mansfield Park, The Wings of a Dove and Anna Karenina. I am now adding Unequal Affections to my “bus accident” list.

While some may foresee this question as a polite warning of a negative review lurking in the shrubberies, I have no wish to influence you either way—yet—but rather keep you in suspense, “according to the usual practice of elegant females.” Bus accidents are terrible, tragic, things, and terribly hard to look way from.

This Pride and Prejudice “what if” starts out one third of the way into the original novel at the pivotal moment when Mr. Darcy proposes to our heroine Elizabeth Bennet. This scene contains some of Jane Austen’s most brilliant dialogue revealing two protagonists so totally at odds with each other that we cannot see how they could possibly end up as a loving couple by the end of the novel. Mr. Darcy begins…“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” He then proceeds to explain how he loves her against his will, against his reason, and even against his character. Insulted by his prejudice against her family, appalled by his injustice towards Mr. Wickham and angered by his part in separating her sister Jane from Mr. Bingley, she finalizes her refusal by proclaiming that he was “the last man in the world whom [she] could ever be prevailed on to marry.”

While Austen sets up the moral and romantic conflict firmly, Ormiston chooses an even more challenging path. Her Elizabeth has not made previous declarations about marrying only for love or exhibited her strength of mind by refusing the proposal of the odious Mr. Collins. The reader only knows her Elizabeth from this proposal scene forward. Though her Lizzy does not like Mr. Darcy any more than Austen’s, she will consider marrying without affection for the benefit of her family and chooses to delay her reply by asking for time to consider his offer. We now have an optimistic Darcy following her back to London where she is staying with her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner. Under pressure Elizabeth seeks the counsel of her aunt who of course points out the pros and cons of the alliance. Within two weeks she accepts his proposal. Darcy is ecstatic. Elizabeth is resolved. She will be the mistress of a grand estate and the wife of a proud and arrogant man. Can she learn to love him, and will her love humble him?

The majority of the narrative now unfolds back at Longbourn, her home in Hertfordshire. Darcy takes up residence nearby at his friend Bingley’s estate of Netherfield and visits Elizabeth under the close observation of the Bennet family, whose members he abhors. If anything will test his love, his resolve, and his willingness to change, it will be one month in the Bennet household. Each of the family members has their turn: Mrs. Bennet with her endless prattle, Mr. Bennet with his lack of guiding presence, Mary with her sermonizing, and Kitty and Lydia with their dangerous fixation on officers, resulting in a family conflict that may fracture his desire to marry Elizabeth forever.

Pride and Prejudice “what if’s” have dominated Austenesque sequels for the past several years. Starting with established characters and plot, they take a left turn in a new direction allowing for an intriguing fantasy. Readers of Austen’s classic can now experience beloved characters faced with new impediments before they earn their happily-ever-after. If you are comfortable with change, creativity and the possibility that they may act outside of Austen’s sphere, I highly recommend them.

Because there are now so many authors writing in this sub-genre, be prepared for crossover plots. They are inevitable, and readers who know of Abigail Reynolds’, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Last Man in the World, will be concerned that Unequal Affections may have been influenced by this novel. Be not alarmed, madam, on receiving this warning, “by the apprehension of its containing any repetition of those sentiments.” While the premise and launching point are identical, the remainder of the plot is wholly unconnected.

I was duly impressed with Ormiston’s command of Regency-era language and social context. They are her strongest accomplishments. She builds solid, endearing characterizations revealing an acute understanding of Austen’s characters. Some readers will be happy to know that the romantic tension was held in suspense almost until the last page. While I commend her extensive vocabulary, I found her pacing off. Scenes were too long at some points slowing down my interest, and her choice to play out two thirds of the book in the Bennet’s drawing room became as painful to Darcy as it did for me. As a debut novelist she shows bright promise that will develop with time and guidance.

Complex, intriguing and romantic, Unequal Affections will be one of those novels that you must read more than once to fully understand why it is so compelling. There are certain parts that will annoy you and others that will compel you to continue. Exhibiting these dualities is what makes for memorable fiction. You won’t forget this one for a long time.

4.5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Unequal Affections: A Pride and Prejudice Retelling, by Lara S. Ormiston
Skyhorse Publishing (2014)
Hardcover (352) pages
ISBN: 978-1626361003

Cover image courtesy of Skyhorse Publishing © 2014; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 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.

Against His Will: The Brides of Pemberley (Volume 3), by Nancy Kelley – A Review

Against his Will by Nancy Kelley 2013 x 200From the desk of Katie P.:

The third book in The Brides of Pemberley series by Nancy Kelley is Against His Will, which chronicles the continuing saga of the Bennet and Darcy families. The second volume in the series, Loving Miss Darcy, was focused on Georgiana Darcy and Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, with other characters including Elizabeth Darcy, Mr. Darcy, Kitty Bennet, and Fitzwilliam’s spy friends, Sebastian, Ashford, and Colin. In Loving Miss Darcy, a crisis and mystery needed solved, and the best friends of both Georgiana and Richard helped to save the day. In this latest installment in The Brides of Pemberley series, the focus is on the much-ignored Bennet sister, Kitty Bennet, and is a tale of romance, adventure, murder, and espionage.

Kitty Bennet has been secretly in love with Sebastian Montgomery ever since their fascinating conversation during a dance last Season. His sharp wit, lack of tact, discerning mind, uncanny observations, and piercing grey eyes have long been in her memory and heart, despite her remembrance of the painful conversation she overhead between Sebastian and his friend, Colin, after their dance. Sebastian’s painful words to his friend about is knowledge of Kitty’s love and his plans of doing everything he could to make her dislike him still angered and wounded Kitty after almost a year’s time.

Thinking of Sebastian as the independent and unattainable object of her affection suits Kitty just fine, until she bumps into him at her best friend’s wedding and finds his conversation and attentiveness hard to resist. When she finds out that he has asked her uncle to court her, she knows that he must have ulterior motives—why else would he be pursuing her, the wallflower of the Bennet household and the woman he declared he had no interest in?

Sebastian Montgomery is perfectly content with being a free and independent bachelor—ignoring social conventions, etiquette, tact, and most importantly, marriage. He has no need to settle down and start a family, and instead of spending his time searching for a rich bride, he spends his time keeping up to date on the uneasy relations between France and England, brushing up on his old spying skills, and avoiding single females (who, with the exception of one, all bore him within five minutes). But when his grandfather and uncle die in a suspicious carriage accident, Sebastian discovers that he is the new earl of Lisle, with not only a country estate to manage, but also the responsibility to marry and have an heir.

Sebastian has no wish to be an earl or to be married to one of the irritatingly insipid females of his acquaintance. But when his strong-willed mother gives him an ultimatum—either he must marry one of his greedy and flirtatious cousins or someone of his own choice by the next Season—Sebastian names the first woman who comes to mind, and the only woman who doesn’t bore him—Miss Kitty Bennet. But before his plan to pursue Kitty can go into action, he is attacked at night by a masked man intent on killing him. Sebastian knows that this murder attempt is somehow related to his grandfather’s death. As he gets closer to solving the mystery, can he manage to woo Kitty, who is becoming less boring to him every day? And can both Kitty and Sebastian outwit his grandfather’s killer, who is quickly closing in and putting their future and very lives in danger?

Against His Will is focused on Kitty Bennet, a character from Pride and Prejudice who gets far less attention in sequels and continuations than she deserves. In Pride and Prejudice, she is seen as the flirty, giggly, irresponsible shadow of Lydia, but Nancy Kelley has created an older, more mature Kitty, one who shows that more was going on behind the scenes than meets the eye, and that her place in the Bennet family would have affected her as a character. At first, I felt exasperated with Kitty’s lack of confidence, but thanks to Nancy Kelley’s insightful explanation I discovered the reason why: Lydia had been the apple of their mother’s eye, Lizzy her father’s darling child. Jane was beautiful, Mary was good. Kitty just…was. Too silly, too plain, too loud, too annoying. All her life she had been too much of something…(Kindle Locations 903-905). The crisis that Kitty faced in Against His Will—who was she really—was one that virtually everyone faces at some point in their lives, and one that was as equally compelling to read as Sebastian’s quest to find out who was his grandfather’s killer.

Even though Against His Will can be read as a standalone, I strongly suggest that Loving Miss Darcy be read first. Loving Miss Darcy introduces Fitzwilliam’s circle of close friends who had served as fellow agents in France spying for the British, and while Against His Will has its own set of main characters and its own well-written story that can be enjoyed by itself, the knowledge of the back-story and characters’ histories from Loving Miss Darcy will make this story (and the ending) a more satisfying read.

Against His Will is a lovely romance, with a hero and heroine who are both trying to figure out who they really are, what they really want, and what is expected of them. I confess—since reading this book I have flipped through it again and again, rereading all my highlighted sections (who knew I had over 50?!), and I fully admit—without shame—that the last couple chapters have each time made my heart flip. I love a good ending, and this ending brings “perfect happiness” to not just the characters in the book, but also to the reader. Add to that the various lovable and quirky members of the Bennet and Darcy households (especially the indomitable Mrs. Bennet) and you’re in for a treat!

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Against His Will: The Brides of Pemberley (Volume 3), by Nancy Kelley
Smokey Rose Press (2013)
Trade paperback (194) pages
ISBN: 9781494408503

Our previous reviews in The Brides of Pemberley Series

Cover image courtesy of Smokey Rose Press © 2013; text Katie P. © 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.”

Margaret Dashwood’s Diary: Sense and Sensibility Mysteries, Book One, by Anna Elliott – A Review

Margaret Dashwoods Diary by Anna Elliot 2014 x 200From the desk of Lisa Galek:

Margaret Dashwood is only rarely mentioned in Sense and Sensibility. She starts the story as a girl of thirteen who loses her father and her home and then sits back to watch her two older sisters fall in love and get married. But, what kind of adventures did Margaret have after Jane Austen’s classic was done? In Margaret Dashwood’s Diary, Anna Elliott explores the life and loves of the youngest Dashwood sister.

As the title indicates, this novel takes the form of a diary and we begin with a brand new entry. See, Margaret has just burned her old journal after breaking off an engagement to a very eligible and rich young bachelor. She means to start fresh and has gone to stay with her sister, Marianne Brandon, at Delaford House for a change of scenery.

Colonel Brandon is away hunting down some dangerous smugglers that are operating in the neighborhood, but Margaret still runs into all kinds of old favorites. Elinor and Edward pop up every now and then. Mrs. Jennings is still poking her nose into everyone’s business. And even Mr. and Mrs. Palmer are in town to add to the laughs. But, when John Willoughby and his wife rent a house in the neighborhood things start to get a bit awkward for everyone.

Margaret is not only worried that her sister might be tempted by her first love, but her life is further complicated by the appearance of Jamie Cooper, a young man who also happens to be a gypsy that Margaret knows from her childhood at Norland Park. Jamie might have information about the local smuggling ring, but as Margaret gets closer to him she realizes that she might be falling in love with the one man she could never have.

The Margaret Dashwood presented here is a very charming character. She’s based mostly off the 1995 movie version of Sense and Sensibility. This Margaret is spunky and bright, but also understands her place in the world. Her voice as the narrator was light and yet very compelling. She begins by breaking off an engagement and it’s delightful to watch her develop as a young woman who not only falls in love but digs deep into some pretty dangerous mysteries.

We are dealing with a mystery here and pretty good one. From the opening pages of the novel the author starts to drop clues that will eventually be unraveled. It’s actually rather tightly plotted and there aren’t many details that get left hanging. Even a runaway horse ties in nicely in the end. The story sets up several characters as possible leaders of the smuggling ring, but it left me guessing until the end as to who to true criminal mastermind was.

The one side plot that wasn’t exactly right was Margaret’s broken engagement. It’s the starting point for the novel, but, later, her ex-fiancé appears for the sole reason of acting like a jerk. He never ties into the wider story, so I wouldn’t have minded leaving him in the background all together. It would have been nice to allow the broken engagement to be a growth opportunity for Margaret’s character rather than adding another villain she has to outwit.

Otherwise, the author does a nice job of using old characters like the Palmers and Mrs. Jennings as well as introducing us to new characters like Margaret’s handsome love interest, Jamie. Mrs. Willoughby isn’t new, but her personality is (and she’s just as horrid as you might imagine). The author even brings in some little-seen characters from the original novel to add a few twists and turns to the story. I really liked her take on Eliza (Colonel Brandon’s ward and the mother of Willoughby’s illegitimate child) and how her story was expanded and wrapped up.

The diary format also works perfectly as a story-telling device. Margaret’s voice is well done and you could imagine a Regency-era young woman writing as she does. The entries also felt realistic and were even sometimes abruptly cut off, not for dramatic, but for comic effect:

He helped Marianne into the curricle seat, got up beside her, and then drove off. Glancing at Elinor, I saw that she looked as stunned as I felt. 

She was the first to break the silence. “But that was—”

“I know,” I said. “That was John—”

********* 

I suppose that was a narrative break worthy of any chapter ending in a gothic tale of horror. But I did not actually stop writing there for the sake of heightened drama; Marianne came into the room to remind me that dinner would be served soon, and I ought to be going up to dress.

Overall, the novel was a fun and interesting read. The old characters are true to Austen, the new characters are well-drawn and fit in seamlessly, and the mystery was pretty darn good. It’s no easy feat to take a minor Austen character and make her shine in the spotlight, but this novel has definitely pulled it off.

4.5 out of 5 Regency Stars 

Margaret Dashwood’s Diary: Sense and Sensibility Mysteries Book One, by Anna Elliott
Wilton Press (2014)
Digital eBook (244) pages
ASIN: B00HQY3GR2

Cover image courtesy of Wilton Press © 2014; 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.”