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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

★★★★★ 5 out of 5 Stars

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

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

Disclosure of Material Connection: We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Follies Past: A Prequel to Pride and Prejudice, by Melanie Kerr – A Review

Follies Past, A Pride and Prejudice Prequel, by Melanie Kerr (2013)From the desk of Jenny Haggerty:

In Pride and Prejudice when Mr. Darcy wrote that post-proposal, world-altering letter to Elizabeth Bennet, telling her the truth about charming Mr. Wickham’s duplicity, I was as shocked and shaken as she was, but due to the discretion of the characters, readers get just a bare outline of what went on between Wickham and Darcy’s sister Georgiana. What exactly did happen and how did it come about? One can’t help being curious–or at least this one would like details–so when I discovered that Melanie Kerr’s novel Follies Past centers on that event I eagerly began the book, hoping it would be an Austen-worthy story with wit, appealing characters, and maybe even a wedding.

Follies Past has three heroines and opens with none other than Caroline Bingley. She and her brother are on their way to Pemberley, and while this will be her first time meeting Darcy, Caroline is already determined to marry him, even contriving things so their arrival coincides with the flattering light of early evening. By the end of the visit Caroline is sure she is well on the way to an engagement, but back in London she becomes distracted when she falls hard for another man. He has no title or estate, but he’s disarmingly handsome, they share a wicked wit, and he’s focused on her in a way she realizes Darcy never has. The power of their attraction gives her second thoughts about marrying a man she “loves” mainly for his wealth.

True to her P&P characterization, Georgiana is painfully shy and the idea of mingling with London society overwhelms her, so Darcy allows Georgiana’s dearest, slightly older school chum to accompany her on a visit to the city. Clare, the story’s third heroine, is principled, sweet, genteelly determined, and sometimes conflicted. She loves reading novels but believing they are bad for the soul she throws all of hers away before the trip, planning to set a good example for Georgiana. Georgiana looks up to Clare and they adore each other, but their situations are very different. While Clare has a highborn grandfather, she is also the daughter of a military man and without much fortune. Unlike Georgiana she has limited marriage prospects and as the book goes on her story becomes prominent.

When the trip to London reunites Georgiana and Wickham, who Georgiana adored as a child, it is Clare who is alarmed by Georgiana’s growing and, Clare thinks, inappropriate attachment. Darcy would set things right but he’s out of town inspecting properties with Bingley. Georgiana becomes distant and secretive so Clare decides she must do something, but what? There is no one around she can trust to help or advise her. Going to London is a wonderful opportunity for Clare, but being strictly brought up she feels distinctly uncomfortable around much of that city’s society, especially Darcy’s black sheep London cousin, the now ailing Lord Ashwell. Darcy has assured Georgiana that the vile rumors circulating about him are just gossip, but might Darcy be blinded by family loyalty? Desperation to protect Georgiana forces prudent Clare to put herself in company she would avoid under any other circumstance.

I found so much to enjoy in Follies Past, including the sympathetic portrayal of Caroline Bingley. She’s the same character we met in P&P, but with more insight into her character I felt moved by her story. Passages describing Caroline falling in love are the most convincing in the book, without being lewd they practically sizzle.

Playing small but important roles in the story is Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s taciturn daughter Anne, and what a treat to get to know her–she’s a closet naturalist! Get Anne going about insects and she has lots to say. Anne also retains her P&P persona, but now that author Kerr has her talking we learn she has plans for her life, and isn’t the pawn of her mother that everyone, including Lady Catherine, thinks she is.

Even Wickham gets a touch of tenderness from Kerr. We see him thwarted in love (yes, Wickham in love!) and with his hopes to lead a settled life dashed when Darcy (justifiably) denies him the living. It’s possible to (briefly) feel a little sorry for him.

I felt the foiling of Wickham’s elopement plan happened abruptly, once everyone was in place it resolved in a few paragraphs and Georgiana let it go very easily, but by then Clare has become the heart of the story. The steps Clare took to help rescue Georgiana, and how those actions affect her future bring about a very Austen-worthy happy ending. Follies Past delighted me so much I actually cheered out loud a few times while reading.

★★★★★ 5 out of 5 Stars 

Follies Past: A Prequel to Pride and Prejudice, by Melanie Kerr
Petticoat Press (2013)
Trade paperback (280) pages
ISBN: 978-0992131029

Additional Reviews:

Cover image courtesy of Petticoat Press © 2013; text Jennifer Haggerty © 2014, Austenprose.com

Disclosure of Material Connection: We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.5 out of 5 Regency Stars

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

Cover image courtesy of White Soup Press © 2014; text Kimberly Denny Ryder © 2014, Austenprose.com

Disclosure of Material Connection: We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Jane Austen’s First Love: A Novel, by Syrie James – A Review

Jane Austen's First Love by Syrie James (2014 )From the desk of Christina Boyd:

Everyone in my world knows of Jane Austen. Alas, I can speculate that there are those who might not recognize the name. If they look her up on Wikipedia they would learn that:

‘Biographical information concerning Jane Austen is “famously scarce”… Only some personal and family letters remain (by one estimate only 160 out of Austen’s 3,000 letters are extant), and her sister Cassandra (to whom most of the letters were originally addressed) burned “the greater part” of the ones she kept and censored those she did not destroy. Other letters were destroyed by the heirs of Admiral Francis Austen, Jane’s brother. Most of the biographical material produced for fifty years after Austen’s death was written by her relatives and reflects the family’s biases in favour of “good quiet Aunt Jane”.’

Further, they would learn that this masterful writer of the social commentary and romance had never married, little is known of her love-life, yet it has been widely speculated upon in some circles. It is not a secret however that in 1802, Miss Austen had accepted the marriage proposal from family friend, Harris Bigg-Wither, but by the morning had withdrawn her acceptance. There are also letters from Jane to Cassandra in 1795 when she was twenty years-old about a brief flirtation with a Mr. Tom Lefroy. Sadly, his family did not approve of the match. Neither had any money and Tom was sent away, later to marry an heiress. And yet for an author who wrote exclusively of what she knew in her own sphere, how could she write of love so well had she never fully experienced it?

“We went by Bifrons and I contemplated with a melancholy pleasure the abode of Him, on whom I once fondly doated.” Jane Austen in a letter to her sister Cassandra, 1796

And with that one line, bestselling author Syrie James again undertakes the great task of expanding upon known facts and giving us her latest historical re-imagining, Jane Austen’s First Love. Who was “Him”, this man who resided at Bifrons, upon whom she fondly doated? And what had he meant to her?

Told in the first person narrative, Jane Austen’s First Love opens with our heroine being reminded of that letter she had written to sister Cassandra in 1796, recalling a person she had not thought about in many years. She was but fifteen in 1791, the same year that her elder brother Edward became engaged to Miss Elizabeth Bridges. The Austens were invited by his fiancé’s family to partake in several summer festivities at their grand country estate of Goodnestone Park in Kent. As they neared their destination, the carriage had an accident—but they found a preserver in the handsome Edward Taylor, heir to the nearby estate Bifrons, and cousin to Edward Austen-Knight’s future in-laws.

I froze; I could not avert my gaze; Mr. Taylor’s handsome countenance was but a foot or two from mine, and his arrival, like a knight in shining armour, had been so unexpected, his eyes were so dark and sparkling, that for the space of a breath, I forgot where I was or that any action was required of me.” p 47

When they reach Goodnestone and meet the family, it becomes readily apparent that their future sisters-in-law are more impressed with themselves than the newly arrived, less than auspicious Austens. As the entertainments commence, Jane plays matchmaker (as well as casting director in a private theatrical the young people indulge in), and not unlike one of her beloved heroines, Emma Woodhouse, we soon learn how inept young Jane is for the role. ‘Were my actors to be properly paired, who could say where it might lead? In enacting their parts, true feelings might be kindled; a very real intimacy might well emerge! This was my hope.’ Still she admits, only to herself, that ‘perhaps indulgent, immodest, even slightly immoral’ she has hopes of playing opposite Edward Taylor.

Daily diversions throw her in the path of the worldly Edward Taylor, and impressionable Jane cannot help but be drawn in by his uncommon intelligence, sound mind and opinions, gusto for life, and his unaffected attentions towards herself – forever dividing her life into two categories: before she met Edward Taylor, and everything thereafter. ‘“They were lovely- but as to meaningful conversation, they had nothing to offer.” The look and smile he gave me indicated, without words, that our present discourse was far preferable to him than had been the other.’ Though as new house guests arrive, a rival for his affections becomes known in the comely, yet reserved Miss Charlotte Watkinson Paylor.

I had never heard of Edward Taylor before. And upon my first reading of Jane Austen’s First Love, I thought it a sweet bit of Austenesque pastiche with clever characters and wonderful smatterings and/or hints of some of Austen’s famous prose. Solid four, maybe 4 ½ stars. Yet, it was not until reading the Author’s Afterword that I learned that Edward Taylor was an actual person! And, from Syrie James’ extensive research, it is not a stretch to surmise that Edward Taylor was a guest at Goodnestone Park when the Austens were also in residence that summer of 1791. In addition, her research detailed what a remarkable young man Edward Taylor was—just the sort of man a young Miss Austen might fall in-love with! ‘That he was a real person, and that I had in my possession so many little-known facts about his life, was very exciting. A picture began to form in my mind as to how and when Edward Taylor and Jane Austen might have met as teenagers, and what their relationship might have been.’ So, of course, I had to read the whole novel again, with this new perspective! And much in the manner of the film, Becoming Jane, this second reading left me so very hopeful that maybe, just maybe, it happened that way, that our beloved Jane did experience a first love (and even heartache), which made me adore this story all the more.

With a manifold of bestsellers behind her, Syrie James is an incomparable storyteller, turning obscure details from personal research into inspired, yet richly embellished, fictional narratives. Jane Austen’s First Love is a lively, romantic “what if” that will make you laugh, as well as tug at your heart. I must recommend you ‘give a loose to your fancy, indulge your imagination in every possible flight,’ and add Syrie James’ latest work to your Summer Reading List.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

At Goodnestone Park painting by Annmarie Thomas

Enter a chance to win the original painting “At Goodnestone Park”

by Annmarie Thomas inspired by the novel Jane Austen’s First Love

Jane Austen’s First Love: A Novel, by Syrie James
Berkley Trade (August 5th, 2014), 400 pages
Trade paperback ISBN: 978-0425271353
Digital eBook ASIN: B00G3L7VES

Cover image courtesy of Berkley Trade © 2014; text Christina Boyd, 2014,Austenprose.com

Disclosure of Material Connection: We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The 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.”