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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

★★★★★ 5 out of 5 Stars

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

Cover image courtesy of J. G. Books © 2014; text Jenny Haggerty © 2014, Austenprose.com

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

Remember the Past…only as it gives you pleasure, by Maria Grace – A Review

Remember the Past by Maria Grace 2014 x 200From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder:

Complete re-imaginings of Jane Austen’s novels are always interesting fan-fiction works to read. There are essentially no rules or paths that the characters must follow. One of my favorites has been Darcy’s Voyage by Kara Louise. I enjoy how creative some authors get in the trials and tribulations they make their characters endure. With that being said, I was excited to read a new re-imagining of Pride and Prejudice entitled Remember the Past by Maria Grace. With how much I enjoyed Grace’s Given Good Principles series, I knew I was in for a treat.

The Bennet family thought they had everything one would need for a successful season in London. Elizabeth’s father, Admiral Thomas Bennet, has just retired from the navy with a sizable income, and his friends in high places should provide them with enough social standing to make the challenges of entry into London’s high society a non-event. Not all goes as planned, however, when a disaster forces them to flee from the riches of London to the mundane existence of Derbyshire. How can they ever survive such an abysmal area with no one of interest around?

Enter Fitzwilliam Darcy, a widower who finds all of his time devoted to taking care of his two sons. He despises the intrusion that the Bennet family has forced upon his life, and his sons’ insistence on going to meet the Bennet twins makes his aggravation rise to new heights. That is,  until he meets Elizabeth, who seems to hold a certain spell on his consciousness. His efforts to help and assist the Bennet family go horribly awry at first, and Darcy finds himself in a deeper hole than when he began to make their acquaintance. Will he be able to see himself out of this mess?

First of all, I really enjoyed Grace’s creative take on the tale. I thought it was interesting that Lizzie and Jane were the only Bennet sisters, and that there were two twin brothers from Mr. Bennet’s second marriage. I liked that there were still traces of Austen’s Mr. Bennet, but there was a freshness brought to his character that was intriguing. Additionally, while Austen’s influence was still present with other characters, it was nice to see a Lady Catherine stripped of her usual officious demeanor and Jane bolstered with more confidence and an outspoken personality. Seeing Lady Catherine dote on Darcy, and imagining Darcy as a father was endearing, even without Elizabeth as the mother of the children (the late Anne de Bourgh was their mother.)

Despite all these changes, take heart that not everything falls far away from Austen purism. Darcy still sees himself as needing to take care of everyone, Elizabeth is still witty and outspoken, and Mr. Bennet is still at times aloof. Fear not, Wickham is still around, and he manages to get in trouble even without Lydia. Grace sprinkles in enough of the familiar, while still allowing room for change and growth to highlight her creativity and abilities in weaving a tale. I believe that this is what she does best, blend old and new together to create a story that has the framework of Austen and her characters, but contains enough new and exciting content to keep me turning the pages. Yes, there were a few moments where I believed the story needed tightening, but overall it was a great read that pulled me in. For those that enjoy a classic Jane Austen re-imagining this is a no-brainer. Grace’s style is not to be missed.

4 out of 5 Stars

Remember the Past…only as it gives you pleasure, by Maria Grace
White Soup Press (2014)
Trade paperback & eBook (316) pages
ISBN: 978-0692263174
ASIN: B00M3MENT2

Additional Reviews:

Diary of an Eccentric

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

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

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.”