At Home with Jane Austen, by Kim Wilson – A Review

At Home with Jane Austen by Kim Wilson 2014 x 300From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

I have been a Kim Wilson fan since reading her books In the Garden with Jane Austen and Tea with Jane Austen. Her latest work At Home with Jane Austen, a luscious coffee table book, promises a virtual tour of the places Austen called home. Some of these homes were permanent residences and others were temporary: the sites of visits to wealthy relatives or seaside holidays with her family.

The chapter titles follow the course of Austen’s life. After introducing “The Author” in the first chapter, the remaining chapters are Steventon, Away at School, Bath, Travels and Tours, Stately Mansions, Southampton, By the Sea, Chawton, London, and Winchester. True to its genre, you could have a lovely experience of this book by merely turning the pages and looking at the illustrations and photographs. However, I found Kim Wilson’s narrative of Austen’s life, focused on her surroundings and travels in southern England, to be equally appealing and informative.  As Ms. Wilson points out:

Though Jane changed her residence many times, family and home remained the emotional center of her life. She expressed her love of home in her work, creating heroes and heroines who also cherish the idea of home, even when, like Fanny Price in Mansfield Park, they are uprooted and must learn to love a new one: “When [Fanny] had been coming to Portsmouth, she had loved to call it her home, had been fond of saying that she was going home; the word had been very dear to her; and so it still was, but it must be applied to Mansfield. That was now the home. Portsmouth was Portsmouth; Mansfield was home.” (10)

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Lizzy and Jane: A Novel, by Katherine Reay – A Review

Lizzy and Jane Katherine Reay 2014 x 200From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder:

Anyone with siblings can tell you how tumultuous of a relationship you can have with them. There are times where you love them to death for being a shoulder to cry on or a voice of reason. Then there are the times where they think they know everything and refuse to see you as your own individual. Katherine Reay explores the complex relationship of two sisters undergoing some intense situations in both their personal and professional lives in Lizzy and Jane.

After losing her mom to cancer, Lizzy cannot deal with the emotional burden and leaves home. She turns her anguish into a relentless energy to create in the kitchen, and works endlessly to become a respected chef. Eventually Lizzy becomes the owner of a swanky New York City restaurant, Feast. After a good amount of success, she begins to lose some of her earlier skills and the restaurant begins to falter. Paul, the restaurant’s financial backer, brings another chef in to fix this, and Lizzy does what she does best—runs away. Unfortunately she runs into another cancer diagnosis, and this time it’s her sister, Jane. Lizzy decides to finally stand her ground and deal with this new blow, and as she tends to her family she finds her abilities to create amazing foods return to her. Now, Paul attempts to woo her back to New York, but how will she react to this now that old hurts with Jane are healed? Continue reading

Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas: Being a Jane Austen Mystery, by Stephanie Barron – A Review

Jane and the Twleve Days of Christmas by Stephanie Barron 2014 x 200From the desk of Jenny Haggerty:

The holidays make me nostalgic for past times I’ve never actually experienced, so I leapt at the chance to spend the Yuletide season with Jane Austen. Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas is the twelfth installment in a series that features one of my favorite novelists as an amateur sleuth, but so far I hadn’t managed to read one of them. It seemed high time to rectify that lapse, especially since author Stephanie Barron studied European history in college and then worked as a CIA analyst, highly suitable credentials for writing a story of intrigue set in the past.

The book opens on a blizzardy, bitterly cold evening with Jane Austen, her mother, and her sister Cassandra traveling by coach to the home of Jane’s eldest brother James and his family in Hampshire. Unfortunately when they reach the end of the public line the women find that James has sent an unlighted open horse cart for the last few miles of their journey, even though it’s dark outside and blowing snow. Both Jane’s mother and sister have their heads bowed to prevent the snow from stinging their faces, so it’s only Jane who sees the rapidly approaching carriage heading straight for them. There’s a terrible crash and the ladies are thrown to the floor of the now ruined cart, but almost as shocking is the language of the gentleman in the carriage. Raphael West comes gallantly to their rescue and certainly acts with consideration and grace, but he proves he must be some kind of freethinker by swearing in front of them without reservation. Jane is intrigued. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Prelude for a Lord: A Novel, by Camille Elliot – A Review

Prelude for a Lord Camille Elliot (2014)From the desk of Katie Patchell:

In the Regency era, the only acceptable musical instruments a woman was allowed to play were the harp and piano, and if she played any other, particularly a violin, she would be looked-down upon in society and considered unfeminine. But in Camille Elliot’s recent debut novel, Prelude for a Lord, the heroine defies conventions and plays this beautiful but forbidden instrument, which stirs her heart, makes her forget her past and society’s censure, and ultimately, entangles her in a web of romance, mystery, and danger.

At the age of twenty-eight, Lady Alethea Sutherton has accepted her fate: that she will never marry, and will always be looked down upon by society as an eccentric. With her height, striking (rather than classical) features, and her unconventional country ways, she is whispered about by the Bath gossips, but it is Alethea’s consuming passion for music and her skill at the extremely unfeminine instrument—the violin—that has her scorned by polite society.

When she meets Lord Bayard Dommick, the man who eleven years ago convinced her to pursue her violin playing with his offensive statement that it was “unfeminine for a woman to play the instrument” (53), Alethea plans to ignore him at all costs. But when Bayard offers to help her discover why her old violin has suddenly become the obsession of two shady individuals, Alethea has no choice but to accept this potential ally. As she spends more time with him and his two best friends, the remaining members of the famous string Quartet, Alethea discovers that Bayard is far from insufferable, and instead, one of the only people to understand her love of music and the violin. Continue reading

Jane Austen: In Her Own Words & The Words of Those Who Knew Her, by Helen Amy – A Review

Jane Austen In Her Own Words, by Helen Amy (2014)From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

We are spoiled for choice when it comes to biographies of Jane Austen these days, but that was not always the case. As Helen Amy notes, it was not until fifty years after Austen’s death that a growing number of readers wanted to know more about her life. At that time, the only outlet for this increasing public interest was Austen’s grave in Winchester Cathedral. Flocks of people began visiting the site, causing a puzzled verger to inquire, “Is there anything particular about that lady?” (172)

This interest coincided with the death of Jane’s last surviving sibling and prompted her nephew Edward Austen-Leigh to write his biography of her in 1869. Other family biographies were subsequently published in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and by this time Austen was regarded as an important literary figure. Later scholarly works have uncovered a somewhat different Jane than the quiet homebody her family described. Since Helen Amy’s work references the family biographies extensively, I was curious to see the portrait of Austen that would emerge in Jane Austen In Her Own Words & The Words of Those Who Knew Her.

From the first chapter “Childhood 1775-1786” the Austen family home is described as cheerful and harmonious with Jane growing up in a “well-educated, intellectual and cultivated family whose members were close, loving and united.” (13) However, this fondness for one another did not blunt the acerbic wit within the family. For example, Jane’s mother remarked upon her young daughters’ close relationship by saying, “if Cassandra were going to have her head cut off, Jane would insist on sharing her fate.” (13) Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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? Continue reading