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.”

Jane Austen’s Country Life: Uncovering the rural backdrop to her life, her letters and her novels, by Deirdre Le Faye – A Review       

Jane Austen's Country Life, by Deirdre Le Faye (2014 )From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

Ask any fan of Jane Austen what they love about her works and they can readily describe cherished characters, pithy quotes, and probably several screen adaptations that are especially close to their hearts. But what about what Austen loved? Jane’s niece Anna Lefroy remembered her aunt as a lover of the outdoors and natural scenery. Her letters are filled with walks in all kinds of weather and you don’t have to search her novels long to find numerous scenes that take place not in a stuffy drawing room, but on a tree-lined path or windswept hill. Jane Austen’s Country Life focuses on the Hampshire countryside where she spent three-quarters of her life:

“This first-hand knowledge of country life underpins her writing and gives the time-frame against which she constructs her plots; she was not only a clergyman’s daughter, but a farmer’s daughter as well…” (8)

The first chapter “Hampshire” begins with an overview of the county, explaining the then-controversial process of enclosure that deprived the rural poor of the use of common land. Enclosure features in three Austen novels: Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, and Emma. Descriptions and illustrations of the villages of Steventon and Deane follow, as well as those of nearby Oakley and Ashe. The larger towns of Overton, Basingstoke and Odiham provided the Austen family with well-stocked market places for shopping and assembly balls for dancing and socializing. While Le Faye includes several lovely antique maps of Hampshire, I longed for a simple map showing the villages and towns in relation to one another at this point in the book.

“Life at Steventon Rectory” describes the family’s domestic routines, the love of amateur theatricals, and Austen’s early comic works now known as The Juvenelia. Young Jane and her sister also spent a short time away from Steventon at a girls’ boarding school in Reading. Le Faye suggests that as the academic regime was “very casual” and the girls were allowed to spend their afternoons as they pleased, this may have been when Jane immersed herself in the romantic popular novels that she later parodied in Northanger Abbey.

My favorite chapter “A Year in the Countryside” charts the seasons from January through December. Beginning with Plough Monday in early January when the Steventon farming community would have marked the start of the English agricultural year and finishing with the twelve days of Christmas and the New Year, Le Faye seamlessly weaves events from the agricultural calendar with Austen’s life, as well as the action in her novels. Highlights from the year include sheep shearing in June, haymaking in July, and harvesting crops from August to October. Seasonal rhythms dictate the lives of Austen’s characters as much as her family and neighbors:

“No fewer than four of Jane’s novels start their main action in September: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Emma and Persuasion. This is not accidental, but tacitly acknowledges that the slight pause after the hectic and anxious time of harvesting gave the opportunity for both farmers and gentry to plan for agricultural and social life respectively.” (105)

Continuing with “The Hardships and Pleasures of Rural Life” and “Crops, Livestock and Pleasure-Grounds” Le Faye’s text and choice of illustrations create a vivid and lively picture of English rural life in Jane Austen’s time. Just as the reader is feeling at home in Hampshire, and agreeing with Austen that “there is nothing like staying at home, for real  comfort,” an abrupt removal to Bath described in the chapter titled “Urban Interlude” turns Austen’s world on its head. While Austen seemed to dislike Bath as much as her heroine Anne Elliot, the city’s relative proximity to a number of seaside resorts made possible some of her most beloved visits to the English coast. Austen uncharacteristically describes the scenery of Lyme and the surrounding countryside in Persuasion:

“…the Cobb itself, its old wonders and new improvements, with the very beautiful line of cliffs stretching out to the east of the town, are what the stranger’s eye will seek; and a very strange stranger it must be, who does not see charms in the immediate environs of Lyme, to make him wish to know it better.” (226)

Concluding with “Life at Godmersham and Chawton” Le Faye describes how Mrs. Austen and her daughters settled back into a comfortable country life when Edward Austen Knight offered them a rent-free cottage in Chawton. The author also notes a subtle shift in Austen’s novels from this time. Their author was no longer a farmer’s daughter, but the squire’s sister:

“…the novels of her maturity—Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion—are written much more from the point of view of that rank of society: the domestic lives of the men who have the responsibility of managing large estates and leading their local communities.” (253)

Regardless of her choice of subject matter, a return to country life must have appealed to Austen. With Deidre Le Faye as our knowledgeable guide, we can re-visit this vanished rural landscape and gain a greater appreciation of Jane’s delight in natural scenery. We love Austen’s characters and stories, but may not realize how her realistic depiction of time and place contributes to our sense of her works, unless we explore Jane Austen’s Country Life.

★★★★★ 5 out of 5 Stars

Jane Austen’s Country Life: Uncovering the rural backdrop to her life, her letters and her novels, by Deirdre Le Faye
Francis Lincoln Ltd., (2014)
Hardcover (256) pages
ISBN: 978-0711231580

Cover image courtesy of Francis Lincoln Ltd., © 2014; text Tracy Hickman © 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.”

So Jane: Crafts and Recipes for an Austen-Inspired Life, by Hollie Keith and Jennifer Adams – A Review

So Jane Crafts and Recipes from a Jane Austen Inspired Life, by Hollie Keith and Jennifer Adams (2014)From the desk of Lisa Galek:

If you’re like most Janeites, it’s never enough just to read Austen’s novels. You want to live in them, too. That means decorating your house with Austenesque items, baking Regency era goodies, and throwing fabulous book-based soirees. So Jane: Crafts and Recipes for an Austen-Inspired Life by Jennifer Adams and Hollie Keith is the perfect book for bringing your Austen obsession to life in your very own home.

So Jane is an extensive collection of recipes and craft projects inspired by the works and life of Jane Austen. Organized into six chapters—one for each of Austen’s major novels—the book is filled with well over 100 pages of ideas for Austenesque décor, gifts, crafts, and entertaining. There’s Breakfast in Bath (Northanger Abbey), Tea with the Middletons (Sense and Sensibility), Dinner at the Great House (Persuasion), Emma’s Picnic (Emma), A Rustic Dinner (Mansfield Park), and Netherfield Ball (Pride and Prejudice). Each chapter features a full menu and six adorable craft projects inspired by that novel and its characters.

This book is billed as a way to “help you bring all things Austen into your home in a contemporary way” and it completely succeeds. With pages and pages of gorgeous full-color photographs that really bring to life the look and taste of each section, you’ll find tons of Austenesque ideas that you’ll be dying to create. The instructions and steps are very easy to follow. The layout of the book is simple, too—just choose an entire menu or book theme and go from there. If you want to get a little more creative, you can branch out and mix and match ideas from different sections or adjust the projects and recipes for your skill level. The ideas are so creative and inspirational that the possibilities are endless.

Of course, if you’re looking for items and foods that are totally authentic to Regency England this book doesn’t promise that. This is truly Jane-inspired with a modern twist. The authors have actually done a great job using the Regency era as a jumping off point while picking colors, materials, and ingredients that are more appealing to our contemporary tastes. For example, the recipe for Hot Spiced Cocoa notes that early 19th century cocoa would have been flavored with chilies, which not many modern folks would enjoy. With a slight adjustment in flavors, you have a treat that your guests will love rather than something authentic that doesn’t taste as delicious.

The author also does a really nice job of including ideas and instructions for every skill level. If you’re not handy with a sewing machine, a few of the craft projects will be off limits. I also thought the Honey-Lemon Teaspoons looked delicious, but the fact that I had to use a candy thermometer scared me off. Other recipes would be no problem at all even for a beginner cook. As far as the craft projects go, some of them could take days or weeks to complete (like the large blanket with silhouettes of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy on it), while others (such as the paper dolls or sandwich wrappers) could be ready to go in a few minutes. It’s a variety, but there really is something for everyone.

If you’re looking for ideas for an Austen-inspired event, a handmade gift for a fellow Janeite, or just some fun Regency-ish recipes, you will definitely enjoy So Jane. Even if you never make a single craft or recipe from the book (and they’re so delightful, I’m sure you’ll want to) the book is worth it just for the creativity and breadth of its ideas. I enjoyed it so much that I started inventing reasons to recreate the picnic on Box Hill or the ball at Netherfield at my house. I’m sure my family won’t mind at all!

★★★★★ 5 out of 5 Stars 

So Jane: Crafts and Recipes for an Austen-Inspired Life, by Hollie Keith and Jennifer Adams
Gibbs Smith (2014)
Paperback (144) pages
ISBN: 978-1423633235

Additional Reviews: 

Cover image courtesy of Gibbs Smith © 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.”

Winners Announced for The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen Book Launch Giveaways

The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen, by Shannon Winslow (2014)We are happy to announce the winners of the fabulous giveaways during the book launch party for The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen, by Shannon Winslow.

Drawn randomly from the comments, the lucky winners are:

One print copy of The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen

  • Ann who left a comment on 12 Aug 2014

One digital copy of The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen

  • Maggie who left a comment on 11 Aug 2014

The Jane Austen-themed tote bag bundle

  • Schilds who left a comment on 11 Aug 2014

The original pastel drawing “By the Seaside at Lyme” 

  • Liz Castillo who left a comment on 11 Aug 2014

Congratulations to all the winners! To claim your prize, please contact me with your full name and address by 11:59 pm PT, Wednesday, August 27, 2014. Shipment of the print book, tote bundle and painting to US addresses only. Digital book shipment internationally. Winners must respond by the deadline or they will forfeit their prize.

Many thanks to all who participated in the book launch party. A special thank you to author Shannon Winslow for contributing the beautiful Austen-themed tote bag and the original pastel drawing, and to her publisher Heather Ridge Arts for the books. It was a fabulous event and a great send off for The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen.

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 Laurel Ann Nattress © 2014, Austenprose.com

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.”