The Darcy Brothers Virtual Book Launch Party with Authors, Monica Fairview, Maria Grace, Cassandra Grafton, Susan Mason-Milks and Abigail Reynolds

The Darcy Brothers by Monica Fairview, Maria Grace, Cassandra Grafton, Susan Mason-Milks and Abigail Reynolds We are very pleased to welcome Monica Fairview, Maria Grace, Cassandra Grafton, Susan Mason-Milks and Abigail Reynolds to Austenprose for the official virtual book launch party of their new novel The Darcy Brothers, released today by White Soup Press.

Inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, The Darcy Brothers is an original variation based on Austen’s classic in which Mr. Darcy has a charming younger brother named Theo who meets Elizabeth Bennet and vies for her affections. Written by five Austenesque authors, you may well ask, as we did ourselves, how they could pool their talents and create one novel together? Abigail Reynolds has kindly supplied a revealing guest blog to share the experience with you. And, any  celebration would not be complete without gifts. Please enter a chance to win one of the four fabulous prizes being offered by their publisher by leaving a comment. The giveaway details are listed at the end of this post. Good luck to all!

DESCRIPTION (from the publisher)

Easy-going Theophilus Darcy is the opposite of his controlled older brother. Where Fitzwilliam Darcy is proud and awkward among strangers, Theo is a charmer. Fitzwilliam took his studies seriously, while Theo was sent down from Oxford for his pranks. Still, the brothers were the best of friends until tragedy and George Wickham tore them apart.

What if Theo were to meet Miss Elizabeth Bennet? Would he charm the young lady’s stockings off… or would he help his brother win her hand? Find out as the two brothers lock horns in this unique Pride & Prejudice variation collectively written by five respected authors.

The Darcy Brothers was first conceived as an interactive group writing project and has developed into a full-length novel featuring the charismatic Theo Darcy.

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At Home with Mr. Darcy (Austen Addicts Book 6), by Victoria Connelly – Preview and Exclusive Excerpt

At Home with Mr. Darcy (Austen Addicts Book 6) by Victoria Connelly (2014)Austenesque author Victoria Connelly’s next installment in her contemporary Austen Addicts series has just been released by Notting Hill Press. At Home with Mr. Darcy marks her sixth book following: A Weekend with Mr. Darcy (2011), Dreaming of Mr. Darcy (2011), Mr. Darcy Forever (2013), Christmas with Mr. Darcy (2013) and Happy Birthday, Mr. Darcy (2013). Each of the novels and novellas continue the story of original characters that endearingly resemble Austen’s in some small way or another.

PREVIEW (from the publisher’s description)

The Austen Addicts are back!

It’s summer and renowned actress, Dame Pamela Harcourt, has organised a treat: the first Purley Hall Jane Austen holiday – to the home of Mr Darcy no less.

With Katherine and Warwick, Robyn, Doris Norris and the rest of the gang, it’s going to be a trip to remember. But then a hardened journalist and non-Janeite, Melissa Berry, joins the party. Fearing a stitch-up, the friends rally together, hoping to convince Melissa that the only way is Austen…

At Home with Mr Darcy is the sixth title in the bestselling Austen Addicts series.

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Austenprose’s Top Jane Austen-inspired Books of 2013

Jane Austen Pop Art Banner

Huzzah! It has been a banner year for Jane Austen-inspired books in 2013. The bicentenary of Pride and Prejudice motivated many authors to take up their pens in celebration resulting in a fabulous selection of new titles. From historical and contemporary novels to non-fiction and scholarly, Austen-inspired books were present in several genres making our favorite author even more popular than ever.

We reviewed 76 books and short stories in 2013. Here is our annual list of top favorites .

Top 10 Austenesque Historical Novels: 

  1. Return to Longbourn, by Shannon Winslow (5 stars)
  2. One Thread Pulled: The Dance with Mr. Darcy, by Diana J. Oaks (5 stars)
  3. Loving Miss Darcy: The Brides of Pemberley, by Nancy Kelley (5 stars)
  4. The Pursuit of Mary Bennet: A Pride and Prejudice Novel, by Pamela Mingle (4 stars)
  5. Longbourn: A Novel, by Jo Baker (4 stars)
  6. The Passions of Dr. Darcy, by Sharon Lathan (4 stars)
  7. Falling For Mr. Darcy, by KaraLynne Mackrory (4 stars)
  8. Darcy’s Decision: Given Good Principles Volume 1, by Maria Grace (4 stars)
  9. When They Fall in Love: Darcy and Elizabeth in Italy, by Mary Simonsen (4 stars)
  10. Young Mr. Darcy in Love: Pride and Prejudice Continues (The Darcys and the Bingleys) (Volume 7) by Marsha Altman (4 stars)

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Undressing Mr. Darcy, by Karen Doornebos – A Review

The Pride Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge (2013)This is our twelfth and final selection for The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013, our year-long blog event honoring Jane Austen’s second published novel. Please follow the link above to read all the details of this reading and viewing challenge. Sign up’s are now closed but you can read the reviews and comment through 31 December 2013.

From the desk of Christina Boyd: 

With a title like Undressing Mr. Darcy, author Karen Doornebos’ new release is sure to turn a few heads this holiday season. “Sex sells, even to smart, liberated women, and Mr. Darcy was the smart girl’s pinup boy.” p. 7 And like the novel’s heroine, a master PR rep who has turned tweeting into an #artform, Doornebos has carefully crafted another contemporary romance novel about an ambitious, highly energized, very modern woman who meets a charming Mr. Darcy re-enactor, sure to draw the attention of Janeites and romance readers alike.

When Vanessa Roberts, PR extraordinaire with the perpetually-present smartphone and ever-ready clever social media tweet or posting, takes on a pro-bono job as a favor for her elderly Jane Austen loving aunt, little does she expect promoting the English author of, My Year as Mr. Darcy, to turn her organized world topsy-turvy. When she finally meets Julian Chancellor, who has capitalized on his good looks “as he gives a little historical background on his Regency-era clothing as he proceeds to take it off –down to his drawers” at his book signings, she finds she too, like the throngs of Darcy fans in the audience, is caught by his artful allurements. Continue reading

Undressing Mr. Darcy Book Launch with Author Karen Doornebos and Giveaway!

Undressing Mr. Darcy by Karen Doornebos (2013)Please join us in celebration of the launch of author Karen Doornebos’ second novel, Undressing Mr. Darcy, published today by Berkley Trade.

Karen has joined us to chat about her inspiration to write her new book, a humorous contemporary romance inspired by the chemistry between Jane Austen’s characters Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Her publisher, Berkley, has also generously offered a giveaway chance for a paperback copy of Undressing Mr. Darcy to three lucky winners. Just leave a comment with this blog post to enter. The contest details are listed below. Good luck to all. 

Thank you for joining us Karen.

Inspiration for Undressing – shall we say – a flame? 

Laurel Ann asked me to talk a bit about my inspiration for Undressing Mr. Darcy. Full disclosure: when I was researching Regency male clothing for my first novel, Definitely Not Mr. Darcy, I hit upon an English website called The History Wardrobe that did a show called Undressing Mr. Darcy. It seems a “Mr. Darcy” would disrobe down to his drawers while a woman lectured about his articles of clothing.

Wow. What more could a Darcy fangirl ask for?! I never saw the show and it’s now defunct, but my imagination started clicking and it wasn’t long until I came up with:

He’s an old-fashioned, hardcover book reader from England who writes with a quill pen. She’s a modern American career woman, hooked on her social media. Can he find his way into her heart without so much as a GPS?!

So, undressing caused the cognitive wheels to turn. ;) But, going deeper than that, what else inspires?

It’s cliché, but: sparks flying.

There is no better way to describe the air between Darcy and Elizabeth than: flammable in a good way. And I love that! I loved it at 16 years old when I read Pride and Prejudice and I love it now. There isn’t any sex in Austen, but P&P is especially rife with sexual tension, and the entire book feels ready to ignite at the inevitable union of Darcy and Elizabeth.

In Undressing Mr. Darcy I haven’t tried to recreate Darcy and Elizabeth, but rather, bring a similar kind of energy to Julian, who has been called “adorably old-fashioned” by RT Book Reviews, and Vanessa, my thoroughly modern Millie.

I also think the eternal appeal of Darcy and Elizabeth happens to be the fact that they need to learn something from each other. They came into each other’s lives to be educated, so to speak, by each other. They need to calibrate and recalibrate. Likewise, my flawed characters need to learn a thing or two from each other—but do they? Who learns and who doesn’t?

When, back in 2011, I stumbled across the Undressing Mr. Darcy idea, what I didn’t know was that a pirate would get into the mix. To say this character was inspired by Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow would be…true! Does he bear any resemblance to Wickham? You’ll have to read and find out!

Yet, as much as I enjoy the romance, the teasing, the push and pull, I like learning something as I read (back to that learning thing again)! That’s why I think Austenprose readers will especially enjoy Undressing. Aside from the Jane Austen Society of North America gatherings and Jane Austen Festivals, I delve into Jane Austen’s life, weaving into the story a bright colored ribbon of biography to follow along with (but not in a lecturing, pedantic way)!

To educate myself, I reread Austen’s letters to her sister Cassandra. I traveled to Bath, Chawton and London to see what she saw and experience for myself her cottage, especially juxtaposed with her brother Edward’s massive inherited estate. One of the most poignant moments and certainly a highlight of my trip was seeing Austen’s writing desk at The British Library in London. I incorporated all of this into the book: a modern American woman’s perspective of Austen. Yet, when we analyze Austen, we analyze ourselves, do we not?

Austenprose readers, check out the first chapter of Undressing Mr. Darcy here!

So much more to say, but I have to thank Laurel Ann again for hosting me on this special day! So great to be here.

Author Karen Doornebos in Bath (2012)

A * wave * from the top of Bath Abbey! 

On each leg of the Undressing Mr. Darcy Blog Tour, I’m taking you along for a ride to England, where I traveled during the summer of 2012 to do some research for my new book. Where am I on this stop? I climbed the 212 steps to the top of Bath Abbey for the panoramic views of the hills and crescents. Afterwards I promptly treated myself to a fluffy Bath bun at the famous Sally Lunn’s, established in 1680 in a house built in 1482… The bun arrived smothered in butter and strawberry jam, but the real topper was enjoying that and peppermint tea in Sally Lunn’s Jane Austen Room!

Sally Lunn's in Bath

JOIN THE BLOG TOUR OF UNDRESSING MR. DARCY: 

12/2: The Penguin Blog

Launch! 12/3: Austenprose

12/4 Laura’s Review Bookshelf & JaneBlog

12/5 Chick Lit Plus – Review

12/6 Austen Authors

12/9 Fresh Fiction

12/10 Writings & Ramblings

12/11 Brant Flakes & Skipping Midnight

12/12 Risky Regencies Q&A

12/13 Books by Banister

Jane Austen’s 238th Birthday! 12/16 Jane Austen in Vermont,

My Jane Austen Book Club &

Author Exposure Q&A

12/17 Literally Jen

12/18 Savvy Verse & Wit – Review

12/19 Kritters Ramblings

12/20 Booking with Manic- Review

12/23 BookNAround

12/26 My 5 Monkeys – Review

12/27 All Grown Up – Review

12/30 Silver’s Reviews

1/2 Dew on the Kudzu

Mr. Darcy’s Stripping Off… 

His gloves. At each stop on the Undressing Mr. Darcy Blog Tour, Mr. Darcy will strip off another piece of clothing. Keep track of each item in chronological order and at the end of the tour you can enter to win a GRAND PRIZE of the book’s, “DO NOT DISTURB I’m Undressing Mr. Darcy” door hangers for you and your friends, tea, and a bottle of wine (assuming I can legally ship it to your state). US entries only, please. 

Thank you Karen for joining us today on Austenprose. Best wishes on the success of your new book. 

Please visit us on December 11 for our review of Undressing Mr. Darcy.

Author Karen Doornebos (2013)Author Bio: Karen Doornebos is the author of Undressing Mr. Darcy published by Berkley, Penguin. Her first novel, Definitely Not Mr. Darcy, has been published in three countries and was granted a starred review by Publisher’s Weekly. Karen lived and worked in London for a short time, but is now happy just being a lifelong member of the Jane Austen Society of North America and living in the Chicagoland area with her husband, two teenagers and various pets—including a bird. Speaking of birds, follow her on Twitter and Facebook! She hopes to see you there, on her website www.karendoornebos.com and her group blog Austen Authors.

A GRAND GIVEAWAY

Enter a chance to win one of three copies available of Undressing Mr. Darcy, by Karen Doornebos by leaving a comment including your favorite Mr. Darcy quote from Pride and Prejudice, or by asking Karen a question about her writing process or the characters in her new book. The contest is open until 11:59 pm PT, December 11, 2013. Winners will be drawn at random from the comments and posted on Thursday, December 12, 2013. Shipment to US addresses only. Good luck to all.

Undressing Mr. Darcy, by Karen Doornebos
Berkley Trade (2013)
Trade paperback (368) pages
ISBN: 978-0425261392

Cover image courtesy of Berkley Trade © 2013; text Karen Doornebos © 2013, Austenprose.com

Project Darcy, by Jane Odiwe – A Review

Project  Darcy, by Jane Odiwe (2013)From the desk of Lisa Galek:

There’s one thing that’s true about Janeites – we love a good romance. Whether it’s a couple exchanging glances nearly two hundred years ago or a modern guy and gal sharing their first kiss on the streets of London, there’s something so magical about experiencing the feeling of falling in love… even if we’re only reading about it. In her new novel, Project Darcy, Jane Odiwe combines love stories from the past and present to give us an interesting spin on the life of Jane Austen.

When Ellie Bentley agrees to volunteer for an archeological dig at the site of Jane Austen’s childhood home in Steventon Rectory, she’s looking forward to spending a nice summer with her four closest friends – Jess, Martha, Cara, and Liberty. But almost as soon as she arrives, Ellie starts to see strange things: a man who looks just like he could be the ghost of Mr. Darcy and visions of a romance that happened 200 years ago. As the days pass and Ellie learns more about the secrets of Steventon, she gets drawn deeper and deeper into the life and loves of Jane Austen.

Meanwhile, the five friends are finding that their lives are playing out just like one of Austen’s romances. A handsome Oxford student named Charlie Harden has his eye on Jess, while Ellie is convinced that his friend, Henry Dorsey, is the most arrogant man who ever lived. Cara and Liberty are busy flirting with anyone and everyone in their path – even Greg Whitely, a gorgeous TV star who might not be as charming as he seems. Could the visions that Ellie keeps seeing hold the key to figuring out all their modern-day romantic entanglements?

Project Darcy is a bit of a literary mash-up. It’s part modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice and part Austen-inspired magical realism. Not only is Ellie on a journey to find her own Mr. Darcy, but she also has the ability to see into important moments from Jane Austen’s past. While this idea is really interesting and has a lot of potential, in the end, the book sometimes struggled to bring the two stories together.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good contemporary update on Austen. It’s so fun to see her stories play out with modern couples. I also don’t take any issue with characters who randomly travel back in time and help us get to know Jane Austen a little bit better – there’s something delightful about letting our imaginations fill in the gaps in our favorite author’s personal story. But, combining these two is apparently a tricky business.

In this novel, we have a character from the present who randomly falls back into the past every so often. These transitions were always smooth and well-written, but they did sometimes interrupt the flow of the story. One moment we’re with Ellie as she’s about to confront Henry, the next, we’re at a ball in 1796 gazing across the room at Tom Lefroy. Sometimes, it was hard to figure out which love story to focus on. Just when you wanted more of one – poof! – it was gone.

There are lots of Austen-inspired novels that play with some kind of time travel. One of the things I’ve always noticed about these books is the main character will usually spend some time coming to terms with what’s happened. But, Ellie isn’t worried at all when she unexpectedly begins to see visions of the past. The author explains this by saying that Ellie always had a gift for seeing ghosts and such. But, these visions are so intense that they made me wish Ellie would have at least stopped to check in with her doctor and make sure everything was all right.

Aside from all this, the author does write well and the characters are well-developed and vibrant. The love stories, also, are passionate and sweet and will really draw you in. And the event that brings everyone together – the archeological dig at Steventon – really happened. The dialogue is fun and witty, but, at times, it got a little outdated. Occasionally, during the scenes that took place in the present, the characters just came off sounding a bit too formal to be 21st-century guys and girls.

Overall, the book gives us two intriguing romances. It just has a little trouble making them come together. At times, it felt like I was reading two excellent love stories, not one cohesive one. In the end, the author tries to tie everything together in an interesting and surprising way, but, sadly, I don’t think she’s completely able to wrap up all the loose ends.

4 out of 5 Stars

Project Darcy, by Jane Odiwe
Paintbox Publishing (2013)
Trade paperback (326) pages
ISBN: 978-0954572235

Cover image courtesy of Paintbox Publishing © 2013; text Lisa Galek © 2013, Austenprose.com

Giveaway Winners Announced for Dear Mr. Knightley

Dear Mr Knightley, by Katherine Reay (2013)It’s time to announce the 3 winners of print copies of Dear Mr. Knightley, by Katherine Reay. The winners drawn at random are:

  • Monica P. who left a comment of November 18, 2013
  • Danielle C. who left a comment on November 14, 2013
  • Anne Smittle who left a comment on November 12, 2013

Congratulations ladies! To claim your prize, please contact me with your full name and address by November 27, 2013 or you will forfeit your prize! Shipment to US addresses only.

Thanks to all who left comments, to author Katherine Reay for her guest blog, and to her publisher Thomas Nelson, Inc. for the giveaways.

Cover image courtesy Thomas Nelson, Inc. © 2013; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2013, Austenprose.com

Dear Mr. Knightley: A Novel, by Katherine Reay – A Review

Dear Mr Knightley, by Katherine Reay (2013) From the desk of Diana Birchall:

Does anyone remember Daddy-Long-Legs, the enchanting 1955 movie in which Fred Astaire is the benevolent, mysterious, rich sponsor who sends the exquisite young French girl Leslie Caron, to college? It was a favorite musical of my childhood, along with a string of other Caron and Audrey Hepburn films. Daddy-Long-Legs actually started life, however, as long ago as 1912, as a bright, effervescent, epistolary novel by Jean Webster. It enjoyed a huge success as a Broadway play and was filmed several times, including a Japanese anime version.

Now new author Katherine Reay, instead of penning yet another in a lengthy backlist of Jane Austen updates, has cleverly chosen to write a modern retelling of Daddy-Long-Legs. Her Dear Mr. Knightley has a thoughtful literary setting, with enough Austen and Bronte references to provide intellectual mind candy for the reading woman. She also bestows an unusually satisfying romance upon her heroine, and succeeds in creating a portrait of a young writer that is so poignantly fresh and full of growing pains and uncertainties, that you question why she ever needed to lean on somebody else’s old classic at all.

In Jean Webster’s original version, the heroine, Jerusha Abbot, was fifteen and still working in the orphan asylum where she was raised, when her rich benefactor sends her to a posh college. In her version, Katherine Reay advances her orphan’s age to twenty-three, and this constitutes my main problem with the novel, and the reason I wish she’d left the Daddy-Long-Legs template behind her. Samantha Moore has already graduated from college and failed in her first job, when she is offered a full tuition grant to the master’s program of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, by a wealthy philanthropist. The only stipulation is that she write him personal progress letters, which he will not answer. His assistant suggests she address him as “Mr. George Knightley,” in tribute to Samantha’s own love for Jane Austen and Emma.

So the letters begin, with Samantha explaining herself and her ambitions to her benefactor. She has lived at Grace House, a Catholic institution, since she was fifteen, where her mentor, Father John, early recognized and encouraged her writing and journalistic talents. Samantha is hooked on books from mysteries to the Victorian classics; they are her passion and her escape. With a difficult life, owing to the death of neglectful, abusive parents, and bouncing from one foster home to another, she has understandably grown up feeling safer in fiction than reality. She relates to Fanny Price and Anne Elliot better than to her troubled roommates at Grace House. She’s not even sure she wants to be a journalist – fiction is her thing – but Medill would help her achieve her great dream, to write for a living. So she accepts Mr. Knightley’s offer.

Trouble is, she doesn’t get into Medill first round; she’s wait-listed, and in disappointment retreats to her part time jobs. She also develops an unlikely friendship with a black 13-year-old orphan named Kyle, who shares her passion for running. He rejects her kindness at first, but soon comes to like and trust Samantha, and encourages her in her dreams as she does him. Then she is finally accepted at Medill, and her great adventure in education begins.

It isn’t easy. Her rigorous professor is tough on her, saying that she’s not connecting in her writing, and will be bounced from the program if she doesn’t put her soul into her stories. Samantha is discouraged and struggles with plenty of problems – her disappointment in herself, her trauma when she is beaten by an attacker at night, her dates with a superficial young man named Josh who doesn’t understand her background, and her friendship with a brilliant best-selling novelist, Alex, who treats her like an equal and introduces her to a lovely older couple who become surrogate parents. Samantha has a lot to sort out, and her journey to self-knowledge, achievement, and love, is what’s most natural and compelling about this novel. It’s the framework that’s ultimately distracting and less successful. The updating, whether from 1912 or 1955, often doesn’t ring true; there are too many discrepancies with the modern world and its economic realities. In what universe does a journalism grad student get such a free ride with all the trimmings, connections, and the assurance of a career? In these circumstances Samantha’s writerly whining and angst can border on the naïve and annoying. Despite such cavils, it’s possible to see beyond the book’s implausibilities because it also possesses heart, mind, and a heroine whose awkwardness, uncertainty, and longing for affirmation make her so endearingly likeable that the reader will be swept into her touching emotional journey.

4 out of 5 Stars

Dear Mr. Knightley: A Novel, by Katherine Reay
Thomas Nelson, Inc. (2013)
Trade paperback (336) pages
ISBN: 978-1401689681

Diana Birchall, is a story analyst who reads novels for Warner Bros Studios. She is the author of the Jane Austen-related novels Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma and Mrs. Elton in America, and also a scholarly biography of her grandmother, Onoto Watanna, the first Asian American novelist. Her story “Jane Austen’s Cat” appears in the Random House anthology Jane Austen Made Me Do It, and her Austen-related plays have had readings around the country and in Canada.  

Cover image courtesy Thomas Nelson © 2013; text Diana Birchall © 2013, Austenprose.com

Dear Mr. Knightley Book Launch and Guest Blog with Author Katherine Reay, with Giveaways

Dear Mr Knightley, by Katherine Reay (2013)

I am pleased to introduce you to a bright new talent on the horizon—Katherine Reay. Her first novel, Dear Mr. Knightley, was released on November 5th by Thomas Nelson. I had the pleasure of reading an advanced copy and personally meeting the author. She was delightful, and so is her novel. Katherine has joined us today for a virtual book launch in celebration of the release of Dear Mr. Knightley. Enter a chance to win one of three copies available as a giveaway by her publisher. Just leave a comment. The details for the contest are at the end of this blog. The lucky winners will not be disappointed.

Welcome Katherine:

I’m so delighted to be here and to share a bit about Dear Mr. Knightley. This story is the compilation of Samantha Moore’s letters to an anonymous sponsor (Mr. Knightley) who has awarded her a grant to journalism graduate school. And while Sam studies fact, she must lay down fiction – her hiding place.

While we love reading Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Jane Eyre, Daddy Long Legs and other favorite classics, Sam lives within them. Growing up in the foster care system, Sam learned to avoid pain, strife and loneliness by “hiding” behind her best friends – Elizabeth Bennet, Charlotte Lucas, Jane Eyre… But now this habit begins to hurt her and others (as all hiding does), including another young foster kid, Kyle. And that shocks Sam – that she could be an adult who hurts a child.

So the journey begins… And we are invited along through Sam’s increasingly private letters to Mr. Knightley. And believe me, these letters take us on quite a ride. Nothing comes easily to Sam. She struggles to find her own voice, sometimes wondering if she has one at all. And the letters almost make us believe we’ve got a first person view to into her world, but we don’t. It’s even better. There’s a delicious layer we see that Sam can’t – there is what she is willing to tell Mr. Knightley, what she tries to withhold and how she interprets events – any or all of which can look to different to us than to her. The epistolary format allowed me to really explore Sam’s limited perspective and twist it about occasionally. I especially loved playing with Mr. Knightley’s anonymity, Josh’s subtle selfishness and Professor Muir’s feistiness.

Letters also allowed me to incorporate my love for Jane Austen in an organic way – as we see Sam hide, even when she doesn’t recognize it, and we watch her discover and recognize the pain it and she causes. Adding this homage to Austen was fun and meaningful because our favorite movies and books play such an important role in our lives. I, at least, can relate to Sam in this to some degree – some days I’d like to live within my favorite storylines too. Can I be Emma? I would LOVE to believe that I cannot really change for the better.

But we can’t live within fiction and that’s part of the point too. I purposely made Sam’s life bigger, tougher, and more challenging than many of us face so that we could more easily sneak into her emotional world and realize her struggles parallel our own. In this fast-moving, crazy world, I think we all strive to define ourselves, face insecurity and fear, seek a place to stand and belong, and search for a family to love. I’d love readers to resonate with Sam’s “coming of age” journey and feel emotional camaraderie with her.  And I hope they find themselves wrapped up in an amazing story.

As for other characters in the story, I adore Professor Muir and, I must say, young Kyle Baines is my favorite. This tough fourteen-year-old, hurting, angry foster kid stole my heart. I also loved that he was willing to sacrifice his story, his very self, to help Sam. I’d like courage like that.

So that is Dear Mr. Knightley…

I started the manuscript in 2009 as I was recovering from an injury and reading tons of Austen, Dickens, Webster, Brontes, Lewis, Gaskell… And as Sam developed, I started to push her past in order to see how it could and would change her future. Soon all the other characters joined in – Ashley with her debutante aura, Debbie with her steady practicality, Mrs. Muir with unconditional love – and story filled out.

Now it’s fully formed and available in Barnes & Noble and on Amazon. And that is unbelievably wonderful and crazy for me.

Again, thank you so much for inviting me here and please keep in touch.

Katherine Reay

Many thanks to Katherine for sharing a bit about her new novel Dear Mr. Knightley with us today. I wish you great success.

Author Katherine Reay (2013 )Author Bio:

Katherine Reay has enjoyed a life-long affair with the works of Jane Austen and her contemporaries and can’t seem to leave them out of anything she writes.

Katherine did leave them behind for a bit in college and studied history and sociology at Northwestern University and earned a Master’s degree in marketing from there as well.  After a few years working in marketing and a few moves, including stops in England and Ireland, Katherine and her family now reside in Seattle, WA, where she spends her days running, writing, cooking and trying to clean the house and keep up with the laundry.

Visit Katherine at her website www.katherinereay.com, on Twitter @katherine_reay or on Facebook at /katherinereaybooks. She’s also lurking somewhere within the pages of her first novel, Dear Mr. Knightley – and her second, Lizzy and Jane, but you won’t find her there until November 2014.

A GRAND GIVEAWAY

Enter a chance to win one of three paperback copies available of Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay by leaving a comment asking Katherine about her writing experience or characters, or telling us which epistolary novels you have read recently by 11:59 pm PT Wednesday, November 20, 2013. Winners will be chosen at random from comments and announced on Thursday, November 21, 2013. Shipment is to US addresses only. Good luck to all.

Dear Mr. Knightley, by Katherine Reay
Thomas Nelson, Inc. (2013)
Trade paperback (336) pages
ISBN: 978-1401689681

Cover image courtesy Thomas Nelson © 2013; text Katherine Reay © 2013, Austenprose.com

Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy, by Helen Fielding – A Review

Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy, by Helen Fielding (2013)From the desk of Christina Boyd:

We were first introduced to Bridget Jones’ Diary in 1997. Readers kept it on the New York Times bestseller list for over six months. We were utterly addicted to this new confessional literary genre author Helen Fielding had created—the unguarded, neurotic ramblings of a London singleton in search of love—and her obsession with Jane Austen’s romantic hero Mr. Darcy from Pride & Prejudice, (admittedly Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in the 1995 BBC/A&E mini-series). We devoured the sequel Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason in 1999, and the subsequent movies with an all-star cast of Renée Zellweger, Hugh Grant, and, yes, Colin Firth as dishy, love-interest Mark Darcy. Now 14 years later, Fielding has resurrected her most popular character …

STOP. If you haven’t heard about the big, gigantic, SPOILER in her new novel, Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy—DO NOT PROCEED. This is your chance to bail now. Save yourself the trouble and time of ranting at me in some long-winded diatribe. You have been given due notice. But, please do come back here and let’s compare notes, once you have read the book, of course.

However, if you have heard the big news about this third book in the series, then carry on. My little review won’t ruin anything for you that has not already been broadcast worldwide. Also, a slight warning as to the sailor-like language sprinkled throughout that we have come to expect from Bridget and friends. (My apologies to sailors everywhere who do not swear or speak in a vulgar manner. Terrible, terrible stereotype. I know.) Though jarring, cringe-worthy really, if any of my American friends were to spew such vulgarity, coming from Bridget, any Brit really, this American reviewer tends to give a pass. Maybe it’s the charming British accent? Or the Renee Zellweger narrative I hear in my head?

Channeling my inner-Bridget’s up to the minute, daily diary-style format, the following is an account of my ponderings on Fielding’s latest offering:

SPOILER ALERT…SPOILER ALERT…SPOILER ALERT…SPOILER ALERT

Monday 30 September 2013 

Number of times I said “WHAT?” when The Today Show announced author Helen Fielding killed off Mark Darcy 20, number of negative thoughts 1000, number of Facebook posts and threads I mentioned this spoiler 9, hours it took me to overcome my shock of Mark’s death 26, days I had to wait after this bombshell until my advanced copy was released from the publisher 10, days I had to wait until my copy was forwarded on from Austenprose blogmistress 2, hours I had to wait to get a moment to myself from delivery of said book until I could crack it open 10, number of days it took me to actually finish because of the rude intrusions of real life 3.

7:17 a.m. Breaking news on The Today Show. “Hearts are breaking wide open around the world. Bridget Jones is back. Minus Mr. Darcy.” What? What?! No Mark Darcy! My dear husband tried to offer his condolences by pointing out the British are not afraid of killing off their favorites in their television programs, reminding me of the recent Downton Abbey debacle of doing in yummy male lead, and all-around good-guy, Matthew Crawley, and even many of my favorites from MI-5, aka in Great Britain as Spooks. (Not helpful.) Still, how can this be? Is this a prank? Pfffffft. What’s the point? Who wants to read about Bridget Jones if there’s no Mark Darcy?

7:27 a.m. Facebook, twitter, and blogs are all abuzz with devastating news. I knew the book had been embargoed to all advanced copies for reviews. Was this the reason? Maybe so, and yet, somehow a copy must have slipped out, and the publisher must have said, “Go ahead, leak the bloody spoiler,” says my wildly, active imagination. Amidst the U.S. economy being held hostage by its own government, earthquakes, typhoons, Iran’s nuclear program talks, Mark Darcy’s death has pushed aside Miley Cyrus’s “strategic hot mess.” Or, was so-called leak possibly part of cleverly choreographed marketing scheme? Hmmm…? On to reading the book…

Friday 11 October 2013

Number of times nits are mentioned 43 (plus or minus), number of times I scratched my own head after reading about nits 43 (plus or minus), number of times I scratched my head at the mention of some clearly British word or product like: spag bog and Fairy Liquid 2, number of barn owl sightings 2, number of times I cried at the end of barn owl scenes 2, number of times I wept over Bridget’s memories of Mark 3, number of times I laughed out loud 78, number of pages I giggled at the repeated mention of the f-word (and I mean fart) 3 ½, number of pages until the use of the other f-word is used (and I mean “fuckwit”) 12, number of times used thereafter 278 (plus or minus), number of Jane Austen references 2 (maybe 3), number of days since I finished reading it (yet am still mulling over the details) 5.

When last we read about Bridget Jones it was the year 2000, and at the close of The Edge of Reason Mark Darcy was arranging his case load in America and, or Thailand, with Bridget in tow. Over a decade later, the world has changed. Major life changes. 9-11. Technology. The Internet. Bridget and Mark now have two children.

Mad About the Boy opens with Bridget in a quandary about her friend’s 60th birthday party. Should she, or should she not, invite her boytoy Roxster, who happens to be celebrating his 30th birthday on the same night? Then it proceeds right into a calamitous episode of nits (head lice), vomit and diarrhea. She must handle it all alone, if we are to believe the spoilers, without Mark. For the next 20-odd pages all the usual Bridget chatter about her boytoy, and bumbling about as a single mother, without one mention of Mark. I quite think if I had not heard Fielding had killed off Mark prior to this reading, I would have been Googling to see if I had missed a Book 3 and was in fact reading Book 4. And then on page 26, there it was:

Mark Darcy 1956-2008

Told from Bridget’s perspective, with long chunks of her irreverent monologue, her often minute by minute running commentary, her texting conversations, and now with Twitter, her attempt to get current, she tweets:

Thursday 12 July 2012, 155 lbs, pounds lost 20, pages of screenplay written 10, Twitter followers 0. <@DalaiLama Just as a snake sheds its skin, so we must shed our past again and again.> 

“You see? The Dalai Lama and I are one cyber-mind. I am shedding my fat like a snake.” (p. 55)

So this is Bridget a decade and a half later. Widowed, 51-year-old, cheeky single mother of two small children, attempting to write a screenplay and still struggling with how she fits into the world—a tech savvy world. Forlorn, without her rock Mark Darcy. She is still friends with the bawdy cast we love and adore: Talitha, Jude, Tom and Magda, and as they are all now deeply entrenched in that other vulgar phrase “middle age,” are determined to get rid of Bridget’s lonely, “Born-Again Virgin” status. 

“I’ve had enough of this! What do you mean ‘middle-aged’? In Jane Austen’s day we’d all be dead by now.  We’re going to live to be a hundred. It’s not the middle of our lives. Oh. Yes. Well, actually it is the middle.” (p. 67) 

Yet, she is determined to find her new normal. Mark wouldn’t want her to be alone and miserable. 

And just like that, she decides to get back out there. After all, it has been four and a half  years since she has even kissed a man. But, like most times when you are trying something new, or rather something you have done before but not in a very, long time, and trying to be 30, when you are in fact 51, events do not always turn out as you hoped. 

“We all became crestfallen, our confidence collapsing like a house of cards. ‘Oh God. Do we just look like an ensemble of elderly transvestites?’ said Tom. 

‘It’s happened, just as I always feared,’ I said. ‘We’ve ended up as tragic old fools convincing ourselves the vicar is in love with us because he’s mentioned his organ.’ (p. 80)

However, Bridget does find love and affection via Twitter. This story-line is chock full of tender, LOL, randy moments, and amusing texting dialogue as she enjoys re-discovering her sensuality with her 30 year old boytoy, who really does fancy her. But Bridget is still Bridget—sure  to cock something up as she fumbles about and never showing herself to her best, especially in front of smug marrieds, potential career makers and her son’s chess/music/sports department teacher Mr. Wallaker. Bridget describes him as “fit, tall, slightly younger than me, crop-haired, rather like Daniel Craig in appearance.” (p. 5). Surely this must be Fielding’s nod to who should play the new teacher in the future movie? Yes, puleez.

At the moment when you think you can’t take one more self-destructive, idiotic, nitwit antic, Bridget takes a breath, adjusts her priorities and performs a few self-less acts—that end up turning things around. I think that’s what Bridget would call Karma. And what would a series be (that began with what Fielding confesses was stolen from the plot of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice), without a romantic, happily ever after? Bridget-style, of course.

“He took a step closer. The air was heavy with jasmine, roses. I breathed unsteadily. It felt as though we were being drawn together by the moon. He reached out, like I was a child, or a Bambi or something, and touched my hair. ‘There aren’t any nits in here, are there?’ he said.” (p. 321-322)

And that’s not even with the loveable Daniel Cleaver, who, yes, is in this book as… wait for it… the children’s godfather!

Keep Calm and Carry On Without Mark Darcy

So, let me be the one to say, although I loved Bridget with Mark Darcy, (her grounded, stabilizing life-force, her Yin to his Yang), I do accept that horrible, tragic things do happen in real life. Fielding took a brave leap (others might say foolish) in killing this beloved character off. Believe me. Those first 26 hours after I learned of his death I was as dazed as Jones in a vodka induced stupor. Fielding could have played it safe. But where would she have gone with that? Every day real life women get up, face the day, and soldier on. If our Bridget can do it… you can too. Stay calm and carry on without Mark Darcy. Mad About the Boy is a delicious, boisterous, raucous triumph championing a re-awakening of life. Read the book. As in real life, you’d hate to miss out. <@Dalai Lama An open heart is an open mind.>

5 out of 5 Stars

P.S. I was going to knock off ½ a star for killing Mark, but then reminded self it would have been a predictable, pointless, fuckwit move.

Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy, by Helen Fielding
Alfred A. Knopf (2013)
Hardcover (400) pages
ISBN: 978-0385350860

Cover image courtesy of Alfred A. Knopf © 2013; text Christina Boyd © 2013, Austenprose.com

The Regency Detective, by David Lassman and Terence James – A Review

The Regency Detective, by David Lassman and Terence James (2013)From the desk of Stephanie Barron:

When the movie can’t help but be much better than the book:

A confession of my own, as I embark on this review: I write a series of mystery novels set in late-Georgian and Regency England, which feature Jane Austen as a detective. As a result, I might be regarded as a partial and prejudiced judge of The Regency Detective, a novel by the British screenwriting duo of David Lassman and Terence James (The History Press, 2013).  The pair are developing their story for British television, an honor I may receive only when hell freezes over, and they firmly state that the project is backed by the Bath City Council, Bath Film Office, Bath Tourism Plus, The Jane Austen Centre, and several other organizations too trivial to name throughout the city. A trifling note of bitterness on my part, or a waspish tone to this review, ought therefore to be acknowledged before being dismissed—because there are any number of authors publishing in this historical subgenre whom I wholeheartedly admire, read, and recommend. I love nothing better than a cracking good historical mystery set in England during Jane Austen’s lifetime. My hesitation to embrace The Regency Detective stems neither from its period, its engaging protagonist, nor its action plot—but from its truly turgid prose.  Having read nearly three hundred and twenty pages of it, I suggest that the movie version MUST be better.

But more about the prose later.

The Regency Detective opens in the autumn of 1803, when Jack Swann—a “consultant” to the Bow Street Runners in London—arrives in Bath for his adoptive mother’s funeral and a reunion with his “sister,” Mary Gardiner. (Many of the people in this novel are named for Jane Austen’s characters, apparently for the heck of it. Isabella Thorpe tries to pick up Jack Swann at a ball; Catherine Tilney is mentioned in conversation as having delivered her second child; Jane Austen’s mother sends a letter of condolence to Mary Gardiner, etc.) Jack’s father was once the Gardiner family’s butler; when he is knifed to death defending the Gardiners’ London home, Mr. Gardiner adopts twelve year-old Jack and makes him his heir, to the tune of “five or ten thousand a year.” The improbability of this premise is never questioned; it exists to provide psychological motivation for Jack Swann’s entire life. When we meet Swann in a Royal Mail coach bound for Bath (although most gentlemen of his fortune would travel post, with private changes of horses), Jack is thirty-two years old and has been hunting for his father’s killer for the past two decades.  He is prone to cite Rousseau and Hobbes, which suggests he has received a classical education, but is more comfortable sitting with the servants during a ball at Bath’s Upper Rooms. He is an Everyman with access to both the Lowly and the Great, which is handy for a guy who spends his days combatting Bath’s treacherous Irish-born criminal masses, who appear to control the city in much the way that Al Capone once controlled Chicago. Jack races through the Avon District, Bath’s slum; engages in knife fights; is shot at repeatedly; dons Sherlock Holmesian disguises to meet with his sidekicks in dubious taverns; and practices basic forensic science not recognized or developed for a hundred years after his death.

It turns out—spoiler alert—that Jack’s father’s killer has an identical twin, and Jack has been chasing the wrong one. Halfway through the book, we embark on what I assume is the second episode of the television series, which is about a possible serial/vampire killer, but not really.  There’s a female dwarf with a face disfigured by torture in a brothel. But she only makes a cameo appearance at the home of a writer who composes his Gothic novels while sitting in a coffin—a la John Donne—and who comments on a manuscript version of Austen’s Susan.  Jack’s sister Mary is being recruited by either a criminal organization run by her aunt, or a spy network—who could tell the difference, really, even in those days?—under the guise of being Emancipated as a Woman. Meanwhile, Mary has accepted a proposal of marriage from a fellow so dodgy even Emma Woodhouse would finger him for a creep. It all gets confusing, in The Regency Detective.

Add to that the infelicities of prose (one of the criminal horde “messes up in the city,” Mary tells Jack it “really means a lot” that he came to their mother’s funeral, Jack refers to himself as “paranoid” and asks Mary anxiously if she’s “okay,”), and you’ve got a bit of trudge through the ebook version of this tale. It’s almost worse when the authors get all Regency on us. (Never mind that the Regency officially began in 1811, not 1803.) We’re treated to such sentences as this: “For Swann, he could recognize a man outside a judicial building with no other reason for being there than as a malefactor.” Really? Wow. “Swann manoeuvred his sister away from the ensuing maelstrom which always accompanied the Royal Mail’s arrival, to a more conducive spot further up the street where they could converse easier.” Yes, easier. I’m not kidding.

I’m hoping that the persistent misspelling of a horse’s reins as “reigns,” and the ardent identification of Aphra Behn throughout this novel as Alphra Benn, are what are known as “scannos,” picked up in the digital formatting of the manuscript. But I have no real faith this is the case. On the plus side, author Terence James has lived in Bath for forty years, clearly loves the city, and offers a great deal of factual background in the middle of his action sequences. Which slows them down to stumbling point.

With any luck, when this series is filmed in Bath and broadcast on television, it will be a pulse-raising and visually delightful series to watch. With terrific costumes and interiors. But I suggest you wait for that day, dear reader. Don’t let this eBook spoil your fun.

–   Stephanie Barron is the author of eleven bestselling Jane Austen mysteries, including Jane and the Canterbury Tale, named one of the “9 Mysteries Every Thinking Woman Should Read” by Oprah Winfrey. She lives near Denver, Colorado where her roses grow thorns and no one need mend her pen. Visit her at her website and on Facebook.

The Regency Detective, David Lassman and Terence James
The History Press (2013)
Trade paperback (320) pages
ISBN: 978-0752486109

Cover image courtesy of The History Press © 2013; text Stephanie Barron ©2013, Austenprose.com

The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen, by Lindsay Ashford – A Review

The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen, by Lindsay Ashford (2013)I had the pleasure of reading this mystery novel in 2011 when it was published in the UK as The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen. I was very happy to learn that it was being published for the North American market by Sourcebooks as The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen. After a recent second reading I can honestly state that “my affections and wishes are unchanged.”

The book opens with this shocking question. Did Jane Austen die of natural causes or was she murdered? The possibility sent shivers down the back of my neck. Like many Janeites I have read of the many theories (and much speculation) on the fatal illnesses that may have caused Jane Austen’s death at age forty-one in 1817. Addison’s disease, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, bovine tuberculosis, and recently Brill-Zinsser disease have all been suggested. We know that Jane Austen was a perceptive observer of people and events in her novels and in her own life. In 1817, when she had a brief remission in her fatal illness, she wrote a letter on March 23rd to her favorite niece Fanny Knight. In it she supplies us with some very important evidence of her physical condition and the appearance of her face:

“I certainly have not been very well for many weeks, and about a week ago I was very poorly, I have had a good deal of fever at times and indifferent nights, but am considerably better now and recovering my looks a little, which have been bad enough, black and white and every wrong colour. I must not depend upon ever being blooming again.  Sickness is a dangerous indulgence at my time of life.”

These six words piqued Lindsay Ashford’s training in criminology from Queens’ College, Cambridge. Severe discoloring of the face are signs of arsenic poisoning. Coupled with the amazing discovery that arsenic testing had been conducted in the 1940’s on the sample of Jane Austen’s hair, she was compelled to write her novel – fiction yes, but based deeply upon fact.

Twenty-six years after Austen’s death, her dear friend Anne Sharp has learned of the new Marsh test that can be conducted on human hair to discover if arsenic poisoning might have killed its owner. Torn between departing with the memento and learning the truth, she sends it off to be analyzed. The results will inspire her to write down a memoir of her friend and all of the events that lay out her theories and why. A catharsis act to release all the years of pent up frustration and anger of her dear friends death, which she truly believes was not natural, but by design. And, by someone, who had both strong motive and means in Jane’s family circle.

The narrative encompasses almost a forty year span from 1805 when Anne and Jane are introduced at Godmersham Park, Kent and continues through 1843 with the result of the test that concludes her suspicions. What unfolds is a fascinating journey into the Austen family dynamics that will raise more than a few eyebrows. At times I was shocked, repulsed and appalled, but, I read on, and on, so mesmerized by the story that Miss Sharp reveals of her employer Edward Knight, his brothers James and Henry, their wives and their children. Like Catherine Morland obsessed with Gothic fiction I could not stop. However, unlike Northanger Abbey, The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen is not a high burlesque parody. It is a serious mystery novel based on historical fact.

Ashford’s thought-provoking writing is both honest and intriguing. Bare to the bone with human folly of biblical proportions, I am purposely vague in my plot description for fear of revealing anything that would spoil the discovery and surprise for the reader. Ashford has captured the Jane Austen and her intimate family circle within my mind’s eye with sensitivity, perception and reproving guile. What unfolds is a gripping, page turning, toxic sugar plum unlike any other Austenesque novel I have ever read. Be brave. Be beguiled. Be uncertain. I dare you.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen, by Lindsay Ashford
Sourcebooks Landmark (2013)
Trade paperback (432) pages
ISBN: 978-1402282126

Cover image courtesy Sourcebooks © 2013; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2013, Austenprose.com