Mr. Darcy’s Challenge: A Pride and Prejudice Variation (The Darcy Novels Book 2), by Monica Fairview – Preview & Exclusive Excerpt

Mr. Darcys Challenge by Monica Fairview 2014 x 200It is always a pleasure to introduce a new book by a treasured author. Many of Monica Fairview’s Pride and Prejudice sequels: The Other Mr. Darcy and The Darcy Cousins, are among my favorite Austenesque novels. Her latest, Mr. Darcy’s Challenge, is the second book in The Darcy Novels series of “what if” variations. Here is a preview and exclusive excerpt for your enjoyment.

PREVIEW (from publisher’s description)

In this humorous Pride and Prejudice Variation, Mr. Darcy is determined to win Elizabeth Bennet’s hand in spite of her rejection and he has a strategy worked out. He will rescue Lydia Bennet from Wickham and will return to Longbourn to convince Elizabeth to marry him. But when a chance encounter prompts Darcy to propose once again to Elizabeth before he has rescued Lydia, his plans go horribly wrong.

Broken hearted, disillusioned and bitterly regretting his impulsive action, Darcy sees no point in assisting Miss Bennet. After all, rescuing Lydia might save Elizabeth’s reputation, but why should he care when they have no future together? His code of gentlemanly conduct, however, demands that he fulfill the terms of his promise to her. Once again, Darcy finds himself faced with impossible choices: helping Elizabeth when she is certain to marry someone else, or holding onto his dignity by turning his back on the Bennets once and for all.

Pride and love are at loggerheads as he struggles to choose between his mind … and his heart.

Volume Two of The Darcy Novels continues the story began in Mr. Darcy’s Pledge but can be read as an independent book as well.

Continue reading

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.

When she realizes his incentive for writing his book is to raise money to support the restoration of his ancestral home, coupled with his charm and gentlemen-like behavior, she can’t help herself but start to fantasize what a fling, nay relationship, with him might be like. As they all attend the Jane Austen Society North America (JASNA) Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Chicago, while surrounded by Austen lovers fully immersed in the hubbub, Vanessa is busy promoting her author, “Want to tie the knot with Mr. Darcy? He’s in Cravat Tying 101 right now.#JASNAagm #UndressingMrDarcy #OrDressingMrDarcy?” p. 71 Surprisingly amongst all the bonnets and lace, she discovers she might be open to the possibilities of something more to life than constantly being plugged in.

It felt as if some of his Austen quotes were speaking directly to her at times, and it occurred to her that it might be time that she gave the author another chance. Perhaps her aunt had been on to something all these years. Was there something beyond the happily ever after stories and the demure portrait of a woman in a white ruffled cap that popped in Vanessa’s head every time ‘Jane Austen’ was mentioned?” p. 36

Undressing Mr. Darcy by Karen Doornebos (2013)As Julian’s clothes come off, the heat turns up. But it’s not just his fine person that captivates her; his endearing friendship with her beloved aunt coupled with his affection and knowledge of all things Austen soon bewitch her body and soul. “‘The conversion has begun. It’s in your blood. Resistance is futile.’ He looked into her eyes and took a step backward. ‘You’re becoming an Austen fan.‘” p. 9

But like in life, ever dry spell has its flood. And for the lonesome, loveless Vanessa, soon after meeting Julian she meets a handsome, amiable pirate! Turns out HeroCon is happening simultaneously at the same Chicago hotel. Is Chase MacClane a rogue of the highest order or is he the hero in disguise?

Two Austen events later, Vanessa finds herself in England for the celebrated ten day Jane Austen Festival in Bath. As soon as the plane lands, the consummate media maven posts, “‘Here I am once more in this Scene of Dissipation & vice, and I begin already to find my Morals corrupted.’ Could a girl ask for more? All sorts of sordid things happen in London.” p. 209 But all may not be how it appears. Later as she scampers about London and Bath on a wild, Austen-inspired scavenger hunt, she questions the authenticity of her relationship with Julian, her friendship with Chase, her aunt’s imminent Alzheimer’s diagnosis, and what she is going to do about any of it. “She laughed at her own folly. Folly? Had she ever used that word before? Why did she palpably feel Jane Austen’s presence across the room, near the trio, with folded arms and laughing at her?” p. 214 Doornebos’s storytelling had me biting my bottom lip until the very last, guessing who, if anyone, our fair heroine might choose!

Karen Doornebos, the author of Definitely Not Mr. Darcy, has certainly delivered me good tidings of comfort and joy this holiday season with this latest offering. Because of her concise research of Austen, in concert with the believable dialogue and madcap romantic antics, I am compelled to tweet: “@xtnaboyd Undressing Mr. Darcy is the #perfectstockingstuffer for Austen & Darcy lovers everywhere- regardless who are naughty or nice!”

5 out of 5 Stars 

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

Cover image courtesy of Berkley Trade © 2013; text Christina Boyd © 2013, Austenprose.com

The Trouble with Flirting: A Novel, by Claire LaZebnik – A Review

The Trouble with Flirting, by Claire LaZebnik (2013) From the desk of Lisa Galek:

There are tons of ways to flirt… and just as many ways to break hearts in the process. A casual smile or a wink can lead to long-awaited romance or lots of unwanted attention. Claire LaZebnik explores all this and more in The Trouble with Flirting, her contemporary young adult update on Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.

This story is all about Franny Pearson, a high school student from Phoenix looking to get some real world experience for her college admissions essay. When Franny lands a summer internship as a costume designer with her Aunt Amelia, she ventures from home to work for the prestigious Mansfield College High School Theater Program. Even though her days are filled with sewing and sequins – Franny is determined to make some friends among the theater kids this summer.

Franny quickly runs into an old classmate – Alex Braverman, the dreamboat she’s had a crush on since eighth grade. Could this be the summer Alex finally notices her? Not if Harry Cartwright has anything to do with it. It’s bad enough that Harry’s constantly flirting with every girl in camp, but it really gets annoying when he sets his sights on Franny. Of course, she only has eyes for Alex and would never fall for a notorious flirt like Harry. Or would she?

Though this novel is based on Mansfield Park, it follows the original pretty loosely. Other young adult Austen updates like Prom and Prejudice or Clueless are almost scene for scene reimaginings. This story may have similar characters and the same basic premise as the original – poor girl mixes with rich kids and falls in love – but it’s not afraid to take us to different places.

Franny, for one, isn’t much like Fanny Price. This, of course, will make some people very happy. This Franny is much less passive and morally upright than her predecessor. She’s also a lot more like a typical seventeen-year-old girl. Sure, she isn’t as spoiled, self-involved, and boy crazy as the girls around her, but she also doesn’t shy away from meeting new people or ring her hands any time there’s rule-breaking going on. This Franny would love to be part of a lively production of Lover’s Vows.

Other characters start with Austen as their jumping off point and then move from there. Alex and Harry stay pretty true to their counterparts (Edmund Bertram and Henry Crawford), but keep surprising us until the end. Naturally, Alex has his own Mary Crawford-esque temptress in the beautiful and talented Isabella. Fellow campers, Marie and Julia compete tirelessly for Harry’s attention with not-so-great results. Even Franny’s Aunt Amelia has a bit of Mrs. Norris in her.

It’s to the story’s credit that these characters always feel fresh and surprising. Though this is essentially a retelling, it doesn’t feel like it. By making new and interesting choices for her characters, the author keeps the spirit of the original, while still helping us stay invested and interested in what’s going to happen next.

In the end, this update asks a very interesting question – who really deserves to be with Franny? Is it the long-time crush and all-around-nice-guy who’s spent the whole book courting someone else? Or is it the self-absorbed flirt who’s willing to change his ways for the right girl? In the original, Mary Crawford asserts that if Fanny had only accepted her brother Henry “she would have fixed him.” The Trouble with Flirting makes us wonder if Mary wasn’t right after all.

I picked up the book one night just to start the first few chapters and just couldn’t put it down. I happen to love young adult fiction, but this one was especially good. The author nails the tone and dialogue. The flow of the story was perfect and, most important, believable. I could actually see high schoolers having these conversations, relationships, and dating dilemmas. This would be a great choice for any teenager who you want to introduce to Austen, or, really, anyone who can appreciate a fun and well-written high school romance.

4.5 out of 5 Stars

The Trouble with Flirting A Novel, by Claire LaZebnik
Harper Teen (2013)
Trade paperback (336) pages
ISBN: 978-0061921278

Cover image courtesy Harper Teen © 2013; text Lisa Galek © 2013, Austenprose.com

Presumption: An Entertainment: A Sequel to Pride and Prejudice, by Julia Barrett – A Review

The Pride Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge (2013)This is my sixth selection for The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013, our year-long 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 open until July 1, 2013.

My Review:

Before Mr. Darcy’s Little Sister (2010), Miss Darcy Falls in Love (2011), Georgiana Darcy’s Diary (2012) or Loving Miss Darcy (2013), or any of the other numerous Pride and Prejudice sequels elevating Georgiana Darcy to main character, there was Presumption: An Entertainment, by Julia Barrett (1993). Of all of the minor characters in Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy’s younger sister is the logical choice to continue the story. She has many points in her favor. Being young, beautiful, wealthy, and accomplished she is certainly heroine material—and living at Pemberley with her brother Fitzwilliam and sister-in-law Elizabeth does not hurt either.

The first Pride and Prejudice sequel ever published, Pemberley Shades (1949), also continued her story. What could go wrong in this scenario you ask? Well plenty, if the author takes the liberties that Barrett does—but that does not mean the story is not enjoyable—if you can abide change, and the characters acting in a conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, or lady. I will hint that the title Presumption foreshadows more than mirroring Austen’s use of verbs in her own titles.

Published the same year as another early Austenesque sequel, Pemberley: or Pride and Prejudice Continued, by Emma Tennant, Austen fans must have been agog to see two books available at the same time. Since there were very few Austenesque novels before them, and even fewer still in print, they were forging virgin territory. It appears that the media was surprised too and Presumption received some early rave reviews: “An elegant emulation and continuation of Pride and Prejudice. . . . Jointly composed by two admirers of Jane Austen, the book often achieves crisp replication of her style. . . . Presumption shows how sequel-writing can, like parody, be a sharp exercise in literary appreciation.”—Peter Kemp, Times Literary Supplement. Wow! Any author would be thrilled to receive such praise from the esteemed London newspaper that Austen mentions in P&P and read herself. In the pursuit of more back story I read reviews at Amazon.com. They are more recent, but the general public was more critical and at times abusive. This was not surprising considering that someone was tinkering with Austen and her beloved characters.

Presumption An Entertainment, by Julia Barrett (1995)I first read Presumption in 1999, and like Pemberley: of Pride and Prejudice Continued, my first impressions were not as favorable as I had hoped. As I explained in my previous review of the later, you must put yourself into the shoes of a reader pre-P&P 1995 (Austen Renaissance), because everything in the Jane Austen universe changed dramatically after the airing of the A&E/BBC mini-series starring Colin Firth. It altered the way we think of her as an author and introduced her writing to many new readers—now primed and ready to consume anything Austen related—including the new burgeoning Austenesque sequel genre. In this year of Pride and Prejudice’s 200th anniversary of publication, in addiction to re-reading the novel, I wanted to re-visit many of the early sequels.  So here we are—and back to Georgiana Darcy and her romances.

On the eve of Georgiana’s coming out ball, we are reintroduced to many of the original characters from Pride and Prejudice, and a few new ones too. It has been two years since the marriage of Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. The couple is very happily married, but because of her previous social standing, Mrs. Darcy feels the slight of relations and Society, and is overcompensating by elaborate plans for Georgiana’s coming out party at Pemberley. Mr. Darcy is focused on improvements to his estate and has hired a young architect James Leigh-Cooper who has arrived and is staying at Pemberley for the duration. Also on the guest list are Darcy’s imperious aunt Lady Catherine de Bourgh and her sickly daughter Ann who have chosen to stay with family friend and neighbor, Sir Geoffrey Portland of Denby Park, while they are in Derbyshire. The majority of the story involves Georgiana’s choice of suitors while orbiting characters such as Elizabeth’s married sisters Lydia Wickham and her husband George, Jane, husband Charles, and his sister Caroline Bingley and others.

While Barrett writes in a style of the period, it is at the same time modern and accessible. I found myself laughing quite frequently at not only her wit , but at  her blunders. She trips up on facts quite frequently that readers in 1993 may not have caught, but modern and more savvy Austen readers today will notice in a flash: Georgiana is 17, and should be 19 according to my calculations; Elizabeth is called both Lizzy and Lizzie (oh my); and other tidbits that I will let you discover. Just let them pass and enjoy the story. Unfortunately, Barrett broke the cardinal rule of Austenesque fanfiction: do not, DO NOT, have Austen’s character acting outside their established personalities. (Spoilers: avert your eyes and skip if you are squeamish. Elizabeth’s Aunt Phillips, obliging hostess and head gossip of Meryton, is imprisoned for theft? And, Caroline Bingley, who strove every day to be higher in her station, elopes with a penniless scoundrel?) Yes, characters can change and grow emotionally, but within reason, please. The plot is rather thin, and blunders aside, my second reading improved my opinion over-all. As an early effort I admire Barrett’s bravery and wit. But, in comparison to the four recent Georgiana sequels mentioned at the top of this review, Presumption lives up to everything that its title alludes to.

3 out of 5 Regency Stars

Presumption: An Entertainment: A Sequel to Pride and Prejudice, by Julia Barrett
University of Chicago Press (2nd ed 1995)
Trade paperback (238) pages
ISBN: 978-0226038131

Cover image courtesy University of Chicago Press © 1995; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2013, Austenprose

The Passions of Dr. Darcy, by Sharon Lathan – A Review

The Passions of Mr. Darcy, by Sharon Lathan © 2013 SourcebooksFrom the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder

Some series are just too good to let go, whether they be movies, TV, or books. Sharon Lathan’s Darcy Saga, inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, is one such series. I’ve had the pleasure of reading all six of the previous novels, and I was sure that book seven, The Passions of Dr. Darcy, would not disappoint me in the least. So, without further ado, I sat down and began to read about another member of the Darcy family: Uncle George.

While a young Master Fitzwilliam Darcy is enjoying his childhood at Pemberley, another member of the Darcy family is out making a name for himself in the world. Dr. George Darcy, Fitzwilliam’s bright and engaging uncle, has quickly become noted around the countryside as one of the greatest physicians in the area. He enjoys all the attention, but becomes restless and decides to make a drastic change that will take him away from all the rich and bland clientele he is used to. So, he sets off on an assignment with the British East India Company, which at the time had expanded far and wide into the Indian subcontinent. Excited to take on this new opportunity, Dr. Darcy then embarks on a journey that is full of wonder and experiences that will last forever. He then returns after many years and recounts his tales to the now older Fitzwilliam Darcy, his wife Elizabeth, and their family. We join in the experience as Dr. Darcy describes the adventures which have shaped him into the gentleman he is today.

Let me start by saying that I was definitely excited to read this book as I knew that it was an epic story. I’m a big fan of overarching story lines that span a lot of space and time, such as The Odyssey, Great Expectations, Les Miserables, and the Outlander series. This piece was a great addition, as we travel across every reach of the Indian subcontinent for over 30 years with George, exploring its vibrant and rich history and the intriguing characters that he meets along the way.

Lathan is an expert in character development, as I’ve alluded to in my reviews of her prior works, so I expected no different when I read the extraordinary highs and lows that George experiences in his time there. Particularly poignant were the joys and sorrows he feels when finding and losing love, and we laugh and grieve along with him. The best part about George’s journeys are that they take him from being a slightly arrogant and sure-footed doctor to a man who discovers that there is so much more to life than the small sliver that he has previously experienced in England. He lets these new journeys mold him into a wise and caring man who enriches the lives of those whom he meets through his gift of medicine. His travels soften his rough edges and make him into the kind of man that Fitzwilliam can hope to be in his own future.

In short, Lathan has made a touching story of a man who finds himself in India. It was a journey which I was happy to take and I expected no different from a work penned by Lathan. I’m so glad that I got to read this installment of the Darcy saga and this is definitely a work to add to your own lists.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Passions of Dr. Darcy, by Sharon Lathan
Sourcebooks (2013)
Trade paperback (432) pages
ISBN: 9781402273490

Cover image courtesy of Sourcebooks © 2013; text © 2013 Kimberly Denny-Ryder, Austenprose

The Bad Miss Bennet: A Novel, by Jean Burnett – A Review

The Bad Miss Bennet: A Novel, by Jean Burnett (2012)From the desk of Jeffrey Ward

In a continuation of Pride and Prejudice, we revisit the former Miss Lydia Bennet who, to avoid total disgrace, has married Mr. Wickham, that rake-hell and tormenter of Mr. Darcy.  As she embarks on her latest quest, we read from Mrs. Wickham’s personal journal as she lists her ‘modest’ goals in life:

 “My wants in life have always been modest. A few pretty gowns, a sprinkling of diamonds, a matching pair of footmen (so, so fashionable) and of course a respectable roof over my head, some land and a handsome, attentive wealthy husband.  These are the dreams of any well brought up female.  I cannot imagine how they became entangled with outlaws, royal plots, and fraudulent bankers…”

Mr. Wickham has recently perished at Waterloo and the widowed Lydia, chafing under her enforced mourning period, takes up in London with best friend Selena and her dim-witted army husband, Miles.  She begins her ambitious quest by teaming with these friends to practice the one useful skill her late husband taught her: Cheating wealthy patrons out of money at card parties.

Told in the first person narrative, Lydia’s reckless sojourn takes her from Pemberley to Longbourn to Brighton to London to Bath, to Paris to Italy, and finally to ________, not necessarily in that exact order.  Along the way, she is manipulated like a chess pawn by a silly lord, a crooked banker, a handsome highwayman, Selena and Miles, Lydia’s personal maid Adelaide, a Viennese Count, Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, a wealthy widow companion, a mysterious English officer, an overweight pug, Princess Caroline, and the Prince Regent himself. Sounds complicated? Yes indeed.

As a disgraced woman refusing to repent of her immoral ways there is no place to go but DOWN.  And ‘down’ she goes with the highwayman, the Viennese Count, almost with the royal banker, and with none other than His Royal Highness the Prince Regent.  The author thankfully spares us the sordid details of these sexual escapades other than to describe the bloated Prince’s pathetic but hilarious bedroom encounter with our anti-heroine.

In one encounter, Lydia returns to Pemberley to finagle an allowance out of her brother-in-law, Mr. Darcy.  As a Jane Austen purist, I took exception with the author’s portrayal of Darcy, Elizabeth, and Georgiana, as deviating away from what I consider Miss Austen’s original artistic intent.  Lydia resents Mr. Darcy’s moralizing and describes how his eyes bug out and he grits his teeth when upset.  My dear author: Please note that Colin Firth’s eyes do NOT bug out.

This reader kept looking for that romance which never fully materialized although Lydia admitted to being smitten by the highway man.  So, this story is primarily an adventure in which the clueless Lydia, similar to the character of Forrest Gump, inadvertently impacts everyone and everything around her as she is haplessly swept along into one ridiculous situation after another.

In the first few chapters I began to wonder “where’s this going?” However, warming quickly to the author’s style, I began to enjoy the journalistic escapade much more than wondering where it was leading to.  The author commands a formidable vocabulary which is skillfully exercised in her urgent, vivid writing style.  Within Lydia’s adventure is interwoven part of the historical account of the feud between the Prince Regent and the exiled Princess Caroline.

Other than objecting to the author’s unflattering treatment of the Darcys at Pemberley, only the finish left me vaguely dissatisfied.  If the author indeed plans a sequel, then the open-ended conclusion works, but if no sequel is forthcoming, then the book ends abruptly without resolution – like a door slamming in the reader’s face.

Nevertheless, I was suitably entertained by savoring the harrowing exploits of our anti-heroine along with her cast of colorful but unsavory accomplices and antagonists.  It was a fun read and I’m hoping for some sort of resolution in a sequel.

3.5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Bad Miss Bennet: A Novel, by Jean Burnett
Pegasus (2012)
Hardcover (272) pages
ISBN:  978-1605983721

© 2012 Jeffrey Ward, Austenprose

Preview & Excerpt of The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, by Syrie James

The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, by Syrie James (2012)Gentle readers: Here is a special treat for you today. Author Syrie James has graciously offered an exclusive sneak peek to Austenprose readers of an excerpt of her new Austen-inspired novel, The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, which releases on December 31st.

I have had the pleasure of reading the entire novel and I can share with you that you have a great treat ahead of you. Here is a brief description of this exciting new book from the author of The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen and The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte.

Samantha McDonough cannot believe her eyes—or her luck. Tucked in an uncut page of a two-hundred-year old poetry book is a letter she believes was written by Jane Austen, mentioning with regret a manuscript that “went missing at Greenbriar in Devonshire.” Could there really be an undiscovered Jane Austen novel waiting to be found? Could anyone resist the temptation to go looking for it?

Making her way to the beautiful, centuries-old Greenbriar estate, Samantha finds it no easy task to sell its owner, the handsome yet uncompromising Anthony Whitaker, on her wild idea of searching for a lost Austen work—until she mentions its possible million dollar value.

After discovering the unattributed manuscript, Samantha and Anthony are immediately absorbed in the story of Rebecca Stanhope, daughter of a small town rector, who is about to encounter some bittersweet truths about life and love. As they continue to read the newly discovered tale from the past, a new one unfolds in the present—a story that just might change both of their lives forever.

We will also have the honor of hosting Syrie’s launch party for The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen right here on Austenprose.com on Monday, December 31, 2012. Syrie will be sharing her inspiration and insights into writing her new novel, discussing characters, and of course Jane Austen’s influence. So be sure to mark your calendars — there will be great giveaway prizes and fun conversation. It is the perfect way to ring in the New Year with one of our favorite Austenesque authors. Now, on to the excerpt. Enjoy!

How It Began

The minute I saw the letter, I knew it was hers.

There was no mistaking it: the salutation, the tiny, precise handwriting, the date, the content itself, all confirmed its ancient status and authorship.

I came upon it entirely by accident. It lay buried between the pages of a very old book of eighteenth-century British poetry that I’d found at a used bookstore in Oxford—an impulsive purchase I’d made to add to my library back home and to keep me company during a few days of sightseeing in England.

It was to be a quick trip—less than a week. When I’d learned that my boyfriend, Dr. Stephen Theodore, was attending a medical conference in London, I hadn’t been able to resist tagging along. Although I knew he’d be tied up almost the entire time, it was a great excuse to do some touring on my own. My first stop was Oxford, the site of my unfinished education. I still felt pangs about having to abandon my doctoral studies in English literature, and returning to the “city of dreaming spires” filled me with nostalgia. I’d spent a lovely June afternoon and evening exploring my favorite old haunts—wishing, every step of the way, that I could have shared them with Stephen—but we kept in constant touch via e-mail, phone, and text.

I’d found the book in a dusty pile on a shop’s back table, unappreciated and ignored. I could see why. It wasn’t the prettiest of volumes. It was still in its original, temporary binding—the pages hastily sewn together inside a cheap, cardboardlike cover, with the title printed on a tiny paper label pasted on the spine. The publication date was missing, but I judged the book to be at least two hundred years old.

I didn’t have a chance to really study my new treasure until the morning after I’d bought it. I awoke to grey and stormy skies, and after a leisurely English breakfast at my B&B, I decided to wait out the rain with a cup of coffee in my cozy little room. I sank down into a comfortable chair by the window, turned on the old-fashioned lamp, and carefully opened the aging volume.

The pages at the beginning were brown and soiled at the edges, but as I went further in they became clean and white, with only a light brown speckling in the margins. I slowly thumbed through the volume, smiling at the familiar, much-loved poems set in antique type. The edges of the pages were ragged where the original owner had used a knife to cut open the folds. Near the end of the book, I noticed that a few pages hadn’t been cut, but were still joined at the edge, creating a kind of pocket. I borrowed a letter opener from the B&B proprietor and gently sliced open the remaining pages. To my surprise, tucked in between the leaves of the last pocket, I discovered a single sheet of paper neatly folded into envelope shape and size.

I opened it. It was an unfinished letter. The paper was of substantial weight and bore a watermark and the distinctive ribbing from the paper molds of yesteryear. The ink was black-brown. The date and elegant cursive hand proclaimed that it had been written by quill. I read the greeting, and my heart jumped. With disbelieving eyes, I read it through.

Tuesday 3 September 1816

My dearest Cassandra,

Thank you for your Letter, which was truly welcome. I am much obliged to you for writing so soon after your arrival, and for sharing the particulars of your Lodgings, which I suspect provided far more entertainment for the reader, than for the writer.—Although your Bedroom sounds comfortable enough, I am sorry you had no fire, and am appalled that Mrs. Potter thinks to charge three Guineas a week for such a place! Cheltenham is clearly to be preferred in May! Your Pelisse is no doubt very happy it made the journey, for it will be much worn. I hope Mary gains more benefit from the waters than I did. Do let me know how she gets on. We are well here. The illness which I suffered at the time of your going has very kindly taken its leave, without so much as a good-bye, and I am happy to say that my back has given me very little pain the past few days. I am nursing myself into as beautiful a state as I can, so as to better enjoy Edward’s visit. He is a great pleasure to me. He is writing a Novel—We have all heard it, and it is very good and clever. I believe it could be a first-rate work, if only he can bring himself to finish it.

Listening to Edward’s composition has put me in something of a melancholy state and given rise to Feelings I had thought long got over, and of which I may give vent only to you. I promise to indulge for no more than five minutes.—It brings to mind that early Manuscript of my own, which went missing at Greenbriar in Devonshire. Even at a distance of fourteen years, I cannot help but think of it with a pang of fondness, sorrow, and regret, as one would a lost child.—Do you recall my theory as to how it came to be lost? I still maintain that it was all vanity, nonsense, and wounded pride. I should never have read it out to you that night during our stay but kept it safe with all the others—although we did have a good laugh! (What banner years for me—two Proposals!) It is tragic that I had only the one Copy.—And yet perhaps it was simply fate, and it was never meant to be seen. You did persuade me to tell no one about it while I was writing it, and you were right; it might indeed have troubled that most valued member of our family. Every time I thought of trying to write it out again, something happened to prevent it—all our travels—so difficult, you will recall, to work at Sydney Place—and then papa died, and it was quite impossible. To recall it now from memory would prove to be a task beyond my power. I have been inspired, however. Yesterday, I sat down and poked fun at my poor, lost creation with a piece of foolishness I call Plan Of A Novel. It is in part what I remember of that Story, embellished with hints from Fanny and others who have been kind enough to suggest what I ought to write next. I hope it will make you laugh.—Which reminds me. To-night, we are to drink tea with

It ended there—a fragment, unfinished, and unsigned.

Hands trembling, I read the letter a second time, and a third. There was only one person who could have written that letter; one person, and she happened to be one of the most famous and beloved authors of all time: Jane Austen. That she was my personal favorite author—that I had studied her life and work in detail, and that she had inspired the topic of my never-completed dissertation—only added to my astonishment and excitement.

If this was authentic—and I felt in my bones that it was—then I had come upon something extremely rare and valuable. Jane’s sister Cassandra, shortly before her death, had burned most of her correspondence with Jane, or expunged those parts she preferred to keep private, before giving them as mementos to her nieces and nephews. Some 161 letters survived and had been published—and I was certain this was not among them. This was something new.

End of excerpt. Be sure to join us on December 31 for all of the festivities!!!

The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, by Syrie James
Berkley Trade (2012)
Trade paperback (432) pages
ISBN: 978-0425253366

© 2012 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Mr. Darcy’s Refuge: A Pride & Prejudice Variation, by Abigail Reynolds – A Review

Mr/ Darcy's Refuge, by Abigail Reynolds (2012)From the desk of Lisa Galek

What if, during their disastrous first proposal, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet were hit by a real disaster – a flash flood that trapped them together in Hunsford Parsonage? How would they respond? How would they survive together? And would they still, against all odds, learn to love one another?

Many Austen fans will by now be familiar with Abigail Reynolds’ series, The Pemberley Variations, a group of novels which reimagine how the events of Pride and Prejudice might have been different if only one or two details were changed. In the ninth installment, Mr. Darcy’s Refuge, Darcy travels to Hunsford Parsonage to propose to Elizabeth, but this time, he makes his way through a rainstorm. After he finishes confessing his love for Elizabeth and, in the process, insulting her family, Elizabeth begins to refuse him when disaster strikes. The storm outside has become a deluge, flooding Hunsford, forcing the villagers up to the high ground of the parsonage, and blocking the road to Rosings. Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are now trapped together in this house, forced to care for Mr. Collins’ parishioners and to live together in this painfully awkward situation until the flood waters recede.

I don’t think it’s giving away too much to say that by the time the weather improves, these two have come together (Darcy and Elizabeth will always find a way), but then other obstacles begin to stack against them. Though Mr. Darcy is not reliant on his family’s support, they all heap their disapproval on him anyway. Lady Catherine makes an appearance to register her annoyance with the marriage, while her brother, the Earl of Matlock (Colonel Fitzwilliam’s father) appears on the scene and offends everyone with his crude suggestions about the couple’s engagement. Mr. Bennet also makes his way through the flood waters to condemn the match (Mr. Darcy has not asked his permission, after all) and then spends the rest of the novel attempting to forbid his most favored daughter from marrying Mr. Darcy.

If it seems odd to you that Mr. Bennet would become the major obstacle between his daughter and Darcy, then we are in complete agreement. I spent quite a bit of the story wondering how the author had managed to transform Elizabeth’s teasing, apathetic father into an ignorant, unreasonable tyrant bent on keeping his beloved daughter from happiness. To explain this, there is some new backstory introduced linking Mr. Bennet with the ruthless Earl of Matlock during their school days, but even that seems far-fetched. We are told that Mr. Bennet was mercilessly bullied by Matlock, and that, now, Mr. Bennet wants his daughter to have nothing to do with this horrible man’s nephew. Never mind that Darcy repeatedly insists that he cannot stand his uncle (even the man’s wife and son loathe and avoid him). Mr. Bennet will not budge. However, he’s still fine with sending Lydia off to Brighton to flirt with all the officers. Go figure.

Like some of the other books in The Pemberley Variations series, there’s quite a bit of sex going on in this one (though mostly it’s just characters talking about their intense desire and trying desperately not to have pre-marital sex). Mr. Darcy, for example, can barely contain himself most of the time he’s around Elizabeth. In fact, part of what he’s looking forward to about marrying her is that at last she’ll be his – all his! At certain times, his thoughts take a less gentlemanlike turn:

Thank God [Darcy] had insisted on purchasing that cloak for [Elizabeth]. It had not kept her dry, but from the quick glimpse of her wet dress when she removed the cloak, it was probably all that had preserved his sanity. If he had held her across his saddle in nothing but a clinging, near transparent dress that hid little of what was beneath it, he doubted he could have been held accountable for his actions. Even imagining it made his blood run hot.

Darcy also stares at Elizabeth while she sleeps, which, aside from being creepy, reminds me of something I once read in a certain popular vampire romance.

Overall though, the writing is good throughout. The dialogue is witty and truly Austen-esque in some places. Aside from some of these character issues that seemed a bit too much of a variation for my taste, the story is intriguing and has enough new twists and turns to keep us guessing as to how it will turn out this time. The flood provides all kinds of opportunity for drama and intrigue and for Mr. Darcy to act the hero. Some of the new characters like the Earl of Matlock and Jenny, an orphan girl who is injured in the flood, are a nice addition to the Pride and Prejudice world.

So, if you enjoy these “What if?” questions and don’t mind seeing Jane Austen’s characters a bit out of their natural element, you might want to give Mr. Darcy’s Refuge a try.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Mr. Darcy’s Refuge: A Pride & Prejudice Variation, by Abigail Reynolds
White Soup Press (2012)
Trade paperback (238) pages
ISBN: 978-0615669755
Kindle: ASIN: B00919X9CW
NOOK: BN ID: 2940015170801

© 2012, Lisa Galek, Austenprose