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