Emma and Elizabeth: A story based on The Watsons by Jane Austen, by Ann Mychal – A Review

Emma and Elizabeth Ann Mychal 2014 x 200From the desk of Jenny Haggerty:

For those who love Jane Austen’s novels her early death is a tragedy we feel anew each time we contemplate the scant space she takes up on our bookshelves. What Austen fan doesn’t long for more than six completed novels, especially since she left behind several tantalizing story fragments? Of these Sanditon is the most polished. Austen was working on it as a mature author shortly before she died, but it’s an earlier fragment, The Watsons, that has one of my favorite scenes in all of Austen’s work. Emma Watson’s exuberant dance with 10 year old Charles Blake caught the eye of every man at the winter assembly and won my heart. Though Austen never finished Emma’s story, her sister Cassandra knew what she planned, and several authors, including Austen’s niece, have written endings. Ann Mychal’s version titled Emma and Elizabeth intrigued me because Elizabeth is Emma’s older sister. I was eager to read an adaptation featuring both sisters.

Mychal’s opening is wonderfully Austenesque: “When a young woman, on whom every comfort in life is bestowed has the misfortune to inhabit a neighborhood in which peace and harmony reign, her ability to perceive and understand the world must be diminished and, consequently, in need of adjustment.” Emma’s adjustments start as the book begins. After years of living with her wealthy uncle and aunt she is returning to the family of her birth whom she hasn’t seen since her mother died when she was five. Though their father was ever dutiful to his parishioners, the other Watson children lived like orphans, with eldest sister Elizabeth shouldering the drudgery of caring for them all.

Emma however was raised with the undivided loving attention of her guardians and every advantage their wealth could offer her. She learned to ride, draw, sew, speak French, and play the pianoforte well enough to be considered accomplished, but tragedy struck again when her uncle dies. Grief rushed Emma’s aunt into a second marriage, and Emma was sent to join her siblings.

Before arriving home, Emma’s coach is waylaid by rock throwing rioters and she faints into the arms of Lord Osborne. In spite of his gallantry Emma is unimpressed because Osborne has stiff speech and awkward manners. Emma is equally unmoved by popular Tom Musgrave’s charms, though her sister Elizabeth enjoys bantering with him. But Emma is smitten when she meets upright Mr. Howard, known for his long sermons. When Howard’s widowed sister invites Emma to stay at their house, Elizabeth is as thrilled as Emma. Though the sisters were raised in very different circumstances, Emma and Elizabeth are truly fond of each other.

The visit brings Emma into frequent contact with Lord Osborne, but Emma’s low assessment of him doesn’t change, in spite of his obvious interest in her and his kind attentions to young Charles Blake. Emma longs for a match with serious Mr. Howard, so when teased about Osborne by Tom Musgrave she gives her unguarded negative opinion with all the blunt confidence her privileged background has afforded her. Emma cares deeply about doing what’s right. She’s adjusting to her new circumstances and helping Elizabeth with chores, but her upbringing has given her the appearance of an heiress and everyone in the neighborhood assumes she will inherit her late uncle’s fortune. How will Lord Osborne and Mr. Howard react when they discover she’s penniless?

It surprised me at first that Mychal doesn’t start with Austen’s fragment, which is interspersed throughout the text in italics. Mychal writes scenes that precede Austen’s events, and though initially unsure about that, I ended up appreciating the rich, layered story Mychal creates, especially the way she develops characters and backstories Austen could only touch on. There is Miss Carr, a highly entertaining young woman with a Caroline Bingley determination to marry Lord Osborne, and Tom Musgrave with a rakish charm that’s hard to resist. Also fleshed out are Emma’s ever quarreling sisters Margaret and Penelope, her self-important brother Robert, and her needy invalid father, but as befits the title it is Emma’s cheerful, spirited, devoted sister Elizabeth who, though she had none of Emma’s advantages, almost steals the show.

I love that the story incorporates current events, but felt mildly cheated that the ending cut away before all the lovers fully declared their passions–readers learn how the relationships resolve in a somewhat confusing last chapter that takes place years in the future. But that’s a minor quibble, and Mychal’s book has some final, ultimately delightful, surprises because her ending is unlike the one Cassandra Austen said her sister had imagined. Mychal discusses her choices in an interesting afterward, and this reader ended up enjoying her book immensely.

★★★★★ 5 out of 5 Stars

Emma and Elizabeth: A story based on The Watsons by Jane Austen, by Ann Mychal
J. G. Books (2014)
Trade paperback & eBook (306) pages
ISBN: 978-0992879501
ASIN: B00L6GLEPM

Cover image courtesy of J. G. Books © 2014; text Jenny Haggerty © 2014, Austenprose.com

Disclosure of Material Connection: We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Remember the Past…only as it gives you pleasure, by Maria Grace – A Review

Remember the Past by Maria Grace 2014 x 200From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder:

Complete re-imaginings of Jane Austen’s novels are always interesting fan-fiction works to read. There are essentially no rules or paths that the characters must follow. One of my favorites has been Darcy’s Voyage by Kara Louise. I enjoy how creative some authors get in the trials and tribulations they make their characters endure. With that being said, I was excited to read a new re-imagining of Pride and Prejudice entitled Remember the Past by Maria Grace. With how much I enjoyed Grace’s Given Good Principles series, I knew I was in for a treat.

The Bennet family thought they had everything one would need for a successful season in London. Elizabeth’s father, Admiral Thomas Bennet, has just retired from the navy with a sizable income, and his friends in high places should provide them with enough social standing to make the challenges of entry into London’s high society a non-event. Not all goes as planned, however, when a disaster forces them to flee from the riches of London to the mundane existence of Derbyshire. How can they ever survive such an abysmal area with no one of interest around?

Enter Fitzwilliam Darcy, a widower who finds all of his time devoted to taking care of his two sons. He despises the intrusion that the Bennet family has forced upon his life, and his sons’ insistence on going to meet the Bennet twins makes his aggravation rise to new heights. That is,  until he meets Elizabeth, who seems to hold a certain spell on his consciousness. His efforts to help and assist the Bennet family go horribly awry at first, and Darcy finds himself in a deeper hole than when he began to make their acquaintance. Will he be able to see himself out of this mess?

First of all, I really enjoyed Grace’s creative take on the tale. I thought it was interesting that Lizzie and Jane were the only Bennet sisters, and that there were two twin brothers from Mr. Bennet’s second marriage. I liked that there were still traces of Austen’s Mr. Bennet, but there was a freshness brought to his character that was intriguing. Additionally, while Austen’s influence was still present with other characters, it was nice to see a Lady Catherine stripped of her usual officious demeanor and Jane bolstered with more confidence and an outspoken personality. Seeing Lady Catherine dote on Darcy, and imagining Darcy as a father was endearing, even without Elizabeth as the mother of the children (the late Anne de Bourgh was their mother.)

Despite all these changes, take heart that not everything falls far away from Austen purism. Darcy still sees himself as needing to take care of everyone, Elizabeth is still witty and outspoken, and Mr. Bennet is still at times aloof. Fear not, Wickham is still around, and he manages to get in trouble even without Lydia. Grace sprinkles in enough of the familiar, while still allowing room for change and growth to highlight her creativity and abilities in weaving a tale. I believe that this is what she does best, blend old and new together to create a story that has the framework of Austen and her characters, but contains enough new and exciting content to keep me turning the pages. Yes, there were a few moments where I believed the story needed tightening, but overall it was a great read that pulled me in. For those that enjoy a classic Jane Austen re-imagining this is a no-brainer. Grace’s style is not to be missed.

4 out of 5 Stars

Remember the Past…only as it gives you pleasure, by Maria Grace
White Soup Press (2014)
Trade paperback & eBook (316) pages
ISBN: 978-0692263174
ASIN: B00M3MENT2

Additional Reviews:

Diary of an Eccentric

Cover image courtesy of White Soup Press © 2014; text Kimberly Denny-Ryder © 2014, Austenprose.com

Disclosure of Material Connection: We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Unexpected Earl, by Philippa Jane Keyworth – A Review 

The Unexpected Earl , by Philippa Jane Keyworth (2014)From the desk of Katie Patchell: 

Imagine the scene: A woman and man meet in the entryway to a glittering ballroom—full of dancing couples, flickering candles, and the faraway strains of violins. The couple locks eyes, and with that meaningful, tension-filled glance, the man bends down and kisses the woman’s glove.

This seems to be the opening scene of a promising new romance, does it not? But this is not truly the beginning of a romance, but the finale that is six long years overdue. Or is it? In The Unexpected Earl, Philippa Jane Keyworth’s latest Regency novel, readers discover a story of second chances, romantic entanglements, and the rediscovery of true love that is reminiscent of Jane Austen’s beloved novel, Persuasion.

Julia Rotherham is prepared to play the various roles of wallflower, dutiful sister, and old maid at her beautiful younger sister’s coming-out ball. Everything goes according to plan until she comes face to face with the one man she hates with every fiber of her being, the man she’s spent every day for the past six years trying to forget: Lucius Wolversley. Six years ago Julia had given him her heart and accepted his offer of marriage, but shortly afterwards he had broken off the engagement without an explanation and disappeared from her life, breaking her heart and destroying her dreams in the process.

When Lucius Wolversley’s friend persuades him to leave his estate and account books to grace Almack’s with his presence, he agrees, thinking that he’ll have a boring and uneventful evening. But when the carriage stops in front of a private residence instead, Wolversley is shocked to discover that the ball his friend tricked him into attending is at the one place he has spent six years avoiding—the home of Julia Rotherham, the woman he once loved and then jilted. Forced into a confrontation with his ex-fiancée, he discovers her to be as beautiful and hotheaded as ever, and what he never expected her to be—bitter and single.

As Julia finds herself spending more and more time with Wolversley, she concocts a plan to prove if he ever loved her, and if not, to force him to leave: by pretending she’s in love with another man. But when her plan backfires and Julia and Wolversley are forced into a binding relationship, can they set aside their anger long enough for the truth to be revealed about what really happened six years ago? And when both of their sisters are in danger, will Wolversley and Julia be able to work together to rescue them, and on the journey discover that they still could have a future together?

While it did take me many re-readings and talks with Persuasion admirers to learn to love Jane Austen’s classic, I’ve always enjoyed the type of romance found in both Persuasion and The Unexpected Earl. The fact that the characters are seen six years after their initial relationship is unusual, but it made this novel original and the romance heartwarming. The themes of past separation, steadfast love, and triumphant restoration of all that was previously lost were themes I recognized from Persuasion, and as with Jane Austen’s classic, this pattern was perfected in The Unexpected Earl.

Ironically, the only thing I didn’t like about The Unexpected Earl was also what I liked most about the novel. Because the story was set six years later, the excitement of the initial “falling in love” stage as well as the broken engagement had already occurred prior to page one. While I enjoyed reading the Persuasion style romantic storyline, I missed seeing what the hero and heroine were like before their heartbreak, and as the novel went on I found myself wishing I could see more about their past as neighbors, childhood friends, and then young sweethearts beyond the few tantalizing glimpses the reader is given.

Overall, the setting of the story, romantic suspense, and Julia and Wolversley’s relationship—specifically their journey of forgiveness and love after so much pain—was well written and made The Unexpected Earl impossible to put down. I was hooked from the very first page with my introduction to the brooding, secretive Lucius Wolversley, but as soon as I met the impulsive, hurting Julia Rotherham I knew that this would be a love story that would pull my heartstrings. And it did—The Unexpected Earl made me cry, laugh, and on finishing, immediately recommend it to my friends. This was a joy to read, and is a Regency novel that will delight Jane Austen fans, particularly lovers of Persuasion.

4.5 out of 5 Stars

The Unexpected Earl, by Philippa Jane Keyworth
Madison Street Publishing (2014)
Trade paperback & eBook (322) pages
ISBN: 978-0983671985
ASIN: B00MUFP0BM

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Cover image courtesy of Madison Street Publishing © 2014; text Katie Patchell © 2014, Austenprose.com 

Disclosure of Material Connection: We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Jane Austen’s Worthing: The Real Sanditon, by Antony Edmonds – A Review

Jane Austen's Worthing, by Antony Edmonds 2014From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

Jane Austen sequels thrive on what ifs. What if Darcy’s first proposal had been delivered in a more gentlemanly manner? What if Willoughby had decided to marry for love instead of money? Jane Austen’s unfinished novel, Sanditon, is a different kind of literary “what if” for her fans. The eleven chapters Austen penned in early 1817 introduce readers to a fictional seaside resort with as promising a set of characters as any of her other novels. As Antony Edmonds notes in the introduction to Jane Austen’s Worthing: The Real Sanditon:

“In spite of the fact that during its composition she was suffering from the painful and debilitating illness that killed her, there is little evidence of any diminution of her powers, and had the book been finished it is likely that it would have been the equal of her six famous novels.” (10)

While other authors have taken up the challenge of completing the unfinished story, Edmonds, a researcher and writer who has published numerous articles about the seaside town of Worthing and its literary associations, reveals the parallels between Jane Austen’s fictional town and the real one on the Sussex coast in England that she visited in 1805. As Edmonds explains, researchers have only recently known for certain that Jane Austen visited Worthing. Her letters mention the possibility of a visit, but no further reference is made of the trip. Confirmation of the visit was found in the diaries and letters of Jane Austen’s niece Fanny Knight. Jane Austen’s Worthing includes excerpts from these documents as well as seventy-five illustrations and maps that provide a detailed view of life in Regency Worthing.

Central to Edmonds’ argument for Worthing being the inspiration for Sanditon are the similarities of the town’s great house, Warwick House, to the fictional Trafalgar House described by Austen as “a light elegant Building, standing in a small Lawn with a very young plantation round it.” Illustrations of Warwick House demonstrate these similarities, as does the general layout of the town. The majority of the illustrations are architectural sketches, watercolors, engravings, and photographs that bring Regency Worthing to life.

The owner of Warwick House was Edward Ogle, an energetic speculator and developer, who likely inspired the character of Mr. Parker. Ogle was active in the management of Worthing and put great effort into attracting “select society” to the new resort. A compelling piece of the Worthing-Sanditon connection is found in a letter from Jane to Cassandra who was staying in London in November 1813:

“Sweet Mr Ogle. I dare say he sees all the Panoramas for nothing, has free-admittance everywhere; he is so delightful! – Now, you need not see anybody else.” (6)

While the passage is “tantalizingly brief,” it does suggest that Jane and her sister were on relaxed and agreeable terms with Ogle and had maintained friendships with him that began with their first acquaintance in 1805 at Worthing.

The scene of this possible first meeting of Austen and Ogle forms one of my favorite passages from the book. Edmonds explains the social importance of libraries in the small resort towns of this era:

“Since well-bred ladies would not have ventured into the town’s inns, the main locations for social interaction were the town’s two libraries, Spooner’s in the Colonnade, almost opposite Stanford’s Cottage, and Stafford’s Marine Library…” (49)

Beside their primary function of lending books, libraries also kept copies of London newspapers, conducted raffles, and often served as post offices. As a bibliophile, I enjoyed the thought of Austen frequenting the local library during her visit, enjoying the good company of “clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation” that Anne Elliot describes in Persuasion.

It appears that competition for well-bred clientele in Worthing was fierce. As the town grew, a rivalry between John Mackoull, the owner of the new Apollo Music and Classical Library, and Edward Ogle, owner of Spooner’s in the Colonnade, turned into an ugly vendetta against Olge by Mackoull, whom the author describes as a “volatile reformed criminal.” Edmonds does not shrink from telling the stories of Worthing residents and visitors that “are very different from the decorous world of Jane Austen’s novels, and fleshes out for us the underbelly of…the ‘select society’ of the time.” (112) These notables include Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, and a certain Colonel Berkeley, described as a “louche nobleman and part-time actor with a passion for young actresses.”

I found Jane Austen’s Worthing to be a well balanced and carefully researched work. It is much more than a virtual historical walking tour through an English seaside resort. As the book is based on the author’s original article published in The Jane Austen Society Report for 2010, it does have a scholarly tone that may not appeal to some readers. However, if you enjoyed reading Sanditon, have an interest in architecture or history, or are just curious about some of the less savory aspects of Regency society, I would recommend taking this trip to Worthing.

4 out of 5 Stars

Jane Austen’s Worthing: The Real Sanditon, by Antony Edmonds
Amberley Publishing (2014)
Digital eBook (232) pages
ASIN: B00IASW9YE

Cover image courtesy of Amberley Publishing © 2014; text Tracy Hickman © 2014, Austenprose.com

Disclosure of Material Connection: We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen: A Novel, by Shannon Winslow – A Review 

The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen, by Shannon Winslow (2014)From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder:

It seems to be a great injustice indeed that we, as lovers of all things Jane Austen, spend such a small percentage of our time thinking about Jane’s own love life, as we are instead wrapped up in the lives of her amazingly-created characters. With that in mind, I was excited to hear that one of my favorite Austen authors, Shannon Winslow, was dedicating a book to Ms. Austen herself and the potential influences she had in writing one of her two posthumously published works, Persuasion. It is aptly named The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen. I couldn’t wait to read this once it came out, given how much I admired Winslow’s previous works, The Darcy’s of Pemberley and Return to Longbourn. So, without any more fanfare, I eagerly began reading.

The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen is based on the premise that Austen had her own object of affection: a sea captain by the name of Philippe Devereaux. Introduced to the Captain by her cousin Eliza at her wedding to Jane’s brother, Henry, we see Jane thrown into a whirlwind of emotion upon meeting Philippe. In fact, she behaves not unlike her own characters when they find themselves in much the same predicament. Winslow tells us of Jane’s personal love story with Captain Devereaux via entries of Jane’s own personal journal, penned alongside the pages of Persuasion itself. Winslow slowly begins to intertwine these two tales, and we get to see Jane go through the emotions of loss, love, and finally (what she really deserves) a happy ending.

This is definitely Winslow’s best work to date. The writing is emotional, moving, and my heart was stirred for Jane and her tribulations. Winslow is one of the few authors who can channel Austen’s style of prose so well that I could not tell the two apart if I tried (the only other who comes to mind is Meg Kerr and her novel Experience.) The style of the book (in a journal format which weaves in Persuasion) was a perfect choice, because Winslow’s prose is so like Jane’s that it is incredibly believable that you could be reading actual diary pages written by Jane years ago. It’s obvious that Winslow put a lot of research into where Jane was at certain points of her life to make this story so believable.

I’m glad that Winslow chose to write about Persuasion instead of Pride and Prejudice, for although P&P only slightly edges out Persuasion as my favorite book, Persuasion is often relegated to second fiddle in the fan fiction world, with less work devoted to it. I’m glad such a prolific author in the Jane Austen Fan Fiction world was able to introduce the love and beauty of Anne and Frederick’s story to a new generation. My challenge to you, dear readers, is to download a sample of the first chapter of this book, in which Jane begins writing Persuasion, and not be moved by the frail humanity Jane expresses:

“To begin is to risk everything – crushing defeat, utter failure or, worse still, mediocrity. However, not taking the risk is unthinkable. I have come through successfully before, but that hardly signifies. With each new work the familiar doubts and niggling questions resurface, chiefly these. Do I really possess whatever genius it takes to do it again? And if so, what is the best way to go about it?” (9-10)

The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen is one of the most moving, soul-filling, and beautiful stories I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. The wait for this book was totally worth it, and I’m already eager to see what beauty Winslow will create next.

★★★★★ 5 out of 5 Stars

The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen: A Novel, by Shannon Winslow
Heather Ridge Arts (2014)
Trade paperback (266) pages
ISBN: 978-1500624736

Cover image courtesy of Heather Ridge Arts © 2014; text Kimberly Denny-Ryder © 2014, Austenprose.com

Disclosure of Material Connection: We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”