Mr. Darcy Came to Dinner: A Pride and Prejudice Farce, by Jack Caldwell – A Review

From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder:Mr. Darcy Came to Dinner by Jack Caldwell 2013 x 200

Back in the day I read a novel entitled Pemberley Ranch by Jack Caldwell and found myself totally impressed with the original reimagining of my beloved Pride and Prejudice (from a male author’s perspective!). I remember heading over to Caldwell’s website to see what else he had written that was available for me to get my hands on. I wound up finding a story he was publishing piece-by-piece on his site entitled Mr. Darcy Came to Dinner. I decided to read the entire story from start to finish in the course of one evening (ok, maybe some very early hours of the day were involved too….). Imagine my surprise (and delight) when I found it on sale for NOOK earlier this year. Being able to readily remember the pleasure it gave me several years earlier had me all the more excited to read it again.

We are all familiar with Mr. Darcy’s haughty nature, but it is no match for a little furry kitten in Mr. Darcy Came to Dinner. An encounter with Elizabeth’s pet cat causes Mr. Darcy to fall and injure himself, leading to a long recovery at Longbourn of all places. Because of a lack of space, Darcy is actually put up in the parlor, and he is subject to the exploits of the Bennet family, including every wail of Mrs. Bennet and every antic of Kitty and Lydia. Things get even more hectic when Bingley, Georgiana, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and Lady Catherine de Bourgh come to visit Darcy in his invalid state. Hilarity ensues when these guests further antagonize the pressure cooker of emotion and frivolity that is present at Longbourn. Will Darcy and Lizzy be able to survive his recuperation? While most of us would erupt in anger and frustration at this impossible situation, Darcy shocks us all by doing quite the opposite. He shows us a kinder, gentler side of himself by taking an interest in all of the Bennet sisters, not just Lizzy.  He brings his horse to Longborn for Lydia to ride, helps Kitty with her sketches, and compliments Mary on her pianoforte pieces. In all, we see a Darcy that is quite refreshing and new, which made the story spring to life off the pages.

This book can truly be described as a comedy of errors, all thanks to a cat! I found myself just as delighted and charmed with Mr. Darcy Came to Dinner this time around as I was the first time I read it. Caldwell has a real knack at infusing comedy into Darcy and Elizabeth’s lives realistically. The scenes with Darcy confronting Mr. Collins are among my favorite. Mr. Collins is just such an odious man. Seeing him (comedically) get knocked down a few pegs had me cheering at my nook (very) loudly.

My biggest concern with reading the book was that it would get stale or drag considering much of the book takes place solely in the Bennet household. I’m happy to report that Caldwell was able to keep the book moving along at a happy pace and found many plot ventures in the Bennet sisters. It’s not often in the Jane Austen Fan Fiction (JAFF) world that we see what the entire Bennet clan would look like with grace, manners, decorum, and some education. Darcy gets a chance to show the reader (and Elizabeth) what a great older brother looks like. One that truly cares about his sisters, not just their financial wants or needs, but the parts of them that make their souls sing. Caldwell’s Darcy in Mr. Darcy Came to Dinner is one of the best representations of Austen’s vision that I can recall to date. His manners towards the working class are kind, his attention to detail and expectations of carrying out said details are sublime. He tries to better those around him but refuses to offer his respect or time to those that show idiocy (Mr. Collins) or selfishness (Caroline Bingley).

Mr. Darcy Came to Dinner is a comedic tale that offers readers a new view of our favorite characters while giving us the chance to laugh-out-loud at some of their more outlandish moments. If this all sounds slightly familiar to you, it is because it is based on the play and film The Man Who Came to Dinner, originally written for the stage by Kaufman and Hart in 1939.  Just like the original work, Mr. Darcy Came to Dinner is sure to stand the test of time. It is a sure bet for the female (or male!) Jane Austen Fan Fiction reader in your life.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Mr. Darcy Came to Dinner: A Pride and Prejudice Farce, by Jack Caldwell
White Soup Press (2013)
Trade paperback (256) pages
ISBN: 978-0989108003

Additional Reviews

Cover image courtesy of White Soup Press © 2013; text Kimberly Denny-Ryder © 2014, Austenprose.com

The Secret Betrothal: A Pride and Prejudice Alternate Path, by Jan Hahn – A Review

From the desk of Christina Boyd:   The Secret Betrothal by Jan Hahn (2014)

Marriage in Regency times was the rock that built Society’s foundation. Not only was it the most important step in a young woman’s life, the union could advance her family’s social standing and wealth. Throughout Jane Austen’s novels we are shown the maneuverings of families to obtain advantageous alliances for their children, so when we see the secret engagements in Emma and Sense and Sensibility, and their outcome, we know the risk and scandal that can ensue. With this in mind, I am both curious and uneasy by author Jan Hahn’s choice of The Secret Betrothal as a title of her new novel. Furthermore, in this reimagining of Pride and Prejudice, she has boldly chosen to explore what would happen if Elizabeth Bennet entered into one herself! Whatever would possess our favorite Austen heroine to take this risk—and what would Mr. Darcy do to save her from such a folly?

For reasons I shan’t give away here, Elizabeth must keep this betrothal a secret and when she was told she could tell no one, not even her beloved sister, Jane:

“…she felt a chill crawl up her back….Although he lacked fortune, it was due to no failing on his part, and he had the promise of an adequate future awaiting him. But the possibility of waiting two years provoked a sigh from deep within her. He had warned Elizabeth that they must avoid paying close attention to each other when in public so as not to raise talk among the gossips of Meryton. Being a sensible woman, Elizabeth knew that was necessary as talk of matches and mating was primary among Hertfordshire society. Still, it did not set well with her.”  (63)

A chance meeting at Rosings Park, Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth re-new their acquaintance and he comes to find out soon after his unpropitious declaration of love that she is already engaged. Secretly engaged! But he cannot comprehend why such an intelligent and fine a creature as Elizabeth would allow herself to enter into such an agreement. (Me either. Why, Elizabeth? Why? But of course, that frustration is what we are designed to feel.) Through a comedy of errors, the two are thrown together once again to aid the inhabitants of both Hunsford Parsonage and Rosing Park who have all taken ill after partaking in Lady Catherine’s apothecary’s prescribed tonic, helping Elizabeth change her former prejudices against Darcy. Meanwhile, as the weeks pass and Elizabeth receives scant letters from her secret amour, but continues to hear troubling news regarding his behavior from her youngest sisters, Elizabeth further questions her predicament. Not long afterward, Darcy’s physician suggests Mrs. Charlotte Collins might best recover at the seaside, so off to Lady Catherine’s Brighton home they go. There at Waverly, the story really heats up with some very sweet, romantic scenes along the ocean’s edge.

“Why did I not recognize Mr. Darcy’s true character earlier, long before I pledged myself to the one man he could never forgive?” At that moment, Elizabeth realized she truly loved him. She loved Mr. Darcy, and it was too late.

She rose to her knees and leaned out the window, allowing the wind to softly drift through her nightgown, causing her hair to blow from her face. How she yearned to reach him, to tell him how greatly she regretted all that happened!

Unexpectedly, the figure on the beach ceased his pacing. Accented by the moon’s brightness, Elizabeth could see him turn to cast his gaze toward Waverly. She became aware that most likely he could see her outline, that the candle behind her must be illuminating her figure in the window. He did not move but stood absolutely still, staring at her. Neither of them moved until a sudden gust blew through the window and quenched the candle. Now there was darkness.

Elizabeth watched the figure walk out of the light, and although she kept her vigil at the window for some time, he did not return.” (215)

(I declare, I was most inelegantly chewing my nails at this point.)

In The Secret Betrothal, award winning author Jan Hahn explores the heights and depths of a secret engagement and takes us on a frustrating, breathless, sentient and oh, so satisfying ride. I love all Jan Hahn’s previous works and have been anticipating her latest offering for months. This was worth the wait! Originally published on-line as a shorter story called “The Engagement”, this published work has undergone a thorough concept edit, tightening the story and expanding where the on-line story lacked. As always, Hahn writes excellent romance, but I did not relish that Elizabeth and Darcy did not take the straightforward approach to solving their quandary. But then that would have been a totally different story, and a bit of angst in Austenesque fiction is most deliciously, tantalizing. The Secret Betrothal felt authentic enough to Austen & Regency times. I am a sucker for happily-ever-afters. Fans of Jan Hahn will surely inhale this book, and those new to her work should add this to their to-be-read list—sooner than later.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Secret Betrothal: A Pride and Prejudice Alternate Path, by Jan Hahn
Meryton Press (2014)
Trade paperback (324)
ISBN: 978-1936009329

Cover image courtesy of Meryton Press © 2014; text Christina Boyd © 2014, Austenprose.com

Given Good Principles: Boxed Set, by Maria Grace – A Review

Given Good Principles Boxed Set by Maria Grace 2013 x 200From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder:

I have a confession to make dear reader: I’m a book series binger. I’ll find myself reading the first novel in a series (in this case Darcy’s Decision by Maria Grace), and find it so intriguing that I have to buy the rest of the (available) books in the series and read them one right after another. It’s not a huge problem when it’s a series of three books or less, but when it’s four plus books, my husband starts to get worried that I’ll begin collecting dust from immobility. So, with all of that in mind I offer to you a post on Maria Grace’s Given Good Principles series.

Grace starts off her series with two completely creative and unique prequel novellas:

Darcy’s Decision

Beginning with the death of Darcy’s two parents and ending with preparations for his trip to Hertfordshire with Bingley, this unique and creative prequel (and about The Future Mrs. Darcy as well), is that Darcy and Elizabeth must go through situations that make them question their natures PRIOR to meeting. This means that as they are introduced to each other for the first time, they are aware of their own personal flaws. I fell head-over-heels in love with this idea. It’s not something I’ve seen in any other Pride and Prejudice re-telling, so from page one Grace had already hooked me with this fresh approach. The creation of the character of John Bradley was a stroke of genius. His fatherly, no-nonsense approach to discussions with Darcy was a pleasure to read. He simply tells Darcy how it is and doesn’t “scrape and bow” just to appease Darcy’s status.

4.5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Future Mrs. Darcy

Elizabeth and her sisters are forced to re-examine their behavior after a wealthy neighbor removes his sisters and himself from Meryton society as a direct result of a lack of decorum shown by Kitty and Lydia. What is special about this novella is the character development that is present for all of the Bennet sisters. (Well…..almost all of them. I’ll let you guess which one is the hold-out.) Grace gives each sister a skill that she focuses on. Kitty: dressmaking, Mary: herbal remedies, etc. Seeing the focus and determination that each sister had while still remaining true to their individual selves cannot be an easy thing to author, and for that I highly commend Grace.

4.5 out of 5 Regency Stars

All the Appearance of Goodness

The series then continues with a full-length novel that takes place during the events of Pride and Prejudice. Darcy and Bingley take a trip to Meryton, during which Darcy meets Elizabeth. Of course courtship is the furthest thing from being on his mind, but a pang of jealousy helps move things along when he finds that Mr. Collins of all people is another interested party for the hand of Ms. Elizabeth Bennet. Will the intervention of Mr. Collins be enough to cause Darcy to completely change the purposes of his trip and soften his tough exterior, or will his pride be strong enough to let Collins take the object of his affections?

One of the best parts of this novel was the ability of Grace to convey the angst that Darcy and Elizabeth felt due to their inner turmoil over the events of the first two novellas. It really helped to tie the series together up to this point, and I felt that this was a crossroads for their relationship. It is appropriate that this work is the longest of the group, as it contains a new and unique set of events between Lizzy and Darcy that are sure to surprise and please you. This isn’t the typical path to love that we’re so familiar with. I’ll leave it at that as to not spoil any of the surprises awaiting readers!

4.5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Twelfth Night at Longbourn

After Lydia’s elopement and Elizabeth’s wedding, Kitty is now alone at Longbourn. She has only her tarnished reputation as company, which has been badly damaged by Lydia’s ways. She can only hope to redeem it by transforming from Kitty to Catherine Bennet, hoping that new sophistication will endear her to the man who broke her heart long ago. Now she again has a chance to meet him at Pemberley, but will her newfound fortitude be enough to save her?

This work was definitely my favorite in the series due to its primary focus on Kitty. Her growth in the overall series arc was my favorite to follow (after Elizabeth and Darcy’s of course!), because of how deeply she matures. Gone is the frivolous girl that cared for nothing but parties, balls, and officers. Instead we have a woman who has grown into a hard-working, good-natured member of society. She finds herself satisfied with keeping occupied with sewing and other quiet tasks, which are a 180 degree turn from the days when she was ever-present in Lydia’s shadow and prone to every whimsy. Overall, I’m happy to see Kitty find herself in Twelfth Night. It is a fun read that concluded the overall story arc on a high note.

With quick novellas under 100 pages and one full-length novel, this series is a great read for any Jane Austen fan-fiction lover.  With great characters, witty writing, and a swoon-worthy romance, Maria Grace’s Given Good Principles series is a solid addition to your bookshelf.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Give Good Principles: Boxed Set, by Maria Grace
White Soup Press (2013)
Digital eBook (576) pages
ASIN: B00HK5TVJO

Cover image courtesy of White Soup Press © 2013; text Kimberly Denny-Ryder © 2014, Austenprose.com 

Almost Persuaded: Miss Mary King, a Pride and Prejudice Short Story, by P. O. Dixon – A Review

Almost Persuaded Miss Mary King by P O Dixon 2013 x 200From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder:

Jane Austen’s works have given us countless characters to fall in love with: Elizabeth Bennet, Fitzwilliam Darcy, Catherine Morland, Henry Tilney, Anne Elliot, Captain Frederick Wentworth, and Elinor & Marianne Dashwood. Along with these major players, Austen sprinkles in minor personalities who play a very small role in the plot, leaving the full back story to our imagination. P. O Dixon has taken one these lesser-known characters, “the nasty freckle-faced” Mary King, and given her story a chance to be told in her latest short story Almost Persuaded.

Mary King is accustomed to being in the background. She purposely shies away from the social spotlight, but is always keenly aware of the goings on around her. She can’t seem to keep her eyes off of George Wickham from the time they first met. Unfortunately for her, he doesn’t seem to have reciprocated any of these feelings, and in fact, does not notice her whatsoever. All that changes, however, when Mary becomes the recipient of a ten thousand pound inheritance. Suddenly she has gone from being a wallflower to the center of the social universe. Now she goes from pining for Wickham’s attention to having more attention on her than she could ever have wanted. Will this inheritance prove to be the key to finally winning Wickham’s heart, or a curse that haunts her to be alone forever?

One of the best things that Dixon’s work accomplishes is the fleshing-out of Mary’s character. She takes all the jealousy, emotions, and unpredictability of a teenager and filters them expertly into Mary’s development throughout the story. We see Mary’s jealousy towards the Bennets (specifically Jane and Elizabeth), and we understand it. Her naiveté in choosing to not follow the advice of her companion Anne is spot on for the self-centered point of view so common in teens. The pride and exultation she feels when being complimented and flirted with by the opposite sex for the first time is also so characteristic of someone enthralled by a first crush. Speaking of that first crush, Dixon shows us quite well how wicked Wickham truly is.

Sadly we don’t know whether Mary King ever gets her happy ending. The conclusion of the short story feels a bit abrupt, especially after you’ve spent the entire work getting to know her. You want to see how much farther she’ll grow and mature, and I think she was on a great path towards transforming into a new woman who no longer was focused on just herself. Despite this, Dixon’s stellar characterizations and intriguing storytelling kept me hooked for this short tale.

A super-quick read, Almost Persuaded is a perfect for anyone short on time and in need of a quick Pride and Prejudice fix.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Almost Persuaded: Miss Mary King, a Pride and Prejudice Short Story, by P. O. Dixon
Regents and Cotswold Book Group (2014)
Digital eBook (48) pages
ASIN: B00FZD5EBC

Cover image courtesy of Regents and Cotswold Book Group © 2014; text Kimberly Denny-Ryder © 2014, Austenprose.com

The Forgotten Sister: Mary Bennet’s Pride and Prejudice, by Jennifer Paynter – A Review

The Forgotten Sister: Mary Bennet's Pride and Prejudice, by Jennifer Paynter (2014 )From the desk of Jenny Haggerty:

With only half a dozen speeches in Pride and Prejudice Mary Bennet still manages to make an impression. Bookish, socially awkward, and prone to moralizing, it’s hard to picture her as the heroine of a romance novel. Though I’d laugh along at her cluelessness Mary has always had my sympathy, so when I discovered Jennifer Paynter’s The Forgotten Sister: Mary Bennet’s Pride and Prejudice I couldn’t wait to read it. Would this book rescue Mary from the shadows of Pride and Prejudice? I hoped so.

The Forgotten Sister opens before the events of Pride and Prejudice, with Mary recounting her story in her own words. She begins with an admission of early worries, “For the best part of nine years–from the age of four until just before I turned thirteen–I prayed for a brother every night.” (8)  By then family life is strained, but early on Mr. and Mrs. Bennet are carefree and happy. Young Jane and Elizabeth are doted on by their parents, who are optimistic there is still time to produce a male heir and secure their entailed estate. Everything changes though when Mary, a third daughter, is born. Worries set in. The Bennets begin bickering. About a month after Mary’s birth Mrs. Bennet has an attack of nerves so acute that Mary is sent away to a wet-nurse, Mrs. Bushell, with whom she stays for several years.  From then on, neglect by and separation from her family become recurring patterns in Mary’s life.

The Forgotten Sister provides new background to explain Mary’s personality. A frightening encounter when she is young makes her timid and tongue tied. The kindness shown by her pious instructor pushes Mary toward rigid religious beliefs, though the harsh moralizing mini-sermons she sometimes gives are just an awkward girl’s attempt to join the conversation. Because all four of her four sisters are paired in close bonds, Elizabeth with Jane and Lydia with Kitty, Mary is left without a close companion in the family, and being often on her own does not help her acquire social skills.

At the assembly dance where Jane catches the eye of Bingley and Elizabeth begins her antipathy for Darcy, Mary has her own pivotal encounter. She bumps into the handsome son of her former wet-nurse as he races up the stairs to join his band, and then Mary can’t stop trying to spot Peter Bushell through the crowd. Though far beneath Mary in station, he’s a talented musician. When their eyes meet as he is playing his fiddle he smiles and, she cannot help herself, she smiles back, though she then resolves to look at him no further because she “…could not possibly befriend a person of his order.” (110)

But Peter is kind during their brief encounters, leaving Mary alternately relaxed and flustered. Though her feelings are decidedly mixed she’s left with a strong desire to see him again. But would it be proper? Mary’s religion councils her that all people are equal in the eyes of God, but that’s not what society says. Increasingly drawn to Peter, Mary remains deeply divided. How does an inexperienced, devout girl decide what to do?

The unique slant and moving insights of The Forgotten Sister: Mary Bennet’s Pride and Prejudice kept the book in my hands any moment I had free. It’s fascinating to see younger versions of the characters from Pride and Prejudice, and events that took place before and after that story. I love when a novel incorporates fascinating bits of history or offers vicarious travel pleasures, and The Forgotten Sister has the surprising bonus of taking us by ship around the world to rough and tumble Australia when it is still part penal colony.

Still, Mary was difficult for me to like in the early pages of the book. Her feelings of anger and resentment toward her family are understandable, she’s often left out and sometimes ridiculed, but her spite could be hard to take. And my beloved Elizabeth when seen through Mary’s eyes does not seem quite as wonderful as before, which is disconcerting.

But the realism of Mary’s character and feelings ultimately adds to the strength of the novel. And there’s good precedent in the original for enlivening the story by shaking up the reader’s comfortable notions. The first time I read Pride and Prejudice I abhorred Darcy just as much as Elizabeth did, so when he handed her that letter after his disastrous proposal at Hunsford Parsonage, I was as shocked and disoriented as she was. The Forgotten Sister provides some of that same, wonderful eye opening catharsis, and by the end of the book Mary has a new and promising future.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Forgotten Sister: Mary Bennet’s Pride and Prejudice, by Jennifer Paynter
Lake Union Publishing (2013)
Trade paperback (440) pages
ISBN: 978-1477848883

Cover image courtesy of Lake Union Publishing © 2014; text Jenny Haggerty © 2014, Austenprose.com

Consequences: A Cautionary Pride and Prejudice Variation, by C. P. Odom – A Review

Consequences, by C. P. Odom (2013)From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder:

Life is a series of calculations, steps and decisions that make up all of our experiences. What would happen if we had the ability to see how certain decisions affected the rest of our lives? Would we willingly change our fate and the fates of others or would we follow our instincts? C.P. Odom explores these questions in his latest Pride and Prejudice variation, Consequences.

We often see the consequences of Elizabeth Bennet’s choices in a different light via Pride and Prejudice retellings. In Consequences we find her rejecting Mr. Darcy’s first proposal at the Hunsford Parsonage, only to set forth a series of events she could not possibly have imagined. This fateful decision affects not only her own path, but the lives and livelihood of her entire family, with shocking final results. Of course, Elizabeth could not possibly have known that one single decision could have such a lasting impact on her life; but would reflecting on the potential outcome change her decision? C.P. Odom shows us how one single point in the seemingly endless parade of decisions in one’s life can have such a visceral impact on the paths we travel.

Every so often a book will come along that has the ability to take us on a wild emotional ride. Consequences is just such a book. I’m still reeling from the extreme emotions that this book was able to incite within me. There were times that the writing was so moving that I had to put the book down and just reflect for a bit. Odom is certainly a person who understands the depths of human condition. The inner musings that Elizabeth and Darcy experience throughout the book are extremely reflective, and in my opinion certainly resemble the inner turmoil they must have felt in Austen’s original work. There were times that the writing got a bit depressing (the first half of the book in particular), but I was pleased to see the events turn around enough to lift my spirits in the end.

Consequences may very well be one of the most unique variations on Pride and Prejudice that I’ve ever read. It’s difficult to write about why the book is unique without giving away what makes it so special. So instead of ruining it let’s just say – the beginning of Part II of the book will absolutely surprise, astound, and shock you.

It’s also refreshing to see Elizabeth and Darcy’s story written through a male author’s perspective. Prior to reading this, I’d only ever read one other male JAFF (Jane Austen Fan Fiction) author’s work by Jack Caldwell. I think that in most retellings/variations/what-ifs I’ve read, the majority of the blame for the multiple misunderstandings between Elizabeth and Darcy is placed on Darcy. And while I agree that he is at fault for his haughty behavior, I also know Elizabeth is just as responsible for misjudging him. Odom writes the inner thoughts of Darcy and Elizabeth very self-reflectively. They both realize the errors of their previous actions and take pains to make amends. Moving, deep, and thought-provoking, Consequences is a unique reading experience you’re really going to want to go on and on.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Consequences: A Cautionary Pride and Prejudice Variation, by C. P. Odom
Meryton Press (2013)
Trade paperback (284) pages
ISBN: 978-1936009305

Cover image courtesy of Meryton Press © 2013; text Kimberly Denny-Ryder © 2014, Austenprose.com

Lady Harriette: Fitzwilliam’s Heart and Soul (Pride and Prejudice Untold), by P. O. Dixon – A Review

Lady Harriette, by P. O. Dixon (2013)Starting with the third book in any series is certainly a challenge. One feels rather late to the party when one has missed out on major events and character development in two previous novels, so why would I attempt it? Add to the fact that they were Pride and Prejudice “what if” stories changing the plot of Jane Austen’s classic tale, and the problems intensify. What could possibly tempt me to move beyond my prejudices and give, Lady Harriette: Fitzwilliam’s Heart and Soul, a chance? The plot appeared to be focused on the married life of Colonel Fitzwilliam and his new bride Lady Harriet Middleton. His cousin Fitzwilliam Darcy is married to Elizabeth Bennet already too? What? No courtship? Where was this going? I was intrigued.  

The book’s description and first few chapters truly peaked my curiosity. Lady Harriette was a beautiful young heiress twelve years younger than her husband, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, the second son of an earl with no fortune. How had he snagged HER, and what did the families think of this misalliance? We learn that he was a rake with a long standing history of dalliance. I wondered if he had married for love or for money? The elephant in the room was how he will he ever keep his privileged and spoiled bride happy? Pressure mounts on Fitzwilliam after he discovers the ancestral property is near bankruptcy. Trying to keep this startling fact from his wife and family, while he and Darcy attempt to catch the thief, seemed wise, but later backfires. Even close friends Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy, whose happy life at Pemberley appeared untouchable, are faced with a ghost from the past when a young woman working as a housemaid at the Fitzwilliam estate has a painful connection to both Darcy and Fitzwilliam. Why is she there? Blackmail, or the evil workings of a disgruntled relative? The possibilities for conflict were mounting with every chapter.

Only a creative and skilled writer could truly pull all of these conflicts and challenges together. Author P. O. Dixon, known for her Pride and Prejudice variations, succeeded triumphantly. I was amazed at how she began the story after the marriage of the Fitzwilliam’s and then proceeded to fill in the backstory quite seamlessly. Having not read the first two novels in the series I did not know if she was back peddling or showing off her storytelling skills. It mattered not. Either way it resulted in a page turning plot. There were times when I found myself at a loss when characters like Jane Bennet, elder sister of Elizabeth, where not married to whom Austen paired them off with, or other sisters like Lydia had died. For the benefit of readers who are not familiar with the new twists taken from Austen’s plot that had transpired in previous novels, an author’s forward or a character list in the back would have answered those nagging questions that left me hanging. The character development of Col. Fitzwilliam and Lady Harriette was quite absorbing. I was skeptical that she would truly change, or that he really loved her. I knew that I would like the Col. from the start, and did, but Lady Harriette was another matter. She was a spoiled, rich girl who I could not connect with and wondered why the Colonel loved her beyond her youth, beauty and money. You will have to read the novel to find out if they have their happy-ever-after.

I listened to an audio recording of Lady Harriette: Fitzwilliam’s Heart and Soul, read by Pearl Hewitt. The fast paced story lent itself to a theatrical reading enhanced by Hewitt’s characterizations. This is truly a romance novel with some steamy love scenes, so please take heed. You are forewarned and forearmed for a great read. I highly recommend it.

4.5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Lady Harriette: Fitzwilliam’s Heart and Soul (Pride and Prejudice Untold), by P. O. Dixon (audio recording) read by Pearl Hewitt
Audible (2013)
Digital audio recording (6 hours and 13 minutes)
ASIN: B00GS8HJ3E

Cover image courtesy of P. O. Dixon © 2013; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2014, Austenprose.com

The Pursuit of Mary Bennet: A Pride and Prejudice Novel, by Pamela Mingle – A Review

The Pursuit of Mary Bennet:  A Pride and Prejudice Novel, by Pamela Mingle (2013 )From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder:

Oh, Mary Bennet. What is there to say about her? Unfortunately, the most pedantic, priggish and un-proprietous Bennet sister from Pride and Prejudice has not received the attention from Austenesque authors that her sisters have enjoyed so regularly: Jane is known for her beauty and kindness, Lydia and Kitty for their rambunctiousness, and of then of course there is the spirited and witty Lizzy. But where does poor Mary fit in? Perhaps you could say, “there’s something about Mary,” and now we have The Pursuit of Mary Bennet by Pamela Mingle to find out just what that something is.

In Mingle’s new Pride and Prejudice sequel, we meet a Mary that has begun to change and move away from her lack of social graces displayed so humorously in P&P. Now older, she has become more mature and composed, but unfortunately her singing voice has not improved with age, much to the chagrin of those around her. Things soon change as the wild, thoughtless Lydia returns to the Bennet household pregnant and scandalously estranged from her husband. So, both Mary and Kitty are soon dispatched to their married sister Jane Bignley’s home to give Lydia more room to deal with the situation. There, Mary is introduced to Henry Walsh, a friend of Charles Bingley. Taken unawares by his attentions, and completely out of her element, she is quite uncertain of how to proceed. However, this may be the outlet and door to self-discovery that Mary desperately needs. How will she handle this new and exciting romantic opportunity?

First off, I’m so glad that we finally a book that focuses on Mary. I know she has gotten the short end of the stick as far as attention is concerned (well, Mr. Collins may actually have it worse, but I digress), so I’m glad that she can finally come into her own as an independent woman. Before I began reading, I had read that a few readers were slightly put off by Mingle’s choice to write the work in first person. After the first few chapters flew by, however, I was fully immersed in the story and not bothered by its format in the least. In fact, it was interesting to see things from Mary’s point-of-view directly, and I believe it added to her characterization and interactions with Henry and others. Speaking of Henry, he’s swoon-worthy for his love and defense of Mary. I love how mad he gets when he hears others speaking ill of Mary. He’s a perfect mate for her.

I think Mingle handled Mary’s characterizations in a fantastic way. I always love journeys of self-discovery and empowerment, and this one was a joy to read. The way in which Mary transforms from a woman who is only beginning to understand her new maturity to someone who is fully enveloped in love with another person is heartwarming. I couldn’t help but think that Austen and her penchant for happy endings would have been satisfied by this tale for Mary.  We’ve seen so much praise heaped on Lizzy and Jane especially, so if you were as curious as I was about how a work centered on “plain” Mary would shape up, wonder no longer. This is definitely one to try!

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Pursuit of Mary Bennet: A Pride and Prejudice Novel, by Pamela Mingle
William Morrow (2013)
Trade paperback (320) pages
ISBN: 978-0062274243

Cover image courtesy of William Morrow © 2013; text Kimberly Denny-Ryder © 2013, Austenprose.com