Jane Austen’s First Love Holiday Blog Tour

Jane Austen's First Love Holiday Blog Tour banner

Jane Austen, the holiday season and gifts go so well together that I am pleased to share the news that Austenesque author Syrie James is going on a holiday blog tour with her new novel Jane Austen’s First Love.

Readers will remember that Austenprose is a big fan of Syrie’s work and have reviewed many of her books here including:

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Dewey’s 24-Hour Read-a-thon Jane Austen Style

Dewey's 24-hour read-a-thon (2014)

I am participating in a special celebration of reading today – Dewey’s 24-Hour Read-a-thon. And, of course I have a Jane Austen theme!

For those of you unfamiliar with this bi-annual event, a book blogger named Dewey started the tradition in 2007. Here is a description of the event from it’s website:

For 24 hours, we read books, post to our blogs about our reading, and visit other readers’ blogs. We also participate in mini-challenges throughout the day. It happens twice a year, in April and in October.

It is an all day and night total celebration of reading! The best thing about participating is that you can read as much or as little as you like. I chose to read the first few chapters of three new Austenesque novels (no spoilers) and live-tweet my reactions as I progress. Here are the novels that I have selected: Continue reading

Winners Announced for Jane Austen’s First Love Book Launch Giveaways

Jane Austen's First Love by Syrie James (2014 )We are happy to announce the winners of the fabulous giveaways during the book launch party for Jane Austen’s First Love, by Syrie James.

Without further ado, the lucky winners are:

A print copy of Jane Austen’s First Love 

  • Carrie Turansky who left a comment on July 31, 2014
  • blesso2013 who left a comment on July 28, 2014

A Jane Austen-themed tote bag

  • Poofbooks who left a comment on July 28, 2014

An original painting “At Goodnestone Park” by Annmarie Thomas 

  • Tresha who left a comment on July 30, 2014

Congratulations to all the winners! To claim your prize, please contact me with your full name and address by 11:59 pm PT, Wednesday, August 13, 2014. Shipment to US addresses only. Continue reading

Jane Austen’s First Love: A Novel, by Syrie James – A Review

Jane Austen's First Love by Syrie James (2014 )From the desk of Christina Boyd:

Everyone in my world knows of Jane Austen. Alas, I can speculate that there are those who might not recognize the name. If they look her up on Wikipedia they would learn that:

‘Biographical information concerning Jane Austen is “famously scarce”… Only some personal and family letters remain (by one estimate only 160 out of Austen’s 3,000 letters are extant), and her sister Cassandra (to whom most of the letters were originally addressed) burned “the greater part” of the ones she kept and censored those she did not destroy. Other letters were destroyed by the heirs of Admiral Francis Austen, Jane’s brother. Most of the biographical material produced for fifty years after Austen’s death was written by her relatives and reflects the family’s biases in favour of “good quiet Aunt Jane”.’

Further, they would learn that this masterful writer of the social commentary and romance had never married, little is known of her love-life, yet it has been widely speculated upon in some circles. It is not a secret however that in 1802, Miss Austen had accepted the marriage proposal from family friend, Harris Bigg-Wither, but by the morning had withdrawn her acceptance. There are also letters from Jane to Cassandra in 1795 when she was twenty years-old about a brief flirtation with a Mr. Tom Lefroy. Sadly, his family did not approve of the match. Neither had any money and Tom was sent away, later to marry an heiress. And yet for an author who wrote exclusively of what she knew in her own sphere, how could she write of love so well had she never fully experienced it? Continue reading

Jane Austen’s First Love Virtual Book Launch Party & Blog Tour with Author Syrie James, & Giveaways

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I am very pleased to welcome author Syrie James to Austenprose today to officially open her virtual book launch party and blog tour of Jane Austen’s First Love, published by Berkley Trade. This new Austenesque novel is a fascinating combination of fact and fiction, exploring the first romance of fifteen year-old Jane Austen with the handsome and sophisticated Edward Taylor. 

Syrie has generously offered a guest blog sharing her inspiration to write her new book—and to add to the festivities—we will be offering an amazing selection of giveaways including: trade paperback copies of Jane Austen’s First Love, a muslin tote bag stuffed with Jane Austen goodies, and a specially commissioned painting inspired by the novel. Just leave a comment following this blog post to enter. The contest details are listed below. Good luck to all. 

Please join us in welcoming Syrie James.

The inspiration for my novel Jane Austen’s First Love originated several years ago when I was re-reading Jane Austen’s letters. I was struck by three sweet and tender references Jane made to a young man she met as a teenager while visiting her brother Edward Austen in Kent. Continue reading

Winner Announced of Two Jane Austen Note Cards

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We have a winner of the two Jane Austen-inspired note cards offered with the excerpt of Jane Austen’s First Love, by Syrie James. Drawn from the comments, our lucky recipient is…

  • Patricia Finnegan who left a comment on July 01, 2014

Congratulations Patricia. Please contact me with your address by July 16, 2014. Shipment to US address.

A big thank you to all who left comments and to author Syrie James for contributing the cards that she purchased at the Jane Austen House Museum in Chawton, England. The sneak peek of her new novel Jane Austen’s First Love was fabulous. I look forward to its release on August 5, 2014 from Berkley Trade.

BOOK LAUNCH PARTY Continue reading

Jane Austen’s First Love, by Syrie James: Preview, Exclusive Excerpt and Giveaway!

Jane Austen's First Love by Syrie James (2014 )Austenesque and historical fiction readers will be thrilled to learn that bestselling author Syrie James will be releasing her next novel, Jane Austen’s First Love, on August 5th. For those who have had the pleasure of reading her previous two Austen-inspired novels: The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen and The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, this will be welcome news indeed; and for those new to her writing, be sure to make room on your reading list immediately. You are in for a wonderful treat.

Lauded as “the queen of nineteenth century re-imaginings”, James has a special affinity to my favorite author, Jane Austen. She has studied her life and times extensively and is not only renowned for her historical accuracy, but for her skill at creating romantic stories, fascinating characters and witty dialogue. I am very excited to say that I have had the honor of reading an advance copy of Jane Austen’s First Love and am delighted to share a preview and exclusive excerpt for Austenprose readers.

Be sure to leave a comment to enter the GIVEAWAY chance for two Jane Austen-inspired note cards! 

PREVIEW (from the publisher’s description)

INSPIRED BY ACTUAL EVENTS

Fifteen-year-old Jane Austen dreams of three things: doing something useful, writing something worthy, and falling madly in love. When she visits her brother in Kent to celebrate his engagement, she meets wealthy, devilishly handsome Edward Taylor—a fascinating young man who is truly worthy of her affections. Jane knows a match between her and Edward is unlikely, but every moment she spends with him makes her heart race—and he seems to return her interest. Much to her displeasure, however, there is another seeking his attention.

Unsure of her budding relationship, Jane seeks distraction by attempting to correct the pairings of three other prospective couples. But when her matchmaking aspirations do not all turn out as anticipated, Jane discovers the danger of relying on first impressions. The human heart cannot be easily deciphered, nor can it be directed or managed. And if others must be left to their own devices in matters of love and matrimony, can Jane even hope to satisfy her own heart?

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Giveaway Winners Announced for The Harrison Duet

The Harrison Duet, by Syrie James (2014)It’s time to announce the 3 winners of The Harrison Duet, giveaway. The lucky winners drawn at random are:

One digital copy of The Harrison Duet

  • Diane who left a message on Feb 12, 2014

One Muslin Book Bag

  • Schilds who left a comment on Feb 17, 2014

Two Jane Austen Note Cards

  • Donna Holmberg who left a comment on Feb 14, 2014

Congratulations ladies! To claim your prize, please contact me with your full name and address by February 27, 2014 or you will forfeit your prize! Mail shipment to US addresses only.

Thanks to all who left comments, and to author Syrie James for her guest blog and great giveaways.

Cover image courtesy of Syrie James © 2014; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2014, Austenprose.com

A Romantic Valentine’s Day Celebration with Author Syrie James: The Harrison Duet & Giveaways

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Please help me welcome multi-talented author Syrie James. In addition to her best-selling The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, Syrie has written eight critically acclaimed novels in the historical fiction, romance, young adult, and paranormal genres. Renowned for her spirited heroines, swoon-worthy heroes and romantic plots, who better to chat with us during Valentine’s week, a time when cupid’s arrow is so acute! Her latest release is The Harrison Duet, a combination of two full-length contemporary romance novels which includes: Songbird and Propositions. Originally published years before Fifty Shades of Grey changed the way we think about love affairs, you will be intrigued by their similarities and mesmerized by the Harrison siblings who each find an unexpected love. Two sexy romances in one steamy volume! 

Syrie has kindly shared a brief introduction to this new edition and offered a giveaway chance for three prizes: one digital copy of The Harrison Duet, two note cards from the Jane Austen House Museum at Chawton and one book bag resplendent with all the covers of her books to three lucky winners. The Contest details are listed below.  Continue reading

Longbourn: A Novel, by Jo Baker – A Review

Longbourn: A Novel, by Jo Baker (2013)From the desk of Syrie James:

What was happening below stairs in Pride and Prejudice? Who were the ghostly figures that kept both the storyline and the Bennet household going behind the scenes? That is the premise of Jo Baker’s engrossing novel Longbourn, which takes Jane Austen’s famous work, turns it upside down, and shakes out a fully realized and utterly convincing tale of life and romance among the servants.

Although Longbourn begins slightly before Pride and Prejudice and continues beyond Austen’s ending, for the most part it matches the action of that novel, focusing almost exclusively on the domestic staff. The protagonist is the young, pretty, feisty, overworked housemaid Sarah, an orphan who turns to books for escape from the menial daily duties which repel and exhaust her.

At first, reading about her duties repelled me as well, and I yearned to go back to the nice, clean world of Pride and Prejudice, where young ladies in pretty gowns dance at balls and engage in clever conversation with handsome gentlemen in frock coats and breeches. Longbourn reminds us that our perception of that world is highly idealized, and that the Bennets, the Bingleys, and the Darcys enjoyed a lifestyle which depended entirely on the hard work of people whose lives were anything but pretty:

Sarah lifted his chamber pot out from underneath the bed, and carried it out, her head turned aside so as to not confront its contents too closely. This, she reflected, as she crossed the rainy yard, and strode out to the necessary house, and slopped the pot’s contents down the hole, this was her duty, and she could find no satisfaction in it, and found it strange that anybody might think a person could. She rinsed the post out at the pump and left it to freshen in the rain. If this was her duty, then she wanted someone else’s. (p. 115)

The book offers an unflinching look at the unpleasant physical realities of life in the early nineteenth century, from chilblains and lice to hauling water on freezing mornings, polishing floors, scrubbing food-encrusted dishes, laundering filthy clothing, washing rags soaked with menstrual blood, and even the sight of Elizabeth Bennet’s underarm hair. Did I want to read about such things? Not really! But Sarah’s spirited nature and her fierce desire for a more fulfilling existence immediately endear her to us, and make us eager to learn more. She yearns to be appreciated by the people she serves, yet remains invisible to anyone other than the exacting housekeeper Mrs. Hill.

Things change when a handsome new footman seemingly appears out of nowhere and is employed by Mr. Bennet. Sarah isn’t sure what to make of James Smith at first, and is both worried and intrigued by his mysterious past. Although her head is momentarily turned by Mr. Bingley’s rakish footman Ptolemy, there is never any doubt about who the real hero is—and what a divine hero he is. James Smith may be dirt poor and hiding secrets, but he is smart, thoughtful, hard-working, and gentle, a committed abolitionist, a great reader, a lover of horses, and a gentleman; and he is always on the lookout to protect our heroine.

The characters from Pride and Prejudice are only shadowy figures in this novel, and not always presented in a favorable light; there is nothing much to like about Elizabeth Bennet as seen through Sarah’s eyes. The gentlemen seem larger than life to her, as in this moment when she opens the door to admit Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam:

A blur of rich colours—one green velvet coat, one blue—and the soft creak of good leather, and a scent off them like pine sap and fine candlewax and wool. She watched their glossy boots scatter her tea leaves across the wooden floor. The two gentlemen were so smooth, and so big, and of such substance; it was as though they belonged to a different order of creation entirely, and moved in a separate element, and were as different as angels. (p. 198)

Baker has a way of using an unexpected word here and there which I quite liked, as in her description of rain that “bounced off the flagstones, bumbled down the gutters, juddered out of the down-spouts.” Some of the gaps and allusions in Pride and Prejudice are filled in: Mr. Bingley’s inherited wealth is based on the sugar, tobacco, and slave trades; we become aware of the vicious realities of slavery; and army officers are not merely flirtatious objects in red coats; here, they are subject to brutal acts and shipped overseas to fight in horrific conditions. While these are all very worthy subjects, I had trouble with the section of the book that covers a character’s experiences in the Napoleonic War. It was overly long and violent, spent too much time away from the main story, and it didn’t seem to fit with the tone of the rest of the novel.

The narrative in Longbourn shifts between third person perspectives, usually from Sarah’s point of view, but occasionally from others such as Polly, the innocent scullery maid (tempting prey for a particularly fiendish Wickham), Mrs. Hill (who harbors her own secrets and deep disappointments), and our hero James Smith. Unlike Austen, Baker gives us a taste of the passion we crave to read about between our romantic protagonists:

Here was James, now, with his hand wrapped around her arm, and his touch and his closeness and his voice pitched low and urgent, and it all seemed to matter, and it was all doing strange and pleasant things to her. She felt herself softening, and easing, like a cat luxuriating in a fire’s glow. And there was just now, just this one moment, when she teetered on the brink between the world she’d always known and the world beyond, and if she did not act now, then she would never know. 

She caught him, as it were, on the hop. Her lips colliding with his, surprising him; he swayed a little back, against the arm she’d reached around him. Her lips were soft and warm and clumsy, and her small body pressed hard against his. It was too much to resist. He slid his arms around her narrow waist, and pulled her to him, and let himself be kissed. (p. 154)

Tension builds as an unexpected turn of events separates the young lovers, and Sarah is forced to deal with James’s problematical past and the Bennets’s endless demands. There is a great twist to the story, and although I saw it coming early on, it was handled in a touching manner. I found the plot sequence involving Sarah at the end of the book to be rushed and implausible. I hope it’s not a spoiler to say that you will get your happy ending; however, the scene was so brief as to be unsatisfying, with only a single line of dialogue. Jane Austen often similarly glosses over her lovers’ climactic moments, and it’s one of the few faults I have with her writing. When you spend an entire book invested in these characters (especially when they’ve been apart for such a long time), you look forward to a romantic climax that plays out and stirs the emotions. I was dying to hear Sarah and James voice their feelings aloud to each other, and disappointed that they didn’t.

These quibbles aside, I found Longbourn to be a fascinating novel with unforgettable characters who I truly cared about. I will never read Pride and Prejudice or any novel about the “upper classes” in the same way again.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Longbourn: A Novel, by Jo Baker
Alfred A. Knopf (2013)
Hardcover (352) pages
ISBN: 978-0385351232

A GRAND GIVEAWAY

Our celebration of Longbourn continues from the October 8th, launch party. Double your chances to win one of six (6) copies of Jo Baker’s new novel by leaving a comments stating what intrigues you about the premise or characters in his novel in both posts. The contest closes at 11:59 pm PT on Wednesday, October 23, 2013. Winners will be drawn at random and announced on Thursday, October 24, 2013. Open to US residents only. Good luck to all.

  • UPDATE: 17 OCT: Because of the outstanding turnout on both posts, Jo’s publisher Alfred A. Knopf has generously increased the number of giveaway copies of Longbourn to 12! By leaving a comment on both blogs you not only double your chances to win, but now there are twice as many copies available! HUZZAH!

Syrie James is the bestselling author of the critically acclaimed novels The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë, Dracula My Love, Forbidden, Nocturne, Songbird, and Propositions. Her next novel, about a time in Jane Austen’s life which has never been written about before, is due out from Berkeley in summer 2014. Follow Syrie on twitter, visit her on facebook, and learn more about her and her books at syriejames.com. 

Cover image courtesy Alfred A. Knopf © 2013; text Syrie James © 2013, Austenprose.com

A Jane Austen Tour with authors Syrie James and Laurel Ann Nattress

Chawton Cottage, Hampshire, England

Imagine being offered the opportunity to create your own dream excursion to Jane Austen’s England? What would you choose to see? Her home at Chawton, the cob at Lyme Regis and the pump room in Bath of course—but what other family estates, seaside villages and country escapes would be on your list? This was the question that author Syrie James and I were presented after we were approached by Ingenious Travel to create the ultimate dream Jane Austen tour—and boy did we have fun brain storming on this topic. We hope that you will be as excited by our choices as we are to be part of this fabulous eight day tour to Jane Austen’s Seascapes and Landscapes.

Here is our itinerary:

7 Sept (Saturday): Fly USA to London.

8 Sept (Sunday): Arrival at London Airport, welcome by the accompanying Jane Austen specialist guide, transfer by private coach to London. Visit the British Library, walk through the Covent Garden area to see places where Jane Austen stayed. Continue to Kent, check into the hotel. Welcome dinner.

Godmersham Park, Kent

9 Sept (Monday): Full breakfast (included daily). Visit Ramsgate and Goodnestone, lunch here; continue to Godmersham House and village. Visit Canterbury Cathedral if time permits. Return to the hotel for overnight.  (Lunch included)

10 Sept (Tuesday): Travel northwards to Oxford, visit the University and especially St. John’s College, which Jane Austen’s father and two of her brothers attended. Then to Steventon, the village where she was born: see the site of the old Parsonage, visit St. Nicholas’ Church where her father and eldest brother were Rectors. Continue to Winchester, check into the hotel. Evening social meeting after dinner with local Austen experts.  (Breakfast and Dinner included)

Winchester Cathedral

11 Sept (Wednesday): Touring in the lovely city of Winchester, visit the Cathedral, short ceremony at Jane Austen’s grave. View the house where she died. Then to Chawton, visit the Jane Austen House Museum: special meeting at Chawton House to see the Library, informal talk by the Director and (subject to permission) tea at Chawton House. Return via Alton, the charming country town which the Austen ladies frequented. Stay in Winchester.  (Breakfast and tea included)

12 Sept (Thursday): To the coast today – visit Cadland House, overlooking Southampton Water, to meet the Drummond family and see their fine display of maritime paintings and memorabilia. Then to Portsmouth, tour the historic Royal Naval Dockyard including HMS Victory, and see the former Naval College where Jane Austen’s naval brothers Frank and Charles received their training.  (Breakfast included)

The Cobb Stairs at Lyme Regis

13 Sept (Friday): Travel west to the pretty port town of Lyme Regis, walk the Cobb (scene of Louisa’s fall in ‘Persuasion’), meet Patrick Stokes and Diana Shervington, Austen descendants. Then to Bath, check in for 3 nights – the Jane Austen Festival begins this day. (Breakfast and Dinner included)

14 Sept (Saturday): Tour Bath, seeing houses where the Austens lived, also St Swithin’s Church, where Jane’s parents were married and her father is buried. Visit the Jane Austen Centre, 1 Royal Crescent, and the Assembly Rooms. Participate in the Festival Parade. (Breakfast included)

Assembly Rooms interior Bath

15 Sept (Sunday): To the nearby village of Lacock, film location for ‘Meryton’ in the 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice – as well as many other fictional places in various writers’ works. Return to Bath for a free afternoon – or a chance to attend other Festival events. Evening, private dinner party and entertainment in an elegant Bath townhouse.   (Breakfast and dinner included)

16 Sept (Monday): Transfer to London Airport for the return flight – opportunity for optional tour extension(s) in Bath (for more Festival participation) or London.  (Breakfast included)

As you can see, we are visiting all the special places in Jane Austen’s life and novels. Syrie and I are so excited to be part of this fabulous opportunity to share our admiration and knowledge of our favorite author Jane Austen and her world. We hope you can join us!

Additional information on the A Jane Austen Tour: Seascapes and Landscapes official website.

Cheers, Laurel Ann & Syrie

© 2013, Laurel Ann Nattress, Syrie James and Ingenious Tours

Giveaway Winners Announced for The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen Book Launch Party

The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, by Syrie James (2012)152 of you left comments qualifying you for a chance to win one of the many prizes available during the book launch party for The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, by Syrie James.

The winners drawn at random are:

One box of Miss Lucy Steele tea from Bingley’s Teas

  • Beth Cohen who left a comment on December 30, 2012

One small box of 10 Lizzy and Darcy notes cards from JT Originals

  • Laura S. who left a comment on December 31, 2012

One Jane Austen charm bracelet by justbedesigns

  • Dana Huff who left a comment on December 30, 2012

Five print copies of The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen

  • Amanda M. who left a comment on December 30, 2012
  • Roselle N. who left a comment on December 30, 2012
  • Danielle C. who left a comment on January 09, 2013
  • Maggi G. who left a comment on December 30, 2012
  • Colleen Lane who left  a comment on December 30, 2012

Congratulations ladies! To claim your prize, please contact me with your full name and address by January 16, 2013.  Shipment is to US addresses only please.

Many thanks to author Syrie James for her fabulous guest blog and all the comments she left for the participants during her book launch. Also, a big round of applause to all of the kind giveaways from: Bingley’s Teas, JT Originals, Justbedesigns and Penguin USA! What a wonderful time we had and I hope everyone is inspired to read this superb new novel. Happy reading to the winners!

© 2013 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose