This time travel romance novel has a great hook in the title – Jane Austen’s name, and we all know that it caught your attention, cuz, you’re reading my review!
When an author sets out to ‘entrap’ (or more kindly stated) ‘entice’ us into noticing their book over all of the other thousands of books published each year by choosing a catchy title, it’s called clever marketing. Add to that, a provocative cover sporting a set of six-pack abs that we hoped we might find under Mr. Darcy’s wet shirt, and the façade of a Regency manor house a la Pemberley, and you know that they have really pulled out all the stops to make a sale. Let’s hope they can deliver the goods. After all, if the author was in doubt at any point in writing their story, all they had to do for a solution was to ask what Jane Austen would do, right?
Heroine Eleanor Pottinger is a costume designer from Los Angeles who arrives in Hampshire, England for Regency Week jetlagged and downtrodden after being unceremoniously dumped by her boyfriend. She has booked her accommodations at Twixton Manor Inn, an eighteenth-century grand manor house converted into a hotel whose staff has lost her reservation and must put her up in the only room left available – the haunted one that they never use. Undaunted, Eleanor just wants sleep
and does not care if she shares it with anyone, spectral or otherwise. When the two ghostly sisters Mina and Deirdre materialize to haunt her, she strikes a bargain with them to travel back to Regency times to thwart a deadly duel that kills their brother Teddy if they will in turn introduce her to their neighbor, her favorite author Jane Austen. Eleanor awakens in 1814 to meet the sisters and their family living at Twixton Manor with a house full of guests including hunky rake Lord Shermont, an agent for the crown who is secretly hunting for a Napoleonic spy among them. Eleanor quickly becomes his chief suspect.
Motivated to meet Jane Austen, Eleanor engages in a week of social activities to discover which of the sister’s honor will be compromised provoking Teddy into duel with Shermont. Somehow she must figure out how to alter history and avert the deed and save his life. As a twenty-first century woman, Eleanor struggles with the Regency lifestyle and often asks herself “what would Jane Austen do?” in the same situation which works beautifully until romance gets in the way as she is courted by Teddy and the known womanizer Lord Shermont. Questioning their motives may be the key to her unraveling the mystery and discovering if she has fallen in love with a spy or an Austen-esque hero.
Author Laurie Brown has pulled together elements of several genres – historical romance, spy thriller, time travel, and Jane Austen – in an ambitious endeavour. The plot moved very quickly and was evenly paced. Contrary to scandalous rumor, I do enjoy historical romance novels, which What Would Jane Austen Do? would qualify. I have two requirements in my romance reading that this novel satisfied; — that the characters are believable and the plot has substance. I enjoyed traveling back in time with Eleanor, meeting Lord Shermont and of course encountering Jane Austen. Who wouldn’t?
Brown obviously researched her Regency history and has read Austen’s novels quoting characters and scenes (though I must correct her reference to Knightley criticizing Emma Woodhouse after the picnic at Boxhill where she had treated Jane so badly! It was Miss Bates who was abused not Jane Fairfax.).
Taken as a fun and frothy summer read, I have very few quibbles. When an author chooses to use Jane Austen or her characters that ups the ante in my book, and the standards are raised. Unfortunately, the opportunity to distinguish the present and the past with language nuances was missed as modern words such as Tarzan, yummy, omigod leaked in to the Regency world, and misnomers such as Arabian thoroughbred was used to describe Lord Shermont’s horse. Additionally, at times I would like to have rested and discovered more about characters and their motivations, which was Austen’s forte. In the end, I knew very little about the heroine and hero’s inner thinking and felt the plot skipped past moments to elaborate and reflect just a bit more. The author did however supply the requisite Austen-esque heroine transformation and happily-ever-after ending, which Jane would have chosen to wrap-up more swiftly with far less effusion.
In the end, was I entrapped by Jane Austen’s name into reading this novel? You betcha! Do I have any regrets? Like Austen’s character Emma Woodhouse, in this instance “I would much rather have been merry than wise.”
4 out of 5 Stars
What Would Jane Austen Do? , by Laurie Brown
Sourcebooks Casablanca, Naperville, IL (2009)
Mass market paperback, (352) pages
Cover image courtesy of Sourcebooks Casablanca © 2009; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2009, Austenprose.com