One Thread Pulled: The Dance with Mr. Darcy (Volume 1), By Diana J. Oaks – A Review

Image of the book cover of One Thread Pulled: A Dance with Mr Darcy (Volume 1), by Diana J. Oaks From the desk of Jeffrey Ward

How differently would Pride and Prejudice have proceeded if Miss Elizabeth Bennet had not overheard Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy’s insulting remarks during the Meryton assembly?  Differently? Yes, very-very differently according to this debut author’s totally diverting and brilliant re-imagining of Jane Austen’s timeless romance.

Starting at page one and continuing all the way to page 457 (rather lengthy for a work of this nature), it never falls off or fails to delight at any point or on any page. So, if you love Elizabeth and Darcy, please read on…..

Two years in the writing, and perhaps more in research, validate the author’s mastery of the Regency period, especially her intimate portrayals of Elizabeth and Darcy, clear down to the least significant character. I am astonished at how the author totally re-charts the course of Miss Austen’s most famous story, yet manages to respectfully maintain and indeed significantly expand upon the expected attributes of its most important personalities. Just about every Austen character makes an appearance and I love the way the author chooses to highlight Miss Anne de Bourgh, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, Miss Caroline Bingley, and Miss Georgiana Darcy. Just name ANY other character from P&P; they’re all in there in some capacity.

The story centers on Netherfield, Meryton, and Longbourne with a brief Sojourn to London. That would seem restrictive for a lengthy novel but this plot device allows the author to deftly focus on the complex and ever-evolving emotional relationship between the heroine and hero. With the “prejudice” portion removed, the encounters between Miss Bennet and Mr. Darcy begin with initial wariness but grow gradually to respect, regard, affection, and ultimately love. The angst generated over this two-steps-forward-one-step-back romance is the foundation that makes this story so irresistibly seductive.

Putting aside my blathering plaudits, how better to recommend this book than to read samples of the author’s delicate wit? Darcy and Elizabeth meet by chance on their outings as they witness a beautiful sunrise. The incongruity is priceless as Miss Bennet admires nature but Mr. Darcy admires only her, yet cannot gain her regard.

“Look, Mr. Darcy.  Is the sight before you not a fair prospect?  I do not know how to bear it sometimes, to gaze upon such beauty and not be able to ever hold it, to be limited to just looking.  It seems a hardship.”  “Yes,” Mr. Darcy said, looking at Elizabeth, the sunlight glinting off her hair, and her face flushed from exertion.  “I believe I understand how you feel.” p. 145

Here is a rousing verbal joust between two strong personalities as Darcy’s insistence on teaching Elizabeth how to ride disguises enormous romantic implications:

“I taught Georgiana.” Darcy replied.  Elizabeth shook her head. “I do not feel safe on a horse.”  “you will be safe with me,” Darcy said.  “How many ways must I refuse before you relent?” Elizabeth laughed.  “How many times must I offer before you accept?” Darcy countered with a smile.  “It is not in me to back down, Miss Bennet.  Once I have set my course, I persist.  “Mr. Darcy, it is my course you are setting, not your own.” Elizabeth replied.” p. 221

I laughed over this classic regency eaves-dropping moment as Mr. Darcy leaves Elizabeth’s sick bed following a supposed private attempt to confess his love for her:

Darcy backed silently to the door where he would leave, his eyes never leaving the woman he hoped to make his wife.  Upon reaching the door, he opened it, only to find that Jane, Bingley, Anne and the colonel were all pressed up against it.  Only the colonel actually fell. p. 276

I must make mention of some threads not “pulled” but “woven in” by the author that may raise both curiosity and doubt: Mr. Collins attempting to compromise Elizabeth Bennet? Miss Caroline Bingley mentally unsound? Elizabeth Bennet collapsing in the middle of the Netherfield ball? Mr. Wickham extorting Mr. Darcy? Mr. Bennet’s almost impossible courtship demands on Darcy and Elizabeth? Mr. Bingley’s secret sister? Mr. Collins’s entail invalid? As I initially read these threads, I thought “That’s far-fetched.” No worries whatsoever, because the author neatly and plausibly explains each of them in a very convincing and satisfactory manner which makes the entire book breathlessly unpredictable.

The conclusion comes abruptly and would be a disappointment for most readers if a sequel was not forthcoming.  It is! This reviewer keeps top-five lists of his very favorite works from a variety of genres and this one has easily parked itself in my top 5 list for favorite regency romances which puts it in with some distinguished titles indeed. That upcoming sequel, Constant as the Sun, can’t get into my hands quickly enough!

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

One Thread pulled: The Dance with Mr. Darcy (Volume 1), By Diana J. Oaks
CreateSpace (2012)
Trade paperback (456) pages
ISBN: 978-1475149616

Cover image courtesy ©Diana J. Oaks 2012; text ©Jeffrey Ward 2013

Darcy’s Decision: Given Good Principles Volume 1, by Maria Grace

Darcy's Decision: Given Good Principles Volume 1, by Maria Grace (2011)From the desk of Jeffrey Ward

For 200 years, I suspect many enthralled readers of Pride and Prejudice have silently pondered the question “What would Darcy do?” Author Maria Grace endeavors to put her own spin on this with her debut prequel novella Darcy’s Decision, in her Given Good Principles trilogy.

Spanning a brief but significant moment in time, the main gist of the story deals with Darcy’s rival Mr. Wickham, his demands for a living, and his alleged compromising of Georgiana and how young Mr. Darcy finally deals with it.

It is six months following the death of his father and Fitzwilliam Darcy struggles with how to honorably and properly manage the vast holdings of Pemberley, care for his 15 year old rapidly-maturing teenage sister, and deal with the prickly problem of one Mr. Wickham –his boyhood friend who shows up to claim the curacy that was thought promised to him by Darcy’s father. A dinner at Pemberley with some cherished neighbors, the Bingleys, Georgiana, the newly-appointed curate John Bradley and Mr. Wickham reveals the complications Darcy is up against:  (Georgiana speaking of Wickham)

“You came to pay your respects?” Lackley dabbed his chin with his napkin. “No, he did not.” Everyone gasped, staring at Georgiana. “Stop it!” Rebecca hissed, reaching for Georgiana’s hand. “He was promised the living given to Mr. Bradley.” A hush fell over the table. Darcy’s pulse thudded in his temples as the blood drained from his face.

With admirable originality the author has created a morality drama with Biblical undertones stressing mercy, forgiveness, and what makes a man truly great. She showcases the familiar well-loved characters of Pride and Prejudice quite accurately: Darcy, Wickham, Richard Fitzwilliam, the Bingleys, Mrs. Reynolds, as well as introducing her own cast of loveable loyal neighbors and old family friends. Chief among these is John Bradley, the vital mentor to both Darcys – father and son. The wise old Clergyman counsels young Darcy and the dialogue is beautiful in its timeless truth:

“I am not like him.”Darcy grimaced and swallowed hard against the rising bile. “I lack his wisdom, his discernment.” But you were given good principles, the ones your father stood.” The wind whipped his coattails and scoured his face. “Are they enough?” “He found them so.” Bradley clapped his shoulder.

But as Darcy reads his father’s private journals, a shocking confession is uncovered which will test the young man’s mettle and may change forever his attitude towards his late father and young Darcy’s relationship with his immediate family.

No Elizabeth? Sorry, but I believe she makes her appearance in the author’s trilogy installment #2 – The Future Mrs. Darcy. Until then, the romantic interest in this tale features the obnoxious Caroline Bingley as she sets her cap at poor Fitzwilliam. The off-and-on banter between Darcy, Charles Bingley, and Richard Fitzwilliam regarding how and who they may find as wives is utterly charming and really sets the stage for #2 in the author’s trilogy.

At scarcely 120 pages, the author still manages to lavish her debut work with historical accuracy, helpful footnotes, and scintillating dialogues. The author’s unique voice is most apparent in her descriptions of facial expressions, posturing, gestures, and mannerisms. A scene where Wickham is bound up and is being interrogated by Darcy and his buddies is so vivid and comical that I was in raptures mentally visualizing the entire episode.

About the only minor criticism I can level against this work is the character of Georgiana who Jane Austen describes in chapters 44 and 45 of Pride and Prejudice as exceedingly shy and quiet. This author’s Georgiana, on the other hand, is quite the feisty outspoken teenage girl, but I suppose that can be excused off as the emotional frustration of no longer being a girl, but not quite a woman yet.

I found Darcy’s Decision richly entertaining with a very plausible variation on “what if?” If Darcy doesn’t wear the mantle of hero yet with you, dear readers, I predict he will once you finish this read. Next stop? The Future Mrs. Darcy, or course!

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Darcy’s Decision: Given Good Principles Volume 1, by Maria Grace
Good Principles Publishing (2011)
Trade paperback (154) pages
ISBN: 978-0615582771

© 2013 Jeffrey Ward, Austenprose

Edmund Persuader: A Romance, by Stuart Shotwell – A Review

Edmund Persuader From the desk of Jeffrey Ward

Would Jane Austen love reading this book today? She admired Sir Walter Scott, Frances Burney, and Maria Edgeworth but what about this epic regency romantic adventure encompassing some 1,500 pages? Within its sweeping span are familiar elements of the gothic in her Northanger Abbey, the ironic humor in Emma, overcoming class barriers in Pride and Prejudice, the romantic treacheries of Mansfield Park, the familial loyalty of Sense and Sensibility, and the steadfast endurance of love in Persuasion. Yes, dear Jane, I think you would!

The “persuader” is larger-than-life hero Edmund Percy who fits the description because he is aptly tall, strong, and handsome. But what elevates him to heroic status is his unique melding of courage, insightful intellect, persuasiveness, humility, and a loving generous heart. The youngest son of a landed gentleman, he has dedicated himself to the clergy.

It is 1810 and his father asks him to temporarily suspend his clerical studies and sail to Antigua to rescue his failing sugar plantation. There, he encounters exhaustive work and intolerable slavery conditions, but ultimately Janetta, the exotically beautiful mulatto daughter of a cruel neighboring slave master. Wild and unpredictable, the slaves fear her bewitching power. Edmund falls madly in love and a torrid erotic relationship ensues, but he is torn by guilt and lost virtue. The supernatural scene of Edmund being confronted by Janetta over a chilling vision only she can see but neither can understand is the story’s ultimate mystery:

“No,” she said bitterly. “I see this woman – I see this dark queen; and you will love her more than you ever loved me.” He laughed and tried to take her in his arms, but she would not let him; she evaded his embrace and slipped away from him. “You will love her more than me! “she said angrily. “Who is this woman? Janetta!” he said soothingly. “Do not be silly, I know no queen; nor is it likely I ever shall. You are the one I love…” p. 307

Only Janetta is aware of the hopelessness of their love and she accurately predicts their ultimate separation. At the loss of his first love, heart-broken Edmund returns to England. On that return voyage he becomes a notable English hero as he prevents an American privateer from boarding and capturing the ship he is on. This action proves pivotal to his future.

Edmund confesses his sins to his mentor and is still encouraged to take up the clergy. Seeking a living, he travels to Hampshire to visit Andromeda, his beloved aunt and mother-figure. She describes the most noble, wealthy, and powerful family in the area—the Esquith De Foyes—and strongly warns him to avoid at all costs their untouchable daughter Mariah and her companion, the lovely but enigmatic Elizabeth Brownton, who manifests an autism-spectrum syndrome. Yet, at a ball the inevitable happens as he meets the entire family. Mariah is regal, impossibly beautiful, and brilliant of mind, and like Edmund, gifted with a supremely compassionate heart. Edmund also meets Mariah’s brother and family heir Tarquin Esquith De Foye. Reckless, competitive, and fiercely protective, “Tark” and Edmund become closer than brothers. The family has learned of Edmund’s high-sea heroics and motions are put into place to award him a living as temporary rector in their village church.

Mariah’s compassion and Edmund’s exceptionally persuasive gifts improve the lives of everyone within their sphere of influence, and they become more than just a friendly partnership. Yet, in spite of their growing love for each other, Edmund cannot persuade Mariah to marry him and is unaware that she is none other than the prophesied “dark queen!” Her own deeply-hidden secret prevents her marriage and will eventually turn deadly enough to threaten her entire family if Edmund fails in his quest to uncover it.

With a half-million words to work with, all of the characters are so totally and fully fleshed out that I found myself weeping over their misfortunes, laughing with their moments of merriment, and hoping beyond hope for their happy future. Yes, there are places in the story that may plod for some readers, such as an entire chapter describing a fox hunt, the intricacies of chess games, and side-plots drawn out in the minutest detail. Yet, soaring above all and not-to-be-missed is what I consider to be the most magnificent unconsummated love story I’ve read since Jane Eyre. In attempting to compare the romantic grandeur and Gothic underpinnings of Edmund Persuader, only Charlotte Bronte’s masterpiece comes to mind. Don’t be intimidated by its length. The determined reader will seldom encounter a more soul-satisfying reward for the effort.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Edmund Persuader: A Romance, by Stuart Shotwell
Mermaid Press of Maine (2009)
Trade paperback (1555) pages
ISBN: 978-0984103218

© 2012 Jeffrey Ward, Austenprose

The Jane Austen Marriage Manual, by Kim Izzo – A Review

The Jane Austen Marriage Manual, by Kim Izzo (2012)Review by Jeffrey Ward

Is it a truth universally acknowledged that a woman of forty, with nothing left to lose, could commit random acts of desperation against her normal sensibilities?  Meet Kate, the heroine of Kim Izzo’s debut novel, who is considering marriage for money and is charged to write a feature magazine article on just that:

“Let me get this straight.  I’m to write about finding a rich husband, at forty, as a guide for women, as though nothing’s changed since Pride and Prejudice was published?” p. 28

In The Jane Austen Marriage Manual, Kate Shaw is savvy, stylish, and seductively attractive at forty.  She has everything going for her, but wait….In short order, she loses her glam job at a fashion magazine, her life savings to an unscrupulous ex-boyfriend, her beloved grandmother to cancer, and her home to her pathetic mother’s gambling addiction.

To cheer her up on her fortieth birthday, her best friends buy her a gag gift of a square foot of land on a noble Scottish estate and a trumped-up title to go with it: Lady Katherine Billington Shaw.  Kate’s magazine editor and close friend Marianne asks her to write an exit feature on how to land a rich husband.  Thus, the idea Kate perpetrates with her phony title and article assignment becomes her foot in the door.

Kate’s quest begins in London where she reunites with her dear English friend Emma and husband Clive.  At a night club, Kate is introduced to romantic interest #1, Griffith Saunderson, the manager of an upscale bed and breakfast.  A handsome Englishman, Griff is thoroughly ridiculed by a drunken Kate.  Little does she know yet that Griff gets even by turning up throughout Kate’s adventures and turning her on at the most awkward moments.

Next stop is a posh Palm Beach resort where she meets Fawn Chamberlain, a ditzy former beauty queen, who is filthy rich by way of two ex-husbands.  Fawn gushes over who she thinks is titled nobility in “Lady Kate” and tutors her on the “in-crowd.”  At a polo match she meets romantic interest #2, dashing billionaire financier Scott Madewell.

Then Kate’s off to glitzy St. Moritz where she encounters romantic interest #3, Vladimir Mihailov, a wealthy Russian developer.  But who should also be there but Fawn, Scott, and Griff to stir the pot.

From there it’s back to London with the same cast of characters and the relationships between Kate and romantic interests #1 and #2 develop more serious undertones.  Desperately poor at this point, she must decide between following her heart or her purse as it seems each may be equally attainable.

I found Kate to be a very un-Austen-like heroine: deceptive, profane, promiscuous, and heavy on the Pinot Grigio.  However, the story triumphs largely on the author’s wicked sense of comedic timing which carries the dialogues, sight gags, and precarious romancing.  The situational antics Lady Kate gets into and her mental gyrations to protect her true identity, purpose, and poverty are just rolling-in-the-aisle hilarious.  Here’s Lady Kate at a polo match in Palm Beach as she endures an up-close encounter with a horse:

“I was just within reach, my heart pounding, trying to steady my hand to stroke him, when he suddenly shook his head like a wet dog, sending sweat flying everywhere, followed by a huge roaring sneeze that sounded like an elephant.  I felt the spray hit my face, my chest, and arms.  If you think horse sweat is bad, you haven’t seen the amount of snot that comes out of a horse’s nostrils.  I couldn’t help it.  I screamed and leapt backward, but instead of hitting solid ground my heel slipped in and I fell toward the moist, soft earth that wasn’t earth, but manure.” p. 96

Alas, right up until the very end, I was still disconnected from naughty Kate and often had difficulty fathoming what the men saw in her at times.  And, what of the outcome of romantic interest # 1 and #2?  Sorry, I spoileth not!

Just because her name is in the title, does The Jane Austen Marriage Manual pass muster as Jane Austen Fan-fiction?  I suppose, but I found the references to Jane Austen a bit contrived, forced, or tacked on.  Still, the author’s creative wit is evident in the chapter headings which are cleverly named and are replete with appropriate Jane Austen literary quotes.

Ultimately, what does it matter since a great read is still a great read, regardless of its genre?  I found Kim Izzo’s debut novel slow-starting but accelerating with dramatic intensity.  Whether you’re expecting a full-pull of “Austen Prose” or not, this is a worthy adventure, full of outrageous humor, endearing relationships, and breathless romantic suspense.

3.5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Jane Austen Marriage Manual, by Kim Izzo
St. Martin’s Press (2012)
Trade paperback (336) pages
ISBN: 978-1250003454

Jeffrey Ward, 65, native San Franciscan living near Atlanta, married 40 years, two adult children, six grandchildren, Vietnam Veteran, degree in Communications from the University of Washington, and presently a Facilitator/designer for the world’s largest regional airline.  His love affair with Miss Austen began about 3 years ago when, out of boredom, he picked up his daughter’s dusty college copy of Emma and he was “off to the races.”

© 2007 – 2012 Jeffrey Ward, Austenprose

Northland Cottage: Where the Heart Comes Home, by A. P. Maddox – A Review

Northland Cottage, by A. P. Maddox (2012)Review by Jeffrey Ward

Many readers may think a contemporary retelling of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility the ‘lazy way’ to a debut novel.  Just hang everything on the framework of the classic original since Jane Austen did all the work.  Easy? Not!  Can you imagine the adjustment difficulties in making the two-century quantum-leap in technology, societal mores, and the fleshing-out of contemporary characters from the original to author A.P. Maddox’s Northland Cottage?  Let’s find out of it worked…

Having visited both locales myself, I was thrilled the author chose North Carolina for the setting of Northland Cottage because I consider it nearly as romantic a location as Sense and Sensibility’s South Devon, England.

I’d almost forgotten how complex the cast and plot is for Sense and Sensibility but I’ll make a “go” at first introducing the characters in Northland Cottage, then their Sense and Sensibility counterparts in parentheses, followed by a brief plot synopsis.  (Take a deep breath and plunge ahead)

The Hathcocks (Dashwoods) are an old-moneyed traditional southern family whose wealth came from agriculture, textiles and furniture.  Following the death of their father, the Hathcock ladies’ beloved Hamilton Estate (Norland Park) is inherited by Brother Frank (John Dashwood) and his wife Dottie (Fanny Dashwood) who brashly move in and take over.  Dottie makes life miserable for Mrs. Hathcock (Mrs. Dashwood) and daughters Caroline (Elinor), Ashelynn (Marianne), and Maggie (Margaret), who look for a means of escape.  Before they move out, Caroline is introduced to Dottie’s brother Conner Burroughs (Edward Ferrars) and the mutual attraction is instantaneous.  The Hathcock ladies are invited to live in a vacant cottage on their cousin Lloyd Honeycutt’s (Sir John Middleton) Northland Estate near Winston-Salem.  Kindly and generous, Lloyd and his wife Ilene (Lady Middleton) love society and dote upon Sarah and her daughters.  The ladies are introduced to Lloyd’s busybody matchmaking mother-in-law Mrs. Johnson (Mrs. Jennings) and a wealthy close friend, Afghanistan war hero Captain Harrison Lowder (Colonel Brandon).  Despite being much older than Ashelynn, he is immediately smitten by her.  But before he can make a romantic move, Ashelynn injures herself while hiking and is gallantly rescued by handsome young Will Houston. (John Willoughby)  Ashelynn tells her sisters about Will’s advances:

 “He kissed me,” Ashelynn sighed with a dreamy smile…”Aw,” Maggie sighed, enraptured.  “I hope my first kiss will be that wonderful.  How about your first kiss Caroline?  Was yours that wonderful?”  Both sisters looked at Caroline, expecting to be thrilled with another amazing first kiss story…”When or if it ever happens, I’ll let you know.”

Ashelynn is head-over-heels in love, but before they can plan an engagement, Will mysteriously escapes to the city of Charlotte with no further explanation.  Lydia (Lucy Steele), Nancy Anne (Anne) and their parents visit Lloyd at Northland and Caroline is shocked to learn that Lydia is secretly engaged to Conner! No wonder his behavior towards Caroline is so ambivalent.  Scheming Lydia encourages Randall’s (Robert Ferrars) advances at a Halloween masquerade:  

 “Well, you’re a Pirate,” Lydia giggled.  “Why should I trust anything you say?”  “Don’t trust me,” Randall warned with a devious gin.  “My only purpose here tonight must be to steal someone else’s treasure.”

Harrison tries unsuccessfully to keep a family secret from Ashelynn. He has a young ward named Kathryn (Eliza) who has been taken advantage of by Will and is expecting.  Caroline and Ashelynn are invited to attend college in Charlotte and live with Mrs. Johnson.  Will avoids Ashelynn at all costs and Conner seems miserable.  Harrison continues to be a loyal and helpful friend to the Hathcock ladies, but especially to Ashelynn, whose love he fears he will lose to Justin Holliday.  For those of you who have not read Sense and Sensibility, I’ll stop here, for fear of spoiling the original masterpiece because Northland Cottage is that accurately rendered.

A.P. Maddox’s bio reveals she has written for children and young adults and cherishes traditional family values.   The book is thus squeaky clean and returns us to a time not long ago when young people fell in love and actually wanted to (gasp) get married!  The author’s writing style is wholesome and seems aimed squarely at the young adult market.  That shouldn’t put you off one bit because I think Jane Austen herself would heartily approve.  The author’s North Carolina is lush and scenic.  Her updated characters are instantly recognizable.  Finally, after you have enjoyed this timeless romance, you can pass it down to your daughter or even granddaughter with complete confidence in its appropriateness.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Northland Cottage: Where the Heart Comes Home, by A.P. Maddox
Brighton Publishing LLC (2012)
eBook (293) pages
NOOK: 2940014225779
Kindle: B007RO91LG

Jeffrey Ward, 65, native San Franciscan living near Atlanta, married 40 years, two adult children, six grandchildren, Vietnam Veteran, degree in Communications from the University of Washington, and presently a Facilitator/designer for the world’s largest regional airline.  His love affair with Miss Austen began about 3 years ago when, out of boredom, he picked up his daughter’s dusty college copy of Emma and he was “off to the races.”

© 2007 – 2012 Jeffrey Ward, Austenprose

My Particular Friend: A Charlotte House Affair (Volume 1), by Jennifer Petkus – A Review

My Particular Friend, by Jennifer Petkus (2012)Review by Jeffrey Ward

In her fledgling foray into the growing field of Austenesque fan fiction, author Jennifer Petkus takes an entirely new direction from her first novel, Good Cop, Dead Cop, with My Particular Friend, mixing up Regency match making and mystery, which some may argue are one in the same. My attempts to further sub-categorize it utterly fail.  But, let’s try a recipe: Combine the crime-solving of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the location and dialogue of Jane Austen, the humor and romance of Frances Burney, mash-up thoroughly and you get something like “Matrimonial private investigators, Inc.”

The adventure is set in Bath, England during the Napoleonic Wars and showcases three totally un-alike heroines: The first is the mastermind, Miss Charlotte House, who is one of the most fascinating fictional personalities this reader has yet come across.  She is stately tall; her elegance turns heads all over Bath; her presence commands awe and respect; her enigmatic mind is near-genius in its capabilities; nothing in Bath of any consequence escapes her notice.  She is relentless and unconventional.  Neither is she above thievery or deception in order to accomplish her mission.  Mercurial and unpredictable, she can be fiercely loyal, generous with her wealth, and often kindly to everyone.  Or, she can be mercilessly uncompromising in the demands on her partners and clients.  The second is Miss Jane Woodsen, the first-person narrator of the tale.  She is young and naïve but shows the potential analytical skills that Miss House seeks.  The third is Mrs. Margaret Fitzhugh, the mother-figure whose relationship to the leader is a closely-held secret.

Miss Woodsen is in desperate straits since her gentleman father committed suicide over losing his fortune and his property has been entailed away.  Miss House rescues destitute Jane off the streets of Bath and offers her a situation.  In exchange for shelter, raiment, and a living, all Miss House desires of Jane is for her to become a “particular friend” and protégé’.  She is thus welcomed into Charlotte’s home as a respected “gentlewoman.”

What is Miss House’s “living?”  In her own words: (Charlotte conversing with Jane) “I suppose you could say I’m an intermediary. Mothers come to me and ask my aid in the matter of their daughter’s matrimonial prospects.”  “I see,” I said, puzzled.  “And of this service….”  “I am NOT in trade, my dear.”

Within this affair are five matrimonial episodes that defy solving until the parties seek Miss House for assistance.  The episodes tax the ladies and their informants to the limits of their abilities.  Each Episode contains its own distinct mood from the sinister to the wildly funny to the deceitful to the romantic.

The prime cargo is the suspense generated within these romantic mysteries but the engine that drives that cargo along is the exquisitely entertaining dialogue between the three ladies, their friends, acquaintances and clients. In true Austen style the author just nails the quaint civility and manners that predominated that time period without any overt sexuality, profanity, or unnecessary violence.

A sample quote from the clever wit of the author had me laughing out loud in its ridiculousness: (Jane speaking to Charlotte) “I often wondered aloud how troublesome it would be to retain so much knowledge, but she always said when information no longer was useful she promptly forgot it. I found difficulty believing her statement and asked her to give me an example of knowledge she no longer found useful.  She countered that she could not because she had forgotten any examples.  I countered that she could not cite an example because knowledge never becomes useless.  She merely looked at me, blinked twice and said ‘I’m sorry, what were we talking about?’”

Two significant threads woven through the entire affair bind the episodes together.  A tantalizing romance slowly blossoms between Miss Woodsen and one Mr. Wallace, an erstwhile military field physician who assists Miss House in her tasks. And, what is the source of the tragic sorrow of Miss House that surfaces at times but remains a mystery for the entire affair?  Why does this oh-so eligible lady, with such beauty, wealth, and brilliance remain single into her late twenties?

The conclusion of the affair is enticingly open-ended as the ladies plan a season in London. Will there be new romantic tangles to solve? Will Mr. Wallace follow them?  Will Charlotte find love?  These questions BEG for a sequel! Or, will author Jennifer Petkus take an entirely different direction? Perhaps the author’s fertile imagination will prove to be as unpredictable as Miss Charlotte House herself.  Whatever the outcome, I sense we have uncovered an emerging literary talent here of considerable promise.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

My Particular Friend: A Charlotte House Affair (Volume 1), by Jennifer Petkus
Mallard Classics (2012)
Trade paperback (302) pages
ISBN: 978-0615597461
Kindle: ASIN: B005UF4Z6U

Jeffrey Ward, 65, native San Franciscan living near Atlanta, married 40 years, two adult children, six grandchildren, Vietnam Veteran, degree in Communications from the University of Washington, and presently a Facilitator/designer for the world’s largest regional airline.  His love affair with Miss Austen began about 3 years ago when, out of boredom, he picked up his daughter’s dusty college copy of Emma and he was “off to the races.”

© 2007 – 2012 Jeffrey Ward, Austenprose

Mr. Darcy Forever, by Victoria Connelly – A Review

Mr. Darcy Forever, by Victoria Connelly (2012)Review by Jeffrey Ward

Following A Weekend with Mr. Darcy and Dreaming of Mr. Darcy comes the caboose in Victoria Connelly’s “Austen Addicts” trilogy: Mr. Darcy Forever.  Every niche of this contemporary romance is lavishly replete with enough references from Jane Austen’s six novels to sate even the worst addict. This charmer, set in two of Jane’s best-loved locations: South Devon and Bath, is devoid of lurid sexuality or profanity, and sweetly laced with humor.

Sisters Sarah and Mia Castle have always been closer than twins although Mia is almost a decade Sarah’s junior.  Because of their shared love of Jane Austen, Sarah books the actual home used as Barton Cottage from one of the Sense and Sensibility film adaptations as a birthday surprise for Mia.  While there, they encounter a handsome and Willoughby-like visitor who unfortunately drives a wedge of estrangement between the two sisters that stubbornly persists for three years.  Following the unfortunate rift, incredible developments occur that neither would believe possible of the other.

Three years hence, Mia visits her closest friend Shelley who lives in Bath where the two plan to participate in the annual Jane Austen festival, something the sisters formerly did together.  The only thing less wanted than the sisters bumping into each other is encountering the guy who started the whole mess and he is indeed lurking in Bath!

The personalities of the two sisters unfold into likenesses of the Dashwood sisters from Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility: sensible Sarah very much like Elinor and impulsive Mia similar to Marianne. Sarah acts as the mother-figure trying to curb Mia’s often wildly impetuous nature while simultaneously trying to control her own terrible condition.   Sarah suffers from acute Obsessive Compulsive Disorder which has already destroyed her marriage and she struggles hopelessly in its grip.  I was instantaneously attached to this flawed heroine’s plight, identified deeply with her, and hoped so much for her.  Ironically, the most hilarious moments in the entire book involve poor Sarah’s inability to cope with her OCD!

Sense and Sensibility comparisons rise again in the men the sisters encounter while in Bath.  Mia meets Gabe who lives in an adjoining home to her friend Shelley.  He’s a widowed architect and seems too old for her but she craves his company. “She’d always dated men her own age and had never been tempted by the older man, but she was enjoying talking to Gabe.  He was easy to listen to, and she felt like she’d known him for ages.”  Can this be anyone else but Colonel Brandon?

Meanwhile, Sarah timidly explores Bath, and unable to find a spot for lunch, bravely sits on a bench next to a gentleman named Lloyd, a professional media photographer, who is taking pictures of the festival for a magazine.  Acquainting easily, they soon discover they are both list-keepers, “germaphobes,” despise disorder, and neither seems put-off by their confessions.  Is Lloyd vaguely reminiscent of Edward Ferrars? A dramatic moment ensues as Lloyd shows her images in his camera.  ‘As picture followed picture, Sarah’s eyes picked out the image of a young woman she thought she recognized. Could it have been Mia? “Go back!” she suddenly blurted. “Back!” Lloyd looked surprised but scrolled back through the photos. “Stop!” Sarah grabbed the camera from him and zoomed into the figure,’ 

For about half the story, the author switches between past/present and Barton/Bath revealing little-by-little what actually happened between the sisters and the man that bewitched them both.  Initially, I felt lost in the maze of brief chapters that shuttled back and forth between place and time but once I finally understood the author’s intent, I found this technique indeed accentuated the dramatic intensity of the plot.

Finally, for those unfamiliar with Jane Austen or her “fan-fiction” world, don’t be dissuaded from reading this one.  Remove most references to Austen (God forbid) and this book stands just as tall on its own strengths.  The poignant story of two sisters ripped apart and their three-year journey back to reconciliation is compelling enough in its own right.  Then kick it up another notch with the two loveable heroes who gently try to restore the shattered lives of Sarah and Mia and their lost relationship with each other.  Deeply hurt and guarded ever since their tragedy at Barton, can the sisters ever hope to trust their hearts to men again or return the growing affection that Gabe and Lloyd are feeling for them?  Will author Victoria Connelly confirm to us that the right man can indeed become Mr. Darcy Forever?  I hope you understand my meaning when I say the 330 pages just evaporated in my hands as I sought the answer.

4.5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Mr. Darcy Forever, by Victoria Connelly
Sourcebooks (2012)
Trade paperback (336) pages
ISBN: 978-1402251382
NOOK: ISBN: 9781402251399
Kindle: ASIN: B0073KA3HA

Jeffrey Ward, 65, native San Franciscan living near Atlanta, married 40 years, two adult children, six grandchildren, Vietnam Veteran, degree in Communications from the University of Washington, and presently a Facilitator/designer for the world’s largest regional airline.  His love affair with Miss Austen began about 3 years ago when, out of boredom, he picked up his daughter’s dusty college copy of Emma and he was “off to the races.”

© 2007 – 2012 Jeffrey Ward, Austenprose

The Three Colonels: Jane Austen’s Fighting Men, by Jack Caldwell – A Review

The Three Colonels: Jane Austen's Fighting Men, by Jack Caldwell (2012)Review by Jeffrey Ward

From Jack Caldwell, the author who brought us Pemberley Ranch, comes a 3-alarm war-time romance: The Three Colonels, Jane Austen’s Fighting Men. An amalgamation of two separate novels is often labeled a “mish-mash” but Mr. Caldwell’s unique melding of the principals from Pride and Prejudice with those from Sense and Sensibility deserves a much classier description.

Two of the three military heroes emerge straight from Jane Austen: Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam and Colonel Christopher Brandon.  The third, Colonel Sir John Buford, has been conjured up from the author’s fertile imagination.  One is married; (Brandon) one gets married; (Buford) One wants marriage. (Fitzwilliam)

Colonel Brandon is enjoying domestic tranquility with his beloved Marianne and the two are doting on their newly-arrived infant daughter, Joy.  Following an uninvited and intrusive encounter with John Willoughby, she weighs the merits of her husband against her former lover.  “Colonel Brandon, however, said little but did much….His deeds spoke volumes.  He was the true romantic.”

Colonel Sir John Buford is a handsome war hero, multi-talented, and a notorious rake.  As he reforms his philandering ways, he falls in love with none other than Caroline Bingley.  Miss Bingley is also ridding herself of her prickly reputation as a haughty and prideful social climber.  Initial suspicions of each other’s marriage motives dissolve away as they’re lovingly mentored by the role models in their families and friends.  “He was aware of Miss Bingley’s reputation, but her actions showed a desire for improvement, and Colonel Buford wondered if they might be fellow souls, striving for redemption.”

The author’s account of Colonel Fitzwilliam’s escapades at Rosings are brilliant and the high point of the book for me.  The colonel’s own romance is just too wonderful for me to want to reveal anything of it here.  Initially he is dispatched to Rosings by his father, Lord Hugh Fitzwilliam, (the rightful owner of the estate) to audit Rosings which has been mismanaged by Lady Catherine.  The grand lady’s turf war and her explosive dialogues with Fitzwilliam and virtually everyone else are Mr. Caldwell at his best.  During this time, Mrs. Jenkinson, Anne DeBourgh’s companion, stumbles upon the source of Anne’s poor health and the unexpected details are wildly funny.  To my delight, a maturing Anne acquires some steel against the controlling machinations of her overbearing Mother:  “Silence, Mother! Your schemes are not to be borne!  Let us have a right understanding between us, madam.  I will NEVER go to Bath with you.  The day Mrs. Jenkinson leaves this house is the day I do.  You have a choice before you – suffer my companion or lose both of us..”

By the time I was half-way though the novel, I was so thoroughly in love with the colonels, their ladies, and the endearing camaraderie amongst them all, I wished it never to stop.  However, their tranquility doesn’t last long as the dreaded news of Napoleon’s escape from Elba and his massing of another army galvanizes the officers into action and strikes terror into the women.  The author’s helpful dramatis personae includes a list of actual historical figures who are skillfully interwoven with the fictional characters into the spectacle of Waterloo, one of history’s pivotal battles.  The slaughter of men and livestock was almost incalculable and it was into this horrifying inferno that the heroic three colonels descended as their women waited in England for news….any news of their whereabouts at the front.

One of the techniques I appreciated was the author’s use of place name markers which he introduces in italics, to signify sudden changes in the location of the story.  Because of this, the action, at times, takes on the characteristic of a fast-breaking contemporary news event.  Without these markers, I would have been hopelessly lost.

The only drawback worth mentioning was the sexually explicit nature of the honeymoon bedroom scenes of Colonel Buford and Caroline which added little for me and seemed to actually detract from the lofty overall spirit of the story.

The author has possibly presented the most historically accurate account of Waterloo in a work of fiction since Georgette Heyer’s An Infamous Army, which is noted in the author’s bibliography, and does he pay homage to it here? “Green troops, green cavalry, green officers – that is what we have here, Colonel! An Infamous Army, what?”  And, I still think Colonel Fitzwilliam’s unexpected but glorious romance is worth the price of the book alone.  Achingly romantic and breathlessly paced, the story ate me alive with alternating feelings of dread, mirth, tears, and joy….just what a great read is supposed to do.

4.5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Three Colonels: Jane Austen’s Fighting Men, by Jack Caldwell
Sourcebooks (2012)
Trade paperback (384) pages
ISBN: 9781402259739
NOOK: ISBN: 978-1402259746
Kindle: ASIN: B006OI2AKU

Jeffrey Ward, 65, native San Franciscan living near Atlanta, married 40 years, two adult children, six grandchildren, Vietnam Veteran, degree in Communications from the University of Washington, and presently a Facilitator/designer for the world’s largest regional airline.  His love affair with Miss Austen began about 3 years ago when, out of boredom, he picked up his daughter’s dusty college copy of Emma and he was “off to the races.”

© 2007 – 2012 Jeffrey Ward, Austenprose

The Garden Intrigue, by Lauren Willig – A Review

The Garden Intrigue (Pink Carnation No 9), by Lauren Willig (2012)Guest review by Jeffrey Ward

Dear readers and fans I bring good news
Lauren Willig has shown her muse
In Pink Carnation number nine
The Garden Intrigue, most divine

Eloise Kelly is in England researching her dissertation on English espionage during the Napoleonic Wars; especially a shadowy figure known only as the Pink Carnation. Eloise’s friendship with Colin Selwick (whose ancestry included spies who worked with this secret agent) has permitted Eloise access to the family’s carefully guarded personal papers. Initially wary, the relationship between Eloise and Colin has blossomed into something more than professional. The “story-within-a-story” format shuttles between the present and the historic as Eloise strives to uncover the identity of the Pink Carnation, the most elusive spy of all.

It seems everyone in a relationship, past or present, arrives at a life-changing crossroad. All of the principal characters choose to, or are forced to, disguise their ulterior motives. Eloise and Colin are at Selwick Hall planning an honorary banquet with an unwelcome filming crew on-site. Among the unsuspecting invitees are Jeremy, (Colin’s Stepfather) Joan, (Colin’s ex) Serena, (Colin’s sister) and Dempster (Serena’s ex) who are all thrown together. Why? Perhaps it is the rumors of an ancient treasure hidden on the estate’s property.  “Everyone putting on a false face, playing a role, perpetually engaged in a masque without a script.”  p. 318

Eloise’s academic grant is also soon to expire and she must make the decision to accept a teaching fellowship back in the United States or impose on Colin to support her if she remains in England. Will there be a “together” future for Eloise and Colin?

Time-tunneling back, Napoleon plans for the invasion of England and will unveil a secret weapon during a masque at his summer residence at Malmaison, France. American expatriate Emma Delgardie is a favorite with the Bonaparte family. She attended Madam Campan’s school for young ladies with her close friend Hortense, Josephine Bonaparte’s daughter. A child bride at 15, widowed at 19, Emma is pixie-like-pretty, gaudy, and savvy.  Everyone is attracted to Emma, especially  her “men.”

Nobody is attracted to Augustus Whittlesby but England’s home office due to his impenetrable espionage cover as a dramatic but mediocre poet. Never being taken seriously is his lot since he is forbidden to reveal the clever, intelligent, sensitive man that he actually is. The only way for Augustus to gain entry to Malmaison and the secret weapon is by deceiving Emma into partnering with him to create the nautical-themed masque. While Augustus works with Emma he is infatuated with another woman: Miss Jane Wooliston. “She was like a moonbeam, a faint gleam of light across the sky, making the throat grow dry and the heart constrict, beautiful to contemplate, impossible to hold. No. It wasn’t right. He wouldn’t give up this easily.” p. 177

With just a minor shuffling of dates, Willig brilliantly interweaves verifiable historical events into this elaborate intrigue. There are famous guest appearances: Emma’s Cousin Robert Livingston, broker of the Louisiana Purchase; Robert Fulton, inventor of the steamboat’ and a very convincing Napoleon Bonaparte. Mr. Fulton sends to Malmaison, not one but TWO, inventions including the plans for each: one harmless, one deadly: “He should have noticed. “Another device?”  “That would be the logical conclusion” said Miss Gwen crisply.  “Another device. One he doesn’t want anyone to see. But someone knows about it.” p. 231

Poetry is the predominant theme of the story and fittingly the language of romance. Each chapter is headed by a whimsical verse from the masque and poetic quotes are in abundance. All of chapter 13 is cleverly epistolary as Emma and Augustus show a budding affinity for each other through their missives.

More character-driven than action-packed, I found The Garden Intrigue a stirring and deeply felt romance. Ms Willig confidently showcases her literary maturity with page upon page of scintillating, heart-rending, emotional dialogue as she draws the reader to the innermost souls of the principals who guardedly probe for love, trust, and honesty in a treacherous environment. “You have every chance in the world and you chose to be what you are.”  Augustus’s lips moved with difficulty. “What am I?” He could see Emma’s throat move as she swallowed. “A fain’eant. A do-nothing.” She blinked away tears, tossing her head defiantly back.” p. 276

Yes, I laughed often, (picture Miss Gwen as a pirate captain), but also wept as Ms Willig tenderly recounts the isolated loss and grief in the lives of the hero, heroine, and others. This complex mystery took me through more twists and turns than an amusement park ride. I was left captivated by the thrilling human drama that is The Garden Intrigue like no other in this series, and I’ve read them ALL.  Lauren Willig, already on top of her game, raises the bar once again.  Need I say more?

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Garden Intrigue, by Lauren Willig
Penguin Group (2012)
Hardcover (400) pages
ISBN: 978-0525952541
NOOK: ISBN-978-1101560334
Kindle: ASIN: B005GSZZ2O

Jeffrey Ward, 65, native San Franciscan living near Atlanta, married 40 years, two adult children, six grandchildren, Vietnam Veteran, degree in Communications from the University of Washington, and presently a Facilitator/designer for the world’s largest regional airline.  His love affair with Miss Austen began about 3 years ago when, out of boredom, he picked up his daughter’s dusty college copy of Emma and he was “off to the races.”

© 2007 – 2012 Jeffrey Ward, Austenprose

The Unexpected Miss Bennet, by Patrice Sarath – A Review

The Unexpected Miss Bennet, by Patrice Sarath (2011)Guest review by Jeffrey Ward

Mary Bennet, that plain, pedantic, priggish, middle sister from Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice, who gave us deadpan lines such as, “I admire the activity of your benevolence…but every impulse of feeling should be guided by reason; and, in my opinion, exertion should always be in proportion to what is required.” (Chapter 7), is explored in this new sequel by Patrice Sarath. How Mary could be made into a heroine the caliber of her elder sister Elizabeth, we shall soon discover.

Her intimate story is a sojourn from Longbourn, to Pemberley, to Rosings, back to Longbourn and finally to_____?  Feeling betrayed by all of her favorite pursuits that formerly brought meaning to her life, nothing is spared from her frustrated scrutiny: not the pianoforte, not her singing, and not even her book of sermons. “Perhaps she should not rest all of her hopes on Fordyce.  He had been a good a good guide, but a narrow one, and she had begun, if not to walk a different path, then to at least question the mapmaker.” (p. 27)

It’s been a year since the other Bennet daughters have married.  Kitty has “come out” and will spend the summer with the Bingleys.  Will “plain” Mary ever attract a suitor or just become an old maid?  Jane and Lizzy plot to bring her to Pemberley for the summer to “improve” her.   Lizzy tells Darcy of the plan: “You have the look of mischief about you,” Mr Darcy said. “Much as when we first met and exchanged words.  Have I need to fear?”  “Not at all” she said. “I merely came to warn you that I am my mother’s daughter after all.  Jane and I are prepared to make a match for Mary.” (p. 9) However, has Mary already encountered a “match?” Perhaps…..

Poor Mary despairs of anyone ever sincerely paying attention to her.  Prior to her Pemberley visit, she plays the pianoforte at a dance.  Mary, who has zero experience with men, is asked to dance by a young gentleman named Tom Aikens. Ms. Sarath has brilliantly fashioned a most unforgettable and loveable hero, much in the mold of another popular hero nicknamed “Turnip,” in Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series. Mr. Aikens is everything Mary is not:  vigorous, outgoing, brash, unkempt, unread, and most-often found on horseback. Shy, bookish Mary is a magnet to Mr. Aikens who pursues her from Pemberley to Rosings and back to Longbourn.  But, is he destined to lose interest, due to her own self-doubting confusion over how he could possibly like her?

The principals eventually all show up at Rosings: Mary, the Darcys (including Georgiana), the Collins’s and even Mr. and Mrs. Bennet arrive to deliver Mary’s trunk.  Mary finally meets the enigmatic Anne.  At first, Mary thinks Anne to be intellectually deficient. “Understanding pierced her and she felt a great and sudden sorrow.  She had been right.  Anne De Bourgh was simple, and all of Lady Catherine’s bluster, all of her posturing and praise on behalf of daughter, was to deny herself the knowledge.” (p. 85)  It turns out that Anne is not all that simple but overly protected and sequestered away.  Becoming friends, they improve each other to the point that Lady Catherine asks Mary to become Anne’s companion and stay at Rosings. But the grand lady continually seeks to discover a breech in Mary’s behavior that will bring social condemnation on the entire Bennet family.  Alas, the inevitable blunder in propriety finally occurs.  Will this end Mary’s friendship, destroy her budding self-esteem, banish her from Rosings and ostracize her from polite society forever?  Further, there is an ironic and shocking surprise near the conclusion.

I can explain my love for this story in a single word: AUTHENTICITY. Ms. Sarath faithfully renders all of our favorite P&P characters, vividly accentuates the dangerous social pitfalls for women of that time, and delivers the Regency style “lingo” that we all crave.  In contrast to Miss Austen’s exquisitely long sentences is this author’s style which occasionally links a series of short sentences together which impart drama, action, and clarity to the story. The author also sprinkles gems of charming humor throughout, especially in Mary’s secret thoughts which show her innate intelligence, despite her lack of social awareness.  Where Lizzy talks with complete candor, Mary converses politely and appropriately, but the author simultaneously reveals Mary’s very contrary private opinions which are highly amusing.

Author Patrice Sarath’s The Unexpected Miss Bennet, has cleaved me from my objectivity!  Why? The story exactly and uncannily fulfills my daydreaming heart’s projected future for this most unappreciated and neglected Bennet sister.  In the face of such a coincidental affirmation, how could I not pronounce this delightful little 224 page story one of the very best Austen sequels I have ever read?

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Unexpected Miss Bennet, by Patrice Sarath
Penguin Group (2011)
Trade paperback (304) pages
ISBN: 978-0425244210

Jeffrey Ward, 65, native San Franciscan living near Atlanta, married 40 years, two adult children, six grandchildren, Vietnam Veteran, degree in Communications from the University of Washington, and presently a Facilitator/designer for the world’s largest regional airline.  His love affair with Miss Austen began about 3 years ago when, out of boredom, he picked up his daughter’s dusty college copy of Emma and he was “off to the races.”

© 2007 – 2011 Jeffrey Ward, Austenprose

Persuade Me (Darcy & Friends 2), by Juliet Archer – A Review

Persuade Me (Darcy & Friends 2), by Juliet Archer (2011)Guest review by Jeffrey Ward

Author Juliet Archer has undertaken the daunting task of re-writing Jane Austen’s classic novels with a modern and contemporary twist. Her first novel in the series, The Importance of Being Emma (2008), was warmly embraced. Now, Persuade Me is the second offering in her Darcy & Friends series.  Reading Persuade Me was like gazing with admiration at any one of my six grandchildren.  There before me are reminders of some of the best-loved features of my own children but lovingly arranged fresh and new. As I began the 341 page odyssey I thought to myself “What can possibly be so entertaining and compelling about a story that you already know the outcome of?”

First, Archer has wisely chosen to drape her updated story on the framework of what this reviewer considers Miss Austen’s greatest love story.  The faithfulness and accuracy to which she closely marks her contemporary story line to Jane Austen’s original is quite astonishing.

Second, it is my conviction that a reader who perchance has never read any of Jane Austen’s works would consider Persuade Me as a stand-alone story of remarkable strength, humor, emotion, suspense, and depth-of-feeling. It is also a testament to the author’s writing skill that we read greater insights into the character and feelings of the hero which are somewhat absent in the original.

The Author sets the stage with Dr. Rick Wentworth, (Capt Frederick Wentworth) an eminent marine biologist who has been working in Australia for the past ten years and still struggling to forget his first love: Anna Elliot.  He has published a best-selling book on his research and is returning to England for a book-signing tour.  It is inevitable that he once again encounters Anna Elliot who is a lecturer in Russian studies at Bath & Western University. She treats her noble heritage with more contempt than pride because it was the threatened reputation of her titled family that forcibly separated the lovers a decade ago. They finally meet again at Uppercross, the home of Rick’s sister, Sophie Croft.  Rick tries not to remember but cannot help himself….

Her voice – and the years crumbled away … He was jumping over the rocks to be with her and she was saying ‘Careful, Rick.’  She never shouted, never had to; he always heard her, as if his brain was tuned to a special frequency … Other memories intruded.  On the boat, just the two of them.  His voice, strangely hesitant: ‘My grandmother used to say – if you can’t be good, be careful.’  And her laugh, soft and seductive, like her skin against his: ‘Well then, we’d better careful, hadn’t we?’ page 89

Anna Elliot (Anne Elliot) is the middle daughter of Sir Walter Elliot, the eighth Baronet of Kellynch, and her deceased mother, Princess Irina Grigoryevna Petrova, a descendent of the Russian aristocracy.  Her present situation parallels Rick’s in that she is also living in the past with what might have been…

“Somewhere deep down was another Anna, the one she’d been at eighteen during that summer in France.  The one Rick Wentworth had coaxed into being, then left to shrivel and die.  And she hadn’t really looked at another man since.  Oh she’d tried; at Oxford there’d been a few boyfriends, but they simply couldn’t compare.  It was like warming yourself on a radiator when you were used to basking in the sun.  She’d grown accustomed to it now, this quiet longing for another life.” page 34

Juliet Archer honors the legacy of the original novel by respectfully maintaining what I believe to be the original artistic intent of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. ALL the unforgettable content is gloriously revisited in Persuade Me:  The story line with its melancholy mood, sense of longing, and anticipation, the characters, the anecdotes, the locations….EVERYTHING is in there down to the minutest detail!  Revisit Kellynch and its environs, Bath, Uppercross, Lyme Regis and the Cobb.  Relive the situations: the party at the Musgrove’s, the walk in the country, the nephew firmly attached to Anna’s neck, the accident on the  Cobb, the encounter at the theater in Bath, the emotional dialogue between Anna and Ben (Capt Harville) and finally the letter….yes, that wonderfully soul piercing LETTER!  Every single one of the people in Persuasion lovingly reappear in Persuade Me: Sir Walter Elliot and his daughter Elizabeth in all of their excessive vanity, Lady Russell, the Crofts, Mrs. Clay, the Musgroves, Mrs. Smith, Benwick, Harville, Lady Dalrymple, the adorable Musgrove nephews, William Elliot, and best of all – Anna & Rick.

Is Persuade Me a “new old story” or an “old new story?”  Whatever you consider it, I hope I have “persuaded” you to add this impressive offering to your stack of must-reads.

 5 out of 5 Stars

Persuade Me (Darcy & Friends 2), by Juliet Archer
Choc Lit (2011)
Trade paperback (416) pages
ISBN: 978-1906931216

Jeffrey Ward, 65, native San Franciscan living near Atlanta, married 40 years, two adult children, six grandchildren, Vietnam Veteran, degree in Communications from the University of Washington, and presently a Facilitator/designer for the world’s largest regional airline.  His love affair with Miss Austen began about 3 years ago when, out of boredom, he picked up his daughter’s dusty college copy of Emma and he was “off to the races.”

© 2007 – 2011 Jeffrey Ward, Austenprose

Nachtstürm Castle: A Gothic Austen Novel, by Emily C.A. Snyder – A Review

Nachtstürm Castle: A Gothic Austen Novel, by Emily C.A. SnyderGuest review by Jeffrey Ward

Dop·pel·gäng·er  [daw-puh l-geng-er] –noun  A ghostly double or counterpart of a living person.

“Catherine turned.

Had she caught a bit of moonlight in the room?  For there before our heroine stood within the secret door one of HERSELVES, bedecked in the stiff panniered satins of a previous age.  The figure beckoned, light glinting off and through her rings and all-too-familiar necklace.  The sweet mouth opened perhaps for no stranger purpose than to draw breath, except that our heroine seemed to hear whispered all about her “veni.”

What could she have done?  She was a heroine, and with that came certain obligations.  So, picking up her skirts, Catherine followed.” (page 85)

Moonlight! Castles! Ghosts! Storms! Secret trap doors! Suicide! Grave yards! Mistaken Identities! Carriage accidents! Gypsies! Hauntings! A kidnapping! Purloined letters! A duel! Swooning! Wild Pursuits! Demonic possession! A disputed inheritance! Three romances! A ransacking! Ancient curses!  A stolen will and testament! Dank subterranean passageways!

Multi-talented Emily C. A. Snyder has managed to pack the above list (and more) into the 139 page Nachtstürm Castle, a sophisticated Gothic fantasy sequel, taking up the further adventures of Henry and Catherine Tilney where our divine Miss Austen finished the last lines of Northanger Abbey.

Beginning in the quiet shelter of the Tilney home in Woodston, we find the newly-weds continuing to “fun” each other over their past escapades with Gothic tales, especially Radcliffe’s Udolpho, Catherine’s over-active imagination inside Northanger Abbey, and Henry’s loving provocation of her naivete’.

A Honeymoon to the continent is proposed by Reverend Tilney to his bride, particularly to the Apennines of Italy, the setting for Udolpho.  While in Paris, they are befriended by a Robert Wiltford, Baron of Branning and his wife, who own a castle in the mountains of Austria near Switzerland and Italy.  The ancient castle’s name? Why “Nachtstürm,” of course. The Baron offers to let the castle to the Tilneys for their honeymoon. But, before we continue, crucial questions must be pondered.  Is our hero, Henry, really THAT clever? Is our Heroine, Catherine, really THAT gullible?  Why the questions? Because the mysterious plot pivots around Catherine’s inability to determine whether her scheming husband is staging their every activity in advance or if indeed what befalls them is totally beyond their control.

The exchange in Paris:

“Nachtstürm Castle,” he repeated, grinning boyishly.  “What a perfectly dreadful name.  Well, it mayn’t be the Apennines, but I hope it shall suffice?” “Of course, my love.  What a fortunate coincidence!”  Catherine agreed with a smile and a gentle touch.  For she was assured now, as she had only suspected before, that there was nothing coincidental at all when Henry Tilney was concerned. (page 18)

Ms Snyder employs all of the classic Gothic props, as from the very moment of their arrival they find themselves embroiled in the middle of a power struggle over the rightful ownership of Nachtstürm Castle.  Nothing is quite as it seems and for a time even the Reverend and Mrs. Tinley doubt each other’s motives as they are caught up in the wild intrigue.  And just who or what is Edric, the elderly steward of Nachtstürm, who seems to hold all within his sphere captive by a malevolent power?

After some particularly unnerving events involving poor Catherine in and around the castle:

There could be no doubt in her mind now that her adventures in Nachtsturm Castle were not, after all, Henry’s careful planning. The certainty had been growing within her since the previous night’s escapade – only now formalized in the wake of Henry’s inability to answer her questions.  She reeled from the thought! (page 84)

Ms Snyder’s Henry is handsome, clever, witty, protective, and recklessly heroic at times.  Marriage must be agreeing mightily with Catherine because she is in full bloom, admired by all who encounter her as a winsome young beauty.  And, trusting that her Henry may be planning thrills for her amusement, she takes courageous chances at times.  The banter between these two is charming and sweet with an undercurrent of playful sensuality that is characteristic of two people who are daily growing more madly in love with each other.

Early on, a teasing and amorous Henry steers his lovely bride towards the bedroom with this:

“That Woodston shall be haunted ‘til life be brought again,” Henry had replied, taking his wife’s hand and leading her with his shoulders a-slump, resignation in his voice, and a twinkle in his eye.  I’m afraid, my dear, that the parish must be peopled!” (page 4)

This is not a sedate Austenesque sequel but a harrowing thriller that requires of the reader a certain level of concentration and diligence to not get lost in the multiplicity of characters, dates, places, and events.  Being written by an academician, (which I am not), I was sent scurrying for my dictionary more than once and with dialogue in French, German, and Italian, I was thankful to have studied Latin.  This Novella should be…no…MUST be read-through a second time.  On my re-read, morsels of enlightenment, sometimes as seemingly insignificant as a single word or short phrase, were revealed that greatly enhanced my understanding and pleasure regarding the convoluted mystery of Nachtstürm Castle.   This reviewer cannot remember reading a novella, or any other work of this length, that had within its pages so much to offer the fancier of Gothic fiction.  Read it after dark with your back to the wall and facing a locked door!

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Nachtstürm Castle: A Gothic Austen Novel, by Emily C. A. Snyder
CreateSpace (2010)
Trade paperback (139) pages
ISBN: 978-1453638828

Jeffrey Ward, 65, native San Franciscan living near Atlanta, married 40 years, two adult children, six grandchildren, Vietnam Veteran, degree in Communications from the University of Washington, and presently a Facilitator/designer for the world’s largest regional airline.  His love affair with Miss Austen began about 3 years ago when, out of boredom, he picked up his daughter’s dusty college copy of Emma and he was “off to the races.”

© 2007 – 2011 Jeffrey Ward, Austenprose