The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet, by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick – A Review

Secret Diaries Secret Diaries of Lizzie Bennet by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick 2014 x 200From the desk of Lisa Galek:

In 2012, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries debuted on YouTube. Smart, confident (and only slightly prejudiced) grad student Lizzie Bennet posts videos twice a week all about her life, friends, and family. The Internet promptly fell in love. But, there were some things Lizzie couldn’t share in her videos. Luckily, she kept a diary… and now we finally get to see it.

The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet is a companion book to the excellent LBD web series. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’re definitely missing out. Elizabeth Bennet is transformed into a 24-year-old graduate student from California with her own video blog. She posts all kinds of insightful and hilarious content about her wacky family, which includes her two sisters—sweet Jane and energetic Lydia. Oh, and a certain boring, stuffy, and unbelievably rude guy named William Darcy occasionally pops up (but let’s not talk about him because Lizzie just cannot stand him). The videos are an absolutely amazing update on Pride and Prejudice. Very smart, very funny, and very Jane.

But, if you’re not already pretty familiar with this information, The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet won’t really make much sense to you. The book is very tied into the web series—so much so that it often feels like a retelling of the content from the videos. Lizzie begins and ends her story like her vlogs do. She starts off by explaining the new online project she’s about to embark on and ends with a happily-ever-after that will make any Austen fan smile. She sometimes even transcribes whole scenes directly from the videos. (To be fair, it’s only the really important ones.)

The big draw for this book is the promise of new content (in fact, that seems to be their main marketing message per these new videos from Lizzie and Darcy). I was hoping that the book would really deliver in this area. After all, the web series is based on a 200-year-old story that anyone with access to Cliff’s Notes can figure out the ending of. Yet, every video makes Austen’s original feel fresh, engaging, interesting, and really funny. If anyone could pull off a great tie-in novel, it would be the folks at Pemberley Digital. Continue reading

Once Upon a Second Chance, by Marian Vere – A Review

One Upon a Second Chance by Marian Vere 2012 x 200From the desk of Lisa Galek:

Little girls grow up on fairy tales. From a young age we’re inundated with stories about handsome princes who ride in on their white horses and sweep heroines off their feet. Everyone wants that happy ending. But, what if Prince Charming came by and you missed him? In Once Upon a Second Chance, Marian Vere explores what happens to a heroine after she lets her happily-ever-after slip through her fingers.

Ever since she was a little girl, Julia Basham dreamed of finding the guy of her dreams. When she meets Nick Kirkley, a college dropout with big plans for starting his own tech business, she thinks he might be the one. After a whirlwind romance, Nick pops the question and Julia finally sees a happily-ever-after in her future. Her older sister, Lisa, is less thrilled. Lisa convinces Julia to break off their engagement, which also breaks Nick’s heart. The two part ways, but Julia convinces herself that it’s for the best.

Fast forward to eight years. Julia’s dreams haven’t exactly come true. She works as a secretary for a financial consulting firm and still has yet to stumble across “the one.” Nick, on the other hand, is doing pretty well. The tech company he started has made him big money. 17.7 billion dollars to be exact. When Julia’s firm takes Nick on as a new client, she’s forced to come face to face with her biggest regret. Julia realizes that she let the love of her life get away all those years ago. Will she let it happen again? Or is it time for a second chance?

Once Upon a Second Chance is a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, but with a few little twists. Sure, it’s updated and told from the point of view of a modern-day woman living in New York City, but the author also sneaks in some fun references to folk tales and fantasy. Julia keeps waiting for a fairy godmother to come to take her hand and make her world magically better, but, sadly, that’s just not in the cards for her. Continue reading

Margaret Dashwood’s Diary: Sense and Sensibility Mysteries, Book One, by Anna Elliott – A Review

Margaret Dashwoods Diary by Anna Elliot 2014 x 200From the desk of Lisa Galek:

Margaret Dashwood is only rarely mentioned in Sense and Sensibility. She starts the story as a girl of thirteen who loses her father and her home and then sits back to watch her two older sisters fall in love and get married. But, what kind of adventures did Margaret have after Jane Austen’s classic was done? In Margaret Dashwood’s Diary, Anna Elliott explores the life and loves of the youngest Dashwood sister.

As the title indicates, this novel takes the form of a diary and we begin with a brand new entry. See, Margaret has just burned her old journal after breaking off an engagement to a very eligible and rich young bachelor. She means to start fresh and has gone to stay with her sister, Marianne Brandon, at Delaford House for a change of scenery.

Colonel Brandon is away hunting down some dangerous smugglers that are operating in the neighborhood, but Margaret still runs into all kinds of old favorites. Elinor and Edward pop up every now and then. Mrs. Jennings is still poking her nose into everyone’s business. And even Mr. and Mrs. Palmer are in town to add to the laughs. But, when John Willoughby and his wife rent a house in the neighborhood things start to get a bit awkward for everyone. Continue reading

Jane Austen, Game Theorist, by Michael Suk-Young Chwe – A Review

Jane Austen Game Theroist Michael Chwe 2013 x 200From the desk of Lisa Galek:

According to Wikipedia, game theory is “the study of mathematical models of conflict and cooperation between intelligent, rational decision-makers.” So, what the heck does that have to do with Jane Austen and her novels? A lot, as it turns out. In Jane Austen, Game Theorist, we explore how Austen’s works tie into contemporary theories about strategic decision-making nearly two hundred years before they came into fashion.

The book doesn’t presuppose any familiarity with game theory. This was a very good thing, as I knew next to nothing about this branch of the social sciences before picking up the book. Really, the simplest way to explain game theory is to say that it’s the study of how people make strategic decisions. Most people will make a decision based on what they would like to do. In other words, they make a personal choice. But, a good strategic thinker will also consider what others might do in turn. Basically, when choosing, you also consider how others will act.

Let’s look at an example from Pride and Prejudice to illustrate the point. Mr. Darcy agonizes over whether or not to marry Elizabeth Bennet, a woman who he is slowly falling in love with despite his best efforts to resist her charms and fine eyes. A choice like this can be represented visually through a decision tree. Mr. Darcy’s would look something like this:

Jane Austen Game Theorist image 1 Continue reading

The Highbury Murders: A Mystery Set in the Village of Jane Austen’s Emma, by Victoria Grossack – A Review

The Highbury Murder 2013 x 200From the desk of Lisa Galek:

Many fans of Jane Austen’s Emma have described it as one of the first mystery novels. A mystery novel with no major crimes or dead bodies. Well, The Highbury Murders seeks to change all that. The game is afoot!

The novel takes place about a year after the events of Emma. Mr. and Mrs. Knightley are happily married and living with Mr. Woodhouse and their infant son at Hartfield. Emma still socializes with her friends Mrs. Weston and the new Mrs. Martin, while Mr. and Mrs. Frank Churchill are staying in London. Austen’s original began with a marriage, but this story opens with a death. Mrs. Bates has passed away and the village of Highbury must get to work making arrangements for her funeral, comforting her daughter, and generally mourning her passing.

Even with all these new developments in Highbury, Emma still can’t help letting her active imagination run a little wild. Will the Churchills arrive in time for the funeral? Why do the Eltons seem so concerned about money all of a sudden? And who are the strangers that Harriet saw lurking outside her back door? When serious crimes begin occurring, Emma must use her wit and intelligence to help her husband get to the bottom of these dastardly deeds. Will Emma and Mr. Knightley be able to figure out whodunit before tragedy strikes again?

This story is a continuation of Emma and it really blends very seamlessly with the first book. The plot flowed perfectly from the original, so I could imagine all these things happening to the folks we know and love in Highbury. The author also writes very well. As soon as I started reading, I was impressed with the way she captured Jane Austen’s language, tone, and style. That’s no easy feat and it really helped me to get invested in the story.

The characters, too, are natural extensions of the original. Emma is just as witty and spirited as always, though marrying Mr. Knightley has helped to make her a little bit wiser. I really enjoyed reading the details about their married life together as they are one of my favorite Austen couples. Other minor characters have expanded and delightful roles. Mrs. Elton is as ill-mannered, obnoxious, and comical as ever. And poor Mr. Woodhouse! How can he even think about walking in his garden with murderers afoot? Continue reading

When I’m With You (The Jane Austen Academy Series), by Cecilia Gray – A Review

When I'm with You, by Cecilia Gray (2013)From the desk of Lisa Galek:

I read a lot of young adult fiction and I notice that there’s often a tendency to feature a female main character who’s smart, sassy, and in control. Of course, these self-confident heroines are important and lots of real-life girls can relate to them. But, some girls are a little less sure of themselves. A little more naïve and a little too trusting. In fact, that’s something that many women struggle with long after they leave high school. No one knew this better than Jane Austen. Her heroines fit into a huge range of personalities and life experiences. In When I’m With You, Cecilia Gray gives us an update on one of Jane’s most underutilized, yet relatable teenage characters, Catherine Morland from Northanger Abbey

Kat Morley just knows that one day she’s gonna be a famous actress. She’s been the lead in five different productions at her high school, the Jane Austen Academy, so it can’t be long until her name is up in lights. When Kat’s classmate (aspiring actor, Josh Wickham) asks her to travel with him to the set of a movie he’s starring in over Christmas break, it’s practically her dream come true! Things get even better once Kat arrives and starts rubbing elbows with the stars. Izzy Engel is not only beautiful and famous but she’s also decided to befriend Kat! And Henry Trenton (son of Hollywood legend, Tom Trenton) has invited her out for hot cocoa! Swoon!

But, it isn’t long before Kat starts to see the dark side of being famous. Constantly being stalked by the paparazzi. Lack of privacy. Having to act and dress a certain way to maintain your image. When Kat is invited to stay at Henry’s home in Los Angeles, she also uncovers some secrets about his famous dad and starts to have some doubts about her new celebrity friends. Maybe being a star really isn’t as wonderful as Kat always imagined? 

When I’m With You is the third in Cecilia Gray’s Jane Austen Academy series. Each of Austen’s six main heroines gets her own story and a transplant to a modern-day boarding school in California. The girls – Lizzie, Ellie, Kat, Fanny, Emma, and Anne – befriend each other over the course of the six books and, of course, get involved with lots of cute boys. I think Jane would be amused. Continue reading

Project Darcy, by Jane Odiwe – A Review

Project Darcy, by Jane Odiwe (2013)From the desk of Lisa Galek:

There’s one thing that’s true about Janeites – we love a good romance. Whether it’s a couple exchanging glances nearly two hundred years ago or a modern guy and gal sharing their first kiss on the streets of London, there’s something so magical about experiencing the feeling of falling in love… even if we’re only reading about it. In her new novel, Project Darcy, Jane Odiwe combines love stories from the past and present to give us an interesting spin on the life of Jane Austen.

When Ellie Bentley agrees to volunteer for an archeological dig at the site of Jane Austen’s childhood home in Steventon Rectory, she’s looking forward to spending a nice summer with her four closest friends – Jess, Martha, Cara, and Liberty. But almost as soon as she arrives, Ellie starts to see strange things: a man who looks just like he could be the ghost of Mr. Darcy and visions of a romance that happened 200 years ago. As the days pass and Ellie learns more about the secrets of Steventon, she gets drawn deeper and deeper into the life and loves of Jane Austen.

Meanwhile, the five friends are finding that their lives are playing out just like one of Austen’s romances. A handsome Oxford student named Charlie Harden has his eye on Jess, while Ellie is convinced that his friend, Henry Dorsey, is the most arrogant man who ever lived. Cara and Liberty are busy flirting with anyone and everyone in their path – even Greg Whitely, a gorgeous TV star who might not be as charming as he seems. Could the visions that Ellie keeps seeing hold the key to figuring out all their modern-day romantic entanglements?

Project Darcy is a bit of a literary mash-up. It’s a part modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice and part Austen-inspired magical realism. Not only is Ellie on a journey to find her own Mr. Darcy, but she also has the ability to see into important moments from Jane Austen’s past. While this idea is really interesting and has a lot of potential, in the end, the book sometimes struggled to bring the two stories together. Continue reading

The Trouble with Flirting: A Novel, by Claire LaZebnik – A Review

The Trouble with Flirting, by Claire LaZebnik (2013) From the desk of Lisa Galek:

There are tons of ways to flirt… and just as many ways to break hearts in the process. A casual smile or a wink can lead to long-awaited romance or lots of unwanted attention. Claire LaZebnik explores all this and more in The Trouble with Flirting, her contemporary young adult update on Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.

This story is all about Franny Pearson, a high school student from Phoenix looking to get some real-world experience for her college admissions essay. When Franny lands a summer internship as a costume designer with her Aunt Amelia, she ventures from home to work for the prestigious Mansfield College High School Theater Program. Even though her days are filled with sewing and sequins – Franny is determined to make some friends among the theater kids this summer.

Franny quickly runs into an old classmate – Alex Braverman, the dreamboat she’s had a crush on since eighth grade. Could this be the summer Alex finally notices her? Not if Harry Cartwright has anything to do with it. It’s bad enough that Harry’s constantly flirting with every girl in camp, but it really gets annoying when he sets his sights on Franny. Of course, she only has eyes for Alex and would never fall for a notorious flirt like Harry. Or would she?

Though this novel is based on Mansfield Park, it follows the original pretty loosely. Other young adult Austen updates like Prom and Prejudice or Clueless are almost scene for scene reimaginings. This story may have similar characters and the same basic premise as the original – poor girl mixes with rich kids and falls in love – but it’s not afraid to take us to different places.

Franny, for one, isn’t much like Fanny Price. This, of course, will make some people very happy. This Franny is much less passive and morally upright than her predecessor. She’s also a lot more like a typical seventeen-year-old girl. Sure, she isn’t as spoiled, self-involved, and boy crazy as the girls around her, but she also doesn’t shy away from meeting new people or wring her hands any time there’s rule-breaking going on. This Franny would love to be part of a lively production of Lover’s Vows. Continue reading