Murder at Northanger Abbey: Sequel to Jane Austen’s Spoof on the Gothic Novel, by Shannon Winslow—A Review

Murder at Northanger Abbey by Shannon Winslow 2020From the desk of Sophia Rose:

Do you ever read a book and enjoy it to such an extent that your mind continues to dwell on the characters, and you imagine your own continuation of the story? If that story is Northanger Abbey, then it is no stretch to imagine that the heroine, Catherine Morland, must have her dream of living inside one of her delicious gothic novels fulfilled even while reveling in the happiness of being married to her Henry. Oh, not as the gullible young girl who conjured up ghouls and mystery where it did not exist, but a heroine worthy of adventure when the adventure finds her. If you perked up at this possibility, then, like me, dear reader, you are primed for Shannon Winslow’s Murder at Northanger Abbey.

The story opens with Catherine and Henry Tilney, newlywed and living in bliss at Woodston Cottage. Catherine is still settling in as mistress and exalting in the tender and passionate love of her husband. She has learned from her earlier adventures and set aside the impressionable girl who saw a bloody skeleton in every locked trunk or a villain in every frown. She is sensible now and seeks to be a credit as a vicar’s wife.

Into this idyllic life, an invitation arrives from General Tilney for them to attend an All Hallows Eve Masquerade Ball at Northanger Abbey. Henry is dubious and still has strong feelings about his father’s previous treatment of Catherine, but if this means an olive branch, he should accept. Catherine is thrilled about the ball and revels in the chills she feels about spending All Hallows Eve at a house she once thought haunted.

Their arrival reunites all the Tilneys including Elinor and her husband. Catherine also meets a pretty, young, but ineligible woman whom Frederick brought to annoy the General, though she is startled to notice a soft spot in the cruel Captain. The General also has a young pretty woman on his arm and she is very much eligible as the daughter of a Marquess. He is bursting with some sort of inner glee over what is to come later in the evening, and she can only take heart that he welcomed them if a tad coolly. Continue reading

Recipe for Persuasion: A Novel, by Sonali Dev—A Review

Recipe for Persuasion by Sonali Dev 2020From the desk of Sophia Rose:

Jane Austen’s Persuasion gets a modern facelift Desi-style in this standalone sequel to Sonali Dev’s 2019, Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors, as Indian American chef, Ashna Raje, and Brazilian footballer, Rico Silva, encounter each other once again as acrimonious cooking partners on a reality TV show. I love that the author has cooked up a series of modern retellings of Jane Austen’s classic works by giving members of the Raje family their chances at romance.

In Recipe for Persuasion Ashna’s family is convinced a reality cooking show is just the jumpstart her dying restaurant needs and she is willing to do anything to preserve this last bit of her father who opened the restaurant.

As a pro footballer at the top of his game, Rico thought he had moved on from Ashna’s rejection. That is until he is injured badly and yet another relationship didn’t work out.  He decides he has to do something about not being over his teenage love so signs onto the show to be Ashna’s partner. He vents his long-smoldering anger, but also understands as an adult what his teenage self couldn’t when he learns the true state of Ashna’s affairs. Understanding her leads to an understanding of the past.

Ashna had a difficult childhood. Her father, a prince, was forced out of India for some trouble he got into and lost the lifestyle he was accustomed to making him a bitter, angry man. Her parents were stuck in a loveless marriage where abuse and alcoholism were rife and Ashna was physically abandoned by her mother while the remaining parent’s issues were just as unhealthy for her so that, even after his death, she works to please a father who was never going to be pleased.

It was his dream to go to Paris and become a superb chef which she did for him and she now can’t even create her own dishes without bringing on an anxiety attack. She can only keep his restaurant just as he had it and cook only his dishes which is why the restaurant is failing. Others see it and she refuses to heed them because honoring her father is all she has left. Into this situation steps the boy become man from her past and she hasn’t gotten over him. Continue reading

The Other Bennet Sister: A Novel, by Janice Hadlow—A Review

The Other Bennet Sister, by Janice Hadlow 2020From the desk of Sophia Rose:

The oft-forgotten of the five Bennet sisters who may have been a reader’s source of amusement or irritation, engendered pity or magnanimous sympathy comes endearingly alive in Janice Hadlow’s gentle opus to Mary, the other sister who must follow a very different path to happiness.

The Other Bennet Sister opens when Mary Bennet is a young girl happy and content with herself and her life until slowly, she becomes aware of a miserable truth. She’s plain and unattractive. Jane the pretty sister and Lizzy the witty favorite of their father’s pair off as they all get older, her father is entrenched in his library sanctum, and her mother laments Mary’s looks and hurls painful remarks to her and about her. Even her younger sisters take their cue from this to draw together and tease her when they do notice her. Mary searches for ways to please and be noticed though she works hard to avoid her mother who twits her on her looks or quiet manners.

In short, Mary is miserable and is willing to try anything even securing the interest of the bumbling and bothersome cousin Collins who has come to Longbourn in search of a wife. If she thought her homelife was misery, being overlooked by Mr. Collins even after she put her best foot forward and made a horrid spectacle of herself at the Netherfield Ball teaches her that being invisible is even worse.

Her sisters’ triumphs in being wed, a family death, and feeling at a loss sends Mary on a journey of self-discovery.

The Other Bennet Sister worked hard to be true to Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Mary’s childhood and her debut on society along with the story flowing on parallel lines fit hand in glove with the P&P story. It had a broodier Jane Eyre feel to it, but this works since it is Mary’s story. It was intriguing to see that by focusing on Mary the author shows all the familiar characters in a slightly different light. Some even get more of a stronger role like Mrs. Hill the Longbourn housekeeper who has a soft spot for neglected Mary and by Charlotte Lucas who sees Mary as sharing a similar personality and needs since they are both plain. I will offer the warning that the usual sparkling favorite characters in Pride and Prejudice to not always appear in a favorable light so be prepared to see a different interpretation to many familiar characters. Continue reading

The Jane Austen Dating Agency: An Uplifting Romantic Comedy, by Fiona Woodifield—A Review

From the desk of Sophia Rose:

Can a Jane Austen-themed dating agency do anything about a floundering career woman’s life- ahem love life? With trepidation and not just a few sharp pokes in the back from her friend, Sophie Johnson, long-time Jane Austen lover, and dreamer of finding her own Mr. Darcy is about to find out.

Sophie Johnson dreams of a grand career in the editing office of a posh magazine, a chic lifestyle, and a dashing rich handsome guy to lavish anything her heart desires on her because he is utterly devoted to her happiness. Of course, in real life, she’s stuck in a low-level sales job at that posh magazine, a shabby chic lifestyle, and not the fashionable kind, and a pathetic serial texter who won’t believe she called it quits. She does nothing but work her dead-end job and go home to her small shared flat for a book or a favorite rom-com movie. Something has to give and fashion writer friend Mark, finds it, a dating agency right up Sophie’s alley.

Sophie loves Jane Austen and the thought of experiencing dates while engaging in themed balls, card parties, picnics, and lectures at various Jane Austen real life and movie sites makes it worth her jitters over putting herself out there to be matched. On her way out of her interview, Sophie spots a picture on the wall of gorgeous and obviously wealthy Darcy Drummond’s whose company is backing the agency and wonders what it would be liked to be matched with him.

Sophie encounters the man in real life and is unimpressed with his arrogant rich boy attitude when Darcy vocalizes his disapproval of her and others like her. After that, she bristles just being in the same room with his high and mighty, but soon she finds herself engaged in the new circle of people who have also joined the lower tier of the agency. Continue reading

Bitch in a Bonnet: Reclaiming Jane Austen from the Stiffs, the Snobs, the Simps and the Saps (Volume 1), by Robert Rodi—A Review  

Bitch in a Bonnet, by Robert Rodi (2012)From the desk of Sophia Rose:

Compiling his thoughts on the first three of Jane Austen’s published novels, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Mansfield Park, author Robert Rodi fires a broadside at the swooning, sugary sentimentality of the modern Jane Austen fan craze.  He is appalled that such a group has turned a witty, sharp-tongued wonder into trite purple prose and slapped her silhouette on a t-shirt. Forging ahead for over four hundred pages, he dissects these Austen novels chapter by chapter, line upon line, precept upon precept highlighting a lack of romance and a decided prevalence of comedy and insight into the human condition.

I would like to give an early warning that this is not a book for those who have never read these novels. Though, it might be argued that it is exactly for those who are still considering them. My warning is for those who prefer to go into their books without spoilers and no undue influence because, reader, the author most definitely means to influence and discuss with thoroughness each character and each event and he does.

Bitch in a Bonnet begins with an explanation and a warning. Rodi doesn’t plan to take anyone by surprise or leave anyone in question of his purpose in writing his book. He basically shouts out ‘There be dragons here!’ And, I suspect for some, his method of discussion might be just that. I would be lying if I said I never had the urge to bop him on the head for trashing some of my favorite characters or scenes or that I have a decidedly differing opinion on matters, particularly in Mansfield Park.

In colloquial turns of phrase and a great preponderance of cultural idioms, he dissects each of the books in his own chapters that tackle the novel’s chapters in about five-chapter sections. His sardonic humor and often sarcastic turn of phrase can be highly amusing (read, laugh out loud funny) and, once in a while, wearying (he can belabor his point now and then). Continue reading

And Dangerous to Know (Rosalind Thorne Mystery Book 3), by Darcie Wilde—A Review

And Dangerous to Know by Darcie Wilde 2020From the desk of Sophia Rose:

When a mystery series is introduced with such words as, “…inspired by the novels of Jane Austen,” you may be sure that I will be more than willing to delve right in with alacrity. Wilde created a capable heroine who was high born, fallen with her family’s disgrace, and risen by her own resolution and strength as a useful woman to those who were once her peers, and what began with curiosity continues to impress with a deep appreciation for her spirit and intelligence.

And Dangerous to Know is so titled to best suit one of the intriguing real historical elements of this third installment in the Rosalind Thorne series which works best read in order. In this latest, Rosalind is involved with ‘mad, bad, and dangerous to know’ Lord Byron, indirectly. While never actually present, he can be felt throughout the book.

Rosalind has recovered from her last encounter with murder and peacefully keeping up her prodigious amounts of correspondence, her household affairs, and trying to help her friend Alice figure out where Alice’s brother George has been disappearing to each evening. Meanwhile, she ponders the affairs of her conflicted heart—a duke or a detective?

This is all interrupted when an imperious summons brings her to the august doors of Melbourne House and she encounters its notorious mistress, Lady Melbourne, and her more notorious daughter in law, Lady Caroline Lamb. Lady Melbourne has letters written by Lord Byron that have gone missing and they are such that ruin for several will happen if they are ever published or the contents bandied about.  Rosalind has a bad feeling about the whole thing, but when Lady Jersey recommended her and another society queen wishes to hire her, there is only one answer to give. Continue reading

The Bridge to Belle Island, by Julie Klassen — A Review

The Bridge to Belle Island by Julie Klassen (2019)From the desk of Sophia Rose:

First, Julie Klassen pulled me into her writing with a haunting, gothic romantic suspense, The Secret of Pembrooke Park, and most recently delighted me with the world of a quaint English village and its occupants in her series, The Tales of Ivy Hill. In her latest release, Klassen wrote a romantic suspense that is slightly darker, splitting the setting of an island estate on the Thames and London. I love a good murder mystery, and setting it in the Regency period had me taking up The Bridge to Belle Island prepared for a reading treat.

Young lawyer, Benjamin Booker, has just experienced a humiliating loss in court when the client he thought innocent had charmed him into risking all to defend her and it turned out she had utterly lied. He feels that he has disappointed his mentor at the firm and took a hard hit to his confidence in reading people and situations. However, he soon has the opportunity to prove himself to his mentor, Mr. Hardy, when Mr. Hardy wants justice for the death of his former colleague at the firm who lately held the position of trustee for the Wilder family and was murdered in their London Town House.

Living retired from the rest of the world on Belle Island, Isabelle Wilder has seen a great deal of tragic death in her family and it has left her with an extreme fear that won’t allow her to leave her island family home for years now. She is sorry to miss her niece’s engagement party in London because of her own weakness. The night of the party, Isabelle has a terrible dream that their skinflint trustee was murdered. She is dismayed when Mr. Booker, a skeptical lawyer from the family firm, shows up both to sort their legal matters brought on by the death of her trustee, but also to investigate the death with her as the chief suspect. It was a dream when she saw vivid images of the death, right? She has nothing to hide, she hopes, so welcomes Mr. Booker to Belle Island and invites him into her life there where he starts to mellow toward her until disturbing facts start to come to light leading right to her door. Continue reading

Matters of the Heart, by Fiona Palmer — A Review

Matters of the Heart, by Fiona Palmer (2019)From the desk of Sophia Rose:

One of the brilliant things about modern retellings is the amusement in discovering the similarities in the characters and scenes to the original while still getting a unique flavor to the story by seeing them in a new setting. Fiona Palmer’s, Matters of the Heart, a modern retelling of Pride & Prejudice set in rural Western Australia strikes a happy balance between complete correspondence to the original and wise alterations to suit the times and keeps it fresh for the readers. The draw of an Australian author and setting for Austen’s classic could not be missed.

The book opens with an introduction to the main character, feisty Lizzy Bennet, her family, and her small town, Coodardy. Lizzy pursues her deep-seated fulfillment in farming and bravely forges ahead using new methods in agriculture and animal husbandry to save the family farm following a few tough years and her dad’s indifference. Lizzy is not immune to other people’s doubts that a mere woman can be a farmer let alone save her family farm which causes her to stick out her chin and resent a certain rich, successful, and handsome farmer’s officious remark. So much for being excited about having the farm next door purchased and new people arriving in the neighborhood, she thinks. Charles might be nice enough and fun to converse with about farm methods, but his sister and best friend are as welcome as a bank foreclosure in Lizzy’s mind.

Matters of the Heart was very much in tune with Austen’s story. That said, it was freshened due to the Australian farm setting, Australian customs, and dialogue with new characters for the reader to engage with whether brand new to Austen or an old fan.

This version of Elizabeth Bennet, the jewel of the story for me, is a woman succeeding in a non-traditional career and is a bright non-conformist like the original. Continue reading