Blog Events, Book Reviews, Jane Austen Sequels Book Reviews, The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013

Pemberley or Pride and Prejudice Continued, by Emma Tennant – A Review

The Pride Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge (2013)This is my third selection for The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013, our year-long event honoring Jane Austen’s second published novel. Please follow the link above to read all the details of this reading and viewing challenge. Sign up’s are open until July 1, 2013.

If you can, take yourself back to 1993. Some of you reading this review were not even born yet, so bear with me. Imagine the Jane Austen universe pre Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy emerging soaking wet from Pemberley pond in the 1995 A&E/BBC miniseries Pride and Prejudice. No dripping Darcy. No thousands of Jane Austen-inspired prequels, sequels and inspired-by novels and self-help books brimming book shelves at your local bookstore. No buy-it-now button at your favorite online retailer. No INTERNET for that matter! You have read Pride and Prejudice (multiple times) and seen both the adaptations: the1940 movie starring Laurence Olivier and the 1980 BBC mini-series starring David Rintoul on Masterpiece Theatre. You are violently in love with Jane Austen’s novel and know of no one else who shares your obsession—and then one day you are in a bookstore and see Pemberley or Pride and Prejudice Continued, by Emma Tennant. You stare at it in total disbelief. Could someone else continue the story of your beloved Elizabeth and Darcy? Could you be back at Pemberley again?

Now that you have a closer understanding of the environment that Tennant’s brave foray into Jane Austen sequeldom entered in 1993, and what anticipation the reader might have felt, you will have a greater appreciation of its tepid reception. When the vast majority read this book they delusionally expected Jane Austen, again. How could they possibly not be disappointed? By the time I read it in 2002 it had gotten a bad rap all-around by media reviewers and pleasure readers. My first impressions were not positive either. Now, after eleven years of reading numerous Pride and Prejudice-inspired novels that have been published in its wake— I have re-read it with an entirely new perspective—with an open heart and a sense of humor.

Image of the book cover of Pemberley or Pride and Prejudice Continued: by Emma Tennant © St. Martin’s Press 1993 It has been almost a year since the happy day in which Mrs. Bennet got rid of two of her most deserving daughters. Elizabeth Darcy nee Bennet is learning the ropes of being the chatelaine of Pemberley House while obsessing over her insecurities and lack of producing an heir. Her dear father has died and his entailed estate of Longbourn has passed on to his cousin Mr. Collins and his wife Charlotte. The displaced Mrs. Bennet and her two unmarried daughters Mary and Kitty have taken up residence at Meryton Lodge, their new home not far from Longbourn and neighbors Mrs. Long and Lady Lucas. Elizabeth’s elder sister Jane and her husband Charles Bingley have purchased an estate in Yorkshire thirty miles from Pemberley. After four years of marriage they have one daughter and another on the way. Thoughtless younger sister Lydia, her ner-do-well husband George Wickham and their four children are continually in debt and an embarrassment to Elizabeth and her family.

The holidays are approaching and the plans for the annual festivities will include gathering family at Pemberley for Christmas and a New Year’s Ball. Besides Georgiana, Mr. Darcy’s younger sister, the guest list is growing out-of-control. Even under the care of her capable housekeeper Mrs. Reynolds, Elizabeth is overwhelmed. Included are Elizabeth’s family: some welcome and others not. Mrs. Bennet, Mary and Kitty will make their first visit to Pemberley. Jane will also journey with her husband and his sisters Miss Caroline Bingley, Mrs. Hurst and her husband. Elizabeth’s favorite Uncle and Aunt Gardiner have let a house nearby so that the unwelcome George Wickham and his family can visit with Mrs. Bennet. Also on the guest list is Mr. Darcy’s officious Aunt Lady Catherine de Bourgh who disapproved of Darcy’s choice of bride but seems to have mended the fence enough for an extended stay. Arriving with her is her unmarried daughter Anne and the heir to the Pemberley estate, a distant cousin of Lady Catherine, Master Thomas Roper. Shortly before Mrs. Bennet is to depart for Pemberley she reveals to her friend Mrs. Long that even though Mr. Bennet departed this life but nine months ago, she intends to marry Colonel Kitchiner, a cousin and a crush from her youth whose father was a business partner of her father in Meryton. She has invited him to Pemberley as well—so it is a full house of unlikely companionship for its new mistress.

Any fans of Pride and Prejudice will recognize the irony of the guest list. The back story from the original novel and the combination of personalities is a set-up for the conflicts that inevitably arrive even before the guests do. Tennant has fudged on the facts from the original novel which were a bit off-putting. I remember being irked by this the first time around, and the second time did not sit as well either. Jane and Elizabeth were married on the same day in P&P, yet she chose to have Elizabeth marry Mr. Darcy four years after the original event—and how could any author writing a sequel or any historical novel set in the Regency-era not understand the ins and outs of British primogeniture? Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s cousin Thomas Roper, also the cousin of Mr. Darcy’s mother Ann, could not be the heir to Pemberley. If so, it would mean that the Darcy family and his mother a Fitzwilliam were related in earlier generations. This is possible but highly confusing to the reader who may understand the English inheritance laws, or not.

Image of the book cover of Pemberley or Pride and Prejudice Continued: by Emma Tennant © St. Martin’s Press 2006 Quibbles in continuity and cultural history aside, my second impressions of Pemberley or Pride and Prejudice Continued were much more favorable—at least I didn’t despise it anymore. With the exception of Elizabeth Bennet being overly angst ridden and atypically un-spirited, I enjoyed Tennant’s characterizations of the delightfully dotty Mrs. Bennet and the slippery Bingley sisters. My biggest disappointment remained with the male characters. We see all of the action through Elizabeth’s eyes, and since she is uncertain and overly grateful of Darcy’s love, their relationship is strained and unpleasant. He is proud again and given nothing to say, and she is too unprejudiced to do anything about it. Tennant excelled most with her new creations: Mr. Gresham, Thomas Roper and the hysterical Col. Kitchiner who rivals the odious Mr. Collins (thankfully not invited to Pemberley) in the role of buffoon.

I appreciate Tennant much more as a writer than I did at first reading. It was interesting to put Pemberley into a wider perspective after many years. She was helping to create a new genre in which many would follow. This first attempt, though seriously flawed, merits some respect and congratulations. It is a must read for any ardent Austenesque fan, but most will be disappointed.

3 out of 5 Regency Stars

Pemberley or Pride and Prejudice Continued, by Emma Tennant
St. Martins Press (2006) reprint
Trade paperback (226) pages
ISBN: 978-0312361792

Cover image courtesy St. Martins Press © 2006; text © 2013 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Blog Events, Book Reviews, Jane Austen Critiques & Analysis Book Reviews, The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013

Celebrating Pride and Prejudice: 200 Years of Jane Austen’s Masterpiece, by Susannah Fullerton – A Review & Giveaway

The Pride Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge (2013)This is my second selection for The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013, our year-long event honoring Jane Austen’s second published novel. Please follow the link above to read all the details of this reading and viewing challenge. Sign up’s are open until July 1, 2013.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

Besides being trotted out for the opening of every news article containing anything vaguely related to Pride and Prejudice, its author, its characters, its plot or any other self-serving cause, I have seen this famous first line from the novel on T shirts, mugs, book bags and stationary. It is indeed a truth universally acknowledged that Pride and Prejudice is a phenomenon!

Exalted by scholars and embraced by the masses, Pride and Prejudice is indeed a literary treasure for the everyman. In this year of its 200th birthday, the outpouring of celebration in the press, online and in print confirms our longstanding love affair and addiction. We just can’t get enough of it.

Just in time for the year-long festivities is Celebrating Pride and Prejudice: 200 Years of Jane Austen’s Masterpiece, an in-depth exploration of Jane Austen’s classic novel by Susannah Fullerton. At 240 pages, it is packed full of text and many full-color illustrations—something for everyone from the novice reader to veteran Janeite. The volume covers a range of topics as the chapters are broken down by categories such as the writing of, the reactions to, the style of, the heroine, the hero, illustrations, sequels and adaptations, theatrical versions, and, of course a whole chapter devoted to the famous opening line quoted above.

My “first impressions” of this tribute to one of my favorite novels was the stunning cover resplendent with the plume of a peacock (the iconic symbol or pride) and appropriately in peacock blue! They say you should never judge a book by its cover, but I do. If a publisher does not care enough about that “first impression” then why should I buy their book? Flipping through the pages the overall design is polished and each of the illustration is credited. Huzzah! And boy do the illustrations pop. Each page has something iconic or new, even to this die-hard Austen book collector who owns numerous illustrated editions of Pride and Prejudice dating back to the 1890’s!

Fullerton discusses every aspect of this novel imaginable, but one subject is of particular interest to me: Sequels and Adaptations. Are you surprised dear reader? Yes, I have read a few Austen-inspired novels in my day and can appreciate Fullerton’s keen eye for the sublime and the ridiculous and the “uses and abuses” by many. She does however look at the phenomena of the Austen spinoff with her tongue firmly set in her cheek; occasionally taking a painful stab.

There is only one Pride and Prejudice and for many readers, that is simply not enough. They want more! And if Jane Austen could imagine lives for her characters after the ending of her novel – a clergyman husband for Kitty and one of Uncle Philip’s clerks for Mary – why should not other authors do the same?” p. 155

Many could argue the point, and do, but Fullerton is celebrating Pride and Prejudice and its impact on readers and culture, warts and all. She goes on to enlighten us on the differences between mixed sequels such as Old Friends and New Fancies, by Sybil Briton (misspelled Brunton), continuations like A Match for Mary Bennet, by Eucharista Ward, “Jane Austen would surely have been the first to scoff at such Evangelical claptrap,” (ouch) and retellings and their variation the “what if” like Fitzwilliam Darcy An Honourable Man, by Brenda Webb. However, we were not amused when her historical outline turned into finger pointing and our eyebrows often reached our hairline over such statements as…

Abigail Reynolds has written “A Pemberley Medley of five variations of Darcy’s story, and Mary Simonsen has had at least three goes at making Darcy do what she wants him to do. Perhaps readers should pause over Mr. Darcy Takes the Plunge to ask what depths this hero must be further expected to plumb?” p. 160

The chapter continues with explorations of Austen-inspired mysteries, paranormal, children’s adaptation, chick lit and regencies, and pornographic novels. Fullerton states that no other novel has inspired so many prequels, sequels etc. than Pride and Prejudice. She bluntly asks if these other books are vital to the enjoyment of the original or “simply derivative rubbish we can all live without?” and then softens her blow in the last line of the chapter, “For with Pride and Prejudice it has turned out that “The End” was really just the beginning.” p. 173

Celebrating Pride and Prejudice, by Susannah Fullerton (2013)Fullerton has supplied her view of a great novel and given us a volume to treasure and debate. I greatly enjoyed the details and images, and most of the observations in this tribute, yet I have come away feeling my heart divided between admiration and resentment for the author. Could it be that our “personal” Pride and Prejudice and its characters are so deeply entrenched in the hearts of many, and interpreted so differently by most, that others will be at odds with her choices too? Am I pulling a Lizzy Bennet and “not making allowance enough for difference of situation and temper”? Quite possibly, but I will not let it ruin my happiness. Celebrating Pride and Prejudice is a must read this year, if only to rejoice in our differences of opinion and laugh in our turn.

4 out of 5 regency Stars

Celebrating Pride and Prejudice: 200 Years of Jane Austen’s Masterpiece, by Susannah Fullerton
Voyageur Press (2013)
Hardcover (240) pages
ISBN: 978-0760344361

A GRAND GIVEAWAY

Enter a chance to win one hardcover copy of Celebrating Pride and Prejudice, by Susannah Fullerton by leaving a comment or your favorite Pride and Prejudice quote by 11:59 pm, Wednesday, February 20, 2013. The winner will be announced on Thursday, February 21, 2013.  Shipment to US addresses only please. Good luck!

© 2012 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Audiobooks, Blog Events, Book Reviews, Giveaways, Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, read by Emilia Fox (Naxos Audiobooks) – A Review & Giveaway

The Pride Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge (2013)Today marks the official opening of The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013, our year-long event honoring Jane Austen’s second published novel. *throws confetti* Please follow the link above to read all the details of this reading and viewing challenge. Sign up’s are open until July 1, 2013.

Considering the origins of this celebration how could I possibly not start with the inspiration of it all, Pride and Prejudice? It is really no burden considering that it is one of my favorite novels. No, I correct myself.  It is my favorite novel, bar none.

I first read Pride and Prejudice over thirty years ago and have re-read it every year since. For years I worshiped in silence, but now thanks to the Internet I can sing its praises to the skies by openly admitting that it far surpasses any other novel of my acquaintance in wit, vivacity, and romance. As Kathleen Kelly states in the movie You’ve Got Mail, “I get lost in the language.” And so I do…every time.

I will tell you another secret. I own over fifty different editions of Pride and Prejudice! Hardcover, softcover, audio, illustrated, collectible, vintage, movies, mini-series, graphic novels, quote books, greeting cards, board games—you name it. I have a whole section in my library devoted to it—my shrine of homage. There. It’s now out in the open. I am truly a Pride and Prejudice addict.

One is humbled to review a book considered a classic of world literature. What could I possibly say about Pride and Prejudice that has not been scrutinized by scholars, exalted by enthusiasts, or bemoaned by students who have been forced to read it and just don’t get what all the fuss is about? Plenty—and that is one of its enduring charms. It is so many things to different people. After repeated readings I still laugh out loud at Austen’s dry wit, wily social commentary and satisfying love story. It often tops international polls as the “the most loved” or “favorite book” of all time; numerous stage and screen adaptations continue to remind us of its incredible draw to the modern audience; and its hero and heroine, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, may be the most famous romantic couple short of Romeo and Juliet. High praise, indeed, for a novel written almost two hundred years ago by a country clergyman’s daughter, home schooled by her father, and un-exalted in her lifetime.

Set in the early nineteenth-century country village of Longbourn in Hertfordshire, the story revolves around the Bennet family and their five unmarried daughters. They are the first family of consequence in the village. Unfortunately, the Bennet estate is entailed to a male heir, a cousin, Mr. William Collins. This is distressful to Mrs. Bennet who knows that she must find husbands for her daughters or they shall all be destitute if her husband should die. Mr. Bennet is not as concerned and spends his time in his library away from his wife’s idle chatter and social maneuvering. Elizabeth, the spirited and confident second daughter is determined to only to marry for love. She teases her beautiful and kind elder sister Jane that she must be the one to catch a wealthy husband to support them all. The three younger sisters: Mary, Catherine and Lydia, hinder their elder sisters chance for a good match by inappropriate and unguarded behavior.

When Mr. Bingley, a single man of large fortune, moves into the neighborhood with his fashionable sisters he attends the local assembly ball and is immediately taken with the angelic Jane Bennet. His friend Mr. Darcy is even richer with a great estate in Derbyshire, but he is proud and arrogant giving offense to all, including Elizabeth when he refuses to dance with her. She overhears him tell Bingley that she was only tolerable and not handsome enough to tempt him. This amuses and annoys her enough to repeat it to her friends and family. The whole community declares him the most disagreeable man, eaten up with pride.

And thus the famous love story begins. How Mr. Darcy’s pride will be humbled and Elizabeth’s prejudices dissolved is one of the greatest stories of all time. Austen’s astute characterizations and clever plotting never cease to amaze. Society has changed in two hundred years, but human nature—foibles and all—remain constant, much to our amusement and delight.

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, read by Emilia Fox (Naxos Audiobooks) 2005Naxos Audiobooks presents us with a professionally produced and finely crafted jewel in this audio recording of Pride and Prejudice. Narrated by British actress Emilia Fox, viewers of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice mini-series starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle will remember her fine performance as shy Georgiana Darcy and be pleasantly surprised by her vocal range and emotional depth in characterization. I particularly appreciated her interpretation of Mrs. Bennet’s frazzled anxiety and Lady Catherine de Bourgh imperious resolve. Listeners will enjoy all thirteen hours of this unabridged recording honoring one of the greatest novels ever written and want to seek out the other six Austen novels that they have also recorded in audio format.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, read by Emilia Fox
Naxos Audiobooks USA, (2005)
Unabridged, 11 CD’s (13 h 02 m)
ISBN: 978-9626343562

A GRAND GIVEAWAY

Enter a chance to win one CD or digital copy of Pride and Prejudice (Naxos Audiobooks) by leaving a comment by 11:59 pm, Wednesday, January 16, 2013 stating which character in the novel is your favorite, and which is NOT. The winner will be announced on Thursday, January 17, 2013.  Shipment of CD to US addresses only please and digital download internationally. Good luck!

© 2013 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Blog Events, Reading Challenges, Regency Era, Regency Romance

Announcing the Regency Romance Reading Challenge 2013: Featuring Candice Hern

The Regency Romance Reading Challenge (2013)Yes, gentle readers it’s time for a new reading challenge—and for 2013 we are stretching our wings and embracing a new author.

We are very pleased to announce the Regency Romance Reading Challenge 2013 featuring the very talented author Candice Hern. If you are unfamiliar with Candice, I am excited to introduce her to you. She writes witty and romantic traditional Regency romance novels with endearing heroines and swoon-worthy heroes highlighted by incredible historical accuracy. If you enjoyed any of Georgette Heyer’s great romance novels or laughed along with Lauren Willig’s characters in the Pink Carnation series, I highly recommend joining in the challenge—affording you the perfect opportunity to discover Ms. Hern’s great novels and short stories along with other Janeites, historical fiction and Regency romance lovers.

We will be reading and reviewing one title a month and posting on the third Wednesday through September. Here is our schedule:

The Regency Romance Reading Challenge Review Schedule:

Continue reading “Announcing the Regency Romance Reading Challenge 2013: Featuring Candice Hern”

Being a Jane Austen Mystery Reading Challenge 2011, Blog Events, Book Reviews, Jane Austen Sequels Book Reviews

Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron: Being a Jane Austen Mystery (Book 10), by Stephanie Barron – A Review

One thinks of Jane Austen as a retiring spinster who writes secretly, prefers her privacy, and enjoys quiet walks in the Hampshire countryside. Instead, she has applied her intuitive skills of astute observation and deductive reasoning to solve crime in Stephanie Barron’s Austen-inspired mystery series. It is an ingenious paradox that would make even Gilbert and Sullivan green with envy. The perfect pairing of the unlikely with the obvious that happens occasionally in great fiction by authors clever enough to pick up on the connection and run with it.

Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron marks Stephanie Barron’s tenth novel in the best-selling Jane Austen Mystery series. For fourteen years, and to much acclaim, she has channeled our Jane beyond her quiet family circle into sleuthing adventures with lords, ladies, and murderers. Cleverly crafted, this historical detective series incorporates actual events from Jane Austen’s life with historical facts from her time all woven together into mysteries that of course, only our brilliant Jane can solve.

It is the spring of 1813. Jane is home at Chawton Cottage “pondering the thorny question of Henry Crawford” in her new novel Mansfield Park and glowing in the recent favorable reception of Pride and Prejudice. Bad news calls her to London where her brother Henry’s wife Eliza, the Comtesse de Feuillde, is gravely ill. With her passing, Jane and Henry decide to seek the solace and restorative powers of the seaside selecting Brighton, “the most breathtaking and outrageous resort of the present age” for a holiday excursion.

At a coaching Inn along the way they rescue Catherine Twining, a young society Miss found bound and gagged in the coach of George Gordon, the 6th Baron of Byron, aka Lord Byron, the notorious mad, bad, and dangerous to know poet. Miffed by their thwart of her abduction, Byron regretfully surrenders his prize to Jane and Henry who return her to her father General Twining in Brighton. He is furious and quick to fault his fifteen-year-old daughter. Jane and Henry are appalled at his temper and concerned for her welfare.

Settled into a suite of rooms at the luxurious Castle Inn, Jane and Henry enjoy walks on the Promenade, fine dining on lobster patties and champagne at Donaldson’s, and a trip to the local circulating library where Jane is curious to see how often the “Fashionables of Brighton” solicit the privilege of reading Pride and Prejudice! Even though Jane loathes the dissipated Prince Regent, she and Henry attend a party at his opulent home the Marine Pavilion. In the crush of the soirée, Jane again rescues Miss Twining from another seducer.

Later at an Assembly dance attended by much of Brighton’s bon ton, Lord Byron reappears stalked by his spurned amour, “the mad as Bedlam” Lady Caroline Lamb. Even though the room is filled with beautiful ladies he only has eyes for Miss Twining and aggressively pursues her. The next morning, Jane and Henry are shocked to learn that the lifeless body of a young lady found in Byron’s bed was their naïve new friend Miss Catherine Twining! The facts against Byron are very incriminating. Curiously, the intemperate poet is nowhere to be found and all of Brighton ready to condemn him.

Henry grasped my arm and turned me firmly back along the way we had come. “Jane,” he said bracingly, “we require a revival of your formidable spirit – one I have not seen in nearly two years. You must take up the rȏle of Divine Fury. You must penetrate this killer’s motives, and expose him to the world.”’ page 119

And so the game is afoot and the investigation begins…

It is great to have Jane Austen, Detective back on the case and in peak form. Fans of the series will be captivated by her skill at unraveling the crime, and the unindoctrinated totally charmed. The mystery was detailed and quite intriguing, swimming in red herrings and gossipy supposition. Pairing the nefarious Lord Byron with our impertinent parson’s daughter was just so delightfully “sick and wicked.” Their scenes together were the most memorable and I was pleased to see our outspoken Jane give as good as she got, and then some. Readers who enjoy a good parody and want to take this couple one step further should investigate their vampire version in Jane Bites Back.

Barron continues to prove that she is an Incomparable, the most accomplished writer in the genre today rivaling Georgette Heyer in Regency history and Austen in her own backyard. Happily, readers will not have to wait another four years for the next novel in the series. Bantam published Jane and the Canterbury Tale this year. Huzzah! Unfortunately for fans of the Being a Jane Austen Mystery series, it is the final novel in the series.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

This is my eleventh and final selection in the Being a Jane Austen Mystery Reading Challenge 2011. We have now read all of the mysteries in the series and completed the challenge! It has been a fabulous reading journey with Stephanie Barron’s Jane Austen, Lord Harold, and all the dead bodies scattered across England! I enjoyed every novel and learned so much. The Grand Prize winner of one signed copy of each of the novels in the series will be drawn from the comments on all of the posts here and at reviewers’ blogs and announced on January 1, 2012. Good luck!

  • Participants, please leave comments and or place links to your reviews on the official reading challenge page by following this link.

Grand Giveaway

Author Stephanie Barron has generously offered a signed paperback copy of Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron to one lucky winner. Leave a comment stating what intrigues you about Jane Austen as a detective, or what you think Jane Austen and Lord Byron have in common by midnight PT, Wednesday, December 28, 2011. The winner to be announced on Thursday, December 29, 2011. Shipment to the US addresses only. Good luck!

Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron: Being a Jane Austen Mystery (Book 10), by Stephanie Barron
Bantam Books (2010)
Trade paperback (352) pages
ISBN: 978-0553386707

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Blog Events, Book Reviews, Jane Austen Sequels Book Reviews, The Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge 2011

Suspense and Sensibility or, First Impressions Revisited: A Mr. & Mrs. Darcy Mystery, by Carrie Bebris – A Review

Suspense and Sensibility, by Carrie Bebris (2007)Inspired by characters from Jane Austen’s novels Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, the second in the Mr. & Mrs. Darcy mysteries series begins four months after the marriage of Austen’s famous romantic duo, Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy.

Family obligations take them from Pemberley, their country estate in Derbyshire, to Town to help the couple’s younger sisters, Kitty Bennet and Georgiana Darcy, participate in the London social season.  Being an heiress, Georgiana commands the respect and admiration of many who would like to connect with the Darcy family and its large fortune. Kitty, on the other hand, is quite the opposite. In contrast, her small dowry and lack of social accomplishments leave only her family connections and natural charms to entice an eligible suitor for her hand. He comes in the form of a rich dandy, Harry Dashwood, son of John and Fanny Dashwood of Norland Park, who when first introduced to Miss Catherine Bennet, thinks she is the highly accomplished and very rich Georgiana Darcy. A moment of realization and embarrassment for all is smoothed over by Harry’s continued attentions to Kitty. Elizabeth and Darcy are also relieved that he has other motives than those of his social climbing mother Fanny Dashwood in choosing a wife. He is quite taken with Kitty and invites her and the Darcys to Norland for his twenty-first birthday fete.

Revisiting Norland Park again, we are re-introduced to more characters from Jane Austen’s novel Sense and Sensibility: Robert and Lucy Ferrars & Edward and Elinor Ferrars – but twenty years has transpired since the conclusion of Austen’s novel – and the next generation takes center stage. Harry’s mother Fanny Dashwood, officious and manipulative as ever, disapproves of Catherine Bennet intensely. Wanting her son to marry for money and connections, she fosters a match between Robert & Lucy Ferrars’ unappealing daughter Regina. Harry will have none of it and proves he is his own man and asks for Kitty’s hand and is accepted.

After some doubts about Harry, Elizabeth and Darcy and now very supportive of the engagement. Returning to Town to shop for Kitty’s trousseau, everyone thinks that she has made an excellent match for herself until their first impressions of Harry are sorely tested. His extended absence from his fiancé gives rise to speculation and doubt, coupled with damaging gossip about him being seen about Town engaging in late night carousing with disreputable characters. When he finally reappears at the Darcy’s townhouse to visit his fiancé, he explains that he has been away from London for two weeks visiting relatives. How could that be when he has been seen by so many in Town, including Mr. Darcy himself?

After leisurely starting off quite sedately as a continuation of Pride and Prejudice interlaced with characters from Sense and Sensibility, the plot takes a right hand turn into the realm of the supernatural. A mysterious ancient mirror and an infamous Dashwood relation from the past bring Gothic elements into this mystery that were quite unexpected, but intriguing. Bebris has a wonderful command of Regency history and a complete understanding of Austen’s characters. Even though I solved the mystery that Elizabeth and Darcy must investigate and deduce before the protagonists did, it mattered not. What is most delightful about Bebris’ Mr. & Mrs. Darcy mysteries is the couple themselves. I found myself laughing out loud several times at their witty banter.

“That is precisely why foxhunting is an inappropriate pastime for ladies,” Darcy said. “Blood sport runs counter to their gentle natures.”

Elizabeth thought about many well-bred women who occupied society’s highest ranks, and chuckled softy. “Ladies are quite capable of blood sport, darling. Their field is the drawing room.” Page 54

Suspense and Sensibility is a delightful read, albeit a bit slow to start, it eventually churns and always tickles the funny bone in all the right places.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

This is my eight selection in the Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge 2011, my year-long homage to Jane Austen’s first published novel, Sense and Sensibility. You can follow the event as I post reviews on the fourth Wednesday of every month and read all of the other participants contributions posted in the challenge review pages here.

A Grand Giveaway

Enter a chance to win one copy of Suspense and Sensibility by leaving a comment by midnight PT Wednesday, September 7, 2011 stating what intrigues you about reading a Jane Austen-inspired mystery, or who your favorite character was in either of the original novels. Winners will be announced on Thursday, September 8, 2011. Shipment to US or Canadian addresses only.

Suspense and Sensibility or, First Impressions Revisited: A Mr. & Mrs. Darcy Mystery, by Carrie Bebris
Forge Books (2007)
Trade paperback (304) pages
ISBN: 9780765318442

© 2007 – 2011, Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Being a Jane Austen Mystery Reading Challenge 2011, Blog Events, Book Reviews, Jane Austen Sequels Book Reviews, Reading Challenges

Jane and His Lordship’s Legacy: Being a Jane Austen Mystery (Book 8), by Stephanie Barron – A Review

Jane and His Lordships Legacy, by Stephanie Barron (2005)It is 1809, a significant year in the life of our esteemed authoress Jane Austen. After close to five years of being shuffled about England between relatives, the three unattached Austen ladies: widower Mrs. Austen and her two unmarried daughters Jane and Cassandra are given permanent refuge by Jane’s elder brother Edward Austen Knight in the village of Chawton. They will live at Chawton cottage the former residence of the recently deceased steward of Edward’s vast estate there. Still privately grieving the tragic death of her dear friend Lord Harold Trowbridge (The Gentleman Rogue) nine months prior, Jane arrives in the village to find an uneasy welcome to the Squire’s family. It appears that the villagers are unhappy that the widow of Edward’s former steward was asked to vacate the cottage in favor of his family, and more seriously, Edward as an absentee Squire has been remiss in his duties since the death of his wife Elizabeth the previous year.

Within hours of Jane’s arrival at the cottage, she receives an unexpected visit from contemptuous Mr. Bartholomew Chizzlewit, attorney to the family of His Grace the Duke of Wilborough. Performing his duty as the family solicitor, he deposits on Jane’s dining-parlor floor a curiously carved chest announcing that she is listed as a legatee in Lord Harold’s Last Will and Testament. His bequest (should she agree) is that she accepts his personal papers and diaries, “a lifetime of incident, intrigue, and conspiracy; of adventure and scandal; of wagers lost and won,” and write his life story! After the Duke of Wilborough’s family contested the legacy in a London court and lost, they are bitter about the arrangement and hold it against Jane. Not only is this startling news, the thought of reliving the Gentleman Rogues life, far before she met him, and then through his entire life as a spy for the British government, is both curious and painful to her. When the huge chest is removed into the cottage’s cellar, another startling discovery brings Jane’s first day at Chawton to a scandalous close. A body of a man lies rotting and rat eaten on the floor.

Jane’s brother Henry arrives the next day and the inquest into the mysterious death begins by the local authorities with Jane and Henry in assistance. After Lord Harold’s trunk is stolen, Jane is convinced that it contains information that someone did not want her to discover. Could the theft be linked to the Wilborough family trying to cover up their son’s notorious life? Or, could it be the newcomers to the neighborhood, Julian Thrace, a young London Buck who is rumored to be the illegitimate heir apparent to the Earl of Holbrook vast wealth, and his half-sister Lady Imogen, the Earl’s acknowledged heir? Or, is the dead body in the cellar a personal vendetta by the bitter Jack Hinton, eager to make trouble for the Austen family? He claims to be the rightful heir to the Knight family estate of Chawton that Jane’s brother Edward inherited. There are suspects and motives, suppositions and accusations galore for our observant and clever Jane to ponder and detect before she solves the crime.

One chapter into the eighth novel in the Being a Jane Austen Mystery series and I am totally convinced that Jane Austen is channeling the actual events of her life through author Stephanie Barron. She has so convincingly captured her witty, acerbic, and penetrating voice that I am totally mesmerized. Like Jane, I am still grieving the tragic death of her secret crush Lord Harold. Reading his letters and journals was like bringing him back to life. Delightful torture for those Gentleman Rogue fans such as myself. This mystery was very well-plotted and fast-paced, but Barron really shines with her incredible historical details and the fact that in this discriminating Austen-obsessed mind, no one will ever be able to match her unique ability to channel my favorite author’s voice so perfectly.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

This is my eighth selection in the Being a Jane Austen Mystery Reading Challenge 2011, as we are reading all eleven mysteries in the series this year. Participants, please leave comments and or place links to your reviews on the official reading challenge page by following this link.

Grand Giveaway

Author Stephanie Barron has generously offered a signed hardcover copy of Jane and His Lordship’s Legacy to one lucky winner. Leave a comment stating what intrigues you about this novel, or if you have read it, who your favorite character is by midnight PT, Wednesday, August 24, 2011. Winner to be announced on Thursday, August 25, 2011. Shipment to US addresses only. Good luck!

Jane and His Lordship’s Legacy, Being a Jane Austen Mystery (No 8), by Stephanie Barron
Bantam Books, 2005
Mass market paperback (384) pages
ISBN: 978-0553584073

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Being a Jane Austen Mystery Reading Challenge 2011, Blog Events, Book Reviews, Jane Austen Sequels Book Reviews, Reading Challenges

Jane and the Stillroom Maid: Being a Jane Austen Mystery (Book 5), by Stephanie Barron – A Review

Jane and the Stillroom Maid, by Stephanie Barron (2000)Touring the Derbyshire countryside in the summer of 1806, Jane Austen, her mother, sister Cassandra, and cousin Rev. Edward Cooper are staying at the Rutland Arms in Bakewell, in the Peak District. While on a day excursion out into the country with Mr. Cooper and his friend Mr. Hemming, the gentleman enjoy angling along the River Wye and Jane pursues her passion for a country walk, shortly ending in a disturbing discovery. A young gentleman is found “foully and cruelly” murdered on a crag near Millers’ Dale with a bullet in his head, his entrails torn from his body and his tongue cut out. Jane and Mr. Cooper are tourists to the area and the victim is unknown to them. Mr. Hemming, a local solicitor also claims not to recognize the young man. All three are deeply disturbed by the grisly discovery, but Mr. Hemming strangely acts out of character insisting that the body be transported a distance to Buxton and not to Bakewell the town under proper jurisdiction to the local Justice of the Peace and Coroner. After some uneasy discussion, Mr. Hemming reluctantly concedes to allow the corpse to be taken to Bakewell, but Jane cannot help but notice that he is acting like a man burdened with guilt.

The local surgeon Mr. Tivey is summoned from his blacksmith duties and examines the deceased. He recognizes the victim immediately, suspecting some kind of evil mischief afoot. The young gentleman is no gentleman, he is a lady, one Tess Arnold, the stillroom maid of Penfolds Hall, the country estate of Mr. Charles Danford near Tideswell, only one mile north of where the body was discovered. Tivey is quick to spread the shocking details among the villagers of the vicious extent of her wounds. He claims it is a ritual killing related to an act of revenge conducted by the Freemasons when one of their own is betrayed. The local Justice of the Peace, Sir James Villiers, arrives and interviews Jane and her cousin Mr. Cooper. The Coroner’s Inquest will be called in three days. Run by the disgruntled Mr. Tivey who has been very liberal with his derogatory opinions of the murder by the Freemasons after they rejected him as a member. The “evil weight of a jealous tongue” has turned the villagers into an angry mob who want justice. Sir James entreats Jane to remain in town and relay her story of discovering the mutilated corpse.

At the Coroner’s Inquest, the parties connected to the young victim Tess Arnold are called to be questioned. Jane and her cousin relay their story, but oddly, the third witness in the discovery, Mr. Hemming, does not appear when called. We learn more about the victim and her duties as stillroom maid, and, her disreputable character. Her former employer Charles Danforth, who is in mourning the recent death of his wife and child, recognizes the clothing found on the corpse as his own, but cannot explain how she had possession of them. His personal connection to the victim is scrutinized by the coroner and he storms out of the proceedings. The Housekeeper is questioned and reveals that Tess had been dismissed on the same day as her death. Feigning heart trouble, or is it purposeful swooning, the proceedings for the day are stopped to assist the housekeeper. As the inquest disperses, Sir James invites Jane for nucheon to discuss her opinions on the case and an old friend unexpectantly arrives.

At that moment, the rustling in the passage increased and the parlour door was thrust open. I turned, gazed, and rose immediately from my chair. A spare, tall figure, exquisitely dressed in the garb of a gentleman, was caught in a shaft of sunlight. He lifted his hat from his silver hair and bowed low over my hand

“It is a pleasure to see you again, Miss Austen. We have not met this age.”

Nor had we. But I must confess that the gentleman had lately been much in my thoughts.

“Lord Harold,” I replied a trifle unsteadily. “The honour is entirely mine.” Page 86

What a grand entrance for the Gentleman Rogue! Bathed in sunlight like a God? LOL! What? No twinkling stars in his eyes and blinding white teeth?

Jane and the Stillroom Maid is the fifth Jane Austen mystery, and for those unfamiliar with this series, the narrative is from a fictional diary written by Jane Austen and discovered in 1992 in a Georgian manor house near Baltimore. Inspired by actual events in Jane Austen’s life, historical facts and cultural detail, each of the novels has Jane Austen using her keen observational skills of human nature as a sleuth in a murder mystery.

This narrative is set in Pemberley country, that palatial country estate of Mr. Darcy, the hero of Austen’s famous novel Pride and Prejudice. Well, we don’t really know where in the county of Derbyshire the fictional Pemberley estate is, but we do have some clues from Austen that it was near Bakewell, where Jane and her family are staying in this story. It has long been suspected that Jane Austen modeled Pemberley after the famous Chatsworth House, the seat of the Duke of Devonshire, and the Cavendish family since 1549. It lies only three and a half miles from Bakewell. The fact that Lord Harold is a guest at Chatsworth and takes Jane there as his guest to be served ratafia, route cakes and rumors of indiscretions, that may of lead to murder, is a delicious coincidence. It is delightful to imagine that Jane Austen could have toured the Peak District in the summer of 1806 and visited Chatsworth and modeled her Pemberley after it.

Each of the chapters is prefaced by a recipe from the Stillroom Book of the victim Tess Arnold. Stillroom maids were a combination of herbalists, apothecary, and food preserver on large estates. Because of their skill at curatives and elixirs, stillroom maids were often accused of being witches, even in Jane’s time during the early 1800s. Some of the recipes are disturbing to modern sensibilities: adding brains of four cock sparrows or mourning doves into a fruit tart to give someone courage, ew! But the recipes added to the charm of the era and brought home how far we have evolved with modern medicine and education.

The mystery was intriguing, but I think I figured out the whodunit too soon. It did not spoil one moment of my enjoyment. Barron excels at historical detail, early 19th-century language, and fabulous characterization. Her portrayal of Jane Austen is so natural and engaging that I lose myself in the character and forget that this is just fiction. Jane’s friendship with Lord Harold is exciting and tragic. I want them to be a couple, but realize that his being the second son of a duke and she an impoverished gentleman’s daughter, that it cannot happen. I also enjoy finding allusions to Jane Austen’s own characters in Barron’s own and laughed-out-loud at her interpretation of Mr. Edward Cooper, Rector of Hamstall Ridware, Staffordshire, Jane’s first cousin, supercilious singing toad, and Mr. Collins knock-off. His reaction when being interrupted while fishing by Jane’s announcement of murder is hilarious:

“A corpse?” Mr. Cooper exclaimed, with a look of consternation. “Not again, Jane! However shall we explain this to my aunt?” page 31

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Jane and the Stillroom Maid: Being a Jane Austen Mystery (Book 5), by Stephanie Barron
Bantam Books (2000)
Mass market paperback (336) pages
ISBN:  978-0553578379

This is my fifth selection in the Being a Jane Austen Mystery Reading Challenge 2011. You can still join the reading challenge in progress until July 1, 2011. Participants, please leave comments and or place links to your reviews on the official reading challenge page by following this link.

Grand Giveaway

Author Stephanie Barron has generously offered a signed hardcover copy of Jane and the Stillroom Maid to one lucky winner. Leave a comment stating what intrigues you about this novel, or if you have read it, who your favorite character is by midnight PT, Wednesday, May 25, 2011. Winner to be announced on Thursday, May 26, 2011. Shipment to US and Canadian addresses only. Good luck!

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Being a Jane Austen Mystery Reading Challenge 2011, Blog Events, Book Reviews, Jane Austen Sequels Book Reviews, Reading Challenges

Jane and the Wandering Eye: Being a Jane Austen Mystery (Book 3), by Stephanie Barron – A Review

Jane and the Wandering Eye, by Stephanie Barron (1998)I confess to being a silly, shallow creature when it comes to my partiality to fine art and the stage. Show me a beautiful Regency-era portrait by Thomas Lawrence or Richard Cosway, mention famous Drury Lane actors Sarah Siddons and her brothers Charles and John Kemble, and my sensibilities rival Marianne Dashwood’s fondness for dead leaves. Mix in my favorite author Jane Austen embroiled in a murder mystery centered around artists and actors in Bath, and I am in a sensory swoon.

Jane and the Wandering Eye is the third novel in the popular Being a Jane Austen Mystery series in which the famous authoress uses her astute skills of observation and logic as an amateur sleuth to solve a crime. In 1804 Jane, her sister Cassandra and their parents are residing in Bath. Despite the jollity of the Christmas season, Jane is “insupportably bored with Bath” and its social diversions, many of which are outside her means. She is, however, happy to accept a commission from her particular friend and Rogue-about-Town Lord Harold Trowbridge to spy on his niece Lady Desdemona. The young ingénue has recently fled London and the unwanted attentions of the Earl of Swithins to seek refuge in Bath with her grandmother the Dowager Duchess of Wilborough. Jane, her brother Henry and his wife Eliza attend a masquerade party at the Duchesses Laura Place residence in honor of Bath’s Theatre Royal players. Also in attendance is Madame Lefroy, Jane’s neighbor, and dearest friend. During the party they witness a drama unfold as tragic as any Shakespearean play. The theatre troupe’s stage manager Richard Portal is found stabbed to death with Lord Harold’s nephew Simon, Marquis of Kinsfell standing over him with a bloody knife in his hand and an open window behind him.

Mr. Elliot the local magistrate is summoned and witnesses questioned. Since everyone was in costume it is difficult to follow the events of the evening, but he soon learns that the key suspect, the Marquis in the Knight costume, was seen arguing with the victim, Mr. Portal in a white Harlequin costume, and challenged him to a duel. They were separated and Mr. Portal was asked to leave the party, later reappearing as a corpse in an anteroom with a knife through his heart. Curiously, a miniature portrait of an eye is found on his body. Under protest, the Marquis is charged with murder and thrown in the local goal. What started out for Jane as a mild request to observe and report on Lord Harold’s niece has now turned into a scandalous murder by his nephew, drawing him to Bath, and into Jane’s confidence. Taken with his charm, intelligence, and family drama, she cannot refuse him anything and they join forces to investigate the facts, unravel the crime, and discover the murderer.

Warning. If you blink too long in the first chapter you might miss significant clues. Stephanie Barron hardly lets us breathe for fear we would miss something. The dense and fast-paced events had me furiously writing notes to keep the facts and characters straight. It is unusual to have a murder transpire so quickly, but I enjoyed the build-up and the shock of the reveal. The mystery progresses from Jane Austen’s perspective as we read her lost journals edited by the author with added footnotes. The historical detail is entrancing to me. Not only do we follow events and people from Jane Austen’s life, but the social and cultural details were amazing in their depth and interest. At times I found the prose thick and heavy, craving a bit of brevity in the language, but overall Barron does an excellent job at early nineteenth-century Austen-speak. Her dialogue was even more engaging. The characterization of Jane’s parents Rev. and Mrs. Austen’s ironic divergence in personalities was entertaining, her brother Henry and gadabout wife Eliza’s joie de vivre delightful, and roguish Lord Harold was well, just dishy enough to curl any hard-hearted spinsters toes. *swoon*

Having the advantage of previously reading all the novels in this series before, I can firmly attest that Jane and the Wandering Eye is my favorite in the series. I loved the historical detail on art and the lives of its creators, actors and their social machinations with aristocrats, and all the intimate dealing of Jane Austen and her family. Originally published in 1998, I can honestly say that with a decade of study and appreciation of the Regency-era behind me, this mystery was even fresher, more intriguing, and enlightening the second time around. I recommend it highly.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Jane and the Wandering Eye, by Stephanie Barron
Random House (1998)
Mass Market Paperback (336) pages
ISBN: 978-0553578171

This is my third selection in the Being a Jane Austen Mystery Reading Challenge 2011. You can still join the reading challenge in progress until July 1, 2011. Participants, please leave comments and or place links to your reviews on the official reading challenge page by following this link.

Grand Giveaway

Author Stephanie Barron has generously offered a signed hardcover copy of Jane and Wandering Eye to one lucky winner. Leave a comment stating what intrigues you about this novel, or if you have read it, who your favorite character is by midnight PT, Wednesday, March 16, 2011. Winner to be announced on Thursday, March 17, 2011. Shipment to US and Canadian addresses only. Good luck!

Further reading

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose