The Summer Before the War: A Novel, by Helen Simonson – A Review

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson 2016 x 200From the desk of Debra E. Marvin:

Discovering just-released fiction on my library’s New Audiobooks shelf makes me feel as if someone has let me slip in at the front of a long line. When I found Helen Simonson’s The Summer Before the War, I was delighted she’d chosen another charming English town (I’d quite enjoyed her debut Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand) and the summer of 1914. Whether she planned it or not, the timing may help some of us adjust to the end of a ‘certain’ British historical drama, though enjoying this novel can’t be limited to Downton Abbey fans. What better time than the centennial of The Great War, to revisit its impact.

Protagonist Beatrice Nash is a young woman of high intellect, low tolerance for the superficial, and a middle-class income stymied by the death of her beloved father. Mr. Nash’s academic profession provided his daughter an unusual upbringing ripe with experiences beyond England, and making Beatrice independent, resilient, and practical. She was “not raised to be shy, and had put away the fripperies of girlhood.” All very good indeed when she takes a position as Latin teacher for the local children and is tested by the restrictions and social expectations of small town life in this delightful corner of Sussex. She simply must succeed or risk returning to her wealthy aunt’s suffocating control.

If this novel was a miniseries, she’d be the lead in an outstanding ensemble cast. To her left, Mrs. Agatha Kent, mentor, and “of a certain age when the bloom of youth must give way to strength of character, but her face was handsome in its intelligent eyes and commanding smile.” To Beatrice’s right, Hugh Grange, likely the most uncomplicated man in town…who happens to be a brain surgeon. The residents of Rye create the rich background we so enjoyed in Ms. Simonson’s debut, and Rye itself rounds out the cast as quintessential England. I had no trouble balancing the many characters who exit the other side of the war—the autumn after the war, so to speak—forever altered. Just as it should be. Continue reading

Shamela (Naxos AudioBooks) , by Henry Fielding, read by Clare Corbett  – A Review

Shamela, by Henry Fielding Naxos AudioBooks (2013)From the desk of Br. Paul Byrd, OP:

“In my last [letter] I left off at our sitting down to Supper on our Wedding Night, where I behaved with as much Bashfulness as the purest Virgin in the World could have done. The most difficult Task for me was to blush; however, by holding my Breath, and squeezing my Cheeks with my Handkerchief, I did pretty well” (297).

Reading Samuel Richardson’s novel Pamela, Or, Virtue Rewarded, as I recounted in my previous review of it, is not for the faint of heart; but I am happy to say that it was all made worthwhile just this past week as I listened to a Naxos AudioBooks recording of Henry Fielding’s masterful parody fittingly entitled Shamela. Many know Fielding for Tom Jones, but his satirical powers are at full and outrageous height in Shamela. In a quarter of the number of pages found in the original story, Fielding highlights and lampoons all of Richardson’s characteristic tropes, transforming Miss Pamela Andrews from a paragon of female virtue into an archetypical scheming hussy. The great irony is that, as shamefully vicious as Shamela maybe, she is a great deal more fun to listen to than her saintly prototype. Continue reading

Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (Naxos AudioBooks), by Samuel Richardson, read by Clare Corbett – A Review

Pamela, by Samuel Richardson, Naxos AudioBooks (2013)From the desk of Br. Paul Byrd, OP:

Her knowledge of Richardson’s works was such as no one is likely again to acquire, now that the multitude and the merits of our light literature have called off the attention of readers from that great master.” – J.E. Austen-Leigh, Memoir of Jane Austen, ch. 5

Listed among Jane Austen’s most beloved authors is the rebellious printer-turned-novelist Samuel Richardson, creator of such potboilers as Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1740). The novel opens at the death of Pamela Andrew’s employer, the woman who has educated her to be as accomplished as any young woman could hope to be, by eighteenth century standards. And from there commences a rather strange and disturbing plot in which Pamela must fend off the unwanted advances of her new male employer—and I’m not simply talking about sexual harassment, which would have been bad enough; I’m talking about outright attempted rape. Indeed, the main dramatic question of the novel is whether Pamela will forfeit her honor (read “her virginity”) for the sake of wealth and safety, or will she display a heroic level of Christian virtue, and risk the possibility of public disgrace. Spoiler Alert: the novel’s subtitle gives the answer away from the start. Continue reading

Lady Harriette: Fitzwilliam’s Heart and Soul (Pride and Prejudice Untold), by P. O. Dixon – A Review

Lady Harriette, by P. O. Dixon (2013)Starting with the third book in any series is certainly a challenge. One feels rather late to the party when one has missed out on major events and character development in two previous novels, so why would I attempt it? Add to the fact that they were Pride and Prejudice “what if” stories changing the plot of Jane Austen’s classic tale, and the problems intensify. What could possibly tempt me to move beyond my prejudices and give, Lady Harriette: Fitzwilliam’s Heart and Soul, a chance? The plot appeared to be focused on the married life of Colonel Fitzwilliam and his new bride Lady Harriet Middleton. His cousin Fitzwilliam Darcy is married to Elizabeth Bennet already too? What? No courtship? Where was this going? I was intrigued.  

The book’s description and first few chapters truly peaked my curiosity. Lady Harriette was a beautiful young heiress twelve years younger than her husband, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, the second son of an earl with no fortune. How had he snagged HER, and what did the families think of this misalliance? We learn that he was a rake with a long standing history of dalliance. I wondered if he had married for love or for money? The elephant in the room was how he will he ever keep his privileged and spoiled bride happy? Pressure mounts on Fitzwilliam after he discovers the ancestral property is near bankruptcy. Trying to keep this startling fact from his wife and family, while he and Darcy attempt to catch the thief, seemed wise, but later backfires. Even close friends Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy, whose happy life at Pemberley appeared untouchable, are faced with a ghost from the past when a young woman working as a housemaid at the Fitzwilliam estate has a painful connection to both Darcy and Fitzwilliam. Why is she there? Blackmail, or the evil workings of a disgruntled relative? The possibilities for conflict were mounting with every chapter. Continue reading

Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man in the World (A Pride and Prejudice Variation), by Abigail Reynolds, read by Rachel E. Hurley (Audible Audio Edition) – A Review

The Pride Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge (2013)This is my tenth 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 now closed for new participants, but you can join us in reading all the great reviews and comments until December 31, 2013.

My Review:

This Pride and Prejudice variation asks readers “What if Elizabeth Bennet had accepted Mr. Darcy’s first proposal?” After reading this question in the book’s description my first reaction was, ACK, why would she?

Like the two other novels by this author that I have read, the story begins on familiar ground at a certain point in Austen’s novel and then quickly takes a left turn—changing the course of the plot and the characters’ lives. In this case it starts at a very critical moment, the first proposal scene when Mr. Darcy so arrogantly assumes that the less-socially-endowed Elizabeth Bennet would jump at the chance to accept his generous offer of marriage. Reynolds’ Lizzy is still repulsed by the thought of this man as her husband and frozen with disgust. Since Austen’s last sentence in Elizabeth’s refusal contains the title of this novel, I was all anticipation of reliving Elizabeth’s famous put down:

“From the very beginning — from the first moment, I may almost say — of my acquaintance with you, your manners, impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others, were such as to form that groundwork of disapprobation on which succeeding events have built so immoveable a dislike; and I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.”

Continue reading

Mr. Darcy’s Diary (Audiobook), by Maya Slater, read by David Rintoul – A Review

The Pride Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge (2013)This is my eighth 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 now closed for new participants, but you can join us in reading all the great reviews and comments until December 31, 2013.

My Review:

Ever wonder if a book you read several years ago and loved still stacks up? I did, and was tempted to revisit one of my favorite Pride and Prejudice sequels, Mr. Darcy’s Diary, in audiobook for my summer listening. Read by Mr. Darcy himself—well not quite—but close, the narrator is British actor David Rintoul who portrayed Mr. Darcy in the 1980 BBC mini-series of Pride and Prejudice. After a second pass “my affections and wishes are unchanged” and I am incorporating my original review (slightly amended) and finishing with my impression of this audio version.

If Jane Austen thought that her novel Pride and Prejudice was too light, bright, and sparkling and wanted shade, then author Maya Slater has made up for any deficit by crossing over to the “dark side” in writing her re-telling of Austen’s classic tale of  misunderstandings and reconciliation. Not only are we privy to Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy’s most intimate and revealing secrets, we see the story of Pride and Prejudice told wholly from the male perspective, and gentle readers, be prepared. It’s a man’s world in Regency England, and dare I say, Fitzy is no saint! Continue reading

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


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