Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Match, by Marilyn Brant – A Review

Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Match Marilyn Brant (2013)From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder

In reading a large variety of Pride and Prejudice variations, I’ve come to expect works of all shapes and sizes. What I didn’t expect, however, was a work that centers on an online dating site.  Such is the premise of Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Match by Marilyn Brant. Sure, we’ve seen modern adaptations on the beloved original, yet this is a new twist that adds another dimension to the story between the Lizzy and Darcy that we all cherish. How would this timeless love story survive in a world governed by digital matchmaking?

The last thing that Beth Ann Bennet wants to do is end up on a dating site, but much to her chagrin, here she is. As a social worker studying sex-based stereotypes, she signs on to Lady Catherine’s Love Match Website under a pseudonym in order to get a firsthand account of said stereotypes. She is surprised, however, when she meets Dr. William Darcy through the site. He has his own secrets, however, as he too is signed up for the dating service under false pretenses. In order to settle a bet and win funding for a new clinic he is building, Darcy agrees to sign on to the site and find a match. Now that they have met, both agree that it would be in their best interests to stay apart, yet there seems to be an invisible force that draws them to each other, making that original promise much harder to keep. Although they both assume that the site will give them a superficial and fleeting glance at a relationship, what they actually encounter is something much deeper and more personal. What will happen once they come to find that this meeting is not what they originally intended, but something much more involved indeed?

At first blush, I found the idea behind this story to be intriguing and fresh. Always up for a new take on the P&P variation genre, I was excited to see what Brant had in store. I was surprised to find that the storyline between Darcy and Elizabeth seemed to be swapped somewhat with the plot between Jane and Bingley, but this didn’t seem to detract from the flow of the work at all. In fact, it made me read faster. After a while, the old Darcy and Elizabeth I’ve come to know and love made their appearance, as the story made a course correction and we came back into familiar territory. When this was coupled with references to Roman Holiday and high tea, I began to feel like I was reading a book that was a greatest hits of all the things I love in life. Brant couldn’t have done a better job at pulling me into the story and keeping me hooked until the end. I loved how her work was different enough that I felt really out of my element at first, but then brought back to the themes of compassion, forgiveness, and love that really hold Darcy and Elizabeth together. This was an amazingly smart move that left me more than satisfied at the end of this work. In fact, I liked this book so much that I delayed watching the season 3 premiere of Downton Abbey!! (This is a huge deal) In all, if you’re up for a new and exciting change in the P&P variation world, I strongly suggest that you give this a try. Who doesn’t love a fresh look at our Darcy and Elizabeth?

5 out of 5 Stars

Pride, Prejudice, and the Perfect Match, by Marilyn Brant
White Soup Press (2013)
eBook (167) pages
Nook: BN ID: 2940016076669
Kindle: ASIN: B00AYLN5TI

© 2013 Kimberly Denny-Ryder, Austenprose

All My Tomorrows, by Colette Saucier – A Review

All My Tomorrows, by Colette Saucier (2012)From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder 

As most Austenprose readers will know by now, I’m a big fan of Pride and Prejudice variations, what-if’s, and retellings.  In fact, if you look at the scope of Jane Austen fan fiction that I read it’s almost entirely comprised of Pride and Prejudice inspired novels.  A recent addition to this group that I adored was Colette Saucier’s Pulse and Prejudice (review is here).  After reading this I couldn’t wait to see what else she had in store, and I was excited to find she’d written another P&P influenced novel entitled All My Tomorrows which promptly was added to my to-read list.  I’m also a huge sucker for the melodramatic romance novel, so when I read further into All My Tomorrows’ plot and discovered it was about a soap opera AND a melodramatic romance novel….well my heart did a little flutter of excitement.

The head writer at a storied and long-running soap opera entitled “All My Tomorrows”, Alice McGillicutty has enjoyed steady success until the show’s ratings have recently begun to plummet.  Desperate for a way to save the soap from inevitable cancellation if ratings do not improve, Alice begins frantically searching for inspiration, even reading the old and crazy melodrama “The Edge of Darkness” in the hopes that it will spark new ideas.  Meanwhile, fate intervenes when controversial Hollywood star Peter Walsingham comes to Alice’s studio.  He signs on to “All My Tomorrows” due to contractual obligations after his character is killed off in his previous project.  Unfortunately for Alice, however, Peter’s ego seems to be larger than the studio can hold, and the two butt heads immediately.  In this tale of Peter’s pride meeting Alice’s prejudice, can the two manage to work together to save the show or are they destined for cancellation?

One of the great things that Saucier has accomplished with this work is how she managed to modernize the story and include so many of my guilty pleasures as well!  I was so impressed by the way that Saucier created a book (“The Edge of Darkness”) within All My Tomorrows.  It was a wonderful, melodramatic addition to the work, and goodness, do I love a melodramatic novel.  It’s something about the way in which these works weave an over-the-top love story with a great plot that makes me want to keep turning the pages.  Returning to the book at hand, All My Tomorrows, it was evident that the more serious tone of this main work was meant to balance the melodrama of “The Edge of Darkness”.  It did this perfectly.  All My Tomorrows has solidified the thoughts I had after reading Pulse and Prejudice, in that Saucier is a master storyteller.  Her ability to keep the reader engaged throughout both works, even though they are contained within the same novel, is fantastic.  Additionally, the character development was phenomenal, Peter (Darcy) is throughout the shining example here.  His total transformation from pretentious jerk to kindhearted, thoughtful, selfless man is not only believable, but an honest portrayal of Austen’s true vision.  The subsequent supporting characters were all visions of genius as well.  This, combined with the excellent storytelling, engaging plot, and melodramatic addition made for a read I won’t soon forget.

5 out of 5 Stars

All My Tomorrows, by Colette Saucier
Southern Girl Press (2012)
Trade paperback (248) pages
ISBN: 978-0615657387

© 2012 Kimberly Denny-Ryder, Austenprose

The Beresfords, by Christina Dudley – A Review

The Beresfords, by Christina Dudley (2012)From the desk of Lisa Galek

If you are one of those Austen fans who think it’s a shame that Mansfield Park is so rarely adapted for modern audiences, then The Beresfords will be a welcome addition to your reading list.

When six-year-old Frannie Price is removed from the care of her drug-addicted mother and sent to live in a foster home, her mother’s sister, Marie, and her husband, Paul, sweep in (at the instance of Paul’s overbearing sister, Terri) and bring the girl to live with them in California. There, Frannie grows up in a large, luxurious home with her four older cousins (step cousins, really. They’re her uncle’s children from his previous marriage).

The oldest, Tom, is clearly the troublemaker of the bunch. The two younger sisters, Rachel and Julie, spend most of their time either arguing or ignoring Frannie. Only Jonathan, a devout Christian who is determined to one day become a pastor, shows Frannie any kindness. He soon becomes her closest friend, confidant, and, in Frannie’s heart, so much more.

In the summer of 1985, when the shy, introverted Frannie turns fourteen, Tom brings the Grant twins home from college for a visit. Frannie is instantly repulsed by Eric Grant, who flirts openly with both Rachel and Julie, playing the two sisters against each other. But the beautiful and graceful Caroline Grant, who rarely takes anything seriously and is bored by religion, easily captures Jonathan’s attention. The story plays out over the course of the next seven years, in which Frannie’s admiration and love for Jonathan are tested, her bonds with her family are strained, and she is tempted by the very person she despised all those years ago.

Mansfield Park is one of Austen’s works that’s hardly ever given a contemporary spin. Pride and Prejudice is a much more popular choice, probably because the witty, determined, Elizabeth Bennet transitions so seamlessly into a present-day heroine. The same is true of Emma Woodhouse and Marianne Dashwood. There’s something so modern and appealing about their style that it’s easy to imagine them walking around in our world.

But not every young woman sparkles with wit, charm, and confidence. That’s why the bookstore needs characters like Fanny Price. Though she’s often written off as an uptight prig, Fanny is also a dazzlingly complex character.

The Beresfords achieves the near impossible feat of staying true to Austen’s creation, while bringing her convincingly into the 20th century. The author does this by making her Frannie a very religious girl who quotes the Bible and lives by a strict Christian moral code (which she learned mainly from her beloved cousin, Jonathan). Here, Frannie is pious without being insufferable. Her reliance on scripture, her concern and love for others, and her continual striving for goodness seem natural and consistent. Like many shy girls before her, Frannie struggles to follow her convictions but, eventually, grows in self-esteem and confidence in her own choices.

Austen’s other characters are all convincingly updated and (dare I say it) even improved at times. Jonathan is as admirable and yet, at times, clueless as Edmund ever was. The other Beresford children and their parents are equally well done. Mrs. Norris becomes the micro-managing Aunt Terri, who is forever going around picking on Frannie and telling everyone how much things cost. She’s delightful and terrible at the same time.

The plot adheres very closely to Mansfield Park, but every moment feels fresh and new. The stakes are heightened to give modern readers the jolt they need. For example, Eric Grant can no longer just flirt with Rachel Beresford in front of her boyfriend, he has to seduce her into surrendering her virginity. The ending, which is expanded from Austen’s original, actually made my heart pound and tears run down my face.

My one quarrel with the book was the dialogue. Teenagers growing up in California in the 1980’s just didn’t talk like this:

“You aren’t going inside, are you, Frannie?” [Caroline asked] “That was so helpful of you to explain Greg’s point of view. I would’ve had no idea he was the religious type… I bet you think it was mean of Eric, what he did to Greg.”

I nodded once. She might act like we were having a private conversation, but she didn’t lower her voice any.

“It was,” Caroline agreed. “You’re right. And you know what, even if that kind of stuff happens all the time in college – and I’m afraid it does – that didn’t make it less mean, does it?”

“I don’t think so,” I said in a low voice.

“I know so,” said Caroline. “You’ve convinced me. Eric must apologize to Greg. And Greg must forgive Eric. If he doesn’t I’ll set you on him, Frannie, and you can tell him exactly what you told us – that it’s his religious duty.” She smiled at me. “We’re going to see a lot of each other this summer you know, your family and mine. We can’t have anyone mad at anyone. I dub thee Frannie the Peacemaker.”

However, overall, the writing is very good quality.

I would rank The Beresfords with some of the best Austen updates I’ve ever read or seen. The author clearly knows and loves Mansfield Park and has taken her characters on wonderful journey. That’s what every Austenesque author hopes to write and every Janeite hopes to read. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

4.5 out of 5 Stars

The Beresfords, by Christina Dudley
Bellavita Press (2012)
Trade paperback (402) pages
ISBN: 978-0983072126

© 2012 Lisa Galek, Austenprose

Turning Pages, by Tristi Pinkston – A Review

Turning Pages, by Tristi Pinkston (2012)From the desk of Lisa Galek. 

I really love a good Jane Austen contemporary update, especially one geared at teens. There’s something so refreshing and lovely about the idea that, 200 years later, young readers are still eating up the drama between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy.

When college student and aspiring librarian, Addie Preston, meets Blake Hansen, they clash immediately over everything. They have different tastes in books, different ideas about love… and Blake just so happens to have stolen the job that Addie had been hoping for – Assistant Librarian. Not only is this guy insufferable (and pretty well filled with pride), but he’s now also Addie’s new boss.

But, this isn’t the only reason Addie has to be upset. She’s been through a lot in the last year. Her father died just a few months ago and her family is being forced to move from their home. Soon, she suffers another blow – her beloved library is closing. Cutbacks in staff and the need to move quickly into a new location force Blake and Addie to work together. Addie slowly realizes that Blake isn’t the uptight (if well-read) jerk she thought he was. Now, just one final thing stands in the way of their love – Blake’s fiancée.

Since most of Addie’s life revolves around the library, this setting really takes center stage in the novel and becomes kind of like a character in its own right. There are some really humorous scenes of Addie’s misguided attempts to protest the library’s closing (like when she accidentally assaults the mayor with a placard). But, otherwise, there’s almost too much going on in the library with no real purpose. We get information on cataloging books, screwing in shelves, discarding worn out titles, which (as much as I love a library) sort of detracts from the romance.

No sparks really fly between Addie and Blake until the very end of the novel, so there’s not a lot of the will-they-won’t-they drama that makes Pride and Prejudice so fantastic. This is mostly owing to the introduction of Blake’s fiancée, the Caroline Bingley-esque, Tara. Though she’s completely wrong for him, Blake is far too good of a guy to even consider ditching or cheating on Tara. (Darcy never would have gotten mixed up with her in the first place). For a while it looks like Blake is about to take a large Edward Ferrars-shaped bullet in the name of Love and Honor and Wedding China.

The author does have a really good ear for dialogue and the characters are always cracking jokes or having fun swooning over their favorite books. Just about every single person in the story is well-drawn and relatable and you’re truly rooting for it all to turn out right in the end. It was also nice to read a young adult novel featuring college-aged character, too (which is, surpsingly rare). It makes more sense, for this story at least, to have older characters contemplating life and love without worrying if they’re going to make it to fifth period geometry on time.

Overall, Turning Pages is a bit of fun for anyone who loves a sweet romance or a well-stocked library. Its ties to Austen’s original are slight — there’s some boy-and-girl-don’t-initially-get-along tension and a tiny Wickham-esque subplot – but the novel has enough other good traits to recommend it on its own.

4 out of 5 Stars

Turning Pages, by Tristi Pinkston
Walnut Springs Press (2012)
Trade paperback (240) pages
ISBN: 978-0983829362
 

© Lisa Galek, Austenprose

Find Wonder in All Things, by Karen M. Cox – A Review

Find Wonder in All Things, by Karen M. Cox (2012)From the desk of Christina Boyd.

Jane Austen’s most serious and compelling work, Persuasion, is all about retribution, forgiveness and second chances.  Her masterpiece begins seven years after the broken engagement between the young heiress, Anne Elliot, and a junior naval officer, Frederick Wentworth—when he is thrown back into her sphere and both must face the pain from their past.  Karen M. Cox’s award winning novel, Find Wonder In All Things is a modern day homage to this Austen classic.  The tale begins with a lakeside friendship in the Appalachian foothills of Kentucky between Laurel Elliott and James Marshall.  As the two grow, childhood friendship turns to summer romance and halfway through Laurel’s first semester at the local college, James decides to move to Nashville to pursue his music dream.  He assumes she will drop everything to join him.  But at just eighteen and with a generous art scholarship, weighted by family expectations as well, who would fault her for refusing him and staying on the college track?

Eight years later, James, now rich and famous, returns to the lake to visit his sister, while Laurel has turned into a reclusive, starving artist.  Ok, not quite starving but by no means a financial success story.  And most definitely alone.  “Unbidden, he came to mind:  handsome, dashing and determined.  The eight years of separation had softened any flaws she ever saw in him, and now he was almost larger than life to her.  He had been right to believe in himself and in his ability to make his mark on the world.  He had made it, too – perhaps not in the way he intended but still successful beyond his wildest dreams.” p.115.  Captain Wentworth, I mean, James is determined to play it cool and aloof towards Anne.  I mean Laurel!  And Laurel’s regrets are freshly re-visited as she is keenly aware of her depraved status and jealously towards the younger woman James now bestows his attentions.  But Laurel’s generous, self-assured spirit unearths old feelings he thought long buried and a companionable friendship blossoms.  When a water skiing accident throws the two together, emotions come to the surface.  “And he had whispered her name and called her beautiful and sweet.  She could hear the words, and then ‘want…want…’  It had made her roar to life inside her lower belly.  Yes, she thought, I want too.’ But then he left.” p 177.  Maybe too much time and hurt had passed between them…

If you are looking for the cookie cutter formula of a Persuasion adaptation, this may not be it.  For example, you might be surprised that Austen’s pretentious, preening Sir Walter Elliot has been transformed into a struggling but kind hearted marina owner.  And Anne Elliot’s selfish, self-absorbed elder sister Elizabeth has morphed into an affectionate, married, and doting mother named Virginia.  Although many of Austen’s key characters have also been re-named and undergone a modern makeover, they remain comfortably familiar to the Austen fan.  I admit, some of my appreciation was in recognizing the subtle parallels. (Please note that although the prologue opens with Laurel and James as children, their tender love scenes later in years most assuredly rates this an adult read.) However, one need not have read Persuasion beforehand to enjoy this novel.  Find Wonder In All Things stands on its own and no wonder at all, why it was awarded the GOLD MEDAL in the Romance category at the 2012 Independent Publisher Book Awards.  Congratulations, Karen Cox on another lovely read!

4.5 out of 5 Stars

Find Wonder in All Things, by Karen M. Cox
Meryton Press (2012)
Trade paperback (254) pages
ISBN: 9781936009176

© 2012 Christina Boyd, Austenprose