Mr. Darcy’s Diary: A Novel, by Amanda Grange – A Review

The Pride Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge (2013)This is my fourth 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.

In 2005 author Amanda Grange gave Pride and Prejudice fans what they had been craving for centuries—Jane Austen’s classic story retold entirely from the perspective of its iconic romantic hero—Mr. Darcy. It was certainly not the first novel to explore this concept, but Mr. Darcy’s Diary remains, after many other attempts, the best in a very crowded field of Darcyiana.

I first read Darcy’s Diary eight years ago when it was released in the UK. I paid a fortune for the first edition to be shipped to the US. I did not regret it. My copy retains its place of honor on my Austen sequel bookshelf, along with the five other novels in her Austen Hero Diaries Series that Grange has since produced. She has a large international following for her work which she has earned through honest homage and clever craftsmanship.

Writing a first person narrative of a classic hero who is a bit of a prig in the original story has its challenges. In Pride and Prejudice the reader sympathizes with the heroine Elizabeth Bennet in her dislike of Mr. Darcy. We meet him and draw our conclusions of his personality from her perspective—he is a proud and disagreeable man—we see why she thinks so, but we do not know why.

Image of the book cover of Darcys Diary, by Amanda Grange, UK ed. © 2005 Robert Hale Ltd Seeing the same events unfold from his eyes does not absolve him of his bad behavior, but as the narrative progresses, we are more sympathetic to his reasons. As we discover his inner thoughts and outward actions, our second impressions countermand his arrogant noble mien: we learn details of his chance intervention of the elopement of his sixteen-year old sister Georgiana with his nemesis George Wickham; we see his management of his soft-hearted friend Charles Bingley and learn why he is guiding him by the manipulation of his confidence and Bingley’s sisters; we see his attraction to Elizabeth Bennet spark and grow from his original cool intolerance to his admiration of her “fine eyes” and saucy impertinence—and his puzzlement of her brusque behavior to him.

Oh,’ she said, ‘I heard you before; but could not immediately determine what to say in reply. You wanted me, I know, to say “Yes,” that you might have the pleasure of despising my taste; but I always delight in overthrowing those kind of schemes. I have therefore made up my mind to tell you, that I do not want to dance a reel at all – and now despise me if you dare.’

‘Did I really seem so perverse to her? I wondered. And yet I could not help smiling at her sally, and her bravery in uttering it.’ p. 40

Close readers of Pride and Prejudice will recognize lines of Austen’s original dialogue (like Elizabeth’s speech to Darcy quoted above) interlaced with Grange’s new text. This ingenious co-mingling is seamless and we partake in many of the important passages where Darcy interacts with Elizabeth in the original novel, and then his private reaction. This works for this reader because Grange does not try to write like Austen in Elizabeth head, but as Grange in Darcy’s.

For those who are a student of character (like our heroine Elizabeth) it is interesting to observe our hero Darcy’s view of events from a male perspective. The whole Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus theory plays out beautifully and Grange takes full advantage of the differences in the sexes and how they think and react to the same scene when Elizabeth arrives at the Netherfield Ball.

I continued walking towards her. ‘I am glad to see you here. I hope you had a pleasant journey?’ I asked. ‘This time, I hope you did not have to walk!’

‘No, I thank you,’ she said stiffly. ‘I came in a carriage.’

I wondered if I had offended her. Perhaps she felt I had meant my remark as a slight on her family’s inability to keep horses purely for their carriage. I tried to repair the damage of my first remark.’” p. 51

Image of the book cover of Mr. Darcys Diary, by Amanda Grange, US ed. © 2007 Sourcebooks Clueless! There is some hope of improvement. As Darcy’s admiration of Elizabeth grows, it begins to humble his pride. While he is in Kent visiting his aunt Lady Catherine de Bourgh, we begin to see the change as he reacts to Elizabeth’s explanation to Darcy’s cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam of his behavior when they first met at the Meryton Assembly.

In her eyes, my refusal to dance became ridiculous, and I saw it so myself, for the first time. To stride about in all my pride, instead of enjoying myself as any well-regulated man would have done. Absurd! I would not ordinarily have tolerated any such teasing, and yet there was something in her manner that removed any sting, and instead made it a cause for laughter.” p. 78

Even though many will know the final outcome of the story, Grange keeps us in suspense by adding new scenes and inner thoughts that only Darcy would be privy too—and now we are too. What fan of Pride and Prejudice, and Mr. Darcy, could possibly resist reliving a cherished novel and walking in his shiny, black Hessian boots? I couldn’t.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Mr. Darcy’s Diary: A Novel, by Amanda Grange
Sourcebooks (2007)
Trade paperback (320) pages
ISBN: 978-1402208768

Cover images courtesy of © 2005 Robert Hale Ltd & © 2007 Sourcebooks; text ©2013 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Attempting Elizabeth, by Jessica Grey – A Review

Image of the cover of the book Attempting Elizabeth, by Jessica Grey © 2013 Tall House BooksFrom the desk of Veronica Ibarra

Ever love a book so much that it is committed to memory? Have a favorite book that provides comfort and escape from life’s more troublesome realities? Pride and Prejudice is just such a book for many, including Kelsey Edmundson, the heroine of Jessica Grey’s new Jane Austen-inspired novel Attempting Elizabeth, who is magically transported through time and dimension jumping right into the story.

Kelsey is a grad student with a deep and abiding geeky love for TV, movies, and books, particularly Pride and Prejudice. She is also in recovery after a bad breakup. In an effort to help Kelsey get back into the game of life, her roommate Tori Mansfield coerces Kelsey into putting on her shortest dress and best boots for a night of dancing. Kelsey, however, is not at the top of her game, suffering through a dance with an overly grope-y acquaintance, manages to insult the Aussie hottie Mark Barnes, and then utterly fails to redeem herself as the evening comes to a close.

If that is not bad enough, the next day Kelsey’s given a second chance to make a better impression with Mark on a group hiking excursion. Unfortunately, hiking is not really Kelsey’s thing and her foul mood prompts more ill-judged comments. Then without a chance to freshen up, the group goes out for dinner, where Kelsey’s downward spiral continues as she spills her drink and the sight of the woman who had put the nail in the coffin of Kelsey’s last relationship hanging all over Mark sends her into a bit of self-pity relapse.

This is when Kelsey seeks comfort in the way so many of us can relate. Dressed in her “rattiest sweats” and armed with a glass of wine and her favorite book, she settles on the couch for some escapist reading. Kelsey escapes far more effectively than she intends as she comes to inexplicably inside the body of Georgiana Darcy. Kelsey is confused. Not only is she inside the world of her favorite book, but being Darcy’s sister is no way to enjoy the experience.

Kelsey’s efforts to cope with her “delusion” are hilarious until she finally discovers the key to returning to her reality. However, reality finds Kelsey still unable to say or do the right thing around Mark, who fate seems to keep throwing at her. Kelsey wonders if it was just a fluke that got her into Pride and Prejudice or if there is a way to repeat the experience. With the exciting discovery that it is possible, Kelsey’s mission becomes jumping into Elizabeth in order to be with Pride and Prejudice’s hero, Darcy. But Kelsey finds that becoming Elizabeth is not so easily done and that her emotional baggage may have something to do with it.

Through Kelsey’s various character jumping Grey demonstrates a keen understanding of the characters Jane Austen created, and also looks at them through the eyes of a modern woman dropped into their world as a participant and not merely as an observer. This presents an added challenge for Kelsey who must fight against her desire to deviate from Austen’s story or suffer on repeat—to truly understand that, you really have to read Attempting Elizabeth.

While Kelsey can jump into Pride and Prejudice and live there with the Regency society, it is Regency as Austen wrote about it. Still the need of maids for dressing, how bathing is handled, and even how relieving oneself is done are only hinted at, but not explored in detail. How the lack of indoor plumbing alone does not kill Kelsey’s determination to be Elizabeth can only be explained by her desire to be with the real Darcy. If you have read Pride and Prejudice then you know that Elizabeth and Darcy do not hit it off from the get go and that there is a lot of time between meetings, we are talking months of time. Even having an escape hatch, I am not sure I would have the same determination as Kelsey.

Kelsey’s journey to true love and through the pages of Pride and Prejudice is fun and quirky. Her internal dialogue is full of references to things Austen would have known nothing about, such Star Wars and Quantum Leap. At the beginning of every chapter there is a quote from a movie, television show, or book, but the details are not given until the end of the story. I am not sure if Grey intended it to be a guessing game or not, but I had fun playing it that way as I read. I got sixteen out of twenty-two. Not sure how geeky that makes me, maybe slightly above average. It is also kind of interesting how the quotes fit with the chapters, but even without them the book is a fun read I would recommend.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Attempting Elizabeth, by Jessica Grey
Tall House Books (2013)
Trade paperback (320) pages
ISBN: 978-0985039660

Cover image courtesy © 2013 Tall House Books; text © 2013 Veronica Ibarra, Austenprose

One Thread Pulled: The Dance with Mr. Darcy (Volume 1), By Diana J. Oaks – A Review

Image of the book cover of One Thread Pulled: A Dance with Mr Darcy (Volume 1), by Diana J. Oaks From the desk of Jeffrey Ward

How differently would Pride and Prejudice have proceeded if Miss Elizabeth Bennet had not overheard Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy’s insulting remarks during the Meryton assembly?  Differently? Yes, very-very differently according to this debut author’s totally diverting and brilliant re-imagining of Jane Austen’s timeless romance.

Starting at page one and continuing all the way to page 457 (rather lengthy for a work of this nature), it never falls off or fails to delight at any point or on any page. So, if you love Elizabeth and Darcy, please read on…..

Two years in the writing, and perhaps more in research, validate the author’s mastery of the Regency period, especially her intimate portrayals of Elizabeth and Darcy, clear down to the least significant character. I am astonished at how the author totally re-charts the course of Miss Austen’s most famous story, yet manages to respectfully maintain and indeed significantly expand upon the expected attributes of its most important personalities. Just about every Austen character makes an appearance and I love the way the author chooses to highlight Miss Anne de Bourgh, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, Miss Caroline Bingley, and Miss Georgiana Darcy. Just name ANY other character from P&P; they’re all in there in some capacity.

The story centers on Netherfield, Meryton, and Longbourne with a brief Sojourn to London. That would seem restrictive for a lengthy novel but this plot device allows the author to deftly focus on the complex and ever-evolving emotional relationship between the heroine and hero. With the “prejudice” portion removed, the encounters between Miss Bennet and Mr. Darcy begin with initial wariness but grow gradually to respect, regard, affection, and ultimately love. The angst generated over this two-steps-forward-one-step-back romance is the foundation that makes this story so irresistibly seductive.

Putting aside my blathering plaudits, how better to recommend this book than to read samples of the author’s delicate wit? Darcy and Elizabeth meet by chance on their outings as they witness a beautiful sunrise. The incongruity is priceless as Miss Bennet admires nature but Mr. Darcy admires only her, yet cannot gain her regard.

“Look, Mr. Darcy.  Is the sight before you not a fair prospect?  I do not know how to bear it sometimes, to gaze upon such beauty and not be able to ever hold it, to be limited to just looking.  It seems a hardship.”  “Yes,” Mr. Darcy said, looking at Elizabeth, the sunlight glinting off her hair, and her face flushed from exertion.  “I believe I understand how you feel.” p. 145

Here is a rousing verbal joust between two strong personalities as Darcy’s insistence on teaching Elizabeth how to ride disguises enormous romantic implications:

“I taught Georgiana.” Darcy replied.  Elizabeth shook her head. “I do not feel safe on a horse.”  “you will be safe with me,” Darcy said.  “How many ways must I refuse before you relent?” Elizabeth laughed.  “How many times must I offer before you accept?” Darcy countered with a smile.  “It is not in me to back down, Miss Bennet.  Once I have set my course, I persist.  “Mr. Darcy, it is my course you are setting, not your own.” Elizabeth replied.” p. 221

I laughed over this classic regency eaves-dropping moment as Mr. Darcy leaves Elizabeth’s sick bed following a supposed private attempt to confess his love for her:

Darcy backed silently to the door where he would leave, his eyes never leaving the woman he hoped to make his wife.  Upon reaching the door, he opened it, only to find that Jane, Bingley, Anne and the colonel were all pressed up against it.  Only the colonel actually fell. p. 276

I must make mention of some threads not “pulled” but “woven in” by the author that may raise both curiosity and doubt: Mr. Collins attempting to compromise Elizabeth Bennet? Miss Caroline Bingley mentally unsound? Elizabeth Bennet collapsing in the middle of the Netherfield ball? Mr. Wickham extorting Mr. Darcy? Mr. Bennet’s almost impossible courtship demands on Darcy and Elizabeth? Mr. Bingley’s secret sister? Mr. Collins’s entail invalid? As I initially read these threads, I thought “That’s far-fetched.” No worries whatsoever, because the author neatly and plausibly explains each of them in a very convincing and satisfactory manner which makes the entire book breathlessly unpredictable.

The conclusion comes abruptly and would be a disappointment for most readers if a sequel was not forthcoming.  It is! This reviewer keeps top-five lists of his very favorite works from a variety of genres and this one has easily parked itself in my top 5 list for favorite regency romances which puts it in with some distinguished titles indeed. That upcoming sequel, Constant as the Sun, can’t get into my hands quickly enough!

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

One Thread pulled: The Dance with Mr. Darcy (Volume 1), By Diana J. Oaks
CreateSpace (2012)
Trade paperback (456) pages
ISBN: 978-1475149616

Cover image courtesy ©Diana J. Oaks 2012; text ©Jeffrey Ward 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

Darcy’s Decision: Given Good Principles Volume 1, by Maria Grace

Darcy's Decision: Given Good Principles Volume 1, by Maria Grace (2011)From the desk of Jeffrey Ward

For 200 years, I suspect many enthralled readers of Pride and Prejudice have silently pondered the question “What would Darcy do?” Author Maria Grace endeavors to put her own spin on this with her debut prequel novella Darcy’s Decision, in her Given Good Principles trilogy.

Spanning a brief but significant moment in time, the main gist of the story deals with Darcy’s rival Mr. Wickham, his demands for a living, and his alleged compromising of Georgiana and how young Mr. Darcy finally deals with it.

It is six months following the death of his father and Fitzwilliam Darcy struggles with how to honorably and properly manage the vast holdings of Pemberley, care for his 15 year old rapidly-maturing teenage sister, and deal with the prickly problem of one Mr. Wickham –his boyhood friend who shows up to claim the curacy that was thought promised to him by Darcy’s father. A dinner at Pemberley with some cherished neighbors, the Bingleys, Georgiana, the newly-appointed curate John Bradley and Mr. Wickham reveals the complications Darcy is up against:  (Georgiana speaking of Wickham)

“You came to pay your respects?” Lackley dabbed his chin with his napkin. “No, he did not.” Everyone gasped, staring at Georgiana. “Stop it!” Rebecca hissed, reaching for Georgiana’s hand. “He was promised the living given to Mr. Bradley.” A hush fell over the table. Darcy’s pulse thudded in his temples as the blood drained from his face.

With admirable originality the author has created a morality drama with Biblical undertones stressing mercy, forgiveness, and what makes a man truly great. She showcases the familiar well-loved characters of Pride and Prejudice quite accurately: Darcy, Wickham, Richard Fitzwilliam, the Bingleys, Mrs. Reynolds, as well as introducing her own cast of loveable loyal neighbors and old family friends. Chief among these is John Bradley, the vital mentor to both Darcys – father and son. The wise old Clergyman counsels young Darcy and the dialogue is beautiful in its timeless truth:

“I am not like him.”Darcy grimaced and swallowed hard against the rising bile. “I lack his wisdom, his discernment.” But you were given good principles, the ones your father stood.” The wind whipped his coattails and scoured his face. “Are they enough?” “He found them so.” Bradley clapped his shoulder.

But as Darcy reads his father’s private journals, a shocking confession is uncovered which will test the young man’s mettle and may change forever his attitude towards his late father and young Darcy’s relationship with his immediate family.

No Elizabeth? Sorry, but I believe she makes her appearance in the author’s trilogy installment #2 – The Future Mrs. Darcy. Until then, the romantic interest in this tale features the obnoxious Caroline Bingley as she sets her cap at poor Fitzwilliam. The off-and-on banter between Darcy, Charles Bingley, and Richard Fitzwilliam regarding how and who they may find as wives is utterly charming and really sets the stage for #2 in the author’s trilogy.

At scarcely 120 pages, the author still manages to lavish her debut work with historical accuracy, helpful footnotes, and scintillating dialogues. The author’s unique voice is most apparent in her descriptions of facial expressions, posturing, gestures, and mannerisms. A scene where Wickham is bound up and is being interrogated by Darcy and his buddies is so vivid and comical that I was in raptures mentally visualizing the entire episode.

About the only minor criticism I can level against this work is the character of Georgiana who Jane Austen describes in chapters 44 and 45 of Pride and Prejudice as exceedingly shy and quiet. This author’s Georgiana, on the other hand, is quite the feisty outspoken teenage girl, but I suppose that can be excused off as the emotional frustration of no longer being a girl, but not quite a woman yet.

I found Darcy’s Decision richly entertaining with a very plausible variation on “what if?” If Darcy doesn’t wear the mantle of hero yet with you, dear readers, I predict he will once you finish this read. Next stop? The Future Mrs. Darcy, or course!

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Darcy’s Decision: Given Good Principles Volume 1, by Maria Grace
Good Principles Publishing (2011)
Trade paperback (154) pages
ISBN: 978-0615582771

© 2013 Jeffrey Ward, Austenprose

Sons and Daughters: Darcy and Fitzwilliam Book Two, by Karen Wasylowski – A Review

Sons and Daughters: Darcy and Fitzwilliam Book Two, by Karen V. Wasylowki (2012)From the desk of Shelley DeWees

Care for a slice of dialogue?  I promise that you’ll find it irresistibly juicy, bursting to the seams with wit and character.  This is Karen Wasylowski’s work, after all, and you may still have the lingering juices from her first book Darcy and Fitzwilliam on your tongue.  It tasted like Pride and Prejudice, but more tangy, more modern, more real (if you haven’t read it, you should, posthaste).  This is totally worth the indulgence.  Go ahead.  Live a little.

Just then the door opened and in walked Fitzwilliam Darcy.

            “Darcy!  It’s about time you arrived!”

            “Wonderful to see you as well, Fitz.”  Darcy then turned to O’Malley.  “Hello, Patrick.  Good to see you, how is Mrs. O’Malley?”

            “Grand, sir.  Just grand, and, I thank you for askin’.  She’s got a proper cap to wear now she does, enjoys bossin’ around her new maid.”

            Fitzwilliam slammed a cup down to kill a roach.

            “Excellent news, and well deserved I might add.  And the boys?  Getting quite tall I’ll warrant.”

            “Growin’ like weeds, they are, another on the way and, again, so good of you to inquire.”  Patrick swept away the dead bug with his hand then wiped his hand on his trousers.

            “My, aren’t you two delightful?  A regular Tristan and Isolde without all that lovely prose to distract the mind.  Well, as much as I hate to break up this heartwarming tableau I’m famished and you’re nearly a quarter hour late, Darcy.”

            “And you’re in a foul mood.  Has he been like this all day, Patrick?”

            “Naw.  Most time, he’s worse.”  Patrick then turned and left before he was sacked once again.

Brazen, boyish Fitzwilliam stands in stark contrast to his upstanding cousin, Darcy of Pemberley, of Pride and Prejudice, of the deepest wanderings of all your Colin-Firth-look-a-like fantasies of fiction male stardom.  Next to a man like that, Fitzwilliam appears undignified, unmannered, even silly — totally real.  Fitzwilliam isn’t like other male characters in Austen and Austenesque literature, because he isn’t a courtly, noble person yet remains on the side of good.  He’s as unlikely to hurt someone as Georgiana Darcy, and far more apt to offer you a toast of health and good cheer.  Sure, he’s doing it with a foul mouth and an attitude fit for a brothel, but who cares?  Charming and enthusiastic, Fitzwilliam is a breath of fresh air.  Darcy is…well, Darcy.  All that you love of him, and more, but unsurprisingly nice.  His stately, composed personality makes up for all of Fitzwilliam’s shortcomings, which is perhaps why the two make such a wondrous pair in Sons and Daughters, the second installment in the series from Karen Wasylowski.

The early portions of the story find Darcy doing his Darcy thing, wandering around his lovely homes and out into London to meet people and talk about stuff.  He pays his bills, meets his solicitors, goes “on up to Parliament” and around to see his deliciously-styled Aunt Catherine who is fabulously, unapologetically drunk on “medicinal liquid” most of the time.  I can’t help but see Judi Dench and a big pile of frosted grey hair, but what’s better than that?  Nothing.  Nothing is better than Lady Catherine de Bourgh, especially as seen through the brilliant character depiction that Karen Wasylowski employs.  Fitzwilliam is another one of these creations, though he finds himself with much less time on his hands.  As the Surveyor General, he is busy and overtaxed (hence the snarky attitude) but still manages to find time to hang out with his wife and family.

And believe me, that includes plenty of people.  Darcy and lovely Elizabeth (who remains a back-burner voice in this interpretation — don’t be surprised) have a respectable number of offspring with a respectable, quiet life and a respectable, quiet group of helpers around them.  Their kids are sweet, generous, and well-spoken.  But of course, Fitzwilliam’s brood stands in contrast, both in numbers and in personalities.  While Darcy’s children are playing the pianoforte and researching Chinese history, Fitz’s are monkeying around like hoodlums, dropping bags of flour from 3rd-story windows, sliding down banisters, and causing their parents untold amounts of torment.  It goes so far that by the end of the book, I determined that Fitz and Amanda are bloody bad parents.

But remember, this is Karen Wasylowski’s work.  She’s the master of modern Austen, unafraid to throw in little gems and goodies like these.  The faults of the parents become the faults of the children in the real world, and such is the case here.  You’ll find yourself stunned at the lack of discipline and responsibility from Amanda and Fitz’s crazy children, the end of the book exploding with the bad behavior and carelessness that only ungoverned children can enact (now that they’re grown, you see, the cracks in their foundations really begin to show).

It’s a refreshing ride through Austen territory, but not your typical trip at all.  You’ll find bits of tradition, sure, but I found myself scratching my head at their placement, almost like they were included as a token gesture to those who search for them.  Everyone seems to live the same life over and over, cooling in passions and slackening in pursuits as the years mount, forcing the narrative to focus on the offspring simply to find something interesting again!  This tiresome path simply didn’t fit alongside the edgy, flashy prose.  However, I was consistently kept afloat by Ms. Wasylowski’s excellent skill as a writer.  She is a gifted storyteller with exceptional talent, especially with character development.  Sons and Daughters won’t leave you wanting!  Saddle up and don’t forget your boots!

4.5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Sons and Daughters: Darcy and Fitzwilliam Book Two, by Karen V. Wasylowski
CreateSpace (2012)
Trade paperback (416) pages
ISBN: 978-1480002913

© 2012 Shelley DeWees, Austenprose

Bewitched, Body and Soul: Miss Elizabeth Bennet, by P. O. Dixon – A Review

Bewitched, Body and Soul: Miss Elizabeth Bennet, by P. O. Dixon (2012)

From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder

With the amount of Jane Austen fan fiction writers that write “what if” variations, you’d think that by now they would be running short on new scenarios.  Thankfully, new and imaginative writers keep entering this genre and introduce new variations on our favorite old classic.  P.O. Dixon is one of these fresh new faces.  I was first introduced to this creative woman when I heard of a novel that had mixed Arthurian legend with our favorite characters of Pride and PrejudiceHe Taught Me to Hope was this novel, and after reading it, I’ve been a fan of Dixon ever since.  Knowing how creative Dixon could be, I couldn’t wait to read her latest installment, Bewitched, Body and Soul: Miss Elizabeth Bennet.

After attending the ball at Netherfield Park, Jane Bennet’s heart is completely won over by the amiable and charming Mr. Bingley. When he promptly departs for London without much explanation, she is deeply depressed, feeling the loss of any chance she had at happiness in life.  Her sister Elizabeth, genuinely disturbed over her sister’s sudden emotional change, decides that she must do something about it.  She travels to Town to spend the holidays with her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner, although it is merely a ruse for her true purpose: to find Bingley and discover why he left Netherfield in the first place.  Her search for Bingley leads her first to Mr. Darcy’s townhouse in the hopes that he will provide a measure of assistance in her search.  Unfortunately for Elizabeth, Darcy flatly refuses and turns her out.  To make matters worse, a sudden rainstorm drenches her and she falls ill at Darcy’s home.  Sick with fever, Lizzie almost faints and Darcy rushes to save her.  Will this sudden turn of events cause a shift in Darcy’s attitude towards Lizzy?  What will become of Jane and Bingley?

While readers of Pride and Prejudice all know the outcomes to my questions above, the path to get there is long and filled with moments of despair, hope, and tender goodness.  I truly enjoyed seeing all of the interesting new scenarios that Dixon came up with.  She created varying scenes that allowed us to learn the tumultuous nature of Lizzy and Darcy’s individual minds as they struggled to come to terms with their changing feelings for each other.  Dixon executed the description of Darcy’s riotous mind flawlessly—so in tune with him throughout the whole novel—that it only aided in my ability to connect with him as a character.  The turmoil that Elizabeth feels at not being able to help her sister Jane in her time of need is also conveyed to perfection.  As someone who has a sister myself, the storyline was extremely relatable, adding much to the work.  I also have to give Dixon two thumbs way up for giving Mr. Darcy’s little sister Georgiana such a crucial part in the plot.  I’m a big fan of authors who give her a voice and a bigger role!

On the other hand, the biggest problem I had with the last Dixon novel I read (He Taught Me to Hope, you can read my review here) was that there were some plot holes left open and unfinished at the end of the novel.  This left me feeling slightly unsettled at the conclusion of the work.  I’m happy to say that this is not the case with Bewitched.  Everything ties together nicely, leaving the reader satisfied that all is as it should be with the Darcys.

Dixon has created a new variation of a classic favorite that is just as romantic and engaging as the original. In all, I foresee Dixon becoming more and more popular as people begin to discover her creative literary voice.  I urge you to begin discovering her works on your own as they will be a delight to read.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Bewitched, Body and Soul: Miss Elizabeth Bennet, by P. O. Dixon
CreateSpace (2012)
Trade paperback (182) pages
ISBN: 978-1475275773

©2012 Kimberly Denny-Ryder, Austenprose

Goodly Creatures: A Pride and Prejudice Deviation, by Beth Massey – A Review

Goodly Creatures: A Pride and Prejudice Deviation, by Beth Massey (2012)From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder: 

Recently I was offered the opportunity to review Goodly Creatures by Beth Massey for Austenprose.  I knew this book was generating a good deal of discussion in the JAFF world.  I’m always up for books that are labeled “controversial” as they are great conservation starters.  What could be more interesting than a book that stimulates discussions and sparks minds?

Publisher’s description from Goodreads:  A life altering event inextricably links a fifteen-year-old Elizabeth Bennet to Fitzwilliam Darcy while simultaneously creating an almost insurmountable divide. This Pride and Prejudice deviation takes the reader on a journey through a labyrinth filled with misunderstandings, bias, guilt and fear – not to mention, laughter, animal magnetism and waltzing. As Elizabeth says, ‘she shed enough tears to float one of Lord Nelson’s frigates’ but as she learned from her father ‘unhappiness does, indeed, have comic aspects one should never underestimate.’

Though the path for our protagonists is much more arduous than canon, the benefit remains the same; a very happy Janeite ending for these two star-crossed lovers. Along the way there is retribution, redemption and reward for other characters – including a few that recall players in two grave injustices as written by Ms Austen in ‘Sense and Sensibility.’ These grievances prompted this long-time struggle for women’s rights to write a tale that provided these women vindication.”

NOTE: For those that do wish to read the book I encourage you to stop reading my review.  I’m discussing the novel openly which may lead to their being spoilers you wished you hadn’t read. Continue reading

Dear Mr. Darcy: A Retelling of Pride and Prejudice, by Amanda Grange – A Review

Dear Mr. Darcy, by Amanda Grange (2012)Review by Christina Boyd

Bestselling authoress Amanda Grange’s latest offering, Dear Mr. Darcy, is a clever retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in the epistolary form. However, don’t be fooled by the title. This novel is so much more than just Mr. Darcy’s private correspondence, including many letters from several key players from the original novel as well as characters from Grange’s own invention to develop back story. She has also cleverly incorporated Austen’s canon Pride and Prejudice letters helping to solidify the timeline.

The novel begins five years prior to Pride and Prejudice, with the death of Mr. Darcy, Sr. and his final letter to his son detailing his hopes and dreams for him as well an introduction to Mr. Darcy’s cousin, compeer and confidant, Mr. Philip Darcy. The letters also unveil the dealings with The Living promised to George Wickham, as well as the near undoing of Darcy’s younger sister, Georgianna.

This Mr. Darcy remains true to Austen’s original: haughty, reserved and fastidious. Darcy wrote to Philip Darcy describing Bingley’s enthusiasm for his new home Netherfield Park and his own dread to attend that now infamous Meryton Assembly, “He did not care a bit that he might be mixing with the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker; he thought only to make himself agreeable to his neighbors. So now we must endure an evening of mortifications and punishment as the local burghers ogle our clothes and whisper about our fortunes.” (p. 134) And, we all know how well that turned out. It is particularly illuminating (and sometimes laugh out loud funny) as letters from different characters relate the same story – but with entirely different points of view.

In addition, the letters introduce us to the Sothertons, the former family of Netherfield Park who have retrenched to Bath, as well as further develop the characters of those we even now know so well such as Mary Bennet! In a letter to her noble friend, fellow Learned Woman and Sister in Athena, Miss Lucy Sotherton, Mary writes, “My sisters demanded a jig and I was forced to accede to their wishes, though as remarked to Mr. Shackleton afterwards, ‘A jig might feed the body but a concerto feeds the soul.’ He was much struck and begged for permission to copy it into his book of extracts.” (p. 147) I could hardly keep from laughing every time Mary mentioned her daily pursuits of rational application or her collection of maxims she adds in her book of extracts!

As the familiar story of Pride and Prejudice progresses, the letters prove remarkably insightful. Miss Charlotte Lucas writes to Miss Susan Sotherton about the very eligible, but very toady, Mr. Collins.  “…I see no reason why I should not be his third choice. He seems to have a comfortable home, Lady Catherine seems to be a sensible, if dictatorial, woman, and he has no vices.  He has no virtues either, it is true, but his parsonage has two sitting rooms, so he tells me, and it seems to me that a wife might have one whilst her husband has the other.” (p. 190) It would appear that Mrs. Bennet was right.  Those Lucases are very artful people, indeed.

Letters to and from Miss Susan Sotherton and Miss Elizabeth Bennet are timeless—just how any BFF would write: witty, intimate and gossipy. “Lizzy, you are trying me hard!  First I must mention nothing of your proposal, and now I can mention nothing about Mr. Wickham’s relations with Mr. Darcy… I eagerly await your next letter.  I fully expect to find that the Archbishop of Canterbury has proposed to you when you next write!” (p. 271)

Recently I saw a suitable extract (on facebook no less) that said something like, “Book hangover: Inability to start a new book because you’re still living in the last book’s world.” I confess, I am a great sufferer and Grange’s latest offering left me as such.   After closing the book, I had not yet gone beyond the words delightful and charming when some unlucky recollections intruded.  One, I was somewhat disappointed that one of Darcy’s dearest confidants, Mr. Philip Darcy, did not respond to Darcy’s engagement note. Not a congratulations, not even a damning letter! Nothing. Grange seemed to have forgotten him in the closing pages. It is a small criticism to be sure but it must be remarked upon as this omission simply leaves one puzzled as to how he took the news after holding such importance in Darcy’s life.  Hmmmmmm? Or, maybe his silence on the subject is more telling? Nothing to repine. Moreover, I am exceedingly diverted by the speed of mail in Georgian times, particularly a few letters needing only two days for a response from London whilst in Derbyshire or Yorkshire. Then again, I suppose Darcy could have sent all his letters by express… and, I was confounded that Darcy exchanged letters with Miss Caroline Bingley— especially since they are not engaged persons nor related.  But I digress.

Dear Mr. Darcy is delightful and charming. This latest retelling is fresh and true to the original masterpiece. Amanda Grange writes each letter with such an honest, elegant hand one readily recognizes the unmistakable voices of our beloved characters as they share their news. In an electronic age when the handwritten letter is all but extinct as text, email and voice mail are de rigueur, Grange’s epistolary retelling Austen’s masterpiece raises letter writing to a curious art form. Likening to Learned Woman Deidre Le Faye’s own non-fiction yet very academic, Jane Austen’s Letters, Grange’s fictional letters suggest a familiarity to even the most devout Austenite whilst driving the story to its anticipated and fulfilling conclusion. The effect is a captivating and agreeable narrative that will surely satisfy even the most astute Austen fan or Learned Woman.  Amanda Grange is at the top of her game!

4.5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Dear Mr. Darcy: A Retelling of Pride and Prejudice, by Amanda Grange
Berkley Trade (2012)
Trade paperback (400) pages
ISBN: 978-0425247815

Christina Boyd lives in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest with her dear Mr. B, two youngish children and a Chesapeake Bay Retriever named Bibi.  She studied Fine Art at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art and received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications from Salisbury University in Maryland. For the last nine years she has created and sold her own pottery line from her working studio. Albeit she read Jane Austen as a moody teenager, it wasn’t until Joe Wright’s 2005 movie of Pride & Prejudice that sparked her interest in all things Austen.  A life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, visiting Jane Austen’s England remains on her bucket list.

© 2007 – 2012 Christina Boyd, Austenprose