7 Historical Suspense Novels Inspired by Jane Austen

From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress: 

Happy Friday, dear readers. All Hallows Eve is this weekend. Have you chosen a costume and stocked up on candy yet? I don’t have trick or treaters visiting me in the country, however, that has never stopped me from celebrating the holiday by decorating with pumpkins and eating candy corn!

If you are seeking recommendations for great Jane Austen-inspired reading to put you in the mood for the spooky season, look no further. Here is a short list of six novels and one adaptation to help you Continue reading “7 Historical Suspense Novels Inspired by Jane Austen”

The Jane Austen Project: A Novel, by Kathleen A. Flynn — A Review

The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A Flynn 2017From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress: 

Hello dear readers, I hope that you are all coping during this crazy time. I am on lockdown here at Woodston Cottage trying to be productive while immersing myself in audiobooks and rom-com movies. It is Spring and the birds are singing, and the flowers are blooming. I have much to be grateful for.

Right now, we are all in need of some escapism, and what better way than with a time travel novel. The Jane Austen Project has been in my reading queue for a few years and seemed like the perfect choice Continue reading “The Jane Austen Project: A Novel, by Kathleen A. Flynn — A Review”

A Preview & Exclusive Excerpt of Jane Austen’s Ghost, by Jennifer Kloester

Jane Austen's Ghost, by Jennifer Kloester (2019)There has been a steady parade of Jane Austen-inspired fantasy/paranormal books published over the last several years. We have reviewed quite a few of them here on Austenprose in the Historical Fantasy/Paranormal and Contemporary Fantasy/Paranormal categories. They infuse zombies, vampires, witches, dragons, werewolves, and angels into Jane Austen’s plots in very creative ways. If you are open to having some fun with her characters, or Austen herself, and do not have a problem with disarming reproof, they can be very entertaining.

There have also been a few books featuring Jane Austen as a ghost. The thought of talking with her directly is intriguing to me. What would I ask her if I could? What would we do together? What intriguing insights would she share? Some of my questions were answered in the new book, Jane Austen’s Ghost, by Jennifer Kloester, in which a modern-day heroine, a magical spell, and the Bardess of Basingstoke make for an enchanting, paranormal experience. Here is a description of the book from the publisher and an exclusive excerpt from the author for your enjoyment. Continue reading “A Preview & Exclusive Excerpt of Jane Austen’s Ghost, by Jennifer Kloester”

Austensibly Ordinary, by Alyssa Goodnight – A Review

Austensibly Ordinary, by Alyssa Goodnight (2013)From the desk of Lisa Galek: 

What’s an average girl to do when she wants to add some excitement and romance to her life? Just ask Jane Austen, of course! Sure, she’s been dead for nearly 200 years, but there are ways around that little problem.

Cate Kendall spends her days teaching the classics like Emma to a group of quasi-bored high school students and her nights dreaming of doing something adventurous. The most excitement she’s got going on in her life is her weekly Scrabble games against her best friend, and fellow teacher, Ethan Chavez. When Cate receives an invitation to an Alfred Hitchcock-themed party in Austin, Texas, she realizes this is her chance to reinvent herself into the sexy woman of mystery she’s always dreamt of becoming. Continue reading “Austensibly Ordinary, by Alyssa Goodnight – A Review”

Austentatious Blog Tour with Author Alyssa Goodnight, & Giveaway

Austentatious, by Alyssa Goodnight (2012)Jane Austen’s indisputable influence continues, so much so, that she shows up as a character in Alyssa Goodnight’s new, innovative novel Austentatious.

Please join us today in welcoming Alyssa as she visits during her blog tour in celebration of the release of Austentatious, published this month by Kensington Books. In this humorous guest blog, Alyssa shares her writing evolution to Jane Austen, and offers a giveaway to three lucky readers.

Austentatious by Accident

I must make a confession.  I am not obsessive about Jane Austen.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that!  By no means!  Jane Austen is wonderfully witty, irresistibly romantic, and perfectly in tune with human nature.  I love her books, and I love the retellings, spin-offs, and general cult following she has inspired.  But as I wrote the initial draft of Austentatious (i.e. LONG before this title was selected), Jane wasn’t even on my horizon.  The magical journal was there, the characters too, but Jane didn’t appear until later.  It wasn’t until after I’d read Jane Austen’s Guide to Dating by Lauren Henderson and imagined the possibilities, that the idea took root:  What if the spirit of Jane Austen was inhabiting the journal, offering up match-making advice in present day Austin, Texas?  Austen in Austin! (my submission title, by the way)…  I loved it–positively loved it!  I busily began revisions on my work-in-progress, tweaking and adjusting to make the concept work, excited over the new version.  And then I made a serendipitous discovery.  Jane had gifted her niece Jane Anna Elizabeth Austen with a journal with the following dedication:

Jane Austen journalMY DEAR NEICE:

Though you are at this period not many degrees removed from Infancy, Yet trusting that you will in time be older, and that through the care of your excellent Parents, You will one day or another be able to read written hand, I dedicate to You the following Miscellanious Morsels, convinced that if you seriously attend to them, You will derive from them very important Instructions, with regard to your Conduct in Life. — If such my hopes should hereafter be realized, never shall I regret the Days and Nights that have been spent in composing these Treatises for your Benefit. I am, my dear Neice

Your very Affectionate Aunt

June 2d. 1793 Continue reading “Austentatious Blog Tour with Author Alyssa Goodnight, & Giveaway”

Forbidden, by Syrie James and Ryan M. James – A Review

From the desk of Christina Boyd:

Look out, Alyson Noel. Make way, Becca Fitzpatrick. Heads up, Lauren Kate.  There is a spectacular new Young Adult (YA) writing team on the horizon! 

Forbidden, authored by a mother and son writing team is their debut supernatural novel chocked full of intrigue, romance and humor.  But whyever is a Jane Austen blog site reviewing such a book?  One with not even a mention of Mr. Darcy, nor a reference to Jane Austen, nor anything remotely Regency? Simply thus.  One of the authors, none other than the international best-selling author of The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen as well as the award winning The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte, Syrie James, along with her son, Ryan M. James, ventures to offer us a larger allowance of prose to our daily study.
Continue reading “Forbidden, by Syrie James and Ryan M. James – A Review”

Evenfall, by Liz Michalski – A Review

Evenfall, by Liz Michalski (2011)From the desk of Shelley DeWees: 

“In summer the trees are full, but in fall they drop their leaves, and the valley surrounding land crouches below the house like a cat before it springs.  If someone searched very hard, they could just see, from that attic window, the things they hold most dear: the faintest glint of sunlight on water, the white, circling wings of gulls; the remote, unreachable face of the woman they love, telescoping away into darkness.” 

As a reviewer, I tried desperately to keep my head about myself as I swam in Liz Michalski’s beautiful novel Evenfall, an un-biased, unsentimental capture of it being my goal …but as a reader, I completely dissolved under its spell and utterly failed to keep my wits.  When you read it, you’ll see that I really had no choice.  It had me.

And so, I must present a review of Evenfall much in the way that Jane Austen presented A History of England, as a partial, prejudiced, and ignorant assessor.

The back of the book would have you believe that the story is about ghosts, one in particular actually, that tries to win back the only woman who ever mattered to him even as he floats around in an amorphous almost-existence.  In reality, the ghost character isn’t much of a character at all, and is essentially used as a way to look at the lives of two women from a third person perspective.  The ghost (Frank is his name) spends most of the book in the attic of Evenfall, the old family stead of the Murphys in rural Connecticut.  The house itself seems to stand as a person, having witnessed the lives of each family member with more clarity than most, along with a cat who fends off the loneliness of an aging woman, and Nina the dog, who is Frank’s biggest fan.

No, the story is really about Gert and Andie.  Tough as nails and seasoned in World War II as a nurse, Gert lives only footsteps away from Evenfall where she’s spent 40 years watching her sister live out the life she should’ve had, with the partner she should’ve had.  Regretful and bitter, Gert is forced to face the past when Andie, her niece, returns home to help bear the burden of cleaning up the Murphy family mess.  Andie isn’t so keen on spending a summer stuck in hicktown, even though she’s running from a few of her own demons (including a pressed-shorts-wearing, expensive-car-driving dandy of a man with a toxic personality and an endless track record of infidelity).  These two women have to figure out how to move forward in summer, move forward in life, move forward as family while coming to terms with their past decisions.  We all suffer from it eventually: those pesky, nagging possibilities and consequences of the roads not taken.  Roadnottakenitis maybe, a condition we all contract sooner or later.  Gert and Anide face it amidst an interesting cast of characters, including a grown up version of a boy Andie used to babysit and a goat…or two.  How will Gert and Andie face their pasts?  Their mistakes? What does it all mean?  By the time the end of the book is looming you realize that, just like in your life, there really are no answers.  Your choices are half chance, just like Gert’s, Andie’s, and everyone else’s.

Michalski weaves a story that positively drips with the hopelessness of summertime romance, the sadness of a life lived under the guise of joy, the true emptiness that fills the soul when it discovers that it can never rest.  The prose is beautiful.  Poetic, really.  The book itself is beautiful.  Tranquil and moving.  Evenfall was a lovely vision of summer-soaked humanity, with our sweaty brows and unspoken affections, and truly a sight to behold.

5 out of 5 Stars

Evenfall, by Liz Michalski
Penguin Group (2011)
Trade paperback (336) pages
ISBN: 978-0425238721

Cover image courtesy of Penguin Group © 2011; text Shelley DeWees © 2011, Austenprose.com

Jane Goes Batty: A Novel, by Michael Thomas Ford – A Review

Jane Goes Batty: A Novel, by Michael Thomas Ford (2011)Our Janeite sensibilities tell us that the notion of Jane Austen as a vampire is pretty wacky. It’s just so hard to visualize “our” Jane as one of the undead, still here after two hundred years, and struggling with life challenges and her condition. Author Michael Thomas Ford understands this too. He has created a trilogy based on our uncertainty, curiosity, and proclivity for the burlesque that Austen herself was so fond of. Book one, Jane Bites Back, sold us on the concept that anything can happen in a Jane Austen inspired novel – even Jane as a vampire. It was “light, campy and a bit Buffyish” and we were truly “glamored.” But as any vampire aficionado knows, to be “glamored” means to be under the vampire’s mind spell which does not last forever. After over a year shouldn’t it have worn off, returning us to our cynical, defensive Janeite self? Book two, Jane Goes Batty, would have to be pretty darn good to dispel our doubts and resurrect our confidence. Our fingers were crossed, along with our corset strings.

Our twenty-first century Jane is still undead and living in Brakeston, a small university town in upper state New York. The success of her novel Constance has changed her life considerably. In 1796 she may have wished to “write for Fame, and without any view for pecuniary emolument,” but now she Continue reading “Jane Goes Batty: A Novel, by Michael Thomas Ford – A Review”

Nocturne, by Syrie James – A Review

From the desk of Christina Boyd:

After loving best selling author Syrie James’ The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, as well as her Dracula, My Love: The Secret Journals of Mina Harker, my next obvious step was to read her latest offering, Nocturne.

Our story begins with Nicole Whitcomb driving to the Denver airport from a Rocky Mountain wedding and ski mini-break, when a blinding snowstorm whips up, and her car hits black ice, spinning her out of control and over an embankment. She blacks out, only to wake in a rustic, mountain lodge having been rescued by its owner, a handsome, recluse named Michael. The blizzard outside prevents her from continuing on her journey. As the hours turn into days, an uneasy companionship ensues, as Nicole Continue reading “Nocturne, by Syrie James – A Review”

Northanger Alibi, by Jenni James – A Review

What qualifies a story as a retelling of a Jane Austen novel? Reverent adherence to Austen’s plot line? Faithful interpretation of characterization? Emulation of her prose style?

I asked myself these questions several times while reading Jenni James’ new novel Northanger Alibi, the first book in her Austen Diaries series of contemporary counterparts to Austen’s six classic novels. At what point does an Austen retelling diverge so far that it is not a retelling at all? And, more importantly, does it really matter?

This led me to evaluate my Janeitehood. Am I a Formidable, or an Iconoclastic Austen sequel reader? Honestly, if you can answer these questions immediately, you will know if you want to read this novel or not. I could not decide, so I continued reading.

Claire Hart is a sixteen year old country girl from New Mexico whose never been kissed. Like any teenager she’d like it to be otherwise. She is Twi-hard to the extreme having read the Twilight series Continue reading “Northanger Alibi, by Jenni James – A Review”

Chatting with Michael Thomas Ford, author of Jane Bites Back & a Giveaway!

When I read the announcement in June of 2008 about Michael Thomas Ford’s new novel Jane Bites Back, my jaw dropped and I stared at my computer screen in astonished disbelief! Jane Austen is a now a vampire? No. What next? Darcy and Elizabeth on Mars?

As I read further about his concept of Austen being frustrated by everyone making money off her name and unable to get another book published after 200 years, I laughed so hard I startled my cats! As I smiled in acknowledgement that Austen would appreciate the irony of this folly and nonsense, the first question that sprang to mind was where the heck did this idea come from? And, would it be a light, bright and campy parody or a dark, sadistic, really angry Jane takes revenge on the world for ripping off her novels kind of gothic madness? My questions would not be answered to my satisfaction for over a year.

In December 2009 Jane Bites Back landed on my doorstep and by the ninth chapter I was smitten. You can read my full rollicking review here. So how was this staunch defender of Miss Austen’s reputation wooed and subdued? I will duly acknowledge Jane Austen’s vampiric ability to “glamour” me of course, then throw a crumb of credit Michael Thomas Ford’s way.

Please join me in welcoming today author Michael Thomas Ford. He has graciously agreed to answer a few questions about his new book.

Welcome Michael:

Jane Austen as a vampire is quite a startling notion. How did you arrive at this high concept characterization and what did you think the response from the Austen community would be?

As many of the most delightful things in life do, it happened a bit by accident. One day my agent and I were discussing the state of publishing. He commented that the only books selling well were about either vampires or Austen. I jokingly said that in that case I ought to write a novel about Jane Austen as a vampire. We laughed about it and my agent suggested I write something up. I was in the middle of another book, so it took me some time to do it, but I eventually did and he sent it out.

Shortly thereafter I left on a trip to British Columbia, where I go every year to scuba dive. So I was on a dive boat with very infrequent cell service and not really thinking about the book, as my experience with the submission process is that it takes quite some time to hear anything. One day I noticed the message light on my phone blinking, as we’d just come into range. There were several excited messages from my agent informing me that there was enormous interest in the project and that he would be holding an auction for it the following week. As you might imagine, I was thrilled.

As to the response from the Austen community, I suspected that most of her fans would respond well to the idea. I think Austen readers are an unusually imaginative group of people and appreciate a good satire, which is really what JBB is. I also knew that they would be wary, as there have been so many Austen-related books that have disappointed them, so I wanted to be sure to give them something they would enjoy.

Since Pride and Prejudice and Zombies became a publishing phenom last April, there has been a plethora of imitators flooding the market attempting to cash in on the Austen mash-up craze. Your book is a completely original work incorporating Austen’s life, works and witty personality. What was your motivation in writing Jane Bites Back and what is your response to those who say you have hitched your star to a literary icon?

Initially I just thought Jane as a vampire was a fun idea. But the more I thought about it, and as I wrote the proposal and the first chapters, the more I realized that her story is really the story of a lot of writers who are frustrated with the publishing industry and with the writing life in general.

Now, at the time my book was making the rounds PPZ had not even been announced and the subsequent mash-up phenomenon had not yet begun. Once PPZ came out I found my book being mentioned in virtually every article written about the trend. This was lovely, but as you can imagine it was also a little frustrating because not only was my book not coming out until later in the year but as you said, it isn’t a mash-up at all. It was natural that people might think it was, as no one had read it yet, but I did get a little tense about the whole thing. Fortunately, as soon as people began reading JBB they realized that it isn’t at all like the mash-ups and is a novel featuring Jane, not her characters.

There are of course some people who say that I’ve used Austen’s name simply to make money, and there is undoubtedly some truth to the notion that I’m relying on her popularity to interest readers in my book. Obviously the enormous interest in Austen is what inspired the book, and her name will encourage some readers to pick the book up who might not otherwise pick up a Michael Thomas Ford novel.  But I think I’ve created a story that holds up on its own and that displays my affection for Austen and her work, and ultimately the commercial success of the book is not as important to me as the fact that other Jane fans enjoy it.

One of the most endearing aspects of ‘your’ Jane Austen is that like her own characters in her novels, she has foibles and personality quirks like the rest of us. From the many references to Austen lore in the book, you are obviously an admirer of her life and works. How did you place yourself in her shoes and create the character?

It’s interesting. A handful of readers have complained that the Jane of JBB is not the “real” Jane Austen. When you’re dealing with someone who is as beloved as Austen is you inevitably have to accept the fact that not everyone perceives her in the same way. So no matter what you do, there will always be someone who doesn’t care for your portrayal of the character. I decided I had to let go of that fear and make Jane the Jane I see when I read her novels. Then I put that Jane into a contemporary setting and imagined how she might respond to her situation. Her personality quirks grew out of that, and I hope they feel natural and unforced. I did my best to let that Jane emerge, and I’m quite fond of her, so I want other people to be as well.

Something else to consider is that the Jane of JBB has had a life-altering change in becoming one of the undead. She has existed for nearly two centuries in a variety of cultures and circumstances, and while her fundamental characteristics may eventually prove to have survived essentially unaltered, she has to act a part to help hide her true identity. So if she sometimes does not act “like herself,” it is partly a function of deliberately trying not to.

As to how one writes a character, I’ve written a great many novels at this point in my career, in genres ranging from supernatural fiction to mysteries, and featuring dozens of different characters. People will often ask me, “How can you write from the perspective of a teenage girl/drug-addicted comic book collector/Vietnam soldier?” The answer is, that’s what I do. Some people know how to fix cars or make vaccines or teach mathematics. I tell stories. It’s really the only thing I’m good at. And that means imagining what it’s like to be all kinds of things I’m not. This time I imagined being Jane Austen after being turned into a vampire. Then I told that story.

Vampire novels can be scary and gory. There is also a lexicon of vampire lore that is expected by today’s pop culture. Could you elaborate on the tone and direction you have chosen for Jane Bites Back?

That was one of the first issues I needed to address — should this be a vampire novel with Austenesque qualities or an Austen novel with vampire touches? I’ve written traditional vampire stories in the past, so I’m familiar with that genre. But the story I wanted to tell wasn’t really a vampire story, so I decided to take a different approach.

Having decided that, I early on chose to abandon the traditional “rules” for writing vampires. Jane can eat. She can be in the sun. She can be photographed. Partially this was for the sake of convenience, but I also made this choice because Jane being a vampire is not really the point of the novel. It’s a device that makes Jane’s story more interesting.

As far as the level of bloodiness, I always intended to keep it to a minimum. Jane, vampire or no, is still a lady.

Every author hopes to connect with their readers and win their respect and approval. I had my ah-ha moment when Jane revealed her infatuation with nineteenth-century actor Richard Mansfield, the pattering comic baritone of the D’Olyly Carte opera company. Brilliant choice! Of course Jane would like Gilbert and Sullivan. I imagine she would also have enjoyed Oscar Wilde and Dorothy Parker – having all been cut from the same irreverent cloth. One of the advantages of Jane being undead is that not only do we see her in the modern world, we have the potential to travel back in time and experience events and people in her past life. What is next for the undead Jane Austen? What are your aspirations for your next two books in the series?

I’m so pleased that you noticed Mansfield! I was so happy that I could work him in, particularly because of his connection to the Jack the Ripper case. As for the next two books, the second is called Jane Goes Batty and it deals with what happens after Jane’s newest novel is a huge bestseller. It’s being made into a film, which causes Jane no end of trouble when the filmmakers decide to shoot it in Brakeston. In addition, her relationship with Walter takes an unexpected and very disconcerting turn. And now that Byron is back in her life he’s teaching Jane all of the vampire-related skills she’s neglected for so long. So a lot happens to her in the second book. I’m planning the third right now and have a number of ideas, but nothing is finalized. At some point I would like Jane to return to England and perhaps run into some old friends, and possibly enemies.

Many thank to Michael for sharing his thoughts with us today. Jane Bites Back is published by Ballantine Books and was released on December 29, 2009. 

Win a copy of Jane Bites Back

Enter a chance to win one of two copies available of Jane Bites Back by leaving a comment by 11:59 pm PT January 24th, 2010 stating which Jane Austen characters deserves to be turned or which producer of a Jane Austen movie should be! Winners announced on Monday, January 25th. Shipping to US or Canadian addresses only.

UPDATE 01/25/10: The contest has concluded and the winner announced. Follow this link to discover if it was YOU!

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Jane Bites Back, by Michael Thomas Ford – A Review

Jane Austen’s novels brim with irony, witticism, and in the end, a gentle reprove or two. It is why I love her writing. Few authors can deliver this dry, deft and wickedly funny style. Michael Thomas Ford is one of them.

His latest novel Jane Bites Back is more than a gentle joke, it is a sly wink at the Austen and vampire industry. The clever title alone tells us that Ford has more than a keen sense of humor. The story concept is even better. Nearly two hundred years after her reputed death and burial at Winchester Cathedral in 1817, Jane Austen is actually not dead, but a vampire living in Brakeston, a small university town in upper-state New York. As the owner of Flyleaf Books she watches with irritation and frustration as other less talented writers make a killing off her novels and characters with sequels, spin-offs and absurd self help books. To add insult to injury, Constance, the last novel that she wrote before her turning remains unpublished after two hundred years and 116 rejections.

Jane’s quiet country life is comfortable but unfulfilling. She has retained her anonymity over the centuries ironically adopting the name of Jane Fairfax, one of her characters in her novel Emma who is also orphaned but a highly accomplished young lady hiding secrets. She enjoys her friendship with her young shop assistant Lucy who reminds her of her dear sister Cassandra and is both flattered and annoyed by the attentions of Walter, a local carpenter/contractor who restores vintage homes and would like to do the same with Jane’s heart. Two surprising events change her life dramatically: a legitimate offer to publish her novel, and the return of a former paramour, the mad, bad and dangerous to know poet Lord Byron who seduced and then turned her two hundred years ago. The first she is elated over. The second she reflects upon falling for his entrapment with regret and horror exclaiming in a typical ironic quip…

Men, she thought. The downfall of women since Adam blamed Eve for that stupid apple. She wondered briefly if it was too late to become a lesbian. “I’m sure they have just as difficult a time of it,” she said to the empty room. “Love is dangerous for everyone.”

Our Jane is no namby pamby vegetarian vampire. A proper Regency lady she follows decorum, feeds off human blood only to stay alive, and mind you, in the most discreet fashion. Like the unpropitious characters in her novels who are in need of a dressing down, she chooses victims based on their bad behavior, never taking or turning anyone. She also enjoys a few human indulgences such as drinking wine, eating chocolate ice cream, living with a cat named Tom and an infatuation with actor Richard Mansfield, the pattering comic baritone of the D’Olyly Carte opera company, tra la. When her life gets too challenging, she closes her eyes and thinks of England.

Light, campy and a bit Buffyish, Jane Bites Back is a modern Gothic novel full of Janeite lore and paranormal hijinx that the “sick and wicked” side of Jane Austen would find quite amusing. The literary and historical references really shine. Happily, a certain Bronte scholar gets her cumuppance in a drawing room throw-down which we have been patiently waiting 150 years for and bad boy Byron’s romantic and vampiric dalliances are thwarted by our light, bright and sparkly vampire heroine.

Read with tongue-in-cheek and a full glass of suspended disbelief, you will chortle and guffaw until the last bite. This Janeite was truly “glamoured.”

5 out of 5 Stars

Jane Bites Back, by Michael Thomas Ford
Ballantine Books (2009)
Trade paperback (299) pages
ISBN: 978-0345513656

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