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”

Dawn of the Dreadfuls, by Steve Hockensmith – A Review

If you have not heard about the book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, you must be from another planet. The break-out best seller of 2009 (and soon to be a major motion picture starring Natalie Portman) took the publishing industry quite unawares making its co-author Seth Grahame-Smith a hot property, oodles of publicity for its publisher Quirk Books, and mega moola for all involved. Who’da thought combining Jane Austen’s genteel Regency-era novel and bone-crunching zombie mayhem would create the literary mash-up genre and spawn a plethora of knock-offs using Austen novels and other classic authors in an attempt to cash in on the craze?

I will admit the original novel was fresh and funny but the publicity it received was way out of proportion to its merits. Now its prequel Dawn of the Dreadfuls has risen from its grave placing the story four years before we first met Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Darcy, and the maraudring horde of unmentionables invading Meryton, Hertfordshire. Well — of course we need to know how the plague began and why the Bennet sisters are trained ninja warriors battling the sorry stricken. *Ahem*

While attending the funeral of a neighbor, Mr. Oscar Bennet, his wife, and five young daughters witness the corpse return from the dead and attempt to attack the congregation. The unmentionables have returned after being vanquished for several years and Mr. Bennet, a former ninja zombie slayer, must train his daughters in the deadly arts to defend themselves and exterminate the scourge of sorry stricken who are among them again. He immediately sets about training his daughters who resist at first and flounder about with weapons and mild battle cries: ““Haaiieee!” said Jane. “Hiiyaaa!” said Mary. “Hooyaah!” said Kitty. “La!” said Lydia.” Shortly after a Master ninja warrior arrives to take over and all the girls are smitten with the young and handsome Jeffery Hawksworth. Lizzy has the most potential, but gradually they all learn and begin hunting in the neighborhood for the zed word (young ladies do not say zombies in polite society), meet others who have come to Meryton to engage the enemy, are ostracized by the community because young ladies do not kill unmentionables, kiss a deer, have romantic feelings for some of the young gentleman, and fight an epic battle. Along the way we are dished out a hefty dose of campy comedy, discover how dreadfuls sprout from the grave, and witness enough rotten flesh, goo, gore, and killing to appease any thirteen-year-old boy who hates to read. La!

The plot is “stoopid” but it is meant to be. This is a zombie book with Jane Austen characters in it, not a Jane Austen novel with zombies mashed into it as we previously experienced in P&P&Z. (no defense implied) On the upside, Hockensmith does get many of Austen’s character traits correct: Mrs. Bennet wines, wails and waves her lace hankie, Jane Bennet is beautiful and biddable, Mary is blossoming into an insipid moralizer, Kitty coughs and follows Lydia’s lead, and Lydia is the most precocious eleven year old going on twenty-five that you could ever wish to meet. Our heroine in the making Elizabeth is spirited, intelligent, and as fierce with her tongue as she is with her weapons. We do get more back story on why Mr. Bennet takes action and converts his daughters from genteel young ladies into ninja warriors. His character is the most altered from Austen’s original negligent father who lives in his library in order to tolerate his harpy wife. That was a challenge for me, among other things.

The new characters add animation (in the cartoonish sense) to the narrative and are all caricatures atypical in a wacky Monte Python skit: Lord Lumpley the lascivious aristocrat who lusts after beautiful Jane Bennet, the mutton-chopped Capt Cannon who has survived multiple amputations from battling unmentionables and must be transported about in a wheelbarrow assisted by his aids who act as his limbs, Dr. Bertram Keckilpenny the eccentric doctor/Sherlock Holmes who wants to study zombies so he can cure the “unmentionable plague”,  the handsome ninja Master Jeffrey Hawksworth who teaches the Bennet girls the deadly arts and falls for his best student Elizabeth, dashing Lieutenant Tindall who ignites Lydia and Kitty’s passions for officers in red uniforms and many more. (unfortunately no lumberjacks) The downside, it is all pretty predictable fare. However, I will commend Hockensmith on his skilled wordmanship and cleverly crafted prose. He has captured the flavor of Austen’s novel with Regency-era words and phrases that are not too dense and intimidating for his target audience who complained that P&P&Z had too much Austen in it. He has certainly squelched their objections to not having enough zombie action.

I found that reading this novel made my head hurt after an accident so I listened to an audiobook recording read by Katherine Kellgren which made it much more palatable — except for the girls shrieking warrior cries which blew off my mob cap, startled my cats, and interrupted my knitting. If movie producers like P&P&Z, they will love the easily adapted plot of DOTD into animated movie.

Did I like it you ask? Well, sort of. As previously highlighted, the author is an accomplished writer who gave it his all. Some of the inside P&P humor made me chortle. If you love zombie grossness, then I recommend it highly. If you love Jane Austen, “I am afraid that the pleasantness of an employment does not always evince its propriety.”

3 out of 5 Stars

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls, by Steve Hockensmith
Quirk Books, Philadelphia (2010)
Trade Paperback (287) pages
ISBN: 9781594744549

ADDITIONAL REVIEWS

Cover image courtesy of Quirk Books © 2010; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2010, Austenprose.com

Mr. Darcy’s Great Escape, by Marsha Altman – A Review

From the desk of Christina Boyd:

A campy, madcap adventure story, Mr. Darcy’s Great Escape is Marsha Altman’s third book, in her Pride and Prejudice Continues series.  The year is 1812, seven years after Elizabeth Bennet and her devoted sister Jane married Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley respectively, and the families are all returning to Longbourn for the wedding of Kitty Bennet, daughter number four. Within the first 100 pages, Elizabeth Darcy finds herself immersed in the intrigues of the Napoleonic War as she races across the continent to the rescue of Mr. Darcy, who has become imprisoned in a medieval cell in Transylvania!  Unbelievable? Quite, but hang on . . . there’s more.

Licentiously diverting is Altman’s treatment of her own original character’s as well as Jane Austen’s canon characters. Altman’s Mr. Darcy was half brother to George Wickham who he apparently killed Continue reading “Mr. Darcy’s Great Escape, by Marsha Altman – A Review”

Mr. Darcy, Vampyre, by Amanda Grange – A Review

Mr. Darcy, Vampyre, by Amanda Grange (2009)Among all the hype and circumstance, the highly anticipated Mr. Darcy, Vampyre will hit bookstores this week. Officially it has the honor of being the first vampire-themed Jane Austen sequel in print by a major publisher. I can assure you it will not be the last.

This clever concept is not new by any means. Fanfiction writers have been having fun with Austen and vampires for years. However, this book would not have been published without riding on the coattails of two Austen inspired best sellers: Twilight and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Publishers are banking on the combination of two hot genres to be combustible. It will take a talented writer knowledgeable in both Austen and vampire lore to pull it off. Having already written five Austen inspired sequels, Amanda Grange is an excellent choice to open the Continue reading “Mr. Darcy, Vampyre, by Amanda Grange – A Review”

A Body at Rest, by Susan Petrone – A Review

A Body at Rest, by Susan Petrone (2009)Try, if you can, to imagine two twenty-something over-educated cocktail waitresses, bored with their lives, embark on a road trip of discovery, end up in an Iowa cornfield, get tattoos, and begin transforming into their favorite fictional characters – Don Quixote and Emma Woodhouse. Whoa! The title A Body at Rest appears to be a total play on words.

I’ll admit immediately that if the main character Martha Andrevsky had not morphed into a character created by Jane Austen, I would not be reviewing this book. The fact that she is becoming Emma Woodhouse is truly intriguing. Of all of Austen heroines, she is the most fallible with plenty of defects to play off of: snobbery, intolerance, condescension, manipulation, meddlesomeness, ignorance and on and on! The potential for a hilarious transformation was ripe with reproof. Continue reading “A Body at Rest, by Susan Petrone – A Review”

The Darcys Give A Ball: A Gentle Joke, Jane Austen Style, by Elizabeth Newark – A Review

The Darcys Give a Ball: A Gentle Joke Jane Austen Style, by Elizabeth Newark (2008)From the desk of Christina Boyd:

In Jane Austen’s masterpiece, Pride and Prejudice, our story ends with the lovely Miss Elizabeth Bennet marrying Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy in a double wedding ceremony alongside her beloved sister, Miss Jane Bennet to Mr. Charles Bingley, and we all close the novel satisfied knowing that all will turn out well.  Twenty-five years after this happy event, author Elizabeth Newark depicts in her Darcy’s Give A Ball: A Gentle Joke, Jane Austen Style what happens when Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy and Mrs. Jane Bingley decide to hold a ball at Pemberley as their children are now ready for the marriage mart. Although the Darcy’s do give a ball and that is the driving force of all these characters to convene at Pemberley, this light-hearted novelette really is about the Collins’, in particular the two youngest grown Continue reading “The Darcys Give A Ball: A Gentle Joke, Jane Austen Style, by Elizabeth Newark – A Review”

Darcy’s Passions: Pride and Prejudice Retold Through His Eyes: A Novel, by Regina Jeffers – A Review

Darcy's Passions: Pride and Prejudice Retold Through His Eyes: A Novel, by Regina Jeffers (2009)Mr. Darcy. That iconic romantic hero who launched a thousand sequels! A quick and very unscientific audit of Amazon.com listings revealed over thirty-five books published in the last fifteen years inspired by him! That’s a lot of Mr. Darcy out there being a haughty heartthrob. Now in his latest outing, Darcy’s Passions: Pride and Prejudice Retold Through His Eyes, we are offered yet another chance to relive the famous love story, but from his perspective.

Fitzwilliam Darcy arrives in Hertfordshire with his best friend Mr. Bingley to assist him with his new estate Netherfield Park convinced that the locals will be bumpkins, and SO below his notice. He attends the local Assembly dance where his predictions prove true; even the reputed local beauty Elizabeth Bennet is only tolerable, and not handsome enough to tempt him.  And so on it goes; the same story that we all know and love. Their courtship lasts a little over a Continue reading “Darcy’s Passions: Pride and Prejudice Retold Through His Eyes: A Novel, by Regina Jeffers – A Review”

Mr. & Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Two Shall Become One, by Sharon Lathan – A Review

Mr. & Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Two Shall Become One, by Sharon Lathan (2009)Anyone who has seen the 2005 movie adaptation Pride & Prejudice and been moved by the final scenes when Mr. Darcy proclaims to Elizabeth that she has “bewitched him body and soul” will immediately connect with this book. In Mr.& Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Two Shall Become One, author Sharon Lathan has reverently followed the tone of Deborah Moggach’s screenplay and Joe Wright’s direction to continue the impassioned story of the Darcy’s life after the nuptials. Is this Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice after the marriage? NO! Is this one person’s interpretation of the ultimate Darcy and Elizabeth fangirl fantasy? YES!

In the author’s foreword Ms. Lathan attempts to disarm reproof right out of the gate. She had not read the original novel prior to her first movie viewing and was not influenced by it when she began writing her fan fiction which ostensibly became this novel. Her inspiration was solely based on the romanticized movie adaptation and her personal reaction to it. Therefore it is not unreasonable to review this book based on what it actual is: a sequel, inspired by a movie adaptation, loosely based on a novel.

The wedding is finally over and Mr. Darcy is relieved to be past all the constant pressure of wedding plans and family arrangements to be with his beloved Elizabeth. To get to this point, they both had to overcome some serious obstacles of vanity and misunderstandings impeding their romance before they realized that they were in love and destined to be together. Elizabeth is also pleased and thankful that her husband has planned a quick retreat from the Netherfield wedding reception to a coaching Inn where they will stay the first two days and nights of their married life together. Here we witness their first innocent and unsure moments alone as newlyweds. Next they are off to Pemberley where Elizabeth’s first experiences as Mistress are intimidating, but Darcy and Mrs. Reynolds are there to support her. Her first family event in her new capacity will be a Christmas gathering, which will include Darcy’s younger sister Georgiana, his cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam and his aunt and uncle Lord and Lady Matlock, among others. She is also introduced to the local gentry at a Twelfth Night Masquerade Ball where she meets the Marquis of Orman who admires her beauty and spirit far too intently. Not wanting to reveal everything, I can allude to the expectation of a young olive-branch, and a sword duel before the novel concludes.

In addition to experiencing Lizzy and Darcy’s first months as newlyweds at Pemberley, Lathan gives us a descriptive glimpse of Regency life managing a grand estate including a palatial manor house with acres of rooms, an army of servants, stables, extensive grounds, and a county of farmland. However, this is merely window dressing to the real heart and soul of this novel which consumes about two-thirds of the narrative; Darcy and Lizzy’s passion, devotion and abiding love. Yep! This is definitely a romance novel of the first order. Lathan is quite generous with her intimate descriptions devoting entire chapters to one night. After about the 20th go round, I turned the shag counter off and just hunted for the plot, which pretty much did not arrive until about 125 pages in.

Even after other characters arrive on the scene, we are never in any doubt of the Darcy’s rapturous affection for one another. As a writer, I could see Lathan’s style improve and develop as the novel progressed. She smoothly supplies us with all the elements of the ultimate female fantasy – marry Mr. Darcy, the definitive literary romantic icon, who proceeds to billet you out in high style, shower you with expensive gifts and sentimental trinkets, clothe you in opulent fashions, supply you with more pin money than your grasping ma’ma could ever hope for, and worship you beyond all reason whilst making love all over the place. Swoon! That’s great if you’re trying to be the next Julie Garwood or Jude Deveraux, but this is Darcy and Lizzy, sacred ground, and even if author Linda Berdoll has straddled that precipice all the way to the bank, do we really need a successor?

If you read Pride and Prejudice before you saw the 2005 movie and cringed over the American ending, then this novel might not be for you. If you enjoy enthusiastic romance passionately written featuring the indefatigable Mr. Darcy and his wife, then “I would by no means suspend any pleasure of yours“!

3 out of 5 Stars

Mr. & Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Two Shall Become One, by Sharon Lathan
Sourcebooks Landmark, Naperville, IL (2009)
Trade paperback (295) pages
ISBN: 978-1402215230

ADDITIONAL REVIEWS

Cover image courtesy of Sourcebooks Landmark © 2009; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2009, Austenprose.com

Pemberley Remembered, by Mary Simonsen – A Review

Pemberley Remembered, by Mary Lydon Simonsen (2007)When I read the advance publicity on Pemberley Remembered, author Mary Lydon Simonsen’s debut novel about love, war and Pride and Prejudice, I was intrigued by the concept of three different romantic storylines interconnected through one hundred and fifty years of English history. Add to that a mystery involving the inspiration of Austen’s famous characters Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, and you have my complete attention. This concept was definitely a new slant on the Pride and Prejudice sequel merry-go-round and I was motivated to find out if she could pull it off.

Simonsen gives us a likeable heroine in Maggie Joyce, a 22 year old American working for the Army Exchange Service in post World War II London. A devoted fan of Pride and Prejudice, Maggie is intrigued by her roommate’s teasing remarks that Austen’s characters of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet where based on real people who lived at an estate near her family’s village in Derbyshire. They set off for a week-end to explore Montclair, the palatial estate once occupied by William Lacey and Elizabeth Garrison, the reputed Darcy doppelgangers. The estate seems to fit the description of Pemberley, the Darcy manor in Pride and Prejudice, but curious Continue reading “Pemberley Remembered, by Mary Simonsen – A Review”

Mr. Darcy’s Daughter: The Pemberley Chronicles Book 5, by Rebecca Ann Collins – A Review

The Pemberley Chronicles Book 5, by Rebecca Ann Collins (2008)Cassy felt tears sting her eyes; she had always felt responsible for her young brother, especially because he had been born when everyone was still grieving for their beloved William. They had all treasured Julian, yet he did not appear to have grown into the role he was expected to play. There was a great deal to learn about running an estate, but Julian had shown little interest in it. Even as a boy, he had no talent for practical matters and relied upon their mother, herself or the servants for advice on everything. The Narrator, Part One, page 6

In Mr. Darcy’s Daughter, book five in The Pemberley Chronicles, author Rebecca Ann Collins’ focuses on Cassandra, the beautiful and intelligent daughter of Pride and Prejudice’s Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. It is now 1864 and Cassy has been happily married to Dr. Richard Gardiner for twenty seven years with a large family of her own. When her troubled younger brother Julian renounces his inheritance and fails in his responsibilities to his own family, Cassy must step forward and assist in the running of Pemberley and raise his son Anthony as the heir to the Pemberley estate. Bound by honor and duty, Cassy is indeed her father’s daughter, and accepts the responsibilities, balancing her role as daughter, wife, mother, sister and aunt.

In the mean time Mr. Carr, a single man in possession of a good fortune enters the neighborhood looking to purchase a country estate, and sure enough he is immediately considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters! Cassandra soon discovers that this young American comes with a bit of a past in his family’s mysterious connection to the Pemberley estate prior to their immigration to Ireland. Cassy’s young daughter Lizzie is quickly drawn to him even though his grandparents came from the wrong end of the social ladder. Also included in this Victorian drama are an array of family travails and life events challenging Cassy and the whole Pemberley clan including mental illness, death, deception, theft and murder pressing the plot along.

After reading Mr. Darcy’s Daughter there is no doubt in my mind that author Rebecca Ann Collins is an ardent admirer of Jane Austen, proficient at historical research and has a very creative imagination. Her most loyal fans deeply entrenched in the genealogy and historical minutia of the series will be well pleased to be at home again in her Pemberley universe being served “new wine in an old bottle.” However, new readers challenged with the multi-layered connections of three generations of families will find themselves frequently referring to the character list provided by the author in the back of the book as to which Mr. Bingley, Mr. Darcy, Mr. Gardiner, et all that she is referring to and how they are connected. I confess to needing clarification alot.

Aficionadas of Austen’s style will see more similarities to Victorian era authors such as Dickens, Gaskell or Trollope in her narrative approach, depth of historical references and sentimental dialogues than to the original inspiration. Even though Ms. Collins does take liberties with Austen’s usual limited scope of “three or four families in a country village,” she is true to formula in opening with a conflict and concluding with a happy marriage. After nearly sixty years since the conclusion of Pride and Prejudice, we can hardly expect more than the essence of Austen to remain and I understand the direction that the author has chosen. What has evolved from the happy day that “Mrs. Bennet got rid of her two most deserving daughters,” in Pride and Prejudice is a circa 1860’s multilayered family saga that will interest classic historical fiction readers and satisfy Collins’ devoted fans. Jane Austen enthusiasts will find comfort in familiar characters respectfully rendered, miss the wit and humor of the original, and wonder how this can be classified as a continuation of Pride and Prejudice.

3 out of 5 Stars

Mr. Darcy’s Daughter: The Pemberley Chronicles Book 5
by Rebecca Ann Collins
Trade paperback, 292 pages
Sourcebooks Landmark, ISBN: 978-1402212208

  • Read author Rebecca Ann Collins asks why revisit Netherfield Park?
  • Read author Rebecca Ann Collins decidedly discusses sequels
  • Read author Rebecca Ann Collins continued thoughts on sequels
  • Read reviews of Mr. Darcy’s Daughter
  • Purchase Mr. Darcy’s Daughter
  • Visit author Rebecca Ann Collins’ website

Eliza’s Daughter: A Sequel to Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, by Joan Aiken – A Review

Elizas Daughter by Joan Aiken 2008Have you ever read a totally unfavorable book review so full of acrimony that it left you wondering if you would have the same reaction? I have and am often hooked into trying out a book to see if I agree. So when I read a collection of reviews gathered at the Austenfans website against Joan Aiken’s novel Eliza’s Daughter: A Sequel to Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, I was intrigued. Here are a few of the zingers to set the mood. “It is the worst JA sequel I have ever read”, “I wonder why ANYONE would have bothered to write something like this!”, “I cannot recommend this book, except as an example of what NOT to do when writing a sequel to any great novel, especially Jane Austen.”, or the final insult, “How did it even get published?” Ouch! To add further to the mêlée, this website was created and is maintained by Sourcebooks, the current publisher of Eliza’s Daughter originally issued in 1984 and now available in a new edition. Cleverly, only a publisher of this depth and confidence would have the strength and wisdom to assemble such a collection of scathing reviews and post them as publicity. A blunder – or a stroke of marketing savvy? We shall see. Continue reading “Eliza’s Daughter: A Sequel to Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, by Joan Aiken – A Review”

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