From the desk of Lisa Galek:
If you’ve ever wondered how your favorite author celebrated Christmas in the 18th century—or just know someone who has—A Jane Austen Christmas: Celebrating the Season of Romance, Ribbons, and Mistletoe by Carlo DeVito is the perfect package to place under the tree this holiday.
A Jane Austen Christmas takes us through Jane’s life story but focuses only on events that happened around Christmastime. We begin with the holiday season of 1786, when Jane is only 11-years-old and spends time with her visiting cousin, Eliza, and ends with the Christmas of 1815 when Emma is published for the first time. On the way, we get to know more about Jane Austen and her family, read about holiday traditions in 18th-century England, and learn to make some delicious, Regency-era Christmas treats. Yum!
At first, I thought there might not be much to say about Jane Austen at Christmastime. Though all her novels mention Christmas, the season isn’t a big focus, except perhaps as a backdrop for Mr. Elton’s unwelcome proposal in Emma. But, the narrow seasonal scope of this book really makes it an easy-to-read guide to some of the important moments in Jane Austen’s life. Because the author is just touching on Christmas memories, the reader isn’t overwhelmed with tons of details about the author’s life story. We just get to focus on key events in her journey. Continue reading
From the desk of Monica Perry:
Letter writing can be such a beautiful way to express oneself, to pour out feelings that are too difficult to say in person. It’s especially romantic when the writer is a passionate soul undercover, and desperately in love. Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy is just such a person. When we first meet him in Yours Forevermore, Darcy, he’s writing to Elizabeth Bennet, and not for the first time. Since the beginning of their acquaintance, he’s written letters to purge his feelings for her, the woman he wants but is convinced he can’t have. He never intends her to read them, of course; they’re just a cathartic release of emotion, a compulsive coping mechanism to clear his head and let him go on about his life. Now two months after she rejected his proposal, broke his heart and made him reevaluate his entire life, he vows to stop writing and focus on becoming a better man. Fans of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and the myriad tales it has inspired know that the beauty in the story of Darcy and Elizabeth is the personal growth each must undertake separately. In Yours Forevermore, Darcy, KaraLynne Mackrory gives readers insight into these journeys and shows how affecting the written word can be to both writer and reader.
Yours Forevermore, Darcy follows the canon timeline of P&P fairly closely, with a few well-placed tweaks to keep it being too predictable. After his humiliating rejection, Darcy intends leaving Elizabeth behind him forever with, ironically, only a letter. It’s decidedly NOT his best work, as I now know, but is nevertheless important. She has little time to contemplate it then as, with all the perverseness of mischance, they find themselves together again and again. There’s a theme woven throughout, to describe their emotions, and I loved that. Comparing Darcy to the rich warmth of a cello definitely hit the right note with me! The amiability and humor of Colonel Fitzwilliam is the perfect buffer for them too, and there is more than one scene with him and Darcy that is just laugh out loud funny. Continue reading
From the desk of Monica Perry:
In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Anne de Bourgh is a character who seems not to have much to offer. She’s just sort of there at Rosings Park, quiet and sickly and under her mother’s thumb. Readers can only hope that she occasionally has an original thought of her own. In A Will of Iron, a Pride and Prejudice what-if, author Linda Beutler exposes the last year of Anne’s journal. With her isolated life at Rosings, and a mother like Lady Catherine, who wouldn’t be curious what Anne has to say? I know I was! I was hooked from the second paragraph, where she drops quite the bomb. For months, she’s been scheming to extricate herself from Lady Catherine forever, and finally succeeded in setting her plan in motion. Sadly, she dies before getting the satisfaction of revealing her news in person, and seeing her meticulously plotted future come to fruition. Anne’s companion Mrs. Jenkinson knows all and delivers the journals to Charlotte Collins at Hunsford parsonage for safekeeping. Lady Catherine is desperate to get her hands on them to keep the circumstances of Anne’s death hidden, and as Charlotte makes her way through the journals she begins to suspect how far Lady Catherine might go to get her way.
I really liked Anne; she’s astute and blunt and had things gone differently, she and Elizabeth Bennet could have been great friends. Her journals chronicle not only her dealings with her mother and a Mr. C., her mysterious beau, but also her relationships with her Darcy and Fitzwilliam cousins, from their childhood to their current romantic tangle with Elizabeth. She genuinely cares for them and wants them to be happy, and has some very decided opinions on how she will make that come about. Anne’s logic with regard to her plan is a bit skewed, but her desire to be free from her mother makes her desperate and bold. It’s no wonder, as this Lady Catherine is truly cold- blooded! I had previously seen this book referred to as a macabre comedy. I’d say that’s a fitting description because as unhinged as Lady Catherine is, she is so outrageous I couldn’t help shaking my head and laughing. She even gave Mr. Collins the heebie-jeebies. I thought her final justice was perfectly done, if a bit messy! Continue reading
From the desk of Monica Perry:
What happens when the independent, outspoken Miss Elizabeth Bennet finds herself forced to wed the proud Mr. Darcy, a virtual stranger whom she can barely tolerate? With their history of heated interactions, can they co-exist peacefully, let alone find companionship or affection? Jenetta James’s Suddenly Mrs. Darcy is a Pride and Prejudice what-if story that deviates from Jane Austen’s canon at the point of the Netherfield ball. I love forced marriage scenarios and all their angsty goodness! With such different personalities as Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth, I was eager to see how Ms. James would explore the dynamics of such a hasty union between my favorite literary couple.
When Elizabeth brings up in conversation Darcy’s infamous treatment of her friend Mr. Wickham, Darcy seeks to clear his name and takes her aside to a dimly lit salon to talk. Here they are seen by Mrs. Bennet, who immediately sounds the alarm that her daughter has been compromised. Despite Elizabeth’s protestations that nothing untoward has occurred, Mr. Bennet steps in, Mr. Darcy steps up and Elizabeth has no choice but to marry him and quickly. She can’t fathom why he would agree to marry her with nary a word of protest when it’s so obvious their dislike is mutual.
Here we have a “pre-Hunsford” Mr. Darcy who has not yet seen the need to modify his proud and disdainful behavior toward others. He acts unfeelingly with regard to Elizabeth’s family and finds little need to explain himself to her. Because the story is told from only Elizabeth’s perspective, readers don’t have the luxury of knowing Darcy’s feelings, motivations, etc because he is not very forthcoming with her. It’s natural for readers to project onto Darcy what they think or hope his character is, but they really don’t know, and it is so frustrating! As they spend more time together at Pemberley, Elizabeth does achieve a sense of contentment, and her intimate times with her husband gradually deepen her affections. When contention does arise between them, she is angry but tends to push the issue to the back burner to be dealt with later, or not at all. Continue reading
From the desk of Lisa Galek:
Very little has been written about Jane Austen’s life before she started writing at the age of 12. That’s probably because so very little is known about that time. In Young Jane Austen, author Lisa Pliscou focuses on these early years to give us a better understanding of how one of the greatest novelists of all time got her start.
The author begins by letting us know that this particular biography will be a “speculative” one. Since so little is known about Jane Austen’s early years, Lisa Pliscou draws on a wide variety of Austen scholarship to give us a charming portrait of the artist as a young girl. She begins in 1775 with the birth of little Jane—nicknamed Jenny—and takes us up through 1787 when Jane first decides to put pen to paper for the amusement of her family.
Along the way, the author includes short scenes from Austen’s life but presents them in a narrative format. We meet Jane at various moments in her journey—playing with siblings, spending time with her family, lounging in her father’s library, heading off to school with her sister, Cassandra. Each step of the way, the author reflects on what a young Jane Austen might have felt and thought in these moments.
Most Austen biographies I’ve read tend to gloss over Jane’s early years. They focus more on her evolution as a writer and her years as a successful author. The typical Austen biography also tends to be a little more dense and scholarly because it’s just trying to pack so much information into one little volume. But, Young Jane Austen avoids these pitfalls and, as a result, becomes a delightful and infinitely readable story. Continue reading
For those who are in the doldrums after last week’s final episode of season five of Downton Abbey and in need of another English country manor house upstairs/downstairs story, Tessa Arlen’s debut novel could fit the bill. Set at the fictional estate of Iyntwood in the summer of 1913, Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman is a murder mystery in the grand tradition of Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and P.G. Wodehouse. Here is a brief preview and review for your consideration:
DESCRIPTION (from the publisher)
Lady Montfort has been planning her annual summer costume ball for months, and with scrupulous care. Pulling together the food, flowers and a thousand other details for one of the most significant social occasions of the year is her happily accepted responsibility. But when her husband’s degenerate nephew is found murdered, it’s more than the ball that is ruined. In fact, Lady Montfort fears that the official police enquiry, driven by petty snobbery and class prejudice, is pointing towards her son as a potential suspect.
Taking matters into her own hands, the rather over-imaginative countess enlists the help of her pragmatic housekeeper, Mrs. Jackson, to investigate the case, track down the women that vanished the night of the murder, and clear her son’s name. As the two women search for a runaway housemaid and a headstrong young woman, they unearth the hidden lives of Lady Montfort’s close friends, servants and family and discover the identity of a murderer hiding in plain sight.
In this enchanting debut sure to appeal to fans of Downton Abbey, Tessa Arlen draws readers into a world exclusively enjoyed by the rich, privileged classes and suffered by the men and women who serve them. Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman is an elegant mystery filled with intriguing characters and fascinating descriptions of Edwardian life–a superb treat for those who love British novels.
From the desk of Monica Perry:
When I first heard that some of the authors from austenvariations.com were planning a Pride and Prejudice: Readers’ Choice collaborative story wherein Mr. Darcy had a younger brother, I was all excited curiosity–a story with two Mr. Darcys? Yes, please! Would Mr. Theophilus Darcy be strong and stoic like his elder brother, a model of amiability like Mr. Bingley, or perhaps more of a rakish Mr. Wickham? Participating in the Readers’ Choice voting each week and having so much interaction with the writers was great fun, and I was eager to read this published version of The Darcy Brothers. Monica Fairview, Maria Grace, Cassandra Grafton, Susan Mason-Milks, and Abigail Reynolds are authors whose works I’d read and loved in the past, and The Darcy Brothers was no exception.
From the very first page, as Theo and Fitzwilliam Darcy reluctantly make their way to Rosings Park for Easter, we see the way they typically interact (read: Theo pushes Darcy’s buttons and Darcy gets his trousers in a twist). In the wake of childhood tragedy and the more recent near-elopement of their young sister Georgiana with Theo’s friend Mr. Wickham, their relationship is strained and they’ve all but given up on getting along. Darcy is dismissive and distrustful of Theo, and Theo delights in vexing him because he knows he’ll never live up to Darcy’s impeccable standards anyway. When Theo makes the acquaintance of the charming Miss Elizabeth Bennet they form an easy friendship, and Darcy begins to feel that twisting sensation again, a little nearer his chest this time. Each brother’s affection for Elizabeth is noted by the other and although they don’t see eye to eye, each wants the other to be happy. How far would a Darcy go to make it happen, even if it goes against his heart’s desire? Bargains are struck and along with some meddling assistance from Georgiana, Anne de Bourgh and Colonel Fitzwilliam, and a surprising series of events at Rosings, Darcy, and Theo begin to see themselves, and each other, in a different way. Darcy realizes he has underestimated Theo, withheld the praise and affection a younger sibling craves and used him as an easy scapegoat; likewise, Theo sees he’s had a childish understanding of Darcy’s responsibilities as heir. Can they overcome their pride and start again, and will it last? Continue reading
From the desk of Christina Boyd:
In this wild, wild west of the new publishing world, we are seeing more books being published and through many different avenues. No longer are traditional publishers the only way to get a book into the hands of readers as there are smaller independent presses, hybrid publishers and many self-publishing resources. In the past, I have been an unabashed on-line Jane Austen fan fiction reader. During the height of my online Jane Austen fan fiction (JAFF) addiction, I might have followed anywhere from 10 to 15 works-in-progress (WIPs) at various on-line sites. Anything from continuations (a story that continues after the original novel ends), the alternative universe (a story when the author deviates from the original canon and creates events to effect a different action) and even crossovers (a fanfiction integrating characters and places from another story source). But I must confess, as many of these on-line authors have taken their stories to the next step and even stepped away from posting their new works on-line, I too have transferred my reading of on-line fan fiction to my e-reader by purchasing the published works and even adding the bound books to my collection.
One rainy day in December, I found myself reading in my pajamas all day author Joana Starnes’ newly released “The Falmouth Connection”. I was instantly engaged by the unexpected, surprisingly smart, and innovative handling of “Pride and Prejudice” in a very alternate universe where Elizabeth becomes an heiress to a fine fortune. Therefore, when Laurel Ann, our blog mistress, asked if I would be interested in reading Starnes “The Second Chance: A ‘Pride & Prejudice – ‘Sense & Sensibility Variation’ ” for review, how could I not jump at the chance! Continue reading
From the desk of Lisa Galek:
When most people think of Jane Austen, they probably don’t think of ballet. I know I certainly didn’t. That was until I read The Muse. With her contemporary reimagining of Pride and Prejudice, Jessica Evans proves that the demanding and competitive world of a professional ballet company is exactly the place where you might find a modern Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy.
Elizabeth Bennet is a young dancer at the Ballet Theater of New York. While Elizabeth might not have her sister Jane’s perfect technique or ideal body, she still dreams of rising up the ranks to one day become a star. That’s why she’s thrilled when she finds out that she’s been cast in an upcoming ballet by former superstar dancer and legendary choreographer, William Darcy.
But, when Elizabeth finally meets Darcy, he’s not what she imagined at all. Sure, Darcy is immensely talented (and incredibly dreamy), but he’s also arrogant, abrasive, and dismissive in rehearsals. When Darcy asks Elizabeth for help as he choreographs, she grows to dislike him even more. What Elizabeth doesn’t realize is how much she’s inspiring Darcy as he creates. He’s finally found his muse. Continue reading
From the desk of Tracy Hickman:
When author Sinead Murphy chose to title her guide to modern dating The Jane Austen Rules it was guaranteed to generate a certain amount of controversy. In the mid-1990s, a dating guide titled The Rules became famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) for imparting to women “a myriad of tricks and schemes” (14) for finding Mr. Right.
Does Murphy seek to replace one set of arbitrary opinions with another, using Jane Austen’s name as a marketing ploy? Happily Ms. Murphy has not taken this approach. Rather than a narrowly focused “how-to” for dating, she takes readers through the novels of Jane Austen, examining the women and men Austen created and the way their character informs their actions, whether in the pursuit of love or in making other important life decisions.
As such this is not really a dating guide at all; its scope is much wider. In the introduction titled “The Real Thing” Murphy proposes that modern dating guides have a Regency ancestor in the conduct book, full of dos and don’ts for women wishing to succeed in society:
…the Regency conduct book tended to judge a woman by how she conducts herself–that is, by how she acts, by how she seems. The novel, by contrast, was concerned with what women are really like, admitting—perhaps for the very first time—that women too have a fulsome interior life, with thoughts and feelings that are as crucial to get right as the actions that follow from them…And Jane Austen was at the forefront of it all, presenting to the Regency world a host of real women—so determined to do so, indeed, that she invented her very own narrative style, which gives the reader almost unrestricted access to the internal life of her female characters. (4)
From the desk of Ruth Anderson:
Jane Austen’s unparalleled wit, biting social commentary, and sharply-drawn characters have transformed works that were once private scribblings, shared only with family, to classics beloved the world over. For the spinster daughter of a clergyman, Jane Austen’s work has proven to have a remarkable staying power, the unforgettable characters and storylines having been indelibly imprinted on the public consciousness, giving rise to a wide array of interpretations – from stage plays to films – as well as sequels or spin-offs. When I was approached with the opportunity to review Charlie Lovett’s First Impressions, I was simultaneously intrigued and wary, as it promised to address the creation of two of my most beloved characters in all of literature – Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy from Pride and Prejudice.
Happily, Lovett’s charming sophomore effort won me over on all counts. This is both a loving homage to the enduring power and appeal of Austen’s stories and the passion that her works inspire, but the power of story. Bibliophiles of the type featured within these pages such as Lovett’s heroine Sophie are uniquely wired to grasp the inherent power and potential of words, and of how stories can forge connections across time and experience, knitting together authors and those who love their words in a community of common ground birthed from the shared reading experience, no matter how varied the respective interpretation.
First Impressions is a dual-narrative, a difficult feat to pull off successfully in my reading experience. In these cases, typically one half of the story thread resonates more strongly than the other, but here Lovett proves equally adept at balancing his contemporary narrative with the historical thread. The historical portion of the novel introduces a young Jane Austen, circa 1796, deep in the first draft of Elinor and Marianne, the epistolary novel that would serve as the genesis for Sense and Sensibility. She strikes up an unlikely friendship with Richard Mansfield, an elderly and retired clergyman whom she is shocked to discover shares her passion for novels. Despite the wide disparity in their age and experience, Jane and the reverend prove to be a meeting of remarkably like minds from which a fast friendship is born. This friendship and the trust that comes to underscore their every interaction transforms Jane’s life as Reverend Mansfield becomes the staunchest support of Jane’s writing efforts (outside of her family). When Jane confesses a secret shame to her friend and mentor, a story called “First Impressions” is birthed from their joint project of reconciliation and redemption – the genesis of a love story between one Elizabeth Bennet and one Fitzwilliam Darcy. Continue reading