A Preview & Exclusive Excerpt of Schemes of Felicity: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, by Suzan Lauder

Schemes of Felicity by Suzan Lauder 2020Great news in Austenland, readers. While the pandemic has taken its toll and continues to flourish, we can be grateful that so many housebound writers are working away creating stories for us!

I am happy to share that the fine folks at Meryton Press will be having several novels and novellas rolling out over the next few months and into next year. Huzzah! They are all inspired by the same theme of “Skirmish & Scandal,” and the covers will be designed as a series.

First up is a novella by bestselling Austenesque author Suzan Lauder, entitled, Schemes of Felicity. This Pride and Prejudice inspired short fiction begins at the classic jumping-off point for many variations—the failed first proposal of Mr. Darcy to Elizabeth Bennet at Hunsford parsonage. The fallout of the frosty rebuff by Elizabeth is tempered by her later contemplation of his “Be not alarmed, madame…” letter, softening her anger. When the couple is reunited in London, anything might be possible.

We are happy to share an exclusive excerpt from the author for our readers. Enjoy!

A month to find a mate!

Mr. Darcy desires marriage to Elizabeth Bennet, but he ruins any such prospect during his proposal at Hunsford. The resulting general sense of malaise interferes with his usually amicable yet stately demeanour, and his Fitzwilliam relatives resolve that Darcy is lonely—he must be in want of a wife. His cousins convince him to leap into the London Season for one month and partner every lady they select for his felicity.

At Longbourn, chaos erupts as Mr. Bennet undergoes a transformation, and Jane and Elizabeth receive the gift of a month in town to enjoy the Season. Meanwhile, Elizabeth pores over Mr. Darcy’s Hunsford letter and wonders about him, warmed by his words.

It’s only a matter of time before the two meet again in this Pride and Prejudice novella. But will their encounter be a repeat of the earlier disaster, or will they overcome their tenuous history? And can Elizabeth’s credentials pass the stringent criteria of the scheming Fitzwilliam cousins who direct Darcy towards the single daughters of every peer of the realm?

Continue reading

Bronte’s Mistress: A Novel, by Finola Austin—A Review

Brontes Mistress by Finola Austin 2020From the desk of Molly Greeley:

The mystique of the Brontë sisters hasn’t lessened in the years since they wrote their extraordinary novels. Their brother Branwell is remembered by history less for his literary talents than for his notorious addictions, and for the alleged affair he had with his pupil’s mother, Lydia Robinson. In Brontë’s Mistress, Finola Austin explores this affair from Lydia’s perspective with both compassion and a good writer’s capacity to empathically—and mercilessly—depict her characters as fully-realized people, at both their best and their worst.ë

Lydia is the original Mrs. Robinson, and not only in name: a mother of five, trapped in a marriage with a cold and unaffectionate man, unfulfilled by the narrow role deemed socially acceptable for women, and desperate for love and attention, she finds herself drawn to her son’s tutor, the handsome, poetic, and much-younger-than-she-is Branwell Brontë.

Their affair is passionate, sweeping Lydia away from the dullness of her everyday life. She revels, at first, in Branwell’s capacity for love, and in his willingness to speak of things most people in her circles of acquaintance never would, and his unconventionality frees Lydia to express her own.

He “railed against convention, society, religion, talking about us but not about us, redirecting his fire towards the legal and spiritual strictures that kept us apart… I joined him, dancing closer and closer to the precipice and uncovering aspects of my nature I’d never thought8 to expose to the light, delighting in our shared, secret, impotent rage.” (121).

But soon enough, Lydia comes to see Branwell’s many flaws, and as his behavior becomes increasingly erratic, his vices more obvious, she becomes fearful of the whispered rumors about them that have already begun circulating. She worries, of course, about the servants’ talk, but also about Branwell’s literary sisters—with whom she has something of an obsession and who, she fears, might put the story of their brother’s affair in their work. Continue reading

Rebellion at Longbourn: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, by Victoria Kincaid—A Review

Rebellion at Longbourn by Victoria Kincaid 2020From the desk of Sophia Rose:

What is left to a woman when by law she is at the mercy of an incompetent, oafish cousin? Why, a quiet rebellion, of course!

Victoria Kincaid has authored many lively Pride and Prejudice variations and retellings over the years which I have thoroughly enjoyed. While respecting Jane Austen and her works, Ms. Kincaid infuses her latest, Rebellion at Longbourn, with strong entertainment value and a shout for human injustice.

After Mr. Bennet passes away in the prime of his life, his daughter Elizabeth discovers that life is not fair, and justice is not just when women and dependents have no recourse. By law, her family’s estate of Longbourn must go to a male heir, which is their odious cousin Mr. Collins. In addition, her sister Lydia’s thoughtless elopement has destroyed the reputation of her entire family.

As she watches her nincompoop cousin Mr. Collins take over her family estate and proceed to run it into the ground, their very survival is now in jeopardy. The income from the harvest is not enough to sustain Collin’s extravagant expenditures, so he pulls from the estate resources resulting in less for the workers and the dependent Bennet family.

After Mr. Collins refuses to listen to good advice about running the estate, Elizabeth has had enough. She realizes that what Collins’ ignorance does not know will benefit others. So, she sets out to make things right on the estate and assuages her conscience that what she and others do behind his back is still benefiting him, so they are not stealing or taking advantage. Continue reading

The Jane Austen Society: A Novel, by Natalie Jenner—A Review

The Jane Austen Society, by Natalie Jenner (2020)From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

My go-to choice in times of uncertainty is a comfort read. While each person has their own ideas about what qualifies as comfort, I especially enjoy books by authors such as Miss Read (Dora Saint) and D.E. Stevenson. These books are set in a time and place distant enough from my own to divert, but still recognizable and familiar. When I learned that Natalie Jenner’s debut novel, The Jane Austen Society, was set largely in a rural English village in the years immediately following World War II, I hoped it would provide a welcome respite from current personal and collective anxieties.

The story opens in the village of Chawton in 1932, when a young and attractive American tourist, Mary Anne Harrison, asks a local farmer, Adam Berwick, for help locating Jane Austen’s house. He directs her to the cottage, telling her that he’s never read Austen and doesn’t understand “how a bunch of books about girls looking for husbands” (6) could qualify as great literature. Miss Harrison enthusiastically shares her love of reading Austen and presses Adam to start right away with Pride and Prejudice. Intrigued by the arresting stranger’s powerful emotional connection to Austen, Adam checks out a copy of P&P from the lending library and is quickly immersed in the story.

“He was becoming quite worried for Mr. Darcy.

It seemed to Adam that once a man notices a woman’s eyes to be fine, and tries to eavesdrop on her conversations, and finds himself overly affected by her bad opinion of him, then such a man is on the path to something uncharted, whether he admits it to himself or not.” (10)

But as much as it amused him, the book also confused him.

The Bennets, for all intents and purposes, simply didn’t like each other. He had not been expecting this at all from a lady writer with a commitment to happy endings. Yet, sadly, it felt more real to him than anything else he had ever read. (11)

In the chapters that follow, set during and immediately following WWII, we are introduced to other future members of the Jane Austen Society: Dr. Benjamin Gray, village doctor; Adeline Lewis, schoolteacher and war widow; Evie Stone, house girl at the Great House; Frances Knight, member of the Knight family; Andrew Forrester, Knight family solicitor; and Yardley Sinclair, assistant director of estate sales at Sotheby’s. Continue reading

Marry in Scarlet: Marriage of Convenience Series (Book 4), by Anne Gracie—A Review

Marry in Scarlet by Anne Gracie 2020From the desk of Pamela Mingle:

Every good Regency romance deserves a manipulative old dowager. In this book, it’s Great Aunt Agatha. She tells the Duke of Everingham, called Hart, that her niece would “…rather live with dogs and horses than marry.” Likewise, she tells her niece that the duke would never consider her for a wife, “…ill-trained, boyish, impertinent hoyden” that she is. Of course, this serves to pique the interest of both. Anne Gracie’s Marry in Scarlet, book four in the “Marriage of Convenience” series, is a delightful romp portraying the gradual coming together of a pompous duke and a reluctant lady.

The heroine, named Georgiana but called George, finds Aunt Agatha’s machinations annoying in the extreme. She’s acquainted with the duke and he has “…irritated her with his cold, hard gaze, so indifferent and superior and I-rule-the-world.”

George and Hart see each other frequently, mainly because he wants it that way. When he catches a glimpse of George riding her horse, he’s impressed. Hart makes an offer—for the horse, not George, who immediately refuses. Her horse is not for sale, to anyone. Hart thinks the selling/breeding of horses should not be a woman’s business.

The two meet at the opera, where she shushes him and his friends. He’s fascinated with how enraptured she is with the singing. Despite the fact that she insults him, calling him an arrogant boor, Hart is enchanted. And aroused.

At a London ball, George hides in the conservatory to get away from Lord Towsett, a man whose numerous proposals of marriage continue despite her staunch refusals. Unexpectedly, Hart sneaks into her hiding place because he too is escaping from marriage-minded pursuers. Later, Hart confronts Towsett and forces him to leave the ball, extracting a promise that he’ll never bother George again. Continue reading