The Summer Before the War: A Novel, by Helen Simonson – A Review

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson 2016 x 200From the desk of Debra E. Marvin:

Discovering just-released fiction on my library’s New Audiobooks shelf makes me feel as if someone has let me slip in at the front of a long line. When I found Helen Simonson’s The Summer Before the War, I was delighted she’d chosen another charming English town (I’d quite enjoyed her debut Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand) and the summer of 1914. Whether she planned it or not, the timing may help some of us adjust to the end of a ‘certain’ British historical drama, though enjoying this novel can’t be limited to Downton Abbey fans. What better time than the centennial of The Great War, to revisit its impact.

Protagonist Beatrice Nash is a young woman of high intellect, low tolerance for the superficial, and a middle-class income stymied by the death of her beloved father. Mr. Nash’s academic profession provided his daughter an unusual upbringing ripe with experiences beyond England, and making Beatrice independent, resilient, and practical. She was “not raised to be shy, and had put away the fripperies of girlhood.” All very good indeed when she takes a position as a Latin teacher for the local children and is tested by the restrictions and social expectations of small-town life in this delightful corner of Sussex. She simply must succeed or risk returning to her wealthy aunt’s suffocating control.

If this novel was a miniseries, she’d be the lead in an outstanding ensemble cast. To her left, Mrs. Agatha Kent, mentor, and “of a certain age when the bloom of youth must give way to the strength of character, but her face was handsome in its intelligent eyes and commanding smile.” To Beatrice’s right, Hugh Grange, likely the most uncomplicated man in town…who happens to be a brain surgeon. The residents of Rye create the rich background we so enjoyed in Ms. Simonson’s debut, and Rye itself rounds out the cast as quintessential England. I had no trouble balancing the many characters who exit the other side of the war—the autumn after the war, so to speak—forever altered. Just as it should be. Continue reading

Fan Phenomena: Jane Austen, edited by Gabrielle Malcolm – A Review

Fan Phenomena Jane Austen 2015 x 200From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

Jane Austen fans cannot be filed neatly into a single category any more than Austen’s works can be limited to one literary genre. How might an editor attempt to do justice to the multiplicity of Janeite fandom in a slim volume of essays and interviews? This question was uppermost in my mind as I began reading Fan Phenomena: Jane Austen. The Fan Phenomena series website explains that the goal of the series is to “look at particular examples of ‘fan culture’ and approach the subject in an accessible manner aimed at both fans and those interested in the cultural and social aspects of these fascinating–and often unusual–‘universes’.” 

What is the joy of Jane? What is it about her work that keeps readers, and viewers, coming back for more? Is it the Darcy effect? Is it the irony, the wit, the romance? Or is it a combination of all these factors? Many critics and authors have compiled works to analyse this vast and still growing phenomenon of fandom…This collection offers material about the fans, for the fans, by the fans, and offers a combination of the popular and the academic. (5)

Editor Gabrielle Malcom’s introduction provides a clear description of the purpose and scope of the collection. She acknowledges the differences between mainstream fan culture and the academic treatment of Austen. After setting Austen’s work in its historical context with a few concise and insightful paragraphs, she provides brief descriptions of the essays and interviews that follow. While Fan Phenomena: Jane Austen has the look of an academic journal, its design and use of color photographs creates a visually appealing experience for the reader, with the exception of the excessively small font size used for the text of the essays. Although I suspect that the text format is dictated by the Fan Phenomena series as a whole and not unique to this volume, the cramped appearance distracted me from the content at times. I found the format used in the Fan Appreciation interviews to be much more appropriate and reader-friendly. Continue reading

Celebrating Jane Austen Day 2014 with 75 Sensational Quotes That Every Janeite Should Not Live Without

Sprinklebakes Jane Austin 12th night cake sprinklebakes.com x 350

Jane Austen-themed Twelfth Night Cake by Sprinkles Bakes

Today is Jane Austen 239th birthday. Born on 16 December 1775 at Steventon Rectory in Hampshire, England, her many admirers have proclaimed her birthday as Jane Austen Day and are celebrating around the world in creative and diverse ways.

Please join us and the Jane Austen Centre Facebook Group in the festivities. In honor of the amazing talent of my favorite author, I have chosen 75 witty quips and quotes from her six major novels for your enjoyment.

Which are your favorite? Join the celebration by sharing with us in the comments below and enter a contest to win one copy of Jane Austen: Seven Novels (Barnes & Noble Collectible Editions). Details of the giveaway are listed below. Good Luck. Continue reading

Unequal Affections: A Pride and Prejudice Retelling, by Lara S. Ormiston – A Review

Unequal Affections, by Lara S. Ormiston (2014)From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress:

Have you ever read a book that culminated in such a passionate love/hate relationship that you were compelled to read it again to understand what it was that evoked such a profound reaction? I have. Like failed love affairs, I can remember each of them without hesitation: Wuthering Heights, Tess of the D’Urberville’s, Mansfield Park, The Wings of a Dove and Anna Karenina. I am now adding Unequal Affections to my “bus accident” list.

While some may foresee this question as a polite warning of a negative review lurking in the shrubberies, I have no wish to influence you either way—yet—but rather keep you in suspense, “according to the usual practice of elegant females.” Bus accidents are terrible, tragic, things, and terribly hard to look away from.

This Pride and Prejudice “what if” starts out one-third of the way into the original novel at the pivotal moment when Mr. Darcy proposes to our heroine Elizabeth Bennet. This scene contains some of Jane Austen’s most brilliant dialogue revealing two protagonists so totally at odds with each other that we cannot see how they could possibly end up as a loving couple by the end of the novel. Mr. Darcy begins…“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” He then proceeds to explain how he loves her against his will, against his reason, and even against his character. Insulted by his prejudice against her family, appalled by his injustice towards Mr. Wickham and angered by his part in separating her sister Jane from Mr. Bingley, she finalizes her refusal by proclaiming that he was “the last man in the world whom [she] could ever be prevailed on to marry.” Continue reading

Once Upon a Second Chance, by Marian Vere – A Review

One Upon a Second Chance by Marian Vere 2012 x 200From the desk of Lisa Galek:

Little girls grow up on fairy tales. From a young age we’re inundated with stories about handsome princes who ride in on their white horses and sweep heroines off their feet. Everyone wants that happy ending. But, what if Prince Charming came by and you missed him? In Once Upon a Second Chance, Marian Vere explores what happens to a heroine after she lets her happily-ever-after slip through her fingers.

Ever since she was a little girl, Julia Basham dreamed of finding the guy of her dreams. When she meets Nick Kirkley, a college dropout with big plans for starting his own tech business, she thinks he might be the one. After a whirlwind romance, Nick pops the question and Julia finally sees a happily-ever-after in her future. Her older sister, Lisa, is less thrilled. Lisa convinces Julia to break off their engagement, which also breaks Nick’s heart. The two part ways, but Julia convinces herself that it’s for the best.

Fast forward to eight years. Julia’s dreams haven’t exactly come true. She works as a secretary for a financial consulting firm and still has yet to stumble across “the one.” Nick, on the other hand, is doing pretty well. The tech company he started has made him big money. 17.7 billion dollars to be exact. When Julia’s firm takes Nick on as a new client, she’s forced to come face to face with her biggest regret. Julia realizes that she let the love of her life get away all those years ago. Will she let it happen again? Or is it time for a second chance?

Once Upon a Second Chance is a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, but with a few little twists. Sure, it’s updated and told from the point of view of a modern-day woman living in New York City, but the author also sneaks in some fun references to folk tales and fantasy. Julia keeps waiting for a fairy godmother to come to take her hand and make her world magically better, but, sadly, that’s just not in the cards for her. Continue reading

Mr. Darcy Came to Dinner: A Pride and Prejudice Farce, by Jack Caldwell – A Review

From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder:Mr. Darcy Came to Dinner by Jack Caldwell 2013 x 200

Back in the day I read a novel entitled Pemberley Ranch by Jack Caldwell and found myself totally impressed with the original reimagining of my beloved Pride and Prejudice (from a male author’s perspective!). I remember heading over to Caldwell’s website to see what else he had written that was available for me to get my hands on. I wound up finding a story he was publishing piece-by-piece on his site entitled Mr. Darcy Came to Dinner. I decided to read the entire story from start to finish in the course of one evening (ok, maybe some very early hours of the day were involved too….). Imagine my surprise (and delight) when I found it on sale for NOOK earlier this year. Being able to readily remember the pleasure it gave me several years earlier had me all the more excited to read it again.

We are all familiar with Mr. Darcy’s haughty nature, but it is no match for a little furry kitten in Mr. Darcy Came to Dinner. An encounter with Elizabeth’s pet cat causes Mr. Darcy to fall and injure himself, leading to a long recovery at Longbourn of all places. Because of a lack of space, Darcy is actually put up in the parlor, and he is subject to the exploits of the Bennet family, including every wail of Mrs. Bennet and every antic of Kitty and Lydia. Things get even more hectic when Bingley, Georgiana, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and Lady Catherine de Bourgh come to visit Darcy in his invalid state. Hilarity ensues when these guests further antagonize the pressure cooker of emotion and frivolity that is present at Longbourn. Will Darcy and Lizzy be able to survive his recuperation? While most of us would erupt in anger and frustration in this impossible situation, Darcy shocks us all by doing quite the opposite. He shows us a kinder, gentler side of himself by taking an interest in all of the Bennet sisters, not just Lizzy.  He brings his horse to Longbourn for Lydia to ride, helps Kitty with her sketches, and compliments Mary on her pianoforte pieces. In all, we see a Darcy that is quite refreshing and new, which made the story spring to life off the pages.

This book can truly be described as a comedy of errors, all thanks to a cat! I found myself just as delighted and charmed with Mr. Darcy Came to Dinner this time around as I was the first time I read it. Caldwell has a real knack at infusing comedy into Darcy and Elizabeth’s lives realistically. The scenes with Darcy confronting Mr. Collins are among my favorite. Mr. Collins is just such an odious man. Seeing him (comedically) get knocked down a few pegs had me cheering at my nook (very) loudly. Continue reading

The Trouble with Flirting: A Novel, by Claire LaZebnik – A Review

The Trouble with Flirting, by Claire LaZebnik (2013) From the desk of Lisa Galek:

There are tons of ways to flirt… and just as many ways to break hearts in the process. A casual smile or a wink can lead to long-awaited romance or lots of unwanted attention. Claire LaZebnik explores all this and more in The Trouble with Flirting, her contemporary young adult update on Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.

This story is all about Franny Pearson, a high school student from Phoenix looking to get some real-world experience for her college admissions essay. When Franny lands a summer internship as a costume designer with her Aunt Amelia, she ventures from home to work for the prestigious Mansfield College High School Theater Program. Even though her days are filled with sewing and sequins – Franny is determined to make some friends among the theater kids this summer.

Franny quickly runs into an old classmate – Alex Braverman, the dreamboat she’s had a crush on since eighth grade. Could this be the summer Alex finally notices her? Not if Harry Cartwright has anything to do with it. It’s bad enough that Harry’s constantly flirting with every girl in camp, but it really gets annoying when he sets his sights on Franny. Of course, she only has eyes for Alex and would never fall for a notorious flirt like Harry. Or would she?

Though this novel is based on Mansfield Park, it follows the original pretty loosely. Other young adult Austen updates like Prom and Prejudice or Clueless are almost scene for scene reimaginings. This story may have similar characters and the same basic premise as the original – poor girl mixes with rich kids and falls in love – but it’s not afraid to take us to different places.

Franny, for one, isn’t much like Fanny Price. This, of course, will make some people very happy. This Franny is much less passive and morally upright than her predecessor. She’s also a lot more like a typical seventeen-year-old girl. Sure, she isn’t as spoiled, self-involved, and boy crazy as the girls around her, but she also doesn’t shy away from meeting new people or wring her hands any time there’s rule-breaking going on. This Franny would love to be part of a lively production of Lover’s Vows. Continue reading

Giveaway Winner Announced for Lady Ann’s Excellent Adventure

Lady Ann's Excellent Adventure by Candice Hern (2012)24 of you left comments qualifying you for a chance to win a copy of Lady Ann’s Excellent Adventure, by Candice Hern. The winner drawn at random is:

  • Vesper who left a comment on September 26, 2013

Congratulations Vesper! To claim your prize, please contact me with your full name and address by October, 9, 2013. Ebook shipment internationally.

Thanks to all who left comments, and for all those participating in the Regency Romance Reading Challenge 2013. It has been great fun. This concludes our reading challenge for the year. I hope you can join us again in the future.

Book cover image courtesy of © 2012 Candice Hern; text © 2013 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

The Ashford Affair: A Novel, by Lauren Willig – A Review

Image of the book cover of The Ashford Affair, by Lauren Willig © 2013 St. Martin’s PressFrom the desk of Christina Boyd

In a departure from her Napoleonic spy romances of the Pink Carnation Series, New York Times bestselling author Lauren Willig ventures into new territory with The Ashford Affair. Entwining one generation’s story with that of another, from post-Edwardian British society to modern-day Manhattan to a coffee farm in Kenya, the long veiled secrets of a woman are unraveled.

Clementine Evans, a focused, driven law associate on the cusp of making partner in a large Manhattan firm, attends her beloved grandmother Adeleine’s 99th birthday and is accidentally enlightened to a family secret. At 34, Clemmie, feeling like her life is nothing but a 70-plus hour work week, and a failed engagement, this intrigue becomes more than a distraction to the un-fulfilling, lonely details of her days.

Clemmie slid the picture back into the drawer. There was another underneath it, a studio portrait of a woman, her head tilted. Her pale hair was crimped in stylized waves around her face and her pale eyes gazed soulfully into the distance. She looked, somehow, strangely familiar, her cheekbones, the shape of her lips, as if Clemmie had seen her somewhere before.” p. 65.

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The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013

The Pride Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge (2013) 2013 is a celebratory year for the legion of Jane Austen fans. It marks the bicentenary of her second published novel, Pride and Prejudice.

For two hundred years we have been enjoying her romantic, dramatic, and witty story filled with memorable characters – the Bennet sisters: angelic Jane, spirited Elizabeth, pedantic Mary, impressionable Kitty and impetuous Lydia; and the men in their lives: amiable Charles Bingley, charming Lt. George Wickham, and the proud Mr. Darcy. There is so much to praise in Jane Austen’s most popular novel which has inspired many movie adaptations, book sequels and spinoffs. In its honor, we are very pleased to announce another reading and viewing challenge for our readers:

The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013

We had a fabulous year here in 2011 during The Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge and are pleased to offer another new challenge for Pride and Prejudice. If you have not read Jane Austen’s masterpiece (or would like to revisit it in honor of its special anniversary), seen all of the movies, or read all of the sequels and spinoffs, this is the year to join the challenge along with other Janeites, historical fiction, Regency romance, and period drama movie lovers.

Challenge Details

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Q & A with Jane Austen Made Me Do It Authors: Question 5 & Giveaway!

Jane Austen Made Me Do It, edited by Laurel Ann Nattress (2011)On to question five of the JAMMDI author interview that started on August 3rd. This question is about Austen’s style and influence…

The range of writing experience in this anthology covers veteran literary bestselling author to debut new voice. How did Jane Austen influence your writing career? What insights could you share with an aspiring writer on Austen’s technique and style? Continue reading