Otherwise Engaged: A Regency Romance, by Joanna Barker—A Review

Otherwise Engaged by Joanna Barker 2020

From the desk of Katie Jackson:

Regency romances have their fair share of obstinate, headstrong girls, yet it is always a delight to discover another less-than-perfect heroine. Especially when “pictures of perfection, as you know, make me sick and wicked,” as the incomparable Jane Austen once wrote. Joanna Barker’s Otherwise Engaged is one such Regency romance with an imperfect heroine getting herself into unladylike scrapes and earning our respect along the way.

Rebecca Rowley is a bold, rebellious young woman with a sarcastic wit and a determination to leap over fear as if it were a hedge she wished to jump with her horse. While riding bareback. On muddy ground. Hatless. In other words, Miss Rowley had a tendency to be reckless. Her brother William admonished that “you could cut stone with a tongue that sharp.” (588)

During a visit to Brighton with a friend, Rebecca encounters Edward Bainbridge, the charming son of her deceased father’s business partner-turned-enemy. The longstanding animosity between their families is a puzzle to them both. No matter what others might think—or perhaps because of it—Rebecca does what she wishes, pursuing the enticingly off-limits Edward.

Yet she is not without remorse. She tries to be a dutiful daughter and a trustworthy sister, to protect her beloved mother and brother from worry. And it is those good intentions that lead her to hide her sudden and secret engagement to Edward. Arriving home to Havenfield in Hertfordshire, Rebecca is certain she will get to the bottom of the mysterious feud on her own and win her family over with her explanations and, eventually, her betrothed’s charm.

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The Rogue’s Widow: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, by Nicole Clarkston—A Review

The Rogue's Widow by Nicole Clarkston 2020From the desk of Debbie Brown:

It’s become obvious to me that Nicole Clarkston loves messing with her readers’ heads in the opening chapter of her books. She starts off in one direction, apparently setting the stage for one kind of story, and then unexpectedly careens off into previously unexplored territory. The Rogue’s Widow, her recently released variation of Pride and Prejudice, sure does.

As Chapter One begins, Elizabeth Bennet is in London interviewing for a position as a lady’s companion, and she meets Mr. Darcy, her prospective employer, for the first time. His behavior is even more arrogant and brusque than in the original Pride and Prejudice. Okay, we’ve read THIS premise before, right? It’s obvious how this is going to go, especially when he decides she’s right for the position and hires her on the spot.

…And now Darcy’s taking Elizabeth to the debtor’s prison to marry a resident there.

Wait. What??

Yup. It’s simple, really. Mr. Darcy is killing two birds with one stone.

The first reason is that man she’s to marry, Bernard Wickham, owns Corbett Lodge, a small, poorly maintained estate adjoining Pemberley. He’s in prison with not much time left to live—the direct result of a depraved life. Bernard’s one brief scene in Chapter One proves this guy doesn’t deserve any pity. The big news is that George Wickham, his younger brother, is currently next in line to inherit Corbett Lodge. Darcy sure can’t have THAT.

As it happens, Bernard hates his kid brother even more than he hates Darcy—which really is saying something, since it was Darcy who’d bought up his debts and had Bernard imprisoned. At least Darcy is putting out some coin to make his jail time slightly less unbearable. Consequently, Bernard agrees to get hitched to the lady of Darcy’s choice in order to keep the money flowing and to spite his brother, George. With no entail on Corbett Lodge, SHE will inherit it when he inevitably throws off his mortal coil. Continue reading

A Good Name: A Modern Pride and Prejudice Variation, by Sarah Courtney — A Review

A Good Name, by Sarah Courtney (2019)From the desk of Debbie Brown:

This is one of those books that completely took me by surprise. I’m still gobsmacked by it. Do NOT be put off by the fact that the first part of the story — well, actually, the whole book — is centered squarely on George Wickham. Please trust me. It works.

The book’s Prologue tugs at your heartstrings, introducing George at age ten. His mother is a neglectful drug addict and he doesn’t even know who his father is; Rebecca Wickham has had several boyfriends, and Mark, the guy she’s currently living with, is better than most only because he doesn’t beat them. George has just one set of clothes, and he’s always hungry. He gets bullied at school. He can read, but not very well. With such a start in life, there doesn’t seem to be much of a future ahead for him.

But little eight-year-old Lizzy Bennet approaches him on a playground bench, offers him a sandwich, and unconsciously introduces him to the perfect escape from his miserable life by reading aloud a Harry Potter book. “[H]e wished she didn’t have to go. It was like coming out of a dream somehow, to close the book and go back to real life. He felt let down. Going home, going to bed, lying there hungry… how could he go back to that now that he had been on a train to magic school?” It’s a game-changer for George.

The story continues. The two friends are separated, but George’s situation improves thanks to Mr. Darcy (senior). Fitzwilliam Darcy eventually turns up in the book a couple of years later. His entrance is an inspired twist, and I hope other reviewers are kind enough not to spoil the surprise.

More time passes, with Will becoming COO of his father’s company, AirVA, which is a national air ventilation system corporation based in Virginia. Anyway, when Will’s father and mother are in a car crash, Mr. Darcy’s injuries and subsequent rehab require Will to step up as CEO years before originally planned. It’s a difficult transition for an introverted, insecure young man. Everyone seems to want a piece of him — both in business and in his social life.

The plot gets into recognizable Pride and Prejudice territory with Will reluctantly attending Charles Bingley’s engagement party, hugging the periphery, and resisting his friend’s suggestion that he enter into the spirit of things. When Charles offers to introduce Will to Jane Gardiner’s sister Elizabeth, we just know what’s coming. As expected, Elizabeth overhears him say, “Charlie, leave off. I have no interest in dancing with whatever floozy you’re trying to throw at me this time.” …aaand we’re off! Continue reading

Jane Austen’s Sanditon: With An Essay by Janet Todd — A Review

Jane Austen's Sanditon: With an Essay by Janet Todd (2019)Sanditon, Jane Austen’s last unfinished novel is in the news. A new TV adaptation and continuation of the same name premiered in the UK on ITV on August 25, 2019. The new eight-part series was written by Andrew Davies (Pride and Prejudice 1995) and will be shown on MASTERPIECE PBS in the US starting on January 20, 2020. Inspired by Jane Austen’s 11-and-a-half-chapter fragment, Davies claimed in an early interview that he used up all of Austen’s text in the first 30 minutes of his screenplay. That was about 24,000 words or about one-quarter of an average-sized fiction novel today. To say I was shocked by this admission is an understatement.

Alas, because it was never completed, Sanditon has not received much attention in comparison to Austen other popular novels: Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Sense and Sensibility. I am so pleased that the new TV adaptation has brought it into the limelight. It is one of Austen’s forgotten treasures. I have written previously about it in detail, including an introduction, character list, plot summary, and quotes. 

There are few single editions of Sanditon available in print. It is usually lumped in with Austen’s other minor works in a large volume. To remedy that gap, Fentum Press in London has published a stylish new hardcover edition entitled Jane Austen’s Sanditon: with an Essay by Janet Todd. The book has been beautifully designed with interesting and amusing illustrations from Regency-era artists such as Rowlandson, Gillray, and Cruikshank. Its dainty size of 5 ½ inches by 8 inches reminds one of the elegant volumes designed expressly for the comfort of ladies’ delicate hands.

What really brings this edition to the forefront is its editor and introductory essayist Janet Todd. To have such an eminent academic and scholar on Austen and other women’s writing on board really gives the reader the confidence that they are in capable hands. Included with the insightful seventy-page introductory essay is a brief biography of Jane Austen; the complete text transcribed from the original handwritten draft work in progress held in King’s College, Cambridge; endnotes; an essay entitled Anna Lefroy to Andrew Davies: Continuations of Sanditon; further reading; a list of illustrations; and the acknowledgments. In what appears to be a diminutive volume, the reader will be delighted to discover quite the reverse. In addition to the unfinished novel, it is brimming with information and the energy that Austen brought to her final work, perfectly complementing the text. Continue reading