Austenesque, Book Reviews, Contemporary Era

Jane Austen and Shelley in the Garden: A Novel with Pictures, by Janet Todd — A Review

From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

Janet Todd’s latest novel is described as “a (light) meditation on age, mortality, friendship, the tensions and attractions between generations, hope, and the excitement of change” on the back cover. Turning over the attractive green paperback with its decorative motif of foliage and Jane Austen silhouettes, I noticed the subtitle: “A Novel with Pictures.” Thumbing through the pages I glimpsed a sketch of a hedgehog, dozens of nature snapshots, a Welsh flag, a Jane Austen ten-pound note, and the Mona Lisa with sunglasses and a mustache. Jane Austen and Shelley in the Garden begins with the famous line from Pride and Prejudice, revealing a streak of irreverence:

It is a truth universally, begins Jane Austen…

Shhh, says Fran, finger on lips. Not subtle. Money and sex. How many versions before you settled on that flirtatious opening? (3)

Fran, retired from teaching at university, lives in a Norfolk cottage. She spends her days reading, gardening, and conversing with her Author (Jane Austen), who is often her severest critic. When Fran’s friend Annie visits the cottage, she’s concerned by Fran’s frequent mutterings to herself and odd conversations with strangers in pubs. She tells Fran:

 ‘Dr Johnson thought solitude and idleness roads to madness.’

‘Can’t do idleness,’ grins Fran, fingering the screwdriver in the drooping pocket of her jumpsuit. She stares at the drizzle making pointillism on the small-paned windows, then swivels her eyes toward thin cracks in the bulging plaster round the wood frames.

Mice scamper along private alleyways.

To prevent Annie noticing, she speaks loudly, ‘I’m planning to write now I’ve time. Something oblique, a little personal.’

‘Writing in solitude’s as mad as talking to yourself. Virginia Woolf’s room of her own was in a big family house. You’ll never have a writing group out here. You haven’t even joined a book club.’ (5)

A few months later, Fran visits Annie in Cambridge and meets several of her friends and colleagues: Rachel, a middle-aged American author and creative writing teacher; Thomas, an ex-student of Annie’s; and Tamsin, a rising academic star. During Fran’s visit, the diverse group meets several times over drinks and dinner. During one conversation, several members suggest a trip to Wales to visit a site where Percy Shelley lived. Fran, Rachel, and Thomas arrange to spend a few days touring the rainy Welsh countryside. Fran, who grew up in the area, is on a trip informed by nostalgia and family remembrance. This irritates Rachel and Thomas, who prefer to keep the focus on Shelley so that they can take turns displaying their knowledge of the poet. Thomas may be Annie’s protégé, but he has decided that making a favorable impression with the visiting American may be advantageous for his career prospects. At the conclusion of the trip, Rachel suggests further exploration of Shelley’s life—in Venice. With a warm, sunny destination on the research itinerary, Annie and Tamsin join in this time, as everyone looks forward to “nice hotels, prosecco, baccalà.” (125) Each person has their reasons for wanting to travel to Venice: curiosity, ambition, restlessness, desire. But what will they find when they arrive? And how will the trip change them?

Jane Austen and Shelley in the Garden blends literary allusion with sharp-witted dialogue. The perceptions and misunderstandings across the generational divide are rendered with wit and insight. What I most enjoyed were Fran’s observations of her fellow academics and her conversations with her Author. These are peppered with ideas and references from Jane Austen’s novels and letters.

Jane Austen usually avoids commenting on other shadows, but can’t resist nimbly descending the stairs to whisper to Fran, Your Shelley’s a hypochondriac. Had I known this, I might have lodged him in Sanditon and dosed him with asses’ milk.

 I do agree, Fran whispers back. He could have been mates with Sir Edward Denham and talked high poetry. They both giggle.

Thomas assumes his allusion to butter biscuits has provoked this response. ‘But seriously, it was the world’s slow stain that affected him. A poet of his calibre is indeed more delicate, more sensitive than others.’

I fancy, Jane Austen continues, I’d have had little time for him in life. (84)

Fran, Annie, and Rachel discover that whether they choose to accept or rebel against age, gender, and class stereotypes, their safely cocooned lives will increase rather than diminish their suffering. Taking a different path becomes an act of self-determination and hope that unites them while affirming each woman’s unique identity. As much as I enjoyed spending time with these women, I sometimes struggled to follow the discussions of Shelley’s life and work. If I had attempted to look up every unfamiliar reference, I would have become hopelessly bogged down. While this was a minor difficulty for me as I read, it barely registered when I looked back at the novel overall. What remained were the stories of the living, not the shadowy trails of the dead.

In the acknowledgements, Ms. Todd notes that the novel was written during last year’s lockdown, using only “memories, photos and leftover bits from earlier projects.” (289) The photos (many of them taken by the author) and illustrations add to the eclectic, playful tone as does as Fran’s lively conversations with her Author and her friends. The engaging characters and relational dynamics kept me turning pages as I journeyed to Norfolk, Cambridge, Wales, and Venice. Anyone who agrees that “Jane Austen novels live in the head” (289) will find Janet Todd’s Jane Austen and Shelley in the Garden a thoughtful, humorous, and life-affirming read.

5 out of 5 Stars

  • Jane Austen and Shelley in the Garden: A Novel with Pictures, by Janet Todd
  • Fentum Press (September 7, 2021)
  • Trade paperback & eBook (304) pages
  • ISBN: 978-1909572270

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We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Austenprose.com is an Amazon.com affiliate. We receive a modest remuneration when readers use our links and make a purchase.

Cover image courtesy of Fentum Press © 2021; text Tracy Hickman © 2021, Austenprose.com

Book Reviews, Historical Romance, Regency Era, Short Story Anthology

A Seaside Summer: Timeless Regency Collection (Book 17), by Josi S. Kilpack, Martha Keyes, and Heather B. Moore — A Review

From the desk of Katie Jackson:

As summertime meanders through our calendars each year, with its slower pace and often unbearable heat, it is natural to dream of the refreshing breeze and the tranquil sounds of the perpetual waves at the seashore. A Seaside Summer invites readers on a soothing journey to the shore through a trio of sweet romance novellas in the latest addition to the Timeless Romance Anthology® collection from Mirror Press.

“The New Countess” by Josi S. Kilpack explores how open communication and common goals can lead to trust and true companionship. Lord and Lady Avery have entered into a marriage of convenience after their respective spouses’ untimely deaths. The earl needs a countess to manage his household and his reputation and to raise his motherless daughter. His new wife, left penniless by her late husband, Continue reading “A Seaside Summer: Timeless Regency Collection (Book 17), by Josi S. Kilpack, Martha Keyes, and Heather B. Moore — A Review”

Book Reviews, Historical Fantasy, Paranormal & Gothic Fiction, Victorian Era

John Eyre: A Tale of Darkness and Shadow, by Mimi Matthews—A Review

From the desk of Sophia Rose

Reader, I must confess that I went into this book totally blind. No blurb, no captions, and a mere glance at the cover. This is because I spotted the title and the author, and it was all over. I needed a gender swapped Jane Eyre-Dracula mash up to quench my insatiable curiosity and wonder over such a combo. Some authors might have difficulty pulling off such a feat, but I did not have a doubt in the world that in Mimi Matthews’ capable hands that John Eyre would dazzle.

John Eyre arrives at his new place of employment on a cold, rainy, and foggy night. He barely catches a glimpse of the new Yorkshire countryside or Thornfield Hall. His mind is weighed down by the past and his head aches dreadfully.  He craves the laudanum that he has been using to dull his memories and pain. But it is not long before natural curiosity for his peculiar new charges, his absent employer, and his new surroundings rouse him. Thornfield Hall might be remote, creak with odd noises, and the Yorkshire environs bleak, but John Eyre starts to settle in and feel a modicum of peace. Then Mrs. Rochester arrives.

Mrs. Rochester is changeable, direct, capable, and very much in charge. He senses there is great mystery from this well-traveled world-weary woman. She challenges him and his notions of women, and the world he has barely experienced in his humble circumstances. His very stolidity and sureness Continue reading “John Eyre: A Tale of Darkness and Shadow, by Mimi Matthews—A Review”

Austenesque, Book Reviews

Mr. Darcy’s Persuasion: An Austen-inspired Tale of Pride, Prejudice and Persuasion, by Cass Grafton and Ada Bright — A Review

Mr Darcys Persuasion by Cass Grafton and Ada Bright 2021From the desk of Katie Jackson:

In Jane Austen’s final complete novel, Persuasion—published six months after her untimely death—the heroine, Anne Elliot, is influenced by her prideful father, a baronet, to break off an engagement with Captain Frederick Wentworth, who was considered a poor match due to his low social status and lack of wealth. Similarly, in Austen’s earlier novel, Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy is the prideful man causing heartbreak over his disapproval of an undistinguished family. The consequences of such prejudiced persuasion collide spectacularly in Mr. Darcy’s Persuasion by prolific writing duo Cass Grafton and Ada Bright.

Mr. Darcy is in denial. In a letter to his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, he insists, “Despite your suggestion to the contrary, no young lady has caught my attention.” (152) Yet he flees Hertfordshire posthaste following the ball at Netherfield hosted by his friend Mr. Bingley, whom he has advised to avoid a growing attachment to Miss Jane Bennet. All the while, Darcy knows his own hypocrisy as he likewise advises himself to avoid the undeniable attraction he feels toward Jane’s younger sister, Elizabeth. He acknowledges that the Bennet family is far beneath the notice of a wealthy gentleman landowner such as he, thus he removes himself from danger and warns his smitten friend to do the same. Continue reading “Mr. Darcy’s Persuasion: An Austen-inspired Tale of Pride, Prejudice and Persuasion, by Cass Grafton and Ada Bright — A Review”

Austenesque, Book Reviews, Regency Era

Fallen, by Jessie Lewis — A Review

A lady’s reputation was everything during the Regency era, as we are so sanctimoniously reminded of by Mary Bennet in Pride and Prejudice after her sister Lydia’s scandalous elopement.

“…loss of virtue in a female is irretrievable—that one false step involves her in endless ruin—that her reputation is no less brittle than it is beautiful—and that she cannot be too much guarded in her behaviour towards the undeserving of the other sex.” (Chapter 47)

Fallen, Jessie Lewis’ new Jane Austen-inspired novel, embraces this dictum and explores the predicament of a fallen woman and to what lengths a family will go to hide the truth to save their social standing. When that family is from wealth and circumstance, such as the Darcy’s of Pemberley, it makes the tale even more intriguing to those who enjoy Austenesque variations. We shall see what it takes to make a brittle reputation break. Continue reading “Fallen, by Jessie Lewis — A Review”

Austenesque, Book Reviews

Darcy and Elizabeth Beginning Again: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, by Elaine Jeremiah — A Review

Elizabeth and Darcy by Elaine Jeremiah 2021From the desk of Melissa Makarewicz:

A twisted ankle, a sudden rainstorm, and an unmarried man and woman forced to take shelter in a nearby unoccupied cottage. These reputation-ruining tragic turn of events lead to a reimaging of Pride and Prejudice that is full of settee-gripping adventure. Elaine Jeremiah’s newest book, Elizabeth and Darcy Beginning Again, takes Jane Austen fans on a Regency route of possible ruination and ruthless wickedness.

When I saw that this was a Pride and Prejudice variation that involved a “marry or face ruination situation”, my interest was immediately piqued. Could Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet’s story be just as fulfilling if they had no choice in marrying? I was determined to read and find out.

The story sets out with the ever-familiar walk Lizzy Bennet takes to go visit her dear sister Jane who is sick at Netherfield. While out on her walk, she happens to be startled by a fast-riding Mr. Darcy. Shocked at the closeness, she stumbles and twists her ankle and becomes unable to continue her walk. Suddenly, the sky opens up with rain and the two are left with little choice but to seek shelter together to escape the elements. Elizabeth detests the thought of being in the debt of Mr. Darcy but she has little choice in her current condition. Continue reading “Darcy and Elizabeth Beginning Again: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, by Elaine Jeremiah — A Review”

Austenesque, Book Reviews

Sons of Pemberley: A Pride and Prejudice Reimagining, by Elizabeth Adams — A Review

Sons of Pemberley by Elizabeth Adams 2020From the desk of Sophia Rose:

A few authors have written variations that speculate on how Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice would alter if the Darcy parents had not passed off the scene so early in the story. I enjoy these “what-if” scenarios and was eager to take up this latest novel by Elizabeth Adams, particularly because I enjoy her heartwarming and often whimsical touch to her writing.

Sons of Pemberley beings as a prequel to the original, opening during the youth of George Darcy and Samuel Wickham, the fathers of Fitzwilliam Darcy and George Wickham. After Wickham saves Darcy’s life, they become fast friends. Darcy grows up to become the master of Pemberley whose youthful wish is realized by making his best friend the steward of his grand estate. The two men go on to marry: George Darcy has the joy of marrying a woman he loves dearly, while poor Samuel Wickham who on the eve of courting sweet Rachel, ends up with her cunning, beautiful cousin Rebecca. Lady Anne Darcy has her husband’s love and a beautiful son, and then the Darcys along with the Wickhams, receive their share of heartache when she loses her next baby. Continue reading “Sons of Pemberley: A Pride and Prejudice Reimagining, by Elizabeth Adams — A Review”

Austenesque, Book Reviews

Ladies of the House: A Modern Retelling of Sense and Sensibility, by Lauren Edmondson — A Review

The Ladies of the House by Lauren Edmondson 2021From the desk of Sophia Rose:

Some might quote that old chestnut about ‘when life tosses you lemons…’ to those who are going through life’s trials, but in the cutthroat world of DC politics in this exciting new release, one learns the only thing to do with lemons is cut them up and put them in a cocktail while saluting backstabbing one-time friends. Lauren Edmondson chose to retell a classic and portray three women going through the refining fires of grief, loss, and political scandal. While The Ladies of the House stays true to the heart of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility it also accurately portrayed life in America’s capital and politics that will resonate with many.

Daisy Richardson is at the top of her game as chief of staff for a progressive, up and coming senator from Maryland and the admiring daughter of a senior senator at the top. All that comes crashing down when her dad dies in the bed of his secretary! In addition, it has been leaked in the news that he was misappropriating funds. Her mother, Cricket, needs her to sort out life after scandal and death. Her best friend, Atlas, a star journalist who has been her secret love for years is back in the states and wants to do an expose’ into her father’s life and seems to only want friendship. Continue reading “Ladies of the House: A Modern Retelling of Sense and Sensibility, by Lauren Edmondson — A Review”