Book Reviews, Cultural Studies, Jane Austen, Nonfiction

Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom, by Deborah Yaffe – A Review

Among the Janeites, by Deborah Yaffe 2013 There are Trekkies and Potterheads and Twifans, but nothing in the pop culture universe can compare to the passion, dedication, and eccentricity of a Janeite. I know this because I am one.

For the benefit of the un-indoctrinated, a Janeite is a fan of English author Jane Austen (1775-1817) who wrote six novels before her untimely death at age 41. Many have read Pride and Prejudice for a school assignment and then moved on. Others, like myself and former journalist Deborah Yaffe, were so enchanted by her humor, characters, and Regency world that we read not only her major works but everything she wrote: juvenilia, minor works, novella, fragments, and letters. That was not enough. We were compelled to become her fans.

In Among the Janeites, a new nonfiction book to be released next week by Mariner Books, Yaffe boldly ventures into the land of Janeites to discover what makes them tick and why they “feel an intensely personal affection for the writer and her books…whom they often call “Jane,” as if she were a neighbor whose kitchen door they could knock on to borrow a cup of sugar.” Yaffe’s journalist background gives her the perfect training for such a task, striving to form an impression of what it is like to live with the obsession and “tease out some common threads that weave this diverse array of individuals into a community.” And tease she does, interviewing and meeting a wide range of her fans, traveling to England for a Jane Austen pilgrimage to her homes and haunts, and attending Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) Annual General Meetings in Portland, Oregon and Fort Worth, Texas.

After the lively introduction which explores her motivations for writing the book, it is broken down into three parts, much like the dramatic structure of Austen’s three-volume novels. Within the ten chapters, one or two different personalities in the Janeite world are featured as an example of the diversity of Austen’s fans and how they express their passion. First, we meet Regency fashion aficionados Baronda Bradley and seamstress Maureen O’Connor and learn all about corsets, pelisses and the lives of these two fashionistas. Multimillionaire Cisco founder and Chawton House Library creator Sandy Lerner has her share of the conversation in a chapter called “Sandy’s Pemberley,” writers Pamela Aidan and Linda Berdol are included in the chapter on Jane Austen fanfiction, and Austen scholar Devoney Looser rattles the ivory tower of academia by admitting to Austen fandom and expressing it with the roller derby persona “Stone Cold Austen” in “The Knowledge Business.” Continue reading “Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom, by Deborah Yaffe – A Review”

Book Reviews, Jane Austen, Nonfiction, Travel Guides

Walking Jane Austen’s London: A Tour Guide for the Modern Reader, by Louise Allen – A Review

Walking Jane Austen's London, by Louise Allen (2013)From the desk of Katie Patchell:

Have you ever wanted to experience Jane Austen’s London? To see all the sights (comparing past and present) and to literally walk in Jane’s footsteps, all without being slowed down by an actual tour guide? If so, then Walking Jane Austen’s London: A Tour Guide for The Modern Reader is just for you!

Walking Jane Austen’s London includes eight highly informative walks that are between 1.75 and 2.5 miles. Each walk (or chapter) starts with a very useful box of information, which includes the starting location of your walk, the nearest tube station and bus stop, the length of your route, and the opening hours of any Regency or Georgian historical site that is on your way. Also included in each chapter is a well-marked map detailing your walk route, as well as the streets and other attractions close by. With a picture (sometimes two) on every one of the 109 pages, this provides an attractive and entertaining read no matter where you are.

These are some of the places seen in the following walks:

Walk 1—Sloane Street to Kensington Palace Gardens

  • The room of her brother’s home where Jane Austen did most of her letter-writing and proof reading in.
  • Kensington Gardens, where Elinor (from Sense and Sensibility) took a stroll–although the beauty would be somewhat marred by her companions, Mrs. Jennings and Lucy Steele!

Walk 2—Marylebone and Bond Street

  • Bond Street (present in many Regency novels), the parading ground of the dandies, beaux, and the Prince Regent.
  • Wimpole Street, where Maria Rushworth (from Mansfield Park) lived before running off with Henry Crawford.

Walk 3—Mayfair

  • The home of Jane’s publisher, John Murray, who was (in her opinion) “…a Rogue of course, but a civil one.”
  • The residence of the fashionable and well-dressed dandy, Beau Brummell.

Walk 4—Leicester Square to Green Park Continue reading “Walking Jane Austen’s London: A Tour Guide for the Modern Reader, by Louise Allen – A Review”

Austenesque, Book Reviews, Regency Era

When They Fall in Love: Darcy and Elizabeth in Italy, by Mary Lydon Simonsen – A Review

When they Fall in Love, by Mary Simonen (2013) From the desk of Kimberly Denny Ryder

When I found out that Mary Lydon Simonsen was writing a Pride and Prejudice inspired book that took place in Italy I was so excited! Ever since I was able to travel to Italy two years ago I’ve loved it more and more and I can’t wait to go back. Now, reading about the combination of my two favorite literary characters with Florence was enough to make me want to go out and buy the book ASAP, and that’s exactly what I did once it came out! So, without further ado, let’s travel to Italy.

We all remember Mr. Darcy’s failed proposal to Elizabeth Bennet at the Hunsford Parsonage. When They Fall in Love picks up several years later, with much occurring in the interim, including Darcy marrying another woman, fathering a child, and becoming a widower. Now, he plans to live in a villa in the hills above Florence, Italy with his daughter, who is now six. He invites his friend Charles Bingley and his wife Jane, who now have a daughter, as well as Elizabeth, who acts as the governess for her niece. Although much has happened in the intervening years after Darcy’s failed proposal to Elizabeth, she is unsure if his love for her has withstood this test of time. Her own feelings towards him have grown tremendously, but she is apprehensive as to whether or not he reciprocates these feelings. What will become of their meeting against the beautiful backdrop of Italy? Continue reading “When They Fall in Love: Darcy and Elizabeth in Italy, by Mary Lydon Simonsen – A Review”

Book Reviews, Novella or Short Story, Reading Challenges, Regency Era, Regency Romance

Desperate Measures: A Regency Short Story, by Candice Hern – A Review

The Regency Romance Reading Challenge (2013)This is my sixth selection in the Regency Romance Reading Challenge 2013, our celebration of romance author Candice Hern. We will be reading all of her traditional Regencies over the next nine months, discussing her characters, plots and Regency history. Make haste! You can still join the reading challenge until July 1, 2013. Participants, please leave comments and or links to your reviews for this month in the comment section of this post.

My Review:

Unrequited love can force a girl into desperate measures—a scheme that Lydia Bettridge’s brother Daniel has concocted—and she is uncertain will work. Before the most important ball of the Season, he will procure his friend Philip Hartwell to sweep her off her feet in front of the object of her affection making him wild with jealousy. But when Philip is detained from the ball and unknowingly asks the object of her affection Geoffrey Danforth to be the swain who sweeps, Lydia is thrown for a loop. NO—he was to be the jealous lover, not the one to make her lover jealous! Thankfully Geoffrey does not know who the object of the game is and Lydia is not going to tell him! But now everything is topsy-turvy. How was she going to make him think of her as a beautiful, desirable young woman and not the little sister of his best friend? It does not help that he is so eager to play the part, especially since he has never singled out any woman in his life and will draw the attention of Society by playing the “mooncalf” with her. He was determined to make everyone in the room believe that he was madly in love with her, and he did, even Lydia! It was totally glorious—except that it was not real. Pressed to reveal whom Geoffrey is to make jealous, Lydia picks the first man she sees, the infamous rake Lord Tennison. Shocked, he tries to warn her off, but Lydia claims she needs excitement in her life. Always the obliging gentleman, Geoffrey promises to play the part to the nines and have Tennison falling at her feet before the night’s end. Continue reading “Desperate Measures: A Regency Short Story, by Candice Hern – A Review”

Austenesque, Book Reviews

Presumption: An Entertainment: A Sequel to Pride and Prejudice, by Julia Barrett – A Review

Before Mr. Darcy’s Little Sister (2010), Miss Darcy Falls in Love (2011), Georgiana Darcy’s Diary (2012) or Loving Miss Darcy (2013), or any of the other numerous Pride and Prejudice sequels elevating Georgiana Darcy to main character, there was Presumption: An Entertainment, by Julia Barrett (1993). Of all of the minor characters in Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy’s younger sister is the logical choice to continue the story. She has many points in her favor. Being young, beautiful, wealthy, and accomplished she is certainly heroine material—and living at Pemberley with her brother Fitzwilliam and sister-in-law Elizabeth does not hurt either.

The first Pride and Prejudice sequel ever published, Pemberley Shades (1949), also continued her story. What could go wrong in this scenario you ask? Well plenty, if the author takes the liberties that Barrett does—but that does not mean the story is not enjoyable—if you can abide change, and the characters acting in conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, or lady. I will hint that the title Presumption foreshadows more than mirroring Austen’s use of verbs in her own titles. Continue reading “Presumption: An Entertainment: A Sequel to Pride and Prejudice, by Julia Barrett – A Review”

Austenesque, Book Reviews, Pride and Prejudice Sequels, Regency Era

The Passions of Dr. Darcy, by Sharon Lathan – A Review

The Passions of Mr. Darcy, by Sharon Lathan © 2013 SourcebooksFrom the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder: 

Some series are just too good to let go, whether they be movies, TV, or books. Sharon Lathan’s Darcy Saga, inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, is one such series. I’ve had the pleasure of reading all six of the previous novels, and I was sure that book seven, The Passions of Dr. Darcy, would not disappoint me in the least. So, without further ado, I sat down and began to read about another member of the Darcy family: Uncle George.

While a young Master Fitzwilliam Darcy is enjoying his childhood at Pemberley, another member of the Darcy family is out making a name for himself in the world. Dr. George Darcy, Fitzwilliam’s bright and engaging uncle, has quickly become noted around the countryside as one of the greatest physicians in the area. He enjoys all the attention, but becomes restless and decides to make a drastic change that will take him away from all the rich and bland clientele he is used to. So, he sets off on an assignment with the British East India Continue reading “The Passions of Dr. Darcy, by Sharon Lathan – A Review”

Book Reviews, Jane Austen Sequels Book Reviews

Attempting Elizabeth, by Jessica Grey – A Review

Image of the cover of the book Attempting Elizabeth, by Jessica Grey © 2013 Tall House BooksFrom the desk of Veronica Ibarra

Ever love a book so much that it is committed to memory? Have a favorite book that provides comfort and escape from life’s more troublesome realities? Pride and Prejudice is just such a book for many, including Kelsey Edmundson, the heroine of Jessica Grey’s new Jane Austen-inspired novel Attempting Elizabeth, who is magically transported through time and dimension jumping right into the story.

Kelsey is a grad student with a deep and abiding geeky love for TV, movies, and books, particularly Pride and Prejudice. She is also in recovery after a bad breakup. In an effort to help Kelsey get back into the game of life, her roommate Tori Mansfield coerces Kelsey into putting on her shortest dress and best boots for a night of dancing. Kelsey, however, is not at the top of her game, suffering through a dance with an overly grope-y acquaintance, manages to insult the Aussie hottie Mark Barnes, and then utterly fails to redeem herself as the evening comes to a close.

If that is not bad enough, the next day Kelsey’s given a second chance to make a better impression with Mark on a group hiking excursion. Unfortunately, hiking is not really Kelsey’s thing and her foul mood prompts more ill-judged comments. Then without a chance to freshen up, the group goes out for dinner, where Kelsey’s downward spiral continues as she spills her drink and the sight of the woman who had put the nail in the coffin of Kelsey’s last relationship hanging all over Mark sends her into a bit of self-pity relapse.

This is when Kelsey seeks comfort in the way so many of us can relate. Dressed in her “rattiest sweats” and armed with a glass of wine and her favorite book, she settles on the couch for some escapist reading. Kelsey escapes far more effectively than she intends as she comes to inexplicably inside the body of Georgiana Darcy. Kelsey is confused. Not only is she inside the world of her favorite book, but being Darcy’s sister is no way to enjoy the experience.

Kelsey’s efforts to cope with her “delusion” are hilarious until she finally discovers the key to returning to her reality. However, reality finds Kelsey still unable to say or do the right thing around Mark, who fate seems to keep throwing at her. Kelsey wonders if it was just a fluke that got her into Pride and Prejudice or if there is a way to repeat the experience. With the exciting discovery that it is possible, Kelsey’s mission becomes jumping into Elizabeth in order to be with Pride and Prejudice’s hero, Darcy. But Kelsey finds that becoming Elizabeth is not so easily done and that her emotional baggage may have something to do with it.

Through Kelsey’s various character jumping Grey demonstrates a keen understanding of the characters Jane Austen created, and also looks at them through the eyes of a modern woman dropped into their world as a participant and not merely as an observer. This presents an added challenge for Kelsey who must fight against her desire to deviate from Austen’s story or suffer on repeat—to truly understand that, you really have to read Attempting Elizabeth.

While Kelsey can jump into Pride and Prejudice and live there with the Regency society, it is Regency as Austen wrote about it. Still the need of maids for dressing, how bathing is handled, and even how relieving oneself is done are only hinted at, but not explored in detail. How the lack of indoor plumbing alone does not kill Kelsey’s determination to be Elizabeth can only be explained by her desire to be with the real Darcy. If you have read Pride and Prejudice then you know that Elizabeth and Darcy do not hit it off from the get go and that there is a lot of time between meetings, we are talking months of time. Even having an escape hatch, I am not sure I would have the same determination as Kelsey.

Kelsey’s journey to true love and through the pages of Pride and Prejudice is fun and quirky. Her internal dialogue is full of references to things Austen would have known nothing about, such Star Wars and Quantum Leap. At the beginning of every chapter there is a quote from a movie, television show, or book, but the details are not given until the end of the story. I am not sure if Grey intended it to be a guessing game or not, but I had fun playing it that way as I read. I got sixteen out of twenty-two. Not sure how geeky that makes me, maybe slightly above average. It is also kind of interesting how the quotes fit with the chapters, but even without them the book is a fun read I would recommend.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Attempting Elizabeth, by Jessica Grey
Tall House Books (2013)
Trade paperback (320) pages
ISBN: 978-0985039660

Cover image courtesy © 2013 Tall House Books; text © 2013 Veronica Ibarra, Austenprose

Austenesque, Book Reviews, Regency Era

Return to Longbourn: The Next Chapter in the Continuing Story of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, by Shannon Winslow – A Review

Image of the book cover of Return to Longbourn, by Shannon Winslow (2013) © Heather Ridge Arts 2013From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder: 

Ever since Shannon Winslow debuted with The Darcys of Pemberley (DoP) in 2011, she’s been an Austen fan-fiction author that I’ve kept on my radar. In the two years since she published DoP I’ve not only read everything else she’s written, For Myself Alone (2012) and Mr. Collins’s Last Supper (2012), but have shared countless conversations with her about life, Austen, and everything in between. She is a woman that truly understands people and deep feelings. It’s easy to understand this without knowing her when you read her latest novel Return to Longbourn. The depth of feeling that the characters go through by the end of the novel is nothing short of astounding.

Mary Bennet is happily ensconced at Netherfield Park as the governess for the Farnsworth family. All is well in her life until her father suddenly passes away. Back at home in mourning with her family she realizes how alone she feels. Her sisters Elizabeth and Jane have their husbands to turn to, while Kitty has Lydia. She feels that her only value is to remain stoic and take care of the household while the rest of her sisters fall apart emotionally. It’s this event that triggers a sudden heaviness in her life. When it’s announced that her cousin Tristan Collins (the heir to Longbourn) will be notified of Mr. Bennet’s death, well, that’s when her life turns a bit hectic. Mrs. Bennet announces her plan to have Kitty marry Mr. Collins so that they can remain at Longbourn, while Kitty confides to Mary that she is planning her escape to Pemberley. Mary understands Kitty’s reluctance to enter a marriage without love and agrees to keep their new cousin occupied until Kitty is summoned back to Longbourn. Much to everyone’s surprise, Tristan Collins arrives and is the complete opposite of his odious older brother William in every way. Mary feels herself beginning to fall in love with him and internally questions her decision to live her life without the love of a man. Add to all of this the bipolar friendship she maintains with her employer, the widowed Mr. Farnsworth, and you have the makings of much soul searching. Will Mr. Collins return her feelings? How will Mr. Farnsworth deal with her possible leaving Netherfield Park?

Upon first glance, many readers will find this to be a story about love, and in some aspects, redemption.  The deeper, more beautiful story to take away from this novel is that of a young woman trying desperately to find her place in a world where she begins to feel valueless. Winslow’s Mary (and Austen’s too) is a stoic individual, not much taken with the fancies of romance, men, balls, or fine clothes. She much prefers to toil her hours away with books and reading. She can at times be a woman of unyielding character, but deep down past this hardened exterior is a woman just like any other. She wants to have a purpose, she wants friendship, and yes, she even longs for love. In Return to Longbourn, we see a Mary who is beginning to question the way she has lived her life emotionally. Add to that the grief from her father’s death and the relationships of her sisters and brothers-in-law, and you find a very lost woman indeed. All of this coupled together makes Mary a very relatable character. For who among us can claim to never have felt lost in their own skin and unable to make sense of a multitude of new and unusual emotions? Continue reading “Return to Longbourn: The Next Chapter in the Continuing Story of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, by Shannon Winslow – A Review”

Austenesque, Book Reviews, Regency Era

One Thread Pulled: The Dance with Mr. Darcy (Volume 1), By Diana J. Oaks – A Review

Image of the book cover of One Thread Pulled: A Dance with Mr Darcy (Volume 1), by Diana J. Oaks From the desk of Jeffrey Ward

How differently would Pride and Prejudice have proceeded if Miss Elizabeth Bennet had not overheard Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy’s insulting remarks during the Meryton assembly?  Differently? Yes, very-very differently according to this debut author’s totally diverting and brilliant re-imagining of Jane Austen’s timeless romance.

Starting at page one and continuing all the way to page 457 (rather lengthy for a work of this nature), it never falls off or fails to delight at any point or on any page. So, if you love Elizabeth and Darcy, please read on…..

Two years in the writing, and perhaps more in research, validate the author’s mastery of the Regency period, especially her intimate portrayals of Elizabeth and Darcy, clear down to the least significant character. I am astonished at how the author totally re-charts the course of Miss Austen’s most famous story, yet manages to respectfully maintain and indeed significantly expand upon the expected attributes of its most important personalities. Just about every Austen character makes an appearance and I love the way the author chooses to highlight Miss Anne de Bourgh, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, Miss Caroline Bingley, and Miss Georgiana Darcy. Just name ANY other character from P&P; they’re all in there in some capacity.

The story centers on Netherfield, Meryton, and Longbourne with a brief Sojourn to London. That would seem restrictive for a lengthy novel but this plot device allows the author to deftly focus on the complex and ever-evolving emotional relationship between the heroine and hero. With the “prejudice” portion removed, the encounters between Miss Bennet and Mr. Darcy begin with initial wariness but grow gradually to respect, regard, affection, and ultimately love. The angst generated over this two-steps-forward-one-step-back romance is the foundation that makes this story so irresistibly seductive.

Putting aside my blathering plaudits, how better to recommend this book than to read samples of the author’s delicate wit? Darcy and Elizabeth meet by chance on their outings as they witness a beautiful sunrise. The incongruity is priceless as Miss Bennet admires nature but Mr. Darcy admires only her, yet cannot gain her regard.

“Look, Mr. Darcy.  Is the sight before you not a fair prospect?  I do not know how to bear it sometimes, to gaze upon such beauty and not be able to ever hold it, to be limited to just looking.  It seems a hardship.”  “Yes,” Mr. Darcy said, looking at Elizabeth, the sunlight glinting off her hair, and her face flushed from exertion.  “I believe I understand how you feel.” p. 145

Here is a rousing verbal joust between two strong personalities as Darcy’s insistence on teaching Elizabeth how to ride disguises enormous romantic implications:

“I taught Georgiana.” Darcy replied.  Elizabeth shook her head. “I do not feel safe on a horse.”  “you will be safe with me,” Darcy said.  “How many ways must I refuse before you relent?” Elizabeth laughed.  “How many times must I offer before you accept?” Darcy countered with a smile.  “It is not in me to back down, Miss Bennet.  Once I have set my course, I persist.  “Mr. Darcy, it is my course you are setting, not your own.” Elizabeth replied.” p. 221

I laughed over this classic regency eaves-dropping moment as Mr. Darcy leaves Elizabeth’s sick bed following a supposed private attempt to confess his love for her:

Darcy backed silently to the door where he would leave, his eyes never leaving the woman he hoped to make his wife.  Upon reaching the door, he opened it, only to find that Jane, Bingley, Anne and the colonel were all pressed up against it.  Only the colonel actually fell. p. 276

I must make mention of some threads not “pulled” but “woven in” by the author that may raise both curiosity and doubt: Mr. Collins attempting to compromise Elizabeth Bennet? Miss Caroline Bingley mentally unsound? Elizabeth Bennet collapsing in the middle of the Netherfield ball? Mr. Wickham extorting Mr. Darcy? Mr. Bennet’s almost impossible courtship demands on Darcy and Elizabeth? Mr. Bingley’s secret sister? Mr. Collins’s entail invalid? As I initially read these threads, I thought “That’s far-fetched.” No worries whatsoever, because the author neatly and plausibly explains each of them in a very convincing and satisfactory manner which makes the entire book breathlessly unpredictable.

The conclusion comes abruptly and would be a disappointment for most readers if a sequel was not forthcoming.  It is! This reviewer keeps top-five lists of his very favorite works from a variety of genres and this one has easily parked itself in my top 5 list for favorite regency romances which puts it in with some distinguished titles indeed. That upcoming sequel, Constant as the Sun, can’t get into my hands quickly enough!

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

One Thread pulled: The Dance with Mr. Darcy (Volume 1), By Diana J. Oaks
CreateSpace (2012)
Trade paperback (456) pages
ISBN: 978-1475149616

Cover image courtesy ©Diana J. Oaks 2012; text ©Jeffrey Ward 2013