Polite Society: A Novel, by Mahesh Rao–A Review

Image of the cover of Polite Society, by Mahesh Rao (2019)From the desk of Katie Patchell:

I have loved Jane Austen’s Emma for as long as I can remember. Yes—I mean that literally. When I was six, my first introduction to the Regency and the magnificent world of Jane Austen began with a battered VHS copy (Gwyneth Paltrow/Jeremy Northam version) and, well, has never ended.

In fact, my first classic ever read was a neon yellow copy of Emma gifted for Christmas at the age of ten. It is now battered and torn, but will forever hold a place on my shelves. To me, the heroine Emma has always gone beyond the place of a lovable but mistaken fictional friend; she’s been in some ways, a mirror of myself. Perhaps this quality is why people love to hate her – she reflects how we all would be if given enough time, money, and influence. And that is: Sure that our way is the best way. Mahesh Rao’s Polite Society shows a world and cast of characters where this idea is everything.

Retellings can always be tricky – there’s a whole host of questions we ask ourselves. Will the modern setting give or detract something from the original? How much do morals connect to ethics, and ethics to society’s rules, and society’s rules to good behavior? Etc. etc. etc. We as readers can forgive much, including creative license with the original, as long as we find some kind of spark. Of wit, or romance, or searing visions of who we are (when we didn’t even realize it)…any or all of these can grab us and not let go. Polite Society attempts all of this, and its success depends on the reader.

Self-styled by Rao, a lifelong fan of Jane Austen, as a book that “mines a much darker seam” than Crazy Rich Asians (a book it’s already being compared to), Polite Society definitely accomplishes this vision. Ania Khurana, the 21st-century version of Emma Woodhouse, and the elite in Delhi are terrible. Oh, I can make all kinds of beautifully polite parallels between the glittering sparkle of diamonds and Ania’s society, but at the core, their world is shallow and rotting. Rao has the eye and the heart of an anthropologist. He writes the elite with all their poison, all their attempts at climbing higher and higher on their social ladder, with a just pen. In the middle of the well-written nastiness, there are surprising moments of kindness (Dev/Mr. Knightley), true interest in others (Renu Khurana/Mrs. Weston), and self-realization (Colonel Rathore/Mr. Weston). Continue reading

The Rose Girls, by Victoria Connelly – A Review

The Rose Girls, by Victoria Connelly (2015)From the desk of Katie Patchell: 

One crumbling manor house. Three estranged sisters. And a garden full of roses. All of these and more are ingredients in The Rose Girls, the latest novel by Victoria Connolly, author of the currently six-book Austen Addicts series. While not a book connected to Jane Austen’s novels or the Regency period, The Rose Girls is a story that shares timeless themes from Austen’s own masterpieces: the importance of family, forgiveness, healing, nature, and love.

After the news that her mother recently died of cancer, Celeste Hamilton is called back home to Little Eleigh Manor and Hamilton Roses, the family rose business, to support her two sisters. Still recovering from a divorce and memories of a painful childhood, Celeste plans only on spending a few weeks at her old home to sort through things and comfort her sisters, before escaping with her dog, Frinton, to somewhere much better and (hopefully) memory-free. On arriving back at her family home, Celeste realizes her responsibilities are much more than she bargained for. Little Eleigh Manor desperately needs repairs, and she’s the only sister willing to sell possessions to keep the house from (quite literally) falling down around them.

Supported by her sister Gertie, resented by her other sister Evie, and hearing the echoes of her mother’s past verbal abuse in her ears as she wanders Little Eleigh Manor’s halls, Celeste is surprisingly comforted by the forgotten beauty of the roses her family has grown and sold for years. With her beloved sisters distant and hiding their own secrets, and a friendly, perceptive, and surprisingly young art auctioneer interested in more than just family paintings, Celeste finds reasons to put off her escape for a few more weeks—and with her two sisters, a few roses, and a lot of love, forgive the past and change the future. Continue reading

Aerendgast: The Lost History of Jane Austen Blog Tour with Author Rachel Berman

Aerendgast The Lost History Rachel Berman 2015 x 200Please help me welcome debut author Rachel Berman to Austenprose today on the first stop of her blog tour in celebration of the release of Aerendgast: The Lost History of Jane Austen published by Meryton Press. Inspired by actual events in Jane Austen’s life, Rachel has generously contributed a guest blog sharing her thoughts about her writing experience.

If you are as curious by the title of this novel as I was, you might want to read this preview and excerpt that we presented last month, and then join the blog tour as it continues through March 18. There will be reviews, interviews and giveaways along the way.   Continue reading

Aerendgast: The Lost History of Jane Austen, by Rachel Berman – A Preview & Exclusive Excerpt

Aerendgast The Lost History Rachel Berman 2015 x 200Jane Austen inspired novels now number in the thousands. While many of these stories are sequels, continuations and what-if’s of her popular novels, very few are based her life. This type of Austenesque novel is called a fictional biography—a skillful blending of known facts, family lore, and fiction into an original narrative. A few of my favorites in this sub-genre are Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas,  the twelfth in the Being a Jane Austen Mystery series by Stephanie Barron, The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen and Jane Austen’s First Love, by Syrie James and The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen, by Shannon Winslow.

A new bio-fic inspired by Jane Austen’s life is in the queue this month from Meryton Press. Aerendgast: The Lost History of Jane Austen, by Rachel Berman is a literary mystery spanning contemporary and historical times with a bit of paranormal magic. The author has generously shared an excerpt with us today to give us a teaser. I hope you enjoy it. Continue reading

Lizzy & Jane: A Novel, by Katherine Reay – A Preview and Exclusive Excerpt

Lizzy and Jane Katherine Reay 2014 x 200We don’t run across new authors that we can rave about very often. We are very particular about our reading material, so when the planets and stars align, we like to gloat and boast “I told you so.” Such was the case with Katherine Reay’s debut novel Dear Mr. Knightley. We had the honor of reading it before publication and meeting the author in person. To say that the novel was as refreshing and elegant as its author is an understatement. When it won the ACFW’s Carol award for best Contemporary Novel and best Debut Novel, our head was as big as a pumpkin.

Now I am very happy to introduce you to her sophomore effort, Lizzy & Jane, just published by Thomas Nelson. Like Katherine’s first novel it is lightly inspired by Jane Austen and not a sequel or retelling per se. The two sisters are as different in personality as Austen’s Marianne & Elinor Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility, but they also exhibit similarities to siblings Elizabeth & Jane Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. Interestingly, one character loves reading Austen and the other not so much. Like many of Austen’s heroines, Lizzy & Jane face big conflicts and challenges in their lives. Here is an exclusive excerpt chosen by the author which illustrates her endearing style and charm.

PREVIEW (from the publisher’s description) 

Sometimes the courage to face your greatest fears comes only when you’ve run out of ways to escape.

At the end of a long night, Elizabeth leans against the industrial oven and takes in her kingdom. Once vibrant and flawless, evenings in the kitchen now feel chaotic and exhausting. She’s lost her culinary magic, and business is slowing down.

When worried investors enlist the talents of a tech-savvy celebrity chef to salvage the restaurant, Elizabeth feels the ground shift beneath her feet. Not only has she lost her touch; she’s losing her dream.

And her means of escape.

When her mother died, Elizabeth fled home and the overwhelming sense of pain and loss. But fifteen years later, with no other escapes available, she now returns. Brimming with desperation and dread, Elizabeth finds herself in the unlikeliest of places, by her sister’s side in Seattle as Jane undergoes chemotherapy.

As her new life takes the form of care, cookery, and classic literature, Elizabeth is forced to reimagine her future and reevaluate her past. But can a New York City chef with a painful history settle down with the family she once abandoned . . . and make peace with the sister who once abandoned her?

Continue reading

Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Bet, by Marilyn Brant – A Review

Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Bet, by Marilyn Brant (2014)From the desk of Katie Patchell: 

Why is it that Jane Austen’s novels, particularly Pride and Prejudice, have had so many continuations, sequels, and contemporary versions based off of the originals? It’s not just the fact that her books are classics—after all, you don’t see many contemporary versions of Jane Eyre. Or Dickens. How many modern versions of Oliver Twist have you read lately? Don’t get me wrong—the brooding hero, quiet governess, gothic mystery, and melodrama are characters and themes loved by many fans, but there’s just something about Jane Austen’s wit, happy endings, realistic romance, and down-to-earth heroes and heroines that transcends space and time. Whereas Jane Eyre and Oliver Twist (and countless other classics) can only be updated with difficulty because of their two-dimensional characters and highly improbable circumstances, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Persuasion, etc. have complex characters facing realistic issues, and can be updated to virtually any situation, generation, or social class.

In Marilyn Brant’s latest contemporary reimagining, Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Bet, the story focuses not on Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, but rather on the often-overlooked secondary characters in Austen’s original, Jane Bennet and Mr. Bingley, as they participate in the perfect bet—the bet of true love!

Bingley McNamara has only known one female who hasn’t fallen for his charming front, and he has the current misfortune to be constantly thrown together with her as the Best Man and Maid of Honor at his cousin’s wedding. Ever since his kiss with Jane Henderson at Beth Ann Bennet and Will Darcy’s engagement party, the Maid of Honor’s been giving him the silent treatment. With a hatred of being ignored almost as high as his hatred of being disliked, Bingley sets out to exploit the one chink in her perfect armor—her temper. Everyone else seems taken in by her nice front, but he’s convinced—with teasing, irritation, and of course, betting—that he can draw out her angry side. Continue reading

Pride’s Prejudice: A Novel, by Misty Dawn Pulsipher – A Review

Pride's Prejudice by Misty Dawn Pulispher 2014 x 200From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder:

We all make first impressions. Every time we meet a stranger we immediately form an initial opinion, whether it be good, bad, objective, subjective, or any other form. Sometimes, after meeting this person, his/her actions fall so far opposite to your initial impression that it simply astounds you. I myself am guilty of developing a wrong first impression. When I first met my husband, I felt he was a bit odd. Yet here we are, still blissfully happy after 9 years! Anyway, back to wrong first impressions. Such was the case with Beth Pride in Pride’s Prejudice by Misty Dawn Pulsipher, who after seeing a handsome man at a benefit auction soon realized he was, in fact, an arrogant and selfish idiot. Does her original assessment do William Darcy justice? First, some backstory:

At the Hartford College Children’s Benefit Auction, a chance to dance with Beth, along with other women in attendance, is auctioned off. Dejected after no one bids on her, her hopes are lifted when Darcy steps forward, only to be crushed shortly thereafter when he pays the bid and leaves her, telling her he only felt sorry for her. She then decides to never speak to this man again, but sadly her plans are foiled when her roommate Jenna begins to date Darcy’s best friend, Les. While they are again thrust into each other’s company, Beth continues to try and keep up her hatred of Darcy, but his looks and surprising banter make a serious attempt at breaking down that wall. She begins to rethink her original assessment of Darcy but doesn’t want to fall for this handsome man a second time without seriously thinking it through. Will Beth’s pride (no pun intended) keep her from letting her true feelings out, or can she learn to trust this man who she up until recently has sworn off?

When I first started reading this novel, the writing voice was a bit odd. The book changes tenses from using pronouns to describe the characters to using their names. After a few chapters, however, this change seemed to be for the better and became permanent, and I began to become more involved in the story. One of my favorite aspects of Pulsipher’s story is that she was able to take events that would be difficult to translate now (i.e. Jane can’t leave Netherfield Park due to her cold) and believably contemporize them. For example, the above storyline turned into a sprained ankle on a camping trip that kept all of the characters in a centralized location due to a mudslide on a mountain. Continue reading

Passionate Persuasion: A Date by Mistake Novella, by Rosemary Clement-Moore – A review

Passionate Persusion Clement Moore 2014 x 200From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder:

Perhaps one of the most relatable parts of any book is heartbreak. Most of us have experienced it, and it leaves one with such sorrow and sadness that won’t soon be forgotten. Such is what makes the story between Anne and Frederick in Jane Austen’s Persuasion so riveting. When considering a modern retelling of this story, why not try and imagine it from a flipped perspective, with the man doing the heartbreaking and the woman being wooed. Such is the case with Rosemary Clement-Moore’s Passionate Persuasion, where we meet Alex and Kiara, an everyday couple who experience their own version of heartbreak and rekindled affections.

Alex and Kiara have a past, not unlike many couples in today’s society. After having dated for a while in college, Alex unexpectedly and suddenly ended their relationship, and the two drift apart, losing contact after graduation. Nothing about this past is extraordinary, except for the fact that it all comes roaring back eight years later after Kiara and Alex meet again at what Kiara thought was supposed to be a blind date at a bar. While trying to compose herself from the shock of seeing Alex after so much time has passed, Kiara has to try even harder to maintain her composure after she realizes Alex is coming on to her with no reservations. Will drudging up old emotions bring back the fire of their relationship, or is it destined to bring up the pain of their breakup all over again?

So what roped me into this novella was definitely the character of Kiara (Anne Elliot.) She’s pretty badass and snarky from the moment we first meet her. Having gone through heartbreak myself, I could totally relate to how she built walls up around her heart for protective purposes.  From the moment that Kiara and Alex meet again, the dialogue filled with snark and double-entendres was both hot and hysterical at the same time. Alex has a great way of interjecting statements into their dialogue that forces Kiara to realize that he knows her and to remember what she was like before all those walls were erected. A great example of this was this particular exchange between Alex and Kiara: Continue reading

Unleashing Mr. Darcy, by Teri Wilson – A Review

Unleashing Mr. Darcy, by Teri Wilson (2013)From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder:

Contemporary Pride and Prejudice re-tellings are my second favorite types of Jane Austen fan fiction. (What-ifs own my heart!) I love seeing how authors attempt to believably transport Elizabeth, Darcy, and their story into a modern setting. Seeing the juxtaposition of such a timeless story with modern technology and social cues is always an interesting and fun experiment. Therefore, when I saw Unleashing Mr. Darcy by Teri Wilson available on NetGalley I knew I had to request it! Mr. Darcy and dogs? Could there be a better combination of things on Earth!?

Elizabeth Scott has no need for a man in her life. Especially after the havoc, one man, in particular, wreaked on her career.  The only thing in her life she cares for now is her show dog, Bliss, whom she shows at competitions and loves more than life itself. After a scandal rocks her career as a teacher in Manhattan, she finds a way out of the mess by agreeing to care for a group of show dogs in England.  Now thousands of miles from her problems, she breathes a sigh of relief, until a Mr. Donovan Darcy takes her breath away. A wealthy dog breeder from London, Darcy has a healthy dose of arrogance to counterbalance his charm, and Elizabeth seems determined to ignore him and devote her time to her dogs. However, she can’t deny the sparks that are beginning to fly between them, and she must make a choice: should she stay single or let another person join her pack?

I was completely charmed by this Pride and Prejudice re-telling! From Elizabeth and Donovan’s first meeting I was hooked. Their flirtatious dialogue was a perfect blend of equal annoyance and attraction to each other. I looked forward to each scene they shared with an eagerness I haven’t felt in a long time. I simply could not read fast enough. When I finished reading the entire book I was so disappointed that it was over, I promptly started it again. I should also mention how effortlessly the world of dog showing was weaved into their relationship and the story overall. Although at first you wouldn’t imagine show dogs in a traditional love story, Wilson made the two pair wonderfully. Continue reading