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! 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? 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? 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? Continue reading

My Own Mr. Darcy, by Karey White – A Review

My Own Mr Darcy, by Karey White (2013)From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder:

How often do we envision the partner we will (hopefully) spend the rest of our lives with? What will he/she look like? For those of us who have read Pride and Prejudice, I’m sure Mr. Darcy has played a part in those visions. Anyone fortunate enough to have seen the 2005 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice knows Matthew Macfadyen’s portrayal of Darcy is a good place to start (I’m a Colin Firth girl myself though!) When I heard that Karey White had written a book about the pursuit of a perfect Mr. Darcy a la the wonderful 2005 film adaptation, I figured I had to give it a try.  My Own Mr. Darcy is the title, and it is an interesting idea to say the least.

Elizabeth has seen the man she wants to have for the rest of her life. The only problem is that he is Matthew Macfadyen as Mr. Darcy in the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice. After Elizabeth first glimpses Macfadyen when she watches the movie with her mother, she vows to never date another man until she finds one that matches her idealistic views. However, this seems to do her more harm than good, as six years pass without Elizabeth going on a single date. Finally, Elizabeth is convinced by her roommate to attempt ten dates with a man named Chad. Although she finds the idea revolting, she soon finds that Chad is kind and down to earth. As a school science teacher and swim coach, Chad is not the kind of guy that Elizabeth envisioned herself dating. However, while dating Chad, she meets Matt Dawson, a wealthy bookstore owner who appears to be everything she saw in Mr. Darcy from the beginning. However, as she gets to know Matt, she finds that what she originally wanted in a man may have been wrong from the beginning. Will Chad’s nondescript background be enough to sway Elizabeth from the dazzling Matt Dawson? Continue reading

Sense and Sensibility: The Austen Project, by Joanna Trollope – A Review

Sense and Sensibility: The Austen Project, by Joanna Trollope (2013)From the desk of Katie Patchell”

Many books have been written to continue the stories of the characters that Jane Austen created, including sequels, prequels, continuations, and diaries. Most of these books have been written about the most popular of her novels, Pride and Prejudice while ignoring some of her other different, but equally well-written and beautiful novels–Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, Emma, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion. Now for the first time, all six of Jane Austen’s books have been re-imagined and set in the 21st century. The Austen Project has started their new series with an update of Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope—a version filled with unique problems and surprises from today’s world, while still holding true to some of the qualities in Jane Austen’s original novel that makes Sense and Sensibility a timeless tale of sisterhood and second chances.

Invariably, as with all modern retellings, things were left out or changed that were in Jane Austen’s original. While the basic plot stays the same, Joanna Trollope’s Sense and Sensibility has some minor differences in characters and culture—an understandable change because of the different time setting. The updated characters include: Colonel (Bill) Brandon–who converted Delaford into a rehab for drug and alcohol addicts, Edward Ferrars–the philanthropic black sheep of his family, Elinor–the practical student of architecture who has to financially (and emotionally) support her two sisters and mother, Belle Dashwood–Elinor and Marianne’s free-spirited and sentimental mother, Margaret–the moody teenager who is addicted to Facebook, Twitter, and her iPod, Marianne–the guitar-playing romantic who suffers from severe asthma attacks, and John (Wills) Willoughby–the very hot and seemingly rich playboy. Continue reading

Austensibly Ordinary, by Alyssa Goodnight – A Review

Austensibly Ordinary, by Alyssa Goodnight (2013)From the desk of Lisa Galek

What’s an average girl to do when she wants to add some excitement and romance to her life? Just ask Jane Austen, of course! Sure, she’s been dead for nearly 200 years, but there are ways around that little problem.

Cate Kendall spends her days teaching the classics like Emma to a group of quasi-bored high school students and her nights dreaming of doing something adventurous. The most excitement she’s got going on in her life is her weekly Scrabble games against her best friend, and fellow teacher, Ethan Chavez. When Cate receives an invitation to an Alfred Hitchcock-themed party in Austin, Texas, she realizes this is her chance to reinvent herself into the sexy woman of mystery she’s always dreamt of becoming.

But, as she’s preparing her transformation, Cate finds a centuries-old diary. It’s blank inside, but the inscription on the first page is a quote from none other than Jane Austen herself. Cate decides to use the diary to record her new adventures and plans. What she doesn’t expect is for the diary to start writing back. And that it actually has some pretty good advice… the kind of stuff that Jane herself might say.

Slowly, Cate realizes the truth about the diary. But will she take its advice and find the love she’s been waiting for – her own Mr. Darcy or Mr. Knightley? Or will she wind up unwittingly chasing Mr. Wickham as part of her daring new lifestyle?

Austensibly Ordinary is really a fun, light romp into the world of Jane Austen and romance. I loved how the story stays tethered to Austen, though she wasn’t the entire focus. Cate loves and teaches Austen novels and, obviously, the diary is tied to Jane, but otherwise, most of the other characters live normal, Jane Austen-free lives. Ethan doesn’t even like Mr. Darcy, and yet I still found him charming. Now that’s saying something.

I don’t think it’s spoiling too much to say that I loved the will-they-won’t-they dynamic between Cate and Ethan. From the very first chapter, when we see him playing Scrabble with Cate, the sparks are flying (though, of course, Cate doesn’t know it). The dialogue and banter between them was sharp, sexy, and fun. And when the details about Ethan’s secret background came out, it really heightened the tension between them.

The other characters were both funny and memorable. Cate’s recently divorced mother who is a bit of a cougar hunting for younger men, her sister, Gemma, a grad student, who moonlights as a sex phone operator, and Cate’s friends, especially the ghost-hunting Courtney, were all quirky, interesting, and all-around hilarious.

The book is also very, very sexy without getting graphic. The author is really skilled at the slow burn. She draws out every situation until you’re waiting with baited breath for the characters to just go ahead and kiss already. But, when a couple makes their way to the bedroom we don’t follow behind. For some readers that will be a relief, for others a disappointment. I thought it was really well done, but I’m not much into those Fifty Shades of Gray level sex scenes.

Overall, the writing is good. The dialogue especially jumps out and really gives the characters life. Though, during some of the quick exchanges, I found Cate’s constant stream of thoughts a bit intrusive. No one thinks that much. Especially not someone who is in the middle of some particularly snappy banter with the guy she has a crush on.

There were also a few situations that seemed a bit out of place. I didn’t really care for the ending where Cate finally gets the guy. Without giving away anything, I just thought it was a little off, though it didn’t completely ruin the story for me. There’s also a scene where the ghost of Jane Austen appears in a public bathroom. But, hey, once you accept that a magic, advice-giving journal is hanging around, I guess anything goes.

And, speaking of endings, until I got there, I didn’t realize that this book is actually a sequel of sorts to Alyssa Goodnight’s other novel, Austentatious. They both follow the same structure – single woman finds a mysterious Austen-inspired diary. Cate actually discovers the diary after the heroine from the first book drops it off at a random location in Austin.

For a fun, light, sexy romance, I’d definitely recommend Austensibly Ordinary. I was happy to see that, in the end, Cate also passed on the diary to some other unsuspecting future heroine. I know I’ll be putting both the first book and any others in this series on my reading list very soon.

4 out of 5 Stars

Austensibly Ordinary, by Alyssa Goodnight
Kensington (2013)
Trade paperback (320) pages
ISBN: 978-0758267450

© 2013 Lisa Galek, Austenprose