A Weekend with Mr. Darcy, by Victoria Connelly – A Review

A Weekend with Mr. Darcy, by Victoria Connelly (2011)I am amazed at how many Austenesque novels continue to have “Mr. Darcy” worked into the title. Recently there has been: A Wife for Mr. Darcy, by Mary Lydon Simonsen, The Trouble with Mr. Darcy, by Sharon Lathan, The Truth about Mr. Darcy, by Susan Adriani, Mr. Darcy and the Secret of Becoming a Gentleman, by Maria Hamilton, Only Mr. Darcy Will Do, by Kara Louise, What Would Mr. Darcy Do?, by Abigail Reynolds and ironically Mr. Darcy Goes Overboard, by Belinda Roberts – and that is only in the last four months!!! Gentle readers, have we indeed gone overboard over Mr. Darcy? *shudder* Can there ever be too much Mr. Darcy?

As I opened A Weekend with Mr. Darcy, yet another new novel featuring Jane Austen’s romantic icon of Nonpareil in its title, it was difficult not to feel a rush of astonishment. What could Victoria Connelly possibly offer that has not already been said several times in historical, contemporary or paranormal versions? The back blurb looked promising: “Surrounded by appalling exes and fawning students, the only think keeping professor Katherine Roberts sane is Jane Austen, and her secret love for racy Regency romance novels. She thinks the Jane Austen Addicts weekend will be the perfect getaway. Maybe she’ll even meet her own personal Mr. Darcy… Breezy and beautifully witty, internationally bestselling author Victoria Connelly’s charming modern love story will appeal to all Jane Austen fanatics… and anyone who loves a good romance.” OK. So I’m an admitted Jane Austen fanatic and also love a good romance… this was a good start.

Set in contemporary England, we are introduced to the two main characters, singletons Katherine Roberts, a young and beautiful Oxford professor, and Robyn Love, a romantic idealist North Yorkshire receptionist. They are both bound for an idyllic Jane Austen weekend retreat at Purley Hall in the countryside of Hampshire, not far from Janeite Mecca – Steventon, where she was born and raised, and Chawton Cottage, where she wrote many of her novels. Also secretly headed to the retreat is famous Regency romance novelist Lorna Warwick who has been privately corresponding with Katherine for months, building a strong friendship but remaining an enigma to her. Even though she is an international bestselling author, she has never given a personal interview, nor allowed pictures to be published of herself. Lorna is captivated by Katherine and arrives at the retreat incognito – as Warwick Lawton. (Spoiler) Yes, Lorna Warwick is a man.

Both ladies have their complicated romantic past following them to the retreat. Katherine can’t seem to connect with the right man and prefers to fall in love with Jane Austen’s fictional world of Mr. Darcy, Captain Wentworth and Henry Tilney, easily finding solace in her obsession of heroes because there are so few real ones. Robyn on the other hand is a pure romantic. “Life for her was never as good as it was in fiction.” She is in a longstanding (but unfulfilling) relationship with Jason Collins. Unfortunately she does not know why she stays with Jace. They have nothing in common and the thought of being Mrs. Collins (the same last name as Jane Austen’s odious Reverend Collins in Pride and Prejudice) is unbearable. When he insists upon tagging along on her Jane Austen weekend, staying in a nearby Inn, she is both annoyed and suspicious.

The perfect summer fantasy Austenesque novel, A Weekend with Mr. Darcy supplies all the elements on this scrutinizing Janeite’s checklist: stunning early eighteenth-century country manor house, cast of colorful & humorous secondary characters, emotional roadblocks and misunderstandings, and two heroines in need of some personal growth before they can fall in love. Connelly’s enthusiastic knowledge of Jane Austen is solid and her writing style is fresh and funny.

Will A Weekend with Mr. Darcy get lost in the sea of “Mr. Darcy” inspired novels flooding the market? Nope. It is the leader of the pack! Brava Ms. Connelly! Since this is the first in a trilogy, we are all anticipation from this very talented author.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

A Weekend with Mr. Darcy, by Victoria Connelly
Sourcebooks (2011)
Trade paperback (352) pages
ISBN: 978-1402251320

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

According to Jane, by Marilyn Brant – A Review

According to Jane, by Marilyn Brant (2009)Here’s a new novel that tugged at my heart strings and validated my belief that if the world was run according to Jane Austen, we would be much smarter and happier. Enuff said! 

Fifteen-year old Ellie Barnett is a bookish geek. She excels at academics, but according to her caustic older sister, she is digging herself into a hole of permanent unpopularity with her scraggly hair, lack of make-up, and inattention to fashion. There is however, one boy who since kindergarten has paid her a bit more attention than she is comfortable with. Sam Blaine may be good-looking, athletic, brainy, and popular – but he is trouble – and just happens to sit behind her in English class taunting her with pokes in the back with his pencil and sexual innuendo. When she cracks open her next reading assignment, a copy of Pride and Prejudice, she begins to hear voices. Jane Austen’s British voice to be exact, interjecting observations and advice, specifically warning Ellie to beware of Sam Blaine. He is her Wickham, that charming scoundrel that wooed Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice and then eloped with her younger sister Lydia. Ellie does not doubt the advice, just the whole hearing voices thing really freaks her out her out. Jane Austen’s spirit has somehow inhabited her mind, commenting in her acerbic early ninteenth-century sensibility on Ellie’s 1980’s life and romances and she does not know why. 

Over the course of twenty years, we follow Ellie through her life challenges as a single women looking for love and happiness in what Jane Austen deems to be a morally confusing world. Who of us could ever forget their own first love, the painful realization that you are being used, or the first time you were dumped? As Jane offers Ellie witty and wise advice on family conflicts, career choices, and a barrage of bad boyfriends that come and go, Ellie slowly realizes that she must learn some life lesson before she can move on. For Ellie, one painful lesson was bad-boy Sam who Jane advises to stay clear of yet she is still drawn too. As their lives keep crossing paths over the course of the years, they never seem to be at the right place at the right time to work it out. Ellie trusts and values Jane’s opinion. Who better to advise her than an author who is valued for her keen judgment of human nature and romantic insights? But with Sam, she holds strong prejudices. Could she be wrong? Is he really her Wickham, or could he be her Mr. Darcy? 

What an unexpected, uplifting, and urbane debut novel! To paraphrase Jane Austen’s character Lady Catherine, Marilyn Brant has given us a treasure. Granted that there are hundreds of Jane Austen inspired novels written over the years, this totally unique and original concept of Austen’s ghost inhabiting and advising a modern young woman is brilliant. The play of early nineteenth-century social mores against twentieth-century culture is so droll that I laughed-out-loud several times in total recognition. Like Austen, Brant excels at characterization offering a heroine in Ellie Barnett that I could totally identify with, and a hero in Sam that is so endearingly flawed that any woman worthy of her worn out VHS copy of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice miniseries will be happy to swoon over. Subtly powerful and amusingly acerbic, you will be gently reproved into agreeing in the power of love to transform us all. 

5 out of 5 Regency Stars 

According to Jane, by Marilyn Brant
Kensington Books (2009)
Trade paperback (352) pages
ISBN: 978-0758234612 

Additional Reviews 

Austenland: A Novel, by Shannon Hale – A Review

Austenland: A Novel, by Shannon Hale (2008)Mr. Darcy.  Mr. Darcy. Mr. Darcy. What is it about Jane Austen’s male protagonist in Pride and Prejudice — this aloof, arrogant man — that draws women to him like a moth to a flame? The mere mention of Mr. Darcy, sighs and dreamy-eyed, flushed expressions flourish.  But enough about me.  Back to  Austenland: A Novel. Author Shannon Hale undertakes modern day career woman, Jane Hayes and her secret addiction to the 1995 A&E television adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and all things Darcy (specifically the sexy, dripping-wet-shirt-out-of-the-lake scene Mr. Darcy, played by the handsome Colin Firth) and launches her into a fantasy vacation to Pembroke Park in England. Never heard of it? Neither did our female protagonist, who came up empty, even when she Googled it! As it turns out, she has inherited from an eccentric great aunt, an all-expense paid excursion to the ultra-exclusive country estate in Kent, catering to the romantic sensibilities of super-rich trophy wives whom, by the way, happen to be Austen fans or at least those who hold a tendresse for men in britches and Hessian boots. The brochure reads, “Enter our doors as a house guest come to stay three weeks, enjoying the country manners and hospitality – a tea visit, a dance or two, a turn in the park, an unexpected meeting with a certain gentleman, all culminating with a ball and perhaps something more… Here, the Prince Regent still rules a carefree England. No scripts.  No written endings. A holiday no one else can offer you.” 

And so, Hale’s Jane decides to indulge in this one last Pride and Prejudice hurrah before cutting her ties to Mr. Darcy forever. And by that, she means to get on with the business of her real life, relinquish her Regency Era fantasies, and quit comparing every man she meets to “you know who.”  Upon arrival at the estate, she is met by the shrewd proprietress Mrs. Wattlesbrook, who promptly renames our anxious Jane Hayes to Miss Jane Erstwhile, all the while explaining the strict rules and standards to maintain authenticity as well as dictating a brief course in Regency decorum. Quickly Jane tires of the uncomfortable clothing, over done role-playing and false pretenses, and is quite determined to find her own adventure – with Theodore, the gardener! After a bit of bungling about with Theodore and tripping all over herself with the other guests and actors, she finds that all is not as it appears. And like in so many other faulty choices in her real life, Jane finds she has been dilly-dallying with the wrong man. It was very easy to relate to Jane Haye’s Darcy -complex — and I found myself pleasantly yielding to her real life anxieties, disappointments and cheering for the pseudo Darcy character, Mr. Nobley (another of Hales fun, yet campy play with her character’s appellations.). My Janeite sensibilities were never in danger of offense, even by Hale’s blatantly contrived happy ending. Because we all know, happy endings were one of Jane Austen’s specialties. 

I admit that I didn’t buy Austenland in 2007 when it was first published as I thought the premise was kooky — obviously I have been taking myself way too seriously. I am kicking myself now for not having read this sooner!  This fun melodrama was an amusing page-turner leaving me wanting to know,  “Where do I make a reservation?”  If only.  *Sigh* Thank you Shannon Hale.  Your book left me with a happy heart! 

Christina

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Austenland: A Novel, by Shanon Hale
Trade paperback (208) pages
Bloomsbury USA (2008)
ISBN: 978-1596912861

Additional Reviews

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The Man Who Loved Jane Austen, by Sally Smith O’Rourke – A Review

Cover of The Man Who Loved Jane Austen, by Sally Smith O'Rourke (2008) Was fictional hero Fitzwilliam Darcy in Pride and Prejudice based on a real person who author Jane Austen met and fell in love with in 1810? In this reissue of her 2006 novel, author Sally Smith O’Rourke cleverly re-engages our fascination with Austen’s ultimate romantic hero Mr. Darcy and presents readers with a contemporary heroine pursuing the question if Darcy’s character was inspired by Austen’s personal experience?

New York City artist Eliza Knight is a 21st-century Austen fan who discovers two old letters tucked behind the mirror of her new antique vanity table addressed to “Dearest Jane” from F. Darcy, and the second unopened letter to Fitzwilliam Darcy, Chawton Great House. Puzzled, Eliza knows that Mr. Darcy is Jane Austen’s fictional creation and not a real person, or is he? Determined to find out if the letters are real or a crafty hoax, she presents them to an Austen scholar and Head of the Rare Document Department at the New York Public Library who skeptically examines them. When the scientific testing and hand writing analysis prove they are authentic, Eliza is shocked. In addition, she learns that another similar letter has recently surfaced leading her to its owner, a wealthy horse breeder in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Determined to meet him, she travels to his estate Pemberley Farms to learn about his interest in Jane Austen and why he shares Fitzwilliam Darcy’s name. When Eliza reveals to him that she has discovered additional letters similar to his, he is anxious to know at any price the content of the sealed letter and is very keen to purchase them. When she refuses to sell the two hundred year old letters, his intense reaction and admission that the message in the unopened letter was meant for him is unbelievable. Eliza knows that the notion is absurd, until he begins to tell her the entire amazing story.

This is not your typical Jane Austen sequel; in fact, it is not a sequel at all; falling into a uniquely new Austen book category – Austen paranormal mystery romance! To say more would spoil the multi-dimensional plot, but just imagine a blending of a Jane Austen biography, a contemporary romance novel and the movie Somewhere in Time and you might begin to understand my meaning. This is a ‘what if’ story that asks the reader to imagine another possibility of how Jane Austen was inspired to create her most alluring and romantic hero, Mr. Darcy. Austen purist will have to turn a blind eye to the historical and biographical flubs, (and there are more than a few), and disarm the ‘breach of etiquette’ alarm in their heads in order to just let go and enjoy the ride. Romance readers will take pleasure in Ms. O’Rourke’s breezy modern style which at times was dryly witty and at others hampered by contrite clichés. The possibility that Fitzwilliam Darcy was actually a real person is an intriguing notion that many Austen scholars have researched and enthusiasts have speculated upon for years. I commend her creativity in trying to fictionally answer the riddle but felt that the story could have been more convincing if she had taken her audience and herself more seriously. None-the-less, The Man Who Loved Jane Austen is a pure bit of escapist muslin that will in turns miff and amuse you.

3.5 out of 5 Regency Stars 

The Man Who Loved Jane Austen, by Sally Smith O’Rourke
Mass market paperback (303) pages
Kensington Publishing Corp, New York (2009)
ISBN: 978-0758210388

© 2009, Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose