Jane Austen Made Me Do It Short Story Contest submissions end – voting begins!

Jane Austen Made Me Do It Short Story Contest 2011 graphicCongratulations to the eighty eight (88) writers who submitted Austenesque stories to the Jane Austen Made Me Do It Short Story Contest. Well done indeed!

All of the stories are posted online at the official contest board, so please head on over and start reading before you cast your vote for your three favorite stories. Voting will continue until February 28, 2011 and the Top Ten will advance to the final selection committee. The lucky winner will be included in the new Austen-inspired short story anthology Jane Austen Made Me Do It, and be announced on 11 October 2011.

Cheers,

Laurel Ann

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

There Must be Murder, by Margaret C. Sullivan – A Review

There Must Be Murder, by Margaret C. Sullivan (2010)I was once told by an academic that Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey was the least read of her six major novels. Shocking. I can’t think why; or why we even need to rank masterpieces among masterpieces. I adore it. I will admit that it was the last of her major novels that I read, so I may be proof to her pudding. Yes, the academic shall remain unnamed and duly forgotten; but Northanger Abbey should not.

I sincerely regretted waiting so long to read it. I laughed and rolled my eyes at the incredible skill of Austen at parodying Gothic romances, and for creating a hero, unlike any of her others, whose sense of humor and endearing charm make the über romantic icon Mr. Darcy dull in comparison to Mr. Tilney’s sparkling wit. Who, pray tell, could not love a man who loves a woman who thinks she cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible, or who thinks people who have no pleasure in a good novel are intolerably stupid? *swoon*

Northanger Abbey sequels are as scarce as a comely heiress. I can count them on one hand. There Must Be Murder, by Margaret C. Sullivan is a welcome addition to the slim collection. At 118 pages and twelve chapters it qualifies as a novella. I am not complaining. At all. I will take a Jane Austen sequel continuing the story after the wedding of our heroine in the making Catherine Morland and Austen’s most underrated hero Henry Tilney without hesitation, but with a wary eye. The story has a promising beginning. The tone is pleasing and the reverence to canon characters a relief.

We find Catherine and Henry comfortably settled as newlyweds at Woodston parsonage in Gloucestershire. Ever the thoughtful romantic, Henry proposes that they celebrate the anniversary of their first meeting in Bath with a visit to the city. Once there they are reunited with Henry’s sister Eleanor and introduced to her new husband Lord Whiting. Also in attendance at the Lower Rooms is Henry’s father the dour autocrat General Tilney, his recently widowed wealthy neighbor Lady Beauclerk, her twenty-seven year-old unmarried daughter Judith, and her husband’s nephew and heir Sir Philip Beauclerk. Catherine is happy to dance the night away, while family differences bubble and stew.

Illustration by Cassandra Chouinard in There Must Be Murder, by Margaret C. Sullivan (2010)As Henry and Catherine continue to enjoy the delights of Bath attractions, they begin to learn that there are suspicious circumstances involving the death of General Tilney’s neighbor Sir Arthur Beauclerk brought forward by his widowed sister Fanny Findlay. She believes his death had not been natural – and it appears that many in this unhappy family would benefit from his early demise. The suspects stack up like winter cordwood ready for the fire. Is it the wife, Lady Beauclerk, eager to be free of his miserly pocketbook?  The daughter, Miss Judith, squashed by parental oppression? The dissipated nephew, Sir Philip, prohibiting his uncle from changing the will? Or the sister, Mrs. Findlay, ready to bump off all the heirs in line before her to regain the family fortune? Catherine’s Gothic inspired imagination may serve her well as a detective, if Henry can temper her impulses and guide them to a logical conclusion.

There Must Be Murder had me hooked at Henry reading Udolpho, Anne Radcliffe’s classic Gothic novel, to his young bride in bed. Brilliant. It is exactly how I envisioned their marriage would continue: Henry romantically feeding his wife’s passion for a horrid novel and Catherine finding new insights from the text from his patient and humorous explanations. The story cleverly builds, slowly layering in new characters, revealing family conflicts, planting evidence. Along the way we revisit Milsom-street, Beechen Cliff, the Pump-room, Laura Place and all the highlights of Catherine’s first adventure in the beautiful Georgian-era city. Sullivan has captured the charm and endearing delight of Austen’s characters beautifully, added new ones rich in folly and nonsense, and a Newfoundland dog named MacGuffin who steals every scene. The numerous illustrations by Cassandra Chouinard are enchanting. My only disappointment was in the length. It was over much too quickly. Austen’s Henry Tilney would have been annoyed, claiming this shortcoming was “nice.”  We will agree.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

There Must Be Murder, by Margaret C. Sullivan, illustrations by Cassandra Chouinard
LibriFiles Publishing (2010)
Trade paperback (118) pages
ISBN: 978-0615425870

© 2007 – 2010 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

My Dear Charlotte, by Hazel Holt – A Review

My Dear Charlotte, by Hazel Holt (2009)Guest review by Shelley DeWees – The Uprising

“When I began to write a mystery story set in the early 1800’s in the form of a series of letters, I thought a splendid way to give it authenticity might be to interweave those of my heroine with the letters written by Jane Austen. Fully aware that this was a truly presumptuous thing to do, nevertheless I have plundered that treasure house—a most enjoyable occupation.” Hazel Holt, Author’s Note

The book positively reeks of academic and literary esteem. Written by the great Hazel Holt, who is known far and wide for her Mrs. Malory mystery series, My Dear Charlotte had all the appearances and praise of a work of one seriously admired author. It boasts a beautiful cover and spectacular printing, but, more impressively, also includes a raving introduction by Jan Fergus, a noted and appreciated literary scholar from Lehigh University. By the time you’ve flipped through the first few pages, you’ll begin to think, “Wow.  This is gonna be good.” And to some extent, you’d be right.

It’s no small challenge to weave pieces and parts of Austen’s letters into those of a protagonist with dignity. Ms. Holt was aware of the precarious nature of this experiment and likened it to borrowing an “expensive and powerful car that is thrilling to drive, but you’re terrified of breaking it.” She doesn’t break it, crash it, or even dent it. No dust on the paint, no mud on the floor. No bugs on the windshield, even. The car is returned in pristine condition, perhaps even looking a little better than it did before in its freshly-driven state, beautiful in its revitalized modernity.

Indeed, the structure of the novel was brought about carefully and with the good judgment of a seasoned author, but seemingly without much regard for the actual story. Under normal circumstances, Hazel Holt is capable of fantastic edge-of-your-seat mystery writing, portraying the kind of suspense that makes you cringe in your bed, huddled under dim lighting in the wee hours of the morning. Her writing isn’t usually the kind you can fall asleep to, and certainly not the kind that stagnates or wears out.  So, you can imagine my surprise when I found myself wondering where the shadowy, intoxicating mystery had run off to as I slumped against my pillows. What gives?

The story is told through the eyes of Elinor Cowper who writes unendingly to her sister, the “Dear Charlotte” of the novel. Charlotte is away visiting relatives and wishes to stay apprised of all the details of home, even those that a third-party reader could never care about. Fabrics and fashions, gossip and bonnets are talked about at great length, first inspiring the reader’s interest and gradually arousing annoyance. The constant presence of mundane minutiae doesn’t diminish, even after the untimely death of one of Miss Cowper’s neighbors, Mrs. Woodstock. Elinor is soon engaged by the justice of the peace, Sir Edward Hampton, to assist in solving the mystery after she innocently discovered a few clues, and she sets out to glean more information. Sir Edward also happens to live next door in this inordinately interesting neighborhood, along with a beautiful highly-sought maiden and her two potential suitors, the tension of which surrounds the mystery of Mrs. Woodstock’s death. Suspicions are raised, suspects are investigated, relationships are built and torn asunder, and people are eliminated all through the window of a tête-à-tête between sisters and snippets from Jane Austen’s letters. What results is an over-blown academic exercise that lacks meaningful settings, strong characters, or passionate musings by anyone except Elinor.  It’s disappointing and even a bit tiresome.

That’s not to say the story didn’t have promise, because it most certainly did! The decision to write it in letter format was the major blunder, every other shortcoming being symptomatic of that resolution, admirable though it was. Ms. Holt is talented and progressive, slightly sarcastic, and even hilarious at times, but My Dear Charlotte, despite its charming moments, is a departure from her usual genius and is less than marvelous. Enjoy it simply as another glimpse of Regency England, another depiction of the loveable Jane Austen and her world, another sweet taste of Janeite brain candy, but nothing more.

3 out 5 Regency Stars

My Dear Charlotte, by Hazel Holt
Coffetown Press (2009)
Trade paperback (202) pages
ISBN: 978-1603810401

© 2007 – 2011 Shelley DeWees, Austenprose

Winners Announced in The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy Giveaway

The Perfect Bride for Mr Darcy, by Mary Lydon Simonsen (2011)Three lucky winners were drawn from the comments in The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy Giveaway. Congratulations to:

Pat A., Elenatintil and Jessica M.

You have each won one copy of The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy, by Mary Lydon Simonsen. To claim your prize, please contact me by January 18, 2011 with your full name and address. Shipment is to the US and Canada only. Enjoy your books ladies. Many thanks to author Mary Lydon Simonsen for your blog contribution and Sourcebooks for the swag.

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Prom and Prejudice, by Elizabeth Eulberg – A Review

Prom and Prejudice, by Elizabeth Eulberg (2011)Guest review by Kimberly Denny-Ryder of Reflections of a Book Addict

Young adult fiction author Elizabeth Eulberg is back with Prom and Prejudice, her teen driven homage to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Eulberg has quickly earned a name for herself in the world of teen romances due to the popularity of her debut novel The Lonely Hearts Club. Her novels have a flare for the comedic which this blogger believes is to her credit, as it shines as one of her strengths. She takes perhaps the most well known line that Austen ever wrote and adds her comedic flair to draw us in.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single girl of high standing at Longbourn Academy must be in want of a prom date.”

It is with this line that we enter the world of Longbourn Academy, an all-girls school filled with rich, privileged, boy-crazy teen girls who have fashion designers on speed dial and have never heard the word no before. Hoboken native Elizabeth Bennet is the new scholarship student who is tortured on a daily basis for her poor and meager background. Her roommate Jane, fellow scholarship student Charlotte Collins, and piano teacher Mrs. Gardiner are the only friends that Lizzie has at Longbourn. Lizzie understands that she’ll never be accepted into the society of her fellow students and thus throws herself into her academic studies and the piano, where she has incredible talent. Being friends with Jane however does thrust her into the company of Charles Bingley, Caroline Bingley, and Will Darcy. (Will and Charles attend Pemberley Academy, the all-boys school near Longbourn) There are some sparks between Lizzie and Darcy at first, but they quickly fizzle out once her scholarship status is found out. Unfortunately the two continue to be thrown into each other’s paths since their best friends Jane and Charles are dating. Unbeknownst to Jane and to Elizabeth, Charles’ sister begins putting a wedge in between Jane and Charles. Caroline is unimpressed with the company that Jane keeps and finds Jane an unsuitable match for her brother. Charles soon disappears from Jane’s life, causing Jane to have a major meltdown. With prom only weeks away and Vera Wang already beginning her designer prom gown, how will she show her face without a date?! Elizabeth tries to convince Jane that prom is not the most important thing in life, but to a Longbourn girl it’s the social event of the season. Will Jane and Charles get back together in time for Prom? Will Lizzie and Darcy ever get over themselves to see the other for what they truly are?

If you are a fan of Pride and Prejudice and have a younger girl in your family that has no interest in reading it, get them to try Prom and Prejudice. I can almost guarantee that after reading it they will be interested in trying Jane Austen. Elizabeth Eulberg has crafted an excellent teen drama with the characters from the novel we’ve come to know and love. Elizabeth Bennet is a spieited heroine who has amazing strength, tenacity, accomplished piano skills that could rival Georgiana Darcy’s in the original novel and some misdirected notions of the wealthy. Jane and Charles are kind, caring, and looking for the good in everyone. Wickham is still a womanizing jerk, always scheming for a way to discredit Darcy. Darcy is still always looking out for his friends and family with a fierceness in him that is sometimes misjudged for arrogance and conceit.

I really enjoyed this fun retelling of Pride and Prejudice. Eulberg did a fantastic job in creating a new story to bring to a younger audience and adults too. I’ve read quite a few Austen inspired novels (as chronicled here of course) and I wasn’t bored with it at any point. It was refreshing to read not only a modern adaptation of Austen’s work, but one that adapted it to a time that we all experience in our lives, our teen years. You can definitely relate to the main characters as they struggle with finding a date for prom, trying to get through finals, first loves, broken friendships, etc.

My only disappointment was in its length. At 288 pages it was a tad short and could have benefited from a longer conclusion to the story. I’m hoping that Eulberg will continue writing more about Lizzie and Darcy inspired novels in the future. It’s a nice change to read about their teenage versions, and I think it provides a new audience an entrance into the world of Jane Austen.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Prom and Prejudice, by Elizabeth Eulberg
Scholastic, Inc. (2011)
Hardcover (288) pages
ISBN:  978-0545240772

© 2007 – 2010 Kimberly Denny-Ryder, Austenprose