Mary B.: A Novel: An Untold Story of Pride and Prejudice, by Katherine J. Chen – A Review

Mary B Katherine Chen 2018 x 197 x 300Of the five Bennet sisters in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Mary is the most unlikely of heroines. Priggish, sanctimonious, and unattractive, her prospects for a happy life were bleak. In Mary B., debut novelist Katherine Chen chooses to give Mary her own story – delving into her young, awkward life with her family at Longbourn, her early attempts at romantic attachments, and ultimately her escape to her sister’s home at Pemberley where she discovers an unknown talent, and that men can be interested in women for more than their reputed beauty and handsome dowry.

In Part I of the novel, Chen has paralleled Jane Austen’s narrative in Pride and Prejudice with a glimpse of a prequel to the Bennet sisters’ childhood. We see young Mary, awkward and introverted in comparison to her older sisters Jane and Elizabeth, and the brunt of abuse by her two younger siblings Kitty and Lydia. As the reader, we are as hurt and confused as our heroine and it is not an enjoyable experience. As the story continues, those who have read Pride and Prejudice will recognize the plot as it picks up at the beginning of Austen’s famous tale. Through Mary’s eyes, we experience the arrival of Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy in the Meryton neighborhood, the ball at Netherfield Park and the visit to the family home by the Bennet’s odious cousin Mr. Collins. Infatuated with the silly man, Mary throws herself at him and then watches as he chooses her sister Lizzy as the “companion of his future life.” Adding insult to injury, after her sister rejects his proposal of marriage Mr. Collins does not even think of her as an alternative, marrying their neighbor Charlotte Lucas instead. Continue reading

Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia Episode 1: Dancing into Battle – Recap & Review

Belgravia Julian Fellowes 2016 x 200Hold on to your bonnets historical fiction fans! Today is the official debut of Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia, a new serialized novel by Downton Abbey’s creator/writer. Set in London in the early Victorian-era, the story follows one family’s life and how a secret from twenty-five years earlier, changed them forever.

Austenprose is honored to be the first stop on the Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia Progressive Blog Tour which will, over the course of ten weeks, travel through the ether visiting popular book bloggers and authors specializing in historical fiction and romance. Today we will be recapping and reviewing the first episode, “Dancing Into Battle.”

Released in 11 weekly installments, each episode of Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia will conclude with twists, turns and cliff-hanger endings popularized by the novels of Dickens, Gaskell and Conan Doyle in the nineteenth century. Delivered directly to your cell phone, tablet or desktop via a brand new app, you can read the text or listen to the audio recording narrated by acclaimed British actress Juliet Stevenson, or jump between the two. In addition, you will have access to the exclusive bonus features available only through the app including: history, fashion, food & drink, culture and more that will frame the story while immersing you into the character’s sphere. In addition, the first episode is totally free!

Here is a short video on how it all works: Continue reading

The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen Virtual Book Launch Party and Blog Tour with Author Shannon Winslow & Giveaways! 

The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen banner x 500

I am very pleased to welcome author Shannon Winslow to Austenprose today to officially open her virtual book launch party and blog tour of The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen, published today by Heather Ridge Arts. This new Austenesque novel is a fascinating combination of fact and fiction, exploring Jane Austen’s unknown personal journal— revealing her secret romance with a Royal Navy officer, Captain Devereaux, who was the inspiration for her final novel, Persuasion. 

Shannon has generously offered a guest blog sharing her inspiration to write her new novel—and to add to the festivities—we will be offering an amazing selection of giveaways including: trade paperback and digital eBook copies of The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen, a tote bag bundle stuffed with a print copy of the book and Jane Austen-inspired merchandise, and an original pastel drawing “By the Seaside at Lyme” inspired by the 1995 movie, Persuasion, created by Shannon. Just leave a comment following this blog post to enter. The contest details are listed below. Good luck to all. 

Please join us in welcoming Shannon Winslow.

What inspired me to write The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen?

I can’t quite put my finger on when the concept for this book first occurred to me. It was more of a slowly germinating seed rather than a bolt out of the blue, something that needed to ruminate in my brain a while before emerging onto the page. But this will give you an idea how my thoughts about the book evolved. Continue reading

Havisham: A Novel, by Ronald Frame – A Review

Havisham A Novel by Ronald Frame 2013 x 200Dear Mr. Frame:

I recently read Havisham, your prequel and retelling of Charles Dickens Great Expectations, one of my favorite Victorian novels. Your choice to expand the back story of the minor character Miss Havisham, the most infamous misandry in literary history, was brilliant. Jilted at the altar she was humiliated and heartbroken, living the rest of her days in her tattered white wedding dress in the decaying family mansion, Satis House. Few female characters have left such a chilling impression on me. I was eager to discover your interpretation of how her early life formed her personality and set those tragic events into motion.

Dickens gave you a fabulous character to work with. (spoilers ahead) Born in Kent in the late eighteenth-century, Catherine’s mother died in childbirth leaving her father, a wealthy brewer, to dote upon his only child. Using his money to move her up the social ladder she is educated with aristocrats where she learns about literature, art, languages and the first disappointments of love. In London, she meets and is wooed by the charismatic Charles Compeyson. Family secrets surface in the form of her dissipated half-brother Arthur, the child of a hidden marriage of her father to their cook. Her ailing father knows his son has no interest in his prospering business and trains his clever young daughter. After his death, the inevitable clash occurs between the siblings over money and power. Challenged as a young woman running a business in a man’s world, Catherine struggles until Charles reappears charming his way into her service and her heart. About two-thirds of the way through the novel the events of Great Expectations surface. Charles abandons her on their wedding day and she sinks into depression. Continue reading

The Forgotten Sister: Mary Bennet’s Pride and Prejudice, by Jennifer Paynter – A Review

The Forgotten Sister: Mary Bennet's Pride and Prejudice, by Jennifer Paynter (2014 )From the desk of Jenny Haggerty:

With only half a dozen speeches in Pride and Prejudice Mary Bennet still manages to make an impression. Bookish, socially awkward, and prone to moralizing, it’s hard to picture her as the heroine of a romance novel. Though I’d laugh along at her cluelessness Mary has always had my sympathy, so when I discovered Jennifer Paynter’s The Forgotten Sister: Mary Bennet’s Pride and Prejudice I couldn’t wait to read it. Would this book rescue Mary from the shadows of Pride and Prejudice? I hoped so.

The Forgotten Sister opens before the events of Pride and Prejudice, with Mary recounting her story in her own words. She begins with an admission of early worries, “For the best part of nine years–from the age of four until just before I turned thirteen–I prayed for a brother every night.” (8)  By then family life is strained, but early on Mr. and Mrs. Bennet are carefree and happy. Young Jane and Elizabeth are doted on by their parents, who are optimistic there is still time to produce a male heir and secure their entailed estate. Everything changes though when Mary, a third daughter, is born. Worries set in. The Bennets begin bickering. About a month after Mary’s birth Mrs. Bennet has an attack of nerves so acute that Mary is sent away to a wet-nurse, Mrs. Bushell, with whom she stays for several years.  From then on, neglect by and separation from her family become recurring patterns in Mary’s life. Continue reading

The Passion of the Purple Plumeria: A Pink Carnation Novel, by Lauren Willig – A Review

The Passion of the Purple Plumeria, by Lauren Willig (2013) From the desk of Christina Boyd

Acclaimed author Lauren Willig’s latest offering, The Passion of the Purple Plumeria, is the tenth novel in her New York Times bestselling Pink Carnation series. This historical romance series of Napoleonic era English spies, that fight for Britain and for love, is constructed within a modern-day love story, told from the point of view of the American grad student Eloise Kelly who is writing her dissertation on the true identity of the Pink Carnation, the master British spy of the time.

In Purple Plumeria, (those of us who have been previously “Pinked,” often refer to the novels by the abbreviated Flower title…), the handsome Colonel William Reid, who we first encountered in Blood Lily (The Betrayal of the Blood Lily) has returned to his daughters in England from a lifelong military career in India only to discover his youngest has recently disappeared from boarding school with one of her classmates.  Soon we learn the other missing student is Agnes Wooliston, the sister of British spymaster, errr, ehm, spymistress, the Pink Carnation – generally known as Miss Jane Wooliston – recalling her home from Paris to England. And where Miss Wooliston goes, so goes her caustically witty and straight-laced companion, and adroit, clever, a parasol-wielding agent of the War Office, Miss Gwendolyn Meadows. While conducting an interview with the headmistress, they meet the aforementioned comely, charming Colonel.

Gwen didn’t like any of this. She didn’t like it one bit. All her instincts, well honed over years of midnight raids, were shouting “trouble.” How much of the trouble was coming from the situation and how much from a certain sun-bronzed colonel was a matter for debate. Bad enough that Agnes had gone missing; worse yet to have to deal with the parent of the other girl, poking his nose in—however attractive a nose it might be—and posing questions that might prove inconvenient for everyone. And by everyone, she meant the Pink Carnation.  p. 55

Continue reading

Indiscretion: A Novel, by Jude Morgan – A Review

Indiscretion: A Novel, by Jude Morgan (2007) From the desk of Katie P.

Jane Austen. Georgette Heyer. The Regency. Those names instantly bring to mind witty conversations, saturnine heroes, and lavish ballrooms. So often we see these words on the cover or in reviews of a book, and eagerly pick it up hoping to find yet another book that will quickly become dog-eared and memorized. But just as often, we turn away disappointed yet again by finding out that the book falls far short of the reasons we chose it in the first place.

Indiscretion, by Jude Morgan—I am happy to say—is not like that.

Miss Caroline Fortune, at twenty, has the misfortune of being the sole caretaker and realist to her impractical, debt-ridden father. Ever since her mother died at the age of twelve, they have gone from shabby lodgings to even shabbier lodgings, all in the hope to escape debt collectors, and even worse, debtors’ prison. But just when they run out of options (and Caroline decides to become a governess), they are saved by the Gorgon-like Mrs. Catling (basilisk stare and all), who offers Caroline a position as her paid companion.
And this is just the beginning of Caroline’s adventures…

As paid companion, Caroline must reconcile her own independent spirit with the impossible job of placating her ferocious employer, while trying to navigate through the indiscretions of the people around her. She soon attracts the interest of Mr. Richard Leabrook, a handsome suitor, and the friendships of Mr. and Miss Downey, the niece and nephew of Mrs. Catling, but are they really what they seem? After a sudden change in circumstances, Caroline must find the family she has never met, become accustomed to country living (complete with climbing over stiles), prevent an elopement, come face-to-face with ghosts from her past, discover the joys of true friendship, and outwit the insulting, yet annoyingly appealing Mr. Stephen Milner, who insists that Caroline will be nothing but trouble.

What is Miss Fortune, innocent attracter of mayhem to do?  Be as discrete (or is it indiscrete?) as possible, with a lot of pluck and a little bit of canary!

About a year ago I stumbled upon Indiscretion by accident. I had just finished all of Jane Austen’s novels, and was in withdrawal. I found this because of one review that said ‘like Jane Austen’ and immediately had to read it. I was not disappointed, and was hooked from the very first page. Caroline Fortune reminded me so much of Jane Austen’s heroines—she has her failings, but has enough strength and humor to carry her through, and rise above, the situations she finds herself in. Just like another character we all know and love, Caroline cannot stay depressed—she has to find a reason to laugh.  She is a character with which we can quickly identify.

For while she did not lack a sense of her own merits, and had too much spirit ever to submit to being walked over, still she thought herself no more than tolerable-looking, and nurtured abysmal doubts about her ability ever to shine in company. She had a quick tongue, an active fancy, and a turn for wit, but these she employed, in truth, somewhat as a shield behind which she could shelter.” p. 25

Indiscretion is full of surprises and plot twists. People Magazine said: “the characters separate and reunite as rhythmically and precisely as ballroom dancers performing a waltz.” I couldn’t agree more. Jude Morgan crafts his story well—I’ve read it five or six times, and each time I find a new ‘layer’ that I hadn’t discovered, a new quote that seems truer than before—“We always think we know what we want: when in truth there is nothing we are less likely to know.”—and a conversation that gets funnier with each reading—““I have been run over by the speeding chariot of fate, caught up in its spiked wheels.” “I hate it when that happens,said Stephen.

While there are many Regency books that are either in the style of Georgette Heyer or set in the time period as an excuse for long dresses and handsome rakes (and very modern plots, dialogue, and ‘romance’ scenes), Indiscretion truly takes after the style of Jane Austen, with perception, wit, proper romance, and a satisfying ending. But even more importantly, Jude Morgan is an author to enjoy in his own right, with his own distinct voice that definitely makes him an author to be read.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Indiscretion: A Novel, by Jude Morgan
St. Martin’s Press (2007)
Trade paperback (384) pages
ISBN: 978-0312374372

© 2013 Katie P., Austenprose

The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy: A Pride and Prejudice Mystery, by Regina Jeffers – A Review

The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy, by Regina Jeffers (2012)Review by Lisa Galek

In case you’re like me and can never seem to get enough of your favorite Jane Austen characters, The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy will have you curled up next to the fires at Pemberley in no time. Just don’t expect to stay too long… for there’s a mystery to be solved!

This book is a sequel to a sequel. It follows the events of not only Pride and Prejudice, but also Regina Jeffers’s other Austen-inspired novel, Christmas at Pemberley. For those of us who haven’t got a chance to check out that volume yet, don’t worry – the author spends time catching us up on all the important details. Mr. and Mrs. Darcy are happy at home at Pemberley, glowing after the birth of their first child, Bennet. Georgiana has also experienced some changes of her own. She has married her cousin, Major General Fitzwilliam (promoted from Colonel after we last left him in Pride and Prejudice). The Major General has been sent off to fight the French shortly after their marriage, leaving Georgiana to get settled at their estate in Scotland. As the novel opens, Georgiana receives an erroneous letter explaining that her husband has been killed during the battle of Waterloo. In her grief, she foolishly flees on horseback out onto the dangerous Scottish moors. When the Darcys receive word that Georgiana has not been heard or seen from in days, they race to Scotland in order to locate their missing sister. Their investigations lead them to Normanna Hall, a ghoulish gothic castle, owned by Domhnall MacBethan and his domineering mother, Dolina. What horrors live inside those terrifying walls? Does the secret to finding Georgiana lie inside the castle? Can the Darcys get to her in time?

The novel also returns us to some of our favorite characters. Mr. and Mrs. Wickham show up and attempt to gain entrance to Pemberley (they are rejected and fists fly). Mary and Kitty have also been married off to respectable young men. Jane and Charles Bingley are happy and thriving with their own family of three adorable little children. Lady Catherine also makes a brief appearance, but sadly, she seems to have received a complete personality makeover during Christmas at Pemberley, so there’s no one to satisfy one’s love for affable condescension.

One of the dangers of writing a sequel to one of the best-loved novels in all of western literature is that the reader may not care for the direction in which you take her cherished characters. I found myself alternately enjoying and being annoyed by the author’s depiction of the people I knew and loved from Pride and Prejudice. I was thrilled that Georgiana married Colonel Fitzwilliam (because that is what I always imagined would happen) and that Elizabeth, too, kept some of her wit and charm. However, I was completely annoyed with the Wickhams, who seemed to act totally out of character. Lydia suddenly had a desire to become a dutiful wife and Wickham had turned into a very violent and angry man. Elizabeth also had a bit of sap added as she repeatedly reassured her husband that if Georgiana were dead “they would know it in their hearts,” and seemed to put a little too much emphasis on her “woman’s intuition.” Mr. Darcy, too, got a bit of a romantic makeover. His constant expressions of love for Elizabeth seemed a bit too over-the-top. Certainly Mr. Darcy loved and valued his wife, but I have a hard time imagining that he would ever put these sentences down on paper:

Please know, my dearest Elizabeth, that each night I will dream of you – the woman I adore. My love for you is more than true, and my feelings are deeper than those three words so easily bandied about among those caught up in passion’s first flush. When you came into my life my world tilted, but it also opened for me for the first time. My life began. You are the music of my soul. Until we are once more in one another’s embrace, I remain your loving husband.

Aside from all this, the basic plot of the book was good. Though Georgiana’s disappearance didn’t come into play until about a third of the way through, once we started to understand more about the predicament she found herself in, I became more drawn into the story and more invested in finding out the fate of the missing girl. The new characters, too – especially the devious MacBethans – were well done and came with fully-formed backstories that added to the suspense and drama. And, I hope it’s not too much of a spoiler to say that this mystery had an intriguing twist that kept me guessing right up until the end.

All in all, an interesting and engaging read. Those who like a good mystery will be pulled in. And if you don’t mind seeing it all play out with your favorite Austen characters, then you’ll enjoy it all the more.

3.5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy: A Pride and Prejudice Mystery, by Regina Jeffers
Ulysses Press (2012)
Trade paperback (336) pages
ISBN: 978-1612430454
NOOK: 978-1612430812
Kindle: B007OVTCQ6

Lisa Galek is a professional writer, editor and lover of all things Jane Austen. She lives in the suburbs of Cleveland with her wonderful husband and their two beautiful daughters, Elizabeth and Gwendolyn. When she’s not working or mothering, she enjoys attempting to write her own novels, watching mindless TV shows, and re-reading Pride and Prejudice yet again.

© 2007 – 2012, Lisa Galek, Austenprose

Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal – A Review

Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal (2011)Guest review by Shelley DeWees – The Uprising

“Of his younger daughter, Melody, he had no concerns, for she had a face made for fortune.  His older daughter, Jane, made up for her deficit of beauty with rare taste and talent in the womanly arts.  Her skill with glamour, music, and painting was surpassed by none in their neighborhood and together lent their home the appearance of wealth far beyond their means.  But he knew how fickle young men’s hearts were.”

Presumably, one sister is “milk” and the other is “honey.”  They complement each other, yet stand alone, one with sweetness and flashy, showy pizazz, and the other with banal yet comfortable stability.  Sound like any other story you’ve heard?  Two sisters vying for attentions of the neighborhood menfolk with two completely different approaches: one passionate, erratic and overly capricious, the other steady and mindful and only dimly lit in terms of beauty.  Sound familiar?

It did (and does) to me, too.  Indeed, the similarities to Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility are palpable, from the easily-placed characters and their tastes, feelings, and under-developed motivations, to the plot, with a cadre of viable bachelors parading around and only one of them noble in his intentions.  The passionate sister even falls and twists her ankle; the scoundrel is attracted; the sensible sister tries to keep a lid on things.  The difference with Shades of Milk and Honey, Mary Robinette Kowal’s debut novel, though, is that many of the plot twists carry a strong sinister twinge.  Jealously and bitterness prevail on more than one occasion, bringing rise to an explosive ending as the consequences of deceit, unrequited love and unspoken truths boil over.  Add dueling pistols and you’ve got yourself a Regency-era party!

Add in magic, too.  Kowal weaves a beautiful magic system in Shades of Milk and Honey, its only shortfall being that it wasn’t fully explained or explored to the extent that I craved.  Jane, the Elinor Dashwood of this story, is particularly talented at manipulating “folds of glamour” that are “taken out of the ether.”  She laces them together, twisting and winding and pulling them into gorgeous imagery that is both pleasing and purposeful.  But how the heck is she doing it, Ms. Kowal?  Is there a wand involved?  Are we talkin’ spells or hexes or what?  All the reader ever discerns about this graceful system is that the efforts spent using it are physically draining, so much that the magician can collapse under the strain or even die.  I found myself desperate for more information on this front, and though I could feel an explanation bubbling up from time to time, thinking, “Okay, she’ll finally talk about it now,” it remains a mystery.  Dang.  That would’ve been cool.

The story itself is moderately compelling and kind of…well, charming in its simplicity.  Jane and Melody Ellsworth seek husbands.  Melody uses her strikingly well-formed looks to wrangle her potential suitors, not to mention girlish impulsiveness and her attractive yet overly-fluffed sense of confidence in her appearance.  Jane is much different, only grudgingly allowing her heart to feel a pang of wanting, being surprised when she discovers that she may not have to be a spinster.  Several men waltz through their quiet lives in Dorchester, including the dashing Captain Livingston, the prudent protector of a young sister, Mr. Dunkirk, and a tortured artist as well, Mr. Vincent.  Things play out, hearts are attracted some places and then others, secrets and scandals are uncovered, and both the sisters eventually figure out where their affections belong.  Dinners and dancing and picnics abound, most of them accentuated by the presence of magic and “folds of glamour” working delightful tricks.  The ending is, as previously mentioned, a whirlwind of emotion and heartbreak that leaves all involved parties shaken and changed forever.

The author clearly has a well-honed approach to writing, her prose and structure is lovely and flowing.  I did at times feel the characters were far away, intangible, and a bit of a mystery.  Still other moments found me wishing the story would slow for a bit of fleshing out.  The end almost reads like a fable, with blistering pace, summing up years and years in only a sentence or two.  Yes, the characters are archetypical, the brainiac and the fickle beauty queen battling again, in this unexplained world of magic and mayhem, but I still enjoyed it with a kind of reserved enthusiasm.  Shades of Milk and Honey represents a solid good ‘ol college try on Ms. Kowal’s part, and I look forward to reading more of her work as she matures and blossoms.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal
Tor Books, New York (2011)
Trade paperback (304) pages
ISBN: 978-0765325600

© 2007 – 2011 Shelley DeWees, Austenprose