Rational Creatures: Stirrings of Feminism in the Hearts of Jane Austen’s Fine Ladies, edited by Christina Boyd – A Review

Rational Creatures 2018 x 200Having long been credited as the grandmother of the romance novel, it is an interesting notion to ponder if Jane Austen can also be attributed as an early feminist writer. Did she gently inject progressive thinking into her female characters to bring about the equality of the sexes? While we have been admiring Austen’s style, wit, and enduring love stories, were we missing the subtext that Austen’s strong female characters were also way ahead of their time?

Rational Creatures, a new Austen-inspired short story anthology edited by Christina Boyd posits the possibility. Sixteen Austenesque authors have been challenged with the task to create original stories inspired by Austen’s ladies—both heroines and supporting characters—revealing details, backstories, and asides that could have been part of the narrative.

If you are doubtful of the feminist infusion gentle reader, then let’s take a closer look at the famous quote from her final novel Persuasion, which obviously inspired the title of the anthology.

“But I hate to hear you talking so, like a fine gentleman, and as if women were all fine ladies, instead of rational creatures. We none of us expect to be in smooth water all our days.”

In the foreword, Prof. Devoney Looser explains how for two hundred years we have turned to Austen to “reflect on the world’s unfairness, and to laugh at its trivial absurdities…to avoid unequal marriages…and seek Austenian combinations of inventiveness, wisdom, and entertainment.” I could not agree more. In an era when women were treated like tender plants, Austen bravely portrayed her ladies’ vulnerabilities and strengths. In this collection, there is a wide variety of stories from heroines and minor characters who exhibit intelligence, patience, resilience, and grace to advance their own causes. Here is a brief description of the stories that await you: Continue reading

Lady Maybe, by Julie Klassen – A Review

Lady Maybe, by Julie Klassen (2015)From the desk of Katie Patchell:

  • Betrayals and Lies. Harmful Secrets. Surprising Redemption.

For the past several years, Austenprose has had the joy of reviewing books inspired by a beloved author, Jane Austen, as well as those set in the Regency period. One author, in particular, has appeared more than once and has written numerous Regency books inspired by the timeless novels of Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters: Julie Klassen. In her latest novel Lady Maybe, Klassen blends notes of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, to create a mystery-filled Gothic romance about the power of truth, and the lengths people will go to conceal it.

Lady Marianna Mayfield: Pressured into a marriage to Sir John Mayfield by her money-obsessed father, Lady Marianna ignores her older husband to instead focus on her many flirts, especially her lover, Anthony Fontaine. When her husband suddenly decides to take her with him to a house far away from Bath, she obeys—her silent companion and husband beside her, and the surety that her lover will do anything to find her. Continue reading

The List Lover’s Guide to Jane Austen, by Joan Strasbaugh – A Review

The List Lovers Guide to Jane Austen by Joan Strasbaugh 2013Ever wonder what books Jane Austen read, who her relations were, where she lived and traveled, or what were her pet peeves? Well, what true Janeite doesn’t? Do you want to learn more about your favorite author than you ever expected to discover all packed up and neatly arranged in one tidy volume? Then read on…

The List Lover’s Guide to Jane Austen is a delightful little factbook on the famous author and her world that was a welcome diversion from the drama and angst of the current Austenesque fiction book that I am entrenched in. Packed full of information compiled in list format, even this die-hard Janeite learned more than a few new tidbits about Austen’s novels, characters, family, Regency culture and her life.

This beautifully designed reference book would be the perfect primer and or fact-checker for a Jane Austen quiz. Broken down into categories like:

  • Forward: (including ten reasons for reading this book!)
  • Her Life: (including what she looked like, books she read, who she met on her travels and much more)
  • Her Correspondence: (great selected quotes)
  • Timeline for Jane Austen: (featuring events from every year of her life)
  • Her Writing: (from her juvenilia to her novels to her last poem)
  • Bonus List: Jane’s Royal Ancestors: (who knew?)
  • Bibliography: (exclusive and the best)

Continue reading

The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things, by Paula Byrne – A Review

Image of the book cover of The Real Jane Austen, by Paula Byrne © 2013 HarperCollins From the desk of Br. Paul Byrd, OP

“This book is something different and more experimental. Rather than rehearsing all the known facts, this biography focuses on a variety of key moments, scenes and objects in both the life and work of Jane Austen…In addition, this biography follows the lead of Frank Austen rather than Henry. It suggests that, like nearly all novelists, Jane Austen created her characters by mixing observation and imagination” (6-7).

I was very excited to be asked to review Paula Byrne’s new biography on Jane Austen. Not only is it the first rigorous biography on Austen to appear in print since Claire Tomalin and David Nokes both published their works in 1997 (both entitled Jane Austen: A Life), but it is also an example of a refreshingly different approach to biographical presentation. Like the famous British hermit and art critic, Sister Wendy, Byrne begins each chapter with an image and a short commentary which then serve as gateways into the central details about Austen’s life that she wishes to highlight. This allows her to avoid the expected plodding pace of a chronology so that she can then linger over the events, relationships, or ideas that she finds most compelling. And, as one might hope, Byrne’s fresh analysis extends to Austen’s oeuvre.

Fine. But were there any surprises, any moments when I felt like I was getting a glimpse into Austen’s life, personality, genius? I am glad to say there were many moments like this. For example, I so enjoyed chapter three in which Byrne contradicts the common opinion that Austen’s major influences were male writers like Richardson and Fielding, positing that, in fact, she more admired female novelists who were taking risks with their novels, like Burney and Edgeworth who “led [her] to see that the novel could be a medium for showing how seven years, or seventeen, were enough to change every pore of one’s skin and every feeling of one’s mind.” (88). Similarly, I enjoyed chapter five, which reexamines the relationship dynamic between Jane and Cassandra. How charming it is to contemplate Austen embracing the role of the younger sister, viewing Cassandra as her primary confidante and someone with whom she could be catty and silly (98). Perhaps more interesting is Byrne’s theory that Cassandra was the greater romantic of the two, meaning the traditions that she passed on about her younger sister, particularly those regarding Austen’s romances, may more reflect her own regrets rather than Jane’s (103). Continue reading

A Garden Folly: A Regency Romance, by Candice Hern – A Review

The Regency Romance Reading Challenge (2013)This is my fourth selection in the Regency Romance Reading Challenge 2013, our celebration of Regency romance author Candice Hern. We will be reading all of her traditional Regencies over the next nine months, discussing her characters, plots and Regency history. You can still join the reading challenge until July 1, 2013. Participants, please leave comments and or links to your reviews for this month in the comment section of this post.

My Review:

In landscape design, a garden folly is a structure whose only objective is to deceive. They have no purpose other than as ornament—to delight the eye and draw one to their door to evoke a romantic scene or time. How apt that author Candice Hern chose to name her Regency romance A Garden Folly, since her main characters are follies themselves.

Set at the Kent grand country estate of the Duke of Carlisle, two impoverished sisters impersonate aristocrats to entrap rich husbands, while the wealthy and titled owner of the dukedom, and the continuing custodian and creator of its grand landscape, hides behind the mantle of the head gardener to avert interaction with Society. Both hero and heroine have serious trust issues. How they will overcome their personal challenges is a serpentine path that teasingly twists, turns, and surprises the reader until the last page.

Catherine and Susannah Forsythe are down on their luck. Living in genteel poverty on the wrong side of London with Aunt Hetty was not what they had expected at this time in their lives. Their father, Sir Benjamin Forsythe, squandered their family fortune before he died two years ago, but they still have beauty and wits in their corner. A surprise invitation from Aunt Hetty’s childhood friend, the Duchess of Carlisle, for her annual summer house party at Chissingworth may be their only chance to catch rich husbands. Determined to pull off the deception that they are wealthy young ladies, Catherine, with the help of their servant McDougal, magically acquire all the tools needed to disguise their poverty: clothes, carriage, jewels, and servants. Now they must set their caps for the right man, steering clear of the wrongs sorts: “penniless younger sons, clerics, or half-pay officers.” Arriving in style, the deception begins. Continue reading

The Tutor’s Daughter, by Julie Klassen – A Review

Image of the book cover of The Tutors Daughter, by Julie Klassen © 2013 Bethany House PublishersFrom the desk of Katie Patchell:

In keeping with her much loved style of traditional Regency romances, Julie Klassen has recently published her sixth novel, The Tutor’s Daughter, a romantic mystery set in Regency England. This novel blends the satisfying romance of Jane Austen with the Gothic surprises of Charlotte Bronte, coming together in a delightful style that is all the author’s own.

Ever since her mother died, Emma Smallwood has helped her father run his all-male boarding school. At twenty-one, she has found her time consumed by the many school-related burdens that her father, in his grief, has ignored; teaching history, geography, and math, as well as trying to make ends meet for the quickly failing academy, with only a few moments to spare to dream about travel and adventures of her own. But just when the last pupil graduates and Emma runs out of all options to restore Smallwood Academy to its glory days, a letter arrives offering a new position to both Emma and her father, as tutor and tutor’s daughter for one year at Ebbington Manor along the stormy coast of Cornwall. While her father is overjoyed to leave the place that reminds him of his departed wife, Emma unearths long-buried memories, ones that remind her of two particular pupils from her father’s academy. Phillip Weston, of the kind blue eyes, warm friendship, and stolen kiss, and Henry Weston, of the flashing green eyes, malicious pranks, and partner in one hard-to-be-forgotten dance. Emma has discovered that the letter and advantageous job opening is from none other than Lord Weston, the father of both her friend and her nemesis. Continue reading

Edmund Persuader: A Romance, by Stuart Shotwell – A Review

Edmund Persuader From the desk of Jeffrey Ward

Would Jane Austen love reading this book today? She admired Sir Walter Scott, Frances Burney, and Maria Edgeworth but what about this epic regency romantic adventure encompassing some 1,500 pages? Within its sweeping span are familiar elements of the gothic in her Northanger Abbey, the ironic humor in Emma, overcoming class barriers in Pride and Prejudice, the romantic treacheries of Mansfield Park, the familial loyalty of Sense and Sensibility, and the steadfast endurance of love in Persuasion. Yes, dear Jane, I think you would!

The “persuader” is larger-than-life hero Edmund Percy who fits the description because he is aptly tall, strong, and handsome. But what elevates him to heroic status is his unique melding of courage, insightful intellect, persuasiveness, humility, and a loving generous heart. The youngest son of a landed gentleman, he has dedicated himself to the clergy.

It is 1810 and his father asks him to temporarily suspend his clerical studies and sail to Antigua to rescue his failing sugar plantation. There, he encounters exhaustive work and intolerable slavery conditions, but ultimately Janetta, the exotically beautiful mulatto daughter of a cruel neighboring slave master. Wild and unpredictable, the slaves fear her bewitching power. Edmund falls madly in love and a torrid erotic relationship ensues, but he is torn by guilt and lost virtue. The supernatural scene of Edmund being confronted by Janetta over a chilling vision only she can see but neither can understand is the story’s ultimate mystery:

“No,” she said bitterly. “I see this woman – I see this dark queen; and you will love her more than you ever loved me.” He laughed and tried to take her in his arms, but she would not let him; she evaded his embrace and slipped away from him. “You will love her more than me! “she said angrily. “Who is this woman? Janetta!” he said soothingly. “Do not be silly, I know no queen; nor is it likely I ever shall. You are the one I love…” p. 307

Only Janetta is aware of the hopelessness of their love and she accurately predicts their ultimate separation. At the loss of his first love, heart-broken Edmund returns to England. On that return voyage he becomes a notable English hero as he prevents an American privateer from boarding and capturing the ship he is on. This action proves pivotal to his future.

Edmund confesses his sins to his mentor and is still encouraged to take up the clergy. Seeking a living, he travels to Hampshire to visit Andromeda, his beloved aunt and mother-figure. She describes the most noble, wealthy, and powerful family in the area—the Esquith De Foyes—and strongly warns him to avoid at all costs their untouchable daughter Mariah and her companion, the lovely but enigmatic Elizabeth Brownton, who manifests an autism-spectrum syndrome. Yet, at a ball the inevitable happens as he meets the entire family. Mariah is regal, impossibly beautiful, and brilliant of mind, and like Edmund, gifted with a supremely compassionate heart. Edmund also meets Mariah’s brother and family heir Tarquin Esquith De Foye. Reckless, competitive, and fiercely protective, “Tark” and Edmund become closer than brothers. The family has learned of Edmund’s high-sea heroics and motions are put into place to award him a living as temporary rector in their village church.

Mariah’s compassion and Edmund’s exceptionally persuasive gifts improve the lives of everyone within their sphere of influence, and they become more than just a friendly partnership. Yet, in spite of their growing love for each other, Edmund cannot persuade Mariah to marry him and is unaware that she is none other than the prophesied “dark queen!” Her own deeply-hidden secret prevents her marriage and will eventually turn deadly enough to threaten her entire family if Edmund fails in his quest to uncover it.

With a half-million words to work with, all of the characters are so totally and fully fleshed out that I found myself weeping over their misfortunes, laughing with their moments of merriment, and hoping beyond hope for their happy future. Yes, there are places in the story that may plod for some readers, such as an entire chapter describing a fox hunt, the intricacies of chess games, and side-plots drawn out in the minutest detail. Yet, soaring above all and not-to-be-missed is what I consider to be the most magnificent unconsummated love story I’ve read since Jane Eyre. In attempting to compare the romantic grandeur and Gothic underpinnings of Edmund Persuader, only Charlotte Bronte’s masterpiece comes to mind. Don’t be intimidated by its length. The determined reader will seldom encounter a more soul-satisfying reward for the effort.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Edmund Persuader: A Romance, by Stuart Shotwell
Mermaid Press of Maine (2009)
Trade paperback (1555) pages
ISBN: 978-0984103218

© 2012 Jeffrey Ward, Austenprose

The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013

The Pride Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge (2013) 2013 is a celebratory year for the legion of Jane Austen fans. It marks the bicentenary of her second published novel, Pride and Prejudice.

For two hundred years we have been enjoying her romantic, dramatic, and witty story filled with memorable characters – the Bennet sisters: angelic Jane, spirited Elizabeth, pedantic Mary, impressionable Kitty and impetuous Lydia; and the men in their lives: amiable Charles Bingley, charming Lt. George Wickham, and the proud Mr. Darcy. There is so much to praise in Jane Austen’s most popular novel which has inspired many movie adaptations, book sequels and spinoffs. In its honor, we are very pleased to announce another reading and viewing challenge for our readers:

The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013

We had a fabulous year here in 2011 during The Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge and are pleased to offer another new challenge for Pride and Prejudice. If you have not read Jane Austen’s masterpiece (or would like to revisit it in honor of its special anniversary), seen all of the movies, or read all of the sequels and spinoffs, this is the year to join the challenge along with other Janeites, historical fiction, Regency romance, and period drama movie lovers.

Challenge Details

Continue reading

A Dance with Jane Austen, by Susannah Fullerton – A Review

A Dance with Jane Austen, by Susannah Fullerton (2012)For those who have seen a ballroom dance scene in a Jane Austen movie adaptation, or witnessed a group of ladies and gentlemen dressed in Regency finery engaged in a country dance, you know the awe and energy that it generates can be quite thrilling. Then imagine what it would be like in Jane Austen’s day and you have a good notion what to expect in Susannah Fullerton’s new book A Dance with Jane Austen. Everything from frocks, carriages, music, dancing and flirting, and so much more are included in this tidy volume. Ready your fans ladies and take a stiff bracer of brandy gentlemen; we have entered the ballroom.

Did you know that Austen featured dance scenes in all six of her major novels and that Pride and Prejudice has no less than three? (The Meryton Assembly, an impromptu dance at Lucas Lodge, and the private ball at Netherfield Park.) Our heroine Elizabeth Bennet and her four sisters meet, spark, fuel, or flee from romance illustrating how dance was not only the pinnacle of social activity – but key to attracting a mate. Yes. I may be pointing my inelegant finger, but there it is. Balls and dances where the primary stage to attract the opposite sex and snag a partner. Jane Austen knew this fact very well and used it to her advantage in each of her novels. Here is a foreshadowing of its importance from the Bennet household:

The prospect of the Netherfield ball was extremely agreeable to every female of the family. Mrs. Bennet chose to consider it as given in compliment to her eldest daughter, and was particularly flattered by receiving the invitation from Mr. Bingley himself, instead of a ceremonious card. Jane pictured to herself a happy evening in the society of her two friends, and the attentions of their brother; and Elizabeth thought with pleasure of dancing a great deal with Mr. Wickham, and of seeing a confirmation of everything in Mr. Darcy’s looks and behaviour. The happiness anticipated by Catherine and Lydia depended less on any single event, or any particular person; for though they each, like Elizabeth, meant to dance half the evening with Mr. Wickham, he was by no means the only partner who could satisfy them, and a ball was, at any rate, a ball. And even Mary could assure her family that she had no disinclination for it. – Pride and Prejudice chapter 17

Image from A Dance with Jane Austen, by Susannah Fullerton (2012)Written in a lively and accessible manner Fullerton delves into the subject with the energy of a fluttering fan cooling an overheated dancer. As an Austen enthusiast, and president of the Jane Austen Society of Australia, her knowledge and authority take us on a journey from learning to dance, dressing for a ball, types of balls, transportation, music, food, etiquette, conversation and even a short bit about the movie adaptations. It is primarily a cultural reference, but she liberally uses quotes from her novels, letters and family recollections throughout making it very personal and incisive.

Aimed at those who crave more knowledge of the cultural history of the Georgian era and insights into Jane Austen’s novels, A Dance with Jane Austen is inspiring, discerning and richly crafted. The illustrations add to each topic, but are sadly not credited, so the reader does not know who created them or when. However, there is a partial list of image credits, a plump bibliography, and short index to assist the reader with the paper trail.

It was a pleasure to dance with Jane Austen and her characters. I now have a better understanding of the importance of social position and wealth in marrying the right partner and how instrumental balls and dances were in attaining them.

4.5 out of 5 Regency Stars

A Dance with Jane Austen: How a Novelist and her Characters Went to the Ball, by Susannah Fullerton
Frances Lincoln, Limited (2012)
Hardcover (144) pages
ISBN: 978-0711232457

© 2012 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Preview of Emma: An Annotated Edition, by Jane Austen, edited by Bharat Tandon & Giveaway!

Emma: An Annotated Edition, by Jane Austen and edited by Bharat Tandon (2012Holiday book giving is just around the corner, and top on my list to many of my Janeite friends will be Harvard University’s new annotated edition of Jane Austen’s Emma. It will be officially released tomorrow, so mark your calendars and wait for the fireworks.

I was agog over their two previous volumes, Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion, so when the next in their publishing quest to bring all of Jane Austen’s six major novels to us in sumptuously illustrated and enlightened editions arrived on my doorstep, I needed my aromatic vinegars to revive myself. Filled with hundreds of side notes and over 119 color illustrations, this new volume is the heavy weight of the set at four pounds and 576 pages. Wow!

The beautiful cover illustration is an inset from Sir James Dromgole Linton’s Waiting. If you think that the enticing folds of the opulent fabric of the lady’s frock is a herald of what awaits inside, then hold on to your bonnets. It gets even better. Here is a brief description from the publisher:

“Bharat Tandon’s edition of Emma is a delight to read, as pleasurable as it is thought provoking. He captures both the delights of Austen’s novel and the way that those delights are shadowed by the dark intimations.”  – Deidre Lynch, University of Toronto

Inside the World of Emma Woodhouse
Continue reading

Preview of The Garden Intrigue, by Lauren Willig & Giveaway

The Garden Intrigue (Pink Carnation No 9), by Lauren Willig (2012)Regular readers of Austenprose will know that I am a huge fan of author Lauren Willig novels.  I absolutely adore her bestselling Pink Carnation series set during the Napoleonic Wars, filled with spies, humor and romance.

I was thrilled beyond words when Lauren agreed to write a short story for my upcoming Austenesque anthology Jane Austen Made Me Do It. Her story “A Night at Northanger” was inspired by Jane Austen’s Gothic parody Northanger Abbey. In the spirit of Austen’s poke at the “horrid” Gothic fiction so popular in her day, Lauren has given us a modern-day comedy set in one of England’s most haunted homes, Northanger Abbey, where heroine Cate Cartwright meets a very familiar specter. Because Lauren had so much fun with Cate in “A Night at Northanger” she included her as a side character in her next novel in the Pink Carnation series, The Garden Intrigue. Due to be released on February 16, 2012, here is a short description from the publisher:

In the ninth installment of Lauren Willig’s bestselling Pink Carnation series, an atrocious poet teams up with an American widow to prevent Napoleon’s invasion of England.

Secret agent Augustus Whittlesby has spent a decade undercover in France, posing as an insufferably bad poet. The French surveillance officers can’t bear to read his work closely enough to recognize the information drowned in a sea of verbiage.

New York-born Emma Morris Delagardie is a thorn in Augustus’s side. An old school friend of Napoleon’s stepdaughter, she came to France with her uncle, the American envoy; eloped with a Frenchman; and has been rattling around the salons of Paris ever since. Widowed for four years, she entertains herself by drinking too much champagne, holding a weekly salon, and loudly critiquing Augustus’s poetry.

As Napoleon pursues his plans for the invasion of England, Whittlesby hears of a top-secret device to be demonstrated at a house party at Malmaison. The catch? The only way in is with Emma, who has been asked to write a masque for the weekend’s entertainment.

Emma is at a crossroads: Should she return to the States or remain in France? She’ll do anything to postpone the decision-even if it means teaming up with that silly poet Whittlesby to write a masque for Bonaparte’s house party. But each soon learns that surface appearances are misleading. In this complicated masque within a masque, nothing goes quite as scripted- especially Augustus’s feelings for Emma.

A Grand Giveaway!

It is hard to decide if I appreciate Lauren’s historical detail, witty dialogue or her swoon worthy romantic characters best, but the combination is always one of my favorite books of the year.

You can be one of the first to read The Garden Intrigue months before it goes on sale! Even before ME! Lauren has generously offered two advance reading copies to Austenprose readers in a giveaway contest. Just leave a comment stating what aspects of Lauren’s Pink Carnation series you enjoy most, or if you are a new reader to the series (shocking) what intrigues you about reading The Garden Intrigue, by midnight PT Wednesday, October 5, 2011. Winners to be announce on Thursday, October 6, 2011. Shipment internationally. Yep, that’s right. Global shipment! Good luck!

Thanks again to Lauren Willig for her generosity in giving Austenprose readers this great chance to win a copy The Garden Intrigue. I can’t wait to read it!

The Garden Intrigue (Pink Carnation No 9), by Lauren Willig
Dutton (2012)
Hardcover (400) pages
ISBN: 978-0525952541

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Giveaway winners announced for The Twelfth Enchantment

The Twelfth Enchantment: A Novel, by David Liss (2011)21 of you left comments qualifying you for a chance to win one of three copies of The Twelfth Enchantment, by David Liss. The winners drawn at random are:

  • Janis Rothermel who left a comment on September 15, 2011
  • Julianne B. who left a comment on September 18, 2011
  • Kate who left a comment on September 15, 2011

Congratulations ladies! To claim your prize, please contact me with your full name and address by September 29, 2011. Shipment is to US and Canadian addresses only.

Thanks to author David Liss for sharing his inspiration and insights on adding Mary Crawford to his new novel The Twelfth Enchantment, and to all who left comments. I for one am totally intrigued to see what he does with one of Austen’s most misguided anti-heroines.

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Giveaway winner announced for Jane and the Canterbury Tale

Jane and the Canterbury Tale, by Stephanie Barron (2011)20 of you left comments qualifying you for a chance to win a signed copy of Jane and the Canterbury Tale, by Stephanie Barron. The winner drawn at random is Sharon who left a comment on September 8, 2011.

Congratulations Sharon! To claim your prize, please contact me with your full name and address by September 29, 2011. Shipment is to US and Canadian addresses only.

Thanks to all who left comments, and for all those participating in the Being a Jane Austen Mystery Reading Challenge 2011. We are reading all eleven novels in this great Austen inspired mystery series this year. Next month we are taking a break, but will resume the reading challenge on Wednesday, November 9th with Jane and the Barque of Frailty.

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

The Twelfth Enchantment: A Novel, by David Liss – A Review

The Twelfth Enchantment: A Novel, by David Liss (2011)Guest review by Kimberly Denny-Ryder of Reflections of a Book Addict

Historical fiction? Check.  Magic?  Check.  Awesome heroine?  Check.   Lord Byron?!  Check!  Did you ever imagine those four items to be in the same novel together?  I sure didn’t, so I was in for a definite surprise when I started reading The Twelfth Enchantment by David Liss.  Set in the early 19th century in a pre-industrial England, Liss weaves a tale of mystery, intrigue, and magic that leaves the reader wanting more, creating a plot that I was increasingly excited to be pulled in to.

Lucy Derrick’s entire life is about to change.  Whilst in her house one evening with her family and her fiancée Mr. Olson, a sudden banging occurs at the door.  A man whom the house’s inhabitants have never met before demands to speak to Lucy and put a stop to her engagement!  After setting eyes on Lucy and speaking a prophecy involving the phrase, “Gather the leaves”, he proceeds to vomit pins, a sure sign of a curse.  Fearful of whom this young man is and what he wants with Lucy, he is brought into the house to await a doctor who declares his condition is due to magic and that he is unable to help him. He can however, recommend someone who may have experience in this field.  A Mary Crawford, (no, unfortunately not that Mary Crawford from Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, though we can see her as an enchantress of the magical sort), is beckoned to the house and with her persistence and guidance, she helps Lucy discover her magical roots.  The two work together to find the source of the curse and destroy it.  Lucy is amazed to discover how easy it was for her to learn magic, but is more amazed that Mary is not at all surprised at her skill.  A budding friendship between the two woman begins, and it is through this friendship that Lucy learns more and more about her magic.  She is told of a book, the Mutus Liber, which is said to give its possessor the ability to create the magic of the philosopher’s stone.  She learns that this book is somehow involved in the fighting and picketing going on that is protesting the industrial revolution.  Lucy soon finds herself caught between two worlds as her powers grow stronger.  Will she be able to find and translate the Mutus Liber in time to stop the fighting?  Will she discover the meaning behind the prophecy of “gathering the leaves” in time to do what she must?

While the book was incredibly clever and interesting I found myself getting lost in the politics of the story.  The war between the real world and the magical world had to do with the industrial revolution and how it affected England.  While not understanding the specifics and mechanics of the war was a bit confusing, I did understand the remaining plot lines and was able to still enjoy the book.  I liked how the magic that was discussed in the book wasn’t “hocus pocus” magic.  People didn’t just say spells and make things fly across a room.  It was a more nature based magic, which I found to be an interesting and refreshing change from the more common types of magic we see and read about.

Our heroine Lucy Derrick is one of the most awesome fictional heroines I’ve ever encountered.  She starts out as this weak girl who lets all the people around her demean her and put her life on a path that she isn’t happy with.  With the guidance of Mary she begins to understand the woman she’s meant to be, and let me tell you, she becomes a force to be reckoned with.  The way Liss writes her growth as a character is truly remarkable.  When the book opens you feel the dread she feels about the way her life is going, and by the end of the book you feel the strength and confidence she’s gained.   In the middle of the book you feel her doubt these magical powers she’s learning about, and by the end you can feel her completeness in knowing the full extent of what she can do and what she can learn to do.  Liss did a great job at writing her story so that we as readers can relate to it and really get a sense of Lucy’s plight.  May I also add that her love triangle is an ode, in my eyes, to Elizabeth Bennet’s in Pride and Prejudice?  Being a huge fan of Jane Austen and the English Regency I also enjoyed the inclusion of Lord Byron and William Blake, both famous poets of the time, as supporting characters.

This is one book you need to add to your to-be-read pile.  If you enjoy mysteries, you definitely won’t be disappointed.  The mix of earthy magic and the story behind Lucy finding herself as a magician and a woman, while attempting to solve the prophecy made this a very engaging read.  I can’t wait to check out the other works that Liss has to offer!

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Twelfth Enchantment: A Novel, by David Liss
Random House, New York (2011)
Hardcover (416) pages
ISBN: 978-1400068968

© 2007 – 2011 Kimberly Denny-Ryder, Austenprose

Stephanie Barron Featured on NPR

Statue of King George III in Weymouth, England

Author, and friend of Austenprose, Stephanie Barron has contributed an online article in the “Three Books” series on NPR. Which books did she choose? Why Regency-era of course.

In Three Books, Two Centuries And One English Regency, Barron highlights: Seize the Fire: Heroism, Duty, And Nelson’s Battle of Trafalgar,  by Adam Nicolson; The Battle: A New History of Waterloo, by Alessandro Barbero; and Persuasion, by Jane Austen.

Stephanie is famous for her Being a Jane Austen Mystery series of ten (soon to be eleven) novels featuring Jane Austen as a sleuth. We are reading the entire series this year in the Being a Jane Austen Mystery Reading Challenge 2011 right here on Austenprose. You can check out my reviews through the 8th book and other participants reviews posted here. Stephanie’s next book in the series, Jane and the Canterbury Tale, arrives next Tuesday, August 30th, 2011! We are presently reading it and are enchanted.

Stephanie’s three books are all very interesting choices to highlight an era that we all love so dearly — but, Gentle Reader, what would you have selected? Mine would have been…

Cheers,

Laurel Ann

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Suspense and Sensibility or, First Impressions Revisited: A Mr. & Mrs. Darcy Mystery, by Carrie Bebris – A Review

Suspense and Sensibility, by Carrie Bebris (2007)Inspired by characters from Jane Austen’s novels Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, the second in the Mr. & Mrs. Darcy mysteries series begins four months after the marriage of Austen’s famous romantic duo, Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy.

Family obligations take them from Pemberley, their country estate in Derbyshire, to Town to help the couple’s younger sisters, Kitty Bennet and Georgiana Darcy, participate in the London social season.  Being an heiress, Georgiana commands the respect and admiration of many who would like to connect with the Darcy family and its large fortune. Kitty, on the other hand, is quite the opposite. In contrast, her small dowry and lack of social accomplishments leave only her family connections and natural charms to entice an eligible suitor for her hand. He comes in the form of a rich dandy, Harry Dashwood, son of John and Fanny Dashwood of Norland Park, who when first introduced to Miss Catherine Bennet, thinks she is the highly accomplished and very rich Georgiana Darcy. A moment of realization and embarrassment for all is smoothed over by Harry’s continued attentions to Kitty. Elizabeth and Darcy are also relieved that he has other motives than those of his social climbing mother Fanny Dashwood in choosing a wife. He is quite taken with Kitty and invites her and the Darcys to Norland for his twenty-first birthday fete.

Revisiting Norland Park again, we are re-introduced to more characters from Jane Austen’s novel Sense and Sensibility: Robert and Lucy Ferrars & Edward and Elinor Ferrars – but twenty years has transpired since the conclusion of Austen’s novel – and the next generation takes center stage. Harry’s mother Fanny Dashwood, officious and manipulative as ever, disapproves of Catherine Bennet intensely. Wanting her son to marry for money and connections, she fosters a match between Robert & Lucy Ferrars’ unappealing daughter Regina. Harry will have none of it and proves he is his own man and asks for Kitty’s hand and is accepted.

After some doubts about Harry, Elizabeth and Darcy and now very supportive of the engagement. Returning to Town to shop for Kitty’s trousseau, everyone thinks that she has made an excellent match for herself until their first impressions of Harry are sorely tested. His extended absence from his fiancé gives rise to speculation and doubt, coupled with damaging gossip about him being seen about Town engaging in late night carousing with disreputable characters. When he finally reappears at the Darcy’s townhouse to visit his fiancé, he explains that he has been away from London for two weeks visiting relatives. How could that be when he has been seen by so many in Town, including Mr. Darcy himself?

After leisurely starting off quite sedately as a continuation of Pride and Prejudice interlaced with characters from Sense and Sensibility, the plot takes a right hand turn into the realm of the supernatural. A mysterious ancient mirror and an infamous Dashwood relation from the past bring Gothic elements into this mystery that were quite unexpected, but intriguing. Bebris has a wonderful command of Regency history and a complete understanding of Austen’s characters. Even though I solved the mystery that Elizabeth and Darcy must investigate and deduce before the protagonists did, it mattered not. What is most delightful about Bebris’ Mr. & Mrs. Darcy mysteries is the couple themselves. I found myself laughing out loud several times at their witty banter.

“That is precisely why foxhunting is an inappropriate pastime for ladies,” Darcy said. “Blood sport runs counter to their gentle natures.”

Elizabeth thought about many well-bred women who occupied society’s highest ranks, and chuckled softy. “Ladies are quite capable of blood sport, darling. Their field is the drawing room.” Page 54

Suspense and Sensibility is a delightful read, albeit a bit slow to start, it eventually churns and always tickles the funny bone in all the right places.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

This is my eight selection in the Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge 2011, my year-long homage to Jane Austen’s first published novel, Sense and Sensibility. You can follow the event as I post reviews on the fourth Wednesday of every month and read all of the other participants contributions posted in the challenge review pages here.

A Grand Giveaway

Enter a chance to win one copy of Suspense and Sensibility by leaving a comment by midnight PT Wednesday, September 7, 2011 stating what intrigues you about reading a Jane Austen-inspired mystery, or who your favorite character was in either of the original novels. Winners will be announced on Thursday, September 8, 2011. Shipment to US or Canadian addresses only.

Suspense and Sensibility or, First Impressions Revisited: A Mr. & Mrs. Darcy Mystery, by Carrie Bebris
Forge Books (2007)
Trade paperback (304) pages
ISBN: 9780765318442

© 2007 – 2011, Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Tea with Jane Austen, by Kim Wilson – A Review

Tea with Jane Austen, by Kim Wilson (2011)We are always happy to see an author’s work go into a second edition, especially when they are as deserving of reprint as Kim Wilson’s beautiful Jane Austen-inspired books: Tea with Jane Austen and In the Garden with Jane Austen. Previously published in 2004 and 2008 respectively by Jones Books in the US, this new edition has been reprinted by Frances Lincoln, Limited of London. Both of these nonfiction books are gems of historical detail filled with awe inspiring visual splendor and informative insights into Jane Austen, her novels and her life.

Ms. Wilson is as an accomplished a writer as she is a designer, selecting beautiful vintage images to illustrate the text. Kudos also go out to her publisher who decided to use color images in this new edition and was wise enough to match the size and printing quality of each of the volumes to make them a matched pair. They make eye popping gifts for Janeites, cooks and gardeners alike.

I have previously reviewed In the Garden with Jane Austen in 2008 and my “affections and wishes are unchanged.” You can read my review here. I will however, offer my impressions of Tea with Jane Austen in the balance of this review.

In Regency era England, the popularity and social importance of tea-drinking is exemplified by Jane Austen’s characters no less than fifty-eight times in her six major novels. The observant reader will recognize pivotal events transpire around sitting down and taking tea: In Emma, Miss Bates declines coffee “No coffee, I thank you, for me-never take coffee. A little tea if you please,” in Northanger Abbey impressionable Catherine Moreland drinks tea with the Tilney’s and is awed by the “elegance of the breakfast set,” and in Pride and Prejudice, the toady Mr. Collins boasts of the supreme honor that his esteemed patroness Lady Catherine de Bourgh has bestowed on Elizabeth Bennet in being asked to tea at her grand residence of Rosings Park. We also know from Jane Austen’s letters that she was a tea-lover too. “We began our China Tea three days ago, & I find it very good.” Jane Austen, in a letter to her sister, Cassandra, 31 May 1811

Popularized in the early 1700’s by Charles II’s wife Queen Catherine, a century later tea drinking had become a passionate ritual for the gentry and aristocracy in England. Tea at any meal was de rigueur, in fact, a whole meal was named after it. Tea-time is traditionally a light late afternoon meal about 4:00 pm created to tide one over until supper, which in Town, could be very late into the evening. Tea with Jane Austen primarily delves into the social history of tea and its role in Jane Austen’s life and her writing. It also offers a delectable array of recipes listed with traditional Regency era ingredients and preparation along with a conversion for the modern cook. Readers may find, like me, that with so much talk of food that one wants to dash out to the kitchen and commence to make the perfect cup of tea as described on page 114, and throw oneself into baking the plum cake from page 31. Ha!

What I found most enjoyable about this slim volume was the frequent mention of events in Austen’s life or incidents by her characters in the novels that illustrate the importance of tea as a very British ritual. Quotes are used liberally throughout adding to the connection.

“Perhaps you should like some tea, as soon as it can be got.” They both declared that they should prefer it to anything. Mrs. Price to Fanny and William in Mansfield Park.

Broken down into interesting chapters: Tea in the Morning; Tea Shopping; Tea Away from Home; Tea and Health and Tea in the Evening, this book is packed with historical information conveniently indexed in the back and features a select bibliography for further reading. The friendly conversational style of the author is as welcome and soothing as her topic.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Tea with Jane Austen, by Kim Wilson
Frances Lincoln Limited (2011) London
Hardcover (128) pages
ISBN: 978-0711231894

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose