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Source: Review copy from author
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Lady Catherine, now purple about the gills, opened and closed her mouth like the trout he fished in the Pemberley streams, but before she could utter another word, Fitzwilliam Darcy spoke.  ‘There is no more to discuss, except to say that I am willing to forgive and forget, there will be no further reference to the interview that has taken place or to your past misdemeanours if you abide by my rules.’

Without waiting for a further reaction, Mr. Darcy turned on his heel and marched out of the room, aware that his aunt was left flabbergasted, stunned, and for once, quite speechless.

(from Mrs. Darcy’s Diamonds)

Quick summary: Mrs. Darcy’s Diamonds is a sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and a Jane Austen Jewel Box Novella by Jane Odiwe.  Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy have only been married for a few weeks when they invite the Bingleys, the Bennets, and Lady Catherine to Pemberley for Christmas.  Their happiness is interrupted when Elizabeth loses a diamond ring that is a Darcy family heirloom, and the Wickhams come around with news of a scandal that could tarnish the Darcy name.  With Lydia prancing around the ballroom saying things she shouldn’t, Lady Catherine and Caroline Bingley united in their dislike of the Bennets, and Darcy’s distant and mysterious French cousins Antoine and Louise de Valois becoming fast friends of Georgiana’s, it’s not surprising that Pemberley is in a state of chaos.

Why I wanted to read it: Odiwe is one of my favorite authors of Austen-inspired fiction.  I’ve enjoyed every book of hers I’ve read so far: Lydia Bennet’s Story, Mr. Darcy’s Secret, Searching for Captain Wentworth, and Project Darcy.

What I liked: Mrs. Darcy’s Diamonds gives readers a peek into Darcy and Elizabeth’s happily ever after, showing the depths of their passion without getting too steamy and how the strength of their love will enable them to conquer any challenge thrown at them.  Odiwe does a great job packing a lot into such a short story so that I was never bored, nor did I feel overwhelmed.  I loved that there was a bit of mystery and scandal — and especially that I didn’t figure it out right away.  I also enjoyed the original characters, Antoine and Louise, and how secondary characters like Georgiana Darcy and Anne de Bourgh are fleshed out a little more.

What I disliked: I wish the story had been longer, but I was happy to read at the end that another Jewel Box Novella is coming soon!

Final thoughts: Mrs. Darcy’s Diamonds is the perfect short read for a brisk afternoon, with a cup of tea and Christmas on the horizon.  Odiwe is one of those authors whose books always make my wish list as soon as I hear about them, and I’ve never been disappointed.  I enjoyed watching Elizabeth come into her own as the mistress of Pemberley, forging close bonds with the tenants and softening Darcy’s rough edges.  Most of all, I enjoyed Georgiana’s story, seeing her come out of her shell and become more confident in the months since the ordeal with Wickham, and I can’t wait for Odiwe to continue her story.

Disclosure: I received Mrs. Darcy’s Diamonds from the author for review.

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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the annoted persuasion

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★★

Such a letter was not to be soon recovered from.  Half an hour’s solitude and reflection might have tranquillized her; but the ten minutes only, which now passed before she was interrupted, with all the restraints of her situation, could do nothing towards tranquillity.  Every moment rather brought fresh agitation.  It was an overpowering happiness.

(from The Annotated Persuasion, page 454)

Quick summary: I’m not going to rehash the plot of Persuasion, since this is my second time reading this novel, but you can click here if you’d like to read my thoughts after reading it for the first time.  I’m going to focus more on the annotations by David M. Shapard.  The Annotated Persuasion may seem long at just over 500 pages, but the actual novel is only half of the book.  Jane Austen’s words are on the left page, and Shapard’s annotations are conveniently placed on the right.

Why I wanted to read it: I sort of read all of Jane Austen’s novels blind the first time around, with only the minimal footnotes provided at the back of the various editions I own.  When I learned about Shapard’s annotated editions, chock full of information about the era during which Austen’s novels were written, I just had to add them to my Austen collection.

What I liked: Everything!  Shapard’s annotations cover everything from definitions of words that may be unfamiliar to modern readers to why Austen spelled words a certain way, from tidbits about the culture and society of the time to analyses of various passages, from illustrations of various buildings in Bath, clothing, and forms of transportation to maps that show where the characters lived and traveled.  These annotations made my second reading of Persuasion a thoroughly enjoyable experience.  I finished the novel for the second time with a richer understanding of the characters and the time period and a better appreciation for Austen’s genius.  And best of all, putting the text of the novel and the annotations side by side eliminates the annoyance of having to constantly flip to the back of the book to read the footnotes.

What I disliked: Honestly, I found nothing to dislike about The Annotated Persuasion, which was not surprising to me because I already knew I loved the novel.  However, I think the extensive annotations may be both a help and a hindrance to readers taking on Persuasion for the first time.  With numerous annotations per page, it might be distracting to read a bit of the novel, shift to the annotations, read more of the novel, and then shift back to the annotations.  I never felt lost because I always knew where I was in the story and what would happen next, but I could see how easy it would be to get lost if you were reading it for the first time.

Final thoughts: The Annotated Persuasion is the perfect book for Austen fans or readers who simply want to delve deeper into the story of Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth.  Shapard covers so many topics that it’s impossible to list them all, but it’s obvious he has done his homework in order to provide a comprehensive analysis of the novel.  Most of all, I loved revisiting one of my favorite novels, and I loved it ever more the second time around.  I can’t wait to read the other annotated editions by Shapard that are currently in my collection: The Annotated Pride and Prejudice, The Annotated Emma, and The Annotated Sense and SensibilityThe Annotated Northanger Abbey is on my wish list, and you can bet I’ll be adding The Annotated Mansfield Park to my collection when it is released next year.

Disclosure: The Annotated Persuasion is from my personal library.

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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the madness of mr. darcyIf you were wondering why I hadn’t been around the blogs much recently, it was because I had an opportunity I could not pass up.  I’ve long wanted to devote my editorial skills to fiction, so when Alexa Adams (whose Pride and Prejudice-inspired novels First Impressions, Second Glances, and Holidays at Pemberley are among my favorites in the genre) asked me to edit her latest novel, of course, I had to say yes!  I enjoyed working with Alexa on this project, I’m proud of my contribution, and I hope it will lead to other editing opportunities in the future.

The Madness of Mr. Darcy is now available:

The year is 1832 and regrets beleaguer Fitzwilliam Darcy.  All he ever cared for has been taken from him: his pride, his sister, and his true love, Elizabeth Bennet.  Now, having nearly murdered a man in a fit of rage, he might lose Pemberley, too.  More than just his home, his very identity is at stake.  In desperation, he seeks the help of Dr. Frederick Wilson, owner and proprietor of Ramsey House, a madhouse for fine ladies and gentlemen.  Is Darcy’s confinement the inevitable end to his tortured descent, or will he rediscover what he lost in the most unlikely of places?

I am excited to share an excerpt of The Madness of Mr. Darcy, and Alexa is offering a giveaway as well (see details below).

March 1813

Elizabeth could not sleep. She sat on the window ledge of her bedroom at Longbourn staring out across the lawn towards the long, irregular drive. It had been eight months since her sister, Lydia, had run away from Brighton, and they had no word of her since. Elizabeth was growing accustomed to a lack of sleep, and the long nights passed between painful contemplation and futile attempts to avoid such thoughts altogether – thoughts of what might have happened to her sister.

It was nearly a full moon, and by its determined light, she suddenly perceived movement by the drive’s end, where the palings marked the entrance to the small estate. Staring determinedly in their direction, she was shocked to perceive a scantily clad figure running towards the house. She started, and quickly confirming the truth of what her senses perceived, secured her shawl about her shoulders and raced out her bedroom, down the stairs, through the hall, and unlocked the front door.

“Lydia!” she cried at the familiar face before all similarity to her youngest sibling disappeared beneath the spectacle of a disheveled creature, thrusting itself into her arms and sobbing violently.

The house began to rouse at the noise as Elizabeth half carried, half dragged the woman she was certain must be Lydia (though she still wished to look at her face again for confirmation of that distressing notion) into the nearest parlor, where she flopped upon the couch, a spectacle for the first servants to arrive on scene, and wrapped herself more tightly into Elizabeth’s arms, weeping yet harder.

It was impossible to get her to raise her head, but Elizabeth knew it was she. She wrapped an arm around the mound of tattered fabric in her lap and began to make a shushing noise, as to a baby.

“Lizzy! What is this?” Her mother’s voice demanded.

“Shhh!” she said louder, and then in quiet but shocked tones, “Tis Lydia, I think!”

“Lydia?” her mother repeated, blinking absently while her husband, at her side, clutched the door for support and grew remarkably pale.

“My God!” he exclaimed, his wife still agape and unmoving.

“What is it, Mama?” Elizabeth heard Kitty say, though she could no longer watch the tableau her family presented, all her attention being demanded by the person in her arms. “Why is Lizzy cradling a beggar?”

“Quiet, child!” her mother replied, suddenly stirred into action. She approached her youngest, dearest child. She knelt beside the sofa and reached for the crying creature’s face with both hands, holding it up for inspection. The incessant weeping stopped, and Mrs. Bennet stared into her favorite’s face, dirty and tear-streaked. Tears welled in her own eyes as she said, “Oh, my darling,” and wrapped her arms around her, taking Elizabeth’s burden beside her on the couch. The two women wept together in each other’s arms for several moments before Lydia suddenly, and with great violence, pushed her mother away and dove back to Lizzy, holding her far too tightly. The weeping was replaced by a strange whimpering noise, rather squeaky and frantic.

Mr. Bennet helped his wife to rise from the floor, where she had very unceremoniously landed. The lady rose while holding a hand to her cheek, which revealed a smear of blood when she examined it. “She scratched me!” Mrs. Bennet said in astonishment. “What does this mean, Mr. Bennet?”

The gentleman walked cautiously towards his daughter, whose face was now easier to see where it perched over Elizabeth’s shoulder. “My God!” he said again. “She is mad!”

“It is as Mr. Collins said,” Mary interjected, thinking of everything she had ever read of womanly virtue. “It would have been better if she were dead.”

No one made any reply.

Giveaway:

There are 2 copies of The Madness of Mr. Darcy up for grabs.  International readers will receive an ebook, and U.S. readers will have a choice between an ebook or a paperback.  This giveaway will close Sunday, October 19.  To enter, leave a comment with your email address telling me what most interests you about this novel.  The winners will be notified by email.

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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twelfth night at longbourn

Source: Review copy from author
Rating: ★★★★☆

She would be as these old mumpers — old and alone.  She would have to rely on the charity of her neighbors when no one else cared for her.

And it was all Lydia’s fault.

She flung herself headlong onto her bed.  The pillow muffled her wrenching sobs.  Such was the mumpers’ blessing.

(from Twelfth Night at Longbourn, pages 12-13)

Twelfth Night at Longbourn is Volume IV of Maria Grace’s Given Good Principles series, which are variations of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  To fully understand the world Grace has created with Austen’s beloved characters, readers should read the previous books — Darcy’s Decision, The Future Mrs. Darcy, and All the Appearance of Goodness — in order.

With the older Bennet sisters all happily married, Kitty is the only one to be shunned by their neighbors and contend with eventual spinsterhood as a result of their youngest sister Lydia’s elopement.  With Mrs. Bennet confined to bed with her nerves and Mr. Bennet in his own world as usual, Kitty is more isolated than ever, but when Elizabeth invites her to spend Twelfth Night at Pemberley, she jumps at the chance to socialize with people who will not judge her based on her sister’s actions.

Kitty is to spend Christmas in London with Georgiana Darcy before journeying to Pemberley, and while there, she renews her acquaintance with Mr. Bingley and his sister Louisa, who have problems of their own.  Kitty longs to become a more elegant, refined Catherine, but it is difficult to leave her old life behind, especially as Miss Darcy proves herself to be as silly and careless as Lydia.  It’s not long before her plans for the holiday are in ruins, and she will have to learn that Kitty is just as worthy as Catherine.

Grace has quickly become one of my favorite authors of Austen-inspired fiction.  Her love of Austen’s characters and the Regency era shine through in all of her novels, but Twelfth Night at Longbourn is special in that she brings Kitty Bennet to life.  Kitty blossoms within these pages, and it was easy to ignore the fact that Elizabeth and Darcy are relegated to the background.  Grace beautifully details Kitty’s transformation from a lonely girl to a strong woman unwavering in her loyalty to the people she loves and willing to forgive those who have hurt her.

I may not have particularly liked Grace’s portrayal of Georgiana, but making her less shy and more exuberant helps one to understand how she could have been fooled by Mr. Wickham.  My dislike of Georgiana was easily forgotten by how much I enjoyed spending time with the Bingleys and the Gardiners.  Twelfth Night at Longbourn wraps up the series perfectly, leaving readers in no doubt of what happens to all of the characters and satisfied with the outcome, even though the couples were paired differently.  Even so, I would love for Grace to revisit the characters as she portrayed them here and show us how they fared years down the road.

Disclosure: I received Twelfth Night at Longbourn from the author for review.

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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all the appearance of goodness

Source: Review copy from author
Rating: ★★★★☆

“Did you enjoy your share of my father’s raspberries, sir?” she asked softly, eyes on her sisters.

“Of what do you accuse me, Miss Elizabeth?”  He glanced at her.  One corner of his lips drew up.

“The last time I saw you, you sported drops of berry juice on your fingers and on your chin.  I fear you are a most ineffective thief.”  She arched an eyebrow.

(from All the Appearance of Goodness, page 38)

All the Appearance of Goodness is Volume III in Maria Grace’s Given Good Principles series of Pride and Prejudice variations.  The series began with Darcy’s Decision, in which a young Fitzwilliam Darcy comes to terms with his responsibilities as master of Pemberley, and The Future Mrs. Darcy, in which Elizabeth Bennet must take control of the household and rein in her foolish little sister Lydia before she ruins the Bennet family’s reputation.  In this installment, Darcy and Elizabeth finally cross paths, as he accompanies Mr. Bingley to Netherfield Park.

With his vicar and trusted advisor Mr. Bradley at his side, Darcy hopes his time in the country will allow him to practice his social skills, but he is caught off guard when he gets lost on the Bennet’s property and encounters a lively Elizabeth.  It’s not long before the Bennet sisters have befriended Darcy, Bingley, and Bingley’s sister Louisa, and Jane Bennet immediately catches the eye of Darcy’s cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam.  But things become chaotic as the Bennets begin to plan Mary’s wedding, Caroline Bingley arrives with an arrogance and outspokenness that would give Lady Catherine a run for her money, and Mr. Collins comes to check out the estate he will one day inherit and immediately sets his sights on Elizabeth.

Mr. Collins has good looks and good manners, and Darcy soon realizes he has some competition in his quest to win Elizabeth’s affections.  It soon becomes apparent that Mr. Collins may not be what he seems, but Darcy’s inability to express his thoughts and feelings doesn’t do much to help his cause either.  A confused Elizabeth is forced to determine which man has all the goodness and which only has the appearance of it.

All the Appearance of Goodness was so different and so exciting that after two cups of tea, I was already more than halfway through the book, and I dismissed my plans for the rest of the day because I just had to see how it all played out.  Watching Mr. Darcy and Mr. Collins try to outdo one another was amusing at first, but I was surprised (and delighted, of course) when the story took a more sinister turn.  I loved that Louisa Bingley was so likeable and Caroline Bingley much more despicable in this variation, and their confrontation is an absolute must-read.  I found it a little odd that Bingley, as amiable as ever, was relegated to the background and spent most of his time with Kitty and Lydia, but it worked here.  But mostly I enjoyed having no idea how the expected happily ever after would be achieved.

Maria Grace has a knack for shaking things up in her variations, as evidenced by her latest novel, Remember the Past (which I loved).  I don’t know why it took me so long to continue this series, but I’m so glad I did.  There is a lot that happens in the first two volumes that shape Grace’s versions of Darcy and Elizabeth, so readers will want to read them before picking up All the Appearance of Goodness.  From Grace’s original characters like Mr. Bradley to her portrayal of characters we already love to hate, All the Appearance of Goodness was a pure delight.  I immediately picked up the next book in the series, Twelfth Night at Longbourn, so stay tuned for my review.

Disclosure: I received All the Appearance of Goodness from the author for review.

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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mr. darcy's pledge

Source: Review copy from author
Rating: ★★★★☆

“Georgiana, I have come to a decision.  It is time for me to find a bride for Pemberley.”

Who that bride would be, he had no idea.  Only one thing was certain.  It would not be Elizabeth Bennet.

(from Mr. Darcy’s Pledge, page 10)

Mr. Darcy’s Pledge, Volume 1 of The Darcy Novels, is a variation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice that caught my eye because it focuses on Mr. Darcy’s attempts to forget Elizabeth Bennet by setting out on a quest to find a wife.  After she rejects his disastrous proposal at Hunsford, he returns to Pemberley never having presented Elizabeth with the letter that would have told her the truth about him and cleared up all the misunderstandings.  With the help of his sister, Georgiana, who knows nothing of his failed attempts to secure Elizabeth’s hand in marriage, he sets about making a list of the qualities he most desires in a wife and mistress of Pemberley.

Darcy is rattled when Georgiana questions him about the most important quality he seeks in a wife, remembering Elizabeth’s laughter, impertinence, and ability to remain poised in the worst of situations.  But he can never have her, and his desperate attempts to purge her from his mind give two young women the wrong idea.

Meanwhile, he must contend with Lord and Lady Matlock’s attempts to marry off Georgiana, and he has to patch up his friendship with Mr. Bingley, who has withdrawn from society after learning of the scheme to prevent him from proposing to Elizabeth’s sister, Jane.  When an accident brings Elizabeth to Pemberley, Darcy has a chance to change her opinion of him, but with an assortment of house guests preventing him from speaking to her alone, will he lose his only opportunity to marry for love?

In Mr. Darcy’s Pledge, Monica Fairview lets readers see the events following his failed proposal through Darcy’s eyes.  From wounded pride to embarrassment over his behavior to unexpected feelings of hope, readers see Darcy stumble — even emerging from the water à la Colin Firth — and evolve into a man worthy of Elizabeth’s love.  There were plenty of heated conversations, misunderstandings, and competition among the ladies to have me alternating between anger and laughter, and I wanted to cheer out loud each time Georgiana amassed the courage to put certain disagreeable people in their rightful places.

Fairview keeps readers interested with her expansion of several secondary characters, particularly Georgiana; the introduction of original characters, from the humorous valet Briggs to the obnoxiously transparent Miss Marshall; and Darcy’s sweet attempts to make himself appealing to Elizabeth.  My only complaint is that I finished the book disappointed that I couldn’t start the next installment straight away!

Disclosure: I received Mr. Darcy’s Pledge from the author for review.

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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a jane austen daydream

Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Rating: ★★★★☆

“I am a different person now.”

“Different?  How so?”

“I decided this last week,” Jane said matter-of-factly.  “I am planning to begin a new chapter in my life.”

“Is this like one of your little books?”

“My books are anything but little, Cassandra.”

(from A Jane Austen Daydream)

In A Jane Austen Daydream, Scott D. Southard says from the start, “This book is a work of fiction, only marginally influenced by the facts.”  From there, he takes readers on a journey with Jane Austen from her home in Steventon to her brother’s home at Godmersham Park and even to Bath and Chawton, from her early 20s through the publication of Sense and Sensibility.  Readers familiar with the known details of Austen’s life will notice that he plays with the timeline of her life, making her brother Charles younger than he should be, for instance, but his portrayal of Austen’s wit and sharp tongue provides much humor and makes it easy to just go with the flow.

Austen never married, but since she wrote much about love and had a keen understanding of romantic relationships and human nature, it’s not surprising that people want to believe she had a great love story of her own.  Generally the novels that create such a love story focus on one romance, but Southard imagines several relationships for Jane, including a youthful flirtation full of misunderstanding with Tom LeFroy and an attraction with a mysterious American with whom she crosses paths in Bath.

Southard also references Austen’s novels, and readers can imagine Jane tucking the things people say into her memory for later use in a novel and picture her at her writing desk remembering the ridiculous people she met over the years and turning them into Lady Catherine de Bourgh or Mr. Collins.  Southard also imagines the events that would inspire the two insulting proposals Elizabeth Bennet receives in Pride and Prejudice, and it was fun to find these things within the story.

A Jane Austen Daydream shows how a palm-reading by a gypsy put Jane on the lookout for love and how each of the men she meets along the way changed her views about love and marriage, her writing and her future.  Southard also focuses on Jane’s close relationship with her sister, Cassandra, how deeply Cassandra was affected by her fiancé’s death, and the burden women placed on their families by remaining unmarried.  Jane’s strained relationships with her parents, her brothers, and even their wives also play a role in the story, making it more exciting and dramatic, whether true or not.

The novel is creative in its blending of the facts with fiction, but the only thing I didn’t like was (spoiler alert, highlight the rest of the sentence to reveal) how the author inserted himself into the story.  Despite that minor quibble, I found myself lost in the novel, enjoying the Jane he brings to life on the page and the nod he gives to her immortality, as she lives on forever in the novels she wrote and the movies and novels they have, in turn, inspired.

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historical fiction challenge

Book 20 for the Historical Fiction Challenge

Disclosure: I received A Jane Austen Daydream from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review.

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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