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Posts Tagged ‘jane austen reading challenge’

I can’t believe 2011 has ended already.  The end of the year sneaked up on me, so I’m glad that I had some time off from work last week to just sit around and read, or more of my reading challenges would be left unfinished.  Despite going through a little mid-year reading slump, I still managed to read 103 books last year, and I completed 7 of the 8 reading challenges in which I participated.  Here’s a break-down of my challenge progress:

hosted by War Through the Generations

I signed up for the Swim level to read 11+ books for the U.S. Civil War Reading Challenge 2011, which I co-hosted with Serena on War Through the Generations.  I finished this challenge by the skin of my teeth, completing my 11th book yesterday afternoon.  I knew little beyond the basics of the Civil War before this challenge, so I stuck mainly with middle grade and young adult novels so as not overwhelm myself with new information.  In doing so, I discovered Ann Rinaldi’s wonderful novels, and I hope to read the rest of her books at some point.

1. Juliet’s Moon by Ann Rinaldi
2. Amelia’s War by Ann Rinaldi
3. Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles
4. My Vicksburg by Ann Rinaldi
5. Numbering All the Bones by Ann Rinaldi
6. When Will This Cruel War Be Over? The Civil War Diary of Emma Simpson by Barry Denenberg
7. Petticoat Spies: Six Women Spies of the Civil War by Peggy Caravantes
8. Sarah’s Ground by Ann Rinaldi
9. Come Juneteenth by Ann Rinaldi
10. The Ever-After Bird by Ann Rinaldi
11. Girl in Blue by Ann Rinaldi (review forthcoming)

The Girl also completed this challenge. She signed up for 1-3 books, and finished 3. Way to go!

1. Soldier’s Heart by Gary Paulsen
2. When Will This Cruel War Be Over? The Civil War Diary of Emma Simpson by Barry Denenberg
3. Petticoat Spies: Six Women Spies of the Civil War by Peggy Caravantes

hosted by Historical Tapestry

For the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge, I signed up for the Severe Bookaholism level of 20 books, but went above and beyond by reading 45 books, which is not surprising given that it’s my favorite genre.  While most of these were war-related books, particularly WWII, I did branch out a bit more in terms of topics. I strayed far from the list I created when I signed up for the challenge.

1. The Crimson Rooms by Katharine McMahon (post-WWI)
2. Dangerous Neighbors by Beth Kephart (Philadelphia’s Centennial Fair, 1876)
3. The Report by Jessica Francis Kane (WWII)
4. Small Wars by Sadie Jones (1956 war in Cyprus)
5. Strange Meeting by Susan Hill (WWI)
6. The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanah (WWII)
7. How Many Miles to Babylon? by Jennifer Johnston (WWI)
8. The Linen Queen by Patricia Falvey (WWII)
9. The Postmistress by Sarah Blake (WWII)
10. The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West (WWI)
11. The Matchmaker of Kenmare by Frank Delaney (WWII)
12. Lebensborn by Jo Ann Bender (WWII)
13. Heart of Deception by M.L. Malcolm (WWII and later)
14. Far to Go by Alison Pick (WWII)
15. The Winter of the World by Carol Ann Lee (WWI)
16. Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende (Saint-Domingue, 1770)
17. The Katyn Order by Douglas W. Jacobson (WWII)
18. The Sea and Poison by Shusaku Endo
19. When We Danced on Water by Evan Fallenberg (WWII)
20. Next to Love by Ellen Feldman (WWII)
21. War & Watermelon by Rich Wallace (Vietnam War)
22. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
23. Juliet’s Moon by Ann Rinaldi (American Civil War)
24. The Book of Lies by Mary Horlock (WWII)
25. Becoming Marie Antoinette by Juliet Gray (Marie Antoinette as a child through the death of Louis XV)
26. The Things We Cherished by Pam Jenoff (WWII)
27. Amelia’s War by Ann Rinaldi (American Civil War)
28. Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles (American Civil War)
29. The Entertainer and the Dybbuk by Sid Fleischman (post-WWII)
30. Displaced Persons by Ghita Schwarz (post-WWII)
31. My Vicksburg by Ann Rinaldi (American Civil War)
32. Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli (WWII)
33. Only Time Will Tell by Jeffrey Archer (WWII)
34. The Lost Wife by Alison Richman (WWII)
35. Wings by Karl Friedrich (WWII)
36. Numbering All the Bones by Ann Rinaldi (American Civil War)
37. Lily of the Nile by Stephanie Dray (ancient Egypt)
38. Song of the Nile by Stephanie Dray (ancient Egypt)
39. Camp Nine by Vivienne Schiffer (WWII)
40. The Woman Who Heard Color by Kelly Jones (WWII)
41. When Will This Cruel War Be Over? The Civil War Diary of Emma Simpson by Barry Denenberg (American Civil War)
42. Sarah’s Ground by Ann Rinaldi (American Civil War)
43. Come Juneteenth by Ann Rinaldi (American Civil War)
44. The Ever-After War by Ann Rinaldi (Underground Railroad, 1851)
45. Girl in Blue by Ann Rinaldi (American Civil War) (review forthcoming)

hosted by Savvy Verse & Wit

For the Fearless Poetry Exploration Challenge, I signed up to read the minimum of 1 book, but I ended up reading 2. I joined this challenge again for 2012 and hope to boost that number.

1. Delights & Shadows by Ted Kooser
2. The Poets Laureate Anthology edited by Elizabeth Hun Schmidt

hosted by My Love Affair With Books

For the Wish I’d Read That Challenge, I signed up for Obsessed level of 20 books, and ended up reading 22. Again, I didn’t follow the list I created when I signed up for the challenge.

1. Dangerous Neighbors by Beth Kephart
2. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
3. The Postmistress by Sarah Blake
4. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
5. The History of England by Jane Austen
6. Amelia’s War by Ann Rinaldi
7. The Entertainer and the Dybbuk by Sid Fleischman
8. My Vicksburg by Ann Rinaldi
9. Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli
10. Numbering All the Bones by Ann Rinaldi
11. The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston
12. Frederic and Elfrida by Jane Austen
13. It by Stephen King
14. Edgar and Emma by Jane Austen
15. Henry and Eliza by Jane Austen
16. The Beautiful Cassandra by Jane Austen
17. When Will This Cruel War Be Over? The Civil War Diary of Emma Simpson by Barry Denenberg
18. Petticoat Spies: Six Women Spies of the Civil War by Peggy Caravantes
19. Sarah’s Ground by Ann Rinaldi
20. Come Juneteenth by Ann Rinaldi
21. The Ever-After Bird by Ann Rinaldi
22. Girl in Blue by Ann Rinaldi (review forthcoming)

hosted by The Life (and lies) of an inanimate flying object

hosted by A Faithful Journey

For the Jane Austen Challenge, I signed up as a Fanatic to read at least 6 works by Jane Austen and at least 6 Austenesque novels.  For the Jane Austen Reading Challenge, I signed up with a personal goal of 5-10 books.  For both challenges, I read a total of 27 books, including 6 works by Jane Austen.

1. The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy by Mary Lydon Simonsen
2. Darcy and Fitzwilliam by Karen V. Wasylowski
3. Mr. Darcy’s Secret by Jane Odiwe
4. The Jane Austen Handbook by Margaret C. Sullivan
5. Captain Wentworth’s Persuasion by Regina Jeffers
6. Only Mr. Darcy Will Do by Kara Louise
7. What Would Mr. Darcy Do? by Abigail Reynolds
8. Wickham’s Diary by Amanda Grange
9. My Jane Austen Summer by Cindy Jones
10. A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz
11. The Truth About Mr. Darcy by Susan Adriani
12. Mr. Darcy and the Secret of Becoming a Gentleman by Maria Hamilton
13. Mr. Darcy Goes Overboard by Belinda Roberts
14. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
15. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dreadfully Ever After by Steve Hockensmith
16. The History of England by Jane Austen
17. A Weekend With Mr. Darcy by Victoria Connelly
18. A Wife for Mr. Darcy by Mary Lydon Simonsen
19. Fitzwilliam Darcy, Rock Star by Heather Lyn Rigaud
20. Mr. Darcy’s Undoing by Abigail Reynolds
21. Mr. Darcy’s Bite by Mary Lydon Simonsen
22. Expectations of Happiness by Rebecca Ann Collins
23. Jane Austen Made Me Do It edited by Laurel Ann Nattress
24. Frederic and Elfrida by Jane Austen
25. Edgar and Emma by Jane Austen
26. Henry and Eliza by Jane Austen
27. The Beautiful Cassandra by Jane Austen

hosted by Austenprose

For the Sense & Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge, I signed up for just 1 book.  I’d hoped to read more, but at least I completed it.

1. Expectations of Happiness by Rebecca Ann Collins

hosted by Austenprose

I signed up to read 1 book for the Being A Jane Austen Mystery Challenge, which focused on Stephanie Barron’s Being a Jane Austen Mystery series.  Alas, this is the only challenge I didn’t complete.

In addition to a couple of read-alongs that I hosted with Serena for Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles and It by Stephen King, I took part in a few other events.

I read several books for the Literature and War Readalong 2011 hosted by Beauty is a Sleeping Cat:

1. Strange Meeting by Susan Hill (WWI)
2. How Many Miles to Babylon? by Jennifer Johnston (WWI)
3. The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West (WWI)
4. The Winter of the World by Carol Ann Lee (WWI)
5. The Sea and Poison by Shusaku Endo (WWII)

hosted by The Introverted Reader

I took part in Holocaust Remembrance Week at the beginning of May.  I read two books, What We Knew: Terror, Mass Murder, and Everday Life in Nazi Germany by Eric Johnson and Karl-Heinz Reuband and Far to Go by Alison Pick, and I also wrote a post about the most powerful Holocaust books I’d read up to that point.

hosted by Reading, fuelled by tea

Finally, I took part in Advent With Austen, in which I read a work from Jane Austen’s Juvenilia, Frederic and Elfrida.

Hope you all met your reading goals in 2011, and I wish you all the best in 2012! Happy new year!

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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I’m still working my way through Jane Austen’s Juvenilia, concentrating for the moment on the short writings in Volume the First, which were written between 1787, when Austen was just 12 years old, through 1790.  These short pieces were written in notebooks and read aloud to her family and friends.

Edgar and Emma is a “novel” with three chapters that take up about four pages.  The first chapter gives an interesting description of the Marlows, Sir Godfrey and Lady Marlow and their two daughters, Emma being the youngest.  Sir Godfrey doesn’t understand why they are staying in “deplorable Lodgings” in a “paltry Market-town” when they own three houses where they could be living instead.  Lady Marlow agrees, not knowing why they have stayed so long, but Sir Godfrey says it was solely for her pleasure.  Austen’s humor emerges right away, when readers discover that they have been living in these Lodgings at a “great inconvenience” for two whole years!

While the first chapter seems very similar to how Austen sets the scenes in the beginning of her later novels, the final three chapters are very quick, without much character development but much melodrama and tragic romance.  Austen seems to enjoy poking fun at overly emotional women who are quick to faint, cry, or lock themselves away forever when minor setbacks occur in their relationships.  In Edgar and Emma, readers are never really introduced to Edgar, who is merely mentioned.  We just know that he is the eldest son of the Willmots, whose family is so large that they can’t all fit in the family’s coach.  Only nine could travel at one time, and they took turns.

Emma is eager to see her dear Edgar, but he is not one of the Willmots to come calling when the Marlows return home.  I’m not going to say where Edgar is or describe Emma’s over-reaction, but Austen creates so much drama with such simple language and sparse prose.  I was laughing out loud at Emma’s hysterics, and I could image Austen chuckling herself as she composed these lines.  There is not much of a plot in Edgar and Emma, and of course, the characters could have been fleshed out more, but the only thing really missing from this piece is dialogue, which Austen later proved to master.  Although many of the works in the Juvenilia are unfinished or really short and quick, like Edgar and Emma, readers can see little glimpses of the characters she would create later on in her novels.

Henry and Eliza is among my favorite works in the Juvenilia.  This one is a little longer at seven pages, and the young Austen really went all out with the melodrama and tragedy in this one.  Eliza was found at the age of 3 months (amusingly already able to talk) under a Haycock by Sir George and Lady Harcourt, who took her in.  Much is said about Eliza’s beauty and happiness that it seems Eliza could do no wrong.  However, she is quickly cast out by her adopted parents when she is caught stealing a banknote.

Such a transition to one who did did not possess so noble & exalted a mind as Eliza, would have been Death, but she, happy in the conscious knowledge of her own Excellence, amused herself, as she sate beneath a tree with making & singing the following Lines.  (page 34 in the The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen:  Volume VI:  Minor Works)

Because Eliza is just so darn wonderful (except she’s already proven that she’s not and will continue proving that in the pages ahead), she finds a new living situation right away as the Humble Companion to the “Dutchess of F.”  Eliza and the Dutchess’ daughter were poised to be such good friends, sisters even, until Eliza steals away her lover, Mr. Cecil.  Henry and Eliza marry quickly, then leave for the Continent, worried about the Dutchess’ reaction.  From there, Austen infuses her story with a pursuit by the Dutchess’ army of 300, tragedy in Henry and Eliza’s marriage, captivity in a tower, a hilarious escape, and an even funnier reunion with the adopted parents who tossed her out and her mother’s serious problems with memory loss.  It was one of the silliest, most ridiculous stories I’d ever read, and definitely the light entertainment I’m so in need of these days.

Finally, I read The Beautiful Cassandra, which was dedicated to Austen’s sister, Cassandra.  It’s a novel in 12 chapters, but is really short at only a few hundred words and about four pages.  Each chapter encompasses only a sentence or two, making it perfect for readers who need a little Jane Austen fix every now and again.  Cassandra is an only child; her mother is a “Millener” and her father is of noble birth.  When she turns 16, Cassandra, described as “lovely & amiable,” falls in love with a bonnet made by her mother and wears it as she walks out of the shop and into the world “to make her Fortune.”

Cassandra engages in a host of silly and senseless activities.  For instance, she eats six ices and doesn’t pay, then takes a Hackney Coach to Hampstead and immediately after arriving turns around and goes back.  And of course, she couldn’t pay the driver.  Cassandra may be beautiful as the title suggests, but she doesn’t have much sense.  She sets out to make something of herself, but returns home after almost seven hours, declaring the day “well spent.”  It seems as though Austen and her sister shared a similar sense of humor, and I’m sure her sister Cassandra was nothing like the Cassandra in this short tale.

I’m having a lot of fun trying to read all of Jane Austen’s published works.  The Juvenilia obviously isn’t as good as her novels, but it’s a must-read for Austen fans, and these short writings are quite entertaining.  I love how I can flip through my edition of the Minor Works until something catches my fancy.  I hope to read more from the Juvenilia in the coming year.

Disclosure: I received my copy of The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen: Volume VI: Minor Works as a gift. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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EPITAPH

Here lies our friend who having promis-ed
That unto two she would be marri-ed
Threw her sweet Body & her lovely face
Into the Stream that runs thro’ Portland Place.

Those sweet lines, as pathetic as beautifull were never read by any one who passed that way, without a shower of tears, which if they should fail of exciting in you, Reader, your mind must be unworthy to peruse them. 

(from Frederic and Elfrida in The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen:  Volume VI:  Minor Works, page 9; Note:  punctuation and spelling are Austen’s)

Part of Jane Austen’s Juvenilia (Volume the First), Frederic and Elfrida is among several very short “novels” believed to have been written between 1787 (when Austen was 12) to 1790.  The work spans about 8 pages with 5 chapters.  Many of the writings in the Juvenila were read aloud by Austen to entertain her family, and I bet they had some laughs with this one.  (I know I did!)

Elfrida and Frederic are cousins who were born on the same day, grew up together, and were very much alike.  It is not surprising that their parents determine they should be married.  Austen skips around to introduce Elfrida’s friend, Charlotte, who is visiting her aunt when she receives a letter from Elfrida requesting that she purchase Elfrida a bonnet.  Charlotte is a very amiable young woman, so of course, she obliges.

When Charlotte returns home and is welcomed back “with the greatest Joy” by Elfrida and Frederic, they take a walk and spy two girls, Jezalinda and Rebecca, the daughters of Mrs. Fitzroy, and a friendship develops.  Here, as the three friends admire Rebecca’s “Wit & Charms,” I am reminded of more well-known Austen characters who hand out compliments and insults almost simultaneously.

“Lovely & too charming Fair one, notwithstanding your forbidding Squint, your greazy tresses & your swelling Back, which are more frightfull than imagination can paint or pen describe, I cannot refrain from expressing my raptures, at the engaging Qualities of your Mind, which so amply atone for the Horror, with which your first appearance must ever inspire the unwary visitor.”  (page 6)

After the meeting with the Fitzroys, the last few pages breeze by, with a relationship frowned upon then embraced (frowned upon because Mrs. Fitzroy thought the couple too young for matrimony at 36 and 63) and a melodramatic suicide following one character’s acceptance of two marriage proposals seemingly within a “short time” of one another, meaning more like hours or even minutes.  Meanwhile, a wedding date is never set for Elfrida and Frederic, and when time passes and Frederic seems almost lost to her, Elfrida secures her desired outcome through fainting fits.

Obviously, there really is no character development or plot in this short piece, but Austen’s purpose was to entertain, and she succeeded.  The melodrama may have been less hilarious and more tragically romantic had it been spread out over a hundred or so pages, but I just love that these writings are like flash fiction that give readers a sense of the writer (genius) that Austen was to become.  Already, one can see that Austen had a playful and ridiculous sense of humor, and like her later beloved novels, there are romantic disappointments, seemingly unsuitable marriages, painful separations of friends, and disapproving elders.

Frederic and Elfrida, like other writings in the Juvenilia, are perfect when you have only a few minutes of reading time or are in need of something lighthearted and funny.  You won’t find much to ponder in these few pages, and you have to understand that they are like unpolished works from a young girl’s journal, but you won’t want to miss an opportunity to experience Austen as a budding writer.

Disclosure: I received my copy of The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen: Volume VI: Minor Works as a gift. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Make books the furniture of your home — pile them high, wide, and deep, next to your sofa, your chairs, your bed — and when you’re feeling sad, lonely or in need of inspiration, take one, open it, and let the journey begin.  Just the sight of a book — its colorful binding, gold letters, and smooth leather cover — makes me happy.

(from “Love and Best Wishes, Aunt Jane” by Adriana Trigiani, Jane Austen Made Me Do It, page 133)

Jane Austen Made Me Do It is  a collection of 22 stories inspired by Jane Austen.  Edited by Laurel Ann Nattress of Austenprose, this anthology features an assortment of authors best known for their Austenesque novels, including Stephanie Barron, Laurie Viera Rigler, Amanda Grange, Syrie James, and Beth Pattillo.  Jane Austen Made Me Do It is the perfect book for readers who want to try a sequel or retelling of an Austen novel or those who simply want to enjoy the fact that so many authors share their passion for one of the most beloved novelists in English literature.

I’d like to highlight my favorite stories in this collection.  In “Jane Austen’s Nightmare” by Syrie James, author of The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, Jane dreams she is walking the streets of Bath, where her characters confront her about how she has portrayed them.  Elinor Dashwood (Sense and Sensibility) and Fanny Price (Mansfield Park), for instance, lament that they are too perfect. In “Jane Austen and the Mistletoe Kiss” by Jo Beverley, Elinor, a young widow in her 30s, prepares to celebrate Christmas with her three children and is frustrated with having to accept gifts of charity from her deceased husband’s cousin, Sir Nicholas Danvers.  When she encounters Jane Austen, who is considered by Elinor to be the authoress of “dangerous” novels that fill the heads of young girls with fantasies about marrying above their station, she learns about a mistletoe tradition that gets her hoping that she might have a second chance at love.

In “When Only a Darcy Will Do” by Beth Pattillo, author of Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart, a troubled American graduate student in London hopes to earn some money by hosting Jane Austen walking tours and realizes her Mr. Darcy may have been right in front of her all along.  In “Heard of You” by Margaret C. Sullivan, author of The Jane Austen Handbook and editrix of AustenBlog, Anne Wentworth hears the sweet story of how Captain Wentworth played matchmaker for his sister, Sophy, and Admiral Croft.  “What Would Jane Austen Do?” by Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway, authors of Lady Vernon and Her Daughter, tells the story of a teenage boy who, under the influence of his mother and a girl from a summer dance class, enjoys Austen’s novels and stands out from the zombs, vampires, and werewolves roaming the school halls by displaying perfect manners, much to the chagrin of the principal.

“The Love Letter” by Brenna Aubrey, the winner of the Jane Austen Made Me Do It short story contest, is a beautiful retelling of Persuasion in which a medical student faces the woman who rejected his marriage proposal six years ago.  And finally, “Intolerable Stupidity” by Laurie Viera Rigler, author of Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, puts the Austenesque authors and filmmakers on trial…with Lady Catherine de Bourgh as judge and the opposing attorneys acting out their own version of Pride and Prejudice.

The stories in Jane Austen Made Me Do It have a little something for everyone — mystery, ghosts, humor, and Regency and contemporary romance.  They feature Austen’s characters, Austen herself, Austen’s relatives, and even modern-day characters somehow affected by Austen and her novels.  While I found some stories more entertaining than others, there was enough variety that I was never bored and didn’t skip a single story.  Nattress did a wonderful job gathering these stories, and I would love to see her create another anthology just like this one.

Disclosure: I received a copy of Jane Austen Made Me Do It from Ballantine Books/Random House for review purposes. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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That he had wanted to impress on her the depth of his love for her, to ask her to believe that he still loved her, that he had dared even to suggest that his affections were deeper and stronger than Colonel Brandon’s could have been — in all these claims, Marianne wanted to believe him.  Not because she had spent the intervening years longing for his return, for she had long accepted that he was gone out of her life forever, but because she still wanted to believe that he really had been the romantic young cavalier she had fallen in love with when she was seventeen.  It had been the strongest, most passionate experience of her young life; nothing, certainly not her subsequent marriage, had surpassed the exquisite excitement of that first love, and Marianne wished to treasure it.

(from Expectations of Happiness, page 163 in the ARC; finished version may be different)

I haven’t read Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility since 1995, and though I hope to re-read it by the end of the year in honor of the 200th anniversary of its publication, it was a pleasure being reunited with the novel’s characters through “a companion volume” by Rebecca Ann Collins.  When Expectations of Happiness opens, Elinor Dashwood and Edward Ferrars are happily married and living in the parson’s house at Delaford, while her younger sister, Marianne, is living with her husband, Colonel Brandon, in Delaford Manor.  Their youngest sister, Margaret, is now 21, teaching at a ladies’ seminary in Oxfordshire, and living with her close friend, Claire Jones.

With Colonel Brandon away on business in Ireland, Marianne spends her days bored and moping, and Elinor worries that she is unhappy in her marriage.  Marianne always was a romantic, and Elinor is concerned that the feelings she developed for Colonel Brandon after she was jilted by Mr. Willoughby may have worn off.  Elinor is alarmed when she learns that the scoundrel Willoughby is living in a nearby county, and when Marianne is invited on a holiday with the Perceval family, Elinor fears Marianne’s and Willoughby’s paths will cross — and who knows what will happen, with Marianne feeling so low, having already forgiven him for the wrongs he committed, and still longing for a romantic hero?

Knowing how close Marianne is to their mother, Elinor hopes to convince Mrs. Dashwood that Marianne’s reputation and marriage may be in danger.  But Mrs. Dashwood has, much to Elinor’s surprise, proven herself capable of managing a large estate and has taken up residence at Barton Park to help her cousin, Sir John Middleton — who had been kind enough to provide a home for her and her daughters after Mr. Dashwood’s death — recover from the sudden death of his wife, Lady Middleton.  Mrs. Dashwood is so preoccupied with her new role that she pushes Elinor’s concerns aside, and Elinor — who feels she cannot even confide in Edward — feels an obligation to protect Marianne but doesn’t know how.

At the same time that she continues the stories of Elinor and Marianne, who were the focus of Austen’s novel, Collins also creates a story for Margaret — a young women without a fortune but much intelligence who enjoys history and travel and hopes to become a writer.  Having been so focused on her studies, Margaret hasn’t had time for love, but a trip to the south of France with Claire leads her to Daniel Brooke, an Oxford historian, who proves to be her intellectual equal, but nothing is easy when it comes to matters of the heart.

Expectations of Happiness breathes new life into Austen’s beloved characters, and while Edward and Colonel Brandon sit on the sidelines, the Dashwood sisters, as expected, do just fine in the spotlight.  Collins stays true to Austen’s characters, with Elinor once again embodying all that is sensible, Marianne getting caught up in her emotions and romantic ideals, and all the secondary characters playing their same roles.  Additionally, she transforms Margaret into one of the strong heroines Austen fans have long appreciated, and she even creates a host of interesting and original characters, with a list at the end of the book so readers can distinguish between Austen’s characters and those introduced by Collins.  Moreover, fans of Collins’ Pemberley Chronicles Series will be happy to see Mr. Darcy’s sister, Georgiana, and her husband make an appearance.

I enjoyed Sense and Sensibility, but it has never been my favorite Austen novel.  Until reading Expectations of Happiness, I never really thought about all the possibilities for variations of the novel, but Collins certainly helped me to see the characters’ potential.  Her writing has an Austen feel to it, which enabled me to lose myself in the story, and what I enjoyed the most was watching Marianne’s character evolve.  Of the three Dashwood sisters, I think Marianne had the most to learn about life and love.  Having been so madly in love with Willoughby, it’s doubtful that Colonel Brandon’s affection changed everything for her overnight.  I’d always been skeptical of their happily ever after, since she was so young and on the rebound, and I think Collins does a good job portraying Marianne’s confusion when she comes face-to-face with Willoughby after nearly seven years.  Knowing Marianne, it was easy to see how she could forget everything she knew about him and get lost in the moment and the what-ifs.

Expectations of Happiness is a commendable sequel to Sense and Sensibility, one that I think Austen herself would have enjoyed.  I definitely recommend it for fans of Austen variations, especially those who think Pride and Prejudice shouldn’t get all the attention.

Disclosure: I received a copy of Expectations of Happiness from Sourcebooks for review purposes. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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“Elizabeth, there is no way I can win this argument, so I apologize for any past, present, or future transgressions.”‘

“You are a quick learner, Will Darcy,” Lizzy said smiling, and she kissed him on the cheek.

(from Mr. Darcy’s Bite, page 238 in the ARC; finished version may be different)

Mr. Darcy’s Bite is Mary Lydon Simonsen’s latest take on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and I must admit that it’s one of the best Austenesque novels I’ve read so far (and regular readers of my blog know that I read a lot of them).  Most of these variations put an obstacle in Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet’s road to happiness, and Simonsen’s is no different, but what makes Mr. Darcy’s Bite unique is the severity of the challenge the two must overcome.

Simonsen’s novel opens after Bingley and Jane are married and settled at Netherfield, and Darcy and Elizabeth have already acknowledged their attraction to one another.  However, their courtship is not normal, and Elizabeth is a little distressed about the fact that Darcy comes and goes for periods of time without asking for her hand.  Less than 20 pages into the book, Darcy confides in Elizabeth that he has a secret that she can tell no one:  he is a werewolf, scratched by a she wolf as a young boy and forced to endure the transformation from man to wolf and back again for two nights a month beginning with the full moon.

Elizabeth must think long and hard about whether she wants to marry a werewolf, as everything in their lives must be planned around the lunar calendar and Darcy’s secret cannot be shared with her family, not even her closest sister, Jane.  Keeping the secret is necessary to protect Darcy, his family, and his pack — which includes Nell, a she wolf with a careless tongue and designs on Darcy.

Simonsen includes little tidbits about werewolves and the Council that oversees them, as Elizabeth learns what it would be like to be Mrs. Darcy.  But at its core, Mr. Darcy’s Bite is a love story, with tenderness, playful banter, and even a little spice.  Simonsen does a wonderful job creating delightful secondary characters, from the flirty Lord Fitzwilliam who enjoys making Mrs. Gardiner blush to Darcy’s feisty Aunt Marguerite who gives Elizabeth some sneaky advice for handling werewolves.  She also has fun with Austen’s supporting cast, with Georgiana fitting in with Elizabeth’s family and Anne de Bourgh standing up to her formidable mother, Lady Catherine.

Mr. Darcy’s Bite stays true to Austen’s characters, with the humor and wit I loved in Pride and Prejudice.  Simonsen uses werewolves not to create a haunting atmosphere but to further the love story, showing how nothing can stand in the way of true love…and it helps that one particular wolf has Darcy’s striking eyes and sleek form.  My only problem with this book was that it was too short, as I loved the world in which Simonsen placed Austen’s characters and I wasn’t ready to let them go.

Check out my reviews of other books by Mary Lydon Simonsen:

Searching for Pemberley
Anne Elliot, A New Beginning
The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy
A Wife for Mr. Darcy

Disclosure: I received a copy of Mr. Darcy’s Bite from Sourcebooks for review purposes. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Darcy was ready with a heated retort, then thought of Elizabeth.  “I am sorry if you have felt as if I do not value your opinion, because I certainly do,” he said, as close to humility as he could manage at the moment.  “It is not my intention to be arrogant.”

The colonel looked askance at him.  “Darcy, I did not say you were arrogant, though you are in the habit of doing whatever you please.”

“You may save your breath — I have had this lecture from Elizabeth already, and believe me, she did not mince her words,” said Darcy wearily.

(from Mr. Darcy’s Undoing, page 176 in the ARC; finished version may be different)

Mr. Darcy’s Undoing (previously published as Without Reserve) is another retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in which Abigail Reynolds asks readers to imagine “what if?” — in this case, what if Mr. Darcy had a rival for Elizabeth Bennet’s affections?  Reynolds opens the novel after Darcy’s disastrous proposal at Kent.  By the time Darcy convinces Bingley to return to Netherfield and rekindle his romance with Elizabeth’s sister, Jane, Elizabeth has already accepted a marriage proposal from James Covington.

Darcy had followed Bingley in the hopes of winning Elizabeth’s love, and he is shocked and dismayed upon learning of her engagement.  That doesn’t stop him from hanging around, though he tells himself that if he knows for sure that Elizabeth is in love with Covington, then he must let her go.  Meanwhile, Elizabeth feels an attraction to Darcy and must force herself to consider all the reasons why her marriage to Covington makes sense for her and her family.  Besides, there’s nothing she can do about the situation now — not without ruining her reputation and her family’s standing in the community, especially considering the damage already caused by Lydia after she runs away with Wickham.

In Mr. Darcy’s Undoing, Reynolds gives readers what they have come to expect from her Pride and Prejudice variations — different twists and turns as Elizabeth and Darcy navigate the same misunderstandings and plenty of heat as they skirt the bounds of propriety and often cross the line as they find they cannot keep their hands off each other.  Although Reynolds briefly brings in the wit and playfulness of Mr. Bennet, most of Austen’s secondary characters sit on the sidelines in Mr. Darcy’s Undoing.  Elizabeth and Darcy, their bantering, and their serious discussions about their relationship are the focus of the novel, and while I missed the tension typically supplied by Wickham, Caroline Bingley, and Lady Catherine, I enjoyed Reynolds’ take on a scandalized Elizabeth and a more emotional and seductive Darcy.  There also was some amusement to be had with Darcy’s jealousy and pain, as he goes so far as to chaperone Elizabeth and her betrothed.

I am always amazed at how many ways Reynolds can re-tell the same story.  She manages to keep the story fresh, throwing new obstacles in Elizabeth and Darcy’s path to happiness and making it so that readers almost wonder whether the two will live happily ever after.  While Mr. Darcy’s Undoing isn’t my favorite of Reynolds’ variations, it was a page-turner that I would recommend to readers who want a spicier Pride and Prejudice retelling.

Check out my reviews of other Abigail Reynolds books:

Pemberley By the Sea
Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man in the World
To Conquer Mr. Darcy
Mr. Darcy’s Obsession
What Would Mr. Darcy Do?

Disclosure: I received a copy of Mr. Darcy’s Undoing from Sourcebooks for review purposes. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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