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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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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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longbourn to london

Source: Review copy from Meryton Press
Rating: ★★★☆☆

“I have divided them into stacks, the first being those we need not accept.”

“Is there such a thing?” Mr. Bennet asked over a lowered corner of his paper.  “I had thought a lady must accept all invitations.”

“Indeed, sir!”  Darcy smiled a little.  “I am more interested in that pile than any other.  I should make a study of how to extend an invitation into society in such a way as to have it not accepted, and then I shall give lessons to all of these others.”

Mr. Bennet smiled and nodded.  “Very wise, Mr. Darcy.”

Elizabeth extended them an arch look.  “Are you quite finished, the two of you?”

(from Longbourn to London, pages 18-19)

Longbourn to London is a different take on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, in that it’s not a re-imagining or a sequel.  Instead, Linda Beutler aims to fill in the blanks left by Austen when it comes to the weeks of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet’s betrothal and the early days of their marriage.

Much of the novel focuses on Elizabeth’s worries about what awaits her on the wedding night, the difficulties she and Mr. Darcy encounter in controlling their desires before their wedding day, and their many amorous moments afterward.  Yes, much of the book is about sex, and Beutler does not shy away from writing lengthy and quite descriptive sex scenes, so this is definitely a book for mature audiences only.  Although there isn’t much of a plot, just a recounting of the events that occurred during this period, there are a few obstacles that crop up and are almost immediately resolved.  I didn’t mind the sex scenes much, but given how many there were, they did start to get old after a while.

However, what I liked best about Longbourn to London were the humorous scenes, from the way Mr. Bennet and Mr. Darcy conspired to tease Elizabeth to Mrs. Bennet being put in her place about a certain wedding bonnet.  Beutler lets readers see Caroline Bingley come undone, gives Louisa Hurst some personality, and enables Mrs. Gardiner to swoop in and save the day, or Elizabeth’s sanity at least.  Even Mr. Collins made an appearance without trying my patience.

Longbourn to London is a sweet tale about two lovers — neither of whom expected to find such happiness, given Mr. Darcy’s disastrous first proposal and Elizabeth’s vehement rejection of it — navigating the nervousness and newness of getting married.  Like most couples, they experience stress with the wedding planning, have to deal with tiresome relatives, and spend less time together than they’d like.  Despite the abundance of detail when it comes to their most intimate moments, Beutler does a good job showing the joy Elizabeth and Darcy brought to one another and especially how Elizabeth softened Darcy’s rough edges.  I admire Beutler for taking a chance with this Pride and Prejudice “expansion,” and I liked it more than I thought I would given its focus.  If you’re looking for a happily-ever-after tale and detailed sex scenes don’t bother you, Longbourn to London provides some lighthearted entertainment for a lazy afternoon.

Disclosure: I received Longbourn to London from Meryton Press 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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remember the past

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

Darcy shut the door behind her, emptiness filling his belly until he sank into his favorite chair.  What was more troubling, that others saw his admiration for Miss Elizabeth, or that Miss Elizabeth could not?

He knew her to be upset, but the possibility of hurting her was insupportable.  Somehow, he had to rectify the misunderstanding.  She must not be somewhere in the world thinking ill of him.

(from Remember the Past, page 45)

I’ve said it a lot lately that Pride and Prejudice retellings need to be very unique these days to keep my attention, and Maria Grace’s latest novel, Remember the Past, certainly fits the bill.  As soon as I started reading, I knew that this was going to be different from all the re-imaginings I’ve read before.  What if the Bennet family had a fortune, so marrying off the daughters wasn’t their sole concern?  What if Lady Catherine was kind, grateful to her nephew for saving her and Anne from a life of genteel poverty?  What if there was no Mr. Bingley to win Jane Bennet’s affections?

In Remember the Past, Admiral Thomas Bennet has retired from His Majesty’s Navy and purchased an estate in Derbyshire after being thrown out of Longbourn by his scheming brother.  While Alston Hall is being readied for occupation, the widower Bennet, his daughters Jane and Elizabeth, and his twin sons Francis and Philip are invited to stay at Pemberley, where the widower Mr. Darcy lives with his sister, his mother-in-law Lady Catherine, his sons George and David, and his cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam.  Darcy is immediately drawn to Elizabeth, who excites a passion in him that he never felt while married to Anne, but after a scandalous first season in London, Elizabeth cannot trust another man.

Even in these much changed circumstances, misunderstandings abound.  When Darcy admires Elizabeth’s willingness to sword fight with the boys while trying to put aside his feelings for her, she thinks the look in his eyes signifies his disapproval.  She also feels slighted when both her father and Darcy dismiss her feelings about Wickham serving as her father’s steward; she senses a littleness about him from their very first meeting, and thankfully the Admiral taught his daughters how to protect themselves!

Meanwhile, Bennet is a man used to delivering orders and expecting that they will be carried out, but he soon finds that the women in his life increasingly refuse to submit to his will.  When it comes to Darcy, Elizabeth isn’t the only one who needs to set aside pride and prejudice, as Bennet’s own happiness, as well as his daughter’s, depends on him doing so.

Remember the Past is a fantastic retelling of Pride and Prejudice not only because of the original characters — from the rambunctious Bennet twins and Darcy brothers to the menacing but gentle Piper, the Admiral’s valet — but also because of the huge risks Grace takes in leaving only the bare bones of the original novel intact.  It was exciting to read a retelling in which I could not predict anything, other than the ultimate happily-ever-after ending.  The novel itself was exciting as well, with everything from sword fights to dangerous floods, and if it hadn’t been for work and family responsibilities, I would surely have finished it in one sitting.

Grace stays true to Jane Austen’s Elizabeth and Darcy even while drastically changing the circumstances in which they meet and fall in love, but her delightful versions of Lady Catherine and Mr. Bennet drew me to the novel from the start.  Moreover, I never once missed the characters left out of this retelling (Mr. Bingley, Mrs. Bennet, the younger Bennet sisters, Mr. Collins, etc.).  Grace also does a good job balancing the heavier topics of grief, violence against women, and duty to family and friends with moments of humor and lightheartedness.  I’ve long enjoyed Grace’s Austen-inspired fiction, but Remember the Past is her best work so far, and I can’t wait to see where she takes these characters next.

Disclosure: I received Remember the Past 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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jane austen's first love

Source: Review copy from Berkley
Rating: ★★★★★

“I take it, Mr. Payler, that you have never read a novel?”

“Never.  It is said that they are designed to entertain the weak of mind.”

“Sir,” said I with animation, “that could not be further from the truth.  Some novels might be poorly written, but in the main, I believe the opposite to be the case.  A good novel — a well-written novel — not only entertains the readers with effusions of wit and humour, it touches the emotions and conveys a comprehensive understanding of human nature — all via the simple and remarkable act of transmitting words on a page — while at the same time displaying, in the best-chosen language, the greatest powers of the human mind.”

(from Jane Austen’s First Love, pages 81-82)

The inspiration for Syrie James’ latest novel, Jane Austen’s First Love, was a single line Jane wrote in a letter to her sister Cassandra in 1796: “We went by Bifrons and I contemplated with a melancholy pleasure the abode of Him, on whom I once fondly doated.”  The resulting novel is a beautifully written tale of 15-year-old Jane Austen falling in love for the first time in the summer of 1791 on a trip to Kent to celebrate her brother Edward’s engagement to Elizabeth Bridges.  Despite knowing deep down that a match between herself and Edward Taylor, the heir to Bifrons — who has led a fascinating life on the Continent and even dined and danced with princesses — will never be, his intelligence, knowledge of the world, humor, and admiration of her impertinence make it impossible for her to resist him.

In this delightful novel, told from the first person viewpoint of Jane herself, James portrays Jane as a girl quick to fall in love, open with her opinions, and astute in her observations of human character and behavior.  Early on, Jane says to her mother, “I write because I cannot help it,” and I loved picturing her sneaking in a few moments to write while her mother insists that needlework is more important.

What I loved most about Jane Austen’s First Love were the references to her novels, from misguided matchmaking attempts reminiscent of Emma Woodhouse and the similarities between Jane’s relationship with Cassandra and the bond between Elizabeth and Jane Bennet, to Jane’s insistence that love could overpower society’s expectations for marriage.  Jane’s observations of the people she met certainly inspired the various characters she wrote, and James gives readers a glimpse of how that might have happened, and in her skilled hands, Jane’s family, friends, and acquaintances come to life on the page.  James even includes an afterword where she explains her inspiration for the book, details the research she conducted, and points out which aspects of the story are imagined.

Jane Austen’s First Love is a satisfying novel that gives Jane the love story that many of us imagine she had.  But more than that, it’s a portrait of a young woman who was ahead of her time in many ways, whose brilliantly composed stories and characters have stood the test of time.  James shows Jane Austen as a normal teenager, with a desire to act older than her age, an impulsiveness that prompts her to make poor decisions, and a romantic nature that ensured she truly felt the things she wrote about.  The few letters that survived provide the only glimpse we’ll ever really have of the real Jane, but James does such a fantastic job creating a believable inner narrative, I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn’t actually inside Jane’s head reading her thoughts.  Jane Austen’s First Love is another book likely to turn up on my Best of 2014 list!

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Book 18 for the Historical Fiction Challenge

Disclosure: I received Jane Austen’s First Love from Berkley 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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