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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!

JA tour

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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the secrets of darcy and elizabeth

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

“She seemed fairly happy a moment ago,” Richard observed.

“Yes, but that could be because she was happy to see you,” Darcy said with a note of despair in his voice.  “I am certain I remain the last man in the world she would marry.”

“Maybe you have moved up the ladder a few rungs.  Perhaps she would now consider marrying you before, say, the butcher.”  Richard grinned broadly.

“Darcy grimaced.  “Great encouragement indeed.  I thank you.”

(from The Secrets of Darcy and Elizabeth)

In The Secrets of Darcy and Elizabeth, Victoria Kincaid brings Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice to Paris at a time when England and France are at peace, and no one knows how long it will last.  Mr. Darcy spends much of his time drowning his sorrows in drink and contemplating the harsh but true comments Elizabeth Bennet made in rejecting his insulting proposal at Hunsford.  His cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, convinces him that a trip to Paris is just the thing to cure his broken heart — except that almost immediately, he bumps into Elizabeth, who is traveling with her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner.

Having read Mr. Darcy’s letter, Elizabeth has softened toward him, and Mr. Darcy realizes he has been given a second chance to prove himself worthy of her love.  But just as the pair begin to put their past misunderstandings behind them, war breaks out once more, and it won’t be long before Napoleon orders the arrest of any Englishman found on French soil.  English tourists must quickly evacuate Paris and get to the coast.

With Elizabeth’s aunt and uncle elsewhere in the country on business, Mr. Darcy just can’t leave her to fend for herself as chaos and danger erupt around them.  All the carriages have been rented, so they have no choice but to overlook the rules of propriety and flee Paris in a curricle, which seats only two — meaning that Elizabeth’s chaperone must be left behind.  Being alone with Mr. Darcy, even in a time of war when she had little choice, could be disastrous to Elizabeth’s reputation, but when she falls deathly ill before they reach the coast, Mr. Darcy gives no thought to their compromising position — only that she must get well.

Kincaid throws many obstacles in their path.  Getting to England is no easy feat, but having to conceal a secret from their time in France from their family and closest friends proves to be even harder.  With Mr. Darcy pitted against another aunt who gives Lady Catherine a run for her money and Elizabeth trying to evade the attentions of a suitor even more persistent and ridiculous than Mr. Collins, it seems that a happily ever after may be too far out of their grasp.

The Secrets of Darcy and Elizabeth is an exciting, humorous, and sweet tale.  Dropping Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth in Paris in such a tumultuous time in history is a unique touch, as I had no idea how that aspect of the story would play out.  It also highlights the customs of the time, especially when it came to proper behavior among unmarried couples.  Just being alone together was enough to tarnish a woman’s reputation, never mind being caught in an embrace.  Meanwhile, Kincaid injects a lot of humor into the novel, from the clueless Mr. Fenton and the playful banter between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth to the difficulty the couple has in keeping their secret.  The romance is front and center here, but Kincaid, thankfully, leaves much to the imagination.

Although some of the situations Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth encountered, along with their behavior, were a bit over the top, The Secrets of Darcy and Elizabeth was thoroughly entertaining.  Our hero and heroine were completely likeable, and the villains were even more deliciously villainous.  It was nice to see Mr. Bennet all riled up and Caroline Bingley left speechless.  I spent a couple of delightful afternoons with this novel, and I can’t wait to see what Kincaid writes next.

Disclosure: I received The Secrets of Darcy and Elizabeth 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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stronger even than pride

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

“And you may be assured that nothing in the world would have induced me to share my intimate concerns with you had I realised your true opinion of my character.”

“I have never made a secret of my opinion of your character, Mr. Darcy, but whatever your concerns, they are of no interest to me.  Please let me be on my way, and do not attempt to continue this very inappropriate line of conversation.  I am married, and happily so, to Mr. Wickham.”

(from Stronger Even Than Pride, page 44)

Stronger Even Than Pride is not a charming, mostly lighthearted retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  Gail McEwen writes about an Elizabeth Bennet who refuses to read the letter in which Mr. Darcy explains everything about Mr. Wickham, and this seemingly small change sets in motion a series of dark events that will leave the Austen purists running for the hills.

Soon after rejecting Mr. Darcy’s proposal and returning to Hertfordshire, Elizabeth is reunited with Mr. Wickham, and because she so foolishly discarded Mr. Darcy’s letter, she agrees to marry him.  The engagement is opposed by her parents, and even Mrs. Bennet — who wants nothing but to marry off her daughters — thinks it’s a mistake.  But the headstrong Elizabeth marches off to Scotland and becomes Mrs. Wickham.

Of course, Mr. Darcy is angry, but that’s partly because he assumes she read his letter and chose to marry the scoundrel anyway.  It’s not long before Wickham’s true colors start to show, and even his desire to possess Elizabeth in a way Darcy never can is not enough to keep him at home.  Elizabeth, feeling used and abused and struggling in poverty, has no one to turn to; she can’t go home and must live with the consequences of her actions.

Meanwhile, Mr. Darcy still loves Elizabeth but is helpless to do much to improve her situation.  When scandal envelopes the Wickhams and threatens even Georgiana Darcy’s happiness, all hope seems lost.  Of all the obstacles to throw in the path toward Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s happily ever after, this is the one that could keep them apart forever.

I’m not an Austen purist; the more unique, the better for me.  But Stronger Even Than Pride was almost too difficult for me to take.  I must admit I almost abandoned the book on page 48, after a particularly graphic sex scene involving Elizabeth, Mr. Wickham, and his fantasies of the jealous Mr. Darcy watching them together.  Truly, that scene — coupled with an earlier scene involving Mr. Darcy and a prostitute — made me ill.  I have no problem with shaking the plot up a bit, but I didn’t need to “see” that.  Sometimes implying what’s going on is enough.

However, I made myself keep reading because I had to know how things would turn out for Elizabeth and Darcy.  Of course, having read so may of these Austen adaptations, I was confident there would be a happy ending, but I couldn’t see a way out for these characters.  I’m happy to say that McEwen didn’t disappoint, and I clung to every word until the very end.

Stronger Even Than Pride is well written and well worth the initial discomfort.  Even when I thought I couldn’t continue reading, I admired McEwen’s bravery in taking the story to a place I never imagined.  I keep saying that Pride and Prejudice retellings need to be unique to keep my attention these days, and McEwen certainly delivered on that front.  She shows that there are countless ways to re-imagine these characters and their circumstances, and taking them down a messy, thorn-covered path that is seemingly impossible to traverse certainly grabbed my attention.  It’s definitely not a book for all fans of the Austenesque, but the character evolution, the intense emotion, the complicated relationships, and the promise of love and redemption make it worth giving a try.

Disclosure: I received Stronger Even Than Pride 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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pride, prejudice and cheese grits

Source: Review copy from Howard Books
Rating: ★★★★☆

“I guess I’m like Darcy then, not really able to make small talk.”  Shelby set the coffeemaker for the morning.  “That’s it!  I’m Darcy and I just need to find my Elizabeth.”

“My friend, you couldn’t handle Elizabeth.”  Rebecca laughed.

(from Pride, Prejudice and Cheese Grits, page 27)

Pride, Prejudice and Cheese Grits is the first book in Mary Jane Hathaway’s Jane Austen Takes the South series and is a modern-day retelling of Pride and Prejudice set at a small college in Mississippi.  Shelby Roswell is Hathaway’s Elizabeth Bennet, a professor and Civil War expert struggling to achieve tenure — a process that has been complicated by a scathing review of her new book by well-known historian and Yale professor Ransom Fielding.  Ransom, our Mr. Darcy, comes back home to teach for a year at Shelby’s college, and Shelby’s quick temper means she makes a really bad first impression when she interrupts one of his classes and criticizes his method of handling students.

Shelby has some family issues to deal with, not the least being her mother’s preoccupation with marrying her off, and spends much of her time trying to piece together a mystery for an article she is writing.  Her mother’s horrid attempt at matchmaking puts her in the sights of David Bishop, a shady real estate agent who is a cross between Mr. Collins and Mr. Wickham.  Meanwhile, Ransom begins to see Shelby in a new light, even as he bears the weight of the guilt he feels over his wife’s death.  Just as Shelby starts to question her perceptions of Ransom, the Caroline Bingley-esque Tasha comes to town and stirs up all sorts of confusion.

Setting the novel on a college campus and infusing it with Civil War history and southern culture makes for a unique retelling.  Best of all, it’s a very loose retelling, so I didn’t know exactly how each plot thread would play out.  Some readers may be put off by the fact that it’s a Christian romance, but I didn’t find it too preachy, since Shelby’s faith is an integral part of her character.  Because it’s a Christian romance, it doesn’t get too steamy, but one aspect of the story takes a more mature (but not graphic) turn.

Hathaway’s take on Pride and Prejudice is fresh, fun, and funny — a comfort read complete with a couple of comfort-food recipes at the end.  I love how Shelby and Ransom are so like Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy and how Hathaway takes other characters from the original novel and combines them, with Shelby’s best friend, Rebecca, being a cross between Elizabeth’s sister, Jane, and best friend, Charlotte Lucas.  The book shows how Austen’s characters and plots so perfectly stand the test of time.  The next books in the series — also with cute titles — take on Emma (Emma, Mr. Knightley and Chili-Slaw Dogs) and Persuasion (Persuasion, Captain Wentworth and Cracklin’ Cornbread), and I can’t wait to get my hands on them.

Disclosure: I received Pride, Prejudice and Cheese Grits from Howard Books 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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miss darcy decides

Source: Review copy from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Lizzy handed Georgiana the book.  She fingered the cover, opened to the first page.

“A new story holds promise.”  Lizzy’s tone reflected the anticipation of discovery.

Georgiana studied the words on the page.  “All new endeavors do.”  Georgiana smiled for a moment.  But sometimes the promise was betrayed.

(from Miss Darcy Decides)

Miss Darcy Decides is the second novella in the Love at Pemberley series, and a sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice that can be read as a standalone book.  The novella focuses on Georgiana Darcy, who is grateful to have escaped the clutches of George Wickham but a little lonely in the midst of so many newly married couples.  She sees the happiness between her brother and Elizabeth as they await the birth of their first child and the love between Kitty Bennet and Colonel Fitzwilliam.  Even her cousin Anne de Bourgh has found love.

Georgiana questions whether she could leave her home and all the memories of her parents, until she meets Sir Camden Sutton.  The attraction between the two is immediate, but Sir Camden has a reputation for being a rouge, and Mr. Darcy is none too pleased about the looks passing between them.  Sir Camden has endured the loss of everyone important to him, and the grief caused him to make some bad decisions.  He says he is a new man, and Georgiana believes he is sincere.  But why is he so intent on helping the unmarried, pregnant niece of Mrs. Wilton, a close friend of the Darcy’s housekeeper?

Miss Darcy Decides is a quiet, sweet love story and an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours.  It’s nice to see Georgiana as the main character, especially when there are plenty of amusing encounters with the overprotective Mr. Darcy.  Georgiana has learned a lot from her near elopement with Wickham, so she is cautious where Sir Camden is concerned.

However, being a novella means there is only a little bit of tension and not as much character and plot development.  I would have enjoyed more details about Sir Camden and his past and a few more obstacles in his path to winning over both Mr. Darcy and Georgiana.  Still, Miss Darcy Decides is a charming take on a character who sits in the shadows in the original Austen novel.  Now I’m curious to read the first novella in the series, Most Truly, to see how Kitty ends up with Colonel Fitzwilliam and the third installment, Miss Bennet Blooms, to see how Mary Bennet finds her happily ever after.

Thanks to Amy of Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for having me on the tour for Miss Darcy Decides.  Click the image below for more information about the book and to follow the tour.

Miss Darcy Decides_Tour Banner_FINAL

Disclosure: I received Miss Darcy Decides 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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