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the secret betrothal

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

He does not dare to kiss me, her mind screamed silently, but why am I trembling?  She felt a flutter in the pit of her stomach and could not keep her eyelids from blinking over and over.  He is actually going to kiss me!

Very close to her face and audible only to her ear, Mr. Darcy said, “When I kiss you, Miss Bennet, I will not need the inducement of mistletoe.”  He then touched his lips to her hand, released it, and walked out the door.

The colour drained from Elizabeth’s face as she made her way across the room to the perimeter of the hall.  Her knees suddenly felt quite weak, and she sank down upon a chair, aware that her breathing had grown shallow and ragged.  When he kisses me?  The gall of that man!  That is one thing that will never happen!

(from The Secret Betrothal, page 48)

Jan Hahn’s latest take on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice puts an even bigger obstacle than usual in the path to Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy’s happily ever after.  The last time I read Pride and Prejudice a couple of years ago, I remember being really surprised by how much Elizabeth likes Mr. Wickham and falls for his charms.  I think I like to put that out of my mind, but in The Secret Betrothal, Hahn expands on that attraction and kept me cringing and wanting to not believe what I was reading even while making it hard for me to put the book down.

The Secret Betrothal shows what might have happened had Mr. Wickham really, really wanted to punish Mr. Darcy and persuaded Elizabeth to become engaged to him, then keep that engagement a secret, even from her dear sister Jane.  Hahn surprisingly makes this scenario believable, however repulsive it is to imagine Elizabeth linked to that horrid scoundrel.  In fact, the only thing I didn’t like about this book was that I was able to believe it, so kudos to Hahn for that!

There were so many things I liked about this novel, from Hahn’s courage in embroiling the heroine in a secret engagement to the evolution of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s relationship, with confusion, tenderness, passion, and the realization that nothing can keep these characters apart for long.  Hahn lets readers spend more time with Charlotte in this rendition and even inserts some humor in the form of Lady Catherine’s spring tonic.  (Seriously, it’s hilarious!)  But the freshness of the story is really where this novel shines.  I loved that Hahn took the main characters to Brighton and let the story unfold by the sea.

Hahn dedicates the novel to “anyone who has chosen unwisely the first time,” and The Secret Betrothal certainly is a story where that is the case.  Elizabeth has even more to chastise herself about in this retelling, not only for falling prey to a scoundrel but also for risking her reputation.  It’s a novel that highlights the flaws that make Austen’s heroes and heroines so endearing, so life-like, and it also shows that there is no end to the possibilities for these characters.

the secret betrothal blog tour

Disclosure: I received The Secret Betrothal 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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persuasion tearoom chat My tearoom chat with Serena about Jane Austen’s Persuasion concludes this week with our discussion of Volume II, Chapters 7-12. Grab a cup of tea and head over to Savvy Verse & Wit to join the discussion.

(Click here if you missed the first discussion on Volume I, Chapters 1-6, here if you missed the discussion on Volume I, Chapters 7-12, and here if you missed last week’s discussion about Volume I, Chapters 1-6)

We hope you’ll share your thoughts with us!

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

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persuasion tearoom chatPour a cup of tea, and join me and Serena for a leisurely discussion of Persuasion by Jane Austen. This week, our chat was held over a cup of Orange Passion Fruit Jasmine tea (me) and an Arnold Palmer (Serena)

Today’s discussion covers Volume II, Chapters 1-6. If you’re reading along with us, great! If you’ve read the book before and want to chime in, great! Please share your thoughts and questions in the comments.

Anna: So much happens in these six chapters. Anne leaves Uppercross to stay with Lady Russell, then heads to Bath. But what I find most striking about this section is the change in Anne. The improvement to her person is mentioned by both Lady Russell and even Sir Walter. There’s a hint that Captain Benwick may be interested in her, as well as Mr. Elliot. Do you think it’s safe to say that Anne is not as isolated as she was at the very beginning of the novel?

Serena: I think we see in these six chapters a change that even her self-absorbed relatives can see. She’s no longer wilted and in the background, but regaining some of the blush of her youth (my gosh, she’s only 27 or so). I think the glances of Mr. Elliot in the inn, the looks of gentlemen on the Cobb, and the attentions of Captain Benwick have restored her faith in her own worth as a person. Whether that means she’s better for it; I’m not sure. Should her self-worth be tied to what others perceive in her, or should it be something more internal?

I think she’s become more sociable as a result of being with the Musgroves and because of the Harvilles, et. al., but I also think seeing that Captain Wentworth is the same and no worse for her rejection, that she is feeling less guilty about how she was persuaded to break their engagement.

What are your thoughts about her as an Austen heroine, thus far? Do you find her to be one of the weaker ones?

Anna: Even if Anne keeps her composure when her family is so rude to her, it has to bother her. Yet, she remains strong and holds her ground where she can. She visits Mrs. Smith instead of Lady Dalrymple. Even though she’s tempted by the thought of returning to her home and taking her mother’s place as Lady Elliot, her good sense and suspicions of Mr. Elliot win out.

I don’t think of Anne as a weak heroine at all. (I wonder if I’ll say the same thing about Fanny Price when I re-read Mansfield Park at some point; she’s the one I’m not crazy about.) She may have been pushed to the background by her family and lost so much by breaking her engagement to Captain Wentworth, but she bears all of the burdens her family put on her with grace and dignity and strength. How she handled the whole Wentworth/Louisa thing, despite the pain it caused her, is admirable. Yet at the same time, Austen doesn’t portray her as too perfect.

What do you think?

Serena: I don’t think she’s weak, but she is definitely more subdued than say — Emma or Lizzy — in how she comports herself in front of family and others.

I did love seeing Anne stand up to her father and sister by seeing Mrs. Smith, rather than Lady Dalrymple, and while she sees Mr. Elliot as perfect in manners, she also realizes that there is something too good to be true there.

I haven’t read Mansfield Park in ages, but I don’t think Anne is as weak as she is. I find her to have a quiet strength, which is nice, but it also makes it easier for others to push her into the background.

I did note that some of Austen’s humor is lost in this one, except for the exchange between Anne and Mr. Croft about the number of mirrors in her father’s old room at Kellynch Hall. Are there other areas of her humor that I missed in this section?

the annoted persuasionAnna: There’s not as much humor in this novel, but there definitely are some humorous scenes and lines. I always crack up when Sir Walter asks how Mary is because she had a red nose last time he saw her. Admiral Croft’s going on about that painting of a poorly done ship made me chuckle. And that letter from Mary…well, Mary is pretty much ridiculous all the time.

What did you think of Louisa’s engagement to Captain Benwick?

Serena: Louisa’s engagement seems to be this random thing that comes out of nowhere, but I think the circumstances of being in such close contact all that time and they being their respective captive audiences may have helped them along. There really is no way to tell what transpired between them.

I do love that Mary is so happy to relay the news and that it’s so out of the blue, but her letters are just hilarious…especially since she contradicts herself at every turn. And Mr. Croft certainly does have a love for ships and the sea..it’s a wonder he ever set foot on shore.

Now what about Anne’s boldness in acting about Captain Wentworth, do you think she’s hoping that there will be a renewal of their acquaintance, or do you think she’s merely concerned because she has loved him in the past (and still does) even if they do not renew a friendship at the very least?

Anna: It definitely seems random to us readers because we’re not privy to the goings-on in Lyme. Louisa and Benwick’s romance would make for an interesting spin-off novel.

Of course, we knew something would happen with Louisa because she CANNOT end up with Captain Wentworth. She just can’t. I think I’d be okay with her marrying anyone but him, because the Elliots and the Musgroves being so connected would’ve really made that hard for Anne to handle, I think.

I do love that Anne was able to feel “senseless joy” when she learned the news. Being Anne, she seems concerned about how the engagement affected Wentworth and Benwick’s friendship. But whether she feels hope for a second chance or just joy that she doesn’t have to see him married to Louisa, or just joy that he’ll remain single for the time being, I don’t know.

Going back to Mr. Elliot. I was struck by the passage where Anne considers how everything he says is measured and how occasional slips of the tongue are more sincere and authentic. That made me wonder whether Anne and Emma could have ever been friends. What do you think?

Serena: I agree, Louisa and Benwick’s romance would be an interesting spin-off. Perhaps you should write that one!

Yes, I agree if Captain Wentworth and Louisa married, I don’t think Anne could have handled it, though I’m not really sure how she would have reacted to seeing them together all the time.

I did love that he said she experienced a senseless joy — that made her more human to me. Until that point, I felt like her emotions were too in check all the time. I was elated for her. Even if she doesn’t hold out hope for her and Wentworth to get back together, it was nice to see that she could be happy even senselessly.

I’m not sure if Emma would have wanted Anne for a friend — though except maybe to fix her up — but Anne would have enjoyed Emma’s company. That passage also makes me wonder about what Austen is trying to say about her own society — did it seem to stilted and measured to her? was she looking for more?

And does Anne mean that those who are measured in their thinking and speech are maybe more callous and calculating than they are perceived to be by others who simply find them delightful in manner?

persuasionAnna: I see what you mean about Anne’s emotions being too in check. Though I felt some of her frustrations being let out through the narrative describing her being pulled to and fro by Mary and the Musgroves wanting her to solve their problems with one another back in the last section, and it also shows when she compares the happy household of the Musgroves to the more stilted atmosphere at Kellynch.

I wonder if an Emma/Anne pairing would be somewhat like an Elizabeth/Charlotte friendship, a balance of the practical with the lively, though without Mr. Collins, of course. Given that Austen thought Emma was a heroine only she would like, I imagine that she herself would prefer a less stilted atmosphere. Emma is someone who comes out and says what everyone else is thinking.

I think Mr. Elliot’s manner of speech is delightful to people like Lady Russell because they are so focused on manners and social standing, whereas Anne is looking for some real conversation and companionship because all that matters to her to a lesser extent.

What do you think about Mrs. Smith and her importance to the plot? Do you think there’s more to her story as well? You sort of see that her story will intersect with that of Anne’s family, given her nurse’s connection to the wife of Mr. Elliot’s friend.

Serena: Agreed, an Emma/Anne pairing in friendship would be a balancing act of sorts.

I do think there is more to Mrs. Smith’s story, and I think that she is the cautionary tale for Anne who could have been swept up in a marriage — one not with Wentworth, but someone like him — and been left with nothing. While Austen wants us to believe in a happily ever after for Anne, she also wants to remind us that anything could happen and that she should be prepared for the worst. In Anne’s case, though, I think she’s well prepared given how little her family cares for her or her opinions, etc.

Yes, I think that was on purpose…Austen wants us to see the caution in believing in happily ever after, but she also wants to provide a way through which Anne can have it and not fall into a bad situation unwittingly, especially since she’s mostly relied on Lady Russell’s advice in love.

Now, here’s an idea for a spin-off: Anne’s life when she knew Mrs. Smith before her marriage took her off.

What do you think about Mr. Elliot’s paying attention to Anne rather than her sister? Do you think that her sister has noticed? And what is with Mrs. Clay and her hanging on even when it would be more polite to remove herself?

Anna: I know Mrs. Smith’s story from reading the book before, so I’m going to keep quiet about it for you. It definitely is a cautionary tale in a way. I wonder if there is a book out there about Mrs. Smith? You never know!

Mrs. Clay is a very interesting character because at this point, we don’t hear too much of her. There was all that flattery at the beginning and now she’s just there, with the speculation being that she wants to become Lady Elliot. If she’s desperate to get her claws into Sir Walter (and I’m wondering if her father has anything to do with that, too), she’ll never leave as long as Elizabeth desires her company. I don’t know if Elizabeth notices Mr. Elliot’s interest in Anne at this point, or whether it’s only Lady Russell’s observations so far. But since Elizabeth never found a man worth marrying besides Mr. Elliot, and since she already dislikes Anne, I’m sure she will be none too pleased!

I can’t wait for the last part of the book, even though I don’t want it to be over.

Serena: I don’t know if there is a book about Mrs. Smith or not. There don’t seem to be too many spin-off books of Persuasion. I cannot wait to read the ones that I do have now that I’ve nearly achieved my goal of reading this one.

Mrs. Clay does seem conniving, but she’s not outwardly so, which makes me wonder about what goes on behind the scenes. Why does she want to stay? It doesn’t seem like Sir Walter even cares that much about her being there or not, and he certainly doesn’t pay her that much attention, though maybe no other woman could catch his eye like Lady Elliot did — not sure how that happened when he’s so wrapped up in status and his own distinguished looks.

I cannot wait for the last part of the book either, and I, too, do not want it to end.

We hope you’ll help us continue the discussion in the comments!

Click here if you missed the first discussion on Volume I, Chapters 1-6, and here if you missed last week’s discussion on Volume I, Chapters 7-12. And please join us next Friday, March 28th, at Serena’s blog, Savvy Verse & Wit, to discuss Volume II, Chapters 7-12, which will bring us to the end of the novel. See you there!

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

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consequences

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

Elizabeth had once believed she would rather know a fact, even if it were unwelcome, rather than just speculate, but she wondered now if false hope was not better than no hope at all.

(from Consequences, page 98)

Consequences is a thought-provoking retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, with two novellas joined together into a novel about the consequences of missed opportunities and how doing just one thing differently can turn everything around.  The first part imagines how Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy’s lives would have played out had she rejected his proposal at Hunsford and then missed running into him later on when she tours Pemberley with her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner.  The second part has Elizabeth, with the help of her best friend, Charlotte, taking a more practical approach to Mr. Darcy’s first proposal, accepting it as a means of saving her family in the event of her father’s death despite her fears of being trapped in an unhappy marriage.

I will not divulge any more of the plot because this is a novel that should be experienced the way I experienced it, not knowing how either journey would play out and going through a roller-coaster of emotions.  I even teared up at one point and had to explain to my husband why I was so sad.  I couldn’t believe an Austen-inspired novel made me cry, but that’s what I loved so much about it.  Odom’s tale felt almost too real at times, as some decisions lead people on a rocky path lined with tragedy, and a bittersweet ending is the most that can be hoped for.  But there also were times when I sighed with relief and cheered on the characters (scenes involving Mr. Darcy and Mr. Collins and Mr. Darcy and Lady Catherine immediately come to mind).

Odom’s take on Pride and Prejudice is thoughtful, emphasizes the complexity of the novel and the many different outcomes that could have occurred, and prompts readers to think about the characters’ motivations, decisions, and ultimate fates in the context of Austen’s time.  Having read a number of Pride and Prejudice retellings, I admire Odom’s courage in taking the characters on at least one journey that many Austen fans might find difficult to imagine for their beloved characters.  For readers who wonder about the proliferation of Austen fiction these days, Consequences really drives home the point that one seemingly small change in the plot can have a dramatic impact on the outcome of the story and highlights why many people are fascinated by all the different ways it could have been told.

Consequences Blog Tour Banner

Disclosure: I received Consequences 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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persuasion tearoom chat My tearoom chat with Serena about Jane Austen’s Persuasion continues this week with our discussion of Volume I, Chapters 7-12. Grab a cup of tea and head over to Savvy Verse & Wit to join the discussion.

Then, join us here on Diary of an Eccentric on Friday, March 21 for our chat about Volume II, Chapters 1-6.

(Click here if you missed last week’s discussion on Volume I, Chapters 1-6)

We hope you’ll share your thoughts with us!

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

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persuasion tearoom chatPour a cup of tea, and join me and Serena for a leisurely discussion of Persuasion by Jane Austen.  (We pretty much failed at the whole “tearoom” thing, with our email back-and-forth happening over a glass of lemonade (me) and an Arnold Palmer (Serena), but whatever gets you through, right?)

Today’s discussion covers Volume I, Chapters 1-6.  If you’re reading along with us, great!  If you’ve read the book before and want to chime in, great!  Please share your thoughts and questions in the comments.

Anna: I hope you are enjoying Persuasion so far. When I finished it the first time, I declared it my favorite Jane Austen novel…and then I read Emma and said that was my favorite Austen novel, so I obviously can’t decide, but upon beginning this re-read, I remembered exactly why I loved it the first time.

How did you feel about the first few chapters? You don’t really get a hint that the book will center on Anne until Chapter Four, when her relationship with Frederick Wentworth is made known to the reader.

Serena: I’ve always liked how Jane Austen sort of leads you into the setting and the characters’ lives without really pinpointing at the outset who the main heroine is. She does that so well here, with Anne in the background observing everyone and quietly offering her advice.

I was wondering why you think she makes a point to have Anne seem so meek in the beginning without really explaining her relationship with Wentworth until Chapter Four?

Anna: Anne hardly speaks at all in the first few chapters, but so much is revealed about her when Lady Russell consults her about Sir Walter’s finances and how he could get out of debt. Keeping her in the background allows Austen to unfold the events that will bring Wentworth back into Anne’s life. If it wasn’t for Sir Walter’s debts, he wouldn’t have to let Kellynch, and the Crofts wouldn’t have been found as tenants.

I’m surprised by how much Austen reveals about her characters, especially Sir Walter and Elizabeth, in just a few short pages.  What do you think about Sir Walter, in comparison to the other patriarchs you’ve encountered in Austen’s novels?

Serena: I agree, Austen’s approach in Persuasion gives her a lot more latitude in unfolding Anne’s story.

It seems like Sir Walter is even more inept than some of the other patriarchs she’s depicted. Mr. Bennet is a reader, and while his home and finances are entailed away from the female line, he still cares for all his children, even if he thinks some of them are ridiculous, while Emma’s father, Mr. Woodhouse, is mostly preoccupied with his ailments and his own comforts, though his house and estate are still doing well. Sir Walter seems to just presume that everything will take care of itself because he’s titled, though a Baronet is not in the upper echelons of the aristocracy. Although, I just thought that perhaps Sir Walter is an even more ridiculous version of Mr. Woodhouse.

It’s odd that Sir Walter would favor Elizabeth who is so like him in her vanity and privilege, though I suppose in many ways, she’s like his own personal “yes” man, agreeing with whatever he wants. It makes me wonder how the mother would have fit into this family and what role she would have played between the sisters and between the sisters and their father.

Lady Russell seems to play a role in keeping Anne’s interests alive, but I wonder if she too has a selfish streak, particularly given her persuasion of Anne against an alliance with Wentworth.

the annoted persuasionAnna: It seems like Sir Walter and Mr. Woodhouse are complete opposites in that Sir Walter is so full of himself when it comes to appearances (both physical and status-wise) and Mr. Woodhouse goes way overboard in worrying about other people. In a way I’m reminded of General Tilney with the focus on wealth and status.

Austen does say Lady Elliot modeled restraint and kept him in line. I’m curious as to what prompted her “youthful infatuation” with Sir Walter? That would make for some interesting scenes, I’m sure!

Lady Russell is hard to get a finger on. There might be some selfishness there, but she also seems truly upset that Anne is deemed unimportant by Sir Walter and Elizabeth, in particular.

Serena: Yes. I see your point about Sir Walter and General Tilney, though I haven’t read that Austen book yet; I’m going on scenes in the movie.

Lady Elliot must have had a hold on Sir Walter to keep him in line…she must have been a charmer for sure. Wonder what kind of persuasion she employed! I really cannot imagine how she would have been attracted to him in the first place though.

Lady Russell is an enigma. She seems preoccupied with status, too. But I still wonder if she just wanted to keep Anne close for her own reasons, and that’s why she wanted to persuade her against Wentworth.

Do you think Anne rejected Charles Musgrove because she was still heartbroken?

Anna:Well, I hope I got the General Tilney thing right; now that you mention it, I did watch the movie again a couple of weekends ago, so maybe that’s what I’m thinking of. [Added after the discussion: I think our next Tearoom Chat should be Northanger Abbey! I can't believe you haven't read it yet!]

Hmm, that’s a good question about Anne and Charles. I think anyone who would turn around and marry her sister, Mary, really wasn’t the right kind of guy for Anne.

From the description Austen gives of Anne and Wentworth’s personalities when they first fall in love, they really were well suited to one another. That in itself would be difficult to get past, but then to see that all he’d predicted for himself in terms of career and fortune came true…well, I don’t know how Anne could not blame Lady Russell for her role in separating them. Given that she was 19 at the time and lived a relatively sheltered life, it’s not surprising that she would be so easily persuaded.

Serena: I can see how she would be persuaded given the family life she’s led with her father favoring her other sister, Elizabeth, and not thinking much about her at all. And with only Lady Russell’s guidance, it would be hard to know that she should stand up for what she wanted.

While I find it interesting that she would reject Musgrove, it is telling that he would so soon after offer for her other sister.

That’s a whole other ball of dysfunction over there at the Great House, isn’t it? What do you think was going on there that Austen was trying to show? And how does that family’s dysfunction compare to Anne’s family?

Anna:  Anne considers Henrietta and Louisa “some of the happiest creatures of her acquaintance” and even laments that they have an affection for one another that she never knew with Elizabeth or Mary. The whole Musgrove family seems so far removed from the world of the Elliots, yet Mary married into it and doesn’t seem all that happy about it.

The description of them being “friendly and hospitable, not much educated, and not at all elegant” makes them sound like they are so far beneath the Elliots, yet the Musgroves are the closest to them in social standing in the neighborhood. It makes me wonder, if Sir Walter is so obsessed with being a Baronet, why Mary married into that family, even if they were landowners? Is there any significance in that?

persuasionSerena: It’s also raises an interesting point about why Mary was allowed to marry into this family that is “below” the Elliots, and Anne was not allowed to marry Wentworth. Merely owning land means that you are eligible, or is it because Sir Walter really only cares about what is best for Elizabeth and not the others?

I think Anne loves the Musgroves because they are affectionate — something she lacks at home — and Mary has never been pushed so far in the background like Anne, and may find it stifling to be in such an affectionate family.

Anna: Well, you saw Sir Walter’s poor opinion of the Navy men when Mr. Shepherd approached him about renting to one of them. And Wentworth, at the time, had no money to his name, no status, just ambition. At least Charles will inherit his father’s property. But wasn’t it said that Anne could have overcome whatever objections Sir Walter might have had; it was Lady Russell’s opinion that really mattered? So if Sir Walter could be overcome, then maybe it didn’t really matter so much who Anne and Mary married.

And what does it say that at 29, Elizabeth is still unmarried? Yes, she was disappointed by Mr. Elliot, and yes, she didn’t find any one else as suitable as him for a husband for someone of her standing. But if she’s as handsome as she’s described, and the Elliots have some standing in society, why wasn’t there talk of someone else at least showing interest in her?

Serena: Yes, that’s what I wonder about too, why hasn’t Elizabeth had any other men coming after her if she’s so beautiful? I mean after all, Jane Bennet was considered a beauty, and she had admirers, and even Darcy thought she was pretty. Here, Elizabeth is supposed to be angelic, almost.

I guess it does mean that Lady Russell’s opinion mattered more to Anne, perhaps because they are friends.

I cannot wait to see what develops next, though at this point the book seems pretty close to what I’ve seen in the movies for the most part.

Anna: And, of course, she views Lady Russell as sort of a mother figure.  I wonder if her mother had lived, what would she have said about her engagement to Wentworth?

I am looking forward to the next part as well. Even though I’ve read it before and haven’t forgotten the story, it’s like I’m reading it for the first time. I’ve had that feeling every time I’ve read Pride & Prejudice, and I think that’s part of the magic of Austen for me.

We hope you’ll help us continue the discussion in the comments!

And please join us next Friday, March 14th, at Serena’s blog, Savvy Verse & Wit, to discuss Volume I, Chapters 7-12.  See you there!

© 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 persuasionPersuasion is one of my most-favorite Jane Austen novels, and when Serena said she wanted to read it for the first time this year, I thought it would be fun to read it together — especially since I bought the annotated version pictured here and have yet to read it.  Even though life continues to be hectic, I’m making time for a comfort re-read.

We’re taking a more laid-back approach to this read-along.  We’re going to chat about the book in real-time, then post those chats once a week throughout March.

Here’s our schedule:

Friday, March 7 — Chat about Volume I, Chapters 1-6 here on Diary of an Eccentric

Friday, March 14 — Chat about Volume I, Chapters 7-12 on Savvy Verse & Wit

Friday, March 21 — Chat about Volume II, Chapters 1-6 here on Diary of an Eccentric

Friday, March 28 — Chat about Volume II, Chapters 7-12 on Savvy Verse & Wit

We’d love it if any of you want to read along with us, and those of you who’ve already read it, please feel free to chime in.

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

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love at first slight

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

In no particular order of precedence, Flora’s main occupations were reading ribald romances, sampling grapes in all their myriad, fermented forms, and maintaining her husband’s frangible nerves.

Benjamin’s ruling ambition was securing five wealthy wives for his five healthy offspring.  A man’s world it might be, but women had the almighty power of refusal, and Benjamin was determined to further his sons’ chances against all odds and against all other suitors.

(from Love at First Slight, page 10)

In all my years of reading Austen-inspired novels, I never once thought about how Pride and Prejudice would have turned out had all the gender roles been reversed, but I’m so glad J. Marie Croft did.  Her newest novel, Love at First Slight, is clever and even downright hilarious at times.

In this rendition of Austen’s beloved novel, Benjamin Bennet is determined to make good matches for his five sons: Martin, the heir who would rather read scripture and moralize than run an estate; Charles, who is easy-going and would rather go into trade with his uncle than study law; William, who is flirtatious, outspoken, outdoorsy and would much rather manage an estate than be a deacon; and twins Christopher (Kit) and Laurence (Laurie), who are obsessed with joining the militia and spend much of their time raising hell and embarrassing the rest of the family.  It’s Flora Bennet who would rather stay at home reading horrid novels, drinking wine, and lamenting that she never had a daughter.

When the widow Mrs. Jane (Bingley) Devenport takes up residence at Netherfield with her dandified brothers, Leonard and Casper, and the haughty heiress Miss Elizabeth Darcy, Mr. Bennet is determined that at least one of his sons will soon be settled comfortably at the neighboring estate.  While Jane hits it off easily with Charles at the Meryton Assembly, William’s request for a dance with “Miss La-Di-Da-Darcy” is turned down, and he overhears her call him merely “tolerable” and make several jokes about his profession.  What follows is a humorous retelling of Pride and Prejudice, with Felicity Wickham catching William’s eye and having nothing nice to say about Miss Darcy, Olivia Collins setting her sights on the middle Bennet brother, and even the formidable Lady Catherine and her daughter Anne replaced by the equally domineering Sir Lewis and his son Andrew.

I don’t want to say more about the plot because even though Croft follows the original novel closely, the reversal in gender roles means there is a lot that is different.  Croft does a great job changing the circumstances to go along with the change in gender, and I loved watching the evolution of Elizabeth and William in these new roles.  I was curious how it was going to play out, especially as Elizabeth’s feelings toward him deepened in an era when “a lady’s feelings cannot be made known.”  And what scandal could befall the Bennet family this time, and how would Elizabeth smooth it all out?

Croft’s handling of the flipped characters was beautifully done, and she perfectly balanced the subtle humor with the ridiculous, mirroring Austen in that respect.  Love at First Slight‘s originality makes it a must-read for fans of Austen-inspired novels and especially for readers who have grown a bit tired of all the Pride and Prejudice-inspired novels being published (and it continues to surprise me that I have yet to tire of them myself).  I’ve long loved Austen for the timelessness of her stories and characters, and Croft’s novel is an example of the many different ways Austen’s novels can be explored.

Disclosure: I received Love at First Slight 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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a lasting love affair

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

“You must tell me what you think of him.”  Her ladyship paused a moment but not nearly long enough for Elizabeth to fashion a response. … “Pray, is he amiable?  Is he a handsome man?”

“Though our meeting was by happenstance, as Betsy likely told you, I do not know that I would describe him as amiable.”  In fact, I found him arrogant and a bit condescending.  “As for your second question on whether he is handsome, I would say he is tolerable.”  Yes — tolerable is the word I would choose.

(from A Lasting Love Affair, page 15)

P.O. Dixon’s short novel, A Lasting Love Affair: Darcy & Elizabeth, is a unique retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with new characters and a change in the scenery.  Elizabeth Bennet literally bumps into Mr. Darcy on the street in Bosley, where she is now living with her father’s sister, Lady Vanessa Barrett, who has been estranged from her brother since he married Fanny Gardiner and is now in need of an heir.  Mr. Darcy, meanwhile, is staying with his friend, Lord Holland, who happens to be Lady Vanessa’s nephew.

Elizabeth isn’t looking to form an attachment with anyone, having suffered a significant loss, and is content merely pouring her heart out into letters she will never mail.  Despite the expectations of his family, Mr. Darcy finds himself captivated by her, but he has to overcome Elizabeth’s fear of giving her heart away and the expectations of a match between Elizabeth and Lord Holland.  From the gossipy Caroline Bingley to the greedy Mr. Wickham to Lady Catherine on a mission, there are plenty of obstacles in the way of their happiness.

A Lasting Love Affair was an enjoyable retelling of Austen’s novel, mostly because Dixon takes the characters away from Meryton and Netherfield and puts them in an entirely new setting.  I was heartbroken for Elizabeth, but her fear of losing someone else close to her was a different challenge for Mr. Darcy to tackle.  Dixon portrays Elizabeth as someone just beginning to emerge from a deep grief, and the change of scenery means she and Mr. Darcy get to know each other without the obnoxious Mrs. Bennet and the other Bennet sisters lurking in the background.

Although I wish I felt a stronger connection to Dixon’s Elizabeth and Darcy, I couldn’t help but like this novel.  Even though I knew they would achieve their happily ever after, changing the main stage and adding a few new players meant that I wasn’t sure exactly how they would get there.  A Lasting Love Affair is a light and quick escapist read that kept me company at a time when I needed a little Darcy pick-me-up, and I’m looking forward to reading more by this author.

Disclosure: I received A Lasting Love Affair: Darcy & 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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dear mr. knightley

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★☆

If you truly are a “Mr. Knightley,” I can do this.  I can write these letters.  I trust you chose the name as a reflection of your own character.  George Knightley is a good and honorable man — even better than Fitzwilliam Darcy, and few women put anyone above Mr. Darcy.

Yes, Darcy’s got the tempestuous masculinity and brooding looks, but Knightley is a kinder, softer man with no pretense or dissimilation.  Yes, he’s a gentleman.  And I can write with candor to a silent gentleman, and I can believe that he will not violate this trust.

(from Dear Mr. Knightley, page 13)

I must admit that when I picked out Katherine Reay’s epistolary novel, Dear Mr. Knightley, as a birthday gift (per my husband’s request), I thought it was a Jane Austen-inspired novel.  It is, in a way, but it really is a modern-day retelling of Jean Webster’s Daddy-Long-Legs.  I haven’t read — and to be honest, never heard of — Webster’s novel, so I can’t make any comparisons between the two, but I can say that Reay’s version is a charming, overall feel-good novel.

Reay’s heroine is Samantha Moore, a 23-year-old orphan living in a group home.  She can stay there until she’s 25, provided she attends school, and with her attempt to break out on her own proving to be a failure, she takes advantage of an offer from a mysterious benefactor.  This “Mr. Knightley” will pay her tuition for the master’s program at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, provided she keeps up a written correspondence with him about “things that matter.”

Sam is socially awkward, not knowing how to make friends or interact with other people, and speaking and writing in the words and styles of her favorite classic authors when things become too difficult.  In these letters to “Mr. Knightley,” however, she can be herself, without worrying what he will say because the conversation is one-sided.  No matter how hard Sam tries to change, to make friends, to forge a career in journalism, to write these letters effortlessly, she always finds something to hold her back.  But her relationships with her favorite novelist Alex Powell, Professor and Mrs. Muir, the tough Dr. Johnson, and Kyle, a rough youth at the group home, might just put her on the path to finding herself.  However, the journey isn’t an easy one, and when her curiosity about “Mr. Knightley” gets the best of her, the world she so carefully built begins to crumble.

I’m a big fan of epistolary novels, and I found it easy to lose myself in Sam’s story.  Reay’s writing is smooth, the literary references are relevant and fun, and the Christian elements of the story aren’t preachy.  Sam is easy to like, though her naivety is a bit unbelievable at times, especially for a girl who spent time on the streets.  However, I couldn’t help but root for her, and she won me over in the end.

Despite its predictability, Dear Mr. Knightley is a charming novel.  Reay shows how easy it can be to lose one’s way and sense of self after years of feeling worthless, but it is possible — with some tough love, some hope, and a whole lot of courage — to find value in oneself.  Dear Mr. Knightley‘s literary connections are what caught my eye, but its heartwarming story of a young women looking to find her voice, personally and professionally, is what prompted me to finish the book in one sitting.

Disclosure: Dear Mr. Knightley 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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