I’m playing catch-up here with some Austen-inspired short stories and novellas I read over the summer, plus two non-Austen Christmas stories I read more recently. Stay tuned for reviews of several Christmas-themed Austen books this week and next. I’ve really been in the Christmas spirit!
Murder at Mistletoe Manor by Holly Tierney-Bedord
This was an amusing novella, a cozy mystery set in Windy Pines, Idaho, a remote mountain town with a bumbling police force obviously not used to investigating murders. The story centers on Klarinda Snow, the owner of the struggling Mistletoe Manor, who is shocked and curious to find all seven guestrooms booked on a Tuesday in December. When each guest arrives with a mysterious letter on the inn’s letterhead inviting them for an all-expenses-paid, one-night getaway, Klarinda is confused because the letters weren’t from her. The guests are all odd in their own way, and most know each other from their teenage days at a private school. Soon Klarinda has to contend with disgruntled guests who start dropping like flies and a snowstorm that traps the surviving guests and staff in a building that is now dangerous for more reasons than murder. Although the mystery wasn’t very complex and I couldn’t stop shaking my head at the incompetence of the police and even Klarinda’s odd behavior throughout, the novella was funny enough that I downloaded the second in the Windy Pines mystery series, Carnage at the Christmas Party (both are standalone and both were Kindle freebies at the time).
Married by Midnight: A Christmas Story by Talli Roland
This was a short and sweet romance set in a small village outside London in the week before Christmas as Kate quickly plans a midnight Christmas Eve wedding to the man who’s perfect for her, at least according to her mother’s astrological charts. Both Kate and her mother depend on the stars, signs, and fortune tellers for every decision in their lives, including which day is a good one to shop for her wedding dress. She finds the perfect 1930s-era gown, with a note attached to the inside wishing the new owner of the dress much luck and happiness. The note sends her on a whirlwind search for the previous owner on social media, and as finding out the secrets of the dress becomes more important than planning a wedding set to take place in a matter of days, Kate beings to question whether she should trust her horoscope or her gut. The first person viewpoint was enjoyable in this story, as Kate was likeable even if blind about things. The mystery was solved and everything wrapped up a bit too quickly, but that’s to be expected with such a short story. It definitely could’ve been expanded into a novel; I would’ve loved to see how the loose ends would’ve been tied up in such a scenario.
A Spot of Sweet Tea by Maria Grace
I read two of the Austen-inspired short stories in this collection separately last year; you you can read my mini-reviews of “Four Days in April” and “Sweet Ginger” here.
I really enjoyed the other two stories in this collection. “Last Dance” focuses on Mary Bennet from Pride and Prejudice as she is staying with her aunt Phillips in Meryton while the rest of the Bennets are in London. With three sisters married, Mary is floundering as her aunt tries to make her be someone she is not in order to attract a husband. I really enjoyed seeing Mary come into her own under the watchful eyes of two very different men.
“Not Romantic” centers on Charlotte Lucas from Pride and Prejudice and shows how a broken heart turned her into someone who could be content as the wife of Mr. Collins. I enjoyed how Maria Grace made Charlotte such a sympathetic character as you see her disappointed in love, understanding Mr. Collins, and watching him fawn over and be rejected by Elizabeth. I could almost believe that she found her happily ever after.
Dancing with Mr. Darcy by Susan Masters
This short story spans the entire life of Lizzie Rogers, who was born between the World Wars and grew up to be a librarian, in about 15 pages. She fell in love with Mr. Darcy after reading Pride and Prejudice as a young girl. The kind of love where you make scrapbooks of a fictional character, have conversations with him every night, and know you will never, ever be happy unless he comes to life and whisks you away — and this unhealthy infatuation continues well into your golden years. Poor Lizzie attracts the eye of a dark and brooding man she hopes will be her Mr. Darcy, only to find that he is more of a Mr. Wickham. As a short story spanning 80-some years, it’s obviously very rushed. I felt like I got to know Lizzie a bit, how she was a strong, kindhearted woman who bent over backwards to help her family, but her “love affair” with Mr. Darcy was not very developed, which made the ending fall flat. However, I think it would make for an interesting novel.
Lizzie Bennett: Pride and Prejudice Revisited 1943-1946 by Onna Car
I eagerly delved into this short story because of the World War II setting. Elizabeth “Lizzie” Bennett (it’s mainly spelled this way throughout the story, but the author also switches to Lizzy Bennet at times) is the manager of the North Platte, Nebraska, canteen and a certified nurse. She is working at the canteen with her sister Janey when they meet Private Chuck Bing and Bombardier Will Darcy, who are on furlough. Events proceed much in the way of Pride and Prejudice, albeit in a different era.
Honestly, the WWII setting is probably the only enjoyable thing about this story. In addition to numerous flaws that could have been prevented with a thorough editing (like the spelling inconsistencies), Carr attempts to pack the entire plot of Pride and Prejudice into a short story, so it mainly reads like a summary with virtually no plot or character development. I was also put off by Darcy being referred to as “Dar” and Elizabeth’s friend Lotte Lucas being called simply “the polio victim.” Darcy’s famous insult becomes “She’s tolerable, but a living doll she’s not,” which doesn’t roll off the tongue half as well as the original despite the modernized language. I will say the individual plot points were interesting, and had they been fleshed out, it would’ve made a great novel or even novella.
Darcy’s Nightmares by Beatrice Alexander
This short story is subtitled “A Pride and Prejudice Horror” without having much of a connection to Pride and Prejudice. The prologue is one paragraph indicating that Darcy has been plagued with nightmares every night since the death of his wife, Elizabeth. According to the prologue, she had an incurable illness, but the story continually refers to an accident for which he blames himself. The accident is never described, and the inconsistency is just one of a number of issues I spotted while reading that could have been avoided with a thorough editing.
The story itself is just a description of Darcy’s nightmares, or seemingly endless comparisons of his grief to frightening nature imagery. Almost halfway through the story, Darcy meets with his psychiatrist, a Mr. Bennet, and they butt heads because Darcy just wants a prescription to sleep and Mr. Bennet wants to help Darcy overcome the nightmares. When asked to discuss the accident, Darcy can’t speak and just leaves. Then the nightmares begin again. Alexander’s writing isn’t bad, but there seems to be no real conclusion to the story and no connection to Pride and Prejudice other than the characters’ names. There is no explanation of the accident, no character development — nothing but the nightmares. I kept reading in hopes that there would be an actual story here — Darcy or Elizabeth or not, just something to make me understand this tormented Darcy’s guilt.
Disclosure: All of these books are from my personal library