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Source: Review copy from author

Book Blurb:

At the age of twenty, Cheryl Wilder got behind the wheel when she was too drunk to drive. She emerged from the car physically whole. Her passenger, a close friend, woke up from a coma four months later with a life-changing brain injury. Anything That Happens follows her journey from a young adult consumed by shame and self-hatred to a woman she can live with…and even respect. Along the way, Wilder marries, has a son, divorces, and cares for her dying mother. Anything That Happens examines what it takes to reconcile a past marked by a grave mistake, a present as caregiver to many, and a future that stretches into one long second chance.

A debut poetry collection that examines how to reconcile a past grave mistake and a future that stretches into one long second chance. Cover art, “In bloom” by Coleen Tagnolli.


I am two people now —

the before and the after; one I’ve already

forgotten the other I have not met.

(from “Bailed Out”)

What is

left but a future where I am not worth saving.

(from “For What It’s Worth”)


My thoughts:

Cheryl Wilder’s poetry collection, Anything That Happens, is a poetic memoir that details a drunk driving accident that leaves a friend with brain damage and all that guilt and blame that accompanies it. The poems make you ask: How does one come to terms with a bad decision with life-changing consequences? How does one move on from that and live a full life when burdened by questions about what they deserve? And is it wrong to find love and have a child, and how does guilt affect those relationships?

Wilder also delves deep into the emotional turmoil of being abandoned by her father and the weight of caring for a dying parent. These poems are heavy, they are hard to read, but at the same time, they pull you in and make you think. There is something real in these poems, in Wilder’s search for “home,” something that is both haunting and cathartic.

Anything That Happens prompts you to remember a time in your own life when you were young and foolishly believed, like Wilder says in the title poem, that “anything wouldn’t happen to me.” Maybe that “anything” is a traumatic crash that leaves you questioning how much guilt one should shoulder for an “accident.” Maybe your “anything” is a lot less devastating, but still it is the turning point, where there is only “the before and the after.” That is what Wilder explores in these poems, bravely sharing her story and laying bare the conflicting emotions of getting a second chance.


For more about the book and to follow the blog tour, visit Poetic Book Tours.

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Source: Publisher

What Mothers Withhold is a chapbook of poems by Elizabeth Kropf about motherhood and all the joy, grief, fear, pain, and, of course, love that accompanies it. It’s about the wishes mothers have for their children, how they long to protect them from the harsh truths of the world at all costs.

Kropf captures the power and strength of women during childbirth, as well as the powerlessness and anger and grief that accompanies the loss of a pregnancy — and what some women have to endure to become pregnant in the first place. Kropf writes in “Unraveling”: “we cannot cut these threads tangled around/our fingers, spun so tight. The children we/loved without sight/of them.”

These poems also touch on the loss of control women have over their bodies when they are pregnant; in “The Cost of Obedience,” Kropf writes: “naked in a paper gown/I am without a voice/I nod and accept. I do not say no.”

What Mothers Withhold is not just about withholding; it’s about enduring, fighting, hoping. To me, it read like a love letter from a mother to her children, and a mother’s affirmation of her own strength, a recounting of the journey to motherhood — the joy as well as the pain. This short collection of poems should resonate with anyone who has carried a child close to her heart. While their experiences are different, many of the emotions are the same, and Kropf’s poems push them all to the forefront in What Mothers Withhold.

To read the title poem, and Kropf’s inspiration, check out this guest post.

To learn more about the book and follow the blog tour, click here.

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Source: Review copy from CICO Books

Be Your Own Heroine by Sophie and Charlotte Andrews is an inspirational book perfect for bookworms of all ages. The Andrews sisters detail six strong female characters from literature — Lizzy Bennet from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Jo March from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, July from Andrea Levy’s The Long Song, Eleanor Oliphant from Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant, Katniss Everdeen from Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy, and Hermione Granger from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series — along with their strengths and memorable moments. They describe the important characteristics of literary heroines and, most importantly, what we can learn from them.

After reading and adoring Sophie Andrews’ first book, Be More Jane, I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to read Be Your Own Heroine, and I wasn’t disappointed. Just like Be More Jane, Be Your Own Heroine is full of vibrant illustrations. The Andrews’ love of literature shines through, and while I share Sophie’s love for Jane Austen, it was nice to see heroines from other beloved novels included in the book.

The life lessons detailed within these pages should resonate with readers of all ages, but I do look forward to sharing the book with my 20-year-old daughter when she comes home from college on break. These are lessons I want to reinforce for her, and given that she shares my love of reading, I think she’ll enjoy the literary references. These lessons also were important for me to remember at my age, reminding me, for instance, that heroines know how to stand up for themselves, learn to love themselves, and aren’t perfect.

Be Your Own Heroine would be the perfect gift for the voracious reader in your life, and also as treat for yourself.

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About Be Your Own Heroine

Having brought you the wisdom of Austen in Be More Jane, eager reader Sophie Andrews joins forces with her sister Charlotte and turns her attention to what can be learned from the heroines of other stories from past and present. Whatever your taste in authors, there will be strong female characters you can relate to, from Jo March, the tiger-sister in Little Women, to Eleanor Oliphant, the socially bemused heroine of Gail Honeyman’s prize-winning first novel. There are spirited young women such as Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, and Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series; and then there are the survivors – July in The Long Song and Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games. Sophie and Charlotte show how these six inspirational young women can inspire you and guide you through life’s challenges. Whether you are faced with hard times at home, in love, or at work, these characters have something to teach you.

Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

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About the Authors

Sophie and Charlotte Andrews are sisters who both love to lose themselves in books. Charlotte’s passion for reading and writing began in her earliest years. She studied Latin American literature as part of her degree at Warwick University, but especially enjoys historical fiction. Younger sister Sophie appreciates many different genres – however her true love is for all things Jane Austen, an enthusiasm that was initially sparked by studying Pride and Prejudice at school. She started her blog, Laughing with Lizzie, in 2012, aged 16, and soon began to participate in Austen events and festivals around the country. As a founder member of the Jane Austen Pineapple Appreciation Society, she organises house parties, balls and picnics and starred in the 2017 BBC documentary “My Friend Jane”. Her first book, Be More Jane, was published in 2019 by CICO Books. Sophie lives in Berkshire.

Connect with Sophie Andrews: Laughing with Lizzie blog | Laughing with Lizzie Facebook page | Laughing with Lizzie Instagram page | Laughing with Lizzie Twitter page

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Giveaway

CICO Books is generously offering a copy of Be Your Own Heroine to one lucky reader. This giveaway is open to readers from the U.S. and U.K. only, and will run through Sunday, October 25, 2020. To enter, please leave a comment with your email address. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!

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Source: Review copy from publisher

Elizabeth Hazen’s Girls Like Us is a collection of poems that packs a punch from the start. (You can read the collection’s opening poem, “Devices,” and Hazen’s inspiration in last week’s guest post.)

Hazen writes about the power of language, and that power radiates through every poem in the collection. These poems are honest and brave, shocking and edgy without feeling forced. There’s a heaviness to these poems, but moments of empowerment as well.

As a woman, it was hard not to feel like the narrator was telling my story.

What simplicity
to be as silence or as air — there yet

not there. But it takes such work to disappear,
and secrets threaten to spill from you like liquor
you can’t hold. You tell yourself you’re someone else.

(from “Against Resignation”)

 

How do words —
lacking form beyond the curve of font, the flick

of tongue, the measure of my breathing — break,
so easily, a bond?

(from “Diamond”)

There were many poems like these, where a line would just hit me in the gut and I recognized myself on the page. The narrator’s experience is not exactly my own, yet I understand, have felt that precise feeling.

Know that your body may be numb awhile,

and when you see yourself revealed in paint,
note the proportions, but ignore the faint

glimmer he put in your eye that isn’t you.

(from “Times from a Nude Model”)

Hazen’s poems are personal yet universal, strong yet vulnerable, and she deftly packs so much emotion and meaning into a few words.

and though she scrapes away the corrosion, a new battery is not
enough, and the hours pass, though not exactly as before.

(from “The Clock”)

Girls Like Us is a collection of poems that begs to be read multiple times. I spent a few hours with these poems and took away so much, yet I feel I only scratched the surface. Hazen’s unflinching take on the female experience is one that I won’t soon forget.

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Giveaway

Two copies of Girls Like Us are up for grabs as part of the blog tour. To enter, you must use this Rafflecopter link. The giveaway runs July 24, 2020. You must be 18 or older and have a U.S. mailing address to qualify.

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Click the button below for more information about the book and the author, and to follow the blog tour.

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Source: Review copy from author

Sarah Courtney’s Beauty and Mr. Darcy merges Pride and Prejudice with several fairy tales, one for each of the Bennet sisters, as well as Charlotte Lucas and Anne de Bourgh. It’s a very creative variation, and I especially loved how Courtney brought Jane Austen’s secondary characters to life. While I enjoyed Elizabeth and Darcy’s story, it was refreshing to see the other women of Pride and Prejudice given their moments to shine.

Courtney does a fantastic job showing how all of the characters grow and evolve over the course of the novel, from Charlotte’s subtle molding of Mr. Collins into someone I couldn’t help but like to Lydia taking a different path in Brighton, one that changes her character for the better. I was impressed by Courtney’s ability to transform Austen’s characters into fairy tale heroines and seamlessly intertwine the stories. Best of all, she gives Wickham a comeuppance that I won’t soon forget in a scene that had me shocked and laughing at the same time.

It’s important to note that Elizabeth and Darcy aren’t given center stage but share it with the other characters. And to be honest, I didn’t miss them being front and center. That’s not to say Elizabeth and Darcy don’t play an important or interesting role in the novel; they do, albeit without as much angst and drama as you might have come to expect in these variations. However, Courtney’s handling of the secondary characters is fresh and clever, and it was nice to see the other women get their happily ever afters. I seriously couldn’t get enough of Kitty’s and Lydia’s stories, and it was great to see Kitty finally get her chance to go to Brighton — especially here, when she has such a love for the sea.

Courtney explains at the end of the book which characters went with which fairy tales, which I appreciated since the stories closely followed but didn’t exactly match the fairy tales. I must say I was proud of myself for figuring out most of the matches on my own. 😉

Having loved Courtney’s previous novel, the modern variation A Good Name, I had high expectations for Beauty and Mr. Darcy, and I wasn’t disappointed. I am anxiously awaiting Courtney’s next novel!

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Source: Review copy from St. Martin’s Press

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner is a book I’d been anticipating for months and had high expectations for going in. It was described as perfect for fans of The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, both of which I loved. Well, The Jane Austen Society exceeded my high expectations and is one of the first books that actually lived up to the ones to which it has been compared — and in some ways surpassed them.

The novel is mainly centered in the village of Chawton, where Jane Austen spent her final years, just after World War II. The characters are united in their love of Austen’s works and their desire to purchase and preserve the steward’s cottage that was Austen’s home with her mother and sister. But the novel is so much more than the society’s efforts to create a place to honor Austen’s memory and fame.

Jenner has created a cast of characters that, like Austen’s, won’t soon be forgotten. These characters — including Dr. Benjamin Gray and Adeline Grover, whose friendship is complicated by their suffering; Miss Frances Knight, isolated at the Great House; the shy farmer Adam Berwick, who discovers Austen’s novels after meeting an American tourist; Evie Stone, the servant girl with a voracious appetite for reading and an appreciation for old books; and Mimi Harrison, an actress struggling with sexism and ageism in Hollywood — felt like kindred spirits. The hundred or so pages that lay out their stories before the society is formed were so essential for understanding and loving these damaged spirits, and their discussions of Austen’s novels, how they used them to heal, to grow, and to understand one another was the icing on the cake.

The Jane Austen Society is a novel that you want to both devour and savor at the same time, and one that I won’t soon forget. Jenner’s fondness for these characters, and Austen herself, shines through, and she does a fantastic job bring them and the village of Chawton to life. I’ve heard several people mention that it would make a perfect movie, and I agree. If you are like me and love all things Jane Austen, and especially novels set in the WWII-era, you won’t want to miss this one. A definite for my Best of 2020 list.

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About The Jane Austen Society

Just after the Second World War, in the small English village of Chawton, an unusual but like-minded group of people band together to attempt something remarkable.

One hundred and fifty years ago, Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England’s finest novelists. Now it’s home to a few distant relatives and their diminishing estate. With the last bit of Austen’s legacy threatened, a group of disparate individuals come together to preserve both Jane Austen’s home and her legacy. These people—a laborer, a young widow, the local doctor, and a movie star, among others—could not be more different and yet they are united in their love for the works and words of Austen. As each of them endures their own quiet struggle with loss and trauma, some from the recent war, others from more distant tragedies, they rally together to create the Jane Austen Society.

Buy Links: AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE | BOOK DEPOSITORYINDIEBOUND | AUDIBLEGOODREADS | BOOKBUB

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About the Author

Natalie Jenner

Natalie Jenner is the debut author of THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY, a fictional telling of the start of the society in the 1940s in the village of Chawton, where Austen wrote or revised her major works. Born in England and raised in Canada, Natalie graduated from the University of Toronto with degrees in English Literature and Law and has worked for decades in the legal industry. She recently founded the independent bookstore Archetype Books in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs.

Connect with Natalie: WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK | INSTAGRAM | GOODREADS

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Source: Review copy from the author

Sense Without Sensibility by Keena Richins is a modern-day variation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility told from the point of view of Elinor Dashwood. Elinor’s life, and the lives of her mother and two younger sisters, has been upended by her father’s stroke and the likelihood that he will never be more than the shell of his former self. They have barely come to terms with their new reality when her half-brother John and his wife Fanny swoop in with plans to liquidate her father’s businesses and sell their home due to the hefty costs of her father’s long-term care — and due to a prenup, her mother isn’t entitled to anything.

Fanny gives the women a couple of months to figure out their next move, and Elinor finds herself working side-by-side with Fanny’s auditor brother Edward to prepare the small business she’d been managing for her father for sale. Elinor expects the worst given Fanny’s cold-hearted focus on the Dashwood inheritance, but when she meets Edward, she finds a kindred spirit – a shy man with a head for business and a kind heart. As they forge a friendship (and something more, she secretly hopes), she finds it hard to break through the wall that Edward puts up whenever his family is mentioned. Before she can get him to open up, the Dashwood women are forced to move and start a new life on the West Coast, far from the life and man they hold so dear but where new friendships and adventures await.

I really enjoyed how Richins modernized the story while staying true to the essence of each character and the basic plot of Austen’s novel. I loved how characters from other Austen novels made appearances and how, like with most modern variations, I had no idea how the characters would get from A to Z. Those twists and turns were exciting, and the expected happily ever after was so satisfying after all the turmoil Elinor had endured.

This is the third book in a series in which Richins gives modern versions of Austen’s heroes and heroines the chance to tell their side of the story, but it can be read as a standalone book. I loved Richins’ take on Elinor, how she managed to stay strong despite so much hardship and always managed to have a positive attitude. I did get a little tired of her referring to the “cold monster” that would come over Edward, especially when the change in his mood was already implied through action and dialogue, but it didn’t ruin my overall enjoyment of the book. Elinor felt real to me, and so did Marianne as the melodramatic teenager glued to her phone and Brandon as a quiet, kind veteran who emerges as an ally before they even settle into their new life in Portland. I can’t wait to read the upcoming books from Edward’s, Marianne’s, and Brandon’s points of view.

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About Sense Without Sensibility

After a stroke that devastates the mind of her father, Elinor expects her life will never be the same. But she wasn’t expecting to lose her job and her family home thanks to a legal technicality.

Facing ruin, Elinor prepares to fight against the selfish, cruel man who would ensure that ruin. However, Edward turns out to be the opposite, a kind soul who only wants to fulfill his duty. So Elinor hatches a new plan: get Edward on her side and utilize their own legal technicality. The only problem? Edward would have to go against his very influential and wealthy family.

Would he risk losing everything–his job, his family, and his massive inheritance–to save Elinor?

In the world of Pemberley Estates, Jane Austen’s characters mingle with each other in a modern setting.

Buy on Amazon

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About the Author

Keena Richins has a curse: she must write the stories bubbling in her head or go mad. Seriously. You should see the hordes of characters in her head constantly babbling about their lives. When she needs a break, Keena will delve into books and her favorite are the Jane Austen books, so it is only fitting for her first debut to be a modern twist on one of those classics. And many more are soon to come.

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Giveaway

Keena is offering 3 ebooks of Sense Without Sensibility as part of the blog tour. You must enter through this Rafflecopter link. Good luck!

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For more information about the blog tour, visit Poetic Book Tours.

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Source: Review copy from author

Sarah Courtney’s A Good Name, a modern Pride and Prejudice variation, was an unexpected treat from start to finish. The first half of the book details the childhood friendship of George Wickham and Lizzy Bennet. Told from George’s point of view, readers see the harsh life the young boy has endured. His mother has a drug problem and goes from boyfriend to boyfriend. He’s always hungry, and his worries about food and homelessness mean he has little time to worry about clean clothes, playing with other children, and learning to read. But when he meets Lizzy, his eyes are opened to the power of reading and friendship. When she moves away, she leaves a gaping hole, but her influence leads to new possibilities.

The second half of the book centers on Will Darcy, the new CEO of his father’s company, suffocating under the weight of his responsibilities and a bit fed up with his friend Charlie Bingley’s attempts at matchmaking. This part of the book follows the plot of Pride and Prejudice more closely — with the insult to Elizabeth Bennet, Caroline Bingley hoping to snap him up, his poor advice to Charlie regarding his relationship with Elizabeth’s sister Jane, and the eventual blowup with Elizabeth just when he thinks he’s found true love — albeit with a modern spin.

I don’t want to say more about the plot, but the way in which both parts of the book are woven together made A Good Name one of the best modern variations I’ve ever read. Courtney does a great job developing her versions of Austen’s characters, layer by layer, so that readers really understand their motivations, strengths, and fears. I loved the twists and turns, and with the freedom of a modern variation, there were plenty of surprises on the way to Will and Elizabeth’s happily ever after. Courtney’s take on George Wickham was so clever, both heart-wrenching and hopeful, and so completely unexpected. She does a fantastic job with the heavy issues of drug addiction, poverty, and homelessness and their impact on children, balancing them with the lighthearted moments that George shared with Lizzy in the park and, later, Will’s outings with Elizabeth — particularly the scene involving an overturned kayak.

Ultimately, A Good Name is a powerful story, one that makes you think about how we cope with the obstacles thrown at us and how our past shapes our future. But it also is a love story, and an emotional and touching one at that. I can’t wait to read Courtney’s next novel, Beauty and Mr. Darcy, a Regency variation, and I do hope that she writes another modern variation in the future.

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Source: Review copy from the authors

In The Unexpected Past of Miss Jane Austen, book 2 in the Austen Adventures series, Ada Bright and Cass Grafton pick up right where they left off in the first book, The Particular Charm of Miss Jane Austen. Rose Wallace has just helped Jane Austen make it back to the Regency era with the help of a time-traveling charm and realized her crush, the archeologist Dr. Aiden Trevellyan, feels the same way about her when Jane returns to the present and insists that they travel with her back to Chawton in 1813.

This time it is Rose who is taken out of her comfort zone, and she soon learns that living in the time of her favorite author is not as delightful as it seems in Jane’s books. Rose and Aiden are welcomed by Jane’s sister, Cassandra, and her brothers, Edward and Charles, and while Aiden is thrilled to see the village as it was during Austen’s time, Rose is more preoccupied with the reason behind their speedy departure from 21st century Bath — especially as it pertains to her own past.

I adored The Unexpected Past of Miss Jane Austen as much as I did the first book. The time travel aspect was fun, especially to see the modern-day transports adjust to the clothing (or lack thereof), shoes, and even food and drink of Austen’s time, not to mention the lack of hygiene and modern medicine. There is plenty of humor to balance out the more emotional scenes, and even as the reason for Rose’s travel back into time (and what it might mean for her future) is revealed, Bright and Grafton keep the tone light and hopeful — and there is always Jane or Charles to provide some levity.

It is clear that Bright and Grafton took time to research what Chawton was like in the early 1800s to show readers how much had changed by Rose’s time, and their affection and respect for Austen and her family really shine through. Their Jane felt authentic to me, in her words and her actions, and that made me love the book all the more. I enjoyed following Rose and Jane through time, watching Rose navigate her ties to both the past and the present, and seeing Rose and Aiden’s relationship strengthen in such a short time under such weighty circumstances. The world that Bright and Grafton have created is fascinating, their characters endearing, and I didn’t want the book to end. I sure hope there will be a third book in the series, as I’m not ready to let go of Rose and Jane, their friendship, or their adventures just yet.

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Source: Review copy from William Morrow

The Clergyman’s Wife is a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that follows Pride and Prejudice‘s Charlotte Lucas as she builds her life in Kent after marrying Mr. Collins. Molly Greeley tells Charlotte’s story from the first person point of view, so readers really get to know her and understand why she was willing to marry a laughingstock of a man who had been rejected by her best friend. Charlotte has given up any foolish notions of romance and love in exchange for security, but she finds happiness with her infant daughter, Louisa.

Greeley describes the early days of their marriage and how Charlotte settled into her life as the clergyman’s wife. She cares for Louisa, suffers through William’s sermons with the rest of the congregation, calms his anxieties and redirects his attentions whenever possible, endures visits to Rosings and the high handedness of Lady Catherine, and worries that she is not up to the task of caring for the families of the parish. When Charlotte befriends Mr. Travis, a tenant farmer of Lady Catherine’s, she is thrown off kilter, not used to being truly seen and heard.

Greeley’s Charlotte is a complicated character, one who understands the obstacles life has thrown in her path and takes practical steps to overcome them — and who also understands that her choices cannot be undone. It was easy to get lost in Charlotte’s story because she felt real. She knew her options were limited and followed her mind, not her heart, in choosing her path. She knew her husband was ridiculous but made the best of a difficult situation, holding onto moments of tenderness that seemed few and far between. Greeley’s Mr. Collins isn’t cruel; he seems self-centered, obsequious where Lady Catherine is concerned, and careless with his words. It’s easier to understand Charlotte’s reasoning for marrying him than it is to understand how she is going to put up with him until death do they part — especially after watching her friendship with Mr. Travis evolve.

The Clergyman’s Wife gives Charlotte a chance to tell her story, and a chance to see what she might have had. The Darcys and the Bennets make appearances, but this is truly Charlotte’s story, an emotional battle of sorts between the desire for love and the reality of her life as Mrs. Collins. It gave me a new appreciation for Charlotte and is definitely one of the best Pride and Prejudice-inspired novels I’ve ever read, staying true to Jane Austen’s character while breathing new life into her.

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