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Source:: Author
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Frederick sat there for a moment, thinking. “You know, I have to say the number one barrier in a lasting relationship with me is weakness of character. If a woman can easily be persuaded by her friends and family to do something she doesn’t really want, then she and I won’t make a good pair.”

I sat there looking at the television and I realized I was never going to be able to fix the mistake I had made. This next month was going to be torture.

(from Modern Persuasion)

Modern Persuasion by Sara Marks takes Jane Austen’s Persuasion into the present day. Emma Shaw (Anne Elliot) is an editor at the publishing house run by family friend Karen Russell, who is grooming Emma to take over the imprint run by her father, Walter Shaw. Somehow Emma manages to sort out her father’s and sister Elizabeth’s financial troubles, cater to her needy sister Mary, and get everything in order for PubCon. She’s hit hard by the appearance of Frederick Wentworth, who is there to promote his new book before going on tour.

Circumstances conspire to put Emma in charge of Frederick’s book tour, which makes for some awkward situations given that they haven’t been in touch since she turned down his marriage proposal eight years ago. Emma holds it together the best she can as she and Frederick, accompanied by his friend Patrick and her assistant Louisa, go from city to city barely speaking to one another, and definitely not addressing their unresolved feelings.

Marks’ knowledge and appreciation of Austen’s novel shines through in her retelling. I recognized Anne and Captain Wentworth in her Emma and Frederick (though I wonder why her name was changed to Emma). I liked the setting of the novel, the various cities on the book tour and then in Cape Cod, and how Marks translated the obstacles faced by the characters into modern times and made them feel real and relevant. However, some of the scenes could’ve been fleshed out with some dialogue, and some of the repetitive elements at the end could have been eliminated.

Even so, I enjoyed Modern Persuasion. It was fresh and fun, a fast-paced read, and I always enjoy when authors are inspired by an Austen novel other than Pride and Prejudice.

Disclosure: I received Modern Persuasion from the author for review.

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Source: Purchased
Rating: ★★★★☆

But I do know there is no justification. No possible rationalization for what the Nazis did, for what civilian Germans permitted and encouraged to happen.

And yet: you. Here you are. You have the temerity to sit in my home, at my table, with your lights and your cameras and your questions and your historical credentials. You dare to seek some explanation. You dare to record the stories of the butchers and those who abetted them. You dare to seek some exoneration of a people who committed wholesale slaughter of an entire race!

(from Those Who Save Us)

Jenna Blum’s Those Who Save Us focuses on a broken relationship between a mother and daughter who lived in Weimar during World War II. The book centers on Anna Schlemmer, who has spent 50 years in silence about her wartime experiences. Her daughter, Trudy, who was just a baby during the war, remembers only bits and pieces of her life then.

The novel opens upon the death of Anna’s husband, Jack, the American soldier who married Anna shortly after the war and brought her and Trudy to Minnesota. Trudy, a professor of German history, does her duty in caring for her mother, but the distance between them is palpable. Her unanswered questions and desire to understand her mother’s wartime choices prompt her to take on a project in which she interviews Germans about their experiences during the war, including how they survived and what they knew about the Nazi atrocities.

Trudy has long been haunted by a photograph she found in her mother’s drawer as a child: what looks to be a family photo of Anna, Trudy, and an SS officer. The truth behind the photo is revealed over the course of the novel, which shifts back and forth between Anna’s wartime story and 1997 as Trudy interviews subjects for her project and navigates her mother’s coldness and silence.

What struck me most about this novel was how the war resulted in a sense of guilt and isolation for both Anna and Trudy. Anna stands by her actions during the war, both good and bad, as a means of survival and protecting her daughter, though the shame and the lingering trauma closed her off to both her husband and daughter. Trudy carries guilt based on her interpretation of the photo, and her mother’s refusal to revisit the past has left her without a support system. It was interesting how both of them carried the weight of guilt, though Trudy was too young to remember the war.

Those Who Save Us is a rare instance for me in which both the past and present aspects of the novel were fascinating. Although it is hard to connect with Anna and Trudy, as they keep themselves at arm’s length even from each other, Blum enables readers to understand their motivations and empathize with them as the story unfolds. Blum also doesn’t shy away from detailing the violence of war, and there were several times that I had to put the book down and calm my emotions. I had hoped for more resolution in the mother/daughter relationship at the end, but Blum stays true to their characters while giving them and readers a sense that healing is on the horizon. Those Who Save Us is a well-crafted, thoughtful novel that takes on some pretty ambitious subject matter but handles it with care and without assigning blame.

Serena and I featured Those Who Save Us as the June/July readalong on War Through the Generations. Our discussions can be found here (beware of spoilers): Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4. Stay tuned for an interview with author Jenna Blum, which also will be featured on War Through the Generations sometime soon.

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Source: Purchased
Rating: ★★★★☆

Holidays with Jane: Spring Fever is a collection of short stories set during Easter and the spring season. Each of the six stories in the book is a modern take on one of Jane Austen’s novels. I had hoped to finish the book before summer arrived, but I’ve been so busy these days that I’m just glad to have finished it! Besides, these holiday story collections can be enjoyed any time of year.

Here’s a short rundown of the stories in this collection:

“Extra Innings” by Jessica Grey (based on Persuasion)

Annie Elliot is the administrative assistant to the GM of the Chawton Choppers. Rick Wentworth is a former major league baseball player who returns to coach the team. The pair must come to terms with the end of their relationship so many years ago and figure out whether there’s a chance to move forward.

“Miracle at the Abbey” by Cecilia Gray (based on Northanger Abbey)

Kathia returns to The Abbey, the home where she lived as a teenager after her mother’s death, for her paranormal reality show. She is reunited with the owners’ son, Henry Trang, and is forced to come to terms with the past and the events that prompted her to flee The Abbey…and Henry.

“Whine and Wineries” by Melissa Buell (based on Sense and Sensibility)

The Dashwoods are forced to leave their family home upon the death of their patriarch. The move to a cottage at the Barton Winery separates Elinor from Edward just as their friendship seems to deepen, but her family’s involvement in a wedding planning business results in their crossing paths again.

“Emma’s Inbox: An Emma Story” by Rebecca M. Fleming (based on Emma)

Emma is a writer for the Hartfield Herald, and Noah Knightley is the town’s mayor. This story of matchmaking gone awry is told through emails and text messages among the various characters.

“No Vacancy at Mansfield Motel” by Kimberly Truesdale (based on Mansfield Park)

This story is set on the ocean, with Fanny Price stuck taking care of the Mansfield Seaside Motel while the rest of Bertram family does whatever they please. She had hoped to spend time with her favorite cousin Eddie while he is on break from school, but instead he is preoccupied with the friends he brings along, Mary and Henry Crawford, and fails to notice Fanny and all the dreams she’s pushed to the wayside to care for the family.

“Lydia Reimagined” by Jennifer Becton (based on Pride and Prejudice)

Lydia Bennet is determined to prove that she has learned from her failed relationship with George Wickham by attending his wedding. When she bumps into an old friend, Kyle Dennison, she is forced to consider her motives for being there and the larger questions of who she has become and what she wants.

As with the previous Holidays with Jane anthologies I’ve read (Trick or Sweet and Christmas Cheer), I enjoyed each of the stories. They were all unique and clever retellings of Austen’s novels. “Lydia Reimagined” is the story that stood out most to me. I loved seeing Lydia putting herself on the right track, bumbling through awkward situations with her head held high and with good intentions.

While the spring season itself wasn’t always front and center, each story did touch on the themes of renewal and hope. I really enjoy when these authors come together to celebrate various holidays and seasons, and of course, our love of all things Austen. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of these themed collections.

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Source: Author
Rating: ★★★☆☆

[Please note that my review is based on the first edition of the book. The author has informed me that a second edition of the book has been published, with some significant additions to the story, so please keep that in mind as you read my thoughts.]

This is an odd (in a good way) modern-day romance with hints of Jane Austen and her beloved couple, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. Set in Austen, Texas, a small town whose motto is “Find Your Mr. Darcy,” Austen’s Independence Day follows Macey as she contends with running her family’s bar, keeping her father away from the booze, helping her pregnant friend plan a wedding, insisting that she will never ever marry, and finding the time and inspiration to finally write her novel.

Melissa Belle has created a zany and hilarious cast of characters, not to mention a town obsessed with the legend that Jane Austen’s ghost is trapped in the jail cell in what is now the Cowherd Saloon & Chapel, owned by Macey’s family. Legend has it that Jane is waiting for the marriage of true soul mates in order to be set free — and time is running out to break the curse.

After a drunken night in Las Vegas, Macey returns to Austen to go about life as usual, shouldering all the burdens of her friends and family. She has a fiery relationship with her lifelong best friend (with benefits) Morgan, but she protests (quite often) that she is not cut out for anything more than casual sex. When Morgan comes back to town, new fiancée in tow, Macey is forced not only to field questions from reporters about the legend amid a local competition over who is the true Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, and who will set Austen’s ghost free when they marry at the Cowherd, but also find a way to let Morgan go as she makes her way through the journal she’s kept of their relationship since she was a child.

I honestly didn’t know what to make of this book for quite a bit. It was always enjoyable, with over-the-top characters, plenty of humor and steaminess, and a lot of heart. I loved Macey and Morgan, their childhood romance, their chemistry, and their passionate disagreements. Their ups and downs sometimes made me want to slap them silly, but mostly I enjoyed going along for the ride.

However, the Jane Austen legend was a bit hard to follow, and the fact that the town referred to her as “the Queen of Romance” made me think they’d missed the point of her novels; then again, this is a town whose residents will believe what they want to believe, no matter how outlandish. Once I just decided to go with the flow and not think too much about it, the story was fast-paced and a lot of fun. Overall, I really liked Austen’s Independence Day. It certainly is something different in the realm of contemporary Austen-inspired romance, and it would make for a nice and light beach read.

Disclosure: I received Austen’s Independence Day from the author for review.

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Source: Meryton Press
Rating: ★★★★★

Darcy tamped down a memory of a recent ball and the lady whose laugh and spirit haunted him at the most unexpected times. “I do not wish to be hunted, yet…” he continued, his voice low, “I believe I would like to be found.”

(from Mendacity & Mourning)

J.L. Ashton knocked it out of the park with her second variation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Her latest novel, Mendacity & Mourning, was so very different from other variations I’ve read. From the mysterious death of Anne de Bourgh that has Mr. Darcy known around Meryton as the “Grieving Groom,” to the odious (and odorous) Mr. Collins as a gossipmonger who causes all sorts of trouble for the Darcys, Fitzwilliams, and Bennets, to the bawdy humor of Colonel Fitzwilliam, and even a menagerie, I devoured this book every chance I could get.

In the midst of Darcy’s guilt and grief over his cousin, he plans to find himself a wife. He visits Netherfield for a bit of downtime, and there he meets the family of his friend Bingley’s beloved Jane. Darcy is instantly captivated by Elizabeth Bennet but believes her promised to another. Elizabeth is confused by Darcy’s attentions toward her, believing him to be mourning the cousin who was supposed to be his wife. This is just the beginning of a whirlwind of gossip, scandals, and misunderstandings that conspire to keep them apart.

Ashton really shakes things up with her portrayal of the de Bourghs and Mr. Collins, and I enjoyed watching it all unfold. Although a simple heart-to-heart conversation between our dear couple could have sped things up a bit, I was too busy laughing at everything else going on to care. The book blurb describes Mendacity & Mourning as a “slightly unhinged romantic comedy,” and it certainly is that and more! I don’t want to say too much because you really just need to read it and go with the flow, and half the fun is having no idea where the story will take you next. I can’t wait to read more from Ashton in the future.

****

About Mendacity & Mourning

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a gossip in possession of misheard tales and desirous of both a good wife and an eager audience need only descend upon the sitting rooms of a small country town in order to find satisfaction. And with a push from Lady Catherine, Mr. Collins sets alight a series of misunderstandings, rumours, and lies that create obstacles to a romance between Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet.

This slightly unhinged romantic comedy follows Darcy as he sets off to find himself a wife and instead finds himself pulled into the mire of his aunt’s machinations and his own fascination with Elizabeth, whom he believes betrothed to another. As Meryton judges him the grieving groom of Anne de Bourgh and a caddish dallier with the hearts of others, Darcy must ferret out the truth behind his cousin’s disappearance, protect his sister from the fretful fate of all Fitzwilliam females, and, most importantly, win Elizabeth’s heart.

Check out Mendacity & Mourning on Goodreads | Amazon

****

About the Author

J.L. Ashton

Jan Ashton didn’t meet Jane Austen until she was in her late teens, but in a happy coincidence, she shares a similarity of name with the author and celebrates her birthday on the same day Pride & Prejudice was first published. Sadly, she’s yet to find any Darcy and Elizabeth candles on her cake, but she does own the action figures.

Like so many Austen fans, Jan was an early and avid reader with a vivid imagination and a well-used library card. Her family’s frequent moves around the U.S and abroad encouraged her to think of books and their authors as reliable friends. It took a history degree and another decade or two for her to start imagining variations on Pride & Prejudice, and another decade—filled with career, marriage, kids, and a menagerie of pets—to start writing them. Today, in between writing Austen variations, Jan lives in the Chicago area, eats out far too often with her own Mr. Darcy, and enjoys membership in the local and national chapters of the Jane Austen Society of North America.

Mendacity & Mourning is her second book with Meryton Press. She published A Searing Acquaintance in 2016.

Connect with Jan via Facebook | Pinterest | Twitter | Blog.

****

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Disclosure: I received Mendacity & Mourning from Meryton Press for review.

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Source: Cedar Forge Press
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Robbie reached across and touched my arm. When he didn’t draw his hand back, I told him about my frights. “Maybe,” he said, “we all practice our dying, in different ways, at different times, but there’s no way to avoid the thought. Write it if you can.”

(from The Belle of Two Arbors)

The Belle of Two Arbors is a sweeping historical novel that takes readers on a journey between Glen Arbor and Ann Arbor, Michigan, and sometimes beyond, from 1913 to 1978. The book is presented as a memoir of the fictional poet Martha “Belle” Peebles, whose entire collection of poems, or “songs,” are found in a trunk, along with the memoir, after her death. The novel chronicles Belle’s life, from her mother’s tragic death when she was 14 until the end of her life and beyond.

Belle’s mother was a fan of Emily Dickinson and encouraged Belle to write. Although devoted to her younger brother, Pip, and her Papa, Belle decides to leave Glen Arbor to attend college in Ann Arbor, where her lifelong friendship with Robert Frost begins. Her friendships with Robbie, Ted Roethke, and Wystan Auden enrich her life and inspire her work, and they share their poems and letters over the span of many years. Dimond chronicles Belle’s work, her role as a caregiver, her complicated love life, her desire to preserve the natural habitat in Glen Arbor and expand the family’s stove works, her battle with sexism in academia, and more.

The Belle of Two Arbors is an ambitious novel that was just a bit too long for me at nearly 700 pages. Dimond’s prose is great, and Grimes’ poems (Belle’s poems for the purpose of the novel) are well done, but it felt like there were a lot of scenes and details that, though well written, just did not further the plot.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the novel overall because of Belle. What a fantastic heroine! She was brave, strong-willed, ahead of her time, a pillar of strength among her friends and family, a source of encouragement and love. She had dreams and figured out ways to achieve them. She managed the ups and downs of love without being overly romantic or dramatic. Her interactions with historical figures were fascinating. If it weren’t for the extraneous details that hindered the flow in certain places, I would have loved this novel, but even so, I think it is worth giving a try for Belle alone.

Check out The Belle of Two Arbors on Goodreads and Amazon, and click the banner above for more details about the book and to follow the blog tour.

Disclosure: I received The Belle of Two Arbors from Cedar Forge Press for review.

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Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★☆

Maybe even in a fictional reality I was destined to never find happiness.

(from Attempting Elizabeth)

Jessica Grey’s Attempting Elizabeth follows Kelsey, a 23-year-old student in California who is a bit obsessed with Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. She’s convinced that no guy in her life could ever measure up to Mr. Darcy, and reeling from a breakup with a Wickham-type, Kelsey doesn’t quite seem to know who she is and what she wants. She has her own mortifying Pride and Prejudice-like moment at a party, in which she insults Mark, the hot Australian bartender, only to learn that he’s a friend of her roommate’s boyfriend, and now she can’t seem to avoid him.

Kelsey and Mark constantly butt heads, though the more she learns about him, the more her opinion of him begins to change. After an incident that takes her back to her recent failed relationship, Kelsey aims to take her mind off her troubles with a book. Pride and Prejudice, of course. She falls asleep while reading Darcy’s letter to Elizabeth and somehow ends up in the book itself. Soon Kelsey finds herself navigating this alternative world, her desire to become her favorite heroine in all of literature, and her feelings for Mark while trying to determine what is real — and, most importantly, trying to find herself.

Attempting Elizabeth was a fun and fast read. I’m sure a lot of us voracious readers have wondered what it would be like to step into our favorite books or inhabit our favorite characters. Would we stay there if we had the chance? Would we try to alter the events of the novel? Would we miss what we’ve left behind, or worry about ruining our favorite stories? And wouldn’t it be fantastic to meet the characters and see them as the author pictured them while writing? It was fun to follow Kelsey through Pride and Prejudice as she learns important truths about herself through her experiences as Austen’s characters. I couldn’t help laughing out loud when Kelsey said or did things that were very unlike Austen’s characters. Their reactions were thoroughly delightful.

There were times when Kelsey got on my nerves, but that made her feel more real to me. Overall, it was a creative, sweet love story that kept me wondering throughout. Although I felt the book ended somewhat abruptly, I liked how Grey made the supernatural aspects of the story seem believable. I also liked that such a lighthearted read on the surface had some deeper meaning underneath, namely the significant impact that books can have on our lives, shaping our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

Disclosure: Attempting Elizabeth is from my personal library.

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