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

Elizabeth’s lips trembled in holding back a smile.  “Why, thank you.  I believe he will do admirably, despite not being in his dotage.”

Aunt Augusta gave a hearty laugh.  “Well said, but still, old men make the best husbands, the older, the better.  My goal was to become a widow as soon as possible.  As a maiden I belonged to my father; as a wife I would belong to my husband.  Only as a widow can a woman belong to herself.  Lord Derby was a poor prospect in that regard.  I daresay I could have chased him into an early grave, but it seemed more trouble than it was worth, when there was an adequate supply of elderly gentlemen happy to marry a well-dowered young girl.”

Elizabeth gave Darcy an arch look and then said, “I do not doubt it, but as I am not well-dowered, perhaps it is fortunate that I am not averse to entering into a marriage with a younger gentleman.”

“If he gives you any trouble, tell me, and I will make him wish he were older.”  Aunt Augusta’s smile took any sting from the words.

(from Mr. Darcy’s Obsession, pages 272-273 in the ARC)

In Mr. Darcy’s Obsession, Abigail Reynolds really shakes up Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  In Reynold’s retelling, Mr. Darcy doesn’t propose to Elizabeth Bennet at Rosings, as she is called back to Longbourn when her father falls ill.  When Mr. Darcy’s Obsession opens, Mr. Bennet has died, Elizabeth is living with her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner in London, and Jane is married to an old milliner.  Mr. Bingley is upset because Jane is out of his reach, and Darcy can’t stop thinking about Elizabeth even though she is even less suitable a match for him than she was before her father’s death.  Still, Darcy can’t let Elizabeth go.

Mr. Darcy’s Obsession is pretty predictable when it comes to Darcy and Elizabeth and Jane and Bingley, but that doesn’t matter.  Reynolds livens things up by changing Lydia Bennet’s and Georgiana Darcy’s stories, but Lydia is still foolish and Georgiana still charming.  She also adds a host of new and entertaining characters, from the street urchin, Charlie, and the innocent maid, Mary, to Darcy’s eccentric Aunt Augusta and horrible uncle, Lord Derby.  The way women are treated in the book — which isn’t a far cry from reality back then, I’m sure — will turn your stomach, but thankfully Mr. Darcy is a true gentleman.

Reynolds has another winner with Mr. Darcy’s Obsession, drawing me in from the start with a unique take on Pride and Prejudice.  Unlike her previous novels, there is passion but no sex, but of course there are misunderstandings and obstacles that threaten to keep Darcy and Elizabeth apart.  Reynolds’ new characters are just as entertaining as the characters we know and love.  I knew how things should turn out for Elizabeth and Jane, but I had no idea what would happen to Charlie, Mary, Aunt  Augusta, or Darcy’s cousin, Henry, which added a layer of excitement and anticipation.  Reynolds’ love for Pride and Prejudice is obvious in the care she takes to stay true to Austen’s characters, and I’m looking forward to seeing where she takes them next.

Disclosure: I received Mr. Darcy’s Obsession from Sourcebooks for review.

© 2010 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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

Darcy looked down, feeling somewhat embarrassed.  “Now you know very well, Georgiana, that I have never really taken a strong liking to any particular woman.  Usually the association was out of duty or obligation or some familial obligation.  There may have been a few whose company I enjoyed, but none I would have sought as my wife.”

“Oh, but there were certainly many who wanted you to take a liking to them and who would have, without the slightest hesitation, consented to being your wife!”

“Yes, and I can remember all your comments after I would introduce one of those women to you.”

Georgiana looked down, displaying a childlike pout for her brother.  “I was not that bad, was I, Fitzwilliam?”

Darcy laughed.  “I quickly discovered, Georgiana, that the quieter you were around the lady, the more vocal you would be to me after she left!”

(from Darcy’s Voyage, page 397 in the ARC)

Darcy’s Voyage proved to me that I’m still not growing weary of the numerous sequels and re-tellings of Jane Austen’s novels.  In this re-imagined Pride and Prejudice, Kara Louise takes readers on a completely different journey while staying true to Austen’s beloved characters and arriving at the same conclusion.

Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy meet in a carriage, and after enjoying a lively discussion, they part ways.  Two years later, Elizabeth convinces her father to let her travel alone to America to visit her Uncle and Aunt Gardiner.  After boarding Pemberley’s Promise, she runs into Mr. Darcy, and they strike up a friendship, not realizing he is the man from the carriage and the owner of the ship.  Elizabeth is booked in steerage, and she willingly gives up her bed to a pregnant woman whose daughter falls ill.  And when Elizabeth also becomes sick and injures her ankle, Mr. Darcy devises a plan that will allow her to sleep in the extra bed in his cabin — and joins the two of them together permanently.

Of course, misunderstandings separate them once they reach New York, but after returning to England, they are reunited at Netherfield, and readers are reunited with the rest of the cast of Pride and Prejudice.  In addition to the complicated situation carrying over from the voyage, Darcy and Elizabeth still must deal with George Wickham’s evil ways, Caroline Bingley’s arrogance, and Lady Catherine’s rage.  Louise handles these things (and more) much differently than Austen, breathing fresh air into a story I know inside and out.

Although I found it hard to believe that Mr. Bennet, being a gentleman, would allow Elizabeth to travel solo and that Elizabeth and Darcy didn’t recognize one another on the ship after being so smitten for months after the carriage ride two years prior, I really enjoyed Darcy’s Voyage.  Because they meet in a far different manner, there isn’t the prejudice that Austen created, though pride is glimpsed here and there.  Darcy’s Voyage is more about keeping love intact at all costs than about overcoming pride and prejudice.  Louise puts a unique spin on events, with enough tension to carry the story until the end, where some things play out differently than in Austen’s novel.  Darcy’s Voyage is among the most creative Austen re-tellings I’ve read in awhile.

Disclosure: I received Darcy’s Voyage from Sourcebooks for review.

© 2010 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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

…”She, however, does not want to spend the rest of her life with a guardian; she wants to spend it with a husband — and it is entirely your fault that she feels that way!”  She stopped, shocked at her own vehemence.

“My fault!  What do you mean?” he asked with asperity.

“Your sister, my dear husband, wants a marriage with the love, affection, and, I hope, trust,” she said dryly, “between husband and wife that you have achieved.”  Then, she added hurriedly, with a slight blush, “…albeit through months of agony and uncertainty beforehand, of which she has probably only the slightest comprehension.”

(from Mr. Darcy’s Little Sister, page 296 in the ARC)

C. Allyn Pierson pushes Georgiana Darcy to the forefront of Mr. Darcy’s Little Sister, a sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  Austen did not focus much on Georgiana’s character, so readers know little about her aside from her almost elopement with the scoundrel George Wickham, her shyness, and the fact that her brother cares deeply for her and will do anything to protect her and her reputation.  Pierson moves Georgiana out of Mr. Darcy’s shadow in this coming-of-age novel, which opens just before Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet’s wedding.  Georgiana is anxious to forge a sisterly bond with Elizabeth, but she’s nervous about meeting the rest of the Bennet family.  In fact, Georgiana is nervous and unsure of herself in almost any public setting, and thinking about her presentation and coming-out make matters worse.  Not only does she worry about saying the wrong things when conversing with people outside her family unit, but she also must figure out how to find true love when the eligible young men are immediately attracted to her dowry.

It’s not long before Georgiana is dealing with a shady suitor and a situation that could ruin the reputation her brother worked so hard to safeguard after the Wickham episode.  But with Elizabeth’s help, Georgiana begins to come out of her shell, and when love comes unexpectedly, she must learn to assert herself to get what she wants.  Elizabeth and Darcy also are highlighted, with Elizabeth finding it hard to be accepted by those in Darcy’s social circle and Darcy going on a top secret mission for the Prince Regent.

Pierson does a good job integrating new characters with our favorites from Pride and Prejudice, and she breathes life into Georgiana and makes the character her own but simultaneously stays true to Austen’s original work.  Georgiana’s anxieties grew a bit tiring early on, but I enjoyed watching her character evolve, even if several of the story lines were predictable.  I read a lot of Pride and Prejudice sequels, and I’m always looking for something different to keep me interested.  Mr. Darcy’s Little Sister, with its spotlight on Georgiana, was a breath of fresh air.

Disclosure: I received Mr. Darcy’s Little Sister from Sourcebooks for review.

© 2010 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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

“I trust that we will argue regulary, I trust that he will be persistent in trying to have his own way, I trust that I will have to struggle for my autonomy … he is very predictable in some ways!”

“Hmmm, my dear, it sounds as if he has a will strong enough to stand up to you.  I would not be so certain that is unfortunate.  I think it would be far too easy for you to find a man who would let you have your way all too often!  You are not Jane, after all.  I believe that you may require a man of strong will if you are to be happy.”

(from To Conquer Mr. Darcy)

To Conquer Mr. Darcy is the latest release in Abigail Reynolds’ series of Pemberley Variations, which take a “what if?” approach to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  This time, Reynolds aims to answer the question, “What if Mr. Darcy had set out to win Elizabeth’s heart?”  The novel opens with Mr. Darcy all moody and depressed about Elizabeth Bennet rejecting his rude and arrogant marriage proposal.  But rather than give up and move on, Darcy’s cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, convinces him to prove to Elizabeth that he is a man worthy of her affections.

And that’s exactly what Darcy does.  In fact, this book should have been titled To Conquer Elizabeth Bennet or something along those lines because upon Darcy’s return to Netherfield with Mr. Bingley, he spends much of his time sweet talking and putting the moves on Elizabeth — in the respectable Darcy fashion, of course.  But once Elizabeth realizes her feelings for Darcy, propriety is thrown out the window.  Their relationship moves faster than Elizabeth would like, but there’s a passion between her and Darcy that cannot be denied or cooled.  With their penchant for misunderstanding one another, there are a lot of obstacles for the two to overcome.

I really enjoy Reynolds’ variations of Pride and Prejudice (read my reviews of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man in the World and Pemberley by the Sea) because it’s obvious she knows Austen’s work and characters inside and out and isn’t afraid to put her own spin on events.  Although I found that the beginning of To Conquer Mr. Darcy moved a bit slow, once the period of wooing was over, the book definitely warmed up — meaning that you best be prepared for some steamy sex scenes.  Reynolds does a good job integrating them into the story.

But what I most enjoyed about To Conquer Mr. Darcy was the way the events of Lydia’s elopement with the scoundrel Wickham unfolded and Elizabeth’s role in saving her sister and her family.  Reynolds stays true to Austen’s beloved novel, simply taking a different route to the same outcome.  She also includes more of the lesser characters in Pride and Prejudice, like Georgiana Darcy and Pemberley’s housekeeper, Mrs. Reynolds, which was a treat.

I’ve wondered whether I eventually will tire of these Austen sequels and re-tellings, but so far, they remain my guilty pleasure.  Reynolds does a wonderful job turning a story that could be considered by some to be mere fan fiction into an enjoyable novel.

Disclosure: I received To Conquer Mr. Darcy from Sourcebooks for review.

© 2010 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Given that I love all things Jane Austen, I just had to sign up for the Everything Austen II challenge hosted by Stephanie’s Written Word.  The challenge runs from July 1, 2010, to Jan. 1, 2011, and you need only complete 6 books, movies, crafts, etc., related to Jane Austen.  This is what I plan to read:

To Conquer Mr. Darcy by Abigail Reynolds
Mr. Darcy’s Obsession by Abigail Reynolds
Mr. Darcy’s Little Sister by C. Allyn Pierson
Darcy’s Voyage by Kara Louise
Old Friends and New Fancies by Sybil Brinton
Jane Bites Back by Michael Thomas Ford

Also, since 2010 is about half over, I figure it’s time to see where I am with the other challenges in which I am participating.

For the Jane Austen Challenge hosted by the Life (and Lies) of an Inanimate Flying Object, I chose the “Fanatic” level, which requires me to read 6 works by Jane Austen and 5 sequels, re-imaginings, etc.  (Click here to see my original reading list)

So far, I’ve read 1 work by Jane Austen and 7 sequels/Austen-esque novels:

Mansfield Park Revisited by Joan Aiken
Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man in the World by Abigail Reynolds
The Darcys & the Bingleys by Marsha Altman
The Plight of the Darcy Brothers by Marsha Altman
Mr. Darcy’s Great Escape by Marsha Altman
Sanditon by Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith
Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart by Beth Pattillo

All I need to do is finish 5 works by Austen, and I’m done!

Finally, for the War Through the Generation’s Vietnam War Reading Challenge (which I’m co-hosting with Serena), I’ve finished 7 of the 11+ books I signed up to read. If you read my original reading list, you can see I’ve strayed just a bit, but I’m fine with that.

Playing Basketball With the Viet Cong by Kevin Bowen
The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli
Dien Cai Dau by Yusef Komunyakaa
Song of Napalm by Bruce Weigl
Letter to My Daughter by George Bishop
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
A Hundred Feet Over Hell by Jim Hooper (I’ll be reviewing this next week.)

When I think about how fast the months pass, I’m glad I limited myself to only a handful of challenges, although there are so many good ones out there.  I don’t think about challenges as deadlines, but as ways to either broaden my reading horizons or focus on a topic, author, etc. that really interests me.  This keeps them fun.  And if I don’t finish the challenge, well, that’s life.

How are all of you progressing with your reading challenges?

© 2010 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Another challenge completed, and in the nick of time!  The Everything Austen Challenge hosted by Stephanie’s Written Word — which ran from July 1, 2009, to January 1, 2010 — allowed participants to choose six Jane Austen novels, sequels, retellings, or movies.  And since all things Jane Austen are my guilty pleasures, this challenge was perfect for me.

I read four Jane Austen sequels and/or retellings and watched two movies.  Here’s my list with links to my reviews where applicable:

Books

1.  Mr. Darcy, Vampyre by Amanda Grange
2.  A Match for Mary Bennet by Eucharista Ward
3.  Searching for Pemberley by Mary Lydon Simonsen
4.  Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth-Grahame Smith

Movies

5.  Pride and Prejudice (2005)

I’ll always have a soft spot for the first Pride and Prejudice movie I saw in high school, the 1940 version starring Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson.  I saw that movie in my 11th grade English class, and it began my love of all things Jane Austen.  But I also really enjoyed the 2005 version starring Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet and Matthew Macfayden as Mr. Darcy.  I thought the two of them were perfect.  I didn’t really care for Donald Sutherland as Mr. Bennet, and the actor who played Mr. Collins was more creepy than ridiculous, but I really enjoyed it.

6.  Becoming Jane (2007)

The fact that Jane Austen wrote six of the most popular love stories ever published yet never married fascinates people, and everyone wants to believe that Jane had a love story.  In Becoming Jane, Jane (Anne Hathaway) falls in love with Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy).  Of course, knowing that she died young and unmarried, we know nothing will become of the romance.  Still, I really enjoyed the film and it made me cry — despite there being no evidence that the real Jane and the real Tom were ever romantically involved.  We’ll never know whether the real Jane had a love story, but it’s fun to imagine how things might have gone for her.

I want to thank Stephanie for hosting such a wonderful challenge.  I hope she decides to hold another one this year.  I’d sign up in a heartbeat!

Disclosure: I borrowed the Pride and Prejudice and Become Jane movies from a friend. I am an Amazon associate.

© 2010 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Though disappointed with such a beginning, Lady Catherine held the greatest hopes for her third and final ninja, the deadliest of the three.  But no sooner had she snapped her fingers, than Elizabeth flung her Katana across the dojo, piercing the ninja’s chest and pinning him against a wooden column.  Elizabeth removed her blindfold and confronted her opponent, who presently clutched the sword handle, gasping for breath.  She delivered a vicious blow, penetrating his rib cage, and withdrew her hand — with the ninja’s still-beating heart in it.  As all but Lady Catherine turned away in disgust, Elizabeth took a bite, letting the blood run down her chin and onto her sparring gown.

(from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, page 130, 132)

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith is not the typical retelling of the beloved classic Pride and Prejudice.  Grahame-Smith basically takes Austen’s words and throws in some zombies.  That’s the short of it.  I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up this book, with some people absolutely hating it and some thinking it great fun.  I lean toward the latter, but I wouldn’t say I loved it.

I would recommend that anyone who doesn’t approve of another author taking charge of Austen’s characters steer clear of this book.  A mysterious plague has settled over England, and for many years, the “sorry stricken” have died and emerged from the ground as zombies, unless they have been beheaded and burned.  The Bennet sisters — Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Lydia, and Kitty — have all studied the deadly arts in China, and they are masters of the sword, dagger, and musket.  Elizabeth is especially accomplished in this regard; in one scene on the way to visit her best friend Charlotte Lucas after her marriage to Mr. Collins, Elizabeth’s carriage is attacked, and she takes on hundreds of dreadfuls on her own, and later she kills three of Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s best ninjas while blindfolded.  Jane Austen purists might be shocked at this treatment of their beloved characters, but I honestly thought the book was hilarious.  From Lady Catherine and Elizabeth sparring to Charlotte slowly becoming a zombie without anyone noticing to Wickham’s unfortunate inability to control his bodily functions, I found myself laughing throughout the book.

However, I don’t think writing a few new scenes and altering the characters here and there while using most of the author’s original work makes for a good book.  Mrs. Bennet is still annoying and still focused on marrying off her daughters.  Mr. Darcy is still arrogant, Miss Bingley is still obnoxious, and Lydia still runs off with Wickham.  One thing Grahame-Smith changed that I really disliked was Elizabeth’s personality.  As in the original Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth is a strong woman who voices her opinions.  But Grahame-Smith has given her a violent streak that just doesn’t sit well with me.  When Jane is snubbed by Miss Bingley and the entire Bingley party leaves Netherfield, Elizabeth wants to defend Jane’s honor by killing Miss Bingley.  When Mr. Darcy proposes for the first time, albeit badly, Elizabeth kicks him and sends him flying.  And then there’s the eating of the ninja’s heart (see quoted passage above).  I guess when zombies have been brought in, there’s no sense stopping there.

Still, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was fun, and I’m not sorry I read it.  But the illustrations by Philip Smiley steal the show.  Seriously, the book is worth buying just to flip through and see the detailed drawings of the zombies…and Elizabeth taking them down.

Disclosure: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is from my personal library.

© 201o Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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

Jane Austen sequels and “re-imaginings” are a guilty pleasure of mine, and I love it when I find one that stands out from the crowd.  Also, I am always seeking out books on World War II.  Put these together, and you have Mary Lydon Simonsen’s Searching for Pemberley.

Simonsen’s heroine is Maggie Joyce, an American stationed in London in 1947 with the Army Exchange Service.  World War II ended just two years prior, and the British are still feeling the pinch of rations, grieving the death of loved ones killed in the battlefield or by the bombs, and doing their best to get by while standing in the midst of destruction.

Neither Rob nor I had ever heard of the Baedeker raids, so I asked Mrs. Ives if they were a part of the Blitz.

“No, the Blitz was in 1940-41,” Mrs. Ives replied.  “According to Lord Haw Haw, the British traitor used by the Nazis for their radio broadcasts, the Baedeker raids were in retaliation for the RAF bombing of German cities.  Using Baedeker’s Guide to Great Britain, cities that received three stars in the tourist guide because of their historical importance were bombed by the Luftwaffe.  Before Canterbury was bombed in June 1942, Exeter, Bath, and York were also bombed.” (page 89 in the ARC)

Maggie travels with a friend to Derbyshire to visit Montclair, a historic house that once belonged to William Lacey and Elizabeth Garrison Lacey, a couple believed to have inspired Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  Maggie, a huge fan of the classic novel, wants to know as much as she can about the home and the Laceys to determine whether they truly are Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet.  Her search to learn more about the Laceys brings her to the doorstep of Jack and Beth Crowell, and an instant bond is formed.  Jack and Beth grow to love Maggie and think of her as a daughter, and through frequent visits and correspondence, Maggie reads letters and diary entries and slowly uncovers the history of the Lacey and Garrison families.  Readers take the journey alongside Maggie, and those who have read Pride and Prejudice will see similarities between Austen’s beloved characters and Beth’s ancestors.

But would Jane Austen have written a novel that often ridiculed people who could possibly be identified by their neighbors, for example, Mrs. Bennet, with her fragile nerves and poor judgment?

“Do you know when Jane first wrote the novel?” he asked.

“When she was twenty, so that would be about 1795.”

“But it wasn’t published until 1813,” Jack said, jumping in quickly.  “By that time, the Laceys had been married for twenty years!  If anyone was trying to figure out if these characters were real, they would have been looking at people in their twenties in 1813.  Some of the characters in that book were already dead and buried by the time Pride and Prejudice was published.” (page 16 in the ARC)

Meanwhile, Maggie must contend with a longing to return to her hometown in Pennsylvania and her desire at the same time to stay away.  She comes from a coal-mining town with few opportunities, and she’s grown to love the life she’s leading in England.  Besides Jack and Beth, Maggie has feelings for both Rob, an American who served as a navigator on a B-17 bomber during the war and wears the scars to prove it, and Michael, Beth and Jack’s son and a pilot in the RAF.  Things get a little complicated for Maggie, especially when she learns how deeply the horrors of war have affected Rob.

Searching for Pemberley grabbed me from the first page, and I was so lost in the story that I was reading 50-page chunks on the train and bus and almost missing my stop.  Simonsen writes from the first person viewpoint of Maggie, but her use of storytelling is what makes the narrative shine.  Whether the story being told is about the Laceys, the Crowell’s love affair, or the hardships experienced during the Great War and World War II, it feels as though you are sitting by the fire listening to an old friend chat.  Simonsen did a great job crafting the story of the Laceys — making them different enough from the Darcys to keep the story fresh — and seamlessly weaving in Jack and Beth’s story.  I actually was surprised how much the book dealt with the topic of war and its impact, which makes Searching for Pemberley so much more than a re-telling of Pride and Prejudice.  Honestly, the Jane Austen aspect of the story is just one part of the puzzle.

While the nearly 500-page book has numerous scenes and characters that are unnecessary to the plot and could have been cut without being missed, even these scenes were enjoyable, and I never once found that the story dragged.  In fact, for a book of its length, I read it fairly quick.  I wasn’t as captivated with Maggie and her romantic troubles (it was all rather predictable, but not in a bad way) as I was with the story of the Laceys and the Crowells.  Still, I found the entire book interesting, and Simonsen did an admirable job moving between the Regency, Great War, and World War II settings.  I never expected to discover a book that successfully merges two of my primary reading interests into one story, so you can bet this gem of a novel will hold a special place on my shelf.

Disclosure: I received Searching for Pemberley from Sourcebooks for review.

© 2009 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Source: Review copy from Sourcebooks
Rating: ★★★★★

The soft music soothed Mary’s wandering mind, and she thought about Lizzy, whose marriage puzzled her more.  How brave she was to accept such a man, and no one expected her to find her happiness in him.  She wondered that her father had seemed content with Lizzy’s choice.  The few times Mary had visited Pemberley, Lizzy certainly did not seem unhappy, and how surprisingly easy she seemed with Mr. Darcy!  Was marriage some magical step to happiness?  This might be the clue to Mrs. Bennet’s urgings to her daughters to enter the state.  Well, Mary felt she could be content without such a change in her life, and she was grateful for Lizzy’s sacrifice that made it possible to choose against it.

(from A Match for Mary Bennet, page ix in the ARC)

Jane Austen sequels, particularly sequels to Pride and Prejudice, have become a guilty pleasure of mine.  Whether they involve vampires or zombies or bedroom scenes that may have made Austen blush, my only requirements are that they are fun, engaging, and well written.  It helps if the author actually has read Austen and understands the characters and their motivation, but I might be forgiving if they tell a good story.

I didn’t have extremely high expectations for A Match for Mary Bennet, given that Mary isn’t the most exciting or engaging character in Pride and Prejudice, but I thought it would be entertaining to find out how the least marriageable Bennet sister handles the marriage-obsessed Mrs. Bennet (one of the most annoying characters I’ve ever encountered) after Jane, Elizabeth, and Lydia all are married off.  But the book completely blew me away.  Eucharista Ward completely “gets” Jane Austen.  The language, the characters, and the mannerisms of the Regency era (as I understand them, anyway) are spot on, and A Match for Mary Bennet quickly became my favorite of the Austen sequels I’ve read thus far.

In A Match for Mary Bennet, Jane and Bingley are happy with a two-year-old daughter in Nottingham, Elizabeth and Darcy are living happily at Pemberley and expecting their first child, and Lydia is who knows where with the scoundrel Wickham.  While Mrs. Bennet plans to parade her last two unmarried daughters, Mary and Kitty (known as Catherine through much of the book), to whatever ball or event might attract marriageable men, Mary would much rather be reading, playing the pianoforte, and going to church.  She has no plans at all to marry, and she admires Elizabeth for “sacrificing” her happiness by marrying the arrogant Mr. Darcy so that she will never be penniless or homeless if she remains unmarried.  As she travels between Longbourne, Pemberley, and Otherfield (the nickname for the new Bingley estate), Mary has time to observe her sisters’ marriages, and she discovers she may have things all wrong.  And while Mary juggles the attention of three (count them — three!) men, she aims to set herself up so that marriage never has to be an option.

Ward gives Pride and Prejudice fans plenty of scenes with Elizabeth and Darcy, Jane and Bingley, Mr. Bennet, Georgiana Darcy, Mrs. Reynolds, and Mrs. Gardiner, and even Lady Catherine, Anne, Mr. Collins, Caroline Bingley, and of course, Mrs. Bennet appear.  She introduces plenty of interesting new characters as well, namely Miss Johnstone, a kleptomaniac with a crush on Darcy; James Stilton, a fashionable man with some musical talent and a gambling problem; and Steven Oliver, the charming pastor at Kympton who gets Mary to see that maybe her opinions of Lydia have been too harsh.

I loved that A Match for Mary Bennet was so well written and authentic that I never questioned a character’s actions when comparing them to Pride and Prejudice, and I actually forgot several times that I wasn’t reading a book written by Austen herself.  It was a tad predictable, but that didn’t ruin it for me at all.  I highly recommend this book, especially if you’ve never thought about reading an Austen sequel.

If you’re interested in giving A Match for Mary Bennet a try, you’re in luck!  I have 1 copy to give away, courtesy of Sourcebooks. Just leave a comment on this post telling me what you think about the numerous Austen sequels being released these days, and include your e-mail address. Because the publisher is handling the shipping, this giveaway is open only to U.S. and Canada.  This giveaway will close on Sunday, Oct. 18, 2009, at 11:59 EST.

**Please note that this giveaway is now closed**

Disclosure: I received A Match for Mary Bennet from Sourcebooks for review.

© 2009 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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

In Mr. Darcy, Vampyre, Amanda Grange offers a supernatural take on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, providing a different reason for Mr. Darcy’s moodiness.

The book opens just before the double wedding of Elizabeth and Jane Bennet to Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley. As she and Darcy are leaving for their honeymoon, Elizabeth learns they will not be traveling to the Lake District but to Europe. She’s excited about seeing new places, so she doesn’t complain, but the mood of the novel turns dark as the Darcys travel to Paris, Venice, and the Alps. Darcy has friends in all of these places, some creepier than others.

“She has no taste for your company,” he said.

“No?” said the gentleman. “But I have a taste for her.”

Hers, thought Elizabeth. He should have said hers.

“Let her go,” said Darcy warningly.

“Why should I?” asked the gentleman.

“Because she is mine,” said Darcy.

The gentleman turned his full attention toward Darcy and Elizabeth followed his eyes.

And then she saw something that made her heart thump against her rib cage and her mind collapse as she witnessed something so shocking and so terrifying that the ground came up to meet her as everything went black. (page 210)

Readers follow Elizabeth and Darcy on their travels, and most of the book is about Elizabeth being introduced to Darcy’s friends in various locales and Elizabeth wondering why her husband doesn’t come to her at night to consummate their marriage.

Grange does a wonderful job setting the scene. Her description of the cities, the clothes, and the architecture seemed realistic to the time period and made me feel as though I was there with the Darcys.

However, while there were a few action scenes, the pacing was a little slow, mainly because the book is told from Elizabeth’s point of view. She doesn’t know Darcy’s secret, so she’s wondering what’s wrong with him, whether he actually loves her, and whether it was a mistake for her to marry someone from a higher social class. But we know Darcy’s secret from page one, and that’s my biggest problem with the book. I think the title Mr. Darcy, Vampyre does a disservice to the book. Grange includes clues about Darcy’s secret, with scenes about a bat, garlic necklaces, and villagers crossing themselves, etc., but these are more for Elizabeth’s benefit. I would have preferred a different title–one that would have aligned me with Elizabeth in wondering about Darcy’s behavior. It all seemed a bit anticlimactic to me.

But that doesn’t mean Mr. Darcy, Vampyre isn’t a good book. Overall, I enjoyed it and thought it was a fun take on the beloved Austen novel. I liked seeing Darcy and Elizabeth in new settings with new characters. And the supernatural storyline doesn’t feel out of place in the world Grange creates. There also were some entertaining scenes with Lady Catherine, which were among my favorites. If you enjoy Pride and Prejudice sequels and aren’t an Austen purist, I think it’s worth a try.

Disclosure: I received Mr. Darcy, Vampyre from Sourcebooks for review.

© 2009 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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