Posts Tagged ‘jane austen challenge’

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★★ (the Minor Works overall)

This Prince [Henry the 5th] after he succeeded to the throne grew quite reformed & Amiable, forsaking all his dissipated Companions, & never thrashing Sir William again.  During his reign, Lord Cobham was burnt alive, but I forget what for. 

(from The History of England in The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen: Volume VI: Minor Works, page 139)

Part of Jane Austen’s Juvenilia, The History of England is a short piece Austen wrote in 1791 when she was a teenager.  Its full title is The History of England from the reign of Henry the 4th to the death of Charles the 1st and is meant to be a parody of a 1771 work by Oliver Goldsmith, titled The History of England from the Earliest Times to the Death of George II.  You know right away that Austen isn’t writing a serious history, given that the work is “By a partial, prejudiced, & ignorant Historian.”

The more I stray from Austen’s novels to her earlier works, the more impressed I become with her as a writer.  The History of England really underscores her wit and humor and shows that she had the talent to captivate audiences at a very young age.  Her love of literature also shines through in that instead of backing up her history of the monarchs with the works of noted historians, she cites Shakespeare and other literary works.

Austen also pokes fun at the idea of historical bias, particularly how people remember what they want to remember and how the historian’s personal beliefs may play a role in how the past is perceived.  As in many of Austen’s novels, in which the narrator engages with readers, she puts herself and even her family and friends into her historical account and never hesitates to insert an opinion.

I cannot say much for this Monarch’s [Henry the 6th] Sense–Nor would I if I could, for he was a Lancastrian.  I suppose you know all about the Wars between him & The Duke of York who was of the right side; If you do not, you had better read some other History, for I shall not be very diffuse in this, meaning by it only to vent my Spleen against, & shew my Hatred to all those people whose parties or principles do not suit with mine, & not to give information.  (pages 139-140)

Not being very familiar with the English monarchy, many of the references made by Austen went right over my head.  Still, I was able to see what she was getting at and enjoy the humor in it.

The History of England is a must-read for Austen fans.  It spans only a handful of pages, and I read it in about 20 minutes during my lunch break.  It’s interesting to compare the writings of a teenage Austen with her more mature work, like Persuasion.  So far, I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by Austen, and it saddens me to think how much more she could have done with the written word had she lived longer.  (In a side note, yesterday, July 18, was the 194th anniversary of Austen’s death.)

Check out my reviews of other Jane Austen works:

Pride and Prejudice
Northanger Abbey
Lady Susan
The Watsons
Love and Freindship

Disclosure: The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen: Volume VI: Minor Works is from my personal library.

© 2011 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 Quirk Books
Rating: ★★★★☆

“So,” Kitty said, “what do we do?”

“What we should have done a long time ago,” Elizabeth told her. “What I should have been doing all along.”

A group of young men started climbing into the carriage, apparently intent on commandeering it for themselves.  Elizabeth paused just long enough to crush their fingers and flatten their noses and generally do whatever necessary to send the invaders flying.  When she was done, she dusted off her hands and smoothed out her gown and finished her thought.

“We act like warriors.”

(from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dreadfully Ever After, page 246)

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dreadfully Ever After by Steve Hockensmith is the last book in the zombie mashup trilogy based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  It is also my favorite of the three, and I must admit that both of the “zombiefied” Pride and Prejudice mashups by Hockensmith (the other being, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls) surprised me with their lively banter and dark humor.  Hockensmith does a good job keeping the characters true to their original even as he manages to turn them into warriors.

Dreadfully Ever After begins four years into the marriage of Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy.  Elizabeth was forced to lay down her swords and other weapons when she became a wife, but unlike her sister, Jane Bingley, she hasn’t found solace in motherhood and isn’t even sure she wants to be a mother.  She misses practicing the deadly arts, and helping her husband take down a few dreadfuls who awaken with the spring thaw perks her up for a bit…but it isn’t enough.

In the very first chapter, Elizabeth and Darcy are returning home, discussing Elizabeth’s recent dark mood.  With their minds on their conversation, neither one realizes the little boy on the path in front of them, the missing son of Darcy’s steward, has joined the ranks of the undead…until he has bitten Darcy in the neck.  Not being able to amputate the affected area of the body before the plague sets in means certain death (and reawakening) for Darcy, and Elizabeth can’t bring herself to do what she ought to do: behead her beloved husband and burn his body.

When Elizabeth calls upon the Darcy’s aunt, Lady Cathering de Bourgh, for assistance, she comes face-to-face with the woman who sent ninja assassins to Pemberley to take care of Elizabeth once and for all shortly after her marriage to Darcy.  But where else can she turn, especially since Lady Catherine has access to a serum that will delay the progression of the plague and knows how a secret cure can be obtained?

Forced to obey Lady Catherine’s orders to save her husband, Elizabeth travels to the zombie-stricken London to get her hands on the cure in a way that could put her marriage in jeopardy.  Mr. Bennet and her sister, Kitty, are sent to accompany her, and they are joined by the fiercely feminist, Mary, who sees no need to follow a plan and jumps into the action head first.  Hockensmith also introduces some interesting characters of his own:  Nezu, the ninja sent by Lady Catherine to keep the Bennets in line; Mr. Quayle, a man in a box who is cared for by a pair of dogs; and Bunny MacFarquhar, a silly young man with a pet bunny who is everything that would have attracted the old Kitty when she was under the influence of her sister, Lydia.

Hockensmith portrays Elizabeth as subdued and smoldering, torn between her desire to be a warrior and her need to save her husband.  Mr. Bennet is as witty and spry as ever, and even Kitty and Mary are given their turn in the spotlight, with talk about dresses and books as they take down dreadfuls and evolve into likeable characters.  Hockensmith keeps the plot moving forward quickly with lots of action and hilarious dialogue, and the fates that befall certain characters are priceless.

Dreadfully Ever After is a delightful book that had made me amused, disgusted (there are many gruesome scenes with the dreadfuls), and laughing out loud throughout.  It is possible to read this book without having read the others, and if you don’t mind ridiculous interpretations of Austen’s characters and don’t have a weak stomach, I highly recommend it as an entertaining way to kill a few hours.

Check out my reviews of other books in the trilogy:

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith

Disclosure: I received Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dreadfully Ever After from Quirk Books for review.

© 2011 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: ★★★★★

“How despicably have I acted!” she cried; “I who have prided myself on my discernment!  I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained the generous candor of my sister, and gratified my vanity in useless or blameable distrust.  How humiliating in this discovery! yet, how just a humiliation!  Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind.  But vanity, not love, has been my folly.  Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned.  Till this moment I never knew myself.”

(from Pride and Prejudice, page 279)

I read Pride and Prejudice for the first time about a decade ago, and I just finished re-reading it.  My first thought after finishing it for the second time was, “Gosh, I love that book!”  Followed by a jumble of thoughts that included something like “Jane Austen is a genius,” “Mr. Darcy is so hot,” and “Does it mean I’m crazy if I have such a huge crush on a character in a book?”  (We won’t even discuss my love for Captain Wentworth.)  Now I know why over the weekend I was inspired to arrange all of Jane Austen’s novels, minor works, and letters in a decorative tin on my bureau.  When I don’t know what to read before going to bed, I can reach for Austen, which is comfort reading for me.  And no matter how much I enjoy all the sequels and re-tellings, there’s nothing better than reading the originals.

I’m sure you all know the plot by now, but since I’m recording my thoughts for posterity, I hope you will humor me for a moment.  And if you’re someone who hasn’t yet read Pride and Prejudice, I want you to turn off the computer, get your hands on a copy, and lock yourself in a quiet room for a few hours.  Seriously, you just need to read it.  But I digress.

Pride and Prejudice is the story of Elizabeth Bennet, a young woman with four sisters and a mother obsessed with marrying her daughters off to avoid the indignity of being thrown out of Longbourn when their father dies.  Mr. Bingley rents Netherfield and becomes Hertfordshire’s most eligible bachelor, and Elizabeth’s older sister catches his eye at the Meryton Assembly.  However, Elizabeth doesn’t catch the fancy of Bingley’s haughty friend, Mr. Darcy, and when she overhears him say something not so nice about her, she’s already determined to dislike him.

When the militia comes to town and the handsome, charming George Wickham befriends Elizabeth, she believes the things he has to say about Darcy doing him wrong.  Meanwhile, there is the matter of her ridiculous cousin Mr. Collins coming for a visit with the intention of marrying one of the Bennet girls, Elizabeth’s best friend, Charlotte, willing to marry pretty much anyone just to get herself settled, and Elizabeth’s parents and siblings, except Jane, going all out to embarrass themselves in public every chance they get.  Then, Bingley and his entourage quit Netherfield with no intention of returning, but Elizabeth learns the reason for Jane’s heartache when she crosses paths with Darcy during a visit with Charlotte and her cousin.  Elizabeth thinks she has it all figured out, and she has no qualms about putting Darcy in his place.  But is she too quick to judge?  Is there more to Darcy than meets the eye?

Even though I knew everything that was going to happen, it felt like I was reading the book for the first time.  I found myself cringing when Mrs. Bennet and Elizabeth’s younger sister, Lydia, behave badly, I shuddered when Mr. Collins sets his sights on Elizabeth, and I wanted to cry out “No!” when Mr. Bennet decides it was okay for Lydia to travel with Colonel Forster’s wife and the militia to Brighton.  I wanted to slap my forehead when Darcy tells Elizabeth how he feels about her against his better judgment, and I felt embarrassed right along with Elizabeth when she encounters Darcy unexpectedly at Pemberley.

I could go on for hours about how much I love this book.  There’s humor, with Mrs. Bennet being the most outlandish of them all; social commentary, with plenty of instances of unhappy marriages and how Elizabeth is determined to marry for love; life lessons, when you learn to accept your failings and try to change; and a cast of captivating characters, with those who grow over the course of the book, those who you can’t help but fall in love with, and even a few you love to hate.  I hope I’ve given those of you who haven’t read Austen yet a reason to give her novels a try.

Unfortunately, I’ve decided that it’s time to retire my old copy of Pride and Prejudice.  The book means a lot to me, having acquired it through “borrowing” money from my late father’s change dish.  Well, the front and back covers are starting to detach, and I managed to rip one of the pages when I stuck my bookmark in it.  Although I love the old book smell when I flip through it, I’m going to have to get a new copy.

Check out my reviews of other Jane Austen works:

Northanger Abbey
Lady Susan
The Watsons
Love and Freindship

Disclosure: Pride and Prejudice is from my personal library.

© 2011 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: ★★★☆☆

‘Mr. Collins, we will never cross the estuary at this rate.  Can you not speed up?’

‘I…!  Oh!  I think I have swallowed a fish!  I…!  Oh my!’

Mr. Collins, now progressed to deeper water, was coughing and spluttering and flailing his arms around and indeed looked in danger of drowning.  They were out of their depths, and Lizzy had serious cause for concern.

‘Oh my!  Oh…’ Mr. Collins disappeared under the waters.

(from Mr. Darcy Goes Overboard, page 78 in the ARC; finished version may be different)

Mr. Darcy Goes Overboard by Belinda Roberts is a fun take on Pride and Prejudice that brings Jane Austen’s beloved characters to the present day and to the English seaside resort town of Salcombe.  Roberts parallels the events of Pride and Prejudice but with a modern and comedic twist.

The Bennet family spends much of their time on the beach or the water, Fitzwilliam Darcy and Charles Bingley are rich university students spending the summer at Bingley’s villa, Netherpollock, located across the estuary, and Pemberly is a yacht.  Letters are replaced with text messages, and balls and after-dinner pianoforte playing are replaced with group swims and sandcastle contests.

If you don’t like authors messing with Austen’s characters or prefer more serious re-tellings of Austen’s work (which, on some levels, ignores the fact that Austen’s novels are actually very humorous), you’ll want to steer clear of Mr. Darcy Goes Overboard.  But if you sometimes like your Austen with a side of ridiculous humor, you should give this one a try.  I found myself laughing out loud many times, especially with Mrs. Bennet sending Jane off to Netherpollock in a dinghy as a storm approaches, Lydia and Kitty Bennet streaking across the crowded beach, Mr. Collins bulging out of a wetsuit and unable to swim, and Wickham as a lifeguard.

But the biggest laughs came from Roberts’ description of Lady Catherine de Brrr as a sort of Dolly Parton, without the sweet disposition.

At that moment, a tall, powerful woman appeared on the balcony.  She was dressed in skintight black jeans, a black strappy top embroidered with ‘Brrr’ in diamante.  Her dyed blond hair was piled high, her nails painted blood red, her feet adorned with high-heeled golden slippers.  (page 111 in the ARC; finished version may be different)

My only complaint about the book was the pacing in the middle of the story — right around where Mr. Collins turns his attentions from Lizzy to her friend Charlotte (“Lotte”) Lucas — is a bit rushed.  Also, there’s no good explanation for why Mrs. Bennet needs to marry off her daughters.  The Bennet property is still entailed, but if they’re considering colleges for their daughters, the girls obviously could support themselves.

Mr. Darcy Goes Overboard is all about the laughs and the ridiculousness.  You can’t and shouldn’t stop to contemplate any of the events in the story; just go with the flow and enjoy it for what it is.  One could say Roberts goes overboard with all the silliness, but I must admit I rather enjoyed it.  At just over 200 pages, it’s a book that can be devoured in just a few hours.  It’s the perfect beach read or a bit of fluffy fun at the end of a stressful day.

Disclosure: I received Mr. Darcy Goes Overboard from Sourcebooks for review.

© 2011 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: ★★★★☆

Lady Catherine seemed pleased but immediately asked, “And will she promise me never to enter into such an engagement?”

Her mother spoke before she could, stating in a defiant tone, “She will make no promise of the kind.”

“But, Mama,” Elizabeth pleaded, “should we not consult Jane?  I think she would set the matter straight.  I think she would unequivocally state…”

Ignoring Elizabeth, Lady Catherine continued to address her mother.  “Does she have no regard for the wishes of his friends?  Is your daughter lost to every feeling of propriety and delicacy?  Have you not heard me say that from his earliest hours he was destined for his cousin?”

With a calmness and reserve that Elizabeth was shocked to discover her mother possessed, she responded, “Yes, Lady Catherine, I think we all heard you.”

(from Mr. Darcy and the Secret of Becoming a Gentleman, page 93 in the ARC)

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is a novel rife with misunderstandings, and Maria Hamilton kicks it up a notch in her retelling of the beloved classic novel.  In Mr. Darcy and the Secret of Becoming a Gentleman, Mr. Darcy takes to heart the criticisms Elizabeth Bennet threw at him after his very arrogant and condescending marriage proposal.  Even though he doesn’t think he has a chance of ever deserving or securing Elizabeth’s love, he sets out to right his wrongs.

Mr. Darcy and the Secret of Becoming a Gentleman takes a hilarious turn when Darcy returns to Hertfordshire to speak to Elizabeth’s sister, Jane, and apologize for separating her and Mr. Bingley.  Mr. Darcy has a heart-to-heart talk with Jane on a walk to Meryton, and Mrs. Bennet assumes his singling out of her eldest daughter means he’s about to propose.  Of course, you know there’s no stopping Mrs. Bennet when she gets these fanciful ideas, but it’s worth it to see her carrying on when her rumors bring Lady Catherine, Darcy’s overbearing aunt, to the Bennet’s home for a confrontation.

From the confusion over which man is courting Jane to Caroline Bingley being put in her rightful place, Hamilton’s novel is an enjoyable and romantic story that shows how people can change if they really want to.  Although I think the book might be a tad long, I couldn’t get enough of Hamilton’s Mr. Darcy.  The blurb on the front cover by Austen variation author Abigail Reynolds says it all:  “Mr. Darcy will melt your heart.”  Readers will fall in love with Darcy right along with Elizabeth, and they might even become a little worried when Darcy faces a rival for Elizabeth’s affections.

My only complaint about Mr. Darcy and the Secret of Becoming a Gentleman is the last chapter.  The book suddenly skips ahead five months in time, and I was a little confused by the transition.  Since it had taken a leisurely pace up until that point, I wasn’t expecting it, and it made it seem like the ending was a bit rushed.  Still, I found the book to be an entertaining take on Pride and Prejudice and one I think most fans of the Austen variations will enjoy.

Disclosure: I received Mr. Darcy and the Secret of Becoming a Gentleman from Sourcebooks for review.

© 2011 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 swear I shall strangle you for your vulgarity, Lydia!” Elizabeth yelled as she finally succeeded in shoving Jane out of the way. Lydia jumped back and Darcy bolted forward, seizing his wife around her waist.  With very little effort, he managed to carry her flailing form to the other side of the apartment.  “Unhand me this instant, Fitzwilliam!” she commanded.  “I must throttle my impudent sister before I regain my senses!”

Lydia stuck out her tongue and laughed.  “Ha!  I’d like to see you try, Lizzy!”

(from The Truth About Mr. Darcy, page 313 in the ARC)

Susan Adriani’s debut novel, The Truth About Mr. Darcy, is a retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice that strays far from the original but is entertaining in its own right.  In Adriani’s version of the story, Mr. Darcy realizes he has feelings for Elizabeth Bennet shortly after the Meryton Assembly, where she overheard him saying that she was merely “tolerable.”  The book takes a different course from the very beginning, when Darcy confides in Elizabeth the truth about George Wickham as soon as the two meet up and exchange glares in Meryton.  Of course, it doesn’t take long for Elizabeth to learn Wickham’s true nature for herself, as he notices the way Darcy stares at her and sets his sights on Elizabeth as a way to hurt Darcy.

Many of the elements of Pride and Prejudice make their way into The Truth About Mr. Darcy, but Adriani shakes them up a bit and takes the “bad” characters to the extreme.  Mr. Collins still visits Longbourn intending to marry one of the Bennet sisters and still proposes to Elizabeth, but instead of being merely ridiculous, he also is spiteful and vindictive.  Lady Catherine still does not want her nephew to marry Elizabeth because she lacks money and connections and expects Darcy to marry her daughter, Anne, but she takes her rude tirades and criticisms of Elizabeth to a higher level.  Caroline Bingley is still arrogant and jealous, but she goes to greater lengths to ridicule Elizabeth, and Wickham…well, he is an even slimier scumbag than in the original novel.

Much of The Truth About Mr. Darcy centers on Darcy and Elizabeth’s deepening love and passion.  I had a hard time believing that the two would act so inappropriately in front of other people, but their slip-ups made for some embarrassing situations and entertaining dialogue.  There are several explicit sex scenes, and their inclusion didn’t bother me, but I felt that there may have been too many of them and that they detracted from the story a bit.  However, they show the passion and the tenderness in Darcy and Elizabeth’s relationship and indicate to the world that theirs is a love match.

What makes The Truth About Mr. Darcy so interesting is Adriani’s handling of Austen’s characters.  I admit I liked the more romantic Darcy presented here, and although Elizabeth seemed a bit weak to me at times, Adriani’s take on the villains and the ramped up excitement of the Lydia/Wickham debacle more than made up for it.  All the added drama had me laughing out loud at times.  The book was a tad long and could have done with fewer sex scenes, but overall, I found it hard to put down.  The Truth About Mr. Darcy is a worthwhile addition to the shelves of readers like me who can’t get enough of the Austen variations, especially if they don’t mind when things really heat up between Darcy and Elizabeth.

Disclosure: I received The Truth About Mr. Darcy from Sourcebooks for review.

© 2011 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 Penguin Press
Rating: ★★★★☆

Austen never married, but she did have children, and many more than eight or eleven.  Their names are Emma and Elizabeth and Catherine, Anne and Fanny and Elinor and Marianne.  Their names are Henry and Edward and Wentworth and Willoughby, Mr. Collins and Miss Bates and Mr. Darcy.  They were not long-lived, they are ageless.  Had she married Tom or Harris, she might have been happy, she might have been rich, she might have been a mother, she might have even been long-lived herself.  She might have been all of these things — but we would not have been who we are, and she would not have been Jane Austen.

(from A Jane Austen Education, pages 245-246)

As a lifelong lover of books, I truly believe that we can learn a lot from reading, and not just in the sense that we broaden our knowledge on various topics.  I believe we can learn profound truths about life and change the course of our lives, for the written word has that kind of power.  William Deresiewicz was a graduate student at Columbia studying literature.  He was interested in mingling with the Manhattan elite, talked about politics and other topics without really caring what other people had to say, and had few romantic relationships that progressed beyond sex.  When his professor assigned Jane Austen’s Emma, Deresiewicz had no interest in reading what he expected to be a boring book without a plot.  But it didn’t take long for him to see Austen’s genius and apply the lessons he learned from Austen’s novels to his personal and professional lives.

Each chapter in A Jane Austen Education is devoted to one of Austen’s novels and what he believes is the major point Austen wanted to get across.  In Emma, Deresiewicz learned that life is about the little, everyday things.  In Pride and Prejudice, he learned that making mistakes is part of growing up.  In Northanger Abbey, he realized that you have to learn how to learn and how to love things and that life is full of surprises.  In Mansfield Park, he began to understand how wisdom is more important than wit and discovered connections between the snobby Bertrams and the crowd with which he was involved.  In Persuasion, he learned about true friendship, and in Sense and Sensibility, he learned about growing — not falling — in love.

Deresiewicz shows that Austen’s novels are about so much more than unexpected romance, the need for women to marry and marry well, and the obvious divisions between country folk and high society.  Since taking literary theory and other courses for my B.A. in English, I’ve long wondered if academics analyze things too much, looking for symbolism and statements on society that aren’t there.  For instance, I took a creative writing course in which we were required to write a poem and present it to the class.  I had no idea what to write about, but on my way to my next class, a crow walked across the path in front of me.  My poem “A Single Crow” was about someone watching a crow walk across their path on a brisk autumn day, and my professor went on and on about how I did a great job incorporating symbols of death, etc., when it seriously was a poem about a crow!  Of course, I didn’t let my professor know that.  But it made me wonder whether we sometimes read into things too much, and I question whether authors make detailed plans to incorporate symbols into their books or whether it’s just a coincidence or a matter of interpretation.  I think it’s probably a little of both.  In A Jane Austen Education, Deresiewicz makes convincing arguments and supports his reasoning behind the things he believes Austen was seeking to accomplish in her works.

A Jane Austen Education provides a candid look into the life of a young man who was lost and how Jane Austen helped him find himself and happiness.  Deresiewicz doesn’t hide his faults; he is brutally honest to himself and his readers, and I must admire him for that.  It was refreshing to read about Austen’s novels from the point of view of a male reader — and one who didn’t even want to read her books.  A Jane Austen Education is perfect for readers who have been touched by Austen’s words, enjoy light memoirs or reading about reading, and even those who haven’t yet read Austen, as Deresiewicz doesn’t give away the endings to the novels.  It’s a beautiful tribute to an author whose wit has been dazzling readers for centuries.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for allowing me to participate in the blog tour for A Jane Austen Education. To check out the other tour dates, click here.

Disclosure: I received A Jane Austen Education from Penguin Press for review.

© 2011 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 William Morrow
Rating: ★★★☆☆

“My Dear Mark Twain,” I said, squinting with the effort of remembering.  The audience seemed to understand where I was going.  My Jane Austen stepped closer, cautiously amused.  “If you so much as touch my shinbone, I’ll use it to beat sense into your head.  If you don’t like Pride and Prejudice, stop reading it!”

The audience waited for more.  My Jane Austen scribbled on her ivories as if she might add her own remarks.

(from My Jane Austen Summer, page 262 in the ARC)

In My Jane Austen Summer: A Season in Mansfield Park, Cindy Jones reaches out to those of us who wish to escape our problems by living in a novel, but as the protagonist, Lily Berry, is bound to learn, characters in a novel are fixed in time and on paper and never get a chance to learn from their mistakes.  Grieving the death of her mother, Lily just can’t seem to come to terms with the fact that her ex-boyfriend has moved on and that her father’s new girlfriend tossed out the family memories before Lily and her sister could save them.  She also is unemployed, having been caught reading Northanger Abbey on the job.  The one thing Lily knows for certain is that she finds comfort in the words of Jane Austen and longs to escape into the pages of Austen’s novels.

At the urging of Vera, the owner of the local indie bookstore, Lily sells all of her belongings and leaves Texas for England to the Literature Live festival run by Vera’s husband, Nigel, where professional actors will perform Mansfield Park to a group of Janeites over the course of the summer.  Vera assures Lily that she will have a part in the production, and even though she is not an actress, Lily jumps at the chance to live in her favorite novel.  But life in England is just as complicated as the life she left behind.  Lily must deal with family secrets unearthed by her sister back home and contend with Magda, an overbearing professor in charge of the production who dislikes Lily’s love of Fanny Price (the heroine in Mansfield Park, who is so unlike Austen’s other heroines that academics fight over her in the “Fanny Wars”); Bets, who pushes Lily out of the production even though she likens taking part in the festival to serving time in prison; Willis, an aspiring clergyman who hides in the attic of Newton Priors (the estate where the festival is held) writing a vampire novel; and Omar, the professor who adapts Austen’s novel for the festival and befriends Lily.

As Lily spends the summer planning a tea-theater, crafting a business plan to save the festival, and running around in Regency attire, she befriends her inner Jane Austen, who lurks in her peripheral vision and follows her as she stumbles through new relationships and adventures.  Lily’s Jane Austen doesn’t say anything, but fades in and out, writes lists, and gives Lily knowing looks where appropriate.  While Lily deals with the problems that caused her to leave Texas and navigates a literary festival where she’s in way over her head, she learns that Jane Austen means something different to each reader but that the world will never truly know her.

My Jane Austen Summer is a novel mostly about a woman trying to emerge from her grief and loneliness to find herself, with fun references to Jane Austen and reading in general.  The plot is more complicated than I expected, helped along by the ambitious cast of characters, Lily’s real-life problems, and the drama of the literature festival.  I admire Jones for working her love of Jane Austen and Mansfield Park into a contemporary novel, keeping them in the forefront but giving Lily the space to tell her own story.  Jones doesn’t go overboard in her comparison of Lily to Fanny Price, it wasn’t forced, making the novel flow more naturally.

Above all, I liked how the novel seemed true to life, as the trip to England does not solve all of Lily’s problems and she’s not healed or transformed overnight.  I wasn’t sure I was going to like Lily when the book opened — I questioned her mental state and thought she was kind of creepy with the stalking of the ex-boyfriend — but I ultimately found her endearing.  Hey, I can’t blame a girl for wanting to escape in a novel — and not in the I’m-going-to-read-and-let-my-thoughts-drift kind of way.  Who wouldn’t want to act out the role of their favorite heroine, and who doesn’t indulge in fantasies at one time or another?  My Jane Austen Summer is a great escapist read, with a perfect blend of literary references and soul searching, and you can enjoy it without having read Mansfield Park.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for allowing me to participate in the blog tour for My Jane Austen Summer.  To check out the other tour dates, click here.

Disclosure: I received My Jane Austen Summer from William Morrow for review.

© 2011 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: ★★★☆☆

7th May 1791

I avoided Peter de Quincy when I first returned to Cambridge, but he keeps seeking me out and it is easier to go along with him than resist him.  Besides, he knows all the best people and, when he is not frequenting low taverns, he is introducing me to useful friends.  I see less of Darcy than I used.  Something about him makes me uncomfortable.  He wants to save me, to put my feet on the right path, but his idea of the right path for me does not involve heiresses.  On the few occasions I have seen him I have rebuffed him.

(from Wickham’s Diary, page 85 in the ARC)

Amanda Grange, known for writing the diaries of Jane Austen’s heroes, turns her attention to the scoundrel from Pride and Prejudice in Wickham’s Diary.  In Austen’s novel, George Wickham is the horrid man who told lies about Mr. Darcy to Elizabeth Bennet, giving her the wrong idea about Mr. Darcy’s character.  He attempted to elope with Darcy’s sister and was forced to marry Elizabeth’s impetuous sister, Lydia.  In Wickham’s Diary, Grange explores the friendship that existed between Darcy and Wickham when they were boys and how they took two completely different paths in life — Darcy becoming a well-respected gentleman and Wickham becoming a gambler, drunkard, womanizer, and fortune hunter.

At slightly more than 200 pages, Wickham’s Diary is a quick read and made my afternoon commute fly by.  I enjoyed Grange’s writing and applaud her for trying something new in the realm of Austen variations.  However, there were no major revelations or exciting secrets in this book.  Grange begins the tale when Wickham and Darcy are 12 years old, many years before the events of Pride and Prejudice, but the story falls a bit flat.  Wickham is encouraged by his mother to become a gentleman by seeking out an heiress to marry, and he initially sets his sights on Darcy’s cousin, Anne de Bourgh.  Wickham stops trying to act gentlemanly when he goes to Cambridge, spending his time drinking, gambling, and whoring and setting the stage for several letters to Darcy to beg for money.

Grange barely scratches the surface of Wickham’s character, providing nothing more than what readers could have imagined themselves based on what Austen writes about Wickham in Pride and Prejudice.  I wish the story had gone deeper than Wickham’s love for his mother — who reminded me of Lydia Bennet — and his determination to marry an heiress.  It would have been interesting to see the events of Pride and Prejudice from his eyes, from the time he arrives in Meryton to his marriage to Lydia and perhaps beyond, but the novel ends rather abruptly.

Although Wickham’s Diary wasn’t my favorite Austen variation, I liked that Grange introduced a few new characters and shed some light on Darcy’s past, particularly the burdens of carrying the Darcy name.  The diary format makes it a quick read, and if you can’t get enough of the Austen variations, it may be worth giving a try.

Check out my reviews of other Amanda Grange books:

Mr. Darcy, Vampyre
Captain Wentworth’s Diary

Disclosure: I received Wickham’s Diary from Sourcebooks for review.

© 2011 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: ★★★★☆

“Miss Bennet, I urge you to take care,” he said intently, teasing put aside.  “The only thing that separates me from this” — here he touched her letters — “is that self-control you mock.  There is otherwise no difference between Mr. Wickham and me.”

“Do not,” she cried,” do not ever let me hear you comparing yourself in any way to that … that scoundrel!  There is a world of difference between you!”

He smiled slightly.  “Perhaps I should learn to criticize myself more often, for the pleasure of hearing you defend me.”

(from What Would Mr. Darcy Do?, pages 14-15 in the ARC)

What Would Mr. Darcy Do? is a re-release of one of Abigail Reynolds’ Pemberley Variations, From Lambton to Longbourn.  It retells Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice from the moment that Elizabeth Bennet receives the letter from her sister, Jane, informing her that their flirty and flighty sister, Lydia, has run away with George Wickham.  Wickham is the womanizing, gambling scoundrel son of Mr. Darcy’s father’s steward, who tried running off with his sister, Georgiana, and whose lies caused a lot of the misunderstandings between Elizabeth and him.  Four months have passed since Elizabeth first rejected Darcy, and the two recently were reunited when Elizabeth toured the grounds of Pemberley with her aunt and uncle.  Unlike Austen’s original novel, Reynolds has Elizabeth and Darcy recognizing the changes in one another earlier on, and the pair are caught in a heated embrace when Darcy attempts to comfort Elizabeth upon hearing the news that her family may be ruined.

Rather than force the pair to marry, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner recognize Darcy’s fierce love for Elizabeth and have a feeling that Elizabeth will come around soon enough.  Thus begins a sweet novel of Darcy and Elizabeth’s short courtship, complete with her worries about whether Darcy would be willing to marry her now that she’s related to Wickham and Darcy’s realization that he doesn’t express himself clearly all the time.  Reynolds creates many amusing scenes of the couple crossing the boundaries of propriety time and again, with Jane and Mr. Bingley serving as unsuccessful chaperones and Mrs. Bennet finding a love letter in Elizabeth’s room from a mysterious “FD.”  Although passionate kisses and embraces abound, the novel is innocent and charming.

Reynolds does a wonderful job with the dialogue, from the teasing banter of Elizabeth and Darcy to the hilarious comments by Mr. Bennet, one of my favorite Austen characters.  Here’s a passage from a scene in which he gives Mr. Darcy a hard time:

“I understand from my friend Bingley that he found asking your permission to marry Miss Bennet a simple and straightforward procedure.  This seems rather different from my experience.  Perhaps you might explain this to me.”

“You are not reticent, sir!  Very well, if you wish to know, when Jane brings home a puppy dog, I pat its head.  When Lizzy brings me a full-grown wolf, I handle it differently.”  (pages 125-126)

What Would Mr. Darcy Do? is another fun variation of Pride and Prejudice, and lovers of Austen fan fiction will love seeing a more demonstrative side to Mr. Darcy, along with a different side of Georgiana and Colonel Fitzwilliam.  A few of the more outrageous characters are absent from the novel, but I was so caught up in the romance that I didn’t even notice until I’d finished.  I read this slim novel in a single day and was sad when I reached the end.  There’s just something about Austen’s characters, even in the hands of another author, that is so comforting.  I can’t wait to read the rest of the Pemberley Variations.

Check out my reviews of other Abigail Reynolds books:

Pemberley By the Sea
Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man in the World
To Conquer Mr. Darcy
Mr. Darcy’s Obsession

Disclosure: I received What Would Mr. Darcy Do? from Sourcebooks for review.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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