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Posts Tagged ‘juliet archer’

the importance of being emma

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★☆

By the time I returned to the car, Emma was fast asleep.  I sat watching her for awhile, thinking things through.  I’d taken a few risks in my life, but only when it didn’t seem to matter.  With the things that were important, I’d always played it safe.

Until now.

(from The Importance of Being Emma, page 172)

The Importance of Being Emma is the first book in Juliet Archer’s Darcy & Friends series and a modern re-telling of Jane Austen’s Emma.  Archer’s Emma Woodhouse is the 23-year-old, new marketing director at her father’s company, Highbury Foods.  Her biggest concern is tapping into new markets and bringing the company into the 21st century — until her old friend Mark (George in Austen’s novel) Knightley returns after eight years running Donwell Organics’ regional operation in India, and her father hires him to mentor Emma for six months.  When Mark went to Mumbai, Emma (or Mouse, as he called her) was just an awkward teenager with a hopeless crush on him.  Now he can’t help but notice the woman Emma has become, and it’s not long before his attraction to her has him distracted and reconsidering his relationship with Tamara, his girlfriend of five years.

The novel follows Emma as she transforms her flighty PA, Harriet Smith, into the model for a revamped product line, tries to set Harriet up with Highbury Foods’ finance director, Philip Elton (who we all know has his sights set on Emma), wishes Jane Fairfax (a.k.a. Saint Jane of Highbury) hadn’t been hired to work with her in marketing, and avoids Mark and his mentoring meetings whenever possible.  As Mark’s feelings for Emma begin to deepen, the mysterious and elusive Flynn (Frank in the original) Churchill, celebrity chef, finally arrives in Highbury to visit his father, the husband of Emma’s close friend.  Emma has long believed she and Flynn are destined to be together, and it pains Mark to see the two of them as thick as thieves.  A hazy encounter at the company Christmas party drives Emma and Mark even further apart, and as Mark heads back to India, Emma must face the consequences of her misguided schemes and utter blindness.

The Importance of Being Emma is a refreshing take on one of my all-time favorite novels.  Archer sticks close to the original when it comes to the basics of the plot and the characters’ personalities, but her characters felt so new that I often forgot that I already knew how it would all play out.  The story is told in the first person from both Emma and Mark’s points of view, creating a conversational tone and making for a quick read.  Getting into Emma’s head makes her a more likeable character because it’s clear that she means well, and getting into Mark’s head sheds some light on the internal turmoil Austen’s Mr. Knightley must have felt about his feelings for Emma and how she changes under Frank Churchill’s influence.  However, not letting readers see into Mr. Knightley’s mind and heart added a layer of tension and anxiety toward the end of the original novel that isn’t present here.  Yet Archer makes up for it with plenty of humor — from Gusty Hawkins, the obnoxious financial consultant, to the “Highbury Humper” (you just have to read the book to find out what that’s all about!).

Archer shrinks the age difference between Emma and Mark by about four years (they are 23 and 35 here, versus 21 and 37 in the original), but it doesn’t change things much.  Archer’s Mr. Knightley still tells Emma like it is, and Emma still doesn’t listen.  He still sees himself as a wise counselor, and Emma still insists she is old enough not to need his advice and censure.  Archer does a great job modernizing the story, underscoring the timelessness of Austen’s plots and characters.  Readers will be happy to know that the books in the Darcy & Friends series are standalone novels, connected only by a foreword written by Will Darcy that introduces the story, explains his connections to the characters, and alludes to what will come later when his story is told.  In fact, I read the second book first (Persuade Me, a modern re-telling of Persuasion) and enjoyed it as much as this one.

The Importance of Being Emma is a sexy and funny update of a beloved classic.  Archer’s Emma is a ambitious woman with career goals and a stubborn case of self-importance, and her Mr. Knightley adds a layer of sexiness and charm to Austen’s perfect gentleman.  Highly recommended for both fans of Austen-inspired fiction and romantic comedies.

Disclosure: The Importance of Being Emma is from my personal library.

© 2013 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 author
Rating: ★★★★☆

[This review was originally featured on AustenBlog]

At last she forced herself to tune in to the play; just as well Three Sisters was one where she could instantly pick up the thread.  She’d almost grown up with it, intrigued by the title as well as her mother’s passion for Chekhov.  When she was young, she couldn’t make much sense of it; but by her twenties, she’d come to understand it only too well — and, instead of identifying with only one sister, she found traces of herself in each of them.  Like Olga, she was practical and conscientious.  Like Irina, she was idealistic about finding true love — but, ultimately, resigned to a life without it.  And like Masha she’s fallen for someone at eighteen…

(from Persuade Me, page 263)

Persuade Me, the second book in Juliet Archer’s Darcy & Friends series, is a modern re-telling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, with lots of regret and resentment but also much humor and romance. Dr. Rick Wentworth is a marine biologist who returns to England to promote his book, Sex in the Sea, which, along with his striking good looks, has turned him into a celebrity. Rick has never forgotten the woman who broke his heart 10 years ago, and all of the anger and hurt is churned up when their paths cross. Anna Elliot, a professor of Russian literature at a college in Bath, never stopped loving Rick, and she regrets allowing her family to end their relationship.

Instead of confronting the past, Rick gets involved with Lou Musgrove, and Anna can do nothing more than sit and watch the two of them flirt. Meanwhile, Anna catches the eyes of both Rick’s friend and wannabe poet, James, and an old family friend and slimeball, William Elliot-Dunne, who ended a relationship with Anna’s sister, Lisa, to run off with a rich divorcee from Texas. Rick and Anna’s interactions are tinged with pain and jealousy, and of course, misunderstandings abound.

Once I started Persuade Me, I had a hard time putting it down. I loved Archer’s easy writing style and her appreciation of Austen’s humor when it comes to exaggerated secondary characters, especially in transforming Anne Elliot’s hypochondriac sister, Mary Musgrove, into Anna’s alcoholic sister, Mona, and Mrs. Clay into Cleopatra, a masseuse with a phony French accent. I also enjoyed how she lets readers into the heads of both Anna and Rick, though knowing the innermost thoughts of both lessened the excitement a little bit.

I must admit I am always thrilled to see a variation that takes on an Austen novel other than Pride and Prejudice. Fans of Mr. Darcy will be happy to know that he introduces the novel by describing how he and Georgiana met Rick, though these few pages have absolutely nothing to do with the book — except for the fact that it is part of the “Darcy & Friends” series, and a friendship must somehow be forged.

Archer does a wonderful job adapting Persuasion for a contemporary audience while staying true to Austen’s story of second chances. Her ability to add a modern flair to every event that transpires in Persuasion exemplifies the timelessness of Austen’s novels.

Disclosure: I received Persuade Me from the author for review on AustenBlog.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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