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Posts Tagged ‘the pride and prejudice bicentenary challenge’

Now that 2013 has come to an end, it’s time to count up the challenge books and see where I stand.

american revolution buttonWar Through the Generations: 2013 American Revolution Reading Challenge

Goal: 4-10

Books read: 3

Thoughts: I’m not happy that I failed to complete my own challenge, but I just wasn’t motivated to read about this war, even though I do find it interesting.

1. The Turncoat by Donna Thorland

2. Jack Absolute by C.C. Humphreys

3. Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

historical fiction reading challenge

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2013

Goal: 25+

Books read: 37 — COMPLETED 🙂

Thoughts: This is always an easy challenge for me, so in 2014, I will set a higher goal to see if I can clear more historical fiction books off my shelves.

1. The Passing Bells by Phillip Rock

2. Circles of Time by Phillip Rock

3. The Secret of the Nightingale Palace by Dana Sachs

4. The Klipfish Code by Mary Casanova

5. A Future Arrived by Phillip Rock

6. The Flowers of War by Geling Yan

7. The Turncoat by Donna Thorland

8. The Crooked Branch by Jeanine Cummins

9. Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada

10. The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen

11. The Clover House by Henriette Lazaridis Power

12. The End of the Point by Elizabeth Graver

13. The Last Telegram by Liz Trenow

14. The Wars by Timothy Findley

15. Seduction by M.J. Rose

16. The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein

17. Jack Absolute by C.C. Humphreys

18. The Last Van Gogh by Alyson Richman

19. Resistance by Carla Jablonski and Leland Purvis

20. Defiance by Carla Jablonski and Leland Purvis

21. Victory by Carla Jablonski and Leland Purvis

22. I’ll Be Seeing You by Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan

23. Ellis Island by Kate Kerrigan

24. City of Hope by Kate Kerrigan

25. Letters From Skye by Jessica Brockmole

26. Winter in Wartime by Jan Terlouw

27. Gracianna by Trini Amador

28. Rutherford Park by Elizabeth Cooke

29. His Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire, Book 1) by Naomi Novik

30. Rising Sun, Falling Shadow by Daniel Kalla

31. The English German Girl by Jake Wallis Simons

32. Sophia’s War: The End of Innocence by Stephanie Baumgartner

33. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

34. The Lavender Garden by Lucinda Riley

35. Wolfsangel by Liza Perrat

36. Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

37. City of Women by David R. Gillham

P&P bicentenary

The Pride & Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge

Goal: 9-12

Books read: 21 — COMPLETED 🙂

Thoughts: I really enjoyed this challenge, and I’m thinking about doing a Jane Austen challenge on my own in 2014.

1. Dear Mr. Darcy by Amanda Grange

2. Pride & Prejudice (Marvel Illustrated) by Nancy Butler and Hugo Petrus

3. The Man Who Loved Jane Austen by Sally Smith O’Rourke

4. Yours Affectionately, Jane Austen by Sally Smith O’Rourke

5. All Hallow’s Eve by Wendi Sotis

6. For All the Wrong Reasons by Mary Lydon Simonsen

7. A Walk in the Meadows at Rosings Park by Mary Lydon Simonsen

8. A Pemberley Medley by Abigail Reynolds

9. Darcy and Elizabeth: The Language of the Fan by Mary Lydon Simonsen

10. Old Friends and New Fancies by Sybil G. Brinton

11. Spies and Prejudice by Talia Vance

12. Mr. Darcy’s Promise by Jeanna Ellsworth

13. The Red Chrysanthemum by Linda Beutler

14. The Pursuit of Mary Bennet by Pamela Mingle

15. First Impressions by Alexa Adams

16. Second Glances by Alexa Adams

17. Holidays at Pemberley by Alexa Adams

18. Pride, Prejudice and Jasmin Field by Melissa Nathan

19. “Jane & Bingley: Something Slightly Unsettling” by Alexa Adams

20. Project Darcy by Jane Odiwe

21. Undressing Mr. Darcy by Karen Doornebos

ireland reading challenge

Ireland Reading Challenge 2013

Goal: 4

Books read: 3

Thoughts: I love reading books set in Ireland, but time just got away from me this year. I had a 4th book picked out, but just didn’t get to it.

1. The Crooked Branch by Jeanine Cummins

2. Ellis Island by Kate Kerrigan

3. City of Hope by Kate Kerrigan

dive into poetry challenge

Dive Into Poetry Challenge 2013

Goal: 1

Books read: 2 — COMPLETED 🙂

Thoughts: I’m glad Serena challenges me to read poetry every year. I don’t think I could read as many poetry books as she does, but I’ll try to read a couple more next time around.

1. Eyes, Stones by Elana Bell

2. Love: Ten Poems by Pablo Neruda

Literature & War Readalong 2013

Books read: 4/12

Thoughts: I really love these readalongs, and even though I didn’t get to participate every month (either because of time or because I couldn’t get the book through my local library), I enjoyed reading the discussion posts. With the focus on WWI in 2014, I hope to participate more often.

February — The Flowers of War by Geling Yan

March — The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen

April — The Wars by Timothy Findley

June — Winter in Wartime by Jan Terlouw

goodreads challengeGoodreads 2013 Reading Challenge — COMPLETED 🙂

Read: 102/100 books

Final thoughts:  Overall, I think I did really well, just got a little pressed for time at the end of the year.

Did any of you participate in any reading challenges last year?  How did you fare?

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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undressing mr. darcy

Source: Review copy from author/Berkley
Rating: ★★★★☆

Vanessa had, as a young teen, developed a sibling rivalry of sorts with Jane Austen, competing with her for her aunt’s attention, even though her aunt doted on her.  She never could get through Pride and Prejudice and, much to her aunt’s chagrin, she’d only read the outlined study-guide version.

To this day she didn’t quite believe in happy endings.

(from Undressing Mr. Darcy, page 18)

I absolutely loved Definitely Not Mr. Darcy, so I couldn’t pass up a chance to read Karen Doornebos’ latest novel, Undressing Mr. Darcy, which is just as funny and sexy as the title implies.  Doornebos’ heroine, Vanessa, is not a Jane Austen fan, but her Aunt Ella, who pretty much raised her and is slowly losing herself to dementia, is Austen-obsessed.  As a favor to Ella, social media-obsessed Vanessa handles the PR for Julian Chancellor at the Jane Austen Society of North America’s Annual General Meeting in their hometown of Chicago and the Jane Austen Festival in Louisville.  When Julian waltzes into her life in full Regency wardrobe, turns his nose up at modern technology, and speaks and acts like a gentleman, Vanessa isn’t sure what to think.

Vanessa spends nearly every waking moment on Twitter and other social media broadcasting Julian’s every move as Mr. Darcy, helping him promote his book, My Year as Mr. Darcy, so he can earn enough money to restore his rundown estate in Chawton.  But Julian’s striptease show, Undressing Mr. Darcy (which is supposed to educate attendees about men’s clothing during the period but really is just a way to see Mr. Darcy nearly naked), is steamy enough to pull Vanessa’s attention away from her phone and toward the charming man who seems to have stepped right out of Austen’s novel.

Meanwhile, Vanessa tries to come to terms with her beloved aunt’s failing health, take her aunt’s advice about enjoying life offline, and handle the reappearance of her one-time best friend and business partner, Lexi, who quickly sets her sights on Julian.  Add Chase, a shameless flirt in a pirate costume, Vanessa’s budding love for Austen, a plastic Colin Firth, and a scavenger hunt into the mix, and you have a hilariously romantic tale that pokes fun at the popularity of All Things Austen.

Janeites bond over stories about how they came to love Austen, and Undressing Mr. Darcy is a novel about one woman’s journey from rolling her eyes at even the slightest mention of Jane to promenading around Bath in a Regency gown.  Vanessa was likeable even though I found her annoying and clueless at times; that just made her more real.  I loved how Doornebos kept me chuckling throughout (there’s a plastic Colin Firth!), and by the time it became clear how it would end, I’d grown attached to all of the characters and was sad to see it end.  I longed for more time with Aunt Ella and even Sherry, the woman with an overflowing closet of Darcy-themed attire, and the novel made me determined to attend an Austen event someday.

Undressing Mr. Darcy is a lighthearted novel that shows how happily-ever-afters can happen even for people who are so resistant to them and how social media and classic novels can complement one another.  I still don’t completely understand the whole #hashtag thing, nor do I want to spend more time on Twitter, but Doornebos’ playful take on social media addiction was both funny and sadly realistic.  The novel also veers into more serious topics, like dementia, but it never once feels heavy or depressing.  A treat for Austen fans, especially those who like to read about Austen but don’t want to read a sequel or retelling of one of her novels.

Book 21 for the P&P Bicentenary Challenge

Disclosure: I received Undressing Mr. Darcy from the author and Berkley for review.

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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project darcy

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

Looking up at the boathouse rising from the water with its verandah and windows, unchanged over the years except for fresh paint and the addition of some gothic decoration, she imagined him standing there, waving to her.  Tears misted her eyes and spilled over her cheeks.  Dreaming of her Mr. Darcy would never be enough, but there was absolutely nothing she could do about it.

(from Project Darcy, page 219)

Project Darcy is the second book in Jane Odiwe’s Time Travels With Jane Austen series, which began with imagining the inspiration for Persuasion in Searching for Captain Wentworth.  This time, Odiwe follows five college friends on an archaeological dig at Jane Austen’s childhood home in Steventon, Hampshire.  Ellie Bentley has always been able to see things other people can’t, and the moment she sets foot in Hampshire, she sees the ghost of a fair-haired man inhabiting the home where she and her friends are staying, a former rectory that belonged to a friend of Jane Austen’s.  Without warning, Ellie is transported from the hot summer dig to the winter of 1796, where she experiences first-hand the romance between Jane Austen and the man who may have inspired Pride and Prejudice.

Ellie is confused about whether she is experiencing Jane’s feelings or whether she is actually falling in love with the man from Jane’s past herself.  It becomes increasingly hard for Ellie to stay grounded in reality, where she is painting pictures of what the Steventon Rectory may have looked like as part of her work on the dig and doing her best to avoid Donald, the curate who has been pursuing her at the urging of her mother.  Sound familiar?  That’s because when she isn’t traveling back in time, Ellie’s life in the present is very much a modern-day retelling of Pride and Prejudice.

Ellie and her friends are reminiscent of the Bennet sisters, with Ellie, a free-spirited woman who, like Elizabeth, is not afraid to speak her mind; Jess, who is just as good-natured as Jane; Martha, who is just as serious as Mary; Cara, who is exuberant and a follower, like Kitty; and Liberty, who is every bit as wild as Lydia.  At the dig, Jess hits it off immediately with Charlie Harden, whose sister, Zara, and best friend, Henry Dorsey, turn their noses up at Ellie and her friends, especially when Liberty and Cara hang all over the camera crew both on and off the dig.

Odiwe makes the romance between Jane and her Mr. Darcy believable, from the stirrings of first love to the end that we know is coming but hope will turn out differently.  Jane was such an astute observer of human nature, and I like to believe that just like her heroines, she had her own love story.  Odiwe also makes Ellie’s travels through time seem plausible, from the subtle triggers to her intense response and ultimate confusion.  However, the ending of the novel seems a bit rushed and completely unexpected, given how insignificant the character in question seemed until that point.  I like that the ending is unpredictable, but that also serves to make the conclusion feel less realistic.

Even so, Project Darcy is a fun take on Pride and Prejudice, especially for Austen fans who wonder about the inspiration for her beloved novels.  Odiwe does a wonderful job balancing the past and present story lines and making the present-day characters similar enough to Austen’s to follow the parallels to Pride and Prejudice but also different enough that there are some surprises.  Odiwe makes Jane Austen come to life, and I really hope she is planning more time travel novels for the rest of Austen’s books.

Book 20 for the P&P Bicentenary Challenge

Disclosure: I received Project Darcy from the author for review.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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jane and bingley

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★☆

She wished she might be so fortunate in life as to be able to show her displeasure, rather than always hiding behind an obsequious mask.

(from “Jane & Bingley: Something Slightly Unsettling”)

“Jane & Bingley: Something Slightly Unsettling” is a short story by Alexa Adams that retells the beginning of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice from the point of view of the eldest Bennet sister, Jane.  Jane has long been known as beautiful and good, with never an unkind word for anyone — not even Mr. Bingley’s condescending sisters.  But Adams puts Jane’s thoughts on display, from her desire to be more than just beautiful and elegant to her embarrassment over the actions of her mother and her youngest sister, Lydia.

The story begins after Elizabeth is slighted by Mr. Darcy at the Meryton Assembly and follows Jane through her illness and extended stay at Netherfield Park to her second dance with Mr. Bingley at the Netherfield ball.  Jane’s thoughts run from her admiration of Mr. Darcy to her distress at Elizabeth’s impertinent remarks to the gentleman and interest in the shady Mr. Wickham.

Adams’ portrayal of Jane is refreshing because I’ve always found it hard to believe that she’s so perfect and good, and I have long wondered what she really thought about being forced to ride to Netherfield on horseback in the rain or listen to her mother’s obnoxious prattle.  I was surprised at Jane’s thoughts about the obviously besotted Mr. Bingley but glad to see her portrayed as having more depth.

“Jane & Bingley: Something Slightly Unsettling” is an enjoyable take on the eldest Bennet sister, bringing the saying “still waters run deep” to mind.  That Jane let her need for an advantageous marriage guide her interactions with Mr. Bingley provides much food for thought.  Was Jane not as crazy in love with Mr. Bingley as we like to believe?  It’s not often that a Pride and Prejudice retelling assumes Jane’s point of view, so I was reluctant for it to end.  Adams is talented in dreaming up alternative scenarios for Austen’s novels and characters and giving readers just enough to get them thinking.  She is definitely not afraid to give Austen’s heroines less than the expected happily ever after, and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with for her next “Twisted Austen” tale.

Book 19 for the P&P Bicentenary Challenge

Disclosure: “Jane & Bingley: Something Slightly Unsettling” 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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pride prejudice and jasmin field

Source: Public library
Rating: ★★★★☆

‘He’s amazing.  I’d get in his car any day arrogant or not.’

‘Yeah, and I’d pay the petrol,’ agreed Mo.

‘God, listen to you two,’ said Jazz.  ‘Anyone would think your brains turned to jelly in the presence of a man.  Does the word emancipation mean anything to you?  Women burnt their bras for you, you know.’

‘Why?’ asked George, nonplussed.  ‘Were they planning to wear backless dresses?’

‘If anyone burnt my Wonderbra, I’d boil their heads,’ said Mo.

(from Pride, Prejudice and Jasmin Field, page 107)

Pride, Prejudice and Jasmin Field is the story of a journalist for a women’s magazine who lands the lead in a one-night, charity production of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  Not only does Jasmin Field get to play Elizabeth Bennet on the stage, but she is Elizabeth Bennet — from her charming wit to her “terrifying” impertinence, from her snap judgments about people to her inability to tolerate the arrogant Harry Noble, the Oscar-winning actor directing the production, who eventually takes up the role of Mr. Darcy.  Melissa Nathan’s modern-day retelling of Pride and Prejudice is unique in that its backdrop is a stage production of the classic novel, and it’s not until Jasmin overhears Harry call her the “Ugly Sister” at the audition that the parallels between Jasmin’s life and Austen’s novel become apparent.

Jasmin earns her living by judging people, and she is more focused on her career — particularly the column in which she depicts her younger sister Josie’s happiness as a housewife and stay-at-home mom by choice — than on finding a man.  In fact, she can’t stand that her older sister, Georgia, can’t be without a boyfriend, even refusing to dump a guy who is obviously wrong for her.  When Georgia lands the role of Jane Bennet, she immediately starts seeing Jack Hayes, the actor playing Mr. Bingley. Harry Noble apparently is very adept when it comes to casting because he gives the role of Charlotte Lucas to Jazz’s best friend, Mo, who is dieting simply to get a man — any man — and the role of Mr. Collins to Gilbert Valentine, Jazz’s former colleague, who can’t take no for an answer and has manipulated actors into treating him like a friend to avoid having vicious gossip spread about them.

Jazz falls into the routine of rehearsals and finds that she enjoys acting — when Harry isn’t singling her out to show her up or staring at her intently.  She enjoys flirting with William Whitby, who plays a priest on TV and Mr. Wickham in the play.  Not only is he handsome and charming, but they also bond over their mutual dislike of Mr. Noble.  But Harry proves himself to be more than meets the eye, and it’s not long before Jazz realizes she’s been wrong about a lot of things.

Nathan does a great job updating the characters, especially Jazz and Harry.  He’s as sexy and endearing as you’d expect a modern-day Mr. Darcy to be, and Jazz is confident and fearless.  I loved the fact that Nathan’s Darcy was willing to admit that her Elizabeth scared him a little.  And the novel is funny, from Gilbert and Mo’s morning-after interaction to Harry and Jasmin’s heated exchange when he first tries to kiss her against his better judgment.

Pride, Prejudice and Jasmin Field is one of the best modern retellings of Pride and Prejudice that I’ve read so far.  I loved how Nathan balances the drama of the stage production with Jazz’s real-life drama and how she stayed true to the original plot but also made it her own.  It was fun to spot the parallels beyond the obvious Elizabeth/Mr. Darcy storyline and to not know exactly what would happen in the end.  Nathan breathes new life into a timeless story and plays homage to Austen’s long-lasting popularity in this fun, well-paced novel.

Book 18 for the P&P Bicentenary Challenge

Disclosure: I borrowed Pride, Prejudice and Jasmin Field from the public 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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holidays at pemberley

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

…suddenly this lady who had never valued the importance of love in a marriage could not bear to think of herself wed to anyone other than the only gentleman who had ever stirred her heart.

(from Holidays at Pemberley, page 73)

It’s been a delightful week reading Alexa Adams’ trilogy of Pride and Prejudice retellings that remove the pride and the prejudice, highlight the humor, make Lady Catherine likable (gasp!), turn Mr. Bennet into a matchmaker, and shine the spotlight on two minor characters from the original Jane Austen novel.  The trilogy began with the love story of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy in First Impressions: A Tale of Less Pride & Prejudice, where Mr. Darcy never slighted Elizabeth but still had to overcome the obstacle that was the rest of the Bennet family, and continued in Second Glances: A Tale of Less Pride & Prejudice Continues with the courtship of the more refined Kitty Bennet by the dashing and reckless Sir James Stratton.

In the final novel, Holidays at Pemberley, or Third Encounters: A Tale of Less Pride & Prejudice Concludes, Adams turns her attention to Elizabeth’s best friend, Charlotte Lucas, who thankfully has been spared a lifetime of putting up with Mr. Collins but still longs for the independence and security afforded by marriage.  This novel goes back to where First Impressions leaves off and continues beyond the events in Second Glances, with a focus on Charlotte’s visits to Pemberley, where Elizabeth hopes she will hit it off with David Westover, the rector of Kympton and a man from Charlotte’s past.

Charlotte doesn’t expect to marry for love.  As she nears 30, she just hopes to get married.  But the more she sees the love between the Darcys, the more she laments the lack of it in her own life.  Her family has nearly lost all hope of Charlotte ever finding a husband, especially when she returns home without having secured Mr. Westover’s affections.  Mr. Westover has never entertained the idea of marriage, as he is too focused on his scientific research and his parish duties, but a misunderstanding involving Charlotte and some meddling by his sister may change his mind.

I loved spending Christmas with the Darcys and their family and friends in Holidays at Pemberley.  Adams’ story is told in the tone and spirit of Austen, and her original characters are so charming and seamlessly integrated, I had to remind myself that they weren’t Austen’s creations.  Every time I read Pride and Prejudice, I feel bad that Charlotte thought Mr. Collins was the best she was going to get, so I like when these Austenesque novels reimagine a happier life for her.  I didn’t know what to think about Mr. Westover at first — he’s not a Mr. Darcy or a Sir James Stratton — but he grew on me in the end.

These were the perfect books to read during this busy time of year, as they were each under 200 pages and were impossible to put down.  Adams keeps the romance to a minimum, focusing instead on the misunderstandings, the humor, and the diversions so enjoyed by Mr. Bennet.  I read these books with a smile on my face (how could I not, when Mr. Bennet and Lady Catherine forge an odd friendship?), and as predicted, I was sad when they came to an end.  I’ve read too many Austen-inspired books to count, and Adams’ novels are among my favorites in the genre.  I  highly recommend this trilogy for Austen fans who prefer their reimaginings to be witty and charming, free of sex scenes, and reminiscent of Austen herself.

Book 17 for the P&P Bicentenary Challenge

Disclosure: I received Holidays at Pemberley from the author for review.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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second glances

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

Mr. Bennet narrowed his eyes with suspicious glee, “You did not watch their departure from a distance, did you?  The very picture of the rejected lover?”

“Certainly, sir, if it brings you joy, then I’ll happily say that I did.”

“Very good!  The image is quite priceless, be it true or not!  What shall I do for amusement when all my daughters are married?  Lovelorn gentlemen are the most diverting entertainment!  Come in, Sir James, come in!  We shall have a glass, and you will disclose the entire predicament.  And do not leave out any details just because they make you look foolish, for those are the very best parts!”

(from Second Glances, pages 128-129)

Second Glances: A Tale of Less Pride & Prejudice Continues is the sequel to First Impressions: A Tale of Less Pride & Prejudice and picks up the story a year after the first book ends.  This reimagining of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice focuses on Kitty Bennet, who has been at school in Bath with her younger sister, Lydia, at the recommendation of Mr. Darcy.  Before leaving school to join her good friend Georgiana Darcy for her first London season, Kitty has a chance meeting with Sir James Stratton, who is instantly smitten with the young woman when she gives him a fiery and passionate talking down.

Kitty doesn’t give Sir James a second thought until he arrives at the Darcy’s townhome, and she learns he is a longtime friend of the Darcys.  All of the good manners she developed at school are lost under Sir James’ watchful gaze and teasing banter.  Sir James is not shy about his intentions, and while Kitty understands that she should be honored and flattered by the attentions of someone of his high social standing, she refuses to be forced to marry him because of his title and fortune.  And when it looks like she is warming to the man, he makes a reckless and impulsive decision that causes Kitty to question whether she can trust him.

Second Glances is a delightful novel, from Alexa Adams’ beautiful and playful use of language that brings to mind the style of Austen herself to her intriguing original characters.  I couldn’t help but fall in love with the adventurous and exciting Sir James myself, and I could understand why he was a bit too much for Kitty to handle at first.  The banter between Sir James and his best friend, Simon Brooks, who hits it off immediately with Georgiana, was hilarious as they recounted their childhood antics.  Adams does a wonderful job portraying Kitty’s evolution as she becomes less like Lydia and more like her elder sister, Elizabeth Darcy, though without Lizzy’s impertinence.  There’s also much to love about Adams’ teaming up Sir James, Mr. Bennet, and Mr. Wickham on a mission to save one of the Bennets from potential ruin, and so far, Adams is the only Austenesque author to make me actually like Lady Catherine.

I enjoyed Second Glances even more than First Impressions, and I do believe they need to be read in order to best understand how Adams has made these characters her own while also staying true to the original novel.  The novels are short and well-paced, and Adams mirrors Austen in her humorous observations of the characters and their circumstances.  I can’t wait to finish the trilogy later this week with Holidays at Pemberley, though I know I will be sad when I am finished.  My only complaint so far is that the books are too short!  Adams’ fondness for Austen shines through in these novels, and I’m not ready to let go of her version of these characters just yet.

Book 16 for the P&P Bicentenary Challenge

Disclosure: I received Second Glances from the author for review.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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first impressions

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

“If she is really as wonderful as you say, certainly she will not wait forever for you to make up your mind.  She has a duty, after all, especially when one considers her familial circumstances, to marry well.  She must find it rather insulting that you look so far down upon her relations; do you really believe she will remain available once another man has expressed his interest?”  Georgiana had never spoken to her brother so forcibly and was surprised he did not seem to mind, let alone call an immediate end to the conversation, as she had feared.

(from First Impressions, page 120)

Alexa Adams is quickly becoming a favorite of mine among the authors of Austen-inspired fiction.  Once I picked up her novel First Impressions: A Tale of Less Pride & Prejudice, nothing could pry it out of my hands.  First Impressions is a gentle retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice that first imagines what would happen if, at the Meryton Assembly, Mr. Darcy does not slight Elizabeth Bennet but instead asks her to dance and ends up enjoying himself.  From there, Adams imagines what would have happened had Mr. Darcy not interfered with Mr. Bingley’s relationship with Jane Bennet, Mr. Bennet was warned to keep his daughters away from Mr. Wickham, and Mr. Collins makes a more suitable match, sparing Charlotte Lucas a lifetime of putting up with his ridiculousness.

Surprisingly, removing all the tension of the original novel doesn’t cause the novel to fall flat.  Adams’ Mr. Darcy finds himself confessing to Mr. Bennet the reasons he is wary to marry his favorite daughter, with amusing results, and she sends Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mr. Darcy’s formidable aunt, rushing off to Longbourn, this time for a different reason.  And Caroline Bingley, in a very satisfying twist, gets her just desserts.

First Impressions is a short, satisfying novel that focuses on the humor, the romance, and the ridiculousness of certain characters. I loved how Adams, just like Austen, gives the characters their privacy, not even allowing readers to witness Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth’s first kiss.  Like Austen, Adams’ narrator talks directly to the reader, and it’s little touches like this that I found so delightful.  First Impressions was the perfect book to keep me company on a cold, snowy day, and as the snow approaches again tomorrow, I plan to be under a warm blanket nursing a cup of cocoa and reading the second book, Second Glances.  I’ll be finishing this week with the third book, Holidays at Pemberley.  Who better than Mr. Darcy to get me in the holiday spirit?

Book 15 for the P&P Bicentenary Challenge

Disclosure: I received First Impressions from the author for review.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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the pursuit of mary bennet

Source: Review copy from William Morrow
Rating: ★★★★☆

I had tried to change, and it was so like Jane to have noticed and acknowledged it.  The change had come about gradually, after my exposure to both Jane’s and Elizabeth’s happy, contented lives.  And after I’d begun to read and learn more of the world.  I envied my sisters their happiness and knew I wanted it for myself.  If not with a husband, then doing something on my own, independent of my family.

(from The Pursuit of Mary Bennet, page 36)

The Pursuit of Mary Bennet is a sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice that was impossible for me to put down.  Pamela Mingle beautifully transforms the once foolish, boring, bookish Mary into a young woman who is every bit as lovely as her older sisters, Elizabeth Darcy and Jane Bingley.  As the middle of the five Bennet girls, Mary always felt alone; Jane and Elizabeth had each other, and Kitty and Lydia were inseparable.  While Kitty expects to receive a proposal from Mr. Bingley’s close friend, Henry Walsh, Mary is expected to travel to Newcastle to care for her sister Lydia Wickham’s baby when it arrives.  She has no desire to do so, but she assumes that as the spinster sister, she will be expected to go wherever she is needed.

Those plans are foiled when Lydia arrives at Longbourn, very pregnant and sans husband.  To protect her unmarried sisters from Lydia and Wickham’s latest scandal, Jane whisks Mary and Kitty back to the Bingley estate until the child is born.  Jane recognizes the changes in Mary — and she isn’t the only Bennet sister to notice Henry Walsh’s growing interest in her.  Kitty is furious that Mr. Walsh would rather talk to Mary, so she does everything in her power to grab his attention, and despite having long resigned herself to being unattractive and dull, Mary refuses to be ordered around by Kitty and stands her ground.

Mary sees the love matches made by Jane and Elizabeth and will not settle for anything less, but she has a lot to learn about love (and loss).  In true Austen fashion, when Mary begins to understand herself and make peace with her mistakes, another scandal befalls the family — and Mary stands to lose everything that is dear to her.  Told in the first person from Mary’s point of view, The Pursuit of Mary Bennet is a charming novel about a young woman who has spent so much time in the shadows of her sisters but finally recognizes her true self.

Mingle doesn’t try to imitate Austen but stays true to her characters, and I loved getting inside Mary’s mind, especially when she thinks about pouring a teapot over her mother’s head.  Although I never tire of Elizabeth and Darcy, I was glad to see Jane have a bigger role in this novel.  Mingle’s original characters are intriguing, from the attentive and gentlemanly Mr. Walsh to the suspicious Amanda Ashton, and her use of Lydia and Wickham to lay even more trouble at the Bennet family’s door forged an even stronger bond among the elder Bennet sisters.

The Pursuit of Mary Bennet was such a pleasure to read.  The first person narrative made it a refreshing take on Pride and Prejudice, and Mingle does a wonderful job turning Mary into a likeable, well-developed character.  I grew so fond of her Mary, I didn’t want the book to end.  Even as Mary discovers love, romantic and familial, she has bigger plans for herself.  She doesn’t want to be dependent on her parents, and she grows strong enough to make her own choices about her future.  Austen’s Mary is mostly in the background, but Mingle brings her front and center, makes her conscious of her faults, and creates a young woman we can relate to and even admire.  The fact that Mary’s love story subtly parallels that of Elizabeth and Darcy is just the icing on the cake.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on The Pursuit of Mary Bennet tour. To follow the tour, click here.

Book 14 for the P&P Bicentenary Challenge

Disclosure: I received The Pursuit of Mary Bennet from William Morrow for review.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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the red chrysanthemum

Source: Review copy from Meryton Press
Rating: ★★★★☆

Bingley snorted, trying to suppress outright laughter.  “Darcy, you didn’t!”

Georgiana hid a smile behind her hand.

“Oh, I most certainly did.  I told her my feelings of repugnance were natural and just.”

Georgiana spoke up, clearly confused.  “Please speak plainly, Brother.  You told her your love was natural and just?”

Darcy ruefully shook his head.  “No, I meant my disapprobation of her family was natural and just.”

Georgiana could not help giggling.  “Oh my…the sweet words any lady longs to hear:  I loathe your family; marry me anyway.”

Bingley joined her.  “Very smooth, Darcy, you silver-tongued devil…”

(from The Red Chrysanthemum, pages 52-53)

The Red Chrysanthemum is a delightful retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in which Darcy and Elizabeth, unsure of each other’s feelings following his disastrous proposal at Hunsford, express forgiveness, admiration, and love using the language of flowers.  Linda Beutler opens the novel after Elizabeth tours Pemberley with the Gardiners and is embarrassed to run into Darcy.  During their stay in Lambton, Darcy, having taken Elizabeth’s censure to heart, renews their acquaintance.  More in love with her than ever, Darcy merely hopes Elizabeth can see him in a new light and maybe allow him to court her.  Elizabeth, however, fears there is no way Darcy will ever propose to her a second time.

Beutler imagines what might have happened had Darcy and Elizabeth worked together to reunite Bingley and Jane, whose happiness is secured when Jane arrives for an extended stay at Pemberley with her sister and aunt.  Just as Darcy thinks he has made progress in winning Elizabeth’s love, news of the Lydia/Wickham scandal reaches Pemberley, and a misplaced red chrysanthemum has Elizabeth believing that a happily ever after is impossible.

The Red Chrysanthemum drew me in from the first page, with the humorous interactions between the characters.  I loved Beutler’s portrayal of Bingley as amiable, sweet, and not willing to put up with his sisters’ rudeness.  I was pleasantly shocked by the scene with Darcy and Lady Catherine, and I laughed long and loud after the scene with Mrs. Bennet and the Bingleys.  I also loved the floral illustrations and how the meanings behind various flowers were cleverly worked into the plot.  I’m not well versed in gardening, so it was helpful to have a picture to put with the name.

My only complaint is that the last few chapters of the book are devoted to the sexual tension between Darcy and Elizabeth as they wait to consummate their marriage and the extensive lessons he gives Elizabeth on how to be passionate in bed and act like both a wife and a mistress.  I don’t have a problem with sex in Austen-inspired fiction, but I don’t think those chapters were necessary.  Beutler did such a good job showing their love and passion prior to the wedding that readers don’t have to witness their escapades in the bedroom to understand how well suited they are for each other in every way.  Thankfully, those chapters were well written so I could easily overlook their inclusion.

The Red Chrysanthemum is a fun take on Pride and Prejudice, mainly due to Beutler’s handling of the characters.  Readers will delight in the villainous characters getting what they deserve and in Beutler’s development of several secondary characters, from Bingley and Georgiana to Mr. Bennet and Mrs. Reynolds, and of course, the humorous banter was quite enjoyable.

red chrysanthemum tour

Book 13 for the P&P Bicentenary Challenge

Disclosure: I received The Red Chrysanthemum from Meryton Press for review.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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