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Posts Tagged ‘the pride and prejudice bicentenary challenge’

mr. darcy's promise

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

(This review first appeared on Indie Jane)

“Serafina, I know we have talked about a great deal, but I hope what we say to each other is kept in confidence.”

“Do not you worry, my loyalty is to you and you alone.  Mr. Darcy knows nothing of what you have disclosed, but if I may be so bold, I think he should know how you feel.  May I say one other thing?”  She twisted the braid up high on Elizabeth’s head and pinned it.

“Certainly.”

“You deserve him.  He is the best of men and he has given his heart to the best of women.”

(from Mr. Darcy’s Promise, page 195)

Jeanna Ellsworth’s retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice imagines what would happen if Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy were forced to marry after the Netherfield Ball. The scoundrel Mr. Wickham, still upset about his failed attempts to marry Mr. Darcy’s sister, Georgiana, for her fortune, takes advantage of Mr. Darcy’s obvious interest in Elizabeth. However, his scheme is once again ruined, and it is Mr. Darcy who is forced to marry Elizabeth.

By the time they marry, Mr. Darcy has overcome his objections to Elizabeth’s family and succumbed to her teasing and impertinent remarks, and Elizabeth has witnessed Mr. Darcy’s tender interactions with his sister and realized he is not the proud man she thought he was. But Elizabeth is miserable because she thinks Mr. Darcy only married her because he had to, and Mr. Darcy hides his true feelings in the hopes that Elizabeth could grow to love him over time. As they spend more time together and truly get to know one another, the promise he made to her on their wedding day weighs heavily upon them — and the ever-scheming Wickham threatens their newly discovered happiness.

Mr. Darcy’s Promise is a sweet story about falling in love and how relationships can take unexpected turns. Ellsworth had me chuckling at Colonel Fitzwilliam’s corny jokes, and I enjoyed the playfulness between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, especially the scenes involving the chickens. Yes, the Master of Pemberley is persuaded to visit the chicken coop, and hilariousness ensues. I only wish that the pace of the story had been a bit quicker in terms of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy recognizing their feelings for one another and that Georgiana hadn’t been crying all the time. But I was never bored and was impressed by how Ellsworth, who raises chickens, according to the author bio, managed to incorporate them into the story in an endearing and humorous way.

Ellsworth throws Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy together at a time when their perceptions of each other have only just started to change, and she portrays the early weeks of their marriage, with moments of hope mixed with moments of confusion and misunderstanding, in a realistic way. Best of all, Ellsworth shows their passion for one another without pages and pages of sex, which was refreshing, and introduces delightful original characters, like Elizabeth’s maid, Serafina, who encourages Elizabeth to be more direct when it comes to what she wants from her husband. Mr. Darcy’s Promise is a charming novel about a promise that is made to be broken and being patient when it comes to matters of the heart.

Book 12 for the P&P Bicentenary Challenge

Disclosure: I received Mr. Darcy’s Promise 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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spies and prejudice

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

I take a sip of my Diet Coke and turn to Ryan.  “What’s the biggest lie that Tanner’s ever told?”

Ryan’s face goes whiter than it already is.  His eyes dart nervously to Tanner and back again.  I almost feel bad for the guy, but I don’t come to his rescue.  I want to know the answer.

Ryan laughs and looks right at Tanner with a gleam in his eyes, before he turns his grin at me.  “That you’re not amazing.”

(from Spies and Prejudice)

Talia Vance’s new novel Spies and Prejudice is a modern-day spin on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice for young adult readers.  Our heroine on this adventure is Strawberry Fields, known as Berry, a 16-year-old who spends much of her free time spying on various marks for her father’s investigation firm.  When she’s not taking advantage of her age to follow around unsuspecting individuals engaging in unscrupulous activities, she’s hanging out with her best friends, Mary Chris Moss (yes, that’s her name!), who enjoys building various spy gadgets for Berry, and Jason Yakamoto, their gay drama- and fashion-loving sidekick.

Berry and Mary Chris meet the arrogant Tanner Halston and his much friendlier stepbrother, Ryan, on a stakeout.  Mary Chris and Ryan immediately become inseparable, but Berry — who would rather use Judo and her bold personality to keep boys at arm’s length — overhears Tanner call her “nothing amazing.”  As much as she wants to resist Tanner’s striking good looks, she does her best to avoid him, though it appears that he follows her everywhere.  She’s got a lot on her mind, though; after catching Mary Chris’ father with a letter on her dead mother’s letterhead, Berry starts digging up secrets some people, especially her father, wish she would keep buried.  In the eight years since her mother’s death, Berry has struggled with the knowledge that it might have been a suicide, so it’s understandable that she needs to follow the leads indicating that it might have been murder, that her mother didn’t willingly abandon her.

Berry agrees to let Drew Mattingly, a loner who spends most of his time avoiding other students as he coasts toward graduation, help her delve into the circumstances surrounding her mother’s death.  She doesn’t listen to Tanner’s warnings not to trust Drew, and as the facts come to light, she’s even more confused about Tanner’s involvement in the case — especially after she’s started thinking he might not be so bad after all.

As the mother of a 13-year-old girl, I found much to like in Berry.  She seemed to have a strong head on her shoulders, and given her father’s depression following his wife’s death, she learned to take care of herself and not rely on anyone else for her happiness — and she could easily defend herself when relentlessly pursued by the sleazy, never-give-up Collin Waterson.  But she also learns to open herself up to the prospect of finding love, and despite some very passionate scenes, there was nothing too grown up for younger teens to read.

Spies and Prejudice was a fun take on the Austen classic, and Vance does a good job turning Elizabeth and Darcy into teenage James Bonds.  Vance makes the characters believable, with all the drama, romantic tension, and angst expected in a novel about teenagers, and she makes it exciting with the addition of a death investigation, corporate espionage, and descriptions of high-tech spy gadgets.  The plot insofar as the murder mystery was intriguing, and best of all, I didn’t have it all figured out early on.  I like how Vance kept me guessing and how even though I thought Berry was annoying at times, she kept me rooting for her throughout the novel.  I hope Vance revisits these characters at some point because despite the satisfying ending, there’s enough left over to make a decent sequel.

Book 11 for the P&P Bicentenary Challenge

Disclosure: I received Spies and Prejudice from Egmont 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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old friends and new fancies

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★★

Elizabeth’s forecast created much amusement, and Miss Crawford said, “Everything I hear beforehand of Lady Catherine is very alarming to a stranger like myself.  I shall have to have caught a bad cold before her reception next week, for I shall not have the courage to appear and play.”

“Oh, no, Miss Crawford, you must appear,” said Darcy.  “We are all too bad, with our jokes about her, for really she means to be very kind.  But we have got into shocking ways since my wife married into the family.”

“On the contrary, I think I have educated you all admirably.”

(from Old Friends and New Fancies, pages 31-32)

Written in 1913 and published the following year, Old Friends and New Fancies is considered the first-ever Jane Austen sequel.  Sybil G. Brinton manages to believably bring together characters from all six of Austen’s novels to create happily-ever-afters for several secondary characters.  The book centers on the romantic ups and downs of Georgiana Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam (Pride and Prejudice), whose broken engagement in the first chapter leads to some awkward moments as they try to find true love elsewhere.  Colonel Fitzwilliam and the happily married Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy make their annual visit to Bath, where Lady Catherine de Bourgh mingles with characters from the other novels.

Mrs. Robert Ferrars and Anne Steele (Sense and Sensibility) are desperate to gain Lady Catherine’s approval, and their loose lips churn up events that Mary Crawford (Mansfield Park) would rather forget, separating her from the man she loves and making her vulnerable to the attentions of the obnoxiously vain Sir Walter Elliot (Persuasion) as he seeks a beautiful, well-to-do second wife.

Meanwhile, Kitty Bennet (Pride and Prejudice) is living it up in London as the protégé of Emma Knightley (Emma), who still fancies herself a matchmaker.  Back at Pemberley, Elizabeth and Georgiana warn Kitty not to assume the subject of her infatuation will make her an offer of marriage, but that doesn’t stop Kitty from confiding in the obnoxiously gossipy Mrs. Jennings (Sense and Sensibility) — a move that threatens her happiness and that of Georgiana.

Nearly every important character in Austen’s novels is at least mentioned in Old Friends and New Fancies, with a list included at the beginning of the book for reference.  Although I had to pay attention to follow the mingling of the characters, I never felt lost or overwhelmed.  I’m glad I waited until I finished all of Austen’s novels before delving into this one, but I suppose you could still follow and enjoy it with at least a working knowledge of Austen’s plots and characters.

Bringing together characters from six novels is very ambitious, but Brinton makes it seem easy.  The characters meet in believable circumstances and forge convincing relationships, and Brinton deftly knits together numerous plot threads into a story that captivated me from the very beginning.  The story branches out from two endearing but struggling characters, Georgiana and Colonel Fitzwilliam, and Brinton has fleshed them out so that they truly do feel like old friends.

Old Friends and New Fancies is one of the best Austen sequels I’ve read so far.  I had so much fun revisiting these characters and imagining a world where they could all live together.  If you’ve ever wondered what might happen if characters from one Austen novel hopped into the pages of another, you’ll definitely want to get your hands on this book.

Book 10 for the P&P Bicentenary Challenge

Disclosure: Old Friends and New Fancies 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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the language of the fan

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★☆

“But you have heard enough of our conversations to know the lady can barely tolerate being in the same room with me and that is why she keeps to her sister’s bedchamber.”

“Oh, I thought it was because she cannot tolerate Louisa and Caroline’s company.”

“You have noticed it as well,” Darcy said.  “Miss Elizabeth will not be put down — not by anybody.  She is fearless and will stand her ground.”

(from “Darcy and Elizabeth: The Language of the Fan”)

Mary Lydon Simonsen’s “Darcy and Elizabeth: The Language of the Fan” is a fun short story inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  While staying with her sick sister at Netherfield Park, Elizabeth Bennet falls asleep on a bearskin rug in the library only to awaken to a conversation between Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy.  Elizabeth tries to sneak out unnoticed, but she sticks around when the conversation turns to her sister, Jane, and ultimately turns into a demonstration by Mr. Darcy of “the language of the fan.”

If you can picture Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley waving around black-lace fans trying to determine whether Jane was communicating to Mr. Bingley with her fan, you can understand why I laughed out loud several times while reading this story.

“Because Miss Bennet is rather reserved, we can eliminate some of those signals she would never use,” and he put the handle of the fan to his lips, “which means to kiss me.”  After seeing Bingley’s defeated expression, he added, “It is not that she will never want you to kiss her; it is just that she would never make such a gesture in public.”

But what I liked best about this story was the playful battle of wits between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth, who uses her knowledge of the conversation against him.  As their attraction grows, so does Elizabeth’s desire to beat him at this game, building up to a hilarious scene in the parlor at Longbourn.

Simonsen’s Austen-inspired stories never let me down.  Her affection for Austen’s sense of humor and her wonderfully flawed characters shine through in “Darcy and Elizabeth: The Language of the Fan.”  I breezed through this story with a smile on my face, and I can see myself reading it again sometime when I’m in the mood for Elizabeth and Darcy’s playful banter.  From the amusing use of the language of the fan to the humorous gravestone quotes, I could picture Austen reading this story with a glint in her eyes and laughter on her lips.

Book 9 for the P&P Bicentenary Challenge

Disclosure: “Darcy and Elizabeth: The Language of the Fan” 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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a pemberley medley

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Her distraction was such that Mr. Collins bestirred himself to ask if she were quite well, and to caution her on the dangers of bringing contagious illness into the presence of Lady Catherine de Bourgh.  Elizabeth could not help thinking that Lady Catherine would likely prefer a grave illness to the knowledge that she harboured a competitor for Mr. Darcy’s affections!

(from A Pemberley Medley, “Such Differing Reports”)

Abigail Reynolds has written several variations of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice that I’ve enjoyed.  Every time I think all the “what ifs” have been exhausted, Reynolds manages to surprise me.  So I couldn’t wait to make time for A Pemberley Medley, a collection of five short stories that are basically all about Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy falling in love.

“Intermezzo” — Georgiana Darcy attends the wedding of Mr. Bingley and Jane Bennet determined to find the mysterious “Elizabeth” who broke her brother’s heart.

“Such Differing Reports” — While visiting Charlotte Collins at Hunsford, Elizabeth realizes Darcy likes her, averting his disastrous proposal.  She hears different things about Darcy from different people and must piece these together to get a handle on the whole Darcy.

“Reason’s Rule” — An alternative ending to Reynold’s novel To Conquer Mr. Darcy.  Elizabeth is already engaged to Darcy when the Lydia/Wickham scandal occurs, and she tries to break off the engagement to preserve Darcy’s reputation.  Instead, Darcy, Mr. Bennet, and Mr. Gardiner put their heads together and come up with a solution to the Wickham problem — but it requires Elizabeth to make a huge sacrifice.

“The Most Natural Thing” — A dark story in which Elizabeth, having rejected Darcy’s proposal, is at his mercy when her father dies, Mr. Collins moves into Longbourn, and Lydia runs away with Wickham.  Will throwing herself at Darcy save her family from complete ruin?

“A Succession of Rain” — A story without angst or misunderstandings.  Only the rain keeps Darcy and Elizabeth apart.

Because they were short stories with more telling than showing, there were missed opportunities for some meaty description and dialogue.  It really felt like I was reading undeveloped novel fragments, and I was left wanting more. The collection’s weakness is its focus on the romance and not what makes Darcy and Elizabeth such great characters, i.e. their strength, their fiery personalities, their witty bantering.  It seemed that in every story, the two of them couldn’t stand in the same room together without nearly ripping their clothes off.  That can work in a full-length novel where there are other things going on to further the plot, but there wasn’t much going on in these stories besides the romance and sex.  Maybe I should have read the stories piecemeal and not one after the other.

Even so, I enjoyed the collection overall.  A Pemberley Medley gave me a few hours of much-needed light, mindless reading with some of my favorite characters, and I liked that I could count on a happily-ever-after every time.  Moreover, I admire Reynolds’ creativity in retelling Pride and Prejudice in so many ways.  I was never bored, and watching Elizabeth and Darcy fall in love never gets old.  I think I just prefer novels to short stories, so I hope Reynolds considers fleshing some of these out into full-length novels.

Book 8 for the P&P Bicentenary Challenge

Disclosure: A Pemberley Medley 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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a walk in the meadows at rosings park

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★☆☆

“But, Lizzy, this is the same man who befriended Mr. Bingley, a man whose fortune was made in trade, and he tolerates Mr. Bingley’s unpleasant sisters.  Is this not evidence of a decent man who is open to change?”

“Even if everything is as you say, in all your enthusiasm for this match, you have forgotten one thing.  Mr. Darcy has not met Mama.”

(from A Walk in the Meadows at Rosings Park, pages 70-71)

Mary Lydon Simonsen’s novella, A Walk in the Meadows at Rosings Park, is a Pride and Prejudice retelling that imagines that Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet do not formally meet until Kent, when Elizabeth is visiting her friend, Charlotte Collins, and Darcy is visiting his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh.  Elizabeth remembers the scowling, arrogant Darcy and the rude things he said about her and her neighbors at the Meryton assembly.  But Darcy doesn’t remember her, nor does he know about his friend Charles Bingley’s engagement to Elizabeth’s sister, Jane.

Although it’s plain to see that Darcy and Elizabeth are passionate about one another, Elizabeth can’t understand what Darcy sees in her and doesn’t want to get her feelings hurt.  She isn’t well acquainted with the real Darcy, so he has to work hard to earn her affections.  And even if Elizabeth admits her feelings for Darcy, is it possible he could still love her after meeting her family?

Simonsen has a knack for re-imagining different romantic scenarios for Darcy and Elizabeth, and I thoroughly enjoyed this one.  It was nice to see Charlotte blossom in her marriage to Mr. Collins, and I love when authors give Anne de Bourgh a mischievous streak.  I always end up wishing Simonsen’s novellas were full-length novels, as I get so wrapped up in her versions of Austen’s characters, and this one wraps up their love affair while retelling only one part of the original novel.

Simonsen includes a bonus short story at the end, “Mr. Darcy Steps In,” which is a funny look at what might have happened had Darcy realized that Mr. Collins had his sights set on Elizabeth.  Although he’s confident that Elizabeth would never accept a marriage offer from a ridiculous buffoon like Collins and that she’s not cut out to be a preacher’s wife given her inability to keep her strong opinions to herself, Darcy doesn’t want to think about Elizabeth marrying another man.  Darcy bravely and humorously submits to the attentions of Mr. Collins in order to put his plan into action.

A Walk in the Meadows at Rosings Park and “Mr. Darcy Steps In” are perfect for Austen fans who want a quick and satisfying couple of hours with their favorite characters.  There aren’t any dramatic plots here, and the pride and the prejudice that cause so much tension between Darcy and Elizabeth in the original novel are absent, but there is plenty of passion and romance, making it a pure feel-good read.

Book 7 for the P&P Bicentenary Challenge

Disclosure: A Walk in the Meadows at Rosings Park 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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for all the wrong reasons

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★☆☆

“Lizzy, let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life,” he said, with his ear tuned to Mrs. Bennet in a nearby room giggling with Lydia.

“I can spare you that, Papa, because I do respect Mr. Darcy.  I may not like him all that much, but he is a man worthy of my respect.”

(from All the Wrong Reasons, page 31)

For All the Wrong Reasons is a novella that imagines what might have happened in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice had Pemberley been entailed away from the female line and Mr. Darcy was forced to marry and produce an heir to protect his sister in the event of his demise.  The next in line to inherit Pemberley is Darcy’s cousin, Peter Grayson, with whom he’s had a falling out.  When Darcy learns that Grayson is engaged to a spiteful Caroline Bingley, he is furious and determined to prevent them from gracing the halls of his beloved home.  Darcy and his friend, Charles Bingley, pour over lists of eligible women to find him a suitable match, but the only woman he can imagine marrying is Elizabeth Bennet, the sister of Charles’ wife, Jane.

Elizabeth has no idea Darcy’s opinion of her has changed so dramatically since his biting comments at the Meryton assembly, and even though her father can’t stand the thought that she would sacrifice herself for the financial security of her family, she is willing to entertain Darcy’s marriage offer.  There seems to be more to him than meets the eye — which she learns after befriending his sister and touring his grand estate — and it’s not like there are men lining up to marry a woman with strong opinions and a meager dowry.

Mary Lydon Simonsen never fails to charm me with her romantic retellings of Pride and PrejudiceFor All the Wrong Reasons is a sweet tale of two people oblivious to the feelings of the other and worried about the prospect of happiness in a marriage built on necessity, rather than love.  It certainly is a different take on Austen’s beloved couple, given that their ability and desire to marry for love has been stripped away, which was the unfortunate reality for many people in Austen’s time.  Even though I know Darcy and Elizabeth are always going to misunderstand and misinterpret the actions of the other, their anguish still touched me.

For All the Wrong Reasons is an enjoyable novella, but because it is so short and only retells a part of the original novel, it may leave some readers wanting more.  I wish Simonsen had actually shown Grayson interact with Darcy, rather than paint his portrait through Darcy’s thoughts and conversations with others, to really give a sense of urgency to Darcy’s need to marry.  I also had a hard time believing that Elizabeth would consent to marry a man she didn’t love for the sake of her family, given that she turns down both Darcy and Mr. Collins in the original novel for that very reason (among others).  Even so, I thought it was an interesting premise, and readers looking to spend a few hours with their favorite Austen characters won’t be disappointed.

Book 6 for the P&P Bicentenary Challenge

Disclosure: For All the Wrong Reasons 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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all hallow's eve

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

(This review first appeared on Indie Jane)

“How is it that I can manage estates, be master to more than a hundred servants, oversee countless tenants, outwit masters in their fields of expertise, and yet I can barely put together an intelligible sentence whenever I am near her?”

(from All Hallow’s Eve, page 15)

All Hallow’s Eve is probably the most unique retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice that I’ve read so far.  In Wendi Sotis’ version, Elizabeth Bennet is insignificant in the eyes of British society, being the daughter of a country squire, but unbeknownst to the ton, she is the leader of a secret, ancient cult.  As the High Priestess of Sanun, Elizabeth performs a ritual every year on Oct. 31 that allows the dead to make contact with the living for a few short hours before they must return to the Otherworld.  Fitzwilliam Darcy, the master of Pemberley, unwittingly witnesses the strange yet beautiful ritual just before he learns that he is the Soul Mate of the High Priestess.

Centuries ago, an Evil Soul called Cher-nog managed to avoid the Return and has ruined the lives of many people since then, taking over their bodies and making them perform unforgivable acts.  Cher-nog is close to uncovering the identity of the High Priestess and is intent on controlling and destroying her.  By the time Darcy learns of his role in the Tribes, his attitude toward Elizabeth has changed from believing her to be merely tolerable to believing he can’t live without her.  Now he must convince Elizabeth that his feelings for her are sincere…and protect her at all costs.

To be honest, I didn’t expect to like All Hallow’s Eve based on the summary (ancient cult rituals? Soul Mates?), but Sotis truly surprised me.  I found myself immersed in the descriptions of the Tribes and the various roles held by each member of the Bennet family, and I wanted to know more about this world.  Even when the writing was more telling than showing, I was so caught up in the characters — some of whom are very different from their original incarnations — that I could overlook it.

What I liked best about All Hallow’s Eve is that it’s not as dependent on the original novel as some of the other retellings.  Sotis basically takes Austen’s characters and plops them into an entirely different world and situation.  This added some mystery and excitement because I had no idea what would happen to the characters as they moved down the path toward the anticipated happily ever after.

All Hallow’s Eve is more than just a fast-paced novel with the love story of Darcy and Elizabeth at its core.  Despite the very serious battle between good and evil, Sotis manages to lighten the mood with some jabs at the characters we all love to hate.  In fact, I’m not likely to forget a certain scene with Lady Catherine anytime soon.  Sotis does a good job balancing two worlds, that of the Tribes and that of British society, emphasizing how the latter depends on the former without even knowing it exists.  She also provides some very interesting explanations for the behavior of certain characters, and most importantly, she made me believe them and the world in which they inhabited.

Book 5 for the P&P Bicentenary Challenge

Disclosure: I received All Hallow’s Eve from the author for review on Indie Jane.

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

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yours affectionately jane austen

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

It was Darcy who made her realize that a man could love a woman who was strong and independent, someone intelligent with thoughts and ideas that went beyond clothes and balls.  In fact, it had given her the confidence to make Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice a bit more individualistic and insightful than she had originally been, even if some of her insights turned out to be incorrect.  She was still lively and playful, though, and Elizabeth’s Mr. Darcy was desirous of just such a woman: someone who read extensively to improve her mind.

(from Yours Affectionately, Jane Austen, page 50)

Yours Affectionately, Jane Austen is the sequel to The Man Who Loved Jane Austen, in which Sally Smith O’Rourke imagines that Mr. Darcy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was inspired by a real person.  This book picks up right where the first left off, with New York artist Eliza Knight and Virginia horse breeder Fitz Darcy falling in love and wondering how to navigate their feelings when they’ve never been in a real relationship before.  Fitz is sure of his feelings about Eliza, but Eliza can’t help but feel threatened by his obsession with long dead British author Jane Austen.

For it was Jane Austen who brought them together, through old letters that Eliza found in an antique vanity table that sent her on a trip to Pemberley Farms and into Fitz’s arms.  Eliza can’t help but believe his bizarre story behind the letter written by Jane and addressed to him.  When the pair rush off to England to take care of a situation with the potential to change the course of history, they realize they could lose one another before their relationship even has a chance to blossom.

O’Rourke weaves in the story of Jane Austen, who by 1813 had published two novels, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, and just finished a third, Mansfield Park.  Jane remembers the brief moments she spent with her Mr. Darcy three years before, cherishing the memories of a man who treated her as an equal and made her feel beautiful.  At 37, Jane feels as young as ever, but she inwardly questions social rules that govern what colors an unmarried woman of a certain age should wear and how they should style their hair.  Uncertain whether she’ll ever see Mr. Darcy again, Jane sends a package to him through her brother’s stable boy, hoping he’ll somehow receive it and remember her.

Yours Affectionately, Jane Austen can be read as a standalone novel, as O’Rourke works in a brief summary of the previous book in the prologue, but I highly recommend you read The Man Who Loved Jane Austen first to fully appreciate Eliza and Fitz’s story.  I really enjoyed the first book, but I liked this one even more, as O’Rourke focuses less on the old letters and more on developing her characters.  I really felt like I got to know Eliza and Fitz, their fears and hesitations, the qualities that make them click as a couple, and even their insecurities, played out through their arguments.  I especially loved how O’Rourke moved the narrative between the past and the present, and she wrote the scenes involving Jane Austen with much tenderness for a woman who had a good heart, a playful spirit, and no idea how brilliant she truly was.  Although she admits in the foreword that she took some liberties with the historical facts of Austen’s life, her portrayal of Jane was very respectful.

Yours Affectionately, Jane Austen is a sweet love story about new beginnings, magical adventures, and cherishing the moments, however brief they might be, you’ve had with the people who’ve changed your life.  It’s about not losing who you are amidst societal constraints and believing that happily ever after is possible, if you’re willing to take a chance.  I finished this book with tears in my eyes for a woman whose stories and characters have meant so much to me and who died too young.  Like O’Rourke, I’d like to imagine that Austen experienced the kind of love she wrote about.  This is the perfect book for people who’d like to believe the same.

Book 4 for the P&P Bicentenary Challenge

Disclosure: I received Yours Affectionately, Jane Austen 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 man who loved jane austen

Source: Public library
Rating: ★★★★☆

But she was never quick enough to say the things that were in her heart at the most important moments.  Instead she waited until minutes or even days later, when the moment was past and there was no longer anyone there to hear them.

“Then, when it is far too late,” she confided to her reflection in the mirror, “but loathe to waste my sage replies and witty repartee, I transfer them to the mouths of my always-brilliant Miss Elizabeth Bennet and her sisters.”

(from The Man Who Loved Jane Austen, page 251)

The Man Who Loved Jane Austen is a very different Pride and Prejudice retelling, one that centers on 200-year-old letters between Jane Austen and Fitzwilliam Darcy, which are found in an antique vanity table purchased by New York artist Eliza Knight.  Eliza’s quest to determine whether the Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice was based on someone Austen knew in real life leads her to Fitzwilliam Darcy of Virginia, a horse breeder who owns the grand Pemberley Farms.

Eliza makes the trip to discuss the letters, in which Fitz is extremely interested.  She arrives just before the annual Rose Ball, and he convinces her to stay so he can explain why he wants to buy the letters.  If only Faith Harrington, the temperamental socialite intent on marrying Fitz (think Caroline Bingley, only worse) would leave them alone long enough for Fitz to explain his obsession with Jane Austen…but would Eliza believe him anyway?

Sally Smith O’Rourke has created a delightful tale of a woman who has never taken a chance on love and a man who nearly lost everything for just a taste of it, who are brought together by a writer whose romantic tales have been cherished by readers for 200 years but who may never have had a love story of her own.  In The Man Who Loved Jane Austen, O’Rourke transports readers to Chawton Cottage in 1810 when Austen was editing First Impressions, the novel that would become Pride and Prejudice.  O’Rourke imagines Jane as an intelligent, observant, witty, and curious young woman who is very much attached to her family but is a hopeless romantic.  She is willing to risk a great deal for a kiss in the moonlight, a chance to know how it feels to love and be loved, even if it breaks her heart.

I decided to re-read The Man Who Loved Jane Austen (first read in my pre-blogging days) to refresh my memory before reading the newly published sequel, Yours Affectionately, Jane Austen, and I’m glad I did because I think I liked it even more the second time around.  I didn’t completely buy Eliza as a sort of modern day Elizabeth Bennet, mainly because she was willing to settle for a boring relationship with a boring investment manager (and we know from Elizabeth turning down two marriage proposals that she doesn’t settle!) and she lacked Elizabeth’s wit.  However, Fitz reminded me of Austen’s Darcy, quiet and arrogant until you chip away at his hard shell and uncover the good man hiding beneath.  While I don’t know all that much about Jane Austen’s life (and O’Rourke admits to taking liberties when it comes to the biographical details), I liked how she was portrayed as being very similar to Elizabeth Bennet in personality.  It’s easy to think of Austen merely as a spinster who died young and somehow managed to write some great love stories, but she was so much more than that.  And who doesn’t want to believe that Jane had a love story?

The Man Who Loved Jane Austen is unique in simultaneously juggling past and present retellings of Pride and Prejudice and imagining the inspiration for Austen’s beloved novel.  There’s a bit of a mystery amidst all the romance, and it’s even a bit predictable, but that was easy for me to overlook because I just got swept up in the magic of the story.  It’s a lighthearted novel that, at its core, is about the power of love to change people.

Book 3 for the P&P Bicentenary Challenge

Disclosure: I borrowed The Man Who Loved Jane Austen from my local 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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