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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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