Showing posts with label 3½ star read. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 3½ star read. Show all posts

Monday, 1 March 2021

Jane Austen's Best Friend: The Life and Influence of Martha Lloyd by Zoe Wheddon - My Review

Happy St David’s Day to you all! St David is the patron saint of Wales, in case you don’t know. Traditionally the children would dress up in traditional Welsh costume, or otherwise wear Welsh rugby shirts. Most schools would hold an ‘Eisteddfod’ and the children would sing, dance, and compete in the arts such as singing, painting/collage, and most importantly, poetry, as the author of the winning poem gets crowned bard. The youngest school children in Wales are now back in school so I am pleased to think that at least there will be children dressing up today on our route back to normality!

Blog Tour: Jane Austen's Best Friend by Zoe Wheddon
Today, I’m bringing you my review of a book about an important person in Jane Austen’s life. Jane Austen's Best Friend: The Life and Influence of Martha Lloyd by Zoe Wheddon looks at the life and influence of Martha Lloyd on Jane. Let’s look at the blurb and then we’ll move on to what I thought of the book.

Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Be Your Own Heroine by Sophie and Charlotte Andrews - Blog Tour, Review & Giveaway

Book cover: Be Your Own Heroine by Sophie and Charlotte Andrews
Today I’m happy to be welcoming a previous visitor and a new visitor all in one post! Sisters Sophie and Charlotte Andrews have written Be Your Own Heroine, which has the sub heading of learning the life lessons from heroines in literature, including Pride & Prejudice's Elizabeth Bennet. Sophie Andrews has visited Babblings of a Bookworm before, with her book Be More Jane, but her sister Charlotte is a first time visitor and I welcome them both. The publisher, CICO books, is also offering a giveaway of a physical copy to a UK or US address!

Let’s begin by looking at the blurb.

Book Description

Having brought you the wisdom of Austen in Be More Jane, eager reader Sophie Andrews joins forces with her sister Charlotte and turns her attention to what can be learned from the heroines of other stories from past and present. Whatever your taste in authors, there will be strong female characters you can relate to, from Jo March, the tiger-sister in Little Women, to Eleanor Oliphant, the socially bemused heroine of Gail Honeyman's prize-winning first novel. There are spirited young women such as Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, and Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series; and then there are the survivors – July in The Long Song and Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games. Sophie and Charlotte show how these six inspirational young women can inspire you and guide you through life's challenges. Whether you are faced with hard times at home, in love, or at work, these characters have something to teach you.

Saturday, 14 December 2019

The Knight Before Christmas by Marilyn Brant - Review

Today I'm pleased to be bringing you a seasonal post. It's always satisfying when you are blogging about something at the right time of year! Marilyn Brant has brought out an Emma-influenced story which is set at Christmas time, The Knight Before Christmas, and she was so kind as to give me a copy to read and review. Let's look at the blurb and then I'll tell you what I thought of the book :)

Book cover: The Knight Before Christmas by Marilyn Brant
Book Description

THE KNIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS is a light contemporary romance by New York Times & USA Today bestselling author Marilyn Brant, who also penned the award-winning and Jane Austen-inspired novels ACCORDING TO JANE and PRIDE, PREJUDICE AND THE PERFECT MATCH.

When successful building contractor Austin Knightley returns to his hometown of Crystal Corners, Minnesota after a decade away, he vows to avoid pampered and popular types like his old high-school crush Emma Westwood—the town's biggest queen bee and self-appointed matchmaker—only to get swept into a community Christmas project she's now organizing.

With nods to Jane Austen's classic novel EMMA, this modern heroine may be a little "clueless" in the Midwest, but she's got gifts to share and plenty to learn from the boy next door, who's all grown up and handsomer than ever. Even when a snowstorm threatens to derail her plans, she's determined to figure out how to set things right and save THE KNIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS.

This sweet and heartwarming holiday romance is a story that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages.

The Knight Before Christmas - Review

It’s been ages since I’ve read a Marilyn Brant book, so I was very interested to hear about this one, which I thought at first was a modernisation of Austen’s Emma. However, if you read the blurb, it’s clear that it’s a story with nods to Emma rather than replicating the story.

We start with the heroine, Emma Westwood, who is basically the princess of Crystal Corners, the small town where she has always lived in Minnesota. She is from a rich background, and her family uses their money for good; they run a charitable organisation, which Emma manages. Emma is very much a people person. She is genuinely interested in others, and tries to use her influence for good. It’s fair to say that Emma is a little spoilt, but she is a good person with good motives.

One of the ways that she has shown interest in making others happy is in her matchmaking. She’s made a fair few matches, often deciding that men she has dated would be a better fit with other people! Despite all her friends Emma is a little lonely. She has never met anybody that she would like to settle down with but she longs for a loving relationship that she sees all around her. Emma is very close with her parents, but this year, for their wedding anniversary, they are taking a holiday to Europe and will be away over Christmas, so she is more alone than usual.

Emma has a community project that she is focusing on completing; having fond memories of a knight statuette that she received as a small child, she works throughout the year to give every child in the town a personalised statuette, which reflects their interests. These are presented at Christmas time.

Emma has always had a soft spot for knights in shining armour:
One day, though, she wanted a real-life knight. 
And, with the certainty of someone well accustomed to getting what she desired, young Emma Westwood figured it was only a matter of time until her fantasy became a reality.
When there is a problem with the custom cabinet that Emma has ordered for the statuettes she could do with a knight in shining armour to help….

Austin Knightley was in school with Emma but he was never a fan, despite her attempts to win him over. Austin moved away from Crystal Corners and has made a successful building company. He’s moving back to the area for family reasons, as the health of Austin’s parents is starting to cause concern. Austin has 3 younger siblings, who all live locally, and only child Emma can’t help but be attracted by the warmth she sees in his family. Although Emma is interested in Austin and being friends, she is well aware that the feeling isn’t mutual:
It was strange that after all these years, it still rankled that she couldn’t win Austin over. It was as if he’d made a judgement call against her when she was a kid and refused to reverse that verdict. 
It’s a shame then, that he might be the person with the skills available to help her out when she needs a new cabinet made at short notice. Austin is willing to help for the good of the community, but he’s not working for Emma. He wants her to roll up her sleeves and pitch in. To his surprise she is happy to do just that. The unfortunate side-effect of this might be that his perception of her changes…

This is a very sweet romance which develops quickly. Emma is far more likeable than Austen’s Emma, but the flipside of this was making Austin a little less likeable than Mr Knightley - or perhaps less admirable, as Austin isn't unlikeable by any means. Austen’s Mr Knightley didn’t need to change throughout the arc of the novel, but in this book, the opposite was true. Emma didn’t change much at all, but Austin had to make some attitude re-adjustments and get rid of long-held misconceptions.

I liked the nods to Emma but sometimes I wished they were stronger. For example, there were some characters which shared names with characters in Austen’s book and I expected them to have some of the same sort of roles that they did in Austen but that wasn’t the case.

I found the book reminiscent of a Christmas feelgood film in that that the relationship developed very quickly. I would have preferred a slower pace, which may partly have been because I was looking for it to be like Emma, where friends develop into more, rather than the relationship being romantic from early on.

If you are in need of some festive feelgood, with a sprinkle of Austen, and even a Christmas miracle then this book is certainly worth a go. I’d rate it as a 3½ star read.

3.5 star read
*I received an ebook of this story from the author for my honest review.

Author Marilyn Brant
Author Bio

Marilyn Brant is a New York Times & USA Today bestselling author of over 20 books in the genres of contemporary women’s fiction, romantic comedy, and mystery. Her debut novel about Jane Austen won the Romance Writers of America’s prestigious Golden Heart Award® (2007), and she was named Author of the Year (2013) by the Illinois Association of Teachers of English. She’s a travel addict, a music junkie, and an insatiable book collector, who loves to discuss story structure and periodically contributes novel beat sheets to the popular screenwriting website, Marilyn’s family believes she’s lost unquantifiable hours to the allure of “Tasty” videos on Facebook, but she refuses to substantiate this claim. For more about her writing, visit Marilyn’s website:

Book cover: The Knight Before Christmas by Marilyn Brant
Buy Links

The Knight Before Christmas is available to buy now in both ebook and paperback - Amazon US / Amazon UK / Amazon CA / Add to Goodreads shelf

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Friday, 20 July 2018

The 26th of November by Elizabeth Adams - Blog Tour - Review and Giveaway

Blog Tour: The 25th of November by Elizabeth Adams
Today the blog tour stops by for Elizabeth Adams' new book, The 26th of November. This is a light-hearted book based on Pride & Prejudice. Let me share the blurb with you, and then we'll move on to my review of the book. There is a giveaway too!

Book Description

The Netherfield Ball: Classic. Predictable. Immortalized.

But, what if Elizabeth were forced to relive it over and over and over again? Night after night after night?

Elizabeth: Clever. Witty. Confident.
Suddenly, her confusion and desperation make her question things she long thought she knew.

Mr. Darcy: Proud. Unapproachable. Bad tempered.
In this world where nothing is as it seems, Elizabeth must learn to see through new eyes.
Including a man she thought she hated.

Let the hilarity ensue.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Aerendgast by Rachel Berman

Aerendgast Blog Tour

Today the blog tour for Rachel Berman's 'Aerendgast' stops here with a review of the book. For further posts on the blog tour, please see the schedule below my review.

* * * * *

New cover: Aerendgast by Rachel Berman
Violet Desmond has a full life. She doesn’t have much family, since she is an only child, brought up by her grandmother. She led quite a solitary childhood, but she now has good friends, a job as a lecturer, and she is the owner of a historical house that she is in the process of sourcing antiques for and restoring. Her grandmother, Millie, is terminally ill but still in good spirits. Violet visits her one day and Millie gives Violet a very unusual cameo necklace, which belonged to Violet’s mother, and since Violet has nothing of her parents, not even a recollection, she is very pleased to have something to link to them. Millie impresses on Violet that the necklace is important and that it will help her find what she’s searching for, though Violet doesn’t know what is meant by this. After handing over the cameo, Millie takes a turn for the worse, and although Violet calls an ambulance, Millie can’t be saved.

While still reeling from Millie’s death, Violet discovers documentation that shows that what she was told about her life was a lie; she isn’t Violet Desmond, but Violet Atherton. She has two birth certificates, so one of them is fake. There is also a newspaper cutting detailing a fatal car crash in which Martin and Gwen Atherton and their daughter Violet all died. There are pictures of the Atherton family and Violet recognises the young girl as herself. The name of Violet’s godfather is mentioned in the article, Lord Blake Lockhurst. Violet is determined to find out the truth of the situation. Googling Lockhurst brings up the name of his home, Aerendgast, a National Trust property, and so she contacts him under the guise of seeking a job. She is offered a paid job working for Lockhurst as an archivist where she hopes to find some answers. Things aren’t helped by the fact that since the day Millie died Violet has started having some very vivid dreams about one of her favourite authors, Jane Austen:
‘Through Violet’s dreams, Austen revealed her life story, only it was much darker than the familiar tale ... and Violet felt Jane’s pain and pleasures as acutely as if they were her own. It haunted Violet during the day and hounded her at night as she struggled to understand what was happening.’
Why is Violet having these dreams? Over time they begin to manifest as visions in the day as well. Violet begins to wonder about the truth of Austen’s life. Could it have been very different to what is currently believed? Does this connect with Violet’s family? Who can Violet trust? And what secrets can be found at Aerendgast?

The story is mainly a treasure hunt story with a dash of romance thrown in, but it’s interspersed with Violet’s dreams and visions of Jane Austen. I always find books with Austen as a character quite melancholy – the thought of how short her life was, and how she didn’t find a lasting love herself despite writing about her heroines finding love. In this book, Jane’s story is worse than melancholy, she is treated appallingly and goes through some real heartrending misery. She has a secret love, and it’s fair to say that by not very far into the book at all I was very angry with him for being so utterly spineless and selfish!

Violet works together with a treasure hunter, Peter, to look for clues to help her discover the truth of her visions. Whether she can trust Peter remains to be proven... This part of the story reminded me somewhat of those Nicolas Cage treasure films, National Treasure, although here the ‘national treasure’ being searched for is the truth of the life of a well-loved writer. There were some very exciting moments and puzzles to discover. The only thing with this type of high drama is that I didn’t find it particularly believable. It sounds odd to say it, but the visions from 200 years ago seemed more real than the action taking place as the actions being described in the visions were more prosaic. I was also surprised by how some events unfolded because the behaviour of the characters sometimes seemed illogical to me. This meant that it took me quite a long time to connect with the story set in the present day, because the passage of events sometimes didn’t seem likely.

Being a huge admirer of Jane Austen, I really enjoyed the connection to her works. The idea is put forward that parts of Austen’s novels were inspired by events that she had lived through, which is a really interesting concept to explore:
“Maybe she covertly wrote her own life into her books because she wanted someone to discover everything she’d had to hide. Maybe there’s something in her books, something we’re meant to find?”
Violet is a pretty likeable character, although she sometimes seems a bit too trusting and open for her own good. I liked her habit of talking to herself while she was reading, she often had the same thoughts as me, although she expressed them with more swear words! The reader gets to know Violet better than the other characters in the story, and it’s a bit of a mystery as to who she can trust and who is trying to manipulate her for their own ends.

I’d recommend this book to people who enjoy plenty of action and excitement in their reading. The mystery is very fast-paced so I don’t think it’s the type of thing you can work out while you’re reading, as clues keep being uncovered.  There was a lot of focus on Austen and her works which I really enjoyed. Her hidden story made me feel quite sad and angry on her behalf, but it was very inventive, and meshed with some of the known facts about Austen, such as her dislike of Bath and the reason why so much of her correspondence was destroyed, which I thought was a nice touch. The story is concluded in this book but there could be scope for further adventure. I thought this was an entertaining read and I’d rate it at 3½ stars.

3.5 star read

*Many thanks to Meryton Press for providing an e-ARC and Leatherbound Reviews for allowing me to be part of the blog tour for 'Aerendgast'.

Buy links:

Blog tour schedule:

2 March: Guest Post at Austenprose 
3 March: Excerpt & Giveaway at My Jane Austen Book Club 
4 March: Author Interview at The Little Munchkin Reader
5 March: Excerpt & Giveaway at BestSellers & BestStellars
6 March: Review at Babblings of a Bookworm 
7 March: Guest Post & Giveaway at My Love for Jane Austen 
8 March: Review at The Delighted Reader
9 March: Excerpt & Giveaway at So Little Time… 
10 March: Guest Post & Giveaway at More Agreeably Engaged 
11 March: Review at Austenprose 
12 March: Excerpt & Giveaway at My Kids Led Me Back to Pride and Prejudice 
13 March: Review at Diary of an Eccentric
14 March: Review at Margie's Must Reads
15 March: Review at Warmisunqu’s Austen
16 March: Guest Post & Giveaway at Austenesque Reviews
17 March: Guest Post & Giveaway at Babblings of a Bookworm
18 March: Guest Post at Laughing with Lizzie

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Mr Darcy’s Valentine by Jennifer Lang

Book cover: Mr Darcy’s Valentine by Jennifer Lang
I thought I’d read something focused on Valentine’s Day, and I saw a review of this a short while ago that piqued my interest – a ‘Groundhog Day’ concept, where poor Mr Darcy has to relive the same day again and again.

The story picks up in Kent, but Darcy has gone there earlier than his usual Easter visit. He’s there in February and is chagrined to find that a Miss Elizabeth Bennet is also in the area, having brought forward her visit to Charlotte to nurse her friend through the measles:
‘He had been dismayed to find her there; not because he did not like her but quite the reverse.’
Poor Darcy is fighting against his attraction to the lovely Miss Bennet, who is an unacceptable match for him. His inclination his pushing him one way, but his sense of duty is pulling him another:
‘If he went down to the parsonage, he could claim her in half an hour. That was all it would take for him to walk down there, stride into the house and propose. 
Although the idea was preposterous – preposterous! – still he could do it and then Elizabeth would be his.’
Unfortunately, he succumbs to the temptation, in an ever ruder way than in ‘Pride & Prejudice’ and is dismissed with some heat. Mr Darcy has a lot to think about this evening, and much new information to assimilate. As he climbs into bed on the 13th of February, he reflects:
‘I wish that St Valentine’s Day would never come. I have no use for it, he thought bitterly. Adding, unless Elizabeth Bennet were to fall in love with me.’
Groundhog Day
The next day, Darcy awakens to a newspaper dated 13th of February, the same visitor coming to Rosings and all the extra information he learned to allow him to live the day over again. It takes a few iterations of the day (but thankfully for Darcy, far less than Phil Connors in ‘Groundhog Day’) and some unpleasant outcomes for our dear boy to be able to move on.

This was a fun concept for a story and there was a lot to like about it. Some of the motivations you see in ‘Pride & Prejudice’ that are so often changed were preserved here, such as Darcy having the intention of marrying Georgiana to Bingley, which obviously played a part in him taking such an active interest in his friend’s love life. I felt that the author had a good understanding of Darcy, warts and all, and of where he was coming from at this stage in the story. It was also refreshing to see a Lady Catherine that I recognised rather than a caricature. Some things were changed from P&P such as Anne de Bourgh being able to play the pianoforte, and there were some things which almost seemed like continuity errors, because they didn’t quite make sense to me in the variation, such as Darcy referring Elizabeth to Colonel Fitzwilliam for details when in this change he had travelled to Rosings alone and hence Elizabeth had never met him and may not even have heard of him.

On the downside, although I enjoyed the story, I wasn’t bowled away by the author’s style. Austen’s prose is very enjoyable to read and obviously you’re not expecting equal to that in a variation but I found it a little flat. I also wasn’t convinced by the speed with which Darcy shelved his resentment and Elizabeth’s feelings became warmer. When you consider that in canon it took her some weeks to get from her Hunsford feelings to the stage where she had no ill-will towards him but never wanted to see him again anything much shorter seems pretty sudden, but I guess with a ‘Groundhog Day’ concept you have to let such objections slide! It was a fun read for Valentine’s day and some of the twists and turns that Darcy had to go through I didn’t see coming. I’d rate this as 3½ stars.

3.5 star read

Friday, 30 January 2015

The Vagabond Vicar by Charlotte Brentwood

Book cover - The Vagabond Vicar by Charlotte Brentwood
This historical romance deals with ambitious clergyman William Brook. He has a burning ambition to work abroad as a missionary in foreign climes. Currently William is based in London and ministers in very seedy areas, but he relishes the hard work and enjoys being needed by the people he helps. In William’s life he has never felt needed, as he was a surprise baby, being considerably younger than his two brothers and William’s birth started his mother’s descent into bad health. William is hopeful that he has proved his worth and will be sent off to minister abroad soon, but when he is offered a place it is instead as vicar to a small village. It would be the dream of most young clergymen to be offered a living like this, and career suicide to turn it down. With a heavy heart, therefore, William sets off for Amberley.

Meanwhile, in Amberley, Mrs Grant is despairing about the behaviour and future of her daughter Cecilia. She is a beautiful girl, but forgetful, flighty, and worst of all she will not apply herself to the task of husband-hunting despite her limited dowry. Cecilia only has one close friend and it’s surprising that her mother has allowed it; Amy was adopted by one of the villager families in Amberley and is now employed as a lady’s maid to the younger daughter of the main family in Amberley, the Barringtons. Whenever the Barrington ladies are at their home in Amberley, Amy is able to see Cecilia, even though Cecilia, as the daughter of a gentleman, is much higher in social standing. In fact, Mrs Grant has it in mind that Cecilia would do very nicely for the younger Barrington son, if he will have her, and she is intent on pushing together Cecilia and Mr Barrington as much as possible. Cecilia wants to make her mother happy, but foresees a long life ahead in which she will be an unhappy society wife so she is determined to try and enjoy herself now, while she is still able to.

Initially neither William nor Cecilia thinks very highly of the other but soon he realises that she has hidden depths and is unusually perceptive and Cecilia realises how truly William holds his convictions. But his future lies abroad and hers in society – doesn’t it?

I thought this was an enjoyable sweet romance, with a dash of drama that lovers of historical romance would probably enjoy. The only downsides for me were that some things, such as some of the words used and some of the behaviour seemed too modern, and class lines blurred too readily. I also felt that feelings developed a bit quickly in some areas and maybe lacked a bit of depth. Still, this was an enjoyable read and I liked William’s realisation relating to how his past had affected his attitude towards making relationships, which is something I hadn’t seen attempted in an historical romance before. I’d give this book 3½ stars.

*My thanks to the author, who provided me with an e-copy of this book for my honest review.

3.5 star read

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Mr Darcy’s Challenge by Monica Fairview

Book Cover - Mr Darcy's Challenge by Monica Fairview
Earlier this year I read ‘Mr Darcy’s Pledge’ by Monica Fairview, which is book 1 of this story. If you haven’t read that book, then don’t start ‘Mr Darcy’s Challenge’, as it follows on directly from book 1, and don’t read on, as there are spoilers for ‘Mr Darcy’s Pledge’!

This book picks right up from where book 1 finished. Darcy had given up writing lists of what he wanted from a wife and was reaching the point where he was ready to propose again to Elizabeth Bennet, when unfortunately all his plans are derailed by tiresome Lydia eloping. Mr Darcy’s Pledge was to locate Lydia for the sake of her sister and then do some wooing.  He tears up his list of suitable qualities in a wife and romantically tosses them to the wind as he rides away, and then.... he realises that strewing the rare commodity of fine paper across the countryside his lady love is in the habit of walking through is by no means a good idea. He turns back, but it’s too late, Elizabeth is already in possession of some interesting bits of paper:
“I am afraid I am guilty of being wickedly inquisitive. However, I cannot repent because I am too excessively diverted,” she said. “This person has itemized his requirements for a wife. Can you conceive of such a thing? Quite as if he meant to prepare a plum pudding or a blancmange!” She laughed. “I cannot conceive what kind of person would do such a thing!” 
Any moment now, she would put two and two together and produce Fitzwilliam Darcy. If she did, all would be lost.
Things then go from bad to worse, and I could happily have given Darcy a good shake to hopefully get some sense into him! He sets off for London, having insulted Elizabeth again, discarding his pledge and potentially getting into an entanglement with a young widow. Mr Darcy’s Challenge will be to overcome his despair, act the part of an honourable gentleman and fulfil his pledge.

In the first book, one of the things I particularly enjoyed was the development of the character of Georgiana, who was struggling to overcome the damage to her self-esteem that the mistakes in judgement she made at Ramsgate had inflicted. Georgiana was really blossoming into adulthood and this continues here in book 2. We are privy to some of her thoughts, which I particularly enjoyed, as she is just as amusing as Darcy was in the first book:
 ‘If she did not hold herself in check, she mused, she would soon be in danger of becoming very much like her aunt Catherine.  
It was a sobering thought.’
Book Cover - Mr Darcy's Pledge by Monica Fairview
Darcy wasn't quite what I expected. In ‘Mr Darcy’s Pledge’ I was very fond of him. Although to me he didn’t quite seem like Austen’s Darcy he was very amusing, sometimes bordering on the eccentric, but here I liked him less, he was often overly despondent and sometimes petulant. He was also so impatient, and he would decide one thing and then immediately change his mind. We didn’t see much of Elizabeth in book 1 but I think she would have learned caution with her knowledge that she was so misled in her initial judgements of both Darcy and Wickham, however she doesn’t seem to have learned anything, and I was a little surprised at her family’s behaviour when they to look for Lydia in Brighton, as you would have expected them to be extremely worried and keep a low profile but instead it seemed like they were just looking for her while on holiday.

There were other characters I particularly enjoyed; Mrs Bennet showed some depth of character in her search for her daughter. Mr Bennet refused to take things seriously, which I found very tiresome. I felt the dynamic between the Bingleys and the Darcys was slightly different to ‘Pride & Prejudice’. Here, the families have been close for many years and seem on a familiar footing so you see Bingley and Darcy as more equal friends than in some variations. I very much enjoyed Mr Bingley’s character, he’s often very amusing:
“Did anyone ever tell you that your jovial pig-headedness is really quite annoying?” 
“Yes,” said Bingley, cheerfully. “Many times. I take it you want to go home and sulk.” 
“Something like that,” said Darcy. 
“Then you will not mind if I join you. A good long sulk will do me a world of good. You do not have a monopoly on sulking, you know. I have plenty to sulk about as well.”
Although I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as ‘Mr Darcy’s Pledge’, it was still very satisfying to see the story come to its conclusion and find out what happened with Lydia. I enjoyed the development of Georgiana’s character too. All in all, this is a fun, light-hearted read and I’d rate it as 3½ stars. I understand that there is another book in this series currently being written which is planned for release in the middle of next year, which I'll definitely plan to read. Although the story that began in 'Mr Darcy's Pledge' concluded in 'Mr Darcy's Challenge' I'd like to see what happens next.

3.5 star read

* I received an e-ARC from the author for my honest review.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Revisit Mansfield Park: When Fanny Married Henry by Sarah Ozcandarli

Book Cover: Revisit Mansfield Park: When Fanny Married Henry by Sarah Ozcandarli
It’s no spoiler to say what happens in this book, as it’s right there in the title! This is a variation based on Mansfield Park, exploring what could have happened if Fanny had given Henry Crawford more encouragement. This is a plot bunny for a variation that Austen herself set up within the text of Mansfield Park, Chapter 48:
‘Would he have persevered, and uprightly, Fanny must have been his reward, and a reward very voluntarily bestowed, within a reasonable period from Edmund’s marrying Mary.’
Revisit Mansfield Park's opening three chapters sum up the happenings of Mansfield Park as a reminder, or for those who haven’t read it, which is a bit dry, but we then get into the substance of this variation. If you’ve read Mansfield Park you may well remember that when Fanny Price goes to Portsmouth Henry Crawford visits her there. When he leaves he asks her to advise him as to whether he should return to his estate or go to London. Fanny declines to advise him and instead replies with one of the most famous quotes of the novel:
‘We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.’
Crawford goes to London, and Fanny doesn’t see him again. However, in this book, when Crawford asks for her advice Fanny decides to give him a chance. To test Crawford’s regard for her, she will give her opinion. If he follows her advice then it could be that what he says is true, his interest in her is genuine and she has judged him unfairly. She advises him to return to his estate to settle the matters of business he has outstanding there. Given this encouragement Crawford requests that he might be allowed to correspond with Fanny, and she agrees, subject to her uncle’s consent. Obviously Sir Thomas is happy to agree with this, as the reason he sent Fanny to Portsmouth was to try and change her mind about Crawford’s proposal.

In this book, Fanny is more introspective. She wonders whether she is too guarded, comparing herself against the warmer Miss Crawford, and reflecting that she has opened her heart to her sister Susan, and has been rewarded by a growing sisterly relationship with her. Perhaps she could be less guarded in relation to Mr Crawford too? She decides to try and get to know him and give him a chance to see if she could care for him. As they correspond Fanny and Henry get to know each other better and she comes to see his good qualities – he’s intelligent, successful at things when he applies himself, and he is able to talk sensibly and interestingly with people ranging from William Price, to Sir Thomas to his daughters. Henry is also taken to task on his flirting and writes to Fanny:
‘I assure you that henceforth I will flirt with no one unless I fully intend to make her my wife, or she is already my wife. Therefore, I may flirt with you, Miss Price, when or if you allow it, though it may be that your honest heart knows not how to play that game.’
Henry Crawford is a very charming man and I found myself charmed by him in this variation. He says such lovely things, and is very thoughtful towards Fanny. So much so, that she begins to be won over. You may wonder, what of Edmund? Well, Fanny is so much more introspective here that she questions whether she was mistaken in thinking that she loved Edmund romantically. In fact, when Fanny receives a long-awaited letter from Edmund, who is staying in London, she receives a letter from Henry the same day which eclipses Edmund’s epistle:
‘She had meant to write to Edmund that evening, but her thoughts were less of her cousin than of Mr. Crawford, and she deferred Edmund’s letter until the next morning.’
I was wondering at this point what effect this might have on other people in Fanny’s family, most notably her cousin Maria, when you consider what happened in Mansfield Park! We catch up with what happened in London while Henry was at his Norfolk estate, and some questions here were raised that I didn’t feel were resolved by the end of the novel in relation to Maria and also Edmund and Mary. Also, the fates given to some of the characters seemed unnecessarily harsh to me and not very Austenesque!

On the whole I enjoyed this novel, however, in parts I felt it fell a little flat. I enjoyed the general tone of the writing, which was quite witty in parts but sometimes it seemed to be lacking in sparkle, with a bit too much telling the reader things rather than showing.  This wasn’t helped by the three summary chapters at the beginning. I appreciate why they were in the book, but as they were summaries they were dry reading and sometimes I felt the other parts of the book reverted to this style. I thought the author brought Henry Crawford to life nicely but Fanny was a little too insipid for my liking and she was critical of her relations in some of her letters to Crawford, which seemed out of character to me. Also, when scandal affects Fanny’s family, it seemed unlikely that she wouldn’t worry that it might affect Henry’s plans towards her. However, I was very pleased to see a Mansfield Park variation as most books based on Mansfield Park seem either to be sequels or modern retellings. I also found it interesting to see a scenario exploring a possible variation proposed by Jane Austen herself! I’d rate this book at 3½ stars.

3.5 star read

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Blog Tour - Review - Longbourn to London by Linda Beutler

I'm so pleased to be part of the Longbourn to London blog tour celebrating Linda Beutler's latest book release. Today I am sharing with you my review of the book. At the bottom of the post you can find links to other stops on the tour where you can read more about the book and the author, and even win yourself a copy. There are both ebook and paperback versions up for grabs. 

Book cover - Longbourn to London by Linda Beutler
Longbourn to London isn’t a variation or a sequel per se, but instead looks at a part of the story that Austen skims over pretty quickly, the betrothal period of Miss Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy. This book picks up a week into the betrothal of our beloved couple and follows them through to the first week or so of their marriage, so it spans around 6 weeks:
“...which to some might appear uneventful. These weeks were, in fact, full of countless small adjustments to their understanding of each other.”
I’d read a book by this author before, The Red Chrysanthemum (you can see my review of that here), which is an Austenesque variation where we see a different type of courtship between the couple, followed by their married life with a particular focus on Elizabeth’s sexual awakening, so I was expecting a sexual element to the book, but it’s actually the key theme of this book. Here Elizabeth grapples with the feelings that Darcy incites within her, and frets about her ignorance of marital relations, a fear which is fuelled by vulgar Aunt Phillips:
“I do feel especially sorry for you Lizzy, as I think Mr. Bingley can be managed, but how you are to control a man who looks at you as Mr. Darcy does, well I am sure I do not know.”
There are a number of additional social engagements due to the betrothals and Elizabeth and Jane find themselves beset by local matrons trying to frighten them with stories of how the marital bed will be for them. After one of these events, where Mrs Bennet does nothing to protect them, Lizzy is unable to sleep. Realising the source of her distress was a lack of knowledge, Lizzy wonders how she can learn of the facts rather than continue to worry in her ignorance and remembers some books she found, years ago in a drawer in her father’s study that she was forbidden to look into. Creeping down to study the books in the middle of the night she is found, but luckily only by Jane, who decides that she is going to try not to worry about things and trust that Mr Bingley will be kind to her. Unfortunately that passive course of action doesn’t recommend itself to Elizabeth, and she decides that she will make a study of the books. She even frankly informs Mr Darcy of her fears, and the books’ existence the next day. Unable to dissuade her, Mr Darcy instead informs Mr Bennet of the issue and Mrs Gardiner finds herself in receipt of several letters all asking for help with Lizzy.

Due to an argument with her husband, Mrs Bennet practically washes her hands of Elizabeth and is pretty unkind to her at every opportunity. This is a fairly harsh portrayal of her, which I always think is a shame, as in Pride and Prejudice I always got the impression that although Lizzy challenged her mother and was her least favourite child I never doubted Mrs Bennet’s love for all her children. I also think that since Lizzy had made a stellar match that Mrs Bennet would be anxious to stay in her good books, as Lizzy would be in a better position than Jane to save Mrs Bennet and any unmarried daughters should Mr Collins turn them out into the hedgerows! I enjoyed the portrayal of Mr Bennet in this story as a loving father to his Lizzy, telling Darcy tales of her childhood, and watching them together to reassure himself of their compatibility.

Although the change from maiden to wife is a big jump Elizabeth is not only going to be doing different things physically, but will be expected to take on the role of being mistress to Darcy’s country estate and town house, both of which would be much larger than what she was used to. In addition to this, she would be changing her social circle not only because she is going to live in a different area, but also in a different social sphere, knowing that some people will be less than welcoming to her. Although I don’t see Lizzy as a character particularly prone to worrying I think it’s likely that if she were to worry about the unknown she would have worried about or at least considered all of this, but in this book her focus is solely on the upcoming changes to their physical relationship, it seemed a little imbalanced to me.

Lizzy and Darcy’s relationship grew really nicely in this book, it was lovely to see how close they were. From the beginning Lizzy was confiding in him, and he was open with her as well. This is just how I see them as a couple, they had already had experience of sharing their secrets regarding Wickham so they had already shown a high level of trust in one another and I think that they would have been very close. The author makes the argument in her foreword that Mr Darcy is just as much of a tease as Lizzy, as evidenced by their repartee when Elizabeth was staying at Netherfield, amongst other times. It also seems likely that he had a good sense of humour, as a humourless man wouldn’t have been attracted to Elizabeth unless he was entirely oblivious to her character, like Collins! I really liked Darcy’s humour in this book, as we got to know him better:
“It makes proposing much easier, I find, if one’s aunt has revealed that one will be accepted in advance of taking the risk.”
If you prefer your Austenesque reading without sex scenes I think you may struggle with this one. The sex scenes are not that graphic, but there are quite a few of them, and there is a level of sensuality though the book, even the parts with no sex scenes. I would say the main theme of the book is the transformation of maiden to bride in an emotional but also in a physical sense which is the type of thing that some readers prefer to avoid. However, if you don’t mind sex scenes and the heavy emphasis on the sensual side of Elizabeth and Darcy’s relationship then perhaps you should give this one a go. I find this author’s style is very readable, and I enjoyed the book, although I would have preferred it to focus on a wider range of the changes to Elizabeth’s life rather than just in the bedroom (or in several of the bedrooms as it turns out!).

3.5 star read

I received a copy of this book (which by the way is a gorgeous slinky matte version) from Meryton Press via Leatherbound Reviews for my honest review as part of the Longbourn to London blog tour. Thank you so much for letting me take part!

Longbourn to London Blog Tour Banner
Would you like to win a copy of Longbourn to London or read an excerpt or guest post more from the author, Linda Beutler? Of course you would! So make sure you check out the other stops on the blog tour.

Past Stops:

Would you like more info on this author? You can connect with Linda Beutler here:

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Love Bites by Ophelia London

Book Cover - Love Bites by Ophelia London
Sharona Blaire is an auditor who is travelling from Miami to Sydney on business. Wandering into first class by mistake, Sharona compounds her errors by accidentally tipping a whole Bloody Mary over one of the first class passengers as she escorted back to economy class.  Later that evening Sharona goes to the hotel bar to relax. Deciding that the night is a bust she turns around to walk away, and manages to spill her drink over a gorgeous stranger – the same gorgeous stranger – for the second time that day. This breaks the ice and they start to talk, finding they have a real connection.

Although Sharona has never been a one night stand kind of girl she feels she could do with a confidence boost. She broke off her relationship with her fiancé (also her boss) about 6 months ago. He didn’t respect her then, and he doesn’t respect her now, meaning her work life is under pressure too. She isn’t looking forward to the next day’s work either, and she’s longing for a chance to escape reality, just for a little while, but will she go through with it?
"Something about being halfway around the world made her feel... unencumbered. Or maybe it was the effects of her Long Island iced tea combined with his dreamy, ocean-blue eyes."
Although Jeff is not somebody who makes a habit of having no strings attached nights of passion the American hottie he has just met who is insisting on no names or personal details being exchanged is hard to resist as the attraction between them is pretty intense. Conservation scientist Jeff is also fairly new on the singles scene – his marriage broke down a while ago after his wife betrayed his trust to sell some of his intellectual property and he hasn’t been interested in putting himself out there until the temptation of tonight. Although Jeff loves his job, he’s dreading tomorrow, as he’ll have the distraction of having to deal with an auditor...

This was a very interesting setting for a romance – a research boat looking at the travel and mating habits of the great white shark. There is a level of resentment and distrust between the main characters due to how the previous night ended and the baggage from their respective exes.

Sharona seemed very nice, although why she continued to work with her foul ex was a mystery, an auditing job isn’t that hard to come by! So often in romances the protagonists have really glamorous jobs and I thought it made a nice change to have a more prosaic profession. Jeff was a super hot, intelligent conservationist with a good sense of humour, described as having a grin that was 'an interesting cross between Han Solo and Thor'. What’s not to like?!

Since this is a novella there wasn’t much time for the story to build and their relationship developed between them very quickly, but given the nature of the setting, a one day boat trip with some time at the hotel before and after things would have to develop quickly to have any kind of story. There was a grand gesture which I felt was unnecessary and also a little unbelievable, but I thought this was an enjoyable story, and just the ticket if you wanted a quick escape with a short, untaxing read. I'd rate this as 3½ stars.

3.5 stars

*Many thanks to the publishers, Entangled Publishing, and Netgalley for providing me with an e-arc of this book for my honest review.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Passion and Propriety by Elise de Callister

Book cover: Passion & Propriety by Elise de SallierWilliam, Viscount Blackthorn has lived a horribly unhappy life. He was born to a cursed family, meaning that his mother died giving birth to him, like the previous 5 or so generations. His father was a lecherous alcoholic and had nothing but hatred and venom for his son.  The neighbourhood despised and feared the family and he met with kindness only from the servants in his house and his only childhood playmate. As soon as possible, William was sent off to boarding school. There, he was ostracised by his peers for the curse.  Not wanting to pass on the curse to future generations William determined never to marry, and therefore was able to make a career choice generally not available to firstborn sons – he joined the army rather than come home and tend to his estate after his father’s death. The Blackthorn curse is thought by many to have cursed the district too. Many families have moved away, both to avoid this, and to try and find a better landlord, because William’s steward has kept the harsh rules that the previous Lord Blackthorn imposed and William has never intervened. William is battleworn and battle scarred and in fact is gravely injured. Refusing to let his injured arm be amputated William has instead come home to die.
“His death would put an end to the curse that had plagued his family for generations, and it seemed fitting for that to occur at the place where it all began.”
Passing the local church on the way William is attracted by the music being played and he goes in to listen. He recognises the woman playing the music as his former childhood playmate, the vicar’s eldest daughter Hannah, the sole bright spot of his youth.

Hannah is having a very bad day. It is her twenty seventh birthday, which means she is now officially an old maid. She has had a busy and useful life for the past few years, helping her father tend his flock and raise her sisters after the death of her mother, but she would like a family of her own. She is trying to accept that her dreams of marriage and motherhood are going to remain just that – dreams. Later that day she goes to visit her mother’s grave and finds William has collapsed in the graveyard. She immediately goes to help him, but finds herself in a dilemma. The steward of the estate has dismissed nearly all the staff and is currently away on a ‘business trip’ so there is nobody to pay for medical care for William and nobody will go there from kindness due to the curse. Hannah decides to go and care for him herself with the naive hope that her status as an old maid will protect her reputation, and the reputation of her sisters by association. It probably would have made more sense for her to have nursed him in the vicarage, but she doesn’t realise how little assistance she will have at Blackthorn Manor.

William has been sorely lacking in tender care in his life, and becomes very fond of Hannah’s company. This is in addition to finding her extremely attractive, a feeling that is mutual. In these times unmarried men and women couldn’t really be friends and William can’t offer anything more, though he finds himself wishing that he could. When circumstances intervene William and Hannah find themselves thrown together once more, but will he be able to continue to resist her?

I thought this was a very entertaining read although there were a few times I had to suspend my disbelief a bit, I really don’t think he could have returned home from war abroad with his arm as it was and I also believed that if people were as happy and relieved to get servant work as they appeared to be they would have been more discreet – if they’d been my servants I’d have got rid of them all and rehired! Nothing is kept secret, and even allowing for servants gossiping things which they were never told somehow get to be common knowledge.

I really liked both the hero and the heroine. I deeply pitied William for how sad and unloved his life had been. Only in the army had he found acceptance, when he could leave his horrible family and the memory of the curse behind.

The thoughts of both William and Hannah are often really amusing, and I enjoyed their dry humour. Here is William with a hangover:
“He was clearly suffering some terrible, life-threatening malady.....There was no point to Hannah catching whatever dreaded disease had claimed him.” 
Their attitudes in some respects seemed to be a little too modern in my eyes, particularly their attitudes to sex. Although some reasoning is given for this, considering both of them are virgins they seem to know an awful lot about sex and are happy to openly discuss it with just about anybody! There were a few words and phrases which jumped out as being too modern, or American, e.g. ‘darned’ and things such as William making a reference to his disabled left hand only noticing when he has to cut his food but it would notice anytime he eats because the custom in Britain is to have the fork in the left hand and the knife in the right at all times, not just when cutting food. I also am not sure whether a ‘sulky’ is a carriage that would have generally been found in England at the time, I would have thought a gig or phaeton would be more likely, depending on what class of person was driving, but these are small quibbles in the scheme of things.

There are some interesting secondary characters introduced in this novel, too. Hannah’s friend, Grace Daniels is the illegitimate daughter of a lord, who was cast out by her stepmother after her father’s death. She now provides apothecary care and herbal tinctures to the community and she was instrumental in saving William’s life by her work on his arm. She gets off to a very poor start with William’s new steward, and it’s a real mystery as to why, but Grace’s story seems set to be told in the second book in the series, Duty and Desire, due out in early 2015, which I'd certainly like to read. I thought Passion and Propriety was a very entertaining book and it was a lovely way to while away a rainy Sunday! This is better than a 3 star read but not quite a 4 for me.  Please note, for those of you who prefer to avoid them, that this novel contains sex scenes.

3.5 star read

*Many thanks to the publisher of this book, The Writer's Coffee Shop, for allowing me to have an e-ARC copy via Netgalley for my honest review. 

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Finding Favor by Lana Long

Book Cover - Finding Favor by Lana Long
To celebrate the bicentenary of the publication of Mansfield Park each month I’ve been trying to read something inspired by Mansfield Park. ‘Finding Favor’ by Lana Long is a young adult modernisation of the book.

17 year old orphan Favor Miller has lived with the Brown family for the last 8 years. Mr Brown was a college friend of Favor’s father. Favor doesn’t remember much of her family, so her most highly-prized possessions are journals belonging to her father and grandfather which she reads in times of distress to feel close to them. Although Favor lives with the Browns she isn’t really part of the family on an emotional level. When Mrs Brown spends time with her daughter, Madison, Favor is not invited to join them. There are two Brown sons, Tom, the party-boy elder son, and younger son Ethan, the Edmund character, who is Favor’s closest friend. Favor adores Ethan and secretly hopes for a romantic relationship between them one day.

As it nears Favor’s eighteenth birthday she is summoned to Mr Brown’s office, He wants her to sign a contract. It’s not really legally enforceable but more of a moral agreement. He will provide her with college tuition and arrange an internship which will greatly assist Favor in her desired career of horticulture. In return, she will comport herself in such a way that doesn’t embarrass the Brown family and she will also back off from her relationship with Ethan so he has a chance to forge new relationships that will be of benefit when he goes to work for his father’s company. Favor is devastated by this. Firstly, it shows how little the Browns have accepted her into their family, after all this time. She knows that Mr Brown has contacts that could seriously affect her future career prospects too, but the thing that really upsets Favor is the thought of having to give up Ethan. To cope with the day to day slights of being only tolerated rather than loved and the bullying she receives from Madison, Favor has purposely withdrawn – she has very few friends aside from Ethan, so he has become her whole world.

'My parents died and I'd accepted it. I lived a quasi-life, trapped by the Brown rules and expectations, and I'd accepted that. If I accepted those things so easily why was I struggling to accept that I'd never be with Ethan? 
But then again, I'd never really accepted those other things either. I'd just buried them. And now the graveyard of suppressed emotions threatened to overflow.'

One of the Brown’s neighbours has some visitors coming to stay – brother and sister Henry and Mary Crawford. In no time at all Ethan is under Mary’s thumb, and Favor faces having to lose him whether she signs the contract or not.

Mr and Mrs Brown, like Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram in Mansfield Park, are not hands-on parents. He works almost constantly, and is a controlling authority figure rather than a loving dad, and Mrs Brown is often mentally absent even if she’s usually physically there. She is often staring at her smartphone rather than engaging with her children. Favor is not treated the same as the Brown children, she is staying with them long-term rather than being a member of the family.

I had mixed feelings on this book, as there were things about it that I thought were really good and other things I wasn’t sure about.  I thought there were a number of aspects that would have been better if they’d been portrayed with a bit more subtlety, especially Madison. Madison is like the characters of Maria Bertram and Mrs Norris rolled into one so as you can imagine she is really horrible. However, Maria Bertram kept her horribleness under a veneer of propriety, so it was only because her parents didn’t know her well enough that meant she could get away from it. Here Madison is not just spoiled, childish, manipulative and conniving, but she throws tantrums, and the whole family is aware of her behaviour. It was so extreme it was almost bordering on mental illness. There were a few scenes featuring Madison which I found pretty unrealistic because I felt they were over the top.

I was a little disappointed with the Henry Crawford character too because he was such a nonentity, he is barely in the story. However, the flipside of this is that Tom Bertram was made a much bigger role. Tom was probably my favourite character in this story. He began the story as a party boy with a ‘cologne of beer’, but he was so funny and showed genuine fondness and empathy for Favor so I couldn’t help but soften towards him. Tom gets the best of the funny lines. For example, when Favor asks him if it's now 'you and me against the world' he wryly replies:

"Let's start locally, and go globally if needed."

However, Tom’s care for Favor only makes Ethan appear worse. The event mirroring the part in Mansfield Park when Edmund overlooks Fanny’s need to use her horse is far less forgivable in this book. I didn’t feel that Ethan had many redeeming features, he drops Favor like a hot cake when Mary Crawford arrives on the scene and he is generally selfish all the way through the book. I thought this was a shame, because although some people don’t have time for Edmund in Mansfield Park, I personally think that he was a responsible and thoughtful man, who genuinely cared for Fanny, and the fact that he cared for Mary Crawford before realising how he felt for Fanny Price is no more reprehensible than Elizabeth Bennet initially being attracted by Wickham in Pride & Prejudice.

Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park is a character that leaves me torn, because secretly I really like her, despite her faults. Mary is a very interesting character, but here she was more two-dimensional – this Mary is shallow, uncaring and a bragger. And that is really all there is to her.

I didn’t really understand Favor’s sudden determination to stake her place in the Brown household. If she’d been content to live for so many years on the periphery and taking a ‘you and me against the world’ attitude with Ethan you think that aside from him Favor would be keen to leave the rest of them behind. It didn’t feel likely that she would be so fiercely attached to them.

On the whole I enjoyed this author’s style. There was a lot of humour, which I enjoy. The book is written in the first person, from Favor’s point of view, but sometimes it didn’t seem to quite work – some of the descriptors used seemed awkward outside the third person, such as Favor describing her own eyes as liquid, etc.  I liked that the author had taken the time to work out how the upbringing had affected each child, as it was different in each case. I thought it was an ambitious attempt at a young adult version of a complex book and it wasn’t bad at all. I’ve read a few YA versions of Mansfield Park now, and my favourite is still the first one I read, Rosie Rushton’s ‘Whatever Love Is’, but this one is enjoyable too, and I'd give it 3½ stars.

3.5 star read

Monday, 30 June 2014

The Secrets of Darcy and Elizabeth by Victoria Kincaid

Book Cover The Secrets of Darcy and Elizabeth by Victoria Kincaid
This is a Pride and Prejudice variation that picks up some weeks after the Hunsford proposal. Darcy is in London and he is miserable. He has come to the conclusion that Miss Elizabeth Bennet was correct to refuse his arrogant proposal. He is tortured by regretful thoughts, and the only way he can get a full night’s sleep is to drink heavily. He believes that he has hidden his excesses from Georgiana, but he is mistaken. She has called for reinforcements, and in a very touching scene, Colonel Fitzwilliam forces his confidence. The Colonel convinces Darcy to try a change of scenery to try and raise his spirits. Since a ceasefire has been called with France, Colonel Fitzwilliam and some friends are taking the opportunity to visit Paris, and he badgers Darcy into coming along.

While in Paris, Darcy is convinced to go to a ball. There he sees somebody familiar – Elizabeth has also travelled to Paris, in the company of the Gardiners, as Mr Gardiner has business in France. Darcy decides to make the best of this opportunity to try and change Elizabeth’s view of him. Elizabeth is sorry for her previous misjudgements of Darcy and is eager to be on good terms, but Darcy soon makes it clear to her that his feelings toward her haven’t changed. She is unsure over whether she would want to encourage him in this way. She feels attracted to him, but is unsure of whether she would want to be married to him, particularly is she is unsure of whether he is the proud man she met in Hertfordshire or the more charming and eager to please Darcy that she sees now.

The Gardiners had planned to move on from Paris within a few days of the time they encountered Darcy. Seeing such an eligible suitor showing interest in their niece they arrange to leave Elizabeth under the guardianship of the acquaintance that they have been staying with, just for a short time while they travel to another area for Mr Gardiner’s business. However, after they leave Darcy receives the news that the ceasefire is over. It is imperative for English people to leave France as soon as possible. Colonel Fitzwilliam wastes no time, as an army officer he would be all the more hated, and he leaves straight away with friends. Darcy goes to Elizabeth to offer to escort her out of Paris. They attempt to take a maid as chaperone, but due to the scarcity of carriages they are only able to obtain a small carriage which means the maid gets left behind. However, they are not able to escape France as quickly as they’d hoped because Elizabeth falls gravely ill. Once they are safely back on English soil Darcy and Elizabeth have some news for their families, but it is not the most opportune time to tell either family due to other events, and therefore the secret must be kept for longer, leading to some misinterpretations.

I was a little surprised with how quickly their courtship seemed to progress, but when I considered it, once Elizabeth had got over her misconceptions of Mr Darcy in Pride & Prejudice she actually falls in love with him fairly quickly. I really liked the idea of a new setting, and Darcy and Elizabeth’s escape from France was pretty exciting reading. My main quibble with this book was the secret keeping. To me, it didn’t make sense. It went on for too long, and it made things look much, much worse than they really were and was the catalyst for some quite unpleasant events that needn’t have occurred. But neither of them seemed to see this. I am sure that letting the truth out so late in the day would have caused quite a bit of talk, and made things seem more scandalous than they would have been if they’d told the truth from the outset. The secret wasn’t shameful, but in my opinion the omission would have made the truth less believable.

Also, as the story progressed the escape from France wasn’t their only adventure, and it stretched credibility more. It was fun reading, but pretty unlikely, and personally I prefer more believable variations, but if you like excitement there is plenty of it here!

Another thing I was a little unsure of was the portrayal of our starring couple. I know it’s a variation, so deviations from Pride & Prejudice’s characters can be part of the change, but neither of them felt quite right to me. For example, a few times Darcy lost his temper and immediately started shouting at people, which is something that seems out of character to me – to me, one of Darcy’s most notable characteristics is his self-control. Also, Lizzy reacted in quite a laid-back way at things which I think would have shocked a young lady of limited experience, which she was. I have been puzzling over what it was that was not hitting all the right notes for me, and I think it is that, for me, they behaved and reacted with a more modern mindset than I feel would have been likely. I think self-control is less valued now than in the past, so Darcy losing his temper and hollering didn’t seem classy enough for my view of him (it wouldn’t seem classy enough for my view of him now, but particularly in a historical variation). Similarly, a wider world view would work well for a modern woman, but I don’t see that somebody of Elizabeth’s class at that time would have had that. There were also some instances of language use that I found a bit incongruous, some American terms, sidewalks etc. However, this book has some excellent reviews so I’m obviously in the minority with my quibbles! It’s an action-packed variation with some lovely romance, particularly when Darcy first sets out to woo his lady.

3.5 star read

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Alias Thomas Bennet by Suzan Lauder

I love reading variations on Pride and Prejudice and this one has an unusual variation; rather than change something in the timeline of the original novel, this story explores how different things could have been if Mr and Mrs Bennet were different.  In this tale, Mr Bennet in particular is altered.  He is much more energetic and hands-on with his family.  Rather than retreat to his book room and let fate take its course he has been actively involved in his family’s upbringing which has meant a huge change in the Bennet sisters, and also their mother.  Mrs Bennet is far more refined and restrained, as are the girls. Lydia particularly is unrecognisable! I couldn’t help but feel that this affected Elizabeth in a less positive way though - personally I am fond of her impertinence, which she is made to tone down.  Her dialogue is missing some of the sparkle for me, I felt she was a little bland at the beginning of this story. 

Darcy’s introduction into Hertfordshire society is also affected by this difference in Mr Bennet, who befriends the younger man after deciding to give him the benefit of the doubt over his behaviour to Lizzy rather than fan the flames of her dislike. Thus Lizzy and the Bennets don’t tell Hertfordshire of Darcy’s slight of Lizzy and he is more generally welcomed.  The only person who is determined not to like him is Elizabeth, partly for the slight but more because she seems to have her nose put out of joint by him usurping her place as the ‘clever’ one.  It makes her seem a little petty and immature, but she improves as the story progresses. 

With their improved upbringing, when the Bennet sisters meet Mr Wickham at their aunt’s house neither Lydia or Lizzy are prepared to listen to him (although I’m not sure whether Lydia would have been there, as in this version she isn’t ‘out’ in society).  Both girls are disturbed by his over-familiarity and report this to their father, along with Wickham’s sob story in relation to Darcy.  Once Bennet mentions Wickham to Darcy he is informed of Wickham’s character and sets about warning society in Hertfordshire, thereby making an enemy of Wickham, who gets steadily more deranged as the story progresses.

You may have thought that this friendship between Bennet and Darcy would mean that all would be straightforward in the relationship between the elder Bennet sisters and their swains, but you would be wrong, as in this version Jane and Elizabeth are wards of the Bennets, taken on when they were very small children upon the death of their parents, whose identities have been kept secret.  All of this unfolds in a mixture of events in the timeline of Pride and Prejudice and as flashbacks to past happenings, telling the story of Mr and Mrs Bennet when they were younger.  I particularly liked seeing this different version of Mr and Mrs Bennet:
“He threw back his head and laughed heartily at the idea of his wife having an attack of the vapours.”
Not exactly the Bennets we know!

Other events follow the same pattern in Pride and Prejudice, such as Elizabeth visiting Rosings, but the visit is very different – she is on much better terms with Darcy for one, and there is also some danger lurking at Rosings and a turn of events that will affect the future of the whole Bennet family.  The story has more than a dash of angst and there are some scenes which are uncomfortable to read.  There was some behaviour I didn’t feel was likely, but even as I thought that often the author would explain why x was happening, it felt well thought through and reasoned even if I didn’t always think the characters would behave that way, especially people who were close to Wickham. Some of the dialogue is kept from P&P, which I thought was a nice touch, not always said by the original character, but I quite like that.  I thought that this was an original idea for a variation and I’d be interested to read more books by this author. I'd rate this as 3½ out of 5.