Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Shadows Over Longbourn by Jann Rowland 4* - good after 1/2 way point

Shadows Over LongbournShadows Over Longbourn by Jann Rowland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am a very impatient reader. After reading for 50 some years, I recognize that I don't have enough time in my life to spend reading books I don't enjoy. So, it surprises me to say I did not really warm up to this book until about half way through. Usually I would not give a book this much time. But, I kept giving this book the benefit of the doubt and found it to be worth my while.

Mr. Bennet is widowed, having lost his wife at Lydia's birth, and is now dying. Jane is 19 years old, compared to 21 in canon, so all of the girls are, obviously, younger and will need guardians once Mr. Bennet passes away. The Mr. Collins who will inherit Longbourn is the father to the William Collins we know - Mr. Thaddeus Collins - and he is not a good man. The girls' uncles, Mr. Gardner and Mr. Phillips could raise the girls, but their lives would not be those of gentlewomen. However, there is another option - a distant cousin, Mr. Darcy. Despite his young age and having only recently inherited Pemberley, Fitzwilliam Darcy agrees to take in the five Bennet sisters as his wards to raise alongside his sister Georgiana.

The first half of the book is mostly about the mechanics of getting the Bennet sisters to Pemberley and getting them situated. There are adjustments and the butting of heads between Darcy and Elizabeth who takes on the "mother" role for her sisters. During this portion of the book I just could not warm to either character, or actually many of the characters. It felt like the readers needed to get past the first half of the book, so the author just went about spelling out the circumstances of initial meetings and marriages, the Ramsgate situation, etc. in a fairly rote kind of way.

About half way through the book, Mr. and Mrs. Bingley, Jane and Charles, take on the property of Netherfield. The Bennets all return to the neighborhood where they grew up and the neighbors they loved. At Longbourn, the nasty Mr. Collins, father and son, resent the loss of Jane to Bingley, as they felt she should have married William Collins, and hold this against the party. Now the story starts to pick up. Elizabeth and Darcy begin their dance of uncertainty in love, and William Collins begins his pursuit of Elizabeth.

Once the story turns to Netherfield, we begin to see the characters blossom and become more three dimensional. It feels almost as if the author should have started the story at this point. We begin to really see the characters come into their own and to feel the romance blossoming. I particularly enjoyed the way the author handled the William Collins character. Through Elizabeth's eyes, we see there is more to the man than the silly character we have known and Elizabeth feels pity for his situation. The actions taken by him at the end of the book make sense and feel realistic given Elizabeth's viewpoint.

I cannot give the book more than 4 stars, and actually should round it down to 3 1/2 given the amount of material we have to wade through to get to the good parts, but I enjoyed the overall book and can recommend it.

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Sunday, August 21, 2016

Whispered Kisses by Sarah Johnson 5 Stars - Tragic yet ethereal romance

Whispered Kisses: A Pride & Prejudice Novella VariationWhispered Kisses: A Pride & Prejudice Novella Variation by Sarah Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I originally read Whispered Kisses on one of the JAFF fandom websites and enjoyed it very much. The author has added writing to Elizabeth's accomplishments, and an imagination that runs much more to the romantic. In addition, Mr. Darcy has experienced a serious tragedy prior to our introduction to him, and this changes his entire perspective on Elizabeth and the Bennet family.

In this variation, Elizabeth is in London and starts to receive unexpected floral nosegays delivered to her by Joseph Reynolds on behalf of his master. Elizabeth is not told the name of the master, nor does she recognize the flowers she has received. They are an unusual blue flower with a lovely scent. She is greatly intrigued yet wonders at the propriety of allowing the unknown admirer to address her in this manner. In her writing she imagines the man who is sending her the flowers.

To Elizabeth's shock and amazement, when she returns to Meryton, she continues to receive the floral tributes. Her assumption is the gentleman who has been sending them must be amongst Mr. Bingley's party at Netherfield. Will she meet him at the Assembly?

The story is lovely and sad, but does not involve too much pride or prejudice on the part of Elizabeth. Darcy's pride and prejudice is completely wrapped up in Mr. Wickham, and this story has a surprising twist. The story is well written and evokes a kind of ethereal romantic atmosphere not common in JAFF. I like this more "head in the clouds" Elizabeth and the tragic Mr. Darcy. Highly recommended.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Progression Vol. 2 - Strong continuation of the series 5 stars

Progression Vol. 2: A Continuation of Jane Austen's Pride and PrejudiceProgression Vol. 2: A Continuation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice by Jodi L. Covey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A stunning story of the time after marriage for Darcy and Elizabeth. In this continuation, Elizabeth and Georgiana are entering the ton, and society is not being kind. Darcy made a major misstep early in their marriage which has society tittering behind their hands that the marriage was a mistake he now regrets. This can't be further from the truth, but the Darcy's are in a hole and need help to rise above.

Lady Matlock has a plan and it involves Almacks and the frightening matrons who determine who will be accepted. This idea centers around Georgiana's coming out as a way to relaunch Mrs. Darcy. So now we have three reluctant participants - Elizabeth who is just doing it for the family but is afraid she is too much of an outsider, Georgiana who is doing it for Elizabeth but is truly not ready to enter society, and Darcy who just doesn't want to see Elizabeth and Georgiana changed into society ladies and doesn't want to share them with anyone. This combination is not allowing society to see the marriage in any kind of better light!

In addition, Caroline has her own very serious drama with the man she has chosen to replace Darcy in her affections. Meantime, Colonel Fitzwilliam is feeling that he no longer can sit back safely in the militia, and want to join the regulars in their fight against Napoleon. But, Lord Matlock is totally opposed to him putting himself in harms way.

One of the best aspects of this story is how three-dimensional the author has made our favorite characters. We see all sides of Elizabeth as she tries to stay true to herself, yet become the society matron the family needs her to be, and, in addition, be supportive of her husband in his struggles. Darcy may have improved himself for Elizabeth, but he is still Darcy - aloof, restrained, proud, and resistant to change. He fights this having to prove to society his marriage is strong and resents having to open up his heart for others to see, but he knows he must do this for Elizabeth. Georgiana is becoming more and more mature and worldly, yet cannot trust herself when it comes to relationships - how will she know who is sincere and who is not? Coming out is a frightening prospect, but she will do it for Elizabeth and her family. Even the minor characters are well drawn and we feel Caroline sinking into madness and Colonel Fitzwilliam's struggles to become his own man.

Finally we have the story that will continue into the third book of the series - that of Miss Anne de Bourgh. Anne has broken free of her mother and come to London to stay with the Matlocks. She has brought Mrs. Collins (the former Charlotte Lucas) with her as support. Anne is not a young ingenue, yet her heart is still very innocent and she is a bit naive. She is growing stronger and bolder and is having the time of her life in London - for once free of her mother's restrictions. All of this, however, places her at risk. Her family wish to see her enjoying herself, but they know her wealth puts her at risk for scoundrels and they are watching very carefully.

What I loved most about the story is the wonderful language in the writing. This sounds so much like the language of Austen's era. Not all authors can accomplish this, but this author writes very effectively with a tone of the Regency. All in all, I found this a very satisfactory read, as long as the reader is comfortable with series reading. The story does not end here, although some aspects are brought to conclusion.

Highly recommended for JAFF lovers, and those readers of Regency historic fiction.

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Friday, August 12, 2016

Most Truly by Reina M Williams - 5 Star - Great Character Development

Most Truly (Love at Pemberley, #1)Most Truly by Reina M. Williams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can honestly say that I am not a big fan of books about the side characters from Jane Austen books. Usually, I find little of interest about Kitty, etal. This short story was definitely a wake up for me on how lovely a story can be about side characters.

Since the book is short, so will be the review. This is a love story about Kitty and Colonel Fitzwilliam.

However, here is why I have given this story 5 stars: In a very short and sweet story, we see amazing character development by this author! Falling in love is not easy, and is filled with uncertainty and insecurity. Should I say this, should I do this, how will they take it, is this the right one, what if they reject me? etc. We see inside the hearts and minds of Kitty and Colonel Fitzwilliam as they experience these emotions as they also experience the joy of learning about each other and spending time together. But, in addition, we have some background that makes these characters unique. Colonel Fitzwilliam is still haunted by his time in battle and wonders about bringing his dark side to a marriage with such a young and innocent girl. Kitty is haunted by her life as the silly and irresponsible Bennet sister who followed in Lydia's footsteps and took no action to stop her ill-advised elopement with Wickham. In very short and spot on phrases, this author can draw you right in to the guilt and pain each of these two are experiencing, and the questioning they have about their readiness to marry. Really amazingly great writing. In very short spaces the author is also able to help us feel Anne developing a love for Alfred, Lord Matlock searching his soul for what he needs to do for his sons, Georgiana seeking a way to be the best friend possible, etc., etc.

Just a very lovely short story with tremendous character development in a condensed package. Wow. More, please.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Importance of Being Emma 3 stars - sexy, but harsh characters

The Importance of Being Emma (Darcy & Friends #1)The Importance of Being Emma by Juliet Archer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Importance of Being Emma is a modern, sexually charged, corporate view of the story of Emma originally written by Jane Austen. If one wishes to read a modern day comic romance without identifying it as being a variation of a Jane Austen novel, this is a fun story with a good bit of sexy romance. However, comparing it to Austen's Emma, this modernization did not improve on the original, offer the same kinds of insights as the original, nor present the characters in the same favorable light as the original.

Emma Woodhouse is a 23 year-old highly educated English woman who is now joining her father's business as its Marketing Director. She brings her MBA from Harvard with her as she seeks to bring Highbury Foods into the 21st Century. Her confidence and pig-headed stubbornness lead her to believe she has all she needs to take on this daunting task. Her father, on the other hand, believes Emma needs some help, as she will eventually take over all of the business from him. He seeks out an old family friend to mentor Emma.

In steps Mark Knightley. The Knightley and Woodhouse families have been neighbors and friends for decades. Emma's sister Izzy married John Knightley when Emma was a teenager, uniting the two families. Mark has always seen himself like an elder brother to Emma, who is about 12 years his junior. However, Mark has been in India working for his father's business concerns there, and has not seen Emma in many, many years. After seeing the gorgeous woman Emma has become, Mark is happy to take on the job of mentoring the young corporate go-getter.

As in the original, Emma sees herself as a successful matchmaker. Her father's personal assistant Kate has recently married, and Emma congratulates herself on being a major factor in getting Tom and Kate together. Emma is anxious to keep her skills honed and seeks to match up Harriet, the temp hired in Kate's place. Much of the story is based on Emma's attempts, as well as the other romances swirling around Emma and Harriet's lives. Let's just say, Emma is not quite as talented at this matchmaking role as she believes she is. She also is just a bit blind to the possibilities for her own romantic life.

I couldn't immediately put my finger on why this version of Emma did not fully satisfy me, but I think I may have finally come to the conclusion that the characters are just not the same kind of good people we found in Austen's version. For example, in the original, Mr. Knightley is a kind mentor to Emma whom she respects and admires. In this version, he has his head in his pants and provides advice to Emma in a very harsh and condescending manner. On several occasions he lets his mouth run off and actually says some fairly mean things to Emma. Emma is just harsh all the way around - it is rare in this version for her to say something nice to anyone, particularly Mark. Jane Fairfax is unattractive and boring and Flynn Churchill does not inadvertently hurt people as in the original. Instead, he kind of ignores the fact what he is doing or saying could be hurtful, and takes no responsibility for it.

The characters are not totally repellent - they are entertaining and funny. But, there is a harshness to the characters that does seem to detract from the romance. I didn't see what everyone saw in each other. However, the sex appeared to be good!

All in all, it was a cute story, but not a great compliment to the original. It just could have used a tiny bit more kindness.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Deception at Lyme by Carrie Bebris - Delicious 5 Star!

The Deception at Lyme: Or, The Peril of Persuasion (Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Mysteries, #6)The Deception at Lyme: Or, The Peril of Persuasion by Carrie Bebris
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I purchased this book in 2011, and for some reason I have never gotten around to reading it. I don't know why this happens, and sometimes, when I finally read the book I have put off, I discover I really was missing something. I loved this book. I will only make one complaint which will be at the end of the review, and think it might make this book actually a 4 1/2 star, but I will leave it at 5 for the official rating.

Carrie Bebris has written a series of books with Elizabeth and Darcy as sleuths. The Deception at Lyme is number 6 in the series. Throughout the stories, our dear couple find themselves somewhere in the midst of a murder mystery. (In this book Elizabeth comments "one of these days I would like to journey from Pemberley without encountering a single corpse). They are uniquely suited, with their intelligence, objectivity, and financial freedom, to investigate the crime. In addition, in each book they are in a local found in another of Jane Austen's books, and meet characters from her other books. In this story, you can see the subtitle is The Peril of Persuasion, so it makes complete sense for them to be traveling in Lyme and meeting the Elliots, the Wentworths, etal.

During their visit in Lyme, Darcy, Elizabeth, their daugher Lily-Anne, and Georgiana, along with friends, discover a woman who has fallen from the high wall of the Cobb, the sea wall at Lyme. Tragically the woman dies, but goes into labor prior to her death and delivers a live son. In seeking the identify of the woman and the father's child, they meet Sir Walter Elliot and Miss Elliot who are also staying in Lyme. The night before Mrs. Clay's death and the birth of her son, Sir Walter married her, making the boy Sir Walter's heir. Mr. Elliot, the prior heir, however, claims the boy as his son. All of this becomes tangled as Lily-Anne's behavior and a few words of the dying woman cause Elizabeth to question whether the fall was an accident or if the woman was pushed. Add to this the sea chest of Darcy's deceased cousin, Gerard Fitzwilliam, strange behavior on the part of a navy Lieutenant, and subtle hints of smuggling, and the story is filled with intrigue and mystery.

As I mentioned at the top of my review, there is one complaint I have with the story: just too many people are incidentally connected to the mystery and the back story. It just became a little too coincidental that everyone the Darcy's met eventually had some part to play in the story. The plotting was clever, and the involvement of the characters was well done, but it just felt a tiny bit contrived. Couldn't they have just met some people in Lyme that did not have an interest in the mystery?

However, having gotten that off my chest, I can say that I really loved The Deception at Lyme. Carrie Bebris has Darcy and Elizabeth down and so many of the little incidents or conversations caught me laughing right out loud. And, if you have read Persuasion, you know the Elliot family has quite a few odd ducks and Sir Walter Elliot is amazingly vain and full of his own consequence and that of his connections. Status is everything! And, this makes him so funny.

Darcy's dry humor is also present, and, of course, bounces off Elizabeth's wit very effectively. But, the author can simply put things in such a way that tickles my funny bone. In one inconsequential scene where the Darcys are getting to know the Wentworths (Frederick and Anne), Elizabeth and Anne are having a very lovely time, as young mothers do, talking about everything to do with their babies. After a couple of just heartfelt paragraphs describing this conversation, the author then states very baldly "Darcy was bored nearly to the limit of endurance." This had me totally on the floor. And, this happened many, many times throughout the book.

Of course, this is a murder mystery and not all fun and games, so there are many tense and sensitive moments as well. Pride and Prejudice both are expressed and we see a very interesting turn of events by the end of the book. I thought I saw this coming somewhere along the line, so there must have been some subtle foreshadowing by the author. The story comes to a very satisfying conclusion, although with a few surprises and disappointments for a couple of characters. But, hey, this is Darcy and Elizabeth - there will be a HEA!

Now I have to go back and see what others I have missed in this series. This one was just too delicious and I need more to feed my appetite. Very highly recommended!

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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Longbourn's Songbird by Beau North 5* Social commentary just like P&P

Longbourn's SongbirdLongbourn's Songbird by Beau North
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Longbourn's Songbird by Beau North is an unusual interpretation of Pride and Prejudice. So many of the variations are either set in the original Regency time frame or are set in current day. There are a few, however, set in another time frame, and this story is set in the 1940's post World War II.

In reading quotes from the author, it appears the story was set in this era in order to write a modern telling, yet set the variation in a time frame that would still be very restrictive. In the 1940's North Carolina, the Bennet sisters are experiencing the era where women are expected to step back into the traditional roles of mother and housewife after the soldiers returned home from the front. In addition, women were still considered property - of their fathers until they married and of their husbands afterward. The society of the time also found great limitations placed on a woman's independence - she was chaperoned and strict social niceties were to be shown. A young woman was certainly not expected to be sexually active.

Elizabeth Bennet finds herself entrapped two ways - in the restrictive world of the women of her era, as well as the isolation she has chosen based on her own heartbreaking situation, which we do not learn about until mid-story. She and the other young women around her (her sisters, Charlotte Lucas, Anne de Bourgh, even Caroline Bingley) are fighting to break free, yet stay respectable and protected by their families. Elizabeth is a talented singer and musician, but how can she do anything with this talent when marriage and motherhood are the expectations?

When Will Darcy and Charles Bingley arrive in Meryton, they are welcomed as would be any other unmarried, wealthy young men. Charles is immediately enamored with the angel of Jane Bennet. Will is practically frozen in fear of the passion he feels for Elizabeth, which causes him to act badly at first. He sees this amazing woman and hears her amazing voice and wants to run the other way to avoid the danger of his emotions. This relationship starts out just as badly as any other variation, but slowly our couple warm to each other. In the meantime, Jane Bennet and Charles Bingley are experiencing their own rocky relationship, but this time, Jane is the one placing the roadblocks. However, for Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, all bets are off when Richard Fitzwilliam, Will's cousin, arrives in Meryton with some shocking revelations.

The strength of this story lies in the constant undercurrents of racism, prejudice, abuse and sexism true to this time. In addition, we have the added concerns of young men returning from the traumas of war trying desperately to cope with their painful experiences and healing wounds. This is not a light romance, but I love to point out to people that Pride and Prejudice was not either. It was a social commentary with a romance making the major points about the class structure of the time and the pain of following societal expectations to the detriment of all. This story is also full of the pain of its time while filled with several love stories.

This is a well-written story with an intriguing and engaging set of characters. I found it hard to read at times, and I am certain others will reach for their tissues at the unfair treatment and sad experiences of several characters. The stories are told with truth and insight. But, it is the strength of Elizabeth breaking free of her world and the support she unexpectedly finds that makes this a story I can highly recommend to lovers of JAFF as well as other historical romances.

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Monday, August 1, 2016

Win, Lose or Darcy by Jennifer Joy 3 Stars Enjoyably luke warm

Win, Lose, or Darcy: A Pride & Prejudice VariationWin, Lose, or Darcy: A Pride & Prejudice Variation by Jennifer Joy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What would happen if Mrs. Bennet won the lottery and the extra money allowed for the entire family to move to London for the season? Although I really enjoyed reading "Win, Lose or Darcy", not a lot happened, actually, to make it that different from other stories.

In other words, Lydia and Kitty did not change, Mrs. Bennet did not change, Mr. Bennet did not change, etc. The only Bennet who appeared to benefit from their time in town was Mary, who was able to find a way to put her philosophies to work. And, Charlotte Lucas was also able to benefit, in a much more realistic and responsible manner, from Mrs. Bennet's win. Jane was heartbroken and Elizabeth came to see Mr. Darcy in a better light. Mr. Darcy came to the rescue and all ended with HEA for Jane and Elizabeth.

My favorite scene was, of course, Lydia's predicament at the frost fair where Elizabeth learns that Darcy is, in fact, just a boy, according to Miss Darcy, and has a sense of humor. However, throughout the book I felt like I was reading "scenes" and not crackling dialogue or people learning from their mistakes, or people falling in love. The angst was minimal, the romance warm not hot, and the mean people did not seem to get their comeuppance.

All in all, Win, Lose or Darcy is an enjoyable read, but not my favorite of Jennifer Joy. The story is light and cheery and clean, so I can recommend it to many JAFF lovers without any hesitation.

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