Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Many Lives of Fitzwilliam DarcyThe Many Lives of Fitzwilliam Darcy by Beau North
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In the film Groundhog Day, the character played by Bill Murray wakes each morning to realize he is reliving the same day over and over again. There is a lesson to be learned here, and it is not until the lesson is learned that he life can get back on track and move on to another day.

Well, Fitzwilliam Darcy has some lessons to be learned! We know from reading Pride and Prejudice that when he takes to heart what Elizabeth has said about him during his horrendous proposal at Hunsford and mends his ways, Mr. Darcy finds love and a happy ending. But, his evolution from the stiff, taciturn, and superior being who arrived at the assembly to the kind, accepting and loving man who returns to Longbourn to woo Elizabeth takes several months. What would have happened if Darcy learned the lessons and was able to prevent Elizabeth's anger during the proposal by fixing the problems and misunderstandings in advance?

In The Many Lives of Fitzwilliam Darcy, he is able to just that, with one major caveat. He does evolve, and he does correct everything, but only after replaying that same day over and over and over again, Groundhog Day style. Seriously, it takes him a long time! But, for the other characters in the story, no time has gone by at all.

This concept has been used before. I recall reading one where Darcy relived the assembly day over and over and over again. (I apologize to that author, as I cannot recall the title or author...) In that case Darcy had a chance to correct the original bad impression. Here, Darcy has much more to overcome. First, he needs to decide if Elizabeth is really what he wants. He then must identify what caused her great dislike of him and find a way to correct the impression. Then he must find a way to get her to consider him as a suitor.

This version by Beau North is very entertaining. Darcy has a lot of experiences and plays a lot of mischief that luckily disappears the next day when the day is repeated. But, he does learn, and he does change. Slowly, over time, he begins to see what it will take to become the man worthy of a woman like Elizabeth, and what changes he needs to make in his life to win her.

I very much enjoyed this story and highly recommend it to other JAFF lovers.

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Saturday, September 10, 2016

A Death at Rosings by Renata McMann 3 1/2 Stars Okay

A Death at Rosings: A Pride & Prejudice VariationA Death at Rosings: A Pride & Prejudice Variation by Renata McMann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rounding up to 4 stars from a real rating of 3 1/2 stars.

In this variation of Pride and Prejudice we have reached the time where Mr. Darcy has proposed to Elizabeth and been rejected. He has left the letter for her and departed from Rosings. Now comes the variation. When Mr. and Mrs. Collins, Elizabeth and Maria Lucas are invited to Rosings after Darcy and the Colonel have left, Lady Catherine becomes quite ill. In fact, she dies. Thus, the gentlemen return to Rosings to assist their cousin Miss Anne de Bourgh.

Just prior to their arrival, Anne sends for Elizabeth. She begs her to stay as her friend at Rosings to assist her in the transition. Anne does not trust men, although Darcy is the most reliable, and feels she needs a strong woman with her to help her stand up to the men and to give an honest opinion about how Anne is handling things. Elizabeth agrees and moves in at Rosings. In addition, Colonel Fitzwilliam must leave due to a serious medical issue with his father the Earl, Mrs. Jenkinson has been let go, a cousin of Anne's is asked to take her place, and Kitty Bennet is invited to visit.

At the outset, Anne makes a serious mistake. Lady Catherine has been over generous in what she has left her staff. When Anne determines she will pay it out immediately, she finds a seriously large portion of them give their notice because they now have enough money to retire, buy a bit of land, etc. Now we have very few people in the entire estate of Rosings capable of running the house, tending the animals, or managing the crops. Elizabeth and Darcy become the major players in helping to get things running smoothly again. Which, of course, brings them in daily contact.

This was a fine story and a nice variation. However, Darcy and Elizabeth worked quite hard to avoid resolving their differences. I found them both pretty annoying and their thoughts to be fairly repetitive. Their attraction was well written, but they didn't act on it much and it felt like both were too, too proper and unwilling to take any risks. Wickham and Lydia in their infamous elopement provide a bit of excitement, and there is a little twist here which makes it more interesting. But, still ODC can't seem to resolve anything.

I know it is a lot easier to be a Monday morning quarterback than to write a story myself, but I thought two things could have added to this storyline: I never saw the purpose of sending Colonel Fitzwilliam away - I would have left him at Rosings to be some competition for Darcy in gaining Elizabeth's notice. Secondly, Anne was subtly working to reform Kitty, but also doing a bit of matchmaking. I would have liked to see her spend a bit of time matchmaking with Darcy and Elizabeth.

So, an interesting twist to the original, but not as well executed as I have seen for this author in her other titles. Worth reading.

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Thursday, September 8, 2016

Infamous Relations by Catherine Bison 5* Very satisfying mystery with character twists

Infamous Relations: A Pride And Prejudice Infamous Relations: A Pride And Prejudice "What If?" Tale by Catherine Bilson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Infamous Relations had me from the beginning. It has several things going for it. This author just plain writes well. Although we as readers know the answer to the mystery, the author allows us to see how the characters resolve it and this is done very well.

However, to make this an interesting variation from canon, readers are always looking for something to make the story different from the original without straying too far. We see this in Infamous Relations in spades. We have always known Mr. Collins was a weak, toad of a man, but here we see just how low he can go given the right incentive. Lady Catherine is greedy, we know, but here we see just how quickly she will jump on a misfortune to make her wishes come true. And, from a positive standpoint, we have always been told what a good person Jane Bennet is. In this story she shows just how kind, strong and intelligent she can be if given a bit more stage time and has a beloved sister to protect. And, when shocked, Mr. Darcy can reveal just how strong his feelings are for Elizabeth.

After Elizabeth receives the letter from Mr. Darcy at Hunsford, she is attacked, but escapes. She heads for Rosings knowing Mr. Darcy will come to her rescue. But, a terrible storm has left her wet, she is distraught, and the path is wet and muddy. She takes a fall and is knocked unconscious. She is found by Colonel Fitzwilliam who returns with her to the parsonage. To the shock of Charlotte, the doctor examining Elizabeth discovers evidence of bruising from the attack. Dr. Trent, Charlotte and Colonel Fitzwilliam keep to themselves this last piece thinking they will both preserve Elizabeth's reputation and investigate quietly to bring the attacker to justice.

The story now centers around who should be told what and how the mystery is solved. This is very finely expressed by the author and we see how the characters work out the solution. In addition, Darcy is so totally devastated by Elizabeth's accident that he reveals how much he cares about her to pretty much everyone, including Lady Catherine and Anne. But, the letter was found and read by Lady Catherine, adding another twist to the story.

I love to use the word satisfying to describe a book. To me this is a great compliment. It indicates the story raised expectations in the reader, created enough tension to keep the reader engaged, and then finished off the story in a manner that meets or exceeds those expectations. This was a very satisfying Pride and Prejudice variation. I can hardly wait to read more by Catherine Bilson. Highly recommended, particularly to purists who want to see their characters true to canon, but are happy to see circumstances cause them to become greater versions of themselves.

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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Coming of Age of Elizabeth Bennet by Caitlin Williams 5* Love warts and all

The Coming of Age of Elizabeth BennetThe Coming of Age of Elizabeth Bennet by Caitlin Williams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Many readers may agree reading about unlikable characters is not agreeable to either party. However, in recent years very famous examples have crept up, such as Gone Girl and Girl on a Train, where the story so thoroughly involves the reader this fact is all but forgotten. Such it is for large portions of The Coming of Age of Elizabeth Bennet.

In essence, I found this title to be divided into three sections: Elizabeth and Darcy both disagreeable and immature, Elizabeth maturing and Darcy still disagreeable and immature, and finally both characters maturing into admirable and likable characters. However, when you know the author has intended this to be true, and the writing of the plot itself is so fine, this can be forgiven. This story has the ability to capture the reader's attention immediately and to keep it throughout the long story to follow.

Not to say that this is some major adventure story. It is, still, in essentials, a character study, and a discussion of the society of the Regency period. Class, position and money are still the qualities admired, and those without are barely noticed, and are considered to be inferior in essentials.

In the original Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth is 20 years of age and Darcy is 28 with some background and experience that have made them a bit more aware of the world around them and the intrinsic value of individuals, despite their personal misunderstandings. However, in this tale, Elizabeth is a quite child-like 15 and Darcy a still swaggering, superior 23 years of age when they meet. This sets the stage for even more volatility as neither has learned any of the real lessons of self-restraint and compassion. Both are very self-centered; Elizabeth due to youth and Darcy due to being a spoiled arse.

Mr. Bennet has died and left his family destitute. However, as a last moment bid to ensure a good life for his favorite daughter, he reaches out to request a favor of a great friend from his youth, George Darcy. Mr. Darcy agrees to accept Elizabeth as his ward and take her to Pemberley to be raised side by side with his daughter Georgiana. Father and son Darcy arrive with a new governess to collect Elizabeth and bring her to Pemberley.

Fearing the restrictions of this new life, Elizabeth bolts and, dressed as a young boy, makes her escape. Young Mr. Darcy, Fitzwilliam, takes after her with the thrill of the hunt, his father's warning to not be alone with her ringing in his ears. However, chaos and scandal ensue and the honorable son takes the child Elizabeth as his bride. Both parties are very bitter about the sacrifice they are making to avoid scandal and a very acrimonious forced marriage scenario begins. The story then takes us over several years as both attempt to avoid the marriage and the marriage partner. We slowly - ever slowly - see the young couple work through their differences, as they each mature and begin to make better choices, however, at different paces.

Although the story sounds simple, it contains the complexity of the two main characters as its center piece. I found I did not like either of them at the beginning and wondered how the author would bring them together. But, the arguments were realistic, the back story for each character's pain very understandable, and the building of the relationship was slow but logical in its growth. The author allows the reader to feel for the characters what they feel for each other; first bitterness and dislike, and eventually understanding and affection.

As in many other forced marriage variations, Elizabeth builds support around her from the minor characters, such as Colonel Fitzwilliam and his mother, the Countess of Matlock. We also see the influence of Mrs. Gardner and Mr. Bingley in softening the hearts of the main characters. Occasionally we see both on the verge of making possibly disastrous choices, but then feel the pull of family and duty to bring them back to the right path. It is not until later they realize they feel this obligation to each other with a stronger feeling than simply duty.

Of course, we have those who are mean spirited - Miss Bingley and her ilk. We have those intent on destroying the couple - Mr. Wickham. But, we also have the cast of characters we have loved from the original, and, occasionally, some of the original writings of Austen used to great effect, although often in different circumstances. There are some minor storylines that add additional spice.

Although a long book, I found myself starting to wish it would not end. The characters grow on you and become friends and family. The author creates very three dimensional characters with warts and all, but Elizabeth's thoughts on loving others despite their flaws is a beautiful passage and the reader begins to feel the same. I guess I loved this book because of the flawed characters, and added in the flaws of the text as just another piece of the whole to be loved. This is quite a satisfying variation and a talented author. Highly recommended.

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Monday, September 5, 2016

Reduced Circumstances by Ola Wegner 4 stars with pluses and minuses

Reduced CircumstancesReduced Circumstances by Ola Wegner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reduced Circumstances has Elizabeth as a fairly changed woman due to circumstances that took place after she refused Darcy at Hunsford. Mr. Bennet dies leaving his family impoverished. This changes all of the conditions of the Bennet family members. But, other situations have effected Elizabeth's view of the world and her ability to trust.

Although Jane marries (not to Bingley), which saves the family financially, Elizabeth determines she does not wish to be a burden to anyone. She accepts a position of companion to an elderly woman in Leeds. At the beginning of our story it is now several years later. Elizabeth's employer, Mrs. Walker, has died and Elizabeth has had to flee Leeds. Mrs. Walker's family has accused her of stealing and had previously attempted to ruin her reputation. On her way to London, she meets with Mr. Darcy and Miss Darcy and they convince her to accept a ride with them. Darcy has never married, nor forgotten the woman he loves. This meeting recommences the relationship of Darcy and Elizabeth.

What makes this variation interesting is the changes brought about to Elizabeth by her experience in Leeds with the Walker family. Although treated well by her employer, she lived a lonely existence. Being mistreated by her employers children and grandchildren for no apparent reason has caused Elizabeth to learn to mistrust for the first time in her life. She is not the lively and happy person she was when Darcy knew her. She is also struggling to trust anyone. This changes the dynamic of the couple.

This variation works, for the most part. It is hard to see why Darcy is still so set on marrying Elizabeth and why he is pushing her when he had indicated he would not. Elizabeth waffles back and forth, and it is also not easy to see why she eventually accepts and learns to trust Darcy. I felt the story somehow lacked pivotal moments to bring about the changes to the relationship. It appears the sexual relationship was a major factor, but this didn't really work for me. However, I enjoyed seeing this more mature Elizabeth relearning to trust.

One minor point of irritation for me was the author's misuse of the term "my person". She used it to mean the whole being, as in "My mother appears to take interest in my person only when she sees that it benefits her.". The term is usually used to reflect the persons body, as in "please remove your hands from my person". I found this misuse sprinkled throughout the book to be slightly distracting.

All in all, this was an interesting and unique variation with pluses and minuses. I am rounding up the rating to 4 stars, but would say it was actually 3 1/2. But, worth reading for the premise and the interesting change to Elizabeth's character.

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Friday, September 2, 2016

Darcy By Any Other Name by Laura Hile - 5star story of body switching

Darcy By Any Other NameDarcy By Any Other Name by Laura Hile
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first read Darcy By Any Other Name as the author posted it chapter by chapter on an online fan fiction website. It was just torment having to wait a week or even two before seeing where the story was going. Reading it in basically one sitting was a far superior reading experience for me. Even knowing what was going to happen this time around I still found myself unable to do anything for an entire day except read this to completion. It is definitely a unique P&P variation, and one with quite a fascinating lesson.

At the Netherfield ball Darcy steps outside for a bit of fresh air and is followed by the obsequious Mr. Collins. As a storm is brewing, they take shelter in a folly which is filled with statues of men from the bible and citations of various biblical texts. They are struck by lightning and a miraculous thing occurs - they switch bodies. The fabulously wealthy, powerful and handsome Mr. Darcy finds himself in the body of the pudgy, penniless parson, and Mr. Collins awakens to a life of luxury in an amazing body, but with duty and responsibility bearing down on him.

This is just a tremendous premise. We see Darcy experiencing what it is like to be disrespected and condescended to. However, he also has the opportunity to improve how the Bennet family, especially Elizabeth, views Mr. Collins. On the other hand, Mr. Collins gets to see what it is like to have servants waiting on him, the finest clothing, food, drink and cigars, and Miss Bingley at his beck and call. But, he is also in a position to really mess things up for Mr. Darcy, as his limited knowledge and few skills cause Lady Catherine, etal, to conclude the lightning strike has robbed Darcy of his mental faculties.

So, the author has provided us with several fascinating plot twists with questions to be answered. Will Mr. Darcy and Mr. Collins ever be able to switch back to their own bodies? If not, how will they handle their lives so their families don't send them to Bedlam? Will Elizabeth fall in love with the man she thinks is Mr. Collins and what will happen if they are able to switch back? Then we have side issues with Wickham, Anne de Bourgh, Mr. Bennet, etc. There is just so much going on and so many ways things can go wrong that simply propel the reader through this story.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the story is what the two main characters, Darcy and Collins, are taught about themselves and their world. This is definitely a story about pridefulness. In addition, the writing is so good and the characters so well rounded. I know I will read this one again. Highly, highly recommended.

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Thursday, September 1, 2016

Fated to Meet by Madeline Kennet - 5* Fluff

Fated to Meet: A Pride and Prejudice VariationFated to Meet: A Pride and Prejudice Variation by Madeline Kennet
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sometimes one just wants Darcy and Elizabeth to have fewer problems to overcome in their relationship. Occasionally one just wants to see the romantic aspects of P&P. Fated to Meet is a nice antidote to the angst and issues so often faced by our dear couple.

Fated to Meet is a very short variation where Elizabeth and Darcy have several silent encounters in London. As their eyes meet in various situations, they form impressions of each other and they wish to meet. But, circumstances keep them apart. The reader is left to wonder if they will ever meet.

But, they do, of course, as they are Fated to Meet. This is a very sweet story and just a bit of fluff to lighten up your day. Appreciating it for what it is, it is highly recommended.

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