Sunday, January 15, 2017

Undone Business - 3 1/2 of 5 stars - two for the price of one is not always a bargain.

Undone Business: A Pride and Prejudice Novella VariationUndone Business: A Pride and Prejudice Novella Variation by Rose Fairbanks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this book twice before reviewing as there was something that bothered me about it, but it took me a while to figure it out. I enjoyed the stories very much, but something didn't sit right.

This story is basically the story of both Bennet sisters; Elizabeth and Jane. The first portion of the book is almost strictly Elizabeth, but after she reaches an understanding with Darcy, the story shifts more closely to Jane.

Undone Business follows canon Pride and Prejudice fairly straightforwardly until we hit Darcy's proposal to Elizabeth at Hunsford. One thing slightly different from canon is the thoughts we hear from both Elizabeth and Darcy. Rose Fairbanks has let us into their minds a little bit so that we see more clearly what Darcy was thinking leading up to the proposal and what Elizabeth was thinking that allowed her mind to change fairly quickly in her feelings towards Darcy once the misunderstandings had been cleared up. Where the story takes the variation away from canon is that Darcy does not simply leave Elizabeth with a letter to read. Instead, he stays and explains to her his relationships with both Bingley and Wickham and how this has colored his actions. In this variation, Darcy explains himself such that Elizabeth begins to see his protectiveness of both she and Jane in his beliefs and actions. The writing in this portion of the story is lovely and the story of Darcy and Elizabeth is very sweet.

The second portion of the story involves Jane. When Darcy explains himself to Bingley, Charles makes a totally different choice from canon. This time he determines too much time has passed and he does not believe he will be received well by Jane. So Jane's story goes in a totally different direction from canon. She experiences a season in town with Elizabeth and Darcy after they are married and she is surprised by a prior acquaintance connected to the new residents of Netherfield. Jane turns out to be a much less serene angel and proves to be more like her sister Elizabeth than previously thought. Her heart is broken by Bingley, she is totally unnerved by her mother, and she longs to have what Elizabeth has found.

My problem with this story is the fact that it is two separate stories. Both appear to be artificially shortened in order to fit them into one book. I so wish the author had chosen to separate this into two books and expand upon both stories, but especially Jane's. She has two valid suitors in a very short space of time. We don't have an opportunity to experience any of the courtship with Jane. Yes, you don't fall in love with everyone who fancies you, but we saw very little of the interaction with Jane's suitors such that we have any preference for one over the other. Why did Jane pick the one she did? Show me, let me hear their conversations, and give them some time to understand each other before you yank one away and give the other Jane's whole heart. And, this Jane was not the bland Jane we see in most stories. This one has life and fire. Can't we see more of her life and her experiences? Let us see what Bingley missed and the two new suitors discovered.

So, although I enjoyed this story, I am confident this author could have given us one novella about Darcy and Elizabeth and probably an entire novel about Jane's story. Missed opportunity. What I discovered is the feeling that bothered me about this book was the frustration I felt knowing this could have been something wonderful. 3 1/2 stars rounded up to 4.

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Thursday, January 5, 2017

A Merry Darcy Christmas by Emma Dow 4 of 5 stars - New Author

A Merry Darcy Christmas: A Pride and Prejudice Variation (Jane Austen's Darcy and Elizabeth Holiday Series Book 1)A Merry Darcy Christmas: A Pride and Prejudice Variation by Emma Dow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I rounded this up from 3 1/2 stars to 4 stars.

This is a very sweet tale of the Christmas following the Easter after Darcy's proposal at Huntsford. However, a couple of things were changed. Elizabeth did not accept and read Darcy's letter, and the two did not meet at Pemberley during the summer. Darcy and Bingley did not return to Hertfordshire. So, now, at Christmas, it has been a year since Bingley left Netherfield, and Darcy has not seen Elizabeth since Easter.

Lady Catherine has invited the entire Bennet family for Christmas to Rosings Park. In addition, although originally planning to stay in London for Christmas, Darcy has a problem he must resolve with Lady Catherine and changes his mind. He will also be at Rosings for Christmas. Being the person she is, Miss Bingley outright asks Darcy to include the Bingleys in the invitation. The Bennets do not know this party will be joining them, and Darcy and his group do not know the Bennets will be present. What will happen when they all meet? In addition, Lady Catherine has a big set of plans for the holidays. Why did she invite the Bennets?

The author indicates this is the first JAFF story she has written and I did see a couple of issues. I certainly enjoyed the story, but the author missed some great opportunities had she but increased the length of the story. Lady Catherine has invited a very large party of people to Rosings for the holidays. Although several new characters were introduced, I think much more could have been done with this. For example, this would have provided a great opportunity for Darcy and Bingley to experience some real competition for the hearts of their love interests. In addition, the development of relationships could have been spelled out in more detail. We heard about people falling in love, but we never saw it ourselves. I would have liked to have seen Bingley struggle to get Jane's attention. What about what was going on with Anne? Let's see some of it. And, even Darcy and Elizabeth seemed to have gone awfully fast in their resolution. Show us how this happened, don't just tell us. We need some loving and emotional scenes. Again, I would just say the author could have generously increased the length of the story by adding in some love scenes and some falling in love scenes. And, finally, on this issue, what about Kitty and Mary? Couldn't there have been at least something starting for either of them?

Then, there are some errors. Although Lydia has only aged one year, Georgiana, who in canon is slightly younger, has aged three years and is now turning eighteen. I would suggest the author would have been better to leave her unattached in this story and focus on some of the other couples. Anne is not given the title of Lady by Austen. There are several things not explained in the story that make you wonder how various characters got their information. And, the story really needed more proof reading. I amuse myself by sending in corrections to Amazon from my Kindle. I don't know if they go anywhere, but would like to see some of them updated in the text. To be honest, the thought crossed my mind the author might not be a native English speaker.

But, I hate to dwell solely on the issues. This was a sweet story and shows the author has great potential. I can hardly wait to see what she writes next. I do hope she has a beta helping her to explore some more depth in her writing. Despite the issues, I do recommend this lovely little Christmas romance to other Austen JAFF readers.

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Sunday, January 1, 2017

Jane Fairfax by Joan Aiken - 4 of 5 Stars

Jane FairfaxJane Fairfax by Joan Aiken
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I struggled to get myself totally interested in this book, Jane Fairfax, and have also struggled to figure out why. This is a well written book, and the character of Jane Fairfax is fairly complex and interesting. I enjoyed the writing and the character. So, why did I keep putting off reading this book when it has been on my TBR pile for years?

Emma is one of my favorite Jane Austen stories and I always found the character of Emma to be so agreeably flawed. You just see her rushing pell-mell into one mess after another. She is so obviously wrong about so many things and is adamant she is right. The biggest thing she is wrong about is Jane Fairfax. Jane is everything Emma is not - hard working, talented, beautiful, admired by all, a considerate friend and family member. It is no wonder Emma dislikes her so much; she is so close to perfection. I wonder if this isn't what kept me from reading her story. How could someone so perfect be anything but boring?

But, Jane Fairfax is not boring. She is actually quite courageous and a very good friend. As a poor girl without any prospects, poor Jane faces a life of servitude. At least she has people who will help her become educated so she may become a governess worthy of being hired by a good family. Jane dreads this. Who would look forward to raising someone else's children and being a servant after living the life of a beloved almost daughter to Colonel and Mrs. Campbell? Who would want to give up her friendship with Rachel who has almost become like a sister to her? Jane has no future as anything but a governess as she has no dowry or societal connections, so she must find employment. But, what Jane doesn't realize is no one else really wants her to become a governess either. They want Jane to find love and marriage and they are putting off as long as possible the time for her to find a job. Jane is loved by the Campbell family and her Aunt Hetty and Grandmama. They all wish her well.

So, Jane is now sort of stuck in a world where she is floating without a real place. She doesn't belong in the society of the Campbell family and she can't live in Highbury for ever without some income. Who would blame her for dreaming of love and marriage with first a man from her childhood, then the man who is the love of her best friend, and then finally, the young man she has barely noticed as he has been falling in love with her? She is heading home for a visit to her Aunt and Grandmother at Highbury and her life is so up in the air and her future is not defined. Can anyone blame her for accepting a secret engagement?

Jane Fairfax allows us to meet and know Jane as she was from childhood and what her experiences were prior to the action of the book Emma. We also see Jane as she views the world from the other side of Emma's matchmaking schemes and theorizing about the lives of those around her. In Emma we see how Miss Woodhouse views Jane Fairfax, but in this title, we see how Emma is viewed, and disliked, by Jane. See? Jane isn't really all that perfect and she is perfectly aware of what Emma is doing. In addition, she is very uncomfortable keeping her secret from all of her family and friends, and Frank's antics with Emma do not help make life any easier.

I still like Emma, but Jane Fairfax is a fascinating view of the other side and provides the perspective of someone who cannot find Emma amusing. This is very well written and I think JA would approve. Definitely recommended. It should be noted, however, that this book is not available as an ebook.

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