Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Pemberley Chronicles: A Woman of Influence by Rebecca Ann Collins

I was pleasantly surprised by this book (my fears for it being expressed in my review of the last, Recollections from Rosings), which proved to be another tale of second attachments, this time focused on Becky Tate (daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Collins). A Woman of Influence sees Becky an established widow, comfortable in her singleness, discovering the joys of love that were absent from her marriage. However, the first half of the book focuses more on Becky's attempts to aid an unrelated character, Alice Grey, to reunite with her husband, falsely accused and incarcerated. Ms. Collins has a tendency to do this: to insert a side story, usually reflective of her characters' reformist propensities, but with little to do with the chronicling the lives of the Darcys, Bingleys, Gardiners, Fitzwilliams, and Collinses. This is particularly frustrating as we approach the final book and the increasingly obvious truth that Lizzy, Darcy, Jane, and Bingley cannot possibly live much longer.

Ms. Collins almost never includes specific dates in her books, but in this one she places the action firmly in the years 1868-1869. This means, best case scenario, that Lizzy is in her seventies and Darcy in his eighties. Though neither make frequent appearances in this volume and their ages are never addressed, that time is slipping away can be clearly felt, particularly in Lizzy. Mrs. Darcy has become very much the grand old lady, in many ways not terribly dissimilar from Lady Catherine. On the few occasions (mostly towards the end of the book) when she takes center stage, her outspoken nature reminds the reader that this is no longer Lizzy Bennet of Longbourn, nor has she been in many years, but a very wealthy lady who has spent the vast majority of her life in command, with her opinions and ideas treated with respect and deference. Note the manner in which she comments on Becky's second match:
"Have they?" said Elizabeth. "Well, I suppose it is not an unsuitable match."

"No indeed," said Mr Darcy. "They are both persons of independent means and, I daresay, mature enough to know their own minds."

"Which is certainly more than could be said for Becky when she married Anthony Tate in such a precipitate fashion," Elizabeth remarked, recalling the day she had heard the news from her sister Jane.

"Why, Becky was scarcely seventeen. When Jane told me of their engagement, you could have knocked me down with a feather. It had all happened so suddenly, I was afraid it would end in tears, and it did. Tate was only interested in business and politics, and poor Becky, for all her hard work, was treated rather shabbily when he left everything to Walter and that dreadful wife of his. Everybody knows she is a grasping, unpleasant sort of person."

Mr Darcy then reminded his wife that Mr Tate had also left the entire proceeds of his American estate in trust for Becky's use and she did get the house in London. To which Elizabeth had to add that it was no more than she deserved, considering all the hard work Becky had done, lobbying for her husband's favorite causes and promoting his business ventures.

"It beggars belief that he could be so unfeeling as to leave their family home to Walter, suggesting that he reach some accommodation with his mother. It was a callous, heartless thing to do, and I am sure Becky was very hurt," she said.
No, it's not quite, "I must have my share of the conversation," but Elizabeth's tone resembles Lady Catherine's more than her own, youthful self.

Usually there books end with an indication of the story line in the next, but not this one. This increases my sense that the final book, entitled The Legacy of Pemberley (due out in November), will see a return to our original cast as they wrap up their lives. I am both excited to get back to the characters I love so much but also terrified that it will be unbearably depressing. A few more months will tell.

Read my other Pemberley Chronicles posts: 
Books 1 - 6
Book 7
Book 8

Monday, July 26, 2010

"Celebrating Georgette Heyer" at Austenprose

O.K. all you Heyer fanatics, get ready for the ultimate Heyer tribute. Laurel Ann of Austenprose is hosting "Celebrating Georgette Heyer" throughout the month of August. Thirty-four of her historical romances will be reviewed by a variety of bloggers, including myself (on August 18th I'm reviewing Cotillion, one of my very favorite Heyer novels). Best of all, as I have fallen way behind on Heyer posts, this event will give me the excuse to comment on  the books I have read without having to write real reviews. What could be more felicitous than indulging my passion while fostering laziness? So ladies, put on your best bonnets, and gentlemen, wear your most impeccable cravats, as we take a look in on goings on of the haut ton. It is sure to be a raucous good time.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Mercy's Embrace Winner

Thanks to everyone who entered the Mercy's Embrace giveaway! The winner of copies of each volume, signed by author Laura Hile, is:


Congratulations! I will pass your email on to Ms. Hile, who will contact you to learn your mailing address.

And, as promised, here are the answers to the Elizabeth Elliot quiz. Happy weekend everybody!

1) What is Elizabeth birth date?

June, 1, 1786

2) How old was Elizabeth when her mother died?


3) Why does Elizabeth not enjoy reading the Baronetage as much as her father?

Because it forces her to confront that Mary is married while she remains single and because the listing of Mr. Elliot as heir apparent is a reminder of her disappointed expectations in him.

4) How does Elizabeth commemorate the death of Mrs. Elliot?

 By wearing black ribbons.

5) In what two manners does Elizabeth attempt to economize?

She cuts off unnecessary charities and refrains from refurbishing the drawing room.

6) Regarding what does Sir Walter recommend Elizabeth be on her guard?

Her flower garden.

7) What does Anne wish Elizabeth could hear their father say?

That Gowlands has carried Mrs. Clay's freckles away.

8) Why does Elizabeth argue that Mrs. Clay should ride in Lady Dalrymple's barouche rather than Anne.

Because she already has a little cold.

9) What does Elizabeth do the first time she meets Captain Wentworth in Bath?

She snubs him.

10) What causes Elizabeth to suffer when the Musgroves arrive in Bath?

The question of whether or not to invite the Musgroves to dinner, thereby allowing them to observe the reduction in the Elliot's lifestyle.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Interview with Casey Childers, author of Twilight of the Abyss

I highly enjoyed Twilight of the Abyss (read my review here), Casey Childers first novel. She and I made contact after I posted the review, and she very kindly consented to an interview. I love the depth with which she answered my questions, most of which are based on Austen and her book but some of which address information I gleaned from her newly launched blog, The Newlywed Austenite. I hope you all will check it out and that you thoroughly enjoy the interview!

1. Congratulations on your recent marriage! As a romance writer, I hope you are willing to share a little of your own story. I am always comparing my husband to Mr. Darcy (poor man - it’s way too much to live up to!). Do you relate your relationship to any of those in Austen?

Certainly. It is difficult to avoid it! Austen sets her heroes up to be just so! Obviously, it is especially difficult not to compare David to Mr Darcy, because in essentials, he is my Darcy--or more specifically--he is my great Austen hero. If I could liken him more specifically to a character, I would probably have to say it is Henry Tilney. Although he doesn't exactly know muslin, he has easy manners and loves to tease me as Henry loved to do to Catherine. David and I met nearly two years ago and had our first date on November 2nd. One year later, on November 7th, he proposed with a box full of Taco Bell hot sauce packets that said "Will You Marry Me?" I looked up in surprise, and he said, "Well, will you?" It was all very sweet. If you've never noticed that Taco Bell has those packets that say "Will You Marry Me?" now you will. We were married six months later on June 5th (we're very big on the first weekend of the month). From our first date, I knew he was someone special. He made me laugh, had a good heart, and actually watched all five hours of Pride and Prejudice with me! David and I are most happy doing our best to make one another happy. He indulges my writing hobby and swears one day I'll make him a million dollars, and I indulge his gross exaggerations of my abilities, haha. In all seriousness, though we had it much easier than Darcy or Elizabeth usually have it in any version of their story, I think we'll be very happy for a long time to come.

2. Your wedding was entirely Austen themed (pictures can be viewed at Ms. Childers’ blog), which begs a variety of questions: how did you come up with the idea, what was your favorite themed item (I loved the programs folded like old letters and sealed with wax!), and how did you convince your husband to go along with it?

You know, I love the Regency period and the simplicity of things that comes from a simpler time in life. I decided to plan my wedding around that theme, because I already collect and decorate with little trinkets and designs that remind me of that time and of props I might see in a period movie. It sounds silly, but I will watch period movies for ideas on how to decorate my house! I think it goes along with the Southerner in me. I grew up in a simple place, raised by grandparents who come from a different time. I'm really attracted to maintaining that simplicity in my own life, and thus, the combination of a small Austen themed wedding in the country seemed like the most obvious option. At any rate, it gave me an opportunity to indulge something that I had only toyed with in moderation prior. I had so much fun!

I think the love letter programs with wax were my favorite also--namely because they were completely my own idea. On the inside, I wrote the programs just like a love letter, beginning with "My dearest loves," and it was in Jane Austen's handwriting font. I used that same font for my invitations. 

My second favorite was just a coincidence. A day before the wedding, I finally went to get the book boxes. I was sure they wouldn't have enough "Pride and Prejudice" boxes at Garden ridge and so resigned myself to having to buy a few different kinds. However, I got in there and they must have had a shipment or something, because they had something like fifteen "Pride and Prejudice" boxes. It was awesome because I only needed seven. I got so lucky, and I was delighted to be able to put Austen on every table.

As I mentioned before, David is very indulgent when it comes to my Austen fetish, and was happy to sit back and let me have at it if it meant he didn't have to do much of anything. I did run everything by him as I did it though, and he helped as much as I would allow. Thank goodness he didn't mind!

3. How did you first fall in love with Austen?

It is kind of a funny story, really, because the first time I tried to read Jane Austen, I hated it. Granted, I was about thirteen years old, in a car with my family driving to Myrtle Beach for a week. The novel was Sense and Sensibility, which is ironically now my favorite. I couldn't understand how everyone was named Mrs/Miss/Mr Dashwood. I still have that copy of S&S, it's pretty ratty now, but it has since been read and enjoyed thoroughly. 

In my senior year of high school, my teacher offered me Pride and Prejudice as an alternative to what the class was reading (I am notoriously scared of the dark, and was worried about how I would sleep after reading Dracula). I don't know what she expected, but I think she was pleasantly surprised with how much I loved it! I ended up making her an obnoxious 45 page PowerPoint presentation about the entire book. I later found out that she had actually never read the book herself, and my enthusiasm motivated her to read P&P and subsequently all of Austen's novels. A peek at her online teaching information reveals that she has now added Austen to the curriculum! As for me, I have been a huge Austen fan ever since. 

4. In Twilight of the Abyss, Elizabeth Bennet suffers terribly when Mr. Darcy withdraws from her life due to a family scandal. What was your motivation/inspiration for putting Elizabeth through such acute torment (I couldn’t stop crying)?

I had several elements of inspiration for that story. I wanted to combine the idea of Darcy and Elizabeth falling in love, and put Elizabeth in the shoes of canon Jane in London after Darcy leaves instead of Bingley. I had this emotional scene in my head, inspired by Marianne Dashwood's seaside heartbreak, of Elizabeth looking out at a gloomy beach sunset with her heart just aching with longing. It moved me to think of her like that. I wanted her to experience something like what Darcy might have gone through after she declined his proposal in the original. Of course, I couldn't leave Darcy out of the mix, I wanted him to feel as deeply as she did.

Firstly, everything I write relies on where my heart is at the time. I can't write happy and be sad, and I can't write sad and be happy. I have to draw from something emotionally to have a sincere product that is worth reading. While I was writing Twilight of the Abyss, I was going through some personal sadness, as my father's marriage was crumbling, and dealing with my young sister's pain at being caught in the middle of the crossfire. I needed an outlet for such melancholy. I turned down the lights, I lit candles, put actual pen to paper and even made myself cry. I thought of what that is like, to love someone and them not love you back, to feel so hopeless when things happen that you can't control or change, and I focused on how that changes people. I didn't want them to suffer for nothing. I wanted them both to learn things about themselves, and even change for the better. Darcy ultimately learns something valuable from the cousin he was so determined to disdain and censure for choosing to have what Darcy gave up. Elizabeth learns that she can't internalize everything, that it only festers that way. She learns to trust people more with her feelings and that, ultimately, you have administer to your own happiness. My characters overcome a lot, but they ultimately come out on the other side. As sad as the bulk was, I really wanted the story to also be one of hope. That it doesn't have to be so hard forever. I didn't just want them to suffer in vain.  

5. One of my favorite parts of your book is your development of Jane Bingley, who is much more feisty and outspoken in your hands than she is typically portrayed. Please tell us a bit about your decision to highlight this aspect of her character?

I have given a lot of thought to and even struggled with what type of person Jane Bennet is, because I have a hard time understanding how such serene sweetness can perpetuate through all situations. I cannot discount that such goodness exists, and yet I felt she could be developed a little bit. Of course, she is going to be protective of Elizabeth. Think back to how protective Elizabeth was of her. Elizabeth's behavior in Twilight of the Abyss could test the patience of a saint, hence when Jane finally loses her temper with her sister, I think it's really important. Who else is Elizabeth going to listen to a sit down from above Jane? Who else is there to do the job once they've reached this point?

And then, naturally, Jane is going to have a hard time forgiving Darcy for what he's done. I believe offenses against the people we love are much more difficult to forgive than the one's committed against ourselves. Besides, someone needed to provide relief from all immediate happiness at D&E's engagement. Jane doesn't allow Darcy to instantly forget all the pain he's caused, especially since Elizabeth does not ask him to atone for it. She is a very important link to this story, and thus I allowed her affection for Elizabeth to give her a more substantial and emotional character.

6. What are you currently writing? More Austen variations?

The next story that will be available in hard copy is called "Single Until...". The story is a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice through the eyes of relationship columnist Elizabeth Bennet. It is a lighthearted comedy, and I had a lot of fun writing it.

I am currently writing another modern that pays particular attention to the differences of Southern culture: between those of us who live in the country, and the old money families that live in the city and metro-area of Atlanta. Like I did with my wedding, I've combined the Southerner and Austen and I'm seeing what I can come up with. I've also got some more Regencies up my sleeve, including one with a mentally unstable Georgiana that I'm excited about finishing.

7. What other authors are amongst your favorites?

This is such a difficult question for me to answer concisely. The list is huge! In particular, I love Harper Lee, Helen Fielding, Rebecca Wells, Virginia Woolf, J.K. Rowling, and James Dickey. To Kill a Mockingbird is my favorite non-Austen novel. 

8. You just launched a blog, The Newlywed Austenite. How are you enjoying it so far? When I first started blogging, I had no idea what a prominent and fulfilling part of my life it would become. Any surprises thus far?

I have dabbled in blogging before, but I've never been that great with having a theme or direction. I decided that I wanted some sort of sounding board that wasn't necessarily linked to Austen Underground, of which I am a co-founder/owner, and I could still chat about Austen and my own writing. I'm surprised about how much I love sitting down and chatting about my ideas and what I'm writing about. I have decided not to review books for the sake of reviewing them, rather I'm just going to point out what it is that I am reading and what I like about it. I want it to be conversational and honest. I want to talk about Austen, writing, and trying to live up to the expectations associated with being a good Southern wife, and chronicle my successes and failures with it all. I basically want a chance for people to get to know me outside of just my writing or just being an administrator at Austen Underground. I have an intense appreciation for Jane Austen that goes further than just Pride and Prejudice, I have an appreciation of books and words in general, I'm a burgeoning educator, and I'm struggling to find the most fitting niche from which I can build my writing. It at least gives me something to talk about, so I decided that it might be nice to put myself out there.

What's surprising is I've been having to pace myself. I have so many ideas about what I want to write about and discuss that I had to tell myself to stop posting all at once. I've instead been writing blog ideas on post-its and leaving them on my desk for later. I have to remind myself to have just one post a day right now. 

9. Please tell us about some of your non-Austen interests and hobbies.

The easiest answer is loving to read in general. I love books, and I have so many that my husband begs me to avoid bookstores!  Writing is my hobby. When David goes into his office to play his computer game, I go into mine, close the door and write. As I mentioned in passing, I am also finishing up my degree in English Education, so I spend a lot of time reading young adult novels (some of them are absolutely wonderful) and doing "teacher stuff." I'd like to take up some gardening in the future. I love fresh vegetables and flowers.

10. According to your “What Austen Heroine are You?” Quiz badge, you are Elinor Dashwood. I am Emma Woodhouse, but I’d like to be Anne Elliot. Are you a happy Elinor or do you wish, like me, that you were more like one of the other heroines. If so, why?

I'm a big fan of Elinor Dashwood, though, like you, I think Anne is definitely a character to admire. If I could only have the patience of Anne Elliot, the sense of Elinor Dashwood, the goodness of Fanny Price, Emma Woodhouse's beauty, and Elizabeth Bennet's sense of humor and wit, I think I would be just perfect! As for Catherine Morland, I've been feeling quite a bit like her lately whilst reading Vampire Darcy's Desire. I've had my nose tucked in that book then something in my house will make a noise, and I'll nearly fly out of my chair! 

Thank you, my dear Ms. Childers, for sharing so much of yourself with us! It's a been a pleasure!

Casey Childers is a native of Atlanta, Georgia, and was a student of both Young Harris College and Kennesaw State University where she has studied literature and education. She became a lover of all things Austen in her teens and has never looked back. She now lives peacefully in north Georgia with her husband, two cats, an ever-growing book collection, and writes Austen-fiction in her free time.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Mercy's Embrace: The Lady Must Decide by Laura Hile

My signed copy of The Lady Must Decide finally arrived yesterday afternoon. Yeah! Of course, the rest of the day was totally absorbed in reading it! I reread the first two book, So Rough a Course and So Lively a Chase, last week and then pined for four days, anxiously waiting to finally learn how this story would end. Now I know. Again, it was over too soon!

As it is impossible to discuss this book without spoiling the previous two, if you have not read them I suggest you proceed directly to my Mercy's Embrace Giveaway post, where you can take the Elizabeth Elliot quiz and be entered win a complete collection of these delightful continuations of Persuasion. Those who have already read the first two books can safely read the rest of this review.

The Lady Must Decide is a raucous jaunt, just like the proceeding novels. The dignified Elliot family finds themselves in all kinds of outlandish situations, from Sir Walter suffering in a mail coach to Elizabeth stealing a dog. When we left Miss Elliot at the end of So Lively A Chase, Mr. Gill had finally revealed himself as Admiral McGillvary. This story begins with Elizabeth slowly (very slowly) coming to grips with the truth. Once the reality of the hoax sinks in, she needs to grapple with the trust issues that arise from McGillvary's use of a false identity. Unfortunately, everything that could possible go wrong seems to in this book, hindering their ability to come to an understanding until almost the very end. I don't want to give too much away, but in the course of two hundred pages there are carriage accidents, fires, foiled elopements, and near drownings, to mention just a few notable incidents. Louisa Musgrove's cracked skull seems tame indeed! The action progresses quickly, making the book almost impossible to put down. My only complaint is that while Elizabeth and McGillvary find a happy conclusion, many of the other ends are left hanging. I'm dying to hear more from Sir Walter, the Musgroves, the Wentworths, McGillvary's half-brother Ronan, his daughter Cleora, and Yee, the butler, as all their tales are largely unresolved. Let me use this opportunity to humbly beg Ms. Hile to continue the story, allowing us to follow these loose ends while glorying in Elizabeth and McGillvary as they take their place in society. Three books are simply not enough to satiate my interest in the world she has created.

Not only have I come to adore Elizabeth Elliot (a feat I once thought impossible), but I simply can't get enough of Admiral McGillvary. He is a phenomenal hero. I love this scene in which he and Elizabeth attend a ball, defying the gossips who are alive with news of her broken engagement to Mr. Rushworth:
The Dance floor was crowded; Elizabeth could see no opening in any of the sets. "Perhaps we should wait-" she began, but McxGillvary cut her off.

"Not on your life," he said, leaning to speak into her ear. "Once one decides to engage the enemy, one cannot hesitate. I thought you knew that."

"What?' she said blankly.

He caught hold of her hand. "Come," he murmured, "keep your courage up, my dear! This might be a desperate enterprise, but we'll see it through."

Elizabeth's cheeks were burning. He was holding her hand, heedless of the interested eyes all around. he was smiling, too...a particularly attractive smile. Indeed, his eyes were shinning with a light that quite took her breath away. Elizabeth tore her gaze from him, unsure of what to think. Truly this was a desperate enterprise-did he think she could forget? Elizabeth put up her chin.

"That's the spirit," he said. "Let's give the gossips something to talk about."

The music began just then, and Elizabeth's panic increased. All around them dancers began to move...and the two of them were standing on the dance floor with nowhere to go.

"Come," he said, and pulled her by the hand. And then she saw it-a set near the centre of the room had an empty spot. She glanced again at Patrick's face; he was grinning. "You see?" he said, leading her to her place and pivoting in time to make the required bow. "Tactics."

"Tactics," she whispered, wishing she were as much at ease as he.

"And now," he said, taking hold of her hand once more, "let's show them how it's done, shall we?"

"I wish I had your confidence," she confessed shyly when they were joined in the dance.

The smile disappeared from his lips but not from his eyes. "What can possibly go wrong?" he said softly. "We are together. And together we are unassailable."
Sigh. I love this couple. I want more from them just like I want more from Austen's original creations: more Darcy and Elizabeth, more Emma and Knightley, and more of Miss Elliot and Admiral McGillvary. Mercy's Embrace is definitely one of the most entertaining Austen sequels I have read. Thank you, Ms. Hile, for your contribution to the genre!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Bonnets and Broomsticks: Where Harry Potter and Jane Austen Collide

I do have obsessions other than Austen, one of which is gearing up at the moment. It began a few weeks ago when I decided that a great project for all our planned summer driving would be to listen to the entire Harry Potter series on audio tape. My husband and I have both read the books several time, both together and on our own. It seems like once a year we can't help ourselves but devote at least a few weeks to Potter. Needless to say, instead of saving the audio books for long and tedious car rides, we spent most of our free time listening to the books as quickly as possible, once again unable to walk away from the tale. After finishing book seven, what else was there to do but rewatch all the films? Though I have anxiously awaited the release of each film, perhaps never before have I been as excited as now, with the first part of The Deathly Hallows coming out in November and the final installment next July. Two Harry Potter movies in less than a year is a worthy cause for massive elation in my world. Though the films are never quite up to the books, I continue to marvel at how well cast they are and how many of the actors have serious costume drama credentials. Daniel Radcliffe himself had his first role in the 1999 BBC adaptation of David Copperfield. Unfortunately, he has never been in an Austen adaptation. Neither has Emma Watson, despite tauntingly sharing her name with the heroine of Austen's unfinished novel, The Watsons, but so many of the other wonderful actors in these films have. So as to reprieve my husband from questioning each time we watch these movies (Do you know who he is? Do you recognize her?), I have compiled the following list. If there are any other Austen/Potter addicts out there who know of actors I have missed, please let me know, though I think I have been fairly thorough, providing images when I could find them.

Sam Beazley (who filled the small role of Everard in The Order of the Phoenix) is the vicar in the first episode of the 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice.

Jim Broadbent (Professor Horace Slughorn) was Bridget's father in Bridget Jones's Diary.

Michael Gambon (Professor Albus Dumbledore in all but the first two films) played a particularly curmudgeonly Mr. Woodhouse in the 2009 production of Emma.

Genevieve Gaunt (Pansy Parkinson in The Prisoner of Askaban) was Georgiana Darcy in Lost in Austen.

Robert Hardy (Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge) was Sir John Middleton in the 1995 version of Sense and Sensibility.


Shirley Henderson (Moaning Myrtle) played Jude in Bridget Jones's Diary.

 Guy Henry (Pius Thicknesse in The Deathly Hallows: Part Two) played Mr. Collins in Lost in Austen and John Knightley in the 1996 TV version of Emma.

Gemma Jones (Madam Pomfrey) was Mrs. Dashwood in 1995's Sense and Sensibility and Bridget's mother in Bridget Jones's Diary


Alan Rickman (a perfect Professor Severeus Snape) was simply unforgettable as Colonel Brandon in the 1995 version of Sense and Sensibility.

Fiona Shaw (Aunt Petunia Dursley) was Mrs. Croft in the 1995 version of Persuasion.

Though the amazing Maggie Smith (Professor Minerva McGonagall) has for some curious reason never been in an Austen adaptation (I think she would be a phenomenal Mrs. Ferrars), she did play Lady Gresham in Becoming Jane.  

She was also Caro Eliza Bennett in Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Just had to mention it.

Elizabeth Spriggs (The Fat Lady in The Sorceror's Stone) was Mrs. Jennings in Sense and Sensibility (1995).

Imelda Staunton (amazing as the vile Doloris Umbridge) played happy Charlotte Palmer in the 1995 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility

Emma Thompson (Professor Sybil Trelawney) is, of course, both Eleanor Dashwood in and the screenwriter of the 1995 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility.

Sophie Thompson (Mafalda Hopkirk in The Deathly Hallows: Part One) was Miss Bates in the 1996 Hollywood version of Emma and Mary Musgrove in the 1995 version of Persuasion

Julie Walters (Mrs. Molly Weasley) played Mrs. Austen in Becoming Jane.

Mark Williams (Mr. Arthur Weasley) was Sir Thomas Middleton in the 2008 production of Sense and Sensibility.

Jim Broadbent

Michael Gambon

Genevieve Gaunt

Robert Hardy

Shirley Henderson

Guy Henry

Gemma Jones

Alan Rickman

Fiona Shaw

Maggie Smith

Elizabeth Spriggs

Imelda Staunton

Sophie Thompson

Julie Walters

Mark Williams

Friday, July 16, 2010

Perfect Fit by Linda Wells and Deception by Ola Wegner

I said I would review these books back in June, having read them in May (pre-move), but I just never got around to it. So today I'm just going to give a quick review of each so they can leave my desk and finally migrate to the bookshelf.

I really enjoyed Linda Wells previous books, Chance Encounters and Fate and Consequences (read my reviews here), despite the fact that they are far too sexy for my tastes. I've actually now reread Chance Encounters twice (skipping over the sex scenes cuts it in half), and so when I decided to give a modern Pride and Prejudice adaptation a chance - a thing which I have always resisted doing - I turned again to Miss Wells and her most recent book, Perfect Fit: A Modern Tale of Pride and Prejudice. It was amusing: basically also a "What if?", like her earlier novels, with a heavy Cinderella theme. Elizabeth is a writer living with her sisters in their parents apartment building. She meets billionaire Darcy at a wedding planned by her sister, Jane, for his cousin, Anne. It's love at first sight. Together they bridge the social gap between their two worlds and help their relatives achieve happiness. Not all of the pairings work out as Austen envisioned them, which keeps the book compelling. My favorite parts involved visiting Darcy's ancestral home (Pemberley, of course), but Elizabeth and Darcy engaged in modern jet setting isn't nearly as appealing to me as visions of their life in Regency England, though it does make the sex scenes a bit more easy to take. I also didn't particularly care for Ms. Wells continuous quoting of cheesy love songs. I think I will try other modernization, but so far they are as expected. No number of Jimmy Choos will ever be as exciting for me as bonnets and muslin.

Ola Wegner recently published two books, both in the "What if?" style: Deception: A Tale of Pride and Prejudice and Apprehension and Desire: A Tale of Pride and Prejudice. I decided to buy one to read before committing myself financially to both. Unfortunately, I found Deception a bit of a disappointment. It began with great promise with the introduction of another suitor for Elizabeth's hand, a Mr. John Brooke. I thought the character very compelling at first, but Ms. Wegner's further handling of him felt inconsistent and unsatisfying, though she certainly achieved shocking. I do not want to give too much away by elaborating, but I found parts of the book (one scene in particular) appalling. Generally, I thought the first half of the book much better than the second, during which the narrative kind of falls apart as Ms. Wegner turns to plot twists and shock and awe to drive the story to its end. With a little tweaking it could be far more satisfying.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Regarding the Mercy's Embrace Giveaway ...

I just realized that I perhaps was not clear when I posted the Elizabeth Elliot quiz - your key to entry into the giveaway. The questions refer to Persuasion, not Mercy's Embrace. It would be very cruel of me to expect only people who have already read the books on offer to participate. Here is an opportunity to crack open those beloved volumes of Persuasion and look at how very little information Ms. Hile had to work with when creating her heroine. Austen paints her only superficially, as befits her character, leaving the windows wide open for speculation about what might really be going on behind her beautifully selfish facade. I have altered the giveaway post in order to clarify my intentions. Sorry for the confusion!

First Impressions is at the top of Amazon's Women's Fiction list!

This is kind of silly, but I couldn't resist the urge to share. Although my overall Amazon sales rank has been lower this month than in the past, First Impressions: A Tale of Less Pride and Prejudice, is now number one on Amazon's Bestsellers in Women's Fiction list! I don't know how long it will remain there (it has been creeping upwards for the past few weeks), and anyone who has ever attempted it will understand how indecipherable Amazon's ranking system is. Still, if someone had predicted how well the book would sell - how very flattering would be the reviews - a mere four months ago, I would have laughed at them. Thank you to everyone who has bought the book and especially to those who have let me know how very much they enjoyed it. I am now (hopefully) really getting rolling on the second book, which has no name as of yet, and which will continue the story begun in First Impressions, primarily focusing on the romances of Kitty and Georgiana. As the writing progresses, I will keep you updated with commentary on the process and, hopefully, excerpts. Never have I had a better motivator to write than hearing from fans; it makes me optimistic that the writing/publishing process will go much quicker this time.

Just a quick word on Janeicillin. I expect that the hiatus will continue through the summer. I am just not home enough to spend the time on it. My hope is that by waiting until I can give Persuasion my proper attention, the end result will be much more satisfying. Thanks for your patience.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Mercy's Embrace Giveaway!

I am thoroughly honored to be the first blogger to be able to offer my readers signed copies of ALL THREE books of Laura Hile's Mercy's Embrace: Elizabeth Elliot's Story. Yes indeed, the final book, The Lady Must Decide (read my review)- which I have pinning for ever since finishing book two, So Lively a Chase - is finally available! Even better, since I was bad tempered enough to have grumbled about the price of these books in my review of the second, Ms. Hile has graciously offered me a copy of The Lady Must Decide (it's in the mail and I can't wait to get my hands on it), and the complete collection to one lucky winner - So Rough a Course (read my review here), So Lively a Chase, and The Lady Must Decide, all signed by the author. I'm so excited!

So here is the deal. I've crafted something of an Elizabeth Elliot quiz, based on the Elizabeth that we all know and hate from Persuasion, thinking that it would be interesting to reflect on how little information about her Austen really provides. For each question you can answer correctly, you will receive one entry. Include your email address with your comments by 12:00 AM EST on Saturday, July 24th. Unfortunately, I can only offer participation to US residents. I'll post the answers when I announce the winner. Good luck!

1) What is Elizabeth birth date?

2) How old was Elizabeth when her mother died?

3) Why does Elizabeth not enjoy reading the Baronetage as much as her father?

4) How does Elizabeth commemorate the death of Mrs. Elliot?

5) In what two manners does Elizabeth attempt to economize?

6) Regarding hat does Sir Walter recommend Elizabeth be on her guard?

7) What does Anne wish Elizabeth could hear their father say?

8) Why does Elizabeth argue that Mrs. Clay should ride in Lady Dalrymple's barouche rather than Anne.

9) What does Elizabeth do the first time she meets Captain Wentworth in Bath?

10) What causes Elizabeth to suffer when the Musgroves arrive in Bath?

Anne Elliot, A New Beginning by Mary Lydon Simonsen

I just finished reading one of the most unusual pieces of JAFF  I have yet encountered. I am not sure if I should call it a "What if?" (if so, it's the first I have read that is not Pride and Prejudice based) or a mash up, though there is not a monster in sight. Stylistically, it reminds me more of Forrest Gump than anything else. I plan to spend this dreary morning exploring my feelings about Mary Lydon Simonsen's newest book, Anne Elliot, A New Beginning, and her two main characters, an almost unrecognizable woman who responds to the moniker Flash and her romantic interest, Rick.

This is really wild new terrain on which we trod. Instead of the brow beaten and melancholy Anne Elliot of the beginning of Persuasion, Ms. Simonsen's Anne has found empowerment in long distance running, effectively inventing the art of jogging. When Captain Wentworth comes to Kellynch he finds a bold and confident Anne, allowing their lost love to reemerge far faster than in the original story. I must assume that this story was at least in part inspired by the 2007 film adaptation of Persuasion, largely due to all this running about, but there are other similarities as well. The following scene reminds me of the film (which falls right before the five minute point in this YouTube episode):
"Miss Elliot, I am sure you are tired," cried Mrs. Croft. "Do let us have the pleasure of taking you home. Here there is room for three, and if we were all like you, I believe we might sit four."

"No, thank you, Mrs. Croft. I appreciate the offer, but my preference is to walk," but then Mrs. Croft whispered something to her brother. With everyone insisting that she was too tired to continue, and before she could say no, Fredrick, with his arms around her waist, had lifted Anne onto a board that ran behind the seat of the gig. But she was no longer a docile creature who would do as she was told or allow others to make decisions for her, and so she hopped back off the gig, right into Fredrick's arms, and found herself looking at his chest. All she could manage to say was, "You have very large buttons."

"Yes, so I have been told," he answered, surprised to find his arms around Anne's waist.

Anne looked into his blue eyes and said, "I think we are talking about different things. I was referring to the buttons on your coat."
Yes, this is a very different Anne, and yes, there is a lot more sexual innuendo in this book than I am typically comfortable with, but in never really gets far beyond innuendo. I am far more uncomfortable with Anne using the word "turd" as a descriptive for Mr. Elliot than the slightly adult content. However, as Ms. Simonsen is deliberately working without concern for historical accuracy or adherence to the original storyline, I got over my distaste for some of her language. She takes Anne and Fredrick, rechristened by a charming street urchin named Swoosh as Flash and Rick, into a world of her own invention, where her love of history, so very apparent in her previous book, Searching for Pemberley, playfully manifests itself in a Mary Musgrove transformed into (and working with) Florence Nightingale and Clara Barton, an Elizabeth Elliot who invents Avon cosmetics (and sells them in her fine drawing rooms), a sketch artist named Jimmy Whistler who likes to draw his mother, and a Mr. John Bradford Goode (Johnny B. Goode), Samaritan. Once I accepted the "Gumpian" nature of the novel, I was easily able to settle back and enjoy the ride.

This is a fun story, but not one for Austen purists. As mentioned before, it has the feeling of a mash up, with all its farcical attributes, and if you have no tolerance for mummies and werewolves, you probably wont enjoy "Flash" skulking through the worsts parts of Bath, tracking Mr. Elliot in his nefarious pursuits, much either. But if you are amongst those who can relax your pride and prejudices enough to entertain whimsy, I recommend this book. It's a radically unusual tale.  

Friday, July 9, 2010

First Impressions Now Available on Kindle!

For all those who have been asking me about this since the publications of First Impressions: A Tale of Less Pride and Prejudice (and there have been several of you), I am very pleased to announce that you can now buy the book in Kindle format from Amazon. I am sorry about the delay, but as my final drafts of the book were written in InDesign, a publishing program, I needed to transfer the text back into Word before I could upload it to Amazon. This proved easier said than done, but with the help of my good buddy the designer, the task was eventually accomplished. Enjoy!

Ward No. 6 and Other Stories by Anton Chekhov

I messed up. Even though I have had the date of my Classics Circuit review of Ward No. 6 and Other Stories by Anton Chekhov for the Imperial Russia tour posted in my side bar for a month, I was so sure it was supposed to be for today, the 9th, but it was yesterday, the 8th! See what my erratic blogging has lead to! I am heartily ashamed of myself, even more so as this review will be far shorter than I would like to make it. I'm out of town and there just isn't time for more.

The twenty three short stories that are collected in this Barnes & Noble Classics edition are beautiful examples of Chekhov's mastery of the form. Yes, we are a long way from Jane Austen, but like all masters of fiction, she and Chekhov do share this in common - their writing illuminates truths about the human condition. Chekhov's stories are vignettes, glimpses of late 19th century Russian life, in which he dwells on the purpose and futility of life, the distances between one human mind and another, and the moral condition of our species. Like most Russian writing of this time (which is amongst my very favorite literature, by the way), it feels remarkably modern to the reader, especially when compared with contemporary British literature. Chekhov anticipates the themes of 20th century fiction, with all its existential isolation and psychological influences.

For example, in the story "Typhus" a young soldier becomes ill on a home bound train. Chekhov captures beautifully the disorder of a fevered nightmare as we follow him, stop after stop, through his sufferings, feel his longing for his mother, sister, and the comforts of home, follow him in a daze into his home where he collapses, and watch as he battles the disease. Finally he wakes, healthy and happy, only to learn that his dear sister, who he has been pinning for throughout his illness, has died in nursing him. In "Ward No. 6" a doctor finds himself as mercilessly put into a mental ward as he has mercilessly consigned inmates there before him. In "The Dependents" an old man must sacrifice his faithful dog and horse or go hungry himself. In "A Dead Body", the living watch over an unknown corpse. This story is perhaps the best parallel to Chekhov's overall theme - the individual is subservient to life which will continue on incessantly, never stopping to consider our individual triumphs and hardships.

This sounds rather depressing, but Checkhov simultaneously glories in the capabilities of the human mind and the individual experience. In "Grisha" a young boy discovers the world outside his home for the first time. In "The Grasshopper" he rakes us through the joys of new love. In  "The Kiss"  a shy soldier find all the delights of romance in a single, mistaken kiss. These are glorious moments, in which Chekhov celebrates imagination, emotion, and experience, but the boy is overwhelmed by the world, the newlyweds' marriage falls apart, and the soldier experiences the inevitable sorrows of love. His story ends with these melancholy contemplations:
The water was running, he knew not where or why, just as it did in May. In May it had flowed into the great river, from the great river into the sea; then it had risen in vapour, turned into rain, and perhaps the very same water was running now before Ryabovitch's eyes again.... What for? Why?

And the whole world, the whole of life, seemed to Ryabovitch an unintelligible, aimless jest.... And turning his eyes from the water and looking at the sky, he remembered again how fate in the person of an unknown woman had by chance caressed him, he remembered his summer dreams and fancies, and his life struck him as extraordinarily meager, poverty-stricken, and colourless....
Here is the essence of Chekhov: life is glorious, amazing, capable of lifting humans into ecstasy, but still meaningless. Joy is checked with sorrow, which can be counted on to dominate. The doctor from "Ward No. 6" declares:
Prisons and madhouses there will not be, and truth, as you have just expressed it, will triumph; but the reality of things, you know, will not change, the laws of nature will remain the same. People will suffer pain, grow old, and die just as they do now. However magnificent a dawn lighted up your life, you would yet in the end be nailed up in a coffin and thrown into a hole.
Nevertheless, though Chekhov promises pain, overall he embraces life. For, though our actions might be futile, what else have we to do? He recommends making the best of it which, though the message might be conveyed in a rather dark manner, is one I can easily wrap my head around. These stories are beautiful explorations of humanity which I highly recommend to anyone interested in Russian literature and/or the short story form. I only wish I was at leisure to review the collection in far greater detail.     

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Unknown Ajax by Georgette Heyer

I am beginning to detect patterns in my responses to Georgette Heyer's work. Sometimes she focuses all her energy on endowing one of the main characters, be it hero or heroine, with the bulk of the personality: the eccentricities, brilliance, and suavity that makes her best creations shine. Characters like Sir Walter Hawkridge (The Nonesuch), Captain John Staple (The Toll-Gate), and Miles Caverleigh (The Black Sheep) are more memorable than their female counterparts (Ancilla Trent, Nell Stornaway, and Abigail Wendover, respectively), not that these ladies aren't "up to snuff", as Heyer herself might say. Other characters I always remember as duos - Leonie and The Duke of Avon  from These Old Shades, Cotillion's Kitty Charing and Freddy Standen, Hero Wantage and Lord Sherrington of Friday's Child. These are her best books, in my opinion, and I am sad to say that The Unknown Ajax is not one of them.

This does not mean that The Unknown Ajax isn't a very enjoyable read, it just means that the hero, Major Hugh (commonly Hugo) Darracott, is the force that drives the story, not the heroine, Anthea Darracott. She is a very enjoyable character - smart, expressive, and determined - but it is Hugo who I will remember. It is one of Heyer's country house novels, with a bit of mystery thrown in. The story begins with grumpy and cantankerous Lord Darracott who, following his eldest son's death, is forced to acknowledge that the son he disinherited long ago, upon his marriage to a woman of low birth from Yorkshire, conceived a son who is now the rightful heir to the baronetcy. Not only is this quite shocking to the members of the family who thought they were now next in line to inherit, but all are prepared to meet a rough countryman, raised in squalor, and fully unprepared for society life. Though Hugo's initial appearance is much better than they expected, he instantly realizes what they think of him and proceeds to do his best to fulfill their expectations. See how he responds to his Aunt's apologies over the dilapidation of the house, caused by the frugality of Lord Darracott:
"Nay, don't fidget yourself on my account, ma'am!" Hugo said, laughing. "I'm not so nesh as my cousin! I've been used to sleep in a room that had a fire in the middle of the floor, and not so much as a vent to take off the smoke, so it will need more than a puff or two blown down the chimney to make me uncomfortable!"

His voice, which was a deep one, had a carrying quality. His words were heard by everyone in the room, and were productive of a sudden, shocked silence. He glanced innocently round the table, and added: "A mud floor, of course."

"How - how horrid for you!" said Mrs. Darracott faintly. 

Chollacombe, with great presence of mind, refilled the Major's glass at this moment, contriving, as he did so, to give him a warning nudge. The Major, not susceptible to hints, said cheerfully: "Oh, it was noan so bad! I was glad to have a roof over my head in those days!"

Mrs. Darracott looked wildly around for help, and received it from an unexpected quarter.

"Don't look so dismayed, my dear aunt!" said Vincent. "The locality of this dismal dwelling-place was not, as I apprehend, Yorkshire, but Spain."

"Portugal," corrected Hugo, as impervious to insult as to hints.

"Most interesting!" renounced Lady Aurelia majestically. "No doubt you have seen a great deal of the world during the course of your military service?"

"I hand and-all!" agreed Hugo.

"The billeting arrangements in the Peninsula," stated her ladyship, "left much to be desired."

"Aye, sometimed they did, but at others, think on, they were better nor like," said Hugo reflectively. "After Toulouse I shared quarters with the Smiths in a chateau, and lived like a prince. That was in France, of course, A chateau," he explained, "is what the Frogs call a castle - though it wasn't a castle, not by any means. You might call it a palace."

"Our ignorance is now enlightened," murmured Vincent.

"We all know what a chateau is!" snapped Lord Darracott.

"Aye, you would, of course," said Hugo, on a note of apology. "eh, but I thought myself in clover! I'd never been in such a place before - except when I was in prison, but you can't reetly count that."

James, the first footman, let a fork slide from the plate he had just removed from the table, but Charles, deftly nipping away the plate before Lady Aurelia, maintained his equilibrium. James was shocked, but Charles was storing up these revelations with glee. A rare tale to recount to his dad, no niffy-naffy as he was about the Quality! Properly served out was old Stiff-Rump, with a jail-bird for his grandson!

"What?" thundered his lordship, glaring at his heir. "Do you tell me that you have been in prison?"

"Aye, but it wasn't for long, sir," replied Hugo. "Of course, I was nobbut a lad then, and it seemed a terrible thing to me. I had the fever. too, mortal bad!"

Claud, perceiving that the rest of the company was deprived of speech, made a gallant attempt to respond. "Nasty thing, jail-fever," he said chattily. "Not had it myself, but so they tell ,e! Very glad you recovered from, it, coz!"

"It was being transported set me to reets," said Hugo. "A rare, tedious voyage we had of it, but-"

"Transported?" interjected his lordship, gripping the arms of his chair till his knuckles shone. "You were transported, sir?"
Of course, in fine Heyer style, Hugo proves to be the cure for all that ails Darracott Place. Lady Aurelia and Claud Darracott (who reminds me of the aforementioned Freddy Standen of Cotillion), are amongst my favorite characters in the book, and they prove some of Hugo's staunchest supporters.

An aspect that I particularly enjoyed is that Heyer incorporates more of an upstairs-downstairs perspective in this story. Frequently, she will spend time developing a nurse, valet, or abigail's character as they interact with their master, but this book goes farther, delving into the the rivalries between valets and the career plans of the footmen. These scenes are a source of great comedy, as in this one which greets Hugo as he retires to his chambers at Darracott Place for the first time:
Two gentlemen of the same calling, but of different cut, were confronting one another in a manner strongly suggestive of tomcats about to join battle. Each wore the habit of a private servant; but whereas the elder of the two, a middle-aged man stocky build and rigid countenance, was meticulous in his avoidance of any ornament or touch of colour to relieve the sobriety of his raiment, the younger not only sported a pin in his neckcloth, but added an even more daring note to his appearance by wearing a stripped waistcoat which only the most indulgent of masters would have tolerated. As the Major paused, in some astonishment, on the threshold, he heard, in mincing accents: "Vastly obliging of you, Mr. Crimplesham, I am sure! Quite a condescension indeed!"

"Do not name it, Mr. Polyphant!" begged Crimplesham. "We are all put on this earth to help one another, and knowing as I do what a labour it is to you to get a gloss on to a pair of boots - something that passes for a gloss, I should say - it quite went to my heart to think of you wearing yourself out over a task that wouldn't have taken more than a couple of minutes of my time. It is just a knack, Mr. Polyphant, which some of us have and other don't."

"And very right you were to cultivate it, Mr. Crimplesham! I vow and declare I would have done the same if I'd had only the one talent!" said Polyphant. "For, as I have often and often remarked, an over-polished boot may present a flash appearance, but it does draw the eye away from badly got-up linen!"

"As to that, Mr. Polyphant, I'm sure I can't say, but nothing, I do promise you, will distract the attention from a spot of iron-mould on a neckcloth!"

"I will have you know, Mr. Crimplesham," said Polyphant, trembling violently, "That it was a spot of soup!"

"Well, Mr. Polyphant, you should know best, and whatever it was no one feels for your mortification more than I do, for, as I said to Mr. Challacombe, when the matter was being talked of in the Room, if I had been so careless as to let Mr. Vincent Darracott go down to dinner wearing a neckcloth that wasn't perfectly fresh I could never hold up my head again."

"When Mr. Clause Darracott left my hands, Mr. Crimplesham, that neckcloth was spotless!" declared Polyphant, pale with fury. "If Mr. Chollacombe says other, which I do not credit, being as only a perjured snake would utter those lying words-"

"What the devil are you doing  in my quarters?" demanded the Major, bringing the altercation to an abrupt end.

This deep-voiced interruption was productive of a sudden transformation. The disputants turned quickly towards the door, guilt and dismay in their countenances, but only for an instant was the Major permitted a glimpse of these, or any other, emotions. Before he had advanced one step into the room, all trace of human passion had vanished, and he was confronted by two very correct gentlemen's gentlemen, who received him with calm and dignity, and, after bowing in a manner that paid deference to his quality without diminishing their own consequence, deftly relieved him of his hat, his whip, and his gloves.

"If you will permit me, sir!" said Crimplesham, nipping the hat from the Major's hand. "Having been informed that you have not brought your man with you, I ventured, sir, to give your boots a touch, young Wellow, though a painstaking lad, being but a rustic, and quite ignorant of the requirements of military gentlemen.

"If you will permit me, sir!" said Polyphant, possessing himself of the whip and the gloves. "You will pardon the intrusion, sir, I trust, being as my master, Mr. Claud Darracott, desired me to to offer my services to you."

"I'm much obliged to you both, but I don't need either of you, "said the Major, pleasantly, but in a tone that was unmistakably dismissive.
In many ways, this book reminded me of an earlier Heyer novel, The Quiet Gentleman, which is also about an unknown heir taking his place amongst a hostile family. I have to wonder if The Unknown Ajax isn't an improved version of the same story, having enjoyed it much more. I recommend this book to all who already enjoy Heyer. Because it is not her best, it is not the novel for the Heyer novice.