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Posts Tagged ‘Jane Austen Book review’

There Must Be Murder, a very nice story by Margaret C. Sullivan,

It is one year after Catherine has married her Henry. She still is sweet and naïve, but she now possesses the womanly knowledge that every bride with an adoring husband soon comes to know. Henry Tilney is as charming as ever and clearly loves his pretty Cat. The couple, only one year married, live in Woodston Parish with a cat named Ruby Begonia and an assortment of dogs, including a Newfoundland named MacGuffin. Catherine has redecorated the pretty parsonage, and the couple has a habit of cozying up together as Henry reads passages from The Mysteries of Udolpho. During one such occasion, Catherine fondly recalls her introduction to Henry in Bath by the Master of Ceremonies, Mr. King, and in no time Henry has arranged for a visit to that ancient city.

“Henry, you know perfectly well that I keep no journal. Besides, I did not know then that you were my future husband.”

“Some husbands would be injured at such an admission, but not I; after all, I did not know that you were my future wife. I remember that I was wandering about the Rooms like a lost soul, having no acquaintance there. The master of ceremonies, Mr. King, took pity upon me and asked if I would like an introduction to a clergyman’s daughter who was in need of a partner. In Christian charity, I could not decline; though from my past experiences of ladies described as ‘clergymen’s daughters,’ I expected to be presented to an elderly spinster with a squint. You may imagine my relief when Miss Morland turned out to be rather a pretty girl, and I considered myself fortunate that no other gentleman had already claimed the honour of dancing with her.”

Catherine’s eyes were shining. “You thought me pretty?”

“Indeed.” Henry reached for her hand and kissed it.

Margaret C. Sullivan, the author of this charming tale, deftly combines old characters (General Tilney and Henry’s sister, Eleanor) with the new – an apothecary named Mr. Shaw, a pretty but calculating woman named Judith Beauclerk, her mother, Lady Beauclerk, and Sir Philip, to name a few. Ms. Sullivan takes us on a sweet journey over familiar territory, paying homage to Jane’s characters while staying true to her own writing style. The book is illustrated with pen and ink drawings by Casandra Chouinard, which certainly enhance one’s enjoyment of the novella.

Catherine, Mr. King, and Henry Tilney. Image @There Must Be Murder

Fans of Jane Austen will recognize Margaret as the editrix of Austenblog, the longest surviving Jane Austen blog on the blogosphere, and as one whose knowledge of Jane and the Regency period is that of an expert. And thus the details set down in this tale are accurate and true to the time, including the use of arsenic in beauty potions. Margaret’s humor also shines through, and I found myself turning page after page until I had finished the story in one sitting.

Here’s her bio, with an example of her humor: Margaret C. Sullivan is the author of numerous Jane Austen sequels and editrix of AustenBlog. Her first book, The Jane Austen Handbook: A Sensible yet Elegant Guide to Her World, will be in bookstores this spring. She likes to think that Henry Tilney would dance with her at the Lower Rooms, although she is an almost-middle-aged spinster with a squint.

If you are intrigued by my short review, you may purchase the book in several ways. Girlebooks, an excellent source of free Ebooks, now offers original eBooks that have never been published, such as There Must be Murder. You have a choice of several platforms in which to download the book or purchase a printed copy. It is available for $9.99 at Amazon paperback and for free at Smashwords at this link .

The novella was first commissioned by the Jane Austen Centre, and you may read the book chapter by chapter in this link.

Enjoy! I certainly did.

Book Giveaway (Closed – congratulations to winner, Cecilia): If you leave a comment, you have a chance to win my hard copy of the book with all its charming illustrations. The drawing (by random number) will be held on February 5th.

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Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma, which SourceBooks is now republishing for international distribution, takes place in an age of change, just as Queen Victoria is coming to the throne in 1837. Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, they of Pride and Prejudice fame, are now middle-aged. He is balding, she is an anxious mother, but they are still a charming, witty and fortunate couple, who know their happiness – until they make the mistake of inviting the two daughters of Mrs. Darcy’s profligate sister Lydia to visit at Pemberley…and trouble begins. The Darcys’ sons are far too interested in the young ladies; the younger, Cloe, is a faultlessly modest creature, but the elder, Bettina, is another pair of gloves entirely, and her flamboyant career includes a shocking turn on the London stage…Diana Birchall, Author

As I finished reading this satisfying and entertaining novel by Diana Birchall, I knew that all was right with Jane Austen’s world again. Mr. and Mrs. Darcy are still deeply in love; their children will find some measure of happiness; and the rest of Jane Austen’s characters are living out their lives much as we suspect they would.

Elizabeth was too wise to take either her husband’s love or his wealth for granted, and she never forgot to exult in all her manifold sources of happiness. It is impossible for human nature to be altogether without worry or pain, however, and Elizabeth’s anxieties were all reserved for her children.

At the start of the novel, Elizabeth Darcy, a matron in her forties and mother to Fitzwilliam, Henry, and Jane, receives a letter from her sister, Lydia Wickham. In reaction to the hardships Lydia describes, the Darcies invite the two oldest Wickham girls, Bettina and Cloe, for a protracted visit to Pemberley. This action sets the plot in motion. Before the generous-hearted Darcies realize what has happened, their eldest son Fitzwilliam, whose preference for horses far outweighs his common sense, has run off to London with the brazen Bettina. Shades of Wickham’s and Lydia’s ill considered elopement! Everyone is appalled when they do not marry, except for Lydia who doesn’t see why a 10-minute ceremony “should signify.”

Meanwhile, Henry, the second and more sensible son, has fallen for sweet and proper Cloe. He proposes to her, but deeply mortified by her sister’s actions, the penniless Cloe seeks a position as a governess.

As these events unfold, we meet Pride and Prejudice’s familiar cast of characters. Mr. Collins is as intolerable as ever. Due to the unfortunate circumstance of Mr. Bennet’s long and healthy life – and his desire not to shuffle off his mortal coil too soon – both the Collinses have become fractious from waiting. Charlotte has grown increasingly irritated with Mr. Collins in their tiny cottage crammed with furniture and their half dozen children.

Lady Catherine de Bourgh is still overbearing, and the early death of her only daughter Anne has not diminished her dislike of Elizabeth. Lydia seems not to have grown wiser at all, despite having raised a family in poverty and her disappointment with Mr. Wickham, a dissipated wastrel. Mary is a widow who has taken care of the aging Mr. Bennet since Mrs. Bennet’s death. Kitty as Mrs. Clarke, a minister’s wife, has turned into a sour childless woman. Having taken second place to Lydia in her younger years, she now feels inferior to Elizabeth and Jane, who married well. The book’s subplots echo many of Jane’s other novels, and one feels a comfortable familiarity with these characters as the novel progresses.

Ms. Birchall does not disappoint her readers. The plot is fast paced, and the story believable. “My primary interest in writing Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma, which I did years before the booming proliferation of romantic sequels,” she says, “was in employing something as similar to Jane Austen’s original language as might be possible for an American writing two hundred years later. In other words: not possible at all! However, I have steeped myself in her prose, reading the novels not tens, not hundreds, but thousands of times over a thirty year period, and among many other things, Jane Austen proved to be the best writing teacher any author could have.”

My only (minor) quibble with the book is that it is not long enough. I would love to have read more scenes with Mr. Darcy and his wife in them. Diana is also known for her humor, and her wit was in too short supply. Had the book been longer, I believe we might have been treated to more sparkling and scintillating dialog. I have one final quibble: Diana describes our fabulous fifty-something Mr. Darcy as balding. I beg to differ, Ms. Birchall. Please take a look at this photo of a lovely man at 48, in which not a single follicle seems to be challenged. Could Mr. Darcy not have had a similar set of hair?

More about Diana Birchall:

Her Jane Austen-related novels, Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma and Mrs. Elton in America, were both published by Egerton Press, a small English company, in 2004, and her pastiche/satire In Defense of Mrs. Elton was published by the Jane Austen Society in the US, UK and Australia in 2000. Her “day job” is as the literary story analyst at Warner Bros Studios in California, reading novels to see if they would make movies. She is also a ballet dancer and has taken classes most of her life.

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Last June I wrote a review of Jane Austen for Dummies for Jane Austen Today. I liked the book then, I like it still, and I use it often for reference. Several months after I shared my humble opinion, academician Stephanie Looser made a satirical reference to Professor Joan Klingel Ray’s book in her tongue in cheek essay, Jane Austen, Yadda, Yadda, Yadda. The comments under this article are as interesting to read as the article itself, including the response from Dr. Ray, who (accidentally I hope) dissed The Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by my blogger friend, Laurie Viera Rigler. A few weeks ago, Laurel Ann from Austenprose wrote her astute assessment of the situation.

Let’s face it, Jane’s writing is more than brilliant, her stories are more than about mere romance, and her observations on the foibles of human nature are spot on and timeless. We all respond to her work in a very personal way. In fact, I am always open to others’ opinions about Jane and their reactions to her work. In turn, I ask for the same forbearance from others.

While a good debate is healthy (and I have exchanged opinionated ideas with several bloggers), some of the rabid, almost viral responses in discussion boards or the comment sections of blogs utterly perplex me. One individual, for example, jumped on Joan Klingel Ray’s supposedly wrong date for the French Revolution. Disliking the book for various other reasons, she dismissed Dr. Ray’s authority. Excuse me? Dr. Ray happens to be one of the premier authorities on Jane Austen.

Let’s lighten up folks, and take Stephanie Looser’s essay for what it was: irony and fun. We 21st century denizens might have more sophisticated toys to play with than our regency era counterparts, and 200 extra years of war, famine, pollution and inventions under our collective historical belts to put things in perspective, but our predictable behavior and reactions are of the sort that Jane relished satirizing.

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Lost in Austen: Create Your Own Jane Austen Adventure, by Emma Campbell Webster
Please Note: My review of the ITV movie of the same name sits here.

This new novel, written by Emma Campbell Webster, is not designed for the impatient person or for someone who is barely acquainted with the plots of Jane Austen’s six novels. It IS written for the Janeite who cannot get enough of Jane Austen’s most famous heroine, Lizzie Bennett. In fact, the reader is asked to become actively involved in making choices that might lead her to marry the man of her dreams, or to a band of gypsies and a premature end to her adventures. Along the journey to romance and true love, which requires the physical exertion of flipping pages back and forth, the reader can add or deduct points for fortune, accomplishments, connections, and the like.

This book was written for Jane fans who love an experiential approach to reading, such as choosing their own adventure, and who simply cannot get their fill of Jane Austen’s delightful characters. In fact, every time they read this book, the can create another plot. They can also keep score, or simply make a choice between A or B as they read along. All in all, I would say that this book has the most unique approach to visiting Jane Austen and getting to know her heroes and heroines that I’ve read in a long while.
Image from flickr

My rating for this book is two out of three Regency fans. The format was just a tad too complicated for me, but many who have reviewed this book loved it.

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A WalkWith Jane Austen is a lovely book, full of unexpected insights and revelations. Lori Smith’s revealing and personal account is a pure joy to read. As a single, independent and talented woman she is in want of a man, but will not compromise her principles or her quest to experience romantic love in order to simply be with one. Sound familiar? This is one of the many parallels of Lori’s life to Jane’s. However, the one distinct difference between the two women is that Jane lived a geographically circumscribed and rather “eventless” life, whereas Lori is a seasoned world traveler who has embarked on a risky but life-altering journey.

In Part One of this very personal three part account, Lori travels to Oxford. Sitting in a church, she muses about Jane Austen’s faith. As I read Lori’s words, it occurs to me how universally loved Jane has become. Studying the world map sitting on my blog, Jane’s fans live in China, Korea, Italy, South Africa, Chili, Mexico, Canada, Iceland, New Zealand, Bahrain, and of course, all the former British Colonies. How is it that Jane is able to attract a close following from so many countries and faiths? As Lori points out, while Jane is religious and operates from a moral foundation, she was spiritually reserved. “‘She was ‘more inclined to think and act than to talk‘ about her faith.” Lori is so right, and I wonder if Jane’s reserved approach to faith in her novels is one of the reasons she is so universally approachable and loved. In addition to our admiration of Jane’s enormous writing talent, her novels about families, friends, and love gone awry and set right again resonate with people from a variety of backgrounds and religions.

At Oxford Lori meets several guys from D.C., one of whom is named Jack. At first impression she likes his easy going humor and affability. And although Jack confesses that he had just begun to see another woman and wasn’t expecting to meet someone else, Lori cautiously and inexorably begins to fall for him. Her analysis of life as a single woman and quest for a man to share her life echo those of many single women. This includes Jane, who also preferred to spend her life single rather than settle on a mate just for the sake of getting married. Part One of the book ends with Lori spending a wonderful evening with Jack and friends, one that is filled with conversation and laughter.

Part Two of the journey begins with Lori thinking the whole world beautiful. But I’ll reserve a more detailed analysis of this section for another time. Ever the optimist, I had hoped to review this book chapter by chapter, however my current schedule simply will not allow it. Look for my next synopsis of this wonderful book over the weekend.

Visit Lori’s website here: Jane Austen Quote of the Day
Visit Lori’s other website here: Following Austen
Pre order the book here: A Walk With Jane Austen, Lori Smith

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On the anniversary of Jane Austen’s death – she died 190 years ago today – I thought I would put a different spin on things and celebrate her life. Jane means so many things to so many people, and her popularity, instead of diminishing, increases each year. What is it about Jane that attracts so many to her? It seems that every time we turn around, another book about Jane’s life sits on a shelf in a book store and she is more popular than ever.

In her new book, A Walk With Jane Austen, author Lori Smith describes the first time she encountered Jane Austen in college. She discovered Pride and Prejudice in a used book sale, and so, over Christmas break, her love affair with Jane Austen began. My own relationship with Jane’s novels started during my fourteenth summer. Like Lori I have read Jane’s marvelous words ever since. But I digress. This post is meant to be a review of Lori’s quest to strengthen her relationship with Jane and, in doing so, gain a better sense of her own life, which was whirling out of kilter.

During a critical juncture in Lori’s life when she faced a personal crisis, she chose to do what many of us yearn to do but few actually dare, which is to leave everything behind and embark on a life altering journey. Lori’s account about her search for Jane is written on several levels, as a memoir and personal journey of faith and discovery, as a search for the places where Jane Austen lived and trod, as a straightforward history of Jane’s life, and as a way to deepen her understanding of the author.

One January not long ago Lori gave her notice at work. “In February I walked away from meetings and coffee breaks and lunch breaks and paid vacation and health insurance to the gloriously terrifying world of writing full-time.” Lori did not choose an easy road when she decided to walk with Jane Austen. Writing a memoir might seem straightforward on the surface, but…

There are enormous difficulties in reconstructing anyone’s life, for however copious the evidence of letters, diaries, journals, and eye witness accounts, there is always the problem of interpretation, of the subjectivity of witnesses, and of the basic contradictoriness of the human being. Moods and emotions are volatile, but when recorded on the page are often forced by posterity to carry a much greater weight than was ever intended by their author. The Art of Writing Biography

Lori’s journey is deeply personal, but one she willingly shares with her readers. The first chapter ends with her heading for Oxford, the city where Jane’s parents met and married.

I plan to review Lori’s book chapter by chapter. The book, published by Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group, a Division of Random House, Inc., will be available this fall. Click here to visit Lori’s blog.

Click here for my post about Jane’s last illness.

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How delightful. Author Lori Smith has asked me to review her new book and I said I would be honored. A manuscript arrived in the mail today. So, here is what I shall do – Walk With Jane chapter by chapter and report back to you.

If you want to know more about Lori, check her wonderful site, Jane Austen Quote of the Day.

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