Austenesque (in no particular order!)
The Subsequent Proposal by Joana Starnes - This was my first read of the year and I just loved it! It's a Pride & Prejudice variation but it features characters from Persuasion too. What if Mr Darcy, in the throes of despair, contemplates a comfortable marriage with somebody he respects but doesn't love... and what if that somebody happens to be Miss Anne Elliot, a lady who I cannot hate, and who I know is in love with another?! This is a wonderful, light-hearted read, and I would highly recommend it. Although I've enjoyed all the books I've read by Joana Starnes this one is my favourite.
Haunting Mr Darcy by Karalynne Mackrory - This is a fantastic read too. Here poor Elizabeth returns from Hunsford knowing the mistake in judgement she has made regarding Mr Darcy. Distracted, she gets hit by an out of control carriage and slips into a coma. Elizabeth's subconscious transports her to the source of her distraction and her spirit finds herself tethered to Mr Darcy! Obviously in those times a person could only be in a coma for a very short time before they died, but how will Elizabeth's spirit return to her body? This book was just wonderful and I highly recommend it.
Love at First Slight by J Marie Croft - Pride & Prejudice with a gender swap! Here we find the snobbish Miss Elizabeth Darcy becoming interested in a man from a lower position in society than she'd have expected to settle for, clergyman in training Mr William Bennet. I found this book fascinating, just from the point of view of how the author made various aspects of the story work when the genders of the protagonists were reversed. I also thought it was very interesting how differently I reacted to the characters when the genders were changed, it highlighted some bias in my views that I wasn't previously aware of - it's not often that I will read a book and learn more about myself!
Pride, Prejudice & the Perfect Bet by Marilyn Brant - the only modern Austenesque in my list. This is the follow up to Pride, Prejudice & the Perfect Match. It's unheard of for me to prefer a Jane and Bingley story to a Lizzy (or Beth-Ann in this case!) and Will story, but it happened here. I loved Jane in book 1, she was such a wonderful person and the truest friend that a girl could ever hope for so I was thrilled to read her story. Bing was a great protagonist too, I loved how much character there was under his playboy exterior, and how he taught Jane that she could still be nice without being taken advantage of, which is something I think canon Jane needed to learn too.
The Falmouth Connection by Joana Starnes - In this book we see Elizabeth Bennet leaving Hunsford before Darcy can propose. She goes to Falmouth, to visit a relative of her mother's. It takes some time for poor Darcy to locate her and by this point he has realised that he may have mistaken Elizabeth's affections and he's not sure whether she likes him at all. Added to this he has a number of potential issues in the form of his horrible nemesis, George Wickham, who is working as a steward in the area, a titled and rich rival for Elizabeth's affections, and the horrible suspicion that something fishy is going on and Elizabeth might be in danger. Luckily, Fitzwilliam Darcy doesn't give up easily! This was a really exciting story, we get a sword fight, a delicious romantic interlude in a garden, and some great character development.
Five non-Austenesque Picks
North and South by Mrs Gaskell - I'd read this one before but I re-read it this year. This is a wonderful Victorian book, telling the tale of a young woman, Margaret, whose family are going to relocate to an industrial town in Northern England. Margaret meets a mill-owner, Mr Thornton, who she sees unfairly as a harsh and uncaring individual. John Thornton has had to be a tough man, he has hard to be, his life has been pretty hard. In these form of these two individuals we can see the lessons that North can learn from South and vice versa. There is quite a bit of social conscience message in this book, and there is a fair amount of misery for poor Margaret to endure, but the romance is deep and beautiful.
Short Straw Bride by Karen Witemeyer -This year I discovered the books of Karen Witemeyer and I just love them! They are set in the USA in the later half of the 1800s. Ms Witemeyer is a Christian author but how strong the theme is varies from book to book. What all the ones I've read have had in common is how gripping they are, I didn't want to put them down! My favourite books I've read by her so far have been her books on the Archer Brothers, who have two full-length novels devoted to them, as well as a novella. Short Straw Bride is the book which introduces the four brothers. Their mother died shortly following the birth of baby Neill, and their father died when the boys were still children. This is the old West, which is not a place for the weak or the fainthearted and when the father was dying he made the boys promise to protect their land, worrying that unscrupulous people would cheat the boys of their inheritance, however, the boys have kept their promise too well, scaring off friend and foe alike. When Meredith was a child she ended up on the Archer's land and had an accident to her foot which left her with lasting injuries, but she believes from her experience that the boys are decent people underneath their prickly exteriors, so when she hears of a plot to cheat them she goes to warn them, and ends up in a situation which means that her family end up demanding that one of the Archer brothers marries her. Meredith ends up walking in on the brothers drawing straws to decide who will be the bridegroom which of course is very embarrassing for her, but what she doesn't realise is that the reason they are drawing straws isn't because nobody is willing, but because they all are! Luckily for Meredith one of them is not willing to leave her future up to chance, but they'll all have to work together to ensure a safe and happy future for the Archer clan.
Stealing the Preacher by Karen Witemeyer - This is the second book relating to the Archer brothers. Here, Crockett has finally been able to leave the family homestead and he is going to try and get a job as a preacher. He is en route to an interview when the train is held up by bandits. These are no ordinary bandits though, they are older than usual, and rather than wanting money they want a preacher... as a birthday present for one of their daughters! Joanna is horrified at what her father has done, but she is determined to do what she can to persuade the preacher to stay, as she wants to cement the future of the community, and she worries about her father's spiritual health too. She thinks Crockett could be just what is needed for everybody, he is a man who practices what he preaches and is a good, honest Christian. Since this is a book where faith is a huge part of the story, the Christian theme is strong in this book, but it's natural when you consider what the storyline is. There is also a very lovely romance and one of the sweetest and nicest heroines you could imagine.
Jane of Lantern Hill by L M Montgomery - I've read a lot of L M Montgomery but this was a new read for me. Jane is a child who doesn't belong. She lives with her mother, aunt and grandmother. Jane's grandmother is in charge and she adores Jane's mother, but it's a selfish, twisted love, and she resents everybody else, particularly poor Jane. Nothing Jane is or does is ever right. Jane's parents haven't lived together for a decade, although they are still married, and her father is a stranger to her. One summer, he demands that Jane visits him during the summer holiday. Poor Jane dreads the visit, but she goes and finds that suddenly she understands who she is and finds a kindred spirit in her delightful father. Jane is encouraged to do things that play to her strengths and her petals unfurl as she becomes the child she always ought to have been, such a beautiful story!
Just to mix it up from all these classics, Christian fiction and wholesomeness I present you with my last choice, which is:
Wallbanger by Alice Clayton - I am not usually a big fan of chick lit, it's sometimes just a bit too silly and fluffy for me, but if it's written with wit and humour then I can really enjoy it and this was one of those instances (although please note that there is both sex and bad language in this book). Caroline has a dream job and now a dream apartment - the only flies in her ointment are that she is sexually frustrated, and her neighbour keeps her awake entertaining his ladyfriends. Over time Caroline and Simon, aka 'Wallbanger' form a friendship of sorts, a fun relationship full of innuendo and banter, but could the wallbanger ever settle down with one woman and get rid of his 'harem'?
What were your favourite reads of 2014? I've been so lucky with my reads in 2014, I only hope that I have such a nice selection to choose my favourites from next year! Happy reading to you all in 2015!