Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Mansfield Ranch by Jenni James

Book cover - The Jane Austen Diaries, Mansfield Ranch - Jenni James
As you might remember I am celebrating the bicentenary of Mansfield Park by trying to work in some Mansfield Park themed reads. This isn’t the first young adult version I’ve read; a while ago I read Rosie Rushton’s Whatever Love Is, which I thought was wonderful read and tied back really nicely to Mansfield Park. I would say Mansfield Ranch by Jenni James is aimed at a slightly younger audience. The heroine is only 16 years old, and it's a very 'clean' read.

Lilly Price (Fanny Price) has been fostered by the Benally family for the past 8 years, since she was 8 years old. Previously to that she lived in a children’s home. Lilly doesn’t fit in with her snobby foster sisters, Lauren and Alexis, and she’s always in trouble with Mr Benally. Mrs Benally doesn’t pay her much attention because she’s always too busy watching TV. Lilly isn’t especially popular at school, but she has one big high point in her life; her foster brother Sean Benally. Sean is a very sweet guy who has always been there for Lilly. She is much closer to him than to her foster sisters.

Sean does have his bad points though; he doesn’t always keep his mouth shut when he should. He thinks that Lilly is unappreciated at Mansfield Ranch and she deserves a nice boyfriend. He thinks that the new neighbours’ son, Harrison Crawford, would make a good match for her. Unfortunately he tells his sisters this and they spread the untrue news that Lilly is pursuing Harrison. This sets their relationship off on a bad footing, and Lilly soon decides that she doesn’t like him. Once Harrison realises that Lilly is serious in her dislike he decides to make her fall in love with him because nobody turns down Harrison Crawford.

This type of book must be hard to write, I think, because it needs to work as a modern book in its own right while still staying true to the original. For me, this one didn’t quite push all the right buttons. Firstly, the family situation was odd. Lilly was ignored by Mrs Benally, blamed for everything by Mr Benally, and ignored by the girls. Lilly seemed to be the only one who did chores and her car was much cheaper than her foster sisters and was actually sold as a punishment to her. It reminded me a bit of Cinderella. I wouldn’t have thought there would be this level of division in a foster family when the point of a foster family is to give a child a normal family life.

In Mansfield Park there is difference in the treatment, but Fanny wasn’t supposed to be treated like the Bertrams’ daughters, and in fact it would have been wrong for them to give her the expectation that her life could be the same as theirs, as she was poorer and lower socially and likely to remain so. These days, that is just not the case, girls are so much freer to make their own way in life. Also, a scenario where a foster brother and sister are romantically involved when they have been living together as siblings since the younger child was 8 is a bit of a grey area, especially when she's only 16 and not an adult at the time of the romance. For me, it has more of an incestuous ‘ick’ factor than first cousins in Regency times with a larger age gap who were brought up as cousins, particularly given the likelihood that Edmund would have gone to boarding school and so been absent for long periods whereas Sean actually lived with Lilly and saw her every day.

Lilly’s personality was very different from Fanny Price – she was feisty, but it went over the line into rude on quite a few occasions and she led on Harrison quite badly, something that Fanny would never have done. Aside from the challenge of a girl who doesn’t like him I am not sure what Harrison saw in her. He gave a list of her good qualities but for me they didn’t come across very strongly, and he only ever sees her at her worst, so how Harrison picked up on this stuff I don’t know.

Lilly doesn’t seem bothered about kissing her step-sister’s boyfriend, which is very different from Fanny’s sense of honour. The whole Lilly/Sean-Fanny/Edmund dynamic and storyline was very different here too – instead of settling for Fanny, which many people complain about in MP, instead here both Sean and Lilly used the Crawford siblings to an extent and I felt greater pity for both of them than I did reading Mansfield Park.

One thing I thought was reflected very well from the original was Lilly’s reason for not wanting to pursue a relationship with Harrison. She doesn’t feel she can trust him:

“I’m sure there are lots of girls willing to get burned by you, but frankly, I don’t have the time or the inclination to deal with a guy who’s just playing games. I want a real guy. A guy who thinks of me first. A guy who’s dependable and nice and caring and well, all the things you’re not.”

There was a point where I thought that the Crawfords would come out blameless victims, but things weren't changed that much!



There are other books in the series which have already been released – Pride and Popularity, Northanger Alibi, Persuaded and Emmalee. From the notes at the back of Mansfield Ranch I noticed that another four books are planned. These are Sensible and Sensational (Sense & Sensibility) and also Sand & Sun, The Wilsons and Queen Sidney (I am presuming these are Austen's Sanditon, The Watsons and Lady Susan respectively, none of which I’ve read yet).


Book covers - Jane Austen Diaries by Jenni James


12 comments:

  1. Interesting point about Edmund being away at boarding school. It always bothered me that after growing up together they would have romantic feelings for each other. It makes much more sense that he would be gone for big chunks of time.

    Nice review, Ceri!

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    1. I think there was something like a six year age gap in MP so they were never children together either. Edmund was the older cousin so they were never in the role of brother and sister. Plus much more common in those days to marry your cousin. I am pretty sure it's still legal here in the UK, although I don't know anybody who is married to their cousin, I think most people would feel quite queasy at the thought!

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  2. It's interesting that you bring up Cinderella in this review, as Nabokov once wrote a major essay about MP and mentioned several elements from that fairy tale that fit into the book. I do agree that modernizing MP is tricky(which makes me wonder if the new set of Jane Austen reimaged novels for adults will tackle it) which is why my e-book Fanny Price, Slayer of Vampires stayed for the most part in the original Regency period. The foster family idea doesn't sound too bad but it does seemed flawed here. Should be an interesting read for young people at least!

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    1. I agree with you Lady T, some things aren't easy to modernise, and MP particularly can be hard to relate to without changing the essence of the heroine. The other MP update I referred to surprised me by how good a job the author did of updating it while staying true to the story.

      I am not holding out high hopes for the Austen Project version. I just finished the Sense and Sensibility version and for me it wasn't changed enough to work as a modern story. If they all stay so close to the storyline of the original then some of them won't work as books in their own right. Part of the enjoyment I get from modernisations is seeing what clever way the author has replicated things that occur in the original books in a way that's plausible for modern times.

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  3. Well Ceri I laughed the whole way through that review, not sure if that was what you intended, if I give this one a miss your review has made up for any disappointment I might have felt. As you know I love Mansfield and eagerly await any variations that come onto the market.:)

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it :)

      There are not many Mansfield variations to choose from, it's a shame. Have you read any, Tamara?

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  4. Fab review, Ceri! I've read 3 from this series and enjoyed them for what they are fluffy and fun YA. But I agree with you about this one, that does have a little bit of an ick factor to it...and Lilly does seem to have a few changes of personality. My favorite in the series is Pride and Popularity so far. I must know, do you plan on reading The Beresfords??? :)

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    1. I haven't read any of the others in the series yet, but I'd give them a go.

      Yes, I plan on reading The Beresfords, probably pretty soon. It has such good reviews and adding that to your recommendation makes it a must-read! My other planned Mansfieldy reads are-
      Murder at Mansfield Park by Lynn Shepherd,
      The Trouble with Flirting by Claire Lazebnik,
      Finding Favor by Lana Long
      William Price and the Thrush by Sarah Waldock
      +1 more

      This list might change but that's what I'm planning at the moment.

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  5. Another great review, Ceri. And yet another book I have but have not read...story of my life!!:) Mansfield Park is my least favorite JA novel so I'm usually not too quick to read a book based on it. I have read Murder at Mansfield Park and from what I can remember (it's been awhile since I read it) I enjoyed it. I've also read The Matters at Mansfield by Carrie Bebris and I liked that one too. Both of those books are nice mysteries.

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    1. mine too, Kelli! I have so many books on my kindle, it is quite shocking. I can buy them so much faster than I can read them! Thanks for the Mansfield. Park inspired suggestions. I have Carrie Bebris's books on my wishlist but I don't have any of them. It's good to have a recommendation from somebody who has read them.

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  6. Hi! I was wondering whether to read this novel or not... but I don't like young adult books very much, and the half-brother/half-sister affair is very odd...
    Thanks for your clarifying review!

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    1. Thank you Carmen! It's hard to avoid young adult books when looking for books inspired by Mansfield Park, most of them seem to be YA, but I suppose to have her living with the Bertrams she would probably be fairly young in whatever modern version is written. I found the foster family situation a little disquieting, other books I've read have got round this by making her the daughter of a friend of the family, or the child of an adopted sibling of Mrs Bertram, which I thought distanced their relationship better.

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