Monday, 12 January 2015

Holidays with Jane by various Indie Jane Authors

Book cover: Holidays with Jane Christmas Cheer by various authors
I saw this book featured on a few blogs and it sounded like something I’d really enjoy; a collection of contemporary short stories, each by a different Indie Jane author (Jennifer Becton, Melissa Buell, Rebecca M Fleming, Cecilia Gray, Jessica Grey, Kimberley Truesdale) and each focusing on a different one of Austen’s works. The stories have some linkage although they don’t cross over at all, for example, Catherine Morland runs a dressmaking business and she is making the Dashwood sisters’ dresses, Emma runs a gift shop where Edward buys a present for Elinor, and probably the strongest link is an Austen-themed coffee shop chain called ‘Mansfield Perk’. I really liked the fact that the stories were linked, it brought the book together nicely.

Here’s a quick rundown of the stories:

The Work of an Instant by Jennifer Becton, based on 'Persuasion'

Here, Dr Anne Elliot is a doctor on a naval base. She gave up her engagement to Frederick Wentworth 7 years ago, believing that she couldn’t bear the separations that would be inevitable once Frederick was working towards his dream of becoming a Captain. But Anne gets a chance, in the work of an instant, to realise that if she had her time again, she’d choose differently. This was a really lovely short story, which echoed back to the original in a number of ways. I particularly liked this part, showing the Miss Musgrove’s view of Anne, which I thought was really similar to ‘Persuasion’:
‘Of course, neither Louisa nor Henrietta had the least idea of what they had interrupted. They viewed her as some sort of asexual problem-solving machine. 
And perhaps that was all she was destined to be.
Well, if that were the case, then she would be the best asexual problem-solving machine possible.’
One thing that often doesn’t translate well to a modern update is Wentworth’s letter, which is possibly the most exquisite page of a book that I’ve ever read. This isn’t quite as delicious as that, but it was a very lovely and worthy letter, possibly the best modern update Wentworth’s letter I’ve read so far.

Mischief and Mistletoe by Melissa Buell, based on 'Northanger Abbey'

This was such a lovely story, featuring the sweet Catherine. She is the only daughter of a pastor, homeschooled, no TV and a small social circle which has resulted in her being extremely naive compared with most 18 year olds. However, Cate is a very talented designer and seamstress, running her own online business, ‘Cate’s Creations’. Most of Cate’s dresses are remade thrift store finds. Cate was taught to sew by her neighbour, Mrs Allen, who has taken her on as a bit of a protégé and given Cate a great opportunity - she is going to take on all the design work for costumes for a theatre production out of town. There she meets a young divinity student, Henry Tilney, whose sister Eleanor is going to assist Cate with the costume-making. The girls become firm friends, and when Cate needs to stay in the area longer than the Allens she arranges with Eleanor to stay at Northanger Estate. I enjoyed this story, but I would have liked for it to be developed a bit more.

A Tale of Three Christmases by Rebecca M Fleming, based on 'Sense & Sensibility'

This was a wonderful story, which made me both laugh and cry. The tears come from the situation Maggie Dashwood finds herself in. A few weeks before Christmas, Maggie’s father dies. She, her mother, and her sisters are probably going to have to move away from their family home due to an archaic clause which means that the property has to be willed, complete, to a male heir. Maggie goes up to her hideaway in the attic and finds a beautiful box. Inside is a notebook and a letter from her father, asking her to write a diary of the next three Christmases. It’s a beautifully thoughtful idea of her father’s, because not only does it give Maggie a connection to her father now he’s gone, but it also gives her an outlet away from the dysfunction that exists within her family, especially at a time of loss.

The laughter came from Maggie’s attitude towards her sister Marianne. I haven’t read Sense & Sensibility in a number of years, but I remember that I found Marianne unbelievably self-absorbed and tiresome... Maggie shares my view, and had a number of acerbic comments to make on it:

‘It’s not the trees’ fault that Marianne got lost, in the middle of a tantrum-induced walk, right as a March storm broke. If Wills hadn’t been having his own Byronic fit, she might have wandered all afternoon and into the evening, but he found her and was able to escort her home. From that point on? They were disgustingly inseparable.’ 
One thing I think is hard to update in 'Sense & Sensibility' is the Lucy Steele scenario, why Edward would stick with a relationship which he clearly wasn’t invested in, but here the author gave an explanation which I thought was really plausible. This was an excellent story.

With Love, From Emma by Cecilia Gray, based on 'Emma'

This was my favourite story of the collection, I just loved it. Emma runs a florist and gift store. She also keeps bees, from which she harvests wax for candles etc. We catch up with her at her best friend, Taylor’s wedding to West, which is being held on Christmas Eve. Emma is particularly proud of herself because she counts herself as personally responsible for making the match:
‘They all talk as if some celestial Cupid had been involved. 
Cupid wishes.’
Emma is joined at the wedding by her neighbour, Lance Knightley. He moved to the area about a year ago, and his bar is two stores along from Emma’s shop. Over a number of incidents throughout the last year, Emma and Lance have become friends. She is very attracted to Lance but is fighting it because she believes he sees her like a sister. Emma is constantly having to stop herself drooling at Lance, which led to a number of very amusing thoughts from her:
‘The man knew how to lean against a wall. Did models take classes in stuff like this, or did it just come naturally to attractive people?’
The thing I loved most about this story is that to me it captured the essence of Emma from Austen’s story – Emma was a busybody who felt she knew best, however, it was because she cared about people that she interfered and the fact that she did it with love always made me feel fond of her. This Emma has chosen to bring joy to the world through her gift store. I also liked the bee motif running through the story. Aside from keeping bees, Emma is also very much a queen bee herself. However, when Emma decides to match up Harriet with Elton she explains to Lance how a new queen bee is made, and it illustrates how she views her interference in others’ lives:
“That’s all it takes. A little extra nourishment and tenderness and you have a queen.” 
That’s always been the secret to my business. That anyone can feel like a queen, can be a queen, with the right love.’
Another thing I thought was a nice touch about this story is that Emma is quite a lonely person; although she mentions having friends the only one you really see is Taylor, and Emma’s parents are both dead. I think Emma Woodhouse was potentially fairly lonely, she has a very small social group and her socialising is curtailed somewhat by her father’s health.

I had to read this story twice, I loved it so much! It also hits a number of markers which exist in Austen’s story. Due to the shorter format, some of the characters from ‘Emma’ are absent, such as the Bates ladies and Jane Fairfax so we don’t have to see the bad side of Emma’s character that they bring out. Emma thinks back to a number of events throughout the year that she has understood one way when she could have interpreted them differently, for example:
‘For such a fancy car, he drove slowly and cautiously, taking full stops at every opportunity. You’d think a cop was following us. Or that I was his sister, I thought with a sigh. He probably drove like a hot-riding manic with women he actually wanted to date. 
Still the long drive gave us time to chat.’
Perhaps that was why he was driving slowly, you clueless woman!

It’s a Wonderful Latte by Jessica Grey, based on ‘Mansfield Park

I was interested to see that Jessica Grey was writing the book based on ‘Mansfield Park’ because as far as I know, she really doesn’t like it! The story opens with Jane Austen and her sister Cassandra, sipping tea in the afterlife. Jane gets visited by another spirit, a Mr Clemens. I didn’t know what that name signified until Jane said this:
“Here to beat me over the head with your own shinbone, Mr. Clemens?”
And then it all became clear who Mr Clemens was, which gave me a giggle.  He has an assignment for Jane, down on Earth, like Clarence had in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’. Jane is sent to Mansfield Perk, where the manager, Evie, also dislikes ‘Mansfield Park’. On a personal note, I’ve only read ‘Mansfield Park’ twice – the first time as a romantic teen, and I really didn’t think much of it at all. I read it again a couple of years ago and I realised that it’s not a romance. There are romantic relationships, but that isn’t the main point of the book, and once I realised that I stopped being disappointed in the lack of romance and instead appreciated the book that I feel Austen intended to write. Funnily enough, Jane puts this view to Evie:
“...it’s Edmund Bertram I can’t stand.” 
Jane looked up from fiddling with the wallet with an amused smile. “Is that so?” 
“Oh yes, he’s a horrible romantic hero.” 
“Maybe it’s not a romantic book.” 
I stared at her blankly. “But-but-“ I spluttered. “Huh, I’ve never thought of that.”
Evie, who is the coffee shop owner’s granddaughter, works in the coffee shop with her cousin Izzy, and Frank, reliable Frank who is always there in the background. The store is visited by siblings Jake and Maggie Piper, who are new management of the mall the store is based in, wanting them to take part in a fund-raising celebration in the run up to Christmas. The fund-raising is for a theatre project, which isn’t a charity that’s close to Evie’s grandmother’s heart, but to paraphrase, ‘because Jake Piper was so ridiculously hot and Evie is so ridiculously shallow’ she convinces herself that it’s a good idea to support the project. Evie and Frank are usually in agreement on most things, but this time he feels that she’s not making the decision for the good of the store and it causes some friction in their relationship. Added to this, for some reason Evie doesn’t feel comfortable with Maggie Piper’s interest in Frank and his hot biceps!

There was an interesting point made, which I had never considered before:
“You are a bit like Edmund...or Emma. Emma was basically Edmund in a dress.”
I think there are definitely some similarities between the characters! Aside from these observations on Austen’s stories I also really enjoyed the tone of the story and the humour, Evie’s character was very likeable.

This story also contained my favourite quote of the book, which had me pausing my reading to share it on Goodreads:
“An angel?” I squeaked. “Like she’s on a mission from God? 
“No, that’s The Blues Brothers. But she could be an angel. A JANE-GEL.”

Pride & Presents by Kimberley Truesdale, based on ‘Pride & Prejudice

In this story the Bennet family run the Longbourn Community Centre, which does a lot for disadvanted kids in the neighbourhood. Liz is trying to convince her father that she’s up to the job of taking over running the centre so that he can retire. She’s successfully secured a load of donations for the Christmas party, and is feeling pretty upbeat when two visitors arrive. Basketball star Charles Bingley and his friend, Will Darcy, who is a lawyer, would like to volunteer, because their community centre gave so much to them when they were growing up. Everybody loves Charles, but Will is cold and seemingly uninterested and Liz resents him for his moodiness. Lydia’s new friend Wickham is a real contrast to Darcy, he’s charming, outgoing and friendly and even agrees to be Santa for the kids’ Christmas party. However, Liz learns that first impressions can be deceptive, and that she has made misjudgements.

As part of the work Liz is taking over from her father, she’s spent a lot of time on the paperwork for renewing the lease and Longbourn’s non-profit status but around the time that Wickham dumps Lydia, the paperwork goes missing along with a flash drive containing the backups. Liz realises that she may have blown both the future of Longbourn and any kind of future for her and Will. Plus they don’t have Santa for the Christmas show. What Liz needs is a Christmas miracle.

This was an enjoyable short story. It was interspersed with the poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’ and each line of the poem tied to a section of the story, which was a nice, Christmassy touch. I felt that this story might have benefitted from being a little longer. In ‘Pride & Prejudice’ the reader can see that Darcy is interested in Elizabeth before he asks her to marry him but here I don’t think it’s so clear. However, it’s still a story I enjoyed reading, and it was a nice festive way to round out the collection!

I really enjoyed reading this anthology. All of the stories were enjoyable, though I thought some worked better as short stories than others. Although they were all written by different authors, and so they are all slightly different in style they went together really nicely and I particularly liked the way the stories were linked, which I thought brought them nicely together into a collection. I can definitely see me picking up this book again when I want a quick fix of something Austenesque. I would recommend this book to anybody who likes contemporary-set JAFF. There are no sex scenes which may relieve you or disappoint you, depending on your view! I’d rate this as 4½ stars.

4.5 star read


10 comments:

  1. Nice review, Ceri! I loved this book! I usually don't like reading anthologies, so I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this!

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    1. Thanks Candy! I really enjoyed it too. I'd read a book, years ago, with a similar premise and I felt that the link back to Austen's stories was so weak that there barely was a link, but I didn't feel that way here, even with the stories that I thought would have benefited from being longer, I thought they all connected back to the originals really well.

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  2. Thanks for reading and for the review, Ceri! We appreciate readers. :-)

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    1. Thanks for commenting, Melissa. We appreciate writers too, especially of stories that are so enjoyable so thank you to you and the other writers involved in Holidays with Jane :)

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  3. Great review, Ceri! I am looking forward to reading this. I started reading Rebecca Flemming's story. So far, so good!

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    1. I so enjoyed this book, and I hope you do too Jakki!

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  4. Great review! I bought this for the holidays, but never had a chance to read it. I hope to get to it soon, though, holidays or not.

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    1. I find that some Christmas stories are very feelgood, and those I need to read at Christmas, as they are too cheesy at other times of year, but these, although they are all set in the festive period, would stand up to reading at other times of year too. Next Christmas would be too long to wait, I think your plan to read the collection soon is a good one :)

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  5. Loved your review, Ceri! I loved this anthology, too, and my favourite stories were A Tale of Three Christmases (the most touching), With Love, From Emma (I think my number 1!) and It’s a Wonderful Latte (because I had the chance to meet Jane Austen!!) I found that the idea of writing this book was great and it's a wonderful gift for all the Janeites!

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    1. I could have written this comment myself, Maria! They were the three I liked best too, and for all the reasons you gave. The Emma story just edged it for favourite. I read it, and then I went back and read it again because I liked it so much :)

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