Wednesday 26 March 2014

Trip to Bath - Part 2

Part 1 of this saw us as far as the Assembly Rooms, where we collapsed, exhausted, and fortified ourselves on a panini and a pot of tea.  The tea worked its magic, as always, and we went downstairs to see the Fashion Museum.  This was something my mum particularly wanted to see, but we both thoroughly enjoyed it.  You have an audio tour which I hadn't done before, but it was really easy, the exhibits have a number to put into your machine, and you just input the number, press go and it will tell you about what you're looking at.

I love history when it can be brought to life, and this is something I really felt in the Fashion Museum, because this is not just the style of clothes that would have been worn at such and such a date, but genuine clothes that date from those times, that were worn by real people and in some cases we even know whose clothes they were. The Fashion Museum's audio tour encouraged me to take photos and I took a lot of them! Hopefully you'll find some of the following of interest.

These are some of the earlier dresses in there.  This one is a 'sack back' dress (that orangey thing you can see in the background is a man's dressing gown!)

This style of dress was another early one. The dress itself is open at the front, the white part is a separate petticoat.

Bit of nightwear here, how glam is this (below)!

Now, you know in historical novels, sometimes they'll mention a court dress, and say what a ridiculous garment it was? Well I saw this (below) and my jaw just dropped. Without exaggeration, I would say that you would be wider than you are tall wearing this dress, it's utterly insane.  The sides were held out with cane in the dress.

To drum up business for court dresses mantua makers would have a sample court dress that they would take to potential customers' homes but since they obviously couldn't take a real dress they had a little mini one, and they had one of those in the museum, in the foreground of the picture below.

You may be forgiven for thinking, from the photos I've posted that it's only ladies' clothes, but there are clothes for the gents too.  These are from the early 1800s I believe.

You can see the dates on the clothes below, let's take a minute to imagine some of Jane Austen's characters in these clothes from around 200 years ago.  The coat on the left belonged to Lord Byron's wife.

I really enjoyed the Victorian clothes, there was a wonderful array on show, including the petticoats Victorian ladies would wear to ensure the shape of their dresses was correct but not too heavy.  I'd heard of crinolines, but I didn't realise that they were basically a cage style of petticoat.

Obviously black was a big thing in Victorian fashion, due to Queen Victoria mourning her husband for fifty years.  They even had a dress that belonged to Queen Victoria herself, which surprised me by just how big it was. I'd seen photos, but it was good to see in real life, helped with scale. Since this is black it was hard to photo, forgive the flash!

The displays go on to show more modern, designer clothes and here are some of Princess Diana's dresses, including her going away dress from her wedding day (the coral one in the middle).  These are owned by her sons, but have been lent to the museum, and the display includes the designs of the clothes and notes that she wrote to the designer.

I so enjoyed the Fashion Museum! They even have a section for you to dress up, so you can try huge petticoats and corsets etc. They have children's clothes available to try on too, but to be honest I think you'd miss out on a lot on a visit here if you had to take children with you unless they were old enough to be engaged by the audio tour. I will leave you with a gratuitous bonnet selfie :)

Tuesday 25 March 2014

Trip to Bath - Part 1

I've been to Bath quite a few times, but always for the Christmas market. Last year I promised myself that I'd take a trip to Bath and look at some nice Austen-y things, and last week my mother and I caught the train, and just about an hour later we pulled into Bath. We had about 6 hours there, and frankly I need to go again, because there is more that I want to see!

If you haven't been to Bath and you get the opportunity you should definitely go, it's such a gorgeous place. It's a World Heritage site and even if you don't go and see any of the attractions it's still a beautiful place to walk around, the architecture is just something else.  Knowing that our time in Bath was limited we had to choose a few things to see as a priority, so we headed off from the station past the cathedral.  No time to go in unfortunately, but even from the outside it's impressive:

We went to the Jane Austen Centre, where we heard a short talk on Jane Austen's life and specifically the time she spent in Bath. From the sound of it her parents were very fond of the place, and in fact they met in Bath.  After Mr Austen retired as a clergyman they settled in Bath, and were comfortable enough, but after he died their income was reduced meaning that they had to move to less and less attractive accommodation as time went on.  I really enjoyed seeing the exhibition here, which gave insight into both Jane Austen's life, and life in general at that time.  There was a tearoom here that I was sorely tempted to try out, but there was no time, there were sights to be seen.  We went on to have a wander down the Gravel Walk, which is referred to in Persuasion - this is where Anne and Captain Wentworth go after she has read the letter:

"...soon words enough had passed between them to decide their direction towards the comparatively quiet and retired gravel-walk, where the power of conversation would make the present hour a blessing indeed; and prepare for it all the immortality which the happiest recollections of their own future lives could bestow. There they exchanged again those feelings and those promises which had once before seemed to secure every thing, but which had been followed by so many, many years of division and estrangement."

The Gravel Walk is a cut through to the Royal Crescent which is probably one of the most lovely streets I've ever walked down.

There is a house here which is decorated in Georgian Style but we didn't have time to go in and see it, something I definitely want to do next time!  It's the house on the far right of the picture above.  Instead we just walked along the road and pretended we lived there. There is a hotel along this stretch and lots of homes which were under renovation.  These houses are crazy expensive for terraced properties, but they really are beautiful.

We then went to see another of our must-see sights of the day, the Assembly Rooms. Feast your eyes on this...

Wow!  You can just imagine dancing happening here. There was so much gorgeous detailing in this building. Just look at the ceiling of this room.

There were three rooms you could see, the one I've shown above, the Octagon Room, that was used for cards, and what was the tea room.  This is also a lovely room, but it can be hired out, as it was on the day we visited, so I only had a quick nose at it.  You can get married here, and if I lived closer to Bath I would have been very tempted to have had my wedding there!

Housed in this building is the Fashion Museum, which I really enjoyed.  I took quite a few pictures which hopefully you'll find interesting, I'll post them next time.

Sunday 23 March 2014

Stealing the Preacher by Karen Witemeyer

Crockett Archer is on his way to a job opportunity, his first as a preacher.  He’ll be orating, as will another candidate, but Crockett is confident of his chances.  However, he never makes it to his job interview – the train gets held up by some surprisingly old bandits, are not looking for valuables, they are looking for the preacher.  Crockett finds out to his astonishment that he has been kidnapped... as a birthday present! 

Joanna Robbins, daughter of Silas Robbins, ranch owner (and some years previously, a train robber) is struggling spiritually.  The area they live in lost their preacher some time ago and a replacement has never been found, meaning that many people in the area can’t go to church as the nearest one is too far away.  She worries greatly for her father’s spiritual wellbeing – he has always been anti-church, deeming the clergy as hypocrites.  Both Joanna and Silas are still mourning the loss of Martha, Silas’s wife and Joanna’s mother, who was a woman of deep faith.  Martha always hoped that Silas would find his way back to God, and Joanna has now taken on this worrying, and doesn’t feel up to the task.

Joanna is horrified at what her father has done, although she appreciates that his motivation was her happiness.  She confides her worries to Crockett and arranges for him to reach the next town, in order to try and save his job prospects, but the job has already been given to the other candidate, as the townsfolk took it as a sign from God when Crockett didn’t show up.  Although disappointed, Crockett begins to wonder whether it was in fact a sign from God, that he should help Joanna try and bring her father closer to God, and provide spiritual guidance for the area.

This is the second story about the Archer brothers. I haven’t read the first, but I didn’t feel lost, I think it reads well as a stand-alone.  Crockett and his brothers basically had to bring themselves up and as a result he is very resourceful and hardworking.  Rather than being the type of preacher that Silas is used to, who says all the right things, but doesn’t follow his own teachings, Crockett genuinely believes in his message, and is admirably trying to live his life accordingly:
‘He might be preaching on Sundays, but the rest of the week he’d be living out the message on a more practical level.’
Joanna has a similar spiritual depth and works hard to live up to her Christian values, although she struggles with her self-esteem.  She is a very good and lovable character, and you are completely in her corner from the very beginning.

This is a Christian romance, and while it isn’t so evident in other Karen Witemeyer books the Christian theme is very strong indeed within this story, due to its subject matter of trying to bring a man back to his faith. There are some dark moments within this book, and plenty of action.  Luckily, I started reading it pretty early in the day, as I am not sure if I could have put the book down at some points until I was sure everything would turn out alright! I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I would recommend it, as long as you don’t mind a strong Christian theme.

Tuesday 18 March 2014

Love at First Slight by J. Marie Croft

I was so excited to read this book when I heard the premise; Pride and Prejudice, but with the genders swapped!  So we see Miss Elizabeth Darcy, the proud granddaughter of an Earl, going into Hertfordshire to stay at the estate of the Widow Davenport (nee Bingley) where she meets William Bennet, one of five brothers, and a very poor match for an heiress like her. I thought this was a very interesting idea.  I know there are Pride and Prejudice-inspired books out there with a gender-swap element, but the ones I know of are modern, and I thought that a historical gender-swap would be harder to make work due to societal constraints at the time.

The Characters: Firstly, not all of the characters are changed, although nearly all the main ones are - I thought this was entertaining in its own right in a lot of cases. Mr Bennet is a slave to his nerves, and determined to get his 5 sons married.  Mrs Bennet is a reclusive alcoholic.
‘In no particular order of precedence, Flora’s main occupations were reading ribald romances, sampling grapes in all their myriad, fermented forms, and maintaining her husband’s frangible nerves’
There are five Bennet brothers, but the order is different from Pride and Prejudice.  Here Martin (Mary) is the eldest and the heir to Longbourn, followed by the handsome Charles (Jane) who is apprenticed to Uncle Gardiner.  William (Elizabeth) is next, he is training to be a clergyman and will be in line for the living that Longbourn can award, once the present incumbent inherits an estate, which is expected soon.  William doesn’t feel he’s well-suited to be a clergyman, his dream would be to inherit an estate. Twins Christopher (Kitty) and Laurence (Lydia) follow, they are intended for the army. 

The family are friends to the Lucas brothers and all look forward to the arrival of Mrs Davenport’s party, the supercilious Bingley brothers (Casper Bingley in particular I found very amusing, due to his foppish clothes and Miss Darcy’s distain for him).  When Mr William Bennet meets Miss Darcy, he asks her to dance and is turned down with little ceremony, deemed only tolerable. He is teased by practically everybody about this, and his vanity turns him against Miss Darcy, so that he doesn’t realise when she falls prey to his ‘smouldering eyes’:
 ‘With a start, Elizabeth realised she had stared for what must have been an improper extent. Proper duration for ogling deacons was not a subject touched upon at the London seminary she had attended.’
Unfortunately for Miss Darcy, William doesn’t appreciate that she has feelings for him and he dislikes her heartily, although he feels attraction for her that he fights against admitting.
‘William’s hand dropped to his side and developed a quiver. He slowly backed away. The woman is downright dangerous. A god-awful jolt from her hand at Netherfield, and now she is the source of inexplicable palsy. Heaven help de Bourgh should he embrace her’
I thought it was interesting to see the characters with their genders swapped, William Bennet is a much less alpha male type than Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice (understandable, as Darcy causes many events to happen, a role taken on by Miss Darcy here), but he’s quite light hearted and loveable.  I was not impressed with his rudeness towards Miss Darcy though!  Miss Darcy was a very interesting character. She was quite spoiled and used to getting anything she wanted, willing to be a bit improper and forward in achieving this aim, rude and snobby, but she was quite different behind closed doors, sweet, loving, and hoping to be loved in return. This brings me on to my next point...

Sexism – I wasn’t expecting to get this from reading the book but the way I reacted to the characters’ qualities differed when applied to the opposite gender.  I really wasn’t expecting this, and it caused me to wonder how far I have double standards between the sexes.  For example, the Hunsford scene in Pride and Prejudice left me feeling extremely sorry for Mr Darcy, but also fairly sorry for Elizabeth Bennet as it was a bolt out of the blue.  There is a Hunsford-style scene here and I didn’t have much sympathy for William Bennet, in fact, I wanted to line up behind Lady Cassandra Fitzwilliam (Colonel Fitzwilliam!) for his blood due to his lack of gentlemanliness.  Nearly all my sympathy in this scene was reserved for Miss Darcy, and the amount of forgiving she has to do over the course of the book made me feel that she was almost saintly.  This certainly gave me new appreciation for Mr Darcy in P&P, the man takes on a family from a lower social class, who are not especially good company for somebody who he has loved steadfastly even though they’ve made their disdain of him clear and it’s cost him a load of money to do so!  It also highlighted to me how many instances of rudeness towards Elizabeth Bennet just exist in her head, viewed through her prejudices.

Miss Collins is another character I felt differently about than her male counterpart in Pride and Prejudice, but I put this down to societal reasons – Mr Collins was full of self-importance, and Miss Collins had to be more humble, and I found her much more likable as a result, as does her cousin.

The Difficulties – The difficulties with gender swap in a historical setting seem to me to be how you get key events to happen.  Getting Mr Bennet to ask Miss Darcy to dance when he doesn’t want to isn’t too hard, you have to get him forced into a situation where it would be rude not to ask (Elizabeth is impertinent to Darcy, but she doesn’t cross the line to absolute rudeness until Hunsford), the real difficulty is getting a Hunsford style scene – how can you get a situation where William Bennet would be so rude as to tell a lady that she’s the last lady in the world he would ever marry? 

Also, to my understanding, a gentleman wouldn’t usually ask a lady of a higher social class to marry him, unless he had a fine fortune, which Mr Bennet doesn’t have.  It’s particularly problematic that Miss Darcy is an heiress, as a man with no money proposing to a woman with a lot of it would very likely be seen as a fortune hunter by the lady’s relatives (and in 20-year old Miss Darcy’s case, her guardian, the Earl).  When you add to this the fact that he doesn’t initially want to marry her at all it becomes especially problematic! I also couldn’t foresee how Laurence could be endangered by Miss Wickham.  I will be fair to Ms Croft, she manages to work around all of these issues in what I felt was a plausible way, although I despaired as to how it would be possible.

The Story – the story is largely very similar, although there are areas which differ as Miss Darcy would obviously have less say over her life and movements than Mr Darcy would, although she is one hell of a heroine, she is a lady who makes things happen! There were some differences in storyline that I felt differed unnecessarily from the original, but other changes were necessary due to the gender reversal.  Since Pride and Prejudice is more focused on Elizabeth’s viewpoint this is also focused on William Bennet’s view of things.  I would have liked a bit more Miss Darcy, but we don’t get more Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice so I accept this!

The Wordplay – Ms Croft is obviously a lover of words, and there are quite a few puns and instances of alliteration.  If you don’t like these they may begin to grate on you, but I don’t mind them.  There are quite a few word-plays within the text that gave me a smile:
“Pig-headedness runs in the family, as I have often reminded you.” 
“And I have steadfastly refused to believe it.”
The Areas I Felt Could Have Been Improved – Not much actually. There was the odd American word like ‘dang’ and I thought there was too much mild swearing, feeling that gentleman should have refined the language a touch more around ladies. There were some things I might like to have been different, but when I thought about it, often these were reflections of Pride and Prejudice, for example, I would have liked more time in Elizabeth’s head, but we get very little of Darcy’s feelings in P&P so it was fitting.

In Conclusion: I really enjoyed this book.  I liked the initial gender swap premise, I enjoyed how the author changed things around to make it work and I appreciated that it made me reflect on my own reactions and consider new things about the original story.  I found the book very readable, in fact I read the first 70% in one sitting and gave myself a headache because I didn’t want to put it down!  I just couldn’t see how the author could give this couple a happy ending.  I found myself thinking about this book after I read it, which is always a good sign, and I had LOADS I wanted to say about it, so kudos to you if you’ve made it to the end!  For these reasons, I would rate this book as a 5 star read.

Sunday 16 March 2014

One Week Girlfriend Series by Monica Murphy

I read the first two parts of this series, One Week Girlfriend and Second Chance Boyfriend last year and I really enjoyed them.  They tell the story of Drew (who isn’t in reality how he’s been drawn) and Fable (who isn’t like the stories told about her – do you see what the author did there?!) who meet under unusual circumstances, but turn out to be just what the other needs. The series continues with Three Broken Promises which tells the story of Jen and Colin, who Fable meets through work, a novella completing Drew and Fable’s story called Drew + Fable Forever and a story about Fable’s teenage brother Owen which came out this month, Four Years Later.  I wanted to find out about Owen’s story because I was so fond of him in the first two books so I thought I’d finish off reading the whole series, and here are my thoughts on each instalment:

One Week Girlfriend: College student Drew hires Fable to pose as his girlfriend for a week on a trip home. On paper, Drew has a brilliant life; he's rich, does well in college, football team star and is hot to boot but he has some major issues. The poor guy is pretty lonely and unloved, has some serious guilt, control issues and has been used pretty badly. He doesn't want a real girlfriend as he's unprepared to let anybody past his defences and he asks Fable, who has a reputation as the town's easy lay to pose as his girlfriend rather than somebody else because he knows she won't expect anything more from him, relationship-wise.

Fable has her own problems - she is having to pick up the slack from her alcoholic mother both financially and as a stable parent figure to her younger brother. She is also very unloved, and although she sleeps around a bit to escape from her life for a brief time, her reputation has been exaggerated.

Spending time together proves more problematic than either Drew or Fable had anticipated, they have some serious chemistry and the fact that they both have issues helps them understand each other and break through each other's barriers but neither are sure how much is an act for the week and how much is real and whether either of them are capable of having a relationship at this time.

I really enjoyed this story although I felt sorry for both Drew and Fable for the issues they had but I felt that there was some good progression with their problems, particularly for Drew.  

Second Chance Boyfriend - We pick up a couple of months after the first book. Drew has run away from his feelings again, and is missing Fable badly. He realises how stupid he has been to throw away a relationship which could really have helped him work through his demons and when he meets again with Fable he seizes the chance to try again. If you've read the first book you will know that these two both have some serious issues and baggage and they continue their improvement into the realms of "normal" rather than remaining messed up. We also get to see some more of Adele (HATE her, she turns my stomach!) and more of Fable's brother Owen, who I liked, I thought he was a really believable character. I am probably not selling this book well, saying it's all about healing etc, but it's a heartwarming book rather than a soppy tale, both Drew and Fable are such likeable characters and so good for each other that I really enjoyed seeing their progress towards a happy ending.

Three Broken Promises – I thought Jen and Colin were interesting secondary characters in Second Chance Boyfriend, we knew they went way back, and that Jen had feelings for him and that Colin had some demons, so I was glad to see that they were getting a book of their own.  Colin was the childhood best friend of Jen’s brother, who died overseas serving in the military. Jen’s family fell apart after Danny’s death and Jen ended up in a bad situation that Colin saved her from.  He gave her a job and a roof over her head and though he cares for her deeply he doesn’t want to pursue a relationship with her because he feels too guilty – for her brother’s death, the family breakdown that led to the situation she got into and he also doesn’t feel he is good relationship material and Jen deserves better.  Jen feels trapped; she loves Colin but he won’t open up to her and although she misses her brother she feels it’s time to move on with her life.  She also has some secrets from her past which she is afraid are catching up with her. Jen can’t see Colin ever letting her in so she hands in her notice at work and tells him that in 4 weeks she’ll be moving away, putting the ball in his court – if he wants her to stay he’ll have to do something about it.

While I enjoyed this book there were aspects I found frustrating.  First of which was Jen – she wasn’t what I expected. I thought she was more like Fable, who is feisty, independent and capable, but Jen is frustratingly naive – she says that she is always dependent on somebody but that is just as well, as anytime she does something of her own instigation she makes bad decisions and takes silly risks.  I also felt like there was too much time spent on the ‘will they – won’t they’ and the resolution of other threads, such as Colin’s fractured relationship with his father was tied up too quickly.  Still, I enjoyed this story, and I liked seeing some small glimpses of Drew and Fable, which whets the appetite for the novella tying up their story.

Drew + Fable Forever
We first met Drew and Fable in One Week Girlfriend and saw them take on their issues in Second Chance Boyfriend, working to overcome their obstacles and becoming happier than either of them thought was possible.  I loved both Drew and Fable from the previous books and I was looking forward to seeing a bit more of them.  If you hadn’t read the first two books you could pick up this novella and it would make sense because some of the main events from the previous books are referred to, but you would miss out on all the detail, I would definitely recommend reading this after reading the first two books. 
We start off about a year after the end of SCB.  Drew is now a professional American Football player and he and Fable are still very much in love but theirs is not a carefree existence because they have to spend a lot of time apart, as Drew has to train with his team in another town and Fable can’t go with him because she has to stay in home because of her responsibility for her brother. Owen is still in school and they don’t want to disrupt his schooling.  We see a number of different events in Drew and Fable’s lives in the near future as they work towards their happy ever after.  This novella isn’t so much a story as more of an extended epilogue, following Drew and Fable through the next few years.  The novella is very, very sweet, and if you already know the couple and what they’ve worked through together then you are on their side hoping for a happy ending, but if you prefer a bit more conflict and tension you may feel it falls a bit flat.  However, since I am very fond of the couple I really enjoyed it!

Four Years Later
Owen is Fable’s brother from One Week Girlfriend and Second Chance Boyfriend and I was very fond of him from those books, when he was a foul-mouthed teen who poor Fable was trying to keep from going off the rails.  Owen’s mother is an alcoholic and drug user who never stepped up to the plate for her kids. Fable had to step into that role, and her anger at that, and trying to minimise the distress and damage it caused Owen left her with very little sympathy for her mother, especially when she abandoned her children.  Fable has cut her mother out of her life without a backward glance. Owen was always more forgiving towards her and now, four years later Owen’s mother has come back into his life, asking for handouts all the time. He knows he should tell her where to go but deep down he still craves his mother’s love. 

Owen is living in a pretty good situation; his brother in law, Drew, is doing well in his career as a pro American footballer and he’s bought Owen a house to live in and a car.  Owen is potentially good enough to become a pro footballer too, but he needs to keep his grades up to stay on the team, and that is where one problem lies – he’s been cutting class so he can work more at his part time job so he can keep giving his mother money.  Owen has also been turning to drink and drugs to curb his anxieties, which obviously could lead to him losing his place on the team.  Owen agrees to have a tutor to help his grades in English Literature and creative writing, and this means he meets Chelsea.

Chelsea is a bit of a lonely soul. Academically she’s pretty gifted and she was advanced a few years, meaning she made few friends amongst people her age or her older classmates. Her family is dysfunctional, with a mother who has done her best to indoctrinate Chelsea to be independent and stay clear of men while simultaneously behaving in the exact opposite way, allowing Chelsea’s father to walk all over her.  Chelsea’s father is currently in prison, which is something she is trying to keep secret, but due to this Chelsea is on a tight budget, hence the tutoring, and a part time job too.  She is immediately attracted to Owen, but he has heartbreaker written all over him and so she does her best to keep her distance.

Owen has some pretty strong feelings for Chelsea from the beginning too, but he needs the tutoring to raise his grades, doesn’t want to scare Chelsea off and doesn’t feel like he’s good enough for her.  These two are a bit like chalk and cheese, he’s foul-mouthed, promiscuous and a casual drug using party boy and she is all work and no play, pretty straitlaced and she is very inexperienced with the opposite sex but the more time they spend together the more they like one another. 

These two are so sweet together; the differences between them balance each other out really nicely, she loosens up a bit and he cleans up his act.  Not everything goes smoothly for these two.  I was actually expecting more obstacles, but these two don’t have the same type of big issues that Drew and Fable had to overcome.  Reminiscent of Drew, Owen also writes poetry for his lady, but rather than the sweet poems that Drew writes Owen’s are a little more earthy. 

“I am so lucky. He’s so thoughtful, sweet and funny.  He writes me poems.  Dirty ones, but I don’t care. They’re beautiful.  He’s beautiful.  Not perfect, but he’s mine.  And I am his.”

Awww! I thought this was a lovely way to end the One Week Girlfriend series, I really enjoyed this book.

Saturday 15 March 2014

Alias Thomas Bennet by Suzan Lauder

I love reading variations on Pride and Prejudice and this one has an unusual variation; rather than change something in the timeline of the original novel, this story explores how different things could have been if Mr and Mrs Bennet were different.  In this tale, Mr Bennet in particular is altered.  He is much more energetic and hands-on with his family.  Rather than retreat to his book room and let fate take its course he has been actively involved in his family’s upbringing which has meant a huge change in the Bennet sisters, and also their mother.  Mrs Bennet is far more refined and restrained, as are the girls. Lydia particularly is unrecognisable! I couldn’t help but feel that this affected Elizabeth in a less positive way though - personally I am fond of her impertinence, which she is made to tone down.  Her dialogue is missing some of the sparkle for me, I felt she was a little bland at the beginning of this story. 

Darcy’s introduction into Hertfordshire society is also affected by this difference in Mr Bennet, who befriends the younger man after deciding to give him the benefit of the doubt over his behaviour to Lizzy rather than fan the flames of her dislike. Thus Lizzy and the Bennets don’t tell Hertfordshire of Darcy’s slight of Lizzy and he is more generally welcomed.  The only person who is determined not to like him is Elizabeth, partly for the slight but more because she seems to have her nose put out of joint by him usurping her place as the ‘clever’ one.  It makes her seem a little petty and immature, but she improves as the story progresses. 

With their improved upbringing, when the Bennet sisters meet Mr Wickham at their aunt’s house neither Lydia or Lizzy are prepared to listen to him (although I’m not sure whether Lydia would have been there, as in this version she isn’t ‘out’ in society).  Both girls are disturbed by his over-familiarity and report this to their father, along with Wickham’s sob story in relation to Darcy.  Once Bennet mentions Wickham to Darcy he is informed of Wickham’s character and sets about warning society in Hertfordshire, thereby making an enemy of Wickham, who gets steadily more deranged as the story progresses.

You may have thought that this friendship between Bennet and Darcy would mean that all would be straightforward in the relationship between the elder Bennet sisters and their swains, but you would be wrong, as in this version Jane and Elizabeth are wards of the Bennets, taken on when they were very small children upon the death of their parents, whose identities have been kept secret.  All of this unfolds in a mixture of events in the timeline of Pride and Prejudice and as flashbacks to past happenings, telling the story of Mr and Mrs Bennet when they were younger.  I particularly liked seeing this different version of Mr and Mrs Bennet:
“He threw back his head and laughed heartily at the idea of his wife having an attack of the vapours.”
Not exactly the Bennets we know!

Other events follow the same pattern in Pride and Prejudice, such as Elizabeth visiting Rosings, but the visit is very different – she is on much better terms with Darcy for one, and there is also some danger lurking at Rosings and a turn of events that will affect the future of the whole Bennet family.  The story has more than a dash of angst and there are some scenes which are uncomfortable to read.  There was some behaviour I didn’t feel was likely, but even as I thought that often the author would explain why x was happening, it felt well thought through and reasoned even if I didn’t always think the characters would behave that way, especially people who were close to Wickham. Some of the dialogue is kept from P&P, which I thought was a nice touch, not always said by the original character, but I quite like that.  I thought that this was an original idea for a variation and I’d be interested to read more books by this author. I'd rate this as 3½ out of 5.

Thursday 13 March 2014

2014 TBR Pile Reading Challenge

I am bad at planning my reading and I have some books on my kindle gathering virtual dust.  Some of them were competition wins, and some cost me actual money so they give me a smidge of guilt to have them there wasting away.  This year I am hoping to read 100 books, and I made myself a list of around 50 that I planned to read, thinking that I'd choose the other 50 as the mood takes me.  So far this year I've done pretty well on my list, reading more than 15 of the books I'd planned for this year already, plus some unplanned ones.

I noticed that Candy over at So little time... had joined a TBR Pile Reading Challenge so I thought I'd join in! I'm going to aim low to begin with, going for 11-20 Books (A Friendly Hug) and these are the books I'll have in my list to start off:

  1. Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen
  2. Sanditon by Jane Austen, finished by A Lady
  3. A Fair Prospect - Disappointed Hopes by Cassandra Grafton - this is part 1 of a trilogy
  4. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Such I Was by Carol Cromlin
  5. The Tutor's Daughter by Julie Klassen
  6. Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson
  7. Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry - this one has follow ups too
  8. Attempting Elizabeth by Jessica Grey
  9. Magic for Marigold by L M Montgomery
  10. Frigid by J Lynn
  11. Echoes of Pemberley by Cynthia Ingram Hensley - has a sequel
  12. Perfect Bride for Mr Darcy by Mary Lydon Simonsen
  13. Morning Light by Abigail Reynolds
  14. The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers
  15. Mr Darcy's Promise by Jeanna Ellsworth
I have more on my TBR, don't we all, but this is what I'll try and do for the challenge! If I enjoy the ones with follow ups I'll add the follow ups to the list too.  You can sign up to join the challenge here.

Wednesday 12 March 2014

Steampunk Darcy by Monica Fairview

This was my first foray into reading Steampunk so I’m not entirely sure what is typical for the genre.  In this world, there has been some kind of environmental crisis, with corrosive slime rain and poisonous rivers.  Poor people live in neighbourhoods in the open air with homes built from whatever could be scavenged, whereas richer people live in flying cities or eco-domes.  The man who invented these eco-domes, William Darcy, is the descendent of Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy, who were real people.  The book of Pride and Prejudice exists as the chronicle of their romance.  Darcy is extremely proud of his ancestors, and he contacts Seraphine to enlist her help with a project.  Seraphine understands that the project is to recreate Pemberley, which was destroyed due to the environmental disasters, as a theme hotel, but this isn’t entirely the case. Darcy has a deeply awful half-brother, Richard, who he is trying to keep his inventions secret from so they are not misused.  They also have a 15 year old half-sister, Gianna, who is very spoiled and tiresome.

Seraphine has had a very hard life.  When she was 10 her father was taken by the authorities and erased from all records.  Five years later her mother, who was previously a gifted scientist, was taken by the authorities and given mind-altering drugs – although she was returned to the family she isn’t really aware of much of what is happening.  Seraphine’s brother ran away from the family leaving Seraphine, then a teenager, to look after her mother and her much younger sister, Briar-Rose.  Seraphine did what she had to, not always on the right side of the law, to ensure her family’s safety and survival.  Now, Briar-Rose is 15 years old and a selfish and self-absorbed teenager.  Seraphine works as a scientific investigator and earns extra money from delivering cargo. Being the sole breadwinner, and being aware of the damage the authorities can wreak on a person, Seraphine fears being taken in by the authorities.

Although Sera doesn’t want to work for Darcy, her hand is forced, and they end up working together.  Darcy needs her, but is afraid of trusting anybody and won’t let her in; he doesn’t actually let her work on the project he has employed her to help him with!  The lack of trust definitely goes both ways.  They have chemistry from the off, but they are both conscious of the class divide – he feels like he should make a society marriage and she feels that he couldn’t possibly be interested in her for more than a quick fling.

I would have liked to have seen a bit more interaction between the characters; although Sera and Darcy talked most of their relationship seemed based on chemistry, and they both frustrated me by telling each other very little.  For example, at one point Sera has a listening device planted on her.  She discovers how it was planted, and Darcy works out who arranged it but they never tell each other. I could understand their reluctance to trust each other but Darcy in particular was annoying about it, refusing to explain his motivations on many occasions which lead Sera to misinterpret his actions when a partial explanation would often have sufficed. These two also have major sibling issues which are largely left unaddressed, and in some cases this seems unlikely, such as a time when Sera’s sister crashes her ship and it’s barely spoken about.

Although this isn’t the type of thing I usually read I enjoyed this book. It might have been helpful to have a bit more detail on the uprising, as I was a bit sketchy on what they were fighting against, I imagined a kind of ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’ type of society but less restrictive. There was a lot of action, and if you have quite a visual imagination it’ll be working overtime on this book because there was description of the outfits, machinery and fights which really helped set the scenes. The world the author created was very interesting, and I hope she writes a follow-up, as I am interested to know what happens with the invention, and what happens in the relationship of Sera and Darcy with their respective siblings.

Friday 7 March 2014

Emma & Knightley by Rachel Billington

This is a sequel to Jane Austen’s Emma, beginning around 18 months into the Knightley’s marriage and all is not well in Highbury.  The story begins really quite depressingly; news of a death, and the realisation that Emma and Knightley are emotionally not very close – they have kept up their respective roles of spoiled child and advisor. The story then moves onto a bankruptcy and another death.  I had to take a break from this book and come back to it, misery piles upon misery and through it all Emma and Knightley get further and further apart. 

At the end of ‘Emma’ I felt that Emma had matured somewhat and gained a better level of understanding but here the character has reverted to the clueless character of two years before. It is also disappointing to see Mr Knightley constantly pulling away from his wife, he is hardly ever there, and when he is he’s usually leaving!  Since Mr Knightley provides Emma with so little friendship it is comprehendible that she wouldn’t confide in him but I don’t feel that would be in line with Emma’s character, I think in the circumstances in the story Emma would have felt obliged to tell him of certain events. There was also a reliance on the couple mistaking the other’s feelings in the same way that was cleared up in ‘Emma’ and I felt it was unlikely that they’d both do this again.  Plus all this was cleared up in literally five pages, and there must have been so many opportunities for this to be cleared up much more quickly, it seemed unlikely to me that it would have dragged on for so long.

There were some things I liked very much about this book; the style of the writing is really very good, it’s witty and ironic and it reminded me of the original book. Emma’s sister Isabella is a very minor character in ‘Emma’ and here she is fleshed out much more, which I thought was done really well.  There are also some original characters, most notably Mrs Philomena Tidmarsh, who is an intelligent widow who befriends Emma for a mixture of reasons.  However, despite all these positives, the sad subject matter and bad state of the relationship between Emma and Knightley, which I felt was unlikely, meant that I found this book hard going to read. 

Saturday 1 March 2014

March's Reading List

Well, last month went pretty well, although I didn't start Fitzwilliam Darcy: Such I Was by Carol Cromlin. This is because I usually only read one historical Austenesque at a time, and I am still trying to finish Emma & Knightley by Rachel Billington.  I hope to conquer the latter at least this month, I'm about ⅔ of the way through.  I find it a struggle just because I find it a bit depressing, and I am not the type of reader who does well with sad!

I just borrowed Sense & Sensibility by Joanna Trollope from the library.  I can’t remember if I’ve only read the original S&S once or if it’s twice.  It was the first book by Jane Austen that I read, at around age 14, so if it was only once it was a looooong time ago!  I plan to reread Sense & Sensibility, hopefully sometime this year so I hope that I won’t miss out on anything in Joanna Trollope’s S&S because I am not hugely familiar with the original book.

I hope to read Alias Thomas Bennet by Suzan Lauder which I won (woohoo!).  All I know about this book is that it gives Mr and Mrs Bennet from Pride and Prejudice a different backstory and that he is more of an active father.  Obviously, this would have ripple effects and lead to his children having a different upbringing so by the time Lizzy is 20 much could be different.  Ms Lauder has published some JAFF on A Happy Assembly website ( and one of her stories there is one of my favourite fanfiction reads, Studio 54, which is based in the 1970s. So I’m hopeful that I’ll enjoy this one.

My other planned reads for March are the rest of Monica Murphy’s One Week Girlfriend series. I've read One Week Girlfriend and Second Chance Boyfriend previously.  These books introduced and continued the story of Drew and Fable.  Now I want to finish off the series with Three Broken Promises, the story of Fable’s boss Colin and her work colleague Jen (I've heard mixed reviews of this book), the novella Drew + Fable Forever, which ties up Drew and Fable’s story, and Four Years Later which is new out in March and tells the story of Fable’s younger brother, who is 14 when we first meet him in OWG. In that book he’s had a pretty neglected childhood, absent father, alcoholic mother, and though Fable has done her best she worries that he’s beginning to go off the rails. Owen is such a sweet kid, so I'm interested to see how he turns out.

 Will I manage all this? Who knows! Wish me luck!