Saturday 31 May 2014

The Perfect Bride for Mr Darcy by Mary Lydon Simonsen

The Perfect Bride for Mr Darcy by Mary Lydon Simonsen book cover
This Pride and Prejudice variation starts at the beginning of P&P, with a few chapters summarising the events, but more from Darcy’s point of view than Elizabeth’s. Darcy still offends her and still interferes with Bingley and Jane.  He goes to visit Lady Catherine at Rosings, not on a duty visit as in canon, but because Mrs Hurst mentioned that Elizabeth would be visiting her cousin in Kent.  Darcy has no intention of proposing when he goes to Hunsford Parsonage, which is why his proposal is so bad. Darcy is very close to his cousin Anne and he confides in her what has happened.

Anne decides on a plan of action to help her cousin successfully woo Miss Bennet, and she begins by befriending her. Elizabeth is much less strongly against Darcy than in canon and although she sees that Anne is trying to repair her opinion of Darcy Elizabeth is regretful of her treatment of him and she’s happy to enter into a correspondence with Anne. This means that Anne is aware of Elizabeth’s plans and whereabouts and she’s more able to arrange a ‘chance’ meeting between Elizabeth and Darcy.

The thing I probably liked best about this book was the fleshing out of Anne’s character. Although frail, she is a very determined lady (well, she is Lady Catherine’s daughter after all!) She genuinely loves her cousins and wants the best for them. Georgiana is also very sweet in this variation. She is much less shy than canon, and very quick on the uptake. She and Darcy are close and in a moment of weakness he mentions something to her regarding being told by an intelligent lady that one bad sonnet was sufficient to drive love away. Georgiana immediately latches on to the significance of this, and from then on is on the lookout for the lady she dubs ‘Miss Sonnet’ so she can help smooth her brother's path to love.

Some better-established characters are different too. Lizzy is much less set against Darcy and comes to a realisation even while still at Kent that she and Darcy could possibly have been happy together. By the time she’s finished reading his letter she has begun to regret refusing him. There was also a big difference in Jane Bennet who has learned a harsh lesson from Bingley’s abandonment and now isn’t so predisposed to forgiveness, and she also re-assesses her view of her parents and the upbringing she and her sisters have had.

There are also some new characters, such as Bingley having a much larger family, although we only meet his eldest brother George, who is an extremely hard-headed and successful business man, less genteel than his youngest siblings, but relied upon by some of the people with more breeding than money. Another original character was the delightful Lord Antony Fitzwilliam, who also appeared in A Wife for Mr Darcy. Lord Antony (Note: I’m not sure people were addressed Lord ‘firstname’ but I’m not saying it’s wrong because the naming conventions with titles pickle my brain!) is Colonel Fitzwilliam’s older brother. He is a gambler, constantly in debt, and has a very hostile marriage but he is well worth having in a story because of his amusement value due to his facetious sayings and lack of tact. When Mrs Hurst is talking about visiting a sister he came out with this gem of quote, which certainly made me, a proud Welshwoman, chortle:

 “But not in Wales, I hope. The Celtic race was pushed into the corners, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, and in the case of the Irish, onto their own island. People who live in corners are always odd and should be avoided.”

The Darcy in this story is devoted to Elizabeth, but he hasn’t been a monk up until this point, and there are references to him having had mistresses and lovers in the past, and a few sexual references which some readers may not like. However, I am in the camp that think it wouldn’t have been unlikely for this to have been the case, it wasn’t a dishonourable thing to do, especially for a single man of the times. What I was a little surprised at is that Elizabeth doesn’t seem bothered by this idea. Being of a lower class of society than him, and being younger I felt that she might not have held such cosmopolitan views.

I felt that this was like a cross between an alternate point of view retelling and a variation. One of the things I really like about variations is that seemingly small changes can have a ripple effect and end up making things quite different but this isn’t the case here, although some different things happen, all the major plot milestones remain the same, I would have liked to have seen things change a bit more. For example, the character of George Bingley played a role in a particular part in this story and it made only a little difference to the outcome from the original book. The changes here are more nuances than seismic shifts. However, I found it an enjoyable, romantic read, the type that when you look up from your book you realise a very long time has passed since you last looked at a clock and you should have gone to sleep two hours ago, which is a fine accolade!

Thursday 29 May 2014

Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

Picture of William Shakespeare
It’s been a long time since I read any Shakespeare; not since school, and then only the tragedies, so I am unfamiliar with the comedies. However, these are referenced often in reviews; I’ve seen references to things being like a Midsummer Night’s Dream, or characters being Beatrice-like, so I decided, as a challenge to myself, that I would try to read a comedy. The version I read is designed for high school students and has notes alongside the text.

The basic story of Much Ado About Nothing is that Leonato welcomes visitors from war, a Prince, Don Pedro, and his friends. One of the friends, Claudio, falls in love with Leonato’s daughter, named Hero, and they decide to marry, but a plot is put in place by the Prince’s brother, Don John, to make Claudio believe that Hero has a lover and hence scupper the wedding. And then there is much ado about nothing, as Hero is entirely innocent. The play is enlivened by the squabbling between Hero’s cousin, Beatrice and Don Pedro’s friend, Benedick, who are both determined never to marry. Here are their respective views on marriage:

‘Beatrice: Just, if he send me no husband; for the which blessing I am at him upon my knees every morning and evening.’

‘Benedick: That a woman conceived me, I thank her; that she brought me up, I likewise give her most humble thanks: ... Because I will not do them the wrong to mistrust any, I will do myself the right to trust none; and the fine is, for the which I may go the finer, I will live a bachelor.’  

They both think they are very clever, each want to best each other’s wit and they bounce off each other wonderfully. Beatrice especially is a fantastic creation, she is a woman ahead of her time – rather than being meekly submissive like Hero, she is kick-ass, and has a very biting wit. However, Benedict is a match for this, and both of them really enjoy trying to get one over on the other:

‘Beatrice. I wonder that you will still be talking, Signior Benedick: nobody marks you.
Benedick. What, my dear Lady Disdain! are you yet living?
Beatrice. Is it possible disdain should die while she hath such meet food to feed it as Signior Benedick?’

There was something I wasn’t so keen on about this play, and that was the reaction to the false allegations – everybody immediately believes the worst of Hero, even her father! This is where Beatrice particularly shines, because her faith in her cousin is absolutely unfaltering.

‘Beatrice: Is he not approved in the height a villain, that hath slandered, scorned, dishonored my kinswoman? Oh, that I were a man! ... I would eat his heart in the marketplace.’

The biggest surprise for me most about this play is just how many funny lines there are. Shakespeare is famous for his wordplay, and rightly so, there are puns, the same word used in different ways and comedic bumbling. I am so impressed that comedy can still be funny over 400 years after it was written.

‘Marry, sir, they have committed false report; moreover, they have spoken untruths; secondarily, they are slanders; sixth and lastly, they have belied a lady; thirdly, they have verified unjust things; and, to conclude, they are lying knaves’

There were definitely some lines I recognised because I’d seen them elsewhere – the Lady Disdain quote, and this gorgeous one:
‘Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever,-
One foot in sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never.’

This line reminded me a little of Pride and Prejudice, the idea that strong emotion can be difficult to express...
‘Silence is the perfectest herald of joy; I were but little happy, if I could say how much.’
When Darcy says, when talking of his silence when he came to Longbourn after Bingley and Jane got engaged a man who had felt less would have said more.

As this is a comedy, you are assured of a happy ending, although frankly some of the characters didn’t deserve one! I’m looking at YOU Claudio, and also Leonato. Humph!

As to the version of the book I read, if you’d like a version with notes I’d really recommend a version like this with the notes alongside the text rather than having to keep flipping between two sections of the book. Much of the language is pretty straightforward, particularly if you like reading older books, but there are things I picked up from the notes that I wouldn’t have known otherwise, such as a recurring theme throughout the play is horns – it was a superstition at the time that a cuckolded man would sprout horns. I’m not sure I’d necessarily recommend this version however, as there were more notes than I needed, and it was a tad distracting. Also, the notes were largely modern translation of the text and they didn’t highlight things like puns and other things which I’m sure would help to get a student extra marks. I also didn’t like the summary at the beginning of each act, which spoilered every section – put it at the end to summarise!

I very much enjoyed reading this play. I’d give it five stars, and the particular version I read 3 stars.

After I read the play I watched the Kenneth Branagh 1993 adaptation of it, which is really entertaining. Emma Thompson is excellent in most roles, and as you can imagine she completely steals the show as Beatrice. Kenneth Branagh plays Benedick, very amusingly. It’s a stellar cast, also featuring a very youthful Kate Beckinsale as Hero, Denzel Washington as Don Pedro and Keanu Reeves as Don John and generally more famous people than you could shake a stick at. I think I got more out of it by reading the play first, but it’d still be very enjoyable without having read it.

So, I have successfully overcome my trepidation of reading Shakespeare, and I’d certainly try reading more. If you’re nervous too, get a version with notes and give it a go!

Sunday 25 May 2014

Mansfield Revisited by Joan Aiken

Mansfield Park-inspired books, particularly ones set in the period, appear to be pretty few and far between. I first became aware of this book when looking for books connected to Mansfield Park as a bit of a personal celebration of the bicentenary of it first being published.  

Book Cover Mansfield Revisited by Joan Aiken
Mansfield Revisited is a sequel to Mansfield Park, set 4 years later. There have been a few changes to the family in this interval - Fanny and Edmund are happily married and proud parents to two children, Susan Price has been living at Mansfield, filling Fanny’s place as helper and general factotum to Lady Bertram. Julia (now Mrs Yates) persuaded her husband to buy a properly close to Mansfield Park and she is to be found visiting her mother on most days. Tom is still a bit unsteady, but he is no longer gambling or drinking to excess. 

The story opens with news of the death of Sir Thomas, who was visiting his Antiguan property. Somebody will have to go to sort out business affairs there, and Lady Bertram is loath to part from the new Sir Tom, bearing in mind that 4 years previously he was extremely ill and took several months to recover full health. He also needs to learn the reins for his responsibilities at home, as Edmund has often done things that Tom should have been doing. Edmund is quite happy to go to Antigua, and in fact proposes that he, Fanny, and their younger child (who is only a few months old) should all go to Antigua. Thus, Edmund and Fanny are not present for nearly the whole of this book, which will please people who do not like the hero and heroine of MP!

Instead, Susan will take on responsibility for Fanny’s older child, in addition to running the household, exercising Pug, keeping Lady Bertram company, reading to her, and untangling her shawl fringe, netting, or whatever else she has managed to tangle. Susan is extremely grateful to her relatives for taking her in – being that bit older than Fanny was when she was removed from her family she sees all the advantages the move has brought her, and she is very attached to Fanny, who is her dearest friend as well as her sister.  Susan is also more fully appreciated than Fanny was, and being less scared of her relatives allows her to be genuinely fond of them. Although Mansfield Park is now devoid of Mrs Norris the dynamic hasn’t changed that much, because Mrs Yates (Julia) has taken over the mantle of resenting the low-born interloper that is Miss Price. Mrs Yates isn’t quite as horrid as Mrs Norris, but she’s been cast in the same general mould and is quite blind to her own hypocrisy:
‘ I have often observed it; she chooses to go her own way without any of that decorum or propriety which you, ma’am and our dear aunt Norris were so careful to instil in Maria and me. ‘
This is coming from somebody who eloped! And of course, Maria ran off with her lover and was divorced so for either of them to be seen as models of propriety is laughable.

Happily, Lady Bertram is somewhat of a champion of Susan, in her own vacant, languid way:
‘Her ways suit me well enough – we go on very comfortably together, for she is an active, good-hearted girl, never too tired to untangle my work or take out Pug for an airing. And she has a fine, clearspeaking voice; I can hear it plainly when she reads to me, whereas you, Julia, always mumble, and so does Tom.'

Lady Bertram has some good speeches throughout this book, she doesn’t take much notice of anybody, isn’t bothered by much at all unless it impinges on her present comfort and she quite often is in complete disagreement with her daughter!

Susan is of a different temperament than Fanny – she isn’t meek, and she doesn’t take much of Mrs Yates’ criticism to heart. In fact, has had to learn to guard her temper, to prevent herself delivering sharp comebacks that would have been the norm in Portsmouth, but are not acceptable in this more refined society. She manages extremely well, but her Achilles heel in this respect is her cousin Tom, as they often contrive to rub each other up the wrong way:
‘He expected a more subservient and complaisant attitude from Susan than she was prepared to yield; indeed she was not prepared to yield to her cousin Tom at all, finding him in all respects, except for looks, greatly inferior to his brother.’

After Fanny and Edmund leave for Antigua, there are some new additions to the neighbourhood. One of Edmund’s friends, a Mr Wadham, has come to cover Edmund’s duties as parson, and he brings with him his widowed sister, Mrs Osborne. There is also a visitor who we’ve met before, Mary Crawford. Mary has married, but it was very unhappy and her husband has been committed to an asylum, so she asks people to call her by her maiden name. She is now gravely ill, and her brother has rented a cottage for her because she wanted to come to a place where she was happy – the environs of Mansfield Park. The opinion of readers is split on Mary – villainess or victim of her upbringing? Personally, I am quite fond of Mary, and I thought this author’s portrayal of her was wonderful, capturing Mary’s quickness and wit, how she noticed things, how she analysed characters, her humour:
‘How I can see Fanny in you; at first I did not detect the likeness; you are taller, more striking in looks and colour; but now I do. You are Fanny, but a more forceful Fanny. And, to tell truth, from what I recall of Lady Bertram, if you were occasionally to stamp and scream and throw her embroidery frame out of the window, you would quite retain my entire sympathy and give her no more than her desert.’

Mary may be ill, but she is determined to enjoy herself as much as possible, even possibly capturing a few more hearts and doing some good turns along the way. I was wrung with pity for her, it seemed so sad that somebody so alive should be wasting away:
‘I am as I was made. If, in my life, I have done harm through thoughtlessness, I trust that it was not so very bad, and that I am atoning for it now. For my part, I think that a little flirtation is far less of a sin than vindictiveness, or arrogance, or pride; and of those I have not been guilty.’

Talking of flirtation, what about Henry Crawford? Well, it has never been in doubt that he is a loving brother, and he is willing to bring his sister to an area where he must be decidedly unwelcome. An explanation is given for the situation between himself and Maria which exonerates him from much of the blame.  Another old friend who makes a re-appearance is William Price. He was one of my favourite characters from Mansfield Park, being about the only person in that book who is entirely likeable – loving, hard working, thoughtful. He is less thoughtful of other’s feelings in this outing however, perhaps feeling all is fair in love and war, but it was nice to see William decisively taking opportunities when they fell to him.

Joan Aiken has tried to replicate Jane Austen’s style and I think she did a pretty good job of it – there were no glaring modern words jumping out and there was plenty of delicate humour sprinkled throughout the book. There were some aspects of the story that I didn’t feel were so likely; how readily Mary Crawford was welcomed back into Mansfield society and the behaviour of one particular character towards the end – I cannot tell you more for fear of spoilers! I also would have preferred a bit more romance, but I could say that about Mansfield Park itself! However, on the whole, I thought this was a believable account of what may have happened after Mansfield Park finished and it is certainly one of the best sequels to one of Austen’s works that I’ve read. If this book has been languishing on your 'To Be Read' list I’d recommend that you bump it up a bit higher and celebrate Mansfield Park’s bicentenary by reading this book!

Saturday 24 May 2014

Mr Darcy's Pledge by Monica Fairview

Please excuse my lack of post this week, I have been so busy at work, and in addition to this, I helped out at an election this week, which was a 17 hour day! Hopefully my reading will get back on track now! 

Earlier this month I was lucky enough to review Mr Darcy's Pledge for Leatherbound Reviews, and here's my review... 

I’d only read one book by Monica Fairview before this, Steampunk Darcy, which I really enjoyed, so I was very grateful to Jakki for the opportunity to try something more traditional by this author. Mr Darcy’s Pledge is a Pride and Prejudice variation, from Darcy’s perspective, beginning just after the Hunsford Proposal. Darcy is returning to Georgiana at Pemberley to lick his wounds and he has made a momentous decision – he made a huge mistake in offering for Elizabeth Bennet, and now he needs to put it behind him, and marry somebody else.

He wants to do this partly to help him get over his unreciprocated infatuation for Elizabeth (which is obviously a very bad and risky idea!) and partly because he is beginning to think of launching Georgiana into society, and so he needs a woman to help him do this. In preference to his relatives, he considers enlisting the help of a neighbour, Lady Renwick, who was good friends with his mother. Lady Renwick has her niece staying with her, Miss Elinor Marshall, who is the most beautiful woman that Darcy has ever set eyes on. This makes Darcy wonder whether finding a bride might be easier than he’d first thought. However, there is a lot to distract him from his quest to find a bride, with a multitude of visitors to Pemberley, both expected and unexpected, and perhaps even a London tradesman and his wife and niece visiting the area of Lambton on a summer tour...

This could have been quite an angst-filled variation, firstly because Darcy is genuinely heartbroken and suffering and secondly, because he is planning to marry in haste and potentially repent at leisure. Deep down, he knows this, and while he is trying to convince himself that he has recovered from his infatuation for Miss Bennet and is ready to move on he really isn’t ready to do so:

“His heart protested, but he was having none of it. His heart had no say in the matter. Consulting his heart in the matter of marriage was a foolish indulgence, nothing more. Men fell in love and out of love all the time. It was a passion of the moment, forgotten soon enough. Marriage was about producing heirs and managing a household. It was the choice of a lifetime.

                He could not help feeling that a lifetime was a very long time.”

The other thing that saves this from being a sad read is the humour. There is so much humour, from wry asides here and there, to the awful comic creations of Lord and Lady Matlock.  Ms Fairview’s Darcy falls short of eccentric but he’s leaning towards it in a loveable and amusing way. He decides to determine what character traits he is looking for in a wife as a starting point to finding his bride:

“Choosing a wife would take more careful thought than he had imagined. Already the mental list was growing longer by the minute. He should write it all down.”

I loved the way the lists he made were contradictory, as he’d list what he thought were ‘proper’ qualities in a wife, and then he’d cross them out and replace them with the qualities he really wanted.  Darcy is uncharacteristically impulsive in his efforts to overcome his heartbreak and his behaviour really confuses poor Georgiana, who doesn’t know what has effected this change in her previously staid and dependable brother.

One of the things I liked best about this book was the development of Georgiana, who goes from a timid, shy girl, to a girl bewildered by the change she’s seeing in her brother, to a woman who is able to stand up for herself and is not afraid to show her claws when she’s under attack.  Darcy and Georgiana’s relationship develops too, from a father/daughter style relationship to a more equal footing.

Darcy gave her a disbelieving look then realized she was joking. “Since when have you turned into a jester?”
“Since I realized the sky will not fall down on me if I make a joke,” said Georgiana. “And since I discovered my brother is rather fond of laughter.” She threw him a significant glance.

I was a little unsure of the familiarity between people in the story. Both new characters and existing seemed to get on familiar terms very quickly. In some cases this was used as a device to highlight encroaching characters but in others it didn’t sit quite right with me, especially when some of the people were on less familiar terms in Pride and Prejudice than they are here, however, this was a minor issue and didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story.

Mr Darcy’s Pledge is volume one of ‘The Darcy Novels’, so be warned that it’s not a complete story although thankfully it doesn’t end on a cliffhanger. We see some Elizabeth, but not as much as I’d like. There is the definite promise of more page time for Elizabeth in Volume 2. The only real shame is the wait I’ll have to have until I can read Volume 2, which is not yet available!

Friday 16 May 2014

Whatever Love is by Rosie Rushton

As part of my celebration of all things Mansfield, here are my thoughts on a book a read last year. Whatever Love is? is part of a series updating Jane Austen's classic stories for a younger audience, and is an updated version of Mansfield Park. I've always thought that this can't be an easy title to update when you consider she is very passive by modern standards but I felt that Rosie Rushton did an excellent job.

18 year old Frankie Price has been living with her adoptive aunt's family for the past few years since her mother has mental health issues. She's very much the poor relation as her Aunt has married a rich man who has a successful clothing business. Frankie doesn't really fit in with her privileged, pretty spoiled, rich cousins. The one she feels closest to is Ned, who is a couple of years her senior. Frankie has romantic feelings towards Ned (this is not as weird as it sounds, as they are not related and the Aunts for years have stressed that they're not related to Mrs Price and her children).

A problem with foreign suppliers sends Frankie's adoptive uncle abroad and while he's gone his children end up preparing to perform at a music festival, in the company of the Crawfords, a brother and sister who are step-siblings of one of Frankie's friends.

One thing I really liked about this book were the quotes from Mansfield Park at the beginning of each chapter. These were relevant to the chapter at hand and highlighted which aspects were tying back to Mansfield Park. Many of the events from MP are represented; Fanny's horse riding exercise becomes Frankie's driving practice, the play becomes the music festival etc.

There are some differences too - the characters of Mrs Norris and Maria Bertram (Nerys and Mia) were massively more likeable than in Mansfield Park, and something that was largely glossed over in the original, the fact that Sir Thomas had slaves contributing to his fortune, is explored here a bit more, with Mr Bertram discovering that his clothing is being stitched by child labour and other unfair working practices in Mexico. Also, in Mansfield Park I felt there was a very strong nature/nurture debate which isn't present in this book.

There were other aspects that were different, but I felt kept Austen's themes intact; characters such as Henry and Mary Crawford are probably much more appealing to a modern audience than they would have been at the time and Fanny can be hard to identify with because she's so low-key. However, here Henry is a charming slime bag, his sister Alice is amusing but shallow and although Frankie is not accustomed to putting her needs first she's not a complete doormat and we see a lot of her thoughts, which helps the reader identify with her. The end of the book is wrapped up quite abruptly, which is a nod back to MP I could have done without to be honest, I'd have liked a bit more detail!

To get the full experience of reading Mansfield Park you are obviously better off reading the book itself rather than an update, but to get the gist of it, particularly for a younger reader, this book is a really worthy update.

Monday 12 May 2014

Heirs of Damon Series 1-3 by Noelle Adams

Heirs of Damon by Noelle Adams

Last year I read the first of the Heirs of Damon series by Noelle Adams. Businessman Cyrus Damon has no children himself but he has four nephews. Brothers Harrison and Andrew Damon have their stories told in books 1 and 2, Seducing the Enemy and Playing the Playboy. Their cousin Jonathan is the hero of book 3, Engaging the Boss and there is another cousin Benjamin Damon, who I believe will be the hero of book 4, due out in summer 2014. I read books 2 and 3 of the series back to back, which worked really well actually, as some events in book 3 follow on from book 2. Here are my thoughts on the series so far. 
Please note, for those who prefer to avoid them, that all these books contain sex scenes.

Seducing the Enemy by Noelle Adams
Seducing the Enemy begins with Marietta, who has an interesting back-story, having spent a number of years in a wheelchair after being involved in a car crash as a child. Following several surgeries she has now recovered, and after so many years she wants to live her life to the full, and has come to a club to see if she can attract a man...

Harrison is checking the facilities at a club his family owns when a sexy blonde catches his eye. He really shouldn't let himself get distracted, as he'll need to keep his wits about him for the following day, when he'll be meeting to try and agree a settlement for a long-running legal battle with his uncle's former business partner for a long-ago car crash...

Marietta is sweet, genuine, and amusing, although a bit too nice. Harrison is a bit too alpha-male some of the time for my taste, but he seemed nice enough when he wasn't being an arse, either generally, or specifically towards Marietta because of his misinterpretation of her motives. Marietta doesn't appear to hold a grudge at all and she forgives him much more readily than he deserves!

There were a number of instances of behaviour that I didn't really feel was plausible and although the author provides explanation I still didn't see some things as being likely to happen. Also, I'd have liked there to be more of a basis for their feelings for each other, aside from their chemistry, to see their relationship develop, as I felt that it happens too quickly. Aside from these quibbles, I found this book to be an enjoyable quick read.

Playing the Playboy by Noelle Adams
In Playing the Playboy we meet Laurel who is in a bad situation; she is a widow who didn’t have the best upbringing, and was managing the bar in a seedy strip joint when she met an older man who she fell in love with. After they married he gave her a hotel in Greece. This was about the only good thing he did for her – over the time of their marriage she lost one illusion after another about him and he ended up bankrupt after his debts caught up with him. Now he is dead and the Damons are saying that her hotel belongs to them. Since Cyrus Damon isn’t speaking to his blue eyed boy Harrison, he’s sent Andrew Damon, a notorious playboy, in his brother’s stead to try and sort out the dispute amicably. Laurel has done her homework on Andrew and, desperate not to lose her home and her livelihood, she has decided on a dishonourable course of action, which is to seduce Andrew, get it caught on CCTV and blackmail him with the evidence.

I really wondered if I could like Laurel at all after an introduction like that but it really is desperation that has brought her to this point and she isn’t anywhere near as heartless as her plan suggests. Andrew ends up staying at the hotel and it brings Laurel some conflict because she keeps feeling like she should be manipulating the situation to her advantage but she genuinely likes Andrew and is very strongly attracted to him. Andrew is similarly conflicted – he really wants to prove his mettle to his uncle and close out this situation advantageously for the company while on the other hand he finds himself believing that Laurel may have been dealt a bad hand here and feeling sympathetic towards her.

Both Andrew and Laurel are likeable protagonists and they fit together very nicely. Both of them feel unworthy to an extent, her because of her background (although she has done nothing wrong, just tried to make the best of the hand that life has dealt her) and him because he doesn’t knuckle down to anything and doesn’t feel respected. She is very bad at allowing people to help her, but she is forced to accept his help on more than one occasion which is good for them both, as she comes to see that she doesn’t need to only rely on herself, and he finds himself in the novel position of having somebody trust in him.  This story is set largely on a Greek island and I thought a few times while I read it that it would make an excellent holiday sun-lounger read. It’s a very easy to read romance and I enjoyed it very much.  This is book 2 in the Heirs of Damon series and though Harrison and Marietta from Seducing the Enemy play a part in this story you could read this one as stand alone.

Engaging the Boss by Noelle Adams
Engaging the Boss is book 3 in the Heirs of Damon series and tells the story of Harrison and Andrew’s cousin, Jonathan Damon, who is a genetic scientist. His uncle, Cyrus, has funded Jonathan’s research lab, which has been of huge advantage to Jonathan, meaning that he’s been able to do the research purely independently rather than having to worry about commercial bias and keeping the sponsors happy. However, Cyrus has decided that Jonathan needs to settle down and the lab is taking too much of his focus, so he makes the despotic decision to cut the funding unless Jonathan pays more attention to his personal life. Panicked, Jonathan blurts out that he has recently become engaged. He is overheard in this phonecall by his assistant Sarah, who is devastated by this news because she’s been madly in love with him for some time. Jonathan confesses his lie to Sarah, and she offers to pose as his fiancée for a week-long visit to his family and to attend his cousin Harrison’s wedding.

I love, love, love the fake fiancée trope, it’s a guilty pleasure of mine, and I really enjoyed this book; it’s probably my favourite of this series so far. Of course we know from the outset what is likely to happen between the protagonists, but the fun is in the journey. Sarah is a really nice heroine. She has worked closely with Jonathan for the past few years, but she knows that somebody that gorgeous couldn’t be interested in her because she doesn’t feel that she’s attractive enough to tempt him. She also doesn’t want to endanger her job, which she loves. Jonathan was such a loveable male lead, most definitely not the alpha male type, but a sweet geek who doesn’t believe that people will love him as he is, but that he has to earn their love. His parents were very disinterested in him, and he found the only way he could get positive attention from them was through achieving well in school. His parents died when he was still a child and he was put under the guardianship of Cyrus. He never felt like he fitted in with his cousins and uncle, and feels like he doesn’t matter to his family.

Jonathan is very much the type of person who shows his love rather than expresses it, for example he does thoughtful things for Sarah such as keeps her desk stocked with mints he knows she likes and fixing her chair after hours without expecting thanks.  However when he tries to express things with words he just clams up:
“You look...” She was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. He swallowed. “Fine.”

Sarah obviously finds this very frustrating!
She wanted to hit him and take care of him both. It was a very disorienting feeling.

I could completely understand where she was coming from. To secure his lady Jonathan must first understand that he wants her, that he is worthy of her love, and be willing to get out of his comfort zone to make sure she knows it before it’s too late. 

This is book 3 of the series and although the couples from books 1 and 2, Seducing the Enemy and Playing the Playboy appear, the story is stand alone. I think you’d probably get more from it if you’ve read the others too, but you wouldn’t be lost by any means if you just read this one. We have a very interesting introduction to the other heir of Damon, the black sheep of the family, Benjamin Damon, who I think will have his story told in the next book, due out in summer 2014, and I’m certainly intrigued to read it.

Friday 9 May 2014

Mansfield Park Bicentenary

Happy birthday to Mansfield Park! It's looking pretty spry for 200 years old. This is well known as Jane Austen's least-loved novel. When I first read Austen's main 6 novels I was a teenager (so a looooong time ago!), and this was the one that I liked least. I didn't read it again until last year, when as part of The Book Rat's Austen in August event there was a group read of Mansfield Park. I read it and I was blown away. I think part of the difference was expectation - I read it originally hard on the heels of her more romantic works and so by comparison I found it lacking in romance, but this time I went into it with less expectation of romance, and as I read it, I felt that it wasn't primarily intended as a love story.

Mansfield Park is also notable for me in that it contains probably my favourite Jane Austen quote.

“Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody not greatly in fault themselves to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest.”

The reason I love this quote is that it sums up my reading attitude; I feel there is so much misery in the world that I don't need to read about more of it - let other reader's eyes dwell on guilt and misery, I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can...

I thought I'd share with you the review I wrote last year, after finishing the book:

I first read this book back when I was a teenager and I wasn't that fussed on it. I didn't take to Fanny Price, the heroine of this tale, thinking that she was a bit of a drip, and I didn't find the story romantic enough. I decided to read the book again wondering how differently I'd see it being that much older. I am so glad I decided to re-read it, as I felt I appreciated it so much more than I did before.

Fanny Price's mother suffers from a surplus of children compared to income. As was fairly common at the time, Fanny is taken in, at age 10 by another relative, her aunt (Lady Bertram) who is married to Sir Thomas Bertram, the owner of Mansfield Park. The Bertrams have 4 children, two boys, Tom and Edmund, and two younger girls, Maria and Julia, the youngest of which is about 2 years older than Fanny. Also heavily involved over at Mansfield Park is Lady Bertram's sister, Mrs Norris. There is no real expectation that Fanny will be brought up as one of them as her prospects would always have been less; she is brought up instead as a poor relation.

Mansfield Park Edmund BertramThe children aren't especially all that interested in her, aside from Edmund, 6 years Fanny's senior who takes pity on her and looks after her. Indolent Lady B finds her useful for being at her beck and call and Mrs Norris (who is a truly horrible woman) really dislikes Fanny. Mrs Norris seems to feel that any kindness she shows towards Fanny will somehow be disrespectful towards her other nieces, who she very much spoils. Although taught good manners the Bertram children are not encouraged to learn good principles - they aren't compassionate, thoughtful or self-denying. Edmund is the only Bertram child who has much in the way of principles, and they must have been innate to him.

The main events of the book begin when the Crawfords come into the area. Mr Henry Crawford is a very vain man, who thoughtlessly enjoys making young ladies fall in love with him, and he succeeds with both Maria (who is engaged to an empty-headed man of fortune, Mr Rushworth) and Julia Bertram. Henry's sister Miss Mary Crawford, is attractive and charming, but neither of them necessarily have good principles either.

This book took a while to get into, as most of the characters are pretty unlikeable. Fanny herself, although a good person, is so timid and shy that it takes a while to like her rather than merely feel sympathy for her. For a modern reader some of the things which I presume would have been obvious to a contemporary reader weren't immediately understandable. For example, in Sir Thomas's absence to visit his plantation in Antigua a decision is made to put together a play and both Fanny and Edmund are vehemently opposed to this scheme as being improper. For a modern reader it's hard to understand why this would be the case - the play they choose is obviously inappropriate, but it seems as though the principle of putting any play on is improper. Another thing that doesn't necessarily translate to a modern reader is Fanny's distrust of the Crawfords. In many ways they are quite likeable, even though he is quite rakish and his sister sees no problem with this. I can understand why Fanny didn't like them but I DID like them.

Fanny herself I grew to like, but she is not as easy to like as other Austen heroines. She is a good person, and very unloved, and put upon. She is quite intolerant of weakness of character in others, although she is careful not to let this show inappropriately. She is quite a clear-sighted and shrewd judge of character but she is quite unforgiving in her judgements. I was beginning to despair in her, but she shows a bit of growth in her tolerance levels when she gets to know her sister and realises how principled she is despite the environment that she has grown up in.

A strong theme in this book, and one which gave me a lot of food for thought, is nature v nurture. How the Bertram siblings turned out with an indolent mother, a harsh father, and brought up mostly by an interfering old busybody aunt who spoilt them and encouraged them to think well of themselves and what they were due and denied them nothing. How the Crawford siblings turned out, brought up in a home with a very unhappy marriage, clear 'sides' and no principles. How alike in nature Mrs Price and her sister Lady Bertram are, and how differently they now are due to the big difference in their financial situations. A visit to her mother's home in Portsmouth (where Fanny is even more unloved than in Mansfield Park) teaches Fanny a lot and she realises how much being at Mansfield Park has shaped her character. A crisis calls her 'home' to Mansfield Park - finally Fanny is appreciated more truly there, and her family there have also begun to know themselves and each other more truly too.

Once I got into this book I really enjoyed it. I won't leave it so long until the next re-read!

To celebrate Mansfield Park's big anniversary I will be trying to read some more MP-inspired books throughout the year. I'll let you know if I find any good ones! In addition to this, there are other people celebrating Mansfield Park's birthday - for example, Sarah Emsley has a whole series of events planned with the first one kicking off today. 

Also, over a decade ago Benedict Cumberbatch and David Tennant were part of the cast for a radio version of Mansfield Park which is being re-run on Radio 4 extra from Monday 12 May. I think it will be downloadable so I will try and listen to that if I can understand how it works! 

Wednesday 7 May 2014

Mr Darcy's Pledge by Monica Fairview

Book Cover of Mr Darcy's Pledge by Monica Fairview

The lovely Jakki of Leatherbound Reviews kindly gave me the opportunity to read Volume I of the Darcy Novels, 'Mr Darcy's Pledge' by Monica Fairview. You can read my review over at Leatherbound Reviews. Jakki will be sharing an excerpt with you on Friday and there will be a giveaway too, so make sure you don't miss it!

Monday 5 May 2014

Haunting Mr Darcy: A Spirited Courtship by KaraLynne Mackrory - Blog Tour

Haunting Mr Darcy by KaraLynne Mackrory - Blog Tour

I am very pleased to be hosting the first stop on the blog tour for Haunting Mr Darcy: A Spirited Courtship by KaraLynne Mackrory which is brought to you by Leatherbound Reviews. We have a very tantalising excerpt to share with you today, so without further ado I will pass you over to KaraLynne.

Book Cover of Haunting Mr Darcy - A Spirited Courtship by KaraLynne Mackrory
Hello Darling Janeites!
            It is my pleasure to present to you an excerpt from my recent release, Haunting Mr. Darcy: A Spirited Courtship.  In this book, our favorite hero and heroine have their fated happily ever after jeopardized by a carriage accident that sends Lizzy almost to her death.  So Fate must step in and the result is that Elizabeth is somehow transplanted in her spirit form to Mr. Darcy’s London library.  This phantasmal of events is only the beginning of the otherworldly magic.  Before they can right this mix up, one must learn to love the other, and the other must overcome his pride. 
            The result is a hilarious (and swoon-worthy) series of moments between our two characters.  In the scene below, Elizabeth, having just been transplanted to the library is discovering she has new found abilities – like being able to walk through furniture.  She believes she is in the most fantastical dream she has ever experienced because she has no memory at this point of her accident.  And our troubled, adorable, lovestruck Darcy?  What other explanation could he have for the spiritual representation of Elizabeth in his home but that she is a figment of his deteriorating sanity – a product of his unwanted, irreplaceable and inexplicable fascination with Elizabeth Bennet.  Heaven help him but what a beguiling way to go insane.

                Her hands were clasped behind her as she bent and read the gold embossed titles—some from various historic wars, others detailing the lives of the English monarchs and still others being histories of numerous foreign countries. Pleased and intrigued, Elizabeth reached for a book, a history of Italy.
                Her fingers nearly touched the book when she paused, disappointment flooding through her as she remembered she could not lift the book from the shelf. To be in a library full of books and not read one sent emotions flooding into her like nothing she had before experienced. Elizabeth further noticed that, in her dream world, her emotions were intense and seemingly enhanced beyond her norm.
                She considered the book for a moment, and then her brow rose, and she whispered to herself as she stood, hand extended toward the book, “I wonder…”
                She allowed her fingers to skim through the book’s spine, and suddenly she was filled with the words of the book. It was as if they were poured out of a bucket over her as her thoughts filled with vistas described in vivid detail of Venetian waterways, conquests of land, and artists of such wonder that she trembled with pleasure in all its splendor. She pulled her hand back, and it was if she had experienced the whole book without turning so much as one page.
                “Marvelous!” Elizabeth spoke with excitement, the volume of her voice for the first time reaching a conversational level.
                Immediately she walked a pace and reached toward a book that lay on a small table. It was a chronicle of Wellesley’s actions on the continent. She placed her small hand atop it, allowing her fingers to sink into the leather. Just as before, Elizabeth was washed with his account of the Battle of Vimeiro, described in graphic detail as she experienced the British defeat of the French. She pulled her hand away delighted. Although histories, particularly war histories, were not of interest to her, she found experiencing this amazing impossibility exhilarating and the topic rendered exciting for her.
                Her laugh rang out into the silence of the room and echoed off the walls. No longer able to contain herself with any form of decorum, Elizabeth rushed from book to book—touching each briefly as she experienced wave upon wave of their secrets. Of all the enchantments this dream afforded, this was beyond them all, and her happiness was immeasurable.
                Tears streamed down her cheeks as her emotions overwhelmed her. The feelings were both spectacular and indescribable. Such an otherworldly marvel suited her exactly in disposition and talents.
Her liveliness and satisfaction expressed themselves most becomingly upon her face as she explored the library, touching briefly volume after volume, hardly giving herself enough time to relish in the blanket of words from one before moving on to the next. It was a beautiful impracticality and one she wanted to experience as much as possible before she awoke.
                Darcy’s eyes opened in an instant. Disoriented, he was motionless as he stared into the blackness above him. Slowly his surroundings settled on him again, and he remembered the ball, the visit from his cousin, and the headache that he was now happily realizing was gone. He was in his study and had obviously fallen asleep on the sofa against the wall. A sound woke him, and although he now knew where he was and how he had arrived there, he still felt disoriented—for the sound he had heard was as impossible as it was beautiful.
                There it is again! Darcy’s head jerked to the side. It seemed to come from the other side of the wall. That wall divided his study from the library, and the sound, although muted, had definitely seemed to come from the library! He slowly pulled his large hands up to his temples and rubbed them; headache or no, he was imagining things now. The night was full upon him, and he could have slept only a few hours. The house was deathly silent except for the few times he had heard the sound. Beyond his belief, he knew that sound to be the enchanting sound of Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s laughter.
                His body tense, Darcy strained to listen to the darkness around him. For a while, there were no more sounds, and he began to relax back into the cushions of the sofa. Its shorter length was not comfortable for his tall frame, but nevertheless his fatigue gave way. Darcy rubbed his face and expelled a heavy breath through his fingers. He was obviously weary and needed more sleep. Having come home from the ball frustrated, still beholden to his memory and infatuation with Miss Bennet, it was no wonder he had fallen asleep thinking of her and no strange thing still that he would imagine her laughter like the remnants of a dream drifting away as he woke.
                Darcy turned on his side, trying to make better purchase of the small space. He considered that he ought to go to his chambers but was too drowsy to make the effort. His muscles were just beginning to melt against the comfort of the sofa when he heard the sound again, louder this time and distinctly realistic. His eyes snapped open, and he sat up immediately. The disconcerted gentleman rubbed his hands through his hair and then against his ears as if to dislodge the frantic feelings coursing through him. Darcy stood then and walked directly to the door leading to the library.
                He knew it was foolish, ridiculous and insane, but he also knew he had heard that sound this time. He looked down at his naked feet and detected no other light coming through the gap beneath the door. The library would be empty, the hot coals of the fire likely on their last hour of warmth. There was no way Miss Elizabeth Bennet could be on the other side. And yet idiotically he yearned. He leaned his forehead against the door and breathed deeply. He needed to govern himself and his silly obsession. His overtired state, too, was surely to blame, and yet he could not help feeling a profound disappointment in himself as he found his hand reaching for the doorknob anyway.
                And then it happened; the sound—the most bewitching, delicious sound he knew—wafted through the door once again to reach his ears as he sighed in contentment. Insane or not, it was a sound distinctly created to pull at his heart, addle his mind, and in the immediate case, propel him through the door.
                His eyes were drawn immediately to the glow before him. His Elizabeth, swathed in ethereal glory, stood facing him. His eyes devoured her beauty, breathing in her delicate features and settling it all with contentment inside him. She looked as she ever did except for the radiance of her person. Her hair was pulled up in a magnificent pile of curls straining for escape, and its brilliance against her alabaster skin made his breath catch. She stood next to a bookshelf, her hand extended towards it. It was not until his eyes drifted up to behold her fine eyes—eyes as familiar as the heart beating in his chest—that he allowed himself to contemplate the truth of the matter before him. He was imagining her in perfect detail, and his infatuation with her had surely reached proportions beyond sanity.
                He watched as she immediately lowered her eyes, breaking their gaze, and with confusion written all over her face, dipped into a perfect curtsey. He smiled at it all. His muddled state did not forgo the details, it would seem. Belatedly, he performed his own bow when he saw that she seemed to expect it. He almost laughed aloud at the absurdity.
                His heart beat faster, and although a fear was beginning to assert itself in his mind that he was headed to Bedlam, he could not but be pleased with his source of insanity. He laughed aloud, causing Elizabeth to startle from her frozen state and speak. I am surely attics to let! For her voice sounds just as I remembered!
                “Mr. Darcy!” Elizabeth exclaimed; equal parts confusion, chagrin, and disappointment battling for precedence within her breast.
                This was her dream, for heaven’s sake, and who is to show up and ruin it? One Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley! It was just too much. Like everything else in her dream so far, it was a mixture of the impossible and astounding. Out of habit she had curtseyed, and after he finished what seemed to be an exaggerated and prolonged perusal of her person—Odious man! —he returned a bow. Now she had spoken, and he seemed rooted in place, hand on the doorknob, and in complete dishabille.
                Elizabeth was angry that his state of dress—or rather undress—caused her cheeks to heat, more angry still that she was dreaming of him in such a state, and even more still that his handsome features were distracting her from her anger. It made no sense, and she threw up her hands in exasperation.
                This seemed to awaken her unwanted guest who blinked a few times and said, “I cannot believe it. I should fear for my state of mind, and yet I find myself quite charmed.”
                Elizabeth, surprised, raised a brow and looked upon him with the same degree of astonishment. “It is I who should fear for my sanity, sir. For I was having the most marvelous dream, and then somehow I have stumbled upon a means of stealing its allure.”
                He seemed to delight in hearing her speak but paid no attention to her words. Instead, he walked directly to her, much too close for propriety, his stare boring into her. She took an automatic step backwards but to no avail. He would come closer. She watched his eyes roam over her face and settle on her lips, and once again, she experienced the exasperating flush in her cheeks. Could she not have some control over this dream? Was she to be humiliated in her own wonderland? She could stand it no more and turned her head away. Her eyes went wide when she heard his next words.
                “You are every whit as beautiful as I remembered,” he whispered.

 I hope you enjoyed this little tidbit and that you will consider getting your hands on the book to read the rest of it.  Happy reading all!

KaraLynne Mackrory
Well I don't know about you but after reading that I want more! There are further excerpts to be shared with you on the blog tour, plus reviews and even some chances to win a copy of the book. Tomorrow the tour will be stopping by My Jane Austen Book Club where there is a guest post and giveaway. Thanks for visiting my blog for the first stop of the tour!
Haunting Mr. Darcy book blurb:

What happens to the happily ever after when the ever after has already happened?

A spirited courtship indeed! Jane Austen’s much adored Pride and Prejudice is transfigured in this regency adaptation.  That fickle friend Fate intervenes when an unexpected event threatens the happily ever after of literature’s favorite love story.  The gentlemen from Netherfield have left, winter is upon the land and after a horrifying carriage accident, Elizabeth Bennet finds her spirit transported as if by magic into Mr. Darcy’s London home.  Paranormally tethered to the disagreeable man, it doesn’t help that he believes she is a phantasm of his love struck mind, not the real Elizabeth.  Somehow they must learn to trust, learn to love and learn to bring Elizabeth back to her earthly form before it is too late.

Author bio:

KaraLynne is an amazing mother who never makes mistakes, never gets upset with her children and never ever has a dirty house. Ever. She always has her dishes done and the floors spotless and dinner is always prepared and ready on time. Her kids are always clean, polite, respectful and loving, especially to each other. She never gets irritated with her husband when he doesn’t turn his socks right side out for the laundry and they always agree on everything. She delights in nothing else but to serve her family and never wants or needs time for herself. She takes great care to shower every day and put make up on so that she is always beautiful and presentable. She never wears her pajamas all day or for days in a row and she is the epitome of womanhood. Most of all, she has a great sense of humor and loves to write.

Falling for Mr. Darcy (2012) was KaraLynne’s first venture in to the world of book authorship.  Bluebells in the Mourning (2013)  came next and coming in the spring of 2014 is, Haunting Mr. Darcy: A Spirited Courtship.  Although, admittedly a Darcy addict, she enjoys many things, such as: Mr. Knightly, Edmund Bertram, Captain Wentworth, Mr. Tilney and John Thornton.  She is happily married to her own Mr. Darcy and together they share the insanity inducing responsibility of raising four children.

Thursday 1 May 2014

Planned Reading for May 2014

This month I have something exciting coming up; my very first participation in a blog tour! The blog tour in question is being run by Leatherbound Reviews, and the book is Haunting Mr Darcy by Karalynne Mackrory. I haven’t read this yet, though I hope to get to it soon because it looks excellent.  I loved Bluebells in the Mourning by this author; it’s such a beautiful, romantic read that I have high hopes that Haunting Mr Darcy will be a wonderful book too.

Haunting Mr Darcy Blog Tour

2014 is the bicentenary of the publication of Mansfield Park by my favourite author, Jane Austen. I read Mansfield Park in a group read as part of The Book Rat’s Austen in August event last year, which was of huge benefit to me, because other people’s reactions and thoughts about the book gave me additional perspectives.  I’d only read MP once before, but I interpreted it very differently than I had on my first read, so I’ll share my review of it here with you.  I saw via My Jane Austen Book Club that Radio 4 will be rerunning a recording of Mansfield Park featuring David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch this month, so I am going to try and catch that if I can.

I thought that to mark the 200th anniversary of Mansfield Park that I should try and build some more Mansfield Park-inspired reads in. This is not as easy as it sounds, as there are so few to choose from! A good resource for finding such books is Austenesque Reviews, where Meredith has drawn up some really comprehensive lists. You can see the one for Mansfield Park here. A raid on my mother’s books a while ago unearthed a copy of Mansfield Revisited by Joan Aiken, which I understand is a continuation of MP so this month I’ll try and read that. If you have any suggestions for good MP-inspired reads please let me know!

For my Austenesque read of the month, I will aim to read A Perfect Bride for Mr Darcy by Mary Lydon Simonsen which I’m sure I’ll enjoy. This one is a Pride and Prejudice variation, and I believe the variation is that Anne de Bourgh decides to do some matchmaking between her cousin Darcy and Miss Bennet.

When I planned my reading for this year I hoped to read some Shakespeare – there are so many references to his plays in books, particularly the comedies, and I’m only familiar with the ones I studied in school which are all more on the tragic side (Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet). I’ve never read any Shakespeare outside a school setting, so who knows how I’ll get on! The play I plan to read is Much Ado About Nothing and the version I have has notes alongside the text, so hopefully I won’t get too lost.

For my contemporary planned read I have a book I picked up a while ago via my smartphone while waiting for some photocopying in work (smartphones are very enabling for impulse purchases!). This one is Frigid by J Lynn (who I believe also writes under the name Jennifer L Armentrout). I’ve never read any of her work before. This is a new adult read, with two long term friends getting stuck in a cabin in a winter storm. It seems a bit odd to be reading it when the weather is warming up but there we go!

I hope you have some good reads lined up for May. It’s the beginning of reading outdoors season here so I can hopefully get some lunchtime reading done. Happy reading!