Monday 30 June 2014

The Secrets of Darcy and Elizabeth by Victoria Kincaid

Book Cover The Secrets of Darcy and Elizabeth by Victoria Kincaid
This is a Pride and Prejudice variation that picks up some weeks after the Hunsford proposal. Darcy is in London and he is miserable. He has come to the conclusion that Miss Elizabeth Bennet was correct to refuse his arrogant proposal. He is tortured by regretful thoughts, and the only way he can get a full night’s sleep is to drink heavily. He believes that he has hidden his excesses from Georgiana, but he is mistaken. She has called for reinforcements, and in a very touching scene, Colonel Fitzwilliam forces his confidence. The Colonel convinces Darcy to try a change of scenery to try and raise his spirits. Since a ceasefire has been called with France, Colonel Fitzwilliam and some friends are taking the opportunity to visit Paris, and he badgers Darcy into coming along.

While in Paris, Darcy is convinced to go to a ball. There he sees somebody familiar – Elizabeth has also travelled to Paris, in the company of the Gardiners, as Mr Gardiner has business in France. Darcy decides to make the best of this opportunity to try and change Elizabeth’s view of him. Elizabeth is sorry for her previous misjudgements of Darcy and is eager to be on good terms, but Darcy soon makes it clear to her that his feelings toward her haven’t changed. She is unsure over whether she would want to encourage him in this way. She feels attracted to him, but is unsure of whether she would want to be married to him, particularly is she is unsure of whether he is the proud man she met in Hertfordshire or the more charming and eager to please Darcy that she sees now.

The Gardiners had planned to move on from Paris within a few days of the time they encountered Darcy. Seeing such an eligible suitor showing interest in their niece they arrange to leave Elizabeth under the guardianship of the acquaintance that they have been staying with, just for a short time while they travel to another area for Mr Gardiner’s business. However, after they leave Darcy receives the news that the ceasefire is over. It is imperative for English people to leave France as soon as possible. Colonel Fitzwilliam wastes no time, as an army officer he would be all the more hated, and he leaves straight away with friends. Darcy goes to Elizabeth to offer to escort her out of Paris. They attempt to take a maid as chaperone, but due to the scarcity of carriages they are only able to obtain a small carriage which means the maid gets left behind. However, they are not able to escape France as quickly as they’d hoped because Elizabeth falls gravely ill. Once they are safely back on English soil Darcy and Elizabeth have some news for their families, but it is not the most opportune time to tell either family due to other events, and therefore the secret must be kept for longer, leading to some misinterpretations.

I was a little surprised with how quickly their courtship seemed to progress, but when I considered it, once Elizabeth had got over her misconceptions of Mr Darcy in Pride & Prejudice she actually falls in love with him fairly quickly. I really liked the idea of a new setting, and Darcy and Elizabeth’s escape from France was pretty exciting reading. My main quibble with this book was the secret keeping. To me, it didn’t make sense. It went on for too long, and it made things look much, much worse than they really were and was the catalyst for some quite unpleasant events that needn’t have occurred. But neither of them seemed to see this. I am sure that letting the truth out so late in the day would have caused quite a bit of talk, and made things seem more scandalous than they would have been if they’d told the truth from the outset. The secret wasn’t shameful, but in my opinion the omission would have made the truth less believable.

Also, as the story progressed the escape from France wasn’t their only adventure, and it stretched credibility more. It was fun reading, but pretty unlikely, and personally I prefer more believable variations, but if you like excitement there is plenty of it here!

Another thing I was a little unsure of was the portrayal of our starring couple. I know it’s a variation, so deviations from Pride & Prejudice’s characters can be part of the change, but neither of them felt quite right to me. For example, a few times Darcy lost his temper and immediately started shouting at people, which is something that seems out of character to me – to me, one of Darcy’s most notable characteristics is his self-control. Also, Lizzy reacted in quite a laid-back way at things which I think would have shocked a young lady of limited experience, which she was. I have been puzzling over what it was that was not hitting all the right notes for me, and I think it is that, for me, they behaved and reacted with a more modern mindset than I feel would have been likely. I think self-control is less valued now than in the past, so Darcy losing his temper and hollering didn’t seem classy enough for my view of him (it wouldn’t seem classy enough for my view of him now, but particularly in a historical variation). Similarly, a wider world view would work well for a modern woman, but I don’t see that somebody of Elizabeth’s class at that time would have had that. There were also some instances of language use that I found a bit incongruous, some American terms, sidewalks etc. However, this book has some excellent reviews so I’m obviously in the minority with my quibbles! It’s an action-packed variation with some lovely romance, particularly when Darcy first sets out to woo his lady.

3.5 star read

Thursday 26 June 2014

A Duchess Enraged by Alicia Quigley

Book cover A Duchess Enraged by Alicia Quigley
I was first attracted to reading this book by the fact that according to the blurb it is inspired by real-life events. This is pretty much what it says:

‘The novel is based on actual history, that of the Earl of March and Lady Sarah Cadogan. The Earl of Cadogan married his daughter, Lady Sarah Cadogan, to the Duke of Richmond’s son, the Earl of March, sight unseen, as a way of settling an enormous gambling debt he owed the Duke. They were married the day after the agreement was made, and the infuriated Earl of March departed on his Grand Tour immediately thereafter, not to return for four years.’

Picture of the real Duke and Duchess of Richmond
According to Wikipedia, the bride was only 13 years old at the time and the groom 18.  Obviously arranged marriages were not uncommon, but this seems really sudden and very unfair to both of them. I was pleased to see that the real life couple actually had a happy marriage, as far as can be told from surviving letters. Other snippets of interest are that Lady Sarah shared my birthday, and that her husband, Charles the second Duke of Richmond, is now best remembered for being an important early patron of cricket! The picture here is a portrait of the couple.

In ‘A Duchess Enraged’ the couple in question are renamed to Allegra and Adam. I think the man who lost the fortune has been changed to be the groom’s father here. Allegra’s father, in lieu of receiving £20,000, offers to have Adam as a son-in-law instead. This has the benefit for the Duke that Adam won’t come back from his Grand Tour with an unsuitable wife in tow. Allegra is extremely frightened at being made to marry and Adam is livid with rage. He finds her unattractive and is completely uninterested in her. The plan is for her to return to her family’s home and await his return from the Grand Tour.

‘Any hopes she had cherished of possibly striking up a friendship with her husband withered away. This marriage, it seemed, was doomed from the start.’

The story then fast forwards four years. Adam’s father has now died, meaning that he is now the Duke. He has a very beautiful mistress, a widow called Lady Lousia Manning, who is hopeful that he will have his unconsummated marriage dissolved and make her his duchess. Adam’s mother has been asking him to go home and take up his life there, and he goes – taking his mistress with him. He sets her up in a house, as was common with a kept woman.

For the first few nights back in London Adam doesn’t go home, but he accompanies Lady Manning to a function. While she gambles at the card table, he wanders about, and a very beautiful lady catches his eye. She is happy to flirt with him, recognising him as her husband. He has no idea who she is, at this point. He finds out the next day, and is hypocritically unhappy about his wife behaving in such a way. She is unhappy that he is openly keeping a mistress. And so sets up the story, with Adam finding Allegra unmanageable and stubborn, Allegra trying to show Adam that he can’t control her while struggling with feelings of attraction towards him, Adam’s mother and sister trying to sort out their differences and other parties trying to cause trouble between them and force them apart.

Book Cover: A Most Unusual Situation by Alicia Quigley
This book is available in two versions – ‘A Duchess Enraged; An After Dark Version’ which has sex scenes, and ‘A Most Unusual Situation: A Traditional Georgian Romance’, which doesn’t. From the reviews on Amazon UK it seemed as though there wasn’t much in the way of sex scenes so I got the 'after dark' version but to be honest, I think I’d have been better off with the version with none, there were too many scenes for my liking, the style of them wasn't really to my taste, and there is literally a bodice-ripping scene, which I found brutish rather than romantic.

I was hoping for this book to deal with the couple’s unusual situation, and show how they worked through their differences and build a relationship but I didn’t really get that from this book. They just seemed to really lust after each other and that was the main driving force of their relationship. Allegra was a bit childish and naive, but she was still only 18, so that wasn’t too hard to deal with, although she made some tiresomely stupid decisions. I really wasn’t fond of Adam. Firstly, he is a bossy alpha-male type, which isn’t the type of hero I'm fond of, but the real issue was his double standards. Both his wife and his mistress are sex-mad. In his mistress he interprets this as her devotion to him, but in his wife he decides that she is untrustworthy and will very likely be taking lovers left, right and centre. He never applies this logic to his mistress’s likely behaviour, just his wife’s. It was just completely illogical. Both Adam and Allegra are also very gullible.

Some of the secondary characters were interesting, such as Adam's sister Caroline, and a beau of Allegra's, Lord Gresham, but neither of the main protagonists came alive for me here; I felt the characters needed to be fleshed out more. I felt like this was such a missed opportunity, because the bare bones of this story is fascinating and I’d have liked to see the characters come to life, and their relationship grow and develop.

3 star read

Monday 23 June 2014

The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries Book Logo
Some time ago the Austenesque world was abuzz with something new – a series of YouTube videos telling an updated version of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. I was sceptical, but I started on episode 1 and had a marathon watch-a-thon until I’d caught up. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (or LBD, as many people shorted it to) moved the Bennets to modern-day California. The family consists of lovely sweet Jane, our somewhat snarky heroine Lizzie and the energetic younger sister Lydia. Lizzie is studying mass communications for her masters degree and is making a video diary as part of her degree. Like thousands of others, I tuned in twice a week for a 5-ish minute video with an insanely catchy theme tune, and caught up with a snippet of Lizzie’s life.

I thought this was such a clever series. It’s one thing doing a modern update; I’ve read plenty of those, but this also had to work within some limitations. Firstly, the perspective is quite limited – these are Lizzie’s videos and very much seen through her filter. Secondly, the videos were being posted online from the outset, which some people know, and others find out throughout the course of the videos. Some characters we don’t see in person, and Lizzie does some ‘costume theatre’ to play their roles, which I found really funny, particularly her interpretation of her mother, complete with hat.  There was also content in other platforms, such as twitter accounts of the characters that you could follow etc. Although obviously modernised, the main story points of Pride & Prejudice were all identifiable in the events the videos report.

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries Book - The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet
When I heard there was a book of the LBD I wondered if it would bring anything new to the table, or whether it’d be the same as the videos but just in book form. The events of the videos are obviously discussed, but the book gave a bit of a fuller picture of things, and because it’s a private journal rather than a public video there are also some things which weren’t included in the vlog. The videos are very much from Lizzie’s point of view but there is very often somebody else on screen, so their views can come across too. In a journal everything is solely through Lizzy’s filter, which as we know, can be faulty.

For me, the aspect that changed most from the story Pride & Prejudice, which comes across particularly well in the videos, was the character of Lydia. She was a much more developed character than most Lydias in modernised versions. She’s a real party girl as you’d expect, but she takes her sisters’ opinions of her more to heart than they realise. She is loud, energetic and brash – but she is also funny, loving and observant and generally pretty adorable, if a little manic! She is quite lonely too, and is absolutely ripe for manipulation by George Wickham. He is completely ruthless here, and the majority of the blame for the event representing Lydia’s elopement in P&P lies with George. He is worse than Wickham in P&P in my eyes, as this George purposely intends to harm Lydia, which is a crime I would acquit original Wickham of, although his actions were obviously reprehensible. Lydia’s reaction to the event is very different to Pride & Prejudice’s Lydia too. This Lydia shows genuine remorse which goes a long way to securing your goodwill towards her, if you didn’t already love her.

Mr Bennet is represented via costume theatre in the vlog, but he makes appearances in Lizzie’s diary and his reaction to the Mr Collins situation renewed my appreciation for one aspect of the original Mr Bennet’s personality – the fact that he doesn’t try to force his daughter into marriage and actively discourages her from a match that will make her miserable. Here, the marriage offer is instead a job offer that would see Lizzy have to give up her degree in its final year. It would be desirable from a financial perspective as the Bennets are undergoing financial difficulties and Lizzie would no longer need to rely on her parents. LBD Mr Bennet’s support reminded me that, just as in Pride & Prejudice, Mr Bennet may not have done all the financial things as he should have but he doesn’t intend that his daughters should pay the price while he’s still able to prevent it.

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries Costume Theatre Mrs Bennet and Mr Bennet
Mrs Bennet was my favourite of all the costume theatre moments in the videos. Lizzie’s renditions of a southern belle who is determined to get her girls married off and popping out grandchildren were some of the funniest moments. In the book I felt her character was developed further by Lizzie’s diary entries. She is painted in an embarrassing but very affectionate light. In fact, the whole family has a bond that really comes across well.

Mr Collins is also reimagined from his Pride & Prejudice counterpart – rather than an unctuous sycophant he is here quite a sweet man, although he is still verbose and pompous. I got pretty fond of Ricky Collins, and you never expect to get fond of Mr Collins in Pride & Prejudice updates!

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries Lizzie and Darcy
What about our beloved hero? Well, this would be my only real downside to this book, lack of Darcy time. At first Lizzie talks about the public reaction to Darcy’s portrayal on her videos but very little about him. Because the diary is so much more from her perspective and he is not important to her, he doesn’t get much page time. In Pride & Prejudice the narrator tells us that Darcy is interested in Lizzy, but since the narrator here is Lizzie, who has no clue, some things aren’t so obvious. Later, when Lizzie meets up with Darcy at his company I was hoping we’d get some of her feelings on the situation, since this is her personal diary, but it was glossed over pretty quickly. Her change in sentiment isn’t there in much depth at all, which seems an unusual choice as this is a diary. I would definitely have been interested to read that. There is also very little on Darcy at the end of the story; I’d have liked to have seen more of them together as a couple in the book.

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries Charlotte, Lizzie, Lydia, Jane
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The dialogue was often very amusing and was very identifiable as Lizzie’s voice from her videos. I thought it was an excellent enhancement to the original series. If you were thinking of getting the book and not watching the series I don’t think you’d be getting the full impact. Jane’s sweetness, Lydia’s excitable puppy quality and particularly things like the costume theatre have to be seen to be appreciated fully! The good news is that the videos, which have since won an Emmy Award, are available on YouTube so all you need to do is make the time to go and watch them! For those people who’ve already watched the videos there are couple of new videos to celebrate the release of the book so make sure you catch those!

4 star read

My thanks to Netgalley and the publishers for providing me with the ARC of this book for review.

Saturday 21 June 2014

Mansfield Park DVD – 1983 BBC Version

Mansfield Park 1983 BBC DVD Cover
Recently, I watched the BBC 6 part series of Mansfield Park, made in 1983. The part of Fanny is played by Sylvestra Le Touzel (who also had a role in the 2007 Northanger Abbey) and Nicholas Farrell as Edmund. Anna Massey is Mrs Norris and Samantha Bond is Maria Bertram.

I also recognised Gorden Kaye (Rene from 80s sitcom 'Allo 'Allo!).

Mansfield Park 1999 DVD Cover
Over the years I’ve seen a few adaptations of Mansfield Park. The first one I saw was the 1999 version starring Frances O’Connor and Jonny Lee Miller. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen that version, but I remember feeling that they’d got Fanny’s character all wrong. She was a lot more self-assured than in the book and I felt that she’d make mincemeat of Edmund, whereas in reality Edmund would have looked after her. The slavery aspect is explored more than the book, where the only allusions to slavery I can recall are references to Sir Thomas’ plantation in Antigua, which was presumably run by slave labour, and Fanny actually mentions the slave trade over dinner, in a conversation stopping move. Also, this version was very sexualised, which was unnecessary in my opinion. 

Jonny Lee Miller as Edmund Bertram 1999 Mansfield Park
This version was probably my favoured version though, because Jonny Lee Miller was a fantastic Edmund. For me, he captured the role perfectly, so much so, that I’ve not been able to watch the 2009 version of Emma because how can I watch Edmund pretending to be Mr Knightley?! Jonny Lee Miller actually has a part in the 1983 Mansfield Park too - here he's one of Fanny's younger brothers.

Mansfield Park 2007 DVD Cover
The next version of Mansfield Park that I saw was the 2007adaptation starring Billie Piper. I’ve liked Billie in other things but I really didn’t like her as Fanny Price. She plays her as light hearted and giggly and she looks so wrong. Billie’s hair is very obviously dyed – fine in real life, but not in a period drama! You can’t have an historical heroine whose eyebrows are a different colour to the hair on her head! In addition, her hair is in a tousled style which is all wrong. As the poor relation Fanny would have not been keen to draw attention to herself in such a negative way, I think she’d have looked neat and tidy at all times and there would have been no hoydenish behaviour, although I think Fanny too serious a character to be hoydenish anyway. I think Fanny can be a character that a modern audience can find hard to relate to, since she’s so meek, and this is why her character is changed – but once she’s no longer meek her clear-sightedness and strength of character in refusing Henry Crawford is no longer remarkable.

I was ready to accept that there wasn’t a version of Mansfield Park out there that was true to the book when I was given the recommendation on Twitter by @AusteninBoston to try this 1983 version, which he told me was much truer to the book. I got a copy and used it to distract me over a few ironing sessions and found that he was right – this version is much truer to the book than the other versions I’d seen.  

Since this is a 1980s drama you can’t expect it to look as pretty as a newer one, and it doesn’t, but the production is pretty good. Some older productions look like they are being filmed in studios but you don’t get this impression here, it looks very natural.  I found the background woodwind music a bit distracting at first but either it stopped or I got used to it because I only really noticed it in the first episode. The story is true to Austen’s Mansfield Park, although some things are lost in the translation, as they would be with any adaptation.

There were some things that really stood out for me with this version. The first is Samantha Bond who was absolutely fantastic as the headstrong, catty Maria. Mrs Norris was toned down here so if you’d not read the book you wouldn’t have full hatred for her, but you wouldn’t like her. Anna Massey plays Mrs Norris here and gives a wonderful performance.

Mansfield Revisited by Joan Aiken 1984 Book cover
A while ago I read Mansfield Revisited by Joan Aiken which has a very sympathetic view of the Crawfords, particularly Mary Crawford, and having seen this I wonder if watching this version had influenced her view of Mary, even the physical description is the same. (As an aside, I have trouble with Mary Crawford as a character – her practical, unfeeling views match so well with our modern views, particularly in the respect of dealing with the elopement. I want to dislike her for being heartless, but instead I find myself agreeing with her views on a practical level, and admiring her candidness!)

In addition, Henry Crawford's situation with Maria is given a less blameworthy appearance in this, which also tied in with the happenings of Mansfield Revisited.

For me, some things didn't come across so well. Obviously some things you lose when adapting for screen, such as narrative language use, and these were included where they could be, but some of the main themes of the book Mansfield Park were not evident. For example, I thought a huge theme of Mansfield Park was Nature v. Nurture, which doesn't come across at all. Fanny's mother doesn't come across as at all similar to Lady Bertram in nature, although I accept that this might be hard to convey. I am not sure what I thought about Lady Bertram, she seemed not languid, but simple! There was recognition that Sir Thomas' family weren't brought up as well as they should have been, which was good to see.

The main downside of this adaptation for me was the portrayal of Fanny. Although she’s much closer to the book I think she was overacted. She’s just too gauche. Also, neither Fanny nor Edmund are very lovable, they are both humorless. I know they aren’t exactly bursting with humour in the book but other good qualities are conveyed which I didn’t quite get from this, they’re both a bit priggish. So although this version wasn’t perfect, and I think there is a gap for a really definitive version of Mansfield Park, this one is far better than the other versions out there. If you are looking for an adaptation of Mansfield Park to watch I’d recommend that you make it this one.

Thursday 19 June 2014

The Second Chance by Joana Starnes

Book Cover - The Second Chance by Joana Starnes
The lovely Jakki over at Leatherbound Reviews gave me the opportunity to review The Second Chance by Joana Starnes, a Pride and Prejudice variation which also features characters from Sense and Sensibility. Many thanks to both Jakki and Joana for the chance.

Please drop by to Leatherbound Reviews to see my review!

I've blogged about Joana's previous book, The Subsequent Proposal, which is a Pride and Prejudice variation also including characters from Persuasion! You can read my review of that here.

Monday 16 June 2014

Sense & Sensibility by Joanna Trollope

Book cover: Sense & Sensibility by Joanna TrollopeSense & Sensibility by Joanna Trollope is the first book of ‘The Austen Project’, Harper Collins’ project to pair ‘authors of global literary significance with Jane Austen’s six complete works to write their own unique take on Jane Austen’s novels’. The fanfare in the media accompanying this series surprised me a little, when you consider how many books there are already in the Austenesque genre, albeit of variable quality, but I’m not going to complain about some bestselling authors having a go! Please note that I am working on the assumption that you’re familiar with the plotline of Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen; if you’re unfamiliar with it there may be potential spoilers ahead.

I haven’t read anything by Joanna Trollope previously but I know she’s a well respected author so I had high hopes. Here, the Dashwood family had been living for the past decade or so at Norland, the home of Mr Dashwood’s rich uncle. Although the uncle welcomed them with open arms, he was traditional in outlook, and partly due to Mr Dashwood never marrying the girl’s mother, Belle and partly to keep the estate together, the estate has been left to John, who is Henry Dashwood’s son from his marriage. Henry died in hospital following an asthma attack, and while he was ill in hospital he asked John to look after his girls. However, John’s ideas of looking after aren’t what his father had in mind.

In Sense & Sensibility Mr Dashwood leaving his widow and children to the care of his son was understandable, especially if the estate was entailed. He may have had very little to leave them that wasn’t tied to the estate, but in this day and age that is less likely. In fact, Elinor reflects:

‘Was it an adventure not to leave a responsible will that would secure the future of the person you’d had three daughters with – or was it fecklessness?’

I couldn’t help but understand this point of view, although there are plenty of people who just trust to chance for their family’s future. It does seem fairly irresponsible, particularly knowing that your family is essentially living off the hospitality of a relative.

The Dashwood ladies are not left entirely penniless though, although they seem to think that they are. They are left ‘only’ £200,000!  This is after being allowed to live in a stately home, gratis for over a decade. This kind of attitude makes it hard to sympathise with their situation. For most people in the UK this would not be an insignificant inheritance but they are unimpressed with it. Even being given a 4 bedroom cottage to live in for low rent doesn’t impress them. Instead they lament that it isn’t more picturesque. These are some deeply ungrateful ladies, Elinor excepted.

Elinor is studying, doing a degree in architecture, but she has to give it up. I’m not sure it was ever made clear why. I would have assumed the most likely scenario would have been that she’d get a loan and some student accommodation for the last year but she doesn’t even seem to think about it, instead resigning herself to the thought that she’ll have to get a job. The fact she didn’t even think about continuing with her degree surprised me, as surely her earning power would be greater with a degree in architecture? As it happens, Elinor lands herself a job earning a respectable £1,500 per month, though Marianne (who earns, and intends to earn, a big fat zero) deems this a pittance.

It doesn’t seem to cross the minds of Belle or Marianne that they could possibly work. Belle hasn’t worked in years, but you’d think having a family would motivate her to think about it, at the very least. It doesn’t, and she selfishly allows Elinor to sacrifice her degree rather than lift a finger herself. Marianne can’t work, because she has asthma and we are told she has a tendency to depression. I am not hugely familiar with the condition of asthma, but as far as I am aware most asthmatics are able to work. As for depression, the particular depressive symptoms that Marianne suffered from were described, but you never saw them. Instead you just saw her being vastly self-centred, for example, doing things she knew were likely to set off an asthma attack because she was so moved by whatever emotion she was experiencing.

Elinor’s family accept her self-sacrifice without question or appreciation.  To me, this made them far more unlikeable than their Sense & Sensibility counterparts. Certainly Austen's Elinor took a lead in settling them in their new life when strictly speaking her mother should have been doing it, however, what did she give up to do so? She would have been going to live with them anyway. I couldn’t decide whether Joanna Trollope's Belle and Marianne were selfish, which is what led Elinor to have to sacrifice for them, or whether she enabled their behaviour. If she’d left a vacuum, would Belle have stepped up to the task? I think people are expected to stand on their own feet more these days.

Another thing which didn’t work for me in a modern setting was people’s reactions to Marianne. She is ravishingly beautiful, which makes men fall over themselves to protect her. I find this unlikely, and more than a bit sexist; I don’t think most men are dying to be knights in shining armour for vulnerable ladies! Her beauty also allows her to be childish, self-indulgent, deeply selfish and generally pretty obnoxious. She behaves like a surly teen. Such behaviour is understandable in Margaret, who is so much younger, but in somebody of Marianne’s age it’s just weird. Yes, Marianne in Austen’s original book was quite self-centred, but having grown up in a much more sheltered environment it’s more understandable, and she was a much more likeable character. To be fair, Marianne does show growth of character by the end of the novel, and is much improved for it.

Once the Dashwoods move to Devon we meet some new characters. Sir John in particular is a scream, being as thick skinned as a rhino. He seems to find Marianne’s immature rudeness hilarious. Which is just as well. We also meet John Willoughby. I loved his introduction:

‘Margaret could see that on the scale of hotness, he registered fairly close to a full ten. He was – amazing.’

We also meet Sir John’s wife, and his mother-in-law, Mrs Jennings. This part was another oddity; these days I don’t think somebody would see late teenage/early 20s girls as a likely match for a mid thirties man, at least until they got to know them. Certainly there are relationships which have these age gaps, but people in general would be less likely to matchmake between people with this kind of age gap. There were a few references to Colonel Brandon liking young people which made him seem almost like a bit of a perve, especially as he is quite old in his outlook, and Marianne is extremely childish. Obviously in the early 1800s a bride who was late teens marrying a man in his mid thirties would have been much more common.

The main thing that struck me as anachronistic about this book was the characters attitudes to marriage; I would say that most teenagers living in Britain today (with the exception of people of strong religious belief) wouldn’t expect to marry before the age of 25-30 or may not plan to marry at all. However, Elinor, Marianne and Lucy Steele all seem to think there is nothing unusual about marrying at the age of 20 or so. It was very strange, as was Elinor’s attitude towards Edward’s secret engagement:

‘I don’t know if he wants to be with Lucy or not, but he’s not going to let her down because he’s been let down himself by so many people all his life that he can’t bring himself to do it to someone else, whatever the cost to him is.’

Personally, I think attitudes have changed greatly in this regard. Firstly, it is not dishonourable for a man to break off an engagement. Secondly, very few people would expect an engagement made between teenagers to be morally binding. Thirdly, I would say that it would be the prevalent view that it is less honourable to marry somebody who you don’t love than to break off the engagement and give them a chance to find somebody who really loves them.

In summary, this book didn’t quite work for me. I think for the story to work in a modern setting more changes needed to be made. The attitudes of the characters were strangely outdated, which made some of the behaviour implausible, and in some cases changed your perception of the characters. I haven't read any other modern updates of Sense & Sensibility, but I will definitely try to; I am hopeful there is a way to make the story work both as a retelling and as a modern book in its own right.

Saturday 14 June 2014

A Cowboy Unmatched by Karen Witemeyer

Book cover A Cowboy Unmatched by Karen Witemeyer
Earlier this year I read the first two books in the Archer brothers series, Short Straw Bride and Stealing the Preacher, and I loved them both! There is only one unmarried Archer brother remaining, the baby of the family, Neill Archer, so I was both pleased to see that his story was available, and sad that it was only a novella length story.

Neill is sick of being seen as a boy by his brothers – he’s 28 years old now and he’s planning on setting up a place of his own, in partnership with his friend Josiah.  While Josiah stays at home and works there Neill is travelling from place to place getting what work he can. He arrives in a new town and makes it known that he’s looking for work. He finds a note asking him to replace the roof for Mrs Danvers, a widow. He envisions a poor, defenceless old lady, and when he sees the rickety shack she’s living in, he is indignant on her behalf.

However Clara Danvers is not what he’d imagined. She’s a mere 20 years old, heavily pregnant, extremely unfriendly and the most exotic beauty Neill has ever set eyes on.  The attraction between them is mutual, but Clara has been hurt before so she’s not interested in finding herself a man.

This man’s eyes were warm and honest. Kind. And they had lovely green flecks that added a sparkle to the brown depths.
Clara took a step back. No need to look that close. He was a workman, nothing else.

The only thing Clara is focused on is preventing her father in law from stealing her baby when it’s born. For this she needs to keep her guard up at all times for a physical attack or kidnap, and she also needs to make sure she doesn’t set a foot wrong, as her father in law is seen as a pillar of the community. So she needs her shack to be in good condition. She’s done what she could to maintain it, but she has limited materials and tools and she physically can’t manage to fix the roof. Clara is of Comanche blood, so a lot of the townsfolk are wary of her, she has no family, now no husband, and no friends, aside from the anonymous benefactor who sent Neill to her.

Reluctantly Clara accepts Neill’s help, and despite herself she begins to warm to him, telling him the sad tale of how she ended up alone and the wife of a man who married her for really hurtful reasons.  She isn’t filled with self pity, though; Clara is just getting on with things, and focusing on protecting her baby

Clara Danvers was no fragile flower. She was a coyote who’d learned to scrape and scavenge and protect what was hers.

Neill is desperate to protect Clara, both out of compassion to keep her and her baby together, and also because he’s decided he wants to marry her. Aside from the fact that he can see she is full of admirable qualities and beauty there is also something else drawing him to her:

No one had ever needed him before, not to this extent. The youngest of four brothers, he’d always been included yet never felt truly essential. Until today. Clara needed him.

Although I really enjoyed this story, I couldn’t help but feel that it was just too short. The relationship between them developed too quickly. In one respect, this made sense because there was a limit to how many days he could stretch out working on her house, and since she was heavily pregnant there was a timescale there too, but I think the story really could have benefited from being longer. The story only covers a short timescale but I would have liked more detail, for example, there is a 2 day journey which is described in just a few pages, when I would have liked to see their relationship building. I also felt the pacing was uneven; it starts out at a moderate speed then gets faster. In common with the other Archer books this book has Christian themes, but they are not explored in great depth.

We see the other Archer brothers too, but unfortunately only very briefly. I’d really recommend reading this book, both to find out what happens to Neill and because even though I felt it was too short, it’s still a really good story!

Book Cover A Match Made in Texas
You can buy this story on its own as a novella (but be warned, there is a sample at the end, meaning you get a gaaaaaaah! moment when you reach 58% and the story is over!), or as part of an anthology called A Match Made in Texas which also has stories from other authors.

Wednesday 11 June 2014

Mansfield Ranch by Jenni James

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book covers - Jane Austen Diaries by Jenni James

Sunday 8 June 2014

Overexposed by Noelle Adams

Book Cover: Overexposed by Noelle Adams
This book starts five years back with barista/wannabe actress Leah on a dream holiday in the south of France with her friend, Cassie, Cassie’s boyfriend – Hollywood star Kevin Grayson, and Leah’s boyfriend Joey. It’s pretty obvious that Leah has feelings for Kevin and that her relationship with Joey is fizzling out. We come back to the present and find out something has gone badly wrong for Leah. She’s still good friends with Cassie but it’s clear that sometime after the holiday Leah got involved romantically with Kevin and he used her pretty badly. A sex tape scandal involving Leah and Kevin led to his waning career progressing from teen star to a successful serious actor, while Leah was branded as an attention seeker who was responsible for the tapes being leaked.  But Leah is entirely innocent of this.

When the scandal broke Kevin cut off all contact and Leah was left to pick up the pieces of her life with a ruined reputation. Her hopes of an acting career were completely scuppered. Still, all publicity is good publicity and Leah had enough nous to salvage what she could of the situation, making some money which she invested successfully in the coffee house she had been hoping she could leave behind her. Now she is the owner of the business. She fronts up to rude comments from frat boys and sleazy men coming on to her in the humiliating knowledge that they’ve all seen her naked and having sex on the internet. She hasn’t had a boyfriend since the incident, as understandably she is going to have a hard time trusting.

‘She’d made more money from it than she could have ever hoped to make as an actress, since she probably never would have been a big star. But she would give it all back in an instant if it meant her life and reputation wouldn’t have been trashed four and a half years ago.’

Do you hate Kevin yet? I certainly did by this point! Now Leah’s business manager wants to set up a publicity stunt involving her and Kevin going on a ‘secret’ romantic holiday. Although Leah doesn’t want to see Kevin again she’s about to branch out the business to open a restaurant in addition to the coffee shop and the extra publicity would serve her well.

But then we switch to Kevin’s point of view and we see there is another side to it. He has agreed to do this for some closure, because four and a half years ago when the tapes appeared online he felt completely betrayed by the only woman he had ever loved.

‘He’d been launched into his career.
And he’d give it all up in an instant if it meant his heart hadn’t been trampled into the mud four and a half years ago.’

I usually enjoy Noelle Adams’ books, and this one was no exception. I felt so bad for Leah, the betrayal of being let down, the humiliation of having your most intimate moments exposed and all the mudslinging and character assassination that followed. Afterwards I felt sorry for Kevin too as although he hadn’t had the reputational damage that Leah had lived through the heartbreak was just as real.

Since it’s dual point of view we know that Kevin is telling the truth when he tells Leah that he isn’t responsible for the tapes going online, but she has no idea, and after being so badly let down in the past, it would take a huge leap of faith on her part to allow her to take the risk of trusting him again. She’s not sure she can go back to being the girl that she was, before she had the barriers to hide behind.

There is one thing which I thought was a bit odd; once they accept that neither one of them leaked the tapes they don't really moderate their behaviour or speculate over who it could have been although Kevin sets somebody to investigate. If somebody did something so life-changing to me there's no way I could drop it until I found out who it was.

This author’s works vary, with some containing no sex scenes but this book has quite a lot of sex scenes, and some crude language too, so if you don’t like those then perhaps this is one you should avoid, but if you don’t mind those things and are looking for a spicy sunlounger read then maybe give this one a go!

Friday 6 June 2014

A Wife for Mr Darcy by Mary Lydon Simonsen

When I read The Perfect Bride for Mr Darcy recently I referred to this book so I thought I'd share my review of it with you. I read this at the end of last year...

Book cover: A Wife for Mr Darcy by Mary Lydon Simonsen
This is a Pride and Prejudice variation. What if Mr Darcy realised that Elizabeth may have overheard his slighting comment about her at the Meryton Assembly and went to apologise to her? They start off on much better terms, so much so that when Mr Wickham comes to Hertfordshire spreading his tale of woe Lizzy doesn't believe it.

In Pride and Prejudice, once Elizabeth overcomes her dislike of Mr Darcy she falls in love with him pretty quickly and this is what happens here, but there is a fly in the ointment in the fact that prior to coming to Netherfield Mr Darcy had begun a courtship in London of a Miss Letitia Montford and now feels himself bound in honour to her.

Recognising that Darcy's honour is going to lead him to a life of misery Miss Darcy, Colonel Fitzwilliam and his elder brother Lord Antony Fitzwilliam spring into action to try their hand at unravelling the problem through a series of entertaining plots.

Both Fitzwilliam brothers are wonderful characters, lots of fun. However, Lord Antony Fitzwilliam really steals the show. He refers to his estranged wife as the Evil Eleanor, dresses ten years out of fashion so he stands out, is a colossal flirt with married ladies and has some wonderful droll dialogue.

"This does not sound like the Darcy I know," Antony said. "But if he is not going to learn from my mistakes, then why should I help him? On the other hand, he is my cousin, and on occasion has lent me money. 

There is also a fantastic scene where Georgiana visits Mrs Redford, who is Miss Montford's companion, and we see that the scheming isn't all one-sided.

Since much of the book focuses on Darcy's family there is not so much of the Bennets, although we see Jane Bennet show unexpected steel in taming Bingley's niece and nephews (children of another sister who is not mentioned in P&P).

I would have liked to have seen a bit more Lizzy, and a bit more wooing on Mr Darcy's part. Due to his impending courtship he is unable to make overtures towards Elizabeth for some time. She thinks at one point "Why is it that a man of sense and education, who had lived in the world, found it so difficult to speak in declarative sentences that didn't require an interpreter?" and I had a lot of sympathy for her view, although I understood his reasoning. By the time he is free to win his lady she is already won and he doesn't really need to put much effort in, I thought she deserved a bit more.

There is some behaviour that I don't think was in line with norms of the day, such as unmarried ladies sitting on the same side of the carriage as men and receiving letters from men who weren't relations, and there was also some language use that didn't seem quite right for a book set in England in this period such as a house having a foyer instead of a hall etc. However, I thought this was a very entertaining and lighthearted read. It's very humorous. I'd certainly recommend this book and I hope that Antony features in other books, I'd love to see more of him!

Monday 2 June 2014

Frigid by J Lynn

I quite enjoy a bit of new adult (I know, I’m on the old side to be a ‘new’ adult!), and J Lynn, who also writes as Jennifer L Armentrout has great reviews so I thought I’d give one of her stories a try. Frigid is about two friends, Kyler and Sydney. They are a somewhat mismatched set of friends but they’ve been best buddies for years.

‘Actually, we went together like a lion and a gimpy gazelle that had no chance of outrunning the predator. I was the gimpy gazelle.’

When they met Kyler was a boy from a trailer park and Sydney was the sweet little girl who befriended him. Over the years Kyler’s family succeeded in their business and are now very wealthy but in his head he is still trash and she is still too good for him.

‘Sydney Bell had always been, and would always be, a few pedestals too high for me.’

Kyler is a bit of a man whore, never having relationships but a succession of one night stands. Sydney on the other hand is very inexperienced. She had one boyfriend a few years ago, who labelled her ‘frigid’, which she found very hurtful. All potential boyfriends since then have been chased off by Kyler, who is insanely protective over her. Of course, it doesn’t help her romantic life that she’s been in love with him for years.

‘No one could replace me in his life. I knew that. I was the friend who knew everything about him and whom he trusted and whom he trusted above everyone else. 
I was Kyler’s best friend.
And because of that, he would never love me the way I loved him.’

Every year Kyler has a group of friends over to his mum’s ski lodge for some skiing. This year, Kyler and Sydney will be driving together, and their friends will follow. However, the mother of all storms hits, leaving them stranded together, unable to leave, with a lot of misunderstanding and mutual attraction between them. To add to the tension, somebody is carrying out some attacks on the property and they are not sure who or why.

I found this to be some very easy reading, and I gobbled it up in just a few hours.  I always enjoy the friends secretly in love trope, I’m not attractive enough for him/She deserves better scenario, and I enjoyed this. Sydney is a funny girl, a real over-thinker, a quality I can identify with. Kyler was generally a bit selfish and thoughtless but he genuinely cared for Sydney which was nice. If you prefer to avoid sex scenes you probably wouldn’t be reading New Adult genre, but just to warn you there are several.

The downside of this book for me was the attacks; I didn’t feel either of them, particularly Sydney, took the attacks on them very seriously which didn’t make sense to me as they could have led to serious injury. Some of the actions that Sydney took once she knew there was danger present reminded me of one of those horror films where the TSTL (Too Stupid To Live) girl makes decisions that are devoid of all sense. For me, this would have been a better book without this aspect to the story as it didn’t add the tension that it could have if the characters had reacted to it differently, so it just got in the way.

However, this was a nice easy read, and the next time I’m in a reading slump I’d definitely consider reading another J Lynn book.

Sunday 1 June 2014

Planned Reading for June 2014

Phew, May was such a busy month! Every year in work May is busy, and every year I forget this and it takes me by surprise! So although I read all my planned reads I still haven't made any headway with the two books I semi-abandoned months ago. Hopefully June will slow down a tad and I can catch up a bit. I am falling behind on my Goodreads 2014 challenge of 100 books, but it was always a big ask for me as I only read about 85 last year. These are my planned reads:

Book cover - Haunting Mr Darcy by KaraLynne Mackrory
Haunting Mr Darcy by KaraLynne Mackrory - I hoped to read this before the blog tour last month but it didn't happen so I definitely want to read this. I loved KaraLynne's last book, Bluebells in the Mourning and this one looks great too. After Darcy leaves Netherfield Elizabeth is involved in an accident and is badly injured. As she lies in a coma, her spirit leaves her body and connects itself to the most disagreeable man of her acquaintance...

Book cover Mansfield Ranch - Jenni James Jane Austen Diaries
For some reason quite a few of the Mansfield Park inspired books are modern YA reads. My Mansfieldy planned read is a young adult book, Mansfield Ranch by Jenni James, which is part of the Jane Austen Diaries series.  I don't know anything more about this book and I haven't read any of the other updated Austens she's written, though I've read books from her Faerie Tale Collection. I believe this is the fifth of the Jane Austen Diaries, (the others being Pride and Popularity, Persuaded, Emmalee and Northanger Alibi) so only Sense and Sensibility is left of the main 6 Austen novels.

The third Archer brother book by Karen Witemeyer, A Cowboy Unmatched came out last month. This one is only a novella, which is unfortunate if Neill is half as lovely as his brothers, but I'm looking forward to reading the story of the last unmarried Archer Brother.

I was lucky enough to win (woot!) a copy of The Secrets of Darcy and Elizabeth by Victoria Kincaid. This is a Pride and Prejudice variation which sounds a bit different, involving a bit of drama in France. From what I understand it's the same Darcy and Elizabeth, but they visit France and get caught up in some trouble. It has wonderful reviews so I have high hopes that I'll enjoy it.

I have also had some books sitting on my 'currently reading' shelf for months so I need to try and resurrect those, or officially abandon them. I feel bad abandoning them though as neither of the books are bad. I am hoping that it was just the wrong time for them and when I try to read them I'll get on with them this time. Happy reading everybody!