Tuesday 29 July 2014

Georgette Heyer - My Top Reads

Years ago, when I was a teenager, I discovered the works of Jane Austen. They were right there, on my mum's bookshelf, it was raining, I had vaguely heard of them, and so I gave them a go. I read all six of the main novels in pretty quick succession but then there were no more. What could I read next? I expressed my dilemma to my mum, who suggested that I might like to try Georgette Heyer. Luckily, my mum is a bookworm too, and she had a lot of Heyer's books in the house, or I'd have had no hope of reading them at that point, there were only a few of her works in the library. I started with April Lady, because it was a slender volume, and went from there!

Picture of Georgette Heyer
Georgette Heyer was an English novellist who had a career spanning over 50 years. She wrote some detective stories and thrillers but what she is best known for are her Georgian and Regency romances. She wrote over 40 of them, and is regarded as the person who invented the historical romance, and specifically the Regency Romance genre. Unsurprisingly, for the time she was writing, Heyer's books are 'clean' romances and don't have any sex scenes.

One thing Heyer's work is notable for is the research. How many times have you read a historical romance only to be jarred out of your immersion in the world of the book by a word which is too modern, or social conventions being incorrect? I would be extremely surprised if this happened to you while you're reading Heyer. She was more careful than that. But not only was her work well-researched, it's also well-written, and extremely entertaining. Her characters are usually well-rounded, there is humour within the books and sparkling dialogue. Often you will see historical romances being marketed as being in Georgette Heyer's style, and so often when you read them you are sadly let down by the marketing hype.

Heyer started writing to entertain her brother as he convalesced from illness but as she became successful she had to write because she was the main breadwinner for her family. She started off with two younger orphaned brothers to support, and later a husband and a child of her own. This meant that she couldn't always write what she wanted, more factual history, but instead what would sell, historical romance. From what I've read about her, she didn't hold her own genre in high regard, though she felt her work was well-written within that genre. She boiled down her heroes to two types, Mark I - "the brusque, savage sort with a foul temper" and Mark II - "suave, well-dressed, rich and a famous whip". Though you can see examples of both of this type of hero in her work, she really wasn't doing herself justice to say that things were that simple!

I thought I'd draw up a top 10 of my favourite Heyer reads but I'm afraid I could only manage a top 8 - this is not because there are not 10 good reads, but because there are too many that I love, I really couldn't decide on the last two, as there are about another 8 or 10 favourites I've left off the list! I have chosen the cover photos from the Pan covers from the 70s - I know they are a little bit lurid, but I like them, because they were created by somebody who had at least read the book, and usually have an identifiable scene from the story, rather than a bit from an old painting which bears no resemblance to the physical description of the characters! The most recent covers don't do this, but the ones previous to that were really awful in this regard.

Collage of Book covers of Top 8 Favourite Georgette Heyer Books

Here is my list, in no particular order:

Arabella is a young lady who has a besetting fault - she is impetuous. She overhears Mr Beaumaris's unflattering opinion of her, and to put him in his place she tells a big lie. The lie doesn't go away, and in fact she becomes the toast of the season. Has this ruined Arabella's chances of making the most of her London season and finding love?

Frederica is a lady who is the eldest of an orphaned family - she has three younger brothers and a stunningly beautiful younger sister, Charis, who Frederica is determined will have a London season and the possibility of a brilliant match. Frederica throws herself on the mercy of a distant relative, the selfish Marquis of Alverstoke in a move that ends up turning his life upside down

The Grand Sophy sees the redoubtable Miss Sophia Stanton-Lacy go to stay with her aunt's family. She finds them under the rule of her overbearing cousin Charles Rivenhall, who is about to marry an extremely tiresome young lady who will make the family miserable, unless Sophy can bring her organisational talents into play.

In Friday's Child, the adorable Hero Wantage seeks to avoid marrying the curate and Viscount Sheringham believes he is brokenhearted, so he offers Hero a marriage of convenience. However, Sherry soon finds that he has underestimated how much work it is to protect a naive young lady navigate through the waters of the Ton.

Cotillion is fairly unusual in that it features an anti-hero. The Honourable Freddy Standen is coerced into helping his uncle's ward, Miss Kitty Charing, by agreeing to a fake betrothal - yes, that is right, my beloved fake fiancée trope! Freddy is pretty foppish, but his grasp on social niceties and kindness prove extremely useful for a young lady in her only London season as she inexpertly plans for her future and tries to help her loved ones.

The Reluctant Widow - from fake betrothals to fake weddings - Miss Elinor Rochdale is travelling to a new job as a governess when she makes the fateful move of getting into the wrong carriage. She is persuaded by Lord Carlyon to marry a dying man, Eustace Cheviot and by the morning she is widowed. Her husband's death was an accident, but strange things are afoot at Highnoons, and there is a mystery to solve.

The Unknown Ajax sees an unwanted heir arriving at the family home. Major Hugo Darracott was the only child of Lord Darracott's disowned second son, Hugh, who married against his father's wishes. Upon the accidental death of the uncle and cousin before Hugo in the succession, Lord Darracott sends for his despised heir. Hugo is proof that appearances can be deceptive, though, and he is just the man to rely on in a tight squeeze when adventure comes a bit too close to Darracott Place.

The Nonesuch is the nickname of Sir Waldo Hawkridge, who inherits a spare estate (how tiresome!). He travels to see the estate with his young cousin Julian, and they meet some local families. When Julian meets the beautiful Miss Tiffany Wield Sir Waldo senses the danger of an entanglement for his young relative and he works in cahoots with Tiffany's governess/companion, Miss Ancilla Trent to prevent anything regrettable happening.

Do you have a favourite Heyer book? Or are there any authors of historical romance that you feel can fill her shoes? I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommendations on this.

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer

Book Cover: Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer
I first read this years ago, when, as a teen, I gobbled up the works of Georgette Heyer one after another but Sprig Muslin was a book I’d never re-read because it didn’t grab me the first time. I was persuaded that it was worth a re-read and here are my thoughts on it.

Sir Gareth Ludlow is considering marriage. This is due to his brother’s death, as without Sir Gareth having children the Ludlow family name will die out. Sir Gareth suffered heartbreak 7 years ago when the lady to whom he was betrothed died. The headstrong Miss Clarissa Lincombe stole his horses after he told her not to drive them, and ended up with a broken neck. Sir Gareth hasn’t fallen in love again and doesn’t believe that he can. So instead he has decided to offer marriage to 29 year old Lady Hester Theale, a lady who he has been friends with for a long time. He feels Lady Hester is amiable, well-bred, and won’t object to a loveless marriage, unlike the romantic young ladies that his sister keeps introducing to him.

Lady Hester’s father, when the marriage was first discussed with him, obviously jumped at the chance of arranging a brilliant marriage for Hester, and he invites Sir Gareth to the family home without first discerning Lady Hester’s feelings on the matter. The news is completely unexpected:
“He is coming, Hester, to make you an offer!”
“Oh, is he?” she said vaguely, adding after a thoughtful moment: “Does he want me to sell him one of Juno’s pups?”
When Lady Hester realises the type of proposal Sir Gareth has in mind she flatly refuses to marry him. Her home situation isn’t good, as she is generally unappreciated, her brother and sister in law, with whom she lives aren’t congenial companions to her, and she is used by her married sisters as a drudge when she goes to visit them. On the other hand she knows that Sir Gareth is a true gentleman and would treat her well. Why then, does she react to news of the impending proposal like this?
‘The Lady Hester, once her maid was dismissed, the candles blown out, and the curtains drawn round the bed, buried her face in the pillow and cried herself quietly to sleep.’
Not knowing he faces a refusal, Sir Gareth travels to Lady Hester’s home. En route he meets a very beautiful young lady in difficulties. The lady is clearly running away from home. Sir Gareth’s conscience won’t allow him to abandon her, and she won’t tell him her real name, so he has no other option than to trick Miss Amanda ‘Smith’ into accompanying him to visit Hester. He believes Hester will believe the truth, as obviously turning up to make a marriage proposal with a beautiful young girl in tow wouldn’t bode well for his prospects. But Amanda is determined not to be caught, and she leads Sir Gareth on an adventure which includes telling many lies and having to save Amanda from an aging roué, besotted farmer and a young knight in shining armour and even ends up involving Lady Hester in the ensuing tangle.

Georgette Heyer is known as the queen of Regency romances and rightly so, unlike many authors in the genre there is nothing in her writing that jumps out at the average reader as being erroneous or too modern. There is usually a lot of humour and sparkling dialogue in Heyer’s books, and this one is no exception. Sir Gareth is a lovely hero, he is such a gentleman. Some people like their rakes but I prefer a proper gentleman any day of the week! Amanda is a very spirited character, which can sometimes be tiresome, but I liked her, and wished her success in the aim of her ‘campaign’, though she was so naive that I couldn’t help but wish Sir Gareth well in keeping her under control, she had no idea of the danger her behaviour put her in. Lady Hester was such a sweet lady, I felt quite bad for her situation. I really enjoyed this book but I can see why my teenage self wasn’t taken with it; the romance is such a small part of it. It’s very much in the background and hinted at rather than plainly in sight, but I’d still recommend reading it.

4 star read

Sunday 20 July 2014

The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde

Picture of Oscar Wilde
The Canterville Ghost is a short story by Oscar Wilde, full of his trademark wit with moments of underlying pathos and tragedy. The story begins with an American, Mr Hiram B. Otis, buying a house that the previous owner warns him is haunted. Sir Simon de Canterville murdered his wife around three hundred years ago, and since his death, his ghost has haunted the house. Mr Otis doesn’t heed the warning, stating:
“I reckon that if there was such a thing as a ghost in Europe, we’d have it at home in a very short time in one of our public museums, or on the road as a show.”
Mr Otis lives with his wife and four children. The eldest child is a young man:

“... christened Washington by his parents in a moment of patriotism, which he never ceased to regret.”

He is followed by a sister, Virginia, who is very sweet and kind, and the youngest members of the family are tearaway twin boys.

The Ghost is extremely proud of his track record. The servants are all terrified of him and he has literally scared people to death, driven them mad or caused them to commit suicide. So when this new family moves in he anticipates their fear. The first evidence the family sees of the ghost’s existence is a bloodstain in the spot where he killed his wife. They are told by their housekeeper that if cleaned away the bloodstain returns, but they react to this differently than he’d expected:
“The blood stain has been much admired by tourists and others, and cannot be removed.”
“That is all nonsense,” cried Washington Otis. “Pinkerton’s Champion Stain Remover and Paragon Detergent will clean it up in no time.”
Undaunted, the Ghost decides to scare Mr Otis, by clanking his chains in the middle of the night:
“My dear sir,” said Mr Otis. “I really must insist on your oiling those chains, and have bought you for that purpose a small bottle of the Tammany Rising Sun Lubricator. It is said to be completely efficacious upon one application, and there are several testimonials to that effect on the wrapper from some of our most eminent native divines.”
The Ghost then attempts to scare the twins and has the indignity of having a pillow thrown at him, which deeply offends him!
“Never, in a brilliant and uninterrupted career of three hundred years, had he been so grossly insulted”
He begins to plot his revenge on the family, but gets increasingly frustrated when they refuse to be frightened by him. But then the mood of the story changes, and we find that the ghost has been unable to rest since his death.
“Death must be so beautiful... To forget time, to forget life, to be at peace.”
I had read quite a few of the works of Oscar Wilde but this one had passed me by until recently when it was part of an online course I’ve been doing. I really enjoy Wilde’s facetious humour, and this was no exception, I was chortling away, regardless of the fact that I was reading it in public! I was surprised when the mood of the piece changed, it completely changes tone within a few paragraphs, and becomes almost spiritual, it gave me shivers and almost wrung a tear or two out of me, but as I said I was in public, so any tears were sternly repressed. It’s a pretty short read, took less than 30 minutes, and I’d recommend it, I really enjoyed it. Another bonus is that you can download it free!

4 star read

Tuesday 15 July 2014

Finding Favor by Lana Long

Book Cover - Finding Favor by Lana Long
To celebrate the bicentenary of the publication of Mansfield Park each month I’ve been trying to read something inspired by Mansfield Park. ‘Finding Favor’ by Lana Long is a young adult modernisation of the book.

17 year old orphan Favor Miller has lived with the Brown family for the last 8 years. Mr Brown was a college friend of Favor’s father. Favor doesn’t remember much of her family, so her most highly-prized possessions are journals belonging to her father and grandfather which she reads in times of distress to feel close to them. Although Favor lives with the Browns she isn’t really part of the family on an emotional level. When Mrs Brown spends time with her daughter, Madison, Favor is not invited to join them. There are two Brown sons, Tom, the party-boy elder son, and younger son Ethan, the Edmund character, who is Favor’s closest friend. Favor adores Ethan and secretly hopes for a romantic relationship between them one day.

As it nears Favor’s eighteenth birthday she is summoned to Mr Brown’s office, He wants her to sign a contract. It’s not really legally enforceable but more of a moral agreement. He will provide her with college tuition and arrange an internship which will greatly assist Favor in her desired career of horticulture. In return, she will comport herself in such a way that doesn’t embarrass the Brown family and she will also back off from her relationship with Ethan so he has a chance to forge new relationships that will be of benefit when he goes to work for his father’s company. Favor is devastated by this. Firstly, it shows how little the Browns have accepted her into their family, after all this time. She knows that Mr Brown has contacts that could seriously affect her future career prospects too, but the thing that really upsets Favor is the thought of having to give up Ethan. To cope with the day to day slights of being only tolerated rather than loved and the bullying she receives from Madison, Favor has purposely withdrawn – she has very few friends aside from Ethan, so he has become her whole world.

'My parents died and I'd accepted it. I lived a quasi-life, trapped by the Brown rules and expectations, and I'd accepted that. If I accepted those things so easily why was I struggling to accept that I'd never be with Ethan? 
But then again, I'd never really accepted those other things either. I'd just buried them. And now the graveyard of suppressed emotions threatened to overflow.'

One of the Brown’s neighbours has some visitors coming to stay – brother and sister Henry and Mary Crawford. In no time at all Ethan is under Mary’s thumb, and Favor faces having to lose him whether she signs the contract or not.

Mr and Mrs Brown, like Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram in Mansfield Park, are not hands-on parents. He works almost constantly, and is a controlling authority figure rather than a loving dad, and Mrs Brown is often mentally absent even if she’s usually physically there. She is often staring at her smartphone rather than engaging with her children. Favor is not treated the same as the Brown children, she is staying with them long-term rather than being a member of the family.

I had mixed feelings on this book, as there were things about it that I thought were really good and other things I wasn’t sure about.  I thought there were a number of aspects that would have been better if they’d been portrayed with a bit more subtlety, especially Madison. Madison is like the characters of Maria Bertram and Mrs Norris rolled into one so as you can imagine she is really horrible. However, Maria Bertram kept her horribleness under a veneer of propriety, so it was only because her parents didn’t know her well enough that meant she could get away from it. Here Madison is not just spoiled, childish, manipulative and conniving, but she throws tantrums, and the whole family is aware of her behaviour. It was so extreme it was almost bordering on mental illness. There were a few scenes featuring Madison which I found pretty unrealistic because I felt they were over the top.

I was a little disappointed with the Henry Crawford character too because he was such a nonentity, he is barely in the story. However, the flipside of this is that Tom Bertram was made a much bigger role. Tom was probably my favourite character in this story. He began the story as a party boy with a ‘cologne of beer’, but he was so funny and showed genuine fondness and empathy for Favor so I couldn’t help but soften towards him. Tom gets the best of the funny lines. For example, when Favor asks him if it's now 'you and me against the world' he wryly replies:

"Let's start locally, and go globally if needed."

However, Tom’s care for Favor only makes Ethan appear worse. The event mirroring the part in Mansfield Park when Edmund overlooks Fanny’s need to use her horse is far less forgivable in this book. I didn’t feel that Ethan had many redeeming features, he drops Favor like a hot cake when Mary Crawford arrives on the scene and he is generally selfish all the way through the book. I thought this was a shame, because although some people don’t have time for Edmund in Mansfield Park, I personally think that he was a responsible and thoughtful man, who genuinely cared for Fanny, and the fact that he cared for Mary Crawford before realising how he felt for Fanny Price is no more reprehensible than Elizabeth Bennet initially being attracted by Wickham in Pride & Prejudice.

Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park is a character that leaves me torn, because secretly I really like her, despite her faults. Mary is a very interesting character, but here she was more two-dimensional – this Mary is shallow, uncaring and a bragger. And that is really all there is to her.

I didn’t really understand Favor’s sudden determination to stake her place in the Brown household. If she’d been content to live for so many years on the periphery and taking a ‘you and me against the world’ attitude with Ethan you think that aside from him Favor would be keen to leave the rest of them behind. It didn’t feel likely that she would be so fiercely attached to them.

On the whole I enjoyed this author’s style. There was a lot of humour, which I enjoy. The book is written in the first person, from Favor’s point of view, but sometimes it didn’t seem to quite work – some of the descriptors used seemed awkward outside the third person, such as Favor describing her own eyes as liquid, etc.  I liked that the author had taken the time to work out how the upbringing had affected each child, as it was different in each case. I thought it was an ambitious attempt at a young adult version of a complex book and it wasn’t bad at all. I’ve read a few YA versions of Mansfield Park now, and my favourite is still the first one I read, Rosie Rushton’s ‘Whatever Love Is’, but this one is enjoyable too, and I'd give it 3½ stars.

3.5 star read

Saturday 12 July 2014

Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Bet by Marilyn Brant

Book cover - Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Match by Marilyn Brant
Earlier this year I read the first book in this series, Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Match, where Beth Ann Bennet registers for Lady Catherine’s online dating agency under false pretences, and finds herself dating Dr Will Darcy, who has also registered with the agency for motives other than finding love. I really enjoyed that book, and you can see my review of it here. The main secondary characters in that book are Beth’s best friend Jane, and Will’s cousin Bingley McNamara. These two characters were both wonderful but pretty different.

I absolutely loved Jane in the first book. Aside from liking her in her own right, because she was funny and intelligent I also liked her because she was such an amazing friend. Since single mum Beth had no family living close to her she relied on her friend Jane, who helped out with babysitting, provided a shoulder to cry on for Beth when required, moral support, fashion advice and practical support in terms of helping out providing meals for Beth and her son Charlie when Beth was strapped for time or cash. She was the type of friend that anybody would count themselves as lucky to have.

Book cover - Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Bet by Marilyn BrantBingley was likeable but maybe not so entirely admirable as Jane. Rich boy Bingley was responsible for Will registering with the dating agency in the first place, having offered to fund a clinic for single mums in return for Will having 5 dates with a woman. Although it may have seemed to Will like Bingley was just having fun with him in fact Bingley was trying to get Will out there and opening his heart to someone. Bingley is a good man but nowhere near as nice as Charles Bingley of Pride & Prejudice – imagine more of a Charles Bingley/Colonel Fitzwilliam hybrid who is similar looking to Darcy – very pleasant thing to imagine isn’t it! With such wonderful secondary characters in the first book I was so pleased to see that there was going to be a second book, this time featuring on Bingley and Jane.

We start the story at Beth and Will’s wedding – something has gone awry between Jane and Bingley. She is angry and hurt, and extremely prickly towards him due to him having let her down, and he feels pretty much the same.

‘Jane had seemed so...nice, for want of a better word. Too sweet for him to want to tamper with or tease too much, although Beth hinted there was more to Jane than her pleasant veneer might suggest.
He hadn’t believed that at first but, oh, he believed it now, as she swivelled to face her friend, shooting another death stare in his direction’

Actually, Jane has done Bingley a disservice – he isn’t what she thinks. In fact, both of them mislead people into thinking they are different than they are under the surface. She thinks Bingley is an uncaring player, but although he’s played the field quite a bit and has a shedload of money and a propensity to gambling he is a decent man, and he’s a lot less thoughtless and selfish than Jane believes. Jane is very cautious with men because in her experience they don’t have genuine long term interest in her. Her last serious relationship left her very badly hurt which has left her unwilling to take the risk of trusting a man or letting him close to her. Her misunderstanding with Bingley just reinforces her belief that she needs to keep her defences up with him.

Jane also suffers from being labelled as ‘nice’. This is something that I think canon Pride & Prejudice Jane would definitely have suffered with. If you are too nice people feel they can ride roughshod all over you, put upon you and generally be selfish while you put up with it. Jane has been overlooked, taken advantage of and under-esteemed for far too long, and she’s only really beginning to realise this. Bingley is a nice guy, but he doesn’t let people take advantage of him or make him feel guilty for ensuring that he’s treated properly, and that’s something that Jane could definitely learn from him.

Forced to spend time together while spending time with Beth’s son Charlie, Bingley realises that he has misjudged Jane:
‘She was passionate and genuine with the people she loved... He didn’t know what she was hiding or why, but he knew he’d only gotten the briefest flashes of the real Jane so far.’
So he sets about improving their relationship, and he and Jane work on becoming friends. But can men and women ever be friends?

I so enjoyed this book. I loved the humour, both Bingley’s and Jane’s, and there were some really funny scenes, such as their surreptitious face pulling contest while having a trip out with Charlie, Bingley’s summary of the artistic movement of pointillism, and Jane’s feelings on Emo haikus. There are a few nods to ‘When Harry Met Sally’ aside from the ‘can men and women ever be friends?’ question, including references to a couple of my favourite scenes from the film. I also loved that fact that when Bingley’s selfish, spoiled cousin Caroline comes to stay that he calls her out on her behaviour – how I would have loved to have seen canon Bingley do that! I feel a little traitorous in admitting this, but I preferred Jane and Bingley’s story to Beth and Will’s! I would definitely recommend reading this book, but to get the most out of it, read Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Match first.

5 star read

Disclaimer – I received an e-arc of this book from the author for my honest review.

Friday 11 July 2014

In Consequence by Trudy Brasure

Book cover - In Consequence by Trudy BrasureThis is a variation on North and South by Mrs Elizabeth Gaskell, which is one of my favourite books. If you’ve never read it I would heartily recommend it. Margaret Hale’s family relocates from the countryside, in the south of England to an industrial town in the North of England, a fictional place called Milton in ‘Darkshire’. Here she comes face to face with some harsh realities of life, sees want in its more unpleasant forms and meets young mill-owner Mr John Thornton. Margaret doesn’t appreciate Mr Thornton’s point of view on many things, including how he deals with his workers. Over time both of their viewpoints change – he starts to see the viewpoint of his workers, and takes a more humanitarian view, and she starts to better understand some of the pressures he works under, and gives him the credit he deserves for being such a strong and honourable self-made man.

I was a little thrown when Margaret’s hair colour was changed in first line of the prologue to be red instead of black, but I soon felt a bit more at home with the characters. This story picks up around the time of the riot. The mill workers in Milton are striking for more pay and Thornton has brought in mill hands from Ireland, which causes his workers to riot in protest. In the original Margaret goads him into going outside to face the mob to explain his viewpoint as she naively believes that he wouldn’t be in danger, being one man against many. In North and South Margaret realises her mistake when she sees people in the crowds with stones, and she rushes out to protect Thornton, as one human defending another, nothing more, and she gets injured. Here, although she attempts to protect Mr Thornton, he is the one who gets hit by the stone. He is momentarily knocked unconscious, and Margaret starts to see Thornton’s vulnerability much sooner than in N&S, so the scene the next day when he visits her unfolds differently. I am not sure that it follows that their visit would have gone so differently as in this variation, but I went with it!

Margaret and John’s relationship unfolds in a very different manner from canon following this initial change. One of the things I love about variations is the ripple effect, where a change doesn’t just change things initially but other things not directly connected with the variation. In this case, aside from the obvious differences to John and Margaret, Margaret’s relationship with Higgins is affected, Thornton’s relationship with Higgins starts at a different time, things also go differently for Boucher (the man who threw the stone and caused the strike to end), Margaret’s parents and even Thornton’s business affairs changed. I really enjoyed this aspect of the book.

On the downside I felt that there was some repetition in the scenes between John and Margaret – I know we needed to see their relationship develop but there were a series of scenes that dragged a bit for me because they were all variations on him being full of feeling for her and not wanting to scare her off and her vacillating between not being sure how she feels for him, and being ashamed of being affected by him. I would have liked to see a little more variety in their interaction. I also felt that the book could have done with a bit more tension, as it was a very smooth ride – some people may prefer this, and I don’t like angst for the sake of angst but it felt a little flat to me. It picked up pace towards the end, but in some respects I felt this was a bit rushed, I would have liked to have seen a bit more detail on how some of the other relationships developed (sorry to be vague, but I’m trying not to put spoilers in!). The ending itself was entirely satisfactory all round, there were no loose ends or things that I’d have liked to have seen changed.

Book cover: A Heart for Milton by Trudy BrasureAlthough this isn’t quite in the style of Mrs Gaskell, being generally more sensual, I enjoyed this author’s style. The dialogue didn’t feel too modern and though the spelling was generally US English there were only a few American words. There are some sex scenes, but they are not particularly graphic. One thing which I found a bit off-putting was that Mr Thornton was often referred to as ‘The Master’ out of context – it’s fine when he’s being the master of the mill, or he’s being thought of as the master of the mill even though he’s doing something else but out of context it was just odd.

On the whole, I enjoyed my first foray into North & South-based reading outside of non-published fan fiction. In Consequence is not this author’s only book based on North & South, and I’ve added her other book, A Heart for Milton to my wishlist.

4 star read

Monday 7 July 2014

Haunting Mr Darcy by KaraLynne Mackrory

Book cover - Haunting Mr Darcy by KaraLynne Mackrory
This Pride & Prejudice variation begins on New Year’s Eve. Darcy is in London, having fled Hertfordshire and the bewitching but unsuitable Miss Bennet. He has been making some laughable attempts to get over his infatuation with the Hertfordshire miss. Elizabeth is leaving an assembly in Meryton early with her upset sister and her thoughts touch on Darcy too – she is trying to cheer up Jane with a joke which refers to his comment about Elizabeth at the last Meryton Assembly. Just before midnight, both make a New Year’s wish. She wishes for Mr Darcy to want something he cannot have, while he wishes for the end to his search for somebody to replace Elizabeth in his heart, and to see her one last time.

When the carriage Elizabeth is travelling in crashes in the icy conditions and she suffers a head injury both of their wishes are granted. She finds herself in a wonderful, unfamiliar library (you can read an excerpt of this part here, where Elizabeth discovers the ability to read the books just by touching them, every bookworm’s dream for powering through our TBR lists!), and she is extremely put out at the sudden appearance of Mr Darcy in her ‘dream’.

‘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.’

However, this isn’t a dream; while Elizabeth’s body is in Hertfordshire, unconscious, her spirit is haunting Mr Darcy. Darcy, as can be expected, believes he has conjured the apparition himself:

‘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.’

For the evening he is happy to believe it’s a dream, but when she’s still there the next day, and the next he genuinely fears for his sanity, and tries to rid himself of his ghost. When this doesn’t work, he again pays attention to Elizabeth’s spirit, and thus begins one of the most unusual courtships you are likely to read about. Elizabeth is unable to move more than 10 paces away from Darcy, which means she is in his company 24 hours a day. Seeing him live his life, watching his interactions with others and interacting with him herself leads Elizabeth to re-evaluate her views of Darcy. Being together so much also blurs some of the lines of propriety that Darcy would usually be so keen to uphold, and they become much closer.

‘Elizabeth’s heart began to beat unsteadily at hearing him call her the object of his admiration. Much to her dismay, the idea settled most stubbornly in the proximity of that traitorously beating organ.’

Sigh! But is it real or is it a dream? And how will Elizabeth’s body and spirit become reunited?

Book cover - Bluebells in the Mourning by KaraLynne Mackrory
I was hopeful I’d enjoy this book since it comes from the author of one of my favourite Austenesque books, ‘Bluebells in the Mourning’ and I did, it was just beautiful. So, so romantic, humorous, with wonderful characters. Personally, I prefer characters to be as close as possible to Jane Austen’s creations unless their character change is part of the variation from canon, and I felt that this author did a very good job of it.  Obviously, due to the nature of the story Elizabeth and Darcy get the vast majority of page time, which is no bad thing, but the other characters that were present were affectionately portrayed and felt real to me. Mr and Mrs Bennet have their faults, but their love for their daughters was ever-present and I was very pleased to see some character growth for Lydia as she discovered some sisterly solidarity and decided to put sisters before misters for once! Colonel Fitzwilliam was in role as Darcy’s trusted advisor and did well in drawing him out, aside from a really amusing scene when he got drunk on Darcy’s port! I really enjoyed the portrayal of a somewhat more feisty Georgiana who is worried about her brother and determined that she won’t be shut out of helping him overcome the problems he is experiencing.

The only downside for me was that I was a little disappointed when Darcy retreats the instant he had a setback. One of the things I like best about Darcy is his persevering nature. In Pride & Prejudice when he first meets with Elizabeth at Pemberley he has very little hope, but yet he still keeps trying to see her, and even follows her later to Hertfordshire on the basis of what little hope he has. However, this really is a minor quibble.

For those of you who prefer to avoid sex scenes you will be pleased to know that there is nothing of that sort in this book and for those of you who like sex scenes, you may well not miss them when there is this much romance to enjoy! I would most definitely recommend reading this book, I thought it was wonderful!

5 star read

Friday 4 July 2014

Morning Light by Abigail Reynolds

Book cover - Morning Light by Abigail Reynolds
This is the second book in Abigail Reynold’s Woods Hole series, the first being The Man Who Loved Pride & Prejudice, which is a modern version of Pride & Prejudice, telling the story of Cassie and Calder. In Morning Light we meet a friend of Cassie’s, Annie Wright. Annie runs an art gallery. Her late husband Paul was an artist. He was brilliant, but also had real problems, with depression and manic episodes which would lead to him doing almost unforgivable things which she’d forgive because he was genuinely under the influence of his illness and incapable of self-restraint at the time. Her feelings towards her husband are a mixed bag, partly because of the emotional fall out of his illness, partly due to the fact he committed suicide, and partly because she had very strong feelings for somebody else for the entirety of their marriage.

On the eve of their wedding Annie and Paul went out with a group and Paul went home early. One of Paul’s college friends, Jeremy, had flown in especially for the wedding. He got to the bar after Paul had left and started talking to Annie, not realising she was the bride. Annie and Jeremy had an immediate strong connection, but Annie put down these feelings to cold feet. Jeremy has a bit of a case of love at first sight and he is heartbroken the next day to see Annie marrying Paul. Since Jeremy works abroad it is easy for him to avoid the couple, but when he visits a few years later he realises that he didn’t imagine his feelings for Annie and he stops contacting Paul because it's just too painful to see them together.

Coming back to the present, when Jeremy is in the area and he and Annie meet unexpectedly it seems as though fate might be offering these two a second chance but once Annie finds out he’s kept something a secret from her things are not that simple. Annie has had a history of being abandoned, by her mother, then her stepmother, and then she had the difficult marriage with Paul, which took so much from her. She doesn’t know if she has anything left for a relationship with Jeremy, and there are other complications too.

This book has loose connections to Persuasion by Jane Austen. It differs mainly in that Annie was never persuaded to give Jeremy up, there are very few people who would have called off their wedding on the basis of an evening where nothing was said of any future relationship. There was also more fault here, as both Annie and Jeremy make decisions which are suspect. I felt a bit frustrated with them not talking to each other – she completely shuts him out, and I didn’t understand why he didn’t go to see her. If she’s ignoring phonecalls and letters then to me even if she rejected him he’d be no worse off than just waiting.

Book cover - The Man Who Loved Pride & Prejudice by Abigail Reynolds
Quite a portion of page time is devoted to Cassie and Calder, so I’d recommend that you read The Man Who Loved Pride and Prejudice before Morning Light. I was glad to see them, because both of them, although particularly Calder, had some serious family baggage left outstanding at the end of TMWLP&P so it was good to see them work through some of that, and to catch up with them a couple of years after their book finished.

I really enjoyed Morning Light. It’s not the most happy, light-hearted read, in fact for a while it is pretty sad, because there is so much unhappiness, especially for Annie. However, unlike TMWLP&P I didn’t feel like I’d had my emotions put through a mangle while reading! Also, to balance out the unhappiness there are also some really positive progress, as Annie finds out she was mistaken in some things she believed that she knew, and manages to put some of her issues relating to her marriage behind her.

4 star read

Thursday 3 July 2014

The Second Chance by Joana Starnes

Here is my review of The Second Chance by Joana Starnes, which was first published over at Leatherbound Reviews in June 2014.

Book Cover - The Second Chance by Joana Starnes
Earlier this year I read and really enjoyed The Subsequent Proposal by Joana Starnes which featured characters of both Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion. When I was offered the opportunity by Jakki to read The Second Chance by Joana, I read the blurb, and seeing that it featured characters from both Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice I assumed that it would be similar to The Subsequent Proposal but actually it was quite different.

The Second Chance diverges from Pride and Prejudice pretty early on. The story begins at Netherfield, where Elizabeth has gone to nurse her sister, and Darcy has realised how the second Miss Bennet bewitches him and is fighting hard against it. Elizabeth receives a note informing her of her father being found unconscious. Mr Darcy is very comforting to her when she receives this awful news, and offers the practical assistance of sending for his doctor from town. Elizabeth begins to see that perhaps she has had an overly-harsh perception of Mr Darcy initially, and he is a better, more feeling man than she previously gave him credit for. In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth is in the early stages of her dislike of Darcy at this point, and much of this is done away by his solicitous behaviour towards her. So much so, that when a Mr Wickham arrives on the scene and tells her a tale of woe regarding Mr Darcy’s behaviour Elizabeth is not particularly disposed to give it much credence.

Although Mr Bennet recovers, he is diagnosed with a heart problem. He could survive for some time or drop down dead, leaving his widow and daughters destitute. By this point Mr Collins has arrived and has made his position clear. Mr Darcy is rather more in love with Elizabeth at this point than in canon and he makes a crazy decision. Rather than chance that Elizabeth may choose to sacrifice herself to ensure her sisters’ future security Darcy decides to give her an alternative option. He feels that he is unable to marry her, as her family is unacceptable, but he could secure her financial future. He has a smaller estate that he decides to sign over to her family, pretending that it has been left to Mr Bennet by an old university friend, who wished to remain anonymous. This sounds extremely generous, and it is, but it’s also gambling with the Bennets’ respectability – if anybody found out that the Bennets had been given an estate by an unrelated man there would probably be an assumption that one of the Miss Bennets was his mistress, and it could have ruined their whole family. It’s a pretty selfish action considering that he would be gambling with their respectability and reducing his family’s fortune in one fell swoop and the only reason he’s doing it is to try to prevent Elizabeth marrying before he’s had chance to get over her. If any of the Bennets or their relations find out it’s likely that they would be extremely offended, and Darcy’s motives could easily be misinterpreted.

As it happens, by the time Mr Bennet passes away Mrs Bennet and her daughters wouldn’t have been destitute as two of them have already married and are in a position to support their mother and sisters. But, being in possession of the Farringdon Estate in Devon, they move there, where they meet some characters who we would know from Sense and Sensibility - Sir John and Lady Middleton, Colonel Brandon and the garrulous Mrs Jennings, who immediately becomes fast friends with Mrs Bennet. There is also a visitor to the area that we would find familiar; Colonel Brandon has another colonel staying with him – a Colonel Fitzwilliam, who is very taken with the Misses Bennet, and believes he sees some partiality for them in his friend Brandon. Soon afterwards there are further newcomers to the area in the form of a widow, Mrs Dashwood, and her three daughters. Elizabeth and Kitty Bennet soon become good friends with Elinor and Marianne. This is where the storylines of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility start to merge, although differently to how Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion came together in the Subsequent Proposal. I thought the stories were intertwined really well – there were events from Sense and Sensibility that happened in much the same way as in that book, and other events unfolded differently due to the Bennets being there.  If you are not familiar with the intricacies of Sense and Sensibility then I wouldn’t worry too much, this story is primarily focused on Darcy and Elizabeth and the Pride and Prejudice characters.

Since Elizabeth never reaches the level of dislike that she has to overcome in canon the main thing keeping her and Darcy apart is him fighting a relationship due to societal gap between them. In Pride and Prejudice, although Elizabeth knows that there is a gap when she refuses Darcy, she doesn’t fully appreciate just how much higher Darcy stands in society than her father until she sees Pemberley. At the time of her scathing refusal she acknowledges the compliment of such a man’s affections, but in the moment she doesn’t have time to consider it, as she is so angry at his slights toward her family. Here Elizabeth is much more keenly aware of the gap between them and I felt sorry for her – the humbling realisation that it would be a poor marriage for Darcy couldn’t have been a comforting thought, and this theme is explored in some depth.

‘She had never imagined that the disparity between Pemberley and Netherfield, or between Pemberley and every place that she knew, for that matter, would be so marked.’

We are privy to Elizabeth’s thoughts and feelings throughout much of the book, but we are also treated to Darcy’s as well. What would a Pride and Prejudice variation be without some suffering for our dear hero?! Well there is quite a bit for him here and frankly he deserves every bit of it! It’s due to his own pride that he doesn’t pursue a relationship between himself and Elizabeth from the Netherfield days when he first begins to love her, and all the other delays, misunderstandings and conflict arise as a result of this, so although he goes through the mill it’s all self inflicted, as his comforting cousin and dear friend informs him:

‘I never expected a blunder of such magnitude! You do everything in a grander scale than the rest of us, do you not?’

I very much liked the portrayal of the characters in this story – I felt that Elizabeth and Darcy were pretty close to canon, Mrs Bennet was portrayed affectionately, Bingley as a sweet man with a lively sense of humour, and I also enjoyed Jane’s character here, especially when she showed some unexpected protective tendencies. We are also treated to an absence of some characters who I am quite happy to do without!

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Although it’s quite a long book and took me a while to read it never felt long. The storylines of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility merged and intertwined naturally and the style of the prose was delightful - charming and witty and there are some bits which are downright funny. There are also phrases of Austen’s weaved in throughout the book, often attributed to different characters, as unobtrusive nods back to Pride and Prejudice that I enjoyed spotting. It’s such a romantic read too. I would wholeheartedly recommend reading this!

5 star read

Tuesday 1 July 2014

Planned Reading for July 2014

I did pretty well on June’s reading, reading nearly everything I planned including a book I started all the way back in March. July’s reading is brought to you while I am still under the shocking influence or seeing how much I’ve bought lately and still have unread! So I’m going to try and use up some of the things I’ve already bought.

Book Cover - Finding Favor by Lana Long
My Mansfield-inspired read this month will be Finding Favor by Lana Long. This is another young adult version of Mansfield Park that I picked up as a freebie last year. It has pretty good reviews from amazon.com, but hardly any on amazon.co.uk. 

Book cover - Pemberley Ranch by Jack Caldwell
My Austenesque planned read is Pemberley Ranch by Jack Caldwell. This is a story inspired by Pride & Prejudice but set in the midst of the American Civil War, which is something I know very little about. In fact I think most of my knowledge of this conflict has been culled from ‘Who Do You Think You Are’, the US version.

Book Cover - Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer
I may have mentioned this before but I am a huge fan of Georgette Heyer. I first read her books after I read the main works of Jane Austen and wanted to read more set in that period. I started reading this author a long time ago, and those of her books that captured me on the first read I’ve re-read, many times, while others I almost skim read the first time and haven’t picked up since. Sprig Muslin is one of those books for me, but I am told that it’s worth giving another chance.

Book Cover - In Consequence by Trudy Brasure
If you are a fan of Jane Austen’s work I’d highly recommend North and South by the Victorian writer Mrs Elizabeth Gaskell. It’s an absolutely wonderful story, kind of like Pride and Prejudice but with a social conscience agenda going on.  There was a four part adaptation of this book made 10 years ago starring the delicious Richard Armitage as Mr Thornton, so if you haven’t read it, you may have watched it, although the ending is a bit different (book is better in my opinion, most other people seem to prefer the series!). Similar to Austenesque fiction there are also a number of books inspired by North and South, and I plan to read one of those, In Consequence by Trudy Brasure.

These are my planned reads for this month, however, I usually read more than this. I don’t know if you saw it, but Meredith over at Austenesque Reviews recently did a Top 10 Summer Austenesque Reads, so I thought I might choose something from there. I have pretty much all of these books, but only read half. Here is the list, with links to my reviews where possible. I'll try and remember to link them back up from here when I post reviews.

Still to Read
All Roads Lead to Austen – Amy Elizabeth Smith
At the Edge of the Sea – Karen M Cox
Austenland – Shannon Hale
Austentatious – Alyssa Goodnight
Echoes of Pemberley – Cynthia Ingram Hensley

Have Read
Find Wonder in All Things – Karen M Cox - 4 star read
Morning Light – Abigail Reynolds - 4 star read
Pirates and Prejudice – Kara Lousie - 5 star read
The Man Who Loved Pride & Prejudice – Abigail Reynolds - 4 star read
When They Fall in Love – Mary Lydon Simonsen – not yet blogged.

I hope you have some good reads lined up for this month. Happy reading!