Monday 29 September 2014

Giveaway - Fitzwilliam Darcy An Honourable Man by Brenda Webb

Having read my review of Brenda Webb's Fitzwilliam Darcy An Honourable Man I am guessing you want to read it? Well Brenda has very generously offered to give away THREE copies of it! A choice of paperback or kindle ebook for US/UK residents, and kindle ebook for other countries.

Book cover - Fitzwilliam Darcy An Honourable Man by Brenda Webb
Here's the blurb to further whet your appetite:

Fitzwilliam Darcy, An Honourable Man is a Pride and Prejudice variation. Not a simple retelling, it is an intriguing new story. 

Leaving England after his disastrous proposal was refused at Hunsford, Darcy spent two lonely years in Scotland and Ireland before returning home to face Elizabeth Bennet, certain that he could regard her as an indifferent acquaintance. 

Events that transpired in his absence have left Elizabeth a changed woman. The victim of a marriage by deception to Count Stefano, she has suffered greatly at his hands.

Will Mr. Darcy rescue the woman he vowed to forget?

To enter for the giveaway just leave a comment below. You can gain an extra entry by leaving a comment on my review post, here.  Last day for entries is Monday 6 October 2014. Please make sure you leave your twitter handle or email address so I can contact winners. To prevent unwanted spam please leave your email address with an (at) instead of an @

The giveaway has now closed for entry and winners will be chosen soon!

If you already have this book Brenda has very kindly offered a choice of her other books, instead, Mr Darcy's Forbidden Love, or her new book A Most Unlikely Couple, which is due out in October.

Many thanks to Brenda for offering this generous giveaway!

Sunday 28 September 2014

Fitzwilliam Darcy: An Honourable Man by Brenda Webb

Book cover - Fitzwilliam Darcy: An Honourable Man by Brenda WebbThis is a Pride & Prejudice variation which varies quite widely from the original book. Aside from the changes unfolding as you read there are a number of changes to past events which aren’t obvious at first, such as a much smaller age gap between Georgiana and Darcy, 3 years instead of 12, and the history of George Wickham is also different – there was no attempted elopement with Georgiana and Wickham never joined the militia, meaning that hasn’t been to Meryton and has never met the Bennets. Following the disastrous Hunsford proposal Darcy informed Bingley that he had been mistaken in his estimation of Jane Bennet’s feelings towards Bingley. Feeling a need to escape for a while Darcy has spent the last two years visiting his estates in Scotland and Ireland. Personal mail wasn’t forwarded at his request. Finally, Darcy feels that he is over his unrequited love for Miss Elizabeth Bennet, and he is ready to marry and produce the requisite heir for Pemberley.
‘It had taken a long time, but he was certain now of one thing – he could meet her as an indifferent and common acquaintance.’
Georgiana is unaware of the reason for her brother’s prolonged absence but is thrilled that he is finally thinking of marrying. Although she and her husband have been unable to have a child of their own she wants her brother to be happy and she looks forward to lavishing love on a niece or nephew. Georgiana has a candidate for a bride too, her husbands’ step-brothers’ widow, a Mrs Preston. She is plain, but aside from that Georgina feels that she might fit Darcy’s personality quite well. Having given up on love Darcy is amenable to considering a marriage with Mrs Preston, who he feels will not expect him to love her.

Meanwhile Bingley is at the end of his tether; though happily married to the former Miss Jane Bennet he is extremely worried about Elizabeth. After Elizabeth’s return from Kent a Count, Stefano, came to Hertfordshire and became besotted with Elizabeth, who showed no interest in him. The Count proposed marriage to Elizabeth but was refused consent by Mr Bennet. Following Mr Bennet’s death soon afterwards, the Count renewed his addresses to Elizabeth, receiving far more encouragement from Mrs Bennet. Then one night Elizabeth disappeared and suddenly Mrs Bennet was in possession of a large sum of money, having sold her daughter’s hand in marriage. News was next heard of Elizabeth having married the Count, presumably against her will. The next contact relating to Elizabeth was via a servant, who informed the Bingleys that Elizabeth had been involved in a violent altercation with her husband in which she witnessed her husband killing her maid, and had herself been grazed by a bullet. Her husband had then set the house on fire. The servants had hidden Elizabeth and put out word that she was dead. A grave in Meryton holds the body of a servant who perished in the fire and the secret of Elizabeth’s survival has been carefully kept from all but a handful of people.

Lizzy is by no means unscathed by her experience. She’s had a breakdown of sorts and barely communicates. If she sees a man she often panics and the need to limit the people in Meryton who know she’s alive means that Elizabeth is cared for by Jane and one servant. She has escaped from the house on more than one occasion and it is purely by good luck that she hasn’t already been discovered. Bingley is praying that his good friend Darcy will assist them with their need to get Lizzy away from Meryton and be assured that she will be cared for by somebody who loves her and will be able to keep her existence a secret. This is obviously asking a huge amount of Darcy – firstly, it is asking him to take on the care of somebody who rejected his offer of marriage and broke his heart, which will be hard enough, but Bingley is also asking Darcy to sacrifice his future. Should Lizzy recover she is married to a dangerous madman so she wouldn’t be free to marry Darcy and the likelihood of Darcy marrying somebody else willing to put up with the care of her husband’s first love seems slim. Darcy sees all the disadvantages of him taking on Elizabeth’s care but once Darcy sees Elizabeth and realises that he is one of the very few people she responds positively to it becomes a very difficult task to walk away from the only woman he’s ever loved in her hour of need.

‘If he took Elizabeth to Pemberley, he would be giving up the prospect of a future with another woman, and there would be no future with Elizabeth as his wife, as she was already married.  
Could I settle for another woman, knowing that Elizabeth is alive? Can I live with the prospect of caring for her a lifetime without being able to marry her?

Will Darcy succumb to the pressure of his responsibilities to marry and provide an heir for Pemberley? Will Lizzy ever recover? Is there any chance of a happy ever after for our poor couple!?

I thought this was a really inventive and unusual premise. Some elements reminded me of a story by Victorian author Wilkie Collins, called ‘The Woman in White’ which features a villainous Italian Count, sees a character presumed dead and touches on mental illness. It’s certainly very sad to read of the circumstances that Lizzy has found herself forced into due to her mother’s avarice. In some variations Mrs Bennet is shown to be pettily spiteful to Elizabeth but her behaviour here transcends the petty, it’s genuinely evil!

I wasn’t sure about the behaviour of some of the characters, Caroline Bingley in particular does something that I can’t see her doing, as any shame on the Bennets is also shame on her, via her brother’s family connection. Also, many of the characters are quite demonstrative, which surprised me a tad. For those who prefer to avoid them there are some sex scenes although they are not especially graphic.

There are some strong gothic elements in this story – madness, violence, villains, peril and high drama. The characters tend to be either good or entirely bad and every female who Darcy meets in society is abhorrent, they are either trying to catch his hand in marriage or secure him as a lover. This is certainly a gripping story, not the type of thing you pick up if you have 10 minutes here and there to fill, you need a good stint of reading time because I needed to know what happened next to the characters but was almost afraid to read on and find out! There is no need to worry too much as eventually no bad deed goes unpunished, rapturous happiness awaits the deserving and best of all, we see a victim become a victor. I would recommend this as an extremely romantic, extremely entertaining read but not for the Austen purist, as I felt this story had a more gothic romance feel than Austen feel to it.

4 star read

*I received a copy of this book from the author for my honest review

Edited to add: Brenda has very kindly offered a giveaway of this book, to three lucky commenters. Please see giveaway post for details!

Saturday 20 September 2014

Birthday Austenesque Loot!

As some of you may know, it was recently my birthday. Although getting older doesn't make me super happy, what does make me happy is the fact that I am always the grateful recipient of some lovely new stuff :)

Pride & Prejudice phone cover and Pride & Prejudice Kindle coverThis year I had some lovely Austen-y things. I had a Pride & Prejudice phone cover and a kindle cover
Inside of Pride & Prejudice kindle caseThe phone cover is from Etsy. The kindle cover was from Amazon. It's possible to get a kindle cover in the lovely peacock design but they don't do it for my kindle. You have to get the cover for the exact model of kindle you have as the kindle sits in a cradle which is the shape of the back of your kindle. I could have had a peacock design one where the kindle sticks to the back board but I didn't fancy sticking my precious kindle to anything! I wanted the cradle style instead. This was an early birthday present so I've been using it for a while and I'm happy with it so far, it's really pretty and as you can see from the photo showing the inner that it's just a tiny bit bigger than the kindle so it doesn't take up too much room in a bag, which is important as I carry it with me pretty much everywhere I go!

My old Austen coversThough I've read all of Austen's main novels I didn't actually own all of them hard copy. In fact, I only own Emma, which is temporarily in a box in the attic due to a lack of storage space, and Persuasion and Pride & Prejudice, which I bought about 20 years ago. You may not believe it to look at them, because I am a neat reader, but these books have been read many, many times.

So I'd been after a really nice set of Austens, and look at what I have now!

Book Covers - Clothbound Classics by Jane Austen
Soooo nice!

And a side view...

Book Spines - Clothbound Classics by Jane Austen
Bask in their beauty!
Book Cover clothbound classics Love and Freindship by Jane Austen
They are sooooo beautiful. These are from the clothbound classics range from Penguin. I have all 6 of the main novels, and also pre-ordered Love and Freindship and Other Youthful Writings from Austen's juvenilia which is being released later this month.

And I also had some lovely kindle vouchers so I can buy some more JAFF to fill up the already over-stuffed kindle. I'm very lucky and grateful to have received such lovely stuff :)

Monday 15 September 2014

North and South by Mrs Gaskell

I have been trying not to re-read books because I have so many new book I haven’t read yet, but the Goodreads North and South group that I’m a member of were having a group read and I couldn’t resist joining in. Since everybody approaches a book from their unique perspective we all interpret a story through our own filter and will see things differently. I got a lot out of doing the group read as people raised points that might not have occurred to me, and solidified my views of other aspects. As with any book I’d consider a classic it’s very hard to write a review, I don’t feel worthy! So instead I’ll just say I’m sharing my thoughts!

Book cover - North and South by Mrs Elizabeth Gaskell
North and South tells the story of 18 year old Margaret Hale. She has been brought up in her aunt’s house in London for the last 9 years as a companion to her cousin Edith, but now Edith is due to marry and Margaret will return to her parent’s home. Though sincerely fond of Edith and Aunt Shaw, Margaret can’t wait to be able to be a daughter to her parents again back in the hamlet of Helstone in the New Forest. However, Margaret’s joy at returning home is short-lived. Her father, Mr Hale, is a clergyman, but he has been having a spiritual crisis, disagreeing with many of the doctrines of  the church. He doesn’t feel that he can, in good conscience, continue to act as a clergyman and has decided to move the family to Milton, an industrial town in the North of England, where Mr Hale proposes to work as a tutor, teaching the finer points of classics and literature to adult students.

Milton couldn’t be much more different to the New Forest. It is dirty, industrial and the people are different too, being far less class-conscious, more forward, and the pace of life is also quite different. One of Mr Hale’s pupils is John Thornton, a successful mill-owner. To Margaret, he personifies the North, being hard, uncaring of people, seeing his workers only as cogs in the machine of his business rather than as people in their own right and only caring for money. Margaret is sadly prejudiced against Mr Thornton, still retaining some of her London snobbery towards tradesmen and their pretences of being something other than they are.

Mr Thornton - North and South - Mrs Gaskell
In fact, Mr Thornton is a self-made man. Following his father’s suicide the then-teenaged Thornton left schooling and obtained a job as a draper’s assistant to be able to support his mother and sister. He not only repaid his father’s debts but managed to get a job as an assistant manager in a cotton mill, eventually becoming a successful mill-owner, through his hard work. He is driven, and proud of his achievements, though he feels that anybody willing to work could have achieved what he did. Over time and through some very sad events, both Margaret and Thornton change. She comes to understand how the Northerner’s minds work and the reasoning behind their views. Thornton comes to appreciate his workers on a more personal basis and once he is able to understand their perspective he can work to improve his workers’ lot in life without overstepping the boundaries of his proud countrymen.

Margaret Hale - North and South - Mrs Gaskell
I’ve always thought of North and South as being like Pride & Prejudice with a social conscience and I still think that’s a fair summation. Mr Thornton is proud, and rightly so, but the reason he holds himself apart from his fellow-man isn’t particularly his pride but his somewhat incomplete view of them. Margaret is also very proud, but she’s also extremely prejudiced. She has an additional problem in the form of the support she has to provide to her family during a time when they are under a lot of pressure.

Mrs Gaskell was writing at a time well-known for the increase in social conscience, where people took an interest in reducing problems and injustices in wider society. There were many attempts made by authors to raise awareness of the way life was for the working man in order to gain more understanding and empathy for his situation. In North and South Thornton himself is initially unsympathetic to the troubles of his worker – since he has raised himself up from scant earnings he sees no reason why any other man who can read and write couldn’t do the same but once he gets to know them on a human level he gets to understand them and their issues better. For all his self-made success, even Thornton isn’t infallible so he learns that hard work alone isn’t always enough.

Book cover - North and South by Mrs Elizabeth Gaskell
One thing I always enjoy with older books is a peep at aspects of life in times gone by. In some stories this glimpse could be nuances of society, etiquette etc. Here, the focus is on the life of the workers, an exploration of industrial relations and the moral role of the master is brought to life with human interest. All of this with the undercurrent of a romance that is full of twists, angst, misunderstanding and plenty of passion, kept sternly repressed by crinoline and frock coat for the most part!

If you’ve watched the excellent BBC adaptation I would still recommend reading the book. Not only do you get more of the inner thoughts of Margaret and Mr Thornton but I think you get more of the societal message that Gaskell was intending to convey along with the growth of the main characters. This is one of my all time favourites and I highly recommend it.

5 star read

Friday 12 September 2014

The Love and Games Series by Rachel Harris

The Love and Games series follows the stories of the Robicheaux siblings, Cane, Colby and Sherry, whose parents used to run a Cajun restaurant in Magnolia Springs, a small town close to New Orleans. Mrs Robicheaux died some years ago and Mr Robicheaux died more recently. Cane now runs the restaurant, and Sherry works there front of house. Colby is a chef, but she has moved to a different area. Here are my reviews of all three books!

Love and Games - Book Cover - Taste the Heat - Rachel Harris
The first book, Taste the Heat, introduces us to the family, specifically Colby, who is a chef in Vegas. She’s lived away from her hometown for over 12 years but she’s come back for 3 months to act as head chef in the family restaurant to help out her brother while he tries to hire a new chef. Colby used to be a real Daddy’s girl growing up but she had some illusions broken over a decade ago, and as a result she doesn’t trust men and has avoided trips back to her hometown. The avoidance even goes so far as avoiding the Cajun food she previously adored. The story opens with Colby judging a cooking competition for the local firestations. A few of the firemen are very attracted to her, including Jason, Colby’s brother’s best friend and a man who knew Colby all her life until her late teens.  Jason doesn’t even recognise her anymore but Colby wasn’t likely to forget the man she idolised back when she was a teenager.
“Any minute now, he’d figure it out. Cane had promised he’d stop by, and if seeing his best friend there didn’t clue Jason in, she was sure Mary would announce her name eventually. But until then, Colby figured she might as well have a little fun...for her young self’s sake of course.”
Fire chief Jason is a single dad with a 12 year old daughter, Emma. His life is pretty busy, as he is a committed parent in addition to firefighting and running a gym where he teaches self-defence classes when he is off shift at the fire station. Jason is a widower and he doesn’t think he’ll ever be likely to fall in love again, but he would consider remarrying to somebody who understands this, because although he’s done a good job of parenting so far he really feels that his daughter is missing out. He feels really attracted to Colby but he wouldn’t pursue anything with her because he can’t offer her love and he thinks that’s not fair to her. However, when he realises that Colby isn’t interested in anything more than a fling then it seems like they could come to an arrangement for the duration of her stay in town... until one of them realises they want more.

This was an easy reading book, I really enjoyed this author’s style. Colby was such a mess, she’d buried herself in work to prevent herself having to deal with the fallout of 12 years ago. Jason was a really sweet guy. I loved his efforts to help Colby rediscover the things from her youth that she’d cut out of her life, and he was endearingly out of his depth dealing with his daughter sometimes, such as when she started her periods and he tried to buy her sanitary products!

Colby’s relationship with Emma was very touching too. Emma was a pretty determined matchmaker, not only does she want her father to be happy but as an aspiring chef herself she has a bit of hero worship going on towards Colby, and Colby genuinely likes her in return. I loved the Cajun setting too although it made me pretty hungry as there is so much delicious-sounding food in this book!  The only thing I would have changed about this book is that it has a grand gesture at the end, which I always feel is a little clichéd, but all in all, it was a really enjoyable read. There are no graphic sex scenes, but things get quite hot and steamy and there is some occasional swearing in this book.

4 star read

Love and Games - Book Cover - Seven Day Fiance - Rachel Harris
The second book in the Love and Games series, Seven Day Fiancé sees hunkalicious Cane as part of a fundraising batchelor auction. The only person who he’d like to bid on him isn’t likely to – relative newcomer to Magnolia Springs Angelle Prejean really intrigues Cane. She isn’t interested in him at all, for one thing! Angelle is only too interested in Cane, but she’s keeping her distance from him because he has heartbreak written all over him. However, she’s got herself in a pickle – Angelle left her small town, where she was the overprotected ‘princess’ of the mayor when she turned down the marriage proposal of her childhood sweetheart. Angelle wanted to prove to herself that she could stand on her own two feet and so she left behind the life that had been mapped out for her and became a volunteer firefighter in Magnolia Springs. However, to stop her mother worrying she invented a pretend boyfriend... which became a pretend fiancé... that her family is now expecting to meet over Thanksgiving.

I can’t help myself, I love the fake fiancé trope and this is a pretty fresh take on it.  Cane has been affected by the same family fallout that caused such a wary attitude to love for his sister Colby, but he is certainly up for a little dalliance with the attractive Angelle, if only to get rid of this draw he feels towards her, and if he poses as her fiancé he’ll have a whole week to get through the defensive walls she has put up against him.

Cane has the appearance of a typical bad boy, he’s tattooed, rides a motorbike, etc, but he doesn’t necessarily fit in with all the stereotypes of his look unless you count a love of accounting and Sudoku as usual for a bad boy. On appearances, Cane has just the type of appearance that Angie’s family are likely to hate.  It doesn’t help his cause with her family, particularly as she left town hot on the heels of turning down an extremely public marriage proposal from the boyfriend her family adored.

Angelle was also non-sterotypical and was a mass of contradictions. She’s very feminine, yet she works in a male dominated world, being a firefighter. She’s tough and strong yet she’s so vulnerable. She exudes fragility, which people often respond to by wanting to protect her. However, Cane sees her more truly than many people who’ve known her all her life and respects her for her hidden strength:
“She’d been protected all her life, but it always made her feel less than. Like no one believed she was able to do things herself or saw her as a growing woman. But with cane, it was the exact opposite. With him, she was 100 percent woman, and when he stood up for her, it felt like support. Like caring.”
With a week to get through the visit, will Angelle and Cain manage to fool her family into believing in their engagement? With spending so much time together, is there a danger that they could become closer than either of them had bargained for.
The humour in this book was great, there were some lines that had me laughing aloud:
“Cane’s kisses were phenomenal. Better than chocolate, horses, and Channing Tatum rolled into one.”
4 star read

Love and Games - Book Cover - Accidentally Married on Purpose- Rachel Harris
The third book featuring the Robicheaux family, Accidentally Married on Purpose, focuses on the baby of the family, Sherry. Unlike her older siblings Sherry believes in love. She enters every relationship wholeheartedly, believing this will be forever. Unfortunately, Sherry doesn’t have the best taste, having either fallen for men who were only after flings or who cheated her. However, she is determined to turn her life around. Sherry has come up with a plan:
“Fall for someone boring.It was the solution to her heartache. Her desire to feel wooed and loved meant she always went for the exciting, mysterious types – only to find out later that those guys were mysterious for a reason. They were hiding another woman.”
But before she begins her search for Mr Boring, she’s promised herself one last fling and she has a good opportunity to do it – Robicheaux’s restaurant has got an order to provide catering to a show in Las Vegas for one of Country music’s hottest acts, Blue. Sherry has absolutely no interest in country music and she knows nothing about the band, but Las Vegas would be the perfect place for her to find a suitable man for a fling.

The band’s front man, Tyler Blue, is gorgeous and successful. He’s seen first hand from his father’s experience that love and music don’t mix and he’s determined to be a success musically so he’s happily single. He is getting grief from his PR people, who tell him that in a musical genre where so many of the songs are about love Blue is beginning to look like a fraud for being perpetually single. Fed up of being harangued for something he has no intention of changing, Tyler goes to grab himself some food from the buffet, and finds himself face to face with a gorgeous brunette. He realises two things. Firstly, the attraction he is feeling is reciprocated. Secondly, the brunette doesn’t recognise him, mistaking him for a roadie. Being liked solely for his fame is something Tyler is unfortunately getting used to, so it’s an attractive idea to spend some time with somebody who doesn’t want anything from him, and he fully intends to correct her misunderstanding of who he is before anything happens between them. Sherry is thrilled to have found the right man for her fling:
“If a life with Mr. Boring and Dependable was to be her destiny, then a lust-filled weekend with Tyler-the-hunkalicious-roadie would surely fuel her fantasies for the next fifty years. Or longer.”
After an amazing, day-long date, the two of them hit the casino. Tyler wakes up in bed wearing a wedding band and having flashbacks, while poor Sherry wakes up nude in the bathroom, having adjourned there with some boozy sickness:
“Sherry raised her eyes to her reflection.
“What the freaking hell?!?
She was wearing a wedding veil. 
A wedding veil was on her head. It was white. It had lace. And it was on her freaking head.
She didn’t have single stitch of clothing on her body otherwise, but she did have that.”
Now I know this is a bit clichéd but I always enjoy a story involving a mistaken wedding! As far as I know (from what I saw in the news when Britney Spears got married in Las Vegas!) you need a marriage licence to get married in Las Vegas and it isn’t actually possible just to turn up somewhere and get married, but it’s an entertaining concept so I put that thought aside!

Both Sherry and Tyler agree to end the marriage – she needs to get on with her life plan and find Mr. Boring and Tyler is going to get on with his life, but somehow the news gets out. Tyler has been persuaded by his ‘people’ that a marriage would take the heat off his career. Sherry doesn’t want to be seen as a joke. She thinks it’s preferable for people to believe that she has married in an impulsive whirlwind romance rather than in a drunken haze, so they agree, Tyler can stay with her for a month and then he’ll be touring anyway so the marriage can peter out, with his touring schedule being the reason for their break up. Sherry has some ground rules though. Firstly, she wants to get full benefit from this sham marriage, which means she wants to be wooed and treated, for once, like she’s adored. Secondly, there will be no sex. The weekend with Tyler is the first time Sherry has ever attempted a fling, she’s only ever had relationships in the hope they’d become something more and if their relationship is physical she worries that she will come to feel more for him than she should. How will Sherry manage to keep her heart after intact being wooed for a whole month? And how will she know what’s real and what’s just for show?

I so enjoyed this romance. The characters in the other books in this series are likeable but Sherry is just adorable! She is funny, and generous and really loveable. Since she was protected by her family from knowing the secret regarding their parents Sherry is much less cynical regarding love, which is ironic, as she has less luck in love than any of them, throwing herself full into relationships with guys who have never proved to be worth it. Tyler is very sweet too, living his dream for both himself and his father and never questioning whether it is possible to compromise.  I also enjoyed the fact that Sherry didn’t passively sit back and wait for things to happen, she was a modern woman and willing to go for things. I’d rate this book as 4 stars.

4 star read

For all three of these books there are no sex scenes. There is some swearing, particularly in the second book.

Friday 5 September 2014

Death Comes to Pemberley Adaptation

Please note - there are some spoiler-ish comments in the below, in italics, so if you want to avoid them, skip the italic section

Death Comes to Pemberley adaptation
When I heard that Death Comes to Pemberley was being adapted I was pretty excited that we were going to get some new Austenesque adapted for the screen. Then I read the book, and I was much less excited, because I didn’t like it all that much! You can see my review of the book here. There were some issues from the book that I hoped they were going to fix for the adaptation, such as Elizabeth’s uncharacteristic blandness, and Lydia being completely obnoxious and over the top so I tuned in with millions of other people to watch the 3 part Death Comes to Pemberley.

In the adaptation of Death Comes to Pemberley, as in the book, the story is set six years after the end of the events in Pride & Prejudice. The story centres around Denny being murdered after getting out of a carriage and running into Pemberley woods. Wickham is found with his friend’s blood on his hands, and says that he has killed him. This is taken to be a confession, and Wickham stands to be accused of murder, but Wickham later clarifies that his meaning was that he was to blame for Denny’s death, by arguing with his friend, which is what caused him to leave the carriage and run off into the woods. Despicable as Wickham has been in the past, has he really stooped to murder? And if he’s innocent, how will he escape hanging when the circumstances around the death all point to his guilt?

There were things I liked and things I didn’t about this adaptation. First things first, let’s look at the casting.

Death Comes to Pemberley - Elizabeth and DarcyFor most Austen fans the most important parts in this would be Elizabeth and Darcy:

Elizabeth is played by Anna Maxwell Martin, who I recognised as Bessy Higgins from North and South. I think she was the wrong choice for the role, for several reasons. Firstly, Elizabeth in DCtP is supposed to be 26 years old. Ms Maxwell Martin is 36 and in this age of naturalistic makeup in period dramas and high-definition TV she looks 36.

Death Comes to Pemberley - Elizabeth

Secondly, I don’t think the actress makes a good Lizzy even if she had been the right age – the physical description we have of Lizzy from Pride & Prejudice isn’t that detailed but we are expecting dark eyes and a light figure. We know she was the second prettiest girl in the Bennet family, ‘second in birth and beauty to Jane’ and one of the ‘brightest jewels’ in Hertfordshire. Ms Maxwell Martin is slim but she doesn’t fit the other criteria. In addition to this, although the Lizzy in the DCtP book was like cardboard cut out, most viewers will be expecting to see a vivacious Lizzy and Ms Maxwell Martin doesn't play her that way, aside from only once in the three episodes, when she gets to give Lady Catherine some stick. Most of the time she slinks about looking equal parts exhausted and haunted. Another thing that is very odd is that Lizzy, though seen on several different days in the adaptation, only appears to own two dresses!

Death Comes to Pemberley - DarcyAs for the casting of Darcy, I didn’t mind that as much, although he also looks too old to me.  Darcy is supposed to be about 34 or 35 and he looks about 40, but that isn’t helped by how dour he is played, and he’s also incredibly pale in it! I’ve seen the actor in real life, and he looks younger than he did in DCtP. Darcy’s physical description in Pride & Prejudice is only that he is tall and has handsome features. This is subjective but I think Matthew Rhys is fairly handsome, but he isn’t tall enough for the role. It has been pointed out to me that Colin Firth isn't that tall but his proportions must be different, because on screen I think Rhys looks fairly short. This isn’t helped by him often being seen with Colonel Fitzwilliam who appears to be extremely tall here. It is such a shame that they didn’t go for somebody more like Richard Armitage, who, though he is also older than the role to be played, is around the same age as Matthew Rhys and is both tall and very handsome.

Death Comes to Pemberley - Lydia and Wickham
Jenna Coleman plays Lydia Wickham, and I think she is perfect for the role, although this could just be because she fits my mental image of Lydia. She must have been fairly pretty for Wickham to have eloped with her and she is described in P&P as having a ‘fine complexion’. I am pleased to say that Lydia in the book (who is too much of a whiner with a chip on her shoulder to be believable) is here played as only realistically annoying!  The scriptwriters did an excellent job with this part. Matthew Goode plays Wickham, and I thought he looked the part and played it well. In fact, I would say that the Wickhams are probably the thing I liked best about this adaptation, they felt real to Austen's characters.

Death Comes to Pemberley - Georgiana Darcy
Another piece of casting that I thought would please most people is that of Eleanor Tomlinson as Miss Darcy, I thought she was very good, though she had to do a public display of emotion in front of the servants which is not the thing in those times!

Death Comes to Pemberley - Chatsworth
Chatsworth is ‘cast’ as Pemberley.  Many people think that Chatsworth was Jane Austen’s model for Pemberley due to the description of the landscape around Pemberley matching that of Chatsworth but since Chatsworth is actually mentioned in Pride & Prejudice I prefer to think of something a bit different, particularly as Chatsworth has an entrance hall, seen several times in the adaptation, which I would describe as quite fussy in style rather than what I’d imagined for Pemberley from the description in the book, for example the furniture has ‘less of splendour and more real elegance’ than Rosings so I’d imagine something a bit less ornate.
Death Comes to Pemberley - Henry Alveston
However all of the rest of the rooms and outside locations are just lovely. This is certainly a very attractive adaptation to watch, a real feast for the eyes.

There are quite a few things that are changed from the book. I don't want to spoil it for anybody who hasn't seen it yet, so without giving too much away I will say that the focus of the story shifts. The book is really centred on Darcy and they gave a lot of his part of the story to Elizabeth. This has the advantage of making her character more central but the flip side of this is that it pushes Darcy to the side a bit. He is quite a different character in the adaptation from the book, which I thought was a shame, because the character of Darcy was about the only thing I liked about the book! The dynamic between Darcy and Elizabeth is also very different, as is Darcy's attitude towards his sister. I felt that though Elizabeth's character was built up for the adaptation it was at the expense of the character of Darcy. There was also a sex scene in the adaptation that wasn't in the book, and though I don't generally object to sex scenes I didn't like it, to me it felt intrusive.

Death Comes to Pemberley - Colonel Fitzwilliam
The character of Colonel Fitzwilliam was also quite different from Pride & Prejudice. The character was made very different in the book Death Comes to Pemberley and although he doesn't seem to me like the Colonel Fitzwilliam we know and love, he was far more likeable than the DCtP book character.

As for the mystery, since I'd read the book I already knew what happened on the night poor Denny got killed, so it's hard to know if I'd have worked it out in advance. In the book I worked out places where things were a bit fishy but that is pretty much as far as I got, I enjoy cosy mysteries but it doesn't mean that I'm particularly good at working them out!

On the whole, the adaptation is fairly entertaining. If I was less of a fan of Austen’s work I think I would have enjoyed it more though, because there were things which kept flagging up as wrong or unlikely that I may not have noticed if I wasn’t so familiar with the characters. I would definitely recommend watching it, although it’s not an adaptation I can see myself buying to watch again and again. I’d give it 3½ stars.

3.5 star watch

And now for the spoiler section! Look away now if you haven't seen the adaptation yet, but if you'd like to come back after you've seen it and share your thoughts on it then I'd love to know what you think.



No really, you'll spoil it for yourself...



What I thought of it in a bit more detail:

The main change for me is how much the focus changed from Darcy to Elizabeth. Elizabeth is like wallpaper in the book, seen and there, but lifeless. In the adaptation she does a lot of investigating into the events surrounding Denny’s death. I didn’t think this was a good change because Darcy is a magistrate, and part of this role would include investigating into the cause of deaths. He has additional cause to do it here, because Wickham is connected with his family through marriage, and because despite all his past with Wickham he cannot believe that Wickham would become a murderer. The fact that he does half a job makes him appear to be pretty ineffectual and willing to let down a lot of people.  

He is also shown, unfairly, to be trying to push Georgiana into a ‘suitable’ marriage rather than marrying a husband of her choice. This would be so hypocritical of him, since he married the woman of his choice. However, in the book, he isn’t pushing Georgiana at all. It really annoyed me that the filmmakers would sacrifice Darcy’s character in this way, and make him a lesser man. There were many things I didn’t like about the book of Death Comes to Pemberley, but one thing I think P. D. James did well was to capture Darcy’s character, and I wouldn’t say that about the adaptation, he is more like Darcy at the beginning of Pride & Prejudice rather than Darcy at the end of the book.

The Darcy’s marriage also gives the impression of being an unhappy union, with Elizabeth worrying that he has regretted marrying beneath him. However, this is not something that I felt from the book, if anything, Darcy worries that Elizabeth may have had feelings for George Wickham. This is another reason why I didn’t like Elizabeth doing all the investigating, as her efforts to save Wickham may have given credence to her having feelings for him. The adaptation also features a sex scene. Now, I don’t mind sex scenes in general, but this one came out of nowhere. To me it felt intrusive and unnecessary. I can only imagine that it was included to show some closeness between Elizabeth and Darcy, but the book never gave me the impression that their marriage was unhappy or that they were not close.

Oddly, the Wickhams appear to have a happier marriage than the Darcys, with true affection between them. This is not something I feel likely from Pride & Prejudice, where it is said ‘His affection for her soon sunk into indifference: her's lasted a little longer’ but it was actually nice to see and quite touching. It’s just a shame that Elizabeth and Darcy’s marriage is shown to be unhappy.

Another character I thought was portrayed differently to the Death Comes to Pemberley book is that of Colonel Fitzwilliam, who is extremely hard and unlikeable in the book. Here, although he isn’t shown to be lovely, he doesn’t come across in the same way.

What did you think of the adaptation? If you leave a comment containing spoilers, please flag them up so people can avoid reading them if they haven't watched it yet :)

Thursday 4 September 2014

Death Comes to Pemberley by P D James

I thought I'd share one of my older reviews with you. This is what I thought of the book of Death Comes to Pemberley, by P. D. James. 

P. D. James is such a successful writer, and I'd read one of her books before, and enjoyed it, so I approached this book with high hopes. This is a sequel to Pride and Prejudice, happening 6 years later.

After a rehash of the events of Pride and Prejudice we move on to our story. At Pemberley, the annual Lady Anne's Ball is being prepared for, when there is a commotion at the door; Lydia Wickham has arrived, uninvited and in hysterics, saying that her husband has been shot by Denny in the woods. A search party sets out in the darkness and finds a drunken Wickham crying over the body of Denny, and saying that he had killed his only friend. This could either mean that he feels responsible directly or indirectly, but it's taken as a confession, and the main body of the story deals with the investigation and court case. From this point of view, the story is quite interesting, as I didn't have much idea of the legal system then, and I am presuming that all these details were researched. It was also interesting to find out what really happened that night, as there is more to the story than at first is apparent.

However, I hadn't really come to this story from the point of view of somebody who loves P. D. James' stories, but as somebody who loves Miss Austen's, and from this point of view, the book is far less successful. The main issue I had is that the characters were so flat. For me, one of Austen's strengths are her characters, they are so alive that they almost leap off the page. This isn't the case here; Elizabeth is unrecognisable as the sparkling, vivacious woman we met in P&P, she is very bland. Darcy is much more fully realised, as the story deals with him much more. Much of the dialogue throughout the book is very flat also, there are whole pages of people recounting things, which makes sense in an investigation, but it's written in such a way that it's not very engaging to read!

We see more of all the Bennets, including Lydia, who is extremely rude and petulant towards Lizzy at all times - I don't believe that would be the case, Lydia wouldn't be stupid enough to not try and curry favour with her sister, and I also think Wickham would have encouraged her to be on as good terms as possible with both her rich sisters. We also know from P&P that Lydia visited her sister, but this Lydia wouldn't have wanted to.

Another aspect of behaviour that I thought was unlikely was the discussion between Darcy and Elizabeth at the end of the book where they talked about Georgiana's attempted elopement with Wickham, and Elizabeth's attraction to him. It strikes an odd note that they should be discussing this so many years down the line for the first time.

Although there is a apology from P. D. James to Miss Austen at the beginning of the book apologising for using her characters these are clearly empty words, because she criticises the events of Pride and Prejudice. This really annoyed me; as if James had a problem with P&P she should have chosen another book to base her story on. Firstly, she doesn't like how quickly Lizzy (or Lizzie, as James refers to her) and Darcy fell in love:
"If this were fiction, could even the most brilliant novelist continue to make credible so short a period in which pride had been subdued and prejudice overcome?"
Also, apparently James believed that Lizzy married for money?!!!
"Would she (Elizabeth) herself have married Darcy had he been a penniless curate or a struggling attorney?"
The cheek! Elizabeth was resolved to marry for love, but of course there was a practical element to marriage in that time. If there isn't enough money to support a family then she could not marry and Elizabeth knew that. However, she knew that Darcy was rich when she first refused him. I don't feel this sequel was done by somebody who was a fan of the book, which personally I feel is vitally important for a successful sequel.

There are also some things which don't quite marry up with the events of Pride and Prejudice, for example, Mr Darcy helps out Wickham with money while he's in prison and Mr Bennet makes some reference to Elizabeth of this not being the first time Darcy has helped out their family, not that he has full knowledge, but of course he had knowledge! When telling her father of Darcy's proposal, Lizzy told him of Darcy's generous nature and what he did for Lydia, and he replied that he would offer to pay Darcy back. However, she doesn't tell him in the '95 adaptation, and to be honest, I wondered if James had assumed it from that.

Also, there are multiple references to Wickham not being allowed to stay at the Bingleys' home. This is in direct contradiction of Pride and Prejudice where it is stated in reference to Lydia and Wickham that:
"... with the Bingleys they both of them frequently staid so long, that even Bingley's good-humour was overcome, and he proceeded so far as to talk of giving them a hint to be gone."
There are references to characters from other Austen books, Emma and Persuasion. The Emma references seemed fine, if unnecessary, but the Persuasion ones didn't quite make sense to me - Wickham was working for Sir Walter Elliot but they had parted company as Miss Elizabeth Elliot didn't like how attracted her father was to Mrs Wickham - what danger would she have been to Sir Walter? Lydia was married, so it's not as though Sir Walter would marry her. Considering that in Persuasion Miss Elliot misses the fact that her father is attracted to Mrs Clay and he could have married her, I don't see this as likely.

So, all in all, although this isn't a badly written book, I was disappointed with it, which is why it took me ages to read! I still plan to watch the adaptation, as I am hopeful that the scriptwriters will be able to improve the characters.

I watched the adaptation when it was on over Christmas 2013, and I'll give you my thoughts on that next time.

Monday 1 September 2014

Planned Reading for September 2014

What happened to the summer, it flew by?! Well, I had a semi-successful reading month in August. I read quite a bit, which was good news for my Goodreads annual reading challenge, but I didn’t read all the things I planned to, I went maverick. I have also been a tad enthusiastic with the one clicking in August, but there have been bargains and I really can’t resist them! Some bargains are still ongoing, for example, check out this mahoosive sale from the Austen Variations authors until 5th September.

Book cover North and South by Mrs Elizabeth Gaskell
I had meant to read Northanger Abbey but I got sidetracked by the lure of a group read, and started reading Mrs Gaskell’s North and South instead (as an aside, this is the book cover on my copy, and I really don't like it one bit). This is a book I’ve read quite a few times before. I would describe it as Pride and Prejudice with a social conscience. The dynamic between the main characters is absolutely full of both prejudice and pride, and being a Victorian book there is a thread relating to workers rights and the moral role of the employer in improving the lot of his workers. It's also known to many from a very popular BBC adaptation featuring the smouldering Richard Armitage (sigh!). I’m still reading this one.
North and South 2004 BBC Adaptation

Book cover: Revisit Mansfield Park by Sarah Ozcandarli
For my Mansfield Park read I had intended to get The Beresfords by Christina Dudley, as I’ve heard good things about it from Meredith over at Austenesque Reviews. However, I was lucky enough to win a Mansfield Park ‘what if’ variation over at My Jane Austen Book Club so since I’ve won a book I thought I should read that instead. This book is called Revisit Mansfield Park: When Fanny Married Henry by Sarah Ozcandarli and explores what could have happened if Fanny had married Henry Crawford. You might well remember that the narrative in Mansfield Park is quite clear that a marriage was entirely possible.

From chapter 48 of Mansfield Park:
Would he have persevered, and uprightly, Fanny must have been his reward, and a reward very voluntarily bestowed, within a reasonable period from Edmund’s marrying Mary.
So this is a variation that has been begging to be written. I haven’t seen any reviews of it or even read the sample, so I have no idea whether it’s likely to be good or not.

Book cover: Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas by Stephanie Barron
My next planned read is Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas: Being a Jane Austen Mystery by Stephanie Barron which is due out in October. This is the twelfth of the Jane Austen Mysteries series, and I haven’t read any of them so far, though they’ve been on my wishlist for a while. I enjoyed reading a murder mystery with an Austen flavour last month, so hopefully this one will be just as good, one difference being that Jane Austen is a character in this novel, rather than it featuring the characters that she created.

Book cover - Emma and Elizabeth by Ann Mychal
I also hope to read Emma and Elizabeth by Ann Mychal. This isn’t a story featuring Miss Woodhouse and Miss Bennet as you might be hoping, but a story based on The Watsons, which is a story which Jane Austen abandoned writing at 17,000 or so words around the time her father died. Emma and Elizabeth are the respective names of the youngest and eldest Watson sisters.

As for my other reads this month, I hope to play catch up on some of the things I planned to read in August and I didn’t get to. I hope you have some good reads lined up for September - happy reading!