Tuesday, 29 April 2014

The Secret Betrothal By Jan Hahn

Knowing a book is on the horizon months before it's release date is torture, especially when it is one of your favourite authors. So as you can imagine, when I finally got hold of A Secret Betrothal, it was read within days. What a premise, Elizabeth secretly betrothed to Wickham! "Well I never!!!!" Never did I think Elizabeth so blind! Yet I cast my mind back to the original P&P, when she believed Wickham's lies and was very partial to him at one time, even warranting a lecture from her aunt Gardiner on the evils of such an imprudent match.

What I find with Jan's stories is that Elizabeth has more Prejudice and Darcy has less Pride. Yet this storyline has to be the ultimate extreme of Elizabeth's blind prejudice, I was tutting and shaking my head throughout this book at Elizabeth's foolish gullibility, will she ever learn!! Looking back through my highlights and notes for this review I think the following note sums up my sentiments "Elizabeth, constantly Championing Wickham is getting on my nerves, why is she ignoring her gut instinct!!!"

"Being young and inexperienced and looking to Darcy as my model, I was lured into the gaming halls and, consequently, I ran up a bit of debt." - Jan Hahn

The story begins just before the Netherfield ball, with Bingley and Darcy tarrying longer to attend the Mistletoe ball in Meryton. Wickham notices Darcy's preference for Elizabeth and determined to have something Darcy cannot, proposes to Elizabeth; all the while managing to spin another tale as to why their betrothal must remain secret. Wow I thought Lydia was foolish, apparently not!

Rosings still sees Darcy's disastrous proposal, however as Elizabeth is betrothed to that weasel Wickham, she will not accept Darcy's letter of explanation.
Mr Collins is at his finest! His eagerness to please Lady Catherine leads to utter chaos and tragedy for dear Charlotte, leaving Darcy no choice but to stay on at Rosings a little while longer.  When Elizabeth meets him at Rosings again, with his shirt sleeves rolled up, we see indeed that the master of Pemberley has no improper pride, he is willing to get his hands dirty!!! Will Elizabeth finally get to see the Darcy we all know and love.

The second half of this story takes place in Brighton and I always love a new place so that my imagination can take hold,.With places like Longbourn or Netherfield I feel I already know them, before I have even picked up a book. But never before have I visited Lady Catherine seaside retreat nor do I think she would ever extend an invitation for me to stay there! However I did enjoy my time, especially the beach and rocks that featured so frequently.

Wickham was indeed a surprise despite the fact that I despised him, by the end of the story I actually felt I may have seen a glimpse of the man behind the deceit for a change. For angst, there was one particular scene at the Foresters ball in Brighton that had me literally holding my breath. I actually felt like I was in the crowd listening to it all  unfold, I was all astonishment as Miss Bingley would say and I felt all the nauseating symptoms Elizabeth would have been feeling, as well as the hurt Mr Darcy would have suffered. Well done Jan that was a great bit of angst, especially as you had me saying out loud "oh no, oh no, I cannot believe it" prompting family members to enquire after my health. "Are you okay?" "yes yes, but I could strangle that Wickham if given half a chance, he's despicable!!!" They look at you strangely and slowly step away.

"This man had held her close, so close he spoke of her scent . . . he had kissed her lips . . . he knew Elizabeth intimately. Darcy crushed the scrap of paper in his fist and slammed it against the wall, crying out with a curse of anguish too mournful to describe" - Jan Hahn

Darcy's despair in this book was conveyed so well, I really felt his pain and all because he loves Elizabeth. I cannot reiterate enough that with Jan's stories I never feel any dislike towards Darcy, yet Elizabeth is so stubborn and I constantly get annoyed with her. At the end of this book Elizabeth is left feeling guilty about an event that takes place and although it does her credit in showing she is very similar to Jane. I was yet again left feeling frustrated with her, argh!!!! Thank goodness Jane talked some sense into her as I had a few choice words of my own.

Another great instalment from Jan Hahn, although my favourite of hers remains the same. My order of preference is as follows The Journey, An Arranged Marriage, The Secret Betrothal.

As always I love to hear your thoughts!

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

A Perfect Bride for Mr Darcy by Mary Lydon Simonsen

'He did not want to remember her dark eyes or hair, her beautiful smile, and infectious laugh. And her wit! What had she said at Netherfield about the efficacy of poetry in driving love away? He would never again read a romantic poem without thinking about her comment.' - Mary Lydon Simonsen

After returning from his yearly visit to Rosings , Miss Bingley informs Darcy that Jane Bennet is in town, whilst unintentionally revealing that Elizabeth has gone to Hunsford. Upon hearing this news, Darcy hastens back to Rosings with a bewildered Colonel Fitzwilliam, who is wondering why they are returning so soon, after having only just left!!!

I love stories that explore and expand on small characters and Anne De Bourgh is one of them. Why did Darcy never marry her? What was their relationship like? Does she have a personalty or is she just the sickly daughter of Lady Catherine? 
Anne De Bourgh is like a sister to Darcy, being closer in age to him than his own sister Georgiana, who he has more of a fatherly relationship with. Darcy and Anne's close relationship is wonderful to see and this closeness means that Anne learns of Elizabeth's rejection of Darcy's proposal. Determined to see her cousin happy, Anne visits Elizabeth at the parsonage with the purpose of portraying her cousin in the best possible light. Yet Elizabeth having read Darcy's letter, is already bent in that direction. Before Anne leaves she secures an arrangement for her and Elizabeth to become correspondents. Now all she has to do is get both Darcy and Elizabeth to Pemberely at the same time. I admired that Anne put her health on the line to do everything in her power to bring happiness to her dear cousin Darcy.

'Leaning towards Lizzy, Anne added, with tears in her eyes, “He truly is the best of men, and it would pain me to think there was someone out there in the wider world who thought ill of him because they do not know him as I do.” Lizzy now understood the purpose of the visit.' Mary Lydon Simonsen

Anne was the star of the show for me and I absolutely adored her in this story, she finally had a voice and a lovely relationship with Darcy and the Colonel. Between her and Georgiana I did not know who to like best! There were so many things I liked about this story, one being that Simonsen used various characters including the Colonel to impart the situation of a changing world. This helped Darcy to understand that his objections to Bingley and himself marrying the Bennet sisters was groundless. The importance of marrying for rank and connection are explained but in turn we learn that families who made their fortune in trade, were now coming to the rescue of some of the titled gentry who were suffering financial difficulties. George Bingley, Charles's brother for example had helped Darcy's father with liquidation problems. 

'Darcy laughed to himself. Everything she said was unkind from her terse greeting to her accusation that he was acting in an ungentlemanlike manner. That had truly stung. He knew his faults. He could be sarcastic, impatient, aloof, but not a gentleman? No, he would not concede that.' - Mary Lydon Simonsen

Whenever books address the issue of Darcy's past in relation to him being  a man of the world, I find I am always uncomfortable, but Simonsen seemed to find a happy medium. No high class establishments, no maidens or married women. Instead she explored the issue of dalliances with widows and although It was a touchy subject for me, I was somewhat appeased!

Georgiana knew of Elizabeth's poem comment at Netherfield but did not know who it was made by, so throughout she kept referring to Elizabeth as Miss Sonnet, which was so sweet and funny. Oh, Miss Bingley is such a snob in this, even looking down her nose on some of the titled gentry, when she herself is from trade, then again I expect nothing less from her.

I really love Simonsen's writing, I defy you not to have a permanent smile while reading this as I surely did. There is no incongruence, the timeline is well thought out, the prose is faultless and the frequent intentional and unintentional humour will keep you laughing, pray do I need to continue. I will admit I was slightly disappointed with the end but only because I wanted more!

I always welcome your thoughts!

Thursday, 17 April 2014

My Dearest Mr Darcy by Sharon Lathan

Instalment number three of Sharon Lathan's Darcy saga continues. The story starts with diary entries from Dr Darcy that are wonderful to read. Dr Darcy is a flamboyant character and I do love him, he is funny, witty and very clever, not to mention as Darcy's uncle is a lookalike of Darcy (bonus).
His diary is so lively and I love hearing his opinion on Darcy and Elizabeth, including what he has witness of the two. There is a touching section where he relates a conversation between himself and Darcy, where Darcy declares he would love for Dr Darcy to live with them at Pemberley. I thought this was lovely as I know Dr Darcy is considering staying but having the confirmation that he is welcome was great to see, including the moral values that stem from such a gesture. I would love to have a big house where my family could stay, there are too many people in old people's homes (although I know for many that is not what they would wish but a capitalist society requires everyone to work leaving no one at home to care for elderly relatives, Dr Darcy is not old by the way but I think you get my point).

While Georgiana has been allowed to go on a tour with the Matlocks to Wales (yes I know Darcy let her go unbelievable!) the Darcys head to Caister on sea in Great Yarmouth. Lathan loves to impart history along the way and take you on tours throughout England in her books, I am curious to know if she has been to all of the places she has described as they are very distinct. Caister on sea happens to be the place I go with the family every year for a four day break, what are the chances that Lathan would choose that seaside resort, obviously I was hooked and by the end I knew more about Caister than I had in all the times I had visited there. Historically I learnt of bathing machines, witnessed the rare sight of a hot air balloon being launched and went to see a shadow theatre production! Magnificent I had a great time in 1800's Caister on Sea.

“Listen very carefully, my Lady. What you are asking will never happen. Furthermore, it is you who are unwise if you believe for one second you can threaten Darcy of Pemberley. I know who you are and know your reputation. I suggest you inquire of these ‘influences’ you state you have. You will discover the extreme error in your judgment regarding me. In the mean time, stay away from me and from my wife, or it is I who will be causing the trouble. Are we clear?” - Sharon Lathan

On returning home we witness the Darcy's renew their wedding vows, how sweet. This is followed by the birth of their baby Alexander and what a beautiful baby he is. The whole experience was related in such detail I too felt I was pacing the hallway in anticipation. The intimate scenes between the couple and their new born baby are heart warming in every way. Shortly after Alexander's birth Elizabeth's family start to arrive for Christmas and what a lovely second Christmas it is (my Christmas's pale in comparison) With everything from a bowling alley, an indoor tennis court and games room at Pemberley I eagerly await my invite for next year!

He became fanatical about keeping the staff and his wife abreast of his whereabouts. Never did he wander further than the immediate surrounds or into Lambton and that rarely. Even his gallops followed a standard route so he could be swiftly found if necessary. He observed Elizabeth’s every breath, driving her insane at times, but it was a compulsion uncontrollable. - Sharon Lathan

On Christmas evening Darcy receives distressing news that must take him away from Pemberley!! Queue the dramatic music as it will be a stressful couple of weeks before Darcy is safely home in time for Alexander's christening. This is followed by the Cole's twelfth night ball, which of course Darcy and Elizabeth will be foregoing this year, preferring to stay at home with their new son. However, Georgiana, kitty, Dr Darcy, Colonel Fitwilliam, the Bingleys and Caroline attend. Caroline meets her future husband and prepare yourself for the scenes that will unfold,  hot and passionate  do not even sum up the attraction between the two. I believe Miss Bingley has meet her match or I dare I say she is out of her depth, good luck Caroline!

“I do not think that a wise plan at all! I have never held a newborn and if I drop him I am quite certain you will be perturbed!” “Heavens, Richard. The mighty man of His Majesty’s Armed Forces who handles sword and musket in battle is afraid of a tiny baby?” “Precisely. If I fail with any of those things it is my own health and life that is forfeit.” “Sit and quit complaining. Besides, you have held Annabella’s children, so stop pretending. Alexander is sturdy and I trust you completely.” Col. Fitzwilliams sit as bid, face yet pale. “Very well, but if something happens I will tell Elizabeth it was your fault.”  - Sharon Lathan

Yet another leisurely, detailed, history packed addition to the saga, onto the next!

As always your opinions are most welcome, I do love hearing your thoughts.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

A Pemberley Medley: Five Pride & Prejudice Variations by Abigail Reynolds

I absolutely adore this book!! I will admit at first I thought "short stories? Oh I am not sure, I want a book I can get my teeth into" however by the end of the first story I had soon cottoned on to the secret of short JAFF stories, Darcy and Elizabeth would be getting to their happily ever after, much sooner than I anticipated!! There's something to be said for instant gratification "it is wonderfully satisfying!" These short stories need to be made into little pocket size books that you can slip into your handbag (or briefcase, I have not forgotten you gentlemen) ready to pull out at any given moment; for instance when you need a little pick me up in times of stress or boredom (like at your desk at work, at the doctors, in an elevator or at the checkout in the supermarket) or quite simply, to bring a smile to your face.

Abigail gives you a little introduction before each story, to set the scene so to speak, like how the story came about or imparting any information that may be relevant.

In the first story Intermezzo, Abigail admits she had to allow for a historical discrepancy and have a wedding breakfast that was a sit down meal, rather than the usual stand-up affair. I am so glad she did because the scenes between Darcy and Elizabeth at the table were lovely!!! After not meeting at Pemberley Georgiana boldly asks Darcy if she can go to Bingley's wedding as Darcy will not be attending. Georgiana is determined to find out who has broken her brothers heart and the only information she has is that her name is Elizabeth. Georgiana is sure that she will be in attendance at the wedding, otherwise why else would her brother not attend? A shy Georgiana with Miss Bingley's unwitting assistance is determined to be introduced to as many guests as possible!

Finally the dam broke on Mrs. Bennet’s words. “Good gracious! Lord bless me! only think! dear me! oh, Lizzy, why did you say nothing? Your hair, your gown... but it is too late, we can only hope - Oh! my sweetest Lizzy! I am so pleased - so happy.”- Abigail Reynolds

Such Differing Reports is a delightful story which starts at Rosings with Elizabeth taking into account Charlotte's observations, that Mr Darcy is partial to her. This was interesting as Elizabeth and Darcy end up working through their differences, before he gets to propose. I may have made this claim before, but the letter that Darcy gives Elizabeth is the complete opposite to the one he gives her in regards to his past dealings with Wickham and It has to be the best letter ever written!!!!

She whirled to see Mr. Darcy, impeccably attired as always, holding a struggling white chicken at arm’s length. She could not help but laugh at the incongruity of the picture. With an attempt at solemnity, she said, “As a rule, chickens prefer not to be held.” Mr. Darcy bent over the stone fence and deposited his charge in the yard. “So I have discovered, but unfortunately, she seemed disinclined to listen to me when I told her to go back.”- Abigail Reynolds

Reason's Rule is actually a large excerpt from a book that did not get published, well it did but without these scenes, the version that did get published was Impulse and Initiative also known as To Conquer Mr Darcy. I loved this story, particularly the following scene; Darcy is downstairs in his study at Pemberley while Elizabeth and the Gardiners are staying with him. He receives a letter from Elizabeth which she has sent with the maid as she cannot bare to face him, sorry that is all I will say as I do not want to spoil it, but what I will say, is that when Darcy makes his way upstairs to see Elizabeth, if you ever doubted the authority of the master of Pemberley you will no more!!!

"I do not believe that he spends his time devising ways to hurt me, but he cannot resist sticking in the knife whenever an opportunity presents itself. You saw him in action in Meryton; it was purely coincidence that our paths crossed there, and it profited him nothing to malign my name, but he could not resist the opportunity" -Abigail Reynolds

The Most Natural Thing is a story that was written by Abigail at a time when Dark Darcy stories were popular. Abigail wanted to see what would happen if she attempted to put her Darcy in dark Darcy's shoes, hilarious and impossible if you ask me! It comes in three parts, part two and three being written years later. Poor Abigail did try but what we get is Dark Collins rather than Dark Darcy!

For a moment her eyes flamed, then, to his surprise, the fire was banked. Something had quelled her spirit. He wondered what punishment her mother had inflicted upon her to make her throw herself on the last man in the world she could be prevailed upon to marry. The memory of her angry countenance as she had spat those words at him made his spine stiffen - Abigail Reynolds

A Succession of Rain, In this story Abigail was challenged to write something that had no angst, no misunderstandings and no misfortunes. "How the hell was she going to do that?" I asked myself, yet Abigail rose to the occasion bringing to an end a wonderful collection of short stories that I had read twice before the week was out!!
A truly wonderful medley that will be used to sate my JAFF addiction, whenever I have not the time to engage in a full length novel.

Please feel free to share your thoughts, they are most welcome. 

Monday, 7 April 2014

Haunting Mr Darcy - A Spirited Courtship by KaraLynne Mackrory

This book haunted me from beginning till end, but in a most delightful and pleasing manner. I had barely touched the surface before I knew this was KaraLynne's best work yet!
The premise for Haunting Mr Darcy - A Spirited Courtship was a breath of fresh air, following two wishes on New Years eve and a carriage accident Elizabeth finds herself in a deep coma. Upon awakening Elizabeth discovers that she is in the last place she would want to be, Mr Darcy's library!!!! (Although she does enjoy the books, who wouldn't)  Elizabeth believes she must be dreaming and Darcy upon discovering an apparition of Elizabeth, believes he is headed for the asylum! To her chagrin Elizabeth finds that she is tethered to Darcy by some invisible force that will not allow her to venture further than ten paces from him, wherever he goes she must follow!

From that moment on I too was tethered to this delightful novel, wherever I went so to did the Kindle, haunting me, calling to me to read it!!! It was more than a page turner, it had me spellbound, I had to read it, I needed to read it; honour, prudence, nay, interest, demanded that I read it! 

The humour in this book was so funny that at times I had to put the kindle down just to hold my sides, I literally cried with laughter. I absolutely love this book, KaraLynne's writing is on the money and every sentence was a honour to read. The twists (lines from Pride & Prejudice) as I call them are typical of KaraLynne, her ability to incorporate  P&P dialogue into her stories are great, but in regards to this book she surpassed herself. P&P lines were weaved in effortlessly and spoken by others contrary to the original; in comparison to some books that do the same, none of these seem contrived, they were not forced just so that they could be incorporated, they felt original and wholly connected to the story. 

Still he could not like riding when she could not; the gentleman in him rankled at the idea. “Darcy?” Bingley’s entreaty brought Darcy back from his thoughts and away from the charming smirk of Elizabeth. He turned again in his seat to face the road ahead. “I believe we are quite safe, Bingley. I was only admiring the verdant landscape.” Darcy sped up upon hearing Elizabeth’s laugh again and to avoid Bingley’s puzzled expression. “Yes, indeed, the frozen, frost-washed grey earth that marks Hertfordshire in January is most glorious to behold,” Elizabeth teased. - Karalynne Mackrory

I was pleased with everybody in this book, that was my want to feel happy with. It felt as if the author gathered all of Elizabeth's amiable qualities, her liveliness, her wit, her charm and amplified them tenfold. You could not help but fall in love with her, heck you could not help but fall in love with many of the characters in this book. The dynamics of Elizabeth thinking she was in a dream and Darcy thinking she was a figment of his imagination, meant the normal rules of propriety were loosened and this allowed us and Elizabeth to see Darcy in his most unguarded moments, relaxed, playful and easy. Gone was the front he must present to the world; combine this with Elizabeth's free reign on impertinent comments and the two made a most delightful pair.

As with KaraLynne's previous novel Bluebells in the Morning Elizabeth's carriage accident brings about wonderful changes to the characters that live at Longbourn. Lydia for me was the biggest surprise and this is the first novel I have come across that made me like Lydia and that really warmed my heart! I felt that I had finally connected to one of Austen's characters in a way I had never before, which rendered in me a feeling of finally coming home, thank you KaraLynne.

Mr Bennet as always with KaraLynne, is the father we all love and can rely on, Jane is the most sweet hearted girl in the country, Mrs Bennet the caring mother we all know, deep down she is and Bingley is the most forgiving and amiable man around.

Georgiana is lovely in this and as with KaraLynne's other novels she is her brothers champion, his light in the dark after the tragic loss of their parents. Georgiana is always determined to see her brother happy and along with her cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam they both have Darcy's best interests at heart. This is the second novel that had me glad that Darcy was with Elizabeth while I eagerly anticipated a marriage proposal from the military man himself. Dare I say I was as childish as Elizabeth's sisters when it came to the Colonel, give me a man in uniform and I will swoon on the spot!

The feelings overwhelming her made her laugh shakily. “Indeed, and what makes you think, sir, that I would allow you that liberty?” Darcy tilted his head and settled scorching eyes on her, his gaze traveling lazily down to her lips. “It is the very thought that you might that haunts me even now, Elizabeth.” - Karalynne Mackrory

This book did have its share of angst, but I must say that by the time it came I was overly confident all would be well and that my worry was for naught. This absence of major angst is counteracted by the amount of intensity that is within this book and this was the highlight for me! Rather than my usual "oh no I cannot bear this!" I was blushing profusely instead, there were words and sentences I  struggled to say and they weren't even my lines!!! Bravo Karalynne! I fear that I must end here as I may go on and on. A truly, unexpected master piece of sheer delight, that I could not put down, however hard I tried (okay I will be honest I did not try, I did everything within my power to do just the opposite). A highly recommended read to be sure!!

This book is worthy of 5 hearts - Mr Darcy!

As always I love to hear any comments you may have, they are most welcome!

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

A Lasting Love Affair by P.O.Dixon

I always enjoy P.O Dixon's stories, Darcy and Elizabeth are always slightly different in each one, due to some change in particulars, often meeting one another following a life changing event, such as Darcy being younger or Elizabeth as a widow.

I was excited to read this new instalment from Dixon, which is a Pride and Prejudice 'what if'.
Dear Jane, never makes it to Netherfield as she turns around in the down pour of rain and heads home.
I always did wonder at Mrs Bennets' comment that 'nobody dies of a trifling cold', as I was under the impression that in Austen's time it was possible and ever more probable in comparison to today, is this to be Jane's fate?

Mr Bennet has a sister, Lady Vanessa, her husband has died and left everything to her. With no children to inherit she intends to pass it down to her niece Elizabeth. Lady Vanessa has had little to do with Mr Bennet, since he married a woman who's family was in trade, therefore Elizabeth will now live with Lady Vanessa, in order to breech the rift between the two siblings. If Lady Vanessa is pleased, Elizabeth will become her heiress, solving the problem of the Bennet estate being entailed away from the female line, to their cousin Mr Collins. 

“It is a shame; however, I cannot pretend to be surprised. Horse racing is the sport of a gentleman, and your father practically forfeited his claim to such a distinction when he married the daughter of a tradesman.” - P.O.Dixon

Lady Vanessa's closest friend and sister in law is Lady Clarissa Holland, the two of them have designs on making a match between Elizabeth and lady Clarissa's son, lord Holland. With Lord Holland destined for Elizabeth, does Mr Darcy have competition?
On that note, enter Mr Darcy, who is staying with his friend Lord Holland at his estate Avondale, while his horses compete in the races. The world of horse racing is a first for me in JAFF and this added extra I found refreshing. 

Another positive about this book was the absence of Elizabeth's usual dislike of Darcy (well almost absent) and the two become firm friends very quickly. This development was nice as Elizabeth was slightly insecure and in much need of a friend!

“Though our meeting was by happenstance, as Betsy likely told you, I do not know that I would describe him as amiable.” In fact, I found him arrogant and a bit condescending. “As for your second question on whether he is handsome, I would say he is tolerable.” Yes—tolerable is the word I would choose. “Tolerable? Your description of the gentleman is in striking contrast to how Betsy described him. She spoke of his tall person and handsome mien and his eyes. She said if one were not careful, one might risk drowning in his eyes.” - P.O.Dixon

Lady Vanessa is like Lady Catherine in her haughty manner, which is an inevitable consequence of ones' rank is it not? Yet she has a good side to her and most probably a soft spot for Elizabeth, although she does not show it.  Lady Vanessa went up in my estimation when she had a quiet word in the ear of Miss Bingley, I do delight in Miss Bingley getting a set down!

This book was a pleasant read with some lovely moments, Elizabeth's private riding lessons with Mr Darcy for one. With a rival in Lord Holland, a jealous Darcy always adds to the excitement, although his boldness did board on arrogance at times. Elizabeth's inner thoughts were funny and a nice added touch, while original P&P lines were interwoven often bringing a smile to my face. 

I have read most of Dixon's books (He taught me to hope is one of my favourites) and this was another delightful read. Albeit it was a short read, however that did not stop me from enjoying yet another JAFF P&P variation. Keep them coming P.O.Dixon I eagerly await another!!

Please feel free to leave a comment! I delight in hearing the thoughts of others