Saturday, December 3, 2016

Even More Book Reviews!!!

Here are some further book reviews. With the holidays coming up, you may have less time or more time to read (depending on your work and/or schedule), so here are some of the books I've read and enjoyed this autumn....

The Mistress of Longbourn The Mistress of Longbourn by Jann Rowland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very interesting variation of Austen's Pride and Prejudice, The Mistress of Longbourn finds a very diminished Bennet family. An epidemic struck the village of Meryton, taking the lives of many; hardly a family was left untouched. But Longbourn received the worst of it: the only survivors were Elizabeth, whose strong constitution allowed her to be the only one at Longbourn to fall ill and survive (although her convalescence was lengthy), and Kitty, the only one in the household to never fall ill. With their Uncle Gardiner in London as their guardian and their Uncle Phillips in Meryton to watch over them, Elizabeth and Kitty grow close during their year of mourning. Elizabeth learns to run the estate and Kitty the house, and with wise decisions thanks to a wonderful steward who marries the replacement housekeeper after Mrs. Hill's demise (as well), Longbourn is thriving.

And then Netherfield is let by a single man in possession of a good fortune....

A definite twist or three from the Austen's original, I found myself unable to put this book down. It was well-written, with delightful character development and plenty more twists and turns along the way as Elizabeth, now the mistress of Longbourn, has plenty of admirers to deal with.


Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife: Pride and Prejudice Continues Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife: Pride and Prejudice Continues by Linda Berdoll
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very detailed novel set immediately after the wedding of Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife shows us the many adjustments that must be made as two people possessing both pride and prejudice learn to live with one another. I found it to be a more realistic look at the Darcy marriage, showing both the ups and downs of married life. I very much enjoyed this novel.


Mr. Knightley's Diary Mr. Knightley's Diary by Amanda Grange
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Despite not being a fan of Austen's Emma in the least, I quite enjoyed Mr. Knightley's Diary, probably because the story was told from a completely different point of view and did not focus solely upon Emma. Mr. Woodhouse seems even more eccentric through Mr. Knightley's eyes, and Frank Churchill even more villainous and sneaky than Emma noted in Austen's novel. However, Mr. Knightley, set in his bachelor ways, is very kind in his estimation of his neighbors and friends, and he seems to realize that something is going on behind Jane Fairfax's calm demeanor long before anyone else had a single suspicion.

His manner of challenging Emma is because he admires her: the way in which she caters to her highly eccentric worry-wart of a father, the way she enthusiastically (but unwisely) takes on Harriet as her protege, her kindness to all around her. But he also notes her faults, and by the end of the novel, loves her more than ever.

It's a delightful book, one that I liked far more than I thought I would.


The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen by Syrie James
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was utterly delightful. A framed tale, The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen starts with our heroine, a librarian named Samantha, as she accompanies her boyfriend on a working vacation to England and there purchases a very old book. Once she gets it back to the B&B, a letter within the book is discovered...a letter that seems to be written by none other than Jane Austen! The letter hints that Austen had written a very early novel called The Stanhopes and that it was left behind at an estate called Greenbriar where her family had spent the winter months.

Samantha tracks down the estate and starts looking for the novel with the help of the estate's money-strapped owner. Once the novel is located, Samantha and Anthony takes turn reading aloud the story of Rebecca Stanhope and her father who are forced, under the cloud of a minor scandal, to leave their parish behind and accept the charity of family members. Miss Stanhope's experiences and feelings are the main focus of the book. She is a sweet girl, somewhat intelligent and quite lovely. Determined to marry only for love, Miss Stanhope's adventures create a wonderful basis for the novel.

If only Jane Austen had actually written this story or one much like it, I would be one very happy Janeite!

This novel is thoroughly delightful, and once I came to the final page, I flipped back to the beginning and started the journey all over again. A brilliant novel all the way!!


Hope For Fitzwilliam Hope For Fitzwilliam by Jeanna Ellsworth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The second in the Hope Series Trilogy by Jenna Ellsworth, Hope for Fitzwilliam picks up where the first book, Hope for Darcy leaves off. Elizabeth and Darcy are married, and Charlotte Collins, now a widow expecting her late husband's child, continues through her year-long mourning period. However, Charlotte keeps a dark secret regarding her husband and their marriage while Elizabeth, Darcy, and the Colonel uncover a secret account in Mr. Collins' ledgers, a secret that may affect Charlotte's future--and that of her child.

Charlotte and Colonel Fitzwilliam worked together to bring Elizabeth and Darcy to the point of courtship, then marriage, and while they did so, they began to develop romantic feelings for one another. However, these feelings seem to be impossible to act upon since the Colonel, as a soldier and second son, has not the means to support a wife, and Charlotte Collins declares that she will never place herself under the power of a husband again. So Elizabeth and Darcy, along with Georgiana, take their turn as matchmakers. But a far more powerful Force is at work, changing the hearts and souls necessary to allow love to grow and flourish.

The first two volumes Hope Series Trilogy are truly delightful and uplifting reads, and I am very much looking forward to the third and final book of the trilogy, Hope for Georgiana, currently scheduled for release in November 2016.


Treachery at Lancaster Gate Treachery at Lancaster Gate by Anne Perry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I started reading this book right when it was released, but because of my crazy schedule, I had to return it before getting more than a chapter or two into it. Then I had a long library wait until it was my turn to receive it again since Anne Perry's books are always so popular.

The Charlotte and Thomas Pitt mystery preceding this one was rather dull; in fact, I could barely get through it and had to renew the book three times (seriously!). Since Thomas took Victor Narraway's place as Head of Special Branch, I have missed Charlotte's usual nosing into Thomas' cases and I definitely missed Gracie's cheek. But both Charlotte and Gracie, and even Charlotte's sister Emily, were involved in this extremely twisty-turny mystery in which we knew almost from the very start whodunnit--as does Thomas--but the whys and wherefores all needed ferreting out and then to be proven. Even Lady Vespasia and Narraway become involved. Tellman, now married to Gracie, also returned to help Thomas to discover the motive behind a bombing that killed three policemen and injured two others, one burned almost beyond recognition.

Treachery at Lancaster Gate definitely returned us to the characters and content that has made this series so intriguing and memorable. It felt much like the "old gang was all here" once again, working together to right the wrongs they could despite the miscarriage of justice that was at the heart of the terrible bombing.

Kudos to Anne Perry for returning us to the Charlotte & Thomas Pitt novels that we know and love so well!! Thank you!!


The Secrets of Darcy and Elizabeth The Secrets of Darcy and Elizabeth by Victoria Kincaid
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Secrets of Darcy and Elizabeth is a very different variation of Austen's Pride and Prejudice. I don't even want to tell any details about the novel because it will ruin the surprises, and these are terrific surprises. Just one part seems rather far-fetched and unnecessarily strung-out, but I don't want to reveal what that part is because it will give away too much.

This is a wonderfully and gently suspenseful tale of Darcy and Elizabeth's love for one another against what seems to be terrific odds. It's definitely a wonderful novel, and I highly recommend it to other lovers of Austenesque tales.


Courting Elizabeth Courting Elizabeth by Renata McMann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A wonderful variation of Pride and Prejudice, Courting Elizabeth starts immediately after Elizabeth's refusal of Darcy's proposal in Kent. However, after writing his long letter of explanation to Elizabeth in the wee small hours, Darcy leaves the sealed letter on his desk and goes out for a walk. When he returns, the letter is missing.

Darcy is then confronted by Lady Catherine who not only entered Darcy's room but took the letter, opened it, and then berates Darcy regarding the contents. Anne de Bourgh, who does not want to marry Darcy, hatches a plan to take over Rosings on her 25th birthday per her father's will, but in the meantime, Darcy will have to court Elizabeth...and thus it begins.

This variation shows a very different Anne de Bourgh and also a very different Bingley, both of which seem more realistic to me. And Lady Catherine is nearly off her rocker with desperation to force the wedding between her daughter and Darcy despite their opposition.

There is definitely a good deal of suspense in this tale--and very strong character development to accompany the strong and intriguing plot. It's a wonderful "ride" of a story, one that fans of Austen will truly enjoy.

The Last Adventure of the Scarlet Pimpernel The Last Adventure of the Scarlet Pimpernel by Jack Caldwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jack Caldwell says that it takes a real man to write historical romance.

And after reading several of his books, I have to agree.

Although I have not yet read the first book in his Jane Austen's Fighting Men series, this second book. The Last Adventure of the Scarlet Pimpernel, was amazing. I've been a devoted fan of the Scarlet Pimpernel since watching the made-for-TV movie from the early '80s in my high school English class. Starring Anthony Andrews as Sir Percy, Jane Seymour as Marguerite, and Ian McKellen as Chauvelin, I was immediately swept up by the adventure and romance. In fact, I felt that this film was the exception to "the book is better than the movie" adage. I read several of Baroness Orczy's Scarlet Pimpernel novels while in college and graduate school, and I found them scattered, unfocused, and at times actually boring.

So when a lovely copy of The Last Adventure of the Scarlet Pimpernel signed by Jack himself, appeared in my mailbox, I was thrilled to have won the book in a drawing hosted by Austen Variations. And although Northanger Abbey isn't my favorite Austen novel, I was quickly pulled into Frederick Tilney's story . . . and his love-at-first-sight for the lovely Violet Blakeney, daughter of Sir Percy and Lady Blakeney. But despite the passing of a quarter of a century, machinations in Paris, brought about by Napoleon's escape from Elba, will draw Sir Percy into a trap set by a former patriot of the Republic. (Anyone who knows Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities will recognize Lafarge, the Parisian wine merchant and supporter of the Republic, immediately--a clever allusion, Mr. Caldwell!) And thus the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel is reformed with some younger members, to end the final enemy of the Scarlet Pimpernel and insure the safety of his legacy.

We get glimpses of other Austen characters, including Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy, Miss Bingley, Colonel Fitzwilliam, the Tilney family, and Colonel Brandon, as the story unfolds. A cleverly-woven story of romance, intrigue, revenge, and adventure, this book is utterly unputdownable (I don't think that's a word, but it's an accurate description). Okay, "compelling" is more grammatically acceptable and definitely more concise--and it is indeed a compelling read. The main focus is on Frederick Tilney and his growth in character when seeking the hand of the beautiful and spirited Violet. But winning Violet's heart is one thing; earning Sir Percy's trust is quite another.

A wonderful read--especially for fans of The Scarlet Pimpernel films. While Mr. Caldwell prefers Leslie Howard's 1934 foray into this character, I read this entire book imagining Anthony Andrews and Jane Seymour as we see them today as Sir Percy and Marguerite. And I couldn't help but envision Tom Mison (Ichabod Crane in the Sleepy Hollow television series) as Frederick. In fact, I feel a great need to re-watch both the 1982 Scarlet Pimpernel and at least the first season of Sleepy Hollow.

And yes, Mr. Caldwell, I will seek a copy of Leslie Howard's portrayal of Sir Percy as well.

So that's all of the book reviews for now. I'll post another handful later on, perhaps later this week. I started getting behind on my reviews around the first week of November when I had to start grading first drafts for my MLA Research Essay course at Brave Writer, and I haven't even tracked which books I read since then, much less have written reviews. So I'll try to go back and piece together at least my reading list from this time. 

Wishing you all a blessed Second Week of Advent! 

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