Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Reviews of Several Pride and Prejudice Variations

Darcy and Elizabeth from the BBC Pride and Prejudice miniseries, 1995
Since graduate school and my introduction to Jane Austen's novels, I have become entranced by the time period, the stories, and especially the characters created by this pastor's daughter with a rapier wit. I have devoured and adored several of Austen's novels: Mansfield Park, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Persuasion among them. (Northanger Abbey is all right, but Emma I truly dislike...unless it's in the form of the '90s eminently-quotable chick-flick Clueless.)

So imagine my pleasant realization several years ago that an entire sub-genre of literature exists devoted to sequels, variations, continuations, and the like of Austen's works! I quickly located such books through our library branch, ordering novels by Abigail Reynolds and Maria Grace, among others. Then I discovered Austen Variations where these two wonderful writers and several more Austenesque writers shared their love of all things Austen, along with excerpts from their works. I was hooked!

I have been drafting a couple of Austenesque stories myself, and I've been fortunate enough to do some proofreading for Abigail Reynolds and Maria Grace; in fact, I'm currently proofing the third novel in Maria Grace's Jane Austen's Dragons series. Yes, somehow dragons and Austen have become the perfect pairing!! I proofread the second book in the series, and now I can't wait to see what happens in the third volume. It's a brilliant combination, and I have to admit to reading these first two novels close to a dozen times each!!

So as I proofread Netherfield: Rogue Dragon, here are a few other variations of Pride and Prejudice that I've been reading:

Mr. Darcy's Present: A Pride and Prejudice Holiday Vagary Mr. Darcy's Present: A Pride and Prejudice Holiday Vagary by Regina Jeffers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this "Pride and Prejudice Holiday Vagary" which takes place after Darcy and Bingley leave Netherfield after the ball, Mr. Darcy is seriously injured in a freak accident in town while shopping for Christmas presents. Somehow, the cards set with each gift, including ones he bought for Elizabeth but had no intention of actually giving to her, were mixed up, providing many tangles for Mr. Darcy to untie, including the gifts that were mistakenly sent to Elizabeth along with a card written to a former mistress. Yikes!

Darcy and Bingley return to Netherfield for Christmas to untangle the mess, and more hilarity ensues. It's quite the comedy of errors, but as we know to expect a happy-ever-after ending after so many twists and turns of fate, can we be surprised when Elizabeth and Darcy end up together at last?

A light and delightful read--truly enjoyable and very well-written. Ms. Jeffers triumphs again!

Mrs Darcy's Dilemma Mrs Darcy's Dilemma by Diana Birchall
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was an intriguing book as it looks at Darcy and Elizabeth 25 years into the future. They are the parents of three children, but Fitzwilliam, the eldest, is not like either his father nor his mother. He's a bit of a dolt with a passion for one thing: horseflesh. He races. He bets on races. He is idle and rather dissipated. Their next eldest, Henry, is much like Elizabeth. As the second son, his heart and mind are set on the church. Their youngest, whose come-out is looming, is Jane who seems to combine the best of both parents.

The "dilemma" refers to whether Darcy and Elizabeth should invite two of the Wickhams' eight children for an extended visit. The elder of the two daughters is Lydia all over again, but with Wickhams' scheming ways. The younger is a sweet girl, preparing to enter service as a governess to help her financially-challenged family. But will these two girls, who are ready for their come-outs, become hindrances to their sons? There lies the dilemma.

We also get to see the Bingleys (and their only child, a son who has reached his majority and is more like his cousin Fitzwilliam than like either of his parents, except perhaps with Bingley's impetuous, somewhat thoughtless, manner) and Lydia...and far too much of Kitty who is married to the local rector.

I found this book difficult to put down; I spent far too much time reading this book in the tub until pruney. It's a compelling read--to see our beloved characters this far into the future and measure how much--and how little--each has changed over the years.

If I could give a book a 4 1/2, I would do so here. I try to save "5" for classics and such, so a 4 1/2 would be fairer than a plain old 4.

Ardently: A Pride and Prejudice Variation Ardently: A Pride and Prejudice Variation by Caitlin Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A lovely Pride and Prejudice variation taking place four years after Austen's novel...but with Darcy and Elizabeth not meeting again after his botched proposal at Hunsford; she goes to the Lake District with the Gardiners and never makes it to Pemberley. Mr. Bingley does not return to Netherfield, either.

But once Jane is engaged to a man in trade and after she reads the quiet announcements in the newspaper of Mr. Darcy's marriage to his cousin, Anne deBourgh, Elizabeth becomes restless and happily accepts the invitation of Mr. Bennet's widowed but wealthy sister, Mrs. Mountford, to visit her in Staffordshire. The visit becomes a long-term situation in which Mrs. Mountford takes Elizabeth to London for a couple of seasons and loves her as the daughter she never had. Now moving in more elevated circles, Elizabeth at age 24 has truly become the young gentlewoman she was born to be. On a visit to Bath, however, she meets Miss Bingley and Georgiana Darcy, and she soon comes face-to-face with Mr. Darcy.

The majority of the novel takes place in Bath as the recently-bereaved Darcy and Elizabeth are thrown together by Mrs. Mountford's new friendship with the Countess of Matlock, Darcy's aunt, as well as Elizabeth's friendship with Georgiana. Elizabeth is also pursued by a Mr. Yorke, an acquaintance of Darcy's, and while Mr. Yorke seems bent on marriage, Elizabeth is less certain because of her "odd" feelings for Mr. Darcy.

This variation was a delightful read!! I finished it (the first time) in fewer than 24 hours; it was truly non-put-downable (I know--it's not a real word, but it will have to do.) And I've read it twice more since then!

Very romantic, very different, with new characters introduced and old favorites (and non-favorites, i.e., Miss Caroline Bingley) returning, this is one of the most delightful Austen variations I've read.

Yes, I just re-read Ardently, and it was truly just as good the second time as the first. I did remember what happens with the young Mr. Yorke, a college friend of Darcy's, who pursues Elizabeth in Bath, but I also remembered the ending, so I wasn't too upset at Mr. Yorke and Miss Bingley as I might have been otherwise. But goodness! Miss Bingley can't help but rub salt into people's wounds when they're down, can she?

A wonderful read--very interesting, especially Darcy's reason for marrying; I had forgotten that part!!
* * * * *

I shared the beginnings of one of my own Austen variations last week at our local writers' workshop, and I think I'll continue drafting it to see if it goes anywhere. But in the meantime, I'll keep reading books in this delightful sub-genre, especially as I proofread Netherfield: Rogue Dragon for Maria Grace! 

Reading, always reading,

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Book Reviews: A Stellar Medieval Mystery Series!

The Pine Valley branch of the San Diego County Library
Last fall, after checking out my books from our little county library branch (which is basically the social hub of our mountain village of 1500 souls), I stopped at the book cart by the door to peruse the donated books for sale. I soon found two books in a mystery series set in medieval England and snatched them up for a quarter each. While I am usually adamant about reading a book series in order, one book was the second in the series, so I felt that I'd be starting close enough to the beginning and could order the rest from the library.

And I became hooked. I love historical mysteries, and this one was meticulously researched and showed the daily life of Oxford in the 1160s. I quickly liked the humble Hugh de Singleton, a young surgeon just starting his career. His turn of thought was intriguing, and the way in which faith and the church were so integrated into daily life in this time and place was fascinating. Only twenty pages into the second book of the series and with the fourth book already purchased, I quickly ordered the first and third books from the library and settled into a new favorite mystery series.

Here are my reviews of the sixth and seventh books of the Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon by Mel Starr:

Rest Not in Peace Rest Not in Peace by Melvin R. Starr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This sixth adventure/mystery of Hugh de Singleton, surgeon, involves a murder in Bampton Castle where Hugh also works as bailiff to Lord Gilbert. Sir Henry, a former soldier who fought alongside Lord Gilbert, dies taking one of Hugh's remedies for sleeplessness. Lady Margery immediately accuses Hugh of murder, but Hugh discovers a very sneaky way in which Sir Henry was killed while he was sleeping deeply because of Hugh's remedy. More suspects start to line up among Sir Henry's knights and staff. Lady Margery makes herself decidedly unwelcome at Bampton Castle, and Lord Gilbert tries to hurry Hugh in his sleuthing, as always aided by Hugh's lovely and very insightful wife, Kate.

This series is just so consistently amazing in its accurate portrayal of life in a medieval English village near Oxford in the late 1360s. The author has certainly done his homework into life in Bampton; there really was a Lord Gilbert Talbot with his wife Lady Petronilla who lived at Bampton Castle during this time period. In fact, there are a few ruins of the castle still visible about the town of Bampton (where many of the village scenes from Downton Abbey were filmed). The living by the church bells and saints' days is shown as well as the dangers of the time, the food served both at the castle and at Galen House where Hugh, Kate, and Baby Bessie live, plus the different medieval occupations and levels of society are well-researched. Even the turn of phrase throughout the books never allows readers to forget the time period in which these mysteries are set.

I am now placing my order with the library for Book #7 in the Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon Chronicles. Such a brilliant series!!

The Abbot's Agreement The Abbot's Agreement by Melvin R. Starr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another wonderful medieval mystery set in Bampton--or near Bampton, in this case, for this seventh mystery in the Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon. Also bailiff to Sir Gilbert, Hugh de Singleton is on his way to Oxford to purchase or commission a Bible; his trusty personal guard Arthur traveling with him for safety. Nearing an abbey where they have helped solve a mystery previously, they come across the body of a young man which has been set upon by ravens and other forest creatures. Despite the body's level of decomposition and damage from birds and other creatures, Hugh discovers that the cause of death was murder. The aging abbot, recalling Hugh's facility in solving past mysteries, offers to commission a Bible for him from the abbey's scribes if he will stay and solve the murder. Hugh agrees.

But mysterious circumstance after mysterious circumstance build, confusing Hugh and Arthur as to the identity of the murderer. Another attempted murder within the abbey walls adds to the dilemma, besides the fact that Hugh's wife, Kate, is nearing the birth of their second child, and he hates to be away from home at this time.

Another terrific medieval "who-dunnit," meticulously researched and wonderfully suspenseful!! I am sooooooo enjoying this series!!

* * * * *

And yes, I am ordering the eighth book in the series as soon as I get halfway through my current library book. 

Reading with you, 

Sunday, April 1, 2018

He Is Risen!! Alleluia!!

The Resurrection of Christ and the Women in the Tomb (c. 1440-1442) by Fra Angelico
He Is Risen, Indeed! Alleluia!! 

The liturgical greeting for Eastertide is one that goes back centuries. But my favorite Resurrection Day hymn goes back only to the eighteenth century. Written by Charles Wesley, brother of John Wesley the English church reformer, I miss singing this hymn today with great gusto and joy as it is being sung at churches around the world. These words and the soaring music truly expressed my Easter joy in a Risen Saviour!

1. Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia! 
Earth and heaven in chorus say, Alleluia! 
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia! 
Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia! 

2. Love's redeeming work is done, Alleluia! 
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia! 
Death in vain forbids him rise, Alleluia! 
Christ has opened paradise, Alleluia! 

3. Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia! 
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia! 
Once he died our souls to save, Alleluia! 
Where's thy victory, boasting grave? Alleluia! 

4. Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia! 
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia! 
Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia! 
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia! 

Last night's Holy Saturday Vigil was so powerful. Lighting the Pascal fire from flint and steel, then lighting the Pascal Candle which is embedded with five small nails representing the five wounds of Christ, then praying together before processing into the darkened chapel with "The Light of Christ! Thanks be to God!!" We stop and sing this three times, each time lighting more of the candles. Then we pray by candlelight and Father sings the ancient Holy Saturday liturgy in plainsong--it's soooooo beautiful!!

The Paschal Candle, with the Greek letters "Alpha" and "Omega", the year, and the nails representing the Five Wounds of Christ

Then we read several long Scripture passages which tell our salvation history as God's people. We then re-affirmed our baptismal vows and celebrated the First Evensong of Eastertide!! With what joy did we greet the end of this amazing vigil, definitely my favorite service in the Anglican tradition. The candles, the incense, the Scripture passages, the vows, the prayers, and the joy of the Resurrection after the sorrow of Good Friday.

The Good Friday liturgy was equally powerful, but it was filled with sorrow rather than the impending joy of the Vigil. To read the Passion of the Christ from the Gospel of Saint John be crying out "Crucify Him!! Crucify Him!!" with the crowd, to stand at the foot of the huge Santos crucifix and venerating the wood, feeling the roughness beneath my fingers as I looked on the carved wooden image representing my dying--no, my dead Lord. Kris next to me was wiping tears as was I, and Chris' wife, Mary, was sobbing. My heart was so heavy as I imagined His suffering...for us! For me! For those whom I love! For every person ever created on this earth and every person who will be created in the future. His Love is that big!! Alleluia!! Thanks be to God!! 

The Crucifixion with Saints by Fra Angelico (141-1442), fresco  
 The Collect for Easter Sunday from The Book of Common Prayer 2011:
This Collect is prayed daily through the octave (Easter Week).
ALMIGHTY God, who through your only eternal Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life; Grant that, by your mighty power going before us, we may die daily to sin and live with him forever in the glory of his resurrection; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. (References: Acts 2.24; John 9.25; 1 Peter 1.3; Hebrews 2.14-15; James 1.4)

Easter Sunrise Service at Pine Valley Bible Conference Center, 6:30 AM
I rose early to attend the first Easter Sunrise Service in Pine Valley in a loooooong time! It was 34 degrees, so everyone bundled up with blankets and travels mugs full of hot drinks while we were led in worship and Pastor Noble gave the message. After breakfast in the Dining Hall at PVBCC, we attended 9:00 AM services at Pine Valley Community Church. before heading an hour away to Ramona to have Easter dinner with Keith's family.

He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!! 
Happy Easter!


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