Cover of A Jane Austen Devotional by Thomas Nelson, Inc.
A Jane Austen Devotional by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Compiled and written by Steffany Woolsey. Cloth bound hardcover. ISBN: 978-1400319534. 224 pages. Thomas Nelson; Gift edition (January 10, 2012). (Amazon: $10.76 / Kindle: $8.79)

Each day of the year has a quote from one of the novels of Jane Austen or from one of her letters to family. If you love all things Jane Austen then this is a lovely volume to have. It’s not a calendar but more of a jumping off point for meditation on family, friends, society, expectations, and daily life.

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Cover of Mr. Darcy Forever by Victoria Connelly
Mr. Darcy Forever By Victoria Connelly. Trade Paperback. 336 pages. Sourcebooks Landmark (April 1, 2012) (Amazon: $10.98 / Kindle: $9.99)

Sarah Castle is seven years older than her sister, Mia, and that seven years made the difference when their parents died. Sarah quit school got a job as an accountant and continued to raise her sister.

Sarah is sensible and cautious. She now is self-employed, which makes it much easier to handle her OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) symptoms. Mia, on the other hand, is nearly all emotion and impulsiveness — good traits for an actress probably, but harder to deal with in normal every-day activities.

For Mia’s twenty first birthday, Sarah rented Barton cottage. One of the things that both sisters enjoyed was the works of Jane Austen. As sisters, Sense and Sensibility held a special place in their hearts. However, as often happens, plans that should lead to a satisfying week of together time instead leads to the sisters being ripped apart as a man, also on vacation, catches Mia’s eye while playing for Sarah’s attention.

The rift between the sisters results in them not speaking to each other for nearly five years. Things have changed in each of their lives in that time, but they are unaware of these changes and the effects that they have caused in their goals and desires.

Connelly sets up the division in their lives and then, after an appropriate period, sets in motion the events that will bring them face to face. What happens next will shape their futures. Will they get together and patch things up? Are they so hurt they’ll never forgive? Or will the magic of a Jane Austen Festival and a chance encounter bring these sisters together again?

In the process, we get to vicariously enjoy the Jane Austen Festival in Bath which takes place every September. As much as I enjoy the novels of Jane Austen, it never occurred to me that Barton cottage could be rented — it can, but as a B&B, rooms not the entire house — or that Bath had a yearly Jane Austen Festival. I looked them both up on the internet and did a lot of wishful thinking about both these new discoveries. See, books are educational.

Connelly’s story telling is top notch. The characters are engaging and the basic premise keeps the reader interested even if you figure out the major plot points before you get to them. After all it’s not so much that you know X happened, it’s what X means or how it affects the character’s lives.

There’s plenty to entertain and much to chuckle at but also some interesting characters to care about that resonate with a well loved story by a favorite author — Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen — who also cautioned against leaping before one looked at the consequences of their leap.

I enjoyed the book and hope you do too. If you have read it let me know what you thought — I love comments from other readers.

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Cover of Persuasion: A Latter-day Tale by Rebecca H. Jamison
Persuasion: A Latter-day Tale by Rebecca H. Jamison. Trade Paperback. ISBN: 978-1599559476. 240 pages. Cedar Fort, Inc. (February 14, 2012). (Amazon: $9.89 / Kindle: $3.82)

This tale is aptly named as it is all about second chances. If you’ve read and loved Jane Austen’s Persuasion, you’ll know the basic story. Anne Elliot was too young when she fell in love with Neil Wentworth. He was ready to commit but she was unsure of her heart. She allowed her family to persuade her to break off with Wentworth. They went their separate ways but now at the start of the book, the two meet again. She’s just as in love with him as she was before but she has no idea what his feelings for her are now — afterall, she broke his heart.

The story opens when Anne is setting up the yard sale to sell the things her father and sister have agreed that they can live without. Her father needs to sell her childhood home and move into a smaller house along with Anne’s older sister, Liz. Mr. Elliot is overextended and has maxed out all his credit cards.

On the day of the yard sale, she learns that there is a buyer for the house — Jack Wentworth, Neil’s brother. Jack’s coming over to look the house over and he’s bringing a friend. Anne is worried and her worst nightmare comes true — the friend is Neil. Later she learns that Jack has decided to buy the house and Neil is now a police detective, which is what he planned to become when they were dating. Neil seems aloof and uninterested in Anne and she can barely blame him after the way she treated him. She’s praying that he still cares for her but is afraid to hope too much.

Jamison has done a wonderful job of updating the original story to fit in today’s society with its different mores and values. Since all the main characters in Persuasian: A Latter-Day Tale are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), many of the values that were looked for by Jane Austen’s characters are also the ones that these characters look for: integrity, honesty, truthfulness, and a strong commitment to their religion. In this case different religion but with many of the same core values as those held by Austen and thus her characters.

What that means to the reader is that there are no lustful sex scenes. Jamison has to tell her story with only the actions and feelings of the characters that Austen would put on the page. She also has to set the characters into this world and this century. Neil Wentworth is a police officer. Anne Elliot works at a brokerage firm helping people weather the economic crisis. Mr. Elliot is always looking for a way to get rich quick and appear to be more than he really is. Liz Elliot is much better in attitude and attributes than her Austen equivalent but that may be because she needs to work in this century.

There is some talk of Mormonism and church functions but, based on the publisher, members of the church are the expected audience. However, while in a few places I thought it went a little over the top — hitting us on the head with details (and I am a Mormon) — it doesn’t detract from the story too much. Jamison also does show that no matter what your religion, there are bad apples in every group — otherwise how could you have tension and demonstrate the naivety of believing that just because a person shares your religion that you should trust them with no other criteria considered.

Jamison has, in my opinion, managed to stay closer to the core story of the original Austen Persuasion than many other authors and tells a good story with people you come immediately to care about. Anne is resilient, strong, and has grown up enough to recognize her own wishes and desires and is now willing to admit to herself what she wants out of life. Since the story is set in modern times there are some surprising twists and turns on the way to reaching what we know will be the best of all possible endings for these characters.

So, if you loved Austen’s Persuasion and have been put off by the blatant sex in some of the more recent retellings, Persuasion: A Latter-Day Tale may be just what you’ve been looking for. Give it a try.

Please take the time to leave a comment if you’ve read the book, I’d like to know what you think. But then I’m always anxious to hear from my readers.

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Cover of Dreaming of Mr. Darcy by Victoria Connelly

Dreaming of Mr. Darcy by Victoria Connelly. Sourcebooks Landmark (January 1, 2012). ISBN: 978-1402251351. Pages 370. (Amazon: $10.19 / Kindle: $9.99)

Kay Ashton’s mother was a patient at The Pines, which is where Kay became friends with Peggy Sullivan. When Kay’s mother died, she continued to visit with Peggy and read to her from Jane Austen’s works. Peggy had lost her sight and she enjoyed having Kay visit and share some of her favorite books. Somehow the age difference between them didn’t make any difference to their wide ranging discussions and shared interests. When Peggy died, she left Kay her entire estate with the hope that Kay would do something amazing.

Reading Persuasion had always made Kay wish that she could live by the sea. With the money Peggy left her, Kay decided to move to Lyme Regis and try to put her art degree to use by putting together her drawings for publication. For years she’d been working on illustrating the works of Jane Austen but had never sent her work out or tried to be published.

Visiting Lyme Regis to see what cottages were available, Kay found nothing she liked in her price range until she happened to see the ad for Wentworth House. It was large enough to be a Bed and Breakfast and thus, even though expensive, would allow Kay to make a living within sight of the Cobb and the sea.

Kay hadn’t even opened her B&B when a burst pipe in a local hotel led to a search for lodging for the director and four of the principle actors of Persuasion. Yes. Kay’s favorite book was being filmed in Lyme Regis. This was indeed a dream come true.

Once all the people are in place, Dreaming of Mr. Darcy is a delightful romantic comedy. Kay, an only child from a broken home, has always lived more in her fantasies than in reality. She can take the wink and smile of a handsome actor and in her mind be picking out their china pattern, children’s names, and where they’ll spend their next several vacations. She doesn’t stop with planning her life around the deeper meanings of kind gestures but tries to match others into happy couples with no actual information on how those people feel about each other — much as Emma Woodhouse tries to match Miss Smith with the vicar, and with about as much luck.

Kay’s flights of fancy are embarrassing as the reader can’t do anything about the train wreck she’s about to make of her life. We can only hope that things work out for the best. After all, Austen managed to pull her main characters together for a wedding at the end and a hopefully happy-ever-after.

This is not about Mr. Darcy or Pride and Prejudice. Dreaming Mr. Darcy is closer to Persuasion since it takes place in Lyme Regis and a movie of the book is the catalyst for much of the action. The story, at heart, is all about second chances and missed opportunities.

While Kay is the main character in the beginning, once the actors appear on the page, the point of view shifts between Kay, Adam Craig (the writer and producer of the film), and Gemma Reilly, who plays Anne in the movie. We don’t have just one romance developing we have several and they all come to a head in Lyme.

Dreaming Mr. Darcy is filled with interesting characters, wonderful descriptions of Lyme Regis and the surrounding countryside, and enough miscommunication and misunderstanding to keep any reader turning its pages.

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Cassandra and JaneCassandra and Jane by Jill Pitkeathley is a fictionalized account of the life and times of Jane Austen, told from the point of view of her sister Cassandra. So, while it’s about Jane and her life and writing it’s a step removed and filtered through Cassandra’s feelings and beliefs. I’ve read all but one of Jane Austen’s novels — some several times over — but other than an occasionally link to a letter on the Pemberly site, I haven’t read any biographies of her life. I thought this fictionalized account would be a good introduction, better than the two movies I’d seen (Becoming Jane and Miss Austen Regrets).

For the purposes of the book, Cassandra is looking back over her life with Jane and wanting to make sure that Jane is seen as she should be, as Cassandra wants her remembered. It’s a given that Cassandra burned most of Jane’s correspondence prior to her own death. Cassandra didn’t want to leave any possibility that people would see Jane’s rapier wit and misunderstand her gentle nature. It’s tragic that Cassandra didn’t put the letters in trust to be opened and seen at sometime in the future so instead we’re left with bits and pieces of Jane’s life and her view of her world.

Told from Cassandra’s point of view, beginning with Jane’s birth, then using bits of letters and other material with fictional narrative to tie the bits together, we get a look at these two sisters — their lives, their loves, hopes and dreams. Cassandra is definitely a woman of her times. Jane on the other hand is a woman out of time. She’s very aware of the unfairness of being a woman in a world run by men. In another 70-80 years she’d probably have been active for votes for women. Without making an advantageous marriage, the sisters would be at the mercy of their brothers and their brothers wives for their home, money, comfort, and there was little to no chance of independence.

Jane chaffed at this while Cassandra tried to help Jane come to terms with her view of the unfairness of the world. Cassandra, much like Jane Bennet, is willing to be used by her family as they feel is best because that is her duty. Luckily, or unluckily depending on your point of view, neither sister married. I find that lucky since if Jane had married it would be unlikely to say the least that we’d have ever have had her novels.

While I enjoyed the tale and the history behind the story, the narrative structure gives us a deep look into Cassandra’s thoughts and feeling and while she never does anything to hurt Jane or put obstructions in her path, she’s jealous of the time Jane spends away from her and is hurt when Jane turns to others for discussions of her works in process. The relationship between the sisters is believable and has all the expected ups and downs of family relationships. Even though I found I didn’t care for Cassandra much, I do have to respect her and her defense of sister and her works.

A worthy addition to anyone’s Austen collection.

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