Manga Classics: Emma by Jane Austen; Adapted by Crystal Silvermoon, Edited by Stacey King. Illustrated by SunNeko Lee. ISBN: 978-1927925355, Udon Entertainment (June 18, 2015). List Price $19.99 / Amazon $16.93.

Continuing their Austen classics in manga format, Udon Entertainment has released Emma by Jane Austen, adapted by Crystal Silvermoon. The story stays true to the original plot.

Emma’s governess turned companion, Miss Taylor, has just married a local gentleman, Mr. Weston. Emma feels that the marriage proves her ability as a matchmaker and she sets her sights on finding a marriage partner for her new friend, Harriet Smith. Emma believes the new cleric, Mr. Elton, would make a good match for Harriet. Unfortunately for Emma, Mr. Elton has a totally different idea for the role of his wife-to-be.

Emma, as it soon becomes obvious, isn’t as astute an observer of the people around her as she believes she is. Even with warnings from her brother-in-law and close friend, Mr. Knightley, she forges ahead with her plans. There’s a few other plot lines involved in the story as Mr. Westin’s son, Frank Churchill, visits the area about the time a local widow’s niece, Jane Fairfax, drops in for a visit.

Misunderstandings, confusion, embarrassment, and of course a few twists and turns as well as a surprising and a few not so surprising matches between various characters occur. Austen’s books often, or should I say always, end with a wedding or at least a proposed happily ever after to follow the last page.

The artwork is lovely, as you can tell from the cover image. As with most manga, you read from the back of the book to the front and there is a short tutorial explaining how to read the pages (top to bottom but right to left). For those who have never read manga before this is a nice touch so you get off to a good start.

For true fans of Austen’s works you will find some liberties with the social conventions that existed at the time of the story. Women could not write to unrelated men — but, this does take place in this book. There’s also several other social convention that would not have happened to the characters due to their positions in society so some scenes are a bit jarring.

This adaptation will give readers the storyline and the characters with much of the same delightful tone as the original work by Austen. This is a great series and a wonderful way to introduce readers to these classics.

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From Notting Hill with Love Actually
From Notting Hill with Love…Actually by Ali McNamara. Sourcebooks Landmark (October 1, 2012) ISBN: 978-1402269486. Trade Paperback ($14.99 / Amazon $10.19) Kindle eBook ($10.94).

With a title that mentioned two of my favorite movies, I could hardly resist the chance to read this book.

Scarlett O’Brien loves movies which happens to work well with her job. She and her father own a company that makes and repairs popcorn machines mostly used by movie theaters. Her fiance, David, and his family own a string of movie theaters. You’d think it was a match made in heaven except that neither her father or David like movies all that much. They were constantly at Scarlett to grow up and pay attention to her life because movies were pure fantasy. After a particularly stressful dinner with some of David’s clients, Scarlett wasn’t sure what she wanted to do about her upcoming wedding and even about David and her fathers attitude toward her movie addiction, as they called it.

Scarlett daydreamed about movies when life got boring and living with David it often got boring. She’d pretend she was in a movie: acting out scenes that now starred her, getting an award for best actress, writing a great screenplay, or meeting one of her favorite actors. Even her best friend, Maddie, thought she spent far too much time at the movies or dreaming about them. Maddie did feel that Scarlett needed a break from David so she called a friend who needed a house-sitter and set it up for Scarlett to live at their house on Notting Hill for a month. Scarlett thought she’d use the month to see just how many movie moments she could have and prove to David, Maddie, and her father that life could be like a movie.

That’s the set up and it’s actually fun as Scarlett meets some interesting and quirky characters as she moves into the house at Notting Hill beginning with Oscar who came around a corner and spilled orange juice on her when neither one was paying attention to where they were going. Through Oscar she met a number of other shop owners and residents of the area. Her next door neighbor, Sean, first met in the travel bookstore from the movie and didn’t make a very good first impression.

The book is filled with movie references — old and new. Life becomes anything but boring while house sitting as her new friends band together to help her gather movie moments. When they find out that her mother left her and her father when she was very, very young and she wants to find her everyone kicks into high gear to help her out — including Sean.

From Notting Hill with Love Actually is pure fun. Scarlett is a professional woman with a romantic bent trying to do the right thing for everyone around her often to her own detriment. She’s no more a dreamer than many people but her life has so much more opportunity for boredom that personally, I can’t blame her to escaping to her daydreams — who hasn’t in the midst of a boring staff meeting. She does have a tendency, as most romantic comedy heroines do, to jump to conclusions before getting the facts and this drives a lot of the plot.

There’s no lesson here; however, it is interesting to note that just as in life trying to force an event to happen the way you want often blows up in your face while the spontaneous events that are inline with your desires and hopes often go unnoticed or unappreciated. If every reader thought about their daily life and the spontaneous events and acts that give them joy — maybe just maybe they’d find that life is often like a movie — hopefully a romance not a drama.

As always, I look forward to comments and impression from those who have also read the book.

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The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy by Regina Jeffers
The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy: A Pride and Prejudice Mystery by Regina Jeffers. Ulysses Press; Original edition (April 17, 2012) ISBN: 978-1612430454. Trade Paperback. (List: $14.95 / Amazon: $10.17 / Kindle: 9.66)

When The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy opens, the Darcys are worried because they haven’t heard from Geogiana since she headed north to open her husband’s home and ready it for his return. Georgiana and Colonel, now Major General Fitzwilliam were married in a previous book. However, the Darcys can’t do much about it as they’re preparing for Kitty Bennet’s marriage. There’s plenty to keep everyone busy.

Things take a desperate turn when notice is sent to the family that Major General Fitzwilliam was dead. Efforts were made to contact Georgiana, knowing she shouldn’t be alone at this time of grief. However, the news is shocking when they learn that Georgiana is missing and presumed dead on the moors. The Darcys spring into action to find out what happened to her.

Meanwhile, the reader is privy to a second story line. A lovely woman was found injured on the moors and taken to the MacBethan’s castle. Her memory is fragmentary at best after a fall from her horse. She has hazy memories of screams and pleas for help prior to awakening in a very plain room in the castle. The Lord of the castle takes her under his protection. She’s beginning to fall in love with him but something is holding her back — she feels there may be someone else in her past. More than that, she’s aware that she’s not an injured guest, but a prisoner and must watch all she says and does.

Then of course there’s another tread throughout the novel of George Wickham and his thirst for vengeance, his greed, and his hatred of Darcy. His actions twine about the other two plot threads.

Jeffers manages to keep the reader guessing as to the identity of the woman in the castle. Is she Georgiana? If so, how could she even think about falling in love with someone other than Fitzwilliam? If she isn’t Georgiana, then who is she? Does that mean Georgiana is really dead?

The point of view characters never really give away the few facts the reader is really desperate to know concerning Georgiana. They only know what they can learn from others or interpret from what they’ve found out. Even when you’re in the mind of the injured woman in the castle, you don’t learn who she is because her head injury means she doesn’t know who she is either.

The pace drags in a few places but seem to be mostly when the reader needs information that the characters have learned or are in the process of learning. Otherwise, it moves smoothly between the various plot lines and characters, all filling in needed information and helping us get a better feel for what is happening and the background.

That said, I found the book frustrating. At any time the author could have told us who the woman was and what had happened to Georgiana. By the end, when all is revealed, I felt that I’d been sitting on pins and needles for hours hoping everything would turn out okay and fearing that it wouldn’t. That Jeffers could pull such an emotional reaction from me, speaks to how well I thought she handled the misdirection and obstruction required by the main story line of Georgiana’s disappearance.

The characters are all very much as they were in the original work by Austen. There’s been no appreciable change to their basic character except that Geogiana, in the first part of the book, has come into her own as a strong, independent minded woman of her times. There are far more characters as lives have moved on, and there have been marriages and children added to the various family groups. Luckily, there’s a list of the major characters and their relationships to bring readers who haven’t read previous books up to speed on who’s who.

The book was released in April so should be readily available to those who enjoy the Pride and Prejudice follow-on books. If you’ve already read the book, I’d love to hear your opinions.

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The Most Improper Miss Sophie Valentine by Jayne Fresine
The Most Improper Miss Sophie Valentine by Jayne Fresine. Sourcebooks Casablanca (June 1, 2012). ISBN: 978-1402265976. Mass Market Paperback. (Amazon: $6.99 / Kindle $5.94).

It all started when Sophie Valentine, in a bid for independence, and sick of hearing how she and her Aunt Finn where a dreadful drag on her brother, Henry Valentine, and his wife, Lavinia’s, expenses, placed a simple and straightforward advertisement in the Farmer’s Gazette:

Wanted: one husband, not too particular. Small dowry, several books, sundry furnishings, and elderly aunt included. Idlers, timewasters, and gentlemen with other attachments need not apply. — Miss Sophie Valentine.

Actually, it started long before she wrote that advertisement. Sophie just didn’t fit in. She wanted more but no matter what she did, she was either causing problems or not acting properly. That’s why, while waiting for James Hartley to fetch her a cool drink, she’d jumped off the balcony. She still didn’t understand why she jumped — but it left her with a scarred face and banishment to the country estate of her brother.

It was there that Lazarus Kane came in reply to her advertisement. Lazarus is actually looking for a wife and he’s rented the small estate next door to the Valentines. He intends to marry Sophia and doesn’t care how long it takes to win her.

It’s the 1800s, and women don’t have a lot of freedom of any sort. Since her jump, Sophia has been made to feel as if she’s a simpleton. She fills her time by teaching at the local school. Her brother tolerates this aberration, but he and his wife are continually telling Sophia what to do and how to act, and that teaching is not a proper occupation for a lady. Sophia is smothering under tons of shouldn’t do that and must not do this and worst of all act like a lady.

The Most Improper Miss Sophia Valentine is a romance. However, it is also a peek into the life of a woman who doesn’t fit in her society. The time period is just when education for the lower classes was being considered a good thing for the country, though many of the landed gentry thought education would give them ideas above their station. Women didn’t have much scope for their talents or education in the upper classes except to be a proper accessory to their husbands — running the household, giving parties, and begin a gracious hostess to her husbands friends. Money went from son to son and women had to be cared for by their male relatives or, as Mrs. Bennet would say, “starve in the hedgerows.”

Fresina tells the story from the point of view of Sophia and Lazarus, depending on which view will give the reader the information that the reader should have. Fresina manages to give the reader a taste of the time period (with a few exceptions for plot) and the place of women at that time.

The Most Improper Miss Sophia Valentine is delightful as Sophia and Lazarus spar with each other, her brother tries to keep control of the situation, and all the neighbors maneuver to enjoy the show. For all her unconventionality, I found it difficult to believe that it took Sophia so long to trust herself.

On the other hand, Aunt Finn was hilarious. Finn never married and is considered the black sheep of the family. Sophia is often told she’ll turn out like her Aunt Finn. Finn may be a bit dotty, but she’s certainly a lot sharper than she lets on to her nephew, and she does trust Sophia to make her own choices.

This is a light story that will entertain you on a dreary day.

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Cover of Nadia Knows Best by Jill Mansell
Nadia Knows Best by Jill Mansell. Sourcebooks Landmark (May 1, 2012) ISBN: 978-1402265167. Trade Paperback: $14.00 (Amazon: $11.08 / Kindle: $10.22).

When Nadia Kinsella’s car slid off the road in a snow storm, she ended up spending the night, talking about everything with Jay Tiernan, whose car had also run off the road. Somehow, Nadia assumed that Jay was gay and thus didn’t worry about impressions and relationship issues but just enjoyed the company — after all she had a boyfriend, Laurie Welsh, who worked as a fashion model.

Nadia lived with her father and two sisters in the home of her grandmother, Miriam Kinsella. Clare was slightly younger than Nadia and an artist. Tilly was 13 and still in school. Somehow everything worked out. Nadia was cautious, Clare a bit wild, and Tilly was quiet and studious. They even got along with Miriam’s loudmouthed parrot — Harpo. (I mean how can you resist a book where the loudmouth parrot is named after the silent Marx brother?)

Having read a previous book by Jill Mansell, I knew things were probably going to go wrong for our main character, Nadia — maybe even horribly wrong. But since these are considered chick lit romances, you can pretty well rest assured that the ending will be happy for our main character. Well, you’d be mostly right.

In point of fact things go horribly wrong for just about everyone — Miriam, Nadia, Clare, and even for their father, James. Mansell doesn’t necessarily follow the expectations of her readers — for the betterment of the book, if you ask me.

Nadia Knows Best as a title does imply that Nadia believes she knows what’s best for herself and others. Thinking you know what is in your own best interest, as well as that of those you love, is a sure fire way to find out just how little you know about your best interest, and that of your loved ones. While you may have the issues down solid — love, happiness, support — how those things are to be achieved is essentially a moving target with no single answer for anyone.

Nadia has her heart broken and her confidence shattered. But, she comes out swinging and when she runs into an opportunity to do the kind of work she’s always dreamed of doing, she takes a chance. Of course, that’s when everything goes pear-shaped and the family seems to be falling apart at the seams. Not because they don’t care for each other, but because they care too much.

In many books the family the characters are born into isn’t necessarily the family the stories are about. In Nadia Knows Best, a close loving family nearly loses each other because they care too much to put their feelings first. They fear that if they say what they want, that they’ll be influencing the other person and thus forcing them into something they don’t want to do.

As a reader, we’re glued to the pages, hoping that they’ll realize that talking things out with each other is how we not only communicate information, but how we feel, what we want out of live, and how we appreciate and love those around us. Mansell’s goal I’m sure was to tell as good story. That the story she told resonates with the reader would be an added benefit. The characters have real-life problems, maybe on a level that many of us don’t have, but none the less ones that real people deal with each day — dashed hopes, ex-spouses and all the baggage that entails: spite, love, loss, longing, caring, and hard choices. That’s what makes us human and what makes readers connect to a story.

Chick Lit is considered by many to be light and fluffy — but many of the authors write stories that have depth and deal with issues that readers deal with in their own lives. Enjoy Nadia Knows Best, it will entertain you and it just may get you to think outside the box.

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Cover of Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale
Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale. Trade Paperback. ISBN: 978-1608196258. 288 pages. Bloomsbury USA; 1 edition (January 31, 2012) (Amazon: $14.61 / Kindle: $9.99)

Charlotte Constance Kinder is nice. She’s been nice almost from birth. She did all the right things. She got married and had two children, Lu and Beckett. Once the children were in school, she got a bit bored and started her own online business. It was a great success and she sold it for a lot of money. Bored again she started another company which also was successful. Then Charlotte’s husband divorced her. Charlotte was blindsided by this and continually tried to figure out what she did wrong. By the time her ex married his mistress, Justice, Charlotte barely felt anything anymore. But she was still nice — it was habit by now.

On the suggestion of a friend, Charlotte read the novels of Jane Austen. Of course, we can guess what happened next. Charlotte felt emotions again — gentle, tiny flutterings, but emotions none the less. When the children go to stay with their dad and stepmom, what’s a mother to do? Book a vacation in Austenland, of course.

I’d read Austenland when it first came out so it’s been a while. I still loved meeting some of the characters that I’d first been introduced to then. Charlotte was more than ready to enjoy Austenland, after all she was nice and appreciated the little niceties of civilized behavior that Austen portrayed in her books. Readers who’d first visited Austenland in the previous book will note right away that Austenland has fallen on hard times of late. Of course that could be due to the war with the French — provided you stay in character. For those of us, in this time period, we see the signs of marital strife over assets coupled with an economic downturn.

Never the less, Charlotte’s vacation is going well, until she finds a body. No one believes her and she must decide what to do, how to find out who was killed, and who is to blame. This is a vacation that will change Charlotte’s perceptions of herself and her previous life. Once her vacation in Austenland is over, Charlotte will never be the same.

Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale is much darker than the Austenland. The previous book was basically a romance and this one is a murder mystery with romance. The characters are interesting and as quirky, witty, charming, and annoying as you’d be likely to meet during a Regency country house stay. The story is also told from Charlotte’s point of view, with flash backs to previous periods in her life. Charlotte makes a great point of view characters as she has a habit of arguing with herself — some of which made me laugh out loud.

If you enjoyed Austenland, you’re sure to enjoy Midnight in Austenland. However, you don’t need to read the first book in order to enjoy this one. Pick up the book, settle down with your beverage of choice and slip away with Charlotte to Austenland.

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Cover of Compulsively Mr. Darcy by Nina Benneton Compulsively Mr. Darcy by Nina Benneton. Sourcebooks Landmark (February 1, 2012). ISBN: 978-1402262494. 359 Pages. (Amazon: $9.89 / Kindle: $9.99).

It’s all the rage to adopt a child in a foreign country — and engenders more social status if the child is dissimilar to the adopting couple in ethnicity. So, Mr. and Mrs. Hurst have decided to adopt a child. Charles Bingley decided they needed someone responsible to come along so he invited William Darcy — that it would also get Darcy out of the office was a plus. So, Bingley, Darcy, the Hursts, and Caroline are in Da Nang, Vietnam, to meet with the managing director of Gracechurch Orphange, Jane Bennet, and hopefully pick up their child.

On the way to their hotel, they end up in a traffic jam. Charles can’t stand sitting still so he hops out and asks a man riding a bicycle carrying a load of live chickens if he can try riding it. Of course he falls, scattering chickens and managing to gash his leg badly enough to require stitches. Darcy swings into action and learns of a local hospital with an American doctor, and hires a bicycle taxi to take them there. Darcy can’t bring himself to enter the hospital due to his fear of germs and painful associations, so he opts to wait outside.

When the waiting becomes intolerably longer than it should be, in Darcy’s opinion, he seeks out Bingley only to find him still waiting for treatment. Darcy is outraged and demands to see the doctor while lifting the towel over Bingley’s leg. A glimpse of the blood on Bingley’s leg causes Darcy to faint. A clog prodding his face trying to bring him to consciousness is his first introduction to Dr. Elizabeth Bennet. Neither comes out of this encounter proud of their actions.

Thus begins, Compulsively Mr. Darcy by Nina Benneton. This modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice contains many of Austen’s beloved characters: The Bennets, Darcy and Georgiana, Fitzwilliam, Anne and Catherine de Bourgh, Wickham, Mrs. Reynolds, and a couple of surprises from another Austen novel. However, Benneton has updated them by examining their characteristics and matching them to current medical labels. For example, Mr. Darcy, who we know wants to protect those he cares about and takes all his commitments to others including his tenants and servants very seriously, suffers from, as title of the book implies, OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). Charles Bingley, on the other hand, has recently been diagnosed with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). You can see that Pride and Prejudice makes this seem a very logical character choice from this quote:

“Oh!” cried Miss Bingley, “Charles writes in the most careless way imaginable. He leaves out half his words, and blots the rest.”

“My ideas flow so rapidly that I have not time to express them — by which means my letters sometimes convey no ideas at all to my correspondents.”

Being a modern retelling of the story, not only were the characters updated, but the story was revamped to fit into our current society. Darcy is, of course, rich. He’s CEO of DDF (Darcy, Darcy, and Fitzwilliam). Fitzwilliam, his cousin, is a vice president. Bingley also works there. Meanwhile, Jane Bennet, as you’d expect from her patient and loving nature, is a social worker now running an orphanage founded by Aunt Mai and Uncle Gardner while recovering from an abusive relationship. Elizabeth is an doctor specializing in infectious diseases. She moved to Vietnam with Jane to keep her company. The relative social status is maintained as Mr. Bennet is a college professor. The Bennets are middle class and, while not hurting for money, do not spend it wildly either.

My only reservation about the characters is that the Elizabeth Bennet of the original was a great student of character until she allowed her first impressions to cause her to assign to Mr. Darcy characteristics he didn’t actually deserve, after which she became more careful of her judgements. This Elizabeth is impulsive and quick to judge others with minimal data. She makes life changing decisions without consulting those involved in her decisions and without input from those close to her who might be effected. Being a doctor who also does research in her field, this particular implementation of her character seemed too much of a contradiction. How could she possibly maintain her position as one of the top infectious disease specialist and be so incredibly flakey? Other readers may not have as much difficulty with this aspect of her character, but I wanted to make sure she met a very large clue stick. In other areas, it was incredible how these two very different people turned out to be just right for each other — and that takes clever writing when trying to be true to well-loved characters in a new environment and the changes that requires.

While Compulsively Mr. Darcy maintains the fractious nature of the original character’s relationship as they grow towards understanding and love, the details have changed radically since society and social mores are now very different from those of Austen’s time. As with many romances, there are sex scenes. For some traditionalists, this may be off-putting. However, the sex is steamy, fairly graphic (including phone sex), but easily skipped over if you like dislike such scenes. There are also several subplots that deal with today’s problems of inappropriate sexual contact.

Well written, witty, comedic and serious by turns, Compulsively Mr. Darcy has it all — quirky characters, evil villains, surprises, disappointments, and a great love story.

NOTE: Remember, I love to hear from my readers so if you’ve read the book or plan to let me know what you think.

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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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