Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Jane Austen Made Me Do It - Book Review


If you are anything like me and love the historical world of Jane Austen, but don't know what other books to read to continue the daydream, then this blog post is for you.

At the end of a good book, I always flip through the last blank pages hoping there’s more. In desperation for the story to continue, I seek out an appendix, references, epilogue, author’s notes, anything. The Harry Potter series, Lord or the Rings, Imaginarium Geographica, are all classic examples of worlds I never want to leave. These are all fantasy worlds. What I find fascinating about my desire to extend Jane Austen’s world, is that it’s real. Yes, Austen’s world is 200 years old, but it really existed in regency era England, and perhaps this is part of the draw that has created an entire genre of literature known as regency romance.

Jane Austen only wrote 6 books. But there are at least 300 books continuing the stories of her characters, her world and of the author’s life itself. After rereading Austen’s 6 books multiple times, I wanted more. But with so many choices, where to begin?

Jane Austen Made Me Do It is a brilliant anthology collection edited by the creator of AustenProse.com, Laurel Ann Nattress. Every story is completely different, covering a broad range of Austen related styles and all by established authors of regency romance. This is a wonderful way to sample the current regency authors roaming the bookstore shelves. I broke down the stories and other Austenite books I’ve read into four categories: 
-Stories of how Austen was inspired (biographical fiction), 
-Sequels & prequels (Austen characters continue in Austen’s world - these are my favorite),
-Contemporary stories with Austen characters out of time or following an Austen story structure (Bridget Jones’s Diary or Clueless), 
-Austen stories in an alternate universe (Cue the Zombies). 

I didn't review all the stories, but here's a decent smattering. 

Hopefully this review of anthology stories will help narrow down your decision of how to continue your Jane Austen interest, addiction, or in my case, obsession.

Jane Austen as Biographical Fiction:

Jane Austen’s Nightmare by Syrie James  
Other titles include: The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte
This is one of the best stories in the collection - all the characters of Austen confront the author. Marianne Dashwood is angry with Austen for making her so selfish and self-involved. Fanny and Elinor are too perfect. Emma is oblivious to everything, including her own feelings. And then there are the actual annoying characters that form a lynch mob. Will Jane find any characters pleased with their incarnations? This is an author who really understands Austen readers and dares to ask all the questions that constantly dance in my dreams.

Jane and the Gentleman Rogue by Stephanie Barron
Other titles include: 11 bestselling Jane Austen mysteries including Jane and the Canterbury Tale.
This is an enjoyable intrigue with spies and duels during the Napoleonic wars with Jane Austen as a spy accomplice. This is swashbuckling good fun and how I hope Jane lived her life.



Jane Austen and the Mistletoe Kiss by Jo Beverly
Other titles include: Over 30 novels - Publisher’s Weekly declared her “arguably today’s most skillful writer of intelligent historical romance.”
A sweet romance set in Austen’s town of Chawton. It’s in the vein of a Mr. Darcy-esque gentleman meets Mrs. Dashwood-esque woman, but the characters are given a little help from Miss Austen playing cupid with her Mistletoe stories. The writing is excellent, the characters endearing, and the story ends happily. This is definitely an author to explore.

Another book of note - Author not listed in the anthology:

A Jane Austen Daydream by Scott D. Southard 
(Yes, it’s a man! The only male author I know writing in this genre.)
All her heroines find love in the end–but is there love waiting for Jane? Jane Austen spends her days writing and matchmaking in the small countryside village of Steventon, until a ball at Godmersham Park propels her into a new world where she yearns for a romance of her own. But whether her heart will settle on a young lawyer, a clever Reverend, a wealthy childhood friend, or a mysterious stranger is anyone’s guess. Written in the style of Jane herself, this novel ponders the question faced by many devoted readers over the years–did Jane ever find love? This book is fun both for the Austen obsessed or the new reader as it weaves fact with fiction. It re-imagines Austen’s life using her own stories to fill in the gaps left by history, but gives her the happy ending she most decidedly deserves.



Sequels and Prequels:

Waiting, A story inspired by Jane Austen’s Persuasion, By Jane Odiwe
Other titles include: Lydia Bennet’s Story, Willoughby’s Return, and Mr. Darcy’s Secret.
In Persuasion, remember that Captain Wentworth once asked Anne’s father for her hand in marriage and was rudely denied. This story picks up at the end of Persuasion, where Wentworth must again ask for Anne’s hand in marriage. It also reveals a flashback of how Anne and Wentworth first fell in love 9 years prior. I’ve often wondered about the beginning and ending of Anne and Wentworth’s relationship, so this story was immensely satisfying. Judging from Jane Odiwe’s other titles, this author definitely delves into some juicy territory. Thank goodness someone is brave enough to bring back Willoughby!



Nothing Less Than Fairy-Land by Monica Fairview
Other titles include: An Improper Suitor, The Other Mr. Darcy, The Darcy Cousins
In true Jane Austen spirit - we witness the trivial disagreements of the wealthy. What happens when Mr. Knightly actually does move into Hartfield with Emma and her paranoid, hypochondriac, overly polite, easily offended father? Will Emma’s father ever comprehend the fact that his daughter is now more than just friends with Mr. Knightly? Will Mrs. Bates find her purpose in life? This author wonderfully captures all the subtleties and subtext of Austen’s "Polite" society.

Heard of You by Margaret C. Sullivan
Other titles include: There Must be Murder and The Jane Austen Handbook, which is a humorous and engaging non-fiction romp regarding the proper life skills from Regency England.
In Persuasion, I always wondered how Admiral Croft met a woman willing to travel the high seas with him. This story explains the courtship between Wentworth’s sister and Wentworth’s “Captain” Croft. In this story I learned that a “Roasted miller” is what sailor’s called a cooked rat. This author fills her stories with such succulent details. 

Mr. Bennet Meets His Match by Amanda Grange
Other titles include: 7 Austen retellings and Mr. Darcy, Vampyre.
I always wondered how the reserved, contemplative Mr. Bennet met and married the unreserved, frivolous Mrs. Bennet. This story proposes a likely scenario. This author writes in an excellent Austen style, has clearly read The Jane Austen Handbook, and is well versed in the weather and ways of the regency era. However, I must admit that I didn’t find the characters as real and relatable as Austen’s. But perhaps I love the aged Mr. Bennet so much that the young Mr. Bennet simply seemed odd.

Austen Characters Out of Time:

When Only a Darcy Will Do by Beth Pattillo
Other titles include: Jane Austen Ruined My Life, Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart and The Dashwood Sisters Tell All, which is part of “The Formidables,” a secret society that guards a treasure trove of “lost” Austen related writings. (That sounds fun!)
A modern day full regency attired tour guide stands on a busy corner in London, hoping to pick up a few tourists to share in a tour of Austen sites. Instead, Mr. Darcy, or at least a modern day person dressed like him, joins her for a tour. The ending of this story was ultimately unsatisfying. But the writing is good and she knows her Austen history, so “The Formidables” series is probably worth a look.



The Mysterious Closet: A Tale by Myretta Robens
www.pemberly.com (The original Austen website, established 1997)
Other titles include: Just Say Yes and blogs for Heroes and Heartbreakers.
A modern day story of a young woman wanting to escape it all by giving herself a weekend away in a gothic abbey, akin to Northanger Abbey. She requests the Radcliffe Suite (I would totally do that!), unaware that the suite is housed in the yet-to-be-modernized section of the rambling abbey. Remarkably, there is a closet that leads to an unknown room with an unknown man that may be real, or the ghost of Henry Tilney. Regardless, he’s hot! Austen has a talent for observing and displaying, with grand humor, the annoying behaviors of society, and so does this author.

Me and Mr. Darcy, Again… by Alexandra Potter
Other titles include: 9 bestselling novels including Me and Mr. Darcy and You’re Not the One.
Mr. Darcy appears to a woman in need of a little romantic advice. But last time he appeared, he gave her far more than just advice, and romance bloomed of a more physical nature. This is a tale of making a choice between a fantasy and reality, but when neither is well defined. This is the story in the collection that I repeatedly ponder. I keep discovering layers to it. Hopefully her novels are just as layered with the complications of human decision.



What Would Austen Do? By Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway
Other titles include: Lady Vernon and Her Daughter, an adaptation of Jane Austen’s early book Lady Susan. (Lady Susan is written as letters, and it's juicy - akin to Dangerous Liaisons. If you've never picked it up, you should!)
This is one of the most charming, surprising stories in the collection. A young boy simply wants to fit in to his new high school, but quickly discovers that in order to win the girl, he needs to stand out. Embracing his recent discovery of Regency English Dancing, he chooses to enter high school as the endlessly well mannered, impeccably dressed, boy gentleman, which obviously disturbs every teacher on campus. Every teenager should read this story! Imagine how wonderful the world would be if teenagers strolled around acting like gentleman instead of cell phone abusing, authority hating, vampire lovers?



Alternate worlds - including Zombie’s & Vampires

Jane Austen, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah by Janet Mullany
Other titles include: Jane and the Damned (Jane as a vampire), Jane Austen: Blood Persuasion (Vampire invasion of Chawton), Little to Hex Her (Modern retelling of Emma) in the anthology Bespelling Jane Austen.
A 1960’s English teacher helps three teenage girls better appreciate Sense and Sensibility by relating the male characters to the four Beatle’s boys. I give the author merit for trying the idea, but ultimately it failed. Considering she’s also the author famous for doing terrible things to Austen, I’m gathering she doesn’t understand the non-cynical, emotionally reserved heart of Austen's characters and doesn’t even want to try to appreciate Austen for the many reasons that make the authoress still so engaging 200 years later. But hey, if you have a love for both Vampires and Jane Austen, and for some odd reason think they should be combined, then this is your author. 

Other noted titles are Pride & Prejudice and Zombies and Sense & Sensibility and Sea Monsters. Personally, I was disappointed with both these titles as they simply plagiarized the book, changed a few lines here and there and added random monster scenes. Janet Mullany, to her credit, is probably more creative and definitely a better writer.

Intolerable Stupidity by Laurie Viera Rigler
Other titles include: Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict and Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict, which the author concedes could be semiautobiographical had they not involved time travel and body switching.
The anthology collection closes with a brilliant, totally surprising story ala Alice in Wonderland meets Law and Order: Special Austen Unit. The honorable judge Lady Catherine de Bourgh presides over a corrupt court whereby the defendants are a collection of authors who have retold, added zombies, or filmed Austen stories. In a Jasper Fforde-esque world, the plaintiffs are the characters themselves who are straining to maintain their true identity as Austen wrote them. Poor Mr. Darcy is perpetually wet which has caused great discomfort to his love life and health, which also leads to the swooning ladies of the regency court causing numerous offensive disruptions. How will the defense attorney ever save his clients?



Another book of note - Author not listed in the anthology:

Lost in Austen - Create Your Own Jane Austen Adventure by Emma Campbell Webster.
This is great fun, as you get to play Elizabeth Bennet and force her to make all the wrong decisions which result in her meeting all the Austen men at one point or another. Your social manners are tested as Emma foists you upon Mr. Elton while she rudely escapes with the handsome Mr. Frank Churchill. Mr. Darcy and his cousin Capt. Fitzwilliam fight duels over you, and Willoughby is extremely reckless with his carriage driving. Beware Northanger Abbey’s secret passages, as you never know in which book you might land. This is an adventure where Austen characters do everything their emotionally reserved hearts prevent them from doing. And you as the reader will agree that Lady Catherine de Bourgh is simply biding her time until she can murder Elizabeth Bennet.



There are new novels being written as historical fiction that take place in Austen’s time and tend to follow her basic structure and storytelling methods. Meryton Press is a good source for these stories.

More info - the two major Jane Austen websites are:
Austenprose.com - Created by anthology editor Laurel Ann Nattress
Pemberley.com - Where Jane Austen was born on the internet (1997).

What books am I adding to my nightstand? Willoughby’s Return, Jane and the Canterbury Tale, The Dashwood Sister’s Tell All from “The Formidables” series, and Lady Vernon and her Daughter. Laurie Viera Rigler is the most creative and inventive author in the collection and reminds me of my love for Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series, so she’s another author I look forward to reading.

And maybe one day I'll be invited to participate in such an amazing collection of stories.



12 comments:

  1. As usual, a very awesome post!

    I am having trouble getting my emails to you but I wanted you to know I have a blog post ready for you about the trip that inspired my current novel, if you are still interested in it. I just need to know how to send it to you for approval.

    Thanks for posting this information on this very informative blog!

    Susan

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    1. Hi Susan,

      Excellent - I'm so sorry for email trouble. Please email me at smcbride@caltech.edu. I work as a scientist by day and check my Caltech email at least ten times daily. :)

      I'm looking forward to reading your post. Yay!

      -Sara

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  2. What a delightful surprise. I am so glad you enjoyed JAMMDI Sara. It was a pleasure to work on this dream project. Best wishes with your writing.

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    1. Wow - Laurel Ann - You're my hero! I keep returning to JAMMDI over and over again whenever I get the bug to write a Jane Austen short story. It's a truly amazing collection not just in regency literature, but in general literature. Every single story is surprising, inventive and enjoyable. And the order you chose brilliantly kept me guessing at what might turn up next.

      Something that JAMMDI taught me about Jane Austen, is that what she DOESN'T say is as important as what she DOES say. As a reader, it's fabulous fun to not know the full backstory between Capt. Wentworth and Anne Elliot. Austen allows the reader to run away with their thoughts and create their own stories. Until I read JAMMDI, I never realized how few authors do that! It's a technique I've started to incorporate in my own writing.

      Are you going to publish another collection?

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  4. Thank you so much for the lovely review and the kind mention of my other books - my latest is also inspired by Persuasion like my short story, Waiting, - Searching for Captain Wentworth!

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    1. Hi Jane Odiwe - Please read my comment to Laurel Ann above, because your story personally helped me improve my own writing. Persuasion has so many open stories in it - I just love it! I've created so many stories about evil Mr. Elliot's naughty, selfish past.

      I just read the summary of your new book Searching for Captain Wentworth - I'm so excited! I'm buying the kindle edition right now!

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    2. You are most welcome. I am glad that JAMMDI has helped with your writing. I hope to edit an second edition in the future. What authors would you like included?

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    3. Off the top of my head - Scott Southard (Jane Austen Daydream), Josephine Ross (Austen's Guide to Good Manners), and Gail McEwen & Tina Moncton (The Lord & Lady Baugham Stories). Are there any old Georgette Heyer or Mary Edgeworth shorts that might be included? Can't wait for the second edition.

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    4. Thanks for the suggestions. it's always great to know what authors Janeites like. Keeping my fingers crossed that their will be a volume the second.

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  5. Thank you, Sara - I hope you enjoy the book - I'd love to know what you think! Good luck with your writing, it sounds as if you're having a lot of fun with it!

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