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Laurel Ann "Austenprose" (Seattle, WA, USA)

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Jane and the Damned: A Novel
Jane and the Damned: A Novel
by Janet Mullany
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Spiked with wit, irony and romance, 20 Oct. 2010
It is 1797, and twenty-one year old Jane Austen's first attempt at publication, FIRST IMPRESSIONS, has been "Declined by Return of Post". Disheartened, but not dejected, she attends the Bassingstoke Assembly with her sister Cassandra. One would think that "to be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love," not to be turned into one of the Damned! What started as an innocent flirtation with one of the bon ton (but dangerous) vampires, changes Jane's life forever. Carelessly turned then abandoned, she is now one of the Undead. Struggling to hide her en sanglant urges Jane shares her affliction with her father Rev. Austen who is determined to save his daughter's immortal soul from damnation. He decides to leave immediately with his family for Bath so Jane may partake the waters, the only known cure for her affliction.

Weak from hunger, Jane visits the Pump Room for the first time meeting Mr. Luke Venning, another of her kind. He quickly convinces her that she needs to feast on him to restore her strength before taking the cure. Jane is revived, but now her vampire desires are heightened and she craves even more blood. She is still determined to stay with her family and take the cure, until Napoleon's troops invade England and Bath quickly loses the battle surrendering to the French forces. Realizing that her superior vampire skills could be used to oust the French from England, Jane rejects her salvation and accepts the mentorship of Mr. Venning who adopts her as her Bearleader. Training her in the vampire ways, Jane learns how to drink blood to survive and rip out the throats of Frenchmen, all in defense of her country.

Jane is indoctrinated into the vampire world revealing the pleasurable and decadent side of the Damned by reading minds, overpowering mortal thoughts and partaking in feeding orgies. She is even introduced to an infamous Royal who she previously abhorred for his dissipation and vice, but she now befriends as a fellow vampire. She is pleasantly surprised to discover that not all of her kind are narcissistic as they join together to thwart the enemy. As Jane becomes more of a vampire she discovers that she has lost her ability to write and her affection for her family is diminishing, including her dear sister Cassandra. Torn between her new life of pleasure, power and passion or her love of writing and her family, Jane must choose between the decadent life of the Damned or the chance that her books will offer her immortality.

If the plot summary raised both eyebrows, just remember to go with the flow and have fun. Janet Mullany has been touted as the witty love child of Jane Austen and Lord Byron for good reason. She is sharp and acerbic and irreverent; presenting a literary mash-up of a Jane Austen bio-fic, vampires and Napoleonic battles into an adventurous "sick and wicked" concoction.

This is a vampire novel with Jane Austen in it, not vice versa, so be prepared to experience our Jane as never before. The story is high spirited, outrageous and at times shocking (Mr. Austen giving his daughter his blood & Jane ripping out the throats of her opponents), but I am fainthearted and swoon at the thought of a putrid throat. Since my vampire expertise extends to childhood memories of Dark Shadows and the recent movie of the novel TWILIGHT, I can only attest to her Jane being a true bloodsucker and not the vegan variety that sparkles in the sunshine.

For those Janeites who were miffed at the notion of paranormal stuff in your Austen (a la PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES) best to try stumbling upon something more traditional. If you are in the mood for a galloping Regency paranormal spiked with wit, irony and romance, get ready for JANE AND THE DAMNED.

Laurel Ann, Austenprose
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 7, 2013 9:27 AM BST

Dancing with Mr. Darcy: Stories Inspired by Jane Austen and Chawton House
Dancing with Mr. Darcy: Stories Inspired by Jane Austen and Chawton House
by Sarah Waters
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 20 charming Austen inspired short stories, 20 Oct. 2010
In celebration of the bicentenary of Jane Austen's arrival at Chawton in Hampshire, the Jane Austen Short Story Award 2009 Competition was sponsored by the Jane Austen House Museum and Chawton House Library. DANCING WITH MR. DARCY is a collection of winning entries from the competition. Comprising twenty stories inspired by Jane Austen and or Chawton Cottage, they include the grand prize winner JANE AUSTEN OVER THE STYX, by Victoria Owens, two runners up JAYNE, by Kristy Mitchell and SECOND THOUGHTS, by Elsa A. Solender, and seventeen short listed stories chosen by a panel of judges and edited by author and Chair of Judges Sarah Waters.

Since the publication of her first novel SENSE AND SENSIBILITY in 1811, Jane Austen's works have been cherished by many for a variety of reasons. Some value her astute characterizations and biting wit, others her craft of language and social reproof. If my life-long admiration is any measure of my own flux in "favorite" characters, themes or stories over the years, then I am not surprised that my choice of grand prize and runners up from this collection are different from the august panel of judges. Firstly, there were many fine stories in the collection. Secondly, which ones would Jane Austen choose?

Here is my breakdown of stories by star rating: 3 with 5 stars, 9 with 4 stars, 5 with 3 stars, 3 with 2 stars and 0 with 1 star. This was based on my first impression; I did not reread them. On analyzing my selection of 5 star stories, I found that they all had strong connections to Austen or her characters, were told in a simple and straightforward narrative, and either made me laugh or pulled at my heart. In short, they used some of the same techniques that make Austen's writing so special. Here are my three 5 star story choices:

Grand Prize: SECOND THOUGHTS, by Elsa A. Solender

Poignantly told from Jane Austen's perspective, we experience her acceptance and eventual rejection in 1802 of wealthy suitor Harris Bigg-Wither of Manydown Park. Torn between her need for financial independence and their unsuitability, Jane ultimately decides "that a marriage without affection can hardly be an agreeable enterprise."

Runner Up: EIGHT YEARS LATER, by Elaine Grotefeld

Mirroring PERSUASION'S theme of finding the love that you thought you had lost, this story of a young school boy's hidden regard for his teacher who because of their age difference and positions must remain unrequited. She loves Jane Austen, so over the years he reads her novels over and over to feel connected to her. He is "half agony, half hope" until their fateful reunion.

Runner Up: THE JANE AUSTEN HEN WEEKEND, by Clair Humphries

Four dear friends, two days and one country house should equal a joyous celebration by way of a carefully planned Jane Austen themed hen weekend, but disaster arrives with a sick child, an overflowing toilet and all around apathy at Regency distractions such as whist and the pianoforte, until a plumber arrives to save the day with more skills than expected.

Overall, this collection offered a few real gems, a few disappointing surprises, and solid array of creative inspirations that had nothing to do with dancing with Mr. Darcy. I don't mind. Dancing might be a charming amusement considered one of the first refinements of polished societies, but, "Every savage can dance."

Laurel Ann, Austenprose

Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron: Being a Jane Austen Mystery (Being a Jane Austen Mysteries)
Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron: Being a Jane Austen Mystery (Being a Jane Austen Mysteries)
by Stephanie Barron
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.43

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jane Austen, Detective is back on the case and in peak form, 4 Oct. 2010
One thinks of Jane Austen as a retiring spinster who writes secretly, prefers her privacy and enjoys quiet walks in the Hampshire countryside. Instead, she has applied her intuitive skills of astute observation and deductive reasoning to solve crime in Stephanie Barron's Austen inspired mystery series. It is an ingenious paradox that would make even Gilbert and Sullivan green with envy. The perfect pairing of the unlikely with the obvious that happens occasionally in great fiction by authors clever enough to pick up on the connection and run with it.

JANE AUSTEN AND THE MADNESS OF LORD BYRON marks Stephanie Barron's tenth novel in the best-selling JANE AUSTEN MYSTERY series. For fourteen years, and to much acclaim, she has channeled our Jane beyond her quiet family circle into sleuthing adventures with lords, ladies and murderers. Cleverly crafted, this historical detective series incorporates actual events from Jane Austen's life with historical facts from her time all woven together into mysteries that of course, only our brilliant Jane can solve.

It is the spring of 1813. Jane is home at Chawton Cottage "pondering the thorny question of Henry Crawford" in her new novel MANSFIELD PARK and glowing in the recent favorable reception of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. Bad news calls her to London where her brother Henry's wife Eliza, the Comtesse de Feuillde, is gravely ill. With her passing, Jane and Henry decide to seek the solace and restorative powers of the seaside selecting Brighton, "the most breathtaking and outrageous resort of the present age" for a holiday excursion.

At a coaching Inn along the way they rescue Catherine Twining, a young society Miss found bound and gagged in the coach of George Gordon, the 6th Baron of Byron, aka Lord Byron, the notorious mad, bad and dangerous to know poet. Miffed by their thwart of her abduction, Byron regretfully surrenders his prize to Jane and Henry who return her to her father General Twining in Brighton. He is furious and quick to fault his fifteen year-old daughter. Jane and Henry are appalled at his temper and concerned for her welfare.

Settled into a suite of rooms at the luxurious Castle Inn, Jane and Henry enjoy walks on the Promenade, fine dining on lobster patties and champagne at Donaldson's and a trip to the local circulating library where Jane is curious to see how often the "Fashionables of Brighton" solicit the privilege of reading PRIDE AND PREJUDICE! Even though Jane loathes the dissipated Prince Regent, she and Henry attend a party at his opulent home the Marine Pavilion. In the crush of the soirée, Jane again rescues Miss Twining from another seducer.

Later at an Assembly dance attended by much of Brighton's bon ton, Lord Byron reappears stalked by his spurned amour, "the mad as Bedlam" Lady Caroline Lamb. Even though the room is filled with beautiful ladies he only has eyes for Miss Twining and aggressively pursues her. The next morning, Jane and Henry are shocked to learn that the lifeless body of a young lady found in Byron's bed was their naÔve new friend Miss Catherine Twining! The facts against Byron are very incriminating. Curiously, the intemperate poet is nowhere to be found and all of Brighton ready to condemn him.

'Henry grasped my arm and turned me firmly back along the way we had come. "Jane," he said bracingly, "we require a revival of your formidable spirit - one I have not seen in nearly two years. You must take up the role of Divine Fury. You must penetrate this killer's motives, and expose him to the world."' page 119

And so the game is afoot and the investigation begins...

It is great to have Jane Austen, Detective back on the case and in peak form. Fans of the series will be captivated by her skill at unraveling the crime, and the unindoctrinated totally charmed. The mystery was detailed and quite intriguing, swimming in red herrings and gossipy supposition. Pairing the nefarious Lord Byron with our impertinent parson's daughter was just so delightfully "sick and wicked." Their scenes together were the most memorable and I was pleased to see our outspoken Jane give as good as she got, and then some. Readers who enjoy a good parody and want to take this couple one step further should investigate their vampire version in JANE BITES BACK.

Barron continues to prove that she is an Incomparable, the most accomplished writer in the genre today rivaling Georgette Heyer in Regency history and Austen in her own backyard. Happily readers will not have to wait another four years for the next novel in the series. Bantam is publishing JANE AND THE CANTERBURY TALE next year with a firm commitment of more to follow. Huzzah!

Laurel Ann, Austenprose

Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition
Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition
by Jane Austen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £21.21

21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, sumptuous and satisfying, 24 Sept. 2010
Just when I thought I had more editions of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE than I should ever own up to, I will freely admit to just one more. After all, what Janeite could resist this tempting package? An unabridged first edition text; Annotations by an Austen scholar; Color illustrations; Over-sized coffee table format; Extensive introduction; And, supplemental material - all pulled together in a beautifully designed interior and stunning cover. *swoon* Where are my aromatic vinegars?

This new annotated edition appeals to modern readers on many levels beyond being a pretty package of a beloved classic. Austen is renowned for her witty dialogue and finely drawn characters, but not for her elaborate physical descriptions or historical context. When PRIDE AND PREJUDICE was originally published in 1813, this brevity was accessible to her contemporary readers who assumed the inferences, but after close to two hundred years words have changed their meaning, insinuations and subtle asides have become fuzzy, and cultural differences from Regency to twenty-first century are worlds apart. Anyone can read PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and follow the narrative, but it is so much more enjoyable if you can read it on an expanded level understanding it in social, cultural and historical context. Editor Patricia Meyer Spacks has not only added extensive notes on plot, characters, events, history, culture and critical analysis from a vast array of Austen and literary scholars, but added her own personal insights and observations from years of reading Austen and her experience as a college professor. From shoe roses to Fordyces Sermons to military floggings to the 19th-century meaning of condescension, readers will be informed and enlighted on every aspect related to the novel, the author and her times. In a nut shell, she has vetted great resources, gathered nuggets of knowledge and placed them at our feet.

As with all of Austen's characters, this new annotated edition of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE has its own charms, "frailties, foibles and follies." Weighing in at over three pounds, and encompassing 464 pages of unabridged text and fine print margin notes, this book easily reigns as the most all-inclusive and well-researched edition of Jane Austen's masterpiece that I have ever encountered. Considering that the elaborate annotation classifies it as a reference work in addition to a full text, it is quite puzzling that it lacks an index. In addition, the illustrations are expertly selected but sadly lost some of their refinement in the printing process, coming across dark and murky in places. However, I was pleased to see a list of further reading and illustration credits listed in the back of the book to encourage readers to "add something more substantial, in the improvement of [their] minds by extensive reading."

Beautiful, sumptuous and satisfying, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE: AN ANNOTATED EDITION is a monumental achievement that should be on the top of your holiday wish list and considered one of few editions available to be esteemed truly accomplished.

Laurel Ann, Austenprose

Murder on the Bride's Side
Murder on the Bride's Side
by Tracy Kiely
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Charming cozy mystery filled with odd, interesting, unique but somehow familiar characters, 16 Sept. 2010
An old Richmond, Virginia plantation, a festive wedding and family disputes set the stage for murder in Tracy Kiely's novel MURDER ON THE BRIDE'S SIDE, the second novel in the Elizabeth Parker mystery series inspired by Jane Austen's classic novels. A year ago, Kiely wowed me with her debut novel MURDER AT LONGBOURN loosely based on characters from Austen's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. This time we follow the further adventures of her endearingly flawed, angst ridden sleuth Elizabeth Parker as she draws strength and great quotes from SENSE AND SENSIBILITY.

The story picks up eight months after Elizabeth solved a double murder at her aunt Winnie's B&B in Cape Cod. She and her boyfriend Peter McGowan (who she reconnected with in Murder at Longbourn) are still an item, but the challenge of a long distance relationship niggles at her insecurities. He is joining Elizabeth in Richmond, Virginia while she fulfills her maid-of-honor duties for her best friend Bridget Matthews whose wedding is at the family estate Barton Landing, a former tobacco plantation fronting the James River. It would not be a proper old southern family without an elderly potentate to wield their cane and pelt cross words at their children, so Kiely has supplied us with Elsie Matthews, a meddling grand dame who likes to match make and foretell the future. Upon Elizabeth's arrival her ominous prediction of "death is coming" ultimately comes to pass the day after the wedding when the body of her daughter-in-law Roni is found brutally murder with a large kitchen knife in her chest. This is a tragic event, so why is no one grieving?

Elizabeth soon discovers that almost everyone in the Matthews clan wanted Roni dead. She is what Barbara Bush quipped "a noun beginning with b and rhyming with witch." She was the much younger second wife of Elsie's eldest son Avery, the heir presumptive and president of a thriving landscaping company whose recent stroke has left him in a wheelchair. His scheming wife (with a man-made figure) was determined that he sell in order to slow down and enjoy life. This news sends the family into a tailspin of anger and fear, so much so that someone commits murder to stop her.

Among Elsie's three children and their families the chief suspect is Bridget's cousin Harry Matthew's, a Willoughby-like playboy who is often in his cups but not at all the killing kind. Because of Elizabeth's success with sleuthing out the murderer at her aunt's B&B last January, she is called upon by Bridget to find the proof of the real murderer and free Harry. Could it be Roni's browbeaten teenage daughter Megan, Avery's starchy infatuated nurse Millicent McDaniel, womanizer and family leech David Cook, Avery's jilted girlfriend Julia Fitzpatrick, or Elizabeth herself, who is found in possession of the valuable diamond necklace missing from Roni's body? Add to this drama the coincidence of Peter's former flame, wedding coordinator Chloe Jenkins, is on the prowl again and Elizabeth will need to channel the Dashwood sisters: Elinor's inner strength and Marianne's passionate determination to solve the crime.

Written from her heroine's perspective, it was a delight to return to Kiely's breezy, familiar, blog-like writing style. It drew me into Elizabeth's anxious world as a singleton and struggles with confidence in her own abilities, building upon my desire for her to succeed. Like Austen, Kiely excels at endearing characterization supplying an array of odd, interesting, unique but somehow familiar characters. I particularly appreciated her descriptive use of metaphor and subtle humor. This mystery enthusiasts paid close attention to clues, had my predictions, but was still surprised at the final reveal. My major quibble is that this novel has even less connections to Austen than her previous outing. If you are going to claim that it has been drawn from SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, you better deliver. Elizabeth's ongoing relationship with Peter had its ups and downs - but really - how could anyone not be besotted by a man who can quote lines from Cary Grant movies by heart? Kudos to St. Martin's for the beautiful cover. BIG improvement. I am looking forward to Tracy's next murder mystery in the series inspired by Austen's PERSUASION. Yay! Men in blue. Go Wentworth.

Laurel Ann, Austenprose

The Season of Second Chances
The Season of Second Chances
by Diane Meier
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A witty coming of age at any age story!, 12 Sept. 2010
I recently finished THE SEASON OF SECOND CHANCES, by Diane Meier and liked it so much that I didn't want to write about it!

I do that sometimes after experiencing a great movie, opera, musical or book. When something touches me profoundly, I want it all to myself. Talking or writing about it somehow takes the shine off my new found treasure. And then there is that Bridget Jones insecurity tapping me on the shoulder telling me that my review could never give it due justice, or I would gush about it so much that people will think I am nuts. Well, more nuts.

So, I have been holding it in savoring my selfish indulgence until this week when I read Ms. Meier's poignant commentary on publishing, media and buyers perceptions of literature vs. chick-lit in the Huffington Post. I was miffed. Not only had her charming book received positive reviews from all sectors, it also garnered some not so complementary criticisms from those who wanted to classify it as chick-lit because its forty-something female protagonist renovates her home, and the cover has flowers on it. Flowers? Flowers now disqualify books from being literature and earmark them as chick-lit? Conversely, one reader review on Amazon hated it because it wasn't chick-lit! Go Figure! Like her sharp, funny and insightful book Diane had the perfect come-back to this dilemma.

"Okay, I wanted to respond, I'm sorry that you're disappointed, but it's like trying to blame a hot dog for not being ice cream."


"What I didn't see was that the chick-lit argument had landed squarely on my doorstep.

Was "The Season of Second Chances" Chick Lit or not? That, in itself, became the general theme of most reviews, professional and consumer.

"Five stars because it is NOT Chick Lit."

"Zero stars because it is NOT Chick Lit."

What? Who asked for this as a mark of critical analysis?"

I will let you make your own decision, but first, you must read the book to understand the debate. Here's a teaser and some thoughts...

Forty-eight year old English literature professor Joy Harkness has been avoiding relationships all her life. After fifteen years in the cold, competitive confines of Columbia University she accepts an exciting new position at Amherst College in Massachusetts. Eager to leave the spurious glamour of the New York lifestyle behind, she packs up her small cluttered apartment and purchases a once majestic Victorian house sorely in need of a major renovation. (not quite as disastrous as Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, but close). Everyone insists that she contact local home restoration magician Teddy Hennessy. The man who shows up does not look very promising and their first few meetings are discouraging, but Joy soon discovers that this thirty-five year old laid back mama's boy is a genius with plumbing, carpentry, vintage detailing and paint chips.

Joy's anonymous lifestyle from New York soon changes as she makes connections in the community of supportive female co-workers on campus and a romance with an eligible professor. But it is simple, unassuming Teddy who makes the biggest impact on her life, transforming her house and her heart. In turn, she thinks that he needs a make-over and encourages him to return to college for his degree so he can teach (like her). However, his sad past and his domineering mommy-dearest have a strong hold on him that Joy may not be able to fix with her academic acumen.

Meier has crafted a story resplendent with memorable characters ready to make you laugh out loud and nod your head in recognition of the foibles and follies in us all. Joy is a literature professor who has formed her thinking, and her life around critical analysis of classics books. She treats people the same way. As we follow the narrative she throws in all sorts of literary and cultural references as antecedents peppering the plot with descriptors at the most important moments: "His eyes narrowing like a small-town spinster at the suggestion of living in sin.", "She was a strange bird, almost attractive in a hard and urban way that "seemed to have flown too close to the scalpel."", or my personal favorite, "Like a stripper, I knew my routine, how much to reveal and when to cover up again." I read this book during my lunch breaks at work and laughed so hard that my co-workers (fellow booksellers) looked at me in amazement quizzing me on what I was reading. I was happy to let them in on the secret. "THE SEASON OF SECOND CHANCES was a witty coming of age at any age story filled with astute observations and characters so real and outrageously funny that Jane Austen would smile." There is more... but I promised I would not gush.

I loved the ending, but I can't tell you about it. Nope. Won't go there. I feel a personal affinity to Joy Harkness, being a single woman of a certain age who is having her own season of second chances. I wrote to Ms. Meier and told her so. She kindly replied that she wrote the book just for me! *purr*

Back to the literature vs. chick-lit kerfuffle. If Jane Austen is credited as being the grandmother of chick-lit and she is considered one of the finest writers EVAH - those good folks in book award land should take heed. THE SEASON OF SECOND CHANCES deserves its own second chance. Let's call it literature. No chick-lit. Even better, chick-ature. Any thing you call it, it's a darn good book.

Laurel Ann, Austenprose

For the King
For the King
by Catherine Delors
Edition: Hardcover

3.0 out of 5 stars Historical police prodedural set In 1800 Paris, 12 Sept. 2010
This review is from: For the King (Hardcover)
On Christmas Eve 1800, a devastating explosion by "machine infernale" on rue Saint-Nicaise in Paris kills twenty-two citizens, wounds fifty-six others and destroys dozens of surrounding buildings. Napoleon Bonaparte the newly self-appointed First Consul of France continues by carriage on his route to an evening at the Opera unharmed. This failed assassinated attempt angers many people, but who is responsible?

Napoleon has numerous enemies including his own countrymen. Could it be the Jacobin forces responsible for the French Revolution nine years prior who want their overthrown constitutional government reinstated, or the Chouans, loyal to the Catholic monarchy intent on the restoration of a deposed King? Napoleon is convinced that the Jacobins are to blame and immediately orders the arrest over a hundred known insurgents. The powerful Minister of Police Joseph Fouché is determined to prove to Napoleon that the Royalist's are at fault requesting Chief Inspector Roch Miguel to investigate two known Chouans, Pierre de Saint-Régent and Francois Carbon. To cover his bet the Minister has also offered a reward of 2,000 gold louis for any information leading to the arrest and conviction of the Jacobins who "committed the atrocity."

Suspicious of Fouché's speed in delivering these two names, Miguel begins the investigation into the assassins of the rue Saint-Nicaise from evidence and eye witness accounts. Miguel's superior Prefect of Police Louis-Nicolas Dubois influenced by his boss Fouché also believes the Jacobins are to blame. From the description of the suspects Miguel is not convinced the assassins are any known Jacobins. His boss points out the similarity to the "Conspiracy of Daggers" assassination plot by the Jacobins against Napoleon only two months prior. Miguel suggests they do not know enough yet and should not ignore clues that would lead to the Chouans. Dubois accuses Miguel of favoritism to the Jacobins because of his father's allegiance and blames him for not knowing of the assassination plot and preventing it. When Miguel's aged father Old Miguel is arrested as a suspect, Dubois gives Roch one month to prove that the Royalists indeed are behind the plot or his father will be deported as a traitor. Interestingly, the two suspects supplied by Minister of Police Joseph Fouché are quickly linked to the crime, but failing to find the elusive third man with gold spectacles may be Roch's undoing and his father's eminent death.

Based on the "Plot of the Rue Saint-Nicaise" author Catherine Delors has crafted a thriller from historical fact; - a police procedural in its infancy. Meticulously researched at the archives of the Ministry and Prefecture of Police in Pairs, the events surrounding the bombing and the eventual investigation give the reader an inside view of the political atmosphere of post-Revolutionary France and Napoleon's struggle to rule a country manipulated away from the new Republic and the old Royalty.

Psychologically, the conspiracy is viewed from the perspective of the two main male characters, young, honorable Chief Inspector Rouch Miguel and the revengeful mastermind behind the plot Joseph de LimoŽlan. Each represent opposite sides of the struggle: LimoŽlan a former aristocrat who watched his family guillotined and his property confiscated by the Republic and Miguel, a Jacobin peasant and citizen of the street who rose socially by education and hard work. Both working for their own France. Napoleon on the other hand is working for his own corrupt vision France.

Steeped in incredible detail, I recommend FOR THE KING to readers who love to be engulfed in an era and swept away in suspense and intrigue. Since we know the perpetrators of the plot from the beginning, this is not a mystery, but it plays out like one as the main character CI Roch Miguel must solve the crime to save his father and the Jacobin dignity. Those who like a good thriller will be pleased with the plot twists, double dealings and political machinations, however, those looking for emotional depth will be unmoved and short sheeted on the romance.

Laurel Ann, Austenprose

Emma and the Vampires (Jane Austen Undead Novels)
Emma and the Vampires (Jane Austen Undead Novels)
by Josephson Wayne
Edition: Paperback

2.0 out of 5 stars A retelling of a classic that had good intensions, 12 Sept. 2010
Austen and vampires. Two powerhouse pop culture juggernauts. Mash them up and they are irresistible to publishers eager to feed on the TWILIGHT & Trueblood craze. Here is a new novel that transforms EMMA, Austen's masterpiece of astute characterization and social reproof into a tale of Undead matchmaking blunders and vampire battles. Will Miss Woodhouse continue to be a nonsensical girl or morph into Buffy the Vampire Slayer?

Once upon a time, long, long ago in Regency times there was a handsome, clever and rich young lady named Emma Woodhouse who had lived close to twenty-one years of her life with very little to vex her. She lived with her kindly old father in a big castle named Hartfield near the village of Highbury. The Woodhouses' were the first family of consequence in the surrounding neighborhood filled with gentleman vampires. Their particular friend was Mr. Knightley whose pale skin, black eyes and fear of sunlight were attributed to his lack of sleep and dull appetite.

Miss Woodhouse was clueless that anything was amiss though the telltale signs of the Undead were apparent throughout their social sphere. The other ladies of Highbury were also un-mindful accepting the attentions and marriage proposals of the gentleman vampires without concern. Not even their children's pallid skin and need to hunt for small animals in the nearby forest alarmed them to any measure. However, in the dark forest also lived wild vampires totally lacking in social graces who feasted upon the young ladies in Mrs. Goddard's school or anyone else careless enough to walk too close to the shrubberies.

Oblivious to the real evils within Highbury, Emma proceeds to match make her friends to unsuitable vampires with disastrous results. Even though she has never had the discipline to apply herself to reading or drawing, or the desire to marry, she discovers quite suddenly that she is a skilled vampire slayer and proceeds to rid the neighborhood of the fiendish Undead while winning the approval and heart of the one gentleman vampire who she discovers she truly loves. And then, with all the evil vampires vanquished and her desire to be a misapplying match maker renounced, they lived happily ever after.

If this synopsis sounds like a charming fairytale of EMMA with vampires added in, that was my intention. It was the novel that I wished I had read, but sadly did not. I am exceedingly puzzled by what was attempted. A retelling of Austen's EMMA for young children, or adults that need a dumbed down version laced with vampires to understand the original story?

There is an inherent challenge in retelling a classic; how much to leave in and what to take away. Wayne Josephson has used Austen's characters and followed the plot faithfully. However, he completely rewrote 99% of the text in his own words. His choice of language is very simple and modern taking away the flavor of Austen's beautiful prose. Even her famous quotes were axed, removing any grounding to the original text and absolutely all humor.

The vampires have been added for excitement and there were moments of surprise and occasional smiles. This dumbing down of the language and doping up with vampires could have worked beautifully if he had not taken the middle road and either made the story a fractured fairytale parodying EMMA and vampires, or gone all out campy and outrageous presenting EMMA a la Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Even though this novel has been classified as adult fiction, I think that it appeals more to the young reader in middle school who will be glamoured into reading an Austen retelling by the mention of romance and vampires.

Laurel Ann, Austenprose

The Cookbook Collector
The Cookbook Collector
by Allegra Goodman
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Genuine, quirky and endearingly flawed, 12 Sept. 2010
This review is from: The Cookbook Collector (Hardcover)
As a Janeite, it is impossible ignore the siren call when an author announces to the book buying world that her new novel THE COOKBOOK COLLECTOR is "a SENSE AND SENSIBILTY for the digital age." Whoa! My first reaction was "this is literary suicide." Why would anyone want to equate themselves to a beacon of world literature such as JANE AUSTEN?

It is impossible to know her personal motivations, but after a bit of online research, I can't entirely blame Allegra Goodman for starting this avalanche. She seems to be the darling of the literary world ready to be embraced as "a modern day Jane Austen." Booklist, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly and Kirkus all gave her starred reviews, and even those highbrow literary bluestockings The Washington Post and the New York Times beamed. Swept up in the momentum of online praise I succumbed to the unthinkable. I imagined, no, dare I say I hoped, "as I had scarcely ever allowed myself to hope before" that my favorite author could be reincarnated in the modern day world and I could continue to read new works infused with Austen's style, deft observations and biting wit.

I will attempt to disarm reproof right up front. I read a lot of "popular" fiction written by women. Yep, that stuff that is sadly overlooked by the good folks at The New York Times. This book is technically classified as literature which is really out of my depth as a book reviewer, so I will review it through the prism of a Janeite. Set in northern California between 1999-2002 Goodman has mirrored elements in Austen's novel SENSE AND SENSIBILITY including two sisters, Emily and Jessamine Bach, polar opposites in temperament and interests struggling with love, money and fulfillment in different ways.

Twenty-eight year old Emily is the sensible, pragmatic older sister who graduated from M.I.T. and is the co-founder and CEO of Veritech, a start-up computer data-storage company in the Silicon Valley on the brink of going public (obviously the Elinor Dashwood character). Jess is a twenty-three year old idealistic Berkeley graduate student in philosophy committed to saving the environment and rushing heart first into life and romance (yep, Marianne Dashwood). She works part-time at an antiquarian bookstore named Yorick's owned by George Freidman (Colonel Brandon without the flannel waistcoat), a first generation Microsoft millionaire who retired early and now passionately collects, filling his life with beautiful objects instead of people. Pushing forty, George is handsome, haughty and cynical, "hard to please, and difficult to surprise." He and Jess do not see eye-to-eye on much of anything and their conversations turn to sparing matches over books, her tree-hugging philosophies and looser boyfriends (Leon, the Willoughby character). She cherishes books for what they can teach you. He values books because others want them and they are his. "[H]ow sad, he thought, that desire found new objects but did not abate, that when it came to longing there was no end."

Emily has her own set of values and desires. She loves her high-tech job, money and power, and is continually postponing her wedding date to accommodate their consuming needs. She is in a bi-coastal relationship with Jonathan Tilghman fellow dot-com genius who is also in the start-up phase of his computer company in Cambridge, MA. She works long hours, dreams of marriage and children while her ambitions push her need to succeed over love. Emily has looked after her little sister Jess since their mother's death from breast cancer thirteen years ago. Concerned over her finances Emily presses Jess to purchase her company's family and friends stock offering for $1,800 telling her she must find the cash herself. Hesitant to tap her father for the funds, Jess connects with a local Bialystock rabbi she meets through a neighbor and secures a loan. He is altruistic, not expecting repayment claiming he is investing in her future and not to make money. On the first day of trading her sister becomes a multi-millionaire, but any of you who remember the roller-coaster stock market of the new millennium know where this story is going.

The narrative moseys along through chapters of dot-com start-up details veering off on tangents with characters we don't really need to know and do not care about until about half way through when George happens upon the rare book dealers Holy Grail. A large and incredible unique collection of old cookbooks stashed in the kitchen cupboards of a deceased Berkeley professor of Lichenology whose heir promised him never to sell, but is hard up for cash. Jess assists in wooing the quirky owner with a bit of intuition and psychology which pleases George, who has a new collection to add to his collection, but what he really wants to possess is Jess!

Full of dot-com detail and an interesting juxtaposition of analytical verses intuitive personalities, my expectations for THE COOKBOOK COLLECTOR were so high that half way through the book I needed to take stock and reassess. Like Austen, Goodman's characters are genuine, quirky and endearingly flawed but she spent too many pages wavering away from the ones I wanted to know more about: Jessamine, Emily and the two men in their lives that I questioned where she was going and why this was important far too often. The most intriguing character hands down was Jessamine, and like Austen's Marianne Dashwood she is whimsical, openhearted and trusting. You know that she is heading for a fall, but love her all the more for it. How Jess the tree-huger and George the dishy curmudgeon will eventually come together, and we do know from the start that they will, is as satisfying as a seven course meal at Auberge du Soleil.

THE COOKBOOK COLLECTOR is a romantic comedy with some social reproof stirred in for spice. It is rewarding if you have the patience for a bit of sideways adventure in the shallow high-tech dot-com world of ambitious risk-takers with mega-millionaire dreams. Goodman's prose can be lyrical, alluring and very seductive. Interwoven are great moments of tantalizing descriptions of food and wine. I will never think about eating a peach again without remembering Jess and George. There are some unexpected twists and amazing coincidences that added surprise and whimsy, but crowning Ms Goodman the next Jane Austen? "[E]very impulse of feeling should be guided by reason; and, in my opinion, exertion should always be in proportion to what is required."

Laurel Ann, Austenprose
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 14, 2011 11:12 AM GMT

by Georgette Heyer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A liberated heroine and a libertine spar & spark in one of Heyer's best, 29 Aug. 2010
This review is from: Venetia (Paperback)
One of Georgette Heyer's most beloved novels, VENETIA is set in the countryside of the North Riding of Yorkshire three years after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Its eponymous heroine Venetia Lanyon is not your conventional Heyer Regency Miss. Unmarried at age twenty-five she has never been in love, is close to being on the shelf, and has resigned herself to the narrow fate of spinsterhood.

Raised by her reclusive father since her mother's death fifteen years prior, Venetia has seen little of life beyond the family estate of Undershaw Manor or an occasional country dance at Harrogate. Since her father's death shortly after the Battle of Waterloo she has been overseeing the household of her younger brothers: twenty-two year-old Sir Conway, a soldier overseas with the Army of Occupation in Cambray, France, and sixteen-year old Aubrey, a brilliant scholar studying for Cambridge who abhors his physical limitations from a pronounced and ugly limp. Also within her small sphere are two improbable suitors who would like to win her hand: Edward Yardley, a dull, pompous, egoist who thinks NO is a YES, and Oswald Denny, a bumbling teenage wanna-be rake who idolizes Lord Byron the mad, bad and dangerous to know poet. Life as a maiden aunt in her brother's household seems a far preferable fate until a chance encounter with an estranged neighbor, the "Wicked Baron" of Elliston Priory, leaves a surprisingly favorable impression.

Others tell her the Baron, Lord Jasper Damerel is scoundrel, a rake, and a libertine. Not at all a suitable association for any young lady who does not want her reputation ruined. Their first encounter while she walks alone near his estate is one of Heyer's most famous scenes. (I will not reveal spoilers - but it is very praise worthy.) Damerel is as brazen and unprincipled as his reputation precedes him, but, instead of swooning or running from his advances Venetia firmly holds her ground and pelts him with literary retorts, challenging his intelligence and temporarily belaying his dishonorable intentions. Their verbal sparring snaps and sparkles like dry kindling to a hungry fire confirming Heyer's brilliance with characterization and dialogue. Venetia does not hesitate to say what she thinks and that makes him laugh, a refreshing change for this world-weary social outcast. Tall, dark and disreputable, everything about rakish Damerel tells her to check herself, but Venetia does the exact opposite, she befriends him.

Lord Damerel is intrigued and continues to seduce her until the green girl before him earns his true respect and deep affection. He is in love and wants her for his wife. Venetia secretly feels the same and awaits his proposal until Damerel suddenly becomes chivalrous and will not sully her reputation by marrying her. Meanwhile her brother Conway's young bride arrives unannounced from France with her surly mother to take possession of Undershaw displacing Venetia who quickly accepts an invitation to stay with her aunt and uncle Hendred in London. Her family hopes that the change of scenery will help her forget the unsuitable Lord Damerel, but she only fears she may never see him again. However, Venetia is a realist who knows how the world works and a newly discovered family secret spurs her into action. She will need all her wit and guile to challenge propriety and to prove to Damerel that their social standing has nothing to do with keeping them apart.

Venetia Lanyon is one of Heyer's most liberated heroines and Lord Damerel one of her darkest rogues. They seem a most unlikely pair, but Heyer's skill at devising impossible obstacles for her hero and heroine is like syllabub and sunshine, we just can't get enough if it. Upon their first meeting Damerel quotes Shakespeare, `How full of briars is this workaday world!' which is an important theme throughout the novel. Both Venetia and Damerel face the challenges of social stricture - the briars of the workaday world - and overcome them in their own way. The plot is simple and secondary to the romantic tension, scintillating dialogue and playful sparing which is so much sexier than any modern bodice ripper could hope to generate. Cleverly, Heyer's Venetia does not reform a rake, she discovers that a knight errant is what she needs. (Don't we all?)

Laurel Ann, Austenprose

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