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4.0 out of 5 stars Delightfully Written, 16 April 2012
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This review is from: Suspiciously Reserved: A Twist on Jane Austen's Emma (Kindle Edition)
Compared to 'Pride and Prejudice', fans of Austen's novel 'Emma' have to search a little harder to find spin-off continuations or reworkings, but there are some hidden gems out there. I like to give all Emma 'Austenuations' a try, especially after chancing across a new author like Samantha Adkins via her blog. 'A twist on Jane Austen's Emma' instantly grabbed my attention, and I think I must have been one of the first to download her novel on Amazon Kindle (which could do with a bit of editing work - the text is all over the place, and character's names are mixed up on occasion.)

Despite the first sentence - "Jane, you must come, I insist!" Lori said with sparkling blue eyes and perfectly curled, shiny blond hair' - which smacked worryingly of Francine Pascal's Sweet Valley novels for kids, I was charmed by this modern retelling of 'Emma' from Jane Fairfax's perspective. Set in modern day Canada - in places I must confess I hadn't heard of before, like Saskatoon and Tugaske - the basic plot remains the same, but Jane's story is pleasantly filled in. Orphaned at a young age, young Jane leaves her aunt Hetty and grandmother Bates in the small village of Tugaske to stay with the wealthy Campbells in Saskatoon, and is raised with their bubbly daughter Lori. Jane is quiet, reserved and bookish, preferring to read 'Jane Eyre' and listen to classical music rather than go out on dates, but when Lori's fiance Trevor Dixon invites his best friend Frank Churchill over to plan for his impending nuptials, Jane falls fast and hard.

I liked Adkins' take on Jane, who comes across as likeable and long-suffering rather than too good to be true, while also remaining faithful to Austen's template. Frank and Jane's secret relationship is also touching, until the author falls prey to the familiar trap of apologising for Frank's behaviour after the reunion (in the original novel, he has no purer motive than simply wanting to have his cake and eat it!) Frank tells Jane, "It's far too soon to ask you to marry me. I sometimes wished we lived two hundred years ago, when this sort of thing wasn't so strange", which I thought was cute.

Adkins neatly balances her own take on Jane Fairfax with Austen's 'Emma', but the most convincing chapters - headed with quotes from the original text - are those centred around Jane's life with the Campbells, before she returns to her aunt's house. Instead of being forced into 'the governess trade', Jane is now training to be a teacher, and her daunting first placement as a 'sub' in an inner-city school can only be based on the author's personal experience. Jane's friendship with Lori and her parents, and fiance Trevor, is also brought to life with sweet and heartwarming exchanges.

Of course, this is Jane's story, so a little bias against Emma Woodhouse is necessary, and perhaps only fair, but I thought Frank and Jane's cutting dismissal of Emma and George Knightley's romance was rather harsh ("I guess that's how some people love"), especially considering the double-dealing manner in which Frank went about expressing his own feelings for Jane. Even in modern day Canada, the man still doesn't deserve her! But I loved the scene where Emma and Knightley have their fight over Frank while playing a strenuous game of ice hockey on the Wii, with Jane listening distractedly in the background - very appropriate!

Apart from short-changing Emma, the only fault I could really find with Samantha Adkins' novel was that the ending felt rushed, like the author suddenly realised how much more of Austen's novel she still had to 'translate' into Jane's story, and started packing in the salient points. Other than that, 'Suspiciously Reserved' is a short and sweet 're-imagining' of Emma that Austen fans will definitely enjoy.
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Initial post: 1 Dec 2012 16:20:16 GMT
This is a wonderful review. Thank you so much for your careful reading, Sarah. I have updated the Kindle version - hopefully that will make it easier to read. I'm so glad you enjoyed the hockey scene-that is my favourite as well:)
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