Tag Archives: Austen inspired

Jane Austen in Scarsdale

Cohen, Paula Marantz. Jane Austen in Scarsdale or, Love, Death, and the SATs (2006). 275 Pages. St Martin’s Press. $23.95

From the Cover

Anne Ehrlich is a dedicated guidance counselor steering her high-school charges through the perils of college admission. Thirteen years ago, when she was graduating from Colombia University, her wealthy family– especially her dear grandmother Winnie– persuaded her to give up the love of her life, Ben Cutler, a penniless boy from Queens College. Anne has never married and hasn’t seen Ben since– until his nephew turns up in her high school and starts applying to college.

Now Ben is a successful writer, a world traveler, and a soon-to-be married man, and Winnie’s health is beginning to fail. These changes have Anne beginning to wonder… Can old love be rekindled, or are past mistakes too painful to forget?

First Lines

“Great speaker last night, right?” Vince Flockhart, Fenimore’s principal, looked hopefully down at Anne Ehrlich, head of guidance, as she ate her grilled cheese sandwich in the faculty cafeteria. Report had it that the parents had been impressed by the speaker– though half had left in tears and the other half had been digging in the bottom of their bags for Valium.

Thoughts

I do not know much about Persuasion, as I’ve never actually read it, and I don’t recall watching a film version. From what I know, the main point is that Anne Elliot is from a good family, and falls in love with a handsome naval officer named Wentworth. Because her father, elder sister, and mentor disapprove of the match, Anne breaks it off. Several years later– when she is beyond “marriageable” age– Anne again encounters Wentworth, only now he is a successful, rich Captain. Things happen, and Anne ends up marrying Wentworth*.

If Jane Austen in Scarsdale were merely being judged on its ability to follow the general plot of Persuasion, I might have been more impressed. It does a decent job re-telling the story in modern New York. There are difficulties– as there always are when “updating” a classic– and it is hard to explain why a smart young woman would let her grandmother’s snobbery prevent her happiness.

However, it got very bogged down with the guidance counselor aspect. Several chapters were dealt dealing with “the parents,” who were all certifiable, and obnoxious. Additionally, the children were as crazed and driven as their parents, but whinier.** It didn’t really add to the story in any meaningful way, rather, it seemed to slow it down and distract from the main plot– which was supposed to relate to Persuasion. As either a retelling of Persuasion or a romance about a guidance counselor, this would have done very well, but it seemed to be suffering from an identity crisis at times.

The story still managed to be entertaining, and others may (and clearly have, judging by amazon’s rating) disagree with me, but I don’t think I particularly enjoyed it.  It scores a 2.5/5, for managing to be funny, at times, but still not good enough for me to really like it.

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* It’s been around for nearly 200 years, so I’m not concerned about spoilers.

** Good Lord. It drove me crazy to read about this. I went to one of those schools where it wasn’t “Are you going to college?” but rather, “Which college are you going to?” and I still wasn’t that crazed. I had reasonable expectations, and had worked hard enough to be near the top of my class without trying to get a 4.02. I didn’t even involve my mother very much, and she didn’t worry, because she had confidence in me, which mattered more than whatever the hell the parents in this novel seem to be doing. It felt like a little too much hyperbole, and it may have benefited from being a little less crazed.

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Real Reads: Pride and Prejudice

Austen, Jane. Real Reads: Pride & Prejudice (2009). 64 Pages. Windmill Books. price unknown*

We can’t help re-making the greats, sometimes we do silly things, like dumbing them down so they’re more “child-friendly” which sometimes works. Occasionally, books are too dense, and contain vocabulary which children would not recognize. I am of the opinion that this struggle is positive, and dictionary skills are a good thing to acquire.

The book at hand is a simplified retelling of Pride and Prejudice. Gill Tavner did the re-write, and Ann Kronheimer did the illustrations. The style of writing and the style of drawing do work well together, and the overall effect is mild and pleasant. There are characters whose roles have been cut (Kitty, Mary, & Mr Collins most notably) and there are story-lines which have been altered or removed (the estate’s entailment, Charlotte’s spinster status, and more) but the book acknowledges this in the back, and explains that it is well worth reading an unabridged version. The story is very short (it ends after 54 pages) but it is easily comprehended. They did a fairly good job of simplifying a classic to make it a quick, easy read for children.

There is a whole set of Real Reads Classics, including their Indian Classics line (which has the Ramayana, a fun story). I imagine it’s a fairly popular way to get younger audiences reading books which are mostly tackled by adults these days.

In Conclusion:

For now, this version gets a 3/5. By adult standards, it’s nothing special. It’s a solid abridgment, aimed at children, and it has nice illustrations. It’s got the major plot points in it, and it references the plot points it has removed. It offers some discussion/consideration questions at the back, and is therefore a fairly good volume. I have not run it by my sisters (the age group at whom it is aimed) and pending their approval, it may get a score upgrade.

I’ll be running this by my sisters to see how much kids actually like stories like this, but I think that it’s a good start, and an easy way to introduce kids to classics. I’ve been conditioned to feel that classics are good, and that it’s important to read, even if what you’re reading is not “good” by adult standards. It gets a 3/5 until I get a sisterly stamp of approval for a score upgrade.

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* I found it on a clearance shelf in the back corner of a second-hand store. I’m not sure how much it originally cost, but I paid $.99 for it.

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Jane Bites Back

Ford, Michael Thomas. Jane Bites Back (2009). 320 Pages. Ballantine Books. $14.00

Have you ever picked up a book, and not expected anything from it, but been pleasantly surprised? Jane Bites Back was an impulse-grab off the new books shelves at the library. I was just there to pick up my holds. “I promise, I’ll be done in just a minute. I’m only grabbing one book and I’ll be right back!” My unfortunate (and non-bibliophilic) boyfriend does not enjoy trips to the library, so when he comes along I try to hurry. It works well if I’m attempting to limit myself to my holds.

Anyway, Jane Bites Back was on the shelf, and I couldn’t help picking it up. It’s even got a cover-blurb by Seth Grahame-Smith (of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) mentioning that it’s lovable. Having not loved anything about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies any of the several times I tried to read it, I took it as dubious praise at best. But I let myself get it (and Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter) off the new-books shelves.

I made the mistake of reading it while we drove home. Three chapters in, I realized that we were home, and that I was sitting in the car in our parking space. Whoops. It’s that good though. The premise is silly, but it somehow works– Ford is an author, writing about an author (Austen) who is writing about an author (Constance). Ultimately, Ford is writing an Austen-inspired book about an un-dead Austen who wholeheartedly disapproves of Austen-inspired books. It’s really quite funny how this works out.

A little over 200 years ago, Jane Austen was turned into a vampire. Shortly after, she “died,” and has been living under a series of pseudonyms ever since. In the last few years, she has become Jane Fairfax and purchased a bookstore in the town of Brakeston, NY. Due to a recent Austen craze, Jane has seen a lot of spin-offs and rip-offs appear (making her long for royalties and recognition she will never receive) and as a result is rather irritated that hacks who use her name can get published, while she cannot sell her own manuscript to anyone. It’s a failure, she knows this because she’s been trying to get Constance published since she “died,” and it’s still only a manuscript.

So, when she finally gets a letter from Kelly Littlejohn saying that Constance is brilliantly Austenesque, and that they would love to publish it, Jane is surprised. That is not the only one in store for her, and unfortunately not all of them are quite so pleasant. A “dark man from her past” (back cover) makes an unwelcome reappearance in her life, and makes unwanted advances. Meanwhile, Jane struggles to come to terms with her attraction to Walter Fletcher– a local carpenter– who Jane has refused repeatedly.

As if romantic entanglements weren’t enough for Jane to deal with, she’s also got a publicity tour– to Chicago and New Orleans– for her book. Things get really complicated while she’s away from home, and a surprising new villain appears in the latter half of the book (to help set it up for the sequel Jane Goes Batty from Ballantine Books, due February 2011.)

The book ends well, but leaves some things unfinished. It was clearly setting up for a sequel which will be out next year.

In Conclusion:

I really loved Jane as a narrator and a character– especially the way she changes– and I feel like she is a large part of the reason that I enjoyed this book. You want to like her (not just because she’s Jane-Freaking-Austen) and you root for her. The prose is solid, and the story is really fun, and light. There is a lot which is clearly being set up for future novels– not the least of which is Jane’s revelation of vampirism to loved ones (and how she avoids discovery). Perhaps it is because I didn’t expect anything from it, though I’m more inclined to think that this was just a surprisingly good book, but this novel gets a 5/5.

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Jane Austen’s Fight Club

It was by chance that I found this. Well, not exactly chance. It was by glancing at my boyfriend’s computer screen at the right moment that I noticed him watching this. It made me laugh, and looked like it was really fun to film.

For all of us who have ever been frustrated by Austen’s propriety. (Though I must say, with all the rigid rules, it makes it that much hotter when they finally do get together.)

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I would like to take a moment to mention that there are only 4 days left before I mail a free book. (And as I write this, there are only 2 people to choose between.) Take a moment and enter, if you’re even vaguely interested!

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Scones and Sensibility

Eland, Lindsay. Scones and Sensibility (2009). 309 Pages. Egmont. $15.99

I came across Scones and Sensibility in someone’s blog, though I no longer remember where, exactly. They made it sound good, so I got it through Link+, which was definitely worthwhile. I’ve been cheap and broke recently, so the library has been my friend. Despite it taking over a week for me to finally get around to writing the review, I did really enjoy it.

Twelve year-old Polly Madassa longs for the perfect romance of her favorite novels– Pride & Prejudice and Anne of Green Gables. She longs to be a perfectly polished young lady like those in her novels. However, as a young girl who is expected to help out at her family’s bakery (by making deliveries), Polly cannot do things exactly the way she intended.

Chapter One: In Which My Family Is Introduced and I Contemplate the Less-Than-Desirable Traits of My Dear Sister’s Boyfriend*

It was upon turning the last delicate page of my leather-bound copy of Pride and Prejudice that my transformation into a delicate lady of quality was complete. (1)

Polly’s so-called transformation is the source of the entire plot. She tries hard to be a young lady of quality– she writes with a calligraphy set on old-fashioned stationery, she speaks in an “old fashioned” way, and she indulges in ladylike activities. She’s so blissful that she longs to help other people find her happiness– by setting them up for romance**. Her narration also follows this theme, lending her a lot of personality. Of course, as with all books which feature match-making, things don’t go the way she plans. (Especially not her own romance.) There’s a bit of self-realization, and Polly does seem to grow up a bit before the novel ends.

The biggest issue this book has is that it should probably have been 50 pages or so shorter. It sort of drags toward the middle. However, the story as a whole is cute, our main character is charming and well-meaning, even if she sort of messes things up. Her speech gets a little old sometimes, too. The moments where she breaks character are actually more meaningful than pages and pages of other characters inexplicably accepting her eccentricities.

The Quick Version:

With a cute plot, and endearing characters, this book is a winner– if you can get past the language. It takes a while to get used to Polly’s narration, which (as Jenn from Books at Midnight points out) may be too difficult for its target demographic. The title makes me long for baked goods,*** and the story made me want to curl up with an actual Austen novel and relax. It gets a 3.5 out of 5, because the language is a rather large barrier.

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* I noticed the chapter titles first, and they set the tone for the whole book. However, there was an error I noticed (Chapter 14 refers to events in Chapter 15, and those in 15 refer to 14’s title) which was momentarily distracting, but not really a big deal.

**Despite the title, which is reminiscent of Sense and Sensibility, this particular novel is much more closely related to Emma, as Polly spends far too much time match-making to be any other Austen heroine.

*** I went back to my home-town for the 4th of July, and longed for an orange-chocolate scone from Moody’s. Unfortunately, I never got around to buying one, and this book just compounded the longing.

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The Darcy Cousins

Fairview, Monica. The Darcy Cousins (2010). 432 Pages. Sourcebooks Inc. $14.99

As the sequel to a Pride & Prejudice sequel, I have to admit that I was not expecting much. Sure, I enjoyed The Other Mr. Darcy immensely, and I thought that Ms Fairview did an excellent job and had beautiful prose, but I was also expecting that she would be a one-hit-wonder, so imagine my surprise when I found that I loved this book just as much as (if not more than) its prequel, which makes me glad I own it*.

Seventeen year-old Georgiana Darcy** is a proper young lady who– thanks to her incredibly overprotective older brother– has lead a very sheltered life. When Miss Clarissa Darcy– younger sister to Robert– arrives leaving a trail of impropriety in her wake, Georgiana hardly knows what to do. Her lively American cousin drags Georgiana along as she rushes headlong into her first London Season.

Young men flock to Clarissa– she is outgoing and charming, and far less reserved than most British ladies. Georgiana is awed by her cousin, and seeks to take pages from her book, learning to be a strong young woman while still being proper is a fine line to tread, but Georgiana attempts it nonetheless. There are several very handsome, very available young men vying for the attention of both Georgiana and Clarissa, which is just fine until both ladies find themselves to be interested in the very same young man.

The plot is not quite so simple as cousins fighting over one young man,  however. Clarissa has her reasons for her appearance in England, Anne deBourgh discovers her backbone, and Georgiana grows up from innocent child to strong woman. This story is mostly (but not exclusively) about Georgiana; the other female cousins are present, but are not really the focus of the story.

The Quick Version:

Again, the prose is strong, and manages to be Austenesque without imitating Austen outright. Georgiana is a fascinating main character who really grows from an innocent, naive child into a strong young woman through the book. Clarissa, too, grows, as does Anne, though neither of them are truly the center of the plot. It will be interesting to see if either of these characters end up with their own P&P Sequel-Sequel-Sequel. The book gets a 5/5, because as the story retreats further from the original book, it becomes stronger and more original.

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*I searched all of the libraries which I have a card to, as well as Link+, only to find out that not a single library owned a copy. When I went to Borders, I learned that they supposedly had one copy, but nobody could find it. I was nearly ready to give up, when I found out that you can have store employees locate and reserve books for you at Borders. This discovery will likely save me a ton of time and money in the future, as I won’t have to browse the store to find what I want, I can come in, pick it up, and flee before my tab reaches the hundreds as it usually does.

** I find the way that the eldest is “Miss ___” while the others are “Miss ___ ____” as in, Miss Darcy and Miss Clarissa Darcy or “Mr ___” and “Mr ___ ____”, like Mr Darcy and Mr Robert Darcy very interesting. It gets a bit confusing at times because of this, but mostly it’s easy to resolve if you pay attention to the presence or absence of first names.

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The Other Mr. Darcy

Fairview, Monica. The Other Mr. Darcy (2009). 351 Pages. Sourcebooks Inc. $14.99

This was another impulse grab from the library, and I’m actually sort of glad I picked it up. I had really only intended to drop off one book, but as I’d gone to the trouble of riding my bike there, I decided to spend a bit of time enjoying the coolness. The end result was me walking away with a couple new Pride & Prejudice reinterpretations (as well as a couple other books I hope to get through in the next couple days). I am actually glad I opted to pick this one up, because I really did like it a lot. (Once I managed to forgive the rather awkward character insertion which serves as the lynchpin for the main plot.)

Caroline Bingley sank to the floor, her silk crepe dress crumpling up beneath her. Tears spurted from her eyes and poured down her face and, to her absolute dismay, a snorting, choking kind of sound issued from her mouth.

“This is most improper,” she tried to mutter, but the sobs– since that was what they were– the sobs refused to stay down her throat where they were supposed to be .

She had never sobbed in her life, so she could not possibly be sobbing now.

But the horrible sounds kept coming from her throat. And water– tears— persisted in squeezing past her eyes and down her face.

Caroline Bingley was raised to be a Proper Lady, one who would enter the peerage by marrying Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. Unfortunately for Caroline’s plans, Darcy met Elizabeth Bennet- in a story I hope we all already know at least in passing- and married her. This book opens with Caroline’s breakdown on Mr. Darcy’s wedding day. She allows herself to privately weep for her lost love and indulge in tears for the first time in her adult life. However, Caroline is not as alone as she thought, and she is even more distraught to find out that she has been observed by a stranger.

Months later, the stranger appears at the Bingley’s door. It turns out that he is Mr. Robert Darcy from Boston– that’s right, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy has a cousin from America– and he has come to summon Jane to Elizabeth’s side. Charles and Jane dash off to Pemberly, leaving Robert to escort Caroline (and Louisa, the recently widowed other Bingley sister) to Pemberly. The two, having not met under the best of circumstances, are not exactly pleased to be spending time together. In an effort to make the situation less awkward, Caroline has invited along another Darcy-Cousin; Colonel Fitzwilliam.

Things happen, the two have to spend more time together, there is romantic entanglement, drama, intrigue, and more drama. I’m sure nobody will be surprised to learn that there is eventually the happily-ever-after; it’s obvious from page 1. What makes this book interesting is the way it delves into Caroline, explaining things about her personality, and showing that she is, in fact, not such a terrible person. Robert, too, develops into an interesting character through the course of the novel.

The Quick Version:

As long as we ignore the fact that the character-insert is an incredibly fan-fiction-esque plot device, and we allow for the fact that Caroline was a first-class manipulative bitch in Pride & Prejudice, this book is actually really, really good. The writing is top-notch, and the book does not try to force itself to sound like Austen. The book is romantic without being overly sexual, and is actually very well executed. I’m going to give it a 4/5 because while it is a very enjoyable book, the fact remains that it uses a terrible plot device as its main premise.
This book is part of the Local Library Reading Challenge!

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The Trials of the Honorable F. Darcy

Angelini, Sara. The Trials of the Honorable F. Darcy (2009). 338 Pages. Sourcebooks Inc. $14.99

When I go to the library, even when it’s for something as innocent as “just returning a book” I leave with more than I intended to. This latest trip to the library saw me returning the un-censored version of Deep Secret and resulted in me checking out a stack of books, one of which I actually knew about before I got to the library. First up on this impulse-grab trip is The Trials of the Honorable F. Darcy: A Modern Pride & Prejudice.

It takes some minor inspiration from the original; “While Judge Darcy avoided meditating on the very great pleasure a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow…” (13), for example, recalls a line from the original Pride and Prejudice. But as a whole, the only things which remain the same are the character names and relationships (in the barest sense of the word “relationship”). If you can disentangle the names from Miss Austen’s original work, then you might enjoy this book, but don’t expect it to be a good Austen retelling.

Elizabeth Bennet is a clever, sassy female attorney (who is more Ally McBeal than Austen). Fitzwilliam Darcy is a harsh-but-fair Judge. Charles Bingley is a successful surgeon, as is Jane Bennet. Caroline Bingley is a cutthroat real estate tycoon, and is Darcy’s friend-with-benefits. Mrs. Bennet is silly and marriage obsessed, but the logic behind her obsession is not present here. There is no such thing as en entailed estate, and that means that her daughters not marrying promptly does not put them at any risk. Mr Wickham does not appear, Mr Collins is mentioned only in passing, and Charlotte Lucas does not make sense in this modern context. Add to that the fact that Elizabeth has acquired a gay best friend whom (we are repeatedly told) she “would have married if he were straight”, and we’ve got absolutely nothing left of the original work.

Does this mean that it’s a bad story? No, actually. While the “oh my goodness they hate each other, but then they learn to love and they live together and are happy forever after” is not new, and is not really the most amazing of plots, it is an entertaining read. So, let’s take a few moments to consider it as a book which has no relation to Austen’s work (because if we really treat it as a retelling, it bombs).

Lizzie Bennet is a new attorney who had a horrible first day in Judge Darcy’s courtroom. Because of her horrible first day, she decided that she dislikes him, and spends a lot of time making “clever, barbed comments” which for some reason, Will (which is what Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy is called) misconstrues as flirting. Cue a lot of infatuation-from-a-distance on Darcy’s part and continue building up to the point that Darcy asks Elizabeth to work with him on a legal paper and she says no. (I think this was supposed to parallel the first proposal, but I don’t know, and more to the point, it’s better if we pretend it’s separate from the work which it was trying to re-write).  They clash, and she commits career-suicide by telling him off.

Meanwhile Jane and Charley have fallen in love over the surgery table. Charley (Bingley)’s friend has a home in London and he’s opened his home for them to visit. Jane invites Elizabeth along, thinking the vacation will do her sister some good. Cue some silliness which leads to Lizzie and Will starting a torrid affair which will end when they leave England because in America, they are Ms Bennet the Attorney and Mr Darcy the Judge, and the American Bar Association says that they shall not be in a relationship if she tries cases in his courtroom. This is the major obstacle which they have to overcome. The romance in England is sweet, and the scenes between the two are detailed (a little too detailed at times, I think). When they get back to America is when it gets downright annoying. “I love you so much.” “We have to end it” “But I want you” “But it’s over” “But I love you” *implosion*

The Quick Version:

As a Pride and Prejudice rewrite, this book bombs. As a complicated modern romance, it does alright. The writing is not fabulous, but it’s not terrible. The story is pretty good, for the most part. It gets a 3 out of 5, because it’s a solid book, but it’s nothing  amazing.

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I am going to rant, for a moment, however. Angelini claims to live in San Francisco, and while I attempted to accept this, she referred to the “Pacific Highway” as a main thoroughfare from San Francisco to its suburb of “Meryton”. In California, there are a lot of highways and freeways. None of them are the “Pacific Highway.” In Southern California, a stretch of Highway 1 is referred to as the “P.C.H.” for the Pacific Coast Highway, however in San Francisco it is called “Highway 1” or through section-specific nicknames like “Devil’s Slide” or “Shoreline Highway” or even, in one place the “Cabrillo Highway.” If you are going to set a book in a city, for goodness sakes get street names and freeway names right. As a native Californian (and not just that, but one who has lived within 2 miles of Highway 1 my entire life), I caught that, and actually growled in annoyance.

This book is part of the Local Library Reading Challenge!

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Austenland

Hale, Shannon. Austenland: A Novel (2007). 193 Pages. Bloomsbury. $19.95

Thirty-three year-old Jane Hayes– like many women– has an unhealthy obsession with Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberly, specifically the version of him portrayed by the fabulous Colin Firth*. When her Great-Aunt Carolyn dies and leaves her a trip to the Austen-themed Pembrook Park, Jane views it as a chance to excise her obsession through gluttony.

When she arrives at Pembrook Park, she is versed in the rules of the era, stripped of all traces of the modern world, corseted, and sent to the manor** to live with historical accuracy (or something resembling it) for three full weeks. While she is at the manor, she is to be known as Miss Jane Erstwhile, and she is to behave like a proper lady. Also at the manor are Miss Charming and Miss Heartwright, who are both valued, repeat customers– something Jane will never be, due to her financial situation. For the enjoyment of the ladies, gorgeous gentlemen have been gathered; the Darcy-esque Mr Nobley, the handsome Colonel Andrews, and the dashing Captain East.

It takes some time for Jane to get over the silliness of the whole experience (as well as the difficulty she faces as the least affluent and thus least desirable guest).Despite this, Jane finds herself drawn to both the very 21st-century Martin the gardener (who shows her that it is possible to not compare every man to Mr Darcy), as well as Mr Nobley who embodies everything Austen’s books have brought her to desire. As she relaxes into the game, she finds her desires changing, allowing her to leave Pembrook Park as a new Jane.

Austenland is cute, but not deep. Jane is the sort of character who draws you in with her clumsy charm, and keeps you rooting for her as she stumbles along the path toward her goal. She manages to both fumble completely, and still wind up happy at the end. (And, big surprise, she gets the guy- though I won’t say which one). I feel like the end of the book would have been better if she had been more self-reliant, instead of wrapping up with a romance, and as much as I love romance, it does pain me to admit that it didn’t quite work right here.

The Quick Version:

As a whole, I feel that while this book was entertaining (they all are, to some degree), and I liked Jane, the story could have been better. It kept me busy for a few hours, and did manage to slip in some Austen humor. The romance is (mostly) believable, and does work, though the end feels a bit too much like a happily-ever-after. It gets a 3 out of 5.

Get it through Amazon or Swaptree.

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* Many Pride and Prejudice fans are polarized, and their Mr Darcy is either Firth or Macfayden. (Which one is yours?)

** Sounding familiar?

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