Suspense and Sensibility: Or, First Impressions Revisited (Mr. & Mrs. Darcy Mysteries, #2)

by Carrie Bebris

I’m a sucker for anything based on Jane Austen if it is well done. And sometimes when it is not. This is evidenced by the fact that I’ve read all of these Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Mysteries, though this is the only one I have actually written anything on. It starts off pretty well; the characters seemed pretty true to the originals, though Kitty is given a more positive spin. It is an improvement over Pride and Prescience. I actually chuckled a few times. Sadly, it degenerates pretty quickly once the mystery kicks in. Unfortunately, it is another paranormal mystery and it is positively outlandish. It was nice to see the Dashwood women again. Lucy Ferrars nee Steele starts out true to form, but her ultimate fate is positively ludicrous and cringe-worthy. The resolution has some tragic aspects considering the fluffy way it starts out. I was considerably less patient with the rest in the series, just skipping through the mystery part. I remember looking forward to more of Georgiana as she was pretty intriguing, and also an appearance of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Unfortunately, I do not remember anything about any of the other stories, which I guess is a review of the whole series in and of itself.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

September 15, 2014

Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice

By Curtis Sittenfeld

“Fred!” the nurse said, though they had never met. “How are we today?” Reading the nurse’s name tag, Mr. Bennet replied with fake enthusiasm, “Bernard! We’re mourning the death of manners and the rise of overly familiar discourse. How are you?”

Pastiches on Austen novels number into the hundreds in film and literature. They usually range from terrible to not too bad with a few real gems. This one is 4 stars. Would have been 5 but for a too drawn-out tacked-on ending. The book could have been 75 pages shorter. Eligible is a very clever, and funny homage to Pride and Prejudice set 2013. Elizabeth is a 38-year-old journalist, who along with her sister Jane, a mellow, sentimental, kind-hearted yoga instructor whose biological clock is ticking, goes home to her Cincinnati home to make sure her caustic, cynical, but lazy ivory tower father is cared for after his heart attack. God knows, the rest of their family would probably kill him with their incompetency and neglect. Lydia and Kitty still live at home though in their 20’s, supported by what’s left of their inherited money, which Mr. and the shopping-addicted Mrs. Bennet have frittered away over the years. Mr. Bennet’s medical bills have thrown the Bennets to the brink of bankruptcy. The 2 girls are idle, though beautiful and toned due their dedication to CrossFit. They are potty-mouthed and have no filters. Mary is an unpleasant recluse, and working on her 3rd master’s degree, with no thought to getting a real job and becoming self-supporting.
The book parallels the original as well as it possibly could, although does get off track towards the end. Part of the pleasure of this book was anticipating what Curtis would do with characters and situations that you knew were coming. It mirrors the overall tone and diction of the original as well. When it went astray was when she diverged too far from the Austen story when the family went west to film their parts in the reality series.
Lady Catharine de Bourgh has no relation to Darcy in this one but is a lauded 80-year-old feminist icon, Kathy, whom Elizabeth seeks to interview throughout much of the book. Her character is a surprise. Think Gloria Steinem. Georgy is a Stanford student: sheltered, shy, and anorexic. “Chip” Bingley is a doctor by profession, but seems to gravitate towards reality TV stardom (The Bachelor) as he is really a bit of a dim-bulb. He would rather try to parlay his fame into a medical TV talk show than actually be a doctor. His friend, Darcy, is an old-money renowned San Francisco surgeon in Cincinnati to head a new brain surgery facility. Elizabeth’s long-time toxic (married) boyfriend of 25 years is Jasper Witt, whose dirty secrets are ultimately exposed by his fellow Stanford schoolmate, Darcy. Everyone is there, plus some fresh new characters, but with a modern spin. They are so well-realized, and sometimes so out of the box and witty, that the book actually gives fresh insights into Austen’s original characters. Some plot and character threads proceed as expected, some take some unlooked-for twists and turns. By the end, Elizabeth sorts out her family’s financial problems and all of the sisters are happily pared off and standing on their own two feet, including Mary. Except she prefers bowling to romance.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

June 23, 2016

Caroline Bingley: A Continuation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

It ought to be so simple. The titled were wealthy, and the poor were poor. That is how it used to be, but now trade and title were blurring, a most confounding condition. Caroline sighed. She simply could not understand the way of the world.

In this better than average spin-off to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice Caroline Bingley retreats to her mother’s home to lick her wounds and strategize how to return to the Darcy/Pemberley circle without apologizing to Elizabeth Bennett. It was brave to take on Caroline Bingley rather than the usual siblings of Elizabeth and Darcy. It keeps her snobbish character intact while making her a little more relatable and her mean-girl actions foiling Jane’s romance with Charles Bingley a little more understandable. A.) She loves her mother. B.) Her family comes from middle-class roots. Her father made his fortune “in Trade” and she lives in fear of being looked down on and excluded because of that.

The writing was competent. Although, and this seems picky, the author seemed to really really like the word “smirk”. It was distracting. Caroline’s motivation for trying to make a noble marriage in order to still have access to Pemberley made no sense. Why Should Darcy and Elizabeth or her brother care whom she married after being understandably cut from their society? Darcy had already demonstrated his democratic nature by marrying Elizabeth and his friendship with her own brother. Given the Author’s background and qualifications, I expected better.

I do give Jennifer Becton credit for exploring the unjust way women were treated and making the slow changes in society and the rise of the middle-class part important themes in her novel. It was entertaining. I did enjoy her relationships and interactions with Lavinia, the love interest, Rosemary, and her family. I was glad that she brought in Elizabeth, Darcy, Jane, and Charles in a believable way. But Ooh, that title.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

May 17, 2019

An Accomplished Woman

by Jude Morgan

“I confess I found it somewhat insipid when I last went….it was all so prosy – so bonnety – so whisty and teacuppy – you see, the adjectives for it do not even exist, and I must invent them.”

Jude Morgan is a skilled writer with a quirky, eccentric style. He changes tenses and points of view. He almost randomly inserts colons everywhere. He uses colons like he went to a colon firesale and bought every one. There is a witty turn of phrase, observation, or piece of cleverness on almost every page. We roll our eyes or smile with (or at) almost all of the characters. Sometimes we even laugh out loud at the frequently amusing dialogue and observations.

The plot is woven from the plotlines of most if not all of Jane Austen’s novels. It’s mostly Emma, but It is peopled with dozens of characters or combinations of such from her other books. Mapping out the intermingling plotlines and characters would make a fascinating spreadsheet. Sometimes a character starts out as one Austen character and ends as another. That’s a weakness, as it is not a character development so much as a whiplash-inducing about-face. Yet, there are no surprises in the book if you have read Jane Austen. It is liberally sprinkled with Austen allusions, isms, and inside jokes. It starts out very Austen but ends up very Georgette Heyer. I count that as a strength: (colon!) It’s fun, and Mr. Morgan knows his stuff. My only complaint is it ends rather abruptly. I wish he had ended the book by reverting back to Austen for a chapter to get all of the characters neatly disposed of, and a little glimpse into the future.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

September 12, 2017

Northanger Abbey: An Audible Original Drama

By Jane Austen

What could be better than Emma Thompson reading to you? I enjoyed this dramatization of Northanger Abbey with music, sound effects, and each character portrayed by a different actor. Emma Thompson as the narrator, Jane Austen, was perfect and very amusing. She conveyed so many subtleties of the story by her inflections. It is an abridged version, unfortunately, but it seems that the abridgment was very well done. I have seen all of the movie versions that I know of, but I still look forward to reading the unabridged version sometime soon.

I see that a couple of weeks ago Audible released The Jane Austen Collection, similarly narrated and played by top British actors, such as Claire Foy, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Billie Piper, and Florence Pugh. How Will I find the Time?

Rating: 4 out of 5.

November 16, 2020

The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet

By Bernie Su and Kate Rorick

Earlier tonight, Caroline asked me to take a turn about the room. She’s gotten this new fitness band that buzzes when she’s been sitting for too long.

If you are going to read this, read this using your Kindle app, rather than your Kindle. That way you can hit the included links, and go right to the YouTube episodes that this epistolary type novel accompanies. I did enjoy this modern take on Pride and Prejudice even with only bothering to look at a handful of the episodes. The updates to the 19th century novel were cleverly and humorously done. Kitty is Lydia’s cat; Mary is a goth-emo accountant major and cousin; Mr. Collins is a tech startup C.E.O and Catherine de Bourgh is a venture capitalist. Instead of our swim coach Wickham seducing our lovable party-girl Lydia, and promising to marry her,  he tricks her into making a sex-tape and then ransoms it for money. Every parallel with the original is fresh and funny. It actually does provide some insights into the dilemmas and conflicts in the beloved Austen novel that modern readers will enjoy.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

August 18, 2017

Sense, Sensibility, and Snowmen

A Defiant 10

I’ve read all of Jane Austen’s books and seen all of the films and series based on her books numerous times. I’ve read a lot of Austen-based modern interpretations as well. I am drawn to the numerous modern riffs on Austen and enjoyed many of them. My favorites are Clueless and Bollywood’s Bride and Prejudice. So of course I’ve seen the previous attempts Hallmark has made to capitalize on Austen’s current popularity. They were shameless exploitations because neither the plot nor the characters had anything to do with Jane’s works.

This one was different. Like Sense and Sensibility, we have two sisters who have an “Us against the world” mentality. One is flighty and starry-eyed, and one is practical and down to earth. They run a party planning business together. They are a believable version of what a modern Marianne and Eleanor might be. The love interest is a reserved button-down and shy corporate head who is dominated by an over-bearing parent and romantically linked to a childhood sweetheart. There is also a secondary love interest called Brandon. But here’s where the scriptwriter wisely mixes it up. Instead of All-business practical Marianne (they also switch the names of the two sisters) being paired off with the Corporate stick-in-the mud, It is the lively Ella who takes him by storm and shakes up his life and attitudes. It is a very cute and more suitable to the modern Rom-com. The chemistry between the two couples and and the sisters was romantic and touching. The acting was some of the best I have seen in a Hallmark lately. Erin Krakow was wide-eyed, energetic, and outgoing as her character called for. Erin surely has been doing these Hallmarks for 2 decades, but she hasn’t changed a bit. She was charming. Kimberley Sustad, a Hallmark stalwart, made Marianne likable and understandable despite her buzz-kill personality. Even though the two characters had conflicts and conflicting world-views, their love and loyalty to each other was touchingly done and affecting. Luke McFarlane was superb. He usually plays a cardboard cut out romantic hero. In this one he started out as a real pill who slowly and realistically melted and opened up. I was very impressed by the job he did with the Edward Ferrar personality. He was funny. I loved the chemistry between Luke and Erin, and couldn’t wait for the final chaste clinch.

So yes, I give this a 10. Overgenerous? Perhaps. But with this one, I’m grading on the Hallmark curve against a singularly lackluster couple of years of Hallmark Christmas movies. I’m amazed at some of the sour and overwrought reviews this one has gotten. I can only think that their experience with modern Austen takes is pretty limited.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

December 3, 2019

Persuasion

By Jane Austen

I’ve seen every (I think) film/series version of Persuasion and enjoyed reading the book for the first time. It was amazing how the book followed the movies. Kudos to the author, Jane Austen. I predict great things for her. It even lifted pages of actual dialogue straight from the film scripts, especially the Amanda Root version.

At first, I found the sentence structure convoluted, and had to read many passages more than once to grasp the meaning. As the book went on though I got used to it and reading it got easier. It was helpful to be so familiar with the story, but wonder how much better I would have enjoyed it if I had not been so familiar with every twist and turn as it made its way to the final happy outcome.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

May 23, 2018

Pride and Prejudice: Atlanta

Clever Changes to fit the Story to the Black Community

Well done and clever riff on Pride and Prejudice. Incorporates the black community in 2019 very authentically, I think. Although it mostly matches scene for scene, with its own interpretation, of course, there were some differences which were more welcome then not. Welcome because an exact copy would just be boring. Mr. and Mrs. Bennett had a happy marriage, and Jane was a widow with a young son, for example. Updates include Lizzy being a community activist, Darcy running for public office, Bingley being a professional golfer, Mr. Bennett is the pastor of an urban church. The Georgiana character was cut. Very enjoyable.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

June 3, 2019

Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors

by Sonali Dev

HRH’s take on it was this advice to his children: “This is our home. This country is yours. Take everything you need. Give everything you have. From the beginning of time, humans have migrated. We’ve claimed land and let it claim us. Don’t ever fulfill anybody else’s definition of your relationship with your country. How many generations ago their forefathers got here may be how some people stake their claim, but I stake mine with how much I give. How wholly I love. This place called to me, I’m here, it’s mine. And now, it’s yours.”

I’m a soft touch for novels that are re-imaginings of or sequels to Jane Austen‘s works in film or on the page. I have a soft spot for even ones that are not all that good. This is one of the best ones. Sonali Dev did a masterful job of using P and P as an inspiration for similar themes while making it wholly her own. The looseness of the adaptation worked very well. A reader who enjoys contemporary romance or women’s fiction would enjoy this even if they haven’t read Pride and Prejudice. There are many characters in Dev’s novel that are not in the original and many characters and situations Austen’s classic that are not in Dev’s novel. Yet while they diverge in interesting ways, they also mirror each other in the essentials. There is the prideful, arrogant, but socially inept aristocrat (Trisha), the formidable love interest from a suspect background (DJ), victimized loved ones past and present, the evil opportunist, The cold and powerful head determined to “protect” the family from scandal, and the sweet and good sister. But they are deliciously shuffled up. A few scenarios are faithfully and delightfully reset in today’s times. One of the highlights of Austen’s work and this one as well is when Trisha (Darcy) pours out her heart to DJ (Elizabeth) and is rejected.

“I have absolutely no interest in you, Dr. Raje,” meeting the wild pleas in her eyes…it hadn’t struck her for one instant that he might not lap up her proposition or whatever this was.
“This might baffle you, but despite not being a physician, I do have some pride. Although most certainly not enough to withstand the kind of beating you’re capable of dealing it. The kind of beating you’ve repeatedly dealt it from the first time we’ve met. You’re right, I value honesty, so I’ll tell you that I make it a practice not to find women who insult me at every opportunity attractive.”
…she looked entirely devastated. Had no one ever denied her anything?

One thing I really liked about it was how the black hero in the book was portrayed. Too often, lately, it seems like authors are using diverse ethnic characters to make a political statement but they are ethnic in looks alone. In one book I read recently, we’re told that the swoony successful love interest looks like Barack Obama, but other than that, he might as well be a white guy. Maybe I’m being too harsh, but it’s like the author wanted points for having a diverse cast of characters but didn’t want to make her mostly white readership too uncomfortable. Kind of like the Hallmark channel checking the boxes. Oh well, baby steps. In this one, Trisha, although “brown” has always had power and privilege. Unlike DJ who knows very well what is probably going to happen if a white cop sees him breaking into his own luxury car.

“Are you laughing because you think you taught me some sort of lesson?” Because he had, he had pulled the world from beneath her feet…DJ had stood there helpless as a cop reached for his gun for no reason other than fear based in prejudice…Trisha didn’t want him to be standing there in that inequitable ocean, unable to do anything about it. She wanted to live in a world where the waves hit everyone the same way, where everyone could choose how they surfed them. Where the only thing that mattered was ability. And she had allowed herself to become oblivious to the fact that they did not live in that world. 

I was not too impressed with the first book I read by Ms Dev. This one also slowed to a crawl in several places. It was repetitive (the constant rhapsodizing about food got old and kind of creepy in places, to me) There were a little too many tangents explored and too much detail which did little to advance the story. But even so, it kept my interest. Sometimes the sentence structure seemed a little off and sentence meaning was a little obscured at first. But this book was a really good novel and a superbly creative riff on Pride and Prejudice. I love books about interesting families and especially ones I have to do a family tree to keep everyone straight. 4 stars for the novel and 5 stars for the Pride and Prejudice connection. 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

May 16, 2020