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P. G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters
P.G. Wodehouse, Sophie Ratcliffe
M.J. Johnson
Our Mutual Friend
Charles Dickens
Karen Aminadra
Sherlock Holmes: The Unauthorized Biography
Nick Rennison

The Cuckoos of Batch Magna

The Cuckoos of Batch Magna - Peter Maughan One should know by now to abandon expectations when reading a book one knows littleabout, but one is oft times an idiot. My mistake when reading The Cuckoos of Batch Magna is that I had P.G. Wodehouse in mind and kept looking for similarities when I should have just enjoyed the gentle ride down a river author Peter Maughan intended.You see I was recently reminded of Wodehouse’s If I Were You, where the Earl of Droitwich discovers he really isn’t the rightful heir, having been switched at birth with the true earl, who has grown up to be a socialist barber. The faux earl uses the opportunity to escape marriage to that sort of imperious woman Wodehouse so often imagines and it all works out all right in the end.Peter Maughan’s book involves Sir Humphrey Strange—or Humph as he asks everyone to call him—a poor relation of the previous baronet, General Sir Humphrey Myles Pinkerton Strange, whose death leaves Humph in possession of Batch Hall, the crumbling ancestral home of the Stranges. But Humph is burdened with death duties, the cost of fixing up the hall and the question of what to do with the tenant farmers and the renters of the no longer functional paddle steamboats on the river that runs through Batch Magna.It doesn’t help that Humph is an unsuccessful American businessman whose only qualification to be a baronet is the circumstance of his being related to the late general, and that Humph feels he has to live up to the reputation of his successful but long dead father. In addition to that baggage, Humph has been persuaded to believe he must evict the paddle boat tenants and turn Batch Hall into a quaint hotel.The strange collection of paddle boat residents include the retired naval commander who’s searching for Atlantis; earth mother Jasmine and her large family; the Owens, including river-savvy father Owen, his wife Annie who took care of the general, and their nubile daughter Ffion; and crime novel writer Phineas Cook. They live on four paddle boats, remnants of the Cluny Steamboat Company, which the general’s father brought to the town that straddles the Welsh-English border.Of course the steamboat residents like their idyllic life on the river. They’ve formed a community of oddballs and are so reluctant to move they even contemplate finding an ingenious way for Humph to meet an untimely death. Meanwhile Humph, free of the distractions of his life in America, falls in love with the people, the land and the river. He also drifts from his dedication to his fiancée, an imperious sort of woman who only wants to marry Humph so she can be called Lady Sylvia. H’m, maybe there is some similarity to Wodehouse here.The writing style is completely different, of course. Wodehouse plots are meticulous and seemingly fast paced (a weekend at a country house), although an objective observer might say not much really happens. Maughan’s style is leisurely and an objective observer might say not much really happens. If you’ve ever taken an English river cruise or traveled in a narrowboat, you’ll recognize Maughan’s style. The journey is its own reward and you won’t enjoy it if you try to speed it up.I’m afraid that’s what I was guilty of, at first. I read a little too fast and didn’t take the time to let my fingers hang off the side of the boat and trail through the water. The plot is also like a water journey; it might twist and turn a little but you will predictably arrive at your destination. There is no great surprise here; you just wonder whether Maughan will resolve the conflict through a deus ex machina or whether he had earlier sown the elements of that resolution previously.No, the pleasure of this book is the charmingly askew characters and the real sense that Maughan’s fictional community really should exist somehow. The author has crafted a nice group of eccentrics with a good balance of agendas: the boat residents initially despise Humph; the shop owners welcome Humph’s initial plan of evicting the river dwellers and turning the Hall into a tourist destination; the general’s granddaughter (unable to inherit because the land is entailed a la Jane Austen and Downton Abbey) treats Humph civilly but coldly; and those who don’t know who Humph is treat him warmly. The easy acceptance of Humph is ultimately the deciding factor that makes sure it all works out in the end.It also helps that the setting is a little out of time and place. You begin to realize there are no mentions of smart phones or computers and I think it helps tie the book to a lot of British TV and film from the 1970s and ’80s. You can’t help but think of Local Hero and To the Manor Born. In fact many readers have suggested The Cuckoos of Batch Magna would make a great TV series, something I’m sure author Maughan, an ex-actor and script writer, has already considered. Fortunately, Maughan has written a sequel, Sir Humphrey of Batch Magna, that would drive a season (or series) two.So if you haven’t already guessed, I’m heartily recommending this book to anyone who has the patience to enjoy it. Forget about my mistaken comparison to Wodehouse. It’s only resemblance is that it’s English (when it isn’t Welsh), there are finely drawn characters and objectively not a lot happens. But where’s the fun in being objective?

Uncle Fred in the Springtime: A Blandings Story

The Inimitable Jeeves - P.G. Wodehouse Just re-read it and of course loved it. The irrepressible Lord Ickenham is a hoot, never letting circumstances defeat him because he knows a bald-faced lie trumps anything, especially among the dim-witted inhabitants of Blanding Castle. It had been so long since I'd read it, I had forgotten Horace Davenport dressed as a Zulu warrior and the altercation caused by his errant assagai. Such fun!

The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things

The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things - Paula Byrne In my book, Jane, Actually,1 one of the characters writes a biography with the title, The Real Jane Austen, that “examines the personality of Jane Austen with the tools of modern-day medicine, forensic psychiatry and textual analysis.” Fortunately, Paula Byrne’s The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things, takes a far more relaxed and charming approach to telling Austen’s story.Rather than starting with her birth and ending with her death, Byrnes focuses on objects—jewelry, paintings, notebooks, etc.—with which Austen might or might not have been familiar. All the objects were from Austen’s times and some were owned by Austen or her family. Some items are pedestrian: a card of lace similar to the lace Austen’s aunt was accused of stealing; and some are touching: an ad for the auction of household items from the Steventon parsonage; and some are calculating: a royalty check Jane received for sales of Emma.The first item tells us that Jane lived in a world very different from us. Her Aunt Leigh-Perrot might have been executed or transported to Australia if convicted of the crime; and Mrs. Austen offered to send Jane and Cassandra as companions to her aunt while she was being held over for trial (in other words to stay with their aunt in jail).2 The second item hints at how much of a shock it must have been for Jane to leave Steventon for Bath after her father retired as rector. And the third reminds us that Jane was no naif when it came to business. She made some hard-headed business decisions and worked hard at developing her career and reputation (although in this instance, her decision to reprint Mansfield Park at the same time she was publishing Emma backfired).Byrne chooses several illustrations to tell her stories, including a watercolor of Lyme Regis, two paintings of sisters, another of a pair of women also shown on the book cover, and of course the sketch Byrne champions as being a representation of Austen drawn from life. It’s understandable that Byrne should include it—her husband gave it to her as a present, thinking it was an “imaginary portrait” (an idealized portrait). And she concludes the book (the epilogue) with another “portrait” of Austen. This watercolor, painted by Cassandra Austen, shows her sister from behind (seen right). Byrne calls it the only “irrefutably authentic image of the real Jane Austen.”I have to wonder at this last statement because the National Portrait Gallery seems to recognize that the unfinished pencil sketch/watercolor portrait seen left, also created by Cassandra, portrays Jane. I’ve also heard it called the only authentic image of Jane Austen. It doesn’t matter that many people dislike the image it offers of our favorite author.I definitely would have included this portrait were I to write a biography told by objects. I’ve said several times in this blog how affected I was by seeing it in the National Portrait Gallery.This oversight, however, is my only complaint about The Real Jane Austen, and I had to work hard to find it. You will probably not find anything that displeases in this delightful alternative to the traditional biography of Jane Austen, especially if like me you‘ve already read several such biographies. After all, there are few facts about Austen’s life that you don’t already know. The joy of The Real Jane Austen is discovering Jane through the context of time in which she lived, without all the forensic psychiatry and textual analysis.1 Sorry to sneak in a plug for my book.2 Byrne thinks Jane’s wealthy Aunt Leigh-Perrott was guilty of shoplifting.

The Game Is Afoot: Parodies, Pastiches and Ponderings of Sherlock Holmes

The Game Is Afoot: Parodies, Pastiches and Ponderings of Sherlock Holmes - Marvin Kaye It’s hard to relate how much I enjoyed The Game is Afoot: Parodies, Pastiches and Ponderings of Sherlock Holmes, edited by Marvin Kaye. This 1994 anthology is packed with Holmes pastiches and analyses that I have to imagine was well received when it was released in the early days of the world wide web.Back in those stone tablet days, it might be difficult, unless you were a Baker Street Irregular or belonged to a scion society or subscribed to the Baker Street Journal, to find all the obscure pastiches contained in this anthology. A casual Sherlockian might have read The Adventure of the Circular Room by August Derleth, but how many people would know Sherlock Holmes Umpires Baseball, written anonymously and published in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 1906.Of course, some of the early pastiches aren’t very good, but the good ones leaven the bad and all are short. Well known contributors include Derleth previously mentioned, Craig Shaw Gardner, John Dickson Carr, Anthony Boucher, Vincent Starrett and Manly Wade Wellman. Slightly more unusual contributors include O. Henry, Daniel Pinkwater, ZaSu Pitts (ZaSu Pitts!) and even Arthur Conan Doyle himself.A few of the ponderings were ponderous and unfortunately this includes Kaye’s own contribution, The Histrionic Holmes, which examines Holmes’ likely theatrical background. It’s an interesting take, just a bit long and probably didn’t need to be quite as exhaustive. I did appreciate his listing of the six “performances” of Doctor Watson; and I thought Kaye’s speculation about one of Holmes’ greatest performances, which links him to Doyle’s Professor Challenger story The Lost World, to be inspired.I heartily recommend adding this book to your collection. It’s incredible value for money, even though it does mean squinting your eyes at night—the type is small to contain so many interesting stories. My husband bought this for me at The Hermitage Book Shop in Denver, but you can still order it from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.


Johnson's Life Of London: The People Who Made The City That Made The World - Boris Johnson An entertaining and scattershot read that reminded me of the London Walks book and also The Story of England. Mayor Boris Johnson starts with the settlement of the Thames region and the reasons why London was settled, pays tribute to Boudicca and the great fire and plague and a really fascinating look at St. Pancras Station. I loved every story, except the Keith Richards one. I guess I'm not much of a Stones fan.It's a very quick read and you'll enjoy some of Johnson's odd turns of phrase.

Winter Queen (Erast Fandorin 1)

The Winter Queen - Boris Akunin, Andrew Bromfield This is another Christmas gift from my friend Mike, who has excellent taste. Very junior police official Erast Fandorin is on the case in Tsarist Russia of a series of suicide attempts that ends all too successfully. Naturally it all leads to an international organization bent on world manipulation, with Fandorin hot, if a little cluelessly on the trail.Not everyone is who they seem, and being a Russian story, everyone has at least three or four variants of their names, and at times, you are upset that Fandorin takes his eye off the ball and doesn't suspect who the big bad obviously must be. His lapses, however, are forgivable, especially after you read the shocking conclusion and realize this is very much an origin story.

The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes: The Life and Times of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes: The Life and Times of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - Andrew Lycett Almost a year after starting it, I’ve finished The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes: The Life and Time of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Please don’t think, however, that the slowness of my reading in any way indicates that I found this biography uninteresting; it’s simply an incredibly comprehensive, well-researched biography that I think will leave you with a very good insight into the creator of Sherlock Holmes. But it is slow reading, especially if you’re reading six or seven or eight other books equally … comprehensive (like an annotated Pride and Prejudice or P.G. Wodehouse A Life in Letters or Michael Wood’s The Story of England).Inevitably, when you’re reading a book like this biography once a week for only thirty minutes or so before you go to sleep, you’ll spend a lot of time flipping back through pages, trying to remember who’s who. After all, Conan Doyle knew a lot of people and once the famous author hits his stride, you realize he was friends, enemies and frenemies with a lot of other famous figures, including H.G. Wells, P.G. Wodehouse, Rudyard Kipling and Harry Houdini. He was related by marriage to E.W. Hornung, the creator of gentleman thief Arthur J. Raffles. He championed several causes, including overturning the wrongful conviction of two men, challenging England’s onerous divorce laws and, of course, spiritualism, which put him at odds with the church, skeptics and even other spiritualists.All this is as nothing compared to Conan Doyle’s greatest creation, that exemplar of cold logic and reasoning, Sherlock Holmes. Biographer Andrew Lycett, however, has done an admirable job of balancing the importance of Holmes, something Sir Arthur probably would have appreciated, but which might disappoint a Sherlockian. It’s easy to see, however, that the Canon represents only a small fraction of Conan Doyle’s output, despite how much Holmes looms large with the public.The resulting portrait of Conan Doyle seemed quite understandable to me. I’d always wondered how someone who’d created the rational Holmes—“no ghosts need apply”—could be so gullible as to believe in faeries, automatic writing and ectoplasmic manifestations, but the deaths of so many so close to Conan Doyle (from disease and the Great War) and the burden left him by his creative but alcoholic, depressive and epileptic father, make his need to believe understandable. Conan Doyle was an outsize character who needed things to make sense, either by his own doing or by a power greater than himself. One of the byproducts of his own greatness was that singular creation, Sherlock Holmes.Another byproduct of portraying this fascinating subject, coupled with the wealth of material Lycett was able to use following the deaths of several Doyle relations, is this somewhat daunting biography. It’s amazing how much we know about Conan Doyle, based on the many letters, journals and published works. Perhaps a less detailed biography would have made for easier reading, but even though I sometimes forgot who was who, I’m glad of Lycett’s thorough job.

Looking for Yesterday

Looking for Yesterday - Marcia Muller This is the first Sharon McCone mystery I've read in some time and it was like meeting a friend you've lost touch with. You're happy to see they're happy and essentially unchanged (and haven't become a Republican and/or religious evangelical), but you're a little overwhelmed by how much history now separates you. I did enjoy the mystery, where the private detective must solve the murder of a woman everyone believes is guilty of another woman, and I like that she has the help of a very extensive network of friends, family and business partners, even as she suffers misfortunes that would discourage any ordinary person. Highly recommended.

Story of England

The Story of England - Michael Wood Such an amazing book. Such an amazingly long, detailed book. Such an amazing glimpse into people’s lives in one small cluster of English villages from the Norman Conquest to the present day. It makes a wonderful companion to the TV series of the same name, which understandably sprints through history. The continuity of life, names, customs, professions and statuses is the principal joy of the book.You get to see how the same family names appear again and again throughout the centuries and how fortunes rise and fall and how. Yes, it can be a bit tedious at times, but never a fault of the writing. A thousand years of history just can be a bit much for most of us to comprehend.

Niedermayer & Hart

Niedermayer & Hart - M.J. Johnson You could be smart and just read Martin Johnson’s “Niedermayer & Hart” on my say so, no questions asked. If you enjoy horror stories with a nice historical background, you will enjoy this book. If you liked “Quatermass and the Pit” (or the later “Five Million Years to Earth”) or Stephen Laws “Ghost Train,” you will like this book. If you like stories with a slow incremental unraveling of the true horror that lies beneath an antiques dealer in Hove (near Brighton, England), you will like this book. If you like a book with an unfortunately high body count, noble sacrifices and stomach turning evil, then you will like this book.Believe me, the less you know, the better you will enjoy “Niedermayer & Hart” because you might be like me, somewhat jaded about some of the themes and myths used in book. You might think, oh no, not another book about …But since I had very little information about the novel before I started reading, I never had a chance to form an opinion and thus read with an open mind.OK, if you’re still reading, then let me explain that “Niedermayer & Hart” follows recently recovered alcoholic Jim Latimer, a photographer who drove his family away by his drinking, but is slowly rebuilding his life with the help of his friends. Thanks to a stroke of someone else’s bad luck, he even landed a job completing a catalog for the eponymously named company. It seems their previous photographer, a man Jim knew thirty years previous, had killed himself and a mutual friend recommended Latimer to the company.When Latimer goes to the company to complete the photo shoot of the antique porcelains, however, he feels a distinct unease that he puts down to news of the previous photographer’s gruesome suicide and maybe a fetid smell emanating from the basement. He develops a headache that disappears once he leaves the building and its curious inmates. On his first visits, he never meets Mr. Hart and is informed Mr. Niedermayer passed away some time ago.All this unfolds gradually, but not slowly, as we meet Latimer’s friends: his painterly neighbor Ruth Allison who’s had a psychic vision of Latimer; their mutual friend Erich Ledermann who’s also Latimer’s hypnotherapist; Bob Isherwood, the photographer who recommended Latimer to Niedermayer & Hart; and Jim’s daughter and his estranged wife. Sadly, many of these people will die or will be horribly scarred by Latimer’s introduction to the firm, established in 1957 but so much older than that.Are you still reading this? You really should turn back because now I have to tell you there’s a parallel story that takes place during and after the Third Crusade (the one with Saladin and Richard the Lionheart). A great evil is unleashed by an act of hubris by a marshal of the Knights Templar, and yes, some of you may be saying, I know where this is going, but believe me, it goes in directions you wouldn’t guess. I will not go further than this, except to say that unspeakable horrors await Latimer. You may lose hope at times and I can only say the book ends as well as it can.Actually, “Niedermayer & Hart” is three books in one. The first is Latimer’s story, the second the ancient story told to a Cistercian monk, and the third is the police procedural that begins after Latimer’s friends strike a small blow against the company. The third book introduces us to Detective Chief Inspector Susan Harris who gets to uncover the mystery largely without the benefit of Latimer and his friends knowledge, and the tension, of course, comes from not knowing whether the police will discover what they need to know in time.If you’ve read this much of my review, I’m sorry, but I’m sure you’ll still enjoy Martin Johnson’s “Niedermayer & Hart.” Even if you’ve figured out the nature of the evil, the writing and the action of the climax will still have you turning pages relentlesssly. Just don’t plan to get a lot of sleep between your late-night reading and your nightmares.

City of Thieves: A Novel

City of Thieves: A Novel - David Benioff I admit I only read David Benioff’s City of Thieves because it was a present from my friend Mike. After all, the siege of Leningrad is not what I would normally turn to for my usual escapist fiction, but the story of Lev Beniov, a young boy who stayed behind in his crumbling apartment block after the rest of his family had fled the city, and Nikolai Alexandrovich Vlasov, whom everyone calls Kolya, actually contains an amazing amount of humor, albeit of the gallows kind.So armed with my debt of gratitude and the fact that the foreword gives you some hope that the novel won’t end with everyone dead (and the fact that it’s first person), I tackled the book. And it’s another one of those stories that’s set in such a foreign environment—Russia during World War II—that it reads like science fiction. Many of the events are so bizarre and disturbing that you can’t believe these can be human beings doing these things to each other. Unfortunately it’s all too possible that people can be this evil, cavalier and uncaring, from the NKVD colonel who charges Lev and Kolya with the impossible task of finding a dozen fresh eggs in a city where people are turning to cannibalism, to the German Einsatzgruppen (SS death squad) officer who, Seventh Seal like, forces Lev to play chess for his life and that of his friends — and the dozen eggs.I don’t want to give away any of the horrific and surreal scenes of torture, bad luck and stupidity, nor do I want to tell you about the little sacrifices, acts of courage and equally stupid things that give some meaning to the nastiness and brutality. They are both too awful and wonderful to spoil. What I will tell you is that the unlikely friendship between Lev and Kolya makes it endurable. Kolya is that crazy person (you may have such a friend) who is equally skilled at talking them out of trouble as much as getting them into trouble. He spends a lot of effort trying to find a woman, worrying about his lack of a good bowel movement and especially glorifying an obscure author and his masterpiece The Courtyard Hound. Lev just wants to make it out alive, but he also manages to fall in love with a young woman sharpshooter, and it’s a love forged during some pretty horrifying circumstances and that makes the ending of the book bearable.Maybe in the end the book is about the ability of human beings to survive no matter what. People manage to make some sense of the world when it’s at its most insensible; society survives, mangled and twisted and bent out of shape, but humanity is never completely erased. In the end, City of Thieves is another one of those books I am glad I read and that I urge others to read, but I never plan to read it again. It’s just too awful, and that’s what makes it good.

The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Titanic Tragedy

The Titanic Tragedy - William Seil I have to admit I had low hopes for putting Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson on the Titanic, but The Titanic Tragedy surprised me and I don’t think I was unduly influenced by the hoopla surrounding the 100th anniversary of the sinking … but it helped.William Seil’s novel was first published in 1996 but is now part of the collection called The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes published by Titan Books. Seil’s skill is evident as he manages to put us on the Titanic without the iceberg looming over the whole story; and Holmes and Watson even manage to save the great ship from sinking, but don’t worry, the author doesn’t rewrite history. Instead he finds little nooks and crannies of the familiar story where he can insert Holmes and Watson, who now linger in the background of the Titanic tragedy like the Observers from Fringe.I’ll admit that the confluence of intrigues aboard the ship are a little over the top, involving anarchists, bomb plots, submarine plans and old adversaries, but somehow Seil makes it work. He also does a good job of including those familiar characters from the story, like Captain Smith, Second Officer Lightoller, White Star chairman J. Bruce Ismay and the telegraph operators, while also including less famous characters like American mystery writer Jacques Futrelle and his wife. Futrelle is a real person who wrote detective short stories featuring Professor Augustus S. F. X. Van Dusen, also known as “The Thinking Machine.” He works with Holmes but alas he dies when the Titanic sinks. A fun scene in the book involves Watson and Futrelle trying to escape their captivity using plot elements from Futrelle’s books.The sinking, of course, is the icy white elephant in the room that despite Seil’s best efforts abruptly ends the story. Seil manages to avoid the iceberg until page 218 of 259 in my edition, and it still doesn’t overshadow the mystery. It actually provides a Reichenbach Falls-like backdrop, appropriate because one of the fellow passengers is James Moriarty, and if you’re confused how this is possible, you don’t know your Moriarty family history, which Seil obviously does, being a long-time member of The Sound of the Baskervilles.I do have a few … not quite complaints … but observations. Seil may have worked a little too hard at getting some of the stock characters in this story. Mycroft, of course, provides the motivation for getting Holmes away from his bees, and I have no problem with that, but he unnecessarily introduces Irene Adler second hand into the story. That inclusion neither helps nor hinders the story.I also found it annoying for Holmes to maintain a disguise for almost the entire story, but that’s just my own little quirk. I keep imagining Holmes looking like Holmes but then have to adjust my mental image for Holmes in disguise, and like many film and TV producers, I make Holmes’ disguise completely ridiculous and over the top. He practically ends up in my mental image with a peg leg and a parrot (he pretends to be a naval officer).The last complaint I level Seil shares with many other authors, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I hate poor Watson always being duped, but it understandable Seil’s need for some dramatic tension and it does play into his plans to connect The Titanic Tragedy with His Last Bow, the last Holmes story from the Canon.I’d recommend The Titanic Tragedy regardless of the timing, but obviously now that the commemorations and documentaries are fresh in your mind, this would be a perfect to view the sinking from a Sherlockian perspective.

The Deception at Lyme: Or, The Peril of Persuasion

The Deception at Lyme: Or, The Peril of Persuasion - Carrie Bebris In an earlier post I mentioned my guilt at devouring this Austen pastiche, especially considering how slowly I read Jane Austen’s actual novels, and it is with further shame that I report that I finished Carrie Bebris’ The Deception at Lyme (Or, The Peril of Persuasion) in record time.As penance I must go back to work reading my chest crushing annotated Pride and Prejudice, but first let me tell you about the the death of Lady Elliot (formerly Mrs. Clay) after she falls (or was she pushed?) from the Cobb in Lyme Regis? Confused? Then let me add that The Deception in Lyme is the sixth book in Bebris’ series that follows Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy as they solve mysteries involving characters taken from Austen’s six novels. The first book in the series, Pride and Prescience, takes place after the events of Pride and Prejudice and this latest book has the Darcy’s visiting Lyme Regis where they meet the main characters of Persuasion.You may recall Mrs. Clay as the woman with whom Sir Walter Elliot was having a dalliance in Persuasion. She was a minor character but she assumes great importance as the corpse du jour immediately after she marries Sir Walter, just before the beginning of the book. She also provides a MacGuffin for the story by giving Sir Walter something he desperately wants, especially if he is to thwart the plans of Mr. William Elliot, his heir presumptive. The story also introduces new characters, including Darcy’s cousin Gerard Fitzwilliam, a naval lieutenant killed at sea after a skirmish with pirates; Lieutenant St. Clair who served with cousin Fitzwilliam; and Sir Laurence and his sister. Both Sir Laurence and Lieutenant St. Clair are possible suitors for Georgiana Darcy, who have accompanied the Darcys and their daughter Lily-Anne.Of course the Wentworths and the Harvilles from Persuasion play major roles, the Harvilles being again pressed into service as caregivers for a woman fallen from the Cobb, the great curving harbor wall that almost acts as a character in this drama. Sir Walter remains as vain and distasteful as ever, his only concern for his dead wife being the inconvenience it has brought him. And another character from Persuasion, Mrs. Smith, Anne Elliot’s invalid friend, is also added to the very large cast of characters.Ms. Bebris’ skill is finding a plot that intricately weaves the characters of Persuasion while still making the Darcys the protagonists, but not intruders into Austen’s last novel. And the interplay between all the characters makes you wonder (as it obviously has Ms. Bebris) what undercurrents exist in Austen’s novels. What are the minor characters up to after Fanny, Emma, Elizabeth, et al., leave the room.I can heartily recommend The Deception at Lyme, even if I am a little concerned about the author changing the perception that we have of one of the characters in Persuasion. Then again, I enjoyed how a certain character in Lost in Austen was entirely reinterpreted, so I think I’ll allow the little tweak here, especially as I pride myself on having seen it coming.

Intimations of Austen

Intimations of Austen - Jane Greensmith Look closely at the title of Intimations of Austen by Jane Greensmith and let that be your guide as to the nine mostly short stories inspired by the novels of Jane Austen. Because these are not stories Austen would have written or at least not the stories she would have written for publications.In fact it would be fair to say Intimations of Austen isn’t even a book at all but instead a lost John Prine album distilled down to the heartache of an Austen heroine: all the moments before Elinor Dashwood or Anne Elliot or Fanny Price discover that their love is not in vain. One might quibble and say that most of the stories kind of sort of end well but that happy ending is treated with efficiency (some of these stories are very short) and it is the heartache that one remembers. For all that I love of Sense and Sensibility, for instance, the defining moment for me is when Elinor hears that Edward is not married to Lucy Steele. We’re happy for Elinor but we also see the toll it has taken on her.And maybe that is the defining thing about these stories: we see the toll that love has taken on these characters; we see the price they pay. In the The Three Sisters (MP), we see the price one sister has paid for her love of a sailor; in The Last Baby, (P&P) we get a glimpse into the conundrum that is the Bennet marriage; and in Heaven Can Wait (P&P/S&S) we see the dead hand of love that gives Jane Bennet a far more interesting backstory and a reason for Darcy’s perception that she does not exhibit the necessary ardor for Charles Bingley.The first story of this collection—Rainbow Around the Moon (Pers)—is the saddest story and the story that instantly made me think of John Prine. It reminds us that the greatest love stories still inevitably end in death, only to be replaced by another love story. It is the way of things and this story is for those people who appreciate the last chapter of a biography.The best and longest story Greensmith saves for last. All I Do imagines Pride and Prejudice without a happy ending (or not the happy ending we know), where Elizabeth and Darcy never marry. There have been several books that have done this but Greensmith goes beyond what most would dare in altering the trajectory of this love story.In reading this story, I felt both belief and disbelief that Darcy would let his honor so stand in the way of happiness for him and Elizabeth; and it seems quite natural that Elizabeth would wonder whether his vaunted honor is an excuse. It’s also difficult to tell whether the extreme Elizabeth is prepared to go is a calculated—I hate to use the word ploy—gamble or a simple desperate act. Is she really willing to pay such a price to secure happiness for them? Any misgivings I might have in this story—is Darcy really this stupidly honorable?—are overcome by the ending that supplies the title for the story.Intimations of Austen is not a perfection collection of stories. It is marred by being too short, referring not to the length of the stories but the number for I would enjoy reading more from this author. Most importantly, don’t read the title as Imitations as soon have done, for although the stories are inspired by Austen they definitely have a distinctive voice.

Charlotte: Pride & Prejudice Continues

Charlotte: Pride & Prejudice Continues - Karen Aminadra It shows a great deal of charity to think kindly on the odious Mr. Collins of Pride and Prejudice. Sure, we all feel for Charlotte Collins née Lucas, who, knowing that her marital prospects are not good, accepts his offer of marriage.As Charlotte confessed to Elizabeth Bennet: “I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collins’s character, connection, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state.”(NOTE: There are potential spoilers below, but come on, did you think an Austen continuation would end unhappily?)William Collins (who even thinks of him having a first name?) is certainly not a villain, but he is such an object of ridicule that we can only think with sympathy of “poor Charlotte” left alone with Mr. Collins and the condescension of his patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Jane Greensmith in her story All I Do even has this line: “I’ll accuse you of being a ‘Collins’ if you keep on bowing and scraping.”But Karen Aminadra in her new book Charlotte — Pride and Prejudice Continues, has seen something in Mr. Collins that the rest of us have ignored and has endeavored to give Charlotte the happy ending she deserved within the context of the bargain she has made. Although the beginning of the book certainly gives no indication that the reclamation of Mr. Collins is possible:>>Upon her arrival she found the house and servants in pandemonium, for all his shouting and flapping Mr Collins had not produced the haste which he so desired but had made all about him unable to discern whether they were coming or going.“My dear Charlotte I cannot express to you how important the patronage of Lady Catherine de Bourgh is to us and the sovereign importance of performing our duty to her. We are called to dine at the great house this every evening; our presence is required. We must prepare ourselves.”>>Soon Charlotte is determined to stand up to the dictates of Lady Catherine, especially after she learns the extent to which their patroness has controlled and ruined the lives of others in the village of Hunsford. That stand comes at a cost, however, when Lady Catherine urges Mr. Collins to take a stronger hand in dealing with his “wayward” wife.All the while, however, it begins to dawn on Mr. Collins just how lucky he is to have found Charlotte, who fulfills the job of a rector’s wife admirably. Her charm, sense and open spirit make her the ideal companion, but she is not without fault. It also slowly dawns on her that her admission to Elizabeth that she is not a romantic may be untrue and that the bargain she has made with Mr. Collins may leave her very unhappy.It’s fun that the revelations Charlotte and William experience are not in sync; and when they do sync, they both have a taste of what their lives together could be. Lady Catherine, however, is always there to drive a wedge between them.Ms. Aminadra also shows great restraint in making her book solidly about Charlotte and Mr. Collins, with few mentions of the main characters of Pride and Prejudice. I almost thought Elizabeth and Darcy would be completely absent, but they do appear at the end of the book and their intervention is both appropriate and necessary.One character from P&P who does play a major role is Colonel Fitzwilliam, Darcy’s cousin. He’s often a character in play in Pride and Prejudice continuations, and here he’s a charming snake in the garden, tempting Charlotte from her vow to her husband. He’s no Wickham, of course, but he does show Charlotte what she’s missing in her marriage and ultimately, they’re equally unable to deny their mutual attraction.I have to admit I don’t read many Austen continuations that don’t have some gimmick: vampires, zombies or a murder mystery. But Ms. Aminadra’s story eschews gimmicks and has the simple plot of one of Austen’s novels: a women who has to make a choice between two men and characters who have to adjust their perceptions of one another. She’s also taken on the more difficult task of asking readers to change their perceptions of one of the most ridiculous characters Austen created.I fear I give away too much in this review, but be reassured that as in Austen’s novels, it’s the details and the characterization and not the plot that drive the story. You know that the heroine will have a happy ending; what you will enjoy reading is Charlotte’s efforts to secure that ending. The friends she makes in the village not only emphasize her genuine spirit, they also help her see her bargain for what it is. Those same friends are also her allies against Lady Catherine.My only disappointment in the ending is that Ms. Aminadra ultimately could not find a way to resolve the impasse with Lady Catherine. Her charity does not extend that far and in retrospect, I have to admit the reclamation of Lady Catherine would be too much to expect.

Jane Austen Made Me Do It: Original Stories Inspired by Literature's Most Astute Observer of the Human Heart

Jane Austen Made Me Do It: Original Stories Inspired by Literature's Most Astute Observer of the Human Heart - Laurel Ann Nattress, Lauren Willig, Adriana Trigiani, Jo Beverley, Alexandra Potter, Laurie Viera Rigler, Frank Delaney, Diane Meier, Syrie James, Stephanie Barron, Amanda Grange, Pamela Aidan, Elizabeth Aston, Carrie Bebris, Diana Birchall, Monica Fairview, Janet Mullan At long last, I have finished reading Jane Austen Made Me Do It, a collection of short stories inspired by Jane Austen. But please don’t think my reporting to you that it took a long time to read is any indication that I didn’t like this collection, for I enjoyed it immensely.But it is a perfect pick it up and read it when you’ve got a doctor’s appointment or getting an oil change sort of book. I could read one or two stories at a time in-between my more serious Austen reading: How Jane Austen Conquered the World, my third time through Emma, and my chest crushing annotated Pride and Prejudice. I often viewed the stories as my reward for finishing a long stretch of Miss Bates. So between life and my own writing, it took me a surprising four months to finish.Although I read the stories over the winter, I think it would make a perfect beach read. I would not recommend it for a plane trip, however, because it’s such a breezy read you’d have it finished before you land, even though there are 22 stories and almost 450 pages (including study guide and acknowledgements).I won’t say what my favorite stories are because I did enjoy them all, but I will list from the book’s cover some of the authors who contributed: Lauren Willig, Adriana Trigiani, Jo Beverley, Amanda Grange, Frank Delaney & Diane Meier, Stephanie Barron, Syrie James, Alexandra Potter and Laurie Viera Rigler. The collection is edited by Laurel Ann Nattress, who also writes the austenprose.com blog.My sense, based on no effort on my part to confirm this with a simple tally, is that the book is roughly divided among stories that take place during Austen’s life, involving either Austen herself or her relatives or her characters; stories that take place in modern day that are influenced by her novels; and supernatural stories, where Jane or one of her characters is a ghost, apparition or delusion. And there are stories that combine and cross these categories. I will also mention that although zombies and vampires are referenced, there are no stories that directly involve either.It was surprising to me the number of ghost stories, considering that Jane herself avoided anything of the supernatural in her six novels. But I suppose it is understandable because it is so tempting to bring Jane into the modern day, which generally requires turning her into a ghost.I will admit I was suspicious that the collection might be a trifle and then I was happy to learn that it was.PS OK, I will name my favorite story: Carrie Bebris’ The Chase, wherein Frank Austen goes all Master and Commander on us. It’s the story that goes farthest afield from what we would think of as a Jane Austen story and thus I found it the most daring.