Tuesday, January 22, 2013

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

The Unexpected Miss Bennet by Patrice Sarath -- Austenesque

This sequel to Pride and Prejudice is all about Mary, the awkward middle Bennet daughter. She's bookish and uncomfortable in social situations. Now her two eldest sisters are happily wed and Lydia ... well, the less said about her the better, Mary begins to wonder what will happen to her. She discovers that her old comforting Fordyce's Sermons is no longer the balm to her soul it once was. It even seems as if Fordyce didn't know young women at all! Mary's whole world is shaken by her new found revelations. Jane and Lizzy hatch a scheme to "do something" about Mary. While Kitty enjoys London with the Bingleys, Mary is sent to Pemberley to stay with the Darcys. She discovers unexpected friendships, hardships and joys as she comes of age and discovers that she is the unexpected Bennet. This story is a wonderful continuation/spin-off of Pride and Prejudice. It focuses primarily on Mary with a little bit about the other characters. I liked the focus on Mary who is the forgotten sister. I can relate to her shyness and bookishness. While I can't relate to her sermonizing and her reasons behind it or some of the decisions she makes, I can empathize with her. She's entirely likeable and sympathetic. She's not a drama queen middle child but a quiet one, lost in the middle. She's not a girl anymore and she faces and uncertain future and is determined to meet it on her own terms. Her suitor is very unexpected as well. I liked him a lot. The romance is very quiet and not really very present. It's closer to a meeting of the minds, as Georgette Heyer would call it, but not. Those looking for grand sweeping passion and heat, look elsewhere. Mary remains true to herself. That is what I loved most about this novel, that the characters were all true to Jane Austen's creations. Each one, except Mary, acted as they had at the finale of Pride and Prejudice. Mr. Collins is especially spot-on obnoxious! There is one exception, whose personality turns out to be a welcome surprise and an unexpected friend for Mary. There are a few minor bumps in the story but I enjoyed the story so much I forgot that some things were mentioned once or twice and never again. This is Mary's coming-of-age story and she grows and changes as a result of her experiences and reflections on them. Another wonderful thing about this novel is that it captures the tone of Jane Austen's writing while not copying it exactly or writing from an 1813 dictionary. The novel reads more like a young adult book than a classic Jane Austen novel but I liked the style. The writing flows smoothly and is easy to read. Janeites from teens on up will enjoy this wonderful story. I hope to read more from this author in the future. I would like to see Kitty, Georgiana and Anne's stories told.

Midsummer Moon by Joy Reed -- Regency Romance

Miss Jane Reynolds is spending the summer in the country with her Aunt Cordelia and  cousin Cynthia while her Aunt Daphne with whom she usually lives in Bath, tours the battlefields in Europe with Aunt Cordelia's husband. When they learn that an eccentric elderly neighbor died and left her estate and fortune to her nephew, Sir George Overton, one of the most eligible bachelors in London, Aunt Cordelia and Cynthia, who is just Out, get the matchmaking bug. When headstrong Cynthia persuades Jane to visit Sir George's estate grounds before he arrives, Jane has misgivings but goes along with the plan. Then, during a moment of madness, somewhat disheveled, they come face to face with Sir George himself. Embarrassed, Jane is sure Sir George, a notable dandy will have a disgust of her, but instead she finds a man with a sense of humor similar to her own. Rather than sell the estate right away, Sir George seems inclined to stay on for the summer and one of his reasons seems to be Jane. Jane thinks a pink of the ton such as Sir George could never be interested in a plain, shy spinster such as herself. There's nothing more on his mind than idle amusement. He must be more interested in the lusty widow chasing after him, but if so, then why does he pay so much attention to Jane?  As the midsummer moon approaches and Jane's family hosts a masquerade ball, she soon learns how lovely plain Jane can be. This is a lovely, sweet story. The characters and plot are largely original which is very refreshing. Sir George is neither a rake nor a Corinthian. He's not even an Alpha hero. He's known as a Dandy and rattle but his sense of humor shows him to be well-read and intelligent, traits that will endear him to any romantic reader. Jane is an original heroine is well. She can be shy and tongue-tied at time, something I can relate to very well. The relationship between the heroine and hero develops really nicely. They get to know each other and really connect. There's no major chemistry or fireworks but there is a lovely friendship based on mutual interests that develops into more, which I absolutely loved. There are lots of chuckle out loud moments, especially during a dinner party. The detailed descriptions the Priory and gardens are amazing. I felt like I was walking along with the characters. My only complaint is that the story goes on too long. The big misunderstanding happens late in the story and feels out of place at that point. It's obvious what happened and Jane's reaction was so out of character that that part of the novel felt forced. Newcomers to the genre who love the fashions of the period will find this novel a good place to start. Long-time fans of the genre will love this well-written, intelligent, sweet story. It's not quite one for the keeper shelf, but definitely one of the better Zebra Regencies.  

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