Kim’s Guest Review of Mr. Darcy Came to Dinner by Jack Caldwell

mdctdjcMy latest review for Austenprose is Mr. Darcy Came to Dinner by Jack Caldwell. The name Jack Caldwell may ring a bell for some of you. He is the author of Pemberley Ranch, a book that Todd and I both reviewed (see Todd’s/Mine.) Caldwell is one of the few male authors that exist in the Jane Austen fan fiction sphere. As such, he captures my attention with each novel he writes as he is able to offer male insight into Darcy’s mind (and let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want to know what that man was thinking?!)

Mr. Darcy Came to Dinner is a comedic retelling of Pride and Prejudice that lands Darcy in the living room of the Bennet household as he recovers from a broken leg. How did he got that broken leg? You’d have to ask Elizabeth’s adorable cat Cassandra! What ensues in the Bennet household as Darcy recovers is truly hilarious. I highly recommend this read!

For a direct link to my review click here.

Sam’s Review of Another Little Piece of My Heart by Tracey Martin

alpomhI wonder what it’s like to be Taylor Swift’s ex-boyfriend. I’m not talking about the likes of Joe Jonas or John Mayer. What about that high school kid with the pick up truck? The one whose pictures T-Swift so publicly burned on her first album. Do the people back home know him? Make sideways glances when they see him at the local diner? What’s his life like now? Does he keep it a secret or does he let the world know that he really does think of the curly-haired blonde whenever he hears a Tim McGraw song? Well, it seems that I’m not the only pop culture obsessed fangirl, because in Another Little Piece of My Heart (based on Jane Austen’s Persuasion), author Tracey Martin explores this very idea.

From Goodreads:

What if your devastating break-up became this summer’s hit single? In this rock-and-roll retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, music can either bring you together or tear you apart.

At her dying mother’s request, Claire dumps Jared, the only boy she’s ever loved. Left with a broken family and a broken heart, Claire is furious when she discovers that her biggest regret became Jared’s big break. While Jared is catapulted into rock-star status, another piece of Claire’s heart crumbles every time his song plays on the radio.

The summer after her senior year, it’s been months since the big break-up, and Claire is just trying to keep her head down and make it through a tense trip to the beach with her family. But when Jared shows up, and old feelings reignite, can Claire and Jared let go of the past? Or will they be stuck singing the same old refrain?

What I loved about this book: it’s unapologetically YA. What I had trouble with about this book: it’s unapologetically YA.

Claire is a delight as a narrator. She is down to earth, unsure of herself, and still dealing with the aftermath of a bad break up. In a nutshell, she’s a girlfriend, someone you’ve known your whole life. Claire tries desperately to hide her past with Jared. She doesn’t want to be the girl who broke his heart. Imagine what Justin Bieber’s fans would do to a girl who hurt him? Yea. I wouldn’t want to be that girl. Unfortunately, when you’re dealing with someone famous the world seems a little smaller. His face is everywhere. The song is on the radio. How can you escape? It’s bad enough that Claire has to worry about running into this boy back home, but she should be safe while on vacation several states away, right?

This is where YA takes a few liberties. Of all the beaches in world, Jared, the superstar, just so happens to coincidentally be spending the summer at the exact same one as Claire? Also, he just so happens to be living in a college dorm with a buddy from home? With no security? With NO ONE TWEETING ABOUT IT? Yea. Right. That’s how I knew this was most certainly a fiction. It’s 2014. The hot guy with several Grammys to his name would never be able to camp out and write songs for an entire summer without people bombarding him. All Jared had to contend with was a few respectful and well-meaning fans who quietly asked for autographs and respected his privacy. Ok.

At its heart I have to say that this was a very well executed piece. I found myself very wrapped up in the story. My teenage self was all about it. I liked the idea of Claire’s story, the girl who made her ex-boyfriend’s fame possible.

We all know that the best writers of songs and books draw on their real life experiences. It’s what makes the stories so compelling; they are grounded in truth. What sometimes gets lost in translation is that there are actual, non-famous counterparts on the other sides of those stories. People with hopes, dreams, and feelings. Is it fair to vent on paper and become famous off of a shared life experience? Who is the owner of something that happened behind closed doors? If these are questions you want to grapple with on a Sunday afternoon I highly recommend this ah-dorable, fast paced tale.

4 out of 5 Stars

Another Little Piece of My Heart by Tracey Martin
Harlequin (2013)
eBook: 304 pages
ISBN: 9781459254749

Special thanks to Ms. Martin for my review copy!

Kim’s Guest Review of Maria Grace’s Given Good Principles Series

By now, you guys are well aware of the fact that I binge book series (you’ve read my Series Spotlight posts.) I read one, get hooked, and just have to keep binging.

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One of my most recent binge-reads was Maria Grace’s Given Good Principles series. Of the four parts I read, the first two are prequels to Pride and Prejudice, book three re-imagines P&P, while book four is a sequel to P&P. Grace had some pretty ingenious ways of getting the characters to realize what their personality/character flaws were PRIOR to meeting each other.

For a direct link to my review, click here.

Kim’s Guest Review of The Wrong Billionaire’s Bed (Billionaire Boys Club #3) by Jessica Clare

twbbjcI hope y’all have been loving all the joint reviews that reading bestie Kelly (from Reading With Analysis) and I have been posting. We’ve read so many of the same books lately that we’ve joined creative forces to help put an end to all the writer’s block we’ve been having.

Our latest joint review is on The Wrong Billionaire’s Bed by Jessica Clare. It’s the third book in Clare’s Billionaire Boys Club series. Book one was Stranded With A Billionairefollowed by Beauty and the Billionaire, which Kelly and I gushed about here.

For a direct link to our review of our pros and cons about The Wrong Billionaire’s Bed, click here.

Kim’s Guest Review of Live (Burnside #1) by Mary Ann Rivers

lmarHello my fellow reading friends!! As you may know, reading bestie Kelly (from Reading With Analysis) and I have almost exactly the same taste in books. We frequently find each other reading the same books, gushing over similar plot points, or hating on some characters while falling in love with others. We’ve taken to writing our reviews for a lot of these books together as a way of (attempting) to write our thoughts coherently instead of SQUEEEEEEEEEEE!

ANYWAY –  Last week we reviewed Tessa Dare’s Romancing the Duke together as well as Mary Ann Rivers’s Live. 

Somehow Kelly and I always manage to write a letter to Mary Ann in our reviews for her books. In keeping with that theme we decided that for our review of Live we’d write it in an epistolary format. The results were hilarious.

For a direct link to our Live review, click here.

Kim’s Guest Review of Almost Persuaded by P.O. Dixon

appodJane Austen has given us countless characters to love: Fitzwilliam Darcy, Elizabeth Bennet, Anne Elliot, Captain Frederick Wentworth, Elinor & Marianne Dashwood, and so many others. Sprinkled within the pages of her beloved novels she’s also given us many lesser-known, lesser-developed characters that readers have been able to flesh out and develop with their own imaginations. Author P.O Dixon has decided to take Mary King, “that nasty freckle-faced girl,” who was almost engaged to Wickham in Pride and Prejudice and write her story in Almost Persuaded.  My review of this short novella is my latest post over at Austenprose.

For a direct link to my review, click here.

Kim and Kelly’s Review of Romancing the Duke (Castles Ever After #1) by Tessa Dare

rtdtdReading bestie Kelly from Reading With Analysis and I loves us some Tessa Dare novels. In fact, our entire friendship started over a shared love of Susanna, the heroine with a lopsided breast from A Night to Surrender. We duel reviewed her Stud Club trilogy and have each read all of the books in her Wanton Dairymaid trilogy and Spindle Cove series. Her books are filled with awesomely flawed heroines, imperfect heroes, and a great blend of humor and sexiness not often found in other romance novels. When Kel and I found out about the hero and heroine of her latest novel, Romancing the Duke, we instantly knew we had to read and review it together.

From Goodreads:

As the daughter of a famed author, Isolde Ophelia Goodnight grew up on tales of brave knights and fair maidens. She never doubted romance would be in her future, too. The storybooks offered endless possibilities.

And as she grew older, Izzy crossed them off. One by one by one.

Ugly duckling turned swan?

Abducted by handsome highwayman?

Rescued from drudgery by charming prince?

No, no, and… Heh.

Now Izzy’s given up yearning for romance. She’ll settle for a roof over her head. What fairy tales are left over for an impoverished twenty-six year-old woman who’s never even been kissed?

This one.

Kim: Tessa Dare’s novels are always a treat. As I mentioned above her heroes and heroines are flawed and don’t follow the typical romance model (this gives her A+ marks in my book already.)

You see, she gives voice to the wallflowers, the physically impaired, the women considered to be unattractive, etc. Her heroes don’t all look like Adonis either. Some were raised in extremely impoverished conditions, others are fops, or “damaged goods” from partaking in active war duty.

In Romancing the Duke our hero, Ransom, is blind, distrustful, and scarred from the ugliness that exists in life. And our heroine Izzy? She’s impoverished, starved for affection and love, and is way ahead of her time intellectually. Yet she’s also a woman who dreams with an imagination that could rival a child’s. Their pairing makes for what I think is Dare’s best novel to date.

Kelly: Tessa Dare is known for her humorous writing, but her books are definitely not light.  It is remarkable how she is able to balance hilarity with depth, to produce a story that is wildly entertaining and intellectually compelling.  It seemed to me while I was reading it that this book clearly shows how much Dare has grown as a writer over the years, but then I got to thinking about her earlier books, and I realized that the sophistication was always there — I just paid more attention to the humor than the underlying material.

Kim: I fully agree! Her humor and sophistication was always present, but something about this novel showcased it in a new way. It’s without a doubt the best thing she’s written to date, and her other novels were all stellar in their own right. And that humor Kelly talks about? Dare found fantastic places to infuse it into the story.

Part of the plot of the story is that Izzy is given Ransom’s castle as part of a bequeathment from her father’s patron. Since the accident that rendered Ransom blind, he hasn’t seen his solicitors in London. He finds it implausible that his castle has been sold without his permission and refuses to believe the documents giving Izzy ownership are genuine.

Kelly: So hijinks ensue while Izzy and Ransom dig through piles of paperwork to find out what happened and answer the age-old question: does Izzy own the castle?  Along the way, Izzy and Ransom are joined by a roving band of LARPers whom Ransom disdains and Izzy finds charming, if slightly stifling.  Eventually, Ransom is challenged to embrace the camaraderie of fandom to find unexpected kinship and the beginnings of true friendship with the brothers in the Order of the Poppy (the Knights of Moranglia), and Izzy is challenged to break free from her past and enter into true companionship without sacrificing her identity.  Oh, and there’s a lot of romance.

Kim: Some of the funniest moments of the book come when this group of LARPers pose as Ransom’s servants. Izzy and Ransom find out that he will be visited by his solicitors, as well as a doctor to judge his mental well-being and ability to run his estate. Izzy sets up several plans to make sure that Ransom appears at his best. When a practice doesn’t go as well as she wants one of the Knights yells out

“It’s on to Plan E!…Plan E everyone! Who has the ermine?”

Kelly: Yes, and then later, during the actual examination with the doctors, the scheming solicitors, and the representative from the Lord Chancellor’s office,

“A shout lifted over all: ‘Release the ermine!’”

Kim: Romancing the Duke is my new favorite Dare novel. In ways it’s an anti-romance: blind hero, plain heroine, crumbling castle, bad first kiss……Yet for all the things that make it an anti-romance, it is filled with some of the most beautiful scenes and sentiments. The entire “Doubt Nots” sequence stuck out in my mind for its beauty. Also, the scene in which Izzy returns to her room and finds it filled with candlelight because Ransom knows she is afraid of the dark? Pure magic. It’s a romantic fan’s dream come alive.

Kelly: Dare took all these classic tropes of romance — the wounded hero — a Duke, for fuck’s sake — the plain but plucky heroine, the atmospheric castle, the chemistry and tension between the characters, the notion of characters saving each other and finding fulfillment in one another — and shook them together in a story that manages to be fun, heartwarming, and feel-good, while challenging one’s preconceived notions of how those tropes ought to play out. It is not so much this epic, magical love that saves the day, not so much the characters surrendering to their feelings for one another that brings about the positive ending.  I mean, all of that helps, sure, but friendship is actually the lynchpin here, and it isn’t even a friendship between Izzy and Ransom.  Izzy’s friendship with Abigail Pelham is one of my favorite things about the book, especially considering that everyone — Izzy included — would have expected them to be rivals rather than friends. And the emotional climax of the story, the “Doubt Not” sequence Kim mentioned above, is just as much a demonstration of Ransom’s solidarity with his newfound friends as it is a declaration of love for Izzy.

Kim: Friendship is SUCH a huge theme in this book. It’s friendship and not love that is the cause of everyone’s improved natures. Sure, love plays a part for Ransom and Izzy, but they’re more open to love because of their newfound friendships. Izzy & Abigail, Ransom & the Knights, Izzy & Ransom – all of these relationships afford them the opportunity to see the worth of love.

Kelly: I’d actually argue that it goes the other way around. (Here’s the moment where we hold up a chicken and an egg and then argue about it for hours and hours while y’all go read some other blog. Sorry!)  I think love is actually the starting point.  At first, there’s no friendship, really.  Izzy and Abigail are nice to one another, but they aren’t really friends. And Ransom is contemptuous to everyone. Then Izzy and Ransom realize that they love each other, but that love by itself is not enough to overcome some of Ransom’s issues and his dukeliness (that’s totally a word), and he acts like a giant douche-pony in this totally dramatic way, pushing everyone away, straining all of these fledgling friendships, but not doing as much damage to the love between Izzy and himself. Then Ransom’s longtime (and long-suffering) valet tells him to stuff it, because Ransom’s behavior is antithetical to love, so Ransom does some thinking. And, after he thinks, he acts, and his first acts are acts of friendship. Likewise, Izzy begins to realize that she has a true friend in Abigail, largely because her love of Ransom (and his love of her) opens her up to the possibility of being herself and of still being accepted and loved.

Kim: If you’re wondering – this is the first time in a long time our dueling review has had a “duel” in it. I’m still of the mind that friendship is what opens them to love. There is certainly affection between Ransom and Izzy, but Ransom is completely blind to it. When his valet tells him to stuff it and then sits down and actually has a conversation with him, he discovers the depth of regard that his valet has always had for him. The same thing happens when he speaks to the Knights. He realizes he has all of these people around him that support him and want him to succeed and it’s this that finally allows him to tell Izzy his feelings (the “Doubt Nots” sequence.)

I agree with Kelly when she says that at first there isn’t a friendship between Abigail and Izzy. However, I believe that to be more true from Izzy’s perspective. I think Izzy considers Abigail to be a frenemy at first. Yet seeing her willingness to help Izzy and Ransom with their fixing up the castle and in the scheme with the solicitors – she discovers a woman very different from her first impressions. I think this also may be due to Izzy’s upbringing. Largely responsible for taking care of herself and her father, she doesn’t allow people to get close to her. She doesn’t understand the bonds of friendship and love.

Kelly: So, it’s possible that we’re actually fighting on the same side of this duel.  Anyway, since Ransom’s and Izzy’s feelings of love (and even their awareness of those feelings) definitely preceded their confession of those feelings, I’m inclined to believe that their sudden interest and ability in developing friendships with the other characters (Abigail, the Knights, the valet, etc.) is born out of that love.  Were I writing an academic paper about this book, that would be my thesis statement.  (As an aside, I think one could — and should — write an academic paper about this book, perhaps comparing it to the romance tradition on which so many of its story tropes are based.  OK, Internet: get on it.)

Kim: Regardless of which side of the duel you’re on, should you read this book you’ll definitely jump on our YAY FRIENDSHIP bandwagon. I think the reason I love friendship being such a huge part of this book is because it’s friendship in a Tessa Dare novel, and as I said earlier it’s a Tessa Dare novel that started my friendship with Kelly. Seeing Dare’s building of these relationships is extra special because it makes me think of how mine was built with Kelly!

Kelly: Yes! Me too, friend!  This book is a celebration of all the things I hold dear: friendship, love, fandom, humor.  It insists that romance, love, and friendship are valid and important in this world, that stories about these things add to our happiness, and that those of us who love these stories are not delusional or stupid.  As the Lord Chancellor’s representative says,

“For God’s sake, man. They’re just stories. The rest of us here understand that.”

Kim’s Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Kelly’s Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare
Harper Collins (2014)
eBook: 384 pages
ISBN: 9780062240163

Kim’s Guest Review of Consequences by C.P. Odom

ccpoMy latest review for Austenprose is on one of the most unique Jane Austen fan fiction novels I’ve ever read, Consequences by C.P. Odom. The beginning of the second half of the book completely blew my mind! Not only was the book surprising in the direction its plot took, but it was written in a way that incited deep emotions while reading.

The book is fabulous and I heartily recommend you check it out!

For a direct link to my review, click here.

Jen’s Review of The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry

tkdjmThey say “normal is just a setting on a dryer” (with the exception of my dryer, I guess.) However, more to the point: what is normal, exactly? In The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry this question is explored.

From Goodreads

After the unexpected death of her parents, painfully shy and sheltered 26-year-old Ginny Selvaggio seeks comfort in cooking from family recipes. But the rich, peppery scent of her Nonna’s soup draws an unexpected visitor into the kitchen: the ghost of Nonna herself, dead for twenty years, who appears with a cryptic warning (“do no let her…”) before vanishing like steam from a cooling dish.

A haunted kitchen isn’t Ginny’s only challenge. Her domineering sister, Amanda, (aka “Demanda”) insists on selling their parents’ house, the only home Ginny has ever known. As she packs up her parents’ belongings, Ginny finds evidence of family secrets she isn’t sure how to unravel. She knows how to turn milk into cheese and cream into butter, but she doesn’t know why her mother hid a letter in the bedroom chimney, or the identity of the woman in her father’s photographs. The more she learns, the more she realizes the keys to these riddles lie with the dead, and there’s only one way to get answers: cook from dead people’s recipes, raise their ghosts, and ask them.

Honestly, I was very disappointed in this book. It received rave reviews on Goodreads, so maybe I set my expectations too high.

The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry is about a young woman, Ginny, who is living with (undiagnosed) Asperger’s Syndrome. The book is written from her point of view, so you spend a lot of time in her head. Her parents pass away unexpectedly and as a result you read much about how she copes with this. Her sister, Amanda, wants to sell the house Ginny has lived in all her life and tries to make Ginny be more “normal,” or at least realize how abnormal she is. I did not like Amanda at all. Her characterization was very one-dimensional.

Cooking is Ginny’s passion and coping mechanism. She suddenly has the ability to conjure up ghosts by preparing the deceased person’s recipes. I was very intrigued by this but wound up being disappointed when it had little to do with the storyline, with the exception of perhaps her parents. As far as the “secrets” went, there aren’t really any, at least in my opinion. One could skip over much of this portion book without losing the story.

I did find myself relating to Ginny having to find a new “normal” since I deal with social anxiety and chronic illnesses. I liked Ginny’s view that everyone has their own “normal,” and to not label mental health issues as abnormal, but instead a different variant of normal. Because really, what IS normal?

Sadly, the plot really fell flat. I was not motivated to keep reading to see what would happen and it took me longer to finish because I had to force myself to read it. If you are looking to learn what it’s like to be inside the head of someone with Asperger’s, you may enjoy this book. But if you want a more exciting plot, skip this.

2 out of 5 Stars

The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry
Gallery Books (2011)
Paperback: 304 pages
ISBN: 9781451648508

Special thanks to Gallery Books for my review copy!

Kim’s Guest Post of Another Place In Time by Mary Lydon Simonsen

apitmlsMr. Darcy? Time travel? New Austenprose review? Check, check, and check!

Mary Lydon Simonsen (one of my favorite authors in the entire Jane Austen Fan Fiction sphere) recently published her newest novel, Another Place in Time. The premise of the novel has Darcy traveling to the future to find an Austen/Regency scholar that will help him in his bid to win the hand of Ms. Elizabeth Bennet. Darcy in modern times and Chris (the Austen/Regency scholar) in Regency times provides the perfect fodder for laughs as well as much soul-searching.

I truly think Another Place in Time is one of Simonsen’s best works to date. For a direct link to my review, click here.