I really messed this one up. I ordered both A Visit to Highbury and Later Days at Highbury at the same time, from two different Amazon vendors, along with several other volumes. Since the latter came first I went ahead and read it, completely forgetting that there was a first volume until it arrived last week (in spite of the fact that it says "Praise for A Visit to Highbury" in huge letters on the back). So please forgive my scatterbrained behavior. You can see my review for Later Days at Highbury here.
A Visit to Highbury follows the text of Emma in epistolary format. Our main characters are the familiar Mrs. Goddard and her sister, the recently widowed and remarried Mrs. Pinkney. The story adheres meticulously to the original text and is a lovely insight into how Highbury gossip construes the events transpiring at Hartfield. We also spend time in London and Bath with Mrs. Pinkney, giving us hints of how the John Knightlys are fairing and a new perspective on the courtship of Mr. and Mrs. Elton. Particularly interesting new details included in the story involve the terrors of riding atop of a mail coach, the workings of a period school, and the very exciting politics of the day. Ms. Austen-Leigh adds greatly to the reader's picture of life in 1813 England, venturing beyond the periphery of her great-great-great-aunt's piece of ivory without contaminating it with the tawdry. I have thoroughly enjoyed these books and look forward to rereading them, in order next time.
One last thought. So much Emma fan fiction betrays the writers' dislike for our heroine. Having always found Emma to be perfectly charming (and relating to her far better than any of Austen's other heroines) I tend to resent this. As a result, I found the following passage, from one of Mrs. Pinkney's letters, particularly gratifying:
Poor Miss W., with her quick mind, I daresay, made a thoughtless remark to Miss Bates without considering how it would be received. I sympathize deeply with her distress, because it is just the sort of thing I have often done, myself!
How very true! Let those who have never stuck a foot in their mouth criticize: I will always feel the torment Emma suffers after Box hill acutely.