Thursday, October 27, 2016

Giveaway! Darcy By Any Other Name

A bit of excitement: upon reading my review yesterday, author Laura Hile generously offered my readers a giveaway! One ebook edition of Darcy By Any Other Name is up for grabs. Giveaway will run for a week. Just leave a comment below including your email address. Good luck, and thanks Laura!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Darcy By Any Other Name by Laura Hile

I can think of few authors who do justice to Jane Austen's fine appreciation for the absurd, but Laura Hile is certainly one of them. Her Mercy's Embrace trilogy (read my reviews) has long been amongst my very favorite Austenesque stories, and it was with impatience that I waited for the day last summer when I finally got to greedily devour a new book by Ms. Hile. I admit to feeling some trepidation regrading the premise of Darcy By Any Other NameMr. Darcy is struck by lightening and changes bodies with Mr. Collins. The very notion left me uncomfortable. Darcy as Collins? It gave me that feeling I get when an actor on film does something so ridiculous I can barely stand to watch, usually Will Farrell. There may even have been a moment of hesitation before I cracked the cover, but I knew I could trust the writer who redeemed Elizabeth Elliot, and in I plunged.

What a ride.

If there were cringe worthy moments, they effectively conveyed Darcy's own extreme discomfort with his predicament. Who am I to be skeeved out when it's poor Mr. Darcy who has to endure it? Upon first awakening from the accident, he find himself a virtually prisoner at Longbourn, studiously guarded by the well-meaning Mrs. Hill.

Darcy's eyes studied Hill as she moved about the room. In order to escape he might have to climb out a window and slide down the drain pipe. Not that he hadn't done this before, but how would Collins' flabby body respond? He'd caught glimpses of Collins' thighs, each one plump and rounded like the body of a seal. Could he climb with such legs? Could he manage to ride?

Darcy watched Hill stir the coals and add wood to the fire. How many stones was Collins? Did the Bennets have a horse that would bear his weight?

Presently Hill went out, and at once Darcy sat up, wincing a little at the way his head hurt. Steeling himself against pain, he swung his legs over the edge of the bed. Secretly he had practiced standing to gain strength and balance. Now it was time to venture farther.

Darcy took a sliding step in the direction of the wardrobe. He found that by holding on to the bedstead and then bracing himself against the nearby wall, he could reach the wardrobe door. Hanging inside were a black frock coat and a single pressed shirt. The shelves held smallclothes, stockings, and a cravat, clean and nicely folded. Darcy gathered these and made his way back to the bed.

With a weather eye in the unlocked door, he managed to dress himself. The effort left him weary and winded. He glanced at the clock. No wonder, it was almost time for the midday meal--more bone broth. Wonderful.

One of the things he'd noticed about Collins' body was how hungry he was. Continually he was craving food, especially sweets. This, Darcy decided, was something that would have to change. He would not be a slave to a voracious appetite.

The pages flew by as I anxiously sought resolution, desperate to learn how such an extraordinary occurrence might be undone, little suspecting that more than a body stood in our hero's way. Of course Elizabeth might learn to love Mr. Collins despite his person, were he Mr. Darcy inside, but how to rectify such a predicament proved just as complex as reclaiming a body. The novel is action packed, just like Mercy's Embrace, but Darcy By Any Other Name is a longer and more linear story, allowing the reader to linger and smell the roses. I think I might like it better. Rereads will tell. Brava, Laura!

And now we have a giveaway! Win a free ebook of Darcy By Any Other Name here:

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Horatio Nelson at the NPG and in Edinburgh

by Lemuel Francis Abbott, oil on canvas, 1797
I am not hugely enamored with military history, but one cannot study Jane Austen's era without knowing something of Nelson. For better or worse, my early impressions of the man were defined by the 1941 film That Hamilton Woman (it's amazing how many characters, both real and fictional, were first introduced to me as Laurence Olivier). Those of us who don't find military history fascinating sometimes cling to scandalous tidbits like Nelson's affair with Emma Hamilton, as they are far more engaging to our brains than battle maneuvers. So it was with some chagrin that I visited The Nelson Monument on top of Calton Hill only to discover the small but highly informative museum exhibit dedicated to him there made not a single mention of his notorious mistress. For my five pounds, I would have liked to have had that small bone tossed my way. Of course, I was paying to climb the tower and enjoy the view, which I would gladly do again.

I suppose the legitimate Nelson enthusiast must get rather bored of we dilettantes who want to delve again and again into the details of his great romance. I understand that his military career is legendary and of far greater lasting significance than the details of his love life. Yet when presenting the image of a man in his entirety - when seeking to understand his character and motivations - is not such information essential? Behold his portrait on display at the National Portrait Gallery in London: this is not the image of a glorified military emblem (as we saw George IV portray himself in the same room), but a surprisingly gentle and unassuming looking man, not formidable in the least despite the proudly display of his Star and Ribbon of the Bath and Naval Gold Medal. This portrait is based on one from a previous sitting for the same artist, though it was also taken from life, and it was commissioned for Lady Nelson. How I wished there were portraits of both she and Lady Hamilton nearby! Perhaps such a display would be a bit sensationalist, especially in a room of the gallery dedicated George IV, but I would have reveled in it, nonetheless. I find this portrait fascinating in its backstory. There is some madness in this tale, and that always sparks my imagination. This is from the NPG website:
Although Nelson only sat to him twice, Abbott subsequently copied the picture over forty times. The copies gradually declined in quality as the artist became mentally ill but this was no bar to their popularity. Many were purchased by Nelson's naval colleagues, his family and friends.  
In July 1798, Nelson's wife wrote to him: 'My dearest Husband - I am now writing opposite to your portrait, the likeness is great. I am well-satisfied with Abbott… it is my companion, my sincere friend in your absence…'.
Nelson supposedly began his affair with Lady Hamilton that September, so there's your scandal. Revel with me.

Please enjoy the views from the top of the monument. It was incredibly windy up there but totally worth the climb. One gets the feeling of being an admiral on his ship, looking out into the endless distance.

The Nelson Monument, Calton Hill, Edinburgh

View of Hollyrood Castle from top of Nelson Monument

View of the rest of Calton Hill from Nelson Monument, including
the National Monument of Scotland and the City Observatory.

View of Arthur's Seat from Nelson Monument

View of Calton Hill, Edinburgh New Town, and the Firth of
Forth, estuary to the North Sea, from Nelson Monument.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Scribblers Tour of the National Portrait Gallery

I went a little crazy on this month's Austen Author's post, where I put together my "Scribblers Tour" of the Ntaional Portrait Gallery. Here is the beginning. Please come by and check out the rest of the post. I had a lot of fun putting it together, and I hope those who read it find it gratifying.
I have been traveling. Oh, have I been traveling! I spent a week in Edinburgh last month and then was so fortunate to return to the UK and attend the opening weekend of the Jane Austen Festival in Bath. Of course, I had an amazing time. Along my journey I made a stop at the National Portrait Gallery in London, a place I had not previously managed to visit. The gallery contains an impressive collection of famous Brits, but determined lit geek that I am, it was the portraits of the writers that most entranced me. How wonderful to encounter face after face of so many beloved authors! The best of these portraits capture the quality of the writer's work within the image. I had an excellent afternoon, journeying through the history of british literature, which I would very much like to share with you. Please join me for what I'm terming a scribblers tour of the gallery.
Unknown artist after Hans Holbein the Younger, oil on panel, late 16th century (1527)
Unknown artist after Hans Holbein the Younger, oil on panel, late 16th century
One of the first faces to greet me upon entering the museum was Sir Thomas More's (1478-1535). It is impossible to do justice to this man's legacy in a few words. I highly recommend the Wolf Hall novels by Hilary Mantel if you are curious about his role in the government of Henry VIII. I'll just say a few words about his literary legacy. His Utopia, a latin text highly influenced by Plato's Republic, describes an oppressively ordered yet simultaneously idealized society. It spawned an entire genre of literature and has inspired political philosophers into our modern age. Without it there would be no 1984, no Brave New World, and maybe no such thing as a forced labor camp. More is also responsible for creating the vile image of Richard III that the Tudors promoted - that Shakespeare based his play upon - in his unfinished manuscript The History of King Richard III. Canonized in 1935, his biography is both fascinating and troubling, and this gorgeous painting captures the intelligence fueling an obdurate personality.
"When men go to buy a colt, where they are risking only a little money, they are so cautious that, though the animal is almost bare, they won't close the deal until saddle and blanket have been taken off, lest there be a hidden sore underneath. Yet in the choice of a mate, which may cause either delight or disgust for the rest of their lives, man are so careless that they leave all the rest of the women's body covered up with clothes and estimate her attractiveness from a here handsbreadth of her person, the face, which is all they can see."                                                                                                                               - from Utopia, 1516
attributed to John Taylor, oil on canvas, feigned oval, circa 1610
Attributed to John Taylor, oil on canvas, feigned oval, circa 1610
A few rooms over was the man who needs no introduction, William Shakespeare (1564-1616). Darling of the Elizabethan stage, poet extraordinaire, and probably the most famous writer since Homer, what more can I really say about him? The gallery has ninety-six portraits of Shakespeare in their collection, a reflection of his celebrity. I firmly believe that Much Ado About Nothing was the inspiration for Elizabeth and Darcy's romance in Pride & Prejudice. Shakespeare's artistic legacy has shaped our literature and language for centuries. For goodness sake, it's a foregone conclusion: Shakespeare's work is the stuff dreams are made on. All's well that ends well.
BEATRICE: But for which of my good parts did you first suffer love for me?
BENEDICT: Suffer love! A good epithite! I do suffer love indeed, for I love thee against my will.
BEATRICE: In spite of your heart, I think. Alas, poor heart, if you spite it for my sake, I will spite it for yours, for I will never love that which my friend hates.
BENEDICT: Thou and I are too wise to woo peaceably.
                                                         - from Much Ado About Nothing, 1598
Unknown English artist, oil on panel, circa 1595
Unknown English artist, oil on panel, circa 1595
It was with reverence that I next gazed upon the next visage, belonging to one of my favorite poets: John Donne (1572 -1631). A shinning star of the metaphysical poets and dean of St. Paul's Cathedral, Donne is a man who fascinates but whom I'm not sure I'd actually have liked to meet, much like his distant kinsman, Thomas More. Unlike More, Donne renounced his Catholicism in exchange for social acceptance and eventual advancement in the state sanctioned church. His lusty verses stand in stark contrast to his clerical career, but regardless of all his contradictions, his poetry is undeniably brilliant and way ahead of its time. This romantic, brooding portrait suits him very well.
‘Tis true, ‘tis day, what though it be?
O wilt thou therefore rise from me?
Why should we rise because ‘tis light?
Did we lie down because ‘twas night?
Love, which in spite of darkness brought us hither,
Should in despite of light keep us together.
Light hath no tongue, but is all eye;
If it could speak as well as spy,
This were the worst that it could say,
That being well I fain would stay,
And that I loved my heart and honour so,
That I would not from him, that had them, go.
                                                              - from Break of Day, 1622, 1633
The tour can be taken in its entirety at! Please join me:

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Jane Austen Lives Again by Jane Odiwe

It's been forever since I wrote a review! And I read a bunch of great Austenesque novels over the summer, so I have a lot of backtracking and sharing to do. I believe my best reviews are written when when I have just finished a novel, so I fear I won't really be doing these books justice. However, a late and short review is better than no review at all. Believe me, I know.

I had the very great pleasure of meeting the author of this first book after many years of corresponding (and even of more admiring her work) at this year's Jane Austen Festival in Bath. Jane Odiwe was just as lovely as I always knew she would be. In fact, all the Austenesque authors I met while in Bath seem exceptional people to know. Must be something about those of us who have Austen as a muse.

Ms. Odiwe, also a painter, seems to live a life inspired by Austen. No wonder she should be compelled to bring our dear authoress to life in her novels. Jane Austen Lives Again feels like the culmination of the journey Ms. Odiwe has been leading us on through her last few novels. In Searching for Captain Wentworth (read my review here) she took us through a portal to Regency Bath, where our heroine meets Jane Austen. In Project Darcy the heroine encounters the ghost of Tom Lefroy while staying at the Ashe Rectory near Steventon, triggering episodes in which she finds herself inhabiting Austen's body. Perhaps it was inevitable that Ms. Odiwe would next make Austen her heroine instead of a using a modern surrogate.

Jane Austen Lives Again is not really a time travel story. It's more of a Frankenstein story, though far less gothic. The time is 1925. Dr. Lyford, descendent of Jane's doctor during the illness that proceeded her death, has reanimated her, cured her, and taken quite a few years off her age at time of death in the process. Now determined to make her way in a new world, she gets a position as governess to Sir Albert and Lady Milton's five daughters, each of whom bears a resemblance to one of Austen's heroines. They live a rather bohemian lifestyle in their crumbing ancestral castle. Jane takes them in charge, of course. There is so much more to the story - romance, health complications, makeovers, wild motorcycle rides - but what stand out to me most of all is Ms. Odiwe's ability to write like she's painting. I've spoken of this is in probably all my reviews of her work, but it is fascinating to watch her capture this post-WWI world, which is so very different from the one she usually describes and so very incongruous from the one with which we usually associate Austen. I love this super vivid introduction of Lady Milton:

Lady Milton dragged on her cigarette holder and blew ring of smoke into the air. Her ankles were crossed, and as the scarlet Louis heeled slippers with pom-poms of swansdown tapped against the other in agitation, the kimono fell away from her knees to reveal pale shapely legs. Jane thought she must have been very beautiful once, and stared with fascination at her heavily made up face, powdered and rouged, with kohl-black eyes lined with paint.  

We're in a whole new world! I can see Lady Milton liked she stepped off an old New Yorker cover.
Jane Austen Lives Again is perhaps my favorite of all the novels Ms. Odiwe has written to date. What a joy to view a different time and place through Austen's eyes, so skillfully rendered! Writing this review, I want to start rereading it and relive the adventures of Jane, along with her most interesting charges, Mae and Alice Milton, once more.