Saturday, January 31, 2015

Book Tour Stop and Giveaway: Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman by Tessa Arlen

From Goodreads:

Lady Montfort has been planning her annual summer costume ball for months, and with scrupulous care. Pulling together the food, flowers and a thousand other details for one of the most significant social occasions of the year is her happily accepted responsibility. But when her husband’s degenerate nephew is found murdered, it's more than the ball that is ruined. In fact, Lady Montfort fears that the official police enquiry, driven by petty snobbery and class prejudice, is pointing towards her son as a potential suspect.

Taking matters into her own hands, the rather over-imaginative countess enlists the help of her pragmatic housekeeper, Mrs. Jackson, to investigate the case, track down the women that vanished the night of the murder, and clear her son’s name. As the two women search for a runaway housemaid and a headstrong young woman, they unearth the hidden lives of Lady Montfort’s close friends, servants and family and discover the identity of a murderer hiding in plain sight.

In this enchanting debut sure to appeal to fans of Downton Abbey, Tessa Arlen draws readers into a world exclusively enjoyed by the rich, privileged classes and suffered by the men and women who serve them. Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman is an elegant mystery filled with intriguing characters and fascinating descriptions of Edwardian life—a superb treat for those who love British novels.

I was hooked by the premise—a glamorous costume ball, the upstairs/downstairs dynamic that I have so enjoyed with Downton Abbey, an unsolved mystery, and the early 20th century setting.  And from a shallow standpoint, the cover art is amazing.  I thought I had a home run here.

I’m sorry to report that I didn’t enjoy Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman.  Tessa Arlen’s writing is wonderful, easy to read yet of high quality.  Her protagonists were likeable and one of the antagonists was pitiably despicable, which I mean as a compliment to Arlen’s writing.  However, the story never connected with me.  I wasn’t drawn in.  I really didn’t care about the characters. I did want to find out the “whodunit” aspect of the plot, but at a fairly apathetic level. 

As stated, Tessa Arlen is a wonderful writer, and more than eclipses the meager words I put on this page. I don’t enjoy giving negative reviews and in no way want to slight her as an author. I think this is more a case of, “It’s not you—It’s me.”  So I cannot say that wouldn’t recommend this title.  I hope it does well, and there will probably be many who enjoy it very much.  We just weren’t a good match for each other.

Giveaway: Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman
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About the Author

TESSA ARLEN, the daughter of a British diplomat, had lived in or visited her parents in Singapore, Cairo, Berlin, the Persian Gulf, Beijing, Delhi and Warsaw by the time she was sixteen. She came to the U.S. in 1980 and worked as an H.R. recruiter for the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee for the 1984 Olympic Games, where she interviewed her future husband for a job. DEATH OF A DISHONORABLE GENTLEMAN is Tessa’s first novel. She lives in Bainbridge Island, Washington.

For more information please visit Tessa Arlen’s website. Read Tessa Arlen’s blog at Redoubtable Edwardians. You can also connect with her on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

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Saturday, January 10, 2015

Book Review: Pride, Prejudice & Secrets by C.P. Odom

“Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised, or a little mistaken.”
--Jane Austen

It is always the completely unforeseen events that lead to the most unexpected consequences, and such is the case in this variation on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. One of the crucial points in Austen’s novel is Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s fiery and passionate refusal and denunciation of the equally passionate but infinitely more repressed Fitzwilliam Darcy. What might eventuate if the robustly healthy Elizabeth falls prey to illness for almost the first time in her life just when Darcy comes to call? Bemused by her illness, she hardly comprehends what Darcy is asking, and her simple nod of acknowledgment is misinterpreted as acceptance of his suit by a joyous Darcy. By the time Elizabeth regains her health, it seems that every one of her acquaintance and many outside of it accept that she has become engaged to the last man in the world she would ever have considered marrying. Can she openly demand her engagement to the amorous but prideful Darcy be broken, a course fraught with hazards in the social milieu of Regency England? In a maelstrom of confusion, choices have to be made and disclosures closely considered. Elizabeth knows that nothing in her life will ever be the same, and the consequences will likely spread further than she can imagine.

While C.P. Odom has written other Austenesque novels, Pride, Prejudice & Secrets is the first I’ve read of him.  Like many Pride and Prejudice diversions, he ponders what might have occurred if Elizabeth Bennet had actually accepted Fitzwilliam Darcy’s first proposal.

I wondered how Odom would pull this feat off, from a literary standpoint.  What could possibly prevail upon Lizzie to accept such a condescending proposal, as his original one was?  Fortunately, when Odom begins his diversion of the plot, he find a reasonable way to enable Darcy to be accepted by Elizabeth.  From there, he continues the tale, not necessarily staying true to the original Austen narrative, but certainly remaining faithful to the characters tendencies and personalities. His love for Austen’s world is very evident, as I could see each individual reacting and proceeding as they did, given the new variables in play.

I was also initially impressed with Odom’s presentation of Darcy’s internal dialogue as he pondered asking Elizabeth to be his wife.  In the original text he does give some explanation to his motivations, but his choice of words is poor, and Elizabeth rightly rejects his demeaning offer.  In Pride, Prejudice & Secrets, we are given a view into his mind, and what brought him to the point of knowing that he was in love with her, could not live without her, and was prepared to endure difficult consequences to be her husband. Darcy’s mindset is still a bit elitist in this exploration of his feelings, but these contemplations actually humanized him in a way that had me rooting for him more than I have in the past.  It’s evident that at his core, he has pure feelings for her, appreciates her for whom she is, and genuinely wants to have a marriage that is not of convenience, but of mutual affection.

Also somewhat distinct from the source material, we are privy to Lady Catherine De Bourgh’s overwrought reaction to Darcy’s engagement in a way not seen before.  Upon her initial discovery of this alliance, she offers her bitter response not to Elizabeth, but to her nephew.  Their confrontation of each other’s polar opposite priorities is explosive, and if I might say, quite delicious!  The way Darcy handles his aunt is truly epic. How I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for such a row!

I am still working my way through the novel, so I will continue to update this post as I complete my reading.  However, my foremost impression of C.P. Odom’s work is extremely positive, and I wanted to convey these initial thoughts as a part of the Leatherbound Reviews blog tour.  Odom's manner of writing is quite entertaining, and I look forward to seeing how things will develop with his version of Austen’s characters.  And as they become available, I will also amend the post to include links to locations online where Pride, Prejudice & Secrets might be purchased. From what I’ve seen so far, I hope this title becomes a bestseller in the Austenesque fiction community.

Connect with the Author:  C.P. Odom

P, P & Secrets on Kindle

C.P. Odom Paperback

C.P. Odom on Kindle

Friday, January 9, 2015

Book Review: Fitzwilliam Darcy such I was by Carol Cromlin

Fitzwilliam Darcy is arguably the best known, most charismatic hero Jane Austen ever created but he is also the most unfathomable. Who exactly was Mr. Darcy? What principles guided him? What desires drove him? How did he come to be the character Austen, so vividly, portrayed? 

Carol Cromlin offers a window into the private life of this young, landed, Georgian gentleman. Her story presents events during the first eight and twenty years of Fitzwilliam Darcy’s life that shaped his personality and established his character, making him the man who so decidedly won Elizabeth Bennet’s heart, despite her absolute determination against him.

What would Pride and Prejudice be without Fitzwilliam Darcy? This man of substantial means and highbrow refinement has possibly received more attention than any of Jane Austen's memorable characters. But who is this gentleman? How did he become the man Elizabeth Bennet encounters at the Meryton Assembly? Carol Cromlin addresses these speculations in her award-winning novel, Fitzwilliam Darcy such I was.

Those researching Pride and Prejudice may find somewhat of a debate as to which year the novel was set.  Some scholars date Darcy and Lizzie’s meeting in 1793, 1799 and even 1811.  In Carol Cromlin’s case, she has chosen 1793 as her starting point.  Then the story regresses to 1766, the year that the heir of Pemberley would have been born within that timeline.

From there, Darcy’s life is traced through the decades, from his birth, to early romance, to the day he meets Elizabeth Bennet. I loved the span of time we were given with this character.  The fact that his future bride’s name isn’t even signified does not detract from the novel whatsoever.  This narrative is focused on Fitzwilliam and those in his life up to the Meryton Assembly in 1793.  Many pages were given to his father, which was so very satisfying.  Getting to know the man-behind-the-man was wonderful, and the character that Cromlin has crafted in the elder Mr. George Darcy felt spot-on, consistent with the tone of the original characters in Pride and Prejudice. His ideals and manner are very much echoed in his eldest child, and it is no wonder that Fitzwilliam Darcy turned out to be the man he did.

As a mother of two boys, it is no surprise that I enjoyed the time spent with the young Master Darcy, prior to his teen years when he was just a lad. He was so inquisitive, and finds himself in some amusing situations, whether it was fighting off a horde of bees with a young George Wickham, hanging out with poaching gypsies on Pemberley lands, or making a dangerous ride on his own, through the night to fetch a doctor.

The arrival of Georgiana was heartbreaking, as it spelled the end of Lady Anne Darcy due to complications from childbirth.  The loss of Anne echoes throughout the novel, as it affected the family in a profound way.  I could understand Fitzwilliam’s initial hesitation in accepting his sister.  As an eldest child, I know that tough adjustment to a younger sibling.  But to pair it with the loss of his mother?  It’s no wonder that twelve year-old Darcy struggled in his feelings toward the baby.  He makes a dramatic transformation, in time becoming her fiercest protector, particularly in the events surrounding George Wickham over a decade later.

Wickham’s antics throughout Darcy’s life are so consistent with what would be expected from this character.  Even at a young age, he is selfish and conniving.  At first Darcy may not see him as such, but over the years he wearies of his tie with this irresponsible lout. The climax of the novel, in my mind, very much revolves around the relationship with Darcy and Wickham. Although as a Janeite I was well aware of how his relationship with Georgiana would end, Cromlin’s ability to craft her tale left me in suspense and turning pages quickly.

Many chapters are spent with Darcy as a young man, both at University and in his Grand Tour later on.  I enjoyed his collegiate days, as we also are introduced to the Bingley family and continue to see his relationship with Wickham deteriorate.  However, I felt the story lagged a bit during the chapters regarding the Grand Tour.  Those are essential years in Darcy’s life and taking such a tour is common practice among those in his society, but my interest waned during these chapters.  However, when Darcy is called back home to England to tend to family matters (and later deal with Wickham’s relationship with Georgiana), the plot picks back up speed, leading to a very satisfying ending at the Meryton Assembly, setting Darcy at the cusp of the next era in his life:  his relationship with his future bride, Elizabeth Bennet.

As a Best Indie Book by Kirkus Reviews, Fitzwilliam Darcy such I was is no fluff piece of Austenesque fiction. Carol Cromlin has clearly done her homework in all things Pride and Prejudice, as well as in the history of the period.  Her writing is excellent without being too highbrow for my taste.  Reading this novel was a long time coming, and it was worth the wait. As Carol’s narrative concludes at the outset of the beginning of Darcy’s time with Elizabeth, I do hope that this author will continue her development of these classic characters.  With the work she has done with such a beloved gentleman as Fitzwilliam Darcy, I can only imagine the delights that would be emitted from Cromlin’s pen with the Bennets.  As Kirkus suggests, Fitzwilliam Darcy such I was will delight long term devotees of Austen’s work, but can easily encourage neophytes to pursue the original source material as well.  That is high praise indeed.

Meet the Author

who has a great appreciation for history, tradition and all things British, is someone who has always needed to know how and why; researching and writing this book drew naturally on those traits. Cromlin graduated from Hofstra University and has a graduate degree from Fordham University. She lives in the United States with her husband, son and dogs.

Connect with Carol



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