All of these are books I’ve rated as 4- or 5-star reads. Also note, while I read these books this year, they weren’t necessarily published this year. I tend to read lots of older books.
Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor by Stephanie Barron
This is the first in author Stephanie Barron’s series of mysteries written from the point of view of a fictional version of Jane Austen, who finds herself in the middle of murder mysteries. This first book in the series involves her young friend Isobel, who has recently married an earl. Isobel invites Jane, soon after Jane’s change of mind about marrying Harris Bigg-Wither, to attend a ball the earl is giving in honor of his new bride at their country house, Scargrave Manor. She hopes Jane will stay for some weeks. But during the ball, the earl is suddenly taken ill, and he dies later that night. Jane has her suspicions about the manner of his death. The plot becomes quite complicated after this, with threats, various characters who seem as if they might be responsible for the earl’s death, and yet another murder.
It took me a while to become as impressed by this story and the crafting of it as I was by the time I finished reading it. The mood of this story is from the beginning rather dark. I had trouble not feeling it to be oppressive, and it is after all a murder mystery, definitely not a cozy one.
Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey
This is a good book for artists or creative people who are struggling to fit their work into their lives. Possibly its greatest strength in that regard is to illustrate what can be done, as well as the fact that you’re not alone in your struggles. It deals with time, space, relationships, environment, health, and how others have found ways to juggle all those into a creative life. But it’s also fascinating simply for the biographical bits and pieces about some people you might admire or be curious about from the present and from history, who have lived creative lives.
Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice) variations
Note, my brief descriptions of Pride and Prejudice variations assume the reader has some basic knowledge of the original story. I don’t go into who the characters are or explain the locations, provided they agree with canon. Some of these books may only be available at Amazon or as Kindle ebooks. (See Availability of Books Mentioned Here.)
An Excellent Walker by Lindsay Constable
The story begins when Elizabeth Bennet is staying at the Hunsford parsonage, and goes out for a long walk on the Rosings estate. She is on her way back to the parsonage, scrambling at a run down a hill, when who should step into her path but Mr. Darcy. Partly to avoid talking to him, she takes a moment to befriend his horse, Aesop. Mr. Darcy insists on escorting her home, but on the way there, Aesop takes fright at a strange sight in the sky, men in boats floating in the air suspended from balloons. Men in blue uniforms of the French military.
Undoubtedly By Design: A Summer Romance at Pemberley by Michelle D’Arcy
The prologue sets up a question in the reader’s mind, and then the story begins, more than halfway through the original, when Elizabeth Bennet is visiting Derbyshire with her aunt and uncle Gardiner. As the first chapter opens, they are enjoying dinner at Pemberley, invited by a Darcy who seems to have been humbled out of some of his arrogance after Elizabeths’s earlier refusal. They join him, his sister, the Bingleys, and the Hursts at Pemberley. We soon learn, from a private conversation between Elizabeth and Darcy, that Mr. Bennet decided not to let Lydia go to Brighton with the Forsters. She’s safe at home. But that does not mean, as the story progresses, that there are not still dangers and scoundrels for the characters to overcome.
Two seemingly small changes in who goes where and who does what make all the difference to create this fresh variation on Pride and Prejudice, proving what JAFF lovers already know, that the same story can be told by different authors in a variety of ways that make for fascinating reading. This variation is in some ways the same or similar (thankfully without many direct passages from Austen’s story), but in other ways so different. I especially like how it made me laugh at the end, when it came to Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s reactions. Touching and thoughtful, and highly recommended.
Mr. Darcy Falls on His Feet by Sophie Lynbrook
In which Mr. Darcy learns the value of pleasing others rather than himself.
The story opens with two serious snow storms blowing in from different directions, directly toward the inn where Darcy and Bingley have stopped to change horses. They consider stopping overnight to wait out the storm at the inn, but there are no private rooms, and Bingley points out that they’re not that far from Meryton.
It’s shortly before Christmas, almost a month since the Netherfield party left for London. In that time Bingley has not forgotten about Jane Bennet, in fact he’s determined to return to Meryton and win her affections. Darcy agrees to go on to Meryton, but they find Netherfield shut down, most of the servants gone to family for the holidays.
By the next morning they’re snowed in. But Sir William Lucas has a sleigh, and offers them transportation. The first thing the two men do is call on the Bennets at Longbourn, and they’re invited to stay there over the holidays. Darcy doesn’t want to, but it’s clear it’s what Bingley wishes, so he agrees as well. Darcy plans to avoid Miss Elizabeth, though, to reduce the danger of his falling further for her charms. Mrs. Bennet doesn’t like Darcy, so she assigns his entertainment to Lizzy, with whom she’s not that happy either since Mr. Collins is now engaged to Charlotte Lucas.
Thus begins a sweet, humorous account of Mr. Darcy learning how to live among the Bennets.
Happy by Accident… or Not? by Michelle D’Arcy
It’s the day after Wickham has told Elizabeth his story about Darcy refusing him the living. Lizzy takes an early walk, partly to avoid Mr. Collins who has become annoying in his attentions toward her. She’s certain that he’s working up to proposing marriage.
Near Oakham Mount, she hears a cry for help and finds that Mr. Bingley has been thrown from his horse and fallen into a gully, some distance from the road. It’s cold and about to rain. Mr. Bingley can’t, because of injuries, get himself back up to the road. He asks her to find Mr. Darcy, who will surely know what to do. She’s cynical of his faith in Mr. Darcy, but she starts toward Netherfield, only to find Darcy riding in her direction. He follows her to Bingley, where it’s decided that she’ll stay with Bingley, and Darcy will ride to Netherfield for help, which she reluctantly agrees will be fastest, much as she hates to admit he’s right about anything. While he’s gone she goes down to Bingley to reassure him, and it begins to rain. Both get soaking wet waiting for rescue, but rescue comes, and both arrive safely back at their respective houses.
The following day, Bingley insists that Darcy call on the Bennets, to ensure that Miss Elizabeth has not taken ill and to reassure the Bennets that he will recover soon. He still hopes he’ll be able to dance at the ball he’s planned, and he refuses to cancel or postpone it.
When Darcy arrives at Longbourn, Mr. Collins insists on being introduced and imposes himself on Mr. Darcy, full of praise for Lady Catherine. Seeing Darcy’s discomfort, Mr. Bennet is at first amused, but then he invites Darcy into his library, where there’s a separate entrance he can leave through. He offers Darcy a drink, and they talk, forming the beginnings of a friendship. Meanwhile a group of officers arrive at Longbourn, including George Wickham, and Darcy warns Mr. Bennet about Wickham.
Love by Turns by Kimbelle Pease
This story is unusual as Jane Austen variations go. It’s a revision of Pride and Prejudice that is slow-moving, written in language that feels period-authentic, but involves concepts that we might think of as more modern, in that there’s something like family therapy that takes place, with Mr. Collins as the unexpected catalyst. The point of view changes frequently, and there is no central character. In fact, Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy seem to be almost secondary characters, in that there’s little in the way of character arcs for them. They seem almost to be more like witnesses to what’s going on with the rest of the Bennets, and even the de Bourghs and Fitzwilliams.
This book takes patience on the part of the reader in order to be able to fully appreciate it. I nearly stopped reading about a third of the way through, but I’m pleased that I kept going, because although it might be unrealistic to think that this extent of healing and forgiveness is likely among so many people, it is heartening, and I found myself feeling somewhat sentimental about the story by the end. If nothing else, it’s a hopeful example of a troubled family being able to improve their relations.
This is all accomplished with astounding grace and elegance by the author, every development seeming to flow organically out of the last, and with astute organization of all the characters’ feelings, thoughts, and behavior. In that respect it’s completely believable and impressively well crafted.
Mr. Darcy’s Diary by Amanda Grange
The title of this book is apt in that it is exactly that, a diary that appears to have been written by Fitzwilliam Darcy, and spans the time just before Wickham’s attempt to elope with Georgiana Darcy (before the original Pride and Prejudice opens but relevant to that story), through Darcy’s marriage to Elizabeth Bennet, and a bit beyond. It follows the original story, and fills a gap many have said they wanted, by providing Mr. Darcy’s point of view, or at least one author’s perspective on that.
There are other variations on Pride and Prejudice that are written from Darcy’s point of view, or his as well as Elizabeth’s, and I have read several of them. This one is purely from his viewpoint, and follows the original story the closest of any I’ve read. Yet it adds would could be considered previously hidden or unknown scenes that add context and detail. It’s very well done.