Thursday, February 7, 2013

Book Review: Jane Austen Made Me Do It

JANE AUSTEN MADE ME DO IT: Original stories inspired by literature’s most astute observer of the human heart, edited by Laurel Ann Nattress

I first heard about Jane Austen Made Me Do It when The Republic of Pemberley were holding a short story contest where the winner would get their short story included in this book. It sounded so interesting and I greatly looked forward to the release date. This Christmas my parents gave me my own copy and I got right to work on reading the 22 short stories by various authors. As I went along I jotted down some thoughts on each story that I will include here along with an idea of what each story is about. Some of my comments contain spoilers!

Star Rating: For fun I'm going to rate each story by putting "stars" or * asterisks next to each title. 1 star means it was tolerable, 5 stars means it was excellent and I highly recommend it.

Note: I haven't been a huge fan of Jane Austen fanfiction in the past so I can be rather critical of authors who mess with "My Jane". I'd like to say up front that I have the highest respect for my fellow Janeite authors and that this book would not be the same without any of these interesting stories!

About The Short Stories:

* Jane Austen's Nightmare by Syrie James - Jane Austen's characters tell her what they think about how she described them and wrote their stories. 
A silly mash-up of P&P, S&S, MP, Emma and Susan (later NA). A mistake was made in off-handedly mentioning characters from Persuasion (Sir Walter Elliot, Elizabeth Elliot, Mary Musgrove and Mr. William Elliot) before Jane Austen was supposed to have created and written about Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth. Story a bit half-baked with loose ends. Strong words said against sweet Fanny Price. Disregards some of the characters' Regency decorum and good hearts.

*** Waiting: A story inspired by Jane Austen's Persuasion by Jane Odiwe - Captain Wentworth goes to ask Sir Walter for permission to marry Anne Elliot.
A very sweet tale! Waxed on a bit long about first meeting and proposal. Captures Sir Walter and Elizabeth's personalities perfectly. Wished she had cut some of the beginning story and told some of the Crofts' response on hearing their engagement news.

* A Night At Northanger by Lauren Willig - A ghost hunting television team spend the night at Northanger Abbey where they encounter that ghost of Jane Austen.
Some strong curse language. Unsure who the "ghost" is at first so the quotes don't make sense. Why would Jane Austen be a ghost at Northanger Abbey? Lady half dressed during her talk with Jane. Funny character names.

*** Jane Austen and the Gentleman Rogue: Being a fragment of a Jane Austen mystery by Stephanie Barron - An excerpt from Jane Austen's journal in which secret papers are stolen and Jane helps Lord Harold solve the mystery.
Though only a fragment it feels as if I've read a whole novel. Stephanie Barron's style of writing captures the imagination vividly transporting me instantly into the Regency era. The excitement is infectious and moved me to read faster so I could discover what would happen next! Presents a clever, witty Jane that perhaps drinks too much and is sometimes unladylike but is still enchanting. Those who know of Lord Harold can't help but swoon over him. Jane Austen becomes a bit of a Miss Marple in her way. Highly entertaining as always, I always enjoy Ms. Barron's work!

** Faux Jane by Diane Meier and Frank Delaney writing as F.J. Meier - Charlie's wife is an agent for a temperamental actress who may or may not have bought a first edition Jane Austen novel.
Initially thought I knew where the story was going by got lost two pages in, then caught the plot again. Story or actress is unfortunately entirely plausible and reminds me of Anne Hathaway or Keira Knightley. Ending is clever. Uncle Julius is very funny. Makes me wonder which author wrote what parts of the story.

**** Nothing Less Than Fairy-land by Monica Fairview - Life after Emma's honeymoon may not be as perfect as she'd hoped.  
Writing style is excellent, very thoughtful and written in the style of Emma (2009) so that I could see Romola Garai, Johnny Lee Miller and Tamsin Greig in their roles as Emma, Mr. Knightley and Miss Bates. It is not perhaps Jane Austen but is very sweet. Another author who comes to the conclusion that Miss Bates could marry Mr. Woodhouse, even if he lost his head so much as to ask her. Miss Bates father mentioned as having a "clerk" but her father was a clergyman. Sort of portrays Mr. Woodhouse as a fool, but he's not. Completely enjoyed it though.

*** Love and Best Wishes, Aunt Jane by Adriana Trigiani - A modern day Jane Austen writes advice to her niece Anna of the occasion of her engagement. 
Not sure I quite understand the premise of this story / letter. Jane Austen writing to Anna but as if they were living in modern day? Jane Austen about to die before Anna's wedding? A very nice letter in its sentiments and even in the wording.

**** Jane Austen and the Mistletoe Kiss by Jo Beverley - Young widow Eleanor prepares to spend Christmas in Chawton with her three daughters where their landlord may not be what he seems. 
A very sweet and tender story. Jane Austen fits into it quite nicely. Well told and characters well developed for the shortness of the story. Not sure I like the idea of mother and daughter possibly marrying two brothers but it's Amy's first "love" so could come to nothing. Does feel a bit rushed at the end - should be more words and less kissing. Cute story!

***** When Only A Darcy Will Do by Beth Pattillo - Elizabeth is an American college student studying in England where she makes extra cash by hosting a Jane Austen tour. What will she do when a Regency clad gentleman decides to join her tour?
I'm in tears! Such a sweet story! So perfect because it's what every Janeite wishes would happen to her! Very well told and so charming. It was late at night but I couldn't put it down! Best story so far!

***** Heard Of You by Margaret C. Sullivan - Frederick Wentworth is a young midshipman when he receives letters from his sister Sophy. His commanding officer Captain Croft takes a keen interest in Frederick and in this sister he hears of.
Best story so far! Mags has done it again! Her style is so entertaining and she captures the characters perfectly, especially the gentlemen. Her love for Persuasion and Horatio Hornblower meld perfectly into a sweet and intelligent story of how the Crofts met. Kept thinking the whole time that my dad would love this story. Probably my favorite story of the lot!

* The Ghostwriter by Elizabeth Aston - On the night Sara's boyfriend leaves her publishers saying her latest work needs a lot of help. Depressed Sara cries herself to sleep clutching a locket containing a lock of Jane Austen's hair. When she awakes a strange ghostly visitor sits at the end of her bed demanding she get a grip on her life.
The plot was sort of pointless to me. Very depressing at the beginning and ends strangely. One of my least favorites. One questionable scene.

*** Mr. Bennet Meets His Match by Amanda Grange - The story of how Mr. Bennet meets the lovely Miss Gardiner. 
Title is quite literal and not figurative as I'd hoped. To me a boring idea for a story because it's one that has been done by many fanfiction writers. Clever of Austen Heroes Diaries author Amanda Grange to pick an older Austen gent to write about. Bored at first, took me a few pages to get to the more interesting bits. The elder Collinses were worse than could be imagined - very vulgar. Part with "liking a redcoat" could have been more serious. Disliked their names being John and Jane, her name should have been Mary or Catherine instead. (I'm such a name nerd! But you see Jane is feminine form of John.) Well written but not my favorite.

* Jane Austen, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah! by Janet Mullany - It's 1970's England and school teacher Julie struggles with relationships and inspiration. The usually boring detention time turns into an interesting discussion of The Beatles and Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility which inspire Julie to make some life changes. 
1970's? Really? Smoking and sex mentioned very casually throughout the story. Ended up comparing Sense and Sensibility gentlemen to The Beatles members, rather confusing if you're not a fan. Teacher decides to ditch her guy. Well told but didn't like the story.

**** Letters To Lydia by Maya Slater - Part of Pride and Prejudice is retold through the eyes of Maria Lucas writing to Lydia Bennet.
Intriguing, good style, fits with story. Nor sure Charlotte would have told Maria about her suspicions that Mr. Darcy likes Elizabeth. Not sure Maria would ever be invited to Pemberley. Fun!

* The Mysterious Closet: A Tale by Myretta Robens - Cathy Fullerton gets more than she bargained for when she stays in the "Gothic" part of the charming British country inn. Flickering candles, secret passage ways and a handsome stranger who pops up at the strangest moments.
Some suggestible scenes. Used names and character ideas from Northanger Abbey but otherwise doesn't talk too much about Jane Austen or her characters at all. Sort of interesting but in a weird way. Doesn't explain "Henry's" popping in and out at all or how her closet changed so quickly. Most likely a ghost or figment of her imagination so leaves leaves her in a dangerous spot. Do like that Jack Thorpe is translated as a used car salesman.

***** Jane Austen's Cat by Diana Birchall - Jane Austen's nieces and their cat interrupt her quiet day's writing. She gives advice to Anna while entertaining Caroline with stories of Fanny Price, the kitten.
Very sweet! The stories told in "cat language" are hilarious! Lovely to hear the interaction between Aunt and nieces - all three of them. Melody would love this story! My second favorite story!

** Me and Mr. Darcy, Again... by Alexandra Potter - After a fight with her boyfriend Em visits London, with her best friend, where she keeps meeting up with Mr. Darcy. Are these the answers to her dreams or is her heart already claimed?
Haven't read the original so wasn't as special to me, but the author did a good job of making connections for you. Strange that Mr. Darcy kept popping up, not sure that a married Darcy would have met her late at night in a park. Like that she doesn't end up with Darcy after all.

**** What Would Austen Do? by Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway - The highly entertaining effects of Jane Austen on a teen boy who's mom is a devoted book quoting Janeite. 
Funny to see his point of view on the kids in his public school. Loved seeing his blunders with English Country Dance and how it brought him an appreciation for the lives of all ages. Somehow know Cathy was "one of those". Would be very interested to read the full length book version they are writing - would read. Fun story, a bit about public school life.

**** The Riding Habit by Pamela Aidan - The new Mrs. Darcy struggles to live up to society's expectations and her husband's desire to ride in Hyde Park with her by his side. 
Sweet story in it's way, thankfully not what I expected. Darcy makes Lizzy a present of a horse which he must teach her to ride but it seems to me it would have better for him to have taught her at Pemberley. Colonel Fitzwilliam's first name is Richard!?!?!? Ugh!  Rather natural proceedings but a tad pointless and boring.

**** The Love Letter by Brenna Aubrey (short story contest winner) - Medical student Mark is sent a page from Persuasion anonymously and in reading it his thoughts are brought back to his old flame Justine.
Brilliantly written, mimicking the story of Persuasion in modern day but not in a cheesy way. Some mentions of the first time the couple "made love" but other than that not inappropriate  Sweetly told through the man's point of view and him reading Persuasion. Made me cry. "Jane Austen made me do it" indeed! :)

*** The Chase by Carrie Bebris - The amazing adventures of Jane Austen's brother Frank as he captains his ship off the coast of Napoleonic era France. 
Rather technical and a bit scholarly at times making it a bit hard to follow with the sailing terms, especially if you have no idea of ship sizes. Overall very cleverly told, not much about Jane Austen - only a letter from her - but the story deserves to be told in this way. Amazing tale!

**** Intolerable Stupidity by Laurie Viera Rigler - Jane Austen's characters are suing movie makers and Austen fanfiction writers for slander and making their lives miserable. 
Love Laurie's style of writing, reminds me of Margaret Sullivan a great deal! Highly entertaining courtroom drama and a brief romance to boot. Lady Catherine is vexing as the judge but her quotes are perfect. Mrs. Norris makes a great bailiff to assist her. Pure Austen fanfic and loved every moment!

Laurel Ann Nattress
About The Editor: A life-long acolyte of Jane Austen, Laurel Ann Nattress is the author/editor of a blog devoted to the oeuvre of her favorite author and the many books and movies that she has inspired. She is a life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America and a regular contributor to the Jane Austen Centre online magazine. An expatriate of southern California, Laurel Ann lives in a country cottage near Snohomish, Washington where it rains a lot. Visit Laurel Ann at her blog Austenprose – A Jane Austen Blog, on Twitter as @Austenprose, and on Facebook as Laurel Ann Nattress.

Introduction & Extras: It's really lovely to read Laurel Ann Nattress's story of how she became a Janeite in the introduction! At the back of the book it was delightful to find a list of Jane Austen quotes that inspired the author's stories. Also a list of Reading Group Questions were very thought provoking.

My Overall Opinions & Recommendations: I tried to mention the stories above that might have inappropriate themes or scenes and have given them only one star. All the stories are very interesting and quite delightful in their way. My favorites are Heard Of You, Jane Austen's Cat and When Only A Darcy Will Do. The stories I marked with four stars are my next favorites. I highly recommend this book to all Janeites but if you're picky about what you read I suggest reading only the stories I've given 3, 4 or 5 stars to (1 star stories especially might have some questionable content).
It was interesting to me to see that two of the authors chose to write about Northanger Abbey as if it was a real place and put ghosts there and that three of the authors wrote about ghosts. Lovely to see three Persuasion related stories and not so many Pride and Prejudice related stories as I'd feared. Wish there was more about Mansfield Park and Emma. A good mix of modern day and historically set stories.
I really really enjoyed taking my time and reading each story! Most of the stories I would definitely read again, and soon! I also discovered a few authors that I'd be interested in reading more from.

Jane Austen Made Me Do It is available for purchase through in paperback and e-reader formats.

Have you read Jane Austen Made Me Do It? Which story was your favorite?

If you haven't read this book then which of the short stories sounds the most interesting to you?

Have you read any others of these author's works? Any that you'd recommend? 

Are you a fan of Jane Austen fanfiction?


Cathy said...

Great review! This sounds like a fun book. I'd love to read it. I'll follow your guide here and go straight to the good stories! : )

I enjoyed reading Amanda Grange's book 'Darcy's Diary' and Beth Pattillo's books 'Jane Austen ruined my life' and 'Mr. Darcy broke my heart.' I'll definitely be reading more of their books.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts here.

Elisa said...

Of the authors on the list, I've read novels by Syrie James, Stephanie Barron, and Lauren Willig.

It would be great if Barron published another Jane Austen mystery!

Anonymous said...

I have both read the books as well as some of the books by some of these authors. In this fun anthology, my favorites were two of the historical stories - "Heard of You" about the courtship of the Crofts, who are the most fun married couple IMHO and "Mr. Bennet Meets His Match", which I thought was a totally believable tale of how this odd couple got together. The third was "What Would Austen Do?" a brilliant and hilarious contemporary of a 15 year old boy who gets sucked into Austen and makes the most of it.
In fact having said that, of all the adaptions of Austen work my favorite is by the writers of the last one Jane Rubin o and Caitlen Rubino Bradway who did Lady Vernon and Her Daughter (from Lady Susan).


Hamlette said...

I've read this, and I find it very intriguing that we liked some of the same stories for different reasons. My favorites were "The Chase," "When Only a Darcy Will Do," "What Would Austen Do?" "Nothing Less than Fairyland," and "Mr. Bennet Meets His Match." This is the first Austen fanfic I'd ever read, and so some of the ideas you'd seen before were new to me.

I've read several of Stephanie Barron's books, and enjoyed them a lot.

Here's my review of this anthology, if you're curious:

birdienl said...

Sounds like a really nice collection of stories, I'll put it on my wishlist! Especially Intolerable Stupidity sounds like a fun story, with a subject I would really like to read about.

I've read a few books by Amanda Grange, but nothing else. I like Jane Austen fanfiction, in moderation. I've got a few good modern 'adaptations' of the JA books saved to my computer and like to read them now and then. And at the moment I'm a big fan of the Lizzie Bennet diaries, the vlog-style modern P&P adaptation on YouTube. It's heightened by admiration for the wonderul timeless story P&P is and that is what good fanfiction, sequels, prequels etc. should always do: make you look at the originals again!!

Anonymous said...

I love the last image of the girl seated at the table painting! Do you know anything about it – artist? Year produced? Where did you find it?

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