Book Review: Death Comes to Pemberley

Death Comes to Pemberley
By P.D. James

My Edition:
Paperback, 291 pages
2011, Vintage
ISBN: 9780307950659

Elizabeth and Darcy, happily married for six years and parents to two boys, are having their annual ball. The night before the ball, Lydia appears unexpectedly, frantically screaming that her husband has been murdered in the woods of the Pemberley estate. An investigation is launched and the Darcys and their family are pulled into a murder trial that could affect the rest of their lives.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, as I’ve read some disappointing sequels and reimaginings of Pride and Prejudice, but from the start, I found myself pleasantly surprised by the tone of characters.

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Book Review: Emma

By Alexander McCall Smith

My Edition:
Paperback, 361 pages
2014, Anchor Books
ISBN: 9780804172417

Emma Woodhouse has grown up on her father’s large estate, complete with a governess. She’s just finished school and decided to start her own interior design business, but finds herself more interested in the doings of her friends and neighbors. She starts with her governess, Ms. Taylor and after taking credit for successfully fixing her up with family-friend Mr. Weston, Emma decides matchmaking is her new business. She begins sticking her nose into everyone’s business and soon learns that they don’t view her as helpful, but rather meddling and snobby.

I’m now all caught up on the books in this modern Austen project and I’m satisfied with how they’ve all turned out. Despite each novel having its own author and varied voices, I still think they have all captured the spirit of Jane Austen’s novels and feel like a series that belongs together.

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Book Review: Sense & Sensibility

Sense & Sensibility
By Joanna Trollope

My Edition:
Hardcover, 362 page
2013, Harper Collins
ISBN: 9780062200464

Recently forced to vacate their long-time home after the death of Mr. Dashwood, the four Dashwood women must rely on the goodwill of a cousin and settle into country life with more limited means than they’re accustomed to. Elinor, eldest of her three sisters, struggles to keep her over-emotional family together while also managing the bills and working to support their income. Drama ensues as new friends and potential lovers enter their lives and the family tries to find their way in the world.

This is the third book of the modern retelling “series” that I’ve read and I enjoyed it just as thoroughly as I enjoyed Northanger Abbey and Eligible. Trollope successfully brought the Dashwood family and all their friends and enemies into the 21st century and crafted a mostly believable version of a beloved classic.

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Book Review: Eligible

By Curtis Sittenfeld

My Edition:
Hardcover, 492 pages
2016, Random House
ISBN: 9781400068326

The Bennets have come to modern America, Cincinnati, to be precise. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet reside in a crumbling old Tudor, with Mary: currently unemployed and working on yet another Master’s degree, Kitty: currently unemployed and attending a local CrossFit gym with Lydia, and Lydia: currently unemployed and attending a local CrossFit gym with Kitty. Liz and Jane have managed to escape to New York where they work as a magazine writer and yoga instructor respectively. But their father’s recent heart attack has brought the eldest daughters back home where they meet Chip Bingley, recently finished with a stint on a reality dating show and working with Fitzwilliam Darcy at a local hospital.  

I wanted to kick off Austen Month with a retelling of my favorite Austen novel, Pride and Prejudice. I’ve heard this book has mixed reviews, but I enjoyed it immensely and while it wasn’t perfect, I think it’s a fantastic modern adaptation.

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Austen Month Announcement

It’s February once again, so that means it’s Austen Month. Why? Because I started focusing on Jane Austen’s work in February two years ago and now I’m just going to keep doing it…until I stop! This year I’ve picked six books (though Austenland is really just an optional re-read, so it’ll be last on my list) that include modern retellings, a paranormal reimagining, and non-fiction.

Netflix has decided to pull almost everything Austen related (grrr!) so my movie options are limited but I’ll probably rewatch Austenland and Clueless (it’s Emma!) and Becoming Jane. I might watch Death Comes to Pemberly, but I’d like to read the book first, so we’ll see.

As usual, I’ll be using #AustenMonth on Instagram and Twitter. Feel free to join me!

I’m also participating in a read-along of Gone with the Wind with some lovely ladies on Instagram, so you might see some posts about that as well.

February (Austen Month) Wrap Up


For Austen Month I read 7 books for a total of 2,164 pages and an average of 77 pages per day. In addition, I watched 8 movies! Somehow I forgot to watch Sense & Sensibility though – oops!

Minor Works by Jane Austen

Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid
First Sentence: It was a source of constant disappointment to Catherine Morland that her life did not more closely resemble her books.

The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen by Syrie James
First Sentence: Why I feel the sudden urge to relate, in pen and ink, a relationship of the most personal nature, which I have never before acknowledged, I cannot say.
Notable Quote: “We can always find a reason to put off that which we aspire to do, or fear to do, until tomorrow, next week, next month, next year – until, in the end, we never accomplish anything at all.”

Mr. Darcy, Vampyre by Amanda George
First Sentence: Elizabeth Bennet’s wedding morning was one of soft mists and mellow sunshine.

Austenland by Shannon Hale
First Sentence: It is a truth universally acknowledged that a thirty-something woman in possession of a satisfying career and fabulous hairdo must be in want of very little, and Jane Hayes, pretty enough and clever enough, was certainly thought to have little to distress her.

Longbourn by Jo Baker
First Sentence: There could be no wearing of clothes without their laundering, just as surely as there could be no going without clothes, not in Hertfordshire anyway, and not in September.

Celebrating Pride and Prejudice by Susannah Fullerton
First Sentence: On 27 January 1813 a parcel was delivered to a cottage in a small Hampshire village.

Mini movie reviews:

Bride and Prejudice – this movie is just so much fun and one I’ve seen several times. I talked about it in my Nostalgia Watch post, and I’ll repeat that I’m not sure how accurate this is as a Bollywood film (because I think I’ve only seen one other and it was years ago) but it does capture the essence of the plot of Pride and Prejudice. It’s colorful, the songs are catchy and it’s got a good sense of humor (though the dialog is a bit lackluster).

Bridget Jones’s Diary – another movie I love to watch. Bridget is certainly more awkward and definitely less classy than Elizabeth, but she’s a modern heroine who just can’t seem to find love. It’s been an age since I read the book, so I can’t talk about the movie’s accuracy…accurately, but  who cares because it’s funny and Colin Firth is hot.

Pride and Prejudice (2005) – this is a decent adaptation (though I seriously cannot stand Keira Knightley’s fish mouth) and McFayden makes a pretty good looking Darcy. I enjoy that he’s more shy and awkward than haughty and priggish. They also throw in a rain scene (though it does feel odd that she would run from the church, after learning about his breaking up Jane and Bingley, through the rain, and then he’d propose to her…). Also that bit where Lady Catherine comes to tell Lizzy she can’t marry Darcy in the middle of the night, is totally bizarre. Like she’d ruin a good night’s sleep for that!?

Pride and Prejudice (1995) – FINALLY I watched all six billion hours of this well-known mini-series. It’s certainly the most thorough adaptation of the book and includes all the characters (sometimes Kitty is left out) and I recognized  a lot of the dialogue as having been pulled from the book. But oh my gourd, HOW BORING! I’m exceedingly puzzled by my reaction to this adaptation – it has Colin Firth (both in a bathtub and a lake, hell yeah), it’s long enough to thoroughly encompass all the important characters and scenes as well as the lesser ones, and the scene setting was lovely. And yet…and yet…SNORE. Somehow, though faithful, they killed the spark of the novel with this film and not even Firth’s smoldering gaze could induce to me sit through it again.

Lost in Austen – another re-watch for me, though it’s been a few years since I first watched this. I’d forgotten how awkwardly Amanda Spencer blunders through the plot of P&P, mucking up everything as she goes. But it’s lovably awkward and I imagine I wouldn’t do any better if I was suddenly thrust into that world. In fact, I would probably throw myself at Darcy and be rejected and forced to live as a servant in the Collins household or something. Also there’s a nice nod to the 1995 adaptation when Amanda makes Darcy get into the lake for a moment.

Emma – I assume this is a pretty faithful adaptation, as I’ve only read the novel once. It’s amusing, and the acting is decent, though, nothing special. Mr. Knightley is pretty cute…yeah…I don’t have much more to say about this.

Pride and Prejudice (1940) – this was new for me and so much fun to watch, despite it being incredibly different from any other straightforward adaptation. It opens with a carriage race, which puzzled me and also sets the scene with Wickham and Darcy meeting Elizabeth at the same ball (for brevity, I assume). The costuming is so whacky – it’s Gone with the Wind, not Regency era, and everyone’s bonnets are enormous. Lizzy and Darcy lack any real tension, or feelings of romance, Kitty and Lydia are borderline drunks and Mr. and Mrs. Bennet seem to have a pretty calm relationship. They really toned down the first proposal scene and the two reconciled with the help of Lady Catherine in an attempt to redeem her character.  But Greer Garson made the loveliest Elizabeth I’ve ever seen and Laurence Olivier is probably the second handsomest Darcy in my book. The end was lackluster but their smooch was pretty decent considering it was the 40s!

Austenland – I only just watched this movie a few months ago, but the book was so much fun and it made me want to watch the movie again. Now that I can properly compare the two, I still think the movie does a decent job of capturing the book. Though I dislike that in the movie they made Jane a complete Austen/Darcy nut (seriously, her apartment is whack) rather than just someone who has rotten relationships and a mild longing for a Mr. Darcy type. I also prefer the ending of the book to the movie – though in essence they’re the same, I think it played out better in the book. But I did notice in the movie Colonel Andrews was reading Pride, Prejudice and Promiscuity on his break, and the guy who plays Mr. Wattlesbrook is also Mr. Hurst in the 1995 edition.

Book Review: Celebrating Pride and Prejudice

Celebrating Pride and Prejudice
By Susannah Fullerton

My Edition:
Hardcover, 225 pages
2013, Voyageur Press
ISBN: 9780760344361

This work examines the language, setting and characters of Pride and Prejudice and how Jane Austen’s creation has come to be so beloved. It discusses the myriad of sequels, prequels and spin-offs written in admiration of her work, as well as the various TV, movie and theatrical adaptations, and even touches on the merchandise that has become available, all long after the respected author’s lifetime.

I’ll say right now, if you really love Pride and Prejudice and you just want to know more about the work and what it has inspired, then read this book. If you’ve never read the book or you weren’t a fan, I’m not sure why you’d pick this up.

Reading this book is sort of like studying, mixed with a slew of facts that would be useful in a P&P themed trivia night. For myself it was also a pretty useful source for Austen-inspired reading (added a few books to my Amazon wishlist) as well as a handy guide to those works that might not be worth pursuing.

It was interesting to read about what other writers thought about Austen’s most famous work and I especially liked hearing that A.A. Milne (of Winnie-the-Pooh fame) thought that if you didn’t enjoy Pride and Prejudice there was something wrong with you. Apparently he smuggled a copy of out of his school library (which didn’t allow borrowing?!)  to read at night and that image just makes me smile.

The book has a chapter dedicated to the various translations of Jane’s work and made me remember how fortunate I feel to be able to read the book in its original language. Just reading about how hard it can be to accurately translate the first sentence of the book, because of the many meanings of certain phrases and the difficulty in conveying Jane’s wit, made me wonder how the book reads in other languages.

Even on film, it can be hard to capture the original source – Elizabeth and Darcy sometimes fall flat, Lady Catherine is constantly portrayed as too old, Mary becomes a caricature, the scenery is wrong, etc. Pride and Prejudice holds a sort of magic for its fans that can never be captured by any other writer or medium.

I certainly learned a few things about the style of Jane’s writing that I never picked up on before and I think it will add to my next re-read. If you’re a big fan, pick this up!

It also has illustrations throughout the book: