Review: Being the Second Jane Austen Mystery: Jane and the Man of the Cloth, by Stephanie Barron

Jane and the Man of
the Cloth

by Stephanie Barron
We should call this series "Lauren and the Inability to Post on a Sunday" Series.

I thought about it several times this Sunday, but between being pissed at my laundromat, not getting adequate sleep, and pondering the wonders of going to the gym at Midnight, it simply didn't happen. This post I mean. I did go to the gym at Midnight. And it was wondrous. Moving on.

Despite its title, Jane and the Man of the Cloth is not about a clergyman. It is, rather, about a vengeful smuggler who is known to his Lyme compatriots as "The Reverend." (I just thought of something...he's a man... who smuggles silk. He's a man...of the cloth. Hee hee. OMG I'm tired. No more midnight gym!) I think that the combination of Jane Austen + Pirates could be brilliant. So when I discovered that this second Jane Austen mystery was about smugglers (a close relation to pirates), I jumped ever so slightly for joy. You'll recall that these are by no means actually "found" manuscripts of Austen's as the foreword to the first book will have you think, but fictional ruminations on Barron's part.

Barron has done her homework, and for that I must applaud her. For one thing, she's centered this book around a letter that we have from Jane to Cassandra in September of 1804 (I've found that having my copy of Jane Austen's Letters, edited by Deirdre Le Faye, handy while reading Barron's work has been very helpful) and on some non-fiction accounts of smuggling in Lyme. And she has pieced these things together with an expert hand. I have to say, these elicit accounts of Jane's life (what might have been, if you will) are almost as exciting as discovering the real thing. Jane, as many of you will be aware, died a spinster, so to have even a hint of a possibility of some episodes of her life being more adventurous and romantic than she ever let on, that's fascinating and exciting.

True as ever to Austen's own voice as well as to her own handiwork, Barron weaves here a tale of murderous vengeance, shocking escapades, and magnificent escapes. It is a narrative fabric to be admired (hee hee cloth). As I pointed out to my gym buddy: no, there's no "sexy-time" (which I'm sure would be a disappointment to some) but the out of character heart-thumping and clandestine passion that this version of Jane Austen does express is, I think, sexy enough for the modern reader.


Monday Mailbox #23

This week's Monday Mailbox is hosted by Amused by Books.

I had actually expected a book this week, and it did not come! (sad face) But since I have three books in my possession that come out in the next 7 days PLUS being behind on my Stephanie Barron books...it's really okay. I did however manage to grab one book out of my office's give-away lending library.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith
I grew up watching the movie, but never read the book. I've heard the musical based on the book...but that doesn't count. Anyway, I'm hoping to read this sometime next year. 

Next month's Monday Mailbox(es) shall be hosted  by Savvy Verse & Wit. Stay tuned.


Review: Being the First Jane Austen Mystery: Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor, by Stephanie Barron

Jane and the Unpleasantness
at Scargrave Manor

by Stephanie Barron
This should have been written and posted this past Sunday, but I was on a mini-vacation. So this week it takes the place of Wordless Wednesdays:

As mentioned previously, Barron is well-known for her series which now consists of eleven novels, all pitting the beloved author, Jane Austen, as a veritable Jessica Fletcher. This first novel seems especially suited to a "Murder She Wrote" comparison, as Jane has gone to visit a friend (the wife of an Earl) and is present at the said Earl’s death. The mystery of who and why is as complex as any good murder mystery, though I must confess I harbor a preference for the arrogant Columbo style of already knowing who did it, almost before it’s done.

This novel is centered on a young bride from Barbadoes (inexplicably a friend of Miss Jane Austen) who is being pressured by debts to give up her childhood home of Crosswinds by the villainous Lord Harold, one of the last men to see her good husband alive. No one, it seems, can escape the possibility of guilt. Even Jane was present in the Earl’s last illness, and it is she who discovers the novel’s second body, as well as a melee of clues. When it seems the Countess and the new Earl are to be tried for the murders, Jane and the rest of the Scargrave party travel to London, where Miss Austen gains the assistance of her relations – a thing that makes this historical fiction buff proud.

Written in journal form (the novels are purported as seemingly “lost” manuscripts by Jane, sent to a niece of some sort for her amusement, and “never meant for publication”) the reader is saved from the boring third-person opinions of Miss Austen provided by other characters, and is instead installed in Austen’s head, as if along for the ride in one of her true letters, or in her novels. Austen is, of course, less omniscient in these entries than she is in her "known" works, where she is naturally all-knowing, but her wit and discernment are wonderfully characterized by Barron.

There are footnotes here and there which explain historical curiosities, but also serve to point out “inspirations” in Austen’s “real life” for later illustrated episodes of her novels. It may not be a perfect way to explain of the missing periods of Austen’s life (we’ll likely never have that) but this is certainly an amusing way to do so. With ten more books in the series to go, my only hope is that Barron can keep up the pace of the first one, as well as her talented hand for colorful supporting characters.


Monday Mailbox #22

Monday Mailbox is hosted this month by Amused by Books

Hey, yall. Just one book this week - an unsolicited review copy sent to me from the author: 

Pumpkin Roll, by Josi S. Kilpack

It's a culinary mystery of sorts. Mostly, the cover just makes me kind of hungry.


Review: Children of Paranoia, by Trevor Shane

Children of Paranoia
by Trevor Shane
Dutton Adult
September 8, 2011
384 pgs
All wars have rules. Some people, for an undisclosed reason, are on one side of the war while their foils are, for another undisclosed reason, on the other. With no end to it all in sight, winning is simply surviving.

Joe is a soldier in this underground war, one of the "good" guys, a killer, taught that those whom he kills are "evil". He was born into it. It's all he really knows. So when Maria comes into his life, and causes him to inevitably botch a big job, he starts really questioning the rules. And when Joe and Maria irreparably break one of the carinal rules, all they can do is run.

This makes for an excellent start to a series. Halfway through I actually forgot it was a series, so I kept expecting certain answers and revelations to pop up. As the book crept toward its end, I was disheartened,  it would come down to some ridiculous deus ex machina, but in reality it just heightens the anticipation of the next books.

For the first novel in a series (and for a debut novel, at that) there's a sense of the expository, but without the heady feel of too much exposition. On top of that, freshman author Trevor Shane's use of journal-as-letter narrative is (surprisingly) wonderfully engaging, moving the novel forward quickly and deftly, thrilling at each turn. There are some instances where that thrill can be off-putting, specifically Joe's first "job" of the novel, but it only goes to further the thrill of the book.

Full disclosure - this was an unsolicited review copy from Dutton. I had almost no expectations and those I did have were not entirely positive. I would not have picked this book up and purchased it - on the surface it seemed too outside of my comfort zone. It honestly took me a few chapters to really get into it but, once I did, I never looked back. This is a very exciting start to what could be a blockbuster series. Keep 'em coming, Mr. Shane.


Review: Pirate King, by Laurie R. King

Pirate King
by Laurie R. King
September 6, 2011
320 pgs
In 1994, Laurie King began a series of novels around a fiction upon a fiction – the relationship (and subsequent marriage) of one, Sherlock Holmes, detective, genius, pipe-smoker of 221B Baker Street, to Mary Russell, American, orphan, some decades Holmes’ junior. Eleven novels later, she’s still going at it, and Holmes and Russell are still finishing each others’ sentences. Never having read the previous novels, I can’t really speak to this one’s continuity. I understand, from other readers, that this is perhaps the best stand-alone of the series, making it a workable read for me. And from what I can tell, there’s no sense of winding down or dwindling. King without a doubt loves these characters and, as yet, has not seen them to an end.

Those more familiar with the series may have other opinions. Of course I can’t speak to that, but I’m fairly certain that they would have a better grasp of the relationship at the center of it. Being uncertain of their ages, the difference in their ages ¹, and of their relative past, I felt that the initial scene (in which we find out Russell’s immediate task) felt a little chilly. But once Holmes is reintroduced to the plot later on, things warm up a tad. He even proves to be somewhat of a romantic. But this is no tawdry romance; this is a good old fashioned detective story… with pirates! 

For the record, I like the
US cover (top, left) but I
think the UK cover
(above), which features
an edited Howard Pyle
illustration is awesomer.
As our narrator stipulates in the beginning, this story is rather unbelievable. This is not to say that the novel lacks a solid plot, with a flighty or unreliable supporting cast. It’s quite the opposite, actually. But the premise is a little, shall we say, complicated. It goes like this: Russell is compelled by Scotland Yard to go undercover as an assistant with a film production company (Fflytte Films…as in “Fflyttes of Fancy” or “Fflyttes of Folly”…), sailing soon to shoot on-location in Lisbon and Morocco. The film is supposed to be about (and please bear with me, here) a film crew trying to make a moving picture about Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, who then gets attacked by actual pirates. And, as Fflytte Films’ unlucky pattern would have it, the novel turns into a book about a film crew who set out to make a film about a film crew, trying to make a moving picture about Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, who then gets attacked by actual pirates, who then gets kidnapped by pirates. Did you follow that? It took me a while, too. But it was worth it. 

Even without the luxury of prior knowledge of the series and its various adventures, I found the story entertaining and easily accessible, partly due to my experience with actors, and also partly due to my recent reading of Adrian Tinniswood’s Pirates of Barbary, from which it seems parts of this story must have surely launched. I’m not certain whether or not the publication of two in the same week (or rather, Bantam’s publication of this one, and Berkley’s paperback release of the Tinniswood) was intentional or in any way planned ², but if it was, it was a pretty brilliant move. And if it wasn’t intentional, if it were, rather, just coincidence… well, I can just hear Holmes chiding me now. 

¹ For the record, in the time frame of this novel, Russell is about 24 an Holmes is about 61.
² I’ve contacted Pirate King’s publicist to inquire, but haven’t heard back yet.


Monday Mailbox #21

Monday Mailbox is hosted this month by Amused by Books.

I did some pre-emptive Amazon shopping this week... bought some books that I'm planning to read in the next few months. And while I love Alibris for some things, it was cheaper to get all 8 books used from Amazon, especially with the free shipping (yay!)

So, from Amazon, first: The Christmas reads. I think I've explained previously what my family is doing for stockings this year. I already have my mother's favorite (Scarlet, by Alexandra Ripley), and now:

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Yeahhh I've never actually read it. I think I've seen the film...but I could be confusing it with any number of other things. In fact I think I know what I just confused it with in my head... and it was not this. Anyway, this is what my father claims as his favorite book, so now I have to read it. 

Confessions of a Shopaholic, by Sophie Kinsella
I thought the movie was cute, but I only saw it in theatres. I haven't really watched it since. This is what my sister claims as her favorite book, so it's on the list.

And then I bought some more Stephanie Barron for my reading challenge:

Jane and the Man of the Cloth 
(Being the Second Jane Austen Mystery), 
by Stephanie Barron

Jane and the Wandering Eye 
(Being the Third Jane Austen Mystery), 
by Stephanie Barron

Jane and the Genius of the Place 
(Being the Fourth Jane Austen Mystery), 
by Stephanie Barron

And to wrap up my Amazon purchase, I bought some books for the Sense & Sensibility Bicentennial Challenge:

Willoughby's Return, by Jane Odiwe
Werein the rake looks awfully dashing.

Brightsea, by Jane Gillespie
Out of print. My copy belonged to a woman upon whose death, the book among others was donated to a public library. The library must have closed, or must have been weeding out some less than popular books. The date-stamped check-out cards are still glued inside. 

Eliza's Daughter, by Joan Aiken
...yeah the cover had something to do with me getting this one, over some others. But I also find the subject interesting. You who know Austen will recall that Eliza was the first love of Colonel Brandon's life, and he raised her illegitimate daughter (Beth), who is later knocked up by Willoughby. 

Oh. I'm sorry. Did I ruin that for someone? I'm sor-- NOT. Sense & Sensibility is 200 years old. If you haven't read it by now, you've got it coming to you.

And finally, a review copy from LibraryThing:

The Rape of the Muse, by Michael Stein
Due out October 1, 2011 from The Permanent Press.
While I was searching for an image of the cover, I came across a post about the cover at she reads and reads. Check it out - I happen to think this one is the cleanest and most classic of the four covers, but to each his own. 


Sometimes it Feels like Derby Square Bookstore in my Brain

Since I wrapped up my summer reading, I've fallen shamefully behind. I barely finished Pirates of Barbary before getting that review up, and now I'm only halfway through The Pirate King which I'd planned on finishing three days ago. I think I need to ease my schedule up a bit. I find I read more when I'm not pushing the schedule too hard.

So no review today (it was going to be Bonk by Mary Roach, but that's definitely not happening). And instead of reading some of the stuff on my shelves that I'd hoped to read in between the deadline books (i.e. Say her Name, Bonk, The Jungle Books) I'm going to focus on my challenge reads and my publisher deadlines.

Derby Square Bookstore (Salem, Mass.)
It's not that I've taken on too much, it's just that I'm not managing my time well. So for now, I'm easing up a bit. The Pirate King will get a review early this week. Children of Paranoia will get one later this week. And then I have a handful of books to read for early October so... everything in its time. I'm not comprising anything by doing it this way - I'm reading! I love reading! And the books that can wait a little while, well, I'll read them later!

It'll also be nice once things calm down a little bit at work - right now our customers are all getting their materials and, instead of reading them, they're calling us. Once that calms down, I'll have more time. :)



Review: Pirates of Barbary - Corsairs, Conquests, and Captivity in the 17th Century Mediterranean, by Adrian Tinniswood

The Pirates of Barbary
Corsairs, Conquests and
Captivity in the 17th
Century Mediterranean
by Adrian Tinniswood
Riverhead Books
Sept. 6, 2011
343 pgs
We all have our romanticized ideas about pirates. For some, the foppish villainy of Captain Hook is perfect. For others, a more laid back (but still manages to buy out Sephora's stock of eye-liner) Captain Jack Sparrow is just right. Some picture Sir Francis Drake, a privateer favorite of Elizabeth I's. Some idealize Errol Flynn. Some see present-day Somalian pirates. And still others are stuck on the animatronicly-illustrated Pirates of the Caribbean at Walt Disney World.

We remember names like Hook, Black Beard, Redbeard, Long John Silver and Captain Morgan because they, some real and some not, instill fear... and some because they were turned into brand names. In any case, pirates are a part of our childhood wonderment. They come from a time both dangerous and fantastical. After all - what's more fun? Cops or robbers? Cowboys or Indians? Pan or Hook? Ask any little kid and the answer is likely that which causes the most ruckus.

True, pirates had their heydey and their fun, both in the Caribbean and in the Mediterranean, where resources were more plentiful. But the pirates of the Mediterranean, those corsairs of the Barbary Coast, were something more devilish than any Hook or Silver or Sparrow. They were driven not only by their desperation or their passion for the belongings of others, but by an economy built on slavery, and on the emasculation of other nations. And behind that economy was the powerful grip of religion which split the tides of the Mediterranean like a shark on the surface of the water.
Me: Jack, did you buy out Sephora again?
Jack: Um.... oops?

Adrian Tinniswood, author of Barbary Coast, whose paperback edition hits shelves today, stumbled upon the Mediterannean pirates of the 17th Century almsot by accident. He was researching the Verney family for another book, The Verneys: A True Story of Love, War, and Madness in Seventeenth-Century England, when he came across an odd bit of information about a family relation, which he mentions first in the preface:
In 1608 a county squire named Sir Francis Verney fell out with his mother-in-law, walked out on his teenage wife, an went to North Africa, where he became a Muslim an embarked on a brief but spectacular career as a Barbary Coast pirate."
From there, Tinniswood went on to find out why something like that would happen, and he opened up the door to a whole new world.

The book focuses mostly on the period from the privateers of Elizabeth I's age - those who laid the foundation for other English ne'er-do-wells - to the treaties that organized the European-Barbary relations in the 1660s. And while England was not the only nation whose people fell into the lifestyle, that is Tinniswood's focus. Elizabeth I, who enjoyed and even contributed to the privateering of the earlier century, was succeeded by James I who, by all accounts, hated pirates. James I was, in turn, succeeded by Charles I (who was beheaded as a result of the English Civil War) whose son, Charles II (once the monarchy was restored a decade later - England was controlled by Oliver Cromwell in the mean time) ordered the destruction of Tangiers.

That Captain Hook is very
There's certainly still something romantic in the notion of these pirates, and Tinniswood puts his best foot forward when he concentrates on specific people and their narratives from this religious war zone. William Okeley's escape narrative, and the Schindleresque fortitude of Edmund Cason are the proof that all of our romanticizing has a footing. But the xenophobia of the time (i.e. Christians vs. Muslims, Britons vs. Moors, "Franks" vs. "Turks") is a parallel to shock you back into reality.

The corsairs of Barbary may have lost their magic touch when colonialism started booming, but fear of "the other" hasn't gone away. And that's scarier than any Black Beard or Hook. These may not be the swashbuckling, Jolly-Roger-waving, rum-sipping pirates that we've been ingrained with by Disney, but the history is interesting and, considering these are the folks that never quite make it into the staunchly-edited history text-books, it's a worthy read.


Monday Mailbox #20

Sorry this is kind of late. I had to work today (grr Labor Day) and, surprise surprise, I managed to wake up late instead of early, when I was going to write this originally. Bah. Anyway. This month, Monday Mailbox is hosted by Amused by Books and I've got two books this week - and one of them, a repeat customer!

Firstly, someone at Viking sent me a second copy of William Kennedy's forthcoming Chang√≥'s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes which has this gorgeous cover on it. So now I have a covered one AND a galley copy. What-a-to-do. Not sure what I'm going to do with the second copy just yet. We'll see.

And secondly, I received an unsolicited copy of Trevor Shane's forthcoming Children of Paranoia, which comes out this week, from Dutton. This is Shane's debut novel, about a secret underground war. According to the information I could find, this is meant to be the beginning of a trilogy. Shane is a local author from Brooklyn and he'll be discussing the book at Book Court in Brooklyn this Thursday - check it out.


Summer Sundays: Beach Reads #14 - Definitely Not Mr. Darcy, by Karen Doornebos

Definitely Not Mr. Darcy
by Karen Doornebos
Berkley Books
374 pgs / $15.00
September 6, 2011
Buy on Amazon.com
"She gave up pink drinks and took up tea long ago." So goes Chloe Parker, divorcee, mother, Anglophile, Janeite. Chloe Parker is obsessed, and her wildest dreams may be about to come true. She's been cast in what she believes is a Regency-era Documentary, filming in the UK. She foresees the gowns, the breeches...she can hardly wait. But when she gets the UK and the producers alert her that what she really signed up for is a dating show called "How to Date Mr. Darcy," Chloe couldn't be more frantic. 

For anyone who’s seen Regency House Party either on TV or on Youtube (all 36 parts…that’s approximately five and a half hours), and really anyone who has watched Bachelor Pad (or the show that spawned it) will find this concept familiar: a group of 20-something-year-old women vying for the affections of a handful of men, guarded and guided by chaperones, all in period dress with period amenities, period food, period servants and period activities, under the very modern camera’s watchful eye 24/7.

The question, as always - who will get the man? Who will get the money? And what kind of scandals can we create in the mean time? True to form, there's drama, mayhem, a case of mistaken identity, some serious bitchiness, and some seriously attractive men. And, as many good stories go, Chloe is an outsider - she's older than her competition, she's got a kid, an ex-husband, a failing business and, oh yeah, she's the only American for miles. 

Starved for activity and technology, Chloe suffers a bit in Jane Austen's era. But her resulting antics are only part of the fun. Her biggest competition (the very sexy, very Britsh, and very bitchy Lady Grace) does everything possible to get Chloe kicked off of the show (meanwhile she's off rolling in the hay with every footman in sight). Fortunately, the very attentive, very attractive Mr. Wrightman (hardee har har) is smitten with her. And his brother's not unmoved by her, either (nor is he too bad to look at). As Chloe gets closer to the finale, and to both brothers, she knows she's closer to making a choice that could change her heart and her bank account. 

This was a fun read, rich in Austenesque barbs and flooded with historical accuracy...though perhaps not as specific as Regency House Party. Doornebos has done a wonderful job of making sure her likable characters are just that, and that all others are simply despised. It's definitely fun and surprisingly clean. Doornebos rather smartly stops at the odd heaving bosom (in fact the most graphic scene in the entire novel is a birth) and places her debut novel a step above its raunchier regency cousins in the Romance section.