Four Charming Austen-Inspired Novellas Set in the Late 1800’s, in Austin, Texas
My overall 5-star rating is for the entire collection and below are my reviews of each novella.
Source: I received an ARC of this book, from the author, Debra E. Marvin, in exchange for an honest review.
What do you get when four lovable, witty and somewhat insecure Austen heroines find themselves in Austin, Texas during the late 1800’s? The same exact thing as when you meet four modern-day blog-mates who collaborate with one another to lasso together a collection of Austen-inspired novellas that are refreshing, charismatic and filled with a whole bunch of romance… “Austen in Austin!”
As an ongoing effort to introduce my blog readers to new JAFF authors, I eagerly took part in an opportunity to read and review this collection of novellas and I am thrilled to say I was not disappointed. Typically, I enjoy novels when compared to shorter stories, but this collection of novellas really captured and maintained my interest for several reasons. The writing is well-crafted, the characters are original within their own rights while also being reminiscent of Austen’s own heroines in their execution, and the historical details woven into the stories added to my engagement with the stories. I also enjoyed that these novellas were quite long, with each one taking over an hour to read, which allowed me to feel truly immersed within each story.
These novellas are also intertwined with each other just enough to make the reader feel like he/she is reading a set of stories that are companions to one another, yet each one has a different heroine as the focus of its novella, including a storyline that closely resembles Austen’s own novels; therefore, it’s important to read these novellas in the order they appear in within the collection.
“If I Loved You Less,” by Gina Welborn
Alternate Era JAFF Based on “Emma”
My Review: This story takes us to Pecan Street & Congress Ave. in Austin, Texas, where we meet Emmeline Travis, a young match-making hotel heiress, along with her close childhood friend, Noah Whitley, President of Whitley-Crawford Savings & Trust. Just like in Austen’s “Emma,” Emmeline lives with her father, yet instead of living at an estate, they live at a hotel, where Emmeline has been micromanaging her father’s life for too many years to count. Undaunted by his daughter’s meddling within his own life, Mr. Travis allows Emmeline to take charge of her own life (while also “managing” the lives of others) and offer her charitable services to those around her. Yet, not everyone wants, needs or benefits from her “helpful” ways, and as a man, several years Emmeline’s senior, Noah feels frustrated by the way Emmeline “inserts” her opinions and expectations into other people’s lives, including his own life.
Similar to Austen’s “Emma,” Emmeline has a friend she has also been guiding towards making a “suitable” match while at the same time steering her away from a young beet farmer who wants to marry her. When her current matchmaking skills prove to be less than desirable for everyone involved, Emmeline takes pause to reflect on her actions. At the same time, Noah undergoes a period of self-inflicted isolation and reflection, as he visits his brother and sister-in-law, (who are Emmeline’s sister and brother-in-law) to discover what he truly wants for his own happiness. Can these “happily” single friends ever come to terms with their true hearts’ desires, or will they be swayed by their earlier intentions and vows?
I found Emmeline and Noah as likable characters within their own rights. I enjoyed their “sibling-style” bantering, which helped develop their attraction to each other while also causing them to second-guess the intentions of the other person. I loved the supporting characters in this story. Emmeline’s father was kind and fatherly while being insightful enough to know where to push his points with Emmeline and Noah. Thier 8-year-old cousin Hank is a fun addition to the cast of characters, as his young spirit allows him to say things that grown-ups are normally wary of stating for themselves. I also loved the way that Noah and Emmeline’s involvement with the Jeanette C. Austen Academy for Young Ladies, aka Austen Abbey, where Mrs. Collins leads the school as its headmistress, served as a common thread throughout this collection of novellas.
“Romantic Refinements,” by Anita Mae Draper
Alternate Era JAFF Based on “Sense & Sensibility”
My Review: Next we find ourselves transported to farm life, where young Marion McDermott, a new Austen Abbey graduate, is settling into a visit with her aunt. As she observes the changes around the ranch, she reconnects with the dashing ranch hand, Jeffrey Whelp, who is a man filled with a zest for life, an easy-going, charming manner, as well as an eye for the ladies. As one who is a little too comfortable disregarding the rules of propriety, Jeffrey often draws the ire of those around him, including the watchful eyes of Marion’s aunt. At the same time, Marion also becomes acquainted with the newly appointed ranch foreman, Brandon Tabor, whose injuries sustained during battle, combined with his mature air, make him appear a little too stiff and dull for Marion’s tastes.
As events unfold between Marion, Jeffery, and Brandon, Marion feels the weight of her conscience turning around in her mind as she contemplates whether or not Jeffery Whelp is truly the type of man who will dutifully care for and maintain Marion’s father’s ranch, once she inherits it as her father’s heir. As smitten as Jeffery appears to be with her, and as willing as he is to promise her a lifetime of passion and excitement, can Marion discern these feelings of his to truly be the signs of a deep, abiding love?
As someone who loves Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility,” I was quickly immersed into this storyline and easily captivated by this new take on Austen’s story. Our young graduate is as optimistic and as hopeful about finding love in the heart of Texas as Austen’s very own Marianne Dashwood was in Regency England, as we travel along with her through the lovingly maintained fields of green farmland pastures to the nostalgic, jubilant spaces of a hometown carnival. I also enjoyed how Emmeline and Noah reappeared within this storyline to add a sense of cohesion to the characters and the story’s plot. The portrayal of Brandon Tabor was realistically drawn in this story and is a crucial part of this story’s credibility to its readers. He was confident without being cocky. He was humble without being a martyr, and he cared about Marion while maintaining his own values and beliefs about what was important in his life.
I also enjoyed how Emmeline and Noah reappeared within this storyline to add a sense of cohesion to the characters and the story’s plot. The portrayal of Brandon Tabor was realistically drawn in this story and is a crucial part of this story’s credibility to its readers. He was confident without being cocky. He was humble without being a martyr, and he cared about Marion while maintaining his own values and beliefs about what was important in his life.
“One Word From You,” by Susanne Dietze
Alternate Era JAFF Based on “Pride and Prejudice”
My Review: It’s not a secret that I love Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” and that Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet are my two favorite characters of all time. With that said, this novella had a pretty high bar to reach for me and I was very pleased that I found this novella to be an amusing and compelling addition to this collection. However, the story also had lots of its own originality infused within its heart and soul, so while I loved the elements that remained true to the spirit of Austen’s novel, I came to quickly love the main characters that this novella brought to life for us.
Here we are, one year after the beginning of the original novella, where we meet the opinionated and articulate Eliza Branch, a current Austen Abbey student. As she faces the recent news of her family’s deteriorating financial circumstances, along with the reality that she will be unable to attend and graduate from her school, Eliza’s mother attempts for force her into a marriage with a wealthy gentleman, who has the will and the means to save her family from their impending ruin.
Meanwhile, she accidently meets the successful owner of the “Tennessee-North-Texas railroad line,” a man named William Delacourt, who has newly arrived in town and who comes to believe that Eliza, like most women, is out to snatch him for his money. Once he snubs her by refusing to dance with her, (does that sound familiar?) it seems they are bound to find little regard for each other. Through a series of missteps and misunderstandings, our dear couple seems destined to willfully misunderstand each other at every step and turn.
As Eliza moonlights as an advertisement writer for a local paper in an attempt to earn money for tuition, she becomes involved with a smooth-talking gentleman named Jacob Wicks, who appears very interested in Eliza. As Mr. Wicks comes to provide her with “inside information” about William Delacourt’s past actions, Eliza finds herself in a “newsworthy” situation.
Hoping to have the newspaper publish an article written by her, Eliza eagerly engages in conversations to uncover “secrets” about Mr. Delacourt’s dealings with several local families throughout his involvement in establishing his railroad. Since her vanity and pride have been somewhat wounded by Mr. Delacourt, Eliza finds herself falling for the “truth” according to Mr. Wicks, and her actions not only put Mr. Delacourt’s reputation at stake, she also places her own character in jeopardy as she uses the written word as her weapon of choice to the detriment of everyone involved in this risky business.
When she realizes what she has truly “accomplished,” can she find a way to use her “arts and allurements” for truly noble purposes?
“Alarmingly Charming,” by Debra E. Marvin
Alternate Era JAFF Based on “Northanger Abbey”
My Review: Austen’s “Northanger Abbey” is the inspiration for this novella, and once again we now find ourselves in the year 1887, as we join the rather plain and homely Kathryn Morton, who is serving as an escort to her beautiful cousin Jane, as they travel from Philidelphia, PA, to Austin, TX. The intention is for Jane to attend Austen Abbey as a student.
When they arrive at Austen Abbey and both ladies meet the two gentlemen who are the headmistress’s nephews, one gentleman is named Mr. Wellington and the other is Mr. Gray, we take note that Kathryn immediately finds herself drawn to one of these gentlemen. Yet, her cousin Jane attempts to persuade her to accept a courtship from the other gentleman and since Kathryn is rather unsure of herself, she struggles to determine if she should accept this man’s offer of a courtship with her.
Meanwhile, the story’s setting includes a mystery inspired by the actual events of a serial killer that committed several murders during this time in Austin, TX. Inspired by her love of gothic novels, Kathryn becomes focused on solving the mystery of Hyde Park Cemetery before another Austen Abbey student flees the city. Yet once she resolves the situation to her satisfaction and returns home to her parents, will she find her way back to the man she truly loves?
I found Kathryn not only to be alarmingly charming but also a rather sweet and insightful young lady, who is trying to develop the confidence and the wisdom she requires to make the decisions she needs to make to pursue her own happiness. She wants gentlemen to find her attractive while at the same time she wants to be admired for her inner beauty. She struggles to find her own voice in matters concerning herself, and yet, she eventually finds a way to shine in her very own way!
The authors of this collection would like to offer the opportunity for one Just Jane 1813 reader to win an ebook copy of this book. Please tell us about another Alternate Era JAFF book that you have enjoyed or an alternate era you’d love to see explored through JAFF. Please leave this comment below this post by January 30th. The winner will be announced on this blog on January 31, 2016. Also, check out my interview posted separately from this post today, with Debra E. Marvin, author of “Alarmingly Charming.”
I’d like to thank all four authors for writing such a creative spin on Austen’s four heroines while infusing plenty of the “Wild West” into these stories. I believe reading these stories will be a most pleasant way for an Austen fan to spend his/her time while at the same time these stories would appeal to any reader who just really enjoys a well-written historical romance story.
I am more than happy to know that we can all look forward to another collection of these novellas, which are being published later this year. Readers can check out Amazon.com to view this collection. Best of luck ladies!