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They were of a respectable family in the north of England; a circumstance more deeply impressed on their memories than that their brother's fortune and their own had been acquired by trade. ~ Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
The morning after the Netherfield ball, Elizabeth Bennet refuses an offer of marriage, setting off a row in the Bennet household that ends tragically.
Faced with homelessness and untenable poverty, Elizabeth receives a different sort of offer--from quite an unexpected quarter--and finds herself considering the once-inconceivable prospect of going into trade.
When Elizabeth and her sisters open a tea shop in Meryton, she must deal with Mary's penchant for entertaining the customers, Mama's enthusiasm for the officers, Kitty's fear of French spies, Caroline Bingley's relentless attempts to degrade her and her family ~ and Mr. Darcy's irritating refusal to get out of her life.
“A single woman in possession of a fortune could do things, almost as many things, as a man.” Caroline Bingley, Fair Trade
I haven’t reread many JAFF stories. As someone who only discovered JAFF two years ago, I am still happily reading lots of new stories. Yet, when Kate Bedlow asked me to listen to and review her new audiobook for “Fair Trade” after I had recently read the same book, I took her up on her generous offer and I am happy to say, it was a book I enjoyed as an audiobook and as an ebook.
The premise of this book is just too deliciously wicked for words; after the unanticipated demise of Mr. Bennet, a wealthy, yet vindictive woman finds a way to make Elizabeth Bennet as “repulsive” as possible to Mr. Darcy by offering her a way to earn financial security for her family through lowering herself into trade. As soon as the Brown Bean Coffeehouse is sold in Meryton, Elizabeth reopens it with her three sisters, names it the Beau Bon-Bon, and moves forward to establish her tea house as the premiere meet-and-greet place for the residents of Meryton. Before long, each Bennet sister finds a way to contribute to the success of their new business and even though their status has been reduced within the eyes of the local society, the Bennet ladies have found a way to redeem themselves from the despairs of genteel poverty.
Yet, there are still problems to grapple with, as Mrs. Bennet is grieving the loss of her estate to William and Charlotte Collins, while Jane has been sent to London to live with Aunt Gardiner, in the hopes that she will find a suitable husband, and poor Mr. Darcy finds himself wallowing in his loneliness, as he attempts to distract himself with his responsibilities at Pemberley.
“How cavernous was the dining room, and yet, how empty. Never had solitude felt so much as isolating.”
When he learns that Elizabeth has been reduced to serving as a tradeswoman, he can’t ignore how this news tears at his heartstrings. Is there any way that he can discreetly assist her and her family without being discovered? When he returns to Netherfield to ensure that the delivery of a harp purchased by Charles is securely delivered, he can’t resist the urge to make sure that Elizabeth seems well-settled in her new life. Will those former feelings for her seep back into the crevices of his heart, making her the focus of his dreams once again?
Rereading this story allowed me to appreciate some of the smaller, yet significant details that I may have paid less attention to during my initial reading of this story. For instance, I loved the humane approach Ms. Rigel took to developing Mrs. Bennet’s character. I typically prefer when Mrs. Bennet can be viewed as a less comical character, and more as a woman with good intentions, and in this story, I didn’t see her as a mean person, but as someone who is struggling through the loss of not only her possessions, but also through the loss of her identity and her own financial security.
I loved the humor in this story! The officers come to town and spend plenty of time hanging around the Beau Bon-Bon. With their inclusion, comes moments of pure fun, including a naughty little drink that’s shared with a select group of customers at the Beau Bon-Bon, which becomes fondly known as the Mrs. B. Whatever’s included in this drink, it sure sounded like a fun way to enjoy the afternoon in town!
I also enjoyed the inclusion of the new characters in this story. Not only are the officers spending time at Beau Bon-Bon, but Colonel Fitzwilliam brings along one of his cousins, a man named Major Carleton Quartermaine, and the role he plays in his story certainly adds to the intrigue of the plot. I also enjoyed the characters who were employed to help the Bennets with the Beau Bon-Bon and I think the man who winds up helping Elizabeth with her banking efforts in London is named after the very same man who helped Jane Austen publish her novels. Even the title of the story has such a clever double meaning!
My only point of contention came towards the very end of the novel. Darcy winds up imitating the actions of a book character to demonstrate his feelings for Elizabeth, and I felt these actions were too out of character for him. I certainly enjoyed the story and although I thought this move on his part was very romantic, I just couldn’t imagine him doing THAT for Elizabeth. So I found myself wondering how other readers feel when something like this appears in the ending of a story they are reading; how much does a story’s ending affect the way you view the overall book?
With this said, and after a second reading, I can confidently assert that there were numerous aspects of Fair Trade that I truly enjoyed. Ms. Bedlow did a great job taking her time to develop the storyline, Darcy’s and Elizabeth’s relationship, as well as the supporting characters in a way that contributed to their authenticity. She also did a good job developing her sub-plots and her secondary characters too. I also enjoyed that this was a truly original JAFF variation, not a highly predictable retelling of “Pride and Prejudice.”
The audiobook was a pleasure to listen to and I felt that the narrator, Jannie Meisberger, did a lovely job bringing the story to life through her narration. She did a really great job balancing the feminine and masculine aspects of the characters within her rendition of this story, which is something I really look forward to when I listen to an audiobook. Her narration also includes that right mix of humor and levity in all of the right places. I recommend both versions of this singular story to JAFF readers!
I’d like to thank Kate Bedlow for providing me with a complimentary copy of this audiobook in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Kate Bedlow is giving away an audiobook of “Fair Trade,” which I think JAFF readers will truly enjoy! To enter the giveaway, please leave a comment on this post no later than midnight ET, on December 4th. The winner will be announced on this blog on December 5, 2016.
I’ll also be back soon to review and offer a giveaway of the sequel to “Fair Trade” during my upcoming holiday event, “The Twelve Days of Jane.” It’s titled “Darcy and Elizabeth: A Beau Bon-Bon Christmas” and it’s a lot of fun too!