Vanessa is a workaholic, public relations genius with little time for love or leisure. If she can't tweet it, hastag it, or distill it into a succinct sound bite, it isn't worth her time or attention. The only exception is her beloved Aunt Ella, the grand dame of the local Jane Austen Society chapter and the one familial constant in Vanessa's life since childhood. But now, with Ella facing a diagnosis of dementia, her aunt has enlisted her niece's help to make this year's Jane Austen Society convention the best yet, a fitting swan song for a woman who has devoted her life to all things Jane. So what if Vanessa barely knows her Bennets from her Dashwoods? She's determined to bring the full force of her expertise to bear on the situation and make the convention shine, for work at least keeps her too busy to ponder a future without the only family she's ever known.
The scheduled highlight of the conference is guest speaker Julian Chancellor, author of the memoir My Year as Mr. Darcy. Within the book this real life Darcy details his quest to the live the life of a true Regency gentleman, bringing history to life in his accompanying promotional talk, provocatively -- and very literally -- titled "Undressing Mr. Darcy." Pure catnip for Austen aficiandos, the show sees Chancellor perform a "historical" striptease, all in the name of historical authenticity, and all for a good cause -- restoring Chancellor's crumbling family home. Vanessa never expected to find a man the very antithesis of everything modern that she embraces so attractive. As she finds herself succumbing to the romance and allure of the Austen mystique, Vanessa finds herself questioning everything she thought she wanted and the truths she held as fact -- but in her eagerness to embrace this new way of life, will she lose sight of what matters most?
I love a good chick lit novel, and it's a well-established fact that I adore all things Austen-related, so when I stumbled across Undressing Mr. Darcy I was sold. The cover alone is sheer perfection -- the little black dress, the pop of red, the provocative title -- I eagerly bought the package hook, line, and sinker. However, what I discovered within the pages of Doornebos's chick-lit flavored homage to Jane Austen was something several degrees less effervescent and sparkling than I'd hoped.
Doornebos knows the world of Austenites, and takes great delight in expounding on her knowledge on the page ad nauseum. As Vanessa, who has spent most of her life scorning anything Austen-related, throws herself into the conference, she finds herself intrigued by Julian Chancellor's apparent affinity for an old school, technologically free existence -- and his enticing, unorthodox presentation of a Regency gentleman's most intimate habits doesn't hurt, either. But as Vanessa immerses herself in the conference and begins to experience for herself the timeless allure of Austen's life and works, the narrative veers into pedantic territory. If I wanted a lecture about Austen's life and works, I'd attend a conference myself or read a non-fiction title. The more heavy-handed approach taken here grinds the narrative momentum to a halt.
Character-wise, I appreciate the fact that Vanessa was clearly a pro at her job, and I thought the social media "hashtags" sprinkled throughout the narrative were a fun, if slightly over-used, nod to the electronic realities of modern life. And I ADORED Vanessa's relationship with her delightfully eccentric Aunt Ella. Though she doesn't delve too deeply into the heartbreaking realities faced by families coping with a dementia diagnosis, Doornebos does touch on those struggles -- from living arrangements to memory loss -- which adds a welcome note of emotional gravitas to the storyline. Where the novel falters is in Vanessa's overall arc and romantic interests.
The novel is roughly divided into three sections: the stateside conference, Vanessa's visit to the UK, and back again. For the first portion of the novel, Vanessa remains relatively true to her introduction -- she's intrigued by Julian (who wouldn't be?), but at her core she's still a driven professional...just one with a few new, attractive "distractions" in her life. But Julian is a poorly-realized Darcy stand-in, as early on something seemed "off" in his interactions with Vanessa, so it was frustrating to see this supposedly smart, savvy businesswoman swallow is act wholesale. It's even more frustrating to witness when there is a PERFECTLY AMAZING SECOND OPTION waiting in the wings. Chase may moonlight as a pirate and lack a British accent, but he is SOLID GOLD and accredited by Vanessa's family and friends. As attractive a dream as Darcy coming to life is, there is no contest here -- which makes Vanessa's insistence on mistaking "proximity for intimacy" all the more frustrating.
Undressing Mr. Darcy is a study in missed opportunities. This is a novel that wants to be a fluffy, humorous chick lit but lacks the sparkle that one not only expects from such but that I would argue is an absolutely necessary component! The pieces are in place, and there are moments of golden humor (the reaction Julian's performance garners at the conference is hilarious), but I couldn't help but think that they needed to be culled by a good scriptwriter and transferred to a film. Clocking in at nearly 400 pages, Undressing Mr. Darcy has an unfortunate tendency to crawl when it should zing with energy, leading to a lot of skim-reading -- a frustrating reality given the cute concept and the appeal of Vanessa's American love interest. There's lots to like here, not the least being Doornebos's passion for Austen and Austenites, but unfortunately the resulting story left me cold. (For the record, I still ADORE the cover!) About the book:
Taking it off in the name of history…
American social media master Vanessa Roberts lives her thoroughly
modern life with aplomb. So when her elderly Jane Austen–centric aunt
needs her to take on the public relations for Julian Chancellor, a very
private man from England who’s written a book called My Year as Mr. Darcy, Vanessa agrees. But she’s not “excessively diverted,” as Jane Austen would say.
Hardbound books, teacups, and quill pens fly in the face of her e-reader, coffee, and smartphone…
she sees Julian take his tight breeches off for his Undressing Mr.
Darcy show, an educational “striptease” down to his drawers to promote
his book and help save his crumbling estate. The public relations expert
suddenly realizes things have gotten…personal. But can this
old-fashioned man claim her heart without so much as a GPS? It will take
three festivals filled with Austen fans, a trip to England, an old
frenemy, and a flirtatious pirate re-enactor to find out…
This Sunday on PBS, Masterpiece begins airing Breathless, a three-part series about the doctors and nurses of a 1960s London ob-gyn hospital ward. And it stars Jack Davenport!! Squee!!
I've read mixed reviews of this series, as apparently it was conceived as an on-going drama, and part three supposedly ends on something of a cliffhanger -- and the show wasn't renewed. But I could really care less, because HELLO JACK DAVENPORT and a dishy '60s setting and lots and lots of DRAMA (if the previews are any indication)...all catnip for this viewer so I'll definitely be watching!
Last weekend I went to see The Hundred-Foot Journey -- if you haven't made plans to see this film yet, for the love GO! It is just exquisite. A lovely, lovely film. I had the pleasure of reviewing it for BreakPoint, and you can read my article here.
Helen Mirren is pitch-perfect (as is her norm). Also, the Manish Dayal? Best. Smile. EVER.
I have a tumblr, if anyone is interested in that sort of thing (I know, I'm super late to that party). It's mostly a lot of Once Upon a Time GIF sets right now, because WHY NOT?!, but if anyone has any good recs for Doctor Who or Grimm or other BBC show-related sites let me know in the comments or on tumblr...much appreciated!
Last weekend Guardians of the Galaxy, one of my post anticipated movies of the year, finally came out and promptly became one of my favorite things ever. If you love superhero movies or space operas or both, this is SO the movie for you.
I was thrilled to have the opportunity to write about the film for BreakPoint. You can read my article HERE.
If you've seen the movie I'd love to hear your thoughts and fangirl in general. :)
I have NO IDEA how long Amazon is going to have these books on sale, but as they are by some of my favorite authors, and at FANTASTIC prices, I didn't want to let the chance go by to share them here. Remember to verify the price before purchase!
Ruined by a Rake (All's Fair in Love #1)
By: Erin Knightley
Eleanor's introduction to her step-cousin Nicolas did not have an auspicious beginning. At the age of seven, a full two years younger than her, the boy had the temerity to steal a kiss upon their introduction, an embarrassment that branded him forever as a thorn in her side. Their relationship grew increasingly combative until Nicolas taught Eleanor to fence, their frequent -- and secret -- bouts providing an outlet for their mutual irritation. While not serving to ingratiate her cousin into her good graces, the fencing lessons did, at least, allow Eleanor to tolerate Nicolas's presence in her life. But two years ago, the annoying boy who had so long been the bane of her existence left to assume a military commission, and Eleanor forgot her longstanding tormentor as her life became consumed by the loss of her beloved mother.
After witnessing the toll her parents' tumultuous marriage wreaked on her family, Eleanor determines to embrace spinsterhood at twenty-four and never marry. But her resolution is tested all too soon when she re-enters society and her uncle Malcolm determines to use his eldest niece as a pawn in his political machinations. Horrified, Eleanor refuses, but when Malcolm threatens to impose his will on her younger sister instead, she is well and truly trapped. Her only distraction is Nicolas's return, now a dashing soldier who bears little resemblance to the annoying prankster of her youth. Could it be that her one-time adversary is just the man she needs to help foil her uncle's plans? Or will her old prejudices blind her to the truth Nicolas has always known -- that they are a perfect match.
Novellas can be a hit-or-miss proposition -- a good one can provide a serviceable introduction to a new author's writing style, while a poorly-conceived effort can kill any interest I once may have held in a full-length book. But even rarer is the novella that provides a wholly satisfying story on its own, with tension, humor, and a swoon-worthy romance. Happily, amazingly, Ruined by a Rake delivers on all fronts, turning me into an instant Erin Knightley fan, eager to explore her backlist! The adversaries-to-lovers romance trope is a classic for a reason -- who doesn't love the sparks that fly when to individuals who are absolutely perfect for each other can't see the truth right before their eyes? Julia Quinn (The Viscount Who Loved Me) and Loretta Chase (Lord Perfect) are two masters of the genre and the formula -- and to find a storyteller whose work delivers ALL THE FEELS of a master in a novella? One cannot help but take notice!
Knightley imbues what could otherwise be a formulaic, by-the-numbers storyline with a refreshing energy. Not only were Eleanor and Nicolas raised as step-cousins, Eleanor is two years senior, and for years has relegated Nicolas to the position typically occupied by bratty, annoying younger siblings. Knightley does a fantastic job sketching their tension-fraught relationship, particularly in how Nicolas isn't even on Eleanor's radar. Not only is he younger, but she's predisposed to avoid all thoughts of marriage thanks to the tensions she witnessed in her parents' relationship. This is a woman determined to forge her own path in life, and it is her independent spirit that draws Nicolas to her first and foremost and that which he seeks to support and enable, rather than control.
While the length constraints of the novella format make Eleanor and Nicholas's journey to a happily-ever-after somewhat rushed, Knightley is careful to sprinkle hints of their history of mutual annoyance throughout the story, ensuring that the emotional payoff, when it comes, is sweet and well-earned. Over the course of just eight slim, tightly-plotted chapters, I fell head-over-heels for Knightley's writing. It's replete with the humor and spark I adore in favorite romance authors like Quinn, Chase, and Kate Noble, with a sweetness all its own. This is a heart-melting romance with nary an impropriety in sight -- a refreshing change of pace from mainstream offerings, and all the more delightful because Knightley's characterizations truly shine. I cannot wait to dive further into her backlist, and am particularly eager to see how she handles the freedom afforded in full-length fiction. About the book:
It started with a kiss.
When nine-year-old Eleanor Abbington first met her uncle’s new
stepson, Nicolas Norton, the boy rudely stole a kiss from her that set
the tone for their contentious and competitive relationship. It wasn’t
until years later when Nick introduced her to fencing that they finally
had a proper outlet for their frequent arguments.
Having just emerged from mourning following her mother’s death,
Eleanor is exactly where she wishes to be at the age of four-and-twenty:
an on-the-shelf spinster and unofficial companion to her aunt.
Unfortunately, her ambitious uncle has other plans for her future. On
the eve of his house party, he lays down his ultimatum: either Eleanor
marries the man of his choosing, or he'll force her seventeen-year-old
sister to do so instead.
When Nick unexpectedly arrives on their doorstep after a two year
absence, Eleanor is in no mood for their normal banter. Seeming to know
exactly what she needs, Nick challenges her to pick up the foil once
more. During their pre-dawn matches, he shows her just how strong she
can be . . . and exactly how much he’s changed since leaving. But when
her old adversary becomes her only ally, she may very well find herself
. . . Ruined by a Rake.