December 18, 2014

Bookish Secret Santa

Christmas is my absolute favorite holiday but despite that, this was my first year participating in a Secret Santa blogger gift exchange.  The lovely Michelle from The True Book Addict posted on Facebook that she was organizing the event and I just had to get in on the fun. 

I was thrilled and excited to receive my Secret Santa package last weekend. 

Traditional Christmas candy, yum!  What could be in the packages?

A new Sarah Jio book!  Squeee!   A pretty little notepad to hold my (crazy) thoughts and ideas!

Thank you to my Secret Santa, Kristen of We Be Reading - - she did a fantastic job and her gift definitely got me into the Christmas spirit.

Thank you, Michelle, for organizing the Secret Santa gift exchange - - I will most definitely be participating again next year!

Readers, do you participate in a Secret Santa gift exchange?  If so, what's the best or most unusual gift you've been given? 

December 14, 2014


DescriptionIn the summer of 1791, fifteen-year-old Miss Jane Austen is determined to accomplish three things: to do something useful, write something worthy, and fall madly in love. While visiting at Goodnestone Park in Kent for a month of festivities in honor of her brother's engagement to Miss Elizabeth Bridges, Jane meets the boy-next-door—the wealthy, worldly, and devilishly handsome Edward Taylor, heir to Bifrons Park, and hopefully her heart! Like many of Jane’s future heroes and heroines, she soon realizes that there are obstacles—social, financial, and otherwise—blocking her path to love and marriage, one of them personified by her beautiful and sweet tempered rival, Charlotte Payler.
Unsure of her own budding romance, but confident in her powers of observation, Jane distracts herself by attempting to maneuver the affections of three other young couples. But when her well-intentioned matchmaking efforts turn into blundering misalliance, Jane must choose between following her own happily-ever-after, or repairing those relationships which, based on erroneous first impressions, she has misaligned. 

My Thoughts on Jane Austen's First Love by Syrie James

One of the greatest tragedies in classic literature, in my opinion, is that Jane Austen died young, leaving us with only six pieces of work.  Brilliant pieces but only six.  Author Syrie James has given us Janeites a real gift in conceiving a novel imagining a fifteen year old Jane Austen's first love and how it shaped her as the future novelist the world would come to know and adore.

I am not wholly an Austen purist; I appreciate and enjoy a variety of Austen and Austen inspired variations but I am picky.  I accept creative license with "our Jane" but within reason - - I still want Jane to be Jane.  Jane Austen's First Love checked all the boxes with me and then some.

To put it plainly, I loved this book.  I read it in one sitting, quite an accomplishment for someone who works full-time outside the home, with a variety of outside activities, including writing, and with a touchy back and neck that often makes sitting for long periods difficult.   I simply could not put this book down.  I was enraptured from the first sentence, desperate to know about this first love of Jane's, feeling her heartache and emotions and falling in love with the feisty character of Jane as well. 

Having the viewpoint be from a teenaged Jane was inspired.  Many fictionalized accounts of Jane's life place her as either a young adult or toward the end of her life.  Seeing an adolescent Jane, with her personality developing into many of the characteristics the author Jane Austen would be noted for, was rewarding and oh so enriching.  I was particularly fond of seeing small flashes of strength, willfulness and wit that would become fully developed in the adult Jane. 

Jane's relationship with her sister Cassandra was showcased to perfection.  The sisters' clear love and joy with the other was heartwarming - - they were confidantes and seeking counsel from the other from early on.   While their personalities were different, they were a perfect offset to the other.   Cassandra was clearly Jane's biggest supporter.

As to the other characters, and there were many in Jane Austen's First Love, Ms. James penned them vividly.   From the Austen parents and siblings to the families of the Knights, Bridges and Paylers, these wonderful people came alive through Ms. James' talented hand.  Turning the pages, I could distinctly visualize the haughty Fanny, competitive Elizabeth and their snobbish mother Lady Bridges; the sweet natured mediator Sophia and the sickly Marianne; their genial father Lord Bridges and Mr. Lewis Cage and Mr. William Deedes.  Not given short shrift are the amazing estates - - Godmersham Park, Goodnestone Park and Bifrons, the home of Edward Taylor.

Ah, Edward Taylor.  Is it wrong that I fell in love with this young man that so enchanted Jane Austen in this telling?  (Don't answer that.)  Mr. Taylor seems to be the best combination of Jane's future literary heroes, complete with their strengths and foibles, bringing out Jane's own prejudices and first impressions.  Sound familiar?   He matched Jane wit for wit and adventure for adventure.  Even knowing how the story must ultimately end, my heart was hurting for these two, wanting so desperately for them to end up together.  

Jane Austen's First Love is full of romance, not just that between Jane and Edward.  We are given an entertaining glance as to the seeds of not only Pride and Prejudice but also Emma and Mansfield Park and this glance is richly gratifying.  Picking up on these ciphers made an already jubilant read an outright blissful one.

Already a fan of Syrie James and her earlier works, and having had the great pleasure of meeting her, Jane Austen's First Love only cements my opinion of her as one of the very best historical fiction writers today and one of a small and elite group of  Jane Austen successors.   Having her Author Afterward detailing how the idea for this book was brought to fruition and the immense amount of research she conducted, using real people and events, was a parting gift at the end of this work.  

Thank you, Syrie James, for this enchanting, sweet and lovely book - - one that has earned a permanent place in my home library and easily one of the very best books I have read this year.  Thank you too to Laurel Ann Nattress for encouraging the author to write this charming story.  Your dedication is well deserved.

Jane Austen's First Love is a delightful tale, not to be missed by fans of Ms. Austen, Ms. James or any reader who appreciates historical fiction of the highest caliber.  I wholeheartedly and highly recommend it. 

So readers, tell me . . . what story of Jane Austen's (based on her life or on her work) would you like to see published next? 

I'd like to hear your thoughts - - plus commenting on my question enters you for the FANTASTIC giveaway below!


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FTC Disclosure: The review copy of this book was provided by Laurel Ann Nattress of Austenprose for the book tour in exchange for a fair and honest review.  In no way did the provision of the book affect the outcome of my review.  

Grand Giveaway Contest
Win One of Five Fabulous Jane Austen-inspired Prize Packages
To celebrate the holidays and the release of Jane Austen's First Love, Syrie is giving away five prize packages filled with an amazing selection of Jane Austen-inspired gifts and books!

To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on any of the blog stops on the 
Jane Austen's First Love Holiday Blog Tour

Increase your chances of winning by visiting multiple stops along the tour! Syrie's unique guest posts will be featured on a variety of subjects, along with fun interviews, spotlights, excerpts, and reviews of the novel. Contest closes at 11:59pm PT, December 21, 2014. Five lucky winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments on the tour, and announced on Syrie’s website on December 22, 2014. The giveaway contest is open to everyone, including international residents. Good luck to all!