March 27, 2020


A thrilling literary mystery costarring Jane Austen from the New York Times–bestselling author of The Bookman’s Tale. Charlie Lovett’s new book, The Lost Book of the Grail, is now available.

Book lover and Austen enthusiast Sophie Collingwood has recently taken a job at an antiquarian bookshop in London when two different customers request a copy of the same obscure book: the second edition of A Little Book of Allegories by Richard Mansfield. Their queries draw Sophie into a mystery that will cast doubt on the true authorship of Pride and Prejudice—and ultimately threaten Sophie’s life.

In a dual narrative that alternates between Sophie’s quest to uncover the truth—while choosing between two suitors—and a young Jane Austen’s touching friendship with the aging cleric Richard Mansfield, Lovett weaves a romantic, suspenseful, and utterly compelling novel about love in all its forms and the joys of a life lived in books.

(Summary from Amazon.)

So this is a little bit of a cheat since I listened to the audio version of this book several years ago.  However, with the pandemic lockdown in place and since I purchased the physical version of the book for a song last year, and being in the mood for some Jane Austen-themed/inspired work, I picked it up.

Mr. Lovett's First Impressions: A Novel is an absolute delight, mired in mystery and romance and taking place in both present day England and Regency England.  Honestly, you can't go wrong there; right?  I found the concept of the possibility that Jane Austen didn't actually author Pride and Prejudice fascinating (and a bit terrifying, let's be honest) and I was immediately drawn in to the search for an elusive first draft of Pride and Prejudice.

The plotline alone of First Impressions makes this book unputdownable; Mr. Lovett's thoroughly fleshed out characters, both real (Jane Austen and her family) and fictional (Sophie and her family, her boss, the two  men charming her and Richard Mansfield), move this book from the good shelf to the excellent shelf.  It always helps to relate to and/or thoroughly like your heroine;  the author succeeded in this with Sophie Collingwood.  She was smart, adventurous and a Jane Austen loving bibliophile.  I really loved her, as well as her Uncle Bertram, who was introduced and explained to us in flashbacks and memories.  I could easily see his London flat, with books stacked everywhere, and wished I could move in.  Similarly, I could also visualize the book shops and stalls in Cecil Court, most particularly Boxhill's, and the English countryside where the fictional Richard Mansfield communed with Jane Austen.  First Impressions really makes me yearn to go back to London (and I was just there last month!) and the English countryside.

Speaking of the English countryside, I absolutely adored the relationship between Jane Austen and Richard Mansfield.  Their interactions, their conversations and mutual respect felt so genuine that it was difficult to remember that Mr. Mansfield was a fictional creation from Mr. Lovett.  Jane and Richard didn't share a romantic love but a very deep love nonetheless and it was beautiful to read and experience.

I devoured First Impressions, savoring every moment I spent with Sophie, Jane, and Richard,  and was left wanting more.  The ending was as it should be, and very satisfying, but I was aggrieved that it meant the end of this exciting, adventurous and ultimately lovely tale.      I would not hesitate to recommend First Impressions to any reader who is partial to Jane Austen, alternate timelines and/or intrigue (historical and present-day).  First Impressions is a love letter not only to Jane Austen but to books; a book for book lovers.

First Impressions is available for purchase at major booksellers, including Amazon.

FTC Disclosure:  This book came from my own personal library.  I was neither paid nor compensated for this review.  

March 10, 2020

Movie Review: "Emma" (2020)

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich . . . had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

So begins not only Jane Austen's fourth novel but also the latest big screen adaptation of an Austen work.  As does all of Ms. Austen's novels, Emma is all about relationships between men and women, the restrictions women in the 19th century faced and the sometimes tough choices, and simmering barely below the surface sexual tension.  
emma1Emma is often named by many fans (and those bizarre detractors) as their least favorite Austen heroine.  The author herself famously said that the title character is a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.  The Emma of this movie lends credence to that statement as she is spoiled, self-centered and vapid with little more in her head than ribbons and lace and what she considers her superior matchmaking skills (as she has lent a hand in securing the widowed Mr. Weston in marriage to her governess, Miss Taylor.)  In fact, it's clear that Emma Woodhouse not only has little to vex or distress her but little to stimulate her.  Other than matchmaking and purchasing items from the local haberdashery, it seems her sole purpose in life is listening to her father list various ailments and worries, as there always seems to be an errant breeze rushing through their home of Hartfield, threatening to cause him or Emma to fall ill.  
Anya Taylor-Joy does a remarkable job as Emma, from her mannerisms to a simple look in which she conveys Emma's frustration, disgust or dislike.  When she's onscreen, you simply cannot look away.  Unfortunately, however, I disliked Emma immensely throughout the majority of the film and found her difficult to root for.   Her strong conviction in her superiority among her acquaintances and Highgrove in general reaches an ugly climax in a well-known scene at Box Hill, where she insults and humiliates the harmless, if chatty, Miss Bates in front of a group.  
Equally selfish is Emma's desire to take on Harriet Smith, a young lady lately of Mrs. Goddard's School and one with unknown parents (a social kiss of death in Regency England) as her protégé and project.   Harriet is a sweet girl who believes that Emma is indeed superior to her in all things and follows Emma's lead in love and relationships, much to her own detriment.  
emma2As Emma's moral compass and with the job to provide us with plenty of smoldering looks (as well as a brief flash of backside) is Mr. Knightley, gentleman owner of Donwell Abbey, whose own brother is married to Emma's sister (who unfortunately inherited Mr. Woodhouse's hypochondriac tendencies.)   Mr. Knightley is a more vivacious Mr. Bingley or a less proud/prejudiced Mr. Darcy; he often spends evenings with Emma and Mr. Woodhouse, walking from Donwell Abbey rather than use his carriage (something I know that Elizabeth Bennet would approve of.)  He's such a kind, decent landlord and man that you have to wonder what on earth he would ever see in the spoiled and insufferable (at least for most of the film) Emma.  
The casting in the movie is well done.  Besides the aforementioned Anya Taylor-Joy,  Johnny Flynn as Knightley, Mia Goth as Harriet and Bill Nighy as Mr. Woodhouse are perfectly suited for their roles.  (Who knew I would accept a blonde Knightley?)   Callum Turner is just right as the foppish Frank Churchill and Josh O'Connor and Tanya Roberts are appropriately smug as the insufferable Mr. and Mrs. Elton.
billnighyPerhaps the best thing about Emma is the gorgeous geography and wardrobe.  The movie is luscious in appearance from the very beginning, a cinematic pastel pastry.   Hartfield is seen with its lovely painted screens, wall covers, busts and sculptures (showing that indeed Emma has very little to vex her) and a wide expanse of green lawns surrounding the property and Emma with her wide expanse of various silks and muslins to don at her leisure.  Inexplicably, Mr. Knightley's Donwell Abbey is mostly covered with sheets, as if he has already packed his bags and decamped.    The small glimpses we get of the village of Highbury are exactly what it should be, as well as the stunning vista from Box Hill.  
I enjoyed Emma, although I didn't fall in love with it.  I found the BBC's 2009 adaptation to be superior, maybe because the 2009 version had four episodes, clocking in at 60 minutes each.  Having four hours at its leisure gave time not only for backstory and build up but for the viewer to connect and care about the characters.  
Regardless, I found Emma a pleasant diversion to while away the afternoon while I dreamt of finding my own Mr. Knightley.  

March 9, 2020


Fresh from the curious and unsettling matter of Caroline Bingley (as related in Pride and Prescience), Mr. and Mrs. Darcy have every intention of enjoying their still newlywed status at Pemberly until they are confronted with another mysterious situation, one of...
Suspense and Sensibility
Elizabeth Darcy and her beloved husband Fitzwilliam are taking on the responsibility of finding a suitable suitor for Elizabeth's younger sister Kitty, thereby assuring her a proper place in society.
The angels smile on the young and a perfect match is found, and wedding plans are soon under way. Suddenly a change in personality occurs in Kitty's soon to be model husband--a change so striking as to jeopardize not just the Darcys' social standing, but their lives as well.
A mysterious mirror, an insidious reprobate from the past, and matters far beyond the social circles around Pemberly all come into play in a dangerous puzzle, where the consequences may be the exchange of a soul for a soul.
Once again the Darcys take center stage as the Regency era's answer to The Thin Man's Nick and Nora, searching for truth between tea times, amid the social whirl of Jane Austen's England.

(Summary from Amazon)

Have you ever started a book series, loved the first book and then were sorely disappointed by the next?  That didn't happen with Carrie Bebris' Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Mystery series.  I absolutely loved Suspense and Sensibility just as much as Pride and Prescience.   In their sophomore outing, Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy, less than six months into their marriage, have taken it upon themselves to introduce Lizzy's younger sister, Kitty Bennet, to London society in the hopes that she might make a most fortunate match.  Through Darcy's acquaintance, Sir John Middleton, Kitty (and the Darcys) are introduced to Harry Dashwood, son of John and Fanny Dashwood, and heir to the Norland estate.  The two quickly form an attachment but before all can be happily ever after, Harry undergoes an untimely and frightening personality change, leaving Lizzy and Darcy to investigate what exactly is going on in Harry Dashwood's world, as well as fighting to protect their family.

Like Pride and Prescience, Suspense and Sensibility has elements of the gothic and supernatural, which I am absolutely here for.  Those particular elements might be too much for those who don't care for the supernatural but for this reader, I found the aspects exciting and, as Lizzy herself would say, excessively diverting.  As such, Suspense and Sensibility was as much a page-turner for me as Pride and Prescience; I read the book in one sitting.

Spending another delightful afternoon with Darcy and Lizzy is well worth the time.  I was happy, as well, to spend it not only with Kitty, who was very much a supporting player in Pride and Prejudice, but our old friends (and perhaps nemeses) from Sense and Sensibility, including Fanny Dashwood, Edward and Elinor Ferrars, Marianne and Colonel Brandon, and even Lucy Steele Ferrars.   In fact, if I had a single complaint, it would be that I would have liked to have had more time with the Dashwoods, Ferrars and Brandons.

As with the first book in the delicious series, Suspense and Sensibility is good, clean intrigue with no objectionable language or adult-themed "scenes."  The mystery is engaging and satisfying, the conclusion dovetails nicely with the small hints that Jane Austen herself gave us about a character or two, and leaves the reader looking forward to the Darcys' next mystery outing.

In short, I thoroughly enjoyed Suspense and Sensibility - - heck, I loved it -- and to be honest, I've read it more than once.  It has that perfect balance of the supernatural, mystery, and love between Darcy and Lizzy, as well as giving Kitty Bennet a little love too.  And Harry Dashwood wasn't so shabby.

Suspense and Sensibility is available for purchase at major booksellers, including Amazon.

FTC Disclosure:  This book came from my own personal library.  I was neither paid nor compensated for this review.


March 6, 2020


Famed American actress Demi Moore at last tells her own story in a surprisingly intimate and emotionally charged memoir.
For decades, Demi Moore has been synonymous with celebrity. From iconic film roles to high-profile relationships, Moore has never been far from the spotlight - or the headlines.
Even as Demi was becoming the highest paid actress in Hollywood, however, she was always outrunning her past, just one step ahead of the doubts and insecurities that defined her childhood. Throughout her rise to fame and during some of the most pivotal moments of her life, Demi battled addiction, body image issues, and childhood trauma that would follow her for years - all while juggling a skyrocketing career and at times negative public perception. As her success grew, Demi found herself questioning if she belonged in Hollywood, if she was a good mother, a good actress - and, always, if she was simply good enough.
As much as her story is about adversity, it is also about tremendous resilience. In this deeply candid and reflective memoir, Demi pulls back the curtain and opens up about her career and personal life - laying bare her tumultuous relationship with her mother, her marriages, her struggles balancing stardom with raising a family, and her journey toward openheartedness. Inside Out is a story of survival, success, and surrender - a wrenchingly honest portrayal of one woman's at once ordinary and iconic life.
(Summary from Amazon.)
Full disclosure: I was never pro or con Demi Moore before picking up this book so I don't feel I was biased in any fashion while reading.
That said, I knew that Demi Moore has so far had an interesting life and an impressive career, as well as having been married to one of Hollywood's most successful action heroes (Bruce Willis.) What I didn't realize was how truly shocking a life Ms. Moore has had.
To say she had a rough start is an understatement, between her teenaged parents who had a love-hate relationship filled with verbal, alcohol and drug abuse to health problems that resulted in multiple hospital stays before she hit adolescence and repeated family relocations to stay one step ahead of creditors, extramarital affairs and even the Mafia. By the time she was a teen, Ms. Moore's parents had divorced (although keeping in dysfunctional contact), she had learned shocking information about her birth, been the victim of assault and had little to no parental supervision, as her mother treated her like a sister rather than a daughter, even going so far as to take her teenaged daughter to bars with her in order to assist in picking up men.
All the more amazing that Ms. Moore not only survived and got out of that life but entered the acting profession successfully. A stint on the then-highly popular General Hospital led to movie roles which led to her breakout role in St. Elmo's Fire, a film that Ms. Moore recounts she is grateful for in not only her career trajectory but in saving her life.
I found myself drawn into Inside Out, so much so that I read the book in a single sitting. I alternated between feelings of shock, awe, sadness, amazement, and sympathy for Ms. Moore. So easily this story could have ended differently but thanks to her friends, her children, and her resilience, Demi Moore has survived. Rather than solely a cautionary tale, Inside Out is a book of inspiration and healing.
Inside Out is a relatively short book at 272 pages and it's written with raw candor. Candor about Ms. Moore's drug and alcohol abuse, her relationships, her marriages and the eventual dissolution of them. While her films are discussed, the memoir has more to do with Ms. Moore's self-proclaimed survival, success, and surrender than just a Hollywood star recounting her successes and failures. Well done, Ms. Moore.
Inside Out is currently available in Kindle, hardcover, paperback, and audio format through Amazon and other sellers.

FTC Disclosure: I obtained this book at my local public library. I was neither paid nor compensated for this review.