Saturday, December 13, 2014

A REVIEW: Jane Austen's First Love by Syrie James



 Thank you to Laurel Ann Nattress (of Austenprose) for allowing me to be apart of the blog tour and giving me the opportunity to read this wonderful book and thank you to Syrie James for writing it.
Genre: Austenesque/Historical Fiction/Romance/Young Adult
Publisher: Berkley (Penguin Group USA)
Trade paperback ISBN: 978-0425271353
eBook ISBN: 978-0698139268
I became a fan of Syrie James after reading Nocturne, so when I was asked if I might consider reviewing her latest work, I could not resist the temptation. I find that I was not disappointed in the beautiful tale that James has so masterfully woven.

Jane Austen is a precocious fifteen year old who dreams of doing something useful, writing something of importance and falling in love. When her older brother Edward (who was adopted and raised by wealthier cousins) announces his engagement Jane get’s her chance. Jane, her sister Cassandra, their brother Charles and Mother travel to Kent to celebrate. While there Jane meets the worldly Edward Taylor and she falls in love with him. It makes for a fascinating tale.

What I found exciting as I read was the connection to the novels Austen herself wrote. A play is to be produced at home after poor weather cancels some of their previously planned events which is reminiscent of Mansfield Park. Matchmaking attempts gone awry such as in Emma, Sisterly bonds as in Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice,  rapier wit as evident in Pride and Prejudice, and an active imagination as in Northanger Abbey.

In the book, Jane herself has the traits of heroines in her own novels. Jane tried to be a matchmaker and just as Emma discovered, it does not always have the results you were hoping for and the human heart is better left to discovering its own wants and desires. Her wit and impertinent remarks reminded me of Elizabeth Bennent in Pride and Prejudice. Jane is a bit like Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility in that she meets a dashing stranger who she falls madly in love with. We also know that in real life Jane and her sister Cassandra had such a strong bond and it is portrayed beautifully on the pages. There bond reminded me of Jane and Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice and of Elinor and Marianne in Sense and Sensibility.

We all know Austen’s works and they always say to write about what you know, so I cannot help but think that each of Austen’s heroines had a little bit of herself in them. Or that her novels did not have some of her own experiences in them. I wouldn’t have expected less form James in this regard, for I feel that when she writes something about Austen she makes sure to do her justice.

Jane Austen’s First Love is a captivating read. Any Austen fan would like to think that Jane herself had been in love at least once even though she never married and this book fulfills our greatest wish as fans---to see Austen in love. James has done her research for the novel and really brings the characters to life. Edward Taylor was a real person and just the sort of man Jane would have been drawn to.

James has constructed a beautiful love story. A fitting interlude that while it brings pangs of regret for its ending can only be looked back upon with fond remembrance. As Elizabeth Bennett said in Pride and Prejudice, “Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure.” This novel has given me pleasure, indeed.
Get this wonderful book in time for Christmas. Order by December 15th.


 Syrie James, hailed as “the queen of nineteenth century re-imaginings” by Los Angeles Magazine, is the bestselling author of nine critically acclaimed novels that have been translated into 18 languages. Her books have been awarded the Audio Book Association Audie, designated as Editor’s Picks by Library Journal, named a Discover Great New Writer’s Selection by Barnes and Noble, a Great Group Read by the Women’s National Book Association, and Best Book of the Year by The Romance Reviews and Suspense Magazine. Syrie is a member of the WGA and lives in Los Angeles. Please visit her at, Facebook or say hello on Twitter @SyrieJames.

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!

Monday, September 29, 2014


It’s sometimes hard to imagine a Jane Austen story today given the change in social dynamics. Sense and Sensibility could perhaps be on the harder Austen books to modernize, next to Mansfield Park and Northanger Abby perhaps.  Older men who marry significantly younger women may have been necessity in Austen’s time, but it is not such a socially accepted norm today. Marrying a person you don’t love is kind of an archaic thought now, but I guess if you had Donald Trump assets and wanted your child to marry into even more money that it could happen this day in age. While we can all relate to the theme of money and the reality of having to downsize to a lifestyle that is within our means, it is harder to imagine that one’s own family could be cruel enough to deprive them based on a mere technicality of not having drafted an updated will. But then is it really so hard to imagine? People are just as unwilling to confront the possibility of their own death now as they were back then.

In Kaitlin Saunders modern adaption of Sense and Sensibility, Mr. Dashwood did not leave a will which would have provided for his second wife Diane and their children, Elinor (Ellie for short), Marianne or Margaret.  That lack of foresight to provide for his family will cost them dearly. While he may have been the CEO of a successful company and able to provide for his second family and his son, John Dashwood, from his previous marriage, his lack of planning meant only John would inherit. While John was willing to provide for his step-mother and half-sisters, his money hungry wife Francil is not so desirous in sharing their newfound wealth. Using her female attributes she persuades John that his father’s dying words on his death bed only implied that he should give his step-mother and half-sisters a small lump sum payment of money and the rest was to be for them and their son Harry. I never much cared for John’s wife in Austen’s original novel, but Miss Saunders has really made me detest her.

Diane Dashwood’s pain at the unexpected death of Mr. Dashwood leapt of the pages. I found my heart strings pulled and my emotions well up at what can only be unimaginable pain and then to find out that your husband had never revised his will has to be truly devastating. The unfeeling nature of Francil increases the emotional turmoil of a reader. Diane and her daughters not only have to deal with the stages of grief at the unexpected death of Mr. Dashwood, but they have to contend with being forced out of the only home they have ever known. In all of Francil’s greediness and making them feel like guests in their own home, I almost expected Francil to demand to look through the boxes they had packed so she could  make sure that they were not taking anything that she deemed hers. She didn’t go that far, but she was navigating that way.

When Diane, Ellie, Marianne and Margaret are finally able to leave it almost comes as a relief to the reader. The relief is overshadowed by how much their life has changed. Arriving at their new home in Oregon is perhaps the most depressing realization that they are not in Kansas anymore. They have gone from a beautiful arced estate to a tiny apartment. Yet with surprising resilience they come to accept and love their new home.

One of the many challenges of this adaption would be the romance of Marianne and Brandon. These days it’s a lot harder to justify an older man marrying a significantly younger woman.  Miss Saunders handles this situation perfectly by not really focusing on the age difference.  It is almost as if by not acknowledging it that it develops into something unimportant when the age difference is brought up. This is no easy feat as today’s readers have an entirely different idea of social acceptability than what was acceptable back in Austen’s time.

The dislike Brandon has of Willoughby remains in a slightly updated version of the story. Yet, with Willoughby we retain a certain sympathy for his plight when he gets the chance to explain himself to Ellie when Marianne is ill. In Austen’s original I cannot say one ever feels remotely connected enough to Willoughby to give him the chance of sympathy. Although, in Saunders version of the Marianne/Willoughby romance one feels a sense of distrust for a stranger who shows up out of nowhere to conveniently rescue the injured Marianne, which I do not feel we were fully privy to in Austen’s original. It’s as if updating the story makes you more aware of a stranger who is so charming from the start, although being a modern retelling I feel as if we are able to get justification for Willoughby’s actions more readily. Saunders handling of this was perfect to the point that the satisfaction of Marianne and Brandon finally coming together was even greater than anticipated.

Ellie and Edward are always my favorite couple of the story. I have just always identified with Elinor more so than Marianne only because I see myself in Elinor. In this adaption, Edward is a freelance photographer and Ellie is an accountant. I think the way Saunders tells the tale of Ellie and Edward’s romance does significant justice to them. As readers of the original, we have always known Elinor to be the reserved one, but it’s so poignant in the way Saunders writes Elinor that her reserved nature practically jumps off the page to the point that you want to be able to reach through the pages and shake her. In addition, you can feel the absolute fatigue that Ellie feels at having to be the emotional pillar for not only Marianne, but her mother too. I don’t think I ever really felt that way when reading Austen’s original. I felt the love and need to support one another, but I never had the sense that Elinor was tired or frustrated in being that emotional pillar for her sister and mother.

This adaption is a great modern retelling of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. The elements of Austen’s work remain the same, but Saunders is able to seamlessly modernize the story. It makes for an exciting read. I was most curious to how she would create the scene when Marianne spots Willoughby with the mysterious Miss Grey and I was not disappointed. Behind the backdrop of a modern company party Marianne’s world comes crashing down. I felt pain and sympathy at the final undoing of Marianne’s heartbreak and I can’t say I have always sympathized with Marianne.

Miss Saunders is able to achieve something that not all authors can. She achieves the desire of making readers want to read more. This is what keeps readers coming back time and time again. She is able to create stories where the reader feels as if she is right there with the characters. I felt this to be a delightful adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. I cannot wait to read more from Kaitlin Saunders. I am hoping her next modern adaptation may involve Northanger Abbey.