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Vic at 22 on a sailboat, reading a Georgette Heyer novel. Look at those chubby Dutch cheeks!

I stumbled upon Georgette Heyer during a golden time of my life after college graduation when I had three precious free months before I began school again. Bursting with youthful energy, I didn’t know what to do with my time. And so I hit the books, but this time for pleasure. In those days, I could gobble up a book a day if I was so inclined, and I sped through Jane Eyre. Wuthering Heights. Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Rebecca. Father and Sons, by Ivan Turgenev, one of my favorite authors, and Pride and Prejudice (for the second time in my life). That last novel with its sparkling wit and clear view of village life seemed like a breath of fresh air after the heightened emotions of the Victorian authors.

To me, Mr. Bennet was the image of my father, whose wry statements always made me pause before I could figure out if he was making sport of me, himself, or some other unwitting target. Mrs. Bennet reminded me of my crazy Dutch grandmothers – both of whom were slightly hysterical and VERY demanding. I read Pride and Prejudice twice that summer (and began a tradition of reading it every summer for the next twenty years). Greedily I reached for more Jane Austen novels until there were none left. I railed against the illness that carried Jane off before she could produce enough novels to assuage my addiction. Where to turn?

The library, of course.

I looked up Regency novels and found … Clare Darcy. Ok, I thought. I’ll give her a try and picked up a copy of Victoire, a most logical choice given my given name, and read the book in one long sitting. How to state it nicely: Clare Darcy is to Jane Austen what a sputtering candle is to the sun at high noon.

My quest was not over.

My apartment roommie, also a Janeite, discovered the Flashman novels by George MacDonald Fraser. She LOVED them. But budding little feminist me wanted books written by humorous females, not a man with no interest in the goings on of small town families and their courtship rituals, and silly clergy, and strong heroines who were able to learn a thing or two. And so I continued my search.

One day I found a Barbara Cartland novel. Hahahahahahahaha! Tossing aside her cheesy book about a 16-year-old-heroine with a heart-shaped face, I wondered if I could charge her for wasting my precious life.

I continued my search.

And there it was. On the bottom shelf at the library. Arabella. It was a pathetic excuse of a book – dog-eared, blemished, and torn partially in the spine. I read the front cover – Arabella by Georgette Heyer – then sat on the floor and began to read. Witty words leapt from the pages. I laughed with delight. Before long I checked out the book and proceeded to read it in one long sitting. My roommie, who had started her new job two weeks after college, came home from work to find me engrossed. “I found a new author,” I said, telling her she could read the book when I was done. I gave it to her that night.

We were both instantly hooked on Georgette Heyer.

I returned to the library and checked out all the Georgette Heyers I could find. My roommie and I fell in love with Arabella, but we became die-hard fans when we encountered Venetia, The Grand Sophie, Sylvester, and Frederica. By summer’s end we had read ALL the GHs we could lay our hands on, even the mysteries and histories. (Thankfully, Georgette was prolific.)

My roommie and I were two young and hopeless romantics. We loved the glittering, detailed descriptions of the characters, the clothes they wore from expensive shops, and the houses, towns, and cities they inhabited. We learned about Regency London and the manners and mores of the Ton. Georgette Heyer characters spoke in cant, and thus we affected British accents and used cant-speech at every opportunity. Our boyfriends, while a bit mystified, played along, even debating which weapon was more effective in a fight – the epee or the sword.

Vintage GHs

But then life intruded and my intense love affair with Georgette Heyer had to take a back seat. I returned to school and began to read academic books again. I left my obsession behind, except for my yearly date with Pride and Prejudice.

Flash forward a number of decades when Sourcebooks began to republish Georgette Heyer novels. Once more I began to read them regularly, only this time I reviewed them as well.  I discovered that my tastes had changed and that I was more attracted to other novels like The Reluctant Widow and The Convenient Marriage. I never reread Arabella, for I did not want to revisit my first love only to discover that she had flaws.

I savor my memory of first discovering Georgette Heyer and thank Sourcebooks for the opportunity to relive that Golden Summer. I keep about 10 GH books on my Nook and Kindle (yes, I have both) so I am not ever very far from one of my favorite authors. If you are intrigued, all of GH s novels are available at Sourcebook’s Discover a New Love Website at http://www.discoveranewlove.com.

WIN A FREE BOOK! Those who leave a comment, have an opportunity to win a Georgette Heyer novel! Just let me know why you love to read Regency romances and/or Jane Austen! Contest ends on August 16th, (Contest ended!)which is Georgette Heyer’s 110th Birthday! Happy Birthday, GH, and thanks for the memories. Congratulations winners, Jan and Ginger, chosen through Random Number Generator! Thank you all for making a comment!

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Inquiring Readers: All Roads Lead to Austen: A Yearlong Journey with Jane Austen by Amy Elizabeth Smith is now available through Sourcebooks. I will be reviewing this fabulous, intelligently written book later this week. Meanwhile, enjoy my interview with Ms. Smith about her Latin American adventure as she discusses Jane Austen’s novels en Español with Latin American book groups. All readers of this blog from any country can enter a contest to win a copy of this charming book. Please click on this link and leave your comment. Make sure to leave a way I can reach you. Contest is now closed!

Amy, I love that Jane Austen, a spinster who didn’t travel far or frequently in her lifetime, is so beloved the world wide over. Which country surprised you most in terms of her popularity there and why?

I found translations of Austen left and right in bookstores in Argentina. I met plenty of people there who’d read Austen and liked her or who’d seen film adaptations of her novels and enjoyed them. And the Jane Austen Society of Buenos Aires was the first Austen society in South America. But sometimes it’s hard not to be influenced by stereotypes about people — I’d heard that Chileans were “the English of South America,” so somehow I thought Austen would be popular in Chile. But when I was living in Santiago, the capital (which I absolutely loved), a number of people told me Austen’s not very well known in Chile.

As for Argentineans, I’d heard over and over from people in Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador, and other places that Argentineans are, well, pretty arrogant. Other latinos kept passing on jokes like, “When Argentineans see lightening, what do they think is happening? They think it’s God, taking their picture!” So, I guess I got the idea that Argentineans might think Austen was stuffy or old fashioned or some such thing. But she’s popular, at least in Buenos Aires, according to my experiences.

What aspects of that particular culture do you think Jane would have enjoyed the most?

Bookstores, bookstores, bookstores. I had great experiences in bookstores all over Latin America, but Argentina — and Buenos Aires specifically — really is the bookstore capital of South America. It’s so easy for us now to take for granted that we can get our hands on just about any book we want, any time. We’ve got access to bookstores, next-day delivery with websites, and good public libraries. And electronic readers have made it easier than ever — just order whatever book you want, wherever you are on the planet! But imagine what it must have been like for an imaginative, inquisitive reader like Austen — how often did she ever set foot in a bookstore? How often could she afford to pay for books from a circulating library? How many books did her family or friends or neighbors actually own? I think Austen would have fainted from sheer pleasure at the sight of bookstore after bookstore on Avenida Corrientes in Buenos Aires.

Librerias Libertador: One of my favorite bookstores on Corrientes, in Buenos Aires

Jane Austen fans cross all religious boundaries. Can you identify any characteristics that Janeites share across the world, besides their obvious love for Jane Austen’s novels?

I honestly can’t speak for many places beyond Latin America (although I might try a next project in some other interesting countries!). But I suspect that there’s a kind of optimism that people — especially women — love about Austen. Her leading ladies find love, not in spite of being strong and intelligent, but because of it. That’s a pretty appealing idea in a world were, in many places, women are still told they’d better not appear too smart, or they’ll scare men off.

What were some of your most memorable experiences in writing this book?

I actually started the book while I was still traveling, although I didn’t finish it until after my trip was done. I wrote the first portion on Guatemala while I was living in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I was living well away from the tourist area, renting a partially-finished house that had glass in only one or two windows, so it was pretty noisy — street vendors would cruise by with loudspeakers, selling ice cream, vegetables, you name it. The people across the street had a huge bird caged outside their house that shrieked and chattered like a demon. And animals would wander in at will — there was one very persistent cat that kept making me jump out of my skin by appearing under my writing table with no warning.

There were animals all over the place in that neighborhood — no leash laws for dogs, and some of the neighbors had roosters and other farm animals. When I wanted a break from writing, I’d wander out to buy groceries or take my clothes to the laundromat. I always carried them in a plastic bag, and there was this goat a few houses down from me that was only tied up about half of the time. When it was loose, it usually ignored me, but when I had that plastic bag with laundry, it would come bolting after me — maybe its food came in a plastic bag, and it thought I had something good to eat? Or maybe it knew I had laundry and really wanted to eat my socks. Who knows. Sometimes I actually miss that goat — laundry day’s not the same without it.

A friendly neighborhood rooster from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Thank you, Amy, for your wonderful insights and good luck with your book. (I just love the cover!) Is there anything else you would like my readers to know about All Roads Lead to Austen?

Amy Elizabeth Smith

I had two main sources of inspiration for this book — Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran, and my own Jane Austen students at the University of the Pacific, in California. Readers can enjoy All Roads as a fun opportunity to sit back and be an armchair traveler, but I’d also love it if the book inspired some other international journey I could sit back and read about. Austen in China? Turkey? Belgium? Bora Bora? I’d love to see somebody else take on a journey like this with Jane. Even if they don’t want to write a whole book about it — I’d love to have people share reading-on-the-road stories on my website (http://allroadsleadtoausten.com/). Consider that an official invitation! And thanks so much for letting me visit here at Jane Austen’s World!

To Enter the Contest: Please make sure to leave your comment on Jane Austen Today at this link. The first two comments left on this post will be included in the random number generator drawing at midnight EST USA time on June 11. Please leave all other comments on Jane Austen Today. Make sure to leave a way I can reach you. 

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Gentle readers: Please leave a comment if you wish your name to be be eligible for a drawing of Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle, a wonderful Regency romp by Georgette Heyer. The drawing will be held the moment electricity is restored in my house. My best estimate is that this will take another week. Only U.S. and Canadian residents are eligible. (So sorry, but the book is being sent by the publisher, who has requested this geographic restriction.) Update: Contest closed. Congratulations Rebeka! You have won a copy of Sylvester.

Sylvester, Duke of Salford thinks quite highly of himself and is pleased by his impeccable manners and easy smile, which easily influences servants to do his bidding. But Phoebe Marlow, whose mousy manner hides her bright mind and talents as an equestrienne and a writer, was not so impressed when she first met him during her coming out season. She is even less enthralled with the Duke when he arrives for a visit at her father’s estate to look her over as a possible bride.

Sylvester’s fond Mama also harbors concerns for her son, especially when Sylvester announces his intentions to marry and begins to discuss his preference for a bride with her:

‘But I’m inclined to think now that is is more important that she should be intelligent. I don’t think I could tolerate a hen-witted wife. ‘Besides I don’t mean to foist another fool on to you.’

‘I am very much obliged to you!’ she said, a good deal entertained. ‘Clever, but not beautiful: very well! Continue!’

‘No, somedegree of beauty I do demand. She must have countenance, at least, and the sort of elegance which you have, Mama.’

‘Don’t try to turn my head, you flatterer! Have you discovered among the debutantes one who is endowed with all these qualities?’

‘At first glance, I suppose a dozen, but in the end only five.’

‘Five!’

At this point Sylvester’s mama becomes concerned, for she realizes that he is choosing his life’s mate with his head, not his heart. The woman who immediately springs to her mind for her son is Phoebe Marlow, and so our cluelessly haughty (yet kind) Duke collides with the novel’s heroine, who is not in the least willing to spend any time with him, at least not until circumstances throw them together and she gets to know him better.

The plot revolves around Phoebe’s big SECRET: she has authored a book in which Sylvester, with his saturnine brows, is featured prominently as the villain. The more Phoebe gets to know Sylvester, the more she realizes how wrong she was about him and the more she worries about the book’s effect on their budding friendship (for Phoebe was uncannily accurate in her representation about certain aspects of Sylvester’s life).

Georgette Heyer takes us from the cozy settings of country mansions, to London in High Season, to Dover and over to France. A colorful array of her usual characters add liveliness to a somewhat improbable plot, including Phoebe’s good friend Tom, Sylvester’s dodo bird of a sister-in-law, Ianthe, and a supremely idiotic and over-indulged fop named Sir Nugent.

In my opinion, if you are a Georgette Heyer fan and haven’t read this book yet, you will be well advised to do so now. I give it four out of five Regency tea cups!

For a chance to win this book, leave a comment about your favorite Georgette Heyer book! Contest closed. The winner is: Rebeka!

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Whenever a reader asks: Which of the Georgette Heyer books ranks among your favorites? Venetia invariably springs from my lips. Mind you, I had not read this book for decades, but I savored its memory. In recent years I began to question my younger self, for while I loved rereading The Grand Sophy last year, I didn’t find it quite as splendid as the 24-year-old Vic had. As I grew older, other GH books made their first appearance on my favorites list, such as The Quiet Gentleman and The Reluctant Widow.

When Sourcebooks sent me a review copy of Venetia I did not choose it for my first critique, for I did not want to spoil my youthful impression. Once I began reading the book, I discovered that the 25-year-old heroine of Undershaw in Yorkshire captivated me all over again.

Amongst the pick of the debutantes at Almack’s she must have attracted attention; in the more restricted society in which she dwelt she was a nonpareil. It was not only the size and brilliance of her eyes which excited admiration, or the glory of her shining guinea-gold hair, or even the enchanting arch of her pretty mouth: there was something very taking in her face which owed nothing to the excellence of her features: an expression of sweetness, a sparkle of irrepressible fun, an unusually open look, quite devoid of self-consciousness.”

Venetia Lanyon is no ordinary heroine. Like Jane Austen’s Emma, she has largely led a protected life, thanks to her reclusive father, and allowed to go only to the dance assemblies in York and as far as the seaside town of Scarborough. Although she might not have been given a Season in London, Venetia is smart, lively, and resourceful. After her father’s death and in her elder brother’s absence, she runs the estate and makes all the important decisions overseeing the house, servants, herself and her young brother, Aubrey.

Waiting for her brother Conway’s return (he is a soldier), Venetia fends off two local suitors, the priggish Edward Yardley, who is as dull as a post, and ardent Oswald Denny, who, too dazzled by Venetia’s unselfconscious beauty and overly influenced by Lord Byron’s romanticism, is unable to recognize that he is much too young for her. Venetia lives a sedate life in her back country neighborhood, whose denizens are all respectable and predictable, except for one – Lord Damerel, a rake and ne’er-do-well, and a blight upon Undershaw’s spotless reputation.

“His family was an old and a distinguished one, but the present holder of the title was considered by the respectable to be the neighborhood’s only blot. It was almost a social solecism to mention his name in polite company.”

Venetia’s uneventful life unexpectedly changes when she encounters Damerel as she picks blackberries on his lands while wearing an old and rumpled gown.

“He was a stranger, but his voice and his habit proclaimed his condition, and it did not take her more than a very few moments to guess that she must be confronting the Wicked Baron. She regarded him with candid interest, unconsciously affording him an excellent view of her enchanting countenance.”

Mistaking her for a trespassing servant maid, he kisses her. And so the fun begins, for we are still at the very start of the novel.

Which brings me to the hero. As a young woman, I preferred dark brooding heroes like Damerel – men whose vices, dissipations and disappointments turn them into cynics; men whose good qualities are awakened by spectacular women like Venetia, men who on the surface are all wrong for the heroine. And so in Damerel I found my perfect unforgettable hero. Now, in my more advanced age (ahem), I find that I am still enamored of him.

Several qualities make Venetia stand head and shoulders above most of GH’s other novels. The plot is intelligent and complex and gets better and better with each page, continually taking us in unexpected directions. In fact, there were three twists that threw me for a loop and that kept this love story fresh and alive until the last page.

Several minor characters stand out from the ordinary. I could read an entire book about Aubrey, Venetia’s physically disabled but fiercely independent and brilliant brother who likes books more than people. Then there’s Mrs. Scorrier, an unforgettable vulgar character in the mode of a Mrs. Elton. Presumptuous, overbearing, and encroaching, she promises to overset Venetia’s and Aubrey’s well ordered lives (and those of the servants). Then there’s the matter of a little mystery, for as the book progressed I kept asking myself, when will we meet Venetia’s brother Conway? So much of the plot revolves around his absence and his anticipated return, that I was keen to meet him.

I am one of the GH readers who luxuriates in her use of Regency cant, and Venetia offers this language in spades:

She made the shocking discovery that he was a member of the dandy-set – indeed the pinkest of Pinks, a swell of the first stare! Not having the least guess that the old lady holds every Bond Street beau in the utmost abhorrence, the silly pigeon rigged himself out as fine as fivepence, and trotted round to Grosvenor Square looking precise to a pin: Inexpressibles of the most delicate shade of primrose, coat by Stulz, Hessians by Hoby, hat – the Bang-up – by Baxter, neckcloth – the Oriental, which is remarkable for its height – by himself.”

There are readers, I found to my surprise, who are put off by Ms. Heyer’s cant (Ten reasons why I can’t read Georgette Heyer) and who could care less about her historical accuracy. This novel is not for them, for it is filled with colorful antiquated language and wonderful tidbits about the Regency era that I found fascinating but that will turn them away.

I rate Venetia five out of five teacups

Did I like Venetia? No, I loved it, and I hope you will too. I give it five out of five Regency tea cups.

Order the book here
ISBN: 9781402238840

Other Georgette Heyer Reviews on this blog:

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From the desk of Shelley DeWees…An interview with Karen V. Wasylowski, author of Darcy and Fitzwilliam: A Tale of a Gentleman and an Officer

About the book: The first ever Jane Austen BROmance from debut author Karen V. Wasylowski, Darcy and Fitzwilliam: A Tale of a Gentleman and an Officer is a truly original look into the life of Mr. Darcy. Butch Cassidy has the Sundance Kid, Felix has Oscar. Darcy has…Fitzwilliam! Readers of Pride and Prejudice know that Darcy and Fitzwilliam are thick as thieves and each other’s most cherished counsel. But as strong as their bond is, the two are still polar opposites! Darcy is quiet and reserved, while the vivacious Colonel Fitzwilliam is a confirmed bachelor whose military feats have made him a hero. Cousins, best friends, and sparring partners, Darcy and Fitzwilliam have always been there for each other.

To read Shelley de Wees’s refreshing review of this debut novel, click on this link to Jane Austen Today.

1.The problems faced by the characters in Darcy and Fitzwilliam are not quaint trifles by any means. Rather than being consumed by dilemmas of fashion or gossip or health, they’re instead met with huge setbacks and major trials of spirit. They encounter serious issues of social expectations, the solutions of which require lots of thinking and personal toil. What inspired you to write this way, especially in a genre that’s usually overrun with fluffy worlds of happiness and harmony?

First of all, thank you so much for saying that because that was truly what I wanted, to portray these men as real people, not Darcy the perfect romance hero and Fitzwilliam the affable side kick, nor did I want the women to be just caricatures of femininity. Real life is a struggle, very often between men and women, and that is so much more interesting to me than ball gowns and Almacks. There is a saying that life is what happens while we are busy making other plans and that’s the truth. Love and family can bring ecstasy and make you crazy, and sometimes all at once.

2. I really admired the way Lady Catherine De Bourgh was portrayed. Witty and stubborn yet refreshingly aware of her surroundings, your representation of her was one of the more ambitious ones in Austenesque literature. What motivated you to develop her so fully?

I loved writing Lady Catherine. I could say outrageous things that made no sense. As head of the family she feels she has the right, no the obligation, to infuriate these two men and interfere in their lives because, in her eyes, they are still horrid boys. She means well, she really does, and she’s the voice of the older generation that never can quite come to terms with the younger one. In my head Judy Dench starred as Lady Catherine, looking outraged at Fitzwilliam’s filthy boots or explaining procreation to Lizzy. Judy Dench was brilliant in my head.

3. When you’re not writing or volunteering, how else do you spend your time? Do you have any other hobbies?

No, not really. We live in Florida and that’s a pretty laid back lifestyle. Eating out is a hobby here, sleeping late. I love writing but I’m not disciplined in the least and I don’t feel much confidence yet. At any moment I think I’ll never create another scene or another word and that is scary, but exhilarating.

4. Tell us about the process you engage in when you sit down to write. Do you need complete silence, or do you write in the bedroom while throwing wild parties in the livingroom? Do you stick to a schedule? Do you prefer to write barefoot? Any other weirdness you’d like to share for the sake of our fascination?

Most of the time I need silence; anything on the television in the family room will bother me and I sit at my desk and marvel at the amount of female screaming there is on television – very disturbing on many levels. Other times a car could backfire in the family room and I wouldn’t hear it. There is no rhyme or reason. I have no schedule at all, spend a great deal of time ‘getting ready’ which means I play computer chess, and solitaire, I check Facebook, answer e-mails, go into the chat rooms, read the fan fiction sites, see if anyone left a nice compliment for one of my stories there, etc. After about an hour of this I feel ready to start. And then the phone rings – I get angry, grumble that I’m being disturbed, and the whole process begins again. It’s amazing I finished a book at all.

5. Are you working on anything new? Any more beguiling tales of love and intrigue we should know about?

Well, to tell you the truth, I have two books started. One covers the time before Darcy and Fitzwilliam, centering on Lizzy and Darcy and how they coalesce into a single unit as it were. I imagine it was quite a process for him to really understand her family and for her to adjust to his status. Their differences were vast, and I don’t think we, two hundred years later, can truly appreciate how difficult their adjustment must have been. I also want to show the effects of the war on Fitzwilliam and how years of warfare had attacked his spirit, causing his slide into the sort of debauched lifestyle he was living at the beginning of Darcy and Fitzwilliam.

The second book then is the period after Darcy and Fitzwilliam. It involves their children and all the blessings and madness that go with parenthood and getting older. Only heaven knows if either book will see the light of day but it is fun to be with my boys again. I told my husband, “You know it’s like I know what goes on in their heads.” He looked at me like I was crazy and said, “Karen, you are their heads.” I had forgotten. They are that real to me.

6. Finally, is there anything else you’d like to say?

I’d like to thank Deb Werksman and Sourcebooks Landmark for publishing Darcy and Fitzwilliam. No agent would even consider me – I wasn’t a famous name, nor a celebrity. So, I defied all logic and sent my manuscript directly into the publisher who gave me my chance. It proves that if you really love what you are doing and if you have faith in it, anything is possible. Never give up.

Karen Wasylowski

About the author Karen V. Wasylowski: Karen is a retired accountant and CPA. This is her first novel. She and her husband spend much of their free time volunteering with charitable organizations in their community. Karen and her husband live in Bradenton, Florida.

About the interviewer Shelley de Wees: This is Shelley de Wees’s first interview for this blog. She has written five reviews for me – three for Jane Austen’s World and two for my other blog, Jane Austen Today. Shelley also oversees her own blog, The Uprising, which features vegan recipes. Yum. She lives in the northern U.S. I shiver just thinking about the cold at this time of year.

Image of the author taken from My Jane Austen Book Club.

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