Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! A Murder at Rosings by Annette Purdey Pugh

When Mr Collins is found stabbed to death in Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s garden, simmering tensions are revealed beneath the elegant Regency surface of the Rosings estate.

The prime suspect is Mr Bennet, who was overheard arguing with Mr Collins over the entail of Longbourn in the days before the murder was committed, and who stands to benefit more than anyone from the Rector’s death.

His daughter Mary uncovers a scandalous secret that holds the key to the murder. Can she prove her father’s innocence in time to save him from the gallows?

As a lover of all things Austen, I have eagerly devoured several Austen-adjacent novels and ‘sequels’ over the years. Most have centered on Elizabeth Bennet: she’s fought zombies (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), and solved a murder (Death Comes to Pemberley) but, more recently, other characters have come to the fore. From servants (Longbourn) to Charlotte Lucas (Charlotte), to Mary Bennet (The Other Bennet Sister), Austen’s most famous novel seems to invite infinite re-tellings.

Annette Purdey Pugh’s debut novel, A Murder at Rosings, is an imaginative addition to this contemporary tradition, moving the action away from Longbourn and Pemberley to Rosings, the home of the formidable Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Mr Collins, one-time suitor to Elizabeth Bennet and heir to the Longbourn estate, has been found stabbed to death in Lady Catherine’s garden.

The pompous vicar was overheard arguing with Mr Bennet in the days before his death – and it appears Mr Bennet may be the only person who benefits from the Rector’s death. It is left to Mary Bennet, with the support of her new friend Anne de Bourgh, to try and uncover the key to the murder. As the official investigation gathers pace, Mary uncovers a scandalous secret that could change Rosings forever.

Offering an interesting perspective on some of Austen’s well-known characters, A Murder at Rosings is an entertaining ‘cosy’ mystery (although there is mention of and allusion to sexual assault and sexual coersion, albeit without any graphic language or content) with plenty of twists and turns, as well as an insight into the ‘below stairs’ life of a great house such as Rosings.

Whilst characters remained true to Austen’s depictions of them, Annette Purdey Pugh has fleshed out ‘incidental’ characters such as Mary Bennet and Anne de Bourgh with nuance, developing character traits from Austen’s novel to create fully rounded and believable characters that have additional depth. Lady Catherine, for example, remains aloof and opinionated but is shown to also be a genuinely caring mother and a reasonable employer.

In addition, Purdey Pugh has created some interesting original characters – the local magistrate, Sir John Bright, acts as a reasoned and reasonable principle investigator into the crime and is ably – if naively – assisted by local constable Robert Archer. There are also plenty of red herrings to detract from the main plot – a pair of suspicious stable boys, a frightened young orphan – that keep the pages turning and the mind whirring!

My only quibble is that, despite the blurb, Mary doesn’t really do much ‘investigating’ – this is not like Elizabeth in Death Comes to Pemberley, placing herself at the forefront of the investigation. She does discover a crucial piece of evidence but if you’re looking for a Bennet centered book, Murder at Rosings isn’t it. Sir John and Archer lead the investigations and Murder at Rosings is, on the whole, an ensemble affair featuring a range of Austen’s characters – such as Mary – in ‘walk-on’ parts. Still interesting, but arguably not ‘as advertised’ in the blurb.

Imaginative and interesting, this was a light and engaging mystery that ably expands on Austen’s original whilst remaining true to the spirit, character, and style of her works. Pacy and page-turning, the central mystery has some intriguing twists that will keep you guessing, whilst Austen fans are sure to enjoy revisting some of her beloved characters in a new setting.

A Murder at Rosings by Annette Purdery Pugh is published by Honno and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, Bookshop.org, and Wordery.

f you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 30 June 2021 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! Jane Austen’s Best Friend by Zöe Wheddon

All fans of Jane Austen everywhere believe themselves to be best friends with the beloved author and this book shines a light on what it meant to be exactly that.

Jane Austen’s Best Friend: The Life and Influence of Martha Lloyd offers a unique insight into Jane’s private inner circle. Through this heart-warming examination of an important and often overlooked person in Jane’s world, we uncover the life changing force of their friendship.

Each chapter details the fascinating facts and friendship forming qualities that tied Jane and Martha together. Within these pages we will relive their shared interests, the hits and misses of their romantic love lives, their passion for shopping and fashion, their family histories, their lucky breaks and their girly chats. This book offers a behind the scenes tour of the shared lives of a fascinating pair and the chance to deepen our own bonds in ‘love and friendship’ with them both.

As an avid reader of Jane Austen’s work, I have often felt myself wishing I could get that little bit closer to this somewhat enigmatic author. The lively wit that rises from each page of Austen’s novels and letters often seems wildly at odds with the modest woman depicted in many of the biographies we have of her, and in the image of the retiring ‘Aunt Jane’ that her family were so keen to promote after her death. It is easy to wonder what Jane Austen was really like – and what it would be like to take a turn about the room with her or have her as a dinner party guest.

Zöe Wheddon is equally captivated by this and, in Jane Austen’s Best Friend, has turned to an overlooked figure in Jane’s life to help bring us closer to the author and her world. Martha Lloyd was Jane’s lifelong friend and who, Wheddon argues, may have known the writer as well as – and in some ways better than – Jane’s sister Cassandra, her more acknowledged confidant. Starting with Martha and Jane’s childhood, Wheddon moves through the lives of these two women, using surviving correspondence, diaries, and other archival records to depict a lasting and deeply important friendship that had a lasting and meaningful impact on both parties involved in it.

It is clear that Wheddon has done her research and, despite the occasional lack of concrete evidence (not all of Martha and Jane’s letters have survived), she examines what is there in almost forensic detail, connecting the small, seemingly trivial, moments of Jane and Martha’s lives into the wider picture of their life and times, including the impact and influence that this may have had upon Jane’s beloved novels. Wheddon’s enthusiasm for her subject really comes across in the book which is, for the most part, told in a lively and accessible way despite the wealth of both time and material covered.

Despite reading several biographies of Austen, I’d never really heard much about Martha Lloyd before. The role of friendship is often overlooked in biographies – especially of pioneering female writers – and Jane Austen is often portrayed as a writer bereft of friends, immersed wholly in the life of her family and a few close family acquaintances. It was therefore both heartening and interesting to see this reframed and to discover the impact that a close and long-lasting female friendship had upon the lives of these two women.

In fact if I had one quibble about the book it was that the focus was, at times, too much on Jane and not enough on Martha. Martha Lloyd appears to have been a lively and fascinating woman in her own right and I sometimes felt that this was explored only in so much as it accounted for development or influence in Jane’s life or writing. I understand that many readers will be attracted to this book because of the Austen connection but, for me, I’d have liked more chapters like the final one, which examines Martha’s life after Jane’s death. I also found some of the connections Wheddon makes between Martha and specific elements or incidents within Jane’s writing slightly tentative although I found her overall argument in favour of Martha’s influence to be a strong and compelling one.

Because of the Austen focus, it’s unlikely that this biography will appeal to those not already interested in Austen herself. And I’d probably recommend reading a biography of Austen (my preference is for Lucy Worsley’s excellent Jane Austen at Home, but there are many others) in order to get the most out of this book. For Austen aficionados however, Jane Austen’s Best Friend offers an interesting new way of navigating well-trodden territory, spotlights an overlooked figure within Jane’s life (and an interesting woman in her right!) and convincingly argues that we should consider the lasting influence of such a significant friendship when we read and appreciate Jane Austen’s work.

Jane Austen’s Best Friend by Zöe Wheddon is published by Pen & Sword and is available from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

My thanks go to the publisher for providing an copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and to Rachel from Rachel’s Random Resources for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 06 March so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content!

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!! There’s Something About Darcy by Gabrielle Malcolm

9781911445562For some, Colin Firth emerging from a lake in that clinging wet shirt is one of the most iconic moments in television. But what is it about the two-hundred-year-old hero that we so ardently admire and love?

Dr Gabrielle Malcolm examines Jane Austen’s influences in creating Darcy’s potent mix of brooding Gothic hero, aristocratic elitist and romantic Regency man of action. She investigates how he paved the way for later characters like Heathcliff, Rochester and even Dracula, and what his impact has been on popular culture over the past two centuries.

For twenty-first century readers the world over have their idea of the ‘perfect’ Darcy in mind when they read the novel, and will defend their choice passionately.

In this insightful and entertaining study, every variety of Darcy jostles for attention: vampire Darcy, digital Darcy, Mormon Darcy and gay Darcy.

Who does it best and how did a clergyman’s daughter from Hampshire create such an enduring character?

Proud, aloof, and emotionally distant. Any modern woman in her right mind would, you think, reject Mr Darcy  – and his ten thousand a year – quicker than Lizzie Bennet turns down Mr Collins. And yet we (and I include myself in this collective ‘we’) seem to adore the man more than ever.

Whether it’s Matthew Macfadyen strolling through a misty field, Colin Firth emerging from a lake, or Bridget Jones’ very own Mark Darcy bringing Regency romance to modern-day London, there really is something about Darcy. And Gabrielle Malcolm is determined to find out what.

There’s Something About Darcy is an extensive examination of the enduring appeal of Austen’s most famous aristocratic hero. Written with a scholar’s eye for detail whilst retaining a light and engaging tone throughout, Dr Malcolm breaks down and analyses the various portrayals of Mr Darcy on screen, as well as the inventive directions that Austenesque writers have taken the character.

From Bollywood hero to vampire slayer (and even vampire!) Darcy has been re-imagined in every possible way and it was fascinating to consider the impact of these portrayals on our perception of the character – and how they might have added to the endurance of his appeal.

I would, however, have liked a little more discussion about the modern adaptations that reinterpret Darcy through the lens of another culture, and more consideration of why we continue to seek out romantic heroes who exhibit such problematic character traits.

In the latter portion of the book, Dr Malcolm also considers the relationship between Darcy and other popular romantic heroes – Mr Rochester, Heathcliff, Edward Cullen, Dracula, Christian Grey – as well as the heroes of some lesser-known (by modern audiences at least) Regency romances written by Austen’s contemporaries.

Whilst I felt that these chapters provided an interesting insight into the way in which various societies and eras construct and interpret ‘heroes’, I wasn’t sure that the discussions always succeeded in shedding new light upon Austen’s hero and this section of the book, for me anyway, wasn’t quite as successful as the chapters that focus primarily on Austen’s hero.

That said, considering other examples of ‘Darcy-like’ characters did illustrate how the prevalence of the Darcy archetype became established in popular culture – and how the numerous adaptations and reinterpretations of the character, both in print and on the screen, have allowed Darcy to take precedence over other romantic leads who exhibit similar traits.

Although literary scholars and die-hard Janeites may find themselves wanting a bit more meat on the bones in some places, for most readers who have a soft spot for Austen’s aloof heroine, There’s Something About Darcy is sure to both entertain and inform in equal measure.

Written with a scholar’s eye for detail whilst retaining the explanations of key plots and characters needed to hold the interest of a general reader, There’s Something About Darcy is a lively, informative and engrossing read.

There’s Something About Darcy by Gabrielle Malcolm is published by Endeavour Media and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, Book Depository, and Amazon

My thanks go to Hannah Groves from Endeavour Media for providing an advanced copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and for inviting me onto and organising this blog tour. The tour continues until 20 November so do check out the other stops along the way for more reviews and content!

Darcy Blog Tour Schedule

 

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I Heart Jane: A Reader’s Tribute to Jane Austen

Pride and PrejudiceToday marks 200 years since the death of Jane Austen. As a longtime Austen fan, it seems only fitting to mark the occasion with a tribute to her writing.

I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoy Austen’s work. Her wry observances of character are as relevant today as they were when she first put them on the page. Surely we have most of us known a Mrs Bennett or a Mr Collins in our time? From the moment that my mother first handed me her treasured paperback of Pride and Prejudice – given to me on holiday to alleviate my teenage boredom when all my own books had been finished or cast aside – I found her ready wit and perceptive characterisation captivating. Plus I was head over heels in love with Mr Darcy, of course.

Sense and SensibilityIt wasn’t long before I read the remainder of Austen’s major works. Sense & Sensibility quickly became another favourite, my teenage self desperately wishing I was more like tempestuous Marianne than dutiful Elinor. Emma was sparkling and witty – although Mr Knightly was a bit of a downer I thought. Mansfield Park was….long. And I enjoyed Persuasion although I completely failed to understand why Anne hadn’t just ignored her odious family and married Frederick Wentworth when she had the chance first time around.

Looking back, I think a lot of Austen’s subtleties were lost on the teenage me. I liked her books for their spark and romance but a lot of the subtle tensions were lost to me. Austen, like many great authors, reveals her art gradually as one re-reads. And, with each round of re-reading as I get older (although not necessarily wiser), another layer of her books is revealed to me.

Northanger AbbeyAt university I had the pleasure of studying Northanger Abbey, a book that becomes infinitely more enjoyable, in my mind at least, when put into context. Finally I was able to appreciate Austen’s satirical asides on the nature of books and reading and contextualise the book amongst it’s contemporaries. Northanger is often seen as one of Austen’s more juvenile novels – and arguably the romance and plot have less structure than her later works – but I love it for its vitality and it’s sharp skewering of those who would malign the novel as an artform.

PersuasionAs I’ve entered my thirties, Persuasion has also taken on new meaning and become a novel that’s easier for me to appreciate. Odd isn’t it how someone’s reserve and dutifulness, so annoying when you’re a teenager, becomes so much more relatable when you’re an adult and have made the same mistakes? Austen was rather brave I feel to write about the predicament of so many older women and about having a second chance at love and Anne is now one of my favourite Austen heroines as a result.

I still love Pride and Prejudice of course – who doesn’t – and, in my adulthood, have decided being an Elinor is no bad thing (I mean, you’d just want to slap Marianne if you met her wouldn’t you?!).  I still debate whether Emma and Mr Knightly are well matched Mansfield Park  but I think Austen’s skill is so well displayed in that novel – her characterisation is spot on throughout and in Emma she creates one of the first unlikable narrators who, by the end, the reader cannot help but root for.

And as for Mansfield Park? I confess, we still have issues. Maybe I’m still not quite old enough to appreciate Fanny Price’s endless forbearance. Which just means I’ll have to keep giving them all a re-read until I am doesn’t it!

EmmaIf you’ve never read Austen before, I really would urge you to give her a go. She’s so often deemed a romance author – and, indeed, her romances are excellent with all the sweeping drama and petty misunderstandings that a reader would want from a love story – but there’s so much more to her as well. Wry humour, satire, family drama. She captures so much of day to day life on the page. I’d recommend Northanger Abbey to start with – anyone who loves books and reading will appreciate Catherine Morland’s dangerous descent into her fantasy world!

If you’re already an Austen fan, I’d love to know your favourite of her works. And why do you think she’s stood the test of time so well? Drop me a comment down below or over on Twitter.

And for anyone interested in finding out more, click here to be taken to the website marking the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death which is filled with links to events across the country about Jane, her life and her books.