Book review: ‘Pemberley Ranch’ by Jack Caldwell

On a random weekday, I recently finished a young adult book and scanned my bookshelves for something a little different. While I love my chick lit and teen reads, a girl can’t survive on those genres alone. I wanted some intrigue. A little mystery, perhaps.

And that’s why I love having a bookcase that sags beneath its weight in paperbacks. Approximately ten billion novels await my perusal, and I adore being a flippant, unpredictable reader. It’s fun to flit from modern New York City to the streets of London and back again, and this time — this time — I was ready to embark on an epic journey to post Civil War-era Texas. And Jack Caldwell was channeling my beloved Jane Austen.

Before you scramble away regarding a Pride and Prejudice removed from Regency England, let me say this: I went into Pemberley Ranch expecting a pleasant — if campy — read, and I couldn’t have been more surprised by what I found in Caldwell’s incarnation of a classic story.

This book was so much fun.

Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet — famed heroine; straight talker; owner of “fine eyes” — is now Beth Bennet, a farmer’s daughter in Rosings, Texas. The Bennets have relocated from Ohio to Confederate Texas just after the war, and the family is still smarting from losing their beloved son and brother, Samuel, during the battles that polarized our nation. Beth now spends her days with her sisters and opinionated mother, Fanny, never dreaming that the sights of nearby rancher William Darcy — a wealthy, handsome former Confederate fighter — are fixed on her . . . especially when she does nothing more than insult his religious background and role in the war that claimed her brother’s life.

But Beth is wrong about Darcy — isn’t she? He isn’t the proud, arrogant “half-breed” that townsfolk are claiming. He’s of Native American background, sure, but that doesn’t mean he’s beneath some folks — and certainly not Catherine Burroughs, his cruel and controlling cousin. Cate would like nothing more than to unite the land that once belonged to their ancestors, but Darcy isn’t interested in a truce. And when Rosings’ residents begin facing trouble at the hands of George Whitehead, a charismatic but dangerous carpetbagger, everyone must choose which side they’re on.

So I’ve read lots of Austen fiction, and my love for our lady J is known far and wide. I can be a hard sell when it comes to modern (or historical) retellings of my favorite stories, and I know some purists frown upon “spin-offs” stemming from Austen’s original works. I’m not one of those readers, obviously; any additional time I can spend with the dashing Mr. Darcy is all right by me. But even I, a relatively adventurous reader, wasn’t so sure about this premise.

It just sounded so . . . silly. Over the top. Ridiculous, even. And I’m only admitting that in the interest of full disclosure, friends, because I absolutely loved this book. It was romantic, thrilling, adventurous; the plot was tight and interesting, and the whole novel richly atmospheric. I felt as thought I’d stepped back in time to ride sidesaddle through Darcy’s ranch, and I completely bought into the idea that these characters — these friends — to whom I’m tremendously attached could be transported to a different time, a different place, and have the story still work.

And work it did. Though I missed the prim-and-proper British manners that are so vital to Austen’s work, America in the 1800s wasn’t so grossly different from England. I mean, ladies weren’t permitted to hold court with a young man unchaperoned. And if you think you’re going to run off with a young woman without her father’s approval, son? Think again. There are right ways to do things and wrong ways to do things, and Caldwell knows that. Protocol in Texas isn’t quite the same as in Longbourn, but it’s not dissimilar, either.

Darcy is still a proud, upstanding citizen; Beth is still a hard-headed young woman who refuses to bend to society’s — or her parents’ — wishes. Though Caldwell manipulates the familiar plot in a new way, the spirit of our beloved characters is the same. And that’s what won me over most: the push-and-pull, will-they-or-won’t-they vibe we get from our leads is still present — but not the complete focus.

This isn’t a romance — not in a traditional sense. There’s no bodice-ripping here, friends, and very little in the way of uncouth behavior. Pemberley Ranch’s main focus is really on the Civil War and its aftershocks, bringing the discord between Beth and Darcy to this one salient point: on which side do you fall? And at one point do you let the past go?

Rich in historical detail and high on intrigue, tension and adventure, Pemberley Ranch is a spirited and fun addition to the Austen fiction oeuvre I love so dearly. Gobbled up over just a few nights, I was dying to learn what would become of my two favorite families and enjoyed seeing allusions to Pride and Prejudice even as Caldwell took the tale in new directions. A worthwhile, fun book, and one I heartily recommend to Austen fans and historical fiction lovers alike.


4.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 1402241283 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy won from Diary of an Eccentric

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Gretna Green: The Jane Austen connection

Arriving in Scotland after hours on a tour bus, I was a sweaty and harried mess — and desperate for both the loo and WiFi. I had no idea that our “comfort stop” would be in Gretna Green, a town famous for its clandestine marriages and elopements for centuries.

I recognized the name instantly from Jane Austen’s classic Pride & Prejudice; it’s the town to which Lydia and Wickham were believed to have been headed in an effort to “seal the deal” and marriage in secret. As the Jane Austen Centre points out, eloping in Austen’s day was anything but romantic — and would only lead to scandal and heartbreak for the families of the “fallen” woman who would agree to or be coerced into such a terrible thing.

Gretna Green first gained its reputation for quick marriages for underage lovers when, in 1754, England passed a law “requiring all marriages to be recognized by the church and that couples under 21 have parental consent,” the Centre writes. “Scotland was more liberal at the time; couples as young as sixteen could marry freely simply by having their marriage proclaimed in front of two witnesses, no clergy needed at all. This caused a veritable stampede of anxious young lovers, spurring on their horses only as far as the first town across the Scottish border, where they could marry safely and consummate their unions with a clear conscience.”

And y’all know teenagers are all about consummating their unions.

Wickham never had any intention of marrying poor, naive and ridiculous Lydia, though; the guy was a schemer and a jerk (though totally hot, especially in that uniform). Though they did eventually marry, eloping was seen as a bad omen for the start of wedlock: a union not blessed by a member of the clergy had no bearing, regardless of whether or not it was “legal.” And goodness knows the Bennets were none to pleased with the arrangements, though at least Lydia was married and not just living in sin with the guy.

Today, the Old Blacksmith’s Shop still stands to welcome those wishing to marry without delay — and a bevy of shops and a Scottish bagpiper are accommodating to visitors, too. As we wandered through the stores (and may or may not have purchased a few flasks of Scotch Whisky), the Blacksmith’s Shop began to buzz with the entrance of a bride and groom. We didn’t get to stay for the wedding, but we did hear a few traditional songs on the bagpipes — and I snapped tons of photos.

A lovely little place and a worthwhile stop. I can see why Lydia would have wanted to make haste to seal her union with Wickham . . . I mean, let’s be honest: Darcy is brooding and unexpectedly kind, but Wickham was the real roguish hottie in P&P. You can’t fight danger and intrigue!


Book review: ‘Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man In The World’ by Abigail Reynolds

What if Elizabeth had accepted Mr. Darcy the first time he asked?

Those of us familiar with Jane Austen’s classic Pride & Prejudice — which, if you’re even reading this, is probably most of us — know that Fitzwilliam Darcy popped the question to a flabbergasted Elizabeth Bennet long before she actually accepted, forcing Elizabeth to launch into her famous diatribe about Darcy being “the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.” (Yikes. What a shut-down.)

Because Darcy? He was proud. Arrogant. Disdainful of Elizabeth’s family and “low connections.” And yet there was something about her — something spirited — that got him to cast aside his reservations and actually drop to one knee.

Or, in this case, plant a giant kiss on her.

While reading a novel like Abigail Reynolds’ Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man In The World, a variation on Pride & Prejudice, we have to remember what life was like in Regency England — decidedly straight-laced. After Darcy offers for Elizabeth’s hand in marriage and assumes she’ll be overjoyed at the proposal, he leans forward to kiss her. But his belief that they’re alone while walking is quickly voided when Colonel Fitzwilliam stumbles across the pair. Shocked and horrified that she has now been “compromised” — and knowing there’s no way she can walk away from Darcy’s unbelievable offer of marriage now — Elizabeth stays mum as she is congratulated by her acquaintances and Darcy formally asks Mr. Bennet for permission to wed his second-eldest daughter.

Can you imagine? You’re caught in a man’s arms and suddenly you’re damaged goods — destined to bring shame and poverty upon your family because of one small, unexpected smooch. Let’s just say I’m glad it’s not 1815.

But I digress.

Reynolds’ Darcy is a familiar one: haughty and in control, but his unexpected tenderness and obvious infatuation with Elizabeth — though she most definitely did not return his sentiments — was very different. I enjoyed this novel from start to finish, absolutely loving the push-and-pull between our principle characters. Reynolds does an impeccable job of keeping us firmly rooted at the Pemberley we know and love while still allowing for some change. Familiar characters enter the landscape — like the devious George Wickham, a man for whom I must admit to have a certain soft spot (I know, I know) — and Austen’s plot points are honored, though Reynolds does take us in some new directions. And some of those steamy scenes would have brought a decided blush to Miss Austen’s cheeks.

The discourse between Elizabeth and Darcy was funny and tender — and, dare I say it, they bantered. Really bantered. So many recent spin-offs or variations of Pride & Prejudice I’ve read, like Mr. Darcy, Vampyre, feature our beloved characters as mere shells of who they used to be. Reynolds’ Elizabeth is still spirited and independent, afraid of Darcy though she can’t quite put her finger on why. The evolution of their relationship was believable and, though I knew that they would have to grow to love each other (right?), there was still a little shadow across my brow when I wondered how the couple would finally set aside their — ahem — pride and prejudice to accept one another . . . faults and all.

After reading a page or two here and there for a few days, when I finally sat down to devote my full attention to this novel? I whipped through it in a few hours. And what a diverting few hours they were! Fans of Austen and our beloved Darcy and Elizabeth won’t find much fault with this novel, though I have to admit to getting a little weary of the fact that they were so often at cross-hairs. But that’s just part of the fun, right? If you love Austen fiction, don’t hesitate to pick this one up.


4 out of 5!

ISBN: 140222947X ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by publisher

Etsy Find Fridays: Etsy and the Austen addict

It’s Friday again! I’ve had so much fun doing my Etsy collection posts, I’m going to make it a weekly (Friday!) tradition. (Catch my Navy collection and last week’s Anglophile pieces if you’re just tuning in.) If you also love Etsy and collections, feel free to blog about this, too — and leave a comment with your link on this post so we can check it out!

It is a truth universally acknowledged that, despite her untimely death nearly 200 years ago, Jane Austen’s legacy is as strong now as it ever was — if not stronger! Think of the countless films based on her six completed novels — all she was able to complete before passing away on July 18, 1817 (my birthday! Well, not in 1817, but you know what I mean). And of the countless merchandise. And the modern books — many of them excellent! — which pick up with her beloved characters where Austen left off, bringing us further stories of our beloved Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet.

Along that vein, I bring you my latest collection of Etsy things to lust over: what I’m affectionately calling The Best in Austen On Etsy! I’m all about the eye candy and I adore Austen . . . so I bring you my favorites!

Pride & Prejudice Bracelet -- Wide Bangle by TheLittleBirdie, $16

Pride & Prejudice Bracelet -- Wide Bangle by TheLittleBirdie, $16

Jane Austen original mixed media collage by LDphotography, $7.99

Jane Austen original mixed media collage card by LDphotography, $7.99

i_heart_mr_darcy

"I Heart Mr. Darcy" button by unresigned, $1.50

jane_austen_heroine3

Jane Austen Heroine print by skyebluepink, $12

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Booking Through Thursday: Favorite literary couplings

booking_through_thurs Ah, another Booking Through Thursday! I love this week’s prompt:

“Name a favorite literary couple and tell me why they are a favorite. If you cannot choose just one, that is okay too. Name as many as you like — sometimes narrowing down a list can be extremely difficult and painful. Or maybe that’s just me.”

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At the top of my list would have to be Cornelia and Teo from Marisa de los Santos’ fabulous Belong To Me. While the circumstances of their marriage seem just a wee bit suspect to me initially, there’s no denying the fierce bond and unconditional love between them. I love that despite the many conflicts that reach them as they settle into their new life in the suburbs — and there are many — they remain steadfastly loyal and loving to one another.

Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger built up their romance the old-fashioned way in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series — by spending time together, followed by the inevitable annoyance and hatred and jealousy of the other’s relationships while still steadfastly denying any romantic feelings for them. Ultimately, the final declaration of their love after a million and one hardships (and near death, right?) came as a huge relief. My favorite romances are the ones that have time to simmer, build and grow stronger — anyone can fall quickly and intimately in love with someone only to have them disappear a month or two later. The earnest, time-consuming loves are the greatest!

And, of course, I could never broach this conversation without mentioning Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Going along with my aforementioned love of the annoyance, hatred, jealousy and burgeoning feelings expressed before the inevitable, passionate declaration of love, Jane Austen’s hero and heroine will always have a special place in the hearts of readers everywhere. She’s too proud to have him and he’s too prejudiced to be honest with her . . . or is it that she’s too prejudiced, and he’s too proud? (Thanks, “You’ve Got Mail”!)