First ImpressionsFirst Impressions by Charlie Lovett is subtitled “a novel of old books, unexpected love, and Jane Austen.” It’s a quick read, quickly alternating between the present day and 1796 when Jane Austen herself is in the midst of writing early drafts of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice (or is she?) There’s some doubt as to whether she or a good friend and fellow author mentored her or whether he actually wrote Pride and Prejudice.

Lovett does a good job of organically integrating historical information about Austen and her books. It doesn’t feel like you’re being fed lessons from high school English, but as if you are really beginning to know Jane and what motivated her to write the stories that she did.

In between chapters about Jane Austen are those that focus on Sophie Collingwood. Her family owns a large estate, as well as an important library of books that contain important clues to the first editions of Pride and Prejudice.  A recent graduate of Oxford and an expert in antiquarian books thanks to her uncle Bertram. Sophie becomes involved in literary intrigue, in which she and others try to untangle the early works of Austen, and those of her friend, Reverend Richard Mansfield.

Suspense builds as Sophie, some shadowy rivals, and two suitors try to solve the mystery. Lovett does a good job of laying the groundwork, so the ending is unexpected yet grounded in the information the reader has been given. For example, subsequent generations of the Mansfield’s and Austen’s publisher are revealed to be active participants in the contemporary mystery.

jane and the 12 days of christmasChristmas Eve, 1814: Jane Austen has been invited to spend the holiday with family and friends at The Vyne, the gorgeous ancestral home of the wealthy and politically prominent Chute family. As the year fades and friends begin to gather beneath the mistletoe for the twelve days of Christmas festivities, Jane and her circle are in a celebratory mood: Mansfield Park is selling nicely; Napoleon has been banished to Elba; British forces have seized Washington, DC; and on Christmas Eve, John Quincy Adams signs the Treaty of Ghent, which will end a war nobody in England really wanted.

Jane, however, discovers holiday cheer is fleeting. One of the Yuletide revelers dies in a tragic accident, which Jane immediately views with suspicion. If the accident was in fact murder, the killer is one of Jane’s fellow snow-bound guests. With clues scattered amidst cleverly crafted charades, dark secrets coming to light during parlor games, and old friendships returning to haunt the Christmas parties, whom can Jane trust to help her discover the truth and stop the killer from striking again? (description from publisher)

Thank goodness authors and actors and artists keep using Jane Austen as a muse to keep us Janeites busy. Here is a list of a few recent Austen-related items I’ve enjoyed:

From Prada or Nada: I have been a fan of actress Camilla Belle since her Disney Channel days, so I checked out this movie for some fun and silliness. My first shock was that despite the girly title and DVD image, this film has more drama than comedy. Then my second shock came at the end of the movie when I realized I had been watching a pretty direct retelling of Sense and Sensibility! (The girls are even named Nora and Mary–I was so embarrassed it took me so long to register the plot.) The movie follows two sisters as they deal with their father’s death and moving from his wealthy home to live with their Mexican Grandmother and extended family in a poor neighborhood in East LA. The film did a fantastic job of keeping true to Austen’s story while also staying accurate to today’s society and the lives of Mexican-Americans.

Austenland by Shannon Hale: Although I tend to love films that do an Austen retelling, I am always hesitant of books that attempt the same. The exception to the rule is those self-aware books where a modern Janeite finds herself living as an Austenian Heroine in her own life. In Austenland, Jane Hayes has been given a trip to stay at Pembrook Park, one of England’s Regency Era resorts that caters to those with Jane Austen fantasies. Although at first she is hesitant to play along with the staff and actors, Jane eventually convinces herself that she will never let go of her Mr. Darcy obsession unless she fully allows herself to participate in the romantic experience. Unfortunately, her love life just gets more complicated as she begins to confuse reality and Austen fantasy. Shannon Hale just wrote a companion book called Midnight in Austenland that sets a murder mystery in Pembrook Park.

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries The Lizzie Bennet Diaries: This popular youtube series is one of my favorite new things! As you may have gathered from this post (and my other Jane Austen posts), I love Jane Austen with a modern twist, and the Lizzie Bennet Diaries add a twist that I have never seen before: they are telling the story of Pride and Prejudice in real-time! Yup, Jane started her web diaries back in April when she first found out that a young doctor, Bing Lee, bought the mansion near her parents’ home and her mother was becoming insane about it. Her and her bf, Charlotte, (along with occasional help from her sisters, Jane and Lydia, and Bing’s sister, Caroline) produce two videos a week that are usually about 3-5 minutes each. Right now, Lizzie and Jane are staying over with Bing while their mother is remodeling their home (in case they have to sell it). The actors are fantastic, the scripts are fresh, and the whole shebang is produced by youtube superstars Bernie Su and Hank Green. You can catch up on the videos directly from the LBD youtube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/LizzieBennet/ or find out more about the whole project at: http://www.lizziebennet.com/

Beautiful, wealthy and secure in her place in society, Emma Woodhouse rules her tiny part of England with a sunny disposition. Emma occupies herself with somewhat clumsy if well-meaning attempts at matchmaking, yet she completely misses seeing her own true love until it is almost too late. The latest adaptation of the beloved Jane Austen novel (first shown on PBS), this version of Emma succeeds in every way.

As you would expect from a BBC production, every detail is exquisite. Costumes, scenery, settings, props all help to bring this version of Emma beautifully to life. The film reflects the bright and sunny personality of the heroine with lush gardens, elegant homes, lively conversation and charming villages. Beautifully adapted and acted, you will not be disappointed.

There are many film versions of all of Austen’s books; one of the great advantages of the mini-series versus a feature film is that there is much more room for the story to grow and develop; side stories that add interest and atmosphere need not be cut and the main characters can shine as they should. All of this comes together here making it a pleasure to slip into the sharp and witty world of Austen.

After 48 years of marriage, Joseph has asked Betty for a divorce, citing “irreconcilable differences”. This confuses Betty because of course they have “irreconcilable differences” – what did that have to do with divorce? And thus begins a tale of manners and family ties, heartbreak and second chances.

To save money Betty and her two adult daughters – each facing life changing situations of their own – move into a dilapidated cottage on Long Island, loaned to them by an benevolent cousin. It is here that each woman faces her new future, making connections to their neighbors, town and each other that are both unexpected and comforting.

The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine is a decidedly modern look at society, inspired by the novels of Jane Austen (you’ll recognize a lot of Sense and Sensibility and a bit of Pride and Prejudice here) Witty, thoughtful, sharply observant, this is a novel of picking up the pieces and starting anew.

But I had no idea she was a highly trained zombie-killing Ninja!!!

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith and Jane Austen

It appears that Jane Austen may have left a few things out when she was showering her irony, wit and passive social consciousness all over the story of the five Bennet sisters and their adventures in society…for example: ZOMBIES! According to author Seth Grahame-Smith, the militia stationed at Meryton had a very specific reason to be there–to protect the village from a coming Zombie Attack. However, the officers really aren’t necessary because the Bennet sisters, particularly the two eldest, are known all over the countryside for their skills in kicking zombie butts. Other than that, the story strays little from the original Pride and Prejudice plot. Well… except for Mr. Darcy’s knack to crack inappropriate jokes. Yes, the author seems to have loosened up Mr. Darcy quite a bit, although in return Miss Lizzy is a very violent-hearted ice queen.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is more of a parody than a retelling, so those looking to be swept up in Regency romance and wit will not find it. I found myself reading it more to see how Grahame-Smith incorporated zombies into the plot then for the actual story. Expect a little gore and a lot of Jasper Fforde-esque humor.

More of a swamp thing than a zombie person? Check out Seth Grahame-Smith’s Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters!

I admit it. I am definitely one of those girls who watches the BBC presentation of Pride and Prejudice starring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy over and over and over again. I also watch Bridget Jones’ Diary starring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy over and over and over again. In fact, a good majority of my favorite movies  are a version of the Jane Austen’s classic.  Why watch anything else when you can watch Mr. Darcy (especially when that Mr. Darcy is played by Colin Firth)?

BrideAndPrejudiceBride and Prejudice
Bride and Prejudice is Pride and Prejudice gone Bollywood, and it is FANTASTIC. Aishwarya Rai, Bollywood actress and former Miss World, is absolutely stunning as the Elizabeth Bennet character.

Lost in AustenLost in Austen
What girl wouldn’t want to trade places with Elizabeth for some alone time with Mr. Darcy? Yeah, that is what Amanda thought, too, until she started causing chaos in her beloved story when Mr. Bingley falls in love with her and Jane agrees to marry Mr. Collins. Maybe Miss Austen didn’t tell us the whole story…

Becoming JaneBecoming Jane
So Colin Firth will always be my favorite Mr. Darcy, but after seeing James McAvoy as Tom LeFroy, the man who may have inspired the Darcy character, he became my favorite actor. Swoooooon.

Bridget Jones's DiaryBridget Jones’s Diary
FAVORITE! I went through a phase in college where I watched this movie about once a week, now I watch it about once a month. Renée Zellweger is BRILLIANT as Bridget Jones and Colin Firth is DREAMY as Mark Darcy. Laugh laugh tear giggle swoon laugh.

Pride and PrejudicePride and Prejudice (the BBC Version)
By far THE BEST straight-up movie version of Pride and Prejudice. Some may be daunted by the six hour viewing time, but I say the longer the better (I have been known to watch it twice in a row…).

and for those of you who prefer Emma:

cluelessClueless
Long before he was part of Seth Rogen’s gang, Paul Rudd was the Mr. Knightley to Alicia Silverstone’s Emma of Beverly Hills. Hmmm, this represents a crossover into my other genre fave: teen movies based on classics…