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A Review from Alexa Adams:-

Despite the appearance of grey cloud, briefly overhead, the sun decided to challenge the densest vapour, evaporating all into whipped confections like floating meringues in the cobalt sky. The sisters returned. Jane’s mood was bright, but if anything she was overly talkative and I wasn’t completely convinced that she was as happy as she appeared. She sat down a little way in front, looking out a the view across Bath. I watched Cassandra reach inside her basket producing a pocket sketchbook, a pencil, a bottle of water and a small box of paints.

“Do not move, Jane,” she called. “I shall picture you for posterity … a portrait of unwearied contemplation.”

“Just as long as you do not paint my face!” Jane called, turning her back to us, arranging her dress and striking a pose.

“I would not dare … I know how much you dislike sitting for me. No, I shall not ask you to turn. I shall capture the folds in the back of your gown instead and paint your elegant bonnet.”

With swift strokes of her pencil, Jane’s figure was outlined. Dressed in turquoise blue with her bonnet strings undone, she sat upon the grass, one neat little foot poking out from under her gown, her hand resting upon her knee. Only the most tantalizing curve of her cheek was displayed so it was impossible to guess her expression or sense any emotion. After a few minutes, she protested at sitting still for so long. Ignoring her sister’s request to sit for five minutes longer, she was on her feet in a second and came over to my side. Ever restless, Jane held out her hand to me.

Cassandra Austen’s portrait of her sister, Jane.


I begin my review of Jane Odiwe’s newest book, Searching for Captain Wentworth, with this quote from the beginning of Chapter 23 because it is the kind of stuff to make a Janeite weep. I was already entranced by this novel when I came to this scene, having stayed up way past the time I ought to have already been asleep in order to read it, but this moment overwhelmed me. To be a fly on the wall when Cassandra Austen painted her enigmatic portrait of Jane! This book is as close as one will ever get.

I’ve read fictionalized accounts of Jane Austen before, but usually I find such portrayals disappointing. The best I came across prior to this book was Janet Mullaney’s Jane and the Damned, but as Austen is a vampire in that novel, though a very engaging one, all sense of the historical figure gets submerged by fantasy. Not so here. Ms. Odiwe has brought my favorite writer to life in a way I have seen no one else accomplish, endowing her with nervous energy, a rebellious tongue, and infinite charm. She is just as I like to imagine her, and it was an absolute joy to spend three hundred pages in her presence.

But this book isn’t about Jane Austen. The main character, Sophie Elliot, is a modern woman and an aspiring writer. After a bad breakup, she seeks refuge in the house her family has owned in Bath since the 18th century. Quickly discovering how she can pass from her own time into the Regency Era, she inhabits the body of her ancestor and namesake, who just so happens to live next door to the Austen family. At first her experiences terrify her, but Sophie finds the desire to return to the past irresistible, and even when she tries to remain in one time or the next, happenstance intervenes to send her hurtling back. One of the biggest lures of the 19th century is her growing friendship with Charles Austen, who is visiting his family while on leave from the Navy, but how can she allow herself to fall in love with a man who has been dead for two hundred years?

Ms. Odiwe’s version of Cassandra’s portrait


As I have read other novels featuring Austen as a character, so have I read Austenesque books involving time travel. Ms. Odiwe’s stab at the genre is as good as the best of these, beautifully depicting a historical time and place. My husband and I (both confirmed food geeks) have an ongoing discussion regarding the value of sauces, and so I particularly got a kick out of this passage: 

I chanced to look up from the plate of food that I wasn’t entirely certain about. Everything had arrived on the table at once. Arranged symmetrically on white gilded Wedgewood with a laurel motif, the mahogany table gleamed under candlelight, bearing plates of salmon with bulging, glassy eyes, jellied tongue glistening with gelatine, Florentine rabbits complete with heads and furry ears, oily mackerel that stared at me balefully from my plate. Was it my imagination or was the green gooseberry preserve that covered it doing more to disguise the fact that the fish had not seen the sea for quite some time?

Though the food be rancid, there is so much to relish in this book! Truly something for everyone, Searching for Captain Wentworth beautifully combines echoes of Persuasion with paranormal fantasy and history. Reality interposes as well. Ms. Odiwe has been championing The Rice Portrait of Jane Austen (featured on the book’s cover) on her blog for some time now, and the painting itself plays a role in her plot. Her depiction of Jane Austen also seems inspired by it, as in this first description of the authoress: “The girl whose broad smile reached her twinkling eyes had round rosy cheeks like a painted doll and unruly chestnut curls dancing under the brim of her bonnet in the breeze.” Ms. Odiwe’s novels usually feature artwork and very appropriately, as Ms. Odiwe is the artist behind some of the most touching Austen inspired renderings I have seen. One of my favorites is her version of Cassandra’s portrait, in which she shows Jane glancing back at us. This book is like that painting, provinding a tantalizing glimpse of Jane. Paintings like Cassandra’s watercolor and The Rice Portrait provide a foundation for Ms. Odiwe’s story, bridging the distance between past and present.

Cassandra & Jane Austen, imagined by Ms. Odiwe


If you have not had the pleasure of reading Ms. Odiwe’s books, let me recommend them to you with enthusiasm. I have loved each of her novels, from Lydia Bennet’s Story (one of the first Austenesque books I ever read, which is why I never reviewed it on this blog, even though it is amongst my favorites) and Willoughby’s Return (which was one of my first reviews) to Mr. Darcy’s Secret. Each is an entirely different undertaking from the next, and  is a remarkable addition to an already diverse body of work. I cannot wait to find out in what manner Ms. Odiwe will delight us next! 

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The very lovely Alexa Adams has a book out all of her very own. It’s called First Impressions Click here to read all about it including a few extracts and to follow Alexa’s blog as she discusses all things Jane.

Here’s a little blurb from Amazon to whet your appetite.

In Pride and Prejudice Fitzwilliam Darcy begins his relationship with Elizabeth Bennet with the words: “She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me; I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men.” What would have happened if Mr. Darcy had never spoken so disdainfully? First Impressions explores how the events of Jane Austen’s beloved novel would have transpired if Darcy and Elizabeth had danced together at the Meryton Assembly. Jane and Bingley’s relationship blossoms unimpeded, Mary makes a most fortunate match, and Lydia never sets a foot in Brighton. Austen’s witty style is authentically invoked in this playful romp from Longbourn to Pemberley.

Congratulations Alexa – I’m really looking forward to reading your novel!

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I want to thank Alexa Adams and Meredith Esparza for so kindly taking the time to read and review Willoughby’s Return, which they did a while ago. I haven’t put these reviews on the blog in full before so apologies, ladies, for not thanking you publicly for your interest. It goes without saying that I am absolutely thrilled at their responses to my book – I can’t tell you how much it means when someone enjoys my writing!

Click on the link to find Alexa Adams Blogspot

Finally we have a Sense & Sensibility sequel I can love! Jane Odiwe, as she did in Lydia Bennet’s Story, has written a tale that clearly demonstrates her deep love of and respect for Austen and her characters. As I read Willoughby’s Return: A Tale of Almost Irresistible Temptation, I never once had to stop and moan about a character acting in a manner incongruous to his or her essence (one of my greatest pet peeves). I must admit I found the subtitle a bit misleading and was very grateful that this story did not find Marianne Brandon doing anything untenable: her love of Colonel Brandon is pervasive throughout. Instead of confirming his roguishness, this story gives Willoughby the opportunity to complete the redemption Austen began.

More than Willoughby, this story is about the misunderstandings that result from the difficulties of communication in a highly regulated society – a rather constant theme throughout Austen. Even after marriage, Marianne and Colonel Brandon find themselves restrained from openly sharing their insecurities and fears. The same issue plagues Margaret Dashwood, now a grown lady of 18, as she negotiates her budding romance with a nephew of Colonel Brandon, Henry Lawrence.

The structure of the story largely mimics that of Sense & Sensibility, beginning in the country and moving to London for the season, the removal from which is marked by an illness. We again meet Mrs. Jennings, the Middletons, Lucy & Robert Ferrers, and Anne Steele in all their glory. Surprisingly absent are John and Fanny Dashwood, the latter being replaced (in spirit) by Lady Lawrence. Eliza Williams and her daughter are brought to life in a very sympathetic manner and Marianne’s response to them is thoroughly realistic. I could have wished that Elinor and, particularly, Edward Ferrars played a larger role in the story but, as Ms. Odiwe has firmly establishes them as perfectly happy, they do not have much momentum to offer the plot. My only real complaint is that the book seemed to end too quickly. I’ll just leave it with the statement that Margaret Dashwood is a far more forgiving lady than I could ever be.

This is definitely a book I will read again, probably directly on the tail of my next reading of Sense & Sensibility. I have long been a big fan of Lydia Bennet’s Story and I must admit I like this book even better (the course of events in it are a bit more historically believable). Willoughby’s Return is an excellent example of why Austen fan fiction should be left in the hands of those who ardently love and faithfully study Jane’s work. It’s one of the most satisfying sequels I have encountered.

Here is Meredith Esparza’s review. Click on the link to find her blog Austenesque Reviews.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
*****
“Sense and Sensibility” is such a lovely, honest, and entertaining novel; it such a shame that not many authors have attempted to compose a sequel for it. I have greatly enjoyed “Colonel Brandon’s Diary” by Amanda Grange (S&S told from Colonel Brandon’s point-of-view) and “Reason and Romance” by Debra White Smith (a modern adaption with Christian undertones); but neither of those are sequels or include a continuation story for Margaret. But now, having read “Willoughby’s Return,” I feel I have found the sequel for “Sense and Sensibility” I have always wanted! I am so very delighted that Jane Odiwe has supplied us ravenous Austenites with this compelling and expressive sequel to cherish and enjoy!

Whatever became of Margaret Dashwood? As Elinor and Marianne’s younger sister, Margaret has witnessed their heartbreaks and heartaches first hand. Has their experiences made her wiser, more cautious, or perhaps, more indifferent to love? Does she take after rational and sensible Elinor or does she favor Marianne’s romantic tendencies and impetuous nature?

In this novel, Margaret Dashwood, who is at the marriageable age of 18, seems to be the victim of Marianne’s matchmaking schemes. So far she has yet to meet a man that can live up to her expectation or measure up to her childhood love (can you guess who that is?). However, when Margaret meets Colonel Brandon’s nephew, the handsome, romantic, and charming Henry Lawrence, she feels she may have finally met her ideal man…

Marianne and Colonel Brandon, the other couple focused upon in this story, have been married for three years and have a two-year old boy named James. Like all married couples, they are experiencing some difficulties and trials in their marriage. Marianne is exhibiting some jealousy, insecurity, and mistrust in Colonel Brandon’s love for her. Colonel Brandon, trying to be a father figure in two separate households (he looks after his ward, Eliza Williams and her child, Lizzy), finds that he has unintentionally been neglecting Marianne and spending too much time away from her. Furthermore, the ghost of Willoughby haunts their marriage, both Marianne and Colonel Brandon never mention his name or their past association with him. Because of their silence on the subject, when Willoughby re-enters Marianne’s life, she chooses not to share with her husband their encounters and conversations. Secrets are never good for a marriage…

Jane Odiwe has done a magnificent job of continuing the story of “Sense and Sensibility,” I greatly enjoyed spending more time with these characters and was pleased to see them so accurately portrayed. I was delighted that other minor character such as the Mrs. Jennings, the Middletons and Mrs. Lucy Ferrars were included in this novel and that they appeared the same as ever. I would have loved for Elinor and Edward to have more page time, but I understand that a story with two heroines is quite enough and to add a third heroine may have resulted in diminishing the stories of the other two.

“Willoughby’s Return” was appropriately romantic, emotional, and passionate. I commend Jane Odiwe for capturing the essence and excellence of “Sense and Sensibility” and continuing the story in a knowledgeable and sympathetic manner. It is obvious that Ms. Odiwe loves and cares greatly for her characters (even the difficult ones), and I feel that Jane Austen loved her characters the same way. I greatly enjoyed this sequel for “Sense and Sensibility” and look forward to more works from Jane Odiwe.

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