Monday, December 15, 2014

First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen by Charlie Lovett

First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen by Charlie Lovett
Published October 2014 by Viking Adult
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Book lover and Austen enthusiast Sophie Collingwood has recently taken a job at an antiquarian bookshop in London when two different customers request a copy of the same obscure book: the second edition of Little Book of Allegories by Richard Mansfield. Their queries draw Sophie into a mystery that will cast doubt on the true authorship of Pride and Prejudice—and ultimately threaten Sophie’s life.

In a dual narrative that alternates between Sophie’s quest to uncover the truth—while choosing between two suitors—and a young Jane Austen’s touching friendship with the aging cleric Richard Mansfield, Lovett weaves a romantic, suspenseful, and utterly compelling novel about love in all its forms and the joys of a life lived in books.

My Thoughts:
In all of that long title, it never once mentions that First Impressions is first and foremost an mystery revolving around the origins of Jane Austen's masterpiece Pride and Prejudice. That mystery drives the dual narrative, moving between Austen's beginnings as a novelist and Sophie's efforts to solve not only the mystery surrounding Austen's writing but also the murder of her beloved uncle.

To be sure, even when things got the most tense, there was never any doubt that all would work out for Sophie...and, for that matter, Jane. And there was not much mystery for me in who was the "bad guy" and who would win the girl. Plus you all have heard me say how tired I am of the dual narrative using a present day story to play off an historical story line.

Jane Austen
Still, all of that didn't take away from my enjoyment of this book. Maybe because I love Austen so much, I felt more kindly toward the dual narrative scheme this time, maybe because the two stories tied so well together. And even though I sometimes wanted to shake Sophie, I couldn't help but admire her determination and resourcefulness.

Lovett never overdoes his research, not while moving through Austen's life, from the beginning of Sense and Sensibility to her death, not while schooling his readers about the worth of old books and their place in our lives. Not surprisingly, Lovett was, once upon a time, an antiquarian bookseller. His love of books absolutely shines through in this book.

Happy 239th birthday, Jane Austen! I sometimes feel that we are taking away from your genius with all of our love then along comes a book that really does you honor while creating an entirely new story line for you.

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