Thursday, January 26, 2012

Definitely Not Mr. Darcy (Karen Doornebos, 2011)

The Heroine: Chloe Parker, a single mother in the Midwest. Desperate for cash, Chloe decides to use her obsession with all things regency – from high tea and letter writing, to men on white horses and of course, Jane Austen – to good use by joining to cast of a documentary meant to be set in Regency England. Unfortunately, its only after Chloe arrives at Bridesbridge Place in the English countryside and it thrust into the authentic 1800s, including chamberpots, chaperones and weekly bathing, that she discovers she has instead become a competitor on How to Date Mr. Darcy, a dating show set in the 1800s. Battling her wily and cunning competitors, the ups and downs of life in the regency and her conflicting feelings for the two eligible bachelors, the handsome and charming Wrightman brothers, Chloe finally is forced into discovering her own place in the modern world and finding love in an unlikely place.

The Highs: I absolutely adore the premise of this novel as a creative twist on the typical historical romance. Not only is the regency era, seen through the lens of a modern heroine, fascinating and hilarious, but the added interest of a dating competition creates both terribly funny conflicts and moments of romance within the beautiful background of the untouched English countryside – with the bonus of plain english, versus the flowery writing style of Jane Austen and her crew, as it can be difficult for some readers to understand (though I myself am a great fan of Austen!)

I really liked the constant twists and turns in the plot. I really feel disappointed when the conclusion of a story seems evident right from the onset, but Definitely Not Mr. Darcy kept surprising me again and again. Particularly the relationship between Chloe and Sebastian Wrightman, the good-looking bachelor and real-life master of Dartworth Hall, was full of unexpected developments and surprising moments. I also loved the romantic aspect of this story, though not specifically the scenes between Chloe and Sebastian. All I'll say is a library lit by candlelight is probably my dream spot for a romantic tryst!

This book is a must-read for any Austen fan. I've always romanticized the era of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett, Emma Woodhouse and Mr. Knightley, this novel definitely reveals the ignored parts of nineteenth century – women were not allowed to pursue activities deemed "unladylike", could not go out without a chaperone and were not permitted from even sending a letter to a man she wasn't engaged to. While Definitely Not Mr. Darcy shows a frank and honest portrayal of the period, it isn't all dark and sinister – I found great entertainment in the descriptions of the gorgeous outfits, the unusual food choices and little-known facts, as well as a giggle out of some of the superstitions of the time, such as that fruit was bad for a lady's complexion!

The Lows: At the conclusion of this novel, I felt the romance between Chloe and her chosen bachelor was largely unresolved. I was really disappointed that the scene of romantic resolution that I was waiting for never came to pass. I wish that the author had chosen to continue the story – as it is, it feels unfinished.

I also didn't quite understand the logic behind the base of the novel – how was a rich bachelor supposed to find a good, simple (in other words, not a gold digger) wife when the prize for winning a proposal from him was one hundred thousand dollars? I found that really confusing and questionable.

Final Thoughts: As I stated above, a must-read for any history buffs, lovers of historical fiction and Jane Austen fanatics. Funny, creative and surprising, I really enjoyed this book.

Rating: Definitely Not Mr. Darcy earns seven scrolled letters out of ten. 

To buy this book on Amazon, click here
To connect to author Karen Doornebos, click here
Photo from here

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