15 March 2010

Review: I WAS JANE AUSTEN'S BEST FRIEND by Cora Harrison ***

It is a truth uniersally acknowledged that a single girl in possession of a journal must write all her secrets in it ...

When shy Jenny Cooper goes to stay with her cousin Jane Austen, she knows nothing of the world of beautiful dresses, dances, secrets, gossip, and romance that Jane inhabits. At fifteen, Jane is already a sharp observer of the customs of courtship. So when Jenny falls utterly in love with Captain Thomas Williams, who better than Jane to help her win the heart of this dashing man? But is that even possible? After all, Jenny’s been harboring a most desperate secret. Should it become known, it would bring scandal not only to her, but also to the wonderful Austen family. What’s a poor orphan girl to do?

In this delicious dance between truth and fiction, Cora Harrison has crafted Jenny’s secret diary by reading everything Jane Austen wrote as a child and an adult, and by researching biographies, critical studies, and family letters. Jenny’s diary makes the past spring vividly to life and provides insight into the entire Austen family—especially the beloved Jane.


A quick note before I begin - the US edition above isn't out yet, but I decided to post both covers as they're both lovely and yet so different. Which one do you prefer? Personally I like the US one, but I absolutely adore the UK cover and I fell in love with it the moment I saw it at Frankfurt (report here) and that's the cover I'll be rating at the end of my review.

Quite frankly, I don't think I would've read/bought this book if it weren't for the cover. I must confess that while being an admirer of Ms Austen's works, I'm not really the biggest Austen fan and I haven't re-re-read her works and I'm not all that familiar with her life story so this book gave me some insight. It's not really about Jane though, she's just a side character, but the main story is told mainly through the diary entries of Jenny Cooper, Jane's 16-year-old orphan friend who lives with them in Steventon.

The story takes place in 1791 and in the opening scene, Jenny commits a terrible offence by braving the streets of Southampton in the middle of the night in order to post a letter addressed to Jane's mother, informing her that Jane (aged 15) is terribly ill at boarding school (you can read about this here). Thus Jenny may have saved Jane's life, but this scandalous act has a great effect on Jenny's life later on, mainly because she met Captain Thomas Williams on that fateful night.
After that, Jenny and Jane were pulled out of that dreadful boarding school and went to live with the Austen family in Steventon. There Jenny meets all of Jane's numerous siblings (including the disabled brother George who is not allowed to live with the family), develops a crush or two, attends her first few balls in wonderful gowns, learns the language of the fan and falls head over heels in love with a dashing man ... There are a few twists and turns, but you know there's a happy ending in store. :)

This was a truly lovely and romantic little book and I rather enjoyed it. I had great fun reading about the life in the 18th century when the world was oh so different and this book sort of makes you want to experience it first hand, le sigh. While I enjoyed reading about Jenny's love troubles, I found myself far more touched by the sub-story of Jane's brother George and how Jenny and Jane tried to help him and didn't shun him just because he was disabled.

I quite enjoyed this book and I really can't fault it, but it just didn't amaze me. It was an incredibly and a very romantic read, but I felt I didn't get to know the characters well enough (perhaps that's due to the fact that everyone was so ... rigid back then?) and the writing could've been more flowerly or old-fashioned for a diary that was written in the 18th century.

What makes this book even more adorable are the oh so pretty illustrations that are featured all through the diary. They were meant to be Jenny's sketches of things that she talked about in her diary, but actually they were done by Susan Hellard and I thought they were the perfect addition to this lovely novel. I've posted a few examples below (click to enlarge) - aren't these just the cutest things ever? :)


I expect most people who will be reading this are fans of Austen's work and are probably wondering what this book has to do with her. Well, as it turns out, a lot of it is actually based on real events and people - if you want to know more, please read the author's note on what is fact what is fiction, but I have to say I found the book to be a wonderful mix of both.

All in all, I enjoyed this book and while I was not amazed by it, I'd still recommend it to all the Austen fans or to anyone who enjoys a lovely romantic read. Quite frankly, I think it's worth owning just because it's so darn cute! :)

overall rating:
plot: 3/5 | writing: 3/5 | characters: 3/5 | cover: 5/5

26 comments:

Dot said...

The covers are gorgeous! I love Jane Austen, I have just read Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict which I really enjoyed. Great review, I shall be looking out for this one!

Luisa at Chicklish said...

Thank you for the wonderfully detailed review - I really enjoyed reading all about it!

Stella (Ex Libris) said...

I have to confess that I never considered reading this book because I was convinced it only tried to sail on Jane Austen's fame and the popularity of her novels, but I liked your review and now I'm interested in reading it. And I agree, both covers are fantastic, but I also prefer the US one, looks like a snapshot of a period drama, and I love those! :-)

Bookalicious Ramblings said...

Stella - this book is definitely well marketed and honestly, Jane Austen isn't all that important in this book, Jenny could be anyone's "best friend" really, but of course Jane Austen's name sells better. :)

Jeanne C. said...

still trying to decide which cover I like.... the one on the left is a little Barbie-ish, but I do like it. I'll be looking out for this book. thanks for the review!

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

FAB review. I just LOVE the US one.

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

I <3 the drawings.

Artystitches said...

What a nice review! i have not read Jane austens books but this book sounds up my street i would definitly give it a read now i have read your review.

Thanks

Naomi

naomisbookreviews.blogspot.com

Emidy said...

So cute! I find these books that are based on real people's lives so cool, but I've never gotten around to reading one. Maybe I'll start here!

Emidy
from Une Parole

Becky said...

What a lovely and honest review! I think I will read this. I love Jane Austen's novels and I am a true romantic so from your points bI think I will enjoy it. Thanks!!! And I like the US cover rather than the UK one.

Miss Remmers said...

I really want to read this novel. I appreciate your honesty. I think I prefer the US cover.

Milka said...

Great review! I like both of the covers, the US cover especially is gorgeous. I really need to look for this book when I go to London, this sounds like a nice, light read. And I am open for everything Austen related even though I know nothing is going to be as good as original Austen. :)

Christina/Book Addict said...

Great review. I am dying to read this one and pre-ordered it, but it won't be in the US for awhile! I do like both covers, but prefer the US one! I had no idea there were illustrations! How cute!

miss cindy :) said...

Oh this sounds like something I would really enjoy! Great review :) Love the covers too.

Cleverly Inked said...

I read on another review about her being called Jenny. Do you know if she was ever called Jenny?

candletea said...

This sounds like a cute book and I might just pick it up to read someday, although I am currently on a break from Austen-related books.

I actually prefer the UK cover. I love covers with just words and cute drawings and definitely prefer them to covers with pictures like the one featured on the US cover.

Leah said...

Great review. Although I do love the cover, this probably isn't my cup of tea!

Chloe said...

Love the UK cover, I don't think I've ever seen an American cover I like, they don't seem to make them as pretty as the Brits do!

Christina T said...

I like both covers. The UK cover gives a more "chick lit" feel and the US cover looks more like a historical romance. In this case I prefer the US cover more for that reason.

Great review. I consider myself a Janeite so I will probably read this but I will probably get it from a library in case I don't like it.

Lea (YA Book Queen) said...

Great review! It sounds so cute! And the drawings are awesome. :P

Anonymous said...

I am also going to check this book out too! Also I have a question: Is there any place online where you can find out when a book is coming out in trade paper/paper back?

Bookalicious Ramblings said...

Hi, anon - I usually just check Amazon where Other Editions are listed below the price of a book, or I just type the title in the Amazon search bar and then sort the results by Publication. Hope this helps! :)

Nina said...

I've been waiting for your review since I knew that you got the book. It sounds so lovely. Jane Austen is my favourite author and it sounds like this would be a great book to read. Thanks for the great review.

By the way: Adore the US cover!

Carrie at In the Hammock Blog said...

I like both covers, but I LOVE the us cover. I confess I like the cute boy :) What a wonderful review! I've just added this one to my to read list, it doesn't come out until october in the us though!!

Anonymous said...

I LOVED that book. I finished it weeks ago but even now i can't put it down! I like the UK cover because it gives a slightly romantic feel (or i think so anyway). I loved the way Jane and Jenny tried to help George. I would recomend it to anyone.

Anonymous said...

i was looking for a review to base on for a book report about this book and i would say that this review wins!! it is sooooo true, everything about it. i own the US hardcover version and since i hadnt seen the other one i felt it very cute and romantic>

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