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First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books,…

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

by Charlie Lovett

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via Penguin 'First To Read' (www.firsttoread.com)

This book covered two linked storylines, one in modern-day London about a young woman working in a bookshop, the other about author Jane Austin and her friendship with an older man. Being interested in how authors create their characters and stories, I found Austin's discussions with Richard Mansfield particularly fascinating. And I really felt Sophie's grief when her uncle died, although I later questioned her judgement in men. I liked both storylines equally and the characters were sympathetic and interesting. I would recommend this book to bibliophiles or anyone who likes Jane Austin. ( )
  dorie.craig | Jun 22, 2017 |
For a long time I was a “Decide to read a book, finish it no matter what” reader. If I chose poorly, it was an act of contrition to the bibliogods to finish a crappy book.
But, I began to feel like Life’s Too Short for that kind of strict observance. I asked what other readers did. Some read to page 100, which seemed like a lot. I was surprised how many were like me — finish it no matter what. Those who would drop a stinker didn’t follow any guidelines, which should have been obvious had I also lead that kind of bohemian, lawless lifestyle like some kind of flamboyantly dressed Borneo ape-man.

Then I heard Nancy Pearl’s good advice, to subtract your age from 100, and that’s the number of pages you should give a book. As you age, and your reading time on earth shortens, and you become a better judge of literature, you don’t have to be quite so full of grace for books that don’t deserve to take up precious reading time.

So, for me, that means 66 pages.
And by page 66 (actually well before page 66 …), I was hooked.

Read the rest of my review on my website:
https://benjaminlclark.com/2014/10/23/review-first-impressions-by-charlie-lovett/ ( )
  benjclark | Jan 19, 2017 |
Murder is not nice, ever. And yet cozy mysteries -- a popular sub-genre of crime fiction, often termed cosy crime in the UK -- absolutely thrive on murder -- their life-blood, as it were. Cozies are where violent death can be regarded with a polite shudder from the comfort of an armchair, perhaps curled up by a cheerful fire. Details are rarely visceral; the sleuth is usually a talented amateur; and the malefaction has a purely parochial significance. First Impressions certainly partakes of these aspects, but it also shares elements of the academic mystery: here the amateur detective is often a scholar, or the crime takes place in collegiate surroundings or some such bookish environment. In Lovett's novel the deed is done close by the well-stocked library of a bibliophile.

But First Impressions includes yet another genre, the historical novel, because alternate chapters are set at the turn of the 19th century, focusing on the just-out-of-her-teens Jane Austen. But this is not a now fashionable mashup of Regency heroics and zombie apocalypse either: no, this is the follow-up to Lovett's The Bookman's Tale, his first whodunit with a literary theme.

Imagine this: young Miss Jane, resident in Steventon in Hampshire, embarks on a friendship with an aged visitor to the locality, Richard Mansfield; a retired clergyman, he shares her enthusiasm for contemporary novels and encourages her in her ambition to be a published writer. Nearly two hundred years later Sophie Collingwood, contemplating a master's at Oxford while she assists in a London bookshop, is approached by two buyers; they want her to locate Richard Mansfield's A Little Book of Allegorical Stories, an obscure work published in Leeds in 1796. As we follow these strands separated by two centuries we begin to notice, in addition to the Mansfield connection, certain parallels: two young women obsessed by stories, the close friendships with a much older kindred spirit (Jane's Reverend Mansfield, Sophie's bibliophile uncle, Bertram) and a predisposition for the gentility of rural life. But for both Jane and Sophie there is also tragedy mixed with personal guilt.

As we progress through Lovett's First Impressions (the title is, of course, that of an early draft of Austen's Pride and Prejudice) we shift between the points of view of the fictional Jane and that of Sophie, a blessedly proactive protagonist. As first impressions can always mislead us Lovett is clearly signalling that we can't take things for granted. Is the assignation in the garden what the young Jane thinks it is? Is Uncle Bertram's death from a fall an accident or truly murder? Are the two young men whom Sophie meets, seemingly by chance, really what they appear to be? Is Busbury Park, where all strands are finally tied up, more like Northanger Abbey, Pemberley or Mansfield Park?

This cozy deliberately sets out to be a distorted reflection in a glass. Lovett carefully weaves together literary clues, timelines, cross-references, intrigues and red herrings to make this a pleasant enough read -- aided, despite her klepto tendencies, by the likeable Sophie -- though I found I started to lose interest roughly two-thirds of the way through once I'd worked out where things were heading. I was also more than mildly irritated (as I was in his previous novel) by Americanisms such as "gotten" and "drapes" in the mouths of British speakers.

Above all I was not in the least convinced by his portrayal of Jane. What we know of her is that she was immensely sociable, but Lovett portrays her as one who was only able to confide a dark secret, which she'd kept from her schooldays in Reading, to a retired clergyman, a man moreover whom her family were never allowed to meet, and whose name was her last utterance before she died (her "Rosebud" moment, perhaps). My credulity was not only strained but broken irreparably at this point. Not nice, any more than murder is. ( )
  ed.pendragon | Apr 20, 2016 |
A little modern romance, murder, lost rare books, and glimpsing Jane Austen in 1796 made this a fun romp. ( )
  andreasaria | Jan 24, 2016 |
This is a great combination of mystery and romance and is about literature (Jane Austen) which is also fun. The story travels back and forth between late 1700s and present day, between a story of Austen meeting a retired cleric who encourages her writing and Sophie, an Oxford lit grad in search of the next chapter in her life. Both female characters endure tragedy and need to flashback to happier times and advice; I especially loved Sophie's childhood memories with her book-loving uncle. I loved the layering of stories and themes, the mystery-uncovering process, and the subject of old books. However, I did have to suspend disbelief occasionally and remind myself it was fiction and Sophie is a young woman (no spoilers). ( )
  Connie-D | Jan 17, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0525427244, Hardcover)

A thrilling literary mystery costarring Jane Austen from the New York Times bestselling author of The Bookman’s Tale

Charlie Lovett first delighted readers with his New York Times bestselling debut, The Bookman’s Tale. Now, Lovett weaves another brilliantly imagined mystery, this time featuring one of English literature’s most popular and beloved authors: Jane Austen.

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:46 -0400)

Sophie Collingwood is drawn into a mystery when two people request a copy of the same very rare book from the antiquarian bookshop where she works.

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