Pemberley by the Sea by Abigail Reynolds

I am still working on my Everything Austen challenge (ummmm… 2 months after it officially ended), and so I picked up Pemberley by the Sea at my library when I did a search of their catalog for Jane Austen and this showed up.

The Premise: This is a modern day Pride and Prejudice with Cassie Boulton, the Elizabeth Bennet character as a marine biologist, and Calder Westing, the Darcy character is a Senator’s son. They first meet in summer at Woods Hole, Cape Cod, where Cassie asks Calder to dance to avoid an ex-boyfriend but is coldly turned down. Cassie’s best friend Erin his the Jane character and has a relationship with Calder’s best friend, Scott (the Mr. Bingley of this book).

Excerpt of Chapter 1 of Pemberley by the Sea (link is to a .pdf file)

My Thoughts: Yes, yes, I am quite a sucker for the modern-day Jane Austen stories. Avert your eyes if you hate them, for I am an addict. This author has quite a few Jane Austen books – but she specializes on Pride and Prejudice what-ifs (What if Elizabeth accepts Darcy’s first proposal? What if Elizabeth gets engaged to someone else while Darcy is away?) and veers off from the original story from that point onward. This is her first modern-day retelling.

I would say that this really a exact retelling, it more takes the basic frame of Pride and Prejudice: Elizabeth and Darcy meet, Elizabeth dislikes Darcy from this first meeting while he starts to be intrigued by her in their subsequent meetings. The Jane and Mr. Bingley story in the meantime is even more loosely based on the original: they meet and date but encounter problems when summer is over. There isn’t really a Wickham, lots of sisters, or a silly Mr. Collins.

The focus is instead on the two characters and their relationship. The book is modern in that there are a few intense sex scenes, but I didn’t find them distasteful.  From the beginning there is substantial chemistry between Cassie and Calder, which is obvious to the reader, but maybe not so obvious to the characters themselves. The tension is palpable, and when their relationship becomes physical (in a very memorable way) it’s too early for them to turn it into a relationship. When they move their separate ways, but keep running into each other anyway, the tension continues.  Calder assumes how he feels is obvious, but to Cassie, his face is unreadable, and she assumes that she doesn’t belong in his world, especially with her low beginnings and a brother in jail. The revelation of how Calder really feels in the form of his “letter” to Cassie was one of my favorite parts of this book.

I enjoyed the setting of this story. The academia that surrounds Cassie’s day to day life was really well done – her hours in the lab or in the field, looking at results or teaching students worked well as a backdrop to her story. I liked the camaraderie and traditions, like playing Trivial Pursuit while eating the lab stew.  The author does a good job of making the characters lives seem real. Likewise their pasts and family backgrounds are delved into deeply and are an integral part of the plot.  I already mentioned that Cassie comes from a low income background. She distances herself from her past and hides it from her associates, thinking that they would judge her for it. Calder too has a childhood that haunts him. His upbringing as a Senator’s son was full of trauma and he’s learned to put on a mask to the world because of it. It explained why he came off as stony to Cassie, and it’s really sweet to read how he really felt and how she responds.

The only problem I had with this book, was that it seemed to continue far past where you’d think the Happily Ever After was. There was a lot of drama from both Cassie and Calder’s pasts that kept coming between them, but then they’d find away around it, and something else would come up. I didn’t feel like this part of this book was uninteresting, and it is original stuff (very different from the Pride and Prejudice story), but it seemed to go on much longer than it needed to. I found myself wanting to move ahead and flipping past to find out that Calder and Cassie were OK, then coming back to reread from where I skipped. One part I managed to miss the first time was what happened to Scott and Erin, and at first I thought the author had left their story unfinished – the focus was so much on Cassie and Calder’s family dramas that the other relationship was swallowed up in it if you get too impatient. I think I would have been a little happier with this book if the second half was edited substantially, because it doesn’t have the same pull for me as the first half, which I adored.

Ooohh, *gasp*, I just discovered that there is a sequel to this book which is coming out this year, called Morning Light, and it sounds like it retells Persuasion but in the same world – in Woods Hole, and the protagonist Annie Wright is friends with Cassie. I will definitely look for it.

Overall: This was a keeper, I plan to buy myself a copy. I loved the first half of this book, but the second half was a little long once the author continued the P&P story past it’s original end (and there was a lot of family drama that didn’t interest me as much as the romance did).

Buy: Amazon | Powells

Other reviews/ Links
Diary of an Eccentric – a positive review (“impressive”) – also an interview at this link
Diary of an Eccentric – interview with the author about another book

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