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on January 30, 2009
Jane Austen Ruined My Life by Beth Pattillo is a surprisingly fast and fun read, and I found myself unable to put it down at times. The plot revolves around wishful thinking: WHAT IF Jane Austen's sister Cassandra saved more of her letters than we know about? What if the missing correspondence is being kept somewhere, protected from the public?

This knowledge has English professor and devoted Jane Austen scholar Emma Grant salivating. Her academic reputation is in tatters after her husband and his teaching assistant (and his paramour) accuse her of plagiarism. Newly divorced and denied tenure, Dr. Grant travels to London hot on the trail of the rumored missing letters. There, she meets up with Mrs. Gwendolyn Parrot, a Formidable, who tantalizingly allows Emma to read a copied snippet of Jane's missing letters. Scholar that she is, Emma immediately recognizes Jane's handwriting and the (seeming) authenticity of the fragment. To be certain, she would have to read a copy of the original.

After extracting a promise of secrecy from Emma, Mrs. Parrot sends her on a series of tasks, in which Emma visits Steventon, Chawton Cottage, Bath -- well, you get the drift -- all the places that Jane Austen either lived in or traveled to. Emma's motives for going through all this trouble are the possibility of handling the actual letters and researching them. Her resulting book would salvage her academic reputation. Traveling with Emma is an old flame who, coincidentally, is staying in the same flat as Emma. Does he know of her secret or is he truly as interested in her as he claims? His presence adds to the mystery and suspense of the plot. The book is a fast read and I found it completely satisfying until the very end. While the Emma finds her own definition of a happy ending (which, I will concede, made logical sense), I wanted to scream out "No!" and rewrite that ending. You see, romantic that I am, I do believe that people can have their cake and eat it too.

Beth Pattillo's latest novel reads less like a Jane Austen sequel and more like a The Da Vinci Code offspring. Consequently it will appeal to a broader audience than most Austenesque books. Having said that, the plot is not wholly original . There are echoes of Syrie James's The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen and Lori Smith's A Walk With Jane Austen in this novel. The author, whose writing style is elegant and spare, has written eight other popular books, including the award winning Heavens to Betsy.
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on June 1, 2009
*** SPOILERS!!! ***

Proceed only if you've already read the book or don't mind knowing how it turns out.

This novel was really interesting until the plot was "explained."
All I could say was "huh?"

First of all, is it really that easy for a scholar to have her work claimed by a no-name teaching assistant? Surely EVERYONE involved with "convicting" Emma of plagiarism wasn't juvenile enough to think she was only hired because she was Edward's wife. Her work would have stood on its own and it shouldn't have been difficult to prove its authenticity. If she couldn't get an objective hearing the first time, an attorney should have been brought in at that point. Hello?!

Secondly, it was Edward who committed adultery - why is Emma so destitute financially after the divorce? She can't even afford a cell phone? It was made clear that they were quite wealthy.

Many other examples like this abound - things that don't quite add up. But the most inexplicable part of the plot is the reason given for Jane's letters being hidden in the first place. It is irrelevant to the success or enjoyment of her novels. Why would knowledge of the events of 1801 make anyone think differently of her writing? It was known already that they were written by a woman, and what woman hadn't experienced some kind of heartbreak? That somehow disqualifies her from being a respectable author? It doesn't make a bit of sense. And the choice Emma makes at the end of the book doesn't, either. She could have gotten a statement from the university that would have made future employment no problem, and I'm sure her case would have been settled rather quickly once they were sued. All she did was wimp out and go stick her head in the ground at Mom & Dad's instead of embracing life - how is she any less a blundering fool at the end than at the beginning?
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VINE VOICEon February 7, 2009
American college professor Emma Grant always does the right thing and expects the same from others. She acquired her expectations from her minister father and her favorite author Jane Austen, who both taught her to believe in the happily-ever-after. Life was turning out as planned until she unexpectedly discovers her husband's affair with her teaching assistant who in turn falsely accuses her of plagiarizing another author's work. An academic scandal ensues prompting an investigation and removal from her prestigious teaching position, denunciation by academia, and an ugly divorce leaving poor Emma at a turning point in her life. She had always believed in the possibility of finding her Mr. Darcy or Mr. Knightley and settling down to martial bliss. How could Jane Austen have ruined her life?

Without a job, husband, reputation or money, she packs up and off to London on the invitation of an elderly woman Mrs. Parrot who claims to have a stash of undocumented letters written by Jane Austen. If this woman's claims are true, they might be the famous missing letters that Jane Austen's sister Cassandra inherited after her death in 1817 and supposedly burned deeming them to personal for public view. If authenticated, they represented the ultimate Holy Grail of Austenalia and the ticket to Emma's academic and personal happiness. The enigmatic Mrs. Parrot is not quite ready to just hand them over to anyone, even if they have been summoned to her house. Emma must prove her worthiness to Mrs. Parrot, one of the `Formindables', a secret society of devoted Janeites named after Jane's own moniker of herself and sister Cassandra in their later years. Mrs. Parrot sends Emma on a series of Austen related tasks/tests to prove she's up to snuff visiting Steventon, Chawton, Bath and other Austen haunts. Along the way she encounters many coincidences including a reappearance after ten years of a previous boyfriend Adam and a new man Barry who just happens to pop up unexpectedly along her journey all adding to the mystery surrounding the letters and their importance.

Jane Austen Ruined My Life is an intriguing and quick read that succeeds on so many levels by blending accurate biographical and historical information about Jane Austen's life and works (major kudos to Pattillo) with a contemporary adventure romance that at times is reminiscent of The Last Templar where the heroine is thrown into a quest to discover ancient information that will change our current perceptions. Austen enthusiast will appreciate discovering all the Jane Austen lore and references, and romance readers will identify with the modern heroine and her adventure. Anglophiles will enjoy the added benefit of Ms. Pattillo's past residence and many trips to England as she describes familiar haunts in London and Jane Austen travel destinations with aplomb. My one quibble is that Emma's romantic decision could have ended differently. Obliviously, I am not as evolved as the heroine yet, and expect my Jane Austen happily-ever-after!

Laurel Ann, Austenprose
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on November 27, 2009
I had great hopes for this book. On the positive side, the mystery aspect was well done and was what kept me reading it when I considered throwing it in the fire. I did like how the storyline closed differently rather than with the romance novel genre/Hollywood scenarios that have been assaulting our intellects for years.

Annoying aspect #1: Patillo's constant explanation of every British-ism that occurs in the first 5 chapters. I felt somewhat insulted as a reader that the author didn't give her audience more credit to be able to discern these things on our own. Maybe she felt she was being considerate to those of her readers who might not know. I felt that it broke the flow every time she did it and almost gave up reading the book entirely because of it. Fortunately, it stops after those early chapters and she gets on with the story.

Annoying aspect #2: The main character's constant railing at Jane Austen for making her believe in the notion of a happily-ever-after life with Mr. Rich & Right. None of Austen's novels convey such a thing. Yes, they usually end in the main characters' marrying men they love, but they weren't all rich--Edward Ferrars was a clergyman--and she never suggests happily-ever-after equates perfect marriages. Part of Austen's appeal is that all of her character's are flawed people whom we can relate to. None of the men were princes and they didn't end up with the heroines in the end until they had made things right within themselves. The marriages were good matches because both parties challenged one another to be better people. And if anything, Austen's novels demonstrate the light and dark in all of us. So the fact that Pattillo, through Emma, insinuates that Jane Austen even suggested any sort of fairytale ending in her novels borders on blasphemy.

Annoying aspect #3: The synopsis on the back cover alludes to Jane Austen's struggle as a woman of faith. As I bought the book from a Christian bookstore, I was expecting to gain some new insight into who Austen was. I was expecting to learn something about her relationship with God. I suppose he/she who penned the synopsis assumed Austen was a women of faith because her father was a preacher and that was enough to include that blurb. Imagine my disappointment when nothing about Austen's faith was discussed, nothing new to be learned. This is an addendum to my first review (it is currently 12/31/10). If Patillo or the publishers could tell me where to find the shoes the girl on the cover is wearing, I'd give the book 5 stars.

Strong words, I suppose for a book that was meant to be a fun little jaunt into the land of "What if?" for Austen fans. I was disappointed.
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on November 19, 2010
The title and the oft repeated theme of the book is that Jane Austen's books promise happily-ever after, and the "heroine" of this book, Emma, has gotten a raw deal for believing in those promises. This is just not true; Austen's books are full of unhappy marriages, and since we don't actually see any of the heroines get married and live happily ever after (deep down, of course we know they do), well, it seems a bit pathetic that the Emma, a PhD specializing in Austen, has come to this conclusion. But since the "heroine" is self-centered and an immature emotional roller coaster, I guess it should come as no surprise. Trying to believe that this woman is PhD-smart given her actions and thoughts is a challenge.

The plot of the book centers around Emma having to do tasks to get copies of the previously unpublished letters Austen wrote, and then put together pieces of a mystery. The tasks are hardly complicated, though much is made of how they are challange and how most people have given up; and the pieces put together are ludicrous. Stinging together a bunch of coincidences hardly makes a plot, nor does making it obvious from page 8 where the book is going to wind up love-wise. I found the book contrived and silly, and the characters undeveloped or unlikeable.

I can't give it one star, however, because Patillo's other Austen book, Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart, is actually worse. I know, I should have known better, but all those reviews held such promise!
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VINE VOICEon July 17, 2009
Plot Summary: It's only fitting that a woman named Emma would become a Jane Austen scholar. She was a hopeless romantic until her fairy tale marriage fell apart and her career was trashed. This is why Emma flees to England on the flimsy chance that an eccentric old lady is sitting on a cache of unpublished Jane Austen letters. Then the coincidences start raining down, and Emma bumps into a long lost friend, Adam, who is looking pretty good to this new divorcé. Then she meets a handsome man who keeps turning up all over London, just like a friendly stalker. Emma's quest for the hidden letters tests her honor, because the secrets they contain were never meant to be published, but it would certainly kick start Emma's dead career.

This story has the Best Title Ever. Anyone who has read Jane Austen's novels ad nauseam will be drawn to this book like a magnet. How could I refuse? Overall, it was a nicely done story featuring a `phoenix rising from the ashes' type plot. Emma begins the story like a broken doll, so she's got nowhere to go but up, thankfully. Most women who find their men putting a hot dog between a stranger's buns don't also face professional ruin at the same time. Unfortunately, her husband was boinking Emma's vengeful teacher's assistant, so the false charges of plagiarism were especially devastating, and Emma's only hope at redemption lies with some looney old lady in London.

The story flowed well, but surprisingly there weren't enough Jane Austen literary references to keep me happy. I did learn a lot about Austen's life outside of her writing though, and it was like reading a mini biography within this novel. Sadly, I didn't feel as if Emma's self-discovery quest really came full circle, so that lack of identity with the main character is holding me back on the rating. I also think it's criminal that a book so intertwined with Jane Austen doesn't end in a marriage, but that's coming from a hopeless romantic. This book was really all about Emma, to the point of making any romance seem like an afterthought. It was kind of sad really, considering that romance is the absolute nexus of Austen's work.

I thought it was well-written, and definitely something an Austen fan would want to try, but it left me hungry.
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on December 30, 2009
I saw the cover and knew I had to read it! It seemed exactly what any Austen fan would be interested in. Right from the beginning I couldn't believe all the stuff that happens to the main character, Emma. Her husband cheating on her is fine but then when she looses her career because her assistant(who is her husband's lover). I couldn't see how something could leave her so broke that she can barely buy food...YET she is able to travel to England.

I found the character uninteresting. I couldn't sympathsis with Emma. The "awkward" moments she had with her old bestfriend/crush was even more awkward because they seemed forced.

I felt like this book was a draft in need of editing. There was part when Emma's looking around the old ladies house and she uses the word "jummbled" to describe it, like 10 times. She(the author) tells instead of shows. There's parts when a character uses a British term for something and then the author translates for the reader. LAME. We're not stupid. If a character is opening a bag of potatoe chips and calls them "crisps" we have a pretty good idea of what she's talking about. You don't need to sit us down, pat our little head and say it was a British name for chips.

There was many times while reading I just wanted to through this book across the room. It was slow, uninteresting, and extremely annoying. I was really looking forward to reading this and it could of been something great.

After reading (from the other reviews) what ends up happening, I'm not even going to waste my time finishing it.
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on June 10, 2014
Emma grant has lost her husband, her home, and her job, and retreats to England to lick her wounds and get her professional reputation back by learning more about Jane Austen's long lost letters. Emma puts a lot of blame on Jane Austen for how her life turned out, with little accountability for her own actions. Emma runs into her former best friend Adam, and his assistance on her search for the letters proves invaluable. Adam proves himself a faithful friend, and helps Emma see her herself in a stronger light, as someone who is finally able to stand up against her former husband, and as instead of allowing choices to be made for her, begins making them for herself. I absolutely hated the ending. Without giving details, suffice it to say Emma makes a choice I absolute don't agree with, and didn't see coming.
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on February 16, 2015
I really love period dramas and Jane Austen's are my favorite. I really enjoy modern versions recently and I've had Beth's books for a few years now. I re read them about once a year and really enjoy them. I love the fact that it is fiction but I can totally see her letters being found or being kept by someone today. I couldn't put these books down. Although they are each different, I love that they have certain similarities. I'd say the Dashwood Sisters Tell All is my favorite. Beth is a great author and also very nice and talks to her readers.
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on June 28, 2009
The story line is interesting. However things don't add up and the "heroine" Emma, does not appear to learn much from her past experiences. I also did not think the writing was of the highest quality...rather like a romance novel level writing. But I did enjoy the characters and the plot. An okay, light hearted read good for a vacation.
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