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Jane, Actually: or Jane Austen's Book Tour Paperback – June 5, 2013
About the Author
Jane, Actually is Jennifer Petkus’s third book. Previously she wrote Good Cop, Dead Cop (the first book about the AfterNet) and My Particular Friend (a Sherlock Holmes/Jane Austen mashup). Once she stops writing in the third person and publishes this book, she’ll return to the task of writing The Background Noise of Souls (the sequel to her first book) and Our Mutual Friends (the sequel to her second book). Ms Petkus is a member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, Doctor Watson’s Neglected Patients, The Wodehouse Society and Rocky Mountain Ki Society (she has a first-degree black belt in aikido but refuses to test for second degree because she’s old). She has been a reporter and a web designer but can now be best described as an unsuccessful author. Her friends derisively call her a kept woman. She is happily married. She watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon live. She likes to make furniture and scale models, but is not very good at either.
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Top customer reviews
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As in all the reviews (many with the author's comment following), I liked the premise. Although it took from the last of March till the first of June to finish it--living got in the way--it was easy to pick back up after nearly two months. The fun part was the ending. Unlike Austen's endings which leave us at the declarations of love (as vague as they may be) or leaving the church after the marriage, the author actually made--MADE Jane and Albert declare their love IN WORDS on the page. That was a sweet push for the modern reader, no matter how uncomfortable it made Jane. I'll recommend it and share it with friends. But please, Ms Petkus, in the sequel, please, please, no zombies, werewolves or their ilk. I definitely WON'T read that/those. Too old............
A little background is necessary. In her debut novel, Good Cop Dead Cop, the author establishes a discovery that enables departed souls to contact the living via a technological marvel known as the "afternet." In her second novel My Particular Friend, she mashes together Sherlock Holmes with Jane Austen's Bath for a regency romp that is impossible to pin a label on. With great warmth and humor the author ingeniously mashes together the "afternet" with the very-alive but disembodied soul of Jane Austen and you actually get "Jane Actually."
Jane's identity has been legally verified by the Afternet authentication committee and she has finished her incomplete novel Sanditon, she has acquired an agent and staunch promoter in Melody Kramer and a grand book tour is planned. Although Jane communicates easily over the afternet she is invisible so the search begins for a suitable avatar to be her visual embodiment. A young acting student coincidently named Mary Crawford is one of the finalists. She knows next to nothing about Jane Austen, not even the literary significance of her own name. However Jane takes a liking to her and she is chosen over more qualified candidates. Getting Jane and Mary to `sync-up' using the afternet proves difficult and frustrating but they warm to each other nevertheless.
Everything appears to be progressing smoothly but there is trouble afoot for Jane in the person of Dr. Alice Davis, one of the world's most foremost subject matter experts on Jane Austen. One of her English counterparts, fellow expert and journalist Courtney Blake, has discovered a never-before-seen letter that Sotheby's London auction house has verified as written in Jane's hand. Dr. Davis plans to spring this revelation on Miss Austen at the JASNA associated general meeting and prove this Jane Austen is a fraud if she is unable to define her own letter's contents. Her unlikely and unwitting accomplice is Stephen Abrams a doctoral candidate whom she advises. Stephen meets Jane's avatar Mary and the beginnings of a romance ensue. Mary is utterly devoted to Jane but poor Stephen is unaware to what extent Dr. Davis plan is to discredit Jane's identity.
Jane also has been communicating with an Albert Ridings for a decade via the afternet. Albert died during World War One and was from the same general region as Jane. She has disguised her identity this entire time, not wishing him to get caught up in her celebrity. Their relationship appears to have progressed to intimate fondness, and even love for each other but her lack of forthrightness may jeopardize his trust and faith in her.
The author's depiction of Jane Austen is chillingly authentic. She is intelligent and savvy, having eavesdropped on practically every development in the two centuries since her death. As this reviewer suspected, Jane is kind and loyal but does not suffer fools as she turns on those who wish to manipulate her with caustic wit. She shows mastery in most things except perhaps her own confused feelings about love. A precarious romantic moment is in the air for both couples as the invisible follow the visible through a country dance at the JASNA AGM:
"It was time for Stephen and Mary to progress through the line and Albert and Jane effortlessly followed them. `But love requires hands to hold and lips to kiss,' Jane said. `Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments as the man said.' Albert said in response." (A quote from Darcy in P & P)
As it was all but impossible to categorize My Particular Friend, Jane, Actually (or Jane Austen's Book Tour) defies literary labels as well! It is part science fiction, part fantasy/paranormal, part romance, part mystery/suspense and ALL Jane Austen. Is it absurdly fantastic? Yes! Is it compellingly entertaining? Double-yes!!
The author's love for Jane Austen pours forth from her impressive research and footnotes. And, before you lose yourselves in Jane, Actually, be sure to read the introductory explanation on the complexities of the afternet v-e-r-y carefully. One wonders what Jennifer Petkus will come up with next when she comes back to earth. Her creative imagination, character development, and gifted writing skills apparently know no boundaries.
I strive to avoid providing synopses of books in my reviews as I figure that most people know these already or can easily find them out, but it's impossible to provide thoughts on this novel without doing so. In a nutshell, Jane Austen is back amongst us courtesy of the Afternet, which is a lot like the Internet but it also allows dead people (aka the disembodied) to communicate with each other and the living. She has an account that has been verified (much like how Twitter celebrity accounts are verified) by a panel of Austen experts, and she is on book tour promoting her completion of Sanditon.
Petkus does a marvelous job providing the disembodied Jane with a strong voice and a real personality--she can be funny, sympathetic, weary, egotistical, petty, loving, engaging, and wise in the way that only someone who has been a keen observer of life for the past 200+ years can be.
The people, mostly living but a few dead, who constitute her current world are equally real, from the anxiety-ridden publicist, to the conflicted avatar (yes, Jane needs an avatar because she has no corporeal body, and a young actress named Mary Crawford gets the role), to the lovelorn Kiplingesque Janeite who is chatting her up in Afternet chat rooms.
The tension is also real--will a nasty Austen scholar prove that our Jane is not, in fact, the Jane? Will Jane overcome her writer's block? Will all hell break loose at the Jane Austen Society Annual General Meeting?
The plot was fun and the characters engaging, but I think I most enjoyed just seeing the whole Austen industry from inside the fishbowl. I always say that Trekkies have nothing on Janeites and this book just goes to prove it.
It's part sci-fi, part chick lit, and pure fun.