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

first-impressions“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.” – Publisher Summary

Told in a two-part narrative set both in the present day and in the early 1800’s, Charlie Lovett’s newest novel, First Impressions, is a love letter to bibliophiles everywhere – and an intriguing literary mystery involving Jane Austen and the authorship of Pride and Prejudice.

Sophie Collingwood, self-professed bibliophile and Jane Austen junkie, has recently moved to London to live in the flat she inherited from her late, beloved Uncle Bertram. She is brought under the wing of one of Bertram’s close friends, an antiquarian bookseller who offers her a job in his store – unknowingly setting Sophie on a path of intrigue and danger. On her very first day of work, Sophie receives two requests for the second edition of a collection of morality tales by Richard Mansfield – something that appears to be non-existent. As Sophie is wined-and-dined by one of her customers and threatened by the other, she slips ever deeper into the mystery of finding this piece of work.

Meanwhile, back in 1796, a young Jane Austen makes the acquaintance of an elderly cleric, Richard Mansfield – and thus begins a beautiful friendship and literary partnership. Mansfield delights in serving as a sounding board and critic for Austen’s writing as their friendship deepens and blooms into a sort of innocent love as the months and years pass.

Other than Sophie’s obsession with Austen, these two plot lines are seemingly unrelated near the beginning and middle of the book. Things begin to mesh together as Sophie continues her hunt for the rare book she has been asked to find. While there is no way to know where Sophie’s search will lead her, we are eventually offered some clues from the secondary plot line involving Austen and Mansfield.

The more our two plot lines begin to entwine and make sense together, the mystery and tension surrounding Sophie picks up its pace. In questioning (fictionally) the authorship of Pride and Prejudice, Lovett creates a fascinating tale full of wonder and suspicion.  There are some unrealistic “coincidences” that occur; necessary, I’m sure, to steer the plot in the direction Lovett needed it to go. I did find the Austen plot line to be more compelling than Sophie’s; the prose was more inviting and the “love” story between Jane and Richard was touching. In all, this charming novel is sure to appeal to book lovers and collectors of all shapes and sizes, as well as those of you who are simply out looking for a good read. Go and get you some, y’all!

First Impressions by Charlie Lovett. Read it today!

4 stars

Source: Penguin/Viking {via NetGalley}

 

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