First Impressions (Austen Series #1), by Debra White Smith
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Bethany House Press/Net Gallery. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
I’m a big fan of Pride & Prejudice, and it is obvious that the author is too . Wisely, I think, the author chooses to make this a self-aware reinterpretation of Austen’s classics, by including the original novel, or at least an adaptation of it, as part of the framework of the original story itself. If one is going to create derivative works on classics, it is best to make that acknowledgement of debt openly dealt with. While this is by no means a book as remotely deep or thought-provoking as the original, it is at least a competently written book that is enjoyable to read for someone who is already a fan of the original, and that is likely all it was intended to be. This may not be the most ambitious of books, but it is one that has at least thought seriously about how to translate its material into the contemporary period in a reasonable way that makes its main characters generally appealing.
The novel itself takes place in that nearest equivalent to the overly hyped and deeply closed world of Austen’s Regency England, and that is contemporary rural Texas. Two strong-willed people with high degrees of personal worth as well as difficulties with relationships are thrown together as leads and naturally they misunderstand each other. We have an intelligent lawyer who trusts in her own shrewness dealing with the complications that ensue from her chemistry with an arrogant bachelor trying to hide his identity and lay low while simultaneously being pursued by a relative (a third cousin) who is involved in running the family oil business that her father stepped away from. Meanwhile, her older sister’s relationship hopes are hindered by false rumors of her being engaged to a previous boyfriend, while her younger sister Linda gets knocked up by a ne’er-do-well policeman with ties to the book’s Darcy. While all of this drama is going on many of the characters are themselves involved in performing an adaptation of Pride & Prejudice for the locals and calling in their favors to get high-culture costumes and favorable press coverage in a town where not enough happens. All of this takes up about two hundred pages in the online version I read but may be longer on paper.
This is a work that openly wears its inspiration from Austen on its sleeve and is the sort of book that could easily become some sort of made-for-television movie on a network aimed at women audiences. Darcy is a hard character to modernize but the author does a good job at making it plausible why he would feel guilt-ridden and why he would struggle with women who only viewed him as a wealthy suitor and not as someone to get to know better and deeper. As a reader, I happened to find the story somewhat claustrophobic. Growing up as I did in the rural South, and having ambivalent feelings at best about Texan culture, this book was not entirely enjoyable to read in terms of its context of quarreling families, romantic drama among single professionals, and the tensions of remaining godly in our contemporary world. The book is a Christian romance that does not shy away from the struggles of the contemporary world, as one of the characters is pressured towards an abortion and only saved by what amounts to a deus ex machina, albeit one that is appreciated by this reader at least. If not as deep as Austen’s material it does demonstrate Austen’s continuing influence on moral romances.
 See, for example: