Saturday, December 27, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: First Impressions by Charlie Lovett

Disclaimer: I received this ebook for free from Netgalley. This did not influence my review.

I admire Jane Austen’s books, but confess I’m not someone who has read them over and over and over again and it’s been a good long time since I’ve read them at all. I haven’t been caught up in the recent wave of Austen fan fiction, although I did read Longbourn by Jo Baker because the premise caught my attention. Now, another Austen book has tempted me.

First Impressions by Charlie Lovett is not a book that revisits Austen’s plots and/or characters. It’s a literary mystery/thriller that jumps between Austen’s life and the present day.

Jane Austen is a young woman at the beginning of her writing career, struggling to find her voice. While out walking one day, she happens upon an elderly clergyman visiting a neighboring manor. Her initial impression of him (dull, stuffy) is way off base. They meet and become fast friends. More than friends. Richard Mansfield, a great lover of novels, becomes her mentor–a beta reader and editor. In fact, he helps her with plotting difficulties she’s having with Sense and Sensibility and suggests the plot/theme altogether for Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey. Moreover, it is thanks to him that Jane switches her early books from epistolary novels to the style they are in now. In short, without Mansfield there may never have been the works we love so well.

In current day England, Sophie Collingwood, a recent Oxford graduate, Jane Austen fan, and all-round bibliophile, is struggling to decide what to do with her life. She’s hoping for some advice from her beloved Uncle Bertram, whose love of books and passion for collecting has inspired her own. However, she receives the horrifying news that he has fallen down his stairs and broken his neck. He’s dead.

Sophie cannot believe it was an accident.

Sophie inherits her uncle’s London flat. Unfortunately, his books are all sold to settle debts. Sophie finds a job at a rare book shop and begins her new life. This includes a friendship with an American man (just passing through, unfortunately) and then a romance of sorts with a handsome, sexy, Englishman who came to the shop looking for a very obscure old book by Richard Mansfield!! Sophie had never heard of it, but promises to look for it. Shortly afterward, a second request comes for the same book, over the phone, from a much more aggressive client.

The novel weaves Jane’s life in and out through the mystery that Sophie must unravel. Was her uncle’s death an accident or not? What connection does it have to this mysterious book? Why are these two men searching for it? Can she trust her new boyfriend? Her friend?

Usually in novels with contemporary stories interwoven with historical novels I find myself much more interested in the historical part. First Impressions is an exception. Jane’s story provides necessary backstory, but it was fairly dry. Sophie’s dilemma carried the novel. Swept away by her own first impressions, Sophie follows her heart as she chases down clues. It makes for exciting reading. Not only is Sophie’s life at stake, but the reputation of her literary hero. The book races to its conclusion and once caught up, I couldn’t put it down.


  1. I randomly grabbed this book from a big pile of ARCs on my way out the door for a dentist appointment. I read the first 40 or so pages and enjoyed them, but unfortunately I left the book behind at the dentist's office. Reading your review now makes me want to track it down to finish it!

  2. Thanks for your review. I have this on my shelf, so I needed a little enthusiasm to get me started.