Friday, June 15, 2018

Review: "First Impressions" by Debra White Smith

For as long as I've been familiar with Jane Austen, I've been a sucker for Austen adaptations. Movies, TV shows, web series, books ... I'm not picky! First Impressions was probably the first Austen adaptation I ever read, back when it first released in 2004. I actually read all of Debra White Smith's Jane Austen Series when the books originally came out, but I got rid of them a few years ago. I had such fond memories of First Impressions that when the repackaged version with this gorgeous new cover came up for review, I jumped at the chance to get it.

In an attempt to get to know the people of London, Texas--the small town that lawyer Eddi Boswick now calls home--she tries out for a local theater group's production of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. She's thrilled to get the role of lively Elizabeth Bennet . . . until she meets the arrogant--and eligible--rancher playing her leading man.

Dave Davidson chose London, Texas, as the perfect place to live under the radar. Here, no one knows his past, and he can live a quiet, peaceful life with his elderly aunt, who also happens to own the local theater. Dave doesn't even try out for the play, but suddenly he is thrust into the role of Mr. Darcy and forced to spend the entire summer with Eddi, who clearly despises him. 

Sparks fly every time Eddi and Dave meet, whether on the stage or off. But when Eddi discovers Dave's secret, she has to admit there might be more to him than she thought. Maybe even enough to change her mind . . . and win her heart.

First Impressions is an incredibly close retelling of Pride & Prejudice, just transported to the early 21st century. It's basically Pride & Prejudice two ways, as the characters are involved in a community production of P&P while their lives also closely mirror the events of the book. (This was a little odd to me, as the characters clearly know the story, but they never recognize how they and their circumstances resemble the book.) I did think it was smart of Smith to include the play aspect, as that allowed her to incorporate Austen's dialog without it seeming out of place.

The aspect of the novel I enjoyed the most was the mystery surrounding Dave (the Darcy character)'s work room. It was really just a minor plot point, but it kept me turning the pages.

I did struggle to connect with the characters. The Dave/Eddi romance had more of an inevitable feel to it (since they were the Darcy/Elizabeth characters) than a chemistry-filled one. And the fact that the Boswick sisters each had a stipend of $4,000 a month—and Linda (Lydia) still didn't have enough money—made it hard to relate. Much of the Rick (Wickham) storyline felt forced, and Dave's way of fixing the situation, while fitting for Pride & Prejudice times, seemed horribly out of touch and even unwise when transplanted to the 21st century.

Earlier, I mentioned that First Impressions is an early 2000's version of P&P. I say early 21st century because the book was originally released in 2004, and the only indication I could find that it had been updated was a lone mention of Dave looking at his smartphone. Later on, he has a blue flip phone, so I don't know what happened to that smartphone! (There was also a mention of Verizon, but I don't know if that was an update or not; Verizon wasn't the corporate giant in 2004 that it is now, but it did exist.) Technology has progressed so much in the 14 years since the book's first release, and the fact that the characters only communicated by phone and email—no texting, no social media—made it feel dated.

This is exactly the kind of book I ate up in my teens and early 20's, which explains why I have such fond memories of it (though I remembered nothing of the plot, save the play and a tornado). My mid-30's eyes, though, did much rolling as I read. The cheese factor is pretty high in this one. I'm glad I read it, but I don't think I'll be going back to it again. 3 stars.

Buy the book.

Debra White Smith is a seasoned author, speaker, and media personality who has 54 published books to her credit, both fiction and non-fiction. Her best-selling titles include: The Divine Romance: Experiencing Intimacy with God; Romancing Your Husband; The Tie that Binds: A Marriage Revolution of Love; The Jane Austen Fiction Series; and the Lone Star Intrigue Series. Debra is also the author of the newspaper column, “Ask Debra,” that ran from 2011-2013 and offered biblical wisdom for everyday life. Debra’s passion is to apply the whole Bible to ordinary life and inspire people to encounter God’s revolutionary power in every aspect of their lives. Whether she ministers through the written or spoken word, through hilarity or tears, her goal is to encourage people to cling to God and implement practical, vibrant biblical truths that will empower them and change their lives.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free for review from Bethany House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Also, some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase an item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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