Blog Tour: Rational Creatures - Bumper Review & Tour Extras!

Today it is my privilege to help launch the latest anthology from The Quill Collective. Rational Creatures: Stirrings of Feminism in the Hearts of Jane Austen's Fine Ladies is a collection of short stories featuring some of our most familiar Regency heroines. Keep reading for a full synopsis, audio excerpt of the book, and my review of the anthology!

Rational Creatures audiobook cover, an anthology by various authors. A pretty woman in a pink bonnet looks out from a painting.

Editor: Christina Boyd
Narrator: Victoria Riley
Length: 18 hours and 3 minutes
Series: The Quill Collective, Book 3
Publisher: The Quill Ink, LLC
Released: Jul. 18, 2019
Genre: Anthologies





~ SYNOPSIS ~


“But I hate to hear you talking so, like a fine gentleman, and as if women were all fine ladies, instead of rational creatures. We none of us expect to be in smooth water all our days.” (Persuasion, Jane Austen) 

Jane Austen: True romantic or rational creature? Her novels transport us back to the Regency, a time when well-mannered gentlemen and finely-bred ladies fell in love as they danced at balls and rode in carriages. Yet her heroines, such as Elizabeth Bennet, Anne Elliot, and Elinor Dashwood, were no swooning, fainthearted damsels in distress. Austen’s novels are timeless classics because of their biting wit, honest social commentary - because she wrote of strong women who were ahead of their day. True to their principles and beliefs, they fought through hypocrisy and broke social boundaries to find their happily-ever-after. 

In the third romance anthology of The Quill Collective series, 16 celebrated Austenesque authors write the untold histories of Austen’s heroines, brave adventuresses, shy maidens, talkative spinsters, and naughty matrons. Peek around the curtain and discover what made Lady Susan so wicked, Mary Crawford so capricious, and Hettie Bates so in need of Emma Woodhouse’s pity. Rational Creatures is a collection of humorous, poignant, and engaging short stories set in Georgian England that complement and pay homage to Austen’s great works and great ladies who were, perhaps, the first feminists in an era that was not quite ready for feminism. 

“Make women rational creatures, and free citizens, and they will become good wives; - that is, if men do not neglect the duties of husbands and fathers.” (Mary Wollstonecraft)

Stories by: Elizabeth Adams, Nicole Clarkston, Karen M Cox, J. Marie Croft, Amy D’Orazio, Jenetta James, Jessie Lewis, KaraLynne Mackrory, Lona Manning, Christina Morland, Beau North, Sophia Rose, Anngela Schroeder, Joana Starnes, Brooke West, and Caitlin Williams



~ AUDIO EXCERPT ~






~ MY REVIEW ~   



My rating: 4 of 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Duration: 18 hrs 3 mins.

Rational Creatures: Stirrings of Feminism in the Hearts of Jane Austen's Fine Ladies, The Quill Collective, Book 3 by Joana Starnes, Amy D'Orazio, Caitlin Williams, Karen Cox, Jenetta James, Beau North, Christina Morland, Nicole Clarkston, Elizabeth Adams, J. Marie Croft, Jessie Lewis, KaraLynne Mackrory, Lona Manning, Sophia Rose, Anngela Schroeder, and Brooke West.

I was very much looking forward to this book, with its focus on the strength of character in the women who populated Jane Austen's writing. Despite the constraints of the day, many of her heroines were intelligent and spirited; just unconventional enough to have been accessible in my youth, when I first fell in love with them (and the gentlemen by whom they are pursued!).

Taking a closer look at Austen's women, examining their stories from a different perspective, or re-imagining them let loose, was too tempting a prospect to pass up! I'm very glad I did listen to it as the tales within are witty, charming, and thoroughly entertaining in the main. They are not all entirely true to the characters from whom they drew their inspiration, but each explores a facet of Austen's world in which it feels truly embedded. There were some stories I vastly preferred to others but that is only to be expected when listening to an anthology with so many contributors.

Each chapter contains a story about another of Austen's women. As there is no table of contents in this audiobook, here is a list of the individual tales and a few of my thoughts on each.

*Content Warning: the eleventh story in this anthology (audible chapter 13), contains emotional descriptions of miscarriage and infertility which may be upsetting to some listeners.

1. Self-Composed by Christina Morland. (Elinor Dashwood.) This story began very well but I think this one would have been a far lovelier vignette if it had simply captured the moment in the library, and perhaps expanded upon it further. The sections of Sense and Sensibility which are quoted within this story are very confusing asides in audiobook format as - unlike the italicised paragraphs and flourished section-breaks in the print/ebook copy - there is very little to denote a departure from the short story. Consequently it appears to jump around far too much. I struggled to make sense of the device used until I had a peek at the ebook. This technique is used sporadically in one or two other stories, too, but is at its most unfortunate here. 3 stars.

2. Every Past Affliction by Nicole Clarkston. (Marianne Dashwood.) I have always struggled to like Marianne - finding her response to Colonel Brandon's sincere, respectful attentions rather brattish - so I did not expect much from this story. I was pleasantly surprised, as it acknowledged Marianne's initial immaturity and built upon her deepening regard for Brandon. 4 stars.

3. Happiness in Marriage by Amy D'Orazio. (Elizabeth Bennett.) The story I was looking forward to the most had some nice moments but was rather lacklustre given the book's premise and the myriad opportunities to explore Lizzie's feminist ideals. 2.5 stars.

4. Charlotte's Comfort by Joana Starnes. (Charlotte Lucas.) An amusing glimpse into the matrimonial life of Mrs Collins. Engaging and true to the characters. Highly diverting. 4 stars.

5. Knightly Discourse by Anngela Schroeder. (Emma Woodhouse.) I liked many things about this story, having a particular fondness for Emma and George, but one element troubled me. Miss Winthrop is on one hand allowed to be a single woman who lives life to the full despite having no husband, which falls nicely within the feminist remit of this anthology. Yet those very strengths are used to paint her as a cold-hearted homewrecker; a stereotype many strong, independent women have fallen victim to whether it holds any truth or not. Knightley ends by stating that her behaviour is the action of someone who is miserable with their own lot in life, and the 'moral' of the story is that she is a scarlet woman and a pitiable fantasist. In an anthology which claims to champion the boldness of Austen's women I found it rather cheap to introduce a woman who served to do nothing more than reinforce the ideas of the time instead of being allowed to challenge them. By revealing the gossips to be wrong about her intentions, her character could easily have been used in a more empowering fashion; highlighting the conceits and weaknesses of the men and the insecurities society stokes in the women, and echoing the presumptions and misunderstandings which lent the original novel all its drama. In any other Regency story it would simply be unfortunate, but in a publication with feminist intent it felt exceedingly out of place. Irksome as well as disappointing. 2.5 stars.

6. The Simple Things by J. Marie Croft. (Hetty Bates.) Very tender, bittersweet, and emotive. Miss Bates' character is very true to the original, and is especially evocative of the 1996 adaptation in which Sophie Thompson assumed the role of kind, chatty, spinster. It was wonderful to see Miss Bates character fleshed out a little and allowed to display her strength of character. She is no victim of circumstance in this story, despite experiencing more than her fair share of hardships. 5 stars.

7. In Good Hands by Caitlin Williams. (Harriet Smith.) This story is sweet and unremarkable, not unlike Harriet herself, and it is nice to see how Harriet comports herself away from Emma's influence. 3 stars.

8. The Meaning of Wife by Brooke West. (Fanny Price.) I have - shamefully - re-read/listened to/watched Mansfield Park far less often than Austen's other works, but enjoyed the exploration of Fanny's dilemma regarding the lot of a woman in the period. It was particularly nice to see her able to make the choice which most appealed to her, without forsaking her principles, passions, and intellectual ideals. That the decision is conscious of those particulars makes it all the more remarkable for a Regency heroine. Edmund's endorsement and support of her endeavours is equally rare and valuable; quite intoxicating in a gentleman. 3 stars.

9. What Strange Creatures by Jenetta James. (Mary Crawford.) Again, Miss Crawford is a character less familiar to me than many others, but I enjoyed her thoughtful and sparky interactions with the magistrate, Mr Hunter, and their investigations into Verity Stanhope's disappearance. 3.5 stars.

10. An Unnatural Beginning by Elizabeth Adams. (Anne Elliot.) Anne's youthful encounter with Frederick Wentworth is notorious for the regret with which it filled them both. Here we glimpse Lady Russell's interference in the matter and its heartbreaking impact on a young, motherless girl. 3 stars.

11. Where the Sky Touches the Sea by KaraLynne Mackrory. (Sophia Croft.) As one of Austen's few happily-married women, Mrs Croft's story has a depth and warmth that is especially endearing. It celebrates their love without having to invent it in its entirety. They are still well matched despite the length of their union, and have grown together in the fashion many of the younger heroines hardly dare hope for. As I myself grow older I have come to appreciate relationships of this sort - affectionate, egalitarian, steady, enduring, and honest - above the high-spirited elopements and tortured longings which fill so many romance novels. This story sees Sophia reflect upon her life and how easily it was almost thrown off course by tragedy. 5 stars.

12. The Art of Pleasing by Lona Manning. (Penelope Clay.) A saucier offering than anything Austen ever gave us, but quite befitting of the duplicitous pair who come together while plotting more advantageous matches. Schemer or survivor? Perhaps a little of both? "O, what a tangled web we weave..." 3.5 stars.

13. Louisa by the Sea by Beau North. (Louisa Musgrove.) I had always considered Louisa to be a silly, spoiled, rather vacuous girl, so I enjoyed watching her mature in this story, recuperating from her fall and coming to terms with a newfound disability and a burgeoning love for Captain Bennick. 4 stars.

14. The Strength of Their Attachment by Sophia Rose. (Catherine Morland.) An interesting mystery that allowed Catherine to set out alone to correct a nefarious injustice, and a very pleasing reunion with the dashing Henry Tilney. 3 stars.

15. A Nominal Mistress by Karen M. Cox. (Eleanor Tilney.) A lovely opportunity to imagine how Eleanor's relationship with 'the Viscount' began. In Northanger Abbey Miss Tilney's lot was a rather lonely one, save for her brother, Henry, so it is especially nice that this story grants her some felicity. Happiness won without capitulating to an avaricious parent's ambitions is a desirable fate for any Regency heroine, but especially so for gentle Eleanor. 5 stars.

16. The Edification of Lady Susan by Jessie Lewis. (Lady Susan.) As bold and brash as ever, Lady Susan's outing is a spirited romp around the Machiavellian machinations of the beau monde, told in the epistolary style of the original. 3 stars.

My favourite tales were often those about women whose stories were largely left unexplored in the original novels, with the most enjoyable being Croft's The Simple Things, Starnes' Charlotte's Comfort, Mackrory's Where the Sky Touches the Sea, North's Louisa by the Sea, and Cox's A Nominal Mistress.

I enjoyed the way the anthology flowed from one story to another, subtly linking many of the individual threads and each embracing the liberties that were being taken with the Austenian 'canon'. On this score, however, there did seem to be a rather obvious 'gap' in the anthology after Elizabeth Bennett's story. In this tale a reference is made to an event in her mother, Mrs Bennett's, life. It felt as though this were being set up as the next story but it was never pursued, which was a missed opportunity as it was both too detailed for a simple aside, and not substantive enough in isolation. It is possible that it was a nod to something from a previous anthology by this editor, but it did not sit well and appeared as though a planned story had been withdrawn from inclusion in the collection.

As with so many anthologies, I do wish the chapter headings in the Audible app bore the title of the story currently playing. I know it is possible as, for one, Stephen Fry utilises the feature in Mythos. It would make it so much easier to dip back into one's favourite stories at a later date. Bookmarking favourites is all well and good, but requires rather a lot of faffing if the title (or author) of a particular tale is not noted at the very beginning of the chapter. This is where print copies do have something of an advantage, but it is not insurmountable and would be much improved if Audible and its authors used the platform's features to their fullest.

Victoria Riley's performance as narrator is charming throughout, bringing life to the characters and evoking memories of my favourite adaptations. She falls prey to a few mispronunciations of the period language, ("victuals" etc), but they are very few and far between and not detrimental to the overall experience.

At first I thought Riley's crisp, Hayley-Mills-esque cut-glass English accent sounded a little too deliberate at times - as if it was not the narrator's natural manner of speech - but, in a way, that actually complemented the era. Georgian Britain was an age when young ladies like those featured in these stories had to consider their words and actions carefully. Even for the fiercest, most feisty heroine an inappropriate word in the wrong ear could ruin her reputation at a time when a good name may be all she had to recommend her. Honing one's accomplishments and refining oneself was expected amongst the classes represented in this anthology, so it feels rather fitting that the narrator sounds very much like she is trying to present the best account of herself. As the book progressed I came to like her performance very well.

I would recommend this book to fans of Jane Austen and Mary Wollstonecraft, and lovers of Regency romance everywhere who have - on occasion - wanted to shake one of the women in the stories, or take them gently by the hand and promise them there's a better way.


  *I received this audiobook as part of my participation in a blog tour with Audiobookworm Promotions. The tour is being sponsored by Christina Boyd. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.

Click here to buy this book, listen to a sample, or add it to your wishlist!




~ ABOUT THE EDITOR ~


Christina Boyd wears many hats as she is an editor under her own banner, The Quill Ink, a contributor to Austenprose, and a commercial ceramicist. A life member of Jane Austen Society of North America, Christina lives in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest with her dear Mr. B, two busy teenagers, and a retriever named BiBi. Visiting Jane Austen’s England was made possible by actor Henry Cavill when she won the Omaze experience to meet him in the spring of 2017 on the London Eye. True story. You can Google it.



~ NARRATOR BIO ~


Victoria Riley is a British voiceover artist and audiobook narrator. Originally trained as a theatre actor, she gradually moved into voice work and is now happiest behind the mic. She loves classic literature and travelling the world. If she isn't recording, she's probably lying in a hammock in some far-flung place, reading book after book after book.





~ TOUR SCHEDULE ~

With thanks to Audiobookworm Promotions for organising this tour.

Audiobook Tour: Rational Creatures by Various Authors

4 comments

  1. Thanks for this thoughtful review!

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    1. Thank you for a delightfully wicked story, Lona!

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  2. Thank you for taking time to listen and for your thoughtful review. We too wish the story titles for each were shown in the app. I have spoken with two producers/voice actors I’ve worked with on these anthologies projects...because we set each story up with the title in place of Chapter 1. In fact, this is how the first story was set up: Vol. 1, Elinor Dashwood, “Self-Composed” —but Audible doesn’t publish it like that. After your review, we emailed Audible and they said they are aware of the issue but do not have the capability yet. Interesting. We too wish we had the Stephen Fry “powers” because he makes us look incompetent. Anyway, we are hoping that the technology will catch up—but to us it seems like an easy fix...just publish what we submit. Anyway, I wanted to follow up that we did take your comments seriously and contacted Audible.

    Thank you again for your review and for taking part in the blog tour.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for following up on that point Christina! How very frustrating that Audible aren't making that function available to everyone, as it would enhance the repeat-enjoyment of anthologies by quite some margin. I hope they address it soon as it would make their platform so much more user-friendly and we know the capability exists as it's already being applied elsewhere within their catalogue.

      I doubt that it will do much good, but I'll ping Audible asking why they don't roll out the feature to all publishers. Perhaps if they see a demonstrable appetite for the feature amongst listeners and authors alike then they will be keener to unlock it.

      That little niggle aside it's a lovely book and I enjoyed being part of the tour!

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