Monday, February 20, 2006
By Debra White Smith
Amanda Priebe, the title character, is still feeling the rush from a successful matchmaking effort when she decides to match Haley, her best friend and secretary, with someone “more appropriate” than Roger, the dairy farmer about whom her friend is apparently pretty serious. Nate Knighton, Amanda’s dear friend and brother-in-law, opposes her plans, but stays away from her efforts – primarily because he’s afraid he may be falling in love with Amanda. Complications arise when wealthy and handsome Franklyn West shows interest in Amanda, and Mason Eldridge, the man she intends for Haley, doesn’t follow the game plan. For her part, Amanda knows exactly what she wants, or does she? Will everyone end up with his or her one true love, or will Amanda’s best-laid plans go awry?
This is the fifth offering in Debra White Smith’s Austen Series. Fans of Austen will find that Ms. Smith does a masterful job of preserving Austen’s characters in contemporary settings. The re-telling of classic novels can be a dicey enterprise; people often feel protective of their favorite characters; social norms and conventions have changed, and conflicts that seemed fresh and innovative before feel dated and archaic now. Not so with the books in the Austen series. Smith retains the wit and charm of the Austen novels, but makes necessary revisions to intrigue a modern readership. Besides, Austen dealt with the vagaries of a human soul, creating keen psychological examinations of people both likeable and not. The human character is unchanging; therefore, our peculiarities are interesting in whatever time period they are revealed.
Amanda is a beautiful, intelligent young woman from a privileged background. As such, she has rarely been denied anything she wanted, and when the novel begins, she wants to match her friend Haley with Mason Eldridge, the music director of their church. There is something a bit disturbing in the character’s egotism, her certainty that she knows what is best for others whether they like it or not. The author, however, allows us to view Amanda’s better qualities, her generosity, fun spirit, keen wit, and empathy for others, and that is what makes her a multidimensional character, one we enjoy getting to know despite her flaws.
The miscommunication between Amanda and her intended victims is great fun, and so is the suspense that develops when the reader can’t be quite sure that Amanda will acknowledge what her heart has known all along. Readers who want romance will love this book, especially those who avoid books they fear might be “preachy” in the Christian market. Although the faith of Amanda, Nate and the others is present, it is inherent in who they are - the way they live their lives and the decisions they make. Their Christian worldview replaces any lengthy text on theology that might otherwise be present.
With Amanda, Smith aptly illustrates that “The course of true love never did run smooth,” but the twisted path these characters follow to romance is an intriguing one, and I feel certain that others will enjoy the trip as much as I did.
Reviewed by Erin Valentine