Two Jane Austen "Murder Mystery Makeovers" by Tirzah Price

Welcome to the first edition of Trish and Sophia Talk Books, an occasional collaboration between my daughter Sophia and myself. I've always been a reader, and have circled back around to reading for pleasure more consistently in the last couple of years. I’ve had more time with retirement, and it was a welcome mental refuge during the pandemic.

Sophia and I have a long history of reading together. When she was young, we always had a book on the go that I’d read aloud. I started with the usual toddler books, but moved on to Magic Treehouse and the Rainbow Magic fairy books. I read all the Ramona Quimby books, and then the whole Harry Potter series aloud, amongst countless others.

{A brief aside: There are so very many Rainbow Magic fairy books. I haven’t thought about them for 15 years or so, but they’re still being written. It’s a British series published by Scholastic in North America. We read the classics, like the original Rainbow colour fairies, and the Weather fairies. It looks like 2022’s theme is “Puppy Care Fairies.” Honestly, you can’t lose with that combo!}

Life got busy for Sophia, and she read more for school in her early teens. Enter the pandemic and she, like me, came back to reading as a refuge and a pleasure. In the last couple of years, she’s become a voracious reader with a personal library of wonderful books that now exceeds my own!

We have wonderful conversations about books. Our reading tastes are not the same but have huge overlap. It helps that I am a self-described “omnivorous reader”: I like almost anything. But so does she! Sophia probably likes fantasy more than me. I might like non-fiction more than her (except for band biographies…she’s an expert there). We read a lot of the same books. Some mutual favourites we read in 2021 are Piranesi, Brighton Rock and Ace of Spades. We tried to buddy read Wuthering Heights…we hated it and decided to mutually DNF it (apologies, Emily Bronte). And we don’t always like the same books, either.

But she gives me stellar suggestions and they add to my ever (dangerously) growing TBR. We love to scout Little Free Libraries together, a great extension of our mutual love of thrift shopping. We were going to start an account where we both reviewed books, but alas, she’s a busy Uni student and doesn’t quite have the time. However, a buddy post? Occasional collabs with me? So fun!

Here’s our conversation in the car last week:

S: So I just finished Sense and Second-Degree Murder. I really liked it!

T: I know that book! It’s by Tirzah Price, right? I love her, she’s a co-host on my favourite book podcast, All the Books, by Book Riot, and a senior contributing editor there. It’s her second book, I think…They’re YA?

S: Yep, and I read the first one too, Pride and Premeditation. I liked them a lot.

T: We must do a collab post on Trish Talks Books.

S: That sounds like one of the best ideas you’ve ever had. You’re so creative and smart, Mom.

It went roughly like that. Our first collaboration post was born. Since I haven’t read the books in this case, I’m going to let Sophia do the reviewing. We both like Austin, and watched the BBC Pride and Prejudice series during the pandemic (a re-watch for me). I love it so much!

T: So Sophia, we’ve both read a fair amount of Austen and also Austen re-imaginings. Tell us a bit about these two books, and where they fit into the Austen universe.

S: Pride and Premeditation (Book 1) and Sense and Second-Degree Murder (Book 2) are re-imaginings of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, respectively.

For the most part, they’re quite faithful to the source material, although Price has changed certain details of the plots (which she specifies in her Authors Notes at the end of each book for those hardcore Austen fans) to better work with the murder mystery-ness of her re-imaginigs. And, of course, she’s made a few of Austen’s characters murderers and suspects! She’s also aged down the heroines to their mid/late teens to appeal to a YA audience. Despite the changes, these books feel very rooted in Austen’s world and novels. But Price also adds a refreshing, modern take on the characters while still setting them in the regency era.

T: You haven’t liked all of the Austen associated books you’ve read. Longbourn comes to mind. What made Tirzah’s novels work for you?

S: Yeah, I read Longbourn by Jo Baker last year, which revolves around the servants at the Bennet family house in Pride and Prejudice. I didn’t like it at all; I thought it tried to be just like P&P but also new and fresh at the same time, which didn’t work for me. Longbourn didn’t really know what it was trying to be. It was also just really slow. I like Austin-universe novels that truly re-imagine their source material.

I think Tirzah Price’s series is different because she really knows exactly what type of book she’s writing: a YA murder mystery, and she doesn’t shy away from that. She’s specific, knows her audience, and she does it really well. Plus, Pride and Premeditation and Sense and Second-Degree Murder are just so much fun!!

T: If you were going back in time to live in an Austen novel, which one would you choose, or what character would you like to be?

S: I mean, I have to say Pride and Prejudice. What I would give to be at a regency ball, or strolling the beautiful English countryside with Lizzie Bennet! I’m also a huge fan of the enemies to lovers trope. Mr. Darcy was the blueprint.

Although, I do love the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies book and movie. Maybe being a regency zombie hunter would be pretty cool. But yeah, Pride and Prejudice.

T: One thing that really struck me is the cover art.

S: I know, right! They’re so cool. Each one is made to look like needlework. Plus, once you read the books, all the little details start to make sense. I’d give an example, but then I’d be giving away spoilers! The covers were designed by Corinna Lupp and the art is by Jess Phenix (her website is an amazing showcase of her art) and Filip Hodas.

T: I think there’s going to be one more book in this series. It’s a stretch, but any suggestions for Tirzah Price’s next series?

S: Yes, the next book has my favourite title out of the three: Manslaughter Park. I’m looking forward to its release!

Something I appreciate about this series is that it’s accessible for those who might be intimidated by reading classic literature. It’s a great starting point for Austen, and gets readers familiar with the stories and characters in a fun and engaging way. I think especially YA readers who want to get into classics could really enjoy these. They remind me of the Stalking Jack The Ripper series by Kerri Maniscalco. The first book is historical fiction of the Jack The Ripper murders in the 1800s. It gives tons of history and even includes pictures of real historical documents, photos, and sketches. But, it presents the history in a fun and re-imagined way, with two teenage sleuths. I love that series too!

So, I think anything in that vein would be cool. Re-imaginings of some intimidating classics or historical events.

T: I think it’d be so interesting to see something totally original from Tirzah Price too! I bet she’d have some great new characters to introduce us to. Thanks, Sophia, for hopping onto Trish Talks Books to give us your take on this great series. I’m sure we’ll have more fun posts for Trish and Sophia Talk Books, maybe even some buddy reads.

S: Looking forward to more collabs! Thanks for inviting me.

That’s a wrap for the first edition of Trish and Sophia Talk Books. I hope lots of moms and kids [Uh, Mom, I’m almost 20 years old!] are reading together.