Love the romance of Jane Austen, but looking for something a bit saucier? Then Jayne Fresina’s tantalizing Once Upon a Kiss, the first installment in The Book Club Belles Society series, might hit the spot! As five young women of a quaint English village delve into the new and scandalous novel Pride and Prejudice, it sparks some not so lady-like desires in rebellious and clever book club member Justina Penny. In this guest post, Fresina shares her love for those immortal Austen novels and her inspiration (as well as her trepidation!) as she pens a new series of romance in the Regency Era. 

I became a Jane Austen fan at fifteen — and yes, that is a long time ago, and no, I’m not saying just how long! My first exposure to Jane’s work was a BBC TV production of “Pride and Prejudice,” which my English literature teacher, Mrs. Jones, had advised the class to watch. Oh wise, dear Mrs. Jones, of the irrepressible enthusiasm and bright eyes gleaming through enormous glasses. She knew I’d be sucked right in.

After that I saved up and bought a set of all Austen’s books, eagerly working my way through them, absorbing myself in that Regency world of ballrooms, bonnets and manners. What a world it was. Somewhere to which I could escape from being an awkward teenager for a few blessed hours.

Years later, when I finished my first Regency series for Sourcebooks and my editor asked if I had any ideas for another series, I jumped at the chance to write a playful homage to Austen’s work. I didn’t want to write a sequel, or prequel—or ‘quel’ of any kind. Nor did I want to risk offending Janeites and Lady Catherine de Bourghs the world over. (“Heaven and earth!—of what are you thinking? Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?”)

So I created “The Book Club Belles Society,” a small group of young ladies in a country village, living when Jane’s books were first published. The Belles include Justina Penny (Jussy), her sister Catherine, and their friends Diana, Rebecca and Lucy. Some of the ladies are good and proper. Some aren’t. Some would never put a foot wrong. Some always leap without looking. Naughty or nice, one thing they have in common is a love of books.

What did Jane’s contemporaries think when they read about Darcy and Lizzie? Were they inspired to seek their own Mr. Darcy, or did they (ahem . . . Jussy) find him a bit of a bore?

In 1813, the Critical Review found only suitable moral instruction (I hear Jussy sighing heavily) within its pages. “An excellent lesson may be learned from the elopement of Lydia:—the work shows the folly of letting young girls have their own way...” As for the author, “The line she draws between the prudent and the mercenary in matrimonial concerns, may be useful to our fair readers.”

Blimey, did Mr. Collins write that review?

Was Pride and Prejudice a moral lesson for naughty girls (ahem . . . Jussy), or was that just the male point of view?

The more wayward members of my Book Club Belles society, I’m afraid, do not take much guidance from the book, but they relish the romance. Especially when a man who appears to be the very embodiment of Mr. Darcy appears before them in real life, and suddenly they find their own lives taking similar paths to those of Austen’s heroines.

I hope Jane herself would find my attempts to recreate Regency English village life amusing—and not too saucy or impudent. It’s a dodgy business taking a beloved story and putting your own voice to it. This series is my homage to Austen, my thanks for the hours of pleasure her books have given me. As I worked on Once Upon a Kiss and the introductory novella “Before the Kiss” I was very conscious of staying true to Jane’s world—as far as I, a humble fan, ever could.

And Mrs. Jones, if you’re still out there somewhere, thank you!

Thank you, Jayne! What do you think, readers? Will you be checking out Once Upon a Kiss


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