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Originally published Saturday, November 26, 2011 at 5:30 AM

Book review

A Jane Austenesque story collection

In "Jane Austen Made Me Do It" Seattle-area blogger and editor Laurel Ann Nattress (Austenprose.com) collects 22 stories inspired by Jane Austen's work, a "dizzying array" of sequels, prequels and other stories.

Special to The Seattle Times

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'Jane Austen Made Me Do It: Original Stories Inspired by Literature's Most Astute Observer of the Human Heart'

edited by

Laurel Ann Nattress

Ballantine, 464 pp., $16

Was it Jane Austen's sparkling prose that inspired Austenprose.com blogger Laurel Ann Nattress, the editor of this collection of new "Austenesque" short stories?

Or was it actor Colin Firth in a wet shirt?

The two widely televised miniseries adaptations of "Pride and Prejudice" (1980 and 1995, the latter with Firth portraying Mr. Darcy), were, Nattress candidly admits, her catalyst for fandom. "It was a seminal moment. A fan had been born. I was now a Janeite ... " the Seattle-area writer observes of the 1980 TV adaptation in her introduction to "Jane Austen Made Me Do It."

Of course, Nattress and the authors of these 22 new stories also love Austen's six completed novels, which have spawned such a dizzying array of sequels, prequels and "inspired by" books that no fewer than 88 writers sent in stories for consideration in this collection.

The winning stories are surprisingly varied, though "Miss Austen" herself makes at least a cameo appearance in many of them. Some, like Jane Odiwe's "Waiting," are mini-sequels that continue the action in an Austen novel ("Persuasion," in this case). Others are Austen-era vignettes, like Jo Beverley's Regency-romance "Jane and the Mistletoe Kiss," in which Austen briefly appears to explain the mystical powers of mistletoe.

There's a witty 21st-century "caper" novel involving a bogus first edition of "Persuasion" bearing Austen's signature ("Faux Jane," by Diane Meier and Frank Delaney), and a clever tale of a 1960s English teacher who wins over students by linking the Beatles to aspects of "Sense and Sensibility" ("Jane Austen, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!" by Janet Mullany). Brenna Aubrey, winner of an online contest whose prize was inclusion here, contributes a story in which a page torn from a copy of "Persuasion" is the means of reuniting an estranged couple.

And there are ghosts (though, thankfully, no zombies or werewolves). Jane herself arrives — in spectral form — to counsel the perplexed and the lovelorn.

For fans of "Austenesque" fiction, this collection will be a box of bonbons.

Melinda Bargreen is the former classical music critic for The Seattle Times. She's a freelance contributor to the Times and reviews concerts for 98.1 Classical KING FM (www.king.org).

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