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Riff on Austen novels is a great summer read

"RUDE AWAKENINGS OF A JANE AUSTEN ADDICT" by Laurie Viera Rigler, Dutton, 304 pages, $25.95

Jane Austen is one of the most widely read authors in the English language. Nearly 200 years after her death, Austen's stories and characters have stood the test of time, appealing to readers of all ages and nationalities.

That kind of fan base makes anything Austen a tempting challenge for writers. But it doesn't guarantee success.

Books that re-imagine or expand on source material often feel stagnant and sour readers' impressions of beloved characters — such is the case with "The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy," by Maya Slater, which was reviewed last Sunday.

Novels, however, that use Austen or her works as a jumping off point for an original work are a welcome respite that readers greedily gobble up.

Author Laurie Viera Rigler's first novel, "Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict," is an example of how to find a successful balance. Now, Rigler hopes for a repeat performance with her follow-up novel, "Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict," which hits stores June 25.

In "Confessions," Rigler introduces readers to Courtney Stone, a woman living in present-day Los Angeles who is grieving following a broken engagement. After a night of booze and Austen novels, Courtney awakens to find herself in the body of a Regency woman in 19th-century England. Courtney is forced to live the other woman's life, and in doing so, comes to realize that life isn't as rosy as Austen made it out to be.

What happened to the woman Courtney replaced comes to light in "Rude Awakenings."

Jane Mansfield is confused. Following a fall off a horse, she awakens to a bewildering world of noise, scantily clad women and brazen men. At first, Jane thinks her maid has moved the furniture, but she soon realizes much more is going on.

Jane is no longer in her own body in Regency England. She's somehow been transported into the curvaceous body of someone named Courtney.

Not only has Jane inherited Courtney's body; she's inherited her life, too. She's living in Courtney's apartment, wearing Courtney's scandalously revealing clothes, going out with Courtney's friends and trying desperately to figure out how she arrived in 21st-century Los Angeles.

And if she wasn't confused already, Jane finds herself in the middle of a love triangle with Courtney's ex-fiance and ex-best friend.

As Jane begins to adapt to Courtney's life, she's struck by flashes — memories and emotions that don't belong to her. And as those moments increase in severity and occurrence, Jane is forced to look at what she wants from life and where she really wants to be.

"Rude Awakenings" is the perfect companion to "Confessions," though readers don't have to read one to understand the other. It picks up the story in a natural place and brings this enjoyable tale full circle.

What would Austen, or any Regency woman for that matter, think if they were plucked from their time and placed in ours? Rigler's imagining of Jane's first exposure to running water, computers, cell phones, refrigeration, elevators, fashion, coffee houses and the movie adaptation of "Pride and Prejudice" are priceless. There's an equal balance of shock, humor and fascination that come across as genuine.

Rigler is a life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, and as such, spent a lot of time researching Austen's world. This work shines through, lending an authenticity to Rigler's characters.

Beyond all the reviewer mumbo jumbo, "Rude Awakenings" is just plain fun. Readers don't have to be an Austen fan to enjoy it, though fans will be tickled by inside nods to her work.

With "Rude Awakenings," Rigler has hit upon the right mix of humor and human nature. In short, it's the perfect summer read.