The Fortune Hunter: A Novel by Daisy Goodwin – A Review  

The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin 2014 x 200From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress:

A spirited English heiress, a dashing cavalry officer and a beguiling Austrian Empress form a love triangle that on first glance may look like characters from a romance novel, but in reality are based on actual people: Charlotte Baird, Bay Middleton and Elizabeth, Empress of Austria. Set in 1875 Victorian England, The Fortune Hunter, by the bestselling author Daisy Goodwin (The American Heiress) is the fictionalization of the life of an ambitious horsemen John “Bay” Middleton and the two women he romances, taking us at full gallop through London’s high society ballrooms, country manor houses and fox hunting while exploring the emotional highs and lows of three very unique people faced with the challenges of personal truth, honor and love.

Miss Charlotte Baird is an intelligent and creative twenty-year old more interested in photography than fashion, beaux, and social decorum. She is also one of the richest women in England. Because she is an orphan, her half-brother Fred manages her Lennox fortune until her majority—and his fiancé Augusta Crewe, the high-minded daughter of an Earl, manages him. While attending a London opera, Fred introduces his sister to a fellow officer, the dashing Captain Bay Middleton. They meet again at the Spencer ball and Charlotte is promptly swept off her feet by his flattery and attentions. (red coat alert) Even though her Aunt Adelaide warns her against the captain’s dubious reputation as a womanizer, and her brother and his fiancé think he is totally unsuitable match for her, she has her own ideas about who she wants as a husband. In her mind, she does not see his reputation, lack of fortune or title as an impediment.

The action soon moves to Melton Hall, the Crewe country seat in Leicestershire, where Charlotte is staying with her brother and his future in-laws during the holidays. The fox hunting season is in full swing and even though Augusta thought Captain Middleton was an unsuitable husband material for Charlotte, she overlooks his faults and invites him too. He is, after all, the keenest rider in England and a retired officer in the 11th Hussars, their neighbor John Spencer, 5th Earl of Spencer’s regiment. Also in the neighborhood for the season is a surprising new resident, Elizabeth, Empress of Austria, the famous European beauty and horsewoman who has escaped the confines of the Hapsburg court and arrived with her royal entourage, including a pet monkey. Obsessed with her looks, the eccentric Empress is a grandmother but has the face and figure of an ingénue in her first bloom. With a strict diet and exercise regimen she has fought back time, but is still continually anxious about her looks. “Beauty was her gift, her weapon and her power, and she dreaded its passing.” p 111

Bay is pressed into service by Spencer to pilot the Empress during the hunting season. Reluctantly he agrees and soon meets the enigmatic “Sisi” whose skill in the hunting field impresses everyone, even Bay. A mutual attraction quickly builds into an infatuation by him, which begs little prompting by her to grow into a full-blown affair between the Empress and her pilot. Regardless, he has true feelings for Charlotte and is confident that she will soon be his. His desire for both of these women has him questioning himself.

“Bay had never thought of himself as a bad person before, but now he wondered what sort of person he really was: the devil in the mirror or the noble-looking young man in Charlotte’s photograph?” p 167

The Empress is not like any other woman he has ever met, “her rank and status made him uncertain.” Here is a beautiful woman in total control of any situation and that intrigues him. Charlotte on the other hand was no challenge; she is easily won and accepts his proposal, entering into a secret engagement until she reaches her majority and receives control of her fortune.

Charlotte returns to London to assist her mentor with an upcoming photographic exhibition. After developing her own pictures taken of Bay and the Empress at Melton, Charlotte’s new friend Caspar notices how ardently Bay is gazing at the Empress and the truth is suddenly so clear to her. Bay loves the Empress and only wants Charlotte for her fortune.

Wrought with aristocratic opulence, social ambition and emotional desire, The Fortune Hunter was a delicious indulgence for me. I adore historical fiction based on real people and Goodwin has eloquently introduced me to an era in British and Austrian history that I had never delved into before. The atmosphere of the residences and the descriptions of clothing were refreshing, but it was the exciting action scenes of fox hunting and the white-knuckle final steeplechase at The Grand National that were the most thrilling scenes.

If this beautifully written novel lacked anything, it was romantic tension and a bit more framing of a woman’s place in society at the beginning. We learn from Charlotte’s family that Bay is a rake placing us on guard for our heroine. Is this the truth or rumors? Charlotte is young and naïve when it comes to love and Bay wins her affection and trust so easily. In turn Bay is won over by the Empress equally as fast. I would like to have experienced more inner-turmoil and tension before each romance. Later in the novel Charlotte’s friend Caspar sums it up perfectly.

“Carlotta mia, every romance needs a little tension. If the gallant captain turns his head and sees you gazing at him as you are now, he will know precisely what is in your heart, but if he turns to see you confiding in me, well, he will be confused, and that would not be such a bad thing. Everybody desires a thing more when it is not straightforward.” p 325

Another minor quibble involved some of the horse facts. I realize I have an unfair advantage being a former equestrian and most readers will not care that horses cannot jump twelve foot hedges, nor, (spoiler alert) that a fifteen hand mare is the most unlikely horse to win the Grand National. Not that it could not happen, mind you, it is just REALLY a long shot. Maybe that was the author’s point, paralleling the love story’s happy conclusion?

What makes this novel more than your run-of-the-mill historical romance? Goodwin’s keen eye for focusing the action like a film director—and an hysterical cameo appearance by Her Majesty, Queen Victoria herself of course. Witty humor always wins me over. Oh, and a beautiful cover. Like Sisi I am very shallow.

4 out of 5 Stars

The Fortune Hunter: A Novel, by Daisy Goodwin
St. Martin’s Press (2014)
Hardcover (480) pages
ISBN: 978-1250043894

Additional Reviews:

Cover image courtesy of St. Martin’s Press © 2014; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2014, Austenprose.com 

Disclosure of Material Connection: We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Winners Announced for The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen Book Launch Giveaways

The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen, by Shannon Winslow (2014)We are happy to announce the winners of the fabulous giveaways during the book launch party for The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen, by Shannon Winslow.

Drawn randomly from the comments, the lucky winners are:

One print copy of The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen

  • Ann who left a comment on 12 Aug 2014

One digital copy of The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen

  • Maggie who left a comment on 11 Aug 2014

The Jane Austen-themed tote bag bundle

  • Schilds who left a comment on 11 Aug 2014

The original pastel drawing “By the Seaside at Lyme” 

  • Liz Castillo who left a comment on 11 Aug 2014

Congratulations to all the winners! To claim your prize, please contact me with your full name and address by 11:59 pm PT, Wednesday, August 27, 2014. Shipment of the print book, tote bundle and painting to US addresses only. Digital book shipment internationally. Winners must respond by the deadline or they will forfeit their prize.

Many thanks to all who participated in the book launch party. A special thank you to author Shannon Winslow for contributing the beautiful Austen-themed tote bag and the original pastel drawing, and to her publisher Heather Ridge Arts for the books. It was a fabulous event and a great send off for The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen.

The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen: A Novel, by Shannon Winslow
Heather Ridge Arts (2014)
Trade paperback (266) pages
ISBN: 978-1500624736

Cover image courtesy of Heather Ridge Arts © 2014; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2014, Austenprose.com

The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla: A Pink Carnation Novel, by Lauren Willig – A Review

The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla by Lauren Willig 2014 From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress:

A new Pink Carnation novel is always the highlight of my reading season, though the anticipation for The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla was stifling. How could Lauren Willig’s eleventh addition equal or surpass her previous highly-successful novels seeped in Napoleonic spies, romance and burlesque comedy? Yes, comedy. They say “dying is easy; comedy is hard” and it is so true. There are few authors in the genre who will even attempt it. Willig excels.

One of the main reasons I enjoy the “Pink” series so much (besides the humor) is that they take me back to Regency England, and the characters are SO original. Willig started the series in 2004 with The Secret History of the Pink Carnation. Each successive novel features a new set of protagonists: a romantic couple thrown together by mystery, espionage and love. After ten novels I have never been disappointed.

Set in 1806 London, The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla re-introduces us to the three young Misses from Miss Climpson’s Select Seminary for Young Ladies in Bath, brought together in the seventh novel, The Mischief of the Mistletoe: Miss Sally Fitzhugh, Miss Agnes Wooliston and Miss Lizzy Reid. They are in Town for the Season, chaperoned by Lord and Lady Vaughn whose next door neighbor is reported to be a vampire. Yes, vampires are all the rage in London at the moment due to Lizzy Reid’s step-mother’s best-selling novel The Convent of Orsino. No one is above suspicion, especially aristocrats.

Bored by the soiree in progress, Sally takes up the challenge and enters the creepy, un-kept garden of the purported vampire next-door and immediately meets a tall, dark, pale stranger, Lucien, Duke of Belliston. Eeeek! Curiosity and sparks fly for the enigmatic duke and the adventurous Miss. After some witty repartee, Sally returns to her friends without any loss of blood or ego, determined to learn more about him. Her chance presents itself at the next ball, a coming out party for Lucien’s younger sister, who has been raised by their aunt and uncle at the family estate in England while Lucien escaped to his mother’s family in Louisiana. Their parent’s had died twelves year prior under a cloud of mystery. Was their death by poison an accident or murder? Haunted by scandal and his past, Lucien has returned to England to discover the truth. When Sally and Lucien re-connect at the party a mysterious note calls them to a midnight meeting in the garden only to discover a young woman dead on a marble bench—the blood drained from her throat. Shocked and horrified, Lucien and Sally are quick to notice that this is a staged murder in attempt to implicate Lucien. Lucien and Sally join forces to stop the so-called vampire slayings and uncover a decade-old murder of his parents.

Vampires? Really? I was skeptical. Haven’t vampires been done to death in novels lately? It didn’t take long for me to realize that this plot device was great fun – a way to bridge Gwendolyn Reid’s (nee Miss Gwendolyn Meadows) novel The Convent of Orsino, introduced in in The Passion of the Purple Plumeria and connect Sally Fitzhugh, sister of the famous Reginald “Turnip” Fitzhugh. Connections and creativity are what Willig is all about as a writer. Her historical research is also Nonpareil. Readers will be wowed by references to Gothic Fiction that Jane Austen’s heroine Catherine Morland was addicted to in Northanger Abbey and all other manner of social context to the era and modern times including Monty Python Flying Circus jokes and Stephenie Meyer’s sparkly vampire Edward Cullen.

What sets this novel apart in the series is its new direction away from its roots: historical romance/spy/comedy/ adventure. There is still all the Willig style of high-burlesque comedy, witty banter and suspenseful adventure, but those dead set on a Napoleonic vs. British spy espionage will be thwarted. Refreshingly, this is a Regency-era mystery with undertones of spy themes. We still have the tepid modern day story of Eloise and Colin popping in to delay the historical action, but her hunky hero Lucien is one of her most swoon-worthy and her spunky heroine Sally is down-right adorable. Vampire plot not-with-standing, I was totally glamoured and entranced by every word.

★★★★★ 5 out of 5 Stars

The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla: A Pink Carnation Novel, by Lauren Willig
NAL Penguin (2014)
Trade paperback (496) pages
ISBN: 978-0451414731

Additional Reviews:

Cover image courtesy of NAL Penguin © 2014; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2014, Austenprose.com

Disclosure of Material Connection: We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen Virtual Book Launch Party and Blog Tour with Author Shannon Winslow & Giveaways! 

The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen banner x 500

I am very pleased to welcome author Shannon Winslow to Austenprose today to officially open her virtual book launch party and blog tour of The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen, published today by Heather Ridge Arts. This new Austenesque novel is a fascinating combination of fact and fiction, exploring Jane Austen’s unknown personal journal— revealing her secret romance with a Royal Navy officer, Captain Devereaux, who was the inspiration for her final novel, Persuasion. 

Shannon has generously offered a guest blog sharing her inspiration to write her new novel—and to add to the festivities—we will be offering an amazing selection of giveaways including: trade paperback and digital eBook copies of The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen, a tote bag bundle stuffed with a print copy of the book and Jane Austen-inspired merchandise, and an original pastel drawing “By the Seaside at Lyme” inspired by the 1995 movie, Persuasion, created by Shannon. Just leave a comment following this blog post to enter. The contest details are listed below. Good luck to all. 

Please join us in welcoming Shannon Winslow.

What inspired me to write The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen?

I can’t quite put my finger on when the concept for this book first occurred to me. It was more of a slowly germinating seed rather than a bolt out of the blue, something that needed to ruminate in my brain a while before emerging onto the page. But this will give you an idea how my thoughts about the book evolved.

First, I am no different than any other fan. Which of us hasn’t at some point wished Jane Austen had met with a better fate? She, who has given pleasure to countless thousands through her novels, surely deserved to have experienced the same romance and happy ending she carefully crafted for each of her heroines. That’s what motivated me.

But perhaps there was more to her story than is generally known, I considered. Since most authors draw heavily from people and situations in their own lives, it didn’t seem unreasonable to me that Jane Austen had more real-life experience in the field of romance than the official record suggests—obviously, not a married-her-sweetheart-at-twenty-and-lived-happily-ever-after kind of affair. But what about a bitter-sweet romance marked by grand passion, misfortune, and long separation? That would be a better fit. Perhaps, something on the order of her novel Persuasion.

Persuasion by Jane Austen banner

Ah, Persuasion—her last and most poignant novel. Yes, that was the model! A young couple falls rapidly and deeply in love. They are soon cruelly parted again, however – so soon that few people, even in their own families, ever know about it. When fate brings the two together again, years later, it should be their second chance at happiness. But pride and resentment get in the way, keeping them estranged. Only surprising, near-miraculous events serve to reunite them in the end.

So, Persuasion became the basis for my novel about Jane Austen’s secret romance.

No. It’s the other way round, really, for it’s my contention that Jane’s secret romance with a navy captain of her own actually inspired her to write Persuasion in the first place. Doing so allowed her to pay public homage to the man who was the love of her life, whilst at the same time keeping their true story strictly private in a journal she wrote alongside the novel. The two run parallel, the events of one reflected in the other, and together forming a fuller picture then either one alone… which reminds me of a passage in The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen. Jane, having just completed the novel and her journal, writes:

These two now lie alongside one another before me. Their pages are written in the same hand. Their stories merge as almost to form one body. Indeed, they are so fiercely intertwined as to be impossible to cleanly divide. When one is wounded, does not the other bleed? 

But why the secrecy, you ask? If Jane Austen truly lived and loved more largely than we’ve been led to believe, why did she and her family keep the story so tightly under wraps? That was the difficult puzzle I had to solve before I could even begin. Then it all became clear. But it’s Jane’s secret, and I’d best leave it for her to explain in her own way and her own time. She begins her personal journal by writing…

What people may hereafter say about my life, I cannot control. My biographers, if any, must do the best they can with the sources available to them. It is necessary that this, my own account, shall remain for some time to come concealed from their eyes. For now, the story belongs to me alone – to me and to that one other.

And so it has remained for nearly two hundred years, until there is no longer any need for concealment. This new novel represents Jane Austen’s account of her life-long romance with a gentleman by the name of Captain Devereaux.

Captain Peter Parker (1785-1814) by John Hoppner

Captain Peter Parker (1785-1814), by John Hoppner

So what makes this different from other books, delightful novels that have portrayed augmentations to the famous authoress’ love life before? I took it one audacious step further. I wasn’t content with Jane finding romance. I desperately wanted it all for her, including the happy ending. I didn’t know if it would be possible, but that was my goal at the outset—to find a plausible and more pleasing alternative outcome for her, something that would fit within the framework of what we know (or think we know) about her life.

You can decide for yourself if I have succeeded, but I shall be satisfied thinking Jane Austen might have approved—of my motives at the very least. Borrowing a phrase from the end of the novel Atonement by Ian McEwan, I mean it as a final act of kindness to her, in partial repayment for all she has done for me.

Author Shannon Winslow (2013)AUTHOR BIO: Shannon Winslow specializes in fiction for fans of Jane Austen. Her popular debut novel, The Darcys of Pemberley, immediately established her place in the genre, being particularly praised for the author’s authentic Austenesque style and faithfulness to the original characters. For Myself Alone(a stand-alone Austen-inspired story) followed. Then last year Return to Longbourn wrapped up Winslow’s Pride and Prejudice saga, forming a trilogy when added to the original novel and her previous sequel. Now she has given us a “what if” story starring Jane Austen herself. In The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen, that famous author tells her own tale of lost love, second chances, and finding her happy ending.

Her two sons grown, Ms. Winslow lives with her husband in the log home they built in the countryside south of Seattle, where she writes and paints in her studio facing Mt. Rainier. Learn more at Shannon’s website/blog (www.shannonwinslow.com). Follow her on Twitter (as JaneAustenSays) and on Facebook.

Many thanks Shannon, and best wishes with The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen. Be sure to return on Monday, September 1st for our review.

A GRAND GIVEAWAY 

In celebration of the release of The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen, we are offering five chances to win amazing prizes. Please leave a comment by 11:59 pm, Wednesday, August 20, 2014 stating what intrigues you about this new novel. Winners will be drawn at random from the comments and announced on Thursday, August 21, 2014. Print books, tote bag bundle and pastel drawing shipment to US addresses. Digital eBook shipment internationally. Good luck to all!

The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen: A Novel, by Shannon Winslow (2014)

PRIZES 1 – 3: ONE TRADE PAPERBACK AND TWO DIGITAL COPIES OF

THE PERSUASION OF MISS JANE AUSTEN

The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen tote bag giveaway

PRIZE 4: COTTON TOTE BAG WITH JANE AUSTEN-INSPIRED MERCHANDISE

  • One 14” X 14” cotton duck tote bag
  • One trade paperback edition of The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen
  • One box of Jane Austen note cards by Potter Style
  • One box of Jane Austen Bandages with re-usable tin
  • One “I believe in Jane” pin

By the Seaside at Lyme pastel by Shannon Winslow

PRIZE 5: ORIGINAL PASTEL DRAWING “BY THE SEASIDE AT LYME”

One 7” X 10” original pastel drawing matted to 11” X 14”, entitled “By the Seaside at Lyme” by Shannon Winslowinspired by the 1995 movie, Persuasion.

Thank you for joining in the celebration of the release of The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen. Please visit other stops along the blog tour, August 11 – September 15, 2014, where you will find additional guest blogs by Shannon Winslow, book reviews and giveaway chances.

THE PERSUASION OF MISS JANE AUSTEN BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE

Read an exclusive excerpt of The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen

The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen: A Novel, by Shannon Winslow
Heather Ridge Arts (2014)
Trade paperback (266) pages
ISBN: 978-1500624736

Cover image courtesy of Heather Ridge Arts © 2014; text Shannon Winslow © 2014, Austenprose.com

Winners Announced for Jane Austen’s First Love Book Launch Giveaways

Jane Austen's First Love by Syrie James (2014 )We are happy to announce the winners of the fabulous giveaways during the book launch party for Jane Austen’s First Love, by Syrie James.

Without further ado, the lucky winners are:

A print copy of Jane Austen’s First Love 

  • Carrie Turansky who left a comment on July 31, 2014
  • blesso2013 who left a comment on July 28, 2014

A Jane Austen-themed tote bag

  • Poofbooks who left a comment on July 28, 2014

An original painting “At Goodnestone Park” by Annmarie Thomas 

  • Tresha who left a comment on July 30, 2014

Congratulations to all the winners! To claim your prize, please contact me with your full name and address by 11:59 pm PT, Wednesday, August 13, 2014. Shipment to US addresses only.

Many thanks to all who participated, to author Syrie James for the beautiful Austen-themed tote bag, to artist Annmarie Thomas for creating the original painting, and to publisher Berkley Trade for the books. It was a fabulous event and a great send off for Jane Austen’s First Love.

Early reviews are amazing, so don’t miss this wonderful new novel about teen-age Jane Austen’s first romance.

“Wonderful, charming, and lively…simply a lovely novel!”— Romantic Times

“Riveting!”— Editor’s Pick, Library Journal

“This masterwork feels like a real memoir. Highly recommended.” — Historical Novel Society

“A quite delightful romance…funny, eventful, and entertaining.” — Regency World Magazine

Jane Austen’s First Love: A Novel, by Syrie James
Berkley Trade (August 5th, 2014), 400 pages
Trade paperback ISBN: 978-0425271353
Digital eBook ASIN: B00G3L7VES

Book image courtesy of Berkley Trade © 2014; text laurel Ann Nattress © 2013, Austenprose.com