The Naturalist: Book One of The Hapgoods of Bromleigh, by Christina Dudley – A Review

The Naturalist: Book One of The Hapgoods of Bromleigh, by Christina Dudley (2013)From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress:

Traditional Regency Romance has had its ebb and flow in popularity over the years. This subgenre of romance novels was made famous by English writer Georgette Heyer with its roots deeply entwined in Jane Austen’s novels of manners and courtship. By 2005, trends were shifting and readers preferred the freedom of the Regency Historical which allowed more intimate relationships and daring plots. In the past few years I have seen resurgence in popularity of the Traditional Regency Romance and credit authors Candice Hern, Carla Kelly, Julie Klassen, Julianne Donaldson and Sarah M. Eden for its renaissance. Now, I am very pleased to add one more author to my list of favorites, Christina Dudley.

I first became aware of Dudley’s talent when I read The Beresfords, a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. She had successfully transformed Austen’s dark horse into an interesting and thoughtful contemporary novel receiving such accolades as “brilliant,” “masterful,” and “endearing” from reviewers. Truly amazing. Imagine my delight when I discovered that her next novel, The Naturalist, would be a Traditional Regency, and, it was the first book in a series!

While many modern Regencies revolve around the Ton (London Society) and aristocrats, The Naturalist is set in the wilds of Somerset among the landed gentry, harkening to Austen’s fondness for three or four families in a country village. Joseph Tierney, a budding naturalist, has arrived at Pattergees the estate of Lord Marton on assignment with the Royal Society to conduct an exhaustive natural study of the realm. Lady Marlton and her daughter, the Honorable Miss Birdlow, are more interested in studying HIM and soon realize that the neighboring families will think Mr. Tierney is “the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.” They immediately set about discrediting the competition including neighbors Elfrida and Alice Hapgood. Mr. Tierney, who has no designs upon marrying anyone, only wishes to find an assistant to help him discover and collect the local flora and fauna.

Alice Hapgood, also a budding naturalist, is hiding her passion for the out-of-doors from her disapproving father by disguise and stealth. When shortly after his arrival Mr. Tierney encounters a local lad poaching trout on Lord Marlton’s property, he is none the wiser, thinking he/she would make the perfect assistant for his project. Alice immediately thinks he would make the perfect husband! Spinning the persona of Arthur Baddely she deftly shows Mr. Tierney all the treasures of woodland and meadow while learning all she can from him. Their friendship soon grows until a cousin of the Birdlows publically exposes her as an imposter, scandalizing the community and forcing Mr. Tierney’s hand. As a gentleman he is honor bound to save her reputation by marrying her even though it means putting aside his dream of become a naturalist. To support a wife he must return to his family in Buckinghamshire and become a clergyman, the profession and living that he previously refused. Ashamed and humiliated, Alice does not want to be forced into marrying anyone, especially the man she loves.

A literary feast for any Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer fan, The Naturalist is a wonderful escape into the verdant countryside and the lives of two young lovers of nature who learn that truth and respect are the most important foundations of any relationship. The final outcome of their romance is never in question, but their winding path of discovery for science, and their hearts, is a memorable journey. Dudley’s plot was so reverent to the Traditional Regency genre filled with original, quirky characters, witty repartee, layered secrets, blundering misunderstandings, and laugh-out-loud humor. I just cringed as heroine Alice dug herself deeper and deeper into her deception of lies to impersonate Arthur. You just knew it was going to backfire on her at some point, and when it does, the reaction of the two main characters, their families and the community was not a surprise, but how Dudley worked both of their inner struggles and points of view around to the happy conclusion was very clever.

My only quibbles are totally selfish. I saw a resemblance of the Hapgood family, with their four daughters and no male heir, to the Bennets in Pride and Prejudice. Why no fifth sister? Maybe we will meet a pedantic Hapgood cousin in the future? I also craved more time with the hero and heroine as themselves, and also as Tierney and Baddely. The contrast of their personalities together in the ballroom or in a woodland forest was well crafted and worthy of further development.

If you read one Traditional Regency this year let it be The Naturalist – and save a place on your to-be-read list for the next in the series, A Very Plain Young Man: Book Two of The Hapgoods of Bromleigh, releasing this spring.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Naturalist: Book One of The Hapgoods of Bromleigh, by Christina Dudley
BellaVita Press (2013)
Trade paperback (286) pages
ISBN: 978-0983072133

Additional Reviews: 

Cover image courtesy of BellaVita Press © 2013; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2014, Austenprose.com

Without a Summer: Glamourist Histories #3, by Mary Robinette Kowal – A Review

Without a Summer Mary Robinette Kowal 2013 x 200From the desk of Jennifer Haggerty:

When the second book in a series is even better than the first, the third book will be highly anticipated and eagerly sought. If that is not a truth universally acknowledged it is at least true for me, which is why I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Mary Robinette Kowal’s Without a Summer, the third in her Glamourist History novels set in an alternate Regency World imbued with the loveliest of magics.

The first book, Shades of Milk and Honey, contains many elements of a Jane Austen novel–charming cads, lovesick girls, silly mothers, stern suitors, devoted sisters–but also incorporates glamour, a magic art of illusion used to enhance and beautify works of art. Shades of Milk and Honey ends in marriage like Austen’s novels, but Glamour in a Glass, the second book, takes things a bit further because the story of Jane and Vincent continues as they honeymoon in Belgium and this time history gets skillfully worked into the plot. Napoleon is on the march after escaping from Elba, leading Jane and Vincent to devise practical uses for glamour so the British military can defeat his forces. The inclusion of history, the experimental uses of glamour, and the pleasure of watching Jane and Vincent grow as artisans, as individuals, and as a married couple, make Glamour in a Glass a stronger book than its predecessor. I hopefully expected Without a Summer would continue those developments.

Without a Summer opens shortly after Glamour in a Glass ends. Jane and Vincent are recuperating at her family’s home when they receive a commission to create a glamural, or mural that blends art and magic, for an Irish aristocrat living in London. Jane’s beautiful younger sister Melody features prominently in the first book and she returns here, but instead of her usual glow she looks distressingly listless. The reason soon becomes clear–though Melody has more than her share of charm and is of an age to attract suitors, their local society is devoid of any appealing or eligible bachelors. The solution is to take Melody with them to London where she can enjoy the Season while Jane and Vincent work their art.

But London is in crisis. Though the wars with Napoleon are over, roiling protests and unsettled weather greet Jane, Vincent, and Melody as they arrive in the city. Luddites who have lost weaving jobs to power looms are demonstrating in the streets (actual history) and so are the impoverished young boys who work as cold mongers (alternate history). These cold mongers practice a rudimentary magic that chills food, but it’s 1816–the year without a summer–so their services are not needed and cold mongers are accused of ruining crops by causing late season snowfalls, inciting angry mobs to violence against them.

Jane knows mob thinking is dangerous superstition and prejudice and is determined to protect the young cold mongers in whatever way she can, but trying circumstances in her personal life make it difficult for Jane to school her own emotions. First, her sister Melody appears to be falling for an unsuitable man–the Irish Catholic son of their employer. Jane believes his religion is a problem, she doubts his intentions could be honorable, and she suspects he’s helping to instigate those deadly riots. With mixed feelings she begins scheming to keep them apart.

A second matter presents an even bigger challenge to Jane’s happiness. Vincent’s father Lord Verbury casually, cruelly, and intentionally reveals a liaison in Vincent’s youth that takes away Jane’s ease in her marriage. While Jane “had no wish to allow Lord Verbury to control her actions” (140) and she doesn’t blame Vincent for something that happened so long ago, Vincent’s father has effectively poisoned her feelings and Jane is unsure how to recover.

With lovely writing, replete characterization, and inspired world building, Without a Summer is every bit as wonderful as I hoped. Historical facts and personalities (including the Prince Regent who behaves quite badly) are once again woven into the alternate history of the plot–1816 really was “the year without summer,” caused by ash from an Indonesian volcano (though no one in England knew that at the time) and the Luddite riots were all too real. In their quest to protect the cold mongers Jane and Vincent continue to innovate with glamour, and it’s both moving and fulfilling to see the afterword of an Austen-like courtship as the couple faces difficulties and matures. While Lord Verbury is a one dimensional villain, that deficiency is more than made up for by the blossoming of Jane’s sister Melody, who grows far beyond the beautiful but frivolous young girl she was in the first book.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Without a Summer: Glamourist Histories #3, by Mary Robinette Kowal
Tor Books (2014)
Trade paperback (384) pages
ISBN: 978-0765334176

Additional Reviews:

Read our previous reviews in the series:

Cover image courtesy of Tor Books © 2013; text Jenny Haggerty © 2014, Austenprose.com

The Earl Next Door, by Amanda Grange – A Review

The Earl Next Door by Amanda Grange 2012 x 200From the desk of Katie P.:  

A lesson learned from the works of Jane Austen is that the rake never saves the day and never gets the girl. Mr. Wickham, Willoughby, Henry Crawford, John Thorpe, and Mr. Elliot are all fine examples of this rule. While Mr. Darcy, Colonel Brandon, Edmund Bertram, Henry Tilney, and Captain Wentworth all perfectly fit their roles as heroes, I’ve lately experienced some niggling doubts about these so-called rakes. Was Willoughby really so horrible, or were his actions the result of a lack of maturity and guidance? Would Henry Crawford have been faithful if Fanny had given him encouragement? This leads to a deeper question–What would happen if the rake DID get the girl? And what if he really wasn’t a rake at all—what if he was the hero in disguise? Those questions are explored and answered in The Earl Next Door (originally published as Anything but a Gentleman) by Amanda Grange, the author of the well-known series of diaries from the perspectives of Jane Austen’s heroes.

When Marianne Travis’ older brother, Kit, runs away from home because of large gambling debts (caused by his friendship with a rogue named Luke Somerville), it falls on her shoulders to run the family estate. Everything runs smoothly (and boringly) until she discovers a wounded man in the woods on her new neighbor’s property—a neighbor who happens to be the most handsome and exasperating man she has ever met—Lord Ravensford. Their first meeting gives Marianne the distinct impression that the Earl is just an incorrigible rake (he has the audacity to think she’s a lightskirt!), but as they spend more time together she finds herself more and more drawn to him and the intelligence and concern she sees behind the mask of a rogue. When secrets come to light about who the earl’s true identity is and what really happened to Kit, can Marianne get past her presuppositions and trust in the earl before it’s too late?

Luke Somerville, also known as the fifth Earl of Ravensford, had no way of knowing that the alluring woman who showed up un-chaperoned at his door was not a lightshirt, but instead his best friend’s sister—the woman he promised to protect. Knowing that the false rumors about the cause of Kit’s disappearance (and his own supposed villainy) are better than revealing the truth that could get Kit killed, he keeps his real name a secret and tries to hide the truth from Marianne—that Kit is really in France trying to save the woman he loves from the Jacobins. When word arrives that Kit is in danger, will Luke finally tell the truth to Marianne, and stop “overprotecting” her in time to accept her help? And can he finally convince her that he’s more than just a rake?

At first glance, The Earl Next Door seems to be yet another Regency romance about the stereotypical seductive rake and headstrong heroine. But what makes this novel different is that Amanda Grange takes those stereotypes and changes them, creating characters who fit those traits but who also have their own unique back stories, strengths, and weaknesses. Marianne, while a headstrong beauty, is shown to be brave and loyal—a heroine who goes against society’s rules by knowing how to doctor the injured, and who wants to marry for love instead of money. And Luke, while a handsome rake, is shown to be a protective friend, a hero who keeps his word and will do anything to help his friends.

Admittedly, during the first few chapters I had trouble getting into the story because of my presuppositions (like Marianne). I thought I knew exactly how it would end. How wrong I was–as I read I soon became pleasantly surprised with the story, especially the various plot twists. (Beware—spoilers ahead!) When Kit is injured in France, Marianne and Luke have to race against time to save him. And then came the moment when Marianne (and the reader) has certain proof that Luke is just an untrustworthy rake after all…or is he? How do these situations resolve, you ask? Well, that my dear reader is something you’ll have to find out for yourself!

The Earl Next Door is reminiscent of a good Georgette Heyer novel. It has a principled rake, an independent beauty, a dangerous rescue, a delightful romance, and most importantly, a happy ending. In this novel, Amanda Grange combines many of the usual motifs seen in Regency fiction but adds her own exciting twist, which makes for an entertaining story and a great read.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Earl Next Door, by Amanda Grange
CreateSpace (2012)
Trade paperback (260) pages
ISBN: 978-1477610800

Cover image courtesy of CreateSpace © 2012; text Katie P., Austenprose.com

Havisham: A Novel, by Ronald Frame – A Review

Havisham A Novel by Ronald Frame 2013 x 200Dear Mr. Frame:

I recently read Havisham, your prequel and retelling of Charles Dickens Great Expectations, one of my favorite Victorian novels. Your choice to expand the back story of minor character Miss Havisham, the most infamous misandry in literary history, was brilliant. Jilted at the altar she was humiliated and heartbroken, living the rest of her days in her tattered white wedding dress in the decaying family mansion, Satis House. Few female characters have left such a chilling impression on me. I was eager to discover your interpretation of how her early life formed her personality and set those tragic events into motion.

Dickens gave you a fabulous character to work with. (spoilers ahead) Born in Kent in the late eighteenth-century, Catherine’s mother died in childbirth leaving her father, a wealthy brewer, to dote upon his only child. Using his money to move her up the social ladder she is educated with aristocrats where she learns about literature, art, languages and the first disappointments of love. In London she meets and is wooed by the charismatic Charles Compeyson. Family secrets surface in the form of her dissipated half-brother Arthur, the child of a hidden marriage of her father to their cook. Her ailing father knows his son has no interest in his prospering business and trains his clever young daughter. After his death, the inevitable clash occurs between the siblings over money and power. Challenged as a young woman running a business in a man’s world, Catherine struggles until Charles reappears charming his way into her service and her heart. About two thirds of the way through the novel the events of Great Expectations surface. Charles abandons her on their wedding day and she sinks into depression.

I knew that the devastating jilting at the altar was coming! We all did. When it happened, I was anticipating a full-blown emotional Armageddon—like Jane Austen’s heroine Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility: bed-ridden crying jags, desperate letter writing to her lover, senseless walking in the rain, near-death illness, and miraculous survival. Some of that happened in Havisham, but not to the degree I anticipated. After all, we knew that Dickens’ Miss Havisham had taken this jilting business far beyond the depths of disappointed hopes that Marianne had plumbed. But why? Why did she choose not to move on—holding on to her anger and rage, becoming bitter and vengeful? It had to be something so startling that it would jar me to my core. I won’t reveal your choices, but when her tepid romance with Charles Compeyson and her reaction to his spurning were not what I expected, I was greatly disappointed. Readers had been waiting 150 years to know the story. Granted it was not Dickens’ narrative, but it could be the next best thing. You had gotten us to this point so admirably that I was inclined to close your book with an angry snap. If I had a white wedding dress, I would be wearing it right now in protest. You have jilted me at the altar of literature.

Do I regret reading your novel? No. Your prose was beautifully crafted and your characterizations entertaining. Would I like to give you some unsolicited advice on being brave enough to take your own narrative over the edge? Yes! After reading numerous Jane Austen-inspired sequels, you can’t play with classic archetypes and then not deliver the goods. While your plot slowly picked up momentum you missed the point. Catherine’s romance with Charles should have been the most compelling relationship in book, yet I was constantly on guard by his questionable behavior and never liked him, let alone loved him. I never understood why she did. That desperate passion between them should have consumed the pages, like Bronte’s Catherine and Heathcliff, making his final choice so shocking, so devastating, so heartbreaking, that we understood why she locked herself away from the world and enacted revenge on Pip through her daughter Estella. So close, yet miles away from the masters of human emotion, Dickens, Bronte and Austen. They would never have made that mistake.

I commend you for your attempt. It is a very tall order to write a prequel of a literary icon. Everyone who has read Great Expectations has their own great expectations for Miss Havisham. Your book exhibits many fine qualities, unfortunately your choices lacked the fire, passion, and emotional depth required to make her psychological tragedy the literary jackpot that we have been waiting for.

3 out of 5 Regency Stars     

Havisham: A Novel, by Ronald Frame
Picador (2013)
Hardcover (368) pages
ISBN: 978-1250037275

Cover image courtesy of Picador (Macmillan Publishing) © 2013; text Laurel Ann Nattress, © 2014, Austenprose.com

As You Are: A Regency Romance, by Sarah M. Eden – A Review

As You Are, by Sarah Eden (2014)From the desk of Katie P.:  

What must it be like to be the forgotten sibling? The one, like Mary Bennet from Pride and Prejudice, who is forever being ignored in favor of older and more flawless siblings? Until recently with the focus on Mary Bennet in novels like The Pursuit of Mary Bennet, The Forgotten Sister, and the Return to Longbourn, authors have been ignoring this type of character, the one who at first glance has nothing to offer the reader. But sometimes it is the quiet character watching from the sidelines that has the most difficult problems to overcome, and the most potential to grow. Sarah M. Eden has created a hero who is used to being hidden in the background in her most recent novel, As You Are, the third in Sarah M. Eden’s series, The Jonquil Brothers. Without any prior knowledge of this series (or indeed, Sarah M. Eden’s novels) this reviewer has ventured into a Regency world unlike any other, one that is managed by the seven Jonquil brothers. While the other two novels in this series told the tales of the eldest two brothers, Philip and Layton, As You Are tells the story of the forgotten middle brother, Corbin. Like Mary Bennet, he has his own unique struggles to overcome.

At twenty-six, Corbin Jonquil is more interested in buying and training horses than in searching for a wife. His shyness makes him awkward and taciturn in company and prevents him from getting close to people outside of his family. But his quiet life is turned upside down when a young widow with two children moves into the neighborhood. Mrs. Bentford’s green eyes entrance him, and her situation and bravery break him out of his self-imposed silence.

In an attempt to protect herself and her young children from their dangerous past, Clara Bentford escapes to the small town of Grompton. She holds all men at a distance, knowing that they are only capable of causing pain. That is, until she meets Mr. Corbin Jonquil. Clara dislikes him for his reserved nature and disdainful silences, but is baffled by his kindness to her and her children. Corbin quickly becomes a favorite with both Edmund and Alice, overcoming Clara’s defenses with his friendship, help, and gentleness. When the past comes knocking on her door, Clara must be decide whether to fight or run. Can she rely on Corbin, her friend and the one person she trusts–the man she fears she is falling in love with? And can Corbin protect his new adopted family of three against old and new enemies?

One of my favorite things about As You Are is the unique cast of characters. Unlike the typical Regency buck or rake, Corbin Jonquil doesn’t like society and is awkward when forced into a conversation. When nervous (which is in almost all social settings) he gets tongue-tied and cannot speak. He dresses plainly—in nothing too flamboyant or too shabby. But rather than detracting from his allure, these traits make him seem more down-to-earth and understandable than the usual Regency hero. Clara too is different than most Regency heroines. She is a curious but refreshingly realistic mix of independence, bravery, fear, wit, kindness, securities, and insecurities. Because of both characters’ pasts, strengths, and weaknesses, their relationship is both realistic and beautiful. Sarah Eden did a masterful job creating a hero who is gentle and kind but who can fight, and a heroine who is independent but who also has priorities other than herself—such as protecting her children and her friends.

While the hero and heroine are unique, As You Are also has eight other entertaining and equally well-loved additions to the cast of characters: Corbin’s six brothers and Clara’s two children. The interactions between Corbin, Clara, Edmund, Alice, and the close-knit Jonquil family are so loving and humorous, that they make As You Are stand out from among the ranks of Regency romances. This novel didn’t just focus on love between the two main characters, but also love as seen between siblings, a parent and children, and friends. As this is a novel that mentions characters from the past two books in the series, it is a bit confusing at first when jumping into the lives and stories of each of the seven Jonquil brothers (not to mention their wives and children). But just as Clara was new to the family, so was this reader, who quickly got accustomed to and enjoyed all the hustle and bustle of the large Jonquil family.

As You Are is a story that has action, humor, mystery, and romance—but it’s also a story about moving on from the past, letting go of fears, and taking steps into the unknown to create a hope and love filled future. Sarah M. Eden’s characters were so beautifully human and her plot so refreshingly unique, that I was left desiring more after closing the final pages. I look forward to reading the other books in The Jonquil Brothers series, as well as all the rest of her works!

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

As You Are: A Regency Romance, by Sarah M. Eden
Covenant Communications Inc. (2014)
Trade paperback (208) pages
ISBN: 978-1621085751

Cover image courtesy of Covenant Communications Inc. © 2014; text Katie P. © 2014, Austenprose.com

The Dancing Master, by Julie Klassen – A Review

The Dancing Master, by Julie Klassen (2014)From the desk of Katie P.:

Dancing—one of the first things that comes to mind when imagining the Regency era. Ballrooms, white gloves, dashing men and beautiful women, weaving in invisible patterns on a marble floor, surrounded by fragrant flowers and glowing candelabras. But where do these heroes and heroines learn that beautiful and necessary skill? The answer:  Dancing masters – the men who mixed with those in the highest circles, but were not their social equals. This group of men has been in the shadows of Regency fiction…until now, in Julie Klassen’s latest novel, The Dancing Master. In this romantic novel, the focus shifts from the dancers on the dance floor to the teacher behind the dance.

Alec Valcourt finds himself suddenly in a new town: his future drastically different from what he had planned. Gone is the exciting life as a dancing master for his father’s academy in London—now he must support his mother and sister on his own, all while protecting them from shameful secrets from the past. Alec seeks to restart his career as a dancing master, but soon discovers that dancing has been mysteriously prohibited from the town of Beaworthy for twenty years. The imperious Lady Amelia Midwinter has banned all dances and, as Alec quickly finds out, despises dancing masters—especially if they go too near her beautiful but willful daughter, Julia.

Julia Midwinter hates her stifling life. Her mother is controlling and her future is bleak—marriage to a man she does not love and the prospect of never leaving her small town. Julia feels caged in a life she does not want, only feeling free when riding her horse or flirting with men, especially ones who will take her far away from her home. She finds no reason to stay in Beaworthy–until she meets Alec Valcourt. He represents all that she doesn’t have but desires—a loving family and a life lived in a place other than Beaworthy, as well as what is most forbidden: dancing. But Alec proves to be irritatingly self-possessed, ignoring all of her advances and flirtations. When Julia unearths a life-changing secret from her own past, can she get help from the only man she can trust, who is quickly becoming more than a means to an end? And can Alec bring dancing back into the hearts and lives of the people of Beaworthy?

The Dancing Master is a novel that focuses on the “backstage” of the Regency world, something that is very rarely seen in Regency fiction. It was a delight to read about small town Regency life as well as the particulars of the occupation of dancing master. Getting to read about the Allen family, Mrs. Tickle (the baker), Mr. Desmond (the mysterious smith), and the different customs of a small village was a refreshing change from the usual Regency focus of grand manor homes and the Ton of Regency society.

Another highlight of The Dancing Master is the dancing master himself. I never took the time to think about how all the heroes and heroines of Regency novels learned how to dance—somehow I thought it was a skill that all the Regency upper class was born with. But no! The graceful elegance and the effortless abilities that enabled Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy to converse on the dance floor—had to be taught. And by who? The dancing master, of course! The trials and career of the dancing master (without giving away spoilers) were unique, and created interesting problems and benefits that I had never even considered. The dancing master was able to move amongst the upper circles, but only as a “trial” hero—he existed only to teach and to be practiced on by girls who would never marry so low on the social ladder. Julie Klassen chose a very interesting career for her hero, and one that will never let me read about or watch Regency dances in the same way.

I confess: Because of the initial slow pacing, it took me about halfway through The Dancing Master to like Alec, Julia, Lady Amelia, the inhabitants of Beaworthy, or even the plot itself. But for those of you who might start this novel and find the pacing a little slow, or the main characters a little hard to like—fear not! Exciting events happen, romance blossoms, and past mysteries are discovered. By the end of The Dancing Master I found myself engrossed in the story and in love with the characters. Alec’s back story came to light and he became a more developed character, Lady Amelia Midwinter became more sympathetic, and Julia grew as a character through the revelation of her own secrets—changing her from a thoughtless flirt to a kind and mature young woman.

Julie Klassen has created a story filled with suspense, romance, and adventure that made The Dancing Master not just an exciting and intriguing read, but one that taught the important lesson of the value of family and friendship. This book wasn’t just focused on a romance (which was altogether sweet) or a mystery (which kept me guessing to the end) but it also focused on the all-too human main characters—their flaws, past mistakes, and ultimately their decisions to forgive and move on from the past. The Dancing Master was well worth the read, and I look forward to reading any future Regency novels by Julie Klassen.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Dancing Master, by Julie Klassen
Bethany House Publishers (2014)
Trade paperback (432)
ISBN: 978-0764210709

Cover courtesy Bethany House Publisher © 2014; text Katie P. © 2014, Austenprose.com

Lady Ann’s Excellent Adventure: A Regency Short Story, by Candice Hern – A Review & Giveaway

The Regency Romance Reading Challenge (2013)This is my eighth and final selection in the Regency Romance Reading Challenge 2013, our celebration of romance author Candice Hern. We have read all of her traditional Regencies over the last nine months, discussed her characters, plots and Regency history. Her next novel Social Climber was scheduled for release in October but has been extended to January. Participants in the challenge, please leave comments and or links to your reviews for this month in the comment section of this post.

My Review:

Have you ever read a short story and wished it was a full length novel? That is how I felt after completing “Lady Ann’s Excellent Adventure.” Short and sweet at 43 pages, Candice Hern has introduced characters that I instantly loved and wanted to know more about. What grabbed me so immediately you ask? The humor and effervescent theme.

In this brief format an author must use every word and sentence to advance the narrative quickly to its conclusion. Hern wastes no time by introducing the two main characters in an outrageous and humorous way: our hero, the Earl of Evesham, is test driving his new curricle down Park Lane in London and spies a young woman perched in a tree attempting to make her way over a fence. Caught by her skirts on a branch, she is  prevented from progressing and literally up a tree! The unusual sight of a finely dressed woman in such a predicament is quite intriguing to the lord, but the fact that she is attempting to escape from the garden of the royal owner that he was appointed to meet the next day to make a formal offer for his daughter’s hand is even more interesting. It is an arranged marriage since his boyhood and he has not seen his future fiancé since she was a child. Could this pretty young lady be his intended? No. It was highly unlikely that Lady Ann of Gloucester, daughter of Prince William Henry, Duke of Gloucester, and niece to the king would be dangling from a tree in the fashionable Mayfair district. Was she instead a housebreaker escaping with the family silver? Who could this “adorable sprite” be?

She quickly shares that she is running away from her life—for a day—her last day of freedom before her life changes forever and she sacrifices herself to the “altar of duty.” That cinched it. She was his intended. He offers to help her down on one condition: that he be allowed to escort her on her adventure. She agrees and an unlikely alliance begins: and before it’s merry conclusion we are take on a grand spree through several amusing sites in Regency London: to Hyde Park to watch a balloon accent, to Black Friars Bridge to eat oysters, to Ludgate Hill to admire the shops where he buys her perfume, to Pasternoster Row to browse print and book shops where he purchases The Picture of London for 1802, Being a Correct Guide to all of the Curiosities, Amusements, Exhibitions, Public Establishments and Remarkable Objects in and near London, for the use of Stragers, Foreigners, and all Persons who are not acquainted with the British Metropolis. In short, a tourist guide book! She is delighted with all that she experiences, and most importantly him.

Lady Ann's Excellent Adventure by Candice Hern (2012)Assuming a name to hide his true identity and the connection to her family, along the way they inadvertently run across his friends who want to meet this pretty young lady; one even thinks she is his new ladybird! But, he is determined to keep up the ruse. “As the day progressed and he’d grown increasingly fond of her, even a little infatuated, he’d begun to feel a tad guilty at his deception. Even so, he was oddly reluctant to give it up. He was enjoying himself too much.” And so are we.

What a fun romp through some unusual sites in London that the Ton may not have frequented – and that was the point. Lady Ann wanted to experience life of the common man; to see their entertainments and live her life as a commoner in one day. Lord Evesham is a capable and charming guide, enjoying her wide-eyed amazement with a fresh perspective and a growing appreciation for the woman who would hopefully become his wife. But now how will he ever transition into the earl who she is pledged to marry, and will she be too angry and embarrassed to accept him when she discovers his deception?

A delightfully breezy and upbeat glimpse at two aristocrats playing hooky from duty and decorum, “Lady Ann’s Excellent Adventure” is all that its title promised. It is Roman Holiday meets Georgette Heyer and I could not be more enchanted with this reverse fairytale of two strangers who climb down from the their high perch and enjoy the simple life and each other without inhibitions or preconceived assumptions. I was so captivated by each of the protagonists that I did not want their story to end. Like the conclusion of the delightful movie Roman Holiday, they do have to face the reality of their return to royalty, but their lives will never be burdened with regret.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Lady Ann’s Excellent Adventure: A Regency Short Story, by Candice Hern
Candice Hern (2012)
Digital book (43) pages
ASIN: B00ASF1CC2

A Grand Giveaway

Author Candice Hern has generously offered one digital copy of “Lady Ann’s Excellent Adventure” to one lucky winner. Leave a comment stating what intrigues you about this story, or if you have read it, who your favorite character is or what spot they visited in London that you enjoyed most by midnight PT, Wednesday, October 02, 2013. Winner to be announced on Thursday, October 03, 2013. Digital copy delivery internationally.  Good luck!

Cover image courtesy of Candice Hern © 2012; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2013, Austenprose.com

Blackmoore: A Proper Romance, by Julianne Donaldson – A Review

Blackmoore: A Proper Romance, by Julianne Donaldson 2013 From the desk of Katie P.:

In 2012 Julianne Donaldson published her debut novel, the highly successful Regency romance Edenbrooke. Now in 2013, she has written her second Regency novel, Blackmoore, which is set on the moors and windswept cliffs of England, in the halls of an old manor, filled with binding secrets, forgotten memories, and hidden love.

At fifteen, Kitty Worthington decided to change her name and identity to Kate Worthington. From happy child to guarded young woman, she turned her back on ever marrying, feeling as if she was a bird trapped in a cage—a cage filled with her mother’s indiscretions and schemes, and the fear that in letting herself feel and love, she would become just like all Worthington women—cold and heartless, being used and using others in turn.

Now at seventeen, Kate has finally been invited to Blackmoore, the symbol of her freedom and the manor house she has always longed to see. It is the second home of her best friends since childhood, Henry and Sylvia Delafield, who have visited it every summer, leaving her behind to imagine a place as wild as it is beautiful. But her dreams of Blackmoore will be destroyed unless she strikes a devil’s bargain with her manipulative mother. If Kate can manage to receive and reject three proposals during her visit, she can finally leave her broken home and make her own choices. If not, she must stay and do whatever her mother desires—including marrying a man she does not love. While at Blackmoore, Kate must discover the secrets in her heart, the worth of her dreams, and the strength to open her own cage and soar.

Woodlark. Blackbird. Swallow. Mistle Thrush.

Birds are a main theme in Blackmoore. Kate is a lover of birds, and, as seen in the synopsis above, likens herself to one—in her hope to escape her cage and fly. I loved how the use of different birdcalls and types of birds has different meanings for her, and how those are all tied into different memories from her past. Her feelings of birds are even in the first lines of chapter one:

A woodlark sings of heartache. A swallow calls in the two-tone rhythm of a race. And a blackbird’s song is the whistle of homecoming.

Something that happens again and again in Blackmoore are the flashback chapters. As Blackmoore continued I discovered so much more about Kate, Sylvia, and Henry–all the things that were hidden beneath the surface. The flashbacks increase as the book goes on, so that by the end the depth of the problems Kate struggles with and her current relationships are finally understood. I’m already planning on rereading this soon, because in order to really understand all of the characters and everything that motivated their present choices, I need to fit it in with what I now know about their pasts. At turns thoughtful, humorous, romantic, melancholy, and unpredictable, Blackmoore is a delight to read.

The other special part of this book was the romance. It’s complete with the warmth of friendship (the laughter and squabbles of true friends) and the heart pounding feelings of attraction and love.

He stroked my cheek with the back of his fingers, lightly, a graze, a burning left it in its path before his hand fell off the edge of my jaw.

“I can never look at a bird without thinking of you,” he said. “ I wonder what you will do with your wings once you have found them. I wonder how far away they will take you. And I fear them, for my sake, at the same time I hope for them, for yours.”

I drew in a breath, feeling the air shudder into my lungs but could not find any words to speak. He had never touched me like this. He had never looked at me like this. He had never spoken to me like this. (Page 189)

As with Edenbrooke, Julianne Donaldson has written absolutely beautiful prose. Not just in her skill with revealing Kate’s back story throughout the novel, as well as the creation of her unique characters, but in her dialogue and descriptions. Each time I flip through Blackmoore’s pages I notice more and more—hidden meanings behind words, glances, and touches of the hand.

He flinched, his head jerking to the side to look at me, and his arrow fell off his bow. He lowered the bow and gave a piercing look, his grey eyes glinting like steel. Then he raised it again and leveled his gaze at the target. “Only your friend?” He narrowed his eyes at the target, his pressed lips causing a line to crease in his cheek. “I think I deserve a better title than that.”

“Like what?” I looked at him askance.

“Oh, I don’t know.” He released his arrow. Another solid hit, right on target. “Perhaps ‘The Giver of My Heart’s Desire’?”

I took a dozen steps toward the house before I stopped and turned around. “Henry.” He had walked back to our shooting place but turned to look at me.

“You are a good friend.”

He shook his head, nocking an arrow and lifting the bow. “Try again, Kate. You are ‘The Giver…’” He pulled back on the string, then shot a look at me, as if waiting for me to continue.

I laughed. “Never. I shall never call you that.” His grin flashed, and he turned back to send his arrow flying straight and true, finding easily the center of the target. He never did miss. (Pages 23 and 27)

Blackmoore is a wonderful addition to your Regency bookshelf, not just as a stand-alone romance, but as yet another skillfully and beautifully written volume by Julianne Donaldson.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Blackmoore: A Proper Romance, by Julianne Donaldson
Shadow Mountain (2013)
Trade paperback (320) pages
ISBN: 978-1609074609

Cover image courtesy Shadow Mountain © 2013; text Katie P. © 2013, Austenprose.com