Prelude for a Lord: A Novel, by Camille Elliot – A Review

Prelude for a Lord Camille Elliot (2014)From the desk of Katie Patchell:

In the Regency era, the only acceptable musical instruments a woman was allowed to play were the harp and piano, and if she played any other, particularly a violin, she would be looked-down upon in society and considered unfeminine. But in Camille Elliot’s recent debut novel, Prelude for a Lord, the heroine defies conventions and plays this beautiful but forbidden instrument, which stirs her heart, makes her forget her past and society’s censure, and ultimately, entangles her in a web of romance, mystery, and danger.

At the age of twenty-eight, Lady Alethea Sutherton has accepted her fate: that she will never marry, and will always be looked down upon by society as an eccentric. With her height, striking (rather than classical) features, and her unconventional country ways, she is whispered about by the Bath gossips, but it is Alethea’s consuming passion for music and her skill at the extremely unfeminine instrument—the violin—that has her scorned by polite society.

When she meets Lord Bayard Dommick, the man who eleven years ago convinced her to pursue her violin playing with his offensive statement that it was “unfeminine for a woman to play the instrument” (53), Alethea plans to ignore him at all costs. But when Bayard offers to help her discover why her old violin has suddenly become the obsession of two shady individuals, Alethea has no choice but to accept this potential ally. As she spends more time with him and his two best friends, the remaining members of the famous string Quartet, Alethea discovers that Bayard is far from insufferable, and instead, one of the only people to understand her love of music and the violin.

When their search for answers as to the origin of her violin results in a dangerous pursuer and threats to their families, can they protect those they love and in the end, be able to solve the mystery of the violin? And will Alethea and Bayard be able to put aside society’s view of musicians—female and male—to play their own soaring music together in a new Quartet?

I loved Prelude for a Lord’s premise of a female violinist going against the societal norms in the Regency period in order to play a beautiful instrument. I’ve never come across this topic in Regency fiction, and I’ve never even considered the fact that some instruments were seen as inappropriate for either men or women to play (in the eyes of some, or most, of society). I also loved the three-dimensional and wildly entertaining supporting characters, specifically Alethea’s aunt, Ebena, Bayard’s sister, Clare, Ian and Raven (the remaining members of the Quartet), and the precocious Margaret. Something else that I loved about this novel was the picturesque and beautiful descriptions of music. The characters’ (and author’s) love of music was clearly evident and effectively translated to the reader.

Reading Prelude for a Lord gave me the feeling of sitting in an opera, seeing all the bright costumes, hearing the drastic rise and fall of the full-voiced dramatic soprano, and watching the sometimes shocking and unbelievable, but always fascinating, dramatic storyline unfold. This is the theatrical feel of the novel—it isn’t in the style, language, or customs of Jane Austen, and the drama and mixing of genres, (described by one Amazon reviewer as a blend of Jane Austen and Castle) made this novel less of a comedy of manners and more of a combination of a Regency setting with a modern perspective, rules (societal and courtship), and dialogue (including words like brat, ugly mug, and greedy guts). But while there were parts that were not period, those that were included were interesting, and shed light specifically on society’s view during the Regency in regards to female musicians.

Prelude for a Lord is full of action and drama, including (some small spoilers): kidnapping, someone sold (literally) into marriage, Bedlam, a man who killed his first wife, a marriage of convenience, larger-than-life villains, and two main characters with secret traumas in their pasts. As a lover of the ‘comedy of manners’ style of Regency fiction (with more under-the-surface elements than dramatic action), at times I grew tired of all the melodrama that tended to overshadow the characters and romance, which I admit, lessened my overall enjoyment of the novel. But this can (and should) be chalked up to personal preference, and should not dissuade any future reader from reading and enjoying this novel.

Overall, Prelude for a Lord was a light and entertaining read, and while the romance and story were not always true to the time period, this was still a dramatic, exciting story with a touching romance that will interest music-lovers and mystery-readers alike.

3.5 out of 5 Stars

Prelude for a Lord: A Novel, by Camille Elliot
Zondervan (2014)
Trade paperback & eBook (352) pages
ISBN:  978-0310320357

Additional Reviews:

Cover image courtesy of Zondervan © 2014; text Katie Patchell © 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 Unexpected Earl, by Philippa Jane Keyworth – A Review 

The Unexpected Earl , by Philippa Jane Keyworth (2014)From the desk of Katie Patchell: 

Imagine the scene: A woman and man meet in the entryway to a glittering ballroom—full of dancing couples, flickering candles, and the faraway strains of violins. The couple locks eyes, and with that meaningful, tension-filled glance, the man bends down and kisses the woman’s glove.

This seems to be the opening scene of a promising new romance, does it not? But this is not truly the beginning of a romance, but the finale that is six long years overdue. Or is it? In The Unexpected Earl, Philippa Jane Keyworth’s latest Regency novel, readers discover a story of second chances, romantic entanglements, and the rediscovery of true love that is reminiscent of Jane Austen’s beloved novel, Persuasion.

Julia Rotherham is prepared to play the various roles of wallflower, dutiful sister, and old maid at her beautiful younger sister’s coming-out ball. Everything goes according to plan until she comes face to face with the one man she hates with every fiber of her being, the man she’s spent every day for the past six years trying to forget: Lucius Wolversley. Six years ago Julia had given him her heart and accepted his offer of marriage, but shortly afterwards he had broken off the engagement without an explanation and disappeared from her life, breaking her heart and destroying her dreams in the process.

When Lucius Wolversley’s friend persuades him to leave his estate and account books to grace Almack’s with his presence, he agrees, thinking that he’ll have a boring and uneventful evening. But when the carriage stops in front of a private residence instead, Wolversley is shocked to discover that the ball his friend tricked him into attending is at the one place he has spent six years avoiding—the home of Julia Rotherham, the woman he once loved and then jilted. Forced into a confrontation with his ex-fiancée, he discovers her to be as beautiful and hotheaded as ever, and what he never expected her to be—bitter and single.

As Julia finds herself spending more and more time with Wolversley, she concocts a plan to prove if he ever loved her, and if not, to force him to leave: by pretending she’s in love with another man. But when her plan backfires and Julia and Wolversley are forced into a binding relationship, can they set aside their anger long enough for the truth to be revealed about what really happened six years ago? And when both of their sisters are in danger, will Wolversley and Julia be able to work together to rescue them, and on the journey discover that they still could have a future together?

While it did take me many re-readings and talks with Persuasion admirers to learn to love Jane Austen’s classic, I’ve always enjoyed the type of romance found in both Persuasion and The Unexpected Earl. The fact that the characters are seen six years after their initial relationship is unusual, but it made this novel original and the romance heartwarming. The themes of past separation, steadfast love, and triumphant restoration of all that was previously lost were themes I recognized from Persuasion, and as with Jane Austen’s classic, this pattern was perfected in The Unexpected Earl.

Ironically, the only thing I didn’t like about The Unexpected Earl was also what I liked most about the novel. Because the story was set six years later, the excitement of the initial “falling in love” stage as well as the broken engagement had already occurred prior to page one. While I enjoyed reading the Persuasion style romantic storyline, I missed seeing what the hero and heroine were like before their heartbreak, and as the novel went on I found myself wishing I could see more about their past as neighbors, childhood friends, and then young sweethearts beyond the few tantalizing glimpses the reader is given.

Overall, the setting of the story, romantic suspense, and Julia and Wolversley’s relationship—specifically their journey of forgiveness and love after so much pain—was well written and made The Unexpected Earl impossible to put down. I was hooked from the very first page with my introduction to the brooding, secretive Lucius Wolversley, but as soon as I met the impulsive, hurting Julia Rotherham I knew that this would be a love story that would pull my heartstrings. And it did—The Unexpected Earl made me cry, laugh, and on finishing, immediately recommend it to my friends. This was a joy to read, and is a Regency novel that will delight Jane Austen fans, particularly lovers of Persuasion.

4.5 out of 5 Stars

The Unexpected Earl, by Philippa Jane Keyworth
Madison Street Publishing (2014)
Trade paperback & eBook (322) pages
ISBN: 978-0983671985
ASIN: B00MUFP0BM

The Unexpected Earl_Blog Tour Banner

 

Cover image courtesy of Madison Street Publishing © 2014; text Katie Patchell © 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.”

A Very Plain Young Man: Book Two of The Hapgoods of Bramleigh, by Christina Dudley – A Review

A Very Plain Young Man by Christina Dudley 2014 x 200From the desk of Katie P.:

In most novels, the heroine has some kind of quirk, trait, flaw, or unique quality—physical or otherwise–which the hero (and the reader) falls in love with. She could have a temper (Serena, Bath Tangle) or a limp (Sorrel, Friends and Foes). She might stutter (Horry, The Convenient Marriage) or make judgments too quickly (Elizabeth, Pride and Prejudice). She could love to twirl (Marianne, Edenbrooke) or love to take charge (Sophy, The Grand Sophy). She might be stubborn (Margaret Hale, North and South) or love matchmaking (Emma, Emma). She might love to read novels (Catherine, Northanger Abbey) or collect insects and plants (Alice, The Naturalist). The list could go on and on. But the one characteristic not often seen (or ever seen) in a Regency heroine is shortsightedness. In Christina Dudley’s latest continuation of the Hapgoods of Bramleigh series, A Very Plain Young Man, readers meet a rake in need of a bride…and a heroine in need of spectacles.

Frederick Tierney is three things: the heir to two estates, a rake, and an extremely handsome man (which he is very much aware). While in London, he breaks off his relationship with his latest conquest, for the first time getting tired of living the life of a profligate (which disappoints his family), saying false ‘I love you’s’ and being chased after by shallow women. He travels to Somerset for his younger brother’s wedding, and to escape his ex-lover’s clutches, he sends her a letter saying he’s soon to be married.

At the Midsummer Ball, Frederick overhears his sister-in-law’s eldest sister, Miss Elfrida Hapgood, commenting on his looks, but is shocked to hear her analysis that he is a very plain young man. Reluctantly intrigued by her, the only single woman of his acquaintance to have no interest in his opinion or attention, he decides that he has three goals concerning Elfrida: 1. Break her reserve by any means possible 2. Make her find him attractive and 3. Persuade her to become his fiancée.

Elfrida Hapgood is known by her family to be beautiful, calm, stubborn, and near-sighted. Everything farther than a few feet in front of her is blurry, and when she spots the supposedly attractive Frederick Tierney at a distance all she sees is a (very plain) blur. When he volunteers to sit for her sister’s painting and Elfrida gets roped into being another model, she discovers in their close contact that he is the very opposite of a plain young man and not her presupposed idea of a rake. She is mystified as to why he chooses to ignore all the beautiful women throwing themselves at him, instead choosing to spend his days with the Hapgoods.

Frederick’s bright taste in coats and inability to remain serious for any length of time irritates Elfrida, but when he makes it his mission to ruffle Elfrida’s usually unruffled feathers, she discovers that, for good or bad, her feelings for him are much stronger than she thought. When a woman from Frederick’s not so distant past returns, can he convince Elfrida that his life as a rake is over and that he loves only her? And when Elfrida’s cousin offers for her, will she choose security or will she choose love?

A Very Plain Young Man was such a delightful read. While I enjoyed The Naturalist with Alice and Joseph, the second in the series (and especially Elfrida and Frederick) stole my heart. The story and characters were far from predictable, and by the time I read the last page I had filled my Kindle copy with so much highlighting (223 highlighted sections to be exact) that it’s impossible to pick just one favorite quote or section. While this novel can be read by itself I suggest reading The Naturalist first, not because A Very Plain Young Man is not a strong enough novel to stand on its own, but because The Naturalist provides back story and gives the reader more time with the entertaining Hapgoods and Co.

One of my favorite things about A Very Plain Young Man was Christina Dudley’s take on the reformed rake archetype of Regency hero. While staying true to the historical time period’s view of male indiscretions, she created a hero who doesn’t fit the stereotypical “rake” mold. High society accepted affairs and indiscretions (as long as they were handled fairly discreetly), and while Frederick lived this life initially, he felt guilty not only because of Elfrida, but also (and what stands out to me) because of his family.

The two best words I can use to describe Frederick Tierney, Elfrida Hapgood, and the entire novel are ‘enchanting’ and ‘sparkling’. The characters were unique and had depth, and the novel overall was both a witty comedy of manners and a beautiful love story. While considering the pros and cons of A Very Plain Young Man (“Think, Katie, surely there must be at least one negative!”) I can honestly say that I found nothing I disliked about this novel. I highly recommend both books in The Hapgoods of Bramleigh series and look forward to any future Regency romances by Christina Dudley!

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

A Very Plain Young Man: Book Two of The Hapgoods of Bramleigh, by Christina Dudley
BellaVita Press (2014)
Trade paperback (380) pages
ISBN: 978-0983072140

Cover image courtesy of BellaVita Press © 2014; text Katie P. © 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 Girl in the Gatehouse, by Julie Klassen – A Review

The Girl in the Gatehouse, by Julie Klassen (2011)From the desk of Katie P.:

Women writers in the 21st century are accepted and praised for their ability to write great literature. Their books are proudly published alongside the books written by men, and literature today is not judged by the gender of the author but by the quality of the content. But it wasn’t always like this. Female authors in the Regency underwent many struggles that are not experienced or understood today. Society in the 1800’s rarely accepted female authors, and it was the exception, not the norm, that guaranteed a woman protection from society after publishing under her own name. So if society frowned upon female authors, then how would an authoress even go about finding and meeting with a publisher? How could she recover from public knowledge of her authorship? What was the consequence of daring to become an author? And what were the pros and cons of remaining anonymous? Julie Klassen answers these questions and more in The Girl in the Gatehouse, a Regency novel filled with romance, intrigue, and a mysterious authoress.

After a terrible indiscretion ruins her in the eyes of polite society, Mariah Aubrey is sent by her father to live in an abandoned gatehouse on the edges of her aunt’s estate, accompanied only by her loyal servant, Miss Dixon.  Ignored by her aunt and scorned by all of her loved ones and past acquaintances, Mariah plans to spend the rest of her days living quietly and going unnoticed by all, supporting herself anonymously by writing novels. But when Captain Matthew Bryant moves in to Windrush Court after the death of her aunt, Mariah discovers that her heart isn’t as closed up as she thought. But could Captain Bryant ever love her if he knew what had happened in her past? When a house party hosted by Captain Bryant includes many guests who are from Mariah’s previous life, can she protect herself from them and keep them from revealing her secrets, past and present?

With a fortune in prize money and the title of Captain, Matthew Bryant leases Windrush Court, with the hopes of eventually buying it and securing his status as a gentleman. With unshakable determination he plans on wooing Isabella Forsythe, the woman who rejected him before he left for the navy. But to Matthew’s bewilderment, his future plans start to lose their excitement as he spends more and more time with the mysterious Miss Aubrey. Her conversation and inner beauty attract him, but with the hoped-for future Mrs. Bryant coming to his house party (who happens to be arriving with her fiancé), Matthew keeps Mariah at a distance, telling himself that surely the woman he loves is the dazzling Miss Forsythe, not the puzzling Miss Aubrey. When the truth comes out, will Matthew discover who it is he truly loves, and will Mariah and Matthew both be able to forgive their own past mistakes in order to save their future?

As with Klassen’s other Regency romances, The Girl in the Gatehouse is filled with many different characters and plot twists that all added to the overall story and the overarching mystery. Untangling the multiple mysteries kept me turning page after page, and all the characters (main and secondary) were so interesting. The Girl in the Gatehouse is reminiscent of Downton Abbey—not in the time period or plot, but because of the in-depth look at all the characters and their back-stories, from the two elderly Merryweather sisters to Mariah Aubrey’s aunt. Rather than the story just being focused on Mariah Aubrey and Captain Bryant, The Girl in the Gatehouse was really about more than ten different characters, whose storylines (and personal mysteries!) all came together at the end to make a delightful and satisfyingly happy ending.

Something that I found very interesting in The Girl in the Gatehouse was the role-reversal of the hero and heroine regarding their placement in the love triangle. As I’m sure many readers have found, many romance books nowadays have a love triangle, and in all the ones I’ve read it is between one woman and two men. The Girl in the Gatehouse is different because it occurs between one man and two women. To be completely honest, it took me awhile to get past this, as I kept thinking that, while Captain Bryant behaved honorably to both, it shouldn’t be fair that he has two women waiting for his decision to see who he preferred. But then, how is this any different than what happens with the typical heroine who has two men dangling after her, just waiting patiently for her to make her choice? Once I got past this role-reversal (and, I admit, the love triangle itself; I’m not a fan of love triangles, no matter if it’s the male of the female doing the choosing), I was able to like Captain Bryant, as he reminded me very much of a certain enigmatic Captain Wentworth in Jane Austen’s Persuasion.

The Girl in the Gatehouse is not the type of mystery novel with poison, kidnapping, or murder—rather, it’s an enjoyable romance that involves many thrilling mysteries, entertaining characters, interesting historical facts, and the fascinating themes of loss, forgiveness, and the meaning of true love.

4.5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Girl in the Gatehouse, by Julie Klassen
Bethany House Publishers (2011)
Trade paperback (400) pages
ISBN: 978-0764207082

Additional Reviews:

Cover image courtesy of Bethany House Publishers © 2011; text Katie P., 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.

Valour and Vanity: The Glamourist Histories, Book 4, by Mary Robinette Kowal – A Review

Valour and Vanity, by Mary Roninette Kowal (2014)From the desk of Jenny Haggerty:

I have thoroughly enjoyed the first three books of the Glamourist History series which has only gotten better as it goes on, but when I read the description of the fourth book I wasn’t positive that improving trend would continue, at least for me. Pirates? The Regency version of a heist film? Those may appeal to many but aren’t my preferred cup of tea.I love that the earlier books incorporate historic events into an alternate Regency world that shimmers with glamour–a magical art of illusion. Napoleon’s wars, the Luddite uprising, and the 1816 climate disruption are integral parts of their narratives, but the new book’s plot synopsis does not hint at a similar use of history. Still, I trust Mary Robinette Kowal’s storytelling skills so there was no way I would miss her latest. I just hoped I would love Valour and Vanity as dearly as the others.

A tip from Lord Byron sends Jane and her husband Vincent to the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre where an ancient but still vibrant lion glamour roars and struts among the rubble. That beautiful lion is forever fixed in place because glamoured images made with traditional methods cannot be moved, but Jane and Vincent hope to perfect a new way of creating glamour by weaving its threads into molten glass which could then be easily transported. To that end they are headed to the island of Murano, famous for its glass-making artistry. They have been on a mostly joyous Continental trip with the rest of Jane’s family, celebrating her sister Melody’s wedding, but Jane is glad she and Vincent will soon be alone because her mother can tend to be high strung. Sure enough Mrs. Ellsworth musters a Mrs. Bennet worthy panic as Jane and Vincent’s ship is about to depart. She’s heard a rumor pirates rove the Gulf of Venice! Pirates!

That, of course, is absurd, as Jane and Vincent know. No pirates patrol this part of the Mediterranean. Which makes it all the more shocking when rakishly dressed buccaneers board their boat, robbing passengers and crew. “It is absurd that my first thought is a desire to keep this from your mother” (25) Vincent says to Jane as he prepares to help the crew defend the ship. But Vincent is knocked out and Jane and Vincent lose all of their money, luggage, and jewelry–even Jane’s wedding ring–and are almost kidnapped for ransom.

They are saved by Signor Sanuto, a kindly Murano banker and a fellow passenger. He pays the pirates off and allows Jane and Vincent to stay in his beautiful palazzo. They were supposed be hosted by Lord Byron, an old school chum of Vincent’s, but he’s skipped town to avoid an irate ex-lover. Sanuto lends them clothing and secures them a line of credit until they can access their funds in England.

This frees Jane and Vincent to begin their mission, but they immediately run into obstacles. After Napoleon’s occupation Murano’s glassmakers are wary and refuse to work with the glamourists, sure their real goal is stealing trade secrets. Again it is Sanuto who steps in, using his clout to persuade one glassmaker to reconsider, but even with Sanuto’s help the terms are limited and expensive.

Still Jane and Vincent make progress toward their goal, and are about to celebrate their success when Sanuto disappears and everything falls apart. Their line of credit dries up, authorities kick them out of Sanuto’s palazzo, someone empties their English bank accounts, and they now owe money all over town. Lord Byron, who had briefly turned up, is again missing leaving Jane and Vincent penniless, homeless criminals, unable to contact family and not allowed to leave until they pay their creditors. Added to that, the one glass ball they had successfully inscribed with glamour is gone. Jane and Vincent are barely managing to eat, but Vincent concocts a reckless and dangerous plan to turn their fortunes around.

Highly suspenseful and almost too exciting, Valour and Vanity held me enthralled, and I loved seeing how Jane and Vincent cope with their difficulties. The only thing lessening my pleasure was foreknowledge of who betrayed them, which was revealed in the original marketing synopsis. I would rather have been surprised.

But, the book’s pleasures are many. Though partially in ruins post-Napoleon, the beauty of Murano’s island city shines through the pages and vivid scenes of its daily life satisfied my history lust. Most charming is the wonderful cast of characters who help with Vincent’s plan. These include a pious but determined group of nuns, a resourceful puppeteer, and the colorful Lord Byron himself, whose wild daring and loyalty to his friends knows no bounds.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Valour and Vanity: The Glamourist Histories, Book 4, by May Robinette Kowal
Tor Books (2014)
Hardcover (416) pages
ISBN: 978-0765334169

Read Our Previous Reviews of The Galmourist Histories 

Cover image courtesy of Tor Books © 2014; text Jennifer Haggerty © 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.”