Lady Maybe, by Julie Klassen – A Review

Lady Maybe, by Julie Klassen (2015)From the desk of Katie Patchell:

  • Betrayals and Lies. Harmful Secrets. Surprising Redemption.

For the past several years, Austenprose has had the joy of reviewing books inspired by beloved author, Jane Austen, as well as those set in the Regency period. One author in particular has appeared more than once, and has written numerous Regency books inspired by the timeless novels of Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters: Julie Klassen. In her latest novel Lady Maybe, Klassen blends notes of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, to create a mystery-filled Gothic romance about the power of truth, and the lengths people will go to conceal it.

Lady Marianna Mayfield: Pressured into a marriage to Sir John Mayfield by her money-obsessed father, Lady Marianna ignores her older husband to instead focus on her many flirts, especially her lover, Anthony Fontaine. When her husband suddenly decides to take her with him to a house far away from Bath, she obeys—her silent companion and husband beside her, and the surety that her lover will do anything to find her.

Sir John Mayfield: Plagued by the knowledge that he’s married to a woman he loves but who ignores him and cheats on him openly, Sir John eases his pain by fencing and confiding in his wife’s companion. After months of unhappy marriage, Sir John comes up with a plan—if he can quickly remove his wife from Bath and the arms of her lover, they can overlook the secrets that are eroding their marriage, and for the first time, be truly happy together.

Hannah Rogers: Ex-companion to Lady Marianna Mayfield who vanished from the Mayfield residence months ago. On her sudden return asking for the last of her pay, Lady Marianna convinces her to be her only friend on the journey to Devonshire. While strangely reluctant to leave and uncomfortable in the Mayfield’s company, Hannah accepts, vowing to return for someone hidden behind. 

James Lowden: When Sir John’s new solicitor arrives at the doorstep of Clifton House, the Mayfield’s new residence, he enters with his own ideas of the characters of those who live inside. His goal: To uncover the truth amidst the lies. But that task is much harder than he ever imagined….

After a horrible accident, one heroine wakes up with no memory of who she is, and the view of her friend floating away in the ocean. After realizing who she is while recovering at Clifton House, she enters into a world of confusion and lies, because what—who—is at stake is worth more than the truth. Or so she thinks. When James Lowden arrives at the doorstep asking invasive questions about her past actions, can she manage to escape the woman she’s become to save the most important person in her life? And when Sir John Mayfield wakes up from his coma, will he help her, or finally release her to the consequences of all of her mistakes?

Like Julie Klassen’s previous Regency novels, Lady Maybe is filled with exciting mysteries and surprising revelations, even until the final pages. It’s always a fun experience as a reader to be completely shocked and continually surprised by what the characters have done in the past or are doing within the book’s pages, and yet again, Klassen skillfully weaves together all the mysteries for an interesting and complex story.

One aspect of the complexity of Lady Maybe that I did not enjoy, however, was the tangled web woven by the heroines and heroes. One heroine spent most of the novel claiming innocence while really making the worst choices of them all, another was constantly accused of wrongdoing (yet, for me at least, sympathetically and realistically human), a hero who was like beginning-of-Pride-and-Prejudice Mr. Darcy on steroids, and another like brooding Mr. Rochester. Really, it felt like most of the novel was a story of two villains and two villainesses, rather than two heroes and two heroines. The sometimes clichéd characters (and overly dramatic dialogue) as well as their selfish motives and lack of self-awareness were alternatively disappointing and frustrating to me.

All that being said, something Lady Maybe shows masterfully is what life is like when trapped by the problems and consequences of harmful decisions and actions. This novel also shows that human emotions are not always clear-cut (a topic also covered in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park), and that ultimately, everyone has the chance of redemption. While I believe Klassen’s previous novels are stronger in characterization, plot, and message, Lady Maybe has its own redeeming qualities that many readers will find worth the read.

Rating 3.5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Lady Maybe, by Julie Klassen
Berkley Trade (2015)
Trade paperback, eBook & Audio (400) pages
ISBN: 978-0425282076

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indiebound | Goodreads

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Image of the cover courtesy of Berkely Trade © 2015; text Katie Patchell © 2015, Austenprose.com

The Suspicion at Sanditon, Or, The Disappearance of Lady Denham, by Carrie Bebris – A Review

The Suspicion at Sanditon Carrie Bebris 2015 x 200From the desk of Christina Boyd:

Seemingly moments after reading the end of award winning author’s Carrie Bebris, The Deception at Lyme (Or, The Peril of Persuasion) in 2011, the sixth novel in her Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Mystery series, I, along with other fans wondered what Bebris might write next. Much speculation surfaced whether she would attempt a mystery with Austen’s lesser known works: Sanditon, The Watsons, and Lady Susan or abandon the scheme altogether! Not four years later, and all anticipation, I had my hands on an advanced copy of Bebris’s seventh in the Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Mystery series, Suspicion at Sanditon (Or, the Disappearance of Lady Denham).

Only the most astute Austen fans will know Sanditon is the unfinished novel that Jane Austen began writing in January 1817 and forsook after the first eleven chapters on March 18—dying 4 months later on July 18, 1817. Others might be interested to understand this first draft centers on a Miss Charlotte Heywood, the daughter of a country gentleman, who travels to a developing seaside resort, Sanditon, and encounters a ridiculous baronet Sir Edward Denham, the Parker family who were always imagining themselves unwell, and the twice-widowed dowager Lady Denham with no heir apparent. “In those few chapters she sets her stage, populates it with memorable characters, and infuses the whole with humor reminiscent of her earlier writings.” (332) Author’s Note. Continue reading

Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, by Winston Graham – A Review

Ross Poldark A Novel of Cornwall, 1783 to1787 2015 x 200From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

Never having watched the original series on Masterpiece Theatre in the 1970s, I was unfamiliar with Ross Poldark and a little curious about the buzz surrounding the new BBC/PBS series starring Aidan Turner. I wondered whether there was more to Ross Poldark than his good looks. When Laurel Ann Nattress assured Austenprose readers that Ross was a hero every bit as worthy of their warm regard as Mr. Darcy, John Thornton or Mr. Rochester, I decided to read the first novel in Winston Graham’s saga and decide for myself.

Ross Poldark is subtitled “A Novel of Cornwall 1783-1787” and is strongly rooted in the geography, people, and events of the Cornish countryside. The wind and the sea figure as characters in their own right. In the book’s prologue, six months before Ross returns from fighting in America, his father Joshua is close to death.

He felt he would like one more look at the sea, which even now was licking at the rocks behind the house. He had no sentimental notions about the sea; he had no regard for its dangers or its beauties; to him it was a close acquaintance whose every virtue and failing, every smile and tantrum he had come to understand. (10)

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The Rose Girls, by Victoria Connelly – A Review

The Rose Girls, by Victoria Connelly (2015)From the desk of Katie Patchell: 

One crumbling manor house. Three estranged sisters. And a garden full of roses. All of these and more are ingredients in The Rose Girls, the latest novel by Victoria Connolly, author of the currently six-book Austen Addicts series. While not a book connected to Jane Austen’s novels or the Regency period, The Rose Girls is a story that shares timeless themes from Austen’s own masterpieces: the importance of family, forgiveness, healing, nature, and love.

After the news that her mother recently died of cancer, Celeste Hamilton is called back home to Little Eleigh Manor and Hamilton Roses, the family rose business, to support her two sisters. Still recovering from a divorce and memories of a painful childhood, Celeste plans only on spending a few weeks at her old home to sort through things and comfort her sisters, before escaping with her dog, Frinton, to somewhere much better and (hopefully) memory-free. On arriving back at her family home, Celeste realizes her responsibilities are much more than she bargained for. Little Eleigh Manor desperately needs repairs, and she’s the only sister willing to sell possessions to keep the house from (quite literally) falling down around them.

Supported by her sister Gertie, resented by her other sister Evie, and hearing the echoes of her mother’s past verbal abuse in her ears as she wanders Little Eleigh Manor’s halls, Celeste is surprisingly comforted by the forgotten beauty of the roses her family has grown and sold for years. With her beloved sisters distant and hiding their own secrets, and a friendly, perceptive, and surprisingly young art auctioneer interested in more than just family paintings, Celeste finds reasons to put off her escape for a few more weeks—and with her two sisters, a few roses, and a lot of love, forgive the past and change the future. Continue reading

Shakespeare Basics for Grown-Ups: Everything You Need to Know About the Bard, by E. Foley and B. Coates – A Review

Shakespear Basics for Gown Ups, by E Foley and B. Coates 2015 x 200From the desk of Br. Paul Byrd, OP:

“We [the authors] don’t claim to be Shakespeare scholars; we are ordinary readers who were curious to learn more about our greatest national poet, and we became passionate about passing on the most interesting facts we discovered. The aim of this book is to give a solid understanding of Shakespeare’s genius and to arm you with the tools you need to enjoy him with confidence and insight” (2).

So begin Foley and Coates, two British book editors and authors of Homework for Grown-Ups (2009). In this new book, the duo takes on the daunting task of presenting a survey course on Shakespeare for adults in just 326 pages. But this is not your typical “For Dummies” book with a blue-million timelines, illustrations, and text boxes interrupting every other line and making it nearly impossible to focus and remember; instead, this book is a well-crafted teaching tool for those wanting a basic, but detailed, education on Shakespeare. This includes what one might expect: reviews of Shakespeare’s life, background information about Renaissance theatres, and summaries of Shakespeare’s major plays; but the book also boasts several unique features, which I will discuss below. Suffice it to say that, as an English teacher, I learned a great deal from this book and intend to use several selections from it in my lessons next school year.

The first chapter is all about Shakespeare’s identity. How well does anyone really know the most famous British writer of all time? The authors’ first order of business is to remind readers that there is actual evidence that a man named William Shakespeare did in fact exist. “There is a record of his baptism at Holy Trinity Church in the market town of Stratford-upon-Avon on April 26, 1564…” (13). We know that he married Anne Hathaway in 1582, and that he was a rather successful businessman by the 1590s (14-15). That’s not to say that Foley and Coates skirt the conspiracy theories; in fact, they conclude the first chapter with a chart of all the major theories of authorship, beginning with those centered on Shakespeare himself, then moving into the other suspected authors: Francis Bacon, Edward de Vere (Earl of Oxford), Christopher Marlowe, and Queen Elizabeth I (36-41). Given its concise formatting, this chart is the perfect tool for group discussion or classroom instruction. Continue reading

The Beau Monde: Fashionable Society in Georgian London, by Hannah Greig – A Review

The Beau Monde by Hannah Greig (2013)From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

Several recent histories have popularized Georgian England as “The Age of Scandal” with members of the beau monde starring in colorful “stories of gambling, adultery, high spending, and fast living” (30). Author, lecturer in 18th-century British history, and historical consultant Hannah Greig takes an alternate approach in The Beau Monde. By focusing on the fortunes of the beau monde as a whole, rather than concentrating on the biographies of a few individuals, such as the Duchess of Devonshire, she seeks to present the culture as “a new manifestation of social distinction and a new form of social leadership, one oriented to the changing conditions and contexts of the period.” (31)

After ousting James II from the throne with the support of the English nobility, William III began a series of wars that required him to summon parliament regularly to secure funds for his war chest. Beginning in 1689, the titled nobility came to London for the yearly meeting of parliament and the London season was born. 

The Beau Monde in St James Park, by Louis Phillippe Boitard c 1749

Illustration of The Beau Monde in St. James Park, by Louis Phillippe Boitard, c. 1749-50

“In particular, the establishment of, and emphasis on, the London season brought fundamental alterations to the routines and responsibilities inherent in elite life. The level of investment made by titled personnel in metropolitan life in the 1700s (in terms of time, money, property, and culture) was unprecedented. Although pleasure seeking was unquestionably a major attraction of metropolitan life, it was politics, and the elite’s unshakeable belief in their right to govern, that made the season’s siren call so compelling.” (233)

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