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.”

Follies Past: A Prequel to Pride and Prejudice, by Melanie Kerr – A Review

Follies Past, A Pride and Prejudice Prequel, by Melanie Kerr (2013)From the desk of Jenny Haggerty:

In Pride and Prejudice when Mr. Darcy wrote that post-proposal, world-altering letter to Elizabeth Bennet, telling her the truth about charming Mr. Wickham’s duplicity, I was as shocked and shaken as she was, but due to the discretion of the characters, readers get just a bare outline of what went on between Wickham and Darcy’s sister Georgiana. What exactly did happen and how did it come about? One can’t help being curious–or at least this one would like details–so when I discovered that Melanie Kerr’s novel Follies Past centers on that event I eagerly began the book, hoping it would be an Austen-worthy story with wit, appealing characters, and maybe even a wedding.

Follies Past has three heroines and opens with none other than Caroline Bingley. She and her brother are on their way to Pemberley, and while this will be her first time meeting Darcy, Caroline is already determined to marry him, even contriving things so their arrival coincides with the flattering light of early evening. By the end of the visit Caroline is sure she is well on the way to an engagement, but back in London she becomes distracted when she falls hard for another man. He has no title or estate, but he’s disarmingly handsome, they share a wicked wit, and he’s focused on her in a way she realizes Darcy never has. The power of their attraction gives her second thoughts about marrying a man she “loves” mainly for his wealth.

True to her P&P characterization, Georgiana is painfully shy and the idea of mingling with London society overwhelms her, so Darcy allows Georgiana’s dearest, slightly older school chum to accompany her on a visit to the city. Clare, the story’s third heroine, is principled, sweet, genteelly determined, and sometimes conflicted. She loves reading novels but believing they are bad for the soul she throws all of hers away before the trip, planning to set a good example for Georgiana. Georgiana looks up to Clare and they adore each other, but their situations are very different. While Clare has a highborn grandfather, she is also the daughter of a military man and without much fortune. Unlike Georgiana she has limited marriage prospects and as the book goes on her story becomes prominent.

When the trip to London reunites Georgiana and Wickham, who Georgiana adored as a child, it is Clare who is alarmed by Georgiana’s growing and, Clare thinks, inappropriate attachment. Darcy would set things right but he’s out of town inspecting properties with Bingley. Georgiana becomes distant and secretive so Clare decides she must do something, but what? There is no one around she can trust to help or advise her. Going to London is a wonderful opportunity for Clare, but being strictly brought up she feels distinctly uncomfortable around much of that city’s society, especially Darcy’s black sheep London cousin, the now ailing Lord Ashwell. Darcy has assured Georgiana that the vile rumors circulating about him are just gossip, but might Darcy be blinded by family loyalty? Desperation to protect Georgiana forces prudent Clare to put herself in company she would avoid under any other circumstance.

I found so much to enjoy in Follies Past, including the sympathetic portrayal of Caroline Bingley. She’s the same character we met in P&P, but with more insight into her character I felt moved by her story. Passages describing Caroline falling in love are the most convincing in the book, without being lewd they practically sizzle.

Playing small but important roles in the story is Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s taciturn daughter Anne, and what a treat to get to know her–she’s a closet naturalist! Get Anne going about insects and she has lots to say. Anne also retains her P&P persona, but now that author Kerr has her talking we learn she has plans for her life, and isn’t the pawn of her mother that everyone, including Lady Catherine, thinks she is.

Even Wickham gets a touch of tenderness from Kerr. We see him thwarted in love (yes, Wickham in love!) and with his hopes to lead a settled life dashed when Darcy (justifiably) denies him the living. It’s possible to (briefly) feel a little sorry for him.

I felt the foiling of Wickham’s elopement plan happened abruptly, once everyone was in place it resolved in a few paragraphs and Georgiana let it go very easily, but by then Clare has become the heart of the story. The steps Clare took to help rescue Georgiana, and how those actions affect her future bring about a very Austen-worthy happy ending. Follies Past delighted me so much I actually cheered out loud a few times while reading.

★★★★★ 5 out of 5 Stars 

Follies Past: A Prequel to Pride and Prejudice, by Melanie Kerr
Petticoat Press (2013)
Trade paperback (280) pages
ISBN: 978-0992131029

Additional Reviews:

Cover image courtesy of Petticoat Press © 2013; 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.”

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

A Fair Prospect: Disappointed Hopes, A Tale of Elizabeth and Darcy, Volume I, by Cassandra Grafton – A Review

A Fair Prospect: Disappointed Hopes, Vol I by Cassandra Grafton 2013 From the desk of Kimberly Denny Ryder:

To be honest, I’ve never been a fan of open-ended endings in movies and books. Just ask my husband, who has seen me yell after reading a book or seeing a movie that ends with the reader/viewer not knowing what has happened to the main characters. One example that comes to mind is Pride and Prejudice itself! I’ve always wondered what happened after the wedding (maybe that’s why I read so many Pride and Prejudice sequels!) So, when I heard that A Fair Prospect: Disappointed Hopes by Cassandra Grafton was actually the first in a three-part series and it wouldn’t actually have a proper ending, I was a bit skeptical.

In volume I of the A Fair Prospect trilogy, Disappointed Hopes, we find Fitzwilliam Darcy back in London after his failed engagement proposal to Elizabeth, obviously upset by her refusal of such a beneficial match. Elizabeth, on the other hand, finds herself on the way to London, the result of a request by an old family friend to meet in town. Already emotional after her encounter with Darcy, she finds comfort when finally reaching London and meeting this friend, Nicholas Harington. The son of a wealthy family not unlike the Darcy family in both holdings and standing, Nicholas’ family provides a formidable opponent to Darcy’s in the matters of Elizabeth’s heart. Darcy and Elizabeth’s paths cross unexpectedly in London when Bingley begins courting Jane again. Darcy is introduced to Harington, who seems by all to be the perfect suitor for Elizabeth now that Darcy has failed. Or, has he?

I’ll be honest; this first volume was definitely quite dense. A vast majority of the plot was inner turmoil; there really wasn’t much external conflict to keep the plot moving forward. I’m no stranger to inner turmoil and self-reflection; in fact I love when a character overcomes emotional obstacles and discover something new about him/herself. I think it’s a great plot device and it really helps to flesh out a story. However, as this story was mainly composed of inner turmoil, there wasn’t much else for the plot to fall back on when I got tired of hearing about Elizabeth and Darcy’s inner musings.

Col. Fitzwilliam was a wonderfully embellished addition to this work. Darcy and Elizabeth’s thoughts at times can be dark as they both begin to realize their own faults. Col. Fitzwilliam’s comedic presence was a great counterweight to this mood, and it provided moments of brevity that I really enjoyed. I also loved watching him work his way through Darcy’s bad moods. Knowing Darcy as intimately as he does, it was funny to see him cut to the heart of his issues and be his confident, whether he actually wanted this or not, (Georgiana too).

Finally, seeing the depth of Elizabeth’s feelings for Darcy change has been super rewarding (I’m currently reading volume 3). Watching her discover her love for him makes me just as happy as when I first read Pride and Prejudice. Introspective, detailed, and well-written, this clean Pride and Prejudice retelling is a great primer to what’s sure to be a rewarding trilogy.

3.5 out of 5 Regency Stars

A Fair Prospect: Disappointed Hopes, A Tale of Elizabeth and Darcy, Volume I, by Cassandra Grafton
White Soup Press; 1 edition (2013)
Trade paperback (260) pages
ISBN: 978-1482098358

Cover image courtesy of White Soup Press © 2014; text Kimberly Denny Ryder © 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.”

Jane Austen’s First Love: A Novel, by Syrie James – A Review

Jane Austen's First Love by Syrie James (2014 )From the desk of Christina Boyd:

Everyone in my world knows of Jane Austen. Alas, I can speculate that there are those who might not recognize the name. If they look her up on Wikipedia they would learn that:

‘Biographical information concerning Jane Austen is “famously scarce”… Only some personal and family letters remain (by one estimate only 160 out of Austen’s 3,000 letters are extant), and her sister Cassandra (to whom most of the letters were originally addressed) burned “the greater part” of the ones she kept and censored those she did not destroy. Other letters were destroyed by the heirs of Admiral Francis Austen, Jane’s brother. Most of the biographical material produced for fifty years after Austen’s death was written by her relatives and reflects the family’s biases in favour of “good quiet Aunt Jane”.’

Further, they would learn that this masterful writer of the social commentary and romance had never married, little is known of her love-life, yet it has been widely speculated upon in some circles. It is not a secret however that in 1802, Miss Austen had accepted the marriage proposal from family friend, Harris Bigg-Wither, but by the morning had withdrawn her acceptance. There are also letters from Jane to Cassandra in 1795 when she was twenty years-old about a brief flirtation with a Mr. Tom Lefroy. Sadly, his family did not approve of the match. Neither had any money and Tom was sent away, later to marry an heiress. And yet for an author who wrote exclusively of what she knew in her own sphere, how could she write of love so well had she never fully experienced it?

“We went by Bifrons and I contemplated with a melancholy pleasure the abode of Him, on whom I once fondly doated.” Jane Austen in a letter to her sister Cassandra, 1796

And with that one line, bestselling author Syrie James again undertakes the great task of expanding upon known facts and giving us her latest historical re-imagining, Jane Austen’s First Love. Who was “Him”, this man who resided at Bifrons, upon whom she fondly doated? And what had he meant to her?

Told in the first person narrative, Jane Austen’s First Love opens with our heroine being reminded of that letter she had written to sister Cassandra in 1796, recalling a person she had not thought about in many years. She was but fifteen in 1791, the same year that her elder brother Edward became engaged to Miss Elizabeth Bridges. The Austens were invited by his fiancé’s family to partake in several summer festivities at their grand country estate of Goodnestone Park in Kent. As they neared their destination, the carriage had an accident—but they found a preserver in the handsome Edward Taylor, heir to the nearby estate Bifrons, and cousin to Edward Austen-Knight’s future in-laws.

I froze; I could not avert my gaze; Mr. Taylor’s handsome countenance was but a foot or two from mine, and his arrival, like a knight in shining armour, had been so unexpected, his eyes were so dark and sparkling, that for the space of a breath, I forgot where I was or that any action was required of me.” p 47

When they reach Goodnestone and meet the family, it becomes readily apparent that their future sisters-in-law are more impressed with themselves than the newly arrived, less than auspicious Austens. As the entertainments commence, Jane plays matchmaker (as well as casting director in a private theatrical the young people indulge in), and not unlike one of her beloved heroines, Emma Woodhouse, we soon learn how inept young Jane is for the role. ‘Were my actors to be properly paired, who could say where it might lead? In enacting their parts, true feelings might be kindled; a very real intimacy might well emerge! This was my hope.’ Still she admits, only to herself, that ‘perhaps indulgent, immodest, even slightly immoral’ she has hopes of playing opposite Edward Taylor.

Daily diversions throw her in the path of the worldly Edward Taylor, and impressionable Jane cannot help but be drawn in by his uncommon intelligence, sound mind and opinions, gusto for life, and his unaffected attentions towards herself – forever dividing her life into two categories: before she met Edward Taylor, and everything thereafter. ‘“They were lovely- but as to meaningful conversation, they had nothing to offer.” The look and smile he gave me indicated, without words, that our present discourse was far preferable to him than had been the other.’ Though as new house guests arrive, a rival for his affections becomes known in the comely, yet reserved Miss Charlotte Watkinson Paylor.

I had never heard of Edward Taylor before. And upon my first reading of Jane Austen’s First Love, I thought it a sweet bit of Austenesque pastiche with clever characters and wonderful smatterings and/or hints of some of Austen’s famous prose. Solid four, maybe 4 ½ stars. Yet, it was not until reading the Author’s Afterword that I learned that Edward Taylor was an actual person! And, from Syrie James’ extensive research, it is not a stretch to surmise that Edward Taylor was a guest at Goodnestone Park when the Austens were also in residence that summer of 1791. In addition, her research detailed what a remarkable young man Edward Taylor was—just the sort of man a young Miss Austen might fall in-love with! ‘That he was a real person, and that I had in my possession so many little-known facts about his life, was very exciting. A picture began to form in my mind as to how and when Edward Taylor and Jane Austen might have met as teenagers, and what their relationship might have been.’ So, of course, I had to read the whole novel again, with this new perspective! And much in the manner of the film, Becoming Jane, this second reading left me so very hopeful that maybe, just maybe, it happened that way, that our beloved Jane did experience a first love (and even heartache), which made me adore this story all the more.

With a manifold of bestsellers behind her, Syrie James is an incomparable storyteller, turning obscure details from personal research into inspired, yet richly embellished, fictional narratives. Jane Austen’s First Love is a lively, romantic “what if” that will make you laugh, as well as tug at your heart. I must recommend you ‘give a loose to your fancy, indulge your imagination in every possible flight,’ and add Syrie James’ latest work to your Summer Reading List.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

At Goodnestone Park painting by Annmarie Thomas

Enter a chance to win the original painting “At Goodnestone Park”

by Annmarie Thomas inspired by the novel Jane Austen’s First Love

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

Cover image courtesy of Berkley Trade © 2014; text Christina Boyd, 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.”