Death Comes to London: A Kurland St. Mary Mystery #2, by Catherine Lloyd – Preview & Excerpt

Death Comes to London by Catherine Lloyd 2014 x 200I am so pleased to see Regency era mysteries becoming more and more popular. I love them. Top on my list are the twelve novels in the Being a Jane Austen Mystery series by Stephanie Barron and the fabulous Julian Kestral mysteries by Kate Ross. There is nothing as satisfying to me as sleuthing through a death at a country manor house or with the Ton in London where debutantes, dandies and dowager duchesses’ dwell. Wow. That was a long string of words beginning with D, wasn’t it? It might be because DEATH is on my mind prompted by the new book, Death Comes to London, the second novel in the Kurland St. Mary historical mystery series by Catherine Lloyd just released by Kensington Books.

I am always pleased to see a new Regency mystery author appear on the horizon. Catherine Lloyd made her debut in 2013 with Death Comes to the Village (Kurland St. Mary Mystery #1) receiving high praise:

  • “Lloyd’s delightful debut…Readers will hope that death returns soon to Kurland St. Mary.” – Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
  • “A skillfully crafted mystery that combines a wounded war hero, an inquisitive rector’s daughter and a quaint peaceful village with some sinister secrets…a compelling picture of a young woman trying to find the courage to stand up for herself.” – RT Book Reviews, 4.5 Stars, TOP PICK!
  • “A Regency Rear Window whose chair-bound hero and the woman who civilizes him generate sparks worthy of Darcy and Elizabeth. – Kirkus Reviews

I was intrigued—especially since Lloyd’s heroine, Miss Lucy Harrington and her childhood friend Major Robert Kurland, are amateur sleuths who work as team in an era when unmarried ladies were not allowed to be unchaperoned and gentlemen were very cognizant of untoward behavior that might ruin a ladies reputation. How did they pull this off?

While the first novel in the series is on my TBR pile, I might have to move up number two because the victim in Death Comes to London is an officious  dowager, Countess of Broughton, a Lady Catherine de Borough doppelganger—and what true Janeite would not like to see that pompous busy-body bumped off?

I am happy to share this preview and excerpt of Death Comes to London with you today in hopes that, like me, you love the Regency era and a good cozy mystery.

DESCRIPTION (from the publisher)

A season in London promises a welcome change of pace for two friends from the village of Kurland St. Mary—until murder makes a debut…

With the reluctant blessings of their father, the rector of Kurland St. Mary, Lucy Harrington and her sister Anna leave home for a social season in London. At the same time, Lucy’s special friend Major Robert Kurland is summoned to the city to accept a baronetcy for his wartime heroism.

Amidst the dizzying whirl of balls and formal dinners, the focus shifts from mixing and matchmaking to murder when the dowager Countess of Broughton, the mother of an old army friend of Robert, drops dead. When it’s revealed she’s been poisoned, Robert’s former betrothed, Miss Chingford, is accused, and she in turn points a finger at Anna. To protect her sister, Lucy enlists Robert’s aid in drawing out the true culprit.

But with suspects ranging from resentful rivals and embittered family members to the toast of the ton, it will take all their sleuthing skills to unmask the poisoner before more trouble is stirred up…

EXCERPT (from chapter 5)

Robert handed his hat to the butler at the Hathaways residence and slowly climbed the stairs to the drawing room on the first floor.  It wasn’t the correct time of day to pay a call, but he assumed the Harringtons and the Hathaways would be too keen to hear his news to worry about such social niceties.

“Major Kurland, ma’am.”

As he’d expected, they were all there, clustered around one of the scandal sheets that proliferated in the city streets. He was always amazed at how quickly the printers managed to discover and distribute the latest gossip about the upper classes. Miss Harrington turned to him and put down the sheet she’d been reading aloud from.

“Good morning Major Kurland. How are the Broughtons bearing up on this sad day?”

He took the chair opposite her and surreptitiously stretched out his left leg to the warmth of the fire. His muscles were aching on such a damp morning and every step was a jarring agony.

“I believe they are still rather shocked. And just to make matters worse. Broughton was taken ill last night and the family physician was called to the house.”

“Oh dear,” Anna said. “Is he all right?”

“The doctor was still with him when I left, but I believe he was on the mend.” He hesitated. “The Countess of Broughton asked me if I’d stay at the house while Broughton was ill. I could hardly say no.”

“Of course you couldn’t. She will need your support.” Miss Harrington took off her spectacles and held up the long sheet of paper. “Have you seen what the scandal sheets are saying?”

“No, I haven’t, why?”

“They are suggesting that Miss Chingford deliberately enraged the dowager countess to cause her death and that she laughed afterward and,” she consulted the sheet. “Danced the night away without a care practically on the dowager’s grave.”

Robert snorted. “If anything killed that woman, it was her own spite and venom.”

“Miss Chingford will be mortified to have her name associated with such a terrible tragedy.”

“I doubt it will bother her in the slightest.”

“Then you don’t understand how precious a woman’s reputation is in this very judgmental world.”

“Are you defending Miss Chingford, Miss Harrington?”

“I suppose I am.” She hesitated. “While you were dealing with the Broughtons last night, I spoke to the physician who confirmed the dowagers death.”

“And?”

“He said that it seemed odd to him that the dowager had died like that.”

“Of a heart attack?”

She frowned. “No one mentioned the dowager had a weak heart.”

“Broughton told me she was not in the best of health, that’s probably what he meant. Miss Harrington, are you trying to make a scandal out of nothing?”

“Of course not, Major!” She hesitated. “Although it does seem unfair that Miss Chingford might have to bear the stigma of causing another’s death through no fault of her own. Lady Bentley might be considered equally to blame.”

“Miss Chingford has a family to protect her, and this ‘scandal’ will be forgotten as soon as someone else in society does something untoward—and you can guarantee they will.”

“I suppose you’re right.” Miss Harrington sighed. “Are the Broughton family receiving visitors? Mayhap you could take us back with you to offer our condolences.”

“I suspect Broughton is still too unwell to receive anyone, but I will pass on your regards and your request.” He rose to his feet and leaned hard on his cane to regain his rocky balance. “I’ll call when I have more news on the patient.”

Miss Harrington stood too. “I’ll come down the stairs with you, Major, if I may. I have to speak to the butler.”

She followed him out, slowing her pace to allow him time to get down the stairs. In the hallway he paused to pick up his hat from the table and turned to find her still studying him.

“How is your leg bearing up?”

He scowled at her. “It’s perfectly fine. The cold air just makes it a little stiff in the mornings.”

She nodded. “Ask Foley to rub some warm oil into your skin every night. It will help relieve the pain.”

“As if I’d let Foley anywhere near my leg.” he snapped. “I’m perfectly fine, Miss Harrington, and no longer trapped in my bed where you can bully me.”

She folded her hands and looked at him. “Have you ever noticed, that you become far more difficult whenever you are in pain? I have, and that is the only reason why I am willing to forgive your offensive tone.”

He rammed his hat on his head and saluted her. “Good day, Miss Harrington.”

Turning to the door he made his halting way across the marbled hall.

Her voice followed him. “If you don’t want Foley massaging your leg, ask him for a hot cloth to place over your thigh.”

“Damned interfering woman,” Robert muttered as he barely managed the steps outside without falling. The fact that a hot compress on his leg sounded vastly appealing simply made matters worse. She had no right to dictate to him.

His temper remained sour on his journey back to Broughton House and was not improved when he was immediately asked to meet the countess in her morning parlor. All he wanted was a hot bath and a shot of brandy to help withstand the pulsing agony in his thigh. He was due at Carlton House later that day so he couldn’t even put himself to bed. He avoided taking laudanum to dull the pain. Sometimes it was hard to endure the agony without it.

The countess was alone in the small morning room. The velvet curtains remained shut leaving the room in half-darkness. As his hostess had also chosen to don a black gown it was difficult to see her clearly. Robert bowed and remained standing in front of her chair.

“Lady Broughton, how may I help you?” He hesitated. “If you wish me to leave your house and return to my hotel in this time of sorrow, I will depart immediately.”

“Oh no, please don’t go.” The countess brought out her handkerchief and inwardly Robert tensed. Dealing with crying females was one of his least favorite occupations.

“With Broughton sick, and Oliver disappeared, you are the only man I can turn to.”

“Oliver had disappeared?”

“Well, I have no notion where he is, and his bed wasn’t slept in last night.”

“Does he even know that his grandmother died? I seem to remember him leaving the ball before anything occurred. Perhaps he is staying at an acquaintances house and has no idea what is going on.” He paused. “Do you wish me to inquire?”

“That’s very kind of you, but Oliver isn’t my main concern.”

“Then, how may I help you?”

“The stupid new physician Broughton insisted should replace our old one, declares that Broughton might have been poisoned!”

Poisoned?”

“Yes, I know it’s ridiculous, isn’t it? But he is determined to speak to you about it.”

“Now?”

“The sooner the better, he said. Although what there is to remember, or forget about what Broughton was doing last night when one was forced to watch a horrible old woman choke to death on her own venom is hardly worth noting.”

END OF EXCERPT

Many thanks to author Catherine Lloyd for sharing this excerpt of Death Comes to London with us. I am so looking forward to reading this series.

AUTHOR BIO

Author Catherine Lloyd 2014Catherine Lloyd grew up in London, England in the middle of a large family of girls. She quickly decided her imagination was a wonderful thing and was often in trouble for making stuff up. She finally worked out she could make a career out of this when she moved to the USA with her husband and four children and began writing fiction. With a background in historical research and a love of old-fashioned mysteries, she couldn’t resist the opportunity to wonder what a young Regency Miss Marple might be like, and how she would deal with a far from pleasant hero of the Napoleonic wars.

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Death Comes to London: Kurland St. Mary Mystery #2), by Catherine Lloyd
Kensington Books (2014)
Trade paperback & eBook (272) pages
ISBN: 978-0758287359

Death Comes to London Blog Tour Banner

Cover image courtesy of Kensington Books © 2014; excerpt text Catherine Lloyd ©2014, Austenprose.com

Lizzy and Jane: A Novel, by Katherine Reay – A Review

Lizzy and Jane Katherine Reay 2014 x 200From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder:

Anyone with siblings can tell you how tumultuous of a relationship you can have with them. There are times where you love them to death for being a shoulder to cry on or a voice of reason. Then there are the times where they think they know everything and refuse to see you as your own individual. Katherine Reay explores the complex relationship of two sisters undergoing some intense situations in both their personal and professional lives in Lizzy and Jane.

After losing her mom to cancer, Lizzy cannot deal with the emotional burden and leaves home. She turns her anguish into a relentless energy to create in the kitchen, and works endlessly to become a respected chef. Eventually Lizzy becomes the owner of a swanky New York City restaurant, Feast. After a good amount of success, she begins to lose some of her earlier skills and the restaurant begins to falter. Paul, the restaurant’s financial backer, brings another chef in to fix this, and Lizzy does what she does best—runs away. Unfortunately she runs into another cancer diagnosis, and this time it’s her sister, Jane. Lizzy decides to finally stand her ground and deal with this new blow, and as she tends to her family she finds her abilities to create amazing foods return to her. Now, Paul attempts to woo her back to New York, but how will she react to this now that old hurts with Jane are healed?

Having a sister myself I immediately connected with this book; Lizzy and Jane’s journeys were deeply relatable for me. Due to the circumstances of their adolescence, Lizzy feels like her role is being a caretaker and a tasker. She knows what makes her tick as a professional, but lets her personal life derail her. Her sister’s cancer diagnosis as well as all of the unresolved anger that exists between the two over their mother’s death continuously eats away at her. As a person who lives her life putting her feelings and emotions into her profession, this doesn’t make for a good recipe for Lizzy’s future in the restaurant.

Jane on the other hand has an overwhelming amount of guilt and fear ruling her life. Her cancer diagnosis has made her think of her mother and the unsettled issues that stem from her death. She’s let it eat away at her marriage and the relationship she has with her children. In the end, Lizzy and Jane both exist in these self-created worlds of isolation. Their only hope to is help one other heal and in the process learn how to allow others in.

I cannot express in words how much I truly loved this book. Reay’s writing is incredibly touching and well-developed. To see how alike Lizzy and Jane were to each other and how blind they were to the parallels was astonishing. But I guess that’s life, right? We don’t always see how we’re the same as others. We all strive to be individuals, but sometimes the best way to heal is to connect with someone on a level of similarity.

Lizzy and Jane is a tale of great individual growth and familial healing that will move your heart and soul. With themes of love, family, and the power of forgiveness, this is the perfect read for the holidays.

5 out of 5 Stars

Lizzy & Jane: A Novel, by Katherine Reay
Thomas Nelson (2014)
Trade paperback & eBook (352) pages
ISBN: 978-1401689735

Additional Reviews:

Cover image courtesy of Thomas Nelson © 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.”

Dying to Write: A Patrick Shea Mystery, by Mary Simonsen – Preview & Exclusive Excerpt

Dying to Write by Mary Simonsen 2014 x 20My loyal readers who have followed Austenprose for years know that in addition to Austenesque fiction, I love a good who-dun-it. There are some fabulous Regency-era mysteries featuring Jane Austen and her characters as sleuths including Stephanie Barron’s Being a Jane Austen Mystery Series (12 novels) and the Mr. & Mrs. Darcy Mysteries by Carrie Bebris (6 novel and one in the oven). Besides the Elizabeth Parker Mysteries (4 novels) by Tracy Kiely there are very few contemporary mysteries inspired by Austen, so when one hits my radar I am a very happy Janeite.

Mary Lydon Simonsen, author of several fabulous Austenesque historical novels including: Searching for Pemberley, A Wife for Mr. Darcy and Becoming Elizabeth Darcy, also writes a detective series called The Patrick Shea Mysteries. In her latest installment, Dying to Write, she has cleverly blended both Austen-inspired and a contemporary mystery. Today, Mary has kindly offered an excerpt for our enjoyment. 

PREVIEW (from the description by the publisher)

In need of a break from his job at Scotland Yard, Detective Sergeant Patrick Shea of London’s Metropolitan Police, is looking forward to some quiet time at a timeshare in rural Devon in England’s West Country. However, when he arrives at The Woodlands, Patrick finds himself in the midst of a Jane Austen conference. Despite Regency-era dresses, bonnets, and parasols, a deep divide exists between the Jane Austen fan-fiction community, those who enjoy expanding on the author’s work by writing re-imaginings of her stories, and the Janeites, those devotees who think anyone who tampers with the original novels is committing a sacrilege. When one of the conference speakers is found dead in her condo, Patrick is back on the job trying to find out who murdered her. Is it possible that the victim was actually killed because of a book?

EXCERPT (from chapter 5)

(Setting: First day of the Jane Austen seminar – Detective Patrick Shea sits down with a group of Jane Austen purists.)

“I understand the kickoff for the Austen game starts this afternoon,” Patrick said after introducing himself.

“Right after lunch,” a woman, wearing a nametag that identified her as Michelle Johnson of Sidmouth, answered and then giggled. “We are all very excited.”

“I can tell,” he said, looking around the room. “You can feel it in the air.”

Actually, Patrick could smell it. To a copper, the smell of trouble was as strong as the coffee being served with the scrambled eggs. It was as if West Side Story had come to Colyton. There were the Jets, the guardians of Jane Austen’s writings and the status quo, versus the Sharks, writers and readers of Jane Austen re-imaginings who wanted to add their own twist to her stories, each huddling in their respective corners.

The previous night, after finding nothing on the telly, Patrick had opened his laptop and Googled “Jane Austen.” Ten million suggested sites came up. Eventually, he stumbled upon the JAFF community and a link to a website where people wrote stories inspired by Austen’s characters. The way it worked was that after reading a post, people were allowed to comment on the story. Although most responses were supportive of the writer’s efforts, a few had been written by disapproving readers who did not like where the author had taken Austen’s stories and weren’t shy about saying so.

“What’s the afternoon session about?”

“Jane Austen in Bath,” Cassandra Woolton of Exeter answered. “Although her years in Bath were not the happiest for our dear Jane, I do think her later work was inspired by her time there, especially when she wrote of Fanny Price’s isolation in Mansfield Park and Anne Elliot’s loss of purpose after Captain Wentworth’s departure in Persuasion.”

“Are you leading the session, Mrs. Woolton?”

Miss Woolton, although I have no objection to the honorific, and, ‘yes,’ I am leading the session. With my late father, I co-authored several monographs on Jane Austen, her work, and her final resting place in Winchester Cathedral.”

“And tomorrow?”

“Jane Austen’s Juvenilia.” Patrick had no idea what that meant, but he decided not to let on. Keep them guessing.

“Do you read any of the variations, retellings, or whatever you call them?” Patrick asked.

“Facts or opinions which are to pass through the hands of so many, to be misconceived by folly in one and ignorance in another, can hardly have much truth left,” Miss Woolton answered.

“I take that to be a ‘no.’”

“Those words are from the pen of the author herself—Persuasion published in 1818.”

Patrick was about to push off when Miss Woolton indicated that Althea Duguid, the lecturer for tomorrow’s session, was about to join them. Having heard about the previous year’s row between Duguid and another speaker, he decided to hang around.

Patrick gestured for Mrs. Duguid to take his seat. As soon as she had, Duguid asked Millicent Fenwick of Sherborne, a little mouse of a woman, to prepare a plate for her and held up “her stick” as a reason for the request.

Turning to Patrick, she asked, “And you are…?”

“Patrick Shea. I’m down from London for a few days.”

“Will you be attending the sessions?”

“No. That’s not why I came to Devon. A friend lent me his week for a timeshare. It’s a coincidence that it’s the same week as the Jane Austen conference.”

“In my opinion, you would be foolish to pass up an opportunity to learn more about one of the most brilliant authors in the English language.”

“To each his own,” he answered. “I prefer mysteries to romance.”

“Jane Austen did not write romances,” Duguid said with a tone of dismissal. “She wrote about family, neighbourhoods, and social connections.”

“You had better keep that to yourself, or you’ll have everyone tearing off their I ♥ Darcy car stickers.”

Duguid grimaced at the thought of someone reducing Austen’s protagonist to a punch line appearing on the fender of a car.

“Having been a teacher for forty years, I can state unequivocally that there is a reason why schools establish curricula. How else would the masses be introduced to the writings of great authors? If left to their own devices, their preference would be to stick their noses in such things as mystery novels, forgotten as soon as they are finished.”

“Not sure I agree with that, and I don’t think Agatha Christie or Conan Doyle would either,” Patrick said, laughing at the dig at his choice of reading material. “In my opinion, people should not be forced to read books that don’t appeal to them just because someone else has decided it’s good for them. Reading is supposed to be pleasurable.”

“Mr. Shea, your statement smacks of criticism. Can you possibly be referring to the schism between the Janeites and the JAFF community?”

“What I’m saying is that there’s no reason to get into a snit over reading material.”

“The Rubicon has been crossed. That is a reference to—”

“I know about Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon, Mrs. Duguid. But your statement sounds very much like someone who is looking for a fight.”

“I shall not back down. There are some things worth fighting for.”

My list of what’s worth fighting for does not include what book is on someone’s night table.” This discussion was accomplishing nothing, and with storms moving in, Patrick needed to get going. “Your breakfast is getting cold,” he said, pointing to her plate. “I hope you have a lovely day, and despite differences of opinion, you all get along.”

“I do have one question for you, Mr. Shea. Are you going to have this conversation with Miss Ball when she arrives? She is the authoress of those Pemberley monstrosities.”

“I can do that.”

END OF EXCERPT

Thank you Mary for sharing this excerpt with us today. The characters look intriguing. I can see that you have stirred up the different factions of Jane Austen fans and created a great storyline from it. I look forward to reading it. Best wishes.

AUTHOR BIO

Author Mary Simonsen (2011)Mary Simonsen first became acquainted with Jane Austen when she was a senior in high school in the late 1960s in North Jersey. Little did she know that thirty-five years later her first novel, Searching for Pemberley, would be published by Sourcebooks followed by three traditional P&P re-imaginings. Since that time, she has written and self-published numerous Austen re-imaginings, including two time-travel romances: Becoming Elizabeth Darcy and Another Place in Time. Lately, she has branched out into mystery novels. Dying to Write, a British police procedural involving Jane Austen fans, is the fourth in the Patrick Shea mystery series.

Mary lives in the Valley of the Sun (aka Phoenix), but when the temperatures hit triple digits, she and her husband head up to Flagstaff in Arizona’s High Country, a perfect place to write a novel.

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Dying to Write: A Patrick Shea Mystery, by Mary Lydon Simonson
Quail Creek Publishing, LLC (2014)
eBook (257) pages
ASIN: B00KD3L56W

Cover image courtesy of Quail Creek Publishing © 2014; excerpt Mary Lydon Simonsen © 2014, Austenprose.com

Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas: Being a Jane Austen Mystery, by Stephanie Barron – A Review

Jane and the Twleve Days of Christmas by Stephanie Barron 2014 x 200From the desk of Jenny Haggerty:

The holidays make me nostalgic for past times I’ve never actually experienced, so I leapt at the chance to spend the Yuletide season with Jane Austen. Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas is the twelfth installment in a series that features one of my favorite novelists as an amateur sleuth, but so far I hadn’t managed to read one of them. It seemed high time to rectify that lapse, especially since author Stephanie Barron studied European history in college and then worked as a CIA analyst, highly suitable credentials for writing a story of intrigue set in the past.

The book opens on a blizzardy, bitterly cold evening with Jane Austen, her mother, and her sister Cassandra traveling by coach to the home of Jane’s eldest brother James and his family in Hampshire. Unfortunately when they reach the end of the public line the women find that James has sent an unlighted open horse cart for the last few miles of their journey, even though it’s dark outside and blowing snow. Both Jane’s mother and sister have their heads bowed to prevent the snow from stinging their faces, so it’s only Jane who sees the rapidly approaching carriage heading straight for them. There’s a terrible crash and the ladies are thrown to the floor of the now ruined cart, but almost as shocking is the language of the gentleman in the carriage. Raphael West comes gallantly to their rescue and certainly acts with consideration and grace, but he proves he must be some kind of freethinker by swearing in front of them without reservation. Jane is intrigued.

It’s Christmas Eve of 1814 and this trip is a homecoming of sorts because James lives in Steventon Parsonage where Jane grew up, but with James in charge it’s not the lively, loving place it was when their father was alive. James is stingy about lighting fires in the chilly rooms, contemptuous of Jane’s writing career, and broadly dismissive of most holiday traditions believing they aren’t Christian enough. Except for enjoying the company of her niece and nephew it might have been a dismal visit for Jane, but fortunately they are all invited to join a large party celebrating Christmas at The Vyne, the beautiful ancestral home of the wealthy, generous, and politically connected Chute family. The Vyne is also the place Raphael West was heading when his carriage crashed into the Austen’s cart.

Their hosts at the Vyne are William Chute, an amiable older country gentleman who’s been prominent in Parliament for two decades, and Eliza Chute, William’s energetic much younger wife who’s a longtime acquaintance of Jane’s. On being properly introduced Jane discovers that mysterious Mr. West is the son of a famous artist and is visiting The Vyne to sketch William Chute for his father. Or is he? Miss Gambier is another guest who interests Jane. She’s highly fashionable but being in her late 20’s is well on her way to spinsterhood and she has an almost forbidding reserve that suggests things hidden.

With Napoleon banished to Elba and the war with America going well there’s lots to celebrate, but festivities have only just begun when a nasty anonymous poem upsets Miss Gambier during a game of charades. Then a courier carrying an important political message for William Chute dies in what appears to be an accident, but Jane finds evidence to indicate it was murder. Since the storm has shut down the roads someone at The Vyne must be guilty, heightening the tension. As Jane quietly investigates she discovers that several among their party have secrets, including the enigmatic but appealing Raphael West.

Penned with evocative prose that allowed me to feel and see the story, I was shivering on my perfectly warm couch while Jane rode in an open cart through the blizzard. Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas has a rich and well realized historical setting with all the fun, food, and games of a pre-Victorian holiday celebration interrupted by murder. I love that the mystery includes several important issues of the day, and it gave me a thrill to hear characters discussing Jane’s recently published novels.

As in Austen’s books, Barron’s story is full of wit and wonderful company, but Jane is older than her heroines, romance is not a large part of the plot, and the story’s undertones are somewhat dark. Set less than three years before Austen’s death, Jane and her sister Cassandra are much how I imagine Lizzy and Jane Bennet would be if they had never married, and Jane’s sharp eye and well developed understanding of the human heart make her the perfect sleuth. Though I hadn’t read Barron’s earlier Jane Austen mysteries I had no trouble jumping into and thoroughly enjoying this one.

5 out of 5 Stars

Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas: Being a Jane Austen Mystery, by Stephanie Barron
Soho Press (2014)
Hardcover & eBook (336) pages
ISBN: 978-1616954239

Additional Reviews:

Book cover courtesy of Soho Press © 2014; text Jenny 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.”

Mr. Darcy’s Christmas Calendar, by Jane Odiwe – Preview & Exclusive Excerpt

Mr Darcys Christmas Calendar by Jane Odiwe 2014 x 200I have often thought of Pride and Prejudice as the ultimate fairy tale. While it does not have the traditional folkloric fantasy figures such as dwarves, fairies or giants, Jane Austen did create iconic romantic characters that have become prototypes for modern writers and a plot that includes the perfect happily-ever-after ending. It is easy to see why we want to return to that fantasy and live in the era with her characters again and again through new stories.

Austenesque author Jane Odiwe has written two Austen-inspired novels with strong fantasy elements: Project Darcy and Searching for Captain Wentworth. She has a particular talent for time-slip novels where a modern heroine, like her fairy tale compatriots—Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella or Belle in Beauty and the Beast—are touched by a magic that changes their lives, setting them on a course of discovery and romance. Her latest is a novella, Mr. Darcy’s Christmas Calendar, is set during the holiday season in modern day and Regency England. Jane has generously supplied an exclusive excerpt of her new work. I hope you enjoy it.

PREVIEW (from the publisher’s description)

A novella for the Christmas holidays – Lizzy Benson visits Jane Austen’s house in Chawton, and buys a special advent calendar in the gift shop, but strange things start to happen when she opens up the first door and finds herself back in time with all the beloved characters from her favourite book, Pride and Prejudice. As she finds herself increasingly drawn into an alternate reality, Lizzy discovers not only is Mr Darcy missing from the plot, but Jane Austen has never heard of him. All Lizzy can hope is that she can help to get the story and her own complicated love life back on track before Christmas is over!

EXCERPT (from chapter 4)

When Lizzy awoke next morning, she couldn’t think where she was at first. And then she remembered that she was lying in Jane Austen’s bed, and that the whole reason she was there was because she’d bought an Advent calendar in the shop at Jane Austen’s house. The memories of the day and evening before slowly returned. None of it seemed to make any sense, and the idea that she’d somehow passed into some unknown and strange reality was a growing concern. Ever since she was a little girl Lizzy had always felt there was a fine line between what she imagined and what was real. Spending a good amount of time in her imagination, whether daydreaming or in reading books meant that reality and fantasy were often blurred in her mind. But nothing had ever felt so real as the strange episode she was now experiencing. Never before had her mind co-operated quite so much with bringing to life the worlds she’d often visualised. Every detail had been thought of, but she could not think her brain quite capable of summoning up the mended patches on the curtains, or able to supply a darkening stain on the ceiling by the window where it seemed ice water was seeping in through a hole in the roof. It would probably be better if she didn’t think about it too much, Lizzy decided, and she really would have to make an effort to get home today, she thought, her mother would be worried to death. But, one glimpse at the window told her there’d been no cessation in the weather. Snow was falling thick and fast, and pulling at the bedclothes to trap in the warmth, she hoped she wouldn’t be stuck there for another whole day.

As she lay there familiarising herself with every last feature of the room, she heard the sound of a pianoforte being played. It must be Elizabeth or Jane practising, she thought, and Lizzy remembered reading that Jane Austen loved to play before breakfast. Whoever was playing sounded very accomplished to her ears, and the tunes were very pretty, some longer concertos, and others quite short songs. When it stopped, she decided it must be time to get up, but wasn’t quite sure whether she should attempt to do that herself or wait for the maid to come in. Swinging her legs out of bed, she sat on the side and listened to the sounds of the little clock on the mantle, a soothing sound that made her feel as if she might easily be hypnotised.

Lizzy’s eyes were drawn to the Advent calendar propped up against the looking glass on the dressing table. Number four was shining with a bright white light bursting from its centre like a Christmas star, and it looked far too inviting to ignore. Lizzy fetched it and opened the door, gasping when she saw the picture inside. It looked rather like her, the painting of the girl who stood observing her reflection, and the longer she stared, and the more she thought about Miss Lizzy Benson depicted in a beautiful ball gown, the more she found herself drawn into the painting. And just moments later, it was as if, like Alice in Wonderland, she’d shrunk, closed up like a telescope until small enough to pass through the tiny door, but it was done so seamlessly and swiftly, in such a blink of an eye that it was impossible to know how it had happened at all.

Lizzy admired herself in the glass. She looked just as if she’d stepped out from a period production on television, rather like Elizabeth Bennet herself, she thought gleefully. The gown was quintessentially Georgian, made of fine cambric embroidered with a panel of whitework leaves and flowers tumbling down the front and along the hem. There were puffed sleeves, cut to show off her slender arms, and a white satin sash tied at empire height made her appear tall and elegant. Her hair was twisted up behind, and dressed in curls, garlanded with a band of white sarcenet and pale pink roses. A pair of elbow-length gloves, a fan of silk and mother-of-pearl, and a reticule on silken strings were the final accessories chosen to show off her dress, complementing the beautiful pendant round her neck.

It was getting dark outside, and though she felt quite excited about the turn in events, she also felt more than a little worried. Mrs Bennet had said she could telephone her mother, and at the very least, that was what she must do next. Lizzy could not find a single light switch, and resorted to picking up the only candlestick, whose candle was rather badly illuminating the room, as the light was fading. It really did make the place feel very authentic, but never before had she appreciated electricity so much. It was easy to see how the writers of the past were so inspired to write gothic tales of ghostly happenings and ghoulish goings-on. She thought how much more her senses seemed alerted in the dark with only the flickering flame lighting her way. Tiptoeing down the creaking wooden staircase, she frightened herself rather badly once or twice as her own shadow loomed and shrank against the walls like a cowering thief in the night, waiting to pounce.

She found the telephone in the hallway, an object she hadn’t noticed being there before and quite incongruous in this setting, which in every other respect made her feel as if she’d travelled back in time. An antique item that looked like a model from the 1930s, Lizzy didn’t feel very hopeful on picking up the receiver as all she could hear at the other end were crackling and clicking noises, certainly not like any telephone tone she’d ever heard at home. Inserting her index finger, she set about dialling the number, each turn of the black and white numbered dial swiftly whirring back into place. Then she waited to hear the ringing tone but heard nothing, not a sound, so she tried again thinking she must have dialled incorrectly. It was no use; the line was completely and utterly dead. Still, perhaps Mrs Bennet might know what to do and would help her.

‘Are you ready?’

Lizzy recognised the brusque voice that barked out of the darkness and she turned guiltily, as if caught out doing something she shouldn’t. He loomed out of the shadows, and for the second time Lizzy actually thought that if Mr Williams didn’t look so disapproving he might be considered almost handsome. He was dressed ready to face the cold night air, the cloak he wore made him appear taller than ever and his broad shoulders were just the kind she would admire on anybody else. She really didn’t want to ask him to help her, but if she didn’t telephone her mother soon, there wouldn’t be another opportunity.

‘I can’t seem to get the telephone to work … just wondering if it’s me.’

Mr Williams picked up the receiver and Lizzy saw him shake his head. ‘Nope, it’s not working … completely dead, in fact.’

‘Is there another? Or have you a mobile I could use? I really need to phone my mum, and mine’s run out of battery.’

‘No, that’s the only one, and I don’t use modern technology, I’m afraid.’

‘What about the others? Will anyone else have one?’

‘Absolutely not. Look, there’s nothing to be done, and if we’re not careful we’ll be late. It’s time to go.’

Lizzy really didn’t want to be left on her own with Mr Williams any longer, or have to travel with him by herself. ‘Oughtn’t we to wait for Mrs Bennet?’ she said, thinking that couldn’t possibly be the real name of the lady who’d arranged everything.

‘No need for that’, he said, ‘she’s left already with her daughters. I’m to escort you, so hurry up before the coachman leaves. He must be thinking we’ve forgotten him. Here, you’ll need this.’

To her great astonishment he took a pink velvet cloak from the coat hooks and held it out so she had no choice but to allow him to place it round her shoulders. She turned and felt the warm silk of the lining envelop her and when she moved back to thank him and before she had a chance to register the fact, he was tying the ribbons at her neck. His fingers brushed her throat momentarily, and she started in surprise. It wasn’t an unpleasant feeling, but it disturbed her. When he wasn’t looking she rubbed at her neck as if to get rid of the feelings, but the sensations lingered, whatever she did to make them go away. 

END OF EXCERPT

Many thanks to author Jane Odiwe for sharing an excerpt from her new novella, Mr. Darcy’s Christmas Calendar, with us. Be sure to check out Jane’s other recent publication, Mrs. Darcy’s Diamonds too.

ARTHOR BIO

Author Jane Odiwe (2014)Jane Odiwe is the author of seven Austen-inspired books, Mr Darcy’s Christmas Calendar, Mrs Darcy’s Diamonds, Project Darcy, Searching for Captain Wentworth, Mr Darcy’s Secret, Willoughby’s Return, and Lydia Bennet’s Story.

Recent television appearances include a Masterchef Special, celebrating 200 years of Sense and Sensibility, and an interview for the 200 year anniversary of Pride and Prejudice on BBC Breakfast.

Jane is a member of the Jane Austen Society; she holds an arts degree, and initially started her working life teaching art and history. With her husband, children, and two cats, Jane divides her time between North London, and Bath, England. When she’s not writing, she enjoys painting and trying to capture the spirit of Jane Austen’s world. Her illustrations have been published in a picture book, Effusions of Fancy, and are featured in a biographical film of Jane Austen’s life in Sony’s DVD edition of The Jane Austen Book Club.

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Mr. Darcy’s Christmas Calendar, by Jane Odiwe
Whitesoup Press (2014)
Trade paperback & eBook (190) pages
ISBN: 978-1502961068

Cover image courtesy of Whitesoup Press © 2014; excerpt Jane Odiwe ©2014, Austenprose.com