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

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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.”

Jane Austen’s Worthing: The Real Sanditon, by Antony Edmonds – A Review

Jane Austen's Worthing, by Antony Edmonds 2014From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

Jane Austen sequels thrive on what ifs. What if Darcy’s first proposal had been delivered in a more gentlemanly manner? What if Willoughby had decided to marry for love instead of money? Jane Austen’s unfinished novel, Sanditon, is a different kind of literary “what if” for her fans. The eleven chapters Austen penned in early 1817 introduce readers to a fictional seaside resort with as promising a set of characters as any of her other novels. As Antony Edmonds notes in the introduction to Jane Austen’s Worthing: The Real Sanditon:

“In spite of the fact that during its composition she was suffering from the painful and debilitating illness that killed her, there is little evidence of any diminution of her powers, and had the book been finished it is likely that it would have been the equal of her six famous novels.” (10)

While other authors have taken up the challenge of completing the unfinished story, Edmonds, a researcher and writer who has published numerous articles about the seaside town of Worthing and its literary associations, reveals the parallels between Jane Austen’s fictional town and the real one on the Sussex coast in England that she visited in 1805. As Edmonds explains, researchers have only recently known for certain that Jane Austen visited Worthing. Her letters mention the possibility of a visit, but no further reference is made of the trip. Confirmation of the visit was found in the diaries and letters of Jane Austen’s niece Fanny Knight. Jane Austen’s Worthing includes excerpts from these documents as well as seventy-five illustrations and maps that provide a detailed view of life in Regency Worthing.

Central to Edmonds’ argument for Worthing being the inspiration for Sanditon are the similarities of the town’s great house, Warwick House, to the fictional Trafalgar House described by Austen as “a light elegant Building, standing in a small Lawn with a very young plantation round it.” Illustrations of Warwick House demonstrate these similarities, as does the general layout of the town. The majority of the illustrations are architectural sketches, watercolors, engravings, and photographs that bring Regency Worthing to life.

The owner of Warwick House was Edward Ogle, an energetic speculator and developer, who likely inspired the character of Mr. Parker. Ogle was active in the management of Worthing and put great effort into attracting “select society” to the new resort. A compelling piece of the Worthing-Sanditon connection is found in a letter from Jane to Cassandra who was staying in London in November 1813:

“Sweet Mr Ogle. I dare say he sees all the Panoramas for nothing, has free-admittance everywhere; he is so delightful! – Now, you need not see anybody else.” (6)

While the passage is “tantalizingly brief,” it does suggest that Jane and her sister were on relaxed and agreeable terms with Ogle and had maintained friendships with him that began with their first acquaintance in 1805 at Worthing.

The scene of this possible first meeting of Austen and Ogle forms one of my favorite passages from the book. Edmonds explains the social importance of libraries in the small resort towns of this era:

“Since well-bred ladies would not have ventured into the town’s inns, the main locations for social interaction were the town’s two libraries, Spooner’s in the Colonnade, almost opposite Stanford’s Cottage, and Stafford’s Marine Library…” (49)

Beside their primary function of lending books, libraries also kept copies of London newspapers, conducted raffles, and often served as post offices. As a bibliophile, I enjoyed the thought of Austen frequenting the local library during her visit, enjoying the good company of “clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation” that Anne Elliot describes in Persuasion.

It appears that competition for well-bred clientele in Worthing was fierce. As the town grew, a rivalry between John Mackoull, the owner of the new Apollo Music and Classical Library, and Edward Ogle, owner of Spooner’s in the Colonnade, turned into an ugly vendetta against Olge by Mackoull, whom the author describes as a “volatile reformed criminal.” Edmonds does not shrink from telling the stories of Worthing residents and visitors that “are very different from the decorous world of Jane Austen’s novels, and fleshes out for us the underbelly of…the ‘select society’ of the time.” (112) These notables include Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, and a certain Colonel Berkeley, described as a “louche nobleman and part-time actor with a passion for young actresses.”

I found Jane Austen’s Worthing to be a well balanced and carefully researched work. It is much more than a virtual historical walking tour through an English seaside resort. As the book is based on the author’s original article published in The Jane Austen Society Report for 2010, it does have a scholarly tone that may not appeal to some readers. However, if you enjoyed reading Sanditon, have an interest in architecture or history, or are just curious about some of the less savory aspects of Regency society, I would recommend taking this trip to Worthing.

4 out of 5 Stars

Jane Austen’s Worthing: The Real Sanditon, by Antony Edmonds
Amberley Publishing (2014)
Digital eBook (232) pages
ASIN: B00IASW9YE

Cover image courtesy of Amberley Publishing © 2014; text Tracy Hickman © 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 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

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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.”

The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen: A Novel, by Shannon Winslow – A Review 

The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen, by Shannon Winslow (2014)From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder:

It seems to be a great injustice indeed that we, as lovers of all things Jane Austen, spend such a small percentage of our time thinking about Jane’s own love life, as we are instead wrapped up in the lives of her amazingly-created characters. With that in mind, I was excited to hear that one of my favorite Austen authors, Shannon Winslow, was dedicating a book to Ms. Austen herself and the potential influences she had in writing one of her two posthumously published works, Persuasion. It is aptly named The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen. I couldn’t wait to read this once it came out, given how much I admired Winslow’s previous works, The Darcy’s of Pemberley and Return to Longbourn. So, without any more fanfare, I eagerly began reading.

The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen is based on the premise that Austen had her own object of affection: a sea captain by the name of Philippe Devereaux. Introduced to the Captain by her cousin Eliza at her wedding to Jane’s brother, Henry, we see Jane thrown into a whirlwind of emotion upon meeting Philippe. In fact, she behaves not unlike her own characters when they find themselves in much the same predicament. Winslow tells us of Jane’s personal love story with Captain Devereaux via entries of Jane’s own personal journal, penned alongside the pages of Persuasion itself. Winslow slowly begins to intertwine these two tales, and we get to see Jane go through the emotions of loss, love, and finally (what she really deserves) a happy ending.

This is definitely Winslow’s best work to date. The writing is emotional, moving, and my heart was stirred for Jane and her tribulations. Winslow is one of the few authors who can channel Austen’s style of prose so well that I could not tell the two apart if I tried (the only other who comes to mind is Meg Kerr and her novel Experience.) The style of the book (in a journal format which weaves in Persuasion) was a perfect choice, because Winslow’s prose is so like Jane’s that it is incredibly believable that you could be reading actual diary pages written by Jane years ago. It’s obvious that Winslow put a lot of research into where Jane was at certain points of her life to make this story so believable.

I’m glad that Winslow chose to write about Persuasion instead of Pride and Prejudice, for although P&P only slightly edges out Persuasion as my favorite book, Persuasion is often relegated to second fiddle in the fan fiction world, with less work devoted to it. I’m glad such a prolific author in the Jane Austen Fan Fiction world was able to introduce the love and beauty of Anne and Frederick’s story to a new generation. My challenge to you, dear readers, is to download a sample of the first chapter of this book, in which Jane begins writing Persuasion, and not be moved by the frail humanity Jane expresses:

“To begin is to risk everything – crushing defeat, utter failure or, worse still, mediocrity. However, not taking the risk is unthinkable. I have come through successfully before, but that hardly signifies. With each new work the familiar doubts and niggling questions resurface, chiefly these. Do I really possess whatever genius it takes to do it again? And if so, what is the best way to go about it?” (9-10)

The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen is one of the most moving, soul-filling, and beautiful stories I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. The wait for this book was totally worth it, and I’m already eager to see what beauty Winslow will create next.

★★★★★ 5 out of 5 Stars

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 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 Country Life: Uncovering the rural backdrop to her life, her letters and her novels, by Deirdre Le Faye – A Review       

Jane Austen's Country Life, by Deirdre Le Faye (2014 )From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

Ask any fan of Jane Austen what they love about her works and they can readily describe cherished characters, pithy quotes, and probably several screen adaptations that are especially close to their hearts. But what about what Austen loved? Jane’s niece Anna Lefroy remembered her aunt as a lover of the outdoors and natural scenery. Her letters are filled with walks in all kinds of weather and you don’t have to search her novels long to find numerous scenes that take place not in a stuffy drawing room, but on a tree-lined path or windswept hill. Jane Austen’s Country Life focuses on the Hampshire countryside where she spent three-quarters of her life:

“This first-hand knowledge of country life underpins her writing and gives the time-frame against which she constructs her plots; she was not only a clergyman’s daughter, but a farmer’s daughter as well…” (8)

The first chapter “Hampshire” begins with an overview of the county, explaining the then-controversial process of enclosure that deprived the rural poor of the use of common land. Enclosure features in three Austen novels: Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, and Emma. Descriptions and illustrations of the villages of Steventon and Deane follow, as well as those of nearby Oakley and Ashe. The larger towns of Overton, Basingstoke and Odiham provided the Austen family with well-stocked market places for shopping and assembly balls for dancing and socializing. While Le Faye includes several lovely antique maps of Hampshire, I longed for a simple map showing the villages and towns in relation to one another at this point in the book.

“Life at Steventon Rectory” describes the family’s domestic routines, the love of amateur theatricals, and Austen’s early comic works now known as The Juvenelia. Young Jane and her sister also spent a short time away from Steventon at a girls’ boarding school in Reading. Le Faye suggests that as the academic regime was “very casual” and the girls were allowed to spend their afternoons as they pleased, this may have been when Jane immersed herself in the romantic popular novels that she later parodied in Northanger Abbey.

My favorite chapter “A Year in the Countryside” charts the seasons from January through December. Beginning with Plough Monday in early January when the Steventon farming community would have marked the start of the English agricultural year and finishing with the twelve days of Christmas and the New Year, Le Faye seamlessly weaves events from the agricultural calendar with Austen’s life, as well as the action in her novels. Highlights from the year include sheep shearing in June, haymaking in July, and harvesting crops from August to October. Seasonal rhythms dictate the lives of Austen’s characters as much as her family and neighbors:

“No fewer than four of Jane’s novels start their main action in September: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Emma and Persuasion. This is not accidental, but tacitly acknowledges that the slight pause after the hectic and anxious time of harvesting gave the opportunity for both farmers and gentry to plan for agricultural and social life respectively.” (105)

Continuing with “The Hardships and Pleasures of Rural Life” and “Crops, Livestock and Pleasure-Grounds” Le Faye’s text and choice of illustrations create a vivid and lively picture of English rural life in Jane Austen’s time. Just as the reader is feeling at home in Hampshire, and agreeing with Austen that “there is nothing like staying at home, for real  comfort,” an abrupt removal to Bath described in the chapter titled “Urban Interlude” turns Austen’s world on its head. While Austen seemed to dislike Bath as much as her heroine Anne Elliot, the city’s relative proximity to a number of seaside resorts made possible some of her most beloved visits to the English coast. Austen uncharacteristically describes the scenery of Lyme and the surrounding countryside in Persuasion:

“…the Cobb itself, its old wonders and new improvements, with the very beautiful line of cliffs stretching out to the east of the town, are what the stranger’s eye will seek; and a very strange stranger it must be, who does not see charms in the immediate environs of Lyme, to make him wish to know it better.” (226)

Concluding with “Life at Godmersham and Chawton” Le Faye describes how Mrs. Austen and her daughters settled back into a comfortable country life when Edward Austen Knight offered them a rent-free cottage in Chawton. The author also notes a subtle shift in Austen’s novels from this time. Their author was no longer a farmer’s daughter, but the squire’s sister:

“…the novels of her maturity—Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion—are written much more from the point of view of that rank of society: the domestic lives of the men who have the responsibility of managing large estates and leading their local communities.” (253)

Regardless of her choice of subject matter, a return to country life must have appealed to Austen. With Deidre Le Faye as our knowledgeable guide, we can re-visit this vanished rural landscape and gain a greater appreciation of Jane’s delight in natural scenery. We love Austen’s characters and stories, but may not realize how her realistic depiction of time and place contributes to our sense of her works, unless we explore Jane Austen’s Country Life.

★★★★★ 5 out of 5 Stars

Jane Austen’s Country Life: Uncovering the rural backdrop to her life, her letters and her novels, by Deirdre Le Faye
Francis Lincoln Ltd., (2014)
Hardcover (256) pages
ISBN: 978-0711231580

Cover image courtesy of Francis Lincoln Ltd., © 2014; text Tracy Hickman © 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.”