The Bridge to Belle Island, by Julie Klassen — A Review

The Bridge to Belle Island by Julie Klassen (2019)From the desk of Sophia Rose:

First, Julie Klassen pulled me into her writing with a haunting, gothic romantic suspense, The Secret of Pembrooke Park, and most recently delighted me with the world of a quaint English village and its occupants in her series, The Tales of Ivy Hill. In her latest release, Klassen wrote a romantic suspense that is slightly darker, splitting the setting of an island estate on the Thames and London. I love a good murder mystery, and setting it in the Regency period had me taking up The Bridge to Belle Island prepared for a reading treat.

Young lawyer, Benjamin Booker, has just experienced a humiliating loss in court when the client he thought innocent had charmed him into risking all to defend her and it turned out she had utterly lied. He feels that he has disappointed his mentor at the firm and took a hard hit to his confidence in reading people and situations. However, he soon has the opportunity to prove himself to his mentor, Mr. Hardy, when Mr. Hardy wants justice for the death of his former colleague at the firm who lately held the position of trustee for the Wilder family and was murdered in their London Town House.

Living retired from the rest of the world on Belle Island, Isabelle Wilder has seen a great deal of tragic death in her family and it has left her with an extreme fear that won’t allow her to leave her island family home for years now. She is sorry to miss her niece’s engagement party in London because of her own weakness. The night of the party, Isabelle has a terrible dream that their skinflint trustee was murdered. She is dismayed when Mr. Booker, a skeptical lawyer from the family firm, shows up both to sort their legal matters brought on by the death of her trustee, but also to investigate the death with her as the chief suspect. It was a dream when she saw vivid images of the death, right? She has nothing to hide, she hopes, so welcomes Mr. Booker to Belle Island and invites him into her life there where he starts to mellow toward her until disturbing facts start to come to light leading right to her door.

There is a lot to unpack when I look back on this story. It has two main characters, Benjamin and Isabelle, who took turns narrating. They are well developed, likable and yet flawed in their own ways. Isabelle is in deep fear of dying in a tragic way if she leaves the island as a result of not coming to peace with the past loss of parents and sister, her only close family with the exception of her beloved niece. Benjamin struggles with the issue of inadequacy because he was never good enough with his father like his over-achieving brother and because he isn’t interested in the family medical practice. This is where the inspirational element is strongest as they work through their issues and learn to rely on their beliefs and promises in Scripture to aid them to overcome their issues.

The attention to the historical background and the island setting was well done as usual. I enjoyed learning about life on the island estate that was on the Thames. The growing of the willow reeds for the basket weaving that was their prime income besides the sheep herd was fascinating but never tedious. There is also focus on how criminal investigation was handled in those pre-CSI days and on trusteeships and their effect on single gentlewomen.

The murder mystery is front and center at different times and I enjoyed the clever twists and turns it takes as Benjamin gets to the truth. The murderer and motive took me by surprise.  I was just starting to get a glimmer when the big reveal moment came.

As to the romance, it’s a slow burn one and doesn’t come completely into the open until near the end. It takes a back seat to the mystery, to personal and spiritual growth, and even to family. But it’s there subtly strengthening in the background until it’s time to shine near the end. Some might prefer the romance to be more overt and show itself much earlier, but I thought the pacing and development worked well for this story.

All in all, The Bridge to Belle Island was a superb read. Julie Klassen is a deft hand at taking the reader back to the Regency Era with her engaging characters and the gentle flow of the story that passes quickly leaving the reader well-satisfied but still wanting more at the end. If you love sweet Regency Romance with strong inspirational flavor but want the spice of a cunning murder mystery, this book is for you.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Bridge to Belle Island by Julie Klassen
Bethany House Publishers (2019)
Hardcover, trade paperback, ebook, and audiobook (400) pages
ISBN-13: 978-0764218194

ADDITIONAL REVIEWS:

PURCHASE LINKS:

AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE | BOOK DEPOSITORY | INDIEBOUND | GOODREADS

Disclosure of Material Connection: We received a review copy of this book 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. Austenprose.com is an Amazon.com affiliate. We receive a modest remuneration when readers use our links and make a purchase. 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.”

Cover image courtesy of Bethany House Publishers © 2019; text Sophia Rose © 2019, Austenprose.com

A Preview of The Knight Before Christmas, by Marilyn Brant

The Knight Before Christmas, by Marilyn Brant (2019)Hey-ho-ho Jane Austen fans. How are your holiday festivities and shopping shaping up? My neighborhood has decked their houses with lights and a few Santa’s on the rooves. One even sports a giant green Grinch. Ouch! They could use a good dose of holiday cheer, like watching one of the billion Hallmark Holiday movies airing on TV right now or reading The Knight Before Christmas, Marilyn Brant’s new holiday-themed contemporary romance. We have reviewed several of Marilyn’s previous novels here in the past with glowing results. Her Jane Austen-inspired According to Jane, and Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Match are worthy of adding to your shelves.

However, today we are introducing you to her latest release, The Knight Before Christmas. Inspired by Jane Austen’s Emma, she takes the essence of Austen’s nonsensical heroine Miss Emma Woodhouse and her older, wiser neighbor George Knightley and gives them a modern spin. Here is the book description from the publisher and an exclusive excerpt from the author herself for your enjoyment.

BOOK DESCRIPTION:

When successful building contractor Austin Knightley returns to his hometown of Crystal Corners, Minnesota, after a decade away, he vows to avoid pampered and popular types like his old high-school crush Emma Westwood—the town’s biggest queen bee and self-appointed matchmaker—only to get swept into a community Christmas project she’s now organizing.

With nods to Jane Austen’s classic novel Emma, this modern heroine may be a little “clueless” in the Midwest, but she’s got gifts to share and plenty to learn from the boy next door, who’s all grown up and handsomer than ever. Even when a snowstorm threatens to derail her plans, she’s determined to figure out how to set things right and save The Knight Before Christmas. This sweet and heartwarming holiday romance is a story that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages.

EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT: Continue reading

A Preview of Dangerous Alliance: An Austentacious Romance, by Jennieke Cohen

Dangerous Alliance, by Jennieke Cohen (2019)Did you know that contemporary fiction outnumbers historical fiction by tenfold in the young adult genre? I have never understood this trend. I have been told that teens prefer to read about heroes and heroines their own age and set in their own time. When I was younger, I read many historical novels and adored period dramas, and still do, so when a special historical romance in this genre arrives I am doubly pleased. Dangerous Alliance, by Jennieke Cohen is being touted as The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue meets Jane Austen. For those of you who have not read Mackenzi Lee’s bestselling 2017 novel, I highly recommend it. Most of you landing on this blog have read a Jane Austen book or seen a movie or two, so I am sure that you will understand the comparison to Ms. Cohen’s new novel.

Dangerous Alliance is not only a witty historical romance, it has some mystery elements in it to keep you guessing. Here is the description from the publisher and an exclusive excerpt from the author.

BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Lady Victoria Aston has everything she could want: an older sister happily wed, the future of her family estate secure, and ample opportunity to while her time away in the fields around her home. But now Vicky must marry—or find herself and her family destitute. Armed only with the wisdom she has gained from her beloved novels by Jane Austen, she enters society’s treacherous season.

Sadly, Miss Austen has little to say about Vicky’s exact circumstances: whether the roguish Mr. Carmichael is indeed a scoundrel, if her former best friend, Tom Sherborne, is out for her dowry or for her heart, or even how to fend off the attentions of the foppish Mr. Silby, he of the unfortunate fashion sensibility. Most unfortunately of all, Vicky’s books are silent on the topic of the mysterious accidents cropping up around her…ones that could prevent her from surviving until her wedding day.

EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT: Continue reading

The Clergyman’s Wife: A Pride & Prejudice Novel, by Molly Greeley — A Review

The Clergyman's Wife, by Molly Greeley (2019)From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

Readers of Pride and Prejudice often compare Charlotte Lucas unfavorably with Elizabeth Bennet who bravely resists financial and familial pressure to accept a proposal from the comically inept Mr. Collins, the man who stands to inherit Longbourn upon her father’s death. While nothing but the deepest love will induce her into matrimony, her closest friend Charlotte decides that she does not have the luxury of waiting for love and quickly catches Mr. Collins on the rebound. Lizzy’s bold refusal stirs our hearts; Charlotte’s pragmatic and calculated choice elicits feelings of resignation and dismay. But I’ve often thought that Charlotte is unfairly maligned by readers, who seem to expect her to possess courage equal to that of Jane Austen’s daring heroine. Could a P&P-inspired novel offer Charlotte something other than a loveless marriage of convenience?

Molly Greeley’s debut novel The Clergyman’s Wife explores Charlotte’s married life in the village of Hunsford. The main storyline takes place three years after Charlotte becomes Mrs. Collins. Her life is quiet, comfortable, and secure, though she must endure visits to Rosings Park from time to time. Housekeeping, parish duties, and raising her infant daughter, Louisa, keep Charlotte busy. While this is the life Charlotte chose, the opening pages of Chapter 1 hint at her well-concealed malaise:

“Behind me on my writing desk, a fresh piece of paper sits ready. The salutation at the top—Dear Elizabeth—has been dry for some time. I never feel the quiet uniformity of my life as fully as when I am trying to compose a letter to my friend…There is always the menu to plan, the accounts to balance, the kitchen garden to tend. I embroider a great deal more than I used to, and my designs have improved, I think. But descriptions of embroidery do not an amusing letter make.” (8)

Continue reading

The Ultimate Jane Austen-inspired Holiday Gift Guide for 2019

 

The Ultimate Jane Austen-Inspired Holiday Gift Guide (2019)

The holiday season is upon us once again with all the joys of gift giving for loved ones and friends. To make it easy for you, here is a handy gift guide for the Jane Austen fan in your life.

COLLECTOR’S EDITIONS OF JANE AUSTEN’S NOVELS

The Jane Austen Collection from the Folio Society

Any Jane Austen fan would give their eye teeth for this glorious collector’s edition of her six major novels by the Folio Society, a small press in England who creates exquisite fine editions of classics and selected contemporary writers. Each beautifully designed book in the collection includes the full text of Jane Austen’s novels and is illustrated in color by leading and award-winning artist. Bound in gold cloth, each book includes a coordinating slipcase.

A CLOSER LOOK:

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Books in the Jane Austen Collection include: Sense and Sensibility (1811), illustrated by Philip Bannister, and introduced by Elena Ferrante; Pride and Prejudice (1813), illustrated by Anna and Elena Balbusso, and introduced by Sebastian Faulks; Mansfield Park (1815), illustrated by Darya Shnykina, and introduced by Lucy Worsley; Emma (1816), illustrated by Sam Wolfe Connelly, and introduced by Fay Weldon; Persuasion, illustrated by Deanna Staffo, and introduced by Siri Hustvedt; and Northanger Abbey, illustrated by Jonathan Burton, and introduced by Val McDermid.

These magnificent editions can be purchased separately or as a collection. Visit the Folio Society’s website for additional details and purchase links. (The books ship from the UK, so check Holiday delivery cut off on publisher’s website.)

THE FOLIO SOCIETY

 

Jane Austen: The Complete Works 7-Book Boxed Set: Classics hardcover boxed set (Penguin Clothbound Classics), by Jane Austen, book cover design by Coralie Bickford-Smith

Penguin Classics Clothbound Jane Austen

This seven-book box set is sure to thrill any Jane Austen fan on Christmas day. It is stunningly beautiful in design and the interior is expertly edited. It includes all six of Austen’s major novels and a volume of her minor works.

DESCRIPTION: Continue reading

A Preview of By Time Divided (Love Without Time Book 2), by Elaine Jeremiah

By Time Divided, by Elaine Jeremiah (2019)Hey-ho Janeites! May I introduce you to a newly released Regency romance fantasy novel today? By Time Divided, by Elaine Jeremiah is a time-travel story that takes us back into Jane Austen’s England.

Time-travel in fiction is a creative literary technique. It allows characters and readers to be transported to a different era. The Time Machine, a science fiction novella written by H. G. Wells in 1895 is generally credited as the first time-travel story. This concept must have seemed outrageous to the staid Victorian readers unfamiliar with the concept. Today it is a common trope used in contemporary, historical, and Austenesque fiction. The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon is hugely popular, and recently The Austen Project, by Kathleen A. Flynn, Searching for Captain Wentworth, by Jane Odiwe, and The Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, by Laurie Viera Rigler round out the field.

By Time Divided is the second book in the Love Without Time trilogy by Elaine Jeremiah. It is a frame story whereby the heroine Cassie Taylor and her friend Mia begin the narrative in contemporary times and travel back to Regency England. A story within a story. They are on a mission to find Cassie’s love interest that we were introduced to in book one, Love Without Time (2018). If you are wondering about the Jane Austen connection, as I was, the author describes it as a Jane Austen-inspired time travel romance. Here are the book description and an exclusive excerpt for your enjoyment.

BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Having accidentally time travelled to Regency England; Jane Austen fan Cassie Taylor finds herself unexpectedly back in the twenty-first century. But everything has changed. She’s been missing for three weeks and her parents are upset and disbelieving when she tells them where she’s been. The police aren’t too pleased either.

Cassie’s best friend Mia doubts the story yet stands by her friend. And then the unthinkable happens when they both end up in Regency England. Now Cassie has an even bigger problem: Mia is mixed race and they’re stuck in an era where the slave trade has only just been abolished. Cassie must somehow explain herself to her Regency friends – why she vanished and who her friend is. She also needs to find Ted, the love of her life.

How will Cassie manage to protect Mia from the insults of Regency people who see her as worthless? And how will she ever find a way for her and Ted and Mia to finally return home?

EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT: Continue reading

Matters of the Heart, by Fiona Palmer — A Review

Matters of the Heart, by Fiona Palmer (2019)From the desk of Sophia Rose:

One of the brilliant things about modern retellings is the amusement in discovering the similarities in the characters and scenes to the original while still getting a unique flavor to the story by seeing them in a new setting. Fiona Palmer’s, Matters of the Heart, a modern retelling of Pride & Prejudice set in rural Western Australia strikes a happy balance between complete correspondence to the original and wise alterations to suit the times and keeps it fresh for the readers. The draw of an Australian author and setting for Austen’s classic could not be missed.

The book opens with an introduction to the main character, feisty Lizzy Bennet, her family, and her small town, Coodardy. Lizzy pursues her deep-seated fulfillment in farming and bravely forges ahead using new methods in agriculture and animal husbandry to save the family farm following a few tough years and her dad’s indifference. Lizzy is not immune to other people’s doubts that a mere woman can be a farmer let alone save her family farm which causes her to stick out her chin and resent a certain rich, successful, and handsome farmer’s officious remark. So much for being excited about having the farm next door purchased and new people arriving in the neighborhood, she thinks. Charles might be nice enough and fun to converse with about farm methods, but his sister and best friend are as welcome as a bank foreclosure in Lizzy’s mind.

Matters of the Heart was very much in tune with Austen’s story. That said, it was freshened due to the Australian farm setting, Australian customs, and dialogue with new characters for the reader to engage with whether brand new to Austen or an old fan.

This version of Elizabeth Bennet, the jewel of the story for me, is a woman succeeding in a non-traditional career and is a bright non-conformist like the original. Continue reading

A Preview of Loving Like Jane (Princeton Ladies Book 1), by Connie E. Sokol

Loving Like Jane, by Connie E. Sokol (2019)How many contemporary Austenesque books have you read? If you are like me, my bookshelves and Kindle are packed with stories set in the Regency era with just a few set in modern times. It is a challenge to transport Austen’s characters and plots into contemporary settings. Authors must tweak much of it to fit and that does not always work. I have found that the best bet is to incorporate Austen elements into the story, like Marilyn Brant’s According to Jane, and Karen Doornebos’ Undressing Mr. Darcy. Both authors have excelled at this subgenre of Austenesque fiction in the past.

Adding to this niche is Loving Like Jane, by Connie E. Sokol. What intrigued me about this new novel was that it used the same premise as the successful Austenesque books by Brant and Doornebos. A Jane Austen obsessed heroine gets thrown into a challenging situation and uses her “Austen powers” to work through it to overcome her obstacles in her career and her love life. Here are a book description and an exclusive excerpt from the publisher for your enjoyment.

BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Allie’s dream of writing a best-selling novel for a top literary agent is finally coming true. Except, she’s already agreed to go on a bucket list Jane Austen Tour for three weeks with her newly divorced aunt and widowed mother. To complicate matters, Allie can’t decide what the Best Novel Ever idea should be, and the first three chapters are due in, what else, three weeks. Determined to buckle down, Allie devotes her time to writing while refusing to engage in the trip’s delights, or gorgeous but enigmatic Beckett, the assistant tour director. Despite her attempts to stay focused, Allie is drawn to Beckett’s quick wit, Jane Austen wisdom, and deciding if his help will further her dreams or get in the way. Join Allie on her inspiring, hilarious, and romantic adventure as she learns how loving like Jane Austen creates unexpected changes that could lead to the life she loves.

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A Preview of Emma, the 2020 Movie Adaptation of Jane Austen’s Classic Novel

Detail of Emma 2020 movie poster Focus Features © 2020

Janeites are all aflutter over the forthcoming release of the new Focus Features movie adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel Emma, starring Anya Taylor-Joy as the misapplying matchmaker Miss Emma Woodhouse and Johnny Flynn as Mr. Knightley, her older, and wiser neighbor. This new feature film was shot entirely in England in period-accurate settings and costumes this past summer. It will premiere in the UK on February 14th and in the US on February 21st, 2020.

Emma, Jane Austen’s most highly acclaimed novel has been adapted for radio, stage, television, and feature films many times, most recently for television in 2009 starring Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller, and for the screen in 1996 starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam in the starring roles. While Austen’s most famous and most widely adapted novel Pride and Prejudice wins the popularity race with fans, critics and connoisseurs consider Emma her masterpiece. Some early readers complained it was about nothing. Over the centuries those opinions have changed. I find it subtle, sly and hysterical. Contemporary writer-director Amy Heckerling agreed and based her 1995 teen movie Clueless on it to much acclaim.

Directed by Autumn de Wilde, with a screenplay by Eleanor Catton based on Jane Austen’s 1815 novel, we can see from the first trailer released today, that Emma 2020 will supply a visual and comedic treat. The advance publicity of this new film asks us to “Behold a new vision of Jane Austen’s beloved comedy about love and all of its surprises.” I am all anticipation. Here is a description from the production company publicity machine and the first trailer for your enjoyment.

DESCRIPTION:

Jane Austen’s beloved comedy about finding your equal and earning your happy ending is reimagined in this delicious new film adaptation of Emma. Handsome, clever, and rich, Emma Woodhouse is a restless queen bee without rivals in her sleepy little town. In this glittering satire of social class and the pain of growing up, Emma must adventure through misguided matches and romantic missteps to find the love that has been there all along.

FIRST TRAILER:

THE CAST & CREW: Continue reading