A Preview of The Thief of Lanwyn Manor: The Cornwall Novels Book 2, by Sarah E. Ladd

The Thief of Lanwyn Manor (The Cornwall Novels Book 2) by Sarah E. Ladd 2020Cornwall + Gothic = scintillating reading!

There has been a long tradition of Gothic novels set in Cornwall. The southern-most county of England has more miles of rocky coastline, windswept cliffs, mysterious manor houses, and menaced heroines than any other location in literary history.

Author Daphne du Maurier (1907–1989) is a major contributor to this genre with Jamaica Inn (1936), Rebecca (1938), and My Cousin Rachel (1951), adding greatly to the mysterious reputation emanating from Cornwall. Susan Howatch’s Penmarric, and Victoria Holt’s Bride of Pendorric, are also fabulous dark romances that send chills.

Today, I am happy to introduce you to Sarah E. Ladd. She joins an august ensemble of authors to this unique genre of romance with mysterious overtones in The Thief of Lanwyn Manor, her second novel of her Cornwall Books. Here is a description and an exclusive excerpt for your enjoyment.

BOOK DESCRIPTION:

In Regency England, an advantageous match could set up a lady for life. Julia knows Matthew Blake, copper mine owner, and very eligible bachelor is the gentleman she should set her eyes upon. But why can’t she steal her gaze away from his younger brother, Isaac?

Cornwall, England, 1818

Julia Twethewey needs a diversion to mend her broken heart, so when her cousin invites her to Lanwyn Manor, Julia eagerly accepts. The manor is located at the heart of Cornwall’s mining industry, and as a guest, Julia is swept into its intricate world. It’s not long, though, before she realizes something dark lurks within the home’s ancient halls.

As a respected mine owner’s younger son, Isaac Blake is determined to keep his late father’s legacy alive through the family business, despite his brother’s careless attitude. In order to save their livelihood—and that of the people around them—the brothers approach the master of Lanwyn Manor with plans to bolster the floundering local industry. Isaac can’t deny his attraction to the man’s charming niece, but his brother has made clear his intentions to court the lovely visitor. And Isaac knows his place.

When tragedy strikes, mysteries arise, and valuables go missing, Julia and Isaac find they are pulled together in a swirl of strange circumstances, but despite their best efforts to bow to social expectations, their hearts aren’t so keen to surrender.

EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT:

Lively conversation echoed and laughter abounded as Isaac remained with the male guests in the dining room. The ladies, led by Mrs. Lambourne, had retreated to Lanwyn Manor’s drawing-room, leaving the men to drink their port and discuss mining business. Smoke puffed from clay pipes and cheroots mixed with that from the hearth’s fire. To an outsider, the assembly might appear nothing more than a comfortable gathering of friends with nary a care in the world.

The pretense of camaraderie made Isaac uncomfortable.

He cherished his genuine friends, such as Charlie and Margaret, and pretending to be otherwise was difficult. Regardless, it was important to play the role he’d inherited— a miner who needed to manage the interest of his own undertakings.

Isaac moved to stand next to the window and stared into the rain-smeared black night. As he listened to the men’s chattering of hunting and pistols, his frustration grew. Gathered here were the best minds in mining, and not a single soul had the courage to bring up last night’s events. Instead, laughter and gaiety ruled the room, and his brother was at the heart of it. Just as Isaac had made up his mind to be the one to address it, footsteps sounded.

He glanced over his shoulder to see Dunstan approaching, port in hand. “Heard about your experience at the Gray Owl last night.”

“No doubt everyone’s heard about it.”

Dunstan regarded the laughing guests, joking and making merry, behind him. He heaved a sigh and shook his graying head.

“These are precarious times. There’s a great deal at stake. But I don’t have to tell you that.”

“No, sir, you do not.”

“Look at them all.” Dunstan set down his glass on the side table next to the window, retrieved a lacquered snuffbox from his waistcoat, and opened the lid. “All hoping to gain access to ol’ Bal Tressa, but I daresay Lambourne’s playing them all for fools.” He pinched the black powder between his fingers and inhaled before he extended the box to Isaac.

Isaac waved off the gesture and with a shrug, Dunstan returned the box to his pocket. “You’ve heard Lambourne’s been in talks with Marcus Elliot?”

Isaac folded his arms over his chest. “Yes. Apparently, that is why he was absent during his niece’s distress.”

Dunstan gave a dry laugh. “Speaking of Lambourne’s niece, your brother seemed quite enchanted by her charms during dinner.”

Isaac chuckled at the change of topic. “Noticed that, did you?”

“I gather everyone did. Not a bad tactic, I suppose. If I wanted a shot at Bal Tressa and I were twenty years younger and unmarried, wooing the owner’s niece might seem like a valid approach.”

“I’m not sure the Davies family would agree.” Isaac shot a glance over to Mr. Davies, whose scowl during dinner signaled his disapproval of the budding friendship between Matthew and the guest of honor. Isaac had been seated next to the discarded Miss Davies at dinner, and despite his best efforts to be an amiable dinner neighbor, her lack of interest in this Blake brother was evident.

“True.” Dunstan retrieved his port. “But Lambourne is so unaccustomed with the workings of a mine that it just might work.”

“Have you interest in Lambourne’s mine?”

Dunstan drew an exaggerated breath, turned his back toward the window, and assessed the group. A hint of a smile quirked one side of his mouth. “No, I don’t. I’ve set my sights in a different direction.”

“Oh?” Isaac raised his brows. “And what’s that?” Dunstan leaned closer and lowered his raspy voice even further. “I’ve heard chatter that you might consider opening Wheal Gwenna again. About time, says I.”

Isaac jerked, shocked to hear his mine mentioned. “Wheal Gwenna? Where’d you hear that?”

“Charlie Benson. Said he was working with you to gather capital.” “Ah.” Charlie was his good friend and a most loyal comrade, but he often had a hard time keeping his own counsel. “Wheal Gwenna’s closed and will likely stay that way. Even if I did plan to open her, it’d take a great deal of time, not to mention funds. With my work at Wheal Tamsen, I’m not sure how I’d manage.”

Dunstan drew a deep breath and rubbed his hand over his cleanly shaven chin. “Tell me, young Blake, do your plans include Bal Tressa like every other man in the room?”

Isaac shrugged. “Running a mine like Bal Tressa takes a great deal of money. You forget Matthew owns Wheal Tamsen, not me. His financial and business decisions are his. I manage his mine, and nothing more.”

“Yet you profit from it.” Isaac nodded. “Yes, I do.”

“Let me ask you this plainly.” Dunstan shifted his ample weight and squared his broad shoulders. “Are you seeking investors?”

Isaac widened his stance as he considered the question. True, he and Charlie had been talking— dreaming— about opening Wheal Gwenna, but frustration crept into his countenance. Charlie was eager, almost too eager, to secure investors. Wheal Gwenna was still Isaac’s mine, and he’d decide who’d have influence and who would not. But now wasn’t the time. He didn’t have sufficient funds, nor did he want outside investors affecting the mine operations. He wanted to be master of his own.

Then again, every man in the room wanted to be master of his own destiny, and unfortunately, very few were.

“Not at this time, no.”

Dunstan narrowed his eyes. “Have you considered that if other mines were finding success, the hullabaloo about Bal Tressa would cease?”

They stared at each other for several moments, the truth of the statement hanging heavily between them.

“I, for one, would be eager for such a venture, especially if I were young and unattached. You’ve much to gain,” Dunstan said.

After a pause, Isaac finished his sentence for him. “And not much to lose.” Chapter 11, pages 79 – 82

ADVANCE PRAISE:

  • Northanger Abbey meets Poldark against the resplendent and beautifully realized landscape of Cornwall.” — Rachel McMillan, author of The London Restoration
  • “Cornwall’s iconic sea cliffs are on display in The Thief of Lanwyn Manor, but it’s the lyrical prose, rich historical detail, and layered characters that truly shine…this is Sarah E. Ladd at her best!” — Kristy Cambron, bestselling author of the Lost Castle series
  • “Ladd laces the drama with deep faith elements and fine details of the Regency era, which provide depth beyond the tension of the romance. Fans of Julie Klassen will love this.” — Publisher’s Weekly

AUTHOR BIO:

Sarah E. Ladd received the 2011 Genesis Award in historical romance for The Heiress of Winterwood. She is a graduate of Ball State University and has more than ten years of marketing experience. Sarah lives in Indiana with her amazing family and spunky golden retriever. Visit her online at SarahLadd.com; Facebook: SarahLaddAuthor; Twitter: @SarahLaddAuthor.

The Thief of Lanwyn Manor (The Cornwall Novels Book 2), by Sarah E. Ladd
Thomas Nelson (2020)
Trade paperback, eBook, & audiobook (352) pages
ISBN: 978-0785223184

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

Cover image, book description, excerpt, & author bio courtesy of Thomas Nelson © 2020; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2020, Austenprose.com

Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor — A Review

Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor (2000)From the desk of Pamela Mingle:

When I was a young girl, I found a copy of Forever Amber on my aunt’s bookcase. I’d heard about its scandalous reputation and asked if I could borrow it. Written by Kathleen Winsor and published in 1944, the book became famous for its racy and bawdy storyline. It was banned in Massachusetts and subsequently in several other states. Preachers railed against it from their pulpits. Despite all that, Forever Amber was the bestselling book of the 1940s, and by 1947 the movie, a very condensed version of the book, starring Linda Darnell and Cornel Wilde, was released.

As a teenager, the frenetic passion between the two main characters, Amber St. Clare and Bruce, Lord Carlton, was all I cared about. The heady feeling of experiencing a great romance through a literary character stuck with me through the years. Although explicit sex is kept behind closed doors, the underlying desire between Amber and Bruce is always there, simmering beneath the surface.

The setting for the book is the Restoration (1660-1688), which begins with the return of Charles II to the English throne after the collapse of the Commonwealth. Winsor, an American, read over 350 books about the period while writing Forever Amber, which was published when she was only twenty-four. Continue reading

The Mitford Scandal: A Mitford Murders Mystery (Book 3), by Jessica Fellowes—A Review

The Mitford Scandal by Jessica Fellowes 2020From the desk of Debbie Brown:

From 1928 to 1932, the British middle and upper class still experienced a bright time. The Roaring Twenties are dimming, yet the fun and frolic continue for those “Bright Young Things” who still have plenty of money. “They drink too much and they’re careless. They’re rich and young and they believe themselves to be invincible.” The descent into decadence plays a major role in The Mitford Scandal, a complex mystery, by Jessica Fellowes.

Foremost among them, Diana Mitford (an actual British socialite of the era) is presented as the embodiment of Daisy Buchanan, the heroine of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s magnum opus The Great Gatsby.  She believes “One should live life to the absolute fullest, not doing anything dreary but surrounding oneself with love and beauty.” Sadly, the reader comes to understand that “life to the fullest” includes infidelity, adultery, and opium addiction among Diana’s social set.

The book begins with a series of behind-the-scenes views at a high society party in 1928, mostly seen through the eyes of Louisa Cannon, who’s employed as a temporary servant for the evening. Chapter One ends shockingly: a maid falls through a skylight into the middle of the partygoers in the ballroom, dead. While it seems obvious that this was an accident (she had been peeking at the party from a floor up above through the glass dome but fell into it, shattering the glass), evidence years later suggests the cause may have been something more sinister. Continue reading

All the Ways We Said Goodbye, by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, & Karen White — A Review

All The Ways We Said Goodbye, by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White (2020)From the desk of Katie Patchell:  

Three Women. Three Decades. Two Wars. 

In All the Ways We Said Goodbye, Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, & Karen White take readers across two continents and through two World Wars to uncover spies and secrets. Each of the three heroines, Aurelie, Daisy, and Babs, fight to bring freedom of heart and country in this tale that spans fifty years. The drumbeat of war reaches to stately mansions and across war-ravaged fields, calling each of the unique heroines to right the wrong in their corners of the world. Despite their seemingly unconnected lives, the same glittering Ritz holds the answers to what they search for: Courage, love, and a final goodbye. So reader: welcome to Paris — welcome to the Ritz — welcome to All the Ways We Said Goodbye.

If there was one word to describe this novel, it would be “secrets.” Aurelie, Daisy, and Babs have many secrets that they hide from even those closest to them, and it’s the job of the reader to sniff them out. I cannot give a detailed description of the plot because of the twists and revelations that happen to start in the very first pages. What I can do without spoilers is to give a brief introduction to each of the heroines:

  • Aurelie – 1914. Aurelie lives in Paris and is the daughter of a French aristocrat and an American heiress. Her ancestors fought with Joan of Arc, and this hero inspires Aurelie to go off on her own daring quest to save lives as a second “Maid of Orleans.” Rebelling against the German soldiers comes naturally, as they’re the invaders of her country and home. But when she meets an old flame now dressed in the garb of a German officer, the clear lines between “Who is my enemy?” and “Who is my friend?” vanish.
  • Daisy – 1942. Another resident of Paris, Daisy struggles against life under Nazi occupation. Her grandmother, a wealthy American expatriate, encourages Daisy to join her spy ring. For Daisy, the cost is great–if caught, her two young children and beloved grandmother are put in terrible danger. With the aid of a mysterious English spy and his worn copy of The Scarlet Pimpernel, Daisy embarks on a path she never would have planned in order to protect her family and people.
  • Babs – 1964. Babs was always content in her role as wife, mother, and leader in her area of Devonshire, England. When her childhood sweetheart-turned-husband dies after World War II, she sinks under the loneliness of an empty home and heart. But when Babs finds out that her husband may have lied about everything — even his love for her — she starts out on a transformative journey to Paris that takes her through old letters and long-buried stories at the Hotel Ritz.

Continue reading

Sanditon: A Novelization of Andrew Davies’ TV Adaptation of Jane Austen’s Unfinished Novel, by Kate Riordan

Sanditon, by Jane Austen and Kate Riordan PBS (2019)A new Jane Austen adaptation/continuation written by Andrew Davies (Pride and Prejudice 1995) debuted last night in the US on Masterpiece PBS. Inspired by an unfinished novel that Austen began shortly before her death in 1817, Sanditon, the original novel, the television series, and the novelization by Kate Riordan, all share the same title. A tie-in novel based on a screenplay based on an uncompleted novel. That is six degrees of separation that is a challenge to get my mind around. Today we are reviewing the novelization!

The story unfolds from the perspective of Charlotte Heywood, a young lady experiencing her first trip away from her family as a guest of the Parkers of Sanditon, an emerging seaside village on the Sussex coast. Mr. Parker and his business partner Lady Denham are the two entrepreneurs behind its redevelopment from a fishing village into a fashionable watering-place offering the therapeutic and curative benefits of sea-bathing. Mr. Parker has three siblings: Arthur and Diana, a comical pair who are obsessed with their health, and the mysterious Sidney, whose handsome portrait greeted Charlotte when she entered the Parker home. Lady Denham is a widow twice over whose heirs are circling in anticipation of her “ shuffle of this mortal coil,”: Sir Edward Denham and his sister Esther, and Clara Brereton, all young and eager to please their aunt to win her approval, and her fortune.

Every experience in Sanditon is a new adventure for Charlotte—seeing the ocean for the first time and meeting new people. Her first day after her arrival is spent sea-bathing, a bracing experience from the cold temperature of the ocean, and by the view of naked men bathing from an adjoining stretch of the beach. Later, while walking with Mrs. Parker to visit Lady Denham at Sanditon House, she sees Sir Edward and Clara together in the park engaging in an intimate activity that she is uncomfortable with. Inside, Charlotte is in awe of the splendor of the grand manor house. Everything about Sanditon and its residents is so different than her life as the daughter of a gentleman farmer. Continue reading

A Preview of Falling for Mr. Thornton: Tales of North and South, by Trudy Brasure, Et Al

Falling for Mr. Thornton Tales of North and South (2019)Good things come in small packages!

My regular readers will know that I adore a well-written short story and edited an anthology of them myself inspired by Jane Austen. Falling for Mr. Thornton is a new collection of “little gems” inspired by another classic author, Elizabeth Gaskell.

Based on her Victorian-era novel North and South, set during its industrial revolution— a turbulent time in British history when machinery was replacing manual labor— it also revolves around the spikey relationship between Margaret Hale and John Thornton, a love story that rivals Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice.

This anthology includes a dozen stories by popular historical fiction authors in the Gaskellesque genre and is a mixture of historical, contemporary, variations, and continuations that are sure to thrill anyone who is a hooked as I am on the 2004 television adaptation North & South, starring Richard Armitage. Here is additional information on the anthology and an exclusive excerpt for your enjoyment.

BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Amidst the turbulent backdrop of a manufacturing town in the grips of the Industrial Revolution, Elizabeth Gaskell penned the timeless passion of Mr. Thornton and Margaret Hale. A mixing of contemporary and Victorian, this short story anthology by twelve beloved authors considers familiar scenes from new points of view or re-imagined entirely. Capturing all the poignancy, heartbreak, and romance of the original tale, Falling for Mr. Thornton is a collection of stories for all who love North and South.

STORIES AND AUTHORS:

  • “On the Island,” by Melanie Stanford
  • “Passages in Time,” by Kate Forrester
  • “The First Day of Spring,” by M. Liza Marte
  • “Loose Leaves from Milton,” by Damaris Osborne
  • “Reeducating Mr. Thornton,” by Evy Journey
  • “Mistakes and Remedies,” by Julia Daniels
  • “Her Father’s Last Wish,” by Rose Fairbanks
  • “The Best Medicine,” by Elaine Owen
  • “Cinders and Smoke,” by Don Jacobson
  • “Mischances,” by Nicole Clarkston
  • “Looking to the Future,” by Nancy Klein
  • “Once Again,” by Trudy Brasure

EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT: Continue reading

A Good Name: A Modern Pride and Prejudice Variation, by Sarah Courtney — A Review

A Good Name, by Sarah Courtney (2019)From the desk of Debbie Brown:

This is one of those books that completely took me by surprise. I’m still gobsmacked by it. Do NOT be put off by the fact that the first part of the story — well, actually, the whole book — is centered squarely on George Wickham. Please trust me. It works.

The book’s Prologue tugs at your heartstrings, introducing George at age ten. His mother is a neglectful drug addict and he doesn’t even know who his father is; Rebecca Wickham has had several boyfriends, and Mark, the guy she’s currently living with, is better than most only because he doesn’t beat them. George has just one set of clothes, and he’s always hungry. He gets bullied at school. He can read, but not very well. With such a start in life, there doesn’t seem to be much of a future ahead for him.

But little eight-year-old Lizzy Bennet approaches him on a playground bench, offers him a sandwich, and unconsciously introduces him to the perfect escape from his miserable life by reading aloud a Harry Potter book. “[H]e wished she didn’t have to go. It was like coming out of a dream somehow, to close the book and go back to real life. He felt let down. Going home, going to bed, lying there hungry… how could he go back to that now that he had been on a train to magic school?” It’s a game-changer for George.

The story continues. The two friends are separated, but George’s situation improves thanks to Mr. Darcy (senior). Fitzwilliam Darcy eventually turns up in the book a couple of years later. His entrance is an inspired twist, and I hope other reviewers are kind enough not to spoil the surprise.

More time passes, with Will becoming COO of his father’s company, AirVA, which is a national air ventilation system corporation based in Virginia. Anyway, when Will’s father and mother are in a car crash, Mr. Darcy’s injuries and subsequent rehab require Will to step up as CEO years before originally planned. It’s a difficult transition for an introverted, insecure young man. Everyone seems to want a piece of him — both in business and in his social life.

The plot gets into recognizable Pride and Prejudice territory with Will reluctantly attending Charles Bingley’s engagement party, hugging the periphery, and resisting his friend’s suggestion that he enter into the spirit of things. When Charles offers to introduce Will to Jane Gardiner’s sister Elizabeth, we just know what’s coming. As expected, Elizabeth overhears him say, “Charlie, leave off. I have no interest in dancing with whatever floozy you’re trying to throw at me this time.” …aaand we’re off! Continue reading

A Preview of Strong Objections to the Lady: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, by Jayne Bamber

Strong Objection to the Lady, by Jayne Bamber (2019)Pride and Prejudice variations are the most popular Austenesque books in print. There are thousands of them now. I kid you not. While the genre can credit Abigail Reynolds as a pioneer in the Darcy and Elizabeth redux, there are always new authors with new stories breaking into the throng to add to the mix.

Jayne Bamber is one of those new additions to the pack. She is certainly prolific. She published four Pride and Prejudice variations last year. One assumes that she had them squirreled away and brought them out in a flurry of industry. Her latest, Strong Objects to the Lady, is part variation and continuation. You will find familiar settings at Rosings Park and Hunsford Parsonage in Kent and beloved characters created by Jane Austen sent off in new directions. Here are a book description and an exclusive excerpt for your enjoyment.

BOOK DESCRIPTION:

A tale of…Intrigue & Inheritance… Meddling & Manipulation… Sisterhood & Self-Improvement…

When Lady Catherine de Bourgh learns of Mr. Darcy’s proposal to Elizabeth Bennet, her wrath sets in motion a series of events at Hunsford Parsonage which embroil Darcy and Elizabeth in a family fracas that grows more complicated daily.

The shades of Rosings Park are soon polluted by the shocking transformation of its new mistress and her guests, as well as secrets of the past and schemes for the future.

Appearances and alliances shift amidst the chaos wrought by a well-intentioned house party, and Darcy and Elizabeth must finally face their feelings for one another despite mounting obstacles and misunderstandings of every kind.

Set chiefly in Kent and spanning the short space of just a month, this stand-alone variation begins the morning after Mr. Darcy’s failed proposal at Hunsford. From there, chaos quickly erupts and the lives of three strong young women tangle together in a day-by-day journey of growth, sisterhood, and ultimately romance, in the wake of tragedy.

EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT: Continue reading

A Preview of Miss Austen: A Novel, by Gill Hornby, & Exclusive Sweepstakes

Miss Austen, by Gill Hornby (2020)Happy New Year Janeites! I am starting off the new decade by introducing you to a fabulous forthcoming book in the Austenesque genre, Miss Austen, by Gill Hornby.

I had the great pleasure of reading an early manuscript of Hornby’s new novel Miss Austen last year. If like me, you have always been baffled by Jane Austen’s older sister Cassandra destroying much of her sister’s correspondence after her death and are curious why she felt she needed to do so, this forthcoming novel which releases on April 7th fills in the story, and much more. I was moved by this beautiful and engaging story and I hope that you will be intrigued by the book description and the exclusive excerpt here and add it to your TBR pile. There is also an announcement of a sweepstake by the author’s publisher Flatiron Books of a giveaway of five (5) copies of an advance reader’s copy of the book. Enjoy, and good luck to all.

BOOK DESCRIPTION:

For fans of Jo Baker’s Longbourn, a witty, poignant novel about Cassandra Austen and her famous sister, Jane.

Whoever looked at an elderly lady and saw the young heroine she once was? England, 1840. For the two decades following the death of her beloved sister, Jane, Cassandra Austen has lived alone, spending her days visiting friends and relations and quietly, purposefully working to preserve her sister’s reputation. Now in her sixties and increasingly frail, Cassandra goes to stay with the Fowles of Kintbury, family of her long-dead fiancé, in search of a trove of Jane’s letters. Dodging her hostess and a meddlesome housemaid, Cassandra eventually hunts down the letters and confronts the secrets they hold, secrets not only about Jane but about Cassandra herself. Will Cassandra bare the most private details of her life to the world, or commit her sister’s legacy to the flames? Continue reading

Dangerous Alliance: An Austentacious Romance, by Jennieke Cohen — A Review 

Dangerous Alliance, by Jennieke Cohen (2019)From the desk of Debbie Brown:

Set in 1817 Regency England, Dangerous Alliance has a teen-aged heroine who is a devotee of Jane Austen’s first published novels. As her childhood playmate Tom Sherborne observes: “She was still very much like the girl he remembered who’d believed in fairy stories, except now she believed in the novels of some Miss Austen. … Did she have any idea how fanciful she sounded? How naive? How would she ever survive in the cruel world with such notions?

In the first chapter, Vicky is attacked by a masked assailant who’s prevented from delivering a killing blow by Tom’s fortuitous arrival. (More about Tom later.) “Just because sensational events happen in novels, that doesn’t mean they cannot happen. And just because ordinary events occur during the majority of one’s life, that doesn’t stop the unexpected from happening at a moment’s notice.” Rather than leaving all the heroics to Tom, Vicky takes off on her horse in pursuit of the villain. Indeed, whenever Vicky’s life is at risk, she’s an active participant in saving herself.

Vicky’s independent spirit becomes an issue when a family crisis necessitates that she marry as soon as possible. (More about the “family crisis” later, too.) She’s not enthusiastic and for good reason. “Most of the gentlemen she’d met were decidedly narrow-minded when it came to females interfering in what they considered the male sphere.” Very reluctantly, Vicky agrees to put herself forward in the London marriage mart and settle for a suitable husband rather than waiting to fall in love. Before long, both Mr. Silby and Mr. Carmichael are frequent callers.

Tom Sherborne is the book’s other protagonist, with the story told alternately from his point of view and Vicky’s. A year ago, his father died and Tom reluctantly returned to his childhood home after having been banished for the last years of Lord Halworth’s life. Aside from the neighboring Astons, Tom has only miserable remembrances about his family estate. Until their dramatic encounter, he and Vicky hadn’t seen each other since his return, and things are awkward between them. Continue reading

Hearts, Strings, and Other Breakable Things, by Jacqueline Firkins — A Review

Hearts, Strings, and Other Breakable Things, by Firkins (2019)From the desk of Katie Patchell 

For all its stylistic elegance and its iron-backboned heroine, Mansfield Park is the black sheep of the Jane Austen canon. It’s the book most likely to be placed at the bottom of “Which is your favorite Austen novel?” polls. Public opinion hovers somewhere between “That’s a book by Jane Austen?” and “Gross…cousins marrying.” For many readers, it’s the heroine that’s frustrating. Fanny Price is usually seen as duller than dishwater – her moral compass providing a guide for the plot, but no passion. Even though I’m a staunch fan of Mansfield Park and Fanny’s quiet strength, I can understand why not everyone enjoys it to the level I do. However, the novel’s understated beauty, full cast of characters who are neither fully good or fully bad and Jane Austen’s characteristic humor is all too good to miss. It is this magnetic, complex blend that I eagerly searched for in Jacqueline Firkins’ new Mansfield Park adaptation, Hearts, Strings, and Other Breakable Things.

The book opens with Edie, the heroine (based off of Fanny Price), en route to live with her kind but absent uncle and his unkind and controlling wife (switched around a bit and based off of Mrs. Norris). Edie doesn’t fit in with her two very rich cousins, Maria and Julia, and not just in the financial category. They only care about fashion and kissing hot boys in the neighborhood, while Edie cares about writing music, reading classics, and avoiding romantic entanglements at all costs. Without her mom or best friend by her side, all she has left is her guitar without strings and memories of better times…including one blissful summer spent playing with the adventurous boy next door. Once she arrives at her new home, life becomes way more complicated than she imagined. For starters, that boy next door, Sebastian, is now a (secretly) aspiring author…and still magnetic to Edie. The only problem? He’s already dating someone way out of her league. Henry Crawford, the local handsome but slimy flirt, seems to think he can take turns trying out each of the Price cousins, including Edie. With college application deadlines looming and a mess of drama to contend with, what’s a level-headed, heartsore girl to do?

What I loved about this book is a long list! Chief among them is the writing. I felt connected to Edie every step of the way, more than I’ve felt for a heroine in a while. Her pain over her mom’s death, she struggles to fit in and yet not conform….these things were deftly and beautifully written. Readers expecting this adaptation to be written in the style of Jane Austen will be disappointed, although some characters do occasionally use long, 18th century words. In my opinion, however, because Firkins didn’t aim for replicating the style of Jane Austen’s original (a near-impossible task), she was able to consistently capture its heart. Twists and turns – some like the original, some uniquely different – weave a story that still centers around the main question: Can discovering and staying true to your values help you weather any storm and bring lasting happiness? Continue reading