Along with oodles of other media outlets and book bloggers, it’s time to reveal my own favorite books of 2018. It has been a serendipitous journey—full of adventure, comfort and surprises—mostly generated from reading beloved authors and stepping outside my sphere.
Traditionally I gravitate toward classic or modern authors in the historical fiction genre, focusing on novels inspired by Jane Austen. My reading choices this year were diverse within historical and contemporary fiction, romance, mysteries, and nonfiction, exploring new tropes and themes. However, they all share a common thread—sharp writing, comprehensive research, compelling stories and levity.
In my very, very small way I hope that my reading experiences this past year will act as a catalyst to those seeking a curated list of books from the vantage of a Janeite. Enjoy!
BEST AUSTENESQUE FICTION
Lo and behold. Mr. Bennet and Mr. Collins are pen pals! For those familiar with these two minor characters in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, you will not be disappointed in the full story of their relationship featuring Mr. Bennet’s dry sarcasm in all it’s glory while he goads his cousin and heir in pursuit of amusement, and in return the Odious One’s (Mr. Collins) obsequious prosing and sermonizing right back at him. I enjoy Austenesque novels that expand upon Austen’s characters more than any other type in the genre. Servitova’s creative and reverent take on the Bennet & Collins relationship is an impressive debut novel that many Janeites will enjoy, if only they knew about this sharp sleeper. 5 Stars
This new short story collection has received international press because it was written by seven members of Jane Austen Society of Pakistan. The short stories parallel Austen’s nineteenth-century society’s mores within twenty-first century life for Muslim women. I applaud the editor and the authors for their poignant, entertaining and enlightening excursion. I will leave it the reader to determine if they are envious or startled that life in Pakistan mirrors Jane Austen’s era of two hundred years ago. 4.5 Stars
Inspired by Jane Austen’s snarky four-page short story written when she was a teenager, best selling author Robert Rodi has expanded the brief satire into a full-length novel that is impressive in Austenesque style, characterization and plot. Resplendent with the witty characters first introduced by Austen and new ones of Rodi’s creation, the fleshed out story is full of withering satire, biting irony and the Austen-like social subtext that Janeites will delight in. A fun frolic, I dare you not to involuntarily chortle, guffaw and snort in amusement. 5 Stars
Were Jane Austen’s feisty and tempered heroines the first feminist in print? Sixteen popular Austenesque authors broach this query by contributing short stories inspired by Jane Austen’s indomitable female characters. Along the way we meet Elizabeth Bennet, Elinor Dashwood, Harriet Smith, Miss Bates and many other minor characters. This new anthology contains a variety of viewpoints exploring backstories, asides, and continuations of Austen’s original creations. 5 Stars
BEST HISTORICAL FICTION
Ironed-willed women from history play well to today’s #MeToo generation of readers. In A Well-Behaved Woman, bestselling author Therese Anne Fowler gives us the story of impoverished southern aristocrat Alva Smith who sets her sights on marrying into the incredibly wealthy, but socially inferior Vanderbilt clan in 1870’s New York, later becoming a warrior for progressive, fierce and ambitious women of her generation, and today. Meticulously researched, this gilded-age story transforms Alva from a social climbing, husband hunting fanatic, to a one-woman tour de force to admire and emulate. 5 Stars
Set in Regency times, this impressive romantic romp can be best described as the mad, bad and dangerous to know Lord Byron meets a naughty Georgette Heyer. The characters are rich in complexity and wonder while the dialogue sparkles and snaps. Some of my readers will be surprised to learn that this is not your mother’s Regency romance. It is R rated so be prepared to blush deeply. It is the first male/male novel I have read, and while I was cautious about reading this romance, I was quickly won over by the author’s creative use of the classic Regency romance novel tropes and her amazing skill at crafting an engaging story. 4.5 Stars
This novel was first brought to my attention by the ten-year-old daughter of a customer who remarked upon it’s beautiful cover and the fact that it had mermaid in the title. Easily distracted by bling, I must confess that those two facts brought me back to it. I soon discovered that it was set in 1780’s London and featured a merchant, a mermaid and a madam. I was hooked. You will be too. Gowar’s debut novel is mesmerizing, transformative and magical. 5 Stars
BEST HISTORICAL MYSTERY
The first collaborative novel written by this talented trio of best-selling authors (Team W) was The Forgotten Room. Back again for a second time, this novels transports us from present day to the tragic final voyage of the HMS Lusitania in 1915. I will read anything (and have) by these talented historical fiction authors—so the challenge of them writing another group novel intrigued me even further. They each took on a character resulting in a seamless, romantic, historical/contemporary novel worthy of high praise, wider readership and a movie deal. 5 Stars
If 13 is an unlucky number, then this Lady Emily mystery has broken the jinx. Set in late Victorian London, Queen Victoria’s death sends the Empire into deep mourning and Lady Emily and her husband Colin on an investigation of a murder in the Tower of London mimicking the murder of medieval king Henry VI. As usual, Alexander, the Mistress of Victorian Historical Mystery, has written a beautifully complex, tense, twisty, historically accurate detective mystery set in Victorian times that will thrill her faithful readers and win over newbies. 5 Stars
Inspired by an unsolved murder of Florence Nightingale’s goddaughter in 1920’s England, Jessica Fellowes (of Downton Abbey companion book fame) has penned her debut mystery around a real and imagined events involving the famous Mitford sisters. There was nothing about this premise that I could resist, and readers of classic mystery authors such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers will delight in the country house atmosphere, unique characterizations, and twisty plot. 5 Stars
BEST HISTORICAL ROMANCE
It is always great to read a novel by an author who surpasses herself every time she publishes a new book! This time around, New York Times bestselling author Tessa Dare has given us amazingly magical characters: an unruly libertine duke whose heart will not be captured by any woman and a troubled governess forced to work to survive. Their story ignites the pages of this endearing love story and our hearts! They both have their issues to overcome, but what a delightful ride it is to get to their HEA. Witty, witty, and witty! Jane Austen would laugh her heart out over this one. 5 Stars
Set at a Cornwall country estate, an American heiress and an English earl battle with social conventions, a grasping mother, a bothersome fiancé, and stifling family duty to reach their HEA. The second book in the Runaway Heiress series, bestselling author Syrie James has upped her game yet again and given us the swoon worthy, slow burning late Victorian romance to die for. Don’t miss this delightful romance that will curl your toes, warm your heart and inspire you to book a flight to Poldark country to stand on windswept cliffs and be the heroine of your own life like the protagonist. 5 Stars
BEST YOUNG ADULT HISTORICAL FICTION
A young bisexual gentleman of disrepute goes on a Grand Tour of Europe with his sister and best friend before he is required to settle down and work in the family business in 1790’s London. Wow. Reading the description of this book before purchase sent up red and white flags in my mind. Tempted by a wild ride and glowing reviews, I took the plunge. While reading it, I felt like Jane Austen reading Tom Jones – more than a bit shocked by the scandalous behavior yet won over by the amazing prose. Lee’s tour de force is a powerhouse of characterization, humor, and pathos. 5 Stars
BEST CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
When I first saw this beautiful red cover emblazoned with silhouettes placed on the new release table I thought that it was an historical romance. Coupled with the title, I snatched it up and read the description: “A groomsman and his last-minute guest are about to discover if a fake date can go the distance in this fun and flirty multicultural romance debut.” I don’t read many contemporary romances, but I do enjoy rom-com movies, inordinately, and this sounded like a fun romance. Guillory proved that she was my new “best fake friend;” from the meet-cute of her characters to the rewarding HEA, I laughed, I cried, I inhabited their universe, reveling in their journey and eventual happiness. 5 Stars
After participating in the first UNC-Chapel Hill Jane Austen Summer Camp (a meeting of Jane Austen fans including speakers and a Regency ball) Scheinman was inspired to pen this pithy and pointed memoir of his time in that Janeite world. Ironically, the word camp in the title can have two meanings: an outrageously funny, absurdly exaggerated, satirical rendition, or a place to rest in the wilderness during an expedition. After listening to the audiobook narrated by the author, one can claim either interpretation dependant upon your mood. If “we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?” as Mr. Bennet suggests in Pride and Prejudice, then Scheinman is the supreme pathfinder of this journey. Laugh-out-loud funny, insightful and snarky, listening to the story of his life-long Austen immersion by his family and his reactions to modern-day Jane Austen culture was as delightfully witty as reading an unguarded version of Austen herself.
Happy reading in 2019 Janeites!
Disclosure of Material Connection: We both purchased and received review copies for the books included in this list. 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.”
Cover images courtesy of the respective publishers © 2016 – 2018; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2019, Austenprose.com