Jane and the Waterloo Map: Being a Jane Austen Mystery (Book 13), by Stephanie Barron – A Review

Waterloo cover x 200From the desk of Christina Boyd:

As a fan of the Being Jane Austen Mystery series, I have been all anticipation for the latest edition, Jane and the Waterloo Map. Author Stephanie Barron knows her Austen lore, as well as a being a masterful storyteller and researcher; writing in a most Austen-like style. She is also The Incomparable when it comes to Regency mysteries. Given that disclaimer, and holding the series in much esteem, I feel quite at liberty to share my impressions herein.

The novel opens with our dear Miss Austen attending her sick brother Henry at his London residence while editing the proofs of her latest novel, Emma, for her publisher John Murray. Summoned to Carlton House, the opulent London mansion of His Royal Highness the Prince Regent, Jane meets his toady Historiographer, Mr. James Stanier Clarke, who not only arrogantly invites her to use the Royal Library to write her next novel, but welcomes her to dedicate her work-in-progress to the Prince Regent himself. As she holds the prince and his profligate ways in contempt, Jane cautiously makes no commitment and politely continues on with the tour. Upon reaching the library, they come upon a Colonel MacFarland, the hero of Waterloo, collapsed upon the floor in an apoplectic fit. As Mr. Clarke finds help, the colonel utters his last words to Jane, “Waterloo map.” After a curious inspection of the colonel’s vomit, Jane speculates that the colonel may have been poisoned. The next day, word reaches her that the colonel did succumb, and it is not long before the royal physician confirms that the hero of Waterloo was murdered. Thus begins the intrigue—and danger—for our clever authoress as she exposes whodunit in this thirteenth of Stephanie Barron’s mystery series. Continue reading

The Suspicion at Sanditon, Or, The Disappearance of Lady Denham, by Carrie Bebris – A Review

The Suspicion at Sanditon Carrie Bebris 2015 x 200From the desk of Christina Boyd:

Seemingly moments after reading the end of award-winning author’s Carrie Bebris, The Deception at Lyme (Or, The Peril of Persuasion) in 2011, the sixth novel in her Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Mystery series, I, along with other fans wondered what Bebris might write next. Much speculation surfaced whether she would attempt a mystery with Austen’s lesser-known works: Sanditon, The Watsons, and Lady Susan or abandon the scheme altogether! Not four years later, and all anticipation, I had my hands on an advanced copy of Bebris’s seventh in the Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Mystery series, Suspicion at Sanditon (Or, the Disappearance of Lady Denham).

Only the most astute Austen fans will know Sanditon is the unfinished novel that Jane Austen began writing in January 1817 and forsook after the first eleven chapters on March 18—dying 4 months later on July 18, 1817. Others might be interested to understand this first draft centers on a Miss Charlotte Heywood, the daughter of a country gentleman, who travels to a developing seaside resort, Sanditon, and encounters a ridiculous baronet Sir Edward Denham, the Parker family who were always imagining themselves unwell, and the twice-widowed dowager Lady Denham with no heir apparent. “In those few chapters, she sets her stage, populates it with memorable characters, and infuses the whole with humor reminiscent of her earlier writings.” (332) Author’s Note. Continue reading

The Second Chance: A Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility Variation, by Joana Starnes – A Review

The Second Chance by Joana Starnes 2014 x 200From the desk of Christina Boyd:

In this wild, wild west of the new publishing world, we are seeing more books being published and through many different avenues. No longer are traditional publishers the only way to get a book into the hands of readers as there are smaller independent presses, hybrid publishers and many self-publishing resources. In the past, I have been an unabashed on-line Jane Austen fan fiction reader. During the height of my online Jane Austen fan fiction (JAFF) addiction, I might have followed anywhere from 10 to 15 works-in-progress (WIPs) at various on-line sites. Anything from continuations (a story that continues after the original novel ends), the alternative universe (a story when the author deviates from the original canon and creates events to effect a different action) and even crossovers (a fanfiction integrating characters and places from another story source). But I must confess, as many of these on-line authors have taken their stories to the next step and even stepped away from posting their new works on-line, I too have transferred my reading of on-line fan fiction to my e-reader by purchasing the published works and even adding the bound books to my collection.

One rainy day in December, I found myself reading in my pajamas all day author Joana Starnes’ newly released “The Falmouth Connection”. I was instantly engaged by the unexpected, surprisingly smart, and innovative handling of “Pride and Prejudice” in a very alternate universe where Elizabeth becomes an heiress to a fine fortune. Therefore, when Laurel Ann, our blog mistress, asked if I would be interested in reading Starnes “The Second Chance: A ‘Pride & Prejudice – ‘Sense & Sensibility Variation’ ” for review, how could I not jump at the chance! Continue reading

Jane Austen’s First Love: A Novel, by Syrie James – A Review

Jane Austen's First Love by Syrie James (2014 )From the desk of Christina Boyd:

Everyone in my world knows of Jane Austen. Alas, I can speculate that there are those who might not recognize the name. If they look her up on Wikipedia they would learn that:

‘Biographical information concerning Jane Austen is “famously scarce”… Only some personal and family letters remain (by one estimate only 160 out of Austen’s 3,000 letters are extant), and her sister Cassandra (to whom most of the letters were originally addressed) burned “the greater part” of the ones she kept and censored those she did not destroy. Other letters were destroyed by the heirs of Admiral Francis Austen, Jane’s brother. Most of the biographical material produced for fifty years after Austen’s death was written by her relatives and reflects the family’s biases in favour of “good quiet Aunt Jane”.’

Further, they would learn that this masterful writer of the social commentary and romance had never married, little is known of her love-life, yet it has been widely speculated upon in some circles. It is not a secret however that in 1802, Miss Austen had accepted the marriage proposal from family friend, Harris Bigg-Wither, but by the morning had withdrawn her acceptance. There are also letters from Jane to Cassandra in 1795 when she was twenty-years-old about a brief flirtation with a Mr. Tom Lefroy. Sadly, his family did not approve of the match. Neither had any money and Tom was sent away, later to marry an heiress. And yet for an author who wrote exclusively of what she knew in her own sphere, how could she write of love so well had she never fully experienced it? Continue reading

That Summer: A Novel, by Lauren Willig – A Review

From the desk of Christina Boyd:That Summer, by Lauren Willig (2014 )

After a successful divergence from her Napoleonic spy romances of the Pink Carnation series with the post-Edwardian The Ashford Affair, New York Times bestselling author Lauren Willig again embarks on another stand-alone narrative. Entangling one generation with the past is Willig’s trademark, and That Summer is of modern-day Julia Conley as well as her ancestors in 1849.

In 2009, motherless Julia inherits an old family house in England from a great Aunt Regina Ashe, a woman she cannot even recall. One of the recently unemployed in the recession, she travels from New York City to Herne Hill, a district south of London, to view her inheritance and unload it as quickly as possible. Upon arrival, she meets her exceedingly obliging and maybe even presumptuous cousin, Natalie, who eagerly volunteers to help sort the old mansion and later even brings along the fine Nicholas Dorrington, if the somewhat taciturn antique dealer, to value the lot. Although they jest concerning hidden treasures, Julia cannot but wonder if in fact there might be some sort of riches her relations hope to unearth beneath the years of dust, dank oddments, and papers. But what she had not expected was to exhume memories of her childhood.

Julia’s hand was on the knob of the door before she realized that she had retreated, step by step, ready to duck out and shut the door. She laughed shakily. Great. Metaphor made action. Her English professors in college would have loved that. Shut the door and shut the door. Just like she had been shutting the door all these years. Julia’s knuckles were white against the old brass doorknob. This was insane. Insane. What was she so afraid of? What was she so afraid of remembering? Maybe she was just afraid she would miss her. Her mother.” (87)

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The Secret Betrothal: A Pride and Prejudice Alternate Path, by Jan Hahn – A Review

From the desk of Christina Boyd:   The Secret Betrothal by Jan Hahn (2014)

Marriage in Regency times was the rock that built Society’s foundation. Not only was it the most important step in a young woman’s life, but the union could also advance her family’s social standing and wealth. Throughout Jane Austen’s novels, we are shown the maneuverings of families to obtain advantageous alliances for their children, so when we see the secret engagements in Emma and Sense and Sensibility, and their outcome, we know the risk and scandal that can ensue. With this in mind, I am both curious and uneasy by author Jan Hahn’s choice of The Secret Betrothal as a title of her new novel. Furthermore, in this reimagining of Pride and Prejudice, she has boldly chosen to explore what would happen if Elizabeth Bennet entered into one herself! Whatever would possess our favorite Austen heroine to take this risk—and what would Mr. Darcy do to save her from such a folly?

For reasons I shan’t give away here, Elizabeth must keep this betrothal a secret and when she was told she could tell no one, not even her beloved sister, Jane:

“…she felt a chill crawl up her back….Although he lacked fortune, it was due to no failing on his part, and he had the promise of an adequate future awaiting him. But the possibility of waiting two years provoked a sigh from deep within her. He had warned Elizabeth that they must avoid paying close attention to each other when in public so as not to raise talk among the gossips of Meryton. Being a sensible woman, Elizabeth knew that was necessary as talk of matches and mating was primary among Hertfordshire society. Still, it did not set well with her.”  (63)

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Happy Birthday Mr. Darcy: Austen Addicts Vol. 5, by Victoria Connelly – A Review

Happy Birthday Mr Darcy by Victoria Connelly 2013 x 200From the desk of Christina Boyd:

The Austen Addicts series has evolved through the years into a guilty pleasure for me. Happy Birthday Mr. Darcy is Victoria Connelly’s fifth installment in this contemporary romance series loosely inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The novella reunites us with her original characters from the first in the series, Weekend with Mr. Darcy, and opens a week prior to when Warwick Lawton (Austenesque author who writes under the female nom de plume, Lorna Warwick) is to pledge his troth to his Austen scholar/fiancé, Katherine Roberts.

Katherine is enchanted with the Regency themed wedding plans, her antique Russian engagement ring, and her empire-style gown. She had never seen anything so beautiful. Well, not since Matthew Macfadyen had strode across the dawn meadow in the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. She really didn’t feel worthy of such a dress and it felt like a terrible extravagance to have something so lovely for just one day. Though passionately in-love with her fiancé, not unlike many brides, doubts about the marriage state and how her life is to change loom overhead right up until the wedding hour. Continue reading

Undressing Mr. Darcy, by Karen Doornebos – A Review

The Pride Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge (2013)This is our twelfth and final selection for The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013, our year-long blog event honoring Jane Austen’s second published novel. Please follow the link above to read all the details of this reading and viewing challenge. Sign up’s are now closed but you can read the reviews and comment through 31 December 2013.

From the desk of Christina Boyd: 

With a title like Undressing Mr. Darcy, author Karen Doornebos’ new release is sure to turn a few heads this holiday season. “Sex sells, even to smart, liberated women, and Mr. Darcy was the smart girl’s pinup boy.” p. 7 And like the novel’s heroine, a master PR rep who has turned tweeting into an #artform, Doornebos has carefully crafted another contemporary romance novel about an ambitious, highly energized, very modern woman who meets a charming Mr. Darcy re-enactor, sure to draw the attention of Janeites and romance readers alike.

When Vanessa Roberts, PR extraordinaire with the perpetually-present smartphone and ever-ready clever social media tweet or posting, takes on a pro-bono job as a favor for her elderly Jane Austen loving aunt, little does she expect promoting the English author of, My Year as Mr. Darcy, to turn her organized world topsy-turvy. When she finally meets Julian Chancellor, who has capitalized on his good looks “as he gives a little historical background on his Regency-era clothing as he proceeds to take it off –down to his drawers” at his book signings, she finds she too, like the throngs of Darcy fans in the audience, is caught by his artful allurements. Continue reading

Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy, by Helen Fielding – A Review

Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy, by Helen Fielding (2013)From the desk of Christina Boyd:

We were first introduced to Bridget Jones’ Diary in 1997. Readers kept it on the New York Times bestseller list for over six months. We were utterly addicted to this new confessional literary genre author Helen Fielding had created—the unguarded, neurotic ramblings of a London singleton in search of love—and her obsession with Jane Austen’s romantic hero Mr. Darcy from Pride & Prejudice, (admittedly Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in the 1995 BBC/A&E mini-series). We devoured the sequel Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason in 1999, and the subsequent movies with an all-star cast of Renée Zellweger, Hugh Grant, and, yes, Colin Firth as dishy, love-interest Mark Darcy. Now 14 years later, Fielding has resurrected her most popular character …

STOP. If you haven’t heard about the big, gigantic, SPOILER in her new novel, Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy—DO NOT PROCEED. This is your chance to bail now. Save yourself the trouble and time of ranting at me in some long-winded diatribe. You have been given due notice. But, please do come back here and let’s compare notes, once you have read the book, of course.

However, if you have heard the big news about this third book in the series, then carry on. My little review won’t ruin anything for you that has not already been broadcast worldwide. Also, a slight warning as to the sailor-like language sprinkled throughout that we have come to expect from Bridget and friends. (My apologies to sailors everywhere who do not swear or speak in a vulgar manner. Terrible, terrible stereotype. I know.) Though jarring, cringe-worthy really, if any of my American friends were to spew such vulgarity, coming from Bridget, any Brit really, this American reviewer tends to give a pass. Maybe it’s the charming British accent? Or the Renee Zellweger narrative I hear in my head? Continue reading

Finding Colin Firth: A Novel, by Mia March – A Review

Finding Colin Firth by Mia March (2013)From the desk of Christina Boyd:

What Janeite would not stop dead in her tracks when she spies “Colin Firth” in the title of a book? Mia March’s latest offering Finding Colin Firth: A Novel certainly set off all my bells and whistles. The smolderingly sexy British actor not only won our hearts when he emerged dripping wet from Pemberley pond as Mr. Darcy in the 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, he has had an acclaimed career, winning the best actor Academy Award in 2011 for The King’s Speech. Who wouldn’t want to find Colin Firth? But no, dear friends, this is not a “How to” book sharing tips and advice on how to track and successfully have a Firth encounter. Eeesh! It’s a work of fiction about three women unknowingly bound together and whose lives intersect when the actor is slated to film a movie in a coastal Maine town. Daily rumors of Mr. Firth’s arrival fuels fantasy and stirs the excitement in their lives and aspirations. (Just imagining spotting Mr. Firth in my little town sets this fan-girl’s heart racing!)

A year after her mother’s death, (who incidentally was a Colin Firth fan), 22 year-old Bea Crane receives a mysterious letter from her deceased mother, confessing she adopted Bea as a newborn. “…Now that I feel myself going, I can’t bear to take this with me. But I can’t bear to tell you with my final breaths, either, I can’t do that to you. So I’ll wait on this, for both of us. But you should know the truth because it is the truth.” Shocked, Bea tracks down her birth mother to Boothbay Harbor, Maine and decides she must see this unknown woman for herself. Continue reading

Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife: Pride and Prejudice Continues, by Linda Berdoll – A Review

The Pride Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge (2013)This is our ninth selection for The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013, our year-long event honoring Jane Austen’s second published novel. Please follow the link above to read all the details of this reading and viewing challenge. Sign up’s are now closed for new participants, but you can join us in reading all the great reviews and comments until December 31, 2013. Since I am traveling in England on a Jane Austen Tour, Christina Boyd is pinch-hitting for me in my absence and offers this great review of a classic Pride and Prejudice sequel.

From the desk of Christina Boyd:

Author Linda Berdoll’s first novel in her continuation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was originally self-published in 1999 as The Bar Sinister. This reviewer, however, discovered her work in 2006, after Sourcebooks had re-published it under the new title (in 2004) Mr. Darcy Takes A Wife. Mind, I had only discovered the world of fan-fiction and life after Pride & Prejudice through the elegant writing of Pamela Aiden’s Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman… and had no idea what to expect from this madcap, puckish sequel that opens as Mr. & Mrs. Darcy embark on married life and harkens back to the impassioned moments reined in during their engagement. Nevertheless, not until after their ardent wedding night do they discover how truly well-matched they are for one another. However, it’s Berdoll’s explicit voyeurism into the Darcy’s enthusiastic and abundant love-making that many devoted Austen readers have taken offense to, thus, separating readers into two camps: those that fervently love Berdoll’s work and those that vehemently hate it. (Note: as I have stated previously in other Berdoll reviews here at Austenprose, I am clearly on Team Berdoll.) Continue reading

The Passion of the Purple Plumeria: A Pink Carnation Novel, by Lauren Willig – A Review

The Passion of the Purple Plumeria, by Lauren Willig (2013) From the desk of Christina Boyd

Acclaimed author Lauren Willig’s latest offering, The Passion of the Purple Plumeria, is the tenth novel in her New York Times bestselling Pink Carnation series. This historical romance series of Napoleonic era English spies, that fight for Britain and for love, is constructed within a modern-day love story, told from the point of view of the American grad student Eloise Kelly who is writing her dissertation on the true identity of the Pink Carnation, the master British spy of the time.

In Purple Plumeria, (those of us who have been previously “Pinked,” often refer to the novels by the abbreviated Flower title…), the handsome Colonel William Reid, who we first encountered in Blood Lily (The Betrayal of the Blood Lily) has returned to his daughters in England from a lifelong military career in India only to discover his youngest has recently disappeared from boarding school with one of her classmates.  Soon we learn the other missing student is Agnes Wooliston, the sister of British spymaster, errr, ehm, spymistress, the Pink Carnation – generally known as Miss Jane Wooliston – recalling her home from Paris to England. And where Miss Wooliston goes, so goes her caustically witty and straight-laced companion, and adroit, clever, a parasol-wielding agent of the War Office, Miss Gwendolyn Meadows. While conducting an interview with the headmistress, they meet the aforementioned comely, charming Colonel.

Gwen didn’t like any of this. She didn’t like it one bit. All her instincts, well honed over years of midnight raids, were shouting “trouble.” How much of the trouble was coming from the situation and how much from a certain sun-bronzed colonel was a matter for debate. Bad enough that Agnes had gone missing; worse yet to have to deal with the parent of the other girl, poking his nose in—however attractive a nose it might be—and posing questions that might prove inconvenient for everyone. And by everyone, she meant the Pink Carnation.  p. 55

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Rutherford Park: A Novel, by Elizabeth Cooke – A Review

Rutherford Park: A Novel, by Elizabeth Cooke 2013From the desk of Christina Boyd

It you are a fan of Downton Abbey and are jonesing for a Grantham family-like fix until season four premieres next January on PBS, Elizabeth Cooke’s latest novel Rutherford Park might be just the ticket. Set during the Edwardian era at the eponymous estate in the Yorkshire countryside, the Cavendish family are as wealthy, titled, and drama-filled as the Grantham’s, yet we are privileged to be reading a book, as opposed to watching a screenplay, so the author’s historical detail, characterizations and compelling narrative make it even more intriguing

Rutherford Park is the seat of the Cavendish family who live their lavish lives by strict rules and obligation. Not surprisingly, the beautiful Lady Octavia Cavendish is lonely and bored, even somewhat envies the servants for their work. Her husband William, bound by the obligations of his title and his vows, unknowingly feels a similar discontent. “They saw him as some sort of fixed being, a symbol, a caricature. Octavia too, perhaps, in her great wool-and-velvet shawl with her pretty little straw-colored boots under a cream dress. They were both a sort of monument, he supposed: not real in the same way that the laborers were real…” p. 52. Later when Octavia suspects William of an affair with a longtime family acquaintance from Paris, the last remnants of a charmed world seemed to disappear. Continue reading

The Ashford Affair: A Novel, by Lauren Willig – A Review

Image of the book cover of The Ashford Affair, by Lauren Willig © 2013 St. Martin’s PressFrom the desk of Christina Boyd

In a departure from her Napoleonic spy romances of the Pink Carnation Series, New York Times bestselling author Lauren Willig ventures into new territory with The Ashford Affair. Entwining one generation’s story with that of another, from post-Edwardian British society to modern day Manhattan to a coffee farm in Kenya, the long veiled secrets of a woman are unraveled.

Clementine Evans, a focused, driven law associate on the cusp of making partner in a large Manhattan firm, attends her beloved grandmother Adeleine’s 99th birthday and is accidentally enlightened to a family secret. At 34, Clemmie, feeling like her life is nothing but a 70-plus hour workweek, and a failed engagement, this intrigue becomes more than a distraction to the un-fulfilling, lonely details of her days.

Clemmie slid the picture back into the drawer. There was another underneath it, a studio portrait of a woman, her head tilted. Her pale hair was crimped in stylized waves around her face and her pale eyes gazed soulfully into the distance. She looked, somehow, strangely familiar, her cheekbones, the shape of her lips, as if Clemmie had seen her somewhere before.” p. 65.

But trying to get any information from her own tight-lipped mother proves difficult. And how is it that her ex-stepbrother knows more about the family histories than she does?

Adeleine Gillecote’s parents die when she is almost six and she grows up as the mouse-brown ward of her aristocratic aunt and uncle at Ashford Park, a grand English country house. Though brought up with her cousins, Addie never overcomes the status of a poor relation. Despite this, her best friend from almost the start is her vivacious, beautiful, golden cousin, Bea, who takes Addie under her wing, sheltering Addie from her unwelcoming mother, and earning her love and fidelity. As the girls grow and experience the pre-WWI balls and English society, Addie tries not to begrudge Bea’s beauty or her unaffected graces. But when a man comes between the two, it appears all loyalties come to an end, and, escaping to Kenya still isn’t quite far enough. “Addie pressed her fist to her lips, trying not to think what she was thinking. She closed her eyes, fighting a terrible certainty, the certainty that what she was hearing was true, that this was Bea, that Bea had, did, and always would do what she liked, regardless of the consequences, regardless even of Addie.”  p. 196.

Although this latest offering is a non-Pink novel, fans of Willig’s the Pink Carnation Series will be giddy with delight when they meet the handsome, cynical and witty descendant of Lord Vaughn. Yes! That Vaughn from The Masque of the Black Tulip.

“He looked feline himself, all boneless grace, with the measureless self-satisfaction afforded by knowing his ancestors had been dining off gold plate when others had still been scratching about in the dirt: the Honorable Theophilius Vaughn, the despair of the ancient line. According to his frustrated family, he had both the morals of a cat and all of its nine lives.” p. 248.

The spawn of Vaughn.”  Ha!! Her words from her website, not mine!

Some have described this novel as Out of Africa meets Downton Abbey. *sigh* Well, use those cinematic visuals if you must, but I can honestly attest, The Ashford Affair is so much more. Much more. This is the kind of the novel that will stay with you; keep you mulling over the vibrant characters and intrinsic detailing long after you’ve inhaled that satisfying last page. Lauren Willig’s The Ashford Affair is brilliant! Glittering brilliance.

5 out of 5 Stars

The Ashford Affair: A Novel, by Lauren Willig
St. Martin’s Press (2013)
Hardcover (368) pages
ISBN: 978-1250014498

Cover image courtesy © 2013 St. Martin’s Press; text © 2013 Christina Boyd, Austenprose

Summerset Abbey: A Novel, by T. J. Brown – A Review

Summerset Abbey, by T. J. Brown (2013)From the desk of Christina Boyd

Now that the third season of Downton Abbey has ended and left us quite reeling, what better balm to sooth our broken hearts than this new Edwardian series, Summerset Abbey by debut writer T. J. Brown. The year is 1913, the prelude to WWI, and three young women gently pursue their life’s hopes and desires, surrounded by the tacit convention of society. From almost page one, this historical fiction begins to weave its web as Sir Philip Buxton, who has raised his two beautiful daughters alongside the daughter of their governess, who is much like a sister to them, dies. Now the girls must abandon all they know, their Bohemian lifestyle, household and modern manners to live under the charge of their traditional Edwardian uncle at his extensive estate, Summerset Abbey.

Raised to esteem the person and not riches or rank, Rowena and Victoria encounter their first snag when they learn that although they will be welcomed to Summerset, their “sister” Prudence Tate is not, as she is but the daughter of a governess. In a rash moment, and fearing they might lose Prudence forever, Rowena claims they must have a lady’s maid and solicits Prudence for the job. Although claiming it is but temporary until Rowena comes into her own money and can provide for them all, balancing loyalty while attempting to fashion out a place for herself becomes her true cross to bear. “How independent had she been, really? She knew nothing of finances and had never bothered to ask. She’s had all of the freedom, none of the responsibility, and stupidly, she’d never even know what to ask for. She’d been selfish, thoughtlessly flitting from one whimsy to another, never learning anything useful. No wonder her father had given financial responsibility to his brother.” Rowena’s intentions are honorable but to have her so-called sister relegated below stairs, with the duties entailed upon Prudence, is a cruelty “suspended between upstairs and downstairs worlds of Summerset, and truly belonging to neither.”

Prudence, who was raised nearly as one of Sir Buxton’s daughters, is now nothing more than the girls’ lady’s maid and yet the household staff won’t accept her any more than Lord & Lady Buxton consider her family. Moreover she can’t shake this niggling sensation, even when she encounters absolute strangers in the village, why they shy away from her person as well. “Her mother had begun as a maid. She had no idea what her father had done for work, as her mother never spoke of him, but she had family who lived in the village. No doubt many of them had worked for the Buxtons or one of the other titled families in the area. Was there really a fundamental difference between those of the lower class and those of the upper class, aside from the circumstances of one’s birth, something over which a person has no control? Why did those of the lower classes put up with being made to feel as if they were second-class humans?”

The younger sister Victoria, although of delicate health, has a voracious, lively mind and aspires to become a botanist, as was her father. Victoria’s unconventional studies and research steer her to make a scandalous discovery about the family that powers the narrative further into intrigue.  “She was putting the books away when a newspaper clipping fluttered out of the back of one of the books. Her heart raced as she realized what it was…”

Meanwhile Prudence catches the eye of Summerset’s dashing houseguest, Lord Billingsly, as well as the comely footman, Andrew, but they only seem to add to her confusion and turmoil. ““I certainly did not promise you the second dance, Lord Billingsley,” she huffed, searching for Andrew over his shoulder. But then his hand cupped her waist, sending a shiver up her spine, and she forgot about Andrew, forgot about everything except trying to breathe.” In addition, Rowena becomes captivated by a dashing test pilot, entangling herself in another family mystery: who is this fine, young man and what does he mean to the Buxtons?

As the early twentieth century evolved with the coming industry, electricity, radio, aeroplanes and the talk of war, it also brought the end to the excesses of many aristocratic families and houses. Opinions were changing and the girls were raised to be open to itAuthor T. J. Brown has richly drawn these shifting times through well-drawn characters, compelling plotlines and conspiracy on nearly every other page. My only complaint – and it’s a major one — is that the ending was inexplicably stunted! And shocking! And unforeseen! But blessedly, book two in this three-book saga, Summerset Abbey, A Bloom in Winter was just released on March 5. Note: book three, Summerset Abbey, A Spring Awakening is coming in early August 2013. Albeit this will be catnip for Downton Abbey fans, this novel will dazzle you on its own merit.  It’s the bee’s knees!

4.5 out of 5 Stars

Summerset Abbey: A Novel, by T. J. Brown
Gallery Books (2013)
Trade paperback (320) pages
ISBN: 978-1451698985

Cover image courtesy of © 2013 Gallery Books; text © 2013 Christina Boyd, Austenprose

The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, by Syrie James – A Review

The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, by Syrie James (2012)From the desk of Christina Boyd:

In such days as this, of on-line Jane Austen fan fiction, self-publishing, and perusing the stacks in traditional brick and mortar bookstores, it is incomprehensible to neglect reading the manifold of Jane Austen spin-offs, what-ifs, and other such Austen-inspired musings. Those of us Austen addicts simply cannot get enough of her—and oftentimes inhale all we can in self-indulgent reading binges—in search of that same rush, that wonderful, satisfying moment we experienced upon discovering her for the first time. We all partake in the lamentation that she left this world but a handful of completed novels. And we all share in the unreserved, unrequited, whimsical dream to discover some misplaced work from our dear Jane. However, best-selling authoress, Syrie James has done just that! She has discovered the mythical, undiscovered novel in her soon to be released novel inside her novel, The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen.

Samantha McDonough, an American librarian and Austen scholar, is on an English holiday with her cardiologist boyfriend. Well actually, he is at a medical conference and she busies herself with sightseeing and visiting the shops. She purchases a 200-year-old poetry book during her wanderings and later discovers a letter tucked inside—that leads her to believe that it is, in fact, a letter from Jane Austen… “The minute I saw the letter, I knew it was hers. There was no mistaking it: the salutation, the tiny, precise handwriting, the date, the content itself, all confirmed its ancient status and authorship…” And now for the pudding—in it, this treasure refers to a missing manuscript Austen lost while visiting a country manor in Devonshire! “Even at a distance of fourteen years, I cannot help but think of it with a pang of fondness, sorrow, and regret, as one would a lost child. Do you recall my theory as to how it came to be lost? I still maintain that it was all vanity, nonsense, and wounded pride. I should never have read it out loud to you that night during our stay but kept it safe with all the others- although we did have a good laugh!”
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