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

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

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

A Matter of Honor: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, by Abigail Reynolds — A Review

A Matter of Honor: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, by Abigail Reynolds (2019)From the desk of Debbie Brown:

Abigail Reynolds continues to outdo herself, to the delight of JAFF readers throughout the world. Her name is one of the most recognizable in the genre, and for good reason. She’s been providing unique ways for Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet to fall in love for over a decade. While many authors run out of fresh ideas after one or two solid books, her prolific writing keeps improving.

In her recently released A Matter of Honor, she’s given Darcy and Elizabeth some new obstacles. She mostly ignores Longbourn and Pemberley and, while Hunsford and Rosings loom large in the plot, her book goes to Kent only briefly, spending most of its time in Scotland.

The story begins six months after Elizabeth refused Darcy’s insulting marriage proposal and accepted his letter the following morning, but their paths haven’t crossed since. Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy are returning to Netherfield, each praying he can win the forgiveness and love of his respective Bennet sister. Both gentlemen are shunned by the entire Meryton community, and they’re turned away from Longbourn. When Bingley discovers the reason, he angrily confronts Darcy. “You ruined [Elizabeth], and with her, you ruined the woman I love. Because of you, Miss Elizabeth has had to leave Longbourn forever. The Bennets are in deep disgrace.”

Darcy didn’t do anything wrong, but he figures this is an easy fix: he’ll just talk to Mr. Bennet and offer to marry Elizabeth, which is what he’d planned to do anyway.

Nope. Mr. Bennet won’t budge. “Lizzy does not wish to marry you, and she will do so only over my dead body…  She is out of your reach. I am the only person who knows where she is, and I will not tell you.”But it’s Darcy he’s talking to here, and you just know he’s not giving up so easily. It’s a matter of honor, after all─honor and love. The search is on! Continue reading

A Convenient Fiction: Parish Orphans of Devon Book 3, by Mimi Matthews — A Review

A Convenient Fiction, by Mimi Matthews (2019)From the desk of Debbie Brown:

I need “Me” time. Frequently. My husband and I joke about my need for a “Leave Me Alone!” hat as a signal that I am NOT to be disturbed for a while. Anyone else feel this way sometimes? When the worries pile up, you feel the need to go somewhere by yourself, shut all the noise out, and forget about your obligations temporarily. It’s therapeutic. It recharges your batteries.

That’s why the beginning of A Convenient Fiction immediately grabbed my attention. Laura Hayes is hiding away from everything that bothers her. She chooses a rather unorthodox method of escape, especially considering this is Victorian England: she swims below the surface of the pond at Talbot’s Wood, wishing it were the sea, and tries to remain underwater as long as possible without coming up to breathe. “There was nothing of the world underwater. No unmet expectations. No burdens too heavy to carry. Nothing, save herself, and the sound of her own beating heart.”

Then a strange man shows up compelled to “rescue” her.

Okay, Alex Archer thought she was drowning, but he ruined what would otherwise have been a perfectly lovely morning for Miss Hayes. What’s particularly embarrassing is that she’s wearing only her chemise and drawers to swim, leaving the rest of her clothing folded neatly near the banks of the pond. What’s he doing on private property, anyway?

It doesn’t take long for Laura to find out. She meets him later the same day when she joins her friend Henrietta Talbot to serve as a chaperone. Mr. Archer is supposedly a “friend” of George Wright, the ne’er-do-well son of the local vicar who’s been away from home for quite some time. In fact, George’s huge gambling debt to Alex is way over his head. In lieu of payment, George provides the introduction to Henrietta, his childhood friend, who will inherit Squire Talbot’s profitable country estate, Edgington Park, as well as a fortune from her late mother. Continue reading

The Bride of Northanger: A Jane Austen Variation, by Diana Birchall — A Review

The Bride of Northanger: A Jane Austen Variation, by Diana Birchall (2019)From the desk of Debbie Brown:

Soon, All Hallow’s Eve will be upon us, when restless spirits of the dead are said to roam. What better time to pick up a gothic Austenesque novel centered around an ancestral family curse that continues to claim its victims? Beware, brave readers: this tome is not for the faint of heart. Several characters will not survive until the end of the story. (Cue creepy organ music, a bolt of lightning, and evil laughter!)

Diana Birchall’s latest, The Bride of Northanger, is a sequel to Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. In this case, General Tilney’s estate is the setting for melodramatic goings-on that are NOT the products of anyone’s imagination.

Catherine Morland – who becomes Catherine Tilney in the early pages here – is a year older and wiser. She has put aside silly gothic romances and instead reads more scholarly works. (There’s an interesting subtext here: her husband Henry is happy to see how educated she is becoming but, since she is a woman, there are limits on how much education is desirable in a wife.) Our more mature heroine is determined to control her imagination, though she still retains curiosity that must be satisfied. As she says, “I am no longer a fanciful girl, given to fears.” Her resolve is sorely tested throughout the book.

As the book opens, Henry reluctantly explains the superstitious rumor that the Tilney family is cursed. “…the race of Tilney might survive, but its fruitfulness be blighted forevermore. The wife of each firstborn son would die, either in terror or in madness, early in her life…” That doesn’t apply to Catherine since Henry isn’t the firstborn – his older brother Frederick is. But she’s no longer superstitious, so she’s not dissuaded anyway. Continue reading