The House at the End of the Moor, by Michelle Griep—A Review

he House at the End of the Moor by Michelle Griep 2020From the desk of Katie Patchell: 

In Michelle Griep’s latest novel, readers are transported to 19th-century Devon, England to follow a hero and heroine accused of crimes they never committed. In pursuit of justice, the story flows from the gray depths of Dartmoor Prison and its forgotten inmates, to the heights of high society’s glittering concert halls. One word resounds, its echo landing on each page and in both heroes’ hearts: Justice.

Haunted by accusations of her past, Margaret lives out her self-imposed banishment at Morden Hall, surrounded by the shifting skies above an endless moor. Her only companions are her mute maid, grizzled manservant, and loyal dog. Far from the glamour and fame of her past, she is happy with her companions, books, and audience of none as she sings on the open moor.

Everything changes when a man who was there on the day she fell from society’s grace appears unconscious and bleeding outside her home. Margaret is torn: Should she help the man escape the brutish prison guard chasing him, risking her anonymity in the process? Or should she stay hidden, abandoning the “stranger” to his own fate? 

“Death prowled the cellblock like a dark animal seeking prey–especially the weakest. But Oliver Ward would be hanged if he’d let the beast devour the man in the cell besides him. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right.” (Line 1, Chapter 1)

Continue reading

Promised: A Proper Romance Regency, by Leah Garriott—A Review

Promised by Leah Garriott 2020From the desk of Katie Patchell:

Promises are tricky things, are they not? As quick as a word, as light as a breath, yet as unyielding as an adamant stone. In Promised, Leah Garriott’s 2020 debut, we see promises kept and promises broken; vows to engage and vows to escape engagements; promises for true romance and promises to create nothing except idle mischief.

Mischief is something our heroine decidedly does not enjoy, yet she is without the benefit of a Kindle or cozy reading nook. I put it to readers to ask yourself this question: In this season of Cupid, don’t we all want a little bit of true romance and idle mischief in our lives?

Promised opens to a matchmaker’s paradise: one lavish house-party; countless single, handpicked, and moderately wealthy guests; and one agenda meant solely to pair off couples by party’s end. While other single women attend for love or acquiring more money, Margaret Brinton has only one purpose – that of entering into a marriage of convenience. Once long ago she had searched for love and thought she’d found it, but then she discovered her fiancé had chosen her solely for her dowry. Heartbroken, she promised herself that whatever she did, she would never, ever fall in love.

A husband, on the other hand, is a different story. Hoping to find a means to pave the way for her younger siblings to marry and for the malicious whispers to silence, Margaret selects the rakish Mr. Northam to be her future husband. Handsome? Yes. Rich? Decently. Able to attach her heart? Blessedly no.

The only hitch to her plan is Mr. Northam’s infuriatingly resolute, seemingly honorable (but decidedly arrogant) cousin, Lord Williams. The insufferable man insists that his cousin is a rake and not worth her attention. Even worse, Lord Williams simply does not know when to give up. His stubbornness to block her marriage to Mr. Northam by engaging himself to her by means of her father’s dictate—all without her consent—turns their already oil-and-water relationship to a blazing inferno. As the weeks go by, angry confrontations and comical mishaps transform into surprising honesty and mutual respect. Yet is this enough to base a future on? Is this enough to enter into—or break—iron-clad vows? 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

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

The Making of Jane Austen, by Devoney Looser—A Review

The Making of Jane Austen by Devoney Looser (2017)From the desk of Katie Patchell:

I remember what I felt when I discovered that Jane Austen was not famous in her lifetime: Outright shock. I had been a self-proclaimed Janeite for years when I discovered this fact. I had read her books multiple times, collected movie adaptations, researched and written papers about her novels in college, etc. The enormous amount of 21st-century hype around Jane led me to believe that, like Charles Dickens, her fame began in her lifetime. How wrong I was; in fact, many of Austen’s early readers never even knew her name until after she died.

Discovering you are mistaken is always a jolting experience, and I felt like my own literary world had shifted on its axis. Somehow not knowing this fact earlier was very unsettling, and with hindsight, I think it was so unsettling because my ‘Jane Austen timeline’ was thrown off. The little fact about when Jane was famous shouldn’t be a footnote in her history because how and when she became THE Jane Austen is of cultural and historical importance. Not only for what we know about the author, but what we know about ourselves, her fandom. Timelines really do matter. Devoney Looser’s The Making of Jane Austen is a gem of a book because, in it, she answers the integral questions of “how” and “when” that has rarely been asked. How did the early illustrations in Sense and Sensibility affect people’s views of the novel? When did the idea of a brooding Heathcliff-esque hero replace Jane Austen’s original reserved Mr. Darcy? These questions and answers are only a few of the many addressed in The Making of Jane Austen.

Mansfield Park illustration from Groombridge 1875 edition

Image from chapter two, of an illustration by A. F. Lydon from Mansfield Park, Groombridge & Sons’ (London) 1875. Fanny Price gazing over the verdant park to the manor house.

As advertised on the cover flap, the key question of this book is “How is a literary icon made, transformed, and handed down through the generations?” Each of its four parts contains anecdotes and research that generally follows a chronological journey from the 1800s to present. In the first – “Jane Austen, Illustrated” – Looser gives an in-depth analysis of the artistic interpretations of Austen’s novels. She includes some pictures which are fascinating to view, although I wish there had been more. A highlight for me was learning that Victorian illustrators updated the clothing styles from the Regency to be more “modern” in their images – although these clothing choices are severely outdated now! Continue reading

Polite Society: A Novel, by Mahesh Rao–A Review

Image of the cover of Polite Society, by Mahesh Rao (2019)From the desk of Katie Patchell:

I have loved Jane Austen’s Emma for as long as I can remember. Yes—I mean that literally. When I was six, my first introduction to the Regency and the magnificent world of Jane Austen began with a battered VHS copy (Gwyneth Paltrow/Jeremy Northam version) and, well, has never ended.

In fact, my first classic ever read was a neon yellow copy of Emma gifted for Christmas at the age of ten. It is now battered and torn, but will forever hold a place on my shelves. To me, the heroine Emma has always gone beyond the place of a lovable but mistaken fictional friend; she’s been in some ways, a mirror of myself. Perhaps this quality is why people love to hate her – she reflects how we all would be if given enough time, money, and influence. And that is: Sure that our way is the best way. Mahesh Rao’s Polite Society shows a world and cast of characters where this idea is everything.

Retellings can always be tricky – there’s a whole host of questions we ask ourselves. Will the modern setting give or detract something from the original? How much do morals connect to ethics, and ethics to society’s rules, and society’s rules to good behavior? Etc. etc. etc. We as readers can forgive much, including creative license with the original, as long as we find some kind of spark. Of wit, or romance, or searing visions of who we are (when we didn’t even realize it)…any or all of these can grab us and not let go. Polite Society attempts all of this, and its success depends on the reader.

Self-styled by Rao, a lifelong fan of Jane Austen, as a book that “mines a much darker seam” than Crazy Rich Asians (a book it’s already being compared to), Polite Society definitely accomplishes this vision. Ania Khurana, the 21st-century version of Emma Woodhouse, and the elite in Delhi are terrible. Oh, I can make all kinds of beautifully polite parallels between the glittering sparkle of diamonds and Ania’s society, but at the core, their world is shallow and rotting. Rao has the eye and the heart of an anthropologist. He writes the elite with all their poison, all their attempts at climbing higher and higher on their social ladder, with a just pen. In the middle of the well-written nastiness, there are surprising moments of kindness (Dev/Mr. Knightley), true interest in others (Renu Khurana/Mrs. Weston), and self-realization (Colonel Rathore/Mr. Weston). Continue reading

The Work of Art, by Mimi Matthews—A Review

The Work of Art Matthews 2019 x 200From the desk of Katie Patchell

Recently, I discovered the joy that comes from not reading the description on the back of a book prior to opening page one. When I was asked to review The Work of Art, I heard “Regency” and “Laurel Ann recommends” and I was all for it. After downloading this novel, I opened my Kindle edition to a story as beautiful, atmospheric, and arresting as its haunting cover—one that captured me from the very first line…

“Captain Arthur Heywood had never seen such an ill-mannered assortment of canines in his life.”

…to the very last line, with its soul-satisfying conclusion.

When Phyllida Satterthwaite’s grandfather dies, she is plucked from her freedom in the Devonshire countryside and sent to Town to the constrained, shallow world that her vile aunt and uncle and odious cousins bask in. She lives for the few nature-filled walks she can take, with her dogs as her only companions. When she meets the solemn but kind Captain Heywood, Philly discovers that she’s not the only one yearning to be free from London society’s iron rules.

Captain Arthur Heywood, ex-Corinthian and ex-soldier, is facing his own bleak future. His life is ruled by the terms set by his injuries. His memories of the Napoleonic Wars and what gave him his scars haunt his dreams, as do the visions of the carefree life he’s lost. When Arthur meets Philly by chance he finds someone who quietly treats him with the same intuitive kindness she treats her dogs—which he quickly finds is a compliment of the highest sort. Continue reading

Love, Lies and Spies, by Cindy Anstey – A Review

Love Lies and Spies by Cindy Ansley 2016 x 200From the desk of Katie Patchell:

Espionage. Matchmaking Mamas. Pretend Romances. Ladybugs!

Who would have thought that these four things are closely related? Yet these tantalizing details (and much more!) can be found in April’s latest Regency novel involving spies and traitors to the English crown, conniving young heiresses, dashing rescues, and one very independent, insect-loving heroine. In Cindy Anstey’s debut, Love, Lies and Spies, readers are whisked away from the chill and rain-streaked windows of early spring to the shores of Devon, crowded streets of London, and glittering, secret-filled ballrooms of Regency England. 

Love, Lies and Spies opens onto a scene of danger and a dramatic cliffhanger—a quite literal moment of cliff-hanging peril, underwent by the brave (and very embarrassed) heroine, Juliana Telford. Up until her buggy overturned and she found herself dangling far above the English Channel, Miss Telford had managed to avoid potential scandal. For eighteen years she had grown up with only her scientist father for company, running the estate and filling her spare hours with her favorite pursuit: studying the ladybug. But her growing dread that she’ll die before completing her plans is calmed at the hope-boosting sound of approaching footsteps. Continue reading

Jane Austen Lives Again, by Jane Odiwe – A Review

Jane Austen Lives Again by Jane Odiwe 2015 x 200From the desk of Katie Patchell:

What would Jane Austen say and do if she lived in the 1920s instead of the late 1700s/early 1800s? Would she wear a drop-waist dress that showed her ankles and bob her auburn hair? Would she dance the Charleston or listen to Jazz music? How would she react to being called ‘baby doll’? And would being handed into the front seat of a car by a young, eligible man just as romantic as being handed into a Regency carriage? These fascinating questions and more are imaginatively answered in Jane Odiwe’s latest novel, Jane Austen Lives Again, where readers—and Jane Austen herself—are transported to the chaotic, electrifying Jazz Age.

1817: After days of sickness, Jane Austen closes her eyes on this world for the last time. Or so she thinks. When she opens them again—to her, only a few moments later—her doctor informs her that he found the secret to immortal life, and the year is… Continue reading

The Painter’s Daughter, by Julie Klassen – A Review

The Painter's Daughter, by Julie Klassen (2015)From the desk of Katie Patchell: 

Digital Cameras. Laptops. Word documents and Note Apps. In 2015, these and countless other electronic items are used to quickly capture memories and jot down thoughts. But in 1815, the primary means of recording moments and ideas was through paper, pen, and paintbrush. Novels, journals, and artwork show moderns what life was like in the early 1800s, bringing readers and viewers into the thoughts and events of two centuries ago. In The Painter’s Daughter, Julie Klassen’s latest Regency romance set against the backdrop of Devon’s towering cliffs, readers discover a story of secrets and danger, prophecies and hope. But unlike the portraits from the Regency period, “viewers” are not given a glimpse of 1815 through the paint on a canvas, but rather through the story of the painter herself.

March 1815: Captain Stephen Marshall Overtree has only a few short weeks left of shore leave before he returns to the Navy, and he has one last family duty to perform: Locating his wayward brother, Wesley. Stephen digs up his brother’s last address at a painter’s cottage and rides to the small seaside town, Lynmouth. His plan is simple—find Wesley, and return to his blissfully regimented life in the Navy. But his retrieval plan is ruined when on his arrival at the Devon seaside, all he finds is a locked cottage, crates of paintings, and a beautiful woman standing perilously close to a cliff’s edge.

Sophie Dupont never expected Wesley Overtree to abandon her. They had spent months together working on their artwork, and as the days of painting and modeling passed, she had felt her inhibitions drift away as their love grew. He had made her feel as if she were the most precious woman in the world…until he jumped on a boat to Italy, leaving her with boxes of his portraits of her and his unborn child. When Captain Stephen Overtree saves her from a cliff-top plunge as Sophie was grabbing for Wesley’s fallen goodbye note, she has no choice but to pack up the last of Wesley’s belongings—including his scandalous portraits of her—and send them with Stephen.

Despite his sudden attraction to the beautiful but withdrawn Miss Dupont, Stephen plans to put Wesley out of his mind and return to the Navy. But when he catches Sophie in a bout of morning sickness, he realizes that he is in for a bigger plan change than he ever imagined. Knowing his brother’s personality and Sophie’s future as an unwed mother, Stephen offers her a way of escape: to elope with him, gaining security from the Overtree name and family. Despite her lingering feelings for Wesley, Sophie accepts, and within a few days, becomes a wife and new resident at the Overtree family home. What begins as a marriage of convenience slowly morphs into something more, but when an ominous prophecy of Stephen’s impending death is revealed and Wesley returns home, ready to open and make public his crates containing Sophie’s revealing portraits, Sophie and Stephen must decide which is more important: their previous separated lives, or their possible future together. Continue reading