In the Shadow of Croft Towers: A Novel, by Abigail Wilson — A Review

Shadow of Croft Towers by Abigail WIlson 2019

From the desk of Katie Patchell: 

The highwayman: A mysterious figure riding on cloudless nights, a man whose purpose goes beyond treasure for wealth’s sake. There’s something about the highwayman that captures our imagination and has done so for centuries. Is it his inevitable strength and beauty (if he’s the novel’s hero)? Is it because he’s misunderstood by those who know him within the pages, so our sympathy reaches out? Or is it because he’s a figure in the vein of Robin Hood, a romantic symbol of a freer, wilder, more dangerous age? In Abigail Wilson’s 2019 debut, In the Shadow of Croft Towers, a masked highwayman appears once again, this time with gray eyes narrowed in laughter behind his mask, and a quest in his heart for something stronger than diamonds but as insubstantial as the mist: The truth. 

“I often wonder what my life would have been like if I had never learned the truth. I wouldn’t have set off as I did for Croft Towers. I never would have met him.” (1)

Sybil Delafield is well-educated but an orphan, and in a world tailored for men, her opportunities to make a way for herself are limited. When her mysterious benefactor’s funds run out and a strange message arrives to seek answers about her parentage at the unknown Croft Towers, Sybil sees no reason to decline the seemingly random offer to work as companion to the owner of the very same Croft Towers. In fact, she welcomes it. Even a highwayman – especially one smokey-eyed, confusing specimen who refuses to harm or steal anything from the carriage yet makes them all stand in the rain as he searches for something – cannot stop her from finding out once and for all who her parents are.

Unfortunately for Sybil, more questions – not answers – materialize at Croft Towers. Why is it that the charming Mr. Cantrell attaches himself to her, despite her low status? What is the secret that tortures Mrs. Chalcroft and why does she ask Sybil to deliver secret letters under cover of darkness? And why, oh why, does Sybil find herself in the same house with her employer’s moody godson, the man who only she knows is the highwayman?

When rumors of a traitor to the Crown swirl around the foundations of Croft Towers, Sybil must decide who to trust in a house where everyone has their own hidden past that they’d risk everything to protect. In the process, she might even find out who she is and where she came from…if she manages to stay alive, that is. Continue reading

The Lady and the Highwayman (Proper Romance Victorian), by Sarah M. Eden—A Review

The Lady and the Highwayman by Sarah M Eden 2019From the desk of Katie Patchell:  

Pop Quiz: Which of the following is a penny dreadful — a) the title of a recent TV series, b) a term for a gory but thrilling story or c) a serialized novel from the 1800s?

If you answered any of the three, you would be correct! Besides being the name of a 2014 TV show, penny dreadfuls were serialized stories during the 19th century. They’re most famously known for their affordable price and plots filled with all kinds of thrills, such as hauntings and kidnappings. Sarah M. Eden, an author previously reviewed by Austenprose, visits this colorful world of penny dreadfuls in this, one of her latest novels, The Lady and the Highwayman. 

“Rumor had it, Fletcher Walker wasn’t born but had simply appeared one day, swaggering down the streets of London.” (Chapter 1) 

It is London, 1865, and Fletcher Walker is a man on top of the world. From pickpocket to the author of wildly popular penny dreadfuls – and leader of a philanthropic secret society –  he has created something unshakable. Or so he thinks. His confidence in himself and his mission to change the world is threatened when a new “king” of penny dreadfuls arrives on the scene. And this king, Mr. King, is none other than:

Elizabeth Black — headmistress of Thurloe Collegiate School, a respected member of society, and secret author. As the male writer King, Elizabeth enjoys growing fame, especially for her serial, The Lady and the Highwayman. Yet she soon discovers that she has at least one enemy intent on destroying King’s career. When Fletcher enlists her aid to help him track down King, little does he know that he’s gone to the very last person in the world to wish him success.

As Elizabeth becomes more involved with Fletcher, she struggles to prevent him from finding out her secret identity, while at the same time, trying to further her goal in discovering the truth about the shadowy Dread Penny Society and Fletcher’s involvement. Will she reveal her secret identity so he can reign as the penny dreadful king again, as he wants? Or can she find a different way to help the people of London as Mr. King, while staying true to her desires? Continue reading

Rescuing Lord Inglewood: A Regency Romance, by Sally Britton—A Review

Rescuing Lord Inglewood, by Sally BrittonFrom the desk of Katie Patchell:

I have been doing something unconventional lately, and I don’t just mean tanning in my front yard because of COVID-19. I’ve paused my habit of reading book summaries and back covers to ‘know what I’m getting into.’ Instead, I start with page one, immersing myself in the story and characters without any prior knowledge or expectations. As someone who enjoys her ‘prior knowledge,’ this is a big deal. Happily, I can say it’s been a successful experiment. There’s nothing like being surprised as a reader along with a novel’s heroine or hero. Without realizing it, my new method of reading novels is a perfect tribute to Sally Britton’s Rescuing Lord Inglewood and its themes of shattered expectations and wonderful surprises.

When Esther Fox takes her heartbroken neighbor for a walk to distract her from her failed romance, Esther doesn’t expect romance to hit her – literally – with the force of a falling statue. After throwing herself on a distracted passerby to save him from being crushed to death, she soon discovers two truths. The first is that the man she saved is none other than her older brother’s mischievous childhood friend, Silas, now a responsible (some would say, overly responsible) titled member of Parliament. The second truth is that the rumor mill has already almost destroyed her reputation, and with her only blood relative away fighting Napoleon, her marriage to Silas is unavoidable.

After their wedding, a series of misunderstandings, fears, and troublesome memories threaten to destroy what’s already been built on shaky ground. With every new twist and turn, Esther and Silas must decide if their marriage will remain a solution to a problem, or will grow into a partnership built on mutual trust and love. Continue reading

Rakes and Roses: A Mayfield Family Romance (Book 3), by Josi S. Kilpack—A Review

Rakes and Roses by Josi S Kilpack 2020From the desk of Katie Patchell:

What do you think of when you hear the word “rake”? Do you think of a rogue, face and heart scarred, but with a devilishly attractive smile? Do you think angry thoughts, with words like “cad” and “bounder” (and maybe some unprintable ones) flashing through your mind? Or maybe you think of the gardening tool that sits in your shed? Regardless, rakes are tricky creatures, capable of evoking a passionate response. Josi S. Kilpack’s latest novel, Rakes and Roses, tells a story of the transforming power of mercy and love, one that’s reminiscent of the beloved legend of Beauty and her Beast.

Born the illegitimate daughter of a duke in a society where that detail matters greatly, Sabrina Carlisle has gotten used to turning a brave face to the world. When an older, titled man proposes, Sabrina accepts, happy to finally have peace and security. Her dreams are shattered soon after the wedding. Abusive physically and verbally, her husband makes her life a living hell. Unable to leave him permanently, she seeks reprieve one fateful night during a tense dinner party. While hiding in the bushes outside, Sabrina prays that no one notices her. Her prayer isn’t answered…but not in the way she fears.

Young, handsome, and reckless, Harry Stillman is already in training to be a rogue. When he takes a moonlight stroll in his host’s gardens with a beautiful woman on his arm, he doesn’t expect to see a face staring out at him with terror from the local flora. Steering his companion away from her is a small mercy — but returning to find out what the mysterious woman was afraid of is true kindness, a small act Sabrina never forgets.

Years pass; Sabrina and Harry find themselves in vastly different circumstances. Sabrina’s husband is dead and fear is no longer her constant companion. Harry, no longer carefree and wealthy, spends sleepless nights drinking and gambling. Consequences catch up to him in the form of thuggish moneylenders…but then the unexpected happens. An unknown person going only by the name “Lord Damion” offers him a chance at freedom. When Sabrina (through her pseudonym) finds the opportunity to save Harry from being killed by moneylenders or from drowning in his addiction, she jumps at the chance. The only question is—does he want to be rescued, as she did years ago? Continue reading

Lakeshire Park, by Megan Walker—A Review

Lakeshire Park by Megan Walker 2020From the desk of Katie Patchell: 

There: on the horizon stands elegant, grand Lakeshire Park. It is a prize for women seeking church bells and thrown rice…and of course, a large income. If you too choose to step over its threshold, you’ll find yourself facing scheming debutantes, protective older brothers, and one very determined woman trying to navigate through it all. Beyond its doors lies a world where wealth matters, an ill-timed kiss can ruin one’s future, and where “the course of true love never did run smooth” could be nailed to the wall as a warning and as a challenge to eager young lovers…and equally to you, Lakeshire Park’s future reader.

Enter Amelia, our “one very determined woman.” She has good reason to be so. Her beloved father’s death, her mother’s remarriage to a man who despises Amelia and her sister, Clara, and recently, her mother’s passing, has all made her resilient and cautious about loving again. After her cruel stepfather’s flat refusal to be connected to her and her sister anymore, Amelia searches for a means to save them both from destitution. Her good fortune is that she is not alone to face the world–Clara is her closest friend, and Amelia would do anything for her. This “anything” includes accepting an invitation to a house party hosted by none other than the man who Clara had a tendresse for in the previous Season. There’s only one problem: another woman seeks his attention, and she also has an older sibling who is fully devoted to her happiness. With time running out, what’s a woman to do? The answer is obvious: to make a deal with the devil – Amelia’s counterpart, Peter Wood, the stubborn, cunning man who from the very first moment of meeting has tried to ruin all her plans.

Unfortunately, Amelia’s plot to get him out of the way quickly unravels. His quick smile, sparkling eyes, and ready wit make her respond in kind. Rivalry and war turn to a mock battle for one-upmanship, and before Amelia knows it, her heart is involved. With her stepfather’s threats weighing on her mind and Peter’s sister’s devious plans against Clara, Amelia must make her most difficult choice yet: to choose her sister’s future happiness over her own. Continue reading

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