Bronte’s Mistress: A Novel, by Finola Austin—A Review

Brontes Mistress by Finola Austin 2020From the desk of Molly Greeley:

The mystique of the Brontë sisters hasn’t lessened in the years since they wrote their extraordinary novels. Their brother Branwell is remembered by history less for his literary talents than for his notorious addictions, and for the alleged affair he had with his pupil’s mother, Lydia Robinson. In Brontë’s Mistress, Finola Austin explores this affair from Lydia’s perspective with both compassion and a good writer’s capacity to empathically—and mercilessly—depict her characters as fully-realized people, at both their best and their worst.ë

Lydia is the original Mrs. Robinson, and not only in name: a mother of five, trapped in a marriage with a cold and unaffectionate man, unfulfilled by the narrow role deemed socially acceptable for women, and desperate for love and attention, she finds herself drawn to her son’s tutor, the handsome, poetic, and much-younger-than-she-is Branwell Brontë.

Their affair is passionate, sweeping Lydia away from the dullness of her everyday life. She revels, at first, in Branwell’s capacity for love, and in his willingness to speak of things most people in her circles of acquaintance never would, and his unconventionality frees Lydia to express her own.

He “railed against convention, society, religion, talking about us but not about us, redirecting his fire towards the legal and spiritual strictures that kept us apart… I joined him, dancing closer and closer to the precipice and uncovering aspects of my nature I’d never thought8 to expose to the light, delighting in our shared, secret, impotent rage.” (121).

But soon enough, Lydia comes to see Branwell’s many flaws, and as his behavior becomes increasingly erratic, his vices more obvious, she becomes fearful of the whispered rumors about them that have already begun circulating. She worries, of course, about the servants’ talk, but also about Branwell’s literary sisters—with whom she has something of an obsession and who, she fears, might put the story of their brother’s affair in their work. Continue reading

Tempted: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, by Nicole Clarkston—A Review

From the desk of Katie Jackson:

Most variations of Jane Austen’s classic novels are set in England, in the same Regency time period as the original stories. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to discover that this new Pride and Prejudice variation—Tempted, by prolific Austenesque author Nicole Clarkston—takes place in a unique time and multiple locations.

In July 1900, we are introduced to an American Elizabeth Bennet, born and raised on a ranch in Wyoming and recently wed to Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, cousin of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy and second son of the Earl of Matlock. Elizabeth’s amenable yet annoying cousin Billy Collins has escorted her and her sister Jane from America to London so that she may present herself to the colonel’s parents, Lord and Lady Matlock. Colonel Fitzwilliam, a cavalry officer, had been sent to Wyoming as a special envoy of Her Majesty’s Army—and someone with a good eye for horseflesh—in search of horses for the military. While on his mission in Wyoming, the colonel was called to the Boer War in South Africa and married Elizabeth shortly before he departed. There are mysterious circumstances surrounding their hasty marriage, and Elizabeth soon discovers that the colonel’s family is completely unaware of her existence and refuses to receive her as his wife. Instead, she is met by Mr. Darcy, serving as a family representative, who bears unwelcome tidings about her new husband.

“He could not form his own words, so at last, he opened the letter and read a portion of the excruciating print. ‘…We regret to inform you that Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam of the 4th Battalion of the Derbyshire’s has been listed as Missing in Action….’” (117)

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Rebellion at Longbourn: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, by Victoria Kincaid—A Review

Rebellion at Longbourn by Victoria Kincaid 2020From the desk of Sophia Rose:

What is left to a woman when by law she is at the mercy of an incompetent, oafish cousin? Why, a quiet rebellion, of course!

Victoria Kincaid has authored many lively Pride and Prejudice variations and retellings over the years which I have thoroughly enjoyed. While respecting Jane Austen and her works, Ms. Kincaid infuses her latest, Rebellion at Longbourn, with strong entertainment value and a shout for human injustice.

After Mr. Bennet passes away in the prime of his life, his daughter Elizabeth discovers that life is not fair, and justice is not just when women and dependents have no recourse. By law, her family’s estate of Longbourn must go to a male heir, which is their odious cousin Mr. Collins. In addition, her sister Lydia’s thoughtless elopement has destroyed the reputation of her entire family.

As she watches her nincompoop cousin Mr. Collins take over her family estate and proceed to run it into the ground, their very survival is now in jeopardy. The income from the harvest is not enough to sustain Collin’s extravagant expenditures, so he pulls from the estate resources resulting in less for the workers and the dependent Bennet family.

After Mr. Collins refuses to listen to good advice about running the estate, Elizabeth has had enough. She realizes that what Collins’ ignorance does not know will benefit others. So, she sets out to make things right on the estate and assuages her conscience that what she and others do behind his back is still benefiting him, so they are not stealing or taking advantage. Continue reading

Bringing Down the Duke (A League of Extraordinary Women, Book 1), by Evie Dunmore—A Review

Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore 2019From the desk of Melissa Makarewicz:

An estate with rolling green hills, fountains, and flower gardens… a dashing duke rides up to sweep me off my feet onto his horse as we ride off into the sunset…and, or at this point, of what feels like day 5,879 of stay at home, I would settle for a trip to the bookstore. Happily, I didn’t need to make a trip out because I had Evie Dunmore’s debut novel, Bringing Down the Duke, on my shelf waiting for me to give it a reread.

When I saw this historical romance novel popping up everywhere on social media last year, I knew it was a book I had to read. I mean, who doesn’t love to daydream about a handsome duke with a swoon-worthy British accent. When I saw it was a story about a young woman attending Oxford in 1879, I could not hit the one-click purchase button fast enough.

Annabelle Archer is a bluestocking through and through. She knows too many languages and is too opinionated to be considered a marriageable young lady. Plus, at her age, she is all but put on the shelf and considered a spinster. She has resigned herself to a life of caring for her extended family and dedicating herself to her studies. When she learns that there is a possibility to attend school, she yearns to have an independent life away from her demanding relatives who have taken her in and put her to work as a free nanny to their children.

Sebastian has been steady his whole adult life. After being thrust into the role of Duke at the young age of nineteen, he has worked tirelessly to restore the family name and fortune. Queen Victoria views him as one of her most trusted inner circle and with good reason. Running the multiple estates that he inherited as the first son and restoring their profitability would break a lesser man. But not Sebastian Devereux, nineteenth Duke of Montgomery. He always accomplished what he sets his mind to, no matter the cost. Nothing will stop him from restoring Montgomery Castle, an estate that his father lost in a bet. Continue reading

Say Yes to the Duke: The Wildes of Lindow Castle (Book 5), by Eloisa James—A Review

Say Yes to the Duke by Eloisa James 2020From the desk of Pamela Mingle:  

The Wildes of Lindow Castle is a Georgian romance series penned by the elegant writer, Eloisa James. Say Yes to the Duke, the fifth entry in the series features Viola Astley, whose mother is married to the Duke of Lindow. By her own reckoning, Viola is “…the opposite of a Wilde…timid, tongue-tied, and fairly useless.”

At her first ball, an apprehensive Viola retreats to a corridor used mainly by servants. She accidentally comes upon a couple having a liaison. When the man realizes he and his lover are no longer alone, he accuses the woman of arranging for a witness so he’ll be forced to marry her. He speaks cruelly, and long after the incident Viola continues to feel “…a wave of horror at the memory of the man’s scathing voice and his brutal strength.” From then on, she’s petrified of social situations and avoids them.

The brute in question turns out to be the Duke of Wynter, Devin Lucas Augustus Elstan, the hero of the story. Living mainly in the country, he shuns society and declines to attend parliamentary sessions. Raised in isolation by parents who despised each other, the duke was educated at home. His father was known for challenging nearly every man he came in contact with to a duel. At first, this seems merely quaint, but we later find out that he was abusive to Devin.

When Viola comes of age, her parents insist she have a debut season along with her beautiful and flamboyant stepsister Joan. She’s dreading the ball that will mark her first official appearance in Society. Across town, Devin tells his cousin Otis that he intends to find a bride during the Season. Devin knows of the Wildes, and Otis enlightens him further. 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

Frenchman’s Creek, by Daphne du Maurier—A Review

Frenchman's Creek by Daphne du MaurierFrom the desk of Tracy Hickman:

Revisiting a classic novel years after first reading it can yield surprises. Add a hazy recollection of major plot points and you are approaching a fresh canvas rather than a reproduction of a familiar portrait. I was intrigued to revisit Frenchman’s Creek because having last read it in high school, I retained only a faint memory of dissatisfaction with its ending, but found I was unable to recall the specifics of the story. Would rereading the novel confirm my youthful opinion or uncover a different experience of Daphne du Maurier’s adventure?

Originally published in 1941, Frenchman’s Creek features the coast of Cornwall as the setting for a romantic novel featuring an English aristocrat and a French pirate. The heroine, Lady Dona St. Columb, is the toast of Restoration London. She is beautiful, reckless, and enjoys flouting social conventions, but underneath the froth and frivolity, Dona admits to herself that she is bored with and ashamed of her hollow flirtations and outrageous pranks. At the opening of the novel, she leaves London for Navron, her husband’s estate in Cornwall.

So the first day passed, and the next, and the one after, Dona exulting in her new-found freedom. Now she could live without a plan, without a decision, taking the days as they came, rising at noon if she had the mind or at six in the morning, it did not matter, eating when hunger came upon her, sleeping when she wished, in the day or at midnight. Her mood was one of lovely laziness. (31)

But amid the peaceful ease of country life, there are also hints of mystery at Navron: Dona finds a jar of tobacco and a volume of French poetry in a drawer in her room. Soon after Lord Godolphin, a neighbor, warns Dona of French pirates that have been robbing locals, she sees a ship stealing in towards land at sunset from a vantage point on the headland. After midnight, Dona observes a clandestine meeting of her servant, William, with an unknown man at the edge of the woods that border the estate. Continue reading

Murder at Northanger Abbey: Sequel to Jane Austen’s Spoof on the Gothic Novel, by Shannon Winslow—A Review

Murder at Northanger Abbey by Shannon Winslow 2020From the desk of Sophia Rose:

Do you ever read a book and enjoy it to such an extent that your mind continues to dwell on the characters, and you imagine your own continuation of the story? If that story is Northanger Abbey, then it is no stretch to imagine that the heroine, Catherine Morland, must have her dream of living inside one of her delicious gothic novels fulfilled even while reveling in the happiness of being married to her Henry. Oh, not as the gullible young girl who conjured up ghouls and mystery where it did not exist, but a heroine worthy of adventure when the adventure finds her. If you perked up at this possibility, then, like me, dear reader, you are primed for Shannon Winslow’s Murder at Northanger Abbey.

The story opens with Catherine and Henry Tilney, newlywed and living in bliss at Woodston Cottage. Catherine is still settling in as mistress and exalting in the tender and passionate love of her husband. She has learned from her earlier adventures and set aside the impressionable girl who saw a bloody skeleton in every locked trunk or a villain in every frown. She is sensible now and seeks to be a credit as a vicar’s wife.

Into this idyllic life, an invitation arrives from General Tilney for them to attend an All Hallows Eve Masquerade Ball at Northanger Abbey. Henry is dubious and still has strong feelings about his father’s previous treatment of Catherine, but if this means an olive branch, he should accept. Catherine is thrilled about the ball and revels in the chills she feels about spending All Hallows Eve at a house she once thought haunted.

Their arrival reunites all the Tilneys including Elinor and her husband. Catherine also meets a pretty, young, but ineligible woman whom Frederick brought to annoy the General, though she is startled to notice a soft spot in the cruel Captain. The General also has a young pretty woman on his arm and she is very much eligible as the daughter of a Marquess. He is bursting with some sort of inner glee over what is to come later in the evening, and she can only take heart that he welcomed them if a tad coolly. Continue reading

A Timely Elopement: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, by Joana Starnes—A Review

From the desk of Katie Jackson:

For a Pride and Prejudice enthusiast, there is nothing quite like an unusually talkative and passionate Mr. Darcy to pique one’s interest. And it becomes particularly intriguing when the story is told almost exclusively from his perspective. Ironically, it is perhaps his most blundering speech that is mercifully interrupted in this variation, A Timely Elopement, from master storyteller Joana Starnes.

The tale begins in the parlor at Hunsford Parsonage near Rosings Park in Kent with the only two occupants; a visibly agitated Mr. Darcy and a startled and wary Elizabeth Bennet. Darcy has been at Rosings with his cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam to visit their aunt Lady Catherine de Bourgh and their cousin Anne, while Elizabeth visits her friend Charlotte Lucas, newly married to Elizabeth’s cousin and one-time suitor, Mr. Collins, Lady Catherine’s parson.

Darcy’s unexpected and ardent marriage proposal to Elizabeth is fortunately interrupted just before he manages to insult her with his ungentlemanlike manner, although she cannot forget that morning’s revelation from an unwitting Colonel Fitzwilliam that Darcy’s intervention had ruined her sister Jane’s chances for happiness with his friend Charles Bingley. Colonel Fitzwilliam barges in at that fortuitous moment to announce, “We have reason to fear that Anne has eloped. To own the truth, with Wickham.” (Kindle 82) Shock settles over the group as they consider the dire situation of Anne de Bourgh, known only as a sickly but wealthy heiress, possibly eloping with George Wickham. Lady Catherine later exclaims, “All saints preserve us! A steward’s son! What was the girl thinking?” (Kindle 496) Unbeknownst to her, he was the same fiend who had attempted to elope with Darcy’s sister Georgiana, also a wealthy heiress, from Ramsgate the previous summer. Thus, Darcy ceases his proposal just after confessing his love for Elizabeth. He briefly apprises her of the previous situation between his sister and Wickham before hurrying off to search for Anne, unaware that his aunt is about to summon his ladylove to accompany her to London for the same purpose. Continue reading