A Murderous Relation (A Veronica Speedwell Mystery Book 5), by Deanna Raybourn—A Review

A Murderous Relation by Deanna Raybourn 2020From the desk of Melissa Makarewicz:

With a mystery so scandalous the very balance of the British monarchy is threatened, Veronica Speedwell, a butterfly collecting amateur detective, and her natural historian colleague Mr. Revelstoke Temple-ton-Vane, have been called on to help. In Deanna Raybourn’s A Murderous Relation, readers are taken on a quirky ride through dangerous perils and nail-biting adventure. As Veronica and Stoker are trying to solve the case, they are also trying to solve the complexity of their emotions. The idea of mystery and intrigue tied up with slow-burning romance just waiting to bubble over ticked all the must-read boxes for me.

It’s the year 1888, and the horrifying figure of Jack the Ripper is stalking the streets. While London is in a heightened frenzy held entranced by the mysterious murders, the Lady Willingtonia Beauclerk has called Veronica and Stoker to a meeting. The meeting is attended by a close group who are privileged to the intimate knowledge of Veronica’s paternity. Lady Wellie, the princess, Inspector Archibond are also in attendance. Though the group is small, the secrets that threaten the monarchy are large.

Normally one to jump at the chance for adventure, this one hits a bit too close to home for Veronica and she adamantly refuses to help. Lady Wellie attempts to share a tangled web of theories to the two detectors in order to change their minds. Suddenly, she is struck with a medical emergency so severe that Stocker must act quickly to save her life.

“Lady Wellie clasped her walking stick more tightly, ‘It is the very worst time for any sort of scandal to break.’ She paused, and I saw her faze sharpen as she looked from me to Stoker and back again, Suddenly I understood that feeling of taut expectation.” (9)

Although initially, the Princess of Wales requested her help, Veronica is quite sure that there is a larger more daunting mystery that the now incapacitated Lady Wellie was about to share. But, without being able to ask any more questions of her, a little harmless breaking and entering might be the only way that they can learn what secrets she was about to divulge. The contents found in Lady Wellie’s office only lead to more questions, which can lead to one thing…. Adventure.

Deciding that the princess’s request somehow ties into what Lady Wellie was about to communicate before she was seized by an unknown medical emergency, the two detectors lay out a plan. Their goal is to reclaim the jewel given by the young prince to the owner of a house of devious adult desires. If the jewel is known to be given by the member of royalty, it would rain down disaster on the prince’s chance to marry his sweet young cousin. The hunt for the jewel unveils a more complex plan of mischief than either one of them could have ever dreamed.

Imprisonment, attempted anarchy, gunshots, and a plotted political coup are just some of the adventures that lie in store.

“And why, precisely, are the pair of you embarked up this bacchanal? One can only presume you are venturing once more into the mysterious and dangerous realms of detection.” -The Viscount (66)

Under normal circumstances, Veronica must beg and cajole Stoker into going along with her escapades. Something feels different this time when he willingly agrees that they will be heading into this new adventure together. A change of more than friendship is on the horizon. Veronica can feel it every time she is in his presence. Where once they were coworkers, the feeling of mutual desire is now palpable.

There is an inner storm of desire brewing and as they are frequently thrown into dangerous situations. The tempest is reaching a fevered pitch. Veronica feels the inner pull of their souls as they become entwined.

“He was not another half, for I was whole unto myself. But he was my mirror, and in him I saw reflected all that I liked best in me. I saw honesty and pride, loyalty, and a willingness to stand, however difficult, in service of one’s own principles. He was a twin soul to my own, and if I had not loved him so much I would never have feared losing him.” (299)

Along with the murderous Jack the Ripper, the sexual tension in this story lurks around every corner threatening to cut like a knife. The two main characters seem to be meandering a slow path leading to a night of passionate lovemaking. After so many “almost” moments, the reader is left to expect a grand finale. It did seem to be a slight let down when sexual congress was reached and played out in just a few short-generalized paragraphs. However, one could argue that the description stayed true to the highly stylized tone of the book.

A whimsical Victorian-set novel that weaves murder, adventure, and romance into a single seamless tale. Veronica and Stoker create the perfect gender-equal, adventure-loving pair. The playfulness of their tete-a-tete helps to keep this dangerously dark story light-hearted and fun.

This is the fifth book in the Veronica Speedwell series. Although it is part of a series, it is still very enjoyable as a standalone. A Murderous Relation is a delightful book that will hold your attention from the first chapter to the last.

4 out of 5 Stars

A Murderous Relation (A Veronica Speedwell Mystery Book 5), by Deanna Raybourn
Berkley (March 10, 2020)
Hardcover, eBook, & audiobook (320) pages
ISBN: 978-0451490742

ADDITIONAL REVIEWS:

AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE | BOOK DEPOSITORY | INDIEBOUND | GOODREADS | BOOKBUB

Cover image courtesy of Berkley © 2020; text Melissa Makarewicz © 2020, Austenprose.com

The Other Bennet Sister: A Novel, by Janice Hadlow—A Review

The Other Bennet Sister, by Janice Hadlow 2020From the desk of Sophia Rose:

The oft-forgotten of the five Bennet sisters who may have been a reader’s source of amusement or irritation, engendered pity or magnanimous sympathy comes endearingly alive in Janice Hadlow’s gentle opus to Mary, the other sister who must follow a very different path to happiness.

The Other Bennet Sister opens when Mary Bennet is a young girl happy and content with herself and her life until slowly, she becomes aware of a miserable truth. She’s plain and unattractive. Jane the pretty sister and Lizzy the witty favorite of their father’s pair off as they all get older, her father is entrenched in his library sanctum, and her mother laments Mary’s looks and hurls painful remarks to her and about her. Even her younger sisters take their cue from this to draw together and tease her when they do notice her. Mary searches for ways to please and be noticed though she works hard to avoid her mother who twits her on her looks or quiet manners.

In short, Mary is miserable and is willing to try anything even securing the interest of the bumbling and bothersome cousin Collins who has come to Longbourn in search of a wife. If she thought her homelife was misery, being overlooked by Mr. Collins even after she put her best foot forward and made a horrid spectacle of herself at the Netherfield Ball teaches her that being invisible is even worse.

Her sisters’ triumphs in being wed, a family death, and feeling at a loss sends Mary on a journey of self-discovery.

The Other Bennet Sister worked hard to be true to Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Mary’s childhood and her debut on society along with the story flowing on parallel lines fit hand in glove with the P&P story. It had a broodier Jane Eyre feel to it, but this works since it is Mary’s story. It was intriguing to see that by focusing on Mary the author shows all the familiar characters in a slightly different light. Some even get more of a stronger role like Mrs. Hill the Longbourn housekeeper who has a soft spot for neglected Mary and by Charlotte Lucas who sees Mary as sharing a similar personality and needs since they are both plain. I will offer the warning that the usual sparkling favorite characters in Pride and Prejudice to not always appear in a favorable light so be prepared to see a different interpretation to many familiar characters. Continue reading

The Duke and I (Bridgertons Book 1), by Julia Quinn—A Review

The Duke and I by Julia Quinn Netflix coverFrom the desk of Pamela Mingle:

Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton novels were among the first Regency romance novels I ever read. Completely captivated by their charm, humor, and abundance of stomach quivering moments, I quickly devoured all eight. The Duke and I, published in 2000, is one of my favorites. It’s the story of the romance between Daphne Bridgerton and Simon Bassett, the Duke of Hastings.

For the uninitiated, the Bridgerton family consists of eight siblings, four brothers and an equal number of sisters. They’re named alphabetically: Anthony, Benedict, Colin, Daphne, Eloise, Francesca, Gregory, and Hyacinth. The books were not published in that order, however. Daphne’s story, The Duke and I, was first in the series.

As the book opens, Daphne is in her second season, attending a ball at Lady Danbury’s home (Lady D is a beloved recurring character in the Bridgerton books.). Daphne has had a few marriage proposals from men she’s not interested in. They’ve been either elderly or ridiculous. One of the latter is Nigel Berbrooke, who’s inebriated at the ball and follows her when she slips away from her mother, a relentless matchmaker. Simon happens by just as Daphne is discouraging Nigel’s advances. Simon decides he must intervene, only to see Daphne punch the man squarely in the jaw. A masterful scene, full of witty, flirtatious banter between Daphne and Simon, follows. But when Simon figures out she is Anthony Bridgerton’s sister, he’s on his guard. After all, one of the first rules of seduction is, “Thou shalt not lust after thy friend’s sister.”

Simon’s background is revealed in the Prologue. His mother dies in childbirth, and when Simon doesn’t speak until he’s four years old and then stutters, his cold father all but disowns him. With a loving nurse to help him, and his own perseverance and hard work, Simon overcomes his speech problems and eventually graduates from Cambridge with a first in mathematics. His father has since died without ever making things right with his son. To spite the man, Simon has vowed never to marry and produce and an heir. He wants the dukedom to go to another branch of the family or die out altogether. Hatred of his father has consumed Simon for most of his life. Continue reading

Two More Days at Netherfield, by Heather Moll—A Review

Two More Days at Netherfield by Heather Moll 2020From the desk of Debbie Brown:

Everybody familiar with the classic story of Pride and Prejudice knows that Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy don’t communicate to each other with total honestly until their meeting at Hunsford during his (horrible) marriage proposal, which he continues in his letter the following day. But what if circumstances lead them to do so much earlier in their relationship? That’s the premise for Two More Days at Netherfield, a Pride and Prejudice variation by Heather Moll.

While Jane Bennet is ill at Netherfield and Elizabeth is there to nurse her, early changes lay the foundation for those extra two days. First, Elizabeth learns Darcy actually admires her. Then, Darcy discovers Elizabeth overheard his insult at the Meryton assembly. His initial apology is half-hearted at best, and Elizabeth calls him on it, adding, “[Y]ou have been disagreeable and conceited from the moment of your arrival in Hertfordshire!” Interestingly, the conversation does not deteriorate. Darcy, recognizing he’s in the wrong, offers a more sincere apology.

“[N]ow that Mr Darcy had offered an acceptable apology, she could tolerate his company a little better.” Ergo, Elizabeth isn’t as disturbed when her mother refuses to send the Bennet carriage, and the sisters remain there two more days rather than borrowing Mr. Bingley’s and returning to Longbourn.

Events over these two days lead to a lot of self-examination by both Darcy and Elizabeth. He comes to recognizes that his behavior IS haughty and unmannerly, while she realizes that she forms judgments too quickly and harshly. 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

Elizabeth: Obstinate Headstrong Girl (The Quill Collective Book 5), edited by Christina Boyd—A Review

Elizabeth Obstinate Headstrong Girl 2020From the desk of Debbie Brown:

The Jane Austen Fan Fiction (JAFF) world has been exploding with stories about Elizabeth Bennet for a long time now. What can possibly be left to explore about this beloved Pride and Prejudice character and her Mr. Darcy? Ten talented storytellers prove they can always find new ground to cover in the character-driven anthology, Elizabeth: Obstinate, Headstrong Girl.

One of these storytellers is the anthology’s editor, Christina Boyd, who took on two roles by including her own contribution here. Well-known historical romance author Tessa Dare provided the foreword. In it, she eloquently explains her lifelong admiration for the fictional Elizabeth Bennet.

As the book’s title suggests, Elizabeth’s obstinacy and stubbornness are highlighted; however, her intelligence, humor, and willingness to admit when she’s wrong are apparent throughout, too. Another recurring topic is Elizabeth as a young woman struggling to fight male dominance in society. Naturally, other Pride and Prejudice characters have important roles, most particularly Mr. Darcy himself. All the ten stories are told from Elizabeth’s point of view, though not necessarily in first person. The snippets below give a small taste of the delicious contents.

Starting with the modern era and making our way back to traditional Regency settings, we begin with Leigh Dreyer’s contribution, “The Last Blind Date.” Charlotte to Elizabeth: “You convince yourself at the start of any relationship that the guy is an idiot, treat him like he’s an idiot the whole time, and refuse to even consider a second date.” Continue reading

Bitch in a Bonnet: Reclaiming Jane Austen from the Stiffs, the Snobs, the Simps and the Saps (Volume 1), by Robert Rodi—A Review  

Bitch in a Bonnet, by Robert Rodi (2012)From the desk of Sophia Rose:

Compiling his thoughts on the first three of Jane Austen’s published novels, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Mansfield Park, author Robert Rodi fires a broadside at the swooning, sugary sentimentality of the modern Jane Austen fan craze.  He is appalled that such a group has turned a witty, sharp-tongued wonder into trite purple prose and slapped her silhouette on a t-shirt. Forging ahead for over four hundred pages, he dissects these Austen novels chapter by chapter, line upon line, precept upon precept highlighting a lack of romance and a decided prevalence of comedy and insight into the human condition.

I would like to give an early warning that this is not a book for those who have never read these novels. Though, it might be argued that it is exactly for those who are still considering them. My warning is for those who prefer to go into their books without spoilers and no undue influence because, reader, the author most definitely means to influence and discuss with thoroughness each character and each event and he does.

Bitch in a Bonnet begins with an explanation and a warning. Rodi doesn’t plan to take anyone by surprise or leave anyone in question of his purpose in writing his book. He basically shouts out ‘There be dragons here!’ And, I suspect for some, his method of discussion might be just that. I would be lying if I said I never had the urge to bop him on the head for trashing some of my favorite characters or scenes or that I have a decidedly differing opinion on matters, particularly in Mansfield Park.

In colloquial turns of phrase and a great preponderance of cultural idioms, he dissects each of the books in his own chapters that tackle the novel’s chapters in about five-chapter sections. His sardonic humor and often sarcastic turn of phrase can be highly amusing (read, laugh out loud funny) and, once in a while, wearying (he can belabor his point now and then). Continue reading

Duke Darcy’s Castle: A Dare to Defy Novel (Book 3), by Syrie James—A Review

Duke Darcy Castle by Syrie James 2020From the desk of Pamela Mingle:

A castle in Cornwall overlooking the sea. A dashing, though reluctant, duke who’s just taken over the dukedom. And a heroine who desperately wants to have a career as an architect rather than a love affair. Taken together, a perfect catalyst for a romance that has more than its share of obstacles. Syrie James’s latest novel, Duke Darcy’s Castle, is the third entry in the “Dare to Defy” series set in the Victorian period.

From the moment they meet, an irresistible attraction ignites between the tenth Duke of Darcy, Lance Granville, and Kathryn Atherton, New York heiress. When she arrives at St. Gabriel’s Mount with a proposal to redesign the castle, Lance mistakes her for the village school teacher, and she puzzles over why a duke would answer his own door. They stare at one another, each mesmerized by the other. After a moment, Lance comes to his senses and invites her in.

Kathryn is desperate to show what she can achieve as an architect, a profession exclusively the domain of men during the Victorian period. When a skeptical Lance is about to turn her away, she tries one more time to persuade him to give her a chance. Having learned of his background as a captain in the Royal Navy, Kathryn awes Lance with a drawing of her vision for his study, replacing the “cluttered, gilded look” with a nautical theme. He’s amazed that after such a short time, she knows exactly what would please him. Lance agrees to Kathryn taking on the job, at least for a trial.

Lance insists that financing the castle renovation is no problem. But the truth is, he is deeply in debt, and the notes are due in a few months. He has no idea where he’ll find the money. His late brother’s fiscal management was a disaster for the duchy. For her part, Kathryn is also less than honest. She doesn’t tell him she’s an heiress. Both of her sisters are countesses, having married English earls a while back, but Kathryn doesn’t want to follow in their footsteps. She’s delighted to hear that Lance is well off. Continue reading

Jane Austen, the Secret Radical, by Helena Kelly—A Review

Jane Austen Secret Radical 2018From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

Was Jane Austen a radical? Was she sympathetic to the “radical reforms” of Charles James Fox and others that included universal male suffrage, the abolition of slavery, and women’s rights? Few would readily place her in the company of Thomas Paine, William Godwin, or Mary Wollstonecraft, but perhaps that is because she kept her dangerous views so well hidden that most of her contemporaries, as well as later generations, have missed them. While I began reading Jane Austen, The Secret Radical with an open but somewhat skeptical mind, I was curious to see what evidence Helena Kelly would provide. In Chapter 1, she throws down the gauntlet: 

We’re perfectly willing to accept that writers like [William] Wordsworth were fully engaged with everything that was happening and to find the references in their work, even when they’re veiled or allusive. But we haven’t been willing to do it with Jane’s work. We know Jane; we know that however delicate her touch she’s essentially writing variations of the same plot, a plot that wouldn’t be out of place in any romantic comedy of the last two centuries.  

We know wrong. (4%)

Kelly cites a number of reasons for what she calls the misreading of Austen, including a lack of reliable biographical information about Austen, the destruction of most of her letters by her sister Cassandra, and a concerted effort by surviving family members to reframe Jane’s life and creative endeavors along more conventional and non-threatening lines. Delays in the publication of her early works obscured themes that were rooted in the upheavals of the French Revolution and the literary phenomenon of the Gothic novel. Add to these the many film adaptations and biopics that have nearly overtaken the original novels in the consciousness of the current age:

When it comes to Jane, so many images have been danced before us, so rich, so vivid, so prettily presented. They’ve been seared onto our retinas in the sweaty darkness of a cinema, and the aftereffect remains, a shadow on top of everything we look at subsequently. (10%) Continue reading

And Dangerous to Know (Rosalind Thorne Mystery Book 3), by Darcie Wilde—A Review

And Dangerous to Know by Darcie Wilde 2020From the desk of Sophia Rose:

When a mystery series is introduced with such words as, “…inspired by the novels of Jane Austen,” you may be sure that I will be more than willing to delve right in with alacrity. Wilde created a capable heroine who was high born, fallen with her family’s disgrace, and risen by her own resolution and strength as a useful woman to those who were once her peers, and what began with curiosity continues to impress with a deep appreciation for her spirit and intelligence.

And Dangerous to Know is so titled to best suit one of the intriguing real historical elements of this third installment in the Rosalind Thorne series which works best read in order. In this latest, Rosalind is involved with ‘mad, bad, and dangerous to know’ Lord Byron, indirectly. While never actually present, he can be felt throughout the book.

Rosalind has recovered from her last encounter with murder and peacefully keeping up her prodigious amounts of correspondence, her household affairs, and trying to help her friend Alice figure out where Alice’s brother George has been disappearing to each evening. Meanwhile, she ponders the affairs of her conflicted heart—a duke or a detective?

This is all interrupted when an imperious summons brings her to the august doors of Melbourne House and she encounters its notorious mistress, Lady Melbourne, and her more notorious daughter in law, Lady Caroline Lamb. Lady Melbourne has letters written by Lord Byron that have gone missing and they are such that ruin for several will happen if they are ever published or the contents bandied about.  Rosalind has a bad feeling about the whole thing, but when Lady Jersey recommended her and another society queen wishes to hire her, there is only one answer to give. 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