Someone to Romance: The Westcott Series (Book 8), by Mary Balogh—A Review

Someone to Romance by Mary Balogh 2020From the desk of Sophia Rose:

I discovered Mary Balogh’s tender, relationship-driven historical romances by browsing a book shop about a decade ago. The cover of her book merely depicted a landscape, but I recognized the possibilities of a new to me Regency-era author who did indeed pay attention to the details of the historical background of her stories, the social mores of the day, and could still deliver engaging characters and romances.

Someone to Romance is the eighth in the Westcott series. This is Lady Jessica Archer’s story. Jessica watches her cousin Abby with her newborn, a daughter, a loving husband, and a lovely home. She is ashamed of the envy that stabs her especially when Abby had to go through so much to have this. Jessica is determined to participate in the London Season and choose a husband, so she need not feel left out as others get married and have their own lives. Her loved ones want her to choose for love, but she doesn’t believe love is for her. No man has ever stirred more than mild interest in her.  But, at a coaching inn, a bold-eyed man, looking like he is far beneath her, rouses her ire and confounds her at every turn. When other more eligible men come around, it is Mr. Thorne who sparks her interest and she feels a burning curiosity for the mystery surrounding him.

Gabriel Thorne is unhappy that he must return to England after thirteen years away. A terrible, dark event happened, and he was forced to flee his uncle’s home who had taken him in after the death of his parents. He lands in Boston with his mother’s cousin and builds a rewarding new life. Now, duty forces him to return. It occurs to him when he is ousted from the private parlor at a coaching inn for an arrogant duke’s sister that she is just the type of woman he will have to marry now that he is taking the family title and lands back. Only, he doesn’t want ‘a’ wife, he wants Lady Jessica Archer. She boldly dares him to romance her and so he will.

Jessica was a character I had mixed feelings about from the first book in the series and even into the early pages of Someone to Romance. She had several spoiled, rich girl moments and had some naïve notions. Her motivations at the beginning of the book reflected those notions and I was not sure I was going to like her or even care if she found her way to romance. But, getting her perspective and seeing her stumble, become confused, and then start along a new path was worth it. She was more than that spoilt woman and her good points came out as well as a shrewdness that stood her well. Besides, it wasn’t Jessica who naively under-estimates an enemy there near the end. Continue reading

Mr. Malcolm’s List, by Suzanne Allain—A Review

Mr Malcolm's List by Suzanne Allain 2020From the desk of Melissa Makarewicz:

Late one evening I was mindlessly scrolling through Twitter, as one does, when a post caught my eye. “Have you seen “Mr. Malcolm’s List? It’s an Austenesque series with a diverse cast,” asked @ctrichmon. At the mention of Austen, my interest was piqued. I immediately watched the video of Mr. Malcolm’s List on YouTube. Ten minutes later, I was hooked. Suzanne Allain’s debut novel (soon to be a major motion picture) has the biting wit and satirical charm that Austen fans adore. With a hint of Pride and Prejudice undertones, this corset-busting satire sets the old standard for Regency romps spinning on its head.

Mr. Malcolm, a wealthy second son, has decided to guard his heart against all fortune-seeking females. To keep his focus, he has made a list of all the qualities he desires in his future wife. His list includes qualifications such as “amiable, handsome, graceful, educates herself by extensive reading.” Does such a woman even exist?! Taking his time courting women and then moving on to the next one when they do not meet his criteria, he has earned quite a reputation in society. Oblivious to his harsh, calculating behavior, his friend Cassie informs him that he has become known as a “Trifler, a breaker of hearts, a destroyer of young ladies’ dreams.” (2)

Selina is the twenty-two-year-old unmarried daughter of a vicar. Alone after her chaperone dies, she finds herself wishing she had better luck finding a husband. When she receives a letter from her former schoolmate, Julia, she jumps at the chance to go visit her in London in the hopes that it will bring adventure, and possibly love.

Once she reaches Town, Julia informs Selina of her recent romantic rejection by Mr. Malcolm and the injustice he has done to her.

“You see, there is a young gentleman, a Mr. Malcolm, who is widely known for his arrogance. He distinguished me by paying me very pointed attentions, but then humiliated me by withdrawing his suit.” (14)

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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

A Very Austen Romance: Austen Anthologies (Book 3), by Robin Helm, Laura Hile, Wendi Sotis, Barbara Cornthwaite, Chautona Havig, Mandy H. Cook—A Review

A Very Austen Romance Anthology 2020From the desk of Katie Jackson:

Dear readers, we are living in a golden age, filled to brimming with a wealth of Jane Austen-inspired tales that creatively explore the endless possibilities of her beloved characters. We are rich, indeed, my friends, and A Very Austen Romance: Austen Anthologies Book 3 is a fine addition to our Austenesque universe. Comprised of six novellas crafted by skilled authors, we are treated to a wide variety of alternatives.

“The King of Hearts” by Robin Helm is a Pride and Prejudice continuation centered on the oft-ignored Kitty Bennet. At the age of 20, she is Elizabeth Darcy’s only unmarried sister. “I am very nearly on the shelf. She sighed. I must be extremely unattractive. Or foolish. Or dull.” (134) As the guest of honor at a ball hosted by the Darcys in London, Kitty soon has suitors sprouting from the woodwork while some surprising intrigue simmers in the background.

“You’ve Got to Kiss the Girl” by Laura Hile is a Pride and Prejudice variation that includes Lady Catherine’s point-of-view alternating with Mr. Darcy’s and Elizabeth’s. “For the past decade, she had hinted, suggested, nagged, cajoled—even commanded him. But did Darcy propose to Anne? No.” (1231) Desperate, Lady Catherine gets a devious idea from a “rubbishy novel left lying about” (1262) to take matters into her own hands, with unexpected consequences.

“A Step Too Far” by Wendi Sotis is a Pride and Prejudice variation wherein Darcy and Elizabeth meet unexpectedly when he witnesses her fall and comes to her rescue soon after his arrival at Netherfield and several weeks before the Meryton assembly. Without all of the misunderstanding from that original event and the interference from Wickham soon after, they are free to form an acquaintance based solely on their first impressions of each other. Darcy learns early on about Elizabeth’s familial links to trade and her father’s small estate and is determined to resist his feelings for her, to honor his family duty. “Love-matches were just not done. Darcy was forced to pay attention to the rules of society.” (3509) As Elizabeth recuperates at Netherfield, however, their mutual admiration only grows stronger. Continue reading

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