Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia Episode 1: Dancing into Battle – Recap & Review

Belgravia Julian Fellowes 2016 x 200Hold on to your bonnets historical fiction fans! Today is the official debut of Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia, a new serialized novel by Downton Abbey’s creator/writer. Set in London in the early Victorian-era, the story follows one family’s life and how a secret from twenty-five years earlier, changed them forever.

Austenprose is honored to be the first stop on the Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia Progressive Blog Tour which will, over the course of ten weeks, travel through the ether visiting popular book bloggers and authors specializing in historical fiction and romance. Today we will be recapping and reviewing the first episode, “Dancing Into Battle.”

Released in 11 weekly installments, each episode of Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia will conclude with twists, turns and cliff-hanger endings popularized by the novels of Dickens, Gaskell and Conan Doyle in the nineteenth century. Delivered directly to your cell phone, tablet or desktop via a brand new app, you can read the text or listen to the audio recording narrated by acclaimed British actress Juliet Stevenson, or jump between the two. In addition, you will have access to the exclusive bonus features available only through the app including: history, fashion, food & drink, culture and more that will frame the story while immersing you into the character’s sphere. In addition, the first episode is totally free!

Here is a short video on how it all works: Continue reading

The Earl Next Door, by Amanda Grange – A Review

The Earl Next Door by Amanda Grange 2012 x 200From the desk of Katie Patchell:  

A lesson learned from the works of Jane Austen is that the rake never saves the day and never gets the girl. Mr. Wickham, Willoughby, Henry Crawford, John Thorpe, and Mr. Elliot are all fine examples of this rule. While Mr. Darcy, Colonel Brandon, Edmund Bertram, Henry Tilney, and Captain Wentworth all perfectly fit their roles as heroes, I’ve lately experienced some niggling doubts about these so-called rakes. Was Willoughby really so horrible, or were his actions the result of a lack of maturity and guidance? Would Henry Crawford have been faithful if Fanny had given him encouragement? This leads to a deeper question–What would happen if the rake DID get the girl? And what if he really wasn’t a rake at all—what if he was the hero in disguise? Those questions are explored and answered in The Earl Next Door (originally published as Anything but a Gentleman) by Amanda Grange, the author of the well-known series of diaries from the perspectives of Jane Austen’s heroes.

When Marianne Travis’ older brother, Kit, runs away from home because of large gambling debts (caused by his friendship with a rogue named Luke Somerville), it falls on her shoulders to run the family estate. Everything runs smoothly (and boringly) until she discovers a wounded man in the woods on her new neighbor’s property—a neighbor who happens to be the most handsome and exasperating man she has ever met—Lord Ravensford. Their first meeting gives Marianne the distinct impression that the Earl is just an incorrigible rake (he has the audacity to think she’s a lightskirt!), but as they spend more time together she finds herself more and more drawn to him and the intelligence and concern she sees behind the mask of a rogue. When secrets come to light about who the earl’s true identity is and what really happened to Kit, can Marianne get past her presuppositions and trust in the earl before it’s too late? Continue reading

The Regency Detective, by David Lassman and Terence James – A Review

The Regency Detective, by David Lassman and Terence James (2013)From the desk of Stephanie Barron:

When the movie can’t help but be much better than the book:

A confession of my own, as I embark on this review: I write a series of mystery novels set in late-Georgian and Regency England, which feature Jane Austen as a detective. As a result, I might be regarded as a partial and prejudiced judge of The Regency Detective, a novel by the British screenwriting duo of David Lassman and Terence James (The History Press, 2013).  The pair are developing their story for British television, an honor I may receive only when hell freezes over, and they firmly state that the project is backed by the Bath City Council, Bath Film Office, Bath Tourism Plus, The Jane Austen Centre, and several other organizations too trivial to name throughout the city. A trifling note of bitterness on my part, or a waspish tone to this review, ought therefore to be acknowledged before being dismissed—because there are any number of authors publishing in this historical subgenre whom I wholeheartedly admire, read, and recommend. I love nothing better than a cracking good historical mystery set in England during Jane Austen’s lifetime. My hesitation to embrace The Regency Detective stems neither from its period, its engaging protagonist, nor its action plot—but from its truly turgid prose.  Having read nearly three hundred and twenty pages of it, I suggest that the movie version MUST be better.

But more about the prose later. Continue reading

Indiscretion: A Novel, by Jude Morgan – A Review

Indiscretion: A Novel, by Jude Morgan (2007) From the desk of Katie P.

Jane Austen. Georgette Heyer. The Regency. Those names instantly bring to mind witty conversations, saturnine heroes, and lavish ballrooms. So often we see these words on the cover or in reviews of a book, and eagerly pick it up hoping to find yet another book that will quickly become dog-eared and memorized. But just as often, we turn away disappointed yet again by finding out that the book falls far short of the reasons we chose it in the first place.

Indiscretion, by Jude Morgan—I am happy to say—is not like that.

Miss Caroline Fortune, at twenty, has the misfortune of being the sole caretaker and realist to her impractical, debt-ridden father. Ever since her mother died at the age of twelve, they have gone from shabby lodgings to even shabbier lodgings, all in the hope to escape debt collectors, and even worse, debtors’ prison. But just when they run out of options (and Caroline decides to become a governess), they are saved by the Gorgon-like Mrs. Catling (basilisk stare and all), who offers Caroline a position as her paid companion.
And this is just the beginning of Caroline’s adventures…

As paid companion, Caroline must reconcile her own independent spirit with the impossible job of placating her ferocious employer, while trying to navigate through the indiscretions of the people around her. She soon attracts the interest of Mr. Richard Leabrook, a handsome suitor, and the friendships of Mr. and Miss Downey, the niece and nephew of Mrs. Catling, but are they really what they seem? After a sudden change in circumstances, Caroline must find the family she has never met, become accustomed to country living (complete with climbing over stiles), prevent an elopement, come face-to-face with ghosts from her past, discover the joys of true friendship, and outwit the insulting, yet annoyingly appealing Mr. Stephen Milner, who insists that Caroline will be nothing but trouble.

What is Miss Fortune, innocent attracter of mayhem to do?  Be as discrete (or is it indiscrete?) as possible, with a lot of pluck and a little bit of canary!

About a year ago I stumbled upon Indiscretion by accident. I had just finished all of Jane Austen’s novels, and was in withdrawal. I found this because of one review that said ‘like Jane Austen’ and immediately had to read it. I was not disappointed, and was hooked from the very first page. Caroline Fortune reminded me so much of Jane Austen’s heroines—she has her failings, but has enough strength and humor to carry her through, and rise above, the situations she finds herself in. Just like another character we all know and love, Caroline cannot stay depressed—she has to find a reason to laugh.  She is a character with which we can quickly identify.

For while she did not lack a sense of her own merits, and had too much spirit ever to submit to being walked over, still she thought herself no more than tolerable-looking, and nurtured abysmal doubts about her ability ever to shine in company. She had a quick tongue, an active fancy, and a turn for wit, but these she employed, in truth, somewhat as a shield behind which she could shelter.” p. 25

Indiscretion is full of surprises and plot twists. People Magazine said: “the characters separate and reunite as rhythmically and precisely as ballroom dancers performing a waltz.” I couldn’t agree more. Jude Morgan crafts his story well—I’ve read it five or six times, and each time I find a new ‘layer’ that I hadn’t discovered, a new quote that seems truer than before—“We always think we know what we want: when in truth there is nothing we are less likely to know.”—and a conversation that gets funnier with each reading—““I have been run over by the speeding chariot of fate, caught up in its spiked wheels.” “I hate it when that happens,said Stephen.

While there are many Regency books that are either in the style of Georgette Heyer or set in the time period as an excuse for long dresses and handsome rakes (and very modern plots, dialogue, and ‘romance’ scenes), Indiscretion truly takes after the style of Jane Austen, with perception, wit, proper romance, and a satisfying ending. But even more importantly, Jude Morgan is an author to enjoy in his own right, with his own distinct voice that definitely makes him an author to be read.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Indiscretion: A Novel, by Jude Morgan
St. Martin’s Press (2007)
Trade paperback (384) pages
ISBN: 978-0312374372

© 2013 Katie P., Austenprose

A Proper Companion: A Regency Romance, by Candice Hern – A Review

The Regency Romance Reading Challenge (2013)Today marks the official opening of the Regency Romance Reading Challenge 2013, our celebration of Regency romance author Candice Hern. We will be reading all of her traditional Regencies over the next nine months, discussing her characters, plots and Regency history. You can still join the reading challenge until July 1, 2013. Participants, please leave comments and or links to your reviews for this month in the comment section of this post.

My Review:

We know that we are in for a fun frolic when an author boldly begins the first chapter of a novel with a heroine climbing out a bedroom window to meet her lover during a runaway marriage. No sooner have we drawn another breath when we discover that Lady Gwendolyn Pentwick is not the heroine of A Proper Companion at all, but her mother, an earl’s daughter who has found herself in a family way and been pressured into a patched up marriage to a titled lord who lacks fortune and appeal. Phew. If this lively beginning is the forerunner of what is to follow, hold on to your bonnets and settle into a page-turner.

Flash forward twenty-seven years to 1812 and the Bath townhouse of the Dowager Countess Bradleigh, who while enjoying afternoon tea with her companion Emily Townsend, reads in the newspaper of the betrothal of Augusta Windhurst to her eldest grandson, Robert Cameron, ninth Earl of Bradleigh. Shocked and appalled by his choice of bride she is determined to intercede in this mésalliance. Moments later Robert surprises his grandmother by an unexpected visit to reveal his news only to find his grandmother in an uproar. Calmly he explains his logical reasons for choosing a wife after so many year of bachelorhood. He is feeling his age and wants an heir and Miss Windhurst is everything she desires in a wife: “elegant, cool, supremely aloof, does not giggle, chatter, whimper, swoon or cling.” She finds his attitude cold, calculating and unromantic asking him where the love is in the arrangement?

Lady Bradleigh actually thinks her companion Miss Townsend, an impoverished granddaughter of an earl, is an excellent choice for her grandson and against her former dictum decides to be the matchmaker for them. Standing in her way is Robert’s fiancée and her social climbing family who are thrilled for their daughter to marry an earl. Because no gentleman can break off an engagement, but a lady can, she must find a way for his betrothed to beg off—and convince Emily, a determined spinster, and her grandson, the consummate rogue, that they are a match made in heaven.

Even at the age of 78, no challenge is ever too difficult for the dowager and she sets her plan into action. Sharing Emily’s sad family story with her grandson, she convinces him to help this well-bred but impoverished young lady by introducing her to suitable prospects. The earl, whose reputation as womanizer is known by all, is attracted to his grandmother’s elegant and refined companion who the servants speculate is the daughter of royalty. She is flattered by his attentions, but determined to remain a spinster.

A Proper Companion, by Candice HernTo get herself into the thick of things the countess will go to London and throw an engagement ball there for Robert and his fiancée. Emily is excited to go to London for the first time, but the countess is not happy with her appearance and decides her companion needs a make-over. Emily is very resistant to accepting charity from her employer after her hard-fought independence over the last seven years, but her pride must not jeopardize her continued employment and she accepts the countess’s offer of an updated wardrobe. When Robert sees her in her new frock and softer hair style, he is very taken with her. Maybe the speculation of her parentage is true? Is she a royal by-blow?

They travel to London and stay at the earl’s Grosvenor Square townhouse where future parties bring the reunion of his sister Louisa, the Viscountess Lavenham and her husband, Robert’s betrothed, the reserved and cool nineteen year-old Augusta Windhurst and her social climbing mama, and his many male friends who find the beautiful and intelligent Miss Townsend more than irresistible. Also in Town for the season is a member of Emily’s estranged family, her uncle the Earl of Pentwick and his son the Viscount of Faversham. Emily soon finds the serious attention of a beaux and an enemy from her past among her new acquaintance. Robert soon finds that love should be on the list of requirements for a bride.

What a delight it was to be back in the Regency world of the ton in London and Bath that I have so enjoyed during many Georgette Heyer and Lauren Willig novels. While I adore Jane Austen, she does not use much description of her characters physical appearance nor the setting like they do. This is one aspect of why I enjoy Candice Hern’s novels so much. We are treated to sumptuous detail about the Regency world, especially the clothing:

“It was a dusky rose lustering, with a high waist and low bodice edged with Brussels lace. A dark rose stain ribbon tied around the high waist, just under the bosom, and the ends floated down almost to the hem. The dress emphasized Emily’s tall, slender figure. New pink slippers peeked out from the scalloped hem.” p. 61

Lovely…Another aspect of her writing that I find so diverting is her humor.

“Dog and man collided with a force that sent Lord Bradleigh tumbling on his backside. Charlemagne growled accusingly at him, then made his way to the cherished fauteuil. The earl, thoroughly stunned, looked up at the grinning ladies in confusion.

“You see, Emily,” the dowager drawled, “I told you that gentlemen would be failing at your feet. Behold: your first victim!”” p. 63

Finery and hi-jinks aside, Hern has an elegant, engaging, and energetic way with character, dialogue, and plot development that would make any author green with envy. Her hero Robert was so charming, especially when he was indignant, and her heroine Emily a true diamond of the first water. The story is quickly paced and even though there were a few spots of predictability, there was no reason to repine from this Austen lover who is looking forward to reading all of her traditional Regencies this year.

4.5 out of 5 Regency Stars

A Proper Companion: A Regency Romance, by Candice Hern
CreateSpace (2012)
Trade paperback (278) pages
ISBN: 978-1479105977

A Grand Giveaway

Author Candice Hern has generously offered one print copy or one digital copy of A Proper Companion to one lucky winner. Leave a comment stating what intrigues you about this novel, or if you have read it, who your favorite character is by midnight PT, Wednesday, January 30, 2013. Winner to be announced on Thursday, January 31, 2013. Print book shipment to US addresses only. Digital copy delivery internationally. Good luck!

© Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose 

The West Yet Glimmers: The Lord & Lady Baugham Stories, by Gail McEwen & Tina Moncton – A Review

The West Yet Glimmers, by Gail McEwen & Tina Moncton (2012)From the desk of Christina Boyd

My affection for The Lord & Lady Baugham Stories commenced in 2007 when I discovered Twixt Two Equal Armies, a Pride and Prejudice spin-off (with Elizabeth Bennet & Fitzwilliam Darcy as supporting characters), that quickly created immense empathy for both protagonist– the stubborn, spirited Miss Holly Tournier who spars with the self-indulgent, droll Lord David Baugham – eventually surrendering to love despite their intentions.

The latest offering, and third book from the international writing team of Gail McEwen & Tina Moncton, is The West Yet Glimmers.  The newlyweds finally arrive at his lordship’s ancestral seat of Cumbermere in Cheshire, having excessively suspended this domestic obligation thus far (recounted in Love Then Begins –a romantic novelette of a most blissful honeymoon at Clyne Cottage and an impulsive fancy at a crossroad, diverting them east to Pemberley House in Derbyshire.)

“Cumbermere is a crumbling and decaying estate; I am sure you will have no more love for it than I do.  We will go there and we will fulfill our obligations: we will show our faces in church on Sunday, you will acquaint yourself with the staff and I will attend to the books and tenants and then we will leave.  It will go on, as it always has, quite well without us.  We have a duty, but aside from that duty, that place has no claim on us.” Love Then Begins, p.56.

But when an accidental finding hampers those plans for an early escape to London, his lordship (originally inspired from the Lord Brougham character of Pamela Aidan’s wildly popular, Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman series) is forced to search through his family’s painful past and disclose his own cloak-and-dagger truth.

Cumbermere Castle and its derelict state prove to be a disquieting challenge, a keeper of long, undisturbed secrets and unknown mystery. Their lives seemed unavoidably postponed, until they decipher an unwelcome family puzzle.

Holly blamed the weather, her husband’s natural restlessness, concern for her well-being, the house and his irritation with their time at Cumbermere stretching out against all intentions to the contrary, but all these perfectly valid reasons did nothing to quiet the melancholy voice inside her.  She knew in her heart, however, that the absence of news from Chester weighed heavily on him and for some reason her too.” p.117

Her newly established duties as mistress including management of accounts, household staff, her foreseeable motherhood, as well as her habitual enigma of a husband were ancillary and oftentimes overwhelming proof of her elevation from a school teacher/librarian to Countess! Moreover, Lady Baugham’s niggling suspicions of having married more than a cheeky, wayward peer soon expose a reluctant hero“The idea of him devoting hours of work to this end—to the discovery of what must be painful to him—frightened her.  That his past professional endeavors had crossed into his personal affairs like this must be terrible.” p.270.

But all is not dark.  Although his lordship disdains Cumbermere and all encompassing obligations therein, after all, they are still newlyweds and their affectionate banter is delightful.  Even after an assiduous tour of the grounds, his lordship charms his wife,

“Now, since we ventured so far, braving rusty hinges, uneven floors, and general decadence, what do you say to transporting that decadence where it belongs—you’re your bedroom?’ ‘My bedroom?’ ‘I thought we could… look through gardening books – together—birds, bees, petals, stems, that sort of thing.’  ‘Now that is decadent, sir!’ she replied but not without amusement.  They paused when they reached the front door, and he wrapped his arms around her.  Leaning in, he nearly touched his lips to her ear, raising gooseflesh that had nothing to do with frigid weather when he whispered, ‘I would have thought a schoolmistress would know the amazing powers of a good book in the right hands and with the right… intonation.’” p.43

Swoon worthy indeed.

As a fervent fan of Regency Romances staring lively heroines, smart, clever discourse and amusing gentlemen, I loved, loved, loved this book. The collaborative efforts of Gail McEwen and Tina Moncton set a sparkling pace with believable dialogue, brilliant characterization, and esoteric historical detail in an ingenious Regency-era whodunit.  Originally published on-line as Westmarch, The West Yet Glimmers has undergone professional editing and meticulous tightening of plot for a more polished offering.  Consequently Darcy & Elizabeth may have started it, even been hosts to Lord & Lady Baugham in Book 2, but in Book 3, this is all Holly & David.  And they have become nearly as dear to me as Darcy & Elizabeth!  One need not have read Pride & Prejudice to value this book.  But due note: just as it is possible to read Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series out of order—the same may be attempted with The Lord & Lady Baugham Stories– but for true satisfaction and understanding, not necessarily recommended.  The West Yet Glimmers is a triumph!

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The West Yet Glimmers: Lord and Lady Baugham Stories, by Gail McEwen & Tina Moncton
Meryton Press (2012)
Trade paperback (312) pages
ISBN: 978-1936009121

© 2012 Christina Boyd, Austenprose

For Myself Alone: A Jane Austen Inspired Novel, by Shannon Winslow – A Review

For Myself Alone: A Jane Austen Inspired Novel, by Shannon Winslow (2012Review by Kimberly Denny-Ryder

Gossip.  It has the power to create larger than life reputations, but also has the ability to destroy said reputations.  Within Jane Austen’s novels we’ve seen just what gossip can do; Mr. Darcy’s reputation and person are vilified by Wickham, John Thorpe gossips about the true size of Catherine Morland’s dowry to a displeased General Tilney, and Captain Wentworth hears gossip that shares the good tidings of Anne Elliot’s non-existent engagement to her cousin William.  It should come as no surprise then that Austen fan fiction writer Shannon Winslow should write an Austen-inspired novel that focuses on just what can happen with gossip!

For Myself Alone takes place in Bath and Hampshire in the 1800’s.  Winslow tells the story of Josephine Walker, the recent recipient of a large inheritance totaling almost twenty-thousand pounds, an unimaginably large sum at the time.  While Josephine is grateful for the inheritance from her Uncle, she also is concerned that people will now view her as a walking pile of money instead of the sweet and caring girl that she normally is.  What’s more, the suitors that come courting her can’t be trusted, and the only man in her life that she feels she can trust is Arthur, who also unfortunately happens to be the betrothed of her best friend, Agnes.  Engaged herself, Josephine begins to lose trust in her own fiancé, Richard, after she overhears a conversation between him and his father.  With all of these events happening to poor Josephine, how will she cope?  Will she be able to find comfort in Arthur despite their inability to be together?  What will she do with all of that money?

When I reviewed Winslow’s first novel The Darcys of Pemberley, I put in my review that Winslow was sure to be around the JAFF world for a while.  For Myself Alone cements that thought in my opinion.  Winslow has a fantastic ability to not only create a story that could be a long lost Austen novel, but to write it with the same wit and vivacity we’d expect from Austen herself.  Told in a completely first person narrative (which may I add is refreshing in this genre) it opened up the doors to allow us into the mind of our heroine.  We know exactly what she is feeling throughout, affording us the opportunity to really connect with her.  I find the more you can connect with your heroine/hero the bigger the enjoyment of the work becomes.

The prologue of the novel did a fabulous job at grabbing my attention and making me eager to learn about Josephine’s story and why she was the sudden target of the local gossips.  While the beginning of the novel moved slightly slowly, events in Bath pick up at heart-racing fast pace that doesn’t stop until the last page!   For those who want a fresh story with a definite Austen flair, For Myself Alone is the way to go.  I’m so glad that Winslow is back with another great work.  I can’t wait to see what she can do in the JAFF world!

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

For Myself Alone: A Jane Austen Inspired Novel, by Shannon Winslow
Heather Ridge Arts (2012)
Trade paperback (262) pages
ISBN: 978-0615619941
Kindle: B007PWINR8
NOOK: 2940014192712

Kimberly Denny-Ryder is the owner/moderator of Reflections of a Book Addict, a book blog dedicated to following her journey of reading 100 books a year, while attempting to keep a life! When not reading, Kim can be found volunteering as the co-chair of a 24hr cancer awareness event, as well as an active member of Quinnipiac University’s alumni association.  When not reading or volunteering, Kim can be found at her full-time job working in vehicle funding. She lives with her husband Todd and two cats, Belle and Sebastian, in Connecticut.

© 2007 – 2012 Kimberly Denny-Ryder, Austenprose

The Garden Intrigue, by Lauren Willig – A Review

The Garden Intrigue (Pink Carnation No 9), by Lauren Willig (2012)Guest review by Jeffrey Ward

Dear readers and fans I bring good news
Lauren Willig has shown her muse
In Pink Carnation number nine
The Garden Intrigue, most divine

Eloise Kelly is in England researching her dissertation on English espionage during the Napoleonic Wars; especially a shadowy figure known only as the Pink Carnation. Eloise’s friendship with Colin Selwick (whose ancestry included spies who worked with this secret agent) has permitted Eloise access to the family’s carefully guarded personal papers. Initially wary, the relationship between Eloise and Colin has blossomed into something more than professional. The “story-within-a-story” format shuttles between the present and the historic as Eloise strives to uncover the identity of the Pink Carnation, the most elusive spy of all.

It seems everyone in a relationship, past or present, arrives at a life-changing crossroad. All of the principal characters choose to, or are forced to, disguise their ulterior motives. Eloise and Colin are at Selwick Hall planning an honorary banquet with an unwelcome filming crew on-site. Among the unsuspecting invitees are Jeremy, (Colin’s Stepfather) Joan, (Colin’s ex) Serena, (Colin’s sister) and Dempster (Serena’s ex) who are all thrown together. Why? Perhaps it is the rumors of an ancient treasure hidden on the estate’s property.  “Everyone putting on a false face, playing a role, perpetually engaged in a masque without a script.”  p. 318

Eloise’s academic grant is also soon to expire and she must make the decision to accept a teaching fellowship back in the United States or impose on Colin to support her if she remains in England. Will there be a “together” future for Eloise and Colin?

Time-tunneling back, Napoleon plans for the invasion of England and will unveil a secret weapon during a masque at his summer residence at Malmaison, France. American expatriate Emma Delgardie is a favorite with the Bonaparte family. She attended Madam Campan’s school for young ladies with her close friend Hortense, Josephine Bonaparte’s daughter. A child bride at 15, widowed at 19, Emma is pixie-like-pretty, gaudy, and savvy.  Everyone is attracted to Emma, especially  her “men.”

Nobody is attracted to Augustus Whittlesby but England’s home office due to his impenetrable espionage cover as a dramatic but mediocre poet. Never being taken seriously is his lot since he is forbidden to reveal the clever, intelligent, sensitive man that he actually is. The only way for Augustus to gain entry to Malmaison and the secret weapon is by deceiving Emma into partnering with him to create the nautical-themed masque. While Augustus works with Emma he is infatuated with another woman: Miss Jane Wooliston. “She was like a moonbeam, a faint gleam of light across the sky, making the throat grow dry and the heart constrict, beautiful to contemplate, impossible to hold. No. It wasn’t right. He wouldn’t give up this easily.” p. 177

With just a minor shuffling of dates, Willig brilliantly interweaves verifiable historical events into this elaborate intrigue. There are famous guest appearances: Emma’s Cousin Robert Livingston, broker of the Louisiana Purchase; Robert Fulton, inventor of the steamboat’ and a very convincing Napoleon Bonaparte. Mr. Fulton sends to Malmaison, not one but TWO, inventions including the plans for each: one harmless, one deadly: “He should have noticed. “Another device?”  “That would be the logical conclusion” said Miss Gwen crisply.  “Another device. One he doesn’t want anyone to see. But someone knows about it.” p. 231

Poetry is the predominant theme of the story and fittingly the language of romance. Each chapter is headed by a whimsical verse from the masque and poetic quotes are in abundance. All of chapter 13 is cleverly epistolary as Emma and Augustus show a budding affinity for each other through their missives.

More character-driven than action-packed, I found The Garden Intrigue a stirring and deeply felt romance. Ms Willig confidently showcases her literary maturity with page upon page of scintillating, heart-rending, emotional dialogue as she draws the reader to the innermost souls of the principals who guardedly probe for love, trust, and honesty in a treacherous environment. “You have every chance in the world and you chose to be what you are.”  Augustus’s lips moved with difficulty. “What am I?” He could see Emma’s throat move as she swallowed. “A fain’eant. A do-nothing.” She blinked away tears, tossing her head defiantly back.” p. 276

Yes, I laughed often, (picture Miss Gwen as a pirate captain), but also wept as Ms Willig tenderly recounts the isolated loss and grief in the lives of the hero, heroine, and others. This complex mystery took me through more twists and turns than an amusement park ride. I was left captivated by the thrilling human drama that is The Garden Intrigue like no other in this series, and I’ve read them ALL.  Lauren Willig, already on top of her game, raises the bar once again.  Need I say more?

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Garden Intrigue, by Lauren Willig
Penguin Group (2012)
Hardcover (400) pages
ISBN: 978-0525952541
NOOK: ISBN-978-1101560334
Kindle: ASIN: B005GSZZ2O

Jeffrey Ward, 65, native San Franciscan living near Atlanta, married 40 years, two adult children, six grandchildren, Vietnam Veteran, degree in Communications from the University of Washington, and presently a Facilitator/designer for the world’s largest regional airline.  His love affair with Miss Austen began about 3 years ago when, out of boredom, he picked up his daughter’s dusty college copy of Emma and he was “off to the races.”

© 2007 – 2012 Jeffrey Ward, Austenprose

Tides of War, by Stella Tillyard – A Review

Tides of War, by Stella Tillyard (2011)Guest review by Br. Paul Byrd, OP

‘What is it that you read now?’

Mrs. Cobbold gestured to the volume on Harriet’s lap.

‘Another stupid book.’ Harriet put it down. ‘First Impressions is its title; and by A Lady, as usual.’

‘It does not divert you?’

‘Divert me, Aunt! I have no wish to be diverted, though it is witty and charming. The lady authoress believes that girls think only of marriage and a husband.’

So begins a tongue-in-cheek discussion on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, a book the heroine of Stella Tillyard’s historical novel Tides of War dislikes because of its seeming lack of social context. It is fitting, then, that Harriet Raven should be the heroine of a story drastically different from those written by Austen. Tillyard’s novel weaves together science and medicine, politics and war, economics and industry, religion and atheism through the interconnected lives of a large cast of characters scattered across Europe, twenty-two of which are based on real people.

Readers meet Harriet during Britain’s war with Napoleon. She is a young bride, eager to learn, but inexperienced and socially clumsy. Her husband goes off to fight under the direction of the future Duke of Wellington, and while he is away, Harriet is left to be charmed by another man. Her relationship with the inventor, Mr. Winsor, is just one of the many examples of the story’s thematic examination of sexuality and marital commitment.

Another even more moving example of this theme, is the subplot belonging to the character Thomas Orde, a British soldier fighting in Spain. Like many of the other soldiers, Orde has been schooled in the idea that “Women [are] the spoils of war,” (204). Caught up in the jubilation of victory and still reeling with the savage energy of battle, Thomas participates in the rape of a young Spanish woman. Tillyard writes, “Coming around again, Thomas saw that his left hand, loose against the stones, was closed tightly around something. He opened it out finger by finger. Flat on his palm lay a twist of black hair; more than a twist, a whole handful of hair, pliable and young. Silk-soft. He had pulled it from her scalp, and blood and flesh clung to it,” (79). Thomas attempts to rationalize what he has done, as if war gives special license for cruelty and immorality, but he is ultimately unable to suppress his conscience. Tillyard masterfully describes Thomas’s struggle to return to his old life in England under the shadow of his crime.

Rape is only one of the disastrous effects of war on women and children discussed in the novel; sickness, hunger, poverty, and loss of one’s home and family, if not death, create a situation of desperation, leaving children, the elderly, and women vulnerable while making a handful of people powerful. Reflecting on this situation, an officer named David Heaton is led to muse “War never finishes…and never will. It simply moves about the world like the ocean current that touches now one country, now another. Why? Because in the same way that a rash upon the skin is merely a symptom of a fever that rages in the body underneath, war is only the visible shape of all the forces that nature has planted in us,” (349). War’s corrupting and degrading influence on individuals and society, and the subsequent attempts to recover from it, either through confession or deception, are subjects that make this novel a fascinating commentary on the wars of any age.

Tillyard’s ability to balance so many storylines, thereby creating a sense of the grand scope of things, is impressive. This is her first sojourn into fiction after the highly successful historical biographies: Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa, and Sarah Lennox, 1740-1832 (1994) and Royal Affair: George III and His Scandalous Siblings (2006). Unfortunately, I found her heroine unappealing. Harriet’s perspectives and values seemed more those of a twenty-first century American than of a woman of Britain’s Georgian Era, particularly her torpid religiosity and her blasé attitude about adultery.  Unlike the Austen heroines whom she professes to be bored by, Harriet lacked sparkle, wit, faith, insight, creativity, and an interesting plot. She was just a privileged young lady playing at adult life.

Despite the heroine’s shortcomings, I confess Tillyard’s novel held my interest from beginning to end. The imagery—like in the scene of a Spanish bull fight—is elegant and vivid, and I loved how she incorporated unexpected historical points of interest in the story, such as the development of blood transfusions, the economic maneuverings of the famous Rothschild family, and the art of celebrated Spanish painter Goya. Her writing style is clear and even, and the scenes related to death and new beginnings are poignant. In short, Tides of War was believable and pleasurable, with the literary feel of a national saga.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Tides of War, by Stella Tillyard
Henry Holt and Co. (2011)
Hardcover (368) pages
ISBN: 978-0805094572

Br. Paul Byrd, OP is a solemnly professed friar of the Dominican Order of Preachers. Originally from Covington, KY, he earned his bachelor’s degree in creative writing from Thomas More College and his master’s degree in theology from Aquinas Institute of Theology. In the fall of 2011, he will begin classes in the masters of writing and publishing program at DePaul University in Chicago, IL.  He is the author of the Dominican Cooperator Blog

© 2007 – 2011 Br. Paul Byrd, OP, Austenprose

The Twelfth Enchantment: A Novel, by David Liss – A Review

The Twelfth Enchantment: A Novel, by David Liss (2011)Guest review by Kimberly Denny-Ryder of Reflections of a Book Addict

Historical fiction? Check.  Magic?  Check.  Awesome heroine?  Check.   Lord Byron?!  Check!  Did you ever imagine those four items to be in the same novel together?  I sure didn’t, so I was in for a definite surprise when I started reading The Twelfth Enchantment by David Liss.  Set in the early 19th century in a pre-industrial England, Liss weaves a tale of mystery, intrigue, and magic that leaves the reader wanting more, creating a plot that I was increasingly excited to be pulled in to.

Lucy Derrick’s entire life is about to change.  Whilst in her house one evening with her family and her fiancée Mr. Olson, a sudden banging occurs at the door.  A man whom the house’s inhabitants have never met before demands to speak to Lucy and put a stop to her engagement!  After setting eyes on Lucy and speaking a prophecy involving the phrase, “Gather the leaves”, he proceeds to vomit pins, a sure sign of a curse.  Fearful of whom this young man is and what he wants with Lucy, he is brought into the house to await a doctor who declares his condition is due to magic and that he is unable to help him. He can however, recommend someone who may have experience in this field.  A Mary Crawford, (no, unfortunately not that Mary Crawford from Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, though we can see her as an enchantress of the magical sort), is beckoned to the house and with her persistence and guidance, she helps Lucy discover her magical roots.  The two work together to find the source of the curse and destroy it.  Lucy is amazed to discover how easy it was for her to learn magic, but is more amazed that Mary is not at all surprised at her skill.  A budding friendship between the two woman begins, and it is through this friendship that Lucy learns more and more about her magic.  She is told of a book, the Mutus Liber, which is said to give its possessor the ability to create the magic of the philosopher’s stone.  She learns that this book is somehow involved in the fighting and picketing going on that is protesting the industrial revolution.  Lucy soon finds herself caught between two worlds as her powers grow stronger.  Will she be able to find and translate the Mutus Liber in time to stop the fighting?  Will she discover the meaning behind the prophecy of “gathering the leaves” in time to do what she must?

While the book was incredibly clever and interesting I found myself getting lost in the politics of the story.  The war between the real world and the magical world had to do with the industrial revolution and how it affected England.  While not understanding the specifics and mechanics of the war was a bit confusing, I did understand the remaining plot lines and was able to still enjoy the book.  I liked how the magic that was discussed in the book wasn’t “hocus pocus” magic.  People didn’t just say spells and make things fly across a room.  It was a more nature based magic, which I found to be an interesting and refreshing change from the more common types of magic we see and read about.

Our heroine Lucy Derrick is one of the most awesome fictional heroines I’ve ever encountered.  She starts out as this weak girl who lets all the people around her demean her and put her life on a path that she isn’t happy with.  With the guidance of Mary she begins to understand the woman she’s meant to be, and let me tell you, she becomes a force to be reckoned with.  The way Liss writes her growth as a character is truly remarkable.  When the book opens you feel the dread she feels about the way her life is going, and by the end of the book you feel the strength and confidence she’s gained.   In the middle of the book you feel her doubt these magical powers she’s learning about, and by the end you can feel her completeness in knowing the full extent of what she can do and what she can learn to do.  Liss did a great job at writing her story so that we as readers can relate to it and really get a sense of Lucy’s plight.  May I also add that her love triangle is an ode, in my eyes, to Elizabeth Bennet’s in Pride and Prejudice?  Being a huge fan of Jane Austen and the English Regency I also enjoyed the inclusion of Lord Byron and William Blake, both famous poets of the time, as supporting characters.

This is one book you need to add to your to-be-read pile.  If you enjoy mysteries, you definitely won’t be disappointed.  The mix of earthy magic and the story behind Lucy finding herself as a magician and a woman, while attempting to solve the prophecy made this a very engaging read.  I can’t wait to check out the other works that Liss has to offer!

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Twelfth Enchantment: A Novel, by David Liss
Random House, New York (2011)
Hardcover (416) pages
ISBN: 978-1400068968

© 2007 – 2011 Kimberly Denny-Ryder, Austenprose

Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal – A Review

Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal (2011)Guest review by Shelley DeWees – The Uprising

“Of his younger daughter, Melody, he had no concerns, for she had a face made for fortune.  His older daughter, Jane, made up for her deficit of beauty with rare taste and talent in the womanly arts.  Her skill with glamour, music, and painting was surpassed by none in their neighborhood and together lent their home the appearance of wealth far beyond their means.  But he knew how fickle young men’s hearts were.”

Presumably, one sister is “milk” and the other is “honey.”  They complement each other, yet stand alone, one with sweetness and flashy, showy pizazz, and the other with banal yet comfortable stability.  Sound like any other story you’ve heard?  Two sisters vying for attentions of the neighborhood menfolk with two completely different approaches: one passionate, erratic and overly capricious, the other steady and mindful and only dimly lit in terms of beauty.  Sound familiar?

It did (and does) to me, too.  Indeed, the similarities to Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility are palpable, from the easily-placed characters and their tastes, feelings, and under-developed motivations, to the plot, with a cadre of viable bachelors parading around and only one of them noble in his intentions.  The passionate sister even falls and twists her ankle; the scoundrel is attracted; the sensible sister tries to keep a lid on things.  The difference with Shades of Milk and Honey, Mary Robinette Kowal’s debut novel, though, is that many of the plot twists carry a strong sinister twinge.  Jealously and bitterness prevail on more than one occasion, bringing rise to an explosive ending as the consequences of deceit, unrequited love and unspoken truths boil over.  Add dueling pistols and you’ve got yourself a Regency-era party!

Add in magic, too.  Kowal weaves a beautiful magic system in Shades of Milk and Honey, its only shortfall being that it wasn’t fully explained or explored to the extent that I craved.  Jane, the Elinor Dashwood of this story, is particularly talented at manipulating “folds of glamour” that are “taken out of the ether.”  She laces them together, twisting and winding and pulling them into gorgeous imagery that is both pleasing and purposeful.  But how the heck is she doing it, Ms. Kowal?  Is there a wand involved?  Are we talkin’ spells or hexes or what?  All the reader ever discerns about this graceful system is that the efforts spent using it are physically draining, so much that the magician can collapse under the strain or even die.  I found myself desperate for more information on this front, and though I could feel an explanation bubbling up from time to time, thinking, “Okay, she’ll finally talk about it now,” it remains a mystery.  Dang.  That would’ve been cool.

The story itself is moderately compelling and kind of…well, charming in its simplicity.  Jane and Melody Ellsworth seek husbands.  Melody uses her strikingly well-formed looks to wrangle her potential suitors, not to mention girlish impulsiveness and her attractive yet overly-fluffed sense of confidence in her appearance.  Jane is much different, only grudgingly allowing her heart to feel a pang of wanting, being surprised when she discovers that she may not have to be a spinster.  Several men waltz through their quiet lives in Dorchester, including the dashing Captain Livingston, the prudent protector of a young sister, Mr. Dunkirk, and a tortured artist as well, Mr. Vincent.  Things play out, hearts are attracted some places and then others, secrets and scandals are uncovered, and both the sisters eventually figure out where their affections belong.  Dinners and dancing and picnics abound, most of them accentuated by the presence of magic and “folds of glamour” working delightful tricks.  The ending is, as previously mentioned, a whirlwind of emotion and heartbreak that leaves all involved parties shaken and changed forever.

The author clearly has a well-honed approach to writing, her prose and structure is lovely and flowing.  I did at times feel the characters were far away, intangible, and a bit of a mystery.  Still other moments found me wishing the story would slow for a bit of fleshing out.  The end almost reads like a fable, with blistering pace, summing up years and years in only a sentence or two.  Yes, the characters are archetypical, the brainiac and the fickle beauty queen battling again, in this unexplained world of magic and mayhem, but I still enjoyed it with a kind of reserved enthusiasm.  Shades of Milk and Honey represents a solid good ‘ol college try on Ms. Kowal’s part, and I look forward to reading more of her work as she matures and blossoms.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal
Tor Books, New York (2011)
Trade paperback (304) pages
ISBN: 978-0765325600

© 2007 – 2011 Shelley DeWees, Austenprose

The Orchid Affair: A Novel, by Lauren Willig – A Review

The Orchid Affair: A Novel, by Lauren Willig (2011)It is always a very special day when a new Pink Carnation novel is released. I had marked my calendar on January 20th with a big red X in anticipation. Lauren Willig is one the few authors that I just go nuts over. (How unprofessional to gush like a schoolgirl. I will be kind on myself and allow this one indulgence. Well maybe more than one, but that is another story.) The Orchid Affair is Willig’s eighth novel in the popular Pink Carnation series set during the Napoleonic Wars between England and France. They involve historical espionage, romance, swash, buckle and a fair dose of comedy and sardonic wit – neatly ticking off all the check boxes on my ideal historical/romance/comedy reading hit list.

The opening chapters of Orchid were an abrupt change after the high comedy of Willig’s last offering, The Mischief of the Mistletoe. Get ready to shift gears. No Christmas pudding capers here! It is 1802 post-revolutionary Paris. The tone is serious and somber; lots of cold rain, a prison interrogation and a visit by Madame Guillotine. Brrr!

Our heroine Miss Laura Grey is eager to do anything other than the governessing that has consumed her life for the past sixteen years. Recruited by the elusive flower spy, The Pink Carnation, she has just graduated from the Selwick Spy School and traveled to Paris on her first mission to, of course, do what she knows best, be a governess, albeit an undercover one, teaching young children and blending into the woodwork as a servant in the household of an important police official. Undercover as Laure Griscogne’s (code named The Silver Orchid), her assignment is to observe and collect information on the movements of her new employer Andre Jaouen who works at the Prefecture de Paris under Louis-Nicolas Dubois, Chief of Police and protégé of Joseph Fouche, Bonaparte’s Minister of Police. Jaouen and his arch-rival Gaston Delaroche, an agent of Fouche, are investigating a Royalist plot to overthrow the First Consul of France, Napoleon Bonaparte, and reinstate the Bourbon line.

Paris is grim and imposing – a police state – and not at all what Laura remembered from her childhood. Orphaned at sixteen by the untimely death of her artistic parents, famous French sculptor Michel de Griscogne and Italian poetess Chiara de Veneti, Laura has spent the last half of her life earning her bread in the oppressive governess trade in England. Her current employers wife Julie Beniet died four years prior to her arrival and their two young children have until recently been raised by a family friend in the country. Jaouen is suspicious that Laura is a plant in his house by Gaston Delaroche, the mad megalomaniac to sinister Fouche. He does not quite know what to make of this prim, matter-of-fact governess. She on the other hand, is as equally curious of him. Handsome and austere, this disheartened Revolutionist ideals of liberté, égalité and fraternité are now a muddled dream after the coup d’état of Napoleon and his self-installation as First Consul. The age of revolutionary enlightened for both of them is now a regime of terror and fear.

Teaching Latin texts and Aesop’s Fables seem rather dull and un-spy-like to Laura until her employer’s secret meetings, suspicious doings and shocking reveal change the course of her mission. As Andre and Laura put aside their differences, they are forced to flee the city as husband and wife with the children under the cover of traveling performers in a Commedia dell’arte troupe. In hot pursuit is the evil Gaston Delaroche.

As in all of the previous novels in the Pink Carnation series except The Mischief of the Mistletoe, the parallel plot with contemporary scholar Eloise Kelly prompts the historical story as she conducts her own research for her doctoral thesis on the enigmatic British flower spies during the Napoleonic Wars. Her ongoing relationship with Colin Selwick, a direct descendant of the Purple Gentian and the Pink Carnation, brings them to Paris for Colin’s estranged mother’s weekend birthday party. As both plots unfold, will the Pink Carnation’s help be enough to assist Laura and Andre to safety and success, supply Eloise with enough footnotes for her dissertation and the reward of a marzipan pig?

What a fun adventure The Orchid Affair is. Since a ladies imagination is very rapid, I was guessing at plots left and right. Hmm? 1.) Stern widower in a dripping greatcoat and prim impoverished governess? Will there also be mad wife hidden in the attic like Jane Eyre? 2.) Brave widower and prim governess flee nasty government officials? Do they sing next and go mountain climbing like Sound of Music? 3.) Stoic widower and prim governess escape by disguise as actors in a comedy troupe a la Scaramouche? Oh, it doesn’t matter in the least because it is all totally original in the end. I just like playing these mind games. Readers will see the fun too and join in the hunt.

Fans of the series will be pleased to be back in the “Pink” again. As a standalone novel, The Orchid Affair is an historical triumph. Willig is known for her romances, but this really is heavier on the historical fiction than romance aside. It hearkens back deeply to The Scarlet Pimpernel for espionage and swash. A true Anglophile, I didn’t know much about this period of French history until I read For the King this past summer. This novel covers a later period in Napoleon’s reign as First Consul by a few years, but I did recognize many of the same names. Thankfully, less Googling. The research alone must have warranted many trips to the actual Musée des Collections Historiques de la Préfecture de Police in Paris. The detail is quite stunning.

One of Willig’s trademarks is to interlink characters from one novel to the next. It gives the reader a sense of continuity, like one big happy “Pink” family. She has successfully achieved this by introducing a character, albeit briefly, in novel and then highlighting them in another. We meet some old acquaintances here too: Lady Selwick, the Pink Carnation appears, and one of my favorites, Miss Gwendolyn Meadows, Our Lady of the Sharp Umbrella, but the two new protagonists, Laura Grey and Andre Jaouen take up the majority of the narrative, and I could not be happier. They are delightful: both guarded and reserved, they are hiding their real personalities that come to life because of circumstance and association. Their romance is well wrought and touching. Willig’s writing is just, well, awesome. There are few who can surpass her in witty dialogue and imaginative plots. She is top on my list of contemporary authors.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Orchid Affair: A Novel, (The Pink Carnation series No 8), by Lauren Willig
Dutton, Penguin Group (USA)
Hardcover, (400) Pages
ISBN: 978-0525951995