A Preview of Brontë’s Mistress: A Novel, by Finola Austin

Brontes Mistress by Finola Austin 2020Hey-ho dear readers. How is your summer going so far? What have you been reading?

My TBR pile is still out of control, but I have managed to enjoy several very diverse genres from romcoms to Austenesque to nonfiction writing books. I have Indulged my “imagination in every possible flight,” and I have no regrets. Reading books, watching movies, and gardening have been my salvation during these troubling times.

Top on my list of fabulous new books is Brontë’s Mistress, an amazing historical fiction novel brought to life by the meticulous research and searing prose of Finola Austin. This dazzling debut story explores the scandalous love affair between Branwell Brontë, brother of the famous literary sisters, and Lydia Robinson, a married woman, mother, and employer of Branwell, her son’s innocent tutor.

Here is a book description from the publisher and an exclusive excerpt from the author for your enjoyment. Brontë’s Mistress releases on August 4th, 2020, so be sure to add it to your TBR pile. Please return on August 3rd for our review.

Yorkshire, 1843: Lydia Robinson—mistress of Thorp Green Hall—has lost her precious young daughter and her mother within the same year. She returns to her bleak home, grief-stricken and unmoored. With her teenage daughters rebelling, her testy mother-in-law scrutinizing her every move, and her marriage grown cold, Lydia is restless and yearning for something more.

All of that changes with the arrival of her son’s tutor, Branwell Brontë, brother of her daughters’ governess, Miss Anne Brontë and those other writerly sisters, Charlotte and Emily. Branwell has his own demons to contend with—including living up to the ideals of his intelligent family—but his presence is a breath of fresh air for Lydia. Handsome, passionate, and uninhibited by social conventions, he’s also twenty-five to her forty-three. A love of poetry, music, and theatre bring mistress and tutor together, and Branwell’s colorful tales of his sisters’ elaborate play-acting and made-up worlds form the backdrop for seduction.

But Lydia’s new taste of passion comes with consequences. As Branwell’s inner turmoil rises to the surface, his behavior grows erratic and dangerous, and whispers of their passionate relationship spout from her servants’ lips, reaching all three protective Brontë sisters. Soon, it falls on Lydia to save not just her reputation, but her way of life, before those clever girls reveal all her secrets in their novels. Unfortunately, she might be too late.

Meticulously researched and deliciously told, Brontë’s Mistress is a captivating reimagining of the scandalous affair that has divided Brontë enthusiasts for generations and an illuminating portrait of a courageous, sharp-witted woman who fights to emerge with her dignity intact.

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The Jane Austen Society: A Novel, by Natalie Jenner—A Review

The Jane Austen Society, by Natalie Jenner (2020)From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

My go-to choice in times of uncertainty is a comfort read. While each person has their own ideas about what qualifies as comfort, I especially enjoy books by authors such as Miss Read (Dora Saint) and D.E. Stevenson. These books are set in a time and place distant enough from my own to divert, but still recognizable and familiar. When I learned that Natalie Jenner’s debut novel, The Jane Austen Society, was set largely in a rural English village in the years immediately following World War II, I hoped it would provide a welcome respite from current personal and collective anxieties.

The story opens in the village of Chawton in 1932, when a young and attractive American tourist, Mary Anne Harrison, asks a local farmer, Adam Berwick, for help locating Jane Austen’s house. He directs her to the cottage, telling her that he’s never read Austen and doesn’t understand “how a bunch of books about girls looking for husbands” (6) could qualify as great literature. Miss Harrison enthusiastically shares her love of reading Austen and presses Adam to start right away with Pride and Prejudice. Intrigued by the arresting stranger’s powerful emotional connection to Austen, Adam checks out a copy of P&P from the lending library and is quickly immersed in the story.

“He was becoming quite worried for Mr. Darcy.

It seemed to Adam that once a man notices a woman’s eyes to be fine, and tries to eavesdrop on her conversations, and finds himself overly affected by her bad opinion of him, then such a man is on the path to something uncharted, whether he admits it to himself or not.” (10)

But as much as it amused him, the book also confused him.

The Bennets, for all intents and purposes, simply didn’t like each other. He had not been expecting this at all from a lady writer with a commitment to happy endings. Yet, sadly, it felt more real to him than anything else he had ever read. (11)

In the chapters that follow, set during and immediately following WWII, we are introduced to other future members of the Jane Austen Society: Dr. Benjamin Gray, village doctor; Adeline Lewis, schoolteacher and war widow; Evie Stone, house girl at the Great House; Frances Knight, member of the Knight family; Andrew Forrester, Knight family solicitor; and Yardley Sinclair, assistant director of estate sales at Sotheby’s. Continue reading

A Preview of The London Restoration: A Novel, by Rachel McMillan

The London Restoration by Rachel McMillian 2020Hey-ho Janeites! Did you know that in historical fiction the fabulous fifties are the new forties? Yes, after years of WWII stories, novels set during the post-war years are now being published more frequently. I adore the Granchester mysteries series by James Runcie, and later this month The Jane Austen Society, by Natalie Jenner releases on May 26th. To add to the list, I am happy to introduce you to another forthcoming historical set in this time-frame releasing this summer. The London Restoration, by Rachel McMillan, is one of those atmospheric books that will take you away to another time and place, immerse you in history and wrap you in romance.

Set in post-World War II London, it features architectural historian Diana Somerville who is rebuilding her life and her marriage after five years of a devastating war. Blitzed London, Russian spies, and an ancient Roman artifact stir the plot.

If you are up for adventure, espionage, and romance, check out the book description and the exclusive excerpt that has been generously supplied by author Rachel McMillian. The London Restoration releases on August 18th, 2020, so be sure to add it to your TBR list.

Determined to save their marriage and the city they love, two people divided by World War II’s secrets rebuild their lives, their love, and their world.

London, Fall 1945. Architectural historian Diana Somerville’s experience as a codebreaker at Bletchley Park and her knowledge of London’s churches intersect in MI6’s pursuit of a Russian agent named Eternity. Diana wants nothing more than to begin again with her husband Brent after their separation during the war, but her signing of the Official Secrets Act keeps him at a distance.

Brent Somerville, professor of theology at King’s College, hopes aiding his wife with her church consultations will help him better understand why she disappeared when he needed her most. But he must find a way to reconcile his traumatic experiences as a stretcher bearer on the European front with her obvious lies about her wartime activities and whereabouts.

Featuring a timeless love story bolstered by flashbacks and the excavation of a priceless Roman artifact, The London Restoration is a richly atmospheric look at post-war London as two people changed by war rebuild amidst the city’s reconstruction.

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A Preview of The Socialite, by J’nell Ciesielski

The Socialite by J'Nell Ciesielski 2020Fans of the bestselling World War II historical fiction novels such as The NightingaleThe Women in the Castle, and Lilac Girls have been eagerly waiting for The Socialite, by J’nell Ciesielski. Loosely based on the real-life Mitford sisters, this wartime novel is set in Paris, France, a city conquered by Nazi’s yet resilient and defiant.

I was intrigued by a plot including two sisters intertwined with history. A total escape vehicle during these troubling times, anyone familiar with the famous Mitford sisters will be further interested in this novel. Ciesielski has written several popular historical fiction novels, so she is a seasoned and skilled writer who deserves further attention and acclaim.

I have pulled together a brief preview of The Socialite for you all today. I am about half-way through the story and am really enjoying it. My thanks to TLC Book Tours and the publisher Thomas Nelson for a copy of the book. Many of you who enjoy history, romance, and intrigue will be enthralled.

BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Glamour, treachery, and espionage collide when an English socialite rushes to save her sister from the Nazis.

As the daughter of Sir Alfred Whitford, Kat has a certain set of responsibilities. But chasing her wayward sister, Ellie, to Nazi-occupied Paris was never supposed to be one of them. Now accustomed to the luxurious lifestyle that her Nazi boyfriend provides, Ellie has no intention of going back to the shackled life their parents dictate for them—but Kat will stop at nothing to bring her sister home.

Arrested for simply trying to defend himself against a drunken bully, Barrett Anderson is given the option of going to jail or serving out his sentence by training Resistance fighters in Paris. A bar owner serves as the perfect disguise to entertain Nazis at night while training fighters right below their jackboots during the day. Being assigned to watch over two English debutantes is the last thing he needs, but a payout from their father is too tempting to resist. Can Barrett and Kat trust each other long enough to survive, or will their hearts prove more traitorous than the dangers waiting around the corner?

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A Preview of The Jane Austen Society: A Novel, by Natalie Jenner & Sweepstakes

The Jane Austen Society, by Natalie Jenner (2020)A year and a half ago I had the privilege of reading an early manuscript of The Jane Austen Society by debut novelist Natalie Jenner. It only took two chapters for me to be totally hooked. By the end of the book, I was weeping with joy. I just knew that my fellow historical fiction and Jane Austen fans would rejoice as I had in the endearing characters, compelling plot, and the heartfelt tribute to one of literature’s most beloved authors, Jane Austen.

If ever we needed an emotionally uplifting escape, it is during these turbulent times. The Jane Austen Society is a joyous antidote to help us through a pandemic.

Today, I am so thrilled to finally share this very special book with my readers. Natalie has kindly offered an exclusive excerpt that will give you an introduction to one of the five main characters, Adam Berwick, as he reads Pride and Prejudice.

And…gentle reader, I do hope you are sitting down. The audiobook of The Jane Austen Society was narrated by British actor Richard Armitage! The combination of Natalie’s enchanting prose and his velvet voice is nonpareil. I have included an audio excerpt from it as well. I hope your aromatic vinegars are close at hand.

Our full review of The Jane Austen Society will post on Monday, May 25th. Until its release, I hope you enjoy this excerpt and additional information.

Be sure to enter the sweepstakes offered by her publisher St. Martin’s Press for a chance to win an advance reader’s copy of the book. The details are included below. Enjoy!

BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Just after the Second World War, in the small English village of Chawton, an unusual but like-minded group of people band together to attempt something remarkable.

One hundred and fifty years ago, Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England’s finest novelists. Now it’s home to a few distant relatives and their diminishing estate. With the last bit of Austen’s legacy threatened, a group of disparate individuals come together to preserve both Jane Austen’s home and her legacy. These people—a laborer, a young widow, the local doctor, and a movie star, among others—could not be more different and yet they are united in their love for the works and words of Austen. As each of them endures their own quiet struggle with loss and trauma, some from the recent war, others from more distant tragedies, they rally together to create the Jane Austen Society.

A powerful and moving novel that explores the tragedies and triumphs of life, both large and small, and the universal humanity in us all, Natalie Jenner’s The Jane Austen Society is destined to resonate with readers for years to come.

EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT: Continue reading

All the Ways We Said Goodbye, by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, & Karen White — A Review

All The Ways We Said Goodbye, by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White (2020)From the desk of Katie Patchell:  

Three Women. Three Decades. Two Wars. 

In All the Ways We Said Goodbye, Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, & Karen White take readers across two continents and through two World Wars to uncover spies and secrets. Each of the three heroines, Aurelie, Daisy, and Babs, fight to bring freedom of heart and country in this tale that spans fifty years. The drumbeat of war reaches to stately mansions and across war-ravaged fields, calling each of the unique heroines to right the wrong in their corners of the world. Despite their seemingly unconnected lives, the same glittering Ritz holds the answers to what they search for: Courage, love, and a final goodbye. So reader: welcome to Paris — welcome to the Ritz — welcome to All the Ways We Said Goodbye.

If there was one word to describe this novel, it would be “secrets.” Aurelie, Daisy, and Babs have many secrets that they hide from even those closest to them, and it’s the job of the reader to sniff them out. I cannot give a detailed description of the plot because of the twists and revelations that happen to start in the very first pages. What I can do without spoilers is to give a brief introduction to each of the heroines:

  • Aurelie – 1914. Aurelie lives in Paris and is the daughter of a French aristocrat and an American heiress. Her ancestors fought with Joan of Arc, and this hero inspires Aurelie to go off on her own daring quest to save lives as a second “Maid of Orleans.” Rebelling against the German soldiers comes naturally, as they’re the invaders of her country and home. But when she meets an old flame now dressed in the garb of a German officer, the clear lines between “Who is my enemy?” and “Who is my friend?” vanish.
  • Daisy – 1942. Another resident of Paris, Daisy struggles against life under Nazi occupation. Her grandmother, a wealthy American expatriate, encourages Daisy to join her spy ring. For Daisy, the cost is great–if caught, her two young children and beloved grandmother are put in terrible danger. With the aid of a mysterious English spy and his worn copy of The Scarlet Pimpernel, Daisy embarks on a path she never would have planned in order to protect her family and people.
  • Babs – 1964. Babs was always content in her role as wife, mother, and leader in her area of Devonshire, England. When her childhood sweetheart-turned-husband dies after World War II, she sinks under the loneliness of an empty home and heart. But when Babs finds out that her husband may have lied about everything — even his love for her — she starts out on a transformative journey to Paris that takes her through old letters and long-buried stories at the Hotel Ritz.

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A Preview of Falling for Mr. Thornton: Tales of North and South, by Trudy Brasure, Et Al

Falling for Mr. Thornton Tales of North and South (2019)Good things come in small packages!

My regular readers will know that I adore a well-written short story and edited an anthology of them myself inspired by Jane Austen. Falling for Mr. Thornton is a new collection of “little gems” inspired by another classic author, Elizabeth Gaskell.

Based on her Victorian-era novel North and South, set during its industrial revolution— a turbulent time in British history when machinery was replacing manual labor— it also revolves around the spikey relationship between Margaret Hale and John Thornton, a love story that rivals Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice.

This anthology includes a dozen stories by popular historical fiction authors in the Gaskellesque genre and is a mixture of historical, contemporary, variations, and continuations that are sure to thrill anyone who is a hooked as I am on the 2004 television adaptation North & South, starring Richard Armitage. Here is additional information on the anthology and an exclusive excerpt for your enjoyment.

BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Amidst the turbulent backdrop of a manufacturing town in the grips of the Industrial Revolution, Elizabeth Gaskell penned the timeless passion of Mr. Thornton and Margaret Hale. A mixing of contemporary and Victorian, this short story anthology by twelve beloved authors considers familiar scenes from new points of view or re-imagined entirely. Capturing all the poignancy, heartbreak, and romance of the original tale, Falling for Mr. Thornton is a collection of stories for all who love North and South.

STORIES AND AUTHORS:

  • “On the Island,” by Melanie Stanford
  • “Passages in Time,” by Kate Forrester
  • “The First Day of Spring,” by M. Liza Marte
  • “Loose Leaves from Milton,” by Damaris Osborne
  • “Reeducating Mr. Thornton,” by Evy Journey
  • “Mistakes and Remedies,” by Julia Daniels
  • “Her Father’s Last Wish,” by Rose Fairbanks
  • “The Best Medicine,” by Elaine Owen
  • “Cinders and Smoke,” by Don Jacobson
  • “Mischances,” by Nicole Clarkston
  • “Looking to the Future,” by Nancy Klein
  • “Once Again,” by Trudy Brasure

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12 Terrific Historical Christmas Novels and Short Story Collections for Your Holiday Reading

It’s that time of year again when the holiday spirit takes hold and I am compelled to read Christmas stories in between shopping and baking. I especially appreciate short stories during this busy time and there are a lot of historical anthologies to choose from along with novellas, and novels to get me in the mood and distract me from the craziness at work and home. Here are twelve books in my personal collection set in Regency and Victorian times that Jane Austen and historical romance readers will devour. Be sure to add to them to your #TBRpile. You won’t regret it.

How the Dukes Stole Christmas: A Christmas Romance Anthology, by Tessa Dare, Sarah MacLean, Sophie Jordan, and Joanna Shupe

Make some time in your busy holiday schedule for yourself with a cup of tea, Christmas cookies, and this delightful short story collection by four bestselling historical romance authors that will sweep you away and into the Regency ballrooms of London, to Scottish castles, and to the Gilded Age New York. I always enjoy Tessa Dare’s novels and the other three authors are at the top of their game too.

BOOK DESCRIPTION:

“Meet Me in Mayfair” by Tessa Dare

Louisa Ward needs a Christmas miracle. Unless she catches a wealthy husband at the ball tonight, the horrid, heartless Duke of Thorndale will evict her family from their beloved Mayfair home. But when her friend begs to switch dance cards, Louisa finds herself waltzing with the enemy: the horrid, heartless–and unexpectedly handsome–Thorndale himself. Now the duke’s holding her future in his hands…and he’s not letting go.

“The Duke of Christmas Present” by Sarah MacLean

Rich and ruthless, Eben, Duke of Allryd, has no time for holidays. Holidays are for whimsy and charm–the only two things his money cannot buy. Lady Jacqueline Mosby is full of both, even now, twelve years after she left to see the world. When Jacqueline returns for a single Christmas, Eben can’t resist the woman he never stopped loving…or the future that had once been in reach. It will take a miracle to convince her to stay…but if ever there were a time for miracles, it’s Christmas…

“Heiress Alone” by Sophie Jordan

When Annis Bannister’s family leaves her behind in the rush to escape an impending snowstorm, she finds herself stranded in the Highlands, left to fend off brigands terrorizing the countryside, robbing homes locked up for winter. Her only hope falls on her neighbor, a surly hermit duke who unravels her with a look, then a kiss … until she fears the danger to her heart outweighs the danger of brigands and snowstorms.

“Christmas in Central Park” by Joanna Shupe

Women all over America devour Mrs. Walker’s weekly column for recipes and advice. No one knows Rose, the column’s author, can’t even boil water. When the paper’s owner, Duke Havemeyer, insists she host a Christmas party, Rose must scramble to find a husband, an empty mansion, and a cook. But Duke is not a man easily fooled and she fears her perfect plan is failing–especially when Duke’s attentions make her feel anything but professional. To save her career will she give up her chance at love?

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

Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas, by Stephanie Barron

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Ribbons of Scarlet: A Novel of the French Revolution’s Women, by Kate Quinn, Stephanie Dray, Laura Kamoie, E. Knight, Sophie Perinot, & Heather Webb — A Review

Ribbons of Scarlet: A Novel of the French Revolution's Women, by Kate Quinn, Stephanie Dray, Laura Kamoie, E. Knight, Sophie Perinot, & Heather Webb (2019)The late eighteenth-century is one of my favorite eras in history. England and France and America were all in turmoil—fighting with each other, and internally. While Britain tried to maintain its colonies in America, France’s people were resisting their government and the aristocrats that ruled them. The outcome in America was the defeat of British tyranny and the creation of a new nation. In France, a revolution upended a feudal system and the monarchy, creating a new government. Men mostly get all the credit for the outcome of these events in the history books. Ribbons of Scarlet, a new collaborative novel written by six bestselling and award-winning authors corrects that omission. Each of the authors has taken a woman from history and brought her life to the forefront. Cleverly, each of their stories is interwoven into the narrative forming a complete novel. The possibility that multiple authors could work together, with strong women from history as their muses, was the compelling factor in my wanting to read this new book. Could they indeed pull it off?

The novel is divided into six sections, each titled to reflect the personality of the character and a hint of their social status. The story begins in Paris in the Spring of 1786 with The Philosopher, by Stephanie Dray. Sophie de Grouchy is a well-educated, upper class, unmarried woman with strong principles and ideals who marries the Marquis de Condorcet, an older statesman with similar political passions. Sophie opens a school for the lesser-privileged and we are introduced to the next character to take the baton, Louise Audi, a fruit seller in The Revolutionary, by Heather Webb. Princess Elizabeth, the sister of King Louis XVI of France, who we were first introduced to in Sophie’s story, is brought forward in The Princess by Sophie Perinot. Through her, we experience the Revolution through the eyes of the Royal family. In The Politician, by Kate Quinn, we see how a strong woman, Manon Roland, with a powerful husband, the Minister of the Interior, can be even more influential than the person in the office. In The Assassin, by E. Knight, Charlotte Corday is driven to stop the one man she feels is responsible for so much death and destruction. And finally, with The Beauty, by Laura Kamoie, we experience through Émilie de Sartine what it would have been like to live in fear of being imprisoned, condemned to death, and then await your appointment with “Madame la Guillotine,” which came to symbolize the French Revolution. The story concludes ten years after the Revolution with an epilogue with our first heroine Sophie. After so much bloodshed and destruction the people are worn down and tired. Craving security, they hope making Napoleon their Emperor will bring them peace and happiness. Continue reading