Austenprose’s Best Austenesque & Historical Books of 2020

Pop Art Jane Austen

Happy New Year dear readers!

While I am not shy about kicking 2020 to the curb, it was not a total bust for those of us who enjoy reading. Publishers and indie authors continued to supply us with a fabulous selection of choices in the Austenesque, historical fiction, romance, and mystery genres.

Of the 75 books that were reviewed here last year by our dedicated staff, several were outstanding and will remain favorites. Here is a list of our highest-rated and most cherished of 2020. Follow each link to read the full review.

 BEST AUSTENESQUE HISTORICAL NOVEL

  1. Miss Austen, by Gill Hornsby (5 Stars)
  2. Murder at Northanger Abbey, by Shannon Winslow (5 Stars)
  3. Fortune & Felicity, by Monica Fairview (5 Stars)
  4. The Other Bennet Sister: A Novel, by Janice Hadlow (5 Stars)
  5. Tempted, by Nicole Clarkston (5 Stars)
  6. Rebellion at Longbourn, by Victoria Kincaid (5 Stars)
  7. Being Mrs. Darcy, by Lucy Marin (5 Stars)
  8. The Rogue’s Widow, by Nicole Clarkston (5 Stars)
  9. A Timely Elopement, by Joana Starnes (4 Stars)
  10. Two More Days at Netherfield, by Heather Moll (4 Stars)

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The Heiress: The Revelations of Anne de Bourgh (A Pride and Prejudice Novel), by Molly Greeley — #BookReview, #HistoricalFiction, #GothicFiction, #JaneAusten, #Austenesque, @MollyJGreeley, @WmMorrowBooks

The Heiress by Molly Greeley 2021From the desk of Katie Jackson:

In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Miss Anne de Bourgh is known only as the sedate and sickly shadow of her mother, Lady Catherine’s, condescending and loudly opinionated character. The heiress of Rosings Park in Kent, Miss de Bourgh was intended from infancy—as a favorite wish of both her mother and her aunt—to marry her first cousin, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley in Derbyshire, thereby uniting two grand fortunes and estates. But when Mr. Darcy ultimately marries that obstinate, headstrong Miss Elizabeth Bennet instead, what is to become of Miss de Bourgh? This is one of many questions explored in Molly Greeley’s fascinating second Pride and Prejudice variation, The Heiress: The Revelations of Anne de Bourgh.

Anne de Bourgh was a wretchedly inconsolable infant. Her parents and nurse were therefore quite thankful for the medical intervention when the local doctor prescribed a dose of sleep-inducing laudanum and declared that she would always possess a delicate constitution. Consequently, Anne spends her formative years receiving twice-daily doses of her magic drops that keep her in a permanent state of lethargy. “My medicine turned me stone-heavy, a breathing statue, eyelids drawing down despite all my best efforts and thoughts drifting like milkweed fluff.” (118)

Under her mother’s formidable thumb, Anne drifts through her days in a stupor, confined to the house and gardens, wearing only what her mother selects, eating little but what her mother approves and her weak appetite allows, not permitted to dance or sing or play an instrument, and restricted from learning or reading too much. All are convinced that she is far too frail to do much of anything at all but simply exist. “If I had a shell like the snail, I thought, I would tuck myself back inside of it, away from their branding pity. I felt at once all-too-visible in my fine gowns and gaudy bonnets, and ill-defined as the edges of a ghost.” (316)

Anne is merely a detached observer of her own life, her languorous health slowly turning to vivid hallucinations. Despite her governess’s insistence that she could aspire to be so much more than what she has settled for, “if you did not stun yourself so thoroughly with your medicine” (1171), Anne continues to see herself as she has long been trained to. “Useless, I whispered inside my head, little mortified arrows that pierced my softest inner places. Useless, stupid, useless.” (1188) Continue reading

Q&A and Blog Tour with Rachel McMillan, Historical Fiction Author of The London Restoration

The London Restoration by Rachel McMillian 2020Hello gentle readers. Summer is in full swing here at Woodston Cottage. My hydrangeas, anemones, and roses are blooming. We had a heatwave over the weekend that sent this hot weather wimp inside and under a fan!

Today I am so happy to welcome bestselling author Rachel McMillian to Austenprose for an exclusive interview in celebration of her latest historical fiction novel, The London Restoration, which just released this week.

Rachel is a multitalented writer who is happiest when she is lost in history researching her latest novel. She has written two historical mystery series: the Herringford and Watts mysteries set in 1910 in Toronto, Canada, and A Van Buren and DeLuca mysteries set in 1937, Boston, USA. Recently, she has branched out into nonfiction too with Dream, Plan, and Go: A Travel Guide to Inspire Your Independent Adventure (2020), and her forthcoming A Very Merry Holiday Movie Guide: *Must-See, Made-for-TV Movie Viewing Lists *Inspired New Traditions *Festive Watch Party Ideas (October 6, 2020), which I am really excited to read.

Today we are thrilled to be participating in the blog tour of The London Restoration and offer an exclusive interview with Rachel for Austenprose readers. Enjoy!

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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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

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 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?

ADVANCE PRAISE: Continue reading