Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor — A Review

Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor (2000)From the desk of Pamela Mingle:

When I was a young girl, I found a copy of Forever Amber on my aunt’s bookcase. I’d heard about its scandalous reputation and asked if I could borrow it. Written by Kathleen Winsor and published in 1944, the book became famous for its racy and bawdy storyline. It was banned in Massachusetts and subsequently in several other states. Preachers railed against it from their pulpits. Despite all that, Forever Amber was the bestselling book of the 1940s, and by 1947 the movie, a very condensed version of the book, starring Linda Darnell and Tyrone Power, was released.

As a teenager, the frenetic passion between the two main characters, Amber St. Clare and Bruce, Lord Carlton, was all I cared about. The heady feeling of experiencing a great romance through a literary character stuck with me through the years. Although explicit sex is kept behind closed doors, the underlying desire between Amber and Bruce is always there, simmering beneath the surface.

The setting for the book is the Restoration (1660-1688), which begins with the return of Charles II to the English throne after the collapse of the Commonwealth. Winsor, an American, read over 350 books about the period while writing Forever Amber, which was published when she was only twenty-four.

Amber is the illegitimate daughter of a gentlewoman and a nobleman. They never married because their families were divided by the English Civil War. After her mother dies in childbirth, Amber is given to a local woman to be raised. In her small village of Marygreen, Amber is a beautiful and voluptuous sixteen-year-old, who catches the eye of Bruce, Lord Carlton, a Cavalier traveling to London. Desperate for a more exciting life, Amber begs him to take her with him, which he does.

Amber is passionately in love with Bruce, but the feeling is not mutual. From the beginning, he tells her marriage is impossible. Inevitably, Amber is left alone and pregnant, soon to fall prey to a villainous pair, Luke Channel and Mrs. Goodman. Luke is described as having “…a kind of slippery green moss growing along the edges of his gums.” That she ends up marrying him speaks to her desperation. Amber is soon betrayed by the two and ends up in Newgate Prison for her debts. Here she meets Black Jack Mallard, who becomes her protector and manages her escape. He himself dies at the end of a hangman’s rope.

Besides getting Bruce to marry her, Amber’s driving ambition is to become rich and powerful. She manages, with the help of many along the way, to gain some talents that sustain her. Eventually, she becomes an actress, where she meets another protector, Captain Rex Morgan, perhaps the kindest man in the book, and the only one who truly loves her. Alas, he’s killed by Bruce in a duel. What follows is a succession of lovers and husbands, each of whom leaves her more wealthy than the last. But when Bruce is in town, he always takes precedence.

One of the most memorable and powerful parts of the book is the account of the Great Plague of London–the carts coming around, the attendants calling, “Bring out your dead!” Bruce has just arrived back in London, having caught the plague from a sailor onboard one of his ships. When he arrives at Amber’s home, he’s already sick and virtually helpless. This showcases the best of Amber, who nurses him until she’s exhausted. No sooner does Bruce recover than she falls ill, and he, along with some feckless nurses, sees her through the illness.

Following this wrenching ordeal, which in Amber’s view sealed their love forever, Amber is sure Bruce will change his mind about marrying her. But he does not. Instead, he marries a lovely young English woman named Corinna whom he meets in Jamaica. This marks the end of any rational thought Amber ever possessed regarding Bruce. She had always trod a fine line between desperation and self-control when it came to him, but she’s no longer able to do so.

The historical detail in Forever Amber is remarkable in its specificity, vibrancy, and authenticity. Restoration London comes alive, from life in Newgate (where heads to be put on spikes are pickled) to Court, where the nobility is seldom bothered by paltry problems like debt or hunger or illness. We learn much about the political machinations of the time, about the cruel dismissiveness and backbiting that went on at Court, and about the casual attitudes toward marriage vows, sex, and even abortion. In the midst of this decadence, Amber is a risk-taker and willing to do whatever is necessary to survive and prosper. She’s rightly been compared to Scarlett O’Hara for possessing these qualities, as well as for her single-minded pursuit of one man. Amber can have moments of generosity and unselfishness, but she lacks a moral compass. She is headstrong, thoughtless, self-absorbed, and rarely feels shame or guilt. Her desperate attempts to ensnare Bruce grow annoying, and her declarations of love grate.

Men are attracted to Amber’s great beauty and use her for pleasure or other purposes. She, in turn, does the same with them, and from a more mature reader standpoint, I found her hard to like. The author says about her creation, “…Her morals were dictated rather by the expediency of the moment than by any abstract formula of honor.”

But for the sheer pleasure of experiencing a great love that makes your heart race and your stomach flip, Forever Amber sets a high standard. Bertrice Small, the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from Romance Writers of America in 2014, said of it: “The first real historical romance. This is the book that started it all.”

It’s hard to argue with that.

4 out of 5 Stars

Forever Amber (Rediscovered Classics) by Kathleen Winsor, with a foreword by Barbara Taylor Bradford
Chicago Review Press; Reprint (2000)
Trade paperback & eBook (976) pages
ISBN: 978-1556524042

ADDITIONAL REVIEWS:

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

Cover image courtesy of Chicago Review Press © 2000; text Pamela Mingle © 2020, Austenprose.com

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

EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT: Continue reading

Dangerous Alliance: An Austentacious Romance, by Jennieke Cohen — A Review 

Dangerous Alliance, by Jennieke Cohen (2019)From the desk of Debbie Brown:

Set in 1817 Regency England, Dangerous Alliance has a teen-aged heroine who is a devotee of Jane Austen’s first published novels. As her childhood playmate Tom Sherborne observes: “She was still very much like the girl he remembered who’d believed in fairy stories, except now she believed in the novels of some Miss Austen. … Did she have any idea how fanciful she sounded? How naive? How would she ever survive in the cruel world with such notions?

In the first chapter, Vicky is attacked by a masked assailant who’s prevented from delivering a killing blow by Tom’s fortuitous arrival. (More about Tom later.) “Just because sensational events happen in novels, that doesn’t mean they cannot happen. And just because ordinary events occur during the majority of one’s life, that doesn’t stop the unexpected from happening at a moment’s notice.” Rather than leaving all the heroics to Tom, Vicky takes off on her horse in pursuit of the villain. Indeed, whenever Vicky’s life is at risk, she’s an active participant in saving herself.

Vicky’s independent spirit becomes an issue when a family crisis necessitates that she marry as soon as possible. (More about the “family crisis” later, too.) She’s not enthusiastic and for good reason. “Most of the gentlemen she’d met were decidedly narrow-minded when it came to females interfering in what they considered the male sphere.” Very reluctantly, Vicky agrees to put herself forward in the London marriage mart and settle for a suitable husband rather than waiting to fall in love. Before long, both Mr. Silby and Mr. Carmichael are frequent callers.

Tom Sherborne is the book’s other protagonist, with the story told alternately from his point of view and Vicky’s. A year ago, his father died and Tom reluctantly returned to his childhood home after having been banished for the last years of Lord Halworth’s life. Aside from the neighboring Astons, Tom has only miserable remembrances about his family estate. Until their dramatic encounter, he and Vicky hadn’t seen each other since his return, and things are awkward between them. Continue reading

Q&A with The Bridge to Belle Island Author Julie Klassen

The Bridge to Belle Island

Happy Holidays Janeites. Today, I am so pleased to present an exclusive interview with bestselling and award-winning author Julie Klassen who has just released her latest historical romance mystery, The Belle to Bridge Island. Set in Regency-era London and an island on the River Thames, it is her return to historical suspense after writing her trilogy The Tales of Ivy Hill. Julie has generously answered my questions about the book and a few other intriguing topics as well.

Welcome, Julie:

Congratulation Julie! You have just released your 14th Historical romance novel, The Bridge to Belle Island. Can you share your inspiration for this new work?

Thank you! It’s always difficult to trace an idea back to one “aha” moment, but for this book, I would say I was inspired by learning of all the smaller islands that exist within the island of Great Britain, especially in the Lake District and on the Thames River. I enjoyed researching several of these tiny, fascinating places with intriguing names like Eel Pie Island, Pharaoh’s Island, Monkey Island, and others. Some of them have fine homes on them, others are uninhabited. Some are reachable by bridge, others only by boat. Many have colorful histories.

How do you select a title, and is there any significance in your choice of The Bridge to Belle Island?

Actually, The Bridge to Belle Island wasn’t my original working title. Determining titles is a group effort between me and my editors. They ask me for several ideas and we go back and forth until we all agree on a winning title. I felt strongly about having “island” in the title since that was part of my original inspiration, plus an island setting is so appealing for a mystery. (And Then There Were None, anyone?) I suggested this title, because the bridge plays an important role in the novel (the main character is unable to cross it at the beginning) and “bridge” also hints at one of the themes of the book. I LOVE that the designer featured a bridge on the cover.

After your trilogy, The Tales of Ivy Hill, you have returned to Regency mystery/suspense. What intrigued you do so? Continue reading

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

Continue reading

The Bridge to Belle Island, by Julie Klassen — A Review

The Bridge to Belle Island by Julie Klassen (2019)From the desk of Sophia Rose:

First, Julie Klassen pulled me into her writing with a haunting, gothic romantic suspense, The Secret of Pembrooke Park, and most recently delighted me with the world of a quaint English village and its occupants in her series, The Tales of Ivy Hill. In her latest release, Klassen wrote a romantic suspense that is slightly darker, splitting the setting of an island estate on the Thames and London. I love a good murder mystery, and setting it in the Regency period had me taking up The Bridge to Belle Island prepared for a reading treat.

Young lawyer, Benjamin Booker, has just experienced a humiliating loss in court when the client he thought innocent had charmed him into risking all to defend her and it turned out she had utterly lied. He feels that he has disappointed his mentor at the firm and took a hard hit to his confidence in reading people and situations. However, he soon has the opportunity to prove himself to his mentor, Mr. Hardy, when Mr. Hardy wants justice for the death of his former colleague at the firm who lately held the position of trustee for the Wilder family and was murdered in their London Town House.

Living retired from the rest of the world on Belle Island, Isabelle Wilder has seen a great deal of tragic death in her family and it has left her with an extreme fear that won’t allow her to leave her island family home for years now. She is sorry to miss her niece’s engagement party in London because of her own weakness. The night of the party, Isabelle has a terrible dream that their skinflint trustee was murdered. She is dismayed when Mr. Booker, a skeptical lawyer from the family firm, shows up both to sort their legal matters brought on by the death of her trustee, but also to investigate the death with her as the chief suspect. It was a dream when she saw vivid images of the death, right? She has nothing to hide, she hopes, so welcomes Mr. Booker to Belle Island and invites him into her life there where he starts to mellow toward her until disturbing facts start to come to light leading right to her door. Continue reading

A Preview of Dangerous Alliance: An Austentacious Romance, by Jennieke Cohen

Dangerous Alliance, by Jennieke Cohen (2019)Did you know that contemporary fiction outnumbers historical fiction by tenfold in the young adult genre? I have never understood this trend. I have been told that teens prefer to read about heroes and heroines their own age and set in their own time. When I was younger, I read many historical novels and adored period dramas, and still do, so when a special historical romance in this genre arrives I am doubly pleased. Dangerous Alliance, by Jennieke Cohen is being touted as The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue meets Jane Austen. For those of you who have not read Mackenzi Lee’s bestselling 2017 novel, I highly recommend it. Most of you landing on this blog have read a Jane Austen book or seen a movie or two, so I am sure that you will understand the comparison to Ms. Cohen’s new novel.

Dangerous Alliance is not only a witty historical romance, it has some mystery elements in it to keep you guessing. Here is the description from the publisher and an exclusive excerpt from the author.

BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Lady Victoria Aston has everything she could want: an older sister happily wed, the future of her family estate secure, and ample opportunity to while her time away in the fields around her home. But now Vicky must marry—or find herself and her family destitute. Armed only with the wisdom she has gained from her beloved novels by Jane Austen, she enters society’s treacherous season.

Sadly, Miss Austen has little to say about Vicky’s exact circumstances: whether the roguish Mr. Carmichael is indeed a scoundrel, if her former best friend, Tom Sherborne, is out for her dowry or for her heart, or even how to fend off the attentions of the foppish Mr. Silby, he of the unfortunate fashion sensibility. Most unfortunately of all, Vicky’s books are silent on the topic of the mysterious accidents cropping up around her…ones that could prevent her from surviving until her wedding day.

EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT: Continue reading

A Preview of By Time Divided (Love Without Time Book 2), by Elaine Jeremiah

By Time Divided, by Elaine Jeremiah (2019)Hey-ho Janeites! May I introduce you to a newly released Regency romance fantasy novel today? By Time Divided, by Elaine Jeremiah is a time-travel story that takes us back into Jane Austen’s England.

Time-travel in fiction is a creative literary technique. It allows characters and readers to be transported to a different era. The Time Machine, a science fiction novella written by H. G. Wells in 1895 is generally credited as the first time-travel story. This concept must have seemed outrageous to the staid Victorian readers unfamiliar with the concept. Today it is a common trope used in contemporary, historical, and Austenesque fiction. The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon is hugely popular, and recently The Austen Project, by Kathleen A. Flynn, Searching for Captain Wentworth, by Jane Odiwe, and The Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, by Laurie Viera Rigler round out the field.

By Time Divided is the second book in the Love Without Time trilogy by Elaine Jeremiah. It is a frame story whereby the heroine Cassie Taylor and her friend Mia begin the narrative in contemporary times and travel back to Regency England. A story within a story. They are on a mission to find Cassie’s love interest that we were introduced to in book one, Love Without Time (2018). If you are wondering about the Jane Austen connection, as I was, the author describes it as a Jane Austen-inspired time travel romance. Here are the book description and an exclusive excerpt for your enjoyment.

BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Having accidentally time travelled to Regency England; Jane Austen fan Cassie Taylor finds herself unexpectedly back in the twenty-first century. But everything has changed. She’s been missing for three weeks and her parents are upset and disbelieving when she tells them where she’s been. The police aren’t too pleased either.

Cassie’s best friend Mia doubts the story yet stands by her friend. And then the unthinkable happens when they both end up in Regency England. Now Cassie has an even bigger problem: Mia is mixed race and they’re stuck in an era where the slave trade has only just been abolished. Cassie must somehow explain herself to her Regency friends – why she vanished and who her friend is. She also needs to find Ted, the love of her life.

How will Cassie manage to protect Mia from the insults of Regency people who see her as worthless? And how will she ever find a way for her and Ted and Mia to finally return home?

EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT: Continue reading

A Convenient Fiction: Parish Orphans of Devon Book 3, by Mimi Matthews — A Review

A Convenient Fiction, by Mimi Matthews (2019)From the desk of Debbie Brown:

I need “Me” time. Frequently. My husband and I joke about my need for a “Leave Me Alone!” hat as a signal that I am NOT to be disturbed for a while. Anyone else feel this way sometimes? When the worries pile up, you feel the need to go somewhere by yourself, shut all the noise out, and forget about your obligations temporarily. It’s therapeutic. It recharges your batteries.

That’s why the beginning of A Convenient Fiction immediately grabbed my attention. Laura Hayes is hiding away from everything that bothers her. She chooses a rather unorthodox method of escape, especially considering this is Victorian England: she swims below the surface of the pond at Talbot’s Wood, wishing it were the sea, and tries to remain underwater as long as possible without coming up to breathe. “There was nothing of the world underwater. No unmet expectations. No burdens too heavy to carry. Nothing, save herself, and the sound of her own beating heart.”

Then a strange man shows up compelled to “rescue” her.

Okay, Alex Archer thought she was drowning, but he ruined what would otherwise have been a perfectly lovely morning for Miss Hayes. What’s particularly embarrassing is that she’s wearing only her chemise and drawers to swim, leaving the rest of her clothing folded neatly near the banks of the pond. What’s he doing on private property, anyway?

It doesn’t take long for Laura to find out. She meets him later the same day when she joins her friend Henrietta Talbot to serve as a chaperone. Mr. Archer is supposedly a “friend” of George Wright, the ne’er-do-well son of the local vicar who’s been away from home for quite some time. In fact, George’s huge gambling debt to Alex is way over his head. In lieu of payment, George provides the introduction to Henrietta, his childhood friend, who will inherit Squire Talbot’s profitable country estate, Edgington Park, as well as a fortune from her late mother. Continue reading

The Work of Art, by Mimi Matthews—A Review

The Work of Art Matthews 2019 x 200From the desk of Katie Patchell

Recently, I discovered the joy that comes from not reading the description on the back of a book prior to opening page one. When I was asked to review The Work of Art, I heard “Regency” and “Laurel Ann recommends” and I was all for it. After downloading this novel, I opened my Kindle edition to a story as beautiful, atmospheric, and arresting as its haunting cover—one that captured me from the very first line…

“Captain Arthur Heywood had never seen such an ill-mannered assortment of canines in his life.”

…to the very last line, with its soul-satisfying conclusion.

When Phyllida Satterthwaite’s grandfather dies, she is plucked from her freedom in the Devonshire countryside and sent to Town to the constrained, shallow world that her vile aunt and uncle and odious cousins bask in. She lives for the few nature-filled walks she can take, with her dogs as her only companions. When she meets the solemn but kind Captain Heywood, Philly discovers that she’s not the only one yearning to be free from London society’s iron rules.

Captain Arthur Heywood, ex-Corinthian and ex-soldier, is facing his own bleak future. His life is ruled by the terms set by his injuries. His memories of the Napoleonic Wars and what gave him his scars haunt his dreams, as do the visions of the carefree life he’s lost. When Arthur meets Philly by chance he finds someone who quietly treats him with the same intuitive kindness she treats her dogs—which he quickly finds is a compliment of the highest sort. Continue reading

A Modest Independence: Parish Orphans of Devon Book 2, by Mimi Matthews – A Review

A Modest Independence Matthews 2019 x 200The second book in the Parish Orphans of Devon series is a historical romance road trip novel with an intriguing premise; can two unlikely companions travel together from London to India under false pretense to join forces to find a lost friend?

In A Modest Independence, author Mimi Matthews’ explores an improbable romance of an impertinent, strong-willed woman and an equally independent bachelor who are thrown together under eyebrow-raising circumstances. There are so many impediments to their success, on several levels, that I was compelled to discover if they could overcome all the obstacles that the author had placed in their path.

Starting in Victorian-era London, England we meet spirited heroine Jenny Holloway who has recently come into a small fortune. Determined to remain independent and never marry, she wishes to travel to India to find the Earl of Castleton, the missing brother of the woman who gave her a modest independence. Her attorney Tom Finchley, who holds her purse strings, is concerned for her safety and hesitant to release her funds so she can travel. Raised in a Devon orphanage, he is a self-made man who now has a very prosperous London practice. We were introduced to this couple as supporting characters in the first book in the series, The Matrimonial Advertisement. Tom harbors feelings for Jenny and decides to travel with her to protect her, help her find the missing brother, and explore the possibility of a romance. Continue reading