In the Shadow of Croft Towers: A Novel, by Abigail Wilson — A Review

Shadow of Croft Towers by Abigail WIlson 2019

From the desk of Katie Patchell: 

The highwayman: A mysterious figure riding on cloudless nights, a man whose purpose goes beyond treasure for wealth’s sake. There’s something about the highwayman that captures our imagination and has done so for centuries. Is it his inevitable strength and beauty (if he’s the novel’s hero)? Is it because he’s misunderstood by those who know him within the pages, so our sympathy reaches out? Or is it because he’s a figure in the vein of Robin Hood, a romantic symbol of a freer, wilder, more dangerous age? In Abigail Wilson’s 2019 debut, In the Shadow of Croft Towers, a masked highwayman appears once again, this time with gray eyes narrowed in laughter behind his mask, and a quest in his heart for something stronger than diamonds but as insubstantial as the mist: The truth. 

“I often wonder what my life would have been like if I had never learned the truth. I wouldn’t have set off as I did for Croft Towers. I never would have met him.” (1)

Sybil Delafield is well-educated but an orphan, and in a world tailored for men, her opportunities to make a way for herself are limited. When her mysterious benefactor’s funds run out and a strange message arrives to seek answers about her parentage at the unknown Croft Towers, Sybil sees no reason to decline the seemingly random offer to work as companion to the owner of the very same Croft Towers. In fact, she welcomes it. Even a highwayman – especially one smokey-eyed, confusing specimen who refuses to harm or steal anything from the carriage yet makes them all stand in the rain as he searches for something – cannot stop her from finding out once and for all who her parents are.

Unfortunately for Sybil, more questions – not answers – materialize at Croft Towers. Why is it that the charming Mr. Cantrell attaches himself to her, despite her low status? What is the secret that tortures Mrs. Chalcroft and why does she ask Sybil to deliver secret letters under cover of darkness? And why, oh why, does Sybil find herself in the same house with her employer’s moody godson, the man who only she knows is the highwayman?

When rumors of a traitor to the Crown swirl around the foundations of Croft Towers, Sybil must decide who to trust in a house where everyone has their own hidden past that they’d risk everything to protect. In the process, she might even find out who she is and where she came from…if she manages to stay alive, that is. Continue reading

Forget Me Not: The Gents (Book 1), by Sarah M. Eden—A Review

Forget Me Not by Sarah M. Eden 2020From the desk of Katie Jackson: 

I unabashedly admit to gasping with delight when I first heard about a new Georgian-era book series being crafted by one of my all-time favorite historical romance authors, Sarah M. Eden. Then I discovered that the stories begin with none other than the elusive Lucas Jonquil, father of the delightful brothers in the Jonquil Family series. Commence a jubilant pirouette! Forget Me Not is the first book in the new series The Gents that will be centered around six, close-like-brothers friends, supporting each other through life’s varied challenges.

In 1777 Nottinghamshire, Lucas Jonquil has come “face-to-face with the extreme frailty of life.” (3) Grief-stricken, he is determined to leave his family home Lampton Park for untold escapades. His motto: “Don’t forget to live.” (3) Thinking of those he’s lost, he declares, “I mean to have enough adventures for two lifetimes. Maybe even three.” (11)

Julia Cummings, age 12, Lucas’s intrepid childhood playmate at neighboring estate Farland Meadows, relies on him as an older brother and best friend and feels abandoned and betrayed by his sudden departure. Heartbroken and lonely, she turns inward and seeks comfort in her forced isolation. “It didn’t do to set one’s heart on people when all people did was leave.” (8)

After eight years away, Lucas returns home from his travels to discover his sweet little Julia is all grown up. He is thoroughly confused by the unexpectedly cold welcome he receives from the dear friend he’s never forgotten, utterly oblivious to the part he played in it. And then, their well-intentioned parents deliver a shocking blow with a joyful announcement at Lucas’s homecoming ball: Lucas and Julia are betrothed and shall marry by special license within days.

Julia flees. “She had not survived all she had these past years to simply cower and accept the absurdity of other people’s moments of madness.” (36) Lucas attempts to negotiate with his parents, arguing the seeming incompatibility between him and his childhood friend now that they were grown. His father’s opinion on the matter seals Lucas’s future. “This is the match we have chosen for you, son. I know you don’t see it now, but it will be a good one. You will sort out your difficulties so long as you are willing to try.” (43) After Julia’s efforts to reason with her own father fail, she resigns herself to her fate: marriage to a man who does not care for her and will surely leave her again. “She was about to be married, and she had never felt more wretched.” (59) Continue reading

Who Wants to Marry a Duke: (Duke Dynasty Book 3), by Sabrina Jeffries—A Review

Who Wants to Marry a Duke by Sabrina Jeffries 2020From the desk of Pamela Mingle:

Romance, mystery, and a most intriguing hero and heroine are what you’ll find in Who Wants to Marry a Duke. This is the third entry by Sabrina Jeffries in the Duke Dynasty series and can also be read as a standalone.

We first meet young Marlowe Drake, the Duke of Thornstock, at a ball, where his older half-brother Grey—Duke of Greycourt—warns him about the marriage-minded mamas lurking about. Ignoring this wise advice, Thorn quickly finds himself caught in a compromising position with a young lady.

The lady in question is Miss Olivia Norley. She offers to clean a wine stain from Thorn’s waistcoat and afterward, Thorn steals a kiss. They are seen by Olivia’s stepmother, who unbeknownst to Olivia, blackmails Thorn into offering Olivia marriage by threatening to reveal a secret about his father.

The following morning, Thorn proposes to Olivia with barely disguised contempt. He looked “…like a thief being dragged to the gallows,” so she declines. He doesn’t want to marry her, but her refusal stings, nonetheless. He believes Olivia was party to the blackmail and can’t understand why she would then reject him.

Fast forward nine years. Using a false identity, Thorn has become a playwright, and Olivia, a chemist. (No wonder she knew how to remove that stain!) At a ball hosted by his family, Thorn spots Olivia. He intends to have her thrown out, but relents when he learns that his half-brother Grey has asked her to investigate the suspicious death of his father by testing his remains for arsenic.

Thorn asks Olivia to dance and challenges her on her motives for performing the tests. All she really wants is to establish a reputation for herself. Olivia prefers chemicals to people because they act in predictable ways. The two adjourn to the garden to speak privately, and Olivia reveals she wants to publish the results of her tests. Thorn is horrified. Dukes don’t wish to have their scandals aired in public.

Olivia has fought hard over the years to put Thorn out of her mind and is irritated that she still feels an attraction to him. The inevitable happens, and this time Olivia thinks his kisses “…were as combustible as sweet oil of vitriol and nearly as dangerous.” Again, they’re almost caught, but Olivia dashes from their hiding place and pretends she was merely enjoying the heady scents of the garden. Continue reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

A Preview & Exclusive Excerpt of Everything a Lady is Not: Bow Street Beaus (Book 1), by Sawyer North

Everything A Lady Is Not, by Swyer North, 2020Hello gentle readers! I am happy to welcome author Sawyer North to Austenprose today in celebration of his latest historical romance novel, Everything a Lady is Not. Set in Regency-era England it is the first book in the Bow Street Beaus series and involves and strong, independent heroine and an equally endowed hero who are thrown together under unusual circumstances and at odds with each other.

This is the second historical romance from Sawyer North after Fair Weather Enemies released this past February. He appears to enjoy creating characters who love to spar with each other. Please enjoy the exclusive excerpt chosen for us by the author. The cover is to die for.

Lucy Locket, the long-lost granddaughter of a duchess, has never been a part of Society. One day, she was living a secluded life as the prisoner of a criminal, and the next day she was an heiress in a world she did not even remotely understand. She does not embody the typical qualities of a well-born lady…at all. She can’t curtsy, she doesn’t hide her emotions, she’s too clever by far. But in three months, she must marry a suitor with a royally-bestowed title, or she forfeits a fortune—leaving her and the duchess in dire straits.

All Henry Beaumont wants is to prove himself to Society and step outside of his half-brother’s shadow. So, when the duchess asks him for a personal favor involving her newly found granddaughter—with a hefty thank-you reward at the end—he leaps at the opportunity.

It seems as if Lucy is trading one prison for another. Henry has now become a permanent fixture as her charming yet iron-fisted taskmaster and tutor in the ways of High Society. Like oil and water, Lucy and Henry spar in an epic battle of wills—and even rapiers. But Lucy’s past and her surprising, undeniable feelings for Henry may doom their undertaking if he declares his love for her…because without a title, he can never be hers.

Continue reading

The Lady and the Highwayman (Proper Romance Victorian), by Sarah M. Eden—A Review

The Lady and the Highwayman by Sarah M Eden 2019From the desk of Katie Patchell:  

Pop Quiz: Which of the following is a penny dreadful — a) the title of a recent TV series, b) a term for a gory but thrilling story or c) a serialized novel from the 1800s?

If you answered any of the three, you would be correct! Besides being the name of a 2014 TV show, penny dreadfuls were serialized stories during the 19th century. They’re most famously known for their affordable price and plots filled with all kinds of thrills, such as hauntings and kidnappings. Sarah M. Eden, an author previously reviewed by Austenprose, visits this colorful world of penny dreadfuls in this, one of her latest novels, The Lady and the Highwayman. 

“Rumor had it, Fletcher Walker wasn’t born but had simply appeared one day, swaggering down the streets of London.” (Chapter 1) 

It is London, 1865, and Fletcher Walker is a man on top of the world. From pickpocket to the author of wildly popular penny dreadfuls – and leader of a philanthropic secret society –  he has created something unshakable. Or so he thinks. His confidence in himself and his mission to change the world is threatened when a new “king” of penny dreadfuls arrives on the scene. And this king, Mr. King, is none other than:

Elizabeth Black — headmistress of Thurloe Collegiate School, a respected member of society, and secret author. As the male writer King, Elizabeth enjoys growing fame, especially for her serial, The Lady and the Highwayman. Yet she soon discovers that she has at least one enemy intent on destroying King’s career. When Fletcher enlists her aid to help him track down King, little does he know that he’s gone to the very last person in the world to wish him success.

As Elizabeth becomes more involved with Fletcher, she struggles to prevent him from finding out her secret identity, while at the same time, trying to further her goal in discovering the truth about the shadowy Dread Penny Society and Fletcher’s involvement. Will she reveal her secret identity so he can reign as the penny dreadful king again, as he wants? Or can she find a different way to help the people of London as Mr. King, while staying true to her desires? Continue reading