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 Gentleman and the Thief: Proper Romance Victorian, by Sarah M. Eden—A Review

The Gentleman and the Thief by Sarah M Eden 2020From the desk of Katie Patchell: 

Readers, beware: The Dread Penny Society is back in town. Their mission this time? Justice.

In September 2019, acclaimed Regency author, Sarah M. Eden, published her first book in the “Dread Penny Society” series. Titled The Lady and the Highwayman, this novel is a tongue-in-cheek – albeit romantic – take on the classic highwayman legends. Her latest addition to the series, The Gentleman and the Thief, no longer features a dashing highwayman, yet these new heroes equally hide their true selves amongst the shadows.

“For the poor and infirm, the hopeless and voiceless, we do not relent. We do not forget. We are the Dread Penny Society.” (Location 1582) 

Hollis Darby: Gentleman, man about town, and member of a secret society. Now in his thirties, he is more than satisfied with his work as a writer of children’s fiction. He even finds fulfillment in his other passion — helping to give hope to those living on the streets in his city. What Hollis lacks is a partner in crime, or at least, his brand of it. When he meets the enchanting Miss Newport, he is dazzled by her confidence, music skills, and kindness. Above all, he feels as if they are kindred spirits. Little does he know just how similar they are.

As he slipped from view, Ana opened her violin case. It was the perfect excuse and the perfect pretense. She opened the small compartment where she stored her rosin and her polishing cloth. She tucked underneath them what she’d come to this musicale for and had, by a near miracle, managed to secure: a single silver bracelet. (Location 251)

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A Rogue of One’s Own: A League of Extraordinary Women (Book 2), by Evie Dunmore—A Review

A Rogue of One's Own by Evie Dunmore 2020From the desk of Pamela Mingle:

From the age of twelve, Lucie Tedbury’s mission has been to improve the lives of women. Twenty years on, a rogue from her past, Tristan Ballentine, interferes with her plan. Opposites attract, after all. Evie Dunmore’s A Rogue of One’s Own, second in The League of Extraordinary Women series, is an exploration of love and the question still being asked today: “Can women have it all?”

In 1880, Lucie has become a leader of the British suffragist movement. Within her circle of Oxford women friends, the fight is against the Married Women’s Property Act, which at that time made women subordinate to their husbands in all matters. Lucie and a cadre of wealthy women investors have purchased a large share of a publishing company in order to advance the suffragist cause and encourage the repeal of the hated MWPA. One day, when Lucie is working in her drab rooms in Oxford (she’s been banished from her family home), she overhears a seduction beneath her window. It’s her neighbor, a widow, flirting with the nemesis of her adolescent years, Tristan Ballentine. The neighbor tells Tristan not to mind Lucie; she’s “just a spinster.” In a fury, Lucie leaves, only to run headlong into Tristan, who’s been waiting to sabotage her.

Tristan had spent many summers at Lucie’s family home as a youth. She’d always spurned him, and it made him prone to do “anything to provoke a reaction.” He admits to himself that Lucie still holds sway over him. Her hair shines like “a polished silver coin.” A line of Byron’s poetry comes to him, which hasn’t happened in years. “‘And all that’s best of dark and bright/Meet in her aspect and her eyes…’” For her part, Lucie sees little to admire in Tristan. 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