Austenesque, Book Reviews, Contemporary Era, Reading Challenges

Undressing Mr. Darcy, by Karen Doornebos – A Review

From the desk of Christina Boyd: 

With a title like Undressing Mr. Darcy, author Karen Doornebos’ new release is sure to turn a few heads this holiday season. “Sex sells, even to smart, liberated women, and Mr. Darcy was the smart girl’s pinup boy.” p. 7 And like the novel’s heroine, a master PR rep who has turned tweeting into an #artform, Doornebos has carefully crafted another contemporary romance novel about an ambitious, highly energized, very modern woman who meets a charming Mr. Darcy re-enactor, sure to draw the attention of Janeites and romance readers alike.

When Vanessa Roberts, PR extraordinaire with the perpetually-present smartphone and ever-ready clever social media tweet or posting, takes on a pro-bono job as a favor for her elderly Jane Austen loving aunt, little does she expect promoting the English author of, My Year as Mr. Darcy, to turn her organized world topsy-turvy. When she finally meets Julian Chancellor, who has capitalized on his good looks “as he gives a little historical background on his Regency-era clothing as he proceeds to take it off –down to his drawers” at his book signings, she finds she too, like the throngs of Darcy fans in the audience, is caught by his artful allurements.

When she realizes his incentive for writing his book is to raise money to support the restoration of his ancestral home, coupled with his charm and gentlemen-like behavior, she can’t help herself but start to fantasize about what a fling, nay relationship, with him might be like. As they all attend the Jane Austen Society North America (JASNA) Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Chicago, while surrounded by Austen lovers fully immersed in the hubbub, Vanessa is busy promoting her author, “Want to tie the knot with Mr. Darcy? He’s in Cravat Tying 101 right now.#JASNAagm #UndressingMrDarcy #OrDressingMrDarcy?” p. 71 Surprisingly amongst all the bonnets and lace, she discovers she might be open to the possibilities of something more to life than constantly being plugged in.

It felt as if some of his Austen quotes were speaking directly to her at times, and it occurred to her that it might be time that she gave the author another chance. Perhaps her aunt had been on to something all these years. Was there something beyond the happily ever after stories and the demure portrait of a woman in a white ruffled cap that popped in Vanessa’s head every time ‘Jane Austen’ was mentioned?” p. 36

As Julian’s clothes come off, the heat turns up. But it’s not just his fine person that captivates her; his endearing friendship with her beloved aunt coupled with his affection and knowledge of all things Austen soon bewitch her body and soul. “‘The conversion has begun. It’s in your blood. Resistance is futile.’ He looked into her eyes and took a step backward. ‘You’re becoming an Austen fan.‘” p. 9

As in life, every dry spell has its flood. And for the lonesome, loveless Vanessa, soon after meeting Julian she meets a handsome, amiable pirate! Turns out HeroCon is happening simultaneously at the same Chicago hotel. Is Chase MacClane a rogue of the highest order or is he the hero in disguise?

Two Austen events later, Vanessa finds herself in England for the celebrated ten-day Jane Austen Festival in Bath. As soon as the plane lands, the consummate media maven posts, “‘Here I am once more in this Scene of Dissipation & vice, and I begin already to find my Morals corrupted.’ Could a girl ask for more? All sorts of sordid things happen in London.” p. 209 But all may not be how it appears. Later as she scampers about London and Bath on a wild, Austen-inspired scavenger hunt, she questions the authenticity of her relationship with Julian, her friendship with Chase, her aunt’s imminent Alzheimer’s diagnosis, and what she is going to do about any of it. “She laughed at her own folly. Folly? Had she ever used that word before? Why did she palpably feel Jane Austen’s presence across the room, near the trio, with folded arms and laughing at her?” p. 214 Doornebos’s storytelling had me biting my bottom lip until the very last, guessing who, if anyone, our fair heroine might choose!

Karen Doornebos, the author of Definitely Not Mr. Darcy, has certainly delivered me good tidings of comfort and joy this holiday season with this latest offering. Because of her concise research of Austen, in concert with the believable dialogue and madcap romantic antics, I am compelled to tweet: “@xtnaboyd Undressing Mr. Darcy is the #perfectstockingstuffer for Austen & Darcy lovers everywhere- regardless who are naughty or nice!”

5 out of 5 Stars 

Undressing Mr. Darcy, by Karen Doornebos
Berkley Trade (2013)
Trade paperback (368) pages
ISBN: 978-0425261392

Cover image courtesy of Berkley Trade © 2013; text Christina Boyd © 2013, Austenprose.com

Book Reviews, Novella or Short Story, Reading Challenges, Regency Era, Regency Romance

Desperate Measures: A Regency Short Story, by Candice Hern – A Review

The Regency Romance Reading Challenge (2013)This is my sixth selection in the Regency Romance Reading Challenge 2013, our celebration of romance author Candice Hern. We will be reading all of her traditional Regencies over the next nine months, discussing her characters, plots and Regency history. Make haste! You can still join the reading challenge until July 1, 2013. Participants, please leave comments and or links to your reviews for this month in the comment section of this post.

My Review:

Unrequited love can force a girl into desperate measures—a scheme that Lydia Bettridge’s brother Daniel has concocted—and she is uncertain will work. Before the most important ball of the Season, he will procure his friend Philip Hartwell to sweep her off her feet in front of the object of her affection making him wild with jealousy. But when Philip is detained from the ball and unknowingly asks the object of her affection Geoffrey Danforth to be the swain who sweeps, Lydia is thrown for a loop. NO—he was to be the jealous lover, not the one to make her lover jealous! Thankfully Geoffrey does not know who the object of the game is and Lydia is not going to tell him! But now everything is topsy-turvy. How was she going to make him think of her as a beautiful, desirable young woman and not the little sister of his best friend? It does not help that he is so eager to play the part, especially since he has never singled out any woman in his life and will draw the attention of Society by playing the “mooncalf” with her. He was determined to make everyone in the room believe that he was madly in love with her, and he did, even Lydia! It was totally glorious—except that it was not real. Pressed to reveal whom Geoffrey is to make jealous, Lydia picks the first man she sees, the infamous rake Lord Tennison. Shocked, he tries to warn her off, but Lydia claims she needs excitement in her life. Always the obliging gentleman, Geoffrey promises to play the part to the nines and have Tennison falling at her feet before the night’s end. Continue reading “Desperate Measures: A Regency Short Story, by Candice Hern – A Review”

Book Reviews, Reading Challenges, Regency Romance

A Change of Heart: A Regency Romance, by Candice Hern – A Review

The Regency Romance Reading Challenge (2013)This is my second selection in the Regency Romance Reading Challenge 2013, our celebration of Regency romance author Candice Hern. We will be reading all of her traditional Regencies over the next nine months, discussing her characters, plots and Regency history. You can still join the reading challenge until July 1, 2013. Participants, please leave comments and or links to your reviews for this month in the comment section of this post.

My Review:

Notorious rakes can be interesting heroes. They bring out the “fix-it project” in any female. On the other hand, on-the-shelf spinsters can be totally perplexing to the female mind which is inclined to want to couple. Mix those two personalities together and you have the premise of A Change of Heart: A Regency Romance, the second novel in the Regency Rakes Trilogy by Candice Hern. What do you do with two complex characters who are happy with their life choices but forced to break down their barriers of hope and trust? We shall see.

Lady Mary Haviland is the twenty-nine-year-old daughter of the late Earl Assheton. As his sole heir, she inherited this estate affording her the freedom of independence so rare in a Regency lady—and she rather likes it that way—since she believes that as an ugly, insignificant and unmarried lady she can do as she chooses. She has many friends including is Emily Bradleigh, who we were first introduced to as the heroine in A Proper Companion, the first book in this trilogy. She also has a soft spot for rouges. “They are so much more honest in their approach to life that the usual paragons of propriety.” The rogue that has recently caught her eye is the notorious Black Jack Raeburn, the thirty-seven year old third son of a marquess, who because he was so far removed down the line of succession of his father’s estate never thought he need be anything more than the dissolute ne’er-do-well that he has spent the last twelve years perfecting. His life recently changed dramatically when his father, two elder brothers, and nephew all died in a boating accident a year ago. Now as the Marquess of Pemerton, he has inherited six heavily mortgaged estates and all the responsibility thereto. He must quickly find a bride to assure the succession and refresh the family fortune. Continue reading “A Change of Heart: A Regency Romance, by Candice Hern – A Review”

Blog Events, Reading Challenges, Regency Era, Regency Romance

Announcing the Regency Romance Reading Challenge 2013: Featuring Candice Hern

The Regency Romance Reading Challenge (2013)Yes, gentle readers it’s time for a new reading challenge—and for 2013 we are stretching our wings and embracing a new author.

We are very pleased to announce the Regency Romance Reading Challenge 2013 featuring the very talented author Candice Hern. If you are unfamiliar with Candice, I am excited to introduce her to you. She writes witty and romantic traditional Regency romance novels with endearing heroines and swoon-worthy heroes highlighted by incredible historical accuracy. If you enjoyed any of Georgette Heyer’s great romance novels or laughed along with Lauren Willig’s characters in the Pink Carnation series, I highly recommend joining in the challenge—affording you the perfect opportunity to discover Ms. Hern’s great novels and short stories along with other Janeites, historical fiction and Regency romance lovers.

We will be reading and reviewing one title a month and posting on the third Wednesday through September. Here is our schedule:

The Regency Romance Reading Challenge Review Schedule:

Continue reading “Announcing the Regency Romance Reading Challenge 2013: Featuring Candice Hern”

Austenesque, Book News, Reading Challenges

Austen in August Times Two

Austen in August events 2012

Wow! Two great Austen-inspired events are in progress this month to celebrate our favorite author.

Misty at The Book Rat is offering her annual fete in honor of Jane called Austen in August. Previously called Jane in June, readers will remember from past years that she puts on a great blog event featuring a read-along of an Austen novel and guest blogs from other Austen loving bloggers and Austenesque authors. I will be featured on Monday, August 27 answering the question:

A lot of readers – as much as they may love the books – are bothered by some of the pairings (think Marianne and Brandon, or Fanny and Edmund); are there any Austen couples you think are going to have a rocky road ahead of them?

There are tons of great giveaway chances for fabulous Austen-inspired stuff including a chance to win a copy of my short story anthology, Jane Austen Made Me Do It. The event ends August 31, 2012, so make haste and check it out!

Adam at Roof Beam Reader is also highlighting our dear Jane this month with, you guessed it, Austen in August. Focused on all things Jane Austen, the event includes her primary texts, any re-imaginings of her works, biographies, critical texts, etc. So, basically all things Austen all the time! *squee*

Gracious book blogger Adam has a lot of things planned for his Austen-inspired month-long event including giveaways, guest posts, and, of course, his own reading and reviewing of Jane Austen works. Be sure to check it out and read an Austen novel or sequel or two this month.

Austen Extravaganza 2012 banner

In addition, here is an advance mention of my preview post next week of Meredith’s incredible blog event next month, Austenesque Extravaganza. This is her second annual Austen-inspired event at her blog Austenesque Reviews featuring daily posts with themes like: Sociable Sunday, Matchmaker Monday, Traveling Tuesday, Wednesday Word Games, Touring Thursday, Fan and Games Friday and Spotlight Saturday. I will be featured on Tuesday, September 18th, but I am sworn to secrecy about what I am writing about! I can reveal that there will be a chance to win one of three copies of Jane Austen Made Me Do it for participants, so be sure to please mark your calendars so you don’t miss out.

So much Austen fun out there Janeites! Go to it!

Cheers,

Laurel Ann

© Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Being a Jane Austen Mystery Reading Challenge 2011, Blog Events, Book Reviews, Jane Austen Sequels Book Reviews, Reading Challenges

Jane and His Lordship’s Legacy: Being a Jane Austen Mystery (Book 8), by Stephanie Barron – A Review

Jane and His Lordships Legacy, by Stephanie Barron (2005)It is 1809, a significant year in the life of our esteemed authoress Jane Austen. After close to five years of being shuffled about England between relatives, the three unattached Austen ladies: widower Mrs. Austen and her two unmarried daughters Jane and Cassandra are given permanent refuge by Jane’s elder brother Edward Austen Knight in the village of Chawton. They will live at Chawton cottage the former residence of the recently deceased steward of Edward’s vast estate there. Still privately grieving the tragic death of her dear friend Lord Harold Trowbridge (The Gentleman Rogue) nine months prior, Jane arrives in the village to find an uneasy welcome to the Squire’s family. It appears that the villagers are unhappy that the widow of Edward’s former steward was asked to vacate the cottage in favor of his family, and more seriously, Edward as an absentee Squire has been remiss in his duties since the death of his wife Elizabeth the previous year.

Within hours of Jane’s arrival at the cottage, she receives an unexpected visit from contemptuous Mr. Bartholomew Chizzlewit, attorney to the family of His Grace the Duke of Wilborough. Performing his duty as the family solicitor, he deposits on Jane’s dining-parlor floor a curiously carved chest announcing that she is listed as a legatee in Lord Harold’s Last Will and Testament. His bequest (should she agree) is that she accepts his personal papers and diaries, “a lifetime of incident, intrigue, and conspiracy; of adventure and scandal; of wagers lost and won,” and write his life story! After the Duke of Wilborough’s family contested the legacy in a London court and lost, they are bitter about the arrangement and hold it against Jane. Not only is this startling news, the thought of reliving the Gentleman Rogues life, far before she met him, and then through his entire life as a spy for the British government, is both curious and painful to her. When the huge chest is removed into the cottage’s cellar, another startling discovery brings Jane’s first day at Chawton to a scandalous close. A body of a man lies rotting and rat eaten on the floor.

Jane’s brother Henry arrives the next day and the inquest into the mysterious death begins by the local authorities with Jane and Henry in assistance. After Lord Harold’s trunk is stolen, Jane is convinced that it contains information that someone did not want her to discover. Could the theft be linked to the Wilborough family trying to cover up their son’s notorious life? Or, could it be the newcomers to the neighborhood, Julian Thrace, a young London Buck who is rumored to be the illegitimate heir apparent to the Earl of Holbrook vast wealth, and his half-sister Lady Imogen, the Earl’s acknowledged heir? Or, is the dead body in the cellar a personal vendetta by the bitter Jack Hinton, eager to make trouble for the Austen family? He claims to be the rightful heir to the Knight family estate of Chawton that Jane’s brother Edward inherited. There are suspects and motives, suppositions and accusations galore for our observant and clever Jane to ponder and detect before she solves the crime.

One chapter into the eighth novel in the Being a Jane Austen Mystery series and I am totally convinced that Jane Austen is channeling the actual events of her life through author Stephanie Barron. She has so convincingly captured her witty, acerbic, and penetrating voice that I am totally mesmerized. Like Jane, I am still grieving the tragic death of her secret crush Lord Harold. Reading his letters and journals was like bringing him back to life. Delightful torture for those Gentleman Rogue fans such as myself. This mystery was very well-plotted and fast-paced, but Barron really shines with her incredible historical details and the fact that in this discriminating Austen-obsessed mind, no one will ever be able to match her unique ability to channel my favorite author’s voice so perfectly.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

This is my eighth selection in the Being a Jane Austen Mystery Reading Challenge 2011, as we are reading all eleven mysteries in the series this year. Participants, please leave comments and or place links to your reviews on the official reading challenge page by following this link.

Grand Giveaway

Author Stephanie Barron has generously offered a signed hardcover copy of Jane and His Lordship’s Legacy to one lucky winner. Leave a comment stating what intrigues you about this novel, or if you have read it, who your favorite character is by midnight PT, Wednesday, August 24, 2011. Winner to be announced on Thursday, August 25, 2011. Shipment to US addresses only. Good luck!

Jane and His Lordship’s Legacy, Being a Jane Austen Mystery (No 8), by Stephanie Barron
Bantam Books, 2005
Mass market paperback (384) pages
ISBN: 978-0553584073

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Being a Jane Austen Mystery Reading Challenge 2011, Blog Events, Book Reviews, Jane Austen Sequels Book Reviews, Reading Challenges

Jane and the Stillroom Maid: Being a Jane Austen Mystery (Book 5), by Stephanie Barron – A Review

Jane and the Stillroom Maid, by Stephanie Barron (2000)Touring the Derbyshire countryside in the summer of 1806, Jane Austen, her mother, sister Cassandra, and cousin Rev. Edward Cooper are staying at the Rutland Arms in Bakewell, in the Peak District. While on a day excursion out into the country with Mr. Cooper and his friend Mr. Hemming, the gentleman enjoy angling along the River Wye and Jane pursues her passion for a country walk, shortly ending in a disturbing discovery. A young gentleman is found “foully and cruelly” murdered on a crag near Millers’ Dale with a bullet in his head, his entrails torn from his body and his tongue cut out. Jane and Mr. Cooper are tourists to the area and the victim is unknown to them. Mr. Hemming, a local solicitor also claims not to recognize the young man. All three are deeply disturbed by the grisly discovery, but Mr. Hemming strangely acts out of character insisting that the body be transported a distance to Buxton and not to Bakewell the town under proper jurisdiction to the local Justice of the Peace and Coroner. After some uneasy discussion, Mr. Hemming reluctantly concedes to allow the corpse to be taken to Bakewell, but Jane cannot help but notice that he is acting like a man burdened with guilt.

The local surgeon Mr. Tivey is summoned from his blacksmith duties and examines the deceased. He recognizes the victim immediately, suspecting some kind of evil mischief afoot. The young gentleman is no gentleman, he is a lady, one Tess Arnold, the stillroom maid of Penfolds Hall, the country estate of Mr. Charles Danford near Tideswell, only one mile north of where the body was discovered. Tivey is quick to spread the shocking details among the villagers of the vicious extent of her wounds. He claims it is a ritual killing related to an act of revenge conducted by the Freemasons when one of their own is betrayed. The local Justice of the Peace, Sir James Villiers, arrives and interviews Jane and her cousin Mr. Cooper. The Coroner’s Inquest will be called in three days. Run by the disgruntled Mr. Tivey who has been very liberal with his derogatory opinions of the murder by the Freemasons after they rejected him as a member. The “evil weight of a jealous tongue” has turned the villagers into an angry mob who want justice. Sir James entreats Jane to remain in town and relay her story of discovering the mutilated corpse.

At the Coroner’s Inquest, the parties connected to the young victim Tess Arnold are called to be questioned. Jane and her cousin relay their story, but oddly, the third witness in the discovery, Mr. Hemming, does not appear when called. We learn more about the victim and her duties as stillroom maid, and, her disreputable character. Her former employer Charles Danforth, who is in mourning the recent death of his wife and child, recognizes the clothing found on the corpse as his own, but cannot explain how she had possession of them. His personal connection to the victim is scrutinized by the coroner and he storms out of the proceedings. The Housekeeper is questioned and reveals that Tess had been dismissed on the same day as her death. Feigning heart trouble, or is it purposeful swooning, the proceedings for the day are stopped to assist the housekeeper. As the inquest disperses, Sir James invites Jane for nucheon to discuss her opinions on the case and an old friend unexpectantly arrives.

At that moment, the rustling in the passage increased and the parlour door was thrust open. I turned, gazed, and rose immediately from my chair. A spare, tall figure, exquisitely dressed in the garb of a gentleman, was caught in a shaft of sunlight. He lifted his hat from his silver hair and bowed low over my hand

“It is a pleasure to see you again, Miss Austen. We have not met this age.”

Nor had we. But I must confess that the gentleman had lately been much in my thoughts.

“Lord Harold,” I replied a trifle unsteadily. “The honour is entirely mine.” Page 86

What a grand entrance for the Gentleman Rogue! Bathed in sunlight like a God? LOL! What? No twinkling stars in his eyes and blinding white teeth?

Jane and the Stillroom Maid is the fifth Jane Austen mystery, and for those unfamiliar with this series, the narrative is from a fictional diary written by Jane Austen and discovered in 1992 in a Georgian manor house near Baltimore. Inspired by actual events in Jane Austen’s life, historical facts and cultural detail, each of the novels has Jane Austen using her keen observational skills of human nature as a sleuth in a murder mystery.

This narrative is set in Pemberley country, that palatial country estate of Mr. Darcy, the hero of Austen’s famous novel Pride and Prejudice. Well, we don’t really know where in the county of Derbyshire the fictional Pemberley estate is, but we do have some clues from Austen that it was near Bakewell, where Jane and her family are staying in this story. It has long been suspected that Jane Austen modeled Pemberley after the famous Chatsworth House, the seat of the Duke of Devonshire, and the Cavendish family since 1549. It lies only three and a half miles from Bakewell. The fact that Lord Harold is a guest at Chatsworth and takes Jane there as his guest to be served ratafia, route cakes and rumors of indiscretions, that may of lead to murder, is a delicious coincidence. It is delightful to imagine that Jane Austen could have toured the Peak District in the summer of 1806 and visited Chatsworth and modeled her Pemberley after it.

Each of the chapters is prefaced by a recipe from the Stillroom Book of the victim Tess Arnold. Stillroom maids were a combination of herbalists, apothecary, and food preserver on large estates. Because of their skill at curatives and elixirs, stillroom maids were often accused of being witches, even in Jane’s time during the early 1800s. Some of the recipes are disturbing to modern sensibilities: adding brains of four cock sparrows or mourning doves into a fruit tart to give someone courage, ew! But the recipes added to the charm of the era and brought home how far we have evolved with modern medicine and education.

The mystery was intriguing, but I think I figured out the whodunit too soon. It did not spoil one moment of my enjoyment. Barron excels at historical detail, early 19th-century language, and fabulous characterization. Her portrayal of Jane Austen is so natural and engaging that I lose myself in the character and forget that this is just fiction. Jane’s friendship with Lord Harold is exciting and tragic. I want them to be a couple, but realize that his being the second son of a duke and she an impoverished gentleman’s daughter, that it cannot happen. I also enjoy finding allusions to Jane Austen’s own characters in Barron’s own and laughed-out-loud at her interpretation of Mr. Edward Cooper, Rector of Hamstall Ridware, Staffordshire, Jane’s first cousin, supercilious singing toad, and Mr. Collins knock-off. His reaction when being interrupted while fishing by Jane’s announcement of murder is hilarious:

“A corpse?” Mr. Cooper exclaimed, with a look of consternation. “Not again, Jane! However shall we explain this to my aunt?” page 31

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Jane and the Stillroom Maid: Being a Jane Austen Mystery (Book 5), by Stephanie Barron
Bantam Books (2000)
Mass market paperback (336) pages
ISBN:  978-0553578379

This is my fifth selection in the Being a Jane Austen Mystery Reading Challenge 2011. You can still join the reading challenge in progress until July 1, 2011. Participants, please leave comments and or place links to your reviews on the official reading challenge page by following this link.

Grand Giveaway

Author Stephanie Barron has generously offered a signed hardcover copy of Jane and the Stillroom Maid to one lucky winner. Leave a comment stating what intrigues you about this novel, or if you have read it, who your favorite character is by midnight PT, Wednesday, May 25, 2011. Winner to be announced on Thursday, May 26, 2011. Shipment to US and Canadian addresses only. Good luck!

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Being a Jane Austen Mystery Reading Challenge 2011, Blog Events, Book Reviews, Jane Austen Sequels Book Reviews, Reading Challenges

Jane and the Wandering Eye: Being a Jane Austen Mystery (Book 3), by Stephanie Barron – A Review

Jane and the Wandering Eye, by Stephanie Barron (1998)I confess to being a silly, shallow creature when it comes to my partiality to fine art and the stage. Show me a beautiful Regency-era portrait by Thomas Lawrence or Richard Cosway, mention famous Drury Lane actors Sarah Siddons and her brothers Charles and John Kemble, and my sensibilities rival Marianne Dashwood’s fondness for dead leaves. Mix in my favorite author Jane Austen embroiled in a murder mystery centered around artists and actors in Bath, and I am in a sensory swoon.

Jane and the Wandering Eye is the third novel in the popular Being a Jane Austen Mystery series in which the famous authoress uses her astute skills of observation and logic as an amateur sleuth to solve a crime. In 1804 Jane, her sister Cassandra and their parents are residing in Bath. Despite the jollity of the Christmas season, Jane is “insupportably bored with Bath” and its social diversions, many of which are outside her means. She is, however, happy to accept a commission from her particular friend and Rogue-about-Town Lord Harold Trowbridge to spy on his niece Lady Desdemona. The young ingénue has recently fled London and the unwanted attentions of the Earl of Swithins to seek refuge in Bath with her grandmother the Dowager Duchess of Wilborough. Jane, her brother Henry and his wife Eliza attend a masquerade party at the Duchesses Laura Place residence in honor of Bath’s Theatre Royal players. Also in attendance is Madame Lefroy, Jane’s neighbor, and dearest friend. During the party they witness a drama unfold as tragic as any Shakespearean play. The theatre troupe’s stage manager Richard Portal is found stabbed to death with Lord Harold’s nephew Simon, Marquis of Kinsfell standing over him with a bloody knife in his hand and an open window behind him.

Mr. Elliot the local magistrate is summoned and witnesses questioned. Since everyone was in costume it is difficult to follow the events of the evening, but he soon learns that the key suspect, the Marquis in the Knight costume, was seen arguing with the victim, Mr. Portal in a white Harlequin costume, and challenged him to a duel. They were separated and Mr. Portal was asked to leave the party, later reappearing as a corpse in an anteroom with a knife through his heart. Curiously, a miniature portrait of an eye is found on his body. Under protest, the Marquis is charged with murder and thrown in the local goal. What started out for Jane as a mild request to observe and report on Lord Harold’s niece has now turned into a scandalous murder by his nephew, drawing him to Bath, and into Jane’s confidence. Taken with his charm, intelligence, and family drama, she cannot refuse him anything and they join forces to investigate the facts, unravel the crime, and discover the murderer.

Warning. If you blink too long in the first chapter you might miss significant clues. Stephanie Barron hardly lets us breathe for fear we would miss something. The dense and fast-paced events had me furiously writing notes to keep the facts and characters straight. It is unusual to have a murder transpire so quickly, but I enjoyed the build-up and the shock of the reveal. The mystery progresses from Jane Austen’s perspective as we read her lost journals edited by the author with added footnotes. The historical detail is entrancing to me. Not only do we follow events and people from Jane Austen’s life, but the social and cultural details were amazing in their depth and interest. At times I found the prose thick and heavy, craving a bit of brevity in the language, but overall Barron does an excellent job at early nineteenth-century Austen-speak. Her dialogue was even more engaging. The characterization of Jane’s parents Rev. and Mrs. Austen’s ironic divergence in personalities was entertaining, her brother Henry and gadabout wife Eliza’s joie de vivre delightful, and roguish Lord Harold was well, just dishy enough to curl any hard-hearted spinsters toes. *swoon*

Having the advantage of previously reading all the novels in this series before, I can firmly attest that Jane and the Wandering Eye is my favorite in the series. I loved the historical detail on art and the lives of its creators, actors and their social machinations with aristocrats, and all the intimate dealing of Jane Austen and her family. Originally published in 1998, I can honestly say that with a decade of study and appreciation of the Regency-era behind me, this mystery was even fresher, more intriguing, and enlightening the second time around. I recommend it highly.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Jane and the Wandering Eye, by Stephanie Barron
Random House (1998)
Mass Market Paperback (336) pages
ISBN: 978-0553578171

This is my third selection in the Being a Jane Austen Mystery Reading Challenge 2011. You can still join the reading challenge in progress until July 1, 2011. Participants, please leave comments and or place links to your reviews on the official reading challenge page by following this link.

Grand Giveaway

Author Stephanie Barron has generously offered a signed hardcover copy of Jane and Wandering Eye to one lucky winner. Leave a comment stating what intrigues you about this novel, or if you have read it, who your favorite character is by midnight PT, Wednesday, March 16, 2011. Winner to be announced on Thursday, March 17, 2011. Shipment to US and Canadian addresses only. Good luck!

Further reading

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Jane Austen Inspired, Reading Challenges

Upcoming Reading & Writing Challenges, & Literary Blog Events in 2011

Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Celebration at My Jane Austen Book ClubThere are great reading and writing challenges, and  literary events in the queue around the blogosphere that have come to my attention. So many in fact, that I decided to combine the announcements into one grand post, so here goes.

Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Celebration

Maria Grazia at My Jane Austen Book Club is celebrating the bicentenary of the publication of Jane Austen’s first published novel, Sense and Sensibility by hosting a year-long blog event. Each month will feature a blog on a topic inspired by S&S from Austen enthusiasts and authors. I will be contributing as the final leg in December with my essay, Marianne Dashwood: A Passion for Dead Leaves and Other Sensibilities. You can check out the full list of bloggers participating and all of the prizes offered each month at Maria’s great Jane Austen inspired blog.

Jane Austen Twitter Project

Author of Murder at Mansfield Park, Lynn Shepherd asks if you would like to be part of a Jane Austen story project? If you are on Twitter, you can participate in a new multi-author story in the works.

She has been developing the idea with Adam Spunberg (@AdamSpunberg on Twitter) and they plan to run a storytelling session one day every week for about three months this year. Each week’s chapter will be posted online and on www.AustenAuthors.com on Sunday. You don’t have to be a published writer to join in – you just have to love your Jane! If you are ready to get your creative juices jumping, then check it out.

The Gaskell Reading Challenge

Katherine at GaskellBlog is hosting a six month reading challenge, January to June, 2011 of Mrs. Gaskell’s works. It’s as easy as selecting two to read and leaving a comment to commit. I have selected Moorland Cottage and will be participating also in her reading group event on the book February 1st to the 15th, 2011 to fulfill one of my challenge commitments. We shall see what my second book is as the year develops. Wives and Daughters? Ruth? Sylvia’s Lovers? I’m undecided. Any suggestions?

The Classics Reading Challenge 2011

Courtney at Stiletto Storytime is hosting a classics reading challenge in 2011. What is a classic you ask? To Courtney, a classic is a “book that has in some way become bigger than itself. It’s become part of culture, society or the bigger picture. It’s the book you know about even if you have not read it. It’s the book you feel like you should have read.” I heartily concur. There are four levels of commitment from 5 books to 40 for those seriously addicted classics readers. I have committed to the Student level at 5 books and will be reading Sense and Sensibility, a Gaskell novel, and three Georgette Heyer novels, because I consider her a classic of the Regency romance genre.

Heroine Love

Yes. We can never have enough love! It makes the world go around. Erin Blakemore, author of that great celebration of our favorite heroines, The Heroine’s Bookshelf: Life Lessons from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder is hosting a blog event February 1st – 18th, 2011 featuring 12 book bloggers writing on their favorite heroine’s and how they changed their lives. Yours truly will be participating on February 18th, (Last again. I know!) honoring one of my favorite heroines Elizabeth Bennet. In addition to the great gush of love for the literary ladies in our lives, there will be tons of swag, yes, great giveaways to reinforce the love all around!

Well gentle readers, get motivated and join in the literary love of writing, reading and books. My two challenges for 2011 are still open: The Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge and the Being a Jane Austen Mystery Challenge 2011. So…take the leap, and join the celebrations.

Cheers,

Laurel Ann