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.

There is a lot to unpack when I look back on this story. It has two main characters, Benjamin and Isabelle, who took turns narrating. They are well developed, likable and yet flawed in their own ways. Isabelle is in deep fear of dying in a tragic way if she leaves the island as a result of not coming to peace with the past loss of parents and sister, her only close family with the exception of her beloved niece. Benjamin struggles with the issue of inadequacy because he was never good enough with his father like his over-achieving brother and because he isn’t interested in the family medical practice. This is where the inspirational element is strongest as they work through their issues and learn to rely on their beliefs and promises in Scripture to aid them to overcome their issues.

The attention to the historical background and the island setting was well done as usual. I enjoyed learning about life on the island estate that was on the Thames. The growing of the willow reeds for the basket weaving that was their prime income besides the sheep herd was fascinating but never tedious. There is also focus on how criminal investigation was handled in those pre-CSI days and on trusteeships and their effect on single gentlewomen.

The murder mystery is front and center at different times and I enjoyed the clever twists and turns it takes as Benjamin gets to the truth. The murderer and motive took me by surprise.  I was just starting to get a glimmer when the big reveal moment came.

As to the romance, it’s a slow burn one and doesn’t come completely into the open until near the end. It takes a back seat to the mystery, to personal and spiritual growth, and even to family. But it’s there subtly strengthening in the background until it’s time to shine near the end. Some might prefer the romance to be more overt and show itself much earlier, but I thought the pacing and development worked well for this story.

All in all, The Bridge to Belle Island was a superb read. Julie Klassen is a deft hand at taking the reader back to the Regency Era with her engaging characters and the gentle flow of the story that passes quickly leaving the reader well-satisfied but still wanting more at the end. If you love sweet Regency Romance with strong inspirational flavor but want the spice of a cunning murder mystery, this book is for you.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Bridge to Belle Island by Julie Klassen
Bethany House Publishers (2019)
Hardcover, trade paperback, ebook, and audiobook (400) pages
ISBN-13: 978-0764218194

ADDITIONAL REVIEWS:

PURCHASE LINKS:

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

Disclosure of Material Connection: We received a review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. Austenprose.com is an Amazon.com affiliate. We receive a modest remuneration when readers use our links and make a purchase. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Cover image courtesy of Bethany House Publishers © 2019; text Sophia Rose © 2019, Austenprose.com

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.

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The Clergyman’s Wife: A Pride & Prejudice Novel, by Molly Greeley — A Review

The Clergyman's Wife, by Molly Greeley (2019)From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

Readers of Pride and Prejudice often compare Charlotte Lucas unfavorably with Elizabeth Bennet who bravely resists financial and familial pressure to accept a proposal from the comically inept Mr. Collins, the man who stands to inherit Longbourn upon her father’s death. While nothing but the deepest love will induce her into matrimony, her closest friend Charlotte decides that she does not have the luxury of waiting for love and quickly catches Mr. Collins on the rebound. Lizzy’s bold refusal stirs our hearts; Charlotte’s pragmatic and calculated choice elicits feelings of resignation and dismay. But I’ve often thought that Charlotte is unfairly maligned by readers, who seem to expect her to possess courage equal to that of Jane Austen’s daring heroine. Could a P&P-inspired novel offer Charlotte something other than a loveless marriage of convenience?

Molly Greeley’s debut novel The Clergyman’s Wife explores Charlotte’s married life in the village of Hunsford. The main storyline takes place three years after Charlotte becomes Mrs. Collins. Her life is quiet, comfortable, and secure, though she must endure visits to Rosings Park from time to time. Housekeeping, parish duties, and raising her infant daughter, Louisa, keep Charlotte busy. While this is the life Charlotte chose, the opening pages of Chapter 1 hint at her well-concealed malaise:

“Behind me on my writing desk, a fresh piece of paper sits ready. The salutation at the top—Dear Elizabeth—has been dry for some time. I never feel the quiet uniformity of my life as fully as when I am trying to compose a letter to my friend…There is always the menu to plan, the accounts to balance, the kitchen garden to tend. I embroider a great deal more than I used to, and my designs have improved, I think. But descriptions of embroidery do not an amusing letter make.” (8)

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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?

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The Watsons, by Rose Servitova and Jane Austen — A Review

The Watsons, by Rose Servitova and Jane Austen (2019)

From the desk of Debra E. Marvin:

Author of The Longbourn Letters, Rose Servitova’s candid preface in The Watsons intrigued me as much as the concept of someone taking on an incomplete Austen manuscript. It’s believed Miss Austen began the story around 1803, but it was no more than a partial manuscript at the time of her death. Published in that form by her nephew in 1871, the original document is safely archived ‘as is’ with her edits and revisions. Once I began Ms. Servitova’s novel, I immediately trusted her efforts—dare I say chutzpah—to be the latest to co-author with Jane Austen. What delicate kid slippers to fill!

You’ll not be surprised to learn the story centers on a particular family of a kind, well-read, possibly dying gentleman lax in providing for his adult daughters. Around them, a circle of friends and acquaintances carries on with the business of gossip and country balls. Our protagonist is nineteen-year-old Emma Watson who’s returned home unexpectantly after being a long-time ward of her wealthy aunt and uncle. Because of this, both her family and their neighbors are practically strangers to her.

“Yes. Single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor- which is one very strong argument in favour of matrimony. She must marry, and I pray that it will happen soon,” said Elizabeth, “that she may rob a gentleman of his fortune and us of her company.”

Emma’s fourteen years away have produced a well-spoken and well-mannered young woman now surprised by the rather rough edges of two manipulative sisters, and the novelty of being the newest single female in want of a husband. Continue reading

A Preview of The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen, Volume III, by Collins Hemingway

The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen Vol III by Collins Hemingway (2017)There are hundreds of Austenesque books inspired by Jane Austen’s characters; namely featuring Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy who really dominate the field. Interestingly, there are few inspired by the authoress herself. Bestselling author Syrie James has written two: The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen (2007) and Jane Austen’s First Love (2014); and Shannon Winslow gave us The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen (2014). There have been others over the years including Stephanie Barron’s excellent Being a Jane Austen Mystery series. Recently, Collins Hemingway added to this subgenre of Austenesque fiction with the publication of his third book in his The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen series.

Jane Austen as a fictional character is a challenging concept. Since we know only about her life from her remaining letters and family biographies, creating a novel around her life can ask the reader to take a leap of faith and join the author on a journey that they imagine for Austen. This is what Hemingway has done. He has taken known facts of her life and the history of the Regency era and fictionalized her into being the heroine of her own story. I rather like the concept of turning a writer who creates characters and stories into one who lives her own adventures. Here is a description of The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen, Volume III from the publisher and an exclusive excerpt for your enjoyment.

BOOK DESCRIPTION:

In the moving conclusion to The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen, Austen and her husband struggle with the serious illness of their son, confront a bitter relationship with the aristocratic family who were once their friends, and face the horrific prospect of war when the British Army falters on the continent. The momentous events of the Napoleonic wars and the agonizing trials of their personal lives take the family to a decision that will decide their fate—and Jane’s future—once and for all.

Critics and readers alike have praised The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen for its insightful inner portrait of Jane Austen as well as for the sweeping canvas it presents of the Regency Era and Napoleonic wars. The trilogy spans the full arc of a mature relationship. Volume I is a courtship novel told with Austenian charm. Volume II is a deep psychological portrait of a woman’s experience in the first year of marriage. Volume III is the climax that will test Austen’s physical courage and moral convictions. Historically accurate and dovetailing with what little we know of Austen’s life in her late twenties, the novels provide a thoughtful, emotionally satisfying look at life for women in the early 1800s.

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A Matter of Honor: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, by Abigail Reynolds — A Review

A Matter of Honor: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, by Abigail Reynolds (2019)From the desk of Debbie Brown:

Abigail Reynolds continues to outdo herself, to the delight of JAFF readers throughout the world. Her name is one of the most recognizable in the genre, and for good reason. She’s been providing unique ways for Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet to fall in love for over a decade. While many authors run out of fresh ideas after one or two solid books, her prolific writing keeps improving.

In her recently released A Matter of Honor, she’s given Darcy and Elizabeth some new obstacles. She mostly ignores Longbourn and Pemberley and, while Hunsford and Rosings loom large in the plot, her book goes to Kent only briefly, spending most of its time in Scotland.

The story begins six months after Elizabeth refused Darcy’s insulting marriage proposal and accepted his letter the following morning, but their paths haven’t crossed since. Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy are returning to Netherfield, each praying he can win the forgiveness and love of his respective Bennet sister. Both gentlemen are shunned by the entire Meryton community, and they’re turned away from Longbourn. When Bingley discovers the reason, he angrily confronts Darcy. “You ruined [Elizabeth], and with her, you ruined the woman I love. Because of you, Miss Elizabeth has had to leave Longbourn forever. The Bennets are in deep disgrace.”

Darcy didn’t do anything wrong, but he figures this is an easy fix: he’ll just talk to Mr. Bennet and offer to marry Elizabeth, which is what he’d planned to do anyway.

Nope. Mr. Bennet won’t budge. “Lizzy does not wish to marry you, and she will do so only over my dead body…  She is out of your reach. I am the only person who knows where she is, and I will not tell you.”But it’s Darcy he’s talking to here, and you just know he’s not giving up so easily. It’s a matter of honor, after all─honor and love. The search is on! Continue reading

Dress in the Age of Jane Austen: Regency Fashion, by Hilary Davidson — A Review

Dress in the Age of Jane Austen, by Hilary Davidson (2019)“Fashions come and go; bad taste is timeless.” — Beau Brummell

So saith the arbiter of style in the Regency era when all of Jane Austen’s books were published and she and her characters dwelled. Since fashion is mentioned sparingly in her novels how is one to know, two hundred years after the fact, what is fashionable and what is in bad taste? Is that actress in the current period drama wearing clothing appropriate to the era, her age, and her social status? Is the hero wearing a top hat that Victorian author Charles Dickens would have worn? Is that pelisse polyester, and is a half “updo” hairstyle totally inappropriate? Dress in the Age of Jane Austen, by Hilary Davidson explores these dilemmas for modern readers of Austen’s fiction, the adaptations of her works, and those set during the same timeframe.

When I first opened this book and skimmed its pages, I was overcome by its beauty. Page after page of eye-popping images of Regency clothing, portraits, landscapes, fashion plates, and cartoons by famous artists and illustrators of Austen’s day. The publisher states that the book boasts 180 full-color illustrations, and I do not doubt it. Here is a slide show of a few that I found especially significant to give you a glimpse of the extensive research that the author conducted to bring the book to life.

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The #Janeite Blog Tour of The Watsons, by Rose Servitova and Jane Austen Begins on November 18th

The Watsons, by Rose Servitova and Jane Austen (2019)There is something intriguing to readers and writers about an unfinished work by an author that they admire. Everyone wants closure in their life, and certainly in their fiction! Therefore, I was very excited to learn that there would be a new novel completing Jane Austen’s unfinished fragment The Watsons, by Rose Servitova.

I had read and enjoyed Servitova’s debut novel, The Longbourn Letters, and was very impressed by her ability to neatly turn an Austenesque phrase—and it also just made me laugh. It was on my Best of 2018 list for Austenesque novels and I highly recommend it.

Following in the wake of a successful first novel is always a challenge to authors, so I was curious to know what she would write about next. Choosing to complete The Watsons was not what I expected, but a welcome surprise. It takes a confident and capable writer to complete an Austen novel. I was eager to see if she could pull it off.

In celebration of its release, The Watsons is going on a blog tour. Here is additional information about the book and the tour running November 18th—29th, 2019.

BOOK DESCRIPTION:  

Can she honour her family and stay true to herself?

Emma Watson returns to her family home after fourteen years with her wealthy and indulgent aunt. Now more refined than her siblings, Emma is shocked by her sisters’ flagrant and desperate attempts to ensnare a husband. To the surprise of the neighbourhood, Emma immediately attracts the attention of eligible suitors – notably the socially awkward Lord Osborne, heir to Osborne Castle – who could provide her with a home and high status if she is left with neither after her father’s death. Soon Emma finds herself navigating a world of unfamiliar social mores, making missteps that could affect the rest of her life. How can she make amends for the wrongs she is seen to have committed without betraying her own sense of what is right?

Jane Austen commenced writing The Watsons over two hundred years ago, putting it aside unfinished, never to return and complete it. Now, Rose Servitova, author of acclaimed humour title, The Longbourn Letters: The Correspondence between Mr Collins and Mr Bennet has finished Austen’s manuscript in a manner true to Austen’s style and wit.

EARLY PRAISE: Continue reading