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

Bronte’s Mistress: A Novel, by Finola Austin—A Review

Brontes Mistress by Finola Austin 2020From the desk of Molly Greeley:

The mystique of the Brontë sisters hasn’t lessened in the years since they wrote their extraordinary novels. Their brother Branwell is remembered by history less for his literary talents than for his notorious addictions, and for the alleged affair he had with his pupil’s mother, Lydia Robinson. In Brontë’s Mistress, Finola Austin explores this affair from Lydia’s perspective with both compassion and a good writer’s capacity to empathically—and mercilessly—depict her characters as fully-realized people, at both their best and their worst.ë

Lydia is the original Mrs. Robinson, and not only in name: a mother of five, trapped in a marriage with a cold and unaffectionate man, unfulfilled by the narrow role deemed socially acceptable for women, and desperate for love and attention, she finds herself drawn to her son’s tutor, the handsome, poetic, and much-younger-than-she-is Branwell Brontë.

Their affair is passionate, sweeping Lydia away from the dullness of her everyday life. She revels, at first, in Branwell’s capacity for love, and in his willingness to speak of things most people in her circles of acquaintance never would, and his unconventionality frees Lydia to express her own.

He “railed against convention, society, religion, talking about us but not about us, redirecting his fire towards the legal and spiritual strictures that kept us apart… I joined him, dancing closer and closer to the precipice and uncovering aspects of my nature I’d never thought8 to expose to the light, delighting in our shared, secret, impotent rage.” (121).

But soon enough, Lydia comes to see Branwell’s many flaws, and as his behavior becomes increasingly erratic, his vices more obvious, she becomes fearful of the whispered rumors about them that have already begun circulating. She worries, of course, about the servants’ talk, but also about Branwell’s literary sisters—with whom she has something of an obsession and who, she fears, might put the story of their brother’s affair in their work. Continue reading

Bringing Down the Duke (A League of Extraordinary Women, Book 1), by Evie Dunmore—A Review

Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore 2019From the desk of Melissa Makarewicz:

An estate with rolling green hills, fountains, and flower gardens… a dashing duke rides up to sweep me off my feet onto his horse as we ride off into the sunset…and, or at this point, of what feels like day 5,879 of stay at home, I would settle for a trip to the bookstore. Happily, I didn’t need to make a trip out because I had Evie Dunmore’s debut novel, Bringing Down the Duke, on my shelf waiting for me to give it a reread.

When I saw this historical romance novel popping up everywhere on social media last year, I knew it was a book I had to read. I mean, who doesn’t love to daydream about a handsome duke with a swoon-worthy British accent. When I saw it was a story about a young woman attending Oxford in 1879, I could not hit the one-click purchase button fast enough.

Annabelle Archer is a bluestocking through and through. She knows too many languages and is too opinionated to be considered a marriageable young lady. Plus, at her age, she is all but put on the shelf and considered a spinster. She has resigned herself to a life of caring for her extended family and dedicating herself to her studies. When she learns that there is a possibility to attend school, she yearns to have an independent life away from her demanding relatives who have taken her in and put her to work as a free nanny to their children.

Sebastian has been steady his whole adult life. After being thrust into the role of Duke at the young age of nineteen, he has worked tirelessly to restore the family name and fortune. Queen Victoria views him as one of her most trusted inner circle and with good reason. Running the multiple estates that he inherited as the first son and restoring their profitability would break a lesser man. But not Sebastian Devereux, nineteenth Duke of Montgomery. He always accomplished what he sets his mind to, no matter the cost. Nothing will stop him from restoring Montgomery Castle, an estate that his father lost in a bet. Continue reading

Q&A and Blog Tour with Mimi Matthews, Historical Romance Author of Fair as a Star

Fair as a Star by Mimi Matthews 2020I am happy to welcome bestselling author Mimi Matthews to Austenprose today for an exclusive interview in celebration of her latest Victorian romance, Fair as a Star, which just released this week.

Readers of this blog will be familiar with many of Mimi’s novel’s that we have reviewed in the past—all 5 Star reviews!

Fair as a Star is a novella in a new series, the Victorian Romantics, set in the English countryside in the 1860s. I was curious about the book’s origins and what else we can look forward to from this talented historical romance author.

I hope you enjoy our interview and read Fair as a Star, which in true Matthews’s style, takes you away to a different time and place, and wraps us up in a lovely love story.

A Secret Burden…

After a mysterious sojourn in Paris, Beryl Burnham has returned home to the village of Shepton Worthy ready to resume the life she left behind. Betrothed to the wealthy Sir Henry Rivenhall, she has no reason to be unhappy—or so people keep reminding her. But Beryl’s life isn’t as perfect as everyone believes.

A Longstanding Love…

As village curate, Mark Rivenhall is known for his compassionate understanding. When his older brother’s intended needs a shoulder to lean on, Mark’s more than willing to provide one. There’s no danger of losing his heart. He already lost that to Beryl a long time ago.

During an idyllic Victorian summer, friends and family gather in anticipation of Beryl and Sir Henry’s wedding. But in her darkest moment, it’s Mark who comes to Beryl’s aid. Can he help her without revealing his feelings—or betraying his brother?

Continue reading

A Preview of Brontë’s Mistress: A Novel, by Finola Austin

Brontes Mistress by Finola Austin 2020Hey-ho dear readers. How is your summer going so far? What have you been reading?

My TBR pile is still out of control, but I have managed to enjoy several very diverse genres from romcoms to Austenesque to nonfiction writing books. I have Indulged my “imagination in every possible flight,” and I have no regrets. Reading books, watching movies, and gardening have been my salvation during these troubling times.

Top on my list of fabulous new books is Brontë’s Mistress, an amazing historical fiction novel brought to life by the meticulous research and searing prose of Finola Austin. This dazzling debut story explores the scandalous love affair between Branwell Brontë, brother of the famous literary sisters, and Lydia Robinson, a married woman, mother, and employer of Branwell, her son’s innocent tutor.

Here is a book description from the publisher and an exclusive excerpt from the author for your enjoyment. Brontë’s Mistress releases on August 4th, 2020, so be sure to add it to your TBR pile. Please return on August 3rd for our review.

Yorkshire, 1843: Lydia Robinson—mistress of Thorp Green Hall—has lost her precious young daughter and her mother within the same year. She returns to her bleak home, grief-stricken and unmoored. With her teenage daughters rebelling, her testy mother-in-law scrutinizing her every move, and her marriage grown cold, Lydia is restless and yearning for something more.

All of that changes with the arrival of her son’s tutor, Branwell Brontë, brother of her daughters’ governess, Miss Anne Brontë and those other writerly sisters, Charlotte and Emily. Branwell has his own demons to contend with—including living up to the ideals of his intelligent family—but his presence is a breath of fresh air for Lydia. Handsome, passionate, and uninhibited by social conventions, he’s also twenty-five to her forty-three. A love of poetry, music, and theatre bring mistress and tutor together, and Branwell’s colorful tales of his sisters’ elaborate play-acting and made-up worlds form the backdrop for seduction.

But Lydia’s new taste of passion comes with consequences. As Branwell’s inner turmoil rises to the surface, his behavior grows erratic and dangerous, and whispers of their passionate relationship spout from her servants’ lips, reaching all three protective Brontë sisters. Soon, it falls on Lydia to save not just her reputation, but her way of life, before those clever girls reveal all her secrets in their novels. Unfortunately, she might be too late.

Meticulously researched and deliciously told, Brontë’s Mistress is a captivating reimagining of the scandalous affair that has divided Brontë enthusiasts for generations and an illuminating portrait of a courageous, sharp-witted woman who fights to emerge with her dignity intact.

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A Preview of The Memory House: A Love Story in Two Acts, by Jenetta James

The Memory House by Jenetta James 2020Hey-ho Janeites. Summer is finally here, and I am enjoying beautiful weather whilst gardening away, finally. I am conducting war with the weeds, but sadly, they are still winning! How are you doing?

I am incredibly happy to host a book blast for Jenetta James’ new historical romance, The Memory House. Many of you will recognize her name as a popular Austenesque author of novels and short stories. The Memory House has a dual timeline and revolves around a house in London over a one-hundred and sixty-year time span. Check out the book description and the exclusive excerpt that the author generously shared. The book is available for pre-order with an August release date.

Also, of interest, three of Jenetta’s previously published novels are being re-issued on June 30, 2020, with beautiful new covers by Quills & Quartos:

So, happy days! There is plenty of summer reading ahead for James’ fans.

A house in one of London’s most exclusive neighborhoods is home to secrets, mysteries, and two love stories spanning two centuries.

In 1859, independent-minded Kitty Cathcart dreams of escaping Veronica Gardens but her father’s determination to marry her off to a rich man of his choosing forces her to seek happiness and find her own voice by other means. And then the handsome but poor Alex Faraday walks through the front doors.

In 2019, Oxford-educated Josie Minton never dreamt of living in a house as grand as Veronica Gardens, but the nanny’s quarters are a perfect fit for a young woman in need of a job. Wealthy financier James Cavendish and his twin girls quickly find her indispensable to their happiness, but Josie is still searching for her future.

Then the great house reveals the first of its secrets, and the tragedy and romance of one era are brought into sharp relief with another.

Continue reading

A Stroke of Malice: A Lady Darby Mystery (Book 8), by Anna Lee Huber—A Review

A Stroke of Malice by Anna Lee Huber 2020From the desk of Rachel McMillan:   

Though locked room mysteries are a trope often revisit in the genre, it takes an immense amount of talent for an author to convince you that theirs is, indeed, the first of its kind. At once an homage to a classic trope and an immersive gothic romance A Stroke of Malice is a compelling historical romance that is not only atmospheric but eerily relevant. Lady Kiera Gage (nee Darby) and her husband, inquiry agent Sebastian Gage long familiar with the gothic and macabre, are put in close quarters with a puzzling corpse when a revelry turns deadly. The prospect of a holiday at the Bowmount’s Estate in Scotland is welcome for the investigative couple, but nothing could prepare them for one of the most baffling of their many cases together.

Almost six months’ expectant, Kiera is looking forward to a warm, inviting, and seasonally riotous Twelfth Night party at a crumbling Scottish manor house: perhaps her last opportunity before her confinement. Herein, with an eerie Poe-like setting of crypts and cloisters, dead friars and monks, and things that go bump in the night, Kiera and Gage must decide whether what they are seeking is foul play or far more sinisterly supernatural. The masked festivities, dancing, merriment libations of the cold December night culminate in the demand by the chosen Lord of Misrule for a ghost tour. Thus, Kiera and Gage attend a forbidden part of the manor house that takes them several steps back in time. Things go amiss when their ghoulish tour leads to a body far more recently deceased than the skeletons tucked into the ancient stones. Thus, the lady and lord of the manor are eager to make good on the Gage’s reputations for solving the most sinister of crimes.

The mystery deepens as no one is missing from the manor or its surrounding area, there are no personal possessions and no distinguishing features. In addition, the regal Lady Eleanor’s husband has been absent in Paris for a long while with seemingly no communication, leading Gage and Kiera to wonder if the deceased is Lord Hemswick. Continue reading