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.

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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

Miss Austen: A Novel, by Gill Hornby—A Review

Miss Austen, by Gill Hornby (2020)From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

Austenesque fiction has produced numerous works told by supporting characters from Austen’s novels, using these fresh viewpoints to breathe life into familiar and beloved stories. Similarly, the title character of Gill Hornby’s Miss Austen is not the famous author, Jane, but her devoted elder sister, Cassandra. In many Austen biographies and surviving family letters, Cassandra figures as an exemplary daughter, sister, aunt, and friend, her quiet fortitude and domestic competence contrasted with her younger sister’s more volatile temperament and creative talent. But what happens when an author shifts the spotlight from Jane to Cassandra? How would a fictionalized retelling of her view of Austen family life engage readers?

Jane Austen once wrote to her niece Anna, “Three or four families in a country village is the very thing to work on” and Ms. Hornby has taken Jane’s advice for Miss Austen. In a narrative that alternates masterfully between Cassandra’s youth and old age, Miss Austen features the extended Austen family as well as the Lloyd and Fowle families. Miss Austen begins with a prologue set in 1795 that introduces two young, dutiful lovers: 

He asked for her patience; she promised it without thinking. Cassy was just twenty-two; they had years yet to play with. And patience was, famously, one of her many virtues. They turned back to the house to spread their glad news. 

It was met with all the exuberant delight that they could have wished for, though not even a pretense at surprise. For this engagement—between Miss Cassandra Austen of Steventon, and Mr. Tom Fowle of Kintbury—had been settled as a public fact long before it was decided by the couple in private. After all, it was the perfect match, of the sort that would bring such pleasure to so many. So it must be their future, their one possible happy ending.

The universe had agreed on that for them, many years before. (2)

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A Murderous Relation (A Veronica Speedwell Mystery Book 5), by Deanna Raybourn—A Review

A Murderous Relation by Deanna Raybourn 2020From the desk of Melissa Makarewicz:

With a mystery so scandalous the very balance of the British monarchy is threatened, Veronica Speedwell, a butterfly collecting amateur detective, and her natural historian colleague Mr. Revelstoke Temple-ton-Vane, have been called on to help. In Deanna Raybourn’s A Murderous Relation, readers are taken on a quirky ride through dangerous perils and nail-biting adventure. As Veronica and Stoker are trying to solve the case, they are also trying to solve the complexity of their emotions. The idea of mystery and intrigue tied up with slow-burning romance just waiting to bubble over ticked all the must-read boxes for me.

It’s the year 1888, and the horrifying figure of Jack the Ripper is stalking the streets. While London is in a heightened frenzy held entranced by the mysterious murders, the Lady Willingtonia Beauclerk has called Veronica and Stoker to a meeting. The meeting is attended by a close group who are privileged to the intimate knowledge of Veronica’s paternity. Lady Wellie, the princess, Inspector Archibond are also in attendance. Though the group is small, the secrets that threaten the monarchy are large.

Normally one to jump at the chance for adventure, this one hits a bit too close to home for Veronica and she adamantly refuses to help. Lady Wellie attempts to share a tangled web of theories to the two detectors in order to change their minds. Suddenly, she is struck with a medical emergency so severe that Stocker must act quickly to save her life.

“Lady Wellie clasped her walking stick more tightly, ‘It is the very worst time for any sort of scandal to break.’ She paused, and I saw her faze sharpen as she looked from me to Stoker and back again, Suddenly I understood that feeling of taut expectation.” (9)

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The House at the End of the Moor, by Michelle Griep—A Review

he House at the End of the Moor by Michelle Griep 2020From the desk of Katie Patchell: 

In Michelle Griep’s latest novel, readers are transported to 19th-century Devon, England to follow a hero and heroine accused of crimes they never committed. In pursuit of justice, the story flows from the gray depths of Dartmoor Prison and its forgotten inmates, to the heights of high society’s glittering concert halls. One word resounds, its echo landing on each page and in both heroes’ hearts: Justice.

Haunted by accusations of her past, Margaret lives out her self-imposed banishment at Morden Hall, surrounded by the shifting skies above an endless moor. Her only companions are her mute maid, grizzled manservant, and loyal dog. Far from the glamour and fame of her past, she is happy with her companions, books, and audience of none as she sings on the open moor.

Everything changes when a man who was there on the day she fell from society’s grace appears unconscious and bleeding outside her home. Margaret is torn: Should she help the man escape the brutish prison guard chasing him, risking her anonymity in the process? Or should she stay hidden, abandoning the “stranger” to his own fate? 

“Death prowled the cellblock like a dark animal seeking prey–especially the weakest. But Oliver Ward would be hanged if he’d let the beast devour the man in the cell besides him. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right.” (Line 1, Chapter 1)

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Duke Darcy’s Castle: A Dare to Defy Novel (Book 3), by Syrie James—A Review

Duke Darcy Castle by Syrie James 2020From the desk of Pamela Mingle:

A castle in Cornwall overlooking the sea. A dashing, though reluctant, duke who’s just taken over the dukedom. And a heroine who desperately wants to have a career as an architect rather than a love affair. Taken together, a perfect catalyst for a romance that has more than its share of obstacles. Syrie James’s latest novel, Duke Darcy’s Castle, is the third entry in the “Dare to Defy” series set in the Victorian period.

From the moment they meet, an irresistible attraction ignites between the tenth Duke of Darcy, Lance Granville, and Kathryn Atherton, New York heiress. When she arrives at St. Gabriel’s Mount with a proposal to redesign the castle, Lance mistakes her for the village school teacher, and she puzzles over why a duke would answer his own door. They stare at one another, each mesmerized by the other. After a moment, Lance comes to his senses and invites her in.

Kathryn is desperate to show what she can achieve as an architect, a profession exclusively the domain of men during the Victorian period. When a skeptical Lance is about to turn her away, she tries one more time to persuade him to give her a chance. Having learned of his background as a captain in the Royal Navy, Kathryn awes Lance with a drawing of her vision for his study, replacing the “cluttered, gilded look” with a nautical theme. He’s amazed that after such a short time, she knows exactly what would please him. Lance agrees to Kathryn taking on the job, at least for a trial.

Lance insists that financing the castle renovation is no problem. But the truth is, he is deeply in debt, and the notes are due in a few months. He has no idea where he’ll find the money. His late brother’s fiscal management was a disaster for the duchy. For her part, Kathryn is also less than honest. She doesn’t tell him she’s an heiress. Both of her sisters are countesses, having married English earls a while back, but Kathryn doesn’t want to follow in their footsteps. She’s delighted to hear that Lance is well off. Continue reading

The Winter Companion (Parish Orphans of Devon Book 4), by Mimi Matthews—A Review

The Winter Companion, by Mimi Matthews (2020)From the desk of Debbie Brown:

Neville Cross doesn’t fit the mold for a leading character. He’s appeared in the previous books of this series in a relatively minor role, and that’s where he seemed to belong. It’s true that, physically, his description as “a gentle giant” and “[a] handsome, golden Galahad” ordinarily would make him an ideal protagonist. Unfortunately, his personal history dispels the visual image. He doesn’t own his own estate, doesn’t have a boatload of money, and doesn’t have much in the way of charm. He grew up dirt poor in a miserable orphanage, where he experienced hunger and neglect. His years working and living at a convent in the neighboring village weren’t any kinder to him. Fortunately, his successful childhood friend, Justin Thornhill, brought him to live at the VERY remote Grayfriar’s Abbey. Most significantly, though, a serious head injury when Neville was just a lad continues to affect his word-finding ability; he’s incapable of speaking with any eloquence. Due to his halting speech, the poor man is more comfortable in the stables with the animals than in the house. He has no desire to see the world, feeling safe where he is and avoiding people he doesn’t know. Not exactly the adventurous, swashbuckling hero type. It takes a talented author like Mimi Matthews to allow Neville to shine as he does in her newly released The Winter Companion (Parish Orphans of Devon #4).

The “companion” in the title refers to Clara Hartwright, Ms. Matthews’ equally unlikely heroine. Justin and his wife, Lady Helena, are hosting his two friends and their wives for a month-long Christmas house party at Grayfriar’s Abbey, along with Neville, of course. Clara arrives as a paid companion to Mrs. Bainbridge, aunt of one of the wives. Clara’s brother Simon currently attends Cambridge, an experience she herself covets but is not attainable for a woman. As reparation for some dreadful misstep Clara made that ended both Simon’s tutoring lessons and her teaching position at the village school, she pays his university bills from her wages. More importantly, Simon has agreed to send copies of all his lesson notes so Clara can learn along with him. She hopes eventually to leave her current employment behind. “She couldn’t attend a proper university, or earn a position in the scientific community. But there was nothing stopping her from being a secretary to a scientist, or a gentleman with an interest in natural history.” Continue reading

A Preview of Falling for Mr. Thornton: Tales of North and South, by Trudy Brasure, Et Al

Falling for Mr. Thornton Tales of North and South (2019)Good things come in small packages!

My regular readers will know that I adore a well-written short story and edited an anthology of them myself inspired by Jane Austen. Falling for Mr. Thornton is a new collection of “little gems” inspired by another classic author, Elizabeth Gaskell.

Based on her Victorian-era novel North and South, set during its industrial revolution— a turbulent time in British history when machinery was replacing manual labor— it also revolves around the spikey relationship between Margaret Hale and John Thornton, a love story that rivals Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice.

This anthology includes a dozen stories by popular historical fiction authors in the Gaskellesque genre and is a mixture of historical, contemporary, variations, and continuations that are sure to thrill anyone who is a hooked as I am on the 2004 television adaptation North & South, starring Richard Armitage. Here is additional information on the anthology and an exclusive excerpt for your enjoyment.

BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Amidst the turbulent backdrop of a manufacturing town in the grips of the Industrial Revolution, Elizabeth Gaskell penned the timeless passion of Mr. Thornton and Margaret Hale. A mixing of contemporary and Victorian, this short story anthology by twelve beloved authors considers familiar scenes from new points of view or re-imagined entirely. Capturing all the poignancy, heartbreak, and romance of the original tale, Falling for Mr. Thornton is a collection of stories for all who love North and South.

STORIES AND AUTHORS:

  • “On the Island,” by Melanie Stanford
  • “Passages in Time,” by Kate Forrester
  • “The First Day of Spring,” by M. Liza Marte
  • “Loose Leaves from Milton,” by Damaris Osborne
  • “Reeducating Mr. Thornton,” by Evy Journey
  • “Mistakes and Remedies,” by Julia Daniels
  • “Her Father’s Last Wish,” by Rose Fairbanks
  • “The Best Medicine,” by Elaine Owen
  • “Cinders and Smoke,” by Don Jacobson
  • “Mischances,” by Nicole Clarkston
  • “Looking to the Future,” by Nancy Klein
  • “Once Again,” by Trudy Brasure

EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT: Continue reading