The Vanishing at Loxby Manor, by Abigail Wilson — A Review

The Vanishing at Loxbury Manor by Abigail WIlson 2021From the desk of Sophia Rose:

Mystery surrounds a family, a ruined abbey, and a sudden disappearance making a young guest and friend of the family fearful about her visit. The atmospheric suspense, attention to the historical setting, and complexity in the characters made The Vanishing at Loxby Manor, the latest release by Abigail Wilson, a must-read.

Charity Halliwell once thought to marry the oldest Cavanagh son, Piers, until her family’s sudden move to Ceylon and his letter ending their prospects left her bereft and vulnerable. An attack in the dark of the tea plantation has left her disgusted at her naiveté in venturing outside on her own and quelled her spirit as well as her dream of ever marrying and having a family. Now, when her parent’s journey to join her brilliant chemist of a brother in America, Charity longs for her old neighborhood and friends as a comfort. She knows from Selene’s letters that Piers will not be there as he lives away from the family.

The first night of her visit to the Cavanaghs is enough to convince her that she made a mistake seeking solace in the past. Mrs. Cavanagh isn’t exactly welcoming and mischievous Selene sneaks into Charity’s room to admit that her mother wanted her to leave Charity to her own devices. However, Selene has been a hoyden kissing a groom and flirting with others. She wants the only man in a neighborhood with a title, but she will toy with the others. On this night, she mentions a secret plan to have her way and then whisks off into the night with Charity’s dark cloak about her never to return.

The youngest Cavanagh, Avery, is sent to search for Selene on the road to Gretna Green and Piers returns to support his family trying to ignore the spark between Charity and himself that he purposefully extinguished. She has since learned that he challenged Selene’s lord to a duel and then didn’t show which had him branded a coward and ostracized from polite society. Charity has her own reasons for keeping her distance from any man let alone Piers, but she is certain that Selene never ran off with the groom she kissed and she is equally certain that Piers is no coward whatever the reason he didn’t show to that duel. She will stand by the family and help get to the truth even if she must brave a mysterious shadowy enemy.

The Vanishing at Loxby Manor is a delicious gothic-flavored romantic suspense in the old style. The narrative is all from the periled heroine’s perspective and offers a personal as well as an external conflict to show her what she is made of and bring about some startling reveals.

Charity has been assaulted and feels guilt-ridden for her part in it, but also considers herself soiled goods in that day and age when reputation is everything to a woman and whether it is her fault or not, she becomes tainted. She also wanted to protect her heart after Piers squashed it like he did. I was thoroughly taken with Charity and was impatient for her to work out the truth of it all and work out what was quite obvious to me as the reader when it came to her and Piers.

The mystery of Selene’s disappearance was cunning, and the reader has to follow it through to the end before discovering the dark, gritty truth behind it all. There are enough ambiguous players who all keep something back so that the truth is long and hard in coming. I confess to wanting to kick Avery in the britches for the longest time because he was the most obvious of those who were lying. Did he not want to find his sister??? But, later, I learned it was complicated.

I found that as the story was building to those final stunning reveals that there was the middle ground that felt somewhat dragging to me. There was a great deal of waiting for something significant to happen and I got impatient. However, I did the story a disservice because in the end, I saw how all that set up and slow going added together. So, fortify for that slow-go of the middle of the book, future readers!

In summary, this was a splendid and suspenseful romantic historical that will tantalize readers with its gothic flavor and mysterious tone. I recommend it to those who enjoy sweet historical romance and mystery.

4 out of 5 Stars

  • The Vanishing at Loxby Manor, by Abigail Wilson
  • Thomas Nelson (January 26, 2021)
  • Trade paperback, eBook, & audiobook (334 pages)
  • ISBN: 978-0785232957

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We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Cover image courtesy of Thomas Nelson © 2021; text Sophia Rose © 2021, Austenprose.com

Persuading the Captain: An Austen Inspired Romantic Comedy, by Rachel John— A Review

Persuading the Captain by Rachel John 2020From the desk of Sophia Rose:

Modernizing a classic through a retelling can be fraught with authorial peril. One must do more than simply slap a pair of blue jeans on a heroine and put some slang on her lips, but at the same time, one has a duty to the legacy of the classic and the reader should recognize the original story within the fresh tale. Did author Rachel John avoid these pitfalls in Persuading the Captain, inspired by Jane Austen’s final novel Persuasion? Stick around and see.

Anne is about to start a new chapter in her life when her family must leave her childhood home in Hollywood when her actor father’s fading career is not generating the money to match the extravagant lifestyle that he and her older sister think that they deserve. Anne is done catering to their whims and has taken a step away toward her own dreams by getting a dinosaur museum job up in San Francisco along with taking on part-time babysitting for her younger sister Mary in exchange for room and board. She is joining Mary and her husband’s family for their family reunion up at a lake cabin before it all begins. Naturally, the reunion brings some family excitement and tension when Carl’s younger sisters corral one of their cabin neighbors into joining some family camping activities. He is Eric Wentworth, her hottie ex-boyfriend who she is definitely not over, yet.

Eric knew Anne’s family were snobs toward a guy who grew up far from Hollywood, but he never thought she’d pick her family over him. Breaking off their engagement left him at a loss so he threw himself into his work. His commercial pilot job has taken him all over the world and rarely staying in one place. But, now after all these years, he’s taken a job for his brother in law in a new commercial venture to do air charters for the wealthy and the venture is based in San Francisco. His sister and brother in law have invited him to enjoy the cabin and the lake before diving back into their new work. He thought he put Anne her in the rear-view mirror until being near her and seeing all the wonderful traits he appreciated and loved about her is a danger to him and he struggles hard to keep away from her and hide by hanging out with vibrant Lucy. Then a drastic situation makes the choice for him and Anne is further away than ever.

Persuading the Captain is sweet, heartwarming, and full of humor. The bittersweet flavor of regret and longing are there, but there are more light-hearted moments layered with it. Much of this story lines up with the classic and the characters are recognizable to those in Jane Austen’s Persuasion. However, the author has placed them well in the 21st Century and she didn’t hesitate to drop characters and bits that were superfluous or didn’t jive with the plot and pace of her own story. For instance, the reader will look in vain for a Lady Russell figure and there was no cousin looking to secure the family time and estate by cozying up to Anne. And, while Mary is a tad hypochondriac, there is a sisterly connection at times and even with Lizzie the oldest sister who is self-absorbed.

The tone of the story is light and fun and even the conflicts throughout are easily dealt with—perhaps too easily at times. Eric’s best friend, Benneck, is a flirty adorable scene-stealer who had some heartache, but he is a hundred percent committed to kicking Eric in the butt when he’s about to screw up his own happiness and he’s a great friend to Anne when she needs one. Anne’s family’s antics are eye-rollingly funny much of the time. But there are some gentle romantic moments too. Who knew a mud fight could be a courtship move?

I liked seeing the same gentle, kind, and thoughtful Anne who regrets her choice, but at the same time, she is more assertive than the original when it comes to the point. Mary even gets in on a girl power moment at just the right time.

All in all, I thought this was an excellent retelling in a modern romcom format and it was the best in the series so far for me. I would recommend this for Austen lovers who don’t mind contemporary settings, but also this will appeal to all sweet romantic comedy fans in general.

4 out of 5 Stars

  • Persuading the Captain: An Austen Inspired Romantic Comedy, by Rachel John
  • Independently Published (May 18, 2020)
  • Trade paperback, & eBook (170) pages
  • ISBN:  979-8647102980

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Disclosure of Material Connection: We purchased a copy of this book for our own enjoyment. 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 Rachel John © 2020; text Sophia Rose © 2021, Austenprose.com

The Heiress: The Revelations of Anne de Bourgh (A Pride and Prejudice Novel), by Molly Greeley — #BookReview, #HistoricalFiction, #GothicFiction, #JaneAusten, #Austenesque, @MollyJGreeley, @WmMorrowBooks

The Heiress by Molly Greeley 2021From the desk of Katie Jackson:

In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Miss Anne de Bourgh is known only as the sedate and sickly shadow of her mother, Lady Catherine’s, condescending and loudly opinionated character. The heiress of Rosings Park in Kent, Miss de Bourgh was intended from infancy—as a favorite wish of both her mother and her aunt—to marry her first cousin, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley in Derbyshire, thereby uniting two grand fortunes and estates. But when Mr. Darcy ultimately marries that obstinate, headstrong Miss Elizabeth Bennet instead, what is to become of Miss de Bourgh? This is one of many questions explored in Molly Greeley’s fascinating second Pride and Prejudice variation, The Heiress: The Revelations of Anne de Bourgh.

Anne de Bourgh was a wretchedly inconsolable infant. Her parents and nurse were therefore quite thankful for the medical intervention when the local doctor prescribed a dose of sleep-inducing laudanum and declared that she would always possess a delicate constitution. Consequently, Anne spends her formative years receiving twice-daily doses of her magic drops that keep her in a permanent state of lethargy. “My medicine turned me stone-heavy, a breathing statue, eyelids drawing down despite all my best efforts and thoughts drifting like milkweed fluff.” (118)

Under her mother’s formidable thumb, Anne drifts through her days in a stupor, confined to the house and gardens, wearing only what her mother selects, eating little but what her mother approves and her weak appetite allows, not permitted to dance or sing or play an instrument, and restricted from learning or reading too much. All are convinced that she is far too frail to do much of anything at all but simply exist. “If I had a shell like the snail, I thought, I would tuck myself back inside of it, away from their branding pity. I felt at once all-too-visible in my fine gowns and gaudy bonnets, and ill-defined as the edges of a ghost.” (316)

Anne is merely a detached observer of her own life, her languorous health slowly turning to vivid hallucinations. Despite her governess’s insistence that she could aspire to be so much more than what she has settled for, “if you did not stun yourself so thoroughly with your medicine” (1171), Anne continues to see herself as she has long been trained to. “Useless, I whispered inside my head, little mortified arrows that pierced my softest inner places. Useless, stupid, useless.” (1188) Continue reading

The Christmas Bride: A Chance Sisters Novella, by Anne Gracie — #BookReview, #RegencyRomance, #HistoricalRomance, #ChristmasReading, @AnneGracie

The Christmas Bride by Anne Gracie 2020From the desk of Pamela Mingle:

There’s nothing like a romantic Christmas novella. Every year I look forward to a new batch to brighten my holiday reading. The best ones warm the heart, and this year we especially need that. The many readers already familiar with Anne Gracie’s Chance Sisters novels will love The Christmas Bride.

The story begins with Blake Ashton, known as Ash, making his way back to England after ten years abroad. He’s been living in the Far East, where his daily life involves “…balmy breezes, azure skies, spicy foods, and warm, willing golden-skinned, sloe-eyed women.” After a meeting with his business partners over the holidays, he intends to return to his adopted home immediately, without seeing his family. We learn that as a young man, he made some disastrous moves that had placed his mother and sister on the brink of ruin, but it’s not until later in the book that the scope of his misdeeds is revealed.

On the last leg of his journey, Ash is held up by a footpad with a pistol. He draws his own, and when a boy runs out yelling, “No!” Ash discharges his weapon and injures the footpad, who turns out to be a young lady. Horrified, he carries her to the rundown cottage where she and her brother have been living, and he stays on to care for her since there’s nobody else to do so. The fact that she’s quite lovely isn’t lost on him, either.

Charlotte (Charley) Underwood and her little brother, Toby, have fallen on hard times. Ash finds out from Toby that their father shot himself due to gambling debts. Until Charley comes of age in about a year, their cousin Albert is their guardian. He wants Charley to marry his son, whom Toby describes as a “drooling simpleton.”

Ash’s friends and business partners soon show up. Worried that he hadn’t arrived on schedule, they set out to look for him and soon located the cottage. Max, Lord Davenham, insists on taking Charley and Toby to Davenham Hall for the Christmas holidays. Ash will be there, of course. Because Toby is so enthusiastic, Charley reluctantly agrees. Continue reading

Schemes of Felicity: A Pride and Prejudice Variation (Skirmish & Scandal Series Book 1), by Suzan Lauder — #BookReview, #Austenesque, #HistoricalRomance, #RegencyRomance, @SusanLauder, @MerytonPress

Schemes of Felicity by Suzan Lauder 2020From the desk of Sophia Rose:

Suzan Lauder, an author whose Austenesque books I have appreciated in the past, offers a new variation inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with an interesting twist. Schemes of Felicity begins like many variations of the novel after the stormy failed marriage proposal made by Fitzwilliam Darcy to Miss Elizabeth Bennet in the Hunsford rectory. What if this proposal is followed by not one, but two letters to Elizabeth and the second altering the original events completely?

Dejected and brooding, Fitzwilliam Darcy simply wants to be left in quiet to lick his wounds on the way back to London from Kent, but his friendly cousin is curious about their sudden departure and the vivacious guest at Hunsford. By the time the journey concludes, both cousins are ready to be done with one another and Colonel Fitzwilliam shares with his mother that Darcy was abominable on the journey and wouldn’t explain what had him in such a state. The countess does her own investigation and concludes that it is high time her nephew was married and calls a family council for an intervention that Darcy only agrees to if they will stop pestering him. Yes, he will agree to one month of attending balls and events of the London Season and put himself out there socially to promising young ladies.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Bennet is chagrined after reading his explanatory letter and has a change of heart about the man at whom she threw such undeserved vitriol when he proposed with words that were too honest about her situation and family even when stunning her with his professed love. She had him wrong and thinks better of him though he was still responsible for separating her sister Jane from Mr. Bingley. A letter from her father that sends her to join Jane in London and be chaperoned by their aunt and uncle for a season among eligible men while he takes his wife and her younger sisters to task over their impropriety lands her right in Fitzwilliam Darcy’s world. There she encounters a Darcy who defies her past prejudices and gives them a second chance. Continue reading

The Ladies of Norland: Twisted Austen (Book 6), by Alexa Adams — #BookReview, #Austenesque, #GothicRomance, #HistoricalRomance, @ElegantExtracts

The Ladies of Norland by Alexa Adams 2020From the desk of Sophia Rose:

For several years beguiling authoress Alexa Adams has enjoyed warping our comfortable and familiar Jane Austen stories into quick, deliciously revolting variations that readers can experience with a tingling sort of shock at the new outcome. Her cold, conniving Jane Bennet, in Jane and Bingley: Something Slightly Unsettling (2013), to a pitiable Mrs. Norris in Becoming Mrs. Norris (2014), left me properly aghast as the hair on my arms stood on end. For her latest Twisted Austen effort, The Ladies of Norland, she revisits the Dashwood family in Sense and Sensibility to give us an alarming ‘what if’.

When the invalid owner of Norland Park dies and leaves his estate in the hands of his nephew, niece, and their girls, he goes a step further to protect the female dependents. This is followed by Mr. Dashwood when he too passes on. Instead of being left bereft of a father, home, and future income depended on the dubious honor of a selfish, grasping brother and sister-in-law, they are heiresses and the Misses Dashwood of Norland.

Naturally, Mrs. John Dashwood nee Ferrars is chagrined but has not lost hope to fill her family’s coffers. She is determined to see her oldest brother Edward attached to the oldest Miss Dashwood. All seems to be going her way as the Dashwood ladies, Elinor, Marianne, and their mother are happy to have Edward as a dear friend and possibly more. Felicities are on the tips of many tongues until…

Surely, you can guess, dear friends, that there must be a monstrous twist of fate or this could not be a Twisted Austen tale. I have enjoyed each of the tales from when they started out on the author’s blog in installments and eventually were published. I like the quirky pleasure of seeing some of the worst imaginings in story variations and appreciate the author’s deft hand in making them in the style that is strongly Austen-flavored in the process which gives it more possibility and suspense. Continue reading