Otherwise Engaged: A Regency Romance, by Joanna Barker—A Review

Otherwise Engaged by Joanna Barker 2020

From the desk of Katie Jackson:

Regency romances have their fair share of obstinate, headstrong girls, yet it is always a delight to discover another less-than-perfect heroine. Especially when “pictures of perfection, as you know, make me sick and wicked,” as the incomparable Jane Austen once wrote. Joanna Barker’s Otherwise Engaged is one such Regency romance with an imperfect heroine getting herself into unladylike scrapes and earning our respect along the way.

Rebecca Rowley is a bold, rebellious young woman with a sarcastic wit and a determination to leap over fear as if it were a hedge she wished to jump with her horse. While riding bareback. On muddy ground. Hatless. In other words, Miss Rowley had a tendency to be reckless. Her brother William admonished that “you could cut stone with a tongue that sharp.” (588)

During a visit to Brighton with a friend, Rebecca encounters Edward Bainbridge, the charming son of her deceased father’s business partner-turned-enemy. The longstanding animosity between their families is a puzzle to them both. No matter what others might think—or perhaps because of it—Rebecca does what she wishes, pursuing the enticingly off-limits Edward.

Yet she is not without remorse. She tries to be a dutiful daughter and a trustworthy sister, to protect her beloved mother and brother from worry. And it is those good intentions that lead her to hide her sudden and secret engagement to Edward. Arriving home to Havenfield in Hertfordshire, Rebecca is certain she will get to the bottom of the mysterious feud on her own and win her family over with her explanations and, eventually, her betrothed’s charm.

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Someone to Romance: The Westcott Series (Book 8), by Mary Balogh—A Review

Someone to Romance by Mary Balogh 2020From the desk of Sophia Rose:

I discovered Mary Balogh’s tender, relationship-driven historical romances by browsing a book shop about a decade ago. The cover of her book merely depicted a landscape, but I recognized the possibilities of a new to me Regency-era author who did indeed pay attention to the details of the historical background of her stories, the social mores of the day, and could still deliver engaging characters and romances.

Someone to Romance is the eighth in the Westcott series. This is Lady Jessica Archer’s story. Jessica watches her cousin Abby with her newborn, a daughter, a loving husband, and a lovely home. She is ashamed of the envy that stabs her especially when Abby had to go through so much to have this. Jessica is determined to participate in the London Season and choose a husband, so she need not feel left out as others get married and have their own lives. Her loved ones want her to choose for love, but she doesn’t believe love is for her. No man has ever stirred more than mild interest in her.  But, at a coaching inn, a bold-eyed man, looking like he is far beneath her, rouses her ire and confounds her at every turn. When other more eligible men come around, it is Mr. Thorne who sparks her interest and she feels a burning curiosity for the mystery surrounding him.

Gabriel Thorne is unhappy that he must return to England after thirteen years away. A terrible, dark event happened, and he was forced to flee his uncle’s home who had taken him in after the death of his parents. He lands in Boston with his mother’s cousin and builds a rewarding new life. Now, duty forces him to return. It occurs to him when he is ousted from the private parlor at a coaching inn for an arrogant duke’s sister that she is just the type of woman he will have to marry now that he is taking the family title and lands back. Only, he doesn’t want ‘a’ wife, he wants Lady Jessica Archer. She boldly dares him to romance her and so he will.

Jessica was a character I had mixed feelings about from the first book in the series and even into the early pages of Someone to Romance. She had several spoiled, rich girl moments and had some naïve notions. Her motivations at the beginning of the book reflected those notions and I was not sure I was going to like her or even care if she found her way to romance. But, getting her perspective and seeing her stumble, become confused, and then start along a new path was worth it. She was more than that spoilt woman and her good points came out as well as a shrewdness that stood her well. Besides, it wasn’t Jessica who naively under-estimates an enemy there near the end. Continue reading

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

A Very Austen Romance: Austen Anthologies (Book 3), by Robin Helm, Laura Hile, Wendi Sotis, Barbara Cornthwaite, Chautona Havig, Mandy H. Cook—A Review

A Very Austen Romance Anthology 2020From the desk of Katie Jackson:

Dear readers, we are living in a golden age, filled to brimming with a wealth of Jane Austen-inspired tales that creatively explore the endless possibilities of her beloved characters. We are rich, indeed, my friends, and A Very Austen Romance: Austen Anthologies Book 3 is a fine addition to our Austenesque universe. Comprised of six novellas crafted by skilled authors, we are treated to a wide variety of alternatives.

“The King of Hearts” by Robin Helm is a Pride and Prejudice continuation centered on the oft-ignored Kitty Bennet. At the age of 20, she is Elizabeth Darcy’s only unmarried sister. “I am very nearly on the shelf. She sighed. I must be extremely unattractive. Or foolish. Or dull.” (134) As the guest of honor at a ball hosted by the Darcys in London, Kitty soon has suitors sprouting from the woodwork while some surprising intrigue simmers in the background.

“You’ve Got to Kiss the Girl” by Laura Hile is a Pride and Prejudice variation that includes Lady Catherine’s point-of-view alternating with Mr. Darcy’s and Elizabeth’s. “For the past decade, she had hinted, suggested, nagged, cajoled—even commanded him. But did Darcy propose to Anne? No.” (1231) Desperate, Lady Catherine gets a devious idea from a “rubbishy novel left lying about” (1262) to take matters into her own hands, with unexpected consequences.

“A Step Too Far” by Wendi Sotis is a Pride and Prejudice variation wherein Darcy and Elizabeth meet unexpectedly when he witnesses her fall and comes to her rescue soon after his arrival at Netherfield and several weeks before the Meryton assembly. Without all of the misunderstanding from that original event and the interference from Wickham soon after, they are free to form an acquaintance based solely on their first impressions of each other. Darcy learns early on about Elizabeth’s familial links to trade and her father’s small estate and is determined to resist his feelings for her, to honor his family duty. “Love-matches were just not done. Darcy was forced to pay attention to the rules of society.” (3509) As Elizabeth recuperates at Netherfield, however, their mutual admiration only grows stronger. Continue reading

Say Yes to the Duke: The Wildes of Lindow Castle (Book 5), by Eloisa James—A Review

Say Yes to the Duke by Eloisa James 2020From the desk of Pamela Mingle:  

The Wildes of Lindow Castle is a Georgian romance series penned by the elegant writer, Eloisa James. Say Yes to the Duke, the fifth entry in the series features Viola Astley, whose mother is married to the Duke of Lindow. By her own reckoning, Viola is “…the opposite of a Wilde…timid, tongue-tied, and fairly useless.”

At her first ball, an apprehensive Viola retreats to a corridor used mainly by servants. She accidentally comes upon a couple having a liaison. When the man realizes he and his lover are no longer alone, he accuses the woman of arranging for a witness so he’ll be forced to marry her. He speaks cruelly, and long after the incident Viola continues to feel “…a wave of horror at the memory of the man’s scathing voice and his brutal strength.” From then on, she’s petrified of social situations and avoids them.

The brute in question turns out to be the Duke of Wynter, Devin Lucas Augustus Elstan, the hero of the story. Living mainly in the country, he shuns society and declines to attend parliamentary sessions. Raised in isolation by parents who despised each other, the duke was educated at home. His father was known for challenging nearly every man he came in contact with to a duel. At first, this seems merely quaint, but we later find out that he was abusive to Devin.

When Viola comes of age, her parents insist she have a debut season along with her beautiful and flamboyant stepsister Joan. She’s dreading the ball that will mark her first official appearance in Society. Across town, Devin tells his cousin Otis that he intends to find a bride during the Season. Devin knows of the Wildes, and Otis enlightens him further. Continue reading

A Timely Elopement: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, by Joana Starnes—A Review

From the desk of Katie Jackson:

For a Pride and Prejudice enthusiast, there is nothing quite like an unusually talkative and passionate Mr. Darcy to pique one’s interest. And it becomes particularly intriguing when the story is told almost exclusively from his perspective. Ironically, it is perhaps his most blundering speech that is mercifully interrupted in this variation, A Timely Elopement, from master storyteller Joana Starnes.

The tale begins in the parlor at Hunsford Parsonage near Rosings Park in Kent with the only two occupants; a visibly agitated Mr. Darcy and a startled and wary Elizabeth Bennet. Darcy has been at Rosings with his cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam to visit their aunt Lady Catherine de Bourgh and their cousin Anne, while Elizabeth visits her friend Charlotte Lucas, newly married to Elizabeth’s cousin and one-time suitor, Mr. Collins, Lady Catherine’s parson.

Darcy’s unexpected and ardent marriage proposal to Elizabeth is fortunately interrupted just before he manages to insult her with his ungentlemanlike manner, although she cannot forget that morning’s revelation from an unwitting Colonel Fitzwilliam that Darcy’s intervention had ruined her sister Jane’s chances for happiness with his friend Charles Bingley. Colonel Fitzwilliam barges in at that fortuitous moment to announce, “We have reason to fear that Anne has eloped. To own the truth, with Wickham.” (Kindle 82) Shock settles over the group as they consider the dire situation of Anne de Bourgh, known only as a sickly but wealthy heiress, possibly eloping with George Wickham. Lady Catherine later exclaims, “All saints preserve us! A steward’s son! What was the girl thinking?” (Kindle 496) Unbeknownst to her, he was the same fiend who had attempted to elope with Darcy’s sister Georgiana, also a wealthy heiress, from Ramsgate the previous summer. Thus, Darcy ceases his proposal just after confessing his love for Elizabeth. He briefly apprises her of the previous situation between his sister and Wickham before hurrying off to search for Anne, unaware that his aunt is about to summon his ladylove to accompany her to London for the same purpose. Continue reading

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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Two More Days at Netherfield, by Heather Moll—A Review

Two More Days at Netherfield by Heather Moll 2020From the desk of Debbie Brown:

Everybody familiar with the classic story of Pride and Prejudice knows that Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy don’t communicate to each other with total honestly until their meeting at Hunsford during his (horrible) marriage proposal, which he continues in his letter the following day. But what if circumstances lead them to do so much earlier in their relationship? That’s the premise for Two More Days at Netherfield, a Pride and Prejudice variation by Heather Moll.

While Jane Bennet is ill at Netherfield and Elizabeth is there to nurse her, early changes lay the foundation for those extra two days. First, Elizabeth learns Darcy actually admires her. Then, Darcy discovers Elizabeth overheard his insult at the Meryton assembly. His initial apology is half-hearted at best, and Elizabeth calls him on it, adding, “[Y]ou have been disagreeable and conceited from the moment of your arrival in Hertfordshire!” Interestingly, the conversation does not deteriorate. Darcy, recognizing he’s in the wrong, offers a more sincere apology.

“[N]ow that Mr Darcy had offered an acceptable apology, she could tolerate his company a little better.” Ergo, Elizabeth isn’t as disturbed when her mother refuses to send the Bennet carriage, and the sisters remain there two more days rather than borrowing Mr. Bingley’s and returning to Longbourn.

Events over these two days lead to a lot of self-examination by both Darcy and Elizabeth. He comes to recognizes that his behavior IS haughty and unmannerly, while she realizes that she forms judgments too quickly and harshly. Continue reading

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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