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)

Continue reading

The Jane Austen Dating Agency: An Uplifting Romantic Comedy, by Fiona Woodifield—A Review

From the desk of Sophia Rose:

Can a Jane Austen-themed dating agency do anything about a floundering career woman’s life- ahem love life? With trepidation and not just a few sharp pokes in the back from her friend, Sophie Johnson, long-time Jane Austen lover, and dreamer of finding her own Mr. Darcy is about to find out.

Sophie Johnson dreams of a grand career in the editing office of a posh magazine, a chic lifestyle, and a dashing rich handsome guy to lavish anything her heart desires on her because he is utterly devoted to her happiness. Of course, in real life, she’s stuck in a low-level sales job at that posh magazine, a shabby chic lifestyle, and not the fashionable kind, and a pathetic serial texter who won’t believe she called it quits. She does nothing but work her dead-end job and go home to her small shared flat for a book or a favorite rom-com movie. Something has to give and fashion writer friend Mark, finds it, a dating agency right up Sophie’s alley.

Sophie loves Jane Austen and the thought of experiencing dates while engaging in themed balls, card parties, picnics, and lectures at various Jane Austen real life and movie sites makes it worth her jitters over putting herself out there to be matched. On her way out of her interview, Sophie spots a picture on the wall of gorgeous and obviously wealthy Darcy Drummond’s whose company is backing the agency and wonders what it would be liked to be matched with him.

Sophie encounters the man in real life and is unimpressed with his arrogant rich boy attitude when Darcy vocalizes his disapproval of her and others like her. After that, she bristles just being in the same room with his high and mighty, but soon she finds herself engaged in the new circle of people who have also joined the lower tier of the agency. Continue reading

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

Jane Austen, the Secret Radical, by Helena Kelly—A Review

Jane Austen Secret Radical 2018From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

Was Jane Austen a radical? Was she sympathetic to the “radical reforms” of Charles James Fox and others that included universal male suffrage, the abolition of slavery, and women’s rights? Few would readily place her in the company of Thomas Paine, William Godwin, or Mary Wollstonecraft, but perhaps that is because she kept her dangerous views so well hidden that most of her contemporaries, as well as later generations, have missed them. While I began reading Jane Austen, The Secret Radical with an open but somewhat skeptical mind, I was curious to see what evidence Helena Kelly would provide. In Chapter 1, she throws down the gauntlet: 

We’re perfectly willing to accept that writers like [William] Wordsworth were fully engaged with everything that was happening and to find the references in their work, even when they’re veiled or allusive. But we haven’t been willing to do it with Jane’s work. We know Jane; we know that however delicate her touch she’s essentially writing variations of the same plot, a plot that wouldn’t be out of place in any romantic comedy of the last two centuries.  

We know wrong. (4%)

Kelly cites a number of reasons for what she calls the misreading of Austen, including a lack of reliable biographical information about Austen, the destruction of most of her letters by her sister Cassandra, and a concerted effort by surviving family members to reframe Jane’s life and creative endeavors along more conventional and non-threatening lines. Delays in the publication of her early works obscured themes that were rooted in the upheavals of the French Revolution and the literary phenomenon of the Gothic novel. Add to these the many film adaptations and biopics that have nearly overtaken the original novels in the consciousness of the current age:

When it comes to Jane, so many images have been danced before us, so rich, so vivid, so prettily presented. They’ve been seared onto our retinas in the sweaty darkness of a cinema, and the aftereffect remains, a shadow on top of everything we look at subsequently. (10%) Continue reading

And Dangerous to Know (Rosalind Thorne Mystery Book 3), by Darcie Wilde—A Review

And Dangerous to Know by Darcie Wilde 2020From the desk of Sophia Rose:

When a mystery series is introduced with such words as, “…inspired by the novels of Jane Austen,” you may be sure that I will be more than willing to delve right in with alacrity. Wilde created a capable heroine who was high born, fallen with her family’s disgrace, and risen by her own resolution and strength as a useful woman to those who were once her peers, and what began with curiosity continues to impress with a deep appreciation for her spirit and intelligence.

And Dangerous to Know is so titled to best suit one of the intriguing real historical elements of this third installment in the Rosalind Thorne series which works best read in order. In this latest, Rosalind is involved with ‘mad, bad, and dangerous to know’ Lord Byron, indirectly. While never actually present, he can be felt throughout the book.

Rosalind has recovered from her last encounter with murder and peacefully keeping up her prodigious amounts of correspondence, her household affairs, and trying to help her friend Alice figure out where Alice’s brother George has been disappearing to each evening. Meanwhile, she ponders the affairs of her conflicted heart—a duke or a detective?

This is all interrupted when an imperious summons brings her to the august doors of Melbourne House and she encounters its notorious mistress, Lady Melbourne, and her more notorious daughter in law, Lady Caroline Lamb. Lady Melbourne has letters written by Lord Byron that have gone missing and they are such that ruin for several will happen if they are ever published or the contents bandied about.  Rosalind has a bad feeling about the whole thing, but when Lady Jersey recommended her and another society queen wishes to hire her, there is only one answer to give. Continue reading

Thaw, by Anniina Sjöblom—A Review

Thaw by Anniina Sjöblom 2019Epistolary novels were all the rage in the late eighteenth century prior to and during Jane Austen’s early writing career. One does not run across novels written in letters very often today. The fact that characters do not meet face-to-face is restrictive and can be a challenge to readers.

Thaw, by Anniina Sjöblom harkens back to Austen’s first epistolary format before she re-wrote Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice. Not only is it a novel written entirely in letters, but it is also told in the first-person by one character—Elizabeth Bennet—and is a variation on Austen’s classic tale. With all of these unconventional restrictions and plot changes, one does not know what to expect. If this complex hook is not enough to get your attention, dear reader, then you are not paying attention.

The story begins with a letter by Elizabeth to her sister Jane from London on Christmas day. It is one month after the ball at Netherfield and Elizabeth is married to Mr. Darcy. Their marriage, however, is not the HEA that we imagined after Austen’s classic tale, but a patched-up business due to a devastating scandal. While walking near a frozen pond, Elizabeth’s misstep lands her in the icy waters. Injured and freezing, Mr. Darcy rescues her and returns her to her family, but not before a local resident witnessed the mishap and is telling a different story. Elizabeth’s reputation is ruined, and Darcy, being an honorable man, agrees to marry her. Neither is happy about the forced marriage, yet agree that they must marry.

So, there is no longer three-quarters of the story that Austen wrote. Just jump straight to Elizabeth as Mistress of Pemberley writing long missives to her Aunt Gardiner and her sister Jane about her miserable existence as the wife of a surly, disagreeable man. That is the big leap-of-faith part for readers in this variation. You will need to disarm reproof and just go with it. Continue reading

Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor — A Review

Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor (2000)From the desk of Pamela Mingle:

When I was a young girl, I found a copy of Forever Amber on my aunt’s bookcase. I’d heard about its scandalous reputation and asked if I could borrow it. Written by Kathleen Winsor and published in 1944, the book became famous for its racy and bawdy storyline. It was banned in Massachusetts and subsequently in several other states. Preachers railed against it from their pulpits. Despite all that, Forever Amber was the bestselling book of the 1940s, and by 1947 the movie, a very condensed version of the book, starring Linda Darnell and Cornel Wilde, was released.

As a teenager, the frenetic passion between the two main characters, Amber St. Clare and Bruce, Lord Carlton, was all I cared about. The heady feeling of experiencing a great romance through a literary character stuck with me through the years. Although explicit sex is kept behind closed doors, the underlying desire between Amber and Bruce is always there, simmering beneath the surface.

The setting for the book is the Restoration (1660-1688), which begins with the return of Charles II to the English throne after the collapse of the Commonwealth. Winsor, an American, read over 350 books about the period while writing Forever Amber, which was published when she was only twenty-four.

Amber is the illegitimate daughter of a gentlewoman and a nobleman. They never married because their families were divided by the English Civil War. After her mother dies in childbirth, Amber is given to a local woman to be raised. In her small village of Marygreen, Amber is a beautiful and voluptuous sixteen-year-old, who catches the eye of Bruce, Lord Carlton, a Cavalier traveling to London. Desperate for a more exciting life, Amber begs him to take her with him, which he does. Continue reading

The Mitford Scandal: A Mitford Murders Mystery (Book 3), by Jessica Fellowes—A Review

The Mitford Scandal by Jessica Fellowes 2020From the desk of Debbie Brown:

From 1928 to 1932, the British middle and upper class still experienced a bright time. The Roaring Twenties are dimming, yet the fun and frolic continue for those “Bright Young Things” who still have plenty of money. “They drink too much and they’re careless. They’re rich and young and they believe themselves to be invincible.” The descent into decadence plays a major role in The Mitford Scandal, a complex mystery, by Jessica Fellowes.

Foremost among them, Diana Mitford (an actual British socialite of the era) is presented as the embodiment of Daisy Buchanan, the heroine of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s magnum opus The Great Gatsby.  She believes “One should live life to the absolute fullest, not doing anything dreary but surrounding oneself with love and beauty.” Sadly, the reader comes to understand that “life to the fullest” includes infidelity, adultery, and opium addiction among Diana’s social set.

The book begins with a series of behind-the-scenes views at a high society party in 1928, mostly seen through the eyes of Louisa Cannon, who’s employed as a temporary servant for the evening. Chapter One ends shockingly: a maid falls through a skylight into the middle of the partygoers in the ballroom, dead. While it seems obvious that this was an accident (she had been peeking at the party from a floor up above through the glass dome but fell into it, shattering the glass), evidence years later suggests the cause may have been something more sinister. Continue reading