Frenchman’s Creek, by Daphne du Maurier—A Review

Frenchman's Creek by Daphne du MaurierFrom the desk of Tracy Hickman:

Revisiting a classic novel years after first reading it can yield surprises. Add a hazy recollection of major plot points and you are approaching a fresh canvas rather than a reproduction of a familiar portrait. I was intrigued to revisit Frenchman’s Creek because having last read it in high school, I retained only a faint memory of dissatisfaction with its ending, but found I was unable to recall the specifics of the story. Would rereading the novel confirm my youthful opinion or uncover a different experience of Daphne du Maurier’s adventure?

Originally published in 1941, Frenchman’s Creek features the coast of Cornwall as the setting for a romantic novel featuring an English aristocrat and a French pirate. The heroine, Lady Dona St. Columb, is the toast of Restoration London. She is beautiful, reckless, and enjoys flouting social conventions, but underneath the froth and frivolity, Dona admits to herself that she is bored with and ashamed of her hollow flirtations and outrageous pranks. At the opening of the novel, she leaves London for Navron, her husband’s estate in Cornwall.

So the first day passed, and the next, and the one after, Dona exulting in her new-found freedom. Now she could live without a plan, without a decision, taking the days as they came, rising at noon if she had the mind or at six in the morning, it did not matter, eating when hunger came upon her, sleeping when she wished, in the day or at midnight. Her mood was one of lovely laziness. (31)

But amid the peaceful ease of country life, there are also hints of mystery at Navron: Dona finds a jar of tobacco and a volume of French poetry in a drawer in her room. Soon after Lord Godolphin, a neighbor, warns Dona of French pirates that have been robbing locals, she sees a ship stealing in towards land at sunset from a vantage point on the headland. After midnight, Dona observes a clandestine meeting of her servant, William, with an unknown man at the edge of the woods that border the estate.

Her curiosity piqued by the stranger’s visit, Dona sends William off on an errand, and steals through the woods where she saw him disappear the night before. She discovers a small creek, alive with butterflies, bees, birds—and a ship under repair! Overhearing the crew members speaking French, she realizes this is the pirate ship that has been raiding the Cornwall coast. Dona briefly considers reporting the pirates to the authorities, but she decides instead to keep the discovery a secret. Unfortunately, before she can slip away, she is captured and brought before the captain of La Mouette.

“My men are told to bind anyone who ventures to the creek,” he said. “As a rule we have no trouble. You have been more bold than the inhabitants, and alas, have suffered from that boldness. You are not hurt are you, or bruised?” 

“No,” she said shortly. 

“What are you complaining about then?” 

“I am not used to being treated in such a manner,” she said, angry again, for he was making her look like a fool. 

“No, of course not,” he said quietly, “but it will do you no harm.” (53) 

During their verbal sparring, he repeatedly defuses Dona’s anger with gently teasing humor. They continue talking, and then share a meal aboard his ship. When the pirate captain challenges her to join his ship’s company, she accepts his dare, boldly signing her name to the register and allowing him to introduce her to the crew. He tells his men that henceforth she is free to come and go; she is one of them. Dona, in turn, invites him to Navron the following evening, telling him:

“Pirates do not call upon ladies in the afternoon. They come stealthily, by night, knocking upon a window—and the lady of the manor, fearful for her safety, gives him supper, by candlelight.” (61)

The lady and the pirate spend their days together and soon fall in love. This part of the story is wonderfully idyllic: afternoons spent sketching and fishing in the creek, evenings spent before a campfire and under the stars. The Frenchman is educated, charming, and playful, while Dona’s husband is boorish, dull, and in London. The bond between the lovers grows daily, even when they are apart.

She would be playing with the children at Navron, or wandering about the garden, filling the vases with flowers, and he away down in his ship in the creek, and because she had knowledge of him there her mind and her body became filled with life and warmth, a bewildering sensation she had never known before. (96)

Dressed as a cabin boy, Dona joins a daring nighttime raid on a merchant ship. But soon Dona’s enchanted world is threatened: her husband arrives from London, determined to work together with other locals to capture the pirate captain who has robbed and humiliated them. Dona must make a choice: return to her old life or risk a new one with her lover.

It’s easy to see why many du Maurier novels have been adapted for the screen: Frenchman’s Creek is a classic tale of romance and suspense. It has all the elements necessary for a compelling, page-turning, and ultimately satisfying read. The narrative descriptions are expertly balanced with dialog and action. The theme of escape woven through the story resonated strongly with me. Who hasn’t dreamed of escape from time to time? But du Maurier takes this idea further than mere wish fulfillment. What is the price paid for escape? Is it worth it?

The emotional punch of the story surprised me. Daphne du Maurier is not afraid to unpack uncomfortable emotions. Some readers may not admire a heroine who contemplates abandoning her husband or her young children. Dona can be selfish and arrogant at times. But her struggle to balance family responsibilities with longings for meaningful connection creates an emotional depth that separates Frenchman’s Creek from more traditionally HEA romances. Frenchman’s Creek offers an escape of the highest order, with an exciting narrative and complex characters that live on in the imagination long after the story ends.

5 out of 5 [Restoration] Stars

Frenchman’s Creek, by Daphne du Maurier
Little, Brown and Company, reprint of 1941 original edition (December 17, 2013)
eBook (290) pages
ASIN: B00GR5MZC 

AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE | BOOK DEPOSITORY | INDIEBOUND | GOODREADS | BOOKBUB 

Cover image courtesy of Little, Brown, and Company © 2013; text Tracy Hickman © 2020, Austenprose.com

Murder at Northanger Abbey: Sequel to Jane Austen’s Spoof on the Gothic Novel, by Shannon Winslow—A Review

Murder at Northanger Abbey by Shannon Winslow 2020From the desk of Sophia Rose:

Do you ever read a book and enjoy it to such an extent that your mind continues to dwell on the characters, and you imagine your own continuation of the story? If that story is Northanger Abbey, then it is no stretch to imagine that the heroine, Catherine Morland, must have her dream of living inside one of her delicious gothic novels fulfilled even while reveling in the happiness of being married to her Henry. Oh, not as the gullible young girl who conjured up ghouls and mystery where it did not exist, but a heroine worthy of adventure when the adventure finds her. If you perked up at this possibility, then, like me, dear reader, you are primed for Shannon Winslow’s Murder at Northanger Abbey.

The story opens with Catherine and Henry Tilney, newlywed and living in bliss at Woodston Cottage. Catherine is still settling in as mistress and exalting in the tender and passionate love of her husband. She has learned from her earlier adventures and set aside the impressionable girl who saw a bloody skeleton in every locked trunk or a villain in every frown. She is sensible now and seeks to be a credit as a vicar’s wife.

Into this idyllic life, an invitation arrives from General Tilney for them to attend an All Hallows Eve Masquerade Ball at Northanger Abbey. Henry is dubious and still has strong feelings about his father’s previous treatment of Catherine, but if this means an olive branch, he should accept. Catherine is thrilled about the ball and revels in the chills she feels about spending All Hallows Eve at a house she once thought haunted.

Their arrival reunites all the Tilneys including Elinor and her husband. Catherine also meets a pretty, young, but ineligible woman whom Frederick brought to annoy the General, though she is startled to notice a soft spot in the cruel Captain. The General also has a young pretty woman on his arm and she is very much eligible as the daughter of a Marquess. He is bursting with some sort of inner glee over what is to come later in the evening, and she can only take heart that he welcomed them if a tad coolly. Continue reading

The Jane Austen Society: A Novel, by Natalie Jenner—A Review

The Jane Austen Society, by Natalie Jenner (2020)From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

My go-to choice in times of uncertainty is a comfort read. While each person has their own ideas about what qualifies as comfort, I especially enjoy books by authors such as Miss Read (Dora Saint) and D.E. Stevenson. These books are set in a time and place distant enough from my own to divert, but still recognizable and familiar. When I learned that Natalie Jenner’s debut novel, The Jane Austen Society, was set largely in a rural English village in the years immediately following World War II, I hoped it would provide a welcome respite from current personal and collective anxieties.

The story opens in the village of Chawton in 1932, when a young and attractive American tourist, Mary Anne Harrison, asks a local farmer, Adam Berwick, for help locating Jane Austen’s house. He directs her to the cottage, telling her that he’s never read Austen and doesn’t understand “how a bunch of books about girls looking for husbands” (6) could qualify as great literature. Miss Harrison enthusiastically shares her love of reading Austen and presses Adam to start right away with Pride and Prejudice. Intrigued by the arresting stranger’s powerful emotional connection to Austen, Adam checks out a copy of P&P from the lending library and is quickly immersed in the story.

“He was becoming quite worried for Mr. Darcy.

It seemed to Adam that once a man notices a woman’s eyes to be fine, and tries to eavesdrop on her conversations, and finds himself overly affected by her bad opinion of him, then such a man is on the path to something uncharted, whether he admits it to himself or not.” (10)

But as much as it amused him, the book also confused him.

The Bennets, for all intents and purposes, simply didn’t like each other. He had not been expecting this at all from a lady writer with a commitment to happy endings. Yet, sadly, it felt more real to him than anything else he had ever read. (11)

In the chapters that follow, set during and immediately following WWII, we are introduced to other future members of the Jane Austen Society: Dr. Benjamin Gray, village doctor; Adeline Lewis, schoolteacher and war widow; Evie Stone, house girl at the Great House; Frances Knight, member of the Knight family; Andrew Forrester, Knight family solicitor; and Yardley Sinclair, assistant director of estate sales at Sotheby’s. Continue reading

Being Mrs Darcy, by Lucy Marin—A Review

Being Mrs Darcy, by Lucy Marin 2020From the desk of Katie Jackson:  

In Regency-era novels, which are popular for their promotion of proper behavior and swoon-worthy romantic declarations, forced-marriage tropes spice up the angst and the inevitable, slow-burn romances that result. It is satisfying to read of gentlemen doing the right thing, marrying not for love but as their duty to protect a lady’s reputation, and it is equally satisfying to observe the couple’s meandering journey to an ultimate love match. As a Pride & Prejudice enthusiast, my curiosity was piqued when I discovered this forced-marriage situation between two beloved characters, in a location only referred to in hindsight in the original story. Pride and Prejudice variations are like choose-your-own-adventure stories that take readers through various what-if scenarios, making them ponder how a single decision might entirely change the destiny of their characters. Debut author Lucy Marin reveals an unusually bleak beginning for Miss Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy in her Pride & Prejudice variation, Being Mrs Darcy.

This variation’s prologue opens on the August morning of Elizabeth’s forced marriage to Darcy, as they are traveling from Hertfordshire to London with his sister, Georgiana, and cousin, Sterling. Darcy is brooding, and “Elizabeth’s sense of dread grew with each successive mile they travelled.” (Kindle location 25) The situation worsens when they arrive at Darcy House. “Only the housekeeper and butler greeted them, and Elizabeth tried not to feel the slight; the entire household should be there to meet their new mistress.” (Kindle location 37) Darcy himself merely goes through the motions of his duties, dining with her and spending a short time in her company afterward, although almost entirely in silence. Elizabeth knew “he was unhappy about the marriage and despised her, as he had shown repeatedly in the six weeks of their acquaintance.” (Kindle location 58) She ends her wedding day in hopeless tears, haunted by her single fateful decision on a July night in Ramsgate that marked the point of no return. Continue reading

The Jane Austen Project: A Novel, by Kathleen A. Flynn —A Review

The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A Flynn 2017Hey-ho Janeites. I hope that you are all coping during this crazy time. I am on lockdown here at Woodston Cottage trying to be productive while immersing myself in audiobooks and rom-com movies. It is Spring and the birds are singing, and the flowers are blooming. I have much to be grateful for.

Right now, we are all in need of some escapism, and what better way than with a time travel novel. The Jane Austen Project has been in my reading queue for a few years and seemed like the perfect choice given the current climate of high anxiety and uncertainty. Talk about the ultimate fantasy. What Jane Austen fan would not want to travel back in time to meet their favorite author? Heck yeah! So, let’s put on our best Regency frock and head on over to the local time machine and see what author Kathleen Flynn has created up for us. Here is a description of the book from the publisher.

London, 1815: Two travelers—Rachel Katzman and Liam Finucane—arrive in a field in rural England, disheveled and weighed down with hidden money. Turned away at a nearby inn, they are forced to travel by coach all night to London. They are not what they seem, but rather colleagues who have come back in time from a technologically advanced future, posing as wealthy West Indies planters—a doctor and his spinster sister. While Rachel and Liam aren’t the first team from the future to “go back,” their mission is by far the most audacious: meet, befriend, and steal from Jane Austen herself.

Carefully selected and rigorously trained by The Royal Institute for Special Topics in Physics, disaster-relief doctor Rachel and actor-turned-scholar Liam have little in common besides the extraordinary circumstances they find themselves in. Circumstances that call for Rachel to stifle her independent nature and let Liam take the lead as they infiltrate Austen’s circle via her favorite brother, Henry. Continue reading

Fortune & Felicity: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, by Monica Fairview—A Review

Fortune & Felicity by Monica Fairview 2020From the desk of Debbie Brown:

Hunsford Parsonage is a popular jumping-off spot for Pride and Prejudice variations. This is when Mr. Darcy makes his ill-phrased marriage proposal to Elizabeth Bennet, is soundly refused, and presents her with a letter the following morning to defend himself against her accusations. It’s the seminal event of the book, making it an ideal spot to imagine “what if” things had happened differently there. That is where we begin in Monica Fairview’s newest variation, Fortune & Felicity.

The Prologue shows an agonized Darcy struggling to write that important missive. When he accidentally spills ink over the finished letter, he decides it must be fate intervening. Consequently, he consigns his night’s work to the fire, leaving Elizabeth ignorant of its contents.

The surprise here is that, unlike most variations, the book then skips ahead seven whole years.

During that time, the Bennet family fared poorly. Lydia did run away with Mr. Wickham who, predictably, abandoned her. Mr. Bennet paid dearly to marry her off. He subsequently died, resulting in Mrs. Bennet’s removal from Longbourn to a simple cottage provided by her brother Mr. Gardiner. Jane is married, but not to Mr. Bingley. Her husband, Mr. Grant, is a tradesman whose business is struggling, and they have four children with another on the way. Elizabeth lives with them, having married Thomas Heriot, a naval officer who died at sea three years ago and left her a penniless widow.

Darcy bowed to Lady Catherine’s wishes immediately after that terrible night seven years ago and married Anne de Bourgh. “He had done it in a moment of anger against the world, a moment of supreme indifference to his own fate.” It was not a happy marriage for many reasons. Continue reading

To Have and to Hoax: A Novel, by Martha Waters—A Review

To Have and to Hoax by Martha Waters 2020From the desk of Molly Greeley:

A young lady and gentleman are discovered (gasp!) alone on a balcony during a ball, and he must either propose or allow her reputation to be ruined—despite their having met each other only minutes earlier. In her debut novel To Have and to Hoax, Martha Waters takes this time-honored Regency romance trope and uses it deftly to not only throw her hero and heroine together in the first pages of the book but as the fulcrum upon which the rest of the plot turns.

The opening scenes, in which we meet both Lady Violet Grey and Lord James Audley, do a lot of work to establish both their characters in a short space. Violet, who has allowed herself to be led outside the crowded ballroom and onto a deserted balcony by the Marquess of Willingham, a known rake, bears little resemblance to the shy flower for which she’s named. She reads novels clandestinely and speaks up for herself rather than shrinking meekly back into the shadows when she and Willingham are discovered. It is James who discovers them, and though James and Willingham might be good friends, it is clear that James doesn’t approve of kissing virginal young ladies on darkened balconies. But when Willingham departs, James finds himself, despite his scruples, unable to walk away from Violet, who is similarly fascinated by him. They share a scandalous waltz in the darkness of the balcony before her mother’s arrival forces their swift engagement.

When we meet them again, Violet and James have been married for five years, four of which they have largely spent not speaking to one another. Violet spends her days in their London home, entertaining friends, cataloging the library books, writing poetry, and sending letters to the editor of various journals under a male pen name. James, like any well-born Englishman, enjoys time at his club with his friends, but much of his days are also spent managing the lucrative stables his father gifted him upon his marriage to Violet. These stables, we learn early on, have long been a source of tension between the newlyweds; from the earliest days of their marriage, Violet has worried about James’ safety around the unbroken horses and resented the amount of time he spends at the stables. James—who has some serious issues with his frankly horrible father—wishes she could understand that he took the stables both to show his father that he is capable of more than his father gives him credit for and to create extra income, so he could lavish her with a country house. Continue reading

Lakeshire Park, by Megan Walker—A Review

Lakeshire Park by Megan Walker 2020From the desk of Katie Patchell: 

There: on the horizon stands elegant, grand Lakeshire Park. It is a prize for women seeking church bells and thrown rice…and of course, a large income. If you too choose to step over its threshold, you’ll find yourself facing scheming debutantes, protective older brothers, and one very determined woman trying to navigate through it all. Beyond its doors lies a world where wealth matters, an ill-timed kiss can ruin one’s future, and where “the course of true love never did run smooth” could be nailed to the wall as a warning and as a challenge to eager young lovers…and equally to you, Lakeshire Park’s future reader.

Enter Amelia, our “one very determined woman.” She has good reason to be so. Her beloved father’s death, her mother’s remarriage to a man who despises Amelia and her sister, Clara, and recently, her mother’s passing, has all made her resilient and cautious about loving again. After her cruel stepfather’s flat refusal to be connected to her and her sister anymore, Amelia searches for a means to save them both from destitution. Her good fortune is that she is not alone to face the world–Clara is her closest friend, and Amelia would do anything for her. This “anything” includes accepting an invitation to a house party hosted by none other than the man who Clara had a tendresse for in the previous Season. There’s only one problem: another woman seeks his attention, and she also has an older sibling who is fully devoted to her happiness. With time running out, what’s a woman to do? The answer is obvious: to make a deal with the devil – Amelia’s counterpart, Peter Wood, the stubborn, cunning man who from the very first moment of meeting has tried to ruin all her plans.

Unfortunately, Amelia’s plot to get him out of the way quickly unravels. His quick smile, sparkling eyes, and ready wit make her respond in kind. Rivalry and war turn to a mock battle for one-upmanship, and before Amelia knows it, her heart is involved. With her stepfather’s threats weighing on her mind and Peter’s sister’s devious plans against Clara, Amelia must make her most difficult choice yet: to choose her sister’s future happiness over her own. Continue reading

The Rogue’s Widow: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, by Nicole Clarkston—A Review

The Rogue's Widow by Nicole Clarkston 2020From the desk of Debbie Brown:

It’s become obvious to me that Nicole Clarkston loves messing with her readers’ heads in the opening chapter of her books. She starts off in one direction, apparently setting the stage for one kind of story, and then unexpectedly careens off into previously unexplored territory. The Rogue’s Widow, her recently released variation of Pride and Prejudice, sure does.

As Chapter One begins, Elizabeth Bennet is in London interviewing for a position as a lady’s companion, and she meets Mr. Darcy, her prospective employer, for the first time. His behavior is even more arrogant and brusque than in the original Pride and Prejudice. Okay, we’ve read THIS premise before, right? It’s obvious how this is going to go, especially when he decides she’s right for the position and hires her on the spot.

…And now Darcy’s taking Elizabeth to the debtor’s prison to marry a resident there.

Wait. What??

Yup. It’s simple, really. Mr. Darcy is killing two birds with one stone.

The first reason is that man she’s to marry, Bernard Wickham, owns Corbett Lodge, a small, poorly maintained estate adjoining Pemberley. He’s in prison with not much time left to live—the direct result of a depraved life. Bernard’s one brief scene in Chapter One proves this guy doesn’t deserve any pity. The big news is that George Wickham, his younger brother, is currently next in line to inherit Corbett Lodge. Darcy sure can’t have THAT.

As it happens, Bernard hates his kid brother even more than he hates Darcy—which really is saying something, since it was Darcy who’d bought up his debts and had Bernard imprisoned. At least Darcy is putting out some coin to make his jail time slightly less unbearable. Consequently, Bernard agrees to get hitched to the lady of Darcy’s choice in order to keep the money flowing and to spite his brother, George. With no entail on Corbett Lodge, SHE will inherit it when he inevitably throws off his mortal coil. Continue reading

The Other Bennet Sister: A Novel, by Janice Hadlow—A Review

The Other Bennet Sister, by Janice Hadlow 2020From the desk of Sophia Rose:

The oft-forgotten of the five Bennet sisters who may have been a reader’s source of amusement or irritation, engendered pity or magnanimous sympathy comes endearingly alive in Janice Hadlow’s gentle opus to Mary, the other sister who must follow a very different path to happiness.

The Other Bennet Sister opens when Mary Bennet is a young girl happy and content with herself and her life until slowly, she becomes aware of a miserable truth. She’s plain and unattractive. Jane the pretty sister and Lizzy the witty favorite of their father’s pair off as they all get older, her father is entrenched in his library sanctum, and her mother laments Mary’s looks and hurls painful remarks to her and about her. Even her younger sisters take their cue from this to draw together and tease her when they do notice her. Mary searches for ways to please and be noticed though she works hard to avoid her mother who twits her on her looks or quiet manners.

In short, Mary is miserable and is willing to try anything even securing the interest of the bumbling and bothersome cousin Collins who has come to Longbourn in search of a wife. If she thought her homelife was misery, being overlooked by Mr. Collins even after she put her best foot forward and made a horrid spectacle of herself at the Netherfield Ball teaches her that being invisible is even worse.

Her sisters’ triumphs in being wed, a family death, and feeling at a loss sends Mary on a journey of self-discovery.

The Other Bennet Sister worked hard to be true to Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Mary’s childhood and her debut on society along with the story flowing on parallel lines fit hand in glove with the P&P story. It had a broodier Jane Eyre feel to it, but this works since it is Mary’s story. It was intriguing to see that by focusing on Mary the author shows all the familiar characters in a slightly different light. Some even get more of a stronger role like Mrs. Hill the Longbourn housekeeper who has a soft spot for neglected Mary and by Charlotte Lucas who sees Mary as sharing a similar personality and needs since they are both plain. I will offer the warning that the usual sparkling favorite characters in Pride and Prejudice to not always appear in a favorable light so be prepared to see a different interpretation to many familiar characters. Continue reading

The Duke and I (Bridgertons Book 1), by Julia Quinn—A Review

The Duke and I by Julia Quinn Netflix coverFrom the desk of Pamela Mingle:

Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton novels were among the first Regency romance novels I ever read. Completely captivated by their charm, humor, and abundance of stomach quivering moments, I quickly devoured all eight. The Duke and I, published in 2000, is one of my favorites. It’s the story of the romance between Daphne Bridgerton and Simon Bassett, the Duke of Hastings.

For the uninitiated, the Bridgerton family consists of eight siblings, four brothers and an equal number of sisters. They’re named alphabetically: Anthony, Benedict, Colin, Daphne, Eloise, Francesca, Gregory, and Hyacinth. The books were not published in that order, however. Daphne’s story, The Duke and I, was first in the series.

As the book opens, Daphne is in her second season, attending a ball at Lady Danbury’s home (Lady D is a beloved recurring character in the Bridgerton books.). Daphne has had a few marriage proposals from men she’s not interested in. They’ve been either elderly or ridiculous. One of the latter is Nigel Berbrooke, who’s inebriated at the ball and follows her when she slips away from her mother, a relentless matchmaker. Simon happens by just as Daphne is discouraging Nigel’s advances. Simon decides he must intervene, only to see Daphne punch the man squarely in the jaw. A masterful scene, full of witty, flirtatious banter between Daphne and Simon, follows. But when Simon figures out she is Anthony Bridgerton’s sister, he’s on his guard. After all, one of the first rules of seduction is, “Thou shalt not lust after thy friend’s sister.”

Simon’s background is revealed in the Prologue. His mother dies in childbirth, and when Simon doesn’t speak until he’s four years old and then stutters, his cold father all but disowns him. With a loving nurse to help him, and his own perseverance and hard work, Simon overcomes his speech problems and eventually graduates from Cambridge with a first in mathematics. His father has since died without ever making things right with his son. To spite the man, Simon has vowed never to marry and produce and an heir. He wants the dukedom to go to another branch of the family or die out altogether. Hatred of his father has consumed Simon for most of his life. Continue reading