Just in time for the premiere on 13 January 2019 of the third season of Victoria on Masterpiece Classic on PBS, Queen Victoria: Twenty-Four Days That Changed Her Life is a new biography of one of the United Kingdom’s (and the world’s) most famous queens. Arriving like a gift on a royal red velvet cushion, fans of the TV series and British history will devour and adore this book.
In her usually upbeat and engaging style, Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, television presenter, and one-woman British history hurricane, Lucy Worsley’s biography of Queen Victoria is a selective and sympathetic view of the life of the most powerful woman of her generation. Structured as twenty-four significant dates in her life, it is a personal look at her family history, social context, and her inner thoughts and impressions. Drawing upon a variety of sources, including her own personal diaries and of those around her, Worsley also adds quotes and references from the Queen’s major biographers and historians of the Victorian era.
Some readers may assume that the most significant dates in the Queen’s long life such as her coronation, marriage or the death of her beloved husband Albert would be the most interesting dates of her life. However, I found the quieter moments even more moving, insightful and tragic. For example, on the 20th of June 1837 not only did she learn that her uncle William IV had died, making her Queen, she met privately for the first time with her Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne who would become a close advisor, stalwart advocate and dear friend to the young Queen. Starved for male companionship after the death of her father in her infancy and a childhood dominated by a weak mother and her circle of cronies, Melbourne would become the antidote to her lonely and isolated life helping her to transition to monarch and rule her country. Continue reading
From the desk of Lisa Galek:
Fantasy novels with a supernatural bent are all the rage right now. So, if you love a battle between the forces of good and evil… all set against the backdrop of the upper-crust society of 1812 London, then The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman should be on your reading list.
We meet 18-year-old Lady Helen Wrexhall on the eve of her presentation to Queen Charlotte. Helen’s mother, who drowned at sea ten years before, was allegedly a traitor to England, and Helen’s current guardians—her aunt and uncle—really hope this won’t affect Helen’s chance of making a good marriage. After all, isn’t that the best that any young lady with fortune and tainted family connections can hope for?
But, Helen has other ideas. Wilder ideas. She gets the feeling she’s meant for something more than ballrooms and husband hunting. When she meets the mysterious Lord Carlston, who has quite the checkered past himself, she discovers that the growing spirit inside her actually points to the rare ability to identify and destroy a group of supernatural baddies that are overrunning England. Will Helen follow her demon-fighting destiny with Lord Carlston? Or will she resign herself to the life of a proper English wife instead?
The Dark Days Club is the first in what will be a series of novels focused on Lady Helen and her adventures in Regency London. It actually reminded me a lot of The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare (which actually has a Victorian spinoff of its own). The basic premise is the same—a young girl with a mysterious family history finds out she actually has the ability to fight supernatural villains. It’s miles from a Jane Austen novel, but the author does a great job of giving us the Georgian-era feel while still mixing in elements of mystery and fantasy. Continue reading
From the desk of Monica Perry:
In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Anne de Bourgh is a character who seems not to have much to offer. She’s just sort of there at Rosings Park, quiet and sickly and under her mother’s thumb. Readers can only hope that she occasionally has an original thought of her own. In A Will of Iron, a Pride and Prejudice what-if, author Linda Beutler exposes the last year of Anne’s journal. With her isolated life at Rosings, and a mother like Lady Catherine, who wouldn’t be curious what Anne has to say? I know I was! I was hooked from the second paragraph, where she drops quite the bomb. For months, she’s been scheming to extricate herself from Lady Catherine forever, and finally succeeded in setting her plan in motion. Sadly, she dies before getting the satisfaction of revealing her news in person, and seeing her meticulously plotted future come to fruition. Anne’s companion Mrs. Jenkinson knows all and delivers the journals to Charlotte Collins at Hunsford parsonage for safekeeping. Lady Catherine is desperate to get her hands on them to keep the circumstances of Anne’s death hidden, and as Charlotte makes her way through the journals she begins to suspect how far Lady Catherine might go to get her way.
I really liked Anne; she’s astute and blunt and had things gone differently, she and Elizabeth Bennet could have been great friends. Her journals chronicle not only her dealings with her mother and a Mr. C., her mysterious beau, but also her relationships with her Darcy and Fitzwilliam cousins, from their childhood to their current romantic tangle with Elizabeth. She genuinely cares for them and wants them to be happy, and has some very decided opinions on how she will make that come about. Anne’s logic with regard to her plan is a bit skewed, but her desire to be free from her mother makes her desperate and bold. It’s no wonder, as this Lady Catherine is truly cold- blooded! I had previously seen this book referred to as a macabre comedy. I’d say that’s a fitting description because as unhinged as Lady Catherine is, she is so outrageous I couldn’t help shaking my head and laughing. She even gave Mr. Collins the heebie-jeebies. I thought her final justice was perfectly done, if a bit messy! Continue reading
From the desk of Katie Patchell:
Two years ago The Austen Project launched their first reimagined Jane Austen novel in the series, Sense and Sensibility (by Joanna Trollope), that has so far included Northanger Abbey (by Val McDermid), and the most recent, published in April of this year—Emma: A Modern Retelling by Alexander McCall Smith. Heralded as ‘Jane Austen—Reimagined,’ each successive book has gathered mixed reviews, yet also a wide readership, as many fans of Jane Austen’s beloved classics look forward to finding out (with anticipation or trepidation) how each of Austen’s six novels have been modernized.
While I’ve enjoyed reading each of The Austen Project books so far, there’s a common issue faced in each of them, one that should be addressed in reviews and even everyday conversation. This issue is: How much can be modernized in any classic update without detracting from the original book? It’s always difficult to decide, as a reader and I’m sure as an author, what can be updated and altered for the 21st century, and what has to stay the same in order for the story to honor the original (and author’s intent). For instance, there are some things—such as views on love, sex, and marriage—that have been updated in this version of Emma to fit the author’s modern beliefs, which do not fit with the original Emma’s written views on these issues or Jane Austen’s beliefs. Some things hold true throughout the centuries, and sometimes removing these in a modern interpretation of a classic significantly takes away from the integrity and meaning of the story. Some of the differences found in this modernization include: Miss Taylor initially moves in with Mr. Weston before their marriage, Emma casually calls her dad ‘Pops’ all the time, Isabella Woodhouse and John Knightley are expecting twins before saying ‘I do,’ and Emma wonders if she’s attracted to females while painting Harriet in the nude. Continue reading
From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder
Last year I had the pleasure of being introduced to Jane Austen fan fiction author C. P. Odom via his novel Consequences. His writing invoked deep feelings, as he was able to draw me in completely to his story. He had me fully enveloped in his characters and their lives, which resulted in Consequences being one of my favorite reads of 2014. When I heard about his latest “what-if” novel, Pride, Prejudice and Secrets, I immediately began searching for a way to receive a review copy.
Secrets tells the tale of our beloved Lizzie and Darcy in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, although it’s Elizabeth now instead of Jane who falls ill in an untimely manner. Darcy has just worked up the courage to deliver an ill-conceived and prideful offer of marriage, and Elizabeth, still in a haze and unsteady from sickness, accepts his offer. When she fully recovers from her ailments, however, she is mortified to learn that she is betrothed to “the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.” Not only this, but all of society has become accustomed to the prospect, so for her to break off said engagement would be the equivalent of social banishment, not to mention the effect it would have on her unmarried sisters. How, then, is she to avoid this unfortunate misunderstanding and escape with her and Darcy’s pride unharmed? She has to use every ounce of her sharp wit and captivating personality to pull off this accomplishment. Will she be forced to remain with Darcy or will she be able to extract herself with her reputation intact? Continue reading
From the desk of Katie Patchell:
Imagine the scene: A woman and man meet in the entryway to a glittering ballroom—full of dancing couples, flickering candles, and the faraway strains of violins. The couple locks eyes, and with that meaningful, tension-filled glance, the man bends down and kisses the woman’s glove.
This seems to be the opening scene of a promising new romance, does it not? But this is not truly the beginning of a romance, but the finale that is six long years overdue. Or is it? In The Unexpected Earl, Philippa Jane Keyworth’s latest Regency novel, readers discover a story of second chances, romantic entanglements, and the rediscovery of true love that is reminiscent of Jane Austen’s beloved novel, Persuasion.
Julia Rotherham is prepared to play the various roles of wallflower, dutiful sister, and old maid at her beautiful younger sister’s coming-out ball. Everything goes according to plan until she comes face to face with the one man she hates with every fiber of her being, the man she’s spent every day for the past six years trying to forget: Lucius Wolversley. Six years ago Julia had given him her heart and accepted his offer of marriage, but shortly afterwards he had broken off the engagement without an explanation and disappeared from her life, breaking her heart and destroying her dreams in the process. Continue reading
From the desk of Kimberly Denny Ryder:
To be honest, I’ve never been a fan of open-ended endings in movies and books. Just ask my husband, who has seen me yell after reading a book or seeing a movie that ends with the reader/viewer not knowing what has happened to the main characters. One example that comes to mind is Pride and Prejudice itself! I’ve always wondered what happened after the wedding (maybe that’s why I read so many Pride and Prejudice sequels!) So, when I heard that A Fair Prospect: Disappointed Hopes by Cassandra Grafton was actually the first in a three-part series and it wouldn’t actually have a proper ending, I was a bit skeptical.
In volume I of the A Fair Prospect trilogy, Disappointed Hopes, we find Fitzwilliam Darcy back in London after his failed engagement proposal to Elizabeth, obviously upset by her refusal of such a beneficial match. Elizabeth, on the other hand, finds herself on the way to London, the result of a request by an old family friend to meet in town. Already emotional after her encounter with Darcy, she finds comfort when finally reaching London and meeting this friend, Nicholas Harington. The son of a wealthy family not unlike the Darcy family in both holdings and standing, Nicholas’ family provides a formidable opponent to Darcy’s in the matters of Elizabeth’s heart. Darcy and Elizabeth’s paths cross unexpectedly in London when Bingley begins courting Jane again. Darcy is introduced to Harington, who seems by all to be the perfect suitor for Elizabeth now that Darcy has failed. Or, has he? Continue reading