Fitzwilliam Darcy in His Own Words, by Shannon Winslow — A Review

From the desk of Katie Jackson:

In a November 1814 letter to her niece, Jane Austen wrote that “nothing can be compared to the misery of being bound without love.” She had brilliantly illustrated her point with many unenviable couples in her novels serving as warnings of what her protagonists should strive to avoid. Likewise, readers found in her most famous story, Pride and Prejudice, a hero dutifully resigned to such misery and a heroine determined to evade it. Prolific Austenesque author Shannon Winslow explores that hero’s path from misery to love in her latest Pride and Prejudice adaptation, Fitzwilliam Darcy in His Own Words.

Fitzwilliam Darcy believes that he is destined to fulfill his familial duty by securing a society-approved mate for himself and proper mistress of Pemberley—and by choosing prudently, hoping for mutual respect at best, and knowing that love was neither desirable nor wise. “My early years had taught me, again and again, that to love was to suffer pain. To love was to surrender a part of oneself, to give the object of that love power over one’s life – power to wound or to destroy, either by accident or with intent.” (189) Therefore, Darcy resolutely heeds his late father’s advice by discreetly selecting a decorous lady from a suitably wealthy and consequential family, ever mindful of his family’s expectations and his own responsibilities. “To choose the wrong path, to be careless of the way, to neglect minding every step, was to invite calamity of a kind most painful and permanent.” (171)

After George Wickham nearly absconds with Darcy’s young sister at Ramsgate, Darcy finds himself shaken to his core by the barely avoided catastrophe and questions his own wisdom. Wishing to counteract his tendency to brood, he seeks diversion with his cheerful friend Charles Bingley at Netherfield Park. “In part, I had come to Netherfield hoping for a cure.” (1546)

Unbeknownst to Darcy, however, his dutiful resolve is about to become untenable once he encounters the saucy smile, fine eyes, and pert opinions of the incomparable Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Their charged interactions have the potential to further unravel his determination as he tentatively steps off his sensible path and veers toward a life he’d never imagined might be his. Far too soon, though, reality invades Darcy’s hopeful dreams to remind him of his prior obligations. As he settles “one final contest of will versus inclination, of duty versus desire” can he summon the courage to choose the path that follows his heart? (3968)

It is rare to read a first-person narration from Darcy’s viewpoint, and it felt like we were having a fireside chat as he explained his perspective of all of the events that transpired not only in Pride and Prejudice but also during those previously silent times when he was away from Elizabeth. Hence, the story was at times quite unputdownable. My only frustration was that I was hoping for a bit more romantic yearning from him, but he was far too true to his stoic character to melt from Elizabeth’s presence overmuch. He also felt honor bound by his other commitments, however tenuous they may have been. Still, I was quite content with his cerebral musings about how he’d fallen in love without suspecting or allowing it and was grateful for his loss of control. As he said, “My happier outcome depended on the slimmest thread of unlikely circumstances being precariously strung together without error. At any one of a dozen junctures, the course of my life could have carried me in a completely different direction.” (109)

Fitzwilliam Darcy in His Own Words provides an enjoyable opportunity for Pride and Prejudice enthusiasts to have a cozy tête-à-tête with their favorite fictional gentleman.

5 out of 5 Stars

  • Fitzwilliam Darcy in His Own Words, by Shannon Winslow
  • Heather Ridge Arts (April 30, 2021)
  • Trade paperback, eBook, & audiobook (283) pages
  • ISBN: 978-0989025973

AMAZON | GOODREADS | BOOKBUB

Book cover courtesy of Heather Ridge Arts © 2021; text Katie Jackson © 2021, Austenprose.com

In Royal Service to the Queen: A Novel of the Queen’s Governess, by Tessa Arlen—A Review

There is something about royalty that is so fascinating to me. What would it be like to be born into a world of privilege and power? How do they live? Who are their friends? What are their secrets?

The British royal family is my favorite, so I jumped at the chance to read In Royal Service to the Queen, by Tessa Arlen. Based on actual events and real people, the story is told from the perspective of governess Marion Crawford. Her charges were the royal Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose Windsor. What she experienced while working for and living with the royal family could give me an insider’s view of the dreams, disappointments, and triumphs of the famous family. Telling this story in a fictionalized account is a tremendous challenge. Daunting, really. I was curious to see if Arlen could pull it off.

Marion Crawford was a young Scottish woman when she accepted a summer job in 1931 as the governess to Elizabeth and Margaret Rose, the two young daughters of the Duke and Duchess of York. This would evolve into a permanent position in the household of the second son of King George V who would later become king when his brother Edward abdicated the throne to marry the twice-divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson. We briefly touch upon this critical time in the life of Bertie and his wife Elizabeth who never expected to be elevated to the highest position in the land.

The story really begins to heat up after WWII in 1945 when Princess Elizabeth, the heiress-presumptive to the British throne, falls in love with Prince Philip of Greece, a young Royal Navy officer. Crawfie, as Marion is endearingly called by the family, is the only one in Elizabeth’s intimate circle who supports her choice of Philip as a possible husband. Marion herself has also fallen in love with George, a family friend who she wants to marry. This is a complicated situation for both ladies that will take subtle shifting of opinions of the king and queen on Elizabeth’s behalf, and patience and persistence for Marion. Over the next two years Crawfie is placed in a precarious situation—caught between her loyalty to Princess Elizabeth and risking her relationship with her employer Queen Elizabeth who we see really wears the pants in the royal family. After years of loyal service and personal sacrifice, Marion achieves her goals and sees Elizabeth and herself marry the men that they love, but at a great cost. A betrayal by her employer will sever her sixteen-year relationship with her dear princesses. Continue reading

Inventing Vivian, A Victorian Romance: The Blue Orchid Society (Book 2), by Jennifer Moore — A Review

From the desk of Katie Jackson:

In 1837, a sheltered yet determined 18-year-old became Queen Victoria and ushered in an era of immense transformation. Increased educational and employment opportunities for women and an overall increase in literacy cracked open the previously elite worlds of journalism and literature and scientific invention in exciting new ways. It was a time when a lady bluestocking might finally earn the chance to collaborate with other intellectuals as an admired and respected equal. Master storyteller Jennifer Moore has created a lovely and well-researched representation of this unique era in the latest tale from The Blue Orchid Society series, Inventing Vivian.

During a fateful meeting in a library sanctuary while escaping the unwelcome pressures of a ballroom, science-minded inventor Miss Vivian Kirby had made a pact with four other remarkable young ladies to form the Blue Orchid Society and to achieve their private ambitions with each other’s support and encouragement. Vivian was thrilled by the thought that her dream “was actually achievable. And the difference, she realized, was that she had the support of people like herself.” (237)

Vivian “was positively compelled by science and invention and technology. Understanding the mysteries of the physical world was more than simply a hobby. It was Vivian’s raison d’être. Her passion.” (92) After years of disappointing exclusion, being disregarded as an insignificant female, her dream is to display one of her many inventions at a prestigious—and exclusively male—science exhibition. Yet as a young lady from a respectable, wealthy family, Vivian is expected to behave with appropriate decorum, focusing on her appearance and seeking a suitable marriage. Though the discomfort nearly unravels her sanity, she awkwardly attempts to follow the path laid before her—with miserable failure the repeated result. Her logical mind rebels as she struggles to meet societal expectations. “The idea of casting aside her own pursuits to make a pleasant life for someone who cared nothing for her interests was intolerable to Vivian. Why would she seek such a union? What was the point of it?” (100) Continue reading

John Eyre: A Tale of Darkness and Shadow, by Mimi Matthews—A Review

From the desk of Sophia Rose

Reader, I must confess that I went into this book totally blind. No blurb, no captions, and a mere glance at the cover. This is because I spotted the title and the author, and it was all over. I needed a gender swapped Jane Eyre-Dracula mash up to quench my insatiable curiosity and wonder over such a combo. Some authors might have difficulty pulling off such a feat, but I did not have a doubt in the world that in Mimi Matthews’ capable hands that John Eyre would dazzle.

John Eyre arrives at his new place of employment on a cold, rainy, and foggy night. He barely catches a glimpse of the new Yorkshire countryside or Thornfield Hall. His mind is weighed down by the past and his head aches dreadfully.  He craves the laudanum that he has been using to dull his memories and pain. But it is not long before natural curiosity for his peculiar new charges, his absent employer, and his new surroundings rouse him. Thornfield Hall might be remote, creak with odd noises, and the Yorkshire environs bleak, but John Eyre starts to settle in and feel a modicum of peace. Then Mrs. Rochester arrives.

Mrs. Rochester is changeable, direct, capable, and very much in charge. He senses there is great mystery from this well-traveled world-weary woman. She challenges him and his notions of women, and the world he has barely experienced in his humble circumstances. His very stolidity and sureness appear to be a challenge to her as well as they slowly become friends. That is until a well-known man of her own status arrives and rattles his confidence in their relationship. Nonetheless, he stands pat when events transpire that Mrs. Rochester requires his unquestionable and discreet trust. And he freely gives it. In the end, his love and trust are challenged, and he is faced with the irrational and incredible. Continue reading

Interview & Giveaway with the Author of The Jane Austen Society, Natalie Jenner

Cover of the paperback edition of The Jane Austen Society (2021)Happy Friday, dear readers! In anticipation of the paperback release of one of my favorite novels of 2020, I have re-read The Jane Austen Society, by Natalie Jenner. Like Austen’s novels, I have picked up on new insights into the characters and themes and see the story in a new light. I highly recommend a re-read and envy those who will be discovering the story for the first time.

The paperback edition released this week on July 6th and it is packed with exciting extras:

  • A map illustrating the town of Chawton and the homes of the characters
  • A Reader’s Guide which includes:
  • A Conversation with Natalie Jenner,
  • An Exclusive Author Essay: Prescribing Jane Austen for Difficult Times
  • Recommended Reading
  • Reading Group Questions

For those unfamiliar with the novel here is a description from the publisher and a link to our review.

“Fans of The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society will adore The Jane Austen Society… A charming and memorable debut, which reminds us of the universal language of literature and the power of books to unite and heal.” ―Pam Jenoff, New York Times bestselling author of The Lost Girls of Paris

Just after the Second World War, in the small English village of Chawton, an unusual but like-minded group of people band together to attempt something remarkable.

One hundred and fifty years ago, Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England’s finest novelists. Now it’s home to a few distant relatives and their diminishing estate. With the last bit of Austen’s legacy threatened, a group of disparate individuals come together to preserve both Jane Austen’s home and her legacy. These people―a laborer, a young widow, the local doctor, and a movie star, among others―could not be more different and yet they are united in their love for the works and words of Austen. As each of them endures their own quiet struggle with loss and trauma, some from the recent war, others from more distant tragedies, they rally together to create the Jane Austen Society.

A powerful and moving novel that explores the tragedies and triumphs of life, both large and small, and the universal humanity in us all, Natalie Jenner’s The Jane Austen Society is destined to resonate with readers for years to come.

Continue reading

A Cover Reveal & Excerpt of Jane and the Year Without a Summer: Being a Jane Austen Mystery (Book 14), by Stephanie Barron

Happy Monday, dear readers! I have great news to share today. Bestselling historical mystery author Stephanie Barron has a new “Being a Jane Austen Mystery” in the queue.

Jane and the Year Without a Summer arrives on February 8, 2022, marking the fourteenth novel in the popular series. Set in Regency England, the series is based on actual events and people in Austen’s life and times. Inspired by the author’s life-long admiration of Austen and her writing, Barron’s skill at channeling her voice and the historical detail is nonpareil. Here is a description of the book, the big cover reveal, and an exclusive excerpt from the novel.

BOOK DESCRIPTION

May 1816: Jane Austen is feeling unwell, with an uneasy stomach, constant fatigue, rashes, fevers and aches. She attributes her poor condition to the stress of family burdens, which even the drafting of her latest manuscript—about a baronet’s daughter nursing a broken heart for a daring naval captain—cannot alleviate. Her apothecary recommends a trial of the curative waters at Cheltenham Spa, in Gloucestershire. Jane decides to use some of the profits earned from her last novel, Emma, and treat herself to a period of rest and reflection at the spa, in the company of her sister, Cassandra.

Cheltenham Spa hardly turns out to be the relaxing sojourn Jane and Cassandra envisaged, however. It is immediately obvious that other boarders at the guest house where the Misses Austen are staying have come to Cheltenham with stresses of their own—some of them deadly. But perhaps with Jane’s interference a terrible crime might be prevented. Set during the Year without a Summer, when the eruption of Mount Tambora in the South Pacific caused a volcanic winter that shrouded the entire planet for sixteen months, this fourteenth installment in Stephanie Barron’s critically acclaimed series brings a forgotten moment of Regency history to life.

COVER REVEAL Continue reading