Q&A with The Bridge to Belle Island Author Julie Klassen

The Bridge to Belle Island

Happy Holidays Janeites. Today, I am so pleased to present an exclusive interview with bestselling and award-winning author Julie Klassen who has just released her latest historical romance mystery, The Belle to Bridge Island. Set in Regency-era London and an island on the River Thames, it is her return to historical suspense after writing her trilogy The Tales of Ivy Hill. Julie has generously answered my questions about the book and a few other intriguing topics as well.

Welcome, Julie:

Congratulation Julie! You have just released your 14th Historical romance novel, The Bridge to Belle Island. Can you share your inspiration for this new work?

Thank you! It’s always difficult to trace an idea back to one “aha” moment, but for this book, I would say I was inspired by learning of all the smaller islands that exist within the island of Great Britain, especially in the Lake District and on the Thames River. I enjoyed researching several of these tiny, fascinating places with intriguing names like Eel Pie Island, Pharaoh’s Island, Monkey Island, and others. Some of them have fine homes on them, others are uninhabited. Some are reachable by bridge, others only by boat. Many have colorful histories.

How do you select a title, and is there any significance in your choice of The Bridge to Belle Island?

Actually, The Bridge to Belle Island wasn’t my original working title. Determining titles is a group effort between me and my editors. They ask me for several ideas and we go back and forth until we all agree on a winning title. I felt strongly about having “island” in the title since that was part of my original inspiration, plus an island setting is so appealing for a mystery. (And Then There Were None, anyone?) I suggested this title, because the bridge plays an important role in the novel (the main character is unable to cross it at the beginning) and “bridge” also hints at one of the themes of the book. I LOVE that the designer featured a bridge on the cover.

After your trilogy, The Tales of Ivy Hill, you have returned to Regency mystery/suspense. What intrigued you do so? Continue reading

The Bridge to Belle Island, by Julie Klassen — A Review

The Bridge to Belle Island by Julie Klassen (2019)From the desk of Sophia Rose:

First, Julie Klassen pulled me into her writing with a haunting, gothic romantic suspense, The Secret of Pembrooke Park, and most recently delighted me with the world of a quaint English village and its occupants in her series, The Tales of Ivy Hill. In her latest release, Klassen wrote a romantic suspense that is slightly darker, splitting the setting of an island estate on the Thames and London. I love a good murder mystery, and setting it in the Regency period had me taking up The Bridge to Belle Island prepared for a reading treat.

Young lawyer, Benjamin Booker, has just experienced a humiliating loss in court when the client he thought innocent had charmed him into risking all to defend her and it turned out she had utterly lied. He feels that he has disappointed his mentor at the firm and took a hard hit to his confidence in reading people and situations. However, he soon has the opportunity to prove himself to his mentor, Mr. Hardy, when Mr. Hardy wants justice for the death of his former colleague at the firm who lately held the position of trustee for the Wilder family and was murdered in their London Town House.

Living retired from the rest of the world on Belle Island, Isabelle Wilder has seen a great deal of tragic death in her family and it has left her with an extreme fear that won’t allow her to leave her island family home for years now. She is sorry to miss her niece’s engagement party in London because of her own weakness. The night of the party, Isabelle has a terrible dream that their skinflint trustee was murdered. She is dismayed when Mr. Booker, a skeptical lawyer from the family firm, shows up both to sort their legal matters brought on by the death of her trustee, but also to investigate the death with her as the chief suspect. It was a dream when she saw vivid images of the death, right? She has nothing to hide, she hopes, so welcomes Mr. Booker to Belle Island and invites him into her life there where he starts to mellow toward her until disturbing facts start to come to light leading right to her door. Continue reading

The Painter’s Daughter, by Julie Klassen – A Review

The Painter's Daughter, by Julie Klassen (2015)From the desk of Katie Patchell: 

Digital Cameras. Laptops. Word documents and Note Apps. In 2015, these and countless other electronic items are used to quickly capture memories and jot down thoughts. But in 1815, the primary means of recording moments and ideas was through paper, pen, and paintbrush. Novels, journals, and artwork show moderns what life was like in the early 1800s, bringing readers and viewers into the thoughts and events of two centuries ago. In The Painter’s Daughter, Julie Klassen’s latest Regency romance set against the backdrop of Devon’s towering cliffs, readers discover a story of secrets and danger, prophecies and hope. But unlike the portraits from the Regency period, “viewers” are not given a glimpse of 1815 through the paint on a canvas, but rather through the story of the painter herself.

March 1815: Captain Stephen Marshall Overtree has only a few short weeks left of shore leave before he returns to the Navy, and he has one last family duty to perform: Locating his wayward brother, Wesley. Stephen digs up his brother’s last address at a painter’s cottage and rides to the small seaside town, Lynmouth. His plan is simple—find Wesley, and return to his blissfully regimented life in the Navy. But his retrieval plan is ruined when on his arrival at the Devon seaside, all he finds is a locked cottage, crates of paintings, and a beautiful woman standing perilously close to a cliff’s edge.

Sophie Dupont never expected Wesley Overtree to abandon her. They had spent months together working on their artwork, and as the days of painting and modeling passed, she had felt her inhibitions drift away as their love grew. He had made her feel as if she were the most precious woman in the world…until he jumped on a boat to Italy, leaving her with boxes of his portraits of her and his unborn child. When Captain Stephen Overtree saves her from a cliff-top plunge as Sophie was grabbing for Wesley’s fallen goodbye note, she has no choice but to pack up the last of Wesley’s belongings—including his scandalous portraits of her—and send them with Stephen.

Despite his sudden attraction to the beautiful but withdrawn Miss Dupont, Stephen plans to put Wesley out of his mind and return to the Navy. But when he catches Sophie in a bout of morning sickness, he realizes that he is in for a bigger plan change than he ever imagined. Knowing his brother’s personality and Sophie’s future as an unwed mother, Stephen offers her a way of escape: to elope with him, gaining security from the Overtree name and family. Despite her lingering feelings for Wesley, Sophie accepts, and within a few days, becomes a wife and new resident at the Overtree family home. What begins as a marriage of convenience slowly morphs into something more, but when an ominous prophecy of Stephen’s impending death is revealed and Wesley returns home, ready to open and make public his crates containing Sophie’s revealing portraits, Sophie and Stephen must decide which is more important: their previous separated lives, or their possible future together. Continue reading

The Secret of Pembrooke Park, by Julie Klassen – A Review

The Secret at Pembrooke Park, by Julie Klassen 2014 x 200From the desk of Katie Patchell:

A manor filled with secrets, frozen in time. Rumors of hidden treasure. Whispers of murder. Stubbornly silent local residents. One newly arrived and extremely curious heroine, a young woman who will stop at nothing to discover the secrets of Pembrooke Park. Whether or not the heroine prevails can be discovered in Julie Klassen’s latest Regency novel, The Secret of Pembrooke Park, a novel that delves into the darkness that resides in all human souls.

At the age of twenty-two, Abigail Foster believes that her future is secure: after building the house that she and her childhood friend, Gilbert Scott, designed, he will propose, Abigail will say yes, and they will happily spend the rest of their lives together. But when Abigail witnesses a loving interaction between her younger sister, Louisa, and Gilbert, she realizes that her dreams may never become a reality. With her father’s shocking news of a failed investment and significant loss of wealth, Abigail begins her search for a small place in the country for her family to reside, and is stunned by the generous offer given by a mysterious solicitor on behalf of an unknown distant relation: to live in Pembrooke Park, a manor that has been uninhabited for eighteen years. When Abigail arrives at the large country manor house, she opens the front door to an eerie sight—everything inside had been left in a state of disarray, preserved as if the last residents had suddenly fled. Continue reading

Lizzy and Jane: A Novel, by Katherine Reay – A Review

Lizzy and Jane Katherine Reay 2014 x 200From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder:

Anyone with siblings can tell you how tumultuous a relationship you can have with them. There are times where you love them to death for being a shoulder to cry on or a voice of reason. Then there are the times where they think they know everything and refuse to see you as your own individual. Katherine Reay explores the complex relationship between two sisters undergoing some intense situations in both their personal and professional lives in Lizzy and Jane.

After losing her mom to cancer, Lizzy cannot deal with the emotional burden and leaves home. She turns her anguish into relentless energy to create in the kitchen and works endlessly to become a respected chef. Eventually, Lizzy becomes the owner of a swanky New York City restaurant, Feast. After a good amount of success, she begins to lose some of her earlier skills and the restaurant begins to falter. Paul, the restaurant’s financial backer, brings another chef in to fix this, and Lizzy does what she does best—runs away. Unfortunately, she runs into another cancer diagnosis, and this time it’s her sister, Jane. Lizzy decides to finally stand her ground and deal with this new blow, and as she tends to her family she finds her abilities to create amazing foods return to her. Now, Paul attempts to woo her back to New York, but how will she react to this now that old hurts with Jane are healed? Continue reading

Lizzy & Jane: A Novel, by Katherine Reay – A Preview and Exclusive Excerpt

Lizzy and Jane Katherine Reay 2014 x 200We don’t run across new authors that we can rave about very often. We are very particular about our reading material, so when the planets and stars align, we like to gloat and boast “I told you so.” Such was the case with Katherine Reay’s debut novel Dear Mr. Knightley. We had the honor of reading it before publication and meeting the author in person. To say that the novel was as refreshing and elegant as its author is an understatement. When it won the ACFW’s Carol award for best Contemporary Novel and best Debut Novel, our head was as big as a pumpkin.

Now I am very happy to introduce you to her sophomore effort, Lizzy & Jane, just published by Thomas Nelson. Like Katherine’s first novel it is lightly inspired by Jane Austen and not a sequel or retelling per se. The two sisters are as different in personality as Austen’s Marianne & Elinor Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility, but they also exhibit similarities to siblings Elizabeth & Jane Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. Interestingly, one character loves reading Austen and the other not so much. Like many of Austen’s heroines, Lizzy & Jane face big conflicts and challenges in their lives. Here is an exclusive excerpt chosen by the author which illustrates her endearing style and charm.

PREVIEW (from the publisher’s description) 

Sometimes the courage to face your greatest fears comes only when you’ve run out of ways to escape.

At the end of a long night, Elizabeth leans against the industrial oven and takes in her kingdom. Once vibrant and flawless, evenings in the kitchen now feel chaotic and exhausting. She’s lost her culinary magic, and business is slowing down.

When worried investors enlist the talents of a tech-savvy celebrity chef to salvage the restaurant, Elizabeth feels the ground shift beneath her feet. Not only has she lost her touch; she’s losing her dream.

And her means of escape.

When her mother died, Elizabeth fled home and the overwhelming sense of pain and loss. But fifteen years later, with no other escapes available, she now returns. Brimming with desperation and dread, Elizabeth finds herself in the unlikeliest of places, by her sister’s side in Seattle as Jane undergoes chemotherapy.

As her new life takes the form of care, cookery, and classic literature, Elizabeth is forced to reimagine her future and reevaluate her past. But can a New York City chef with a painful history settle down with the family she once abandoned . . . and make peace with the sister who once abandoned her?

Continue reading

Prelude for a Lord: A Novel, by Camille Elliot – A Review

Prelude for a Lord Camille Elliot (2014)From the desk of Katie Patchell:

In the Regency era, the only acceptable musical instruments a woman was allowed to play were the harp and piano, and if she played any other, particularly a violin, she would be looked down upon in society and considered unfeminine. But in Camille Elliot’s recent debut novel, Prelude for a Lord, the heroine defies conventions and plays this beautiful but forbidden instrument, which stirs her heart, makes her forget her past and society’s censure, and ultimately, entangles her in a web of romance, mystery, and danger.

At the age of twenty-eight, Lady Alethea Sutherton has accepted her fate: that she will never marry, and will always be looked down upon by society as an eccentric. With her height, striking (rather than classical) features, and her unconventional country ways, she is whispered about by the Bath gossips, but it is Alethea’s consuming passion for music and her skill at the extremely unfeminine instrument—the violin—that has her scorned by polite society.

When she meets Lord Bayard Dommick, the man who eleven years ago convinced her to pursue her violin playing with his offensive statement that it was “unfeminine for a woman to play the instrument” (53), Alethea plans to ignore him at all costs. But when Bayard offers to help her discover why her old violin has suddenly become the obsession of two shady individuals, Alethea has no choice but to accept this potential ally. As she spends more time with him and his two best friends, the remaining members of the famous string Quartet, Alethea discovers that Bayard is far from insufferable, and instead, one of the only people to understand her love of music and the violin. Continue reading

The Girl in the Gatehouse, by Julie Klassen – A Review

The Girl in the Gatehouse, by Julie Klassen (2011)From the desk of Katie Patchell:

Women writers in the 21st century are accepted and praised for their ability to write great literature. Their books are proudly published alongside the books written by men, and literature today is not judged by the gender of the author but by the quality of the content. But it wasn’t always like this. Female authors in the Regency underwent many struggles that are not experienced or understood today. Society in the 1800’s rarely accepted female authors, and it was the exception, not the norm, that guaranteed a woman protection from society after publishing under her own name. So if society frowned upon female authors, then how would an authoress even go about finding and meeting with a publisher? How could she recover from public knowledge of her authorship? What was the consequence of daring to become an author? And what were the pros and cons of remaining anonymous? Julie Klassen answers these questions and more in The Girl in the Gatehouse, a Regency novel filled with romance, intrigue, and a mysterious authoress.

After a terrible indiscretion ruins her in the eyes of polite society, Mariah Aubrey is sent by her father to live in an abandoned gatehouse on the edges of her aunt’s estate, accompanied only by her loyal servant, Miss Dixon.  Ignored by her aunt and scorned by all of her loved ones and past acquaintances, Mariah plans to spend the rest of her days living quietly and going unnoticed by all, supporting herself anonymously by writing novels. But when Captain Matthew Bryant moves into Windrush Court after the death of her aunt, Mariah discovers that her heart isn’t as closed up as she thought. But could Captain Bryant ever love her if he knew what had happened in her past? When a house party hosted by Captain Bryant includes many guests who are from Mariah’s previous life, can she protect herself from them and keep them from revealing her secrets, past and present?

With a fortune in prize money and the title of Captain, Matthew Bryant leases Windrush Court, with the hopes of eventually buying it and securing his status as a gentleman. With unshakable determination, he plans on wooing Isabella Forsythe, the woman who rejected him before he left for the navy. But to Matthew’s bewilderment, his future plans start to lose their excitement as he spends more and more time with the mysterious Miss Aubrey. Her conversation and inner beauty attract him, but with the hoped-for future Mrs. Bryant coming to his house party (who happens to be arriving with her fiancé), Matthew keeps Mariah at a distance, telling himself that surely the woman he loves is the dazzling Miss Forsythe, not the puzzling Miss Aubrey. When the truth comes out, will Matthew discover who it is he truly loves, and will Mariah and Matthew both be able to forgive their own past mistakes in order to save their future? Continue reading

Blackmoore: A Proper Romance, by Julianne Donaldson – A Review

Blackmoore: A Proper Romance, by Julianne Donaldson (2013)From the desk of Katie Patchell:

In 2012 Julianne Donaldson published her debut novel, the highly successful Regency romance Edenbrooke. Now in 2013, she has written her second Regency novel, Blackmoore, which is set on the moors and windswept cliffs of England, in the halls of an old manor, filled with binding secrets, forgotten memories, and hidden love.

At fifteen, Kitty Worthington decided to change her name and identity to Kate Worthington. From happy child to guarded young woman, she turned her back on ever marrying, feeling as if she was a bird trapped in a cage—a cage filled with her mother’s indiscretions and schemes, and the fear that in letting herself feel and love, she would become just like all Worthington women—cold and heartless, being used and using others in turn.

Now at seventeen, Kate has finally been invited to Blackmoore, the symbol of her freedom and the manor house she has always longed to see. It is the second home of her best friends since childhood, Henry and Sylvia Delafield, who have visited it every summer, leaving her behind to imagine a place as wild as it is beautiful. But her dreams of Blackmoore will be destroyed unless she strikes a devil’s bargain with her manipulative mother. If Kate can manage to receive and reject three proposals during her visit, she can finally leave her broken home and make her own choices. If not, she must stay and do whatever her mother desires—including marrying a man she does not love. While at Blackmoore, Kate must discover the secrets in her heart, the worth of her dreams, and the strength to open her own cage and soar.

Woodlark. Blackbird. Swallow. Mistle Thrush.

Birds are the main theme in Blackmoore. Kate is a lover of birds, and, as seen in the synopsis above, likens herself to one—in her hope to escape her cage and fly. I loved how the use of different birdcalls and types of birds has different meanings for her, and how those are all tied into different memories from her past. Her feelings of birds are even in the first lines of chapter one:

A woodlark sings of heartache. A swallow calls in the two-tone rhythm of a race. And a blackbird’s song is the whistle of homecoming.
Continue reading

The Tutor’s Daughter, by Julie Klassen – A Review

Image of the book cover of The Tutors Daughter, by Julie Klassen © 2013 Bethany House PublishersFrom the desk of Katie Patchell:

In keeping with her much loved style of traditional Regency romances, Julie Klassen has recently published her sixth novel, The Tutor’s Daughter, a romantic mystery set in Regency England. This novel blends the satisfying romance of Jane Austen with the Gothic surprises of Charlotte Bronte, coming together in a delightful style that is all the author’s own.

Ever since her mother died, Emma Smallwood has helped her father run his all-male boarding school. At twenty-one, she has found her time consumed by the many school-related burdens that her father, in his grief, has ignored; teaching history, geography, and math, as well as trying to make ends meet for the quickly failing academy, with only a few moments to spare to dream about travel and adventures of her own. But just when the last pupil graduates and Emma runs out of all options to restore Smallwood Academy to its glory days, a letter arrives offering a new position to both Emma and her father, as tutor and tutor’s daughter for one year at Ebbington Manor along the stormy coast of Cornwall. While her father is overjoyed to leave the place that reminds him of his departed wife, Emma unearths long-buried memories, ones that remind her of two particular pupils from her father’s academy. Phillip Weston, of the kind blue eyes, warm friendship, and stolen kiss, and Henry Weston, of the flashing green eyes, malicious pranks, and partner in one hard-to-be-forgotten dance. Emma has discovered that the letter and advantageous job opening is from none other than Lord Weston, the father of both her friend and her nemesis. Continue reading

Edenbrooke: A Proper Romance, by Julianne Donaldson – A Review

Edenbrooke, by Julianne Donaldson (2012)I love to discover new authors to gush about. It’s just so hard to find them.

Yes, I can be as fastidious as Mr. Darcy when it comes to reading new works. He enjoyed reading too—and has an extensive library at Pemberley—the work of many generations! I don’t make 10,000 pounds a year off this blog, so I am quite reserved with my purchasing. In the instance of Edenbrooke, a debut novel by Juliann Donaldson, all the features worked to motivate me to pay top dollar for a digital copy for my Nook: Regency-era setting, snappy repartee, clean romance, illusions of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, swoon-worthy hero, flawed heroine, and a boatload of beaming reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. Donaldson must have gotten it right to have so many raving about her first novel. I had to find out.

After the tragic death of her mother, our heroine Marianne Daventry has been sent to Bath to live with her elderly grandmother, while her beautiful and refined twin sister Cecily lives in London with her more fashionable cousins. She is rather bored with Bath and the attentions of one odious Mr. Whittles, who like Mr. Collins in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice shares an absence of natural gifts that had not been improved by education or society. When an invitation arrives from her sister to stay at Edenbrooke, a country estate in Kent owned by a wealthy and titled man who Cecily hopes to marry, Marianne is ecstatic at the possibility of being in the country again. Her grandmother consents to the plan on one condition: she must change her wild ways and behave like an elegant lady. This is a challenge to Marianne who prefers twirling under the open sky to just about any activity. This defines Marianne’s personality perfectly. She is a bit of wild child that does not fit into society’s expectations of proper conduct befitting a young lady. Her grandmother also reveals she is disinheriting her heir, the Nefarious Nephew Mr. Kellet, and is instead bequeathing her fortune to Marianne. She is even more surprised that she must keep it a secret.

Off to Edenbrooke Marianne and her maid Betsy go by carriage on their big adventure. We were worried for her safety, and for good reason. Ladies in this era, young or old, did not travel without a proper male escort and we sensed trouble with every jolt of the carriage. It appeared like clockwork in the form of a masked highwayman welding a big gun who proceeds to shoot the carriage driver and steal her mother’s locket before Marianne retaliates and shoots him. This is all highly amusing in a comedic/tragic sort of way. Catherine Morland from Northanger Abbey would be thrilled to read this bit of drama made famous in her favorite Gothic-fiction novels. Our heroine in the making also faces other challenges at a local Inn where she seeks assistance and meets a disenchanted young gentleman who does not act like a gentleman.

“I blushed at his disdainful look, and then my nerves, strung so taut with everything that had happened, suddenly snapped. How dare he speak to me like that? Anger flared hard in my chest and pride reared its head. In that moment I felt as strong and haughty as Grandmother.

I lifted my chin and said, “Pardon me. I was under the impression that I was addressing a gentleman. I can see that I was, as you said, mistaken.”” (25)

There are many mistaken assumptions and misunderstandings throughout the novel. Amusingly, it makes for great comedic moments full of witty dialogue and hijinx. For example, after falling in a river, twice, Marianne meets the man who was so rude to her at the Inn and the banter continues. He is a Wyndham and they soon spend a week together riding the estate and talking in the great library. There are many other page-turning episodes which I will not reveal further, but readers can look forward to a ball (Yes, what Regency-era novel would be complete without one?), an abduction (Shades of Georgette Heyer), and plenty of clean romance (That Jane Austen would approve of).

Ms. Donaldson shows great promise. As a debut novel, Edenbrooke was delightful and diverting. She particularly excelled at the witty repartee between the main characters and developed the second string beautifully to support the narrative. My disappointment and there are only a few niggling objections, is with the length of the novel at 222 pages. It was almost as if one hundred pages were lopped and cropped out for some reason that we shall never know of. Once I was at Edenbrooke, I craved more narrative and felt we were short-sheeted. In addition, even though her publisher gave her a stunning cover, I think they should have made pecuniary adjustments because of the length of the novel.

All in all, Edenbrooke was an agreeable excursion into the country and into my heart. I look forward to following this author as she develops into an even more accomplished and elegant writer.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Edenbrooke: A Proper Romance, by Julianne Donaldson
Shadow Mountain (2012)
Trade paperback (222) pages
ISBN: 978-1609089467

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Cover image courtesy of Shadow Mountain © 2012; Text Reviewers Name © 2013 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose.com