Book Reviews, Historical Romance, Holiday Reading

The Mistletoe Countess, by Pepper Basham — A Review  

From the desk of Katie Patchell: 

‘Tis the season. This is the time of year that especially prompts me to curl up with my cat in a window seat, sipping tea, and breaking into my TBR pile.

Just in time for a Thanksgiving Day read, let me introduce you to a new Edwardian romance, The Mistletoe Countess, by Pepper Basham. Combining electric romance with mysterious adventures, this novel is sure to kick off this winter season with a bang. 

Gracelynn Ferguson – In the wealthy Ferguson household, rank and value follows birth order. Lillias, the firstborn, is silver tongued, secretive, and trained to marry a lord. Grace, the second born, is a wildling in love with books, adventure, and truth-telling. Continue reading “The Mistletoe Countess, by Pepper Basham — A Review  “

Book Reviews, Editor's Picks, Historical Fiction

The Summer Before the War: A Novel, by Helen Simonson – A Review

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson 2016 x 200From the desk of Debra E. Marvin:

Discovering just-released fiction on my library’s New Audiobooks shelf makes me feel as if someone has let me slip in at the front of a long line. When I found Helen Simonson’s The Summer Before the War, I was delighted she’d chosen another charming English town (I’d quite enjoyed her debut Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand) and the summer of 1914. Whether she planned it or not, the timing may help some of us adjust to the end of a ‘certain’ British historical drama, though enjoying this novel can’t be limited to Downton Abbey fans. What better time than the centennial of The Great War, to revisit its impact.

Protagonist Beatrice Nash is a young woman of high intellect, low tolerance for the superficial, and a middle-class income stymied by the death of her beloved father. Mr. Nash’s academic profession provided his daughter an unusual upbringing ripe with experiences beyond England, and making Beatrice independent, Continue reading “The Summer Before the War: A Novel, by Helen Simonson – A Review”

Author Interviews, Historical Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Fiction

Q & A with Tessa Arlen – Author of Death Sits Down to Dinner

Death Sits Down to Dinner by Tessa Arlen x 200Please help me welcome historical mystery author Tessa Arlen to Austenprose today during her blog tour of her new novel, Death Sits Down to Dinner, the second book in her Lady Monfort series.

Firstly, I want to congratulate Tessa on her recent nomination for the Agatha Award for her debut novel, Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman. I enjoyed it tremendously, and obvious others did as well. Set at an Edwardian era English country manor house, it is the first novel in the Lady Montfort series. Death Sits Down to Dinner was released on March 29th, 2016 and is set in London. The two novels are now Town and Country bookends!

Welcome Tessa!

Comparisons of your novels to Downton Abbey were inevitable. When were you first inspired to write a mystery novel, and why did you select Edwardian era English aristocrats and their servants as your main characters? Continue reading “Q & A with Tessa Arlen – Author of Death Sits Down to Dinner”

Book Reviews, Historical Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Fiction

Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman: A Mystery, by Tessa Arlen – A Review

Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman by Tessa Arlen 2015 x 200For those who are in the doldrums after last week’s final episode of season five of Downton Abbey and in need of another English country manor house upstairs/downstairs story, Tessa Arlen’s debut novel could fit the bill.

Set at the fictional estate of Iyntwood in the summer of 1913, Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman is a murder mystery in the grand tradition of Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and P.G. Wodehouse. Here is a brief preview and review for your consideration:

BOOK DESCRIPTION

Lady Montfort has been planning her annual summer costume ball for months, and with scrupulous care. Pulling together the food, flowers and a thousand other details for one of the most significant social occasions of the year is her happily accepted responsibility. But when her husband’s degenerate nephew is found murdered, it’s more than the ball that is ruined. In fact, Lady Montfort fears that the official police enquiry, driven by petty snobbery and class prejudice, is pointing towards her son as a potential suspect.

Taking matters into her own hands, the rather over-imaginative countess enlists the help of her pragmatic housekeeper, Mrs. Jackson, to investigate the case, track down the women that vanished the night of the murder, and clear her son’s name. As the two women search for a runaway housemaid and a headstrong young woman, they unearth the hidden lives of Lady Montfort’s close friends, servants and family and discover the identity of a murderer hiding in plain sight.

REVIEW

In this enchanting debut sure to appeal to fans of Downton Abbey, Tessa Arlen draws readers into a world exclusively enjoyed by the rich, privileged classes and suffered by the men and women who serve them. Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman is an elegant mystery filled with intriguing characters and fascinating descriptions of Edwardian life–a superb treat for those who love British novels.

I was deeply impressed with Arlen’s debut mystery. Her choice to have two women from different social strata team-up was very clever—defining the social hierarchy of the era and their personalities very keenly. Lady Montfort, the mistress of Iyntwood and her housekeeper Mrs. Jackson are a perfect combination of creativity and logic similar to P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster, master & servant duo. While Wodehouse’s famous mystery series is at times more comedy than mystery, I found Arlen’s take on the traditional English country house mystery much more of a serious social commentary.

Starting off with a gruesome murder Teddy Mallory, the gamester and miscreant nephew of Lord and Lady Montfort, the clues are very pale and you must pay attention closely. Interestingly as the story unfolds, the unlamented Teddy is the real star of the show because of his twisted backstory which we learn about over the course of the novel. Despite the fact that the most intriguing character in the book is dead from the get-go—what unravels is a cleverly crafted, entrancing mystery filled with fascinating characters, beautiful descriptions of aristocratic life in England before WWI and a social commentary that will haunt you. Brava to Arlen for a stunning debut novel.

4 out of 5 Stars

Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman: A Mystery, by Tessa Arlen
Minotaur Books (2015)
Hardcover & eBook (320) pages
ISBN: 978-1250052490

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indie Bound | Goodreads

ADDITIONAL REVIEWS

Cover image courtesy of Minotaur Books © 2015; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2015,  Austenprose.com

Disclosure of Material Connection: We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Reviews, Editor's Picks, Historical Fiction

Rutherford Park: A Novel, by Elizabeth Cooke – A Review

Rutherford Park: A Novel, by Elizabeth Cooke 2013From the desk of Christina Boyd: 

It you are a fan of Downton Abbey and are Jonesing for a Grantham family-like fix until season four premieres next January on PBS, Elizabeth Cooke’s latest novel Rutherford Park might be just the ticket. Set during the Edwardian era at the eponymous estate in the Yorkshire countryside, the Cavendish family are as wealthy, titled, and drama-filled as the Grantham’s, yet we are privileged to be reading a book, as opposed to watching a screenplay, so the author’s historical detail, characterizations and compelling narrative make it even more intriguing

Rutherford Park is the seat of the Cavendish family who live their lavish lives by strict rules and obligation. Not surprisingly, the beautiful Lady Octavia Cavendish is lonely and bored, even somewhat envies the servants for their work. Her husband William, bound by the obligations of his Continue reading “Rutherford Park: A Novel, by Elizabeth Cooke – A Review”

Book Reviews, Editor's Picks, Historical Fiction

The Ashford Affair: A Novel, by Lauren Willig – A Review

Image of the book cover of The Ashford Affair, by Lauren Willig © 2013 St. Martin’s PressFrom the desk of Christina Boyd

In a departure from her Napoleonic spy romances of the Pink Carnation Series, New York Times bestselling author Lauren Willig ventures into new territory with The Ashford Affair. Entwining one generation’s story with that of another, from post-Edwardian British society to modern-day Manhattan to a coffee farm in Kenya, the long veiled secrets of a woman are unraveled.

Clementine Evans, a focused, driven law associate on the cusp of making partner in a large Manhattan firm, attends her beloved grandmother Adeleine’s 99th birthday and is accidentally enlightened to a family secret. At 34, Clemmie, feeling like her life is nothing but a 70-plus hour work week, and a failed engagement, this intrigue becomes more than a distraction to the un-fulfilling, lonely details of her days. Continue reading “The Ashford Affair: A Novel, by Lauren Willig – A Review”

Book Reviews, Downton Abbey, Nonfiction

To Marry an English Lord, by Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace – A Review

Image of book cover of To Marry an English Lord, by Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace (2012)From the desk of Laura A. Wallace:  

Originally published in 1989, this 2012 re-issue of To Marry and English Lord is an attractive trade paperback edition by Workman Publishing. Promoted as “an inspiration for Downton Abbey,” Julian Fellowes, the screenplay writer who created the series, has been quoted as saying that he was reading this book when approached about writing the series, and that the first character he conceived for it was Cora, Countess of Grantham, an American heiress.

This book has long been on my “to acquire and read” list so I was really looking forward to finally reading it. I found it to be fairly light reading. The chapters are divided up into short sub-headings, sprinkled with lots of side-bar quotations and tid-bits (at least one on every page), and interspersed with little mini-articles on every third or fourth page. Illustrations are copious; decorations are Victorian and Edwardian. Overall it presents a great deal of factual information in a very digestible way. Continue reading “To Marry an English Lord, by Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace – A Review”

Book Reviews, Historical Fiction

Summerset Abbey: A Novel, by T. J. Brown – A Review

Summerset Abbey, by T. J. Brown (2013)From the desk of Christina Boyd: 

Now that the third season of Downton Abbey has ended and left us quite reeling, what better balm to soothe our broken hearts than this new Edwardian series, Summerset Abbey by debut writer T. J. Brown. The year is 1913, the prelude to WWI, and three young women gently pursue their life’s hopes and desires, surrounded by the tacit convention of society. From almost page one, this historical fiction begins to weave its web as Sir Philip Buxton, who has raised his two beautiful daughters alongside the daughter of their governess, who is much like a sister to them, dies. Now the girls must abandon all they know, their Bohemian lifestyle, household, and modern manners to live under the charge of their traditional Edwardian uncle at his extensive estate, Summerset Abbey.

Raised to esteem the person and not riches or rank, Rowena and Victoria encounter their first snag when they learn that although they will be welcomed to Summerset, their “sister” Prudence Tate is Continue reading “Summerset Abbey: A Novel, by T. J. Brown – A Review”

Book Reviews, Editor's Picks, Historical Fiction

The Passing Bells: Book One of the Greville Family Saga, by Philip Rock – A Review

The Passing Bells, by  Philip Rock (2012)I love a good mystery. I just didn’t know that I would be so personally engaged in one for over thirty years.

In 1980, a read a book about an aristocratic English family during WWI that I absolutely adored. I was so enthusiastic about it that I promptly loaned it to my best friend who never thought of it again until about a year later when I asked for it back. She had no idea where my copy was. I was devastated. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to write down the title or author. I could only remember that bell was in the title.

Decades passed and the book never left my list of “to find titles.” When Internet search engines and online used book stores became available to me I searched Continue reading “The Passing Bells: Book One of the Greville Family Saga, by Philip Rock – A Review”