Book Reviews, Historical Fantasy, Paranormal & Gothic Fiction

The Curse of Morton Abbey, by Clarissa Harwood — A Review

From the desk of Sophia Rose:

What would the Frances Hodgson Burnett classic, The Secret Garden, look like if all the main players were adults? That is what author Clarissa Harwood asked herself and a lush, atmospheric, and romantic historical suspense was born. A book from a new to me author and a set up I could not resist brought early tingles of excitement.

Vaughan Springthorpe finished settling her deceased solicitor father’s affairs and must now face an uncertain future. He trained her to copy and review legal documents and it is her dream to become a solicitor, herself. Facing resistance from her surviving family, because she is a woman and has a disability, she ignores this and takes the first step toward her dream by way of placing an advertisement for employment. A reply comes and she is hired by absentee estate owner, Sir Peter Spencer, to get the estate papers in order so he can sell.

Morton Abbey is a dreadful place where only Sir Peter’s reclusive brother and a couple servants are in residence. Vaughan encounters the prickly butler/valet, the belligerent invalid Mr. Spencer who doesn’t want the house sold, and the chatty, old cook/housekeeper. Treated to a nighttime gunshot, to a ghostly child’s tears, and someone attempting her bedchamber door, she learns quickly that something is very wrong.

Nick Spencer is thought mad because his only child was drowned, and his wife left him. Vaughan has little sympathy and suspects the man of being behind all the mystery to drive her away from the estate. Thankfully there is a cheery gardener, Joe Dixon, who takes her out and shows her the loveliness of the grounds and the gardens and seems quite interested in Vaughan.

Slowly, she settles in and is even happy for a time—until the secrets of Morton Abbey are revealed along with the unwelcome feelings of her heart for someone who is all wrong for her.

The Curse of Morton Abbey was both a classical tribute and an absorbing, original tale. It had some gothic tones that made it mildly hair-raising as a good tale of this sort should. The set up and introduction of the intrepid, but also vulnerable heroine adventuring alone into her new circumstances struck just the right chord. the further set up of backdrop and other characters along with current situation fell into place to create one riveting story. I liked seeing the way the Abbey slowly changed her while she has an equally good effect on the people at the abbey especially Nick by drawing him out of his darkened rooms and darker thoughts to enjoy the sunshine with her and Joe in the garden.

Vaughan was not an insipid heroine. She’s brash and rushes in where angels fear to tread, as the old saying goes. I was on the fence about her at the outset. While I entered into her feelings on wanting a career rather than be the poor relation, wanting to be respected for her skill no matter her gender, and not being treated poorly because she has a physical disability, she comes on very strong with her own sharp tongue and ways. She strode into that house and one day later she’s snooping in a locked wing and pushing her way into Mr. Spencer’s sick room demanding he talk about family secrets that are none of her business and discuss estate business before they are even introduced. I found her behavior and actions improbable for only her first day there especially since she was only hired to organize the estate papers. I came around to being pro Vaughan as the story continued after that first day and was on the edge of my seat as she faced the creepy moments, sussed out secrets, and got to know the handful of residents on the estate and the nearby villagers. She comes into her own as she is respected for her intelligence and her abilities, treated like someone special, and learns to believe in love and feels it for two very different men.

I enjoyed how the twists and turns built-up to a breath-taking and emotional climax before offering an equally absorbing denouement to the end. I figured out some of what was going on, but there was a great deal that I had to wait to find out including her romance choice.

All in all, this was a fabulous first outing with Clarissa Harwood’s writing and I loved the strong nod to The Secret Garden. I can unequivocally recommend it to gothic and historical suspense readers.

5 out of 5 Stars

  • The Curse of Morton Abbey, by Clarissa Harwood
  • Thornfield Press (October 26, 2021)
  • Trade paperback & eBook (361) pages
  • ISBN: 978-1777736903

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We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Austenprose.com is an Amazon.com affiliate. We receive a modest remuneration when readers use our links and make a purchase.

Cover image courtesy of Thornfield Press © 2021; text Sophia Rose © 2021, Austenprose.com

Book Lists, Historical Fantasy, Paranormal & Gothic Fiction, Holiday Reading, Regency Romance

7 Historic Romantic Suspense Novels with a Gothic Twist

As All Hallows Eve approaches on October 31st, tis the season to discover new and recent Gothic fiction in the historical suspense, romance, and mystery genres.

We can thank English writer, art historian, and politician Horace Walpole (1717-1797) for creating the Gothic fiction genre. After having a terrifying nightmare, Walpole was inspired to write The Castle of Otranto. Published in 1764, it combines many of the elements we see in Gothic novels today: an atmospheric isolated estate, a puzzling family mystery, and a heroine in peril from evil forces. Other classic authors of the genre include Ann Radcliffe, Matthew Lewis, Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, the Bronte sisters, and Daphne du Maurier.

Jane Austen fans will agree that Catherine Morland, the Gothic fiction addicted heroine of Northanger Abbey, would delight in the many contemporary authors who have embraced Gothic elements and incorporated them into their new stories. I must admit that I am not as brave as Catherine in her reading choices, so most of the books on this list have been curated to my tolerance Continue reading “7 Historic Romantic Suspense Novels with a Gothic Twist”

Austenesque, Book Reviews, Historical Fiction, Regency Era

The Heiress: The Revelations of Anne de Bourgh (A Pride and Prejudice Novel), by Molly Greeley — A Review

The Heiress by Molly Greeley 2021From the desk of Katie Jackson:

In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Miss Anne de Bourgh is known only as the sedate and sickly shadow of her mother, Lady Catherine’s, condescending and loudly opinionated character. The heiress of Rosings Park in Kent, Miss de Bourgh was intended from infancy—as a favorite wish of both her mother and her aunt—to marry her first cousin, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley in Derbyshire, thereby uniting two grand fortunes and estates. But when Mr. Darcy ultimately marries that obstinate, headstrong Miss Elizabeth Bennet instead, what is to become of Miss de Bourgh? This is one of many questions explored in Molly Greeley’s fascinating second Pride and Prejudice variation, The Heiress: The Revelations of Anne de Bourgh.

Anne de Bourgh was a wretchedly inconsolable infant. Her parents and nurse were therefore quite thankful for the medical intervention when the local doctor prescribed a dose of sleep-inducing laudanum and declared that she would always possess a delicate constitution. Consequently, Anne spends her formative years receiving twice-daily doses of her magic drops that keep her in a permanent state of lethargy. “My medicine turned me stone-heavy, a breathing statue, eyelids drawing down despite all my best efforts and thoughts drifting like milkweed fluff.” (118) Continue reading “The Heiress: The Revelations of Anne de Bourgh (A Pride and Prejudice Novel), by Molly Greeley — A Review”

Austenesque, Book Reviews, Novella or Short Story, Regency Era

The Ladies of Norland: Twisted Austen (Book 6), by Alexa Adams — A Review

The Ladies of Norland by Alexa Adams 2020From the desk of Sophia Rose:

For several years beguiling authoress Alexa Adams has enjoyed warping our comfortable and familiar Jane Austen stories into quick, deliciously revolting variations that readers can experience with a tingling sort of shock at the new outcome. Her cold, conniving Jane Bennet, in Jane and Bingley: Something Slightly Unsettling (2013), to a pitiable Mrs. Norris in Becoming Mrs. Norris (2014), left me properly aghast as the hair on my arms stood on end. For her latest Twisted Austen effort, The Ladies of Norland, she revisits the Dashwood family in Sense and Sensibility to give us an alarming ‘what if’.

When the invalid owner of Norland Park dies and leaves his estate in the hands of his nephew, niece, and their girls, he goes a step further to protect the female dependents. This is followed by Mr. Dashwood when he too passes on. Instead of being left bereft of a father, home, and future income depended on the dubious honor of a selfish, grasping brother and sister-in-law, they are heiresses and the Misses Dashwood of Norland. Continue reading “The Ladies of Norland: Twisted Austen (Book 6), by Alexa Adams — A Review”

Austenesque, Book Previews, Historical Fantasy, Paranormal & Gothic Fiction, Regency Era

A Preview of Tempt Me: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, by Julie Cooper

Tempt Me by Julie Cooper 2020Fall is here and Halloween is just around the corner as the next holiday to celebrate. To get in the mood I always like to re-read Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen’s Gothic parody, and a new Austen-inspired Gothic fiction. This year it will be Tempt Me, by Julie Cooper. It is a Pride and Prejudice variation with a paranormal twist. Get ready to meet vampire Darcy, again.

The vampire concept is not new to the Janeite fan fiction world. Austenesque authors have been putting this paranormal slant on Mr. Darcy (for good reason) since Amanda Grange’s, Mr. Darcy, Vampyre, was released in 2009. There have been others along this theme too: Pulse and Prejudice: The Confession of Mr. Darcy, Vampire, by Colette L. Saucier, Vampire Darcy’s Desire: A Pride and Prejudice Adaptation, by Regina Jeffers, and recently, Darcy’s Clan, by Lari Ann O’Dell. I see you rolling your eyes. Stop that. Darcy as a vampire is so sexy—a moody hot mess of uncontrollable desire. Continue reading “A Preview of Tempt Me: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, by Julie Cooper”

Austenesque, Book Reviews, Historical Fantasy, Paranormal & Gothic Fiction, Northanger Abbey Sequels

The Bride of Northanger: A Jane Austen Variation, by Diana Birchall — A Review

The Bride of Northanger: A Jane Austen Variation, by Diana Birchall (2019)From the desk of Debbie Brown:

Soon, All Hallow’s Eve will be upon us, when restless spirits of the dead are said to roam. What better time to pick up a gothic Austenesque novel centered around an ancestral family curse that continues to claim its victims? Beware, brave readers: this tome is not for the faint of heart. Several characters will not survive until the end of the story. (Cue creepy organ music, a bolt of lightning, and evil laughter!)

Diana Birchall’s latest, The Bride of Northanger, is a sequel to Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. In this case, General Tilney’s estate is the setting for melodramatic goings-on that are NOT the products of anyone’s imagination.

Catherine Morland – who becomes Catherine Tilney in the early pages here – is a year older and wiser. She has put aside silly gothic romances and instead reads more scholarly works. (There’s an interesting subtext here: her husband Henry is happy to see how educated she is becoming but, Continue reading “The Bride of Northanger: A Jane Austen Variation, by Diana Birchall — A Review”

Austenesque, Book Previews, Historical Fantasy, Paranormal & Gothic Fiction, Northanger Abbey Sequels

A Preview of The Bride of Northanger, by Diana Birchall

The Bride of Northanger: A Jane Austen Variation, by Diana Birchall (2019)Those of you who are fans of Austenprose know how much I enjoy Jane Austen’s lively, burlesque comedy, Northanger Abbey. In 2008 I hosted a month-long event here called, Go Gothic with Northanger Abbey, where we read the novel and explored its history, characters, locations, and legacy. I am a big #TeamTilney fan.

Sadly, there are not many Northanger Abbey-inspired novels in print. Margaret Sullivan, who is also a great admirer of Austen’s lesser-known work, wrote There Must Be Murder in 2010. There is also Henry Tilney’s Diary, by Amanda Grange, and Searching for Mr. Tilney, by Jane Odiwe, and a few others.

Imagine my delight when I discovered that Diana Birchall was publishing a Northanger Abbey continuation, The Bride of Northanger and that her new novel was going on a celebratory book release tour across the blogosphere, just in time for the Halloween reading season!

Here is information on the book, and the tour. Continue reading “A Preview of The Bride of Northanger, by Diana Birchall”