That Churchill Woman: A Novel, by Stephanie Barron – A Review

that churchill woman barron 2019 x 200Between 1870 and 1914, there were at least a hundred marriages of American heiresses to British peers. Fueled by microeconomics—supply and demand—American industrial tycoons bought position, prestige and coronets by bartering their daughter’s dowries to cash-strapped aristocrats. One transatlantic trade was Brooklynn born Jeanette “Jennie” Jerome. In 1874 she became one of the first “dollar princesses” when she married Lord Randolph Churchill, the third son of the Duke of Marlborough. Her wildly rich father reputedly paid a dowry equaling 4.3 million dollars in current currency. What a way to start a life-long marriage—and what delectable fodder for this new biographical fiction of Jennie’s life, That Churchill Woman, by Stephanie Barron.

Lady Randolph Churchill is one of those larger-than-life women from history whom we look upon with shock and awe. Most people will know her as the scandalous American mother of Winston Churchill, the famous politician and prime minister of Great Britain, however there is so much more to know about this intelligent, fiercely independent woman. Born in 1854 into wealth, privilege and the excess that it generates, she was raised in New York City, Newport, Rhode Island and Paris. Her childhood was colored by her parents Leonard Jerome and Clarissa “Clara” nee Hall’s Victorian marriage. He was a notorious womanizer. She turned the other cheek and befriended his long-time mistress Fanny Ronalds. When the affair finally ended the two women banded together, left their respective husbands, and sailed for Paris with their children.

Another significant event in her early life was the death of her younger sister Camille when she was nine. Devastated by the loss, her father consoled his young daughter with sage advice: “The only way to fight death, Jennie, is to live. You’ve got to do it for two people now—yourself and Camille. Take every chance you get. Do everything she didn’t get to do. Live two lives in the space of one. I’ll back you to the hilt.”

She gave it her best shot. Beautiful, stylish and an accomplished musician, she married into one of England’s most noble families. Producing an heir and a spare, her homelife was run by servants while she partied with aristocrats and royalty. Lady Randolph appeared to have it all, yet like other bright shining stars in society, such as Emma Hamilton, Marie Antoinette, or Jennie’s childhood friend Alva Vanderbilt, we soon discover “varnish and gilding hide many stains.”

Her husband Randolph, whom she accepted after a three-day courtship, and against her mother’s advice, has brought heavy baggage with him into the marriage. While she dutifully assists him in his career by re-writing his speeches for parliament, accompanying him to important social and political events, and entertaining royalty in their London home, his heedless actions and rash decisions cannot be offset by her social graces when he blunders and resigns his hard-earned government post in protest. As his career and health decline, Jennie is shocked to learn that he is a closeted homosexual and is seriously ill with syphilis, which will eventually rob him of his political aspirations and his life.

His follies and vices have set a bad tone for their relationship slashing a whole in Jennie’s happiness. To survive her loveless marriage, she escapes to country manor houses for long weekends with the Prince of Wales’ set were gossip, hunting, feasting, and bedroom hopping is de rigueur. In her heart, and in her bed, is the dashing Austrian Count Charles Kinsky, diplomat, prominent horseman and the future Prince of Wchinitz and Tettauis. He is the one man in her life that she truly loves. Sadly, their romance is doomed. A divorce from her husband would result in a scandal that no one of her class could rebounded from, and he must marry royalty.

Renowned by Jane Austen fans for her Being a Jane Austen Mystery Series, Stephanie Barron is also a best-selling author of thrillers as Francine Mathews (Jack 39, Too Bad to Die). That Churchill Woman, while resplendent with period detail and vivid characters, is as intricately plotted as one her mysteries or thrillers, cleverly moving between Jennie’s childhood and her present-day life, mirroring conflicts or recalling memories that help her through a crisis. What really resonated for me was Jennie herself. She was no saint, yet Barron shapes her choices with plausible instinct and solid reasoning.

Reading about Jennie’s wild gallop on horseback through the English countryside with Count Kinsky, I recalled the advice of her father on cheating death by living two lives in the space of one. She did. What I thought would be a novel about a scandalous Victorian socialite honors a strong, fierce woman who embraced life and love, celebrating the indomitable human spirit.

A remarkable achievement. Victorian Jennie Churchill is an inspiration for women today. Impassioned, brilliant and smashing. You will love her!

5 out of 5 Stars

That Churchill Woman: A Novel, by Stephanie Barron
Ballantine Books (2019)
Hardcover, eBook & audiobook (400) pages
ISBN: 978-1524799564

PURCHASE LINKS:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indiebound | Goodreads

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.”

Cover image courtesy of Ballantine Books © 2019; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2019, Austenprose.com

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, resilient, and practical. She was “not raised to be shy, and had put away the fripperies of girlhood.” All very good indeed when she takes a position as Latin teacher for the local children and is tested by the restrictions and social expectations of small town life in this delightful corner of Sussex. She simply must succeed or risk returning to her wealthy aunt’s suffocating control.

If this novel was a miniseries, she’d be the lead in an outstanding ensemble cast. To her left, Mrs. Agatha Kent, mentor, and “of a certain age when the bloom of youth must give way to strength of character, but her face was handsome in its intelligent eyes and commanding smile.” To Beatrice’s right, Hugh Grange, likely the most uncomplicated man in town…who happens to be a brain surgeon. The residents of Rye create the rich background we so enjoyed in Ms. Simonson’s debut, and Rye itself rounds out the cast as quintessential England. I had no trouble balancing the many characters who exit the other side of the war—the autumn after the war, so to speak—forever altered. Just as it should be. Continue reading

A Man of Genius, by Janet Todd – A Review

A Man of Genius Janet Todd 2016 x 200From the desk of Shelley DeWees:

Once as a child he’d had himself electrocuted to see how it would feel. He’d let the current course through him. He’d felt vibrant. 

Perhaps he’d never been the same since, just full of sparks. Perhaps touching him she’d taken on some of his electricity, only instead of making her more alive, it had singed and dulled her.

Confident, theatrical, and opinionated, the genius anti-hero of Janet Todd’s novel—which is a departure from her well-known nonfiction work on Jane Austen and others—positively reeks of potential for unusual behavior, right from the start. He’s fussy and aloof; he gets upset if he is forced to walk through pale-colored soil in dark boots; he balks at tea cups that are “coarse” or “thick” and favors a more delicate model of his own choosing. He is Byronically volatile and tense, but in Ann’s eyes, Robert James is the picture of perfection, a man she simply cannot ignore. Their first meeting at a party in 1816 leaves her reeling with desire to hear more of his rhetoric, and to become familiar with his not-so-attractive yet completely arresting face—for this face, in that moment, becomes the face to Ann. “Robert James,” she acknowledges within five pages, “changed everything.”

And it’s true. At the beginning of the story, Ann St Clair is a different person. She’s plainly-dressed—relying as she does on her Gothic writings as her only source of income—and “not dissatisfied with her mode of life” in her small lodgings. Yet as soon as she connects herself to Robert James, she must change, first by demurring to his opinions of proper dress, and later, far more destructively, by abandoning her life in order to accompany him to Italy. This, in fact, is the point in the story where the relationship begins to degrade in haste: With one snide comment after another, one slight, one violent outburst, one mad musing after another, Ann and Robert James fall apart. Quality of life deteriorates for both of them, and in a long crescendo we are swept to the inevitable conclusion of a relationship built on half-truths and unspoken grievances. Yet you need not worry that it will be predictable; rather, it’s quite surprising how it all shakes out in the end. Continue reading

Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia Episode 1: Dancing into Battle – Recap & Review

Belgravia Julian Fellowes 2016 x 200Hold on to your bonnets historical fiction fans! Today is the official debut of Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia, a new serialized novel by Downton Abbey’s creator/writer. Set in London in the early Victorian-era, the story follows one family’s life and how a secret from twenty-five years earlier, changed them forever.

Austenprose is honored to be the first stop on the Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia Progressive Blog Tour which will, over the course of ten weeks, travel through the ether visiting popular book bloggers and authors specializing in historical fiction and romance. Today we will be recapping and reviewing the first episode, “Dancing Into Battle.”

Released in 11 weekly installments, each episode of Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia will conclude with twists, turns and cliff-hanger endings popularized by the novels of Dickens, Gaskell and Conan Doyle in the nineteenth century. Delivered directly to your cell phone, tablet or desktop via a brand new app, you can read the text or listen to the audio recording narrated by acclaimed British actress Juliet Stevenson, or jump between the two. In addition, you will have access to the exclusive bonus features available only through the app including: history, fashion, food & drink, culture and more that will frame the story while immersing you into the character’s sphere. In addition, the first episode is totally free!

Here is a short video on how it all works: Continue reading

Progressive Blog Tour for Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia Begins April 14

Belgravia Julian Fellowes 2016 x 200Downton Abbey may have ended but its creator/writer Julian Fellowes has not missed a beat. The multiple award-winning screenwriter, playwright, and TV show creator has a new novel called Belgravia to fill that huge whole in our hearts when the sixth and final season of Downton concluded in the US last March. Breaking new ground in the digital age, the book will be released in 11 serialized installment beginning Thursday, April 14 by Grand Central Publishing followed by hardcover release on July 05, 2016.

Julian Fellowes’ Belgtavia is the story of a secret. A secret that unravels behind the porticoed doors of London’s grandest postcode. Set in the 1840s when the upper echelons of society began to rub shoulders with the emerging industrial nouveau riche, Belgravia is people by a rich cast of characters. But the story begins on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. At the Duchess of Richmond’s new legendary ball, one family’s life will change forever.

The serialized novel is hardly a new concept. Victorian authors such as Dickens, Gaskell, Collins and Conan Doyle became famous through their weekly newspaper installments popular because of their addictive episodic format of twists and cliff hangers. Belgravia will embrace the same concept but with new technology. An app available for download from the official website will send the weekly file to reader’s phones, tablets or computers. Additional annotation and historical detail will also be available to embellish the narrative while readers can jump between the digital text and the audio recording by acclaimed British actress Juliet Stevenson. Continue reading

Austenprose’s Best Austenesque & Jane Austen Era Books of 2015

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What a great year of Austenesque reading! We reviewed 40 fiction and nonfiction books in the Austenesque, Regency or Georgian genre this past year and would like to share our list of what we feel were the most exciting, memorable and rewarding books of 2015. 

Best Austenesque Historical Novels 2015:

  1. Brinshore: The Watson Novels Book 2, by Ann Mychal (5 stars)
  2. Jane by the Sea: Jane Austen’s Love Story, by Carolyn V. Murray (5 stars)
  3. Alone with Mr. Darcy: A Pride & Prejudice Variation, by Abigail Reynolds (5 stars)
  4. Pride, Prejudice and Secrets, by C. P. Odom (5 stars)
  5. The Darcy Brothers, by Monica Fairview, Maria Grace, Cassandra Grafton, Susan Mason-Milks and Abigail Reynolds (4.5 stars)
  6. Suddenly Mrs. Darcy, by Jenetta James (4.5 stars)
  7. Yours Forevermore, Darcy, by KaraLynne Mackrory (4.5 stars)
  8. The Second Chance: A Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility Variation, by Joana Starnes (4.5 stars)
  9. A Will of Iron, by Linda Beutler (4.5 stars)
  10. Miss Georgiana Darcy of Pemberley, by Shannon Winslow (4 stars)

Best Austenesque Contemporary Novels 2015: Continue reading

Celebrating Jane Austen Day on Austenprose with a Grand Giveaway

Jane AustenToday, December 16th, is Jane Austen’s 240th birthday. While the world celebrates Jane Austen Day, Austenprose is joining in the festivities with gifts to her fans.

Offered in the Grand Giveaway are several prizes including Austenesque books that we have reviewed this past year and some of our favorites from past years, and a tea package with a Pride and Prejudice mug.

To enter, just leave a comment stating why you enjoy Ms. Austen’s work and which character is your favorite by 11:59 pm, Monday, December 21, 2015. All books are print copies in either hardcover or paperback trade size. Winners will be drawn at random from the comments and announced on Tuesday, December 22, 2015. The contest is open to US residents and shipment will be to continental US addresses. Good luck to all!

Austenesque Books

Jane Austen Cover to Cover Margaret Sullivan 2014 x 350

Continue reading