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

Book Reviews, Historical Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Fiction

The Barrister and the Letter of Marque: A Novel, by Todd M. Johnson—A Review

From the desk of Sophia Rose:

Crusaders come in all shapes and forms and some don’t even realize they are such a person until they face down injustice at the expense of reputation, career, and even life to see a wrong is righted.   The Barrister and the Letter of Marque by Todd M. Johnson, a historical mystery that balances Regency backdrop with legal thriller, contains a crusader that captivated me from page one.

A Regency period barrister, William Snopes, who champions the commoner in his clever and cunning way finds himself faced with a conundrum. Does he take a case that goes against his principle of never representing someone from the upper classes and particularly a case that has far reaching ramifications for all involved or tell the desperate woman, Lady Madeleine, he cannot?

To help make up his mind, he has his well-trained, staunch junior barrister, Edmund, his solicitor, and other reliable sources help him determine if the lady is telling the truth about her cousin, his ship, his crew, and goods being seized by the Crown for piracy because the Letter of Marque he was carrying Continue reading “The Barrister and the Letter of Marque: A Novel, by Todd M. Johnson—A Review”

Austenesque, Book Previews, Historical Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Fiction

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

Book Reviews, Historical Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Fiction, Regency Era

The Vanishing at Loxby Manor, by Abigail Wilson — A Review

The Vanishing at Loxbury Manor by Abigail WIlson 2021From the desk of Sophia Rose:

Mystery surrounds a family, a ruined abbey, and a sudden disappearance making a young guest and friend of the family fearful about her visit. The atmospheric suspense, attention to the historical setting, and complexity in the characters made The Vanishing at Loxby Manor, the latest release by Abigail Wilson, a must-read.

Charity Halliwell once thought to marry the oldest Cavanagh son, Piers, until her family’s sudden move to Ceylon and his letter ending their prospects left her bereft and vulnerable. An attack in the dark of the tea plantation has left her disgusted at her naiveté in venturing outside on her own and quelled her spirit as well as her dream of ever marrying and having a family. Now, when her parent’s journey to join her brilliant chemist of a brother in America, Charity longs for her old neighborhood and friends as a comfort. She knows from Selene’s letters that Piers will not be there as he lives away from the family. Continue reading “The Vanishing at Loxby Manor, by Abigail Wilson — A Review”

Austenesque, Book Previews, Historical Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Fiction, Regency Era

A Preview & Exclusive Excerpt of Accusing Mr. Darcy: A Pride & Prejudice Variation, by Kelly Miller

Accusing Mr Darcy by Kelly Miller 2020We are happy to welcome back Austenesque author Kelly Miller today in celebration of her new novel, Accusing Mr. Darcy. This storyline is a variation of the classic Pride and Prejudice plot and places protagonists Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy is an alternative universe—combining a love story and a murder mystery in the Peak District of northern England.

For those who are familiar with Miller’s previous two novels, Mr. Darcy’s Perfect Match (2020) and Death Takes a Holiday at Pemberley (2019), you will know of the author’s creative abilities. Great ready for another shake-up.

You will not find familiar characters such as Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, Lady Catherine, the younger Bennet sisters, or landmarks such as Longbourn and Rosing Park. Instead, you will be introduced to an Continue reading “A Preview & Exclusive Excerpt of Accusing Mr. Darcy: A Pride & Prejudice Variation, by Kelly Miller”

Austenesque, Book Reviews, Historical Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Fiction, Northanger Abbey Sequels

Murder at Northanger Abbey: Sequel to Jane Austen’s Spoof on the Gothic Novel, by Shannon Winslow—A Review

Murder at Northanger Abbey by Shannon Winslow 2020From the desk of Sophia Rose:

Do you ever read a book and enjoy it to such an extent that your mind continues to dwell on the characters, and you imagine your own continuation of the story? If that story is Northanger Abbey, then it is no stretch to imagine that the heroine, Catherine Morland, must have her dream of living inside one of her delicious gothic novels fulfilled even while reveling in the happiness of being married to her Henry. Oh, not as the gullible young girl who conjured up ghouls and mystery where it did not exist, but a heroine worthy of adventure when the adventure finds her. If you perked up at this possibility, then, like me, dear reader, you are primed for Shannon Winslow’s Murder at Northanger Abbey.

The story opens with Catherine and Henry Tilney, newlywed and living in bliss at Woodston Cottage. Catherine is still settling in as mistress and exalting in the tender and passionate love of her husband. She has learned from her earlier adventures and set aside the impressionable girl who saw a bloody skeleton in every locked trunk or a villain in every frown. She is sensible now and seeks to be a credit as a vicar’s wife. Continue reading “Murder at Northanger Abbey: Sequel to Jane Austen’s Spoof on the Gothic Novel, by Shannon Winslow—A Review”

Book Reviews, Historical Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Fiction, Victorian Era

A Stroke of Malice: A Lady Darby Mystery (Book 8), by Anna Lee Huber—A Review

A Stroke of Malice by Anna Lee Huber 2020From the desk of Rachel McMillan:   

Though locked room mysteries are a trope often revisit in the genre, it takes an immense amount of talent for an author to convince you that theirs is, indeed, the first of its kind. At once an homage to a classic trope and an immersive gothic romance A Stroke of Malice is a compelling historical romance that is not only atmospheric but eerily relevant. Lady Kiera Gage (nee Darby) and her husband, inquiry agent Sebastian Gage long familiar with the gothic and macabre, are put in close quarters with a puzzling corpse when a revelry turns deadly. The prospect of a holiday at the Bowmount’s Estate in Scotland is welcome for the investigative couple, but nothing could prepare them for one of the most baffling of their many cases together.

Almost six months’ expectant, Kiera is looking forward to a warm, inviting, and seasonally riotous Twelfth Night party at a crumbling Scottish manor house: perhaps her last opportunity before her confinement. Herein, with an eerie Poe-like setting of crypts and cloisters, dead friars and monks, and things that go bump in the night, Kiera and Gage must decide whether what they are seeking is foul play or far more sinisterly supernatural. The masked festivities, dancing, merriment libations of the cold December night culminate in the demand by the chosen Lord of Misrule for a ghost tour. Thus, Kiera and Gage attend a forbidden part of the manor house that takes them several steps back in time. Things go amiss when their ghoulish tour leads to a body far more recently deceased than the skeletons tucked into the ancient stones. Thus, the lady and lord of the manor are eager to make good on the Gage’s reputations for solving the most sinister of crimes.

The mystery deepens as no one is missing from the manor or its surrounding area, there are no personal possessions and no distinguishing features. In addition, the regal Lady Eleanor’s husband has been absent in Paris for a long while with seemingly no communication, leading Gage and Kiera to wonder if the deceased is Lord Hemswick. Continue reading “A Stroke of Malice: A Lady Darby Mystery (Book 8), by Anna Lee Huber—A Review”