Giveaway Winner Announced for Death Sits Down to Dinner

Death Sits Down to Dinner by Tessa Arlen x 200It’s time to announce the winner of the giveaway of one hardcover copy of Death Sits Down to Dinner, by Tessa Arlen. The lucky winner was drawn at random and is:

  • Paige B., who left a comment on March 30, 2016.

Congratulations Paige! To claim your prize, please contact me with your full name and address by April 13, 2016, or you will forfeit your prize! Shipment is to US addresses only.

Thanks to all who left comments, to author Tessa Arlen for her great interview and to her publisher Minotaur Books for the giveaway copy.

Cover image courtesy of Minotaur Books © 2016, text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2016, Austenprose.com

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:

DESCRIPTION (from the publisher)

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.

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.

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A Crimson Warning (Lady Emily Series #6), by Tasha Alexander – A Review

Crimson Warning, by Alexandra Tudor (2011)Guest review by Kimberly Denny-Ryder

Jane Austen spoiled us.  She wrote novels about amazing women who oftentimes bucked society’s norms.  Nowadays, it’s difficult to find heroines like Elizabeth Bennet that have us rooting for them page after page.  Luckily, author Tasha Alexander decided to gift the world with a tenacious woman Austen herself would be proud of: Lady Emily Hargreaves.  In A Crimson Warning, the sixth novel in the Lady Emily mystery series, we are again thrown into a mystery that seems to have no clear ending.  It is up to Lady Emily’s wit and cunning to save the day and keep the forces of evil at bay for yet another day.

Lady Emily has been busy.  From barely escaping with her life in Constantinople and Normandy, she hopes to finally wind things down and come home to Mayfair and enjoy the normal comforts of being happily married and finally settled.  For a while, she actually accomplishes this.  Lady Emily even gets to join the Women’s Liberal Federation and work towards obtaining the right to vote for women.  Unfortunately, this ideal world is shattered in A Crimson Warning, when Lady Emily learns that an unknown person has been splashing red paint onto the fronts of many of the wealthier homes in London.  These are no ordinary homes, however, as their owners possess secrets that are potentially damaging and are hidden for one reason or another.  Soon enough, all of the upper class in London fear that they too could be the target of this criminal, and that he or she may be involved in more sinister acts than simply painting the front of a home with a red slash.  Can Lady Emily and Colin find this evil individual before it is too late and people start disappearing?  What are the secrets that these wealthy Londoners go to such lengths to protect?

Less than a month ago I had never heard of the Lady Emily series.  Shame on me!  I’ve now read all six novels in the series and am eagerly awaiting Death in the Floating City, the seventh in the series, which is scheduled for release this October.  When I reviewed the first Lady Emily novel, And Only To Deceive, my thoughts on Alexander’s writing was that it was a hybrid between Jane Austen and Agatha Christie.  Six novels later, those feelings remain unchanged.  Alexander is an amazing mystery writer.  I still had no idea whodunit 40 pages from the end.  Sure, I had my guesses regarding the culprit, but her writing is so precise and clean that it is not until the antagonist is finally revealed that you realize all the clues that were left for you to follow.

As I said above, Lady Emily is a woman that Austen herself would be proud of.  She completely disregards what society expects of women.  She refuses to be an idle wife, staying home with nothing to do but plan balls and dinners and make social calls.  Instead, she uses her mind to explore literature, art, and languages, much to the delight of her husband, Colin.  Colin works as an agent for the crown and is fully supportive of her “crimes against society”.  In A Crimson Warning we get to see a more political side of Emily, as she gets involved with the Women’s Liberal Federation.  It’s through all of her side interests (i.e art, literature) that we learn about that time period.  Alexander uses Emily’s “hobbies” to inform us about what was going on back then.  It’s obviously meticulously researched and has oftentimes led me to want to read and research certain time periods further.

I have to say of all six novels I think that A Crimson Warning is my favorite to date.  We really get a sense of Alexander’s witty and playful side here.  Her scavenger hunt through the British Museum and whiskey drinking scene between Emily and her good friend Jeremy were the best parts of the novel in my opinion.  Although we don’t normally see this side of Alexander, I’m really glad that we got to in this novel.  It added an extra touch to an already wonderful novel that I heartily recommend to everyone.  Fast paced and full of wit and terrifying danger, A Crimson Warning (and the entire Lady Emily series) is not one you want to miss.  Add it to your to-read pile as soon as possible, you won’t be disappointed.

5 out of 5 Stars

A Crimson Warning (Lady Emily Series #6), by Tasha Alexander
St. Martin’s Press (2011)
Hardcover (336) pages
ISBN: 978-0312661755

Kimberly Denny-Ryderis the owner/moderator of Reflections of a Book Addict, a book blog dedicated to following her journey of reading 100 books a year, while attempting to keep a life! When not reading, Kim can be found volunteering as the co-chair of a 24hr cancer awareness event, as well as an active member of Quinnipiac University’s alumni association.  When not reading or volunteering, Kim can be found at her full-time job working in vehicle funding. She lives with her husband Todd and two cats, Belle and Sebastian, in Connecticut.

© 2007 – 2012 Kimberly Denny-Ryder, Austenprose

Jane and the Stillroom Maid: Being the Fifth Jane Austen Mystery, by Stephanie Barron – A Review

Jane and the Stillroom Maid, by Stephanie Barron (2000)Touring the Derbyshire countryside in the summer of 1806, Jane Austen, her mother, sister Cassandra and cousin Rev. Edward Cooper are staying at the Rutland Arms in Bakewell, in the Peak District. While on a day excursion out into the country with Mr. Cooper and his friend Mr. Hemming, the gentleman enjoy angling along the River Wye and Jane pursues her passion for a country walk, shortly ending in a disturbing discovery. A young gentleman is found “foully and cruelly” murdered on a crag near Millers Dale with a bullet in his head, his entrails torn from his body and his tongue cut out. Jane and Mr. Cooper are tourists to the area and the victim is unknown to them. Mr. Hemming, a local solicitor also claims not to recognize the young man. All three are deeply disturbed by the grisly discovery, but Mr. Hemming strangely acts out of character insisting that the body be transported a distance to Buxton and not to Bakewell the town under proper jurisdiction to the local Justice of the Peace and Coroner. After some uneasy discussion, Mr. Hemming reluctantly concedes to allow the corpse to be taken Bakewell, but Jane cannot help but notice that he is acting like a man burdened with guilt.

The local surgeon Mr. Tivey is summoned from his blacksmith duties and examines the deceased. He recognizes the victim immediately, suspecting some kind of evil mischief afoot. The young gentleman is no gentleman, he is a lady, one Tess Arnold, the stillroom maid of Penfolds Hall, the country estate of Mr. Charles Danford near Tideswell, only one mile north of where the body was discovered. Tivey is quick to spread the shocking details among the villagers of the vicious extent of her wounds. He claims it is a ritual killing related to an act of revenge conducted by the Freemasons when one of their own is betrayed. The local Justice of the Peace, Sir James Villiers, arrives and interviews Jane and her cousin Mr. Cooper. The Coroner’s Inquest will be called in three days. Run by the disgruntled Mr. Tivey who has been very liberal with his derogatory opinions of the murder by the Freemasons after they rejected him as a member. The “evil weight of a jealous tongue” has turned the villagers into an angry mob who want justice. Sir James entreats Jane to remain in town and relay her story of discovering the mutilated corpse.

At the Coroner’s Inquest, the parties connected to the young victim Tess Arnold are called to be questioned. Jane and her cousin relay their story, but oddly, the third witness in the discovery, Mr. Hemming, does not appear when called. We learn more about the victim and her duties as stillroom maid, and, her disreputable character. Her former employer Charles Danforth, who is in mourning the recent death of his wife and child, recognizes the clothing found on the corpse as his own, but cannot explain how she had possession of them. His personal connection to the victim is scrutinized by the coroner and he storms out of the proceedings. The Housekeeper is questioned and reveals that Tess had been dismissed on the same day as her death. Feigning heart trouble, or is it purposeful swooning, the proceedings for the day are stopped to assist the housekeeper. As the inquest disperses, Sir James invites Jane for nucheon to discuss her opinions on the case and an old friend unexpectantly arrives.

At that moment, the rustling in the passage increased and the parlour door was thrust open. I turned, gazed, and rose immediately from my chair. A spare, tall figure, exquisitely dressed in the garb of a gentleman, was caught in a shaft of sunlight. He lifted his hat from his silver hair and bowed low over my hand

“It is a pleasure to see you again, Miss Austen. We have not met this age.”

Nor had we. But I must confess that the gentleman had lately been much in my thoughts.

“Lord Harold,” I replied a trifle unsteadily. “The honour is entirely mine.” Page 86

What a grand entrance for the Gentleman Rogue! Bathed in sunlight like a God? LOL! What? No twinkling stars in his eyes and blinding white teeth?

Jane and the Stillroom Maid is the fifth Jane Austen mystery, and for those unfamiliar with this series, the narrative is from a fictional diary written by Jane Austen and discovered in 1992 in a Georgian manor house near Baltimore. Inspired by actual events in Jane Austen’s life, historical fact and cultural detail, each of the novels has Jane Austen using her keen observational skills of human nature as a sleuth in a murder mystery.

This narrative is set in Pemberley country, that palatial country estate of Mr. Darcy, the hero of Austen’s famous novel Pride and Prejudice. Well, we don’t really know where in the county of Derbyshire the fictional Pemberley estate is, but we do have some clues from Austen that it was near Bakewell, where Jane and her family are staying in his story. It has long been suspected that Jane Austen modeled Pemberley after the famous Chatsworth House, the seat of the Duke of Devonshire and the Cavendish family since 1549. It lies only three and a half miles from Bakewell. The fact that Lord Harold is a guest at Chatsworth and takes Jane there as his guest to be served ratafia, route cakes and rumors of indiscretions, that may of lead to murder, is a delicious coincidence. It is delightful to imagine that Jane Austen could have toured the Peak District in the summer of 1806 and visited Chatsworth and modeled her Pemberley after it.

Each of the chapters is prefaced by a recipe from the Stillroom Book of the victim Tess Arnold. Stillroom maids were a combination of herbalist, apothecary and food preserver on large estates. Because of their skill at curatives and elixirs, stillroom maids were often accused of being witches, even in Jane’s time during the early 1800’s. Some of the recipes are disturbing to modern sensibilities: adding brains of four cock sparrows or mourning doves into a fruit tart to give someone courage, ew! But the recipes added to the charm of the era and brought home how far we have evolved with modern medicine and education.

The mystery was intriguing, but I think I figured out whodunit too soon. It did not spoil one moment of my enjoyment. Barron excels at historical detail, early 19th-century language and fabulous characterization. Her portrayal of Jane Austen is so natural and engaging that I lose myself in the character and forget that this is just fiction. Jane’s friendship with Lord Harold is exciting and tragic. I want them to be a couple, but realize that his being the second son of a duke and she an impoverished gentleman’s daughter, that it cannot happen. I also enjoy finding allusions to Jane Austen’s own characters in Barron’s own and laughed-out-loud at her interpretation of Mr. Edward Cooper, Rector of Hamstall Ridware, Staffordshire, Jane’s first cousin, supercilious singing toad and Mr. Collins knock-off. His reaction when being interrupted while fishing by Jane’s announcement of a murder is hilarious:

“A corpse?” Mr. Cooper exclaimed, with a look of consternation. “Not again, Jane! However shall we explain this to my aunt?” page 31

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Jane and the Stillroom Maid: Being the Fifth Jane Austen Mystery, by Stephanie Barron
Bantam Books (2000)
Mass market paperback (336) pages
ISBN:  978-0553578379

This is my fifth selection in the Being a Jane Austen Mystery Reading Challenge 2011. You can still join the reading challenge in progress until July 1, 2011. Participants, please leave comments and or place links to your reviews on the official reading challenge page by following this link.

Grand Giveaway

Author Stephanie Barron has generously offered a signed hardcover copy of Jane and the Stillroom Maid to one lucky winner. Leave a comment stating what intrigues you about this novel, or if you have read it, who your favorite character is by midnight PT, Wednesday, May 25, 2011. Winner to be announced on Thursday, May 26, 2011. Shipment to US and Canadian addresses only. Good luck!

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Giveaway winner announced for Jane and the Genius of the Place

Jane and the Genius of the Place, by Stephanie Barron (1999)18 of you left comments qualifying you for a chance to win a signed hardcover copy of Jane and the Genius of the Place, by Stephanie Barron. The winner drawn at random is Penelope who left a comment on April 26th.

Congratulations Penelope! To claim your prize, please contact me with your full name and address by May 4th, 2011. Shipment is to US and Canadian addresses only.

Thanks to all who left comments, and for all those participating in the Being a Jane Austen Mystery Reading Challenge 2011. We are reading all eleven novels in this great Austen inspired mystery series this year. The challenge is open until July 1st, 2011, so please check out the details and sign up today!

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose