The Bridge to Belle Island, by Julie Klassen — A Review

The Bridge to Belle Island by Julie Klassen (2019)From the desk of Sophia Rose:

First, Julie Klassen pulled me into her writing with a haunting, gothic romantic suspense, The Secret of Pembrooke Park, and most recently delighted me with the world of a quaint English village and its occupants in her series, The Tales of Ivy Hill. In her latest release, Klassen wrote a romantic suspense that is slightly darker, splitting the setting of an island estate on the Thames and London. I love a good murder mystery, and setting it in the Regency period had me taking up The Bridge to Belle Island prepared for a reading treat.

Young lawyer, Benjamin Booker, has just experienced a humiliating loss in court when the client he thought innocent had charmed him into risking all to defend her and it turned out she had utterly lied. He feels that he has disappointed his mentor at the firm and took a hard hit to his confidence in reading people and situations. However, he soon has the opportunity to prove himself to his mentor, Mr. Hardy, when Mr. Hardy wants justice for the death of his former colleague at the firm who lately held the position of trustee for the Wilder family and was murdered in their London Town House.

Living retired from the rest of the world on Belle Island, Isabelle Wilder has seen a great deal of tragic death in her family and it has left her with an extreme fear that won’t allow her to leave her island family home for years now. She is sorry to miss her niece’s engagement party in London because of her own weakness. The night of the party, Isabelle has a terrible dream that their skinflint trustee was murdered. She is dismayed when Mr. Booker, a skeptical lawyer from the family firm, shows up both to sort their legal matters brought on by the death of her trustee, but also to investigate the death with her as the chief suspect. It was a dream when she saw vivid images of the death, right? She has nothing to hide, she hopes, so welcomes Mr. Booker to Belle Island and invites him into her life there where he starts to mellow toward her until disturbing facts start to come to light leading right to her door.

There is a lot to unpack when I look back on this story. It has two main characters, Benjamin and Isabelle, who took turns narrating. They are well developed, likable and yet flawed in their own ways. Isabelle is in deep fear of dying in a tragic way if she leaves the island as a result of not coming to peace with the past loss of parents and sister, her only close family with the exception of her beloved niece. Benjamin struggles with the issue of inadequacy because he was never good enough with his father like his over-achieving brother and because he isn’t interested in the family medical practice. This is where the inspirational element is strongest as they work through their issues and learn to rely on their beliefs and promises in Scripture to aid them to overcome their issues.

The attention to the historical background and the island setting was well done as usual. I enjoyed learning about life on the island estate that was on the Thames. The growing of the willow reeds for the basket weaving that was their prime income besides the sheep herd was fascinating but never tedious. There is also focus on how criminal investigation was handled in those pre-CSI days and on trusteeships and their effect on single gentlewomen.

The murder mystery is front and center at different times and I enjoyed the clever twists and turns it takes as Benjamin gets to the truth. The murderer and motive took me by surprise.  I was just starting to get a glimmer when the big reveal moment came.

As to the romance, it’s a slow burn one and doesn’t come completely into the open until near the end. It takes a back seat to the mystery, to personal and spiritual growth, and even to family. But it’s there subtly strengthening in the background until it’s time to shine near the end. Some might prefer the romance to be more overt and show itself much earlier, but I thought the pacing and development worked well for this story.

All in all, The Bridge to Belle Island was a superb read. Julie Klassen is a deft hand at taking the reader back to the Regency Era with her engaging characters and the gentle flow of the story that passes quickly leaving the reader well-satisfied but still wanting more at the end. If you love sweet Regency Romance with strong inspirational flavor but want the spice of a cunning murder mystery, this book is for you.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Bridge to Belle Island by Julie Klassen
Bethany House Publishers (2019)
Hardcover, trade paperback, ebook, and audiobook (400) pages
ISBN-13: 978-0764218194

ADDITIONAL REVIEWS:

PURCHASE LINKS:

AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE | BOOK DEPOSITORY | INDIEBOUND | GOODREADS

Disclosure of Material Connection: We received a review copy of this book 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. Austenprose.com is an Amazon.com affiliate. We receive a modest remuneration when readers use our links and make a purchase. 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 Bethany House Publishers © 2019; text Sophia Rose © 2019, Austenprose.com

The Watsons, by Rose Servitova and Jane Austen — A Review

The Watsons, by Rose Servitova and Jane Austen (2019)

From the desk of Debra E. Marvin:

Author of The Longbourn Letters, Rose Servitova’s candid preface in The Watsons intrigued me as much as the concept of someone taking on an incomplete Austen manuscript. It’s believed Miss Austen began the story around 1803, but it was no more than a partial manuscript at the time of her death. Published in that form by her nephew in 1871, the original document is safely archived ‘as is’ with her edits and revisions. Once I began Ms. Servitova’s novel, I immediately trusted her efforts—dare I say chutzpah—to be the latest to co-author with Jane Austen. What delicate kid slippers to fill!

You’ll not be surprised to learn the story centers on a particular family of a kind, well-read, possibly dying gentleman lax in providing for his adult daughters. Around them, a circle of friends and acquaintances carries on with the business of gossip and country balls. Our protagonist is nineteen-year-old Emma Watson who’s returned home unexpectantly after being a long-time ward of her wealthy aunt and uncle. Because of this, both her family and their neighbors are practically strangers to her.

“Yes. Single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor- which is one very strong argument in favour of matrimony. She must marry, and I pray that it will happen soon,” said Elizabeth, “that she may rob a gentleman of his fortune and us of her company.”

Emma’s fourteen years away have produced a well-spoken and well-mannered young woman now surprised by the rather rough edges of two manipulative sisters, and the novelty of being the newest single female in want of a husband. Continue reading

A Preview of The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen, Volume III, by Collins Hemingway

The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen Vol III by Collins Hemingway (2017)There are hundreds of Austenesque books inspired by Jane Austen’s characters; namely featuring Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy who really dominate the field. Interestingly, there are few inspired by the authoress herself. Bestselling author Syrie James has written two: The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen (2007) and Jane Austen’s First Love (2014); and Shannon Winslow gave us The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen (2014). There have been others over the years including Stephanie Barron’s excellent Being a Jane Austen Mystery series. Recently, Collins Hemingway added to this subgenre of Austenesque fiction with the publication of his third book in his The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen series.

Jane Austen as a fictional character is a challenging concept. Since we know only about her life from her remaining letters and family biographies, creating a novel around her life can ask the reader to take a leap of faith and join the author on a journey that they imagine for Austen. This is what Hemingway has done. He has taken known facts of her life and the history of the Regency era and fictionalized her into being the heroine of her own story. I rather like the concept of turning a writer who creates characters and stories into one who lives her own adventures. Here is a description of The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen, Volume III from the publisher and an exclusive excerpt for your enjoyment.

BOOK DESCRIPTION:

In the moving conclusion to The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen, Austen and her husband struggle with the serious illness of their son, confront a bitter relationship with the aristocratic family who were once their friends, and face the horrific prospect of war when the British Army falters on the continent. The momentous events of the Napoleonic wars and the agonizing trials of their personal lives take the family to a decision that will decide their fate—and Jane’s future—once and for all.

Critics and readers alike have praised The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen for its insightful inner portrait of Jane Austen as well as for the sweeping canvas it presents of the Regency Era and Napoleonic wars. The trilogy spans the full arc of a mature relationship. Volume I is a courtship novel told with Austenian charm. Volume II is a deep psychological portrait of a woman’s experience in the first year of marriage. Volume III is the climax that will test Austen’s physical courage and moral convictions. Historically accurate and dovetailing with what little we know of Austen’s life in her late twenties, the novels provide a thoughtful, emotionally satisfying look at life for women in the early 1800s.

EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT: Continue reading

Rational Creatures: Stirrings of Feminism in the Hearts of Jane Austen’s Fine Ladies, edited by Christina Boyd – A Review

Rational Creatures 2018 x 200Having long been credited as the grandmother of the romance novel, it is an interesting notion to ponder if Jane Austen can also be attributed as an early feminist writer. Did she gently inject progressive thinking into her female characters to bring about the equality of the sexes? While we have been admiring Austen’s style, wit, and enduring love stories, were we missing the subtext that Austen’s strong female characters were also way ahead of their time?

Rational Creatures, a new Austen-inspired short story anthology edited by Christina Boyd posits the possibility. Sixteen Austenesque authors have been challenged with the task to create original stories inspired by Austen’s ladies—both heroines and supporting characters—revealing details, backstories, and asides that could have been part of the narrative.

If you are doubtful of the feminist infusion gentle reader, then let’s take a closer look at the famous quote from her final novel Persuasion, which obviously inspired the title of the anthology.

“But I hate to hear you talking so, like a fine gentleman, and as if women were all fine ladies, instead of rational creatures. We none of us expect to be in smooth water all our days.”

In the foreword, Prof. Devoney Looser explains how for two hundred years we have turned to Austen to “reflect on the world’s unfairness, and to laugh at its trivial absurdities…to avoid unequal marriages…and seek Austenian combinations of inventiveness, wisdom, and entertainment.” I could not agree more. In an era when women were treated like tender plants, Austen bravely portrayed her ladies’ vulnerabilities and strengths. In this collection, there is a wide variety of stories from heroines and minor characters who exhibit intelligence, patience, resilience, and grace to advance their own causes. Here is a brief description of the stories that await you: Continue reading

Lady Maybe, by Julie Klassen – A Review

Lady Maybe, by Julie Klassen (2015)From the desk of Katie Patchell:

  • Betrayals and Lies. Harmful Secrets. Surprising Redemption.

For the past several years, Austenprose has had the joy of reviewing books inspired by a beloved author, Jane Austen, as well as those set in the Regency period. One author, in particular, has appeared more than once and has written numerous Regency books inspired by the timeless novels of Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters: Julie Klassen. In her latest novel Lady Maybe, Klassen blends notes of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, to create a mystery-filled Gothic romance about the power of truth, and the lengths people will go to conceal it.

Lady Marianna Mayfield: Pressured into a marriage to Sir John Mayfield by her money-obsessed father, Lady Marianna ignores her older husband to instead focus on her many flirts, especially her lover, Anthony Fontaine. When her husband suddenly decides to take her with him to a house far away from Bath, she obeys—her silent companion and husband beside her, and the surety that her lover will do anything to find her. Continue reading

The List Lover’s Guide to Jane Austen, by Joan Strasbaugh – A Review

The List Lovers Guide to Jane Austen by Joan Strasbaugh 2013Ever wonder what books Jane Austen read, who her relations were, where she lived and traveled, or what were her pet peeves? Well, what true Janeite doesn’t? Do you want to learn more about your favorite author than you ever expected to discover all packed up and neatly arranged in one tidy volume? Then read on…

The List Lover’s Guide to Jane Austen is a delightful little factbook on the famous author and her world that was a welcome diversion from the drama and angst of the current Austenesque fiction book that I am entrenched in. Packed full of information compiled in list format, even this die-hard Janeite learned more than a few new tidbits about Austen’s novels, characters, family, Regency culture and her life.

This beautifully designed reference book would be the perfect primer and or fact-checker for a Jane Austen quiz. Broken down into categories like:

  • Forward: (including ten reasons for reading this book!)
  • Her Life: (including what she looked like, books she read, who she met on her travels and much more)
  • Her Correspondence: (great selected quotes)
  • Timeline for Jane Austen: (featuring events from every year of her life)
  • Her Writing: (from her juvenilia to her novels to her last poem)
  • Bonus List: Jane’s Royal Ancestors: (who knew?)
  • Bibliography: (exclusive and the best)

Continue reading

The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things, by Paula Byrne – A Review

Image of the book cover of The Real Jane Austen, by Paula Byrne © 2013 HarperCollins From the desk of Br. Paul Byrd, OP

“This book is something different and more experimental. Rather than rehearsing all the known facts, this biography focuses on a variety of key moments, scenes and objects in both the life and work of Jane Austen…In addition, this biography follows the lead of Frank Austen rather than Henry. It suggests that, like nearly all novelists, Jane Austen created her characters by mixing observation and imagination” (6-7).

I was very excited to be asked to review Paula Byrne’s new biography on Jane Austen. Not only is it the first rigorous biography on Austen to appear in print since Claire Tomalin and David Nokes both published their works in 1997 (both entitled Jane Austen: A Life), but it is also an example of a refreshingly different approach to biographical presentation. Like the famous British hermit and art critic, Sister Wendy, Byrne begins each chapter with an image and a short commentary which then serve as gateways into the central details about Austen’s life that she wishes to highlight. This allows her to avoid the expected plodding pace of a chronology so that she can then linger over the events, relationships, or ideas that she finds most compelling. And, as one might hope, Byrne’s fresh analysis extends to Austen’s oeuvre.

Fine. But were there any surprises, any moments when I felt like I was getting a glimpse into Austen’s life, personality, genius? I am glad to say there were many moments like this. For example, I so enjoyed chapter three in which Byrne contradicts the common opinion that Austen’s major influences were male writers like Richardson and Fielding, positing that, in fact, she more admired female novelists who were taking risks with their novels, like Burney and Edgeworth who “led [her] to see that the novel could be a medium for showing how seven years, or seventeen, were enough to change every pore of one’s skin and every feeling of one’s mind.” (88). Similarly, I enjoyed chapter five, which reexamines the relationship dynamic between Jane and Cassandra. How charming it is to contemplate Austen embracing the role of the younger sister, viewing Cassandra as her primary confidante and someone with whom she could be catty and silly (98). Perhaps more interesting is Byrne’s theory that Cassandra was the greater romantic of the two, meaning the traditions that she passed on about her younger sister, particularly those regarding Austen’s romances, may more reflect her own regrets rather than Jane’s (103). Continue reading

A Garden Folly: A Regency Romance, by Candice Hern – A Review

The Regency Romance Reading Challenge (2013)This is my fourth selection in the Regency Romance Reading Challenge 2013, our celebration of Regency romance author Candice Hern. We will be reading all of her traditional Regencies over the next nine months, discussing her characters, plots and Regency history. You can still join the reading challenge until July 1, 2013. Participants, please leave comments and or links to your reviews for this month in the comment section of this post.

My Review:

In landscape design, a garden folly is a structure whose only objective is to deceive. They have no purpose other than as ornament—to delight the eye and draw one to their door to evoke a romantic scene or time. How apt that author Candice Hern chose to name her Regency romance A Garden Folly, since her main characters are follies themselves.

Set at the Kent grand country estate of the Duke of Carlisle, two impoverished sisters impersonate aristocrats to entrap rich husbands, while the wealthy and titled owner of the dukedom, and the continuing custodian and creator of its grand landscape, hides behind the mantle of the head gardener to avert interaction with Society. Both hero and heroine have serious trust issues. How they will overcome their personal challenges is a serpentine path that teasingly twists, turns, and surprises the reader until the last page.

Catherine and Susannah Forsythe are down on their luck. Living in genteel poverty on the wrong side of London with Aunt Hetty was not what they had expected at this time in their lives. Their father, Sir Benjamin Forsythe, squandered their family fortune before he died two years ago, but they still have beauty and wits in their corner. A surprise invitation from Aunt Hetty’s childhood friend, the Duchess of Carlisle, for her annual summer house party at Chissingworth may be their only chance to catch rich husbands. Determined to pull off the deception that they are wealthy young ladies, Catherine, with the help of their servant McDougal, magically acquire all the tools needed to disguise their poverty: clothes, carriage, jewels, and servants. Now they must set their caps for the right man, steering clear of the wrongs sorts: “penniless younger sons, clerics, or half-pay officers.” Arriving in style, the deception begins. Continue reading

The Tutor’s Daughter, by Julie Klassen – A Review

Image of the book cover of The Tutors Daughter, by Julie Klassen © 2013 Bethany House PublishersFrom the desk of Katie Patchell:

In keeping with her much loved style of traditional Regency romances, Julie Klassen has recently published her sixth novel, The Tutor’s Daughter, a romantic mystery set in Regency England. This novel blends the satisfying romance of Jane Austen with the Gothic surprises of Charlotte Bronte, coming together in a delightful style that is all the author’s own.

Ever since her mother died, Emma Smallwood has helped her father run his all-male boarding school. At twenty-one, she has found her time consumed by the many school-related burdens that her father, in his grief, has ignored; teaching history, geography, and math, as well as trying to make ends meet for the quickly failing academy, with only a few moments to spare to dream about travel and adventures of her own. But just when the last pupil graduates and Emma runs out of all options to restore Smallwood Academy to its glory days, a letter arrives offering a new position to both Emma and her father, as tutor and tutor’s daughter for one year at Ebbington Manor along the stormy coast of Cornwall. While her father is overjoyed to leave the place that reminds him of his departed wife, Emma unearths long-buried memories, ones that remind her of two particular pupils from her father’s academy. Phillip Weston, of the kind blue eyes, warm friendship, and stolen kiss, and Henry Weston, of the flashing green eyes, malicious pranks, and partner in one hard-to-be-forgotten dance. Emma has discovered that the letter and advantageous job opening is from none other than Lord Weston, the father of both her friend and her nemesis. Continue reading