Flirtation & Folly: A Season in London (Book 1), by Elizabeth Rasche – A Review

Flirtation and Folly by Elizabeth Rasche 2020From the desk of Katie Patchell:

Northanger Abbey is one of Jane Austen’s greatest gems, yet one of her most underrated novels. It is a coming-of-age tale of Catherine Morland, a comedy, a romance, and a commentary on the Regency-era literary scene. In all of that, it is both a down-to-earth study of real-life and a beautifully plotted promise that even the most mundane of circumstances hold a glimmer of heaven. In Elizabeth Rasche’s Regency debut, Flirtation & Folly, these same ingredients are bound together in the endearingly flawed, eternally hopeful heroine, Marianne Mowbrey.

Marianne Mowbrey is a dreamer. Fresh from the country to visit her aunt in London, she believes with all of her heart that she will become a heroine just like those in her favorite novels. As she soon discovers, wishing is not the same as getting. Under her aunt’s disapproving gaze, Marianne tries to learn the skills needed to be a society darling from her new “friends,” the beautiful yet mocking Stokes’ sisters.

No matter if day after day proceeded with the same rise and fall of expectations. For Marianne, the morning always burst with the fresh, flowering hope of the charming young lady she would become by eventide. (78)   

Robert Hearn arrives in London not knowing where he belongs anymore. Originally from Ireland yet raised in England, he has spent his adult years in India and beyond. All that is left of his home are memories of an idyllic childhood. With the desire to win his estate back from the hands of another, Robert has no time for social graces or flirtations. What slips past his guard, however, is a newfound friend who might be as lost as he.

The man’s face turned from the smooth flow of water to Marianne. The gaslight cast a haze around his figure that ought to have graced an angel, all golden and sparkling, but the expression on his face was far from angelic. It looked wretched and desperate. It was the same face she had seen earlier in the evening, only now it had been driven into a wild sorrow. (136)

Because of her social faux pas and her bizarre choice of dresses, Marianne soon begins to see her dreams float away. Yet it seems that the more she tries to win approval, the more she horribly fails. When an unlikely ally appears in the form of the much-too-honest-to-be-tactful Mr. Hearn, Marianne discovers that what she wants may not be what she’s wanted all along: to fit into society and its rules. What she may want—may need to truly live—is to stand out.

Flirtation & Folly is a Regency romance that kept me on my toes. With echoes of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (a novel easily in my top three favorite Austen novels) running alongside entirely original character and plot developments, this is a novel that contains both familiarity and surprises. Marianne and Robert had much to learn about who they were and their places in the world. Rather than detract from my experience, this added depth, and subtle beauty. Marianne’s observations of life in London were also fascinating, as they gave a look into daily life that’s often-left unseen in Regency romances. A footman’s mannerisms, the view of women as healers, the lower class of apothecaries, the physical toll unhealthy beauty creams had on hair and skin, the prejudice against people from Ireland—these and more were canvassed delicately but honestly.

As a coming-of-age novel, Flirtation & Folly carried this genre’s strengths and weaknesses. Marianne was identifiable, especially in her desire to both fit in and stand out at the same time. However, the way she did it was often exasperating. She spent many pages of the novel disillusioned about herself and about who she should go to for advice. Thankfully, Robert came onto the scene! He brought out Marianne’s honest, wild side, and their relationship was blunt and free from fake flirtation. This was something I enjoyed and was also sad over, as the romantic side of things was much less developed than I hoped. Their ending was rushed; ultimately, they deserved more pages spent on their relationship.

2021 has been a difficult year, but it has also been one of hope and self-reflection. With its honest look at the reality of mistakes and disappointments, Flirtation & Folly shows how joyous it is to overcome, how beautiful it is to find one’s own path, and how lovely it is to gain a hand in which to hold along the way. 

4 out of 5 Stars 

  • Flirtation & Folly: A Season in London (Book 1), by Elizabeth Rasche
  • Quills & Quartos Publishing (September 4, 2020)
  • Trade paperback, eBook, & audiobook (326) pages
  • ISBN: 978-1951033583

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Cover image courtesy of Quills & Quartos Publishing © 2020; text Katie Patchell © 2021, Austenprose.com

A Captain for Caroline Gray: Proper Romance Regency, by Julie Wright — A Review

A Captain for Caroline Gray by Julie Wright 2021From the desk of Katie Jackson:

An outspoken bluestocking lady in Regency England, unless independently wealthy, was most likely to be shunned by Society into involuntary spinsterhood and poverty. Suitable husbands were difficult enough to come by, but for a lady with a clever mind and vibrant opinions, her options were fewer still. Desperation led many a spurned lady onto a ship bound for India in search of Englishmen with lower standards and plentiful wealth. That long and arduous journey is depicted in author Julie Wright’s latest Proper Romance, A Captain for Caroline Gray.

Miss Caroline Gray’s unconventional education at the behest of her well-meaning parents had included “politics, science, and literature” (99) and none of the silly arts of flirtation that might have secured her future. Consequently, she had endured three London Seasons where the gentlemen “all liked her well enough before she opened her mouth. Conversation with her led them from interest to wariness. And when they’d discovered that she was often found at public lecture courses on physics, their wariness turned to outright disdain.” (182)

Living with her widowed mother on the family estate, Caroline is not prepared for the sudden news that her cousin—her father’s heir—has decided to marry and claim his inheritance, thus displacing Caroline and her mother. Her future looks bleak indeed as her mother asks if she wishes to see herself passed around by their relations like an unwanted parcel, a perpetual nursemaid or caregiver, husbandless and childless. The reality of their economic situation was that “all of her prospects hinged on marrying. Without marrying, she had no possibilities. No prospects. No choices.” (168) Caroline berates herself for her inability to make a match but quickly realizes that she could have been nobody but herself. And “did she truly want to cheat some man out of genuine happiness by making him believe her to be what she was not?” (210)

An opportunity arises in the form of an offer from her mother’s acquaintance. Mrs. Barritt’s third son has a purchased commission as a captain in the army is making his own fortune in India, and is looking for a pretty and proper English wife. She will pay half of Caroline’s passage to India in exchange for Caroline’s obligation to spend some time with her son, Captain Nicholas Barritt. Caroline is determined “to pretend she felt some excitement. She would pretend to thrill at the adventure of it all. She would pretend that her heart was not breaking at the thought of leaving her family and her beloved England.” (192) Continue reading

School for Love: The Hapgoods of Bramleigh (Book 3), by Christina Dudley – #BookReview, #RegencyRomance, #HistoricalRomance, #TraditionalRegency, @CNDudley

School for Love, by Christina Dudley 2020From the desk of Katie Patchell:

Besides their prominent place on many Regency fans’ bookshelves, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Georgette Heyer’s Frederica have another trait in common: Their plots revolve around a group of loud, lovable, and independent people who have the good fortune to call each other ‘family.’ While our lively Elizabeth Bennet might complain (if given the chance for an interview) about her claustrophobic world, the charm and humor of Pride and Prejudice would be lost without the rest of the Bennet clan. Despite the familial meddling in these two great works, the heroines and heroes find love and, perhaps equal in worth, readers enjoy hours of amusement at their antics. Since 2013’s release of The Naturalist, Christina Dudley has followed in the footsteps of Austen and Heyer in her series, “The Hapgoods of Bramleigh Hall.” School for Love, her latest installment, continues the story of the eccentric Hapgoods and their hilariously romantic escapades.

As an unmarried member of a small community, Rosemary DeWitt has long worn the label of spinster. It isn’t that she’s afraid of marriage; rather, she refuses to marry a man who desires her solely for her wealth. As Rosemary busies herself by championing the right of education for her village’s young women, she hides her growing sense of discontent, only showing her free-spirited side to her parents and brothers. That is until a solemn-faced, sparkling-eyed visitor arrives in town.

“She had already, to her embarrassment found him a compelling man, but seeing his habitually somber features thus transformed made her breath stop. Why–it was better that the man only smiled rarely. Because, when he did do so, she supposed all the world would come to a tumbling halt as she had, transfixed… ‘Ah,’ she said to herself. ‘So Lionel does not get his winning ways only from his mother.’ This thought was followed by ‘whatever you do, do not reach out and touch the man again!'” (Location 1704)

A widower fresh from thirteen years in a loveless marriage, Hugh Hapgood struggles to be a good father to his three young children. While visiting his son, Lionel, who is in turn visiting his Hapgood cousins in Bramleigh, Hugh is surprised to find that his son has formed an instant attachment to the striking Miss Rosemary DeWitt. Miss DeWitt’s intelligence, conversation, and friendship soon capture Hugh’s thoughts and respect in a way that no Society Beauty has accomplished yet. Unfortunately for his goals of singlehood, she has also captured the fascination of his very wily, very tenacious children. As Rosemary and Hugh navigate the wilds of childish mayhem and compromising situations, they discover that no one is too old to find love…or too young to matchmake. Continue reading

The Christmas Bride: A Chance Sisters Novella, by Anne Gracie — #BookReview, #RegencyRomance, #HistoricalRomance, #ChristmasReading, @AnneGracie

The Christmas Bride by Anne Gracie 2020From the desk of Pamela Mingle:

There’s nothing like a romantic Christmas novella. Every year I look forward to a new batch to brighten my holiday reading. The best ones warm the heart, and this year we especially need that. The many readers already familiar with Anne Gracie’s Chance Sisters novels will love The Christmas Bride.

The story begins with Blake Ashton, known as Ash, making his way back to England after ten years abroad. He’s been living in the Far East, where his daily life involves “…balmy breezes, azure skies, spicy foods, and warm, willing golden-skinned, sloe-eyed women.” After a meeting with his business partners over the holidays, he intends to return to his adopted home immediately, without seeing his family. We learn that as a young man, he made some disastrous moves that had placed his mother and sister on the brink of ruin, but it’s not until later in the book that the scope of his misdeeds is revealed.

On the last leg of his journey, Ash is held up by a footpad with a pistol. He draws his own, and when a boy runs out yelling, “No!” Ash discharges his weapon and injures the footpad, who turns out to be a young lady. Horrified, he carries her to the rundown cottage where she and her brother have been living, and he stays on to care for her since there’s nobody else to do so. The fact that she’s quite lovely isn’t lost on him, either.

Charlotte (Charley) Underwood and her little brother, Toby, have fallen on hard times. Ash finds out from Toby that their father shot himself due to gambling debts. Until Charley comes of age in about a year, their cousin Albert is their guardian. He wants Charley to marry his son, whom Toby describes as a “drooling simpleton.”

Ash’s friends and business partners soon show up. Worried that he hadn’t arrived on schedule, they set out to look for him and soon located the cottage. Max, Lord Davenham, insists on taking Charley and Toby to Davenham Hall for the Christmas holidays. Ash will be there, of course. Because Toby is so enthusiastic, Charley reluctantly agrees. Continue reading

Schemes of Felicity: A Pride and Prejudice Variation (Skirmish & Scandal Series Book 1), by Suzan Lauder — #BookReview, #Austenesque, #HistoricalRomance, #RegencyRomance, @SusanLauder, @MerytonPress

Schemes of Felicity by Suzan Lauder 2020From the desk of Sophia Rose:

Suzan Lauder, an author whose Austenesque books I have appreciated in the past, offers a new variation inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with an interesting twist. Schemes of Felicity begins like many variations of the novel after the stormy failed marriage proposal made by Fitzwilliam Darcy to Miss Elizabeth Bennet in the Hunsford rectory. What if this proposal is followed by not one, but two letters to Elizabeth and the second altering the original events completely?

Dejected and brooding, Fitzwilliam Darcy simply wants to be left in quiet to lick his wounds on the way back to London from Kent, but his friendly cousin is curious about their sudden departure and the vivacious guest at Hunsford. By the time the journey concludes, both cousins are ready to be done with one another and Colonel Fitzwilliam shares with his mother that Darcy was abominable on the journey and wouldn’t explain what had him in such a state. The countess does her own investigation and concludes that it is high time her nephew was married and calls a family council for an intervention that Darcy only agrees to if they will stop pestering him. Yes, he will agree to one month of attending balls and events of the London Season and put himself out there socially to promising young ladies.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Bennet is chagrined after reading his explanatory letter and has a change of heart about the man at whom she threw such undeserved vitriol when he proposed with words that were too honest about her situation and family even when stunning her with his professed love. She had him wrong and thinks better of him though he was still responsible for separating her sister Jane from Mr. Bingley. A letter from her father that sends her to join Jane in London and be chaperoned by their aunt and uncle for a season among eligible men while he takes his wife and her younger sisters to task over their impropriety lands her right in Fitzwilliam Darcy’s world. There she encounters a Darcy who defies her past prejudices and gives them a second chance. Continue reading

A Christmas Promise: Timeless Romance Anthology® (Book 16), by Joanna Barker, Annette Lyon, and Jennifer Moore— #BookReview, #HistoricalRomance, #HistoricalRegency, #ChristmasReading

A Christmas Promise 2020From the desk of Katie Jackson:

Christmastime often recalls the many forms that love takes. We all know what it is to love our family and friends, and even to find love when we least expect it, all year round. There’s something special about this time of year in particular that amplifies those warm feelings. The many forms of love are beautifully demonstrated in A Christmas Promise, the latest Timeless Romance Anthology® featuring bestselling and popular Regency romance authors Joanna Barker, Annette Lyon, and Jennifer Moore.

“The Two Bells of Christmas” by Joanna Barker brings readers to a country house party with identical twin sisters Cassandra and Vivian Bell, who have been invited by the mother of a most eligible bachelor, Roland Hastings—unbeknownst to him. After a promising introduction in London, Miss Vivian Bell has set her matrimonial sights on Mr. Hastings. During the Bell sisters’ travels, however, Vivian falls ill. It soon becomes apparent that she will be bedridden for most of their visit, so she begs unconventional Cassie to pretend to be prim-and-proper Vivian and keep Vivian’s quarry from being captured by another husband-seeker. “I am still determined to do what I can to claim his attention. I’ll not leave such a thing as love to chance.” (56) When Roland arrives home from London anticipating a quiet Christmas with his mother, he is dismayed to find his home filled with houseguests of the single young female variety. Reminded of the promise he made before his father’s death to marry and produce an heir, Roland reluctantly agrees to make an effort to get to know the ladies his matchmaking mother has chosen for him. He is most intrigued by the outspoken Miss Bell and her contradictory behavior. Can eccentric Cassie protect her heart and make her sister’s dreams come true during her risky masquerade?

“Promise Me Again” by Annette Lyon presents Miriam Brown, the daughter of a sheep farmer, and Jacob Davies, the younger son of a landowning merchant. The enamored young couple wishes more than anything to marry and start a happy life together. But Jacob’s controlling elder brother Norman has lofty goals for him, and low-born Miriam is a hindrance to those plans. In an attempt to marry without Norman’s knowledge, Jacob and Miriam secretly plan to wed on Christmas Eve morning by special license in the church of a distant town. Seeking power and influence, Norman will stop at nothing to bend his brother’s will. Miriam wholeheartedly believes that “their love could conquer anything, including a misanthropic, jealous elder brother.” (1680) But will they emerge unscathed? Continue reading

A Castaway in Cornwall, by Julie Klassen – A Review   

A Castaway in Cornwall by Julie Klassen 2020From the desk of Katie Patchell:  

In this holiday season, acclaimed novelist, Julie Klassen, returns to the Regency world with her latest historical romance, A Castaway in Cornwall. Featuring dangerous wreckers, shifty smugglers, and mysterious strangers, readers may well detect a similar refrain to the haunting melody that is Daphne du Maurier’s classic, Jamaica Inn. Readers brace yourselves: prepare to be transported outside of the lights and glare of the 21st century to an old-world bathed in mists and deafened by the roaring of the sea. Prepare to meet a heroine who, against all odds, bravely fights to reclaim what the ocean has stolen.

“Sometimes I wonder how I ended up here in Cornwall, so far from my childhood home. I feel like a castaway, set adrift on the tide…” 

Laura Callaway has lived along Cornwall’s unpredictably beautiful shores since the reported death of her parents while en route to the Isle of Jersey years ago. With no closure from her own loss, Laura combs the shores for items to save from greedy locals in order to return them to the families of loved ones who have perished in shipwrecks. When a man washes up on the shore one fateful night, half-alive, by instinct Laura spares him from a wrecker’s death blow. Little does she know that this man isn’t the only survivor of the wreck, and this final survivor will stop at nothing to get what he wants.

“In a haze of confusion, Alex had seen the blurred image of a red-haired woman bending over him, her windblown hair falling around her lovely face, her eyes as dark as the depths. He’d thought the legend of the mermaid had invaded his dreams. Now he knew the woman was real…” 

Continue reading