Monday, January 16, 2023

Book Review: The Rose and the Thistle by Laura Frantz


In 1715, Lady Blythe Hedley's father is declared an enemy of the British crown because of his Jacobite sympathies, forcing her to flee her home in northern England. Secreted to the tower of Wedderburn Castle in Scotland, Lady Blythe awaits who will ultimately be crowned king. But in a house with seven sons and numerous servants, her presence soon becomes known.

No sooner has Everard Hume lost his father, Lord Wedderburn, than Lady Hedley arrives with the clothes on her back and her mistress in tow. He has his own problems--a volatile brother with dangerous political leanings, an estate to manage, and a very young brother in need of comfort and direction in the wake of losing his father. It would be best for everyone if he could send this misfit heiress on her way as soon as possible.

Drawn into a whirlwind of intrigue, shifting alliances, and ambitions, Lady Blythe must be careful whom she trusts. Her fortune, her future, and her very life are at stake. Those who appear to be adversaries may turn out to be allies--and those who pretend friendship may be enemies.






Imagine the tumult of grieving the loss of a father, balancing loyalties in a country enduring political turmoil, and welcoming a stranger into your home as she seeks protection within that same political storm? Such is the challenge facing Everard Hume, the newly established eleventh Earl of Wedderburn in Laura Frantz’s The Rose and the Thistle. It is the year 1715 in Scotland. Jacobite and anti-Papist tensions are high, and the nobility is forced to choose sides as forces build to an eventual conflict. As Everard takes on the mantle previously held by his father, many challenges are faced both within and without. Likewise, his “guest” Lady Blythe Hedley has narrowly escaped an anti-papist mob, is worried about the safety of her Jacobite father, and feels less than welcome as a fleeing Catholic in the Protestant Hume household. Much is at stake for both individuals during this factious moment in British history.

The Rose and the Thistle is not only an educational read for those interested in 18th-century Scotland, but it is also an entertaining novel by a talented author. Laura Frantz, a descendant of the Humes of Wedderburn Castle has thoroughly researched her ancestors and culture, mixing healthy amounts of realism and fact with fictionalized narrative. The result is a novel that easily held my attention and captivated my imagination. Each character is fully sketched and unique, and I came to care for the protagonists easily. Likewise, a few antagonists in particular drew me into the story, as they provided conflict which made the plot all the more interesting. 

While political intrigue is a strong theme of The Rose and the Thistle, the dominant focus is ultimately a romance between Everard and Blythe. As a Christian author, Laura Frantz keeps the content between her lovers very sweet, without gratuitous details or overly steamy scenes. Passionate moments are clear, but readers are left to read between the lines on many occasions. While Everard and Blythe come from two schools of thought in regard to faith, they share belief in a common Savior and find ways to bridge the gap between their variant traditions. As a Catholic, Blythe does use Rosary beads in her prayer times, but within the pages of The Rose and the Thistle her thoughts are directed more to Christ than in a Papist saint. That said, the novel is not overly evangelistic in tone and could easily be enjoyed by those of varying religious persuasions. 

Although I am half German, I am also part Scottish, a descendant of the line of Robert the Bruce. For almost a decade I have also been a strong follower of the works of Diana Gabaldon and her Scottish-based Outlander series. My husband and I also hope to travel to this beautiful country sometime in the near future, and have enjoyed learning more about the culture. The Rose and the Thistle is rife with Scottish vocabulary, social trends and historic moments. Frantz was right to put a glossary at the beginning of the text, as I needed to refer to it often. At times I found some of the dialogue a little hard to follow with the Scottish accent of some of the characters, but that added to the verisimilitude of the story. I very much felt like I had been dropped into 18th century Scotland.  

Laura Frantz is a new author for this reader, and I highly enjoyed The Rose and the Thistle. The romance was delicious, the political intrigue exciting, and the spirituality encouraging. For all I have learned about Scotland in recent years, my knowledge took a leap forward after enjoying this title. Frantz has done her ancestors a great service in sharing this chapter of their history, and she has given her readers a fine gift in this captivating novel.



About the Author

Christy Award-winning author, Laura Frantz, is passionate about all things historical, particularly the 18th-century, and writes her manuscripts in longhand first. Her stories often incorporate Scottish themes that reflect her family heritage. She is a direct descendant of George Hume, Wedderburn Castle, Berwickshire, Scotland, who was exiled to the American colonies for his role in the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715, settled in Virginia, and is credited with teaching George Washington surveying in the years 1748-1750. Proud of her heritage, she is also a Daughter of the American Revolution. When not at home in Kentucky, she and her husband live in Washington State.




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Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Review: Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen's England

Jane Austen transports us to a world of elegance and upheaval. The Church of England, at the heart of her life and her world, is key to understanding her stories. Readers may wonder:

  • Why could Mr. Collins, a rector, afford to marry a poor woman, while Mr. Elton, a vicar, could not? 
  • What conflicting religious duties led Elizabeth Bennet to turn down two marriage proposals?
  • Why did Mansfield Park’s early readers (unlike most today) love Fanny Price?
  • What part did people of color, like Miss Lambe of Sanditon, play in English society?
  • How did Austen’s church impact people’s lives and the world?

Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England by Brenda S. Cox answers these questions and many more. It explores:

  • Austen’s Church of England, as we see it in her novels
  • Challenges the church was facing, reflected in her stories
  • Ways the church in Austen’s England transformed England and the world

Comprehensive, yet affordable and easy to read, Fashionable Goodness will help you see Austen’s beloved novels and characters in richer and deeper ways. 



     Printed biographies and filmed documentaries of the life of Jane Austen are plentiful. Her station in life as the daughter of a country clergyman is routinely mentioned within these productions, and men of the cloth appear frequently within her novels. These two aspects alone seem to indicate that the Christian faith played a prominent role in the life of this beloved author. However, many who lived within the culture of the time practiced what was called a “fashionable goodness” or a reserved level of religious observance which was exhibited by those in “proper society.” It would be reasonable to assume that Jane might have been fashionably good and nothing more. Author and researcher Brenda S. Cox shows in copious detail that this was not the case. Within Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England, Cox not only reveals the vibrant, sincere faith of Jane Austen, but she also elucidates church culture at the time and its effects in England and in literature. The late 18th and early 19th century was a time of tremendous change in England. Christianity was often a part of that, and it can be seen in the life and works of Jane Austen. Fashionable Goodness has brought together a large amount of related information in this regard. 

   Brenda Cox begins the first third of her work with an overview of Austen’s Church of England. Readers are given insight into the faith of Miss Austen herself, as well as Christian culture of the time. English terms which are still used today have also shifted in their meaning, and Cox explains how such words as “Evangelical”, “serious”, “duty”, and “manners” were utilized differently in that era. As a Christian I also appreciated her examination of Austen’s epitaph (seen in the photo at right). The words penned by Austen’s brother James have concerned me for some time. Near the conclusion of the heartfelt message, there seems to be an implication that it was Jane’s “charity, devotion, faith and purity” which made her “acceptable” to God. Cox clarifies this inscription by stating, “Were they saying that her good works saved her? That’s one interpretation. However, faith is on the list, and her ‘Redeemer’ is given prominence, meaning Christ who died for her sins. . . . [T]he epitaph more likely means that her charity, devotion, and purity showed the reality of her faith. Jane Austen’s family, her writings, and her life affirm that she was a serious, deeply committed Christian.” (p.16) Cox’s evaluation not only makes sense from a biblical standpoint, but as she outlines in Fashionable Goodness, this point of view also aligns with the culture of the time.

     The second third of this volume focuses upon cultural and religious challenges in Austen’s world. The life of clergymen is given much examination, and specific topics such as female preachers, rented pews and race relations are also discussed. While some congregations may still debate the role of women in ministry today, it hardly seems fathomable that the working poor could not always freely enter churches and sit in any pew they chose. The abolitionist movement is also mentioned with regularity within Fashionable Goodness, highlighting Christianity’s role in working to remove slavery from polite society. Cox discusses the subject and how it finds its way into Austen’s work, such as in Emma and Mansfield Park. The concluding chapter of Cox’s Part Two is particularly of interest for this reader, as I have been working on my master’s degree in Christian Apologetics. The topic of reason vs. feeling is raised often in the world of apologetics, and as Cox discusses, this was also an issue in Austen’s time.

     The final third of Fashionable Goodness is a treasure trove of tables, appendices, notes and other resources. Cox also offers more content on her website, BrendaSCox.wordpress.com. This portion of the volume would be of interest to any strong Janeite, but would certainly be invaluable for other researchers or writers of Austenesque fiction. 

     Fashionable Goodness is a remarkable work, and a labor of love from Brenda S. Cox. Even if the reader does not share Austen’s Christian faith, this resource will be a great asset in coming to understand not only Jane Austen herself, but the time in which she lived. Cox shows her readership that Christianity has historically included those of the “fashionably good” set, but there is so much more to this faith than mere religion. As we see in the life of Jane Austen, Christianity is a vibrant relationship with the Creator, a part of a saving faith that is given by God’s grace. Through that grace we can be made “good” through Christ and affect the world in a positive way, much like Austen herself did.




About the Author


Brenda S. Cox has loved Jane Austen since she came across a copy of Emma as a young adult; she went out and bought a whole set of the novels as soon as she finished it! She has spent years researching the church in Austen’s England, visiting English churches and reading hundreds of books and articles, including many written by Austen’s contemporaries. She speaks at Jane Austen Society of North America meetings (incuding three AGMs) and writes for Persuasions On-Line (JASNA journal) and the websites Jane Austen’s World and Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen.


Where to Buy:

Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England is now available from Amazon and Jane Austen Books.

Saturday, December 31, 2022

Book Review: Rosings Park by Jack Caldwell

A decade ago, groundbreaking novel The Three Colonels began the epic Jane Austen’s Fighting Men series and transformed Austenesque literature with its blend of Regency romance and historical fiction. Rosings Park is its long-awaited conclusion!

The Napoleonic Wars are finally over, and Britain seeks to rebuild after a generation of war. Gone is the “green and pleasant land” of the early Regency. In its place, a natural disaster on the other side of the world exacerbates the country’s woes: economic depression, widespread hunger, industrialization, and civil unrest. Great Britain faces ruin and revolution.

Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy agree to take in the young and spirited daughter of Lydia Wickham, and all the while, their beloved Pemberley is being endangered by riotous Luddites. Colonel Sir Richard Fitzwilliam marries Anne de Bourgh but finds the management of Rosings Park no easy matter, especially with Lady Catherine de Bourgh ready and eager to offer advice. Haunted by despair and gravely wounded in body and spirit, a bitter Colonel Sir John Buford returns to England to be nursed by his wife, the former Caroline Bingley.

Then, an evil out of the past returns to wreak vengeance on Rosings Park, and the Darcys, Fitzwilliams, Bufords, and their friends face a devastating truth: HAPPILY EVER AFTER MUST BE EARNED. 




As mentioned in the description above, Jack Caldwell’s “Fighting Men” series began in 2012 with The Three Colonels, which I had the pleasure of reading. I also read and reviewed the subsequent volumes The Last Adventure of the Scarlet Pimpernel (2016) and Persuaded to Sail (2020). The next title released was Rosings Park. Once again Caldwell has brought together several beloved characters from the world of Jane Austen, plus a few of his own creation. Although I found Persuaded to Sail to be a bit of a misstep for this talented author, he has produced a fine work in Rosings Park. As a Janeite I thoroughly enjoyed inhabiting the world of the likes of the Darcys, the Fitzwilliams and others. Readers are given a thorough glimpse inside the inner workings of the Rosings estate, as well as inside the lives of those who are within and affected by this grand residence. 

A large portion of the novel focuses on the relationships of the characters, developing friendships and loves that Austen either set in motion in her original works, or certainly would have approved of in Caldwell’s vision for their narratives. The fate of the daughter of Lydia Bennet Wickham was particularly compelling. A spunky, sweet young lady who deserved much better parents, Chloe Wickham is sometimes shunned for her heritage. Light in spirit, she manages to win over several surly adults who initially discount her as merely the spawn of less-than-desirable folk. 

The development of other Austenesque characters was also interesting, as readers find the former Caroline Bingley growing into a woman of compassion and esteem. Anne de Bourgh Fitzwilliam matures as a woman, gaining greater health physically, but also learning how to be the lady of a grand estate (which includes managing her mother as well). Her husband, Colonel Fitzwilliam has struggles of his own too, as he must be the master of Rosings with a formidable mother-in-law.

Calwell also introduces into the lives of these characters some elements that bring about no small amount of drama, particularly near the close of the novel. I found the final chapters to be especially riveting, with dastardly deeds faced on multiple fronts by the men and women of Rosings. It was also refreshing to have high drama without copious amounts of graphic material. On occasion the men would spout off colorful language, but it was reasonable (if not lighter) than one would expect from military men in that era, facing matters of life and death. 

Jack Caldwell’s “Fighting Men” series has continued with a fine fourth volume in the collection. Rosings Park is a delicious return to the world of Jane Austen’s characters. The development of relationships was compelling and realistic, and the drama was page-turning. Within the end pages of the book readers are given the tease that a fifth book will one day arrive, entitled Brother of the Bride. I had previously assumed that Rosings Park was the concluding title, but it seems this is not the case. I’m glad that the saga has not completely retired. Jack Caldwell’s portrayal of his and Austen’s characters was worth another visit in Rosings Park, and will most certainly be once again in Brother of the Bride.




About the Author

Jack Caldwell, born and raised in the Bayou County of Louisiana, is an author, amateur historian, professional economic development consultant, playwright, and like many Cajuns, a darn good cook. His nickname – The Cajun Cheesehead – came from his devotion to his two favorite NFL teams: the New Orleans Saints and the Green Bay Packers. When not writing or traveling with his wife, Barbara, Jack attempts to play golf. A devout convert to Roman Catholicism, Jack is married with three grown sons. 

Always a history buff, Jack found and fell in love with Jane Austen in his twenties, struck by her innate understanding of the human condition. Jack uses his work to share his knowledge of history. Through his characters, he hopes the reader gains a better understanding of what went on before, developing an appreciation for our ancestors' trials and tribulations.

Jack’s novels include Pemberley Ranch, Mr. Darcy Came to Dinner, The Companion of his Future Life, the Jane Austen’s Fighting Men series and the Crescent City series.


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Friday, December 30, 2022

Book Review: An Ivy Hill Christmas by Julie Klassen

Julie Klassen has created a delightful world in the Regency-era village of Ivy Hill, bringing three novels thus far in this series to her readers. In 2020 she also published a novella entitled An Ivy Hill Christmas, returning to the characters and setting of Ivy Hill. For this story she focused on the dashing and rakish Richard Brockwell, the prodigal son of the popular Brockwell family. I imagined him as a young Greg Wise, the actor who played the scoundrel Willoughby in the 1995 cinematic adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. While Klassen’s Richard Brockwell may not have wreaked as much damage as Austen’s Willoughby did, he certainly has many mistakes in his past and a reputation which would cause any respectable young lady to steer clear of him. When he returns home from London for the Christmas season, he hopes to encourage this reputation, as he has no desire to marry. Living a bachelor’s life in London with no thought to anyone but himself is an ideal existence. Or is it? The young Brockwell comes in contact with a few unexpected individuals which shift his perspective considerably. It makes for an interesting Christmas season indeed.

I thoroughly enjoyed An Ivy Hill Christmas, with its inclusion of previously-established characters and the introduction of new ones. The plight of the young apprentice Jamie was especially touching, and I loved how his situation not only highlighted the struggles of children in that era, but also ways in which those less fortunate children could be helped. Klassen has done her history homework, and I enjoyed learning about various traditions of that time period too. For example, I knew that “12th night”/the 12th Day of Christmas is on January 6th, but I was not aware of the tradition of quickly removing all traces of holiday decor before the stroke of midnight, leading into the 7th. Like the characters in the story, I don’t believe in “bad luck”, but it’s certainly a good habit to establish: cleaning up the holidays well before the end of January!

The romantic aspects of the story were certainly present, but they were not heavy and were very family-friendly. Klassen made a plot choice that I did not expect, which is to her credit. I expected a particular conclusion to the book, and had it gone in that direction I would have been disappointed, honestly. A slight pivot was made near the end which brought about results which were not only more realistic than my imaginings, but were more satisfying as well. As a Christian I also appreciated the themes of redemption and the love of God towards all men, regardless of their pasts.

As the holidays are quite busy for most people, An Ivy Hill Christmas is the perfect read for fans of the series who don’t have copious amounts of time to read a lengthy novel. As many established characters from Ivy Hill are mentioned, in this reader’s opinion it would be best for the series to be read first before jumping into the novella. This will increase your enjoyment of the holiday story. 

I also have come up with a reading plan based on the chapters and dates included in the book. If the following sequence is followed, you will be (for the most part) reading the corresponding chapter to the date on the calendar. For example, Christmas Day arrives in Chapter 8 of the story, so that chapter will be read on December 25th. Each day's "assignment" isn't very long, and fits nicely into a busy schedule. Mark your datebooks now!  Add the Tales from Ivy Hill series to your TBR list for this year, and get ready for next Christmas. December will return before you know it!





An Ivy Hill Christmas Reading Plan


Date

Read Chapter


Date

Read Chapter

December 18

1


December 27

10

December 19

2


December 28

Break/Catch Up

December 20

3


December 29

11

December 21

4


December 30

12

December 22

5


December 31

13

December 23

6


January 1

14

December 24

7


January 2

15

December 25

8


January 3

16

December 26

9


January 4

Epilogue





About the Author 

Julie Klassen loves all things Jane—Jane Eyre and Jane Austen. Her books have sold over a million copies, and she is a three-time recipient of the Christy Award for Historical Romance. The Secret of Pembrooke Park was honored with the Minnesota Book Award for Genre Fiction. Julie has also won the Midwest Book Award and Christian Retailing’s BEST Award and has been a finalist in the RITA and Carol Awards. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Julie worked in publishing for sixteen years and now writes full time. She and her husband have two sons and live in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota.








Monday, December 12, 2022

Book Review: The Sisters of Sea View by Julie Klassen

Some guests have come for a holiday, others for hidden reasons of their own . . .

When their father's death leaves them impoverished, Sarah Summers and her genteel sisters fear they will be forced to sell the house and separate to earn livelihoods as governesses or companions. Determined to stay together, Sarah convinces them to open their seaside home to guests to make ends meet and provide for their ailing mother. Instead of the elderly invalids they expect to receive, however, they find themselves hosting eligible gentlemen. Sarah is soon torn between a growing attraction to a mysterious Scottish widower and duty to her family.

Viola Summers wears a veil to cover her scar. When forced to choose between helping in her family's new guest house and earning money to hire a maid to do her share, she chooses the latter. She reluctantly agrees to read to some of Sidmouth's many invalids, preferring the company of a few elders with failing eyesight to the fashionable guests staying in their home. But when her first client turns out to be a wounded officer in his thirties, Viola soon wishes she had chosen differently. Her new situation exposes her scars--both visible and those hidden deep within--and her cloistered heart will never be the same.

Join the Summers sisters on the Devonshire coast, where they discover the power of friendship, loyalty, love, and new beginnings.





At first glance, The Sisters of Sea View appears to have much in common with Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. Here is a family of women who have lost their husband and father. None of them is married, and one sister is a model of practicality and familial responsibility. The youngest sister is more apt to climb a tree than to be drawn to the accomplishments of the genteel in society. There are also details that could be compared to Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. The cast of main characters is decidedly female, one aspires to be an author, two sisters come to properly appreciate each other after calamity strikes in the water, and two girls enjoy the art of creating homemade plays for their families. However, while Julie Klassen’s latest novel may have those details in common with other 19th century fiction, it certainly is its own narrative. 

The life of the Summers family as detailed in The Sisters of Sea View is compelling, entertaining and educational as well. Although there are similarities to Austen’s and Alcott’s characters, these ladies have their own struggles and triumphs. Klassen’s writing adeptly constructs these women, giving them their distinct personalities and foibles. While there is a bit of a “happily ever after” (HEA) to the story, not every problem is resolved with a perfect little bow. Insecurities and conflicts are realistic, drawing the reader in and making the narrative quite believable. Issues which are particular to the time add to the realism of the story, particularly in the area of superstitions and medical capabilities. 

The romance found in the novel is sweet, enticing, and very family-friendly. The HEA occurred in a way that I did not expect, and I just loved it. Do not let the amazing cover art of this book fool you– in my opinion, the “main character” is not the woman whose face we see on the cover. As this book is the first in a series, my expectation is that the bonneted lady we see on the beach will one day have her nuptial moment, but just not yet. Regardless, all the women in The Sisters of Sea View are given compelling, interwoven storylines that held my attention throughout the novel. There are moments of humor (including incidents with a dead parrot), dramatic tension, danger and heartwarming exchanges between young and old alike. As someone of Scottish heritage, I also appreciated the little cultural touches in connection with a few characters from that country, from the accents displayed to mentions of Scottish thistles, kilts, and haggis! 

The Sisters of Sea View is a delightful start to a new series by Julie Klassen. She has once again not failed to disappoint. Although I did enjoy the previous work of hers, Shadows of Swanford Abbey, I think I might have liked this title even more. I’m glad there will be more volumes to come, presumably with more of these characters and/or their relations. Days spent at Julie Klassen’s Devonshire shores are delightful indeed, suitable for all audiences and for fans of Austen and Alcott in particular.




About the Author 

Julie Klassen loves all things Jane—Jane Eyre and Jane Austen. Her books have sold over a million copies, and she is a three-time recipient of the Christy Award for Historical Romance. The Secret of Pembrooke Park was honored with the Minnesota Book Award for Genre Fiction. Julie has also won the Midwest Book Award and Christian Retailing’s BEST Award and has been a finalist in the RITA and Carol Awards. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Julie worked in publishing for sixteen years and now writes full time. She and her husband have two sons and live in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota.

















Greetings from Sidmouth!


Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Book Review & Giveaway: The Belle of Belgrave Square by Mimi Matthews

A London heiress rides out to the wilds of the English countryside to honor a marriage of convenience with a mysterious and reclusive stranger.

Tall, dark, and dour, the notorious Captain Jasper Blunt was once hailed a military hero, but tales abound of his bastard children and his haunted estate in Yorkshire. What he requires now is a rich wife to ornament his isolated ruin, and he has his sights set on the enchanting Julia Wychwood.

For Julia, an incurable romantic cursed with a crippling social anxiety, navigating a London ballroom is absolute torture. The only time Julia feels any degree of confidence is when she’s on her horse. Unfortunately, a young lady can’t spend the whole of her life in the saddle, so Julia makes an impetuous decision to take her future by the reins—she proposes to Captain Blunt.

In exchange for her dowry and her hand, Jasper must promise to grant her freedom to do as she pleases. To ride—and to read—as much as she likes without interference. He readily agrees to her conditions, with one provision of his own: Julia is forbidden from going into the tower rooms of his estate and snooping around his affairs. But the more she learns of the beastly former hero, the more intrigued she becomes…




Following this winter’s The Siren of Sussex, author Mimi Matthews now offers the second in the Belles of London Series, the fairy tale-inspired The Belle of Belgrave Square. As a lover of that folk genre and a fan of Sussex, I couldn’t wait to dive back into the world that Matthews is building with her characters. Although not as young, beautiful, and wealthy as the novel’s Julia Wychwood, I could nonetheless relate to her on a number of levels. I too, have struggled with anxiety over the years, and like her I am also a book addict! Her quote on page 216 had me laughing when she said, “You can never have too many books. That’s a fact.” While I don’t know if this is true in a practical sense, I appreciate the sentiment. Many a novel has transported me to another realm and has taken my mind off my troubles for a time. Matthews writes about Julia and her books, “It’s what they’d been for her. An escape. A gateway to another world. Somewhere she could experience romance and adventure without anxiousness or fear– even if that experience was only in her imagination.” (p.251)

Another way to combat anxiety and also boost confidence is through physical exercise. I have found this to be effective in the home video workouts I do. In The Belle of Belgrave Square, Julia finds a similar solution in riding her large black gelding, Cossack. While mounted on this magnificent horse, Miss Wychwood feels stronger and more formidable than her short stature exhibits. 

The “fairy tale” element of Belgrave Square comes through the introduction of the second main character, Captain Jasper Blunt. Matthews clearly draws elements from Beauty and the Beast, but she also incorporates traits from other stories. Some authors and titles were unfamiliar to this reader, but the curious bookaholic in me has been inspired to seek out some of their works. Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1862) seems particularly interesting. 

Although I enjoyed The Siren of Sussex this past January, I must say that I think I enjoyed The Belle of Belgrave Square even more! Many chapters concluded with sentences which hooked me into turning another page. The main characters were flawed but likable, and I found the romantic element to be realistic. Captain Blunt harbors quite a number of secrets. Some of them were fairly easy to determine early on in the story, but others were more elusive and created a delicious tension in the narrative. He is also often portrayed as a sort of “knight in shining armor”, and this old romantic loved that aspect of the novel’s tone. At the same time, Julia grows into her confidence over the course of the plot and is not always a helpless “damsel in distress.” Yes, I can confirm that she receives her Happily Ever After (and this is directly addressed in the text), but this is not a detail which would spoil the story. The enjoyment for the reader comes in witnessing the journey which the characters undertake in order to come to that HEA. Like fairy tales of old, The Belle of Belgrave Square derives most of its quality not in the final outcome (although that remains important), but in the steps required to arrive there.

For my conservative readers, I can report that the content would probably garner a “PG” or “TV-14” rating if this were put on film/video. There is a small amount of coarse language, but it is not severe. Sexual situations are addressed several times, but they are often couched in Victorian-era language to maintain propriety. The most colorful details come during scenes with two married persons, and Matthews chose to not be overly explicit in her writing here. Her writing talents are such that it truly wasn’t warranted. She is able to convey passion between characters in a way that is enticing without being salacious. As a Christian, I also appreciated the short scene when the Bible was addressed as a work of literature, containing fascinating adventures and drama.

For those who have not yet read The Siren of Sussex, knowledge of that text is helpful in understanding the interrelated friendships between various persons in Matthews’ world. However, she has written Belgrave Square in such a way that jumping into the second title of the series is not problematic. As a book nerd I recommend beginning with Sussex, but it certainly isn’t a requirement.

Mimi Matthews writes in Captain Blunt’s voice saying, “Stories like the ones we read in novels help us understand the human condition. They teach us empathy. In that way, they’re more than escape from the world. They’re an aid for living in the world. For being better, more compassionate people.” (p.251) In The Belle of Belgrave Square, she has not only brought to her readership another delightful tale of romance, mystery, liberation, and redemption, but she has also presented to the world a true-to-life fairy tale wherein an anxious bookworm falls for an enigmatic beast. Through their relationship, readers are given the opportunity to consider the plight of others in the community. Gruff exteriors or anxious spirits in people are usually there for a reason. We all carry burdens of one type or another. Matthews’ Julia Wychwood endeavors to understand the dour Jasper, and he enables her to conquer many of her fears as well. Together they make a pair which demonstrate admirable humanity in the face of a broken world. This produces a fabulous addition to a book series well on its way. 

Thankfully there is more to come in a third title, The Lily of Ludgate Hill. Echoing the epilogue, I offer the notion: Clearly the reading public is “clamoring for more stories in this vein.” I’m pleased that Mimi Matthews has not exhausted her supply of them.




AUTHOR BIO

USA Today bestselling author Mimi Matthews writes both historical nonfiction and award-winning proper Victorian romances. Her novels have received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Booklist, and Kirkus, and her articles have been featured on the Victorian Web, the Journal of Victorian Culture, and in syndication at BUST Magazine. In her other life, Mimi is an attorney. She resides in California with her family, which includes a retired Andalusian dressage horse, a Sheltie, and two Siamese cats.


















Terms & Conditions:

Giveaway hosted by Mimi Matthews. No Purchase Necessary. Entrants must be 18 years or older. Open to US residents only. All information will remain confidential and will not be sold or otherwise used, except to notify the winner and to facilitate postage of the book to the winner. Void where prohibited.

Giveaway Details:

1 winner (selected at random by Rafflecopter) receives a paperback copy of The Belle of Belgrave Square, signed and annotated by the author with personal comments, underlining of her favorite lines, and other highlights by Mimi Matthews. 

Giveaway is open from 12:01 am Pacific time 10/03/22 until 11:59pm Pacific time on 10/30/22. 

The winner will be announced on Mimi's blog on 10/31/22.

Monday, September 26, 2022

Book Review: Millstone of Doubt by Erica Vetsch

A Bow Street Runner and a debutante in London Society use their skills to find the killer of a wealthy businessman, but the killer’s secrets aren’t the only ones they will uncover. 

Caught in the explosion of the Hammersmith Mill in London, Bow Street runner Daniel Swann rushes to help any survivors only to find the mill's owner dead of an apparent gunshot--but no sign of the killer.

Even though the owner's daughter, Agatha Montgomery, mourns his death, she may be the only one. It seems there are more than a few people with motive for murder. But Daniel can't take this investigation slow and steady. Instead, he must dig through all the suspects as quickly as he can because the clock is ticking until his mysterious patronage--and his job as a runner--comes to an abrupt and painful end. It seems to Daniel that, like his earthly father, his heavenly Father has abandoned him.

Lady Juliette Thorndike is Agatha's bosom friend and has the inside knowledge of the wealthy London ton to be invaluable to Daniel. She should be in a perfect position to help with the case. But when her trusted instructor in the art of spy craft orders her to stay out of the investigation, Lady Juliette obeys. That is, until circumstances intervene, and she drops right into the middle of the deadly pursuit.

When a dreadful accident ends in another death on the mill floor, Daniel discovers a connection to his murder case--and to his own secret past. Now he and Juliette are in a race to find the killer before his time runs out.




Millstone of Doubt is the second title in the Thorndike & Swann Regency Mysteries series by Erica Vetsch. In preparation for this review, I read the opening volume, The Debutante’s Code. This first novel tended to have more of a focus on the titular character Julianne, and I found it to be very enjoyable. The second book in the series turns the attention of the reader toward detective Daniel Swann. Unlike many sequels, Millstone of Doubt has avoided the trend of failing to live up to the standard of the first work. Now that the main characters are well established, the narrative becomes a bit more story-driven. I found it to be much more exciting, although The Debutante's Code is still a diverting initial venture. The secret agents of Julianne’s world (which now includes detective Swann) find themselves in quite a few varied situations, both secretive and dangerous. The opening calamity at the flour mill was positively riveting and visceral in its detail, and as a family member of a milling family, I loved the inclusion of this vital industry. The scientific facts surrounding the hazards of the milling process were accurate, and I eagerly shared a few passages of the book with my husband, who grew up visiting the family mill in Sanford, NC. 


The Hartness Family Mill, Sanford Milling Co.


I enjoyed Daniel Swann’s journey as a young man, the revelation of his family's past and the wrestling he endures within his spiritual life. While I sometimes feel that the manner in which Vetsch includes matters of faith within her novels can occasionally seem forced, Daniel’s doubts and concerns seemed more organic in this novel. Possibly one of my favorite quotes of the book comes during one of the moments wherein he is receiving counsel from a mentor.  Bow Street Magistrate’s investigator Ed Beck advises, “God is good regardless of your experience because the Bible says He is, and the Bible never lies. We cannot judge Scripture or what we know about God by our own experiences and emotions, because those are changeable and untrustworthy most of the time.” (p.274) 

I also appreciated Ed's words on the same page when he said, "Don't blame God for the shortcomings of men. It's too easy, and it's an excuse not to be grateful for what He's given us." Although I haven't been in a "blaming God" mode recently, I have been less than grateful for certain blessings and my vision has been clouded by human shortcomings (both my own and that of others). Although Millstone of Doubt is far and away a tale of adventure and relationships, I appreciated the spiritual lessons that were presented.

Millstone of Doubt also takes a bit more time developing a romantic storyline. Lest I give anything away, I will not indicate which characters are involved in this arena. I will share that the progression of the relationship was realistic, very chaste and sweet. Like The Debutante’s Code, the content of Millstone is very family-friendly in regard to this type of content. In other areas such as violence and salty language, there is a bit more action within the story and a few details regarding some deaths that occur, but those details are kept to a minimum. To my recollection, there is absolutely no colorful language or hints of it. As it has been in the past, Erica Vetsch’s work is appropriate for just about any audience.

Millstone of Doubt opens with an explosive first act and rarely abates in intensity throughout the entire narrative. Erica Vetsch’s knowledge of the Regency period, both in its customs and vernacular is quite extensive, yet the writing style is approachable and accessible to a general readership. She has crafted a captivating world of espionage, romance, family and faith thus far in the Thorndike & Swann series. Given the manner in which Millstone of Doubt concluded, there is surely more to come for these characters. Further adventures would be a welcome thing indeed.






AUTHOR BIO

Erica Vetsch is a New York Times best-selling author and ACFW Carol Award winner and has been a Romantic Times top pick for her previous books. She loves Jesus, history, romance, and watching sports. This transplanted Kansan now makes her home in Rochester, Minnesota.

 

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