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


Read Chapter


Read Chapter

December 18


December 27


December 19


December 28

Break/Catch Up

December 20


December 29


December 21


December 30


December 22


December 31


December 23


January 1


December 24


January 2


December 25


January 3


December 26


January 4


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.


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.


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.








Saturday, September 24, 2022

Book Review: The Debutante's Code by Erica Vetsch

Newly returned from finishing school, Lady Juliette Thorndike is ready to debut in London society. Due to her years away, she hasn't spent much time with her parents, and sees them only as the flighty, dilettante couple the other nobles love. But when they disappear, she discovers she never really knew them at all. They've been living double lives as government spies--and they're only the latest in a long history of espionage that is the family's legacy.

Now Lady Juliette is determined to continue their work. Mentored by her uncle, she plunges into the dangerous world of spy craft. From the glittering ballrooms of London to the fox hunts, regattas, and soirees of country high society, she must chase down hidden clues, solve the mysterious code her parents left behind, and stay out of danger. All the while, she has to keep her endeavors a secret from her best friend and her suitors--not to mention nosy, irritatingly handsome Bow Street runner Daniel Swann, who suspects her of a daring theft.

Can Lady Juliette outwit her enemies and complete her parents' last mission? Or will it lead her to a terrible end?

In the summer of 2020 I was introduced to historical fiction author Erica Vetsch with her Serendipity & Secrets series. The Lost Lieutenant, The Gentleman Spy, and The Indebted Earl were very enjoyable, and recently I was pleased to learn that a new series was in the works. I had found Vetsch’s writing to be well-crafted, her plot lines entertaining, and the content was family-friendly. I had few criticisms. One reservation of praise came in regard to narrative choices within The Gentleman Spy. Given the subject matter implied in the title, I expected there to be more espionage than was presented in the novel. I still heartily endorsed the work, but I had hoped for more “cloak and dagger” material. The suggestion was even put forth that the audience could have experienced a bit of a flashback, to the days when agent Marcus was a spy-in-training. 

My hopes for The Gentleman Spy have thus far been fulfilled in Vetsch’s new series, Thorndike & Swann Regency Mysteries. The saga begins with The Debutante’s Code, wherein the audience is indeed given a spy-in-training with young Lady Juliette Thondike, daughter of government secret agents. Although she did not grow up with knowledge of her parents’ true line of work, she finds herself thrust into their world with the choice to join them or remain a simple debutante. She chooses the former, and like them begins leading a double life as a life-threatening conspiracy breaks out in the aristocratic world of art and antiquities in 1816 London. 

The Debutante’s Code manages multiple plotlines: Juliette’s life as a Lady and as a spy. The novel also follows the career of young Bow Street runner Daniel Swann, who becomes connected as he investigates related crimes and apparent thefts in the community. As Juliette and her family make progress in their efforts to secretly serve the Crown, Daniel begins to suspect connections between Juliette’s family and the illegal activity. As Juliette and Daniel pursue their varied but similar interests, their life trajectories inevitably begin to head in each other’s direction.

Both Juliette and Daniel harbor internal insecurities in regard to their relationships with their respective parents. While this is not dealt with openly between the two of them, their inner thought life is presented to the reader. We see two young people who earnestly want to have healthy, caring relationships with their parents, but they are at sixes and sevens to achieve this. As they wrestle with their parental alienation, they also address God in thoughts and prayers. They also address the Almighty on occasion when dealing with troublesome situations. Vetsch is a Christian writer, and this is the extent of the religious material in the novel. As a believer myself I’m glad to see these kinds of thought patterns, as I also turn to the Lord in moments of joy as well as frustration. That said, sometimes the insertion of the spiritual content felt a little shoehorned to me. I’m grateful that it was included, but it wasn’t always a seamless transition from espionage to spiritual matters.

Although I found this to be the case, the novel as a whole remained very entertaining. Virtually every chapter seemed to have its own mini-mystery as individual problems had to be solved, whether they were issues handled by the spy network, or incidents encountered by the Bow Street runners. Erica Vetsch is well-versed in many historical details of the Regency era, as well as in the art world. She combined knowledge of the past with a diverting narrative. This was also accomplished in a family-friendly way, with no colorful language or overly adult scenes. Although there are hints of romance, that content is negligible. There is one moment where a deceased stabbing victim is discovered, but details are not gory and kept to a minimum. While this series is not necessarily written for the middle-grade audience, as a mother I would feel comfortable recommending it to that age group or older.

The Debutante’s Code is a fine start to a new series by Erica Vetsch. I was pleased to find some connections to her previous Serendipity & Secrets series, but knowledge of those titles is not necessary to enjoy this one. Lady Juliette Thorndike and Bow Street runner Daniel Swann are emotionally vulnerable, yet likable characters, and a solid foundation for their long-term story has been set in this first volume. I will be immediately diving into the next book, Millstone of Doubt, and I look forward to seeing what is ahead for our intrepid debutante and detective.

About the Author

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.







Audio to come!


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