Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Book Spotlight: A Perfect Equation by Elizabeth Everett

How do you solve the Perfect Equation? Add one sharp-tongued mathematician to an aloof, handsome nobleman. Divide by conflicting loyalties and multiply by a daring group of women hell-bent on conducting their scientific experiments. The solution is a romance that will break every rule.

Six years ago, Miss Letitia Fenley made a mistake, and she’s lived with the consequences ever since. Readying herself to compete for the prestigious Rosewood Prize for Mathematics, she is suddenly asked to take on another responsibility—managing Athena’s Retreat, a secret haven for England’s women scientists. Having spent the last six years on her own, Letty doesn’t want the offers of friendship from other club members and certainly doesn’t need any help from the insufferably attractive Lord Greycliff.

Lord William Hughes, the Viscount Greycliff cannot afford to make any mistakes. His lifelong dream of becoming the director of a powerful clandestine agency is within his grasp. Tasked with helping Letty safeguard Athena’s Retreat, Grey is positive that he can control the antics of the various scientists as well as manage the tiny mathematician—despite their historic animosity and simmering tension.

As Grey and Letty are forced to work together, their mutual dislike turns to admiration and eventually to something... magnetic. When faced with the possibility that Athena’s Retreat will close forever, they must make a choice. Will Grey turn down a chance to change history, or can Letty get to the root of the problem and prove that love is the ultimate answer?

I'm in the throes of school work these days and am not reading many novels, but I wanted to pop by The Calico Critic to alert readers to a novel which has its publication date today. The second in The Secret Scientists of London series, A Perfect Equation is on my TBR list for sure! Not long ago I purchased Book 1, A Lady's Formula for Love and then shortly after I won the sequel in a Goodreads.com giveaway. I truly look forward to reading both of these titles in the near future, and am excited to see that a third is in the works. In the meantime, I offer an excerpt to give us all a taste of what is to come.  Enjoy!

Excerpt: A Perfect Equation by Elizabeth Everett

Slipping through the crowd, Letty approached the building as a thin wail rose from the doorway. A beady-eyed man with a pinched mouth and spidery fingers had grabbed the shopgirl by the wrist, halting her escape.

"Don't bother trying to go to work. We're shutting this place down until they stop employing women in their factories and hire the men back," the man said.

A tinkling of broken glass punctuated his threat as someone launched a sign at the ground-floor window of the shop. The atmosphere turned in an instant from hectoring to predatory. With a foreshadowing of violence, the group of individuals molded into a single organism-a dragon ready to pounce on whatever threatened. This monster's hoard consisted of power rather than gold.

"Oh, no, you don't," Letty said through gritted teeth, clenching the straps of her heavy reticule in one hand.

"Letty!" Sam called after her. "Letty Fenley, you come back here this instant. I know you don't listen to me, but for goodness' sake, will you listen to me?"

Fear set her stomach to churning, but Letty allowed nothing to show on her face. Instead, she stuck her chin out and her shoulders back. Never again would she suffer a man intimidating her into submission, and she'd be damned if she watched this happen to any other woman. As Flavia Smythe-Harrows always said, sexual dimorphism does not excuse bad behavior.

What a pity Letty didn't have that printed on a banner.

Without benefit of a rival sign, she used what was available in the moment. Swinging her reticule around twice to achieve maximal momentum, Letty brought it down, hard, on the wrist of Beady Eyes.

"You let go of that girl, right now, you weasel-faced, onion-breathed . . ." Letty's stream of insults was drowned in the crowd's protest at the sight of their fellow man being assaulted by what someone deemed "half a pint-sized shrew."

"Half a pint indeed," Letty shouted back. "I'm less than an inch shorter than the median height for a woman of my weight, based on-Oy, stop waving that sign in my face."

Before Letty could take another swing at Beady Eyes, the sound of horses whinnying and men shouting from somewhere at the edge of the crowd broke the tension; a decrescendo from taunting voices to garbled protests heralded the arrival of authority. Jumping up for a better look, Letty spied two well-dressed men on horseback.

"On your way," a clipped, aristocratic voice shouted to the crowd. "Disperse at once."

The crowd buckled, its mood shifting from dangerous to frustrated. Letty protected the girl as best she could from the sudden shoving around them. Most of her attention, however, fixed on the familiarity of those crisp, clean syllables echoing in the air.

She would know that voice anywhere. Their rescue rode toward them in the form of Lord William Hughes, the Viscount Greycliff. A traitorous wave of relief that he would put an end to the danger was quickly followed by a cold dose of shame.

Six years ago, she'd believed him the epitome of nobility and elegance until that voice had delivered a verdict upon her head. The words he'd said and the pain they'd caused were etched into her memory forever.

"I don't care if you're Prince Albert himself. Move your arse, man!" A deeper baritone, the voice of Greycliff's companion, now carried over the crowd. "Put down the signs, or I'll put them down for you."

"Are they here to rescue us?" the girl asked.

Visions of Greycliff riding up on a snow white steed flashed before Letty's eyes. A handful of years before, such an image would have set her heart to racing and put roses on her cheeks. She would have caught her ruffled skirts in one hand, ready to be swept away by a hero, lit from behind by a shaft of golden sunlight.

Not anymore. The dirty grey-brown reality of working-class London remained solid and smelly before her eyes. These days, romantic scenes remained between the pages of a well-thumbed book.

"Never wait for someone else to rescue you," Letty advised. "Especially a man. They'll ride away on those fine horses afterward, and where will you be? Still here, cleaning the mess, having to work for an owner who couldn't even be bothered to come out here after you. Rescue yourself, my dear."

"Shall we run for it?"

"We could, but I've a better idea." Letty turned to Beady Eyes and held up her reticule. The man flinched, but she had other plans.

"Want to get rid of two troublesome women?" she asked him. Pouring out a palmful of coins, Letty made an offer. "Here's your chance."

About the Author

Elizabeth Everett lives in Upstate New York with her family. Her Secret Scientists of London series has received critical acclaim from BuzzFeed, Kirkus, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, PopSugar, Entertainment Weekly, and various other outlets. Elizabeth’s work is inspired by her admiration for rule breakers and belief in the power of love to change the world.

A Lady's Formula For Love

A Perfect Equation

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Book Review: Jane and the Year Without a Summer by Stephanie Barron

May 1816: Jane Austen is feeling unwell, with an uneasy stomach, constant fatigue, rashes, fevers and aches. She attributes her poor condition to the stress of family burdens, which even the drafting of her latest manuscript—about a baronet's daughter nursing a broken heart for a daring naval captain—cannot alleviate. Her apothecary recommends a trial of the curative waters at Cheltenham Spa, in Gloucestershire. Jane decides to use some of the profits earned from her last novel, Emma, and treat herself to a period of rest and reflection at the spa, in the company of her sister, Cassandra.

Cheltenham Spa hardly turns out to be the relaxing sojourn Jane and Cassandra envisaged, however. It is immediately obvious that other boarders at the guest house where the Misses Austen are staying have come to Cheltenham with stresses of their own—some of them deadly. But perhaps with Jane’s interference a terrible crime might be prevented. Set during the Year without a Summer, when the eruption of Mount Tambora in the South Pacific caused a volcanic winter that shrouded the entire planet for sixteen months, this fourteenth installment in Stephanie Barron’s critically acclaimed series brings a forgotten moment of Regency history to life.

After a six year hiatus, fans of Stephanie Barron’s Jane Austen mystery series have been given another volume in this delightful collection of fictional tales featuring the esteemed Regency author. The fourteenth title in the collection is Jane and the Year Without a Summer. As mentioned in the above description of the novel, the “year without a summer” includes 1816, which harbored dour weather conditions due to the eruption of Mount Tambora the year before. This is not an indication of a somber storyline in any way, although clear acknowledgements of Austen’s deteriorating physical condition are included, as history records that she died in 1817, about a year after the events of this particular fictional tale. 

Jane and the Year Without a Summer is set between May 20th and June 10th of 1816 and based on the actual holiday that Jane took with her sister Cassandra to Cheltenham Spa. Fiction comes into play when a murder is committed, and the intrepid Jane is once again bent on solving the mystery of the identity of the killer. Author Stephanie Barron has chosen to front-load the novel with most of the content occurring before the crime is committed. Readers will encounter quite a few suspects, and many clues are planted well before any nefarious actions are taken. As such, the last fourth of the novel moves at quite a brisk pace, as pieces of the puzzle are put together by Miss Austen, and even further excitement ensues. There is also a nice touch of romance between two characters that carries the tension of unrequited love that Austen expressed so deftly in her novels as well.

My only difficulty with Jane and the Year Without a Summer came in the cast of characters. Several of them go by multiple names, such as their married/Christian names as well as their “titled” names, such as "Lord" or "Lady". As a result I sometimes had trouble remembering which person was which. This is a minor issue, as the most important individuals in the story were clear-cut in my mind and easy to recall.

From a content standpoint Barron keeps things very family-friendly, with little to no colorful language throughout and a scarce amount of material that would even venture towards being “adult”. Her research into the time period is impeccable, as she includes facts from Regency England that are enjoyable as well as educational. Occasionally footnotes are included to explain historical issues that some may not be familiar with. Vocabulary of the era is often utilized, and every now and again winks to actual Austen quotes pop up in the writing, such as, “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a novel, must be intolerably stupid.” 

Once again Stephanie Barron has brought to her readership a brisk, delightful murder mystery featuring a fictionalized version of the very real Jane Austen. As Jane and the Year Without a Summer concludes about a year before Jane’s actual death, I am holding out hope that Barron has a few more titles to add to the Being a Jane Austen Mystery series. Much can happen in a year of the life of our intrepid sleuth. Perhaps she still has an adventure or two remaining up her sleeve…


Francine Mathews
was born in Binghamton, New York, the last of six girls. She attended Princeton and Stanford Universities, where she studied history, before going on to work as an intelligence analyst at the CIA. She wrote her first book in 1992 and left the Agency a year later. Since then, she has written twenty-five books, including five novels in the Merry Folger series (Death in the Off-Season, Death in Rough Water, Death in a Mood Indigo, Death in a Cold Hard Light, and Death on Nantucket) as well as the nationally bestselling Being a Jane Austen mystery series, which she writes under the penname, Stephanie Barron. She lives and works in Denver, Colorado.





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