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!


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