Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Boxing Day Book Review: Mr. Knightley in His Own Words by Shannon Winslow

Mr. George Knightley. According to Emma Woodhouse, you won’t see one in a hundred who is so clearly the gentleman. Respected by all, he’s kind, unpretentious, and scrupulously honest, with an air so remarkably good that it’s unfair to compare other men to him. We also know he’s been his “own master” from a young age. But Jane Austen tells us little more.

What were his early years like, and how did he lose his parents? A man in his mid-thirties, he must have had at least one romance along the way. Did it end badly? Is that why he’s never married? When and how did his relationship with Emma shift from friendship to love? And what can explain his incredible forbearance towards the eccentric Mr. Woodhouse? Now, Mr. Knightley reveals these answers and more in His Own Words.

This is not a variation from but a supplement to the original story of Emma, chronicled in the hero’s point of view. Two-thirds completely new material, it features key events in Mr. Knightley’s past – events that still haunt him and yet have shaped who he’s become, the superior man Emma can’t help falling in love with.




As with other Austen characters, author Shannon Winslow has examined the view of Mr. George Knightley from the original work Emma in her latest novel, Mr. Knightley in His Own Words. Although Knightley is a main character in the 19th century source material, the titular Emma remains the primary focus in Austen’s novel. Readers could easily wonder about the background of the somewhat-older George, as he lived more than sixteen years before the birth of his future bride. A landowner and master of the Donwell estate, he is not overly wealthy and remains frugal in his dealings. He is highly devoted to Emma’s father, sometimes putting Henry Woodhouse’s wants before his own. What brought about these tendencies? Winslow provides a compelling history for Mr. Knightley and respectfully adds to Austen’s vision of her characters.

In Winslow’s narrative, Mr. Knightley’s frugality stems from necessity, as incidents from his childhood have forced him to take great care with what remaining funds he does have as surviving heir. An individual close to him wreaks havoc upon the Knightley family, causing considerable financial strain and emotional loss. The trauma which George endures because of this villain is heartbreaking, and is a realistic explanation for his thrifty nature in the years to come. 

Knightley’s bachelorhood, which stretches into his thirties, is a direct result of heartbreak endured as a younger man. Winslow pens a whirlwind romance for George, creating a character who very nearly brings him to the marriage altar. Although we know who he ultimately weds through Emma, the romance which occurs during his youth is bittersweet, and it is hard not to root for that relationship as well. Its loss explains his hesitancy to become romantically entangled for well over the following decade.

Throughout Mr. Knightley in His Own Words, we are allowed to revisit episodes from Austen’s vision, as well as see new aspects to established characters. We witness the early childhood of Emma, her spunkiness as an adolescent, and her growth as a young woman. Mr. Knightley is indeed a mentor of sorts for quite a long time, but their relationship grows into something more. Despite their substantial age difference, these two make a fine match, and Winslow’s depiction of them allows it to seem even more reasonable than in Austen’s work. 

In addition to the print version of this novel (which I toted along with me on holiday travel), I also enjoyed the audiobook presentation of Mr. Knightley in His Own Words. Narrator Philip Battley has a delightful voice. He also provides an excellent reading of the text. It isn’t merely recited– Battley performs this work, almost like a one-man dramatization. During times when I wasn’t able to read the text, the audio version was a delight to enjoy as well.

Shannon Winslow has once again brought a unique perspective to the work of Jane Austen. She has not altered Austen’s view, but has supplemented it in a respectful way. George Knightley experienced much before Emma came into his life. Winslow has presented a believable and compelling history for this character, one which makes the story of Emma that much richer. I highly recommend Mr. Knightley in His Own Words, and relished it during this holiday season.  




While traveling this holiday season, Mr. Knightley in His Own Words was my constant companion. The book spent time in the airports of Greensboro, Salt Lake City, Orange County and Atlanta. I also brought it with me on a trip out to the family farm in the country. Along with the audiobook, this novel was a fine supplement to my journeys!





About the Author

Shannon Winslow claims she was minding her own business when an ordinary trip to Costco a dozen years ago changed her life. That was the day a copy of the ’95 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice fairly leapt off the shelf and into her oversized shopping cart. She has been hopelessly hooked on all things Jane Austen ever since, her obsession ultimately inspiring her to begin writing her own stories a la Austen.

Winslow's 2011 debut novel, The Darcys of Pemberley, quickly become a best seller, praised for its authentic Austen style and faithfulness to the original characters. Eight more novels and a Jane Austen Devotional have since followed, with no end to her creative output in sight! 

Her two sons now grown, Shannon lives with her husband in the log home they built in the countryside south of Seattle, where she writes and paints in her studio facing Mr. Rainier. Visit Shannon at her website/blog:  Shannon Winslow’s “Jane Austen Says..." and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.



If you would like to sample Chapter One of this work, check out my October post HERE.








Wednesday, December 6, 2023

A Cozy Mystery: Cyanide and Sensibility by Katie Oliver

Murder is on the menu and Phaedra Brighton is called on to serve up justice in the latest Jane Austen Tea Society Mystery.

While Phaedra Brighton might not have a Mr. Darcy (yet), she's quite content with her loving family and loyal cat. Phaedra's sister Hannah is the Jane to her Elizabeth, and Phaedra is ecstatic that Hannah has decided to move home for her next adventure—opening a business. 

All of Laurel Springs is out in full force to celebrate the grand unveiling of Hannah's new patisserie, Tout de Sweet, including local celebrity Rachel Brandon. Hannah is a master of her craft, with confections so divine, one bite will make you think you've died and gone to heaven.

Of course, you never want that to happen literally. 

When one of Hannah's famous dark chocolate cupcakes sends Rachel's assistant to the hospital with poisoning, Hannah begs for Phaedra's help to save her reputation and budding business. But Phaedra has more questions than answers: Who was the cupcake actually meant for? And how far is the culprit willing to go to take their target off the menu—permanently?




Cozy mysteries are perfect for cold winter days when the reader can curl up under a blanket to enjoy a bite-size story of intrigue with a dash of whimsy. Author Katie Oliver presents just this type of offering with her latest novel Cyanide and Sensibility. The third title in the Jane Austen Tea Society Mystery series is a confection of Austenesque fun and romance, along with an entrée of crime. 

As in the first two novels in the series, the story’s main character is Phaedra Brighton, a collegiate professor of English Literature. While instructing students is her vocation, she becomes embroiled in a deadly dilemma when a murder is committed during a family event. Not only does this crime threaten her sister’s newly-established business venture, but more importantly, lives are at stake. She takes it upon herself to investigate the matter, much to the consternation of the local police department. Along the way she navigates complex relationship issues, not only with her family members, but other loved ones in her life as well. Although Cyanide and Sensibility centers upon a murder, Oliver’s characters also contend with matters of the heart. The narrative is quite brisk, but much is covered in the succinct forty chapters. 

Although not evident from the book’s cover art or general description, the story is firmly set during the month of December and the holiday season. While I would not characterize it as a “Christmas novel”, reading it during this time of year enhanced my enjoyment. That said, if you are discovering this title during another point on the calendar, don’t let this aspect deter you from reading. Cyanide and Sensibility is a thoroughly enjoyable story that can be read at any time. The characters are likable and distinct in their personal traits. The romance is sweet and not tawdry. The crime plotline is twisty but also lighthearted. I was delighted that the murder weapon was none other than a chocolate cupcake. It was almost adorable, if one could look past its lethal effect. 

Fans of Austenesque fiction will find much to enjoy, as there are several “winks” to Austen’s work. Many locations and characters are named after items from the mind of Austen. A particular favorite of mine was the cat named “Wickham”, especially as Oliver often chose to make the reader privy to the feline’s “thoughts”, which were highly amusing. A Willoughby-like character makes a big impact on the narrative, a building is named “Delaford”, and Phaedra often dresses in Regency attire, complete with reticule. However, if one is completely unfamiliar with the works of Jane Austen, Cyanide and Sensibility still remains accessible. At one interlude, members of the Tea Society even offer a thumbnail summary of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, which could prove useful to the uninitiated. 

This was my first exposure to the work of author Katie Oliver. I was simply delighted with Cyanide and Sensibility and took great pleasure in it. This cozy mystery is proof that a light, comforting read can also be written with excellence and care. Oliver is clearly well-read herself, as she offers many references to literature and shows an evident appreciation for the written word. The prose is engaging but professional. Her skill allows her to write in a compelling fashion without succumbing to crude material or overly violent scenes. Cyanide and Sensibility opens with a sweet, but deadly cupcake. It concludes in exciting fashion, and offers the reader an enjoyable tale which is perfect for not only the holiday season, but for any time of year. Katie Oliver’s work is a treat worth sampling and more.






AUTHOR BIO

Katie Oliver is known internationally as a writer of Jane Austen rom-coms with a hint of mystery. In the US and the UK, she is the bestselling author of the Dating Mr. Darcy and Marrying Mr. Darcy series.


WEBSITE | INSTAGRAM | FACEBOOK | BOOKBUB | GOODREADS











Publication Date: Tuesday, December 12, 2023


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Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Book Review: Jane and the Final Mystery by Stephanie Barron

The final volume of the critically acclaimed mystery series featuring Jane Austen as amateur sleuth

March 1817: As winter turns to spring, Jane Austen’s health is in slow decline, and threatens to cease progress on her latest manuscript. But when her nephew Edward brings chilling news of a death at his former school, Winchester College, not even her debilitating ailment can keep Jane from seeking out the truth. Arthur Prendergast, a senior pupil at the prestigious all-boys’ boarding school, has been found dead in a culvert near the schoolgrounds—and in the pocket of his drenched waistcoat is an incriminating note penned by the young William Heathcote, the son of Jane’s dear friend Elizabeth. Winchester College is a world unto itself, with its own language and rites of passage, cruel hazing and dangerous pranks. Can Jane clear William’s name before her illness gets the better of her?

Over the course of fourteen previous novels in the critically acclaimed Being a Jane Austen Mystery series, Stephanie Barron has won the hearts of thousands of fans—crime fiction aficionados and Janeites alike—with her tricky plotting and breathtaking evocation of Austen’s voice. Now, she brings Jane’s final season—and final murder investigation—to brilliant, poignant life in this unforgettable conclusion.


PRAISE FOR JANE AND THE FINAL MYSTERY

  • “Poignant . . . Elicits deep emotion out of Jane’s struggles against her own mortality. This is a fitting send-off for a beautifully realized series.”— Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

  • “Barron developed Jane’s narrative voice by reading Austen’s collected and published letters, and it is neither spoiler nor surprise to say that series readers will be sorry to say goodbye to Jane Austen, amateur sleuth.”— Booklist

  • "[Barron] has brilliantly combined authentic historical and biographical details with skillful plotting and a credible evocation of Austen’s wry, distinctive voice. She brings the English author’s final investigation to a poignant, unforgettable close. Fans of this historical series will not be disappointed.”— First Clue





In 1995 author Stephanie Barron began her renowned Jane Austen Mysteries. Now totaling fifteen titles, the series traces the fictional escapades of the beloved English novelist as amateur sleuth. The first volume, Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor, joins Austen shortly after her rejection of Harris Bigg-Wither in December 1802 when she is in her late twenties.  With each subsequent novel of Barron’s, the timeline of Jane’s life continues. As history records, she died in July of 1817. At the conclusion of the fourteenth novel Jane and the Year Without a Summer, the titular heroine was beginning to show signs of her ailment in 1816. In Jane and the Final Mystery, she is heavily beset with fatigue, pain and other symptoms of her sickness. Nonetheless, within her social and familial circles a crime is discovered and she is on the case to assist in its resolution, bringing justice to the wronged and vindication to the falsely accused. Readers are given an intimate view into the complex environment of an elite boys' boarding school, which Jane deftly navigates in order to discover the truth about the offense committed.

Stephanie Barron has a talent for capturing the voice of Austen in a way that places her in an elite field. This reader has consumed a significant amount of Austenesque fiction, as well as novels that are set in 19th century England. While I have enjoyed most of the titles, very few have reached the excellence of writing that Barron offers. Her history is well-researched, the language is accurate to the period (to my limited knowledge) and the style is accessible enough for modern readers. That said, I enjoyed the discovery of new words to add to my vocabulary. Although an entertaining endeavor, reading Jane and the Final Mystery was also an educational experience.

When I opened the first pages of the Final Mystery, it was with a tinge of sadness. I was hesitant to begin, as it would bring me that much closer to the conclusion of this delightful series. However, I have the unlikely “blessing” of being a latecomer to Barron’s writing, as I only discovered her work in 2016. I have read five of her full-length mystery novels as of this date. This means I have the opportunity to enjoy ten other titles previously published. Barron touches on a few moments from those past titles near the conclusion of Final Mystery, and while I was not familiar with all of the elements to which she referred, it was not alienating. Those remembrances merely spurred my desire to return to the rest of the series in short order. 

Several years ago Stephanie Barron took a hiatus from writing this series. Six years passed between the publication of the thirteenth title Jane and the Waterloo Map and the next, Jane and the Year Without a Summer. I was positively delighted when the mysteries continued in 2022. Thank you, Stephanie Barron, for returning to our dear Jane in order to conclude her final years as amateur sleuth. As has been the case with the other titles enjoyed by this reader, Jane and the Final Mystery is a Janeite’s delight and a mystery reader’s pleasure. Your vision of this treasure of Regency England is thoroughly believable and provides clever reading which would most assuredly be enjoyed by Jane herself. Congratulations to you, and thank you again for this gift to your readers.





About the Author


Stephanie Barron is a graduate of Princeton and Stanford, where she received her Masters in History as an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellow in the Humanities. Her novel, THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN (Ballantine, January 22, 2019) traces the turbulent career of Jennie Jerome, Winston Churchill's captivating American mother. Barron is perhaps best known for the critically acclaimed Jane Austen Mystery Series, in which the intrepid and witty author of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE details her secret detective career in Regency England. A former intelligence analyst for the CIA, Stephanie—who also writes under the name Francine Mathews—drew on her experience in the field of espionage for such novels as JACK 1939, which The New Yorker described as "the most deliciously high-concept thriller imaginable." She lives and works in Denver, CO.








Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Book Review & Tour Giveaway: Children of the Shadows by Erica Vetsch

Children of the Shadows JustRead Blog Tour

Welcome to the Blog Tour for Children of the Shadows by Erica Vetsch, hosted by JustRead Publicity Tours!


About the Book

Children of the Shadows

Title: Children of the Shadows
Series:
Thorndike & Swann Regency Mysteries #3
Author:
Erica Vetsch
Publisher:
Kregel Publications
Release Date:
October 23, 2023
Genre:
Christian Regency Mystery

Detective Daniel Swann and debutante Juliette Thorndike once again team up to solve a dangerous mystery--while trying to keep their growing romance secret. 

Someone is preying upon the street children of Regency London. They seem to think no one will notice when urchins go missing--and even if they are noticed, who will care? 

Daniel needs to do something about the missing children. But with recent revelations about his past and an unexpected, somewhat unwelcome inheritance to deal with, this is a terrible time to dive back into the seedy underbelly of the crime world. Nevertheless, he's still a Bow Street runner, and his partner Lady Juliette is sensitive to the plight of these wayward youngsters. They're on the case, searching shadowed alleys and coal-drenched streets to find the missing. 

But the tangle of expectation and the dynamics of power cannot be easily ignored, even if there are children in danger. When Daniel's past threatens to overwhelm his future, he will need a miracle and the help of his friends to both apprehend the villain and unravel his tangled family web. And it may be that his new responsibilities demand that he leave the children of the shadows to their terrible fate--or lose everything. 

Erica Vetsch's popular Regency mystery series concludes with a bang, sure to satisfy readers who have hung on every page since book one.




My Thoughts


The Thorndike and Swann series by Erica Vetsch has been an enjoyable branch from her Serendipity and Secrets collection. The latest edition, Children of the Shadows now makes six novels that bring adventure, romance, and discussions of faith to readers, all within the context of Regency England. While “happily ever afters” can be expected, the manner in which the story arrives at that conclusion is the main source of enjoyment within the story. Bow Street runner Daniel Swann is indeed in love with the debutante Juliette Thorndike, but the main focus of Children of the Shadows lies firmly in his work as an inspector. Through detective work, assistance from associates, and a strong dedication to the truth, Swann rights multiple wrongs in his community. Juliette also contributes, and their efforts bring justice and deliverance to street children and adult citizens alike. 

Although sleuthing is the main theme of this mystery novel, it does contain an impressive number of subplots. Of course, there is the growing (and secret) romance of Daniel and Juliette. However, author Erica Vetsch also manages to address issues such as familial reconciliation, the noblesse oblige of certain privileged characters, espionage, class warfare, childhood victimization, and the nature of Christian prayer. While all of these topics are individually significant, Vetsch is able to address each in a fair and equitable manner, all the while maintaining a compelling narrative. This brought a vibrant energy to each chapter, as multiple factors would be at play at any given moment. For example, Daniel may be investigating a crime in one scene, while at the same time tangling with a family member over inheritance concerns. It was no wonder that he often went without food or sleep! There were many problems to address in his complicated world. 

Because Children of the Shadows is categorized as Christian fiction, the content does suit that type of audience. Most discussions of faith revolve around praying for God’s will and helping those in need. The novel is not heavily theological, but these elements are presented as natural outgrowths of several characters’ lives. The criminal and immoral elements of the environment are presented realistically, but in a very “G-rated” manner which would be appropriate for all audiences. The romance is very sweet and genuine, but not titillating in its descriptions. Thorndike and Swann are young and clearly in love, but they put the other’s needs first in a very wholesome way.

Although I found the explosive conclusion of the previous novel Millstone of Doubt to be a bit more riveting, Children of the Shadows proved to be a delightful read and a fine addition to the collection of Vetsch novels. In it readers will find a compelling mystery, likable characters, dastardly villains, and themes of love and reconciliation. Children of the Shadows reminds us all that when we are given many blessings, it is incumbent upon us to share with others as God leads us to do. And as we follow His will for our lives, those around us will also be blessed.





PURCHASE LINKSGoodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | ChristianBook | Bookshop | BookBub


More in This Series

 




About the Author

Erica Vetsch

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.

Connect with Erica by visiting ericavetsch.com to follow her on social media and sign up for email updates.




Tour Giveaway

(1) winner will win a complete paperback set of the Thorndike and Swann series, and a $10 Amazon gift card

Children of the Shadows JustRead Tours giveaway

Full tour schedule linked below. The giveaway begins at midnight October 23, 2023 and will last through 11:59 PM EST on October 30, 2023. Winner will be notified within 2 weeks of close of the giveaway and given 48 hours to respond or risk forfeiture of prize. US only. Void where prohibited by law or logistics.

Giveaway is subject to JustRead Publicity Tours Giveaway Policies.

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Follow along at JustRead Tours for a full list of stops!

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Reviewer Notice: I voluntarily critiqued a complimentary digital review copy of this book, which I received from the author and JustRead Tours. All views expressed are only my honest opinion.

Thursday, October 5, 2023

Book Preview and Excerpt: Mr. Knightley in His Own Words by Shannon Winslow

Mr. George Knightley. According to Emma Woodhouse, you won’t see one in a hundred who is so clearly the gentleman. Respected by all, he’s kind, unpretentious, and scrupulously honest, with an air so remarkably good that it’s unfair to compare other men to him. We also know he’s been his “own master” from a young age. But Jane Austen tells us little more. 

What were his early years like, and how did he lose his parents? A man in his mid-thirties, he must have had at least one romance along the way. Did it end badly? Is that why he’s never married? When and how did his relationship with Emma shift from friendship to love? And what can explain his incredible forbearance towards the eccentric Mr. Woodhouse? Now, Mr. Knightley reveals these answers and more in His Own Words.

This is not a variation from but a supplement to the original story of Emma, chronicled in the hero’s point of view. Two-thirds completely new material, it features key events in Mr. Knightley’s past – events that still haunt him and yet have shaped who he’s become, the superior man Emma can’t help falling in love with.




Austenesque author Shannon Winslow continues her "In His Own Words" series with the testimony of Mr. Knightley, the love interest of Jane Austen's Emma Woodhouse. Although Mr. Knightley in His Own Words is currently on my TBR list, it won't remain there for long. I'll be posting my review of Winslow's latest in December. In the meantime, she has offered an excerpt from Chapter 1 for us to get a taste of what is to come. Read below and enjoy!


CHAPTER 1

I have come away to think.

Ostensibly, I am come into London to visit John and Isabella, but I am a very poor guest, for I neglect my relations to a shocking degree. No doubt the whole family is quite put out with me, especially the children, who are used to claiming their Uncle George as their personal property, to climb upon and make the center of their sport. Their parents are more perceptive, I believe. They merely shake their heads over me and look worried.

I have no heart for socializing, and perhaps I have made a mistake in coming here at all. But I had to do something. The situation at home had become intolerable. The unfortunate case is this; I have recently had to admit to myself that I am in love… in love with Emma Woodhouse.

Such a revolutionary circumstance must change everything! And yet it can be allowed to change nothing at all. Such a brilliant revelation should be shouted from the rooftops, and yet I cannot speak of it to a single creature. Such a glorious cataclysm of the heart and mind demands to be celebrated, and yet I cannot. Alas, it brings only misery. 

Oh, that Frank Churchill had never come to Highbury! I abused the blasted young man for not coming sooner, but now I could wish it all undone. Except on his father’s behalf, I could wish him to the other side of the moon for all the mischief he has made! Had he never come, we might then have all gone on comfortably as we were before. No revolutions or revelations. No inconvenient cataclysms of any kind.

But now! Now the situation is irrevocably altered, at least for me. For the genie, once out of the bottle, cannot be put back again.

I thought the risk of falling in love was well behind me. I was not immune in my younger years, I admit, twice succumbing to that temptation then, but never since. No, truly only once. I do not count dear Isabella. Not anymore, for to admit to remembering my brother’s wife with any passion would be inexcusable. To imagine it, offensive. Besides, despite how sincerely fond I was of her – and still am – I am now quite convinced that there never was any serious attraction between us. Not on her side, presumably, considering her later actions. As for myself, I can only judge by comparison, and what I felt then for Isabella does not begin to equal what I cannot help feeling now for her sister, God help me.

Everybody expected me to be the one to marry Isabella, of course, especially after… 

However, I am run ahead of myself.

As I said, I came away to think. I had the idea that, by putting a little distance between myself and my ‘problem,’ I might recover my perspective. By allowing my head to clear, I might talk myself into being sensible again – in short, to talk myself out of being in love with Emma Woodhouse.

Oh, but so sweet was our manner of parting that it has made the task even more difficult. Perhaps it would have been wiser to leave without seeing her, but how could I? How could I let the last words between us on the old footing be ones of acrimony? Next time I meet her, everything may have changed. She may no longer be my free and easy friend but Mr. Churchill’s future bride: a disaster on so many levels.

And so I waited with her father, and then also Harriet Smith, at Hartfield until Emma returned from calling on Mrs. and Miss Bates.

I rose immediately when Emma entered. My, but how well she looked! – although perhaps a little embarrassed at seeing me. No doubt she was remembering, as I was, the unfortunate manner of our leave-taking the day before at Box Hill. Her eyes begged my approval and that we should be friends again. All I could think was that I had best get away at once. As appealing as she looked at that moment, I did not trust myself to do and say what was wise, what I knew I must. Indeed, were it not for the safeguard of others present, who can say what might have happened? For I longed to take her into my arms and tell her all was forgiven. I longed to tell her the truth about everything. But instead, I was obliged to hold myself in check, to appear calm and indifferent when I felt anything but.

“I would not go away without seeing you, Emma,” I told her in as neutral a tone as I could affect, “but I have no time to spare, and therefore must now be gone directly. I am off to London, to spend a few days with John and Isabella. Have you anything to send or say, besides the ‘love,’ which nobody can carry?”

She looked confused, perhaps even a little distressed. “No, nothing at all. But wait, is not this a sudden scheme?”

“It is… rather,” I said. “Although I have been thinking of it for some little time.”

I told myself to go without further delay, to stop staring at Emma and leave at once. Somehow, though, my feet refused to move, and then Mr. Woodhouse was talking, praising his daughter’s kindness to the Bateses, which served to heighten Emma’s color even more. By the way she looked at me then, with a wan smile and slight shake of her head, she clearly told me she knew this praise was unjust – unjust and undeserved. 

If only I could have stayed angry with her, as I had been the day before! How much easier it would then have been to go. But remaining angry with Emma Woodhouse is something I have never been able to do, not from when she was a small, mischievous child until this day. No, I was in fact very proud of her at that moment – for apparently acknowledging her mistake, repenting of it, and humbling herself in order to attempt some reparation to Miss Bates. What an excellent creature she is – flawed but excellent nonetheless!

I am afraid the grave look I had been determined to maintain melted away. No further words were spoken between us, but, just as I had understood her silent communication moments before, I am certain she could not have failed to read the warm glow of regard I felt burning in my heart for her then.

I cannot exactly say what happened next. Did I reach for her hand or did she offer it? It seemed the work of simultaneous thought. In any case, however it came about, I took her hand, pressed it, and held it for a moment, even going so far as to lift those lovely white fingers partway to my lips before stopping myself. I had kissed Emma's hand, casually, many times before. This would have been different, however. This time would not have been a casual, meaningless gesture. There existed far more consciousness now, at least on my side, and far more significance than I had any business communicating to her.

I released her hand instead, leaving the room and the house at once.





Much like Winslow's enjoyable Colonel Brandon in His Own Words, this seems to offer quite a unique perspective on a classic Austenian tale. I look forward to diving in soon! If you'd like to continue on as well, Shannon is offering even more of Chapter 1 on her website. You can find it HERE. The complete novel is also available for purchase as of October 5, 2023. Congratulations to Shannon Winslow on her latest publication, and I eagerly anticipate returning to her vision of Emma in short order!



About the Author

Shannon Winslow claims she was minding her own business when an ordinary trip to Costco a dozen years ago changed her life. That was the day a copy of the ’95 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice fairly leapt off the shelf and into her oversized shopping cart. She has been hopelessly hooked on all things Jane Austen ever since, her obsession ultimately inspiring her to begin writing her own stories a la Austen.

Winslow's 2011 debut novel, The Darcys of Pemberley, quickly become a best seller, praised for its authentic Austen style and faithfulness to the original characters. Eight more novels and a Jane Austen Devotional have since followed, with no end to her creative output in sight! 

Her two sons now grown, Shannon lives with her husband in the log home they built in the countryside south of Seattle, where she writes and paints in her studio facing Mr. Rainier. Visit Shannon at her website/blog:  Shannon Winslow’s “Jane Austen Says..." and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.










Saturday, September 30, 2023

Book Review: The Legacy of Longdale Manor by Carrie Turansky

Two women—a century apart—embark on a journey to healing, faith, forgiveness, and romance.

In 2012, art historian Gwen Morris travels to England's Lake District to appraise the paintings and antiques of an old family friend, hoping to prove herself to her prestigious grandfather. While at Longdale Manor, she meets David Bradford--the owner's handsome grandson--who is desperate to save the crumbling estate by turning it into a luxury hotel. When Gwen stumbles upon a one-hundred-year-old journal and an intricately carved shepherd's staff similar to one in a photo of her parents, she's left searching for answers.

In 1912, after her father's death, Charlotte Harper uncovers a painful family secret she can only confess to her journal. She and her family travel to the Lake District to stay on a sheep farm, hoping eventually to find a home with Charlotte's grandfather at Longdale Manor, but old wounds and bitter regrets make it a difficult challenge. As Charlotte grows closer to shepherd Ian Storey and rebuilds her shattered faith, she must decide whether she will ever trust in love again.




Carrie Turansky is a successful author in the world of Christian publishing, but The Legacy of Longdale Manor is my first exposure to her work. Fans of the writings of Julie Klassen, Erica Vetsch and Katherine Reay will find a similar approach to historical fiction through the lens of a Christian worldview. Turansky presents characters who are likable, yet flawed. They are damaged, but not beyond repair. Like myself and many with whom I am acquainted, they face disappointments, loss, and are sometimes hurt by those around them. The Legacy of Longdale Manor is a dual-timeline novel, but the themes of love, forgiveness and reconciliation echo back and forth across the century in which it inhabits. 

In the early 20th century, a Christian family faces the type of scandal which is still occurring today. The Harpers endure the loss of the family patriarch, and a secret sin is revealed. This husband, father and preacher was more flawed than they had ever imagined. How does one reconcile the hypocrisy of a Christian leader with their successful ministry and love of family? How does a now fatherless and husbandless family move on, with almost no resources to survive? As the main focus of this narrative thread, daughter Charlotte must navigate the tumultuous waters of grief, disappointment and betrayal. Her journey leads her through lessons of faith which teach her about forgiveness, healing and trusting. The issue of trust becomes most apparent as she begins to know shepherd Ian Storey. He seems like a kind, trustworthy young man, but certain issues bring doubt to Charlotte’s mind. She must not only learn to forgive her late father, but she must also come to trust in others again. The words of a local minister summarize a major theme of The Legacy of Longdale Manor:

“Jesus lays this choice before us. We can give our burdens and troubles into His care and live each day with the peace of Christ ruling in our hearts. Or we can hold on to the pain and wrongs done to us and harbor a troubled heart that hardens and grows bitter over time, stealing our joy and draining our days of the full life He wants us to enjoy.” (p. 152)

Like Charlotte Harper, another young woman struggles with similar issues in Turansky’s tale. In the novel’s alternate timeline, Gwen Morris of the 21st century has also faced pain, disappointment and family secrets. In 2012 she finds herself at Longdale Manor, trying to rebuild her damaged career while also wrestling with difficult family issues. She becomes friends with her Longdale clients, and as they work together to maintain and stimulate the legacy of this large estate, secrets are unearthed. Like Charlotte, Gwen is given the opportunity to grow in her faith through the exercise of forgiveness. While she might not struggle with the issue of trust as much as Charlotte, she does grow in that regard as well. The life lessons and matters of faith that both women address across the century are timeless and will continue to resonate throughout human history.

The Legacy of Longdale Manor was a delightful, light read, while at the same time addressing the difficult issues of Christian hypocrisy, disappointment and loss. The content does bring up adult matters, but the writing is squeaky-clean. If readers are looking for something with a bit of an “edge”, this is not the book for you. However, if you’d like a historical fiction title that is firmly set in the Christian worldview, with sweet romance and (mostly) happily-ever-afters, this might be a good match. As mentioned earlier, these characters are flawed. However, Longdale Manor is very family-friendly and has excellent messages for those who may be harboring bitterness or disappointment. The words of Charlotte Harper’s journal are good advice for us all:

“I’ve learned forgiveness is just as much for my benefit as it is for the other person. It’s like giving up my right to hurt someone back and letting God handle the justice of the situation as He thinks best.” (p.333)

Forgiveness does not excuse the hurt that was caused, nor does it erase the consequences of the wrong committed. It does lead to a process of healing, however. This theme is seen multiple times throughout The Legacy of Longdale Manor. Through that recovery, Carrie Turansky's characters not only find more peace in their hearts, but they are able to find sweet, romantic love as well. The Great Shepherd would be pleased with that restoration, as He is the author of love and healing itself.





About the Author


Carrie Turansky is the award-winning author of twenty-one inspirational novels and novellas and a winner of the Carol Award, the International Digital Award, and the HOLT Medallion. She loves traveling to England to research her Edwardian novels, including No Journey Too Far, No Ocean Too Wide, Across the Blue, and the Edwardian Brides series. Her novels have been translated into several languages and have received starred reviews from Christianbook.com and Library Journal. 

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Monday, September 18, 2023

Cover Reveal: Every Time We Say Goodbye by Natalie Jenner

In recent years I’ve come to appreciate the work of novelist Natalie Jenner. Beginning with her 2020 novel
The Jane Austen Society and following with Bloomsbury Girls in 2022, she is proving to be a prolific and enjoyable writer of historical fiction. In May of next year her latest work will be published. Every Time We Say Goodbye includes characters and elements from the two previous novels, but it also will stand alone. As a returning reader, I’m excited about entering her world again, but it’s also encouraging to know that new readers can jump right in as well. Below I offer the newly-revealed cover art. However, before we get to that, here are some tantalizing details about this upcoming publication:


The bestselling author of The Jane Austen Society and Bloomsbury Girls returns with a brilliant novel of love and art, of grief and memory, of confronting the past and facing the future.


In 1955, Vivien Lowry is at a crossroads in life. Her latest play, the only female-authored play on the London stage that season, has opened in the West End to rapturous applause from the audience. The reviewers, however, are not as impressed as the playgoers and their savage notices not only shut down the play but ruin Vivien's last chance for theatrical success. With her future in London not looking bright, at the suggestion of her friend, Peggy Guggenheim, Vivien takes a job as a script doctor on a major film shooting in Rome’s Cinecittà Studios. There she finds a vibrant moviemaking scene filled with rising stars, acclaimed directors, and famous actors in a country that is torn between its past and its potentially bright future, between the liberation of the post-war cinema and the restrictions of the Catholic Church that permeate the very soul of Italy.


As Vivien tries to forge a new future for herself, she also searches for the long-buried truth of the recent World War and the fate of her deceased fiancé lost in battle. Every Time We Say Goodbye is a bold and moving exploration of trauma and tragedy, hope and renewal, filled with dazzling characters both real and imaginary, from the incomparable author who charmed the world with her novels The Jane Austen Society and Bloomsbury Girls.



ADVANCE PRAISE


  • “I’m in awe of Natalie Jenner’s new novel, which surprised me at every turn. At times it reads like the juiciest historical tell all, boasting cameos by enduring household names like Sophia Loren and Gina Lollabrigida, and featuring a party where Ava Gardner dances on the table. But most importantly, this is a story about damaged people who are still blinking into the light after the nightmare of the Second World War. This beautiful book balances and explores the most heroic aspects of humanity, and by extension the most evil. Every Time We Say Goodbye is a heartbreaking, engrossing, and thoroughly dazzling work of art that would make the filmmakers at the center of its story proud.” —Nina de Gramont, New York Times and #1 Sunday Times bestselling author of The Christie Affair

  • “Every Time We Say Goodbye welcomes back beloved characters from Jenner’s previous novels along with a new fascinating cast in Italy for the production of post-war films. Well-researched and written in a perfect blend of harrowing and heartwarming, this is another fabulous Natalie Jenner novel that historical fiction fans will adore!” —Madeline Martin, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Bookshop in London and The Librarian Spy

  • “In her latest novel, Every Time We Say Goodbye, Natalie Jenner deftly weaves in elegant prose, the lives of the incredibly unique characters working to create a controversial war film at the Cinecitta in Italy, and the effects they have on each other and society. An emotionally poignant tale, that explores the human condition before, during and after war, and how those experiences change some while others remain unapologetically stuck. Ultimately, readers will find themselves swept along on a vivid journey through 1950s Italy, wading through the pains of the characters’ pasts and the sacrifices they made, in order to find a way to their hopeful future. Every once in a while, a story comes along that really grips you and inspires you to contemplate the choices we’re all given, and Jenner has done that here. An absolute page-turner, I couldn’t put this captivating book down.” —Eliza Knight, USA Today bestselling author of The Mayfair Bookshop and Starring Adele Astaire







A MESSAGE FROM AUTHOR NATALIE JENNER


Hello Dear Readers,


Every Time We Say Goodbye was the hardest book I will ever write, and the most rewarding.

It all started when I learned about the world-famous Cinecittà movie studio in Rome being used as a war refugee camp in the 1940s. People who had been stripped of everything—homes, possessions, even their most basic humanity—suddenly found themselves confined to life inside a “dream factory.” I decided to set my third novel during a very specific, very cool time in history—la dolce vita of mid 1950s Rome—while exploring the incredibly complex and haunting legacy of that city under German occupation during the Second World War.

I also wanted to know why Vivien Lowry, a character from my book Bloomsbury Girls, had been so angry all the time! I wondered if a woman could make the biggest mistake of her life and move past the regret in a way that benefitted her and the world around her. I never intended to write a dual timeline. I had been working on Every Time We Say Goodbye for nearly a year when the voice of a young female Italian resistance fighter codenamed la scolaretta—the schoolgirl assassin—suddenly showed up on the page one day. Having witnessed the bravery and sacrifice of so many to keep us safe during our world’s most recent challenge, I wanted to pay tribute to them. How fortunate am I, through the intimate and emotional power of historical fiction, to have the opportunity to do so.

I packed everything I could into this book: love and conflict, faith and religion, censorship and resistance, art and moviemaking, fashion and food, and cameos by favorite actresses such as Sophia Loren and Ava Gardner and characters from both The Jane Austen Society and Bloomsbury Girls (I, myself am terrible at goodbyes!).

I hope, more than anything, that Every Time We Say Goodbye gives readers the entertainment, inspiration and food for thought that nourished me throughout its writing.

Best wishes, 

Natalie





Cover Reveal: Every Time We Say Goodbye

Publication Date: May 14, 2024







AUTHOR BIO


Natalie Jenner
is the internationally bestselling author of The Jane Austen Society and Bloomsbury Girls, which have been translated into more than twenty languages worldwide. Born in England and raised in Canada, Natalie has been a corporate lawyer and career coach and once owned an independent bookstore in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs.



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