Thursday, January 18, 2024

Book Review: The Lily of Ludgate Hill by Mimi Matthews

Fortune favors the bold—but is a confirmed spinster daring enough to loosen the reins and accept a favor from the wicked gentleman who haunts her dreams? 

Lady Anne Deveril doesn’t spook easily. A woman of lofty social standing known for her glacial beauty and starchy opinions, she’s the unofficial leader of her small group of equestriennes. Since her mother’s devastating plunge into mourning six years ago, Anne voluntarily renounced any fanciful notions of love and marriage. And yet, when fate puts Anne back into the entirely too enticing path of Mr. Felix Hartford, she’s tempted to run…right into his arms. 

No one understands why Lady Anne withdrew into the shadows of society, Hart least of all. The youthful torch he once held for her has long since cooled. Or so he keeps telling himself. But now Anne needs a favor to help a friend. Hart will play along with her little ruse—on the condition that Anne attend a holiday house party at his grandfather’s country estate. No more mourning clothes. No more barriers. Only the two of them, unrequited feelings at last laid bare. 

Finally free to gallop out on her own, Anne makes the tantalizing discovery that beneath the roguish exterior of her not-so-white knight is a man with hidden depths, scorching passions—and a tender heart.

Mimi Matthews continues her Belles of London series with a rousing new addition, The Lily of Ludgate Hill. Like the other Belles, the titular character of Lady Anne Deveril is an accomplished horsewoman who must also overcome challenges within her society and family. As she mourns the loss of her father, she must also tend to her grieving mother and face the prospect of eviction from her home. Mr. Felix Hartford, a former love interest returns to her social circles, and the enduring chemistry between them more than complicates matters. What follows is a dance of two strong yet vulnerable individuals who have loved and have been hurt, but are tentatively willing to consider another waltz together.

The relationship between Lady Anne and Felix Hartford is very similar to the lead characters in the television program Miss Scarlet & the Duke. Like the lead pair in that enjoyable mystery series, Anne and Felix have known each other for several years, prior to full adulthood. Both have strong personalities and are prone to bicker and spar with one another. However, beneath the contentiousness lies a connection that will forever tie them together. As Anne wrestles with troublesome issues within her family, Felix has familial struggles of his own. Yet despite all they have weathered, Mr. Hartford in particular is persistent in fully winning the heart of this admirable and beautiful young lady. Through sacrifices that they both must make, there is the possibility of a conclusion that will not only satisfy them both, but surprise many around them. 

As has been the case with other works by Mimi Matthews, I highly enjoyed The Lily of Ludgate Hill. Like characters in Jane Austen’s Persuasion, Anne and Felix wrestle with unrequited love and the opportunity for a second chance in a way that is quite delicious. Each individual must learn to compromise and consider the other on more than one occasion. Their flirtations are sweet, with a slight edge at times. They seem to be truly sparring, although they simultaneously support the success of the other. Felix is saddened to see Anne shackled by the mourning state of her mother, which has affected Anne’s ability to move on with her life. Anne’s growing awareness of Felix’s burdens not only increases her affection for him, but allows her to stand by his side to support him as well. Between the challenging situations they face individually and the romantic issues they tackle together, Anne and Felix’s narratives combine to produce a compelling work of fiction. 

For those who are interested in the nature of the content within the novel, The Lily of Ludgate Hill does not become overly steamy or rife with colorful adult material. That said, Matthews’s writing is powerful and still presents a compelling tale. She simply does not have to rely on ripped bodices, extensive violence, or pervasive harsh language in her work. Adult themes are indeed mentioned though. A persistent, illicit affair by a “righteous” person plays a key role in one family’s history. Anne’s mother is very interested in spiritualism, which was a common pastime in Victorian England. That said, there are no seances or gothic scenes shared. There are a few moments of violence, but they are tempered. Matthews focuses on the lives and loves of her main characters in a way that can be recommended to all audiences. 

I particularly appreciated the opportunities for forgiveness and redemption given to multiple characters. Mistakes are made, but the narrative illustrates a worldview allows for new beginnings. The inherent imperfection of the human condition was poignantly addressed in the following passage (edited to withhold spoilers), as Anne discusses a seemingly righteous person who had moral failings:

 "He idolized [him] that much?"

"If he didn't while he was alive, he certainly does now. ... The snow-white reputation of the esteemed moralist...has only grown after his death. He was, apparently, a man too good for this world."

"No human being is that good," Anne said.

"Some are."

"Nonsense. If we didn't make any mistakes, we'd have no need to be forgiven." (p.332)

The Lily of Ludgate Hill is a fine addition to the Belles of London series. Although it could feasibly stand alone, the enjoyment of the novel would be enhanced if the reader is familiar with the previous two works. Characters and plot points from both The Siren of Sussex and The Belle of Belgrave Square are mentioned on several occasions. In fact, several scenes from Belgrave and Ludgate overlap in such a fashion that I actually pulled out my copy of Belgrave to compare and contrast the simultaneous experiences of the characters. It was an interesting experiment! Matthews also plants the seeds for the next title The Muse of Maiden Lane, which will focus on the character of Stella. Like the women who came before her, Stella seems to be an interesting woman, and I look forward to seeing where Mimi Matthews takes her next. The Lily of Ludgate Hill was a diverting ride, and I wait in expectation for more adventures to come. 


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.

Read Chapter One of The Lily of Ludgate Hill HERE





Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Book Review: A Winter by the Sea by Julie Klassen

With over 1.5 million copies sold, bestselling author Julie Klassen’s name is synonymous with regency fiction in the eyes of her many loyal readers. A former editor turned three-time Christy Award winner, Klassen continues to be at the top of her game—delivering the immersive storytelling, satisfying romance, and intriguing mystery that make her books unforgettable. This winter, return to the Devonshire coast with the Summers sisters, where fiction collides with the annals of history, secrets come to light, and new love emerges in the highly anticipated series continuation A Winter by the Sea.
. . . .

When the Duke and Duchess of Kent rent the neighboring Woolbrook Cottage for the winter, the Summers sisters—Sarah, Viola, Georgiana, and Emily—are called upon to host three of the royal couple’s male staff in their seaside house. But they soon realize they’ve invited mysterious secrets and the sweet possibility of romance into their home.

Meanwhile, Emily Summers approaches a local publisher in hopes of fulfilling her dream of becoming an author. When he turns her down, his dashing competitor promises to consider her novel if she will first write a new Sidmouth guidebook for him under his name. Emily accepts and begins researching with the help of the Duke of Kent’s handsome private secretary, James Thomson. But a surprise visitor from her past shows up at Sea View, leaving Emily torn between the desires she used to hold dear and her budding dreams for the future.

Full of romance, intrigue, and the unbreakable bonds between sisters, this story will have readers eager to escape to a setting made famous by films such as Sense and Sensibility and Sanditon—the charming Devonshire coastline.

My Thoughts

Author Julie Klassen returns to the 19th century Devonshire coast in her latest novel, A Winter by the Sea. As the title suggests, the majority of the tale occurs in the winter months, and in this case it is the winter of 1820. This reader’s local region is currently in the grip of frigid temperatures, so the timing could not have been more perfect to read this delightful novel. I would recommend that readers curl up with a cozy blanket, favorite warm beverage, and possibly a furry friend to enjoy A Winter by the Sea during these cold days of January and February. 

Although this is the second title in a series and previous plot points are mentioned, I found that A Winter by the Sea could easily be read independently. Although not quite a standalone title, it offers sufficient exposition for those just joining the narrative arc of the Summers family. As is consistently the case with Klassen's work, the story is compelling, family-friendly, sweetly romantic, and spiritually uplifting. It is an excellent sequel to The Sisters of Sea View. Many aspects of history are woven into the chapters, with just a few creative licenses taken. Those with an interest in the infancy of the future Queen Victoria and her family will find several compelling moments as she and her parents come to stay in Sidmouth during the first year of her life.

The characters in Klassen’s vision of Sidmouth are well drawn, with many stations and social positions. Their desires, choices, and motivations were quite believable. Protagonists were likable, and the few villains which emerged served their purposes well. In several cases, those with difficult relationships were given the chance to reconcile or begin to consider the notion. Matters of Christian faith were included in a limited organic way and were not heavy-handed.

Jane Austen could often be seen as an inspiration, as the women of the Summers family have had to leave their childhood home, much like the ladies in Sense and Sensibility. Main character Emily seemingly gets a second chance at love when a long-lost beau comes to town, a la Persuasion. The charm of the seaside town of Sidmouth brings to mind the coastal resort of Sanditon. One gentleman offers a lady a marriage proposal that borders on insulting condescension, much like Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. Klassen’s story takes many different turns than these classic tales, but this Janeite loved the possible Austenesque touches in the lives of these Sidmouth residents.

Although A Winter by the Sea comes to an exciting conclusion with the confrontation of an enemy and Happily Ever Afters for multiple characters, this is not the end of the series. Julie Klassen has another full book and Christmas novella planned for the Devonshire Shores collection, and this is good news. This reader senses there is more to come with a certain wayward Summers sister. Could a reconciliation be at hand? Another Summers sister (or two) could easily find her own Happily Ever After as well, be it in the romantic sense or in other ways. There is much to come, and after enjoying A Winter by the Sea, I am anticipating more time spent on the Devonshire Shores. 

About the Author

Julie Klassen loves all things Jane—Jane Eyre and Jane Austen. Her books have sold more than 1.5 million copies, and she is a threetime 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 live in St. Paul, Minnesota. For more information, visit

Click HERE to read the first chapter of A Winter by the Sea!









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