The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen Flynn
Rachel and Liam are sent from the future back to 1815 England, to meet the Austen family, assess Jane’s health, and find the manuscript of The Watsons, along with some of Jane’s letters. They must be careful not to change the time line, but Rachel soon rescues a young chimney sweep. Rachel is a physician and fan of Jane Austen, while Liam is an actor turned Regency scholar. They are posing as a wealthy sister and brother who grew up in Jamaica. While they’ve had extensive training, adapting to the past is challenging, especially for outspoken Rachel. Rich in period detail, I really enjoyed their interactions with the Austens, especially siblings Henry and Jane Austen. Their future world isn’t nearly as appealing, especially after Liam and Rachel return to find that their world has changed. Witty dialogue, with some romance, but no explanation of how time travel works. Enjoyable, especially for fans of Regency romance, Jane Austen, or time travel. For more books featuring Jane Austen, try Stephanie Barron’s excellent mysteries, beginning with Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor.
The Mistress of Mellyn by Victoria Holt
This gothic romantic suspense novel was published in 1960, and may remind readers of both Jane Eyre and Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca. Martha Leigh travels to Cornwall to begin her career as governess to Alvean TreMellyn, age 7, who lost her mother Alice a year earlier. Three other governesses have stayed only a short time in Mellyn, the mansion belonging to Lord Connan TreMellyn. Martha’s room is near Alvean’s room and the schoolroom, but she isn’t meant to dine downstairs with the family, even when guests visit. The house is huge, on a cliff overlooking the sea, with another manor house on the opposite cliff, where Peter Nansellock and his sister Celestine live. Peter quite likes Martha, but Celestine is more interested in Mellyn, and in Alvean, who is quite a handful. Martha gets Alvean interested in learning to ride a pony to impress her rather distant father. The mystery of Alice’s death is clever, the mansion atmospheric, and Connan is intriguing and slightly menacing. Martha has a romantic admirer that’s not totally believable, but rather predictable. This book, while a good read, does seem dated, although gothic novels, such as Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale, are still popular.
Rise and Shine, Benedict Stone by Phaedra Patrick
This is the second charming novel by Phaedra Patrick. The Tuesday Evening Book Group is discussing her first book, The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, on June 27 at 7 pm. Set in the small Yorkshire village of Noon Sun, Benedict Stone is miserable and eating too many sweets. His wife Estelle has moved out of their house after years of struggling with infertility, and is preparing for a show of her colorful paintings. Benedict is a jeweler who doesn’t use gemstones, at least until his niece Gemma comes to visit and they find a family journal about gemstones in the attic. Gemma, 16, has some secrets, but she shakes up her uncle’s life, helps him remodel the jewelry store, and comes up with ideas for winning Estelle back. Heartwarming, clever, and quirky; a good vacation read.
The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer
Medieval Italy comes to life in this debut historical novel about a neurosurgeon who time travels. Beautifully detailed descriptions of the people, places, and food of modern and 14th century Siena add appeal to a moving story about love, loss, and the Plague. Beatrice Trovato keeps meaning to visit her brother Ben, a historian, in Siena, but is too busy working as a neurosurgeon. Looking at her brother’s research about the history of Siena, exploring the city and its art, she travels back in time to 1347, the year before the Plague will arrive in Siena. Amazingly, she finds work as a scribe, and also meets widowed fresco painter Gabriele Accorsi, who’s a witness to a killing by one of the early Medicis. Beatrice, trying to figure out how to get home before the plague, falls in love with Gabriele and Siena. Readers who can accept the idea of time travel and some unlikely coincidences will be enchanted.
The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway
An absorbing first novel, in which Lord Nick Falcott, who is about to die in the battle of Salamanca in Spain in 1812, wakes up in a London hospital in 2003. The Guild have found him, and will spend a year acclimating him to the 21st century, then give him a pension and assign him a country. Time travelers can never return to their home country or time period. However, after enjoying life for several years in New England, Nick is summoned by the Guild, and sent back to his estate in England three years after he was declared dead, in order to help find a Guild enemy who is manipulating time nearby at Castle Dar. In 1815, Julia Percy’s grandfather is dying, and Castle Dar will be inherited by her cousin Eamon. Julia learns that she can freeze time and travels to London to stay with Nick’s sisters and mother. Nick and Julia are attracted to each other, but the Guild has other plans for Nick. Full of adventure, intrigue, romance, and rich in historical detail, the author leaves open the possibility of a sequel. This debut is a good readalike for A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, and the regency romance novels with a military focus by Carla Kelly.
Every year, November and December bring a new assortment of winter holiday stories. Most, but not all, are about Christmas, are usually short, and they are featured in a library display called “Heartwarming Holiday Stories.” If you’re looking for a pleasant holiday read, you’ll find plenty of books to browse. Here are short reviews of three new selections:
Christmas Caramel Murder by Joanne Fluke
In another delicious winter holiday mystery, cookie baker Hannah Swensen is looking back at the previous winter, telling a newcomer to Lake Eden a story about her business partner Lisa. Lisa is worried that her husband Herb is out late “working” every night, and is really upset when she doesn’t get to play Mrs. Claus to Herb’s Santa in a local Christmas show, and the very flirty Phyllis wears a rather revealing costume at the dress rehearsal. Shortly afterwards Hannah and Lisa find a body in a snowbank, near a bag of caramels that Lisa made. Hannah, an experienced amateur sleuth, works with detective Mike to find the killer. I didn’t try any of the dozen recipes included, but they sound delicious. A nice touch is that Hannah dreams of her father as the ghosts in Dickens’ Christmas Carol, and the ghosts give her some helpful hints. Suzanne Torren is an excellent narrator for the audiobook version.
Amish holiday stories are very popular here, and this book features two novellas. In The Midwife’s Christmas Surprise by Marta Perry, young midwife Anna Zook is having trouble getting accepted in her Amish community as more than an assistant midwife. She is stunned when her friend’s son, Benjamin Miller, returns from three years in the “English” world. In A Christmas to Remember by Jo Ann Brown, storekeeper Amos Stoltzfus is led to an injured woman by a little girl who can only tell them their names. Linda has lost her memory and can’t remember where she was taking the little girl. Short and sweet holiday romances make for a quick read.
Twelve Days of Christmas by Debbie Macomber
Julia works at a large department store, volunteers at a Boys and Girls Club playing piano, and needs to develop a popular blog for a chance at a corporate social media job. Julia’s friend encourages her to write about her grumpy neighbor Cain, and do something kind for him every day during the Christmas season. Cain turns down chocolate chip cookies and a free drink at his favorite coffee shop, so the kindness campaign is not starting out well. Then Cain gets sick, Julia meets his grandfather, and her blog takes off. What will happen if Cain finds out that she’s writing about him? This is a fun, heartwarming story with a little romance, and I didn’t mind that it was a bit predictable. Brenda
Crosstalk by Connie Willis
After a minor medical procedure intended to make Briddey Flannigan and her boyfriend Trent able to sense each other’s emotions, Briddey hears a man’s voice, and panics. She’s hearing the thoughts of C.B. Schwartz, a nerdy coworker at Commspan. C.B. tries to convince Briddey that she’s now telepathic, and that no one else must know. Trent wants help to develop a new phone app, while Briddey just wants some peace and quiet, unlikely given her overly intrusive Irish-American family and gossipy coworkers. Briddey’s young niece Maeve gets involved as C.B. teaches Briddey how to quiet her mind before Trent and their doctor find out what really happened. Fans of slapstick romantic comedy will enjoy this fast-paced romp, which skewers our society’s dependence on digital technology and avoidance of self-reflection and true intimacy. The author nicely contrasts internet dating sites with the simple pleasures of reading in a library surrounded by others, or taking a walk late at night.