New On the Shelf – A Wild Romance

In Wild Romance: A Victorian Story of a Marriage, a Trial, and a Self-Made Woman (March), first time author Chloë Schama sheds light on one of Victorian England’s biggest real life scandals. Theresa Longworth wanted the life of a married Victorian Englishwoman, but soldier Charles Yelverton was the wrong man to choose. She fell in love with him on a steamer from France to England in 1852 and married him. After then being abandoned by Yelverton, Theresa was forced to prove in court the legitimacy of their marriage. Trials ensued in Ireland, England, and Scotland, and a public uproar followed.

Theresa’s story is both a courtroom drama full of steamy accusations and intrigue and the story of how one woman made a life for herself as an unmarried author and public speaker in a society that had no place for such a woman. From her days as a convent schoolgirl on the European continent to her later life traveling across the wilds of America as an independent woman, Theresa Longworth Yelverton became a woman larger than life, when all she had wanted was a life as large as a home with a husband inside it.

On The Shelf: Gallant Officer, Forbidden Lady

He’s fought for his country, now he’s fighting for his heart.

The battlefields of Badajoz are nothing compared to the cutting tongues of polite society, but Jack Vernon has never been very “polite.” A canvas is this brooding artist’s preferred company—having once been the outlet for the horror he witnessed at war, it’s now his fortune.

Painting the portrait of stunningly beautiful Ariana Blane is his biggest commission yet. Learning every curve of her body ignites feelings he thought were destroyed in battle. But he’s not the only man who has Ariana in his sights….

In writing Gallant Officer, Forbidden Lady RITA Award winning author Diane Gaston has created a true page turner. Really. I picked up the book at 7 p.m., and the next time I looked at the clock it was 9 o’clock. I finished it at 10:30 – read straight through! While the story is touted as a romance, and it is that, it’s so much more – it’s a richly detailed tale peopled with characters who are not only believable, but who ring true.  I never once wanted to kick a character in the arse and scream, “For God’s sake get on with it/open your mouth/grow up/use your head and move the plot along!”

Jack Vernon is a talented artist plagued by waking nightmares of the horrors of Badajoz, Ariana Blane is the gorgeous actress who intrigues him since their first meeting at the Royal Academy. But one of the backers of the play Ariana currently appears in is the odious Tranville, who wants Ariana for himself. No matter that Tranville has made Jack’s widowed mother his mistress for years and made the family beholden to him through his financial support. As if that isn’t enough for a wealth of plot twists and turns, there’s Jack’s sister, the sweet natured Nancy, and the matter of the plans surrounding her upcoming marriage – deviously arranged by Tranville. And, the entire plot is deliciously tied up and culminates on the field of Waterloo! You can read the first chapter here.

I so enjoyed Gallant Officer, Forbidden Lady that I immediately went online to buy The Mysterious Miss M, which reviews say is Diane’s tour de force. For all the news about Diane’s past and future books, you can visit her website here.

On The Shelf – Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

Author Helen Simonson has put a new twist on the traditional village cozy with her first book, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, as described in the following snippet taken from her website:  You are about to travel to Edgecombe St. Mary, a small village in the English countryside filled with rolling hills, thatched cottages, and a cast of characters both hilariously original and as familiar as the members of your own family. Among them is Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired), the unlikely hero of Helen Simonson’s wondrous debut. Wry, courtly, opinionated, and completely endearing, Major Pettigrew is one of the most indelible characters in contemporary fiction, and from the very first page of this remarkable novel he will steal your heart.

The Major leads a quiet life valuing the proper things that Englishmen have lived by for generations: honor, duty, decorum, and a properly brewed cup of tea. But then his brother’s death sparks an unexpected friendship with Mrs. Jasmina Ali, the Pakistani shopkeeper from the village. Drawn together by their shared love of literature and the loss of their respective spouses, the Major and Mrs. Ali soon find their friendship blossoming into something more. But village society insists on embracing him as the quintessential local and her as the permanent foreigner. Can their relationship survive the risks one takes when pursuing happiness in the face of culture and tradition?

Well, dear reader, I just finished the book and the glowing reviews floating around the internet are justified. Being a traditionalist when it comes to my village cozies, at first I was hesitant about a modern day novel that featured Pakistanis. Nothing against Pakistanis mind, just against anyone fiddling with a tried and true formula. I was wrong. Simonson didn’t fiddle with it, she improved upon it. Aside from the (welcome, as it turned out) inclusion of non-British characters, everything else you’d expect in a terrific cozy read is there – an assortment of village characters, a great love story, greedy developers, a self absorbed son, crazy aunties and a good dollop of Rule Britannia traditionalism. Did I mention humor?

Oh, yes, something else is present, as well – terrific writing. Here are a few passages I especially loved and which will give you a taste of the tone of this delicious novel:

The wall of the long walnut bar to the west end was hung with arched wood paneling on which racks of bottles were ranged below portraits of past club presidents. A portrait of the Queen (an early portrait, badly reprinted and framed in cheap gilt) hung directly above some particularly vile colored after-dinner liquers that no one ever drank. The Major always found this vaguely treasonable.

“Mr. Ferguson can trace his  lineage to the Ferguson clan of Argyll,” said Hugh Whetstone, who tried to ferret out the genealogy of everyone he met so he could use it against them later.

“I won’t stand for you being disrespectful, Roger,” the Major responded. The current fashion for bandying about stories and jokes, as if the royal family were the cast of a TV soap opera, was deeply distasteful to him.

“Look, I can’t possibly assist you,” said the Major. “I mean, with just losing my brother . . I have so many things to see to . . . family and so on.”
     “I understand,” said Grace. She looked at him and he read in her eyes a disappointment that he should have stooped to the dead relative excuse. Yet he was as entitled as the next man to use it. People did it all the time; it was understood that there was a defined window of availability beginning a decent few days after a funeral and continuing for no more than a couple of months. Of course, some people took dreadful advantage and a year later were still hauling around their dead relatives on their backs, showing them off to explain late tax payments and missed dentist appointments: something he would never do.

Like many others, I’m taken aback that Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is Helen Simonson’s first novel. And like the rest, I can’t wait for her second. You can read the entire first chapter at the The New York Times site.    Kristine

On The Shelf: The Mr. & Mrs. Darcy Mysteries

Like the Curiosity Corner (new puzzle coming soon!) and Do You Know About, On the Shelf will be a regular department on this blog, bringing you news of great reads old and new.

A note from Victoria…

For the last six years, we have been privileged to read the delightful series of Mr. and Mrs. Darcy mysteries by Carrie Bebris, Victoria’s good friend and occasional roommate at JASNA events.

Carrie is not only deft at continuing the characterization of Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam as they enjoy their married life together, she is a clever plotter who weaves many of the characters from Austen’s other books into her stories.

Her latest work, Intrigue at Highbury (or, Emma’s Match) is out now and awaiting your perusal. See her website here.

Carrie is one of those members of the Wisconsin chapter of JASNA I have been bragging about. Even though she now lives in Ohio (and claims she likes it!), she returns to her roots now and then, always reserving a little bit of time for her old pals in JASNA-WI and our writers group.

Congratulations, Carrie, and here’s to many more excellent adventures with the Darcys!

Above, Carrie’s first Mr. and Mrs. Darcy mystery, Pride and Prescience, Or A Truth Universally Acknowledged, on the left; Carrie, herself.