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Book Review by Brenda S. Cox

“Trusting providence [God] seemed to lead to trusting people, as well. How differently the world appeared, when one stopped cringing away from it and faced it in the light.”—Fanny Bertram in The Murder of Mr. Wickham by Claudia Gray

Who doesn’t love a cozy mystery? Gather a large group of unconnected people for an English house party at a manor house. There should be one member of the party who is hated by all, though each has his or her own reasons. Snow them in or otherwise disconnect them from civilization, and the nasty one of course gets murdered (in the middle of the night while somehow most people are wandering around the house). Then an incompetent policeman tries to figure it out, and one or two members of the group actually uncover “whodunnit,” at great danger to themselves.

Now in this fun cozy mystery, The Murder of Mr. Wickham by Claudia Gray, the manor house belongs to George and Emma Knightley. Their guests are some of our favorite people—Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy, Marianne and Colonel Brandon, Anne and Frederick Wentworth, and Fanny and Edmund Bertram. Each has a plausible reason for being there. Of course, Wickham also shows up, and he gets himself deservedly killed (the title told you this already).

The Murder of Mr. Wickham, by Claudia Gray, is a fun cozy mystery starring many of our favorite Jane Austen characters.

Frank Churchill, local magistrate, is the incompetent sleuth (with a flirtatious daughter). The Darcys’ oldest son (who we can see is mildly autistic) and the Tilneys’ teenage daughter try to solve the mystery, while not transgressing propriety any more than absolutely necessary–sort of.

Well, all that would have sold me on the book already. It’s also beautifully written and consistent with Austen’s characterizations. Gray has even postulated dates for each novel’s events and given the characters appropriate ages (though she’s made Sense and Sensibility rather late, apparently in order to make Marianne and Brandon newlyweds, which is fine).

Now, the stresses of Wickham’s dastardy toward each family, and then the suspicions aroused by his murder, awaken marital tensions in each couple. (The Darcys are also grieving the death of a loved one, and Fanny is keeping a secret.) So we get to see each pair struggling to communicate better, and growing in their marriage relationship. To me, the most interesting couple is Fanny and Edmund, whose conversations deal with deeper issues of judgment, mercy, and family loyalty.

Of course there is also a delightful budding romance between Jonathan Darcy and Juliet Tilney. After a rocky start, Juliet is very accepting of Jonathan’s quirks. When he tells her that when he gets overwhelmed, he rocks back and forth, she says she would not mind that. She adds, “It is peculiar, of course, . . . but my mother has often told me that most people are really very peculiar, once you get to know them. The only difference is in how well we hide our peculiarities. Your habit seems harmless.”

By the way, Juliet’s mother, Catherine Tilney, is not in this story. But we’re told she has become a successful novelist. A hint to Claudia: I’d like to meet Catherine in another story . . .

In the story, Wickham, the charming rogue, has deceived various characters into investing in a false scheme and stolen their money, which is quite plausible. (It seems less likely that after this has been revealed, he’s still legally able to force them to give the money they promised him.) We’re also not surprised that when he discovers a compromising letter, he steals it and holds it for ransom. (Whether that letter would have been written and mailed around the world through various hands in the first place seems less likely to me.) All this fits Wickham’s character very well. And his final demise is appropriate.

If you enjoy mysteries and sequels to Jane Austen, I highly recommend The Murder of Mr. Wickham to you. I loved being with all these characters again for an extended time. The themes are good, and the ending is satisfying. Great summer reading!

See Claudia Gray’s website for more on her wide range of books.  

Brenda S. Cox blogs at Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen. Her book entitled Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England should be out this fall, Lord willing.

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Gentle Readers, This review discusses an historical novel based on one of Jane Austen’s least admired characters, Mary Bennet. Katherine Cowley manages to keep my interest in the growth of Mary in her self-confidence and talents.

The Lady’s Guide to Death and Deception is Katherine Cowley’s third installment of a series of five books based on Mr and Mrs Bennet’s middle daughter. Cowley, in her three published novels, has captured Mary’s qualities and mannerisms, as well as her vulnerability and insecurities. In three novels Mary’s been transformed from a character living in the shadows of her vivacious sisters to a woman with the daring and tenacity of a spy. The background of the three novels is the Napoleonic Wars. 

Covers of Katherine Cowley's first three books

In the first novel, The Secret Life of Miss Mary Bennet, we met Mary sitting by her father’s deathbed alone at night. During this sad time, she anticipated a life of silent misery under the rule of her widowed mother. In the early hours someone knocks on the door. Enter Lady Trafford and her nephew Mr Withrow. Claiming to be a distant relation, she invites Mary to visit her in a castle along the shores of the Sussex Coast. Lady Trafford sees a silent strength in Mary and recognizes her isolation from her family, and her patience, and accurate observations. After a time as her guest, she invites Mary to become a spy and promises to train her. 

Author Katherine Cowley astutely endears the reader to Austen’s Mary, while pointing out the skills that this middle sister learned as she lived in her sisters’ shadows, for Mary’s strength as a spy lies in her natural state of invisibility. She’s a nobody. Anonymous and unnoticed. Therefore, she’s the perfect spy. She’s also a stickler for keeping copious and accurate notes. 

Oh, Mary’s still self-deprecating and annoyingly awkward, but these traits are familiar to the Austen reader. Her transformation as a double agent and her release from dependency on her family as an unmarried female makes sense. (Read my review of the novel in this link.)

In book two of the series, entitled The True Confessions of a London Spy, Mary travels to London to ostensibly visit the Darcys, who are residing in their splendid London townhouse. We see this couple through Mary’s eyes. Better yet, her younger sister Kitty is visiting as well, as is Darcy’s sister, Georgiana. Cowley’s descriptions of Mary’s interactions and perceptions with her relatives and acquaintances are developed in a satisfying way.  

In True Confessions Mary must wend her way to follow Mr Darcy’s strict rules for single female visitors to his house and the freedom she needs to spy on an assortment of gentlemen, one of whom is suspected of murder. The author writes a fascinating account of our revisit with a beloved Austen couple along with Mary’s growing self-awareness and as a spy. Better yet, Mary receives her first proposal!  In this novel the reader discovers that while Mary does not regard herself as particularly beautiful or interesting, some men found her fascinating. Cowley threads many historical details in this tale, while keeping the spotlight on our spy heroine.

Book Three takes us to The Lady’s Guide to Death and Deception, one of five novels she’s contracted to write for Tule Publishing. The third installment about Mary’s journey as a spy does not disappoint. In this book, she and the spy team of Lady Tafford and Mr Whitford are shipped off to Brussels, a city that plays an important part in the events prior to the battle of Waterloo. Mary’s honed her spy skills. She’s learned to shoot a pistol and has improved her disguises in a variety of roles and accents.

Cowley weaves fiction and history together in a way that satisfies both my love for historical novels and romance. Her Mary Bennet is written with great respect towards Austen’s character. 

As a wide-eyed and bushy tailed 20-something and in love with Jane Austen’s novels, I was aghast to learn she had written only six. In desperation to find another Austen, I turned to Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances. My flat mate and I DEVOURED them. Now, in my (ahem) more mature age, I appreciate Heyer’s historical novels more than her light comedies.

Heyer’s An Infamous Army and The Spanish Bride are considered to be so historically accurate that few find fault with her research. Cowley’s writing style is her own; like Heyer she weaves a romance and a mystery into an account of the weeks prior to Waterloo. The Book Tour’s media kit succinctly states:

Life changes once again for British spy Miss Mary Bennet when Napoleon Bonaparte escapes from the Isle of Elba. Mary quickly departs England for Brussels, the city where the Allied forces prepare for war against the French. But shortly after her arrival, one of the Duke of Wellington’s best officers is murdered, an event which threatens to break the delicate alliance between the Allies.

Investigating the murder forces Mary into precarious levels of espionage, role-playing, and deception with her new partner, Mr. Withrow-the nephew and heir of her prominent sponsor, and the spy with whom she’s often at odds. Together, they court danger and discovery as they play dual roles gathering intelligence for the British. But soon Mary realizes that her growing feelings towards Mr. Withrow put her heart in as much danger as her life. And then there’s another murder.

Mary will need to unmask the murderer before more people are killed, but can she do so and remain hidden in the background?”

While Cowley is spare in her descriptions, she offers more details than Austen. She includes important characters like Sir Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington, Prussian General Blücher and William of Orange (later King William II of The Netherlands), who at the time of Waterloo was a Lieutenant-General. All interact with Mary in her various guises. I found Cowley’s details of Brussels with its many canals and the Duchess of Richmond’s famous ball satisfying. She did not dwell overly long on the battle, but gave it enough pages to recount its horrors, just as she provided more than an amuse-bouche to Mary’s budding romance. 

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One last observation for purists: At the end of the book, Cowley acknowledges that for the sake of her plot she changed some historical facts. She lists them and mentions why the changes were made. Of Cowley’s three novels, I found this one the most satisfying and look forward to reading the remaining two Mary Bennet adventures.

Author Bio

Katherine-Cowley-225x300

Author Catherine Cowley

Katherine Cowley read Pride and Prejudice for the first time when she was ten years old, which started a lifelong obsession with Jane Austen. Her debut novel, The Secret Life of Miss Mary Bennet, was nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award. Her Mary Bennet spy series continues with the novels The True Confessions of a London Spy and The Lady’s Guide to Death and Deception. Katherine loves history, chocolate, traveling, and playing the piano, and she has taught writing classes at Western Michigan University.

Purchase Links

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Audiobook Purchase Links

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Book Review by Brenda S. Cox

“I have had ample time to consider the difference between my former, naïve ideas of love and happiness, and the more mature and accurate view of them I now possess. I find that my opinions are quite transformed. How differently I feel about everything now! – about what I want, about what will make me happy.”—Marianne Dashwood in the last chapter of Colonel Brandon in His Own Words

Colonel Brandon is a bit mysterious. He has a tragic past, which we only see in glimpses. Readers sometimes think he is too serious for Marianne, and we don’t see much of their courtship or love story. Movies add some of this in, but not enough, in my opinion.

Colonel Brandon in His Own Words, by Shannon Winslow, fills in the blanks about Brandon’s background, his connections with both Eliza’s, and his romance with Marianne.

So, I loved reading Colonel Brandon in His Own Words, by Shannon Winslow, which filled in the blanks and brought Brandon more to life for me. The story is consistent with Sense and Sensibility, but adds new insights to the novel.

Sometimes I hesitate to read a parallel Austen story, thinking I will already know everything in it since I know the novel so well. But this time each page brought something new. Even when familiar incidents were included, from Brandon’s perspective, I sometimes had to go back to S&S and check—was it really like that? And it was.

I asked the author to tell us more about why she wrote this book, and what she loved about writing it. Here’s what she shared with us:

Shannon Winslow’s Thoughts on Colonel Brandon in His Own Words

If you’re unfamiliar with my work, the first thing you should know is that I’m a little different – probably in a lot of ways, but I’m talking about my writing philosophy. It’s different from most other JAFF authors in at least two respects. Let me explain.

First, I love ALL of Jane Austen’s novels. Okay, maybe not equally. Like most people, Pride and Prejudice is my favorite, but they’re ALL worth reading. They’re ALL worthy of our attention. So, early on, I decided I wanted to write at least one novel related to each of Jane Austen’s six. And I’m almost there!

I have Pride and Prejudice covered (The Darcys of Pemberley, Return to Longbourn, The Ladies of Rosings Park, Miss Georgiana Darcy of Pemberley, Fitzwilliam Darcy in His Own Words). I wrote The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen (probably the book of which I’m proudest!) for her fans who wish she’d enjoyed the romance and happy ending she crafted for all her heroines. I count Leap of Hope as my Mansfield Park book (although there’s a lot of P&P in it too). And I have a campy sequel to Northanger Abbey: Murder at Northanger Abbey. Now with Colonel Brandon in His Own Words for Sense and Sensibility, I only have Emma left to go!

The second major difference between me and most other JAFF (Jane Austen Fan Fiction) authors is that I don’t write “variations” per se. I can’t swear that I never will, but so far the books I’ve written expand on (or supplement) Jane Austen’s stories; they don’t change them. So all my books agree with each other and with canon. It’s just the approach that works best for me. I guess I’m sappy enough to believe that there’s one “true story” for the characters I’ve come to know and love, and that’s the one Jane Austen wrote. Adding on (with sequels, minor character stories, etc.) simply allows us to spend more time in their delightful company.

In other words, filling in the blanks Jane Austen left behind is my bread and butter, and there are a LOT of intriguing blanks when it comes to Colonel Brandon. Sense and Sensibility follows Marianne’s and Elinor’s movements primarily, so they are well covered. But there’s quite a bit of time when the men (Edward and Colonel Brandon) are “off camera,” so to speak, creating interesting blanks in the record. Since I really enjoyed writing the first-person, hero’s point of view in my previous book (Fitzwilliam Darcy in His Own Words), I decided to do the same kind of thing for my S&S novel. But should I go with Edward or Colonel Brandon? Hmm.

No contest. In my opinion, Colonel Brandon is not only the more admirable character, he also has the more interesting backstory to work with. There’s so much we don’t know about him, though, and much of what we do happened long before the scope of the original novel. What were his family relationships like? And his sad history with Eliza, which scarred him for life? These things are briefly mentioned in Sense and Sensibility, but we don’t get any details. We don’t see and experience them for ourselves. What about his military years in India? That sounds like a research rabbit hole waiting to be explored. Lots of story potential!

I was also excited to flesh out Brandon’s romance with Marianne, huge portions of which are only hinted at by Jane Austen. She simply didn’t have the time and space to go into their 2-year courtship in any depth, but I did! I cover the day they met, their slow, gentle courtship, the proposal itself (with a very satisfying twist!), and then a brief glimpse into their married life. Everything is from Brandon’s point of view and in His Own Words.

It was such a joy to spend this past year with Colonel Brandon – quiet hero and consummate gentleman – poking around in his head, discovering more about the man, learning what he believes and how he thinks. I love and respect him all the more now! I hope you are a fan as well, or I trust you will be after reading his full story in Colonel Brandon in His Own Words.

More on the Book and the Author

Here’s the cover copy of the book:

Colonel Brandon is the consummate gentleman: honorable, kind almost to a fault, ever loyal and chivalrous. He’s also silent and grave, though. So, what events in his troubled past left him downcast, and how does he finally find the path to a brighter future? In Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen gives us glimpses, but not the complete picture.

Now Colonel Brandon tells us his full story in His Own Words. He relates the truth about his early family life and his dear Eliza – his devotion to her and the devastating way she was lost to him forever. He shares with us a poignant tale from his military days in India – about a woman named Rashmi and how she likewise left a permanent mark on his soul. And of course Marianne. What did Brandon think and feel when he first saw her? How did his hopes for her subsequently rise, plummet, and then eventually climb upwards again. After Willoughby’s desertion, what finally caused Marianne to see Colonel Brandon in a different light?

This is not a variation but a supplement to the original story, chronicled in Brandon’s point of view. It’s a behind-the-scenes look at the things Jane Austen didn’t tell us about a true hero – the very best of men.

Shannon Winslow, whose goal is to fill in the blanks Austen left behind.

Shannon Winslow says an ordinary trip to Costco fifteen years ago changed her life when she picked up a copy of the ’95 miniseries of Pride and Prejudice. She’s been hopelessly hooked on all things Jane Austen ever since, her obsession ultimately inspiring her to write her own stories a la Austen. To date, she has authored eleven novels and a Jane Austen Devotional, 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 her at her website and follow her on Facebook.

From Brenda again:

I highly recommend Colonel Brandon in His Own Words, especially to read in this year of focusing on Sense and Sensibility. I think it will add to your appreciation of S&S. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did!

Brenda S. Cox writes on Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen. Her book Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England will be out this fall, Lord willing. If you’re interested in faith aspects of the book, see this review. And for Austen news, follow her on Facebook.

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Book Review by Brenda S. Cox

“You cannot imagine—it is not in Human Nature to imagine what a nice walk we have round the Orchard.”—Jane Austen to Cassandra, May 31, 1811

“One likes to get out into a shrubbery in fine weather.”—Lady Bertram, Mansfield Park

In the Garden With Jane Austen, by Kim Wilson, a delightful view of English gardens

Jane Austen’s letters and novels are full of references to gardens of one sort or another. The theme of JASNA’s AGM in Victoria, Canada this year is Sense and Sensibility in the City of Gardens. Following this garden theme, this summer might be a great time to read Kim Wilson’s book, In the Garden with Jane Austen.

The lovely photos throughout the book alone are worth the price. We get to see lovely estates and their grounds and gardens as well as many flowers, clearly labeled.

Kim Wilson, author of In the Garden with Jane Austen, as well as Tea with Jane Austen and At Home with Jane Austen.

Interview with Kim Wilson

I asked the author, Kim Wilson, to share some of her thoughts with us.

What gave you the idea to write this book?

As I read Jane Austen’s novels, I couldn’t help noticing that the characters we love appreciate nature and the outdoors and the characters we love to hate do not. The characters of Mansfield Park are perfect examples of this. Fanny Price loves nature to the depths of her soul and is inspired by nature poetry, as Jane Austen herself was. Mary Crawford, on the other hand, is carelessly indifferent to the beauties of nature, which should be enough to warn us about her dubious moral views. And there are so many references to landscape and gardens in the novels and in Austen’s letters that it made me curious about the gardens she might have encountered that could have inspired her writing. What, for example, was so special about a Regency shrubbery? Austen’s heroines often fling themselves into the shrubbery whenever they get the least bit emotional, and I knew I had to find out why. The next thing you know I was mapping out a tour of the gardens belonging to the Austen family and their friends. It’s always wonderful to have the excuse to see more of Jane Austen’s world!

What do you hope readers will take away from the book?

I hope my research gives my readers a better appreciation of Jane Austen’s emotional connection to gardens and the possible inspirations for the outdoor scenes in her works.

What were the hardest and best parts of researching this book?

The saddest thing about researching the book was visiting the sites where the gardens no longer exist, such as the Austen family’s garden at Steventon Parsonage, or Jane Austen’s brother Henry’s garden in Hans Place in London that she had called “quite a Love.” But of course touring the existing sites, such as the beautiful gardens at Jane Austen’s House Museum and at her brother Edward’s Chawton House (both in Chawton, Hampshire) completely made up for it. To sit in the same gardens where Jane Austen herself sat “and look upon verdure, is the most perfect refreshment.”

A Variety of Gardens

The first chapter explores Cottage Gardens, focusing, of course, on Chawton Cottage where Austen lived. We also learn about laborers’ cottage gardens, which provided much-needed food, and farm and parsonage gardens, like those of Robert Martin and Mr. Collins. The opposite end of the scale was the cottage ornée of the rich, with much fancier gardens. Such “cottages” are mentioned in Sanditon and Sense and Sensibility. The outbuildings found in a country garden get a mention as well, ranging from the brewhouse to the privy.

Next come “Mansion and Manor House Gardens,” the gardens of great estates like Pemberley. Godmersham, Chawton House, and Chatsworth are good examples. Wilson describes how estates like Sotherton (Mansfield Park) were being “improved” by Repton and others to match current fashions in landscaping. Such estates offered pleasure grounds, flower gardens, shrubberies, and wildernesses. Wilson also explores the fads for temples, Gothic seats, grottoes, and hermitages, as well as conservatories and hothouses.

“City Gardens” provided refreshment in the midst of town. Jane hoped for a house with a garden in Bath. The Georgian Garden in Bath, which I have visited, recreates a lovely city garden of Austen’s era. London is apparently full of hidden “garden squares,” which are thrown open to the public one weekend a year (June 10 and 11, 2023, I just looked it up!). The chapter also explores the role of the job gardener, who was paid by the job, though he sometime stole valuable plants. Again we find out where the privy might be hidden in the garden. Flowers also had a role as party decorations and hat trim, as Austen mentions.

“Public Gardens and Parks” explores gardens like London’s Kensington Gardens and Bath’s Sydney Gardens, across the street from a house where Jane’s family lived. We also see views of Box Hill and Netley Abbey and learn about tours of the picturesque, epitomized by The Tour of Dr. Syntax.

The final chapter provides details on “Re-Creating Jane Austen’s Garden,” including some of Jane’s favorite flowers.

The paperback version of In the Garden with Jane Austen, with a nice sturdy cover.

I see this book as a treasure trove for:

  • Jane Austen fans, of course. In each chapter, Wilson gives us connections with Austen and her novels and letters. For example, we find out that when General Tilney of Northanger Abbey said his pinery “had yielded only one hundred” pineapples, he was boasting of his wealth, since pineapples were very expensive, selling for a guinea apiece or more. (Wilson says this is equivalent to about $100 or £50 each today.)
  • History buffs who will learn things like why people hired hermits to live in their gardens, why shrubberies had gravel paths, and what crimes dishonest gardeners committed. Fun historical recipes are included for things like “Bee’s Wax Lip-Salve” and “Pot-Pourri.”
  • Writers of Regency fiction and Jane Austen Fan Fiction who want to include gardens in their stories. The book will give them lists of appropriate flowers with some pictures, and information about the gardens and their designs. (She doesn’t tell you when different flowers bloom in England, though, so you’ll have to look that up elsewhere.)
  • Gardeners who want to create their own Jane Austen-style garden, or who just enjoy reading about different types of gardens and plants. Wilson gives ideas for recreating a cottage garden, flower border, villa or small mansion house garden, herb garden, great estate garden, and town or city garden. She includes lists of flowers and herbs from real English gardens including those at Chawton Cottage and nearby Gilbert White’s House, along with diagrams of how those gardens are laid out. She even tells you how to find seeds for authentic “heirloom” plants.
  • Tourists (including armchair tourists) who want to visit Austen-style gardens in England. I count 25 gardens Wilson recommends visiting. For each, she shows a lovely picture and gives contact information. She tells readers what to see and what tours are available. (Be sure to check websites for current information, of course.) She includes obvious places, like Chawton Cottage and Stoneleigh Abbey, and unfamiliar ones I’d love to see, like Houghton Lodge and The Royal Crescent Hotel. The end of the book also lists “Gardens Featured in Jane Austen Film Adaptations.” So you can explore those as well, either in person, if you have enough time and money, or online.
  • Any lovers of beautiful gardens and flowers will enjoy the book, as it’s a delight to peruse!

Kim Wilson just informed me that In the Garden with Jane Austen is currently out of print, though you can still find copies at Jane Austen Books, online, or possibly through your library. She plans to work on a new edition next spring, traveling to England for new photos and information. So if you want to wait 18 months to a year, you can get the new edition, if you prefer.

Enjoy the refreshment of In the Garden with Jane Austen.

More about Kim Wilson

Kim Wilson is a writer, speaker, tea lover, gardening enthusiast, food historian, and a life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America. She is the award-winning author of At Home with Jane Austen, Tea with Jane Austen, and In the Garden with Jane Austen. A popular speaker, Kim gives entertaining talks to audiences nationwide. She has been a featured lecturer for the Royal Oak Foundation (the American partner of the National Trust of England, Wales and Northern Ireland) and Road Scholar, and was the keynote speaker for the 2020 Chawton House Virtual Garden Festival. She is currently writing Entertaining Mr. Darcy, and Celebrating Jane Austen’s Birthday for the series Celebrating the Year with Jane Austen with coauthor Jo Ann Staples.

Her other books:

Tea with Jane Austen

“In this delightful book Kim Wilson shares the secrets of tea drinking in Regency England, including a whole batch of recipes to help recreate some memorable occasions. . . . Kim Wilson has assembled a collection of anecdotes, quotations, verses and recipes, charmingly illustrated with largely contemporary engravings and line drawings, to provide an exhaustive and uplifting history of England’s favourite brew.” Jane Austen’s Regency World Magazine

At Home with Jane Austen

“Wilson once again leads the reader through a specific aspect of Austen’s life– in this case, the physical spaces which she lived in or visited. . . . Quotes from Austen’s letters convey the day-to-day experience of living in these places, and examples from her work demonstrate how often these experiences found their way into the novels. . . . even casual fans should enjoy following in the beloved author’s footsteps.”Publishers Weekly

Brenda S. Cox blogs on Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen. She is working on a book entitled Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England, which should be available this fall.

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One bookshop. Fifty-one rules. Three women who break them all.

Natalie Jenner, the internationally bestselling author of The Jane Austen Society, has gifted us with her newest book, Bloomsbury Girls, just in time for summer! It’s a compelling and heartwarming story of a century-old bookstore and three women determined to find their way in a fast-changing world.

Book Description:

Bloomsbury Books is an old-fashioned new and rare book store that has persisted and resisted change for a hundred years, run by men and guided by the general manager’s unbreakable fifty-one rules. But in 1950, the world is changing, especially the world of books and publishing, and at Bloomsbury Books, the girls in the shop have plans:

Vivien Lowry: Single since her aristocratic fiance was killed in action during World War II, the brilliant and stylish Vivien has a long list of grievances–most of them well justified and the biggest of which is Alec McDonough, the Head of Fiction.

Grace Perkins: Married with two sons, she’s been working to support the family following her husband’s breakdown in the aftermath of the war. Torn between duty to her family and dreams of her own.

Evie Stone: In the first class of female students from Cambridge permitted to earn a degree, Evie was denied an academic position in favor of her less accomplished male rival. Now she’s working at Bloomsbury Books while she plans to remake her own future.

As they interact with various literary figures of the time–Daphne Du Maurier, Ellen Doubleday, Sonia Blair (widow of George Orwell), Samuel Beckett, Peggy Guggenheim, and others–these three women with their complex web of relationships, goals and dreams are all working to plot out a future that is richer and more rewarding than anything society will allow.

Purchase the Book HERE

My Review

Bloomsbury Girls is the perfect read for those of us who love a story that’s set in a bookstore and is filled with books and bookish people. As I began to read, it first reminded me of 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff, a slim volume that is forever memorable for most of us who have read it and/or seen the film. I enjoy books where the setting (the house, the shop, the city) is so special and memorable that it becomes like another character in the reader’s mind. In Jenner’s novel, Bloomsbury Books itself is a very much alive and poignant character–and one I enjoyed immensely.

Beyond the setting and the great bibliophile feels the book provides, Jenner has done an exquisite job of weaving together a beautiful cast of characters and their individual stories. There is depth and complexity to each character, each couple, each department head, each story arc.

Finally, the storylines surrounding the three lead female characters are delightfully drawn. I found myself intrigued by each one, enjoying their individual stories as well as the bigger plot at hand. When they begin to work together and their stories begin to tie together and intertwine, it’s intriguing and delightful. The things they accomplish when they link arms is truly inspiring.

Overall, this is a fun, summery read filled with all the good things I love most. I hope you’ll stop in and visit Bloomsbury Books. Though it may seem like an ordinary British bookstore at first glance, there is so much more going on behind the scenes than meets the eye.

Audiobook

If you have a long car trip ahead, or if you prefer to listen to your books while you work, the audio version of this book promises to be incredible. Acclaimed actor and narrator Juliet Stevenson, CBE, narrated the audiobook for Bloomsbury Girls, with a performance that has been called “vocal virtuosity.”

Stevenson is best known for her roles in Emma, Truly, Madly, Deeply, Bend it Like Beckham, Mona Lisa Smile, Being Julia, and Infamous. She is also the BAFTA-nominated and Olivier Award-winning star of many Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre productions. Regarded as one of the finest audiobook narrators working today, Stevenson’s other recent narrations include Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia and the collected works of Jane Austen and Daphne du Maurier.

Listen to the beginning of the audiobook here:

Stream Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner, audiobook introduction from MacmillanAudio | Listen online for free on SoundCloud

About the Author

NATALIE JENNER is the author of the instant international bestseller The Jane Austen Society and Bloomsbury Girls. A Goodreads Choice Award runner-up for historical fiction and finalist for best debut novel, The Jane Austen Society was a USA Today and #1 national bestseller, and has been sold for translation in twenty countries. Born in England and raised in Canada, Natalie has been a corporate lawyer, career coach and, most recently, an independent bookstore owner in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs. Visit her website to learn more.



RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World blog. She is the bestselling author of The Little Women Devotional, The Anne of Green Gables Devotional and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.

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