11 December 2022

Book Review: All the Lost Places by Amanda Dykes

Today I'm excited to introduce a wonderful new historical novel by acclaimed author Amanda Dykes. All the Lost Places explores the magical city of Venice along two timelines, connected by a mysterious book. Here is more about this book, and read on for my review.

Book Description

When all of Venice is unmasked, one man's identity remains a mystery . . .


When a baby is discovered floating in a basket along the quiet canals of Venice, a guild of artisans takes him in and raises him as a son, skilled in each of their trades. Although the boy, Sebastien Trovato, has wrestled with questions of his origins, it isn't until a woman washes ashore on his lagoon island that answers begin to emerge. In hunting down his story, Sebastien must make a choice that could alter not just his own future, but also that of the beloved floating city.


Daniel Goodman is given a fresh start in life as the century turns. Hoping to redeem a past laden with regrets, he is sent on an assignment from California to Venice to procure and translate a rare book. There, he discovers a city of colliding hope and decay, much like his own life, and a mystery wrapped in the pages of that filigree-covered volume. With the help of Vittoria, a bookshop keeper, Daniel finds himself in a web of shadows, secrets, and discoveries carefully kept within the stones and canals of the ancient city . . . and in the mystery of the man whose story the book does not finish: Sebastien Trovato.

My thoughts

This book has a very different feel to my usual historical fiction and historical romance. I must say it was a refreshing change to read a story in which the themes and setting are at the forefront. I adore Venice, mystery and romance, so I lapped this up.

It's a beautifully written story. Immediately we are drawn into an intriguing premise and a multi-layered character. The voice in each part is quite distinct and unique. The storylines are also more complex than I'm used to - this isn't really a story to dip in and out of. It demands your involvement and in return you reap the rewards of its richness.

The setting is so evocative, you feel you are right in Venice with the characters. Themes of identity and redemption are explored throughout, and all the threads are brought together in an amazing, satisfying ending. Definitely one to add to your TBR list.

About the author

Amanda Dykes's debut novel, Whose Waves These Are, is the winner of the prestigious 2020 Christy Award Book of the Year, a Booklist 2019 Top Ten Romance debut, and the winner of an INSPY Award. She's also the author of Yours Is the Night and Set the Stars Alight, a 2021 Christy Award finalist.

Thanks to Austenprose for the opportunity to read and review this novel.

06 November 2022

Godmersham Park by Gill Hornby: Spotlight and Excerpt

Today I'm spotlighting a new novel from the author of Miss Austen, Gill Hornby.

Godmersham Park is a story set in Jane Austen's world, with the author herself as a character along with some of her family. It's delightful to imagine how she might have been.

Read on to find out more about the book and to enjoy an excerpt!

Book Description

A richly imagined novel inspired by the true story of Anne Sharp, a governess who became very close with Jane Austen and her family by the #1 International bestselling-author of Miss Austen.

On January 21, 1804, Anne Sharpe arrives at Godmersham Park in Kent to take up the position of governess. At thirty-one years old, she has no previous experience of either teaching or fine country houses. Her mother has died, and she has nowhere else to go. Anne is left with no choice. For her new charge—twelve-year-old Fanny Austen—Anne's arrival is all novelty and excitement. 

The governess role is a uniquely awkward one. Anne is neither one of the servants, nor one of the family, and to balance a position between the "upstairs" and "downstairs" members of the household is a diplomatic chess game. One wrong move may result in instant dismissal. Anne knows that she must never let down her guard.

When Mr. Edward Austen's family comes to stay, Anne forms an immediate attachment to Jane. They write plays together and enjoy long discussions. However, in the process, Anne reveals herself as not merely pretty, charming, and competent; she is clever too. Even her sleepy, complacent, mistress can hardly fail to notice.

Meanwhile Jane's brother, Henry, begins to take an unusually strong interest in the lovely young governess. And from now on, Anne's days at Godmersham Park are numbered.

Excerpt from Chapter 11

‘Miss Sharp!’ Fanny burst into the Godmersham attic. ‘Look!’ She brandished a letter. ‘All that time, I was expecting to hear by the morning post, and it came by the evening.’

They both studied the paper, weighed up its width and its quality, ran their eyes over it to judge the length of what was written upon it. ‘In my mind’s eye, I had seen myself receiving it at breakfast and reading it there, just as Mama does. I mean, like a proper young lady.’ She worried at her lip. ‘But now is just as good, is it not?’

‘I should say it is a fine time for the reading of letters,’ Anne reassured her. ‘A lovely end to the day. And remember, my dear, if this is to be a full correspondence, you can look forward to more in the future . . .’

Fanny breathed out. ‘You are so right. I am beginning to think, Miss Sharp, that you are in the habit of being right on all matters. So, what happens now?’

Anne was becoming a little concerned by her pupil’s over-keen sense of deference. If they went on like this, Fanny would soon be incapable of putting one foot in front of the other without appealing for guidance. ‘I suggest that you read it?’

‘Oh,’ Fanny gave a little laugh. ‘Of course! Shall we do so together?’

‘No, my dear,’ replied Anne, though she was not un- intrigued. ‘This is to you.’

Fortunately, Fanny who was one of the world’s greatest sharers – chose to read it out loud:

My dear Fanny,

Your letter occasioned such joy among all in your Bath family but in me, in particular. I cannot imagine what I have done to deserve such an honour and nor can your superior aunt, my dear sister. When the post came for me, there was a danger that she might drop dead from sheer jealousy, but I quickly revived her with my shrewd observation – Cassandra is harder to spell and consumes too much ink. God bless my short, simple name!

We all marvelled at hearing your Godmersham news, and you have the advantage of me. How can my dull existence compare with the revelation that you have a new governess? It is clear she is a woman of substance for your pen was clear and the contents quite perfect. If you are so kind as to reply to me now, please do us the favour of addressing the following concerns. We all long to know what books you are reading – in particular, which poets? Your grandfather desires that you acquire a sound basis in Shakespeare and, as always he cannot be helped issues a plea on behalf of the Classics. Is your Miss S. among her other perfections strong in the Classics? If so, then she is truly a paragon.

As you know, your Grandmama has been most unwell and the worry and fear has kept us at home more than is usual. But I am here to report she is now well on the mend, and her spirits returned to their usual height. It cannot be long before we return to the social round. Though I am relieved that the illness is over, I cannot rejoice at being turned out of doors. The streets of Bath are made so dirty by this dreadful wet weather – it keeps one in a perpetual state of inelegance.

We all look forward to hearing from you again, and pray you send our love to all of the Godmersham family.

Your fond Aunt, Jane Austen.

Each expressed their delight in tones of great rapture and agreed it to be one of the greatest – possibly the best letter yet to be written. Fanny read it twice more, so as to be thoroughly sure, before disappearing down to the library to share it anew. Anne, at last, was able to pick up her own pen, and then Sally came in.

The sullen maid of Anne’s first evening had warmed into a garrulous creature and now, while Anne sat alone working, Sally would work alongside her. Her clear philosophy was that, while the hands toiled at tidying and cleaning, the tongue should not idle.

‘What is it you’re up to there, miss?’ She was sifting through Fanny’s drawers and refolding the inexpertly folded. ‘Another letter, is it? You do write a lot of letters and no mistake.’ She came and looked over Anne’s shoulder. Anne covered her page. ‘Don’t worry about that, miss. All scribbles to me.’

‘You cannot read or write, Sally?’ Anne felt that glorious, prickling anticipation of a new project. ‘Would you like me to teach you? When is your afternoon off ? I am sure I could spare a few hours every week.’ She was quite magnificent in her own generosity.

‘Ta, miss, but I’m right as I am.’ Sally went back to her work. ‘My afternoons off are my afternoons off, thanking you very much. I go out on the gad, then, with Becky.’ 

Anne picked up her pen again, crushed. Suddenly intrigued, she put it back down. ‘You must be most expert gadders to find any gadding to be had in Godmersham, surely?’ The village did not even have a shop, let alone a High Street. Anne had found no amusements beyond solitary walks. How does one even begin to gad in a field? 

‘You’d be surprised, miss. There’s some new lads down at the tithe barn.’ Sally gave a little shriek. ‘Ooh, but we do like a laugh with them.’

‘And Mrs Salkeld does not object?’ Anne herself could never be so brave as to incur the wrath of the housekeeper. 

Sally shrugged her thin shoulders. ‘If she does, she daren’t say so. We’re still young, miss. Got to enjoy your- self, haven’t you? It’s only a job, after all. If they stopped me, I’d tell them to stick it.’

Anne paused to reflect on their relative positions. She was certainly paid more, but Sally with her uniform and its upkeep provided had fewer expenses. Sally enjoyed hours off in the day and the companionship of life in the servants’ hall; Anne belonged neither to staff nor family, was almost always on duty and, when not, entirely alone. It appeared that a maid could make an exhibition of her- self abroad and it was tolerated, yet if a governess were to attract even the eye of a gentleman, she would face instant dismissal. The comparison provided food for thought on the question of privilege and the cost of its benefits.

Author Bio

Gill Hornby is the author of the novels Miss Austen, The Hive, and All Together Now, as well as The Story of Jane Austen, a biography of Austen for young readers. She lives in Kintbury, England, with her husband and their four children.

Thanks to Austenprose for including me on the book tour.

09 October 2022

Book Review and Giveaway: The Belle of Belgrave Square by Mimi Matthews

I was delighted to have the opportunity to read and review The Belle of Belgrave Square, which is book two in the “Belles of London” series of Victorian romances. Read on for my thoughts on this complex and satisfying novel.

Plus, scroll down to be in to win a signed and annotated copy of the book!

Here is the book description:

Tall, dark, and dour, the notorious Captain Jasper Blunt was once hailed a military hero, but tales abound of his bastard children and his haunted estate in Yorkshire. What he requires now is a rich wife to ornament his isolated ruin, and he has his sights set on the enchanting Julia Wychwood.

For Julia, an incurable romantic cursed with a crippling social anxiety, navigating a London ballroom is absolute torture. The only time Julia feels any degree of confidence is when she’s on her horse. Unfortunately, a young lady can’t spend the whole of her life in the saddle, so Julia makes an impetuous decision to take her future by the reins—she proposes to Captain Blunt.

In exchange for her dowry and her hand, Jasper must promise to grant her freedom to do as she pleases. To ride—and to read—as much as she likes without masculine interference. He readily agrees to her conditions, with one provision of his own: Julia is forbidden from going into the tower rooms of his estate and snooping around his affairs. But the more she learns of the beastly former hero, the more intrigued she becomes…

My Thoughts

This book is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, to me it was sometimes reminiscent of Jane Eyre... the dark, brooding hero with a mysterious past in a creepy Yorkshire mansion. *shivers, happily*
As someone who also suffers from social anxiety (and prefers the company of animals to people!), I had a great deal of empathy for Julia. She is also under the thumb of extremely needy and overbearing parents, so marrying a man who lives in the back of beyond seems an ideal plan. Neither she, nor her groom Jasper Blunt, could have imagined how many secrets each are hiding.

The marriage of convenience trope offers so much opportunity for a beautiful slow burn romance, and this is a beautiful example. As we peel away the layers of the war-bruised hero, it becomes apart that these two characters are perfect together, as their weaknesses become their shared strength. There are so many gorgeous romantic moments between them, I'm sure I caught myself sighing blissfully several times. A very special book.

About the Author

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.


Thank you to Laurel Ann from Austenprose for asking me to participate in the blog tour for The Belle of Belgrave Square.

Giveaway: signed and annotated copy of The Belle of Belgrave Square.

One lucky winner will receive a paperback copy of The Belle of Belgrave Square, signed and annotated by the author with personal comments, underlining of her favorite lines, and other highlights by Mimi Matthews. Please note, this giveaway is only open to US residents.

The giveaway is open from 12:01 am Pacific time 10/03/22 until 11:59pm Pacific time on 10/30/22. The winner will be announced on Mimi's blog on 10/31/22.

Terms & Conditions:
Giveaway hosted by Mimi Matthews. No Purchase Necessary. Entrants must be 18 years or older. Open to US residents only. All information will remain confidential and will not be sold or otherwise used, except to notify the winner and to facilitate postage of the book to the winner. Void where prohibited.

24 September 2022

An interview with Heather B. Moore, author of 'In the Shadow of a Queen'

I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to interview Heather B. Moore, an author whose growing catalogue is a joy to behold for historical readers. I particularly love it when an author takes a real historical setting and weaves a story which is part fiction, part fact - and the two blend seamlessly. 

This is the case with Moore's new release, In the Shadow of a Queen, in which she imagines the life of Queen Victoria's daughter Louise, who is a striking character in her own right.

Here is the book description:

Book cover for 'In the Shadow of the Queen' by Heather B. MoorePrincess Louise’s life is upended after her father’s untimely death. Captive to the queen’s overwhelming mourning, Louise is forbidden to leave her mother’s tight circle of control and is eventually relegated to the position of personal secretary to her mother―the same position each of her sisters held until they were married.

Already an accomplished painter, Louise risks the queen’s wrath by exploring the art of sculpting, an activity viewed as unbefitting a woman. When Louise involves herself in the day’s political matters, including championing the career of a female doctor and communicating with suffragettes, the queen lays down the law to stop her and devotes her full energy to finding an acceptable match for her defiant daughter.

Louise is considered the most beautiful and talented daughter of Queen Victoria but finding a match for the princess is no easy feat. Protocols are broken, and Louise exerts her own will as she tries to find an open-minded husband who will support her free spirit.

In the Shadow of a Queen is the story of a battle of wills between two women: a daughter determined to forge her own life beyond the shadow of her mother, and a queen resolved to keep the Crown’s reputation unsullied no matter the cost.

And now, on to the interview!

Hello Heather and thank you for taking the time to do this interview for the release of In the Shadow of a Queen. I just loved the book!

Thank you so much! I’m thrilled that you enjoyed the book!

You are very prolific, including many books of this kind of historical fiction. What is it about bringing the past to life that appeals to you? How long does it take you to research something like this?

I started reading historical fiction as a young teen, and I became fascinated by stories and experiences of the past. Learning about what happened in the past continually gives me a better perspective of challenges in the world today. This particular novel took me six months to research and write, working on it full-time, probably 30-40 hours a week. I spent nearly a month of that just reading everything I could find and annotating biographies about Princess Louise, Queen Victoria, and all the siblings.

What was it about Louise specifically that interested you?
Portrait of Princess Louise by William Corden copyright by The Royal Collection
Princess Louise was very intriguing to me because although she lived in the 1800’s, she had a very modern and forward-thinking mindset. Even when her mother, who happened to be the Queen of England, didn’t support women’s suffrage, Louise found ways to offer patronage to suffrage groups. Some might view Louise as a rebellious daughter, but she was also fiercely loyal to her mother no matter their conflicts.

Did you try to write in Louise’s “voice” as you may have found it in letters, or did you purely invent it?

I read many letters written by Louise, so I had a good sense of her voice. I’d characterize her as a very affectionate, compassionate, with an almost “gushing” personality. She used endearments all the time such as “dear” or “dearest” or “darling.” She either hated things or loved things, she wasn’t afraid to express emotion, and she was always looking to be a friend to others, no matter their station. I had one Louise, Duchess of Argyleadvance reader who told me it was tiresome to read so many endearments, so I cut a few out, but I wanted to stay as true as possible to her natural way of expression.

In a similar vein, how many of the scenes are historical as opposed to your own invention? Are all the letters real?

Yes, all the letters came directly from preserved royal correspondence that is either published in book form or online. I’d estimate that there are 3-5 references per page throughout the entire manuscript. Even if I made up a situation—such as the opening scene with the children gathering for a game, I based the game on something they played, the gathered children were those who frequented the palace, and their conversation about an event that was truly about to happen.

The romance in the story is captivating. Were there a lot of resources to draw from about John Campbell or did you need to guess what his personality might be like?

John Campbell was a prolific author and poet. I studied many of his works and read through them for his general vernacular. His writing was very descriptive, yet formal, which is why I didn’t put in Scottish dialect when I wrote his dialog. He might have used local dialect in some of the Princess Louise and John Campbell engagementScottish towns, but in general, he spoke formally. Ironically, it was a huge sacrifice for him to marry a royal princess and put her interests before his. But he’d known Princess Louise most of his life, and their families were closely connected, which told me he didn’t go into the marriage with any unrealistic expectations. He wasn’t weak-kneed though. He did stand up for himself multiple times with the Queen, and Louise supported his decisions.

As a modern reader, it’s tempting to think of John Campbell as highly-ranked – he is still a duke, after all. Was it really a scandal that Louise married him?

Louise’s older siblings were very frustrated that the queen would even consider such a match. Her brother Bertie was insistent that she maintain protocol and marry a royal. Bertie’s wife, Alexandra, wanted to strengthen the connection to the Danish throne and have Louise marry her Danish brother, who was the crown prince of Denmark. Alice and Vicky, both who’d married Prussians, wanted her to be with them in their country. This all brought about major contention among siblings, and when Queen Victoria gave her blessing on Louise’s decision to marry John Campbell, that was a deep wound to Bertie especially, since he never felt like he had the trust and support of his mother. The country of England loved that Louise was marrying “one of them”—and the couple was very much celebrated.

I was surprised to learn that it wasn’t typical for women to attend funerals! What historical facts surprised you during your research?

Since I’d read books set in Georgian and Regency eras,Queen Victoria, 1876 by Princess Louise copyright The Royal Academy I was also surprised that women still weren’t attending funerals when Prince Albert died. I felt disconcerted to learn that the wetnurses for the royal children had to stand while breastfeeding. Also, that Queen Victoria was appalled when Vicky decided to breastfeed her babies. I was surprised to learn how much Prince Albert crafted the education of his children, especially Vicky and Bertie, and how insistent he was that his children learn things like gardening and baking. I was also surprised to learn that the younger siblings weren’t allowed to be alone together. They always had to have a staff member with them. This was so that there wouldn’t ever be accusations of molestation between siblings—something that Queen Victoria was very paranoid about. Another interesting tidbit that takes place later than my story, is when Beatrice declares she’s fallen in love and wants to marry Prince Henry of Battenberg. Queen Victoria didn’t approve of the match, and for the next six months refused to speak directly to her daughter.
They communicated only through letters. Finally, Queen Victoria gave in, with a lot of conditions—one being that Prince Henry promise to live in England.

Are you intending to write about any of the other siblings, or other royal characters?

This is definitely a possibility! I recently completed a novel set in the Pacific Rim World War 2 era, so that will be my next release. But if In the Shadow of a Queen is received favorably by readers, then another royal story might be in the works.Author Heather B. Moore

About the Author

Heather B. Moore is a USA Today best-selling and award-winning author of more than seventy publications, including The Paper Daughters of Chinatown. She has lived on both the East and West Coasts of the United States, as well as Hawaii, and attended school abroad at the Cairo American Collage in Egypt and the Anglican School of Jerusalem in Israel. She loves to learn about history and is passionate about historical research.