So this is something I started a while back. Sometimes you want more Austen books after you had read the others. There are variations on her stories, but sometimes you don’t want to read the same story. You want Austen-like works, but what to read or watch?
That’s why I started this series. I will review that have things we love about the Austen novels but in something fresh than a retelling.
The Widow of Larkspur Inn (Gresham Chronicles #1) by Lawana Blackwell
The book is set in England of 1869. Julia Hollis is a wealthy mother of three-Phillip, Aleda, and Grace-and a recent widow. Three weeks have passed where they have all been in mourning and Julia receives the greatest surprise of her life.
They have lost everything due to her wealthy surgeon husband’s double life as a gambler.
The house has been repossessed by the bank and sold, the servants all staying to take on with the new owner. All her jewelry, including her ring, are taken as well. A large chunk of her clothes sold to a shop for extra money. They are forced to move to the small town of Gresham, as the only thing they left is an old coaching inn, The Larkspur Inn.
Their butler, Jensen, lends them money and helps them start putting ads in papers; the idea of the inn being turned into a lodging house.
Besides the Hollis family, they are going to be joined by Fiona O’Shea, one of the maids. Years ago when Fiona knocked on their door, a starving immigrant from Ireland, Julia forced her husband to hire her-and since then they have been very close friends.
They head out to Gresham where the house is a mess, but thanks to help from the local community and the Vicar and his daughter; things start looking up. Soon there are letters and lodgers who come into their home.
Their lodgers are: Mrs. Octavia Kingston, a crotchety old woman with a heart of gold; Mr. Durwin, business entrepreneur and herbalist; Mrs. Dearing, former pioneer of the California goldfields with her late husband; kindly knitting Mrs. Hyatt; and the famous Ambrose Clay, amazing actor, who is taking a break from the stage as he is trying to find a way to combat his bouts of depression.
The other story that is told is that of Reverend Andrew Phelps. He is a widower with two daughters, Elizabeth and Laurel, and teaches at Cambridge. His oldest daughter is infatuated with a young man, Jonathan Raleigh.
Andrew had thought Jonathan was a great guy, but received an anonymous note that if he were to go to a certain address he would find Jonathan with a married women, notorious for her loose lifestyle. Andrew doesn’t want to believe such a thing is true, but as his daughter is head over heels, he has to investigate it. He goes and finds that it is true.
Time passes. Jonathan apologizes, but Elizabeth is heartbroken and listless. Andrew worries over her and decides it is time to leave Cambridge. When he hears that the Vicar of Gresham has to move because of his rheumatism, he snaps the post up and moves his family to the tranquil village.
Romance, cheer, etc. This book has it all and is a fantastic read.
So why would an Austen fan love this book?
It has a lot of the flavor of Sense and Sensibility, with a family losing everything and having to move forward, in a way they never thought they would ever be, and having to use that resilience in the troubles they face.
We also have a touch of Marianne Dashwood in the character of Julia. When Julia was young she was a lot like Marianne, emotional and falling head over heels in love-putting her all in a man who had major flaws. Like Marianne, Julia was incapable of seeing those flaws as she had on the blinders of love.
Now with all the aftermath and having to move, Julia’s views on what is important character in a mate changed, just like Marianne after Willoughby breaks her heart and she recovers from her illness.
“Marianne was born to an extraordinary fate, she was born to discover the falsehood of her own opinions, to counteract, by her conduct, her favorite maxims . . . . Instead of falling a sacrifice to an irresistible passion . . . [she found herself] submitting to new attachments, entering on new duties.”
Jonathan Raleigh is a Willougby-like guy. He has money, class, high rank everything-but also the spirit of a rogue.
It is a great book and definitely worth a read with it being fun, loving, and having great characters. I read it, minimum, once a year.
For more on Non-Austen Reads for Austen Readers, go to Non-Austen Reads for Austen Readers: A Change of Fortune
For more on The Widow of Larkspur Inn, go to Pot o’ Gold: 17 Irish Heroes
For more bible verses, go to Book Club Picks: Until the Day Breaks
For more Sense and Sensibility, go to The Austen Series: Reason and Romance