Thursday, May 19, 2016

Belgravia Blog Tour - Episode 7: A Man of Business

Award winning creator/writer of Downton Abbey presents his latest endeavor, Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia, a new book blending the Victorian-era serialized novel with modern technology.

Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia will be featured in a progressive blog tour April 14-June 16, 2016. Similar to a “progressive dinner party,” where a group of friends each make one course of a meal that moves from house to house with each course, a “progressive blog tour” is the same concept applied to the Internet. Eleven historical fiction bloggers and authors are participating, each taking one episode of the novel and offering a recap and review for that week. As a participant, you will follow the tour and join in the read-along and conversation. A fabulous give-away contest, including three (3) hardcover copies of Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia will be open to those who join the festivities.   

Please visit Risky Regencies to learn more about last week's installment, Episode 6: A Spy in Our Midst, and be sure to read on for my review of Episode 7: A Man of Business and details on the giveaway!

We are now well over halfway through Belgravia and well and truly immersed into the world of the Trenchard and Bellasis families. In true trademark Julian Fellowes fashion, the journey thus far has been replete with twists, turns, and intrigue aplenty, as the hidden product of a Napoleonic War-era affair between the late Sophia Trenchard and Edmund Bellasis comes to light -- to all but the subject in question, the unwitting focus of the matron of each respective family's furious maneuvering.

This episode of Belgravia is perhaps my favorite yet, as so much of the secrets, discovery, and social machinations that have been set in place in the previous installments begin to bear fruit, the ripple effect of calculated decisions and reckless gambles playing out in the lives of each character. This installment opens with a rare moment of accord between Caroline Brockenhurst -- Edmund's mother -- and Anne Trenchard -- Sophia's mother. These two very different women are bound together in an unlikely alliance by a moment of passion between their children years earlier that produced Charles Pope, enterprising mill owner and unknowing -- and illegitimate -- heir to two prosperous families.

“She did not think it would take much longer for the story to come out, after which Edmund’s memory would be, if anything, enhanced and Sophia Trenchard’s would be ruined.”

The secret that binds together the Trenchards and the Brockenhursts is one that cannot be kept long, as Caroline's enthusiastic and very public patronage of Charles has already started to raise eyebrows within her social circle. Given the inevitability of such a disclosure, Anne seizes the opportunity to join Caroline and Lady Maria Grey, the bright and vivacious young woman rather unfortunately engaged to John Bellasis, Caroline's nephew and the Brockenhurst heir.

The secrets simmering beneath the surface of the visit inform the tone of this episode, as Caroline and Anne each long to openly acknowledge their relationship to Charles and celebrate, through him, the restoration of some small part of their long-lost children. And Maria, despite her engagement, cannot help but respond to the simmering attraction between her and Charles, especially when as compared to her relationship with her intended, John, their every interaction speaks of a potential marriage of two equal, enthusiastic minds.

“His father a soldier, she was thinking, and the cousin of a churchman…what was wrong with that? He might not be a catch, but he was at least a gentleman.”

John, having received intelligence as to Caroline's whereabouts from her maid, Ellis, makes an unwelcome interruption to the otherwise cozy visit, eager to learn anything he can that will help him destroy Charles. For, despite his ignorance of their familial connection, he views Charles a a wholly unwelcome rival to be disposed of, a usurper making free use of the money he already views as his own thanks to the assumption he will inherit the Brockenhurst fortune.  

Following the visit, Anne leaves for Glanville, the Trenchard family's country estate, with John, Oliver, and Susan in tow. Her time in Charles's presence, hearing his enthusiasm for his life and work has left her at peace, and now she finds herself willing to accept the coming social storm that would result when Charles's true identity was revealed, as surely it must.

“But she was quite certain it was her engagement and her rank that were holding him back. She was not so sheltered that she could not see when a man was attracted to her, and she was confident she could bring Charles up to the mark when she wanted to.”
“She had admitted for the first time that she was planning a true mésalliance for herself.” 

Meanwhile, Maria does the unthinkable. Determined to defy her family's wishes and bring an end to her engagement to John Bellasis, she takes her romantic future in her own hands and requests a meeting with Charles. This section of the episode absolutely made my heart sing, as when it comes to historical fiction I love nothing quite so much a love story between social opposites. This scene, more than any other to date in Belgravia, reminded me of the romance of Downton Abbey and the spark that peppered each of that series' memorable romances.

“She loved him. And he loved her back. She had acknowledged him as her lover. That was all he really needed to know. If she did break his heart, it would be worth it for this moment. What came next he couldn’t guess at, but he loved and was loved in return. For now, that was enough.”

This episode is a study in contrasts, from the tension between the aristocratic old money of the Brockenhursts (and their correlating ability to absorb potential scandal as a routine matter of course) and the new money springing from trade and industry represented by the Trenchards and James's ever-evolving business interests. Likewise there is the exploration of women's roles in society, here between the expectations a woman such a Mary faced (marriage and children) and those she craved (love, travel, business interests). 

"You are a model of dynamism and industry and yet, unlike most people in your way of life, you were not born to it."

Both Mary and Charles, in particular, represent a marriage of the two social facets, the aristocracy and the lower -- though socially upwardly mobile -- class, those who make their fortune in trade and industry. Charles exists at the nexus of the aristocracy and the burgeoning Industrial Revolution, a man -- though he does not yet know it -- born to privilege, but driven to make his own way in the world. 

It has been challenging to review a single installment of this story rather than discussing the entire tale as a whole. But that has been part of the appeal of this form of serialized storytelling, as with each successive installment I've grown increasingly invested in the world and characters Fellowes has crafted within the pages of Belgravia. Stylistically this novel is something of a departure from current historical fiction offerings, more narrative driven than I'm used to, much like the classic serialized novels that inspired Belgravia's inception. As such, the first episode started slowly for me, but with each successive week as the story unfolded and characters developed, I have found myself increasingly eager to learn what happens next!

There are only four episodes left before Belgravia finishes, so there's still time to catch up if you haven't yet delved into Fellowes's latest world of romance and intrigue. If you've been reading along as episodes are released, I'd love to hear your thoughts -- favorite characters, most wished-for comeuppance (a clue: I cannot WAIT until John gets what has to be coming to him!), or thoughts on this release format. And if you haven't yet tried Belgravia, I would love to hear what intrigues you about this story. Be sure to check in at Mimi Matthews next week for a discussion of episode 8!

Giveaway Contest

Win a Copy of Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia

In celebration of the release of Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia, Grand Central Publishing is offering a chance to win one of the three (3) hardcover copies of the book!  

To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on any or all of the stops on the Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia Progressive Blog Tour starting April 14, 2016 through 11:59 pm PT, June 22, 2016. Winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments and announced on June 23, 2016. Winners have until June 30, 2016 to claim their prize. The contest is open to International residents and the books will be shipped after July 5, 2016. Good luck to all!

April 14 – Austenprose.comEpisode 1: Dancing into Battle
April 14 – Edwardian PromenadeEpisode 2: A Chance Encounter
April 21 – Fly High!: Episode 3: Family Ties
April 28 -  Calico Critic: Episode 4: At Home in Belgrave Square
May 5  --   Luxury ReadingEpisode 5: The Assignation
May 12 --  Risky Regencies: Episode 6: A Spy in our Midst
May 19 --  Booktalk & More Too: Episode 7: A Man of Business
May 26 –   Mimi Matthews: Episode 8: An Income for Life
June 02 –  Confessions of a Book Addict: Episode 9: The Past is a Foreign Country
June 09 –  Laura’s Reviews: Episode 10: The Past Comes Back
June 16 –  Gwyn Cready: Episode 11: Inheritance

Monday, May 16, 2016

Belgravia Blog Tour Continues - Episodes 5 & 6

The progressive blog tour for Julian Fellowes' Belgravia continues with the release of episodes five and six (I've missed posting reminders the last few weeks, hence the catch-up)! Here are links to the first four recap/review discussions followed by links to the most recent installments. I hope you're continuing to enjoy this story as much as I am!

April 14 – Austenprose.comEpisode 1: Dancing into Battle
April 14 – Edwardian PromenadeEpisode 2: A Chance Encounter
April 21 – Fly High!: Episode 3: Family Ties
April 28 - Calico Critic: Episode 4: At Home in Belgrave Square

And here are links to the most recent installments:

May 5 -- Luxury Reading: Episode 5: The Assignation
May 12 -- Risky Regencies: Episode 6: A Spy in our Midst

Monday, May 2, 2016

Review: Fatal Judgment by Irene Hannon

Fatal Judgment (Guardians of Justice #1)
By: Irene Hannon
Publisher: Revell
ISBN: 978-0-8007-3456-5


The last thing U.S. Marshal Jake Taylor wants is a high-profile protection case that places him anywhere in the vicinity of the widow of his best friend from college – the icy federal judge Elizabeth Michaels. Convinced that Elizabeth’s single-minded drive to advance her career at the cost of her marriage destroyed her husband, leading to his untimely death, Jake determines to maintain a strict professional distance. But his resolve to maintain a cool detachment is tested when it quickly becomes apparent that Liz’s sister was murdered in a tragic case of mistaken identity, and the judge herself was the intended victim.

Grief-stricken and vulnerable, the woman Jake gets to know while attempting to protect Liz from the unknown killer’s second attempt is nothing like the prejudiced mental image he’d carried with him for years. Intensely private and dedicated to her work, Liz had never understood the animosity Jake had projected during their few brief encounters years earlier. As she struggles to cope with the guilt of a failed marriage, compounded by the brutal loss of her last surviving family member, Liz struggles to cling to her faith as her world seems to spiral increasingly out of control. When the murderer seizes a second chance to eliminate Liz, Jake finds himself in a race against time to save the life of the last woman he ever expected to invade is heart.

This is my second time to revisit the first installment of Hannon’s series focusing on the U.S. Marshal Service. Matt and Nick, FBI agents previously featured in her debut series, Heroes of Quantico, make brief appearances – but whether one is a long-time fan of Hannon’s work or new to her writing, revisiting Fatal Judgment has proven that Hannon’s work stands the test of time. Rather than a feeling of déjà vu, revisiting Jake and Liz’s story reminded me anew of Hannon’s facility for penning a swoon-worthy romance wrapped up in a nail-biting storyline.

From the opening pages, it’s clear that Hannon has done her homework into the protocols and logistics involved in a high-profile protection case. She excels at immersing the reader in the high-stakes, fast-paced world of the investigation, from evidence retrieval to the logistics of inter-agency cooperation. Hannon’s storyline has a ripped-from-the-headlines appeal that feels more relevant now than when it was first published in 2011. Given the fractious nature of the current political cycle, Fatal Judgment’s focus on a deranged individual’s determination to make a misguided political statement wrapped in the guise of patriotism lends the novel a jolting sense of realism – a legitimacy that can often be lacking in romantic suspense. This realistic spark is one of the many reasons I love Hannon’s suspense novels – the stories she crafts are compulsively readable because they are so incredibly well-researched and chillingly possible.

Irene Hannon is my go-to author for quality, un-put-downable romantic suspense, a distinction made even firmer by the happy realization that her novels stand the test of time and the often critical eye that can come from revisiting a favorite author’s earlier work. I love her heroes – she’s one of the best to write the male point-of-view in this or any genre, and U.S. Marshal Jake Taylor, a member of the service’s elite Special Operations Group, is no exception. Hannon adds depth to her hero by delving into his relationships with his siblings, his dedication to his work and the members of his family adding heart-warming depth to his character as the relationships are sketched on the page.

But while I love a handsome, angst-ridden hero, perhaps best of all Hannon’s heroines are no shy wallflowers that wilt in the fact of danger. Despite the heartbreak of her failed marriage and the horror of her sister’s murder, Liz is a fighter, smart and savvy in the face of danger. Passionate about her work and dedicated to her faith, Liz’s determination to excel in her field add a unique depth to the storyline. And I adore the fact that Jake and Liz had a complicated history of preconceptions to worth through. Despite the accelerated pace of their developing relationship, the mere fact that they have shared “baggage” to work through is a refreshing change from stories where couples – imperiled or not – who’ve just met fall in love.

Despite knowing the story’s outcome this time around, I found I still could not put this novel down. With a subtly woven faith element that feels completely organic to the storyline and characters’ history and experiences, Jake and Liz’s journey to overcome past scars in the face of life-threatening danger results in a compelling, page-turning read. Hannon delivers a tautly-plotted thriller with a swoon-worthy hero, sizzling moments of romantic tension, and a realistic, spine-chilling threat – all elements that have made her a star author of romantic suspense. I absolutely cannot wait one of her well-crafted worlds next!

About the book:

U.S. Marshal Jake Taylor has seen plenty of action during his years in law enforcement. But he'd rather go back to Iraq than face his next assignment: protection detail for federal judge Liz Michaels. His feelings toward the coldhearted workaholic haven't warmed in the five years since she drove her husband - and Jake's best friend - to despair...and possible suicide.

As the danger mounts and Jake gets to know Liz better, he's forced to revise his opinion of her. And when it becomes clear that an unknown enemy may want her dead, the stakes are raised. Because now both her life - and his heart - are in danger.

Full of suspense and romance, Fatal Judgment is a thrilling story that will keep you turning the pages late into the night.

Note: This is an edited and expanded version of my original review, first published in January 2011