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An Author's Testament to Writing and a Reader's Delight
on December 17, 2010
September 1813. Take one abandoned gatehouse on an English estate adjacent to the village poorhouse. Insert one banished woman. Season with fascinating secondary characters, a shipwreck, and a manservant with a hook instead of a hand. Sprinkle in some 18th century home-produced plays and an old man with a spyglass pacing a rooftop. Sear with the heady longings of the hero and heroine along with an unexpectedly sweet courtship between two mature characters. Add echoes of Jane Austen. Simmer in exhaustive research about a hierarchical culture with liberal spoonfuls of social commentary, intrigue, and unlikely love. Toss in some unpredictable plot twists at the very end and a gate yearning to be unlocked. Result? A delicious, noteworthy historical romance novel well worth your time.
Chapter 18 of The Girl in the Gatehouse begins with an Austen quote, "I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of anything else than of a book!"
It is a happy thing to write a book review for Jane Austen devotee, Julie Klassen, on this, the 235th anniversary of Miss Austen's birth. Unlike Miss Austen, who received little notoriety or respect for her writing during her lifetime, Julie Klassen is a RITA and Christy Award finalist. Ms. Klassen returns a third time to expertly write about the Regency period in English history. I have great respect for her work. In her author's note, she states that the novel is peppered with Austen-like characters. Julie Klassen's love of writing and authors pervade The Girl in the Gatehouse. Women who aren't supposed to write publish anonymously. Letters are written, read and re-read. Closeted writers abound, male and female alike, producing journals, stories, "theatricals" and novels. Ms. Klassen pens an engrossing read.
Well-paced and styled, The Girl in the Gatehouse introduces us to characters we care about even when our everyday tasks force us to lay the book aside for a time. Matthew Bryant, a successful navy captain recently returned from the Napoleonic wars, leases the estate, determined to piece together his fractured past. Mariah Aubrey has a safely-guarded secret and a predilection for helping others despite being tossed out on her ear by her father. We read only hints of her indiscretion until she bravely writes her own experience into her third novel. Mariah, however, seems a bit bland and placid through most of the book and then suddenly overwrought at the end. I found it curious that she waited so long to open her aunt's chest.
Helpful discussion questions are included in the back of the book. Beautiful motifs embellish new chapter pages as well as quotes from various 18th and 19th century poets and authors, particularly women. Literature is revered in this inspirational historical fiction novel, bookended, ironically, with the phrases "the end" and "the beginning."
Highly recommended to historical fiction and literature lovers or those simply looking for an enticing read.
Reviewed by Holly Weiss, author of Crestmont