Review: “The Curse of Morton Abbey” by Clarissa Harwood

Today, I’m sharing my review of Clarissa Harwood’s recently released novel! The Curse of Morton Abbey is a gothic tale of fortitude, loyalty, secrets, and romance set near the end of the Victorian period in England. It’s just the type of story I like to read in the fall!

About the Book

Jane Eyre meets The Secret Garden in a gothic novel of romantic suspense set in 1890s Yorkshire.

Solicitor Vaughan Springthorpe knows perfectly well that Sir Peter Spencer’s offer of employment seems too good to be true: he hires her sight unseen, offering a suspiciously large salary to prepare the sale of Morton Abbey, his crumbling Yorkshire estate. But few people in late-Victorian England will entrust their legal affairs to a woman, and Vaughan is desperate to prove herself.

Once at Morton, Vaughan discovers that someone is determined to drive her away. An intruder tries to enter her bedroom at night, gunshots are fired outside her window, and an eerie crying echoes from the uninhabited second floor. Even Netherton, the nearest village, seems odd: the picturesque houses and perfect-looking families are haunted by dark secrets connected to Morton Abbey itself.

To complete her work and solve the mystery at the heart of Morton, Vaughan needs the help of Joe Dixon, the handsome gardener, and Nicholas Spencer, her employer’s irascible invalid brother. But with her questions diverted, her progress thwarted, and her sleep disrupted by the crying, will Vaughan escape Morton Abbey with her sanity intact or be cursed by the secrets within? 

Review

The Curse of Morton Abbey delivers a gothic and smart spin on a classic yet tells a unique and triumphant story of the power of love. Its slightly spooky and atmospheric tone contrasts with its brighter elements and themes to deliver a vivid and emotional depiction of loyalty.

Vaughan is a formidable heroine who comes into her own with agency and an unexpected romance. As she spends time at Morton Abbey, she finds the friendship she needs: gradual and insightful with Nicholas, fast and joyfully with Joe. I loved experiencing the twists and surprises through her POV and seeing how she learns love can conquers all.

Morton Abbey is a character all its own, with threatening, mysterious noises and secrets hinted at by the household and nearby town. It is scary to Vaughan for those reasons, but it is all the more portentous as a place where she is challenged to confront herself: her physical flaws, her mental capabilities, and her emotional vulnerability.

I really like the way The Curse of Morton Abbey considers the scenario of the classic The Secret Garden with grown-up leads and draws out the element of sacrifice with some influence by Brontë’s Jane Eyre. This novel has a different feel than Clarissa’s previous ones — it is more mysterious than her Edwardian romance titles. Reading this book makes me appreciate her skill in storytelling all the more with her versatility and voice still carrying a heavy dose of feminism in the context of the era yet drawing out tones fitting of its gothic setting.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Recommended Reading: Historical Fiction with Gothic and Mystery Elements

Since autumn is my favorite time to read historical fiction that falls in the gothic, mystery, or otherwise atmospheric storytelling category, I thought I would share some recommendations of this kind!

On the Cliffs of Foxglove Manor by Jaime Jo Wright | Review

This split time mystery and suspense novel takes readers to a manor on the shores of Lake Superior in contemporary times and the post-Civil War era with a haunted quality and a search for missing treasure.

Lost in Darkness by Michellle Griep | Goodreads

This Regency story combines elements of a Frankenstein-like tale with that of a romance as siblings contend with life-changing choices. I’m currently reading this one — expect a review soon!

A Grave Matter by Anna Lee Huber | Goodreads

The third novel in Huber’s Lady Darby Mystery series, this one finds the heroine and her inquiry agent counterpart contending with folklore and grave robbers in 1830 Scotland.

John Eyre by Mimi Matthews | Review

A retelling of the classic Jane Eyre, this one *slight spoiler* also combines elements of Dracula with a spooky and SMART gender flipped twist like only Matthews could pen.

The Curse of Morton Abbey by Clarissa Harwood | Goodreads

This is a Victorian mystery full of suspense and a formidable heroine who comes into her own with agency and an unexpected romance. It considers the scenario of the classic The Secret Garden with grown-up leads and draws out themes of loyalty and sacrifice with some influence by Brontë’s Jane Eyre. (Review coming here on the blog next week!)

Best of 2019: (General) Historical Fiction

Welcome to my annual “best-of” celebration! Like last year, I’m separating the categories of my yearly best-of lists over a few days. It’s going to take me a few days to talk about all the stories I loved in 2019!

I have exceeded my reading goals for 2019 according to my Goodreads reading challenge! If you’d like to see all of my 5-star reads and extensive reviews, just check out my completed Goodreads challenge or browse my blog archives. Each day leading up to New Year’s Day you’ll get a new post about my 2019 favorites:

  1. Best of 2019: Novellas & Audiobooks
  2. Best of 2019: Contemporary Fiction
  3. Best of 2019: (General) Historical Fiction
  4. Best of 2019: (Inspirational) Historical Fiction
  5. Best of 2019: Film & TV
  6. Best of 2019: Happy New Year #OnTheBlog

The rules: because sometimes I need to keep things brief, I’m choosing to share 3 things that describe each of these stories along with a link to Goodreads and my review.

Today I’m featuring some general market historical fiction I read and LOVED, including a classic! Funny thing: I just realized all but the classic on this list are mostly or partly set in the UK! Must be my inner Anglophile showing up. Annnd, I see that I can call this the list author Rachel McMillan recommended to me 😉

Best of 2019: (General) Historical Fiction

Bear No Malice by Clarissa Harwood | Review

Grace. Unconditional love. Romance.

The Anatomist’s Wife by Anna Lee Huber | Review

Cleverly complex. Atmospheric. Courage.

A Modest Independence by Mimi Matthews | Review

Adventure. Resilience. Friendship.

The Work of Art by Mimi Matthews | Review

The dogs! Security. Marriage of convenience ❤ .

The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery

The cabin. Barney Snaith. Sneezing.

Miss Milton Speaks Her Mind by Carla Kelly | Review

Family secrets. Wisdom. Forgiveness.

Top Ten Tuesday: 12 Best Fictional Cats

It’s another Top Ten Tuesday, now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl!

Top Ten Tuesday at The Green Mockingbird

This week is officially a freebie topic week!

I’ve been compiling this list for a while now, being the cat person that I am. Today’s freebie topic day is THE DAY to share it with the world! This is not a comprehensive list, but it is one of notable and beloved felines in fiction.

12 Best Fictional Cats

Beloved Cats

Narnia in A Match for Emma by Pepper Basham | This one is extra-special because Pepper mostly named Emma’s cat after my own cat, Narnia, whom I had to say goodbye to earlier this year

Banjo and Good Luck in The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery | Maud captures the true natures of cats with these two personality-filled pets!

Parcheesi Rose in Three Quarter Time by Rachel McMillan | Parcheesi causes some allergies um, problems that endear the hero to the heroine

Pip of the photo studio, Archie of the truck in The Curse of Misty Wayfair by Jaime Jo Wright | These two cats offer personality and humor to some otherwise serious scenes! Archie, in particular, serves as an example of the hero’s tendency to rescue ❤

Perry in The Thirteenth Chance by Amy Matayo | Perry is a VERY pampered cat, whether he wants to be or not

My own #JaketheCat likes to nap while I read

Cats Who “Adopt” People

Agamemnon adopts Paul in Impossible Saints by Clarissa Harwood | While Lilia takes an instant liking to the stray, Paul’s reluctance is funny then sweet as the gray cat takes up residence with him anyway

Earl Gray adopts Kiera in A Grave Matter by Anna Lee Huber | from his meager barn cat beginnings, Earl Gray becomes quite the companion and art critic!

The “Bookshop Cat” adopts the ladies of The Printed Letter Bookshop by Katherine Reay | this cat is catered to by all three ladies, but he specifically seeks out Janet when she really doesn’t want to be a cat person

#JaketheCat is a fan of books!

Cats as Good Judges of Character

Dickens in Wedded to War by Jocelyn Green | He comically doesn’t like a particular suitor of Charlotte’s

Magpie in A Convenient Fiction by Mimi Matthews | Laura’s cat Magpie takes a particular liking to Alex from the start!

Sometimes #JaketheCat photobombs

Your turn! Do you have any favorite fictional pets? Cats or Dogs? What did you pick for this week’s TTT topic? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Review: “Bear No Malice” by Clarissa Harwood

Review: “Bear No Malice” by Clarissa Harwood

Last year, a favorite author’s praise prompted me to branch out and read a general fiction title, Impossible Saints. It ended up being one of my favorite reads of the year, and one I revisited recently as its sequel, of sorts, just released!

Bear No Malice by Clarissa Harwood is more like a companion novel whose timeline matches events of Impossible Saints. It focuses on a minor character from book 1 whose role was nearly that of a villain. I really loved this shift in perspective and how it introduces the idea that we all have unique perceptions of our actions and of others. Enough about my thoughts for the moment, here’s more book info and my wordy review!

About the Book

Beaten and left for dead in the English countryside, clergyman and reformer Tom Cross is rescued and nursed back to health by Miranda and Simon Thorne, reclusive siblings who seem to have as many secrets as he does. Tom has spent years helping the downtrodden in London while lying to everyone he meets, but now he’s forced to slow down and confront his unexamined life.

Miranda, a skilled artist, is haunted by her painful past and unable to imagine a future. Tom is a welcome distraction from her troubles, but she’s determined to relegate him to her fantasy world, sensing that any real relationship with him would be more trouble than it’s worth. Besides, she has sworn to remain devoted to someone she’s left behind.

When Tom returns to London, his life begins to unravel as he faces the consequences of both his affair with a married woman and his abusive childhood. When his secrets catch up with him and his reputation is destroyed, he realizes that Miranda is the only person he trusts with the truth. What he doesn’t realize is that even if she believes him and returns his feelings, he can’t free her from the shackles of her past.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

Bear No Malice is literary fiction at its best, with a vivid historical setting and a story that unfolds with a delicate complexity. Its Dickens-like intricacy takes the reader on a journey right alongside Tom and Miranda as they grow through friendship and exhibit unconditional love (not just in romance but with friends, with family) through mistakes, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

At times, Bear No Malice made me laugh with its tiny bits of humor (the fish fork!) then wrenched my heart out, all in one chapter. Mostly it wrenched my heart out and put it back together one tiny piece at a time. The telling of the story is a TREAT with its brilliant pacing (just slow enough to leave you wanting more of Tom’s, and especially Miranda’s, backstories) and sloooow building romance. But oh, how it pays off and is exquisite! Sometimes, though, I would forget I was reading historical fiction because the characters are so relatable and the emotions raw.

Tom and Miranda are good for each other because he’s magnetic and opinionated and she’s quiet and steady, yet just as stubborn and steadfast. Their personalities complement and spur each other to grow beyond themselves. Part of the brilliance of Tom and Miranda is that I saw myself in their humanity. I am like Miranda in several ways, not that I have experienced anything like her journey, but that her character was so real on the page I could identify with her longings. Her sometimes-reserved, sometimes opinionated ways. And even Tom and his ultimate need for reconciliation, his desire to serve others. They exemplify flawed and grace-covered people.

Another wonderful thread of this novel is its message of grace. It is subtle yet still a beacon for the perceptive reader. The message of the Gospel is portrayed as inherent to the characters, a refreshing and beautiful inclusion for the general fiction market. Tom and Miranda experience things and make choices rarely found in the inspirational genre. This freedom and space to candidly explore such situations makes the story all the more powerful because this novel has such a message of grace and forgiveness, of peace and homecoming, at its heart. **now is a good time for me to mention the content of this novel. It’s clean, with very few mild expletives (I could count them on one hand)**

Beyond the character journey, this novel also draws attention to social issues of the era, such as poverty, penitentiary conditions (kinda like halfway houses of the time), and the evolving roles of women. All of this functions to shine a light on our modern ideas, standards, and complacency, in a positive manner. I believe its intent is for the reader to look around and take note of his or her own community and opportunities. 🙂 For me, it was encouraging.

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Check out my review of Clarissa Harwood’s previous book Impossible Saints

Best of 2018: Historical Books

Welcome to my annual “best-of” celebration! I’m changing it up a bit and separating the categories of my yearly best-of lists over a few days. All of this is to celebrate their distinction and spend a few more days talking about all the wonderful entertainment of 2018.

Day 1. Best of 2018: Novellas

Day 2. Best of 2018: Historical Books

Day 3. Best of 2018: Contemporary Books

Day 4. Goodbye 2018 & Looking Ahead

Today is all about HISTORICAL BOOKS. While I dearly love historical fiction, I have read less of it this year. At any rate, these are the favorites from my list!

The rules: sometimes I have to make boundaries for myself when it comes to talking about books because we would all be here a long time if were able to ramble on. SO, I’m sticking to my format of last year and choosing to share 3 things that describe each of these stories along with a link to Goodreads and my review. In no particular order…

Best of 2018: Historical Books

Murder at the Flamingo by Rachel McMillan | Review

Jazz. Grace. Friendship

Impossible Saints by Clarissa Harwood | Review

Suffrage. Romance. Purpose.

Sons of Blackbird Mountain by Joanne Bischof | Review

Brotherhood. Atmospheric. Poignant.

The Lacemaker by Laura Frantz | Review

Liberty. Honor. Love.

The Matrimonial Advertisement by Mimi Matthews | Review

Arrangements. Mystery. Forgiveness

A Heart Revealed by Josi S. Kilpack | Review

Worth. Growth. Kindness.

My Heart Belongs in the Blue Ridge by Pepper Basham | Review coming in January!

Family. Tenderness. Hope.

Your turn! What were your favorite historical reads of 2018? Have you read any of these?

Review: “Impossible Saints” by Clarissa Harwood

When authors I love endorse or excessively talk about stories they love, I try to pay attention — even if a story is outside my “normal” reading scope (i.e. new authors, small publishers, different genres). When author Rachel McMillan gushed over Impossible Saints by Clarissa Harwood, a general market historical romance, I knew I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. And, I really liked it!

 

About the BookSet in England in 1907, Impossible Saints is a novel that burns as brightly as the suffrage movement it depicts, with the emotional resonance of Tracy Chevalier and Jennifer Robson. 
Impossible SaintsEscaping the constraints of life as a village schoolmistress, Lilia Brooke bursts into London and into Paul Harris’s orderly life, shattering his belief that women are gentle creatures who need protection. Lilia wants to change women’s lives by advocating for the vote, free unions, and contraception. Paul, an Anglican priest, has a big ambition of his own: to become the youngest dean of St. John’s Cathedral. Lilia doesn’t believe in God, but she’s attracted to Paul’s intellect, ethics, and dazzling smile.

As Lilia finds her calling in the militant Women’s Social and Political Union, Paul is increasingly driven to rise in the church. They can’t deny their attraction, but they know they don’t belong in each other’s worlds. Lilia would rather destroy property and serve time in prison than see her spirit destroyed and imprisoned by marriage to a clergyman, while Paul wants nothing more than to settle down and keep Lilia out of harm’s way. Paul and Lilia must reach their breaking points before they can decide whether their love is worth fighting for.

GoodreadsAmazon

ReviewImpossible Saints is a flowing, layered general fiction title with subtle Christian overtones, exploring themes of conviction, purpose, and challenges to preconceptions or societal norms. Its two characteristics that stand out the most are its depiction of an era both tumultuous and expectation-laden, a relevant parallel with today in some ways; and its endearing characters, with even the secondary characters taking on vibrant tones. Rachel McMillan was right in referencing both Grantchester (ITV) and the film Suffragette(2015) in her review. This book has similarities with both “visual” depictions, but its storyline is distinctly its own. I would say it is like Grantchester without the moral ambiguity or mystery meets Suffragette with all the wit and verbal banter of the classic Hollywood era.

Oh, the romance! What starts as believable camaraderie between reunited childhood friends grows into an authentic friendship with sparks of attraction. Before long, Paul and Lilia must face what their relationship must look like in the face of the women’s movement, church and societal expectations, and personal motives as it morphs into a romantic dynamic. The push-pull of their relationship really represents the importance of broadening perspective — that being inclusive and choosing to care for someone doesn’t mean you must compromise your identity or convictions.

For my blog readers who typically stick to clean inspirational fiction titles, I do want to mention a few things about this novel’s content. It is a *little* more candid and sensual when it comes to the romance verbiage, it depicts tobacco use, and has a few very mild expletives.

Impossible Saints is equally candid, and refreshingly so, when tackling issues such as women’s roles or the contrasts between ritual in the church vs. faith in action. I would have liked Lilia’s growth in receptiveness to Paul’s faith to have been a little more by story’s end, though I think the door is left open to her for deeper faith after “the end”. But maybe that’s my personal convictions shining through in my perception of her character. Overall, I thought it an authentic portrayal of the era and a beautiful story of romance.

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for the ebook review copy. This is my honest review.