What a delight to be a part of Stephanie Barron’s book launch tour, sharing an excerpt from Jane and the Year Without a Summer (below). Fans of Jane Austen and historical fiction do not want to miss this one! I’ve read and loved the whole series; though each novel can stand alone, I highly recommend reading all the books for the full effect. I was privileged to read an advanced copy last autumn. In case you missed it on December 14, 2021, check out my 5 STAR REVIEW:
Having read the entire series and knowing Stephanie Barron writes her mysteries parallel to Austen’s real life timeline, I had assumed... (continued)
May 1816: Jane Austen is feeling unwell, with an uneasy stomach, constant fatigue, rashes, fevers and aches. She attributes her poor condition to the stress of family burdens, which even the drafting of her latest manuscript—about a baronet's daughter nursing a broken heart for a daring naval captain—cannot alleviate. Her apothecary recommends a trial of the curative waters at Cheltenham Spa, in Gloucestershire. Jane decides to use some of the profits earned from her last novel, Emma, and treat herself to a period of rest and reflection at the spa, in the company of her sister, Cassandra. Cheltenham Spa hardly turns out to be the relaxing sojourn Jane and Cassandra envisaged, however. It is immediately obvious that other boarders at the guest house where the Misses Austen are staying have come to Cheltenham with stresses of their own—some of them deadly. But perhaps with Jane’s interference a terrible crime might be prevented. Set during the Year without a Summer, when the eruption of Mount Tambora in the South Pacific caused a volcanic winter that shrouded the entire planet for sixteen months, this fourteenth installment in Stephanie Barron’s critically acclaimed series brings a forgotten moment of Regency history to life.
“And what is your opinion of our famous waters, ma’am?” our landlady enquired as I mounted the stairs an hour later. “They do say as there’s nothing to equal ’em for restoring health.”
“I cannot undertake to say,” I replied, “as I have tried only one pump, and that only briefly. Perhaps in a week’s time I may give a truer report.”
“That would be the Royal Well,” Mrs. Potter guessed shrewdly. “I can always tell from the way a patron’s mouth turns down at the corners when they speak of it. Powerful sulfurous it is. I thank the Lord I’ve never had cause to go near.”
The wife of a local draper, Mrs. Potter is round, rubicund, and red-haired. Her person is always adorned with a starched apron and her freckled arms folded over her broad stomach. Although her neat rooms came highly recommended by James’s Mary, and are situated directly next to the handsome York Hotel, where any number of elegant Sprigs of Fashion put up for an interval of dissipation, Cassandra and I have discovered Potter’s prices to be exorbitant, at three guineas per week for a shared bedchamber! Our purses, you must understand, do not stretch to the hiring of a private parlour. But the town is so full, despite the earliness of the Season, that a removal to cheaper lodgings is not to be thought of; and so we have determined to be sanguine in the face of expence.
Mrs. Potter’s cooking is unobjectionable, however; her household clean; and the common sitting-room genteel enough for the little time we expect to spend in it. We mean to be chiefly upon the town, strolling the extensive avenue of elms known as the Well Walk, viewing the pictures in Mr. Fasana’s exhibition room, and patronising the numerous libraries at our disposal.
The tedious society of fellow-lodgers had not entered into our calculations at all. Taking dinner the first evening in our bedchamber, we naturally encountered no strangers; Sunday being given over to devotions at the handsome medieval parish church of St. Mary’s, the reading of Scripture, and retirement, we were similarly undisturbed; but within hours of visiting the Royal Well this morning, peace was at an end.
I swiftly changed my soaked stockings for dry, my wet boots for soft velvet house slippers; and anticipated a cosy interval with a novel by the fire. I had barely settled myself in a comfortable chair when the world obtruded painfully on my notice.
“Such inclement weather!” a woman exclaimed.
I glanced up from the second volume of Miss Edgeworth’s Belinda, which I had discovered lying without its companions on one of Mrs. Potter’s parlour shelves, and inclined my head to the lady who stood in the doorway, a furled and dripping umbrella suspended from her gloved hand. In the other she held a leather dog lead. A fawn-coloured pug with a black mask and glistening eyes panted at her ankle, his pink tongue rakishly lolling. Both dog and lady, I judged, were accustomed to indulging their appetites more freely than they ought, and wet through from the storm. The pug shook himself roundly; unperturbed by the shower of drops, the lady bent to loose his lead.
“Ah,” came a gentleman’s voice from the passageway. “A fellow-lodger. To be sure. When one particularly wishes for a position near the hearth—”
He was two feet taller than his companion, grizzle-haired and mournful, as gaunt as she was stout, stooped where she was round. Bony fingers brushed ineffectually at the sopping shoulder of his black cape, then traveled tentatively to the round brim of his hat, which he removed with apparent distaste. His gaze bent accusingly upon me, his narrow mouth turned down. Clearly, I had occupied his preferred armchair, and was expected to remove myself on the instant.
I turned a page of my book instead.
—Chapter 5, pages 37-39
“Outstanding...Barron fans will hope Jane, who died in 1817, will be back for one more mystery.”— Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“No one conjures Austen's voice like Stephanie Barron, and Jane and the Year Without a Summer is utterly pitch-perfect.”— Deanna Raybourn, bestselling author of the Veronica Speedwell Mysteries
“…a page-turning story, imbued with fascinating historical detail, a cast of beautifully realized characters, a pitch-perfect Jane Austen, and an intriguing mystery. Highly recommended.”— Syrie James, bestselling author of The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen
“Jane and the Year Without a Summer is absolute perfection. Stephanie Barron expertly weaves fact and fiction, crafting a story that is authentically Austen in its elegance, charm, and wit. The characters and setting will enchant you, and the mystery will keep you guessing to the last page. This Regency-set gem is truly a diamond of the first water.”— Mimi Matthews, USA Today bestselling author of The Siren of Sussex
Francine Mathews was born in Binghamton, New York, the last of six girls. She attended Princeton and Stanford Universities, where she studied history, before going on to work as an intelligence analyst at the CIA. She wrote her first book in 1992 and left the Agency a year later. Since then, she has written twenty-five books, including five novels in the Merry Folger series (Death in the Off-Season, Death in Rough Water, Death in a Mood Indigo, Death in a Cold Hard Light, and Death on Nantucket) as well as the nationally bestselling Being a Jane Austen mystery series, which she writes under the penname, Stephanie Barron. She lives and works in Denver, Colorado.