by Julie Klassen Book : Fiction
An Author's Testament to Writing and a Reader's Delight   (2011-07-23)
September 1813. Take one abandoned gatehouse on an English estate adjacent to the village poorhouse. Insert one banished woman. Season with appealing secondary characters, a shipwreck and a manservant with a hook instead of a hand. Sprinkle in some 18<sup>th</sup> century home-produced plays and a strange man with a spyglass walking 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. 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 of a Jane Austen devotee on this, the 235<sup>th</sup> 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 write expertly about the Regency period in English history. I have great respect for her work. In her author’s note, she states that The Girl in the Gatehouse is peppered with Austen-like characters. Her love of writing and authors pervade The Girl in the Gatehouse. Women who aren’t supposed to write publish anonymously. Journals are kept. Letters are written, read and re-read. Closeted writers abound, male and female alike producing 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. Main character 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. How 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 19<sup>th </sup>century poets and authors, particularly women. Literature is revered in this inspirational historical romance, 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
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