Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Woman of Influence by Rebecca Ann Collins

book cover

A Woman of Influence
by Rebecca Ann Collins

Trade Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
First Released: 2010

Source: Advanced Readers Copy from the publisher.

Back Cover Description:
After supporting her husband's many causes but failing in his eyes when their daughter died, Becky Tate's husband moved to America and left her behind in England. Now that he's dead, Becky must find her own identity and, perhaps, the married love she's never had.

When an old love interest sends Becky his condolences, she invites him to renew their acquaintance, but she's not sure she actually loves him. Then she discovers a woman on the run who is living in one of her unused barns. The woman claims that her husband was falsely accused and that the police would hand her over to the man who did this to them. Becky decides to discover the truth and, along the way, she meets man who can help the woman and whom Becky admires. Can she help the woman find justice and be reunited with her husband? And will she ever trust her judgment of men when her first marriage turned out to be so unsatisfying?

A Woman of Influence is a historical mystery that turns into a romance. The mystery wasn't a who-done-it, but it did have a nice level of suspense to it since Becky had to discover the truth without alerting the "in charge" people (who knew the truth) to the whereabouts of the woman she's helping. The romance was a sweet romance, with only the couple's own doubts holding them apart.

The novel was set in England in 1868, and it's the ninth book in this Pride and Prejudice sequel series. You can easily follow what's going on and who was related to whom without having read the previous books. (There's also a character list in the back listing who the characters are.)

The original Pride and Prejudice characters played very, very little part in this novel; it was primarily about their adult children. Because of this, I'd call this a historical novel rather than a Pride and Prejudice "sequel." The author even had her characters refer to Austen and her novels.

The novel was in a writing style very similar to Austen's in word choice and phrasing. It also had the slightly slower pacing of those novels. The characters were interesting, and I cared about what happened to them. The world-building was excellent, with a focus on describing the locations and social conventions of the day. This brought the world alive in my imagination.

There was a very minor amount of swearing. There was no sex. Overall, I'd recommend this novel as enjoyable, clean reading.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from the Prologue
Becky Collins was back at Hunsford, not at the parsonage, where she had spent much of her childhood, endeavouring to fulfill the expectations of her zealous father, Reverend Collins, and avoid the censure of his indomitable patron, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, but at Edgewater—the property in the county of Kent, where she now lived.

She was, of course, no longer Miss Collins; having been married before she was twenty years of age to Mr Anthony Tate, a publisher of some power and influence in the community, she had been considered to be a woman of some rank and substance.

Thanks to the generosity of her husband, who, having separated from his wife, had elected to live out the rest of his days in America, where he had recently died, she was now a reasonably wealthy woman. Having sold their house in London, Becky had acquired Edgewater, an investment that had the universal approval of most if not all of her friends and relations.

Standing at the window of what was to be her private study and work room, Becky looked out across the grounds of her new home and smiled as her eyes took in the lovely aspect across the lake from which the property took its name. There was a singular sense of satisfaction in knowing that everything in this place would be as she had planned it; she no longer took directions from nor waited upon the approval of anyone. Neither was she obliged to submit her accounts to her husband’s clerk for payment.

Becky Tate was at last her own woman and she enjoyed that above anything. For the very first time in her life, Becky had chosen where she was going to spend her time, just as she was now free to decide how that time was to be spent. It was for her an especially thrilling sensation, the likes of which she had not known in many years. Looking at the work she had begun at Edgewater, she could not resist a frisson of excitement as she contemplated the future that lay before her, a future to be determined entirely by her own wishes and limited only by her resources.

Becky was glad to have left Derbyshire. Her son Walter and his family now occupied the Tate residence at Matlock. She had been at Edgewater throughout the Winter, save for a visit to Pemberley at Christmas.

It was February and Winter had not as yet released its hold upon the countryside, though here in Kent it was decidedly warmer than it had been in Derbyshire. While many trees were still bare, but for the merest hint of tender green buds upon their boughs, the ground beneath them was broken by impatient clumps of bulbs pushing up out of the soil—snowdrops and crocuses, amidst drifts of scilla and bright wood anemones that covered the ground under the poplars in the spinney.

Becky loved the haphazard nature of the gardens at Edgewater, where large trees and evergreen shrubs, untamed by the fashionable art of topiary, held sway, while under them and along the edge of the lake, myriad wildflowers bloomed freely, unrestrained by the discipline of a formal garden.

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