JANE AND THE YEAR WITHOUT A SUMMER by Stephanie Barron
SERIES: Being a Jane Austen Mystery #14
GENRE: Historical/Austenesque Mystery
PUBLISHER: Soho Press
RELEASE DATE: February 8, 2022
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.
“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
Jane and the Year Without a Summer is my first introduction to Barron’s Jane Austen Mysteries (though I’ve been eying the series for a while), but I definitely want to go back and start from the beginning now. Not because I felt lost by jumping in on book 14 (because I didn’t at all) but because I was so charmed by the author’s writing voice and by her portrayal of Jane Austen.
I love cozy mysteries. I love historical mysteries. I love British mysteries. So, a book that combines all three is definitely on my ‘must read’ list. And while I heartily enjoyed those aspects of this novel, surprisingly (to me) that’s not what kept me so captivated while reading Jane and the Year Without a Summer. Rather, it was the way Barron captured such a beloved character in Jane Austen, seamlessly weaving historical fact into the fictional narrative and leaving readers with the sense that they have spent time with the lady herself. Understanding her as a person, rather than a one-dimensional caricature, perhaps a bit better.
With this increased knowledge also comes a bittersweet tone – realizing as we immerse ourselves in both the history and the mystery that we are walking with Jane through the beginning of her last year of life. Getting to spend time with her on these pages, to see her as a ‘real person’ and not just the author of our favorite classics, makes the awareness of her ever-nearing and too-soon death all the more tragic. Yet, even with this insight, the overall mood of the book remains light and cozy with dashes of romance and fascinating history.
Bottom Line: Jane and the Year Without a Summer by Stephanie Barron is everything lovely about a historical British cozy, with little touches that take it from a good book to a great one. Charming and witty, despite the bittersweet foreshadowing, the story is full of eccentric supporting characters and a clever mystery. Readers will fall in love with Jane Austen all over again, and the backdrop of such a unique season of history proves intriguing all on its own. It performs quite well as a standalone but certainly captures one’s curiosity to read all the preceding and any following installments to the series. The engaging writing voice draws you in and immediately immerses you in Jane Austen’s world. A delightful way to spend your weekend!
(I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book which I received from the publisher. All views expressed are only my honest opinion.)
My Rating: 4.5 stars / loved it!
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.
Follow along with this Austenprose tour by clicking the banner below
What about you? What makes you want to read Jane and the Year Without a Summer by Stephanie Barron?