This one is going to be filed under “never judge a book by it’s cover.” Confession: this one sat on my shelf for literally years after my sister passed it along to me. The only reason I finally read it was because I ran out of stuff to read before Christmas and had depleted my book budget! I should have trusted my sister - this book was amazing!
You can’t really tell from the cover illustration, but this book is set in the Regency period (ie Jane Austen). What sets this book apart from most Regency fiction, is that it gives us an up close view of the life “belowstairs” as wealthy Margaret Macy is forced to hide in plain view as a maid in order to avoid marriage to a dishonorable man. As Margaret learns the realities of life as a servant, she is forced to grow in both physical strength and character.
What makes the book all the more riveting is where Margaret ends up being hired as a servant: the home of the Upchurch brothers, both of whom are former suitors. Margaret turned down a proposal from the younger, less handsome and exciting Nathaniel Uphurch years earlier after becoming enamored of the handsome and charming older brother, Lewis. As Margaret observes them in the silent role of housemaid, she begins to think she misjudged both brothers. Lewis is your typical Regency scoundrel while Nathaniel . . . well, Nathaniel is right up there with Mr. Darcy, in my opinion.
Julie Klassen weaves a story of both romance within the complicated social mores of the Regency era with the intrigue of duels, schemes for inheritances, and even piracy. Above all, we, along with Margaret Macy, get an education in the often ignored toil of the working class during this era and the universal truth that all humanity deserves to be treated with value and respect. I am eager to read more of her books!
I am a huge advocate of “read the book first” when it comes to movie adaptations. Nine times out of ten, the book is better than the movie. So I think that the reverse is true: if you watched the movie first, definitely read the book. I watched a cute Hallmark movie called Once Upon a Prince (no, it wasn’t a Christmas movie!), and when I saw it was based on a book, I decided I needed to read it. After all, one of my favorite authors, Denise Hunter, had two of her books turned into Hallmark movies and neither lived up to the book. Therefore, I had a good feeling about Once Upon a Prince by Rachel Hauck.
My conclusions after reading the book? My assumption was one hundred percent accurate. WAY better than the Hallmark movie.
First of all, what comes immediately to your mind when I mention a Hallmark movie involving a prince? Be honest - cheesy, most likely, but this book was far from cheesy! I don’t know how Hauck managed to make such a believable story out of this premise. Even the fictional country of Brighton felt like it could be real, complete with political conflicts and intrigue. Which brings me to the first major difference between the book and the movie. The movie cut out all of the political parts of the plot, which may sound smart on paper (aren’t politics usually boring?), but in this case I felt it was a huge mistake. The political pressure on Nathanial because of the entail between Brighton and Hessenburg increased the tension and made his inner turmoil more believable.
Also, in the movie Ginny is just your standard “woman with a title that everyone thinks the prince should marry” character. In the book, however, she is somewhat of a straight up villain, and I honestly loved hating her. In the movie, she was forgettable. Here, she is conniving and power hungry, and you honestly worry what she might be capable of. That to me was far more captivating.
The Queen, on the other hand, was awful in the movie but more complex in the book. I could say that about all the characters, but the queen most of all. She grew as a character, and I liked her story arc whereas in the movie I wanted to slap her. She seemed too straight laced and shallow in the movie, but not at all in the book.
The setting of the book (outside of fictional Brighton) was St. Simon’s Island, Georgia, a place I have spent many spring break and summer vacations. The movie was honestly laughable in this regard. It was filmed in Canada, not Georgia, and boy did it show! Hauck, however, does a much better job with the setting. They talk about the heat and humidity (versus the Hallmark movie where they are wearing jackets in the summer and you could see their breath - cringe!), the Spanish moss on the trees, and the biking trails that St. Simons is famous for. She even included two famous landmarks: Christ Church and the lover’s oak in nearby Brunswick. She even mentions Brunswick as the location of the tree and how you have to drive out to it from St. Simon’s - a nice touch that lets me know she did her research. Both these locales play an important part in the romance too.
In the movie, Susanna’s family owns a nursery and Nathaniel gets a job there so he can “learn work ethic.” In the book, her family owns a barbecue place called The Rib Shack by the beach (much more fitting to the setting), and Nathaniel volunteers to help out there after Susanna’s father has a heart attack. I love that Nathaniel is naturally a hard worker and humble. I’m over the poor little rich kid trope where you have to watch them struggle to push a wheelbarrow or something. Plus, Susanna would have had zero patience for a man who couldn’t scrub a toilet, much less fall for him. And it was hilarious when they realized they had the future king of Brighton on his hands and knees scrubbing the bathroom.
Which brings me to a plot point that sometimes bothers people - yes, Nathaniel hides that he is a prince at first. However, this didn’t bother me the way it was portrayed. When they first meet, it would seem weird for him to just blurt out, “oh, I’m royalty,” and they hit it off right away. He loves being able to just be an ordinary guy with Susanna, so you sort of don’t blame him for not bringing it up. Does he wait longer to tell her than he should have? Yes, but you kind of get why.
One thing I loved the most about this book was the spiritual aspect. I’ve read plenty of Christian fiction, but rarely do books include truly supernatural things. This one does. There’s a homeless character named Aurora (not in the movie) who gives prophetic words to Susanna (that come true). Both Susanna and Nathaniel pray with their faces to the ground and talk about feeling God’s presence touch them. At one point, Nathaniel says he feels the brush of an angel’s wing against his face and strength fills him.
There’s one final thing I need to say about this book - it was extremely chaste.
. . . . . SPOILER ALERT - skip to the end to avoid . . . .
There is only one kiss in the whole book and it comes after a proposal like in a Jane Austen novel. Call me shallow, but I like kissing, so normally I would be frustrated with a book like this. However, somehow, Hauck makes the attraction so palpable, that you almost think they have kissed. The only other disappointment was that the name of this series is The Royal Wedding Series, but . . . there’s no wedding. I wish the book hadn’t ended with a proposal and we could have seen more of Nate and Susanna happy and in love.
. . . END OF SPOILER . . .
There are two more books in this series. Book one sets up the plot of book two, and book three features Nathaniel’s brother as the male lead. I definitely plan on reading both!
Book lovers, I want to tell you about an unlikely place where you can find a treasure trove of great reads at a bargain: Ollie’s. I don’t know if there are Ollie’s all over the country, or if they are only in the south east, but this discount store is like a Big Lots, only cheaper. It’s the kind of store where you never know what you’ll find. Crockpots for twelve dollars? Last year’s holiday Barbie for ten bucks? Easter peeps for fifty cents in July? One thing you can always find are books. Whenever a bookstore closes, this is the book heaven where all their volumes end up. They have an entire section of Christian fiction, and no matter what has brought me to Ollie’s, I have to go to this section.
It was in this section that I found a book for only ninety-nine cents called Emma, Mr. Knightly, and Chili Slaw Dogs. The title intrigued me, the price couldn’t be beat, so I bought it (along with a couple of other titles, I have to confess). I didn’t know that it was the second book in a series by Mary Jane Hathaway called Jane Austen Takes the South. Luckily, each of the three books in the series can be read alone. Though the ending felt rushed, I liked it enough to read the others. Book one, Pride, Prejudice, and Cheese Grits, wasn’t as good as the first one ai read. However, I’m glad I went ahead and read book three because it was my favorite.
I have to get one major thing out of the way before I review this book: the cover is white-washed. I don’t throw around buzz words just to sound “woke” - I am being one hundred percent serious. The female protagonist of Persuasion, Captain Wentworth, and Cracklin’ Cornbread is black, but the woman on the cover is white. It made me so upset, I almost didn’t want to review this book. However, the story itself is so wonderful, I changed my mind. In the book’s defense, none of the covers fit the stories in this series. I’m guessing whoever designed the covers heard “The South” and decided to just put three generic, slightly Southern debutante looking dresses on the cover and call it a day. No one wears dresses like that in any of these books. I personally wish they would re-do the covers for these. But the old saying is “never judge a book by it’s cover,” right? Well, definitely don’t with these.
The premise of Persuasion, Captain Wentworth, and Cracklin’ Cornbread is that the protagonists, Lucy Crawford and Jeremiah (Jem) Chevy, have been reunited ten years after their star-crossed teen romance came to a heartbreaking end. Lucy broke it off with the lame excuse that she wanted to see other people, but in reality her parents didn’t approve of Jem. Lucy’s family tree goes all the way back to before the Civil War and includes a Civil War hero. Jem’s the son of a single mom who got pregnant out of wedlock as a teen. Lucy’s family is wealthy and lives in an historic antebellum home. Jem lives in a trailer by the river and grew up on food stamps.
Lucy is black. Jem is white.
Yes, you read all of that correctly. This book doesn’t fit the Southern narrative most of us have heard. But as a Southern girl myself, I can confirm that it is based in truth. When I was teaching sixth grade, my students and I went to the local African American museum. While there, we saw a portrait of a wealthy plantation owner and his family - and they were black. Shockingly, they even owned slaves. This reality was also in an American Girl book I read with my daughter, about the character Marie Grace who lives in New Orleans. The American Girl doll’s family doesn’t own slaves, but they are wealthy, and other African Americans in New Orleans that they know do own slaves.
Now, please don’t misinterpret this. These facts don’t erase how horrible slavery is. It doesn’t erase the prejudices African Americans have suffered in the South. It doesn’t erase the racism that still exists there. And wealthy, black plantation owners were the rare exception, not the rule.
However, it is equally racist to ignore African Americans who were successful in the South. With all of this talk lately of erasing the word “antebellum” and closing down all plantations, it’s important to learn the complete history. Or else we risk erasing important parts of our collective stories. Lucy is a character who believes in this whole heartedly. She has a doctorate in Civil War history and works at a living history museum on a Civil War battlefield (yet another way this book flips the script). In one scene, she defends her work to preserve the history there, ironically, to a white woman. Lucy also is proud of one of her ancestors who fought in the Union Colored Troops during the Civil War because he didn’t have to. He was wealthy. He was in the South. But he knew his brothers and sisters were being oppressed, so he fought against his own state, his own town, to do what was right. (And to be clear - the Crawfords didn’t own slaves in this book.) Lucy is also fighting to save her family’s historic, antebellum home from foreclosure.
Which means that things have completely flipped since Lucy last saw Jem when they were both eighteen. Now Jem is a wealthy, successful doctor who did his residency at the famous John Hopkins. Women are flocking around him like moths to a flame. Lucy’s family, on the other hand, faces financial ruin due to her father’s mismanagement of the estate and her younger sister’s maxed out credit cards. Not that it means her family has changed their minds about Jem. After all, he may be a successful doctor, but he still came from the trailer park.
And he’s still white. I know, it isn’t a popular thing to say, but this book explores racism on both sides. Lucy and Jem truly fell in love, and honestly, they never stopped loving each other, yet they are from a culture that still looks askance at that type of relationship. Do they overcome it? Well, I don’t want to give that away, of course!
As heavy as all of that sounds, and as fascinating as it was to read, there was a lot of humor in this book as well. There’s also the comedy of errors from two people who don’t realize the other person still loves them. Misunderstandings abound with sometimes humorous and sometimes frustrating results. It doesn’t help that both Jem and Lucy are quiet introverts who don’t always speak up for themselves. They both suffer from the Southern malady of being far too nice. I wish I could tell you about the absolute most hilarious scene in the book, but I can’t because it’s the book’s climax! Let’s just say Lucy and Jem throw Southern racial stereotypes completely out the window in the most dramatic and hilarious way possible!
Overall, I absolutely loved this book. Just ignore the cover.
I am a former English teacher turned homeschool mom of three who writes Christian romance novels on the side. You know, in my huge amount of spare time.