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Book Review: Before the Season Ends by Linore Rose Burkard

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Though Jane Austen was raised in a devoutly Christian home, her novels dealt with matters of the faith on a peripheral level. Certain characters were engaged in the ministry as a career, and church attendance, belief in God, and a high moral standard were givens. Christian culture was the assumed setting; personal struggles, growth and dependence upon God are rarely addressed outwardly.

Austen’s novels have retained a steady popularity and loyal following amongst those who have fallen in love with her Regency period England. Even today, the genteel society, lush green estates, high-minded heroines and ever present threat of scandal continue to captivate readers. Linore Rose Burkard doesn’t hesitate to draw attention to the commonalities between her Regency inspirational romances and Austen's work. Indeed the catch phrase “Inspirational Romance for the Jane Austen Soul” graces the back cover of her debut novel — Before the Season Ends — set in England, 1813. Though I read romance very rarely, as a reader of Austen’s works how could I resist such a claim?  An effort to add a distinctively faith-based element to this beloved period — much novelized and transformed into big screen adaptations — could hardly be missed.

Ariana Forsythe is the second eldest daughter of her family. Finding their daughter facing an utterly unsuitable romantic pairing — laughably so for the reader, but most dire indeed for her parents — Mr. Forsythe impulsively acquiesces to the request of his widowed, childless sister in London. Ariana is sent to London for the season to live with her Aunt Bentley who outfits her extravagantly and sweeps her into the whirl of London society for the season.

Ariana proves to be a sweet, earnest girl who longs to serve the Lord above all else. Her enthusiasm and child-like forthrightness soon earn her an enemy who seeks to embroil her in a scandal involving London’s most recalcitrant bachelor, Mr. Phillip Mornay (who also proves to be no more than a nominal Christian). With her life so surprisingly intertwined with a man she has been warned to avoid, Ariana struggles against both her emotions and intellect as she seeks to determine God’s will for her life.

Elements of Burkard’s story certainly ring a familiar bell. An alternately dashing then meek heroine with sparkling, witty eyes; an antagonistic, wealthy debonair gentleman – yes we can certainly find common threads here with Austen’s novels. Burkard’s writing includes Regency turns of phrase, vocabulary and slang, and — being written from an outsider's point of view — details cultural practices in greater depth than those novels written during this period ever do. In fact a glossary of Regency terms is included for those just dipping their toe into the waters of this English era.

All that I have mentioned above is not surprising in and of itself. The component of this novel that blindsided me was the instantaneous addiction I experienced when I cracked the pages of Before the Season Ends. I have spent many late nights reading but I have never, ever read until such a late hour as I have with Burkard’s first novel. Indeed – if I hadn’t noticed the shocking hour (which I will not admit to in print) I believe I would have kept reading until I finished the novel or my family awoke. I will concede that it wouldn’t have been long until either of these occurrences took place. After noticing the time I forced myself to set the book aside and finished it later that day.

I can’t help but wonder if Linore Rose Burkard has somehow created the formula for inspirational romance crack-cocaine, or if her novel was just what I needed that long night. I suppose I will have to wait until her second Regency inspirational romance, The House in Grosvenor Square, is released in April 2009. If her second novel is as shockingly compelling as her first I imagine she can look forward to the creation of her very own inspirational romance empire.

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About Jennifer Bogart