Book Tour| Jane and the Year Without a Summer – Stephanie Barron

Today I have something a little different than normal. It’s my first stop on the book tour for Jane and the Year Without a Summer. I’ve been liking historical fiction more and more and this one sounded like a lot of fun. Today I have an interview with the author Stephanie Barron and at the end of the week I’ll be sharing my review for this book. Keep on reading for the interview and more about this book!

  • Title: Jane and the Year Without a Summer
  • Series: Being a Jane Austen Mystery (Book 14)
  • Author: Stephanie Barron
  • Genre: Historical Mystery, Austenesque
  • Publisher: Soho Press (February 8, 2022)
  • Length: (336) pages
  • Format: Hardcover, eBook, & audiobook
  • ISBN: 978-1641292474

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.

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Author Interview

What was your first introduction to Jane Austen? How did that influence the stories you’ve decided to write?

I was about twelve when I first read Pride and Prejudice, on a rainy afternoon in my aunt’s library at her home in Westchester County, NY. I pulled the book at random off the shelf, and although the first few sentences were difficult for me to parse, I quickly fell in love with the concept—a flighty woman determined to marry off her five daughters. I’m the last of six daughters, myself, and had by the age of twelve seen two sisters married. I was already an aunt, too, four times over. So, the plight of the Bennet sisters made immediate sense. Austen’s portrayal of women as they face their futures and make difficult choices that determine the course of their lives, is a theme I’ve tried to carry forward in my series.

Describe Jane and the Year Without a Summer. What do readers have to look forward to?

It’s the fourteenth in the series that started when Jane was 26, in 1802, and has now brought her to age 40.5, in 1816. This year has gone down in history as The Year Without a Summer, because the previous year Mt. Tambora, a volcano in Indonesia, had erupted with the most violent force in humanly-recorded volcanic history. The ash cloud that subsequently circulated around the globe had a year-long climate-altering impact. The weather was so cold in the winter of 1815 that the Thames froze, and there was a Frost Fair, one of the last recorded. The spring of 1816 was stillborn, with crops dying in the rain-soaked fields. Famine throughout Europe and the United States was the result, with food riots, labor riots, and armed responses from the British government. The economy had already taken a hit due to the end of the Napoleonic wars, with high unemployment due to the demobilization of millions of men and the end of war-fueled expenditures.

In Jane’s family, it was a difficult time. Her brother Henry—a banker—saw his life ruined by the economic impact of Waterloo; his banks failed, and he was forced to sell his belongings to pay his debts. He returned to live with his mother and unmarried sisters until such time as he could take Holy Orders and reinvent himself as a clergyman. Jane’s elder brother, Edward, was being sued for wrongful inheritance by neighbors in their village. Her younger brother, Charles—a post captain in the Royal Navy—lost his ship in a hurricane and was called before an Admiralty Review Board for dereliction of duty. And Jane began to feel ill—with the sickness that would end her life a year later.

In the third week of May, she decides to tap into her savings from the proceeds of Emma, published in January 1815, and take her sister Cassandra to Cheltenham Spa—a newly fashionable watering-place north of Bath—for two weeks of rest and relaxation. She hoped to consult a doctor, drink the curative waters, and return home feeling more like herself. Cheltenham was the home of Edward Jenner, a physician famous for developing the practice of vaccination, specifically for smallpox, which eradicated the disease; he was a friend of Jane’s brother James.

While in Cheltenham and lodging at a boarding-house on the High Street, Jane encounters every form of deceit, imposition, and murder, as is so often the case in her adventurous life.

How much time did you spend researching information for Jane and the Year Without a Summer?

Hmm. That’s a difficult question to answer, as I research periods in Jane’s life and times on a constant basis. Let’s say that for this book, specifically, I researched for about a month.

Can you share the most interesting bits of information you discovered while researching?

I found the history of Edward Jenner’s development of vaccination quite fascinating. It’s a classic example of thinking beyond conventional limits. He observed that milkmaids rarely contracted smallpox—and deduced that it was because they generally contracted something called cowpox, a bovine disorder, in the course of their work. He began experimenting with the deliberate infection of healthy individuals with cowpox, smearing pus from infected sores into a cut on a person’s arm. He discovered they were subsequently immune to smallpox. Eventually, this led to a smallpox vaccine—the word vaccine deriving from the Latin vacca for cow.

If you were to be a character in Jane and the Year Without a Summer what type of character would you be?

Jane herself. Or perhaps Mrs. Smith, who is a charming lady with a talent for reinvention.

What’s next for you? Is there anything you can tell us about?

Yes! There will be a 15th and final book in the Jane Austen series, set in Winchester in 1817; and I have just signed an option agreement with a UK production company and showrunner to develop the series for streaming television. I can’t say more than that at the moment—but stay tuned!

About the Author

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.

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Once again this was such a fun author interview to do. I love learning more about the authors behind the books I read. What do you think? Is Jane and the Year Without a Summer a book you think you’d enjoy? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear from you.

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