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New Books Network Interview: Joanna Lowell

A man and a woman in Victorian dress ride bicycles along a wooden path, with a beach scene behind them; cover of Joanna Lowell's A Shore Thing

I discovered the novels of Joanna Lowell last year, when the third book in her series about late Victorian women artists came out. You can find a written Q&A between us about that book, Artfully Yours, on my old blog.

I enjoyed Artfully Yours so much that I immediately bought and read the first in the series, The Duke Undone. I loved that one too, so I bought The Runaway Duchess, but then other reading commitments overwhelmed me before I could get to it. Every so often I would see it and think, Oh, I really want to read that, but it wasn’t until Berkley pitched me on the fourth book that I finally found the time. Only then did I discover that the heroine of A Shore Thing had made her first appearance in The Runaway Duchess. We talk about all four books in our New Books Network interview, which, like the novel itself, was published this past Tuesday.

As ever, the rest of this post comes from New Books in Historical Fiction.

Joanna Lowell is known for her witty historical romances set in late Victorian England, a period both undergoing and resisting dramatic social change. Her previous novels in this series pair a young artist from the East End with her tortured muse, a duke; a runaway duchess with an admirably calm young man convinced she is a plant lover like himself; and a reluctant, poverty-stricken art forger with an art critic who is alienated from his aristocratic family. This worthy sequel follows the romantic fortunes of Kit Griffith, a former painter who now makes his living selling bicycles, and Muriel Pendrake—the intrepid, intelligent, world-traveling botanist impersonated in book 2.


Muriel has traveled to St. Ives, Cornwall, to collect seaweed—not because that is her own preference, beautiful as some of it is, but because the stodgy male chauvinist in charge of a forthcoming talk that Muriel has agreed to present in New York has declared that no other topic is acceptable for a woman. She travels in the company of her old friend James, a doctor with a secret, and they are returning to their hotel when a near-accident involving a bicycle leads to Muriel’s dramatic encounter with a semi-conscious Kit.  

Line drawing of two bicycles, side by side: an 1880 penny-farthing (left) and the modern bicycle (1886, right)

It’s 1888, and most of the bicycles in town are the old-fashioned penny-farthings, with a huge front wheel and a tiny back one. One thing leads to another, and soon Muriel—who has never mounted a bicycle in her life, not even the kind that Kit rides, which we would now consider standard—agrees to accompany this devastatingly handsome young rake (or so she thinks) on a cycling trip around the Cornwellian coast.

As always in a romance—and a bike ride, for that matter—the destination is foreseeable but the fun lies in following the path, with all its twists and turns.

Image comparing an 1880 penny-farthing with a Rover safety bicycle, introduced in 1885 by J. K. Starley, public domain via Wikimedia Commons.


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