Friday, September 6, 2019

Book Excerpt and $50 Giveaway: Letters from the Heart by Kay Bea

About Letters from the Heart, a Pride and Prejudice Variation:

The Bennet sisters of Longbourn lack both decorum and connections and do not possess a decent dowry between them. Even the best of the them is in every way unsuitable for a man whose income is as a good as a lord. But love is not so easily set aside and in January 1812, Mr. Darcy persuades Mr. Bingley to reopen Netherfield Park, the country estate from which they both fled only two months before. On returning to Hertfordshire, they discover a near tragedy took place three days after the Netherfield Ball and has changed the lives of the Bennet family forever. Mrs. Bennet’s relentless fear of losing her place in society has led her to condemn her least favourite daughter to a life of isolation and pain that will greatly complicate Darcy and Elizabeth’s journey to happiness. Old bonds are strengthened, family ties are severed, and unlikely allies emerge as each of them struggles to make sense of the changes they face.

Welcome to the fourth stop on the blog tour for the new Austenesque novel, Letters from the Heart from debut author Kay Bea! My blogging has slowed to less than a crawl in the last year because of my graduate studies, but I'm thrilled to be able to offer an excerpt spotlight for this new novel, and to avail my readers the opportunity to win a $50 Amazon gift card as a part of this blog tour (available worldwide).  Simply offer a coherent comment below (at least a full sentence, please), and you will be entered into the drawing. The giveaway period runs through September 19th. Be sure to offer a way that we may get in touch with you if you win. If giving your email, use an extended format such as:  Name at gmail dot com, which will be a safer option. Want more entries in the contest? Be sure to visit the seven other blogs participating in the tour:

And here now, without further ado, is a brief but tantalizing excerpt from Letters from the Heart:

Book Excerpt: Letters from the Heart

“Tell me, Darcy, about this creature you do not love,” the colonel insisted.

The invitation to describe Elizabeth Bennet was too tempting to withstand. Darcy drew a breath and said, “She is the younger sister to Bingley’s newest love. She is kind, thoughtful, and terribly impertinent. Miss Bingley thinks she is possessed of a conceited independence, but I found her to be refreshing, not at all like the simpering daughters of the ton. She is, perhaps, too free in giving her opinions, but she most often manages not to give offence. She is also prone to debate simply for the sake of it. She is passionate”—here he thought of her defence of Wickham and was frustrated again—“even when she is mistaken.”

Putting aside his anger, he pictured her face that night and on the other occasions they had spoken. He continued softly, “She has the most expressive eyes I have ever seen. They dance when she laughs and burn when she is angry.” He stopped speaking and turned to gaze into the darkness beyond the library window.

“She seems your ideal match, then. Why are you not in Hertfordshire wooing the lady rather than sitting here with your dusty old relations?”

Darcy shook himself and turned to face his cousin. “Woo her? No. She is entirely unsuitable. ’Tis better that I left the country when I did.”

“And what makes this kind, impertinent, passionate woman unsuitable? Is she a servant?”

“Do not be ridiculous!” Darcy snapped in offence.

“A shopkeeper’s daughter perhaps or a tavern wench?” the colonel teased his cousin.

“Do give me some credit, if you please!”

“The squire’s daughter?” Darcy’s face darkened at his words, and Colonel Fitzwilliam knew he had come to the point. “That is it then,” he continued before Darcy could speak.  “You fell in love with the squire’s daughter. Her father is at least a gentleman then, so tell me, Darcy, how is she unsuitable?”

“It is not she so much as it is her family! The two eldest sisters were the only decent members of the entire group. Five daughters, all out at once and not a decent dowry between them. A vulgar, grasping, harpy of a mother. An indolent father. And an estate that is entailed to Lady Catherine’s parson of all people! That is to say nothing of her mother’s relations. An uncle who is a country attorney and another in trade. How could I possibly rejoice in the prospect of relations whose condition in life is so decidedly beneath my own? The match was in every way impossible! I would not have my life made the subject of insipid gossip and speculation!”

The colonel made a rude noise and said, “When did you become Lady Catherine?”

“I beg your pardon?” Darcy asked indignantly.

“You heard me. Good lord, Darcy! ‘How could I possibly rejoice in the prospect of relations whose condition in life is so decidedly beneath my own?’” he mimicked cruelly. “You’ve not cared one whit what anyone thinks of your choices before. Why does it matter now?”

“I—” Darcy started, then stopped, and began again. “I must consider Georgiana.”

“You have always needed to consider her. Do not use your sister as an excuse for your own arrogance. You have picked a poor time to begin caring for the whims of society. I only hope you were not foolish enough to let your disdain for her family show in your interactions, else you may never repair the damage.”

“Why should I wish to?” Darcy asked.

“Because you are in love, my friend, and that should matter.” Richard said nothing more on the subject before leaving the room some twenty minutes later.


January 7, 1812
Darcy House, London

Dear Richard,

You will be surprised to know that Georgiana and I have journeyed to London rather than Derbyshire. There is but little which could persuade me to be in town, particularly at this time of year. You should not take my presence here as in any way acknowledging your advice of Christmas. I will say that, upon reflection, I may have acted with too much haste as regards Bingley and his lady. Therefore, I have decided to persuade Bingley to reopen Netherfield. It should be the work of only a moment as he has spoken of naught but his Miss Bennet these past weeks.

I have not yet decided whether Georgiana will accompany me as I do not care to encourage the presence of certain ladies. Perhaps Miss Bingley will not relish the idea of winter in Hertfordshire. I can only hope her desire for the entertainments of town will outweigh her interest in this affair.

Though I take exception to your characterisation of my disposition of late—a Darcy is never morose and does not brood. I know I have not been myself. I suppose I should thank you for reminding me that this is an odd time to suddenly begin caring for the opinion of society, but I will not give you any such measure of satisfaction.

Your cousin,

Fitzwilliam Darcy

It seems that Colonel Fitzwilliam knows Darcy better than he knows himself!  I guess we will have to see what transpires next in this Pride and Prejudice variation!  I haven't read this novella yet, but I have been given assurances that the content of Letters from the Heart is not overly steamy, which works well for many of my readers.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by The Calico Critic for this blog tour, and be sure to check out the other posts for more content, such as guest posts and interviews!

About the Author

Kay Bea is an administrative assistant and Jane Austen lover living in Kansas City with her husband of twenty-five years, her mother-in-law, and her fur kids. She has written several short stories and drabbles on as “I Found My Mr. Darcy” and on A Happy Assembly as MrsDarcy2032.

Kay grew up in Wyoming, enjoyed a two-year adventure in Maryland, and now calls Missouri home. When she isn’t writing, Kay enjoys photography, cooking, and spending time with her adult children and three granddaughters.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Spotlight on Journals: Ellie Claire Paper Expressions

In the eighth grade my English teacher required that we start a journal of sorts for her class.  We merely had to write about a page of thoughts in a notebook, and later she would return the “graded” notebook with a short response on our entry.  I loved getting my thoughts down on paper, and this led to many years of journaling.  I estimate that I documented most of the days of my life between 1985 and the early ‘90s, from middle school through post-college days.  After college life became busier, with employment, marriage, and eventually parenthood.  I occasionally would journal, but not as much as I did in the old days.

As 2018 was on the horizon last year, I made a New Year’s resolution to journal. This year has been one that I’ve been anticipating for quite some time, as it has included my elder son graduating from high school and moving out into the world.  I also brought a new puppy into our family, a huge first for us as well.  For every day for the bulk of this year, I have once again been journaling my thoughts and events in our lives. As the summer waned and my daily life changed quite a bit with the onset of our puppy and my return to graduate school, I haven’t been as diligent in journaling for the last couple of months. My hope is to finish out the year with summary thoughts, and hopefully daily journaling in December after my final exam.

Recently I was given the opportunity to examine some journals by Ellie Claire Gifts.  As 2018 is coming to a close and my current journal is just about full, I’m on the lookout for a new volume to capture my thoughts for 2019.  When these three journals arrived, I was impressed with their quality, beauty and special features.  Let’s take a look at each one of these treasures:

The Faith & Lettering Journal

The first thing that I noticed about this journal was the front and back cover. It’s a hardback, but it’s an extremely thick and rigid one, with wonderful imprinted textures, colors and foiling. The spine is bound with cloth, with an elastic loop attached for keeping a pen, and the book is designed to lie flat when in use.

Looking inside the journal, you’ll find pages of various types. They’re all printed on quality paper that feels like it would resist bleeding if liquid color is used, such as a felt-tip lettering pen.  Of course there are blank, lined pages for typical entries, but they are often paired on the opposite side or in the corners with beautiful artwork by artist Krystal Whitten.

There are also practice pages, if you’d like to start working on scripted-style lettering like Whitten’s. Some practice pages include a “Pro Tip” area, with a different font to practice, as well as suggestions on how to make the fonts look their best. Krystal’s main purpose in presenting this journal is “to inspire you to reignite your devotional time, to imprint Scripture upon your heart, and to help you dig deep into the Word of God through the art of lettering.”

The Illustrated Word: An Illuminated Bible Coloring Journal

Like the Faith & Lettering journal, the Illustrated Word journal has a similar cover, with a strong composition, imprinted textures, colors and foiling.  The book can also lie flat when in use. Of the pages to be used for journaling, half are plain lined pages, and half include full-color illustrations from the archives of the Museum of the Bible in the corner of the page.  For forty of these illustrated pages, the opposite facing page has a coloring page inspired by the ancient art in the journal. The coloring pages are not like the coloring books created for children. They are more in the vein of the adult coloring books that have become popular in recent years. For someone like me who does not have the talent to draw complex images like these, the coloring pages provide an outlet for being artistic without the stress of wanting it to look like professional artwork, done by monks in the medieval times. This journal is a bit simpler than the Faith & Lettering journal, but if you’re not keen on practicing a new skill and just want to get on with enjoying journaling and the relaxing practice of coloring, this might be a good choice for you.

Illuminate Your Story Journal

The last journal in my profile is my favorite. The Illuminate Your Story journal is much like the previous two, with the same kind of spine, covers and quality non-bleed paper. In contrast however, this book includes an elastic band closure as well as a bookmark ribbon. With its 6” x 8” proportions, it’s a tad smaller than the previous journals, which are about 7” x 9”, but its size is fine.

The book begins with an introduction and history of illuminated letters, which I found very educational and inspirational. The main journal pages are of different types. There are lettering pages where you can practice creating illuminated letters, commonly featured at the start of an ancient book or chapter. Some of these letters are fairly complex, but there are some simpler ones to start with.  I think the letter “D” will suit me. All letters of the alphabet are represented.

There are also blank pages for traditional journaling, with an inspirational quote or scripture verse printed at the top. Like the illuminated practice pages, there is space allocated to practice “flourishes” or extra designs that can be added to your illuminations. These pages are good for non-artists like myself.  There’s a Celtic knot on page 88 that I like, and if I get brave, I might try the “L” with peacock detail on pages 82-83. I adore peacocks, so the fact that there’s one on the letter “L” (for my name Laura) is just perfect!

The final detail of the journal is a “Keepsakes” pocket on the inside back cover. I imagine you could keep photos, notes from friends or other small flat items inside. I thought this was a really nice, three-dimensional addition to the book.


Even if you’re not journaling about your daily activities, all three of these products can be a wonderful resource in your personal quiet time. God is the ultimate Creator, and as we are made in his image, it’s natural that we can incorporate worshipful art into our devotional time.

After experiencing these amazing journals, I took a peek at Ellie Claire’s other products on their website. These books are just the beginning! If you’re thinking about journaling, but the items I’ve reviewed don’t suit your taste, check out the many other offerings from Ellie Claire and Worthy Publishing. There are so many beautiful products! The illuminated Psalms journal was breathtaking, and as a bookmark geek, I couldn’t help but be impressed with their Scroll of Esther line.

Journaling has been such a blessing to my life.  Not only is it therapeutic, but it’s a fascinating time capsule to use in the future.  You will be amazed at how many tiny, precious details can be retained by writing them down.  By getting your words on paper, you preserve memories that might otherwise fall through the cracks of time.  It’s really quite remarkable, to go back years (or decades) later and read about what your younger self was up to.  You might be surprised at how much you’ve changed, and also how much you’ve stayed the same.  I don’t know if my habits had any influence, but my younger son began journaling a few months ago. Like I was, he is also in the eighth grade, on the cusp of so many important years.  I was thrilled that he showed an interest in the activity, and I hope he keeps it up for years to come.

Regardless of whether you purchase one of these items (although you can’t go wrong with any of them), I hope you consider the practice of journaling.  It’s never too late to start, and you’ll be giving yourself a gift this holiday season, especially with these fine journals from Ellie Claire.

Faith & Lettering

Illustrated Word

Illuminate Your Story

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Book Spotlight and Giveaway: Praying with Jane by Rachel Dodge

Wow-- it's been six months since I last posted!  I've been quite busy getting my 18 year-old son launched into the world, welcoming a new puppy into our family, and getting back to working on my master's degree in Christian Apologetics from Southern Evangelical Seminary.

While I haven't had as much time for reading novels and such, I am going to take a moment to profile some products now and again. Hopefully after my final exam of the semester I'll be able to dive back into some Austenesque fiction!  For today however, I have a profile on Praying with Jane by Rachel Dodge.  Here is a blurb on the book:

While much has been written about Jane Austen’s life and novels, less is known about her
spiritual side or the three prayers she wrote. In Praying with Jane, Christian readers and Jane
Austen fans can explore Austen’s prayers in an intimate devotional format as they learn about
her personal faith, her Anglican upbringing, and the spiritual truths found in her novels.

Jane Austen’s faith comes to life in this beautiful 31-day devotional through her exquisite
prayers, touching biographical anecdotes, and illuminating scenes from her novels. Each daily
entry includes examples from Austen’s own life and novels, as well as key Scripture verses, ideas
for personal application, and a prayer inspired by Jane’s petitions.

“This is the devotional I didn’t know I was missing. Dodge connects
stories from Austen’s life and the pages of her novels to her prayers and
Scripture in fresh and insightful ways. An inspiring and illuminating look at
the life and faith of a beloved author.”
—Anne Bogel, author, I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of
the Reading Life and blogger, Modern Mrs. Darcy

“Rachel Dodge draws rich meaning and practical application
for modern readers from Jane Austen’s beautifully written prayers. Includes
compelling accounts of Jane’s life and inspiring, heartfelt prayers to make your
own. Praying with Jane is a wonderful devotional for anyone, and a
perfect gift for an Austen fan. Highly recommended.”
—Julie Klassen, bestselling author, Tales from Ivy Hill

Praying with Jane is full of rich insights into the faith of one of our greatest
English writers. It offers a window into her life and writings, as well as
being a source of spiritual nourishment!”
—Terry Glaspey, author, The Prayers of Jane Austen and
75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know


This is a wonderful item for the Janeite who enjoys a short devotional time each day. I love how it's only a 31-day commitment, so that you can enjoy the volume without feeling pressure to take in a large tome like a reference title, for example.  I haven't read the entire book, but did scan over the themes of all of the entries, and one in particular jumped out at me.  Here's an excerpt, taken from Prayer 3, Day 26:

Blessed Beyond Deserving

We feel that we have been blessed far beyond any thing that we have deserved; and though we cannot but pray for a continuance of all these Mercies, we acknowledge our unworthiness of them and implore Thee to pardon the presumption of our desires.

Austen's novels are littered with characters who perhaps end up with better than they deserve. Edmund, after following Miss Crawford around like a lovesick puppy and giving up ground on many moral issues, still ends up with kind Fanny; Emma is forgiven her many failings and faults and married generous Mr. Knightley; and Edward Ferrars, after making a foolish secret engagement with Lucy Steele, marries sensible Elinor. Grace is given and lessons are learned.

In Mrs. Bennet's case-- even though she has zero discernment in choosing suitable marriage partners, it terribly vulgar, and gives only bad advice-- she somehow ends up with her two eldest daughters married to kind, handsome men of good character, rank and wealth. Though her parenting merits sons-in-law that more closely resemble Lydia's Mr. Wickham, Mrs. Bennet gets everything she wants: At the end of Pride and Prejudice, she is happy and secure.

Though Mrs. Bennet never fully realizes the extent of her own good luck, Jane recognizes that she and her family have been "blessed far beyond any thing that [they] have deserved." In this portion of [Austen's] prayer, she asks God for a "continuance" of his mercies toward them, acknowledging that they are unworthy of so much. Her words are reminiscent of Psalm 103:10, which says God "does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities." (NIV)


Bethany House has graciously offered to give away a copy of Praying with Jane to one of our U.S. readers!  Please utilize the Rafflecopter widget below to enter. The only required entry is your email address, so that we may contact you if you win. All other entries (such as a comment, tweets, etc.) offer bonus points for the giveaway. Contest period closes at 12:01am EST on November 14, 2018. Open to U.S. mailing addresses only.

Today is just one of many in the blog tour for Praying with Jane.  Check out these other sites for more viewpoints and content on the book!

Blog Tour Dates:

October 31Jane Austen’s World, Vic Sanborn

November 1 So Little Time, So Much to Read!, Candy Morton

November 2 Laura’s Reviews, Laura Gerold

November 3 Burton Reviews, Marie Burton

November 4 Sofia Rose’s Place, Sophia Rose

November 5 Jane Austen in Vermont, Deborah Barnum

November 6The Calico Critic, Laura Hartness

November 7 A Bookish Way of Life, Nadia Anguiano

November 8 Diary of an Eccentric, Anna Horner

November 9Becoming, Nichole Parks

November 10My Jane Austen Book Club, Maria Grazia

November 11 My Love for Jane Austen, Sylvia Chan

November 13 Faith, Science, Joy … and Jane Austen, Brenda Cox

About the Author

Rachel Dodge teaches college English and Jane Austen classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and Jane Austen groups, and is a writer for the popular Jane Austen’s World blog. She is passionate about prayer and the study of God’s Word. A true “Janeite” at heart, Rachel enjoys books, bonnets, and ball gowns. She makes her home in California with her husband
and their two young children.

Connect with Rachel




Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Book Review & International Giveaway: Mysterious Mr. Darcy by Monica Fairview

Four years after the original events of Pride & Prejudice, Darcy receives a visit in his isolated manor in Cornwall. It is Charles Bingley, and he has come to ask a favor…

There is nothing Lizzy Bennet likes more than a laugh – except for a mystery. From the moment she first encounters Mr. Darcy, she senses he is hiding something. But the more she tries to find out about who he is, the more he circumspect he becomes. However, Lizzy soon turns her attention to someone else. As Mrs. Bennet points out, Mr. Darcy is a nobody, and Lizzy needs to marry someone who can provide for her and her sisters.

Meanwhile, Mr. Darcy doesn’t want anyone to know about the scandal that haunts him from the past. He certainly doesn’t need someone like Miss Elizabeth Bennet, who asks him questions and tries to slip him up. Fortunately, he is more than adequate to the task of putting her off. What he doesn’t expect is that before long, he is caught up a love triangle, and finds himself longing to tell her the truth.

Are Elizabeth and Darcy meant to come together in this variation, or is Lizzy destined for someone else?

Note: Mysterious Mr. Darcy is not a mystery. It is a ‘what-if’ in which Mr. Darcy has to deal with the consequences of his past, a past that will change the shape of his future. 

Fitzwilliam Darcy, a fugitive? A man of no consequence? Janeites might find that hard to believe, but that is the Darcy that Monica Fairview presents to us in her latest novel, Mysterious Mr. Darcy.  While the dating of this tale occurs three years after the events of Pride and Prejudice, some crucial moments of that beloved novel have not yet occurred. Elizabeth Bennet has not met Mr. Bingley or his standoffish friend Mr. Darcy at the Meryton assembly.  Lydia has not yet taken up with Darcy’s rival, Mr. Wickham. At the same time, Mr. Collins has already married Charlotte, and Jane has married a man named Munstead. The characters remain mostly the same, but some crucial plot points have been tweaked a bit.

Darcy is also harboring a secret for his past, and for the majority of the novel, we are not privy to what that secret might be. We do know he remains on the run from the authorities, and is often looking over his shoulder, wondering if he will be discovered. Elizabeth picks up on his surreptitious nature and begins to wonder what he is hiding.

Without giving away any further details, Mr. Darcy certainly is mysterious to many people in his life throughout the story.  Monica Fairview takes Austen’s characters down some interesting, yet very believable roads in her narrative. Many paraphrased quotes from the source material in Pride and Prejudice are sprinkled throughout, bringing a smile to my face when I would stumble upon them occasionally.  This made her characters seem more credible, as they are the very thoughts or words they would have expressed if Austen herself were presiding over this retelling.

I have read several of Mrs. Fairview’s books, and while I cannot say that Mysterious Mr. Darcy is my favorite, it was still very enjoyable.  I felt that Mr. Darcy’s secret was kept from the reader a little bit too long. There is also a pivotal court scene that seemed a bit short, given its importance. I believe that a significant opportunity for high drama was passed over in that moment. That being said, Monica’s ability to weave a delightful tale remains intact.  I particularly enjoyed the last quarter of the novel, wherein Darcy’s veiled history is revealed to the reader and the stakes for the main characters begin to get ratcheted up. I was turning pages quite swiftly towards the end.

As a conservative reader, I also appreciate Monica’s ability to write a drama and romance without the use of significant amounts of adult material.  I would feel very comfortable recommending this to other readers like myself. The amorous moments are definitely there, but the emphasis is on the story and character development and not on strategies to titillate the reader.

I offer a hearty congratulations to Monica Fairview! Thanks so much for allowing me to be a part of your book’s promotion.  I’m sure I will continue to be a fan for years to come!  Now, about that ending involving a certain bachelor’s romantic interest… do I smell SEQUEL???

About the Author

Monica can be described as a wanderer, opening her eyes to life in London and travelling ever since. She spent many years in the USA before coming back full circle to London, thus proving that the world is undeniably round.
Monica adores the Regency period and Jane Austen’s wit. She writes funny Jane Austen sequels and variations but has finally decided to get serious about Elizabeth and Darcy. At the moment, she lives with two cats, a teenager, and her own Mr. Darcy. She enjoys singing out of tune in the shower, visiting historical mansions, and warm weather. 

Visit Monica at 
Amazon Page:
Austen Variations:
Twitter:  @Monica_Fairview

Giveaway: Mysterious Mr. Darcy
Monica Fairview has been very generous to offer two ebook copies of Mysterious Mr. Darcy to two of our readers!  Please utilize the Rafflecopter widget below to enter. The only required entry is your email address, so that we may contact you if you win. All other entries (such as a comment, tweet, etc.) offer bonus points for the giveaway. Contest period closes at 12:01am EST on May 19, 2018. Open internationally.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Paperback Kindle

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Book Review & Giveaway - Pride and Prometheus by John Kessel

Pride and Prejudice meets Frankenstein as Mary Bennet falls for the enigmatic Victor Frankenstein and befriends his monstrous Creature in this clever fusion of two popular classics.

Threatened with destruction unless he fashions a wife for his Creature, Victor Frankenstein travels to England where he meets Mary and Kitty Bennet, the remaining unmarried sisters of the Bennet family from Pride and Prejudice. As Mary and Victor become increasingly attracted to each other, the Creature looks on impatiently, waiting for his bride. But where will Victor find a female body from which to create the monster’s mate?

Meanwhile, the awkward Mary hopes that Victor will save her from approaching spinsterhood while wondering what dark secret he is keeping from her.

Pride and Prometheus fuses the gothic horror of Mary Shelley with the Regency romance of Jane Austen in an exciting novel that combines two age-old stories in a fresh and startling way.

     Several years ago the genre of Jane Austen Fan Fiction (JAFF) took a turn into thematic blends that I had no interest in partaking. There was Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, various iterations of JAFF that involved vampires, and a novel that portrayed Darcy as a rock star. These deviations did not appeal to me for the most part, although I will acknowledge that I enjoyed Monica Fairview’s Steampunk Darcy.  Recently I was given the opportunity to read and review John Kessel’s novel Pride and Prometheus, a mashup of a Pride and Prejudice sequel and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I was going to decline the offer, but when my 12 year-old got wind of the premise, he urged me to read the novel. I decided to accept.

     As I have said to my son several times since then, I have been so pleased with this novel! John Kessel, with his educational background of both science and literature, has crafted something that truly transcends fan fiction.  Pride and Prometheus is quality work, a volume that can be enjoyed by many, not only Janeites. The characters are captivating, well drawn and fully formed. Kessel’s writing is superb, striking the perfect balance of literary tone with modern accessibility. While some familiarity to Austen’s and Kelley’s characters is helpful, Kessel offers enough expository material to allow all readers to follow the narrative.  For example, I have never read the original Frankenstein, and had only a cursory knowledge of the main characters, Dr. Frankenstein and his Creation. Kessel's details with these characters made me more than comfortable with them. Due to my reading of Pride and Prometheus, I have now purchased a copy of Frankenstein and intend to read it as well.  This is perfect timing, as it coincides with the 200th anniversary of the 1818 edition of the classic.

     For those who might shy away from any notion of the horror genre, I can state unequivocally that Pride and Prometheus is not one to cast fear into the heart of its reader. I don’t care for the horror genre in any medium. I had to be dragged, practically kicking and screaming to see the movie The Sixth Sense almost twenty years ago. While I did enjoy that film, that is about as “spooky” as I’ll go in terms of a sinister theme.  Kessel’s novel does not veer in that direction. It does retain a bit of a gothic, dark tone, but never once were the potentially gruesome aspects of the story used to terrorize the reader.  My 12 year-old would find the these elements to be quite tame.

     While the novel does have some romantic components to it, this was a lesser detail in comparison to other issues at hand. The major themes contemplated philosophical and metaphysical questions such as “What does it mean to be human?” and “How far does God’s sovereignty extend?” The Nature vs. Nurture debate is also a large consideration.

     As in Austen’s original work, Mary Bennet is interested in religious topics, but as we find her in Pride and Prometheus, she is now 32 years old, still unmarried, and her interests have now extended to areas of science. She sees no contradiction in this, as science reveals God’s hand in creation. For the majority of the novel, the focus is not so much on Mary’s romantic interest in Dr. Frankenstein as it is on her relationship with his Monster. She is often an intermediary between the two, striving to guide the Creature to a greater humanity while attempting to show Dr. Frankenstein what she sees in his Creation.

      In that area of romance, I must commend Kessel’s choices. I kept waiting for him to guide the characters into cliched or predictable paths, and I prepared myself to be disappointed in him as a writer. Not once did he take the bait that would have been snapped up by lesser authors. Even near the conclusion of the novel, I thought he might take an easy way out with Mary’s fate, but he did not. I can say that the last few chapters felt a little disjointed from the rest of the narrative, but the directions in which the characters went were realistic, not formulaic.  No one really gets their “tied with a bow”, Hollywood ending. There is a tone of melancholy to it, but in making this literary choice, I think John Kessel has made the right one. He has told his own tale, while remaining true to the images that Austen and Kelley have created in their original works.  In that sense I believe Kelley and Austen would be pleased with how Kessel has managed his stewardship of these characters.

     In addition to offering my hearty recommendation of Pride and Prometheus, I also greatly endorse the audio book edition of the novel.  I treated myself to a copy from, which allowed me to also enjoy the book while driving and doing household chores. The story is performed by three narrators, James Langdon (Dr. Frankenstein), Samuel Roukin (the Creature) and Jill Tanner (general narrator, but with a focus on Mary).  I heartily enjoyed James Langdon’s performance in another fabulous novel, The Map of Time, so I was greatly pleased to hear his voice again. His portrayal of Dr. Frankenstein was superb. Samuel Roukin’s portrayal of the Creature was well done, but he came off as a bit too “polished”, given that this character was a na├»ve 3 year-old in some ways. The Creature was also highly intelligent, so in that sense Roukin’s tone was just fine. Jill Tanner’s lovely English accent was also perfect for the piece.  I highly recommend this recording to audio book listeners.

Dr. Kessel reads aloud from his novel at Scuppernong Books
     When I was several chapters into the novel, I had the opportunity to meet John Kessel at an event at Scuppernong Books in my town of Greensboro, NC.  I rarely get the chance to meet my authors, so this evening was a thrill for me.  Although we didn’t have a huge turnout for the appearance, I enjoyed sitting with John to discuss Austen, his book and other topics. I was especially grateful for the additional insights into his characters, which made reading the rest of the novel that much more enjoyable.

     Dr. Kessel discussed the notion of the “uncanny valley”, and how that applied to Dr. Frankenstein’s Creature.  Some of you may recall the animated movie The Polar Express.  At the time, this 2004 film was at the cutting edge of motion capture and computer animation. The creators did their very best to make the characters seem as human-like as possible, especially in the eyes. They achieved this to a high degree, but they weren’t able to capture the humanity of the faces to 100% efficacy. This led to a certain discomfort for many viewers who looked into the eyes of these animated characters.  They were so human, and yet…not.  It’s a very disquieting feeling, and I understood exactly what Dr. Kessel meant when he described it.  This is the same feeling that those coming into contact with the Creature had when they saw him.  He was a re-animated dead body.  He was somewhat human, yet…not.  Most people, upon seeing him, would either run in terror or attack him.  Thus he led a very solitary life, and hated most humans.  In many ways, this was completely understandable.  This is what made his relationship with Mary that much more captivating. She grows to see the humanity in him, as is seen in the figurative and literal journey that they take during a great portion of the novel. I think in many ways, she sees that he has a soul, and if she guides him well enough, she could show him the way of salvation. Despite his hideousness, I believe that she sees God’s hand in his creation, and thus God’s love for him.

     John’s work on Pride and Prometheus is so well done, and I had to ask him if he has plans to do another novel in this vein, either another piece of Austenesque fiction, or a derivation of another classic work.  He replied that he likes to keep his writing projects quite diverse, and that at this time he has no plans to do another book like this one.  As his reader I hope that this novel is so successful that his publisher will urge him to do another, but we will have to see.  In the meantime, if you enjoyed Kessel’s style, he has a number of award-winning titles out there, many of which are in the short story format.

     So despite my initial hesitation (and thanks to my son's urging), I again offer my high praise for Pride and Prometheus. Lovers of Austenesque fiction will certainly enjoy this, but fans of historical fiction and literature in general can also find a new favorite author in John Kessel. His writing is captivating, his characters are well-drawn and his writing choices are never cliched. Congratulations, Dr. Kessel, and I offer my vote for another title of this kind.  Perhaps something with Mr. Dickens…?

GIVEAWAY: Pride and Prometheus
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About the Author

Born in Buffalo, New York, John Kessel's most recent book is the new novel Pride and Prometheus.  He is the author of the earlier novels The Moon and the Other, Good News from Outer Space and Corrupting Dr. Nice and in collaboration with James Patrick Kelly, Freedom Beach. His short story collections are Meeting in Infinity (a New York Times Notable Book), The Pure Product, and The Baum Plan for Financial Independence.

Kessel's stories have twice received the Nebula Award given by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, in addition to the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, the Locus Poll, and the James Tiptree Jr. Award. His play “Faustfeathers'” won the Paul Green Playwright's Prize, and his story “A Clean Escape” was adapted as an episode of the ABC TV series Masters of Science Fiction. In 2009 his story “Pride and Prometheus” received both the Nebula Award and the Shirley Jackson Award. With Jim Kelly, he has edited five anthologies of stories re-visioning contemporary short sf, most recently Digital Rapture: The Singularity Anthology.

Kessel holds a B.A. in Physics and English and a Ph.D. in American Literature. He helped found and served as the first director of the MFA program in creative writing at North Carolina State University, where he has taught since 1982. He and his wife, the novelist Therese Anne Fowler, live and work in Raleigh, NC.

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Saturday, December 16, 2017

Movie Review: Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

Although I am somewhat of a Austenesque bookworm, I'm a huge fan of the Star Wars universe as well. When The Last Jedi came out this weekend, my husband, two sons and I went together as a "four family", for the first time in years. We enjoy The Force Awakens very much, and had high hopes for this new chapter in the saga. This afternoon my husband and younger son re-watched Episode VII in our den. I watched the last 30 minutes or so of it, with my cats, on my iPhone screen. Later we drove over to Greensboro's Movie Tavern with much excitement, ready to take in the next chapter in this decades-long tale. I offer my critique of the film below, which I believe to be spoiler-free, if you have seen the preview trailers. If you'd like to see a trailer, I have it posted it near the end of this page for your convenience.

I enjoyed The Last Jedi very much, probably more than Episode VII, due in great measure to the quality of work offered by the entire cast and crew of this particular film. The overall production remains strong, if not stronger than in The Force Awakens. Mark Hamill and the late Carrie Fisher are given much more screen time than in the previous movie, which was a welcome element. The writing and acting remain superior to Episodes I-III, which in my opinion should be wiped off the face of the earth. While highly choreographed, the lightsaber duels were well done, although they were not as dynamic as the Ben Kenobi/Darth Maul fight in The Phantom Menace (one of the few things that were worth keeping from that travesty).

Although the writing quality remains high, the film does go on for quite a while. Our previews began at 3:15pm, which included Alita, Jurassic World 2, Rampage, Early Man, A Wrinkle in Time and Avengers: Infinity War. Then our movie ran until 5:55pm. Including the end credits (no, there was no "extra scene", a la Avengers), IMDb lists it at 2 hours, 32 minutes. And while I don't tire of Star Wars material, it did feel long sometimes. As I've read in other critiques of the film, it felt as if the storytellers were trying to do just a little too much with the narrative. Unlike Luke's time on Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back, Rey's time with Luke on Ahch-To somehow felt rushed. There was just so much story to tell in less than three hours.
Watching bits of Episode VII with two of my cats

These drawbacks, however, are minor. The story was very enjoyable, and I was frequently on the edge of my seat. As always, the dogfight scenes are thrilling, very reminiscent of the old movies, but revolutionary as well. The dramatic contrast of the underlying crimson red clay on the pristine, white salt flats of Crait heightened the drama of the battle for the rebel base. Poe Dameron's piloting skills had me cheering with delight. New character Rose Tico was such a pleasure, and a welcome addition to the Star Wars family. Without giving anything away, there is a scene where Luke kisses someone on the forehead that brought tears to my eyes. It was so touching. There were abundant moments of humor injected into the dialogue, and while I sometimes felt that this element was brought out a little too much, it never reached the level of stupidity found in A Phantom Menace, as with the infamous Jar Jar Binks. And yes, as has been reported in the media, the puffin-like porgs of Ahch-To are simply adorable, unlike the much-maligned Ewoks of Return of the Jedi. There's also another creature I liked very much, "fathiers" which have memorable screen time while the story is set in the city of Canto Bight.

As with previous Star Wars episodes, there's the usual tension between good and evil, light and dark. The Jedi order begins to make a bit of a transition with Episode VIII, and I'm interested to see where it's headed. There were some force-related happenings that took me by surprise, with one in particular taking me completely off guard. It was a trick I did not see coming in the least. Suffice it to say, the force is capable of things we haven't seen thus far, and may take on a different shape in the future.
My sons with a stormtrooper at the theater

On a side note: As a French horn player who has had the opportunity to play a bit of John Williams' work over the years, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie's score. There are ten-- count them-- TEN horn players in this orchestra, and they are phenomenal. Williams again has interwoven themes from films gone by, and incorporated new elements as well. He has always been the perfect choice for this series, and is an international treasure.

For families who are considering this movie for their children: The Last Jedi does earn its PG-13 rating, but just barely. There is one kiss that could possibly be considered romantic, and while there is a decent amount of fighting, there isn't an overabundance of blood and gore on the screen. It's very much like what we've seen in previous Star Wars films. A significant character is cut in half by a lightsaber, but we do not see blood or entrails coming forth. Language isn't a massive factor-- no f-bombs are dropped, but there is a bit more colorful language than was heard in the original trilogy. I was okay with having my 12 year-old son present. It would be my guess that the main factor influencing the PG-13 rating would be the sheer intensity of some of the scenes. Small children might be disturbed by some of the peril and dramatic issues involved.

As a student who is working on a master's degree in Christian apologetics, I sometimes wonder what influence the Star Wars saga has on our culture, in a religious sense. I'm able to suspend belief and take these movies as simple fairy tales, and I hope that's true for others that enjoy this series. As is mentioned in the thorough movie review on, the issue of the Force-as-religion does take somewhat of a center stage in this film. I've had many discussions with my boys on this matter, encouraging them to think intelligently about what we believe as Christians, and to not take religious philosophies too much to heart when they're enjoying Star Wars. The same has been true as I've trusted them to separate truth from fiction with the world of Harry Potter. That being said, I especially liked one quote that was stated in The Last Jedi: "To say when the Jedi dies, the Light dies is vanity." The ways of the force are not seen as having a corner on truth and light. Luke Skywalker feels (and this is no spoiler, if you have seen the trailers) that it is time for the Jedi to die. They are not indispensable for good to survive in the galaxy. On this I can wholeheartedly agree.

If you have been pondering whether or not to go see The Last Jedi while it is in theaters, I would encourage you to attend. In fact, I wish I could have had the budget to see it on the IMAX screen. The Last Jedi is a delight for the eyes and years, more than worthy of a huge screen and robust sound system.  This film was thoroughly entertaining, and I'm looking forward to seeing it again, when it inevitably ends up in my Blu-ray player at home. Director Rian Johnson and his team have done a fabulous job at the helm of this latest vehicle of the Star Wars saga, and I feel that it has more than deserved its huge 200+ million-dollar opening weekend. The force is strong with this one, and I look forward with great expectation to see what Episode IX director J.J. Abrams has in store for us in 2019.

Episode VII Trailer

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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Giveaway & Guest Post: Kara Louise of Chance and Circumstance

Today I'm pleased to be hosting Kara Louise, whose novel Darcy's Voyage holds the position of "Best Austenesque Fiction Novel" in my heart, going back to 2010 when I discovered it. She has a new novel out now called Chance and Circumstance, which she will discuss with us here.  Thanks for this very enlightening blog post Kara!  To our readers: Be sure to enter the giveaway at the conclusion of the post!

Inspiration by the Seat of My Pants

I want to thank Laura for allowing me to share with you about my newest book, Chance and Circumstance, and a little bit about how I write.

When people ask me what method I use in writing my stories, I have to confess that I am a pantser. If you don’t know what that means, it means I write by the seat of my pants. I’m not a plotter - I don’t plot everything out ahead of time; I don’t make up outlines; I often don’t know the direction a story is going to go until I get into it. I start with a premise and go from there.

One reason I prefer this way is that as I write, I find myself more drawn into the story and have a better sense of where the characters are taking me. Yes, they do tend to often have minds of their own.

While I have a general idea of what I’m going to write and what the general plot (or variation) is going to be, I do make every effort to bring it all together in the end and be an enjoyable read.

Chance and Circumstance is my eleventh published book, and all I knew when I began was that I was going to examine what would have happened if Mr. Bingley met Elizabeth first, without Jane or Mr. Darcy around.

Here is the book description:

Chance brings about an early encounter between Charles Bingley and Elizabeth Bennet soon after his move into Netherfield. He soon begins to favour this pretty and lively young lady. Circumstances have kept Jane Bennet and Mr. Darcy from the neighbourhood, thereby changing the events that Jane Austen penned in "Pride and Prejudice."

When Mr. Darcy finally arrives, will he be able to keep from interfering when he meets this young lady his friend so greatly admires? When Jane returns from touring the Lake District with her aunt and uncle, will the young gentleman who returns with her prove to be better suited for her than Mr. Bingley ever was?

In this "Pride and Prejudice" variation, chance and circumstance greatly affect the way several of Jane Austen's characters arrive at their happily ever after, but not necessarily in the way you think.

I am of the conviction Mr. Bingley’s and Elizabeth’s initial meeting would go well, as they have lively and engaging personalities, are very polite and agreeable, and are both attractive. I wanted to see how long it would be before Elizabeth began to see those areas in which this fine gentleman would not be suitable for her.

My very first inspiration for this story came from a scene I envisioned many years ago. In that scene, Bingley is walking at Elizabeth’s side, and Darcy and Jane are following. Darcy is frustrated that his friend is singling out Elizabeth because he thinks she is better suited for him. Bingley, who has begun to question his feelings for Elizabeth, keeps turning around to look at Jane, who in turn, returns his looks of admiration. Elizabeth is simply enjoying her walk.

That was the scene I had envisioned, but guess what! It did not make it into the book because a very different idea came to me as I began writing. I had to get Jane away from Longbourn and determined that if Jane Austen wrote that the Gardiners were going to take Elizabeth to the Lake District the following year (and we know what happened to those plans!), perhaps they took Jane the previous year. So I wrote that Jane is visiting the lakes with the Gardiners when Bingley moves into Netherfield.

But wait! Where did this new thought just come from? Jane has met a young man while up there and seems quite taken with him! I had not originally planned that at all!

In the very first chapter of the story, the Bennets receive a letter from Jane in which she informs them she met some long-time friends of the Gardiners, and they are going to stay longer in the Lake District. She writes another letter to Elizabeth however, giving a little more information. She tells her about this gentleman, who is the son of these friends, and how he has stolen her heart. This was another twist that happened as I was writing, and it surprised even me.

One thing I love is when a minor element from Jane Austen’s novel finds its way into my story. This happened a few times in Chance and Circumstance. The first is what I just mentioned, that the Gardiners may have taken Jane to the Lake District because we know they were going to take Elizabeth. (And perhaps all the girls would get their chance when they are twenty years old, as the younger sisters discuss in my novel.)

The second element plays a major part in one of the twists of my story. Jane Austen tells us of Bingley’s tendency to write letters that are brief and not well blotted, causing much of his correspondence to be unreadable. You’ll have to read the book to discover more about the importance of this unreadable letter he writes!

Thank you, Jane Austen, for allowing me to take advantage of these minor elements from your story and put them in my story to cause a little angst!

There are other twists and turns in the story (particularly at the end) that I hope will keep you engaged as you read. It was a fun adventure for me to write, as well!

I posted about half of the book online, and you can begin reading it at the link below.

Thanks again, Laura!

Connect Online with Kara Louise

Chance and Circumstance Chapter 1:




Austen Variations Blog:



Thanks to Kara for offering a giveaway copy of Chance and Circumstance!  If you'd like to enter, please utilize the Rafflecopter widget below. If the winner is from the U.S., they may choose either a paperback or Kindle copy.  If the winner is international, their edition will be the Kindle version.  The contest period will conclude at 12am EST on Saturday, December 16, 2017. 

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About Kara Louise

Kara Louise has been writing Jane Austen variations since 2001 and has published 11 novels. She grew up in the San Fernando Valley in Southern California, but now lives in the suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri with her husband, and their ever-changing number of dogs and cats. In addition to writing, she enjoys spending time with their son and his wife and their two granddaughters, who live nearby.


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