Saturday, August 23, 2014

Guest Post and International Giveaway: Longbourn to London by Linda Beutler

Today The Calico Critic is treated to a guest post and giveaway from Austenesque fiction author, Linda Beutler.  Some of you may be familiar with her previous title, The Red Chrysanthemum, which was released last year.   Thanks so much to Linda for sharing a bit from her latest work, Longbourn to London, which is a speculative novel focusing on the time period in which Jane Austen's Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth were engaged to be married. I always wished that Austen had spent more time discussing the betrothal and wedding, so this sounds like a real treat!  Below today's excerpt is also a giveaway, open internationally!  We'll have two winners: One for a paperback and one for an eBook edition.  Thanks for stopping by, and good luck to all of our entrants!

Book Blurb:

A courtship is a journey of discovery…

…but what do we know of the official betrothal of Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet? We may assume there were awkward social events to navigate, tedious wedding arrangements to negotiate, and Bingley’s toplofty sisters to accommodate. How did Darcy and Elizabeth manage these travails, and each other?

Longbourn to London is not a Pride and Prejudice “what if,” nor is it a sequel. Rather, it is an expansion of the betrothal of Jane Austen’s favorite couple. We follow Lizzy’s journey from spirited maiden scampering about the fields of Hertfordshire to nervous, blushing bride in Mayfair, where she learns the unexpected joys of marriage to a man as willing to be teased as she is to tease him.

Join us as IPPY award-winning author Linda Beutler (2013 Silver Medal, Independent Publishers Awards, for The Red Chrysanthemum) imagines the betrothal and early honeymoon of Jane Austen’s greatest couple.

Includes mature content.

Dear Laura,

Thanks for the opportunity to share a little more of Longbourn to London with you and your readers. This is the beginning of Chapter 6, The Taming of the Flibbertigibbet, when Mr. Bennet has become aware that Mrs. Bennet and her sister Mrs. Phillips have been filling Lizzy and Jane’s heads with all sorts for dire predictions for married life. They have words…

Best regards,

Linda Beutler, author Longbourn to London

Chapter Six

Thomas Bennet opened the door to his library and called for his wife. After waiting a few moments, he called for Mrs. Hill, who came to him immediately.

“Mr. Bennet, sir?”

“Ah, Hill. Where is Mrs. Bennet?”

“In her sitting room above stairs, taking some tea and making lists of things, sir.”

“So she should have heard me when I called just now?”

“I should think so, sir. I heard you from the kitchen.”

“Has she been taken deaf, do you think?”

Mrs. Hill smirked and shook her head. “Would you like me to fetch her, sir?”

“No, Hill. It is time the insubordination in this house was dealt with as it should have been long ago.” Mr. Bennet took the stairs as briskly as Mrs. Hill had ever seen him, and he entered the open door of his wife’s sitting room.

“Mrs. Bennet! Did you not hear my call?”

She looked up with surprise. Her husband usually sent a servant for her, or forgot what he wanted if she ignored him. It was much more exhilarating to make lists of wedding details than to attend to whatever petty issues Mr. Bennet might raise.

“Mr. Bennet! Is there some emergency? Are Mr. Darcy or Mr. Bingley ill?” This was her chief concern as the wedding neared, that an errant infectious disease might carry off either groom.

Mr. Bennet closed the door to his wife’s sitting room, and took a seat facing her. “Mrs. Bennet, let me first say that, when your husband calls you, he expects a response. I do not think, after nearly twenty-five years of marriage, that expecting courtesy is too much to ask. Do I make myself clear?”

“Oh, Mr. Bennet, if you have come in here to argue with me, I pray you leave at once.”

“I am here, Mrs. Bennet, because you would not come to me, and we have a matter of immense and immediate importance, which we must discuss.”

Grumbling under her breath, Mrs. Bennet made a great show of setting aside her lap desk and turning her attention to her husband.

“It has come to my attention, madam, that you have been relating stories of married life to Lizzy and Jane, which our daughters find most unsettling, and these, by extension, reflect upon me in a poor light.”

“Nonsense. Of what can you be speaking?”

“How do you know it is nonsense if you claim not to know the topic? Oh, never mind . . . My point is, Mrs. Bennet, you have told the girls disturbing stories about marital relations and what they may expect, and it has frightened them. I want you to correct what you have said and cease discussing the topic with them if you cannot or will not be truthful.”

“And may I ask how you came by this knowledge? A father should not know of this. My daughters would never discuss such a thing with their father. It is a mother’s place to prepare daughters for what may happen in the marriage bed.”

“Both of our daughters have complained to their intended spouses.” Mr. Bennet was not above stretching the truth to carry his point. “They have been vague as to details, but so completely forthright about their attendant fears as to make what was told to them completely apparent.”

“Mr. Bennet! I shall not be criticised on this subject. The girls have no idea what to expect on their wedding night, and I believe it prudent that they be made to expect the worst. I consider their behaviour to their intendeds to be highly improper, implying any of what should be talked of only amongst women, and I shall scold them, sir. Make no mistake.”

“Fanny, you will do no such thing.”

Voices were raised. From their bedroom, Elizabeth and Jane could hear the tone but not the content. They looked at each other with open astonishment.

“Mr. Bennet, on this point I shall stand my ground. It is a mother’s duty to protect daughters from false hopes of the marriage bed.” 

“Have you no consideration for their future husbands, and therefore madam, no respect for what they may infer our relationship has been? Have I been a brute to you? Have I ever made unacceptable demands upon your person? If you speak of horrors you yourself have not experienced, the girls will infer you have experienced them, and at my hands!” 

“Mr. Bennet, that is ridiculous! The girls do not think of you and me in such a way.”

“No indeed, I believe they did not until you felt you needed to see that they enter the married state expecting the worst, as you say.”

“And so they should!”

“Mrs. Bennet! You will speak of this subject to Lizzy and Jane no more, except to say you have no reason to believe either Mr. Darcy or Mr. Bingley are brutish, unkind, or perverted in any way. They are gentlemen and will be kind at the very least. You do no one any good service by painting all men with the same brush. You will stop this.”

“No, sir, I certainly shall not. This is not your concern, Mr. Bennet—not your concern at all!”

“Fanny, I shall lock you in this room until the wedding if you leave me no other choice. No details, no lace, no shopping, no hectoring Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst—none of it.”

“Oh, Mr. Bennet! You cannot mean it!”

“Do not try my patience further, madam. You will apologise to Lizzy and Jane and amend the untruths you have foisted upon them, or I shall have you kept separate from them until they are wed. I have never been unkind to you in our marriage bed, and I shall not have you implying to anyone that I have. You have no idea the harm you have done, and I shall see it does not continue. The choice is yours, Mrs. Bennet.” He stood and began pacing in what little space was available in front of his wife.

“This is most improper, Mr. Bennet—most indelicate. Fathers of daughters must not concern themselves with such things. This was Lizzy, was it not? She’s gone telling tales, has she? Only Lizzy would ever think to seek counsel in such a shameful way.”

 “Lizzy and Jane should not approach their wedding in a spirit of fear and misapprehension; you and your gossiping sister have overstepped yourselves. You give Lizzy and Jane the advice better used on Lydia, who is now married to one of the vilest seducers we are ever likely to meet, no thanks to ourselves . . . ”

“Oh, Mr. Bennet! Lower your voice . . . ”

“No, Fanny. I shall not be moved. You have a decision to make. Remain in your room until the wedding, or amend your advice to Lizzy and Jane. And no more social engagements with Mrs. Phillips. She is no longer fit for civil society—drunk or sober!”

International Giveaway: Longbourn to London 

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More About Linda Beutler

Linda Beutler is an Oregon native who began writing professionally in 1996 in the field of garden writing. First published in magazines, Linda graduated to book authorship in 2004 with the publication of Gardening With Clematis (2004, Timber Press). In 2007 Timber Press presented her second title, Garden to Vase, a partnership with garden photographer Allan Mandell. Recently Linda has been working with Meryton Press.

Linda lives the gardening life: she is a part-time instructor in the horticulture department at Clackamas Community College; writes and lectures about gardening topics throughout the USA; and is traveling the world through her active participation in the International Clematis Society, of which she is the current president. Then there's that dream job--which she is sure everyone else must covet but which she alone has-- curator of the Rogerson Clematis Collection, which is located at Luscher Farm, a farm/park maintained by the city of Lake Oswego. She signed on as curator to North America's most comprehensive and publicly accessible collection of the genus clematis in July 2007, and they will no doubt not get shut of her until she can be carried out in a pine box.

September 2011, Linda checked out a book of Jane Austen fan fiction from her local library. After devouring every title she could get her hands on, began writing her own expansions and variations of Pride and Prejudice. The will to publish became too tempting, and after viewing the welcoming Meryton Press website, she sent her child before the firing squad. Luckily, the discerning editors at Meryton Press saved the child from slaughter, and Linda's first work of Austenesque fiction, The Red Chrysanthemum was published.

Author Blog:




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Thursday, August 7, 2014

Book Review and Giveaway (US): Jane Austen's First Love by Syrie James

From Goodreads:

Inspired by Actual Events

Fifteen-year-old Jane Austen dreams of three things: doing something useful, writing something worthy, and falling madly in love. When she visits her brother in Kent to celebrate his engagement, she meets wealthy, devilishly handsome Edward Taylor—a fascinating young man who is truly worthy of her affections. Jane knows a match between her and Edward is unlikely, but every moment she spends with him makes her heart race—and he seems to return her interest. Much to her displeasure, however, there is another seeking his attention

Unsure of her budding relationship, Jane seeks distraction by attempting to correct the pairings of three other prospective couples. But when her matchmaking aspirations do not all turn out as anticipated, Jane discovers the danger of relying on first impressions. The human heart cannot be easily deciphered, nor can it be directed or managed. And if others must be left to their own devices in matters of love and matrimony, can Jane even hope to satisfy her own heart? 

Like many Janeites, I regret that Jane Austen did not live a longer life.  Her death at age 41 in 1817 seems to cut her years short, robbing us of more of her writing, and possibly keeping her from a long successful marriage, which many assume she would have enjoyed.  Who knows how her career and marital status would have been altered had she not fallen ill at such a relatively young age?

Author Syrie James seems to have the same desire as well—to have more of Jane than we have been afforded.  In Jane Austen’s First Love, Ms. James speculates on the years before Austen’s success as an author. We see her as a lively girl of 15 ½, yearning to break out into the world, make something of herself and fall in love.  Before the likes of Fitzwilliam Darcy, Elizabeth Bennet or Fanny Price ever make their way onto the page, we are given a speculative peek into the life of a young girl on the verge of adulthood.

In this imagining of Jane’s earlier years, sibylline hints of her characters yet to come are seen. The intelligence, wit and spunky qualities of Miss Austen were reminiscent of her Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. The worrisome, fretful nature of her mother Mrs. Austen was very much like Mrs. Bennet from the same novel.  Austen’s sister Cassandra has the calm, sweet demeanor of Elizabeth’s eldest sister Jane.  And the matchmaking tendencies of the titular character in Emma are hinted at in some of her behaviors as well.  The intricacies of romantic relationships, family and social class are addressed, which certainly informed the future authoress as she examined the same issues in her novels.  First Love certainly tips its hat to many Austenesque characters and themes, which as a fan I found to be amusing.

As a love story, Jane Austen’s First Love had plenty of room for literary license, but there are two dominant issues that cannot be avoided:  Jane’s untimely death and lack of a long, successful marriage.  If author Syrie James planned to keep this reality in her story (as some Austenesque diversions have not), then ultimately there are assumptions that have to be made.  Her love interest, Edward Taylor, while based on a real individual, can never ascend to the level of a long-term husband. So it becomes Ms. James’ task to produce a romantic tale with some assumed restrictions.  We know what ultimately happens to Jane. But what happens to her along the way?  We know that she comes to make something of herself as an author, but how was her adult heart affected by her relationship with Mr. Taylor as a youth?  What is the story behind him? Syrie James has done a wonderful job in this speculation.  Jane is a delightful, romantic and at times immature youth.  Edward is handsome, well-traveled, educated and charming beyond his 17 years. I could understand their attraction to each other. As her affection for him grows, I was reminded of my younger self on many occasions.  The emotions we feel at that age are so intense—they’re very new, exciting and open-ended. They could lead to nothing, or… to everything.

While Janeites will certainly enjoy Jane Austen’s First Love, those who have never read a word of Austen’s writings will not find themselves alienated by issues and characters unfamiliar to them in relation to her work.  First Love firmly stands alone as a satisfying novel. Yes, knowledge of Austen’s compositions will enhance the experience, but I would feel comfortable recommending this to anyone. The writing is excellent, the content decorous and the characters entertaining. Whether or not this is your first venture with Jane, First Love is a delightful speculation on a young girl whose life retains untold secrets to this day.

Jane Austen's First Love Giveaway!
(US Only) 

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About the Author 

Syrie James is the bestselling author of nine critically acclaimed novels: Jane Austen’s First Love; The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen (an international bestseller); The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen; The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte; Dracula, My Love; Nocturne; Forbidden; Songbird; and Propositions. Her books have been translated into eighteen languages. Syrie lives with her family in Los Angeles, California. Follow her at and, and visit her website at



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Jane Austen's First Love provided for review purposes only.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Throwback Thursday & Movie Review - Remembering a Ragamuffin: Rich Mullins

Miss Laura Woodside & Rich Mullins, May 1993
Not too long ago, my mother found a box of CDs that she'd been holding in safekeeping, back from our 2006 move from North Carolina to Florida.  My husband and I had meant to get it back from her, but it got lost in the shuffle.  Within the box was our entire collection of Rich Mullins CDs.  Pairing that with our recent acquisition of the movie Ragamuffin (bio pic), and we've been on a big Rich Mullins kick lately.  It's brought back back so many great memories of college. I loved going to see him play, and I had a few opportunities to sit and talk with him a bit.  The last time was in 1993 when he came to Wheaton College. I was about to leave on a 10-week mission trip to Bogota', Colombia in association with the Student Mission Project (SMP) and Youth with a Mission (YWAM).  He and his friend David "Beaker" Strasser prayed for me, as well as for the other participants in the program.  And if memory serves, he played on stage for us as well.

A couple of weeks ago when my husband was opening one of those newly-recovered CDs, a photo fell out of the liner notes.  I'd forgotten:  After Rich had prayed for us in 1993, I stayed after to talk and take a photo with him. This is an incredibly unattractive photo of my 22 year-old self, with the extra college weight, frumpy hair and bright green SMP windbreaker, but I don't care.  I'm so grateful to have this picture. There he is, 37 years old, a mere 4 years away from his untimely death.  Seeing this and listening to his music makes me miss him all over again.  I look forward to the hereafter, so we can sit and chat some more.

As a part of the "Rich Mullins Rediscovery" going on in our house, my husband and I also obtained a copy of the recent movie, Ragamuffin, which is a biographical film of the artist's life.  I bought it as a gift to my husband, but we both knew I'd love it just as much as he would. Now that we've seen it, I offer my thoughts on the film.

Movie Review: Ragamuffin

I honestly think Rich would have discouraged any kind of cinematic retrospective of his life, so I cannot say if Ragamuffin would have been something he would have reveled in. That being said, I'm glad we have this film and his remaining recordings to keep him with us in their own way. With this existing media, his memory will go on for years to come.

For those looking for a typical, sanitized Christian movie, Ragamuffin is not that kind of work. It spends quite alot of time focusing on the struggles of Rich's life: His strained relationships with some family, friends and associates, his battle with alcohol, and his frustration with the early-80s cookie-cutter Christian music industry. This cinematic version of Rich is very much the brooding artist, frustrated with the world and the limitations it was trying to put on his art and his faith. Writer and director David Schultz did not shy away from a realistic tone for his script.  Colorful language is sprinkled throughout the movie, which is not a common occurrence in most Christian films.  I didn't find this content to be offensive, but refreshingly surprising.  Schultz was not afraid to portray life in a realistic way.

There was one aspect to the tone of the film that I found to be lacking. Rich was known for his pensive ways, but he was also incredibly lighthearted and funny.  He had such a sweet spirit, from the way he joyously played the hammered dulcimer, to the stories he told his audiences. Take a look at him telling his "Irish Sweater" story.  You can skip forward to about the 3 minute mark, through 4:30 or so:

And my all-time favorite moments with Rich came during his "Screen Door"/"Cups" perfomances. This is such a fun, yet meaningful song, but the addition of the Cups choreography just made it even better.  My husband and I used to do a similar version of Cups in those days, so we really treasure this performance on YouTube.   I'm not sure what year this was, but you can see "Beaker" to Rich's right; the tall guy with the navy blue t-shirt. (Or at least I think that was him, if my memory serves.)

Bio pics are never perfect.  The filmmakers are limited by time, and there's no way to convey every aspect of the subject's life.  I'm sure as David Schultz penned this script, there were many sides of the story that had to be cut in order to keep the running time to a reasonable length.  Actor Michael Koch did a fabulous job-- on a number of occasions I mistook his singing voice for Rich's.  The choice of casting was spot-on.  I just wish the movie could have had a bit more levity peppered through the screenplay.

My overwhelming impression of Ragamuffin was a positive, warm one. It not only shed new light on his life, but it also made me miss him all over again.  During his lifetime he wasn't my favorite Christian musician (that distinction went to Amy Grant, with whom he worked), but he certainly was a cherished one. I think in the summer of 1992 I wore a groove into my Rich Mullins cassettes, as I toted them around in my Walkman at Honey Rock Camp as a counselor.  While not all Rich Mullins fans may agree with the cinematic choices Schultz made, I think it's a must-see for them. And for those who have little to no knowledge of the man, it's also a great testament to the love of God-- how He loves all of us, including us imperfect, struggling Ragamuffins.


Bio Devotional



Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Guest Post: The Secrets of Darcy and Elizabeth by Victoria Kincaid

From the Author's Website:

In this Pride and Prejudice variation, a despondent Darcy travels to Paris in the hopes of forgetting the disastrous proposal at Hunsford. Paris is teeming with English visitors during a brief moment of peace in the Napoleonic Wars, but Darcy’s spirits don’t lift until he attends a ball and unexpectedly encounters… Elizabeth Bennet! Darcy seizes the opportunity to correct misunderstandings and initiate a courtship.

Their moment of peace is interrupted by the news that England has again declared war on France, and hundreds of English travelers must flee Paris immediately. Circumstances force Darcy and Elizabeth to escape on their own, despite the risk to her reputation. Even as they face dangers from street gangs and French soldiers, romantic feelings blossom during their flight to the coast. But then Elizabeth falls ill, and the French are arresting all the English men they can find….

When Elizabeth and Darcy finally return to England, their relationship has changed, and they face new crises. However, they have secrets they must conceal—even from their own families.  

*          *          *

The Calico Critic extends a warm welcome to a new voice in the Austenesque fiction scene, Victoria Kincaid!  Her new novel The Secrets of Darcy and Elizabeth has shown a strong start on Amazon, making it into the top 10 for Regency romance best sellers, and it has held the #1 position in hot new releases for Regency romance. Victoria has had an overwhelming response to her work, as the e-book sold more than 4,000 copies in the first month of publication. I'm excited to be able to shine the spotlight on this new title.

Below you will find a few thoughts behind Kincaid's choice of setting for the book, an excerpt from the novel, and a giveaway open to our readers worldwide. Thanks for your thoughts and offerings, Victoria, and we look forward to reading more from your pen in the future!

Thoughts from Victoria:

The Secrets of Darcy and Elizabeth is a Pride and Prejudice variation which asks the question: what if Elizabeth and Darcy met in Paris following the disastrous first proposal at Hunsford and then were caught up in the war between France and England?

I made the deliberate choice to set the variation in 1803 in order to take advantage of the Treaty of Amiens, which allowed for a brief peace in the Napoleonic Wars.  During this time, hundreds of English travelers (who were, despite the war, huge fans of French fashion, French wine, etc.) visited Paris.

However, when both sides failed to abide by the provisions of the Treaty, England once again declared war--placing these English citizens in a very precarious position.  Although initially English travelers were allowed to leave, eventually the French started rounding up English men and imprisoning them.

Traditionally, readers have viewed Pride and Prejudice as being set in 1813, the year it was published; however, Austen wrote the first version before 1800, so I didn't think that setting my variation in 1803 was that great a stretch.  The setting and the war provided new opportunities for storytelling and some interesting obstacles which I thought could reveal different facets of the lovers' characters.

As an author, I found that getting Darcy to Paris was not difficult, since he is exactly the kind of traveler who would be interested in seeing France--plus he's trying to forget his broken heart. Unbeknownst to Darcy, Elizabeth is there with the Gardiners, since Mr. Gardiner has some business in France.  The excerpt below is from early in the book when Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam are attending a ball hosted by an English expat married to a French man.  I hope you enjoy it!

Victoria Kincaid

Book Excerpt: The Secrets of Darcy and Elizabeth

“Darcy!” He turned to see Colonel Fitzwilliam approach with a lovely woman on his arm. She had blonde hair, blue eyes, and a very young face. “Here you are!” Richard said jovially. “I was explaining to Miss Howard how you yearned for an English woman to partner for a dance.”

Darcy’s eyes shot daggers at Richard, who smiled innocently. “I have it on good authority from her brother that she is quite an accomplished dancer. And she was born in Cornwall, so she is undoubtedly English.” Miss Howard tittered appreciatively at the joke.

Darcy suppressed a grimace. He had specifically told Richard he had no wish to dance or to be introduced to eligible young ladies, but his cousin was convinced that socializing would lift his spirits. Sighing, Darcy conceded defeat. “Miss Howard, would you do me the honor of the next dance?”

Miss Howard blushed. “Thank you, yes.” They talked politely until the next dance formed, when Darcy led the young lady into position opposite him. It was an enormous ballroom and dancers were plentiful, Darcy saw with dismay, realizing it would be a long set.

As the music started, they danced in silence for a few minutes. Believing it was incumbent on him to offer conversation, Darcy cast about for an appropriate topic. “Do you miss Cornwall?”

She appeared confused. “How could I miss such a place when I can enjoy the pleasures of London and Paris?” She blushed. Apparently she blushed whenever she answered a question.

Darcy decided on a different strategy. “Do you enjoy reading?” He asked as they moved through the complicated dance figures, grateful that at least she was a fairly skilled dancer.

“Oh yes!” Her enthusiastic response was followed by another blush.

At least we have a common topic! Darcy thought with relief as the steps of the dance drew them apart again. “What do you prefer to read? Poetry? Novels? Plays?” He asked when they came together once more.

“Not so much.” What else? Surely she does not read many history books! “I prefer to read fashion magazines. Did you know that this season the fashion will be for long sleeves?”

“No, I did not,” Darcy suppressed an inner groan. I will be revenged on Richard for this!

They held hands and turned in the steps of the dance. “Indeed! Why you should see the illustrations in Godey’s! Long sleeves everywhere. And sheer overskirts in very light colors on almost every page! I said to my mother, can you fathom such…?”

Miss Howard continued in this vein without any encouragement – or even participation – from Darcy, who found his thoughts wandering. At least her enthusiasm for the topic had chased away her blushes. Far from making him forget Elizabeth, this girl was making him appreciate his love’s intelligent conversation all the more – and reminding him of what he had lost. When did Elizabeth become the standard to which I compare all other women?

As he awaited his turn to twirl his partner in the middle of the line, he saw another young woman, standing on the edge of the dancing, attempting to catch his eye and smiling coquettishly over her fan when he noticed her. Undoubtedly many of the English visitors here knew his identity and he was certain he would be subject to fortune-hunting women and their avaricious parents. He averted his gaze; he had no interest in playing such games.

With an effort of will he pulled his focus back to the intricate steps of the dance. Realizing that she should allow him to contribute to the conversation, Miss Howard blushed and inquired about his opinions on music – agreeing completely with everything he said.

Elizabeth had never simpered and agreed with his every opinion. Too late he realized it was simply that she did not desire his good opinion. He so rarely encountered young, eligible women who did not want his attention that he had not recognized her feelings for what they truly were. I must cease obsessing about her!

The dance seemed to last forever. Darcy and Miss Howard moved down the line of dancers, encountering a couple that they had not yet danced with. Darcy stepped forward to take the hand of the new woman in the opposite corner and gazed up into her face. It was Elizabeth!


International Giveaway!  Three E-Book Copies of The Secrets of Darcy and Elizabeth

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Friday, June 27, 2014

Book Review: Stronger Even Than Pride by Gail McEwen

" his behaviour to me there were stronger influences even than pride." When George Wickham speaks these words to an impressionable Elizabeth Bennet, she can have no idea how true they will turn out to be. Stronger Even than Pride, Gail McEwen's latest novel, explores whether love can survive the biggest obstacles that Fate and a most ruinous stubbornness-can conjure up to separate two people destined to be together.

After Elizabeth refuses to read the faithful narrative of Darcy's dealings with Mr Wickham, this Pride and Prejudice variation takes an unexpected turn when she chooses to exonerate the wrong man. Events quickly spiral out of control, and Fitzwilliam Darcy is forced to watch helplessly as the woman he loves slips further and further from his grasp.

Can there be a happily ever after for them? Can a love, stronger than pride, redeem even the worst mistakes? 

Warning: Spoilers ahead.  If you’d like to avoid plot revelations, skip the paragraphs posted between the triple asterisks.

Lovers of Pride and Prejudice will recall the moment in which Elizabeth Bennet receives a letter from Mr. Darcy, whose pitiful marriage proposal she recently rejected.  Within the missive he explains the basis for his feelings, and also gives an account of his past history with the dastardly George Wickham. Elizabeth had been operating under false information, as Wickham had been painting himself as a victim of Fitzwilliam Darcy’s lack of charity and loyalty. In truth, George had been an irresponsible steward of his inherited portion of Darcy family money. Following this, he continued in his avaricious ways by trying to beguile Darcy’s young (and very wealthy) sister Georgiana into marrying him, simply because he was a fortune-hunter. In addition, Darcy addresses his decision to dissuade his friend Charles Bingley from pursuing Elizabeth’s sister Jane. He sincerely felt that his friend deserved to court a woman who seemed to take earnest interest in him, and Darcy could not perceive any real attraction on the part of the demure Jane Bennet. As such, he prompted Bingley to leave his interest in Jane behind.

*          *          *

In Gail McEwen’s novel Stronger Even Than Pride, the plot makes a distinct turn at a crucial point in the story.  Elizabeth is in the throes of reading Mr. Darcy’s letter, but in frustration over his attitude, she tosses the note away before reading its entire contents.  More specifically, she never learns the true nature of George Wickham. She continues to believe the man’s lies, and responds positively when he pursues her romantically.  Wickham doesn’t truly love her; he merely wants Lizzie for himself, the woman whom Darcy had tried and failed to marry. His motivations are fueled by spite towards a man he has resented for much of his life.

I’ve read several Pride and Prejudice “diversions” over the years, and this one has an interesting tone.  It’s notably darker than others, as Elizabeth’s relationship to Wickham causes her life to descend into squalor. While we don’t get many chapters of the Darcy’s newlywed life in Pride and Prejudice, most would assume that they lived happily ever after.  Elizabeth undoubtedly would have had social obstacles to surmount, but one would surmise that her choice in husband was a good one, leading to a life of contentment with him at Pemberley.  McEwen’s Lizzie does not initially follow that path.  And instead of aligning herself with a caring, providing husband, she associates with the self-absorbed, irresponsible Wickham.  The spunky, bright Elizabeth dissolves into a mere shell of a woman, cut off from society and barely existing as an individual.  It’s quite tragic, really—not in an overly dismal way, though.  Her station simply stands in such stark contrast to what she could have enjoyed; it made my heart ache for her.  Elizabeth’s “could have been” was missed by such a small margin.  It made me root for her so much, wanting her to have the life she deserved.

Fortunately, the winds of change come about and set Darcy and Elizabeth back on the course to happiness.  Their resulting life isn’t as picturesque as what may have been in the original Austenian vision, but a great amount of it is redeemed.  As individuals they are probably stronger for having been through so many trials, but the emotional scars and difficult memories will always remain. Their story is also an illustration of true, enduring love, one that forgives mistakes and sees through poor choices to the pure heart within. Their love, which is stronger than even pride, proves to be robust enough to survive more than most could bear. This makes for compelling storytelling, and while it diverts quite a bit from Austen’s original vision, I found it to be an enjoyable speculation.

*          *          *

A word to my fellow conservatives: When I agreed to review Stronger Than Even Pride, I was not aware of the adult content included within.  Sexual situations within the story were at times fairly graphic. Characters do not always wait until after marriage to have relations. And while I know these moments were realistic for the time period (or any time period), I felt there were more details than necessary.  Gail McEwen is an excellent writer, and the same story could have been told without all the adult content.

Overall however, I found Stronger Than Even Pride to be an interesting diversion from the Austen classic. On the whole the characters remained true to their original traits; they simply took a few but significant turns, which led them down paths they never expected to travel.  Gail McEwen’s writing style is predominantly quite elegant, yet is very accessible to the modern reader. My one caveat aside, I look forward to reading more of McEwen’s work, either in a sequel to Stronger Than Even Pride, or perhaps in another Austenesque diversion instead. I imagine she would take these Regency characters on some very intriguing sojourns indeed.



More McEwen

More McEwen

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Book Review: Pride, Prejudice and Cheese Grits by Mary Jane Hathaway

This hilarious Southern retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice tells the story of two hard-headed Civil war historians who find that first impressions can be deceiving.

Shelby Roswell, a Civil War historian and professor, is on the fast track to tenure—that is, until her new book is roasted by the famous historian Ransom Fielding in a national review. With her career stalled by a man she’s never met, Shelby struggles to maintain her composure when she discovers that Fielding has taken a visiting professorship at her small Southern college.

Ransom Fielding is still struggling with his role in his wife’s accidental death six years ago and is hoping that a year at Shelby’s small college near his hometown of Oxford, Mississippi, will be a respite from the pressures of Ivy League academia. He never bargained for falling in love with the one woman whose career—and pride—he injured, and who would do anything to make him leave.

When these two hot-headed southerners find themselves fighting over the centuries-old history of local battles and antebellum mansions, their small college is about to become a battlefield of Civil War proportions.

With familiar and relatable characters and wit to spare,
Pride, Prejudice and Cheese Grits shows you that love can conquer all…especially when pride, prejudice, love, and cheese grits are involved!

*          *          *

Although a southern gal since birth, I’m not always drawn to stories set in this region.  Characters are frequently seen as ignorant, conniving, gossipy, uneducated, or even all of the above.  And while these personalities certainly do exist in our culture, I don’t enjoy giving them much of my time.  I would especially dislike their company if Jane Austen’s themes and/or characters are made into a mockery within that context. Fortunately, Mary Jane Hathaway has struck the perfect balance of southern charm and Austenesque respect in her novel Pride Prejudice and Cheese Grits. The title may seem a bit outlandish, but the story itself is solid, with a colorful cast of characters and interesting character development.

The book’s description may label it a “retelling” of Pride and Prejudice, but I wouldn’t go that far.  If anything, the “spirit” of Pride and Prejudice hovers over it, with echoes of the original characters and plot points throughout the narrative.  This satisfies the Janeite in me, without being offensive in the diversions that are taken in the writing.  Ransom Fielding is our “Darcy”, and while he inhabits many of the traits of Austen’s leading man, he has many other qualities that set him apart from the classic Brit.  The same can be said of our “Elizabeth” character, played by Shelby Roswell. She’s spunky and intelligent, but not as powerful or respected as her professional colleague.  This young college professor seemed a bit less self-assured than Austen’s beloved Lizzy, but not so much that she was portrayed as a milquetoast.

Religious themes are featured in Cheese Grits in a more predominant fashion than are found in Austen’s work. Shelby is a committed woman of faith, looking to God to guide her life and shape her as He would see fit.  I appreciated how she was portrayed as a flawed believer, yet without crossing over into significant hypocrisy.  The south is frequently referred to as the “Bible Belt” of America, and within innumerable works of fiction those of faith are often drawn with many of the negative characteristics mentioned earlier.  Shelby is very similar to many believers whom I know, including myself.  She loves God, is not always perfect in her execution of that love, but she does her best from day to day.  Ransom’s faith is also a part of his development as a character.  At the outset, he seems to believe in God, but he holds much resentment in his heart toward Him, due to significant tragedy that occurred years before. How could a loving God take away his pre-born child, and his beloved wife as well? As a result, Ransom has not only closed his heart toward romantic interests, but also to the God who seemingly has been cruel to him. Matters of faith are woven throughout, but in a genuine way that didn’t make these issues seem like tokenisms.

Hathaway also includes players that embody the spirit of one or more Pride and Prejudice characters.  We find Shelby’s mother as a woman who greatly desires for her daughter to marry, much like Mrs. Bennet. Another character not only takes on the rejected Mr. Collins role, but the devious and manipulative Mr. Wickham as well. Ransom’s aunt carries herself much like Lady Catherine de Bourgh, similarly. These characters don’t exactly reprise their roles in a modern setting, but their personalities (and some of their choices) are comparable.  Some are odious in nature, and others are a sheer delight. There is much to enjoy for the Austen fan.

I found one revelation near the conclusion to be fairly predictable, but I enjoyed the process that Hathaway took in getting there. Regency fiction is famous for its romantic “misunderstandings”, and this modern tale has a whopper of its own.  In addition, a certain controversy rears its head even later in the novel. I found this to be unexpected and thought it contributed an interesting obstacle to conquer during the closing of the story. Mary Jane Hathaway strikes a nice balance of her own narrative with many winks to Austen’s original cast. Pride, Prejudice and Cheese Grits was a southern pleasure, capturing the essence of our culture and the spirit of Austen’s creations without edging into territory that this Janeite would find unreasonable. Hathaway has crafted an engaging, thought-provoking romance here, and I look forward to reading more titles in her Jane Austen Takes the South series.

Pride, Prejudice and Cheese Grits Book Trailer

About the Author

About the Author: Mary Jane Hathaway is the pen name of an award-nominated writer who spends the majority of her literary energy on subjects un-related to Jane Austen. A homeschooling mother of six young children who rarely wear shoes, she’s madly in love with a man who has never read Pride and Prejudice. She holds degrees in Religious Studies and Theoretical Linguistics, and has a Jane Austen quote on the back of her van. She can be reached on facebook at 'Pride, Prejudice, and Cheese Grits' or her regular author page of Virginia Carmichael (which is another pen name, because she’s just that cool).

 Connect with Mary Jane Hathaway



Book 2

Book 3

Note: Pride, Prejudice and Cheese Grits had a previous release date of 2013.  Since that time, the novel has gone through editing and adjusting for this reissue. If you haven’t had a chance to read that previous edition, I would encourage you to pick this one up instead.  I’m sure that over time, this title has only improved throughout the publishing process.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Book Review and Giveaway - Raptor 6 by Ronie Kendig

His team. His mission. A mission that comes at the highest cost!

Captain Dean Watters keeps his mission and his team in the forefront of his laser-like focus. So when Dean’s mission and team are threatened, his Special Forces training kicks into high gear. Failing to stop hackers from stealing national security secrets from the military’s secure computers and networks isn’t an option.

Zahrah Zarrick is a missionary teacher to Afghan children in Mazar-e Sharif. And a target. When Zahrah is captured because of her expertise in quantum cryptology, compromising the U.S. military, Dean is forced to crack the lockbox around his heart—a move that might come at the highest cost.

*          *          *

I’m a sexist reader.

There. I said it. Full confession. Got to be honest. When I was offered the chance to read Raptor 6 by Ronie Kendig, my attention honed in on the Hollywood-like plot summary. It sounded exciting, full of technological intrigue and suspenseful military action. And as it looked like it might be somewhat spiritual in nature, my concern over a blue-tinged script was quelled. Just after I read the first couple of chapters, I took another look at the back cover:

“Ronie Kendig, an Army brat, and her husband, a veteran, live in northern Virginia with their four children and two dogs.” 

Wait a minute… “her”?!? Did I see a feminine pronoun in that sentence? Somehow along the way, I failed to notice that Ronie was a woman. Yes, her bio and pic were listed on the email invitation I received. Somehow it just didn’t process. To my surprise, my interest waned significantly. I now had a new perspective on the words I was reading, which at the time were from a male solder’s point of view. Did I really want to read the words of a woman in this hard-hitting drama? For a few moments, I must admit I wasn’t sure.

In reality, I was a bit disappointed in myself. The bulk of my reading comes from female authors. I enjoy their work and frequently recommend their books to my readers. But in a war novel?? I was skeptical. And it made me sad that I felt that way. I should be unbiased towards Ronie. I should be slapping myself on the wrist! So I dove back into the novel, ready to give Mrs. Ronie Kendig a chance.

What I found was a little bit of what I expected from her, but also some very unanticipated turns of events. Raptor 6 certainly shows the telltale signs of a Christian author. There are the expected spiritual ruminations and prayers. Colorful language is handled discreetly. It would be reasonable to expect frequent, intense words from the many military within her cast, but she manages to either sensor the vocabulary—“the General cursed” would be a typical example—or she changes them up, almost to the point of humor. Tough military guys spout off phrases like “son of a biscuit” and “move your sorry carcasses” on more than one occasion. I appreciated Kendig’s circumspect choices in her writing. I can do without f-bombs on every page. At the same time, I found some of the alterations humorous. But you know, sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to tell a story. It needs to be realistic without alienating your conservative audience.

Another detail that I felt was distinctly feminine in the writing was the frequent mention of people’s eye color, hair color and general physique. I don’t find this offensive, it’s just the kind of thing I find in the many romance novels I read. It’s not expected in an action-packed dramatic arena. If anything I felt that while this tone built up the sweet romance aspect of the story, it ultimately made the writing weaker than it could have been. “Feminine” does not equal “bad” in my mind. It’s just that I’ve come to expect a certain tone from women, and I wasn’t looking for it to be so prevalent in this story. How many different ways do we need to describe Dean's attractive green eyes? Kendig is an accomplished author. Her writing is strong enough to have a bit less of that sort of thing.

Those concerns aside, Raptor 6 was an intriguing, enjoyable ride. After I got over my silly sexist notions, I settled in for an interesting plot full of action, Christian thought, and yes—romance. While Kendig made her herculean efforts to tone down foul language, there were plenty of difficult issues that were addressed. Things that are not appropriate for children, in truth. The plot includes several murders, torture and assault. All of these are realistic events that are happening in the world, even now. Ronie doesn’t sugar-coat it too much. She keeps some of the more graphic details toned down a bit, keeping some assaults in other venues and other tragedies happening “off screen”, so to speak.

I did have a bit of trouble following the plot during the first half of the book, but as the action ramped up, the writing became tighter and I was able to transport myself into Captain Watters’ world. There were numerous times, especially in the last third of the book, that I was surprised at some of the choices Kendig was making. These scenes are not the typical ones you might find in the standard Christian novel. She made some tough choices as her characters endured hardship and pain. God's will is frequently called into question.  I was very impressed that she took such a hard-hitting, authentic approach to these moments.

My husband is a veteran, and I have many former military within my family and circles of friends. However, I’m not well versed in the technical language of this culture. Kendig does us a service by not only including a character listing at the beginning of the book, but a glossary of terms and acronyms as well. This was helpful, as I would have been more confused without that assistance. Those who do not consider themselves “military types” need not shy away, however. There’s plenty for us as well, acronyms or no.

The characters of Raptor 6 are predominantly military, with civilians and foreign nationals as well. Kendig did a fine job in allowing us to get to know such an interesting collection of people. They were colorful, intelligent, brave, heartwarming, cruel, and heartbreaking. By the conclusion of the story, I was particularly attached to the main protagonists, Captain Watters and the missionary Zahrah Zarrick. Their relationship took some turns that I didn’t expect, and as the next volume in the series, Hawk is set to release on November 1, 2014, I’m sure their adventures are going to continue.

Dean Watters is not your typical leading man, and neither is Zahrah. They, as well as the cast of characters around them, bring a captivating, thought provoking story to us in Raptor 6. Not only was I entertained, but I was given pause in thinking about God’s will for my life, and I also gained an even deeper respect for those serving in our military. It’s incredible, the many who have laid down their lives so that we might be free. This past Sunday in our morning service, our church congregation welcomed back a soldier who had been serving in Afghanistan. As I stood to participate in the standing ovation he so richly deserved, I had a new perspective on what he had been doing for us because of the book's forefront presence in my mind. Our men (and yes, WOMEN) of the armed forces are true heroes, and I’m thrilled that they were placed on such a dramatic stage within Raptor 6. 

So back to my initial confession—do I remain a sexist reader? Yes, probably. I’m biased when men write romance novels, and skeptical when women write novels like this. But the lesson I’ve learned is this: I need to get past my engrained bias and take in a novel for what it is, regardless of the gender of the author. The work will stand on its own, proving to be either something commendable... or not. And in this case, I would say that Raptor 6 would definitely fall within that former category—a commendable beginning to an exciting series.

Enter to win a Kindle HDX!

Don't miss the first book, Raptor 6, in Ronie Kendig's new Quiet Professionals series. Ronie combines a dangerous romance and explosive action for a thrilling and satisfying ride. "Lock and load for this Spec Op, fighting under God’s 'rules of engagement.'" —Bob Hamer, veteran FBI undercover agent and award-winning author

Ronie is celebrating with a Kindle HDX Giveaway!


One winner will receive: A Kindle Fire HDX
Raptor 6 by Ronie Kendig

Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on June 15th. 
Winner will be announced June 16th on Ronie's blog.

Don't miss a moment of the fun; enter today and be sure to stop by Ronie's blog on June 16th to see if you won.

About the Author

Ronie Kendig is an award-winning, bestselling author who grew up an Army brat. She married a veteran, and together their lives are never dull with four children and two dogs–a a Maltese Menace and a retired military working dog, Vvolt N629. Ronie’s degree in psychology has helped her pen novels of intense, raw characters. Since launching onto the publishing scene in 2010, Ronie and her books have hit bestseller lists and garnered awards and critical acclaim.

Litfuse Publicity Group

A paperback copy of Raptor 6 was provided by Litfuse Publicity for review purposes only.




Book 2: Hawk

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Book Review: Miss Darcy Decides by Reina M. Williams

While visiting a young woman—who was not so fortunate as Miss Georgiana Darcy in escaping the persuasions of a rogue—Georgiana meets Sir Camden Sutton, whose reputation causes Georgiana to wonder as to his motives. Her wondering soon turns to a different feeling when Sir Camden comes to stay at Pemberley, showing himself to be a very different man than was rumored. While Sir Camden struggles with his past and his commitment to his future, as well as the ill intentions of haughty Caroline Bingley, Miss Darcy must decide whether to listen to others, or the words written on her heart.

*     *     *

Miss Darcy Decides is the second novella in the Love at Pemberley series by Reina M. Williams.  Fans of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice will be familiar with the story’s characters, gleaned from that classic novel. Reina Williams has brought in her own plot line, speculating about the fates of Colonel James Fitzwilliam and Kitty Bennet in the first title of the series, Most Truly. Williams’ take on Austen’s characters continues in Miss Darcy Decides, which lends focus to Fitzwilliam Darcy’s younger sister, Georgiana. The volumes are sequential in nature, but each could also be read as a stand-alone tale. 

In this second episode, we meet a new character, Sir Camden Sutton, friend of Colonel Fitzwilliam. Sir Camden has the reputation of being a bit of a rogue, and an indulger in many physical pleasures.  He is making changes in his life to be a better man, but he is not known for this as of yet.  While attending to someone in need, Camden meets the lovely (and unattached) Georgiana Darcy and is quite taken with her.  Before long, he is in earnest pursuit of her heart, as well as his own personal redemption, so that he might be known as a man of honor and clean living.  Miss Darcy, who longs to find a lifelong love of own (much like Kitty Bennet Fitzwilliam), is drawn to the charming Sir Camden, but in coming to understand his reputation is hesitant to pursue an association with him.  Over the course of the short story, she must decide how she is to go forward, and how she is to perceive him—is he a rogue or a gentleman? And more importantly, should she conclude her days at Pemberley for such a man?

Miss Darcy Decides, like its predecessor Most Truly, was a delightful, quick read.  At less than 100 pages, it could easily be enjoyed in one sitting.  Reina Williams has struck a lovely Regency tone in this tale, with the appropriate manners, language and customs of the time.  The characters are very consistent with the Austen originals, and I found Williams’ plot choices to be reasonable within this Austeneque framework.  Redemption stories are a favorite of mine, and this one is no exception.  I also appreciated the choice to not use the “one big misunderstanding” plot option to flesh out the story.  Ms. Williams could easily have gone that route for several chapters, given Sutton’s past history and current associations.  There were a few brief moments of this, but it served to nicely build tension without dragging it out for pages on end. 

If I had one criticism of the writing, it would be in Williams’ frequent use of similes and metaphors, which were used as a descriptive device more than I would have preferred.  I felt as if she was trying to embellish her writing, to bring about more depth of feeling or more colorful imagery.  Williams’ writing stands well on its own, and could do with a bit less in the metaphor department.

Another literary choice was made that I appreciated very much. So far the Love at Pemberley series has been squeaky clean.  There was one minor curse word in Most Truly, and none that I can recall in Miss Darcy Decides.  These stories are predominantly romantic in nature, but that aspect of the storytelling never becomes wanton or licentious.  Due to Sir Camden’s past history, the writing could easily have delved into his indulgences and passions, but it wasn’t necessary. Williams made Camden’s character very clear, and went on to delve into more virtuous behavior.

Thus far I have enjoyed the Love at Pemberley series very much.  Like her book A Gentleman's Daughter: Her Folly, which was reviewed here on June 13 of last year, Reina M. Williams continues to produce quality Regency fiction.  I look forward to the next installment of the series, Miss Bennet Blooms, where I believe the character of Mary Bennet will be in the limelight.  Those looking for a quick, sweet read would do well to try this Austenesque series.

About the Author

Reina M. Williams loves period dramas, sweet reads, fairy tales, cooking and baking. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her two boys, who hope to someday take a research trip to England with their mom.

Reina M. Williams has had a preoccupation with history since visiting Jamestown and Colonial Williamsburg as a young girl. (The cute Native American guide helped.) In college, Reina pursued this interest (history, not cute Native Americans) by majoring in History and studying for a semester in Oxford, England. A lover of Jane Austen books, period dramas, and nineteenth century English literature and society, she brings this enthusiasm to her Regency Romances. Reina lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

For more information please visit Reina M. William’s website. You can also connect with her on Twitter, Goodreads, and Pinterest.

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