Saturday, November 22, 2014

Excerpt and Giveaway: The Madness of Mr. Darcy by Alexa Adams

This week many of us in the States will be hopping into planes, trains and automobiles to attend Thanksgiving celebrations around the country.  If you're looking for a book to bring with you on your travels, consider The Madness of Mr. Darcy by Alexa Adams.  It's a very different take on Jane Austen's vision, and I'm diving into it myself this weekend.  Below is an excerpt of the title, and then a generous giveaway from our author.  Welcome, Alexa Adams!




Thank you so much for having me, Laura! I’m thrilled to introduce my new novel, The Madness of Mr. Darcy. The book is based on the premise that Lydia Bennet never married George Wickham, destroying the entire happy ending of Pride & Prejudice. Twenty hard years have passed when Mr. Darcy, beaten down by tragedy, seeks admission into a private madhouse for the genteel. What he doesn’t know is that his long-lost love is employed as the matron of the facility. The following excerpt is from the beginning of chapter eight, and it is the first time, excepting the prologue, that the reader encounters Elizabeth. 

--Alexa Adams



Excerpt from The Madness of Mr. Darcy

by Alexa Adams


“Welcome home, Dr. Wilson. You have been greatly missed.” 

The doctor beamed on the scene before him: the snug parlor that he used as his office and the matron of Ramsey House, smiling her greeting. “Mrs. Bennet! It is good to be back. No trouble since your last letter, I presume?”

“None at all, sir, unless you count Miss Higgins tearing her new dress in despair, which I do not.”

He laughed. “I am sure the tearing of the dress was not nearly so disruptive as the lament for its loss.”

“Not at all! The damage was not irreparable, and the exertion of mending it has been excellent therapy.”

A frown creased his brow. “You made sure she was constantly supervised while using the needle, of course.”

“I did it myself, sir. The stock of needles was subject to the same daily tallies we utilize for the knives during the course of the experiment, and none have gone awry.”

“Touché, Mrs. Bennet! I would put any swordsman up against your needle.” He surveyed her speculatively. “I will wish to interview Lady Elliot to assess the benefits of your ‘experiment’ as you term it. It is rather suspicious that you had opportunity to attempt it, Mrs. Bennet, when I was not here to say no.”

She smiled, only slightly. “I cannot be held responsible for Lady Elliot’s mood fluctuations, sir.”

He chuckled. “How very convenient for you! What is done is done, but let us not be handing out needlework willy-nilly until I have examined Lady Elliot. Is that understood, Mrs. Bennet?” 

“Perfectly, Dr. Wilson.”

“Good! How is Mr. Lotts progressing?”

“He has gained in both weight and stamina. Mr. Johnson is with him now. He will join us shortly with the most recent figures.”

“Excellent! I hope to see a notable improvement in him, for we shall have a gentleman joining us soon for whom he might be held up to as an example. Mr. Darcy is far more likely to be a willing participant with a concrete example of efficaciousness before him. Never have I received such a grueling from a potential guest. He wanted detailed accounts of the daily routine and therapies. Whatever else might be said for the man, his intellect is as sharp as ever.”

“Mr. Darcy?”

“Yes. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley. We shall have to move Lady Elliot to different quarters, I am sorry to say, but we shall require the front rooms for his lodging. No other will accommodate his valet, whom he insists must remain with him in an adjoining room. He also brings a maid, but she can be housed with all the others. You will see to the arrangements.”

“Of course, Dr. Wilson, but can we not find some other solution for Mr. Darcy? I fear Lady Elliot will not benefit from the disruption.”

“Nor do I, but I can come up with no better plan. Think on it, Mrs. Bennet, to see if you might contrive something better, but if you do not, we shall have to begin Lady Elliot’s relocation. Much better to get it over with as soon as possible, so that any resentment she might harbor towards our new guest has the opportunity to fizzle out before he arrives.”

She swallowed painfully. “And when do we expect Mr. Darcy?”

“He intends to arrive the morning of September 12th, and from what I know of the man, regardless of any neglect he has shown to other matters, he will be punctual in his arrival.”

“I should not doubt it.”

Dr. Wilson raised an inquisitive eyebrow. “Is he known to you?”

“Yes. I mean, no, sir, not personally, but I have heard him to be punctilious.”

“He showed some recognition when I mentioned your name, Mrs. Bennet.”

“He did?”

“Yes. Said he was once acquainted with a family of the name. Might it have been yours?”

“We did meet very briefly, I suppose, many years ago in Hertfordshire. He was a guest at a neighboring estate.”

“Is your prior association likely to cause any trouble, Mrs. Bennet? I would hate to disappoint the man’s family, as I am truly indebted to them, but if Mr. Darcy’s presence is likely to cause any disruption to the House as a whole, I must do so.”

“No, sir. That will not be necessary. It was, as I said, an extremely brief encounter, so much so I am rather amazed he could recall it, but it was enough to make me think well of him, and if he is in need of our help, I shall not be the one to allow scruples to stand in the way of his recovery. He is melancholic, I presume?”

“Yes. Chronically, I believe, and he has aggravated the situation with alcohol.”

“Far too common an occurrence to be a surprise to you, sir.”

“True, but it does make our task harder, does it not, Mrs. Bennet?” There was a knock at the door, and a young man of broad build looked into the room.

“Dr. Wilson! So glad to have you home, sir!”

“Hello, Mr. Johnson! I understand you come from therapy with Mr. Lotts. How does he get on?” 

“Quite well, sir. I think you will be very pleased with the latest figures.”

“If you will excuse me, gentlemen,” Mrs. Bennet interrupted, “but I must rejoin the guests.”

“Very well, Mrs. Bennet. We shall speak more following dinner.” The two men turned their heads to the lengthy chart Mr. Johnson bore with him, and Elizabeth Bennet made a thankful escape from the unusually oppressive room.

 Mr. Darcy! After all these years! What on earth will he think of me?



Giveaway: The Madness of Mr. Darcy


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About the Author

A lover of Jane Austen since her childhood, Alexa Adams is the author of Tales of Less Pride and Prejudice: First Impressions, Second Glances, and Holidays at Pemberley. Her latest book is The Madness of Mr. Darcy, which was released in October. Her Twisted Austen novellas - Emma & Elton and Jane & Bingley - are available for free download on Goodreads. Residing in the Delaware Valley with her husband and daughter, Adams looks forward to continuing her engagement with Austen and the remarkably familiar characters she has bequeathed to this world.


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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Book Excerpt and International Giveaway - Boots and Backpacks by K.C. Kahler

Welcome to the next stop on the blog tour of K.C. Kahler's Boots and Backpacks, a new work of Austenesque fiction from Meryton Press.  Below you'll find an excerpt from this new title, as well as an opportunity to win a copy for yourself!  We have been graciously offered both a paperback and e-book copy, available internationally.  The first winner will choose their format. Thanks for stopping by, and good luck to all the entrants!



William Darcy counts down the last few months to his 30th birthday with dread. Orphaned as a child, his parents’ will includes a bizarre clause: Darcy must get married by his 30th birthday in order to inherit the family fortune. To make matters worse, the press knows about this deadline, as do the hordes of women chasing him in the hopes of becoming Mrs. Darcy. His family legacy hangs in the balance, but Darcy has little faith in the fairer sex. Will he find a woman he wants to marry, and quickly?

Elizabeth Bennet is determined to pursue her education and career without letting a man get in the way. When her traveling companion drops out, her planned hike on the Appalachian Trial is jeopardized. She meets the spoiled, snobby William Darcy just when he is desperate to escape the spotlight. No one will suspect that the Prince of Manhattan has gone backpacking! Darcy and Elizabeth form a tenuous partnership and begin a 300-mile journey that will transform them both.

In classic romantic comedy tradition, Boots & Backpacks follows our reluctant partners as they build trust, friendship, and even more. Six weeks together on America’s most famous hiking trail may turn out to be just what these two need!



Excerpt from Boots and Backpacks

Notes: Previous excerpts have been posted on K.C. Kahler's blog, at So Little Time, and at More Agreeably Engaged.

Some colorful language has been abridged in consideration of the conservative readers of The Calico Critic and is not in the original text.

This is the scene in Chapter 4 that sets the rest of the story in motion. Darcy is hiding out from the press at Elizabeth’s apartment, and Elizabeth just lost her hiking partner, George, to bad behavior. 


*          *          *

Distance from New York City: 25 miles
 

Forced matrimony in: 59 days 

 “You eat a lot for a girl.” Where the hell did she put it? No place that Darcy could see.

She laughed. “I’m trying to fatten myself up before my backpacking trip. Believe me, I’ll burn off all these calories and then some.”

“Are you really hiking to Virginia?”

“My mom got that wrong, actually. I’m hiking to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.”

“But that’s still hundreds of miles away.”

“That’s the point.”

“Have you done this sort of thing before?”

He waited as she chewed a forkful of food. “I did four weeks on the Continental Divide Trail in Colorado with a friend last year. And I’ve done shorter trips on the Appalachian Trail with Jane. This will be my longest hike so far: almost three hundred miles.”

“So when’s your birthday?”

“Tuesday. You really ask a lot of quest—” She jumped up at the sound of her cell phone ringing in the living room. Darcy stayed put while she ran off.

“Jane! How’s Chicago?” Elizabeth probably didn’t realize how easy it was for Darcy to hear her end of the conversation.

“Nothing much. I worked today at the store…yeah, I’m packing tonight…Oh, what did Aunt Maddy tell you about George?

“Yeah, on his ratty couch too…I know!” She laughed, but her laughter ended abruptly.

“Of course I can. Don’t be so overprotective…Bears? Are you seriously trying to make me afraid of bears?” Darcy thought she was pacing, from the variable sound of her voice.

“But…How could I possibly find someone now…I have everything planned out perfectly.”

She groaned. “Jaa-aane, you’re being ridiculous! I have to go—you understand that. I have to!

“No, I won’t make such a dumb promise…Please don’t pull this mother hen s***…Don’t say that.” She sounded more defeated with every word she uttered. Darcy wondered whether there was a trick to winning an argument with her. If so, he’d like to know it.

“Fine.”

“Ugh. I promise I won’t go alone. There. Are you happy now?” There was a long silence.

Elizabeth sighed. “Only for you, Jane. Only for you…Yeah, me too. Have a hot fling with a hot realtor while you’re there…okay. Bye.”

Darcy imagined Elizabeth slumped on the couch, looking over her carefully sorted piles of hiking gear. So she’d promised her sister she wouldn’t hike 300 miles alone. Obviously, that was the sensible choice, but Darcy felt bad for her. It seemed like she really wanted to go.

As he finished his beer, she came back into the kitchen. “Are you done with your dinner?” All of the liveliness was gone from her voice.

“Yes, thank you.”

Elizabeth cleared the dishes, and stood rinsing them. She spoke over her shoulder, “Do you want to watch TV or something?” Or something, he thought as he ogled her a**.

She loaded the dishwasher, and Darcy followed her into the living room where she plopped down on one end of the couch. He took the other end. She flipped through the channels absent-mindedly, throwing glances at him every so often. It was interfering with his open admiration of her tanned legs, which she had stretched out in front of her.

“What?” he asked.

“I get to ask some questions now. When is your birthday?”

She couldn’t have chosen a worse topic, but he had been asking her a lot of questions. He didn’t know why he found her so fascinating. “November Sixth.”

“And you’re going to a singles resort until then?”

“It’s getting too unpleasant for me to stay in New York.”

“Do you have your wedding planned and everything?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“It’s a big decision. You don’t have to tell me about it, but I assume you’ve decided on something?”

“Yes.”

“So you want to escape the spotlight for two months.”

“Yes.”

She fell silent. Darcy loosened his tie and stood up to take off his jacket.

“Oh! You must be uncomfortable.”

He shrugged as he sat down again. “I’m fine.”

She stared at him long enough to unnerve him. He had no idea what she was thinking. Then she stood and went to the pile of stuff. “I think you’re about the same size as George. Here, these are clean.” She threw a t-shirt and a pair of gym shorts at him.

“Thanks. Is there a new toothbrush in there?”

“Yeah, let me find it.” She rummaged around and then triumphantly held up a toothbrush. He stood as she came around the pile toward him. Their hands brushed when she gave it to him.

G**, he wanted her. This attraction couldn’t be one-sided, could it? No, not with the way she was looking at him. He’d started off badly a month ago, but this was salvageable. Somehow, he would get Miss Nice A** into bed.

“You should come with me,” they said simultaneously.

They each took a step back, and again spoke in chorus. “What?!”

Darcy shook his head, “You can’t be serious.”

“That’s what I was about to say.”

“Look, I heard you promise your sister you wouldn’t do your hike alone. Before you get all bent out of shape, I wasn’t trying to listen. I was just sitting in there and I heard you. So you have six weeks to kill. Spend them with me in luxury. We can go anywhere you want. I’ll pay for everything.”

“I want to go on my hike.”

“That’s not exactly the kind of luxury I had in mind.”

“Well, that’s the only trip I’m going to take, and it’s really your best option.”

“How so?”

She motioned for him to sit. “I’ve already been dismissed by Gwen. She thinks I’m going to Virginia with George. Nobody knows you’re here, and no one would ever think to look for you on the Appalachian Trail. You’ll be free of those people for six whole weeks.”

“I can be free of them anyway. I’ll charter a plane and—”

“Airports keep flight logs, and the press will find you through them.”

“But the type of place I’d go would have security, so even if they knew where I was, they couldn’t get to me.”

“Instead of being trapped in your apartment, you’ll be trapped in some resort. That’s hardly freedom.”

Were Bingley and Miss Nice A** consorting against him? “I don’t want to hike for six weeks. I’d rather go to a resort.” “So you want to spend your last hurrah exactly as you’ve spent your whole life prior to now, and how you’ll probably spend your entire future.” “You mean comfortably and pleasantly?” “I mean sheltered, catered to, lied to, and having your a** kissed just because of your famous name and your parents’ money.”

J****—she was harsh. “I’m the normal one here for not wanting to walk for three hundred miles. It’s a stupid goal, by the way.”

“If you ever set some goals for yourself, you’ll be in a better position to judge mine.”

“Oh, aren’t you the expert now. Been doing a little research about me since our last meeting?”

“I don’t need gossip rags to tell me any of this. You aren’t that hard to read, Darcy. If you go on this hike, I guarantee you’ll feel like you’ve accomplished something and seen something by the end of it.”

“Please. I’ve seen more of the country, more of the world, than you ever will.”

“And yet, you’re still miserable.”

He tried to think of something sharp to say in reply, but he couldn’t really argue that point. He was miserable. He wished he knew Jane Bennet’s secret to besting her sister in debate. He decided to try shock. “Will you sleep with me if I go?”

After he let her sputter in outrage for a moment, he interrupted, “Don’t act like such a prude. These are the facts: I have a healthy libido, and six weeks is a long time.” Especially if he was spending 24 hours a day with her and her perfect a**.

She shook her head in dismay. “I’m trying to decide which is worse: spending six weeks with a spoiled horndog or not going at all.”

“You haven’t answered my question.”

“I don’t like you, Darcy. Remember that little requirement?”

“That’s not a no. You might start to like me once you get past your prejudices.”

“Don’t get your hopes up—or anything else. Wait, what prejudices?”

“For starters, you distrust men. You’re not too keen on rich people either.” She blinked, momentarily stunned. It felt good to have the upper hand, even if only for a moment. “You think you’re so hard to read?”

“Whatever. Will you come on the hike or won’t you?”

Darcy took a moment to consider the pros and cons. He certainly liked the idea of confounding Gwen and all the others who had hounded him for the last eight years. He wondered, as the weeks passed, would her Twitter feed get more and more desperate, or would it fizzle into silence? Both possibilities held some appeal.

It might turn out that he actually liked backpacking. At least it would be a new experience. Going to a resort would be the same as staying in New York, except for the prettier location and the hordes kept at a slightly greater distance. But he would still be trapped, penned in. That was the reason he wasn’t enthused about going without Bingley in the first place, the reason why he had been unable to come up with a plan and had found himself wandering in Ridgewood, New Jersey with nowhere to go.

Which brought him to Miss Nice A**. Clearly, she would not go to a resort, but she couldn’t go on her trip alone. So the only way to make her like him, at least enough to get her into bed, was to go on the hike with her. And he definitely wanted to get her into bed.

“Yes. I’ll come.” He held out his hand and she shook it.



International Giveaway:  Boots and Packpacks


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About the Author, K.C. Kahler

KC Kahler has worked as a writer and editor in both non-profit and academic settings. Until discovering Jane Austen Fan Fiction several years ago, KC’s writing had been limited to the dry and technical, which is a shame, since she considers herself witty and sparkling. Boots & Backpacks is her first published novel.

KC lives on a four-acre slice of Penn’s Woods with her husband and two dogs. They enjoy hiking, gardening, and being beer snobs.


Blog: http://kckahler.merytonpress.com/
Twitter: @KCKahler
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Saturday, November 1, 2014

Book Review and Giveaway: A Lady at Willowgrove Hall by Sarah E. Ladd



Notice: A full review of A Lady at Willowgrove Hall is to come shortly. But I didn't want you to miss out on the opportunity to learn about the book and the accompanying giveaway!



Her secret cloaks her in isolation and loneliness. His secret traps him in a life that is not his own.

Cecily Faire carries the shame of her past wherever she treads, knowing one slip of the tongue could strip away everything she holds dear. But soon after accepting the position of lady’s companion at Willowgrove Hall, Cecily finds herself face-to-face with a man well-acquainted with the past she’s desperately hidden for years.

Nathaniel Stanton has a secret of his own – one that has haunted him from birth and tied him to his father’s position as steward of Willowgrove. To protect his family, Nathaniel dares not breath a word of the truth. But as long as the shadow looms over him, he’ll never be free to find his own way in the world. He’ll never be free to fall in love.

When the secrets swirling within Willowgrove Hall come to light, Cecily and Nathaniel must confront a painful choice: Will they continue running from the past . . . or will they stand together and build a future without the suffocating weight of secrets long suffered?






Award-winning author Sarah E. Ladd examines how to escape the clutches of a tainted past in the final installment of her Whispers on the Moor series. A Regency-era novel, A Lady at Willowgrove Hall cleverly shows that even though our pasts may be shameful or painful, God can take the darkest personal histories and turn them into the brightest futures.


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Celebrate with Sarah by entering her Kindle HDX giveaway! One grand prize winner will receive:
  • A Kindle Fire HDX
  • A Lady at Willowgrove Hall by Sarah E. Ladd
Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on November 2nd. Winner will be announced November 3rd here.


About the Author

Sarah E. Ladd has more than ten years of marketing experience. She is a graduate of Ball State University and holds degrees in public relations and marketing. “The Heiress of Winterwood” was the recipient of the 2011 Genesis Award for historical romance and a finalist in the Debut Author category of the 2014 Carol Awards. The second book in the series, “The Headmistress of Rosemere” (2013), was on the ECPA best-seller list for several months. Sarah lives in Indiana with her amazing husband, sweet daughter, and spunky Golden Retriever.

Find out more about Sarah at http://www.sarahladd.com.













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Saturday, October 11, 2014

Book Review: Remember the Past by Maria Grace

Elizabeth Bennet’s father, Admiral Thomas Bennet, assures his daughters that his retirement from His Majesty’s Navy will be the start of a new life for them all. Little does he know his family's battles have only just begun.

Well-connected and in possession of a good fortune, their entry into society should have been a triumph. However, their long-awaited first season in London proves a disaster, and the resulting scandal sends the Bennets fleeing to the wilds of Derbyshire.

Widower Fitzwilliam Darcy, the master of Pemberley, wants for nothing, most especially not a wife. From the moment the Bennets arrive in Derbyshire, Darcy’s neatly ordered life turns upside down. His sons beg to keep company with their new playmates, the young Bennet twins. His mother-in-law sets her cap for Admiral Bennet. Worst of all, Darcy cannot get his mind off a certain bewitching Miss Elizabeth Bennet, but she has sworn never to let another gentleman near her heart.

Darcy’s best efforts to befriend and assist the Bennet family go horribly awry, alienating first Miss Elizabeth, then her father, and finally endangering what both men hold most dear. Can the two men Elizabeth loves most set aside their pride to prevent catastrophe for their families and win the love they seek?



In Jane Austen’s original classic, Pride and Prejudice, we are introduced to the Bennet family with Mr. Bennet, his wife and their five daughters. Austen also presents us with the formidable, wealthy, prideful yet dashing Mr. Darcy, his sister and their relations, both familiar and social. When Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet meet for the first time, it certainly isn’t love at first sight, and they go endure many challenges to ultimately become one of the most beloved couples in all of literature.

In Remember the Past, author Maria Grace takes the basic premises found in Pride and Prejudice and tweaks them just a bit, leading to very different storylines for her characters. This is often referred to as a Pride and Prejudice “diversion”, some of which have been written in a most interesting fashion by various authors, with entertaining results. Others have not always impressed me, so the mere inclusion of Austen’s characters is not a guarantee of a pleasing tale to recommend to my friends and readers. As I’ve read and enjoyed Maria Grace’s work before in Darcy’s Decision and The Future Mrs. Darcy, I had high hopes for her latest work in Remember the Past.

In Maria’s vision of Austen’s world, Darcy is now a widower with two young boys. Mr. Bennet is also a widower twice over, and both men (whether they initially admit it or not) nurse some measure of loneliness, revealing that they are in want of a wife. The Bennet family is no longer solely made up of women; Elizabeth now has two younger brothers with whom to contend as she also keeps an eye on her adoring father, a former admiral. Darcy’s aunt Catherine de Bourgh is still very much a part of the story, but her demeanor is distinctly softer and more sympathetic than Austen’s Lady. I found this Catherine to be a pleasant soul, however she wasn’t as interesting as the haughty original. Lady de Bourgh struggles with issues from her past, causing her memory of them to be quite painful. This informs the title of the novel and is one of the main themes overall.

But as in Pride and Prejudice, Darcy and Elizabeth hold the most attention. Fitzwilliam seems to be smitten with Elizabeth from the outset; there is no mention of her being “not handsome enough” for him. She is even spunkier than Austen’s original, having grown up under the care of her admiral father, learning sword play as well as riding horses astride (as opposed to side saddle). At the same time, Elizabeth is a bit insecure, after a painful social rejection from the ton in London, not long ago. Although the attraction to Darcy is there, she resists it at first and must overcome her insecurities as an eligible maiden.

The dastardly character of George Wickham also takes a major role in the novel, much like in the original text. His behaviors are not precisely the same, but his personal integrity (or lack thereof) and devious nature are still very much intact. He provides quite the foil to Fitzwilliam Darcy, Mr. Bennet and Colonel Fitzwilliam. Wickham’s presence in their lives brings about much intrigue and excitement to say the least.

I enjoyed Maria Grace’s latest vision of this Austenesque world. The cast of characters remains mostly intact, but their journeys take decidedly different routes. I enjoyed the chemistry that remains between Darcy and Elizabeth, and Admiral Bennet’s relationships were touching and sweet. The journey he takes as a father and a husband were quite interesting, and I enjoyed spending more time with this character, who usually tends to take on a more minor role in this genre. Wickham is deliciously troublemaking, and I liked how Maria developed him as a character. It may be sacrilegious to say, but I felt that his ultimate fate was much more satisfying than the one Austen wrote for him.

Near the conclusion of the novel, dramatic events unfold that positively captured my interest and brought cinematic energy to the story. Due to the fact that this is a “diversion”, I had no idea what kind of fate was in store for the characters. I was on the edge of my seat at one point, taking in quite a perilous scene that could have ended in many different ways. Grace’s choices were realistic and very entertaining.

Side thought: As a mother of two boys, I loved the inclusion of so many little tykes into the story. The Darcy and Bennet boys truly brought a new and welcome flavor to the storyline. It made Darcy not only a dashing gentleman, but an admirable father figure as well. Many women would agree, those traits make men even more attractive as individuals.

A note to my conservative readers: As an Austenesque diversion, the romantic content of Remember the Past is not exactly as implied as it was in Pride and Prejudice. More than one couple’s passions for one another are made perfectly clear. However, Maria Grace’s efforts to keep things tantalizing without becoming overly salacious were well done. I would rate the content as a light PG-13. Everyone remains clothed, and the sanctity of the marriage bed is respected. Salty language is also kept to a minimum. I applaud Maria for her choices in these areas, as her writing is more than strong enough to hold up without overly steamy content.

Just as she did in Darcy’s Decision and The Future Mrs. Darcy, Maria Grace has once again brought to her readers a delightful, entertaining and sweetly romantic story while using Austen’s characters as a launching point for the tale.  I give it a hearty recommendation, and look forward to returning to her work in the Given Good Principles series, with All the Appearance of Goodness and Twelfth Night at Longbourn.
 


About the Author

Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate in Educational Psychology. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.

She has one husband, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, sown six Regency era costumes, written seven Regency-era fiction projects, and designed eight websites. To round out the list, she cooks for nine in order to accommodate the growing boys and usually makes ten meals at a time so she only cooks twice a month.


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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Guest Post and Profile: The Maze Runner


The Calico Critic welcomes guest writer Spencer Blohm.  After I read and reviewed The Maze Runner back in 2010, I've been eagerly awaiting the arrival of the cinematic version.  Spencer offers his thoughts on the book as well as the movie, which has increased my interest in the series even more.  Thanks for your insights, Spencer!



The Maze Runneris a young adult science fiction novel by James Dashner, which was first published in October 2007 and has recently been adapted into a movie by 20th Century Fox. The tale features a protagonist named Thomas, who finds himself in a mysterious environment known as the Glade with no memories beyond his own name. He becomes a part of a community consisting only of other teenage boys (all of whom arrived at the Glade by similar circumstances) and joins their societal system, which is broken down into various departments led by a Keeper. The story has many major similarities to the classic Lord of the Flies, which also centers on a group of boys functioning without the aid of adults (the film is available on Amazon Instant Video, or other on demand services, for those interested in The Maze Runner’s inspiration). The Maze Runner, however, includes an additional dystopian twist that caters to a sci-fi minded audience.

As the title suggests, an enormous maze, which opens each day and closes at night, surrounds the Glade. Within this maze are mechanical Grievers – deadly creatures that emerge during the night. The film's focus is primarily on the boys’ attempts to maneuver the maze and find a way out of the dark environment back to freedom. Other major characters include Alby, the leader of the Gladers, his assistant, Newt, Minho, who is the Runners' keeper and Chuck, a hefty boy who entered the Glade just prior to Thomas.

Like most movies based on books, there are significant differences between the film and written work. While the book portrays the Grievers as odd creatures that are part slug and part machine, the movie makes them appear more like spiders with metal appendages. The book also presents the Runners as boys that detail what they find in the maze on a daily basis. Yet in the movie there's only one maze model, and each of the boys claim to have the maze memorized. In the novel, “the changing,” a physical transformation spurred by a Griever sting which helps the victim recall memories, played a significant role in the life of the Gladers, as did the serum that keeps the boys alive as they go through the changing. In the film, the serum isn't implemented until Teresa, the sole girl in the Glade, presents vials of it to the boys.

The movie adaptation, directed by Wes Ball and starring Dylan O'Brien, took three months to film during the summer of 2013. It received a predominantly positive reception from film critics. Reviewers noted the film's unique plot, the cast's spectacular performances and praised Dashner and Ball for taking chances with the script. It beat out all competing movies during its opening weekend, earning $32.5 million off the bat. On its first night alone, it earned $1.1 million and scored the 6th best September debut for a film.

The novel has inspired two sequels, The Scorch Trials in 2010 and The Death Cure in 2011, and the film has already secured the funds and permission to begin filming the next installment. The Scorch Trials is scheduled to be released in the fall of 2015. The original book's prequel, The Kill Order, was released in 2012, while another prequel has been announced and should be released in 2016 – leaving plenty of material for filmmakers to work with if the series continues to be successful.

Anyone who is interested in young adult science fiction will enjoy both The Maze Runner book and film. Unlike many other adaptations of books to the big screen, the author, Dashner, was fully on board with the conversion. Dashner has been quoted as saying that he had significant input into the film and he is pleased with the final production, meaning you can be sure the film carries the original tone and excitement of the novel!

--Spencer Blohm


The Maze Runner Movie Trailer 



The Maze Runner Series, Kindle Editions
Book 1

Book 2

Book 3

Prequel

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: http://lindabeutler.merytonpress.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/oregonclematis

Twitter: https://twitter.com/oregonclematis


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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!
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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 facebook.com/syriejames and twitter.com/SyrieJames, and visit her website at syriejames.com.












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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.







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