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 



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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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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
http://kincaidvictoria.wordpress.com/



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!



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Friday, June 27, 2014

Book Review: Stronger Even Than Pride by Gail McEwen


"...in 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.


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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).













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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.

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