Saturday, February 28, 2015

Blog Tour: The Secret of Pembrooke Park by Julie Klassen

Welcome to the next stop on The Secret of Pembrooke Park blog tour! Below I offer my review, and following that you will find details of an amazing giveaway, sponsored by author Julie Klassen.  You may recall my previous review of her work, The Dancing Master, posted last year. Thanks for stopping by for this latest novel!

In the spring of 1818, twenty-four-year-old Abigail Foster fears she is destined to become a spinster. Her family’s finances are in ruins and the one young man she truly esteems has fallen for another woman — her younger, prettier sister Louisa.

Forced to retrench after the bank failure of Austen, Gray & Vincent, the Foster family optimistically pool their resources for another London Season for her sister in hopes of an advantageous alliance. While searching for more affordable lodgings, a surprising offer is presented: the use of a country manor house in Berkshire abandoned for eighteen years. The Fosters journey to the imposing Pembrooke Park and are startled to find it entombed as it was abruptly left, the tight-lipped locals offering only rumors of a secret room, hidden treasure and a murder in its mysterious past.

Eager to restore her family fortune, Abigail, with the help of the handsome local curate William Chapman and his sister Leah, begins her search into the heavily veiled past aided by unsigned journal pages from a previous resident and her own spirited determination. As old friends and new foes come calling at Pembrooke Park, secrets come to light. Will Abigail find the treasure and love she seeks...or very real danger?

Family tragedy...a dark and mysterious house...the longing of young love... Julie Klassen has brought an intriguing premise to her readers in her latest novel, The Secret of Pembrooke Park, and she has done so in excellent fashion.  Lovers of Jane Austen would do well in the reading of this Gothic novel, set in the early 19th century.  I noted similarities to Northanger Abbey in its dark, mysterious nature.  I also saw shades of Sense and Sensibility, given that Abigail’s family has come upon hard times and must relocate to more modest accommodations.

As I found in the past with Klassen’s The Dancing Master, Julie’s writing is of high quality, but is effortless, taking the reader into this world of her creation.  I could not only see these characters easily in my mind, but I actually cared about them.  They were more than names upon the page. While the ages and nationalities are not exactly on target, I found the following public figures settling into my mind as I read the story:

Abigail: Shailene Woodley
Gilbert:  Jonathan Crombie
Charles Foster: Hugo Weaving
Louisa: Chloë Grace Moretz
Mr. Arbeau: Alan Rickman
Mac Chapman: Brendan Gleeson
William Chapman: Simon Woods
Mrs. Walsh: Phyllis Logan
Duncan: Stephen Amell

There are others that come to mind, but I offer those ideas to note how well I was drawn into the story, and Klassen’s ability to compose her characters.  This helped me to keep track of the many concepts that are offered in the plot: mystery, family issues, romance, adventurous treasure hunting… there’s much to offer readers of all types in The Secret of Pembrooke Park. And as I found in Klassen’s earlier work, she keeps the content very family-friendly, so I can recommend this title to anyone.  It’s suspenseful, at times eerie, and inspirational as well.  Those who enjoy Regency fiction would make an excellent audience, but Pembrooke Park is a quality narrative that can transcend genre. In recent years I have read work that might have been “well written”, but the plot, characters and composition didn’t appeal to me.  What matters in the end is STORY. Does it hold my attention? Do I care about the characters? In The Secret of Pembrooke Park, Julie Klassen has succeeded for this reader. I’m pleased that she is prospering as a writer, and I look forward to what may lie ahead for her in 2015.

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Sound intriguing? Check out these related videos for The Secret of Pembrooke Park:


The Real-life Manor Behind Julie Klassen’s
The Secret of Pembrooke Park


“Jane Austen meets Victoria Holt in Christy Award–winning Klassen’s latest deliciously spooky and sweetly romantic historical.” — Booklist

“Regency romance with awesome castles, secrets, hidden rooms and, of course, romance . . . . Julie Klassen has hit this one out of the ballpark.” — Romantic Times Book Reviews Top Pick

“If you are looking for a book which combines the enticing elements of a Gothic with the mannerly charm of a Regency, look no further, because this lovely Inspirational is just your cup of tea.” — Heroes and Heartbreakers

“While there are plenty of Regency authors out there, the lovely Julie Klassen is by far one of the top and a must read for fans of Austen/Brontë style and prose. Klassen’s latest, The Secret of Pembrooke Park has a touch of both – the mystery of Brontë and the fun of Austen.”— Books and Beverages

The Secret of Pembrooke Park is perfectly packaged with several threads of the gothic suspense, Regency romance and inspirational themes while presenting a well plotted story with intriguing characters in an amazing setting.” — Burton Book Review

About the Author

Julie Klassen loves all things Jane—Jane Eyre and Jane Austen. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Julie worked in publishing for sixteen years and now writes full time. Three of her books have won the Christy Award for Historical Romance. She has also been a finalist in the Romance Writers of America’s RITA Awards. Julie and her husband have two sons and live in St. Paul, Minnesota. Learn more about Julie and her books at her website, follow her on Twitter, and visit her on Facebook and Goodreads.

The Secret of Pembrooke Park Blog Tour and Giveaway

Award winning historical romance author Julie Klassen tours the blogosphere February 16 through March 2 to share her latest release, The Secret of Pembrooke Park. Twenty five popular book bloggers specializing in historical and Austenesque fiction are featuring guest blogs, interviews, book reviews and excerpts of this acclaimed gothic Regency romance novel. A fabulous giveaway contest, including copies of all of Ms. Klassen’s eight books and other Jane Austen-themed items, is open to those who join the festivities. See below for further details!


February 16 My Jane Austen Book Club (Guest Blog)
February 16 vvb32 Reads (Excerpt)
February 17 Psychotic State Book Reviews (Review)
February 17 My Kids Led Me Back to Pride and Prejudice (Spotlight)
February 18 Addicted to Jane Austen (Review)
February 18 Peeking Between the Pages (Review)
February 19 Jane Austen in Vermont (Interview)
February 19 Living Read Girl (Review)
February 20 My Love for Jane Austen (Excerpt)
February 20 Truth, Beauty, Freedom & Books (Review)
February 20 Laura's Reviews (Guest Blog)
February 21 A Bookish Way of Life (Review)
February 21 Romantic Historical Reviews (Excerpt)
February 21 Confessions of a Book Addict (Review)
February 22 Reflections of a Book Addict (Review)
February 23 Austenesque Reviews (Guest Blog)
February 23 Peace, Love, Books (Review)
February 24 vvb32 Reads (Review)
February 24 Poof Books (Excerpt)
February 25 Babblings of a Bookworm (Review)
February 25 Austenesque Reviews (Review)
February 25 Luxury Reading (Review)
February 26 So Little Time…So Much to Read (Review)
February 26 More Agreeably Engaged (Excerpt)
February 27 Psychotic State Book Reviews (Interview)
February 27 Booktalk & More (Review)
February 28 Laughing with Lizzie (Spotlight)
February 28 The Calico Critic (Review)
March 01 Leatherbound Reviews (Excerpt)
March 01 Delighted Reader (Review)
March 02 CozyNookBks (Review)
March 02 Laura's Reviews (Review)

Grand Giveaway Contest 

Win One of Four Fabulous Prizes

In celebration of the release of The Secret of Pembrooke Park, four chances to win copies of Julie’s books and other Jane Austen-inspired items are being offered.

Three lucky winners will receive one trade paperback or eBook copy of The Secret of Pembrooke Park, and one grand prize winner will receive one copy of all eight of Julie’s novels: Lady of Milkweed Manor, The Apothecary's Daughter, The Silent Governess, The Girl in the Gatehouse, The Maid of Fairbourne Hall, The Tutor’s Daughter, The Dancing Master, and The Secret of Pembrooke Park, one DVD of Northanger Abbey (2007) and a Jane Austen Action Figure.

To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on any or all of the blog stops on The Secret of Pembrooke Park Blog Tour starting February 16, 2015 through 11:59 pm PT, March 9, 2015. Winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments and announced on Julie Klassen’s website on March 16, 2015. Winners have until March 22, 2015 to claim their prize. The giveaway contest is open to residents of the US, UK, and Canada. Digital books will be sent through Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Good luck to all!




Audio Edition

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Guest Post: Books to Movies in 2015

We welcome again our guest writer Spencer Blohm, as he reflects on upcoming movies this year that are derived from books.  There's more than one on this list that I have on my bookshelf at home to read, hopefully before I catch them in the theater or on Blu-ray!

Five of the potentially most popular movies set for release in 2015 have two things in common. The first is that they've got excellent connections--to successful books, previously successful movies, or both. The second is that they all address the fight against tyranny, whether by the state, society, or the laws of nature.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2

Based on Suzanne Collin’s popular Hunger Games trilogy, is set for release on November 20th, 2015. The film brings back the franchises stars; Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, Julianne Moore and Josh Hutcherson. The book sold 450,000 copies the first week of its release in August, 2010. In this sequel, heroine Katniss Everdeen, symbol of unity and leader of a growing rebellion against a tyrannical state, continues her quest, even as it threatens the life of her beloved Peeta, who is being held captive in the Capitol.

Child 44

Directed by Daniel Espinosa, is set to be released on April 17th, 2015. It stars Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, and Swedish actress Noomi Rapace. Written by British writer Tom Rob Smith, the book won 7 awards, including the 2008 Galaxy Book Award for best new writer. Smith had three film offers within two weeks of the book being offered for sale to publishers. Based on the crimes of convicted serial killer Andrei Chikatilo, the main character, a policeman, must find the killer while facing official denial that crime even exists.


Based on the book written by Veronica Roth and the sequel to last summer's hit Divergent, which is now widely available on movie channels (check here for details), is set for release on March 20th, 2015. Specialization is taken to extremes in this sci-fi thriller starring Shailene Woodley, Miles Teller, Kate Winslet and Naomi Watts. The result is a society in which people are categorized according to their talents and virtues. Those who don’t fit neatly into a single category are considered a danger to society, and dealt with accordingly. Based on Shailene Woodley's stellar performance in Divergent, as well as the special effects, are sure to make this an enjoyable sequel.

The Martian

The film, based on the book by Andy Weir, is tentatively scheduled for release on November 25th, 2015, directed by Ridley Scott, starring Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels and Jessica Chastain. This story of an individual’s struggle for survival after being abandoned on Mars is a testament to human ingenuity in the face of adversity. The same can be said of the author himself. Unable to find an agent willing to represent him, Weir self-published the novel in 2011, one chapter at a time. After selling 35,000 copies, Crown Publishing purchased the rights to the book and re-released it in March, 2014. It debuted on the New York Times bestseller list at number twelve.

Paper Towns

The book by John Green, author of The Fault In Our Stars, debuted on the New York Times best-seller list at #5 as well as winning the Edgar Award for best Young Adult Mystery. Directed by Jake Schreier and starring Cara Delevingne, Nat Wolff, and Halston Sage, it has a release date of June 5th, 2015. In this story, the characters explore the themes of personal identity versus public image, the effects of social cruelty-- and revenge. Green’s relationship with Hollywood has been a rocky one, and this is a movie that almost wasn't. When asked if there was going to be a movie his response was “No, probably not… They felt the first draft was 'literary'…”. It’s that very literary quality that produced the memorable lines that made The Fault In Our Stars so popular. Fans can thank screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber for their work in making this film possible.

As you can see, Hollywood is still in love with YA novels in particular and the legions of fans they bring into theaters. At this point it’s not really a question of if a popular YA book will be made into a film but, rather, when it will be made. Of course there have been some disastrous adaptations in the past, but with more and more authors getting involved in the process I’d expect the bad reputation that film adaptations have gotten to fall to the waist side. Keep your eyes peeled for even more film adaptation announcements this year, it’s only going to grow from here.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Book Tour Stop and Giveaway: Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman by Tessa Arlen

From Goodreads:

Lady Montfort has been planning her annual summer costume ball for months, and with scrupulous care. Pulling together the food, flowers and a thousand other details for one of the most significant social occasions of the year is her happily accepted responsibility. But when her husband’s degenerate nephew is found murdered, it's more than the ball that is ruined. In fact, Lady Montfort fears that the official police enquiry, driven by petty snobbery and class prejudice, is pointing towards her son as a potential suspect.

Taking matters into her own hands, the rather over-imaginative countess enlists the help of her pragmatic housekeeper, Mrs. Jackson, to investigate the case, track down the women that vanished the night of the murder, and clear her son’s name. As the two women search for a runaway housemaid and a headstrong young woman, they unearth the hidden lives of Lady Montfort’s close friends, servants and family and discover the identity of a murderer hiding in plain sight.

In this enchanting debut sure to appeal to fans of Downton Abbey, Tessa Arlen draws readers into a world exclusively enjoyed by the rich, privileged classes and suffered by the men and women who serve them. Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman is an elegant mystery filled with intriguing characters and fascinating descriptions of Edwardian life—a superb treat for those who love British novels.

Giveaway: Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman
(U.S. Addresses Only)
a Rafflecopter giveaway

About the Author

TESSA ARLEN, the daughter of a British diplomat, had lived in or visited her parents in Singapore, Cairo, Berlin, the Persian Gulf, Beijing, Delhi and Warsaw by the time she was sixteen. She came to the U.S. in 1980 and worked as an H.R. recruiter for the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee for the 1984 Olympic Games, where she interviewed her future husband for a job. DEATH OF A DISHONORABLE GENTLEMAN is Tessa’s first novel. She lives in Bainbridge Island, Washington.

For more information please visit Tessa Arlen’s website. Read Tessa Arlen’s blog at Redoubtable Edwardians. You can also connect with her on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Subscribe to Tessa Arlen’s Newsletter.



Downton Life

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Monday, January 5
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Review & Giveaway at Mina’s Bookshelf

Tuesday, January 6
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Wednesday, January 7
Review & Giveaway at To Read, Or Not to Read
Spotlight at The Never-Ending Book

Thursday, January 8
Review at Buried Under Books

Friday, January 9
Review at Mel’s Shelves
Guest Post on The Writing Desk
Interview at Back Porchervations

Saturday, January 10
Review at With Her Nose Stuck in a Book

Monday, January 12
Review at Flashlight Commentary

Tuesday, January 13
Review at Girl Lost in a Book
Spotlight & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books

Wednesday, January 14
Review & Giveaway at The Book Binder’s Daughter

Thursday, January 15
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past

Friday, January 16
Spotlight at Just One More Chapter

Monday, January 19
Review at Beth’s Book Book

Tuesday, January 20
Review at The Lit Bitch
Spotlight & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages

Wednesday, January 21
Spotlight & Giveaway at Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus More

Thursday, January 22
Review at Musings of a Bookish Kitty

Monday, January 26
Review at A Literary Vacation
Spotlight at CelticLady’s Reviews

Tuesday, January 27
Review & Giveaway at The True Book Addict

Wednesday, January 28
Review at A Book Geek

Thursday, January 29
Spotlight at What Is That Book About

Saturday, January 31
Review & Giveaway at The Calico Critic

Monday, February 2
Review at Book Nerd

Tuesday, February 3
Spotlight at I Heart Reading

Thursday, February 5
Review at Layered Pages

Friday, February 6
Guest Post & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Connection

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Book Review: Pride, Prejudice & Secrets by C.P. Odom

“Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised, or a little mistaken.”
--Jane Austen

It is always the completely unforeseen events that lead to the most unexpected consequences, and such is the case in this variation on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. One of the crucial points in Austen’s novel is Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s fiery and passionate refusal and denunciation of the equally passionate but infinitely more repressed Fitzwilliam Darcy. What might eventuate if the robustly healthy Elizabeth falls prey to illness for almost the first time in her life just when Darcy comes to call? Bemused by her illness, she hardly comprehends what Darcy is asking, and her simple nod of acknowledgment is misinterpreted as acceptance of his suit by a joyous Darcy. By the time Elizabeth regains her health, it seems that every one of her acquaintance and many outside of it accept that she has become engaged to the last man in the world she would ever have considered marrying. Can she openly demand her engagement to the amorous but prideful Darcy be broken, a course fraught with hazards in the social milieu of Regency England? In a maelstrom of confusion, choices have to be made and disclosures closely considered. Elizabeth knows that nothing in her life will ever be the same, and the consequences will likely spread further than she can imagine.

While C.P. Odom has written other Austenesque novels, Pride, Prejudice & Secrets is the first I’ve read of him.  Like many Pride and Prejudice diversions, he ponders what might have occurred if Elizabeth Bennet had actually accepted Fitzwilliam Darcy’s first proposal.

I wondered how Odom would pull this feat off, from a literary standpoint.  What could possibly prevail upon Lizzie to accept such a condescending proposal, as his original one was?  Fortunately, when Odom begins his diversion of the plot, he find a reasonable way to enable Darcy to be accepted by Elizabeth.  From there, he continues the tale, not necessarily staying true to the original Austen narrative, but certainly remaining faithful to the characters tendencies and personalities. His love for Austen’s world is very evident, as I could see each individual reacting and proceeding as they did, given the new variables in play.

I was also initially impressed with Odom’s presentation of Darcy’s internal dialogue as he pondered asking Elizabeth to be his wife.  In the original text he does give some explanation to his motivations, but his choice of words is poor, and Elizabeth rightly rejects his demeaning offer.  In Pride, Prejudice & Secrets, we are given a view into his mind, and what brought him to the point of knowing that he was in love with her, could not live without her, and was prepared to endure difficult consequences to be her husband. Darcy’s mindset is still a bit elitist in this exploration of his feelings, but these contemplations actually humanized him in a way that had me rooting for him more than I have in the past.  It’s evident that at his core, he has pure feelings for her, appreciates her for whom she is, and genuinely wants to have a marriage that is not of convenience, but of mutual affection.

Also somewhat distinct from the source material, we are privy to Lady Catherine De Bourgh’s overwrought reaction to Darcy’s engagement in a way not seen before.  Upon her initial discovery of this alliance, she offers her bitter response not to Elizabeth, but to her nephew.  Their confrontation of each other’s polar opposite priorities is explosive, and if I might say, quite delicious!  The way Darcy handles his aunt is truly epic. How I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for such a row!

I am still working my way through the novel, so I will continue to update this post as I complete my reading.  However, my foremost impression of C.P. Odom’s work is extremely positive, and I wanted to convey these initial thoughts as a part of the Leatherbound Reviews blog tour.  Odom's manner of writing is quite entertaining, and I look forward to seeing how things will develop with his version of Austen’s characters.  And as they become available, I will also amend the post to include links to locations online where Pride, Prejudice & Secrets might be purchased. From what I’ve seen so far, I hope this title becomes a bestseller in the Austenesque fiction community.

Connect with the Author:  C.P. Odom

P, P & Secrets on Kindle

C.P. Odom Paperback

C.P. Odom on Kindle

Friday, January 9, 2015

Book Review: Fitzwilliam Darcy such I was by Carol Cromlin

Fitzwilliam Darcy is arguably the best known, most charismatic hero Jane Austen ever created but he is also the most unfathomable. Who exactly was Mr. Darcy? What principles guided him? What desires drove him? How did he come to be the character Austen, so vividly, portrayed? 

Carol Cromlin offers a window into the private life of this young, landed, Georgian gentleman. Her story presents events during the first eight and twenty years of Fitzwilliam Darcy’s life that shaped his personality and established his character, making him the man who so decidedly won Elizabeth Bennet’s heart, despite her absolute determination against him.

What would Pride and Prejudice be without Fitzwilliam Darcy? This man of substantial means and highbrow refinement has possibly received more attention than any of Jane Austen's memorable characters. But who is this gentleman? How did he become the man Elizabeth Bennet encounters at the Meryton Assembly? Carol Cromlin addresses these speculations in her award-winning novel, Fitzwilliam Darcy such I was.

Those researching Pride and Prejudice may find somewhat of a debate as to which year the novel was set.  Some scholars date Darcy and Lizzie’s meeting in 1793, 1799 and even 1811.  In Carol Cromlin’s case, she has chosen 1793 as her starting point.  Then the story regresses to 1766, the year that the heir of Pemberley would have been born within that timeline.

From there, Darcy’s life is traced through the decades, from his birth, to early romance, to the day he meets Elizabeth Bennet. I loved the span of time we were given with this character.  The fact that his future bride’s name isn’t even signified does not detract from the novel whatsoever.  This narrative is focused on Fitzwilliam and those in his life up to the Meryton Assembly in 1793.  Many pages were given to his father, which was so very satisfying.  Getting to know the man-behind-the-man was wonderful, and the character that Cromlin has crafted in the elder Mr. George Darcy felt spot-on, consistent with the tone of the original characters in Pride and Prejudice. His ideals and manner are very much echoed in his eldest child, and it is no wonder that Fitzwilliam Darcy turned out to be the man he did.

As a mother of two boys, it is no surprise that I enjoyed the time spent with the young Master Darcy, prior to his teen years when he was just a lad. He was so inquisitive, and finds himself in some amusing situations, whether it was fighting off a horde of bees with a young George Wickham, hanging out with poaching gypsies on Pemberley lands, or making a dangerous ride on his own, through the night to fetch a doctor.

The arrival of Georgiana was heartbreaking, as it spelled the end of Lady Anne Darcy due to complications from childbirth.  The loss of Anne echoes throughout the novel, as it affected the family in a profound way.  I could understand Fitzwilliam’s initial hesitation in accepting his sister.  As an eldest child, I know that tough adjustment to a younger sibling.  But to pair it with the loss of his mother?  It’s no wonder that twelve year-old Darcy struggled in his feelings toward the baby.  He makes a dramatic transformation, in time becoming her fiercest protector, particularly in the events surrounding George Wickham over a decade later.

Wickham’s antics throughout Darcy’s life are so consistent with what would be expected from this character.  Even at a young age, he is selfish and conniving.  At first Darcy may not see him as such, but over the years he wearies of his tie with this irresponsible lout. The climax of the novel, in my mind, very much revolves around the relationship with Darcy and Wickham. Although as a Janeite I was well aware of how his relationship with Georgiana would end, Cromlin’s ability to craft her tale left me in suspense and turning pages quickly.

Many chapters are spent with Darcy as a young man, both at University and in his Grand Tour later on.  I enjoyed his collegiate days, as we also are introduced to the Bingley family and continue to see his relationship with Wickham deteriorate.  However, I felt the story lagged a bit during the chapters regarding the Grand Tour.  Those are essential years in Darcy’s life and taking such a tour is common practice among those in his society, but my interest waned during these chapters.  However, when Darcy is called back home to England to tend to family matters (and later deal with Wickham’s relationship with Georgiana), the plot picks back up speed, leading to a very satisfying ending at the Meryton Assembly, setting Darcy at the cusp of the next era in his life:  his relationship with his future bride, Elizabeth Bennet.

As a Best Indie Book by Kirkus Reviews, Fitzwilliam Darcy such I was is no fluff piece of Austenesque fiction. Carol Cromlin has clearly done her homework in all things Pride and Prejudice, as well as in the history of the period.  Her writing is excellent without being too highbrow for my taste.  Reading this novel was a long time coming, and it was worth the wait. As Carol’s narrative concludes at the outset of the beginning of Darcy’s time with Elizabeth, I do hope that this author will continue her development of these classic characters.  With the work she has done with such a beloved gentleman as Fitzwilliam Darcy, I can only imagine the delights that would be emitted from Cromlin’s pen with the Bennets.  As Kirkus suggests, Fitzwilliam Darcy such I was will delight long term devotees of Austen’s work, but can easily encourage neophytes to pursue the original source material as well.  That is high praise indeed.

Meet the Author

who has a great appreciation for history, tradition and all things British, is someone who has always needed to know how and why; researching and writing this book drew naturally on those traits. Cromlin graduated from Hofstra University and has a graduate degree from Fordham University. She lives in the United States with her husband, son and dogs.

Connect with Carol



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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Book Excerpt: The Muse by Jessica Evans

Today The Calico Critic welcomes Jessica Evans, author of the new novel The Muse.  Jessica has put a very creative spin on Pride and Prejudice, one that I haven't seen thus far.  Both lovers of Austen's work and the dance arts might find this Austenesque fiction to be right up their alley.  As it's the holiday season, many indulge in a bit of ballet this time of year, taking in The Nutcracker and marveling in the amazing talents of the accomplished performers. One can only imagine the drama that goes on behind the scenes in these complex productions.  I imagine we'll get a nice taste of this in Evans' The Muse. Check out the excerpt below, and if you ever get a chance to read The Muse, let us know what you thought of it!

Giveaway Notice:  Check out Jessica's giveaway on Goodreads, ending on December 15th.  Enter while you still can!

Elizabeth Bennet, the newest corps de ballet dancer at Ballet Theater of New York, dreams of rising through the prestigious company’s ranks to become a prima ballerina. When she’s cast in superstar choreographer William Darcy’s newest work, she believes she’s one step closer to realizing her dream–until she meets him.

William Darcy, the former dance legend and ballet bad boy, is a jaded perfectionist who dancers both fear and admire. Although touted as the next big thing in the ballet world, he secretly battles a bad case of artist’s block–until he meets Elizabeth Bennet.

Tempers ignite between Elizabeth and Darcy, but he’s irresistibly drawn to the stubborn and beautiful corps de ballet dancer. Could she be the muse he needs to reignite his passion for ballet?

Excerpt: The Muse by Jessica Evans

Elizabeth is stuck in Charles’ country home with Darcy, Caroline Bingley, and her sister, Jane. In the scene before this one, she’s accidentally thrown up all over his shoes.

The good thing about having his shoes puked on was getting out of hiking and being able to sit inside by a fireplace and read. The bad thing was that William really liked those shoes, but he would just get another pair the next time he was at Barney’s.

William hadn’t gotten much sleep that night, and it wasn’t because of the chaos that had ensued after Elizabeth’s accident. He had awakened several times, keenly aware of her presence two doors away. He rolled his eyes. She’d thrown up on his shoes for C****** sake! Shouldn’t he be disgusted with her?

But he wasn’t. In fact, at two in the morning, he kept replaying moments of their dinner conversation and smiling to himself when he remembered the funny parts.

What was he doing? It was annoying. Sure, she was pretty, and he was attracted to her as any man would be around a pretty woman, but it was starting to go somewhere that made him nervous. She was too young—the same age as his kid sister. She danced in the corps de ballet and was in his piece! His self-imposed hands-off policy forbade him from ever considering a liaison with her.

Yet, in the wee hours of the morning, William had spent a lot of time considering Elizabeth. At three-thirty, he’d gotten up and done a short workout in his room, hoping the exercise would tire him. Then, he started reading his book. By the time the rest of the hiking party was getting dressed, William had been awake for hours, and he refused to go with them. He needed rest. It had nothing to do with the fact that he would be alone in the house with Elizabeth Bennet. Nothing. And to prove that to himself, he hid out in the library, not the kitchen or the living room where he might run into her. Besides, she didn’t seem to be awake yet.

At one o’clock in the afternoon, his stomach grumbled, and William took his book to the kitchen to make himself a sandwich. When he got there, however, his heart nearly stopped. With her back turned to him, Elizabeth stood on her tiptoes, reaching for something on a high cabinet shelf. She wore nothing but an oversized sweatshirt that stopped mid-thigh. William tried not to stare, but he couldn’t help glimpsing the stretch of bare thighs and lean calves. Her wet hair hung down her back, making a little damp spot at the top of her sweatshirt. When she heard him, Elizabeth whirled around instantly.

“How are you feeling?” William blurted at the same time Elizabeth said, “I was looking for the coffee.”

“Fine,” Elizabeth answered at the same time as William said, “Over there.”

They both chuckled uncomfortably. William walked over to the right cabinet and took out a canister of coffee. He handed it to her, and she accepted it, unable to make eye contact.

“Thanks,” she murmured.

“I’m making myself a sandwich. Want one?”

“No, thanks.”

They worked in silence, Elizabeth brewing herself some coffee and William taking out the ingredients for a ham and cheese sandwich from the fridge. With her back facing him, William snuck a look at her legs. He turned around and shook his head.

“Um… I’m really sorry…about your shoes,” Elizabeth said suddenly.

“Forget about it. They’re just shoes.”

A long moment of silence passed between them again.

“I thought you went hiking.”

William chuckled. “Someone ruined my shoes.”

“You couldn’t go hiking in those shoes, could you? They weren’t hiking shoes!”

Shrugging, he replied, “I hadn’t planned on going hiking anyway. That was Charles’s idea, not mine.”


Another long silence as Elizabeth spooned coffee into a filter. Once it began brewing, Elizabeth chuckled.

“What?” he asked.

“I was just wondering if I hold the honor of being the only girl to ever barf on you. It’s not every day someone like me gets to ruin the shoes of the infallible Mr. Darcy.”

She was mocking him again in that way of hers. “Please don’t call me Mr. Darcy on a Saturday. And I’m not infallible.”

“I was under the impression that you believed yourself one step down from a god.” She smirked at him.

“Not one step down. Maybe two or three.”

William saw her lips curve faintly. The coffeemaker stopped spurting and gurgling. Grabbing a mug, Elizabeth poured herself coffee and headed his way towards the fridge. She splashed in some milk and took a long sip.

Something about what she just said bothered William. He certainly didn’t put on airs in the studio. It was typical corps de ballet thinking: He’s strict so it means he’s a jerk. He hated that. Elizabeth seemed on the verge of leaving the kitchen, and William didn’t want her to go before she understood his point of view.

“I don’t admit to being perfect. I just don’t think the dance studio is any place to bare all my flaws.”
Elizabeth raised an eyebrow and leaned her hip against the counter.

“Right. You’ve never demonstrated any insensitivity or self-importance in the studio.”

“And what’s so wrong with self-importance? What is so wrong with taking pride in yourself, in your work, and holding others to that same standard?”

Elizabeth took a long sip of coffee. “There’s nothing wrong with that. But when you take too much pride in yourself? Certainly you admit that’s a flaw.”

“I call it confidence.”

“Yes, you’re confident that you’re better than everyone!” Elizabeth’s voice was tinted with an edge that William couldn’t fail to catch.

“And you’re confident that you’re always right without knowing the specifics of a person or a situation.”

Elizabeth paused. “Who would have thought you could know me so well in barely a day?”

“My credentials in psychoanalysis are as good as yours.”

She shook her head. “Excuse me, Mr. Darcy. I’m not feeling well. I’m heading back to bed.”

She breezed past him, leaving William exasperated and titillated at the same time. He sighed in frustration, replaced the sandwich fixings in the refrigerator, and retreated to the library where he spent the remainder of the day until the hikers returned.

About the Author

Jessica Evans cut her writer’s teeth in various fan fiction forums starting at fifteen. Although she discovered Jane Austen’s novels as a college sophomore, she didn’t begin writing Austenesque until several years later. The Muse: A Pride and Prejudice Variation is her debut novel.

Jessica teaches sixth grade English in New York City. In her spare time, she reads a lot of Young Adult literature, and cooks and eats as healthily as possible. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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NYC Ballet

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Guest Post: A Profile of Holiday Classics

The Calico Critic welcomes guest writer Spencer Blohm, as he offers his thoughts on holiday classics that make a great addition to this festive season.  After a busy day, one of these might be the perfect choice to enjoy with a warm beverage and a lap blanket...

A successful holiday film generates more than box office sales. It inspires decades of hot chocolate sippin’, popcorn poppin’ fans. Sentimental Christmas classics are a shared cultural mosaic of hope and cheer, a shared source of joy evergreen. Yet the roots of most holiday films come from original paper tales, from novels, poems and short stories spanning more than 200 years.

Nutcracker and the Mouse King
What ultimately became a beloved Tchaikovsky ballet and a handful of underappreciated family films began as a revolt against the ruthless rationalism of the Enlightenment. In “Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” German author Ernst Hoffmann tells the dark-lit story of a feral Mouse Queen’s revenge, the young Drosselmeyer’s curse, and Marie Stahlbaum, who falls into deep sleep and into a gothic world straddling reality and delirium.

In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash
“In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash” is a semi-fictional novel published by humorist Jean Shepherd in 1966. An anthology of stories initially published in (believe it or not) Playboy magazine, the tales were later brought to life in the holiday comedy classic, A Christmas Story.

The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus
Written by L. Frank Baum, also author of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the novel The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus relays one of the earliest classic American stories of The Man in Red, alias Kris Kringle. Educated by immortal creatures and inspired by the human condition to create toys for needy children, Santa Claus becomes more than a jolly toy peddler; he becomes the man who overcame the baseness of humanity.

The Polar Express
As a child, Chris Van Allsburg played on the Pere Marquette 1225 steam locomotive while it was on display at the University of Michigan. Inspired by the number 1225 – 12/25, the twenty-fifth of December – Allsburg imagined, authored and illustrated the award-winning children’s book: The Polar Express. Published in 1985, the story follows a young boy who rediscovers Christmas aboard an express train bound for the North Pole.

The Gift of the Magi
No spin-off from O. Henry’s 2,070-word short story – not the 2001 TV short nor the 2010 TV drama – can compare to the original tale by William Sydney Porter of a dedicated young married couple on a shoe-string Christmas budget. She selling her beautiful hair and he parting with his treasured watch, they both make sacrifices to please the other. But when he buys her a comb and she buys him a gold watch chain, the gifts can’t be used. Their presents to each other, unable to function with their intended purpose, leave the lovers to abandon the concept of physical gifts - revealing instead the pure beauty and perfection of true love.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
When Robert May first pitched the story of a red-nosed misfit reindeer destined for Santa’s sleigh to his boss, his reply was, “Can’t you come up with anything better?” As history would prove, the advertisement man turned author from Montgomery Ward was right all along. In the infamous song by Johnny Marks, and his various claymation incarnations (several versions available here), Rudolph remains one of the most beloved Christmas characters worldwide; whether he’s appearing in films, books, or music.

A Visit from St. Nicholas
Many people are introduced to Clement Clarke Moore’s famous lines by the 1974 TV Special, Twas the Night Before Christmas, the story of a Junctionville, New Jersey, a town disbarred by Santa because of one resident mouse’s snot-nosed letter to the North Pole. The animated special brings to life Moore’s poem, A Visit from St. Nicholas, the 1823 poem that would forever cement Santa Claus in the American conscious.

Jeremy Creek
Narrated by Dick Van Dyke and produced by Hanna-Barbera, The Town Santa Forgot was a cherished 1993 TV special about a brattish boy whose plan to monopolize all the toys in Santa’s sleigh went wonderfully haywire. The special was based on the Charmaine Severson’s rhyming read-a-long poem, “Jeremy Creek.”

Who would Santa Claus be without the immortal lines of “A Visit from St. Nicholas?” Would Christmas be so cheery without moral lessons from O. Henry? Holiday film classics transcend the holidays. Their messages remain in the heart and endure long after the ravages of New Year’s resolutions.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Book Profile: Fuzed Trilogy: Resurrect

***UPDATE: As of December 9th, the price of this item has returned to its regular retail price***

  Just a quick post for those who might be interested-- I'm not sure how long this 99-cent sale is going to be running... A couple of years ago I reviewed Resurrect by David E. Stevens, an exciting thriller with end-of-the-world implications.  It read very much like a Hollywood blockbuster, and I've been pleased to see how it's being optioned for the big screen.  In preparation for this exciting development, a new version of Resurrect is now available for 99 cents on Kindle, with new scenes and even more action.  Grab it while you can-- this sale won't last long!

From Amazon:

ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year, translated into other languages and winner of the 2014 Epic Award, Resurrect is a thought provoking thriller. A cross between The Bourne Identity, Avatar and Armageddon, the Fuzed Trilogy tackles the most likely and preventable cataclysms facing us.

What if you were fatally injured, but offered a second chance in a genetically perfect body with humanity's best abilities? The price? Everyone you knew believes you're dead, you look as if you have a grandparent from every continent, and ... you have two years to prevent the annihilation of almost all life on earth. Ridiculous? According to research papers published this year, the probability of an imminent global cataclysm is ten times greater than we thought (see Author Page video).

This new Kindle version is a faster moving, updated Second Edition with additional scenes. A portion of all profits will be donated to non-profits working to protect humanity.

About David E. Stevens

A Navy fighter pilot with hundreds of aircraft carrier landings, Commander David E Stevens holds degrees from Cornell and the University of Michigan with graduate work in astrophysics. He test piloted new fighters and received an aviation patent. With a Top Secret clearance, Dave served as Strike Operations Officer for the Persian Gulf during Desert Storm and led classified defense programs. He’s traveled to over two dozen countries.

Find out more about David at

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