Thursday, May 14, 2015

Book Review: Unselfish: Love Thy Neighbor As Thy Selfie

In 2013, Oxford Dictionaries chose the word “Selfie” as their International Word of the Year.  Not only does this illustrate how social media sharing has become such an integral part of our society, but it also reveals how self-centered we’ve become. It’s been reported that many are even taking to plastic surgery for the express purpose of improving their selfie photos. Personal promotion has become more profitable than ever.

While many seem more inhabited by a sense of entitlement and hunger for the spotlight, in contrast there are also compassionate individuals who put their own interests aside for the sake of others. They see the needs of the world around them and eschew their own desires to make the world a better place, one person at a time. Occasionally these acts of kindness appear in the national media, but more often than not, we hear more bad news than the uplifting news that would to inspire us to improve the world around us. In Unselfish: Love Thy Neighbor As They Selfie, Paul D. Parkinson has compiled a collection of stories that fly in the face of our culture’s desire to put self first. In these dozens of heartwarming tales, we read real life reports of many who are bettering the world through their acts of charity and service. These essays include individuals who have:
  • Risked financial ruin for the sake of others
  • Used their talents to provide life-changing gifts to those in need
  • Paid and/or risked the ultimate price in the line of duty
  • Already established charities of their own at very young ages
  • Lived in abject poverty in order to bring hope and healing to the poor
  • Given up wildly profitable careers to pursue a greater purpose 
One of the individuals profiled in Unselfish is Mason Wartman, owner of Rosa’s Fresh Pizza in Philadelphia. Unlike many of the stories in the book, his did become a national one and was featured on several television programs. Here he is on the Ellen DeGeneres show:

A remarkable aspect of Unselfish is the ordinariness of most of the caring people within it. Most of the people profiled are not rich and famous—they are average folk who have decided to make a difference in one way or another. This makes their testimonies that much more inspiring, as it makes their choices thoroughly relatable. Not all of us can pack up and move to a foreign country to provide aid, but we can do simple things like charitable lemonade stands or having motivational talks with at-risk youth.

Unselfish is available in Kindle format, but its hardback edition is just lovely and would make an excellent gift. The pages are made up of sturdy magazine-like stock, with glossy photos and wide dimensions. Each story is very brief, usually taking up only one page of text. Reading a page or two at a time would be a great way to enjoy the book. Indeed, reading a story a night to one’s children would be an excellent activity, especially given that the culture in which our children inhabit completely goes against the values presented in this title. It’s an uplifting volume, the next Chicken Soup for the Soul for this generation. I heartily recommend it, and applaud not only the selfless people featured within, but also Paul D. Parkinson for his efforts in bringing these inspirational stories to light.

About Paul D. Parkinson

PAUL D. PARKINSON is a former Regional Vice-President of a medical supply company, which he left in 2012 to found various media enterprises.  As President of Gradual Elevate Media, Paul wrote the story for and oversaw the production of the feature film, Nowhere Safe - a movie that addresses the issue of cyberbullying.  Paul's work is in media that positively affects society and culture. 

He and his wife Rebecca have 6 children.

For additional information, visit:



You too can be a part of making the world a better place. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of Unselfish is being donated to the Cambodian Children’s Fund, founded in 2004 by former Hollywood executive Scott Neeson, whose story appears at the beginning of Unselfish.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Excerpt and Giveaway: Suddenly Mrs. Darcy by Jenetta James

Welcome to the blog tour of Suddenly Mrs. Darcy by Jenetta James, brought to you by Meryton Press! Today we have the very first excerpt from this new work of Austenesque fiction, as well as a giveaway.  Thanks for stopping by The Calico Critic, and be sure to check out the other posts along the tour, which runs until May 3rd. If you'd like to enter the giveaway, please utilize the Rafflecopter widget below.

Content Note: Portions of this passage are a bit steamier than ones I usually share here. As the characters are married, there's nothing inherently wrong with this scene. I just wanted to make note of it for those readers of more conservative sensibilities.

Elizabeth Bennet never imagined her own parents would force her to marry a virtual stranger. But when Mrs. Bennet accuses Fitzwilliam Darcy of compromising her daughter, that is exactly the outcome. Trapped in a seemingly loveless marriage and far from home, she grows suspicious of her new husband’s heart and further, suspects he is hiding a great secret. Is there even a chance at love given the happenstance of their hasty marriage?

Suddenly Mrs. Darcy: Prologue

     I have never felt less sure of myself than I feel now. The candlelight flickers over the plain walls and shadowy furnishings of this room. Darkness and damp press against the small windows. An empty rambling countryside lies beyond, and the rumble of unknown revellers roars quietly below. I know he will come to me, and I pull the heavy blanket higher against my person. I can hardly credit I am here, nor know how the compromise of my life shall ever be made right.

     When he does come, I know I must welcome him. It cannot be that he truly wants me, for we are strangers, and in his manner, he has made it plain. He says little, and in view of what has happened, I dread to imagine what he thinks. Even my mother, a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper, seems to know all is not quite as it should be. She knows, as I do and as he does, that she is the author of our situation. I mull, not for the first time, the way in which this began. The confusion and speed of events and the ambiguous nature of the tricks played upon me scream through my mind. I can make no sense of his part. Is he motivated by honour or hatred of scandal or pity, or some other unknown creature in his head? Does he lack the imagination to act other than he has done? I have only the scantest knowledge of him. You could not call it intimacy; you could not call it friendship. Even so, it is a secret between us that he is in some sense guilty if not exactly guilty as charged. However, we are here in this place, and the best must be made of it if we are not to run mad.

     Occasionally, I hear a tread upon the stair and I start, marshalling my courage and straightening my face. But then the tread moves in another direction or returns to the public bar. Some servant perhaps or another guest—not him, coming for me. I turn onto my side in the unfamiliar bed, thinking that, by moving my limbs, I may still their trembling. Apart from the fear of what must come, I am also tired to the bone.

      The journey north began almost immediately after our wedding and is not yet complete; it has been long and the weather treacherous. Mr Darcy sat opposite me in the carriage and said little. In my head, he is “Mr Darcy.” Our connection, short and strange, does not seem to merit any other appellation. In the darkness, I miss my sister Jane and the sweet smells and familiar shapes of our chamber at Longbourn where I have slept all my life. The memory of my mother’s advice, given in that chamber on the subject of this night, returns to me. I begin to wish it would start rather than hound me by being so protracted in the anticipation.

     And so it does start. Steps on the stair do not recede or return. Instead, they grow louder, heavier, and closer; they pause only briefly before I hear a tap upon the door. “Come,” I say, not knowing whether it would be better to say nothing for he knows I am in here. Where else should I be but in this room in this bed? I have nowhere to run as he well knows.

     His appearance in the light of the doorway makes me feel small, but I resist the urge to shrink further to the edge of the bed. Something inside me rises, and though I am fearful, I raise my head slightly and look at his face. It wears a blank expression, and as he closes the door behind him, he asks if I am comfortable.

     “Yes, sir. Thank you. I am.”

     He sits upon the bed and stretches out his hand to me, not touching. “Good. I hope that you are. Madam. Elizabeth. I know you must be fatigued.” He seems to want to say more but does not. The emptiness of the air and the words unspoken swell the space between us, and I remember my resolve.

     “I am not so fatigued, sir.” I try to smile and not appear embarrassed by my circumstances. A shadow of a reply plays across his lips in acknowledgement, and he begins to undress. I turn my head, for watching a man disrobe is wholly without my experience, and I had not anticipated it. I knew it was not a spectacle I should usually witness since Mr Darcy would normally be undressed by his valet. But this night we have been, as so often during our short association, wrong-footed by matters outside our control. Only one chamber was available, so only one chamber do we have.

     And only one bed—so I know I must make the best of it. When he wears only his lawn shirt, he lifts the side of the blanket and, looking at my face for only a moment, gets in. He also looks at the candlelight flickering across the empty wall before turning to me and saying “Elizabeth, come,” as he takes my shoulder and rolls me towards his embrace. My mother had told me it would be over quickly, and so indeed it was. He is not rough and has the goodness to warn me it may hurt at first. It does hurt, but I do not cry out; I will not allow myself to do so. I simply lie before him and allow him to part my legs and enter me as I had been told he would. I find I am not prepared for the odd feeling of his great weight upon me nor the solitary feelings of indistinct woe that beset me as I lie on my side afterwards, feeling his wetness, hearing his breathing, and hopeless of sleep for myself.


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About the Author

Jenetta James is a lawyer, writer, mother and taker-on of too much. She grew up in Cambridge and read history at Oxford University where she was a scholar and president of the Oxford University History Society. After graduating, she took to the law and now practises full time as a barrister. Over the years she has lived in France, Hungary and Trinidad as well as her native England. Jenetta currently lives in London with her husband and children where she enjoys reading, laughing and playing with Lego. Suddenly Mrs. Darcy is her first novel. 

Connect with Jenetta

The Suddenly Mrs. Darcy Blog Tour Schedule
Sponsored by Meryton Press and Leatherbound Reviews

4/20: Excerpt & Giveaway at The Calico Critic
4/21: Review at Songs and Stories
4/22: Guest Post & Giveaway at My Jane Austen Book Club
4/23: Guest Post & Giveaway at So Little Time…
4/24: Review at Diary of an Eccentric
4/25: Excerpt & Giveaway at My Love for Jane Austen
4/26: Review at Babblings of a Bookworm
4/27: Guest Post & Giveaway at Austenesque Reviews
4/28: Guest Post at Songs and Stories
4/29: Excerpt & Giveaway at Best Sellers and Best Stellars
4/30: Review at My Kids Led Me Back to Pride and Prejudice
5/1: Review at Margie's Must Reads
5/2: Guest Post & Giveaway at More Agreeably Engaged
5/3: Excerpt & Giveaway at Laughing with Lizzie

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Book Review: Geek Physics by Rhett Allain

Star Wars has been on my mind a bit today.  There was a one-hour simulcast at Star Wars Celebration today, live from Anaheim which included interviews with new and returning cast members and concluded with the latest teaser trailer for Episode VII.  I checked out a bit of it during lunchtime, but the convention continues throughout the weekend.  In fact, as I write, more live streams are still running on the Star Wars YouTube page!

On a seemingly unrelated note, I also took a look at a little book called Geek Physics.  I hadn't planned on writing a critique, but I just couldn't resist with this one.  It's just too fun.  Here's my quickie review:

I am an admitted fangirl of such frivolous things as Star Wars, the Avengers, Lord of the Rings and Back to the Future.  Apparently, Rhett Allain is a fanboy of the same persuasion.  In his recent book Geek Physics, Allain tackles the physics behind several concepts within these fantastical worlds.  He breaks down imaginary theories to real-world physics and formulas, answering some of the most burning questions of our time:

  • What is the density of Thor’s hammer, Mjölnir?
  • What is the recoil speed of Captain America?
  • Could Superman punch someone into space?
  • How realistic is Angry Birds physics?
  • What kind of power source would you need to run a lightsaber?
  • If R2-D2 is able to fly, how much does he really weigh?

And one of the most crucial questions facing the Star Wars community today:


Other interesting, yet more realistic topics are discussed, ones that even a non-fanboy or girl would find amusing:
  • Does replacing paper flight manuals with iPads ultimately save fuel for the airline industry? (My husband, a Gulfstream IV pilot will surely have something to say about that.)
  • Can ice cream get cold enough to be zero calories?  (A girl can hope…)
  • How many dollar bills would it take to stack them to the moon?  (May I have half of them?)
  • How high would you have to drop a frozen turkey so that it is cooked when it lands?

This brief volume is packed with humorous and interesting ideas, many of which I had never considered before (the turkey question being one of them).  As I’ve been looking over the book, I find myself laughing out loud and reading to my children.  I can’t wait to show the Han Solo section to my fanboy husband.  There is a decent amount of physics-speak in Geek Physics that goes right over my head, but overall I found Allain’s writing to be easy to understand and incredibly amusing.  I would not recommend reading this alone or in a quiet library.  You WILL want to share some of these ideas with a friend and you most probably will laugh out loud.  Geek Physics may just change the way you think about scientific study, and that has real-world applications indeed.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Book Review and Giveaway (US): The Turnip Princess

In literature and in cinema, fairy tales were an integral part of my childhood. The stories transported me to incredible worlds of magic and wonder, taking me “down the rabbit hole” in a variety of ways. The usual suspects were there: Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Sleeping Beauty… both in print and on the silver screen, these stories captivated me.  I believe my first YA novel was Beauty by Robin McKinley, which I read in elementary school in the late 70’s/early 80’s.  One of my favorite books of all time is The Neverending Story by Michael Ende. It displaced me to the extent that I literally felt as if I entered the fictional world of Fantastica.  To this day, I can remember lying in my bed, finishing the book and not wanting it to end.  It was so magical.

Over the years I’ve collected quite a few books featuring fairy tales, and as I’ve grown to understand some of the history behind these legends, I now know that they aren’t always like we see in Disney films or in the Golden Book versions of the tales. Many are dark, with social and political commentary woven throughout.  I was particularly surprised when I read an earlier version of Cinderella in which the ugly stepsisters were literally cutting their feet so that they might fit into the glass slipper. And the Hansel and Gretel story—think about it—a witch in the woods who EATS CHILDREN.   Then there’s Snow White-- The huntsman was to literally bring back her heart to the evil Queen. When we take a closer look, many of these tales do not seem appropriate for children at all!

As fairy tales have endured over the centuries, many scholars have gone about studying their history and evolution over the years.  Some of the frequently-studied authors are the brothers Grimm, Charles Perrault and Hans Christian Andersen, the men who brought to us the most well-known of fables. However, while in the Municipal Archive of Regensburg, Erika Eichenseer stumbled across 500 lost fairy tales of Franz Xaver von Schönwerth, a 19th-century folklorist from Bavaria. He lived in the same era as the Grimms, and culled his apologues from his travels in the region, talking to local storytellers and legend-keepers. Since that discovery in 2009, Erika has painstakingly put together an amazing selection of these tales in The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales.

The stories are divided into six categories:
  • Tales of Magic and Romance
  • Enchanted Animals
  • Otherworldly Creatures 
  • Legends
  • Tall Tales and Anecdotes
  • Tales About Nature
The tone of the writing is very much like traditional fairy tales. It’s light, but unusual and assumes that the reader will accept just about any premise for a story. The narratives are short—some are only one page in length, and others run a few pages. Some are humorous, and others seem to be harboring a bit of social commentary.

Because my mind is so engrained with the traditional tales mentioned earlier, reading these newly-discovered stories actually felt a little strange.  They almost had an alien-like feel to them.  Not in an extra-terrestrial sort of way, but there was an oddness and unfamiliarity there.  Some didn’t make sense to me either—I had a hard time figuring out the point of some of the anecdotes.  For example, one unusual chapter is entitled A Pot of Gold in the Oven (p.167-168), in which a retired soldier discovers a stash of gold, only to find it has disappeared for seemingly no reason. And the titular fable, The Turnip Princess (p.3-5), while it did have familiar elements, also had moments of peculiarity.

Yet other chapters were very much in the vein of stories that I’ve known and loved. One of my favorites is The Little Flax Flower (p.109-11).  Like most of the tales in this anthology, it covers just over two pages. It has familiar elements, such as a beautiful maiden with a plain girl, magic, and a handsome prince-like gentleman. I loved the moral that it shares, that hard work and integrity are more important than beauty and self-absorption. In those few short pages I became devoted to the plain maiden and loved to see how her fate played out.  There were other tales in The Turnip Princess that were of similar persuasion.

While some of the stories in The Turnip Princess were at times odd and may not necessarily find their way to the Disney studios, there were many that I found enchanting, entertaining and whimsical. This title truly is a must-read for any scholar of fairy tales or oral traditions. It’s quite the historical find, and truly a classic gift to the world. Franz Xaver Von Schönwerth, Erika Eichenseer and translator Maria Tatar invested so much of their lives to bring this to us, and the literary world is better for it. This is certain to be golden treasure of its own, not likely to disappear any time soon.

The Turnip Princess
and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales (US)

Penguin Classics has graciously offered a paperback copy of this historic title! Please use the Rafflecopter widget below and enter to win!  Contest period ends at 12am EST on April 18th, 2015.  Open to U.S. addresses only.  Prize administered by Viking/Penguin Books.

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About the Editor

Erika Eichenseer, born in Munich, Germany, in 1934, was brought up in a teacher's familiy with a story-telling mother. After studying to become a teacher, she married Dr Adolf Eichenseer, also a teacher, who later became the art director for traditional cultural development in the Oberpfalz (Upper Palatinate), a part of Bavaria. Both Erika und Adolf are storytellers, authors, playwrights and poets, who have dedicated much of their lives to keeping alive the region's traditional culture.

Until 1979, Erika was a teacher in elementary and secondary schools. There she started a school theatre, adapting regional tales, such as those from Franz Xaver von Schönwerth, which fascinated her from the very beginning. Besides putting on plays, she experimented with different and mixed media such as puppets, marionettes, shadow theatre, black-light-shows.

From 1979 on she changed direction to work in her husband's institute for traditional cultural development, specializing in regional literature, documentation and the te-animation of traditional customs and arts. In this function she guided 400 amateur theatre groups in the region, giving them specialized courses, reviewing the value of their playing material, opening up many other possibilities for finding good plays, an she wrote plays herself.

In 1986, the 100th anniversary of the death of Franz Xaver von Schönwerth, the German collector of folklore, customs, myths and legends, who worked at the time of the brothers Grimm and was highly regarded by them, she edited a reader and an educational supplement with his tales for all schools in the region to promote this mostly unknown collector of the complete folk customs and tales of Oberpfalz. This was not enough, however, to launch Schönwerth, who remained unknown.

In 2010, his 200th birthday-anniversary, the newly established Schönwerth-society succeeded in raising his profile. A series of presentations, mainly planned and produced by Dr Adolf und Erika Eichenseer, focused the public view on this extraordinary personality. And "Prinz Roßzwifl" ("The Scarab Prince"), a choice of Schönwerth's fairytales, edited by Erika Eichenseer, was published.

In March 2012, an article in "The Guardian" focused international interest on the 500 unknown tales, brought to light in Erika's book an regarded as a "sensational find". Prinz Roßzwifl included new fairytales never published before, and they had the great historical value of being in the original oral format they were collected in.

Penguin Classics





Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Blu-ray Giveaway (US/CA)

I'm a big fan of the recent Tolkien films, beginning with Fellowship of the Ring in 2001. The latest Hobbit movies have diverted quite a bit from my previous exposure to the story, both in print and in animated form.  However, they are very much in the same vein as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, with Peter Jackson's tone of directing, the amazing cinematography of New Zealand, the cutting-edge special effects, and the epic soundtrack from composer Howard Shore. Like some of you, I haven't seen the third Hobbit film yet, but you can enter to win a copy for yourself!  Check out the details below and enter to win!

From Academy Award-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson comes The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies," the third in a trilogy of films adapting the enduringly popular masterpiece The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies brings to an epic conclusion the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, Thorin Oakenshield and the Company of Dwarves. Having reclaimed their homeland from the Dragon Smaug, the Company has unwittingly unleashed a deadly force into the world.

Special Features on the Blu-Ray combo pack include:

  • New Zealand: Home of Middle-earth Part 3 
  • Recruiting the Five Armies
  • Completing Middle-earth: A Six-Part Saga
  • Completing Middle-earth: A Seventeen-Year Journey 
  • The Last Goodbye: Behind the Scenes
  • Music Video
  • Trailers #TheHobbit


Contest Guidelines:
  • Enter the contest by filling out the Rafflecopter widget below
  • Each household is only eligible to win One (1) Blu-ray The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies via blog reviews and giveaways. Only one entrant per mailing address per giveaway. If you have won the same prize on another blog, you will not be eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.
  • Entrants must provide an email address in the Rafflecopter widget so that they can be contacted if they win. Failure to respond to the awarding email within 72 hours will lead to disqualification, and a new winner will be chosen. Be sure to add to your email system so that messages will not end up in your spam file.
  • Giveaway open to the U.S. and Canada
  • The prize will be sent via FedEx or USPS. No P.O. Boxes please. Please note that the assets included within this message were delivered to you to promote Warner Home Video. Any actions (including contest and competitions) that you complete with the provided assets are your liability, and should comply with both local and international laws. Also, please remember to disclose that you are working with Warner Home Video, or that Warner Home Video supplied these materials to you if required by local law.
  • Contest ends at 12:00am EST on April 14th, 2015

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Are you Brave like Bilbo? Take the quiz to find out if you have the bravery it takes to journey through Middle Earth! Mouse over the Interactive Map to learn fun facts about Middle-Earth. Watch the official trailer & click the box art to bring the film home today!

Here's a behind-the-scenes look at New Zealand. So gorgeous! I hope to visit there someday. 

Here's a bit about the making of the film:

Hobbit 1

Hobbit 2

Hobbit 3


Disclosure: This giveaway is brought to you by Partners Hub.
I did not receive any compensation for posting this giveaway. All opinions are my own.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Book Review: Mist of Midnight by Sandra Byrd

In the first of a brand-new series set in Victorian England, a young woman returns home from India after the death of her family to discover her identity and inheritance are challenged by the man who holds her future in his hands.

Rebecca Ravenshaw, daughter of missionaries, spent most of her life in India. Following the death of her family in the Indian Mutiny, Rebecca returns to claim her family estate in Hampshire, England. Upon her return, people are surprised to see her…and highly suspicious. Less than a year earlier, an imposter had arrived with an Indian servant and assumed not only Rebecca’s name, but her home and incomes. That pretender died within months of her arrival; the servant fled to London as the young woman was hastily buried at midnight. The locals believe that perhaps she, Rebecca, is the real imposter. Her home and her father’s investments reverted to a distant relative, the darkly charming Captain Luke Whitfield, who quickly took over. Against her best intentions, Rebecca begins to fall in love with Luke, but she is forced to question his motives—does he love her or does he just want Headbourne House? If Luke is simply after the property, as everyone suspects, will she suffer a similar fate as the first “Rebecca”?

A captivating Gothic love story set against a backdrop of intrigue and danger,
Mist of Midnight will leave you breathless.

At the age of four you are taken from your childhood home in England to live with your family in England.  About 20 years pass, and India becomes a home of its own. Tragically you lose your family to disease and social unrest. It’s time to go home--  To your father’s grand house in England. Perhaps it’s the only certain thing you have in this world. Until it isn’t.  Even this sure thing seems to be taken from you. By a stranger.

Such is the premise of Mist of Midnight by Sandra Byrd. In 1858 Rebecca Ravenshaw returns home to her family estate, only to find that someone has come before. Taken her identity, much of her fortune, and worse, the trust of the community.  Yet there was no way to confront this imposter—she’s mysteriously passed away. And now Rebecca’s inheritance and security are to pass to a distant relative, Captain Luke Whitfield. Rebecca must overcome legal, social and personal issues if she is ever to truly regain her place at Headbourne House.

A few years ago I read The Secret Keeper by Sandra Byrd. This has been my only other exposure to her work, and I found it to be an enjoyable journey into 16th Century England. Mist of Midnight has a much different feel.  There’s less political intrigue and more of a gothic, somber puzzle being worked out. That said, Mist of Midnight is hardly depressing—the tone of it is just a bit more grounded and serious, with almost a dream-like quality at times. I enjoyed Rebecca Ravenshaw as a character and was fascinated with the details of her life. On a personal note, I have had a growing interest in the country of India, with Christian missions in particular, for about fifteen years. Knowing that many of the events described in Mist of Midnight are actually based on historical events made the details of the story that much more interesting to me.

As with The Secret Keeper, Sandra Byrd weaves in Christian principles and concepts into her writing. The religious overtones are not as prophetic as in the other work, but they very much are an integral part of the life of this daughter of missionaries. Rebecca enjoys reading Paradise Lost, looks for the angelic hand of God in her life, and applies scripture in her daily living. She doesn’t come across as an uptight missionary kid, but someone who loves God and trusts Him with every aspect of her life.  Regardless of whether she ultimately returns to Headbourne House, she knows that her Paradise Lost can become Paradise Regained in some form or fashion, in whatever way that God would will it.

Along with the quest to recover her childhood home, Rebecca must also contend with matters of the heart. I enjoyed her love interest in this story, and found their journey to be realistic, given the difficult situation they found themselves in.  There’s a bit of mystery in Captain Luke Whitfield’s situation, as his level of involvement in Rebecca’s identity theft is left to speculation for much of the novel.  There was a twist at the end that I found to be particularly surprising. Mist of Midnight did follow some predictable paths, but Byrd’s writing is very engaging, and the twists she threw in kept my interest.

Mist of Midnight is the beginning of a whole new series for Sandra Byrd, and I’m happy to know this. As a stand-alone novel Mist of Midnight can certainly hold its own, but knowing that there is more to come is good news. I enjoyed Midnight even more than The Secret Keeper and look forward to seeing what is to come with the Daughters of Hampshire series.

Limited Time Offer!!

Stop by Sandra's website and enter to win in her Gothic Romance Giveaway!

March 25 - April 1st

About the Author

After earning her first rejection at the age of thirteen, bestselling author Sandra Byrd has now published more than forty books. Her adult fiction debut, Let Them Eat Cake, was a Christy Award finalist, as was her first historical novel, To Die For: A Novel of Anne Boleyn. To Die For was also named by Library Journal as a Best Books Pick for 2011 and The Secret Keeper: A Novel of Kateryn Parr, was named a Library Journal Best Books Pick for 2012. The Tudor series’ end cap, Roses Have Thorns: A Novel of Elizabeth I published in April, 2013.

A life-long lover of Victorian Gothic romances, Sandra’s new series, Daughters of Hampshire, weaves elements of that mystical, traditional genre with inspirational and literary threads. Mist of Midnight is the series’ first book.

Sandra has also published dozens of books for tweens and teens, and is passionate about helping new authors develop their talent and their work toward traditional or independent publication. As such, she has mentored and coached hundreds of new writers and continues to coach dozens to success each year.

Please visit to learn more.

Connect with Sandra



LIW Book 1

LIW Book 2

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Guest Post and Giveaway: Young Jane Austen by Lisa Pliscou

Today I'm pleased to welcome writer and guest poster Lisa Pliscou. She has a fascinating new title available, and today she is visiting The Calico Critic to share a few thoughts on the young Jane Austen, as well as offer a nice giveaway. Thanks to Lisa for such an intriguing essay, and for the contest as well!  

What Jane Read: A Turning Point 

I’m really excited to be here, and to share with you a little bit about my upcoming book, Young Jane Austen: Becoming a Writer, a new biography for adults which focuses on Austen’s childhood, her creative development, and the intriguing connections to her mature work.

The first part of Young Jane Austen is made up of 20 short chapters, each one highlighting a significant event in Jane’s early years, and each one illustrated by the artist Massimo Mongiardo.

The chapter called “Reading” focuses on a big turning point in young Jane’s life.

When Jane Austen was eleven, her formal schooling — which entailed two stints in boarding schools, neither of which it seems she particularly enjoyed — ended. But once again established at home, she was fortunate to have the run of her family’s unusually extensive collection of books, as well as the library of her neighbors, the Lefroys, to which she is said to have free access.

By all reports, the young Jane was a voracious reader, and omnivorous in her tastes: poetry, plays, novels (both elevated and trashy), sermons; essays about manners, society, life; books about history and books about travel.

Thinking of this, I was fascinated to read an article in The Atlantic called “Secrets of the Creative Brain,” in which neuroscientist Nancy C. Andreasen comments, “Many creative people are autodidacts,” thriving in an environment in which they can pursue their interests at their own pace.

And in his insightful book Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention, Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says:

“You cannot transform a domain unless you first thoroughly understand how it works. . . . the old Italian saying seems to apply: Impara l’arte, e mettila da parte (learn the craft, and then set it aside). One cannot be creative without learning what others know, but then one cannot be creative without becoming dissatisfied with that knowledge and rejecting it (or some of it) for a better way.”

What spot-on descriptions of the young Jane!

Not only did Jane have hundreds of books available to her, she also belonged to a family that was lively and intellectual — one in which people not only read, they wrote, too. A great many letters came and went; Mr. Austen, a rector, wrote sermons, and Mrs. Austen, witty, sometimes acerbic poetry. Jane’s older brothers wrote essays and poems, as well as bits and pieces of plays.

So it is, perhaps, not totally surprising that around age 11 or 12 Jane shifted from being a passive reader to a more critical, responsive one. Still, what a huge shift it was, and particularly so given her age!

She began writing little notes in the margins of books — little comments — when she found something that seemed silly, misguided, or outright wrong to her.

For example, in a history book that favored the Tudor queen Elizabeth over the Scots queen Mary Stuart, Jane wrote firmly, No. No. A Lie. And: Another lie.

At some point in her youth, Jane wrote up several imaginary marriages for herself in her father’s parish register. How fun to see the names “Fitzwilliam” (Mr. Darcy’s first name in Pride and Prejudice) and “Edmund” (as in Mansfield Park’s love interest Edmund Bertram) show up. It’s easy to imagine kind, indulgent Mr. Austen laughing at young Jane’s literary prank!

And going back even earlier, Jane had a French textbook given to her when she was eight. In it, many years later, we see — in a child’s scrawl and presumed to be Jane’s — the decidedly non-academic sentences Mothers angry fathers gone out and I wish I had done.

From Claire Tomalin's Jane Austen: A Life

I find these anecdotes charming, and very moving and exciting and well. These pranks, these scribbles, represent Jane’s very first “baby steps” in her journey toward becoming a writer. She is becoming dissatisfied, as Csikszentmihalyi describes it; she has begun to transform her domain.

Something as small, as simple, as decisive as No. No. A Lie: in these few words we can glimpse the promise of the brilliant writer she is soon to become.

Giveaway: Young Jane Austen by Lisa Pliscou
(U.S. and Canadian Mailing Addresses Only)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

About the Author

Lisa Pliscou is an acclaimed author of both fiction and nonfiction — funny, thought-provoking, educational, inspiring — for adults and children, with a highlight on the coming-of-age experience.

Her work has been praised by the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Sun-Times, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, the Associated Press, The Horn Book, and other media.

Her forthcoming book, Young Jane Austen: Becoming a Writer, is a biography for adults that’s sure to intrigue anyone interested in Jane Austen, in writing and the creative process, and in the triumph of the artistic spirit.

“Like the very best of books, Young Jane Austen exists well beyond labels,” says Beth Kephart. “It is an empathetic biography and an empathic search, a reflection on a singular person and an engaging, universal treatise on creative fervor.”

Also coming next year is a new edition of Lisa’s first novel, Higher Education, praised by David Foster Wallace, Mary Robison, Tara Altebrando, and others, with a new afterword by Jeff Gomez.

As well as being an author, Lisa worked for many years “on the inside” in the publishing field. After graduating with honors from Harvard University with a degree in English and American Literature and Language, she went on to employment in top-tier publishing houses in NYC, including Random House and the Penguin Group, where she served as managing editor of the adult division at Viking Penguin and as a senior editor for Viking Children’s Books. She’s also been a longtime independent editor, and helped create and manage courses at Stanford University’s innovative, world-renowned publishing program.

A native Californian who’s lived all over the country, Lisa has recently returned to her home state, settling happily in the Sacramento area with her family.

Connect with Lisa

Saturday, March 21, 2015

New Book from Rachel Hauck | How to Catch a Prince and Royal Giveaway

Behind him, beside him, before him, the synchronized cathedral bells began to ring out.

One, two, three . . .

Then she said it first. The words his heart burst to share. “I love you, Stephen..”

She caught her prince once. Can she catch him again?

American heiress Corina Del Rey’s life was devastated by war. Every thing she loved was lost. But after five years of grief, she’s shed her grave clothes and started over in the sunshine along the Florida coast.

But some things are not so easily forgotten. When a secret from her past confronts her face to face, she realizes she must follow her heart. Even if it cost her everything.

Prince Stephen of Brighton Kingdom is a former Royal Air Command lieutenant turned star rugby player, trying to make sense of his life after the devastation of war.

When his brother, King Nathaniel, discovers Stephen’s pre war secret, he must deal with an aspect of his life he longed to forget. But how can he do so without exposing the truth and breaching national security?

Yet, true love has a destiny all it’s own. As the cathedral bells peal through Cathedral City, Corina and Stephen must chose to answer the call of love on their hearts.

Or let it be lost forever?

The year 2013 brought us Once Upon a Prince, followed by Princess Ever After in 2014, and now we have the next volume in the Royal Wedding Series by Rachel Hauck.  I enjoyed the first two titles in this collection, and How to Catch a Prince is no exception.  Like its predecessors, the main female character is from the American south, this time the Melbourne, Florida area, not too far from where I lived in Vero Beach from 2006-2011. I found it amusing that two of the three stories in the Royal Wedding Series are set in areas very close to areas I’ve lived.  This bears no influence on my opinion of the books; I just found it to be interesting.

Unlike the other novels, How to Catch a Prince begins with the main characters’ relationship in a different state. They already know each other and have a significant bit of history.  The struggle of the tale comes in how they work out that history, as well as painful secrets between them.  Corina and Stephen have great chemistry—in just being around each other, they can’t help but banter and participate in the dance that is their relationship.  Corina is vulnerable, yet strong.  I had Olivia Munn from The Newsroom in mind as I envisioned her.  For the royal, rugby-playing Stephen I imagined Henry Cavill of the latest Superman movie.  There is more than one reference to the Man of Steel in the novel, so I found that casting choice to be an interesting one.  And like Stephen, Henry is not an American. He has a lovely English accent, much like I hear in my head for Stephen.

Corina: Olivia Munn
Stephen:  Henry Cavill

The narrative tension in How to Catch a Prince is not quite as strong as in the other novels, but I never lost interest in the plot as the story unfolded.  The conclusion of the story was kind of a “given” in my mind.  It was just a matter of seeing how we would get to that conclusion, and specifically how that ending would appear.  Hauck once again includes a significant portion of spiritual material with her characters.  God is definitely an influencing force in their lives and relationship.  I particularly enjoyed the use of a couple of characters in an old inn, where Corina resided while on a visit to the kingdom of Brighton. They were certainly very spiritual, but I also felt that they gave a “Cinderella feel” to the story, taking on fairy-like roles in Corina’s life. It was magical, and I loved their presence in the narrative.

Rachel does include references to the other novels in this series, most notably the first novel, as Stephen is the brother of King Nathaniel from Once Upon a Prince.  But as with the other titles, How to Catch a Prince can very much stand on its own.  Reading the books in order is of course preferable, but feel free to jump right in with How to Catch a Prince.  You’ll do just fine. Once again Rachel Hauck has brought a fun, light, yet spiritually thoughtful story to her audience. It’s my understanding that this is to be the end of the series, but I hope that Ms. Hauck composes another.  The ancient ancestor King Stephen could easily sustain his own novel. Indeed, his life story is interesting enough that it’s made into a movie within How to Catch a Prince.  I think there’s some good storytelling to be found there.

As the new Cinderella movie has come to theaters (and I look forward to seeing that as well), lovers of fanciful tales involving commoners transforming into princesses will most likely enjoy the Royal Wedding Series by Rachel Hauck.  She provides for her audience fun entertainment, but with an important spiritual messages, such as "Don't confine yourself to a life of insignificance," and "You are a person of worth because Christ died for you." Her stories are more than sweet romantic tales, tied up with a pretty bow. While they are sweet and romantic, the eternal truths that they share go beyond mere fairy tale. They can touch the reader's heart and be an instrument of God's hand in their lives. So while How to Catch a Prince was an entertaining, magical and worthy newcomer to this delightful series, it also encourages us to live a life of purpose and to know that yes, even we are worth dying for.

An American heiress and a crown prince seem destined to be together. Will the devastation of war keep them apart forever? Find out in Rachel Hauck's new book, How to Catch a Prince. True love has a destiny all its own. With a little heavenly help, Prince Stephen and Corina embark on a journey of truth. But when the secrets are revealed, can they overcome, move forward, and find love again?

Enter to win a "royal" prize pack! 


One grand prize winner will receive:
  • A royal-themed Brighton charm bracelet
  • 2 tickets to see the new Cinderella movie
  • The Royal Wedding series (Once Upon a Prince, Princess Ever After, and How to Catch a Prince)
Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on March 23rd. Winner will be announced March 24th on Rachel's blog.






Book 1

About the Author: 

Rachel Hauck is an award-winning, best selling author of critically acclaimed novels such as The Wedding Dress, Love Starts with Elle, and Once Upon A Prince. She also penned the Songbird Novels with multi-platinum recording artist, Sara Evans. Booklist named their novel, Softly and Tenderly, one of 2011 Top Ten Inspirationals. She serves on the Executive Board for American Christian Fiction Writers and is a mentor and book therapist at My Book Therapy, and conference speaker. Rachel lives in central Florida with her husband and pets.

Find Rachel online: website, Facebook, Twitter

Check out the other stops on the How to Catch a Prince Blog Tour, sponsored by Litfuse Publicity:

Marianne | Reviewing Novels Online
Mary | The Mary Book Reader
Sally | Proverbial Reads
Jendi | Jendi's Journal
Hallie | Book by Book
Megan | When life gets you a book
Alyssa | Sunrise Avenue
Julia | Avid Reader Reviews

Julie | Julie Arduini
Victoria | deal sharing aunt
Angela | Griperang's Bookmarks

Laura | Lighthouse Academy
Carole | The Power of Words
Cassandra | Cassandra M's Place
Jojo | JoJo's Corner

Joan | Book Reviews from an Avid Reader

Raechel | God's Peculiar treasure Raechel

Billy | Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer
Victor | Vic's Media Room
Kristin | Kritters Ramblings
Charity | Giveaway Lady
Becky | Christian Chick's Thoughts

Britney | Buzzing About Books
Erin | For Him and My Family
Kathleen | Reviews From The Heart

Cara | Cara Putman
Veronica | Veronica's 'Views
Jess | From Me to You ... Video, Photography, & Book Reviews

Linda | Mocha with Linda
Sharon | Sharon's Garden of Book Reviews
Rachel | Empower Moms
Brittany | Britt Reads Fiction
Brooke | i blog 4 books
Iola | Iola's Christian Reads

Shanae | Quirky Book Reviews

Marcia | Cia Says
Amanda | Inklings and Notions
Heather | The Sunset Won't

Jenny | Book Reviews By Jenny
Jaime | The Mama Games
Amber | snidbits
Joy | Splashes of Joy
Cristi | Cristi's Reviews
Shannah | Faith * Love * Books
Margaret | Frugal-Shopping

Angela | A Busy Mom of Two
Amy | A Nest in the Rocks
Crystal | Reading Corner Book Reviews & More!
Rayleigh | Accelerate The Jesus Movement
Shauna | Paper Tape & Pins
Kav | Best Reads

Callie | Through Clouded Glass

Holly | 2 Kids and Tired Books
Beckie | By The Book
Kristie | Moments
Lisa | Living Echoes

April | Dixie n Dottie
Abbi | Christian Novels
Jennifer | Genuine Jenn
Pamela | Daysong Reflections
Margaret | The World As I See It
Jennifer | Book Reviews from a Book Lover

Nise | Under the Boardwalk
Tiffany | The Crafty Home
Bethany | Perfect Beginnings
Marisa | A Way With Words
Sara | Sara Ella
Katherine | Story Matters
Jamie | Little Blurbs
Melissa | Melissa Mashburn: Real Women. Real Life. Real Faith.
Melina | Melina's Book Blog
Beth | For The Love of Books
Marissa | The Review Stew
Kay | Kaisy Daisy's Corner
Andi | Radiant Light
Amber | Amber Writes
Jennifer | Jen's Journey

Taylor | Taylor Reid Reads and Breathes
Julie | More Of Him
Lena | A Christian Writers World
Laura | The Calico Critic
Lindsay | Nighttime Reading Center
Leslie | Did you hear about the Morgan's?
Cindy | All Things Are Possible

Mindy | A Room Without Books is Empty
Michelle | Our Little Corner of the World
Lisa | A Rup life
Suzanne | Clicking Her Heels

Madilyn | The Literary Maidens
Jalynn | A Simple Life, really?!
Rachelle | Inspiring Daring
Tammy | Tammy is Blessed
Shirley | A Mom After God's Own Heart
Amanda | The Talbert Report
Heather | Misadventures of the Dynamic Uno
Stacey | WORD Up

Complimentary copy provided for review purposes only. No other compensation given.

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.

*          *          *

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!




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