Saturday, May 21, 2016

Melanie Dickerson’s The Beautiful Pretender Once Upon a Kindle Giveaway

For many, the search for one’s spouse can be a tricky endeavor, and this is no less true for the Reinhart Stolten, the Margrave of Thornbeck in Melanie Dickerson’s The Beautiful Pretender.  In him we find a 14th century nobleman in search of a bride, similar to many a plot in classic fairy tales. His method of choosing a wife is managed much like we see in today’s television show, “The Bachelor”, in that he invites ten women from around his Germanic realm as candidates.  At the end of their two week stay in his castle, he plans to ask one of them to marry him. Unbeknownst to Reinhart, one woman is an impostor, a mere servant girl named Avelina who is standing in for a lady who has run off with a knight.  For reasons revealed in the book, she must obey the Earl of Plimmwald or face dire consequences for her family and her community.  Not only must she attend this gathering of potential brides, but she must also remain inconspicuous and avoid being chosen.  To be selected would bring negative political consequences to Plimmwald.  Unfortunately, as time goes on, she and the Margrave find themselves drawn to each other. Complicating matters, Avelina stumbles upon a conspiracy that could not only threaten the balance of power, but her very life as well.

The Beautiful Pretender was a quick and light read which I enjoyed very much.  Many of the story themes were familiar, but I relished the way that Melanie Dickerson drew out her narrative.  There were several themes which I found interesting in particular. I liked the allusions to classic fairy tales such as Beauty and the Beast and The Princess and the Pea. Like Princess and the Pea, Avelina’s nobility is questioned, as is her character.  As the other bridal candidates were, she was put through tests to judge her character and worthiness to be Stolten’s wife.  Despite her actual lack of noble-born blood, she is found to be one of the most upstanding of the women in the group.


The Beauty and the Beast allusion was a thought-provoking one, and for the first time I found myself questioning the values behind it.  Reinhart Stolten is a wounded warrior, one who is grieving the loss of loved ones and is also earnestly looking for a mate.  Like the “Beast”, he can be grumpy, has a bit of a temper, and has secrets within the west wing of his castle.  As Avelina is drawn to him, part of her wants to get close to him so that she can help heal his broken heart. 


“Avelina would be good for him. She could make him stop scowling, could make him believe in love and goodness. She could love him out of that dark thought pattern he seemed to be in, thinking about his lame ankle and about his poor dead brother and how he could not save him.” (p.162)


As I read this passage, I found my married self balking at this notion. After over twenty years of marriage, I’ve come to understand a few things about what makes a successful union. While I’m not a perfect wife, I’ve learned over the decades that we must not enter into a relationship with the idea that we are going to “fix” our loved one.  This is especially true when looking for a spouse. We need to do as James Dobson suggests, to “Keep our eyes wide open before marriage and halfway closed thereafter.” Our spouses can be our better halves in the sense that we can encourage one another on to love and good deeds, but starting a relationship with the idea that we would “fix” them can be very risky.  Yes, we should be very aware of our future mate’s flaws.  But are they flaws that we are willing to live with for the rest of our lives? Through God’s influence they might change, but they might not.  We need to love them regardless.  Fortunately, I don’t see Avelina as a stringent fixer-type.  She seems to care about Reinhart and just wants to love him in his pain.  He also seems to open to her opinions, which she was more than willing to share, and were not always in line with what he expected in a woman.  My guess is that given her temperament, she would be an encouragement to him, and not a pestering wife.


Another interesting theme dealt with the issue of self-respect.  In this I could see shadows of Cinderella, in that Avelina is a servant girl who dons fine, tailored clothing and is one of several choices for a noble bride.  And although she is a mere hireling, she learns along the way the value of respecting herself regardless of her position in life.  Even a servant can command and deserve respect, given how they carry themselves and expect to be treated. This life lesson was something I saw growing in this character as she spent time in Thornbeck Castle, and I respected Melanie Dickerson for including it.  Not all of us can be princesses or be noble-born, but we can all have dignity and treat ourselves accordingly.  This is not about haughty pride.  It’s about being a creation of God and worthy of care.


Given the main premise of the novel, Avelina’s true identity was sure to be revealed at some point. This is a bit of a spoiler, but any savvy reader would expect that the Margrave would discover the truth eventually.  While I expected this plot point, I was surprised at how soon this revelation occurred in the story.  It was approximately halfway through the book when the truth is revealed.  I wondered how Dickerson would keep the story going, with about half of the title left to go.  Fortunately, I was rewarded with an exciting tale of power struggles, chases, injuries, romance, and even a little bit of Christian faith thrown in.  The second half was more riveting than the first, and the conclusion was delightful.  


Melanie Dickerson is an author I have wanted to read for some time now, and I’m so glad I’ve been able to be a part of this book tour for The Beautiful Pretender.  In this novel I was entertained in a lighthearted and refreshing fashion.  Dickerson’s writing is very accessible and family friendly, while still bringing some passion to the love scenes. It might not have fairies and magical creatures, but the storytelling was quite magical and a delight to enjoy.  I look forward to reading more of Ms. Dickerson in the future.





About the Author

Melanie Dickerson is an award-winning author who earned her bachelor’s degree in special education from The University of Alabama.

She has taught in Georgia, Tennessee, Germany and the Eastern European country of Ukraine.

A member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and Romance Writers of America (RWA), she now spends her time writing and taking care of her husband and two daughters near Huntsville, Alabama.








GIVEAWAY!!



Join Melanie in celebrating the release of The Beautiful Pretender by entering to win her Once Upon a Kindle giveaway!

beautiful pretender - 400 

One grand prize winner will receive:
  • A copy of The Beautiful Pretender
  • A Kindle Fire tablet
  • A $25 Amazon gift card
  • The choice between a Funko POP Disney Beauty or Beast doll

beautiful pretender - prize collage 


Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry! The giveaway ends on June 7th. 
The winner will be announced June 8th on Melanie's blog.


beautiful pretender - enter banner





Paperback copy of the novel provided by Litfuse Publicity for review purposes only.





Hardback Paperback Kindle Audio

Monday, May 16, 2016

Guest Post and Giveaway - Victoria Kincaid, Author of Darcy vs. Bennet

Today we welcome author Victoria Kincaid, as she has a few thoughts and questions for us.  We'd love to have some comments from you, to see what you've been up to in your reading life as of late.  Following that, Victoria has offered a giveaway of her novel Darcy vs. Bennet, open to all readers!   Thanks for stopping by, Victoria, and good luck to all our contest entrants!



Recently I was lucky enough to have a chance to get together with four of my fellow Jane Austen Fan Fiction (JAFF) authors and a number of JAFF readers.  It was a very fun day!  One of the questions we discussed was what other kinds of books do JAFF readers read?  There are some readers whom I guess (based on the volume of JAFF they read) probably don’t have time to read much else (and good for you!), but then I would guess others read a wider variety of books.

 I went through a phase where I avidly consumed JAFF and read everything I could get my hands on.  But, now I spend a lot of my day thinking about how to get Elizabeth and Darcy together—as well as such questions as whether “stoop” is a word used by the British (it’s not) or if Jane Austen ever used the word “exemplar” (she didn’t).  It’s hard to work up enthusiasm for spending all of my precious little reading time revisiting Meryton and Pemberley yet again.

I do read JAFF, but not in nearly the quantities that I did before.  Now I vary my literary diet with a number of other genres, although mostly still romance, including, YA, M/M, contemporary, Regency, suspense, paranormal, and sometimes science fiction.   I do miss reading more JAFF.  Man, do I wish I had more time to read!  (Don’t we all?) But then I’d have less time to write.  :(

The nice thing is that reading in these other genres inspires and informs my JAFF writing.  Reading Regency romances obviously gives me a lot of background in the customs and society of the time period and sparks plot ideas. I do love some paranormal romance authors, and recently I’ve been thinking about how to incorporate paranormal elements (not zombies!) into a P&P variation.  I haven’t hit on the right plot yet, but there are some really fun paranormal Austenesque books out there.

Contemporary and YA authors have both inspired my JAFF writing as well.  I have a plot for a contemporary P&P all worked out in my head; I just haven’t had time to write it.  And I actually wrote a YA version of P&P – as a screenplay -- about ten years ago.   Someday I’d like to adapt it into a YA novel.

I would guess that my reading tastes are a little more varied than most JAFF readers, but I am very interested in knowing what my fellow JAFF fans read.  Is it mainly JAFF?  Or JAFF and Regency/historical romance?  Or if you go outside JAFF, do you mainly read romance or do you read other genres as well (mysteries, thrillers?).  Respond here or drop me an email sometime to let me know (I love to hear from readers!).







GIVEAWAY 

Fill out the Rafflecopter below to enter to win a copy of Darcy vs. Bennet by Victoria Kincaid.  The winner will receive their choice of edition, either eBook for paperback.  Contest is open internationally and will conclude at 12am EST on May 28, 2016.



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About the Author

The author of best-selling Pride and Prejudice variations, historical romance writer Victoria has a Ph.D. in English literature and has taught composition to unwilling college students. Today she is a freelance writer/editor who teaches business writing to willing office professionals and tries to give voice to the demanding cast of characters in her head.

She lives in Virginia with an overly affectionate cat, two children who are learning how much fun Austen’s characters can be, and a husband who fortunately is not jealous of Mr. Darcy. A lifelong Austen fan, Victoria has read more Jane Austen variations and sequels than she can count – and confesses to an extreme partiality for the Colin Firth miniseries version of Pride and Prejudice.






Paperback


Paperback

Paperback



Saturday, May 14, 2016

Book Review - Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

I’m not one who enjoys writing scathing reviews.  I avoid them like the plague, as I know that authors pour their lives into their work, and my mere ramblings (in most cases) cannot hold a candle to what they have created. In truth, I feel I have no place to criticize anyone for what they have authored, as I myself have had very little work actually published.  On one occasion, I even took the time to contact an author to give them the option to have my negative review go unpublished.  I didn’t care for her work, but I didn’t feel she deserved the words I wanted to print, either.  I have no desire to rake anyone over the coals for decisions they’ve made as an author.

That said, I’ve decided not to hold back in my negative review of Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld.  Ms. Sittenfeld, like the other authors in the Austen Project series, is renowned in her field and will certainly not suffer any harm from my meager opinion.  She most likely will not even read this, and ultimately will continue on in her successful career.

When I learned of the Austen Project, I was thrilled to know that established, respected authors would be taking on Jane Austen’s work, updating them with their own voices and styles.  Although other works such as Emma and Sense and Sensibility have already been published, I began reading this series with my favorite of Austen’s works, Pride and Prejudice, which has been renamed Eligible for this volume.

I expected the modernization of the source material. I expected deviations from Austen’s characters and plot. This was not a problem.  What I didn’t enjoy was the sheer amount of trashy content that was sprinkled throughout the book.  WARNING:  I will not be shying away from spoilers.  If you’d rather go into this novel without my negative opinion or these glaringly ridiculous facts in your mind, I urge you to discontinue reading.

As expected, the younger Bennet sisters Lydia and Kitty are not only ridiculous, but embarrassing to the family.  However, in this Austenesque incarnation (and I hesitate to even call it that), they go beyond embarrassing to being downright crass and disgusting.  I may be called out for being a prude when it comes to their behavior and truly foul language, but that doesn’t concern me.  Lydia and Kitty are so repulsive; I didn’t find them amusing in the slightest.  Like the unseen Anne De Bourgh, I wish they’d been eliminated from the cast lineup entirely.

To continue in the ludicrous line of ideas I found within these pages, the title of this novel is taken from (of all things) a reality show called "Eligible", which seems to be a clone of the television show, “The Bachelor”.  The book as a whole eventually takes on a similar tone, in that it’s low-class, unrealistic and bawdy.  Yes, Liz and Darcy did have palpable chemistry and were at times interesting to watch as characters, but I couldn’t get beyond the amount of R-rated content that was included in their lives and in those around them.  When Mr. Collins goes to propose a romantic relationship with Liz, he initiates the discussion not with an awkward speech or phone call, but by jamming his tongue down her throat in an unwelcome kiss.  There is more than one mention of the use of dildos in the story, and Mrs. Bennet is more than just annoying—she’s downright racist.

I could go on and on about how much I disliked this novel, but I feel that my opinion (as singular as it may be) has been made clear.  There’s no need to go over my distaste repeatedly.  For those of you who enjoy reality shows like “The Bachelor”, this might be the book for you.  If the shredding of Austen’s decency doesn’t concern you, then by all means give this a try.  However, if ever I’m asked if I enjoyed Eligible, my response will be a decisive “No”.  My only hope is that the other titles in the Austen Project are not as deplorable.  The ones do I own will remain on my shelf as I look forward to giving them a try someday.  As for Eligible, it will be headed directly to my local used book store, in hopes that I can swap it for another title that will be worthy of my time and effort.  This one certainly was not.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Review and Giveaway: A Fine Stout Love by Renée Beyea

Discover what happens when Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy meet fancy and fantasy in this novella-length ensemble of Regency stories.
  • What if two inexplicable trails of words led to the Meryton churchyard on the same blustery morning?
  • What if Darcy stumbled across suggestive lines of verse following Elizabeth’s stay at Netherfield?
  • What if a rumored engagement so thoroughly shocked Lady Catherine that she could not interfere?
  • What if Elizabeth learned the last man she would ever marry was the only man she could marry?
  • What if every Bennet family member read the love poem Darcy intended only for his bride?

With all the intimacy and lyricism of a chamber concert, these five whimsical shorts will inspire the heart, prompt a smile, and entice readers to many happy returns.




Renée Beyea has crafted a sweet collection of short Austenesque stories in her title, A Fine Stout Love and Other Stories.  She offers one poem and five petite tales of love and discovery, all romantic, with some mysterious and others almost dreamlike in nature.  I offer my impressions of each of the submissions:

Conception – Beyea shares with us her contribution to the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice, as suggested by the Derbyshire Writers’ Guild.  This charming line of verse bears many echoes of the beloved novel, and I found it to be an excellent opener to A Fine Stout Love’s collection.

Words in the Wind A trail of mysterious words tracks Elizabeth to the Meryton graveyard, where she has an unexpected encounter with Mr. Darcy.

This began the stories off very well.  I noted it to be mysterious and romantic without becoming overly Gothic. I loved the cryptically appearing slips of paper, which amazingly seem to emerge like magic along their paths. One particular question is never answered, given to the reader to discern, which left me wanting more.

Fine Stout Love or The Efficacy of PoetryWhen Darcy is assailed by an errant and rather evocative specimen of poetry lurking in Longbourn’s drive, Elizabeth’s verses are unexpectedly tested for their efficacy.

Once again we find a stray piece of paper in the wind, discovered and used as a plot device. I found this tale to be short, sweet and very enjoyable.  The level of intimacy between Darcy and Elizabeth, while not salacious, does seem a bit rushed given the status of their relationship at the beginning of the episode.  I suppose this is certainly a case of poetry being the “food of love”.

Neither Slumber Nor SleepToo weary to continue shopping for her sister’s wedding, Elizabeth seeks respite in a nearby church, but her rest is disrupted by an outrageous occurrence.

This story in three parts begins with a prelude that I found to be laugh-out-loud funny and surprising.  It felt a bit disjointed from the other two parts, but welcome nonetheless. Parts two and three were sometimes absurdly amusing, dreamy and of course very romantic.  I enjoyed this one very much and might deem it the favorite.

Gold, All GoldDarcy rescues Elizabeth in the Netherfield woods, but all is not as it seems.

Fantastical and almost supernatural, this tale I found to be a bit odd, but I applaud Renee for her adventuresome pen and vivid imagination.  I would probably say that this one was my least favorite, but it was interesting.

Eden Unashamed When Darcy’s attempt to surprise Elizabeth with a love poem goes terribly awry, no member of the Bennet family escapes its effects.

The longest of the episodes, “Eden Unashamed” is offered in three parts, plus a short epilogue.  The tale presents itself as a comedy of errors, and I could easily envision it produced as a play in the local community theater. Not only is it humorously exasperating, but it’s also a very romantic celebration of Christian love. We must never forget that God created romantic passion, and there’s nothing sinful about those feelings when expressed at the right time.

Overall I found Renee Beyea’s collection to be a light, enjoyable and whimsical collection of Austenesque fiction.  I understand that another collection, What Love May Come will be issued this winter, and I look forward to the release of that title as well.



About the Author

Renée Beyea holds an undergraduate writing degree from Taylor University and a Master of Divinity from Fuller Seminary. She serves as full-time wife, mother to two sons, and ministry partner with her husband, an Anglican priest and chaplain. Her free time is devoted to crafting stories and composing poetry that delight the senses and touch the soul.









Giveaway!


Fill out the Rafflecopter form below for your chance to win one of 8 copies of
A Fine Stout Love (including up to four paperback copies).
Open internationally.


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BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE

5/2: Excerpt & Giveaway at From Milton to Pemberley
5/3: Guest Post & Giveaway at So Little Time…
5/4: Excerpt & Giveaway at Half Agony, Half Hope
5/5: Review & Giveaway at The Calico Critic
5/6: Guest Post & Giveaway at Austenesque Reviews
5/7: Guest Post & Giveaway at Babblings of a Bookworm
5/8: Review & Giveaway at Delighted Reader
5/9: Review & Giveaway at Austenesque Reviews
5/10: Interview & Giveaway at Savvy Verse and Wit
5/11: Review & Giveaway at Diary of an Eccentric
5/12: Review & Giveaway at Just Jane 1813
5/12: Excerpt & Giveaway at Laughing with Lizzie
5/13: Review & Giveaway at Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell
5/14: Excerpt & Giveaway at My Kids Led Me Back to Pride and Prejudice
5/15: Excerpt & Giveaway at Best Sellers and Best Stellars
5/16: Review & Giveaway at Margie’s Must Reads





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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Julian Fellowes' Belgravia Review and Giveaway

Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia is the story of a secret. A secret that unravels behind the porticoed doors of London's grandest postcode. Set in the 1840s when the upper echelons of society began to rub shoulders with the emerging industrial nouveau riche, Belgravia is people by a rich cast of characters. But the story begins on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. At the Duchess of Richmond's new legendary ball, one family's life will change forever.

The Victorian-era serialized novel meets the digital age; Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia is breaking new ground in publishing.



The era of Downton Abbey has come to an end, but thanks to the creativity of Julian Fellowes, we have more work from his imagination, that in the form of an episodic novel entitled Belgravia. Like Charles Dickens in his day, Julian is releasing portions of his book in segments, giving us morsels of story to enjoy for about a week at a time. Like our experience with Downton, we have to wait for short periods to take in the entire work. Thus far I’ve read the first four episodes, and I’m thrilled to report that this Downton fan is thoroughly entertained and yearning for more in the coming weeks.

For those of you who haven’t read any of Belgravia, I offer a brief summary of what has come thus far in the saga. If you’d rather not know a thing about the story, skip down to below the next dividing line so that you can enjoy Belgravia with a blank slate in your mind.


Episode 1 - Dancing Into Battle

The Duchess of Richmond
 “At the Duchesss of Richmond’s ball, on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo, young Sophia Trenchard, daughter of a tradesman, was clearly in love with the handsome Edmund Bellasis, the Duchess’s nephew. But the following weeks brought terrible news…”

What a grand episode this was! It’s 1815, and we meet Sophia Trenchard, the beautiful and young daughter of James Trenchard, a tradesman who seems to value social climbing above all else. He’s an industrious man, and while his age and nationality isn’t always comparable, he reminded me of another PBS character, Mr. Harry Selfridge.  Sophia has procured a valuable invitation to a grand ball, much to his delight, and with his wife the three attend the glittering event, even as war looms upon the horizon.  We learn that Sophia is in love with Edmund Bellasis, the nephew of the hostess, the Duchess of Richmond.  While this would be an advantageous match for the Trenchard family, it would not be so for the Bellasis clan. This doesn’t seem to concern Edmund, and as he says goodbye to Sophia as he is suddenly ushered off to battle, they seem to be very much in love.  Alas, tragedy befalls the Bellasis family, and Edmund is later killed in action.  At the end of the episode, James Trenchard brings the devastating news to his daughter.





Episode 2 - A Chance Encounter

“1841. Anne and James Trenchard had risen in society, but a chance meeting at a tea party brought Anne face to face with Edmund Bellasis’s mother, Lady Brockenhurst. Anne knew the truth of what had happened between Sophia and Edmund, and she revealed the secret to the Countess, with disastrous results.”

I offer a shorter synopsis of this episode.  There are a couple of plot revelations that happen in this portion that were quite surprising, one in particular. And although I offered a spoiler warning earlier, I simply cannot divulge some important aspects here. Suffice it to say, I was riveted while reading these particular pages.  The interaction between Anne Trenchard and Lady Brockenhurst was pure Julian Fellowes, and I loved every moment. Things move quickly in this portion of the story, and I was eager to move on to Episode 3.



Episode 3 - Family Ties

“Lord and Lady Brockenhurst were approached by Stephen and John Bellasis, who were both in search of funds. John was now engaged to Lady Maria Grey and was already making a claim on his status as heir to the Brockenhurst fortune. Meanwhile Lady Brockenhurst had tracked down Charles Pope and had a surprise in store for the Trenchards.”

This third portion was not as compelling as the others, but it contained the necessary pieces to continue in the construction of the story as a whole. We come to meet more members of the Brockenhurst family, the Bellasis clan, which of course are related to Sophia’s love, Edmund. Estate issues are covered quite a bit, and the less-than-admirable characters of these individuals are sketched by Fellowes.  In addition to this story line, Lady Caroline Brockenhurst plans a soirée, one that includes the Trenchards and a particular fellow named Charles Pope.  He is a pivotal character in the lives of the Trenchards, and Caroline is not only eager to get to know this young man, but she also wants to invest in his business.  While grateful, Pope is surprised at her interest in his meager enterprise and at her invitation to join her for the At Home the following Thursday. Likewise, Anne Trenchard is surprised to receive such an invitation from the haughty Caroline Brockenhurst.  She has no desire to attend the event, but her social-butterfly husband would no doubt require their attendance. Shortly following the invitation, Anne also receives a note from Caroline that not only shocks her, but suddenly creates a strong desire to attend the post-dinner reception.



Episode 4 - At Home in Belgrave Square


 “At a soirée organized by Lady Brockenhurst, Anne and James Trenchard came face to face with Charles Pope. Everyone that evening was captivated by the young man— especially Maria Grey. But James feared that Anne had unwittingly sown the seeds of their destruction.”

This episode was quite delectable. The importance of Charles Pope continues to be revealed more and more. I loved the post-dinner reception scene, with Caroline ushering Charles about, introducing him to the glitterati, and everyone wondering who this young man was.  It was almost a Cinderella moment for him. In this Caroline and Anne share a life-changing secret, and while Lady Brockenhurst has promised not to reveal it, she skirts the line of truth so closely; it takes Anne’s breath away.  Should the mystery of his identity be divulged, there would be serious consequences, particularly for the Trenchard family. Anne is more than just a trifle anxious.

I loved the tension within the reception scene. Anne is absolutely struck at seeing Charles for the first time, and she’s terrified of what his presence may reveal.  Likewise, a related secret is exposed between Mr. and Mrs. Trenchard which sets them at odds in a way I found quite amusing.  A new character, the beautiful (and very much engaged) Maria Grey joins the story, as she meets Charles Pope while getting a bit of fresh air during the Brockenhurst event.  I highly enjoyed their conversation, as their chemistry was palpable, and she shows herself to be intelligent, not just a pretty face.  I look forward to more developments between them in upcoming episodes of Belgravia.




Thus far Belgravia has lived up to my lofty expectations. It holds the grandeur one would expect from Julian Fellowes, as well as the riveting narrative, colorful characters and enticing secrets.  The touch of romance is always welcome, and I also enjoyed the occasional “upstairs/downstairs” aspect of the novel, as Fellowes engages with the hired help on occasion, a la Downton Abbey.  The decision to release this novel in an episodic nature is such a delight, giving us a small taste once a week to enjoy.  In addition to reading the text, I’ve also downloaded a couple of the episodes from Audible.com, which are affordably priced.  Belgravia isn’t simply a novel that’s being released to us, it’s a literary event covering multiple platforms in a truly accessible way.  I hope my readers join me in this narrative journey as we once again enjoy the fruits of the imagination of Julian Fellowes.  He has delivered on a grand scale.

How about you?  Have you ever taken in a novel in this fashion? In the era of Netflix and “binge-watching”, it almost seems at odds with the culture, to have a book brought to us in this way.  While the novel will be released in its entirety this summer, in the meantime we are getting Belgravia in pieces. Do you think you might try diving in now, to enjoy the episodes as they come, or will you wait it out until July, to have the full novel in your hands?

Regardless of which way you choose, you’re in for a treat on many platforms.  Don’t miss out on the amazing website that’s been launched in association with the novel.  At JulianFellowesBelgravia.com, not only can you listen or read to Episode 1 for free, but you can access bonus features, see the family trees of the main characters, view a map of Belgravia and more. I’ve just begun to peruse this amazing website and plan to continue to visit it as the episodes (and therefore more bonus features) are released. In addition to that, the progressive blog tour continues beyond The Calico Critic to Luxury Reading on May 5th.  Be sure to visit all the stops on the tour.  There's even an app you can download to your smart phone! I'm amazed at how much content there is with the launch of Belgravia.  How much there is to take in! I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.


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AUTHOR BIO:

Educated at Ampleforth and Magdalene College, Cambridge, Julian Fellowes is a multi-award-winning actor, writer, director and producer. As creator, sole writer, and executive producer of the hit television series Downton Abbey, Fellowes has won three Emmy awards.

Fellowes received the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Gosford Park (2002). His work was also honored by the Writer's Guild of America, The New York Film Critics' Circle and the National Society of Film Critics for Best Screenplay. Other writing credits for film include Piccadilly Jim (2004), Vanity Fair (2004), Young Victoria (2009), The Tourist (2010), Romeo & Juliet (2013), and the upcoming three-part drama Doctor Thorne for ITV. Fellowes also directed the award-winning films Separate Lies and From Time To Time. Fellowes wrote the books for the Tony-nominated stage production of Mary Poppins and School Of Rock – The Musical which opened on Broadway in December 2015, and is written and produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Fellowes has authored two novels: the international bestsellers Snobs (2005) and Past Imperfect (2008/2009).

Julian Fellowes became a life peer in 2010. He lives in Dorset and London with his wife, Emma.






PROGESSIVE BLOG TOUR:

Award winning creator/writer of Downton Abbey presents his latest endeavor, Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia, a new book blending the Victorian-era serialized novel with modern technology.

Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia will be featured in a progressive blog tour April 14-June 16, 2016. Similar to a “progressive dinner party,” where a group of friends each make one course of a meal that moves from house to house with each course, a “progressive blog tour” is the same concept applied to the Internet. Eleven historical fiction bloggers and authors are participating, each taking one episode of the novel and offering a recap and review for that week. As a participant, you will follow the tour and join in the read-along and conversation. A fabulous give-away contest, including three (3) hardcover copies of Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia will be open to those who join the festivities.


BELGRAVIA PROGRESSIVE BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE:

April 14 – Austenprose.com: Episode 1: Dancing into Battle
April 14 – Edwardian Promenade: Episode 2: A Chance Encounter
April 21 – Fly High: Episode 3: Family Ties
April 28 – The Calico Critic: Episode 4: At Home in Belgrave Square
May 05 – Luxury Reading: Episode 5: The Assignation
May 12 – Risky Regencies: Episode 6: A Spy in our Midst
May 19 – Book Talk and More: Episode 7: A Man of Business
May 26 – Mimi Matthews: Episode 8: An Income for Life
June 02 – Confessions of a Book Addict: Episode 9: The Past is a Foreign Country
June 09 – Laura’s Reviews: Episode 10: The Past Comes Back
June 16 – Gwyn Cready: Episode 11: Inheritance



GIVEAWAY CONTEST

Win a Copy of Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia

In celebration of the release of Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia, Grand Central Publishing is offering a chance to win one of the three (3) hardcover copies of the book!

To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on any or all of the stops on the Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia Progressive Blog Tour starting April 14, 2016 through 11:59 pm PT, June 22, 2016. Winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments and announced on Austenprose.com June 23, 2016. Winners have until June 30, 2016 to claim their prize. The contest is open to International residents and the books will be shipped after July 5, 2016. Good luck to all!



Connect with Belgravia and Julian Fellowes



Twitter handles: @JFBelgravia; @GrandCentralPub; @OrionBooks

Twitter hashtags: #JFBelgravia, #BelgraviaBlogTour #HistoricalFiction, #Giveaway 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Book Review: The Trouble to Check Her by Maria Grace

Lydia Bennet faces the music...

Running off with Mr. Wickham was a great joke—until everything turned arsey-varsey.  That spoilsport Mr. Darcy caught them and packed Lydia off to a hideous boarding school for girls who had lost their virtue.

It would improve her character, he said. 

Ridiculous, she said.

Mrs. Drummond, the school’s headmistress, has shocking expectations for the girls. They must share rooms, do chores, attend lessons, and engage in charitable work, no matter how well born they might be. She even forces them to wear mobcaps! Refusal could lead to finding themselves at the receiving end of Mrs. Drummond's cane—if they were lucky. The unlucky ones could be dismissed and found a position … as a menial servant.

Everything and everyone at the school is uniformly horrid. Lydia hates them all, except possibly the music master, Mr. Amberson, who seems to have the oddest ideas about her. He might just understand her better than she understands herself.

Can she find a way to live up to his strange expectations, or will she spend the rest of her life as a scullery maid?





As a literary character, Lydia Bennet of Pride and Prejudice has never been one of my favorites. She hasn’t even risen to the level of “love to hate”, as some characters come to stand in my mind.  Lydia is immature, selfish, short-sighted and “the most determined flirt that ever made herself and her family ridiculous.”  In Maria Grace’s The Trouble to Check Her, Lydia’s new brother-in-law Mr. Darcy would have none of her foolishness.  After the tarnishing events with the cad George Wickham, Darcy packs Lydia off to a reform school for girls. As expected, Lydia reacts as a petulant child, not wanting to face the consequences of her choices.

On some level I enjoyed watching Lydia’s frustration as she began her time at Mrs. Drummond’s School for Girls.  She is finally forced to roll up her sleeves and do some work. She is not allowed any foolishness whatsoever.  This is true for all the girls—young ladies from high society are not permitted to even mention their lofty stations in life, for example. In this home, there is much equality, and any privileges (such as going without a mobcap) must be thoroughly earned.  Association with young men is strictly forbidden, especially in the case of the new music teacher, Mr. Amberson.

Lydia takes quite a journey in The Trouble to Check Her, and it was fascinating to watch.  She eventually became a more sympathetic character in my eyes.  I saw her insecurity and her self-loathing come out on more than one occasion.  Because of her past and her general inclinations, she often saw herself as unworthy of true love or affection.  At first her only friends are more akin to “frenemies”, and it takes a while for her to finally discover who truly cares for her and to accept those relationships.

Maria Grace also brings in another character to share the literary spotlight, a young lady named Annabelle, who had also been disgraced in her time and had been at the school for a while.  At first she seems cold and unfeeling, but eventually the layers peel away and she becomes one of Lydia’s dearest friends.  I loved seeing her emerge from her shell, and I also enjoyed her storyline in general.  She must face a difficult decision more than once, and she handles it with aplomb.  I very much enjoyed this character and hope to see more of her in the future.

The villains of The Trouble to Check Her emerge mostly from the student body itself.  Lydia does manage to get herself into a bit of a pickle all on her own, but forces from within the school use her mistakes to make life more than interesting on occasion.  I particularly “loved to hate” Amelia, a young woman who seems to be even more flawed than Lydia, and also less willing to be molded as Lydia is.  Her fate was bittersweet, as I relished her final placement in society, but also came to feel sympathy for her as well.

Within Lydia’s storyline is much discussion of the arts.  Music and drawing become like second languages with her, helping her to communicate her feelings and to process the trials going on around and within her. She creates with her fingers in multiple ways—both on the piano keyboard and on her sketchpad.  From the deep beauty and sadness of a harrowing medical situation, to the emotions conveyed between Lydia and her music teacher, the arts are very much a part of this novel.  As a musician I especially enjoyed the passages regarding the piano pieces.  My personal interest lies in the French Horn, but I studied piano at one time and require that my children do as well.  Music conveys feeling like nothing else, and Lydia very much tapped into that as she communicated with Mr. Amberson.  Maria Grace did a fine job with this, as well as in her descriptions of Lydia’s sketch art as well.

While Lydia Bennet may not be my favorite literary character of all time, Maria Grace has improved her in my eyes through The Trouble to Check Her.  I was surprised at how riveted I was with the story, and found myself turning pages much faster than I’d anticipated that I would.  It is somewhat of a sequel to her title Mistaking Her Character, and there are a few references to that work within this novel, but I believe that anyone who is fairly familiar with the events of Pride and Prejudice would more than enjoy this next volume.  It’s important to know that in Maria’s world, Mr. Bennet is a doctor and can be very cruel and unfeeling to Lydia, thereby encouraging some of her insecurities. This is explored more so in Mistaking Her Character, but knowing these facts should keep new readers informed if they begin with The Trouble to Check Her from the outset.

Maria Grace should be applauded for her work in The Queen of Rosings Park series.  In both cases I have found enjoyable, clean and well written works of Austenesque fiction.  The first two titles are very different in pacing and tone, but I heartily recommend them.  And in The Trouble to Check Her, I believe that Maria has improved as the series has continued, bringing a sequel that in my mind is better than the first!




About the Author

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

She has one husband, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, six new novels in the works, attended seven period balls, sewn eight Regency era costumes, shared her life with nine cats through the years and published her tenth book last year. 


Connect with Maria Grace




Sunday, April 10, 2016

Book Review and UK Audio Book Giveaway: The Book Lovers by Victoria Connelly

Author Callie Logan never expected to swap her life in London for one in rural Suffolk but, after the breakdown of her marriage, she decides that a fresh start is just what she needs. Finding Owl Cottage in the tiny village of Newton St Clare, Callie determines to give up on love and throw herself into her work. But fate seems to have other ideas and she soon has two very different men vying for her attention.

First there's Leo who likes to live on the wild side which usually means taking his dates foraging in the local woods for their supper. Then there's Sam Nightingale, owner of Nightingale’s bookshop. Sam, recovering from a divorce, has also vowed to embrace the single life. That is, until he meets Callie.
But is Callie willing to risk her heart again and, if she is, will she make the right choice?



Oh, to run away to the English countryside, to a tiny village with multiple independent bookshops…I know I would be in heaven. Such is the situation in which Callie Logan finds herself as she tries to shake the dust off her feet, leaving behind big city life and a marriage which is in pieces.  Her goal: To live a quiet life with her books, her writing, and NO ROMANCE! But things take a turn as she begins to get to know the inhabitants of the local area. While somewhat simpler in nature than those in the city, their personalities are wide, interesting and varied, and more than one catches her attention in a romantic way. Before she knows it, she finds herself in the corner of a love triangle, wringing her hands over two very enticing prospects. After all she had set out to do, how did she end up in this mess? Books never give her this much trouble! They’re much easier to deal with than her fellow humans.

Such is the premise of The Book Lovers, the first in a series by Victoria Connelly.  I initially became acquainted with Victoria’s work because of her Austenesque fiction.  Titles like A Weekend with Mr. Darcy, Dreaming of Mr. Darcy and Mr. Darcy Forever were enjoyable ones, so I felt confident that this new series would fare just as well with me, and indeed it has thus far.  The Book Lovers is not Austenesque, but anyone who can appreciate a sweet love story would enjoy this.  

I particularly relished the amount of time Connelly spent with the examination of “The Book Lover” in general. Author Callie Logan is one, and she finds a kindred spirit in bookseller Sam Nightingale. I chuckled over her commentary regarding the act of smelling books—how each book seems to have its own scent, its own story beyond the words on its pages.  Not long ago I caught my son doing the very same thing with a new book that he had acquired, and in response to his initial embarrassment in being seen doing this, I assured him that many book lovers do that.  Connelly’s characters also ruminate on what they love about books, and feel each other’s pain when a book might be stolen or harmed. They care for them almost as much as they care for people, in a way.

But ultimately their love for relationships does win the day, and the sweet story brings in family, career decisions, life choices and character strengthening into the narrative.  Callie is certainly a book lover and author, but she is so much more than that, and begins to come into her own as a woman in this tiny village.  She is at times frustrated with the issues swirling around her, despite her efforts to avoid them in the countryside. Ultimately she must come to face them, make some hard decisions, and learn to live with them.  I enjoyed her character (and many others) in The Book Lovers.  They were not caricature-like, but I could see them very clearly in my mind.  We have the sweet bookseller.  The tired author. The manly outdoorsman. The commiserating family members. The wretched ex-husband.  The sophisticated best friend from the city. So many archetypes, and I enjoyed them all.  

The Book Lovers, at under 250 pages is a quick read, a perfect choice for the weekend or for a holiday away.  I highly enjoyed the journey that Callie took throughout the story, and I look forward to the next title in this series, Rules for a Successful Book Club. 
 



About the Author

Victoria Connelly grew up in Norfolk before attending Worcester University where she studied English Literature. After graduating, she worked her way through a number of jobs before becoming a teacher in North Yorkshire. In 2000, she got married in a medieval castle in the Yorkshire Dales and moved to London.

Although having had articles and short stories published, it was only when Flights of Angels was published that Victoria was able to realise the dream of becoming a professional writer. Bought in a bidding war between five publishers and released as Unter deinem Stern in Germany, the novel was made into a film for television by Academy award-winning Ziegler Film.

Her first novel to be published in the UK – Molly’s Millions – came out in 2009 and was a Top Ten bestseller on Amazon Kindle. She has also written a series about Jane Austen addicts. The first, A Weekend with Mr Darcy, was published in the UK by Avon, HarperCollins, and in the US by Sourcebooks. The second in the trilogy, The Perfect Hero was featured on Channel 5’s The Vanessa Show and was a hot pick in The Sun.

The Runaway Actress – a romantic comedy about a movie star who swaps Hollywood for the Highlands – was shortlisted for the RNA’s Best Romantic Comedy of the Year in 2013. Her novels, Wish You Were Here, A Summer to Remember and The Rose Girls have all been Amazon bestsellers.

She is also the author of three collections of short stories as well as two children’s novels, and the Mulberry Cottage series. Her new series, The Book Lovers, launched in 2015.

She lives in a 200-year old cottage in rural Suffolk with her artist husband, a Springer spaniel and a flock of rescued hens.





Special Audio Book Giveaway! 
(UK Entrants Only)

This time I'm running a special giveaway for our UK readers, courtesy of Victoria Connelly!  She's offering THREE audio book copies of Rules for a Successful Book Club just for you!  If you're a winner, you simply need to have a free account with Audible.com, no monthly membership required. Contest ends at 12am EST on April 24, 2016.  Fill out the Rafflecopter widget below to enter. 


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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Movie Review and Giveaway: Wildflower starring Nathalia Ramos

Creatively gifted, college student Chloe Moray finds solace from a difficult childhood in her extraordinary art. But when an alarming dream begins to recur nightly, Chloe starts to believe that it might be a suppressed memory and that she may have witnessed a terrible crime as a little girl. Her search for peace takes her on a journey that forces Chloe to confront her past traumas and leads her to cross paths with Josh, a young man dealing with his own painful loss. Together they find in each other someone they can trust as they seek to unlock a cold-case mystery from years before. But with the authorities blocking the way, Chloe's new-found hope is challenged in this powerful story of faith, triumph and healing.  



Wildflower was a bit of a mixed bag for me. An earnest film with great messages, it also had drawbacks that were hard to ignore.  I appreciated the spotlight that was put on mental illness, as society as a whole tends to shun it or categorize it differently than other physical maladies.  The inclusion of faith into the plot wasn’t as seamless as I would have liked, but I was pleased to have it included. Christianity or belief in Something bigger than yourself is not seen as the total solution to life’s struggles, but an important step in the process of healing. This perspective was refreshing.

Not knowing much about the film before viewing it, I found myself a bit lost during the first half of the movie.  Was this a story that deals with the paranormal? Was this girl seeing dead people? Was she severely mentally ill? Or was it something more than that? It took a bit for me to settle in and just take in the story as it came.

While the narrative deals with important subjects like mental illness, sexual abuse, forgiveness and restoration, I was frequently distracted by its weak points.  The writing is very average, much as one would find in mediocre Christian fiction. The acting will win no Academy Awards, although I’m sure that holds no importance with a message-driven film like Wildflower. The casting was adequate, but the major players (the two leads in particular) looked too “pretty” most of the time. The guys always had a day’s growth of stubble (no matter what time of day) and young art student Chloe seemed to have a different outfit with every scene (how could she afford such a wardrobe?), to match her perfect makeup. Everyone’s hair was properly coiffed, highlighted and styled for just about every scene.  It just seemed too put-together for me.

Those reservations aside, Wildflower should be applauded for its efforts, and the messages it is sharing with the world.  This is made especially clear in a ten-minute featurette included on the DVD, where the hearts of the writers, producers and actors are really shown.  This project was an act of love, and there are many out in the world that would benefit from seeing it. I would not recommend it for young children due to some serious subject matter and a few spooky scenes, but this would make an excellent video to show teens.  Many are dealing with traumas or have friends dealing with such, and it can be difficult to understand. Perhaps in viewing Wildflower and discussing it later as a group, young people can begin to process some of their life struggles, or help others who are floundering. While not the perfect movie, Wildflower is a touching story of healing that many can enjoy.  If nothing else, it reminds us that even in our struggles, God can pull us out of our dark places, heal us and bring good out of trying situations. That is certainly a message worth sharing, despite the flawed form of transmission.




Wildflower Official Trailer 




DVD GIVEAWAY!

Icon Media has generously given me a copy of Wildflower to offer in a giveaway to my readers!  If you'd like to be entered into the random drawing, please comment below.  Comment idea:  Have you ever had a recurring dream, a family-friendly one you can share?  I still have recurring dreams that I'm in high school or college, dealing with some kind of teen or post-teen student stress!  Contest is open to U.S. entrants only this time.  I'll be shipping this one out myself. Last day to enter will be April 15th at 11:59pm EST.  Thanks!

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