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. 


a Rafflecopter giveaway










Paperback


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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!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Book Review: The Painter's Daughter by Julie Klassen, Plus a Q&A!

Sophie Dupont assists her father in his studio, keeping her own artwork out of sight. In private, she paints the picturesque north Devon coast, popular with artists--including handsome Wesley Overtree, who seems more interested in Sophie than the landscape.

Captain Stephen Overtree is accustomed to taking on his brother Wesley's responsibilities. Near the end of his leave, he is sent to find his brother and bring him home. Upon reaching Devonshire, however, Stephen is stunned to learn Wesley has sailed for Italy and left his host's daughter in serious trouble.

Stephen feels duty-bound to act, and strangely protective of the young lady, who somehow seems familiar. Wanting to make some recompense for his own past failings as well as his brother's, Stephen proposes to Miss Dupont. He does not offer love, but marriage "in name only" to save her from scandal. If he dies in battle, as he fears, she will at least be a respectable widow.

Desperate for a way to escape her predicament, Sophie finds herself torn between her first love and this brooding man she barely knows. Dare she wait for Wesley to return? Or should she elope with the captain and pray she doesn't come to regret it?





Julie Klassen’s latest novel, The Painter’s Daughter once again brings us to her time period of specialty, Regency era England.  We find Miss Sophie Dupont, early along in a pregnancy by a man she loves, but a man with who has more of a heart for his painting work than for her.  Wesley’s younger, more responsible brother Stephen offers to marry her in order to try to keep her and the child from scandal. With the elder Wesley seemingly gone from her life, she faces a choice that is heart wrenching and difficult.

I enjoyed The Painter’s Daughter very much.  At 450-plus pages, the novel is a bit longer than my usual reads, and I wondered if it would hold my attention. I was not disappointed in the least. Klassen has once again woven a tale that is compelling, entertaining and romantic from opening chapter to closing sentence. While dealing with difficult situations such as premarital sex and the horrors of war, she is able to convey these concepts in ways that are perfect for conservative readers and yet also retain their importance in the lives of these characters.  From secret passageways to second sight-like predictions, there are intrigues around every corner and plot developments that always kept the story moving.

The characters of The Painter’s Daughter are also very enjoyable. I found them to be realistic, interesting and well drawn (so to speak) throughout the story. Despite her condition, Sophie is very much a proper lady, and is kind and gentle to those around her, even those who spurn her presence in their lives. Stephen reminds me of the literary figure Captain Poldark—from his service in the military, to his concern for the downtrodden, to the scar across his cheek.  He is a gallant gentleman who knows his flaws but endeavors to overcome them.  Wesley is a romantic, almost silly figure. He wants to have his cake and eat it too. Despite being the elder brother, he is not known for being the most responsible individual, and it was probably no surprise to his family that he had taken in Miss Dupont in the way that he did. I could go on with more characterizations, but the underlying thought is that I enjoyed this cast of characters. They held my interest through the highs and lows of their lives.

Julie Klassen may not be a painter, but she certainly paints lovely scenes with her descriptions of the lands around the area, the houses the individuals inhabited, the clothes they wore, and especially the tools of the trade in the work of the artists. Klassen has clearly done her homework (which will be mentioned in the Q&A after this review).

Regardless of your interest in art, the 19th century or England, The Painter’s Daughter is a compelling story of love, loss, war, forgiveness and redemption.  Christian readers will especially enjoy its clean content and occasional spiritual references, but this novel could truly be relished by anyone who seeks out a sweet story that will captivate from beginning to end. I congratulate Julie Klassen on another work well done, and look forward to her next title, The Inkeeper of Ivy Hill, due later this year.




Along with my review copy, Bethany House Publishers also included this interesting Q&A with author Julie Klassen, which I thought I would share with you as well:

Can you briefly describe your new novel?

Artist Sophie Dupont believes dashing Wesley Overtree will marry her. But when he sails to Italy, leaving Sophie with child, she contemplates a marriage proposal from his brother, Captain Stephen Overtree. Stephen does not offer love, but "marriage in name only" to save her from scandal. Desperate for a way to escape her predicament, Sophie finds herself torn between her first love and this brooding man she barely knows. Dare she wait for Wesley to return? Or should she elope with the captain and pray she doesn't come to regret it?

Castle Rock near Lynton, north Devon, England, UK.
Where did you find inspiration for this novel?

I have always wanted to write a marriage of convenience story, and have also been intrigued by the former Church of England laws that prohibited a widow from marrying her brother-in-law and vice versa. So when Sophie contemplates marriage to an army captain she barely knows, she realizes that even if the captain were to die in battle, she could not later marry his brother, whom she loves. During my last trip to England, an old friend and I traveled to North Devon to research another book (Lady Maybe). While we were there, we spent several evenings in our B&B brainstorming the initial ideas for this book. We also fell in love with the stunning coastal landscape, and learned it had been a favorite among painters in the 19th century.  That spurred me to write about artists, and knew I had found the perfect place to set The Painter's Daughter as well.

You recently attended the national conference of the Jane Austen Society of North America. How do events like these enlarge and enrich your knowledge of the Regency period?

Because I write novels set in the Regency time period when Austen's novels were published, I see the conference--and events like it--as a chance to conduct research and spend time with fellow Austen enthusiasts. Workshops on topics like English country dance, village life, crime, carriage travel, the military, marriage law, tea and fashion all help me learn more about the era and sometimes spark story ideas. Other highlights of the conference included dancing at a ball in my Regency gown, and attending a 19th century church service--a chance to not only study the period, but to "live" it!

How did you go about researching the professions of your main characters (a painter and an army captain)?

For Sophie, the artist, I read a great deal about famous painters of the period, and relied on a website called Pigments Through the Ages, which helped me identify paint colors and methods in use at the time. Also, two artist friends were kind enough to read the painting scenes and make suggestions to add authenticity to the techniques and to the mindset of an artist. For Stephen, the army captain, I studied books and museum websites to get a grasp on British army strategy, uniforms, weapons, and rankings during the Napoleonic Wars.

What is the most difficult part of the writing process for you?

For me, the hardest part of writing is making myself tough it out, stay in that chair for days and weeks on end, and write the first draft. After that, the editing and revising come a little more easily, though it's all hard work.

This is your tenth Regency novel. Congratulations! What are you working on next?

Thank you.  Next, I am working on my first-ever series, focusing on the relationships, struggles, and romances of a group of friends in an English village. Book One will tentatively release in December 2016. I am excited to hear what my readers think!




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.













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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Nourish Your Family's Spiritual Health this Easter

Only a few days before Easter!  I hope everyone is having a great week, and that you have somewhere you can attend this Sunday to celebrate Christ's resurrection.  What an amazing miracle and gift from God!


Spring-into-Faith-&-Fun

If your family is like most, breakfast is rushed to get everyone out the door. Lunch is spent at school or work. So where does that leave dinner? Nourish your family's spiritual health as you eat supper together. Adventures in Odyssey and Odyssey Adventure Club want to give you a free resource to help you begin your new dinner tradition of making the most of your family mealtime, beginning this Easter season. Simply head to this page and fill out the form to receive a free sample of Whit's End Mealtime Devotions.

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Want new resources to continue to build your family's faith, even after Easter is over? Consider signing your family up for the Odyssey Adventure Club (OAC). It offers safe and free content for everyone in your family. Membership to the OAC costs just $9.99 a month — or even less if parents make a six-month or one-year commitment. Enrollment provides more than enough content to keep kids engaged throughout the year:
  • Access to exclusive content and first looks at books and select Radio Theatre dramas.
  • On-the-go access to the OAC app for both iOS and Android users.
  • 24/7 streaming access to nearly 800 AIO episodes.
  • A new, members-only AIO episode every month.
  • A subscription to Adventures in Odyssey Clubhouse Magazine, and more.
To learn more about the Odyssey Adventure Club, visit www.oaclub.org, Facebook, Twitter. and Pinterest.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Easter Devotions and Activities for Your Whole Family

Easter-Download 

We're down to the final two weeks before we celebrate Easter and Jesus' resurrection. Do your children understand and grasp the full meaning of why we celebrate the holiday? Adventures in Odyssey and Odyssey Adventure Club want to provide your family with a week of meaningful, fun Easter activities to help make the holiday come alive this year. Simply head to this page and sign up to download your free PDF full of family devotions, egg wraps, recipes, crafts, and cards. Oh, and as a bonus, here's a free activity sheet from Focus on the Family!

90-Devotions-for-Kids-Quote-3 

If you're looking to dig into the Easter holiday more and want to build your kids' faith, consider signing your family up for the Odyssey Adventure Club (OAC). It offers safe and free content for everyone in your family. Membership to the OAC costs just $9.99 a month — or even less if parents make a six-month or one-year commitment. Enrollment provides more than enough content to keep kids engaged throughout the year:
  • Access to exclusive content and first looks at books and select Radio Theatre dramas.
  • On-the-go access to the OAC app for both iOS and Android users.
  • 24/7 streaming access to nearly 800 AIO episodes.
  • A new, members-only AIO episode every month.
  • A subscription to Adventures in Odyssey Clubhouse Magazine, and more.
To learn more about the Odyssey Adventure Club, visit www.oaclub.org, Facebook, Twitter. and Pinterest.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Walk Through Holy Week with Odyssey Adventure Club

90-Devotions-for-Kids-Quote-2 

The Bible is no doubt a timeless book, but often it's seen by the younger generation as ancient and antiquated. How can we make the stories of the Bible—particularly the Easter story—alive and exciting for our children? Adventures in Odyssey has created a free activity kit for families to experience the Easter story brought to life through eight days of Christ-centered and fun activities. Click here to sign up and download the kit for free.

Spring-into-Faith-&-Fun 

If you're looking to bring the Bible to life further during the Easter season, consider signing your family up for the Odyssey Adventure Club (OAC). It offers safe and free content for everyone in your family. Membership to the OAC costs just $9.99 a month — or even less if parents make a six-month or one-year commitment. Enrollment provides more than enough content to keep kids engaged throughout the year:
  • Access to exclusive content and first looks at books and select Radio Theatre dramas.
  • On-the-go access to the OAC app for both iOS and Android users.
  • 24/7 streaming access to nearly 800 AIO episodes.
  • A new, members-only AIO episode every month.
  • A subscription to Adventures in Odyssey Clubhouse Magazine, and more.
To learn more about the Odyssey Adventure Club, visit www.oaclub.org, Facebook, Twitter. and Pinterest.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Review and Giveaway: Sincerely Yours by Robin M. Helm

Living with time turned upside down . . .
Accepting the consequences of rash decisions . . .
Learning to view adversities as opportunities . . .
Striving to make the most of second chances . . .
Recognizing obstacles as the gifts of God . . .
Seeking to undo the damage done to relationships . . .
 

Sincerely Yours begins immediately after Accidentally Yours. In this Christian fantasy fiction series, after prayers uttered by both Fitzwilliam Darcy (1793) and Will Darcy (21st century) result in accidents for both men and a time switch, each Darcy must adjust to his new era and try to win the heart of the woman he loves. 




As mentioned in my review of Accidentally Yours, the second title in the collection is Sincerely Yours, which we'll take a brief look at today, as well as host a giveaway!  This novel picks up right where we left off in the first, so it would behoove readers to cover Accidentally Yours before delving into this volume. As others have found, the character of Fitzwilliam Darcy (who has been transplanted into modern day) was a distasteful one in Accidentally Yours. Author Robin Helm assured me that things would improve in time, that he would be more likeable in Sincerely Yours.  I am happy to report that this was indeed the case. He begins to mature and think about others’ concerns a bit more than he did previously.  I do still find him to be an uncomfortable guy, not quite settled into his new time period. He reminded me of the Star Trek characters “Captain Spock” and “Commander Data”, as someone who greatly wants to relate to those around him (especially to a certain Bennet girl), but struggling to do so.  He seems completely devoid of any knowledge of women at all, even knowledge gleaned from his decades of experience in his century of origin.  That portion of his personality I found difficult to believe. Being awkward in a new time period is one thing, but having hardly the sense of how to speak to a woman at all is another.  That being said, I was pleased with Fitzwilliam’s development, and I look forward to seeing what Robin Helm has in store for us in the next book, Forever Yours.

I have very little new thoughts to offer in regard to the plot line with Will, a modern man who finds himself transported back in time, into the body of a certain Fitzwilliam Darcy.  He remains a wonderful character, and Helm does her best writing while situated in this era.  She truly could write a full novel set in this time period, and I hope that she has a work in progress.  I find her modern-era writing to be somewhat self-conscious and awkward, but when we are immersed into her Regency England (or thereabouts), she does very well.  The prose is very readable, but is also realistically Regency. I enjoy her characters, their interactions, and their connections to the original Austen source material. My hope is that she continues to refine her craft and bring more of this to her readers.
 

Sincerely Yours is an interesting and entertaining follow up to Accidentally Yours, and it deliciously ends with a pair of cliff-hangers that will entice readers to continue on to the conclusive volume, Forever Yours.  I haven’t decided whether I hope our protagonists remain in their new time periods, or if they somehow are able to return from whence they came.  Regardless, I’m sure I’m in for a captivating journey with likeable characters and diverting narratives in a world that many Austenesque fans would enjoy.



Sincerely Yours Giveaway!

Author Robin M. Helm has graciously offered two copies of Sincerely Yours.  One copy will be a Kindle edition for an international reader, and a U.S. winner may choose between an autographed paperback or the Kindle edition.  Contest period ends on March 25th at 12am EST. Please use the Rafflecopter widget below for your contest entry.



a Rafflecopter giveaway




About the Author


Robin M. Helm is the author of a modern Christian fantasy fiction series, The Guardian Trilogy, which includes Guardian, SoulFire, and Legacy. She has also published the Yours by Design series, a Christian Regency/Modern Romance with a paranormal element. Accidentally Yours, Sincerely Yours, and Forever Yours are all available for purchase in both e-book and print formats.

Mrs. Helm shares a blog, Jane Started It, with the other writers of the Crown Hill Writers' Guild, and is one of the founders and administrators of BeyondAusten.com, a website for readers with common interests. She also has published three Regency short stories, "First Kiss," "The Prize," and "Treasure Chest," which can be read on Jane Started It on her author's page or at BeyondAusten.com. She has one husband, one granddaughter, two daughters, two sons-in-law, four family dogs, five part-time jobs, and six published books.

Mrs. Helm is the Associate in Music and Music Academy Director at her church, the interim choir director, a piano teacher, and an elementary music teacher. She formerly taught high school English.

She graduated with a BA from Piedmont International University. She is a member of the Delta Epsilon Chi honor society, the American Legion Auxiliary, JASNA, and the scholarship faculty of the United States Achievement Academy.





Connect with Robin M. Helm




Book 1
Book 2

Buy the paperback, get the Kindle edition for free with Amazon's Matchbook program! Learn more HERE.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Begin Prepping for Easter with the Odyssey Adventure Club

Witness-the-Greatest-Story-Ever-Told

Easter is right around the corner! It's an exciting time of year for families, churches, and Christians everywhere as we remember the greatest story ever told: how God loved us so much He sacrificed His Son so we could spend eternity with Him. Take advantage of the Easter season to spend more time with your family investing in your kids' faith.

To get you started, you can download a fun cutout to have a craft night with your family and to prepare them for Palm Sunday. Plus stop by this page for a slew of crafts, recipes, and stories to share with your family during this special time of year!

90-Devotions-for-Kids-Quote-1

If you're looking to take one more step in investing in your kids' faith during the Easter season, consider signing your family up for the Odyssey Adventure Club (OAC). It offers safe and free content for everyone in your family. Membership to the OAC costs just $9.99 a month — or even less if parents make a six-month or one-year commitment. Enrollment provides more than enough content to keep kids engaged throughout the year:
  • Access to exclusive content and first looks at books and select Radio Theatre dramas.
  • On-the-go access to the OAC app for both iOS and Android users.
  • 24/7 streaming access to nearly 800 AIO episodes.
  • A new, members-only AIO episode every month.
  • A subscription to Adventures in Odyssey Clubhouse Magazine, and more.
To learn more about the Odyssey Adventure Club, visit www.oaclub.org, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Book Review: The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

Carolyn's not so different from the other human beings around her. She's sure of it. She likes guacamole and cigarettes and steak. She knows how to use a phone. She even remembers what clothes are for.

After all, she was a normal American herself, once.

That was a long time ago, of course—before the time she calls “adoption day,” when she and a dozen other children found themselves being raised by a man they learned to call Father.

Father could do strange things. He could call light from darkness. Sometimes he raised the dead. And when he was disobeyed, the consequences were terrible.

In the years since Father took her in, Carolyn hasn't gotten out much. Instead, she and her adopted siblings have been raised according to Father's ancient Pelapi customs. They've studied the books in his library and learned some of the secrets behind his equally ancient power.

Sometimes, they've wondered if their cruel tutor might secretly be God.

Now, Father is missing. And if God truly is dead, the only thing that matters is who will inherit his library—and with it, power over all of creation.

As Carolyn gathers the tools she needs for the battle to come, fierce competitors for this prize align against her.

But Carolyn can win. She's sure of it. What she doesn't realize is that her victory may come at an unacceptable price—because in becoming a God, she's forgotten a great deal about being human.




I’m in conflict with this review.  On one hand, I find The Library at Mount Char to be a mind-bending epic, with notes of religion, fantasy, philosophy and science.  At times I was completely amazed at Scott Hawkins’ knowledge of such a wide range of subjects; certainly his mind must be like a library itself. On the other hand, I also found his plot difficult to follow at times, and more often than not, I had a poor grasp of where we were in the story.  There was a moment about halfway in when I felt as if I’d made a breakthrough, that I was beginning to understand Hawkins’ world and even come to really enjoy it, but after a while I found myself lost again in the shuffle of his mythology.

Yes, The Library at Mount Char is a departure for me. I tend to focus on Austenesque “bonnet stories” and the like. But as a self-confessed sci-fi and fantasy story geek (although mostly in the realm of film), I thought I’d give this a try.  When I later found out that a good friend of mine is also a college friend of Scott’s, I was thrilled with the small world connection and was even more enthusiastic about presenting a raving review of his work.

Despite that connection, I can’t offer a raving review of this one, at least not for those who generally follow my reviews and read similar works.  The content can be very rough, with coarse language, graphic violence, and some sexual content.  I didn’t find that to be as off-putting as you would expect. I can handle some cursing and a little blood now and then. The most alienating thing about Mount Char was the story in general.  It took a while for me to understand the main characters, and I never quite claimed a firm grasp on the plot.  I’m sure there was a point there-- I just missed it.  I think.  Most likely, it’s my lack of sophistication as a reader.

While I cannot recommend this title for my usual demographic, I can say that there is a definite audience for this mind-bending novel.  I see it as a mix of Stephen King and Rick Riordan, with a bit of Chris Kyle (of American Sniper) mixed in.  Those with a higher I.Q. than mine, with flexible minds that are open to all sorts of possibilities, who enjoy fantastic tales that dip into the very nature of existence itself… They might enjoy The Library at Mount Char.  It also has its moments of humor (I laughed out loud and underlined text on several occasions), tenderness, as well as horror and confusion.  As I write this, I have a friend in mind that I think will enjoy Mount Char very much, and I intend to share my review materials with her.

On another note: Scott was gracious enough to send me the audio book edition of Mount Char, which aided in my finishing the book in a shorter time period. I loaded it onto my iPhone and listened while doing dishes, riding around town or doing other menial chores.  I’m happy to report that narrator Hillary Huber did excellent work. As a frequent listener of audio books, I truly enjoyed her performance. She has the ability to capture just the right tone of this novel, with a slight edge to her voice, but still having the talent to be sensitive and emotional as well.  She almost sounded cynical as she voiced the main character Carolyn, but I think that was fitting.  Her range, from sinister to sweet was remarkable.

Scott Hawkins is a talented author who will most surely go on to more published titles.  Although I don’t find The Library at Mount Char to be the best fit for me as a reader, I applaud his work and acknowledge that he has created something amazing here. It is a world and library unto its own, with a tale that spans time, space and matter in a way that I’ve never experienced before. For those who might be up for a challenging, sometimes insane and mind-bending read, this might be for you.  Just be prepared for a ride that is unique and thoroughly unpredictable.



Giveaway Notice!

Hop over to Goodreads and enter to win a copy of The Library at Mount Char, if you'd like to give this original fantasy work a try. Giveaway ends on February 29, 2016 and is open to US entrants.  CLICK HERE TO ENTER



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