Saturday, January 10, 2015

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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






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Friday, January 9, 2015

Book Review: Fitzwilliam Darcy such I was by Carol Cromlin

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Meet the Author

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












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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Book Excerpt: The Muse by Jessica Evans

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

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





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

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

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


Excerpt: The Muse by Jessica Evans


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thanks,” she murmured.

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

“No, thanks.”

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

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

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

A long moment of silence passed between them again.

“I thought you went hiking.”

William chuckled. “Someone ruined my shoes.”

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

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

“Oh.”

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

“What?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I call it confidence.”

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

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

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

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

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

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



About the Author

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

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





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Saturday, December 13, 2014

Guest Post: A Profile of Holiday Classics

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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







Monday, December 8, 2014

Book Profile: Fuzed Trilogy: Resurrect

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


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




From Amazon:

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

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

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








About David E. Stevens

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







Find out more about David at ResurrectTrilogy.com

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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Excerpt and Giveaway: The Vagabond Vicar by Charlotte Brentwood

Lately I've had such fun introducing the readers of The Calico Critic to new authors of Regency and/or Austenesque fiction!  Today is no exception.  Charlotte Brentwood is a debut author with her own Regency novel, The Vagabond Vicar.  I get the sense that Charlotte's tastes are very similar to my own, as we share many of the same interests and values.  Today she presents an excerpt of The Vagabond Vicar, and offers a nice giveaway as well.  Be sure to enter through the Rafflecopter widget below.  Enjoy!




Thank you for hosting me Laura! I’m delighted to introduce my debut novel, The Vagabond Vicar. If you love Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, can't get enough of Downton Abbey or Cranford, or just prefer old-fashioned boy-meets-girl stories, this story should appeal to you. Read on for an exclusive excerpt.

--Charlotte Brentwood

****

William Brook is an idealistic young cleric, desperate to escape dreary England for a mission adventure in exotic lands. It's his worst nightmare come true when he is posted to a parish in a small backwater village, populated with small-minded people and husband-hunting mamas. He’s determined not to form any ties and to escape the country as an independent single man. 

A free spirit, Cecilia Grant is perfectly content to remain in her family home in Amberley village - when she's not wandering the countryside at all hours painting. Marriage options are few, but that won't stop her mother from engineering a match with one of the ruling family's sons. Cecilia attempts to win the man, but what is it about the new vicar and his brooding ways that is so appealing? Could he be the only one who has ever really understood her, and can she discover what he is running away from? 

As William struggles not to fall in love with the lady's intoxicating beauty and mysterious eccentricity, he finds himself drawn into the lives of the villagers, despite their best efforts to alienate the newcomer. When he makes it clear he's not sticking around, Cecilia strives to restrain her blossoming feelings for him. Just when it seems love may triumph, dark secrets are revealed in Amberley and a scandal from William’s past may see the end of not only his career, but his chance at finding an everlasting love. 

****

Excerpt from The Vagabond Vicar
by Charlotte Brentwood

This excerpt takes place at a ball given by the local landowners, the Barringtons.


Once his dance with Miss Anne was over, he deposited her with her family and made a hasty retreat to the table of refreshments. His respite was however short-lived, as Mrs Lindsay approached with a visiting female cousin. There was an unmistakable eagerness in her eyes, and William began to panic, unsure he could maintain his composure through two more dances. This was why he’d avoided society in London.

With the Lindsay women only a few feet away, William swiftly turned back to the table, only to come face to face with Miss Grant. He breathed a sigh of relief. Surely she was the lesser of two evils. “Miss Grant, would you do me the honour?” he asked quickly, extending his hand.

Cecilia hesitated, but then her face relaxed into a smile. “I would be delighted, Mr Brook.”

William felt a ridiculous surge of pleasure when she placed her hand in his, and he tried to keep a straight face despite his satisfaction at having kept the more obvious ladies at bay. She curtsied elegantly, and he caught himself admiring her slim form as they began to move through the figures. The dearth of civilised company must be playing tricks on his mind. At least Miss Grant didn’t attempt to engage him in puerile conversation such as he’d had to endure thus far. He cringed a little when, as their second dance began, she took a breath to speak, but the topic she raised hit straight to his core.

“I collect you are missing London, Mr Brook?”

He lost his composure for a moment, but regained it in time to keep up with the dance. This was not the undemanding conversation starter he might have expected. He met her eyes and saw only concern, rather than coquetry. “Yes Miss Grant, I’m afraid I am,” he confessed. “What betrayed me?”

“Nothing, really. It only seems as though you are still adjusting to small village life.”

She was right, of course, but he did not want to admit that she’d been perceptive, or to the fact that he would struggle to adapt to their simple society. When she was within earshot again he said, “I do hope I am not putting too much of a damper on proceedings.”

She laughed, another surprise. “I would say to the contrary, Mr Brook, you seem to have inspired general appreciation and high spirits.”

Could she be alluding to the range of females targeting his attention? Was she bold enough to address such a topic? A glance at her twinkling eyes told him she was. He couldn’t help but feel lighter inside, and grinned at her.

When they were next in the range of conversation, she asked, “What do you miss most about London?”

He felt a pang. “Where do I start?” A tumble of images streamed through his mind... people, places, experiences. The hope for the future that he seemed to have left behind. After several moments he remembered his company, and looked back into her curious eyes. “The variety of society must be keenly felt,” he began, hoping not to offend her. “Apart from my general acquaintance, the members of the congregation, and other clergy, I had a particular friend whom I am missing dreadfully. Thomas.”

She nodded. “Perhaps Thomas could come and visit.”

He shook his head sadly. “I am afraid not. He is on a ship this moment, bound for India.”

Her eyes clouded. “Oh. Is that a dangerous journey?”

He gave a little shrug. “No more than most. The destination must make it worthwhile.” The dance ended, and after thanking each other they continued to talk off to the side. “Thomas will be ministering to peoples who have not yet heard God’s word,” William told Cecilia, unable to hide the earnestness in his features. “He will be building churches and schools, and feeding the desperately hungry.”

She nodded, warmth and understanding in her eyes. “One could be forgiven for thinking you would rather be in his place.”

His eyes flashed to her serene countenance. How was it possible that this girl, who he'd practically written off as an eccentric oddity, had pinpointed his deepest issues within a few minutes of conversation? “You are very perceptive, Miss Grant,” he said. “But I would not rather be in his place – I yearn to be beside him through the journey. We were a good team.”

She nodded. “And Amberley is somewhat removed from the life of a missionary.”

He looked away for a moment. “Yes.”

Supper was announced, and William offered his arm to take Cecilia through to the dining hall. As they approached the long tables, William spotted Mrs Grant. She had saved a seat next to her, with Mr Barrington on the other side.

Cecilia paused as she also noticed the arrangement. “Look, there are two seats available over there,” she said, pointing to a far table. “That is, if you can withstand my company.”

William laughed and started in that direction, noticing Mrs Grant gesturing wildly towards them out of the corner of his eye. “It would be my pleasure.”

Once they were seated and had filled their plates with salmon, vegetables and biscuits, Cecilia returned to their former topic. “I have been to London twice,” she told him. “Once when I was a girl, and again last year for my debutante season.”

He chewed and swallowed a mouthful. “I see. And how did you like it?”

She hesitated. “I did enjoy London itself, once I became used to the noise and bustle, but trying to hook a husband was a perplexing activity.”

William smiled. She certainly did not shy away from the heart of matters. How refreshing. He wasn’t sure if he should prompt her to go on. This was precisely the sort of conversation Dean Roberts would have preferred an unmarried vicar to steer well clear of. “Oh yes?” he said.

“I am a hopeless flirt,” she said with a self-effacing smile. “That is – I am hopeless at it. I always just say what I think, or if I am nervous I don’t say much at all. My mother despairs that I have not taken to the female arts.”

William smiled again. “Does she now?”

“Indeed. She is determined to have me married well, but I fear I am not ladylike enough to impress the right gentlemen.”

William was thinking she was the closest he’d come to a lady in the whole time since he’d been in Amberley. Even the Barrington girls, though they had assumed airs and elegant postures, did not have the natural grace of this creature. “Miss Grant,” he said, “I am a gentleman, and yet you do not seem nervous.”

“Oh, but you are a vicar!” she exclaimed. “You are not an ordinary gentleman.”

****

For another excerpt and details on where you can buy The Vagabond Vicar, visit Charlotte’s website.

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International Giveaway: The Vagabond Vicar

Charlotte has generously offered three eBook copies of The Vagabond Vicar!  Winners may choose between Kindle or the options on Smashwords as their format.  Contestants should enter through the Rafflecopter widget below.  Submissions accepted until 12am EST on December 21, 2014.  Thanks for stopping by, and good luck!



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About the Author

Charlotte developed serious crushes on a series of men from age fifteen: Darcy, Knightley, Wentworth and Brandon. A bookworm and scribbler for as long as she can remember, Charlotte always dreamed of sharing her stories with the world.

She lives in beautiful Auckland, New Zealand. When she's not toiling at her day job, writing or procrastinating on the Internet, Charlotte can be found snuggling with her cat Sophie, warbling at the piano, sipping a hot chocolate or enjoying the great outdoors.







Connect with Charlotte










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Monday, November 24, 2014

Book Review and Trilogy Giveaway: A Lady at Willowgrove Hall by Sarah E. Ladd

Her secret cloaks her in isolation and loneliness. His secret traps him in a life that is not his own.

Darbury, England, 1819

Cecily Faire carries the shame of her past wherever she treads, knowing one slip of the tongue could expose her disgrace. But soon after becoming a lady’s companion at Willowgrove Hall, Cecily finds herself face-to-face with a man well-acquainted with the past she’s desperately hidden for years.

Nathaniel Stanton has a secret of his own—one that has haunted him for years and tied him to his father’s position as steward of Willowgrove Hall. To protect his family, Nathaniel dares not breathe a word of the truth. But as long as the shadow looms over him, he’ll never be free to find his own way in the world. He’ll never be free to fall in love.

When the secrets swirling within Willowgrove Hall come to light, Cecily and Nathaniel must confront a painful choice: Will they continue running from the past . . . or will they stand together and fight for a future without the suffocating weight of secrets long kept?



The Whispers on the Moors series continues with Sarah E. Ladd’s A Lady at Willowgrove Hall. As with the previous volume The Headmistress of Rosemere, this novel has ties to its predecessor, but it can very much stand alone. And like the other titles, it features a strong, yet accessible leading lady. Cecily Faire is an excellent character, drawing me in with her vulnerability, and the dramatic events of her past. The novel opens with a pivotal moment in her life, one that was in some ways romantic, but for the most part was quite striking and heart rending. The pain and rejection in this girl’s heart was very tangible, establishing her as a young lady that readers could care about.

After Willowgrove Hall’s powerful opener, I settled in for the rest of the story, getting to know many delightful characters, both charming and despicable. I initially thought that the mistress of Willowgrove, Mrs. Trent, would mirror Jane Austen’s Lady Catherine de Bourgh, but I eventually came to see her as a much more amiable lady. Her steward, Nathaniel Stanton, was such a charming young man, but in a soft-spoken, humble way that made him even more interesting. The chemistry between him and Cecily was delightful, fresh and clean, reminding me of my early days with my husband, when we were getting to know one another for the first time. Ladd’s descriptions of their feelings unearthed sweet memories of decades gone by, when just seeing a new love interest enter a room would bring such excitement to heart. I also enjoyed Cecily’s interactions with the members of the Stanton family. Her time with them brought on such a cozy feeling, one that Cecily so longed for and richly deserved.

A main theme of the novel was the concept of hidden secrets, and how opening one’s heart to another requires trust—enough trust to share those moments of the past that had been hidden for years, if not decades. As Cecily feels that allowing herself to love and trust another man would be a frustrating exercise in futility, and she resists any revelation of her past mistakes or divulgement of certain offenses committed against her by those she loved. Likewise, Nathaniel is very much a closed book in particular areas of his life. Unlike Cecily, he doesn’t necessarily have personal regrets, but he does have confidential information that he would rather keep close to the vest, if for no other reason than to protect his family. As such, he denies himself the possibility of love with anyone, lest he come to trust them and reveal too much.

I enjoyed the tale that Sarah E. Ladd has woven here in A Lady at Willowgrove Hall. The Regency feel is much more apparent than in The Headmistress of Rosemere, but it is not in any way stuffy or difficult to read. As Cecily makes her way into the world, I was pleased with the way she recognized proper etiquette, and she was determined to try to play the part of a lady. Her antagonist could be quite a contemptible man, but I liked how Ladd softened him a bit at the end, showing that he wasn’t quite evil through-and-through. He provided an interesting twist to Cecily’s life at Willowgrove, bringing in tension in a way I hadn’t expected at the novel's outset.

Nathaniel is just delightful. I imagined an English version of Tom Welling (of Smallville fame) in my mind. He was handsome, strong, but a man of integrity and family honor. Cecily also cherishes family, and there is a sub plot involving her twin sister that was very sweet and poignant. Other American actors came to mind as well: I imagined Cecily as a younger, curlier-haired version of Jessica Chastain, with her almost-identical twin sister, Bryce Dallas Howard.


 Tom Welling
Jessica Chastain
Bryce Dallas Howard



Along with the rest of the cast of characters, A Lady at Willowgrove Hall has added another lovely episode to the Whispers on the Moors series. I don’t know if there will be future Whispers titles, but I do hope that Sarah E. Ladd will continue to occupy the Regency era in her writing. And it looks like she will be doing just that, with her upcoming title,The Curiosity Keeper,due for publication in July 2015. I enjoy stepping into her vision of that period, and look forward to more from this talented author.











Triple Giveaway!
The Whispers on the Moors Series!





My family is in the midst of preparing to move out of state.  We're packing up our things in Savannah and moving to Greensboro, NC at the end of the year.  It's time to trim down my library a bit. I've enjoyed the Whispers on the Moors series so far, and can't bear to just throw them into the Salvation Army pile that's growing in my closet. I want to make sure these books get to someone who appreciates them. Please note that these are gently-read review copies, sent to me with no monetary profit in mind.  So if you ever decide to part with them yourself, I would ask that you donate or give them away. Please do not sell them for monetary gain.  

I recently posted my review of Book 2, The Headmistress of Rosemere, and I'm incorporating that post into this giveaway as well. So you may enter the contest on this post or on the Headmistress of Rosemere post-- either way, you're in!

My apologies to our international readers, but I need to make this one available to U.S. mailing addresses only.

The contest period ends at 12am EST on Tuesday, December 16th, also known as Jane Austen Day. The Whispers on the Moors novels are set in early 19th century England, around the same time period as Austen's works.

Good luck to all of the participants, and thanks for entering!


a Rafflecopter giveaway







About the Author

Sarah E. Ladd has more than ten years of marketing experience. She is a graduate of Ball State University and holds degrees in public relations and marketing. The Heiress of Winterwood was the recipient of the 2011 Genesis Award for historical romance and a finalist in the Debut Author category of the 2014 Carol Awards. The second book in the series, The Headmistress of Rosemere (2013), was on the ECPA best-seller list for several months. Sarah lives in Indiana with her amazing husband, sweet daughter, and spunky Golden Retriever.

Find out more about Sarah at http://www.sarahladd.com.













Book 1

Book 2

Book 3

Kindle Trilogy!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Book Review and Trilogy Giveaway: The Headmistress of Rosemere by Sarah E. Ladd

Patience Creighton will finally find the peace she lost years ago--if she can open her heart and forgive the man who loves her.

Bright, sensible Patience knows what is expected of her. At twenty-five, her opportunity for a family of her own has passed, so she finds contentment teaching at her father's school for girls. When her father dies suddenly and her brother moves away to London, she is determined to keep her father's dream alive.

Confirmed bachelor William Sterling also knows what is expected of him, but mistake after mistake has left him teetering on ruin's edge. As master of Eastmore Hall he owns a great deal of land but possesses little money to manage the upkeep. He is desperate to find a new source of income, including the sacrifice of land connected to Rosemere.

When her brother returns with a new wife to take over management of the school, Patience is heartbroken to no longer be responsible for her beloved school and is forced to reassess God's purpose for her life. After her sister-in-law's matchmaking brings Patience and William together, they both learn new truths about their character and find a common goal in restoring Eastmore's legacy.



Last year I had the pleasure of reading The Heiress of Winterwood by Sarah E. Ladd, the first book in her Whispers on the Moors series. It was an enjoyable tale, with themes that were compelling and thought-provoking. Ladd continues her series with The Headmistress of Rosemere, which holds several similarities to Winterwood. As with Winterwood’s Amelia Barrett, the female protagonist Patience Creighton is also in the position of taking care of another’s child, or in this case, a home full of them in her father’s boarding school for girls, Rosemere. Another lead character William Sterling, is brother to Winterwood’s Graham Sterling, and like his kin also has weaknesses of his own. Unlike Graham, however, he is known for irresponsible living and gambling away much of his fortune. And as she did in the first title, Sarah E. Ladd keeps the content in this romantic tale very family-friendly.

While there are similarities between Winterwood and Rosemere, they each have their own unique tone and feel. Newcomers to the series could also read either title independently, as they will stand on their own with just a few ties to the other’s plot. So readers can feel comfortable in jumping into this series with Book Two if they so desire.

Ladd’s narrative with Patience and William was a compelling one, as each character harbors struggles that many can relate to. Patience, a single woman at age twenty-five in 19th century England, would be considered by many to be a spinster. She very much desires to be married, but not just for the security it can provide. Having a spouse with whom she is deeply in love is very important to her, so much so that she has turned down an opportunity to marry in the past. She is also dealing with the death of her father, which has subsequently caused her mother to be in serious emotional distress. In addition, Patience has the huge responsibility of running the boarding school in her older brother Rawdon’s absence. The pressures on her are multiple, making her life filled with instability and pressure. While out walking with her dear friend Cassandra, Patience contemplates her life:

“How different their lives were today. They each faced a future of uncertainty for different reasons. Only recently they had thought their paths were certain. But the ground had shifted beneath both of them. Nothing could be relied on anymore. 

‘How foolish we used to be, the two of us, always dreaming of great romance and adventure,’ Patience said. 

Cassandra gazed down at the river. ‘And did we find it?’ 

Not even the angry wind could dislodge that question from their minds. 

Patience wanted to stand on the crest of the hill and scream. Cry out to God. Beg for intervention. Beg to have her relationship with her brother restored. To have her mother back. To have her hope, her purpose back.” (p. 204 Paperback, p. 212 Kindle) 

Those thoughts and feelings are very relatable—how many of us have felt overwhelmed by life at times, troubled by relationship problems, responsibilities and uncertainty? I too have found myself crying out to God as she desired, asking Him for help, guidance and relief.

William Stanton has adversities of his own as well. He doesn’t struggle with alcohol addiction as his brother did, but he does have heavy issues within his heart, ones that he would try to ignore with frivolous and indulgent pursuits. His involvement with his property of Rosemere and his interaction with Patience lead his character to make choices that will forever change the trajectory of his life. He faces risk from many angles, and I found his journey as a man to be a captivating one. His is a story of redemption and renaissance, illustrating that we all can make positive changes in our lives if we are motivated to do so.

The Headmistress of Rosemere is a good follow-up to The Heiress of Winterwood. While I didn’t find myself quite as riveted in this novel as I did in the first, it was still very enjoyable. I’m pleased that Ladd is doing well as an author, as I enjoy her writing and appreciate her choices to keep her content clean, but not too heavy handed with faith-related themes. In other Christian novels that I’ve read, the mention of God sometimes seems forced, seemingly added for the sake of the genre. In Winterwood, faith is certainly an aspect in many of the characters’ lives, but it is not mentioned on every page, and the characters are no saints. They wrestle with doubt and sin like many of us do. As a reader I appreciate that balance.

As mentioned, The Heiress of Winterwood is very much a stand-alone novel. I can recommend either title in the Whispers on the Moors series, so feel free to start with this title if you like. Either way, you’re in for a delightful story of love, redemption and healing. As such, I look forward to the next title of Whispers on the Moors, the recently-released A Lady at Willowgrove Hall.




Triple Giveaway!
The Whispers on the Moors Series!




My family is in the midst of preparing to move out of state.  We're packing up our things in Savannah and moving to Greensboro, NC at the end of the year.  It's time to trim down my library a bit. I've enjoyed the Whispers on the Moors series so far, and can't bear to just throw them into the Salvation Army pile that's growing in my closet. I want to make sure these books get to someone who appreciates them. Please note that these are gently-read review copies, sent to me with no monetary profit in mind.  So if you ever decide to part with them yourself, I would ask that you donate or give them away. Please do not sell them for monetary gain.  

I will be posting my review of Book 3, A Lady at Willowgrove Hall very soon, and will incorporate this into the same giveaway.  So you may enter the contest on this post or on the Willowgrove Hall post-- either way, you're in!

My apologies to our international readers, but I need to make this one available to U.S. mailing addresses only.

The contest period ends at 12am EST on Tuesday, December 16th, also known as Jane Austen Day. The Whispers on the Moors novels are not Austenesque fiction, but they are set in early 19th century England, around the same time period as her works.

Good luck to all of the participants, and thanks for entering!


a Rafflecopter giveaway







About the Author

Sarah E. Ladd has more than ten years of marketing experience. She is a graduate of Ball State University and holds degrees in public relations and marketing. The Heiress of Winterwood was the recipient of the 2011 Genesis Award for historical romance and a finalist in the Debut Author category of the 2014 Carol Awards. The second book in the series, “The Headmistress of Rosemere” (2013), was on the ECPA best-seller list for several months. Sarah lives in Indiana with her amazing husband, sweet daughter, and spunky Golden Retriever.

Find out more about Sarah at http://www.sarahladd.com.













Book 1

Book 2

Book 3

Kindle Trilogy!

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