Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Book Review - Expectations of Happiness by Rebecca Ann Collins

From Sourcebooks:

International bestselling author of the Pemberley Chronicles series explores the beloved characters of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. Acclaimed for historical accuracy and emulation of Jane Austen’s voice as well as the depth of her depictions of the complex and evolving society of the day—especially what life was like for women—Collins imagines three sisters dealing with what happens when a spirited girl grows into a scandal-prone young lady who defies society’s rules and must then pay the consequences.

*          *          *

After her delightful ten-volume Pemberley Chronicles series, Rebecca Ann Collins has returned with another Austenesque sequel, Expectations of Happiness.  As I very much enjoyed the selections that I did read from her first series, I was thrilled when it was announced that Collins would be revisiting the work of Jane Austen.  In preparation for spending time with the Dashwood family again, I refreshed my memory of their story by watching the two latest film adaptations of Sense and Sensibility.  True, it’s inferior to reading Austen herself, but I’m able to multi-task (read: get some ironing done) while a DVD is running, unlike while reading.  Of course, this heavily influenced my mental casting of the characters, as is evidenced by the listing below.

I had high hopes for Expectations of Happiness, and for the most part I was not disappointed.  Once again, Rebecca Ann Collins’ writing is elegant, comprehendible and thoroughly delightful.  Her pacing is perfect, as she takes her time with character and plot development without becoming ponderous. The characters seem to be on par with their temperaments from the original novel, having all the amiable qualities, neurotic tendencies and desires as before.

Unlike Sense and Sensibility, this sequel spends a large amount of time focusing on the life of Margaret Dashwood, the youngest daughter.  Several years have passed since her elder sisters married, and she is now a young woman seeking her way in the world.  Miss Dashwood continues to harbor a curious and academic personality, pursuing her education and career fervently.  She is so focused on her aspirations in fact; she has taken little notice of eligible men in her life.  When Margaret finally does become attracted to a young man, certain details about his life bring about complications to keep her from him.

Collins also spends much time with the elder Dashwood sisters as well.  Now married to their love interests from Sense and Sensibility, their lives progress much as we might expect them to.  Elinor is still playing the role of elder (and very maternal) sister to Marianne, and Mrs. Colonel Brandon still has the heart of a passionate, sometimes foolhardy romantic.  Despite being older, Marianne is not necessarily wiser than she has been in years past.  She gets herself into some inappropriate entanglements, and Elinor must balance her desire to protect and guide her sister with the understanding that Marianne must make her own way as an adult.  Collins handles these relational and societal minefields with dexterity and charm, with lovely Regency dialogue and manners.

My one reservation to a wholehearted, unreserved ovation comes from a decision made near the end of the novel.  I will not offer any plot spoilers, but suffice it to say, I was a bit disappointed in one particular choice that Ms. Collins’ made for one couple in her story.  While I’m grateful that she handled this particular situation and its details in the way she did, I still regret that she chose to go this direction with her characters.  I didn’t find it shocking or inconsistent with their personalities, but at the same time I didn’t see why it was necessary.

Regardless, Expectations of Happiness was a delightful novel, a worthy sequel to a well-loved classic.  I highly enjoyed revisiting these characters, and even got a chuckle out of a few winks to Pride and Prejudice and Rebecca’s Pemberley Chronicles series.  If you’ve enjoyed Ms. Collins in the past, you’ll find this to be another enjoyable addition to her list of titles.  As we Janeites celebrate the 200th anniversary of Sense and Sensibility, this is a great way to spend time with these amusing characters once again.

*          *          *

Calico Casting Call – For the Movie in My Head
(With the appropriate age and look for their characters)

Elinor Dashwood Ferrars – Emma Thompson
Marianne Dashwood Brandon – Kate Winslet
Margaret Dashwood – Emma Watson
Mrs. Dashwood – Gemma Jones
Edward Ferrars – Hugh Grant
Colonel Brandon – Alan Rickman
John Willoughby – Greg Wise
Sir John Middleton – Robert Hardy
Mrs. Jennings – Elizabeth Spriggs
Fanny Ferrars Dashwood – Harriet Walter
John Dashwood – James Fleet
Mr. Palmer – Hugh Laurie
Charlotte Palmer – Shirley Henderson
Lucy Steele Ferrars – Imogen Stubbs
Eliza Williams – Caroline Hayes
Claire Jones – Claire Danes
Nicholas Wilcox – Leonardo DiCaprio
Daniel Brooke – Dan Stevens
Dr. Bradley King – Bernard Hill
Mrs. King – Andie MacDowell



Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Wednesday Contest Report

Sometimes on Wednesdays I enjoy reporting other contests that are going on throughout the blogosphere.  While you're here, be sure to enter my Royal Giveaway:

  • Hawk of May
  • Kingdom of Summer
  • In Winter's Shadow
  • Jewels by Jenn
Deadline to enter is November 5th.

Other Off-Site Giveaways

Dazzling Reads is hosting a YA Autumn Giveaway.  The winner gets their pick of one of 12 new titles releasing this fall.  Deadline to enter is November 30, 2011.  The contest is international, to wherever The Book Depository ships.  Here is the link:

Another contest you can check out is over on the new blog, Back to Books.  They're currently running a giveaway to The Book Depository - the winner gets to choose a book under $15 in value.  Deadline to enter is October 31st.  Here's the link:

Good luck to all!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Book Review and Royal Giveaway - In Winter's Shadow by Gillian Bradshaw

From Sourcebooks:

Arthur Pendragon strives to unite a fragmented empire as his bastard son threatens to tear down the king, his queen, and their bravest champions. From the sudden death of innocence to a perilous campaign that strikes at the very heart of the empire, this third and final book of the acclaimed trilogy by Gillian Bradshaw offers the reader a front-row seat as Arthur's dream and his kingdom collapse around him.

*          *          *

First published in 1982 and now reissued by Sourcebooks Landmark, Gillian Bradshaw’s In Winter's Shadow is the concluding volume of the Down the Long Wind trilogy.  An Arthurian tale, this series focuses greatly on those surrounding the legendary High King and Emperor.  In Book 1, Hawk of May, the story’s emphasis is on Arthur’s emissary Gwalchmai and his ascendancy from childhood to royal servitude and respected combatant.  Book 2, Kingdom of Summer still has Gwalchmai as the main character, but it’s told from the perspective of his manservant, Rhys.  Summer chronicles the rising tide that began to swell against Arthur, as well as the personal relationships of Gwalchmai, Rhys, and their love interests.

Book 3, In Winter’s Shadow varies in that it’s told from the perspective of a woman, Emperor Arthur’s wife Gwynhwyfar.  Through Queen Gwynhwyfar’s eyes, we watch the continued struggle of Arthur and his Family against the forces of evil, brought on predominantly by his bastard son, Medraut.  The Queen is very much a part of this struggle herself, as she is not only a leader within her community but is incredibly affected by events without and within.  While her loyalty ultimately is always with Arthur, her heart is frequently torn between what is right and what is desired.  This leads to trouble both within her marriage and throughout the entire kingdom. 

The longest of the three volumes, In Winter’s Shadow took the shortest amount of time for me to read.  I found every chapter to be quite interesting, and not bogged down in unnecessary set dressing and descriptive language.  Bradshaw’s writing is such that we are easily transported to this Arthurian world, but without excessive baggage.  There are battles without ridiculous amounts of gory details, passionate anger without cheap vulgarities and adulterous love scenes with just enough information to get the point across.  It’s decidedly less spiritual than the first two thirds of the trilogy, and I missed having more of that element within the plot, but the political intrigue and relational dramas more than made up for that change in composition.

Down the Long Wind is different from other Arthurian tales in that there is no “Round Table” per se and no mystical Merlin character (although there is a briefly mentioned, mysterious bard named Taliesin).  The fortress of Camelot is the more traditionally named Camlann.   However, much of the original legend is retained, with a moderate amount of magic and spirituality within the first two thirds of the trilogy.  This last portion, In Winter’s Shadow follows the travails and struggles of Arthur, his Queen and the forces swirling around them.  There is adventure, betrayal, loyalty, passion, victory and defeat.  It’s a sweeping tale that spans decades and easily transports the reader to another time and place. 

I can say that I wish the final chapters had turned out somewhat differently than they did.  Without offering any revealing details, the conclusion is not tied up perfectly in a tidy bow, with all parties happy and gratified.  That being said, I felt that matters were handled in a highly realistic and possibly more historic fashion, if there is any truth to the Arthurian legends. 

In Winter’s Shadow is a fine conclusion to a very satisfying trilogy.  I enjoyed hearing the story from the perspective of a woman, and Bradshaw always made her narrative interesting and worth my time.  I frequently read this volume during my morning and afternoon walks by a lake, on the way to or from dropping my sons off from school.  I always looked forward to that time, as it was a delightful escape from the duties and responsibilities of my day.  I certainly recommend Down the Long Wind, especially if you’re a fan of Arthurian novels, but also if you enjoy a captivating, sweeping tale of adventure, magic, love and political intrigue.  Gillian Bradshaw produced a fine work 30 years ago, and it is certainly worth its current re-emergence in the marketplace today.  Hopefully it will acquire a new audience and continue to be enjoyed for years to come.

*          *          *

Calico Casting Call – For the Movie in My Head
(With the appropriate age and look for their characters)

King Arthur – Anthony Head
Gwynhwyfar – Nicole Kidman
Bedwyr – Matthew Macfadyen
Gwalchmai ap Lot – Karl Urban
Rhys ap Sion – Rupert Grint
Morgawse – Monica Bellucci
Medraut – Sean Bean
Eivlin – Dakota Fanning
Gwyn - Jeremy Sumpter

Royal Giveaway!
The Down the Long Wind Trilogy
Hand Crafted Jewels by Jenn
(U.S. Addresses)

As much as I enjoyed Gillian Bradshaw's novels, I do not have the shelf space to give them a permanent home.  I earnestly want them to go on to someone who will enjoy them, so who better to offer them than you, my readers?  The winner of the giveaway will receive my gently-read ARCs of Hawk of May, Kingdom of Summer and In Winter's Shadow.  The cover art is the same on Books 1 & 3, but for some reason they went in a different direction on the cover art for Book 2. But they're all in great condition, and I hope you enjoy them. 

In addition to these delightful reads, I'd like to offer to the winner a gift from Jewels by Jenn.  Choose any items up to $12 (not including shipping, which I'll cover).  Jennifer Degraeve offers lovely beaded bracelets, necklaces and earrings.  These accessories will have you looking like a Queen, or you can bestow them to the Lady Gwynhwyfar in your life.  Choose from the items below, or from the selection on the Jewels by Jenn website.

Earrings: $5
Bracelets: $8
Earrings & Necklace: $9
Necklaces: $10
Bracelet & Necklace: $12 
3 Piece Set: $15

Contest Rules

  • Leave a comment below; this counts as your entry.
  • Entries accepted until 11:59pm on Saturday, November 5th
  • The winner must supply a US mailing address for prize shipment.  I apologize to my international readers, but especially with this giveaway (3 books & separate jewelry shipment), I cannot afford the international postage.
  • Make sure at least one posted comment includes your email address. If you'd rather not have your email posted here, you may contact me directly to give me that information after you've entered here.
  • I will compile the entries and the winner will be chosen by Random.org, so even one entry can make you a winner.
  • I will contact the winner on Sunday the 6th.  Please take measures to ensure that my email will make it past your spam filters, lest you miss my message. (CalicoCritic@gmail.com) You'll have 72 hours to respond before I pick another winner.
  • More information on the giveaway policies can be found on the Contact / Policies page.

Bonus Entries

Please make note of all your bonus entries in your comment(s).  You may post separate comments or a single large comment.  Here are your bonus entry options:

  • +1 Bonus Point:  Follow The Calico Critic by clicking on the Google "Follow" button on my sidebar (old or new followers both get the bonus entry, just please let me know your GFC follower name).
  • +1 Bonus Point:  Follow me (@LHartness) on Twitter and tell me your @UserName.
  • +1 Bonus Point Each:  Tweet about this giveaway on Twitter.com. Be sure to use an URL linking back to this blog posting in your tweet. You may do this as frequently as every 8 hours between now and November 5th at 11:59pm EST.  For each tweet, please come back and post the direct URL link to that specific tweet, not just your @Username.  Here's a sample tweet you can copy:
@LHartness ARC & Jewelry Giveaway! Down the Long Wind trilogy by G. Bradshaw for @Sourcebooks and Jewels by Jenn bit.ly/RoyalGiveaway
  • +5 Bonus Points:  Subscribe to The Calico Critic via email (see left hand sidebar) and become a verified Feedburner subscriber.  Make sure you let me know the email address you used to subscribe.
  • +5 Bonus Points:  Mention this giveaway in a post on your blog.  Deadline to publish your post is 11:59pm EST, November 3rd.  Please provide a direct link.

Thanks for stopping by, and good luck to all!
If you'd like to be alerted anytime a giveaway is posted here on The Calico Critic, here are three notification options:

Subscribe to The Calico Critic via email

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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Book Review - Kingdom of Summer by Gillian Bradshaw

First published in 1981 and now re-released by Sourcebooks Landmark, Gillian Bradshaw’s Kingdom of Summer continues the tale of Gwalchmai ap Lot, whose story began in Hawk of May.  This nephew of the legendary King Arthur, given the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of his mother, the evil sorceress Morgawse, chose instead of become a warrior against the Darkness.  Hawk of May chronicles his youth into young adulthood.  Kingdom of Summer picks up in his mid-20s, when he has established himself as a renowned servant of King Arthur, achieving almost legendary status, both in story and in song.  While he doesn’t practice the evil sorcery of his mother, he still retains his otherworldly horse Ceincaled and the magical sword Caledvwlch.

Through a series of flashback storytelling, we learn in recent years, Lord Gwalchmai has not only been an emissary for King Arthur, but he also managed to fall in love with the daughter of an enemy.  His love for the beautiful Elidan cannot eclipse his devotion to Arthur, and ultimately this leads to conflict, broken promises and the estrangement of two lovers.  Gwalchmai begins a quest to find Elidan in hopes of at least obtaining forgiveness, if not complete reconciliation. 

Along the way he meets a young farmer named Rhys, who decides to join him as a servant in his quest to find Elidan and ultimately to return to Arthur’s fortress Camlann.  He shares Gwalchmai’s adventurous spirit and Christian desire to serve the Light in a world frequently tormented by Morgawse’s Darkness.  Together they embark on a perilous journey to combat evil and to bring peace to the guilt-ridden, lovesick Lord’s heart.  The majority of the novel is told from Rhys’ point of view and in his voice.

Kingdom of Summer is a fine follow up to Hawk of May.  The second in a trilogy of titles, Summer continues the tale of Gwalchmai ap Lot, but with the fresh new voice of his servant Rhys ap Sion. Together they embark on quite a journey, facing both spiritual and physical challenges.  As I mentioned in my review of Hawk of May, Bradshaw’s writing doesn’t necessarily fall within the Christian genre, but the faith is held up as a good and righteous power within the story, having a Light-driven magic of its own.  Battles and other graphic content are kept at a reasonable level—we know that Gwalchmai is a warrior, but we aren’t subjected to scene after scene of bloodletting and slaughter.

Summer does very little back selling of the original title, so it would be to the reader’s benefit to enjoy Hawk of May before starting this.  The story also concludes in a somewhat open-ended way, setting the stage for the final installment of the Down the Long Wind trilogy, In Winter’s Shadow. As I’ve enjoyed Gillian Bradshaw’s work thus far, I’m looking forward to Shadow and how things develop with the characters.  Kingdom of Summer was filled with adventure, magic and a bit of romance, and if Shadow continues in the same vein, I’m sure to be in for another delightful read.

*          *          *

Calico Casting Call – For the Movie in My Head
(With the appropriate age and look for their characters)

Gwalchmai ap Lot – Karl Urban
Rhys ap Sion – Rupert Grint
King Arthur – Anthony Head
Morgawse – Monica Bellucci
Medraut – Sean Bean
Lot mac Cormac – John Noble
Elidan – Miranda Otto
Eivlin – Dakota Fanning
Teleri – Glenn Close


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