Monday, April 30, 2012

Book Review - Until Next Time
by Amy Lignor

Visit the Until Next Time Tour Here

How does a girl choose between the one who steals her heart and the one who owns her soul?

Matt and Emily were created for a specific job. Raised and trained as the ultimate angel/warrior team, they are sent down to save, defend, judge and forgive, depending on the 'life' they've been assigned. What they don't realize is that the power of human emotions, such as love, anger, passion and fear can take over even the best of souls, causing them to make mistakes and follow paths that lead to confusion and heartache.

When the reason for their training is finally revealed, the angel/warrior team find themselves thrust into a world they know nothing about. Matt takes over the life of Daniel, a young man with a great deal of baggage. Emily becomes Liz, a girl living in a remote village who relies on nothing more than her own strength to survive. A violent storm erupts one night, and framed in the window of Liz's establishment is a frightening face. Let in by the soul of a Good Samaritan, the two visitors bring with them a past full of secrets that could literally change an angel's path and a warrior's plans.

From murder to redemption, this angel/warrior team must find a way to keep the faith they have in each other in a world that's ripping them apart.

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Despite my usual preference for Austenesque fiction, I occasionally branch out into other genres.  In recent years I’ve read a few titles that have a bit of a spiritual/paranormal theme to them, including a novel centered around angels.  In particular I’m thinking of Illusion by Frank Peretti, Arson by Estevan Vega, Lady of Hay by Barbara Erskine and Angelology by Danielle Trussoni. For the most part I’ve found these novels fun to read, while they usually do require a bit of belief suspension in certain areas of reality, theology and science.  They’re entertaining reads, not meant for spiritual education in general.

In many ways the same can be said for Amy Lignor’s Until Next Time, the first book in her Angel Chronicles series. It’s a bit of light Young Adult fiction, not meant to be taken seriously by those in serious theological study, despite its angelic themes.

I tried to keep this in mind as I read Until Next Time, seeing it as an opportunity for a fun diversion amongst the clouds with the angels and on earth as they went about their heavenly duties.  But ultimately Time just didn’t fly with me.  I found Lignor’s writing to be frequently unclear and clunky, with odd leaps in her narrative that I found difficult to understand or appreciate. I liked her main characters, but I often found myself scratching my head at events that were occurring within the storyline.

Lignor’s spirituality seems to be somewhat loosely based in Christian theology, as there are references to angels from the Bible, some of the Gospel saints, and even a cameo from Christ Jesus Himself at one point.  But those looking for a lesson in theology really need to go elsewhere with this work. Characters can be made half human and half angel (not scriptural), and people seem to be living multiple lives, if I understood the story correctly.  But again, there are plenty of spiritual titles out there that are fun to read and aren’t scripturally accurate.  That’s not a deal breaker for me at all.  I just found some of the references to be a bit odd and distracting to the story as a whole.

Another distracting aspect of the writing was the extremely anachronistic manner in which the characters spoke while residing in 19th century Ireland.  There were a few references to the Irish accent abiding in the speech of the characters, but little to no effort was made to speak in an 19th century way in this story.  To some extent I suppose the writing could not have been too accurate, as I imagine the dialect in that region at that time would probably be very difficult for me to understand.  The English language evolves wildly over the generations.  But much authenticity was lost in setting the story in that time period.  It would have been much more believable if these characters were existing in the 20th century or later.

Until Next Time
did have its pleasant moments. The main characters had a great rapport with one another, and the romantic elements were enjoyable without being too racy. There was a bit of colorful language throughout the book, but it was very mild and PG-rated. And while the theology was skewed in some odd directions, religion (and Christianity in particular) seems to be held in high regard.

I think in my case, I just didn’t match the target demographic for this group, as a married 41 year-old mother of two.  Sometimes my age doesn't come into play when I review a YA title, but in this case I believe it did. I don’t want to give this review too harsh of a negative review, as there may be those of a younger age group who may enjoy the book more than I.  It’s a quick read, and if you’re looking for some light fare, a bit of adventure and romance with a decent serving of odd spirituality mixed in, this might be the title for you.  I might not be able to say “Until next time” to this series, but perhaps someone a bit younger than I may want to check this one out.  I encourage you to visit the other stops on the Until Next Time blog tour and read others’ opinions. With an informed view, you may find that this might fit nicely in your To Be Read List.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Book Review - Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis

Welcome to the next stop in TLC Book Tours promotion of C.S. Lewis’ classic novel, Out of the Silent Planet.  Be sure to check out all the points of this tour, as we have quite a few sites reviewing this beloved book.  A full listing can be found here.

For the uninitiated, here’s a bit of background from TLC on Book 1 of Lewis’ Space Trilogy:

Just as readers have been transfixed by the stories, characters, and deeper meanings of Lewis’s timeless tales in The Chronicles of Narnia, most find this same allure in his classic Space Trilogy. In these fantasy stories for adults, we encounter, once again, magical creatures, a world of wonders, epic battles, and revelations of transcendent truths.

Out of the Silent Planet is the first novel in C. S. Lewis’s classic science fiction trilogy. It tells the adventure of Dr. Ransom, a Cambridge academic, who is abducted and taken on a spaceship to the red planet of Malacandra, which he knows as Mars. His captors are plotting to plunder the planet’s treasures and plan to offer Ransom as a sacrifice to the creatures who live there. Ransom discovers he has come from the “silent planet”—Earth—whose tragic story is known throughout the universe!

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C.S. Lewis
I first encountered Out of the Silent Planet while a religion major at Wake Forest University in 1991.  I still have my yellowed paperback copy, which I unearthed for this occasion. The new Kindle edition by Harper Collins ended up being the version I used the most in this reading, but it was fun to go back and look at the old cover art and peruse my now-ancient notes written on the pages from college days.  I remember very little of my first experience with this novel, and was glad to have the opportunity to reread it for this book tour.

Notice: As this title has been in print since 1938, I’m going to assume that many of its details are public knowledge.  Thus, my review may hold what many would consider to be “spoilers”.  If you’d like to avoid these, I’d recommend returning to this post after you’ve had a chance to read this slim novel.

As a meager book blogger/reviewer I feel a sense of trepidation in even assuming that I can critique C.S. Lewis’ work.  He has been a favorite of mine for decades, and I will never hold a candle to him in anything that I will ever write in my lifetime.  That being said, I feel that this space affords me a chance to merely offer my opinion, even if my impression of this classic work is in the minority of reader preferences.

One of the first things that struck me as I began Planet was some of the coarse language that Lewis chose to use in his dialogues. My 11 year-old son Matthew, who attempted to read the book several months back, alerted me to the colorful words before losing interest in it altogether. So to those of you who are most familiar with Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, which were written more for the younger set, be aware that not only is this story written with a depth that only adults will come close to appreciating, but it also has occasional mature language as well.

Planet begins interstingly enough, with the kidnapping of Dr. Ransom and his travels with Weston and Devine to the distant planet of Malacandra, or as we know it, Mars.  Of course, Lewis’ knowledge of space travel is based purely on speculation, as we as a species didn’t slip the surly bonds of earth for more than two decades after this was written. Still, his depiction of the astronautical journey and arrival on Malacandra was interesting.  He got a number of things correct, but in many cases, as a reader I just enjoyed the fictional aspects of this science fiction work.

While I had moments of enjoyment with Out of the Silent Planet, more often than not I found myself frustrated with Lewis’ choices in his narrative, or rather, the lack thereof.  He spends an inordinate amount of time describing the Malacandrian landscapes and the creatures that inhabited it.  The interest seemed to lie more in an anthropological study of this world, and less on actual story and/or spiritual allegory.  Of course, my weaknesses as a reader may have caused me to miss allusions that are obvious to others, but it’s hard to deny the word count on so many terrestrial descriptions.

Once Lewis gets past all of his literary illustrating, he provides quite a few philosophical moments interwoven throughout his text.  Dr. Ransom encounters creatures who are aware of The Bent One on our planet, the one whom we refer to as Satan.  In this alien world, God’s name is Maleldil.  Lewis uses this science fiction platform to discuss matters of humanity back on Earth, or Thulcandra as it’s called by the Malacandrians.  If I understood correctly, Thulcandra is “silent” because of The Bent One and choices he has made throughout history.  Weston is advised by the Malacandrian Oyarsa:

It is the Bent One, the lord of your world, who wastes your lives and befouls them with flying from what you know will overtake you in the end. If you were subjects of Maleldil you would have peace.

Despite the several moments of Lewis’ philosophizing within the narrative of the story, I found Out of the Silent Planet to be more of an exercise of frustration for me than anything else. I wish I could report something different. Far be it for me to give a negative review of this favorite author, but I simply can’t say that I enjoyed this one very much.

That being said, as a Lewis fan, I do still plan to read Books 2 and 3 of the trilogy, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength.  Perhaps as I continue the journey I’ll have a greater appreciation of this first episode.  If not, I’m sure Out of the Silent Planet will not suffer from one semi-negative review.  It has long been considered a classic, and long after I’m gone it will certainly retain that title. For those of you who care to give it a try, I encourage you to take the journey and see where it takes you. May it be a pleasant trip, one that you can enjoy despite one lowly human’s opinion.

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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Book Review - Mr. Darcy Forever
by Victoria Connelly

Sarah and Mia Castle are closer than best friends and share just about everything, including a deep and abiding love for all things relating to Jane Austen. Their annual trip to the Jane Austen Festival in Bath is a highlight of their lives—until the year they discover that no matter how close two sisters may be, it’s impossible to share one man between them. Even if he does seem like their own perfect Mr. Darcy, if one wins him, won’t both of them lose?

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Victoria Connelly’s Jane Austen Addict Trilogy concludes with Mr. Darcy Forever, where we find not one but two Janeites together in Bath for the annual Jane Austen Festival.  As sisters Sarah and Mia are both fervent fans of the 1995 film adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, they are thrilled to have the opportunity to not only attend the festival, but also take their lodging in the very cottage used in the film. Staying in the fictional Barton cottage is a dream come true, and they look forward to their sisterly time together and time away from troublesome men.

Like Elinor in Austen’s novel, Sarah is the elder sister who operates primarily from her intellect.  She’s so disconnected from her feelings that she also suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, having a driving need to constantly organize the world around her and maintain cleanliness at all times.  Mia, the younger sister by nine years, is very much like Austen’s Marianne, as she tends to follow her heart and make poor choices in her love life.

It’s not long before their serene holiday is interrupted by the arrival of a tall, dark and handsome man named Alec. He’s very charming, but his entrance into the Castle girls’ lives is the start of significant upheaval.  Whether he proves to be a Darcy or a Willoughby remains to be seen, but after meeting him, the lives of these two women will never be the same.

Connelly’s previous titles, A Weekend with Mr. Darcy and Dreaming of Mr. Darcy were fun, delightful novels, perfect for a Janeite to read on a weekend or a vacation. Her characters are likeable, and her plots always maintain my interest.  The same is true with Mr. Darcy Forever.  It’s imminently readable, and any fan of Austenesque fiction or cinematic portrayals of Austen’s work will enjoy this.  Connelly not only references her own work in the rest of the trilogy, but she also nods at fellow Austenesque writers as well. She is just a much a fan of this world as her characters and readers.

While the title and cover art may suggest that Mr. Darcy Forever is a romance, it’s really more of a tale of two estranged sisters.  We see them endure betrayal, secrets, and yes, romance, but the focus of the novel is primarily on their relationship and its undulations over the years. The women make some poor choices, some expected and some less so, and the both must go through trials and growth as they work out the consequences of their decisions. The overall tone of the plot is generally lighthearted, but the girls still deal with some heart wrenching issues as well. Connelly keeps things fairly clean, as sexual moments are referenced but no intimate details are given.  She easily could have taken advantage of a few romantic scenes, and I appreciate the fact that things didn’t become too graphic.

Connelly uses a literary device in her storytelling that I enjoyed very much. Her chapters tend to alternate between the present day and the girls’ visit to Barton Cottage three years before.  Through a series of flashbacks, we learn the origins behind the sisters’ estrangement and how they came to their current state of alienation. I loved how details of the past were doled out over several separate chapters, and on a couple of occasions, I was completely surprised by Victoria’s plot choices. In one instance, I put the book down, began shrieking in disbelief and glee, and began punching the bed on which I was sitting.  My husband looked up from his own reading and said, “Enjoying the book, are we?!”  I laughed with delight.  This was such fun!

Once again, I can highly recommend Victoria Connelly's work in Mr. Darcy Forever. It’s a delightful novel that any Janeite can enjoy.  Like a summer holiday in Bath can be, it’s full of fun, romance and drama.  There will be no slogging through this one—Victoria has once again woven a tale that I enjoyed from beginning to end.  Pick up her Austen Addicts trilogy today!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Book Review - NIV Boys Bible

Several years ago I bought a New International Version (NIV) of the Bible for my son, Matthew. I’ve always enjoyed this translation, as I like its modern style and accuracy. He has used his NIV for Sunday school, church, the Awana program and in many other ways. It’s become quite worn, with pages falling out and the cover detaching from the whole volume itself.  Time for a new Bible!

When I was given the chance to review the new NIV Boys Bible from Zondervan, I thought this would be a great opportunity for Matthew.  I’m pleased to report that this version has been a great fit for him.  As an almost 12 year-old boy, he’s been really taking it in and using it as much as his old faithful copy.  He particularly likes the special features of the Bible, which I’ve observed him reading on his own.  In addition to the NIV text, here are the extras that Matthew has been enjoying:

  • What’s the Big Deal? – These sections take up about a third of a page and help the reader gain greater understanding of topics, people and places that are mentioned in verses nearby.  Publisher Zondervan writes, “While everything in the Bible is important, certain people, places and things stand out. Find out who’s who, what’s what, and how they connect to God. You’ll discover the adventures and challenges of mankind.”
  • Makin’ It Real – These informative sections also take up about a third of a page.  Matthew said he likes these because they help him apply the Bible to “real life”, as he put it.  I was impressed that at his age, he would understand the importance of this! Zondervan makes this comment about these applications: “Think the Bible is too ancient to make sense today? You’ll be surprised. Get the scoop on what boys like you can learn from the Bible—no matter what century you live in.”
  • Check It Out – These are very short blurbs placed on the page, with the following publisher description: “Boost your smarts with fascinating facts and trivia. Read about the cool and interesting stuff in the life and times of the Old and New Testaments.” For example, the “Check It Out” comment on Isaiah 37:36 says, “God only needs to send one angel to end a battle. One angel wiped out 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night. Several armies of men would never be a match for a team of angels.”
  • Words to Live By – Notable verses from scripture are highlighted in a separate colored box, giving the reader suggestions for a memory verse.  
  • Grossology – And possibly my son’s favorite feature comes in the grossology moments.  Most boys like all things gross, and these short two or three sentence bits give them a chance to see that not everything in scripture was neat, clean and tidy. As a mom I’m not interested in reading these portions myself, and I’m glad they’re not on every page, but they do bring to light some of the gritty, uncomfortable things that were very much a part of life during scriptural times.

In the back of the Bible there are a few more features.  I’m not sure if Matthew has utilized these yet, but knowing his inquisitive mind, I’m sure he’ll check them out:

  • Through the Bible in a Year Reading Chart
  • Promises from the Bible – suggested topical verses for your every need
  • Perspectives from the Bible – topical index
  • Journaling Pages

If you’re the parent of a middle-grade boy who is looking for a Bible for your child, the Zondervan Boys NIV Bible may be a good fit.  The NIV translation has proven to be a relatable and respectful version, and the bonus features which are sprinkled throughout this text are helpful and interesting.  In today’s postmodern society, it’s so important to keep our children grounded in God’s word so that they can know God’s Truth and navigate through the minefields of adolescence.  This Bible is a great option for young men, giving them tools and knowledge that they will use for a lifetime and beyond.

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For a sample section of the NIV Boys Bible, click here.

Review copy provided by:

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Guest Post and Giveaway - Author Regina Jeffers

The Calico Critic is pleased to welcome author Regina Jeffers with her guest posting today.  I had the pleasure of reading Regina's Christmas at Pemberley last year, and I'm looking forward to her latest novel, The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy, which is available today!  Here's a taste of what we can look forward to in Regina's new Austenesque mystery:

Shackled in the dungeon of a macabre castle with no recollection of her past, a young woman finds herself falling in love with her captor – the estate’s master. Yet, placing her trust in him before she regains her memory and unravels the castle’s wicked truths would be a catastrophe.
Far away at Pemberley, the Darcys happily gather to celebrate the marriage of Kitty Bennet. But a dark cloud sweeps through the festivities: Georgiana Darcy has disappeared without a trace. Upon receiving word of his sister’s likely demise, Darcy and wife, Elizabeth, set off across the English countryside, seeking answers in the unfamiliar and menacing Scottish moors.

How can Darcy keep his sister safe from the most sinister threat she has ever faced when he doesn’t even know if she’s alive? True to Austen’s style and rife with malicious villains, dramatic revelations and heroic gestures, this suspense-packed mystery places Darcy and Elizabeth in the most harrowing situation they have ever faced – finding Georgiana before it is too late. 

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What an intriguing premise! I'm looking forward to this one. With that in mind, I hope you enjoy the following thoughts from Regina. After that, take a moment to enter to win a copy of The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy by filling out the Rafflecopter form. Thanks to Regina for generously offering this copy to one of our readers.

Incorporating Fascinating Legends
in Classic Story Lines

Regina Jeffers

I have been writing Jane Austen-inspired novels since late 2007. One of the issues of reinventing Austen’s story lines to incorporate new materials or events that would prove true for the time period. As I am preparing to write my fourth Austen novel with a “mysterious” slant, I have become quite proficient in finding unusual legends that add a bit of suspense to the plot/conflict. Some of my favorite twists and turns include Bungay and Blythburgh’s Black Shunk, The Hat Man, Landisfarne Island and St. Cuthbert, the baker of Depedale, as well as the Merrick Moor’s Murder Hole.

The legend of the Black Shunk comes to us from the late 16th Century in the small towns of Bungay and Blythburgh and serves as part of my first mystery, The Phantom of Pemberley. According to church records, on August 4, 1577, during a violent thunderstorm, an apparition of a black dog entered unseen by the assembled parishioners the nave of the church of St. Mary’s in Bungay. The apparition touched two of the congregation and immediately fell dead. As Abraham Fleming stated in his 1577 pamphlet, “A Straunge and Terrible Wunder,” a third parishioner was “drawn together and shrunk up as like a piece of leather.” Thirteen miles away, at the Holy Trinity Church of Blythburgh, three parishioners were killed and others “blasted” by the demonic creature.

All down the Church in midst of fire,

The hellish monster flew;

And passing onwards to the Quire,

He many people slew

In Fleming’s own words, he described the apparition as, "This black dog, or the divel in such a likenesse (God hee knoweth al who worketh all), running all along down the body of the church with great swiftnesse, and incredible haste, among the people, in a visible fourm and shape, passed between two persons, as they were kneeling uppon their knees, and occupied in prayer as it seemed, wrung the necks of them bothe at one instant clene backward, in somuch that even at a momet where they kneeled, they stragely dyed." Fleming also said of the dog, "[s]ame black dog...passing by an other man of the congregation...gave him such a gripe on the back, that therwith all he was presently drawen togither and shrunk up, as it were a peece of leather scorched in a hot fire; or as the mouth of a purse or bag, drawen togither with a string." This victim "dyed not, but as it is thought yet alive.”

Those in Blythburgh described the event as, "[l]ike thing entered, in the same shape and similitude, where placing himself uppon a maine balke or beam...sodainly he gave a swinge downe through ye church, and there also, as before, slewe two men and a lad, and burned the head of another person that was there among the rest of the company, of whom diverse were blasted." Fleming thought these events as a "woderful example of God's wrath, no doubt to terrifie us.”

The Black Dog of Bungay became part of the local folklore; the official Bungay coat of arms features the famous Black Dog and the local Bungay Town Football Club goes by the popular name of the Black Dogs. However although the local St Mary's Church does possess a wooden carving that depicts the legendary Black Dog, there are otherwise no remaining signs of the beast's visit. On the other hand, if you travel down the A144 and then nip across the B1123 to Blythburgh, and visit the Holy Trinity Church the north door still bears the marks of the Black Dog to this day (or perhaps these are the remnants of a lightning strike during the storm).

The legend of the Hat Man served as the “Phantom” in “The Phantom of Pemberley.” Shadow People are supernatural shadow-like humanoid figures that, according to believers, are seen flickering on walls and ceilings in the viewer's peripheral vision. They are often reported moving with quick, jerky movements, and quickly disintegrate into walls or mirrors. They are believed to be evil and aggressive in nature, although a few people consider them to be a form of guardian angel.

Reportedly, Wes Craven based Freddy Krueger on an experience that he had as a young boy. Craven once saw a scary looking man wearing a bowler hat. The man had scars all covering his face.  People who reportedly come across a hat man usually claim to feel a frightening feeling, as if they are being threatened. While some ghosts do not seem aware of the presence of the living, it appears that shadow people do. Witnesses claim that, despite not seeing his face, they have a sense that the hat man is staring right at them. Furthermore, it would seem that this entity’s sole purpose in visiting people is to make them as uncomfortable and frightened as possible. They normally don’t try to communicate, except for the fact they are emitting bad vibes. Their mere presence alone is enough to make someone feel extremely uncomfortable and even threatened.

Dale Abbey Archway

I used the tale of the Baker of Depedale in my latest novel, The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy. Dale Abbey is in Derbyshire, the shire in which Jane Austen placed Fitzwilliam Darcy’s magnificent estate of Pemberley. Once known as Dependale, Dale Abbey is three miles SW of Ikleston and six miles NE of Derby. Augustinian monks founded the abbey in the 13th Century.

Behind All Saints’ Church, one can find an ancient woodland area with beech, ash, oak and lime trees. Within these woods is the Hermit Cave, which was hewn out of the sandstone cliff by a 12th Century Derby baker. It is said an angel had visited the baker and had told him to find his way to this place and to live as a recluse. The cave is six yards by three with a doorway, two windows, a peephole, and a niche that let in more light. Part of the legend includes how the Norman Ralph Fitz-Geremund found the hermit in the woods, and touched by the baker’s piety, gave the man the site of the hermitage and a tithe of his mill at nearby Borrowash. Then the hermit built himself a more pretentious oratory and a cottage to end his days.

One of my favorite legends to incorporate into a story was that of St. Cuthbert and Lindisfarne Island. I used Lindisfarne as the final location of vampire George Wickham’s remains in Vampire Darcy’s Desire. The island is said to have magical powers.

One of those powers is the idea that those buried on the island do not decay. This comes from the tale of St. Cuthbert. Cuthbert, monk, hermit and Bishop of Lindisfarne, died on 20 March 687. Eleven years after his death the monks went to dig up the body, to translate it into the fine new shrine inside the church, and found, to their astonishment, that his body was incorrupt. Bede, the first English historian, said that Cuthbert was more like a sleeping than a dead man.

418 years after Cuthbert’s death, questions arose as to whether Cuthbert’s body remained undecayed. Therefore, nine monks, led by Prior Turgot, examined the contents of the coffin. The first account of this is in Symeon of Durham’s 'Historia Ecclesiae Dunhelmensis,' written in the 12th Century.

St. Cuthbert's Coffin
The nine monks carried the coffin into the new church. There, they lifted the lid and removed the cloths until they exposed body of Cuthbert. The monks reported that Cuthbert was lying on his right side, whole and undecayed, as though he were asleep. The watchers immediately fell on their knees and recited the penitential psalms. Then they removed the bones of Bede and other saints, which had been stored in Cuthbert’s coffin and put them to one side.

Two of the monks nervously lifted out the body, and the watchers reported that it sagged, as if alive. A new floor was made for the coffin and Cuthbert’s body replaced. News of the revelation spread quickly amongst those who had been invited for the translation ceremony, but skepticism persisted.

Lindisfarne is a tidal island off the NE coast of England. It is also known as Holy Island and constitutes a civil parish in Northumberland. A causeway connects the island to the mainland of Northumberland and is flooded twice a day by tides–something well described by Sir Walter Scott: “For with the flow and ebb, its style/Varies from continent to isle/ Dry shod o’er sands, twice every day/ The pilgrims to the shrine way/ Twice every day the waves efface/ Of stave and sandaled feet the trace.” This fact played out well in Vampire Darcy’s Desire because Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam chose the island because vampires supposedly cannot cross water. However, a causeway would provide Wickham an escape. Large parts of the island, and all of the adjacent intertidal area, are protected as Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve to help safeguard the internationally important wintering bird population. I did not use the birds in the story line, but I am enthralled with the idea of how the birds return to the island year after year.

I have added several more new and unusual legends to The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy. When you read it, I hope you will think of the way I have previously used distinctive tales in my novels, while you enjoy the reading journey.

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Author Bio

Regina Jeffers, an English teacher for thirty-nine years, considers herself a Jane Austen enthusiast. She is the author of 13 novels, including Darcy’s Passions, Darcy’s Temptation, The Phantom of Pemberley, Christmas at Pemberley, The Scandal of Lady Eleanor, A Touch of Velvet, and A Touch of Cashémere. A Time Warner Star Teacher and Martha Holden Jennings Scholar, as well as a Smithsonian presenter, Jeffers often serves as a media literacy consultant. She resides outside of Charlotte, NC, where she spends time teaching her new grandson the joys of being a child.

Website –
Twitter - @reginajeffers
Publisher – Ulysses Press

The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy Giveaway!

Would you like to win a copy of The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy?  Check out the guidelines below, go to the Rafflecopter form and enter to win!

  • The contest period ends at 12:01am EST on May 13th, 2012.
  • Contest is open to U.S. and international entrants.
  • Make sure you leave your email address in the one required portion of the Rafflecopter form. Should you win, I will contact you on Sunday, May 13th.  Please take measures to ensure that my email will make it past your spam filters, lest you miss my message. ( You'll have 72 hours to respond before I pick another winner.
  • The winner's mailing information will be sent to Regina Jeffers for prize shipment. 
  • You may tweet about the giveaway once per day for bonus entries. Please report the direct URL to the tweet in the Rafflecopter form.
  • Entries will be verified.  If a fraudulent entry is detected for the winning name, another winner will be drawn.

    If you can't see the Rafflecopter form below,
    try clicking on the "Read more »" link

    Sunday, April 15, 2012

    Book Review and Giveaway - Darcy's Decision by Maria Grace

    From the back cover:

    Six months after his father's passing, Fitzwilliam Darcy still finds solace in his morning reflections at his parents' graves. Only in the quiet solitude of the churchyard does he indulge his grief. None but his unlikely mentor recognize the heartache and insecurity plaguing him as he shoulders the enormous burden of being Master of Pemberley.

    Not all are pleased with his choice of adviser. Lady Catherine complains Darcy allows him too much influence. Lord Matlock argues, "Who is he to question the God-appointed social order?" But the compassionate wisdom Darcy finds in his counselor keeps him returning for guidance even though it causes him to doubt everything he has been taught.

    In the midst of his struggles to reinvent himself, his school chum, Charles Bingley, arrives. Darcy hopes the visit will offer some respite from the uproar in his life. Instead of relief, Darcy discovers his father's darkest secret staring him in the face. Pushed to his limits, Darcy must overcome the issues that ruined his father and, with his friends and mentor at his side, restore his tarnished birthright.

    *          *          *

    The book world is currently awash in many sequels and retellings of Jane Austen’s novels, and I’ve had the privilege (and on rare occasion, dishonor) of reading quite a few of them.  Yet somehow Austenesque prequels have escaped my reading, if memory serves. The concept of an extended Pride and Prejudice prelude is an intriguing one, as Austen alluded to more than one pre-Lizzy and Darcy moment in her writing. 

    In Maria Grace’s novella Darcy’s Decision, events falling shortly after the death of Fitzwilliam Darcy’s father are examined. Through the young master of Pemberley’s memories and his father’s journals, we are given an opportunity to get to know the character of George Darcy a bit better, and we see his son Fitzwilliam struggling with many issues as he is at the dawn of his estate management.

    Likewise, the character of George Wickham also takes a prominent position. As was mentioned in the source material, Wickham and Darcy had a bit of a history together.  This included spending time as children, as Wickham’s father was Mr. Darcy’s steward.  These aspects are worked into the plot of Darcy’s Decision, as was the unfortunate incident between Wickham and Darcy’s younger sister, Georgiana.  A bit of literary license is taken with some of these points in history, but the changes that were made work well with the story.

    As a novella, Maria Grace’s work is short, less than 120 pages in print. However, she is able to do much with the limited amount of time she’s taken to tell this portion of her story. The plot is brisk and interesting, and completely believable as a Pride and Prejudice prequel. I loved the choices that she made and the way in which she chose to play out the story.  She kept things chaste, but she acknowledges that not everyone in society held the same morals. 

    As a Christian I particularly appreciated her viewpoints on a number of spiritual issues, many of which were addressed by the Darcy family minister, John Bradley, who was a dear friend to Mr. Darcy and a mentor to Fitzwilliam.  Grace’s characters struggle with forgiveness, despair, and questioning God’s goodness. These are all issues that many of us can or will relate to at one time or another. They are addressed in a natural way that was not only appreciated, but also fit well into the story and the characters.

    My one minor criticism comes with my reaction to Grace’s usage of colloquialisms in Darcy’s Decision. As the story is set in 19th Century England, there will always be phrases and terms which may be unfamiliar to the modern reader.  These bits of dialect do lend an air of authenticity to the writing, but as they were used so frequently and included footnotes, more often than not I felt “taken out of” that world.  I became a more informed reader after reading the footnote for each antiquated turn of phrase (e.g., “blunt” = paper money), but in this case I would have preferred for this literary device to have been used a bit less.  That’s just my preference as a reader—I am certainly not a professional writer and don’t have much of a leg to stand on when it comes to colloquialism usage!  ;)

    My one major criticism is more of a backhanded compliment.  I simply adored Maria Grace’s writing and absolutely dreaded the end of this portion of her story!  The conclusion of the title does include a few preliminary pages of the next volume, which seems to focus on Elizabeth Bennet and her days leading up to Pride and Prejudice.  This turned out to be a delectable appetizer for me, and now I simply am twitching with anticipation! 

    It is my sincere hope that Maria Grace’s work receives growing exposure, which will enable her to continue writing and publishing.  She is a fabulous author, and I can’t sing her praises highly enough.  The source material is respected, the writing is well done, the morals are consistent with Austen and the plot is always engaging.  There isn’t a recipe much more enticing than that! Make the right decision today and read Given Good Principles Volume 1. And be prepared to hunger for more!

    Post Update:  Read my review of the sequel,
    The Future Mrs. Darcy

    *          *          *

    Darcy's Decision Giveaway!
    (U.S. Only)

    Would you like my copy of Darcy's Decision?  Check out the guidelines below, go to the Rafflecopter form and enter to win!

    • The contest period ends at 12:01am EST on May 6th, 2012.
    • Make sure you leave your email address in the one required portion of the Rafflecopter form. Should you win, I will contact you on Sunday the 6th.  Please take measures to ensure that my email will make it past your spam filters, lest you miss my message. ( You'll have 72 hours to respond before I pick another winner.
    • The winner must supply a U.S. mailing address for prize shipment.
    • You may tweet about the giveaway once per day for bonus entries. Please report the direct URL to the tweet in the Rafflecopter form.
    • Entries will be verified.  If a fraudulent entry is detected for the winning name, another winner will be drawn.

      If you can't see the Rafflecopter form below,
      try clicking on the "Read more »" link

      Thursday, April 12, 2012

      Book Review and Giveaway - Illusion by Frank Peretti

      Publisher Description: 

      Dane and Mandy, a popular magic act for forty years, are tragically separated by a car wreck that claims Mandy’s life—or so everyone thinks. Even as Dane mourns and tries to rebuild his life without her, Mandy, supposedly dead, awakes in the present as the nineteen-year-old she was in 1970.  Distraught and disoriented in what to her is the future, she is confined to a mental ward until she discovers a magical ability to pass invisibly through time and space to escape. Alone in a strange world, she uses her mysterious powers to eke out a living, performing magic on the streets and in a quaint coffee shop. 

      Hoping to discover an exciting new talent, Dane ventures into the coffee shop and is transfixed by the magic he sees, illusions that even he, a seasoned professional, cannot explain. But more than anything, he is emotionally devastated by this teenager who has never met him, doesn’t know him, is certainly not in love with him, but is in every respect identical to the young beauty he first met and married some forty years earlier. 

      They begin a furtive relationship as mentor and protégée, but even as Dane tries to sort out who she really is and she tries to understand why she is drawn to him, they are watched by secretive interests who not only possess the answers to Mandy’s powers and misplacement in time but also the roguish ability to decide what will become of her. 

      Frank Peretti has crafted a rich, rewarding story of love and life, loss and restoration, full of twists and mystery. Exceptionally well written, Illusion will soon prove another Peretti classic.

       *          *          * 

      Frank Peretti
      Like many in the mid-1980’s, I fell in love with the work of Frank Peretti with his This Present Darkness series.  Not since C.S. Lewis had I been so enthralled with a Christian writer.  He had a way of making the invisible spirit world come alive in an almost cinematic way.  He went on to be a huge bestseller, and the last novel of his that I read was Monster back in 2005. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to review his latest work, Illusion.

      This time travel/love story/thriller is a bit of a hefty tome, clocking in at about 500 pages. I rarely felt the weight of this, however.  Peretti has the ability to keep his audience engaged, whether it’s with the amazing science of his premise, or the love story between the lead characters, or the powerful forces set against Dane and Mandy.  My attention rarely wavered, encouraged by Peretti’s ability to craft an intelligent, interesting plot.  And if you know Frank, he has a really wacky sense of humor—this leaked through in certain areas of dialogue, which I loved.

      Peretti’s main characters of Dane and Mandy were wonderfully composed.  They had great chemistry, and I totally believed their life stories.  In my mind I could see actor Michael Keaton as Dane (Multiplicity anyone?) and AnnaSophia Robb as the young Mandy. As this unlikely couple, I found them easy to root for and believable as an aging master magician and his youthful time-traveled partner.

      In recent years, one of my favorite, couldn’t-put-down novels was The Time Traveler’s Wife. Peretti’s Illusion had many of the same elements as Audrey Niffenegger’s bestseller, with the time traveling and anguished love story. The nice thing about this work is that it’s coming from the worldview of a Christian.  Frank believes in the sanctity of marriage and did a masterful job of interweaving the intimacy of a marital relationship, without any sex scenes or terribly inappropriate behavior.

      While Illusion is written from a Christian perspective, it’s not an over-the-top, heavy Gospel-messaged book.  This is primarily a piece of entertainment, and although Peretti’s faith is clear within the pages, there isn’t a dominance of Bible thumping or preachy behavior. I mention this because Christian readers may want to share this novel with unbelievers.  There are certainly messages of spiritual fulfillment within (which Peretti addresses directly in a post-story letter to the reader), but you’d have to look to This Present Darkness for a more overt spiritual story.

      At the same time, Christian parents may want to hold off on letting their younger school-age children from enjoying Illusion just yet.  There are a number of mature themes related to marriage that are addressed, and while Peretti handles them with decorum and propriety, this type of material isn’t appropriate for a younger crowd.  There’s also a bit of graphic content, which is also handled very well, but had this same content be portrayed in a film (which I would love to see),  it would probably garner a PG-13 rating.

      In reading Illusion I had a wonderful return to the world and mind of Peretti.  He is a masterful storyteller, and kept the pages turning for me chapter by thrilling chapter. It was one of the most efficient 500-page novels I’ve ever read. The time-travel fan in me adored the sci-fi element, which was complex and fantastical.  Dane’s love for his wife was palpable, and Mandy’s desire to fit in her own time and space was relatable. Illusion was an entertaining ride through time and space, a worthy addition to the incredible work of Frank Peretti. I highly recommend it, to both Peretti fans and the uninitiated alike.  There are no magic tricks here—it’s time well spent.

      *          *          *

      Illusion Giveaway!
      (U.S. Only)

      Handlebar Marketing has graciously offered an Advanced Reader's Edition of Illusion to one of you!  Check out the guidelines below, go to the Rafflecopter form and enter to win!
      • The contest period ends at 12:01am EST on April 29th, 2012.
      • Make sure you leave your email address in the one required portion of the Rafflecopter form. Should you win, I will contact you on Sunday the 29th.  Please take measures to ensure that my email will make it past your spam filters, lest you miss my message. ( You'll have 72 hours to respond before I pick another winner.
      • The winner must supply a U.S. mailing address for prize shipment.
      • You may tweet about the giveaway once per day for bonus entries. Please report the direct URL to the tweet in the Rafflecopter form.
      • Entries will be verified.  If a fraudulent entry is detected for the winning name, another winner will be drawn.

        Want another chance to win?  Head on over to the Burton Book Review!  Deadline for that Illusion giveaway ends on April 22, 2012.

        If you can't see the Rafflecopter form or the book trailer video
        for Illusion, try clicking on the "Read more »" link

        Contest Update:  After my husband and I read the review copy of Illusion, we decided to give it away as well!  I drew a second name, and our winner Carol M. is more than willing to accept our twice-read review copy.  Congrats to both winners, and thanks to everyone for entering!

        Wednesday, April 11, 2012

        Book Review: The Gospel Story Bible - by Marty Machowski

        From the back cover:

        Can a bedtime story change a life?  It is easy to forget Jesus in the midst of busy schedules and conflicting priorities, but the truth is that he is the only one who can change the lives of parents and children. As you share these Bible stories together, you and your family will meet Jesus and learn together a new, life-changing way of recognizing him as the hero of every story. Based on the ESV Bible, this unique, illustrated Bible storybook uses 156 stories to present God’s plan of salvation in Christ from its opening narrative in Genesis to its finale in Revelation.

        *          *          *

        A number of years ago I stumbled across a book by Geraldine McCaughrean called The Jesse Tree.  I’ve enjoyed reading this lovely illustrated storybook to my children during the Advent Season, as it traces the multi-chapter tale of Christmas, all the way back to the Genesis story.  The incredible purpose of Emmanuel, “God with us” did not just begin in a stable. He has been a part of the great story from before the beginning.  Marty Machowski’s The Gospel Story Bible is similar in that it covers over 150 stories from the Bible and links them to Jesus and the Good News that He brings us in the Gospel.

        The Gospel Story Bible is a marvelous work.  Printed on glossy, durable paper, these brightly illustrated pages bring wonderful points of focus to stories that many of us know very well (e.g., the story of Joseph in Genesis) and other moments that may have been neglected during our youthful Sunday School years (e.g., the exiles returning in the book of Ezra). Author Marty Machowski writes from the perspective of the ESV Bible, a recent translation that is widely respected for its accuracy and readability. Through his knowledge of God’s Word, he links together many well-known as well as somewhat obscure episodes, showing how the Gospel has been at work from before the beginning and throughout all of Biblical history, not just after the birth of Christ.

        Each devotional reading is one or two pages long and includes just a few discussion questions to solidify the lesson for those participating in the reading.  I found Machowski’s writing to be respectful of the material, yet not overly scholarly in its tone.  My 11 year-old was able to follow along with the stories without difficulty.  The style is not suited for the very young, however. As the minutes ticked by, my six year-old’s eyes began to glaze over, and I had to go back and explain a few things to him.  The stories are still a great launching pad for discussion for any age, however. Linking Jesus into every corner of God’s word is so important, and this resource does it quite well.

        While the illustrations are bright, colorful and clearly the work of a talented artist, I didn’t care for their structure and style.  They’re very modern in tone, and frequently my younger son had a hard time understanding what was being portrayed in the images.  I don’t think the style needs to be scaled back so much that it appeals only to preschoolers, but with so many stories, A.E. Macha’s images could stand to be just a bit more accessible.

        On the whole I was very impressed with The Gospel Story Bible. It’s suitable for families with middle grade and young adult children, and adults can certainly appreciate the themes presented in the chapters. There are many who may never have considered integrating Jesus into stories that don't formally mention him.  But as the God’s Word tells us, He was there from before the beginning.  I applaud the work that has been done with this devotional, as there is hardly a more important message that can be conveyed to the world.

        *          *          *

        Click below to enjoy a preview of this marvelous project:

        For more information on The Gospel Story Bible and related materials, visit

        Review copy provided by:

        Monday, April 9, 2012

        Book Review: By the Light of the Silvery Moon by Tricia Goyer

        Remember the Titanic 100 years after its doomed voyage with Tricia Goyer’s fictional portrayal of one woman’s journey. To Amelia Gladstone, this ship means promise of seeing family again. To Quentin Walpole, the Titanic represents a new start in America…if he can get onboard. All seems lost until Amelia offers him a ticket, securing his passage—and bringing him face-to-face with his railroad tycoon father and older brother, Damian. As Amelia works to reconcile father and son, she finds herself the object of both brothers’ affection. Can she choose between two brothers? Or will she lose everything to the icy waters of the Atlantic?

        *          *          *

        With the upcoming 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, I thought I’d commemorate the event with a few books related to the subject, and like many people, I plan to re-watch James Cameron’s film version as well.  By the Light of the Silvery Moon is one of many literary options available, and one that seemed right up my alley: a novel written by a Christian author with many of the themes that made me love the 1997 film. Its premise offers the romance and adventure of Cameron’s epic, but within Tricia Goyer’s Christian worldview.

        Despite the sad, inevitable moments near the end, By the Light of the Silvery Moon was an enjoyable novel.  I liked the main characters, as they frequently were flawed individuals who were just making their way in the world and trying to heal the wounded corners of their hearts.  Amelia Gladstone is sweet without being a Pollyanna, and the men in her life are often complex individuals who aren’t always what they seem to be.

        Skip to the last two paragraphs
        if you want to avoid specifics...

        Although the bulk of the plot is played out on board the doomed vessel, the story really is a bit of a retelling of The Prodigal Son, as seen in Luke 15 in the New Testament. The narrative hits all the main points—
        • A son leaves with his portion of his father’s inheritance
        • Ends up squandering his life away
        • Humbly returns to his joyous father, hoping for a job
        • Father rolls out the red carpet for him
        • Elder brother is resentful of the situation after his years of faithfulness
        Tricia Goyer fills out this story, however, adding a tragic history that helps us understand why the elder son felt the need to run away.  Quentin’s story is one of loss and redemption, while finding love with Amelia along the way. Damian’s role as the elder brother is realistic, and he’s humanized in a way that helps us sympathize with him and not paint him with a broad brush of villainy.

        My quibbles with Silvery Moon are minor.  Goyer’s style can sometimes be a bit clichéd, as she has an overabundance of similes within her writing.  Matters of the mind and heart are frequently compared to the Titanic and/or the natural elements around her.  And given that the events of the Titanic and The Prodigal Son are a matter of public record, the storylines are a bit predictable.  However, this last point isn’t a strong one for me.  I knew exactly where these characters were headed (save for one which took me by surprise), but it was still an enjoyable ride.  I felt the same in Cameron’s Titanic.  We knew the ship was going down; it was the story attached to it that was also holding our interest.

        Of course as a Christian writer, Goyer keeps things very chaste. There are mentions of one character’s prolific sexual lifestyle, but not many details are given beyond that.  There are no curse words printed, but mentioned. Romantic interludes are sweet and very brief.  Religious references aren’t heavy handed, but are sprinkled throughout and are more emphatic near the end.  Certainly any lover of Christian fiction would enjoy Goyer’s writing.

        While there wasn't much of a moon the night of the Titanic’s demise, the theme of the old 1909 song "By the Light of the Silvery Moon" runs throughout this sweet story.  You’ll find delightful romance, compelling redemption and riveting action that will keep the pages turning right until the book’s satisfying conclusion. Tricia Goyer has written a pleasant novel that is a great way to not only remember the Titanic disaster, but also to recall Jesus’ messages of redemption for all of us.

        *          *          *

        By the Light of the Silvery Moon Book Trailer:

        Check out the other stops on the Litfuse Publicity Blog Tour
         for By the Light of the Silvery Moon here!

        I received this book from LitFuse in exchange for an honest review
        and blog tour participation. No other compensation was given.



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