Monday, October 29, 2012

Book Review - The Beresfords
by Christina Dudley

Raised with four older stepcousins in a conservative, churchgoing family, Frannie Price teeters on the brink of adolescence in the summer of 1985. Her timidity and awkwardness make her easy to overlook, yet she has one true friend in her cousin Jonathan. Jonathan, her childhood champion and the best person she knows. But when the Grant twins enter her life, Frannie’s world turns upside down. Not only does the sly and charming Eric Grant set her girl cousins against each other, but his flirtatious sister makes off with Jonathan’s heart. 

Only Frannie sees the faults running beneath the family landscape—not that anyone’s asking her opinion. Not her strict Uncle Paul, not her beloved Jonathan, and certainly not the Grants, who, after having their way with the rest of the Beresfords, turn their sights on her. What’s a girl to do? And why does she feel, in this uncharted territory, like God left her at the border? 

With sympathy, humor and more than a nod to Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, The Beresfords chronicles Frannie’s coming of age, when all around her is coming apart. 

*           *            * 

As author Christina Dudley mentioned in her recent guest post on The Calico Critic, probably only a small percentage of her readership have actually read Jane Austen’s novel Mansfield Park, upon which a good portion of The Beresfords is based. Unfortunately, I am not in that small percentage of readers! Although I do consider myself a Janeite, the most exposure I’ve had to MP was the 1999 cinematic version, starring Frances O’Connor. I know, this is a travesty. In fact, I saw the movie at least ten years ago and could not remember a thing about it, until I recently borrowed the DVD from my local library, to watch it again in preparation to read The Beresfords! I can hear the gasps of justified horror now, and I do apologize to the true Janeites out there. That groundwork fully laid down for you, I offer my thoroughly unqualified thoughts on Christina Dudley’s novel.

The Beresfords begins in the summer of 1985 in southern California. Many of the characters’ names are similar or reminiscent of the ones in Mansfield Park, although not all. Fanny Price is now Frannie Price, the Bertrams are now the Beresfords. Edmund is now Jonathan, and Mary is now Caroline. But as in MP, Frannie is the odd cousin of the family, taken in by her uncle, rescued from a dingy life with her addict mother, yet ostracized by her cousins and other family members. Although too young for him in 1985, Frannie deeply loves cousin Jonathan and keeps this to herself for years on end. If I understood Ms. Dudley’s writing correctly, she changed the characters a bit so that Frannie and Jonathan would not be blood relations, unlike in many 19th Century novels where attracted cousins were a non-issue. And as in Mansfield Park, Jonathan has dreams of being a minister while wrestling with his relationship with Caroline, whom Frannie knows is not his ideal mate, as she has no interest in matters of faith. The characters go through similar story arcs as the original plot, with Frannie and Jonathan growing as individuals much as they did in Mansfield Park. However, their path to the expected conclusion takes some turns that I did not expect, which made for interesting reading.

I must say that The Beresfords took a little while to grow on me. Many of the characters surrounding Frannie were simple-minded, frustrating people. Christina Dudley captured the characteristics of certain individuals that I’ve known in my life, and I don’t care to be around those types as much as I can help it. So this is a testament to Dudley’s writing—she had me engaged with these characters, even if it was on a negative level. But I really did enjoy the characters of Frannie and Jonathan, and was pleased to see the direction their lives took. I found the conclusion of the story to be immensely satisfying, and I was more than won over by the end.

Christina Dudley does not classify herself as a “Christian author”, and I don’t think that she should. Honestly, I don’t think a lot of Christian publishers would go for her style of writing, and I think that label would limit her. Christina's choice of language is real and sometimes a bit gritty, as she isn’t afraid to let the occasional four-letter word fly from characters who would certainly talk that way. I didn’t find this word usage excessive or offensive. On the contrary, it was refreshing to encounter a Christian who is not afraid to tell it like it is—both with word choice in language, and in sharing some of the habits and quirks that we Christians have in our religious communities. I more than once laughed in recognition of some of the things that go on in our churches, both positive and negative aspects. I also was edified by some of the scripture that was brought up in the story, as it spoke truth to my life while at the same time filling out the narrative. And as someone who was 14 in the summer of 1985, there were plenty of “vintage moments” that I could relate to as the story traveled through the mid-80s, 90s, and beyond. I may not have been a Frannie Price in that time period, but she encountered and experienced many of the same things I did in those developmental years.

Although I have no place to thoroughly compare The Beresfords to Mansfield Park, I can say that as a stand-alone book, The Beresfords was an enjoyable read. October 2012 has been unbelievably difficult for me personally, and I cannot tell you how many times I turned to this novel to escape my situation, even if for only for a few moments while sitting in an over-air-conditioned medical waiting room. Frannie and Jonathan’s story is at times bittersweet and unexpected, but ultimately it comes to a satisfying and well-rounded ending. Those familiar and those completely unacquainted with Jane Austen’s work will find something to enjoy in this novel. We can all relate to Frannie’s desire to be loved by her family, and in particular, her romantic love interest. Janeite or no, Christina Dudley’s readers can all sympathize with that. With that in mind, I offer my hearty endorsement to The Beresfords and hope that you add it to your wish list today.

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Book Giveaway (Sort Of)

Because of budgetary constraints, I cannot afford to offer my copy of The Beresfords in a free giveaway here on The Calico Critic.  However, I'd love to share this with one of you.  If you'd like me to send it to you and you're willing to just cover the shipping costs, just drop me a line and we can work something out.  This is such a pleasant story, and I'd love to have one of you enjoy it as well. This paragraph will be removed when the book has been assigned.

Print Edition

Kindle Edition

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Jane Austen Giveaway Hop (US)

Welcome to the next stop on the Jane Austen Giveaway Hop, sponsored by I Am A Reader, Not A Writer and vvb32reads.  Throughout this hop you'll find dozens of websites giving away Austen-related literature.  For this giveaway, I have a list of items available, and the winner may choose up to THREE items from this selection, most of which are Austenesque books:

All of these items are previously used, but they're in good condition for reading/watching for years to come.  The Robin Helm books got a little worn by my post office, despite the fact that they were carefully packed when they were originally shipped. So if you don't mind a few bent pages in those volumes, then you should be fine.

Be sure to read the guidelines below, enter via the Rafflecopter widget, and good luck!

  • The contest period ends at 12:01am EST on October 25th.
  • Contest is open to U.S. entrants only.
  • Make sure you leave your email address in the one required portion of the Rafflecopter form. Should you win, I will contact you on Thursday, October 25th.  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.
  • All entries must go through the Rafflecopter form. If you leave an optional blog post comment, in order for it to count toward your contest entry, be sure to indicate this through the "Leave a Blog Post Comment" button on the rafflecopter form.
  • The winner may choose up to 3 items from the prize list.  The award will be mailed via USPS Media Rate shortly after the U.S. mailing address is provided.
  • 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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Don't forget to visit the other stops on
the Jane Austen Giveaway Hop! 

And if you're visiting The Calico Critic before 12:01am EST on October 21st, you may also enter to win a copy of the provocative new Austenesque novel, Goodly Creatures. Open internationally - three winners!


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Women of Faith 2012 -
An Invitation to Celebrate What Matters

Hey ladies! Has life got you harried and needing a little break?  Let me invite you to Women of Faith!  If you're able to get away on a Friday night and most of a Saturday, I highly encourage you to attend one of these fabulous conferences.  You'll laugh, cry, learn and worship with thousands of other women in assembly halls around the country.  I attended Women of Faith last year and had such a great time.  It's a marvelous weekend of rejuvenation and spiritual growth that I would recommend to anyone.

If you're in the Charlotte, NC area, join me at the Celebrate What Matters event being held at the Time Warner Cable Arena.  The lineup of speakers and artists this year looks really great!  My favorite singer, Amy Grant will be there, as well as former American Idol contestant Mandisa.  I'm also looking forward to hearing from Patsy Clairmont and Chonda Pierce, who will make your sides hurt from laughter and your heart sing from their powerful messages.  Ballet Magnificat, America's premier Christian ballet company will also be performing.  I've never seen a dance production like this at a Women of Faith event, but I'm sure it's going to be beautiful and inspiring.

If Charlotte is not a good location for you, there are many other event sites around the country.  Check out the Women of Faith website for a full listing, but here are a few upcoming dates that may be in your area:

The Plano, TX event looks really special, with its Christmas-themed music and storytelling.  There are other events continuing on into 2013, so if you can't make it this year, be sure and check it out whenever you can.  I can promise you, you will come away feeling refreshed and renewed to face life's challenges.  I don't normally gravitate towards ladies' gatherings, but Women of Faith has won me over.  They do an outstanding job in ministering to women on a large scale, and it's definitely worth the time and effort to attend.

Here's a short video with testimonies from women to attended a recent event.  You can hear in their voices how touched they were by their time there:

Here's a bit more information about Women of Faith, right from their website:

Women of Faith events are produced by the world’s largest producer of inspirational events, Live Event Management Inc., a Thomas Nelson company based in Plano, Texas. Through authentic connection with audiences, humor, an atmosphere of encouragement and support, and our line-up of world-class talent including well-known Christian authors and performers, Women of Faith delivers life-changing messages via high-quality programs in cities across North America.

If this sounds like the kind of Friday night and Saturday that you'd like to have, start praying now about attending.  For many of us, our desire to go may seem overshadowed by external forces, like taking time off of work or getting childcare for our kids.  But I can tell you that if it's the Lord's will for you attend one of these events, He can certainly make it happen.  There have been countless stories told over the years by women who overcame remarkable barriers to be there, with the Lord's hand leading the way.

And of course, if you're going to be at the Charlotte event this coming weekend, let me know-- I'd love to meet you in person!  I'll also be back here on The Calico Critic, reporting about the event and my experiences there.  2012 has been a rough year in more ways than one for me, and I am eagerly anticipating my time away.  I'm sure it's going to be great.  Hope to see you there!


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Book Review & Giveaway: Goodly Creatures by Beth Massey

Summarizing thoughts from

A life altering event inextricably links a fifteen-year-old Elizabeth Bennet to Fitzwilliam Darcy while simultaneously creating an almost insurmountable divide. This Pride and Prejudice deviation takes the reader on a journey through a labyrinth filled with misunderstandings, bias, guilt and fear - not to mention, laughter, animal magnetism and waltzing. As Elizabeth says, 'she shed enough tears to float one of Lord Nelson's frigates' but as she learned from her father 'unhappiness does, indeed, have comic aspects one should never underestimate.'

Though the path for our protagonists is much more arduous than canon, the benefit remains the same; a very happy Janeite ending for these two star-crossed lovers. Along the way there is retribution, redemption and reward for other characters - including a few that recall players in two grave injustices as written by Ms Austen in
Sense and Sensibility. These grievances prompted this long-time struggler for women's rights to write a tale that provided these women vindication.

*          *          *

Some Austenesque fiction is meant to be read quickly and taken in like a light, cool treat on a hot summer day.  Other derivations are less of this persuasion and more like a sumptuous, multi-course victual event.  Beth Massey’s Goodly Creatures is of the latter variety. This writer of fan fiction, women’s rights advocate and educated reader of Shakespeare has crafted a novel that many Janeites would find nourishing and entertaining, provided they can accept a certain proviso at the start.

This review will not reveal many spoiling plot points, but there is one aspect of the tale that is crucial to the reader’s enjoyment of the novel.  And as the event in question is particularly addressed in the book’s opening acknowledgments, I feel confident that Ms. Massey will not take offense at my mentioning it in my review.

All Austenesque fiction requires a bit of a leap—that moment when the author diverts from Jane Austen’s work, and the reader must choose to go along for the ride in order to enjoy the journey.  In Goodly Creatures, Elizabeth Bennet does encounter a rake as she does in the original Pride and Prejudice. However, in this iteration of the story, the rake is a different man than the scheming George Wickham.  This new villain is far more wicked, and at age 15, Elizabeth is significantly younger than the fundamental Lizzy in Austen’s work. She is young and na├»ve, and this leads to her violation by this horrific man. 

When I read in the acknowledgments that Massey was “committing a major heresy by raping Elizabeth Bennet”, I was shocked and surprised that she would take this tack in her storytelling.  However, I decided to keep an open mind to see where the story would take us.  As the author could relate to this incident personally, I didn’t think she would use the event in a gratuitous or exploitative way.  If anything, she would use this assault to speak to the issue of crimes against women, not only in the 19th century, but in our modern day as well.

Beth Massey won me over in her storytelling.  Goodly Creatures is a wonderful homage to not only Jane Austen’s work, but to Shakespeare, poetry and art. There are so many occasions when Massey fuses her work with that of so many talented writers and artists, producing a richness that is not always found in this kind of novel.  The difficult issues surrounding Elizabeth’s assault are handled with realism, but without excessive details.  No, this is not for young girls to read.  We are definitely in mature territory here.  But the themes of injustice, retribution, forgiveness and healing are so incredibly pronounced—it’s well worth the hard moments that we encounter.

Massey’s writing is extremely well crafted.  Her academic knowledge shines through, but she pairs it with excellent, accessible wording.  She takes her time with the story, with over 600 pages of text in the volume.  And while I did appreciate the fact that nothing was rushed in this epic, there were moments at the end (particularly in the Epilogue, as satisfying as it was), when I felt that the story could have been trimmed just a bit.  But this is a minor concern.  I genuinely enjoyed the vast majority of the novel.

Those looking for a serious, extended, satisfying journey with Jane Austen’s beloved characters (and a few new ones) will find an excellent read in Beth Massey’s Goodly Creatures.  With sobering subjects and a particularly depraved villain, this novel is not for the faint of heart.  However, Massey’s Pride and Prejudice diversion is well worth the journey.  I encourage those who are willing to take the leap into her vision of this story and become enveloped in it.  Like the world we live in, Goodly Creatures is tragic, difficult, and yet glorious as well.

Goodly Creatures Giveaway

Thanks to Beth Massey, we have three copies of Goodly Creatures to give away! She's offering one paperback and two e-book copies to us. Be sure to read the guidelines below, enter via the Rafflecopter widget, and good luck!

  • The contest period ends at 12:01am EST on October 21, 2012.
  • Contest is open to U.S. and International entrants. Come one, come all!
  • 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, October 21st.  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.
  • All entries must go through the Rafflecopter form. If you leave a blog post comment, in order for it to count toward your contest entry, be sure to indicate this through the "Leave a Blog Post Comment" button on the form.
  • The winner's delivery information will be sent to Beth Massey for prize shipment.
  • 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

*Kindle Version*                    *Print Version*



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