Friday, June 27, 2014

Book Review: Stronger Even Than Pride by Gail McEwen

" his behaviour to me there were stronger influences even than pride." When George Wickham speaks these words to an impressionable Elizabeth Bennet, she can have no idea how true they will turn out to be. Stronger Even than Pride, Gail McEwen's latest novel, explores whether love can survive the biggest obstacles that Fate and a most ruinous stubbornness-can conjure up to separate two people destined to be together.

After Elizabeth refuses to read the faithful narrative of Darcy's dealings with Mr Wickham, this Pride and Prejudice variation takes an unexpected turn when she chooses to exonerate the wrong man. Events quickly spiral out of control, and Fitzwilliam Darcy is forced to watch helplessly as the woman he loves slips further and further from his grasp.

Can there be a happily ever after for them? Can a love, stronger than pride, redeem even the worst mistakes? 

Warning: Spoilers ahead.  If you’d like to avoid plot revelations, skip the paragraphs posted between the triple asterisks.

Lovers of Pride and Prejudice will recall the moment in which Elizabeth Bennet receives a letter from Mr. Darcy, whose pitiful marriage proposal she recently rejected.  Within the missive he explains the basis for his feelings, and also gives an account of his past history with the dastardly George Wickham. Elizabeth had been operating under false information, as Wickham had been painting himself as a victim of Fitzwilliam Darcy’s lack of charity and loyalty. In truth, George had been an irresponsible steward of his inherited portion of Darcy family money. Following this, he continued in his avaricious ways by trying to beguile Darcy’s young (and very wealthy) sister Georgiana into marrying him, simply because he was a fortune-hunter. In addition, Darcy addresses his decision to dissuade his friend Charles Bingley from pursuing Elizabeth’s sister Jane. He sincerely felt that his friend deserved to court a woman who seemed to take earnest interest in him, and Darcy could not perceive any real attraction on the part of the demure Jane Bennet. As such, he prompted Bingley to leave his interest in Jane behind.

*          *          *

In Gail McEwen’s novel Stronger Even Than Pride, the plot makes a distinct turn at a crucial point in the story.  Elizabeth is in the throes of reading Mr. Darcy’s letter, but in frustration over his attitude, she tosses the note away before reading its entire contents.  More specifically, she never learns the true nature of George Wickham. She continues to believe the man’s lies, and responds positively when he pursues her romantically.  Wickham doesn’t truly love her; he merely wants Lizzie for himself, the woman whom Darcy had tried and failed to marry. His motivations are fueled by spite towards a man he has resented for much of his life.

I’ve read several Pride and Prejudice “diversions” over the years, and this one has an interesting tone.  It’s notably darker than others, as Elizabeth’s relationship to Wickham causes her life to descend into squalor. While we don’t get many chapters of the Darcy’s newlywed life in Pride and Prejudice, most would assume that they lived happily ever after.  Elizabeth undoubtedly would have had social obstacles to surmount, but one would surmise that her choice in husband was a good one, leading to a life of contentment with him at Pemberley.  McEwen’s Lizzie does not initially follow that path.  And instead of aligning herself with a caring, providing husband, she associates with the self-absorbed, irresponsible Wickham.  The spunky, bright Elizabeth dissolves into a mere shell of a woman, cut off from society and barely existing as an individual.  It’s quite tragic, really—not in an overly dismal way, though.  Her station simply stands in such stark contrast to what she could have enjoyed; it made my heart ache for her.  Elizabeth’s “could have been” was missed by such a small margin.  It made me root for her so much, wanting her to have the life she deserved.

Fortunately, the winds of change come about and set Darcy and Elizabeth back on the course to happiness.  Their resulting life isn’t as picturesque as what may have been in the original Austenian vision, but a great amount of it is redeemed.  As individuals they are probably stronger for having been through so many trials, but the emotional scars and difficult memories will always remain. Their story is also an illustration of true, enduring love, one that forgives mistakes and sees through poor choices to the pure heart within. Their love, which is stronger than even pride, proves to be robust enough to survive more than most could bear. This makes for compelling storytelling, and while it diverts quite a bit from Austen’s original vision, I found it to be an enjoyable speculation.

*          *          *

A word to my fellow conservatives: When I agreed to review Stronger Than Even Pride, I was not aware of the adult content included within.  Sexual situations within the story were at times fairly graphic. Characters do not always wait until after marriage to have relations. And while I know these moments were realistic for the time period (or any time period), I felt there were more details than necessary.  Gail McEwen is an excellent writer, and the same story could have been told without all the adult content.

Overall however, I found Stronger Than Even Pride to be an interesting diversion from the Austen classic. On the whole the characters remained true to their original traits; they simply took a few but significant turns, which led them down paths they never expected to travel.  Gail McEwen’s writing style is predominantly quite elegant, yet is very accessible to the modern reader. My one caveat aside, I look forward to reading more of McEwen’s work, either in a sequel to Stronger Than Even Pride, or perhaps in another Austenesque diversion instead. I imagine she would take these Regency characters on some very intriguing sojourns indeed.



More McEwen

More McEwen

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Book Review: Pride, Prejudice and Cheese Grits by Mary Jane Hathaway

This hilarious Southern retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice tells the story of two hard-headed Civil war historians who find that first impressions can be deceiving.

Shelby Roswell, a Civil War historian and professor, is on the fast track to tenure—that is, until her new book is roasted by the famous historian Ransom Fielding in a national review. With her career stalled by a man she’s never met, Shelby struggles to maintain her composure when she discovers that Fielding has taken a visiting professorship at her small Southern college.

Ransom Fielding is still struggling with his role in his wife’s accidental death six years ago and is hoping that a year at Shelby’s small college near his hometown of Oxford, Mississippi, will be a respite from the pressures of Ivy League academia. He never bargained for falling in love with the one woman whose career—and pride—he injured, and who would do anything to make him leave.

When these two hot-headed southerners find themselves fighting over the centuries-old history of local battles and antebellum mansions, their small college is about to become a battlefield of Civil War proportions.

With familiar and relatable characters and wit to spare,
Pride, Prejudice and Cheese Grits shows you that love can conquer all…especially when pride, prejudice, love, and cheese grits are involved!

*          *          *

Although a southern gal since birth, I’m not always drawn to stories set in this region.  Characters are frequently seen as ignorant, conniving, gossipy, uneducated, or even all of the above.  And while these personalities certainly do exist in our culture, I don’t enjoy giving them much of my time.  I would especially dislike their company if Jane Austen’s themes and/or characters are made into a mockery within that context. Fortunately, Mary Jane Hathaway has struck the perfect balance of southern charm and Austenesque respect in her novel Pride Prejudice and Cheese Grits. The title may seem a bit outlandish, but the story itself is solid, with a colorful cast of characters and interesting character development.

The book’s description may label it a “retelling” of Pride and Prejudice, but I wouldn’t go that far.  If anything, the “spirit” of Pride and Prejudice hovers over it, with echoes of the original characters and plot points throughout the narrative.  This satisfies the Janeite in me, without being offensive in the diversions that are taken in the writing.  Ransom Fielding is our “Darcy”, and while he inhabits many of the traits of Austen’s leading man, he has many other qualities that set him apart from the classic Brit.  The same can be said of our “Elizabeth” character, played by Shelby Roswell. She’s spunky and intelligent, but not as powerful or respected as her professional colleague.  This young college professor seemed a bit less self-assured than Austen’s beloved Lizzy, but not so much that she was portrayed as a milquetoast.

Religious themes are featured in Cheese Grits in a more predominant fashion than are found in Austen’s work. Shelby is a committed woman of faith, looking to God to guide her life and shape her as He would see fit.  I appreciated how she was portrayed as a flawed believer, yet without crossing over into significant hypocrisy.  The south is frequently referred to as the “Bible Belt” of America, and within innumerable works of fiction those of faith are often drawn with many of the negative characteristics mentioned earlier.  Shelby is very similar to many believers whom I know, including myself.  She loves God, is not always perfect in her execution of that love, but she does her best from day to day.  Ransom’s faith is also a part of his development as a character.  At the outset, he seems to believe in God, but he holds much resentment in his heart toward Him, due to significant tragedy that occurred years before. How could a loving God take away his pre-born child, and his beloved wife as well? As a result, Ransom has not only closed his heart toward romantic interests, but also to the God who seemingly has been cruel to him. Matters of faith are woven throughout, but in a genuine way that didn’t make these issues seem like tokenisms.

Hathaway also includes players that embody the spirit of one or more Pride and Prejudice characters.  We find Shelby’s mother as a woman who greatly desires for her daughter to marry, much like Mrs. Bennet. Another character not only takes on the rejected Mr. Collins role, but the devious and manipulative Mr. Wickham as well. Ransom’s aunt carries herself much like Lady Catherine de Bourgh, similarly. These characters don’t exactly reprise their roles in a modern setting, but their personalities (and some of their choices) are comparable.  Some are odious in nature, and others are a sheer delight. There is much to enjoy for the Austen fan.

I found one revelation near the conclusion to be fairly predictable, but I enjoyed the process that Hathaway took in getting there. Regency fiction is famous for its romantic “misunderstandings”, and this modern tale has a whopper of its own.  In addition, a certain controversy rears its head even later in the novel. I found this to be unexpected and thought it contributed an interesting obstacle to conquer during the closing of the story. Mary Jane Hathaway strikes a nice balance of her own narrative with many winks to Austen’s original cast. Pride, Prejudice and Cheese Grits was a southern pleasure, capturing the essence of our culture and the spirit of Austen’s creations without edging into territory that this Janeite would find unreasonable. Hathaway has crafted an engaging, thought-provoking romance here, and I look forward to reading more titles in her Jane Austen Takes the South series.

Pride, Prejudice and Cheese Grits Book Trailer

About the Author

About the Author: Mary Jane Hathaway is the pen name of an award-nominated writer who spends the majority of her literary energy on subjects un-related to Jane Austen. A homeschooling mother of six young children who rarely wear shoes, she’s madly in love with a man who has never read Pride and Prejudice. She holds degrees in Religious Studies and Theoretical Linguistics, and has a Jane Austen quote on the back of her van. She can be reached on facebook at 'Pride, Prejudice, and Cheese Grits' or her regular author page of Virginia Carmichael (which is another pen name, because she’s just that cool).

 Connect with Mary Jane Hathaway



Book 2

Book 3

Note: Pride, Prejudice and Cheese Grits had a previous release date of 2013.  Since that time, the novel has gone through editing and adjusting for this reissue. If you haven’t had a chance to read that previous edition, I would encourage you to pick this one up instead.  I’m sure that over time, this title has only improved throughout the publishing process.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Book Review - Raptor 6 by Ronie Kendig

His team. His mission. A mission that comes at the highest cost!

Captain Dean Watters keeps his mission and his team in the forefront of his laser-like focus. So when Dean’s mission and team are threatened, his Special Forces training kicks into high gear. Failing to stop hackers from stealing national security secrets from the military’s secure computers and networks isn’t an option.

Zahrah Zarrick is a missionary teacher to Afghan children in Mazar-e Sharif. And a target. When Zahrah is captured because of her expertise in quantum cryptology, compromising the U.S. military, Dean is forced to crack the lockbox around his heart—a move that might come at the highest cost.

*          *          *

I’m a sexist reader.

There. I said it. Full confession. Got to be honest. When I was offered the chance to read Raptor 6 by Ronie Kendig, my attention honed in on the Hollywood-like plot summary. It sounded exciting, full of technological intrigue and suspenseful military action. And as it looked like it might be somewhat spiritual in nature, my concern over a blue-tinged script was quelled. Just after I read the first couple of chapters, I took another look at the back cover:

“Ronie Kendig, an Army brat, and her husband, a veteran, live in northern Virginia with their four children and two dogs.” 

Wait a minute… “her”?!? Did I see a feminine pronoun in that sentence? Somehow along the way, I failed to notice that Ronie was a woman. Yes, her bio and pic were listed on the email invitation I received. Somehow it just didn’t process. To my surprise, my interest waned significantly. I now had a new perspective on the words I was reading, which at the time were from a male solder’s point of view. Did I really want to read the words of a woman in this hard-hitting drama? For a few moments, I must admit I wasn’t sure.

In reality, I was a bit disappointed in myself. The bulk of my reading comes from female authors. I enjoy their work and frequently recommend their books to my readers. But in a war novel?? I was skeptical. And it made me sad that I felt that way. I should be unbiased towards Ronie. I should be slapping myself on the wrist! So I dove back into the novel, ready to give Mrs. Ronie Kendig a chance.

What I found was a little bit of what I expected from her, but also some very unanticipated turns of events. Raptor 6 certainly shows the telltale signs of a Christian author. There are the expected spiritual ruminations and prayers. Colorful language is handled discreetly. It would be reasonable to expect frequent, intense words from the many military within her cast, but she manages to either sensor the vocabulary—“the General cursed” would be a typical example—or she changes them up, almost to the point of humor. Tough military guys spout off phrases like “son of a biscuit” and “move your sorry carcasses” on more than one occasion. I appreciated Kendig’s circumspect choices in her writing. I can do without f-bombs on every page. At the same time, I found some of the alterations humorous. But you know, sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to tell a story. It needs to be realistic without alienating your conservative audience.

Another detail that I felt was distinctly feminine in the writing was the frequent mention of people’s eye color, hair color and general physique. I don’t find this offensive, it’s just the kind of thing I find in the many romance novels I read. It’s not expected in an action-packed dramatic arena. If anything I felt that while this tone built up the sweet romance aspect of the story, it ultimately made the writing weaker than it could have been. “Feminine” does not equal “bad” in my mind. It’s just that I’ve come to expect a certain tone from women, and I wasn’t looking for it to be so prevalent in this story. How many different ways do we need to describe Dean's attractive green eyes? Kendig is an accomplished author. Her writing is strong enough to have a bit less of that sort of thing.

Those concerns aside, Raptor 6 was an intriguing, enjoyable ride. After I got over my silly sexist notions, I settled in for an interesting plot full of action, Christian thought, and yes—romance. While Kendig made her herculean efforts to tone down foul language, there were plenty of difficult issues that were addressed. Things that are not appropriate for children, in truth. The plot includes several murders, torture and assault. All of these are realistic events that are happening in the world, even now. Ronie doesn’t sugar-coat it too much. She keeps some of the more graphic details toned down a bit, keeping some assaults in other venues and other tragedies happening “off screen”, so to speak.

I did have a bit of trouble following the plot during the first half of the book, but as the action ramped up, the writing became tighter and I was able to transport myself into Captain Watters’ world. There were numerous times, especially in the last third of the book, that I was surprised at some of the choices Kendig was making. These scenes are not the typical ones you might find in the standard Christian novel. She made some tough choices as her characters endured hardship and pain. God's will is frequently called into question.  I was very impressed that she took such a hard-hitting, authentic approach to these moments.

My husband is a veteran, and I have many former military within my family and circles of friends. However, I’m not well versed in the technical language of this culture. Kendig does us a service by not only including a character listing at the beginning of the book, but a glossary of terms and acronyms as well. This was helpful, as I would have been more confused without that assistance. Those who do not consider themselves “military types” need not shy away, however. There’s plenty for us as well, acronyms or no.

The characters of Raptor 6 are predominantly military, with civilians and foreign nationals as well. Kendig did a fine job in allowing us to get to know such an interesting collection of people. They were colorful, intelligent, brave, heartwarming, cruel, and heartbreaking. By the conclusion of the story, I was particularly attached to the main protagonists, Captain Watters and the missionary Zahrah Zarrick. Their relationship took some turns that I didn’t expect, and as the next volume in the series, Hawk is set to release on November 1, 2014, I’m sure their adventures are going to continue.

Dean Watters is not your typical leading man, and neither is Zahrah. They, as well as the cast of characters around them, bring a captivating, thought provoking story to us in Raptor 6. Not only was I entertained, but I was given pause in thinking about God’s will for my life, and I also gained an even deeper respect for those serving in our military. It’s incredible, the many who have laid down their lives so that we might be free. This past Sunday in our morning service, our church congregation welcomed back a soldier who had been serving in Afghanistan. As I stood to participate in the standing ovation he so richly deserved, I had a new perspective on what he had been doing for us because of the book's forefront presence in my mind. Our men (and yes, WOMEN) of the armed forces are true heroes, and I’m thrilled that they were placed on such a dramatic stage within Raptor 6. 

So back to my initial confession—do I remain a sexist reader? Yes, probably. I’m biased when men write romance novels, and skeptical when women write novels like this. But the lesson I’ve learned is this: I need to get past my engrained bias and take in a novel for what it is, regardless of the gender of the author. The work will stand on its own, proving to be either something commendable... or not. And in this case, I would say that Raptor 6 would definitely fall within that former category—a commendable beginning to an exciting series.

Enter to win a Kindle HDX!

Don't miss the first book, Raptor 6, in Ronie Kendig's new Quiet Professionals series. Ronie combines a dangerous romance and explosive action for a thrilling and satisfying ride. "Lock and load for this Spec Op, fighting under God’s 'rules of engagement.'" —Bob Hamer, veteran FBI undercover agent and award-winning author

Ronie is celebrating with a Kindle HDX Giveaway!


One winner will receive: A Kindle Fire HDX
Raptor 6 by Ronie Kendig

Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on June 15th. 
Winner will be announced June 16th on Ronie's blog.

Don't miss a moment of the fun; enter today and be sure to stop by Ronie's blog on June 16th to see if you won.

About the Author

Ronie Kendig is an award-winning, bestselling author who grew up an Army brat. She married a veteran, and together their lives are never dull with four children and two dogs–a a Maltese Menace and a retired military working dog, Vvolt N629. Ronie’s degree in psychology has helped her pen novels of intense, raw characters. Since launching onto the publishing scene in 2010, Ronie and her books have hit bestseller lists and garnered awards and critical acclaim.

Litfuse Publicity Group

A paperback copy of Raptor 6 was provided by Litfuse Publicity for review purposes only.




Book 2: Hawk

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Book Review: Miss Darcy Decides by Reina M. Williams

While visiting a young woman—who was not so fortunate as Miss Georgiana Darcy in escaping the persuasions of a rogue—Georgiana meets Sir Camden Sutton, whose reputation causes Georgiana to wonder as to his motives. Her wondering soon turns to a different feeling when Sir Camden comes to stay at Pemberley, showing himself to be a very different man than was rumored. While Sir Camden struggles with his past and his commitment to his future, as well as the ill intentions of haughty Caroline Bingley, Miss Darcy must decide whether to listen to others, or the words written on her heart.

*     *     *

Miss Darcy Decides is the second novella in the Love at Pemberley series by Reina M. Williams.  Fans of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice will be familiar with the story’s characters, gleaned from that classic novel. Reina Williams has brought in her own plot line, speculating about the fates of Colonel James Fitzwilliam and Kitty Bennet in the first title of the series, Most Truly. Williams’ take on Austen’s characters continues in Miss Darcy Decides, which lends focus to Fitzwilliam Darcy’s younger sister, Georgiana. The volumes are sequential in nature, but each could also be read as a stand-alone tale. 

In this second episode, we meet a new character, Sir Camden Sutton, friend of Colonel Fitzwilliam. Sir Camden has the reputation of being a bit of a rogue, and an indulger in many physical pleasures.  He is making changes in his life to be a better man, but he is not known for this as of yet.  While attending to someone in need, Camden meets the lovely (and unattached) Georgiana Darcy and is quite taken with her.  Before long, he is in earnest pursuit of her heart, as well as his own personal redemption, so that he might be known as a man of honor and clean living.  Miss Darcy, who longs to find a lifelong love of own (much like Kitty Bennet Fitzwilliam), is drawn to the charming Sir Camden, but in coming to understand his reputation is hesitant to pursue an association with him.  Over the course of the short story, she must decide how she is to go forward, and how she is to perceive him—is he a rogue or a gentleman? And more importantly, should she conclude her days at Pemberley for such a man?

Miss Darcy Decides, like its predecessor Most Truly, was a delightful, quick read.  At less than 100 pages, it could easily be enjoyed in one sitting.  Reina Williams has struck a lovely Regency tone in this tale, with the appropriate manners, language and customs of the time.  The characters are very consistent with the Austen originals, and I found Williams’ plot choices to be reasonable within this Austeneque framework.  Redemption stories are a favorite of mine, and this one is no exception.  I also appreciated the choice to not use the “one big misunderstanding” plot option to flesh out the story.  Ms. Williams could easily have gone that route for several chapters, given Sutton’s past history and current associations.  There were a few brief moments of this, but it served to nicely build tension without dragging it out for pages on end. 

If I had one criticism of the writing, it would be in Williams’ frequent use of similes and metaphors, which were used as a descriptive device more than I would have preferred.  I felt as if she was trying to embellish her writing, to bring about more depth of feeling or more colorful imagery.  Williams’ writing stands well on its own, and could do with a bit less in the metaphor department.

Another literary choice was made that I appreciated very much. So far the Love at Pemberley series has been squeaky clean.  There was one minor curse word in Most Truly, and none that I can recall in Miss Darcy Decides.  These stories are predominantly romantic in nature, but that aspect of the storytelling never becomes wanton or licentious.  Due to Sir Camden’s past history, the writing could easily have delved into his indulgences and passions, but it wasn’t necessary. Williams made Camden’s character very clear, and went on to delve into more virtuous behavior.

Thus far I have enjoyed the Love at Pemberley series very much.  Like her book A Gentleman's Daughter: Her Folly, which was reviewed here on June 13 of last year, Reina M. Williams continues to produce quality Regency fiction.  I look forward to the next installment of the series, Miss Bennet Blooms, where I believe the character of Mary Bennet will be in the limelight.  Those looking for a quick, sweet read would do well to try this Austenesque series.

About the Author

Reina M. Williams loves period dramas, sweet reads, fairy tales, cooking and baking. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her two boys, who hope to someday take a research trip to England with their mom.

Reina M. Williams has had a preoccupation with history since visiting Jamestown and Colonial Williamsburg as a young girl. (The cute Native American guide helped.) In college, Reina pursued this interest (history, not cute Native Americans) by majoring in History and studying for a semester in Oxford, England. A lover of Jane Austen books, period dramas, and nineteenth century English literature and society, she brings this enthusiasm to her Regency Romances. Reina lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

For more information please visit Reina M. William’s website. You can also connect with her on Twitter, Goodreads, and Pinterest.

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