Sunday, December 14, 2014

Book Excerpt: The Muse by Jessica Evans

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

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

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

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

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

Excerpt: The Muse by Jessica Evans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thanks,” she murmured.

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

“No, thanks.”

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

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

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

A long moment of silence passed between them again.

“I thought you went hiking.”

William chuckled. “Someone ruined my shoes.”

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

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


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

“What?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I call it confidence.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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

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

Connect with Jessica Evans




NYC Ballet

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Guest Post: A Profile of Holiday Classics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 8, 2014

Book Profile: Fuzed Trilogy: Resurrect

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

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

From Amazon:

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

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

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

About David E. Stevens

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

Find out more about David at

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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Book Excerpt: The Vagabond Vicar by Charlotte Brentwood

Block Post Update: I'm not sure why this post was republished on August 16, 2015. My apologies for any confusion.

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

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

--Charlotte Brentwood


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

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

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


Excerpt from The Vagabond Vicar
by Charlotte Brentwood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He looked away for a moment. “Yes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

William smiled again. “Does she now?”

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

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

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


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


International Giveaway: The Vagabond Vicar

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


About the Author

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

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

Connect with Charlotte



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