Saturday, May 21, 2016

Melanie Dickerson’s The Beautiful Pretender

For many, the search for one’s spouse can be a tricky endeavor, and this is no less true for Reinhart Stolten, the Margrave of Thornbeck in Melanie Dickerson’s The Beautiful Pretender.  In him we find a 14th century nobleman in search of a bride, similar to many a plot in classic fairy tales. His method of choosing a wife is managed much like we see in today’s television show, “The Bachelor”, in that he invites ten women from around his Germanic realm as candidates.  At the end of their two week stay in his castle, he plans to ask one of them to marry him. Unbeknownst to Reinhart, one woman is an impostor, a mere servant girl named Avelina who is standing in for a lady who has run off with a knight.  For reasons revealed in the book, she must obey the Earl of Plimmwald or face dire consequences for her family and her community.  Not only must she attend this gathering of potential brides, but she must also remain inconspicuous and avoid being chosen.  To be selected would bring negative political consequences to Plimmwald.  Unfortunately, as time goes on, she and the Margrave find themselves drawn to each other. Complicating matters, Avelina stumbles upon a conspiracy that could not only threaten the balance of power, but her very life as well.

The Beautiful Pretender was a quick and light read which I enjoyed very much.  Many of the story themes were familiar, but I relished the way that Melanie Dickerson drew out her narrative.  There were several themes which I found interesting in particular. I liked the allusions to classic fairy tales such as Beauty and the Beast and The Princess and the Pea. Like Princess and the Pea, Avelina’s nobility is questioned, as is her character.  As the other bridal candidates were, she was put through tests to judge her character and worthiness to be Stolten’s wife.  Despite her actual lack of noble-born blood, she is found to be one of the most upstanding of the women in the group.

The Beauty and the Beast allusion was a thought-provoking one, and for the first time I found myself questioning the values behind it.  Reinhart Stolten is a wounded warrior, one who is grieving the loss of loved ones and is also earnestly looking for a mate.  Like the “Beast”, he can be grumpy, has a bit of a temper, and has secrets within the west wing of his castle.  As Avelina is drawn to him, part of her wants to get close to him so that she can help heal his broken heart. 

“Avelina would be good for him. She could make him stop scowling, could make him believe in love and goodness. She could love him out of that dark thought pattern he seemed to be in, thinking about his lame ankle and about his poor dead brother and how he could not save him.” (p.162)

As I read this passage, I found my married self balking at this notion. After over twenty years of marriage, I’ve come to understand a few things about what makes a successful union. While I’m not a perfect wife, I’ve learned over the decades that we must not enter into a relationship with the idea that we are going to “fix” our loved one.  This is especially true when looking for a spouse. We need to do as James Dobson suggests, to “Keep our eyes wide open before marriage and halfway closed thereafter.” Our spouses can be our better halves in the sense that we can encourage one another on to love and good deeds, but starting a relationship with the idea that we would “fix” them can be very risky.  Yes, we should be very aware of our future mate’s flaws.  But are they flaws that we are willing to live with for the rest of our lives? Through God’s influence they might change, but they might not.  We need to love them regardless.  Fortunately, I don’t see Avelina as a stringent fixer-type.  She seems to care about Reinhart and just wants to love him in his pain.  He also seems to open to her opinions, which she was more than willing to share, and were not always in line with what he expected in a woman.  My guess is that given her temperament, she would be an encouragement to him, and not a pestering wife.

Another interesting theme dealt with the issue of self-respect.  In this I could see shadows of Cinderella, in that Avelina is a servant girl who dons fine, tailored clothing and is one of several choices for a noble bride.  And although she is a mere hireling, she learns along the way the value of respecting herself regardless of her position in life.  Even a servant can command and deserve respect, given how they carry themselves and expect to be treated. This life lesson was something I saw growing in this character as she spent time in Thornbeck Castle, and I respected Melanie Dickerson for including it.  Not all of us can be princesses or be noble-born, but we can all have dignity and treat ourselves accordingly.  This is not about haughty pride.  It’s about being a creation of God and worthy of care.

Given the main premise of the novel, Avelina’s true identity was sure to be revealed at some point. This is a bit of a spoiler, but any savvy reader would expect that the Margrave would discover the truth eventually.  While I expected this plot point, I was surprised at how soon this revelation occurred in the story.  It was approximately halfway through the book when the truth is revealed.  I wondered how Dickerson would keep the story going, with about half of the title left to go.  Fortunately, I was rewarded with an exciting tale of power struggles, chases, injuries, romance, and even a little bit of Christian faith thrown in.  The second half was more riveting than the first, and the conclusion was delightful.  

Melanie Dickerson is an author I have wanted to read for some time now, and I’m so glad I’ve been able to be a part of this book tour for The Beautiful Pretender.  In this novel I was entertained in a lighthearted and refreshing fashion.  Dickerson’s writing is very accessible and family friendly, while still bringing some passion to the love scenes. It might not have fairies and magical creatures, but the storytelling was quite magical and a delight to enjoy.  I look forward to reading more of Ms. Dickerson in the future.

About the Author

Melanie Dickerson is an award-winning author who earned her bachelor’s degree in special education from The University of Alabama.

She has taught in Georgia, Tennessee, Germany and the Eastern European country of Ukraine.

A member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and Romance Writers of America (RWA), she now spends her time writing and taking care of her husband and two daughters near Huntsville, Alabama.


Join Melanie in celebrating the release of The Beautiful Pretender by entering to win her Once Upon a Kindle giveaway!

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One grand prize winner will receive:
  • A copy of The Beautiful Pretender
  • A Kindle Fire tablet
  • A $25 Amazon gift card
  • The choice between a Funko POP Disney Beauty or Beast doll

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Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry! The giveaway ends on June 7th. 
The winner will be announced June 8th on Melanie's blog.

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Paperback copy of the novel provided by Litfuse Publicity for review purposes only.

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Monday, May 16, 2016

Guest Post and Giveaway - Victoria Kincaid, Author of Darcy vs. Bennet

Today we welcome author Victoria Kincaid, as she has a few thoughts and questions for us.  We'd love to have some comments from you, to see what you've been up to in your reading life as of late.  Following that, Victoria has offered a giveaway of her novel Darcy vs. Bennet, open to all readers!   Thanks for stopping by, Victoria, and good luck to all our contest entrants!

Recently I was lucky enough to have a chance to get together with four of my fellow Jane Austen Fan Fiction (JAFF) authors and a number of JAFF readers.  It was a very fun day!  One of the questions we discussed was what other kinds of books do JAFF readers read?  There are some readers whom I guess (based on the volume of JAFF they read) probably don’t have time to read much else (and good for you!), but then I would guess others read a wider variety of books.

 I went through a phase where I avidly consumed JAFF and read everything I could get my hands on.  But, now I spend a lot of my day thinking about how to get Elizabeth and Darcy together—as well as such questions as whether “stoop” is a word used by the British (it’s not) or if Jane Austen ever used the word “exemplar” (she didn’t).  It’s hard to work up enthusiasm for spending all of my precious little reading time revisiting Meryton and Pemberley yet again.

I do read JAFF, but not in nearly the quantities that I did before.  Now I vary my literary diet with a number of other genres, although mostly still romance, including, YA, M/M, contemporary, Regency, suspense, paranormal, and sometimes science fiction.   I do miss reading more JAFF.  Man, do I wish I had more time to read!  (Don’t we all?) But then I’d have less time to write.  :(

The nice thing is that reading in these other genres inspires and informs my JAFF writing.  Reading Regency romances obviously gives me a lot of background in the customs and society of the time period and sparks plot ideas. I do love some paranormal romance authors, and recently I’ve been thinking about how to incorporate paranormal elements (not zombies!) into a P&P variation.  I haven’t hit on the right plot yet, but there are some really fun paranormal Austenesque books out there.

Contemporary and YA authors have both inspired my JAFF writing as well.  I have a plot for a contemporary P&P all worked out in my head; I just haven’t had time to write it.  And I actually wrote a YA version of P&P – as a screenplay -- about ten years ago.   Someday I’d like to adapt it into a YA novel.

I would guess that my reading tastes are a little more varied than most JAFF readers, but I am very interested in knowing what my fellow JAFF fans read.  Is it mainly JAFF?  Or JAFF and Regency/historical romance?  Or if you go outside JAFF, do you mainly read romance or do you read other genres as well (mysteries, thrillers?).  Respond here or drop me an email sometime to let me know (I love to hear from readers!).


Fill out the Rafflecopter below to enter to win a copy of Darcy vs. Bennet by Victoria Kincaid.  The winner will receive their choice of edition, either eBook for paperback.  Contest is open internationally and will conclude at 12am EST on May 28, 2016.

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About the Author

The author of best-selling Pride and Prejudice variations, historical romance writer Victoria has a Ph.D. in English literature and has taught composition to unwilling college students. Today she is a freelance writer/editor who teaches business writing to willing office professionals and tries to give voice to the demanding cast of characters in her head.

She lives in Virginia with an overly affectionate cat, two children who are learning how much fun Austen’s characters can be, and a husband who fortunately is not jealous of Mr. Darcy. A lifelong Austen fan, Victoria has read more Jane Austen variations and sequels than she can count – and confesses to an extreme partiality for the Colin Firth miniseries version of Pride and Prejudice.




Saturday, May 14, 2016

Book Review - Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

I’m not one who enjoys writing scathing reviews.  I avoid them like the plague, as I know that authors pour their lives into their work, and my mere ramblings (in most cases) cannot hold a candle to what they have created. In truth, I feel I have no place to criticize anyone for what they have authored, as I myself have had very little work actually published.  On one occasion, I even took the time to contact an author to give them the option to have my negative review go unpublished.  I didn’t care for her work, but I didn’t feel she deserved the words I wanted to print, either.  I have no desire to rake anyone over the coals for decisions they’ve made as an author.

That said, I’ve decided not to hold back in my negative review of Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld.  Ms. Sittenfeld, like the other authors in the Austen Project series, is renowned in her field and will certainly not suffer any harm from my meager opinion.  She most likely will not even read this, and ultimately will continue on in her successful career.

When I learned of the Austen Project, I was thrilled to know that established, respected authors would be taking on Jane Austen’s work, updating them with their own voices and styles.  Although other works such as Emma and Sense and Sensibility have already been published, I began reading this series with my favorite of Austen’s works, Pride and Prejudice, which has been renamed Eligible for this volume.

I expected the modernization of the source material. I expected deviations from Austen’s characters and plot. This was not a problem.  What I didn’t enjoy was the sheer amount of trashy content that was sprinkled throughout the book.  WARNING:  I will not be shying away from spoilers.  If you’d rather go into this novel without my negative opinion or these glaringly ridiculous facts in your mind, I urge you to discontinue reading.

As expected, the younger Bennet sisters Lydia and Kitty are not only ridiculous, but embarrassing to the family.  However, in this Austenesque incarnation (and I hesitate to even call it that), they go beyond embarrassing to being downright crass and disgusting.  I may be called out for being a prude when it comes to their behavior and truly foul language, but that doesn’t concern me.  Lydia and Kitty are so repulsive; I didn’t find them amusing in the slightest.  Like the unseen Anne De Bourgh, I wish they’d been eliminated from the cast lineup entirely.

To continue in the ludicrous line of ideas I found within these pages, the title of this novel is taken from (of all things) a reality show called "Eligible", which seems to be a clone of the television show, “The Bachelor”.  The book as a whole eventually takes on a similar tone, in that it’s low-class, unrealistic and bawdy.  Yes, Liz and Darcy did have palpable chemistry and were at times interesting to watch as characters, but I couldn’t get beyond the amount of R-rated content that was included in their lives and in those around them.  When Mr. Collins goes to propose a romantic relationship with Liz, he initiates the discussion not with an awkward speech or phone call, but by jamming his tongue down her throat in an unwelcome kiss.  There is more than one mention of the use of dildos in the story, and Mrs. Bennet is more than just annoying—she’s downright racist.

I could go on and on about how much I disliked this novel, but I feel that my opinion (as singular as it may be) has been made clear.  There’s no need to go over my distaste repeatedly.  For those of you who enjoy reality shows like “The Bachelor”, this might be the book for you.  If the shredding of Austen’s decency doesn’t concern you, then by all means give this a try.  However, if ever I’m asked if I enjoyed Eligible, my response will be a decisive “No”.  My only hope is that the other titles in the Austen Project are not as deplorable.  The ones do I own will remain on my shelf as I look forward to giving them a try someday.  As for Eligible, it will be headed directly to my local used book store, in hopes that I can swap it for another title that will be worthy of my time and effort.  This one certainly was not.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Review and Giveaway: A Fine Stout Love by Renée Beyea

Discover what happens when Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy meet fancy and fantasy in this novella-length ensemble of Regency stories.
  • What if two inexplicable trails of words led to the Meryton churchyard on the same blustery morning?
  • What if Darcy stumbled across suggestive lines of verse following Elizabeth’s stay at Netherfield?
  • What if a rumored engagement so thoroughly shocked Lady Catherine that she could not interfere?
  • What if Elizabeth learned the last man she would ever marry was the only man she could marry?
  • What if every Bennet family member read the love poem Darcy intended only for his bride?

With all the intimacy and lyricism of a chamber concert, these five whimsical shorts will inspire the heart, prompt a smile, and entice readers to many happy returns.

Renée Beyea has crafted a sweet collection of short Austenesque stories in her title, A Fine Stout Love and Other Stories.  She offers one poem and five petite tales of love and discovery, all romantic, with some mysterious and others almost dreamlike in nature.  I offer my impressions of each of the submissions:

Conception – Beyea shares with us her contribution to the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice, as suggested by the Derbyshire Writers’ Guild.  This charming line of verse bears many echoes of the beloved novel, and I found it to be an excellent opener to A Fine Stout Love’s collection.

Words in the Wind A trail of mysterious words tracks Elizabeth to the Meryton graveyard, where she has an unexpected encounter with Mr. Darcy.

This began the stories off very well.  I noted it to be mysterious and romantic without becoming overly Gothic. I loved the cryptically appearing slips of paper, which amazingly seem to emerge like magic along their paths. One particular question is never answered, given to the reader to discern, which left me wanting more.

Fine Stout Love or The Efficacy of PoetryWhen Darcy is assailed by an errant and rather evocative specimen of poetry lurking in Longbourn’s drive, Elizabeth’s verses are unexpectedly tested for their efficacy.

Once again we find a stray piece of paper in the wind, discovered and used as a plot device. I found this tale to be short, sweet and very enjoyable.  The level of intimacy between Darcy and Elizabeth, while not salacious, does seem a bit rushed given the status of their relationship at the beginning of the episode.  I suppose this is certainly a case of poetry being the “food of love”.

Neither Slumber Nor SleepToo weary to continue shopping for her sister’s wedding, Elizabeth seeks respite in a nearby church, but her rest is disrupted by an outrageous occurrence.

This story in three parts begins with a prelude that I found to be laugh-out-loud funny and surprising.  It felt a bit disjointed from the other two parts, but welcome nonetheless. Parts two and three were sometimes absurdly amusing, dreamy and of course very romantic.  I enjoyed this one very much and might deem it the favorite.

Gold, All GoldDarcy rescues Elizabeth in the Netherfield woods, but all is not as it seems.

Fantastical and almost supernatural, this tale I found to be a bit odd, but I applaud Renee for her adventuresome pen and vivid imagination.  I would probably say that this one was my least favorite, but it was interesting.

Eden Unashamed When Darcy’s attempt to surprise Elizabeth with a love poem goes terribly awry, no member of the Bennet family escapes its effects.

The longest of the episodes, “Eden Unashamed” is offered in three parts, plus a short epilogue.  The tale presents itself as a comedy of errors, and I could easily envision it produced as a play in the local community theater. Not only is it humorously exasperating, but it’s also a very romantic celebration of Christian love. We must never forget that God created romantic passion, and there’s nothing sinful about those feelings when expressed at the right time.

Overall I found Renee Beyea’s collection to be a light, enjoyable and whimsical collection of Austenesque fiction.  I understand that another collection, What Love May Come will be issued this winter, and I look forward to the release of that title as well.

About the Author

Renée Beyea holds an undergraduate writing degree from Taylor University and a Master of Divinity from Fuller Seminary. She serves as full-time wife, mother to two sons, and ministry partner with her husband, an Anglican priest and chaplain. Her free time is devoted to crafting stories and composing poetry that delight the senses and touch the soul.


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5/2: Excerpt & Giveaway at From Milton to Pemberley
5/3: Guest Post & Giveaway at So Little Time…
5/4: Excerpt & Giveaway at Half Agony, Half Hope
5/5: Review & Giveaway at The Calico Critic
5/6: Guest Post & Giveaway at Austenesque Reviews
5/7: Guest Post & Giveaway at Babblings of a Bookworm
5/8: Review & Giveaway at Delighted Reader
5/9: Review & Giveaway at Austenesque Reviews
5/10: Interview & Giveaway at Savvy Verse and Wit
5/11: Review & Giveaway at Diary of an Eccentric
5/12: Review & Giveaway at Just Jane 1813
5/12: Excerpt & Giveaway at Laughing with Lizzie
5/13: Review & Giveaway at Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell
5/14: Excerpt & Giveaway at My Kids Led Me Back to Pride and Prejudice
5/15: Excerpt & Giveaway at Best Sellers and Best Stellars
5/16: Review & Giveaway at Margie’s Must Reads

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