Saturday, December 16, 2017

Movie Review: Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

Although I am somewhat of a Austenesque bookworm, I'm a huge fan of the Star Wars universe as well. When The Last Jedi came out this weekend, my husband, two sons and I went together as a "four family", for the first time in years. We enjoy The Force Awakens very much, and had high hopes for this new chapter in the saga. This afternoon my husband and younger son re-watched Episode VII in our den. I watched the last 30 minutes or so of it, with my cats, on my iPhone screen. Later we drove over to Greensboro's Movie Tavern with much excitement, ready to take in the next chapter in this decades-long tale. I offer my critique of the film below, which I believe to be spoiler-free, if you have seen the preview trailers. If you'd like to see a trailer, I have it posted it near the end of this page for your convenience.

I enjoyed The Last Jedi very much, probably more than Episode VII, due in great measure to the quality of work offered by the entire cast and crew of this particular film. The overall production remains strong, if not stronger than in The Force Awakens. Mark Hamill and the late Carrie Fisher are given much more screen time than in the previous movie, which was a welcome element. The writing and acting remain superior to Episodes I-III, which in my opinion should be wiped off the face of the earth. While highly choreographed, the lightsaber duels were well done, although they were not as dynamic as the Ben Kenobi/Darth Maul fight in The Phantom Menace (one of the few things that were worth keeping from that travesty).

Although the writing quality remains high, the film does go on for quite a while. Our previews began at 3:15pm, which included Alita, Jurassic World 2, Rampage, Early Man, A Wrinkle in Time and Avengers: Infinity War. Then our movie ran until 5:55pm. Including the end credits (no, there was no "extra scene", a la Avengers), IMDb lists it at 2 hours, 32 minutes. And while I don't tire of Star Wars material, it did feel long sometimes. As I've read in other critiques of the film, it felt as if the storytellers were trying to do just a little too much with the narrative. Unlike Luke's time on Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back, Rey's time with Luke on Ahch-To somehow felt rushed. There was just so much story to tell in less than three hours.
Watching bits of Episode VII with two of my cats

These drawbacks, however, are minor. The story was very enjoyable, and I was frequently on the edge of my seat. As always, the dogfight scenes are thrilling, very reminiscent of the old movies, but revolutionary as well. The dramatic contrast of the underlying crimson red clay on the pristine, white salt flats of Crait heightened the drama of the battle for the rebel base. Poe Dameron's piloting skills had me cheering with delight. New character Rose Tico was such a pleasure, and a welcome addition to the Star Wars family. Without giving anything away, there is a scene where Luke kisses someone on the forehead that brought tears to my eyes. It was so touching. There were abundant moments of humor injected into the dialogue, and while I sometimes felt that this element was brought out a little too much, it never reached the level of stupidity found in A Phantom Menace, as with the infamous Jar Jar Binks. And yes, as has been reported in the media, the puffin-like porgs of Ahch-To are simply adorable, unlike the much-maligned Ewoks of Return of the Jedi. There's also another creature I liked very much, "fathiers" which have memorable screen time while the story is set in the city of Canto Bight.

As with previous Star Wars episodes, there's the usual tension between good and evil, light and dark. The Jedi order begins to make a bit of a transition with Episode VIII, and I'm interested to see where it's headed. There were some force-related happenings that took me by surprise, with one in particular taking me completely off guard. It was a trick I did not see coming in the least. Suffice it to say, the force is capable of things we haven't seen thus far, and may take on a different shape in the future.
My sons with a stormtrooper at the theater

On a side note: As a French horn player who has had the opportunity to play a bit of John Williams' work over the years, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie's score. There are ten-- count them-- TEN horn players in this orchestra, and they are phenomenal. Williams again has interwoven themes from films gone by, and incorporated new elements as well. He has always been the perfect choice for this series, and is an international treasure.

For families who are considering this movie for their children: The Last Jedi does earn its PG-13 rating, but just barely. There is one kiss that could possibly be considered romantic, and while there is a decent amount of fighting, there isn't an overabundance of blood and gore on the screen. It's very much like what we've seen in previous Star Wars films. A significant character is cut in half by a lightsaber, but we do not see blood or entrails coming forth. Language isn't a massive factor-- no f-bombs are dropped, but there is a bit more colorful language than was heard in the original trilogy. I was okay with having my 12 year-old son present. It would be my guess that the main factor influencing the PG-13 rating would be the sheer intensity of some of the scenes. Small children might be disturbed by some of the peril and dramatic issues involved.

As a student who is working on a master's degree in Christian apologetics, I sometimes wonder what influence the Star Wars saga has on our culture, in a religious sense. I'm able to suspend belief and take these movies as simple fairy tales, and I hope that's true for others that enjoy this series. As is mentioned in the thorough movie review on, the issue of the Force-as-religion does take somewhat of a center stage in this film. I've had many discussions with my boys on this matter, encouraging them to think intelligently about what we believe as Christians, and to not take religious philosophies too much to heart when they're enjoying Star Wars. The same has been true as I've trusted them to separate truth from fiction with the world of Harry Potter. That being said, I especially liked one quote that was stated in The Last Jedi: "To say when the Jedi dies, the Light dies is vanity." The ways of the force are not seen as having a corner on truth and light. Luke Skywalker feels (and this is no spoiler, if you have seen the trailers) that it is time for the Jedi to die. They are not indispensable for good to survive in the galaxy. On this I can wholeheartedly agree.

If you have been pondering whether or not to go see The Last Jedi while it is in theaters, I would encourage you to attend. In fact, I wish I could have had the budget to see it on the IMAX screen. The Last Jedi is a delight for the eyes and years, more than worthy of a huge screen and robust sound system.  This film was thoroughly entertaining, and I'm looking forward to seeing it again, when it inevitably ends up in my Blu-ray player at home. Director Rian Johnson and his team have done a fabulous job at the helm of this latest vehicle of the Star Wars saga, and I feel that it has more than deserved its huge 200+ million-dollar opening weekend. The force is strong with this one, and I look forward with great expectation to see what Episode IX director J.J. Abrams has in store for us in 2019.

Episode VII Trailer

Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Streaming Blu-ray (On Sale 2018) Streaming

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Giveaway & Guest Post: Kara Louise of Chance and Circumstance

Today I'm pleased to be hosting Kara Louise, whose novel Darcy's Voyage holds the position of "Best Austenesque Fiction Novel" in my heart, going back to 2010 when I discovered it. She has a new novel out now called Chance and Circumstance, which she will discuss with us here.  Thanks for this very enlightening blog post Kara!  To our readers: Be sure to enter the giveaway at the conclusion of the post!

Inspiration by the Seat of My Pants

I want to thank Laura for allowing me to share with you about my newest book, Chance and Circumstance, and a little bit about how I write.

When people ask me what method I use in writing my stories, I have to confess that I am a pantser. If you don’t know what that means, it means I write by the seat of my pants. I’m not a plotter - I don’t plot everything out ahead of time; I don’t make up outlines; I often don’t know the direction a story is going to go until I get into it. I start with a premise and go from there.

One reason I prefer this way is that as I write, I find myself more drawn into the story and have a better sense of where the characters are taking me. Yes, they do tend to often have minds of their own.

While I have a general idea of what I’m going to write and what the general plot (or variation) is going to be, I do make every effort to bring it all together in the end and be an enjoyable read.

Chance and Circumstance is my eleventh published book, and all I knew when I began was that I was going to examine what would have happened if Mr. Bingley met Elizabeth first, without Jane or Mr. Darcy around.

Here is the book description:

Chance brings about an early encounter between Charles Bingley and Elizabeth Bennet soon after his move into Netherfield. He soon begins to favour this pretty and lively young lady. Circumstances have kept Jane Bennet and Mr. Darcy from the neighbourhood, thereby changing the events that Jane Austen penned in "Pride and Prejudice."

When Mr. Darcy finally arrives, will he be able to keep from interfering when he meets this young lady his friend so greatly admires? When Jane returns from touring the Lake District with her aunt and uncle, will the young gentleman who returns with her prove to be better suited for her than Mr. Bingley ever was?

In this "Pride and Prejudice" variation, chance and circumstance greatly affect the way several of Jane Austen's characters arrive at their happily ever after, but not necessarily in the way you think.

I am of the conviction Mr. Bingley’s and Elizabeth’s initial meeting would go well, as they have lively and engaging personalities, are very polite and agreeable, and are both attractive. I wanted to see how long it would be before Elizabeth began to see those areas in which this fine gentleman would not be suitable for her.

My very first inspiration for this story came from a scene I envisioned many years ago. In that scene, Bingley is walking at Elizabeth’s side, and Darcy and Jane are following. Darcy is frustrated that his friend is singling out Elizabeth because he thinks she is better suited for him. Bingley, who has begun to question his feelings for Elizabeth, keeps turning around to look at Jane, who in turn, returns his looks of admiration. Elizabeth is simply enjoying her walk.

That was the scene I had envisioned, but guess what! It did not make it into the book because a very different idea came to me as I began writing. I had to get Jane away from Longbourn and determined that if Jane Austen wrote that the Gardiners were going to take Elizabeth to the Lake District the following year (and we know what happened to those plans!), perhaps they took Jane the previous year. So I wrote that Jane is visiting the lakes with the Gardiners when Bingley moves into Netherfield.

But wait! Where did this new thought just come from? Jane has met a young man while up there and seems quite taken with him! I had not originally planned that at all!

In the very first chapter of the story, the Bennets receive a letter from Jane in which she informs them she met some long-time friends of the Gardiners, and they are going to stay longer in the Lake District. She writes another letter to Elizabeth however, giving a little more information. She tells her about this gentleman, who is the son of these friends, and how he has stolen her heart. This was another twist that happened as I was writing, and it surprised even me.

One thing I love is when a minor element from Jane Austen’s novel finds its way into my story. This happened a few times in Chance and Circumstance. The first is what I just mentioned, that the Gardiners may have taken Jane to the Lake District because we know they were going to take Elizabeth. (And perhaps all the girls would get their chance when they are twenty years old, as the younger sisters discuss in my novel.)

The second element plays a major part in one of the twists of my story. Jane Austen tells us of Bingley’s tendency to write letters that are brief and not well blotted, causing much of his correspondence to be unreadable. You’ll have to read the book to discover more about the importance of this unreadable letter he writes!

Thank you, Jane Austen, for allowing me to take advantage of these minor elements from your story and put them in my story to cause a little angst!

There are other twists and turns in the story (particularly at the end) that I hope will keep you engaged as you read. It was a fun adventure for me to write, as well!

I posted about half of the book online, and you can begin reading it at the link below.

Thanks again, Laura!

Connect Online with Kara Louise

Chance and Circumstance Chapter 1:




Austen Variations Blog:



Thanks to Kara for offering a giveaway copy of Chance and Circumstance!  If you'd like to enter, please utilize the Rafflecopter widget below. If the winner is from the U.S., they may choose either a paperback or Kindle copy.  If the winner is international, their edition will be the Kindle version.  The contest period will conclude at 12am EST on Saturday, December 16, 2017. 

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About Kara Louise

Kara Louise has been writing Jane Austen variations since 2001 and has published 11 novels. She grew up in the San Fernando Valley in Southern California, but now lives in the suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri with her husband, and their ever-changing number of dogs and cats. In addition to writing, she enjoys spending time with their son and his wife and their two granddaughters, who live nearby.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Book Excerpt: A Very Austen Christmas

Four favorite authors, four heartwarming stories set in Jane Austen’s Regency world.

Robin Helm, Laura Hile, Wendi Sotis, and Barbara Cornthwaite revisit Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Mansfield Park to deliver the uplifting holiday storytelling you’re looking for.

Her Christmas Gift by Robin Helm
Elizabeth Bennet finds herself snowbound at Rosings with two rejected, but highly eligible, suitors. Does either man have a chance? Will her childhood friend, Meryton’s golden boy, win her affection, or will she accept the master of Pemberley? Perhaps she will refuse them both a second time. Her Christmas Gift deftly combines tension and emotion with humor and romance.

The Christmas Matchmaker by Laura Hile
It’s raining; it’s pouring – and what could be better than a little Christmas matchmaking? So says Emma Woodhouse who is unexpectedly stranded at Netherfield Park. Mr. Darcy disagrees, for she has someone else in mind for adorable Elizabeth Bennet. Amid meddling, misunderstanding, and an unwelcome proposal or two, will True Love find a way?

No Better Gift by Wendi Sotis
On his way to Derbyshire to spend Christmas with his family, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy plans to retrieve an item he left behind during his rushed escape from Netherfield—and the country miss who touched his heart. Finding Meryton practically deserted, he fears the worst. What fate could have fallen upon this once-thriving village in only three weeks? More importantly, was Miss Elizabeth Bennet in danger?

Mistletoe at Thornton Lacey by Barbara Cornthwaite
When Edmund Bertram realizes that Fanny is the perfect wife for him, he wants to propose without delay. What better time than at Christmas? Ah, but the course of true love never does run smooth …

Mmmm....calorie-free pie, right??
It's November 24th, and for many people it's Black Friday and the start of the holiday season. I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving yesterday. I for one can hardly believe that 2017 is coming to a close, and that I found myself eating turkey and stuffing yesterday! To the right is the slice of pecan pie that I enjoyed. Cardio on deck for Friday!! After the sun went down we broke out the Christmas CDs, beginning with the soundtrack to The Polar Express. I'm thrilled to hear Bing Crosby singing "White Christmas" in my home again, but I'm just amazed at how fast this year went. It just seems like yesterday that we were promoting another Austenesque Christmas title, A Very Darcy Christmas here on The Calico Critic!

To kick off the holiday season, why don't we enjoy some more Austenesque Christmas? Debuting this month is the new anthology from Robin Helm, Laura Hile, Wendy Sotis and Barbara Cornthwaite, A Very Austen Christmas. As I've been immersed in graduate school reading and other activities, I haven't had a chance to read this one yet, but it's waiting for me on my Kindle, and I hope to gobble it up soon. In the meantime, I have an excerpt to share, as well as an ebook giveaway! Thanks to Laura Hile for the idea, and merry Christmas to all!

An excerpt from Her Christmas Gift by Robin Helm:

“Did you just roll your eyes?” Darcy asked, laughing aloud.

She stared at him and bit her thumb very deliberately.

He laughed even more loudly. “Did you bite your thumb at me?”

“I do bite my thumb, sir.”

“But did you bite you thumb at me?”

She grinned impishly. “No, sir. I do not bite my thumb at you, sir; but I bite my thumb, sir.”

“I have heard you and your sisters revelled by acting out plays when you were younger. Exactly how many parts did you play in The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet? Most importantly, did you take the part of Juliet, and, if you did, who was Romeo?”

“I think you know the answer to your questions, sir. I played many parts, and I was, indeed, Juliet to Thomas’s Romeo. However, I refused to kiss him, so he kissed my cheek instead. I was but ten years old, and he was fourteen.” She placed her hand on his arm. “I have always thought of him as a brother.”

Darcy took a deep breath. “There is one small consolation. At least he died at the end. Quite painfully, I believe.”

She giggled and put her hand over her mouth. “Wicked man!”

“We may have to read Shakespeare’s plays together, and I will be Romeo, as well as any other character you romanced. I will kiss you, and not on the cheek.”

“Oh, I hope so. I fervently hope so.”

He looked behind himself, and seeing there was no one attending them, he quickly pulled a sprig of mistletoe from his pocket, held it above her head, and gave her what she hoped for.

Giveaway - A Very Austen Christmas

Let the festivities begin! Utilize the Rafflecopter widget below to enter. Contest concludes at 12am EST on Saturday, December 9, 2017. Open internationally. Thanks for entering, and merry Christmas!

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Monday, October 23, 2017

Guest Post, Excerpt & Giveaway: Darcy & Elizabeth: Hope of the Future

Today we welcome Sharon Lathan, author of the Darcy Saga Sequel Series. I've been following Sharon from the beginning of my years as a book blogger. She is one of the first Austenesque authors I've had the privilege to interact with since 2009.  Sharon has a new novel out, and she's here to give us a delectable taste of it.  I find it interesting that it is set during end of October, the same time period we're in now.

Be sure to enter Sharon's giveaway, too-- if you win, you'll receive both Darcy Saga Prequel books 1 and 2! Open internationally.

Thank you, Laura, for welcoming me onto the Calico Critic today! It is delightful to be here chatting about my latest novel with your visitors.

Way back in 2009 my first novel was published. Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Two Shall Become One was my debut novel, and the beginning volume of what is now a seven-book and one novella sequel series for Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The series opened with the just-married Darcy and Elizabeth in a carriage as they set off on their honeymoon. From the wedding night onward, my series has spanned nearly five years of wedded bliss with the loving couple at the center, but also surrounded by a host of family and friends, some familiar and others newly created by me.

In order, the Darcy Saga Sequel Series—
  • Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Two Shall Become One
  • Loving Mr. Darcy: Journeys Beyond Pemberley
  • My Dearest Mr. Darcy
  • In the Arms of Mr. Darcy
  • The Trouble With Mr. Darcy
  • A Darcy Christmas (novella)
  • Miss Darcy Falls in Love
  • The Passions of Dr. Darcy

Some four years ago now, I decided to backtrack a bit from the continuing onward tale of happily-ever-after. I was inspired to recount the roughly eight weeks spanning Mr. Darcy’s second and successful proposal of marriage to the wedding itself. Mainly, I wanted to delve into how these two people grew in their love and comfortable relationship.

At the end of Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet are two people on the edge of love. The sentiments are mutual, and growing in strength, but in reality, they know very little about each other. Historically this was typical. The strict rules of proper behavior when seeking a mate were severely inhibitive. Opposite sexes were never left alone, were limited in how intimately they could converse, and unless willing to risk immense damage to one’s reputation, could not touch or express frank emotions.

Once a decision for a mate was made, hopefully based on affection at the least and love at best, and the proposal accepted, the official courtship interval began. How long it lasted varied, but whether three weeks (the minimum for the banns to be read) or longer, the perk was the slightly loosen restrictions. It was during this time that the couple could converse openly and exchange mild intimacies.

It was this evolutionary process I was inspired to explore. How did these two people go from blossoming love and minimal understanding of each other to deep affinity and passion? And along with the emotional aspects to relate, what about the technicalities of preparing for a wedding and marriage during the Regency?

A little over three years ago, I published Darcy and Elizabeth: A Season of Courtship. As of August 2017, the concluding volume has been published. Darcy and Elizabeth: Hope of the Future completes the arc from proposal to wedding, ended precisely as the newlyweds enter the carriage for their honeymoon destination!

— Excerpt from Darcy and Elizabeth: Hope of the Future

Fitzwilliam Darcy dipped the tip of his sharpened quill into the silver ink jar, tapped it onto the edge to remove the excess fluid, and etched a precise X inside the square for the twenty-sixth of October.

Smoothing one hand over the calendar page while returning the quill to its stand, he gazed at the rows of squares, each with a bold X indicating the date had passed. It was tempting to mark today as complete, but doing so would be premature, considering his breakfast tray sat on the table, and the pot of coffee remained half full.

Best not to violate the rules, no matter the satisfaction in seeing precisely one month remaining until the day scheduled for his marriage to Elizabeth Bennet.

In one respect Darcy did not wish to rush the time. Each day within this season of courtship brought new delights and increased the hope of their future happiness together. The remaining month promised to be especially splendid. Managing to keep a tight grip on his passions, he determined, was the only obstacle to a blissful engagement period!

Coffee cup in hand, Darcy relaxed into the chair and lifted his eyes to the window where sunlight glistened on the drops of dew coating the panes. The small patio outside his bedchamber had transformed from the lush, green-shrouded privacy of summer with bright colors of wisteria, lilac, and potted flowers, to an open terrace of faded blooms and semi-bare branches with clinging leaves of oranges and yellows.

While perhaps not as gloriously beautiful, Darcy tended to prefer the rustic, earthy colors of autumn. For some, this season too vividly illustrated decay and death. To Darcy, autumn marked a gradual easing of life’s busyness and ushered in a period of restful, solitude. For as long as memory served, he had embraced the tranquility of winter at Pemberley. This upcoming winter, with Elizabeth in his life, anticipation for the season was multiplied tenfold.

Nay, after yesterday’s miraculous revelations, make that a hundredfold.

Before arriving in London two days ago, the rapport forged with Elizabeth in the month since their engagement had exceeded Darcy’s wildest imaginings. He had lost count of the times when their easy conversation, similar humor, and reciprocated insights had amazed him. Gradually his guilt over past missteps had faded, as Darcy accepted that by some miracle Elizabeth loved him—almost as deeply as he loved her.

On this fine autumn morning, Darcy freely admitted to his error on two points.

One, Elizabeth already loved him as deeply as he loved her, this being the first miracle revelation from yesterday’s fiery encounter in his mother’s bedchamber.

The second miracle revelation was how thoroughly Elizabeth understood his heart and mind. Clearer than he did, as it turned out.

Oh, my Elizabeth! How remarkable you are.

About the Author

Sharon Lathan is the best-selling author of The Darcy Saga sequel series to Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. Her first novel, Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Two Shall Become One, was published in 2009. Sharon’s series of “happily ever after” for the Darcys now totals nine full-length novels and one Christmas themed novella.

Darcy & Elizabeth: A Season of Courtship and Darcy & Elizabeth: Hope of the Future complete the “prequel to the sequel” duo recounting the betrothal months before the Darcy Saga began.

Sharon is a native Californian relocated in 2013 to the green hills of Kentucky, where she resides with her husband of over thirty years. Retired from a thirty-year profession as a registered nurse in Neonatal Intensive Care, Sharon is pursuing her dream as a full-time writer.

Sharon is a member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, JASNA Louisville, the Romance Writers of America (RWA), the Beau Monde chapter of the RWA, and serves as the website manager and on the board of the Louisville Romance Writers chapter of the RWA.

Sharon is the co-creator of Austen Authors, a group blog for authors of Austenesque literary fiction. Visit at:

Connect with Sharon at the following places—


Facebook: Sharon Lathan, Novelist

Twitter: @SharonLathan

Pinterest:  SharonLathan62

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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Music Review and Giveaway: Glory Song by Matt Redman

Matt Redman, possibly most known for his popular Christian song, "10,000 Reasons" has a new album coming out soon!  It's called Glory Song, and it contains thirteen tracks with not only Matt Redman, but several guest artists.

  1. All Glory, featuring Kierra Sheard
  2. Gospel Song, featuring Guvna B
  3. Greatest Hallelujah
  4. Gracefully Broken, featuring Tasha Cobbs Leonard
  5. One Day (When We All Get to Heaven)
  6. Redemption Ground, featuring Madison Cunningham
  7. It is Finished
  8. Questions (You Are Faithful)
  9. Still I Will Sing
  10. Place of Praise, featuring Kim Walker-Smith
  11. Hope is Marching On
  12. Simple Pursuit/Glory Song
  13. Your Ways

When I received my review copy of the CD, I wasn't in a place where I could listen to it just yet. However, I opened the case and took out the liner notes, which featured the lyrics for all the songs. I love tunes with a good hook, but if I'm listening to a Christian album, I especially appreciate it if the lyrics are compelling and are theologically on point.

To be honest, I wasn't bowled over by the lyrics.  Yes, they were absolutely on track with my personal theology. Matt Redman is an accomplished author himself, writing books and devotionals related to his musical work. So I'm sure he's taken many hours to choose just the right words for his songs.  And as one of the executive producers is Louie Giglio, a preacher I admire, I'm sure everything was properly vetted theologically before it was committed to the album. That being said, I didn't see much within the liner notes that was inventive or groundbreaking. I still wanted to give the CD a chance though, given that I hadn't heard a single note yet.

Initially my suspicions were confirmed with the first four tracks.  They're lovely tunes, again, with lyrics that could be used in any evangelical church. I just didn't care for the music. The inclusion of guest artist Guvna B seemed out of place, given Matt's usual style.  Perhaps he was trying to mix things up a bit, and from an artistic standpoint, I do applaud his wanting to branch out. It just didn't flow right for me. I wasn't repelled by these tracks per se, but I found them to be much like everything else I hear on Christian radio today.

Track four, "One Day" was a nice change.  The music was lovely, and I particularly liked how it employed the now-common method of merging new lyrics with an old hymn. Perhaps that's why I enjoyed this track more, because I was already familiar with a portion of the song. Again, nothing revolutionary was done here, but I really liked this track and plan to play it again in the future.

Track nine, "Still I Will Sing" did have a nice sound, with a faster beat and an almost '80s flavor, but ultimately I found it to be another track that would be shortly forgotten.

Heartfelt, earnest, and well-meaning, Glory Song would for the most part make a fine addition to any church worship leader's Sunday morning set list.  The production values are good, and Matt Redman does exhibit his considerable music talent within these tracks.  However, I cannot say that the album as a whole will be a memorable one as the years go by.  I remain a Matt Redman fan, but I look forward to another collection, one where he might stretch his lyrical and musical wings just a little bit more.


Although this wasn't a glowing review, I would still like to give away a copy of Glory Song  to one of our U.S. continental readers.  Perhaps the Lord has a personal message for you within these tracks that will touch you in a special way.  To be eligible to win, comment below and include some way for me to contact you (email, social media handle, etc.) if you are chosen.  Comment ideas: What is your favorite Matt Redman song? Who is one of your favorite singer/songwriters, from any genre? What was the last album you listened to, from beginning to end?

Contest concludes at 12:01am on Saturday, October 7th. Open to continental U.S. mailing addresses only. I will contact the winner shortly thereafter for their delivery mailing address.  If I don't get a response from the winner within 72 hours, I will choose another name.  Giveaway prize administration will be facilitated by FlyBy Promotions. Thanks for entering!

Below I've included a music video of Matt singing "Gracefully Broken", so you can get the feel for the sound of the album.

Pre-Order Glory Song

Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post. Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway. If you have won a prize from our sponsor Propeller /FlyBy Promotions in the last 30 days on the same blog, you are not eligible to win. Or if you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Book Review and Giveaway: Conceit and Concealment by Abigail Reynolds

~ Pride & Prejudice meets Alternate History ~

Six years after Napoleon’s invasion of England…

Fitzwilliam Darcy is a traitor. He even admits to collaborating with Napoleon’s troops. And Elizabeth Bennet despises all traitors.

But she can’t make sense of Darcy. He doesn’t act like a traitor. He risks his own safety to save young women from the French. And how can she despise a man who loves puppies? Something about him doesn’t add up – and she finds him far too attractive.

Then Darcy’s carefully constructed world crumbles, and he must entrust his closest-held secret to Elizabeth. To protect that secret, Elizabeth must disappear entirely, leaving her family and Darcy behind, to plunge herself into the dizzying world of fashionable London and the dangers of the Loyalist Resistance. Nothing will ever be the same again.

Darcy is determined to find Elizabeth. Now that she knows the truth about him, there’s nothing to keep them apart – nothing, that is, until the day Darcy is forced to choose between his country and the life of the woman he loves…

At the at the end of the 18th and at the start of the 19th centuries, it was a common fear among the English that Napoleon would invade their lands. The Frenchman made more than one attempt, and there were rumors that he even had plans for an aerial attack by military balloon!  Napoleon’s main obstacle was the English Channel.  This stretch of water enabled the English to defensively avoid invasion again and again. In Abigail Reynolds’ latest Austenesque novel Conceit and Concealment, she posits an alternate reality, wherein Napoleon has managed to lure much of the English navy away to the West Indies, thereby leaving the Channel open for an invasion. This reality is also set within the world of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, featuring many characters from that beloved novel.

I have read several of Abigail’s novels, with my favorite being Mr. Darcy’s Obsession, which I reviewed in 2010. Next to Obsession, I would have to say that Conceit and Concealment is my next favorite of hers! While the story veers wildly from the source material, Reynolds has her characters retain the same tones and values of their originals. Mr. Darcy is a responsible, wealthy man who is not prone to hyperbole and is quite discreet with important secrets. Elizabeth Bennet is a strong, loyal woman who will do what is necessary to stand by her beliefs and support her loved ones and friends. Within Abigail Reynolds’ alternative reality, Darcy and Elizabeth find themselves in a grand enterprise, one that will test the limits of their principles and physical well-being.

My Pick for Kit Darcy
Conceit and Concealment was a delight to read, an adventure with unexpected revelations on numerous occasions throughout the novel. One major plot twist near the outset of the story had me gasping aloud in surprise and amusement. Throughout the narrative, Reynolds held my attention with excellent storytelling, tantalizing (but not immoderate) romance, and a touch of espionage. I loved the addition of a younger brother for Mr. Darcy, the twenty year-old Christopher “Kit” Darcy.  I pictured the English actor Tom Holland (Spider-Man: Homecoming) for the part of Kit.

In addition to reading the Kindle edition of Conceit and Concealment, I also enjoyed “reading” about half the novel via audiobook from  During times when I could not sit and read, I listened to the dulcet tones of Elizabeth Klett as she shared the story with me.  Ms. Klett’s performance was excellent, and I would liken her accent to that of a mature Emma Watson, also known as Hermoine Granger of the Harry Potter films. Her tone was appropriately posh and intelligent, without being distracting. I was able to work through household chores or run my errands in the car as I listened in.

Due to my graduate school studies these days, I don’t have as much time for book reviewing as I used to. So I have to be very selective in the titles that I do choose to enjoy when I’m not studying. Conceit and Concealment was an excellent diversion, and I can heartily recommend it to anyone, but I suggest it to Janeites in particular. As mentioned, the story is very unlike Pride and Prejudice, but the characters retain their original demeanor, and the tale that Reynolds weaves with them is quite enjoyable. Find a cozy spot to read, (even a hayloft will do) and enjoy what might have been…

About the Author

Abigail Reynolds may be a nationally bestselling author and a physician, but she can’t follow a straight line with a ruler. Originally from upstate New York, she studied Russian and theater at Bryn Mawr College and marine biology at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole. After a stint in performing arts administration, she decided to attend medical school, and took up writing as a hobby during her years as a physician in private practice.

A life-long lover of Jane Austen’s novels, Abigail began writing variations on Pride & Prejudice in 2001, then expanded her repertoire to include a series of novels set on her beloved Cape Cod. Her most recent releases are Mr. Darcy’s Journey, the national bestsellers Alone with Mr. Darcy and Mr. Darcy’s Noble Connections, The Darcys of Derbyshire, and Mr. Darcy’s Refuge. She is currently working on a new Pemberley Variation and the next novel in her Cape Cod series. Her books have been translated into five languages. A lifetime member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, she lives on Cape Cod with her husband, her son and a menagerie of animals. Her hobbies do not include sleeping or cleaning her house.

Giveaway - Ebook and Audio!

Abigail Reynolds has graciously offered to give three of our readers Conceit and Concealment! Two international winners will receive the ebook edition of the novel, and one U.S. winner will receive the version.  The first randomly-chosen U.S. name will be our audiobook winner. The remaining two randomly-chosen names will receive the ebook edition. The contest will conclude at 12am EST on Sunday, September 24, 2017. Please utilize the Rafflecopter widget below to enter. The only required entry is your contact information, so that we may get in touch with you should you win. All additional options are for extra entries, increasing your chance of winning.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Book Review and Giveaway: Understanding Elizabeth by Robin M. Helm

Mr. Darcy is tempted beyond what he can endure when Elizabeth Bennet leaves her private journal entries in the parlour of Netherfield. Upon reading her writing, he is appalled to find that she overheard his unflattering remarks at the Meryton Assembly and despises him for his thoughtless comments. He wishes with all his heart that he could undo the damage.

During a restless sleep, he dreams of two powerful beings who can give him his heart's desire - Elizabeth's admiration, respect, and love.

Will he take the offer to change the past so that he never makes the offensive statement? Will he make a deal with the Devil, or is the price too dear?

What would you do to get exactly what you want? How much would you be willing to pay?

For more than five years, author Robin M. Helm has been a unique voice in the Austenesque community. In her Guardian trilogy, she offered a supernatural twist on Pride and Prejudice, imagining some of Austen’s characters as spiritual creatures, with Darcy as Chief of Guardian Angels. Her next series, Yours by Design imagines Darcy as a historical figure who is magically transported forward in time, taking on the life of another Darcy in the 21st century. In her latest work, Understanding Elizabeth, there is an element of spirituality involved, but for the most part the tale is firmly grounded in Austen’s world of Pride and Prejudice.

Unlike her previous novels, Robin Helm stays securely in Austen’s time period and also retains many of the same plot points as in Pride and Prejudice. She is able to make the story very much her own, however. New details and scenes are injected, such as Darcy and Elizabeth enjoying diverting chess games together, and Darcy’s discovery of some of Elizabeth’s personal writings. In addition to this new narrative content, Helm also adds a spiritual component. On occasion the reader is privy to Darcy’s dreams, wherein he encounters an angel of light and a demon of darkness. During these times of lucid unconsciousness, Darcy is presented with the opportunity to change the past. As he regrets some unflattering statements that he made at the Meryton Assembly, a part of him wishes he had never uttered those words. He regrets hurting Elizabeth’s feelings, and he knows that it was his poor attitude that night which tarnished her perception of him.

While this supernatural element is certainly part of Understanding Elizabeth, it is not as dominant as I thought it would be. Helm brings about these interactions with the angel and demon only occasionally, leaving the Austenesque content to be the dominant story line. Indeed, the writing throughout the novel is strong enough that the spiritual component could have easily been left out, and the resulting work would have been just as enjoyable. On the other hand, without the angel and demon, Understanding Elizabeth would not have this unique storytelling device to give Darcy’s character more depth. Through these dreams we are able to see how he wrestles with his past, and how he chooses to go forward with his life.

 As mentioned, this is Robin Helm’s seventh published title, a stand-alone novel after her two trilogies. While I have enjoyed her work previously, I found Understanding Elizabeth to be her strongest writing to date. She is well suited for the 19th century/Austenesque genre, incorporating good research and history into her enjoyable narrative. As a Christian, I appreciated the interjection of the spiritual element, but those not of that religious persuasion can still take in the novel without feeling alienated. The inner struggle that Darcy endures is one common to all of us, regardless of our religious affiliation. How often have we all wished we could go back and retract words or actions in our past? How often do we speak before we think? This is a common malady known to all of us, which makes Helm’s Darcy very relatable.

Robin Helm continues to grow as a writer, and I’m happy to offer my recommendation to Understanding Elizabeth. Austenesque fans will be quite pleased with this work, as it presents a fresh take on Pride and Prejudice in an entertaining new way. For those of you who are new to this genre or to Robin Helm’s work, Understanding Elizabeth is a great place to start.


Author Robin Helm has generously offered a giveaway to our readers! For our U.S. domestic participants, one winner may have their choice of ANY one Robin Helm novel, either paperback or Kindle.  For one international participant, they may choose any one of her titles on Kindle.  The contest will be open until 12am EST on Saturday, June 10, 2017. Please utilize the Rafflecopter widget below to enter.  Good luck!

Contest Update:  It has been noted by a contestant that the Rafflecopter is not always "recognizing" members when they come back on subsequent days for bonus entries (like the daily Twitter credit). Rest assured that all entries are being counted by the system, so if you return on a later date to get your daily Twitter credit, you don't need to re-enter things like "Facebook Group Member", which is only going to count once.  If the Rafflecopter does not recognize you on a subsequent day, be sure to enter your contact information (so I know it's you) before listing your daily tweet.  Before I run the raffle at the end of the contest period, I will make sure that any unnecessary duplications will be deleted.  If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at  Thanks for participating!

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About the Author

Robin M. Helm is the author of a modern Christian fantasy fiction series, The Guardian Trilogy, which includes Guardian, SoulFire, and Legacy. She has also published the Yours by Design series, a Christian Regency/Modern Romance with a paranormal element. Accidentally Yours, Sincerely Yours, and Forever Yours are all available for purchase in both e-book and print formats.

Mrs. Helm shares a blog, Jane Started It, with the other writers of the Crown Hill Writers' Guild, and is one of the founders and administrators of, a website for readers with common interests. She also has published three Regency short stories, "First Kiss," "The Prize," and "Treasure Chest," which can be read on Jane Started It on her author's page or at She has one husband, one granddaughter, two daughters, two sons-in-law, four family dogs, five part-time jobs, and six published books.

Mrs. Helm is the Associate in Music and Music Academy Director at her church, the interim choir director, a piano teacher, and an elementary music teacher. She formerly taught high school English.

She graduated with a BA from Piedmont International University. She is a member of the Delta Epsilon Chi honor society, the American Legion Auxiliary, JASNA, and the scholarship faculty of the United States Achievement Academy.

Connect with Robin M. Helm

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Accidentally Yours

Monday, March 6, 2017

Book Review and Giveaway: The Particular Charm of Miss Jane Austen by Ada Bright and Cass Grafton

What would life be like if something had prevented Jane Austen from ever publishing any of her books? Dedicated Janeite, Rose, is about to find out!

It’s September, and the city of Bath is playing host to the annual Jane Austen Festival, a celebration of the famous author and her works.

Rose Wallace, Bath resident and avid Jane Austen fan, can’t wait for her friends to arrive and the Festival to start, unaware one of the recently arrived guests will turn her life upside down by sharing with her a secret that ultimately puts Jane Austen’s entire literary legacy at risk.

With the support of a displaced two hundred year old author and a charmed necklace, can Rose help to bring back some of the most beloved stories of all time and turn her own life around in the process?

The Particular Charm of Miss Jane Austen is a combination of so many aspects of literature that I find enjoyable.  Most obvious is the “Austen factor”, with the bulk of the story being set in the city of Bath during the annual Jane Austen Festival, with numerous references to the celebrated author’s works and life history.  Authors Ada Bright and Cass Grafton deftly transport their readers to this glorious city, making this reader even more desirous to travel abroad and attend the Festival. These women clearly have attended the event on at least one occasion—the level of detail surrounding it is quite deep, giving the reader a true inside view of what it would be like to attend.  Bath, with its world-renowned Festival is most certainly the epicenter of all things Austen.

Set in the midst of this is the fantastical tale of Rose Wallace, Janeite and long-time admirer of a certain archaeologist who is an annual speaker at the festival.  Through her employment at a local agency, not only does she reside in Bath, but she also enjoys assisting Dr. Aiden Trevellyan as he prepares for his annual lecture.

Within Rose’s story comes the next literary device that I delight in so much.  While in the middle of the Festival, Rose meets a woman who turns out to be Jane Austen.  Not just any woman named Jane Austen-- THE Jane Austen herself!  How does this long-since-passed author come to be in the 21st century?  Through the beauty of time travel, of course!  Those of us who are time travel fans must always process the moment of this seemingly impossible event-- wherein we must suspend our disbelief and go along with the plot line.  I must admit I found the method in which Austen is able to time travel to be a tad unbelievable, but it was easily surmountable, given my love for time travel stories.  However, I can say that there comes a moment in which Jane finds herself in a bit of a quandary time travel-wise, and in that particular moment I found the change in plot to be a bit hard to swallow (pun intended, to those who know of which event I speak). That being said, the story is such fun, I moved on with the narrative, enjoying it quite a bit.

An unexpected aspect of Particular Charm that I found surprising was the amount of Harry Potter references within the book.  Bright and Grafton are clearly fans of the J.K. Rowling series, and they manage to insert quite a few mentions of characters and Potter-related subjects within the tale.  As someone who has read all of Rowling’s Potter books and has seen all of the movies (the latest Fantastic Beasts being a temporary exception), having those winks to that universe was a delight.  However, there were times when I wondered if readers who are unfamiliar with Potter might find themselves a bit lost during those moments.  Fortunately the Rowling references are largely inconsequential, so non-Potter fans need not worry too much about that factor.

Although I felt the plot pace slowed considerably during the last few chapters of the book, overall I highly enjoyed The Particular Charm of Miss Jane Austen.  The characters were relatable, likeable, and I found myself rooting for them in a number of ways.  Rose’s interest in Dr. Trevellyan was tantalizing, and I could very much see myself in Rose.  There were many times during my days as a single girl that I pined away for men who seemed clearly out of my reach.  I remember that ache.  I also remember what it was like when one day, one of those crushes turned his attention toward me.  It was almost unbelievable, and I remember the nervousness of those days quite well.  Like Rose, I wasn’t always the most eloquent of ladies and frequently struggled with self-doubt and self esteem issues.  This character is very true to life, and I enjoyed watching her journey through time and the minefield that romantic interests can bring.

A bit of a spoiler warning:  I know there are some of you out there who enjoy reading the end of a book before beginning it in earnest. I would encourage you NOT do to this for Particular Charm. There is something that occurs in the final moments of the book that had me hooting with delight-- literally, out loud-- and I am so glad that I didn’t know about that moment from the outset.  In some ways, it reminded me of the final scene of the first Back to the Future movie.

Do yourself a favor: Firstly, and most certainly, read Particular Charm, especially if you are a Janeite.  And secondly, read it from beginning to end.  This is a fun, family-friendly story that I can heartily recommend.  Ada Bright and Cass Grafton could easily craft a sequel to this tale, and I'm glad to learn from Cass that this is indeed the plan.  If The Particular Charm of Miss Jane Austen is any indication, we are in for more entertaining diversions with our time-traveling Regency author!

Giveaway Time!

Ada and Cass have been so kind to offer a copy of the book up to one of our readers! The contest is open internationally, and ends at 12am EST on March 18, 2017. The winner may choose between a paperback copy or the Kindle edition. Just fill out the Rafflecopter widget below to enter. Good luck everyone!

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Saturday, March 4, 2017

Carolyn Miller’s The Elusive Miss Ellison

Handsome appearance counts for naught unless matched by good character and actions.

That's the firm opinion of not-so-meek minister's daughter Lavinia Ellison. So even though all the other villagers of St. Hampton Heath are swooning over the newly returned seventh Earl of Hawkesbury, she is not impressed. If a man won't take his responsibilities seriously and help those who are supposed to be able to depend on him, he deserves no respect from her. In Lavinia's pretty, gray eyes, Nicholas Stamford is just as arrogant and reckless as his brother--who stole the most important person in Livvie's world.

Nicholas is weighed down by his own guilt and responsibility, by the pain his careless brother caused, and by the legacy of war he's just left. This quick visit home to St. Hampton Heath will be just long enough to ease a small part of that burden. Asking him to bother with the lives of the villagers when there's already a bailiff on the job is simply too much to expect.

That is, until the hoydenish, intelligent, and very opinionated Miss Ellison challenges him to see past his pain and pride. With her angelic voice in his head, he may even be beginning to care. But his isn't the only heart that needs to change.

These two lonely hearts may each have something the other needs. But with society's opposition, ancestral obligations, and a shocking family secret, there may be too many obstacles in their way.

Fans of Georgette Heyer, Lori Wick, and Julie Klassen will enjoy the spirited exchanges between the bluestocking minister's daughter and the bruised war hero as they move past pride and presumption to a humbled appreciation of God's grace and the true strength of love.

The Ellusive Miss Ellsion has all the elements for the perfect read in my areas of interest.  Set in 19th century England, we have two colorful main characters who struggle with some of the same issues found in Pride and Prejudice.  There is the initial repulsion in their acquaintance. He comes from well-bred stock, while she is a meager minister’s daughter. There is at least one De Bourgh-like matron in the mix. The content is passionate, while still family friendly.  Christians will appreciate the spiritual moments sprinkled through the narrative.

While I do commend author Carolyn Miller for the aforementioned choices, I am sad to say that I did not enjoy this novel.  The amiable elements are there, but for some reason, I was not fond of the story. The characters seemed bland to me, and Miller’s writing wasn’t the strongest I’ve ever read. In fact, there were some overused phrases that became so frequent, they became an annoyance.  The one in particular I’m thinking of is the mentioning of “flushed”, “heated” or “pinked” cheeks.  It seemed on every other page, there was a mentioning of cheeks and how they were being warmed or tinted due to riled emotions, whether they be positive or negative feelings.

I do not want to be overly harsh in my criticism of The Ellusive Miss Ellison. While I did not find it fascinating, I can easily recommend it to lovers of Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, Julie Klassen and other Christian authors, if only based on content-related issues.  Perhaps others can look past the writing style, and perhaps they will find the characters to be more compelling than I did.  As the beginning of a series, Ellison is a fair start, and perhaps as the collection continues, the storytelling will improve.

Regency romance fans have another must-read novel to add to their lists: Carolyn Miller's The Elusive Miss Ellison. Enjoy the spirited exchanges between the bluestocking minister’s daughter and the bruised war hero as they move past pride and presumption to a humbled appreciation of God’s grace and the true strength of love. These two lonely hearts may each have something the other needs. But with society’s opposition, ancestral obligations, and a shocking family secret, there may be too many obstacles in their way.

Settle in for a cozy night of reading with a cuppa and a Kindle from Carolyn!


One grand prize winner will receive:

Enter today by clicking HERE or on the icon below, but hurry! The giveaway ends on March 22. The winner will be announced March 23 on the Litfuse blog.


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