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Wednesday, 31 December 2014

My Favourite Reads of 2014

As is traditional at this time of year I've been looking back over the highlights and I thought I'd share my reading highlights with you. A lot of my reading is Austen-inspired, so here are my top 5 Austenesque and other reads, all of which I'd rate as 5 star reads.

Austenesque (in no particular order!)

Book cover - The Subsequent Proposal by Joana Starnes
The Subsequent Proposal by Joana Starnes - This was my first read of the year and I just loved it! It's a Pride & Prejudice variation but it features characters from Persuasion too. What if Mr Darcy, in the throes of despair, contemplates a comfortable marriage with somebody he respects but doesn't love... and what if that somebody happens to be Miss Anne Elliot, a lady who I cannot hate, and who I know is in love with another?! This is a wonderful, light-hearted read, and I would highly recommend it. Although I've enjoyed all the books I've read by Joana Starnes this one is my favourite.

Book cover - Haunting Mr Darcy by Karalynne Mackrory
Haunting Mr Darcy by Karalynne Mackrory - This is a fantastic read too. Here poor Elizabeth returns from Hunsford knowing the mistake in judgement she has made regarding Mr Darcy. Distracted, she gets hit by an out of control carriage and slips into a coma. Elizabeth's subconscious transports her to the source of her distraction and her spirit finds herself tethered to Mr Darcy! Obviously in those times a person could only be in a coma for a very short time before they died, but how will Elizabeth's spirit return to her body? This book was just wonderful and I highly recommend it.

Book cover - Love at First Slight by J Marie Croft
Love at First Slight by J Marie Croft - Pride & Prejudice with a gender swap! Here we find the snobbish Miss Elizabeth Darcy becoming interested in a man from a lower position in society than she'd have expected to settle for, clergyman in training Mr William Bennet. I found this book fascinating, just from the point of view of how the author made various aspects of the story work when the genders of the protagonists were reversed. I also thought it was very interesting how differently I reacted to the characters when the genders were changed, it highlighted some bias in my views that I wasn't previously aware of - it's not often that I will read a book and learn more about myself!

Book cover - Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Bet by Marilyn Brant
Pride, Prejudice & the Perfect Bet by Marilyn Brant - the only modern Austenesque in my list. This is the follow up to Pride, Prejudice & the Perfect Match. It's unheard of for me to prefer a Jane and Bingley story to a Lizzy (or Beth-Ann in this case!) and Will story, but it happened here. I loved Jane in book 1, she was such a wonderful person and the truest friend that a girl could ever hope for so I was thrilled to read her story. Bing was a great protagonist too, I loved how much character there was under his playboy exterior, and how he taught Jane that she could still be nice without being taken advantage of, which is something I think canon Jane needed to learn too.

Book Cover: The Falmouth Connection by Joana Starnes
The Falmouth Connection by Joana Starnes - In this book we see Elizabeth Bennet leaving Hunsford before Darcy can propose. She goes to Falmouth, to visit a relative of her mother's. It takes some time for poor Darcy to locate her and by this point he has realised that he may have mistaken Elizabeth's affections and he's not sure whether she likes him at all. Added to this he has a number of potential issues in the form of his horrible nemesis, George Wickham, who is working as a steward in the area, a titled and rich rival for Elizabeth's affections, and the horrible suspicion that something fishy is going on and Elizabeth might be in danger. Luckily, Fitzwilliam Darcy doesn't give up easily! This was a really exciting story, we get a sword fight, a delicious romantic interlude in a garden, and some great character development.


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Five non-Austenesque Picks

Book cover - North and South by Mrs Elizabeth Gaskell
North and South by Mrs Gaskell - I'd read this one before but I re-read it this year. This is a wonderful Victorian book, telling the tale of a young woman, Margaret, whose family are going to relocate to an industrial town in Northern England. Margaret meets a mill-owner, Mr Thornton, who she sees unfairly as a harsh and uncaring individual. John Thornton has had to be a tough man, he has hard to be, his life has been pretty hard. In these form of these two individuals we can see the lessons that North can learn from South and vice versa. There is quite a bit of social conscience message in this book, and there is a fair amount of misery for poor Margaret to endure, but the romance is deep and beautiful.

Book cover - Short Straw Bride by Karen Witemeyer
Short Straw Bride by Karen Witemeyer -This year I discovered the books of Karen Witemeyer and I just love them! They are set in the USA in the later half of the 1800s. Ms Witemeyer is a Christian author but how strong the theme is varies from book to book. What all the ones I've read have had in common is how gripping they are, I didn't want to put them down! My favourite books I've read by her so far have been her books on the Archer Brothers, who have two full-length novels devoted to them, as well as a novella. Short Straw Bride is the book which introduces the four brothers. Their mother died shortly following the birth of baby Neill, and their father died when the boys were still children. This is the old West, which is not a place for the weak or the fainthearted and when the father was dying he made the boys promise to protect their land, worrying that unscrupulous people would cheat the boys of their inheritance, however, the boys have kept their promise too well, scaring off friend and foe alike. When Meredith was a child she ended up on the Archer's land and had an accident to her foot which left her with lasting injuries, but she believes from her experience that the boys are decent people underneath their prickly exteriors, so when she hears of a plot to cheat them she goes to warn them, and ends up in a situation which means that her family end up demanding that one of the Archer brothers marries her. Meredith ends up walking in on the brothers drawing straws to decide who will be the bridegroom which of course is very embarrassing for her, but what she doesn't realise is that the reason they are drawing straws isn't because nobody is willing, but because they all are! Luckily for Meredith one of them is not willing to leave her future up to chance, but they'll all have to work together to ensure a safe and happy future for the Archer clan.

Book cover - Stealing the Preacher by Karen Witemeyer
Stealing the Preacher by Karen Witemeyer - This is the second book relating to the Archer brothers. Here, Crockett has finally been able to leave the family homestead and he is going to try and get a job as a preacher. He is en route to an interview when the train is held up by bandits. These are no ordinary bandits though, they are older than usual, and rather than wanting money they want a preacher... as a birthday present for one of their daughters! Joanna is horrified at what her father has done, but she is determined to do what she can to persuade the preacher to stay, as she wants to cement the future of the community, and she worries about her father's spiritual health too. She thinks Crockett could be just what is needed for everybody, he is a man who practices what he preaches and is a good, honest Christian. Since this is a book where faith is a huge part of the story, the Christian theme is strong in this book, but it's natural when you consider what the storyline is. There is also a very lovely romance and one of the sweetest and nicest heroines you could imagine.

Book Cover: Jane of Lantern Hill by L M Montgomery
Jane of Lantern Hill by L M Montgomery - I've read a lot of L M Montgomery but this was a new read for me. Jane is a child who doesn't belong. She lives with her mother, aunt and grandmother. Jane's grandmother is in charge and she adores Jane's mother, but it's a selfish, twisted love, and she resents everybody else, particularly poor Jane. Nothing Jane is or does is ever right. Jane's parents haven't lived together for a decade, although they are still married, and her father is a stranger to her. One summer, he demands that Jane visits him during the summer holiday. Poor Jane dreads the visit, but she goes and finds that suddenly she understands who she is and finds a kindred spirit in her delightful father. Jane is encouraged to do things that play to her strengths and her petals unfurl as she becomes the child she always ought to have been, such a beautiful story!

Just to mix it up from all these classics, Christian fiction and wholesomeness I present you with my last choice, which is:

Book cover - Wallbanger by Alice Clayton
Wallbanger by Alice Clayton - I am not usually a big fan of chick lit, it's sometimes just a bit too silly and fluffy for me, but if it's written with wit and humour then I can really enjoy it and this was one of those instances (although please note that there is both sex and bad language in this book).  Caroline has a dream job and now a dream apartment - the only flies in her ointment are that she is sexually frustrated, and her neighbour keeps her awake entertaining his ladyfriends. Over time Caroline and Simon, aka 'Wallbanger' form a friendship of sorts, a fun relationship full of innuendo and banter, but could the wallbanger ever settle down with one woman and get rid of his 'harem'?

What were your favourite reads of 2014? I've been so lucky with my reads in 2014, I only hope that I have such a nice selection to choose my favourites from next year! Happy reading to you all in 2015!


Monday, 29 December 2014

To Refine Like Silver by Jeanna Ellsworth - Guest Post and Giveaway

Today I am welcoming Jeanna Ellsworth, author of 'Mr Darcy's Promise', 'Pride and Persistence' and 'To Refine Like Silver' to the blog. She will be sharing an excerpt with us, and there is a giveaway opportunity too! Read on for details...

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Thank you, Ceri, for hosting me on your blog! I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and I hope you were able to build lasting memories. It soon will be New Years and it causes me to reflect on the last year. I was able to publish two books this year, Pride and Persistence in the spring, and To Refine Like Silver in October as well as publish a second edition of Mr. Darcy’s Promise. I am so grateful for the readers and fellow writers who have taken a moment to review my books or just stopped by and said how they enjoyed it. Connecting with my readers is the fuel for this muse of mine.


Book cover - To Refine Like Silver by Jeanna Ellsworth
This is especially true for my latest book, To Refine Like Silver. I knew it would not be for everyone, particularly because it deals with some difficult topics like depression and rape, but also because the way our favorite characters learn to get over the hurdles in the book is to fully rely on God. Few JAFF books have a spiritual theme. I hope I have treated these topics respectfully but at the same time in such a way that speaks to those who might have suffered in similar ways.

Although I have never been sexually assaulted, it does not mean that those I know have not been hurt. In fact, one in three women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. About as many women will fight depression at some point. No one plans for these things to occur and at times we become quite blindsided. I fought depression for many years, have helped numerous people who themselves are depressed or they come to me for advice on how to help a loved one. Elizabeth gives some great advice that I stand by and pass on to anyone who asks me how to help a loved one. Unconditional love is more powerful than any pharmacological drug, but do not mistake me, medication is vital sometimes and we should not be afraid to seek medical help. If more people sought help early on and had a support system like Georgiana has, depression would rarely take anyone’s life.

In this excerpt, we are entering a very emotionally charged scene. Just hours before, Elizabeth was summoned to Pemberley to help Georgiana because she had very nearly attempted suicide. Georgiana confided in her what really happened in Ramsgate with Wickham (which is far worse than canon). Darcy is beside himself with worry. He just now heard that Wickham had sexually assaulted Georgiana back in the spring and he had a natural, guttural response and bellowed his anger toward Wickham in front of Elizabeth.

One of the things that draws Darcy to Elizabeth is her glow and love of life. He sees almost immediately that his anger seemed to affect Elizabeth more than normal and it tempers his response. I think I have set you up enough for the excerpt I wish to share. Enjoy!


*****

Darcy considered her idea. But then he remembered the pain in Georgiana’s eyes. “You say God designs our trials as lessons; if that is so, He has dealt too harshly with Georgiana. She is only fifteen, and I nearly lost her. I do not know if I can forgive Him for that.”

Elizabeth could feel the pain in his words. She had felt the same way many times. She hesitated only a moment, considering how much to reveal about her own past. “Although I know God designs my lessons, there were times when I questioned my strength,” she replied. “There were times when I wondered whether I would survive such harsh lessons. But I did survive, and I know Georgiana will too. After many years, I have learned that God does love me. When I hurt, He hurts also. When I grow, He rejoices. After all, if I lived an easy, carefree life, I would be a very dull person, having learned nothing.”

Dull. Something she said triggered a cascade of thoughts in Mr. Darcy. He looked at her with new eyes. She had said someone close to her had felt like Georgiana. She had said she survived and Georgiana could too. What did she mean by that? He looked at her, and he saw in the gold specks of her eyes that the answer was plain as day. She had been the one who had felt like Georgiana. That was how she had recognized the danger lurking.

The silence between them grew thick, and he knew not what to say. His angry reaction had dulled her sparkle, diminished her radiance. But yet she sat here with her reassuring hand on his, calmly guiding him through his visceral emotional response. Suddenly, they weren’t just discussing Georgiana’s past. He could see that she was reliving the very worst moments of her life, moments when she too had been quite melancholy, perhaps even suicidal. His heart ached to reach out and comfort her.

How could this glowing, captivating lady ever have been like Georgiana had been these last months? He couldn’t imagine her essence and love of life gone out of her eyes, but yet when he looked at her now, he caught a glimpse of dullness. He caught a glimpse of that blank stare. He felt his eyes tingle with the pricks of tears forming. He looked out to the lake and blinked them away. He knew now she had been right. His reaction could make or break Georgiana’s success in moving forward.

Elizabeth gave his hand a squeeze. She wondered if her family had reacted this way when they found out about her. She felt herself falter slightly in her inner strength and pulled her hand away. She said another quick prayer and looked up at his face, watching the emotions dance in his eyes. He was struggling. She so desperately wanted to help him, but the last few hours had been draining. Elizabeth had relived that wretched moment years ago at least a dozen times as Georgiana told her story. She wasn’t a fool and knew she would always have some pain with the memories, but she thought she had been more prepared than this. Looking down at her hands, she felt a chill go up her spine and knew the temperature was only partly to blame. She was startled when Mr. Darcy’s husky voice addressed her.

“Miss Elizabeth, obviously my reaction was all wrong. I do not know how to help her. Can you tell me about the person you once knew who went through something similar? What would have been the right thing to say to her?” He looked at Elizabeth’s eyes and saw her smile slightly, her glow slowly making its way back into her face.

“This person needed only one thing: unconditional love. No matter what happened to her, or how she behaved, she needed to know she would be loved and accepted. She felt she had lost control of her life. She felt there was no solid foundation, and she was drowning in mundane tasks as simple as breathing. What got her through it was the unconditional love of her sister and father, but most importantly, she learned that God also loved her unconditionally.”

“So, you think Georgiana needs my love, not my anger?”

“I do. She did not want to see your reaction, and I am afraid she was correct in her hesitation. When you see her, you need to embrace her with love. She needs to see that you look at her no differently; you need to forget the images in your head right now. She needs to see that what she went through does not define her. Let her know that this thing that Mr. Wickham did does not diminish her worth as a person. Do you think you can do that?”

“Of course Georgiana’s worth is not diminished! If anything, I love her more than ever! To imagine she suffered all these months alone is heartbreaking. I want to be there for her in any way I can! I do not want to let her down.”

Elizabeth breathed a sigh of relief and stood. “Good. She will need to hear that. She will need it more than you know.” She smiled weakly and started walking back to the house. Mr. Darcy followed her, taking long strides to catch up. He put his hand on her arm and gently stopped her.

“Miss Elizabeth, I am sorry for reacting the way I did. I should have been more in control of myself.”

“Mr. Darcy, emotions cannot be helped. One cannot stop the rain from falling, but we can be wise enough to seek shelter instead of getting wet. What I am trying to say is, it is what we choose to do with our emotions that is important. Now, Georgiana said she would be waiting in the yellow sitting room. We have been gone some time now, and the sun has set. I suggest we go find her.”

Mr. Darcy didn’t offer his arm this time. He needed to focus on Georgiana and controlling his reaction when he saw her. As much as he liked feeling Elizabeth’s hand wrapped around his arm, now was not the time to play the gentleman suitor. They entered the house, and they both silently walked to the yellow sitting room. He took one more look at Elizabeth’s encouraging face.

Elizabeth put her hand on his arm and whispered, “You can do this. She just needs your unconditional love.”


*****

I hope you enjoyed this emotional scene. It was a hard one to write but it has ended up being one of my favorite moments in the book. I hope that this book has influenced you and you are more prepared to fight the demons you or your loved ones might face.  I have said all along that people will either hate it or love it. I hope you love it. To Refine Like Silver is my favorite of all the books I have written because it is so close to my heart. In it, the characters learn that our trials, whether they be physical or emotional, do not define us, but if we let them, they refine us into better people.

I want to do two giveaways: One paperback of To Refine Like Silver (I am making both giveaways INTERNTIONAL!!) and one bar of Fitzwilliam Darcy soap from Shirley’s Handcrafts which, if you do not win, can easily be found on Etsy.com. Here is the link: https://www.etsy.com/shop/ShirleysHandicrafts?ref=search_shop_redirect

All you have to do is comment below. I love to answer questions about the book or my writing and you will find I am an open book about depression. We have had some fabulous discussions on the blog tour and I hope this will be just as engaging. Good luck in the giveaway and thanks again, Ceri, for hosting me!


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Thank you so much to Jeanna, for sharing this powerful excerpt with us, and offering a giveaway too. To enter, just leave a comment for Jeanna, and please tell me which prize you'd prefer to receive if you are one of the lucky winners, otherwise, I'll assume you are equally happy with either. Please leave a way for me to contact you should you win, email address, twitter handle etc. Jeanna is very kindly making both giveaways open to international entrants. Closing date for entries is now Wednesday 7 January 2015.

If you'd like to know more about Jeanna, you can catch up with her over at her blog, Goodreads author page, or on twitter.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Letters from the Heart - Winner

Thanks again to Rose Fairbanks for offering a giveaway along with her guest post. The winner of the ebook is.... drumroll.....

Anji!

Thank you to all who commented. Anji, I will be in contact!

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Mr Darcy's Christmas Calendar by Jane Odiwe

Book cover - Mr Darcy's Christmas Calendar by Jane Odiwe
I read a lot of books inspired by Jane Austen’s works but this is something quite different; rather than a variation on her works, this involves time-travel, a visit into a Jane Austen novel and features Austen as a character too. Lizzy Benson has gone to visit Chawton (Jane Austen’s home towards the end of her life, which is now open to the public as a museum). Here, Lizzy meets a pretty rude Museum employee, Mr Williams, but before she leaves in a huff, the situation is saved by another employee, a lady in period costume, who is doing a very good rendition of Mrs Bennet.
‘She reminded Lizzy of Mrs Bennet especially when she laughed like a young girl, her curls trembling as she disappeared through a door at the end. Lizzy suppressed a desire to giggle, and wondered how the lady managed to keep up her way of talking, as if she’d just stepped out of a Jane Austen novel.’
This lady convinces Lizzy to take an advent calendar, which she can pay for at the end of her tour, and she sends Lizzy off to change into period costume and meet with her daughters (more employees in character, Lizzy presumes). Trapped in Chawton by the snow, somehow, Lizzy finds herself as part of this world. The characters she is trapped with seem very real. She gets to know the Bennet family, and Mr Williams and even takes a trip to Derbyshire. The advent calendar appears to be very unusual, with the doors glowing before they are opened, and each picture has a resonance to what is happening that day.

Lizzy assumes that she is in Pride and Prejudice but some things are quite different. Elizabeth Bennet is very taken with a rich, charming gentleman from Derbyshire, a Mr Wickham(!), and when Lizzy mentions Mr Darcy nobody has ever heard of him!

“Is Mr Darcy here?” Lizzy asked tentatively 
Elizabeth shook her head. “I do not recall that name. Darcy, did you say? Is he a friend of yours?”

When Lizzy finally gets to meet Miss Austen she discovers that she has found herself in a draft of ‘First Impressions’ (this is the original title of ‘Pride & Prejudice’, a book that was worked and re-worked to give us the story that so many of us love). However, Miss Austen feels that something isn’t quite right with the story, and she requests that Lizzy help inspire her to improve the story. Lizzy can’t just tell Jane how to fix the storyline, all she can do is hint, as Jane needs to think up the details herself, and she tweaks at the characters, so they don’t always behave the same way from one day to the next. Mr Williams is included in this, so Lizzy isn’t even sure if he is real.

This was a very readable story, and I enjoyed seeing Austen’s characters interacting with their visitor Lizzy in this ‘book world’. I particularly enjoyed seeing Mr Darcy, when the character was introduced, as rather than the proud and somewhat haughty man we would be expecting, instead he is instantly besotted with Elizabeth, and so rather than be offended by him expressing an adverse opinion on her, she instead is put off by how much he likes her! However, Austen’s characters are very much secondary in this story, the main protagonist is Lizzy Benson, who is very likeable, although sometimes I was a bit surprised at her reactions to events. She accepts the time travel/book world issue almost without a blink and doesn’t seem at all worried that the fate of one of the most famous books in the English language may lie in her hands, though I accept that ‘First Impressions’ was an earlier version of it, so she may have felt that it was safe as long as the main issue of the hero of the story was resolved. She also integrates seamlessly into the earlier time when I thought there may have been some stumbling blocks, though since this is a book world rather than the real world there is some crossover of knowledge to the earlier time, such as knowledge of telephones etc, though none of them work of course.

The only thing I would have changed in this story is the main romance storyline. I didn’t feel the relationship was developed enough for me to buy into it and I didn’t find the ending really believable in modern times, though it was an enjoyable ending and full of Christmas feelgood. However, I very much enjoyed the part set in the world of ‘First Impressions’ and the way that Jane Austen was tweaking and developing the characters. This is an enjoyable read and I’d recommend it. It would be suitable for most people as there are no sex scenes or bad language in this book but you’d need to be willing to buy in to the fact that the action takes place in an alternate reality! This was no issue for me, so I’d rate it as a 4 star read.

4 star read


*I was provided with an e-book of this by the author for my honest review

Friday, 19 December 2014

Letters from the Heart by Rose Fairbanks - Guest Post and Giveaway

Today I am welcoming Rose Fairbanks to the blog to talk about something I bet we've all wished for one time or another; the chance to do things afresh. Rose's new book, 'Letters from the Heart' is new out this month, and is available in paperback and ebook already, however, she is kindly giving away an ebook of this book to a commenter on this post. I will hand over to Rose...

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Book Cover - Letters from the Heart by Rose Fairbanks
Blurb: Resolved to forget Elizabeth Bennet during a winter in London, Fitzwilliam Darcy writes a letter in bitterness of spirit. Frustrated by her growing obsession with the arrogant man, Elizabeth commits her thoughts to paper. But angry people are not always wise, and secret thoughts do not always remain secret. Compelled to face their selfishness and fears, their actions encourage those dearest to them to change as well.

Do-overs

I tend to be rather critical of myself. I often wish life came with a do-over option. A simple example is when I will repeat the first five bars of a song on the piano until I get it right, or I repeatedly take the same quiz online in order to memorize all United Nations recognized nations of the world, or repeatedly test myself to learn the monarchs of England and France in order. A more complex example is my first pregnancy. I was miserable because I was moving across country and changed my primary care three times. I had gestational diabetes and later high blood pressure. But I felt I simultaneously worried too much and yet spoke up too little. I wish I could do that time over. When I got pregnant again I suffered with a kidney infection throughout. It was hardly more pleasant but I did stand up for myself more and I worried less about mine and the baby’s health.  Another complicated example is my college trip to China, which I was sick during. I’m not quite sure how I’m going to manage a do-over on that one...

Letters from the Heart began as “The Best Laid Plans.” It was a themed short story with a word count limit. It was actually only the second serial JAFF story I wrote. The first one began the same way and I drastically went over the word limit, so for this particular prompt I wanted to challenge myself to remain within the limit. And I did; except the ending was terribly rushed. It was like falling off a cliff and ending on 7,999 words. 

I had used a vague outline, but drastically underestimated how much space it would take to accomplish. So, that was a learning lesson and I actually haven’t done a word limit story since. After finishing my full-length novel, which I hope to have out in Spring 2015, I pulled back out “The Best Laid Plans.” I gave it the ending I thought it deserved and expanded a few other parts as well. It ended up double the original length. 

I also had the benefit of betas who helped fine tune things and are a savior for me with finding the best sentence structure and correcting my grammar and punctuation. I should probably have a little pocket-beta to carry with me all the time, in case you couldn’t guess from this post. After these edits, the story got a new title, “Knowing You by Heart,” and was well received online.

A few months later I was talking with a friend about publishing this one as I was struggling with edits for my novel and she read through the story again and suggested I expand it further. After some thought I really saw the opportunities. This was like the ultimate do-over, the ultimate chance to get the story right. Freeing myself of what I thought a short story should be was illuminating. I felt like I really understood the characters so much better and had some very nice surprises by minor characters like Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, Jane and Bingley and even Lydia! 

Some may think I’m a bit crazy or neurotic to put so much effort into working on a story that was already finished two other times, but it will nag me forever if I have regrets. And isn’t that the heart of Pride and Prejudice? Our lovely couple have a host of regrets before their happy resolution. 

In Letters from the Heart it’s done a bit differently—letters for the original confrontation instead of verbally—but Darcy and Elizabeth are not the only ones to face their regrets. Will Bingley return to Hertfordshire with Darcy? Does Jane regret being so reserved? When Mr. and Mrs. Bennet learn of the poor image they project to the world and set for their daughters to follow, what will they do? And can even the youngest members of the story—Georgiana and Lydia—learn to face their failures? More than all this, once you’ve created this new opportunity for yourself, what on earth do you do next? Can you ever really be free of your fears and regret? Or like me and my second pregnancy do you just find something new to incessantly worry about?

To quote a lovely review I’ve received: 
“Love is the opposite of fear, not courage.”*

*Courtesy of Amazon reviewer: Avid Reader
Author bio: 

Rose Fairbanks fell in love with Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy twelve years ago.  Coincidentally, or perhaps not, she also met her real life Mr. Darcy twelve years ago.  They had their series of missteps, just like Elizabeth and Darcy, but are now teaching the admiring multitude what happiness in marriage really looks like and have been blessed with two children, a four year old son and a one year old daughter. She proudly admits to her Darcy obsession, addictions to reading, chocolate and sweet tea, is always in the mood for a good debate and dearly loves to laugh.

You can connect with Rose on Facebook, Twitter, and her blog: rosefairbanks.com

Now available - Letters from the Heart by Rose FairbanksGiveaway

Rose has very kindly offered to giveaway an ebook of 'Letters from the Heart' to a commenter on this post. This giveaway is open to international entrants, and the closing date is 26 December 2014. Please leave a way for me to contact you, twitter handle, email address etc. Many thanks to Rose for the guest post and giveaway!

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Winner - The Muse by Jessica Evans

Jane Austen's birthday - party Jane!
Today is the anniversary of our beloved Jane Austen's birthday! 239 years ago today the Austens welcomed their daughter with absolutely no idea of the legacy she would leave, which is a pretty awe-inspiring thought.

Well, I don't have a present for Jane, but instead I thought I'd celebrate by announcing the winners of 'The Muse' by Jessica Evans, so without further ado the winners are:

NovellaandbanannaBelle - Paperback copy 

and

td4bz - ebook

Congratulations! I will be contacting you soon to check delivery details. Many thanks to Jakki Leatherberry of Leatherbound Reviews for organising the blog tour and to Meryton Press for providing the books and allowing me to take part in the blog tour!

Edited 17/12: the winner originally selected for the ebook was lucky enough to win it from another blog, so I selected another using random.org.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Mr Darcy’s Challenge by Monica Fairview

Book Cover - Mr Darcy's Challenge by Monica Fairview
Earlier this year I read ‘Mr Darcy’s Pledge’ by Monica Fairview, which is book 1 of this story. If you haven’t read that book, then don’t start ‘Mr Darcy’s Challenge’, as it follows on directly from book 1, and don’t read on, as there are spoilers for ‘Mr Darcy’s Pledge’!

This book picks right up from where book 1 finished. Darcy had given up writing lists of what he wanted from a wife and was reaching the point where he was ready to propose again to Elizabeth Bennet, when unfortunately all his plans are derailed by tiresome Lydia eloping. Mr Darcy’s Pledge was to locate Lydia for the sake of her sister and then do some wooing.  He tears up his list of suitable qualities in a wife and romantically tosses them to the wind as he rides away, and then.... he realises that strewing the rare commodity of fine paper across the countryside his lady love is in the habit of walking through is by no means a good idea. He turns back, but it’s too late, Elizabeth is already in possession of some interesting bits of paper:
“I am afraid I am guilty of being wickedly inquisitive. However, I cannot repent because I am too excessively diverted,” she said. “This person has itemized his requirements for a wife. Can you conceive of such a thing? Quite as if he meant to prepare a plum pudding or a blancmange!” She laughed. “I cannot conceive what kind of person would do such a thing!” 
Any moment now, she would put two and two together and produce Fitzwilliam Darcy. If she did, all would be lost.
Things then go from bad to worse, and I could happily have given Darcy a good shake to hopefully get some sense into him! He sets off for London, having insulted Elizabeth again, discarding his pledge and potentially getting into an entanglement with a young widow. Mr Darcy’s Challenge will be to overcome his despair, act the part of an honourable gentleman and fulfil his pledge.

In the first book, one of the things I particularly enjoyed was the development of the character of Georgiana, who was struggling to overcome the damage to her self-esteem that the mistakes in judgement she made at Ramsgate had inflicted. Georgiana was really blossoming into adulthood and this continues here in book 2. We are privy to some of her thoughts, which I particularly enjoyed, as she is just as amusing as Darcy was in the first book:
 ‘If she did not hold herself in check, she mused, she would soon be in danger of becoming very much like her aunt Catherine.  
It was a sobering thought.’
Book Cover - Mr Darcy's Pledge by Monica Fairview
Darcy wasn't quite what I expected. In ‘Mr Darcy’s Pledge’ I was very fond of him. Although to me he didn’t quite seem like Austen’s Darcy he was very amusing, sometimes bordering on the eccentric, but here I liked him less, he was often overly despondent and sometimes petulant. He was also so impatient, and he would decide one thing and then immediately change his mind. We didn’t see much of Elizabeth in book 1 but I think she would have learned caution with her knowledge that she was so misled in her initial judgements of both Darcy and Wickham, however she doesn’t seem to have learned anything, and I was a little surprised at her family’s behaviour when they to look for Lydia in Brighton, as you would have expected them to be extremely worried and keep a low profile but instead it seemed like they were just looking for her while on holiday.

There were other characters I particularly enjoyed; Mrs Bennet showed some depth of character in her search for her daughter. Mr Bennet refused to take things seriously, which I found very tiresome. I felt the dynamic between the Bingleys and the Darcys was slightly different to ‘Pride & Prejudice’. Here, the families have been close for many years and seem on a familiar footing so you see Bingley and Darcy as more equal friends than in some variations. I very much enjoyed Mr Bingley’s character, he’s often very amusing:
“Did anyone ever tell you that your jovial pig-headedness is really quite annoying?” 
“Yes,” said Bingley, cheerfully. “Many times. I take it you want to go home and sulk.” 
“Something like that,” said Darcy. 
“Then you will not mind if I join you. A good long sulk will do me a world of good. You do not have a monopoly on sulking, you know. I have plenty to sulk about as well.”
Although I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as ‘Mr Darcy’s Pledge’, it was still very satisfying to see the story come to its conclusion and find out what happened with Lydia. I enjoyed the development of Georgiana’s character too. All in all, this is a fun, light-hearted read and I’d rate it as 3½ stars. I understand that there is another book in this series currently being written which is planned for release in the middle of next year, which I'll definitely plan to read. Although the story that began in 'Mr Darcy's Pledge' concluded in 'Mr Darcy's Challenge' I'd like to see what happens next.

3.5 star read

* I received an e-ARC from the author for my honest review.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Winner of a Choice of Ebook by Joana Starnes

Book covers - Joana Starnes
Thanks to everybody who commented on my review of 'The Falmouth Connection', and special thanks to Joana Starnes for kindly offering an ebook giveaway. I let my daughter choose a winner at random earlier and the name she drew out was:

Sophia Rose!

Congratulations Sophia! I will email you to confirm your choice of ebook.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Blog Tour - The Muse by Jessica Evans - Guest Post and Giveaway

Today I am welcoming Jessica Evans, author of 'The Muse'. This is a Pride & Prejudice-inspired modern story, set in the world of ballet. Jessica has a post for us about artistic inspiration, which is one of the themes of 'The Muse'. There's also an international paperback and ebook giveaway! So without further ado I'll hand over to Jessica.

Book Cover - The Muse by Jessica Evans
Blurb for The Muse

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?

* * *

From the beginning, I knew that the title of my story would be The Muse. Many years ago, this story lived in my head about an artist – a choreographer – and the muse who inspired him. Somehow, this story became intertwined with some of the themes and plotlines from Pride and Prejudice, and The Muse was born. Just as Lizzy and Darcy's relationship was shaped by conflict, I also thought the relationship of artist and muse was a problematic one. 

Think about the Greek myth of Pygmalion - the artist who fell in love with his perfect sculpture and eventually married her. The artist-muse relationship assumes that the artist (who is usually male) is a genius and the muse (usually female) is just his object, his vessel, a cold slab of stone waiting to be chiseled and molded. She, the muse, the art object, has no say in the creative process.    

But this is a misconception because most art is collaborative. Choreographers inspire dancers and dancers inspire choreographers. I wanted to portray this reality in The Muse.

In my story, William Darcy is a rising choreographer in the American dance world. A former superstar dancer whose career was cut short by a knee injury, he suffers from a bad case of artist's block. Thankfully, he finds his muse in Elizabeth Bennet, who, as a member of the corps de ballet, ranks very low in the ballet company's hierarchy. In the beginning of the story, we see this stereotypical artist-muse dynamic unfold: Darcy flagrantly uses Elizabeth for his own selfish purposes. She is his object; he sees her as an empty vessel without a personality or feelings or artistic desires of her own. She hates him for it and pushes back at him constantly, which, ironically, continues to challenge and inspire him.

When preparing this book for publication, a friend suggested that I change the title to Mr. Darcy's Muse. I was adamant that it remain The Muse, because this isn’t just a story about Mr. Darcy’s muse. Yes, in the first half of the book, Elizabeth is eponymous muse. But eventually, the roles reverse. In the second half of the book, Darcy begins to inspire Elizabeth’s dancing in unexpected ways. In a way, Darcy becomes Elizabeth's muse. 

To me the artist-muse relationship should be a symbiotic one - both artists evolve and grow by collaborating with each other. This is exactly what happens in The Muse between Elizabeth and Darcy. Their romantic relationship parallels their artistic relationship, going from one marked by conflict, selfishness, and strife, to one of equality, collaboration, and inspiration. To me, that’s what a creative relationship is all about.

* * *
Jessica Evans - Author of 'The Muse'
Author Bio for Jessica Evans

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.

You can catch up with Jessica on FacebookGoodreads and on her blog.

Giveaway!

Meryton Press have very kindly offered an international giveaway of one paperback and one ebook version (Kindle or Nook) of 'The Muse' to commenters on this post. Please specify if you'd like to enter the draw for only one format, otherwise I'll include your name in the draw for both, paperback first. Just leave a comment for Jessica including a way for me to contact you if you're a winner (twitter handle, email address etc. If you want to avoid spam please leave your email address with an (at) instead of an @). Last day for entries is Monday 15 December 2014.

Blog Tour

As this is part of a blog tour that means there are other stops that you can visit with guest posts, excerpts, reviews and chances to win a copy of 'The Muse'. Here are the stops:



1/12: Excerpt at My Kids Led Me Back to Pride and Prejudice
2/12: Review at Songs & Stories
3/12: Guest Post & Giveaway at More Agreeably Engaged
4/12: Review at Wings of Paper
5/12: Excerpt & Giveaway at Laughing with Lizzie
6/12: Guest Post & Giveaway at Babblings of a Bookworm
7/12: Guest Post & Giveaway at My Love for Jane Austen
8/12: Excerpt & Giveaway at Stories From the Past
9/12: Review at So Little Time...
10/12: Review at BestSellers & BestStellars
11/12: Author Interview at Wings of Paper
12/12: Review at Diary of an Eccentric
13/12: Review at Fairy Jane Tales
14/12: Excerpt at The Calico Critic
15/12: Review at Warmisunqu's Austen



Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Winner - Dearest Friends Giveaway

Earlier this evening, the winner of a copy of 'Dearest Friends' by Pamela Lynne was chosen. It's more fun to draw a name out of a hat than use random.org, so my son chose a winner at random and that person was....

Vesper Meikle

I am going to email Vesper now. Thank you to everybody who commented, and special thanks to Pamela Lynne for sharing the excerpt and providing the giveaway!

Monday, 1 December 2014

Planned Reading for December 2014

Hello everybody! November was an odd month, I had a lot going on which affected my reading, but I am hoping that I can have a good reading month in December, aside from Christmas preparations, of course.

Blog Tour - The Muse by Jessica Evans
I have some visitors due to visit my blog this month. Firstly, Jessica Evans, author of a modern 'Pride & Prejudice'-inspired story set in the world of ballet, 'The Muse' is coming for a guest post with a giveaway as part of the blog tour for the book. This book looks wonderful, and I can't wait to read it!

Book cover; Letters from the Heart - Rose Fairbanks
Then, Rose Fairbanks will be coming to call with a guest post and giveaway. She has a new book out this month, a historical 'Pride & Prejudice' variation called 'Letters from the Heart', which is one of my planned reads for the month. I believe that this is a sweet read, and there is no better month for a sweet read than December when I want to revel in feelgood feelings.

Book cover: To Refine Like Silver - Jeanna Ellsworth
At the end of the month Jeanna Ellsworth is due to come here with an excerpt. I have Jeanna's book, 'To Refine Like Silver' to read this month. In this 'Pride & Prejudice' variation where Darcy and Elizabeth meet under different circumstances, initially meeting in Derbyshire. Elizabeth becomes friends with Georgiana too. I purposely haven't read any reviews of this book in detail yet, because I like to go in with a blank slate and receive my own impression, but I understand that this book has quite a spiritual feel to it, and is quite inspirational.

Book Cover Mr Darcy's Challenge by Monica Fairview
My other planned read for the month is 'Mr Darcy's Challenge' by Monica Fairview. This is the follow up to 'Mr Darcy's Pledge', which I read earlier this year. I really enjoyed that book, but I didn't realise it was was only the beginning of the story, so I had a moment when I got a sinking feeling as I realised that the number of pages left weren't going to be enough to conclude things! I am told that this book finishes off the story so I'm looking forward to reading it.

If I have the time I hope to fit in some Christmassy reads too, we will have to see how it goes. I hope you have some good reads lined up for December too!