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Friday, 30 January 2015

The Vagabond Vicar by Charlotte Brentwood

Book cover - The Vagabond Vicar by Charlotte Brentwood
This historical romance deals with ambitious clergyman William Brook. He has a burning ambition to work abroad as a missionary in foreign climes. Currently William is based in London and ministers in very seedy areas, but he relishes the hard work and enjoys being needed by the people he helps. In William’s life he has never felt needed, as he was a surprise baby, being considerably younger than his two brothers and William’s birth started his mother’s descent into bad health. William is hopeful that he has proved his worth and will be sent off to minister abroad soon, but when he is offered a place it is instead as vicar to a small village. It would be the dream of most young clergymen to be offered a living like this, and career suicide to turn it down. With a heavy heart, therefore, William sets off for Amberley.

Meanwhile, in Amberley, Mrs Grant is despairing about the behaviour and future of her daughter Cecilia. She is a beautiful girl, but forgetful, flighty, and worst of all she will not apply herself to the task of husband-hunting despite her limited dowry. Cecilia only has one close friend and it’s surprising that her mother has allowed it; Amy was adopted by one of the villager families in Amberley and is now employed as a lady’s maid to the younger daughter of the main family in Amberley, the Barringtons. Whenever the Barrington ladies are at their home in Amberley, Amy is able to see Cecilia, even though Cecilia, as the daughter of a gentleman, is much higher in social standing. In fact, Mrs Grant has it in mind that Cecilia would do very nicely for the younger Barrington son, if he will have her, and she is intent on pushing together Cecilia and Mr Barrington as much as possible. Cecilia wants to make her mother happy, but foresees a long life ahead in which she will be an unhappy society wife so she is determined to try and enjoy herself now, while she is still able to.

Initially neither William nor Cecilia thinks very highly of the other but soon he realises that she has hidden depths and is unusually perceptive and Cecilia realises how truly William holds his convictions. But his future lies abroad and hers in society – doesn’t it?

I thought this was an enjoyable sweet romance, with a dash of drama that lovers of historical romance would probably enjoy. The only downsides for me were that some things, such as some of the words used and some of the behaviour seemed too modern, and class lines blurred too readily. I also felt that feelings developed a bit quickly in some areas and maybe lacked a bit of depth. Still, this was an enjoyable read and I liked William’s realisation relating to how his past had affected his attitude towards making relationships, which is something I hadn’t seen attempted in an historical romance before. I’d give this book 3½ stars.

*My thanks to the author, who provided me with an e-copy of this book for my honest review.

3.5 star read

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

The Beresfords by Christina Dudley

You may have wondered where I've been lately. Well, I had a netball injury which left me in hospital! I'm home now, but mostly chair bound for the next few months. I'm not happy about that at all, as you can imagine, but at least I can still read. Here is a review that I wrote before I was hospitalised but didn't get the chance to share with you.

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Book Cover - 'The Beresfords' by Christina Dudley
Last year, to celebrate the bicentenary of ‘Mansfield Park’ I embarked on a Mansfield reading challenge and found that there were slim pickings. I read a few Mansfield Park inspired books but they were all young adult. ‘The Beresfords’ is an updated version of Mansfield Park set in the 1980s and although our main character, Frannie Price is 14 when it begins I wouldn’t categorise it as YA.

Frannie went to live with her Aunt Marie’s family at age 6. Frannie’s mum was a drug addict, and so had brushes with the law and social services and Frannie’s aunt by marriage, Aunt Terri (the Mrs Norris character) suggests to her brother, Paul (the Sir Thomas Bertram character) that it would be the morally upright thing to do to bring his wife’s niece to live with them. Paul has 4 children from his first marriage, Tom, followed by Jonathan (Edmund), Rachel (Maria) and Julie.  Marie, Frannie’s aunt, is their step-mother. Marie has been in the Beresford children’s lives for around 13 years when our story begins and the Beresford children’s birth mother isn’t that interested in them, so they see Marie as their mother. Marie is very indolent, in a vague, ineffectual way, and though she is fond of them, she doesn’t put herself out much for anybody at all, so the raising of the children has mostly been done by Paul Beresford’s sister, Theresa, aka Terri or Aunt Terror. The only person who actually sees her as a terror is 14 year old Frannie, who Aunt Terri is always finding jobs for, when she isn’t reminding Frannie how much she owes her relatives.

Frannie is an interesting character. She’s so awkward, gauche and crushingly shy. She utterly adores Jonathan, who is the only person in the family who actually seems to care for her at all or see her as a person. Her other step-cousins resented her from the first, finding her uneducated and slow compared to them. They are all older than her, she’d had limited education before she’d come to live with the Beresfords and they are all academically more able than her. Jonathan dreams of becoming a pastor, and has instilled a lot of his beliefs into Frannie. The rest of the family are regular churchgoers but they only attend church because their strict father insists on it, it’s all lip-service. Tom is wild, always sneaking out to drink, and he’s gone away to college, where he has a pretty good time. One day, he brings home some friends from college, twins Eric and Caroline Grant (the Crawford characters). They are sophisticated and irreverent, and the Beresfords are immediately attracted to them, probably because they are just so different.
‘We’d never heard conversation like this before, and you could see us all draw nearer, like neighboring stars being sucked into a black hole.’
From the sidelines, Frannie resentfully watches as Caroline Grant casts her spell over Frannie’s beloved Jonathan while Caroline’s brother Eric toys with the affections of both Rachel and Julie, despite the fact that Rachel has a boyfriend, star of the baseball team Greg. Since Frannie is so overlooked, she is rarely noticed, which gives her an opportunity to watch the whole group closely. Although she is naive she sees the manipulations and the charm offensive that the Grants are pulling on the Beresfords, and mistrusts them accordingly.

I think all of the modern updates of 'Mansfield Park' that I’ve read have been young adult reads, and although you can see the events of 'Mansfield Park' they’ve not been anywhere near as complex. This was very different in that respect, I felt that it was easily the most faithful update that I’ve read. Frannie was so similar to Fanny Price – overlooked, seen as lesser by her stepcousins (here lesser in age and intelligence rather than social status) and by virtue of them all being so self-absorbed she is completely overlooked. In some respects she is quite ignorant and she is quite black and white in her judgements of people, but with her view of the Grants unobstructed by any attention to her from them she is able to make shrewd judgement of their characters. The downside for me of Frannie being so close to Fanny is that it took me a long time to engage fully with the book. Frannie isn’t really an engaging character! In ‘Mansfield Park’ there is a third person narrator making wry observations and intelligent comments but here it’s all from Frannie’s narrow and naive point of view which wasn’t as engaging.  Frannie is also very isolated which for me didn’t work quite as well in a modern setting. In ‘Mansfield Park’ Fanny doesn’t have much choice of companions. Her cousins aren’t interested in her, Fanny isn’t out in society and she would have had very little opportunity to meet people of a suitable class. Frannie could have met a much wider range of people, and if she wasn’t able to find many friends in school, she had other opportunities through church. Frannie comes across as quite a cold individual which makes her a little less likeable than Fanny Price, who had far less chance to find people to care for. Also, I felt that Fanny’s main weakness, being overly judgemental and not taking into account people’s backgrounds, is a fault that Frannie shared but never really overcame.

As I mentioned above religion plays a part in this book which people may not be expecting in a modern update. However, in my opinion it’s entirely fitting; in ‘Mansfield Park’, Mary Crawford is aghast at the thought of Edmund becoming a clergyman, and the difference in their spiritual viewpoint would be sure to take some bridging and compromise, and here it’s no different. Frannie being raised in an environment where religious teachings are given prominence also helps account for her attitude, which by modern standards is quite conservative. Conversely, rebelling against their religious upbringing also explains some of Rachel and Tom’s behaviour, and the fact that they keep it so secret from their father.

Once I got past the first third or so of the book I was really gripped, and very impressed by how closely the relationship dynamics followed ‘Mansfield Park’. Frannie’s feelings were represented well, and I thought some of the things which may not have made sense in a modern update without tweaking were well-accounted for (such as Eric Grant suddenly noticing Frannie as an attractive girl – here it’s because he hasn’t seen her in a few years and she has changed quite a bit in that time and suddenly seems grown up to him). As I said, this is easily the most faithful update of Mansfield Park that I’ve read and what comes parcelled with that is that the cast of characters aren’t the most likeable you’ll find, though I felt differently to some of them compared to their characters in MP. Aunt Terri is always nipping away at Frannie but she’s not the horrible woman that Aunt Norris is, and I always had a soft spot for the Crawford that I didn’t find for Caroline Grant, though I still managed to find some pity for her brother! If you’re looking to read a modern update of 'Mansfield Park' I’d certainly recommend this one, and I’d rate it as 4½ stars.

4.5 star read

Monday, 19 January 2015

Stripping the Billionaire by Noelle Adams

Book cover: Stripping the Billionaire by Noelle Adams
This is the fourth book in the Heirs of Damon series, which follow the four nephews of Cyrus Damon. We were introduced to black sheep of the family, Ben, in the last book, which was ‘Engaging the Boss’ but Ben’s story gets told here. There were originally five Damon nephews – Ben had an older brother, but he died in a car crash years ago. In the past, Ben tried so hard to be everything that his uncle wanted, but he never felt loved in return, and when his uncle tried to control Ben’s life and dictate who Ben could date that was the final straw. Ben’s career would have been compatible with joining his uncle’s business, as he is an architect, but his determination to be successful on his own terms and without using the Damon name has led him to cut himself off from his family, even going so far as to legally change his last name. Ben’s attendance at his cousin Harrison’s wedding was a mistake as far as he was concerned, and he is determined not to be part of the Damon scene again.

Ben is not the most sociable of people – probably the only person he can count as a friend is the tenacious Mandy, who lives across the hallway from him.
'If he'd been smart, eight months ago when he'd returned from his cousin's wedding to discover someone new had moved in across the hall, he never would have opened the door to the pretty, smiling princess on his doorstep. 
She'd kept knocking on his door, asking for help with moving boxes and rearranging furniture, asking if he wanted dinner since she'd made too much. At first, he'd tried to discourage her, but eventually he hadn't even wanted to. 
Now he was stuck with her. 
Now he was starting to miss her when she didn't come over.'
Mandy is an interior designer who is just starting her own business. Her parents were rich and she’s inherited a lot of money from them following their untimely death in an accident when Mandy was just 17. Mandy doesn’t need to work but she wants to. The other thing that Mandy wants is a family of her own. Her guardian did his job financially, but offered nothing emotionally, dealing with business transactions on Mandy’s behalf but not really welcoming her into his family. Mandy is determined to find a husband and not waste her time dating men who aren’t serious about settling down, however, being a friendly and loving type of person she enjoys being on good terms with her neighbour, including Ben, who Mandy feels must be pretty lonely. Ben is decidedly not Mandy’s type. He’s not husband material, he’s not interested in settling down, he’s a little on the slobby side, pretty grumpy, and Mandy laughingly refers to him as a ‘hulking Neanderthal’. Mandy has been starting to have feelings towards Ben which she needs to stifle, as no matter how fond of him she is, he isn’t going to fit into the husband-shaped hole in her life. Ben is also very attracted to Mandy, but she is everything that would fit straight into the world of the Damons, and that’s a life that Ben has left behind him. Since Ben has a history of being a people-pleaser he doesn’t want to take a chance on taking on a partner who wants him to change into something he doesn’t want to be.

When Ben leaves town to do some renovation work on his mother’s house, in his hometown, Mandy begs to go with him to have the experience to add to her design portfolio.  But Ben still wants to keep his identity a secret, and they both need to fight against the attraction they feel as they want different futures.

I thought this was a really enjoyable, easy reading romance. Mandy was a loveable, sweet heroine, who just needed to relax her inflexible requirements. Ben was more of a mess, he had walls that he needed to let down to allow anybody else near him. You would need Mandy’s impressive level of tenacity to stick with him! I liked that he was a little different from a lot of romantic heroes, we need more hairy, grumpy romantic male leads if you ask me, I far prefer Ben to some bossy alpha male!

In this series, each book has led on to the next, like you’d expect in a series. As this was the last book in the series I liked the fact that this book dealt with Ben, whose brother was involved in the accident that caused the fallout that was resolved in book 1 of the series, it felt like the series came full circle.

Please note that there are a number of sex scenes in this book and some swearing, so if those things are not for you, steer clear.

I’ve really enjoyed this series. They have all been entertaining, light reads, perfect to whip you away from reality for a couple of hours without being too taxing. I’d rate this one as 4 stars.

4 star read

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Winner - Pride, Prejudice & Secrets

Book cover: Pride, Prejudice & Secrets by C P Odom
A winner has been selected at random for the ebook of 'Pride, Prejudice & Secrets' by C P Odom. Thank you to the author for his guest post, Meryton Press for the giveaway and Jakki from Leatherbound Reviews for arranging the blog tour. Without further ado, the winner is:

RS

Since no contact details were left with the entry, please can you contact me with an email address by end of the day on Saturday, RS? You can contact me through the details here. If I don't hear anything I'll choose another winner on Sunday. Thank you to all commenters :)

If you would like to enter other giveaways for this book, both paperback and ebook copies are up for grabs on other legs of the blog tour:

 4 Jan: Guest Post & Giveaway at My Jane Austen Book Club 
 5 Jan: Review at Margie's Must Reads
 6 Jan: Guest Post & Giveaway at Babblings of a Bookworm
 7 Jan: Review at Diary of an Eccentric
 8 Jan: Review at Wings of Paper
10 Jan: Review at The Calico Critic 
11 Jan: Excerpt & Giveaway at My Love for Jane Austen 
12 Jan: Guest Post & Giveaway at So Little Time…
13 Jan: Excerpt & Giveaway at Best Sellers and Best Stellars
14 Jan: Author Interview at Wings of Paper
15 Jan: Excerpt & Giveaway at Everything Books & Authors 
18 Jan: Review at The Delighted Reader
19 Jan: Guest Post at More Agreeably Engaged

But if you really can't wait, the good news is that 'Pride, Prejudice & Secrets' is now available to buy - you can buy it from Amazon US, UK, and very likely other Amazon sites too!

Monday, 12 January 2015

Holidays with Jane by various Indie Jane Authors

Book cover: Holidays with Jane Christmas Cheer by various authors
I saw this book featured on a few blogs and it sounded like something I’d really enjoy; a collection of contemporary short stories, each by a different Indie Jane author (Jennifer Becton, Melissa Buell, Rebecca M Fleming, Cecilia Gray, Jessica Grey, Kimberley Truesdale) and each focusing on a different one of Austen’s works. The stories have some linkage although they don’t cross over at all, for example, Catherine Morland runs a dressmaking business and she is making the Dashwood sisters’ dresses, Emma runs a gift shop where Edward buys a present for Elinor, and probably the strongest link is an Austen-themed coffee shop chain called ‘Mansfield Perk’. I really liked the fact that the stories were linked, it brought the book together nicely.

Here’s a quick rundown of the stories:

The Work of an Instant by Jennifer Becton, based on 'Persuasion'

Here, Dr Anne Elliot is a doctor on a naval base. She gave up her engagement to Frederick Wentworth 7 years ago, believing that she couldn’t bear the separations that would be inevitable once Frederick was working towards his dream of becoming a Captain. But Anne gets a chance, in the work of an instant, to realise that if she had her time again, she’d choose differently. This was a really lovely short story, which echoed back to the original in a number of ways. I particularly liked this part, showing the Miss Musgrove’s view of Anne, which I thought was really similar to ‘Persuasion’:
‘Of course, neither Louisa nor Henrietta had the least idea of what they had interrupted. They viewed her as some sort of asexual problem-solving machine. 
And perhaps that was all she was destined to be.
Well, if that were the case, then she would be the best asexual problem-solving machine possible.’
One thing that often doesn’t translate well to a modern update is Wentworth’s letter, which is possibly the most exquisite page of a book that I’ve ever read. This isn’t quite as delicious as that, but it was a very lovely and worthy letter, possibly the best modern update Wentworth’s letter I’ve read so far.

Mischief and Mistletoe by Melissa Buell, based on 'Northanger Abbey'

This was such a lovely story, featuring the sweet Catherine. She is the only daughter of a pastor, homeschooled, no TV and a small social circle which has resulted in her being extremely naive compared with most 18 year olds. However, Cate is a very talented designer and seamstress, running her own online business, ‘Cate’s Creations’. Most of Cate’s dresses are remade thrift store finds. Cate was taught to sew by her neighbour, Mrs Allen, who has taken her on as a bit of a protégé and given Cate a great opportunity - she is going to take on all the design work for costumes for a theatre production out of town. There she meets a young divinity student, Henry Tilney, whose sister Eleanor is going to assist Cate with the costume-making. The girls become firm friends, and when Cate needs to stay in the area longer than the Allens she arranges with Eleanor to stay at Northanger Estate. I enjoyed this story, but I would have liked for it to be developed a bit more.

A Tale of Three Christmases by Rebecca M Fleming, based on 'Sense & Sensibility'

This was a wonderful story, which made me both laugh and cry. The tears come from the situation Maggie Dashwood finds herself in. A few weeks before Christmas, Maggie’s father dies. She, her mother, and her sisters are probably going to have to move away from their family home due to an archaic clause which means that the property has to be willed, complete, to a male heir. Maggie goes up to her hideaway in the attic and finds a beautiful box. Inside is a notebook and a letter from her father, asking her to write a diary of the next three Christmases. It’s a beautifully thoughtful idea of her father’s, because not only does it give Maggie a connection to her father now he’s gone, but it also gives her an outlet away from the dysfunction that exists within her family, especially at a time of loss.

The laughter came from Maggie’s attitude towards her sister Marianne. I haven’t read Sense & Sensibility in a number of years, but I remember that I found Marianne unbelievably self-absorbed and tiresome... Maggie shares my view, and had a number of acerbic comments to make on it:

‘It’s not the trees’ fault that Marianne got lost, in the middle of a tantrum-induced walk, right as a March storm broke. If Wills hadn’t been having his own Byronic fit, she might have wandered all afternoon and into the evening, but he found her and was able to escort her home. From that point on? They were disgustingly inseparable.’ 
One thing I think is hard to update in 'Sense & Sensibility' is the Lucy Steele scenario, why Edward would stick with a relationship which he clearly wasn’t invested in, but here the author gave an explanation which I thought was really plausible. This was an excellent story.

With Love, From Emma by Cecilia Gray, based on 'Emma'

This was my favourite story of the collection, I just loved it. Emma runs a florist and gift store. She also keeps bees, from which she harvests wax for candles etc. We catch up with her at her best friend, Taylor’s wedding to West, which is being held on Christmas Eve. Emma is particularly proud of herself because she counts herself as personally responsible for making the match:
‘They all talk as if some celestial Cupid had been involved. 
Cupid wishes.’
Emma is joined at the wedding by her neighbour, Lance Knightley. He moved to the area about a year ago, and his bar is two stores along from Emma’s shop. Over a number of incidents throughout the last year, Emma and Lance have become friends. She is very attracted to Lance but is fighting it because she believes he sees her like a sister. Emma is constantly having to stop herself drooling at Lance, which led to a number of very amusing thoughts from her:
‘The man knew how to lean against a wall. Did models take classes in stuff like this, or did it just come naturally to attractive people?’
The thing I loved most about this story is that to me it captured the essence of Emma from Austen’s story – Emma was a busybody who felt she knew best, however, it was because she cared about people that she interfered and the fact that she did it with love always made me feel fond of her. This Emma has chosen to bring joy to the world through her gift store. I also liked the bee motif running through the story. Aside from keeping bees, Emma is also very much a queen bee herself. However, when Emma decides to match up Harriet with Elton she explains to Lance how a new queen bee is made, and it illustrates how she views her interference in others’ lives:
“That’s all it takes. A little extra nourishment and tenderness and you have a queen.” 
That’s always been the secret to my business. That anyone can feel like a queen, can be a queen, with the right love.’
Another thing I thought was a nice touch about this story is that Emma is quite a lonely person; although she mentions having friends the only one you really see is Taylor, and Emma’s parents are both dead. I think Emma Woodhouse was potentially fairly lonely, she has a very small social group and her socialising is curtailed somewhat by her father’s health.

I had to read this story twice, I loved it so much! It also hits a number of markers which exist in Austen’s story. Due to the shorter format, some of the characters from ‘Emma’ are absent, such as the Bates ladies and Jane Fairfax so we don’t have to see the bad side of Emma’s character that they bring out. Emma thinks back to a number of events throughout the year that she has understood one way when she could have interpreted them differently, for example:
‘For such a fancy car, he drove slowly and cautiously, taking full stops at every opportunity. You’d think a cop was following us. Or that I was his sister, I thought with a sigh. He probably drove like a hot-riding manic with women he actually wanted to date. 
Still the long drive gave us time to chat.’
Perhaps that was why he was driving slowly, you clueless woman!

It’s a Wonderful Latte by Jessica Grey, based on ‘Mansfield Park

I was interested to see that Jessica Grey was writing the book based on ‘Mansfield Park’ because as far as I know, she really doesn’t like it! The story opens with Jane Austen and her sister Cassandra, sipping tea in the afterlife. Jane gets visited by another spirit, a Mr Clemens. I didn’t know what that name signified until Jane said this:
“Here to beat me over the head with your own shinbone, Mr. Clemens?”
And then it all became clear who Mr Clemens was, which gave me a giggle.  He has an assignment for Jane, down on Earth, like Clarence had in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’. Jane is sent to Mansfield Perk, where the manager, Evie, also dislikes ‘Mansfield Park’. On a personal note, I’ve only read ‘Mansfield Park’ twice – the first time as a romantic teen, and I really didn’t think much of it at all. I read it again a couple of years ago and I realised that it’s not a romance. There are romantic relationships, but that isn’t the main point of the book, and once I realised that I stopped being disappointed in the lack of romance and instead appreciated the book that I feel Austen intended to write. Funnily enough, Jane puts this view to Evie:
“...it’s Edmund Bertram I can’t stand.” 
Jane looked up from fiddling with the wallet with an amused smile. “Is that so?” 
“Oh yes, he’s a horrible romantic hero.” 
“Maybe it’s not a romantic book.” 
I stared at her blankly. “But-but-“ I spluttered. “Huh, I’ve never thought of that.”
Evie, who is the coffee shop owner’s granddaughter, works in the coffee shop with her cousin Izzy, and Frank, reliable Frank who is always there in the background. The store is visited by siblings Jake and Maggie Piper, who are new management of the mall the store is based in, wanting them to take part in a fund-raising celebration in the run up to Christmas. The fund-raising is for a theatre project, which isn’t a charity that’s close to Evie’s grandmother’s heart, but to paraphrase, ‘because Jake Piper was so ridiculously hot and Evie is so ridiculously shallow’ she convinces herself that it’s a good idea to support the project. Evie and Frank are usually in agreement on most things, but this time he feels that she’s not making the decision for the good of the store and it causes some friction in their relationship. Added to this, for some reason Evie doesn’t feel comfortable with Maggie Piper’s interest in Frank and his hot biceps!

There was an interesting point made, which I had never considered before:
“You are a bit like Edmund...or Emma. Emma was basically Edmund in a dress.”
I think there are definitely some similarities between the characters! Aside from these observations on Austen’s stories I also really enjoyed the tone of the story and the humour, Evie’s character was very likeable.

This story also contained my favourite quote of the book, which had me pausing my reading to share it on Goodreads:
“An angel?” I squeaked. “Like she’s on a mission from God? 
“No, that’s The Blues Brothers. But she could be an angel. A JANE-GEL.”

Pride & Presents by Kimberley Truesdale, based on ‘Pride & Prejudice

In this story the Bennet family run the Longbourn Community Centre, which does a lot for disadvanted kids in the neighbourhood. Liz is trying to convince her father that she’s up to the job of taking over running the centre so that he can retire. She’s successfully secured a load of donations for the Christmas party, and is feeling pretty upbeat when two visitors arrive. Basketball star Charles Bingley and his friend, Will Darcy, who is a lawyer, would like to volunteer, because their community centre gave so much to them when they were growing up. Everybody loves Charles, but Will is cold and seemingly uninterested and Liz resents him for his moodiness. Lydia’s new friend Wickham is a real contrast to Darcy, he’s charming, outgoing and friendly and even agrees to be Santa for the kids’ Christmas party. However, Liz learns that first impressions can be deceptive, and that she has made misjudgements.

As part of the work Liz is taking over from her father, she’s spent a lot of time on the paperwork for renewing the lease and Longbourn’s non-profit status but around the time that Wickham dumps Lydia, the paperwork goes missing along with a flash drive containing the backups. Liz realises that she may have blown both the future of Longbourn and any kind of future for her and Will. Plus they don’t have Santa for the Christmas show. What Liz needs is a Christmas miracle.

This was an enjoyable short story. It was interspersed with the poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’ and each line of the poem tied to a section of the story, which was a nice, Christmassy touch. I felt that this story might have benefitted from being a little longer. In ‘Pride & Prejudice’ the reader can see that Darcy is interested in Elizabeth before he asks her to marry him but here I don’t think it’s so clear. However, it’s still a story I enjoyed reading, and it was a nice festive way to round out the collection!

I really enjoyed reading this anthology. All of the stories were enjoyable, though I thought some worked better as short stories than others. Although they were all written by different authors, and so they are all slightly different in style they went together really nicely and I particularly liked the way the stories were linked, which I thought brought them nicely together into a collection. I can definitely see me picking up this book again when I want a quick fix of something Austenesque. I would recommend this book to anybody who likes contemporary-set JAFF. There are no sex scenes which may relieve you or disappoint you, depending on your view! I’d rate this as 4½ stars.

4.5 star read


Friday, 9 January 2015

Winner - To Refine Like Silver & Fitzwilliam Darcy Soap

We have just selected, at random, the winner's of Jeanna Ellsworth's giveaway and the winners are as follows:

A paperback copy of 'To Refine Like Silver' - Tresha Boone

Handmade Fitzwilliam Darcy Soap - schilds

I will be emailing you soon to find out your mailing details. Thank you so much, Jeanna, for the lovely giveaway prizes, and thank you everybody who commented.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Pride, Prejudice & Secrets by C P Odom - Blog Tour - Guest Post and Giveaway

Today the 'Pride, Prejudice & Secrets' blog tour makes a stop here and I am welcoming author C P Odom, who has a guest post for us, and a chance to win an ebook of Pride, Prejudice & Secrets. I will start off by whetting your appetite for the new book by sharing the blurb with you...

Book Cover - Pride, Prejudice & Secrets by C P Odom
“Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised, or a little mistaken.”
Jane Austen

It is always the completely unforeseen events that lead to the most unexpected consequences, and such is the case in this variation on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. One of the crucial points in Austen’s novel is Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s fiery and passionate refusal and denunciation of the equally passionate but infinitely more repressed Fitzwilliam Darcy. 

What might eventuate if the robustly healthy Elizabeth falls prey to illness for almost the first time in her life just when Darcy comes to call? Bemused by her illness, she hardly comprehends what Darcy is asking, and her simple nod of acknowledgment is misinterpreted as acceptance of his suit by a joyous Darcy. 

By the time Elizabeth regains her health, it seems that every one of her acquaintance and many outside of it accept that she has become engaged to the last man in the world she would ever have considered marrying. Can she openly demand her engagement to the amorous but prideful Darcy be broken, a course fraught with hazards in the social milieu of Regency England? In a maelstrom of confusion, choices have to be made and disclosures closely considered. Elizabeth knows that nothing in her life will ever be the same, and the consequences will likely spread further than she can imagine.

Sounds like a really juicy read, doesn't it! Without further ado, I will pass over to the author of the book, C P Odom so we can learn a little bit more about how he ended up writing Austenesque books.

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Book Cover - A Most Civil Proposal by C P Odom
One of the questions I am asked most often is what it is like to be one of the few male authors in the Austenesque genre, and the answer, a simple, straightforward answer, is that it hasn’t really been an issue.  The overwhelmingly female readers of my fan fiction efforts, starting with A Most Civil Proposal in 2005, have been very nice, gracious, and rather complimentary at getting the male perspective.  This has continued since an altered and edited AMCP became my first published novel in 2013, followed by Consequences in 2014.  

Book Cover - Consequences by C P Odom
Actually, I got more raised eyebrows and flat open-mouthed stares of astonishment from my male friends than my female readers—but that’s okay.  I kind of like being able to shock my guy friends—it’s good for their assumptions to rock their cages!

A more difficult question is how I drifted into the Jane Austen world rather than trying to publish in the science fiction or historical fiction arenas, which have formed the bulk of my reading over the years (not that I completely neglected other areas, such as histories, mysteries, techno-thrillers (a la Tom Clancy and others), and a sampling of the classics).  I didn’t have too many opportunities to visit the library when I was growing up, since it was a long way away, we only had one car, which my father took to work, and the rest of the family, while they certainly read books on occasion, did not read as compulsively as I did.  In my early teens, I mowed yards during the summer (at $3.00 a yard) in order to be able to buy the thirty-five cent paperback science fiction books on the turning stands at the grocery stores and drug stores.  For you younger reader, you’re probably wondering what this old dinosaur is talking about (I just turned 67, by the way), but that’s the way it was growing up in Oklahoma City in the late 1950’s.  Actually, it was a transitional time, and paperback books made reading much more available to the general public than ever before.  I still have a lot of those old paperback books, and the covers are a colorful and vibrant art form in and of themselves.  My wife wonders why I have three or four copies of favorite old books, and it’s because I love the covers and how they changed as newer editions were published.


Anyway, I digress and, to get back to the question of whether I’m writing in the right genre, I will admit that it came as kind of a surprise to me also.  I was an engineer for thirty-five years before retiring in 2011, a football player and Marine before that, and now I have three novels published (soon-to-be three, at least).  And all three are in the genre one of my fellow engineers refers to as “chick lit.”  (Of course, he also felt compelled to purchase and read AMCP because of the years we worked together, and he rather stunned me when he told me later that he enjoyed it and when was my next book coming out!  People continually will surprise you.)  Anyway, after I finally read Pride and Prejudice when I was going through my late wife’s books and decided I owed it to her to read one of her favorite books.  I enjoyed it so much I rented and watched two P&P mini-series, after which I discovered several Austen fan fiction sites and read a number of well-written stories.  Somewhere in there I came up with the idea of what became AMCP and started to write.  That took a rather long time—about three times as it would today—with all kinds of starts, stops, ripping out large chunks of text, and generally making every mistake a first-time author makes.  I had some experience in actually generating readable text from my engineering work, but I’m not sure how much generating project proposals, user manuals, and training guides prepares one for writing fiction.  So there is a nutshell is how I came to be invited to post here today.


Book Cover - Pride, Prejudice & Secrets by C P Odom
Now, on to my new book, Pride, Prejudice, and Secrets, which is, like my previous two efforts, a variation on P&P.  I’ve read Austen’s other books (truth time:  I couldn’t finish Mansfield Park – I had to skip to the end to see how it came out), but somehow I keep coming back to P&P.  Part of that is because I like it best of all Austen’s books, but something in it calls to me, and my plot bunnies all seem to go back to it (including a prospective new book that is partway between the science fiction/fantasy arena and Jane’s world.  I’ll have to see if that one every gets written).  I had some familiarity with the time period, both because of my interest in history and my reading of several naval historical fiction series (C. S. Forester and Patrick O’Brien, among others), so I wasn’t as confused by the different social customs as I might have been.  In fact, I think that the civility, manners, and politeness which are so much a part of Austen’s world is one of the most compelling attractions to me, since it seems like such behavior has all but disappeared from our present culture.  Present company excepted, of course, which is another reason I like to hang out here.  In my completely dispassionate opinion, whoever invented the phrase “Let it all hang out!” (defined as “Be totally candid in expressing feelings and opinions; hold nothing back.”) is a twit, and I’d love the opportunity to tell him so—in the most polite and civil manner, you understand, since we former Marines are well-known for our sensitivity.

Unlike my two previous novels, PP&S is a completely new novel, written last year in the spring and never previously published in any form, either as fan fiction or anything else.  It is also longer than my other books and covers a lot of territory, not only with Darcy and Elizabeth but with several subsidiary characters and subplots.  It’s not like a Tom Clancy omnibus, but it does come in at about 345 pages. In my dedication, I give a tip of the hat to my eldest daughter, Mikaelie, since she was instrumental in providing a rationale for how Elizabeth Bennet might wind up with everyone believing she was engaged to Darcy (including Darcy himself), while our heroine was wondering what elephant just ran over her and disrupted her entire life.  She made an idle comment about not having to worry about the latest health scare since she “doesn’t get sick.”  She says it’s because she always drinks after everyone else and thus keeps her immune system working at high efficiency as it develops antibodies for the illnesses which send we mere mortals to our sickbed.  Ah, the delusions of the young—except that the last time she missed school because of illness appears to have been in the fifth grade, and she’s now in her second year of college!

So Elizabeth, in a blurry and hazy state because she is ill for almost the first time in her life, gives Darcy a nod of acknowledgement when he falls to a knees and simply asks for her hand in marriage.  Before she knows what has happened, Charlotte re-enters the room (having cleverly left in order to give Darcy his opportunity), Darcy informs her of Elizabeth’s acceptance, and Elizabeth falls into a swoon (also a first) and is carried to bed.  I had a bit of fun with the events here as the news sweeps through both the Darcy and Bennet circles faster than Elizabeth could have moved to counter it, even if she had been completely well.  In fact, I had quite a bit of fun both with the main plot and some rather surprising subplots (at least, I hope the reader find them surprising and believable, since I attempted some rather unusual pairings among our characters).

So I’ll bring this post to an end, hoping I’ve whetted your appetite without giving away all the story lines.  On topic to discuss before I go, however, is the title.  My working title when I was writing and editing the book was “Secrets,” since the characters in my novel are virtually forced to be guarded rather than outspoken in what they say.  For example, if Elizabeth does not break the engagement (rather difficult to do in the Regency), then she can never tell Darcy what she thinks of him, both for separating Jane and Bingley and of blasting Wickham’s hopes.  So Darcy thinks Jane is indifferent to Bingley, and Elizabeth doesn’t learn of Wickham’s transgressions against the Darcy family, etc., etc., etc.  In any case, “Secrets” eventually became Pride, Prejudice, and Secrets after my editor pointed out there were more than a dozen novels on Amazon with the title of Secrets, with the only differentiation being the author.  She pleaded for a change of title, and I’ve learned to listen to her advice, so we eventually settled on the new title.  And for those concerned after reading Consequences that I have a morbid element in my psychology, let me assure you that book was a one-off.  There is some inevitable stress and worry in PP&S, but no undue angst.  I hope those who take a chance on this book have a good experience reading it, and I’ll close by thanking Ceri for the opportunity to visit with you.  Happy New Year, everyone!

Author C P Odom
Author Bio - C. P. (Colin) Odom: By training, I’m an engineer, born in Texas, raised in Oklahoma, and graduated from the University of Oklahoma following a stint in the U.S. Marine Corps.  The next thirty-five years was spent as an engineer in Arizona with my first wife, Margaret, where we raised two sons before her untimely death from cancer.  Six years later, I married Jeanine, and we are raising our two girls that we adopted from China.  I have always been a voracious reader and collector of books, and my favorite genres were (and are) science fiction, historical fiction, histories, and, in recent years, reading (and later writing) Jane Austen romantic fiction. This late-developing interest was indirectly stimulated when I read my late wife's beloved Jane Austen books after her passing. 

One thing led to another, and I now have three novels published:  A Most Civil Proposal (2013), Consequences (2014), and Pride, Prejudice, and Secrets (2015).  After retiring from engineering in 2011, I currently live in Chandler, Arizona with my family, two stubbornly untrainable dogs, and a quartet of very strange cats.  My hobbies are reading, woodworking (which helps with bookcases for all those books), college football (no NFL gladiatorial arenas for this citizen!), and Formula One racing (no NASCAR – at least they turn both ways in F1).

You can find out more about C P Odom and his books on Facebook, his Amazon author page, Goodreads author page and his page at Meryton Press

* * *

I'd like to thank C P Odom for the guest post. Funnily enough it tied in with something I'd been thinking just last week, when I looked at a reading challenge which had a list of things to tick off, amongst which was 'Read a book by a female author' and I realised that 95% of the books I read last year were written by females! I read 'Consequences' early on in the year so C P Odom made my very select male authors read in 2014 list! 

Now, would you like read 'Pride, Prejudice & Secrets'? Yes? Me too! Well, the kind people at Meryton Press are giving away an e-book (Kindle or Nook format) to one lucky winner here. To enter, just leave a comment below by the end of Wednesday 14 January. Please leave a way for me to contact you if you should be the lucky winner :) - Please note that this giveaway is now closed - 

Since this is a blog tour, that means there will be other stops, with excerpts, reviews and other chances to win. Here is the schedule:

 4 Jan: Guest Post & Giveaway at My Jane Austen Book Club 
 5 Jan: Review at Margie's Must Reads
 6 Jan: Guest Post & Giveaway at Babblings of a Bookworm
 7 Jan: Review at Diary of an Eccentric
 8 Jan: Review at Wings of Paper
10 Jan: Review at The Calico Critic 
11 Jan: Excerpt & Giveaway at My Love for Jane Austen 
12 Jan: Guest Post & Giveaway at So Little Time…
13 Jan: Excerpt & Giveaway at Best Sellers and Best Stellars
14 Jan: Author Interview at Wings of Paper
15 Jan: Excerpt & Giveaway at Everything Books & Authors 
18 Jan: Review at The Delighted Reader
19 Jan: Guest Post at More Agreeably Engaged

Edited to add: 'Pride, Prejudice & Secrets' is now available to buy - you can buy it from Amazon USUK, and very likely other Amazon sites too!

Monday, 5 January 2015

To Refine Like Silver by Jeanna Ellsworth

Book Cover - To Refine Like Silver by Jeanna Ellsworth
When I saw there was a blog tour for this book I was quick to sign up for it, having read and enjoyed this author’s book Mr Darcy’s Promise and the story of Pride & Persistence when it was being posted online. However, I didn’t realise at that time that this book touches on some really dark issues, depression and sexual violence. Usually I would avoid at all costs reading a book that relates to sexual violence.  I know it happens, the world can be a sad and dark place but I don’t look for a realistic level of sadness in my reading, I read to escape that. Oscar Wilde once wrote: ‘The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.’ I think that's pretty true, and it’s one reason that I read fiction!  The last time I read any JAFF with sexual violence I only read the sample and I am not exaggerating when I tell you that it gave me nightmares. Roughly knowing subject matter I put off starting it, because I was worried I’d find it a heavy read. However, once I started reading this book and got into it I was glad that I’d signed up to review it, as I unexpectedly found it very uplifting to read and not a sad book, although sad things have happened.

The story begins in Derbyshire. It’s the summer of 1811 and Darcy hasn’t yet gone to Meryton. He is still at home, and incredibly worried about Georgiana who appears to have fallen into a deep melancholy, following the events of Ramsgate. Darcy goes to visit a new neighbour, a Mr Gardiner, whose wife has inherited an estate close to Pemberley. One of Mr Gardiner’s nieces, a Miss Elizabeth Bennet, is staying with the Gardiners while they adjust to estate ownership. Meeting Elizabeth under more favourable circumstances – in his own environment rather than in society he’s looking down on, and her family not around to cause any embarrassment, Darcy feels immediately attracted to her. Not so much her looks, but an unusual quality she has, almost like an inner brightness. Mr Gardiner invites Mr Darcy and his sister to dine with them that evening and Darcy accepts, hoping that Georgiana will feel able to attend. Meeting in this way starts off Darcy & Elizabeth’s relationship on a much better footing.
‘She found Mr. Darcy quite interesting. She was curious why he didn’t have a wife. He seemed kind and was fairly amiable. She did sense a certain amount of pride, but only because he was so focused on presenting himself well.’
What Darcy doesn’t realise is that Georgiana is in a much worse mental state than he knows. She is depressed and doesn’t care whether she lives or dies. In fact, her only outlet is horse riding, which she does recklessly, semi-hoping that she will have an accident that ends her unhappiness for good. However, Georgiana isn’t entirely unable to focus on anything other than the feelings that are crushing her and she recognises that Darcy has met somebody who could potentially be important to him. Making a huge effort, she goes to the Gardiners and Elizabeth immediately recognises the sad, lost look in Georgiana’s eyes. The reason that she recognises it is that Elizabeth was suffering a similar sadness, but she finally managed to come through it with the love of her father and Jane, and now she is desperate to help Georgiana do the same. She offers Georgiana friendship, and Darcy is only too happy to further the friendship as he is keen to do anything that will aid Georgiana’s recovery, particularly once he realises the depth of Georgiana’s despair.

In this variation, one of the changes is Mr Bennet’s background. He only inherited Longbourn about a decade before the events unfolding, having previously been a clergyman. Partly as a result of this, but mostly because of the trials Elizabeth has faced, Elizabeth’s faith is a big part of her life and there is a strong reliance on believing in God and relying on him, thanking him and following his lessons of forgiveness. This spiritual aspect is something I hadn’t seen in Austenesque stories before. I should imagine that some people would love it and others would be turned right off by it. I was on the fence, although I read Christian fiction (sometimes referred to as inspirational fiction) and I enjoy the positive messages of many of the books I’ve read in the genre, as indeed I enjoyed the positive messages found in this book. The spiritual aspect is very strong, and comes through in nearly all Elizabeth’s thoughts and conversations. In canon there is not much that Elizabeth said or did that was overtly religious so for me it led to a significant change in her character and it took me a while to get to know her.

One of the passages of the Bible that Elizabeth refers to when talking to Darcy talks about refining people as silver is refined, and she challenges him to find out what is special about the refining of silver. The refining of silver is a metaphor here. Usually, being a plain-spoken person who says what they mean, I am not a fan of metaphors, but when the process was described I found this metaphor quite profound and I thought it really underlined the themes of forgiveness and the reasons that we have trials to bear which are explored throughout the book.

I have a tendency to be distracted by stray details in a story and there were a few here, such as some words and turns of phrase which were too modern or American, a blacksmith who seemed too well-educated and some period details that didn’t seem quite right to me. I was also a little surprised by some of the behaviour exhibited by the Bennets. Elizabeth is quite over-familiar with the Darcys when they first meet, particularly with Georgiana, and it seemed unlikely behaviour to me, because she had been determined to make a good impression for her uncle’s sake. Also, since Mr Bennet is a former clergyman, and clearly a much more active father than in canon I would have expected Elizabeth’s younger siblings to be altered from the characters we know, since their upbringing would have been very different.

One thing that made this book really stand out for me is the way that Elizabeth helps Georgiana work through her depression. How your trials in life shape you and make you stronger, and that you need to make positive steps towards healing. Elizabeth keeps a notebook of inspirational quotes, (many of which are summarised in the back of the book). The thought that this book might be useful for people who have been touched by situational depression either by experiencing it themselves or trying to support a loved one, struck me many times.

I’ve had real difficulty trying to pin down in words my feelings towards this book but it’s one I’m glad I read, despite the difficult subject matter. I found it both uplifting and inspiring. I almost felt like a better person for having read it, even though I’m doubtful that I would be capable of the forgiveness the characters in this book bestow. Over time, some books merge into others in your mind, but this was so unlike other variations, that I’ve read that I’m sure I’ll remember it. I would recommend reading this book, as long as you do not object to a strong Christian message and I would rate it as 4½ stars.

4.5 star read

Giveaway: Since I was later than planned posting this review, I've decided to extend the closing date of the giveaway from the author of To Refine Like Silver, of a paperback copy of the book to one winner, and some Fitzwilliam Darcy soap to another winner. Both are open to international entrants, and the giveaway will be closed for entries at the end of Wednesday 7 January. To enter, just leave a comment. If you comment on both this review, and on the original giveaway post then you will get an extra chance to win. If you have a preference for the soap or the book, please state it in your comment, or I'll assume you'd like either just as much, and please leave a way for me to contact you, such as email address, twitter handle etc. Again, many thanks to Jeanna Ellsworth for putting such lovely stuff up for grabs!

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Planned Reads for January 2015

Well this time last year I was starting a blog which I didn't publish publicly for a few months but here we are, 12 months and nearly 80 books later, still babbling about books so I'd like to thank all of you for dropping by and reading my words, I really appreciate your interest and support.

As for 2015, I plan to continue reading a mix of Austenesque, contemporary and historical books. I joined a new group on Goodreads, an Austenesque TBR group and I'm aiming for Catherine Morland level which is 21-50 books but really I'm hoping to make the Mr Bennet 50+ level! Each month I'll be updating my progress to this group, and I thought I'd post it here in case any of you would like to join too.

This year I want to make sure I fit in some things I didn't make time for last year. Though I read lots of Austen-inspired books, I didn't actually read any Austen, which is something I definitely need to rectify this year!

Last year I had a little Mansfield reading challenge, and I tried to work in some Mansfield Park inspired reads to celebrate the bicentenary of the first publication of the book. Although Pride & Prejudice is my favourite book by Austen, the other books are all worthy of love and I really enjoyed my MP reads. So much so that I decided that I'm going to try and make sure that each month I read some Austenesque that is not primarily based on Pride & Prejudice. If you'd like to try this too but don't know what non-P&P books are out there, I recommend that you consult the comprehensive lists that Meredith has made available over at Austenesque Reviews as a starting point for suggestions.

The other little challenge I have decided to set myself is to reduce the amount of paid for unread books I have on my kindle. I can't let a bargain go, so even if I don't have time to read a book I'll often still buy it and I have a list tallying up my unread books total (OK, I'll admit it, it's not just a list but a geeky spreadsheet, with sums in and everything!). It is a pretty shocking total, even though most of them were purchased at bargain prices! I want to try and reduce the value of it by a good amount by the end of the year. I also have a lot of books that I've been lucky enough to win but I haven't read yet. I want to make a good dent in those too!

Book cover - The Beresfords by Christina Dudley
So what do I have lined up for this month? Well, my non-Pride & Prejudice Austenesque read is one based on Mansfield Park, to wean myself off my MP reads. This is one that I planned for last year but I didn't get round to reading, The Beresfords by Christina Dudley, which is a modern version of MP, which was recommended to me by my good reading buddy Meredith from Austenesque Reviews.

Book cover - The Muse by Jessica Evans
My modern Austenesque planned read is The Muse by Jessica Evans, which came here as part of its blog tour last month. It's a modern Pride & Prejudice-inspired book, set in the world of ballet, with Darcy as a choreographer, and Lizzy as a dancer, who becomes his muse. It's had really good reviews so I'm looking forward to this read.

Book cover - Alone with Mr Darcy by Abigail Reynolds
My favourite Austenesque author, Abigail Reynolds, has a new book due out later this month, which is called Alone with Mr Darcy. I plan to get my hands on it as soon as possible after its release! It features a compromise situation, one of my favourite scenarios, so I'm looking forward to see what Ms Reynolds makes of that. You can read a large excerpt of this book over at Austen Variations.

Book Cover - The Vagabond Vicar by Charlotte Brentwood
I also plan to read a historical romance, The Vagabond Vicar by Charlotte Brentwood. The vicar in question was hoping to be sent off overseas to become a missionary but instead he finds himself in a small village, which he assumes will be very unchallenging.

Hopefully I'll fit some other reads in too! I hope you have some good reads lined up for 2015. If you have any suggestions for reads you think I'd enjoy, please let me know in the comments!