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Saturday, 28 February 2015

The Darcy Brothers - by Various Austen Variations Authors

Jakki of Leatherbound Reviews offered me the opportunity to review 'The Darcy Brothers' by Monica Fairview, Maria Grace, Cassandra Grafton, Susan Mason-Milks and Abigail Reynolds for her blog. It was originally published here, but in case you missed it, here it is.
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The Darcy Brothers’ by Monica Fairview, Maria Grace, Cassandra Grafton, Susan Mason-Milks and Abigail Reynolds.
Last year, on the Austen Variations website, a serial story was posted, with the authors taking turns in posting chapters. At the end of the chapter there was a poll which gave the readers a choice in the direction of the story. This must have been such a challenge for the authors involved, picking up the threads of the story where somebody else has left it, and having to follow the readers’ choice of direction rather than the writer’s own muse. I read most of the challenge as it was being posted and was therefore really interested to see this published version of ‘The Darcy Brothers’ by Monica Fairview, Maria Grace, Cassandra Grafton, Susan Mason-Milks and Abigail Reynolds.

This is a variation on ‘Pride & Prejudice’ where the variation is a change to Darcy’s family. Here, he has a brother two years younger than himself, Mr Theophilus Darcy. The Darcy brothers unfortunately do not have the closest of brotherly bonds, and Theo has become Darcy’s scapegoat for a number of events including Georgiana’s failed elopement with Wickham, as Theo accompanied her to Ramsgate and was very close to Wickham. Darcy is paying his annual visit to Lady Catherine and has decided to take his brother with him, to keep him out of trouble. Darcy and Theo have a very unhealthy relationship at the start of this story. Theo craves his brother’s approval, but also derives great enjoyment from needling and annoying him, and a perverse pleasure in proving all his brother’s worst suspicions correct. At the beginning of the book I really didn’t like the side in each other that the brothers provoked (because anybody with siblings will know that they can bring out the absolute worst in you!); Darcy was more humourless, intolerant and unpleasant than I am used to, and Theo, while being amenable to others, was quite childish in his provoking manner. I found his childishness towards Lady Catherine much more amusing though:

‘Dipping a quill in ink, he began a sketch of his aunt with fangs and bat wings, then neatly labelled it ‘The Old Bat’.’

Theo has very keen powers of observation and is quite sure that something is wrong with his brother, who has, unbeknown to Theo, travelled to Kent under the spectre of dread that Caroline Bingley has put into his head that Elizabeth may have married Mr Collins. Being a person with an enquiring mind, and having nothing else to do in the country, Theo has decided to try and puzzle out what is preying on his brother’s mind:

‘A plan began to take shape in his head. True, it would mean undertaking several of his least favourite things – awakening early in the morning, attempting to be polite to his aunt and avoiding annoying his brother – but sometimes sacrifices must be made.’

Once Theo is on the case, it doesn’t take long for him to come to some quite accurate conclusions regarding his brother’s feelings, but unfortunately Darcy isn’t blessed with the same level of success in determining people’s feelings and he isn’t sure if Theo also has feelings of admiration towards Elizabeth. Elizabeth has even less reason to think well of Darcy in this variation, as she sees him add mistreatment of his brother to his list of crimes, not realising that Theo is extremely provoking to his sibling. With so much pushing them apart, is there a way towards happiness for Darcy and Elizabeth? And can the Darcy brothers ever bridge the gap between them and be brothers in more than name?

I thought this was an interesting idea for a variation because on the face of it, Darcy having a brother shouldn’t make much difference to his relationship with Elizabeth unless he directly interferes, but of course, having a different family dynamic would make Darcy a different person, and he is a sorely-tried man with a brother like Theo. The root cause of this isn’t Theo’s fault, he has been blamed unfairly by Darcy for a number of events, but he has perversely exacerbated the problem as much as possible, because, like his brother, he is a proud man, and will not admit that he wants his brother’s respect and love so their relationship has evolved into a bit of a vicious circle.

While at Rosings we see a very different side to Anne de Bourgh. I really enjoyed Anne’s character, and have never seen one quite like it in my Austenesque reading. Having been so secluded from society, Anne hasn’t learned the boundaries required for polite society, and is extremely outspoken and headstrong (I wonder where she gets that from?!), which I found very entertaining. She also wants to ‘help’ Darcy’s courtship of Miss Bennet, for her own reasons. I also liked the new character of Theo’s good friend, the genial man-mountain Sir Montgomery Preston.

Through the trials and tribulations they face, we see the Darcy brothers draw closer together and overcome the obstacles to true brotherhood that they’ve placed between them; it’s lovely to see them becoming closer and as they do, you can see Darcy changing to become more like the character that we know and love, and as Darcy changed I enjoyed the story more and more. This is a less romantic variation than some as the focus is more on the brothers, particularly Theo, but it was entertaining and interesting. There was a really interesting section relating to how wounds were dealt with which was fascinating to compare to medicine today.  I was also interested to see whether having this many authors would lead to changes in style throughout the book, but reading the published version I don’t think I’d have realised that there were so many authors involved in creating the story if I hadn’t have known the fact.

I don’t know whether it’s intended for this story to have a sequel but I think there is definite scope for it, and I’d love to read it if one is written. I would like to see what happens to Theo after the close of our tale! I’d recommend this to Austenesque readers, and I’d rate it as a 4½ star read.

4.5 star read

*I was provided with a copy of this book to review for Leatherbound Reviews. 

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

The Secret of Pembrooke Park by Julie Klassen - Blog Tour

You may have seen that there is a blog tour of 'The Secret of Pembrooke Park' currently underway. Today the blog tour stops here with my review. Read on to see my thoughts on this book, and please note that there are some great prizes up for grabs with the blog tour (more details below my review).

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The Secret of Pembrooke Park - Blog Tour

Award winning historical romance author Julie Klassen tours the blogosphere February 16 through March 2 to share her latest release, The Secret of Pembrooke Park. Twenty five popular book bloggers specializing in historical and Austenesque fiction will feature guest blogs, interviews, book reviews and excerpts of this acclaimed gothic Regency romance novel. A fabulous giveaway contest, including copies of all of Ms. Klassen’s eight books and other Jane Austen-themed items, is open to those who join the festivities.

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Book cover: The Secret of Pembrooke Park by Julie Klassen
This is a story set in 1818. The Foster family have suffered a reverse in fortune, having invested in a bank run by a relative that has gone bust. The heroine of our story, 24 year old Miss Abigail Foster, feels extremely guilty about this. It was on her advice that her father invested in her uncle’s business. Now it seems possible that her beautiful younger sister’s London season may not be the triumph that she’s always been expecting. However, the Fosters get given a mysterious offer, via a solicitor – an unknown relative of theirs has offered them a country house to rent at a nominal rate. The house, Pembrooke Park, has been uninhabited for 18 years, so it will need some work to bring it up to a decent standard. Although the offer is quite mysterious, especially as the solicitor is not at liberty to divulge the name of their client, or even who the owner of the property is, it seems too good an opportunity not to investigate further, particularly coming at a time when the Fosters really need to retrench and sell their London home.

Mrs Foster and her younger daughter remain in town with a relative while Mr Foster and Abigail travel to Pembrooke Park to see the house, with a view to moving in and starting work straight away, if it’s habitable. When they arrive at the house they are met with a less than warm welcome, instead a man brandishes a gun at them! Once inside the house, things are even more intriguing. Rather than look like a house that’s been closed up, with furniture covered and so on, instead things look like the inhabitants simply vanished. Many personal effects are there, including something that even I as a reader coveted, a dolls house which is an exact replica of the house. The house seems to have been left so suddenly that there is even a tea set still out on the table, with tea residue in the cups.
‘It appeared as though the occupants had just been called away. A tea set sat on the round table, cups encrusted with dry tea. A book lay open over the arm of the sofa. A needlework project, nearly finished, lay trapped under an overturned chair. 
What had happened here? Why had the family left so abruptly, and why had the rooms been entombed for almost two decades?’
As Abigail works to bring the house back into order she begins to know people in the local community. The man who brandished the gun at her, Mac Chapman, is the former steward of the estate and very loyal to his former employer. He won’t tell Abigail anything about the Pembrooke family. Others in the area are similarly oddly reticent about the Pembrookes. Abigail befriends Mac’s family, particularly his grown up children, William, the curate of the area, and beautiful, shy Leah. Abigail goes on to meet other people in the area, from landed gentry, through villagers and down to servants. It seems though, that nearly everybody she meets is keeping a secret of one sort or another. There is rumoured to be treasure hidden at Pembrooke Park. If it’s real, possibly Abigail could find it. Can Abigail find out the secrets of Pembrooke Park, or are some secrets better off being forgotten?

This story is inspired by the gothic romances of the time, with a nod to Jane Austen’s ‘Northanger Abbey’ which I read last month in preparation for reading this. It’s quite a contrast to Northanger Abbey though. Catherine sees things which aren’t there and Abigail keeps telling herself that there is nothing there even though she is afraid there might be. This quote in particular reminded me of the Northanger connection and how an older and more sensible heroine than Catherine Morland might deal with a potential Gothic mystery.
‘Heart pounding, she gingerly leaned forward and peered over the stair rail, her candle’s light barely penetrating the darkness below. A hooded figure floated down the last few stairs. Stunned, she blinked. But when she looked again, the stairs were empty. She had probably only imagined the dark apparition.  
With a shiver, she decided that was the last time she would read gothic fiction.’
Since this has the word ‘secret’ in the title I was expecting a level of mystery and I wasn’t disappointed; quite a few of the characters have secrets or at least know some of what happened to the previous tenants of Pembrooke Park and Abigail is just trying to piece it together. I will tell you now that I managed to work out the secrets before they were revealed, so it’s not too difficult, but things are revealed gradually so it’s also not too easy. I don’t think you’d be able to put all the pieces together very early on, as there is so little to go on.  Along with mystery we also have some peril, which made for an exciting read at points.

Even with all this mystery going on I still want some romance and I felt that ‘The Secret of Pembrooke Park’ delivered on this score. Abigail has had her time amongst London society and has had no offers, but then, she didn’t want any – for many years she has held a special place in her heart and her dreams for family friend Gilbert. However, he has gone to Italy to pursue his dreams of a career in architecture and before he left Abigail got the impression that he showed signs of admiring her beautiful younger sister. Unsure how Gilbert will feel when he returns, Abigail moves to the countryside free of ties. She meets with a fair amount of admiration in the new neighbourhood, which is especially gratifying as she is somebody who views herself as plain. I knew this would be a romance with no sex scenes, as this author writes for a Christian publisher, but this doesn’t mean that there is no passion, there is certainly that, and a fair bit of romance too.

As I said, this book is from Bethany House Publishing so I was expecting a Christian message. However the message doesn’t feel forced. One of the characters is a curate who delivers sermons so the Christianity is present in that, as you’d expect and there were also some biblical references but they seemed quite natural in historical books as religion was a part of life that was more apparent in everyday society in the past. One theme that I enjoyed contemplating in the book was whether the sins of the father should be borne by the children. To an extent, our parents’ decisions shape us, no matter we choose to do our position in life up to a certain age is affected by our parents’ decisions, so that was an interesting theme, and not overdone.

I sometimes find historical stories frustrating because of the behaviour and language used, as all too often they are too modern. I wasn’t sure about how proper Abigail’s behaviour was (I don’t mean the bits that were clearly improper!), such as going to events alone with a young man. She is also left alone at Pembrooke Park by her father for quite a few days, when I would have expected that she would have needed a companion or a family member. I don’t know how proper this was but it certainly left me feeling quite angry with her father for taking advantage of her! There were some instances of words that jumped out at me as being too modern or American and there were some small things like food being eaten out of season but I am more picky than most people in this respect and a lot of readers might not notice these things as much. One thing that surprised me, when I looked back at things I’d highlighted in the book, was just how long the book is because it didn’t feel long to me at all, it doesn’t drag or feel stretched out.

In summary, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I enjoyed pondering the mystery, I enjoyed the friendships, the romance, the danger and the action. I liked how Abigail grew to value herself as a woman, rather than just as a housekeeper for her family. I’d certainly recommend this book to fellow historical romance lovers and I’d rate it at 4½ stars.

4.5 star read

BOOK DESCRIPTION:

In the spring of 1818, twenty-four-year-old Abigail Foster fears she is destined to become a spinster. Her family’s finances are in ruins and the one young man she truly esteems has fallen for another woman — her younger, prettier sister Louisa.

Forced to retrench after the bank failure of Austen, Gray & Vincent, the Foster family optimistically pool their resources for another London Season for her sister in hopes of an advantageous alliance. While searching for more affordable lodgings, a surprising offer is presented: the use of a country manor house in Berkshire abandoned for eighteen years. The Fosters journey to the imposing Pembrooke Park and are startled to find it entombed as it was abruptly left, the tight-lipped locals offering only rumors of a secret room, hidden treasure and a murder in its mysterious past. 

Eager to restore her family fortune, Abigail, with the help of the handsome local curate William Chapman and his sister Leah, begins her search into the heavily veiled past aided by unsigned journal pages from a previous resident and her own spirited determination. As old friends and new foes come calling at Pembrooke Park, secrets come to light. Will Abigail find the treasure and love she seeks...or very real danger?

BUY LINKS:  « Amazon « Barnes & Noble « ChristianBook.com « Book Depository « Indie Bound « Goodreads « Publishers Page «

Author Julie Klassen
AUTHOR BIO:

Julie Klassen loves all things Jane—Jane Eyre and Jane Austen. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Julie worked in publishing for sixteen years and now writes full time. Three of her books have won the Christy Award for Historical Romance. She has also been a finalist in the Romance Writers of America’s RITA Awards. Julie and her husband have two sons and live in St. Paul, Minnesota. Learn more about Julie and her books at her website, follower her on Twitter, and visit her on Facebook and Goodreads.

GIVEAWAY DETAILS:


Blog Tour: The Secret of Pembrooke Park by Julie Klassen - Giveaway
Grand Giveaway Contest

Win One of Four Fabulous Prizes

In celebration of the release of The Secret of Pembrooke Park, four chances to win copies of Julie’s books and other Jane Austen-inspired items are being offered. 

Three lucky winners will receive one trade paperback or eBook copy of The Secret of Pembrooke Park, and one grand prize winner will receive one copy of all eight of Julie’s novels: Lady of Milkweed Manor, The Apothecary's Daughter, The Silent Governess, The Girl in the Gatehouse, The Maid of Fairbourne Hall, The Tutor’s Daughter, The Dancing Master, and The Secret of Pembrooke Park, one DVD of Northanger Abbey (2007) and a Jane Austen Action Figure.

To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on any or all of the blog stops on The Secret of Pembrooke Park Blog Tour starting February 16, 2015 through 11:59 pm PT, March 9, 2015. Winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments and announced on Julie Klassen’s website on March 16, 2015. Winners have until March 22, 2015 to claim their prize. The giveaway contest is open to residents of the US, UK, and Canada. Digital books will be sent through Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Good luck to all!

THE SECRET OF PEMBROOKE PARK BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE:

February 16               My Jane Austen Book Club (Guest Blog)
February 16               vvb32 Reads (Excerpt)                             
February 17               Psychotic State Book Reviews (Review)
February 17               My Kids Led Me Back to Pride and Prejudice (Spotlight)    
February 18               Addicted to Jane Austen (Review)                               
February 18               Peeking Between the Pages (Review)                                     
February 19               Jane Austen in Vermont (Interview)                                          
February 19               Living Read Girl (Review)                                                
February 20               My Love for Jane Austen (Excerpt)                                           
February 20               Truth, Beauty, Freedom & Books (Review)                            
February 20               Laura's Reviews (Guest Blog)                                         
February 21               A Bookish Way of Life (Review)                                    
February 21               Romantic Historical Reviews (Excerpt)                        
February 22               Reflections of a Book Addict (Review)                                    
February 23               Austenesque Reviews (Guest Blog)                                         
February 23               Peace, Love, Books (Review)                                        
February 24               vvb32 Reads (Review)                                         
February 24               Poof Books (Excerpt)
February 25               Babblings of a Bookworm (Review)                                         
February 25               Austenesque Reviews (Review)                                    
February 25               Luxury Reading (Review)
February 26               So Little Time…So Much to Read (Review)
February 26               More Agreeably Engaged (Excerpt)
February 27               Psychotic State Book Reviews (Interview)                              
February 27               Booktalk & More (Review)
February 28               Laughing with Lizzie (Spotlight)
February 28               The Calico Critic (Review)
March 01                    Leatherbound Reviews (Excerpt)                                              
March 01                    Delighted Reader (Review)
March 02                    CozyNookBks (Review)                                       
March 02                    Laura's Reviews (Review)                                    

Monday, 23 February 2015

Brighty's Special Gift - Winner

Book Cover: Brighty's Special Gift by Dee Wallain
My independent adjudicator (husband!) has just drawn a name at random and the winner of the paperback copy of 'Brighty's Special Gift' is....

Rita!

Rita, I have sent you an email to request your mailing details.

Many thanks to those of you that expressed interest in this book. There is another chance to win this book at Most Agreeably Engaged, where you can enter the giveaway until Friday 27 February.

Thank you to Meryton Press for sponsoring the giveaway and Jakki at Leatherbound Reviews for letting me take part in the blog tour.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Emma – BBC Version, 2009

DVD Cover: Emma 2009, starring Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller
Although everybody seems to love this version of ‘Emma’ I have held off watching it because of Jonny Lee Miller, who plays Mr Knightley in this version. I am a big admirer of his work, but to me he is Edmund Bertram, who he played in ‘Mansfield Park’ in the 1999 version. That Mansfield Park wasn’t the best version I’ve seen but, in my opinion, Jonny Lee Miller completely nailed the role. However, being currently chair-bound, it seemed like fate that I should catch up with my DVD ‘To Be Watched’ list.

I watched this with my husband, who is not familiar with the book, and felt that the beginning of this adaptation would be a little bewildering to somebody who doesn’t know the background, as we rattle through the dearth of parents that Jane Fairfax, Frank Churchill and Emma have. This way of showing it though, directly comparing the three characters, who all faced losses at such a young age, really underlined how lucky Emma was for the time. Of the three, she is the only one who stays in the same home. She is doted upon and loved unconditionally. Soon we see Emma as a grown adult and start to appreciate the restricted life she has to live, day after day, with no holidays, no visits outside her very small circle of acquaintances and no likelihood of it ever changing, not that she yearns for anything different.

Emma 2009 - Romola Garai
I thought this was a very soft portrayal of Emma – it’s quite a sympathetic view, and you don’t get the full blast of her self-importance and just how much everybody around her (with the exception of Mr Knightley) inflates her ego and her idea of her infallibility. Here, Emma, played by Romola Garai, is quite funny, and though her flaws are clear, she is still very loveable, rather than Austen’s character ‘whom no-one but myself will much like’. Personally, I always quite liked Emma, as at heart she meant well, and when you consider she’d been brought up being told everything she said and did was perfect, it’s no wonder that she believed it. I wonder if, had she married differently, the book Emma may have ended up being somewhat like ‘Pride & Prejudice’s Lady Catherine de Bourgh? The Emma in this adaptation was probably never in danger of that.

I am always interested to see what is made of Jane Fairfax and here I was a little disappointed, as she is not prominent, which is a shame, as I find her an interesting character. Frank Churchill is not sympathetically portrayed at all – usually I am pretty ambivalent towards him, but here I joined Mr Knightley in disliking him heartily!

Emma 2009 - Michael Gambon as Mr Woodhouse
My favourite character in this adaptation was definitely Mr Woodhouse. He is a good character in the book, being affectionately portrayed as a slightly ridiculous old fusspot. I loved Michael Gambon’s performance. It was very humorous; he had some great lines which he delivered wonderfully.

Jonny Lee Miller - Bertram or Knightley
Bertram or Knightley?!
As for Mr Knightley – well, he’s a likeable fellow and he and Emma have a lovely rapport on screen. Although the characters have a 16 year age gap you don’t really feel it. This may partly be because the age gap between the actors is less but to me there was another, more major reason. I liked Jonny Lee Miller’s Knightley, I really did, but to me, he wasn’t quite Mr Knightley. He was missing something, the air of authority, the sense that he’s a man who has been master of his surroundings for years, the essence of Knightley wasn’t there for me.

Emma 1996 - Mark Strong as Mr Knightley
Mark Strong from the 1996 mini series of Emma
It probably doesn’t help that the 1996 mini-series of ‘Emma’, starring Kate Beckinsale, also starred Mark Strong, and when I first read ‘Emma’, probably a couple of years before that version was made, I imagined Mr Knightley pretty much exactly like him. He just has more of an air of self-confidence and experience that I think Mr Knightley would exude.

This version of Emma is really beautiful to watch, the costumes are gorgeous and the locations are a feast for the eyes. The house chosen for Hartfield, for example, couldn’t have been more perfect, and it is lovely to think that they were able to use the same building for the interior and exterior filming, at least in Emma's home. This adaptation is a bit more of a ‘comfortable’ watch than other versions, having less cringeworthy scenes than there could be, and some people may prefer the Mr Knightley character to be toned down, especially if they aren’t a fan of age gaps. For me, although the Knightley wasn’t quite Knightley enough, it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story. I thoroughly enjoyed the humour, the chemistry, the costumes and settings. I’d certainly recommend it, and I’d really enjoy watching it again. 4½ stars from me.

4.5 star watch


Thursday, 19 February 2015

Brighty’s Special Gift by Dee Wallain - Review

There is still time to enter the international giveaway for a paperback of 'Brighty's Special Gift' from Meryton Press. To help tempt you to enter to win a copy for a child in your life, here is my review of the book, which I read with my junior bookworms, aged 8 and 5.

Book Cover: Brighty's Special Gift by Dee Wallain
'Brighty’s Special Gift' is a Christian children’s book about a star, Brighty, who is different from the other stars. He has a different number of points and is brighter than them, and he is excluded by them as a result, which he finds very upsetting. No matter how hard Brighty tries, the other stars won’t accept his differences. God explains to Brighty that he is perfect as he is, and that all his suffering has made his light even stronger. Brighty learns to accept who he is, and in time, finds his place in the world.

There were a few topics that this book covered, and it provided a natural way to introduce discussion with children regarding these. We talked about people who are different, as Brighty is different, and also about bullying, how it makes people feel, whether they had witnessed anything like that or been a victim of it themselves, and how Brighty coped with being ostracised. I knew that this book was a Christian one before reading it, but in some books the theme can be stronger than others. In this book it’s a very strong theme, with God talking directly to Brighty. Although I’ve read Christmas books, and some other Bible stories with my children we wouldn’t generally read anything with such an overt Christian message. I wanted to make this aspect of the book clear because although it wasn't an issue for us, some people feel strongly about such messages, whether positively or negatively. There are some suggestions for learning activities to take the spiritual concepts further, which I thought was a useful feature.

There are lots of pictures in this book, which is something I like in a children's book, a full-colour illustration on every page to help keep the children’s interest. Appreciation of pictures is always subjective, but I didn’t like the pictures much as I prefer a more detailed style, particularly in the pictures that weren't of the stars. However, my children didn't mind them. One thing that I thought was good about the pictures is that they conveyed Brighty’s feelings as you could see expression on his face, which was useful for the discussions that we were having regarding the story.

The final verdict? My children really enjoyed the book and said they’d be happy to read it again. My 8 year old said that he didn’t anticipate the ending of the book, and that he liked that Brighty shone brighter even though that’s the reason why he wasn’t accepted, so even on a first reading, a message of being who you are and not bowing down to peer pressure was clearly understood. My 5 year old said that she wished that God had made Brighty darker so the other stars left him alone so the message hadn’t quite gone through, but we talked about it! I thought that it naturally led into an interesting conversation with my children, on a subject that can be hard to broach directly. We’d give this book 4 stars.

4 star read

*Many thanks to Meryton Press for a review copy of this book, and to Jakki from Leatherbound Reviews for arranging the blog tour.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Brighty's Special Gift by Dee Wallain - Spotlight and Giveaway

Usually, the books I would read from Meryton Press are JAFF (Jane Austen Fan Fiction, stories inspired by the great lady’s work) but today I have a different type of book from Meryton Press, a Christian children’s book. Read on for more information on this book, and a chance to win a copy.
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Book Cover: Brighty's Special Gift by Dee Wallain
Book Blurb:
In the early days of the universe where it is cold and dark with zillions of stars, Brighty feels completely alone. He has no one to play with or talk to. The other stars taunt, torment and bully him because he is strange and different from them.

Brighty is hurt by their teasing. He thinks he cannot take it anymore; he loses all hope. After crying out in the big, black darkness for eons, something wonderful happens just in time . . .

Brighty’s Special Gift is a parable for children of all ages with a special Christmas connection written by Dee Wallain and illustrated by Wendy J La.


Author Dee Wallain
About the author:
Dee Wallain lives in Richmond, Virginia, the happiest city in America, with her husband, Jim, and Wally the rabbit. They laugh together every day, mostly because they like to have fun. Ordinary life is full of comical things; they laugh at themselves and especially enjoy the antics of Wally. He showed up on Easter Sunday, a runaway domestic rabbit who chooses to live in the “wild.” He knows his name, comes when called for meals, and entertains the neighborhood with his “sightings.”

Links:
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Meryton Press are kindly offering an international giveaway of a paperback of 'Brighty's Special Gift' to a commenter here. If you'd like to win, please just leave a comment on this blog post by the end of the day on Sunday 22 February. Please note, this giveaway is now closed to entries. Please can you include a way for me to contact you, such as twitter handle, or an email address (you can leave it with an 'at' rather than an @ to help prevent spam). I will announce the winner next week. Many thanks to Meryton Press for the giveaway, and to Jakki from Leatherbound Reviews for arranging the blog tour.

If you'd like to check out other stops on the blog tour please see below for details:

19 Feb: Review here at Babblings of a Bookworm
21 Feb: Guest post at More Agreeably Engaged
22 Feb: Review at More Agreeably Engaged

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Mr Darcy’s Valentine by Jennifer Lang

Book cover: Mr Darcy’s Valentine by Jennifer Lang
I thought I’d read something focused on Valentine’s Day, and I saw a review of this a short while ago that piqued my interest – a ‘Groundhog Day’ concept, where poor Mr Darcy has to relive the same day again and again.

The story picks up in Kent, but Darcy has gone there earlier than his usual Easter visit. He’s there in February and is chagrined to find that a Miss Elizabeth Bennet is also in the area, having brought forward her visit to Charlotte to nurse her friend through the measles:
‘He had been dismayed to find her there; not because he did not like her but quite the reverse.’
Poor Darcy is fighting against his attraction to the lovely Miss Bennet, who is an unacceptable match for him. His inclination his pushing him one way, but his sense of duty is pulling him another:
‘If he went down to the parsonage, he could claim her in half an hour. That was all it would take for him to walk down there, stride into the house and propose. 
Although the idea was preposterous – preposterous! – still he could do it and then Elizabeth would be his.’
Unfortunately, he succumbs to the temptation, in an ever ruder way than in ‘Pride & Prejudice’ and is dismissed with some heat. Mr Darcy has a lot to think about this evening, and much new information to assimilate. As he climbs into bed on the 13th of February, he reflects:
‘I wish that St Valentine’s Day would never come. I have no use for it, he thought bitterly. Adding, unless Elizabeth Bennet were to fall in love with me.’
Groundhog Day
The next day, Darcy awakens to a newspaper dated 13th of February, the same visitor coming to Rosings and all the extra information he learned to allow him to live the day over again. It takes a few iterations of the day (but thankfully for Darcy, far less than Phil Connors in ‘Groundhog Day’) and some unpleasant outcomes for our dear boy to be able to move on.

This was a fun concept for a story and there was a lot to like about it. Some of the motivations you see in ‘Pride & Prejudice’ that are so often changed were preserved here, such as Darcy having the intention of marrying Georgiana to Bingley, which obviously played a part in him taking such an active interest in his friend’s love life. I felt that the author had a good understanding of Darcy, warts and all, and of where he was coming from at this stage in the story. It was also refreshing to see a Lady Catherine that I recognised rather than a caricature. Some things were changed from P&P such as Anne de Bourgh being able to play the pianoforte, and there were some things which almost seemed like continuity errors, because they didn’t quite make sense to me in the variation, such as Darcy referring Elizabeth to Colonel Fitzwilliam for details when in this change he had travelled to Rosings alone and hence Elizabeth had never met him and may not even have heard of him.

On the downside, although I enjoyed the story, I wasn’t bowled away by the author’s style. Austen’s prose is very enjoyable to read and obviously you’re not expecting equal to that in a variation but I found it a little flat. I also wasn’t convinced by the speed with which Darcy shelved his resentment and Elizabeth’s feelings became warmer. When you consider that in canon it took her some weeks to get from her Hunsford feelings to the stage where she had no ill-will towards him but never wanted to see him again anything much shorter seems pretty sudden, but I guess with a ‘Groundhog Day’ concept you have to let such objections slide! It was a fun read for Valentine’s day and some of the twists and turns that Darcy had to go through I didn’t see coming. I’d rate this as 3½ stars.

3.5 star read

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

The Darcy Brothers by Austen Variations Authors

Book Cover - The Darcy Brothers by Austen Variations Authors
'The Darcy Brothers' is a collaboration by some of the Austen Variations authors (Monica Fairview, Maria Grace, Cassandra Grafton, Susan Mason-Milks and Abigail Reynolds) and there is a blog tour currently taking place.

The lovely Jakki of Leatherbound Reviews was kind enough to allow me to review the book for her site and you can see my review here.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Book cover, clothbound classics - Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
I first and last read this book probably about 20 years ago, when as a teenager I devoured Jane Austen’s stories one after the other. Some I loved, some I didn’t. Last year I re-read the one I liked the least, ‘Mansfield Park’ and I found that my reaction to the book was vastly different, which is unsurprising as I am very different to the person I was then, so I decided that I should give the other books I hadn’t re-read another go. I enjoyed 'Northanger Abbey' the first time I read it but it never became a favourite of mine, I think partly because the heroine, Catherine Morland, isn’t the sharpest tool in the box and I never gelled with her, but more because I wasn’t a big fan of Henry Tilney. I didn’t like the way he was always laughing at Catherine because at the time I felt that he was laughing at and not laughing with her. Also, I read it not long after ‘Pride & Prejudice’ and was afraid that they’d end up in 25 years in a relationship like Mr & Mrs Bennet! So I didn’t re-read it until now, and, of course, found that I should have re-read it much sooner because Austen is a delight!

This book, if you aren’t familiar with it, is a bit of a humorous dig at some of the gothic romances that were around at the time. The heroine, the naive Catherine Morland, drinks up these torrid tales and when she finds herself in a situation that could be interpreted in the light of the likely events of one of these novels she imagines all kinds of horrors. Meanwhile, she misses all kinds of hints of a real intrigue going on before her, the behaviour of some new friends that she becomes acquainted with in Bath, when she travels there in company with a rich neighbour of her family.

My teenage self didn’t give Catherine credit, and I was unfair there – she is a mere 17 years old when our story unfolds and she is unremarkable in lots of ways – she isn’t particularly clever or beautiful, but she is a nice girl with good principles. She is very naive in the ways of the more worldly people than herself and she’s unused to having to understand the subtext of a conversation because in Catherine’s experience people have always said what they meant rather than playing the game of society manners.
‘...but why he should say one thing so positively, and mean another all the while, was most unaccountable! How were people, at that rate, to be understood?’
Catherine’s main fault is a result of her reading matter – she’s been allowed to read what she likes and the result is that she favours reading some very lurid gothic novels without realising that they delineate some really unlikely events. The first few chapters of the novel are very heavily ironic on this very subject. I started highlighting the amusing parts on my kindle but I had to stop when I realised I would basically be highlighting the first few chapters in their entirety!
‘Her father was a clergyman, without being neglected, or poor, and a very respectable man, though his name was Richard – and he had never been handsome. He had a considerable independence besides two good livings – and he was not in the least addicted to locking up his daughters. Her mother was a woman of useful plain sense, with a good temper, and, what is more remarkable, with a good constitution. She had three sons before Catherine was born; and instead of dying in bringing the latter into the world, as anybody might expect, she still lived on.’
Book cover - Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Henry Tilney is a most amusing hero, certainly the most amusing of Austen’s. He is fond of wordplay, obviously intelligent and not immune to flattery. I have seen people compare him to Elizabeth Bennet in his teasing observations and you can certainly see some similarities; they are both charming, although Elizabeth wants a partner in life who understands her teasing, and Henry is content with something less, though there is every likelihood that Catherine will come to understand it in time!

The Thorpes are interesting characters although deeply obnoxious – you see Isabella Thorpe reeling in the naive Morland siblings, and John Thorpe, her brother, is a wonderful character to read. He’d be horrible to spend time with, but I can find plenty of amusement in him on the page!  As ever, with Austen’s work, a lot of enjoyment comes in her prose style. There are so many quotable quotes, such as:
‘The person, be it gentlemen or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.’
And the novel itself unashamedly defends the work of novel writers, arguing that, although some novels are full of histrionic nonsense, some will also be of much higher calibre:
“And what are you reading, Miss — ?” “Oh! It is only a novel!” replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. “It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda”; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best–chosen language.
If you have never picked up 'Northanger Abbey', or haven’t read it in a long time, I suggest that you give it a go, and prepare to be amused. A 5 star read.

5 star read


Friday, 6 February 2015

The Muse by Jessica Evans

Book cover - The Muse by Jessica Evans
Having seen wonderful reviews for this book I was really excited to read it. It’s an updated version of ‘Pride & Prejudice’ set in the world of ballet. Here, William Darcy is the former principal dancer of the New York Ballet Theater who has come back to the company as a choreographer. He is talented, of New York ‘aristocracy’, rich, gorgeous, and breathtakingly arrogant. Elizabeth Bennet is an insignificant member of the corps de ballet. Her sister, Jane, is a more established member of the corps. Elizabeth has never been as good as Jane – shorter, curvier (neither of which are good for ballet dancers), less beautiful and less of a classic ballerina. She overhears Darcy saying pretty much exactly that to Charles Bingley, artistic director of the ballet company and the boyfriend of Jane. Darcy’s comments flicked on a deeply held feeling, that she’s not as good as Jane, and Elizabeth is very hurt and angry.

Darcy however, has no idea of Elizabeth’s negative feelings towards him. He notices the feeling she infuses into her dance, the expression in her eyes and arm movements. He feels inspired to choreograph by her dancing. Rather than feel appreciation for working with such a talent Elizabeth feeds her resentment towards Darcy, focusing on his arrogance, and constant corrections of her movements. She also resents him for the depth of passion she feels towards him.
‘The dark timbre in Darcy’s voice sent her flesh tingling. She hated herself for it. She hated the way she reacted to him. She hated that Darcy, despicable man though he was, made her quiver in fear, fury and fervor.’
I thought this was an extremely successful update. One thing I thought worked really well was the depth of Darcy’s arrogance, which is quite often reduced significantly in modern updates to help build sympathy for his character – here Elizabeth doesn’t get to see just how arrogant he is, but the reader does as we are privy to his thoughts.

One difference from canon was the change in Elizabeth’s philosophical attitude. It is something that resonated with me as I read ‘Pride & Prejudice’ because I am quite like that myself – there are many things that make me angry but I deal with things by tucking them away or laughing myself out of it, which is very much canon Lizzy’s philosophy too. This Elizabeth, on the other hand is a pretty angry young woman and she nurses her bitter feelings in a way that canon Elizabeth has the sense to laugh off. This makes her a tad less likeable than ‘Pride & Prejudice’s heroine, especially when she takes things out on Jane (who is just as nice as canon Jane, so being mean to her is akin to kicking a puppy!).

However, other things were very close to canon such as the strata of levels of importance in the ballet company mirroring the levels in society that existed in P&P. I loved some of the nods back to Austen’s work too – the Lady Catherine de Bourgh character is a patron of the arts, which is how the character saw herself in P&P, and the Sir William Lucas character is the artistic director, directing the dance as he did in P&P.

This is a very readable and engaging work. Although William and Elizabeth are both very flawed individuals you are rooting for both of them from the first and can see what each of them inspires in the other. They have wonderful passion, whether it is used for loving or hating, and they both spend a lot of effort improving themselves in the light of what they learn from their interactions. There are sex scenes but they are in flashback and not very detailed though they retain their steaminess. There is some swearing but it’s not excessive. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I’d really recommend it. It’s a five star read in my book.

5 star read


Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Meryton Press Short Story Contest - Summer Lovin’

Today I am sharing some news with you about a short story contest. If you are a budding writer, why not take part, you might get your story professionally edited and see your story in print for the world to enjoy!

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Meryton Press Short Story Contest
Summer Lovin’

Meryton Press Short Story Contest Summer Lovin’

BEGINS9:00 a.m. Feb 1, 2015 (US Pacific time)
ENDS11:59 p.m. March 15, 2015 (US Pacific Time)
Meryton Press is conducting a contest to find the best short stories.
The theme of the contest, “Summer Lovin’,” represents the summer season. The interpretation of the theme is left to the writer’s imagination; the story may have summer as a backdrop or may convey a sense of happiness and light. It might be a romantic comedy set in the South Pacific, a thriller in the everglades of Florida, a romance in Queen Victoria’s summer court, an ode to the ocean and Elizabeth Bennet, or a mail -order bride in the Old West—anything your summer muse suggests.
Any genre is acceptable as long as there is ROMANCE. Austenesque is a plus, but is not required. In other words, so long as there is a commonly accepted or acceptable interpretation of the theme embedded in the plot, it works for us. However, this contest is not for children’s stories. Our target audience is readers over 18 years old.
The contest will be judged by a panel of independent judges, and the results will be announced by mid-April 2015.
A long list of entries will be selected for final judging by a panel of expert editors and reviewers. The long list will consist of at least eight quality entries. All entries on the long list will receive a letter with constructive criticism on how the story could have been improved. Four winners will be selected from the long list and will be awarded prizes as detailed in the guidelines below (see “Contest Prizes”).
In addition, all four winning entries will be published in an anthology planned for early summer 2015. The anthology will include not only the four winners but stories from Meryton Press’ popular and award-winning authors.
Contest Prizes: Prizes will be awarded as below. Payment will be through PayPal.


First Prize:
      • US$150
      • Professional editing of entry
      • Blog tour inclusion
      • Priority submission of a longer work
      • Four copies of published anthology
Runners up:
      • US$100
      • Professional editing of entry
      • Publication in the anthology
      • Two copies of published anthology

*Download the PDF file for detailed guidelines and rules or visit merytonpress.com/anthology


*To receive email updates about this contest, sign up for the Anthology Contest Updates mailing list at merytonpress.com/mailing-list.