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Saturday, 31 December 2016

My Favourite Reads of 2016

Well hello there! I hope you've had a lovely Christmas (if you celebrate it). Jane-on-my-tree hopes you had a good one :)

2016 has been a tricky year for me, reading-wise as I've been constrained by time, however, I read some wonderful books this year. Less five star reads than in previous years, but still some very enjoyable books. I've also read some more audio books than previously. Unfortunately, I haven't reviewed everything I've read, something that I hope to remedy next year, but this is my pick of the bunch, with links to my reviews for a fuller view:

Monday, 19 December 2016

A Very Darcy Christmas by Victoria Kincaid - Except and Giveaway

Book cover: A Very Darcy Christmas by Victoria Kincaid
What do you have planned for Christmas? A quiet celebration of your nearest and dearest, or maybe something more chaotic? Victoria Kincaid's latest story sees the Darcys first Christmas as a married couple; they had planned something quiet, but the best laid plans can sometimes go awry :) Read on for a post from Victoria about Christmas in Jane Austen's day, more details about 'A Very Darcy Christmas' and a chance to win a kindle version of this story.

* * *

Nowadays we tend to think of gift-giving as one of the central parts of Christmas celebrations. Certainly businesses and stores encourage us to think of the season that way.  But in Jane Austen’s time, gift-giving was not a big part of the holiday.  Parents or other relatives might give presents to children.  On Boxing Day, employers often gave money and Christmas boxes with gifts of clothing and other goods to their servants. Wealthy landowners (like Mr. Darcy) might give gifts of food or other necessities to tenants or people in the neighborhood who were down on their luck.  But there was no widespread exchange of presents between adults of equal station, and it was not considered an essential part of Christmas the way it is today.

So how did they celebrate Christmas during the Regency?  They decorated houses with greenery and lit yule logs and went to church.  But they also did a lot of socializing.  The Christmas season ran from the beginning of December through Twelfth Night, and during that time people would visit friends, hold dinners and parties, play parlor games, and eat lots of good food.  In other words, Christmas was a time to hang out with your friends and family.

This Regency propensity for partying inspired a central idea in my novel, A Very Darcy Christmas.  In it, newlyweds Elizabeth and Darcy are besieged by relatives who arrive at Pemberley uninvited and take advantage of their Christmas hospitality.  The Darcys end up with Lydia, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, and Lady Catherine all under one roof—as well as two friends of her ladyship’s who she hopes will pay court to Georgiana.  As you can imagine, mayhem ensues.  While the inhabitants of Pemberley enjoy parlor games and yule logs and fine dining, they also suffer through Mrs. Bennet’s hysterics over an impending French invasion and Lydia’s tendency to accidentally set things on fire.  
I had great fun writing about how Pride and Prejudice’s characters enjoy a traditional Regency Christmas—but with a uniquely Austenesque twist.  Hopefully you will have just as much fun reading it!

Book Description

Elizabeth and Darcy are preparing for their first Christmas at Pemberley when they are suddenly deluged by a flood of uninvited guests.  Mrs. Bennet is seeking refuge from the French invasion she believes to be imminent.  Lady Catherine brings two suitors for Georgiana’s hand, who cause a bit of mayhem themselves.  Lydia’s presence causes bickering—and a couple of small fires—while Wickham has more nefarious plans in mind….The abundance of guests soon puts a strain on her marriage as Elizabeth tries to manage the chaos while ensuring a happy Christmas for all.

Meanwhile, Georgiana is finding her suitors—and the prospect of coming out—to be very unappealing.  Colonel Fitzwilliam seems to be the only person who understands her fondness for riding astride and shooting pistols.  Georgiana realizes she’s beginning to have more than cousinly feelings for him, but does he return them?  And what kind of secrets is he hiding?  

Romance and merriment abound as everyone gathers to celebrate a Very Darcy Christmas.  

Excerpt

“You barely had an opportunity to make the acquaintance of Mr. Worthy or Viscount Barrington.”  Aunt Catherine gestured to the two men seated on either side of her chair.  “The viscount’s ancestral estates are here in Derbyshire.” 

This was at least the fourth time her aunt had relayed that information—as if propinquity would be Georgiana’s primary criterion for choosing a husband.  “Indeed?  How interesting,” Georgiana said as she focused on cutting her meat into smaller and smaller pieces.  In truth she found Lord Robert intriguing.  While Mr. Worthy was impossible in every way, the viscount was handsome and well-spoken.  But Georgiana had no opportunities to speak with him alone; her aunt was always present, directing the conversation.  

Lord Robert smiled and appeared ready to speak when Mr. Worthy interjected, “My family’s land is in Kent.  It is very fertile.”  

William seemed to catch something in his throat and coughed loudly into his napkin.  

Mr. Worthy continued, oblivious.  “We have implemented all of the latest techniques in crop circulation.” 

One of William’s eyebrows rose.  “Crop rotation?”

“Exactly!”  Mr. Worthy beamed at William as if he were a small child who had solved a mathematics problem rather than a powerful landowner who had corrected the other man’s inaccurate language.  
William cut his meat rather more forcefully than usual, but he said nothing.  

“Mr. Worthy’s mother and I are second cousins,” Aunt Catherine intoned. 

Is that the only reason Aunt Catherine is imposing this man upon me? wondered Georgiana.  She could not possibly believe we would make a good match.

She would have preferred to familiarize herself with the viscount, but he had become involved in a conversation with Mr. Bennet.  Richard was engaged in discourse with Mrs. Wickham.  Mr. Worthy, on the other hand, regarded Georgiana like an eager puppy, awaiting her next words.  I really should speak with him.  Under the table she wiped damp palms on her dress.  She had never claimed much expertise in the art of making conversation.  But Mrs. Annesley had given her advice about it: “You may always ask the other person about his or her life.  Everyone loves to talk about himself.”  

That was the answer.  She could ask one question, and then he would do all the talking.  “What sorts of crops do you plant on your estate?” she asked him. 

The man beamed at her, sitting a little straighter in his chair.  “Well, in our north fields we have wheat, although the steward has suggested switching those to corn.  That could increase the yield by up to twelve percent.  The east fields were fallow last year, but now we have them planted with a heartier variety of potatoes.  And then in the west—oh, I should add that one of the east fields is dedicated to barley because my steward thought…”

Half an hour later the occupants of one end of the table were still listening to the fascinating tales of Mr. Worthy’s adventures in crop rotation.  He spoke with the superior air of someone who condescended to share great pearls of wisdom that others should be grateful to receive.  Georgiana cast a sidelong glance at her brother.  Although he could usually talk about agriculture for some time, even his eyes were glazing over.  Of course, this was a monologue rather than a discussion.

“…Naturally, it required a great deal more irrigation.”  Mr. Worthy paused to take a breath, but Georgiana had been waiting to pounce on the slightest lull.  

“And what do your tenants think about such improvements?” she asked.  Surely Mr. Worthy’s improvements had created a vast deal more work for them. 

“The tenants?” he echoed as if he had never heard the word before. 

“Have they been supportive of all the changes?” she asked.  Both Richard and William were now watching with avid interest.  They must have had the same thought.  

“W-why yes—of-of course!  I believe so…” he stammered. 

In other words, he had never asked them.  William always emphasized the importance of working with the tenants and involving them in any major changes on the estate.  After all, it was their livelihood.  

Mr. Worthy’s briefly troubled expression gave way to one of renewed enthusiasm.  “Oh, and I neglected to tell you about the new fertilizer we have been experimenting with!”  Georgiana cast an imploring look at her aunt, but the older woman’s eyes were closed.  Good gracious, the man had managed to put her to sleep at the dining table!  

This would not do.  If Georgiana must tolerate the man’s ramblings, then her aunt must suffer as well. She glanced around the table for tools with which to enact a plan.  Her eyes fell on a metal cover over a basket of rolls. 

Reaching out her fork as if she were stretching her arms, she allowed the utensil to fall on the cover with a loud clatter.  The noise startled Aunt Catherine awake with a jerk. 

“As I was saying,” she declared quite loudly to Mr. Worthy, “Georgiana is an accomplished player of the pianoforte.  She will oblige us with some music after dinner.” 

“How wonderful!” Lord Robert chimed in.  He had been speaking with Mr. Bennet on his other side but now took fresh interest in their discourse.

* * *

Giveaway Time!

Book cover: A Very Darcy Christmas by Victoria Kincaid
Victoria Kincaid has kindly offered to give a kindle version of 'A Very Darcy Christmas' to one of you lovely people (open internationally). To enter, just leave a comment on this blog post. You can tell us what type of Christmas you hope to have, or if you have any good stories of Christmases that didn't go to plan we'd like to hear about those too! Make your comment by the end of the day on Thursday 22 December to enter and please leave a way for me to contact you in case you are the lucky winner.

Thank you so much for dropping by, Victoria!

Sunday, 18 December 2016

The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill by Julie Klassen - Excerpt and Giveaway

Hello everybody! Today the blog tour for 'The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill' by Julie Klassen drops by so I have the pleasure of bringing you an excerpt and giveaway opportunity. Let's start off by learning some more about the book:

Blog Tour: The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill by Julie Klassen

Book Description

The lifeblood of the village of Ivy Hill is its coaching inn, The Bell. When the innkeeper dies suddenly, his genteel wife, Jane Bell, becomes the reluctant landlady. Jane has no idea how to manage a business, but with the town's livelihood at stake and a large loan due, she must quickly find a way to save the inn.

Despite their strained relationship, Jane turns to her resentful mother-in-law, Thora, for help. Formerly mistress of The Bell, Thora is struggling to overcome her losses and find purpose for the future. As she works with Jane, two men from her past vie for her attention, but Thora has promised herself never to marry again. Will one of them convince her to embrace a second chance at love?

As pressure mounts from the bank, Jane employs new methods, and puzzles over the intentions of several men who seem to have a vested interest in the place, including a mysterious newcomer with secret plans of his own. With the help of friends old and new, can Jane restore life to the inn, and to her empty heart as well?

Visit talesfromivyhill.com to find a map of the village, character profiles, a book giveaway, and more!

Let's enjoy the excerpt now :)

Book cover: The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill by Julie Klassen
Ever since her husband was killed, Jane Bell has lived an isolated, lonely life. She slowly begins taking an active role in managing the coaching inn she inherited, hoping to turn things around in time to pay back a massive loan. As pressure mounts from the bank, Jane puzzles over the intentions of several men who seem to have a vested interest in the place, including a handsome newcomer with secret plans of his own.

* * *

The gentleman, of average height and confident bearing, set down his valise. “I would like a room for a few days, if you please.”

That piqued Jane’s interest. Most of their guests stayed a single night, on their way somewhere else. But with so many rooms empty, she was not about to complain.

“You are very welcome,” she said, hoping not to sound too eager. She opened the registration book and slid the ink pot and quill toward him.

He picked up the pen with clean, well-groomed hands and bent over the registry, scratching away. She took the opportunity to study him. He was in his early to mid-thirties and handsome, with golden brown hair and side-whiskers. He wore the fine clothes of a gentleman, but there was nothing of the dandy about him. No ostentatious flair to his cravat. No jewelry, quizzing glass, or walking stick. He had good, regular features—a straight nose, full lower lip, and vertical grooves bracketing his mouth.

He glanced up and caught her staring. His soft green eyes shone with humor, and the corner of his mouth quirked in a knowing grin.

Jane looked away quickly, making a show of searching for an available room and selecting a key from the drawer. Then she turned the registry toward herself, ready to add the room number in the appropriate column.

“And how many nights you will be with us?” she asked.

“May I let you know? I am not certain how long.”

“Of course. Just let me know when you decide. I will put you in number seven, Mr. . . .” She glanced at the registry, then bent to look closer. She couldn’t quite make out the name. James D-something.

He offered, “My friends call me JD.”

Jane peered at him, stifling a retort. She reminded herself she was no longer a genteel young lady awaiting a proper introduction. “Well, Mr. JD,” she said, not quite concealing the disapproval in her voice. “I hope you shall be comfortable here.”

He said, “Thank you. And you are?”

“Mrs. Bell.”

“Ah. The innkeeper herself.”

Jane automatically shook her head, demurring, “That was my husband’s title.”

“Oh? I thought I read that a Mrs. Bell owned this inn.”

Where had he read that? “Well, I suppose I do, officially. Though it is a family business.”

“Ah . . .” He nodded out the window in Patrick’s direction. “I did meet a Mr. Bell briefly when I arrived, but—”

“My brother-in-law,” Jane explained. “My husband passed away last year.”

“I see.” His gaze ran over her black dress. “I am sorry.”

“Thank you.” She stepped around the counter, wishing Colin were there to attend to this man.

“Now, right this way. Watch your head.” She led the way through the low archway and up the stairs.

“Do you have friends or family here in Ivy Hill?” she asked casually.

“I am here on business.” His tone was polite but did not invite further inquiry.

“Oh?”

“Um-hm.”

When he did not expand on his two-syllable answer, she decided it would be rude to probe further.

“Be careful of this step,” she warned. “It needs looking after. And the handrail is a little loose here. Pray, don’t lean on it.”

Reaching the half landing, Jane noticed the patterned paper coming away from the wall, and a large spider web draping the candle chandelier above them. She’d noticed neither before. But suddenly, with this well-dressed gentleman behind her, every cobweb and crack in the plaster seemed to shout of neglect. She also felt self-conscious, wondering if her backside was at the man’s eye level as she climbed the stairs. She hoped he wasn’t looking. She ought to have suggested he precede her.

She reached number seven and inserted the key, disconcerted to find her hand not quite steady. How foolish. The door refused to give. “A little sticky, I’m afraid.”

“Allow me.”

She stepped aside, and he gave a well-placed shove with his shoulder and the door gave and swung wide.

“After you,” she insisted.

Inside, she pointed out the basin and towels, described the location of the outside privy, and reiterated mealtimes. “I’ll ask Alwena to bring hot water. If you need any clothes washed, she’ll take them to the laundress for you. Anything else you need while you’re here, just let us know.”

“I will certainly do that, Mrs. Bell.”

Jane knew she should leave but found herself lingering. “The floor slants a bit; please watch your step.”

“It’s not too bad,” he said affably. “When was the inn built?”

“I don’t know exactly, but it is over a hundred years old.” She gave a sheepish little chuckle. “And probably looks it.”

“I don’t know . . .” he mused. “She isn’t in her first blush of youth, I grant you. But she has good bones. She’s still a beauty.”

Jane looked over and was disconcerted to find the man’s gaze resting on her. Surely he did not mean . . . ? She swallowed and reached for the door latch, backing across the threshold. “I shall leave you to get settled. Enjoy your stay.”

He smiled, and the grooves in his cheeks deepened. “I believe I shall.”

* * *

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. Her books have been honored with the Christy Award for Historical Romance, the Minnesota Book Award, and the Midwest Book Award, among others. Julie and her husband have two sons and live in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota. For more information, visit www.julieklassen.com.

Giveaway

Be sure to enter the giveaway before you leave—the winner will receive a $20 Teavana gift card and a package of four inspirational British romances from four different eras (The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill by Julie Klassen, A Haven on Orchard Lane by Lawana Blackwell, The Lost Heiress by Roseanna M. White, Not by Sight by Kate Breslin). The winner will be notified on December 22.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill Blog Tour Schedule

December 5: Author Q&A on Pemberley to Milton
December 6: Excerpt on My Love for Jane Austen
December 8: Review on Laura's Reviews
December 9: Book Spotlight on More Agreeably Engaged
December 10: Review on A Bookish Way of Life
December 11: Review and Excerpt on Delighted Reader Book Reviews
December 12: British Show Inspiration Guest Post on Living Read Girl
December 13: Historical Background Guest Post on English Historical Fiction Authors
December 14: Review on Calico Critic
December 15: Excerpt on So Little Time
December 16: Review and Author Q&A on My Jane Austen Book Club
December 17: Review on Just Jane 1813
December 18: Excerpt on Babblings of a Book Worm
December 19: Review on Austenesque Reviews
December 20: Guest Post on Jane Austen in Vermont
December 21: Review on Luxury Reading

Mr Bennet's Dutiful Daughter by Joana Starnes - Winner

Book cover: Mr Bennet's Dutiful Daughter by Joana Starnes
Well, my dear friends. You may have wondered where I'd been lately. I am pleased to be able to tell you that I was NOT abducted by aliens or seriously injured; it was just the busyness of the season. December is always sooooo busy. When I finally get to relax for the day I find myself in a zombie-like state which is not conducive to any thinking or blogging. I am so sorry for my absence. I have been meaning to post the winner of Mr Bennet's Dutiful Daughter by Joana Starnes for so long. So I will not make you wait any further. The winner, chosen at random, is....

Kirsten!

Edited to add: Unfortunately Kirsten didn't get in touch so I've had to choose another winner, and that person is...


Becky C!

D'oh! Becky has won a copy elsewhere. Will third time be the charm? Let's try;

Maria!

Hopefully, you haven't won a copy. I will be in touch.

If you have not been so fortunate as to read this book then I'd recommend it. You can read my review here, or alternately treat yourself to the book (you are worth it!) - Buy link (US / UK). Thank you so much to Joana Starnes for allowing me to take part in the blog tour.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Planned Reading for December 2016

Well hello-ho-ho to you all! This year has flown by, and now it's December! Apologies to those of you who don't celebrate Christmas for the theme of this post. I am somewhat of a fan of the festive season once I'm organised and I'm in the throes of that at the moment.

Assembly Rooms at Bath
Assembly Rooms at Bath
As part of my Christmas prep I am off to Bath this weekend. I am not looking for Captain Wentworth wielding his umbrella or visiting any of the Austen attractions in Bath this time, unfortunately. Bath is a popular destination for a bit of Christmas shopping for people who live in my neck of the woods. I don't think I need much though I'm looking forward to seeing if there are any delights in the Christmas market that they have each year. If I end up with any nice photos that you might be interested in I'll share them with you :)

I don't have much planned for this month as it's likely that I'll be pretty busy with other things, however, I'd like to try and squeeze in some festive reading, or even catch up on some reads I failed to get to earlier in the year. I really need to win the lottery at some point if I am ever going to really make inroads into my TBR list!

Book Cover: A Very Darcy Christmas by Victoria KincaidI have some visitors stopping by this month. Firstly, I'll be welcoming Victoria Kincaid, who has a new Christmas-themed book out, 'A Very Darcy Christmas', which seems like a fun book looking at the Darcys' first Christmas as a married couple.

Book cover: The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill by Julie Klassen
Later in the month the blog tour for Julie Klassen's new book, 'The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill' will be stopping by. This sounds like an intriguing read, with a genteel lady having to team up with her less genteel mother in law to take over the running of an inn.

What do you have planned for this month? Do you have any good reading lined up or will you be too busy with your festive events and traditions? I will be wrapping Christmas presents while having my annual watch of 'It's a Wonderful Life' and we'll be making a very poorly decorated gingerbread house, amongst other things!