Saturday 27 June 2015

Sunkissed: Effusions of Summer by Various Authors

Book cover: Sunkissed: Effusions of Summer
A while ago, Meryton Press (who publish mainly Austen-inspired fiction) ran a short story competition. The story had to be romantic, and have a flavour of summer. The four stories judged best would be included in this anthology, along with four stories by some of Meryton Press’ established authors, J Marie Croft, KaraLynne Mackrory, Linda Beutler and Karen M Cox. This review is a little long, as I have done mini reviews of each story.

Spyglasses & Sunburns by J Marie Croft

J Marie Croft also wrote the wonderful ‘Love at First Slight’ which was one of my favourite reads of last year – that one featured a change in gender of many main characters of ‘Pride & Prejudice’ and I found it a really entertaining and ingenious read – you can see my review of it here. One of the things I really enjoyed in that book was the wordplay – the puns and the humour, and I am pleased to say that there was plenty of both in this story. Here, rather than visit Derbyshire, Elizabeth has gone with the Gardiners, Jane and Kitty to visit a seaside resort. The idea is to try and cure poor Kitty’s troublesome cough (isn’t that a fun reference?! It really tickled me).

Luckily, Mr Darcy has also ventured to the seaside with his friend Bingley, as Miss Darcy is to study music with a man who resides there. The Bennet/Gardiner party is spotted from a window when they arrive at their lodgings:

“My brother’s comments were so complimentary, I once suspected him of forming a tendre. Look, he is blushing!” 
“I most certainly am not,” said Darcy, drawing himself up. “Perhaps I spent too much time in the sun today.” 
“You spent the morning writing letters before listening to me play. You have not had too much sun today. Unless...” Stifling a sly smile, she said, “Can one burn while looking through a window?” 
God, yes! “I think not. One can, however, burn with curiosity,” said Darcy.

After confessing to Bingley (and nearly coming to fisticuffs) both men set about courting their ladies, while being unsure that their attentions will be welcomed. What follows is some very lovely romance, and some mischief, courtesy of a spyglass, some sea-bathing, and some strange sunburn that comes and goes. I really enjoyed Darcy and Bingley’s interactions, their relationship was full of banter and very enjoyable. This was such a wonderful way to start out the book! I so enjoyed this story and will definitely re-read it.

Second Chance on Sunset Beach by Sophia Rose

We have a complete change of pace with debut Sophia Rose (who is a dear reading buddy of mine, reviewing for ‘The Delighted Reader’ as well as running the Austenesque TBR Group on Goodreads. Second chances combined with Austenesque means a ‘Persuasion’-inspired story. This was quite a melancholy read. Callie is an artist, and is dreading today: her cousin is soon to be married and part of the wedding party is the man who left her life 8 years ago, under circumstances which can’t have failed to have made him bitter towards her.

Navy Seal Cameron has come to town determined to show Callie that her rejection of him hasn’t affected him at all (of course, the gentleman doth protest too much). Although this isn’t in itself a sad story, it made me feel sad when I considered how much time had been wasted between these two. I think in some respects ‘Persuasion’ can be tricky to update; in the original I could see both points of view and although Anne’s decision not to marry Frederick wasn’t the right decision, it was the ‘safe’ and understandable decision and done with Captain Wentworth’s interests in mind. Here it was the same, but really so unnecessary! It was a good change of pace, but a little melancholy for me.

The Incomplete Education of Fitzwilliam Darcy by Linda Beutler

This was a story of how Darcy was initiated to the world of women and is probably going to be a little divisive. Here, Darcy and his cousins go to Paris, where Mr Darcy senior has arranged for Darcy to be initiated to the joys of the flesh and learn how to please a lady, however, things do not go as originally planned.

There are some people who like to believe that Darcy came to the marriage bed as a virgin, and others who believe that it’s unlikely. I am one of the latter. However, just because I think he would have had experience before he met Elizabeth Bennet doesn’t mean that I want to read about it so I have mixed feelings about this story. In itself, this story (from the author of ‘The Red Chrysanthemum’ and ‘Longbourn to London’) is actually very entertaining, but the subject matter isn’t particularly something I want to read about! The other stories I have read by this author have all had sex scenes, but this story (and indeed, the whole book) has none. This story is still probably the spiciest read of the collection.

Midsummer Madness by Natalie Richards

Natalie is the blog mistress over at ‘Songs and Stories’. I recognised her name from various message boards and was very curious to read her story. This was a lovely little tale. Over a year after the failed Hunsford proposal, Bingley and Jane Bennet are married, but Darcy has steered well clear of his friend’s sister-in-law. Though his feelings are still as ardent as ever, he believes that he wouldn’t be welcome. At a masquerade, Darcy sees that his sister is safe with one of their cousins and feels able to retreat for a few moments. On a balcony, he meets a lady that he finds very attractive, despite his heart belonging to his beloved Elizabeth. They begin talking and realise that they share the same bond of heartbreak. Darcy comes up with a suggestion of how they could each right matters with their respective loves and proposes that they make a bargain to do so:
‘She gasped in surprise. “I beg your pardon?” 
“What if we did? What if we made a bagain? I would speak to my lady and you would speak to your gentleman.” It was a mad idea but the best sort of midsummer madness.’
We then follow Darcy as he goes to put his part of the plan into action, and see how favourably this is received...

Shades of Pemberley by KaraLynne Mackrory

Austenesque readers will no doubt recognise KaraLynne Mackrory as the author of such fantastic Austenesque tales as ‘Bluebells in the Mourning’ and ‘Haunting Mr Darcy: A Spirited Courtship’. The latter of these books has a paranormal element to it, as Elizabeth’s spirit is haunting Darcy while her body is gravely ill, and this short story has an element of something unusual happening too. Here, we arrive at Pemberley while Elizabeth and the Gardiners are visiting, and in a change from the original, there is also another party visiting, a young lady and her father.

Lingering in the portrait gallery, Elizabeth manages to become detached from the rest of her party, who have moved on to the gardens, where Mr Darcy bumps into them. He thinks at first that the young lady is Elizabeth, but realises his mistake when she turns around. He has a strict talk to himself to stop being so imaginative, and then heads off to the house.  When he then spots Elizabeth in the house, he convinces himself that he is imagining things. It seems as though Darcy might miss his chance of meeting Elizabeth at Pemberley until other forces take a hand. This was a really entertaining story and though there is a paranormal element to it, it’s not creepy at all, but lighthearted.

A Summer in Sanditon by Abigail Bok

This was the overall winner among the competition entries. I read Abigail Bok’s modern update of ‘Pride & Prejudice’, ‘An Obstinate, Headstrong Girl’ earlier this year, and very much enjoyed it, so I was looking forward to reading this. Unlike that book, this story is historical, set the year after Mr Darcy’s marriage to Miss Bennet. Although these characters do not feature in the story, their marriage acted as a catalyst to it. Now that Mr Darcy is unavailable, Lady Catherine has set about finding a husband for Miss Anne de Bourgh, making her take part in the London season (where unfortunately she did not ‘take’). Rather than admit defeat and slink back off to Rosings, Lady Catherine decides that the very thing to do is to go to a seaside resort. The one she decides to go to is the up and coming Sanditon.

Many of you will recognise this as the name of the novel Jane Austen was working on when she died, and if you haven’t read it, the plot can be found summarised here. I think knowing the character names and having some idea of their characters would be helpful in reading this story, however, a synopsis won’t give you the full blast of Sir Edward’s verboseness, you’d be better off reading the text for that!

Here, Sanditon is very similar to the Sanditon of Austen’s story, although the relationship between Sir Edward and Lady Denham is different, as she is his aunt by marriage in Austen’s story and his mother/stepmother here. The other big difference is that there is no Charlotte Heywood, who is the heroine of the book.

So Sanditon is where poor Anne de Bourgh is headed, with her cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam as escort. As we know, Anne is not in the best of health – Lady Catherine has of course not considered Anne’s opinion or wishes in being taken to London or indeed to Sanditon and the poor dear is exhausted:
‘At this moment, the most ambitious wish of her heart was that the journey would be over so she could lie down upon a bed while Mrs. Jenkinson bathed her face with lavender water.’
Once Anne feels more the thing she begins to mix in Sanditon society and quickly discovers what those of us who have read Austen’s ‘Sanditon’ know; there is quite an odd selection of people here! She finds she can avoid them better if she exerts herself and goes on some nice long walks with her cousin, which has the fortunate side effect of improving her health and stamina. As this happens she has more energy to notice things around her, and she begins to worry about the Colonel, and his seeming interest in the beautiful but poor Miss Beresford, who is the companion of the Lady Catherine of Sanditon, Lady Denham. Anne believes that there is some sort of intrigue going on between Miss Beresford and Sir Edward, and doesn’t want her cousin to get mixed up with it. So she plans a diversion...

This story was a real joy to read; I really enjoy this author’s style. I always think that Anne de Bourgh is something of a blank slate, and can be developed in a number of directions. This was a direction I wasn’t expecting – as I said, here she is a sweet lady and I liked her very much, although she is very naive, and even wilfully blind at times. My favourite part of this story was actually seeing Lady Catherine meet a character very similar to her own:
‘The two ladies, sharing a love of disputation and an equal lack of willingness to alter their own opinions, found themselves tolerably content with each other’s company. Each made her own pronouncements without being at all moved by the contrary views of the other, and they were perfectly happy to talk past each other.’
Dream Spinner by Morgan K Wyatt

Ms Wyatt is an author with a number of books under her belt, mainly contemporary romance and crime books from what I can see. This story was about a woman who sold items for a hope chest, giving demonstrations at people’s homes. Part of her sales patter was to ‘spin the dream’ of a wonderful future life for the working class people she was visiting, in order to enthuse them into buying things they don’t really want and can’t really afford. On this occasion, the woman is involved in a traffic accident on the way to her appointment, and narrowly avoids being hit by a truck, which makes her re-evaluate her career choice. This story was set in the 80s, which was a touch I really liked, and it was an interesting short story, though I found the heroine’s decisions a touch impetuous.

However, for me, this story felt out of place in the book. All the other stories, were Austen-inspired and while the competition didn’t require for the stories to be Austen-inspired every other story was so it didn’t really seem to fit with the other stories.

Northanger Revisited 2015 by Karen M Cox

Those of you familiar with Karen M Cox’s work might remember that she has written modernised versions of ‘Pride & Prejudice’ and ‘Persuasion’ (‘1932’ and ‘Find Wonder in All Things’ respectively – you can find my review of ‘1932’, which is one of my favourite P&P updates, here). I was really pleased to see that she’d done an update of ‘Northanger Abbey’, which I would say is probably the story of Austen’s that is most fun. This is a fun story too. Catherine is a sweet girl, on holiday at the beach at Northanger Island with her aunt and uncle. She meets a number of people, including Henry, who here is a police officer.  There are a number of lovely little nods back to the original, such as this one (please excuse the long quote, but I really liked it!):
“Oh, I see what you’re thinking. You’ll be posting on Instagram about that weird guy you met down by the beach.” 
Catherine put on a teasing voice of her own and batted her lashed in wide-eyed innocence. “How do you know I even have Instagram?” 
“Of course you have one; all you co-eds have Instagram. You’ll post a selfie, wearing your designer swim attire with its matching cover up.” His eyes took in her outfit but came back to rest on her face. “The caption will read, ‘Looking good, but had to suffer a goofy stranger trying to chat me up while I bought a piña colada.’ Don’t forget to post a picture of the piña colada.” 
The bartender rolled his eyes. 
“I’ll do no such thing,” Catherine declared. 
“You know what you should post don’t you?” 
“’Met this great guy down at the beach snack bar. Had a fascinating conversation. He’s probably a genius. Want to get to know him better.’ That is what you should say.”

After a few days Catherine makes friends with Isabella Thorpe and then Catherine’s brother arrives, bringing in tow John Thorpe. If Henry is Austen’s most amusing male, then John Thorpe has surely got to be in contention for most ridiculous one. Here, he is just as obnoxious, charmless and over-familiar as canon, though rather than boasting about how fast his horses are he drives a pick up truck with oversized wheels and boasts about his low m.p.g.!

Catherine is reading a gothic Regency romance, which surprised me, as in ‘Northanger Abbey’ updates it’s usually a vampire story. I wondered how the gothic Regency reading could possibly lead Catherine’s imagination astray and I was a little disappointed that the story finishes before this point of NA is reached. However, this is a lovely short story with a really charming romance.

In summary, I really enjoyed this summery offering from Meryton Press. As in any anthology, some stories worked better than others for me, but the standard of all of them was excellent. I would certainly recommend this book for some summer reading, and I’d rate it as a 4 star read.

4 star read

*My thanks go to Meryton Press, for providing me with an e-book of Sunkissed for my honest review, and to Jakki Leatherberry of Leatherbound Reviews for arranging the blog tour.

As you know, this is part of a blog tour. We’re right at the end of the tour now, so I don’t know whether the earliest giveaways are still open for entries, but it's worth checking, and the later ones probably would be. You can check out the other stops on the blog tour, including guest posts, excerpts and other reviews here:

Schedule: 15 June: Guest Post at Austenprose
16 June: Guest Post & Giveaway at My Jane Austen Book Club
17 June: Review at Diary of an Eccentric
18 June: Excerpt & Giveaway at So Little Time…
19 June: Guest Post & Giveaway at The Little Munchkin Reader
20 June: Excerpt & Giveaway at The Calico Critic
21 June: Review at Margie's Must Reads
21 June: Guest Post at My Love for Jane Austen
22 June: Guest Post & Giveaway at Best Sellers & Best Stellars
23 June: Excerpt & Giveaway at Songs and Stories
24 June: Review at Wings of Paper
25 June: Excerpt at Writer Wonderland26 June: Guest Post & Giveaway at My Kids Led Me Back to Pride & Prejudice
27 June: Review at Babblings of a Bookworm
28 June: Author Feature & Giveaway at The Delighted Reader

And of course, you can buy the book too, if you can't wait to try and win a copy. It's available on Amazon in both ebook and paperback (US link / UK link).

Meryton Press Short Story Contest

Remember, Meryton Press is running another short story contest, this time themed around the colder part of the year, from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day. You can find more info on that here.

Author Bios:

Karen M Cox writes stories with romantic and historic elements. Her novels have garnered awards from the independent publishing industry, including two IPPY awards: a Bronze in Romance for 1932 (2010) and a Gold in Romance for Find Wonder in All Things (2012), which was also a finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards 2013. Her third novel, At the Edge of the Sea (2013), won the Romance and Chick Lit categories in the 2014 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Her favorite part of writing is readers saying her stories made them smile, or think, or remember. 

KaraLynne Mackrory is better known for her hilarious and ready wit than for her books, though they aren't too bad either.  She has published three books with Meryton Press: Falling For Mr. Darcy (2012), Bluebells in the Mourning (2013) and the 2015 Romance Bronze medal IPPY winner, Haunting Mr. Darcy (2014). In her spare time she likes to pretend she does not have chip crumbs down her shirt from when her kids ate their snack on her. 

Linda Beutler has published three novels of Austenesque romance through Meryton Press: A Will of Iron (June 2015), Longbourn to London (July 2014), and the Silver IPPY Award-winning The Red Chrysanthemum (September 2013). She is also a garden writer, publishing through Timber Press, including the forthcoming Plant Lover's Guide to Clematis (March 2016), Garden to Vase (2007), and Gardening with Clematis (2004). 

J. Marie Croft is a self-proclaimed word nerd and adherent of Jane Austen’s quote “Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery.” Her lighthearted novel, Love at First Slight (Meryton Press, 2013), bears witness to Joanne’s fondness for Pride and Prejudice, wordplay, and laughter. 

Sophia Rose, a northern Californian transplant to the Great Lakes region of the U.S., is a quiet yet curious gal who dabbles in cooking, book reviewing, and gardening, and is encouraged in her pursuits by an incredible man and loving family. Writing has been a compelling need of Sophia’s since childhood, and being a published author is a dream come true. 

Morgan K Wyatt is an author, mother, former special needs teacher, and avid gardener. She’s published seventeen books with four more coming out this summer 2015. She’s active on the blogosphere at Writer Wonderland, Lowcarb Believer, and Dating After Fortyeight--the last she started writing when dating her husband. While mainly a romance writer, she’s also working on a new cozy mystery series with her beloved husband. 

Natalie Richards is a blogger, singer and writer. She started her book review blog, Songs & Stories, in late 2010 after falling in love with Jane Austen fanfiction. Her writing can also be found on Figment, the Darcy & Lizzy Forum and in TeenInk magazine. Midsummer Madness is her first published short story. She resides with her family in the Oregon countryside and currently works as a professional babysitter. 

Abigail Bok is the author of a contemporary Austenesque novel, An Obstinate, Headstrong Girl, and of "A Dictionary of Jane Austen's Life and Works," published as part of The Jane Austen Companion. She is currently at work on a series, called Darking Hundred, set in England in the year 1800. 

Christina Boyd wears many hats as she is an editor at Meryton Press, a contributor to Austenprose, and a ceramicist for the Made in Washington stores under her own banner, Stir Crazy Mama’s Artworks. A life member of Jane Austen Society of North America, Christina lives in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest with her dear Mr. B, two busy teenagers, and a retriever named BiBi. Visiting Jane Austen's England remains on her bucket list.


  1. What a truly thoughtful and lovely review! So appreciate your time in writing this and for being part of the tour. Thank you!

  2. What a wonderful review, Ceri! I loved 'Sun-kissed' too. I think one of the best thing about anthologies is that they have such a way to showcase people's writing! In my case I wasn't familiar with all the styles when I began to read, but went away with eight favourite authors. It was a great read, funny, poignant, intriguing and exquisitely romantic. Beautiful!

    1. I agree Joana, an anthology is such a good way to try out authors that are new to you, as you get to read a number of different authors in the time it'd take to read an ordinary book.

  3. Thank you for this, Ceri. I am disciplining myself to only read one story a week. At this point, I've finished the first three. They are just as you described. I'm not at all surprised that these first three made me feel such joy, sadness, and another emotion which will remain unnamed. These are excellent authors. So, I'm looking forward to #4 tomorrow night and the rest in the weeks to come.

    Ceri, what I truly appreciate about your review is the lack of spoilers. Well done!

    1. I couldn't wait! I just read Natalie Richard's story and I LOVED IT!!!! Even though I suspected what was coming, it was so well written. Wow!

    2. Aww, thank you so much! I'm so glad you enjoyed it. :)

      Natalie R.

    3. Thank you Joy! I try very hard not to give spoilers so I'm glad you think I achieved it. You are far more disciplined than me in your reading! I haven't had much time to read lately, but I had a train journey a couple of weekends ago and I read half of it on the way here and half on the way home. I don't think I could have held off as long as week!

    4. Seriously, Natalie? You are an Oregonian too? I live in Winston (by Roseburg). I NEED to read more from you. Will you be publishing more? I NEED MORE!!! MORE! MORE!!!

  4. Yay! So glad you could host our book with a review, Ceri. I appreciate your mini-reviews. Anthos can be tricky to review. Ahhh, sorry to make you melancholy. Okay, no, I'm not. haha!

    1. Haha, I am a big wimp, I know, melancholy is as sad as I like to get :) It was good to have a change of pace and a bit of variety, as some of the stories are really light-hearted and there are some more serious issues going on in your one.

  5. Hi, Ceri.
    Rating an anthology must be a rather tricky business; so thanks for your thoughtful review. You certainly have a knack for succinctly capturing the essence of each story without giving away too much.
    And, on a different note, hearing that you like wordplay is music to my ears.

    1. Thank you Joanne! I try not to give too much away, I hate reading spoilers, unless I'm expressly looking for them. I really enjoyed the wordplay in yours, and the humour too :)

  6. Thanks for the great review, Ceri! I love your 'mini-review' format. I was tickled to hear you were curious about my story ahead of time. :)

    Natalie R.

    1. Thank you! I might have re-read your story while I was writing the review :) So romantic!

  7. Thank you for reviewing Sun-kissed, Ceri! I smiled at your comment about being disappointed the story ended before you could see how Catherine's imagination led her astray because I felt that way too while writing it! But I ran out of words for short story/novella length and so the end of NA's Volume 1 seemed the best place to tie it up. Vampires - yeah, I can see how that would mess with Catherine's head a bit. :)

    1. I could see that it was a suitable place to end things, but I really wanted to know how you were going to manage it!

  8. I'm totally agree with you Ceri! Thanks for writing this review!

  9. Wow, what an impressive review! I read this book and also enjoyed it. But not like Joy - I read the whole thing straight through.

    1. I realised as I was writing it that it was just getting bigger and bigger, so kudos to everybody who managed to read all of it!

      I was the same as you, Sheila, I read it pretty much straight through, but in two sittings, as I was reading it on a train journey. I don't have Joy's discipline to only read a little at a time, I read as much as I can in the time that I have.


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