Monday, March 6, 2017

Book Review and Giveaway: The Particular Charm of Miss Jane Austen by Ada Bright and Cass Grafton

What would life be like if something had prevented Jane Austen from ever publishing any of her books? Dedicated Janeite, Rose, is about to find out!

It’s September, and the city of Bath is playing host to the annual Jane Austen Festival, a celebration of the famous author and her works.

Rose Wallace, Bath resident and avid Jane Austen fan, can’t wait for her friends to arrive and the Festival to start, unaware one of the recently arrived guests will turn her life upside down by sharing with her a secret that ultimately puts Jane Austen’s entire literary legacy at risk.

With the support of a displaced two hundred year old author and a charmed necklace, can Rose help to bring back some of the most beloved stories of all time and turn her own life around in the process?

The Particular Charm of Miss Jane Austen is a combination of so many aspects of literature that I find enjoyable.  Most obvious is the “Austen factor”, with the bulk of the story being set in the city of Bath during the annual Jane Austen Festival, with numerous references to the celebrated author’s works and life history.  Authors Ada Bright and Cass Grafton deftly transport their readers to this glorious city, making this reader even more desirous to travel abroad and attend the Festival. These women clearly have attended the event on at least one occasion—the level of detail surrounding it is quite deep, giving the reader a true inside view of what it would be like to attend.  Bath, with its world-renowned Festival is most certainly the epicenter of all things Austen.

Set in the midst of this is the fantastical tale of Rose Wallace, Janeite and long-time admirer of a certain archaeologist who is an annual speaker at the festival.  Through her employment at a local agency, not only does she reside in Bath, but she also enjoys assisting Dr. Aiden Trevellyan as he prepares for his annual lecture.

Within Rose’s story comes the next literary device that I delight in so much.  While in the middle of the Festival, Rose meets a woman who turns out to be Jane Austen.  Not just any woman named Jane Austen-- THE Jane Austen herself!  How does this long-since-passed author come to be in the 21st century?  Through the beauty of time travel, of course!  Those of us who are time travel fans must always process the moment of this seemingly impossible event-- wherein we must suspend our disbelief and go along with the plot line.  I must admit I found the method in which Austen is able to time travel to be a tad unbelievable, but it was easily surmountable, given my love for time travel stories.  However, I can say that there comes a moment in which Jane finds herself in a bit of a quandary time travel-wise, and in that particular moment I found the change in plot to be a bit hard to swallow (pun intended, to those who know of which event I speak). That being said, the story is such fun, I moved on with the narrative, enjoying it quite a bit.

An unexpected aspect of Particular Charm that I found surprising was the amount of Harry Potter references within the book.  Bright and Grafton are clearly fans of the J.K. Rowling series, and they manage to insert quite a few mentions of characters and Potter-related subjects within the tale.  As someone who has read all of Rowling’s Potter books and has seen all of the movies (the latest Fantastic Beasts being a temporary exception), having those winks to that universe was a delight.  However, there were times when I wondered if readers who are unfamiliar with Potter might find themselves a bit lost during those moments.  Fortunately the Rowling references are largely inconsequential, so non-Potter fans need not worry too much about that factor.

Although I felt the plot pace slowed considerably during the last few chapters of the book, overall I highly enjoyed The Particular Charm of Miss Jane Austen.  The characters were relatable, likeable, and I found myself rooting for them in a number of ways.  Rose’s interest in Dr. Trevellyan was tantalizing, and I could very much see myself in Rose.  There were many times during my days as a single girl that I pined away for men who seemed clearly out of my reach.  I remember that ache.  I also remember what it was like when one day, one of those crushes turned his attention toward me.  It was almost unbelievable, and I remember the nervousness of those days quite well.  Like Rose, I wasn’t always the most eloquent of ladies and frequently struggled with self-doubt and self esteem issues.  This character is very true to life, and I enjoyed watching her journey through time and the minefield that romantic interests can bring.

A bit of a spoiler warning:  I know there are some of you out there who enjoy reading the end of a book before beginning it in earnest. I would encourage you NOT do to this for Particular Charm. There is something that occurs in the final moments of the book that had me hooting with delight-- literally, out loud-- and I am so glad that I didn’t know about that moment from the outset.  In some ways, it reminded me of the final scene of the first Back to the Future movie.

Do yourself a favor: Firstly, and most certainly, read Particular Charm, especially if you are a Janeite.  And secondly, read it from beginning to end.  This is a fun, family-friendly story that I can heartily recommend.  Ada Bright and Cass Grafton could easily craft a sequel to this tale, and I'm glad to learn from Cass that this is indeed the plan.  If The Particular Charm of Miss Jane Austen is any indication, we are in for more entertaining diversions with our time-traveling Regency author!

Giveaway Time!

Ada and Cass have been so kind to offer a copy of the book up to one of our readers! The contest is open internationally, and ends at 12am EST on March 18, 2017. The winner may choose between a paperback copy or the Kindle edition. Just fill out the Rafflecopter widget below to enter. Good luck everyone!

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Saturday, March 4, 2017

Carolyn Miller’s The Elusive Miss Ellison

Handsome appearance counts for naught unless matched by good character and actions.

That's the firm opinion of not-so-meek minister's daughter Lavinia Ellison. So even though all the other villagers of St. Hampton Heath are swooning over the newly returned seventh Earl of Hawkesbury, she is not impressed. If a man won't take his responsibilities seriously and help those who are supposed to be able to depend on him, he deserves no respect from her. In Lavinia's pretty, gray eyes, Nicholas Stamford is just as arrogant and reckless as his brother--who stole the most important person in Livvie's world.

Nicholas is weighed down by his own guilt and responsibility, by the pain his careless brother caused, and by the legacy of war he's just left. This quick visit home to St. Hampton Heath will be just long enough to ease a small part of that burden. Asking him to bother with the lives of the villagers when there's already a bailiff on the job is simply too much to expect.

That is, until the hoydenish, intelligent, and very opinionated Miss Ellison challenges him to see past his pain and pride. With her angelic voice in his head, he may even be beginning to care. But his isn't the only heart that needs to change.

These two lonely hearts may each have something the other needs. But with society's opposition, ancestral obligations, and a shocking family secret, there may be too many obstacles in their way.

Fans of Georgette Heyer, Lori Wick, and Julie Klassen will enjoy the spirited exchanges between the bluestocking minister's daughter and the bruised war hero as they move past pride and presumption to a humbled appreciation of God's grace and the true strength of love.

The Ellusive Miss Ellsion has all the elements for the perfect read in my areas of interest.  Set in 19th century England, we have two colorful main characters who struggle with some of the same issues found in Pride and Prejudice.  There is the initial repulsion in their acquaintance. He comes from well-bred stock, while she is a meager minister’s daughter. There is at least one De Bourgh-like matron in the mix. The content is passionate, while still family friendly.  Christians will appreciate the spiritual moments sprinkled through the narrative.

While I do commend author Carolyn Miller for the aforementioned choices, I am sad to say that I did not enjoy this novel.  The amiable elements are there, but for some reason, I was not fond of the story. The characters seemed bland to me, and Miller’s writing wasn’t the strongest I’ve ever read. In fact, there were some overused phrases that became so frequent, they became an annoyance.  The one in particular I’m thinking of is the mentioning of “flushed”, “heated” or “pinked” cheeks.  It seemed on every other page, there was a mentioning of cheeks and how they were being warmed or tinted due to riled emotions, whether they be positive or negative feelings.

I do not want to be overly harsh in my criticism of The Ellusive Miss Ellison. While I did not find it fascinating, I can easily recommend it to lovers of Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, Julie Klassen and other Christian authors, if only based on content-related issues.  Perhaps others can look past the writing style, and perhaps they will find the characters to be more compelling than I did.  As the beginning of a series, Ellison is a fair start, and perhaps as the collection continues, the storytelling will improve.

Regency romance fans have another must-read novel to add to their lists: Carolyn Miller's The Elusive Miss Ellison. Enjoy the spirited exchanges between the bluestocking minister’s daughter and the bruised war hero as they move past pride and presumption to a humbled appreciation of God’s grace and the true strength of love. These two lonely hearts may each have something the other needs. But with society’s opposition, ancestral obligations, and a shocking family secret, there may be too many obstacles in their way.

Settle in for a cozy night of reading with a cuppa and a Kindle from Carolyn!


One grand prize winner will receive:

Enter today by clicking HERE or on the icon below, but hurry! The giveaway ends on March 22. The winner will be announced March 23 on the Litfuse blog.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Post Update: My Review of Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey by Ginger Monette


For those of you keeping track, I owe you a review of Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey by Ginger Monette.  I'm pleased to announce that the review is now up, and you can access it here:

While you're making the jump to that other post, don't forget to enter to win in the blog tour giveaway, linked below the review.  That contest ends on Thursday afternoon, so don't delay!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Book Review and Giveaway: Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey by Ginger Monette

1917. Amidst the chaos of WW1, Captain Fitzwilliam Darcy has won the heart of Elizabeth Bennet. Finally.

Then she disappears.

Still reeling from the loss, Darcy is struck by a battlefield tragedy that leaves him in a dark and silent world.

Sent to Donwell Abbey to recover, he's coaxed back to life by an extraordinary nurse. A woman whose uncanny similarities to Elizabeth invite his admiration and entice his affections.

His heart tells him to hold on to Elizabeth. His head tells him to take a chance with his nurse.

But Donwell Abbey holds a secret that just might change everything.

Escape to the era of Downton Abbey in this enthralling stand-alone sequel* to Darcy's Hope ~ Beauty from Ashes that includes appearances by John Thornton, Margaret Hale, Colonel Brandon, Marianne Dashwood, and descendants of George Knightley.

As a fan of Pride and Prejudice as well as the BBC television series Downton Abbey, I was intrigued with Ginger Monette’s concept of bringing these two worlds together, in some senses. No, we do not have the characters of Downton in the story (although Lady Almina of Highclere Castle is mentioned), but we do have the World War I-era setting, as well as many of the social and economic trappings found in Downtown. Many of Jane Austen’s characters, not only from Pride and Prejudice, but from other novels as well, make appearances.  The most notable characters are the leading man and woman, Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet.  In this universe, Darcy is still Lord of Pemberley, but he is also a captain in the army.  Elizabeth takes on the role of a nurse.

Darcy’s Hope at Donwell Abbey is the second in Ginger Monette’s Great War Romance series, with Darcy’s Hope: Beauty from Ashes being the first title. I don’t usually begin a book series out of sequence, but I decided to start with Donwell Abbey first. I can say that my lack of knowledge of the events of Beauty from Ashes did impede my reading somewhat at the beginning, and near the very end of the book.  Monette does do her best to fill new readers in on the narrative of the previous title, but there were still times when I felt a bit lost.

That being said, I pushed through those moments of disorientation, as there were other elements that kept my interest.  Before long, Donwell Abbey took on a life of its own, and I was fully ensconced in the tale.  This became particularly true after some dramatic events befall Captain Darcy while out on the battlefield.  As the details of Darcy’s fate are not mentioned in the book description, I will keep this review spoiler-free.  Suffice it to say, the plot picked up the pace quite a bit after these events, and I became more intrigued than ever.

Ginger Monette’s writing is quite enjoyable.  She retains the spirit of Austen’s characters, although they are embedded into a world that Austen herself never knew. I loved the cameo appearances of other Austen characters, as well as characters from author Elizabeth Gaskell. Monette could have simply created new characters of her own to fulfill those roles, but I enjoyed the fact that well-loved names were employed to do the job.

Overall I must applaud Ginger in her work on Darcy’s Hope at Donwell Abbey.  Her attention to historical detail is excellent, and while there is a bit of mild language and war violence, overall this was an entertaining, clean romance that I could recommend to anyone.  She deftly handled the romantic tension, ratcheting up the romantic pressure bit by bit as the story went on.  Near the end, I could not turn the pages fast enough, engulfed as I was in wanting to know how the story would play out.

The only caveat I have to my recommendation would be to perhaps begin the series with the first book, Darcy’s Hope: Beauty from Ashes, so that you can avoid the moments of puzzlement that I felt in my lack of knowledge.  This in no way diminishes my approval of Donwell Abbey.  I simply feel that this is one of those series that is best read in chronological order. Kudos to Ginger Monette for a job well done in Darcy’s Hope at Donwell Abbey.  I look forward to taking in more of her work in the future!

Feb 5: VVB32 Reads
Feb 20: Austenesque Reviews
Feb 21: More than Thornton
Feb 22: Margie's Must Reads
Feb 23: Delighted Reader
Feb 24: Becky's Book Reviews
Feb 25: Darcyholic Diversions
Feb 26: Linda Andrews
Feb 27: Every Woman Dreams
Feb 28: Tomorrow is Another Day

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About the Author

The teacher always learns the most. And in homeschooling her children, Ginger Monette learned all the history she missed in school. Now she's hooked—on writing and World War I.

When not writing, Ginger enjoys dancing on the treadmill, watching period dramas, public speaking, and reading—a full-length novel every Sunday afternoon.

In 2015, her WW1 flash fiction piece, Flanders Field of Grey, won Charlotte Mecklenburg Library's “Picture This” grand prize.

Ginger lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she happily resides with her husband, three teenagers, and two loyal dogs.

Connect with Ginger Monette

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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Review and Giveaway: The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

The thrilling conclusion to the New York Times bestselling Tearling trilogy.

In less than a year, Kelsea Glynn has transformed from a gawky teenager into a powerful monarch. As she has come into her own as the Queen of the Tearling, the headstrong, visionary leader has also transformed her realm. In her quest to end corruption and restore justice, she has made many enemies—including the evil Red Queen, her fiercest rival, who has set her armies against the Tear.

To protect her people from a devastating invasion, Kelsea did the unthinkable—she gave herself and her magical sapphires to her enemy—and named the Mace, the trusted head of her personal guards, Regent in her place. But the Mace will not rest until he and his men rescue their sovereign, imprisoned in Mortmesne.

Now, as the suspenseful endgame begins, the fate of Queen Kelsea—and the Tearling itself—will finally be revealed.

The Queen of the Tearling and The Invasion of the Tearling were two-thirds of an exciting trilogy by Erika Johansen. Now the series concludes with The Fate of the Tearling, where we learn the learn the outcome of the narrative that Johansen has been building.  While I enjoyed The Queen of the Tearling very much, looking back I now feel that I enjoyed the sequel even more than the opening volume. This led me to anticipate The Fate of the Tearling very much.

While the world of the Tearling does broaden and deepen in many ways, I felt that the story took a turn down a dark alleyway and never really returned.  Almost every aspect of the tale became difficult and shadowed, with dark magic, revenge, cruelty and coldness abounding throughout almost every corner.  I did still find the story compelling and the characters interesting, but more often than not, I found myself enduring the fantasy tale, rather than purely enjoying it.

Like many characters in the world of the Tearling, main character Kelsea longs for “a better world” with little to no crime, negligible violence, employment for all, great medical care for all. While she aspires to a utopian society, she knows it would never be perfect, but she strives for a better world nonetheless.  Sometimes she makes grievous mistakes, but at her core she wants what’s best for her kingdom.  She also longs to be truly known and loved, as we all do. Like many of Johansen’s characters, she is very human while still inhabiting magical qualities.

It was Kelsea’s likeability that kept me hanging on throughout the story. I truly wanted to observe her (and her kingdom’s) fate as she strove for that better world, fighting against cruel, dark forces that ran rampant throughout history.  Kelsea’s quest, as well as the quests of like-minded people in her world, was a difficult one, and as a reader I frequently felt like I was being pulled into a dark hole to observe torturous events that may or may not turn out in a glorious ending.

I wouldn’t characterize my opinion of the novel as purely negative. Johansen did keep my attention throughout, and her writing is very strong.  I just felt that the content continued down a dark path that I became weary of after so many hundreds of pages. I needed a bit more light, and a bit less darkness in the world of the Tearling. And although there was a brief redeeming moment toward the conclusion of the book, I also tired of the horribly poor image of the church. As mentioned in my previous reviews, the Christian church seen in the Tearling is so far removed from what Christ intends, and unfortunately close to what many people see the church to be today.  While I concede that the Body of Christ is not perfect, it has been my overwhelming experience that Christianity is a blessing to the world, and not something to despise or virtually extinguish from society.  This is not to say that I was offended by the portrayal. I understand that the church has meant many things to believers and non-believers alike over the centuries, and it has had its share of missteps along the way.  I just became fatigued with its horrible role in that fictional civilization.

Overall, I would say that my impression of the series as a whole is a moderately positive one. The Invasion of the Tearling was particularly interesting, and I loved how the world opened up into multiple timelines and perspectives.  It is certainly a magical tale, one that yearns for that better world, one that we all hope for one day.  The Tearling series truly speaks to the fact that we were all created for a better place.  Unfortunately, we live in a fallen world, surrounded by imperfect people with innumerable passions and ambitions.  As a Christian I know that this “better world” is still ahead of us, and I do look forward to it myself.  In the meantime, we all can be like Queen Kelsea, doing our best to bring as much of that better world into our current existence, within our own personal kingdoms, one day at a time.


Giveaway:  The Invasion of the Tearling

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Learn more about The Fate of the Tearling HERE

About Erika Johansen

Erika Johansen grew up and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She went to Swarthmore College, earned an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and eventually became an attorney, but she never stopped writing.

Follow the Tearling series on Facebook and Tumblr.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Book Excerpt and Giveaway: A Very Darcy Christmas by Victoria Kincaid

A Pride and Prejudice variation. 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.

Today we have an excerpt from Victoria Kincaid's latest Austenesque novel, A Very Darcy Christmas, just in time for the holiday season!  Mrs. Bennet is up to her usual hysterics, and Darcy must attend to her as best he can.  After you enjoy this fun excerpt, be sure to enter to win a copy of the book. But be quick-- this giveaway ends at the stroke of midnight Christmas morning, about the time that Santa will be leaving our homes here on the east coast of the U.S.!

Thanks to Victoria for the excerpt, and I hope you all enjoy.  Merry Christmas!

Darcy straightened his cravat as he strode toward Pemberley.  Wickham was safely stowed at the Lambton Inn, and Darcy had rented the room for a week.  Hopefully the Wickhams would be gone by then.  At least that resolves one of my headaches.  Unfortunately, the number of remaining headaches was sufficient to keep him occupied for the rest of the day.

Why must Elizabeth and I possess such troublesome relatives? Darcy wondered as he neared Pemberley’s grand front entrance.  Or perhaps the better question was: why were the troublesome relatives the ones who visited?  Why could it not have been Charles and Jane who showed up unexpectedly on their doorstep?  Or some other reasonable relative like…?  Darcy thought for a moment.  As Georgiana and Richard were already at Pemberley, he could think of no other candidates.

The moment Darcy pushed open the solid oak front door, his ears were assaulted by a piercing shriek.  “Oh, Mr. Bennet!  You have no compassion for my poor nerves!”

Elizabeth’s father stalked down the staircase while his wife fluttered behind him.  Elizabeth trailed after them, rolling her eyes.  Perhaps I should have stayed longer with Wickham, Darcy mused—and then immediately recognized it as a sign of desperation.

The moment Mrs. Bennet saw Darcy, she hurried up to him.  “Mr. Darcy!  How fortuitous you are here!  You must begin drilling your men immediately.”

Darcy blinked.  “My men?”

Behind Mrs. Bennet, Elizabeth had a hand covering her mouth.  Was she trying not to laugh—or cry?
“This morning the maid told me that the footman had told her that his cousin had heard that the maid at the Lambton Inn said there was a Frenchman in town!” Mrs. Bennet announced triumphantly.

She paused to await his reaction.

“Indeed?” Darcy finally said.

“Yes!  The Frenchman had lunch at the inn yesterday.”

“I see.”

“Do you not understand the import?” Mrs. Bennet asked.  “He must be a scout!”

“Scout?” Darcy asked blankly.

“For the invading force!” Mrs. Bennet explained.  At this pronouncement, Mr. Bennet threw his hands in the air and stalked out of the room.

Darcy massaged the back of his neck with one hand.  “There are many French men and women who live in England.  Most escaped from the ravages of the revolution and fled the guillotine.”

She lowered her voice.  “But why would such a person be in Derbyshire—so far from the coast?”

Elizabeth rubbed her temples as if a headache were coming on.

Darcy decided to take another tack.  “Madam, the French army is quite occupied fighting in Spain right now.  I am certain they have no intention of invading England.”

“But the paper described unusual troop movements!  And French ships have been spotted by people in Brighton and Dover!”

“France is not far from Brighton and Dover,” Darcy pointed out.  “So one might reasonably be expected to see French ships from there.”

Elizabeth chimed in.  “Even if France were to invade, we are very far north here.  It would take them a long time to reach Derbyshire.”

“That is what they want us to believe,” Mrs. Bennet said in a tone so low it was practically a whisper.  “They want to lull us into a sense of safety—and then they will attack!”

“We are safe,” Darcy insisted.  “We are very far from France here.  I assure you—”

Mrs. Bennet interrupted him.  “You must prepare to defend Pemberley!  Your footmen must train every day.  Are any of your tenants versed in weaponry?”

Darcy sighed, beginning to understand why Mr. Bennet’s response to his wife’s tirades was often silence.  “I do not know.  Although my steward might.”

She gave an approving nod.

There must be some way to distract this woman!  Surely she could not think about imminent invasion every minute of the day.  “Have you been to visit the shops in Lambton?” he asked her.  “Mrs. Reynolds said the milliner has just received some ostrich plumes.”

“Ostrich plumes!”  Mrs. Bennet’s face lit up.  While popular in London shops, the feathers were rare in the country.

“One of the footmen could escort you into town,” Darcy offered eagerly.

She pursed her lips.  “But they must stay and drill.”

Of course.

“Papa can take you,” Elizabeth volunteered.  “It is the least he can do.”

Perhaps there was a way to temporarily rid them of another troublesome guest.  “Would Mrs. Wickham like to go as well?”

“An excellent suggestion!” Mrs. Bennet cried and ran for the bottom of the stairs.  “Lydia!  Lydia!”  Her voice echoed and reverberated off the marble throughout the hall.

Darcy winced as Elizabeth gave him an apologetic look.  While Mrs. Bennet made a commotion bellowing and ascending the steps, Darcy sidled over to Elizabeth.  “Do you recall those ostrich plumes we bought for Georgiana that she did not care for?”  Elizabeth nodded, understanding dawning in her expression.  “Would you be so good as to ask Mrs. Reynolds to collect them and send them to the milliners immediately?  I believe I can delay your parents’ departure sufficiently.”

Elizabeth’s eyes sparkled with mischief as she set off in search of the housekeeper.

Giveaway - A Very Darcy Christmas

Author Victoria Kincaid has generously offered a copy of her novel A Very Darcy Christmas for one of our readers!  The contest is open internationally, and the winner may choose between a print edition or ebook copy.  The giveaway period ends at 12am EST on December 25, 2016.   Utilize the Rafflecopter widget below to enter.  Good luck! 

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About the Author

The author of best-selling Pride and Prejudice variations, historical romance writer Victoria has a Ph.D. in English literature and has taught composition to unwilling college students. Today she is a freelance writer/editor who teaches business writing to willing office professionals and tries to give voice to the demanding cast of characters in her head.

She lives in Virginia with an overly affectionate cat, two children who are learning how much fun Austen’s characters can be, and a husband who fortunately is not jealous of Mr. Darcy. A lifelong Austen fan, Victoria has read more Jane Austen variations and sequels than she can count – and confesses to an extreme partiality for the Colin Firth miniseries version of Pride and Prejudice.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Review and Giveaway: The Inkeeper of Ivy Hill by Julie Klassen

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?

In her latest novel, award-winning author Julie Klassen takes her readers to the charming English village of Ivy Hill.  There we meet Jane Bell and a colorful cast of characters, all connected to a local inn called The Bell.  The year is 1820, and coaching inns are still a staple of 19th century life, with their ability to care for overnight tenants as well as travelers stopping for a short respite on their journeys. This time period, setting, and set of characters are rife with opportunities for storytelling, and Julie Klassen has done a fabulous work in this initial offering in her Tales from Ivy Hill series.

While the number of individuals is plentiful throughout the story, Klassen’s writing is such that I was able to compartmentalize their narratives and grow to enjoy each storyline as it unfolded. Yes, Jane Bell is the main character here, but there is so much going on throughout the novel. There is drama, suspense, and a touch of romance.  This is no edge-of-your-seat thriller, but a pleasant and captivating story, much along the lines of Cranford or North and South. Fans of Downton Abbey would also probably enjoy The Inkeeper of Ivy Hill, not because of any opulence (because there really isn’t much to speak of) or because of an upstairs/downstairs theme, but because of the rich nature of the relationship tales that are told and the multiple plotlines that are woven in this bit of historical fiction.

To quote the novel:

“All those employed by or benefited by the inn, in turn patronize the remaining businesses and give to the charity guild and poor fund. Village life is like an ivy vine climbing a great oak. You cut off the vine at the root, and all the way up the tree, the leaves wither. We’re all connected.”

This interconnectedness can be seen in most of the relationships in Ivy Hill, as Jane and her associates fight to keep the inn solvent, and other members of the community experience their own hardships as well.  Although they are dealing with difficult issues, Ivy Hill is a sweet, pleasant, sometimes romantic tale that I found relaxing and a delight to read. The personalities are diverse, and some are not always what they seem.  At times, there was an air of mystery to the plot, and there was one revelation near the end that took me by surprise.  A character I thought to be a villain turned out to be a standup fellow after all. While The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill is very family-friendly and written by a Christian author, it was not overly “religious” and simply was a charming, heartwarming story.

I’m so pleased to know that with The Inkeeper of Ivy Hill, Julie Klassen’s readers have only just begun their time with this new set of characters.  The next book in the series, The Ladies of Ivy Cottage is set for release in December of 2017, and I greatly look forward to that next release from such an entertaining author.

About the Author

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

Click Here to visit the new
to learn more about the series,
including a village map,
character list, photos, videos,
a separate giveaway and more!

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 The 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


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. 

You can also stop by the official Ivy Hill website and enter to win one of ten copies of the book. Entries accepted through January 6, 2017.

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Monday, November 28, 2016

Review and Giveaway: The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

In this riveting sequel to the national bestseller The Queen of the Tearling, the evil kingdom of Mortmesne invades the Tearling, with dire consequences for Kelsea and her realm.

With each passing day, Kelsea Glynn is growing into her new responsibilities as Queen of the Tearling. By stopping the shipments of slaves to the neighboring kingdom of Mortmesne, she crossed the Red Queen, a brutal ruler whose power derives from dark magic, who is sending her fearsome army into the Tearling to take what is hers. And nothing can stop the invasion.

But as the Mort army draws ever closer, Kelsea develops a mysterious connection to a time before the Crossing, and she finds herself relying on a strange and possibly dangerous ally: a woman named Lily, fighting for her life in a world where being female can feel like a crime. The fate of the Tearling —and that of Kelsea’s own soul—may rest with Lily and her story, but Kelsea may not have enough time to find out.

In this dazzling sequel, Erika Johansen brings back favorite characters, including the Mace and the Red Queen, and introduces unforgettable new players, adding exciting layers to her multidimensional tale of magic, mystery, and a fierce young heroine.

Because I enjoyed The Queen of the Tearling so thoroughly, I felt that author Erika Johansen had quite a task in front of her in the follow-up to her exciting first novel in this series. When dealing with sequels, it’s often the case that a second act tends to pale in comparison to the first.  Not so with The Invasion of the Tearling.  It picks up not long after the conclusion of the first tale, as Queen Kelsea is dealing with the repercussions of her actions in the days surrounding her crowning. She faces the prospect of the massive Mort army descending upon her modest kingdom.  If history is any indication, she is in for massive slaughter on an epic scale.  How is she to thwart such a formidable enemy?

While The Invasion of the Tearling does deal with the political ramifications of these events, there is so much more going on.  Magic weaves in and out of the story, changing Kelsea physically and bringing her even more confidence as a leader. She continues to grow in strength, all the while trying to understand the forces that are working in her and through her.  A most notable event in her life is the introduction of a new character, Lily.

When Lily first came on the scene, I temporarily thought I’d been transported into another novel.  She was residing in a not-so-distant-future America, dealing with very non-magical, domestic issues.  Her story is at times gut-wrenching, and not for the faint of heart. She endures graphic spousal abuse, so I once again note to my conservative readers that while an enjoyable series, this one is not for children.  Should it be put on film, The Invasion of the Tearling could easily garner an “R” rating.

This is not to discourage my adult audience, however.  If you can look past some measure of violence and blue language, there is a riveting story here.  Lily’s connection to Kelsea is remarkable, and I highly enjoyed the alternating moments between their two worlds. They both are dealing with seemingly insurmountable odds, and the courage they exhibit is extraordinary. That comes with a price, however, and sometimes it’s brutal.

Author Erika Johansen once again had quite a few thoughts in regard to social issues—women’s rights, privacy laws, the nature of technology and other topics.  The Church still plays a vital role in the tale, and I wish that Kelsea’s society had a better model for what it means to be the Body of Christ.  However, there is a character who seems to defy much of that church’s hypocrisy and shows the love of Christ to others. I enjoyed him very much.

The Invasion of the Tearling comes to an end at a logical stopping point, but it’s clearly not the true conclusion of the story. There’s a bit of a cliffhanger as to the fate of Queen Kelsea and her kingdom, and I am eager to get on to the next entry in this series, The Fate of the Tearling.  If it’s anything like its predecessors, I should be in for a great ride!

Giveaway:  The Invasion of the Tearling

(US Entrants Only)
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Learn more about The Invasion of the Tearling HERE

About Erika Johansen

Erika Johansen grew up and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She went to Swarthmore College, earned an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and eventually became an attorney, but she never stopped writing.

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Saturday, November 19, 2016

Review and Giveaway: The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict

In the tradition of The Paris Wife and Mrs. Poe, The Other Einstein offers us a window into a brilliant, fascinating woman whose light was lost in Einstein's enormous shadow. This is the story of Einstein's wife, a brilliant physicist in her own right, whose contribution to the special theory of relativity is hotly debated and may have been inspired by her own profound and very personal insight.

Mitza Maric has always been a little different from other girls. Most twenty-year-olds are wives by now, not studying physics at an elite Zurich university with only male students trying to outdo her clever calculations. But Mitza is smart enough to know that, for her, math is an easier path than marriage. And then fellow student Albert Einstein takes an interest in her, and the world turns sideways. Theirs becomes a partnership of the mind and of the heart, but there might not be room for more than one genius in a marriage.

Albert Einstein
Like many in our society, when I hear the name "Einstein", my thoughts immediately go to the Nobel prize-winning intellectual with wiry hair and revolutionary theories of how our universe is held together. Through Albert Einstein's studies, the understanding of time itself has been altered irrevocably. In Marie Benedict's novel The Other Einstein, we are given a peek into the personal life of such a revered figure, and come to see him for the human he truly was. Not only that, Benedict gives voice to that of Albert's first wife, Mitza Maric, an accomplished student of physics in her own right, whose perspective has largely been unrevealed, until now.  Through thorough research and a bit of artistic license, Marie Benedict crafts a sweeping tale of a remarkable woman who traverses the difficult waters of academia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Mitza Maric was not a typical woman of her era.  Beset with a limp as well as a keen intellect, it was assumed by her father that she would go on to never marry, yet also achieve things most women would not.  Given an excellent education, she eventually finds herself in class with none other than Albert Einstein, who at the time was just another physics student like herself. Charming and keenly smart, they become friends and later, lab partners.

Mitza Maric Einstein
At this point in the story, I expected a typical boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-regains-girl type of narrative, albeit infused with occasional mentions of physics, mathematics, and even a bit of philosophy.  Fortunately, I was ignorant of Mitza's biography, so I was taken by surprise at the course her life took.  I won't reveal the extent of her journey and transformations, but suffice it to say, they were remarkable.  Marie Benedict's writing was effortless and had me quickly upending pages to determine where Mrs. Einstein's life would end up next. As a Christian I appreciated Mitza's interest in finding God's hand within mathematics and physics.  As a wife and mother I was heartbroken over so many of the trials she had to face.  Mrs. Einstein was a truly unique character, yet she had many aspects of her personality that I found imminently relatable.

The Other Einstein was a compelling and thought-provoking novel, one that I read in just a few sittings. The chapters flew by quickly, and I was almost sad to see them end.  I wish that there had been a bit more about Mitza's life in her latter days, but I understand that Benedict was doing her best to stay true to history, and I assume there isn't much material related to those later years.  I also enjoyed the romantic early days of the Einsteins', and appreciated the fact that intimate details were kept to a minimum.  A steamy love scene or two could have easily been inserted into the plot, but Marie's writing is strong enough that such material wasn't needed. Although there are adult situations in her story (and one mere curse word that I can recall), The Other Einstein would make an excellent read for my conservative readers, as well as those with even a mild interest in science or mathematics.

A few years ago I read another book of Marie Benedict's, Brigid of Kildare, written under the name Heather Terrell.  While I enjoyed that novel, I think I relished The Other Einstein even more.  I applaud Marie in her continuing work, and give her latest novel an enthusiastic recommendation.


Sourcebooks has generously offered a giveaway of three copies of The Other Einstein! Utilize the Rafflecopter widget below and enter to win.  Good luck!  Also take note of the Kindle sale that's going on this week (see graphic below).  If you prefer the ebook edition, now's a great time to grab a copy!

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About the Author

MARIE BENEDICT is a lawyer with more than ten years’ experience as a litigator at two of the country’s premier law firms and for Fortune 500 companies. She is a magna cum laude graduate of Boston College with a focus in history and art history and a cum laude graduate of the Boston University School of Law. She lives in Pittsburgh with her family.

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