Thursday, December 15, 2011

Book Review: Christmas at Pemberley by Regina Jeffers

Darcy has invited the Bennets and the Bingleys to spend the Christmastide’s festive days at Pemberley.  But as he and Elizabeth journey to their estate to join the gathered families, a blizzard blankets the English countryside.  The Darcys find themselves stranded at a small inn while Pemberley is inundated with refugees seeking shelter from the storm.

Without her brother’s strong presence, Georgiana Darcy tries desperately to manage the chaos surrounding the arrival of six invited guests and eleven unscheduled visitors.  But bitter feuds, old jealousies and intimate secrets quickly rise to the surface. Has Lady Catherine returned to Pemberley for forgiveness or revenge? Will the manipulative Caroline Bingley find a soul mate? Shall Kitty Bennet and Georgiana know happiness?

Written in Regency style and including Austen’s romantic entanglements and sardonic humor, Christmas at Pemberley places Jane Austen’s most beloved characters in an exciting yuletide story that speaks to the love, the family spirit and the generosity that remain as the heart of Christmas.

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Each year during Christmastime I enjoy reading a holiday-themed novel.  Last year I loved A Darcy Christmas, and I also recommend The Christmas Chronicles by Tim Slover and Kringle by Tony Abbott. These titles have been a fun addition to my holiday merrymaking.

This year my yuletide novel of choice is Christmas at Pemberley by Regina Jeffers.  In this follow-up to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, we find all the main characters as they usher in the holiday season at Pemberley and the surrounding area.  Elizabeth Darcy is pregnant again, after suffering two miscarriages in the past.  As any woman would be in her situation, she dearly wants a healthy child for herself and her husband.  As they make their way home to celebrate Christmas, they are delayed by treacherous wintery weather and have a few adventures of their own.  Back at Pemberley, Darcy’s sister Georgiana and others weather some drama as well.  And upon the Darcys’ return, even more drama ensues.

Christmas at Pemberley was an absolute delight.  There are moments of the aforementioned drama, a bit of political intrigue, romance and some truly inspirational episodes.  I thoroughly enjoyed the manner in which Jeffers wove the multiple storylines, offering cliffhanger after cliffhanger between each narrative (and there are at least 4) within the novel. At no point during my reading did I become bored or disinterested.  She definitely kept my attention with her writing, which captured the Regency style very well, while adding suspense and multiple points of focus.

As a Christian I also appreciated Jeffers’ inclusion of spiritual topics within her story.  Elizabeth almost struggles with her faith at times, wondering how she must have fallen short in God’s eyes due to her multiple miscarriages.  It’s sad that anyone would feel that God would withhold motherhood in this manner, but I think it’s a realistic doubt that some may have during times such as that.  Regina was brave to broach such a subject, in my opinion.  I also enjoyed how she employed some of the rituals of the church within the story as well. I wouldn’t consider Christmas at Pemberley a “Christian novel” per se, but there are many elements to it that I think Christians would find enjoyable, even beyond the obvious Christmas connection.

For those who are looking for romantic Regency tales without all the tawdry content, Christmas at Pemberley might be a good fit for you as well.  Jeffers doesn’t shy away from sexual tension, but she keeps it fairly clean by today’s standards.  The steamiest stuff is kept between married couples, and even those details are limited.  There are a few passionate kisses between unmarrieds, but those moments are reasonable and fit the period and genre.

Although she is the author of several titles of Austenesque fiction, Regina Jeffers is a new author for me.  After reading Christmas at Pemberley, I look forward to taking in more of her work.  This holiday story was absolutely enjoyable, with surprises at every turn and a treat for the holiday season. Add it to your Christmas list today!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Secret Santa: My Book Blogger Package Arrived!

This is my third year participating in the Book Blogger Holiday Swap. Once again, I had a great time putting together a package for my Secret Santee, and it was a delight to receive a big package from my Secret Santa yesterday.

This year my Secret Santa was Heather from The Capricious Reader.  She's from my home state of North Carolina, which was a thrill!  I was born in Greensboro and have also lived in Charlotte, Winston-Salem and Kernersville.  My parents still reside outside of Charlotte and my in-laws have homes in Fayetteville, New Bern and Atlantic Beach.  Gotta love the Tar Heel State!

Heather was really generous and sent me not one, not two, but three books! She chose Strange Angels by Lili St. Crow, Deadly Little Secret by Laurie Faria Stolarz and Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken.  Brightly Woven has been on my Goodreads wishlist for quite a while, but I'm unfamiliar with the other two.  So I have two undiscovered treasures in hand, apparently!  Thanks so much for your generosity, Heather.  I hope your Secret Santa sends you fun surprises and granted wishes, too!

Thanks to the organizers over at the Book Blogger Holiday swap.  This is always so much fun every year. If you're a book blogger who would like to participate next year, be sure to stop by the program's website each November to get information about signing up.  It's alot of fun for all!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Reflecting on the Season: Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus

I don't know about you, but there have been many years when the Christmas season has gone by in such a rush, I've hardly had a chance to enjoy it.  This year I'm committing to take some time each day to reflect on the true meaning of the Season-- the birth of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Starting today, I'm going to be reading Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus, edited by Nancy Guthrie.  Within this slim book are 22 short readings for Advent, written by many well known and respected authors, both historical and contemporary.  Some of these wise individuals include:

  • Martin Luther
  • Charles Spurgeon
  • Jonathan Edwards
  • St. Augustine
  • John Piper
  • Randy Alcorn
  • Francis Schaeffer
  • R.C. Sproul
  • Tim Keller
  • Joni Eareckson Tada

I encourage you to seek out this or similar means of reflecting on the Season this year, before time gets away from us.  Holiday shopping, yummy baked goods, decorations and Christmas carols are a wonderful blessing this time of year.  But let's not forget how it all got here in the first place, and how everything continues to hold together through Him.

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  

Colossians 1:15-17

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Book Review - Miss Darcy Falls in Love by Sharon Lathan

An intimate journey of love, life, and the passionate pursuit of happiness.

Noble young ladies were expected to play an instrument, but societal restrictions would have chafed for Georgiana Darcy, an accomplished musician.

Her tour of Europe draws the reader into the musical life of the day, and a riveting love story of a young woman learning to direct her destiny and understand her own heart.

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Warning: A few plot spoilers are included in this review.

Earlier this year I enjoyed Sharon Lathan’s The Trouble with Mr. Darcy, Book 5 in the Darcy Saga.  Within that installment is a brief reference to Georgiana Darcy’s romantic escapades while away in Europe, setting up the premise for the next book in the series, Miss Darcy Falls in Love.  I was excited about the concept and looked forward to the title’s fall 2011 release.

My expectations were more than realized in this delightful novel. For this Janeite and musician, there was much for me to admire and enjoy within the story and the structure itself.  Georgiana has always been a favorite character, and I loved how Sharon handled her journey. She mingled Miss Darcy’s love of music, her character traits as a Darcy and her desire for matrimony perfectly. 

The chemistry between Georgiana and her love interest, Sebastian Butler is just wonderful.  I loved how they began their relationship as friends, sharing a common spiritual faith and passion for music as well.  My husband and I began in a similar way, meeting in the Baptist Student Union in college, enjoying friendship and sharing music together, long before romantic notions were held.  I’ve long held the belief that faith and friendship are essential foundations to any lasting marriage, and these elements are definitely a part of Georgiana and Sebastian’s budding relationship.

Of course, one of the main obstacles that the couple must face is that of a competing suitor, the charming Lord Caxton. While certainly not the best choice for Georgiana, I liked the fact that Caxton was not an out-and-out rogue or wicked individual. I suppose Georgiana learned her lesson with Wickham years before, although there is little to no mention of him at all here. She probably would not have entertained Caxton at all if he were such a man.  However, his looks, charm, propriety and desirability made him an attractive prospect for a time, and provided interesting tension in the story line.

Miss Darcy Falls in Love fits into that delectable category of books that make me stay up late reading, wanting to take in “just one more” chapter before heading to bed much too late in the evening (or wee hours of the morning).  If it were not for some family travel obligations in mid-November, I probably would have been reading it at all moments of the day as well.  I truly enjoyed Sharon’s characters and their musical and romantic journey together.

I’ve mentioned in past reviews that author Sharon Lathan will sometimes put too many details of intimacy in her stories.  While Miss Darcy Falls in Love does have a short dream sequence and a lengthy wedding night scene, the rest of the novel is relatively chaste in its details.  And even with the steamy passages, they are within the confines of marriage, both dreamed and realized. Once again I appreciate Lathan’s portrait of marital intimacy, making the marriage bed as attractive as other authors have made the beds of unmarried lovers.

For whatever reason, Georgiana Darcy has always been a favorite character of mine.  Sharon Lathan’s characterization of her is spot-on, and I love the infusing of music and faith within her story.  I have not read all of Sharon’s work, but thus far Miss Darcy Falls in Love is my favorite of her titles.  It’s incredibly romantic, enjoyable and a delightful addition to the Darcy Saga.  While I’m sure that Lathan will return her gaze to Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy once again, I hope she also reserves another book or two for the delightful Georgiana.

During this holiday season, I also highly recommend A Darcy Christmas, which includes Sharon Lathan as a contributing author.  These short stories would make a wonderful gift to yourself or a fellow Janeite!  Click here to read my review from October of last year.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Book Review Part 3 - Jane Austen Made Me Do It by Laurel Ann Nattress, Editor

Recently the lovely Laurel Ann Nattress stopped by The Calico Critic to introduce her new project, Jane Austen Made Me Do It, an anthology of Austenesque short stories.  I've now had the opportunity to read this collection, and in conjunction with Laurel Ann's post, I've been sharing some brief impressions of each entry.  As there are 22 shorts, the review is broken up into three separate posts.  Today is Part 3.  The other portions can be found here:

After your visit here, be sure and check out the book's website,!

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“Jane Austen’s Cat” by Diana Birchall

During the summer of 1813, Jane Austen was in the midst of writing her beloved novels.  She is visited by family members, including her niece Caroline, who adores cats.  The feline-allergic Jane is gracious toward Caroline's cat, Tyger.  She also agrees to spin some fun prose and verses for her niece, using aspects of her novels to characterize feline characters.  Diana Birchall's writing was well done, but I wasn't overly impressed with this tale.

“Me and Mr. Darcy, Again…” by Alexandra Potter

Years ago I bought Alexandra Potter's book, Me and Mr. Darcy, but to this day I haven't read it.  This short story seems to be a sequel, following up with Emily four years later.  While the story's concept is completely implausible, I totally bought into it and had a fun ride. I'm now looking forward to Me and Mr. Darcy even more!

“What Would Austen Do?” by Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway

Young James is the son of a serious Janeite, who manages to get her 14 year-old to take a country dance class at the local community center. He begins his time there as a scoffing, obliging teenager and comes out a young man transformed.  Authors Jane and Caitlen accurately capture the mindset and vernacular of James' generation and give plenty of Austenian nuggets for us fans to enjoy.  This one was lighthearted, modern and sweet.  It has increased my desire to read their novel, Lady Vernon and Her Daughter , which has been on my TBR list for some time.

“The Riding Habit” by Pamela Aidan

My first Pamela Aidan read, "The Riding Habit" was enjoyable. Aidan's characterizations were spot-on, and there was even a moment of peril that I found quite interesting.  My only reservation is that it seemed to be too large of a story for the format.  Or maybe I was enjoying myself so much, I didn't want it to end!

“The Love Letter” by Brenna Aubrey

Knowing this short story was from the Jane Austen Made Me Do It contest winner, I was skeptical that it would be a memorable one.  Much to my delight, new author Brenna Aubrey has written a delightful piece, drawing heavily from themes found in her favorite Austen novel, Persuasion.  "The Love Letter" was well done, and had me fully engaged, even up to the last moments.  Of the short stories in Jane Austen Made Me Do It that are set in contemporary times, this one is my favorite by far.  I'm thrilled to read that Aubrey is working on a full-length novel. 

Stop by Brenna's site and see what others are saying about this debut author.  She was so nice to include my comments on her work.

“The Chase” by Carrie Bebris

Apparently based upon actual events, "The Chase" recounts the exploits of Jane Austen's seafaring brother, Francis.  While at times exciting and well-written throughout, this episode eventually came off as more of a history lesson for me, rather than an entertainment piece. It was nice to learn a bit about Captain Austen, but ultimately I can't say it was my favorite.

“Intolerable Stupidity” by Laurie Viera Rigler

Laurie Viera Rigler's contribution to Jane Austen Made Me Do It is inventive, quirky, and markedly different from the other entries in this anthology.  We find Lady Catherine De Bourgh presiding as a judge in a fictitious court.  It seems that those on trial are the filmmakers of the BBC's 1995 rendition of Pride and Prejudice, as well as the other incarnations, derivations and sequels to Jane Austen's work.  Rigler makes an interesting statement regarding those who object to all of the Austenesque material that's been produced in recent years.  There's also a bit of a romance brewing between the two main lawyers.  I found this one to be a bit odd. It's not my favorite of all the entries, but it was interesting.

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And that's the collection!  Twenty-two tales, giving the reader new perspectives on all things Jane Austen.  While every story wasn't a home-run for me, overall I highly enjoyed this anthology and would recommend it to anyone. My hope is that this volume does so well, Laurel Ann Nattress is able to secure a contract for a follow-up, with more short stories from some of the many Austenesque authors in the market today.  Kara Louise, Sharon Lathan, Jack Caldwell, Mary Simonsen, Marsha Altman are just a few authors who come to mind.  Might I suggest the title?  Jane Austen Made Me Do It Again!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Book Review Part 2 - Jane Austen Made Me Do It by Laurel Ann Nattress, Editor

Recently the lovely Laurel Ann Nattress stopped by The Calico Critic to introduce her new project, Jane Austen Made Me Do It, an anthology of Austenesque short stories.  I've now had the opportunity to read this collection, and in conjunction with Laurel Ann's post, I'd like to share some brief impressions of each entry.  As there are 22 shorts, I'm going to break this review up into three separate posts.  Today is Part 2.  The other portions can be found here:

Thanks for reading, and congratulations to Monica Perry, who won our Jane Austen Made Me Do It giveaway!

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“When Only a Darcy Will Do” by Beth Patillo

A couple of years ago I read Jane Austen Ruined My Life and found it to be a light, enjoyable read.  Beth Patillo's contribution to JAMMDI has similar features. It's light, romantic, based in modern day but with a bit of Austen sensibility.  I enjoyed the characters in this morsel and found myself rooting for them, even after a short time. It's fun to think there could be Darcys in disguise all about us.

“Heard of You” by Margaret C. Sullivan

Margaret C. Sullivan offers a prequel to Persuasion, with Captain Wentworth telling the story of how his sister and Admiral Croft met. I found this one to be well written, interesting, and believable for Austen's characters.  Ms. Sullivan seems to be well-versed on the inner workings of 19th century naval life.  This is another of those that could easily be drawn out into a full novel.  I'm glad to be introduced to Ms. Sullivan's work. This was highly enjoyable, and possibly my favorite of the period-set shorts.

“The Ghostwriter” by Elizabeth Aston

I'm all for imaginary plot devices, but I wasn't bowled over by this one.  I didn't like the characters, I wasn't able to suspend belief for the story's concept, and I found it uninteresting.  I'm sure Elizabeth Aston has written well in the past, but in this case I felt as if she didn't bring her A-game.

“Mr. Bennet Meets His Match” by Amanda Grange

I've always wanted to read a Pride and Prejudice prequel which features the courtship of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. How did this sedate reader become matched with the girl who would become a high strung mother of four? Amanda Grange's story is well written and sweet. But ultimately it left me wanting more with Mrs. Bennet. There was no hint to the tightly-wound personality that was to come. Overall, it was a nice tale, but with that one reservation.

“Jane Austen, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!” By Janet Mullany

Set in England in 1964, this story follows the afternoon of Julie Morton, school teacher. She and some students discuss the characters of Sense and Sensibility and how they might compare to the Beatles, who were all the rage at that time.  Julie also finds herself reevaluating her relationship with her boyfriend. I found this story to be mildly interesting, but fairly forgettable.

“Letters to Lydia” by Maya Slater

"Letters to Lydia" is a new perspective on some of the events of Pride and Prejudice, written from the perspective of Maria Lucas through unidirectional letters to Lydia Bennet. Through Maria's poorly-written reports and inquiries, she shares the hidden goings-on of Lydia, Darcy, Lizzie and others.  I wasn't very impressed with this one, although I found the concept for the presentation to be interesting.

“The Mysterious Closet: A Tale” by Myretta Robens

Cathy Fullerton, a 29 year-old editor from Boston goes on a vacation in a gloomy part of England, in an old abbey, a la Northanger Abbey.  While she participates in some usual tourist activities in the area, within her bedroom she has a bit of a supernatural encounter.  She questions her sanity a bit, but ultimately the occurrences come to bear on real life.  I found this one to be well written and enjoyable, although I found the end to be a bit surprising, abrupt and odd.

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 Come back soon for the final installment of my review!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Book Review Part 1 - Jane Austen Made Me Do It by Laurel Ann Nattress, Editor

Recently the lovely Laurel Ann Nattress stopped by The Calico Critic to introduce her new project, Jane Austen Made Me Do It, an anthology of Austenesque short stories.  I've now had the opportunity to read this collection, and in conjunction with Laurel Ann's post and book giveaway, I'd like to share some brief impressions of each entry.  As there are 22 shorts, I'm going to break this review up into three separate posts, starting today and in future entries.  The other portions can be found here:

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“Jane Austen’s Nightmare” by Syrie James

It’s 1815, just before the publication of Jane Austen’s Emma.  She has an extremely vivid dream, wherein she encounters several of the characters of her novels.  Many are very dissatisfied with how they were conceived and developed in her work. Others are completely content and thankful for their treatments.  After waking, Jane is inspired to create characters for her next book who are somewhat different from others in the past. I found the premise of Syrie’s story to be interesting, but wasn’t bowled over by it.

“Waiting” by Jane Odiwe

“Waiting” is a bit of a postscript to Persuasion. The day after Captain Wentworth’s and Anne’s meeting on Union Street, he goes to her father to ask for the Baronet’s blessing upon their engagement.  Anne also recalls moments from years before when she and Wentworth first met.  This short story is as well written as Ms. Odiwe’s other works, some of which I’ve had the pleasure of reading.  I hope she considers writing more speculative fiction based upon Persuasion.

“A Night at Northanger” by Lauren Willig

Cate is an assistant investigator on a cheesy television program called Ghost Trekkers. Her production team visits Northanger Abbey to produce one of their usual smoke-and-mirrors ghost programs.  She’s unhappy in her job, which she pursued due to a crush on one of the other members of the team.  While at the abbey, she has a paranormal experience that helps her reevaluate her life.  Willig’s story takes a little while to get going, and there’s a bit of colorful language.  I enjoyed the second half better than the first.

“Jane and the Gentleman Rogue” by Stephanie Barron

It’s the spring of 1805, and Jane Austen is acquainted with a Gentleman Rogue.  He becomes involved in thwarting a bit of conspiracy and espionage, and Jane is a witness to much of the goings-on.  This is my first exposure to the work of Stephanie Barron.  While I have never been very interested in the many Jane Austen mysteries that are in the market, I was impressed with her writing and did enjoy this little piece of intrigue.

“Faux Jane” by F. J. Meier

Penned by a husband and wife team, "Faux Jane" also involves a husband and wife, as well as a suspicious first edition of Pride and Prejudice.  I'm not going to bother summarizing this one.  I didn't enjoy it, found it hard to follow and was glad to move on.

“Nothing Less Than Fairy-Land” by Monica Fairview

This follow-up to Jane Austen’s Emma encounters the titular character in the early days of her marriage to Mr. Knightley.  Things are not as smooth they could be, as George has agreed to come live in Emma’s home, along with her father.  This produces an interesting environment, as Emma must balance the priorities and desires of both her father and that of her husband.  And despite the discouragement of her spouse, Emma still desires to play the matchmaker with others in the community.  Author Monica Fairview has crafted a nice episode here. As I have in the past, I enjoyed her writing and look forward to reading more of her in the future.

“Love and Best Wishes, Aunt Jane” by Adriana Trigiani

This short work from Adriana Trigiani is a letter written by Jane Austen to her niece, but set in the modern day.  In it she encourages young Anna as they celebrate her engagement to a young man named Declan.  She offers advice and hopes for her niece as she embarks on a new chapter in a life.  It’s evident that Trigiani has done her biographical homework on Austen, but I wasn’t overly impressed with this one.

“Jane Austen and the Mistletoe Kiss” by Jo Beverley

Set in Regency England, this yuletide tale centers around the Carsholt family, who live near the Austens in Chawton.  Elinor is a 35 year-old widow who longs to be married again, but feels that she is too old for any decent prospects.  Her 16 year-old daughter has discovered Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and seems to be taking on some of the novelist’s romantic notions about marriage. Mrs. Carsholt worries about the care of her family, but also about the care of her daughter’s heart, which could be easily broken if she expects every man to be a Mr. Darcy.  As the end of the widow’s mourning period comes to a close during the holidays, the simple hanging of mistletoe could be the beginning of something wonderful. 

I’ve been unfamiliar with the work of Jo Beverley, but after reading this delightful short story, I am sure to seek out some of her novels in the future.  Her submission is well written in the Regency style and perfect to read at this time of year. 

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Come back soon for my next post on Jane Austen Made Me Do It, where I'll continue to offer brief thoughts on the short stories within this delightful collection.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Book Review: Fortune's Son by Emery Lee

Love is the ultimate gamble…

Seasoned gambler Philip Drake knows every trick and uses most of them. After years of infamy, he’s ready to accept the mantle of respectability with his earldom— until a devastating racing loss and the threat of debtors’ prison force Philip right back into his gaming ways…

Susannah, Lady Messingham, is a woman with a past who refuses to belong to any man again. But Philip’s skill catches her eye and she persuades him to teach her how to win at the tables. Their new partnership turns into an exhilarating high-stakes game that entangles them in terrifying risk and unimaginable rewards…

Immerse yourself in the risky side of Georgian England with a pair of lovers who aren’t afraid to risk it all on a toss of the dice…

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Warning:  This review contains a few minor spoilers

In the spring of 2010 I had the pleasure of reading The Highest Stakes, a delightful equestrian-themed novel by Emery Lee. I was also honored when she offered the very first guest post for The Calico Critic.  When I heard she’d published another novel and was given the opportunity to review it, I jumped at the chance. 

While my reading interest in recent years has heavily favored novels with romantic themes, I try to stay away from cheap, tawdry “bodice rippers”, as I term them.   I do enjoy a good love story, but there must be more to a book than passionate embraces and yearning looks.  Plot choices, character development and originality are important factors, and graphic sex scenes are a drawback in my estimation. 

So imagine my disappointed surprise when Emery Lee’s next work, Fortune's Son arrived in my mailbox, presented in cover art more befitting a throwaway novel found in the back of a used bookstore.  I know one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but the image of a half-dressed English lord caressing a fuchsia-clad damsel was enough to send my eyes rolling back into their sockets.  Surely the author of The Highest Stakes is above this kind of marketing!  Despite my extreme distaste, I set to work on the story, but not before I covered the images on the front and spine of the book in an effort to forget them (and to shield them from my children).

I must say it took me a while to move beyond my biased mentality while reading Fortune’s Son.  The opening scene features bawdy gentlemen comparing the assets of their female acquaintances. Main characters Susannah and Philip end up in a lingering lip-lock upon their first meeting. Scandalous and colorful creatures pop up in nearly every chapter.  One scene became so pagan and carnal in its nature, I nearly put the book down before the episode was redeemed by Phillip Drake’s virtuous actions.

About midway through the novel, things began to settle a bit and I was able to see beyond the contaminating cover art.  Emery Lee has retained her excellent writing style, doing her homework on the Georgian period’s social customs and exhibiting her knowledge of betting tables, cards and other games of chance.  Much like her knowledge of the horsing world, she shows her readers the excitements and pitfalls of gambling and risking one’s fortune with Lady Luck.  Her story became more about her characters and their fates and not just about passions and their fulfillments.

Ultimately, Fortune’s Son was above the cover art that was chosen for its binding.  I cannot say that it was my favorite book of the year, but I’m pleased that the story proved to be better than I’d expected.  I still keep Emery Lee as an admired author, and I hope Fortune’s Son is not only popular enough to justify further printings (and therefore would have the chance to be repackaged), but also enough to land Ms. Lee another writing contract.  I hold out hope to enjoy her next novel.

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I'm not able to host book giveaways as often as I'd like, mostly because of the cost involved in shipping.  I also do not believe in selling or profiting from the distribution of advanced copies (ARCs).  If you'd like to have my ARC of Fortune's Son, feel free to contact me.  If you will cover the cost of shipping, I'd be happy to send it to you at no additional charge.  This paragraph will be removed from this post if such an arrangement is reached.

"True vice, my lady, would frighten us all, if it did not wear the mask of virtue."  (p.56) 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Contest Winner Announcement - The Royal Giveaway

Congratulations to Crystal Trent Dotson, winner of our Royal Giveaway!  She chose a lovely necklace and bracelet from Jewels by Jenn, and her Down the Long Wind trilogy is on the way as well.  Thanks to all who entered, and be sure to check out Jewels by Jenn as you're considering your holiday gifts!

Jewels by Jenn

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Book Review: Triple Dog Dare Devotional by Jeremy V. Jones

Dinner - Tuna Surprise!
In recent weeks, I've been making a concerted effort to have home-cooked meals for dinner, with everyone eating together at the table.  In years past it's been a challenge, as my husband frequently has an odd work schedule as a pilot, and my two boys have had many extracurricular activities that have kept us from the dinner table.  Meals have frequently been eaten on the fly, in shifts and at odd hours. After moving to Georgia a few months ago, we now have a cleaner slate than before.  So on nights when my husband is home, I like to have dinners together as a family. And in addition to this, we’ve been reading family devotionals as well.

A devotional book we’ve been using lately is Triple Dog Dare by Jeremy V. Jones.  This book offers a year of dynamic devotions, aimed at boys ages 9 and up.  While my younger son is only 6 years old, I thought he would still enjoy these reflections almost as my elder son, age 11.

Many devotional books begin with January 1st and run through December 31st, but this one follows a numbered weekly format, beginning with Week 1 and running through Week 52. The weekday devotions follow a particular layout, and the weekend entries offer something slightly different.  This gives flexibility in the use of this book regardless of what year you’re reading it, but as we started it in mid-October, it took a bit of calculating to figure out which entry would be the one to begin with.  The start of the book really is for January, as it references a “new year”, and the Christmas holidays are mentioned in the latter weeks as well.  So readers should be prepared to calculate which week they are in before beginning.

From author Jeremy V. Jones, here’s a description of how the book is structured:

Every weekday of the year you get…
  • one Bible verse or passage.
  • some short thoughts about a real-life situation or connection to God.
  • three Triple Dog Dares – ideas to put the theme into action.
  • Two Mission Accomplished questions so you can write down your results from yesterday’s dares.

Each weekend you get something a little different.

  • Make Triple Dog Tracks sections give ideas to make something cool, like a movie, comic strip, life list, or Noah’s ark out of Legos.
  • From the Triple Dog Pound sections deliver short stories about guys in the Bible who accomplished God’s Triple Dog Dares—plus ideas of how you can do the same.

As we’ve been going through the Triple Dog Dare devotions, my boys have been enjoying them.  I have my elder son read the Bible verses at the beginning, and I read the rest of the devotion while the boys are eating.  Then we discuss ideas, if the boys have anything to say (sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t).  Jeremy has a lighthearted, fun approach to the Christian faith, and he especially takes an interest in faith in action, encouraging readers to apply what they’ve learned to their daily lives and to come back and chronicle those events within blank, lined spaces in the devotional.

My only quibble with the book comes in the first entry (which would be January 2, 2012 if reading it soon).  Jones opens with a paragraph that’s designed to “wake up” his young readers, addressing irritations that middle-grade students may have with the church:

“Are you bored with the Bible?  Does church put you to sleep?  Do you think Christians are wimps? Do you feel like following Jesus is only about following rules? Then it’s time to wake up.”

I understand that Jones is reaching out to kids who are struggling with these issues, but given the current age and experience of my boys, they don’t have many of those thoughts in their heads yet.  I would allow that they might agree that church can be boring for them, but I don’t need a devotional book validating these notions or implanting them, even though it’s ultimately decrying them.  This January entry has caused me to read over the devotionals quickly before sharing them with my boys, just in case.  So far none others have raised any concern, however.  The Triple Dog Dare entries are fun and really do offer a platform to applying our faith to our everyday lives.

Despite my one, minor hesitation with the book, I do recommend this title to parents and loved ones of pre-teen and young teenage boys.  In this day and age, I feel it’s incredibly important to help kids see that the Christian faith should not be about religion, but it should be about a vibrant relationship that affects every decision we make.  I tell my son Matthew all the time—one day he’s going to be on his own, and his faith in Christ should not be just about what Mommy and Daddy told him.  He needs to believe it for himself, and act it out through Christ living in him, not because we’re looking over his shoulder.  The world is already offering him so many false reasons to disregard what we believe.  I applaud Jeremy V. Jones’ work in showing kids God’s love for us and in our world at large.  If our children can come away with that message tucked into their hearts, they will be very blessed indeed.

*          *          *

For your next sit-down dinner with your family, I recommend the Tuna Surprise pictured above.  It's easy to make and quite delicious.  Check out the video and recipe on Rachael Ray's site:

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Jane Austen Made Me Do It Blog Tour and Giveaway

Welcome to the next stop in the Jane Austen Made Me Do It blog tour!  Today The Calico Critic is honored to have our guest, Laurel Ann Nattress.  She is the editor of this delightful anthology of Austenesque short stories and the talented woman behind the blog  She's put some thoughts together for us today, reflecting on the many themes and styles within this collection.  Don't forget to enter to win a copy for yourself as well!

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How to Give Loose to Your Fancy:
(Or, the recipe to Jane Austen Made Me Do It)

Hi Laura, thanks again for hosting me here at The Calico Critic during my Grand Tour of the blogosphere in celebration of the release of my new Austen-inspired anthology, Jane Austen Made Me Do It. On first perusing your review list, you appear a very eclectic reader, but I do see a common thread throughout your reviews – historical fiction with a strong romance. Right? From Georgette Heyer to Abigail Reynolds to Gillian Bradshaw, every book you have read and reviewed here I would love to read too (and some I have). I trust your judgment implicitly.

When I was thinking about the mix of stories that I wanted in my short story anthology, Jane Austen Made Me Do It, I wanted readers to have a variety of genres and emotional experiences – from romance to comedy to irony – so I encouraged my twenty-four authors to visit Austen’s novels, characters and philosophies on life and love as an overall unifying theme. The stories could be set in any era or genre and should be approximately 5000 words in length. I was very flexible and open to any and all of their ideas.

"[S]uppose as much as you chuse; give a loose to your fancy, indulge your imagination in every possible flight which the subject will afford," Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 60

Austen has many qualities as a writer that I admire, but I am particularly fond of her characterization, acerbic wit and the tension that she creates within the love story. Even though it has been two hundred years since her first novel was published, we can still identify with the struggles of social acceptance, financial freedom and a happy union of attraction, situation and temper that her heroines and heroes face and ultimately overcome. For me, Austen succeeds as writer because she creates heroines that I can relate to and admire, honorable heroes that I can fall in love with and a reproving social commentary that allows me to laugh at the folly and nonsense of human nature and culture.

As I encouraged my authors to give “loose to your fancy” I was all anticipation of what would develop. From historical to contemporary the stories were as varied in their style as their authors. Amazingly, the final combination would end up equally balanced with historical and contemporary tales. The genres chosen were always a surprise. Some of the authors Like Amanda Grange (Mr. Darcy’s Diary), Jane Odiwe (Lydia Bennet’s Story) and Monica Fairview (The Other Mr. Darcy) continued in their known historical fiction vein with “Mr. Bennet Meets His Match,” “Waiting,” and “Nothing Less Than Fairy-land,” presenting side stories of minor characters from Austen original novel, or back stories offering more depth or continuations of the lives of the characters after Jane Austen’s novel had closed. These were all comfort food to me and played off well with some of the surprises that arrived. Mother/daughter team Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway (Lady Vernon and Her Daughter) jumped from historical to contemporary young adult story in the humorous “What Would Austen Do?,” Janet Mullany (Jane and the Damned) took a sharp right turn from Jane Austen as a vampire to a contemporary story of a teacher using Sense and Sensibility and the Beatles to reach her students in 1964 England, Lauren Willig’s “A Night at Northanger” parodies Austen’s parody of Gothic fiction,  Northanger Abbey, with a spoof on a ghost hunter television show and a young lady visited by the ghost of a very familiar specter.

From Regency to contemporary, romantic to fantastical, each of the twenty-two stories in Jane Austen Made Me Do It reaffirms the incomparable influence of Jane Austen on writers over the past two hundred years. My objective was to honor and entertain. I hope that you enjoy reading it as much as I had editing it.

Cheer, Laurel Ann

*          *          *

Editor bio:

A life-long acolyte of Jane Austen, Laurel Ann Nattress is the author/editor of a blog devoted to the oeuvre of her favorite author and the many books and movies that she has inspired. She is a life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, a regular contributor to the PBS blog Remotely Connected and the Jane Austen Centre online magazine. An expatriate of southern California, Laurel Ann lives in a country cottage near Snohomish, Washington. Visit Laurel Ann at her blogs and, on Twitter as @Austenprose, and on Facebook as Laurel Ann Nattress.

edited by Laurel Ann Nattress
Ballantine Books • ISBN: 978-0345524966

Giveaway of
Jane Austen Made Me Do It

**Contest Closed**

Enter a chance to win one copy of Jane Austen Made Me Do It by leaving a comment by November 22nd, stating what intrigues you about reading an Austen-inspired short story anthology. Winners to be drawn at random and announced on November 23rd. Shipment to US and Canadian addresses only. Good luck to all!

More Contest Details
  • Entries accepted until 11:59pm EST on Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011.
  • After the winner is announced and contacted, they must supply a US or Canadian mailing address for prize shipment.  
  • Prize will be mailed through Laurel Ann Nattress.
  • Make sure your comment includes your email address. If you'd rather not have your email posted here, you may contact me directly to give me that information after you've entered here.
  • I will contact the winner on Wednesday the 23rd.  Please take measures to ensure that my email will make it past your spam filters, lest you miss my message. ( You'll have 72 hours to respond before I pick another winner.
  • More information on the giveaway policies can be found on the Contact / Policies page.

Jane Austen Made Me Do It
Blog Tour Schedule: 

And while you're here, check out my other giveaways!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Book Review - Expectations of Happiness by Rebecca Ann Collins

From Sourcebooks:

International bestselling author of the Pemberley Chronicles series explores the beloved characters of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. Acclaimed for historical accuracy and emulation of Jane Austen’s voice as well as the depth of her depictions of the complex and evolving society of the day—especially what life was like for women—Collins imagines three sisters dealing with what happens when a spirited girl grows into a scandal-prone young lady who defies society’s rules and must then pay the consequences.

*          *          *

After her delightful ten-volume Pemberley Chronicles series, Rebecca Ann Collins has returned with another Austenesque sequel, Expectations of Happiness.  As I very much enjoyed the selections that I did read from her first series, I was thrilled when it was announced that Collins would be revisiting the work of Jane Austen.  In preparation for spending time with the Dashwood family again, I refreshed my memory of their story by watching the two latest film adaptations of Sense and Sensibility.  True, it’s inferior to reading Austen herself, but I’m able to multi-task (read: get some ironing done) while a DVD is running, unlike while reading.  Of course, this heavily influenced my mental casting of the characters, as is evidenced by the listing below.

I had high hopes for Expectations of Happiness, and for the most part I was not disappointed.  Once again, Rebecca Ann Collins’ writing is elegant, comprehendible and thoroughly delightful.  Her pacing is perfect, as she takes her time with character and plot development without becoming ponderous. The characters seem to be on par with their temperaments from the original novel, having all the amiable qualities, neurotic tendencies and desires as before.

Unlike Sense and Sensibility, this sequel spends a large amount of time focusing on the life of Margaret Dashwood, the youngest daughter.  Several years have passed since her elder sisters married, and she is now a young woman seeking her way in the world.  Miss Dashwood continues to harbor a curious and academic personality, pursuing her education and career fervently.  She is so focused on her aspirations in fact; she has taken little notice of eligible men in her life.  When Margaret finally does become attracted to a young man, certain details about his life bring about complications to keep her from him.

Collins also spends much time with the elder Dashwood sisters as well.  Now married to their love interests from Sense and Sensibility, their lives progress much as we might expect them to.  Elinor is still playing the role of elder (and very maternal) sister to Marianne, and Mrs. Colonel Brandon still has the heart of a passionate, sometimes foolhardy romantic.  Despite being older, Marianne is not necessarily wiser than she has been in years past.  She gets herself into some inappropriate entanglements, and Elinor must balance her desire to protect and guide her sister with the understanding that Marianne must make her own way as an adult.  Collins handles these relational and societal minefields with dexterity and charm, with lovely Regency dialogue and manners.

My one reservation to a wholehearted, unreserved ovation comes from a decision made near the end of the novel.  I will not offer any plot spoilers, but suffice it to say, I was a bit disappointed in one particular choice that Ms. Collins’ made for one couple in her story.  While I’m grateful that she handled this particular situation and its details in the way she did, I still regret that she chose to go this direction with her characters.  I didn’t find it shocking or inconsistent with their personalities, but at the same time I didn’t see why it was necessary.

Regardless, Expectations of Happiness was a delightful novel, a worthy sequel to a well-loved classic.  I highly enjoyed revisiting these characters, and even got a chuckle out of a few winks to Pride and Prejudice and Rebecca’s Pemberley Chronicles series.  If you’ve enjoyed Ms. Collins in the past, you’ll find this to be another enjoyable addition to her list of titles.  As we Janeites celebrate the 200th anniversary of Sense and Sensibility, this is a great way to spend time with these amusing characters once again.

*          *          *

Calico Casting Call – For the Movie in My Head
(With the appropriate age and look for their characters)

Elinor Dashwood Ferrars – Emma Thompson
Marianne Dashwood Brandon – Kate Winslet
Margaret Dashwood – Emma Watson
Mrs. Dashwood – Gemma Jones
Edward Ferrars – Hugh Grant
Colonel Brandon – Alan Rickman
John Willoughby – Greg Wise
Sir John Middleton – Robert Hardy
Mrs. Jennings – Elizabeth Spriggs
Fanny Ferrars Dashwood – Harriet Walter
John Dashwood – James Fleet
Mr. Palmer – Hugh Laurie
Charlotte Palmer – Shirley Henderson
Lucy Steele Ferrars – Imogen Stubbs
Eliza Williams – Caroline Hayes
Claire Jones – Claire Danes
Nicholas Wilcox – Leonardo DiCaprio
Daniel Brooke – Dan Stevens
Dr. Bradley King – Bernard Hill
Mrs. King – Andie MacDowell


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Wednesday Contest Report

Sometimes on Wednesdays I enjoy reporting other contests that are going on throughout the blogosphere.  While you're here, be sure to enter my Royal Giveaway:

  • Hawk of May
  • Kingdom of Summer
  • In Winter's Shadow
  • Jewels by Jenn
Deadline to enter is November 5th.

Other Off-Site Giveaways

Dazzling Reads is hosting a YA Autumn Giveaway.  The winner gets their pick of one of 12 new titles releasing this fall.  Deadline to enter is November 30, 2011.  The contest is international, to wherever The Book Depository ships.  Here is the link:

Another contest you can check out is over on the new blog, Back to Books.  They're currently running a giveaway to The Book Depository - the winner gets to choose a book under $15 in value.  Deadline to enter is October 31st.  Here's the link:

Good luck to all!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Book Review and Royal Giveaway - In Winter's Shadow by Gillian Bradshaw

From Sourcebooks:

Arthur Pendragon strives to unite a fragmented empire as his bastard son threatens to tear down the king, his queen, and their bravest champions. From the sudden death of innocence to a perilous campaign that strikes at the very heart of the empire, this third and final book of the acclaimed trilogy by Gillian Bradshaw offers the reader a front-row seat as Arthur's dream and his kingdom collapse around him.

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First published in 1982 and now reissued by Sourcebooks Landmark, Gillian Bradshaw’s In Winter's Shadow is the concluding volume of the Down the Long Wind trilogy.  An Arthurian tale, this series focuses greatly on those surrounding the legendary High King and Emperor.  In Book 1, Hawk of May, the story’s emphasis is on Arthur’s emissary Gwalchmai and his ascendancy from childhood to royal servitude and respected combatant.  Book 2, Kingdom of Summer still has Gwalchmai as the main character, but it’s told from the perspective of his manservant, Rhys.  Summer chronicles the rising tide that began to swell against Arthur, as well as the personal relationships of Gwalchmai, Rhys, and their love interests.

Book 3, In Winter’s Shadow varies in that it’s told from the perspective of a woman, Emperor Arthur’s wife Gwynhwyfar.  Through Queen Gwynhwyfar’s eyes, we watch the continued struggle of Arthur and his Family against the forces of evil, brought on predominantly by his bastard son, Medraut.  The Queen is very much a part of this struggle herself, as she is not only a leader within her community but is incredibly affected by events without and within.  While her loyalty ultimately is always with Arthur, her heart is frequently torn between what is right and what is desired.  This leads to trouble both within her marriage and throughout the entire kingdom. 

The longest of the three volumes, In Winter’s Shadow took the shortest amount of time for me to read.  I found every chapter to be quite interesting, and not bogged down in unnecessary set dressing and descriptive language.  Bradshaw’s writing is such that we are easily transported to this Arthurian world, but without excessive baggage.  There are battles without ridiculous amounts of gory details, passionate anger without cheap vulgarities and adulterous love scenes with just enough information to get the point across.  It’s decidedly less spiritual than the first two thirds of the trilogy, and I missed having more of that element within the plot, but the political intrigue and relational dramas more than made up for that change in composition.

Down the Long Wind is different from other Arthurian tales in that there is no “Round Table” per se and no mystical Merlin character (although there is a briefly mentioned, mysterious bard named Taliesin).  The fortress of Camelot is the more traditionally named Camlann.   However, much of the original legend is retained, with a moderate amount of magic and spirituality within the first two thirds of the trilogy.  This last portion, In Winter’s Shadow follows the travails and struggles of Arthur, his Queen and the forces swirling around them.  There is adventure, betrayal, loyalty, passion, victory and defeat.  It’s a sweeping tale that spans decades and easily transports the reader to another time and place. 

I can say that I wish the final chapters had turned out somewhat differently than they did.  Without offering any revealing details, the conclusion is not tied up perfectly in a tidy bow, with all parties happy and gratified.  That being said, I felt that matters were handled in a highly realistic and possibly more historic fashion, if there is any truth to the Arthurian legends. 

In Winter’s Shadow is a fine conclusion to a very satisfying trilogy.  I enjoyed hearing the story from the perspective of a woman, and Bradshaw always made her narrative interesting and worth my time.  I frequently read this volume during my morning and afternoon walks by a lake, on the way to or from dropping my sons off from school.  I always looked forward to that time, as it was a delightful escape from the duties and responsibilities of my day.  I certainly recommend Down the Long Wind, especially if you’re a fan of Arthurian novels, but also if you enjoy a captivating, sweeping tale of adventure, magic, love and political intrigue.  Gillian Bradshaw produced a fine work 30 years ago, and it is certainly worth its current re-emergence in the marketplace today.  Hopefully it will acquire a new audience and continue to be enjoyed for years to come.

*          *          *

Calico Casting Call – For the Movie in My Head
(With the appropriate age and look for their characters)

King Arthur – Anthony Head
Gwynhwyfar – Nicole Kidman
Bedwyr – Matthew Macfadyen
Gwalchmai ap Lot – Karl Urban
Rhys ap Sion – Rupert Grint
Morgawse – Monica Bellucci
Medraut – Sean Bean
Eivlin – Dakota Fanning
Gwyn - Jeremy Sumpter

Royal Giveaway!
The Down the Long Wind Trilogy
Hand Crafted Jewels by Jenn
(U.S. Addresses)

As much as I enjoyed Gillian Bradshaw's novels, I do not have the shelf space to give them a permanent home.  I earnestly want them to go on to someone who will enjoy them, so who better to offer them than you, my readers?  The winner of the giveaway will receive my gently-read ARCs of Hawk of May, Kingdom of Summer and In Winter's Shadow.  The cover art is the same on Books 1 & 3, but for some reason they went in a different direction on the cover art for Book 2. But they're all in great condition, and I hope you enjoy them. 

In addition to these delightful reads, I'd like to offer to the winner a gift from Jewels by Jenn.  Choose any items up to $12 (not including shipping, which I'll cover).  Jennifer Degraeve offers lovely beaded bracelets, necklaces and earrings.  These accessories will have you looking like a Queen, or you can bestow them to the Lady Gwynhwyfar in your life.  Choose from the items below, or from the selection on the Jewels by Jenn website.

Earrings: $5
Bracelets: $8
Earrings & Necklace: $9
Necklaces: $10
Bracelet & Necklace: $12 
3 Piece Set: $15

Contest Rules

  • Leave a comment below; this counts as your entry.
  • Entries accepted until 11:59pm on Saturday, November 5th
  • The winner must supply a US mailing address for prize shipment.  I apologize to my international readers, but especially with this giveaway (3 books & separate jewelry shipment), I cannot afford the international postage.
  • Make sure at least one posted comment includes your email address. If you'd rather not have your email posted here, you may contact me directly to give me that information after you've entered here.
  • I will compile the entries and the winner will be chosen by, so even one entry can make you a winner.
  • I will contact the winner on Sunday the 6th.  Please take measures to ensure that my email will make it past your spam filters, lest you miss my message. ( You'll have 72 hours to respond before I pick another winner.
  • More information on the giveaway policies can be found on the Contact / Policies page.

Bonus Entries

Please make note of all your bonus entries in your comment(s).  You may post separate comments or a single large comment.  Here are your bonus entry options:

  • +1 Bonus Point:  Follow The Calico Critic by clicking on the Google "Follow" button on my sidebar (old or new followers both get the bonus entry, just please let me know your GFC follower name).
  • +1 Bonus Point:  Follow me (@LHartness) on Twitter and tell me your @UserName.
  • +1 Bonus Point Each:  Tweet about this giveaway on Be sure to use an URL linking back to this blog posting in your tweet. You may do this as frequently as every 8 hours between now and November 5th at 11:59pm EST.  For each tweet, please come back and post the direct URL link to that specific tweet, not just your @Username.  Here's a sample tweet you can copy:
@LHartness ARC & Jewelry Giveaway! Down the Long Wind trilogy by G. Bradshaw for @Sourcebooks and Jewels by Jenn
  • +5 Bonus Points:  Subscribe to The Calico Critic via email (see left hand sidebar) and become a verified Feedburner subscriber.  Make sure you let me know the email address you used to subscribe.
  • +5 Bonus Points:  Mention this giveaway in a post on your blog.  Deadline to publish your post is 11:59pm EST, November 3rd.  Please provide a direct link.

Thanks for stopping by, and good luck to all!
If you'd like to be alerted anytime a giveaway is posted here on The Calico Critic, here are three notification options:

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