Monday, February 27, 2012

Book Review -
The Garden Intrigue by Lauren Willig

Welcome to the next top in the TLC Book Tour for Lauren Willig's The Pink Carnation! After you've read my review, be sure to enter the giveaway below and check out the other stops in the tour, listed at the end of the post. Other tour participants are not only offering their reviews, but other giveaways will be available as well.

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In the ninth installment of Lauren Willig's bestselling Pink Carnation series, an atrocious poet teams up with an American widow to prevent Napoleon's invasion of England.

Secret agent Augustus Whittlesby has spent a decade undercover in France, posing as an insufferably bad poet. The French surveillance officers can't bear to read his work closely enough to recognize the information drowned in a sea of verbiage.

New York-born Emma Morris Delagardie is a thorn in Augustus's side. An old school friend of Napoleon's stepdaughter, she came to France with her uncle, the American envoy; eloped with a Frenchman; and has been rattling around the salons of Paris ever since. Widowed for four years, she entertains herself by drinking too much champagne, holding a weekly salon, and loudly critiquing Augustus's poetry.

As Napoleon pursues his plans for the invasion of England, Whittlesby hears of a top-secret device to be demonstrated at a house party at Malmaison. The catch? The only way in is with Emma, who has been asked to write a masque for the weekend's entertainment.

Emma is at a crossroads: Should she return to the States or remain in France? She'll do anything to postpone the decision-even if it means teaming up with that silly poet Whittlesby to write a masque for Bonaparte's house party. But each soon learns that surface appearances are misleading. In this complicated masque within a masque, nothing goes quite as scripted- especially Augustus's feelings for Emma.

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Lauren Willig
I’ve been familiar author Lauren Willig in name only for some time now. She seemed to be a favorite amongst my fellow Janeite readers and has quite a following from her Pink Carnation series.  I made a note to give her work a try at some point, so I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to review her latest work, The Garden Intrigue.

When taking on The Garden Intrigue, I was concerned that I’d have a hard time merging into this world, as I’d be starting with Book 9 in the series.  While I think there may have been some references to previous books’ plot points, I had no trouble at all enjoying this title.

One of the things that I found to be unique and enjoyable about Lauren’s style is her choice to tell the story in two time periods.  For most of the time, the story is told in the third person, set in France in the early 1800’s. Other chapters are set in 2004, told in the first person, with separate characters who have connections with the 19th century plot as well.  Although I always preferred the earlier setting, having that alternative plane kept things refreshing and interesting.

I’ve read many novels set in the early 19th century with romance as the main plot focus. While the same can be said for The Garden Intrigue, I loved the addition of the world of The Pink Carnation, a female government spy.  She and her fellow agents provide a level of intrigue that I’ve never seen within novels set in this era.  It might be an old motif to some experienced readers, but this was a new twist that I highly enjoyed.

Lauren provides a delightful balance of romance, espionage, actual history and even a bit of humor to create a wonderful story that always kept me entertained.  I found her main characters to be interesting and agreeable, both in the historical France portions and in the more modern day chapters.  The Pink Carnation’s fellow agent Augustus Whittlesby may have been involved in writing horrible poetry, but I just loved the bits of his verse that were frequently included at the beginning of chapters.  The chemistry he had with his love interest was delicious. And one moderately steamy scene aside, Willig kept the passionate moments fairly chaste.  She is a talented enough writer that she doesn’t have to rely on salacious material to tell her story.

From the beginning to its dramatic (and sequel-prepping) end, The Pink Carnation held up the positive reputation I’ve been hearing about in recent years.  Lauren Willig is an intelligent and entertaining author, and I’m so thrilled that her work met my hopeful expectations.  Of course, now I’ll be putting all of the Pink Carnation books on my reading list.  And I look forward to what may be ahead in this series.

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TLC Book Tours has graciously offered to give away a copy of The Pink Carnation to one of my readers!  Fill out the Rafflecopter form below, and take note of the contest guidelines:

  • The contest period ends at 12:01am EST on March 11th, 2012.
  • Make sure you leave your email address in the one required portion of the Rafflecopter form. Should you win, I will contact you on Sunday the 11th.  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.
  • The winner must supply a U.S. or Canadian mailing address for prize shipment.
  • TLC Book Tours will be responsible for prize shipment after they receive the mailing address from me.
  • You may tweet about the giveaway once per day for bonus entries. Please report the direct URL to the tweet in the Rafflecopter form.
  • Entries will be verified.  If a fraudulent entry is detected for the winning name, another winner will be drawn.

If you can't see the Rafflecopter form,
try clicking on the "Read More" link

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Book Review - Amy Hayes' I Am My Beloved's:
Christian Devotionals for the Bride to Be

In 1995 I had the privilege of marrying my best friend, Jonathan Hartness.  Over the years I’d read material in preparation for my wedding day, including Passion and Purity by Elizabeth Elliot and Fit to be Tied by Bill and Lynne Hybels. Jonathan and I also had weeks of premarital counseling with one of the pastors at our church.  And of course I had a perfect little wedding planner book to keep me organized as we prepared for our ceremony and reception.

On that day, I felt as prepared as I could have been to become Mrs. Jonathan Hartness. Yet, there were a few areas in which I think I could have had a better education.  Recently I enjoyed a title that would have been very helpful to me when I was preparing for my new life as a married woman.

In her new devotional, I Am My Beloved's: Christian Devotionals for the Bride to Be, Amy Hayes gives some great pointers for Christian women who are preparing for their upcoming nuptials. She addresses spiritual matters such as reflecting the fruits of the Spirit to others during stressful wedding preparations. Hayes also thoroughly discusses the importance of being a godly fiancée and wife. Here are a few of the chapter titles, which can give you an idea of some of her topics:

  • Time of Preparation
  • Bridezilla
  • Capturing a Vision
  • Girlfriends
  • Honoring Marriage
  • Gracious Beauty
  • Giving Good Gifts to Your Groom

Amy Hayes is a wise woman, and I agree with everything she’s written in this preparatory material. Her words are well suited for the conservative Christian woman who holds traditional ideals for marriage.  In our postmodern society, Hayes is a bit of a rebel in her beliefs.  There are many who might even be offended by some of her conservative suggestions.  On more than one occasion, she suggests that brides should put their wants and desires ahead of others, even to the point of sacrificing some of their “dream wedding” hopes.  In these days of Bridezillas and self-absorbed Kardashians, this is unfortunately no longer the standard mindset.

At the same time, Amy encourages women to relish the planning of their wedding, even to take some time out to pamper themselves. Salon treatments, quality cosmetics and hair stylists are encouraged.  This is not only giving yourself a treat, but it will help you radiate your inner beauty to your groom as he joins you in the ceremony.

Our Wedding Day
While I do wholeheartedly concur with all of Amy’s advice, I have one minor hesitation as this is presented to brides to be.  I don’t know about other women, but there have been times when I’ve struggled with what I call “Proverbs 31” or “Martha Stewart Guilt”.  Both in Proverbs 31 and in Martha Stewart’s magazine Living, there’s much to be admired, but exhibiting all the virtues and accomplishments seems to be a near impossibility.  I think if I had read I Am My Beloved's as an engaged 23 year-old, I would have felt overwhelmed with all that has been suggested here.  This would have been especially acute after we were officially engaged— back then, it was like a gunshot went off, and the race was on, with the finite amount of time that was available to get everything in place.  As much wisdom as is within I Am My Beloved's, I honestly don’t know if I would have taken the time to read it in those harried months before we got married. And if I had, I frequently would have felt like I was falling short in many respects.

That being said, I feel the advice conveyed here is quite valuable.  If you’re in a serious relationship and are considering marriage, I would encourage you to read this while you still have the time.  You may even discover some things within I Am My Beloved's that may cause you to reevaluate your relationship with your significant other.  Are you marrying a godly man, someone you admire, someone you can see yourself sharing a lifetime with?  Are you more concerned with having the perfect fairytale wedding or are you concerned with pleasing your groom?  And most importantly, are you concerned about glorifying God both in your life and in the life you share with your husband?

If you are already engaged, be a better woman than I would have been.  Try to take the time to read I Am My Beloved's. The modest chapters could be read daily over the course of two weeks.  And if you begin to feel a bit of that “Proverbs 31 guilt”, just take on as many of Hayes’ recommendations as you can.  Furthermore, keep in mind that none of us becomes an admirable wife or Proverbs 31 woman in our own strength alone.  Ask the Lord to show you what aspects of Hayes’ book need to be your focus, and ask Him for the strength to accomplish what He’s called you to do.  This will remain true as you prepare for your wedding, and decades later as you strive to love your husband and glorify God at the same time. Deuteronomy 30:11 tells us, “Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach,” and Philippians 4:13 states, “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.”

The days of courtship and engagement are so fleeting.  Do what you can to enjoy this time, but prepare as much as you can for the years ahead.  I Am My Beloved's, while an ambitious work, is a great way to prepare for your new life.  If every bride read it before their wedding day, the number of happy marriages would certainly be greater.  And a happy marriage is certainly something worthy of preparation. I Am My Beloved's: Christian Devotionals for the Bride to Be is a wonderful way to do that.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Wednesday Contest Report

The folks over at Two Belles Fitness are having some great DVD giveaways!  Check them out!

Those of you who followed along in my Peak Fit Challenge journey last year may be interested to know that Michelle Dozois has released two more videos to add to the series!  I'm so excited to report that More Cardio Interval Burn and More Cardio Strength are now available!  Head on over to Two Belles Fitness and join me in entering to win one of these amazing new titles!  The contest ends on February 24, 2012.  Here's the link:

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Another instructor whom I enjoy is Tracie Long. She's got some new videos out, and Two Belles is having a giveaway of her reBoot1 and Figure30 Hips DVDs.  I'm really looking forward to trying her Figure 30 series, as a 30 minute workout is so easy to fit into a busy schedule.  Tracie is a former Firm instructor and really knows her stuff.  The deadline to enter the contest is coming up on the 17th.  Here's the link:


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