Sunday, June 30, 2013

Book Review - A Jane Austen Daydream by Scott Southard


All her heroines find love in the end—but is there love waiting for Jane?

Jane Austen spends her days writing and matchmaking in the small countryside village of Steventon, until a ball at Godmersham Park propels her into a new world where she yearns for a romance of her own. But whether her heart will settle on a young lawyer, a clever Reverend, a wealthy childhood friend, or a mysterious stranger is anyone's guess.

Written in the style of Jane herself, this novel ponders the question faced by many devoted readers over the years—did she ever find love? Weaving fact with fiction, it re-imagines her life, using her own stories to fill in the gaps left by history and showing that all of us—to a greater or lesser degree—are head over heels for Jane.

*          *          *

While I have read an enjoyable biography of Jane Austen, I would never consider myself an expert on her life.  However, it is my understanding that Jane was not one to have many love affairs. While hastily engaged (and disengaged) in 1802, she never married. Given the romantic content of her work, many have marveled at her ability to delve into the fictional hearts of female characters that have fallen in love.  Some have speculated that she did indeed find love in her lifetime, possibly with a man she associated with for a short time in Bath, or maybe in her flirtation with Thomas Lefroy, a relative of a friend.

Much like the book and film Becoming Jane, Scott Southard’s speculative novel A Jane Austen Daydream takes the idea of an enamored Jane Austen and draws out an interesting perspective, based both on documented events and fictional ones. Southard follows the highlights of Jane’s life, such as her days in Steventon, Bath and Chawton, as well as other locales. Yet other aspects of the story are pure fabrication, such as her interactions with men and fictional letters she wrote to her sister Cassandra.

While Southard molds Jane’s life events somewhat, he does so in a way that conveys his love for Austen. From this we have an interesting narrative, one that includes many winks to Austen’s works. Individuals from Jane’s life are frequently spouting off quotes that can be found in her novels. Moreover, we are given a view of Jane’s processes as a writer, how she was inspired to create, and how this desire would leak out into her everyday living. As a creative writer, Southard’s Jane is found fabricating a lie to suit her desires, as well as conjuring up in her mind elaborate speculations on incidents that she had not been party to.

We also see Jane’s growth as a woman. At the start of the novel, I found some of Jane’s frivolous choices and insecurities not to be consistent with how I see the true author. However, as the story progresses, certain life events occur which mold her into a more mature woman. These events seem to be sprinkled symbolically throughout her work as well. It’s clear that her ultimate daydream is to have a fulfilling love relationship with a man who seems out of reach. When this possibility seems denied to her, she allows the many characters of her novels to live out the love life she herself yearns to experience.

I will not reveal how Mr. Southard chose to end A Jane Austen Daydream. We know that Jane died as a relatively young 41 year-old woman. We don’t know if she ever truly had a fulfilling romantic relationship.  But the beauty of speculative fiction is that the author can place his hopes for his characters on the page. In that light, A Jane Austen Daydream is very much a lovely dream. It’s not always a pleasant one—Jane has her own brand of villains and obstacles to contend with along the way. Yet overall, Daydream is an interesting, entertaining look at a life that Jane could have had. Scott Southard takes her through his own dream for her, holding onto much of the reality of her life, but also offering her possibilities that could only transpire on the pages of a novel. I enjoyed Southard’s choices as a writer, and wish that Jane could have actually experienced them herself. Fans of Austen’s works will enjoy this love letter to Jane, one that both entertains as well as cherishes her as she truly was: An amazing writer and a woman who deeply loved, even if only in the written word.


Connect with Scott Southard


For a limited time, A Jane Austen Daydream is free on Kindle.  I just noticed this posting from Scott on July 1st:

For the next two days my publisher is sharing my novel A Jane Austen Daydream free on Amazon! More info via the link (and please share and tell a friend!)

 Review copy provided by Madison Street Publishing

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Book Review - Seduction by M.J. Rose

From the author of The Book of Lost Fragrances comes a haunting novel about a grieving woman who discovers the lost letters of novelist Victor Hugo, awakening a mystery that spans centuries.

In 1843, novelist Victor Hugo’s beloved nineteen-year-old daughter drowned. Ten years later, Hugo began participating in hundreds of séances to reestablish contact with her. In the process, he claimed to have communed with the likes of Plato, Galileo, Shakespeare, Dante, Jesus—and even the Devil himself. Hugo’s transcriptions of these conversations have all been published. Or so it was believed.

Recovering from her own losses, mythologist Jac L’Etoile arrives on the Isle of Jersey—where Hugo conducted the séances—hoping to uncover a secret about the island’s Celtic roots. But the man who’s invited her there, a troubled soul named Theo Gaspard, has hopes she’ll help him discover something quite different—Hugo’s lost conversations with someone called the Shadow of the Sepulcher.

What follows is an intricately plotted and atmospheric tale of suspense with a spellbinding ghost story at its heart, by one of America’s most gifted and imaginative novelists.

*          *          *

Seduction is not a typical choice for me.  As a Christian, I take no personal interest in séances or reincarnation, and I generally don’t reach for books with this kind of title.  However, Victor Hugo’s intrinsic involvement within the center of this story drew me in.  I adore his Les Misérables, although I shamefully admit that the bulk of my exposure to the story comes via the silver screen, not the original literary masterpiece.  My father read Les Mis when he was thirteen, so I have recently acquired a copy and have put it on my ultimate TBR list. If he could attempt such a tome at that age, I should certainly be working on it myself. In the meantime, my interest in this author remains, and given M.J. Rose’s respected reputation, I thought I’d give her latest title a try.

The titular subject of the novel is very much woven through the entire story, but the term “seduction” is not so much referring to a sexual seduction as it is a spiritual and psychological one.  As Victor Hugo becomes more involved in occultic practices in his home, a dark spirit by the name of Shadow of the Sepulcher tries to seduce him into a spiritual arrangement, whereby Victor’s fatherly pain of losing his daughter would be eased, all the while serving the evil spirit’s dark purposes.

At the same time, Carl Jung’s theories of reincarnation and the “collective unconscious” also play a dominant role in the story.  It provides three interweaving time periods, with characters that are all interconnected in various ways.  Of course there is the mid-19th Century era, with Victor Hugo, a servant girl named Fantine and the pain they both share over the loss of loved ones.  Another time period is the present day, with the perfume artist Jac L’Etoile of M.J. Rose’s Reincarnationist series of books. Jac and and old friend Theo are both dealing with loss in their lives, and they come together to investigate an intriguing letter that was supposedly written by Victor Hugo himself.  Through their research, they hope to resolve many psychological and emotional issues.  The final time period featured is that of 56 B.C.E. As with the other characters in the novel, the members of the Druid clan featured in this thread of the story also experience pain and loss that become linked to the individuals in the 19th and 21st centuries.

I found Seduction to be very intriguing, well-written and above all, fantastical. My religious beliefs run contrary to much found in this novel, but I approached the work as if I had been reading a fairy tale.  I do not believe in C.S. Lewis’s Narnia, but I can play along for the sake of the story. Likewise, I do not believe in reincarnation, but I can pretend that these lives were linked in such a fashion for my amusement.  I do agree with Jung that “there are no coincidences”, simply because I believe in a personal God, which comes out of a worldview that is very different from Jung’s.  So that aspect of the novel I could certainly relate to, although only to a certain point.

I also appreciated Rose’s depiction of the evil forces at work in the lives of several of the characters.  Satan is the ultimate liar and manipulator, and will say anything in order to get us to do his work.  Should we succumb to his seduction, we ultimately become his bond slaves in some measure.  The more we dabble and deal with him, the worse the bondage will become. Victor Hugo came to see that in his life within Seduction, and saw the foolishness in continuing the séances in his own home. He also fights major temptation with the Shadow, which I found to be very relatable, not because I have a close relationship with evil forces, but because we all deal with one temptation or another every day of our lives. In Seduction, it’s eminently clear how the Shadow is trying to use Hugo for his evil purposes.  It reminds us of what we do to ourselves when we allow compromise and sin into our lives, even on a small scale.

As mentioned, Seduction is a part of a series of novels, beginning with 2007’s The Reincarnationist.  I have read none of the previous four books, and while M.J. Rose’s content does refer back to moments in previous work, it wasn’t a dominant force that made me feel alienated from the material.  Seduction is almost a stand-alone work, and could easily be read by initiates like myself.

I do recommend Seduction, but it would be a qualified endorsement.  As a mature adult who is very firm in her Christian beliefs, I was able to read this frequently-engrossing novel with the mindset of someone reading a fairy tale or mythological legend.  However, given some of the adult content, as well as the general religious and psychological worldview of the story, it isn’t for all audiences. I wouldn’t suggest it for young readers, those new to the Christian faith, or those strongly questioning these types of philosophies.  A novel is not the best place to work out these issues, although they are worthy of questioning.  There is actually quite alot of truth to be found here. It just needs to be handled with care.

That important topic aside, I can assert that I found Seduction to be entertaining, educational and even inspirational.  It’s encouraged me to look into a quality biography of Victor Hugo, such as Graham Robb’s Victor Hugo: A Biography (as offered by M.J. Rose).  And once again, I find myself looking at my beautiful copy of Les Misérables on the shelf.  Victor Hugo is a fascinating figure, and Seduction was a compelling way to spend time with him.

About the Author

M.J. Rose is the international best selling author of eleven novels and two non-fiction books on marketing. Her fiction and non-fiction has appeared in many magazines and reviews including Oprah Magazine. She has been featured in the New York Times, Newsweek, Time, USA Today and on the Today Show, and NPR radio.  Rose graduated from Syracuse University, spent the '80s in advertising, has a commercial in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC and since 2005 has run the first marketing company for authors - The television series PAST LIFE, was based on Rose's novels in the Renincarnationist series. She is one of the founding board members of International Thriller Writers and runs the blog- Buzz, Balls & Hype.  She is also the co-founder of and

Rose lives in CT with her husband the musician and composer, Doug Scofield, and their very spoiled and often photographed dog, Winka.

For more information on M.J. Rose and her novels, please visit her WEBSITE. You ca n also find her on Facebook and Twitter.


For more reviews and posts, visit the other stops on the Seduction Virtual Blog Tour!

Eric Metaxas
Post Script:

As is mentioned in my review, I don't believe in coincidences.  So it was no surprise when an interesting article hit my email box today.  Eric Metaxas is a New York Times #1 bestselling author, speaker and former dabbler in Jungian notions.  He describes his progression from vague spiritual beliefs to a strong relationship with Christ in a recent article.  His thoughts addressed some issues that I thoroughly agree with, but did not have the writing skill to enunciate.  Much like the characters in Seduction, he had a supernatural experience (through a life-changing dream), but the difference found in his world is that he was ultimately led to a life of joy, as opposed to the life of bondage that was put before Victor Hugo and many of the other characters of Seduction.

Eric's Spiritual Journey:
Questioning is Okay

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Book Review - A Gentleman's Daughter: Her Folly by Reina M. Williams


Felicity Wilcox, disguised as a young man, flees Naples aboard a vessel returning to her native England. A man from her past, Captain Hugh Mountbank, recognizes Felicity, but plays along with her ruse—until the two must dispose of a murdered man and journey together to her family’s home.

Amid the seeming gaiety of visits and house parties, Felicity and Hugh attempt to keep their family and friends safe, as they also work to uncover the truth about each other. Soon, they not only must protect their loved ones, but also their hearts from the growing feelings between them. When danger comes to call, can Felicity and Hugh trust each other, or will their game of subterfuge and intrigue be their final folly?

*          *          *

A Gentleman's Daughter: Her Folly is a short, sweet Regency-style novella by Reina M. Williams.  It is the second in her Gentleman’s Daughter series.  The main focus of the story is Felicity Wilcox, cousin of Cecilia Wilcox, who was featured in the previous volume, Her Choice. Felicity is very much an independent woman, preferring a life of travel and freedom.  She is not the type who feels the need to look for a husband.  Overhearing a murderous plot that could put her family in danger, she rushes home to England from Italy in an attempt to foil the plans of a dastardly villain.  Along the way she must deal with meddling relatives and friends, and she struggles with romantic feelings for a man she doesn’t entirely trust.

Her Folly was a pleasant read, but there were many times when I had trouble connecting to the story.  For such a short novel, the cast list was extensive, and sometimes it was a challenge to distinguish between the many members of the Wilcox family and their associates.  The key players could have been fleshed out just a bit more to deepen my understanding of them.  There were also numerous references to plot points and ideas from the previous book, which was reasonable, but as a new initiate to this series, I frequently felt disconnected from the story.

Those concerns aside, I do feel that I can give the Gentleman’s Daughter series my endorsement. Ms. Williams’ writing is very good overall, and I love the fact that she kept her romantic content very clean.  The topics, language and issues were very true to the period, and readers of Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer would probably enjoy this work very much.  I myself would like to go back and read Her Choice, to fill out my understanding of the Gentleman’s Daughter world in full. If the series continues on to a Book 3, I would seek that one out as well.

I do not have a daughter in my life, but if I did, I would feel more than comfortable in letting her read from the Gentleman’s Daughter books in her young teen years.  Reina Williams’ writing is mature, but it never crosses over into the frequently-seen inappropriate content that is often found in Regency romance novels today.  Her Folly was a sweet, pleasant read, and one I can recommend to anyone who enjoys this genre.


Connect with Reina M. Williams

Monday, June 3, 2013

Book Review and Giveaway - Yours Affectionately, Jane Austen by Sally Smith O'Rourke


Was Mr. Darcy real? Is time travel really possible? For pragmatic Manhattan artist Eliza Knight the answer to both questions is absolutely, Yes! And Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley Farms, Virginia is the reason why!

His tale of love and romance in Regency England leaves Eliza in no doubt that Fitz Darcy is the embodiment of Jane Austen’s legendary hero. And she’s falling in love with him. But can the man who loved the inimitable Jane Austen ever love average, ordinary Eliza Knight?

Eliza’s doubts grow, perhaps out of proportion, when things start to happen in the quiet hamlet of Chawton, England; events that could change everything. Will the beloved author become the wedge that divides Fitz and Eliza or the tie that binds them?

*          *          *

What a concept!  Thinking of Mr. Darcy as an American from Virginia! Sally Smith O’Rourke not only takes a leap in time in her novel Yours Affectionately, Jane Austen, but she takes a big literary leap as well.  And while a friend of mine scoffed at this idea when I mentioned it to them, I went on to explain that it really becomes a plausible notion in this twist on the world of Jane Austen.

In the first book of this series, The Man Who Loved Jane Austen, Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley Farms, Virginia finds himself back in time through a mysterious portal. There he befriends the lovely Jane Austen. Through her interaction with him, she is inspired to create the character of Fitzwilliam Darcy in her beloved novel, Pride and Prejudice.  I haven’t read O’Rourke’s previous title to know all of the particulars, but it’s clear that Darcy made quite an impression upon Miss Austen, becoming somewhat of a muse.

Back in the present day, Fitz is developing a new relationship with a modern woman, Eliza Knight.  She comes to know of the portal, as well as Fitz’s role in Jane Austen’s life.  This Manhattan artist sometimes fights moments of insecurity in the face of one of the greatest writers of all time.  She questions whether Fitz can truly love her. How would she ever be able to compete with such a figure?

In Yours Affectionately, the portal is once again opened, and a young man from the 19th Century begins to build a life in the present day.  As much as we Janeites might fantasize about traveling back to Jane’s time, this young vet-in-the-making named Simmons revels in the modern conveniences that we enjoy today.  With all the opportunities that are before him in the 21st Century, it becomes very difficult for him to return to Jane’s time. But if he doesn’t, it could have dire repercussions throughout the centuries.

As my regular readers are aware, I’m almost always game for an Austenesque time-travel story. My most recent venture into that genre was Searching for Captain Wentworth by Jane Odiwe. What I especially enjoyed about this latest novel was the blending of the real world with the characters that blossomed in Jane’s mind.  I love the idea that Darcy was based upon an actual person, and an American at that.  And while some may scoff at this literary choice, I think it was well executed. O’Rourke’s Darcy is just as much a gentleman as Austen’s.  He’s a horseman with a large estate, with proper manners and just enough aloofness to fit the part.  I didn’t find him to be particularly despicable (as Jane’s could be in the original text), but that is of no consequence.  Along with the other characters in Yours Affectionately, I found the entire cast to be quite enjoyable, right down to a minor, almost villain-like character.  I loved the magical, misty quality of the portal that linked their two worlds.  I have no idea what brought it into our world, but it didn’t concern me.  I was able to buy into the concept easily and enjoy it.  During one of the final portal scenes, there is one interaction in particular that was particularly delicious.  It made me envy Eliza, wanting to step into her shoes in that moment.

My only complaint with Yours Affectionately comes from my own choice.  I made the decision to read this book first, before its predecessor, The Man Who Loved Jane Austen.  Throughout Yours Affectionately, O’Rourke does her best to inform readers like myself on events from the previous episode.  Yet there were many times when I felt like an outsider at a dinner party, trying to piece together the snippets of a story that I’d missed. However, I enjoyed Yours Affectionately so much, I am eagerly anticipating the chance to go back and take in (what I will think of as) the prequel to this novel.  I’ll relish watching Darcy and Jane meet and see how their relationship came into fruition.

Sally Smith O’Rourke’s titles certainly belie her love of our cherished author, Jane Austen.  The tone and quality of her writing shows true affection for this historical figure, and it’s quite obvious that like her modern-day version of Mr. Darcy, she is an American who holds Jane close to her heart.  Not only to I encourage you to dive through the mist into Yours Affectionately, Jane Austen, but I can almost guarantee that its predecessor will be worth our time as well.  I’ll be sure to give you a full report, and I anticipate good news as well!

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Sally Smith O'Rourke has made Calico Critic readers a great giveaway offer!

Prize #1:
  U.S. Domestic - Trade paperback copies of The Man Who Loved Jane Austen as well as Yours Affectionately, Jane Austen

Prize #2:  International - eBook copies of The Man Who Loved Jane Austen as well as Yours Affectionately, Jane Austen

Now you can get started on this fabulous series, right from the beginning! Be sure to read the guidelines below, enter via the Rafflecopter widget, and good luck!
  • The contest period ends at 12:00am EST on Saturday, June 15th.
  • Make sure you leave your email address in the one required portion of the Rafflecopter form. Should you win, I will contact you on Saturday the 15th. 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.
  • All entries must go through the Rafflecopter form. If you leave an optional blog post comment, in order for it to count toward your contest entry, be sure to indicate that you commented through the "Leave a Blog Post Comment" button on the Rafflecopter form.
  • The prizes will be distributed via Sally Smith O'Rourke.
  • Entries will be verified.  If a fraudulent entry is detected for the winning name, another winner will be drawn.


Now Available:Yours Affectionately on Audiobook!


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