Saturday, September 24, 2016

Book Review and Giveaway: Darcy by Any Other Name by Laura Hile

At Netherfield, a glorious evening of music and dancing...

But out in the garden two men are arguing, while a ferocious rainstorm swirls round. And then the unthinkable happens: a lightning bolt from heaven strikes. In that instant everything changes.

Jane Austen’s heartthrob hero becomes the bumbling Reverend Collins.

Shorn of his fortune, his social standing, and his good looks, Mr. Darcy is trapped in Mr. Collins’ body. And Mr. Collins wakes up to discover that he is master of Pemberley. Could there be anything worse?

But the inner man is still Darcy. He is in love with Elizabeth Bennet. And now he is living in her house.

Discover the Pride and Prejudice ‘body swap’ that has readers laughing in surprise and delight.

I’m not one for strange Austeneque story premises.  In recent years the genre has seen everything from vampires to zombies, sea monsters to rock stars.  In general, I don’t gravitate towards them. The most outlandish title I’ve read (and enjoyed very much) was Steampunk Darcy by Monica Fairview. This was a rare exception in my habits.  So the premise of a body-swap story is a bit of a departure.  Why the interest? One name: Laura Hile. While I’ve never read any of her books, I’ve interacted with her quite a bit online and have enjoyed her posts at the website, Jane Started It. Given her wit and intelligence, I’d be open to just about anything she publishes.  Darcy and Collins switching bodies?  Really?  Okay…sure—I’m game! I put it on my Goodreads list, and assumed I would get to it…one day… preferably after the completion of a graduate school class I was about to start.  Darcy by Any Other Name is 662 pages. At this point in my life, I’d begun saying “no” to most review requests in order to clear the decks for academic pursuits. Starting a novel of such length was not in my plans.

Then Laura contacted me, asking if I’d be willing to read her book.  I was thrilled!  And although I wasn’t sure it was the right decision, I said “yes” to her request.  With such a high page count, I wasn’t certain I’d be able to juggle reading it and tending to my graduate class.  Boy, was I proven wrong!  Darcy by Any Other Name might have a quizzical premise, but I was riveted!  I couldn’t believe how fast I flew through this novel, even though I was saving its reading for my limited free time away from kids, work, and school duties.

As in Jane Austen’s original Pride and Prejudice, Laura Hile’s Fitzwilliam Darcy is somewhat of a prideful man, holding much wealth and respect.  When he is transported into the body of the lowly vicar William Collins, he finds himself in a completely different position in life.  No longer revered and respected, he has the reputation of being a fool and an idiot. Collins experiences quite the opposite, as he is transferred into Darcy’s world. No longer a portly, powerless and almost penniless man, he inherits a body and an existence that many would envy.  In each man’s case, there are many lessons to be learned in living within the other’s life.

Laura Hile’s work may not be my usual traditional Austenesque fiction, but she kept me entertained throughout her novel.  She filled it with humor, excitement, and of course, romance.  I was also impressed at her ability to sprinkle a bit of Christian faith into the story without having it feel too forced or inappropriate. Darcy as Collins was so interesting—seeing him revolutionize Collins’ life further emphasized how pitiful Collins truly had been, how much more he could have been doing with his existence and ministry.  Collins as Darcy was rife with humor, as I pictured this statuesque, handsome man become the fool and begin to squander so much of the respect that Darcy had made for himself. Elizabeth Bennet’s relationship with “Collins” (who was really Darcy) becomes completely altered, as this chubby, sophomoric man changes before her very eyes. Not only does he begin to take care of his body and lose weight, but his manner is remarkably different, and shockingly, he becomes attractive.  Mr. Collins, attractive?!?  How is this possible?  Author Laura Hile makes it so, and does so handily.  Her narrative makes it very clear—our looks will only take us so far in being attractive to others.  Ultimately, it’s what’s inside that counts.  Our heart, our personality, how we treat others—this is far more important than the clothes we wear or how photogenic we are.

While I admit to beginning this novel with a positive prejudice toward the writer, ultimately it was up to Mrs. Hile to hold my attention and keep me entertained for so many chapters.  Never once did I feel bogged down in the story, and the pages flew by.  This is not a taut, tense thriller by any means.  It’s simply a well-told story with classic themes that many of us can relate to.  I applaud Laura Hile’s work, and am so glad I said “yes” to reviewing Darcy by Any Other Name!


Thanks to Laura Hile, one of YOU will be able to read this fabulous novel!  Fill out the Rafflecopter widget below and enter to win an ebook copy of Darcy by Any Other Name. Open internationally. Contest ends at 12am EST on October 8, 2016.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Paperback Kindle More Laura Hile More Laura Hile

Friday, September 23, 2016

See the Newsboys in Concert with Adventures in Odyssey


Want to be entered for a chance to win a free trip for four to hear the Newsboys, the award-winning Christian music band, in Dallas? Sign up to be a part of the movement to protect religious freedom for future generations: Bring Your Bible to School Day! Students from kindergarten to college will be bringing their Bibles to school and sharing God with their friends on October 6.

By completing the information on this page, you're automatically entered to win the chance to see the Newsboys with Focus on the Family and Adventures in Odyssey. Don't miss out on the chance to see a fantastic band with your family!

Plus Sign Up for a Free Two-Week Trial of Odyssey Adventure Club


Getting used to a new school isn’t easy, especially for someone as paranoid as Buddy Norman. In “A Predicament of Biblical Proportions” he envisions wacky worst-case encounters with townsfolk who seem like mobsters, snoops and fairy-tale tyrants—until he gets to know them. He’s also a little confused about Bring Your Bible to School Day. What’s it about? Should he participate? See Odyssey through Buddy’s eyes in this witty celebration of religious freedom.

Listen to this story through a two-week trial only on the Odyssey Adventure Club.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Peak 10 Fit Body Challenge

It's been a while since I've done a health or workout posting, but I'm excited to announce that I'm going to once again join Michelle Dozois in a fitness challenge!  Michelle is my favorite fitness instructor, and I've been doing her home workout videos for years.  Unfortunately, for the last year I've put on a significant amount of weight due to a medicine change (and the low motivation stemming from that) but I'm ready to fight back and put this period of my life behind me.  Through Michelle's new Peak 10 Fit Body Challenge, I'm looking forward to taking control of my health and weight.

Michelle's program is available online-- tons of workouts, plus nutrition helps, motivational videos, printables and more!   Check out this message from Michelle:

Believe it or not, my goal is to lose 100 pounds.  Yep, you read that right.  One. Hundred. Pounds.  It might take me years to achieve this goal, but that's okay.  I'm not looking for a quick fix, such as losing 50 pounds in 90 days.   My sights are set on revamping my menu, and doing the best I can with Michelle's tough workouts.  I'm not in a place right now where I can do high-impact moves like burpees or jumping lunges.  I'll be taking this at my own pace, challenging myself where I can.

If I get brave enough, I'd like to post photos of my progress.  Perhaps I'll take pics for every 10 pound weight loss.  We'll see how I'm feeling about that.  To be honest, I'm nervous about even going out in public these days, so posting photos online for all the world to see is a bit daunting.  But if I can get there, hopefully I can inspire others in my situation.  So many of us struggle with weight, and it's nice to know there are others out there fighting the good fight.

If you're interested in joining me in this venture, check out Michelle's site here, and sign up today!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Excerpt & Giveaway: The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen

Jane Austen lived a solitary life of a writer … Or did she?

The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen tells a spirited, affecting love story during an exciting, turbulent time. Set in the “lost years” of her twenties – a period of which historians know virtually nothing – the trilogy reveals the story of a talented, passionate woman fully engaging with a man who is very much her equal. The series resolves the biggest mysteries of Austen’s life:
  • Why the enduring rumors of a lost love or tragic affair?
  • Why, afterward, did the vivacious Austen prematurely put on the “cap of middle age” and close off any thoughts of love?
  • Why, after her death, did her beloved sister destroy her letters and journals?
Hewing to the known facts of Austen’s personal life and the broader history of war-torn England, The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen sets the protagonist on what one reviewer calls “an imaginative journey of the soul” in which “fascinating people step off the pages in lifelike form.”

In this trilogy (with the second volume pictured at right), Austen’s intelligence and charm earn her a man’s deepest admiration and regard. Together they take on every challenge of a complex and sometimes hostile outside world.

Her story will resonate with every woman seeking respect, opportunity -- and love.

Today's post features the Collins Hemingway trilogy, The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen.  We have an exciting excerpt for you from Volume One, as well as a giveaway.  Enjoy!

*          *          *

In her mid-twenties, well past her bloom, Miss Jane Austen is enticed by Mister Ashton Dennis, a man several years her junior, to go for ride on a hot-air balloon piloted by a French aeronaut doing a demonstration flight at Bath, England. 

Chapter 4

Beyond a modest rocking motion such as one would experience in a small boat setting out from shore, the first few moments aloft held no particular thrall. After the workmen released the ropes and hastened to pull them clear to avoid snagging the balloon, the audience began to murmur with the first flutterings of ascent. There was little sensation of motion. Faces shifted perspective and then began to slide away, as if the crowd were sinking instead of the balloon rising. The interior of the basket was designed so that they could sit as if on an afternoon carriage ride, but Ashton and Jane stood, hands firmly holding on to the chest-high side. Jane risked a wave to Cassandra and Alethea, who observed their departure with identical frozen expressions of disbelief.

Jane was uncertain where to look. Did one continue to watch the varying reactions of the crowd—some joyful, some incredulous, some afraid, a few angry at what had to be a blasphemous violation of God’s pure space? Should she look up at the balloon itself, as large as the globe but as insubstantial as Jane’s muslin dress? Should she scan the horizon for vistas that were starting to reveal themselves over the buildings? With so much to see from new and ever-changing angles, she did all of these things rapidly and found herself feeling dizzy. She wondered if her face betrayed the same expression of incredulity as Ashton’s. He seemed to share her perplexity, her sensation of being overwhelmed, and her excitement. And they had barely cleared the trees!

Streamers set on poles showed that the wind was running to the southeast, but some kind of eddy sent the balloon drifting the opposite way over the Sydney Hotel. She had never imagined how a building would look from above. The central skylight and its smaller companions looked like deep blue pools, giving her a momentary urge to dive in. The colonnaded portico stood out in bright relief in the sun; the stocky lower level and the tall, thin, elegant upper story formed a congenial pairing. Red-coated valets ran out from under the entryway to see the balloon, which turned north as if to promenade up Sydney Place. A pair of horses approaching from Sutton Street startled at the sight.

The balloon paused as if undecided on its path. They were only a few feet above the roofline. The roofs of this section of row houses had notches and grooves, almost like a key; the pattern was not something one could see from the street. Suddenly Jane saw that they were directly across from her own home. Her parents stood in the window. Along with many other people leaning from windows, the Austens waved at the aerostat. Not a few people waved British flags, though the balloon and aeronaut were French. That the flight was occurring in England was enough to stimulate a show of nationalism.

“Mother, father!” Jane called, returning their gesture with great vigor and leaning so far forward that Ashton felt obliged to clutch at her.

“Mr. and Mrs. Austen,” Ashton said in a stiff and strangely formal manner, tipping his hat with his free hand in the requisite manner.

Jane’s parents at first responded with great delight at being singled out by the balloonists. But, as recognition dawned as to who was gesticulating and hallooing, their pleasure changed to shock and grief: They grasped instantly that the novelty of their daughter’s situation, as exhilarating as it was unforeseen, must be nothing but an astonishing harbinger of death. Mrs. Austen keeled over; Mr. Austen’s sudden movement to catch her—deft for a man in his seventies—left his thick white hair in disarray, compounding his expression of fright.

“It will be all right, Miss Austen,” Ashton said.

“It had better be, Mr. Dennis.”

During these first few minutes of their expedition, Monsieur Garnerin moved from one side of the basket to another, checking clearances, ensuring that the balloon did not graze the hotel or trees, talking quietly to himself with evident satisfaction at their progress.

“Êtes-vous prêt?” he asked. Not waiting for a reply, he dropped a barrage of ballast. The balloon rose rapidly; the building hid her parents from view. As if seeking its bearings, the balloon swiveled almost completely in a circle. Once free from sheltering buildings and trees, it fell captive to the prevailing wind and surged southeast, sending the carriage rocking in the opposite direction. The balloon and its basket see-sawed over Sydney Gardens like two dancers disputing the lead. Jane caught only a hint of the canal, the bridges, the waterfalls, and the serpentine promenades where she and Cassandra had enjoyed cool walks over the summer. She was certain she caught a glimpse of more than one couple exchanging unsanctioned kisses on isolated benches in the labyrinth. Then they were past the gardens. The balloon continued to rise. Her ears popped. Jane had a moment to take in the buff-colored houses that were almost painfully bright in the sun. The construction on this side of town was all noise and confusion, but from this vantage point she could ascertain the underlying geometric pattern. They were the first to see how Bath would look in coming years. The sense of orderly development gave her pleasure. It was a shame that it would take many, many years for the greenery to return fertility to an area sterilized by progress.

Once the balloon stabilized, Monsieur Garnerin turned to his passengers with a cold, professional smile.

“Am I really your first female passenger?” Jane asked in French, suddenly concerned that her frail form, a wisp compared to Ashton’s and Garnerin’s, might not withstand the rigors of flight.

“Plusieurs femmes vous ont précédé en vol, y compris ma femme. Vous n’avez rien à craindre. Les changements de pression ne vous nuira pas.”

“What was that about?” Ashton asked.

“He has taken women aloft before. Including his wife. He assures me that I have nothing to worry about. The altitude will not cause me to explode.”

“Mais vous êtes la première anglaise,” Garnerin said, with a bit more politesse.

“I am the first English woman to go up with him,” Jane told Ashton, though he seemed to have comprehended the words.

They were high enough now that the woods and farmlands formed a patchwork quilt of light and dark greens, with here and there a stripe of yellow; the texture of the ground from altitude resembled wool and moss. The balloon slowed, reached its apex, and began to drift down. Using a wooden pitchfork, Monsieur Garnerin fed the brazier with more fuel, encouraging a whiff of farm. The basket swayed. Jane’s stomach felt momentarily queasy. In a few moments, Monsieur Garnerin had steadied their height above ground. He held up an instrument that measured the altitude. “Interesting,” Ashton said. “A variation on the standard barometer.”

“We are approximately four thousand three hundred feet,” Monsieur Garnerin said in thick but understandable English.

“Is it a good sign that he suddenly speaks our language?” Ashton asked.

“I rather suspect that it portends something disagreeable,” Jane replied.

“Monsieur Dennis,” Monsieur Garnerin said. “You have purchased the balloon. You have taken away my livelihood.” His words were clear despite the French mastication. “With typical English arrogance, you have chosen to embarrass me among my family and your people.”

“See here, man, I was rather trying to help you out.”

“You were trying to impress this young woman.” Monsieur Garnerin bowed to Jane. Reflexively, she returned the courtesy. “You have succeeded. You have what you want, which is everything I have.” As he spoke, he unstrapped an odd device from the side of the carriage. It resembled a large umbrella with wooden sticks that went down to a small woven bucket. “But you did not purchase me.”

“Monsieur Garnerin,” Jane said, “I am sure that Mr. Dennis meant nothing unkind.”

“Of course not,” Ashton said. “I merely sought to get you back to France before war breaks out again. It is only a matter of time. You could spend years in an English prison. I’m providing you a way home.”

“If that were only your intention,” Monsieur Garnerin said. “I wish you the very best with your acquisition. Adieu, mes amis. Je vais à la gloire!” With that, he hopped onto the side of the carriage, stepped into the bucket, and pushed off. The balloon heaved sideways, exactly as a small boat when someone rolls off into the sea; simultaneously, it shot up with the release of the man’s weight. Below them, they saw the white umbrella structure blossom. Monsieur Garnerin disappeared from view beneath it.

After rising rapidly another thousand feet or more, the balloon leveled off. They watched the parachute sway below them, drifting like a dandelion puffball across the green fields...

About Collins Hemingway

Collins is a graduate of the University of Arkansas, Phi Beta Kappa, with a major in English Literature and a minor in science. He has a master’s degree in English literature from the University of Oregon, with concentrations in Eighteenth Century Literature, Renaissance literature, and modern literature. While his high-tech career gave him a practical understanding of science and business, Hemingway also carried on his passion for the art of storytelling, for the rich history of Georgian-Regency England and the Napoleonic wars, and for Jane Austen’s literature. His own fiction is shaped by the language of the heart and an abiding regard for courage in the face of adversity.

Published books: The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen, Volumes I and II; Business @ the Speed of Thought, with Bill Gates; Built for Growth, with Arthur Rubinfeld of Starbucks; What Happy Companies Know, with Dan Baker and Cathy Greenberg; Maximum Brainpower, with Shlomo Breznitz; The Fifth Wave, with Robert Marcus.

Giveaway - The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen, Volume I

So did you enjoy the excerpt?  Care to read the entire series?  The first two books are available now, with Volume Three coming in 2017. For today, let's get started with Volume One of The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen!  We're giving away two copies of the book-- a paperback copy to a U.S. domestic winner, and an ebook copy to an international winner.  Please utilize the Rafflecopter widget below, and enter to win!  Contest period concludes at 12am EST on October 1, 2016.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Vol 1 Paperback Kindle Vol 2 Paperback Kindle

Friday, September 16, 2016

Commit to Bring Your Bible to School October 6

Celebrate religious freedom with other students across the U.S. on October 6—Bring Your Bible to School Day! Students from kindergarten to college will be bringing their Bibles to school and sharing God with their friends in just a few short weeks. Sign up to be a part of the movement to protect religious freedom for future generations.

By signing up, you’ll receive a free guide with tips, downloadable posters, sticker and T-shirt designs, information on your legal rights, and other fun, interactive activities.

You’ll also be automatically entered for a chance to win a free trip for four to hear the Newsboys, an award-winning Christian music band, in Dallas!

Plus Bring Your Bible to School Comes to Adventures in Odyssey


Getting used to a new school isn’t easy, especially for someone as paranoid as Buddy Norman. In “A Predicament of Biblical Proportions” he envisions wacky worst-case encounters with townsfolk who seem like mobsters, snoops and fairy-tale tyrants—until he gets to know them. He’s also a little confused about Bring Your Bible to School Day. What’s it about? Should he participate? See Odyssey through Buddy’s eyes in this witty celebration of religious freedom.

Listen to this story through a two-week trial only on the Odyssey Adventure Club.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Review and Giveaway: Northern Rain by Nicole Clarkston

There is nothing like a long walk in the rain to guarantee a little privacy...unless the last person you wish to encounter happens also to be in search of solitude.

John Thornton is a man of heavy responsibilities who has many things on his mind, but the most troublesome of them all is Margaret Hale. She wants nothing to do with him, and he wishes he could feel the same. When a moment of vulnerability allows her a glimpse into his heart, she begins to see him differently.

Is something so simple as friendship even possible after all that has passed between them? Thornton has every good reason to move on, not the least of which is the lovely Genevieve Hamilton and her wealthy father. Will Thornton act according to duty and accept an opportunity to save his mill, or will he take a chance on love, hoping to change Margaret's mind?

Jane Austen Fan Fiction (or JAFF) tends to be the dominant genre on The Calico Critic, but for today's post, we will venture into Elizabeth Gaskell Fan Fiction instead.  "Who is Elizabeth Gaskell?", some of you might be asking.  Until a few years ago, I had never heard of her either. Through marketing and the recommendations of others, I watched the BBC television series Cranford, which is based off of a Gaskell book of the same name.  While not Austenesque fiction, it carries similar tones and sensations of that genre.  I fell in love with the characters in Cranford and became an instant Elizabeth Gaskell fan.

Due to my huge list of books to be read, to this day I still have not managed to read the source material for Cranford, although a lovely copy of the book is sitting on my shelves.  Likewise, I was given a copy of another book of Gaskell's, North and South by a fellow reader.  And sadly, it remains unread as well.  There are just so many books, and so little time in this life!

Recently I was approached to review Nicole Clarkston's Northern Rain, which is based off of Gaskell's North and South.  As I've enjoyed JAFF, I thought I would give this title a try, despite my ignorance of the original story.  At the time I'd only viewed one episode of the Richard Armitage/BBC dramatization of North and South, which certainly doesn't qualify me as an authority on the novel.  I had a very slim baseline knowledge of a few characters, so suffice it to say, I was going into Northern Rain in a fairly blind manner.

I'm delighted to report that as a new student to all things North and South, I enjoyed Northern Rain very much!  There were a few moments when I was a bit disoriented, as author Nicole Clarkston made reference to events in N&S that I was not familiar with, but after a few chapters of reading, the story took on its own new life, with new events that are unique to this narrative.  I enjoyed the characters immensely, and like other readers of Gaskell, began to see main character John Thornton as a latter-day Fitzwilliam Darcy type.  He is not as refined as Darcy, but can be stern and emotionally closed off to many.  Likewise, he and another main character, Margaret Hale begin their association on the wrong foot, which is evidenced by the tension between them at the beginning of Northern Rain.

Throughout the course of this new story, their relationship morphs into something very different than animosity, and eventually blooms into love. Theirs is not an open-and-shut case, however.  They must overcome tremendous odds in order to be together, and throughout the tale it's often unclear if they ever will survive the onslaught of obstacles put in their path.  Not only does it seem to rain every day in the town of Milton, but it seems that they have a cloud of bad luck hovering over their relationship at all times.  If fact, that is one of my few complaints in regard to the story.  Clarkston achieved such a delightful tension between her characters, it simply drove me mad at times, witnessing yet another calamity come their way!  It seemed as if they would never get together, and there were a few times when I felt that the story dragged on somewhat.  That being said, I found the writing to be extremely riveting, and I was captivated throughout.

Clarkson's Northern Rain was a delight to read.  The romance was palpable but not overly titillating, and the marriage bed was honored in ways that I appreciated as a conservative reader.  As mentioned, I'm not as familiar with the original North and South as I should be, but I credit Ms. Clarkston in planting a great seed of interest in the original novel.  I now wish to not only complete my viewing of Armitage's performance in his BBC production, but in greater measure I desire to read the original Gaskell work.  If nothing else, Nicole Clarkston has further solidified my fanhood in all things Gaskell, bringing another admirer even more closer into the fold.

About the Author

Nicole Clarkston is the pen name of a very bashful writer who will not allow any of her family or friends to read what she writes. She grew up in Idaho on horseback, and if she could have figured out how to read a book at the same time, she would have. She initially pursued a degree in foreign languages and education, and then lost patience with it, switched her major, and changed schools. She now resides in Oregon with her husband of 15 years, 3 homeschooled kids, and a very worthless degree in Poultry Science (don't ask). Nicole discovered Jane Austen rather by guilt in her early thirties- how does any book worm really live that long without a little P&P? She has never looked back. A year or so later, during a major house renovation project (undertaken when her husband unsuspectingly left town for a few days) she discovered Elizabeth Gaskell and fell completely in love. Nicole's books are her pitiful homage to two authors who have so deeply inspired her.

Giveaway Time!!

We have an extra special giveaway from Nicole Clarkston!  We'll have two winners-- one U.S. domestic, and one international.  Here are the prize choices for our U.S. winner-- choose one of the following:

  • Signed paperback of No Such Thing as Luck  (North &South fiction)  OR
  • Signed paperback of Rumours & Restlessness (Pride & Prejudice fiction)  OR
  • Signed paperback of Northern Rain (North &South fiction)

For our international winner, they may choose one of the following:
  • Ebook or Audiobook of No Such Thing as Luck  OR
  • Ebook or Audiobook of Rumours & Restlessness OR
  • Ebook or Audiobook* of Northern Rain
       *Audiobook of Northern Rain should be available Dec 2016

Utilize the Rafflecopter widget below, beginning with your contact information, in case you're a winner!

Paperback Kindle More Clarkston More Clarkston


Related Posts with Thumbnails