Engineer Mary Davies fears she's going to be fired, and she finds herself closing off from those around her. Even Nathan, the nice consultant guy who keeps offering his friendship no matter how many times she awkwardly fails to communicate her own interest. In the middle of feeling stuck and disappointed, Isabel - her best friend since childhood - manages to convince Mary to take a trip to England. More specifically, the getaway is to a lavish estate near Bath where they can dress up as Austen characters and step back into time.

Isabel and Mary have had a rocky relationship. Isabel has often steered their friendship, and she tends to lead with emotion, lashing out when she is feeling pain, anger, or frustration. Mary suggests that her friend take on the persona of Isabella Thorpe while on their vacation, and Isabel goes into a pout. Eventually Isabel decides to be Emma Woodhouse, and Mary chooses Catherine Morland.

Everything is exciting and wonderful as the women arrive at Braithwaite House. The grounds are breathtaking and the costumes beyond imagination. There is a small group of people who have come to share this holiday, and Mary and Isabel enjoy getting to know them that first night.

But when Mary wakes up the next morning, everything changes. Something is wrong with Isabel, and Mary is all alone in a strange country trying to care for her friend. A phone call further shatters everything Mary has believed about their relationship. Will the help Mary is offered be enough to sustain her through this time? Can she grasp that she is worthy of love and attention not just as Isabel's sidekick but as a woman in her own right?

I definitely enjoyed this one more than any other of Reay's releases since Dear Mr. Knightley. As a fan of Austenland, I appreciated all the nods to that story. This made for a fine and engaging Austenesque read, even if I didn't like all the characters all the time. Mary made for a different heroine and I appreciated the complex way she was written. I can see myself reading this one again in the future!

I received my copy of the book from the publisher. All opinions in this review are my own.

I review for BookLook Bloggers

I've heard of Scottish author D.E. Stevenson, but receiving "Celia's House" for Christmas was the first time I was able to read her for myself. In a style that reminded me strongly of Lucy Maud Montgomery, this is the story of a Scottish estate and its residents from 1905 until the middle of World War II.

Humphrey Dunne was shocked when his elderly aunt named him to be the heir of her family estate. Dunnian is full of history and is a beautiful, charming place in which to raise his family. Aunt Celia has some strange stipulations to the arrangement, including that he must name one of his future daughters Celia and make sure she is the one to inherit the house after Humphrey. When Aunt Celia passes, Humphrey and his small but growing family are happily overwhelmed as they settle in to their new home.

Much of the story focuses on Humphrey's children as they grow. There's Mark, the eldest, who is tenderhearted and wants to become a doctor. There's Edith and Joyce, the oldest sisters who tend to be spoiled by their mother. The youngest two, Billy and Celia, are close pals who tend to get into their share of scrapes. Soon a cousin joins them, but Deb quickly becomes as close as any other sister and is a huge help with the general running of the household.

A good portion of this book borrows from Jane Austen's "Mansfield Park," which is about a cousin who grows up with her relatives, and the foibles and follies they fall into with their neighbors in their young adult years. If you've read Austen's story you can see a lot of the plot twists before they happen, although it isn't an exact mirror and it's fun to see it from another point of view. There are courtships and schemes and one big play-acting production that quite captivates the group for a while.

I would recommend this for fans of Austen, Montgomery, and other classic storytellers. It's a delightful character-driven tale, and covers some interesting parts of history, too. Originally published in 1943, this new edition is once again bringing attention to D.E. Stevenson's works.

If you've ever wondered how Jane Austen might have celebrated the winter holidays, this book on Regency Christmas traditions is for you! This little book is full of information, everything from etiquette to activities to recipes taken directly from the time period.

This book contains sections devoted to different kinds of parties, whether a simple card party of an elaborate Twelfth Night celebration. It discusses different days that gifts might have been exchanged, and what those gifts might have been. I enjoyed the section about caroling and which songs Jane Austen might have sung.

There are plenty of things explained that sound strange to our American ears, like traditions from St. Thomas' Day and Boxing Day, or the description of a mummers play or yule candle. In short, this is a thorough examination of how Christmas and New Years was celebrated two centuries ago and a fun resource for history fans.

I have to admit that I was skeptical when I first heard about this book. I love Jane Austen and I love Jesus, but do we really need to try to pair the two in a devotional? Then my sister gave me the book, not knowing of my rather negative preconceptions towards it, and I decided that it wouldn't hurt to read a little of it. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that this is actually a little treasure which would make a perfect gift for any Austen fan!

Each two-page devotional features a text from one of Austen's six major novels, followed by thoughts on how we can apply a spiritual theme in our lives. It wraps up with a related Bible verse. While it in no way would take the place or real daily Bible reading or study, I found many good thought-provoking nuggets, such as relating Elizabeth Bennet's keeping of Wickham's secrets to the detriment of her family an example of not speaking the truth in love - that often truth is needed and appropriate! The author challenges you in how you relate to the Lucy Steeles in your life - the ones who seem only out to make your life miserable. She also frequently reminds readers to ask the Lord to reveal our own shortcomings and develop self-discipline as we seek to follow Him.

My only quibble with this book was the fact that there were quite a few Austen blunders. Barton Cottage was called "Baron Cottage," Mrs. Bennet was referred to as "Mrs. Bingley," Julia Bertram was renamed "Louisa," and it's stated that the Regency period was in the 18th century. Small details, but on the annoying side. Once she also interpreted
"not unamused" and "not amused" as the same thing, when in fact they are quite the opposite!

But I suppose if you could only get either Austen or the Bible correctly, better to spend more time on the spiritual thoughts. Here are a few of my favorite quotes from this devotional:

"When you foster haughtiness in your heart, you are cheating only yourself - of genuine happiness."

"Today, the Gothic novel has been replaced by a combination of television, movies, music, romance novels, and a thousand other forms of entertainment that, given control in our lives, distract us from growing into mature Christians who can set an example for others."

"A woman who trusts in the Lord for the outcome can laugh freely because she knows that the future is in His hands. No matter what happens, God can be trusted. ...Our happiness is not measured by our circumstances. It is anchored in Him."

"So pursue holiness to the glory of God, allow your heart to be dominated by Jesus' love, and imitate Him to become like Him."

Recently I had the chance to do a group read of Jane Austen's classic novel with some friends. What a delight that was! We discussed the personalities of the characters and the themes of the plot in deep ways, each one adding her own unique perspective to the conversation.

Austen brings us the story of Anne Elliot, a 27-year-old young woman with a quiet, sweet nature. Eight years ago she had fallen in love with an aspiring naval officer, but Anne had been persuaded to break their engagement because neither his fortune nor future were certain. As the years have passed Anne has found a useful life in being a devoted neighbor, sister, and aunt. When her vain father's spiraling finances force them to rent out their home, her former suitor's sister and husband become their tenants, and Anne realizes it is only a matter of time before her path once again crosses with Captain Wentworth.

The gregarious and self-assured captain sweeps into the neighborhood and soon becomes the center of every discussion and activity. While his manner towards Anne is cool, he seems to welcome the attention of two teenage sisters who both fancy themselves to be in love with him. The novel takes a dramatic turn when an accident leaves one of the sisters in critical condition and the whole family circle in chaos.

At this point Anne must leave the neighborhood and join her immediate family in Bath, where they have taken lodgings. There a long-estranged cousin, her father's heir, is renewing his relationship with the family. Even though he is highly solicitous towards herself, Anne can't help but be suspicious of his motives after so long an apparent disinterest and even disdain. When surprising news reaches her ear and Captain Wentworth suddenly appears in Bath, Anne begins hoping that just maybe it's not too late for her to get her happy ending after all.

Many of the reasons that Jane Austen is a genius author were on display in this story. Even though it had only been three years since I last read the book, it seemed fresh and intriguing while yet feeling like an old friend. Her works stand the test of time and will never go out of style.
Secret of Pembrooke Park

A responsible eldest daughter and a house full of secrets take the stage in the latest Regency novel from Julie Klassen. Abigail Foster advised her father to enter into an investment scheme, and now that they've lost nearly everything she is taking it upon herself to help make the transition to a smaller income. As she assists her father in searching for a new place to live, they are approached by a lawyer handling the estate of a distant relative. He says he is authorized to offer them the use of an old manor house, Pembrooke Park, which has been shut up for eighteen years after the mysterious disappearance of the previous owners. The strangeness of the situation does not hold back the Fosters from accepting the lease.

Abigail is searching for redemption as she travels to the country ahead of her family to help get the house ready for their arrival. Soon she hears rumors of a hidden room and secret treasure squirreled away somewhere in the old house, and is warned of fortune hunters who might try to break in. The manor has been guarded by the formidable former manager, but he and his family welcome Abigail to the neighborhood once they realize her claim to leasing the place is legitimate.

The Pembrooke family history is full of hints of murder and danger, and Abigail is unable to be completely at ease in Pembrooke Park. She soon begins receiving anonymous letters which include journal entries from a young lady who lived there previously. She's warned not to open her doors to anyone with the Pembrooke surname, but when her father invites their distant cousin, Miles Pembrooke, to stay with them, there's not much she can do. It's clear he is there to poke about the place and try to find the hidden treasure for himself.

William Chapman, the local curate and son of the former estate manager, becomes a trusted ally for Abigail. She's drawn to his relationship with God, and his friendship is a balm after the man she thought she would marry seems to have passed her up in favor of her younger sister. Although William knows many of Pembrooke Park's true secrets, he wants nothing more than to see joy come to the sweet and serious Abigail. His meager living as a clergyman's assistant does not leave much hope that he could support a wife and family, but he knows he's meant to be right where he is.

The mystery runs deep in this novel and the fullness of it will keep you guessing until the end. Who is Abigail's secret correspondent? Who is the true heir to the estate? Are the Fosters really in danger living there? Seeming to draw inspiration from Jane Austen's "Northanger Abbey," this was another good novel by the woman who sets the standard in Christian Regency fiction.
Lizzy and Jane

I really enjoyed Dear Mr. Knightley, Katherine Reay's debut novel, and was excited to get to read her second book. Everyone who loves Jane Austen knows Lizzy and Jane Bennet and the deep sisterly bond they share. That's one reason this book took me by surprise, as Reay has written us a story about two sisters who are not close and who actually hold quite a bit of animosity towards each other from events that happened in their past.

Our point of view character, Elizabeth, is a chef in New York whose whole life revolves around her restaurant. When her cooking begins to lose its touch and the restaurant owner brings in another chef to help spice things up, Lizzy feels threatened and in need of a break. She heads back to her home state of Washington and ends up staying with her sister Jane, who is battling cancer and in the middle of chemotherapy. Jane's cancer is a constant reminder of all that stands between the sisters, because their mother went through the same journey fifteen years earlier. Lizzy felt like Jane walked out on their family during that hard time, but she herself has kept her distance since then. After so many years of hurt and heartache, it seems impossible to bridge the gap that has grown between them.

When Jane's husband Peter has to leave for business trip, Lizzy makes arrangements to lengthen her stay and help out. Jane is not able to eat much because her treatments have completely changed her taste buds, and Lizzy takes this as a personal challenge to find new flavors to appeal to Jane's palate and enable her to keep food down. Drawing inspiration from Jane's favorite literature, Lizzy's chef instincts take over as she creates many new dishes.

While helping Jane, Lizzy is developing relationships with her niece and nephew, the nurses and other patients in the cancer ward, and Jane's handsome neighbor Nick. Her own world and dreams are so insular that Lizzy doesn't know how to relate to these people, many of whom are in very vulnerable places in their lives. As Lizzy tries to recover her cooking touch and confirm her plans to return to New York, she finds she may be leaving a very large part of her heart in Seattle.

It took me a long time to really get into this story. Part of that was knowing the seriousness of the subject matter, and part of it was that it's not easy to make an emotional connection with Lizzy as a character. I also had a hard time with the verbal darts that both the sisters, and especially Lizzy, would throw towards each other or anyone else in their way. As someone who loves words and finds them affirming, to watch them used over and over as hurtful weapons made me sad, and thankful that my family tends towards the opposite end of the communication spectrum. While "Dear Mr. Knightley" held lots of literary references which were easy to relate to, that wasn't true with "Lizzy & Jane." I know many people who are talented cooks for their homes and communities, including many who are classic literature fans, but I can't see myself or any one of them creating whole menus based off references in the works of Austen, Dickens, or Hemingway. As that would be so far beyond our skill set, it actually pushed me out as a reader instead of drawing me in.

I will say that the book became more engaging the farther I got into it, and there's no doubt that Reay is a talented author. While I can't quite share the sentiment of those who placed "Lizzy & Jane" on their list of favorite books from 2014 because the book just had so many dark and serious overtones, I did enjoy it and look forward to Reay's next release. I'm glad she's finding her place in the publishing world and making classic lit shine in new ways. 
These Three Remain

Following in the footsteps of "An Assembly Such as This" and "Duty and Desire," this final installment in the Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman series brings us the climactic events of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" from the hero's point of view. Darcy's love for Elizabeth is on full display, from the opening scene on the way to Kent all the way through to the final lines on the last page.

After the disastrous events of the second novel, Darcy is ready to forget women everywhere and revoke his emotional attachment to Elizabeth for good. But the very day he makes this choice, he arrives at the home of his aunt for his yearly visit and discovers that Elizabeth herself is visiting her good friend just down the lane. A meeting is inevitable, and his heart will not listen to his cautions.

Finding Elizabeth just as witty and lovely as she was in Hertfordshire, Darcy decides he cannot live without her and begins what he believes to be a courtship, mistaking Elizabeth's responses to him as a form of shy encouragement. When he finally makes a declaration of his love in the Hunsford parsonage, he is beyond shocked at her round refusal and complete dismissal of him, his hopes, and his character.

Darcy returns to London and spirals into despair. How could he have been so blind to her true feelings? Could it be possible that he is more the man she thinks he is rather than what he has always tried to be? With the determined love of his sister and the strength of a good friend helping pull him through, Darcy begins overhauling the way he views the world and attempts to become the kind of man that Elizabeth would be proud to call friend, even though he knows he may never cross paths with her again.

I positively loved this book and found it thoroughly engrossing. Darcy's emotions were so palpable, whether it be his love or his pain or his decisions to make himself a better man. Although I enjoyed the first two books, I found this one to be the best by far. I hated every time I had to put it down, even though being familiar with Austen's original meant I knew how events were going to unfold. Pamela Aidan added a whole new dimension to the story and it had me hooked. I have a new understanding of Fitzwilliam Darcy which will enhance every future reading of the classic or the viewing of its various adaptations.

This series, and especially this final book, is one I would recommend to all Austen fans. If I may badly quote Lady Metcalfe talking to Lady Catherine: "Pamela Aidan, you have given [us] a treasure." 
Prelude for a Lord

Regency fiction always catches my eye, and I love it when an author is able to bring a new angle in teaching me more about Jane Austen's time period. In "Prelude for a Lord," Camille Elliot reveals that playing the violin was once considered to be improper and scandalous for young women. Of course this is demonstrated by a headstrong young lady who insists on playing it despite society's disapproval, and the story is made complete by a mystery surrounding her beautiful and unique Stradivarius instrument.

Lady Alethea Sutherton grew up rather isolated in the English countryside, with an unfortunately unloving family. Her one season in London was a miserable disaster, and she has mostly hidden away ever since, content to be reclusive because it means she can fully embrace her love of music. When her cousin inherits her home and the family title, he forces Alethea to call upon the mercy of their aunt in Bath to take her in, and Alethea must get used to living in town as a 28-year-old socially inept and opinionated spinster.

Her life becomes more complicated when she realizes she is being followed when she leaves the house, and she is confronted by a mysterious agent who wishes to buy her violin for a nameless client. Alethea treasures her instrument, which was left to her by the neighbor who taught her to play and gave her light and love during her dark upbringing years, and she refuses to sell it. She has tried to keep her playing a secret in order to protect her aunt's reputation, but it's clear someone has found out and knows more about her instrument than she does. Alethea is forced to seek out the help of the talented Lord Dommick, who in their one meeting years earlier had soundly discouraged her from continuing her musical pursuits, to discover the provenance of her violin.

Lord Dommick is well-known as a musician and composer in the London society scene. He has played in a quartet with his university mates for several years, until half of them joined the army to take part in the Naploeonic Wars. Now Dommick is back England, having recovered from an injury and now suffering from PTSD. The nightmares and flashbacks have made him reclusive, afraid to have an episode in public and thus bring shame onto his family. One of Bath's foremost matrons tempts Dommick to help Alethea in exchange for prominently featuring the Gentlemen Quartet in her upcoming gala, which would give a needed boost to their flagging social standing. He does not expect the attraction to Alethea nor the danger that both they and their families will face as the story unfolds.

This novel was a little slow to get into but I was quickly hooked and could not stop thinking about the characters. The novel has a bit of a darker tone, more in the style of Dickens than Austen, and I felt this was even reflected in the choice of character names. With other current Regency authors, such as Julie Klassen and Sarah Ladd, they really try to use names that are both familiar and period-appropriate, but Camille Elliot let you wrestle with the harder names and let them set the mood for a different kind of story. In fact, she has written blog posts about how she close Alethea's and Dommick's names, which I found fascinating. I loved the many secondary characters, and found the faith element very well-done and natural. I will be watching for the release of future titles by this author!

I review for BookLook Bloggers

I received my copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own.

"Austenland" is the funny story of Jane Hayes, a Jane Austen fan who has an opportunity to do something that the rest of us Janeites can only dream of: going on holiday at an English country manor where everyone dresses and speaks like it is still the Regency period! After enjoying the movie, which stars Keri Russell, Bret McKenzie, and JJ Feild, the latter of which happens to be one of my favorite British actors, I was interested in reading the book to find out more of the backstory and motivations for the main characters.

Jane is a thirty-something New Yorker who has never been able to find a man who measured up to her idea of Mr. Darcy, as portrayed by Colin Firth in the BBC version of "Pride and Prejudice." In the book, an older relative discovers her secret passion and as part of her will bequeaths Jane an all-expenses-paid trip to the Austenland resort, a place called Pembrook Park. There with other female guests she is to be entertained by actors playing Regency characters, and have the chance to live out her fantasy of what life might have been like in early nineteenth century England.

Upon arrival at Pembrook Park, Jane is fitted up with a corset and empire waist gowns, and is asked to relinquish all modern devices for the duration of her stay. Jane manages to sneak in her cell phone but is otherwise on her own, given the name of Miss Jane Erstwhile, and asked to play the part of a less fortunate relative visiting her loving aunt Saffronia.

Although the men playing the Regency characters are handsome and interesting to interact with, Jane soon begins longing for something real. She understands that the gentlemen are actors who are actually paid to enjoy her company, which takes a lot of the fun out of it. Even though she has much witty banter with one Mr. Nobley, it's the attraction of someone who is truly himself which leads Jane into a clandestine relationship with Martin, Pembrook Park's gardener. When he breaks things off, Jane decides it's time to take charge of her own story and enjoy the rest of her time for what it is.

While sparks continue flying between Jane and Mr. Nobley, she can't be sure it's not because he's just a good actor. The characters go on to do very Austen-esque things, including putting on a theatrical and later dancing the night away at a ball on their final night. Before Jane goes home there is one final twist to shake up her perception of what is true and what is part of Austenland's manipulation of reality. Completely disillusioned, is there anything the man who has come to truly love her can do to convince her that he isn't playacting anymore?

In the end I have to say that, between the book and the movie, surprisingly I slightly preferred the movie version. The book did exactly what I hoped in fleshing out the characters and helping me understand them better, but the author had a somewhat scattered, forced writing style which remained unconvincing. If you really like the movie I'd say the book is worth looking into, while I'd recommend the movie for all Austen fans, especially ones who know how to enjoy life without taking themselves too seriously.
Duty and Desire

This second novel of the "Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman" series takes up immediately after the events of the first book, with Darcy having departed for London after the Netherfield ball. We get to continue making the acquaintance of his London friends, as well as see Darcy's annoyance at Caroline Bingley's continued attempts to draw him into pursuing her.

It is a special treat to readers to see Darcy travel to Pemberley for the Christmas holiday and be reunited with his sister Georgiana. It had been many months since the brother had left his sister in the care of Mrs. Annesley, and at the time of their parting Georgiana was still much grieved after her near-elopement with Wickham. Darcy is amazed to see Georgiana so recovered and making great strides towards becoming a poised and gracious young lady. It is a very happy Christmas for the Darcy siblings!

Yet there is another woman whom Darcy can't help but wish were with him at his family home. No matter how hard he tries, Darcy cannot forget Miss Elizabeth Bennet. He envisions her everywhere, even while trying to forget her. No amount of reviewing his objections to the match will convince his heart to leave her behind. Finally he is convinced that there's only one thing to do: begin actively seeking out and pursuing other women who would make a more suitable choice for a wife.

This decision leads Darcy to accept an invitation to a week-long house party at the estate of a school chum. The time he spends at Lord Sayre's estate takes up the majority of the book. There are several eligible females for Darcy to consider, and plenty of time to reacquaint himself with friends he hasn't seen in years. But there is trouble afoot, and quite a mystery unravels itself through the second half of the story. Who is orchestrating the haunting events which are disturbing the party? What is the purpose behind the ghastly displays? Will Darcy be successful in finding a more socially acceptable woman to give his heart to?

I quite enjoyed this second installment and look forward reading Book 3 soon. I must say that my favorite of the new characters that Aidan has introduced is Darcy's valet Fletcher. He is interesting and amusing, and it's fun to see him expressing his opinion in subtle and not-so-subtle ways that Elizabeth is indeed worthy of his master's affections. Even though I know how Jane Austen's classic story unfolds, seeing it from Darcy's perspective makes it all fresh again.
Assembly Such As This

As a huge fan of Jane Austen, I was thrilled when a friend recommended I check out Pamela Aiden's "Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman" series. This trilogy retells Austen's beloved "Pride & Prejudice" from Mr. Darcy's perspective. I have to admit that Darcy isn't my favorite of Austen's heroes, but I was still eager to read this when I was able to get a copy.

"An Assembly Such as This" opens at the Meryton dance where Darcy is introduced to the society into which his friend Charles Bingley has moved. Used to the finest social circles, Darcy is a little horrified at the country manners he sees on display, and has no interest in forming friendships with the people there. On the other hand, Bingley is captivated and charmed by the whole town in general, and Jane Bennet in particular. It's when Bingley urges Darcy to dance with Jane's sister Elizabeth that Darcy's famous rebuttal is spoken: "She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me." Yet it is just the same Elizabeth who Darcy can't quite get out of his mind over the next few weeks and months.

Upon further meetings with Elizabeth, Darcy is struck by her wit and the teasing way she communicates with others. He can tell there's a disconnect between them, and while he longs to heal the breach, he is a little unsure on how to do so when she finds a way to dismiss his every attempt at friendship. As the Netherfield ball approaches, all Darcy can dream about is finding a way to ensure her good opinion, even while he knows he must be careful in his deep regard for her.

I enjoyed this book very much! It was fun to meet new characters, like Darcy's valet Fletcher, who seems to have lots of unknown mischief up his sleeve. The book is written in a classic style so it took me longer to read a normal novel, but that won't stop me from reading the next books in the series as I am able. This novel concludes a little while after the Netherfield ball, when Darcy and Bingley are in London and going to parties that include real historical figures such as Beau Brummel and Lady Caroline Lamb. As "An Assembly Such as This" closes, Darcy is about to remove to Pemberley for the Christmas holidays.

This book was very faithful to Jane Austen's original, including the discomfort and agony of meeting Wickham in Meryton, and the love between Darcy and his sister. I would highly recommend it to all Austen fans! 

With a such a fantastic title, I knew I'd be interested in this story from the moment I heard about it. Plus it's written intriguingly in epistolography form, so there was much to check out with this debut release.

Our heroine, Samantha Moore, grew up in the foster system. In order to protect herself through all the changes and challenges of such an upbringing, she retreated into the world of classic English literature and the words of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth Gaskell, Charles Dickens, etc. Although these helped nurture her young soul, everywhere she has gone she's faced the same challenge: "Sam has failed to connect." Failed to connect at different foster homes, at her first job, at life in general.

Now a very young adult, Sam is given an amazing opportunity to attend grad school with all expenses paid. The only stipulation is that she write to her benefactor to keep him apprised on her life. He's taken the pseudonym "Mr. Knightley," and Sam reluctantly agrees to join the program and see if she can pursue her own dreams of a writing career. In case this storyline sounds familiar, this book is supposed to be a modern retelling of Jean Webster's "Daddy-Long-Legs." That's a classic that I need to read myself someday!

Through Sam's letters to Mr. Knightley, we learn that she views herself on campus as a Fanny Price among all the self-assured Emma Woodhouses out there. We see her put forth effort in her classes, face obstacles, and venture into friendships as well as the dating world. Sam meets those who want to use her for their own end, as well as those who would love her. She must learn how to be discerning about people and how to let down her barriers when the time is right.

As a classic lit fan myself, I "got" all the references to various novels. I wondered if this book would be as enjoyable to those who might not be familiar with Austen and company, and I've seen reviews saying it didn't translate very well. My personal main gripe was that no one writes such detailed conversations in letters, but that's a common factor with this particular style of novel. I could best relate to Sam because I was also a late social bloomer, so this older coming-of-age story made sense to me emotionally. I think all Austen fans would find something to enjoy here, especially those who enjoy themes of finding oneself and triumphing over adversity.

I received my copy from LitFuse in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own.

Debut author Katherine Reay is celebrating the release of her delightful novel, Dear Mr. Knightley, with a Kindle Fire HDX giveaway, a fun Favorite Austen Moments Pinterest contest, and an Austen-themed Facebook Party.


One winner will receive:

  • A Kindle Fire HDX

  • Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay

  • Handmade Austen-themed items (scarf, mug, bracelet, and necklace)

Two ways to win! Enter today by clicking one of the icons below or participating in the Pinterest contest (see banner below)—or BOTH!

But hurry, the giveaway ends on December 3rd. Winner will be announced at the "Dear Mr. Knightley" Austen-themed Facebook Author Chat Party on the 3rd. Join Katherine (and Austen fans) for an evening of book chat, prizes, and an exclusive look at Katherine's next book.

So grab your copy of Dear Mr. Knightley and join Katherine on the evening of December 3rd for a chance to connect and make some new friends. (If you haven't read the book, don't let that stop you from coming!)

Don't miss a moment of the fun; RSVP today by clicking JOIN at the event page. Spread the word—tell your friends about the giveaway and party via FACEBOOK, TWITTER, or PINTEREST. Hope to see you on the 3rd!

Heiress of Winterwood

My love for Regency fiction springs all the way back to its source: Jane Austen! She dedicated her book "Emma" to the Prince Regent, from whose rule this brief period takes its name. I'm excited that Regency fiction is becoming popular in the Christian market, and when Sarah Ladd's debut novel was highly praised by my favorite current Regency author, I knew this was one I wanted to get my hands on.

Amelia Barrett is a determined young woman about to be married and to inherit her father's estate of Winterwood. She becomes friends with a young pregnant woman whose husband is away at sea. When her friend dies giving birth, Amelia vows to raise the baby, against the wishes of her family and her fiance. They hope that when the child's father returns she will relinquish her devotion to little Lucy.

The idea of a young single woman adopting a child is quite an unusual one for this time period! Can you imagine if Elizabeth Bennet had done such a thing?

When Captain Graham Sterling arrives in their country neighborhood many months later, he is shocked when Amelia proposes marriage to him. In her mind that is the perfect solution: with her marriage, her inheritance is secure and she can raise Lucy, and the captain will be serving in the navy most of the time so their relationship of convenience need not be complicated. For his part, he can rest his mind knowing Lucy is loved and well cared for. Captain Sterling, yet grieving the loss of his wife and feeling like he failed her, is not ready to commit to another marriage, especially not to someone he's hardly seen before who is already engaged to be married to another man.

Concerned about losing Lucy and her fiance's true intentions in their relationship, Amelia feels desperate. She's very headstrong and feels that she must always be in control of whatever situation she finds herself in. But as Edward's actions become volatile towards her, and her family's disapproval continues to grow, she feels more than ever that the Captain could save the whole situation.

This is a very character-driven story. The only major action plot point, detailed in the second paragraph on the back cover, doesn't happen until about two hundred pages in! Not that this is bad, because my favorite stories happen to be character-driven, and Ladd does a great job setting up each major and minor character. But if you happen to like fast-moving tales, this might not be one for you. I would also not recommend this book to anyone who has triggers from emotional or physical abuse. There were a few scenes that, although brief, were concerning to me in this area.

Overall I enjoyed this story and plan to watch for Ladd's further releases. Learning to let go and trust God is a lesson that Amelia and Captain Sterling must both learn, and a challenge that we as readers face as well.

I review for BookSneeze®

I received my copy from Booksneeze in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own.
Tutors Daughter

There is something for all Jane Austen fans to love in Julie Klassen's works! In her latest, "The Tutor's Daughter," I saw glimpses of Northanger Abbey, Pride & Prejudice, and Sense & Sensibility. Touches of du Maurier's Rebecca and Bronte's Jane Eyre, too. Of course this novel has its own story, but there's no doubt Klassen drew some inspiration from these classics, which remain well-known for that very reason!

Emma Smallwood is a sensible yet curious young woman who grew up helping her father run Smallwood Academy. After her mother's death, her father grows restless and allows the number of his pupils to dwindle. When they receive an invitation to come privately tutor the younger sons of a baronet, Mr. Smallwood jumps at the chance and soon Emma finds herself making a new home at the seaside manor of Sir Giles Weston. The older sons, Henry and Phillip, had studied under Mr. Smallwood in previous years. Emma is especially looking forward to renewing her friendship with Phillip.

Mr. Smallwood and Emma's arrival at Ebbington Manor turns out to be very different from what they expect. The family seems to be in some measure of disarray, and Lady Weston shows a surprising degree of disapprobation towards them. Soon mysterious happenings begin catching Emma's notice. Items appear in her bedroom which were not there when she went to sleep. On other nights she is awakened by beautiful music coming from the other side of the house, but no one will confess to being the midnight musician. When Henry arrives back at the Manor, his stern demeanor is everything Emma remembers, while Phillip is as affable and companionable as ever.

Within weeks it is quite apparent that Ebbington Manor and the Weston family have a hidden secret. Why is the north wing strictly off limits? Who makes wailing noises during storms? Whose opinions can Emma trust and who is looking out for their own interest?

I could not put this book down once I got to the heart of the story. Early on I had trouble connecting with Emma, and then the sudden and unexpected introduction of another character's point of view on page 85 was as jarring to me as the Smallwoods' arrival was to Lady Weston! But it also made the novel more intriguing, and after that it was a race to the finish to see the mysteries unravel and if true love would triumph in the end.

Click here to see more reviews of "The Tutor's Daughter." Also be sure to check out Julie Klassen's website for more information on all her releases.

I received this book from LitFuse Publicity in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own.

Want to win a copy of this book and maybe a prize package? Information here!
2012 held so many good books. This was a hard list to compile. Please click on any of the titles below to read my original review!

Historical Fiction
The Maid of Fairbourne Hall by Julie Klassen

Fans of Downton Abbey will love this story. The wealthy Margaret Macy must pretend to be a lowly housemaid to avoid the unscrupulous man her stepfather plans to force her to marry.

Young Adult Fiction
Angel Eyes by Shannon Dittemore

Brielle Matthews is frozen with fear and grief after her best friend's murder. She slowly becomes aware of the spiritual battle around her, angels and demons in combat over the souls of men. Amazing.

Contemporary Fiction
Right Where I Belong by Krista McGee

Although this is actually a young adult title, it was the best of all the contemporary setting books I read. Natalia is 17 and her father is divorcing for the third time. Deciding to leave her home in Spain to go with her stepmother to Florida, she must adjust to a new country, new friends, and a new school, as well as all the decisions reaching adulthood brings.

Speculative Fiction
H2O by Austin Boyd and Brannon Hollingsworth

The Ice Queen, Kate Pepper, is devoted to her life of business. Her world is shattered when she begins having visions, sparked by contact with water, of a Living God who desires a personal relationship with her. The imagery in this novel is outstanding!

By Faith, Not By Sight by Scott MacIntyre

A finalist on Season 8 of "American Idol," Scott is a musician who was born blind. This is primarily the story of his struggle with kidney failure and the road God took him on to overcome many obstacles in order to fulfill his dreams. I would recommend this book for everyone!

Classic Literature
Sanditon by Jane Austen

This was an Austen I'd never read, and was truly a treat for this longtime fan. I thought the author who finished it did a fantastic job and gave a wonderful gift to Janeites all over the world.
Sanditon cover

When Jane Austen died in 1817, she left behind eleven chapters of a novel she had just begun writing. An anonymous author undertook the task of finishing it in the 1970's and has truly given a gift to Austen fans all over the world.

"Sanditon" begins with Austen's original work just as she penned it. One of the owners of the seaside resort Sanditon overturns his carriage and takes refuge in the home of the Heywoods, a large country family. Out of gratefulness for the hospitality shown to him and his wife, the owner invites 22-year-old Charlotte to accompany them back to Sanditon for a special holiday.

Being a calm and observant outsider, Charlotte is able to see the inhabitants of Sanditon for exactly who they are. Her hosts, the Parkers, are exceedingly amiable and well-meaning. It seems everyone in town kowtows to the rich and elderly Lady Denham, seeking either her good opinion or a share of the fortune she will leave when she dies. Other townsfolk include the secretive Sir Edward and the young and beautiful Miss Brereton. Charlotte greatly enjoys watching and interpreting the interplay of these characters, until her own powers of observation become clouded in direct relationship to her friendship with a young man.

One of the things I admire most about Jane Austen is her ability to bring alive an entire community. There's no doubt each of her novels benefits from a large and vivid cast of characters. The same proves true in "Sanditon." The whole town is caught up with the excitement of who may visit the seaside resort next. I loved Austen's description of their society: "...The Miss Beauforts were soon satisfied with 'the circle in which they moved in Sanditon,' to use a proper phrase, for everybody must now 'move in a circle' -- to the prevalence of which rotary motion is perhaps to be attributed the giddiness and false steps of many." Indeed!

The transition between Austen and the finishing author is smooth in every way. While Austen made me laugh out loud early in the story, I continued laughing throughout and never saw anything come up which it was not plausible Austen herself could have written. We're treated with a dashing hero, hypochondriacs, secret engagements, an attempted kidnapping and the moving power of love. I would highly recommend this book for all who love Jane Austen and want to read more than her six well-established and completed novels. You'll enjoy every moment of seaside fresh air or ramble over the beach. Go ahead... take a trip to Sanditon and fall in love with Austen all over again!

Ah, Jane

Jan. 27th, 2012 06:51 pm
I was 13 years old when I first read a Reader's Digest condensed version of Jane Austen's "Pride & Prejudice." Unbeknownst to me, a love of all things Jane was going to be a real part of my life in the near future. To say that Jane Austen changed my life might be melodramatic; to say that she greatly enriched my life and continues to do so in more ways than I can count might be a less scary way of saying the same.

Young teenage me was already a lover of classic literature, and soon my bookshelves were filled with real versions of her novels. Each of her heroines became my friends. Opinionated Elizabeth, staid and steady Elinor, naive Catherine, quiet Fanny, lively Emma and sweet Anne have been my companions through many hours of reading and re-reading. I have seen fourteen different film versions of these six books, and more if you count Bollywood or modern-day re-tellings. I can debate the merits of different screenwriters, tell you which adaptations are most faithful to the texts, and quote some versions forwards and backwards. It is simply an established fact: I love Jane Austen.

It took me by surprise, however, just how much I enjoyed myself when I sat down a couple weeks ago to read a completed version of Austen's final work, "Sanditon." Jane Austen wrote the first 11 chapters shortly before her death in 1817. As I began to read through them, loving Austen's rich ability to bring an entire community vividly to life and often laughing out loud at her turns of phrase, I was struck by an observation. I was treating myself to something I would rarely or perhaps never experience again: reading something by Jane Austen for the first time. As an avid reader, a number of the authors I enjoy are still alive and bringing new releases into the world. But with Jane, someone so established in my life yet nearly 200 years dead and buried, it was like a precious gift to have such a new encounter with an old friend.

Reading a new Jane Austen as an adult was a fully satisfying venture. With hundreds of titles in my reading repertoire, I can attest that she is as talented an author as any. Her phrasing conveys so much with such ease, using words to please the senses and delight the mind. Her observations of human character ring so true that even today we recognize how right she is to scorn societal weakness and ridicule the absurd. All while calling up the noble and compassionate forces of our own nature and asking us to observe our lives with the candor with which she has observed her characters. Will we find within ourselves the passivity of a Mr. Bennet or the snobbishness of a Mrs. Elton? Or will we desire to be a faithful family member such as Colonel Fitzwilliam, a friend like Eleanor Tilney, or a mentor like Anne Taylor?

Austen is a true classic. I know I'm not alone in those who seek out the literature section in bookstores just to smile at the sight of her name and feel in that moment that this is one of the things that is right with the world. I'm so very thankful to be surrounded by fellow Austen lovers in my life and to have the ability to spread the joy of Austen to others I know. Who knows where my love of Austen will continue taking me in the future, but for now I can say along with our author: "I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of anything than of a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library."  A library that includes the works of Jane Austen!
My awards for books I most highly enjoyed in 2011. Please click on the title to read my original review.

Historical Fiction
A Heart Most Worthy by Siri Mitchell

Three girls in 1918 Boston. I couldn't put this book down!

Contemporary Fiction
When Sparrows Fall by Meg Moseley

This is a needed and relevant novel that asks gentle yet confronting questions about the darker side of Christian conservatism.

Classic Literature:
Persuasion by Jane Austen

I listened to this book on audio and even though I've read it multiple times, it's still a great one. :-)

Christian Living:
Fierce Beauty by Kim Meeder

This book impacted me so much that I was *this* close to leading a Bible study on it. The Lord led in another direction in the end, but I really benefited from this book and would recommend it to every Christian woman who wants to live as a victorious warrior for the Lord.
As a huge fan of Jane Austen and other authors in the Regency and Victorian eras, I am always interested in books set during this time period. I'm glad that Julie Klassen and others are bringing this into vogue on the Christian fiction market, a task that cannot be easy since everyone must measure them by Austen, the Bronte sisters, Elizabeth Gaskell and others. They are giving it a try, though, and "The Girl in the Gatehouse" was a delightful read that kept me turning the pages and looking forward to the full revelation of the plot.

What charmed me most about "The Girl in the Gatehouse" was that it is a story in layers. We open with Miss Mariah Aubrey being sent away from her home because her reputation has become tainted. We don't know the nature of the scandal nor any of the circumstances surrounding it. Mariah and her former nanny remove to the home of Mrs. Prin-Hallsey, an aunt whom Mariah has not seen in some years. Making a new home in the deserted gatehouse, Mariah soon observes that all is not as it seems at the great house itself.

The estate is soon leased out to a naval captain just returned to land after successful years on the sea. It is easy to see that Matthew Bryant is based on Austen's Frederick Wentworth, a trait highly in his favor. ;-) Longing to prove himself to the woman who turned down his marriage proposal four year ago, he hopes Windrush Court will be impressive enough to convince her and her family he is a worthy suitor.

The colorful cast of characters is a strong point in this book. Klassen develops each one nicely: the publisher who agrees to release Mariah's novels anonymously, the one-armed manservant who has surprising talents, the residents of the poorhouse just down the road, and others are drawn out and brought to life in such a way that you genuinely care about them. Almost every one has a small aura of mystery about them and that adds greatly to suspense as you try to figure out how everything plays together.

This was the best book by Klassen that I have read. It will never be Austen, but if you read it for what it is, it stands up nicely on its own.



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