Sunday, October 31, 2010

Shades of Blue by Karen Kingsbury

Shades of Blue is the November pick of the FLICKS Book and Movie Club. It is a Christian book that touches on a very big issue, abortion, which will most likely lead to some heavier than usual discussion at book club next month!

Brad Cutler is a handsome, successful ad executive who is on the brink of marrying the perfect woman, Laura James. He finds himself suddenly at a loss to promote his latest campaign, Kotton Kids, and instead finds himself thinking of his high school girlfriend Emma Landon.

Emma and Brad grew up together on the North Carolina coast. They were friends since childhood and became a couple in high school. Their relationship had a complicated and heart breaking ending, and both Brad and Emma find themselves unable to move on without closure and forgiveness for the past.

I thought Shades of Blue gave a mostly well rounded view of a very touchy subject. I did feel at times that the book did get a little too preachy and a few times almost sounded like propaganda. Luckily those moments didn’t last and it was able to get on track to the story.
I think the heart of the book were very complicated and well rounded characters. Instead of being perfect Christian people, Brad and Emma had pasts where different actions were not actions they were proud of. I did think that Laura James at times was too good to be true, but she also had a few moments of inner conflict and doubt.

I did not like the ending of the story. I think Emma’s story line was tied up a bit too neatly.

Overall, Shades of Blue was a good book, although it did get a bit too preachy at times.

Book Source: The Kewaunee Public Library

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Classics Challenge Wrap-Up 2010

I have really enjoyed being a part of The Classics Challenge again this year. I miss my Classics Book Club that I was a part of in Milwaukee, but The Classics Challenge helps me to keep classic books in my mix of reading material. I also love to read everyone else’s reviews and get ideas for future books to read or share thoughts on classics I’ve already read.

I originally decided to read four picks for the challenge and my original picks were as follows:

1. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
2. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
3. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
4. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

My alternatives were:
1. Foundation by Isaac Asimov
2. Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence

My bonus book that “should be” a classic was Life of Pi by Yann Martel.

My final reading selections were as follows:
1. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
2. Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence
3. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
4. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
5. Persuasion by Jane Austen (audiobook)
6. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (audiobook)
7. Life of Pi by Yann Martel (bonus book)

I enjoyed all of the books that I read, but of the true stand-outs for me (besides the Jane Austen novels, which are perennial favorites of mine) were Lady Chatterley’s Lover and The Count of Monte Cristo. I was surprised by Lady Chatterley’s Lover's frank discussion of a woman’s need for sexual satisfaction. It makes it in a category of its own even compared to modern novels. The Count of Monte Cristo was a rip roaring adventure story that held me enthralled throughout.

I was disappointed by Heart of Darkness. I think it was a case of it being overhyped to me over the years.

I loved Life of Pi and I whole heartedly agree that it “should be” a classic novel. Besides being a great adventure story, it was a thought provoking novel of religion and belief.

Thank-you again to Trish for hosting The Classics Challenge. I loved being a part of it again this year!!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

I have been meaning to read Life of Pi for years. I had great hopes that I could convince my library book club to read it, but I’ve given up hope. I’m a part of The Classics Challenge, which has a neat twist of having you read a “bonus” book from the challenge participants’ list of modern books that “should be” classics. Life of Pi was on the “should be” classics list, and I chose it for my bonus book.

Life of Pi was a riveting novel that I literally kept me up all night (while nursing a newborn!). The entire story is unique, intriguing, and thought provoking. It transports you to another world with its fantastic storytelling.

Pi Patel has a mostly idyllic youth spent in India. As a teenager he decides to practice the Hindu, Christian, and Muslim faiths. His family owns the Pondicherry Zoo. After Pi’s father can no longer stand the political atmosphere in India, he decides to have the entire family immigrate to Canada. He sells the zoo lock, stock, and barrel. Many of the animals are sold to zoos in America. The Patel family and many of the zoo animals board a ship to North America. Unfortunately, the ship sinks and Pi finds himself alone on a life raft, alone except for the presence of a zebra, hyena, orangutan, and a tiger (named Richard Thomas).

Eventually Richard Thomas and Pi are all that remain. Pi must find a way to survive on the raft with a tiger and try to make it to safety. While Life of Pi is a great survival story, it is also a fantastic story about storytelling and religion. Do we need religion? Can we suspend our disbelieve in stories not based in science in order to believe in something better than ourselves? It was definitely a novel that has kept me thinking.

Spoiler Alert!!

I loved the ending of the novel and how Pi tells the interviewers his story and then gives them a second story more based in “reality”. At the end he asks the interviewers which story they believe and they respond “the story with animals is the better story.” Pi answers “Thank you. And so it goes with God.”

I think Pi is saying here that to believe in God is to believe in the “better story” than atheists who just believe in science. The interviewers have to suspend their initial disbelieve in order to believe in Pi’s animal story. If you were first coming into a new religion, you might also have to suspend your disbelief. What did other readers think about this section of the book?

I also couldn’t help but think about Pi’s second story. It did seem the most logical. It could also be thought that Pi experienced such emotional devastation that he needed the first story in order to handle it. And he split his violent persona into “Richard Parker” that had to commit acts of violence to survive. Any thoughts?

Spoiler End.

Overall, I loved this book. It was my “bonus book” or seventh and final read for The Classics Challenge for 2010.

Book Source: The Kewaunee Public Library

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

I have heard great things about the novel Heart of Darkness for years and have been meaning to read it for a long time. The Classics Challenge finally motivated me to pick up this book and learn what all of the fuss is about.

Heart of Darkness is narrated by a sailor named Marlowe. He and his fellow sailors are anchored in the Thames and he is entertaining them with a story of his travels up a mysterious African river at some point in the past. Marlowe was hired to be a captain of a steam ship by an Ivory Company. His goal is to travel up the river into the depths of the “heart of darkness” in Africa to find a mysterious man named Kurtz and relieve him of his duties. Kurtz is a master of the ivory trade and is able to reap great rewards for the company at the inner station, but at what cost?

Heart of Darkness is basically a story of the evils of colonialism on a continent such as Africa, but also of the evils of leaving a man by himself in a foreign country, which can allow him to “go native” and revert to his lesser nature. I thought it was interesting in the novel that colonialism is shown to be evil, but then the way the African people are portrayed seems very stereotypical and not in a positive light. For example, Marlowe had a boat full of “cannibals” that he was transporting and (SPOILER ALERT) Kurtz has “gone native” which has him putting heads on spikes and warring with other tribes for their ivory. (SPOILER END).

The novel had some thought provoking quotes such as these favorites of mine:

“The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look at it too much.”

“Destiny. My Destiny! Droll thing life is – that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself – that comes too late – a crop of unextinguishable regrets.”

“The horror! The horror!”

Truthfully, overall I felt let down by the novel. I think I went into it with too many expectations. I’ve heard so much about it over the years that I was expecting a lot, but it didn’t live up to the expectations. I had always heard how it was a tale of a man’s journey up the river to look for the mysterious Kurtz, and that’s what it was, without any surprises or embellishments. I actually much prefer the movie, Apocalypse Now, which was based on this novel, but set during the Vietnam War in Vietnam/Cambodia.

I wasn’t really in love with the style of narration. I often thought Marlowe drifted too much with his narration was not a reliable narrator. It annoyed me at times . . . but I’m also reading it at night while feeding a newborn so that may have had something to do with it! The prose on the other hand had some beautiful sections that I loved (such as the quotations above).

Overall, I’m glad I read Heart of Darkness, but I don’t think I need to read it again.

Heart of Darkness is my sixth item for The Classics Challenge.

Book Source: I bought Heart of Darkness years ago at Barnes and Noble.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

In the Arms of Mr. Darcy by Sharon Lathan

I have read great reviews about Sharon Lathan’s Darcy Saga, a series of books that continues the story of Elizabeth and Darcy directly after their marriage. In the Arms of Mr. Darcy is the fourth novel in the series and the first novel in the series that I have read. My review therefore is on this novel as a standalone novel and not in comparison to the rest of the series.

In the Arms of Mr. Darcy encompasses approximately a year of the Darcy’s marriage, in particular the second year of their marriage. The novel starts with a gathering of Darcy and Elizabeth’s families for a Christmas celebration at Pemberly. Darcy and Elizabeth rejoice in the love of their infant son William and in their passion for each other. William’s christening is soon after the Christmas celebration. The year passes by slowly with Colonel Fitzwilliam, Kitty, Caroline Bingley, and Georgiana each experiencing a romance of their own.

In the Arms of Mr. Darcy moves at a leisurely place and each chapter seems to almost be a short story of its own. I didn’t think there was too much of an overall plot holding the novel together besides it just being a year in the life of the Darcys. Truthfully, the leisurely plot moved a little too slow for me and I longed for some more action. Colonel Fitzwilliam has a great romance and action scenes toward the end of the novel, but it seemed like more of an afterthought.

In the Arms of Mr. Darcy has a lot of hot and steamy love scenes between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth. Truthfully, after just giving birth to an infant of my own, some of the love scenes after William’s birth seemed a little over the top and not quite what I would find romantic. But I don’t want to get into the details!

I love how Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth have a passionate and true love for each other in the novel. I thought the characterization of both of them as parents seemed a bit off. Their parenting techniques fit with our modern sensibilities of being a parent, but don’t really seem to fit into the regency equivalent of being a parent. I can’t imagine Mr. Darcy waking up for midnight feedings and whatnot.

Overall, In the Arms of Mr. Darcy was a leisurely look at life after marriage and a child for Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth, but moved at too slow of a pace for me.

In the Arms of Mr. Darcy is my sixth item for the Everything Austen Challenge II.

Book Source: Advance Review Copy from Sourcebooks. Thank-you!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

What’s in a Name? Welcome to Penelope Rose . . .

I had my baby this past Friday, Penelope Rose Gerold. Penelope is Ben and my third child, and our first daughter.

Unlike our sons, Ben and I had a hard time agreeing on a name for a daughter. I discovered that Ben is very picky about girl names. When we went through the social security’s list of the top 1000 girl names, Ben only liked maybe two names on the list. We had named the boys after family members, but Ben vetoed almost every family member name. So where did we get the name Penelope Rose?

A few years ago, I was listening to an audiobook in the kitchen and Ben wandered in. The main character’s best friend was named Penelope, but she was often called Pen or Penny. Ben heard the name Penelope and said, “I like that name.” I instantly took note as it is not often that he likes a girl name.

I’ve liked the name Penelope since I was in middle school and obsessed with Greek and Roman mythology. I loved Penelope in the Odyssey. Although her husband, Odysseus, is gone for twenty years fighting the Trojan War and having quite the adventure trying to return home, Penelope remains a faithful wife. She is a strong and smart female character. After Odysseus fails to return home after the war, Penelope is beset with 108 suitors. Penelope tells her suitors that she cannot remarry until she finishes weaving a burial shroud for her father-in-law, Laertes, and undoes her work every night to delay the time when she will have to pick a suitor. Eventually Odysseus returns and they are happily reunited.

I also admit to loving the name Penelope in more modern entertainment too. Ben and I loved Lost, and I loved the romance between Desmond and Penelope Widmore. In fact, I always wondered if her name was chosen by the series writers as a nod to the faithful Penelope of the Odyssey as Penelope Widmore remains true to Desmond throughout the years and continues her search for him until they are happily reunited. Penelope might have to endure
“Not Penny’s Boat” from us in future years and wonder what the heck we are talking about.

We chose the middle name Rose after Ben’s great-grandmother. We had two names selected as finalists, and we let our son Kile chose the final name. He selected Penelope Rose and is very proud of himself for getting to name his baby sister. He says we cannot call her Penny as her name is Penelope. We’ll see how long that lasts!

The boys are excited to have a new baby sister and Penelope is a very mild baby so far. Three kids four and under is a lot of work; therefore things may be a little slow on this blog for the next few months. Please have patience and know that I am still reading and watching, but it may take a bit longer to post my reviews!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Making of a Gentleman by Shana Galen

The Making of a Gentleman is the second novel in Sons of the Revolution Regency Romance Trilogy that started with The Making of a Duchess. At the end of The Making of a Duchess, Julian had rescued his brother Armand from a prison in France. After 12 years of solitary confinement, Armand is finding it hard to adjust to life in polite society. His family has been unable to get him to speak again and decides to hire a tutor to help him, Felicity Bennett.

Felicity believes she is going to tutor a young boy and is surprised to find a handsome, intense young man instead. Felicity’s father, a poor parson, has recently died leaving her penniless, and even worse, betrothed to a scoundrel. Even though Felicity is surprised by her charge, she takes the job in order to pay off her fiancé and end her betrothal.

Through the power of her music and their mutual attraction, Felicity is able to finally get Armand to open up and begin to speak again. Unfortunately there are still secrets from Armand’s past and evil men willing to do anything to obtain those secrets. Together with Felicity’s scoundrel of a fiancé, Armand and Felicity face almost insurmountable obstacles and danger. Will they be able to surmount them to live happily ever after?

I enjoyed this romance and it was a great follow-up to The Making of the Duchess. Felicity and Armand had fantastic chemistry and it was a joy to read of their adventures together. I loved the time period that the novel was set in (regency England during the Napoleonic War with France), and I was very excited to read their discovery that their third brother is “Captain Cutlass.” I look forward to learning more about him in the third book of this trilogy.

If you are looking for a romance with great chemistry and adventure, I highly recommend The Making of a Gentleman.

Book Source: Advance Review Copy from Sourcebooks. Thank-you!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (Audiobook)

Northanger Abbey is Jane Austen’s often overlooked first novel accepted for publication in 1803. Sadly the publisher decided not to publish it at that time, but it was ultimately published after her death. It is most often referred to as Austen’s “gothic novel parody.” While it is a humorous parody of the gothic novels of the day, I find Northanger Abbey much more than just a parody. Northanger Abbey is also a comedy of manners and matches Austen’s other novels great characters and romance.

Catherine Morland travels with family friends, the Allens, to Bath. At first life in Bath is anything but exciting, but then she meets the engaging Henry Tilney. Afterwards Mrs. Allen’s friends, the Thorpes, come to town and Catherine soon befriends Isabella Thorpe. Life is great fun in society now that Catherine has the Tilneys and Thorpes to spend time with. Soon she is invited by General Tilney (Henry’s father) to visit the family at Northanger Abbey. Catherine hopes that the Abbey will include all of the mystery that her favorite gothic novels detail.

As I listened to this audiobook, I realized that my favorite thing about the novel was Austen’s fantastic characters. I love Henry Tilney and his quick wit. I also love how he is a great reader and is proud to talk about it. I thought about it and decided that of all of the Austen heroes, my husband most resembles Henry Tilney. I told him my observation and I think he has decided I may have read one too many Austen novels!

Isabella Thorpe and her brother John are also great characters. I love how Isabella is a “fake friend” who pretends to care about Catherine, but is really all about number one. Her brother John is also very full of himself. As with all of Austen’s novels, these characters are timeless and are people that you would meet and befriend today. I have known many Isabella and John Thorpes in my life.

One of my other favorite aspects of the novel is how clueless or naive Catherine is at points, especially when John Thorpe is trying to express his admiration for her and she totally doesn’t get it. It made me laugh out loud.

I have read Northanger Abbey a few times in my life (see a review here), but this is my first time listening to it via audiobook. I really think Austen’s novels transfer well to audiobook. They contain a lot of great dialogue that is a joy to listen too. I started my Northanger Abbey audiobook adventure by listening to a Blackstone Audiobook, but disc 2 was too scratched to listen further so I returned it to the library and switched to a Tantor Media edition read by Donada Peters. Truthfully Ms. Peters was an uninspired audiobook reader and the quality of the recording was not that great.

Overall Northanger Abbey is often overlooked, but it is not an underperforming Austen novel. If you love Austen’s other novels, you will be sure to love Northanger Abbey.

Northanger Abbey is my fifth item for both The Classics Challenge and The Everything Austen Challenge II.

Audiobook Source: The Kewaunee Public Library

Winners of Mr. Darcy's Obsession

The two lucky winners of Mr. Darcy's Obsession by Abigail Reynolds are PoCoKat and Emilee Hope of Another Binkley Sister's Blog. Both winners were notified via email and have until this Friday to respond with their mailing addresses. If I don't hear back from them, new winners will be drawn. Both winners were chosen using

Thank-you for all who entered the giveaway, to author Abigail Reynolds for a fantastic interview, and for Sourcebooks for providing the winners with copies of this great book.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay is the third and final novel of The Hunger Games trilogy. It was a fantastic conclusion to the series. I had a hard time putting it down and find myself constantly thinking about the story.

In Mockingjay, the revolution has finally broken out. Katniss finds herself having to deal with the destruction of her home, the loss of Peeta, and the fact that she has long been a part of the revolution without knowing about it. Katniss embraces her role as “the Mockingjay” and helps the rebels to break the Capital’s hold through their own use of propaganda, as well as being a physical warrior. Katniss faces tough emotional and physical challenges and healing in this novel. The novel also has almost non-stop action sequences towards the end and was riveting. I don’t want to get too much more into detail for the plot summary as I don’t want to ruin the novel for others!

Overall, I thought The Hunger Games Trilogy was quite brilliant. The Hunger Games trilogy combined the best of many of my favorite sci-fi novels and short stories including 1984, Fahrenheit 451, "The Lottery", and "The Lady or the Tiger". Overall themes included the role of media and perception in how the world runs the senselessness of war, the repeatability of history, etc. It gave me a lot to think about and I’m still thinking out it.

A couple of quotes that really seemed to spell out the meaning of the book to me included the following:

Katniss - “Frankly, our ancestors don’t seem much to brag about. I mean, look at the state they left us in, with the wars and the broken planet. Clearly, they didn’t care about what would happen to the people who came after them.”

Haymitch - “We’re fickle, stupid beings with poor memories and a great gift for self-destruction.”

I think both quotes are fantastic. Although this novel is about war and the rebellion “freeing” the District people from the capital’s rule, it becomes much more complex than that. How do you know if your government is any better than the previous government? How do you stop the cycle of violence? How do you treat all people with respect and not hold grudges against your enemies? It was very thoughtful and compelling reading.

The Ending (SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!)

I loved the ending of the novel. While it was very sad and unexpected, I like how Katniss realizes she is a pawn and takes destiny into her own hands by killing off President Coin. She realizes Coin is no better than Snow with her willful destruction of the children in front of the capital as well as her use of a new “hunger games.” The ending seemed realistic to me. Katniss is a solitary creature and is finally able to deal with all of the horrible events of her life by returning home. I was glad she ended up with Peeta. As I continued reading Mockingjay, I realized Gale and Katniss were too much alike, and Peeta was the one person who was able to help her to be a better person and to relate to the terrible traumas they had both endured together in and out of the Hunger Games. While neither of them will be the person they were before, they can help each other to remember and be better people through their children.


I am excited by all of the talk of The Hunger Games becoming a movie. I think this trilogy will be great on the big screen.

I highly recommend Mockingjay and the entire trilogy to those who haven’t read it. It is an action packed read with a great love triangle, but also a compelling thought provoking tale of human nature.

Book Source: The Kewaunee Public Library

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Princeling by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

The Princeling is the third novel in the Morland Dynasty Series and is set during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I in northern England. The Princeling continues the story of Nanette, a fantastic character from The Dark Rose, but also introduces a riveting new cast of characters in the ever dynamic Morland family.

Paul and Elizabeth Morland have a large family and each child takes a very different path in life. The eldest son John, moves to the northern Borderlands in order to woe and marry the heiress, Mary Percy, also known as the Princeling. John changes in this fierce land and cannot fight his attraction for the beautiful, but strong Mary. Mary has grown up as the only heir, fights like a man, and dresses like one too.

Paul and Elizabeth’s second daughter Lettice, is attached to Elizabeth I’s court, but soon moves to Scotland as part of Lord Darnley’s retinue to woe Queen Mary. In Scotland, Lettice meets up with the dangerously attractive Lord Rob Hamilton and the two have a fiery attraction that doesn’t seem to diminish with the years. Side note: Why was Lettice such a popular name during this time period? And why did it disappear?

These are only two of the children, the rest of the children and other various family members also had unique and riveting stories of their own. Nanette’s family was also central to the novel. Nanette was a former lady in waiting to Anne Boleyn and Katherine Parr and finds herself pressed into service at different points in time as a trusted lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth I. She is happily married to James Chapman, living at Waterford, and has three children, two of which are adopted.

The entire Morland family faces conflict and personal tragedy on all sides. Life is perilous and can be instantly taken away by childbirth, the plague, or a tragic accident. It was amazing reading the novel and thinking about how something like the plague could take out an entire family or village. It’s devastating. I was also interested in how the poor drinking water in the city of York contributed to disease. I am a water resources engineer after all and am happy we’ve been able to make such improvements in water quality over the past 100 years.

I was also intrigued by the question of religion. Paul Morland and Nanette are both Catholic, but the younger generation follows the Protestant faith. It was hard to be an average person and be able to practice religion at that point in time. If you wanted to stick with your Catholic faith, you were prosecuted for not attending the Protestant service. If you attended the Protestant service, it was against a decree by the Pope. I can see why my ancestors left England fifty years after this book for America to be able to worship freely.

Overall, I loved The Princeling. I think it is my favorite book of the saga so far. It focused on the Morland family and their personal stories, tragedies, and triumphs. Their personal stories were riveting, but how they were placed in time and the historical aspects were also compelling. It is a wonderful family saga and great historical fiction.

Book Source: Advance Review Copy from Sourcebooks. Thank-you!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Plum Spooky by Janet Evanovich (audiobook)

Plum Spooky is the fourth of the “between-the-novel” Stephanie Plum books that include Visions of Sugar Plums, Plum Lovin’, and Plum Lucky. I’ll admit that I skipped the two middle books to read (or in this case listen to) Plum Spooky as it is the holiday theme for this month.

In Plum Spooky, our favorite bounty hunter, Stephanie Plum is chasing after a super smart, but socially inept skip named Munch. Munch is business partners with a very scary dude, Wulf Grimoire. The mysterious and sexy Diesel is also after Munch and Wulf and pops back into Stephanie’s life to help track down this duo.

Stephanie has plenty of supernatural problems in this book including a forest full of mysterious creatures including the Easter Bunny, the Jersey Devil, and the fire farter. She also was left a monkey companion named Carl who appears to be a lot smarter than the average monkey. Love interests Joe Morelli and Ranger also make appearances as does my favorite sidekick, Lula.

Lorelei King reads Plum Spooky and does a fantastic job of giving each character their own unique voice. Her readings of Lula’s lines were enough to make me crack up laughing a few times and to give my husband pause as he passed through and heard them.

Overall Plum Spooky was a light, fun read that made me laugh out loud a few times. I liked the “supernatural” elements of this book as it fit the Halloween theme. I liked this “between-the-novel” book a LOT better than I liked Visions of Sugar Plums. I wish I would have read the books in order though as I think Diesel appears in all of the “between-the-novel” books and I’m having a hard time remembering him from Visions of Sugar Plums. Plum Spooky also solved a question I had from the regular series, how Lula and Tank’s engagement ended.

One gripe I have is that although Diesel is a fun new flirtation for Stephanie, she already has her Stephanie-Ranger-Morelli love triangle going. It almost feels like too much going on with Diesel thrown into the mix. Diesel gets his own treatment in Evanovich’s new book, Wicked Appetite. I may have to check that out once I get caught up with the “between-the-novel” books.

I read Plum Spooky as part of the Stephanie Plum Reading Challenge. I have two books left to complete the challenge, Plum Lovin’ and Plum Lucky.

Audiobook Source: The Kewaunee Public Library

Monday, October 4, 2010

Abigail Reynolds (Author of Mr. Darcy's Obsession) Interview and Giveaway

I have very excited and happy today to have Abigail Reynolds as a guest at Laura's Reviews for an interview about her latest novel, Mr. Darcy's Obsession. I love Abigail's books and really enjoyed Mr. Darcy's Obsession (see my review here). Without further ado here is the interview!

1. LAG: I loved Mr. Darcy’s Obsession. I thought the premise of “what if” Mr. Bennet had died before Mr. Darcy’s first proposal to Elizabeth was very unique and intriguing to read about. How did you formulate this premise? Did you find it easy to run with the concept once you had it in mind?
AR: Thanks! I wanted to show modern readers just how brave Elizabeth was to refuse Mr. Darcy by showing what the possible consequences of that decision were. Mr. Bennet’s death provided the way to bring Mrs. Bennet’s fears of being thrown into the hedgerows to life. It was easy to go from there, apart from the challenge of finding an intriguing first scene that would be neither maudlin nor depressing.

2. LAG: I was happy to read that you are working on a sequel to Mr. Darcy’s Obsession. I loved the epilogue, but I felt like I would love to read more about characters in the novel when I finished the book. Can you give us any hints of what the sequel will involve?
AR: It takes place mostly at Pemberley follows the further adventures of Georgiana and Mary as they each fall in love with a man who is only suitable for the other. It plays out against the background of social unrest in Manchester with a climax at Peterloo. You won’t be surprised, I’m sure, to find Aunt Augusta playing a leading role.
3. LAG: You kept very true to the original characters from P&P while introducing some great new characters in Mr. Darcy’s family. I especially loved Aunt Augusta and Lord Derby. What was your inspiration for these characters? Who is your favorite character in the novel?
AR: Lord Derby had an unusual provenance. There’s a character in my modern novels, Joe Westing, who I find remarkably easy to write about – apparently my dark side channels Joe Westing! When I’m stuck in writer’s block, my critique partner often suggests that I write scene with Joe to get the juices running. In this case, I said that wouldn’t work because I was writing Regency and Joe is a very modern character. She challenged me to develop a Joe Westing character for Regency times, and that became Joseph, Lord Derby. Aunt Augusta was more straightforward. I needed a character who could stand up to Lord Derby and not take him seriously. She was supposed to be a rather prim character, but she didn’t listen to me. She’s quite a pushy lady!

4. LAG: I love how Mr. Darcy had an awakening throughout the novel on how people of other classes lived and how just because you were a member of the “ton” it didn’t necessarily make you a decent person. What led you to detail this journey? Do you think Mr. Darcy in the original P&P had such a journey, but it wasn’t detailed?
AR: I don’t think he journeyed quite as far in P&P – it was enough of a change for him to recognize the Gardiners as his social equals. In Mr. Darcy’s Obsession, he needs a reason to defy all reasonable society expectations and marry Elizabeth despite her situation, and I chose to do that by having his eyes opened to the amoral nature of Regency high society. I’d like to think that the original Mr. Darcy might have come to the same conclusions if he’d had enough of a push to consider it.

5. LAG: I also enjoyed the talk about sex during the regency period or in other words, that it existed, but was covered up by “stays in the country” for more affluent young ladies that found themselves in a certain condition, while ladies of a lower class were completely cast out for the same behavior. And of course gentlemen not being faithful to their wives were considered normal. What led you into this aspect of the novel and specifically how did you determine to make Georgiana and Lydia’s conduct a bit more risqué? I thought it seemed natural, what could have happened, but never would have been written of during the regency period.
AR: Very interesting question! I’m not actually sure it was that much more risque. I’ve always wondered what happened to Georgiana in Ramsgate. I can see how she might fall in love with him and decide to marry beneath her, but why would she agree to something as disgraceful as an elopement? It would not only damage her reputation but Darcy’s as well, and she doesn’t seem like that sort of risk-taker. So what made her agree to it? If Wickham had seduced her and she thought she might be preganant, she might see an elopement as her best option. But what if she was, in fact, pregnant? As I traced down what would have happened, I realized it made perfect sense – why Darcy had left her alone just after Ramsgate and gone to Netherfield in a rotten mood about social climbers. And then there is Austen’s physical description of Georgiana. She rarely describes characters physically, yet she makes a point that Georgiana has a womanly shape despite her years. Could that be the result of a recent pregnancy? Elizabeth would know perfectly well why young women disappear to the country for months, and might well have had that suspicion in her mind. The only accounting we have of Georgiana during those months is a statement in a letter from Miss Bingley that she is spending time with Mr. Bingley, and that could easily be a fabrication designed to discourage Jane Bennet. Who’s to say it didn’t happen that way?

6. LAG: I see that you are a Wisconsin resident like me! Do you make any appearances to discuss your work or for book signings?
AR: I’m just starting to make local appearances. On November 3, I’ll be signing books at the Wisconsin Library Association annual conference in Wisconsin Dells. Details are still being worked out, but December 11 will be a mass book signing with several other Austenesque authors in Milwaukee. There will be a couple of library appearances, too, but don’t have dates on those yet. I’m always glad to have another reader in Wisconsin! (Sad insert from Laura . . . I have a conference I was supposed to attend at the Dells around that time, but I'm due to have a baby on October 23rd so I'm going to miss it this year! Hopefully next time!)

7. LAG: How does being a physician part-time affect your writing? Do you have any difficulty being a woman of science and a woman of literature?
AR: Surprisingly, it seems to be a good balance. As a doctor, I’m trained to listen to people and observe while trying to put clues together. Writing is the creative version of the same thing. The only hard part is that it can be rather embarrassing when my patients find out about my books! It’s not exactly what you think of your doctor doing in her spare time. (Another insert from Laura - my doctor and I discuss books every time I go in for a baby check-up. She's always intrigued that I have a new one!)
AR: Thanks for inviting me!

LAG: Thank-you for answering my burning questions. It's always so fun to get to ask questions that you had while reading the novel to get an even deeper understanding of it!
The more he tries to stay away from her, the more his obsession grows...

“[Reynolds] has creatively blended a classic love story with a saucy romance novel.” —Austenprose

“Developed so well that it made the age-old storyline new and fresh…Her writing gripped my attention and did not let go.”—The Romance Studio

“The style and wit of Ms. Austen are compellingly replicated…spellbinding. Kudos to Ms. Reynolds!” —A Reader’s Respite

In this Pride and Prejudice variation, Elizabeth is called away before Darcy proposes for the first time and Darcy decides to find a more suitable wife. But when Darcy encounters Elizabeth living in London after the death of her father, he can’t fight his desire to see and speak with her again…and again and again. But now that her circumstances have made her even more unsuitable, will Darcy be able to let go of all his long held pride to marry a woman who, though she is beneath his station, is the only woman capable of winning his heart?

About the Author
Abigail Reynolds is a physician and a lifelong Jane Austen enthusiast. She began writing the Pride and Prejudice Variations series in 2001, and encouragement from fellow Austen fans convinced her to continue asking “What if…?” She lives with her husband and two teenage children in Madison, Wisconsin. For more information, please visit or

Giveaway Details
Danielle of Sourcebooks has been kind enough to offer two copies of the Mr. Darcy's Obsession by Abigail Reynolds for this giveaway.
If you would like to win a copy of Mr. Darcy's Obsession, please leave a comment about what intrigues you about Mr. Darcy's Obsession or what you liked about the interview with Ms. Reynolds.

As part of your comment, you must include an email address. If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner.

I will be using to pick the winners from the comments.

This contest is only open to US and Canadian residents (Sorry!).

No P.O. Boxes.

Since Baby Gerold #3 is due on October 23rd, the deadline will be a bit short this time around. The deadline for entry is midnight, Monday October 11th.
Good luck!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Smouldering Fires by Anya Seton

Anya Seton is one of my favorite authors of all-time. She writes engrossing historical fiction novels, and each novel is set is a very different place and time. Some of the novels even carry a hint of fantasy with them (Green Darkness and Foxfire to name two). I often would be reading one of the novels and think, this could not possibly be a true story, and then look up the history only to discover it was indeed a true story. Before the days of internet research, Anya Seton was able to find these fascinating vignettes of history and create compelling tales.

I first discovered Anya Seton at a library used book sale during the annual big car show in Vicksburg, Michigan. The novel was The Hearth and the Eagle and I was a teenager that loved historical fiction. I was riveted by this novel and wanted to read more Anya Seton novels. Alas, at that time, Ms. Seton’s novels were out of print so I began a decade long search for her novels at any used book sale or book store that I could find. I built up a pretty good collection, but I was more than excited when in 2004, the Chicago Review Press started to republish Anya Seton’s works in beautiful new editions. They started with Katherine, one of the novels I had been unable to find, and I was riveted by the classic novel. In fact, I chose it for a book club selection and my book club loved it as well. I am very happy that these books are being republished and have found new readers. I have been able to finish my Anya Seton collection as well as give them as gifts to fellow friends and family that love historical fiction.

Smouldering Fires is Anya Seton’s last novel. Originally published in 1975, it has just been republished this past month by the Chicago Review Press. Smouldering Fires differs in many ways from Anya Seton’s typical works. First of all, it is a very short book that is set in the present day with references to the past. This is somewhat similar to Green Darkness, another favorite Seton novel of mine, but in Smouldering Fires, the total action is set in the present and the past is only discussed. The main character is a teenage girl named Amy Delatour, but much of the story is set from her teacher Martin Stone’s point of view.

Amy Delatour is a dowdy, lonely, but very smart high school girl in Greenwich Connecticut. She lives in a small apartment with her domineering Yankee mother and loving French grandfather in the 1970’s. Amy has periods of “dreaming true” where she has visions of Greenwich as it appeared in the 1700’s and of a life in which she is a French Arcadian searching for her long lost love Paul, after the “grand derangement” of Arcadians by the British from Canada during the French and Indian war. Amy has come to believe that these visions are of the “true” Evangeline of Longfellow’s famous poem.

Amy finds a sympathetic ear in her new English teacher, Martin Stone. Martin has an interest in psychology and with the help of his girlfriend Claire; he is able to help Amy deal with her past life images and strange fear of fire.

I would classify Smouldering Fires as a young adult novel, almost a Green Darkness “light”. It deals a lot with Amy’s teen angst and inability to belong in society because of her special problem. Amy tries to find love and even her love life is tinged with problems from her past life.

I enjoyed the novel, but I must admit that I was a bit disappointed that it was very light on history. Unlike previous Seton novels, Smouldering Fires does not go into depth on the history of the Arcadian people and Amy’s past life experience. It is an interesting piece of history that I was previously unaware of, and it would be fascinating to learn more about.

Book Source: Review Copy from Chicago Review Press. Thank-you!