Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Christmas Homecoming by Anne Perry (audiobook)

Title: A Christmas Homecoming
Author: Anne Perry
Read by: Terrence Hardiman
Publisher: AudioGO
Length: 4 CDs (unabridged), 4 Hours, 45 minutes
Source: Review copy from AudioGO through Audiobook Jukebox

A Christmas Homecoming is a short Christmas mystery set during the Victorian period. The main character, Caroline Fielding, is the mother of Charlotte Pitt from Anne Perry’s Charlotte and Thomas Pitt novels. I’ve read a few of those novels, but it has been quite some time. This novel was an excellent stand-alone story.

Caroline is married to a much younger, handsome man named Joshua Fielding. Joshua is a famous actor and he has arranged to produce a stage adaptation of the new novel, Dracula, at the home of a wealthy patron, Charles Netheridge, over the Christmas season with his acting company. The play was adapted by Netheridge’s daughter, Alice, who has much enthusiasm for the project, but not much experience or skill. As Joshua’s company grows frustrated trying to bring life to a lackluster script, a mysterious stranger arrives during a winter storm.

Mr. Ballin has a great knowledge of vampires and helps to inspire the actors and Alice to bring life to the script. As Joshua and company start to hope that the production might actually be able to amount something, Caroline stumbles over a corpse in the hall in the dark of evening. And just as suddenly, the corpse disappears before it can be moved. Where did the corpse vanish? As no one can leave or enter the house due to the blizzard, who murdered the victim? Caroline puts all of her detective skills to use to solve the mystery.

I enjoyed this story immensely. I loved the Victorian County House setting and was intrigued at the behind the scenes look at putting together a theatrical. It was interesting to see how Bram Stoker’s Dracula could be interpreted as a very sensual novel for the time period, and what interest this novel raised in people of the era. Caroline, Joshua, and all of the characters were very interesting. I loved the murder mystery, but I think my only complaint was that it happened at the very end of the book and didn’t have much build-up to the resolution. The novel centered much more heavily on the stage production, which was then put aside and never finished after the murder. I was a bit disappointed in that, I wanted to “see” it carried out to its conclusion.

Although this book was set during the Christmas holiday season, with its Dracula theme, it seemed much more a Halloween type book. The audiobook I listened to was read by Terrence Hardiman. I love a good British accent and I think he did an excellent job reading the book. I enjoyed listening to it and his voice really seemed to bring the page to life.

Overall, A Christmas Homecoming is a very enjoyable Christmas Victorian mystery, especially with the story centering on the stage production of Dracula. This is my fourth item in the Victorian Challenge 2012, second item in the 2012 Audiobook Challenge, and third item in the 2012 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Complete Poems of Emily Jane Bronte Edited from Manuscripts by C.W. Hatfield

I’ll admit that I really wanted to read Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell (Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Bronte), but I couldn’t find a copy in my library system anywhere. Has anyone else read the first publication of the Bronte sisters? Searching through the system, I noticed a lot of different versions of Emily’s poems, but none by the other sisters. I chose to read The Complete Poems of Emily Jane Bronte edited from Manuscripts by C.W. Hatfield. After reading The Brontes: A Beginner’s Guide by Steve Eddy, I discovered that critically, Emily’s poems are the most beloved of the sisters’ as they are the most original. Thus the reason why I had troubles finding poems by Anne and Charlotte.

I will tell the truth, I am not the world’s greatest fan of poetry. While I appreciate a good poem, and especially loved learning about them in school, I don’t make a habit of picking up books of poetry to read. I enjoyed reading Emily’s poems, but I am unable to offer a great critical review of them myself.

While the poems were enjoyable and beautiful to read, the most fascinating part of the book to me was the Introduction by C.W. Hatfield. In this introduction, Hatfield discusses his process of tracking down and finding Emily’s original poems. After the death of all of the Brontes, Charlotte’s husband, Arthur Bell Nichols, moved to Ireland and eventually remarried. Over the years, the manuscripts of the sisters in his possession and then his wife’s, were parceled and sold off, especially after Bell Nichols death in 1906. As the Bronte sisters and their brother Branwell had very similar handwriting, some poems were attributed to the wrong sister when they were published. Words and grammar were also changed through the years by different publishers. Hatfield worked to track down the original of all of Emily’s poems and to put them back together in the way they were when originally written. Over the years he was able to find many different poems never published before that were scattered around the world on original manuscripts. I found it all to be fascinating.

Many of Emily Bronte’s poems were written for the fictional world of Gondal, an island that Emily and Anne invented and wrote stories and poems about from children to adults. Sadly, none of the Gondal stories have survived, but Fannie Ratchford has a section in this book where she tries to put together as much about this world has she can using their poems, a short journal fragment, and letters exchanged between Emily and Anne. Ratchford has an outline of the reconstructed epic of Gondal and gives a brief description that makes the heading of the poems make more sense.

Irene Taylor wrote a great introduction and obviously loves the work of Emily Jane Bronte and thinks that Wuthering Heights is also a masterpiece. Curiously she also calls Villette Charlotte Bronte’s masterpiece. While I enjoy Villette, I think myself and most people consider Jane Eyre her masterpiece. Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

It was interesting reading Emily Bronte’s poems. I found myself wishing often that I knew more about the Gondal epic so that I could really understand the background of some of the characters, but the prose itself was beautiful. The poems often touch on sadness and despair, loneliness and heartache. Emily was not one to write cheerful poetry, but isn’t poetry often melancholy? I found that I preferred her non-Gondal poems and found them to be much more powerful.

I liked many of the poems, but I’ll conclude with one that I particularly enjoyed, labeled A26:

O thy bright eyes must answer now,
When Reason, with a scornful brow,
Is mocking at my overthrow;
O thy sweet tongue must plead for me
And tell why I have chosen thee!

Stern Reason is to judgement come
Arrayed in all her forms of gloom:
Wilt though my advocate be dumb?
No, radiant angel, speak and say
Why I did cast the world away;

Why I have persevered to shun
The common paths that others run;
And on a strange road journeyed on
Heedless alike of Wealth and Power –
Of Glory’s wreath and Pleasure’s flower.

These once indeed seemed Beings divine,
And they perchance heard vows of mine
And saw my offerings on their shrine –
But, careless gifts are seldom prized,
And mine were worthily despised;

So with a ready heart I swore
To seek their altar-stone no more,
And gave my spirit to adore
Thee, ever present, phantom thing –
My slave, my comrade, and my King!

A slave because I rule thee still;
Incline thee to my changeful will
And make thy influence good or ill –
A comrade, for by day and night
Thou art my intimate delight –

My Darling Pain that wounds and sears
And wrings a blessing out from tears
Be deadening me to real cares;
And yet, a king – though prudence well
Have taught thy subject to rebel.

And am I wrong to worship where
Faith cannot doubt nor Hope despair
Since my own soul can grant my prayer?
Speak, God of Visions, plead for me
And tell why I have chosen thee!

This is my third item for the Victorian Challenge 2012.

Book Source: The Kewaunee Public Library

Winner of Irish Lady by Jeanette Baker

The lucky winner of Irish Lady by Jeanette Baker is Petite.  Petite was chosen using random.org and I notified her via email.  She has one week to respond with her mailing address, otherwise a new winner will be chosen.  Congrats to Petite!

Thank-you to all who entered this great giveaway, and a special thank-you to Jeanette Baker for writing a fantastic guest blog about America's love affair with Ireland.  Another special thank-you to Sourcebooks for providing the copy of Irish Lady for this giveaway and a review copy for me.  I really enjoyed this book!

Sad you didn't win?  I still have one giveaway currentlying going on for Dreaming of Mr. Darcy.  Please see my right sidebar for details!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Irish Lady by Jeanette Baker

Once I started reading Irish Lady, I had a hard time putting the book down. It’s been a busy week, but I still managed to sneak the book open on odd minutes here and there and probably stayed up too late a couple of nights to read it. It was a riveting story. A blurb on the front cover from one of my favorite authors, Diana Gabaldon, says “Wonderful . . . it grips from the first page to the very last.” I would have to agree.

It’s 1994 and Meghann McCarthy has come as far as she can from her poor Irish Catholic roots. After her family was killed during riots in Northern Ireland when she was a child, she vowed to make a life for herself somewhere where she wouldn’t have to worry about death constantly knocking at her door. A smart student, she first attended Queens College in Belfast and then went on the Oxford. After graduation, she promptly got a job at a prestigious firm and just as promptly, married the much older senior partner, David Sutton. Now the widowed Lady Sutton, Meghann is known as a top-notch lawyer. She thought she has left the past behind her, until she gets a call from Annie, the woman that raised her. Annie’s son Michael, Meghann’s first and true love, has been arrested for the assassination of a politician that was critical to the peace process in Northern Ireland. As Meghann takes on the case, she soon discovers that the stakes and danger are high as someone does not want Michael to get off the murder charge.

As she delves into the case, Meghann also has a mysterious woman that helps her during times of trouble. Through the help of this mystery woman, Meghann “time slips” back and sees the past of her distant ancestors. Nuala O’Neill knows that she wants to marry Rory O’Donnell who is pledged to her sister. After making her father see that her sister wants to be a nun, Nuala is allowed to marry Rory. They have a great passion for each other, but they live in troubled times. Queen Elizabeth of England wants to possess Ireland and rid it of its troublesome lords. Together and apart, Nuala and Rory have to stand strong to try to save their beloved Ireland. When the two face personal turmoil will they cling to each other or find their own life apart?

I loved both the story set in the nineties as well as the story set four-hundred years earlier in the 1590s. The 1990s story held more intrigue, but the 1590s story was more passionate. I really wanted to know how both story lines would resolve. Many time travel or time slip novels with parallel story lines suffer from one story being stronger than the other. Irish Lady did not suffer from this dilemma and had two very strong storylines.

I thought the 1990s story was very intriguing as I don’t know much about the IRA and troubles in North America. I remember it being in the news when I was a teenager, but this book really brought the issues to light for me. It also showed how this is a conflict with roots that go back hundreds of years. I love to read historical fiction novels about Queen Elizabeth, but this put her in an entirely new light. A vain and selfish woman, Elizabeth will do anything to expand her territories and to maintain the image of being a young and beautiful woman.


While I loved Nuala and Rory’s story line, I’ll admit that I wanted her take her child and leave with Niall. His love for Nuala was twisted, but it was true. When he said that he would love her even when she couldn’t have any more children, I was ready for her to ride off into the sunset with him and their baby. Did anyone else feel the same way?


Overall Irish Lady is a wonderful Irish tale with intrigue, romance, historical fiction, ghosts, time slips, mystery, and grand passion. In other words, it is a riveting story. I highly recommend it.

Want to read Irish Lady? The giveaway for one copy of the book ends tonight at midnight! Leave a comment at this link for a chance to win this fantastic novel!  Also at that link is a wonderful guest blog by Jeanette Baker about America's Love Affair with Ireland.

Irish Lady is my second item in the Historical Fiction Challenge 2012.

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

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Brontes: A Beginner’s Guide by Steve Eddy

I bought The Brontes: A Beginner’s Guide in 2004 while I was perusing the shelves at the downtown Milwaukee Border’s Book Store. That bookstore is sadly gone, but I still have many fine books that I discovered there amongst its shelves. My Milwaukee book club at the time was focusing on the Bronte sisters for the month, so I thought this book would be a quick reminder of what to focus on while I reread the works of the Bronte sisters.

The Brontes: A Beginner’s Guide, is indeed a very helpful book for one who wants to get a bit more out of the works of the Bronte sisters and has either never studied them in school, or can’t remember what was emphasized. The chapters include “Why Read the Brontes Today,” “How to Approach the Brontes’ Work,” “Biography and Influences,” “Major Themes,” “Major Works,” “Contemporary Critical Approaches,” “Modern Critical Approaches,” “Where Next.” At a slim eighty-two pages, this book packs in a lot of good information in a short amount of space. Pictures are included and it is written in a way that is easy for any reader to pick up and understand.

I really liked how this book discussed the Bronte sisters’ keen interest in women’s rights and how they incorporated this into their novels. All three sisters wrote about strong heroines that did not bend to the will of men and searched for meaning in their lives. I find it very interesting.

I’ll admit that I did get a bit lost in the modern critical approaches chapter. It was interesting that as time as passed, critics have come to rate Emily above Charlotte in their reviews. Charlotte is much beloved by feminist critics, and there has been an increase in interest in Anne. Contemporary critics hardly reviewed Anne’s novels, which is a shame as I would rate Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall right up there with Charlotte’s Jane Eyre and Emily’s Wuthering Heights. It’s also interesting that contemporary critics of Charlotte Bronte said this of Jane Eyre, “ the plot is most extravagantly improbable.” I disagree. While there are some fantastical elements of the plot, so much of it is based on Charlotte’s real world experiences growing up that it has a deep sense of truth to it.

The major works chapter focuses on Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Shirley (by Charlotte Bronte), Villette (also by Charlotte), The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (Anne), and their poems. I thought that since Agnes Grey by Anne and The Professor by Charlotte were the only two novels left out; maybe they just should have included them. I’ve read all of their collected works and I think those two novels are worth reading and discussing as well. I know the chapter was titled “major,” but if that were the case, I probably would have left out Shirley and Villette and just focused on the most famous work by each sister.

The collected poetry of the sisters is only discussed briefly, but overall it states that by far, Emily’s poems are the best and most original of the three sisters.

While not as extensive as a full biography of the sisters, The Brontes: A Beginner’s Guide is a great quick read packed full of great information about the Bronte sisters and their major works. It gives great themes and symbols to look for when you read their works.

This is my second item for the Victorian Challenge 2012.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Writing Charlotte Bronte's Love Story an interview with author Syrie James

Syrie James, hailed by Los Angeles Magazine as "The queen of 19-century re-imaginings," is the bestselling author of The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë (Great Group Read, Women's National Book Association; Audie Romance Award, 2011); The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen (Best First Novel 2008, Library Journal); and the critically acclaimed Nocturne and Dracula, My Love. Translation rights for Syrie's books have been sold in sixteen languages. An admitted Anglophile, Syrie loves all things 19th century. She lives in Los Angeles and is a member of the Writer's Guild of America.

What inspired you to write The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë?

I have always adored Jane Eyre. I felt compelled to know and understand the woman who wrote that remarkable book, which is still so beloved all over the world more than 160 years after it was first published.

As I researched Charlotte's life, I was astonished to discover how many parts of the novel were inspired by her own experiences. I was also captivated by the engrossing saga of Charlotte's family.

Charlotte lived in Victorian England in a tiny village in the wilds of Yorkshire. Her brother became an alcoholic and a drug addict. Her father, a clergyman, was going blind. Her sisters Emily and Anne were also very talented writers. All three sisters, despite the difficulties of their circumstances, became published authors at the same time. Emily's novel Wuthering Heights is considered one of the greatest masterpieces ever written in the English language, and Jane Eyre is required reading in many high schools, and has been filmed 27 times. I can't think of any other family in history who've achieved a similar literary feat, and I wanted to explore that and show how it happened.

Add to that the true story of Charlotte's romance! Her father's curate, the tall, dark, and handsome Irishman Arthur Bell Nicholls, lived next door to the Brontës for more than seven years, and carried a silent torch for Charlotte all that time, before he had the nerve to propose. Charlotte disliked him for many years, but her feelings eventually changed, and she grew to love him. I knew that would make a fabulous story—and it had never been told!

How did you do your research?

First, I poured over countless Brontë biographies. I read all their poetry, their published novels, the juvenilia, and Charlotte's voluminous personal correspondence. I studied the art of the Brontës. (Quite remarkable!) I read everything I could find about the life of Arthur Bell Nicholls. Then I went to Haworth, England. The stone buildings in the village's narrow main street still look very much as they did in Charlotte's day.

I made an extended visit to the Brontë Parsonage Museum, which has been preserved to reflect the way it looked when the Brontës lived there, and is furnished with many of their possessions.
What a thrill it was to "haunt" the rooms and lanes where Charlotte and Emily and Anne actually lived and walked, and to stroll through that gloomy graveyard in the pouring rain! Even more thrilling was my visit to the Brontë library, where I was allowed to don protective gloves and read a selection of original letters and manuscripts penned by Charlotte and other members of the Brontë family.

While in Yorkshire, I was also granted a private tour of the former Roe Head School (where Charlotte was a student and later a teacher), which still actively functions as a private school. The main building, inside and out, has not changed much since Charlotte Brontë's time—and the legend of a mysterious attic dweller, the Ghost of Roe Head, still lives!

You mentioned seeing the Brontë's art work during your research. Can you describe it?

Their works are incredibly detailed portraits of women and animals, landscapes, and depictions of nature. Some are pencil sketches; others are beautiful watercolors. Although they did draw from life, many of Charlotte's works of art were copies of other pictures and engravings, which she painstakingly executed dot by dot.

All three sisters were talented artists, Emily perhaps the most accomplished of them all. Branwell was trained to paint in oils and hoped to make a living as a portrait artist, but he did not have the necessary talent or drive to make a success of it. To see all of their art in one terrific volume, check out "The Art of the Brontës" by Christine Alexander and Jane Sellars.

Which books by and about the Brontës do you recommend?

You'll find a list of my favorite books on the Recommended Reading page on my website.

Tell us about the awards your Brontë novel has won.

I’m thrilled that the Women’s National Book Association named The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë a Great Group Read in 2009. They select only a few titles each year, on the basis of their appeal to book clubs and reading groups, choosing books they feel “are bound to open up lively conversations about a host of timely and provocative topics, from the intimate dynamics of family and personal relationships to major cultural and world issues.”

I’m also proud and humbled to announce that the audio book won the prestigious 2011 Audie award in the romance category—another huge honor, since it’s the equivalent of the Emmys and the Oscars, in the audio book world. Recorded Books and narrator Bianca Amato did a wonderful job dramatizing the novel, incorporating dozens of characters and a multitude of accents.

Read selected poetry of the Brontes.

Thank you for having me on your blog today! To learn more about me and all of my books, please visit me at at syriejames.com. I hope you’ll follow me on facebook and twitter, and feel free to email me or leave a message in my guest book. In closing, I’m excited to announce that my new book, Forbidden, which I co-wrote with my son Ryan, is due out Jan. 24. It’s not Victorian—but I hope you’ll love it anyway.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Wuthering Heights (1939)

1939 was an epic year of filmmaking with Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Stagecoach, and Wuthering Heights. Wuthering Heights is based on the novel by Emily Bronte and starred Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff, Merle Oberon as Catherine, and David Niven as Edgar. For a summary and review of the novel Wuthering Heights, please see this link.

This movie overall makes Heathcliff and Catherine into much more romantic leads than what was originally in Emily Bronte’s novel. They are painted solely as star-crossed lovers that are just never able to get together because of various misunderstandings. The movie leaves out the entire second half of the novel, which shows how Heathcliff carefully plotted his revenge onto the second generation. In this movie, there are no children born.
Heathcliff first of all is portrayed by the very handsome Laurence Olivier. While I love Laurence Olivier and think he is a spectacular actor, he is not the dark personage described in Wuthering Heights. He is viewed in much more a sympathetic light because of the lack of showing his revenge on the second generation. His wife Isabella is shown to be miserable solely because of his continued love for Catherine. His abuse of her and the knowledge that he only married her to be able to inherit the Linton estate, Thrushcross Grange, is not mentioned. I believe that this movie may be one reason that people think of Heathcliff as a romantic character, when he is really not a very likeable character.

Merle Oberon is a good Catherine, although her selfish motives do not take center stage. I found her to be a much more unlikeable character in the book than in this production. David Niven is a good Edgar, although if I were Catherine and had to choose between a Laurence Olivier Heathcliff and a David Niven Edgar, I would be hard pressed to pick Edgar. You have a passionate love for Heathcliff who shares your passion and he is also hot as sin. Why are you picking the boring neighbor again? I feel kind of sorry for David Niven. I know him from being the Bishop in The Bishop’s Wife. In that movie, he is afraid his wife, Loretta Young, is developing feelings for an angel played by Cary Grant. Niven always seems to be the second fiddle.

The deathbed scene seemed strange to me. There is a very passionate speech from Heathcliff, while Catherine’s husband Edgar kneels by the bed in a prayerful poise saying nothing. This is very different than the death scene in the book. Catherine and Heathcliff have a passionate speech to each other when Edgar is away at church. There is suspense when he returns and he “flies at” Heathcliff enraged to see him there, but Catherine faints. Edgar has a bit more edge to him in the novel.

I did not like the omission of Hindley’s wife, Frances. Hindley is not a good man, but you can understand him better in the novel. First he has to see his father love Heathcliff rather than himself, and then his beloved wife Frances dies. It is easier to see why he became an alcoholic when Frances is in the picture and it humanizes Hindley.

Overall, I enjoyed the romance of the 1939 film version of Wuthering Heights, but I think it did a poor job of bringing Emily Bronte’s classic to life. The romance actually took away from Bronte’s original intent, and the omission of the younger generation made it so the viewers were unable to see the masterful plotting of revenge by Heathcliff.

This if my first item for the Victorian Challenge 2012.

Winners of Dylan by C.H. Admirand

The two lucky winners of Dylan by C.H. Admirand are Sophia Rose and Na.  Both winners were chosen using random.org.  They have been notified via email and have one week to send me their mailing addresses.  If I don't receive their addresses within that time frame, new winners will be selected.

Want to learn more about Dylan?  Check out C.H. Admirand's wonderful guest blog about the allure of cowboys.

Thank-you to C.H. Admirand for being a guest on Laura's Reviews and for writing such an intriguing guest blog and book.  Thank-you to Sourcebooks for sending me a review copy of the book and for providing the books for this giveaway.

There still a couple ongoing giveaways . . . please check out my right sidebar!

Winner of Wine to Water by Doc Hendley

The one lucky winner of a copy of the inspirational book Wine to Water by Doc Hendley is Jean Vogler of Finding Your Gibbee.  Jean was chosen using random.org and has been notified via email.  She has one week to email me her mailing address, otherwise a new winner will be chosen.

Wine to Water was a wonderful adventure tale as well as a wonderful story of how one man could make a great difference to so many people in the world.  Even if you are sad you didn't win a copy, I highly recommend picking one up to read.

Thank-you to Doc Hendley for doing such great things and for sharing them and the needs of the world through your book. Thank-you for TLC Book Tours for allowing me to review and host this great book.  Thank-you to Penguin Group for sending me a review copy of this book and for sending the lucky winner a copy.

There are still plenty of great giveaways ongoing on Laura's Reviews.  Check out the right sidebar!

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Brontes in Brief - A Guest Post Biography by BronteBlog

January is a very Brontë month of the year. Not only does it include Anne Brontë's birthday - she was born on January 17th, 1820 - and her death sentence - on January 5th, 1849 a doctor visited the Haworth Parsonage, not long after the deaths of Branwell and Emily Brontë, and told Patrick Brontë that his youngest daughter hadn't long to live due to tuberculosis - but it's also the first full month of the winter, where there can be very few nicer things than curling up with a good book. The Brontës' verbosity - at least in comparison with today's widespread style - as well as their dexterity at telling a few good stories make for very cosy reading. If you have been made to read the Brontës for school, forget that experience and pick up their novels anew and let them set the pace as well as the atmosphere. You won't regret it.

The Brontës lived most of their lives in Yorkshire. Out of the six siblings - the two eldest girls died early on - the four known today, were all born in the village of Thornton between the years 1816 and 1820: Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne. Within a year they would move to the parsonage at Haworth, where their father had been appointed perpetual curate and where they would spend most of their lives. The Parsonage is now a museum well worth a visit and boasting the largest collection of Brontë objects in the world. All sorts of Brontë treasures - from the mundane clothes to the stories they wrote as children and young adults - can be found there, documenting lifetimes of dreams, hopes, and lots and lots of writing.

As children they lost themselves in their imaginary worlds of Angria and Gondal. Angria was mostly Charlotte and Branwell's domain, full of exotic, African-inspired landscapes peopled with their real-life heroes turned into imaginary characters such as the Duke of Wellington and his sons. Gondal was Emily and Anne's and despite being an imaginary island in the South Pacific, the place was pure Yorkshire. Recently an (unpublished) Angria booklet was auctioned for £690,850. There are many tiny booklets telling Angrian stories but from Gondal only the poetry remains.

With that creative upbringing, it was no wonder when the three sisters, disappointed in their jobs as governesses, decided to publish a volume of poetry. The volume gathered a few good reviews but sold but two copies. Undefeated, they decided to try their hand at novels and thus Emily's Wuthering Heights and Anne's Agnes Grey were first accepted for publication while Charlotte's The Professor was turned down and continued doing the rounds of publishing houses until it reached one where the reader, though unimpressed by the actual, novel, saw the writer's potential and ask to see any other writings. Charlotte, which by now had been busy at work on Jane Eyre - trying to prove to her sisters that a novel could have a plain main character, much like its author - submitted that novel and the rest is history. 1847 saw the publication of three novels that are still widely read today. Not just read but also written about, discussed, adapted, played, etc. No need to look far for that: new film adaptations of both Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre were released in 2011, not to mention the amount of books published inspired one way or another by the novels.

Wuthering Heights would be Emily's only novel, though her poetry is still extant and also stunning. But Anne would go on to write The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Charlotte, who lived unil 1855 (only nine months into a very happy marriage - the only sister not to have died a 'spinster'), went on to write Shirley and Villette. The Professor would be eventually published posthumously. Her last novel, Emma (not to be confused with Jane Austen's novel of the same name!), was only just started.

All this to say that though The Brontës' month is only a stop within Laura's Victorian Challenge, the Brontës - much like the Victorians themselves - are alive and well as we constantly see on our blog. We first started in 2005, curious as to what the Brontës' afterlife in the 21st century would be. All these years later we are still surprised by their far-reaching shadows. Enjoy January! (And thanks to Laura for having us here and for keeping the Brontës alive too).

Best wishes with your challenge,

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Interview with Victoria Connelly, author of Dreaming of Mr. Darcy (and GIVEAWAY!)

 I apologize for my absence from the blog this week.  I have a large "pile" of reviews that I need to get posted.  Hopefully if I get them out one a day I will get caught up again.    I am a new instructor at our local technical college.  Sadly I am not teaching a course on Jane Austen or on Victorian Literature, but I am using my day-job experience to teach a bunch of great students about some hand drafting skills.  It's taken up a lot of my time to get the class planned, but now that I'm into it, hopefully I'll be able to keep up more with my blog!

This interview is coming a day late, but I'm sure you'll still find it as fascinating as I do.  I am happy to welcome, Victoria Connelly to this blog to talk about her new book, Dreaming of Mr. Darcy.  She also wrote the excellent A Weekend with Mr. Darcy, a book that I LOVED and that is the first book in this trilogy. As I get caught up posting my reviews over the next week, keep your eye out for my review of Dreaming of Mr. Darcy.  And now without further ado, Victoria Connelly. 

LAG:  How did you first fall in love with Austen?

VC:  Jane Austen is such a special writer. I love her warmth and her wit. I adore her characters and the family relationships she portrays, and I love that they make mistakes but are allowed second chances at happiness. I read Pride and Prejudice when I was a teenager and saw the lovely 1940s film version starring Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson. After that, it became a lifelong obsession!

LAG:  What gave you the inspiration for your current trilogy?
VC:  I’d been visiting lots of Jane Austen locations including her home in Chawton, Hampshire, which is now a lovely museum. I kept thinking how beautiful these places were and how much fun it would be to write about them and the idea for a trilogy happened very quickly. It would be three separate books about three sets of Austen addicts and each would be set in a different Austen location: Hampshire, Lyme Regis and Bath.

I also wanted to explore what it was like to be an Austen fan in the twenty-first century and how so many of us use Austen to escape from the stresses and strains of the modern world. It’s fascinating to me that she’s as popular as ever.

LAG:   Do you dream of Mr. Darcy or Captain Wentworth?
VC:  Of course! They are two of literature’s most wonderful heroes. I think Mr Darcy will always be my favourite because he learns so much from Elizabeth and is willing to change for her. He also wants to protect her and her whole family which is so touching.

Captain Wentworth is fabulous too. A man who can tell their loved one: ‘I am half agony, half hope’ gets my vote!

Dreaming of Mr. Darcy Description (from the publisher):
A romance worthy of Jane Austen herself

Praise for A Weekend with Mr. Darcy:

"Sunshine on a rainy day. A charmingly written slice of warmhearted escapism."

- Lisa Jewell, bestselling author of Roommates Wanted

"Lively, funny characters ... the romances of this novel brilliantly reveal one thing that Miss Austen always knew: true love is often a complicated, but beautiful, mess."

- Luxury Reading

Fledging illustrator and Darcy fanatic Kay Ashton settles in the seaside town of Lyme to finish her book, The Illustrated Darcy, when a film company arrives to make a new adaptation of Jane Austen's Persuasion. Kay is soon falling for the handsome bad boy actor playing Captain Wentworth, but it's the quiet screenwriter Adam Craig who has more in common with her beloved Mr. Darcy. Though still healing from a broken heart, Adam finds himself unexpectedly in love with Kay. But it will take more than good intentions to convince her that her real happy ending is with him.

About Victoria Connelly:
Victoria Connelly was brought up in Norfolk and studied English literature at Worcester University before becoming a teacher in North Yorkshire. After getting married in a medieval castle in the Yorkshire Dales, she moved to London where she lives with her artist husband and a mad springer spaniel. She has three novels published in Germany and the first, Flights of Angels, was made into a film. Victoria and her husband flew out to Berlin to see it being filmed and got to be extras in it. Her first novel in the UK, Molly's Millions, is a romantic comedy about a lottery winner who gives it all away. A Weekend With Mr Darcy is the first book in a planned series to be set in the world of Austen addicts, which is a wonderful excuse for Victoria to read all the books and watch all the gorgeous film and TV adaptations again. Victoria is a member of the Romantic Novelists' Association and has a short story called Mummies and Daddies - set in the mummy rooms of the British Museum - in their 50th anniversary anthology, Loves Me, Loves Me Not.

Giveaway Details

Sourcebooks has graciously offered a giveaway of one copy of Dreaming of Mr. Darcy by Victoria Connelly.

If you would like to win a copy of this book please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the this book or this interview with Victoria Connelly.

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.

For an additional entry, blog about this giveaway or post it on your sidebar. Provide a link to this post in your comment.

I will be using random.org (or a monte carlo simulation in excel) to pick the winners from the comments.

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

No P.O. Boxes.

The deadline for entry is midnight, Friday February 3, 2012.

Good luck!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Guinevere, The Legend in Autumn by Persia Woolley

Persia Woolley’s Guinevere trilogy is a fascinating look into the Arthurian legend through the eyes of his (vastly misunderstood) queen, Guinevere. In the third and final novel in the trilogy, Guinevere, The Legend in Autumn, Guinevere is waiting for her execution by burning at the stake. As her final evening stretches out before her, Guinevere reminisces with a knight of the round table, Gareth, about the last years of her rein with King Arthur.

Those final years were mostly good for Guinevere and Arthur, although items were set into motion that would eventually bring down Camelot. Guinevere and Arthur shared a partnership and friendship that together helped them to lead a nation. Guinevere’s passions were stirred by her champion, Lancelot, but he was Arthur’s best friend and the two shared a chaste, but passionate love. Torn by his love for Guinevere, Lancelot sought solace in Christianity and by leaving Camelot to be away from his temptation.

Unable to have children of her own, Guinevere helped to raise her husband Arthur’s son, Mordred, and thought of him as her own. Called the son of Lot by everyone, Mordred did not know his true parentage until later in his teenage years. Discovering he was the unwanted child of an incestuous relationship between his mother Morgause (Arthur’s half-sister) and Arthur, was more than a bit shocking to Mordred. More than that, Mordred was hurt that Arthur would never acknowledge him or at least treat him as a son. Mordred helped to ease relations with the Saxons that had invaded and settled on England’s shores, but he couldn’t help wanting more than what his lot in life had given him.

Several of the standard Arthurian legends are in Guinevere, The Legend in Autumn. Sir Gawain goes in search of the Green Knight. And of course all of the members of the round table go on the hunt for the Holy Grail. I really liked this section of the novel. It presented the grail as meaning something different to each member of the round table depending on their faith and stage in life. It was very interesting. It was also shown as something that ultimately helped to bring down the round table by splintering and killing off many of the loyal members.

I first read Persia Woolley’s Guinevere trilogy as a teenager and I have vastly enjoyed reading again now that I’m in my thirties. I must admit that it is as good as or even better than I remember it from my youth. I love reading tales of Arthurian legend and this trilogy is among the best I’ve read. I’ll admit that I even love it better than my other favorites, Mary Stewart’s Merlin series and The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley.

I love that the series tells the legend from Guinevere’s point of view. So many other tales have Guinevere as a weak willed and even a trampy woman. I greatly approve of her love for Arthur and Lancelot being defined in different ways. Having Lancelot and Guinevere as chaste lovers, is very passionate, and intriguing. Especially at the very exciting end of this novel that I can’t explain without giving away the plot.

My other favorite part of the series is that Persia Woolley did so much research to put the legends into historical context, and to find the “reality behind the myth.” The books take place after the fall of the Roman empire with Britain at threat from the invading hordes of Saxons. This is my first book in the 2012 Historical Fiction Challenge.

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

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Crossed by Ally Condie (Audiobook)

Title: Crossed
Author: Ally Condie
Read by: Kate Simses and Jack Riccobono
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Length: 8 CDs (unabridged), 10 Hours
Source: Penguin Audio Review Copy (Digital Download)

Crossed is the second novel in Ally Condie’s dystopian young adult trilogy. I listened to and really enjoyed the first novel in the series, Matched, last month, and was eager to learn what happened to my favorite characters, Cassia, Ky, and Zander.

At the end of Matched, Ky, has been taken by the society to fight on the front lines and Cassia vows to find him. Crossed is the journey that Cassia takes to find Ky. After her family has been sent to the outer provinces, Cassia, volunteers for a remote work detail that will get her closer to finding Ky. Cassia also starts to discover information about the elusive rebellion. Ky meanwhile is trying to survive an endless war that makes no sense. The Society tells the young soldiers that they will be able to become citizens after they serve their six months, but in reality, no one makes it that long. The young soldiers have no ammunition for their weapons, and are fired upon by remote airships of the faceless, nameless enemy. Zander only appears once in this novel, but his presence is always felt.

I enjoyed Matched, but I loved Crossed. I thought that this second novel in the series was a much stronger novel. It still involved the love triangle, but it focused more on the action and adventure. Much of the narrative moves along in a road trip format with Cassia and Ky trying to escape from the Society and also find each other. New interesting characters are introduced, but the focus stays on the main characters that we know and love.

I felt that Matched seemed like a young adult version of George Orwell’s 1984, and I felt that Crossed was even more so. There is even a scene where the main characters are interviewed and have to remember not to break under their interrogation. The nameless continuous war in Crossed is similar to the same type of war in 1984, although in Crossed we get firsthand experience at that war. As in 1984, the characters that do not accept society and conform to their standards find themselves on the outside.

The Matched audiobook was read only by Kate Simses as the voice of Cassia, the teenaged narrator. I thought she did a fantastic job and did indeed sound like a teenage girl with angst. She continued on as Cassia in Crossed, but Jack Riccobono was added on as the voice of Ky who narrates pretty much every other chapter in Crossed. I really enjoyed the addition and thought he did a great job. I really liked the dual narration. This book had a lot of action and it made it the type of book I couldn’t wait to listen to again. This is the second book I’ve listened to as a digital download on my Droid phone rather than as a CD set. I must admit, I really like this format. I can carry my phone everywhere and listen to it easily without having to find a CD player and remember what CD and track.

I really liked the ambiguous ending and the secret that we learned about Zander. For those that have already read the novel, who do you think Cassia is going to meet at the end? I think she is on her way to meet Zander. I really enjoyed how the novel focused on Cassia and Ky’s journey to find each other, but also their own journey of self-discovery. Cassia and Ky have very different outlooks and goals in life. Will their love keep them together, or will Cassia discover that her goals line up more with Zander?

Overall, I really enjoyed Crossed and I can’t wait for the third novel to come out. November 2012 better get here fast! If you also enjoy young adult dystopian novels, or if you don’t know what that means, but you love a good action adventure with a love triangle, Crossed is for you!

Crossed is my first audiobooks this year for the 2012 Audiobook Challenge.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

America’s Love Affair with Ireland by Jeanette Baker (and GIVEAWAY!)

When people think of Ireland, they call up images of rolling hills with hedges separating a patchwork of fields in various shades of green, thick mists, silver lakes, thatched cottages with peat smoke escaping from chimneys, twisting one-lane roads, friendly pubs, men in caps offering pints all around, women who drink tea in china cups with saucers, bland food and mile after mile of emptiness.

I, too, love the green and gray (well maybe not so much the gray) the boiling clouds, the sudden showers followed by glimpses of a reluctant sun. I love the people, the culture, the music, the literature and the food, particularly the desserts, specifically banoffee pie, a combination of rich toffee, bananas and cream.

Coming back to Ireland after visiting other countries is like coming home to a place where conversation is more important than the clock, where directions have nothing to do with logic and where afternoon tea isn't complete without homemade brown bread, butter and wild blackberry jam. The people, sturdy, blue-eyed and freckled, look familiar. That's not terribly surprising considering that fifty million Americans claim Irish roots. This charming, romanticized view of The Emerald Isle can still be found in small villages. This is the tourists’ Ireland. This is the Ireland you’ll experience if you decide to visit for a week or two. That’s why you love it. Who wouldn’t?

Then there is the language. It is the charm of the syllables, Martara, Ballylongford, Tullahennell, and all the other lovely names that are lost to those of us who live in an America with zip codes and five digit addresses. Americans are intrigued with accents, especially accents associated with English speakers from the British Isles, instinctively believing the speaker has more legitimacy, sounds more intelligent, is somehow worthier of attention than one who hails from within their own borders. Villages like Ballylongford, Killarney, Dingle, BallyMcCelligot, Caheersaveen, Ballybunion, Kilflyn, Kilorglin, Kilronen, Skibbereen slip off the tongues of tourists with the same lilt found in the brogues of locals. The assigning of names like Noreen (little Nora), Pat Joe (Patrick, son of Joseph), Johnny Christmas (John who visits on Christmas Day), Micky Pa (Michael, son of Patrick), Cissy Bon (Christina with the blonde hair) is as welcome and unusual to the American as bacon and cabbage for Sunday dinner.

Maybe it has to do with the Anglo/Irish roots of American literature. Who can argue with Shakespeare, Yeats, Joyce and Dunne? Perhaps it’s the call of their DNA memory. The United States is, after all, a country initially settled by the British and their nearby colonies. All of their presidents have English/Irish/Scottish ancestry. Even President Obama’s late mother traces her roots to Moneygall.

My Ireland, the native’s Ireland, the real Ireland of the European Union, is quite different. My Ireland is crowded, so crowded that traffic clogs up the roads leading into the villages and modern, multi-lane bypasses alleviate the congestion around the towns and cities. Most of the population is under thirty-five and men rarely wear caps. They drink carefully because of no-tolerance laws and because education and prosperity have given them opportunity unheard of by previous generations. The food is delicious and varied, although expensive by American standards, and because of the water, the coffee has a delicious smoky flavor without the slightest hint of bitterness. Corned beef isn’t common, but bacon and cabbage is, a kind of bacon that bears no resemblance to the thin, crispy, fat-layered bacon Americans order with eggs and pancakes. Irish bacon is back bacon, lean, tender and flavorful.

Cleanup isn’t the stream-lined affair American’s are accustomed to. Garbage disposals don’t exist and trash disposal is a problem, so much so that if you don’t bring a bag to the grocery store you’ll have to fork over a significant amount of change to purchase a store bag. Buildings are not temperature controlled, automatic transmission is unusual and clothes’ dryers are considered a luxury despite the inconvenience of daily rain. Coffee and soft drinks are not automatically refilled at restaurants and the bill for a meal for a family of four still causes me to catch my breath in disbelief. Unemployment and a generational reliance on the dole are embarrassingly high by American standards.

None of the above really matters to visitors, of course. It’s enough to settle back with a cup of strong tea, a slice of soda bread and a long afternoon ahead. Listening to a native Irish speaker wax on over politics, Irish football, or even the weather is pure entertainment. Despite its interminable economic difficulties, its graft-ridden local officials and the endless, miserable gray of its skies, there is still something romantic about a country that refuses to organize itself into postal codes. That, and the loveliest scenery in the world, The Ring of Kerry, The Cliffs of Moher, Dun Aengus Fort on the Aran Island of Inishmore, The Gap of Dunloe, Newgrange, the tiny pubs, the traditional music and the honest appreciation for America and the enjoyment of its visitors, continue to draw tourists year after year.

Slan Abhaille


Jeanette Baker – Facebook


Thank-you Jeanette for this wonderful guest blog.  I have always had a love for Ireland and a dream of visiting there one day.  This blog makes me want to jump on a plane today!

Jeanette Baker is the author of the new novel out from Sourcebooks entitled Irish Lady.

Description of Irish Lady from Sourcebooks:
"A fiercely emotional and romantic tale. Jeanette Baker has a rare gift which allows her to blend genres with gracious ease."

—RT Book Reviews gold rating

The bad boy of her past...

A successful attorney in a posh London neighborhood, Meghann McCarthy thought she'd escaped the slums of Belfast forever. Until Michael Devlin needs her help. Years before, her love for the Irish charmer had nearly torn her apart, but now he's part of a past she never wants to revisit. However, she can't leave him defenseless against a murder charge—even if uncovering the truth puts her life in danger too.

She'll risk everything to save Michael—and she's not the first of her family to put it all on the line for a man she loves. As Meghann delves further into Michael's case, further into the history that binds them so irrevocably, she slips into the unfolding drama of centuries before...of another woman's desperate fight to free her rebel husband from the clutches of Queen Elizabeth. Stakes are high, but the reward is the love of a lifetime. And the Irish never give up.
Giveaway Details

Sourcebooks has graciously offered a giveaway of one copy of Irish Lady by Jeanette Baker.

If you would like to win a copy of this book please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the this book or this great guest blog by Jeanette Baker.

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.

For an additional entry, blog about this giveaway or post it on your sidebar. Provide a link to this post in your comment.

I will be using random.org (or a monte carlo simulation in excel) to pick the winners from the comments.

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

No P.O. Boxes.

The deadline for entry is midnight, Friday January 27, 2012.

Good luck!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Allure of Cowboys by C.H. Admirand (and GIVEAWAY!)

 Thanks for inviting me to guest blog today, Laura. I’m so glad you asked about the allure of the cowboy. To me, the cowboy is a symbol of our American heritage: the quintessential male who is strong, honest, and trustworthy. He has a deep abiding faith that keeps him working long after he’s ready to drop from exhaustion. He cares for his horse, and his herd as much as he cares for the women in his life. He can be an Alpha or Beta hero without losing his heart or his appeal. But why don’t I let Dylan tell you what he thinks?

“Hey, Dylan, there are some nice folks here today who want to know more about why cowboys are appealing. Would you like to tell them?”

“Hello, C.H., you know I don’t like to talk about myself.”

“I know, but pretend for a moment that the readers are new to town and you’ve just met them over at Dawson’s Hardware of Harrison’s Feed Store…what would you say to them?”

“I don’t want to be rude, but I’ve got a load of hay coming…”

“Could you spare a couple of minutes to give a quick recap of what working the ranch means to you?”

“Well, I guess just a few minutes wouldn’t hurt. The Circle G’s been in our family for over 150 years. We Garahans have shed a lot of blood, sweat, and tears for our land. Fought Indians for it, range wars over it, and almost lost the ranch a few months back. If my older brother Tyler hadn’t answered that ad in the paper for a hardworking man with a strong back, we might not have been able to hold onto our legacy—our ranch—and starting chipping away at the mortgage and feed bills. “

“How did you feel when you had to fill in for him at his night job after Widowmaker tried to skewer him to the barbed wire fence and he couldn’t work?”

“I hated standing up on that stage—wearing those damned briefs, chaps, and my Stetson.”

“Then why did you do it?”

“Tyler gave his word.”

“What if it had been you or your younger brother Jesse who’d made that promise?”

“Doesn’t matter. Once a Garahan gives his word, you can count on him to keep it.”

“Does that apply to everything in your life?”

“Is that a trick question?”

“Not at all.”

“Just what are you asking?”

“If you made a promise to a woman that you’d stick around—“

“I already told you—once a Garahan gives his word, he keeps it.“

“Sorry, C.H., but there’s that hay…”

“Not a problem. I’m sure I’ll see you ‘round the Circle G.”

“Count on it, C.H. I’m waiting to see what kind of trouble Jesse gets into.”

See what I mean? There’s just something solid and down-to-Earth cowboys are. They aren’t afraid to tell it like it is and work hard for everything they have.

Although I’d been to Texas a couple of times over the years, I did some research about Eastern Texas, horses, raising cattle, ranch life, etc. The last time I was in Texas I agreed to support one of my author friends and her publisher by going with her to a nearby club—needless to say, if I’d known what type of club it was ahead of time, I might not have suffered through the embarrassment of being so out of my element—but then again, I wouldn’t have had the plot idea for the Garahan brothers.

I grew up going to the Sussex County Fair every summer for as far back as I can remember. While I loved watching the equestrian events and hanging around the horses, my absolute favorite was seeing the 4H kids show their cows—my favorite still is the Brown Swiss—they really do have the prettiest faces.

When we were kids we had a Shetland Pony named Little Miss Muffett. She’d helped teach me a few invaluable lessons. One: Never wear T-strap sandals while tethering a pony. Two: Pay attention to where the pony is before mucking out her stall—ponies bite and Three: caring for a pony is hard work, twenty-four/seven.

If you need a visual, COS Productions created another fabulous video for me—check out the link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jC9v7XYdTkw.


There was nothing he couldn’t tame…

Dylan Garahan might be an old hand at lassoing fillies, but one night at the Lucky Star club, and he ends up wrapping his rope around someone that even his formidable strength can’t tame. She’s wily and beautiful… and she’s his new boss. Dylan’s had his heart broken bfore, but even an honest cowpoke has to wrestle with temptation…

Until he got his lasso around her…

Ronnie DelVecchio might be fresh off the bus from New Jersey, but she’s a hard-edged businesswoman and has had her fill of men she can’t trust—although she might consider getting off her high horse for that big handsome rancher with a Texas drawl.


C.H. Admirand was born in Aiken, South Carolina. She has published 9 bestselling novels for the library market. Her Secret Life of Cowboy series, published by Sourcebooks Casablanca includes Tyler (available now), Dylan (in stores January 2012) and Jesse (in stores July 2012). She lives with her husband, who is the inspiration for all of her heroes’ very best traits, in northern New Jersey. For more information, please visit http://www.chadmirand.com/ or follower her on twitter, @chadmirand.

Giveaway Details

Sourcebooks has graciously offered a giveaway of two copies of Dylan by C.H. Admirand.

If you would like to win a copy of this book please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the this book or this great guest blog by C.H. Admirand.

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.

For an additional entry, blog about this giveaway or post it on your sidebar. Provide a link to this post in your comment.

I will be using random.org (or a monte carlo simulation in excel) to pick the winners from the comments.

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

No P.O. Boxes.

The deadline for entry is midnight, Friday January 20, 2012.

Good luck!