Monday, February 23, 2015

The Unexpected Consequences of Love by Jill Mansell

Jill Mansell is one of my favorite contemporary authors.  She writes wonderful well developed stories that involve an entire cast of well rounded, realistic characters. Love may not be running smoothly for them, but by the end of the novel, hopefully things are back in order again.

Sophie Wells is a photographer in the beachside town of St. Cary’s in Cornwall.  Her first turn at love had a tragic ending and she is not interested in involving herself in another relationship.  Josh Strachan has had a very successful few years at a manager of the top new American band.  He has decided to leave the limelight and help his Grandmother run the family hotel.  He meets Sophie and can’t understand why she keeps rejecting him.  Sophie’s friend Tula moves to St. Cary’s, gets a job at the hotel and has an unrequited love for Josh.  Josh’s friend, beach bum Riley, has his own unrequited love for Tula.  Josh’s Grandmother, Dot had a horrible end to her loving marriage to her own true love Lawrence.  When she has a second chance at love, she has to decide whether to take that chance.

Love is complicated, but all of these storylines are worked out to really flesh out the characters and to give a very satisfying conclusion.  I found myself also really wanting to visit St. Cary’s.  It sounds like a lovely town.  I love Jill Mansell’s characters and settings.  She is a wonderful writer.

Overall, this is a very enjoyable book with great characters and a great plot.  I highly recommend it!

Book Source:  Review Copy from Sourcebooks – Thanks!

Friday, February 20, 2015

The English Manor Behind The Secret of Pembooke Park, by Julie Klassen (Guest Blog and Giveaway Details!)

Note from Laura:  I am honored today to have a guest blog from author Julie Klassen on Laura's Reviews.  I'm currently reading The Secret of Pembrooke Park and am enjoying it vastly.  I know that readers of my blog that enjoy historical fiction, regency, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, and/or suspense will love this book as well.  Look for my review which will be posted on March 2nd.  Thank-you Julie Klassen and Laurel Ann Nattress for allowing me to be a part of this Blog Tour and to Julie Klassen for writing this great guest post and wonderful novel! 

Pembrooke Park is a fictional estate inspired by Great Chalfield Manor in Wiltshire, England, a 15th-century country house surrounded by extensive gardens and a moat. For many months, I kept photos of the manor and the adjacent church on my bulletin board and grew quite attached to the place as I wrote The Secret of Pembrooke Park. While the book was being edited, I had the privilege of traveling to England for my 3rd time. (I’ve gotten 10+ books from those 3 trips, so I think that’s a pretty good return on investment.)

One of the top to-dos on our packed itinerary was visiting Great Chalfield manor in person. I had exchanged a few emails with the owner (the estate is managed by the national trust, but the family still lives in one wing). She was kind and polite in her replies, but informed us that they didn’t allow visitors to reserve places on their tours in advance. So,

when we picked up our rental car at Heathrow, we drove faster than might have been wise for someone driving on the other side of the road for the first time in her life. But, thankfully, we arrived at the rural estate with more than an hour to spare before the last tour of the day.

When we reached the gate, however, we were told by the man and woman working at the entrance that all the tours were sold out for the day. Imagine my disappointment! The man resolutely explained that some of the rooms were quite small and they had to limit numbers for safety reasons. I tried to remain stoic, and asked if they could direct me to the owner, as I would at least like to meet her while we were there. The woman at the table said officiously, “Follow me.” I assumed she was going to find the owner as I’d requested. We reached one of the outbuildings where the woman told us to wait. A few minutes later, she came back out, and with a wary look around, quickly pressed something into my hand—two tickets for the 4:00 tour. “I’ve been very naughty,” she said with a secret smile. How my heart soared. We truly did not badger her or bribe her to give us tickets. How grateful we were that day for the kindness of strangers! I thanked her and hugged her, telling her why touring the house was so important to me, and asked if I might give her a book in return. She replied quite adamantly, “By all means. Go and get it!” I happily did so.

So, not only did we get to tour the grounds and lovely gardens, but we were also able to join the tour of the house. A husband and wife team of local volunteer guides took us around, entertaining us with historical anecdotes and pointing out fascinating architectural details that will no doubt make their way into future novels. We also learned Great Chalfield is often used as a film location (e.g. BBC’s Wolf Hall) and how lovely it is with its great hall, oriel windows, and topiary houses.
After the tour, we attended Evensong in the small church on the manor grounds. I had hoped and planned to do this for weeks leading up to our trip, because the church (and my fictional clergyman) play an important role in The Secret of Pembooke Park. What a pleasure to meet the rector in person, as well as his small but friendly congregation. I don’t remember when I have enjoyed a church service more.

One of the other places I wanted to visit while I was in England was Chastleton House in Oxfordshire, to see its historic secret room. Secret rooms, passages, and hiding places are not all that uncommon in ancient manor houses. They came in handy over the centuries when you found yourself on the wrong side of a monarch and wished to keep your head. Or if you, say, needed to hide a priest during the reign of Elizabeth I. It was a delight to see a real secret room in person, and to better imagine the one in The Secret of Pembrooke Park.

If you’d like to see a few more photos of Chastleton’s secret room or Great Chalfield Manor, you may want to visit my web site (, the National Trust site, or watch this video of my visit:

Either way, I hope you will enjoy reading the book as much as I enjoyed researching it.
What about you? Have you been to England? If not, is it on your wish list?

In the spring of 1818, twenty-four-year-old Abigail Foster fears she is destined to become a spinster. Her family’s finances are in ruins and the one young man she truly esteems has fallen for another woman — her younger, prettier sister Louisa.

Forced to retrench after the bank failure of Austen, Gray & Vincent, the Foster family optimistically pool their resources for another London Season for her sister in hopes of an advantageous alliance. While searching for more affordable lodgings, a surprising offer is presented: the use of a country manor house in Berkshire abandoned for eighteen years. The Fosters journey to the imposing Pembrooke Park and are startled to find it entombed as it was abruptly left, the tight-lipped locals offering only rumors of a secret room, hidden treasure and a murder in its mysterious past.
Eager to restore her family fortune, Abigail, with the help of the handsome local curate William Chapman and his sister Leah, begins her search into the heavily veiled past aided by unsigned journal pages from a previous resident and her own spirited determination. As old friends and new foes come calling at Pembrooke Park, secrets come to light. Will Abigail find the treasure and love she seeks...or very real danger?

“Jane Austen meets Victoria Holt in Christy Award–winning Klassen’s latest deliciously spooky and sweetly romantic historical.” — Booklist

“Regency romance with awesome castles, secrets, hidden rooms and, of course, romance . . . . Julie Klassen has hit this one out of the ballpark.” — Romantic Times Book Reviews Top Pick

“If you are looking for a book which combines the enticing elements of a Gothic with the mannerly charm of a Regency, look no further, because this lovely Inspirational is just your cup of tea.” — Heroes and Heartbreakers

“While there are plenty of Regency authors out there, the lovely Julie Klassen is by far one of the top and a must read for fans of Austen/Brontë style and prose. Klassen’s latest, The Secret of Pembrooke Park has a touch of both – the mystery of Brontë and the fun of Austen.”— Books and Beverages

“The Secret of Pembrooke Park is perfectly packaged with several threads of the gothic suspense, Regency romance and inspirational themes while presenting a well plotted story with intriguing characters in an amazing setting.” — Burton Book Review

Julie Klassen loves all things Jane—Jane Eyre and Jane Austen. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Julie worked in publishing for sixteen years and now writes full time. Three of her books have won the Christy Award for Historical Romance. She has also been a finalist in the Romance Writers of America’s RITA Awards. Julie and her husband have two sons and live in St. Paul, Minnesota. Learn more about Julie and her books at her website, follower her on Twitter, and visit her on Facebook and Goodreads.

Award winning historical romance author Julie Klassen tours the blogosphere February 16 through March 2 to share her latest release, The Secret of Pembrooke Park. Twenty five popular book bloggers specializing in historical and Austenesque fiction will feature guest blogs, interviews, book reviews and excerpts of this acclaimed gothic Regency romance novel. A fabulous giveaway contest, including copies of all of Ms. Klassen’s eight books and other Jane Austen-themed items, is open to those who join the festivities.

THE SECRET OF PEMBROOK PARK BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE: I am having troubles posting the entire list, so check out the entire blog tour schedule on Austenprose at:


In celebration of the release of The Secret of Pembrooke Park, four chances to win copies of Julie’s books and other Jane Austen-inspired items are being offered.

Three lucky winners will receive one trade paperback or eBook copy of The Secret of Pembrooke Park, and one grand prize winner will receive one copy of all eight of Julie’s novels: Lady of Milkweed Manor, The Apothecary's Daughter, The Silent Governess, The Girl in the Gatehouse, The Maid of Fairbourne Hall, The Tutor’s Daughter, The Dancing Master, and The Secret of Pembrooke Park, one DVD of Northanger Abbey (2007) and a Jane Austen Action Figure.

To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on any or all of the blog stops on The Secret of Pembrooke Park Blog Tour starting February 16, 2015 through 11:59 pm PT, March 9, 2015.

 Winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments and announced on Julie Klassen’s website on March 16, 2015. Winners have until March 22, 2015 to claim their prize. The giveaway contest is open to residents of the US, UK, and Canada. Digital books will be sent through Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Good luck to all!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Laura’s Top Ten Books of 2014

I read a lot of wonderful books every year.  When I first started this blog, I used to do a top ten books list each year.  I have such lists for 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 but then I started my new job as an instructor at NWTC and I fell off the list making wagon.  I decided this year, no matter how late in 2015 it became I would have my top ten list again!

When I make my top ten list, it is not of books published in 2014, but of books I read in 2014.  It also only includes books (or audiobooks) that I have read for the first time.  For example, I read A Lantern in Her Hand by Bess Streeter Aldrich for maybe the sixth or so time this past year.  It’s one of my all-time favorite novels, but I’ve read it before so it won’t be on this list.   I had a hard time narrowing down my favorites this year – but here goes in no particular order.

1.       The Husband’s Secret Liane Moriarty – We read this for my book club, but sadly I had to miss the book club and discussion that month.  Moriarty wrote a fabulous multi-faceted novel that keep you intrigued and involved in the lives of all of the characters.

2.      The Innovators by Walter Isaacson – The Best Non-fiction book of the year for me.  I was fascinated by the lives of all of the individuals who through sacrifice, hard work, and a bit of luck were able to make the technology we take for granted today possibly.  This is a must read.

3.      You by Caroline Kepnes – I am still a little frightened thinking about this book.  The main narrator makes his love and the psychopathic choices he makes for this love seem like they make sense.  This is how a good love story can go very, very wrong.

4.      Divergent & Insurgent by Veronica Roth – Stay up all night to read kind of books.  Divergent and Insurgent were exciting adventures.  I just read the third book Allegiant in 2015. . . it was not nearly so good.

5.      Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon – Gabaldon is a master story teller and her books defy genres.  I loved getting to read more of Jamie and Claire’s tale, but yearn for more.  If you haven’t read this series, start with book one, Outlander.  You will not be sorry!

6.      Silent Spring by Rachel Carson – Even though I am an environmental engineer, I have never read this classic.  The disturbing part about reading it was discovering that although a lot has changed for the good since the 1960’s, a lot still hasn’t changed.  It was eye opening and still very relevant to today’s world.

7.      The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd – A great historical fiction novel about a real historical abolitionist that I had never heard of and the relationship with her slave.  Riveting and a great book club selection.

8.      The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert – Another great historical fiction novel, I loved the depths, the botany, and the struggle for a woman to find herself in middle age.  This was a great adventure and absorbing read.

9.      Me Before You by JoJo Moyes – Another book club favorite from 2014.  We still talk about this book and I still think about the ethical and emotional discussions it led to.  It was a wonderful love story, but so much more.  It really brought about a great discussion on what makes life worth living.  I really need to read more books by this author.  I read a lot of books last year, but I’ll admit that this was my favorite.

10.  The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness – I loved Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Trilogy.  This final book in the trilogy was very satisfying.  The trilogy has historical fiction, time travel, witches, vampires, demons, and how to accept that we are all different but from the same fabric of life.  A great fantasy romance.

Some other fantastic books I read this year that wanted to be in my top ten, but didn’t quite make it were A Good Marriage by Stephen King, A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold, The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman, Netherwood and Ravenscliffe by Jane Sanderson, After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman, and Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield.

What were your favorite books of 2014?  Did you enjoy any of the selections above?

Monday, February 16, 2015

Mr. Darcy’s Challenge by Monica Fairview

Monica Fairview is one of my favorite Austen authors.  She is able to write Austen novels so well; it seems as if we have gained a few new novels by Jane Austen.  Mr. Darcy’s Challenge is book two of Fairview’s The Darcy Books which are Pride and Prejudice Variations.  It is a great continuation of the first book in the series, Mr. Darcy’s Pledge, but I believe that you can read this book as its own stand-alone novel.

Mr. Darcy cannot stop thinking about Elizabeth Bennet.  With Elizabeth’s sister Lydia on the run with Wickham, he realizes that he needs to help the Bennet family out even if Elizabeth has rejected him.  With a journey to Longbourn, Brighton, and various parts of London, things do not go according to plan.  Especially when Mr. Darcy finds himself in a compromising position with a woman who is not Miss Elizabeth Bennet.  Will Darcy be able to find true love and happiness and will it be with Elizabeth Bennet?

I loved Darcy’s journey in this novel.  I especially loved how it really told Darcy’s story and his inner turmoil.  I also really enjoyed the slight twists to the original story that has our cast of characters go on a completely different journey.  I don’t want to say anymore and ruin the journey for someone else.

Overall, if you have always wondered about Darcy’s journey, this is the novel for you.  Or if you are looking for a sweet regency romance, this is also the story for you.  This novel has wonderful characters.  Austen’s original characters are true to their nature and there are a few new characters that are interesting as well.  This novel is a wonderful journey and a great variation of Pride and Prejudice.

Book Source:  Review Copy from Monica Fairview – Thanks!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

Title: The Boston Girl
Author: Anita Diamant
Read by: Linda Lavin
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Length: Approximately 8 hours (7 CDs)
Source: Simon & Schuster Audio Review Copy – Thank-you!

In 1985, Addie Baum’s granddaughter has asked her to tell her the story of how she became the woman that she is today.  The Boston Girl is Addie answering that question.  This narrative works perfectly in the audiobook format.  It plays as if Addie is telling her story to her granddaughter who is taping it for future preservation. 

Addie Baum is the only member of her family that was born in America in 1900 in Boston.  Her very critical mother does not like American ways and is suspicious of anything that Addie does that speaks of being a “modern American girl.”  She threw Addie’s older sister Betty out of the house for her modern ways, and seems to pin her hopes on her beloved daughter Celia.  Celia is a delicate flower with a lot of weight on her shoulders, and a lot of love for her sister Addie.  Addie helps her family out by finding a job, but also helps herself out by joining a Saturday Club where she meets wonderful new female friends while also furthering her education.  As times change, the Baum family find themselves often on the tragic side of history, but there also is a lot of joy.

The Boston Girl was a very enjoyable novel to listen to on my travels to work.  Linda Lavin as the narrator had a great personality.  She brought to life the story of Addie Baum.  As the story is a Grandmother narrating her life in first person, it worked remarkably well as an audiobook.  I felt like I was listening to Addie herself tell me her tale.  Addie and her friends and family were realistic and very sympathetic characters. I loved every minute of this journey and only wish Addie wouldn’t have skimmed over the last part of her life after marriage.  I want The Boston Girl, Part 2!  I felt Addie’s pain as she lost those she loved and as she spent much of her life hoping and seeking her mother’s love and approval.  It was a wonderful story.

Overall, The Boston Girl is one of the best audiobooks I have listened to in quite a while.  I felt like Addie’s story was the story of all of our Grandmothers as they tried to make their way in America.  I highly recommend this novel.