Clever Compromises by April Floyd: Guest post, Review, and Giveaway! (And a freebie!)

It’s always a delight to “meet” a new-to-me JAFF author. Recently I met April Floyd, who was kind enough to send me a copy of her new book Clever Compromises. Without any further ado, let’s get started!

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clever-compromisesElizabeth Bennet is pleased her dearest sister Jane will marry Mr. Bingley after a whirlwind courtship which began the night of the Meryton Assembly. But when her cousin Mr. Collins arrives from Kent, he informs the Bennet family that he seeks a wife from amongst the Bennet sisters to soften the existence of an entail that hangs over Longbourn. 
Knowing her family has no need of such an alliance with Jane’s future secure, Elizabeth is surprised when Mr. Bennet approves of the parson’s plan. Surely her father will not allow the man to ask for her hand?
When Mr. Collins sees that Mr. Darcy, the nephew of his distinguished patroness Lady Catherine de Bourgh, has designs on his cousin he knows he must propose to Elizabeth though his heart has been won by her sister Mary. To allow Mr. Darcy to propose to Elizabeth would bring down the wrath of Lady Catherine de Bourgh and destroy his living at Hunsford.

This is a sweet, angst-free read!

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About the author

april-floyd2April Floyd lives in Alaska with her husband and youngest son. She loves happy endings, nice people, and reading great stories. Once upon a time, she was an Army wife and a phlebotomist and recently ran a successful ebook deals site for four years. Historical fiction, Jane Austen, and fantasy/dystopia are her favorite genres.

Connect with the author on Facebook and Goodreads

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Guest post

This is my favourite part of any review I post — I love to ask authors what compelled them to write a book that I very much enjoyed. So I will turn you over now to April:

I would like to thank Janis for having me on her lovely blog today so that I might give insight into the inspiration behind Clever Compromises and also give everyone the opportunity to enter to win e-book and print copies of the book!

Jane Austen’s characters are unsurpassed in literature, in my humble opinion, and lend themselves well to interpretation by the various and talented JAFF authors we all adore. We see Darcy and Elizabeth’s influence in romance titles today and across the decades since Jane wrote them in what was initially titled First Impressions. It is a delight to find bits of them in other books, their mark as true and pure as ever.

As a writer of JAFF and lover of Pride and Prejudice, inspiration can come from the simplest plot bunny to the most outlandish tales I’ve read that inspire me to think What If Darcy and Elizabeth were cast into such a situation?

For Clever Compromises, it was the idea of the compromise and how it could be quite comical with the right treatment. I wanted the idea of Jane and Bingley promised to one another to be clearly established so that Elizabeth would not be bound to consider Mr. Collins.

Mr. Collins spoke to me of more than his normal self. His foolishness and obedience/allegiance to Lady Catherine, his penchant for being a bit more impressed with himself than he ought, all the attributes that make us know he and Elizabeth are most certainly NOT a match made in heaven were all present without fail. But somewhere in the outlining process, and in talks with my dear author friend Beverly Farr who writes as Jane/Cass Grix, his character whispered of confusion, and the heart of a man in need of romantic love beating in his too-proud breast emerged before I could say no to him.

And so the story grew from the idea of a compromise that sprung into his head upon seeing the connection between Darcy and Elizabeth to another compromise that would give him a chance at felicity in marriage just when he’d completely ruined his own chances at future happiness.

But the story doesn’t leave out Elizabeth and Darcy. Their romance plays out sweetly and without the angst we see in Pride and Prejudice. That’s a bit of a departure for my readers who know how I love drama and my penchant to go in a soap opera-ish direction or deliver the Perils of Pauline via Elizabeth’s struggles.

On that note, I am currently working on a Beauty and the Beast inspired variation for Elizabeth and Darcy. To reign in my flair for the dramatic, it will not be paranormal nor strictly following the Beauty and the Beast story line. The characters are there from B&B but in a different manner and there will be nods to the beloved fairy tale since it is an all-time favorite for yours truly. And in 2018, I have a lovely Perils of Pauline type of series for Elizabeth and Darcy that will occur after they are wed. I’m not sure whether it will be a series of novellas or novels, we’ll see as the story unwinds, but it is time for me to do a series for ODC. (Hear hear! – J)

Getting back to Clever Compromises, as I said it is a bit different for me to write a completely silly, happy, angst-free Pride and Prejudice variation. But this summer was chock-full of difficult situations involving everything from an elderly family member declining with dementia to family caught up in Harvey’s wrath and friends caught up in the other hurricanes that ripped through so many communities. My youngest child has had many challenges as well and as a super-involved mother hen, my heart has been cracked a little while trying to do the best thing for him. So as you might imagine, I was in need of some seriously light-hearted fun in my writing life and the story line of Clever Compromises provided that escape.

It is my sincere hope that if you choose to read it, you find a similar escape. Again, I am so grateful to Janis, and all of you who take a moment in your day to read about my inspiration, for without you the stories would not be nearly half as fun to write!

Yes, it has been a difficult year for so many people, and diversions like this are so welcome.

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And now for my review

Mr Collins
Image courtesy of BBC.

The semi-comical and insipid Mr Collins takes centre stage in this amusing story. With no reason to connect themselves to the man who will inherit Longbourn, the Bennet family should be free of his importuning, much less his presence. But it is not so. One Bennet sister, however — one who seems to be getting more and more attention in the JAFF world — would be very happy to be his wife. Unfortunately, this is not Mr Collins’ intention.

Instead, he seems intent on stirring up trouble in his unending quest to toady to Lady Catherine. The story should perhaps have been titled Clever and not-so-clever compromises, as poor Mr Collins trundles along in his unsuccessful efforts to separate Lady Catherine’s troublesome nephew from Elizabeth Bennet while denying his own heart. Eventually Darcy wins his sweet Elizabeth of course, but not for Mr Collins’ lack of trying to keep them apart. Even Anne de Bourgh gets into the spirit of employing compromises to get her way. The story ends with a pair of very endearing compromises, so that more than one sister has her happily ever after.

What I liked most

Jane’s original depiction of Anne de Bourgh was as almost a non-entity. Much of JAFF pushes her in the opposite direction from her mother. Here, however, Anne de Bourgh shows her true colours as the heir to her mother’s malicious ways. I confess that I rather liked it – it makes for a most entertaining story!

What I liked least

A bit of a quibble with the author’s use of home and house almost interchangeably.  These two words are not necessarily synonyms, altho’ many authors and writers use them as if they were, and I confess that it tends to annoy me a bit. Definitely not enough, tho’, to give up on the story.

In short

Clever Compromises falls into my category of Fun Reads: enjoyable, amusing stories that make you smile, or maybe laugh, as you close your book or e-reader.

I am happy to give Clever Compromises a warm 4-3/4 Darcy rating! (With apologies to Sir Laurence.)

darcys-four-three-quarter-rating

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The giveaway

April has generously offered FOUR copies of her book: two e-book copies (available worldwide) and two print copies (available in USA only). Enter by commenting on this blog post; please include your location in your comment. Good luck!!

And, as promised: a Freebie!

April’s recently-published Mr Darcy’s Debt is now free for e-readers. But hurry and claim your copy – this offer is available for the next few days only!

Amazon | Apple | Barnes and Noble | Google | Kobo

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Your comments are most welcome, whether or not you wish to enter the giveaway!

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And … if you haven’t already got your copy of Desperate Hearts, you can order a kindle copy here. Also available on kindleUnlimited.

 

 

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Review and Giveaway: The Goodness of Men by Anngela Shroeder

Some months ago I had the pleasure of reading and posting a review of Anngela Shroeder’s first foray into JAFF, A Lie Universally Hidden. Today I have the pleasure of participating in the current blog tour for Anngela’s new book.

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Purchase at amazon (this is not an affiliate link)

Blurbing the book

“This will not do,” said Elizabeth. “You never will be able to make both of them good…Take your choice, but you must be satisfied with only one. There is but such a quantity of merit between them; just enough to make one good sort of man…” -Pride and Prejudice

From her youngest days, Elizabeth Bennet’s ability to accurately judge the character of others has been recognized and noted by those around her in such a consistent manner as to lead her to believe it herself. The misfortune of meeting Mr. Darcy, a wealthy landowner from the north, only solidifies this belief.
The memory of his disapproval of her family, proves his character is lacking and sadly unlike his childhood friend’s, the charming and affable Mr. Wickham, who is esteemed by all he meets. Although her opinion once lost is not lost forever, the effort to regain her favor is great.

With Elizabeth’s youngest sister fortunate to be in company with Mr. Wickham in Brighton since the spring, and her own travels to Kent cancelled, she must await the pleasures of a summer holiday to the North with her aunt and uncle Gardiner. However, it is there that she is once again thrust into Mr. Darcy’s presence and must determine if he is truly the architect of the many wrongs she has laid at his door.

Fitzwilliam Darcy cannot exorcise Elizabeth Bennet from his thoughts. A chance meeting at the estate of his friend reignites all the flames he has attempted to suppress since their last meeting. Believing in her partiality, he is stunned to overhear her true estimation of him and is determined to change her opinion.

Battling with memories and secrets from his past, Darcy must fight against his natural reserve to win the heart of the woman he loves.

Will the unexpected appearance of a stranger encourage Elizabeth’s change of heart? Might an episode from Mr. Darcy’s past force Elizabeth to see the man within? Can one man have all the goodness and the other only the appearance of it?

A sweet “Pride and Prejudice” reimagining, suitable for ages teen and up.

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About the author

anngela-schroederI have a degree in English with a concentration in British Literature and a Masters in Education. I love to travel, bake, and watch college football with my husband of 16 years and 3 rambunctious sons. My goal in life is to make not only my children, but also my students feel that they are loved, and to bring magic into everyone’s world. My weaknesses are yellow cake with chocolate frosting, French bread with real butter, and grape leaves and falafel. I live in California where I dream of Disney adventures and trips across the pond.

Connect with the Author:
• Facebook • Twitter • Goodreads • Amazon • Instagram

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And now for my review

With all the JAFFs being written — there must be hundreds of books that have come out even since my own discovery of this genre a mere two years ago — it becomes more and more of a challenge to develop a fresh perspective that tells a tale and holds the reader’s interest. Not to mention finding new ways to make readers fall in love with Mr. Darcy all over again — which, of course, is why so many of us adore this genre. The author succeeds on all these counts.

While many pundits have posited that “good guys finish last,” this story contradicts that “ladies love outlaws” meme. We find a number of good men — including, of course,  Darcy — who are adored by those who know them. Maybe not at first, but after getting to know them. Yes, there is the requisite angst of misunderstanding and the eventual revelation of true character. What would a JAFF story be without them?

Like many of my favourite JAFF stories, this one portrays Mr. Wickham as full-fledged evil. Darcy has been carrying around a heartbreakingly sad memory involving Wickham for most of his life — a secret that has defined much of Darcy’s devotion to honour and decency. You will never be able to think of Wickham as “merely” a scoundrel again.

Several new characters help point up Wickham’s malevolence while displaying their own integrity. I enjoyed meeting them and hope they make appearances in the author’s future work.

What I liked most

The sweetness of the scene when Elizabeth announces to Darcy that she is with child.

Wickham’s comeuppance. It took me a bit by surprise; I admit I was starting to get annoyed that one of the characters allowed Wickham to get away with his actions. In the end, however, I was smiling at the perfect resolution. Nicely done, Anngela!

As I noted previously, I very much liked the new characters introduced here.

What I liked least

I was a little disappointed that two characters who I was sure would come together did not. Oh well, they both found happy endings elsewhere.

In short

A compelling story that hits all the buttons for good JAFF — and a good story period: believable and (mostly) likeable characters, a truly nasty villain, and a happily ever after for our dear couple.

In my new ratings system, I gladly give The Goodness of Men five Darcys:

darcys-five-rating-sml

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The Giveaway

Anngela is giving away two ebook copies, which includes international readers, and one autographed paperback copy to readers with a U.S. mailing address. You are invited to enter by clicking on the Rafflecopter link below. Entry must be received no later than Saturday, October 15, 2017:

Rafflecopter Giveaway

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Your comments, as always, are most welcome!

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And … if you haven’t already got your copy of Desperate Hearts, you can order a kindle copy here. Also available on kindleUnlimited.

 

 

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The Murmur of Masks, and a tour of the Regency, by Catherine Kullmann

catherine-kullmanI should begin this post by saying that Catherine Kullmann has become one of my favourite authors. Her Regency stories are always well researched, well written, and well edited. My introduction to Catherine’s work was Perception and Illusion, reviewed here. Her brief autobiographical notes explain clearly why I was originally drawn to her writings. Recently I read The Murmur of Masks and couldn’t wait to share it with those of you who love good historical romances.

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Blurbing the book

murmur-of-masksIt is 1803. The Treaty of Amiens has collapsed and England is again at war with France. Eighteen-year-old Olivia must say goodbye to her father and brother, both of whom are recalled to active service in the navy. Not long afterwards, her mother, who has been her anchor all her life, dies suddenly. As a result, she loses her home. Adrift and vulnerable, she accepts the offer of a marriage of convenience from Jack Rembleton, an older man whose brother, Lord Rembleton, is pressuring him to marry and sire the heir to the title Rembleton has failed to provide. Olivia hopes that love will grow between them, but Jack’s secrets will prevent this and Olivia must learn that she has thrown away her youth and the chance of love.

When Luke Fitzmaurice, a young man prevented by ill-health from joining the army, meets Olivia at a ball, he is instantly smitten but she must tell him she is already married. Ten years pass, during which each faces up to life’s challenges but then fate throws them together again. Olivia is finally free, but before they can explore what might be between them, Napoleon escapes from Elba and Luke, who is determined this time not to be found wanting, joins Wellington’s army in Brussels.

They say: “I read it very quickly as the story was very compelling and the characters really came to life and engaged me.” “Depicts both the harsh reality of the battlefield and the pleasures and challenges of society life in England.” “I was hooked from start to finish.” Winner of a Chill with a Book Award.

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Guest Post

Please enjoy Catherine’s beautifully illustrated tour of the British Regency period.

The Regency Illustrated

One of the joys of writing historical novels is that you have an unimpeachable excuse to rummage in flea markets, second-hand book shops, antique fairs, and curiosity shops. My books are set in the extended Regency period from 1800 to 1830 and I was amazed to discover the wealth of coloured contemporary illustrations of the period over and above the portraits and architectural prints I had expected. Print shops selling cartoons and caricatures thrived, and ladies’ journals published fashion plates and engravings of eminent persons in each issue. In addition, publishers had progressed beyond the usual frontispiece to produce lavishly illustrated books that are the forerunners of today’s graphic novels. I have chosen five of these illustrations to take you on a tour of London from the lowest dive to the Prince Regent’s court.

dav

Here we meet Bob Tallyho Esq. and his cousin the Hon. Tom Dashall blowing a cloud and taking their heavy wet at the Black diamond merchants’ free & easy King Charles’s crib, Scotland Yard.

Glossary

Blowing a cloud                        Smoking

Heavy wet                                  Beer, especially porter and stout

Black Diamond Merchant      Coalman

Crib                                              Here, a public house

Free & easy                                A social gathering (gen. at a public house) where smoking, drinking, and singing are allowed.

Bang-up                                     first-rate

 kullman-image-2

And here we see Tom and Bob in Hyde Park, Cutting a Dash among the Pinks in Rotten Row. A ‘Pink of the Fashion’ is a gentleman who is at ‘the top of the mode.’

dav

While Tom and Bob were well-born young men about town, Dr Syntax, the hapless protagonist of at least four volumes by different authors, was a not-so-young curate whose outings tended to end in disaster of some kind. We encounter him and his wife at Vauxhall Gardens, holding up a slice of the ham that was famous, or infamous, for its thinness, which inevitably led to a steep bill at the end of the night.

Before them soon was laid a slice
which some might think was very nice,
But through whose thin, transparent fold,
You might the distant stars behold,
Was not much better than a jelly;
Another, and another still,
Must feed the craving ivory mill,
And still to every keen performer
“The last is welcome as the former.”

 

 dav

We next visit a fashionable ball. In this illustration from The Adventures of a Post-Captain, you can just see the dancers in the background at the top left, but all attention is focused on the pink sofa where our hero woos his lady, ignoring the envious glances of others less favoured. The text beneath it reads:

The maiden listen’d, blush’d and look’d,
As she would have the words rebuk’d
But there was something in her eye.
Which seem’d to give the words the lie.

dav

Finally we attend a levée at Carlton House, seat of the Prince Regent, where Johnny Newcome, fresh from the Campaign in the Peninsula, presents him with the Trophies of Battle. Although our hero is fictional, this scene alludes to the retrieval of the baton of the French Marshal Jourdan from the abandoned coach of Napoleon’s elder brother Joseph Bonaparte, whom Napoleon installed as King of Spain in 1808. Joseph made a desperate attempt to escape Wellington’s advancing army in 1813, losing almost all his baggage in his headlong flight.  The baton was given to Wellington, who sent it to the Prince Regent.

To me, these prints and their accompanying text open a window on the real Regency. Perhaps it is because they were created with no thought to posterity that they are so appealing two hundred years later. Their vitality and immediacy invite us to step into their world, and I for one cannot resist.

©Catherine Kullmann 2017

Nor can I, Catherine!!

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And now for my review

This story opens heartbreakingly sadly. Young Olivia suffers the loss of her beloved mother, and inasmuch as her father and brother are off fighting the interminable war with France, she is left on her own with disappointed hopes. In Regency society, being without male protection translates as being quite vulnerable. Fortunately her uncle steps in to help. He approves when an acquaintance asks for Olivia’s hand in marriage. Unfortunately, neither Olivia nor her uncle are aware of who and what this acquaintance really is, what are his motives, and where his heart is truly engaged, setting Olivia up for a sad and loveless marriage of convenience.

After she is married she meets the man of her dreams. Altho’ he is a bit of a rascal (or maybe because of it!), I fell in love with Luke almost from the moment I “met” him. Illness prevents him from fulfilling his dream, as a second son, of joining the military, and he lives a rather dissolute life as he is also set adrift by his own disappointed hopes.

Ultimately, of course, they are both free to marry and enjoy a life of happiness together. Getting to that point, however, is not an easy straight line. The many twists and turns of their relationship are the stuff of this intriguing story, a story I could barely put down once I had started it.

What I liked most

There was so much I liked about this book that I hardly know where to start. Perhaps with the clever references to Pride and Prejudice? I’ll leave it to you to make these delicious discoveries for yourself.

Then there were the engaging characters and situations. All had the ring of reality to them, and I was pleased to be sharing their lives with them. One situation, and character, I had already been introduced to: Lallie Tamrisk, the star of Perception and Illusion, makes a cameo appearance, and I was happy to see her again, in a shocking scene touched on in P&I and featured in the 1972 movie Lady Caroline Lamb. Then I realized that P&I was written after TMoM. So now I wonder if Lallie simply grew into a larger role in P&I, and if we’ll see her yet again in Catherine’s next book? (Hint hint, Catherine!)

The new-to-me Regency words and expressions, as well as the general Regency history, that I learned here.

What I liked least

The vividly detailed description of The Battle of Waterloo. We who have never seen war close-up know events such as these simply as ticks on the timeline of history. To Luke and the other participants, however, they were far more personal, and even tho’ I admit to skipping some of this difficult reading, I actually found myself having nightmares about this nightmarish battle.

In short

If you enjoy well-researched and well-written historical novels incorporating a not-always-tender love story with a happily-ever-after ending, you will surely enjoy reading The Murmur of Masks.

I give it an enthusiastic five-star rating:

gold-stars-5

To learn more about Catherine Kullman and her writings, and for lots more treats and goodies, visit her website.

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Your comments, as always, are most welcome!

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And … if you haven’t already got your copy of Desperate Hearts, you can order a kindle copy here. Now also available on kindleUnlimited.

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Darcy and Elizabeth: Hope of the Future; Review, Guest Post, and Giveaway!

Hope-Future-frontcover700px-383x610.jpgI recently had the the pleasure of reading Sharon Lathan’s latest contribution to the body of Jane Austen-inspired literature that we Janeites refer to fondly as JAFF: Darcy and Elizabeth, Hope of the Future — Book 2 of the Darcy Saga Prequel Duo.

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Blurbing the book

Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet will soon be joined in Holy Matrimony!

The initial month of their Season of Courtship has passed. Together, the lovers strengthened their bond through honest communication, as they dealt with adversity, jealousy, and distrust. Ever growing in mutual love and understanding, a dramatic confrontation broke through the final barriers.

Now their Hope of the Future “happily ever after” is assured!

As long as Lady Catherine can be stopped in her scheme to interfere, that is. Or, will Mrs. Bennet’s bad advice ruin future marital felicity? Might increasing liberation lead to overwhelming passions that cannot be controlled, with catastrophe a result?

Continue the journey begun in Darcy and Elizabeth: A Season of Courtship. Delight in their flourishing romance, ride along on their escapades in London, and be a witness at the wedding of the century.

The miraculous design of how Two Shall Become One begins before the sacred vows.

Darcy and Elizabeth: Hope of the Future is Volume 2 of the “prequel duo” for Sharon Lathan’s Darcy Saga sequel series to Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

See below to order.

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Guest Post

I know many of you share my curiosity about “the story behind the story.” Today Sharon has been good enough to share some insights into the writing of this book.

sharon-lathanThank you, Janis, for hosting me on your blog today. It is an honor to be here, and a great pleasure to share my writing inspiration with your readers.

My latest novel, released earlier this month, is Darcy and Elizabeth: Hope of the Future. It is the second book in the two-volume Darcy Saga Prequel Duo, which began with Darcy and Elizabeth: A Season of Courtship. These two novels perfectly fit with my Darcy Saga Sequel to Pride and Prejudice, the series now including nine lengthy novels and one novella.

To understand my inspiration in writing these two novels, I first must backtrack a bit. Over ten years ago, I fell in love with Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. As my obsession with everything Austen and the Regency period grew, I stumbled upon the world of online fan-fiction variations and continuations. From there it was a swift leap to taking a chance at writing my own story, primarily because amongst the wealth of available stories, none matched the ideas germinating in my mind or satisfied the longing within my heart.

You see, I wanted to read a sequel stretching past the end of Pride and Prejudice, with a Darcy and Elizabeth who were happily in love and living a joyous marriage. As I vainly searched the plethora of fan-fiction websites, the continuation I yearned for persistently took shape inside my head. Whole scenes and conversations, in fact! The story swirled and crystalized, gaining in power until I could no longer resist the urge to try my hand at penning my vision of the Darcys.

Writing was a new challenge for me, a bit of a lark initially, and lots of fun. Yet from the outset, the core purpose—my aspiration—was to create something unique and hopeful.

My number one belief is that marriage can be fulfilling, harmonious, and passionate. The union of two souls is meant to be beautiful and enjoyable not just for a brief time but forever. Furthermore, the bond should grow stronger and deeper as time passes. In my estimation, a “realistic” marriage does not mean constant arguing, worsening miscommunication, waning love, misery and boredom when together, a stale physical relationship, and endless trauma. I firmly believe in the exact opposite!

I am also a huge history buff, so delving into the early 19th century in England was vitally important. Every step of the way, being historically accurate and weaving fascinating tidbits of the past into the story has been as much of a priority as the relationship between Darcy and Elizabeth.

Since it was their marriage which inspired my writing, I naturally began what became The Darcy Saga Sequel Series on their wedding day. Aside from a few “flashbacks” to the betrothal weeks—always written to enhance a scene or event in the present, as it were—I opted to move the story timeline forward.

Then, somewhere along the way, I realized that the intermittent “flashbacks” offered vague glimpses of an important interval in the complete arc of Darcy and Elizabeth’s romance. By ignoring these two months and skipping to their wedding, a number of intriguing questions were left unanswered.

How did Darcy and Elizabeth evolve from budding love to deep passion? How did they deal with the errors and misunderstandings from the original novel? How did two people who essentially barely knew each other become bonded and comfortable together?

What about the rest of the family? Surely Lady Catherine de Bourgh didn’t bow out gracefully! Did Mr. Darcy’s other titled relatives cause trouble too? Were the Bennets pleased with the union? Did the citizens of Meryton and London Society react favorably or unfavorably?

Additionally, as I researched courtship and wedding practices for other characters—Miss Darcy, Kitty Bennet, and Anne de Bourgh to name just three—I realized how much I had missed in not exploring the betrothal of Darcy and Elizabeth. The storytelling possibilities were too awesome to ignore!

Switching gears from writing a married couple to writing a newly engaged couple was a challenge. But I am SO glad I persevered. With the completion of the Prequel Duo, my overall theme and inspiration to reveal how “Two Shall Become One” and live the “happily ever after comes true” promise is knit perfectly.

I have many, many more stories to tell. After all, life is ongoing and true love never fails. The Darcys, along with their family and friends, will be around for a long while to come. I invite you to join in the adventurous journey, and where else should one start but at the beginning?  divider-line

The Excerpt

What would a post about a wonderful new book be without a tantalizing excerpt? Forthwith …

“William!” she exclaimed, shocked despite having done nothing but long for him all morning. They had said their emotional goodbyes last evening, so it had honestly not occurred to her to hope he would pause for a visit.

“Mr. Darcy!” Mrs. Bennet flew into the room, from wherever she had been, faster than the speed of light. “How absolutely delightful to see you! Oh my! I am all aflutter! We were not yet expecting guests. I am afraid you just missed breakfast, although I am sure Mrs. Price can prepare something in no time at all. We have fresh biscuits with strawberry jam made not a week ago, and coffee of course, with cream as you like it—”

“Please, do not trouble yourself, Mrs. Bennet,” Darcy hastily interjected when she finally paused for air. Tearing his eyes away from Lizzy, who was literally breathless, he bowed respectfully toward her mother. “I dined well this morning, thank you. I apologize for calling unannounced and unexpected. I am, as you know, departing for a short trip to Town. However, as I approached Longbourn, I felt it my duty to pause and pay my respects, yet again, for your outstanding hospitality these past weeks. I also regretted not asking if you have need of anything from the city, Mrs. Bennet. It would be my greatest honor to acquire anything you may need or want. The same is true, of course, for all of your fine daughters.”

“Oh, Mr. Darcy! You are so very kind!” Mrs. Bennet dabbed her teary eyes with her handkerchief. “My Lizzy is the most fortunate of women to have gained the notice of such a great man.”

“Thank you, madam. I judge myself the truly fortunate one. With your permission,” he said, rushing on before another word passed Mrs. Bennet’s parted lips, “may I be granted a moment alone with Miss Elizabeth?”

“Mama.” Jane gently clasped onto her mother’s arm and steered toward the door. “I completely forgot that Mrs. Price wanted our opinion on the marzipan for the wedding cake. Safe travels, Mr. Darcy.” At an added head bob to Kitty and Mary, they suddenly had vital duties elsewhere. In a matter of seconds, Lizzy and Darcy were alone, the women’s voices drifting through the narrow crack in the door from farther and farther down the hallway until they finally faded into silence. Well before the last retreating murmur, Darcy had crossed the room in three long strides and enfolded her hands in his.

“I could not bear to leave without seeing you—”

“I am so surprised to see you—”

Soft laughter stayed their jumbled confessions. Apparently deciding to forego unnecessary explanations altogether, Darcy bent for a tender kiss. A mere brush of his lips sent a jolt of desire through her body. Instinctively leaning to increase the pressure and parting her lips invitingly, Lizzy released a whining moan when he stepped back a pace.

After drawing a shaky breath, he professed teasingly, “I do not trust myself with you, Miss Bennet. For some bizarre reason, I lose all sense of propriety when kissing you. The gentleman Mr. Darcy vanishes as if he never existed.”

Smiling, he led her to the same sofa she had perched on for close to two hours that morning. “You appear amused, my darling. Then I haven’t disturbed you by dropping in unexpectedly?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. As if I would ever be disturbed to see you, William.”

“Glad to hear it. Honestly, I did not plan to stop. I thought I had convinced myself that our affectionate parting last evening was sufficient to hold me for the days I shall be in London. Alas, as my carriage neared Longbourn, the vision of you here, perhaps yet in your bedclothes, was too tempting. It was quite simply beyond my capability to resist.” Grinning, he reached up and tucked an unruly lock of hair behind her ear, his fingertips playfully tickling her lobe. Another tingling current cascaded through her until it created butterflies in her belly.

“So,” she stammered, “the stalwart Mr. Darcy confesses to weakness, does he? Unfathomable!”

“Indeed, it is true. Daily, I find my strength and control waning. I am helpless to do anything about it, other than pray for time to defy the laws of physics and bring November the twenty-eighth sooner than normal. It is entirely possible I may lose my mind for wanting you if the next ten days creep by.”

“Oh, the tragedy! A fine mind such as yours, sir, must be protected at all cost. Then I shall increase my prayers. Perhaps with the joint effort, along with Jane and Charles who are likely appealing to the heavens as well, God’s heartstrings will be tugged to perform a small miracle.”

He was still fixated on her ear, which was wreaking havoc with her insides. It didn’t help that his eyes had assumed a dreamy glassiness and were darkening with desire.

Goodness gracious but we are a pathetic pair of romantics.

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And now for my review

While most JAFF authors give us deliciously creative alternatives to or continuations of Jane’s wonderful stories, Sharon has followed a different path and provided us with precious insights into how Darcy and Elizabeth managed to get to that point in the first place. I have to admit that this Prequel Duo is the first I’ve encountered of this particular approach.

The result is a most enjoyable read. In Book 1, Sharon delved into the hows and whys of our dear couple’s growing mutual love, understanding, and respect. In Book 2, this continues as their commitment withstands the test of Lady Catherine’s enduring and vengeful disfavour, strengthening as it does so. We see Darcy standing up for the woman he loves against any and all objections, while Elizabeth learns to accept the foibles of the man she loves along with the ways in which her life will change once she is married: her status in society, her responsibilities, her increasing fortunes, and yes, her burgeoning sexual awareness. (There are some adult situations in both books, but no explicit sex.)

Of course there are joyous weddings and happily-ever afters for our two couples to reward our dear readers.

What I liked most

One of my requisites for JAFF stories is that I must fall even more in love with Mr Darcy by story’s end. No problem about that here!

Darcy has loosened up and moved past his haughty preconceptions. His visit to a London shopping mall had me grinning with amusement and delight. And his attentions to Elizabeth — whether alone with her or in company — warmed my heart.

The encounter between Darcy and his uncle the earl provided even more reasons to love him, while the same encounter inspired greater respect for Elizabeth and her father.

Extra credit is awarded for adequate face time for the charming Colonel Fitzwilliam, and there is surely enough to be found in this story!

What I liked least

Another confession: I had not read Book 1 of the Saga when I was invited to review Book 2, so I had to play catch-up. Reading both of these books at one time was certainly enjoyable, altho’ at the same time it left me little time for anything else (as my dear husband continually pointed out).

In short

If you love Darcy and Elizabeth and all the supporting characters in Pride and Prejudice, I cannot imagine that you will not love both of these books. I do warn you, however, that these are not “quick reads,” but substantial novels. Maintain harmony in your home by ensuring that you allow yourself adequate time to savour every word!

My star rating is:

gold-stars-5I look forward to the “many, many more stories” that Sharon has to tell.

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And now for the Giveaway!

Sharon has two (2) ebook copies of Darcy and Elizabeth, Hope of the Future — Book 2 of the Darcy Saga Prequel Duo available to those who comment on this post. The giveaway is open worldwide and will end at midnight EDST on Sunday, September 3 (for those of you in USA, that’s the day before Labour Day).

Good luck to each and every one of you!

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More about Sharon Lathan and her books:

Purchasing links

Amazon Kindle and Print   http://amzn.to/2uq4PGR

Barnes & Noble Nook and Print  http://bit.ly/2uGcuFn

Kobo digital  http://bit.ly/2wxZNJO

iBooks digital  http://apple.co/2v24Zoa

Sharon Lathan bio

Sharon Lathan is the best-selling author of The Darcy Saga sequel series to Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. Her first novel, Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Two Shall Become One, was published in 2009. Sharon’s series of “happily ever after” for the Darcys now totals nine full-length novels and one Christmas themed novella.

Darcy & Elizabeth: A Season of Courtship and Darcy & Elizabeth: Hope of the Future complete the “prequel to the sequel” duo recounting the betrothal months before the Darcy Saga began.

Sharon is a native Californian relocated in 2013 to the green hills of Kentucky, where she resides with her husband of over thirty years. Retired from a thirty-year profession as a registered nurse in Neonatal Intensive Care, Sharon is pursuing her dream as a full-time writer.

Sharon is a member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, JASNA Louisville, the Romance Writers of America (RWA), the Beau Monde chapter of the RWA, and serves as the website manager and on the board of the Louisville Romance Writers chapter of the RWA.

Sharon is the co-creator of Austen Authors, a group blog for authors of Austenesque literary fiction. Visit at:  www.AustenAuthors.com 

Connect with Sharon at the following places—
Website/blog:  www.SharonLathanAuthor.com
Facebook at Sharon Lathan, Novelist
Twitter @SharonLathan
Pinterest  SharonLathan62

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Your comments, as always, are most welcome. (Yes, even if you don’t want to enter the giveaway!)

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desp-hearts-coverAnd … if you haven’t already got your copy of Desperate Hearts, you can order a kindle copy here. Now also available on kindleUnlimited.

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All things matrimonial

martrimonial ladderCatherine Kullman, the author who brought you the Matrimonial Map, now introduces you to the Matrimonial Ladder. This rare Regency-era “comic book” is absolutely delightful and most charmingly illustrated.

Do stop by Catherine’s home on the Web and take a look.  While you’re there, you might want to see what other goodies you can find on her website. It’s one of my very favourites; one reason why is her Regency stories, like this one that I reviewed a while ago.

Apologies to my ESCD readers for being out of touch for so long … I went through a bout of ill health, including a (blessedly!) brief hospital stay, and am just catching up now. I have some wonderful reviews and other “stuff” — including giveaways — coming up soon, so please stop by again. G0d bless you, and wishing you all good health and happiness!

Your comments, as always, are most welcome.

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desp-hearts-coverAnd … if you haven’t already got your copy of Desperate Hearts, you can order a kindle copy here.

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Passages by Brenda J. Webb: Excerpt, review, and giveaway!

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Author Brenda J. Webb

Sometime last year when I was seriously getting into published JAFF (as opposed to fan fiction sites) I won a contest and received paperback copies of the first FOUR of Brenda Webb’s books. I was hooked! They were unlike most of the other JAFF I had been reading: Aside from being much lengthier and better-constructed than many JAFFs, they were non-canon and took our dear characters into exciting and formerly uncharted directions. They all share certain characteristics: Darcy is invariably portrayed as even more honourable, protective, and courageous when it comes to his loved ones, especially Elizabeth, so the reader ends up falling in love with him all over again. Brenda’s villains – including Wickham – are not just bad news but nefariously and fiendishly evil. I don’t know how she keeps coming up with these scenarios, but I certainly hope she continues to do so. Her stories are also appealing in that they allot plenty of face time to my favourite secondary JA character, the redoubtable Colonel Fitzwilliam, who I also end up loving even more by each book’s end.

Not to mention that there is always a happy ending for Darcy and Elizabeth, whilst the other characters get their happy endings or just deserts as they are merited.

Passages - book cover
Buy at amazon.com

Passages does not fail on any of these counts, and I’m delighted that Brenda was kind enough to provide an intriguing excerpt, and is also offering two (2) e-book copies to two lucky Every Savage Can Dance readers!

Blurbing the book:

Passages – A Pemberley Tale is a Pride and Prejudice variation. Not a simple retelling, it is an intriguing new story that does not follow canon.

Years after her ruin at the hands of George Wickham, Georgiana Darcy is a virtual prisoner at Pemberley as a result of her brother’s good intentions. Drastic changes have taken their toll, leaving brother and sister adrift from polite society.

Faithful to his vow to prevent further harm to his sister, Fitzwilliam Darcy has retreated from the few friends and acquaintances who still acknowledge him. Lonelier than ever, Darcy’s life is swallowed up by darkness until the day a young woman is discovered close to death on the estate grounds.

Unaware of her identity, Elizabeth Bennet finds herself the recipient of Fitzwilliam Darcy’s benevolence whilst she recovers from her own encounter with Wickham. Elizabeth’s presence breathes life back into Pemberley and its occupants, until Wickham returns with a nefarious plan to regain control of both Elizabeth and Georgiana.

Will Elizabeth fulfil her destiny and rescue Darcy from a desolate life or will the mystery of her parentage take her in another direction, leaving him alone once more?

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The excerpt:

After the last of the guests had departed, Richard walked his stoic cousin to the portico to await his carriage. Knowing her brother was leaving for Pemberley the next day, Georgiana had already said her  goodbyes and returned to her bedroom, allowing Richard and William some privacy. All too soon, the carriage pulled to a stop at the bottom of the steps, and they walked towards the pavement.

“I apologise for leaving you with the vultures circling. Mother and Georgiana insisted I meet Mrs. Forrester’s son, who recently enlisted in the army. I would never have left you, however, had you not been surrounded by your university cronies.”

“I have to admit it was good to see Sanderson, Goddard and Marshall once more. Marshall and I were never close friends, but he wanted me to know he supported me, which was extremely kind.”

“So you had a pleasant evening, in spite of the . . . how shall I put it . . . the adoration of the ladies?”

The corners of William’s mouth lifted. “With your help, most of the evening was tolerable.”

Recalling of the number of ladies introduced to Darcy after he returned to the ball, Richard’s thoughts flew to his mother. She had tried; he would give her that. Single-handedly, she had introduced Darcy to a dozen women, some quite lovely, though none had succeeded in getting more than a few words from him.

“Please stay in Town a while longer,” he said at last.

“I . . . I cannot. Pemberley calls.”

“I do not think it a good idea for you to go there now. With Georgiana and Belle here, you are sure to be even lonelier than before.”

William stopped staring into the night sky and turned to grasp his cousin’s shoulder. “I appreciate your concern, Richard. You are a true friend and brother, but I have matters to attend at home. All will be well, and I will write often. If you are in the area, you can always stop in to cheer me.”

Richard locked eyes with William. “You cannot fool me, Cousin. You miss her terribly.”

Gazing into the distance as if seeing his future, William replied, “I cannot lay it down, Richard. No matter where I am, she is with me. Still, I have no alternative. I cannot sit around wishing for things to change, and I am no longer certain that Elizabeth will return.”

A heavy sigh brought Richard’s arm around his shoulder. “She will come back to you, Darcy; of that I am certain. Wait for her here.”

“I cannot,” William said softly. Climbing into his carriage, he closed the door and leaned out the open window. “I will be well. Please try not to worry.”

Unable to shake the feeling of helplessness that engulfed him, Richard watched until the carriage disappeared into the darkness.

But I shall always worry about you, Darcy.  

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And now for my review:

In order to protect his sister, and himself, from further harm at the hands of “society,” Mr Darcy and his sister live a half-life hidden away at Pemberley. Then one rainy night, Darcy is out riding on his estate and comes across a severely injured young woman. As she is unable to remember who she is or why she is at Pemberley much less in such a state, Darcy does not expect her to completely change his life and Georgiana’s. Yet little by little she does just that, as well as changing the direction of her own future.

Elizabeth Bennet has been living a miserable life of her own at the hands of her mother, who is not merely ridiculous but a hateful harridan who has been taking out all of her frustrations and resentments on Elizabeth since she was a child … resentments related to the question of who is Elizabeth’s real father.

As Darcy and Elizabeth slowly fall in love with each other, each must overcome their own issues, shed their previous misery, and accept that they are worthy of love and happiness, in order to freely give and accept that love … and to build a future together. In doing so, they also lead family members to find and accept their own happy futures.

The path to happily ever after is not easy, and is beset with villainy of the most horrendous kind. And a good helping of admirable characters. This book, like Brenda’s other stories, is a gripping and magnificent ride that takes the reader from the depths of appalling criminality to the uncertainty of hope to the joys of true and tender love.

Be advised that there are some scenes of marital intimacy altho’ nothing explicit or pornographic.

What I liked most:

Darcy’s tenderness towards the unknown young woman he rescues.

Elizabeth’s courage rising as she faces a pair of fiends to learn the truth of her parentage.

Darcy’s skill at the pianoforte. Who knew?

How frighteningly well the villains are drawn.

How delightfully Georgiana, and the Colonel, eventually find their own paths to joy.

Darcy and Elizabeth’s wedding. Unique in JAFF as far as I know!

What I liked least:

I’ve known this point in the review was coming up and I’ve been racking my brain to find something I didn’t care for, but all I could come up with is: The book ended. I could have read on for another couple hundred pages!

In short:

Unless you’re a canon purist, you’ll love this book. If you enjoy a well-written, well-edited and exciting story featuring characters we all know and love, you’ll love this book.

I give it gold-stars-5

The giveaway:

Comment on this blog post by clicking Comments above. Two winners will be chosen at random this Friday, May 19th at 12noon. Giveaway is open internationally. Good luck!

Your comments, as always, are most welcome. (Even if you don’t want to enter the giveaway.)

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desp-hearts-coverAnd … if you haven’t already got your copy of Desperate Hearts, you can order a kindle copy here.

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Perception & Illusion, a Regency romance by Catherine Kullmann — review and excerpt

One of the great pleasures of reading JAFF is that I have also discovered Regency-era romance fiction. In fact I just finished reading a book in this genre: Perception & Illusion by Catherine Kullmann. Today I have not only a review for you but an excerpt as well … and a couple of extra treats.

Blurbing the book:

catherine-kullman

Cast out by her father for refusing the suitor of his choice, Lallie Grey accepts Hugo Tamrisk’s proposal, confident that he loves her as she loves him. But Hugo’s past throws long shadows as does his recent liaison with Sabina Albright. All too soon, Lallie must question Hugo’s reasons for marriage and wonder what he really wants of his bride.

Perception & Illusion charts Lallie’s and Hugo’s voyage through a sea of confusion and misunderstanding. Can they successfully negotiate the Rocks of Jealousy and the Shoals of Perplexity to arrive at the Bay of Delight or will they drift inexorably towards Cat & Dog Harbour or the Dead Lake of Indifference?

Catherine Kullmann’s skillful evocation of the Regency period rings true, as do her protagonists’ predicaments. It is a joy to step into this other world with her.

perceptionandillusioncover
Buy at amazon.com

The excerpt:

 

Perception & Illusion by Catherine Kullmann

Chapter One

The Great Ocean of Love represents a period of life that all persons are supposed at some time or another to pass.

Lallie knew the instant she set foot in the house that her father was making one of his rare visits to Alwood. It was difficult to define what had changed. The house was quieter, almost unnaturally so and the atmosphere was charged with a peculiar tension.

“Excuse me, Miss Grey.”

John, their only footman, noiselessly closed the door to the servants’ quarters and carefully steadied a tray of decanters and glasses before carrying it to the library. He wore his best livery. Balancing the tray on one hand, he slowly turned the door knob so that it didn’t squeak. Everyone knew that Mr Grey would not tolerate anything less than perfection and more than one servant had been turned off immediately for failing to meet his standards. It was as if he needed to assert his position as head of the household, despite the fact that he was the most distant of husbands and fathers, Lallie reflected as she hurried to the schoolroom. Her stepmother was not inclined to stand on ceremony at home, but her father would expect his younger children to make a formal visit to the drawing-room before dinner.

Her half-brother James, who was entertaining his younger sisters with stories of his prowess at cricket during the recent summer half, stood awkwardly at her entrance. He had shot up since they had last seen him and was not yet comfortable in this new body. “Lallie,” he reddened at his new deep tone, “will you help me later with my neckcloth? You know how my father is.” She smiled warmly at him. “Of course I will. Beatrice and Eleanor, come with me now, if you please. Once you are ready, you may sit quietly in my room while I change my gown. I’ll come to you then, James and we may all go down together.”

Robert Grey was a slim gentleman of medium height, his clothes the epitome of restrained perfection. His curly fair hair was clipped close and brushed forward a la Caesar, a modish style that suggested a nimbus of laurel leaves crowning his high forehead. The head so embellished was habitually cocked a little to one side while the faint curve to his lips spoke of a jest that only he could appreciate.

“Good God,” he said lightly, when his son followed his sisters into the drawing-room.

“What have we here? A hobbledehoy?”

“Dear James has grown so much, hasn’t he?” Mrs Grey said fondly, ignoring the boy’s

furious blush. “It won’t be long before he’s looking down on you, Robert. He takes after my father, of course.”

Lallie bit the inside of her cheek to stop herself smiling at her father’s petulant expression but something must have betrayed her inner amusement and his gaze swung to her.

“I trust you have been behaving yourself, miss.”

He might have been addressing a recalcitrant ten-year-old instead of a lady of almost twenty-four and Lallie’s chin went up. She met his eyes calmly. “I always do, sir.” He nodded dismissively and went to pour himself a glass of madeira. He sipped, then gestured to the pianoforte. “What have you prepared for our delight this evening, Eleanor?”

The girl blanched and glanced pleadingly at her elder sister. “Come, I’ll turn the pages for you.” As they bent over the music, Lallie whispered, “You play very well and even if you make a mistake, he won’t notice unless you stop. Remember how we practised keeping going?”

At Eleanor’s nod, Lallie spread open a sonatina by Clementi and positioned herself so that she partially shielded the child from her father’s gaze. She noticed that Mrs Grey was talking quietly to her husband on the opposite side of the room.

“He’s not really paying attention,” she hissed to her sister who sighed with relief and plunged into her music.

“Well done, brat,” James exclaimed as soon as she had finished. By the time his mother had finished scolding him for his unseemly language and he had apologised to her and to Eleanor, their father had grown weary of domesticity and dismissed the schoolroom contingent. Lallie was obliged to remain and follow her parents into the dining-room. She could imagine the consternation caused in the kitchen by Mr Grey’s unexpected arrival— while she and Mrs Grey usually sat down to a simple dinner of one course each evening, he would expect two courses with removes and a dessert.

Tonight he surveyed the table critically through his quizzing glass but, apart from complimenting his wife on the Maintenon cutlets, did not comment further on the meal, apparently content to satisfy her curiosity regarding the latest on-dits. He finally launched into a description of the Prince Regent giving Beau Brummel the cut direct.

Brummel then dished himself completely,” he continued with relish. “He looked at Alvanley and, as cool as you please, asked, ‘Ah, Alvanley, who is your fat friend?’ The Prince will never forgive him. He may be unable to prevent his wife roasting a wax effigy of him in front of her fire, but he will not tolerate such public insolence from one so far beneath him.”

“Nor should he,” Mrs Grey said. “I have little patience with these dandies who give themselves airs and set themselves up as the arbiters of all taste. They have ruined many a girl’s chances by declaring her a quiz on her first appearance so that no-one will have anything to do with her. I even heard of one cub who cut his own father because his parent presented too rustic an appearance. You may imagine how wounded the old gentleman was.”

“That’s disgraceful!” Lallie exclaimed.

Her father waved away her protest. “It is the way of the fashionable world. One either sinks or swims. Of course you know nothing of that.”

“That is hardly my fault, sir,” she retorted, nettled. “If my grandmother had lived I would have made my come-out five years ago.”

He narrowed his eyes at her. “To what avail, I wonder? Remember she had been completely cast off by her family. I once mentioned to her father that I had married the daughter of Lady Anna Staines. Martinborough looked down his nose and said, ‘I wish you joy, sir, but I do not know either lady’. And the Marchioness was for many years Lady of the Bedchamber to Her Majesty, so it is most unlikely that either you or your grandmother would have been received at court or awarded vouchers for Almack’s.”

Silenced, Lallie was grateful that her stepmother rose as soon as Mr Grey had finished speaking.

“We shall leave you to your port.”

“Go to bed, Lallie,” Mrs Grey instructed once the door had closed behind them. “Good night.”

“Good night, ma’am.”

“They say that young Mr Neville is betrothed,” Lallie told her maid as she prepared for bed. “Oh, who to?” Nancy carefully drew the brush through Lallie’s long, curling hair.

“A Miss Eaton. Her father is Sir William Eaton and she has seven and a half thousand pounds.”

Nancy began to braid the dark hair for the night. “That will please his parents, especially his mother. He wouldn’t have done for you, Miss Lallie. He’s too much under his mother’s thumb. What about the curate? Mrs Hersey would make a better mother-in-law.”

“I doubt if he can afford to wed, especially a penniless girl. He must support his mother and two sisters.”

Lallie liked the young clergyman, but was under no illusions about his circumstances and, if she were to be honest, did not feel that spark of attraction for him that she had felt for Lambert Neville. Still, her prospects were so bleak, she wasn’t sure she could reject an honourable gentleman whom she liked and respected, even if she did not love him.

Nancy tied a small ribbon around the end of the thick plait to hold it in place. “Any man would be proud to have you as a wife.”

Lallie looked fondly at her former nurse. As usual, she was dressed in a neat print dress in subdued shades, over which she wore a starched cotton apron and matching fichu that was pinned at her breast with a mourning brooch containing a lock of Lallie’s grandmother’s hair. To Nancy, this was the emblem of her sacred charge to care for Miss Lallie and she wore it as proudly as a soldier would a medal. Her fair hair was pulled severely back from her forehead into a tight bun which was covered by a lawn cap, but her face was still smooth and her blue eyes bright. She had looked like that as long as Lallie could remember.

“How old were you when I came to you?” she asked suddenly.

“Just sixteen, Miss Lallie. I’ll never forget that day. The house was all at sixes and sevens, with you coming so sudden and your poor mother took so bad.”

“And my father? Was he there?”

“He waited with your grandfather in the library. They called him in at the last. We had laid you in her arms, just for a moment, before the end, and she smiled faintly and was gone, poor lady. He looked down at her, said ‘my poor Louisa, lost to me, lost to me’, kissed her brow and left the room.”

Funny, Nancy thought, she had almost forgotten Mr Grey coming into the nursery the next day and standing beside the cradle. He had smiled oddly and said, ‘my daughter, o my ducats, o my daughter,’ and departed. She had thought ‘ducats’ to be a pet name, like ‘duckling’ or ‘ducky’, but Mrs Staines, who had come in behind him, had looked most strange, angry even and she had never heard him use the word again.

“But I had Grandmamma and Grandpapa and you,” Miss Lallie said. “You were younger then than I am now. Did you never want to get married, Nancy?”

“Not really, Miss Lallie. I had my offers, of course,” she said proudly, “but none that would have tempted me to leave the Rectory. Will that be all, Miss?”

“Yes, thank you, Nancy. I’ll sit and read for a while. Good night.”

“Good night, my dear Miss Lallie.” Nancy skimmed her hand over the younger woman’s hair in a familiar caress. While in public she punctiliously denoted her young mistress’s standing as the eldest daughter of the house by addressing her as Miss Grey, in private she made no secret of her devotion to the girl who had been hastily deposited in her arms as a new-born infant while more skilled attendants strove in vain to save her mother’s life.

Lallie drew her shawl more closely around her shoulders and curled up in the big, threadbare armchair. It had long since been removed to the attics but Mrs Grey had raised no objection when her stepdaughter had asked if she might have it brought to her bedroom. Now the chair was Lallie’s refuge. Here she could read or just let her thoughts drift. Her days were fully occupied; she spent the mornings in the schoolroom while the afternoons were devoted to whatever task Mrs Grey might care to allocate to her.

‘We have no place for idle hands here,’ she had said six years previously when Lallie had come to live at Alwood. ‘Your sisters may now benefit from your expensive education and otherwise you will assist me in my household duties. There is always something to be done.’

But once the evening tea-tray had been removed Lallie was excused, especially on those occasions when her father graced them with his presence.

So the squire’s heir was betrothed. She smiled ruefully, remembering how he had dazzled her at his coming of age ball. She had been in alt when he had twice requested her to stand up with him. Not only that, he had called the next day to invite her to drive out with him and his sister. But her stepmother could not spare her and not long afterwards he had departed for London to acquire some ‘town bronze’, as his father had put it. That had been the end of his interest in a provincial miss.

Lallie sighed. How different her life might have been if Grandmamma had not succumbed to that virulent attack of influenza. Her memories of those grim days were all confused. Her father had been sent for but by the time he arrived in Cornwall the funeral was over and he had insisted on leaving the next day, taking her with him. The journey to Sussex had seemed endless; her head had ached the whole time. She had no memory of arriving at Alwood, just what a relief it had been not to be jolted in the carriage. Then she had been very ill; by the time she had been allowed to leave her room, it was as if a curtain had descended, separating her from her previous life.

At least I have Nancy, Lallie thought. What would I have done if my father had not agreed to take her too? And she is so good to stay with me, even though she has to look after the others as well. She might have preferred to remain near her own family.

Downstairs, Robert Grey poured a glass of port for his wife, who had returned to the dining-room. “Otherwise, all is well here?” he asked casually.

“As well as can be. That is good news about young Neville, although his mother was just as opposed to a match between him and Lallie as we were.”

“But that was some years ago.”

“Lallie still harbours a certain tenderness for him, I think, although I warned her at the time that only a bride with a good fortune and of impeccable breeding would satisfy his mother and that she could not lay any claim to her grandmother’s family; in fact to be disowned, as Mrs Staines was, was worse than having no connection. That taint is not, of course, attached to our children,” she finished with a smug smile.

He raised his glass in appreciation. “How old is she now?”

“She’ll be twenty-four next week.”

“The devil she will!”

“Why, Robert, what is the matter?”

“Her trust comes to an end when she is twenty-five. The trustees will write to her directly then, seeking her instructions.”

“Surely you will continue to handle her affairs?”

“She would have to agree. I found her rather pert this evening.”

“She is certainly not as amenable to direction as she once was, especially since she became friendly with the Herseys. They have set up a little literary circle, as they call it, and it would have looked very odd if I had tried to forbid Lallie to join. Don’t forget I have no true authority over her, should she choose to question it. Allowing her a little independence now may help us retain her income and her services. She is sincerely attached to the girls and has proved to be an excellent governess at no expense to us. Remember her trustees also pay her maid’s wages. All in all, Lallie’s presence contributes some one hundred and forty pounds per annum to this household. I should feel it if she were to leave us. Who knows what she may decide to do once she becomes aware that she is heiress to a little competence.”

Her husband looked thoughtful but said no more.

Excerpt Perception & Illusion © Catherine Kullmann 2017

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Really leaves you wanting more, doesn’t it?

And now for my review:

There seem to be trends in historical romance fiction; recently I’ve come across no less than three stories about young ladies of little fortune or dubious parentage (or both) who come into an inheritance of fortune and title to gain a higher place in society. Perception & Illusion is amongst them, and certainly one of the better ones.

The heroine is a lovely, almost penniless young girl with bleak prospects for the future who drifts through a quiet country life … until she meets a young man who is line for a peerage. They fall in love and get married in very short order. After they are married she learns that she is in fact an heiress, and her new husband is concerned that people will think him a fortune-hunter. That is only the first of many misconceptions to which this loving couple succumb; their marriage is a series of cross-purposes that serve to prevent them from finding their true happily ever after.

In one heart-breaking encounter after another, they misinterpret each other’s actions and seem destined to end up like all the other loveless couples of their acquaintance, until a final showdown forces them to face their own failures to understand the other. Will these revelations lead them to a closer and more loving understanding, or will it compel them to admit their marriage was a mistake and push them even further apart?

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What I liked most:

How the author charmingly relates each chapter to the Matrimonial Map.

The way the main characters are drawn as sympathetic but flawed.  My heart really ached for them to learn to better understand each other, because I very much liked both of them. It was impossible not to root for them to find the happiness they deserve.

HoundMam’selle ‘Ubertine (see photo).

Insights into Regency life, and learning some new terms from the era.

A mostly clean read with just enough spice, and with only a very occasional typo.

What I liked least:

The sheer number of characters. Each one was indispensable to the story, but I have to admit that I tend to lose track of characters when there are so many in a story – especially if they have titles and thereby essentially two names (e.g., John Jones, Earl of Smith). Eventually, however, everything fell into place.

In short:

If you like Pride and Prejudice, the ultimate story of two lovers being at cross-purposes, I am certain you will enjoy Perception & Illusion. I know I did. A definite five-star read!

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Catherine’s website is a treasure trove of Regency information and fun stuff. Do stop by!

Your comments, as always, are most welcome!

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And … if you haven’t already got your copy of Desperate Hearts, you can order a kindle copy here. desp-hearts-cover

 

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A Dance with Mr Darcy by Regina Jeffers: Review, excerpt, and giveaway

I’m so pleased to be reviewing Regina’s latest book, and am also delighted that she is offering readers of ESCD not only an excerpt but also a very generous giveaway!

Blurbing the book:

regina-jeffers
Author Regina Jeffers

The reason fairy tales end with a wedding is no one wishes to view what happens next.

Five years earlier, Darcy had raced to Hertfordshire to soothe Elizabeth Bennet’s qualms after Lady Catherine’s venomous attack, but a devastating carriage accident left him near death for months and cost him his chance at happiness with the lady. Now, they meet again upon the Scottish side of the border, but can they forgive all that has transpired in those years? They are widow and widower; however, that does not mean they can take up where they left off. They are damaged people, and healing is not an easy path. To know happiness they must fall in love with the same person all over again.

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The excerpt:

A Dance With Mr Darcy copy 2
Buy at amazon

Chapter 1

A Dance with Mr. Darcy: A Pride and Prejudice Vagary

“IT IS SHE,” HE MURMURED as his gaze settled upon her back. Even without viewing her countenance, Darcy’s body recognized the woman some thirty feet removed. If it were not for the biting wind stinging his cheeks, he might think himself asleep, for not a night had passed since he was last in her company—and all the previous nights of their acquaintance—that he did not dream of her; yet, she was not a dream, but rather flesh and blood. His breathing hitched higher.

During the daylight hours, he had prided himself upon not permitting his mind to conjure up her memory more than a half dozen times per day, but he always welcomed her into slumber’s embrace each night. Even during the fourteen months he had claimed Miss Amelia Davenport to wife, it had been Elizabeth Bennet in his arms. Often, Darcy had felt guilty for closing his eyes and pretending that his sweet, docile Amelia was the enticing maid from Hertfordshire who had stolen his heart long before Lady Matlock had arranged a joining between him and her niece.

“What is Elizabeth doing some twenty miles northwest of the Scottish border?” he whispered as he watched her checking the shutters of the small, but tidy-looking, inn in preparation for the storm. “And where is her husband?”

The word “husband” left a bitter taste in Darcy’s mouth. It was some six months after her marriage before he learned of Elizabeth’s joining, and by then there was little he could do but to continue with his life, such as it was at the time. It was only the realization that her marriage was forever that permitted him to accept his Aunt Matlock’s matchmaking schemes.

“Should I ask within if the innkeeper has accommodations available, Mr. Darcy?” His footman waited several feet off Darcy’s shoulder.

“No, that is not necessary, Jasper. Even if we must sleep upon the floor, we can travel no further with the coach having a broken crank neck.” He glanced again across the busy inn yard. If he were a sane man, he would continue to the next village, which was reportedly fewer than three miles removed, according to his coachman. Walking would not be the best choice, considering the condition of his left ankle and the knowledge of the approaching storm; however, he had long ago accepted his obsession with the woman shaking out her skirts and admiring her work. Sanity and Elizabeth Bennet were in opposition. “I will speak to the lady; you speak to the ostler in preparation for Mr. Farrin and my coach’s arrival.”

“Yes, sir.”

Darcy paused before making his way across the inn yard. What type of welcome would he receive? They had so often been at odds, but he assumed they had reached a better understanding when they had been together at Pemberley. Yet, the debacle with her youngest sister’s elopement had proven nearly more than he could manage. Nevertheless, he thought he had carved a path to a happy joining between him and Elizabeth, but G0d had a way of laughing in a man’s face when said man attempted to take control of another’s future.

“Might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb,” he chastised and began picking his way across the yard. The cane he had always carried for fashion and for protection from footpads now assisted in supporting his weight. “Could not dance at the Meryton assembly now,” he repeated in ironic tones. “No matter how tolerable I might find the lady.”

He did not step up to the wooden walkway; instead, Darcy remained in the inn yard where he might enjoy the hitch of her skirt to expose a trim ankle as she stepped upon a low stool to reach the upper shutter. He cleared his throat before saying, “Good afternoon, Miss Elizabeth.”

Her shoulders stiffened, and he noted that her fingers clutched at the wooden shutter for support. After a long pause, she stepped down and slowly turned to face him. If he thought he might receive a warm greeting, he was sadly mistaken. “Good afternoon, Mr. Darcy. However, I must insist that you no longer refer to me as ‘Miss Elizabeth.’ I have been Mrs. McCaffney for nearly four years.”

“I fear I never knew the gentleman’s name,” Darcy said in apology.

She pulled her shawl tighter about her as if to ward off his words as much as to brace against the wind that had kicked up. “I assure you Mr. McCaffney could never be accused of being a gentleman. All he owned was this fine establishment.” She gestured wildly, which was quite uncharacteristic of the lady he knew. Elizabeth Bennet always displaed confidence, even when she had erred miserably.

“Nevertheless, I would know pleasure in having Mr. McCaffney’s acquaintance,” he said in strained politeness. He thought he would go mad when he had learned of her marriage. Bingley had encountered Sir William Lucas in Town, and Sir William had shared the news of the marriages of both Miss Bennet and of Miss Elizabeth. While Bingley had ranted and raved against the injustice, all Darcy could do was to bite hard upon his tongue and swallow the cry of anguish ripping through him. The torment had been worse than any pain he had ever suffered, including the one that never disappeared from his left leg.

“Mr. McCaffney met his end one summer night some two years back when he thought to take a boat out to meet a group of smugglers off the Scottish coast,” she stated without emotions in her expression or in her voice.

“Then who is the inn’s proprietor?” Darcy demanded in incredulity.

She spoke in clipped tones. “I own McCaffney’s Coaching House.” She nodded to his coach as it limped into the yard. “I see you require assistance. I suppose you desire accommodations also.”

There was something in her tone that stifled any hope he might have experienced with the news of her husband’s death. “If it would not be an imposition,” he replied in contrition.

“I am accustomed to those who practice impositions.” Gathering her skirts about her, she turned on her heels to lead the way. “I fear with the approaching storm, I am already quite full. I have but one small room at the back of the third story passageway. It is nothing of the nature of which you are accustomed, but it is clean and dry.”

He expelled a long sigh of exhaustion. The walk had claimed more from him than he had expected. And now he was to revisit his emotional connection to the woman entering the inn door without a glance in his direction to see if he followed. Perhaps G0d meant for him to confront his ghosts, so he might carve out a fresh path and perhaps come to know a bit of peace, at last. Darcy had long ago given up on the possibility of happiness. With a soft grunt signaling the stiffness in his step, he lurched forward to enter the darkened common room. She waited for him behind a high-legged table about three feet long and covered with a white linen cloth.

“What brings you to Scotland, Mr. Darcy?” she asked as she handed him a sharpened pen to sign the register. Meanwhile, she retrieved a ring of keys from a locked box and selected the one he would require.

“I inherited a small property some five and twenty miles north of here,” he said cautiously. “It is near the larger Fitzwilliam estate. I planned to stay at Lord Matlock’s manor house while inspecting the inherited land.”

“Most would do so in the spring, rather than in January,” she remarked without looking upon him.

“Which is exactly why I chose this time of year. No one will have made preparations or renovations to impress me. I mean to know whether the property can sustain the livings that depend upon it.”

She turned to lead the way up the stairs. “Follow me.”

Since his accident, stairs were his least favorite architectural element of any structure, but he could customarily manage; however, on this particular day, his leg was slow to respond to more exercise. Nonetheless, he gritted his teeth to persevere, for he did not wish for the woman slowly climbing the stairs ahead of him to view him to be as weak as he sometimes felt.

She glanced over her shoulder at him. “Is the Fitzwilliam estate of which you speak the colonel’s family? How fares your cousin?”

Darcy slowed to keep his balance upon the narrow stairs. “Fitzwilliam is more than my cousin. He is my brother, for he is Georgiana’s husband.”

An ironic smile turned up the corners of her lips. “Then the colonel claimed his heiress. It gladdens me to hear it.”

“I assure you, convenience was not the reason for their joining,” he snapped.

Her chin rose in predictable defiance. “I never thought a marriage between Miss Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam would be anything but a happy occasion for your family. My brief acquaintance with your sister said she would never settle for less than a comfortable marriage. I simply recalled something the colonel shared while we were all at Rosings Park.”

A familiar pain of regret caught Darcy’s good sense. “I imagine you would have accepted Fitzwilliam’s proposal if my cousin had been in a position to utter one.”

“I thought I knew something of the colonel’s character,” she said in defensive tones.

“And nothing of mine,” he charged.

Before she could respond, a familiar countenance appeared at the foot of the stairs. “Lizzy,” she called, but halted when she spotted him on the stairs. “Well, look who the cat—“

Elizabeth interrupted in impatient tones, “What is amiss, Lydia?”

The chit smiled knowingly at him before she answered her sister. “Mr. Simpson and the mail coach have arrived with three passengers. He says the roads are quickly becoming impassable. He means to stay the night and perhaps longer. I told him we were full, but he insists.”

Darcy noted the girl’s “we,” and he wondered if he were also to encounter his long-time foe, Mr. Wickham.

“Tell Simpson we can put him and the others on mattresses in the private room. If more arrive, we may need to ask some of our regulars to share rooms. We always manage somehow, do we not, Lyddie?”

Her sister chuckled with a sly look. “We do very well, Lizzy.” Mrs. Wickham gave him a long look. “Will Mr. Darcy be required to share a room?”

“As Mr. Darcy has the small corner room, I doubt sharing will be necessary or even possible,” Elizabeth explained.

“I would expect nothing less,” the girl said with a lift of her shoulders in indifference before she returned to the noisy entrance.

“I fear you must forego a private room for supper, sir,” Elizabeth said as she turned back to the task at hand.

He released a long sigh. Nothing had changed: They were still from step. Following her slow progress, he said, “If it would not be an imposition, please send a tray to my room. I am a bit weary.” He spoke the truth: His ankle throbbed from the nearly two-miles’ walk to reach the inn. He needed to remove his boot and rest his ankle and calf muscle. “If you are too busy, Jasper can carry it up.” He knew the footman would call at his room to act as Darcy’s valet for the evening. “I did not ask, but I assumed there would be rooms for Jasper and Mr. Farrin.”

“Above the stables, there are several small rooms created by low partitions. All have cots and mattresses. The animals keep the area warm with their heat.”

What more was there to say between them? She was obviously not happy to see him upon her threshold. “Then our business is settled,” Darcy announced as she handed him the room key and stepped aside.

“It is as it always was, Mr. Darcy,” she said with a snit. “Your wishes are absolutes.” She turned to shove her way past him while he was left wondering why she despised him so. Mayhap Mr. Wickham had created new lies to fill her mind. Needless to say, with Mrs. Wickham under her roof, it would be easy for Darcy’s former friend to do so. It was as if she had learned to loathe him again. “And here I thought after our time at Pemberley that we could, at least, claim a friendship,” he murmured as he closed the room door on her retreating form.

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Wow, right?

And now for my review:

All JAFF/Regency readers, I suppose, have their favourite authors. Regina Jeffers is one of mine because I know her stories will always be not only well-written and very much respectful of the original, but both make me smile and tug at my heartstrings, and I’ll learn one or two things about (Regency) history to boot.  A Dance with Mr Darcy does not disappoint, and also encompasses one of my basic requirements for JAFF: I must fall even more in love with Mr Darcy by book’s end. Check, check, check, check, and double-check.

From the very first sentence I was hooked, as I am sure you were too when you read the excerpt. You can feel Darcy’s heartbreak and yearning in just these three words.

Elizabeth and Darcy have both been married and widowed. Her husband was a brutal SOB and she of course has regrets about marrying him, while he regrets taking a wife who could never be her. They come together again from some rather dark places; as Elizabeth observes, these are not the carefree young man and woman who once shared hopes that were cruelly dashed.

Both of them have had to learn to be stronger people: Darcy to accept the physical weaknesses resulting from his injuries, and Elizabeth to simply survive (and as she does so, to thrive) first the cruelty of her husband and then his death. Seeing each other again reignites the love, the passions, and the hopes for the future that they once shared. I will not say that their meeting was a coincidence because I do not believe in coincidences: everything happens for a reason. And I cannot say that their reacquaintance reignites their dreams, because they have in fact kept their dreams of each other very much alive.

This is a story about second chances, about the strength it often takes to let go of the comfort zone we have built for ourselves and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable again, and to accept that second chance. And, of course, the joy it can ultimately bring when we do.

What I liked most: Darcy and Elizabeth telling each other about their personal fears. This was for me the most heart-rending yet hopeful scene in the book.

Plenty of misunderstandings to be overcome. This is after all Darcy and Elizabeth!

The new characters. I particularly liked Sir Robert.

The “old” characters. I am very partial to stories that give plenty of face time to Colonel Fitzwilliam.

Learning new stuff: I had never heard of St Agnes Eve before.  Or dumb cake (really?). And who knew what a footpad was?!

What I liked least: That the end of the story sort of snuck up on me! Usually I check to see how many more pages are left in a book, and altho’ I did check periodically, and while the ending was very satisfying, I was just so disappointed that it came about sooner than I expected.

In short: Another don’t-miss five-star story by Regina Jeffers. BTW, if you are fascinated by history and love learning about arcane words and expressions, I highly recommend that you follow her blog.

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And now for the giveaway. I have two eBook copies of A Dance with Mr. Darcy available to those who comment on this post. The giveaway will end at midnight EDST on April 3, 2017. Good luck all!

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And … if you haven’t already got your copy of Desperate Hearts, you can order a kindle copy here. desp-hearts-cover

 

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Review and guest post: Suzan Lauder’s Alias Thomas Bennet

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Buy now at Amazon

As I’ve mentioned previously in various forums, I arrived late at the JAFF party and am still playing catch-up. When I enjoy an author’s newest release, I seek out their previous works. As I did in this case: after reading and enjoying Letter from Ramsgate, I searched for previous books by Suzan Lauder. And found Alias Thomas Bennet.  And I’m very glad I did.

The premise is, as far as I know, unique amongst JAFFs: it’s almost like stepping through the looking glass. The Bennet family is no longer dysfunctional, but is headed by a very engaged father who cares for his wife and daughters as well as being a successful estate manager. Mrs Bennet, recipient of the love and respect of her husband, is still concerned about getting her daughters married, but not dementedly so, and she provides loving care as well as an excellent role model for her daughters to become ladies, wives, and mothers.  The eldest two Bennet sisters are essentially unchanged (well, except for reaping the benefits of a surprise familial relationship), while the other three sisters retain their original personalities altho’ tempered into more positive and productive actions and activities. Not canon by any means, but thoroughly enjoyable.

Mr Bennet and Mr Darcy form a close friendship, and slowly tho’ ultimately Darcy and Lizzy grow into their own loving relationship. Lauder’s version of Lizzy here retains all the traits with which Austen endowed her, amplified by a greater strength and confidence. The author has created her character to reflect the modern view of an accomplished lady.

There are numerous flashbacks in the telling of the story, and to own the truth I did have a little trouble keeping the story line straight at first. Then two things happened: First, I was reading a used paperback copy of the book, and apparently whoever read the book before me was having similar difficulties and had actually drawn an interconnected timeline of events which I discovered tucked away in the pages! And then the author herself brings the story together in a series of well-crafted scenes that left me with a feeling of understanding calm; what one would call a lightbulb moment. These both occurred not too far into the story, so for most of the time I had a very clear grasp of what was going on.

As with Letter from Ramsgate, Lizzy and Darcy display rather more physical passion than their original counterparts ever did – or at least that we *saw* them do, altho’ I suspect most of us had our suspicions about them! This story gives them more leeway, and definitely has some spice to it.

The author has asked me to be sure to repeat the warning she has posted on the book’s back cover:  “This book contains one brief scene of non‑explicit sexual violence that may be concerning to sensitive readers. The sexual violence does not involve Elizabeth Bennet.” Altho’ I viewed the scene dispassionately, I did find the events a bit shocking. It is, however, integral to the plot. There are several very vague references to these events at various points in the story, so if you want to skip the scene, you won’t be left out in the cold; you’ll still get the gist of the story. (And you’re welcome to contact me and I’ll tell you the pages you might want to avoid, and the one(s) that clarify the story, in the event that you do want to avoid this trigger.)

A definite five-star rating for Alias Thomas Bennet!

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suzan-lauderSuzan Lauder kindly agreed to provide a guest post to accompany this review. When she asked me to suggest a topic, I in turn asked her what her inspiration was for this story. Here is her response:

I’m a regular contributor on the Jane Austen website A Happy Assembly. In some discussions and in AHA chat, it became evident that some readers loved Mr. Bennet for his acerbic wit and humorous evaluation of other peoples’ characters while others disliked him for his obvious lackadaisical attitude towards parenting and financial responsibilities. It showed that Mr. Bennet’s personality was a fairly important element in the direction of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Given that circumstance, I began to think to myself what the novel would be like if his flaws were erased or minimized. I began to think of the plot of P&P and what essential scenes would change.

Mr. Bennet would go meet Mr. Bingley without having to be browbeaten into it. He would attend the Meryton Assembly, let Jane have the carriage to go to lunch with the Bingley sisters, and try to modulate the behaviour of his wife and younger daughters. But I needed a mechanism to facilitate this changed personality, and that’s how the mystery part of the story fit in.

Side issues that were strong possibilities with a changed Mr. Bennet emerged: it would be fun if he were close friends with Darcy so Elizabeth and Darcy knew each other better prior to Hunsford. Mr. Bennet would be in love with his wife and would calm her when she became agitated. To show where Mrs. Bennet’s nervous personality emerged from her youth, a carriage wreck and a startling assault open the novel.

The timelines for everything that ran parallel in the story were so critical, I even mapped out Jane’s and Elizabeth’s birthdays! That’s how complicated “what if Mr. Bennet were exactly opposite of his personality in canon” becomes!

Alias Thomas Bennet is available in paperback and ebook versions at the usual outlets. And, as I have previously mentioned, as a used book.

Your comments, as always, are welcome.

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And … if you haven’t already got your copy of Desperate Hearts, you can order a kindle copy here. desp-hearts-cover

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