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It is my pleasure to welcome Cat Gardiner to Diary of an Eccentric today to celebrate the release of her latest novel, Undercover. I will be reviewing this fantastic-sounding novel in June, so stay tuned!

UNDERCOVER – AN AUSTEN NOIR
THE ROMANTIC COLLISION OF THREE WORLDS

Thank you, Anna, for inviting me to share Undercover with your readers at Diary of An Eccentric. It is an honor to visit for the first time and introduce another side of my Pride and Prejudice inspired work.

undercover book coverMy latest novel was written on a dare, believe it or not. Pamela Lynne, my publishing partner and friend at Vanity & Pride Press, and I were chatting one night when she had a light-bulb moment for me to write something that hadn’t been done in the JA fandom before: A crime fiction Noir in my own Cat-style. I was unsure that I could do it justice lest both Jane Austen and Raymond Chandler rolled over in their graves. But Pamela wouldn’t let up, confident that if I can write WWII-era Romantic Dramas as well as a Mr. Darcy on a Harley that I would be up for the task and neither authors would be offended — too much. My muse, feeling uninspired in another project, eventually took up the challenge. And what a challenge it was given that I only write third person and that I didn’t want to make the story too dark, and, of course wanting to provide a happy ending. The latter two, IMHO are essential for an Austenesque novel, but not for a true Noir. Yet, I needed to incorporate all the other elements that make an intriguing, hard-boiled detective novel, simultaneously giving it my own voice within, something that my readers have come to expect.

Undercover became a collision of three worlds, two that were already familiar. My adoration of 20th Century Historical Fiction and my love of Pride and Prejudice together combined with the sultry, dramatic theme of Noir (or more precisely, in the case of Undercover, hard-boiled crime fiction, but that wouldn’t read well on the book cover.😉 )

The Austenesque theme for me was easy since my style of P&P is inspired, giving me much more latitude in where I can go with our dear characters in a modern world. This novel kept certain character traits but focused on a 20th Century “What-if” scenario.

What if in 1952:

• What if Wickham was more debauched than we had realized?
• What if Mary King’s uncle hadn’t whisked her away to safety?
• What if Elizabeth hadn’t married, either to save her family’s future or for love and instead chose to become a career girl.
• What if Jane was truly a vain and mercenary creature and sibling rivalry existed between the two “most beloved” sisters?
• What if that relationship with Jane altered Elizabeth, making her insecure and feeling unworthy — maybe even unloved? Would she be more susceptible to Wickham’s advances?
• What if Bingley had arrived — with Darcy — after Wickham had come and gone?
• What if Darcy’s back story tormented him? Any other man (except our Darcy) would have been broken, but he hid his anguish behind a façade.
• What if Elizabeth met Darcy as a matured, confident woman who knew what she wanted and was already settled into a non-traditional role in society.

blackandwhiteNow for the challenging part of incorporating some of the thematic elements of a post-WWII, hard-boiled detective story. Unlike characters Sam Spade, Charlie Chan, and Philip Marlowe, we are not hearing their voice in a first person narrative – Undercover is told in a third person, alternating POV. But what we do have is:

• A gruff tone when in certain characters’ POV, using slang and period words like “dame,” “flatfoot,” “moxie.”
• Necessary characters such as a police detective, a femme fatale, a private investigator, the shrew, the sympathetic friend, the psycho, and the emotionally scarred, beefcake hero who always gets the girl.
• An intricate plot with flashbacks and a smoking gun.
• A visual mood, filled with shadows and a dark city, smoky bars, and the ever-present cigarette.
• Sensuality in the darkness.
• Clichés and similes that don’t quite make sense, yet add to the thematic traits of a rough-around-the-edges police detective from the wrong side of the tracks.

The third component of Undercover is the part I live and breathe: 20th Century Historical Fiction and the fun of weaving research finds into the novel. The backdrop is set in New York City, 1952, at a time when gender equality wasn’t any further along following the gains of the “Rosie the Riveter” vital movement into the workforce. Post-war life had settled back into a focus on family (hence the following Baby-boomer Generation) in an attempt to return to normalcy by restoring all things to pre-war 1941. Women had been forced out of the factories when “the boys” returned home. “Career girls” existed, of course, but in limited areas such as nursing, secretarial, and shop girls. Certainly not as a gumshoe (private investigator) such as Elizabeth. But in Undercover, we also explore an alternative career choice prevalent in NYC at the time on 52nd Street: that of a bump-n-grind girl, a stripper.

Historically, 1952 was an iconic (and atomic) year of milestones – but today, they seem blips on the map of forgotten historical significance. Just to name a few:

• In this early Cold War era, we were two years into the Korean War, which, then, had been referred to as a “police action,” yet history would tell us how more than 40,000 American G.I.s never came home.
• General Dwight D. Eisenhower became President with a slogan “I Like Ike,” vowing to bring our boys home.
• Codename “Mike,” the United States’ first hydrogen bomb had been successfully tested on an atoll in the South Pacific.
• The first sexual reassignment was performed.
• Senator Joseph McCarthy’s investigation into un-American, Communist activities sparked the Second Red Scare in America, coining the term “McCarthyism.”

havanaAs our hero and heroine travel from New York City to Havana, it was a wonderful experience to embark on research about the complicated political atmosphere, yet dynamic lifestyle of pre-Castro Cuba in 1952.

In a coup d’etat, Fulgencio Batista had returned to power as president and brutal dictator and the Communist movement went temporarily underground. With a corrupt government fostering the long relationship, the American Mafia continued to have a pretty good gig in Havana, running luxury hotels, casinos and the nightlife. The capital had been prosperous and bustling with both commercial and high-roller tourist trades.

This brought me to discover a true historical gem within the pearl of Cuba: Central Hershey, a little-known sugar plantation, refinery, and chocolate manufacturing worker town thirty miles outside of Havana. This town with its houses, school, hotel, shops, railroad, casino, and orphanage had changed lives from 1920-1945. I used this location as a backdrop to a dangerous rescue in the dark of night by our gumshoe and her brooding man.

History—and chocolate aficionados—will enjoy this video.

Pull it all together, sprinkle in a soundtrack with period music that sets the scene in places such as the Copacabana and the Tropicana Club, add a dash of visual inspiration with a Pinterest board, and you have a mixture of three worlds in an Austenesque novel that was supposed to have been a novella! Take a chance on Undercover; I hope you’ll enjoy this unique, sultry mystery with a Mr. Darcy in a fedora!

Thank you again, Anna, and thank you, dear readers, for the welcome to Diary of an Eccentric!

AUTHOR BIO

Cat Gardiner loves romance and happy endings, history, comedy, and Jane Austen. A member of National League of American Pen Women, Romance Writers of America, and her local chapter TARA, she enjoys writing across the spectrum of Pride and Prejudice inspired romance novels. From the comedic Christmas, Chick Lit Lucky 13, and bad boy biker Darcy in the sultry adventure Denial of Conscience, to the romantic comedy Villa Fortuna, these contemporary novels will appeal to many Mr. Darcy lovers. Her newest release is a sultry Pride and Prejudice Noir, just released 4/20/16.

Her greatest love is writing 20th Century Historical Fiction, WWII-era Romance. Her debut novel, A Moment Forever, will release in late spring 2016 with The Song is You following.

Married 23 years to her best friend, they are the proud parents of the smartest honor student in the world — their orange tabby, Ollie. Although they live in Florida, they will always be proud native New Yorkers.

GIVEAWAY

Cat is generously offering 2 ebooks of Undercover to my readers. To enter, please leave a comment with your email address telling me why you want to read the book. The giveaway will close on Sunday, May 1. The winners will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!

© 2016 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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SE final 4Today, I have the pleasure of hosting Rose Fairbanks as she celebrates the release of her latest novel, Sufficient Encouragement, a Pride and Prejudice variation and the first book in the When Love Blooms series. I really enjoyed editing this novel, as it combines Rose’s love of both Austen’s characters and history.

About Sufficient Encouragement:

We are all fools in love…

Some say a lady’s imagination is very rapid. Such is the case when Elizabeth Bennet overhears that Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy admires her eyes. She thinks nothing for herself, but immediately considers her dearest sister’s growing attachment to Mr. Darcy’s friend. If Elizabeth spurns such a wealthy—and proud—gentleman, he might do everything in his power to separate his friend from her sister.

Raised in a world of expectations and pedigree, Darcy knows Elizabeth Bennet can offer him nothing of material value. As his attraction for her grows, he becomes increasingly convinced his feelings are nonsensical. Still, he might forsake it all if only he had true encouragement.

Misunderstandings lead to betrayals and the couple soon learns falling in love takes courage but staying in love requires forgiveness. Traversing from the groves of Hertfordshire to the drawing rooms of London to the complexity and danger of Luddite revolts in Yorkshire, Sufficient Encouragement follows Darcy and Elizabeth’s journey of love and forgiveness.

*This story contains a scene of nonexplicit sexual violence.

Rose has kindly provided an excerpt from Sufficient Encouragement. Enjoy!

Thanks for having me! After surviving the plots of Wickham and a disappointing Mr. Bennet, Darcy and Elizabeth are engaged, but life throws another curve ball. During the year of 1812, factories in the North of England suffered attacks from a group now known as Luddites. Some sources say they were disgruntled laborers, unhappy with low pay; others say they were farmers who (rightfully) believed the new technology and factory system were taking away their side employment as textile workers in their own homes. Before this excerpt, Darcy and Bingley got a notice that there is an attack planned on one of the Bingley mills, and Darcy is a silent partner in the investment. They have come to Gracechurch Street to bid their ladies goodbye, although it means delaying Darcy and Elizabeth’s wedding.

Elizabeth led Will to the Gardiners’ sitting room. Before he could open his mouth to speak, she said, “I am coming with you.”

Will took a step towards her. “Elizabeth—”

She interrupted him. “No, I will not be parted from you.”

“That is impossible for a variety of reasons. Your uncle will never agree, and I would not blame him.”

“I believe the wife of Mr. Darcy is not beholden to the opinions of other men.”

“Yes, well, as I am sure you have gathered, the wedding must be delayed.” He frowned while speaking.

“Or moved ahead,” she said steadily while meeting his eyes. Anticipating his argument, she held up her hands to cease the words forming on his lips. “I do not require much rest on journeys. We shall travel swiftly. I suppose the moon is no help right now, but surely two days is sufficient.”

“I was hoping to talk with the local landowners. If they can be convinced to help alleviate the burden felt by their tenants, there would be no need for attacks. And the yeoman has to face high prices for goods as much as anyone.”

“So your solution would be to spend a week browbeating gentlemen and shopkeepers?” Elizabeth asked with an arched eyebrow.

“Do you have a better suggestion?”

Elizabeth sat and smoothed her skirts. “Do you even know them? Are you even acquainted with the owners at all? Do you know if they are even at their estates and not in London? Their stewards could not promise to do anything of that sort without approval. How can you work on shopkeepers? They have their own families to feed.”

She tugged Will’s hand, and he sat beside her. Seeing that Will looked unconvinced, she pressed her point again. “The trade components are more complicated than most are considering. The factory owners have to pay for the materials. Due to the war and the American embargo, we rely more on textiles made in England, but that will not be true forever. The shopkeepers buy their goods and must have a profit. Meanwhile, many of the other goods they used to sell are now unavailable due to the war. Our entire economy is built on ancient practices and is ready to collapse. Goods now travel around the world instead of remaining in a very local marketplace. Even the centuries-old trade of raw materials from America to England and goods to Africa has collapsed because of the Revolution and the abolition of the slave trade. There is something great for the future to be made out of this tangled mess, but we must live in harmony.”

Will listened quietly during her speech, so she continued. “Bingley or his uncle would know the principal landowners in the area, but it is possible they would defer to others who are even more influential. Your uncle is a powerful lord with an estate in West Riding and is the Lord Lieutenant. He must know many…” She trailed off. “You already know all of this, of course.”

“Yes, I have sent a note to my uncle and will meet with him soon. I do enjoy how passionate you become on subjects in which you are knowledgeable, though,” he said while lightly caressing her hand.

Resisting the pleasurable feeling, Elizabeth shook her head. “You will not distract me. You must see then that there is little for you to do. I know you will go. You cannot shirk your responsibilities and investments, but as you do not know the people on either side of the conflict, your uncle could put you to use just as well here in London for a few more days.”

Will ceased his movements and looked her directly in the eye. “It means a great deal to you that I do not leave without you and that we wed earlier than planned?”

Elizabeth ducked her head and whispered, “Yes.”

He pulled her into an embrace, and she fought back tears. “I would be happy to marry you any day of your choosing,” he murmured into her hair. “Although I would rather not be a means for you to avoid your feelings about your father or your mistreatment by Wickham.”

She sniffled, again willing the tears to hold back. “How would you know so much about it?”

“I have been disappointed in my father, and I have seen how long it took Georgiana to recover her spirits over Wickham.”

“She had thought she was in love with him, and I never did. I only hate that I did not see his true character and seemed so weak compared to him. It is so frustrating to be a woman. How many times have people attempted to take my power of choice away?”

“I know, love,” Will said while rubbing her back. “I will abide by your choice now if you are certain you truly desire to wed in a few days’ time and then go on this arduous journey with me.”

Elizabeth pulled back to meet his eyes. “I have already journeyed to London by my own choice to be with you. What are a few hundred miles more?”

He chuckled. “I wish I could assure you the roads are in good condition, but you will see things run differently in the North. It is not too far from Pemberley actually. We could return there when our errand is complete before returning for Bingley’s wedding—unless you would like to come earlier.”

She furrowed her brow. “Will Georgiana wish to go as well?”

“No, she hates Derbyshire in the winter. She may come if you desire it, though…” He trailed off.

She smiled. “No, I believe newlyweds ought to have privacy.” She blushed. “Rather, I had not wanted to make her feel unwelcome in her own home or abandoned.”

“Nonsense. She will stay with the Matlocks and have the company of my aunt, Anne, and Lady Belinda. I am certain Mrs. Gardiner and Jane would be welcome additions as well.”

“Then I think it is a splendid idea!” She beamed.

Will looked around the room. “Speaking of privacy…” He captured her lips for several minutes until there was a noise in the hall.

About the When Love Blooms series:

“Love is like a flower, for it is well worth the toil to cultivate it.” She shrugged her shoulders, “Love is beautiful.”

Take a stroll in the garden of love and enjoy the unique blooms of the intersecting lives of the Bennet, Darcy, Fitzwilliam, de Bourgh and Bingley families. Sufficient Encouragement follows Darcy and Elizabeth as they fight to save their love from an unexpected frost while Jane and Bingley’s love grows strong roots. The companion story, Renewed Hope, adds depth to the bouquet with the love stories of Darcy’s cousins and Miss Bingley. The third book in the series, Extraordinary Devotion, follows Darcy and Elizabeth’s marriage while their younger sisters experience a London Season.

About Rose Fairbanks:

Rose Fairbanks hears book characters talk in her head. They whisper to her of a time when the sun never set on the British Empire. More than having a love story for the ages, these characters face struggles inspired by historical events such as market crashes, Napoleon, embargoes, Luddites, the Year Without a Summer and more. Merging historical research with the timelessness of Jane Austen, Rose currently has ten Pride and Prejudice variations published with several releases planned for 2016 as well as an original Regency Romance series in the works.

Rose proudly admits her Darcy obsession and addictions to reading, chocolate, and sweet tea. Always in the mood for a healthy debate, she also dearly loves to laugh. Having completed a BA in history in 2008, she plans to complete her master’s studies…someday. At the moment, having a career combining her life-long interest in history and research with her love for Jane Austen and the Regency Era consumes all of her professional time. When not writing or reading, Rose runs after her two young children, ignores housework, and profusely thanks her husband for doing all the dishes and laundry.

You can connect with Rose on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and her blog.

SE blog tour final

Sufficient Encouragement Blog Tour Schedule

4/16: Excerpt & Giveaway at Stories from the Past
4/17: Excerpt at My Jane Austen Book Club
4/18: Excerpt & Review at The Ardent Reader
4/19: Excerpt & Giveaway at Diary of an Eccentric
4/20: Interview & Giveaway at Austenesque Reviews
4/21: Review at Half Agony, Half Hope
4/22: Guest Post at Babblings of a Bookworm
4/25: Review at Just Jane 1813
4/26: Guest Post at More Agreeably Engaged
4/28: Guest Post & Review at From Pemberley to Milton

Giveaway:

Rose is generously offering 2 ebooks (international) and 1 print copy (U.S.) of Sufficient Encouragement to my readers. To enter, please leave a comment telling me what you liked best about the excerpt and why you want to read the book. Please be sure to leave your email address and your desired book format. The giveaway will close on Sunday, April 24. The winners will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!

© 2016 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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darcy-vs-bennet-thumbnail (1)I am so happy to welcome Victoria Kincaid back to Diary of an Eccentric today to celebrate the release of her latest Pride and Prejudice variation, Darcy vs. Bennet. I had the pleasure of editing this novel, and I must admit that Victoria makes my job easy by writing such delightful variations!

About Darcy vs. Bennet:

Elizabeth Bennet is drawn to a handsome, mysterious man she meets at a masquerade ball. However, she gives up all hope for a future with him when she learns he is the son of George Darcy, the man who ruined her father’s life. Despite her father’s demand that she avoid the younger Darcy, when he appears in Hertfordshire Elizabeth cannot stop thinking about him, or seeking him out, or welcoming his kisses…

Fitzwilliam Darcy has struggled to carve out a life independent from his father’s vindictive temperament and domineering ways, although the elder Darcy still controls the purse strings. After meeting Elizabeth Bennet, Darcy cannot imagine marrying anyone else, even though his father despises her family. More than anything he wants to make her his wife, but doing so would mean sacrificing everything else…

Victoria’s Inspiration for Darcy vs. Bennet:

Readers often ask me where I get my ideas. Often it’s difficult for me to re-construct the origins of an idea after I’ve been living with it for months (and often years). However, the idea of a more positive version of Romeo and Juliet has appealed to me ever since I read the play in high school, and it seemed a natural fit to apply elements of the plot with Pride and Prejudice. This allowed the family feud aspect of the R&J plotline to provide Darcy and Elizabeth with external obstacles. While I love the conflict created by the personality differences and misunderstandings in the canonical P&P, I thought it would be intriguing to see a Darcy and Elizabeth who were working together to struggle against external pressures.

One of the results of this struggle in Darcy vs. Bennet is that they must pretend to dislike each other so that no one suspects their true feelings. Thus, when Darcy says Elizabeth isn’t handsome enough to tempt him, he doesn’t mean it; he’s trying to deflect attention from his true admiration of her. And Elizabeth must pretend to believe Wickham’s slander of Darcy’s character. Other parts of the P&P plot also fit into the family feud template. For example, many of Wickham’s actions are motivated by his conspiracy with Darcy’s father to separate the lovers. And Mr. Collins plays a brief but vital (and humorous) role in adding to the struggle.

In writing Darcy vs. Bennet, I was surprised how easily the various plot points of P&P fit with elements of R&J. However, I do promise my version of the R&J story does have a happy ending; no one dies in a tomb!

And if that hasn’t already made you want to read it right away, here’s an excerpt from Darcy vs. Bennet:

“Just think, five thousand a year!” Elizabeth’s mother exclaimed for at least the sixth time that day. “Jane, you must be sure to smile at him.”

“Yes, Mama,” Jane said serenely—again.

“And be certain to have him dance with you. Lizzy’s friend Louisa swore that it only took one dance with her Robert and he fell in love! Now she is married into the Berwick family as happy as can be!”

“Yes, Mama,” Jane said.

Elizabeth exchanged an understanding smile with her elder sister. All week the family had been in an uproar over the arrival of Mr. Bingley at Netherfield Park. Her father had called on the man, and he had returned the call, but the Bennet daughters had yet to meet him.

Now, however, they were on their way to the Meryton Assembly, where Mr. Bingley was certain to be in attendance. Elizabeth winced as the carriage went over a particularly big bump, and she was jostled against Jane.

“And he may have other wealthy gentlemen with him!” her mother exclaimed. “I heard he was to bring twelve ladies and six gentlemen to the assembly.”

“I heard it was seven ladies and four gentlemen,” Lydia put in.

Her mother waved her handkerchief irritably. “In any case, he is likely to have other wealthy friends.”

“I will be sure to smile at them!” Lydia exclaimed.

“Good for you!” Their mother smiled.

“I can smile at gentlemen, too!” Kitty whined.

“There is no doubt of that.” Their father rolled his eyes.

“I do not believe it is appropriate to smile at men to whom we have not been properly introduced,” Mary added.

Elizabeth massaged her temples. It was possible she would have a headache before they even arrived at the assembly.

“Do you think there will be any men in regimentals?” Lydia asked. This began a discussion of how dashing men appeared in a red coat, and Mr. Bingley’s party of guests was temporarily forgotten.

Lady Lucas greeted the Bennet party at the entrance to the assembly with the information that Mr. Bingley had brought two gentlemen and two ladies. The ladies were his sisters, and one of the gentlemen was married to one of the sisters. The other gentleman was a friend of Mr. Bingley’s who was rumored to be worth ten thousand pounds a year, but Lady Lucas had not caught his name.

At this news, Elizabeth’s mother was in an even greater frenzy of excitement. “Oh, Jane! You must be sure to dance with both of them! Is the other gentleman well favored? He must be in want of a wife as well. Elizabeth, be sure to stand near him. Perhaps he would dance with you too!”

Elizabeth simply nodded; she knew from experience that any type of protest was futile and would only prolong her mother’s inappropriate behavior.

Within a few minutes Mr. Bingley had made his way to their party, and Mr. Bennet introduced the newcomer to his wife and daughters, whereupon Mr. Bingley immediately invited Jane to dance. Lydia and Kitty ran off to join some of the other neighborhood girls, and Mary departed for a discussion with the local vicar.

Elizabeth stood awkwardly with her mother. The assembly hall was quite crowded and warm. The others in Mr. Bingley’s party were well concealed by the crush of people, for Elizabeth noticed no strangers. However, Mrs. Long waded through the crowd to be at Mrs. Bennet’s side. Her eager expression suggested she had some interesting gossip to impart.

“Have you heard about Mr. Bingley’s guests?” she asked Elizabeth’s mother.

“Indeed, I have! Ten thousand a year!” Mrs. Bennet exclaimed.

“Well, the man may have a fortune, but the man is proud and disagreeable!” Mrs. Long said. “He has refused to dance with anyone save the ladies in his party and stares at everyone with haughty disdain. I told Henry, ‘Well, if that is how Mr. Darcy feels about Meryton, then Meryton does not—’”

Elizabeth and her mother gasped in unison, but Mrs. Bennet recovered first. “W-What is his name, Marianne?”

“Mr. Darcy. I believe his given name is Fitzwilliam. I am sure it must be a family name because who would choose to bestow such a name—”

Mrs. Bennet had turned white, and Elizabeth was sure her complexion looked no better. “Where does he reside?” Mrs. Bennet asked her friend.

“I believe his family is from an estate in Derbyshire.”

Elizabeth’s world went white for a moment at these words, so implausible and unwelcome, and she thought she might faint. He was here. There was no doubt it was him. In the two years since the masquerade ball, he had constantly invaded her thoughts. She could not help comparing every man she encountered to “William.” But she had believed herself safe from another encounter.

Would he recognize her? Remember her? Was he angry at how she had fled the ball? Of course, he would know by now that she had not been invited. Did he think her terribly wanton? Perhaps he had forgotten her; that would be for the best.

Elizabeth attempted to quell her growing panic. It hardly matters what Mr. Darcy thinks of me, she reasoned. Once he learns I am part of Thomas Bennet’s family, he will be disgusted. But the thought of seeing that look of disgust on his face ignited more panic. I must leave before he sees me!

Giveaway:

Victoria is generously offering a copy of Darcy vs. Bennet to one of my readers. This giveaway is open internationally, and the winner will have the choice of an ebook or paperback. To enter, please leave a comment with your email address about what intrigues you most about this unique take on Pride and Prejudice. The giveaway will close on Sunday, April 17. The winner will be chosen randomly. I will email the winner and announce their name in the comments section of this post. Good luck!

© 2016 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Source: Review copy from Mertyon Press
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Mr. Darcy represented a time in her life when she had been happy, when everything was normal, and when her family was complete. While she may not have thought much of Mr. Darcy at the time, he reminded her of those days, giving her a sense of home and the familiar before everything went so wrong in her life. The new life she had just accepted would set her down a new path with new experiences and new people.

(from How to Mend a Broken Heart)

Quick summary: How to Mend a Broken Heart is a retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice set three years after Mr. Darcy’s failed proposed to Elizabeth Bennet at Hunsford. A lot has happened in those three years: Mr. Wickham eloped with Lydia Bennet and then immigrated to America, Mr. Bennet died, and Mrs. Bennet and her daughters moved to Standfield Hall to live on their cousin Lady Webberley’s estate. The countess, Emily, took Elizabeth under her wing, and the book opens shortly after her death as Elizabeth arrives in London to stay with Emily’s cousin, the dowager Lady Matlock. Meanwhile, Mr. Darcy has never forgotten Elizabeth but realizes he needs to move on, to provide Pemberley with an heir and Georgiana with a sister who can guide her through the upcoming Season. But right after Darcy proposes to the widow Mrs. Wagstaff, he encounters Elizabeth in his aunt’s drawing room and vows to make her change her opinion of him. Elizabeth’s presentation at court with the dowager as her sponsor means she and Darcy are often in each other’s company — which is dangerous when he is promised to another, a woman who is determined to become Mrs. Darcy.

Why I wanted to read it: I was intrigued by the prospect of Darcy being engaged, and knowing that his honor would force him to make good on his promises made me curious about how he and Elizabeth would achieve a happily ever after.

What I liked: I’ve never read a Pride and Prejudice variation in which Lady Matlock was a main character, and I really enjoyed getting to know her and watching her relationship with Elizabeth strengthen as they both worked through the problems that had been keeping them from embracing life. I liked how Parsons changed up some of the romantic pairings of the characters and introduced some interesting original characters, like Mrs. Wagstaff. The fate of the Bennet family and the decisions Elizabeth was forced to make in the wake of Lady Webberley’s death were unique touches.

What I disliked: I must admit I had a hard time with this book, especially the first half, but I was curious to learn how things would play out, and overall I am glad I kept reading. I had a hard time believing that Darcy would choose someone like Mrs. Wagstaff as a wife, even if he was lonely and determined to move on with his life. I also had a difficult time with the sexual aspects of the story; I don’t mind reading sex scenes, but I’m not fond of reading about characters pleasuring themselves, and while it was common for the upper class men to visit brothels, I don’t want to read detailed scenes involving the romantic heroes.

Final thoughts: I appreciated the unique aspects of How to Mend a Broken Heart, from Elizabeth’s new circumstances in life to the consequences of Darcy’s impulsive actions in the midst of loneliness. Without the sex scenes that I found to be a bit much for such a tale, I would have loved it.

Click the banner below to check out the other stops on the How to Mend a Broken Heart blog tour!

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Disclosure: I received How to Mend a Broken Heart from Mertyon Press for review.

© 2016 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Source: Review copy from Meryton Press
Rating: ★★★★☆

“I clean up pretty well for a tomboy, don’t I?” She stared Darcy straight in the eye.

Bloody hell. “You heard that?” He glared at Charles. “Your phone was on speaker? And you didn’t tell me?”

Charles shrugged. “I was doing yoga. It never occurred to me that my highborn friend would say something stupidly insulting about my girlfriend’s sister.”

(from A Searing Acquaintance)

Quick summary: J.L. Ashton’s debut novel, A Searing Acquaintance, is a modern-day retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth Bennet is a grad student working for a marketing firm who wants to become a writer. Fitzwilliam Darcy is a businessman from a well-known family with a tragic past. They meet at a University of Meryton football game, where Darcy earns the nickname “Mr. Noir,” and Elizabeth calls him out for his lack of team spirit. When his best friend, Charles Bingley, and her sister, Jane Bennet, hit it off and start dating, Elizabeth and Darcy are forced to endure each other’s company, but a heated moment and a misunderstanding during a weekend getaway to Netherfield lead to months of tension between the pair. Complicating matters are Elizabeth’s work on a sports book, with help from the sports agent George Wickham; George’s characterization of Darcy as a ladies’ man; Elizabeth’s mother, who ran away from the family when Elizabeth was a little girl to pursue her dream of being a country singer; and Darcy’s need to deal with his past and the guilt he has carried with him since he was a teenager.

Why I wanted to read it: I can’t pass up a modern-day Pride and Prejudice!

What I liked: Ashton transforms Darcy into a tragic hero, which means there are more obstacles for him to overcome than his awkwardness in social situations and his pride. Elizabeth’s relationship with her family is more complicated here, which adds another layer to the story. I loved Ashton’s take on the secondary characters, particularly Sylvia Bennet-LaRue, an outrageous take on Mrs. Bennet; Catherine de Bourgh, who reminded me of the Lady Catherine in the Laurence Olivier/Greer Garson movie adaptation of Pride and Prejudice; and Annabella de Bourgh, the performance artist who thinks far outside the box. Ashton does a great job building the romantic tension and inserting some humorous and passionate scenes to keep the story from getting too heavy.

What I disliked: The pacing felt a little off about halfway through the book, but it didn’t affect my enjoyment at all. I liked that readers got to see Darcy and Elizabeth’s relationship progress.

Final thoughts: A Searing Acquaintance is the perfect modern-day Pride and Prejudice for readers who want a little more darkness and complication with the romance. Ashton does a great job bringing Elizabeth and Darcy into the present and letting readers see their fears, confusion, and desires. The characters felt real to me, and her take on Mr. Darcy is one of my favorites.

Click the banner below to check out the other stops on the A Searing Acquaintance blog tour!

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Disclosure: I received A Searing Acquaintance from Mertyon Press for review.

© 2016 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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jane and the waterloo map

Source: Review copy from Soho Crime
Rating: ★★★★☆

My brother snorted. “Why should any person wish you harm?”

“Because of what I have seen.” I gazed at him soberly. “Because of the Waterloo Map.”

(from Jane and the Waterloo Map)

Quick summary: Jane and the Waterloo Map is the 13th book in Stephanie Barron’s Being a Jane Austen Mystery series, but only the second one I have read. Set a month before Jane Austen’s 40th birthday and told from her point of view, the novel takes readers to the Prince Regent’s London residence, Carlton House, where she has been invited by the Reverend James Stanier Clarke to tour the library. While on the tour, Jane finds Colonel McFarland, a hero of Waterloo, dying on the floor. While waiting for help, McFarland utters the phrase, “Waterloo Map,” and Jane is swept up into a mystery in which she must determine the importance of a watercolor map and who would kill to possess it.

Why I wanted to read it: I really enjoyed the previous installment in the series, Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas, and since they are pretty much standalone novels — with editor’s notes to explain historical details and highlight certain parts of the backstory — I couldn’t resist this one.

What I liked: For the most part, Jane and the Waterloo Map, is a standalone novel, but I am glad I read the previous book because the artist Raphael West, whom Jane meets in the last installment, is drawn into this newest mystery with Jane. I love that Jane gets some help from her family as well. Barron does a great job creating a complicated mystery and unraveling the threads at the right pace. It’s a treat to be taken along for the ride, following the twists and turns and not figuring everything out before the end. The inclusion of historical facts, particularly Jane’s visit to Carlton House and Clarke’s strong suggestion that she dedicate Emma to the Prince Regent, creates a fuller story and makes Jane believable as a heroine and sleuth.  But most of all, I appreciate the heroine she has created in Jane Austen, from her cleverness to her determination, from her unwillingness to be pushed aside because she is a woman to her thoroughly entertaining first-person narrative.

What I disliked: I thought the book opened a bit slow, and it took me a couple of chapters to be pulled into the story, but I knew I was in for a treat and was not disappointed overall.

Final thoughts: Barron is a creative storyteller, and she brilliantly weaves together fact and fiction. I really need to find the time to go back to the beginning of the series and read them all in order. However, given that Jane is approaching the last years of her life, I am especially curious to find out how Barron continues the series and what kind of trouble our heroine will find herself in next.

About the book:

Jane Austen turns sleuth in this delightful Regency-era mystery

November, 1815. The Battle of Waterloo has come and gone, leaving the British economy in shreds; Henry Austen, high-flying banker, is about to declare bankruptcy—dragging several of his brothers down with him. The crisis destroys Henry’s health, and Jane flies to his London bedside, believing him to be dying. While she’s there, the chaplain to His Royal Highness the Prince Regent invites Jane to tour Carlton House, the Prince’s fabulous London home. The chaplain is a fan of Jane’s books, and during the tour he suggests she dedicate her next novel—Emma—to HRH, whom she despises.

However, before she can speak to HRH, Jane stumbles upon a body—sprawled on the carpet in the Regent’s library. The dying man, Colonel MacFarland, was a cavalry hero and a friend of Wellington’s. He utters a single failing phrase: “Waterloo map” . . . and Jane is on the hunt for a treasure of incalculable value and a killer of considerable cunning.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indiebound | Goodreads

Photo credit: Marea Evans

Photo credit: Marea Evans

About the author:

Stephanie Barron was born in Binghamton, New York, the last of six girls. She attended Princeton and Stanford Universities, where she studied history, before going on to work as an intelligence analyst at the CIA. She wrote her first book in 1992 and left the Agency a year later. Since then, she has written fifteen books.

She lives and works in Denver, Colorado. Learn more about Stephanie and her books at her website, visit her on Facebook and Goodreads.

Giveaway:

Grand Giveaway Contest

Win One of Three Fabulous Prizes

In celebration of the release of Jane and the Waterloo Map, Stephanie is offering a chance to win one of three prize packages filled with an amazing selection of Jane Austen-inspired gifts and books!

Waterloo Map Blog Tour Prizes x 500

To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on any or all of the blog stops on Jane and the Waterloo Map Blog Tour starting February 02, 2016 through 11:59 pm PT, February 29, 2016. Winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments and announced on Stephanie’s website on March 3, 2016. Winners have until March 10, 2016 to claim their prize. Shipment is to U.S. addresses. Good luck to all!

To follow the tour, click the banner below:

JANE AND WATERLOO - Blog Tour Horizontal

Disclosure: I received Jane and the Waterloo Map from Soho Crime for review.

© 2016 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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when mary met the colonelI’m thrilled to announce the release of Victoria Kincaid’s new novella, When Mary Met the Colonel, which I had the pleasure of editing last year. I loved that Victoria’s Pride and Prejudice sequel focused on Mary Bennet; I’m always drawn to variations that focus on the secondary characters, and Mary doesn’t usually get a chance to shine.

Without the beauty and wit of the older Bennet sisters or the liveliness of the younger, Mary is the Bennet sister most often overlooked. She has resigned herself to a life of loneliness, alleviated only by music and the occasional book of military history.

Colonel Fitzwilliam finds himself envying his friends who are marrying wonderful women while he only attracts empty-headed flirts. He longs for a caring, well-informed woman who will see the man beneath the uniform.

A chance meeting in Longbourn’s garden during Darcy and Elizabeth’s wedding breakfast kindles an attraction between Mary and the Colonel. However, the Colonel cannot act on these feelings since he must wed an heiress. He returns to war, although Mary finds she cannot easily forget him.

Is happily ever after possible after Mary meets the Colonel?

Please welcome Victoria Kincaid to talk about the power of reading when it comes to knowledge and relationships:

One of the interesting things about being a writer is that sometimes our writing is smarter than we are. In other words, what I (the writer) write occasionally gives me a glimpse (retrospectively) into my own psyche. I recently had one of those moments with When Mary Met the Colonel.

In the story, Colonel Fitzwilliam is intrigued by Mary Bennet’s knowledge and understanding of military history, which she gained from books in her father’s library. I added this information because I wanted to find some point of commonality between two characters who initially might not appear to be well suited. Only after I had published the novella did I realize that Mary’s choice of reading material reflects one of my strongly held beliefs: the power of reading in teaching us about the world.

Of course, Mary Bennet had few alternative ways to learn about the world; with such a proscribed life, she would have had few other sources of information. However, even today when we have far more opportunities to travel and videos or podcasts to teach us an infinite variety of subjects, I still believe reading is the most valuable way to learn about almost any subject. Obviously, reading on the internet is a great source of information, but for a deep understanding of a subject, nothing beats a book. Whether it is fiction or non-fiction, books take you more in depth than just about any other medium.

In my novella, Colonel Fitzwilliam is impressed by how Mary uses her knowledge to analyze the battles she sees reported in the paper. I also think it’s the fantasy of every book-loving woman to be admired and appreciated for her love of reading—and for her intelligence. So often bookish women are portrayed as dried-up spinster librarians. So, who doesn’t like the idea that being an avid reader helps you “get the guy”?

And I do believe this is true to life. Although there may be guys who are threatened by a well-read, intelligent woman, who wants them? For most people, having the information and understanding you derive from books can only make you more interesting. And, personally, I think “interesting” is very attractive.

Please enjoy this excerpt from When Mary Met the Colonel:

Fitz loved serving his country, and the work he did was important, but girls like Kitty Bennet and Maria Lucas could not see beyond the uniform. They never expressed any interest in him.

He slowed his pace to an amble and brushed his hair from his forehead. It was a warm day for spring, and he enjoyed the sunshine as he followed a meandering path, occasionally framed by overhanging branches and vines.

He gave his head a hard shake. Enough with this melancholy inner soliloquy. I am not a heroine in a popular novel! He had no need to provide an heir and no responsibilities to anyone else. If he never married, he would still have a good life. Never mind that the thought generated an aching hollowness in his chest. He would survive; soldiers were trained to survive.

Better never to marry than to marry a superficial chit who chattered on all day about lace and curtains and the cost of a joint of meat. He shuddered at the thought.

The pathway opened unexpectedly into a little clearing with a bench in the center. Fitz stumbled to a stop; the bench was inhabited.

His sudden appearance caused the young woman to start violently and drop her handkerchief. Her head jerked up to see who had disturbed her and immediately tilted down again. It was enough to reveal a pretty face, although perhaps not by conventional standards. Her brown hair was dark and glossy, pulled back in a severe style without any curls around her face. Her nose was a little long and her brows a little heavy for today’s fashions, but her mouth…was wide and pink with full, round lips. A mouth made for kissing. What the hell had provoked that thought?

“I beg your pardon, miss.” Fitz bent to retrieve the handkerchief. Taking it from his fingers, she was careful not to touch him while her eyes remained fixed on the stone of the path. “I did not mean to startle you…” She said nothing, crushing the handkerchief in one hand. “…I believed myself to be alone.”

Her eyes flicked up to his face and down again, long enough for him to discern that they were a dark, rich brown—but red-rimmed. “’Tis not your fault. I-I fear I startle easily.” Her voice was low and melodious. Fitz would love to hear her sing. If only he could inquire about the source of her tears, but he did not even know her name.

Perhaps he could lead to the subject indirectly. “It appears that we are both seeking a refuge from the crowds in the drawing room.”

She said nothing for a moment, but finally, she spoke. “Yes. My sister and her friend wished me to play dance music for them, but there is not enough space for dancing.”

Fitz gave a short laugh. “I thought so as well!” He cleared his throat. “You must be Miss Mary Bennet.”

The young lady dabbed at her eyes with a corner of the handkerchief, which was still fairly clean despite its tumble to the stones. “Yes. The two elder Miss Bennets are the pretty ones, and the two younger Miss Bennets are the lively ones. I am the one in the middle—neither pretty nor lively.” Her hand immediately flew to her mouth. “Oh, dear me! That sounded terribly bitter, did it not? I apologize, Colonel.”

Ah, he suspected that he had now uncovered the reason for her tears; such sentiments might be particularly acute on the day one of her sisters married. Fitz took the liberty of seating himself next to Miss Bennet. “Do you fear to offend my delicate sensibilities?” He batted his eyelashes absurdly, provoking laughter. “Only apologize if you are speaking an untruth.”

Her lips thinned into a flat line. “No. I always speak the truth.”

“No, you do not.” This caused her eyes to raise to his face in bewilderment. “You are quite pretty, perhaps not in the same way as your sisters.” Mary’s lips parted slightly, and she appeared, if anything, even more bewildered. Had no one ever said as much to her? “And if by ‘lively’ you mean that your sisters chase men wearing red coats, then I am quite pleased you are comparatively sedate.” This elicited a giggle from the young lady. “Your presence is quite restful, and so far your conversation is vastly more interesting.”

She blinked rapidly at him as if not understanding his words. Surely someone else had thought to tell her how pretty she was? Then a deep blush spread itself over her face and the part of her neck revealed by her gown’s neckline, much higher than today’s styles. Why did a simple compliment provoke such a reaction?

“Thank you. It is very kind of you to say.” Her voice was almost a whisper. Mary fixed her gaze on a number of blossoms in her lap.

“I did not say it to be kind. It is what I observe.”

Blushing an even darker red, she glanced about the clearing as if hoping to be rescued from this conversation. She was not only unaccustomed to compliments but also exceedingly shy, Fitz decided. She resembled Georgiana a bit, although Miss Bennet must be at least two or three years older.

Apparently deciding that no help would be forthcoming, she returned her gaze to the hands tangled in her lap. She cleared her throat. “Mr. Darcy said you are recently returned from the peninsula.”

Fitz blinked, a bit surprised at the abrupt shift in topic. Did she wish to direct the conversation away from the personal? “Yes.”

“I have been following the war in the papers,” she murmured. Fitz raised his eyebrows. A woman had never broached this topic with him. “Do you believe those accounts to be accurate on the whole?”

Fitz leaned toward her slightly. “Are you certain you wish to speak about this? Many women find the topic to be…distressing.”

A crease formed between her eyebrows. “Sir, the events of this war will affect our country for generations to come. It will influence the futures of my nieces and nephews. Faced with such weighty matters, I do not understand why anyone believes I should care about the latest designs in lace!”

Abruptly, she bit her lip and blushed. “I apologize for that outburst. I have had a trying day. I am overwrought.” She stood quickly, straightening her skirts. “I will trouble you no—”

Without forethought, Fitz seized her hand in his. “Please do not leave just when you are proving to be an interesting conversational partner.” He remained seated, hoping it would encourage her to stay. “I think I must.” She stared at the ground.

“Miss Bennet, if you will allow me to be frank, the majority of my visit has been occupied by your younger sister and her friend admiring the fine handiwork of the buttons on my uniform.” Her shoulders shook; had he provoked laughter? “Intelligent conversation about the happenings in the world would be quite welcome.”

Slowly, Mary’s head lifted. Her eyes traveled down her arm, paused on her hand—which he had not released—and then rose to meet his eyes. Whatever she saw there caused her body to soften slightly. Fitz took the opportunity to tug on her hand, encouraging her to sit once more.

It was wildly inappropriate to be holding her hand, although they both wore gloves. If anyone should happen upon them, their proximity could lead to all sorts of difficulties, including an accusation of compromising her reputation. Yet he could not bring himself to leave; he was too intrigued to allow the conversation to end.

She allowed him to pull her down on the bench beside him, and he instantly released her hand. “I pray you, ask your questions.” Mary regarded him warily, a wild animal that might be easily startled. “What did you wish to ask me?” he asked gently.

“Did you fight at Salamanca?” He nodded. Her eyes lit with interest. “The papers all claimed Wellington’s strategy was brilliant, but they never described the details. What did he do?”

Fitz was momentarily in the uncharacteristic position of being at a loss for words. This was her most pressing question? He expected a query about the Spanish people or Wellington’s character. Instead, she asked about…battle strategy?”

Giveaway:

Victoria is generously offering one ebook copy of When Mary Met the Colonel to my readers. To enter, simply leave a comment with your email address and tell me what intrigues you most about this novella. Entries will be accepted through Sunday, February 28, 2016. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments. Good luck!

© 2016 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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