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Happy New Year, friends! Sorry it’s taken me so long to take stock of last year’s reading, but last year definitely wasn’t a normal one for me…and unfortunately I don’t see a return to normalcy anytime soon. Between working overtime nearly every day, grappling with some health issues and all the associated stress, and losing a beloved pet and having to work through that grief, my reading and writing dramatically dropped off. In fact, after years of reading 50-100 books a year, I only managed to finish 16 in 2020. Of course, quality matters more than quantity, and thankfully, I read some good books last year! Here are my favorites from that list:

What were your favorite books from those you read last year? I’d love to see your lists, so please let me know in the comments!

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Source: Review copy from author

Sarah Courtney’s A Good Name, a modern Pride and Prejudice variation, was an unexpected treat from start to finish. The first half of the book details the childhood friendship of George Wickham and Lizzy Bennet. Told from George’s point of view, readers see the harsh life the young boy has endured. His mother has a drug problem and goes from boyfriend to boyfriend. He’s always hungry, and his worries about food and homelessness mean he has little time to worry about clean clothes, playing with other children, and learning to read. But when he meets Lizzy, his eyes are opened to the power of reading and friendship. When she moves away, she leaves a gaping hole, but her influence leads to new possibilities.

The second half of the book centers on Will Darcy, the new CEO of his father’s company, suffocating under the weight of his responsibilities and a bit fed up with his friend Charlie Bingley’s attempts at matchmaking. This part of the book follows the plot of Pride and Prejudice more closely — with the insult to Elizabeth Bennet, Caroline Bingley hoping to snap him up, his poor advice to Charlie regarding his relationship with Elizabeth’s sister Jane, and the eventual blowup with Elizabeth just when he thinks he’s found true love — albeit with a modern spin.

I don’t want to say more about the plot, but the way in which both parts of the book are woven together made A Good Name one of the best modern variations I’ve ever read. Courtney does a great job developing her versions of Austen’s characters, layer by layer, so that readers really understand their motivations, strengths, and fears. I loved the twists and turns, and with the freedom of a modern variation, there were plenty of surprises on the way to Will and Elizabeth’s happily ever after. Courtney’s take on George Wickham was so clever, both heart-wrenching and hopeful, and so completely unexpected. She does a fantastic job with the heavy issues of drug addiction, poverty, and homelessness and their impact on children, balancing them with the lighthearted moments that George shared with Lizzy in the park and, later, Will’s outings with Elizabeth — particularly the scene involving an overturned kayak.

Ultimately, A Good Name is a powerful story, one that makes you think about how we cope with the obstacles thrown at us and how our past shapes our future. But it also is a love story, and an emotional and touching one at that. I can’t wait to read Courtney’s next novel, Beauty and Mr. Darcy, a Regency variation, and I do hope that she writes another modern variation in the future.

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I am honored to be part of the release day celebration for Sarah Courtney’s new novel, A Good Name, which is a modern Pride and Prejudice variation. I had the pleasure of meeting Sarah at the recent JAFF Reader-Writer Get Together in Virginia (which you can read about here), where we all enjoyed a great discussion about modern vs. Regency variations of Austen’s novels. I’m excited about Sarah’s book and will be reviewing it here after the holidays, so stay tuned! In the meantime, Sarah is here to talk about her new novel and share an excerpt and giveaway. Please give her a warm welcome!

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I started writing A Good Name when I desperately needed a break from writing another variation. My computer had crashed twice in one week, losing me over a month’s worth of writing and making me want to tear my hair out in frustration. I was getting ready for bed one night and contemplating George Wickham’s relationship to his godfather, the elder Mr. Darcy. Somehow that got me thinking about a young Elizabeth Bennet befriending a young George Wickham and unintentionally nudging him onto a path that intersects with George Darcy, and where that might lead him.

Even if you love to hate George Wickham–because believe me, I usually do, too!–I hope that you’ll give A Good Name a try and see a unique George Wickham with a twist that I don’t believe has been seen before in Pride and Prejudice variations.

Don’t worry, this is still a Darcy and Elizabeth romance with a happy ending for our favorite couple.

In this excerpt, Elizabeth Bennet is eight and George Wickham is ten. It’s winter, and she has noticed that he’s cold and doesn’t have winter clothing, so she brings him a coat and boots that used to belong to her father.

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“I don’t need them,” he said. He desperately wanted them. But he was sick and tired of always being the one who needed stuff. Elizabeth brought him food every day. She didn’t make a big deal of it, but she probably thought he was a charity case. “I’m not a charity case.”

She looked shocked. “I didn’t say you were.”

“And I don’t need you to buy me stuff. My mom can buy me whatever I want.” Okay, now he was lying, but he didn’t want to be just a poor kid in her eyes. “So you can stop making yourself feel good by bringing me stuff.”

“So you’d rather freeze than wear my father’s old coat?”

“Yes!” No. “I can get my own new coat! I just haven’t had the time yet.”

“You’re lying,” Elizabeth said. “Your shoes are falling apart. You wear the same pants every day. Do you even wash your clothes?”

“It’s not the same pair of pants. They just look alike.” They could be, anyway. Lots of people had more than one of the same kind of jeans.

She shook her head. “The knees are torn exactly the same way. Exactly.”

He flushed to think she’d spent enough time studying the holes in his jeans to notice. “What do you know? You’re some spoiled rich kid who’s probably never worn hand-me-downs in her life!”

“I have an older sister! Most of my clothes are hand-me-downs!” she shouted. “Fine, don’t wear the coat! I’ll just donate it somewhere. Don’t come to me when you’re cold next week.”

He deflated. He wanted that coat. He just hated being poor. He sat down hard on the bench.

“I’m sorry,” Elizabeth said, sitting next to him. “I didn’t mean to make a big deal of it.”

“It’s just… I hate always being the one to get stuff from other people.”

He looked at the coat. It was pretty embarrassing to have an eight-year-old give him a coat. But it was already done, and he was cold, after all. He sighed.

“They’re too big,” was his final protest.

“They’re supposed to be!” she said with a grin. “For Narnia. Remember, they just get those fur coats from the closet? They were grown-up clothes.”

It was either laugh or roll his eyes, so he chose the first. She was such an adorable kid sometimes.

He had to admit, though, that sitting on the cold bench listening to her read and following her through the frozen forest of the Western Wood were a lot more fun when he was wearing a big heavy warm coat and boots. The boots were so large, though, that he had to walk very carefully so he didn’t walk right out of them.

George spent the entire walk home planning what he’d say to his mother when she asked about the coat and boots. He’d decided that the truth, that they were gifts from a friend, hand-me-downs from her father, would be the easiest explanation.

But in the end, he didn’t need it. His mother didn’t even notice him come home—or notice much of anything lately. Mark was gone somewhere or other, and nobody said anything when he was back, either. There were some advantages to being ignored.

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About A Good Name

George Wickham’s childhood friendship with Lizzy Bennet saved his life. How will it change her future?

Ten-year-old George Wickham was hungry, lonely, and desperate until the day he met Lizzy Bennet. She transformed his life with a peanut butter sandwich and the magic of books. Losing her friendship devastated him, until his meeting with the Darcy family set him on a course to a new life.

Will Darcy insulted Elizabeth Bennet at their first meeting and accidentally injured her a few months later. She is just starting to overcome her first impression of him when something from his past comes to light. Will the revelation of Elizabeth’s childhood friendship with George Wickham change everything?

Buy on Amazon

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About the Author

Sarah Courtney

Sarah Courtney has been addicted to reading since she first learned how. She carried books with her everywhere . . . to sports games (professional sports games required two books!), school, bus rides and car trips, and even when her parents told her to “go outside and play.” She finds time for reading now by doing most of it on her Kindle app, which means that she can read while walking down the stairs, waiting in line, making dinner . . .

Sarah loves to read fantasy and fairy tale interpretations, Agatha Christie’s mysteries, romantic suspense/action, and especially variations of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Sarah tried her hand at writing numerous times as a child, but never stuck it out long enough to finish a book. When she discovered that there was an entire fandom dedicated to her favorite author, Jane Austen, she was inspired to write her first novel.

Sarah homeschools her six children, ages two through twelve. She is constantly asked, “How do you find time to write?” The answer is simply that you find the time to do the things you love. Also, getting the laundry put away is highly overrated.

You can find Sarah on Facebook and her blog.

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Giveaway

Sarah is offering an ebook copy of A Good Name to one lucky reader. To enter, please use this Rafflecopter link. Good luck!

Thank you, Sarah, for being my guest today, and congratulations on your new release!

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