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It is always a pleasure to have Maria Grace as a guest on Diary of an Eccentric. It’s no surprise that I’m a HUGE fan of her Austen-inspired books and stories, and I’m thrilled that she is here today to introduce two upcoming releases, the latest in a trio of Christmas stories. It’s been my tradition for the past couple of years to spend the month of December reading Christmas stories, especially those inspired by Pride and Prejudice. Last year, I read and loved The Darcys’ First Christmas, and now I am anxiously awaiting December 1 so I can start reading Darcy and Elizabeth: Christmas 1811 and From Admiration to Love. Maria is here today to share some information about a Regency Christmas tradition, an excerpt from one of her upcoming releases, and a reader’s choice ebook giveaway. Please give her a warm welcome:

Thanks so much for having me Anna! I’m so excited about this Christmas season! It’s been a doozy of a year in these parts, so much that it calls for not one, but two Christmas books.  They are both available for pre-order on Amazon right now and will be released on December 1. The two books go along with The Darcys’ First Christmas, kind of forming bookends to the story. Darcy and Elizabeth: Christmas 1811 tells the behind the scenes story of what might have happened during the Christmastide Darcy spent in London, while the militia (and Wickham!) wintered in Meryton. From Admiration to Love tells the story of the Darcys’ second Christmas as they try to hold Georgiana’s coming out at the Twelfth Night ball as Lady Catherine and Anne de Bourgh descend as very unwelcome guests. (The story was such fun to write, I hope you love it as much as I do!)

Darcy and Elizabeth: Christmas 1811 starts with the Bennets making a Christmas plum pudding on the traditional day for doing so, Stir It Up Sunday.  American’s don’t really do plum pudding, so I thought it would be interesting to take a moment and have a peek at some of the traditions that have arisen around a food with at least eight hundred years of history associated with it.

Origins of Plum Pudding

Plum began in Roman times as a pottage, a meat and vegetable concoction prepared in a large cauldron, to which dried fruits, sugar and spices might be added. Sounds yummy, right?

Porridge or frumenty appeared in the fourteenth century. A soup-like fasting dish containing meats, raisins, currants, prunes, wine and spices, it was eaten before Christmas celebrations began. By the fifteenth century, plum pottage a soupy mix of meat, vegetables and fruit often appeared at the start of a meal.

As the seventeenth century opened, frumenty evolved into a plum pudding. Thickened with eggs and breadcrumbs, the addition of beer and spirits gave it more flavor (and increased its shelf life—remember no refrigeration. Don’t think about that too much though…). Variations were made with white meat, though the meat was gradually omitted and replaced by suet (yum… ah, no not so much.) The root vegetables also disappeared.

By 1650, the plum pudding transformed from a main dish to the customary Christmas dessert. Not long afterward though, Oliver Cromwell banned plum pudding because he believed the ritual of flaming the pudding was too similar to pagan celebrations of the winter solstice.

George I, sometimes called the Pudding King, revived the dish in 1714 when he requested plum pudding as part of the royal feast celebrating his first Christmas in England. As a result, it once again became part of traditional holiday celebrations.

In the 1830’s it took its final cannon-ball form, made with flour, fruits, suet, sugar and spices, all topped with holly and flaming brandy. It was dubbed ‘Christmas Pudding’ in 1858 in Anthony Trollope’s Doctore Thorne.

Plum pudding traditions

With a food so many centuries in the making, it is not surprising to find many traditions have evolved around the preparation and eating of plum pudding.

The last Sunday before Advent, falling sometime between November 20th and 26th, is considered the last day on which one can make Christmas puddings since they require aging before they are served. It is sometimes known as ‘Stir-up Sunday’ because the opening words of the main prayer in the Book of Common Prayer of 1549 for that day are:

“Stir-up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Not surprisingly, choir boys parodied the prayer. “Stir up, we beseech thee, the pudding in the pot. And when we do get home tonight, we’ll eat it up hot.”

Tradition decrees Christmas pudding be made with thirteen ingredients to represent Christ and the twelve apostles. All family members took a hand in ‘stirring up’ the pudding, using a special wooden spoon (in honor of Christ’s crib.) The stirring had to be done clockwise, from east to west to honor the journey of the Magi, with eyes shut, while making a secret wish.

Tiny charms might be added to the pudding to reveal their finders’ fortune. The trinkets often included a thimble for spinsterhood or thrift, a ring for marriage, a coin for wealth, a miniature horseshoe or a tiny wishbone for good luck, a shoe for travel, and an anchor for safe harbor.

When the pudding was served, a sprig of holly was placed on the top of the pudding as a reminder of the Crown of Thorns that Jesus wore when he was killed. Flaming the pudding, as described by Dickens, was believed to represent the passion of Christ and Jesus’ love and power. It was also a key part of the theatrical aspect of the holiday celebration.

Why is it called plum pudding?

And the answer to the most burning question:  Why is plum pudding called that when it contains no plums?

Dried plums, or prunes, were popular in pies in medieval times, but in the sixteenth and seventeenth century they began to be replaced by raisins. In the 17th century, plums referred to raisins or other dried fruits. The dishes made with them retain the term plum to this day.

Armed with all this new knowledge about plum puddings, take a peed at the whole affair from Darcy and Elizabeth: Christmas 1811:

November 24, 1811 Stir it up Sunday. Meryton

After a light nuncheon in the dining room, Mama called them all to the kitchen. She had done the same thing every Stir it Up Sunday since Elizabeth could remember. The large worktable in the center of the kitchen bore the fragrant makings of the pudding. The air swirled with the fragrances of brandy and spices hanging in the steam of the great roiling cauldron waiting to accept the finished pudding.

“You too, Mr. Collins, for you are part of the family, to be sure.” Mama waved him toward the table.

He edged in between Jane and Elizabeth.

Of course, where else might he stand?

Elizabeth sidled over to make room for him, nearly treading on Mary’s toes in the process. Poor Mary looked so dejected. If only they might switch places, but Mama would no doubt cause such a scene if they did.

“Now, Mr. Collins has it been the habit of your family to make a Christmas pudding?” Mama asked.

“This is the first time I have experienced this most charming and agreeable custom, madam. To be sure, the Christmas Puddings at Rosings Park—”

“Well then, I shall tell you how we do it. There is a great bowl there, and you each have the ingredients beside you. You, sir, have the flour. Add it to the bowl and then pass it east to west.”

“Clockwise—” Papa whispered loudly.

Apparently, he thought little of Mr. Collins’s sense of direction. Probably for good reason.

“Yes, yes like that. Give the bowl to Jane now.”

She added a pile of minced suet and passed it to Kitty. Kitty and Lydia added dried fruits and nuts and passed it into Papa’s hands for the bread crumbs and milk.

Mama poured in the brandy soaked citron and spices. “And that makes eleven ingredients. We have two more now, thirteen for Christ and the apostles.”

Mary added the eggs and slid the heavy vessel to Elizabeth.

“How fitting for you to add the final sweetness, Cousin Elizabeth.”

Elizabeth cringed and nearly spilled the sugar.

Mama glowered at her, but quickly recovered her composure and handed Mr. Collins the wooden spoon. “To remind us of the Christ child’s crib. Now stir it east to—clockwise—with your eyes closed sir. And make a wish.”

Mr. Collins steadied the bowl and grasped the spoon. “I shall wish for—”

“No, sir,” Elizabeth forced herself not to roll her eyes. Unfortunately, Mama would never notice what she had not done. “Your wish must be made in silence.”

Mama glowered again. Little matter though. Elizabeth had no desire to hear Mr. Collins’s wish. His expression said too much as it was.

The bowl passed around the table. Some wishes were easy to guess.

Mary wished to be noticed by Mr. Collins. Kitty and Lydia wished to be noticed by anyone but Mr. Collins. Mama doubtless wished Mr. Collins to marry one of her girls, preferably Elizabeth. Jane, of course, wished for Mr. Bingley. But Papa’s wish remained a mystery. What would he want?

The cold, heavy bowl passed to her. The rough wooden spoon scraped at her fingers. What to wish for? She closed her eyes and forced the spoon through the heavy batter. To marry for love. I wish to marry for love.

“Do not dawdle so, Lizzy. We must add the charms now. Here one for each of you.” Mamma passed a charm to each sister and Mr. Collins. “Add your charm to the pudding and stir it again.”

Mama shoved the bowl toward Mary. “You start.”

Mary gulped. “I have the thimble—”

Lydia snickered. “How fitting. Spinsterhood!”

“It is for thrift.” Jane’s tone was as firm as it ever got, a veritable rebuke.

“For thrift, then.” Mary tossed it in and quickly stirred it into the batter.

“I wonder which of us shall travel.” Lydia tossed a tiny shoe charm into the pudding.

“And which shall find safe harbor?” Kitty followed with an anchor and held the bowl while Lydia stirred them in.

Jane added the coin and Elizabeth the horse shoe. Jane held whilst Elizabeth stirred.

“And you Mr. Collins?” Mama blinked, but her expression was far from innocent.

“It seems I have the ring.” He dropped it, eyes on Elizabeth.

“How very auspicious. Did you know, I added that same charm to a Christmas pudding the year of my betrothal to Mr. Bennet?”

“Traditions says—and I would hardly count it accurate—that the finder of the ring will wed, not the one who dropped it in the pudding,” Papa muttered. Did Mama rebuke him for rolling his eyes the way she had Elizabeth?

“Well that may be, Mr. Bennet, it might be. But, I can speak to what happened for me. I believe it may well have significance for others among us.” Mama fluttered her eyes at Mr. Collins.

Mr. Collins smiled his cloying smile and edged a little closer to Elizabeth.

Papa huffed softly. “Let us hope that something with greater sense than a pudding prevails over such decisions, shall we now? So then, give me the buttered cloth and the pudding that it may be tied up and done with.”

Elizabeth stood back to give him room to dump the pudding out and wrap it in the pudding cloth.

Thankfully she had an ally in Papa or at least she seemed to. The way Mama carried on and encouraged Mr. Collins, she would need one.

Thank you so much, Maria, for sharing this excerpt with me and my readers! Congratulations on your upcoming releases. I can’t wait to read them!

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About Darcy and Elizabeth: Christmas 1811

Jane Austen never wrote the details of Christmastide 1811. What might have happened during those intriguing months? 

Following the Netherfield ball, Darcy persuades Bingley to leave Netherfield Park in favor of London to avoid the match-making machinations of Mrs. Bennet. Surely, the distractions of town will help Bingley forget the attractions of Miss Jane Bennet. But Bingley is not the only one who needs to forget. All Darcy wants this Christmastide is to forget another Miss Bennet.  

Can the diversions of London help Darcy overcome memories of the fine eyes and pert opinions of a certain Hertfordshire miss?   

Without the Bingleys, the Bennets are left to the company of Mr. Collins and the militia officers—entirely suitable company, according Mrs. Bennet. Elizabeth disagrees, refusing an offer of marriage from the very eligible Mr. Collins. Mama’s nerves suffer horridly until Elizabeth follows her advice to make the most of the officers’ company. 

Even Mr. Bennet seems to agree. So, whilst Jane pines for Bingley, Elizabeth admits the attentions of one agreeable Lt. Wickham. What possible harm can it cause, especially when her parents are so pleased?

Preorder on Amazon

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About The Darcys’ First Christmas

 

Elizabeth anxiously anticipates her new duties as mistress of Pemberley. Darcy is confident of her success, but she cannot bring herself to share his optimism.  

Unexpected guests unsettle all her plans and offer her the perfect Christmastide gift, shattered confidence. 

Can she and Darcy overcome their misunderstandings and salvage their first Christmastide together?   

On sale on Amazon (99 cents at the time this post was published)

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About From Admiration to Love

After the debacle of the previous holiday season, Darcy and Elizabeth joyfully anticipate Christmastide 1813, Georgiana’s come out at Pemberley’s Twelfth Night Ball culminating the season. With months of planning behind the event, even Lady Matlock is satisfied and sends Colonel Fitzwilliam to represent the family, assuring there will be no repeat of the previous Christmastide.  

On St. Nicholas’, Anne de Bourgh and Lady Catherine arrive on Pemberley’s doorstep—never a good sign—demanding sanctuary against the de Bourghs who (according the Lady Catherine) are trying to retake Rosings Park for their family with plans to seduce and marry Anne. Needless to say, Darcy and Fitzwilliam are skeptical. 

Not long afterwards, three gentlemen suitors appear at Pemberley, hoping to court Anne and obliging Darcy to offer holiday hospitality. Anne adores the attention whilst Lady Catherine makes her displeasure know, throwing Pemberley into turmoil that threatens the Twelfth Night Ball. Can Darcy and Elizabeth, with a little help from Fitzwilliam, soothe Lady Catherine’s nerves, see Anne to a respectable match, and still salvage Georgiana’s come out? 

Preorder on Amazon

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About the Author

Maria Grace

Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate in Educational Psychology. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.  

She has one husband and one grandson, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, is starting her sixth year blogging on Random Bits of Fascination, has built seven websites, attended eight English country dance balls, sewn nine Regency era costumes, and shared her life with ten cats.

She can be contacted at:

author.MariaGrace@gmail.com  | Facebook | G+ | Twitter | Random Bits of Fascination | Austen Variations</a | English Historical Fiction Authors | Pinterest

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Giveaway

Maria is generously offering one ebook to my readers, and the winner will have a choice between Darcy and Elizabeth: Christmas 1811 and From Admiration to Love. This giveaway is open internationally and will close on Sunday, December 3, 2017. To enter, please leave a comment with your email address, and let me know which book you’d like to win and what intrigues you most about these stories. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!

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Maria Grace is a superwoman! She returned from evacuating due to Hurricane Harvey to pull off a book release AND a blog tour. I am honored to have her as my guest today to celebrate the release of her newest novel, A Less Agreeable Man, which is book 3 in The Queen of Rosings Park series inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I absolutely loved the first two books in the series, Mistaking Her Character and The Trouble to Check Her, and I can’t wait to see what happens next! Maria is here to talk about debt in the Regency Era, and she brought an excerpt and a giveaway to share with my readers. Please give her a warm welcome!

Debt in the Regency Era

Living on Credit is not a new thing

It’s easy to believe that living on credit is a modern thing. The news abounds with tales of woe regarding consumer debt, mortgages, student loans, and other lines of credit. How would Jane Austen have reacted to such news? Probably with great aplomb and a declaration that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

During the Regency era “almost all members of the middle and upper classes had accounts with different suppliers, who extended credit to their patrons. … Only if the amount was small or they were traveling did they pay cash. In fact, only the poor did not live on credit in one guise or another.” (Forsling, 2017)  In fact, more people depended on credit than ever before resulting in perpetual overcrowding in the debtor’s prisons.

Although debt, both personal and national, were rife in Regency society, attitudes toward debt were largely divided across class lines. “Aristocratic claims for leadership had long been based on lavish displays and consumption while the middle class stressed domestic moderation. In particular, aristocratic disdain for sordid money matters, their casual attitude to debt and addiction to gambling …, were anathema to the middling ranks whose very existence depended on the establishment of creditworthiness and avoidance of financial embarrassment.” (Davidoff, 2002)

Many small and otherwise flourishing businesses failed due to bad debts, especially among the upper classes. Some went so far as to begin refusing credit and to only sell for ‘ready money’. The notion that debts of honor had to be paid and paid quickly while debts to merchants could be put off indefinitely only exacerbated the situation.

Robbing Peter to pay Paul

Gaming debts were regarded as sacrosanct which might not have been so significant an issue had there not been so many of them. The Regency was a time when Englishmen, especially the wealthy and highborn, were ready to bet on almost anything. Though gaming for high stakes was illegal by Austen’s day, authorities mostly seemed to turn a blind eye to it, (Fullerton, 2004) perhaps because it was considered largely an upper class vice.

Different social classes offered different reasons for the immorality of gaming. The upper classes feared losing their money to the lower class, giving them income without having earned it and opposing the work ethic. The rising middle class also saw gaming as opposing the values of stability, property, domesticity, family life and religion. (Rendell, 2002) Regardless of the reason, there was widespread agreement that gaming was a problem, thus legislation was passed against it.

Unfortunately anti-gaming laws, much like prohibition in the US, only forced gambling from public venues into private clubs where individuals bet on any and nearly everything. Organized sports including cricket, horse racing, prize fighting and cock fighting attracted spectators willing to bet on the outcome.  Huge fortunes, even family estates could be won and lost at games of chance. Even the outcome of the Napoleonic Wars were subject to betting.

Moneylenders and bankers made themselves available at private clubs to assist gentlemen in settling their debts of honor which were not otherwise enforceable by law. The cost of this service though (beyond the interest on the debt of course), was creating a legally enforceable debt from which one had not been so previously.

Debtors’ Prison

English bankruptcy laws were particularly harsh, demanding personal repayment of all debt, including business debt, and often incarceration.  Ironically, there was no disgrace about being sent to gaol during the era, provided it was for an acceptable crime like debt or libel. (Murry, 1999) The Royal Courts administered three prisons primarily for debtors: the Fleet, the King’s Bench and the Marshalsea, though debtors might be imprisoned at other facilities as well. (Low, 2005) At any given time during the era, upward of a 10,000 men were imprisoned for debts as small as four pence.  (Savage, 2017)

Debtors were probably the largest proportion of the era’s prison population and had privileges not granted to ordinary criminals, including the right to have their family stay with them and to have other visitors. They could also often arrange to be supplied with beer or spirits. (Low, 2005) “During the quarterly terms, when the court sits, (Fleet) prisoners on paying five shillings a-day, and on giving security, are allowed to go out when they please, and there is a certain space round the prison, called the rules, in which prisoners may live, on furnishing two good securities to the warden for their debt, and on paying about three per cent on the amount of their debts to the warden.” (Feltham, 1803)

The process of obtaining an arrest warrant for debt was expensive. Often several tradesmen would have to band together to see a writ for debt issued. (Kelly, 2006)

Once the writ was obtained, the debtor (once caught, of course, as it was not uncommon for debtors to flee in the face of a writ, even so far as to leave the country) would first be confined to a spunging or lock-up house. A spunging-house was a private house maintained for the local confinement of debtors to give them time to settle their debts before the next step, debtors’ prison.  “…For twelve or fourteen shillings a-day, a debtor may remain [at the spunging house], either till he has found means of paying his debt, or finds it necessary to go to a public prison, when the writ against him becomes returnable. We have heard that great abuses prevail in these spunging-houses, and that many of the impositions practised in them deserve to be rectified. … It would be wrong to quit the sad subject of prisons, without observing that such is the bad arrangement of the laws between debtor and creditor, that ruin to both is greatly accelerated by the expensiveness of every step in the proceedings, insomuch that not one debtor in ten ever pays his debt after he enters a prison. (Feltham, 1803)

Why Debtor’s Prison?

Given that once a debtor was in prison, they lacked the ability to earn money making the payment of his debt even less likely, this approach to debt seems ridiculous. So why was it done?

First, it was assumed that the debtor’s family and friends would be available to help pay off their debts. So imprisoning the debtor might help motivate them to action. Second, it was perceived as a deterrent to getting into debt in the first place. (Clearly, given the numbers in debtors’ prison it was a total failure on that count.) (Savage, 2017)

The third reason is perhaps the most difficult for the modern reader to understand. To the people of the time, the issue was bigger than simply insuring the debtor paid off their debts.  “The ‘moral’ imperative to make the debtor aware of their responsibility for not living beyond their means was judged more important.  … To understand the mind-set of the time, it’s important to remember two things: taking on more debt than you could pay was seen as a form of theft; and,  … (t)heft broke the Biblical commandment, “Thou shalt not steal”. The causes of becoming too indebted to pay also pointed to the presence of other sins: idleness, covetousness, greed, deceitfulness.  … Sin demanded punishment and repentance not support,” thus jailing the debtor fulfilled the moral imperative.  (Savage, 2017)

Myth of the smock wedding

Just because there was a moral imperative to punish debtors didn’t mean that those who owed money accepted their fate easily or didn’t attempt creative means by which to discharge their debts. Running to avoid one’s creditors was common. Beau Brummell fled to France to avoid debtors’ prison.  In some cases a debtor could be pressed into naval service in exchange for the Navy to cover their debts.

Marriage, particularly for the upper class, was also a handy means of bringing in quick cash to alleviate a family’s money woes. The (disastrous) marriage of the Prince of Wales to his cousin, Princess Caroline of Brunswick in 1795 came about so that Parliament would pay off his debts.

Not all men were happy to marry a woman with debts, especially a widow still responsible for her late husband’s debts. Consequently, the practice of a ‘smock wedding’ came into being.  At such a wedding, the bride would be married naked, brining nothing into the marriage. In practice, she usually was barefoot and garbed in a chemise or sheet. The salient point was that she was technically bringing nothing into the marriage, thus her husband-to-be was thought not liable for any debts she might have. (Adkins, 2013) It is too bad that snopes.com was not around in the era, because it could have told them that the ‘smock wedding’ way out of debt was an urban myth and would not stop the new bride’s creditors from knocking at their door.

References

Adkins, Roy, and Lesley Adkins. Jane Austen’s England. Viking, 2013.

Craig, Sheryl. Jane Austen and the State of the Nation. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

Davidoff, Leonore & Hall, Catherine   –   Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class Davidoff, Leonore, and Catherine Hall. Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780-1850. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.

Feltham, John. The picture of London, for 1803; being a correct guide to all the curiosities, amusements, exhibitions, public establishments, and remarkable objects in and near London; with a collection of appropriate tables. For the use of strangers, foreigners, and all persons who are intimately acquainted with the British metropolis. London: R. Phillips, 1803.

Forsling, Yvonne . “Money Makes the World Go Round.” Hibiscus-Sinensis. Accessed July 22, 2017. http://hibiscus-sinensis.com/regency/money.htm

Fullerton, Susannah. Jane Austen and Crime. Sydney: Jane Austen Society of Australia, 2004.

Kelly, Ian. Beau Brummell: The Ultimate Man of Style. New York: Free Press, 2006.

Laudermilk, Sharon H., and Teresa L. Hamlin. The Regency Companion. New York: Garland, 1989.

Low, Donald A. The Regency underworld. Stroud: Sutton, 2005.

Murray, Venetia. An Elegant Madness: High Society in Regency England. New York: Viking, 1999.

Rendell, Jane. The Pursuit of Pleasure Gender, Space & Architecture in Regency London. London: Athlone Press, 2002.

Savage, William . “The Georgian Way with Debt.”  Pen and Pension.  July 19, 2017. Accessed July 25, 2017. https://penandpension.com/2017/07/19/the-georgian-way-with-debt/.

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About A Less Agreeable Man

Dull, plain and practical, Mary Bennet was the girl men always overlooked. Nobody thought she’d garner a second glance, much less a husband. But she did, and now she’s grateful to be engaged to Mr. Michaels, the steady, even tempered steward of Rosings Park. By all appearances, they are made for each other, serious, hard-working, and boring.

Michaels finds managing Rosings Park relatively straight forward, but he desperately needs a helpmeet like Mary, able to manage his employers: the once proud Lady Catherine de Bourgh who is descending into madness and her currently proud nephew and heir, Colonel Fitzwilliam, whose extravagant lifestyle has left him ill-equipped for economy and privation.

Colonel Fitzwilliam had faced cannon fire and sabers, taken a musket ball to the shoulder and another to the thigh, stood against Napoleon and lived to tell of it, but barking out orders and the point of his sword aren’t helping him save Rosings Park from financial ruin. Something must change quickly if he wants to salvage any of his inheritance. He needs help, but Michaels is tedious and Michaels’ fiancée, the opinionated Mary Bennet, is stubborn and not to be borne.

Apparently, quiet was not the same thing as meek, and reserved did not mean mild. The audacity of the woman, lecturing him on how he should manage his barmy aunt. The fact that she is usually right doesn’t help. Miss Bennet gets under his skin, growing worse by the day until he finds it very difficult to remember that she’s engaged to another man.

Can order be restored to Rosings Park or will Lady Catherine’s madness ruin them all?

Goodreads | Amazon | Kobo | Barnes & Noble | iBooks

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Excerpt from A Less Agreeable Man, courtesy of Maria Grace

The little chapel hummed as it filled with Sunday morning congregants. Mary plucked at the braided trim of the periwinkle blue calico gown that she wore every Sunday.

Charlotte slapped her hand lightly. “You will spoil your dress. He will be here. Stop fretting.”

Mary laced her hands tightly in her lap and glanced over her shoulder. The Hunsford parish church appeared exactly as it always did: stark slate floor and grey stone walls. Sturdy dark wooden pews scarred with use, just a few more than absolutely necessary to accommodate the parish church-goers. Several cobwebs dangled in the corners, and the windowsills needed dusting.

But this Sunday was like no other.

Mr. Collins minced his way to the pulpit. Did he enjoy the way all eyes were on him as he paraded past? Although he professed his humility to any who would listen, it seemed that a man so assured of his modesty would necessarily be prideful of it.

One more topic to avoid at the Collins’ dinner table. It might have made for interesting conversation, though.

He climbed the three steps up into the dark-stained walnut pulpit. A hush fell over the chapel. “I publish the Banns of marriage between Graham Allen Michaels of Hunsford parish and Mary Susanna Bennet of Hunsford parish. If any of you know cause or just impediment why these two persons should not be joined together in Holy matrimony, ye are to declare it. This is the first time of asking.”

Lady Catherine slowly rose, her purple silk ball gown rustling against the front row pew. “Where is he?”

Whispers and cloth-muffled shuffles mounted, gathering with the force of storm clouds. Mary glanced over her shoulder. Too many people were looking at her, although just as many were scanning the chapel for Mr. Michaels.

Lady Catherine turned to face the congregation. “Where is he? How can I know if I approve if I cannot see him? Present him to me now.”

“He is not here, your ladyship,” Mr. Collins stammered, heavy beads of sweat dotting his forehead.

“I do not recall giving permission for him to be elsewhere. I am quite certain of that. I insist—”

The church door groaned and swung open. Two men paused in the doorway, silhouetted in bright sun.

“Richard Brandon Fitzwilliam! Young man, why are late for—”

“Your ladyship.” Mary stood, her knees having all the substance of calves’ foot jelly. “May I present Mr. Michaels?”

“Michaels? Why do I care to receive him into my acquaintance? Come and sit down this moment, Richard.” She pointed to the empty spot beside her and sat as if on a throne.

Colonel Fitzwilliam scowled—an expression that would likely bring an entire regiment to order— and stalked to the family pew. Mrs. Jenkinson whispered something—probably very serious given the tight lines around her mouth— to Lady Catherine.

She threw her head back and cackled.

Mr. Michaels slipped in beside Mary, offering a supportive glance to Colonel Fitzwilliam.

Mr. Collins cleared his throat, waited for silence, and returned to the order of service. Once he exhausted all the words of his sermon and a few thousand more, he dismissed them and the congregation dissolved into a throng milling in the cheerful morning sun just outside the church.

 

Mr. Michaels beckoned Mary aside to a stand of shade trees, just far enough away from the crowd for a little private conversation but not so far as to raise the attention of the gossips, but Mr. Collins trailed after them like a terrier on a rat.

“Late to services, sir?” His tone had an edge which suggested this dialogue might well last all day. “I cannot condone it. Think of the precedent it will set among the parish. You see how it distressed her ladyship.”

“I assure you it was not by intention or neglect. I was called away for a bit of an emergency—”

“What happened?” Mary and Mr. Collins asked simultaneously.

“Not to worry; the issue is quite resolved. There was just a small misunderstanding on the road.” Michaels glanced over his shoulder toward a sandy patch near the church door where Lady Catherine, flanked by Mrs. Jenkinson, held court. Her fondness for that particular spot was not accidental. Her proximity to the stone building caused her voice to broadcast farther than it would if she stood anywhere else.

Mr. Collins’ face changed entirely, his critical tone fading. “Was her ladyship involved?”

“The matter is resolved, and no further discussion need be had.” He offered Mary his arm.

“I am most gratified to hear that, sir. Most gratified.” Mr. Collins trundled off toward the church door with his peculiar step-hop gait.

Lady Catherine took Colonel Fitzwilliam’s arm and slowly made her way past the crowd toward her waiting carriage.

“I do hope Collins can keep his mouth shut.” Michaels muttered under his breath.

“He does seem to upset her as often as not.” Mary winced as Mr. Collins reached Lady Catherine and started talking.

Michaels leaned very close. “She pitched Colonel Fitzwilliam from the carriage halfway to the church. She did not recognize him and refused to permit a strange man to ride in her carriage.”

“This is the first time she has failed to identify him,” Mary whispered behind her hand.

“I came on them in the road as it was happening. It took some time to calm him down.”

“An excellent reason to be late.”

“On the first Sunday our banns are read. I know, and I am sorry.” He frowned a little. He always did when they disagreed over timeliness.

“What are you discussing, so low and private?” Charlotte waddled up to them, her drab, high-necked gown showed the outline of her belly. It would not fit for much longer.

“Certainly not what you would expect.” Mary glanced toward Lady Catherine.

Charlotte’s smiled faded. “Would you have dinner with us this afternoon, Mr. Michaels? It has been so long since we have enjoyed your company.”

“I should like that very much, thank you.”

Charlotte nodded and shuffled off toward Mr. Collins and Lady Catherine.

“I think I shall follow the carriage back to Rosings in the event Lady Catherine suffers any more confusion. In any case, I should speak to the Colonel about a few matters—”

She squeezed his arm, a bit harder than might be decorous. “It is Sunday. You should rest. You work late into the night, and you start far too early in the morning. Once you begin, it is difficult for you to stop.”

“Why do you not come out directly and say it? You fear that I might miss dinner altogether and thus offend the Collinses.”

Mary stared at her feet.

“And offend you as well?” He laid his hand over hers and pressed firmly. “You are right. The situation at Rosings has been so overwhelming it has brought out a level of single-mindedness in me that I know is both a blessing and a curse.”

“It is pleasing that you work so diligently, and that you are so good at what you do.” He always intended to keep his promises. Nonetheless, there was a better than average chance he would fail at the endeavor.

Still, it was good that he should be so hard-working and committed to those he served. Or at least Mr. Collins said so. If only he were so dedicated to her.

Mr. Darcy’s devotion to Lizzy was the stuff of novels, running after her to rescue her from the clutches of Lady Catherine. And Lydia—who would have thought? She inspired her Mr. Amberson to walk all the way to Pemberley and demand an audience with a man so far above him that they should never have otherwise met. Apparently passionate tempers like Lizzy’s and Lydia’s inspired grand shows of affection.

Mary’s did not.

But comparing herself to her sisters never brought pleasure. There was nothing good to be had from it. Michaels had chosen her from among all her sisters. That was the thing she had to focus on. He could have courted any of them. Not that Lydia would have paid him any mind or that Lady Catherine would have permitted Jane a suitor she did not select. Still, Michaels chose her, purposefully, intentionally because her disposition—serious and practical—matched his. He cared for her exactly the way all conduct books declared he should—faithful and steady, pleasant and companionable. Complaining about such a man was the height of ingratitude.

“Shall I walk you to the Collins’ then?” He gestured across the rutted, uneven lane toward a little used footpath that led into the Rosings’ woods.

Tall hardwoods lined the path, their branches arching out and tangling with one another to form a covering that kept out the sunlight. Some found it ominous—even called it haunted at times—but that only ensured they would have a modicum of privacy to converse.

Honeysuckle vines twined around the trees, winding into the canopy and filling the air with sweet perfume. Too bad there were no flowers in reach.   Each flower had only a drop of nectar, but she relished the secret indulgence. If Michaels knew, would he find it endearing or ridiculous?

“You were concerned because I was away a fortnight longer than I had predicted?”

She clasped her hands behind her back with a shrug. “I know you had a great deal to accomplish.”

How could she tell him the local matrons were quick to believe that he would abandon her if he left Kent for any time at all. No doubt they did not think her sufficient enticement to keep his attention once he was exposed to the wider society of London. Surely there, prettier, richer girls would vie for his consideration, and she would necessarily be the loser.

It was very unpleasant to know that people thought her likely to be jilted.

Why was it the woman always suffered more being jilted than the man? He might walk away with barely any damage, but her reputation would bear the stain forever.

“Was your trip to London unsuccessful?”

“It was more complicated than I anticipated. I have finally untangled Rosings’ records, but it is just the beginning.”

“You look so weary.”

“I am certain the colonel expects the debts to be paid off quickly, with little privation on his part. The expenses of the manor are extreme, and I suppose the colonel would prefer to maintain a lavish lifestyle. I cannot imagine he will be amenable to plans of economy. It is hard to see how, under those circumstances, the estate might be unencumbered in even ten years.” He rubbed his eyes with thumb and forefinger.

“I know you will find a way.” She touched his arm.

He turned to her, smiling. “I am glad to be home and privy to your good sense and encouragement. Now you must tell me how things have been in my absence.”

“Mrs. Collins is faring well as she increases, though it seems to be progressing far more rapidly than anyone has expected. The midwife has expressed some concerns.”

Michaels shook his head, the corners of his lips turning up. “It is difficult to picture a household of tiny Collinses running about. Perhaps it is a good thing he is the kind of man who will have little to do with his children.”

Was it wrong to agree? “He received word that he has inherited the estate that had been entailed upon him. I expect the topic will be discussed … extensively … at dinner tonight.”

The edges of Michaels’ eyes creased as his brow furrowed. “He will wish to seek advice in hiring a curate, no doubt. Something that is unlikely to please his patroness.”

“I expect not. As it is, she no longer comes to call.”

“Collins cannot like that.”

“Not at all.  There are some days she is driven past in the phaeton. He waits near the windows watching for them. She usually waves as they pass, and he appreciates that. Mrs. Jenkinson believes that the fresh air is beneficial for her spirits. According to her, Lady Catherine has some good days in which she is quite aware of what is going on around her and demonstrates strong understanding. She will direct menus and even engage in conversation with Colonel Fitzwilliam.”

“You mean try to tell him what to do?”

Mary snickered. “The darker days are growing more common though, and very unpredictable. I saw bruises along Mrs. Jenkinson’s face last week. She claimed that she was distracted and ran into the door frame. I am not inclined to believe that.”

“If Lady Catherine is indeed becoming dangerous, then we must have some way to manage her.” Did he really need to call out the obvious?

“I plan to call upon Mrs. Jenkinson and the housekeeper tomorrow to discuss what might be done to make Lady Catherine more … comfortable.”

“Perhaps you might have a few words with Colonel Fitzwilliam? I think he could benefit from your advice.”

“If you wish. Just pray, let not Mr. Collins be informed. He is uncomfortable with me meddling in the affairs of my betters. The notion that Lady Catherine must be managed agitates him. Whilst I can bear his anger, Charlotte cannot. Her condition is fragile. She should not be taxed.”

He took her hands and pressed them to his chest. “How do you always seem to know what everyone around you needs? I may be steward of the land here, but I am quite certain you are steward to all the people.”

“Do you disapprove?” She bit her lower lip.

“I approve very much.” He leaned down and kissed her, gentle, chaste, controlled. His lips were dry and warm, a little rough from traveling.

Her heart fluttered, just a mite, restrained as much as he. Was it wrong to wish she could give it free rein to soar? Soon, very soon, they would be wed. Perhaps it would be different then.

****

About the Author

Maria Grace

Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate in Educational Psychology. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.

She has one husband and one grandson, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, is starting her sixth year blogging on Random Bits of Fascination, has built seven websites, attended eight English country dance balls, sewn nine Regency era costumes, and shared her life with ten cats.

Connect with Maria Grace via Email: author.MariaGrace@gmail.com | Facebook | Google+ | Twitter | Random Bits of Fascination | Austen Variations | English Historical Fiction Authors | Pinterest

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Giveaway

Maria is kindly offering an ebook copy of A Less Agreeable Man to one lucky reader, open internationally. To enter, please leave a comment with your email address. We’d love to know what you enjoyed most about the guest post and excerpt. This giveaway will close on Sunday, September 24, 2017. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced in the comment section of this post. Good luck!

And thank you, Maria, for being my guest today, and congratulations on your new release!

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snowbound-at-hartfield-ebookI’m excited to have Maria Grace as a guest on Diary of an Eccentric again today, this time to celebrate the release of her novella, Snowbound at Hartfield (click to read my review). Because Pride and PrejudicePersuasion, and Emma are my favorites of Austen’s novels, I was curious as to what inspired Maria to merge these stories, and she has been kind enough to talk about that and the challenges of getting the principal characters together. Please give a warm welcome to Maria Grace:

By all accounts,  Snowbound at Hartfield is a bit of an odd duck. It is an Austen mash-up of three different books, a romance about second chances and a glimpse at the difficult reality single adults, men and women, faced in the regency era. Kind of a tall order under the best of circumstances.

But no one has ever accused me of doing things the easy way.

Ever.

The idea for Snowbound came out of a March Mash-up Madness theme we had last year at Austen Variations. (Shameless plug—we’re doing it again next month! Go by the Facebook group and leave us your suggestion! You never know…) One of our readers suggested a scene between some of the Austen fathers. It seemed to me like Mr. Bennet would find Mr. Woodhouse and Sir Walter Elliot particularly good fodder for his sense of humor.

The biggest challenge was figuring out how to get them all in the same place at the same time, given that neither Mr. Woodhouse nor Mr. Bennet was fond of travel. Add in the baronet we’d all like to strangle, and it was quite a pickle to get them all in a room together. Since they would not be likely to socialize together, getting stuck together because of bad weather seemed to be the best excuse available and fitting the time period.

It all took an interesting turn when the characters ended up in the drawing room together. I started out writing a scene about the fathers. But midway through that scene, two secondary characters stepped up and informed me that this was their story and it was not going to be over in a single scene. In fact, I tried to end the story twice before I actually got to the end the characters demanded. They were very insistent that I get them to the end they wanted. The oddest thing about it was that it was a heroine I NEVER expected to write.

In general, I have never liked Miss Elizabeth Elliot, especially since I see myself something of an Anne Elliot. So I definitely didn’t want to write her or set her up for a happy ending.

But, I guess I’m a sucker for characters who want to turn over a new leaf (like Lydia in The Trouble to Check Her).  The story begins after Miss Elliot has suffered two very difficult experiences. First, the heir presumptive of the family, William Elliot, has taken her friend, Penelope Clay, ‘under his protections’–which is to say he has made her his mistress. Worse yet, Penelope is living in his house, which was just not done. All this happened while Elizabeth was expecting an offer of marriage from him. Talk about humiliation!

On top of that, her younger sister Anne is married to the very desirable Captain Wentworth, leaving Elizabeth, the eldest sister who should have been the first to marry, the only one left unmarried.

So, Elizabeth is an humiliated spinster, whose financial situation requires her to live with her foolish father. In such a situation, she would be the mistress of the house, handling the management aspect of this home. With little money to work with, it would have been very challenging to live the lifestyle of a baronet, as her father would have required.

Living through all that would tax anyone, maybe even to the breaking point. To me, it seemed the perfect motivation for potential personal change, so that’s the place I wrote her from.

The hero of this tale, believe it or not, is Colonel Fitzwilliam, who in many ways was as broken as Miss Elliot. As a military officer of the era, he would have seen action in the Napoleonic wars. Those wars were brutal and horrific. It is hard to imagine a man who could experience that without some lasting effects. Those experiences impact him greatly, leaving him feeling ‘less’ than the man he used to be.

On top of all that, he is a bachelor in a society that considered unmarried men the ‘scourge of society’. In many instances, bachelors paid substantially more in taxes than married men, while at the same time, they were not regarded as fulfilling their masculine potential. They were not as persecuted at spinsters, but they were definitely looked down upon.

So what happens when these two, worn-around-the-edges characters meet up? Let’s just say it wasn’t what I was expecting! But this is one snowstorm I’m very glad I got caught in.

Thanks, Maria! I am so glad for that snowstorm as well, since I absolutely loved this novella!

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About Snowbound at Hartfield

Colonel Fitzwilliam should have been happy facing retirement. No more Napoleon, no more tromping the Continent, and his distant cousin had unexpectedly left him an estate. What was more, two of his favorite people, Darcy and Elizabeth, were travelling with him to visit his new home.

But the colonel wasn’t happy, not when he was forced to watch Darcy exchanging enamored glances with his wife. No, he wanted to pitch his cousin out the window. It didn’t help when Darcy kept lecturing him on the joys of wedded life— as if women like Elizabeth Darcy grew on every tree.

Then the snow started.

Now they were stranded at the home of George and Emma Knightley, another intolerable, blissfully wedded couple who wanted nothing more than to see his bachelor days come to an end. Thank heavens they never thought of matching him with the proud spinster who had also been caught in the storm. That would have been utterly intolerable.

Or would it?

Check out Snowbound at Hartfield on Goodreads | Buy from an assortment of retailers

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About the Author

Maria Grace

Maria Grace

Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate in Educational Psychology. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.

She has one husband and one grandson, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, is starting her sixth year blogging on Random Bits of Fascination, has built seven websites, attended eight English country dance balls, sewn nine Regency era costumes, and shared her life with ten cats.

Connect with Maria Grace via email at author.MariaGrace@gmail.com | Facebook | Twitter | Google+ | Pinterest | Random Bits of Fascination | Jane Austen Variations | English Historical Fiction Authors

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Giveaway

Maria is generously offering an ebook copy of Snowbound at Hartfield. To enter, please leave a comment with your email address. This giveaway will close on Sunday, March 5, 2017. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!

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Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★★

He understood her and was willing to offer respect in a way her father never had. There was much about him that reminded her of Wentworth.

Anne and her husband loved one another. Could she love the colonel, and he her? Did it matter, though?

Compatibility and friendship were far more significant concerns. Those were the things that would last.

(from Snowbound at Hartfield)

Maria Grace’s new novella, Snowbound at Hartfield, is a delightful mash-up of Jane Austen’s Pride and PrejudicePersuasion, and Emma, told from the alternating points of view of Colonel Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Elliot.

A blizzard finds Colonel Fitzwilliam, Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, and Mr. Bennet stranded in Highbury on their way to the colonel’s newly inherited estate, Listingbrook. Meanwhile, Elizabeth and her father, Sir Walter, are traveling to visit their Dalrymple cousins when they are caught in the storm. Fortunately, Darcy runs into an old friend, Mr. George Knightley, and he invites both groups to stay with him, his wife Emma, and her father at Hartfield.

It’s not long before Colonel Fitzwilliam and Miss Elliot, having briefly met a few months prior, begin a careful assessment of each other, as spending several days at Hartfield with happily married couples and irritating fathers take their toll. Both have been hurt — the colonel by the war, Elizabeth by her cousin and her best friend — and they begin to understand one another in a way that only people with their own baggage and their own ghosts can. But can they get past these obstacles and learn enough about each other to build a foundation for a lifetime of happiness before the snow melts and they go their separate ways?

I couldn’t wait to read Snowbound at Hartfield because I love Grace’s writing and was curious how she would combine the characters from my three favorite Austen novels, and I’m happy to say I wasn’t disappointed. I love Austen-inspired tales that put the secondary characters front and center, and Grace’s take on Colonel Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Elliot was spot on, in my opinion. A haunted, scarred Fitzwilliam embarking on a new life after his military career seemed authentic, as did an Elizabeth Elliot crushed by the betrayal of her friend, the marriage of her two younger sisters, and her diminishing prospects for marriage as she nears 30.

I also loved seeing a Mr. Bennet amused by Sir Walter and Mr. Woodhouse, and I laughed out loud several times as he baited the status-conscious baronet. It was also entertaining to see a friendship develop between Mrs. Darcy and Mrs. Knightley and see them both happy in their marriages.

Snowbound at Hartfield is my favorite in Grace’s series of Sweet Tea novellas and short stories, with plenty of romance and humor to balance out the more serious aspects of the plot. It was fairly short but satisfying, and I savored it over a period of a few days because I didn’t want it to end.

Disclosure: Snowbound at Hartfield is from my personal library.

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Maria Grace

I’m delighted to have Maria Grace as a guest on Diary of an Eccentric today to showcase her latest novel, Pemberley: Mr. Darcy’s Dragon, the first in a new series. Please give Maria a warm welcome as she answers my question: Why Dragons?

I was chatting with Anna one day and she asked, “So what’s a nice regency romance writer like you doing with a book like that? Dragons? Seriously?”

Ok, that’s not really what Anna asked me. (We all know she is much too sweet and well-mannered to say anything like that.) But she did ask me to talk a little about how I ended up writing a Pride and Prejudice variation about dragons. So, same thing more or less, right?

But I digress.

I suppose I could wax philosophical and say that it began back in the dark ages of middle school when I first read Anne McCaffrey’s Dragon Flight. My imagination was captured by her dragons. Seriously, in the midst of middle school angst, who wouldn’t want an enormous, fire-breathing friend who was entirely devoted to you? I certainly would have welcomed that. Middle school—shudder!

Seriously though, I’ve loved fantasy from the very beginning and only recently wandered into the realm of the regency era and Jane Austen’s world. The first stories I wrote were science fiction fan fiction and the first original novel I wrote was a fantasy. And yes, I still have it, and no, I’m not letting it out of the box where it safely resides. (I ONCE thought about resurrecting it, but yeah, it was written by a fifteen year old, and there was no getting away from that.)

Writing took a back seat to college, graduate school, adult life and kids. Somehow, when I wandered back into the authorial realm, I landed in regency era England.

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Maria Grace

My husband and boys were thrilled that I was fulfilling a long held passion and totally supportive of my efforts. But… (you knew that was coming, right?) They were also science fiction/fantasy fans. Knowing about my prior dabbling in those genres, they really, really REALLY wanted me to write something they would want to read. (Ok, to be fair, my Mr. Darcy actually does read ALL of my books, romance, history, fantasy… all of them.)

So, one day, at the local pizza buffet, I was knocking around story ideas with my boys, something we’d often done before.  We were getting a little silly and just tossing stuff out there, when an idea landed with a resounding, deafening thud. A dragon sized one.

What if there were a secret society of dragons living alongside people in Regency England.

I suddenly had their attention. Ideas were flying fast and furious: ideas for how the species would interact, what government would look like, the economics of it all—and boy could I tell they’d been paying attention in their history and government classes! In the span of way longer than we should have spent eating pizza, we had an entire dragon world built, just screaming for a story to live in it.

And really, as a mother, and an author, how could I possibly walk away from something that my kids helped me build? Seriously? I had to write something for that world. It was about that time that I encountered Pride Prejudice and Zombies—which was an interesting experience and we’ll leave it at that.

But it did get me thinking, which is a dangerous thing. As much fun as zombies might be (ok, not really, I’m not a zombie kinda gal), dragons had to be better right. So the gauntlet was thrown, and Mr. Darcy’s Dragon was born.

To be entirely honest, I have never had as much fun writing a series as I have with these dragon books. I’m currently half way through the second book and into plotting the third book. With any luck book two should be done this quarter and I’d like to have the third one done by the end of the year. I know it’s a big leap for regency romance readers, but I hope that some of you will grab the dragon by the tail and join me in a dragon world where Darcy and Elizabeth must prevent the outbreak of a new dragon war (and maybe fall in love in the process) with a little help from their dragon friends.

Thank you, Maria, for sharing your inspiration with me and my readers. I can’t wait to delve into this world of dragons!

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About Pemberley: Mr. Darcy’s Dragon

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England is overrun by dragons of all shapes and sizes. Most people are blissfully unaware of them and the Pendragon Treaty that keeps the peace between human and dragon kind.  Only those born with preternatural hearing, like Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet are able to hear and converse with dragonkind.

When the first firedrake egg laid in a century is stolen from Pemberley, the fragile dragon peace teeters on collapse. Darcy has no choice but to chase down the thief, a journey that leads him to quaint market town of Meryton and fellow Dragon Keeper, Elizabeth Bennet.

Elizabeth shares a unique bond with dragons, stronger than anything Darcy has ever experienced. More than that, her vast experience and knowledge of dragon lore may be the key to uncovering the lost egg. But Elizabeth can’t stand Darcy’s arrogance and doesn’t trust him to care properly for a precious baby firedrake. After all, he already lost the egg once. What’s to prevent it from happening again?

Can he win her trust and recover the stolen egg before it hatches and sends England spiraling back into the Dark Ages of Dragon War?

Check out Pemberley: Mr. Darcy’s Dragon on Goodreads | Amazon (Kindle) (Paperback) | Barnes & Noble (Nook) (Paperback) | Kobo

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About the Author

Maria Grace

Maria Grace

Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate in Educational Psychology. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.

She has one husband and one grandson, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, is starting her sixth year blogging on Random Bits of Fascination, has built seven websites, attended eight English country dance balls, sewn nine Regency era costumes, and shared her life with ten cats.

Connect with Maria Grace via email at author.MariaGrace@gmail.com | Facebook | Twitter | Google+ | Pinterest | Random Bits of Fascination | Jane Austen Variations | English Historical Fiction Authors

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Giveaway

Maria is generously offering an ebook copy of Pemberley: Mr. Darcy’s Dragon. To enter, please leave a comment with your email address. This giveaway will close on Sunday, March 5, 2017. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!

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Happy New Year!! I thought I would start off 2017 by celebrating the best of the books I read last year. Rather than do my usual Top 10 list, I thought I’d try something new this year and list my favorites in various categories, with links to (and quotes from) my reviews.

BEST HISTORICAL FICTION (WWII)

A Moment Forever by Cat Gardiner

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A Moment Forever is not a book you merely read; Gardiner ensures you actually live the story — from the overindulgence of Long Island’s Gold Coast to the wartime excitement in the Big Apple, from the airfields and USO dances and the fashions of the ’40s to the solemnity of Paris 50 years after the roundup of its Jewish residents for deportation. There are so many layers to this story, and I never wanted it to end.

BEST HISTORICAL FICTION (OTHER ERA)

Lost Among the Living by Simone St. James

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Simone St. James is a new-to-me writer, and as soon as I finished Lost Among the Living I determined that I must read her previous novels, which all seem to be equally suspenseful. I loved her writing here, particularly the passages that describe the intensity of Jo and Alex’s relationship, which enable readers to feel Jo’s grief and the frustration inherent in not knowing Alex’s fate. I also liked that while there was romance and passion, Lost Among the Living is at its core a ghost story, but it’s so much more than that. St. James shows the impact of the war on the returning soldiers and the women whose men never came home, as well as the blurring of the boundaries between social classes and how greed and selfishness can tear families apart.

BEST AUSTEN VARIATION (REGENCY)

Mr. Bennet’s Dutiful Daughter by Joana Starnes

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Mr. Bennet’s Dutiful Daughter is a beautifully written novel, with just the right amount of angst to move me to the brink of tears without making me put the book down in despair. Starnes has a knack for putting Elizabeth and Darcy in impossible situations, delving deep into their souls, and keeping readers on the edge of their seats as they wonder how a happily ever after will be achieved. I loved the pacing of the novel, and Starnes does a wonderful job evolving their relationship through many ups and downs as they navigate the challenges posed by their families and themselves.

BEST AUSTEN VARIATION (MODERN)

Without a Conscience by Cat Gardiner

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Like Denial of Conscience, Without a Conscience is sexy (definitely for mature audiences only) and exciting from the very first page. Gardiner is a fantastic storyteller who weaves clever plots and navigates Darcy and Liz through the twists and turns while further evolving their relationship. In the midst of the danger and excitement, Gardiner provides plenty of humor, and the obvious rivalry between Liz and Caroline had me laughing out loud several times. The novel is perfectly paced, and there’s just something about Gardiner’s writing style that has me hanging on every word.

BEST AUSTEN VARIATION (SECONDARY CHARACTERS)

The Trouble to Check Her by Maria Grace

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The Trouble to Check Her exemplifies why Grace is one of my favorite authors of Austen-inspired fiction. Her attention to detail in terms of character development and the history of the era is fantastic, and I hope there is another book in the series (mainly because I want to find out what happened to Jane Bingley after her falling out with Elizabeth Darcy).

BEST AUSTEN VARIATION (OTHER)

The Elizabeth Papers by Jenetta James

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I enjoyed reading both Elizabeth’s diary and about the rocky start to Charlie and Evie’s relationship and their determination to find Elizabeth’s papers. I especially loved how James showed that even Austen’s beloved couple likely didn’t have a perfect marriage, and by telling that story from the point of view of Elizabeth, readers are able to see her insecurities and her frustration while having little clue what Darcy is thinking or feeling, which creates just the right amount of tension. I also loved getting a glimpse of the Darcys and their family years into their marriage, so they are no longer bright-eyed newlyweds but older and wiser and settled into their life together. Charlie and Evie’s story was exciting and even had some similarities to Darcy and Elizabeth’s, and Charlie’s client, Cressida Carter, is very Caroline Bingley-esque. The dual narratives were seamlessly connected, and the shifts between the two were timed perfectly to ensure readers can’t put the book down.

MOST UNIQUE AUSTEN VARIATION

The Many Lives of Fitzwilliam Darcy by Beau North and Brooke West

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The Many Lives of Fitzwilliam Darcy is unique and exciting. It made me laugh, and it left me in tears, so much so that my husband kept asking if I was okay and I worried I would short out my Kindle! It’s been a while since I’ve been so emotionally affected by a Pride and Prejudice variation. It’s absolutely one of the best books I’ve read this year, possibly one of my all-time favorites, and definitely one I won’t forget!

BEST HOLIDAY NOVEL

Lucky 13  by Cat Gardiner

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Oh, how I loved this novel! Gardiner is a master at bringing Jane Austen’s characters into the present day and turning up the heat (and the laughs). From their heated arguments to their heated encounters at the jaw-dropping calendar audition and the chest-oiling photo shoot, I couldn’t get enough of this Lizzy and Darcy. The secondary characters are equally entertaining, from Jane, the supermodel with a secret, to Caroline, the matchmaking poochie mama, and especially Charlotte (aka “Punky) and Darcy’s cousin, Rick (aka “Preppy”), who are the most obnoxious of the numerous matchmakers.

BEST POETRY COLLECTION

The Jane and Bertha in Me by Rita Maria Martinez

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Martinez’s poems are full of vivid imagery (“The Bertha in me sleeps until three in the afternoon and sits on the back porch with a cup of Earl Grey that quells the desire to chop up her crotchety landlord,” from “The Jane and Bertha in Me”), sensual (“Charlotte’s manuscript sepulchered like an incorruptible saint, splayed on its back like a woman whose architecture I want to touch,” from “At the British Library”), insightful (“Pain caused by first love never truly subsides,” from “Jane’s Denial”), and even humorous (“She’ll be sorry for canoodling with the missionary, thinks Rochester, who’s exceeded his cursing quota and looks like Wolverine,” from “Jane Eyre: Classic Cover Girl”). Martinez even writes about Brontë herself, from her different personas to the migraines she suffered through in order to create her “pristine prose” (from “The Literature of Prescription”).

BEST SHORT STORY/COLLECTION

“Tea Time” by Tiffani Burnett-Velez

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I finished reading “Tea Time” in less than half an hour, and I was satisfied with the abrupt ending even though I wasn’t ready for the story to be over. The final few lines pack a punch and made it a story I won’t soon forget. I can’t wait to read more from Burnett-Velez.

FAVORITE COVER

Undercover by Cat Gardiner

undercover book cover

Gardiner is a fantastic storyteller who had me hooked from the very first page. The use of slang from the era, her vivid descriptions, the steamy scenes, and the murder mystery are handled so perfectly that I could picture the entire book in my head, as though I were actually watching a black-and-white hard-boiled crime drama on the screen. She moved Austen’s characters into 1952 New York City in a way that felt true to them. I loved that she gave Darcy a painful back story and that Elizabeth and Jane weren’t the best of friends. Gardiner’s portrayal of Georgiana as a modern and independent though innocent and sheltered young woman is handled beautifully, as is Lydia’s downfall at the hands of Slick Wick.

****

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Some of the more memorable 5-star books from 2016 (click the covers to read my reviews)

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undeceived

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Miss Darcy's Companion front cover_V4

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the forgotten room

What were your favorite books of 2016? I’d love to know!

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Source: Personal library

She locked the door behind her and fell headlong onto the bed. The room was cold. The servants had stopped lighting the fire when it was clear it would not be used.

Fitting.

She could call a girl to light the fire easily enough, but to what point? Fire would do nothing to chase the chill lodged deep within.

Nothing would.

(from The Darcys’ First Christmas)

In The Darcys’ First Christmas, Maria Grace’s holiday novella sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, the newly married Mr. and Mrs. Darcy are planning to celebrate a quiet Christmas at Pemberley with the Gardiners. Already worried that she isn’t up to the task of being the Mistress of Pemberley, Elizabeth nervously begins preparations for the first Christmas ball in years and has an idea to start a new tradition, a Christmas picnic for the children. Darcy seems pleased with Elizabeth’s ideas and how she is settling into her new role with the help of Mrs. Reynolds, Pemberley’s longtime housekeeper.

However, the Darcys’ holiday plans quickly fall apart when Lord and Lady Matlock and Colonel Fitzwilliam arrive unexpectedly, and Aunt Matlock — already upset at Darcy marrying beneath him — is hellbent on taking charge of the preparations for the ball and appalled at the changes Elizabeth has proposed as Pemberley’s new mistress. To make matters worse, Darcy — used to running Pemberley on his own and panicked by his relations’ sudden arrival — usurps Elizabeth’s authority in household decision-making, crushing her already fragile self-esteem. When Georgiana’s fear of Aunt Matlock keeps her confined to her rooms and an accident puts even more strain on the Darcys’ marriage, things go from bad to worse, and neither Elizabeth nor Darcy is able to reach out to the other for comfort.

The Darcys’ First Christmas is another sweet story that I enjoyed in the little time I had to myself over Christmas weekend. Grace does a great job showing Elizabeth’s insecurities about her new role and how the Darcys’ relationship is still so new that misunderstandings are bound to pop up. I loved seeing Elizabeth and Darcy both find the courage they needed to take on Lady Matlock and even Georgiana, who still has so much growing up to do. However, it didn’t feel right to me that Darcy and Elizabeth would turn away from one another at the first sign of tension and wait so long to finally address their troubles. I understood it for the sake of the story and appreciated the insight from Fitzwilliam and Mrs. Gardiner, but it just felt like Elizabeth was a bit too weak in this story.

Still, that didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the novella, and I loved that Grace included some holiday traditions like the Yule log and even addressed Fitzwilliam’s trauma from the war. Grace managed to pack so much into so few pages, and I was left feeling fully satisfied.

I hope you’re all not sick of my Christmas-themed reviews because I have one more left for tomorrow!

Disclosure: The Darcys’ First Christmas is from my personal library.

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