Wednesday, December 29, 2010

By Fire, By Water by Mitchell James Kaplan

By Fire, By Water is a fascinating multi-faceted look into a pinnacle point in history. Luis de Santangel is a “converso,” the grandson of Jewish grandparents that converted to Christianity in order to advance in the Spanish Christian society. Unfortunately, it is 1490’s Spain and the New Inquisition is under way and Jewish people are a main target. Santangel is intrigued by the Jewish faith and wishes to learn more about it. He is the chancellor to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella and any hint of non-Christian leanings is dangerous for a man with everything to lose.

Santangel is also friends with Christopher Columbus and helps him to gain an audience with the King and Queen to receive financing for his trip to North America. Columbus is a very interesting man and is a man of vast learning trying to determine the quickest way to the riches of the Indies.

Judith Midgal is a Jewish silversmith in the Muslim held Granada. With mounting political and faith tensions increasing, Judith tries to keep her sister-in-law’s father and her nephew alive. She is a strong woman in her faith and in her ability to survive. When she meets Santangel, sparks fly, but can a Christian chancellor to the King and a Jewish silversmith find happiness?

I loved By Fire, By Water. It is a unique historical fiction novel with interesting political and personal events. Kaplan is a great storyteller, but he also is a fantastic writer. At points I stopped reading and read paragraphs again to enjoy the beauty of the language.

I loved the author’s note at the end of the novel. It is amazing that most of this book is a true story. It is a story I had never heard of before and it was a story that gave me much to think about. I must admit that at times I was very annoyed by Santangel. I wanted him to “be the hero” and make the choice to go back to the faith of his ancestors and to ride off with Judith into the sunset. But I realized that it is a hard choice that he has to make throughout the novel to ignore the faith of his ancestors and to survive in such a hard world.

I was disturbed by how the Jewish people were thrown out of Spain and were allowed to take none of their wealth with them. I knew the inquisition happened, but to learn the details of the punishment of people, the persecution of people for political reasons gave me much to think about. I am glad that I live in the current time in the United States. While I do get annoyed by prejudice that still occurs between faiths, I am glad that my Muslim and Jewish friends are allowed to practice their faiths and are not tortured, murdered, or kicked out of the country for them. I kind of wish some of my relatives would read this book and think about the message of religious tolerance.

Overall, if you are looking for an intriguing, thought provoking historical fiction novel, I highly recommend By Fire, By Water.

Stay tuned for a giveaway of my gently used review copy of this novel in the near future.

Book Source: A review copy from Mitchell James Kaplan. Thank-you!

Plum Lovin’ by Janet Evanovich (Audiobook)

Plum Lovin’ in the second in the “between-the-novels” of the Stephanie Plum series. The between-the-novel books are holiday themed and Plum Lovin’ is set during the Valentine’s Day season.

Stephanie Plum, whose own love life is a mess, becomes a matchmaker. The mysterious Diesel has shown back up and offers Stephanie a deal. In order to help her find her big ticket bond item, Annie Hart, Stephanie has to help out Annie’s lovelorn clients. Then Diesel will tell Stephanie where Annie is located.

Plum Lovin’ was a quick enjoyable Stephanie Plum novel, but not up to par with the regular books in the series. I like the character of Diesel, but having a third love interest for Stephanie is really too much. I don’t think we need a “white Ranger” as Lula calls him. That being said, I think that it’s important to read the between-the-novels books to get important parts of the story that aren’t in the regular books. For instance in Plum Lovin’ Lula and Tank get together and Stephanie’s Sister Valerie and Albert Klown finally get married.

My favorite quote in this book was the following:

"Stephanie,' Valerie said.’She's going to have a baby, and she's getting married.' My father was confused. He looked around the room. No Joe. No Ranger. His eyes locked on Diesel. 'Not the psycho,' he said. Diesel blew out a sigh. My father turned to my mother. 'Get me the carving knife. Make sure it's sharp."

Stephanie’s dad is a man of few words. Having him finally speak out was hilarious and made me laugh out loud.

I listened to the audiobook version of this novel as read by Lorelei King. King is one of the best audiobook readers that I have listened to. She has great distinctive voices for all of the characters and makes it a fun “read.” I think out of all of the audiobooks I’ve listened too, Janet Evanovich and Jane Austen novels are among the best books adapted to that medium.

I listened to this novel for the Stephanie Plum reading challenge. I only have book left to go – Plum Lucky!

Audiobook Source: The Kewaunee Public Library

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Grace Burrowes Guest Blog (and GIVEAWAY), author of The Heir

I am honored today to have Grace Burrowes writing a guest blog on why she choose to write about regency gentleman on Laura's Reviews. Ms. Burrowes new novel, The Heir, is a very original romance that provides plenty of mystery, excitement, and steamy love scenes. You can read my review of the novel here. And without further ado - Grace Burrowes!

Why I “Choose” to Write About Regency Gentleman

What is this word “choose?” It implies I could have written, say, a medieval paranormal or a contemporary romantic suspense. I wish! From my perspective, I didn’t choose to write Regencies, they chose me.

But they chose me for reasons.

First, from little up, I have been afflicted by the Horse Girl Gene. This is a mutation affecting a certain number of females which causes them to spend inordinate amounts of time, money and energy on securing the company of equines. The Horse Girl has never met an ugly horse (because there are none), never met one that didn’t smell divine, never met one unworthy of treats and pats and scratches and much affection. The condition knows of no cure, and the only treatment is to provide a pony as early as possible (or so I repeatedly told my dad, until my mom took pity on him and got me a horse).

Regency fellows had cool horses. Wellington’s preferred battle mount was named Copenhagen, Wellington’s given name was Arthur, (though he was drop dead gorgeous). Go fig.

Second, from little up, I have also had the Flower Lady Gene. I plant flowers. I do not know the first thing about stringing beans, staking tomatoes, or keeping the deer away (this is a topic of much conversation at the local farmer’s co-op), but I do love me a bed of flowers. Spring and fall are not seasons, they are excuses to plant flowers and shrubs and trees. Christmas is for poinsettias, Easter is for lilies, and so on.

Those Regency estates had boss gardens. Some preserved the old baroque formal gardens, some were the work of the first real landscapers, Lancelot “Capability” Brown and his followers. In any case, those people took cultivation of natural beauty seriously. Scent gardens, color gardens, spice gardens, cutting gardens, knot gardens… Gardens! And I’m supposed to write contemporaries and content myself with a few pots of petunias?

I think not.

Third, I am a sucker, s-u-c-k-e-r for British accents. I recently found myself in York, where I would stand on a corner looking confusedly at a street map just to hear the passing fellows ask, “Wot yew lookin’ for, loov?” Yes, they really called me loov. Me. Hooboy. I didn’t even bother with the street map in Scotland. Just sat in the train station grinning like fool. Close your eyes and that’s Sean Connery asking if you’re done with your tea.

In Highland regalia with nothing but a breeze under his kilt.

So… why do I write Regencies? Sean Connery’s accent, Wellington’s horse, acres of flowers and I get to play with all of it for 100,000 words. That’s my kinda book.


An Earl Who Can’t Be Bribed…
Gayle Windham, Earl of Westhaven, is the first legitimate son and heir to the Duke of Moreland. To escape his father’s inexorable pressure to marry, he decides to spend the summer at his townhouse in London, where he finds himself intrigued by the secretive ways of his beautiful housekeeper.

A Lady Who Can’t Be Protected…
Anna Seaton is a beautiful, talented, educated woman, which is why it is so puzzling to Gayle that she works as his housekeeper.

As the two draw closer and begin to lose their hearts to each other, Anna’s secrets threaten to bring the earl’s orderly life crashing down—and he doesn’t know how he’s going to protect her from the fallout…

Grace Burrowes is the pen name for a prolific author of historical romances whose manuscripts have so far won, finaled, or garnered honorable mention in Romance Writers of America-run contests in Georgia, Indiana, New Jersey, and Florida. Burrowes is a practicing attorney specializing in family law. She lives in rural Maryland and is working on her next book, The Soldier, set to release in July 2011.

Giveaway Details
Danielle of Sourcebooks has been kind enough to offer two copies of The Heir by Grace Burrowes for a giveaway.

If you would like to win a copy of The Heir, please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the novel or this guest blog.As part of your comment, you must include an email address. If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner.

For an additional entry, blog about this giveaway or post it on your sidebar. Provide a link to this post in your comment.

I will be using to pick the winners from the comments.

This contest is only open to US and Canadian residents (Sorry!).

No P.O. Boxes.

The deadline for entry is midnight, Friday January 14th.

Good luck!

Regency Christmas Proposals by Gayle Wilson, Amanda McCabe, and Carole Mortimer

I love Regency Christmas romances. I’m not sure why this is my favorite type of Christmas novel, but it is!

Regency Christmas Proposals contains three great regency Christmas romance novellas for an overall highly enjoyable experience. I will discuss each novella separately.

The Soldier’s Christmas Miracle by Gayle Wilson
Guy Wakefield was seriously wounded while fighting Napoleon on the continent. He was nursed and inspired by a mystery woman whose words of encouragement helped him to carry on and recover. Guy spends the next five years searching for this mysterious woman. Isabella Stowe is this woman. Mrs. Stowe is the widow of her great love, William, and is having a rough time financially. She is not sure why someone of Wakefield’s social status would visit her, and when she finds out about his gratitude, she lets him know that she would have done the same for any wounded man. Wakefield and Mrs. Stowe feel an immediate attraction to one another, but Isabella doesn’t want a relationship founded on gratitude and social inequity. Can Guy convince her of his love?

I really loved this story. I loved the unique plotline and both characters. I wouldn’t mind reading more about these two!

Snowbound and Seduced by Amanda McCabe
Mary Bassington, Lady Derrington, was once a young woman in love with a man named Dominick. Unfortunately Dominick rejected her and moved on to live the life of a rack. Mary married Lord Derrington and lived a passionless life that was brightened by the birth of a young son. After the death of first her husband, and then her son, Mary is trying to move on and spend a good Christmas with her young sister Ginny. When Ginny elopes with Dominick’s cousin, Mary enlists Dominick’s help to find the couple. Mary and Dominick discover they still have feelings for each other and that things may not have been what they seemed in their younger days.

Once again, I loved this story for the unique plot lines and great characters. Mary and Dominick were both fantastic. And who doesn’t love a story about second chances at love?

Christmas at Mulberry Hall by Carole Mortimer
Lord Gideon Grayson decides to visit the estate left to him upon his brother’s death . . . two and a half years later. His young ward, Amelia Ashford, has been living alone at this estate during this time with only her companion and servants. Grayson discovers that Amelia is not the young girl he thought she was and is instead a very attractive young woman that he finds hard to resist.

While this story was good, it wasn’t as great as the other two stories.

Overall, Regency Christmas Proposals is a great ensemble of Christmas stories.

Book Source: I received this book for Christmas from my best friend Jenn. Thanks Jenn!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Giveaway - An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin Audiobook

I am excited to be giving away two audiobook copies of Steve Martin's new novel, An Object of Beauty, courtesty of Hachette Book Group. I read a fantastic review of this book in Entertainment Weekly and I noticed it was number 2 on the bestselling fiction list for this week. I can't wait to listen to and review this audiobook! I have enjoyed Steve Martin as an entertainer and I can't wait to see how this Renaissance man is as a writer.

Book Description (from Hachette Book Group): Lacey Yeager is young, captivating, and ambitious enough to take the NYC art world by storm. Groomed at Sotheby's and hungry to keep climbing the social and career ladders put before her, Lacey charms men and women, old and young, rich and even richer with her magnetic charisma and liveliness. Her ascension to the highest tiers of the city parallel the soaring heights--and, at times, the dark lows--of the art world and the country from the late 1990s through today.

About Author (from Hachette Book Group):
Steve Martin is a legendary writer, actor, and performer. His film credits include Father of the Bride, Parenthood, The Spanish Prisoner, and Bringing Down the House, as well as Roxanne, L.A. Story, and Bowfinger, for which he also wrote the screenplays. He's won Emmys for his television writing and two Grammys for comedy albums. In addition to a play, Picasso at the Lapin Agile, he has written a bestselling collection of comic pieces, Pure Drivel, and a bestselling novella, Shopgirl, which was made into a movie.

Giveaway Details:

Anna of Hachette Book Group has been kind enough to offer two copies of the audiobook version of An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin for a giveaway.

If you would like to win a copy of An Object of Beauty, please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the novel. As part of your comment, you must include an email address. If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner.

For an additional entry, blog about this giveaway or post it on your sidebar. Provide a link to this post in your comment.

I will be using to pick the winners from the comments.

This contest is only open to US and Canadian residents (Sorry!).

No P.O. Boxes.

Winners will be subject to the one copy per household rule, which means that if you win the same title in two or more contests, you will receive only one copy of the title in the mail.

The deadline for entry is midnight, Friday January 14th.

Good luck!

Winners of Pemberley Ranch by Jack Caldwell

The two lucky winners of Pemberley Ranch by Jack Caldwell are Molly of Book Reviews by Molly and Linda. Both winners were chosen using and have been notified by email. They have until this Friday, December 31st, to send me their mailing addresses. Otherwise new winners will be selected.

Thank-you to all who entered this great giveaway, to Sourcebooks for providing the giveaway books, and especially to author Jack Caldwell for his fabulous guest blog. I think it was one of the best guest blogs I've ever read! If you haven't had a chance to read it, please check it out and see all of the reasons to read and love Jane Austen.

Sad you didn't win? There are giveaways aplenty on Laura's Reviews right now. Check out this link for a giveaway of The Polski Affair by Leon H. Gildin or this link for a giveaway of two audiobook copies of Rescue by Anita Shreve. I also have a new giveaway I will be posting later today and check out Laura's Review Tuesday for an author interview with Grace Burrowes, author of The Heir and a giveaway of this novel.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Brave by Nicholas Evans (audiobook)

The Brave is a captivating, multi-layered story that I greatly enjoyed. I looked forward to doing the dishes every day just so I could hear the next part of the story. That is one of the joys of audiobooks, I often feel like I am a housewife of the past listening to my “stories” on the radio!

The Brave starts out with a bang. Young Tom Bedford is visiting his mother for the last time. It is the day of her execution in the gas chamber for an untold crime. Young Tom asks his mother to tell the “truth,” but she refuses and they make their final farewells.

The story then flashes to present day. Tom Bedford is now a middle aged professor living in Montana. He has an estranged wife and son, and isn’t as successful as he would like to be. Tom’s son Daniel is fighting in Iraq and is soon embroiled in a military scandal. Daniel comes home to be put on a trial for his life for a crime that he says he didn’t commit. With his son facing possible death by execution for a crime, Tom flashes back to the past and the life that led up to his mother’s execution.

I loved this novel. The last time I read a Nicholas Evans’ novels was The Horse Whisperer in the 1990’s. I definitely need to look up the novels he has written between these two books as he is one heck of a storyteller. I figured out how the book would end early on, but the journey was how Evans got the story to that point, and it was riveting.

I liked that Tom Bedford was a young English boy, but that he had a great love for all things Western. I don’t want to give away too much of the story, but I loved the books insight into westerns, 1950’s Hollywood, and the Iraq War. It was also thought provoking how Tom realized that there were decisions in life that may seem small at the time, but can have terrible consequences. He had to learn not to suffer thinking about these decisions and to move on with life.

The Brave audiobook was read by Michael Emerson. I am a huge fan of Lost and loved Emerson’s portrayal of Benjamin Linus on the show. I must admit that when I first started listening to this book, I felt like it was slightly menacing hearing “Ben” narrate the story. As I continued to listen, I thought of it more as the alternate world kindly teacher Ben narrating the story. And I may have started to picture Tom Bedford looking like Michael Emerson. I am ready to watch a movie version of this novel with Michael Emerson in the lead role! That being said, I thought Emerson did a good job as the reader of the novel, but as a fan of Lost, it did play into my perceptions of the novel until the story caught me so much that I didn’t care anymore.

Overall, this was a great book and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a great story.

Book Source: Review Copy from Hachette Book Group. Thank-you!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Giveaway - Rescue by Anita Shreve Audiobook

Anita Shreve is one of my favorite authors, and I feel very privilaged that Hachette Book Group is allowing me to giveaway two audiobook copies of her latest novel, Rescue. I can't wait to review this audiobook for myself!

Book Description (from Hachette Book Group):
A rookie paramedic pulls a young woman alive from her totaled car, a first rescue that begins a lifelong tangle of love and wreckage. Sheila Arsenault is a gorgeous enigma--streetwise and tough-talking, with haunted eyes, fierce desires, and a never-look-back determination. Peter Webster, as straight an arrow as they come, falls for her instantly and entirely. Soon Sheila and Peter are embroiled in an intense love affair, married, and parents to a baby daughter. Like the crash that brought them together, it all happened so fast.

About the Author:
Anita Shreve is the acclaimed author of 15 previous novels, including A Change in Altitude; Testimony; The Pilot's Wife, which was a selection of Oprah's Book Club; and The Weight of Water, which was a finalist for England's Orange prize. She lives in Massachusetts.

Giveaway Details:
Anna of Hachette Book Group has been kind enough to offer two copies of the audiobook version of Rescue by Anita Shreve for a giveaway.

If you would like to win a copy of Rescue, please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the novel. As part of your comment, you must include an email address. If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner.

For an additional entry, blog about this giveaway or post it on your sidebar. Provide a link to this post in your comment.

I will be using to pick the winners from the comments.

This contest is only open to US and Canadian residents (Sorry!).

No P.O. Boxes.

Winners will be subject to the one copy per household rule, which means that if you win the same title in two or more contests, you will receive only one copy of the title (or one set in the case of grouped giveaways) in the mail.

The deadline for entry is midnight, Friday January 7th.

Good luck!

A Wallflower Christmas by Lisa Kleypas

Whenever the Christmas season rolls around, I always have a great desire to read Christmas regency romance novels. I don’t know why – but that is the way it is every year! While I was Christmas shopping in Target back in November, I noticed A Wallflower Christmas and picked it up.

After I started reading the novel, I realized I had been tricked! The cover of A Wallflower Christmas features three ladies in what I thought was Regency era dress, but the book actually takes place in 1840’s England. The Victorian era setting is also a great time for Christmas stories, so I was okay with the slight deception!

I also discovered when I started the novel that it is actually the fifth book in a series. While I think I would have gotten more out of the novel if I would have read the other books in the series and knew the backgrounds of each character, the book does a great job of giving you enough background to get by and I enjoyed the novel on its own.

Hannah Appleton is the companion of her rich aristocratic cousin, Lady Natalie Blandford. She loves Natalie and has her best interests at heart. Therefore she agrees to meet with Rafe Bowman and his family before Rafe is to meet with Lady Natalie. Rafe is a rich, crass, and very sexy American that has arrived in England looking for a bride. Lady Natalie is the woman chosen by his father for his attentions. Unfortunately, Hannah finds herself strangely attracted to this entirely unsuitable American. At a Christmas house party at Lord Westcliff’s famed Stony Cross Park Estate, romantic entanglements ensue with the help of the four former Wallflowers.

I enjoyed this book. It had a great romantic story that followed through and finished on a great note. I loved the Christmas setting with the very tall tree at Stony Cross Park and Hannah’s reading of A Christmas Carol to the children. It was a great incorporation of the Dickens classic.

I would really love to read the previous four books in this series. Has anyone else read them? Did you enjoy them?

Book Source: I purchased this book at Target.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Review and GIVEAWAY – The Polski Affair by Leon H. Gildin

There are some novels that stick with you long after you read them. I’m sure The Polski Affair will be one such novel for me.

The Polski Affair is a riveting historical fiction novel about a true life little know World War II incident at the Hotel Polski in Warsaw, Poland. After the destruction of the Ghetto in Warsaw and the Jews that lived in it, the survivors hidden in and around Warsaw started to hear strange tales about the Hotel Polski. It was rumored that if you had enough money, the Nazis would exchange you for Nazi prisoners of war in other countries.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and many Jewish people went to the Hotel Polski for a chance at escape. What they discovered was that there were no clear cut answers. People were leaving the hotel on 1st class trains, but where were they going? Were they escaping or being sent to concentration camps?

The story centers on Rosa Feurmann or Anna Adler and her husband Chaim Adler, as well as their best friends Avram and Feygl. These four live in Israel and have become family with the marriage of their children. After learning of a reunion of the Hotel Polski survivors, the past comes rushing back to Rosa and what she had to do to survive her stay at the Hotel.

I love how The Polski Affair told an exciting story, which had various shades of gray. It would be easy to always paint the Nazis as evil and Jewish people as good, but Gildin has interesting takes on both a Nazi Commandant and on Rosa herself which definitely cast them in the “gray” area.

The story itself was fascinating, but the characters were the real stars of the show. Gildin was able to draw fascinating characters. I liked how the two couples were friends and family. It was great that the novel extended well past WWII to resettlement in Israel. This is the part of the story that is missing so often in WWII novels.

Author Leon H. Gildin is a lawyer and he has a riveting courtroom scene in the novel when Rosa is a witness at the Commandant’s War Crimes Trail in Heidelberg. I couldn’t put it down!

Gildin had a wonderful guest post on Laura’s Reviews a couple of weeks ago. Please check it out and look for a special offer from Leon Gildin!

Overall, The Polski Affair is a great historical fiction novel about a riveting little known piece of history with great characters.

Book Source: Review Copy from On Point Communications, LLC. Thank-you!

Giveaway Details

Kim of On Point Communications has been kind enough to offer one copy of The Polski Affair by Leon H. Gildin for a giveaway.

If you would like to win a copy of The Polski Affair, please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the novel or Leon Gildin's guest blog.

As part of your comment, you must include an email address. If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner.

For an additional entry, blog about this giveaway or post it on your sidebar. Provide a link to this post in your comment.

I will be using to pick the winners from the comments.

This contest is only open to US and Canadian residents (Sorry!).

No P.O. Boxes.

The deadline for entry is midnight, Friday December 31st.

Good luck!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

And the Lucky Winner of Charlotte Collins by Jennifer Becton is . . .

The lucky winner of Charlotte Collins by Jennifer Becton is Suko of Suko's Notebook. Suko was chosen using and has been notified via email. Once I hear back from her, I'll get the book in the mail to her. Hopefully she enjoys it as much as I did!

Thank-you to all who entered this giveaway. And I especially want to thank the author, Jennifer Becton, for allowing me to review this good book, interview her, and host a giveaway!

If you are sad you didn't win, I still have a current giveaway going for Pemberley Ranch by Jack Caldwell and I will have a review and giveaway posted in the next day or two for a great historical fiction novel, The Polski Affair by Leon H. Gildin. Stay tuned!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Jack Caldwell Guest Blog (and GIVEAWAY!), Author of Pemberley Ranch

Last week I blogged about a fantastic new novel, Pemberley Ranch by Jack Caldwell. In overview, I said that "Pemberley Ranch is an excellent western and is the perfect blend of Pride and Prejudice with the old west. Caldwell makes the characters his own and has his own unique plot. I loved it."
Today I am honored to have Jack Caldwell on Laura's Reviews with a fantastic guest blog post. Without further ado . . .
Jack Caldwell Guest Blog, Author of Pemberley Ranch

Hi, folks! Jack Caldwell here, the author of that rip-roarin’ Western re-imagining of Pride and Prejudice, Pemberley Ranch.

I’m honored that Laura gave me the opportunity to write a guest blog for you, but then she pulled a dirty trick. She asked me to expand on what draws me to Austen’s novels. What? Talk about what I like about one of England’s greatest novelists?

All right, but I’m going to leave stuff out.

I started reading Austen in 1981, after watching the BBC mini-series. Never one to do things by halves, I got a copy of Jane Austen, The Complete Novels, which has all her major works, including Lady Susan. So I have read them all, several times.

Why do I keep going back to Austen? Let me count the ways.

JANE AUSTEN IS FUNNY. This is where most of the movie and television adaptations go wrong. Austen is hilarious. In virtually all her works, the protagonist is surrounded by well-meaning fools. Take Pride and Prejudice. Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Collins are very silly, but if you think about it, so are Mr. Bennet, Sir William Lucas, and even Lady Catherine de Bourgh, in their own fashion. Elizabeth disarms and charms with her wit, but it is Jane Austen’s wit that has us returning to the novel.

This is a theme throughout Austen’s works. We all know Emma is a lovable fool, but in a gentler way, so is Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey. John Thorpe is a bloody idiot. You have Sir Walter, Elizabeth Elliot, and Charles Musgrove in Persuasion. Mr. Rushworth and John Yates in Mansfield Park. Only in Lady Susan is there an absence of amusing characters.

The one that always gets butchered is Sense and Sensibility. Marianne doesn’t just start out as overly romantic—I think she is actually very immature and silly. She learns to become more mature and serious throughout the novel. We know about Sir John Middleton, Nancy Steele, and Mrs. Jennings, but what about the duo of Thomas and Charlotte Palmer? Can John Dashwood be any more ridiculous? C’mon, people, put the humor back in Austen!

JANE AUSTEN CAN TURN A PHRASE. Austen’s sparkling dialogue is a gem, meant to be enjoyed over and over again.

Take this scene from Pride and Prejudice. At Netherfield, while Jane lays sick upstairs, Caroline has just finished her silly fawning over Darcy’s letter writing, and Lizzy and Darcy are enjoying a little argument.

[Elizabeth] “You appear to me, Mr. Darcy, to allow nothing for the influence of friendship and affection. A regard for the requester would often make one readily yield to a request without waiting for arguments to reason one into it. I am not particularly speaking of such a case as you have supposed about Mr. Bingley. We may as well wait, perhaps, till the circumstance occurs before we discuss the discretion of his behavior thereupon. But in general and ordinary cases between friend and friend, where one of them is desired by the other to change a resolution of no very great moment, should you think ill of that person for complying with the desire, without waiting to be argued into it?”

[Darcy] “Will it not be advisable, before we proceed on this subject, to arrange with rather more precision the degree of importance which is to appertain to this request, as well as the degree of intimacy subsisting between the parties?”

“By all means,” cried Bingley, “let us hear all the particulars, not forgetting their comparative height and size; for that will have more weight in the argument, Miss Bennet, than you may be aware of. I assure you that, if Darcy were not such a great tall fellow, in comparison with myself, I should not pay him half so much deference. I declare I do not know a more awful object than Darcy, on particular occasions, and in particular places; at his own house especially, and of a Sunday evening, when he has nothing to do.”


JANE AUSTEN’S PLOTS ARE ENGAGING. Her plots are either “boy meets girl; boy loses girl; boy gets girl back”, “Boy and girl want to get together, but someone/something is keeping them apart” and/or “boy/girl has no idea that girl/boy likes them until almost too late.” However, it is due to Austen’s genius that she can make each of her stories bright and new. They all are different and delightful.

JANE AUSTEN WRITES ABOUT SERIOUS STUFF. Austen might have been a gentle writer writing about gentle things, but an undertone is always present: The battle between immorality and morality. Greed, jealousy, infidelity, fornication, dishonesty—it’s all there in her works. Take her masterpiece of principles over fashionable behavior, Mansfield Park. I know Fanny Price is not everyone’s favorite heroine, but she remains steadfast in her behavior in the face of her beloved Edmund falling for the charms of the brilliant and morally weak Mary Crawford. Because she remains true, she gets her heart’s desire, while the worldly Maria Rushworth destroys herself with an affair with Henry Crawford. The good and righteous always triumph in Austen’s stories.

JANE AUSTEN’S CHARACTERS ARE ALIVE. Setting aside that loud-mouthed plot device, Colonel Fitzwilliam, Austen’s characters seem familiar. It is because they are. We all have a friend who talks before she thinks. We know a wallflower just waiting to bloom. We have a buddy who is strong and ironic, but they’re hurting deep inside because of a woman. We’ve met Mr. Collins, Lady Catherine, John Willoughby, Maria Bertram, and Marianne Dashwood. We love reading about them and writers love making these figures their own.

There—under one thousand words. I know I left some stuff out. What about you? Why do you read Jane Austen time and time again?

Remember—it takes a real man to write historic romance, so let me tell you a story.

When the smoke has cleared from the battlefields and the civil war has finally ended, fervent Union supporter Beth Bennet reluctantly moves with her family from their home in Meryton, Ohio, to the windswept plains of Rosings, Texas. Handsome, haughty Will Darcy, a Confederate officer back from the war, owns half the land around Rosings, and his even haughtier cousin, Cate Burroughs, owns the other half.

In a town as small as Rosings, Beth and Will inevitably cross paths. But as Will becomes enchanted with the fiery Yankee, Beth won’t allow herself to warm to the man who represents the one thing she hates most: the army that killed her only brother.

But when carpetbagger George Whitehead arrives in Rosings, all that Beth thought to be true is turned on its head, and the only man who can save her home is the one she swore she’d never trust…

“It’s Pride and Prejudice meets Gone with the Wind—with that kind of romance and excitement.”—Sharon Lathan, bestselling author of In the Arms of Mr. Darcy

About the Author
Jack Caldwell, a native of Louisiana living in the Midwest, is an economic developer by trade. Mr. Caldwell has been an amateur history buff and a fan of Jane Austen for many years. Pemberley Ranch is his first published work. He lives with his wife in Minnesota. For more information, please visit and on, where he regularly contributes.

Giveaway Details
Danielle of Sourcebooks has been kind enough to offer two copy of Pemberley Ranch by Jack Caldwell for a giveaway.
If you would like to win a copy of Pemberley Ranch, please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the novel or this fantastic guest blog.
As part of your comment, you must include an email address. If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner.
For an additional entry, blog about this giveaway or post it on your sidebar. Provide a link to this post in your comment.
I will be using to pick the winners from the comments.
This contest is only open to US and Canadian residents (Sorry!).
No P.O. Boxes.
The deadline for entry is midnight, Friday December 24th.
Good luck!

Happy 235th Birthday Jane Austen!!

Today is Jane Austen’s 235th birthday!

Sourcebooks, the world’s leading publisher of Jane Austen fiction, is offering a unique deal to readers who want to celebrate Jane by reading special editions of all six of Austen’s beloved novels in a 21st century format.

Special e-book editions of Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion and Mansfield Park will be available for free for one day only. These celebratory editions include the full novels, plus the legendary color illustrations of the Brock brothers, originally created to accompany the books in 1898.

In addition to the Jane Austen classics, readers can also enjoy these bestselling Austen-inspired novels. The following bestselling e-books will be free on December 16th (and 17th) in honor of her birthday:

Eliza’s Daughter by Joan Aiken
The Darcys & the Bingleys by Marsha Altman
Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife by Linda Berdoll
What Would Jane Austen Do? by Laurie Brown
The Pemberley Chronicles by Rebecca Ann Collins
The Other Mr. Darcy by Monica Fairview
Mr. Darcy’s Diary by Amanda Grange
Mr. & Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Two Shall Become One by Sharon Lathan
Lydia Bennet’s Story by Jane Odiwe
Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy by Abigail Reynolds

Available wherever eBooks are sold.

There has been some problems reported with downloading the free eBooks today. iBooks and Google books currently has everything correct.

Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Sony are currently working to get their prices adjusted. They should be correct shortly. will also have our books and the illustrated versions available for free!

Because of this confusion the celebration will be extended an extra day! This offer will be good tomorrow as well.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Room by Emma Donoghue

Room is a disturbingly great novel. I’ve been thinking ahead to my top ten books of 2010 list (which I’ll put out in January when I’m actually through the year 2010 to make sure I don’t miss any great books I read at the end of the year), and I know for sure that this book will be on the top of my list!

Room is the story of a five-year old child named Jack. He has a loving “Ma” and enjoys life with her in “Room.” Room is an eleven by eleven space that includes the entire world for Jack. He lovingly points to the stain on the rug where he was born, enjoys exercising with Ma, their meals, reading books, and having “scream” time each day. Almost every night “Old Nick” visits while Jack sleeps in the wardrobe. Jack believes that the things he sees on TV are all make believe and that there is not world outside of Room.

After Jack’s fifth birthday, Ma tells him the truth. She has been a prisoner of Old Nick for the past seven years since she was kidnapped from her college campus at the age of 19. There is an entire world outside of Room, and Room is Ma’s prison. At first Jack is unable to accept this fact, but then he agrees to help Ma with her daring escape. Will they succeed?

I literally couldn’t put Room down. This novel kept me on the edge of my seat and I couldn’t stop reading it until it was finished. The characters were fantastic and wonderfully drawn. Jack was a very unique narrator. Emma Donoghue did a fantastic job of writing the entire novel through the eyes of a five-year old. As a mother of a 4-year old boy, this novel rang very true as the thoughts and perspective of a young child. The only time I was annoyed was that they somehow were able to get Nickelodeon cable shows such as Dora the Explorer on their TV with bunny ears. But that is a very minor detail!

I first learned about this novel through praise on Jennifer Weiner’s blog and a great review on NPR. The praise was well deserved. Room is a unique, riveting novel. Through the eyes of a five-year old child, what constitutes life and love is put in a whole new perspective. It is so good; I’m having a hard time trying to describe why I loved it!!

One of my favorite quotes from the novel:

“Also everywhere I’m looking at kids, adults mostly don’t seem to like them, not even the parents do. They call the kids gorgeous and so cute, they make the kids do the thing all over again so they can take a photo, but they don’t want to actually play with them, they’d rather drink coffee talking to other adults. Sometimes there’s a small kid crying and the Ma of it doesn’t even seem to hear.”

This quote made me sad as a mother. I would like to play with my kids more than I do, but dishes, chores, etc. sometimes keep you too busy to just enjoy life with kids.

Book Source: The Kewaunee Public Library

The Heir by Grace Burrowes

If you are looking for a way to warm up your cold winter nights, The Heir is the perfect romance novel for you! The Heir is a very original romance that provides plenty of mystery, excitement, and steamy love scenes.

Gayle Windham is the Earl of Westhaven and is the heir to his father, the Duke of Morland. The Duke schemes and tries to force Westhaven into marriage in order to provide an heir to the dukedom. Westhaven is not amused, but finds solace in the fact that his brothers also are not amused and agree to spend the summer with him in his townhouse.

While at his townhouse, Westhaven starts to notice the homey touches provided by his housekeeper “Mrs.” Anna Seaton. In fact, underneath her drab garb and cap, Anna is a rather attractive woman in her twenties. The more Westhaven learns about Anna, the more intrigued he becomes. Anna is mysterious and seems to be much more than a housekeeper. Who is Anna and what is she trying to hide from?

I thought The Heir was one of the best romance novels that I’ve read in a long time. I loved that Anna is not the typical heroine. Having her be the housekeeper was unique and intriguing at the same time. I loved reading the novel and trying to figure out her mysterious past. It kept me riveted!! The scenes of romance were also very hot!

I must admit though that I was confused on a couple aspects of the novel. Westhaven had a niece named Rose that appeared to be the daughter of his ex-fiancée. I was confused on how that worked and never quite figured it out. I also liked the character of the old Duke and wish we could have learned more about him. The ending of The Heir seemed to drag out a bit. I actually started to get a bit annoyed with Anna after loving her for the entire novel.

Grace Burrowes will be interviewed on this blog in two weeks on Monday December 27th. I’m hoping to get the answers to a couple of my questions!

Book Source: Advance Review copy from Sourcebooks. Thank-you!

Winners of Dating Mr. December by Phillipa Ashley

Christmas, blizzards, and power outages have me running a bit behind on everything. I apologize for posting the winners of this giveaway so late! I'm also a bit behind on book reviews. Hopefully I catch up soon.

The two lucky winners of Dating Mr. December by Phillipa Ashley are Kwana of Kwana Writes and PoCoKat of MysteriesEtc. Congrats to both of the winners! Winners were chosen using and were both notified via email. If I don't hear back from them with their mailing addresses by Monday, December 20th, I will draw new winners.

Thank-you again to Danielle from Sourcebooks for allowing me to host this giveaway and for providing the giveaway copies of the book. A very big thank-you to Phillipa Ashley for answering my questions, and for being such an active author responding to comments on the giveaway blog. You made the giveaway very fun Ms. Ashley!

Dating Mr. December is a great romance for the holidays or for any season, so pick up a copy if you didn't win one! Also if you are looking for another great interview and giveaway, please check out my interview with Jennifer Becton, author of Charlotte Collins. A giveaway of one copy of Charlotte Collins ends this Friday the 17th at midnight.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Interview (and GIVEAWAY) with Jennifer Becton, author of Charlotte Collins

I am very excited to have Jennifer Becton, author of Charlotte Collins, as a guest on my blog today. Charlotte Collins is a very original story about one of my favorite Pride and Prejudice characters. After the death of the odious Mr. Collins, will Charlotte be able to find happiness in a quiet life or will she finally be able to discover true love? My original review of the novel can be found here.

Now on to the interview . . .

LAG: What was your motivation for writing a novel about Charlotte (Lucas) Collins? What draws you to her as a character?

JB: I chose to write about Charlotte because I could relate to her. I suppose it’s as simple as that. As much as I would like to think of myself as a Lizzie, I certainly have some Charlotte-like qualities. Charlotte was a good, obedient daughter, and she sought to please her family in all her actions and choices, even those that might lead to her own unhappiness. And though I doubt I would have married someone as silly as Mr. Collins, I could understand why she did it. I wanted her to have the opportunity to make a more adventurous choice.

LAG: In Charlotte Collins, you did a fantastic job of sticking true to Austen’s original characters, while creating great new characters. What was your inspiration for the new characters? Which new character is your favorite and why?

JB: Thank you. I am so glad to find that my interpretation of Austen’s characters seems to remain true to what she intended them to be. It is intimidating to attempt to write a beloved Austen character, especially when everyone’s interpretation will not be the same as mine. Still, I took great pleasure in writing them, but I found equal joy in creating their companions. I fell in love with Mr. Basford as I wrote him, but I also enjoyed writing the villains of my novel. I hope that doesn’t mean I’m wickeder than I thought! But truly, conflict drives characters, and I enjoyed writing the villains because their actions gave the main characters the opportunity to grow and change. Adversity, though unpleasant, usually seems to result in a new awareness of life.

LAG: Did you have to do any research while writing Charlotte Collins on the regency period? If so, did you find out any interesting facts or have any interesting references? Even better, were you able to make a “research trip” to Great Britain?

JB: While my trip to the UK in college does not really count as Regency study, I did a great deal of research on subjects including etiquette, grammar, money, food, and even nineteenth-century American customs. I read many modern articles and books on the Regency period, but I most heartily enjoyed reading original source material such as Domestic Manners of the Americans by Frances Trollope and The Book of Household Management by Mrs. Isabella Beeton.

LAG: When did you first discover Jane Austen? Which of her novels is your favorite?

JB: My interest in Austen began with the BBC/A&E adaptation of Pride and Prejudice in 1995. I watched it in my college dorm room between bouts of study, and afterward, I immediately bought and read as much Austen as I could. I had finally found my literary idol: a woman whose work had endured for almost 200 years and didn’t end tragically.

My two favorite Austen novels are Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion. I adore the characters of Pride and Prejudice, and I felt as if I knew them by the end of the novel. But I am drawn more to the plot of Persuasion. I love plots in which characters have the opportunity to redeem themselves and make the right choice, as Anne Elliot did at the end of the novel.

LAG: As a first time author, what about the process of writing and getting your novel published have you found invigorating? On the other hand, what has been exasperating?

JB: Charlotte Collins is independently published, meaning that I am responsible for every aspect of the book. I wrote it, had it edited, designed the cover, formatted the interior, converted it to an ebook, and undertook all the marketing. Before Charlotte Collins, I had worked for more than ten years in the traditional publishing world as an editor, so I had a great deal of prior knowledge and a large bias against self-publishing.

Now, my opinion has changed. While I certainly respect my colleagues in the traditional world, as an aspiring author, I found the process incredibly frustrating. Invariably, agents and editors had nothing negative to say about my writing, but still, they rejected my novel based on their belief that Austen fans do not buy books about minor characters. I just could not believe this to be true. So I took up the challenge to self-publish and see who was right. As a result, I have a deeper understanding of my own industry and a new-found respect for self-published authors. This has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

Are you working on a new novel, if so, can you share any details?

JB: Yes, I am working on another Austen sequel that focuses on Caroline Bingley. I plan to follow her as she undertook life without Mr. Darcy, the gentleman she clearly intended to marry. And as the villainess of Pride and Prejudice, she may not make the best heroine, but I’m hoping she’ll make an interesting anti-heroine. I am also releasing a free short story on Black Friday that describes what happens to Maria after Charlotte Collins.

In addition, I am working on a mystery series and am co-authoring a non-fiction book about overcoming horseback riding fear with Laura Daley. For more information about Charlotte Collins, self-publishing, or my future books, please visit my website ( and my blog (

Thank-you Jennifer for letting me interview you! Charlotte Collins is an excellent novel and I highly recommend it to all lovers of Pride and Prejudice, or just for someone looking for a great regency romance.

Giveaway Details

Jennifer Becton has been kind enough to send me a copy of Charlotte Collins to review and to giveaway. My gently read review copy is ready to move on and find someone else to enjoy it as much as I did.

If you would like to win a copy of Charlotte Collins, please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the novel or this interview.

As part of your comment, you must include an email address. If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner.

For an additional entry, blog about this giveaway or post it on your sidebar. Provide a link to this post in your comment.

I will be using to pick the winners from the comments.

This contest is only open to US and Canadian residents (Sorry!).
No P.O. Boxes.

The deadline for entry is midnight, Friday December 17th.

Good luck!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Oogy by Larry Levin (audiobook)

If you loved Marley and Me and are looking for another great tale of man’s best friend, Oogy: The Dog Only a Family Could Love by Larry Levin is the novel for you. Oogy is a moving tale of a loving dog that started off life in terrible circumstances.

Oogy was used as a bait dog, but was rescued by police officials and brought to a clinic with staff that cared and patched the poor, horrifically wounded dog. When Larry Levin and his twin sons (Noah and Dan) brought their cat in to be put to sleep one fateful day, they met and fell in love with Oogy.
Oogy was a kind-hearted and gentle dog despite his wounded appearance. The Levins adopted Oogy and soon shared a special relationship with him unlike any other.

I really enjoyed this story. I was more than a little disturbed by Oogy’s background story and about fighting dogs, especially when Levin quoted the numbers. It is hard to believe how many poor dogs are victimized this way. Levin gave a great description of Oogy’s background, adoption, and life within the Levin family. Of even more interest to me was the personal part of the story. Levin described the adoption of his twin sons and background of his own family. It was a great story and was great how Oogy’s adoption into the family made the boys feel even more loved.

I listened to the audiobook version of this story as read by Joe Barrett. I liked his voice and thought he did a great job of bringing the story to life. It was a good heartwarming tale to listen to in the cold of winter.

Overall, I thought Oogy was a great uplifting tale of a dog and his family. I would recommend this to anyone who has or has had a dog. It was a memoir and dog story in the same vein as Marley and Me.

Audiobook Source: Review Copy from Hachette Book Group. Thank-you!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Pemberley Ranch by Jack Caldwell

Pemberley Ranch is a wonderful new western starring my favorite literary couple, Mr. Darcy (known as Will in this book) and Elizabeth Bennet (referred to as Beth).

The novel starts with William Darcy and Charles Bingley in the thick of action during the American Civil War. After an altercation with crooked Yankee officer George Whitehead, Darcy and Bingley are shipped off to a prison camp for the rest of the war. Afterwards, Darcy goes back to his ranch, Pemberley, near the small town of Rosings, Texas. Bingley moves to town as the town doctor, but unfortunately, George Whitehead shows up after receiving a government appointment. Darcy tries to avoid town and Whitehead in order to forget the past, but he finds it hard to avoid when he meets the lovely Beth Bennet.

Beth Bennet grew up with her family on a farm in Ohio. After her elder brother Samuel’s death in the war, Beth finds herself unable to forgive Southerners. In order to better their situation in life, Mr. Bennet moves his family to a new farm in Rosings, Texas. Beth has prejudice against the townspeople as they were on the side of the South during the Civil War. Although she hates the ex-confederate officer Will Darcy and all he stands for, she can’t help but be attracted to him.

Will’s cousin Cate Burroughs owns the other half of the land around Rosings that Darcy does not own. Together with George Whitehead and Billy Collins, Cate embarks on a scheme to make money in a nefarious way. Will Darcy and Beth Bennet have to work together to stop them and find romance along the way.

I really enjoyed this novel. I loved the Civil War action at the beginning of the novel, but I thought the novel got a bit slow when it moved to Rosings Texas five years after the war. Luckily the action picked up after that point and I had a hard time putting it down. Pemberly Ranch had a great historical fiction background, and I loved the footnotes that explained certain historical items in more detail.

Caldwell did a fantastic job creating wonderfully unique characters. The characters use similar names as our beloved characters in Pride and Prejudice, but Caldwell made them his own by changing each slightly in unique ways. For instance, Charlotte Lucas is the plain outspoken daughter of the Sheriff who has a secret romance with Darcy’s foreman, Richard “Fitz” Fitzwilliam. I loved this change in Charlotte and I also loved how Mrs. Bennet is a good farmer’s wife that talks too much. She and Mr. Bennet have a much deeper love than what is seen in Pride and Prejudice. And of course, Beth and Will are fantastic lead characters. I was a bit annoyed with Beth’s automatic hatred of Will at the beginning, but soon the two characters were sharing a passionate (though chaste) romance that was riveting to watch unfold on the page.

It was also delightful how characters from other Austen novels would make “guest” appearances. Henry Tilney, Edmund Bertram, Mr. Knightly, etc. all make appearances. Each arrival of an old favorite made me smile.

I thought the novel did an excellent job of using the theme of pride and prejudice. There is much exploration of pride and prejudice between the north and south and that war is actually a grey zone with wrongs and rights on both sides. There was also prejudice against religion (a nice twist was that the Darcys were Catholic) and race (the Darcys have Native American and Mexican heritage and an ex-slave family moves to town). It was intriguing.

I was initially drawn to this novel as it says on the cover that it is a mix of Gone with the Wind and Pride and Prejudice. I love both novels so I was excited by that. As I read the novel though, I thought this description is actually a disservice to the novel. Pemberley Ranch is an excellent western and is the perfect blend of Pride and Prejudice with the old west. Caldwell makes the characters his own and has his own unique plot. I loved it.

Jack Caldwell will have a guest post on my blog on Thursday December 16th. Please stop back by and see what he has to say about this novel. I can’t wait!

Pemberley Ranch is my thirteenth item in the Everything Austen Challenge II.

Book Source: Advance Review Copy from Sourcebooks. Thank-you!

Winners of Child of the Northern Spring by Persia Woolley

The two lucky winners of Child of the Northern Spring by Persia Woolley are Jacque of Good Family Reads and Bethie of Improve Your Child's Reading Ability. Congrats to both of our winners! The winners were chosen using and were notified via email. They have until this Friday December 10th to email me their mailing addresses or I will contact a new winner.

Thank-you to Danielle at Sourcebooks for sponsering this giveaway with the two copies of the novel. Thank-you to Persia Woolley for answering all of my questions and for writing an excellent novel. And finally thank-you to all of you who entered this giveaway.

Sad that you didn't win? I have a new giveaway currently going for Dating Mr. December by Phillipa Ashley. To enter, please click here.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Phillipa Ashley Interview (and GIVEAWAY!), Author of Dating Mr. December

I recently read, reviewed, and enjoyed Phillipa Ashley's Dating Mr. December. I am very excited that Phillipa Ashley is on Laura's Reviews today to answer all of my questions I had while reading the novel. I have my DVR set to record the 12 Men of Christmas this weekend (the movie based on the novel) and I can't wait to see it!

LAG: What was your inspiration for Dating Mr. December?
PA: I’ve always been an admirer of mountain rescue teams and this book gave me a chance to chat up our local team and ask if they’d mind getting their kit off! Seriously, I did tour a base (literally about 5 mins walk from our apartment - see below.) The team had to raise lots of money to build it and that’s how the idea came about.

LAG: Forgive my ignorance of England, I know the Lake District exists and I loved it as the setting for Dating Mr. December. Do you live near the Lake District? Why did you choose it as the setting?
PA: Well done on even knowing the place exists, Laura, because it’s a very small region of England. We have a holiday apartment in the Lake District which we also rent out. Whenever we arrive, something just clicks in me and I instantly relax and feel inspired. The natural beauty, the changing weather moods, the literary associations and the tight-knit community all strongly appeal to me.

LAG: Will Tennant is a very athletic man. Do you do any of the climbing or bungee jumping that he so enjoys?
PA: I did abseil (rappel) off a small (50ft) cliff for one of the scenes because the editor had suggested I could make more of Emma’s fear of heights. It made the scene stronger but I would never do it again and as for bungee jumping or climbing – no way! However, I do love hiking in the mountains. When went to see the movie set, we walked some trails in the Rockies – terrified in case we saw a bear or a cougar!

LAG: Have you seen the movie, 12 Men of Christmas, based on your novel? How do you think it transferred to the television medium?
PA: I’ve seen it many times. When it was optioned, a writer friend said it was very filmable because there are lots of action and conflict and a strong sense of place. The men are a dream for a movie too, of course, although they are more obviously hunky and handsome in the movie than in my book. No complaints there! However, there are big differences, not least being my book is set in Britain rather than the USA. I also think that the screenwriter made more of the comedy aspects, whereas in Dating Mr. December the romantic relationship drives the story and you learn a lot more about the character’s motivations – particularly Will’s back story. And my book is much, much sexier than the film!

LAG: What other novels do you have coming out in the U.S.? You write a great romance novel!
PA: Thank you! I’ve been genuinely delighted with the response to the book and the warm welcome I’ve got from the US romance community – you’re very passionate about the genre here. Sourcebooks are publishing another three of my novels. The next one is Wish You Were Here, released in summer 2011.

Praise for Phillipa Ashley:
"Ashley’s writing is deft, sexy, and full of humor."

"Lovely books filled with warm and likeable characters. Great fun!"
—internationally bestselling author Jill Mansell

"Sharp, sexy, and exuberant."

She doesn’t need rescuing, she only needs a change of scenery...

After a disastrous discovery loses Emma Tremayne both her boyfriend and her high-profile PR job in London, she moves to the Lake District to recover her confidence and live a simpler life. She loves her new job with the tourist board, and she’s settling into small town life just fine—until she ends up responsible for a fundraising effort that calls for twelve naked mountain rescuers...
Buy it here: Amazon Barnes & Noble Borders


Phillipa Ashley studied English Language and Literature at Oxford before becoming a
freelance copywriter and journalist. Dating Mr. December (called Decent Exposure in the UK) was the basis of last year’s Lifetime TV Movie “The 12 Men of Christmas.” A frequent guest on BBC national, local and independent radio on all matters romantic, she lives with her husband and daughter in Staffordshire, UK. For more information, please visit, follower her on Twitter or find her on Facebook!

Giveaway Details
Danielle of Sourcebooks has been kind enough to offer two copies of Dating Mr. December by Phillipa Ashley for this giveaway.

If you would like to win a copy of Dating Mr. December, please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the novel or this interview.

As part of your comment, you must include an email address. If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner.

I will be using to pick the winners from the comments.

This contest is only open to US and Canadian residents (Sorry!).

No P.O. Boxes.

The deadline for entry is midnight, Friday December 10th.

Good luck!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

If I Stay is a short riveting novel about a young teenage girl and her heartbreaking decision on whether to stay and live or to go to the great beyond after she is involved in a tragic car accident.

Mia is seventeen and a passionate cello player. She has a quirky family with a former punk rock band father that is now a teacher and a strong mother who isn’t afraid to tell people what she thinks. She also has a cute, beloved, younger brother named Teddy. After a snow day is called, the family decides to visit friends and family. Along the way, they are hit by a truck driver. Mia awakes to an out of body experience and sees the tragic outcome of the accident and her own fight for survival.

The novel flashes back and forth between Mia’s struggle for life and the story of her life. She has a great love, her boyfriend Adam, who is a college student in a rock band. Mia’s classical music has won her a scholarship to Juilliard and she is faced with the decision to stay in the state of Washington to be with Adam and her family, or to pursue her dream and move to New York City. This decision causes her much teenage angst, but it is nothing compared to the decision she now faces on whether to live or not.

Although this novel starts out with a bang with tragedy, I found myself riveted and unable to put it down. The story was great, and the characters were vivid and original. I found myself wanting to meet Mia and hang out with her family. Mia was a very relatable teen girl who happened to be in extraordinary circumstances.

If I Stay was chosen for the December pick for my FLICKs Book and Movie Club. It was a great pick and will hopefully lead to some great discussion next week!

Book Source: The Kewaunee Public Library

Monday, November 29, 2010

Guest Blog - Leon H. Gildin author of The Polski Affair

I am very excited today to have Leon Gilden, the author of The Polski Affair, as a guest on my blog. His novel sounds very intriguing and I can't wait to read it. Stay tuned for a review and giveaway of this novel in the near term future when I receive the book.

Inner conflict
by Leon H. Gildin,

Let me tell you something about myself and how I came to write an award-winning novel dealing with a woman's innermost thoughts.

Some thirty years ago I practiced law in New York and had a client who was a film and stage producer, intellectual and a professor of religious studies at a major seminary. One day he brought a friend into my office by the name of Abraham Shulman who was introduced as a newspaper man and author who wrote in both Yiddish and English.
Shulman and I got along well; he was a very bright guy, but a bit of a "noodnik" (a nuisance). He'd come into the office without an appointment, would sit and talk regardless of what I had to do and when it came time to pay a fee, he vanished. Nevertheless, I liked him and I would always read what he wrote and, if the truth be known, enjoyed his stories and his conversation.

One day Shulman came in with his latest "magus opus," a book entitled "The Case of the Hotel Polski," published by Holocaust Press and distributed by Schocken Books. Those names alone made me realize that it was something of value. I don't recall whether he ever told me what got him interested in the subject matter. "The Case of the Hotel Polski" was a bizarre and unbelievable story about a Nazi plot to trade Jews who survived the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto in 1943 for Germans interned in foreign countries. A strange and hitherto unknown piece of the Holocaust.

The book consisted of a lengthy introduction dealing with Shulman's research and then recounted interviews with "guests" of the hotel, telling how they got there, what went on there and how they survived. It was fascinating and as Shulman said at the end of his introduction, words to the effect, the more that was learned, the more confused the conclusion.

I put the book away for, I don't know how long, but the stories of the survivors never left me. Years later, I reread it and decided that the material would make an absorbing stage play. I was familiar with playwriting but after two scenes it became obvious that there were so many characters that a play would not work. So back in the drawer it went, but I kept my notes in a separate folder.

I retired, came to live in Arizona and now I had time to write. I found the old folder with my notes and my scenes, I found the book but this time when I read it I underlined and copied those facts and those interviews that I felt would be relevant in telling the story.

It was my decision that an attractive woman who had survived the horror of the destruction of the ghetto and told her story would be the most intriguing. But one story was not enough. I had to introduce more characters, more action, more situations, all culled from the interviews. It was also important to show how absurd the Nazi plan was, assuming they truly believed what they sought to accomplish could, in fact, be accomplished.

Rosa opens the story in her own words. She survived for reasons over which she has no control and, subsequently, meets and becomes both friends and family with another couple who survived for reasons totally beyond their control. When Rosa, now known as Anna (you must read the book to understand why the name change), learns that there is to be a reunion of survivors at the hotel she is driven, not by reason and against the wishes of her friends and family, but by her own demons, to attend. Her feelings, her emotions, her lies, her guilt, are what drive her throughout the story, despite her relatively good life in Israel.

I have spoken on many occasion about the book and am always asked why I wrote the book from a woman's point of view. The answer is that the essence of the story is, to a degree, derived from Shulman's interviews. Writing from a woman's point of view came about naturally, and the more I wrote the easier it became. Easy because what happened to the characters in "The Polksi Affair" was not planned. Their survival was fortuitous, and the story simply told itself.

The book won an award for historical fiction. Every place mentioned in the book is real: the hotel, the prison, the ghetto, the cemetery. The characters, what happens to them and how they survive, mostly all fiction.

So the most I can ask of the reader is to see if they understand my reason, my motivation for writing the book. And it is only fair that the reader know that the book caused many people to ask me what happened to the families after the book ended. That was a puzzling question. People who read the book wanted more. So I recently completed a sequel with the working title, "The Family Affair." A new agent/publisher is being sought, and I promise that anyone who buys and reads "The Polski Affair" as a result of this blog on Laura's Reviews and gets back to me at with their thoughts, will be entitled to a free copy of the sequel.

So let's be in touch.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

I love historical fiction and I always enjoy Philippa Gregory’s novels. Gregory has a gift to make historical fiction novels a very interesting and page-turning read. I loved The Other Boleyn Girl and read all of the subsequent Tudor dynasty novels. Last year Gregory moved her target to the War of Roses by writing about the York Queen, Elizabeth Woodville in The White Queen. In The Red Queen, Gregory focuses on the mother of Lancastrian Henry Tudor, Margaret Beaufort.

The Red Queen starts with Margaret as a young child. Enraptured by the tales she hears of Joan of Arc, Margaret determines that she is destined by God for greatness. This belief follows Margaret through her life from her marriage at age 12 to Edmund Tudor, the birth of Henry, her second marriage to Henry Stafford, and her third marriage to Thomas, Lord Stanley. The sole focus of Margaret’s life becomes to achieve greatness by having her son placed on the throne of England, no matter what the cost.

I enjoyed The Red Queen. I loved how Margaret was twisted by her mistaken religious beliefs. She attempted to appear to be a very religious and pious woman, but her thoughts and actions were anything but pious. It was also very amusing at how much she hated Elizabeth Woodville and how she tended to blame all bad things that happened in her life on the sins of others and never on her own actions. Although this book ended at the winning of her son Henry’s battle for the throne, it is not too much of a stretch to see how she became the mother in law from hell to Elizabeth of York.

Overall The Red Queen was a very readable and enjoyable historical fiction novel. I had never read any novels about Margaret Beaufort and I found the story very interesting. As a woman, I was very disturbed at how Margaret was wedded and bedded at the age of 12. Her horrific childbirth of Henry and then the subsequent separation of mother and child were heartbreaking. Poor Margaret led a cold and loveless life. I wish she could have run off with Jasper and raised her son . . . but then he probably never would have become Henry VII.

Book Source: The Kewaunee Public Library

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Darcy Christmas by Amanda Grange, Sharon Lathan, and Carolyn Eberhart

A Darcy Christmas is a Christmas collection of stories by Amanda Grange, Sharon Lathan, and Carolyn Eberhart involving our favorite Austen hero, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth. I will review and summarize each story separately for a deeper look into the book.

The first story is “Mr. Darcy’s Christmas Carol” by Carolyn Eberhart. After helping out Lydia Bennet, Mr. Darcy never proposed to Elizabeth in this take on the tale. Christmas has come and the spirits of Christmas past, present, and future visit Mr. Darcy to show him the error of his proud ways and what life will be like without Elizabeth. I thought this was a great and inventive combination of Pride and Prejudice with the holiday classic A Christmas Carol. I especially liked how Scrooge gets a special guest appearance at the end of the story. Carolyn Eberhart is a debut author and I look forward to reading future works by her!

The second story is “Christmas Present” by Amanda Grange. Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth are happily married and are expecting their first child. Jane and Mr. Bingley have moved nearby and have just had their first child, a son. Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth visit the Bingleys to celebrate Christmas with them and the Bennet family. Much hilarity also ensues when Lady Catherine and Mr. Collins make a guest appearance. Christmas Present was a great story and Amanda Grange did an excellent job of bringing all of my favorite P&P characters back to life in a way true to the original novel.

The final story is “A Darcy Christmas” by Sharon Lathan. “A Darcy Christmas” is a great concept. Each chapter in the story is a different stage in Darcy and Elizabeth’s relationship from before their marriage, to newlyweds, to the birth and growth of their children. I liked the concept, but didn’t really like the actual stories. They moved very slowly. Some were great and others were lackluster. While I had read the first two stories in this book quite fast, I seemed to get stuck on this story.

Overall A Darcy Christmas was a very enjoyable holiday book that will get you in the spirit with your favorite Pride and Prejudice characters.

A Darcy Christmas is my twelfth item in the Everything Austen Challenge II.

Book Source: Advance Review Copy from Sourcebooks. Thank-you!

Fireproof Novelization by Eric Wilson Based on the Screenplay by Alex Kendrick & Stephen Kendrick

I watched and enjoyed the movie Fireproof at some point in the last year or two. My sister-in-law loaned me the novelization of the movie. Sometimes novelizations of movies are more miss than hit, but this novelization was definitely a winner.

Caleb Holt is a fireman and is captain of his team. While he is a fantastic firefighter and leader, his life at home is falling apart. Caleb and his wife Catherine do nothing but fight or avoid each other. It has gotten to the brink of divorce. Caleb’s father challenges him to try a 40-day Love Dare project. Caleb’s parents had used this project to repair their marriage. Caleb is skeptical at first, but finds himself changing and truly understanding the meaning of love.

I actually enjoyed Fireproof the novel even more then the movie. The novel had added scenes and background that really added to the overall story. The book was a very quick read and was highly enjoyable. It is a great book about relationships and what it takes to keep them going.

Book Source: I borrowed Fireproof from my sister-in-law.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Interview (and Giveaway) with Persia Woolley, author of Child of the Northern Spring

I am very excited to have Persia Woolley on my blog today. Ms. Woolley is the author of one of my favorite books, Child of the Northern Spring, which is being republished by Sourcebooks this month.
Ms. Woolley answered my burning questions for quite an intriguing interview. I am inspired by her research and also excited about her latest research and books in the works. The baby and computer woes have delayed my post today - but I'm finally getting it up! And without further ado . . . the interview!
LAG: I first read your Guinevere Trilogy as a teenager in the 1990’s. I recently reread Child of the Northern Spring and I find it just as engaging as I did as a teenager. What inspired you to write about the Arthurian legends from Guinevere’s point of view?
PW: I'd been re-reading Mary Stewart's Merlin Trilogy one evening on the terrace when all of a sudden Gwen and Lancelot appeared like a hologram in front of me, having a really fierce argument. Fascinated, I watched as he announced that everyone knew she consorted with old witches in the woods, and could easily have concocted the poison which she was being accused of trying to use to kill Arthur. Outraged, Gwen drew herself up and shot back 'Indeed, I've spent time with them, and learned their brewing crafts, AND drunk the stuff down, no matter how noxious. I've done all that and would do more, if it will make me able to give Arthur a child! Now can you, my fine fellow, say you would do as much for the king?" Neither imperious or whining, she was so proud and fierce and direct that I found myself saying "How did a nice girl like you get into a situation like that?" That's when I knew what my first novel would be, and who better to tell it than Gwen herself?

LAG: I love the historical setting after the Romans have left Britain. What made you decide to set the story during this time period instead of during the often used Middle Ages setting?
PW: I've always admired Mary Renault's Theseus books, The King Must Die and The Bull from the Sea, where she took the legend back to the time it would have originated and treated it as history, with reasonable explanations for things that were later overlaid with mythic meaning and power. People who do this are called 'euhemerists,' and I knew I wanted to approach my Guinevere that way. When I began to study the subject, it became clear the earliest references went back the 150 years between the fall of the Roman Empire and the conquering of Britain by the Saxons in 550 A.D. If my research had shown the story to have begun in the Middle Ages, that's when I would have set it.

LAG: How did you research the time period and Arthurian legends? Did you make any trips to the U.K.?
PW: Even in the 1980's there were many scholarly books on the subject. For the entire trilogy I put in 11 years of research and writing, and made four specific trips to Britain where I did nothing but travel the roads she would have, hiked up to every hill-fort and crawled around every Roman ruin mentioned in my work. I carried everything in my backpack, stayed in hostels, traveled mostly by bus and hauled home tons of books, maps and pamphlets. All told, it was one of the most exciting and rewarding projects of my whole life, and I did it between the age of 45 and 55.

LAG: Do you have a favorite character in Child of the Northern Spring? Guinevere is of course my favorite, but I loved Bedivere. His concern for Arthur, and all around gentlemanly behavior is fantastic.
PW: Bedivere is one of the earliest of Arthur's companions, and it is often suggested that the Breton Lancelot is simply a French attempt to co-opt the character of Bedivere. When you live with these archetypical personalities for such a long time, you develop a fondness for and understanding of most everyone. Even Morgan, for all her traditional hatred of Arthur, tugs at the heart when you think of her as the daughter cast aside to make way for her mother's new husband and baby. I'm partial to Nimue who is, to me, one of the most spiritual of them all. Brigit is equally devout but in a Christian vein, whereas Nimue is a total innocent who reflects all manner of Goddess wisdom with a complete trust. When she went off with Pelinore like that, I was awestruck at her courage and faith, and the sincerity of her feelings for Merlin were deeply touching to me.

LAG: Faith is often mentioned in Child of the Northern Spring as the old faith involving Druids starts to compete with the new faith of Christianity. What made you decide to have faith as an issue in Arthur’s court?
PW: I didn't make a deliberate choice on that. I don't write fantasy but the people of that time had a great deal of superstition, faith, credulity and belief in the presence of supernatural powers. I studied a lot of archaeological digs, reports and collections, and it's very evident that belief in and appeals to the gods was a common factor in the daily life of the Romano-Britain, Celt and Saxon so naturally my characters reflect that. It was hard times and life was scary.

LAG: I like how you often used practical to the times explanations for some of the legend, including the round table. Did you find the round table theory in historical sources or was it a product of your imagination?
PW: I studied architecture in college, and have always had a hand in the design of my surroundings, including furniture, so it was fairly logical to design my own Round Table. I like the idea of individual segments as it allows for servants to move around and would be easier to pack up and move to wherever the Court was to meet next--a solid table such as that shown at Winchester is horrifically heavy and probably impossible to move easily. Both the challenge and the fun of finding real explanations for mythic things is what makes me happy to be an euhemerist. For instance, in Child when Morgan lifts the great sword Excalibur out of the waters of the Black Lake, she chants a rather pedantic verse about it's creation, basically saying it was forged on a dark and windy night. A bit of simple fancy? No way! I went looking for a metallurgist who could explain how a Dark Age smith could create a steel blade (which is probably what Excalibur was). He said it would have been made outdoors (as most smithies were by a stream's edge), on a night when there was no moon or starlight because the smith gauges the exact moment when to start hammering on the blade by the specific shade of the glowing metal, and any extra light would affect his vision of it. And there would have been a very heavy wind forcing more oxygen into the fire where he was working to make the temperature higher. So what can be taken by the reader as a bit of atmospheric invention is actually a report on what would have been required to make a special blade in reality.

LAG: Do you have any plans for any additional novels?
PW: I have a finished manuscript of "Ophelia's Tale" which needs just a bit more polishing and an agent--as with the other 'legends,' I don't present anything counter to the source, which is what Shakespeare gives us on stage. But you'll never look at Hamlet the same way again. And I've already put in several years of research on a novel of the Trojan War. Other than that, who knows.

LAG: I always have to ask . . . who are your favorite authors and/or what are a few of your favorite books?
PW: Among the Arthurians, it's Mary Stewart's Merlin Trilogy by far. But I also admire various works of Daphne Du Maurier, Saint-Exupery, Lawrence Durrell, Margaret George, Tracy Chevalier, Sharon Kay Penman and C.W. Gortner...for starters.

“The standout opening volume of Woolley's Guinevere trilogy, first published in 1987, describes the Celtic princess's childhood in loving, sensuous detail with an uncannily accurate historical eye for day-to-day details... Woolley does a marvelous job of portraying the political upheaval of the time... an engrossing and satisfying addition to the canon.”
Publishers Weekly STARRED REVIEW of Sourcebooks Landmark Edition

Among the first to look at the story of Camelot through Guinevere’s eyes, Woolley sets the traditional tale in the time of its origin, after Britain has shattered into warring fiefdoms. Hampered by neither fantasy nor medieval romance, this young Guinevere is a feisty Celtic tomboy who sees no reason why she must learn to speak Latin, wear dresses, and go south to marry that king. But legends being what they are, the story of Arthur’s rise to power soon intrigues her, and when they finally meet, Guinevere and Arthur form a partnership that has lasted for 1500 years.

This is Arthurian epic at its best—filled with romance, adventure, authentic Dark Ages detail, and wonderfully human people.

Persia Woolley is the author of the Guinevere Trilogy: Child of the Northern Spring, Queen of the Summer Stars, and Guinevere: Legend in Autumn. She lives in Northern California. You can find Persia and more information on Facebook.
Giveaway Details
Danielle of Sourcebooks has been kind enough to offer two copies of the Child of the Northern Spring by Persia Woolley for this giveaway.
If you would like to win a copy of Child of the Northern Spring, please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the novel or this interview.
As part of your comment, you must include an email address. If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner.
I will be using to pick the winners from the comments.
This contest is only open to US and Canadian residents (Sorry!).
No P.O. Boxes.
The deadline for entry is midnight, Friday December 3rd.
Good luck!