Thursday, March 29, 2012

Interview with Jack Caldwell, author of The Three Colonels (and GIVEAWAY)

I am very excited to have Jack Caldwell on my blog today discussing his new fantastic novel, The Three Colonels:  Jane Austen's Fighting Men.  Click here for my review.

LAG:  I loved the premise of THE THREE COLONELS – Jane Austen’s Fighting Men. What inspired you to write about Jane Austen’s fighting men and the battle of Waterloo?

JC:  During Jane Austen’s lifetime, England was in almost constant warfare with France. She had brothers in the Royal Navy; one because an admiral. She wrote about the politics of the navy in Mansfield Park and Persuasion, but never anything about what the navy did, or the army either, in any of her books. Fighting and dying, that is. There was a disconnect there I wanted to fill, and it just so happened that the epic Battle of Waterloo occurred only a few years after Pride and Prejudice was published. That was too close a coincidence to pass up.

LAG:  What is the most interesting fact that you learned about the Battle of Waterloo in your research?

JC:  The Emperor Napoleon was surprised that his marshals were uneasy over the plan to attack Wellington. They had fought the duke in Spain and knew how good he was, especially in defense. Napoleon had never fought Wellington, was overconfident, and dismissed his underlings with, “I tell you that Wellington is a bad general, the English are bad troops, and this will be a picnic!” Yes, the great Napoleon actually said that (in French – ce sera l’affaire d’un déjuner).

LAG:  In THE THREE COLONELS, Caroline Bingley has a change of heart and a wonderful love story. Why did you decide to write Caroline as a heroine rather than a villain?

JC:  I’m weird, in that I never thought of Caroline as a villain. I know many readers consider her the archetypical “Regency mean girl,” but IMHO, that’s a bad rap. Yeah, she wanted Darcy, but not in the way Elizabeth eventually would. She wanted the status being Mrs. Darcy would bring to her. She was trying to elevate herself from trade to society. She’s nowhere near as bad as Lucy Steele, Isabella Thorpe, or Mary Crawford.

She’s not all bad, even though she tried to break up Jane and Bingley. She did warn Elizabeth about Wickham—it was Elizabeth who blew her off.

I always thought the girl was redeemable, so I redeemed her. She’s still Caroline, but she uses her sharp tongue for good, not evil. She is vain—but really, so is Lizzy, to a certain amount. Caroline and Elizabeth are not BFFs, but I think they will, in time, grow to like and appreciate each other, now that they are not in competition.

LAG:  I loved your explanation for why Anne de Bourgh was an invalid. How did you come up with a unique, yet simple explanation?

JC:  I needed Anne to get well so that Fitzwilliam could woo her. Her illness had to be one that was caused by her environment, rather than some chronic disease. It had to be something Regency science would not recognize, but we would. It also gave me the chance to put some light moments in the book. I won’t say much more, but a character’s name gave me the inspiration.

LAG:  What was your favorite moment in this novel?

JC:  Wow, that’s tough. This one is very close to my heart, and there are many moments that I love to re-read. Caroline’s fight with her former friend at the engagement ball, when she “lets her inner witch free.” The moment Anne admits she loves Fitzwilliam. Brandon and Marianne’s leave taking at Delaford. But the part I like the best is the last chapter.

LAG:  How did you decide which of Austen’s military men to use for this novel? Any future novels planned with Captain Wentworth or General Tilney (I did like the General’s brief mention in this book!)?

JC:  When I thought up THE THREE COLONELS, both Brandon and Fitzwilliam instantly came to mind. After all, Waterloo was fought on land—I had to use soldiers. Since I also sent Wickham to Waterloo, I threw in Denny. But I also wanted to write about Caroline Bingley’s reformation, so I needed a love interest. It had to be someone new—a “Dark Darcy,” if you will. Since the title came to me immediately, I needed a third colonel, and he was it. Thus was created Colonel Sir John Buford.

Interesting that you bring up future novels. Fan fiction readers know I’ve written two companion manuscripts to THE THREE COLONELS. One is a sequel to Persuasion named Persuaded to Sail (formerly The Unexpected Passenger), featuring Captain Frederick Wentworth and his lovely wife, Anne. The other is a Jane Austen/Scarlet Pimpernel crossover entitled The Last Adventure, staring Captain Frederick Tilney. We’ll see if Sourcebooks picks them up.

LAG:  What are you currently working on?

JC:  I’m writing a sequel to THE THREE COLONELS named ROSINGS PARK. It deals with life in Regency England after Waterloo.

LAG:  Thank-you for the great interview - I am so happy to see there will be a sequel!  I can't wait to read it!

About the Author - Jack Caldwell is an author, amateur historian, professional economic developer, playwright, and like many Cajuns, a darn good cook. Born and raised in the Bayou County of Louisiana, Jack and his wife, Barbara, are Hurricane Katrina victims who now make the upper Midwest their home.

His nickname—The Cajun Cheesehead—came from his devotion to his two favorite NFL teams: the New Orleans Saints and the Green Bay Packers. (Every now and then, Jack has to play the DVD again to make sure the Saints really won in 2010.)

Always a history buff, Jack found and fell in love with Jane Austen in his twenties, struck by her innate understanding of the human condition. Jack uses his work to share his knowledge of history. Through his characters, he hopes the reader gains a better understanding of what went on before, developing an appreciation for our ancestors' trials and tribulations.

When not writing or traveling with Barbara, Jack attempts to play golf. A devout convert to Roman Catholicism, Jack is married with three grown sons.

Jack's blog postings—The Cajun Cheesehead Chronicles—appear regularly at Austen Authors.

Web site – Ramblings of a Cajun in Exile –

Blog – Austen Authors –

Facebook –

Giveaway Details

Sourcebooks has graciously offered a giveaway of one copy of The Three Colonels:  Jane Austen's Fighting Men by Jack Caldwell.

If you would like to win a copy of this book please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the this book or this interview with Jack Caldwell.

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 (or a monte carlo simulation in excel) 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 April 13, 2012.

Good luck!

The Three Colonels: Jane Austen’s Fighting Men by Jack Caldwell

This book had me at its title The Three Colonels: Jane Austen’s Fighting Men. A book about Austen’s beloved heroes in uniform, count me in! Then I noticed who wrote the book – Jack Caldwell. Caldwell is the author of the wonderful Pemberly Ranch. I couldn’t wait to read what he had in store next for Austen’s characters. Add to that a beautiful cover and I couldn’t wait to read this novel.

I was not disappointed by the story, especially as a great fan of Caldwell, Austen, and historical fiction. The Three Colonels blends together the worlds of Austen’s beloved novels Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. The three colonels include Colonel Brandon from Sense and Sensibility, Colonel Fitzwilliam from Pride and Prejudice, and a new hero Colonel Buford. Military men Denny and Wickham from Pride and Prejudice also make an appearance.

Marianne and Colonel Brandon are happily married and enjoying their young daughter Joy. Colonel Buford is soon to be married to a reformed Caroline Bingley, and Colonel Fitzwilliam is discovering that love has been right in front of him all along. The romance in the novel is very enjoyable. When Napoleon escapes form Elba, the three Colonels are called to their duty and to the horrific battle of Waterloo for God and country. Will they survive and how will this battle affect their loved ones?

I loved the story in this novel and thought it was a very unique spin on Jane Austen’s tale. I love historical fiction and it was intriguing reading about Napoleon and the infamous Battle of Waterloo as fought by Austen’s beloved characters. I loved how so many of my favorite characters returned including Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy, the Bingleys, the Collins, etc. I also like how Caroline Bingley was given a great depth and an ability to redeem herself. Anne de Bourgh is also fleshed out and given a great depth. Napoleon is not the only villain in this novel with appearances from Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mr. Wickham, and Willoughby. If I had to face Napoleon or Lady Catherine, I’m not sure which would be the safer route!

The only complaint I had about the novel is that there are a lot of characters with a lot of story going on. I want to learn more. How about a sequel, The Three Colonels and a Captain, with Captain Wentworth?

Overall The Three Colonels is sure to delight lovers of Austen, romance, and historical fiction. This book is another winner from Jack Caldwell.

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

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (audiobook)

Title: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Author: Robert Louis Stevenson
Read by: Sir Ian Holm
Publisher: CSA Word
Length: 2 hours, 33 minutes
Source: Wisconsin Public Library Consortium from the Kewaunee Public Library Website (Digital Download in Overdrive Media Console
I read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde back in high school sadly on my own and not part of a class reading assignment.  It’s been a few years since then, so I thought I’d listen to an audiobook version to refresh my memory.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is told through the narrative of a lawyer, John Utterson that hears a tale from a friend of a mysterious Mr. Hyde that tramples a girl.  To Mr. Utterson, the most disturbing part of the story is that the girl is paid off through a cheque signed by Dr. Jekyll, a friend of Mr. Utterson.  Mr. Utterson seeks to understand the strange connection between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  The later part of the story is narrated through letters by Dr.  Lanyon and Dr. Jekyll explaining the mystery.
SPOILER ALERT. I had forgotten a lot of the details of the story so it was very interesting to listen to it again.  I like how Dr. Jekyll reveled in being able to separate his dark side and to enjoy living without moral obligations as Mr. Hyde.  But he soon finds his Hyde self was out of control in his way of living, and in control of Dr. Jekyll.  At first he had to take a potion to become Hyde, but soon he had to take a potion to not become Hyde.  It was very interesting how the dark side ultimately took him over.  SPOILER END.

Sadly I think Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde have become so commonplace in our society that it really takes away from the story to read or listen to it now.  It must have been quite shocking to read it for the first time, not knowing the truth. Now it takes away from the entire climax of the story to already know the ending.  I didn’t particularly like the narrative structure of the story either, having it narrated by Mr. Utterson and then concluded by a couple of longish letters.
The version I listened to by CSA Word was very hard to listen too.  It was recorded so low that even when turned up all of the way, I could hardly hear what was going on.  This was very distracting and made it hard to focus on the story.

Overall, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote a very inventive and compelling story.  The only flaw is that it is so compelling that everyone knows what Jekyll and Hyde are and it ruins the climax of the story.

The Sherlock Holmes Theatre (Audiobook)

Title: The Sherlock Homes Theatre
Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Read by: Full Cast Production of the Hollywood Theater of the Ear star Audie Award winning readers
Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Length: 4 hours, 37 minutes

Award:  R.L.L. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award 2005
Source: Wisconsin Public Library Consortium from the Kewaunee Public Library Website (Digital Download in Overdrive Media Console

The Sherlock Holmes Theatre is a perfect audio experience.  A full production of actors takes on and interprets the only two plays Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote about Sherlock Holmes, The Napoleon of Crime and The Speckled Band.  Also included as a bonus is a new one-act comedy play, Ghastly Double Murder in Famed Detective’s Flat. 

The Napoleon of Crime and The Speckled Band are typical entertaining Sherlock Holmes mysteries.  In The Napoleon of Crime, Holmes and Watson find themselves immersed in an international conspiracy against Holmes arch-rival Professor Moriarty.  A young woman has letters that could implicate the British heir in a major scandal right before his marriage.  In order to take these letters from her and earn a tidy profit, a couple kidnaps her and holds her captive.  Sherlock Holmes is soon on the scene to help her out and uncovers the mystery while also discovering admiration for the lady. Complicating matters, Professor Moriarty arrives in the picture and is bent on the final destruction of Holmes.
In The Speckled Band, Watson steps in to help a family that he knew back in his days serving in India.  Two daughters returned with their mother and step-father to England.  After their mother’s death, the eldest daughter dies under mysterious circumstances after uttering a mysterious phrase about a “speckled band.”  Two years later, the younger daughter has just gotten engaged and is starting to hear the same strange music that her sister had heard and her stepfather has moved her to the same bedroom.  Fearing for her life, she asks for assistance from family friend Dr. Watson and his good friend Sherlock Holmes.  Will Holmes be able to solve the mystery and save a life?

The play version of The Speckled Band was based on an earlier short story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Facing financial difficulties, Doyle adapted his favorite Holmes story into a play changing names and some situations.  The play was a smashing success in both London and in America solving the financial problems.  It sounds like the villain (the step-father Dr. Grimesby Rylott played by Lyn Harding) was quite the character and something to behold.  I would have loved to have seen the production.
The new one-act comedy play by Yuri Rasovsky, Ghastly Double Murder in Famed Detective’s Flat, made me laugh out loud several times.  Obviously not a Conan Doyle original, in this parody, Holmes and Watson tell each other what they really think of each other.  I really enjoyed the humor in this piece.

I enjoyed listening to all of these Holmes stories.  I really love listening to audiobooks with a full cast of voice actors for all of the parts.  It really enhances the experience for me.  I thought this audiobook was brilliant.
I’m noticing a definite drug trend in the Victorian literature I’ve been reviewing this year for the Victorian Challenge.  Sherlock Holmes gets a talking too from Watson about the dangers of cocaine, but Holmes doesn’t seem bothered by the potential bad side effects.  It’s strange to think of the famous detective known for his keen intellect as also a drug addict.

Overall, if you are looking for a great mystery and a comedy, The Sherlock Holmes Theatre is an excellent audiobook.

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Discussion with Ciji Ware, author of A Light on the Veranda (and GIVEWAY!)

Did you always have a sequel planned for Midnight on Julia Street?
 Julia Street’s sequel came about for one simple reason: my editor, as soon as she reached the last page of that book, called me and demanded to know, “What ever happened to the young woman in Chapter One who blew off her wedding in front 500 guests in New Orleans’ St. Louis Cathedral? Did she ever dare show her face again down South?
I stammered, “Uh….I don’t know…ah…let me see…she went back to New York with her tail between her legs and—“

 The editor interrupted with, “Well, you have to let us know the fate of that poor girl! Bring her back to New Orleans!”

 However, I didn’t want to do a second book set in the same historic city, and a wonderful writer friend of mine, Michael Llewellyn who lived in New Orleans then, was working on a novel based on a real-life mystery he called The Goat Castle Murder (which is being published this year, by the way).

“Why don’t you set Daphne’s story in Natchez, Mississippi—the Town That Time Forgot? It’s three hours due north of New Orleans. We two could have a blast researching it up there at the same time.”

 And so, the sequel, A Light on the Veranda was born! (And we did have a blast researching and writing both books!).

 What in particular drew you to Daphne as a character? I’ve always been interested in what I call “cross-road moments”—moments when decisions are made that, looking back, mark an entirely new path for the decision-maker. In the case of Daphne Duvallon in A Light on the Veranda, she had been a minor character in Midnight on Julia Street, appearing in Chapter One, and then disappearing for the rest of that book…but what a role she’d played!

She had been forced by circumstances to decide in a split second in front hundreds of New Orleans’ movers-and-shakers at the “Wedding of the Season” whether to bind her life to a man whose eleventh-hour betrayals proved that he definitely did not have her best interests at heart. What drew me to her even more was that she had the courage to run out of that church, even though the wedding cost many thousands of dollars and her parents had planned for her to marry Jack Ebert since Daphne and he were toddlers.

Years ago a close friend of mine, then in his late twenties, described to me in chilling detail the dread he felt on his wedding day watching his bride walk toward him down the aisle. Horrified, I remember asking him, “But why did you get engaged in the first place?” He looked at me with a sad smile, “Well, we were seniors in college and it was either get married or break up. I just sort of drifted into what everyone in both our families expected of us.” But couldn’t you, I persisted, have gotten out of it between the time you got engaged and the actual wedding?” He pointed to the table setting in front of us at the restaurant where we were having dinner. “The day after we told her parents we‘d gotten engaged, her mother ordered a huge set of silverware engraved with my initial. Hey, I was twenty-one years old…I just couldn’t bring myself to call it off.”

 The fact that Daphne had the guts to explain from the very altar why she couldn’t go through with the ceremony filled me with admiration and made me want to explore her story further.

 Will there be any “time slips” in this novel?Oh, yes indeed! In fact, in both A Cottage by the Sea, and Midnight on Julia Street I had been thoroughly caught up exploring the idea of what I termed “genetic memory” and the possibility that the emotional effects of traumatic events that may have happened to one’s ancestors could echo down through the centuries, affecting the lives of their descendants many generations removed. Since I decided to send Daphne from her refuge in New York City back to her southern roots, what better place than Natchez, Mississippi –known as The Town That Time Forgot”—to continue the idea of a modern woman mysteriously uncovering startling events had happened to her namesake ancestress that had eerie parallels in her own life? Whereas in Cottage, the trigger that catapulted the heroine back in time was the sense of touch and in Julia Street, the sense of smell, in Veranda, every time Daphne hears certain sounds—especially music--back she goes to the 1840s when Cotton was King.

 What was your inspiration for the Duvallon family?
 I’ve been going to New Orleans since I was ten-years-old (supposedly I had ancestors there in the 1840s who were, in the words of my late Great Aunt Marge, “run out of town on a rail”), but in the 1990s I had an idea to do another time-slip novel set in a southern American city that had ancient ties with Europe, and the Big Easy seemed to fit the bill perfectly.

When I arrived there, through friends of friends, I met several people whose families had been part of the fabric of that amazing place for generations. One of my “guides” was kind enough to show me the stunning, palatial house in the famed Garden District where he’d grown up, as well as the lovely country place on the edge of a bayou that the family still owned. As we talked, I heard a tale of generations that had, on one hand, been leaders in society, business, and government in Louisiana, and yet had produced nothing but tangled, unhappy relationships--along with dark, well-kept family secrets—all of which had resulted in decades of misery and misunderstanding. Very gothic it all seemed to this westerner, born and bred in sunny California, and but utterly compelling and fascinating. And thus the convoluted Duvallon clan was born. You’ll meet them all in the new release of A Light on the Veranda.

 I’ve enjoyed this discussion very much, so many thanks for the invitation to visit with you! I welcome readers and visitors at You can also connect with me at

Thank-you for stopping by Ciji Ware!  I loved your answers and have enjoyed reading your novels!

Giveaway Details

Sourcebooks has graciously offered a giveaway of one copy of A Light on the Veranda by Ciji Ware.

If you would like to win a copy of this book please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the this book or this discussion with Ciji Ware.

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 (or a monte carlo simulation in excel) 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 March 30th, 2012.

Good luck!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Falling Home by Karen White

If you are looking for a novel of romance filled with great characters, Falling Home is the perfect book for you.  This was the FLICKS Book and Movie Club pick for March and we all agreed that the characters were our favorite part of the book. 

Cassie left Walton, Georgia at age twenty after her sister eloped with her boyfriend Joe.  She moved to New York and has created a very successful career in advertising and is engaged to the firm’s owner, Andrew.  She gets a sudden call from her sister, Harriet, fifteen years later that her father is dying.  Returning to Walton to say goodbye to her father, Cassie rediscovers the friends and family that she left behind.  Her sister Harriet and Joe now have five children, and an old childhood friend, Sam, has become the good looking town doctor.  Sam and Cassie always seem to cross each other the wrong way, but there is no denying that sparks are flying.  When Andrew shows up in town, Cassie must make a decision to return to her life in New York that she loves, or to stay in the town she grew up. 

There was also an appealing mystery that ran throughout the book that I don’t want to ruin here.  I thought the mystery was interesting, but I figured out the entire ending of the book probably halfway through.  Although I knew how the book was going to end, I enjoyed the journey and getting to know the characters.  In other words, don’t read this book expecting a great new plot that will blow you out of the water. Instead it is a story that seems familiar and has a great cast of characters.  As I’m constantly stressed out lately, it was a good book to relax and wind down from the day .

Overall, if you are looking for a good romance with well-developed characters, Falling Home is the book for you!

Book Source:  The Kewaunee Public Library

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels by Ree Drummond

I have seen fabulous reviews of The Pioneer Woman floating around the blogosphere for the past year. When the opportunity to review The Pioneer Woman came my way through TLC Book Tours, I jumped at the chance. I am glad I did as the book is the perfect, honest, true-life love story of a city girl for a cow boy.

Ree had hit a moment in her life when she realized she was not where she wanted to be. Her long-time (four years) boyfriend J was moving north to San Francisco, and she became conscious of the fact that she didn’t want to move with him. She returned home to Oklahoma to stay with her parents while she plotted on a move to a new city, Chicago. She went out one night to the bar with some girl friends when she was struck by lightning and first met “The Marlboro Man” across a smoky bar. It took him months to give her a call, but when he did, their romance took flight and it didn’t take long for the two to realize that they were meant for each other.

I LOVED this book. Ree’s writing is so real. I love how she tells about her falling in love with the Marlboro man only to have embarrassing things happen like putting your car in the ditch while driving Marlboro man’s mother for the first time, having a sweating storm panic attack at a wedding, etc. The thoughts that go through her mind and are recorded in this book before her wedding and during childbirth are so true and similar to thoughts I had during my own big events. The book is very enjoyable and so relatable. Yet, it is also beyond that as I have never lived on a ranch. It was fun to learn how Ree learns the details of life on a working ranch and how to adapt.

Overall, if you are looking for a wonderful relatable romance in which a normal city girl falls in love with a rugged cowboy, look no further. I think the Marlboro man is one of the best romantic leads I’ve read of in a while and Ree seems like someone I would like to have over to chat with! I just wish this book didn’t have to end. I hope that she writes a continuation of life with kids on the ranch. This book started as a blog that Ree later changed and added to make this book. I need to check out her blog, I bet it is a great read.

To read more reviews of this book, check out the master schedule on TLC Book Tours site at:
Book Source: Review Copy from William Morrow as part of the TLC Book Tour. Thank-you!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Red Mist by Patricia Cornwell (Audiobook)

Title: Red Mist
Author: Patricia Cornwell
Read by: Kate Burton
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Length: 11 CDs, approximately 13 hours
Source: Review Copy from Penguin Audio

Red Mist by Patricia Cornwell is the perfect audiobook to make your drive seem very short.  It has been awhile since I’ve read any of Cornwell’s novels and I wasn’t sure if I could pick up the plot not knowing the entire backstory of her heroine Kay Scarpetta.  I didn’t need to worry though; the plot soon sucked me and made me want to go for a car ride just so I could listen to this book.  It’s the kind of audiobook that makes you want to stay in the car long after you’ve pulled into the driveway to find out what will happen next!

Kay Scarpetta was almost murdered six months before the start of the novel by the same murderer that killed her deputy chief, Jack Fielding.  Now the woman that molested Fielding when he was only 12 and bore his child wants to see Scarpetta in the Georgia Prison for Women.  When Kay arrives in Savannah, she discovers that the situation is much more complex than she imagined and that she may have been set up.   With twists and turns at every corner, the mystery unfolds and the suspense is brilliant.   I do not want to ruin this plot for anyone that hasn’t read or listened to the book, but let’s just say that I find myself thinking a lot about where my food has come from after listening to this book!

Kate Burton did an excellent job narrating this novel and the eleven CDs went by fast, I was sad that this novel ended.

If you are looking for an excellent suspense novel to read or listen too, I highly recommend Red Mist.  It is a Kay Scarpetta novel, but you can still enjoy the novel as a stand-alone as I did.  I do want to go back and explore more of her story though!

I read this book as part of the Audiobook Challenge2012.

Lunatics by Dave Barry and Alan Zweibel (audiobook)

Title: Lunatics
Author: Dave Barry and Alan Zweibel
Read by: Dave Barry and Alan Zweibel
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Length: 6 CDs, approximately 7 hours
Source: Review Copy from Penguin Audio

Life has been pretty stressful lately.  I am always looking for a good book that will make me laugh.  Lunatics definitely fit that bill.  I don’t know if I’ve ever laughed out loud so many times as I drive to and from work.
Philip Horkman is a happy laid back man who has realized his dream in life by owning his own pet store, The Wine Shop.  On the weekends he is a referee for children’s soccer.  His life changes forever when he makes a call against Jeffrey Peckerman’s daughter.  Peckerman is an uptight forensic plumber that is sure that he is always right and surrounded by idiots.  The two find themselves in a quickly escalating turn of events that soon finds them running from the law and becoming international fugitives / heroes? 
I really like how Dave Barry and Alan Zweibel wrote this book.  They each took a turn writing a chapter so each chapter is either narrated by Horkman or Peckerman.  The total difference in the two guys’ interpretation of events provides much of the hilarity.  The ridiculousness also was quite funny.  I must admit though that I thought it did go a bit too far by the time I got to the end of the book.  I wasn’t laughing by that point, but overall I still enjoyed it.
The two authors narrate the audiobook and do a superb job of giving their characters unique voices.  I listened to this audiobook as part of TheAudiobook Challenge 2012. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

March Posts for the Victorian Challenge 2012 – Robert Louis Stevenson Month!

I hope everyone is enjoying the final weeks of winter and is looking forward to the start of spring in just a few short weeks. We are closing the reviews on the month of February – Charles Dickens month. We had a total of 13 reviews in addition to a guest blog from Dickensblog and an author interview with Deborah Hopkinson, author of A Boy Called Dickens. Reviews were down from the month of January, but many of you still may be trying to finish up Dickens novels. It took me most of the month to read the massive (and excellent) Drood by Dan Simmons and I was sadly unable to read Oliver Twist. I’m hoping to be able to still read it sometime this year during the Victorian Challenge.

March is Robert Louis Stevenson month for the Victorian Challenge 2012. You can post any Victorian related item you like this month, but I am going to focus on Robert Louis Stevenson and you are allowed to focus with me! We will hopefully have a guest blog post on the Robert Louis Stevenson through the month also to celebrate. Please post your March reviews below in Mr. Linky (and not on the January or February link-up). If you haven’t signed up for the challenge yet, go to this sign-up link.

Robert Louis Stevenson was a Scottish writer born in 1850. He became a Victorian celebrity for publishing such works as The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Treasure Island, and Kidnapped. Stevenson grew up a sickly child that used his imagination to compose adventures stories even at a young age. As an adult, although his constitution was weak, Stevenson traveled around the world and used these travels as inspiration for his works. He died at the age of 44 in Samoa.

The only Robert Louis Stevenson work I’ve read is The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and it has been some time since I’ve read it. I’ve already listened to an audiobook version and need to type of the review. I’m currently listening to Treasure Island and greatly enjoying it. I’ve got Kidnapped on my pile of books and hopefully I’m able to get to it this month. Do you plan on reading any Stevenson this month? If so, what works of Robert Louis Stevenson interest you?

I look forward to reading your reviews this month!

Please post the name of your blog followed by the item you reviewed. For example, Laura's Reviews (The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde).

Monday, March 5, 2012

Drood by Dan Simmons

 If you are a lover of Victorian literature, Drood is a novel not to be missed.  The year is 1865.  Charles Dickens is at the top of his career and is secretly traveling with his mistress, Ellen Ternan and her mother by train to London.  The train engineer suddenly sees with horror that the tracks ahead over a river have been removed for repair and the warning signalman is too close to give them adequate time to stop.  The train continues off the tracks and into the river below. Dickens was in the only 1st class car that didn’t smash into the river.  He becomes a hero by rescuing many people in a horrific scene, but also meets the mysterious man Drood that seemingly takes the lives of the people he reaches.

Dickens is forever changed by this incident and it haunts him for the rest of his life, until his death five years to the date after the accident.  Dickens narrates the tale of the horror of accident and his meeting with Drood to his good friend and collaborator, Wilkie Collins.  Together they journey to the Drood’s lair in the sewers deep beneath London.  After this secret meeting, Wilkie Collins chronicles Dickens and his own obsession with Drood and descent into madness.  During this time period Collins wrote his most famous novel, The Moonstone, and the Dickens started work on his last unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Drood is written as narrated by Wilkie Collins writing it as a Victorian memoir to be read 125 years after his death.   This narration is brilliant.  Collins is addicted to drugs and finds himself slipping further and further into his addiction as the novel proceeds.  He is an unreliable narrator which puts a great twist on the novel.  Are the events real or are they the twisted imaginings of an opium addict?  While being friends with Dickens, Collins also had a great jealousy of him.  While his novels, A Woman in White and The Moonstone have more readers than Dickens’ novels during the same era, Dickens is by far the more famous personality with much more critical acclaim.   I loved in the narration when Collins used terms like “Dear Reader” that one would see in a Victorian novel.

Drood was a wonderful historical fiction novel that also combines great elements of mystery, suspense, and horror.  I finished the book yesterday and I’m still thinking about the ending.  The history in it was great.  I just read Jane Smiley’s biography of Charles Dickens in December and this book dovetailed nicely with the facts I know about Dickens and Wilkie Collins.  The description really set the mood for one to believe that you were in Victorian England.  It was also great to have another view on how The Moonstone and The Mystery of Edwin Drood could have been inspired.

Both Dickens and Collins were represented as great fully released three-dimensional characters.  They both had flaws, but were both creative geniuses.  They were definitely the power house characters in this book, but the secondary characters were also wonderful including Dickens’ daughter (and Collins’ sister-in-law) Katey Dickens Collins, Inspector Field, Detective Hatchery and the mysterious villain Drood. 

Drood is a very large novel (my version is 770 pages), but it was a great meaty read and well worth the weeks I dedicated to reading it.  The plot was tightly woven and the length was needed to tell the entire story. Sadly it made it so I didn’t have enough time to read Oliver Twist in February, but I hope to still read that novel as part of the Victorian Challenge this year.  We read Drood as part of my Kewaunee Library book club, and I’ll admit that none of us had it finished by the time we met, although we were all intrigued with it. 

I must admit I was most intrigued with the details of the underground adventures of Dickens and Collins as they searched for Drood in the sewers of London.  It was an Indiana Jones like adventure in a setting that intrigues me.  I design sewers for a living so the history of the crypts, sewers and sanitation in the Victorian era was very, very interesting to me.  Such quotes as “I may have mentioned earlier that Joseph Bazalgette, chief engineer of the Board of Works, had proposed a complex system of new sewers to drain off the sewage from the Thames and to embank the mudflats along the shores.”  I need to look this stuff up – I’m fascinated!

Overall, Drood is a novel not to be missed.  It is a unique look at the Victorian period of history during the last five years of Dickens life told through the opium addicted author Wilkie Collins.  This book will definitely be one of my top books of this year.

Drood was not only my Kewaunee Library book club read, but I also read it as part of the Victorian Challenge 2012 and Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2012.

Book Source:  I won this book in a giveaway two years ago.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Interview with Deborah Hopkinson, author of A Boy Called Dickens

I am excited to have author  Deborah Hopkinson on Laura's Reviews today to help honor Charles Dickens by talking about her new book, A Boy Called Dickens.  And without further ado  . . . our interview. 
LAG:  What inspired you to write historical fiction books for children?

DH: I love history and remember as a girl that I had hard time finding books on women in history. So I began with historical fiction about women that intrigued me – astronomer Maria Mitchell, Fannie Merritt Farmer, and Jubilee singer Ella Sheppard Moore, to name a few. And then the more I wrote the more I became immersed in history.

LAG: Why did you choose Charles Dickens for your subject on your latest book?

DH: I loved reading Dickens as a child. I think I was probably only ten or eleven when I stumbled on Great Expectations, A Christmas Carol and David Copperfield that I’ve had forever. I probably read them long before I was actually ready for the material. But that’s one great thing about Dickens – you can read and enjoy his work on many levels.

I’ve just started listening to Great Expectations on audio and I understand there is a new adaptation coming to PBS in April.

LAG: Did you find out any new and interesting facts about Dickens in your research?

DH: I knew Dickens had worked in a blacking factory as a boy, but what fascinated me most in researching this book was realizing how that experience haunted him throughout his life. He never told his children about it but kept it a secret.

LAG:  What is your favorite Charles Dickens novel?

DH:  It’s a tossup between Great Expectations and David Copperfield. I may have to back and read them all to make a decision!

How do you take the life of a real person and tell the story in a way that sparks an interest in the mind of a child? I know – complicated question!

A Boy Called Dickens is definitely historical fiction. I tell young people when I do school visits that whenever we put words in someone’s mouth that they didn’t say, we are writing fiction, even if it is close to the truth or based on fact. What I try to do, though, is not necessarily write a biography but to tell a story that illuminates something important in the real person’s life.

In the case of Dickens, we can see that his childhood experiences had a profound influence on his life and work. Kids may not be ready to read Little Dorrit yet, but maybe someday when they do, they will recall this story and it will provide context and richness for their later reading.

LAG:  What are you currently working on?

DH:  I have two books coming out this year, TITANIC: Voices from the Disaster and Annie and Helen, and I’m also working on a middle grade novel based on Dr. John Snow and the cholera epidemic of 1854

For more information about my books and historical thinking, I hope readers will visit my website:

LAG: Thank-you for the great interview Deborah Hopkinson!