Saturday, August 26, 2017

Additional Book Reviews

Here are another half-dozen reviews of books read this spring and summer, not necessarily in the order in which I read them. I hope that you'll enjoy my thoughts on these intriguing books which vary from "cozy" mysteries to children's literature to, of course, Austen variations. Enjoy!

Mum's the Word Mum's the Word by Kate Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A cute "cozy" mystery about Abby Knight who had studied to be a lawyer before quitting to start her own flower shop. Then a mysterious death occurs nearby, and she must stick her nose in and find out what happens. It doesn't hurt that the new owner of the bar just down the street is a handsome ex-cop who helps her with her sleuthing. A fun series--extremely light (a little too light for me), but fun to read in the spa at night.

Slay It with Flowers Slay It with Flowers by Kate Collins
My rating: 0 of 5 stars

The second in the Flower Shop series, Abby is asked by her air-headed cousin to do the flowers for her wedding. But one of the groomsmen is killed...apparently by someone in the wedding party. Abby again has the help of the handsome bar owner/ex-cop down the street to help her to suss out the killer...before the killer gets to Abby first!

A cute series, but a bit too light. I won't be continuing to read it....

Rainbow Valley Rainbow Valley by L.M. Montgomery
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although I have read this series many times, I never tire of Lucy Maud Montgomery's lush and memorable prose and her scintillating characters who burst off the page and into our hearts.

Rainbow Valley is not among my top "faves" of this series, but it's still a beloved book in an even more beloved series that I missed during my childhood read-a-thons and discovered in my mid-twenties.

A definite "keeper" and an integral part of this incredibly-written series that should be a part of every childhood.

Rilla of Ingleside Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Perhaps my favorite book in the Anne of Green Gables series, it is from Rilla of Ingleside that I have gleaned the clearest understanding of the Great War, World War I.

This beloved book illustrates the power of love, family, sacrifice, sorrow, duty, and even a splash or two of romance through the eyes of a rather vain and self-absorbed girl of fifteen who grows up on the home front of Prince Edward Island, Canada, during the years of the First World War.

Beautifully and poignantly written, I consider this book the best of the entire Anne of Green Gables series despite its rarity of humor. This book is just... more in every way: deeper, more beautiful, darker yet lighter, patriotic, yearning for right to prevail.

It's difficult to put into words the sheer power of Montgomery's writing in this book. The battles far away in France are seen through newspaper articles and news spread via word of mouth a full century ago. The poignancy of a girlhood in wartime with her brothers, childhood friends, and even the young man she loves, on the front is beyond my powers of description. It's a beautiful and horrible book at the same time, yet beauty prevails despite heart-rending loss.

If you have not read the entire Anne of Green Gables series, I beg you to do so. And as of 2009, a ninth book has joined the series, a book which I am reading now and is well-worth the wait.

Mistaking Her Character: A Pride and Prejudice Variation Mistaking Her Character: A Pride and Prejudice Variation by Maria Grace
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first read this book on, and the author later sent me the published version of her series "The Queen of Rosings Park" of which Mistaking Her Character is the first.

I have read hundreds--and I'm serious, probably upwards of 400--variations of Austen's novels, and this particular variation of Pride and Prejudice is easily in my Top Five favorites.

In this variation, Mr. Bennet is "Dr. Bennet," employed as physician to Anne DeBourgh at Rosings Park. Jane and Elizabeth are daughters of his first marriage; Mary, Kitty, and Lydia are from his second marriage to the Mrs. Bennet we know and...well, are amused by. But this Mrs. Bennet has a bit more of a mean streak, especially toward Elizabeth who assists her father in his treatment of the very ill Miss DeBourgh.

Elizabeth did herself no favors when she turned down Mr. Collins' proposal, thus ensuring Charlotte's position as Mrs. Collins. And Mr. Collins kindly recommended his cousin, Dr. Bennet, when Lady Catherine desired to have a full-time physician live in one of the cottages at Rosings Park and kindly allowed his family to reside there as well.

I'll leave the background there to avoid any spoilers, but this variation appealed to me very much with Elizabeth's dedication to her father, who does not treat her well, her glib manner of turning aside Lady Catherine's frequent lectures with her quick tongue, and her and Darcy's immediate attraction. I'm currently proofreading the third book in this series, and they are all wonderful!!

Waking to Mr. Darcy: A Pride and Prejudice Novella Waking to Mr. Darcy: A Pride and Prejudice Novella by Leenie Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A novella, Waking to Mr. Darcy brings us an injured Elizabeth Bennet who was out walking in a storm and, in her confused state, she happens upon the small hunting cabin on the Netherfield estate where Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy are escaping from the Bingley sisters and preparing to go out hunting. Given Elizabeth's injuries, Mr. Darcy elects to care for her, thus compromising her as he must remove her sodden clothing and treat her rather serious injuries. Their regard for each other grows during the night he tends her, thus preparing the way for a happy future.

A sweet novella, this quick read is a lovely way to spend a rainy afternoon!

Rainy Days - An Alternative Journey from Pride and Prejudice to Passion and Love Rainy Days - An Alternative Journey from Pride and Prejudice to Passion and Love by Lory Lilian
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another lovely Austen variation by Lory Lilian--I have thoroughly enjoyed all of her "alternative journeys" through the events of Pride and Prejudice.

A few days before the Netherfield Ball, Elizabeth, hoping to escape the unwanted attentions of Mr. Collins, takes a long walk. An unexpected rainstorm causes her to seek shelter in a modest fishing cabin built and used by Mr. Bennet and Mr. Gardiner. On her way there, a galloping horse and its rider are heading directly for a dangerous stream, and Elizabeth yells to stop him. The horse unseats its rider and runs off, leaving an angry Mr. Darcy behind. They seek the cabin together, and during this time, Mr. Darcy reveals his admiration for Miss Elizabeth while she learns far more about Mr. Darcy--the man behind the hauteur.

After the rain stops, they are able to return to Longbourn with an excuse of finding each other on the trail on the way home, with only Mr. Bennet (to whom Mr. Darcy confesses) knowing the truth of their unchaperoned hours in the cabin. Mr. Bennet is satisfied with Darcy's promise to marry Elizabeth should the story get out. And from thence goes our story of Elizabeth and Darcy's romance....

A wonderful and memorable variation of Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Rainy Days is the third Pride and Prejudice variation by Lory Lilian that I've read this month (March 2017). I don't think that I can pick a favorite, but all three are excellent, and I heartily recommend all three.


I hope that you have enjoyed my thoughts on these very different books! I'll be posting more reviews next weekend as well. 

Reading with you,

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Recent Book Reviews...

I have had such a busy, harried spring and summer that only this week did I transfer my book reading list to Goodreads; I still need to add them to this blog (see sidebar...well, after I update it, perhaps...). Anyway, I'll try to post a few of my thoughts (which are not nearly as extensive since I'm trying to remember books that I read months ago) about each book. Fortunately, my list this year is more varied than the past few years; while I still have a good number of Austen variations listed, I've been reading other books, too. Yay!! So here are a few of the books I've read in 2017:

The Blythes Are Quoted The Blythes Are Quoted by L.M. Montgomery
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very different book than the first eight Anne of Green Gables, these stories are told by the Blythes and revolve around different people in Glen St. Mary and environs, only touching now and then on the Blythe family. Interspersed among the stories are poems supposedly written by Anne, and a few written by Walter. Some stories are ghost stories, most are human-interest. It was a very entertaining short story collection which was supposedly sent off to L.M. Montgomery's publishers the day she died. While some of the stories have been republished over the years, this collection is the first time that the book has been published in its entirety, and it's definitely worth a read, especially for those who loved the Blythe family from Books 5-8 of the Anne of Green Gables series.

Longbourn: Dragon Entail: A Pride and Prejudice Variation Longbourn: Dragon Entail: A Pride and Prejudice Variation by Maria Grace
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This may be my favorite Pride and Prejudice variation series...and I was fortunate enough to be allowed to proofread it!! In this second book, Darcy and the baby dragon Pemberley have removed to Rosings Park where Rosings, an ancient firedrake dragon, has taken on the training of the baby. Lady Catherine continues to insist that Darcy marry Anne who is Junior Keeper to Rosings, despite the fact that Anne knows nothing about dragon care. Pemberley pines for Elizabeth's presence since Elizabeth possesses an uncommon affinity for dragons and tends to enjoy their presence more than she does most humans.

Elizabeth, meanwhile, remains at Longbourn Keep where the dragon of the same name, a grouchy wyvern, insists that she marry Mr. Collins, the dragon-deaf heir to Longbourn. Collins is horrid, hates all mentioning of dragons, and abuses the minor dragons (which he sees as birds, cats, and other creatures) of Longbourn Keep. Finally, Mr. Collins and Longbourn the dragon push Elizabeth past her endurance, and she escapes to London, accompanied by Wickham who is abnormally curious about all things dragonish. Elizabeth's Dragon Friend, April, a fairy dragon of unusual perception, warns Elizabeth of revealing too much to Wickham.

Darcy and Elizabeth run into each other at the Blue Order buildings in London, and Darcy requests Elizabeth's assistance in nursing the pining Pemberley back to health. He accompanies her to Rosings Park where the dragons all fall in love with her, as they usually do, for Elizabeth truly understands dragons...much better than she does Mr. Darcy who also seems to be respected by the wise dragons of Rosings. And then everything begins to unravel, with Pemberley's imprinting called into question, leaving her young life hanging in the balance at the dragon Conclave...which will also decide Elizabeth's future with Mr. Collins.

This is a delightful story mixing the secret world of dragons and Jane Austen's Regency world beautifully while continuing to develop the various characters of Pride and Prejudice. I've read this book no fewer than five times; I just can't get enough of it!

And the good news is that the third book in the series, Netherfield: Rogue Dragon should be written and released by the end of the year or early 2018; I'm so thrilled and hope to proofread it as well. :)

Conceit & Concealment: A Pride & Prejudice Variation Conceit and Concealment: A Pride and Prejudice Variation by Abigail Reynolds
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was the first book that I've proofread for Abigail Reynolds...and it may be my favorite of all of her books. In fact, Abigail's books were the very first Austen variations I ever read, and she became one of my favorite authors in this genre. So it was a privilege to be able to assist with the proofreading of this novel.

In an alternate timeline, France defeats Britain in the Napoleonic Wars, and France now occupies all of England. Elizabeth and her family must deal as well as possible with the French forces who think nothing of conquering the local gentlewomen as much as those who oppose them. Elizabeth befriends Mr. Darcy in the fields around Longbourn before she discovers that he seems to have made a deal with the French which allows him to come and go as he pleases and gives him also some power in the occupying army forces. Elizabeth, a patriot, despises Darcy...until he uncovers a secret to Elizabeth that could expel the French forces from the shores of England forever.

When Darcy is captured and accused of murder, Elizabeth must pick up the mantle of Darcy's secret and do everything she can to protect Darcy's precious charge and get her safely into the hands of the resistance forces. Elizabeth then becomes part of the resistance in London, working to defeat the French and force them to leave Britain behind.

This is such an amazing adventure!! I finally had to just read it for pure enjoyment first; then, I went back and prooofread for errors once I knew what happened. ;) It's a beautiful romance, a patriotic tale, and a spy novel all in well as being a variation of Austen's beloved Pride and Prejudice. I don't give many "5" scores to books that are not classics, but this variation of P and P is so extraordinary that it well-deserves this "perfect score." Brava, Abigail!!

Darcy's Hope: Beauty from Ashes: A WWI Pride & Prejudice Variation Darcy's Hope: Beauty from Ashes: A WWI Pride and Prejudice Variation by Ginger Monette
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book and the second book in this series are among the best Austen fan fiction novels I have read. Ever. Set against the backdrop of the Great War, Elizabeth and Darcy hate each other and then love each other, just as in the original Pride and Prejudice. And of course, there's Wickham to gum up the works, and Jane and Bingley are seen along the periphery as well. There is all the intrigue of being stationed at a hospital near the front in Belgium, with Elizabeth as a nurse and Darcy as the CO of the army hospital, plus spies afoot as well. An exciting, edge-of-your-seat story that continues neatly into a second book before being tied up neatly. I'm thinking that it's time for a second reading, actually.... ;)

Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey: A WWI Pride and Prejudice Variation by Ginger Monette
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Darcy and Elizabeth are finally in love, and he sends her to Pemberly while he takes on a dangerous assignment. But Wickham has messed things up, and Elizabeth is accused of crimes that cause her to go underground, hiding from Darcy himself so that her "shame" will not affect his career. The Great War fights on, and Darcy is severely injured and eventually improves enough to be sent to Donwell Abbey where he is nursed back to health. To say more will give it away, but it's a wonderful continuation of Monette's first Great War Romance. Together, these two books are among the very best of Pride and Prejudice variations.

Books of a Feather Books of a Feather by Kate Carlisle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I very much enjoyed this tenth book in the Bibliophile Mystery series by Kate Carlisle. Brooklyn is a bookbinder who somehow happens upon dead bodies, and with the help of her now-fiance, Derek, (former British agent), she helps solve mysteries.

This latest installment involves the Audobon Book of Birds, a copy of which I have seen myself at the Huntington Library in the Los Angeles area. Brooklyn's eclectic upbringing with her hippy-dippy but lovable parents in the Bay area contrasts with Derek's upper-crust British childhood, but he has come to love Brooklyn's family, most of whom still live in or near the commune run by Guru Bob...and also happens to be where Brooklyn was first taught bookbinding and restoration.

As a booklover myself, I adore all of the details of the restoration of various books that occur as part of the mystery series, plus Brooklyn is snarky and fun yet always sees the best in people. This is my favorite "cozy mystery" series; it's warm and funny and very, very smart without being pretentious.


I'll post a few more books with reviews next week as I try to keep up with at least weekly blogging!

Have a lovely week!!

Reading with you,

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Fall Classes at Brave Writer

This school year marks 15 years of teaching and working at Brave Writer. Julie Sweeney Bogart started Brave Writer in January 2000, and I joined the Brave Writer team (of four other employees) in 2002.

Over the past few years, I've settled into a great schedule at Brave Writer; I'm teaching 48 weeks a year now, with some overlap of classes. I love teaching kids and families, mostly homeschoolers, via these online classes. I've written most of the materials I teach; the only class I teach that I haven't written is Groovy Grammar; the rest I've either overhauled and largely rewritten or have written from scratch.

So here are the classes, with dates and links, that I'll be teaching this fall at Brave Writer:

The Groovy Grammar Workshop: August 28-September 22 (4 weeks). This family workshop turns grammar on its head! Rather than relying on boring workbooks and grammar rules that no one can keep straight, we explore how words work together to create clarity and meaning. We "collect" words, play games with them, make up words by creating a "fictionary," and then explore how words work together in Lewis Carroll's poem "Jabberwocky." We conclude the class with writing our own Jabberwocky-style poem using nonsense words. Much family fun is in store in Groovy Grammar!!

The Shakespeare Family Workshop: August 28-September 29 (5 weeks). In this family workshop, we explore Shakespeare's life through a scavenger hunt, draw or create models of the Globe Theatre, and examine the language of Shakespeare's time. Then we'll have an informal study of Shakespeare's sonnets before we explore Shakespeare's plays, spending a week each on comedies (focusing on Much Ado About Nothing), histories (focusing on Richard III), and tragedies (focusing on Hamlet). So if you want a fun and extensive exploration of Shakespeare and his works, this family workshop is ideal!

The MLA Research Essay: September 25-November 3 (6 weeks). This class is intended for high school juniors and seniors only, with a small class size of only ten students to provide maximum teacher-student interaction. Using the college textbook The MLA Handbook, 8th Edition (2016), students will research and write a 5-7 page college-level persuasive research essay using the most recent format of the Modern Language Association (MLA). Students do not need to purchase the textbook; all posts will include materials from the text, and students may contact the teacher with additional questions. Students will finish this course with a college-level essay and much knowledge of how to do academic research.

Playing with Poetry Workshop: November 6-December 12 (5 weeks). This family workshop class focuses on writing many kinds of poetry: free verse, visual poetry, Japanese poetry, traditional rhymed verse, and alternative poetry forms. We'll also explore reading and analyzing poetry, and there are several fun optional activities such as song lyrics as poetry. This workshop is a wonderful way to introduce families to the fun and games of writing poetry, providing a solid foundation in poetry analysis and the history of poetic form. So much fun!!!

I'll be teaching the same courses in the spring in a slightly different order, with the addition of a high school literary analysis course on Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. More on that class in December when I post the spring schedule!!

Fall registration began on Monday, July 31, so please enroll as soon as possible since all of our classes were full for the entire 2016-2017 school year!! Be inspired!! Write bravely!!

Writing with you,


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