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Thursday, September 18, 2014

My First Regency Outfit thanks to Marion May Designs!

Hello dear readers! Today it is a pleasure to be able to introduce to you my first regency outfit! A little while back I decided that I really wanted to take part in the Regency Promenade during the 2014 Jane Austen Festival. Therefore, I needed an outfit! I had already started building up a proper regency outfit but I missing the most important element - the dress! 

In the past, I remember stumbling upon Marion May Designs and loving the dresses, spencers, pelisses - everything! I really hoped to one day own something from this wonderful shop. 

I was still trying to put together my outfit and I began bidding on a dress on eBay, only to be outbid at the last second, leaving me once again dress less and with a ticket to the promenade - and I wasn't planning on walking around Bath wearing only some gloves with a fan and a parasol, which was all I had at the time! 

When posting on my Facebook page about my attempts at pulling together an outfit, the lovely Sarah Marshall commented and mentioned her shop which sold dresses and all sorts from the regency era, and it turned out to be Marion May Designs! 

And so, after a lot of emailing back and forth, I decided to order a dress! I felt just like a proper debutante, ordering my gown for my coming out ball or something! I cannot tell you how much fun it was getting fabric samples sent to me to choose from and picking the design and sleeve type, and being measured up so it was made to be my perfect fit - it really was so exciting! 

After my final order and specifications had been placed, the next bit was the hardest; the waiting! I had to wait for it to be lovingly crafted and I am not a very patient person ;) But the day it arrived was a very good day and I tried it on immediately and fell in love with it immediately! 

I had chosen the Elizabeth Day Dress design with short rouged sleeves (See the full variety of dress designs here!) 

I also had a lovely surprise when I opened the parcel of a beautiful scoop neck Spencer jacket (see the full array of jackets here!) The lovely, lovely Sarah told me this had been a left over jacket and that it happened to be in my size and the right colour for my dress and so she gave it to me - I could not believe my luck or her generosity! 

The quality of this dress is astounding! The fit is perfect and it is so well made and so comfortable to wear! I was over the moon with my dress and spencer and I would highly recommend this lovely shop for anyone wanting a beautiful regency dress. The communication whilst designing the dress was brilliant as was Sarah as she put up with all my questions and indecisiveness!

The back detail with the pleating was so pretty, as was the buttoning down the back. There was also a very clever draw-string under bust which created a perfectly snug and flattering fit! 

I, of course, had to accessorise! 

My lovely reticule I bought from Regency Regalia on Etsy. 

My flowery bonnet I purchased from Beth's Bonnet Shop on eBay - at a really reasonable price!

The elegant jewellery (necklace and earrings set) can be found at Graham's Treasure Chest on eBay. 

The lace fan, gloves and parasol can all be bought from The Jane Austen Centre Gift shop

I also interviewed Sarah about the process of creating and designing a dress and so we could all get to know this wonderful seamstress a little more! 


Hello Sarah! Thank you for stopping at Laughing with Lizzie to chat about your wonderful creations and how you go about making them! You are so talented and your dresses are brilliant! 

1. Firstly, I must ask, which is your favourite Jane Austen novel? And how about your favourite hero and heroine? 

My favourite Jane Austen novel has got to be Pride & Prejudice, I just adore all of the characters, especially Mr & Mrs Bennet, it is so skilfully written & it is the Austen novel that I most frequently go back to reading.  Close second is Persuasion, then Emma followed by Sense & Sensibility & then Mansfield Park & Northanger Abbey joint 5th.  

My favourite heroine is Elizabeth Bennet, I don't think I need to explain why to you ;) my favourite hero is more difficult, It alternates between Captain Wentworth, Mr Tilney & Mr Knightly.  Usually Tilney wins it because you have to admire a man who is willing to be disinherited to marry the girl of his choosing.  But I do have a strong admiration for Nelson and the navy so Captain Wentworth is always a strong favourite.

2. What was it that got you into sewing in the first place? And then why did you move to recreating historical garments, particularly regency era clothing? 

What got me first into sewing? That's easy, I had wonderful ideas of the type of clothing I wanted to wear, but could never find anything like it in the shops, if I did find something I liked, it was difficult getting the right fit.  So I bought a sewing machine, some fabric and a few patterns and after a lot of grafting, tantrums and tears, I began to produce my first garments.  They were 1950s style sundresses and they were good enough to sell on eBay.  

Soon after I tried my hand at a spencer style jacket and listed it for sale on eBay, with great success, I soon received many orders for different colours and sizes.  The Jane Austen Centre in Bath contacted me and asked if I would be interested in making costume to sell in their online gift shop.  I couldn't believe my luck to have this connection to Jane Austen, and so quickly after making my first garments.  I soon found myself making regency dresses, then pelisses and as I made more, people began asking me if I could make mens costume too, so I taught myself a bit of tailoring and produced my first Mr Darcy costume.

Then came the birth of my website, I named it 'Marion May' after my grandmother and designed and built it myself.  My sister usually models the female costume and I have an excellent mannequin who is of course called Darcy, to model the male costumes.

6 years on, I still have hundreds of designs drawn up and waiting to be added to the website.  I love my job and feel very fortunate to be able to do what I love for a living.  I am constantly researching, learning and improving my sewing skills.

3. Your dresses are fantastic and I love how you use inspiration from the adaptations of her novels for the dresses. Which is your favourite design? Which is the easiest, and hardest, to make? Do you have a favourite dress from any of the adaptations? (I have to say I love the wardrobe of both Jennifer Ehle and Romala Garai!) 

My favourite things to make are the dresses, they are all relatively easy for me to make now and I can make upto 4 a day.  My least favourite things to make are the mens tailcoats as they are quite difficult and time consuming.  I have long admired the costumes from the 1995 p&p and wanted very much to own a few of Jennifer Ehle's gowns.  My favourites are the dresses and Spencer's she wears when she visits Rosings whilst staying with the Colins'.  I also love the costume from Vanity Fair and have taken much inspiration from this adaptation too.

4. You mentioned in an email that you love your job, being able to sit and sew whilst watching Austen. That does sound perfect to me - if I could sew! Which adaptations are your favourite? Are they the ones you tend to watch while sewing? 

My favourite adaptations? Hmmm, I have a vast library of period dramas on dvd, the top 5 most watched while working are: P&P, North & South, Our Mutual Friend, Vanity Fair, Persuasion (both modern adaptations), Lost in Austen and I'm also quite partial to a bit of Sharpe and Hornblower.  I am not very fond of the 2005 P&P, but I do own it.  I tend to buy most period dramas as research into costume as I do get customers ask if I could make a dress from a certain adaptation, so it is handy to have them and is also a very good excuse for my addiction to buying period dramas.

5. I suspect that you are coming to a busy period, working up to the Jane Austen festival in September! Is it your busiest time? Have you been to the festival before? Will I see you there this year? 

My busiest time of year tends to be toward the build up of the Jane Austen festival, I am often working from 9am-10 or 11 pm throughout August, getting costume ready and made up to reach everybody in time.  I also find October and January are very busy months too, so there must be balls of some sort going on around the globe.  I do try to keep abreast of all the events UK and overseas, but Regency re-enactment seems to be so popular, there is always something going on.

I've not been to the Jane Austen festival so far, it is something I would love to do, but always find myself too busy making everyone else's costume to attend.  Hopefully next year I shall make it.  I am very excited to see if we can break the world record this year for the most people dressed in costume and I am extremely glad that you are so pleased with your dress and spencer.  The pictures from your photo shoot, received today look lovely and all of your accessories really look the part.

I have plans to add lots more costume to the Marion May website, in particular late regency and also expand the 1940's dresses and add medieval costume too, so I shall be busy right through to the new year, when hopefully, I will be able to add a new page to the website, 'novels'; I have 2 almost completed Regency romantic satires 'Thurrogate Hall' and 'The Harridans House'.  You shall be the first to read my synopsis when I have them ready!  
So you see, there is no hope for me, I am quite obsessed with everything Regency and do believe myself only one small step away from dressing like Lizzy Bennet on a daily basis and writing all of my correspondence in dip pen and ink!

Well Sarah you really do sound just as obsessed as I am as I have contemplated wearing regency clothing all the time, however at the moment my wardrobe would be pretty limited!


Here are a few other photos for you - my sister and I did a trial run for the festival and had a little photo shoot which is where these photos for this post have come from!

(Sorry for the photo overload! Put it down to my excitement!)

Any future dresses I need I will certainly be getting from Marion May Designs

I have been behind in my posts and the promenade has in fact happened - and it was amazing! - and I will be doing a post all about that wonderful day very soon!   

Your affectionate friend,
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Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Gentleman's Impertinent Daughter by Rose Fairbanks

Today I am posting my thoughts on Rose Fairbanks recently published novella, The Gentleman's Impertinent Daughter. I am looking forward to reading a full length story from this author.  My thanks goes to Rose for sending me this story to review. (While I was sent the book, this is my honest and unbiased opinion.)  Read an excerpt from the story here!

"When Fitzwilliam Darcy visits Hyde Park with his sister, he expects nothing more than a quiet walk on a fine day. Instead, he meets a young woman who challenges his ideas and pulls his sister out of her melancholy. He soon realizes Elizabeth Bennet is the only woman in the world with whom he could spend the rest of his life.  

Elizabeth, clever and self-assured, refuses to change for the sake of gaining a husband, a prospect she finds impossible regardless. With wit and independence rather than fortune, she is entirely convinced no sensible man would have her, and she cannot respect a fool. Can Darcy prove to be this impossible man? Or is a figure from his past an insurmountable obstacle to a future with The Gentleman’s Impertinent Daughter?  

 This was previously posted on various forums in a draft as St. Michael's Little Summer."

This was a sweet story and I really enjoyed it! I am very impressed given the length - I don't usually like novellas as they often feel rushed, as there isn't enough time to develop the story or the characters, but this one really didn't feel rushed at all.  

I think the route the author decided to take the story down really worked for the length of it; the idea that they haven't met at Meryton, where Darcy famously insults Lizzy, means that they can get off to a better start. Also, as they hit it off much better and like each other straight away, there is a lot less pride, prejudice and misunderstanding, which was perfect for a story of this length. 

What I most enjoyed about having Lizzy and Darcy meet in a completely different situation was the effect this had on Darcy; the events of this story after the meeting in Hyde Park are pretty much like we know it to happen in Pride and Prejudice. However, as a result of their Hyde Park meeting and Darcy's consequential wish to please Lizzy, his behaviour when he does arrive at Meryton is as it ought to have been; he is much more civil to the country folk of Meryton and he even views Lizzy's family in a more forgiving light, as really Mrs Bennet isn't any worse than his own aunt, Lady Catherine! 

As well as Darcy's altered behaviour in such scenes, there are also some fun twists to other events, such as Lady Catherine's visit to scare Lizzy away from Darcy - this is brought about in a new and interesting way and by a most unexpected character as well! Another factor in this variation which I really enjoyed was that Darcy meets the non-embarrassing members of Lizzy's family, the Gardiners, first, and also that Lizzy gets to meet Darcy's sister, Georgiana, much sooner - and before Lady Catherine!

The author, even in such a short story, highlights quite a few interesting thoughts and comparisons that I had never really thought about or noticed before. For example, when Lizzy is worried about the possible loss of the Darcys regard for her after they have met the rest of her family, Georgiana points out that both her and Mr Darcy are still friends with Bingley despite his unfortunate sisters!  

I have already mentioned how Darcy's behaviour changes as a result of his accidentally meeting with Lizzy, but as well as the influence she has over him starting to take effect much sooner (and without the need for him to be accused of being proud, arrogant and ungentleman-like in a most horrible refusal!), there is an interesting idea played around with in that Darcy has always believed that birth, rank and lineage do not automatically make people more superior than others, however because of how he was brought up and of what society would say, he hasn't spoken up about his own views. I found this twist on Darcy's character as an explanation for his pride an interesting path to explore.  

Lizzy is just as lively as we would expect her to be. She is her outspoken, witty, impertinent self. She is particularly pragmatic in this story with her views on society and how the world is changing, and it is this attitude which is what captures Darcy's attention when he happens to overhear Lizzy having such a conversation with her aunt Gardiner. 

As I have already said, I love that Lizzy and Darcy's first meeting gets off to a much better start when Darcy is immediately drawn to this beautiful young woman playing with a child with her petticoats six inches deep in mud! As the relationship develops between them you can't help but love them; their teasing of and debating with each other, and later their flirting, are very sweet! The debates they have are brilliant and the author's own intelligence shines through in them. We know they cross verbal swords in canon, however this time Lizzy isn't purposefully trying to annoy, mock or invoke disapproval from Darcy which makes a change!

I have already mentioned how we see Lizzy's influence on Darcy from almost the earliest moments of their acquaintance, but Lizzy is also influenced by the much more positive and trusting - and unprejudiced! - opinion she has of Darcy, particularly when both Wickham and Caroline Bingley come along to try and warn her off! This isn't a story full of disagreements, problems and angst, but there are some obstacles the couple must face, which keep things interesting. I am glad this was the case, however, because this is only a short story; if it was all angst from page one till the very end it would have felt like a rather unrealistic happy ending for them, and also the blurb suggests there won't be as many problems as he isn't nearly as proud, nor her as prejudiced! As it is, the journey of their friendship and love doesn't feel at all rushed or unbelievable in my opinion as I think the author got the balance right.

I mentioned briefly how it was nice for Lizzy to meet Georgiana much sooner, at the very beginning in fact when she meets Darcy. Georgiana features throughout this whole story and I always enjoy getting to read more about her. I felt so sorry for her as we see just how upset she is by a certain event thanks to a certain scoundrel and how affected she has been. She and her brother seem to have a really strong bond as we see Darcy equally as affected by seeing his sister so upset, especially when he feels he is the most to blame! Georgiana is very sweet though, and what was lovely was her immediate ease and comfort with this stranger they meet, a Miss Elizabeth Bennet. We see her grow in confidence as Elizabeth's lively nature helps to bring her out of her saddened state. Those two really become great friends! We also get to see Georgiana turn her hand to match-making - much more subtlety than Mrs Bennet! - as she can't fail to notice the immediate connection and bond between her new friend and her brother. She plays a very important role in their relationship in fact!

Where would we be without Wickham and Caroline Bingley causing trouble; they do, and plenty of it! They were particularly well portrayed as my 'hatred and anger meter' hit pretty much top and I wanted to slap or kick (or worse!) at various points in the story! They get their due however, don't you worry!  

There was a very sweet - and very important - new character called Michael, one of the Gardiner children. He was adorable! His childish innocence and often inappropriate comments or questions were great and very funny! 

I have said how the author's intelligence is clear in even such a short story, but also this was very well written and the historical accuracy was brilliant. The characterisation was also very good, my favourites being Darcy and Georgiana. There were some fun twists and slight changes to canon as well, which I really enjoyed. If this is what the author can do in under 100 pages I can't wait to read a full length novel! 

If you have a spare hour or so and want a nice break one afternoon or a quick bedtime read then this is the book to choose! 

I wish Rose all the best with this story, and any future ones!

Your affectionate friend,
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Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Rainy Days by Lory Lilian

Today I am posting my first review of one of the wonderful author Lory Lilian's stories, Rainy Days. I cannot wait to read more of this author's work! My thanks goes to Meryton Press for sending me this story to review. (While I was sent the book, this is my honest and unbiased opinion.) 

"In Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet's first impression and hasty judgment of Mr. Darcy, and that gentleman's pride and aloofness toward her loved ones took them on a long, difficult road to happiness. In "Rainy Days", Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are caught in a rainstorm two days before the Netherfield ball, and they are forced to spend a few hours alone together where they talk, listen, and better understand each other's feelings. However, even when original pride and prejudice are overcome, new obstacles arise. The road to true love is never smooth, and surprises along the way enhance the passion of the journey. Rainy Days - an alternative journey from Pride and Prejudice to passion and love."

Before I go into any details, I have one thing to say - read this book! If you love 'what if' variations full of romance, humour, drama and an array of brilliant characters, old and new, then this is the book for you as this had it all!

This book has been one of the best written ones I have read. It flowed very well and the writing was just brilliant. The language was very appropriate to the era (ok, I did notice the odd 'couch' slipping in towards the end, but I'm English, so I always notice it! And it wasn't very often!) and the description throughout was great, but what got me the most was how well the author could portray the emotions felt by a variety of characters, and so powerfully. I was completely drawn into this story, which was helped by the fact that it was such a long and well written book. But more on that later! 

I mentioned the author’s talent for description; it was lovely getting to see into the thoughts of Darcy and Elizabeth. You really feel you get to know them in this story - and you may think you already know them, but some of the insights into their views on certain events we know from canon, as well as others which have been affected by different circumstances and the fact that Lizzy and Darcy start to understand each other sooner, was really fascinating and it really made me think!  As well as strong descriptions of inner thoughts, and brilliant emotional descriptions, there was some great dialogue - particularly between Darcy and Lizzy! The balance between narrative and dialogue was good, and the length of the novel meant things really had time to develop slowly. You really got to know all the characters very well indeed! 

One of this author's particular talents in the area of description was with the romance; subtle but romantic gestures and the looks and slight touches, but also the more passionate moments which are so well written and full of emotion - it really isn't just kissing for the sake of it. My romantic sensibilities were going wild throughout this book. The powerful descriptions of the little things was amazing, such as the touching or kissing of the hand. (*warning*: as it says at the bottom of the blurb, this story isn't without its more intimate scenes, but there is nothing overly graphic or explicit. I didn't mind it even though my preference is clean stories. For the emotional journey Darcy and Lizzy experience I can completely understand why, and agree with in fact, such scenes were included.) 

This story had been on my wish list for a long time as the idea of Darcy and Lizzy being forced into a rather confined space in such unusual circumstances - sheltering from a storm - and consequently being forced to talk and confront the problems between them sounded intriguing! I liked the idea of Lizzy coming to understand Darcy a little better much sooner, before things get too out of hand! The meeting in the rain and the time spent together sheltering was one of the best scenes! It was filled with some wonderfully funny and sweet but also awkward moments! The real Darcy begins to shine through much earlier on. What was very interesting was seeing how this meeting affects not only their own relationship, but also other situations we know from canon, which still occur in this story, but with this changed relationship between Darcy and Lizzy; the Wickham problem for example, and another favourite was the Netherfield Ball - and the 'event' (/business transaction!) which is supposed to happen afterwards involving a certain clergyman! And many more but I don't want to give away all the fun! 

Elizabeth is just as we expect; the witty, teasing, challenging and impertinent young lady we all love her to be! She experiences a lot through this story, and although in canon she goes through a time of complete bewilderment and confusion about Darcy, so does she in this story, however it happens much sooner. It is great that she and Darcy start to get on sooner as her own personality, as well as his, shines through in her teasing of, and sometimes flirting with, Darcy. 

Ok, no surprises here, Darcy and Lizzy get together - shocker! (I should have said *spoiler* I suppose, but come on, we all know it is going to happen!) They actually engage about half way through the story, which meant the reader gets to follow Elizabeth on her journey as she comes to terms with the idea of becoming Mrs Darcy. This was really interesting to see as we don't see this in canon; seeing Elizabeth beginning to learn the role of housekeeper and watching her cope with Darcy's relatives as well as a ball where she is exposed to the gossipy world of the ton. 

I think part of the reason I so enjoy reading fan fiction is because I just want to be able to learn more and more about my favourite character, Mr Darcy. I find it fascinating to see him put into a variety of different situations and seeing how he reacts and copes. Therefore, I always love a story which gives us proper insight into his mind and thoughts, just like this story. Due to the unusual circumstances and unexpected meeting with Lizzy, we begin to see the true Darcy much sooner in the story when he learns of Lizzy's not-as-great-as-he-thought opinion of him and works to rectify. I have read a lot of variations now but I have to say this Darcy has shot very high up my list of Darcy interpretations! This Darcy is just so loveable and adorable - but in a manly way! He is charming and flirty, and yet caring and sometimes very shy. I completely fell for him - I think even non-Darcy fans would love this interpretation! (Oh, and we also get to see the aggressive and powerful side of Darcy which was fun, and not to mention the romantic and passionate streaks to Darcy's nature!) 

If I was to say Darcy and Lizzy and their relationship were my favourite thing in this story you would probably say "well yes, of course they would be!" but in some variations I have really enjoyed the new characters or the exploration of lesser seen secondary characters. However, in this story, the best part and my favourite was, without a doubt, Darcy and Lizzy's relationship. The length of this story meant that the growth of the friendship, trust and eventual love between them was in no way rushed. It developed slowly which, as well as being so wonderful a journey to be a part of, also made it feel very realistic. Watching how their relationship changes with that accidental meeting and how Lizzy comes to know the real Darcy and how perhaps her first impressions weren't quite correct - about him and another certain gentleman who's names begins with W - was brilliant. 

We see their fun and teasing conversations and verbal duels as Lizzy comes to understand and get to know Darcy - and begins to fall for him -  and we watch as they both become more and more enamoured of each other. It is such a slow, but steady, development as each begins to become more open with the other, and also more forward and brave with their flirty remarks. It really is such a brilliant relationship that builds up between them!  While things do start heading in a much more promising direction much sooner than in canon, the path to true love isn't easy and they face many problems from many other areas as they have to deal with the disparity in their stations, but at least they can face it together - we get to see a caring side and protective side to both Lizzy and Darcy as a result of this.

As I already mentioned, they engage well before the end of the book and it was really interesting to see how the relationship changed between Darcy and Lizzy from their courtship to the engagement (and, eventually, onto marriage.). They slowly become more and more loving and trusting of each other - and each stolen kiss becomes more and more passionate each time! Honestly, they are just adorable together and you can't help but love them and smile when they are together!  Again, thanks to the length, the journey to their happy ending just seems so much more... powerful, and it is very satisfying but emotional as a reader to have watched it develop and to see their shared passion and love grow slowly but steadily over such a long period of time. Ok I will stop going on about it and you just go and read it for yourself! 

Another aspect I love about fan fiction is the chance to get to see different characters interacting with each other. 

A few favourites in this particular story would be the relationship between Darcy and Mr Bennet. They build up a great friendship, which is sometimes father-son like! Darcy has a great friendship with Bingley, as we know, but we get to see more of them and their almost brotherly relationship, with their friendly banter and teasing of each other. Similarly there are some great scenes between Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam! 

However, I have to say some of my favourite scenes were the ones when both Mr Darcy and Mr Collins were present! I don't want to ruin it, but the way Darcy deals with Collins is just brilliant, and very, very funny! 

We also see Elizabeth with some other characters more, such as Georgiana, which I always enjoy seeing as I always imagined they would get along very well as future sisters! Georgiana has a slightly different story in this variation and the effect this has on the relationship between her and Lizzy was very sweet. There were many brilliant scenes between these two! We also see some more of Elizabeth and Mrs Gardiner together which is nice as their strong bond was clear in canon. 

This is becoming one of my longest reviews! (Can you tell yet that I loved this book?) But before I finish I must say a little something about the characters other than Darcy and Lizzy! 

If you are a fan of Jane and Bingley you will enjoy this as we get some more glimpses into their relationship - and they are just as adorable as ever! Similarly, we get to see more to Mr Bennet and a rather different side to him which made a nice change! I have already mentioned Mrs Gardiner, but getting to spend more time with both Mr and Mrs Gardiner was great, as they were always favourites of mine (it was also interesting to see them interacting with Darcy more.) Colonel Fitzwilliam, another favourite secondary character, makes more of an appearance which always pleases me! I have mentioned Georgiana but the further insight into her character and thoughts - particularly regarding the whole Wickham affair - was fascinating.  

Speaking of Wickham, he is just as annoying as ever and I wanted to strangle him many times through the story, which is as it should be! (There are some great scenes when he gets rather put in his place though!) Whilst in this area Caroline is even worse in this story, if you can imagine that! Funny worse though, or even pitiable worse! She also is subject to a few humiliating - for her - and hilarious - for us - put downs from a variety of people! (I felt no pity for her whatsoever!) Lady Catherine also still comes along to throw her spanner in the works, so to speak, but she also receives her due, and again it is highly amusing! 

There were some fantastic new characters in this story; Becky, one of the Gardiner children, and Lord and Lady Matlock, Colonel Fitzwilliam's parents. 

Becky was a brilliant character and caused some of the funniest conversations of the book thanks to her childish innocence. Due to her age, her honesty and habit of saying exactly what she wants was classic! 
Also her inquisitiveness and consequential constant questioning was just perfect - particularly when poor Darcy was the target for all her either difficult to answer or improper questions!  She was just brilliant. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant! 

Onto Lord and Lady Matlock; it was interesting to see some more of Darcy's relations as he has so few, but who was the most intriguing was Lady Matlock. We see her come to terms with her nephew’s choice of wife - someone highly inappropriate for someone of his station! The relationship between her and Elizabeth was fascinating. We see Lady Matlock interrogating poor Lizzy about her intentions regarding Darcy - a.k.a. trying to discern whether she is a fortune hunter! But we also see her come to admire Lizzy and the effect she has on the Darcys - both Mr and Miss! Their relationship was one of the most interesting in fact! 

I could rant and rave about this book for ages but I know I will have bored you all to sleep by now! But if you have managed to make it this far, I think what you should take away from my review - even just from the length of it! - is that you should read this book! It is a superbly written book with an inventive story which is full of humour and wit, breath-taking romance, wonderful characters and great drama to keep you turning the pages and racing to the end!  I enjoyed every single second of this book. Just read it! 

Many thanks to Lory for writing this story and I look forward to reading all your other stories! 

Watch out for another post about Lory's work with a fantastic giveaway which will be posted in the next week or so! 

Your affectionate friend,
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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Blog Tour: Longbourn to London by Linda Beutler

Today I am pleased to be part of the blog tour for the lovely Linda Beutler's latest release, Longbourn to LondonMy thanks must also go to Jakki of Leatherbound Reviews for asking me to be part of this tour.

Linda is going to tell us a little about her inspiration behind this story. 

"A courtship is a journey of discovery, but what do we know of the official betrothal of Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet? We may assume there were awkward social events to navigate, tedious wedding arrangements to negotiate, and Bingley’s toplofty sisters to accommodate. How did Darcy and Elizabeth manage these travails, and each other?
     Longbourn to London is not a Pride and Prejudice “what if,” nor is it a sequel. Rather, it is an expansion of the betrothal of Jane Austen’s favorite couple. We follow Lizzy’s journey from spirited maiden scampering about the fields of Hertfordshire to nervous, blushing bride in Mayfair, where she learns the unexpected joys of marriage to a man as willing to be teased as she is to tease him.
Join us as IPPY award-winning author Linda Beutler (2013 Silver Medal, Independent Publishers Awards, for The Red Chrysanthemum) imagines the betrothal and early honeymoon of Jane Austen’s greatest couple.

Includes mature content."

Sophie, thanks so much for the opportunity to connect with you and your readers!

Imagining a Courtship
By Linda Beutler, author of Longbourn to London; The Red Chrysanthemum

We are told so little of the betrothal period of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, but by the end of Pride and Prejudice, we know their characters thoroughly. The depth of Darcy’s love for Elizabeth, as evidenced by his patience and sacrifice, is truly swoon-worthy.

     Her love, as I read it, hinges upon his letter to her at Hunsford, revealing a man who cares so deeply he is willing to explain everything—a momentous surprise she eventually memorizes, literally absorbing it into her whole being.

     And the second event that opens Lizzy’s heart is her visit to Pemberley. Seeing the grandeur of the estate brings home to her how much he loved her. We have no evidence anywhere in the story that either she or he doubted her ability to become a proper mistress to Pemberley.  There she sees his portrait, and muses upon how her personality would have enhanced his. To me, at that moment, it all comes together…she is in love with him, too.

     Once we have a second proposal, followed by a couple of key conversations, all becomes vague and hurried, just when THIS modern reader—me!—wants to learn more of the events that bond them as a couple. I am not alone in this. Even my mother, re-reading P & P five years ago for the first time in 50 years, said, “It’s all so rushed and unsatisfying at the end.”

     In Longbourn to London, my goal was to explore those six weeks; to fill the time with details and to examine how their families and friends would have responded to Lizzy and Darcy as an engaged couple. As a novel, it really isn’t much of a plot, I freely admit. None-the-less, it was great fun to great a P & P story that didn’t have to include Wickham, or the Hunsford proposal, or the cat-fight with Lady Catherine. All of these things were already written by Jane Austen, and I only needed to reference them as memories.

    Bingley and Jane, being betrothed a bit longer than Lizzy and Darcy, lead the way to watching other minor characters respond. I tried to keep everyone “in character”. Bingley is giddy, Jane is serene. Caroline Bingley eventually has a meltdown, but her sister and brother-in-law, the Hursts, are more pragmatic about their adjustment to Lizzy and Darcy, and begin to court Lizzy’s favor as well as Darcy’s. Mrs. Bennet loves the idea of Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy a good bit more that she actually loves her daughter, and becomes slightly obsessed with everyone’s pre-wedding health. Aunt Phillips is a harrowing advisor, while Aunt Gardiner provides more useful advice. Mr. Bennet is moved to become a bemused hero for his favorite daughter.

    As I am not very keen on the introduction of loads of new characters to P & P “what-ifs” (those of you who have read The Red Chrysanthemum will already have guessed as much), the only unknowns here are Mrs. Chawton, the housekeeper of the Darcys’ London residence, and Sarah, the housemaid chosen by Darcy to become Lizzy’s lady’s maid for their week in London. Mrs. Chawton is similar to Mrs. Reynolds at Pemberley. Sarah is in awe of the opportunity she has been granted, but given Lizzy’s ability to form firm bonds with sisters and friends, turning to Sarah as a confidant is second nature for the new mistress of Darcy House.

    As the secondary characters flutter around Darcy and Lizzy, our dear couple remains the core of the story. They begin exchanging secrets. Lizzy teases Darcy, as we expect, and is delighted as he sharpens his wit on her. She watches with astonishment as Darcy makes himself somewhat more open to her family, and he is concerned to distraction when he realizes the married women of the neighborhood are filling his bride-to-be with wedding night jitters.

    Speaking of which… yes, I take up the development of their physical relationship in no small way, starting in the very first chapter with their very first kiss. To be honest, if mature content is not your cup of tea, Longbourn to London might be a difficult read. Rather than saving most of the “hot parts” for the end of the story, dreams and musings on the topic are woven throughout, and it is impossible to say “skip the last three chapters” or “mind your step around chapters three and seven and thirteen…” or some such. In the first place, what else does Darcy have to think about when the wedding details mainly fall to Lizzy, Jane, and Mrs. Bennet? And as for Lizzy, she has her Aunt Phillips to contend with. Lizzy is not allowed to ignore the coming of her wedding night, even should she wish it.

There you have it, Sophie and your Laughing Lizzies… I can’t say much more without the liberal sprinkling of spoilers! Thanks so much for the opportunity to explain a bit of my “process” and the undeniable inclination to “expand” Pride and Prejudice.

Thank you Linda for explaining you inspiration for this story and why you wanted to explore their courtship more. I am with you - my favourite chapters are when they are engaged and so I always like to read more about that time! 

My thanks again goes to Linda Beutler for this post and to Jakki for setting up this tour!

I wish Lindal all the best with this latest release as well as any stories in the future!

Your affectionate friend,
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Friday, August 15, 2014

Leaving Bennet Behind: Chosen by Sarah Johnson - with giveaway!

I recently was contacted by the lovely Sarah Johnson asking me if I would review her new book, Chosen, for her, and I was happy to! (I was given a review copy but this is my honest, unbiased opinion/)

This is the first book in a series titled 'Leaving Bennet Behind.' Each story will tell of how each Bennet sister finds her match and leaves the name of Bennet behind! Chosen tells us of Elizabeth Bennet's story. 

"The Bennet family changed dramatically when Mr Bennet nearly lost his life. The rekindled love between him and his wife encouraged a unifying bond amongst their five daughters. Their story unfolds as each eligible young lady walks down the aisle, taking her husband’s hand and forever leaving the name of Bennet behind.
Fitzwilliam Darcy was a tormented man. His sister’s recent accident and the lifelong difficulties she was now to face plagued him. While visiting his friend, Darcy crosses paths with a young lady. He is immediately captivated and soon seeks out an introduction and dance with Elizabeth Bennet. Could it be that his parents, though they are no longer with him, are leading him right to the arms of a family who can help both he and his sister heal from all they have suffered? Will the instant connection Darcy and Elizabeth both feel for each other be able to weather the storms that come when a secret past connection is revealed?"

First off, the writing. The language was generally very good and appropriate; it flowed well as I read. I did enjoy the author’s style; we get to see into the thoughts of many different characters through this book which was really interesting as we got to know them all very well, but more on that later. As we see the perspectives of so many, there is a lot of switching between different points of view, but this was done well. Once I was into the story and used to her style, which didn't take long, the jumps between characters felt smooth and it was easy to follow.

Back to the multiple perspectives; as I said, it was really interesting to get to know so many characters in such detail, and especially to see into the thoughts of some more unusual characters. As a result of this, there are lots of conversations between a real range of characters. I enjoyed it a lot. Seeing more into the thoughts of Caroline Bingley was fun! And we get to know Mary Bennet a lot more, which I really loved. (But while it was a story with many characters, Darcy and Lizzy are still the main two!) 

As well as this, we hear about the backgrounds and pasts of many more, which really gives them depth. However, I say we get to know the characters much better, but the characters we get to know are often very different from the ones that we know in Pride and Prejudice! 

I was intrigued by the premise of this story. Illness and serious accidents can really alter a family. I know this myself from experience! It makes you re-evaluate your priorities and makes you realise what is actually important in life. This is why so many of the characters are so different, especially the Bennets. Although they are very different from the original, it was a nice change to see the Bennets actually getting on, and of course there are still aspects which are recognisable. Due to the circumstances, Mr Bennet’s accident, the changes in the characters seem very reasonable and believable. 

Some of the most interesting characters who have been most affected by the accident would be Mr Bennet himself. The way it has improved his relationship with his wife is really sweet, as well as seeing how it has affected his view on how he cares for his daughters. The Bennet family as a whole are a really close-knit family, which makes a lovely change; we get to see interesting relationships between other sisters like Jane, Elizabeth and Mary. Even Kitty and Lydia are much more subdued and even likable! 

The Darcys, as well, are affected by a similar accident which has befallen Georgiana. Poor Georgiana has been through a lot and I really felt for her. The accident seems to greatly alter Darcy's priorities and so when he meets Lizzy, his mindset is very different from canon.

The relationship built between Mr Bennet and Georgiana is very sweet as they can relate as both have been through a very similar accident. Mr Bennet also becomes like a father figure to Darcy, which is nice to see given Darcy has been without a father for so very long. 

As well as Mr Bennet being very useful for the Darcys, whose accident has only just happened whereas Mr Bennet’s happened a few years ago, Elizabeth also becomes a real comfort for Darcy as she had to experience what Darcy is going through when her father had his accident.

The characters really are different - I mean, even Mr Bennet and Lydia are getting on! Of course, the evil characters stay evil - that's Caroline, Wickham, the ones that we don't like, as well as some surprising new ones actually! Other particularly interesting changes to characters are others like Mr and Mrs Hurst who have a very sweet relationship. I have already mentioned Mary who has her own little story being set up in this one. (I will go into details about specific characters shortly.) 

Aside from the changes in characters due to illness, another interesting aspect which I enjoyed was the idea of fate. Without wanting to give too much away, Darcy lost his parents very young and has been very lonely with a lot of responsibility ever since. As soon as Darcy meets Elizabeth, he feels an instant connection to her, as if it is his parents who have led him into her path, that it is his parents who have ‘chosen’ Elizabeth for him - hence the title! This made for some really, really sweet conversations and a very touching ending - but I don't want to give all the good stuff away! I would say that the Darcy, in this story, could be seen as a lot more sentimental and almost emotional, however it worked with the premise and didn't feel out of place - I'm telling you, serious illness makes you rethink what actually matters! (And I have to say, the sentimental Darcy is really rather cute - some of the things he says to Lizzie are just adorable! You will love him!) 

As is hinted at in the blurb above, Darcy and Lizzie do have a slight past connection - another reason why he feels an instant connection to her. It is kept as a bit of a mystery and I was intrigued throughout the story trying to work out what exactly the connection was - it kept me hooked, but I don't want to spoil it for you! 

Right now to some more specifics about characters, and of course we must begin with the hero and heroine! 

Although Elizabeth has been through much as a result of having to deal with her father's accident, she is still the witty, high-spirited Elizabeth that we know, expect and love. One big alteration is that she likes Darcy straightaway - no pride, no prejudice, no misunderstandings for a change! Something I particularly enjoyed about getting to know this Elizabeth was the past memories of her childhood which really showed her character. There was some lovely stories about her climbing – and getting stuck in! – trees! We also learn of her Grandma Bennet who she was very close to, and the stories painted of their time really helped you see how it shaped her into the Lizzy we know, and it was sweet to have a glimpse into the young Lizzy. 

I have already mentioned that Darcy is quite different from the rather proud man that we expect. But you can't help but feel sorry for him as you read his thoughts about his past and how he had to deal with the passing of his mother, and then his father and all the responsibilities as a result of becoming Master of Pemberley so young, and now the accident with Georgiana! His thoughts and feelings are particularly well described. Again, seeing into the thoughts of Darcy is always interesting as he is quite an elusive character until very much towards the end of Pride and Prejudice. You really get to know this Darcy, and although he is different, he is still a Darcy we can easily fall in love with - I did pretty much straight away! 

I mentioned early that Elizabeth liked Darcy immediately, as did Darcy with Elizabeth. They get off to a much better start, and do dance at the Meryton assembly! I have now read a few variations where the relationship between Darcy and Lizzie is a lot smoother and the problems come from other areas rather than misunderstandings between themselves, and I really like to read this. Their courtship and relationship through the first half of the story is very sweet - Elizabeth helps to bring Darcy out of his sad state of mind as a result of Georgiana's accident, and Darcy is very, very charming! Some of the conversations they have are really just too cute, as well as often very funny! Another thing I always enjoy in the book is when Darcy and Elizabeth engage quite a lot before the end - I much prefer that to them marrying on the last page of the book! They get engaged almost in the middle of this book, I believe, and it was lovely to see how their relationship changed once they were engaged, and don't worry, the second half is far from boring - the drama doesn't stop as they have other problems to face, but at least they could face them together! I don't know what else to say other than Darcy and Elizabeth are just adorable. They are very much a young couple in love - and we all like to read a happy Darcy and Lizzy don't we?! 

Now aside from Darcy and Lizzy, the beloved characters such as the Bingleys obviously still come into the story. Beginning with the not so charming Caroline Bingley - she is as scheming and awful as we want her to be and expect her to be. Bingley, on the other hand, is just Bingley - very much in love with his angel, Jane. It was a lot of fun to see into the thought of Bingley a bit more; for one, about his feelings for Jane, but also about his opinion on his own sister, Caroline! As I already mentioned, Mr and Mrs Hurst are surprisingly lovely and have a really sweet and very different relationship and I enjoyed it. They aren't too keen on Caroline either, and this resulted in some funny scenes and conversations! 

I have already touched on Mr Bennet and how he plays a role in the story, but one of the most interesting and enjoyable changes has to be the relationship of Mr and Mrs Bennet. We know that Mr Bennet was attracted to a pretty face and a lively disposition when they were younger, but it is lovely to see the love they would have felt initially, at least for a little while on some level, rekindled. Seeing them work together as parents – and very successfully – to their daughters was really lovely. 

Back onto Georgiana; I have already mentioned how it is impossible not to feel sorry for her. The accident has left her incapable of walking, and they are unsure if she will ever walk again. Her development in the story as she comes to terms with her disability is touching and her relationship with Elizabeth and the other Bennet daughters, particularly Mary later in the story, is just wonderful. I always like to get to know Georgiana better as she seems like such a lovely girl in Pride and Prejudice. I am greatly looking forward to seeing how her story continues in the other novels of this ‘Leaving Bennet Behind’ series. 

As well as the characters we all love, there are some wonderful new additions to the story. Colonel Fitzwiiam, of course, still comes along but so does his delightful brother Alex Fitzwilliam. It was lovely to see Fitzwilliam with a brother; there was a lot of fun brotherly banter going on! Alex himself was a wonderful character and became quite a major part of the story in his own way and takes quite in interest to one of the other Bennet ladies, and I'm greatly looking forward to see how that goes on in the future stories! 

Another new addition is Lord and Lady Rosebery, The Fitzwilliam parents. They were lovely. Their relationship with their son, as well as with their nephew and niece, Darcy and Georgiana, was very nice to see. We really don't meet much of Darcy's family so it was nice to get to know him more through some of his nicer relations - we don't get the best impression from Lady Catherine!

Darcy and Elizabeth are the central characters of this book, but the story which will be picked up in Volume II, Jane and Bingley, is touched on through this book as well, as is the one which I believe will be central to Volume III, Mary’s story. The way she has set up all these other plots and also some other exciting mystery which hasn't been resolved has certainly kept me into wanting to read the next volumes once published, to find out what happens to the other Bennet girls and how they leave the name of Bennet behind. She certainly has me hooked! 

I really have enjoyed the story and as you can probably tell, I can't wait for the next volumes of this series. Back on this story in particular, I really enjoyed the better start between Darcy and Elizabeth as well as the relationship between Mr and Mrs Bennet. The idea of how illness can affect so many and change the attitude of so many was really interesting to read about. All the new characters were lovely and the fact that we get to know so many of them so well was brilliant and quite different as many variations I read very much focus on just Darcy and Elizabeth, and at a stretch Jane and Bingley as well.

There was mystery, drama, plenty of romance, humour and brilliant characters - what more could I ask for? I am on tenterhooks waiting for the next installment in this wonderful story - but don't panic, although this is Volume I in a series, this story has its own happy ending, no cliffhangers - for Lizzy and Darcy at least!


Sarah also has also just published a novella which sounds like a lot of fun! I will be reading this soon as well so watch for my review! 

"A sudden and fierce snow storm causes Elizabeth, Jane, and Lydia Bennet, as well as their would-be rescuers, Mr Darcy and Mr Bingley, to take shelter in an empty cabin. Lydia’s suggestion to pass the time with games might be just what Bingley needs to prove Jane truly cares for him. Will Elizabeth’s prejudices of Mr Darcy hold up under the scrutiny of being stranded with him? What changes could possibly come from the effects of ‘Snow Storms & Kissing Games’?"

**GIVEAWAY - ends Thursday 21st August **

Sarah has provided me a wonderful giveaway with four prizes! 

First prize is a paperback copy of Chosen
Second prize is an ebook copy of Chosen.
Third prize is a paperback copy of Snow Storms.
And fourth prize is an ebook copy of Snow Storms
This giveaway is open internationally.  
To enter, leave a comment below and the winners will be picked randomly. 

Please leave your email address. If you are one of the lucky winners, I will pass on your email to Sarah who will be in touch. 

Good luck!

Thank you again to Sarah for this giveaway, and I wish you all the best with this story as well as the future ones! 

Your affectionate friend,
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