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Monday, September 26, 2016

Three Dark Reasons I Can't Wait to Read Three Dark Crowns

As you'll be finding out soon enough in my September book haul, Kendare Blake's Three Dark Crowns is currently in my hot little hands (well, not currently currently. Because I'm typing this, and that would present some logistical problems..), and I. Am. Excite. Since I can't read it quite yet — gotta finish up Heartless, dontcha know — I thought I'd share with you a few of the reasons I can't wait to dig into this book!

1) 'Tis the Season for dark, atmospheric books. I'm not always a seasonal reader; I have occasional nods to the season in my reading — a beach read here, a wintery book actually read in winter there* — but they tend to be a brief blip in my overall scattershot style of reading. The exception to this is my serious craving for autumnal, atmospheric, vaguely Halloween-appropriate books as soon as cool weather hits. I crave them, and my Fall does not seem complete without them.
I already know Blake can do dark.
I already know Blake can do atmospheric.
Couple that with the synopsis, and this sounds like the perfect Fall read for me!

*But let's be honest, that's mostly so I can fully embrace it and cuddle up with a oversized sweater and giant mug of cocoa, and pretend I'm in a scene from some movie with a thoughtful Reader Girl heroine... Don't act like I'm the only one.

2) Kendare Blake is pretty no holds barred. One of my favorite things about her writing is that she is willing to go there, wherever there is. She'll take you to the dark places, and the gory ones, and the ones that just make you damn uncomfortable. Case in point (for me at least): I will probably never be able to get the image of Athena pulling a freaking feather out of the roof of her mouth. Such a simple thing that made me so weirdly uncomfortable and absolutely fascinated... And that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to strange and uncomfortable and dark and gory.
I mean. . .

3) Kendare Blake is really good at "brutality meets complexity." 
[So, very slight spoilers a little bit here, but if you haven't already read the fabulous Anna Dressed in Blood, I really don't know what to tell you, but...] Anna rips a freaking guy in half. LITERALLY IN HALF. And you go on to love her anyway, because Anna is kind of amazing. Blake knows how to work the dark and gory — but the reason it works so well, and doesn't just come across as mindless thrills and chills, a throwaway slasher, is because there's some serious substance there. Like, yes, there is the sort of gleeful-splashing-of-blood-on-the-walls element to the stories — there is a level of shock value gore — but it's balanced so perfectly with a real story, characters with depth and humor and general interestingness, that keeps it from ever being a gory schlock-fest.

I used to love horror (books, movies, tv shows, didn't matter) as a kid, but I got over it quite some time ago because the development wasn't there; it started to bore me. Horror and gore don't work on more than a surface level if there's not some real connection to the characters; if you don't care, what's the point? With Blake, you end up caring, AND THEN, you end up in a bit of perpetual terror that the characters you care about are going to meet an untimely and very inglorious end — and that is delightful.

In a story of three sisters destined to (apparently) attempt to tear each other to shreds, there's bound to be both brutality and complexity.

And there you have it! Three of the dark little reasons that Three Dark Crowns is next up on my TBR!
If you've read this one or have been wanting to, I'm definitely curious to hear your thoughts in the comments! And I'm planning an October post about some of my fave autumnal, atmospheric reads, so I'd love you to tell me some of yours!

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake
416 pages
Published September 20th 2016 by HarperTeen
Every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born: three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins. The last queen standing gets the crown.

If only it was that simple. Katharine is unable to tolerate the weakest poison, and Arsinoe, no matter how hard she tries, can’t make even a weed grow. The two queens have been shamefully faking their powers, taking care to keep each other, the island, and their powerful sister Mirabella none the wiser. But with alliances being formed, betrayals taking shape, and ruthless revenge haunting the queens’ every move, one thing is certain: the last queen standing might not be the strongest…but she may be the darkest.

This post was part of the "Fall Favorite Things" blog tour, in which bloggers are sharing bits about upcoming & newly released books, and the authors of said books are sharing their favorite Fall things. Kendare's? A certain special necklace...
"You may be thinking, it’s just a necklace. Doesn’t really seem badass…Well this is actually the most badass necklace ever because not only does it match the cover of the book (more bookstagrams!), but it is also handmade by an inner city high school student. And the profits from all of the products sold go toward funding that students college education. Pretty badass, am I right? Feel free to check out more of their stuff: The Shine Project."

Keep an eye out for more Fall Favorite Things posts throughout these cool, crisp months!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016


6+2214rdfeBig thanks to all of you for your patience while I was schlepping around for weddings and funerals and internetless house & pet sitting, and then for your patience while I went through and validated* Austen in August giveaway entries. (And also... every time I sat down to pull winners, New Kitten would climb into my lap. THIS CAUSED DELAYS,) I know you're all like, Misty, the giveaways ended days ago, tell us who won already!

Well, since you asked so nicely. . .

Megan S.!

Suzan L.!

Jessica B.!
Brenda M.!

Danielle C.!

Julie R.!
Laura H.!
Grace S.!
Priscilla T.!
Caitlin M.!
Bube P.!
Gabriela S.!
Dina G.!

Emily K.!

Sophia R.!

Jacklin U.!

The winner of Pride & Prejudice: Behind the Scenes will be chosen and announced on the Austen Variations blog.

All winners HAVE been emailed, and have 48 hours to respond with confirmation and/or mailing info to claim their prizes. If they do not, new winners will be chosen.

Thank you SO MUCH to everyone who participated in this year's AIA, to all of the great authors and Janeites who offered up prizes, and all of the readers who spread the word and shared the love!  You guys are what make this madness worth it!
Hope everyone enjoys their prizes, and hope to see you all again next year!!

*Any invalid entries that I found WERE deleted. Same for people clearly trying to scam a giveaway. I'm ruthless, people, don't test me! ;)

Return to the Austen in August Main Page by clicking here for more Janeite goodies!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Trailer Reveal + GIVEAWAY: Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter!

You're probably already at least somewhat familiar with the book Vassa in the Night by now; after all, I've been sporadically pushing it in your faces for a couple of months now. Between my First Impressions, my review (glowing! And oddweirddisturbingdark...), and not one but two haul videos (and a TBR!), I've been sharing this strange, dark little book every chance I get — and now I've got an even BETTER way to share it with you!

It is my great pleasure to get to reveal to you the (gorgeous, eerie) trailer for the book (that music!), which you can check out right now, for the very first time, below!


Along with the trailer, Tor has created teasers featuring everyone's favorite vaguely creepy, fully hilarious animate doll, Erg. Erg is sharing her "little wisdoms," because she cares about you and wants you to succeed, and also she wants you to share your food with her, please.
Here's my favorite (of course I chose the one with a cat), but you can also check out her thoughts on magic and impossible tasks...


Because the people at Tor are so amazing, and because I loved this book and think that you might, too, we're giving you a chance to win a copy of your very own! Now, as I mentioned, I shared this in not one, but two hauls, meaning that I have two copies of this dark little gem! So I'm tossing my second copy into this giveaway as well (since I forgot that I'd intended to include it as a giveaway in my review... oops!), meaning that your chances of winning are automatically doubled!

[Please note my sacrifice in passing along the book in its own amazing custom gift-wrapping... The things I do for you. ;)
Moving on.]

Please note: the copy from me will be the gift-wrapped one on the left; the copy on the right (my copy) is a stand-in for the finished copy provided by Tor. It will not be beat up and, err...well loved as my copy. ;)
To celebrate the release of the trailer & teasers, and the release of the book (today!), the awesome folks at Tor have offered up a finished copy for one lucky TBR reader, and I'm offering up a gift-wrapped (in branded Vassa paper!) ARC to a second lucky reader!
This giveaway is US only, and ends September 27 at 11:59pm EST.
Fill out the Rafflecopter below to enter.
Please do not leave any email addresses or sensitive info in the comments. These will be deleted.
Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter
Get It | Add It
304 pages
Expected publication: September 20th 2016 by Tor Teen
In the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn, the fashionable people put on cute shoes, go to parties in warehouses, drink on rooftops at sunset, and tell themselves they’ve arrived. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now—but not Vassa’s working-class neighborhood.

In Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and bickering stepsisters, one might stumble onto magic, but stumbling out again could become an issue. Babs Yagg, the owner of the local convenience store, has a policy of beheading shoplifters—and sometimes innocent shoppers as well. So when Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs in the middle of night, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission.

But Vassa has a bit of luck hidden in her pocket, a gift from her dead mother. Erg is a tough-talking wooden doll with sticky fingers, a bottomless stomach, and a ferocious cunning. With Erg’s help, Vassa just might be able to break the witch’s curse and free her Brooklyn neighborhood. But Babs won’t be playing fair. . . .

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter | Review

Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter
Get It | Add It
304 pages
Expected publication: September 20th 2016 by Tor Teen
In the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn, the fashionable people put on cute shoes, go to parties in warehouses, drink on rooftops at sunset, and tell themselves they’ve arrived. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now—but not Vassa’s working-class neighborhood.

In Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and bickering stepsisters, one might stumble onto magic, but stumbling out again could become an issue. Babs Yagg, the owner of the local convenience store, has a policy of beheading shoplifters—and sometimes innocent shoppers as well. So when Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs in the middle of night, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission.

But Vassa has a bit of luck hidden in her pocket, a gift from her dead mother. Erg is a tough-talking wooden doll with sticky fingers, a bottomless stomach, and a ferocious cunning. With Erg’s help, Vassa just might be able to break the witch’s curse and free her Brooklyn neighborhood. But Babs won’t be playing fair. . . .

Pretty much everyone who knows me knows I love fairy tales, but those that know me well know I really love the weird ones. The odd ones. The disturbing ones. The dark ones—the darker, the better. Any fairy tale that features Baba Yaga is bound to be one of the weird, odd, dark & disturbing ones, and so of course, any fairy tale retelling that takes on Baba Yaga’s stories is one I have to get my hands on. Vassa in the Night, a retelling of Vasilisa the Beautiful (or alternately, Vasilisa the Brave), is one such story, and when it comes to my craving for weird, odd and very, very dark, it delivers.

Now, I’m going to say right off the bat, this story is certainly not for everyone. It’s weird and it’s odd (and somehow those are different things). The nights are getting longer and longer, even though the clock stays the same (weird), and there’s a talking doll who could eat several times her weight in…well, anything (odd). But more than that, it’s an occasionally non-linear story (something some readers struggle to follow or stay engaged in), where nearly everything is off-putting and slightly discordant—or should I say diskordant, because every single ‘dis’ word that has a C in it (and you’d be surprised how many there are), instead has a K—and this is yet another layer of the strange and bizarre and weird and odd that will be found in Vassa’s pages. And yes, though that may not seem like much, it is a symbol of just how thoroughly The Odd pervades this book. It’s written to make you a little uncomfortable, to keep you more than a little unsettled. Plenty of people struggle enough with “weird” books when it’s just the contents that are weird, but when the storytelling itself goes wonky, that’s enough to drive some readers away.

What’s more, it’s disturbing and it’s dark, and yes, those are most definitely separate things, though they certainly go hand in hand. I mean, there’s a dancing store on giant chicken legs (disturbing), surrounded by a fence of heads on spikes (dark). There are glitter nail polish –wearing disembodied hands (disturbing) who wield axes and are bloodthirsty to tear people apart (dark). There is a missing father who has made possibly one of the strangest fey deals in any story I’ve ever read (no spoilers, but…disturbing and odd and weird), and a half sibling who sends her sister to the dancing chicken-legged store at night, knowing it could very well end with her head on a spike (and hoping it will—dark). There are no cookie cutter happy endings here, where resolution is given to each bit of each story line; where the good guys always win and the bad guys always get what’s coming to them, and any real damage done is undone. Vassa’s world is one that is pretty downtrodden and unsettling even before she gets snarled up in Babs’ murderous machinations*, and even if she should prove victorious and manage to survive her very long nights at BY’s, she still has to go back to that small, unhappy world.

But—there is hope. As with any fairy tale worth its salt, there is some small chance of a silver lining, an improvement in one’s lot. And there is the realization of self that only the really good fairy tales possess, that newfound understanding of one’s own power and competency and agency. And all of these things—these weird, odd, disturbing, dark things—are what drew me in and made me love the book. No, it won’t be for everyone, and the lack of perfect resolution may mean that even some readers who were enjoying the book will feel as if the rug has been pulled out from under them by the end, or as if they’ve invested their time for not enough pay off. But for those—like me—who enjoy the surreal and the bizarre, who like their fairy tales dark and their retellings darker, and who appreciate a good Coming Into One’s Own type of story, you may find it doesn’t get much better than Vassa. It’s fantastical and strangely compelling and has a great voice, and it hits a lot of right notes (the thrills! the chills! the funnies and tinglies!).

I’ve seen some people say it was slow, but you all know I’m not the person to ask about a book’s slowness, because I always seem to love them more when they build and burn and luxuriate in setting the scene.** (Though I will definitely agree with those who felt the ending seemed rushed by comparison, because it most definitely did.) Though it doesn’t seem there are plans as of yet for a sequel, I’m hoping there will be, because I would like to fall into Vassa’s world again, to see what becomes of her and some peripheral characters, and also to see if we get any resolution of some of the weirder storylines—but all in all, I find myself heartily recommending it to those who think they are likely to like the weird things I like, and only cautiously recommending it to those who don’t – and fully curious to know the thoughts of any who do end up reading it!

*Claiming for future bad punk band name… Winking smile
** To an extent, because there are definitely some books that my godddddd are too slow. And I can not abide info-dumping, which makes a book insta-slow.

This book hits stores tomorrow, but until then, you can get more of my thoughts + a teaser of the style in my First Impressions video!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Roald Dahl's 100th Birthday Celebration! Esio Trot Excerpt

I'm a big Roald Dahl fan. Always have been, likely always will be. I like his kids stuff; I like his adult stuff. I even know how to correctly pronounce his name... ;)
So when I was asked if I'd like to be part of a big, epic blog tour to celebrate what would have been his hundredth birthday, of course I said yes!
I'm sharing with you an excerpt from Esio Trot, one of the few Dahl books I never got my hands on as a kid (though I have it now, so... we're going to fill that gap in my Dahl catalog)!
Check it out below, and let me know in the comments what your favorite Roald Dahl book is!
(Mine is The Witches. I think. It's so hard to choose!)

Esio Trot p9-23

Mr Hoppy lived in a small flat high up in a tall concrete building. He lived alone. He had always been a lonely man and now that he was retired from work he was more lonely than ever.
There were two loves in Mr Hoppy’s life. One was the flowers he grew on his balcony. They grew in pots and tubs and baskets, and in summer the little balcony became a riot of colour. Mr Hoppy’s second love was a secret he kept entirely to himself.
The balcony immediately below Mr Hoppy’s jutted out a good bit further from the building than his own, so Mr Hoppy always had a fine view of what was going on down there. This balcony belonged to an attractive middle-aged lady called Mrs Silver. Mrs Silver was a widow who also lived alone. And although she didn’t know it, she was the object of Mr Hoppy’s secret love. He had loved her from his balcony for many years, but he was a very shy man and he had never been able to bring himself to give her even the smallest hint of his love.
Every morning, Mr Hoppy and Mrs Silver exchanged polite conversation, the one looking down from above, the other looking up, but that was as far as it ever went. The distance between their balconies might not have been more than a few yards, but to Mr Hoppy it seemed like a million miles. He longed to invite Mrs Silver up for a cup of tea and a biscuit, but every time he was about to form the words on his lips, his courage failed him. As I said, he was a very very shy man.
Oh, if only, he kept telling himself, if only he could do something tremendous like saving her life or rescuing her from a gang of armed thugs, if only he could perform some great feat that would make him a hero in her eyes. If only…
The trouble with Mrs Silver was that she gave all her love to somebody else, and that somebody was a small tortoise named Alfie. Everyday, when Mr Hoppy looked over his balcony and saw Mrs Silver whispering endearments to Alfie and stroking his shell, he felt absurdly jealous. He wouldn’t even have minded becoming a tortoise himself if it meant Mrs. Silver stroking his shell each morning and whispering endearments to him.
Alfie had been with Mrs Silver for years and he lived on her balcony summer and winter. Planks had been placed around the sides of the balcony so that Alfie could walk about without toppling over the edge, and in one corner there was a little house into which Alfie would crawl every night to keep warm.
When the colder weather came along in November, Mrs Silver would fill Alfie’s house with dry hay, and the tortoise would crawl in there and bury himself deep under the hay and go to sleep for months on end without food or water. This is called hibernating.
In early spring, when Alfie felt the warmer weather through his shell, he would wake up and crawl very slowly out of his house onto the balcony. And Mrs Silver would clap her hands with joy and cry out, “Welcome back, my darling one! Oh, how I have missed you!”
It was at times like these that Mr Hoppy wished more than ever that he could change places with Alfie and become a tortoise.
Now we come to a certain bright morning in May when something happened that changed and indeed electrified Mr Hoppy’s life. He was leaning over his balcony rail watching Mrs Silver serving Alfie his breakfast.
“Here’s the heart of lettuce for you, my lovely,” she was saying. “And here’s a slice of fresh tomato and a piece of crispy celery.”
“Good morning, Mrs Silver,” Mr Hoppy said. “Alfie’s looking well this morning.”
“Isn’t he gorgeous!” Mrs Silver said, looking up at him and beaming at him.
“Absolutely gorgeous,” Mr Hoppy said, not meaning it. And now, as he looked down at Mrs Silver’s smiling face gazing up into his own, he thought for the thousandth time how pretty she was, how sweet and gentle and full of kindness, and his heart ached with love.
“I do so wish he would grow a little faster,” Mrs Silver was saying. “Every spring, when he wakes up from his winter sleep, I weigh him on the kitchen scales. And do you know that in all the eleven years I’ve had him he’s not gained more than three ounces! That’s almost nothing!”
“What does he weigh now?” Mr Hoppy asked her.
“Just about thirteen ounces,” Mrs Silver answered. “About as much as a grapefruit.”
“Yes, well, tortoises are very slow growers,” Mr Hoppy said solemnly. “But they can live for a hundred years.”
“I know that,” Mrs Silver said. “But I do so wish he would grow just a little bit bigger. He’s such a tiny wee fellow.”
“He seems just fine as he is,” Mr Hoppy said.
“No, he’s not just fine!” Mrs Silver cried. “Try to think how miserable it must make him feel to be so titchy! Everyone wants to grow up.”
“You really would love him to grow bigger, wouldn’t you?” Mr Hoppy said, and even as he said it his mind suddenly went click and an amazing idea came rushing into his head.
“Of course I would!” Mrs Silver cried. “I’d give anything to make it happen! Why, I’ve seen pictures of giant tortoises that are so huge people can ride on their backs! If Alfie were to see those he’d turn green with envy!”
Mr Hoppy’s mind was spinning like a flywheel. Here, surely, was his big chance! Grab it, he told himself. Grab it quick!
“Mrs Silver,” he said. “I do actually happen to know how to make tortoises grow faster, if that’s what you really want.”
“You do?” she cried. “Oh, please tell me! Am I feeding him the wrong things?”
“I worked in North Africa once,” Mr Hoppy said. “That’s where all these tortoises in England come from, and a bedouin tribesman told me the secret.”
“Tell me!” cried Mrs Silver. “I beg you to tell me, Mr Hoppy! I’ll be your slave for life.”
When he heard the words your slave for life, a little shiver of excitement swept through Mr Hoppy. “Wait there,” he said. “I’ll have to go in and write something down for you.”
In a couple of minutes Mr Hoppy was back on the balcony with a sheet of paper in his hand. “I’m going to lower it to you on a bit of string,” he said, “or it might blow away. Here it comes.”
Mrs Silver caught the paper and held it up in front of her. This is what she read:

Text copyright © Roald Dahl reprinted with permission from Puffin Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House; art copyright © Quentin Blake, reprinted with permission from Penguin Young Readers

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Keep Her by Leora Krygier | Fall Favorite Things Tour

Got a first impressions for ya today, as part of an ongoing "Fall Favorite Things" blog tour. (Leora's fall favorite, btw: "[...] is Starbucks, and believe it or not, it’s not just because of the return of Pumpkin Spice Lattes. Leora first came up with the idea for Keep Her while she was sitting in a Starbucks, staring absently at that little green mermaid that we all know and love. The mermaid reminded her of Starbucks, but not the coffee place, the character from the Herman Melville classic Moby Dick. So began the inspiration for Keep Her. Don’t know what I am talking about? You’ll just have to read the book to find out how they all connect…")

Check out my thoughts, and let me know YOURS in the comments!
If you wanna skip the excerpt, you can jump ahead to the impressions at 2:30

about KEEP HER by Leora Krygier
Get It Here
Destiny doesn t factor into seventeen-year-old adoptee Maddie s rational world, where numbers and scientific probability have always proven to be the only things she can count on as safe and reliable. Still, Maddie is also an artist who draws on instinct and intuition to create the collages she makes from photographs and the castoff scraps she saves. But when her brother falls in with a Los Angeles street gang, Maddie loses her ability to create art. Then fate deals Maddie a card she can t ignore: Aiden, a young filmmaker she meets when a water main bursts inside a camera store. Aiden is haunted by the death of his younger brother, and a life-changing decision he must now make whether or not to keep his baby daughter. Caught in a whirlpool of love and loss, Maddie and Aiden find that art and numbers, a mission to save endangered whales, and a worn-out copy of Moby Dick all collide to heal and save them both.

Friday, September 9, 2016


Tag time!
(Also, forgive my occasional Casper the Ghost-ness -- it was a bright, sunny Michigan morning... =D )

-Choose 1 word that describes being a reader.
-What’s the very first book you fell in love with?
-Hardcover or paperback?
-How has reading shaped your identity?
-What book do you read when you need to be comforted?
-Who taught you to be a reader? (Or did you do it all on your own?)
-Describe your dream reading lounge.
-What book changed the way you act or see the world?

This tag is part of an informal blog tour, organized by Penguin Teen. The book was sent to me by the publisher for review consideration/use during the tag. All answers and opinions are my own.

About the book:
The Reader by Traci Chee
Get It Here
448 pages
Expected publication: September 13th 2016 by Putnam
Sefia knows what it means to survive. After her father is brutally murdered, she flees into the wilderness with her aunt Nin, who teaches her to hunt, track, and steal. But when Nin is kidnapped, leaving Sefia completely alone, none of her survival skills can help her discover where Nin’s been taken, or if she’s even alive. The only clue to both her aunt’s disappearance and her father’s murder is the odd rectangular object her father left behind, an object she comes to realize is a book—a marvelous item unheard of in her otherwise illiterate society. With the help of this book, and the aid of a mysterious stranger with dark secrets of his own, Sefia sets out to rescue her aunt and find out what really happened the day her father was killed—and punish the people responsible.

Thursday, September 8, 2016


Take 2 of my August book haul, because I realized as I was deleting it that I was deleting the wrong thing... Misty fail. The good news is, the extra time between recording the first time & today means more books to showcase!
Let me know your thoughts / requests in the comments!

The Last Adventure of Constance Verity
The Reader
The Littlest Bigfoot
Keep Her
Songs of Willow Frost
Beautiful Broken Girls
Esio Trot

Disclaimer: This is NOT a sponsored video, though many of these books were sent to me for review consideration purposes. All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The End.

That, my friends, is an end to another Austen in August! Thank you all so much for joining me again this year as we celebrate Jane and all of the amazing works that have come from and been inspired by her very magnificent brain!

Two quick notes before I sign off for the year:
1) Thank you to everyone who weighed in on the "definitive ranking" of Austen men -- I feel like there aren't quite enough votes or rankings in the comments for me to make anything "definitive" yet, so I'm going to hang on to those answers until next year, when I will hopefully be able to compile them with a little more weight behind them. So keep an eye out for that!

and 2) I've realized that I'm going to be away from home without internet (or, very, very limited internet) for the next week, so it's kind of silly for me to end the giveaways on the 10th as planned, when I won't be able to draw the winners until the 14th anyway.
So all giveaways are now open until 11:59pm, September 13th -- go forth and enter!

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU to the amazing host of authors, bloggers, and general Janeites who contributed to Austen in August this year! I couldn't do it without all of you (seriously), and you make these two weeks of madness much better than I could ever make it on my own (as well as making it a little less maddening for me. ;P )

Until next year!

Return to the Austen in August Main Page by clicking here for more Janeite goodies!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Sense & Sensibility Read Along Discussion Questions, part 2

And now we're down to the end of this year's AIA, it's time to get out our final thoughts on this year's read-along of Sense & Sensibility!
But first, I want to thank everyone who took the time to read along (whether you chimed in on discussions or not!), hopped on Twitter for our Watch Along, or contributed & commented on any of the amazing S&S posts this year (and there were some damn good ones!)

If you missed part one of the discussion questions, you can find those here, but now, on to our final Qs of this year!

The Qs:
  • What do you make of the title, and how it relates to the main characters? Do you find yourself siding more with Elinor's example of "sense" and rationality, or Marianne's "sensibility" and Romanticism? Do you think Austen set out to make one or the other more sympathetic, or a better model for how to be? Some have suggested that Austen intended to strongly favor one aspect, but as the book went on, found herself favoring more of a blending of the two; would you agree?
  • The second half of the book sees a lot of shake-ups for the Dashwood girls: Marianne has her whole world crash down in her disappointment over Willoughby, and Elinor has not only discovered that the man she loves is secretly engaged to another, but she's continually forced to spend time with that other woman AND be drawn into her condfidence! There's a lot here to discuss, so pick apart at will — what do you make of all the dramz? The eventual resolution? The characters' choices and treatment of each other? Etc.
  • Do you find the resolutions of the various storylines satisfying? (ie Elinor w/ Edward, Marianne w/ Brandon, Lucy Steele w/ Robert Ferrars, Edward disinherited, etc.) Is there anything in the resolution that you found off-putting? Confusing? Personally dissatisfying?
  • In many of our AIA discussions (and across forums and Janeite discussions everywhere, since its publication), it's been suggested that Elinor seems a better match for Col. Brandon than Marianne. Would you agree? Are you surprised that he seemed to essentially ignore Elinor as an option, and instead fixate on Marianne, to the point that everyone around them knew of his fixation? 
  • And following up to that, do you think Marianne settled for Brandon? Do you find her grown and matured at the end of the novel, or more broken? Do you think it likely she and Brandon will be happy together? Elinor and Edward?
  • Do you have any favorite moments or characters that you'd like to discuss? Quotes you'd like to share?
  • Now that you've read the book, what are your overall opinions on it. Like it / hate it / indifferent?  If you've read other works by Austen, where would you rank it in terms of its actual merit and your own personal reaction to it?
  • Any final thoughts you want to share?

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Pride & Prejudice: Behind the Scenes | Excerpt & Giveaway

We're kicking off our final day of AIA with a bit of a cross-post: the lovely, amazing Austenesque authors at Austen Variations are launching Pride & Prejudice: Behind the Scenes, a book that is simply crammed full — and I do mean full — of P&P bonus material, written by some of your fave JAFF writers. As part of the book launch, I'm sharing an excerpt of the book with you, and then to go along with it, over on Austen Variations, they're giving YOU a chance to win a copy! Check it out below, and then make sure to stop by AuVar to enter the giveaway!

700 more pages of Pride and Prejudice! That’s what this new publication from the authors of Austen Variations amounts to. Pride and Prejudice – Behind the Scenes is the updated version of Pride & Prejudice – The Scenes Jane Austen Never Wrote (now out of print), with 50% brand new material. And again, all proceeds will be donated to a Jane Austen charitable cause.
For this new book, fifteen authors of Austen-inspired fiction have written dozens of extra scenes to supplement the original novel – events mentioned/implied by Austen but not elaborated on, or action from a different character’s point of view – some serious, some laugh-out-loud funny. (Learn more and enter to win a copy here at Austen Variations.)

Today, as a special treat, we have an excerpt for you! This scene, written by Shannon Winslow (author of The Darcys of Pemberley, etc.), supplements action in chapter 10 of Pride and Prejudice. As you know, while Jane is sick and resting upstairs at Netherfield, Elizabeth spends some uncomfortable hours downstairs with the Mr. Darcy and the others. She’s not the only one uncomfortable, though. Miss Bingley is beginning to suspect a problem too:

While she had been playing the Italian tunes, which she knew by memory, Caroline had also been watching Mr. Darcy – normally one of her favorite occupations. On this occasion, however, she had derived little enough pleasure from it. For it seemed to her that the gentleman in question, rather than listening to the music she skillfully performed for him, had been paying far more attention to Miss Bennet. He had tried to be inconspicuous – pretending to look beyond her and averting his eyes if Elizabeth should turn his way. But Caroline was not deceived; she knew him too well.

The situation had gone from bad to worse when she had next launched into a Scotch air, hoping to redirect Darcy’s attention to herself by the liveliness of the tune. It seemed to have only driven him closer to Elizabeth, though. Now he was actually taking the trouble of speaking to her! Caroline could not hear the content of their conversation, but she could see the lady’s sportive manner, although it was not quite clear if this was meant to provoke or flirt. She could also see Darcy’s bemused countenance. The poor man looked positively bewitched!

Caroline stumbled uncharacteristically in her performance, sounding a discordant collection of notes too loudly to go unnoticed. Mr. Darcy did then, at last, render her his full attention, as did the others.

“Sorry,” she said to the room in general. “I cannot imagine how that happened. I must have played this piece a hundred times without once making such a mistake.”

Caroline resumed her playing, trying to be more attentive to her task. But the distraction of Darcy conversing with Elizabeth – by choice, this time, and not by necessity – persisted.

There was danger here. Mr. Darcy might not yet see it, but it should be plain enough to his true friends. How earnestly then did Miss Bingley wish for the invalid’s immediate recovery. Parting with Jane would be a small price to pay for also getting rid of Elizabeth!

In the meantime, the presumptuous female’s mesmerizing effects must be counteracted as much as possible, before things were allowed to progress too far. Surely the man was not yet slipped beyond the influence of reason. Perhaps a few well-placed words about Elizabeth’s low connections, a few well drawn portraits of what life married into such a family would look like, might wake Darcy from whatever delusions he currently suffered. It would be risky, but Caroline saw no alternative.

And it was for his own good, after all. Darcy might be irritated with her for a time, but he would thank her in the end, once the danger had passed and he saw how she had saved him from it. Caroline could picture it now. He would take her into his arms, just as she had imagined a thousand times, and he would say,

“My darling Caroline, can you ever forgive me for looking at another woman? You have been as patient as a saint, you noble creature. I am so grateful that you showed me the error of my ways in time. There never could be anyone for me but you. Will you marry me?”

“Yes! Oh, yes!” she cried, closing her eyes to receive her beloved’s kiss.

“What was that, Caroline?” said Mr. Bingley, unpleasantly drawing her back to reality. “Do you have a headache or is the light too bright?”

Realizing that all eyes were once again trained on herself, and not necessarily with the admiration she could desire, Miss Bingley grasped at the offered excuse. “Yes, a headache,” she said, abandoning the pianoforte and rising, one hand held to her forehead. “Perhaps I will go to bed now.”

Her campaign to undermine Miss Elizabeth Bennet would have to wait until morning.

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~ 

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Monday, September 5, 2016

The Trouble to Check Her by Maria Grace | Review

Don't forget, I've got a giveaway going for a copy of this book! You can enter here (after you've finished the review, of course. ;P )

The Trouble to Check Her by Maria Grace
(Queen of Rosings Park, #2)
Get It | Add It
288 pages
Published March 30th 2016 by White Soup Press
Lydia Bennet faces the music…

Running off with Mr. Wickham was a great joke—until everything turned arsey-varsey. That spoilsport Mr. Darcy caught them and packed Lydia off to a hideous boarding school for girls who had lost their virtue.
It would improve her character, he said.

Ridiculous, she said.

Mrs. Drummond, the school’s headmistress, has shocking expectations for the girls. They must share rooms, do chores, attend lessons, and engage in charitable work, no matter how well born they might be. She even forces them to wear mobcaps! Refusal could lead to finding themselves at the receiving end of Mrs. Drummond's cane—if they were lucky. The unlucky ones could be dismissed and found a position … as a menial servant.

Everything and everyone at the school is uniformly horrid. Lydia hates them all, except possibly the music master, Mr. Amberson, who seems to have the oddest ideas about her. He might just understand her better than she understands herself.
Can she find a way to live up to his strange expectations, or will she spend the rest of her life as a scullery maid?

I had originally intended to have a vlog in defense of Lydia Bennet filmed to go along with today's review, but alas, I somehow managed not to account for Labor Day, and that just didn't happen. Next year, I suppose, but I do have to say, I've come to look at a lot of Austen characters differently as I've gotten older and pondered more, and I can't seem to muster up the annoyance and dislike of Lydia that I once held. (And even though I didn't end up talking about her in it, Lydia was actually one of the main inspirations behind this book chat about Austen's bitches, in which I found myself defending characters I never thought I would, including the likes of Caroline Bingley and Mrs Norris! I know, I surprised myself. And we're all just gonna ignore that unfortunate lipstick choice, 'k?)

But all of this is to say, since I am always on the look out for Austen rewrites that address characters beyond just Lizzie & Darcy, I've been finding myself especially curious to see what writers would do with Lydia's story, and whether she can be made sympathetic and still retain her Lydia-ness — so of course, I was very happy to learn that the second book in Maria Grace's Queen of Rosings Park series was tackling "the Lydia problem"! And for the most part, I think it does so quite well.

Now, before I get into all of the pros and cons and whys, I need to make clear that the Queen of Rosings Park series takes a very different approach to the canon of Pride & Prejudice, shaking pretty much everything up and creating a whole new (and rather unpleasant) upbringing for the Bennet sisters. This means that the Lydia we know from P&P is already on quite a different path than what we're used to. I mean, she's still Lydia, and she still does the traditional thoughtless-Lydia things. But her life and the events that have formed her are just not the same, and that really comes into play in this story, in how her transformation comes about. But though her life and experiences are so different, and her internalized feelings maybe more extreme as a result, I found them to be a pretty fascinating and potentially accurate reflection of who she is or could be.

The idea of Lydia as a creative, who loves to draw and paint and seems to have almost an inexplicably exceptional natural talent for it, at first seemed a little off to me. I couldn't picture Lydia applying herself to something, and I wasn't sure if she really had that spark of creativity and intelligence needed to be the talented artist that she appeared to be. But then — silly as it is — I recalled the scene with the bonnet, the very ugly bonnet, that she might as well buy as not; she had plans, you see, to pick it to pieces and rework it. On first reading, this seems like another bit of frivolity on her part -- shallow, heedless, bad with money, idle hands and devils work and all that. But actually it speaks to a a self-assuredness that she can remake it into something more, and a desire for creativity and occupation -- albeit not one she finds boring. Add in the fact that the Bennet girls never had masters to teach them such things, or seek out the seeds of such a talent, and it becomes a little less far-fetched that those seeds could be inside Lydia, just waiting to burst forth.

It actually became one of my favorite aspects of the story, seeing Lydia's burgeoning ability, almost an awakening, and watching how it brings her to life. (Having this an aspect of her brain and personality also makes sense in other ways: many creatives struggle with the mundane, some with learning things in a traditional manner; many are flamboyant, messy, and flout convention -- there are a lot of aspects of her personality that actually dovetail quite nicely with this choice on Grace's part.) Her growing passion for art, and the realization that she has a talent and isn't just a trifling, silly girl, actually works (in a rather sad way), with some of the negative aspects of her life — and I don't just mean the altered course that Maria Grace has laid out. Even the treatment of her family in the original text plays well with Trouble-Lydia's need for approval, and general amazement that she's good for/at something. It is actually very sad, and sadly realistic, and makes you question whether her unchecked penchant for fun at all costs is a distraction from how unhappy and undervalued she feels — and how in turn, this would make her exceedingly easy prey for Wickham...

I found these things very fascinating, and they added such a nice layer to the story, because not only do they serve to give Lydia more depth, but they also cause me to reflect back on the original text in new ways, which is part of why I love Austenesque stories so much. (This, by the way, is something I find Maria Grace particularly talented at.) I had only two real detractions, and these are they:

1) There came a point where the male lead made my skin crawl a little bit, and I was almost really put off by him, and their relationship. BUT I came to realize that this is just as much a story of redemption for him as it is for her, and if I can forgive her some things, I can forgive him, too, so long as he's demonstrated a willingness to be better (and he has. He certainly has).

and 2) It definitely needs a little more Lydia feel. I make allowances for the fact that this is, as mentioned, a totally new interpretation of her (and all of the characters), and so, because her life has been so different, she's obviously not going to behave quite as Austen's Lydia would. Bus she starts out a bit too demure and tractable, and she learns and grows too easily. I can't help but feel Lydia would dig in her heels more, and she's certainly not an easy character to make feel shame (as evidenced by her wedding and reaction in the original text -- she was essentially ruined, and still found it all a lark). Even in her manner of speech, she feels a bit too mature and buttoned up, right from the start, for me. I need a few more "Oh, la!"s and general noisy exclamations. This Lydia is no wallflower, certainly, but she's lacking that characteristic boisterousness that makes Lydia Lydia. And frankly, I want to see a Lydia that can be "reformed" and have a Happy Ever After while not being totally dampened or losing her spark.

But again, Grace has a juggling act of being both true to Austen and to the quite altered retelling that she's set out to tell, and I do make allowances for that. All told, this is another strong book in a fascinating series, and though it may be too far removed from the original to make it to everyone's liking, I think it is an excellent example of what a classic-inspired retelling or continuation can be. Definitely recommended for fans of the series, JAFF, and those curious about Lydia (as well as those who just plain like historical romance that falls on the more wholesome, rather than steamy, side). If you're reading it for the Austen: definitely read book 1 first; you'll really need that world-building. If reading it for the histrom, you could probably jump right in, without knowing more than the basics of P&P, and still find it completely enjoyable.

If you've read this, definitely let me know your thoughts in the comments!
And don't forget, Maria has offered up a copy to one of YOU, so make sure to enter to win!

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Austen's Best WORST Characters: a Conversation

Last week, I asked you to tell me who you thought was Austen's absolute, best of the best WORST character. A character you loved to hate, or that you just knew you wouldn't be able to bear being in a room with.
I've combined those answers, along with some choice extracts from previous Janeite Conversations and our AIA discussions on Twitter, to come up with what we think is the best of the worst in all of Austen.

Misty: So. Austen's best worst character. She's really got some doozies, but who do we love to hate the most?
Beth: Oh man, there are SO many good ones to choose from! From busybodies and meddling relations to selfish prigs...
Jessica (bookrockgoddess): I love Henry Crawford and I hate Edmund Bertram.
Misty: Yaaaasssss.
Jessica: This might be controversial but I think Edmund is a wishy-washy a... I think Henry acted like most men that have been spurned by a women who continually turns him down. That just might be my 20th century views. I can relate to saying what the heck and going for it with someone who might care for you. I know many a friend who has found themselves in similar situations.
Misty: Agreed! And yeah, okay, I get it that his intentions in the beginning weren't so great — but hey, if I can forgive every guy in a romcom ever who has started out messing with a girl only to realize he's falling for her, then I can forgive Henry.
Monica: *scoffs* He’s a really bad boy. He plays fast and low with both Julia and Maria, so much so that Maria expects him to propose. He tries to seduce Fanny for his own amusement, and behaves improperly by giving her a gift. Then, when Fanny refuses to marry him, he hooks up with Maria and causes a huge scandal. To top it all, he doesn’t marry Maria even though her husband has divorced her and she is shunned by society for adultery. Could it get any worse?
Misty: ...touché. Those are all fair points. But I just can't help but like him a little. Edmund on the other hand. . . I just can't with him. But is he the worst? I don't think he's quite bad enough for that. You know, Mansfield Park really has more than its fair share of awful people. Like, all of them...especially you know who.
Sophia Rose: Mrs. Norris is a despicable creature and love that Austen wrote such a great 'love to hate' character.
Misty: YES.
Sophia Rose: This woman is settled, comfortable, and has a place in the community that should drive her toward compassion and understanding, but uh uh, oh no, she is the dark cloud who makes the people around her miserable. She is parsimonious, cruel, and snobbish. Her guidance is so wrong and affects so many for the worse. In the end, Mansfield Park is lighter and fresher for her loss.
Maria: Aunt Norris in Mansfield Park also drive me crazy. She is such a horrible manipulator!
Beth: Yes! She's such a harpy! It's a lovely way to say 'people of all classes can be cruel'. She's dependent on the Bertrams so she should be humble, and yet, she's intolerable.
Sophia Rose: Good summation of her, Beth!
Misty:  I feel the same in some ways about Mary Musgrove in Persuasion. I mean,  obviously she's not as bas as Mrs. Norris, or as harmful, but she has this added layer of pure annoyance...I couldn't even bring myself to defend Mary awhile back... even when I could defend Mrs. Norris! Similar to Mr. Collins, in some ways -- potentially harmful, mostly so unbearably obnoxious that they are intolerable. Collins is a whole different beast!
Laurie: Mr. Collins is so “altogether a mixture of pride and obsequiousness, self-importance and humility” that it’s sometimes downright painful to read his scenes.
Misty: Or WATCH his scenes. Reading him is bad enough, but nearly every depiction of him makes my skin crawl!
Laurie: The worst offense in Mr. Collins’ arsenal—and there are several—resides in his proposal to Elizabeth Bennet. I’m talking about the whole ladies-say-no-but-really-mean-yes theme. For as he so eloquently puts it, “ it is usual with young ladies to reject the addresses of the man whom they secretly mean to accept, when he first applies for their favour; and…sometimes the refusal is repeated a second or even a third time." Hmmm. That is either a let’s-have-a-laugh-at-clueless-Collins scene, or a clip from law and order special victims unit.
Misty: Let's not forget, he also gleefully advises casting off Lydia, is the #1 bootlicker in all of England, and is in charge of a congregation! Collins is responsible for advising and guiding innocent minds, and of being an example of righteousness and marital felicity. So not only is he pretty clueless and gross, but he also has unfortunate reach. That's gotta win him points. Though, given the breadth of awful in Austen, still not enough to win him the title, I don't think... I feel I need to put in a word for Lucy Steele here. She's never not horrible, after all...
Beth: ... in light of this year's AiA pick, I'm going to go with John and Fanny Dashwood. Selfish, self-centered, snobbish, and devoid of compassion, they are just the worst human beings. 
Misty: We had a lot to say on Mrs. Fanny Dashwood in our AIA chats this year...
Misty: But we didn't talk about John as much (though YES!)
Beth: They can't even care enough to manipulate (well, Fanny manipulates John, but so easily that it's clear John is looking for any excuse to break his deathbed vow to his father and shaft his sisters and the woman who raised him).
Sophia Rose: Absolutely! He's no gentleman and she's no lady though they consider themselves to be. More detestable creatures! :)
Beth: They have no consideration. To be able to say, here are people I shared my life and home with, for however many years (do we know when John's mother died and his father remarried?) and I don't care if they starve to death, to be able to just casually break the vow made to the man whose fortune you are spending, and to care more about what everyone around you is worth in terms of money than bother to get to know them....I just want to throttle them both.
Misty: PREACH.
Beth: Ugh, blind[ed] by their own arrogance. In a fair world, they'd be utterly bereft of friendship and love.
Misty: Way harsh, Tai. I mean, Beth. ;)

Misty: So who's our winner? Can we even pick a winner? I mean, hell, we didn't even touch on John Thorpe,whom I'm pretty sure would have raped Catherine, if given the chance... Or either of the naughty Ws. And surprisingly, no one mentioned Caroline Bingley OR Lady Catherine! You've gotta be pretty bad to outdo those two... All I know is there are two things for absolute certain: 1) Austen can write one hell of an awful person, and at some point, awful people would have had to dread being around her for fear they'd find themselves reflected back in a book...
Misty: And 2) someone needs to use something to hit Lucy Steele in the face.

Thanks to everyone who answered in the initial discussion post or participated in our Twitter chats, and all of the authors whose answers I pulled from previous Janeite Convos!

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