Review: “The Austen Escape” by Katherine Reay

Review: “The Austen Escape” by Katherine Reay

With each novel, Katherine Reay proves her craft and place on my all time favorite authors shelf. Her stories explore so much depth within the relationships of her main character(s), more than just a story of romance, friendship, or family alone. They portray real people with struggles and insecurities and, most importantly, a season of growth. Her main character is ALWAYS greatly changed between chapter 1 and “the end”, and I’ve often found the same is true of myself, the reader, as I’m subtly changed, encouraged, and influenced by Katherine’s story.

Of course, reading this story along with some #bookbesties and chatting on Twitter via #TAERAL was super FUN, too!!!! (Click on the hashtag to see our gushing thoughts, quotes, and general observations as we read.) Thanks to everyone who joined! More Katherine Reay/Austen-fun is coming on the blog soon.

About the Book

the-austen-escapeAfter years of following her best friend’s lead, Mary Davies finds a whimsical trip back to Austen’s Regency England paves the way towards a new future.

Mary Davies lives and works in Austin, Texas, as an industrial engineer. She has an orderly and productive life, a job and colleagues that she enjoys—particularly a certain adorable, intelligent, and hilarious consultant. But something is missing for Mary. When her estranged and emotionally fragile childhood friend Isabel Dwyer offers Mary a two-week stay in a gorgeous manor house in Bath, Mary reluctantly agrees to come along, in hopes that the holiday will shake up her quiet life in just the right ways. But Mary gets more than she bargained for when Isabel loses her memory and fully believes that she lives in Regency England. Mary becomes dependent on a household of strangers to take care of Isabel until she wakes up.

With Mary in charge and surrounded by new friends, Isabel rests and enjoys the leisure of a Regency lady. But life gets even more complicated when Mary makes the discovery that her life and Isabel’s have intersected in more ways that she knew, and she finds herself caught between who Isabel was, who she seems to be, and the man who stands between them. Outings are undertaken, misunderstandings play out, and dancing ensues as this triangle works out their lives and hearts among a company of clever, well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation.

Goodreads | AmazonReview

Like Katherine Reay’s previous stories, The Austen Escape is full of literary references and general Jane Austen fun (like traveling to Bath and dressing in period-appropriate clothes!). It is not a retelling but candidly acknowledges the similarities between the characters and Austen’s own, like Mary’s friend Isabel sharing qualities with Isabella of Northanger Abbey, comparing Mary to Catherine of the same, and nods to all of Austen’s other works, too. Because of all the references, I think The Austen Escape would be best enjoyed by someone familiar with Austen’s works or main characters (if only through movie adaptation form).

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I could talk about so many elements of this story and why I connected with it, but I will simply state that it is a story of the intricacies of life: how friendship, work, dreams, relationship, family, and even hobbies are interconnected and form the identity of a person. These little things make up the big picture and determine how a person responds when faced with challenges. For Mary, she experiences a season of growth because of challenges to her comfort zone and what she believes to be true about the people around her. A few eye-opening events (and timely encouraging relationships — I’m talking about Nathan and his swoony Austen nerdiness here) spur her to recognize the beauty and opportunity right in front of her.

Jane Austen wrote about people and their need to connect on some level – from friendship to family camaraderie to romantic relationships. Katherine Reay captures the same drive in her characters, using the same timeless lens of connection, to show a heart-level story of individuality and friendship.

More little things I loved about The Austen Escape:

  • Nathan <3, a fitting hero
  • The juxtaposition of modern and old elements: Mary’s work vs the frill and formality of Austen’ s world
  • How neither Jane Austen, HER characters, nor Mary quite “fit in” with the expectations of their environments
  • Red velvet cupcakes, sticky toffee pudding, bubble gum
  • Nicknames and what they reveal
  • Absolutely ENDEARING secondary characters like Gertrude, Moira, Grant, and Clara
  • Little wire animals and skittle contraptions
  • All the love for books and music
  • All the Jane Austen talk — especially when Persuasion is hinted

Thank you to the author and publisher, Thomas Nelson, for the complimentary review copy of this novel. This is my honest review.

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Review: “The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck” by Bethany Turner

Review: “The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck” by Bethany Turner

You know those books that seem to release with a blog and social media craze equivalent to a 7-year-old piñata frenzy? Yes? Well, The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck debut novel by Bethany Turner is one such novel that lives up to its hyped expectations. One search or visit to any of Bethany’s social media channels can result in hilarious interviews, videos, and quotes all showing her refreshing style (I highly recommend doing so). Now, I’m extremely happy to be a part of Revell’s blog tour featuring my own gushing review of this little story.

About the Book

The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck

Isn’t this one of the cutest covers of the year?!

Becoming a Christian is the best and worst thing that has ever happened to Sarah Hollenbeck. Best because, well, that’s obvious. Worst because, up to this point, she’s made her very comfortable living as a well-known, bestselling author of steamy romance novels that would leave the members of her new church blushing. Now Sarah is trying to reconcile her past with the future she’s chosen. She’s still under contract with her publisher and on the hook with her enormous fan base for the kind of book she’s not sure she can write anymore. She’s beginning to think that the church might frown on her tithing on royalties from a “scandalous” book. And the fact that she’s falling in love with her pastor doesn’t make things any easier.

With a powerful voice, penetrating insight, and plenty of wit, Bethany Turner explodes onto the scene with a debut that isn’t afraid to deal with the thorny realities of living the Christian life.

 

 

Goodreads | Amazon | Bethany’s Website

 

Review

This story is a literary TREAT! I was seriously laughing and crying in the span of paragraphs. It’s a new take on Christian fiction and a close look at the whirlwind which life (and romance 😉 ) can be through the eyes of a recently redeemed heroine. At times, her character’s perspective as a new Christian could be a little eye-opening for someone “used to” churchy norms. And I love that.

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A part of this is “book inception”: character Sarah is a writer. Her own intent to write a Christian fiction novel appealing to the masses to candidly address attraction in a way not common in the genre is, in fact, what Bethany has accomplished with Sarah’s story. Bethany is not afraid to include the realness of physical attraction and how Sarah’s newfound convictions can be upheld while not altering her core (feisty) personality. (Ben is amazingly sweet and all the more #swoony because of his role in all of this.)

Apart from the romance storyline, The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck explores the deeper ripple effects of the lifestyle change Sarah is pursuing. From self-worth to forgiveness, jealousy, and even deception, deep truths are delivered in this story that starts out as perky but quickly turns serious and rooted in a journey to understanding LOVE in manifestations of family, commitment, choice, and even instant attraction.

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Perhaps my favorite part of this story is the pop culture references!!! (You all know I love some good movie/TV references in story). Especially the rabbit trails of 1980s miniseries. Multiple situations referenced AND connected plot points to The Sound of Music  —- they left me giggling more than once. And the chapter titles alone are hilarious —– “ethical and professional leprosy”, for example, and it makes perfect sense. If you finish the very last page and are left searching for a Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman episode on YouTube, let me know, I can direct you to the right one because I found it! At like 2am. Immediately. 😉

Thank you to Revell Publishers and Netgalley for the complimentary review copy of this novel. This is my honest review.

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First Line Fridays #5 Special Military Edition: Conspiracy of Silence

It’s time for a new edition of First Line Fridays hosted by the Hoarding Books blog!

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Today is a special edition of First Line Friday with a book theme of military/patriotic/Veteran’s Day!!! Sincerest thank you to all who have served in our armed forces. May you be blessed for your sacrifice.

I have chosen to share the first line from Conspiracy of Silence by Ronie Kendig because this action/adventure book takes a serious look at the sacrifice and hard work of one awesome paramilitary/Special Forces team. Plus, I’ll welcome any excuse to talk about this series!

 

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The first line (of chapter 1):

Ten Days Ago-

Jebel-Al-Lawz, Tabuk Province, Saudi Arabia

Vindication tasted like sweat.

 

Your turn! Find the book closest to you and share your first line in the comments! The, head over to Hoarding Books for the linky and visit other FLF posts!

‘Inspired by Classics’ Guest Post by Pepper Basham + Review & Giveaway: “Charming the Troublemaker”

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Today I have a real TREAT for you guys! Author Pepper Basham has shared a guest post: “Inspired by Classics” all about how classic literature and story fit in with modern writing. I’m also sharing my review of her new release, Charming the Troublemaker, book 2 in her “Mitchell’s Crossroads” Appalachian rom-com series. And, there’s a #GIVEAWAY of an ebook copy of Charming the Troublemaker! So, read on for my little review and her AMAZING thoughts, then enter the giveaway at the end!

About the Book

Charming the TroublemakerWhen Dr. Alex Murdock is demoted to a university in rural Virginia, the last thing he expects to find is a future. But country charm never looked as good as it did on Rainey Mitchell. 

Rainey Mitchell does not need a high-class flirt in her wounded world, but trouble and temptation wafts off the new professor as strong as his sandalwood-scented cologne.

When circumstances thrust them together to save her tutoring clinic, can the troublemaker find the hero inside and encourage the reticent Rainey to open her heart again?

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

You all might recall my excitement for this book in the cover reveal and in a Behind the Scenes Interview with Pepper + Book Recommendations.

Since the very first book of this series, A Twist of Faith, I have been interested in Rainey’s story. Learning hers would be a “loose” retelling of North and South (Elizabeth Gaskell) AND that Rainey would be paired with Alex Murdock, an interesting if frustrating person in book 1, I was ecstatic!!! I mean, woohoo because I ❤ the book & miniseries, and anything Pepper writes is a #mustread, magical romance.

While the humor is laugh-out-loud and the family drama endearing, a most intriguing new-to-Pepper’s-books element is present in Charming the Troublemaker: SUSPENSE! A few surprises and moments of suspense add a good measure of intensity to this Appalachian rom-com full of love and heart.

The hero of this story has been dubbed #AdorkableAlex — and for good reason! His hilarity and flirty manner guards a humble heart that needs a little nudging to find an inner hero, and the people of Ransom, ESPECIALLY the Mitchells, are the ones to help him find that belonging. When he is determined to help or get involved in something, his whole heart jumps in, and it is just so endearing. And have I mentioned he likes Hallmark movies?! #swoon

Rainey Mitchell is the kind of friend you want to have… fiercely protective and discerning, yet adorably clueless about her own value. Her independence is a contrast with some of the baggage and insecurities she carries, and her journey toward a new confidence is wonderfully spurred on by her friendship with Alex. Her little girl, Sarah, is cute from start to finish! And when Sarah and Alex are together on the page, it’s just precious.

The swoony romance is “I NEED A FREEZER” level on multiple occasions! (Pepper has mad kissing book skills). Even through that, however, Alex is EVER the gentleman. And Rainey has a few surprises up her sleeve with her sassyness! Let’s just say it’s fun to see Rainey catch Alex off guard.

More than the romance and the dynamic of these two lead characters, a strong theme of security, honesty, and life direction found ONLY IN JESUS centers this story as it winds its way toward a happy-ending. The emotional moments connected to this faith thread were the most joyous parts of the story. Mama Mitchell was often a tool of wisdom and grace for this purpose, and I just wanted to hug her. And eat her cookin’.

There are so many little things to love about Charming the Troublemaker. Like the walkie talkies. And the kisses. And names of a sleek sports car and practical truck! (Marilyn and Indiana, respectively) 🙂 And all the little North and South parallels you “have to look hard” for that added to the story in just the right ways. And the Mitchell clan with all their hometown love. This is one family I will happily revisit in these pages and, hopefully, in stories to come for a long while.

Thank you to the author and publisher, Bling! Romance (LPC), for the complimentary review copy. This is my honest review.


From Pepper: Inspired by Classics

It is said that there are no NEW stories for authors to write, only the influence our imaginations lend to the stories that have already been created.

Pepper 3And for the most part, this is true. There are basic story tropes that get repeated over and over again, but each author adds their interpretation, their characters, their heart into explaining that trope through their own voices.

I was just talking to my agent, Julie Gwinn, last week about how my brain immediately goes to reinventing stories or creating sequels. I can’t help it. In college I wrote a sequel to Frankenstein! Not long after that, I was determined to write a sequel to the Toby McGuire Spiderman movie. I REALLY wanted to write a sequel to Jane Eyre at another point in time and have found various other books I wanted to reinvent in a different time period or put my spin on them.

As L.M. Montgomery uses (an old proverb) through her classic, Anne of Green Gables, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” So, I think that’s why we see these wonderful (and sometimes not so wonderful) remakes of the classics we all love so much.

Pepper 1Their stories, characters, and/or dialogue is so timeless we, as storytellers, want to capture that spark in some way and make it our own. Of course, we’ll never write exactly like them, but the stories they tell have the unique ability to touch us in special ways – and who wouldn’t want to recreate that feeling?

In my Mitchell’s Crossroads series, I’ve taken some of the things I’ve loved from classics and tries to put a very ‘loose’ and modern spin on them. A Twist of Faith is a loose retelling of Pygmalion (My Fair Lady) and Charming the Troublemaker has aspects of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South in it. Can you find them? It’s clearer in A Twist of Faith than Charming the Troublemaker, but you can find them, and ‘you have to look hard’ (fangirl reference). Courtney: squeee! I ❤ N&S

For me, elements of classics I want to recreate stem in part from the way these stories make me feel when I read them, but also in the essentials that make them memorable.

I want to write engaging characters like Henry Higgins, Eliza Doolittle, John Thornton, and Margaret Hale.

I want to inspire smile from witty dialogue and maybe even sneak in a mystery here or there.

I want to portray a variety of romances – not just hate-to-love or opposites attract, but delve into the fun (almost magical) assortment of possibilities. They’ve ALL been written in some form before, and watching out the masters do it provides excellent inspiration.

From fairytales to adventures to romances to mysteries, the possibilities are limitless.

So, what classics would you enjoy seeing rewritten/modernized?

What do you think makes a classic…a classic???

Giveaway

Enter the rafflecopter giveaway.

Giveaway is for one (1) ebook copy of Charming the Troublemaker provided by Pepper Basham. Giveaway ends 11/18/2017 11:59pm CT. Void where prohibited.

 

First Line Fridays #4: Born of Persuasion

It’s time for a new edition of First Line Fridays hosted by the Hoarding Books blog!
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Because I’m really in the mood for all things Victorian lately (I blame it on the fall season), I’m featuring the first line of one of my FAVORITE books/series ever! Born of Persuasion by Jessica Dotta.

 

Born of Persuasion

The first line:

Later, when I allowed myself to confront the memories, to dwell on the particulars, I realized my arrival at Am Meer marked the beginning.

 

Your turn! Find the book closest to you and share your first line in the comments! The, head over to Hoarding Books for the linky and visit other FLF posts!

October Happenings

I cannot believe it is the end of October. Where did the month go?!

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on the bookshelf

New books on the shelf this month include a paperback of Conspiracy of Silence by Ronie Kendig, a paperback of The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay (eeek!), Blind Spot by Dani Pettrey, With No Reservations by Laurie Tomlinson, Lady Jayne Disappears by Joanna Davidson Politano, The Recipe by Candace Calvert, The Redeeming by Tamara Leigh, and The Esther Paradigm by Sarah Monzon.

on the blog

Most popular posts:

  1. First Line Fridays #2: Christmas at Gate 18
  2. Top Ten Tuesday: Meal Planning 101 (AKA Yummy Foods in Books)
  3. First Line Fridays #3: Charming the Troublemaker20171009_124022.jpg

Most popular book reviews:

  1. I’ll Be Yours by Jenny B. Jones
  2. All This Time by Melissa Tagg (with Author Interview!)
  3. Christmas at Gate 18 by Amy Matayo

on the screen

PoldarkOctober ushered in Season 3 of ITV’s Poldark here in the US on Masterpiece PBS. I confess I’m a big fan, continually impressed with the character development and atmospheric setting of every episode. (I want to go to Cornwall!) While I’m still very upset with Ross for some season 2 shenanigans, I do hope he will still prove me wrong because everyone is redeemable. Demelza, Verity, and Caroline are still my favorites. One thing I’m enjoying in this season is how George tries SO HARD to advance his political career/social standing and works at it by manipulating and bringing others down, while Ross doesn’t even want to try to gain that sort of ground yet does so out of some natural good decisions (i.e. friendship and loyalty), especially in ep 5.

around the web

Carrie over at Reading is my Superpower had a wonderful guest post this month from author Sondra Kraak about Reading Fiction in Him. It’s such a cool way to approach story!

I stumbled across Book Riot’s article about how “Chrome’s Library Extension Will Change Your Life”. Choose your local library system and you can see whether or not they have a copy of books you’re browsing on Goodreads and Amazon. It’s awesome.

With November nearly upon us, Hallmark has begun the most wonderful yearly tradition of Christmas movies 24/7 on its networks AKA WATCH HALLMARK ALLLLL THE TIME season. Here’s a great preview of new movies to come for the first part of the season over on Silver Petticoat.

 

YOUR TURN! Are you loving the change of season October brought? What books did you add to your TBR this month?

Review: “Christmas at Gate 18” Novella by Amy Matayo

You might be saying to yourself “What? Courtney is already talking about Christmas and Christmas novellas???”. Yes. Yes, I am, because Christmas fun starts early and any time is a good time for an Amy Matayo story. This novella happens to be a non-typical Christmas story —- sure, it’s set during Christmas and has the requisite gift exchange, mistletoe, and talk of Christmas traditions, but conventional stops there. As a matter of fact, the gift exchange doesn’t even involve pretty wrappings. 😉

About the Book

Supermodel Rory Gray just wants to go home. After wrapping up a three-day high-fashion photo shoot overseas, she’s exhausted and ready for the holiday. A holiday that involves Hollywood parties, air-kissing the industry elite, and a whole lot of fakeness…but whatever. Once she gets through that torture, she’ll head to her beloved Seattle and the life of anonymity she misses so much. In less than twenty-four hours, she’ll be there. 

Christmas at Gate 18Colt Ross has spent the past six months detaching himself from the Hollywood world he grew up in, and home is the last place he wants to be. But he’s been called back by his overbearing father for reasons he can only imagine. Likely reasons that involve taking over the family corporation or fund raising among Hollywood elite—something Colt has no interest in being part of. Not that he has a choice; when you’re the son of an industry executive, rubbing elbows comes with the territory. In less than twenty-four hours he’ll be home. After all this time away, home no longer appeals to him. Especially not at Christmas. Leave it to his father to ruin a holiday. 

But when a late-season hurricane grounds both of their flights in the Dominican Republic, Rory and Colt find themselves stuck at the airport far longer than anticipated. As weather conditions worsen, they both begin to realize that this Christmas will be spent with strangers packed inside a single airport terminal—specifically at gate 18. 

Rory and Colt are faced with a choice: band together in their misery or make this Christmas one they will never forget. For two people who aren’t real fond of the holiday, this Christmas might turn out to be the best they’ve ever had. 

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

If you’re looking for Christmas carols and hot apple cider, keep going. This story is not your typical gather-round-the-nativity with family and friends occasion, but it IS about relationships and wanting to know people for who they are and celebrating in unconventional ways. This is not your typical Christmas time story in the BEST way.

FB_IMG_1508799477051.jpgChristmas at Gate 18 has all the elements I’ve come to expect (and appreciate) from an Amy Matayo story: riveting character development, sarcastic and snarky humor, breath-stealing kisses (when they finally happen), and unexpected situations or people. The humor, in particular, is an added bonus. I love how Amy includes hilariously normal things like “Duck, Duck, Goose” or soft drink “suicides” and the need for a toothbrush to set a lighter tone while dealing with serious underlying issues. This story challenges boundaries of all kinds, with the storyline, flirtatious content, and raw hearts of the characters (especially when it comes to preconceptions vs. seeing and appreciating the heart.)

It would be appropriate to say Amy Matayo flirts with traditional boundaries when it comes to mild innuendos and actual boy-girl flirting. While the interaction between Colt and Rory never breaches the boundaries of propriety (except for that one short stay in a questionable motel HA! Trust me, it’s hilarious and sweet at the same time.), it still might challenge the comfort levels of the reader (or, at least it did for me and my normal inspirational-fiction comfort zone).

But, I think this is Amy’s intent in more than one way. To challenge boundaries. To delve deeper into the hearts of the characters with all of their insecurities, bagggage, and derailed dreams. To see beyond the surface (as a rich guy and professional model metaphorically represent all things superficial) and into the heart of who a person is and choosing to care about them, to accept their flaws, making them a better person in turn. This nearly-secular niche between messed up and redeemed characters is Amy’s sweet spot. Christmas at Gate 18 is a must-read if you’re looking for a story that challenges convention and makes you appreciate your own treasured family traditions during the Christmas season.

Thank you to the author and Relz Author Support Services for the opportunity to review a copy of this book. This is my honest review.