Thursday, May 19, 2016

Belgravia Blog Tour - Episode 7: A Man of Business

Award winning creator/writer of Downton Abbey presents his latest endeavor, Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia, a new book blending the Victorian-era serialized novel with modern technology.

Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia will be featured in a progressive blog tour April 14-June 16, 2016. Similar to a “progressive dinner party,” where a group of friends each make one course of a meal that moves from house to house with each course, a “progressive blog tour” is the same concept applied to the Internet. Eleven historical fiction bloggers and authors are participating, each taking one episode of the novel and offering a recap and review for that week. As a participant, you will follow the tour and join in the read-along and conversation. A fabulous give-away contest, including three (3) hardcover copies of Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia will be open to those who join the festivities.   

Please visit Risky Regencies to learn more about last week's installment, Episode 6: A Spy in Our Midst, and be sure to read on for my review of Episode 7: A Man of Business and details on the giveaway!

We are now well over halfway through Belgravia and well and truly immersed into the world of the Trenchard and Bellasis families. In true trademark Julian Fellowes fashion, the journey thus far has been replete with twists, turns, and intrigue aplenty, as the hidden product of a Napoleonic War-era affair between the late Sophia Trenchard and Edmund Bellasis comes to light -- to all but the subject in question, the unwitting focus of the matron of each respective family's furious maneuvering.

This episode of Belgravia is perhaps my favorite yet, as so much of the secrets, discovery, and social machinations that have been set in place in the previous installments begin to bear fruit, the ripple effect of calculated decisions and reckless gambles playing out in the lives of each character. This installment opens with a rare moment of accord between Caroline Brockenhurst -- Edmund's mother -- and Anne Trenchard -- Sophia's mother. These two very different women are bound together in an unlikely alliance by a moment of passion between their children years earlier that produced Charles Pope, enterprising mill owner and unknowing -- and illegitimate -- heir to two prosperous families.

“She did not think it would take much longer for the story to come out, after which Edmund’s memory would be, if anything, enhanced and Sophia Trenchard’s would be ruined.”

The secret that binds together the Trenchards and the Brockenhursts is one that cannot be kept long, as Caroline's enthusiastic and very public patronage of Charles has already started to raise eyebrows within her social circle. Given the inevitability of such a disclosure, Anne seizes the opportunity to join Caroline and Lady Maria Grey, the bright and vivacious young woman rather unfortunately engaged to John Bellasis, Caroline's nephew and the Brockenhurst heir.

The secrets simmering beneath the surface of the visit inform the tone of this episode, as Caroline and Anne each long to openly acknowledge their relationship to Charles and celebrate, through him, the restoration of some small part of their long-lost children. And Maria, despite her engagement, cannot help but respond to the simmering attraction between her and Charles, especially when as compared to her relationship with her intended, John, their every interaction speaks of a potential marriage of two equal, enthusiastic minds.

“His father a soldier, she was thinking, and the cousin of a churchman…what was wrong with that? He might not be a catch, but he was at least a gentleman.”

John, having received intelligence as to Caroline's whereabouts from her maid, Ellis, makes an unwelcome interruption to the otherwise cozy visit, eager to learn anything he can that will help him destroy Charles. For, despite his ignorance of their familial connection, he views Charles a a wholly unwelcome rival to be disposed of, a usurper making free use of the money he already views as his own thanks to the assumption he will inherit the Brockenhurst fortune.  

Following the visit, Anne leaves for Glanville, the Trenchard family's country estate, with John, Oliver, and Susan in tow. Her time in Charles's presence, hearing his enthusiasm for his life and work has left her at peace, and now she finds herself willing to accept the coming social storm that would result when Charles's true identity was revealed, as surely it must.

“But she was quite certain it was her engagement and her rank that were holding him back. She was not so sheltered that she could not see when a man was attracted to her, and she was confident she could bring Charles up to the mark when she wanted to.”
“She had admitted for the first time that she was planning a true m├ęsalliance for herself.” 

Meanwhile, Maria does the unthinkable. Determined to defy her family's wishes and bring an end to her engagement to John Bellasis, she takes her romantic future in her own hands and requests a meeting with Charles. This section of the episode absolutely made my heart sing, as when it comes to historical fiction I love nothing quite so much a love story between social opposites. This scene, more than any other to date in Belgravia, reminded me of the romance of Downton Abbey and the spark that peppered each of that series' memorable romances.

“She loved him. And he loved her back. She had acknowledged him as her lover. That was all he really needed to know. If she did break his heart, it would be worth it for this moment. What came next he couldn’t guess at, but he loved and was loved in return. For now, that was enough.”

This episode is a study in contrasts, from the tension between the aristocratic old money of the Brockenhursts (and their correlating ability to absorb potential scandal as a routine matter of course) and the new money springing from trade and industry represented by the Trenchards and James's ever-evolving business interests. Likewise there is the exploration of women's roles in society, here between the expectations a woman such a Mary faced (marriage and children) and those she craved (love, travel, business interests). 

"You are a model of dynamism and industry and yet, unlike most people in your way of life, you were not born to it."

Both Mary and Charles, in particular, represent a marriage of the two social facets, the aristocracy and the lower -- though socially upwardly mobile -- class, those who make their fortune in trade and industry. Charles exists at the nexus of the aristocracy and the burgeoning Industrial Revolution, a man -- though he does not yet know it -- born to privilege, but driven to make his own way in the world. 

It has been challenging to review a single installment of this story rather than discussing the entire tale as a whole. But that has been part of the appeal of this form of serialized storytelling, as with each successive installment I've grown increasingly invested in the world and characters Fellowes has crafted within the pages of Belgravia. Stylistically this novel is something of a departure from current historical fiction offerings, more narrative driven than I'm used to, much like the classic serialized novels that inspired Belgravia's inception. As such, the first episode started slowly for me, but with each successive week as the story unfolded and characters developed, I have found myself increasingly eager to learn what happens next!

There are only four episodes left before Belgravia finishes, so there's still time to catch up if you haven't yet delved into Fellowes's latest world of romance and intrigue. If you've been reading along as episodes are released, I'd love to hear your thoughts -- favorite characters, most wished-for comeuppance (a clue: I cannot WAIT until John gets what has to be coming to him!), or thoughts on this release format. And if you haven't yet tried Belgravia, I would love to hear what intrigues you about this story. Be sure to check in at Mimi Matthews next week for a discussion of episode 8!


Giveaway Contest

Win a Copy of Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia

In celebration of the release of Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia, Grand Central Publishing is offering a chance to win one of the three (3) hardcover copies of the book!  

To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on any or all of the stops on the Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia Progressive Blog Tour starting April 14, 2016 through 11:59 pm PT, June 22, 2016. Winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments and announced on Austenprose.com June 23, 2016. Winners have until June 30, 2016 to claim their prize. The contest is open to International residents and the books will be shipped after July 5, 2016. Good luck to all!

April 14 – Austenprose.comEpisode 1: Dancing into Battle
April 14 – Edwardian PromenadeEpisode 2: A Chance Encounter
April 21 – Fly High!: Episode 3: Family Ties
April 28 -  Calico Critic: Episode 4: At Home in Belgrave Square
May 5  --   Luxury ReadingEpisode 5: The Assignation
May 12 --  Risky Regencies: Episode 6: A Spy in our Midst
May 19 --  Booktalk & More Too: Episode 7: A Man of Business
May 26 –   Mimi Matthews: Episode 8: An Income for Life
June 02 –  Confessions of a Book Addict: Episode 9: The Past is a Foreign Country
June 09 –  Laura’s Reviews: Episode 10: The Past Comes Back
June 16 –  Gwyn Cready: Episode 11: Inheritance

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Review: Love's Awakening by Laura Frantz


Love's Awakening (The Ballantyne Legacy #2)
By: Laura Frantz
Publisher: Revell
ISBN: 978-0-8007-2042-1

Review:

Elinor "Ellie" Ballantyne, just twenty years old and the jewel of her father's heart, flees finishing school and the matchmaking mamas of Philadelphia society, hungry for home and purpose. She is determined to shed some measure of her sheltered upbringing and embrace the Ballantyne steel of her heritage, vowing to make her own way in the world. But much has changed in her absence, and Ellie is ill-prepared for the simmering tensions between the pro-slavery and abolitionist movement, nor the depth of her family's involvement in the latter. However, the greatest danger may hail from the most unexpected quarter -- losing her heart to the son of the enemy -- the engmatic, and wholly unsuitable, Jack Turlock.

The rivalry between the Ballantynes and unscrupulous, whiskey-making Turlocks hails from Silas Ballantyne's early days in Pittsburgh, becoming further embittered when Isabel O'Hara, daughter of Silas's one-time friend and mentor, marries into the Turlock clan in a fit of pique when Silas chose Eden as his bride. And from that point, the die was cast: the Ballantynes respectable and virtuous, the Turlocks and their famed hell-raising ever a thorn in their -- and all respectable society's -- side.

Jack would like nothing more than to shed his family's unsavory reputation and start afresh. But ever aware of what he's seen and done, he was resigned to the burden of his familial heritage of violence and deceit, until a chance encounter with Ellie awakens feelings he'd long thought buried. Ellie's innocence and guileless acceptance of him as he is awakens in Jack the audacity to hope for a finer, better life. When his father and brother's plans threaten to destroy everything Ellie holds dear, Jack is left with a choice: the life he was raised to or faith in the God the Ballantynes claim and His promise of redemption.

While I like to stay current with favorite authors, it has been such a treat to lose myself in each successive installment of The Ballantyne Legacy without that pesky year-long wait between releases. Though the much-loved Silas and Eden are absent for half the novel, their presence is ever felt, underscoring Frantz's thesis of the heritage of faith, inherited through generations.

The Jack and Ellie relationship is not only one of my favorite tropes in romantic fiction -- adversaries to lovers -- but it is a gorgeously-wrought exploration of inheritance and choice. Colored with shades of Romeo and Juliet's warring families, Jack and Ellie's blossoming attraction is, at first blush, nought but an impossible dream. Separated by a gulf of familial rivalry and distrust, political ideologies, and most crucially, faith, here Frantz sketches a love story all the more memorable because of the transformative power of faith at its heart.

Love's Awakening has a two-fold meaning -- Jack and Ellie, certainly, but also the agape love of one human being to another regardless of race or creed. The sacrificial love those who claim Christ are called to live each day is woven throughout each page, as Frantz places her characters in the eye of the storm brewing over slavery. The Ballantynes and Jack participate in the early skirmishes between pro-slavers and abolitionists in Pennsylvania of the 1820's seeds of the great conflict to come later in the century that would rend the nation in two. As Jack quickly discovers, the Ballantynes' abolitionist efforts are a call to action, a study in the cost, danger, and rewards of putting faith in action.

Frantz has always delivered emotionally intense novels. Her heart-stopping romances are a hallmark of her work, as is her unparalleled ability to bring the past to life on the page, all on display here. But in Love's Awakening, in the final oact of Ellie and Jack's story she delivers her most action-packed epic yet. It is no exaggeration to say that my heart was racing as I breathlessly turned the pages, eager to see the finale unfold in all its high stakes, cinematic grandeur.


Like it's predecessor, Love's Awakening is a story of inheritance, both for good and ill. The Ballantyne Legacy is an unflinchingly honest study of faith and choice and the power of both to resound through future generations. A stunning romance, suspense, and heartbreak -- this is Frantz at her finest. I cannot wait to discover what's in store for the final Ballantyne installment!

About the book:

In the spring of 1822, Ellie Ballantyne leaves finishing school and returns to the family home in Pittsburgh only to find that her parents are away on a long journey and her siblings don't seem to want her to stay. Determined to stand her ground and find her place in the world, Ellie fills her time by opening a day school for young ladies.

But when one of her students turns out to be an incorrigible young member of the Turlock family, Ellie knows she must walk a fine line. Slaveholders and whiskey magnates, the Turlocks are envious of the powerful Ballantynes and suspicious of their abolitionist leanings. As Ellie becomes increasingly entangled with the rival clan -- particularly the handsome Jack Turlock, she finds herself falling in love with an impossible future. Will she betray her family and side with the enemy?

Masterful storyteller Laura Frantz continues to unfold the stirring saga of the Ballantyne family in this majestic tale of love and loyalty. This is the Ballantyne Legacy.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Ross Poldark Blog Tour - UPDATE!

The blog tour celebrating the Poldark novels and miniseries may have ended, but the grand prize contest is still open! The grand prize (hosted by Sourcebooks) now includes a DVD copy of the new PBS series!


I'm turning off comments for this post and directing you to my entry in the blog tour, an excerpt from the first novel. You'll find all of the contest details there! Good luck!

Review: Love's Reckoning by Laura Frantz


Love's Reckoning (The Ballantyne Legacy #1)
By: Laura Frantz
Publisher: Revell
ISBN: 978-0-8007-2041-4

Review:

Eden Lee longs to make a fresh start in Philadelphia, to escape her father Liege's temper and her sister Elspeth's selfish machinations. Her fiery hair and family reputation mask a quiet spirit that hungers after God, desiring nothing more than the freedom to exercise her fledgling faith freely. But before she can make good on her dream of escape, her blacksmith father's new apprentice arrives, setting into motion plans of marriage and familial expectations that threaten to derail Eden's closely guarded dreams.

Silas Ballantyne has plans of his own to head west once his apprenticeship is finished, dreams he is determined shall not be thwarted by his contentious master or his tempting daughters. However, Silas finds himself irresistibly drawn to Eden's sweet spirit in defiance of Liege and Elspeth's determination to ensnare the talented blacksmith in a web of deceit. As love blossoms between Silas and Eden, fostered by whispered stairwell meetings and exchanged scraps of scripture, the long-latent embers of jealousy between Liege's daughters ignite. When all they hold dear is threatened, Silas and Eden are forced to decide if their faith and love is enough to withstand the heartache that would see their hoped-for future destroyed,

It has been far too long since I've lost myself within the pages of a Laura Frantz novel. Reading Love's Reckoning was akin to water falling on dry land, a balm to my soul sorely in need of Frantz's craftsmanship and heart. The first installment in a multi-generational family epic, Love's Reckoning is replete with Frantz's trademarks: carefully-crafted characters, a heart-rending love story, and a nearly tactile sense of time and a nearly tactile sense of time and place. Within these pages, late 18th-century Pennsylvania springs to life with color and depth. If a novel is her canvas, Frantz paints with the skill of a master.

Here Frantz blends shades of the Cinderella story with a familial and romance dynamic reminiscent of the biblical saga of Jacob, Esau, Rachel, and Laban. Eden is a classic Cinderella figure, the family drudge who still maintains her sweet spirit. In less capable hands, seeing the abuse she endures at the hands of family members could have made her seem weak. But instead, Eden is an intricately wrought portrait of one who chooses again and again the sacrifice of kindness and belief with no expectation of reward (much like the recent live-action version of Cinderella). 

While Silas is cast in the role of prince/redeemer, both he and Eden's character arcs are colored with shades of Jacob's story (with Elspeth cast alternately as Esau and Leah, in the most extreme forms of that character archetype). Their journey is a fight for an inheritance beyond what the eye can see -- a twin legacy of earthly and spiritual favor. Theirs is a story of lives the enemy to all believers would see destroyed (John 10:10), of potential unrealized and dreams unfulfilled. But in the pain of circumstance, those dreams, once surrendered and yielded to the God who first planted them within their hearts, blossom into a gorgeously wrought illustration of redemptive promise (Joel 2:25).

For those who crave realism in inspirational fiction or wonder if it even exists, they need look no further than here for one such example. While Love's Reckoning is everything I crave in historical romance -- research, depth, passion -- within these pages lies a tale of emotional abuse, a physical assault, and shattered dreams. Frantz never exploits the very real heartache her characters endure, but within the framework of their circumstances sketch a story of hope and redemption with compassion and sensitivity. 

Authors like Frantz are why I believe so strongly in the possibility of inspirational fiction. This is a wildly entertaining tale, yes, epic in its scope and intimate in its emotional reckoning, a sweeping saga in every sense that term implies. But more than that, Silas and Eden's story is one of hope and a faith at times no bigger than a grain of mustard seed, and the ability of that faith in action to transform and redeem the most broken among us.

About the book:

On a bitter December day in 1784, Silas Ballantyne arrives at the door of blacksmith Liege Lee in York County, Pennsylvania. Silas is determined to finish his apprenticeship quickly and move west. But because he is a fast worker and a superb craftsman, Liege endeavors to keep in in Lancaster by appealing to an old tradition: the apprentice shall marry one of his master's beautiful daughters.

Eden is as gentle and fresh as Elspeth is high-spirited and cunning. But are they truly who they appear to be? In a house laced with secrets, each sister seeks to secure her future. Which one will claim Silas's heart -- and will he agree to Liege's arrangement?

In this sweeping family saga, one man's choices in love and work, in friends and enemies, set the stage for generations to come, This is the Ballantyne Legacy.

Note to blog readers: I in no way, shape, or form expected to be posting a book review TWO DAYS after declaring a blog hiatus, but I finished this book and literally couldn't help myself. No promises going forward, but we'll see how things go. ;-)

Monday, August 3, 2015

hiatus

Hello, bloggers! As you might guess from the title of this post, this is making official what's been the state of the blog for the better part of a year (at least). I'm calling an official hiatus on book reviewing and regular blogging through the end of the year. Quite simply I don't currently have the time, and instead of being something I enjoy, the idea of reviewing in the long format I'm used to and love is right now more of a burden and stress, and who needs that, am I right? Also, I need to rediscover reading -- and processing my reaction to the written word -- afresh without the (self-imposed, I know...but the struggle of those self-imposed deadlines is real!) pressure of producing regular blog content.

I may still pop in from time to time, but any pretense of expecting to catch up or once again adopt a regular blogging schedule needs to be off the table for me mentally, for the time being at any rate.

I plan on still remaining active on Twitter and GoodReads, so if we haven't connected on those platforms please come find me! :) After all, just because I'm not blogging regularly doesn't mean I still won't want to talk about books or British television!! :)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

New Spectre Trailer!!

A new trailer for Spectre dropped yesterday and it is GLORIOUS.



Needless to say I cannot WAIT for my  James Bond/Daniel Craig fix come November. :)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Ant-Man


I had the chance to review Ant-Man, the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and you can read my thoughts at BreakPoint! I thought the movie was a lot of fun and Paul Rudd is, as per his norm, pretty delightful. ;-) If you've seen Ant-Man I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Once Upon a Time @ Comic-Con

Came back this afternoon to tons of fantastic spoilers about the upcoming fifth season of Once Upon a Time -- this Dark Swan storyline is going to be sooooo good!! Here's a few videos and links.

Comic-Con video - "The Dark Swan" - No new footage here, but Ginnifer Goodwin's narration tracing Emma's journey is absolutely heartbreaking.



First look at...MERIDA!! Can't wait! Also, a chilling video clip featuring the introduction of Dark Swan, in what looks to be Rumple's old Enchanted Forest jail cell...or very like it. I have to think Jennifer Morrison is going to enjoy the chance to play a dark Emma. Also, the black feathers in the promo? FAB work there.

TVLine has more info and spoilers from the panel.

And finally, this links to the video shown at the panel penned by Once-screenwriter Jane Espenson...and it is absolutely HILARIOUS.