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syrie james headshotPlease welcome Syrie James, author of Jane Austen’s First Love! Don’t forget to enter the giveaway below!

by Syrie James

I’ve heard it said that we are all a product of our environment. I’ve also heard that we’re a product of our experiences, our thoughts, our decisions, our past. I would argue that all of the above are true, and that in turn we’re the product of yet another element that affects everything cited above: the books we read.

I love nothing better than to curl up with a good novel! I believe that we’re all influenced in one way or another by the books we read. Here are five books that have had a great and lasting impact on my life:

The Secret Garden

When I was seven years old, I moved with my family to France where we lived for two years. It was an incredible and eye-opening educational experience to live overseas as a young girl, but I remember my father was worried that weren’t enough books in English for me to read. One day he came back from a business trip to London with a box full of books—a veritable treasure trove of reading delight that included, among other things, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I devoured that book, on the edge of my seat the whole time. The language and story were so much more complex and sophisticated that any of the other children’s books I’d read to date. It was as if a door had been opened to me, revealing a glimpse of a whole new world of grown-up reading.

Call it Courage

One of my sixth grade class projects was to adapt the award-winning book Call it Courage by Armstrong Sperry into a play, which we then performed for the rest of the school. It was so exciting to work on that adaptation, to see the printed words from a novel come to life on the stage! I knew at that moment that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up.

Jane Eyre

I don’t remember how the book came into my possession, but at age eleven I read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, and loved it. (I still have that same tattered paperback copy on my shelf.) Like The Secret Garden, it was about an orphan girl who goes to live in a great English manor home with hidden secrets—but this time the heroine was a young woman of nineteen! And there was a passionate love story! I was entranced, shocked, and thrilled. Someday, I vowed, I would write a novel like that—a romantic story that kept readers up turning pages well past their bedtime.

The Lord of the Rings

I was in high school when I read The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien and the trilogy that followed. Here was an amazing imaginary world that was so thoroughly thought out and presented with such detail and respect that it felt absolutely real. I loved Gandalf so much that (*spoiler alert!) when he was defeated by the Balrog, I was absolutely heartbroken. I threw the book down, sobbing, and told my father, “I hate this book! Why did you ever tell me to read it? How could they let Gandalf die?!” My dad just gave me a pointed, knowing look and said, “Read on.” I’ll never forget that moment. I gasped with hope, ran back and picked up the novel, and kept reading. It taught me two lessons that have stayed with me: (1) it is a gift when a writer can evoke that kind of emotion from a reader, and (2) the story is never over…until it’s over.

The Windflower

I’ve read a lot of romance novels over the years, but my all-time favorite is The Windflower by Laura London (the pen name for the husband and wife writing team Tom and Sharon Curtis). I think it’s the best historical romantic ever written. It’s a rip-roaring romantic adventure about a young lady who’s kidnapped in error during the war of 1812 and taken aboard a pirate ship, where she’s the captive of a gorgeous blonde pirate who’s—well, I won’t give away any more, but suffice it to say that although composed in the heyday of the bodice rippers, the characters (and supporting characters) are all so well written that they will live on in your memory, the plot is exciting, and the sexual tension incredible. Today, whenever I write a love scene, I think of the way it was handled in The Windflower.

Pride and Prejudice

I first read Pride and Prejudice in college, but Jane Austen didn’t captivate me in a big way until years later when I saw the A&E film version, which sent me running back to read all her novels. Jane Austen was a brilliant craftsman who created unforgettable characters and stories at a time when it was very uncommon for women to write anything, much less novels. She inspired me to follow my dream and become an author. Since then, Jane Austen has more or less taken over my life. Her life and work continue to influence me every day. I’ve written three Austen novels now including my latest, Jane Austen’s First Love, and I am thrilled when readers tell me that reading one of my novels is almost like reading a book written by Jane Austen herself!

Readers: what are some of the books that have changed your life? I look forward to your comments!

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jafl grand prizeGrand Giveaway Contest

Win One of Five Fabulous Jane Austen-inspired Prize Packages

To celebrate the holidays and the release of Jane Austen’s First Love, Syrie is giving away five prize packages filled with an amazing selection of Jane Austen-inspired gifts and books!

To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on any of the blog stops on the Jane Austen’s First Love Holiday Blog Tour.

Increase your chances of winning by visiting multiple stops along the tour! Syrie’s unique guest posts will be featured on a variety of subjects, along with fun interviews, spotlights, excerpts, and reviews of the novel. Contest closes at 11:59pm PT, December 21, 2014. Five lucky winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments on the tour, and announced on Syrie’s website on December 22, 2014. The giveaway contest is open to everyone, including international residents. Good luck to all!