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Mailbox Monday — September 29

Welcome to Mailbox Monday, the weekly meme where book lovers share the titles they received for review, purchased, or otherwise obtained over the past week. It is now being hosted at the Mailbox Monday blog.

Here’s what I added to the shelves over the past few weeks:

For review:

GI BridesGI Brides: The Wartime Girls Who Crossed the Atlantic for Love by Duncan Barrett & Nuala Calvi — from William Morrow

American soldiers stationed in the UK came away winning more than just a war, they also won the hearts of young women across Britain.  At the end of World War II, more than 70,000 GI brides followed the men they’d married — men they barely knew — to begin a new life in the United States.  Meet four of these women:

Sylvia Bradley, a loyal, bright-eyed optimist
Rae Brewer, a resourceful, quick-witted tomboy
Margaret Boyle, an English beauty who faced down every challenge
Gwendolyn Rowe, a brave woman ahead of her time

Though all made the bold choice to leave family and the world they knew, the journey each experienced was unique — ranging from romantic to heartbreaking.

Fascinating and unforgettable, GI Brides pays homage to these brave women, propelled by love and hope, who embarked on an adventure that would change their lives.  (publisher’s summary)

jane and the 12 days of christmasJane and the Twelve Days of Christmas by Stephanie Barron — from Soho Crime

Christmas Eve, 1814: Jane Austen has been invited to spend the holiday with family and friends at The Vyne, the gorgeous ancestral home of the wealthy and politically prominent Chute family.  As the year fades and friends begin to gather beneath the mistletoe for the twelve days of Christmas festivities, Jane and her circle are in a celebratory mood: Mansfield Park is selling nicely; Napoleon has been banished to Elba; British forces have seized Washington, D.C.; and on Christmas Eve, John Quincy Adams signs the Treaty of Ghent, which will end a war nobody in England really wanted.

Jane, however, discovers holiday cheer is fleeting.  One of the Yuletide revelers dies in a tragic accident which Jane immediately views with suspicion.  If the accident was in fact murder, the killer is one of Jane’s fellow snow-bound guests.  With clues scattered amidst cleverly crafted charades, dark secrets coming to light during parlor games, and old friendships returning to haunt the Christmas parties, whom can Jane trust to help her discover the truth and stop the killer from striking again?  (publisher’s summary)

hidden halosSophia’s War: Hidden Halos by Stephanie Baumgartner — from the author

November 1940:

In the months following her last correspondence with Adrian, Sophia finds herself tormented by her unrequited affections for him.  The only good that seems to come from any of it is how much easier life alongside Diedrich proves to be with Adrian gone…

But a few chance encounters with the man who was once her friend and the incessant longing in her heart for him only add to her affliction.  Disturbed by revelations of alarming deeds carried out by the Nazis, Sophia’s determination to stay in Germany begins to crumble.  Lives around her are in jeopardy, and as Adrian clings to his resolve to let her go, Sophia is forced to make a decision:

To entangle herself in the war or return home, both of which will bear consequences that are bound to change her fate forever. (publisher’s summary)

village of secretsVillage of Secrets: Defying the Nazis in Vichy France by Caroline Moorehead — from Harper

Le Chambon-sur-Lignon is a small village of scattered houses high in the mountains of the Ardèche, one of the most remote and inaccessible parts of eastern France.  During the Second World War, the inhabitants of this tiny mountain village and its parishes saved thousands wanted by the Gestapo: resisters, Freemasons, communists, OSS and SOE agents, and Jews.  Many of those they protected were orphaned children and babies whose parents had been deported to concentration camps.

With unprecedented access to newly opened archives in France, Britain, and Germany, and interviews with some of the villagers from the period who are still alive, Caroline Moorehead paints an inspiring portrait of courage and determination: of what was accomplished when a small group of people banded together to oppose their Nazi occupiers.  A thrilling and atmospheric tale of silence and complicity, Village of Secrets reveals how every one of the inhabitants of Chambon remained silent in a country infamous for collaboration.  Yet it is also a story of mythmaking, and the fallibility of memory.

A major contribution to WWII history, illustrated with black-and-white photos, Village of Secrets sets the record straight about the events in Chambon, and pays tribute to a group of heroic individuals, most of them women, for whom saving others became more important than their own lives.  (publisher’s summary)

first impressionsFirst Impressions by Charlie Lovett — from Viking

Could Jane Austen have stolen the plot of Pride and Prejudice?

That is exactly the question devoted Janeite Sophie Collingwood must answer in this beguiling, brilliantly imagined literary adventure by the New York Times bestselling author of The Bookman’s Tale.

In a small Hampshire village at the end of the eighteenth century, a young Jane Austen strikes up an unexpected friendship with an elderly clergyman named Richard Mansfield.  Consumed with writing her first novel, Jane finds in Mr. Mansfield — an author himself — a perceptive reader of her work and a pleasant companion for long walks through the green fields and narrow lanes near Steventon.

In present-day London, recent Oxford graduate Sophie Collingwood has just taken a job at an antiquarian bookshop when two different customers call on the same day seeking the very same rare eighteenth-century volume: the second edition of A Little Book of Allegories by Richard Mansfield.  Their queries draw Sophie into a mystery that will cast doubt on the true authorship of Pride and Prejudice — and ultimately threaten her life.  Working against the clock to uncover the truth, Sophie must also choose between two suitors: Winston Godfrey, a dashing and seductive publishing executive, and Eric Hall, a pushy American academic with whom she’s shared one stolen, unforgettable kiss.  Can she trust her first impressions?  Or might Sophie be putting her life in the wrong man’s hands?

Sure to delight bibliophiles and Jane Austen fans everywhere, First Impressions is a romantic, suspenseful, and utterly compelling novel about love in all its forms and the joys of a life lived in books.  (publisher’s summary)

Free ebooks:

gracieGracie (Women & War Book 1) by Ellie Keaton

London 1938 – Gracie Thompson has a job, a loving family, a twin brother who drives her insane and a great friend. A chance meeting introduces her to the love of her life. But the storm clouds are gathering, Europe is teetering on the verge of war and threatening to destroy everything Gracie holds dear. When war arrives, her family are split up, her lover is in daily danger and her life is threatened. Her father and boyfriend believe a woman’s place is in the home but she is equally determined to do her duty for King and Country.

She succeeds in her ambition to do her bit but at what cost? Will she ever see her twin again? And can she live with the knowledge her actions may have led to the loss of the one man she loves? Not only could he die, but he may do so believing she never loved him. Is she brave enough to pull the life she wants back from the abyss? (publisher’s summary)

the other girlThe Other Girl by Pam Jenoff

Life in rural Poland during WWII brings a new set of challenges to Maria, estranged from her own family and left alone with her in-laws after her husband is sent to the front. For a young, newly pregnant wife, the days are especially cold, the nights unexpectedly lonely. The discovery of a girl hiding in the barn changes everything—Hannah is fleeing the German police who are taking Jews like her to special camps. Ignoring the risk to her own life and that of her unborn child, Maria is compelled to help. But in these dark days, no one can be trusted, and soon Maria finds her courage tested in ways she never expected and herself facing truths about her own family that the quiet village has kept buried for years… (publisher’s summary)

What books did you add to your shelves recently?

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

my mother's secret

Source: Review copy from Berkley
Rating: ★★★★☆

We don’t dream of exotic trips or adventures anymore.

We dream of our old life, and of our routines.  We long to return to the world as we remembered it.

I see that my father closes his eyes when my mother works her visual magic.

He is soaking it all up, like I am.

(from My Mother’s Secret, page 126)

Quick summary: My Mother’s Secret is based on the true Holocaust story of two women, Franciszka Halamajowa and her daughter, Helena, who saved several Jews and a German soldier during World War II by hiding them in their home in Nazi-occupied Sokal, Poland (now part of Ukraine).  The soldier in the attic, the family in the loft above the pigsty, and the family in the cellar in the kitchen were unaware that Franciszka was hiding anyone besides them.  Franciszka and Helena hid them right under the Germans’ noses. The novel is told from the points of view of Helena, who must hide their secret from the man she loves, who is close to the German commander; Bronek, a ranch worker desperate to get his family out of the ghetto; Mikolaj, the young son of a Jewish doctor; and Vilheim, a pacifist who abandons the German army to avoid being sent to fight in Russia.

Why I wanted to read it: I was intrigued when I heard this was a Holocaust story with a happy ending, and I’d never before heard the courageous story of the Halamajowas.

What I liked: My Mother’s Secret is a novel that can be read in one sitting.  Its fast pace and simple prose keep the story lighter than most novels about the Holocaust, yet at the same time, author J.L. Witterick makes sure readers do not forget the dangers these characters faced at every turn.

What I disliked: The sparse prose means there is little character development, and the four viewpoints at times are indistinguishable, as they are all written in the same style and voice.  However, this did not detract from my enjoyment of the novel.  In fact, it’s quite the page-turner!

Final thoughts: My Mother’s Secret is a short novel that packs a punch despite its simple, direct prose, though at times I longed for more description and details.  However, Franciszka and Helena’s kindness, generosity, and bravery overshadow the novel’s flaws and make for a truly fascinating story.

war challenge with a twist

Book 20 for the War Challenge With a Twist (WWII)

historical fiction challenge

Book 21 for the Historical Fiction Challenge

Disclosure: I received My Mother’s Secret from Berkley for review.

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

another world instead

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★☆☆

This is what happens when a city is bombed:
Part of that city goes away into the sky,
And part of that city goes into the earth.
And that is what happens to the people when a city is bombed:
Part of them goes away into the sky,
And part of them goes away into the earth.
And what is left, for us, between the sky and the earth
is a scar.

(from “These Mornings,” Another World Instead, page 52)

Quick summary: These are Williams Stafford’s earliest poems, spanning the years 1937-1947.  Only a handful of these poems were published prior to this collection.  They were inspired by his experiences during World War II.  Stafford was a conscientious objector, which was a difficult stance to take during a popular war that many people deemed necessary and just.  Under penalty of law, Stafford was sent to work in a Civilian Public Service camp in Los Prietos, California, which he viewed as being exiled in his own country.

Why I wanted to read it: Another World Instead was our book club’s pick for May.  (Yes, I am very behind in writing up reviews, hence my new review format.)  Also, the editor of this collection, Fred Marchant, was my English professor back in the day at Suffolk University in Boston.

What I liked: The introduction by Fred Marchant is very informative, and without knowing Stafford’s background, it would be difficult to understand these poems.  I most enjoyed the poems that were about the war, particularly “These Mornings” (which I quoted above) and “The Sound: Summer 1945,” which compares the atomic bomb with a rattlesnake.

What I disliked: The third and last section of poems from 1946-1947 were my least favorite.  They were odd, particularly in comparison to the previous poems, and even numerous readings didn’t reveal any sort of meaning.  Also, there was a lot of nature imagery in this collection of poems, and while I love being out in nature, I’m not a huge fan of reading about it.  Maybe if I read the poems a few at a time, instead of all at once for the book club discussion, I would’ve enjoyed them more.

Final thoughts: I had mixed feelings after my first reading of Another World Instead, but I had a new appreciation for Stafford and these poems after our book club’s meeting with Fred Marchant via Skype.  Fred went into even greater detail about Stafford’s background, and we read aloud several poems chosen by him and members of the book club, and then delved deeper into them.  At some point, I’d like to read Stafford’s later and more popular poems, but it was interesting to read his first efforts in the genre.  Readers who give this collection a try will definitely want to read the introduction by Marchant first.

war challenge with a twist

Book 19 for the War Challenge With a Twist (WWII)

dive into poetry

Book 2 for Dive Into Poetry Challenge

Disclosure: Another World Instead: The Early Poems of William Stafford, 1937-1947 is from my personal library.

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

sketches of a black cat

Source: Review copy from author
Rating: ★★★★☆

The smoke covered hillside dimmed the flashes as our altitude increased.  Ahead, a last bursting shell fanned out in the clear smokeless sky like a brilliant American star to light our way.

(from Sketches of a Black Cat, page 94)

Quick summary: Sketches of a Black Cat is the World War II story of Howard Miner, a PBY pilot in the South Pacific.  His son, Ron Miner, found his artwork, journal entries, and other writings after his death and transformed them into this memoir, which chronicles Howard’s military training, service during WWII, and his life after the war.

Why I wanted to read it: I had never heard of the Black Cats, who flew at night in black seaplanes.  I also was curious about Howard Miner’s story and his artwork.

What I liked: The sketches and writings found by Ron Miner after his father’s death are a real treasure.  Sketches of a Black Cat not only shows his father’s evolution from student to soldier but also emphasizes Ron’s love and admiration for his father.  Howard Miner’s story is detailed, full of adventure and even humor.  The photos, sketches, and watercolors bring this memoir to life.

What I disliked: I wouldn’t say I really disliked anything in this book, but at times, it was too detailed for me.  The descriptions of the planes and their maneuvers, for instance, were not as interesting to me as the overall story.

Final thoughts: As fewer and fewer heroes from WWII remain to tell their stories, books like Sketches of a Black Cat take on greater importance, and the inclusion of original artwork make it one of the most unique WWII memoirs I’ve read so far.  I appreciate Ron Miner taking the time to reconstruct his father’s story, sharing it with the world and ensuring his father and his tales of courage during wartime will live forever within its pages.

war challenge with a twist

Book 18 for the War Challenge With a Twist (WWII)

Book 1 for the Nonfiction Reading Challenge

Book 1 for the Nonfiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I received Sketches of a Black Cat from the author for review.

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

monuments menFor the October readalong for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist at War Through the Generations, Serena and I are turning our attention to World War II, which began 75 years ago on Sept. 1, 1939.

As Hitler was attempting to conquer the Western world, his armies were methodically pillaging the finest art in Europe, from Michelangelos and da Vincis to van Eycks and Vermeers, all stolen for the Führer.

The Monuments Men had a mandate from President Roosevelt and the support of General Eisenhower, but no vehicles, gasoline, typewriters, or authority.  In a race against time to save the world’s greatest cultural treasures from destruction at the hands of Nazi fanatics, each man gathered scraps and hints to construct his own treasure map using records recovered from bombed cathedrals and museums, the notes and journals of Rose Valland, a French museum employee who secretly tracked Nazi plunder through the rail yards of Paris, and even a tip from a dentist during a root canal.

These unlikely heroes, mostly middle-aged family men, walked away from successful careers into the epicenter of the war, risking — and some losing — their lives.  Like other members of the Greatest Generation, they embodied the courageous spirit that enabled the best of humanity to defeat the worst.

This is their story.  (publisher’s summary)

Here’s the schedule for the discussions, which will be held on War Through the Generations:

Friday, Oct. 10: Chapters 1-14

Friday, Oct. 17: Chapters 15-28

Friday, Oct. 24: Chapters 29-42

Friday, Oct. 31: Chapters 43-the end

We hope you will read along with us, and even if you’ve already read the book, please feel free to join the discussion!

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

twelfth night at longbourn

Source: Review copy from author
Rating: ★★★★☆

She would be as these old mumpers — old and alone.  She would have to rely on the charity of her neighbors when no one else cared for her.

And it was all Lydia’s fault.

She flung herself headlong onto her bed.  The pillow muffled her wrenching sobs.  Such was the mumpers’ blessing.

(from Twelfth Night at Longbourn, pages 12-13)

Twelfth Night at Longbourn is Volume IV of Maria Grace’s Given Good Principles series, which are variations of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  To fully understand the world Grace has created with Austen’s beloved characters, readers should read the previous books — Darcy’s Decision, The Future Mrs. Darcy, and All the Appearance of Goodness — in order.

With the older Bennet sisters all happily married, Kitty is the only one to be shunned by their neighbors and contend with eventual spinsterhood as a result of their youngest sister Lydia’s elopement.  With Mrs. Bennet confined to bed with her nerves and Mr. Bennet in his own world as usual, Kitty is more isolated than ever, but when Elizabeth invites her to spend Twelfth Night at Pemberley, she jumps at the chance to socialize with people who will not judge her based on her sister’s actions.

Kitty is to spend Christmas in London with Georgiana Darcy before journeying to Pemberley, and while there, she renews her acquaintance with Mr. Bingley and his sister Louisa, who have problems of their own.  Kitty longs to become a more elegant, refined Catherine, but it is difficult to leave her old life behind, especially as Miss Darcy proves herself to be as silly and careless as Lydia.  It’s not long before her plans for the holiday are in ruins, and she will have to learn that Kitty is just as worthy as Catherine.

Grace has quickly become one of my favorite authors of Austen-inspired fiction.  Her love of Austen’s characters and the Regency era shine through in all of her novels, but Twelfth Night at Longbourn is special in that she brings Kitty Bennet to life.  Kitty blossoms within these pages, and it was easy to ignore the fact that Elizabeth and Darcy are relegated to the background.  Grace beautifully details Kitty’s transformation from a lonely girl to a strong woman unwavering in her loyalty to the people she loves and willing to forgive those who have hurt her.

I may not have particularly liked Grace’s portrayal of Georgiana, but making her less shy and more exuberant helps one to understand how she could have been fooled by Mr. Wickham.  My dislike of Georgiana was easily forgotten by how much I enjoyed spending time with the Bingleys and the Gardiners.  Twelfth Night at Longbourn wraps up the series perfectly, leaving readers in no doubt of what happens to all of the characters and satisfied with the outcome, even though the couples were paired differently.  Even so, I would love for Grace to revisit the characters as she portrayed them here and show us how they fared years down the road.

Disclosure: I received Twelfth Night at Longbourn from the author for review.

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

all the appearance of goodness

Source: Review copy from author
Rating: ★★★★☆

“Did you enjoy your share of my father’s raspberries, sir?” she asked softly, eyes on her sisters.

“Of what do you accuse me, Miss Elizabeth?”  He glanced at her.  One corner of his lips drew up.

“The last time I saw you, you sported drops of berry juice on your fingers and on your chin.  I fear you are a most ineffective thief.”  She arched an eyebrow.

(from All the Appearance of Goodness, page 38)

All the Appearance of Goodness is Volume III in Maria Grace’s Given Good Principles series of Pride and Prejudice variations.  The series began with Darcy’s Decision, in which a young Fitzwilliam Darcy comes to terms with his responsibilities as master of Pemberley, and The Future Mrs. Darcy, in which Elizabeth Bennet must take control of the household and rein in her foolish little sister Lydia before she ruins the Bennet family’s reputation.  In this installment, Darcy and Elizabeth finally cross paths, as he accompanies Mr. Bingley to Netherfield Park.

With his vicar and trusted advisor Mr. Bradley at his side, Darcy hopes his time in the country will allow him to practice his social skills, but he is caught off guard when he gets lost on the Bennet’s property and encounters a lively Elizabeth.  It’s not long before the Bennet sisters have befriended Darcy, Bingley, and Bingley’s sister Louisa, and Jane Bennet immediately catches the eye of Darcy’s cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam.  But things become chaotic as the Bennets begin to plan Mary’s wedding, Caroline Bingley arrives with an arrogance and outspokenness that would give Lady Catherine a run for her money, and Mr. Collins comes to check out the estate he will one day inherit and immediately sets his sights on Elizabeth.

Mr. Collins has good looks and good manners, and Darcy soon realizes he has some competition in his quest to win Elizabeth’s affections.  It soon becomes apparent that Mr. Collins may not be what he seems, but Darcy’s inability to express his thoughts and feelings doesn’t do much to help his cause either.  A confused Elizabeth is forced to determine which man has all the goodness and which only has the appearance of it.

All the Appearance of Goodness was so different and so exciting that after two cups of tea, I was already more than halfway through the book, and I dismissed my plans for the rest of the day because I just had to see how it all played out.  Watching Mr. Darcy and Mr. Collins try to outdo one another was amusing at first, but I was surprised (and delighted, of course) when the story took a more sinister turn.  I loved that Louisa Bingley was so likeable and Caroline Bingley much more despicable in this variation, and their confrontation is an absolute must-read.  I found it a little odd that Bingley, as amiable as ever, was relegated to the background and spent most of his time with Kitty and Lydia, but it worked here.  But mostly I enjoyed having no idea how the expected happily ever after would be achieved.

Maria Grace has a knack for shaking things up in her variations, as evidenced by her latest novel, Remember the Past (which I loved).  I don’t know why it took me so long to continue this series, but I’m so glad I did.  There is a lot that happens in the first two volumes that shape Grace’s versions of Darcy and Elizabeth, so readers will want to read them before picking up All the Appearance of Goodness.  From Grace’s original characters like Mr. Bradley to her portrayal of characters we already love to hate, All the Appearance of Goodness was a pure delight.  I immediately picked up the next book in the series, Twelfth Night at Longbourn, so stay tuned for my review.

Disclosure: I received All the Appearance of Goodness from the author for review.

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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