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to refine like silver

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

Mr. Darcy tried to hold it back, but he knew he could not keep a straight face for long.  “Something tells me you have a lot to say on just about any subject, madam.  I gather your tongue has less restraint than a child with a farthing in his pocket in a sweet shop.”

“Are you calling me impertinent?”

“Does it rain in England in November?”

(from To Refine Like Silver, pages 39-40)

Quick summary: To Refine Like Silver is a retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice that is among the most unique variations I have read so far.  Elizabeth Bennet meets Fitzwilliam Darcy and his sister, Georgiana, in Derbyshire while helping her Uncle and Aunt Gardiner settle into their new estate.  Elizabeth recognizes that the light has gone out of Georgiana’s eyes, and she vows to help her overcome the pain of what happened to her at Ramsgate.  In Jeanna Ellsworth’s retelling, the pain in Elizabeth’s own past is a huge obstacle to her happiness with Mr. Darcy, but Elizabeth is a survivor, and in sharing her faith with the Darcys, she helps them understand what it means to trust in God and how one’s trials refine, not define, them.

Why I wanted to read it:  I enjoyed Ellsworth’s previous Pride and Prejudice variations, Mr. Darcy’s Promise and Pride and Persistence, so even though I don’t read much Christian fiction, I was curious how she would shake things up this time.

What I liked: Ellsworth really poured her heart out into this novel, sharing with readers through Austen’s beloved characters how she was able to emerge from depression.  There is much grief and anger in this story, but the banter between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy keeps it from being too heavy.  Ellsworth takes several characters on different journeys in this variation, including Elizabeth, Darcy, and Georgiana, of course, but also Mrs. Bennet, Caroline Bingley, and Mr. Wickham.  Because Ellsworth really alters the storyline, I had no idea how the characters would get to the obvious happily ever after, so it was easy to get lost in this book.  I also liked Ellsworth’s take on Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, making them more playful with one another (the frog-catching scene was hilarious), and she makes Mrs. Bennet and Miss Bingley even nastier than in the original, which certainly creates some tension (and made me want to throttle them).

What I disliked: The religious aspect of the book generally comes out through the characters’ actions and conversations with one another, but there were times I felt that it was a bit overdone.  However, I had no problem overlooking this because it made sense in the context of the characters’ spiritual journeys, and the plot changes were so interesting.

Final thoughts: To Refine Like Silver is a story of surviving the worst that life throws at us, feeling the pain but not letting it consume us, trusting that happiness and joy will come again, and learning to forgive (but not forget) in order to find peace within ourselves.  Regardless of one’s faith, I think the words of wisdom from Elizabeth’s prayer journal could be helpful to all.  Ellsworth’s novels always bring a smile to my face, and her Pride and Prejudice variations are both refreshing and romantic.

Disclosure: I received To Refine Like Silver 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.

Mailbox Monday — November 17

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 couple of weeks:

For review:

boots & backpacksBoots & Backpacks by K.C. Kahler — from Meryton Press

William Darcy counts down the last few months to his 30th birthday with dread.  Orphaned as a child, his parents’ will includes a bizarre clause:  Darcy must get married by his 30th birthday in order to inherit the family fortune.  To make matters worse, the press knows about this deadline, as do the hordes of women chasing him in the hopes of becoming Mrs. Darcy.  His family legacy hangs in the balance, but Darcy has little faith in the fairer sex.  Will he find a woman he wants to marry, and quickly?

Elizabeth Bennet is determined to pursue her education and career without letting a man get in the way.  When her traveling companion drops out, her planned hike on the Appalachian Trail is jeopardized.  She meets the spoiled, snobby William Darcy just when he is desperate to escape the spotlight.  No one will suspect that the Prince of Manhattan has gone backpacking!  Darcy and Elizabeth form a tenuous partnership and begin a 300-mile journey that will transform them both.

In classic romantic comedy tradition, Boots & Backpacks follows our reluctant partners as they build trust, friendship, and even more.  Six weeks together on America’s most famous hiking trail may turn out to be just what these two need!  (publisher’s summary)

into the savage countryInto the Savage Country by Shannon Burke — from Pantheon

When young William Wyeth leaves St. Louis on a fur-trapping expedition, he nearly loses his life and quickly discovers the depth of loyalty among the men who must depend on one another to survive.  While convalescing, he falls in love with the proud Alene, a widow who may or may not wait for him.  And on a wildly risky expedition into Crow territory, Wyeth finds himself unwittingly in the center of a deadly boundary dispute among Native American tribes, the British government, and American trapping brigades.  A classic adventure told with great suspense and literary flair, Into the Savage Country illuminates the ways in which extreme circumstances expose the truth about the natures of individual men and the surprising mechanics of their bravery, loyalty, and friendship.  (publisher’s summary)

mr. darcy's challengeMr. Darcy’s Challenge by Monica Fairview — from the author

Darcy dreams of winning Elizabeth Bennet’s hand, and he has a strategy worked out. But when a chance encounter prompts Darcy to propose to Elizabeth before he has rescued Lydia, his plans go horribly awry.

Broken hearted, disillusioned and bitterly regretting his impulsive action, Darcy sees no point in fulfilling the terms of his pledge. After all, rescuing Lydia might save Elizabeth’s reputation, but why should he assist her when they have no future together? Once again, Darcy finds himself faced with impossible choices: being selfless, even knowing there is no chance of reward; or holding onto his dignity by turning his back on the Bennets once and for all.

Pride and love are at loggerheads as he struggles to choose between his mind…and his heart. (publisher’s summary)

Gift:

becoming mrs. norris“Becoming Mrs. Norris” by Alexa Adams — from the author

**I edited this short prequel to Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, which Alexa Adams released as part of her Twisted Austen Halloween event.**

Fanny Price’s Aunt Norris is one of the most despised characters Jane Austen ever created, but how did she become so repulsive? “Becoming Mrs. Norris” explores the events that occurred before Mansfield Park, when Sir Thomas Bertram was courting Miss Maria Ward. This “Twisted Austen” tale was written in honor of Halloween and was first published serially on the author’s blog, alexaadams.blogspot.com.  (publisher’s summary)

Free e-books:

only a novelOnly a Novel: The Double Life of Jane Austen by Jane Aiken Hodge

In her lifetime, Jane Austen did her best to conform to the conventions of her day, and after her death the family touched up the picture. But the real Jane Austen, who started as author at twelve years old, was something very different.

What depths of intellectual and moral despair must she have plumbed before she achieved the extraordinary moral vision that has been compared, with justice, to Chaucer’s? It was a fortunate thing for her family that the highly polished surface of the six novels, their sheer artistry concealing tension, makes it easy to miss the depth and bitterness of what they are often saying. We must look for real evidence about her character not in the censored reminiscences of Victorian relatives, but in the books and the letters themselves.

Jane Aiken Hodge has gone deeply into the novelist’s own writings, family and contemporary records to produce a new picture of this enigmatic figure who did so much to revive the English novel at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Jane Austen appears at once as a very warm and human figure (the “dear Aunt Jane” of the Victorians), and as a baffling one. Did she, in fact, suffer what we should call a nervous breakdown in her silent, middle years? And was she content with her publishers, and with the comparatively modest earnings of her novels?

Hodge does not pretend to provide final answers to these and other fascinating questions, but she is meticulous in giving the facts on which readers can base their own conclusions. This is a book for those who have always loved Jane Austen, and for those who would like to know more about her. (publisher’s summary)

the mind's eyeThe Mind’s Eye by K.C. Finn

A girl with a telepathic gift finds a boy clinging to his last hope during the war-torn climate of Europe, 1940.

At fifteen, Kit Cavendish is one the oldest evacuees to escape London at the start of the Second World War due to a long term illness that sees her stuck in a wheelchair most of the time. But Kit has an extraordinary psychic power: she can put herself into the minds of others, see through their eyes, feel their emotions, even talk to them — though she dares not speak out for fear of her secret ability being exposed.

As Kit settles into her new life in the North Wales village of Bryn Eira Bach, solitude and curiosity encourage her to gain better control of her gift. Until one day her search for information on the developing war leads her to the mind of Henri, a seventeen-year-old Norwegian boy witnessing the German occupation of his beloved city, Oslo. As Henri discovers more about the English girl occupying his mind, the psychic and emotional bonds between them strengthen and Kit guides him through an oppressive and dangerous time.

There are secrets to be uncovered, both at home and abroad, and it’s up to Kit and Henri to come together and fight their own battles in the depths of the world’s greatest war. (publisher’s summary)

the obituary societyThe Obituary Society by Jessica L. Randall

When Lila Moore inherits her grandfather’s house, she finds herself in a small Midwestern town where margarine is never an acceptable substitution for butter, a coveted family recipe can serve as currency, and the friend who will take your darkest secrets to the grave will still never give you the secret to her prize-winning begonias.

Lila is charmed by the people of Auburn, from the blue-eyed lawyer with the southern drawl to the little old lady who unceasingly tries to set Lila up with her grandson. But when strange things begin to happen, Lila realizes some of her new friends are guarding a secret like it’s a precious family heirloom. It’s a dangerous secret, and it has come back to haunt them. Lila is caught in the middle, and her life may depend on uncovering it. But even if she can, can she stay in Auburn when not everyone is what they seem, and even the house wants her gone? (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.

going after cacciatoFor the December readalong for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist at War Through the Generations, Serena and I are turning our attention to Vietnam.  Tim O’Brien always comes to mind when I think about books about the Vietnam War, and I can’t wait to finally read the copy of Going After Cacciato that has been sitting on my shelf for too long.

“To call Going After Cacciato a novel about war is like calling Moby-Dick a novel about whales.”

So wrote the New York Times of Tim O’Brien’s now classic novel of Vietnam.  Winner of the 1979 National Book Award, Going After Cacciato captures the peculiar mixture of horror and hallucination that marked this strangest of wars.  In a blend of reality and fantasy, this novel tells the story of a young soldier who one day lays down his rifle and sets off on a quixotic journey from the jungles of Indochina to the streets of Paris.  In its memorable evocation of men both fleeing from and meeting the demands of battle, Going After Cacciato stands as much more than just a great war novel.  Ultimately it’s about the forces of fear and heroism that do battle in the hearts of us all.  (publisher’s summary)

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

Friday, Dec. 12: Chapters 1-24

Friday, Dec. 19: Chapters 24-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.

the other girl

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★☆

Her mother had sensed her uneasiness the night before the wedding. “Love grows,” she’d offered unbidden as Maria had packed for her new home.  But with whom? she had wanted to ask, thinking of the stack of letters she had found years earlier buried deep in her mother’s cedar chest.  They had been written in a flowing script that was not her father’s and they had spoken words of love to her mother, painting a picture of a vibrant and adored woman Maria did not quite know.

(from “The Other Girl”)

Quick summary: “The Other Girl” is a companion novella (though I would argue that it’s more of a short story) to Pam Jenoff’s latest novel, The Winter Guest.  Set in a small Polish village called Biekowice in 1940 during the Nazi occupation, it focuses on Maria, who married the ex-boyfriend of Ruth Nowak, one of the main characters in The Winter Guest.  Maria has severed ties with her father, a Nazi collaborator, and lives with Piotr’s parents while he is off fighting the war.  When she finds Hannah hiding in the barn, Maria must summon her courage, find someone she can trust, and at least try to save the scared little girl from both the horrors of home and war.

Why I wanted to read it: I am a big fan of Pam Jenoff, and The Winter Guest is one of my favorite books of the year so far.

What I liked: Jenoff briefly introduces Maria in The Winter Guest, and I enjoyed getting to know her a little better through this companion story.  Biekowice is a small village, and the Nazi occupation has its residents living in hunger and fear, and I was curious about how the other villagers were coping.  In so few pages, Jenoff manages to create a well-developed character in Maria.

What I disliked: It was too short!  I was so involved in Maria’s story that I was sad when it ended.  There is so much in Maria’s story left to tell, and I hope Jenoff considers fleshing out her wartime experiences in a sequel to The Winter Guest.

Final thoughts: I think it helped that I read The Winter Guest first; if I would have started with “The Other Girl,” I might’ve been slightly disappointed that The Winter Guest doesn’t finish Maria’s story.  The Winter Guest really sets the scene, so readers understand what is going on in the village and the surrounding area, giving a sense of urgency and danger to Maria’s story.  It is not necessary to read “The Other Girl” after The Winter Guest, but if you love the novel as much as I did, the companion story is definitely worth checking out.

war challenge with a twist

Book 26 for the War Challenge With a Twist (WWII)

historical fiction challenge

Book 24 for the Historical Fiction Challenge

Disclosure: “The Other Girl” 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.

a tender moment

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

Elizabeth approached the couple and directed her ire towards the gentleman.  “How dare you speak so callously about my mother?  You know nothing about her!”

Standing there with an air that proved him wholly unmoved by any feeling of remorse, Darcy said, “I know enough about her to know that she failed to teach you proper decorum.  How dare you remark on a conversation clearly not intended for your hearing?”

(from “A Tender Moment”)

Quick summary: “A Tender Moment” is the third installment in P.O. Dixon’s Darcy & Elizabeth Short Stories series of standalone Pride and Prejudice variations.  This particular story is set at the party at Lucas Lodge, where Elizabeth Bennet overhears Mr. Darcy make a rude comment about her mother to Caroline Bingley.  Elizabeth immediately confronts him, and a heated argument ensues.  After being fiercely scolded, Darcy takes stock of his feelings for Elizabeth, how she continually misunderstands him and how it is possible that he really has been ungentlemanly toward her.  When Darcy overhears her speaking of her dislike of him, he is more determined than ever to set things right.

Why I wanted to read it:  I wanted to read it for the Pride and Prejudice connection, of course, but I’ve been so pressed for time lately that I also was in the mood for something that could be read in one sitting.  I also enjoyed Dixon’s A Lasting Love Affair, and I wanted to read more of her work.

What I liked: “A Tender Moment” is a sweet story about misunderstandings and new beginnings.  Dixon lets readers into the minds of Darcy and Elizabeth, putting on display their uncertainties, their misconceptions, their desire and willingness to change, the stirrings of attraction, and the promise of something more.  The story is a just a moment in a bigger story — just enough to satisfy readers’ desire to catch up with Elizabeth and Darcy without the commitment of a novel.

What I disliked: There was little description; it was mostly internal dialogue.  However, I was able to overlook that because “A Tender Moment” is meant to be just that: one moment between Elizabeth and Darcy, a turning point of sorts.  Still, it felt like it ended just as the story was beginning.

Final thoughts: “A Tender Moment” is a worthwhile read for fans of Austen variations who are looking for something short and sweet, a story to distract them for a half hour or so.

Disclosure: I received “A Tender Moment” 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.

village of secrets

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

As ever, the truth, inasmuch as it can be established 70 years after the event, is considerably more interesting.  The myth has much diminished reality.  It has also given rise to an unceasing flow of feuds, jealousies, backbiting, calumnies, hearsay, claims and counterclaims and prejudice, pitting Catholics against Protestants, armed resisters against pacifists, civilians against Maquisards, believers against agnostics, those who seek glory against those who wish to remain silent. … What actually took place on the plateau of the Vivarais-Lignon during the grey and terrifying years of German occupation and Vichy rule is indeed about courage, faith and morality.  But it is also about the fallibility of memory.

(from Village of Secrets)

Quick summary: In Village of Secrets, Caroline Moorehead provides a detailed account of how a small village in the mountains of eastern France saved thousands of people — including Jews and OSS and SOE agents — during World War II.  Le Chambon-sur-Lignon is just one village on the plateau of Vivarais-Lignon who hid these people right under the noses of the Germans and the French collaborators.  Moorehead describes the history of the plateau, including the religious battles that paved the way for resistance over the centuries, and how its geography helped in their efforts.  Most importantly, Moorehead compares the myth of Le Chambon to the truth of what actually happened, based on interviews with the rescuers, those who were rescued, and relatives of both, as well as unpublished letters, journals, and other sources.

Why I wanted to read it: I’m always interested in stories of courage and resistance during World War II, and I was especially intrigued by this book’s focus on mythmaking and the fallibility of memory.

What I liked: Moorehead goes into a lot of detail about the villagers, from the pastors to the farmers to those operating children’s homes, and individual stories of those in need of sanctuary.  She spends a lot of time building the story, with background information about the Vichy regime, the French internment camps, and the religious history of the region, which was important in what played out on the plateau.  Moorehead also provides a lot of information about what happened in the years after the war, from following up with the principal actors to how the events were portrayed in the media, and discusses the gray areas where the truth likely can be found.

What I disliked: Sometimes, there was almost too much information.  There were small sections here and there that were a bit dry, but it was easy to read beyond them to get back to the meat of the story.  Even when I was a little bored with the information (like the details going back to the 1600s), I could see why those details were important.  Because there were so many people involved in the events, it was hard to keep track of everyone and the time line, but I just tried to go with the flow, and in the end, it didn’t prevent me from following or being fascinated with the story.  Also, there were French phrases used here and there, and they weren’t always translated, which bothered me because I don’t speak or read French, but again, that’s a minor quibble.

Final thoughts: Village of Secrets is a fascinating story about a French village whose inhabitants were willing to risk everything to save thousands of people, especially children.  Moorehead delves deep into the region’s history before, during, and after the war to provide a balanced view of events.  The book brings to light the true number of villages and rescuers involved and how many people were saved, underscores how people exalted for their goodness were really less so, and how the reality was distorted and became a legend over time.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on the tour for Village of Secrets.  To follow the tour, click here.

war challenge with a twist

Book 25 for the War Challenge With a Twist (WWII)

Book 1 for the Nonfiction Reading Challenge

Book 3 for the Nonfiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I received Village of Secrets from Harper for review.

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

if i stay

Source: Borrowed from my daughter
Rating: ★★★☆☆

I have had nightmares before — falling nightmares, playing-a-cello-recital-without-knowing-the-music nightmares, breakup-with-Adam nightmares — but I have always been able to command myself to open my eyes, to lift my head from the pillow, to halt the horror movie playing behind my closed lids.  I try again.  Wake up! I scream.  Wake up!  Wakeupwakeupwakeup!  But I can’t.  I don’t.

(from If I Stay, page 18)

Quick summary: 17-year-old Mia’s life hangs in the balance after a family outing on a snow day turns into a tragedy.  While Mia decides her future, she takes readers back in time, recalling her family’s strong bond and love of music, her love affair with the cello and her hopes for Julliard, and her complicated relationship with her up-and-coming rock star boyfriend, Adam.

Why I wanted to read it: My 14-year-old daughter liked it and wanted me to read it so we could eventually see the movie together.  (We decided to wait for the DVD, so we haven’t seen it yet.)

What I liked: If I Stay is a beautifully written novel.  I loved that Gayle Forman doesn’t sugar-coat the horrible decision Mia must make, and she manages to pack an emotional punch without being melodramatic.

What I disliked: I didn’t really connect with any of the characters.  I felt sad for Mia, but I honestly didn’t care which choice she made.  I didn’t understand her attraction to Adam, either.  There wasn’t anything really wrong with him; he just didn’t “wow” me.  Also, I found a certain romantic scene to be more silly than passionate.  I thought maybe my ho-hum attitude toward Mia and Adam might be because I’m not the intended audience for a young adult novel, but my daughter told me she felt the same way about their relationship, though she liked the book more than I did overall.  I was drawn more to the relationship between Mia and her parents, and that aspect of the story is what pulled at my heart.

Final thoughts: I liked If I Stay for the most part.  I read it in one sitting, and it did give me a lot to ponder even if I wasn’t fully invested in Mia and Adam’s love story.  However, my daughter wasn’t too impressed by the sequel, Where She Went, even going as far as telling me that it wasn’t necessary.  Since I felt satisfied with the ending of If I Stay, I think I’ll take her advice and skip it.

Disclosure: I borrowed If I Stay from my daughter.

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

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