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Posts Tagged ‘book reviews’

the subsequent proposal

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

The fact that she had seen fit to accept him did bring a measure of surprise, particularly in view of her stilted disclosures about her broken heart — but also brought some sort of mild contentment, at the full knowledge that, in Miss Elliot’s kind and capable hands, Georgiana’s future would be safe and well guarded.

And so was Pemberley’s.  And perhaps his own.

(from The Subsequent Proposal, page 23)

Quick summary: In The Subsequent Proposal, Joana Starnes deftly brings together characters from two of Jane Austen’s novels: Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion.  Reeling from his rejection at the hands of Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Darcy meets Anne Elliot through his Fitzwilliam relations, and they forge a bond based on friendship and their mutual understanding of lost love and heartache.  Mr. Darcy sees how Anne is treated by her family and vows to give her a better life, even if he can never give her his heart.  After Anne accepts his proposal, Mr. Darcy must go to Hertfordshire in support of his best friend.  When he finds that Elizabeth has caught the eye of a certain naval captain, he begins to rethink the decisions he made in the midst of his pain.

Why I wanted to read it: I wanted to see how the characters from two of my all-time favorite novels would interact with one another.

What I liked: Starnes tells the story through Darcy’s eyes, and she does an excellent job showing the roller coaster of emotions he rode after Elizabeth spurned his insulting marriage proposal.  Readers see the depth of his love and his despair at the thought of her not being in his life.  I loved watching Darcy and Captain Wentworth — two of my favorite literary heroes — in a competition of sorts.  But most of all, I loved that Starnes created a world where I could accept that Darcy and Anne would make a sensible match, even if she lacks Elizabeth’s liveliness and wit.

What I disliked: I honestly didn’t find anything to dislike in this novel, but at times I wished I could’ve seen some of the events through the eyes of Captain Wentworth.

Final thoughts: The Subsequent Proposal makes it seem as though the characters of Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion were meant to be together.  I love it when Austen-inspired fiction shakes things up a bit, and Starnes certainly does that!  I enjoyed the many sides of Darcy that she presents throughout the novel, and I was delighted to see him go toe-to-toe with Captain Wentworth, Sir Walter Elliot, and Lady Russell.  This was the first novel by Starnes that I’ve read, but it definitely won’t be the last!

Disclosure: I received The Subsequent Proposal 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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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shopaholic to the stars

Source: Borrowed from library
Rating: ★★★☆☆

When Luke said he was going to work with Sage Seymour and we were going to move to Hollywood, I thought we’d be seeing her every day. I thought we’d be hanging out by her pink pool in matching sunglasses and going for mani-pedis together. But even Luke hardly seems to see her; he just has meetings with managers and agents and producers all day long. … When I got a tiny bit frustrated the other day, he said, “For God’s sake, Becky, we’re not making this huge move just to meet celebrities.” He said “celebrities” like he was saying “earwigs.” He understands nothing.

(from Shopaholic to the Stars, pages 10-11)

Quick summary: In the 7th installment of the Shopaholic series, Sophie Kinsella brings back Becky Brandon (née Bloomwood), this time moving her, husband Luke, and two-year-old daughter Minnie from London to Los Angeles, where Luke is doing PR work for actress Sage Seymour. Becky hopes to use her experience as a personal shopper to become a stylist for A-list celebrities, and of course, she gets caught up in the Hollywood lifestyle, from classes at a new age spa/rehab center to sneaking onto the red carpet. When she gets embroiled in a feud between Sage and her rival, Becky becomes obsessed with being famous, pushing her relationships to the breaking point.

Why I wanted to read it: I read the other 6 books in the series.

What I liked: Shopaholic to the Stars offers plenty of laughs, as in true Becky fashion, she constantly makes a fool of herself. Hollywood is the perfect setting for Becky’s excesses and antics.

What I disliked: I felt that the series started losing steam with the last book, Mini Shopaholic, and this newest installment did little to change that feeling. Even while I laughed at Becky, I couldn’t help but think that the character has become pretty sad and even flat. From book to book, Becky doesn’t change; she doesn’t learn from her past mistakes and is easily swept up in the moment. At close to 500 pages, Shopaholic to the Stars became a bit of a chore to finish, mainly because Becky and her lack of character development started to grate on my nerves. I would’ve liked for Luke to have taken on a bigger role in this story, but his character fell flat for me, too, and I couldn’t remember why I liked him so much in the earlier books. Most of all, given the length of the book, I felt cheated in that one of the big plot lines was left unresolved, simply as a means of continuing the series. I don’t mind a segue into the next installment, but for the first time in this series, the ending was so unsatisfying.

Final thoughts: Overall, I was able to enjoy Shopaholic to the Stars for what it was: a humorous book that didn’t require me to think too much (which was a major plus because I’m still recovering from a bad cold and couldn’t focus on a book with more substance). I can’t help but like Becky; I just didn’t like her as much this time around. I’ll probably read the next book in the series because I want to find out how that dangling plot thread is eventually tied up. I just hope this installment marks a turning point for Becky and that there is some evolution in the character by the time we meet again.

Disclosure: I borrowed Shopaholic to the Stars from the public library.

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

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