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the sea garden

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

In some ways they were all the same now.  So many people stumbling around in the dark, just as she was.  All across Europe there were secret roads along which men and women were moving, some towards safety, others farther into darkness.  One false step.  Lives in the balance.  So much unknown.

(from The Sea Garden, page 128)

Deborah Lawrenson’s new novel The Sea Garden beautifully weaves together three stories of love and loss during wartime, with a focus on British intelligence and French resistance activities during World War II.  The novel begins with “The Sea Garden,” a story set in the present on the Mediterranean island of Porquerolles that focuses on British landscape designer Ellie Brooke, who was hired to restore a memorial garden at the Domaine de Fayols.  There is a haunting and mysterious tone to this story, as Ellie learns about the wartime history of the island, which had been occupied by the Germans, and contends with the elderly Madame de Fayols, whose bitterness turns more sinister as her hold on reality loosens.

In “The Lavender Field,” Lawrenson drops readers into Nazi-occupied Provence, where the blind perfume maker Marthe Lincel is forced to choose between fighting for her country or remaining in the dark.  Lawrenson details the fascinating ways in which perfume was used to carry secret messages, blends the beauty of the lavender fields with the horrors of the war, and emphasizes the dangers and the triumphs that went hand-in-hand with Resistance work.  And in “A Shadow Life,” readers follow Iris Nightingale, a British intelligence officer tasked with helping prepare men and women to serve as spies in Occupied France.  Her love affair with a French agent fuels her need to find out exactly what happened to the agents who went missing during the war.

It’s not until the end of the last story that the novel comes full circle, and readers finally understand the confusing events in the first story.  While I had some idea how the pieces would all fit together, it wasn’t entirely predictable, which kept me up reading until the wee hours of the morning.  The Sea Garden is a unique tale full of well developed, intriguing characters, some of whom are based on historical figures, and I appreciated the author’s note at the end where Lawrenson explains her inspiration for the novel.

The Sea Garden brings to life the ordinary people who did extraordinary things during the war, from the young women who proved they could hold their own as secret agents to the farmers who allowed Allied planes to land in their fields.  Lawrenson captures the desperation of wireless operators running from the Gestapo and those who spent years trying to find out why their loved ones disappeared during the war, as well as the blurred lines between hero and traitor.  I found myself lost in this story from the very beginning, with rich descriptions of the various landscapes and plenty of mystery to keep me guessing.  I think this book just might make my Best of 2014 list!

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on the tour for The Sea Garden.  To check out the rest of the tour, click here.

war challenge with a twist

Book 13 for the War Challenge With a Twist (WWI)

historical fiction challenge

Book 14 for the Historical Fiction Challenge

Disclosure: I received The Sea Garden 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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hitler's secret

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★★

But then, as MacPherson had said, their job was to carry out the mission and not concern themselves with anything else.  Was that right?  How could that be right?  If he thought that way, he would be no different from the Nazis who had taken his family.  They had just been obeying orders, but what they had done was wrong.  Deeply wrong.

(from Hitler’s Secret, page 257)

My daughter always does a fantastic job selecting books for me as gifts, and she hit a home run with Hitler’s Secret, which she bought me for Christmas from the Scholastic book fair at her school.  William Osborne’s novel centers on two teenagers who escaped the Nazis and are safe in England, only to be recruited as spies for the British government in 1941 and tasked with a mission so important, it just might end the war.

Otto fled Germany in 1940 after the Nazis took away his family because his father was a Communist.  Leni is an Austrian Jew who escaped the Nazis with her mother and sisters in 1938, leaving behind her father and brothers.  Both immediately agree to help Admiral MacPherson of the Royal Navy despite the dangers involved.  Otto will do anything to leave the boarding school where he is bullied for being German, and Leni takes the mission on behalf of her father and brothers.

They are given new identities and tasked with kidnapping a young girl from a convent, getting her over the Swiss border, and turning her over to the British government.  They have no idea why this child is so important to the Third Reich and how knowledge of her existence could end the war.  Despite being well equipped for the mission, their youth means they are bound to make mistakes.  But they are strong and resourceful and accomplish more than I could have in their situation.  It’s not long before the Nazis are after them in search of the girl.  But Angelika is so important to the Third Reich that Reinhard Heydrich, Lieutenant General of the SS and chief of the Reich Main Security Office, is hunting them down himself.  He is ruthless and has no qualms about killing children.

Otto and Leni are such delightful characters.  Their actions and emotions are exactly as they should be for teenagers, but the troubles they endured because of the Nazis forced them to grow up too soon.  They want to do something to avenge their families, but they didn’t expect to bond with Angelika.  As they pose as a family to make their way to Switzerland, they actually become a family — and when they learn the truth about Angelika and the British government’s plans for her, they are forced to question whether carrying out their orders is really the right thing to do.

Hitler’s Secret is a fantastic novel for young readers and adults alike.  There is a lot of action, suspense, and even some bloody violence, which isn’t overdone and completely fits the story line.  Osborne definitely doesn’t sugarcoat the dangers of the mission, which makes it feel authentic even though it is completely fiction.  (There is an author’s note at the end that separates the fact from the fiction and even explains more about the historical figures who make appearances in the novel.)

I loved so many things about this novel, from the well-developed characters and the sheer excitement of the mission to the fact that it both kept me on the edge of my seat and gave me a lot to think about.  I finished Hitler’s Secret months ago and am just getting around to reviewing it, but the characters and the plot are still fresh in my mind, which to me is the sign of a great book.  I can’t wait to see what book my daughter chooses for me next!

war challenge with a twist

Book 12 for the War Challenge With a Twist (WWII)

historical fiction challenge

Book 13 for the Historical Fiction Challenge

european reading challenge

Book 5 for the European Reading Challenge (Switzerland)

Disclosure: Hitler’s Secret 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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the wild dark flowers

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

He lifted his head and, for a strange moment, he thought that all the way ahead of him was a meadow full of wild dark flowers.  Dark blue streamers, like irises, or reeds at the edge of a river.  And then he realized that it was not flowers at all, but other men — mere sketches of men now in the ground mist — as they swayed and staggered.  Wild dark flowers bending to the ground.

(from The Wild Dark Flowers, page 257)

The Wild Dark Flowers is the second book in the Rutherford Park series.  Elizabeth Cooke returns readers to the estate of Lord William and Lady Octavia Cavendish in 1915, at a time when World War I was ushering in dramatic changes to English society.  Lord William’s heir, Harry, is a pilot in France, and many of their servants have joined up to fight as well.  The youngest Cavendish, Charlotte, keeps up with current events and wants to volunteer at a hospital in London.  Meanwhile, Octavia is lamenting the loss of true love in her life and merely going through the motions as she comes to terms with her decision to remain at William’s side.

Change is happening everywhere, but William is unwilling to accept it.  He turns his head when he sees women filling the jobs of the men who have gone to war.  He thinks Harry should focus on learning to run the estate, whereas Harry believes his place is in France fighting with everyone else.  And he will soon have to come to turns with the blurring of class lines as his daughter Louisa grows closer to Jack, the stable boy with whom she grew up on the estate.

As in Rutherford Park, Cooke details the different experiences of the titled families and those below stairs.  She focuses on Jack and his frustration over the treatment of the horses taken from their farms and forced into military service, and she follows a footman, Harrison, into the trenches.  There’s also a lot going on in the main house, with the housekeeper, Mrs. Jocelyn, and her hatred for Octavia fueling her religious zealousness and harsh treatment of the housemaids.

Cooke packs so much into 341 pages, including the sinking of the Lusitania, the treatment of the horses taken into battle, the changing role of women in society, the rising power of the lower classes, and the fact that the information about the war published in the newspapers was often far from the truth.  However, I never felt overwhelmed or found it difficult to keep track of all the characters.  If anything, the different points of view helped moved the story forward and made it so readable.

The Wild Dark Flowers was a fantastic sequel, and Cooke made me care about characters I didn’t really connect with in the first book.  Where Rutherford Park introduces the characters and sets the stage for the inevitable changes and losses brought about by the war, The Wild Dark Flowers really gets inside the character’s heads, inside the trenches, and inside the sheltered, splintering lives of people holding onto the past.  So much happened in this book that I can’t wait to see where Cooke takes these characters in the next installment.

war challenge with a twist

Book 11 for the War Challenge With a Twist (WWI)

historical fiction challenge

Book 12 for the Historical Fiction Challenge

Disclosure: I received The Wild Dark Flowers from Berkley 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 secrets of darcy and elizabeth

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

“She seemed fairly happy a moment ago,” Richard observed.

“Yes, but that could be because she was happy to see you,” Darcy said with a note of despair in his voice.  “I am certain I remain the last man in the world she would marry.”

“Maybe you have moved up the ladder a few rungs.  Perhaps she would now consider marrying you before, say, the butcher.”  Richard grinned broadly.

“Darcy grimaced.  “Great encouragement indeed.  I thank you.”

(from The Secrets of Darcy and Elizabeth)

In The Secrets of Darcy and Elizabeth, Victoria Kincaid brings Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice to Paris at a time when England and France are at peace, and no one knows how long it will last.  Mr. Darcy spends much of his time drowning his sorrows in drink and contemplating the harsh but true comments Elizabeth Bennet made in rejecting his insulting proposal at Hunsford.  His cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, convinces him that a trip to Paris is just the thing to cure his broken heart — except that almost immediately, he bumps into Elizabeth, who is traveling with her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner.

Having read Mr. Darcy’s letter, Elizabeth has softened toward him, and Mr. Darcy realizes he has been given a second chance to prove himself worthy of her love.  But just as the pair begin to put their past misunderstandings behind them, war breaks out once more, and it won’t be long before Napoleon orders the arrest of any Englishman found on French soil.  English tourists must quickly evacuate Paris and get to the coast.

With Elizabeth’s aunt and uncle elsewhere in the country on business, Mr. Darcy just can’t leave her to fend for herself as chaos and danger erupt around them.  All the carriages have been rented, so they have no choice but to overlook the rules of propriety and flee Paris in a curricle, which seats only two — meaning that Elizabeth’s chaperone must be left behind.  Being alone with Mr. Darcy, even in a time of war when she had little choice, could be disastrous to Elizabeth’s reputation, but when she falls deathly ill before they reach the coast, Mr. Darcy gives no thought to their compromising position — only that she must get well.

Kincaid throws many obstacles in their path.  Getting to England is no easy feat, but having to conceal a secret from their time in France from their family and closest friends proves to be even harder.  With Mr. Darcy pitted against another aunt who gives Lady Catherine a run for her money and Elizabeth trying to evade the attentions of a suitor even more persistent and ridiculous than Mr. Collins, it seems that a happily ever after may be too far out of their grasp.

The Secrets of Darcy and Elizabeth is an exciting, humorous, and sweet tale.  Dropping Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth in Paris in such a tumultuous time in history is a unique touch, as I had no idea how that aspect of the story would play out.  It also highlights the customs of the time, especially when it came to proper behavior among unmarried couples.  Just being alone together was enough to tarnish a woman’s reputation, never mind being caught in an embrace.  Meanwhile, Kincaid injects a lot of humor into the novel, from the clueless Mr. Fenton and the playful banter between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth to the difficulty the couple has in keeping their secret.  The romance is front and center here, but Kincaid, thankfully, leaves much to the imagination.

Although some of the situations Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth encountered, along with their behavior, were a bit over the top, The Secrets of Darcy and Elizabeth was thoroughly entertaining.  Our hero and heroine were completely likeable, and the villains were even more deliciously villainous.  It was nice to see Mr. Bennet all riled up and Caroline Bingley left speechless.  I spent a couple of delightful afternoons with this novel, and I can’t wait to see what Kincaid writes next.

Disclosure: I received The Secrets of Darcy and Elizabeth 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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stronger even than pride

Source: Review copy from Meryton Press
Rating: ★★★★☆

“And you may be assured that nothing in the world would have induced me to share my intimate concerns with you had I realised your true opinion of my character.”

“I have never made a secret of my opinion of your character, Mr. Darcy, but whatever your concerns, they are of no interest to me.  Please let me be on my way, and do not attempt to continue this very inappropriate line of conversation.  I am married, and happily so, to Mr. Wickham.”

(from Stronger Even Than Pride, page 44)

Stronger Even Than Pride is not a charming, mostly lighthearted retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  Gail McEwen writes about an Elizabeth Bennet who refuses to read the letter in which Mr. Darcy explains everything about Mr. Wickham, and this seemingly small change sets in motion a series of dark events that will leave the Austen purists running for the hills.

Soon after rejecting Mr. Darcy’s proposal and returning to Hertfordshire, Elizabeth is reunited with Mr. Wickham, and because she so foolishly discarded Mr. Darcy’s letter, she agrees to marry him.  The engagement is opposed by her parents, and even Mrs. Bennet — who wants nothing but to marry off her daughters — thinks it’s a mistake.  But the headstrong Elizabeth marches off to Scotland and becomes Mrs. Wickham.

Of course, Mr. Darcy is angry, but that’s partly because he assumes she read his letter and chose to marry the scoundrel anyway.  It’s not long before Wickham’s true colors start to show, and even his desire to possess Elizabeth in a way Darcy never can is not enough to keep him at home.  Elizabeth, feeling used and abused and struggling in poverty, has no one to turn to; she can’t go home and must live with the consequences of her actions.

Meanwhile, Mr. Darcy still loves Elizabeth but is helpless to do much to improve her situation.  When scandal envelopes the Wickhams and threatens even Georgiana Darcy’s happiness, all hope seems lost.  Of all the obstacles to throw in the path toward Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s happily ever after, this is the one that could keep them apart forever.

I’m not an Austen purist; the more unique, the better for me.  But Stronger Even Than Pride was almost too difficult for me to take.  I must admit I almost abandoned the book on page 48, after a particularly graphic sex scene involving Elizabeth, Mr. Wickham, and his fantasies of the jealous Mr. Darcy watching them together.  Truly, that scene — coupled with an earlier scene involving Mr. Darcy and a prostitute — made me ill.  I have no problem with shaking the plot up a bit, but I didn’t need to “see” that.  Sometimes implying what’s going on is enough.

However, I made myself keep reading because I had to know how things would turn out for Elizabeth and Darcy.  Of course, having read so may of these Austen adaptations, I was confident there would be a happy ending, but I couldn’t see a way out for these characters.  I’m happy to say that McEwen didn’t disappoint, and I clung to every word until the very end.

Stronger Even Than Pride is well written and well worth the initial discomfort.  Even when I thought I couldn’t continue reading, I admired McEwen’s bravery in taking the story to a place I never imagined.  I keep saying that Pride and Prejudice retellings need to be unique to keep my attention these days, and McEwen certainly delivered on that front.  She shows that there are countless ways to re-imagine these characters and their circumstances, and taking them down a messy, thorn-covered path that is seemingly impossible to traverse certainly grabbed my attention.  It’s definitely not a book for all fans of the Austenesque, but the character evolution, the intense emotion, the complicated relationships, and the promise of love and redemption make it worth giving a try.

Disclosure: I received Stronger Even Than Pride from Meryton Press 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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pride, prejudice and cheese grits

Source: Review copy from Howard Books
Rating: ★★★★☆

“I guess I’m like Darcy then, not really able to make small talk.”  Shelby set the coffeemaker for the morning.  “That’s it!  I’m Darcy and I just need to find my Elizabeth.”

“My friend, you couldn’t handle Elizabeth.”  Rebecca laughed.

(from Pride, Prejudice and Cheese Grits, page 27)

Pride, Prejudice and Cheese Grits is the first book in Mary Jane Hathaway’s Jane Austen Takes the South series and is a modern-day retelling of Pride and Prejudice set at a small college in Mississippi.  Shelby Roswell is Hathaway’s Elizabeth Bennet, a professor and Civil War expert struggling to achieve tenure — a process that has been complicated by a scathing review of her new book by well-known historian and Yale professor Ransom Fielding.  Ransom, our Mr. Darcy, comes back home to teach for a year at Shelby’s college, and Shelby’s quick temper means she makes a really bad first impression when she interrupts one of his classes and criticizes his method of handling students.

Shelby has some family issues to deal with, not the least being her mother’s preoccupation with marrying her off, and spends much of her time trying to piece together a mystery for an article she is writing.  Her mother’s horrid attempt at matchmaking puts her in the sights of David Bishop, a shady real estate agent who is a cross between Mr. Collins and Mr. Wickham.  Meanwhile, Ransom begins to see Shelby in a new light, even as he bears the weight of the guilt he feels over his wife’s death.  Just as Shelby starts to question her perceptions of Ransom, the Caroline Bingley-esque Tasha comes to town and stirs up all sorts of confusion.

Setting the novel on a college campus and infusing it with Civil War history and southern culture makes for a unique retelling.  Best of all, it’s a very loose retelling, so I didn’t know exactly how each plot thread would play out.  Some readers may be put off by the fact that it’s a Christian romance, but I didn’t find it too preachy, since Shelby’s faith is an integral part of her character.  Because it’s a Christian romance, it doesn’t get too steamy, but one aspect of the story takes a more mature (but not graphic) turn.

Hathaway’s take on Pride and Prejudice is fresh, fun, and funny — a comfort read complete with a couple of comfort-food recipes at the end.  I love how Shelby and Ransom are so like Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy and how Hathaway takes other characters from the original novel and combines them, with Shelby’s best friend, Rebecca, being a cross between Elizabeth’s sister, Jane, and best friend, Charlotte Lucas.  The book shows how Austen’s characters and plots so perfectly stand the test of time.  The next books in the series — also with cute titles — take on Emma (Emma, Mr. Knightley and Chili-Slaw Dogs) and Persuasion (Persuasion, Captain Wentworth and Cracklin’ Cornbread), and I can’t wait to get my hands on them.

Disclosure: I received Pride, Prejudice and Cheese Grits from Howard Books 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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miss darcy decides

Source: Review copy from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Lizzy handed Georgiana the book.  She fingered the cover, opened to the first page.

“A new story holds promise.”  Lizzy’s tone reflected the anticipation of discovery.

Georgiana studied the words on the page.  “All new endeavors do.”  Georgiana smiled for a moment.  But sometimes the promise was betrayed.

(from Miss Darcy Decides)

Miss Darcy Decides is the second novella in the Love at Pemberley series, and a sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice that can be read as a standalone book.  The novella focuses on Georgiana Darcy, who is grateful to have escaped the clutches of George Wickham but a little lonely in the midst of so many newly married couples.  She sees the happiness between her brother and Elizabeth as they await the birth of their first child and the love between Kitty Bennet and Colonel Fitzwilliam.  Even her cousin Anne de Bourgh has found love.

Georgiana questions whether she could leave her home and all the memories of her parents, until she meets Sir Camden Sutton.  The attraction between the two is immediate, but Sir Camden has a reputation for being a rouge, and Mr. Darcy is none too pleased about the looks passing between them.  Sir Camden has endured the loss of everyone important to him, and the grief caused him to make some bad decisions.  He says he is a new man, and Georgiana believes he is sincere.  But why is he so intent on helping the unmarried, pregnant niece of Mrs. Wilton, a close friend of the Darcy’s housekeeper?

Miss Darcy Decides is a quiet, sweet love story and an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours.  It’s nice to see Georgiana as the main character, especially when there are plenty of amusing encounters with the overprotective Mr. Darcy.  Georgiana has learned a lot from her near elopement with Wickham, so she is cautious where Sir Camden is concerned.

However, being a novella means there is only a little bit of tension and not as much character and plot development.  I would have enjoyed more details about Sir Camden and his past and a few more obstacles in his path to winning over both Mr. Darcy and Georgiana.  Still, Miss Darcy Decides is a charming take on a character who sits in the shadows in the original Austen novel.  Now I’m curious to read the first novella in the series, Most Truly, to see how Kitty ends up with Colonel Fitzwilliam and the third installment, Miss Bennet Blooms, to see how Mary Bennet finds her happily ever after.

Thanks to Amy of Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for having me on the tour for Miss Darcy Decides.  Click the image below for more information about the book and to follow the tour.

Miss Darcy Decides_Tour Banner_FINAL

Disclosure: I received Miss Darcy Decides from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours 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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pride and persistence

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

(This review first appeared on Indie Jane.)

Finally, Darcy yelled out, “What are you talking about!  I never proposed two days ago!  A man would remember that!”

At that moment, it hit Elizabeth; he didn’t remember the proposal.  She looked at his face and saw beads of sweat forming on his brow.  He was obviously quite irate.  She was dumfounded.  She didn’t know what to do.  Not only had she agitated him, but she had hurt him once again.  Once again, he had his hand at his chest.  Once again, she had not held her tongue.  Once again, she had been rude and unforgiveable in her refusal.  Not only had she not apologized, she had repeated the same mistake.

(from Pride and Persistence, page 52)

A retelling of Pride and Prejudice must be really unique to grab my attention these days, and fortunately, Jeanna Ellsworth’s latest novel, Pride and Persistence fits the bill. Ellsworth picks up the story after Elizabeth Bennet refuses Mr. Darcy’s disastrous proposal. Right after delivering the letter that explains his role in separating Elizabeth’s sister, Jane, from Mr. Bingley and reveals Wickham’s true character, Mr. Darcy is injured in an accident with his horse. Elizabeth witnesses the accident and plays an instrumental role in saving his life.

Mr. Darcy is too injured to be moved from the Hunsford parsonage, where Elizabeth is staying with her friend, Charlotte, and the odious Mr. Collins. Feeling guilty about the harsh words she said to him in rejecting his proposal, Elizabeth agrees to read to the unconscious Darcy, who is calmed by her presence. It’s soon obvious that his memory has quite literally taken a hit, as he does not recall the accident or his previous proposal and subsequent rejection — and proceeds to propose again, with the same arrogance…and the same result.

This latest refusal causes a setback in Darcy’s condition, so Colonel Fitzwilliam — with the help of the local doctor, Mr. Cummings, and Darcy’s nurse, Madeline — convinces Elizabeth not to reject him outright if he proposes again, in the hopes that he will continue to recover and eventually remember what happened before the accident on his own. Watching Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy navigate the challenges of his memory loss makes for a hilarious and sweet take on Jane Austen’s beloved novel.

Ellsworth brilliantly works in several original characters, my favorite being Mrs. Wilkinson, the Collins’ horrible cook and Elizabeth’s new friend and confidante. She also expands on the secondary characters, and I couldn’t help but chuckle at Colonel Fitzwilliam’s efforts to outwit Lady Catherine — who is hellbent on Darcy marrying her daughter — using battlefield tactics.

Pride and Persistence is definitely a story of, well, persistence, and Ellsworth’s humor makes it a must-read for fans of the Austenesque. If you didn’t think Mr. Collins could be more repulsive, think again. If you never imagined Lady Catherine having deep, dark secrets, then you’ll be gasping and laughing at the same time. Ellsworth’s retelling of Pride and Prejudice is fresh, imaginative, fun, and especially difficult to put down.

Disclosure: I received Pride and Persistence 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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haunting mr. darcy

Source: Review copy from Meryton Press
Rating: ★★★★☆

“This will not do, Miss Bennet.  You are not real, and the sooner I can convince myself of that fact, the sooner I will be free of this lunacy.”

Elizabeth shook her head, her tears forgotten in renewed exasperation at the gentleman.  She ventured to look at him then.  He sat with an air of feigned calm, one hand cupping his jaw, his fingers covering his mouth as he spoke.  It was all quite distracting.

“Sir, I assure you.  I am as real as you are.”  Her brows lowered as she considered her strange new abilities.  “At least, I think I am,” she whispered to herself.

(from Haunting Mr. Darcy, page 51)

KaraLynne Mackrory’s latest novel, Haunting Mr. Darcy, is a humorous, delightfully sweet retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  Elizabeth Bennet, in a coma after a carriage accident, finds her spirit has been transported to a library, where slipping a hand through a book enables her to immediately absorb its contents.  She thinks she’s having a splendid dream, until she realizes she’s in the London home of the disagreeable Mr. Darcy.

When Mr. Darcy sees Elizabeth in spirit form, he thinks he’s going mad.  He was entranced by her back in Hertfordshire, and knowing that a match between them would be unsuitable, he has been trying hard to forget her ever since.  But Elizabeth is somehow tethered to him and cannot leave his side, and it’s not long before Mr. Darcy’s family and servants notice his odd behavior, mainly that he is talking and laughing to himself.  Meanwhile, back at Longbourn, Elizabeth’s family keeps vigil at her bedside.

Haunting Mr. Darcy definitely is “a spirited courtship.”  With Elizabeth’s ghost being dragged along with him everywhere, even his bedchamber, distracting him at every turn, there are plenty of funny moments to brighten what otherwise could be a dark tale.  Mackrory uses Colonel Fitzwilliam to lighten the mood and prompt Mr. Darcy to act when all seems lost, and even Lydia Bennet’s story takes an unexpected turn.  I especially loved the references to Persuasion, which is another of my favorite Austen novels.

Readers of these retellings obviously expect a happily ever after, and I loved that I had no idea how Mackrory would get Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth to that ending.  I was intrigued by the prospect of a Pride and Prejudice ghost story of sorts, and I wasn’t disappointed.  Haunting Mr. Darcy is among the most unique retellings I’ve come across so far, throwing Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth together at their weakest, removing the confines of society’s rules, and letting love take its course, complete with a believable paranormal twist.

Disclosure: I received Haunting Mr. Darcy from Meryton Press 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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for such a time

Source: Review copy from Bethany House
Rating: ★★★★★

Home . . . Leaving behind the lofty slopes to descend the mountains into Czechoslovakia, Stella looked out at the patchwork swells of white amidst evergreens that swept past the car.  She was reminded of the quilt she’d made, a surprise birthday gift for her uncle.  That was before the Nazis destroyed it along with the rest of their possessions — before they took Morty away.

Lord, why don’t you hear me?  Why have you taken away my joy?

Anger battled her exhaustion with the drowsing lull of the car’s motion.  Home was a place that, even if she lived, would never be the same.

(from For Such a Time, page 27)

Kate Breslin’s debut novel, For Such a Time, is a retelling of the biblical story of Esther set in Czechoslovakia during World War II.  It is the story of 23-year-old Hadassah Benjamin, whose blond hair and blue eyes allowed her to pass as an Aryan, Stella Muller, until an encounter with the Gestapo lands her in Dachau.  Rather than be shot by the firing squad, she is whisked away to Theresienstadt by SS Kommandant Colonel Aric von Schmidt to serve as his secretary.

From the very beginning, Stella and Aric’s relationship is complex.  He is a Nazi, but new to the SS, having served as a Wehrmacht officer until an injury ended his career on the front lines.  He is drawn to Stella and vows to protect her, but his conscience and sense of duty are in constant battle — especially when Stella urges him to help the weak, starving, bedraggled prisoners in the ghetto.  Aric isn’t aware of Stella’s true identity, but she sees the compassion he has for his houseboy, Joseph, an orphan from the ghetto whom Stella treats like a son.  He also goes out of his way to protect her from the lecherous, scheming Captain Hermann.

Their relationship seems doomed from the start, especially when Stella learns that the “paradise ghetto” is a transit camp and that the prisoners await further horrors at Auschwitz, and Aric is tasked with making the camp look like a resort to fool the Red Cross delegation that is soon to arrive.  With danger coming from all directions, Stella and Aric must keep faith in God and each other in order to survive.  But survival isn’t good enough for Stella unless her people can be saved, too.

I think novelists take a risk when they write about the Holocaust.  How do they convey the hopelessness, the horror, the evil, and the magnitude of the Holocaust and, at the same time, approach it from a new angle?  How do they rewrite a part of history and fictionalize the events without dishonoring those who lived it?  In For Such a Time, Breslin changes timelines and facts in order to mirror the events in the biblical story of Esther.  For the most part, I think she was successful.  Breslin does a wonderful job capturing the conflicting emotions and actions of the main characters, and her descriptions of the squalid conditions in the ghetto and the horrible way its inhabitants were treated are believable.  At times I thought Aric and Stella’s romance was a bit overdone, but Breslin enabled me to know and understand them enough that I could believe it.

However, I struggled with how to rate this novel based on the believability of the plot.  I appreciated the author’s note at the end where Breslin clearly separates the fact from the fiction, but in this case, it’s mostly fiction.  But I reminded myself that it is a novel, after all, and a page-turner at that.  Life has been so busy and stressful these last several months, and it’s been hard finding the time and energy to read.  For Such a Time was the first book in a long time that I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning to read, and for that alone it deserves 5 stars.  It was an enjoyable novel (or as enjoyable as a novel about the Holocaust can be), and it read like a thriller toward the end.  I just got lost in the story and followed the characters through times of despair, hope, bravery, sorrow, and joy.  Even if I couldn’t believe the outcome, I wanted to, and I applaud Breslin for taking a chance and telling a story about hardship and courage, love and faith, and a fight for freedom.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on the For Such a Time tour.  To check out the rest of the tour, click here.

war challenge with a twist

Book 10 for the War Challenge With a Twist (WWII)

historical fiction challenge

Book 11 for the Historical Fiction Challenge

european reading challenge

Book 4 for the European Reading Challenge (Czechoslovakia)

Disclosure: I received For Such a Time from Bethany House 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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