Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★★

There were so many ways to survive, even after you’d died.

(from “Tea Time”)

“Tea Time” is a short story set in the ruins of Berlin in the days after World War II. After reading Tiffani Burnett-Velez’s powerful novella, A Berlin Story, I knew I had to check out this story, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The story is set in the remains of the apartment building at 500 Friedrichstrasse. Maria, a Holocaust survivor, is having tea with her friend Greta — nettle tea served out of a rusty tin can and heated on a stove fueled by pieces of broken furniture. The older woman is the first friend Maria has had in years, which is probably why Maria puts up with her crazy babbling and smiles in the midst of so much sorrow. And when Russian soldiers enter the apartment, it quickly becomes obvious just how much Maria depends on Greta’s positive attitude to maintain her hold on sanity.

In the midst of their conversation, Burnett-Velez gives readers a glimpse of Berlin and the women fighting to survive in the aftermath of the war, and bits and pieces of Maria’s past are revealed to add depth to the story and help readers understand all that she has endured. I finished reading “Tea Time” in less than half an hour, and I was satisfied with the abrupt ending even though I wasn’t ready for the story to be over. The final few lines pack a punch and made it a story I won’t soon forget. I can’t wait to read more from Burnett-Velez.

Disclosure: “Tea Time” is from my personal library.

© 2016 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.


Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★☆

Jane laughed, “I know exactly what you mean! That’s the beauty of novels, isn’t it? How well fiction can illustrate and even reflect everyday life. I never open a novel without reading about someone I know — and often meet people I’m already familiar with from the pages of a book.”

(from “Once Upon a Story” in Holidays with Jane: Trick or Sweet)

Holidays with Jane: Trick or Sweet is a collection of six Halloween-themed stories based on each of Jane Austen’s novels.

“Must Be Magic” by Kimberly Truesdale (based on Persuasion)

Anne Elliot is still learning how to control her powers — the powers that cost her the love of Fareed Walia eight years ago when she turned down an offer from him in order to find herself — when her family is forced to sell Kellynch House. Fareed comes back into her life at the same time as a dark figure from Anne’s past seeking a powerful talisman and revenge.

“Once Upon a Story” by Rebecca M. Fleming (based on Northanger Abbey)

College student Catie meets a pair of curious sisters at a coffee house as she attempts to piece together what went wrong at the annual Fall-o-Ween festival. Her research about the Battlefield Legend may have cost her the friendship of the Tilney family and the man she loves.

“Insensible” by Cecilia Gray (based on Sense and Sensibility)

Betrayed by her parents, Miriam Dashwood’s life and the family’s business, Dashing Events, are in shambles. She scrambles to pull off the ultimate Halloween party for Brandon Firestone’s law firm as she navigates her confusing feelings for him and the excitement of a motorcycle ride with the bad boy rocker from the band Willow Bee.

“Emma Ever After” by Melissa Buell (based on Emma)

Emma Woodhouse is planning the annual Fall Ball to benefit the charity in her late mother’s name and decides it would be a great idea to auction off local eligible bachelors. Her friend Grant Knightley is skeptical of the plan, her matchmaking abilities, and TV show host Frank Hill, who may or may not have his sights set on Emma.

“Mansfield Unmasked” by Jennifer Becton (based on Mansfield Park)

In a mash-up of Mansfield Park and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Pug — Lady Bertram’s furry friend at the Mansfield Park Boarding House — wants to use his cupid magic to help his friend, Pryce, but things get all mixed up at an outrageous, last-minute Halloween party.

“Beyond Midnight” by Jessica Grey (based on Pride and Prejudice)

Will Harper loses a bet to his sister and must attend the high school’s Trick or Sweet dance dressed in the costume of her choice: Mr. Darcy. Things get very uncomfortable for Will when he insults Elena Marquez, who is unlike any girl he’s ever liked before, and he worries the magic between them will be lost when the dance is over and he takes off the Darcy costume.

All of the stories in Holidays with Jane: Trick or Sweet are fun, humorous, and romantic, not to mention quick and satisfying. The stories are connected in small ways, namely the Mansfield Perk coffee house, which I really wish existed! I enjoyed all of the stories, but if I had to choose a favorite, it would be probably be “Insensible,” as I really found myself drawn to Miriam and Brandon’s sweet relationship and how they both changed over the course of the story. All of these authors did an admirable job setting the autumn/Halloween scene and retelling important aspects of Austen’s novels in just a handful of pages, making them modern and very different (in a good way) at the same time. I can’t wait to read the rest of the Holidays with Jane collections!

Disclosure: Holidays with Jane: Trick or Sweet is from my personal library.

© 2016 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

I’m thrilled to spotlight Jeannette Katzir’s new novel, Footprints in the Forest, on Diary of an Eccentric today. I’ll be reading it soon, but while you wait for my review, Jeannette is generously offering an ebook copy to the first 10 readers to comment on this post (more information below)! I’ve been eagerly anticipating this novel since reading Jeannette’s memoir, Broken Birds, which is about her experiences as the child of a Holocaust survivor.

Book Summary

favorite-attempt-2To an Eastern European holocaust survivor the time difference between 1940 Poland and 1948 Brooklyn New York is unquestionably 8 years, but time is insignificant to Chana. To her, angry voices outside her Brooklyn brownstone apartment door drag her back to Poland, where tall, shiny booted Nazi soldiers, with swastikas on their sleeves, storm into your home, dripping with hatred and entitlement.

On this day, those voices cause her to run to the kitchen, fling open the drawer and grab a sharp knife. She won’t go without a fight.

It’s 1940, and with little more than a few hours warning Chana leaves behind her mother and younger sister, slithers beneath a barbed wire fence and escapes the Baranavichy ghetto with her older brother. She has no idea where she’s going, or what will be asked of her, but she knows they are to join a band of forest dwelling partisans. There she learns how to shoot a gun, plant bombs and keep away from the lecherous fellow freedom fighters who now see her as a blossoming young woman. She also learns about death, perseverance and love.

There is a concurrent story line about Chana and her brother’s lives after the war. Poland doesn’t want their kind to return home, so they leave Eastern Europe and journey to New York, where they begin life anew. Chana is a budding artist, who paints what she remembers from her time in the forest. She is also a young woman, a young woman in search of her beshert or soul mate. But finding love means sacrifices and Chana feels she isn’t willing to sacrifice anything more.

Footprints in the Forest features dual storylines about the same person; one who is young, fighting to live and learning about love and life. The other is about a young woman and choices that life demands her to make.

Check out Footprints in the Forest on Goodreads | Amazon

About the Author

portraitI am the second child of five children born to two Holocaust survivors. Footprints in the Forest is my second book in this genre. My first book, Broken Birds, the Story of My Momila, received positive reviews, and was spotlighted by Jesse Kornbluth of Head Butler and The Huffington Post. “Broken Birds is self-published, and I’ve never read anything like it,” were just a few of his complimentary words. I live in Los Angeles and am currently in the process of writing a new book, one which is not about the Holocaust.


Jeannette is generously offering an ebook copy (pdf or mobi) to the first 10 readers to comment on this post. Please be sure to include your email address and which format you’d prefer in your comment, and I will make sure Jeannette receives your information. This giveaway will close after the 10 copies have been claimed.

Stay tuned for my review of Footprints in the Forest!

© 2016 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

This or That Book Tag

Serena from Savvy Verse & Wit has tagged me for the This Or That Book Tag created by Ayunda @ Tea & Paperbacks!

Here are the Rules:

*Mention the creator of the tag
*Thank the person who tagged you (THANKS, SERENA!)
*Tag other people & spread the love

Reading on the couch or reading in bed?

I do most of my reading in bed, and my family knows that when I say I’m going to bed that it really means I’m going to read until I fall asleep. I prefer to read on the couch after work before my husband and daughter get home, but once they get home, it’s too loud for me to read in the living room. One day I hope to have a big enough home that I’ll have spaces where I can read or write that aren’t my bedroom.

Main character: Male or Female?

As long as the story is intriguing, it doesn’t matter to me at all.

Sweet or salty snacks while reading?

I don’t actually snack too much while reading, but when I do, I like snacks that are both sweet and salty. I’m actually more of a tea or coffee drinker while I read.

Trilogies or quartets?

I usually prefer standalone stories, but if I get sucked into a series, I often don’t want it to end.

First Person or Third person POV?

I don’t mind either of them. It just depends on the book, whether a certain POV works or not.

Night or morning reader?

Well, since I start work on the weekdays at 5:30 a.m., I’m more of an afternoon/evening reader. But on my days off and on the weekend, I’d read all day and night if given the chance.

Libraries or bookstores?

Either! I love browsing the shelves at both, and if I read a book from the library and love it, I’ll buy it. These days I must admit I do most of my reading on my Kindle, and I enjoy it more than I ever thought I would.

Books that make you laugh or books that make you cry?

I’d rather laugh than cry, but I’ll take a book good enough to trigger any strong emotional reaction.

Black or white book covers?

Colorful covers? Jill Mansell’s covers are my favorites, so whimsical and bring a smile to my face.

Character driven or plot driven stories?

I tend to enjoy character-driven stories more, but plot-driven stories can be enjoyable as well. It really just depends.

The PEOPLE I tag are:

I’m not going to tag anyone in particular, but I’d love it if anyone who wanted to play did so! Please feel free to leave your answers in the comments, or if you post on your blog, leave the link so I can check it out!

Have fun!

© 2016 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

My guest today is Hassan El-Tayyab, author of Composing Temple Sunrise: Overcoming Writer’s Block at Burning Man. I know nothing about Burning Man, so I’ve asked him to explain what it is. Before I turn the blog over to Hassan, here’s a bit about the book:

ComposingComposing Temple Sunrise is a coming-of-age memoir about a 26-year-old songwriter’s journey across America to find his lost muse.

Triggered by the Great Recession of 2008, Hassan El-Tayyab loses his special education teaching job in Boston and sets out on a cross-country adventure with a woman named Hope Rideout, determined to find his lost muse. His journey brings him to Berkeley, CA, where he befriends a female metal art collective constructing a 37-foot Burning Man art sculpture named “Fishbug.” What follows is a life-changing odyssey through Burning Man that helps Hassan harness his creative spirit, overcome his self-critic, confront his childhood trauma, and realize the healing power of musical expression.

In this candid, inspiring memoir, singer-songwriter Hassan El-Tayyab of the Bay Area’s American Nomad takes us deep into the heart of what it means to chase a creative dream.

After experiencing multiple losses (family, home, love, job, self-confidence) , El-Tayyab sets out on a transcontinental quest that eventually lands him in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. His vivid descriptions capture both the vast, surreal landscapes of the Burning Man festival and the hard practice of making art.


Please give a warm welcome to Hassan El-Tayyab:

Burning Man is a difficult thing to describe, as it is so many things to so many different people. People who have never been all seem to have an opinion as well. I’d start off by saying, you can’t really know what this event is about until you go. I encourage everyone to do their own cost-benefit analysis after they experience it first-hand. With that preamble, I’ll begin to explain what I think it is.

Burning Man is one of the world’s biggest annual do-it-yourself events taking place in the Black Rock desert of Nevada at the end of August each year. Many have called it a cultural phenomenon. It started with only a few hundred people in the early 90s, but has grown to hold about 70,000 people each year. People of all ages come from all over the planet to construct a temporary city from the ground up, filled with art cars, behemoth fire art installations, interactive exhibits, sound camps, costumes, and live performances of all genres, skill levels, and styles. Many of these communities that occupy the event spend much of the year preparing for this. What’s created is one of the most unique human/nature made experiences I’ve ever been to. In essence, Burning Man is a giant canvass for experimenting with human potential.

This special event is guided by 10 principles that set the tone for the overall vibe and experience on the ground. They include radical inclusion, gifting, de-commodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation, and immediacy. It might help a first timer to examine these points closely.

Burning Man is a completely cashless society. Being in an environment where you can’t buy things after spending all your life inside a capitalist society is a refreshing thing for any world view and potentially life changing. There is also much excess on the Playa too that can feel uncomfortable for many. Some of what has evolved seems very similar to the default world as folks jockey for position and status with material possessions they have brought to the desert with them. You have a choice to let this bother you or not. When I’m there, I focus on my personal experience and my good friends. I always seem to have a great time! Like anywhere, the more you give, the more you get. I find that when I’m actively contributing and don’t play the role of spectator, I have the most worthwhile experiences.

Radical Self Expression and Radical Inclusion are two other hallmarks of Burning Man. Be prepared for an anything goes environment. Burners accept people of all faiths, race, and backgrounds as the status quo. This is definitely the sentiment you feel out there. You feel loved by strangers as if they were your close friends in a very touching way. You could wear a tutu on a unicycle and no one would give you a second look. You can walk down the road completely naked and, chances are, you’ll see 10 others doing the same thing giving you a thumbs up. That said, I find the principle of radical inclusion held with a bit of tension as well. The event is still quite cost prohibitive and the vast majority of the community is white.

The “Burning Man” references the giant wooden effigy that is burned on the Saturday before the end of the event. People gather around and watch a 60+ foot sculpture burn to the ground. What ensues is probably the largest and wildest LED lit party I’ve ever been to. On Sunday night, the Temple burn happens. This is a more somber affair. The Temple is another large wooden building that spends the entire week getting filled with writings, shrines, memories, pain, suffering, and tears. I see this as the spiritual epicenter of the playa during the week event. It’s a place you can go to be quiet and reflect on life and loss.

On Sunday evening, the building along with the tens of thousands of notes, shrines, and memories are burned to the ground as people look on in silence. It’s hard not to see tears streaming down cheeks all around you as this occurs. I find this to be the most profound moment at Burning Man as you get to share a truly spiritual and transcendent moment with thousands of other people that’s not wrapped in dogma. It’s just about healing. Never in my life have I witnessed something like this on such a big scale.

I’ll leave you with this. My life long burner friend told me my first year when I asked him about Burning Man. He said, “Burn your expectations and things can be wondrous.”


About the author

ElTayyabHassan El-Tayyab is an award-winning singer/songwriter, author, teacher, and cultural activist currently residing in the San Francisco Bay Area. His critically acclaimed Americana act American Nomad performs regularly at festivals and venues up and down the West Coast and beyond and he teaches music in the Bay Area.

Check out Composing Temple Sunrise on Amazon and Goodreads

Click the button below to follow the Composing Temple Sunrise tour on Poetic Book Tours


© 2016 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.


Source: Public library
Rating: ★★★★☆

Again Tate’s face changed, only this time he went from anger to what appeared to be amusement. “I have never owned you, even though you first appeared to me in a nightdress that was from a child’s fairytale. Was your intent to seduce me into an illicit liaison?”

Casey’s anger increased. “Seduce you? Why you vain, arrogant –” She glared at him. He was not going to make her forget where she was! “You, sir, are the villain in this. When you first showed yourself to me, you were as bare as the day you were born. You conjured rain from above and soaped parts an unmarried woman should not see.”

(from The Girl from Summer Hill)

The Girl from Summer Hill by Jude Deveraux is a modern-day retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice set in Summer Hill, Virginia. Casey Reddick is a chef who left the hustle and bustle of D.C.’s restaurant scene to live in the guest house on Tattwell Plantation. She has been hired by Kit Montgomery to cater meals for the cast and crew of the stage adaptation of Pride and Prejudice that he is directing for charity. She meets the sexy actor Tate Landers when he shows up naked on the porch of her cottage. They get off on the wrong foot when he catches her watching him at the outdoor shower and accuses her of taking pictures on her phone. She later catches him in her home eating one of her fresh-baked pies after having torn apart her bedroom.

Much to her chagrin, Kit casts Casey as Elizabeth Bennet and Tate as Mr. Darcy. Casey can’t stand Tate, and her opinion of him only worsens when his ex-brother-in-law Devlin Haines (cast as Mr. Wickham) tells her his tales of woe at the hands of the rich and powerful actor. Meanwhile, Tate is drawn to Casey because she is the only woman he’s ever met who isn’t in awe of him, sees the man behind the celebrity, and has no qualms telling him how she really feels about him.

As Casey and Tate grow closer, there is plenty of behind-the-scenes drama involving Tate’s best friend Jack (Mr. Bingley), Casey’s half-sister Gizzy (Jane Bennet), Kit, and Olivia, who once played Elizabeth and has returned to the stage after many years to play Mrs. Bennet. Jack is an action-movie star who is in awe of Gizzy, who appears to be a delicate flower but is really a danger-loving adventurer. Kit and Olivia seem to share a secret from a long-ago summer at Tattwell, and Devlin will never be happy unless he’s bested Tate at something.

The Girl from Summer Hill is a real page turner, one of those books you pick up for a few minutes before bed and end up breezing through 20 to 30 pages in no time. Deveraux does a good job writing two Pride and Prejudice adaptations — one on the stage and one behind the scenes — and running them parallel to one another. It’s easy to see Austen’s characters in how Deveraux’s characters act both on and off the stage. (In this aspect, I was reminded of a delightful book I read a few years ago, Pride, Prejudice and Jasmin Field by Melissa Nathan, which also has a stage version of the novel running parallel to the modern adaptation.)

For the most part, I liked how Deveraux updated Austen’s characters, though I must admit that I initially found Casey annoying, but then she softened a bit and grew on me. I enjoyed the chemistry between Casey and Tate, and Tate’s encounters with a peacock are humorous and thoroughly delightful. Deveraux handles the modern-day Wickham/Lydia scandal in a sensitive, realistic way, and it was fun to see the characters evolve over the course of the play — especially when they are supposed to love or hate each other and the actors feel the complete opposite.

The Girl from Summer Hill is the first book in Deveraux’s Summer Hill series, but don’t let the fact that it’s a series prevent you from reading it, as there is a satisfying ending that doesn’t leave you hanging at all. I’m not sure where the series will go next, but I’m looking forward to it. The Girl from Summer Hill is a lighthearted and fun take on Pride and Prejudice that doubles your Austen fun and strikes the right balance between funny and sexy and serious and sassy.

Disclosure: I borrowed The Girl from Summer Hill from the public library.

© 2016 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.


Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★★

Yes, the stone-cold sniper hated snakes, each and every one of them, but he knew that while danger was real, fear was never an option. He feared no man, woman, or experience. The only thing the assassin feared was his own demons — or rather, facing them.

(from Denial of Conscience)

Cat Gardiner’s Denial of Conscience is a modern-day Pride and Prejudice of sorts — not a straight retelling but inspired by Jane Austen’s characters. It’s safe to say I’ve never read anything like it. Fitzwilliam Darcy is an assassin contracted by the CIA. Part of the covert civilian contract group Obsidian, Darcy is the Iceman — able to eliminate targets without flinching and so haunted by his past that he has frozen his heart to any woman. That is until he is hired to kill Thomas Bennet and can’t pull the trigger once he spies the stunning Lizzy Bennet in the window of the dilapidated Longbourn Plantation House in Mount Vernon, Virginia.

Lizzy knows what it’s like to suppress her true self, having devoted the last eight years of her life to her depressed father’s every need. She’s even willing to marry a man she doesn’t love to save the plantation — her father’s legacy and obsession — from ruin. Darcy’s decision sets in motion a dangerous series of events that force both of them to acknowledge the passion between them and conquer their demons.

Denial of Conscience is a downright hot and sexy novel. Darcy oozes sex appeal; he’s a bad boy with tattoos and a Harley, but he’s also James Bond, suave in a suit in a Monte Carlo casino with Liz on his arm. Oh, how I loved Gardiner’s take on Darcy! The danger and excitement, the passion and the painful soul-searching on nearly every page made this novel unputdownable. I loved how Gardiner worked in other characters — from Jane Bennet the wild child to Caroline Bingley as a cold and calculating member of Obsidian. The intricacies of the operations were well thought out, and there was plenty of humor and action to go along with all the sex. (And, yes, there is a lot of sex in this novel, so be aware!)


Source: Gift from the author
Rating: ★★★★☆

Gardiner was so kind as to send me a copy of Guilty Conscience, a novelette to get readers excited about the upcoming sequel, Without a Conscience. I breezed through these vignettes right after finishing Denial of Conscience, loving the scenes with Liz on a Harley and being able to get a glimpse of the next novel. It’s not necessary to read Guilty Conscience, but it sure was fun!

Denial of Conscience was the third novel I’ve read by Gardiner this year (check out my reviews of Undercover and A Moment Forever), and it’s another winner. Gardiner is a fantastic storyteller, whether writing a steamy take on Pride and Prejudice or historical fiction. She has a knack for crafting fun and sexy characters and exciting plots. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of her novels, and I’m anxiously awaiting Without a Conscience!

Disclosure: Denial of Conscience is from my personal library.

© 2016 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.