moonlight over paris

Source: Review copy from William Morrow
Rating: ★★★★☆

She would go somewhere…she wasn’t sure where, but it would be somewhere else, somewhere new where no one cared about her disappointments and failures. And she would…she wasn’t sure what she would do, not yet.

But she was certain of one thing. If she survived, she would live.

(from Moonlight Over Paris)

Quick summary: Moonlight Over Paris is the third installment in a series of sorts that takes readers from World War I Europe and beyond, but it is a standalone novel. This time, Jennifer Robson tells the story of Lady Helena Montagu-Douglas-Parr, who has been shunned by society in the years since her broken engagement to Lord Cumberland. After nearly dying from scarlet fever, Helena decides that she wants to really live. Nearing 30 and giving up on ever having a husband and family, Helena convinces her parents that a year living in Paris with her aunt Agnes and going to art school is just what she needs. It is 1924, and the bohemian lifestyle and the salons of Paris suit Helena, who is just Ellie Parr to her friends. Things become more complicated when she meets American journalist Sam Howard, who sees her as more than just a wealthy Englishwoman from an aristocratic family. Helena’s life changes just as chaotically as the post-war society, and she is forced to consider who she is and what she wants if she is to be a modern woman.

Why I wanted to read it: I loved Robson’s previous novels, Somewhere in France and After the War Is Over. Both made my “best of” lists in the years they were published!

What I liked: Robson is a fantastic writer with the ability to place readers in whatever historical period she writes about. In Moonlight Over Paris, she makes the Lost Generation come to life, and readers get to meet the Hemingways, Sylvia Beach, and Gertrude Stein, among others. Most of all, I love how Robson focuses on the changes to society in the World War I and post-war era, particularly in regards to women. One of the most memorable parts of the novel is the conversation between Helena and her aunt, in which her aunt tells her that she has a choice as a modern woman; she can stay friends with a man or become his lover, but the most important thing is that she chooses happiness. I really liked Helena in that she just wanted to be normal, not a “Lady,” and while part of that was about escaping the gossip back in London, she wasn’t above cleaning out a dirty space to make an art studio.

What I disliked: While I enjoyed following Helena as she forged a new life, there were a few spots in the novel where I wondered when the pace was going to pick up.

Final thoughts: Moonlight Over Paris is a beautifully written novel about art, love, and learning how to truly live for oneself. Robson has created an intriguing character in Helena, a woman who lived by society’s rules for too long, and her spirit nearly paid the price. I’m looking forward to seeing what Robson writes next!

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on the tour for Moonlight Over Paris. To follow the tour, click here.

Disclosure: I received Moonlight Over Paris from William Morrow for review.

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

the forgotten room

Source: Review copy from NAL
Rating: ★★★★★

But it was better this way, wasn’t it? Better that she pretended it hadn’t happened. Better that the door to the room upstairs remained shut, because what beckoned beyond it — she had a vague impression of colors and vibrancy and imagination and laughter, something extraordinary and never ending — was nothing more than a fairy tale.

(from The Forgotten Room)

Quick summary: In 1944, Kate is a doctor at Stornaway Hospital who is drawn to one of her patients, Captain Cooper Ravenel, who seems to recognize her from somewhere, though she’s never seen him before. The mystery of a miniature portrait and a ruby pendant bring them together while the reality of their lives outside the hospital threaten to keep them apart. In 1920, Lucy is a secretary for a dashing lawyer whom she believes holds the key to uncovering her true identity, but she is captivated by a smooth-talking art dealer from Charleston who is looking for the truth about his father. In 1892, Olive is a housemaid seeking revenge against the wealthy family who tore her family apart, but her attraction to the charming, artistic Harry Pratt could be her undoing. The Forgotten Room is a beautifully written collaboration by Karen White, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig that follows three generations of women as they navigate society’s constraints, love and loss, secrets and betrayals — all connected to an attic room in a Gilded Age mansion in Manhattan.

Why I wanted to read it: I’m a big fan of Karen White, and I was intrigued by the mystery and the World War II setting.

What I liked: I loved this novel from the start. The women’s stories switch from chapter to chapter, and the layers of the mystery are gradually and beautifully unraveled. The writing is so seamless, it’s hard to believe that it’s a collaboration among three authors. I felt like I truly knew and understood all three women, and I loved that each was ambitious, hardworking, and strong.  There were some aspects of the story that were predictable, but there also were some twists and turns that I didn’t expect. I also equally enjoyed each of the narratives, which is unusual for me when the story shifts back and forth in time.

What I disliked: Sometimes it was hard for me to keep track of all the characters and their connections, but that’s only a minor quibble. There are some pretty amazing coincidences that occur throughout the novel, which are hard to believe, but it is fiction after all.

Final thoughts: I was surprised by how emotional I was at the end of the book. I liked that the stories weren’t all happily ever after and tied up neatly, but that made me a bit sad, too, because I’d grown so connected to the characters. The Forgotten Room is a rich novel with memorable characters whose stories span more than five decades, from the Gilded Age to Prohibition to World War II. The authors did a fantastic job with each setting, and the pacing was spot on. I really hope they team up again for another novel!

Disclosure: I received The Forgotten Room from NAL for review.

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

paradise drive

Paradise Drive links 80 sonnets in a narrative about a modern Pilgrim on a journey from rust belt Pennsylvania to the glittering suburbs of Marin County, California. The book takes great pleasure in questioning, tinkering with, and ultimately exploding the sonnet form.

About the poet:

Rebecca Foust won the 2015 American Literary Review Creative Writing Award for Fiction judged by Garth Greenwell and the 2015 James Heart Poetry Prize judged by Jane Hirshfield. She was the 2014 Dartmouth Poet in Residence and the recipient of fellowships from The Frost Place, the MacDowell Colony, and the Sewanee Writer’s Conference. Her fifth book, Paradise Drive, won the 2015 Press 53 Award for Poetry.

Becky_author photo_cropped_7-12-14Her other books include All That Gorgeous Pitiless Song (Many Mountains Moving Prize), God, Seed (Foreword Book of the Year Award) and two chapbooks that won the Robert Phillips Chapbook Prizes in 2008 and 2009. Foust’s poems appear widely in journals including American Academy of Poets Poem-A-Day series, Hudson Review, Massachusetts Review, Poetry Daily, Sewanee Review, and Verse Daily. A first generation college graduate, Foust attended Smith College (BA 1979), Stanford Law School (1979), and Warren Wilson College (MFA 2010). She lives in Northern California and works as Poetry Editor for Women’s Voices for Change and assistant editor for Narrative Magazine.

In this video, Rebecca Foust talks about anaphora and second person in “Apologies to My OBGYN” and “Too Soon.”

Visit Poetic Book Tours for more about Paradise Drive and to follow the blog tour.

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

Mailbox Monday — January 11

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.

It’s been about a month since I posted my new books, but here’s what I added to my shelves since then:

For review:

moonlight over parisMoonlight Over Paris by Jennifer Robson — from William Morrow

It’s the spring of 1924, and Lady Helena Montagu-Douglas-Parr has just arrived in France. On the mend after a near-fatal illness, she is ready to embrace the restless, heady allure of the City of Lights. Her parents have given her one year to live with her eccentric aunt in Paris and Helena means to make the most of her time. She’s quickly drawn into the world of the Lost Generation and its circle of American expatriates, and with their encouragement, she finds the courage to pursue her dream of becoming an artist.

One of those expats is Sam Howard, a journalist working for the Chicago Tribune. Irascible, plain-spoken, and scarred by his experiences during the war, Sam is simply the most fascinating man she has ever met. He’s also entirely unsuitable.

As Paris is born anew, rising phoenix-like from the ashes of the Great War, Helena realizes that she, too, is changing. The good girl she once was, so dutiful and obedient, so aware of her place in the world, is gone forever. Yet now that she has shed her old self, who will she become, and where, and with whom, does she belong…?

Unexpected arrival:

the painter's daughterThe Painter’s Daughter by Julie Klassen — from Bethany House

Sophie Dupont assists her father in his studio, keeping her own artwork out of sight. In private, she paints the picturesque north Devon coast, popular with artists — including the handsome Wesley Overtree, who seems more interested in Sophie than the landscape.

Captain Stephen Overtree is accustomed to taking on his brother Wesley’s responsibilities. Near the end of his leave, he is sent to find his brother and bring him home. Upon reaching Devonshire, however, Stephen is stunned to learn Wesley has sailed for Italy and left his host’s daughter in serious trouble.

Stephen feels duty-bound to act, and strangely protective of the young lady, who somehow seems familiar. Wanting to make some recompense for his own past failings as well as his brother’s, Stephen proposes to Miss Dupont. He does not offer love, but marriage “in name only” to save her from scandal. If he dies in battle, as he fears, she will at least be a respectable widow.

Desperate for a way to escape her predicament, Sophie finds herself torn between her first love and this brooding man she barely knows. Dare she wait for Wesley to return? Or should she elope with the captain and pray she doesn’t come to regret it?

Won from Austen Variations:

to forgetTo Forget by Maria Grace

Darcy persuades Bingley to leave Netherfield Park in favor of London to avoid the match making machinations of Mrs. Bennet. Surely the distractions of town will help Bingley forget the attractions of Miss Jane Bennet.

But Bingley is not the only one who needs to forget. All Darcy want this Christmastide is to forget another Miss Bennet.

Can the diversions of London help Darcy overcome memories of the fine eyes and pert opinions of a certain Hertfordshire miss?

Christmas gift:

devotionDevotion by Adam Makos

Devotion tells the inspirational story of the U.S. Navy’s most famous aviator duo. Lieutenant Tom Hudner and Ensign Jesse Brown, and the Marines they fought to defend. A white New Englander from the country-club scene, Tom passed up Harvard to fly fighters for his country. An African American sharecropper’s son from Mississippi, Jesse became the navy’s first black carrier pilot, defending a nation that wouldn’t even serve him in a bar.

While much of America remained divided by segregation, Jesse and Tom joined forces as wingmen in Fighter Squadron 32. Adam Makos takes us into the cockpit as these bold young aviators cut their teeth at the world’s most dangerous job — landing on the deck of an aircraft carrier — a line of work that Jesse’s young wife, Daisy, struggles to accept.

Deployed in the Mediterranean, Tom and Jesse meet the Fleet Marines, boys like PFC “Red” Parkinson, a farm kid from the Catskills. In between war games in the sun, the young men revel on the Riviera, partying with millionaires and even befriending the Hollywood starlet Elizabeth Taylor. Then comes the war no one expected, in faraway Korea.

Devotion takes us soaring overhead with Tom and Jesse, and into the foxholes with Red and the Marines as they battle a North Korean invasion. As the fury of the fighting escalates and the Marines are cornered in the Chosin Reservoir, Tom and Jesse fly, guns blazing, to try and save them. When one of the duo is shot down behind enemy lines and pinned in his burning plane, the other faces an unthinkable choice: watch his friend die or attempt history’s most audacious one-man rescue mission.

A tug-at-the-heartstrings tale of bravery and selflessness, Devotion asks, How far would you go to save a friend?

What books did you add to your shelves recently?

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

My Favorite Books of 2015

Happy New Year! I hope you all had a lovely holiday season filled with family, friends, and great books! Today I’m spending a much needed lazy day at home, and I’m looking forward to a cup of peppermint tea and a book. But first I want to reflect on my past year in books. I read 63 books last year, which is a pretty big accomplishment given how busy I’ve been with work and my daughter’s schedule. My blog has sometimes taken a back seat, but in the past year, I’ve taken a more laid back approach, just doing what I can when I can. In fact, I still have a few reviews to post for books I read a few months ago, but I’ll get to them eventually.

My Top 10 Favorite Reads of 2015, with links to my reviews:

the mapmaker's children

The Mapmaker’s Children by Sarah McCoy

longbourn's songbird

Longbourn’s Songbird by Beau North

three amazing things about you

Three Amazing Things About You by Jill Mansell (review coming soon!)

the unthinkable triangle

The Unthinkable Triangle by Joana Starnes

bianca's vineyard

Bianca’s Vineyard by Teresa Neumann

mistaking her character

Mistaking Her Character by Maria Grace

the race for paris

The Race for Paris by Meg Waite Clayton

the prosecution of mr. darcy's cousin

The Prosecution of Mr. Darcy’s Cousin by Regina Jeffers

after the war is over

After the War is Over by Jennifer Robson

a peculiar connection

A Peculiar Connection by Jan Hahn

Honorable Mention: These are the other 5-star books I read last year, with links to my reviews:

Pride, Prejudice & Secrets by C.P. Odom

Pride and Prescience by Carrie Bebris

The Matters at Mansfield by Carrie Bebris

Even in Darkness by Barbara Stark Nemon

Suddenly Mrs. Darcy by Jenetta James

Young Jane Austen: Becoming a Writer by Lisa Pliscou

A Will of Iron by Linda Beutler

What were some of your must-reads in 2015?

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

seeking the star

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

She remembered dark days, too. The hopelessness felt like looking up from the bottom of a deep, narrow well, into a light that was impossible to reach on her own. But, sooner or later, she’d had to make a choice: keep living that way and die a slow, painful death of the spirit or decide to live and to do more than simply exist. She’d chosen to get up, dust off, and move along, day by day. She hoped, soon, that Ben might choose that path, too. But she couldn’t choose it for him.

(from Seeking the Star)

Quick summary: Seeking the Star is the third book in Traci Borum’s series set in the village of Chilton Crosse in the Cotswolds. Each of the novels in the series focus on different characters, so they can be read on their own. Those who read them in order will enjoy seeing the characters from the previous installments while getting to know new ones. This time around, Borum introduces George and Mary Cartwright, an older couple who generously take in the man found passed out in the snow in front of their house. Ben obviously is running from a tragedy in his past, but the Cartwrights welcome him into their home, no questions asked, assuming he will open up to them eventually. As the village prepares for Christmas and the Dickens festival, Ben slowly becomes part of the Chilton Crosse community and learns that he isn’t the only one who has suffered a horrible loss.

Why I wanted to read it: I fell in love with Chilton Crosse in the first two novels in the series, Painting the Moon and Finding the Rainbow, so I couldn’t resist reading this one, too.

What I liked: Borum paints a beautiful picture of a small but bustling village in the midst of holiday preparations. Everyone knows everyone else, and everyone wants to know more about Ben. The Cartwrights are the kind of people you’d love to have as neighbors; they are kind-hearted and generous, but they give you plenty of space. Ben soon finds he can’t say no to their offer to stay in their cottage until after the holidays, and just as much as the Cartwrights help him, he helps them. Borum does a great job portraying a broken man who doesn’t know what to do with his grief and guilt, and I appreciated that the Christian aspect of the story wasn’t too heavy-handed.

What I disliked: I really wished it was longer, and while I was satisfied with the ending overall, I hope Borum finishes Ben’s story later in the series. There is so much more left to tell!

Final thoughts: Seeking the Star shows how the holiday season isn’t a happy one for everyone, and while it is a tale of loss, it also is a story of hope. Mary has learned to live with her grief, and she shows Ben that it is possible to move on without forgetting one’s past. There were plenty of light-hearted scenes about the village’s holiday celebrations to keep the story from getting too sad, and readers who enjoyed the first two books will be happy to see where Noelle and Holly are now. Borum has created a delightful village with characters that are as intriguing as they are endearing, and I can’t wait for the next installment.

Disclosure: I received Seeking the Star from the author for review.

© 2015 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

blame the mistletoe

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★☆

“Their mother is vulgar, their younger sisters are senseless, and their father is a fool to think his jokes about his family are in any way appropriate. No, they are not worthy of our association.”

“Does my past not prove to you that our own family is not without its flaws as well?”

(from Blame the Mistletoe)

Quick summary: Sarah Johnson’s Christmas novella, Blame the Mistletoe, is a delightful retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in which Georgiana Darcy convinces her brother to pursue Elizabeth Bennet, and the pair, along with Mr. Bingley, return to Netherfield Park for the holiday. An accident on a mistletoe-gathering adventure puts Elizabeth on the path toward thinking she might have misjudged Mr. Darcy, but Mr. Wickham’s presence in Meryton — and his tense interactions with the Darcys — leave her feeling confused. In the midst of holiday preparations, a sleigh ride, and strategically placed mistletoe boughs, can Darcy win Elizabeth’s heart?

Why I wanted to read it: I’ve been in the mood for Christmas stories this year, and I couldn’t resist the Austen connection and the gorgeous cover!

What I liked: Blame the Mistletoe weaves Christmas traditions into a retelling of Pride and Prejudice. I loved getting a glimpse of Mr. Darcy helping the Bennets hang a mistletoe bough, and I wished I could have enjoyed the sleigh race alongside the Bennet sisters. Johnson jazzes things up by putting Wickham at a card table with Darcy, Georgiana, and Elizabeth. I also liked how Georgiana pieced together what was bothering Darcy and Bingley and was willing to point out her flaws as a reason for Darcy not to miss out on his chance at happiness. Elizabeth’s encounter with a drunken Wickham in Meryton and the outcome of Mr. Collins’ interference in Darcy’s affairs are scenes that are not to be missed!

What I disliked: I wished that the story had been longer, not because there was anything missing, but because I got so wrapped up in Johnson’s version of events that I didn’t want it to end.

Final thoughts: Readers will enjoy Johnson’s portrayal of Austen’s characters and how she incorporates mistletoe into the story. The pacing is well done, so despite the brevity of the story, the plot doesn’t seem rushed. I read Blame the Mistletoe on a recent day off from work, curled up on the couch with some peppermint tea, our Christmas tree in the background. It was the perfect book and the perfect setting to put me in the Christmas spirit.

Disclosure: Blame the Mistletoe is from my personal library.

© 2015 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.


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