finding the rainbow

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

Holly took one last look at the ever-changing purples and greens and greys of the stunning valley and pushed off the stone wall to resume her jog. And to feel the pinch of regret that she couldn’t stay in this beautiful limbo forever.

(from Finding the Rainbow)

Quick Summary: Finding the Rainbow is the second book in Traci Borum’s series set in the village of Chilton Crosse in the Cotswolds that began with Painting the Moon. This is a standalone novel that focuses on a different set of characters, though some characters from the first novel make an appearance. Holly Newbury left college and returned to Chilton Crosse to care for her father and three younger sisters following her mother’s sudden death. Several years have passed, and she has settled into a routine of taking care of the household, working part time at the village art gallery and pub, and taking online classes to finish her business degree. But her life is upended when a film crew arrives to film an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma. Holly befriends Fletcher Hays, the American who wrote the script, and starts a book club when her father’s Lady Catherine-esque cousin, Gertrude, says she has never read the Austen novel. Holly becomes dependent on Fletcher’s friendship when her father drops a bombshell on the family and her sister’s behavior gets out of hand, and Holly realizes she doesn’t know what to do with her life when it seems as though her family doesn’t need her to care for them anymore.

Why I wanted to read it: I was intrigued by the Cotswold setting and wanted to see how Austen factored into the story.

What I liked: I really enjoyed Painting to Moon, and Finding the Rainbow didn’t let me down either. Again, Borum has created a cast of memorable characters, and I liked how the villagers were like old friends this time around. I felt like I really got to know Holly and understand her devotion to her family. Her life was thrown into chaos when her mother died, but her new routine became comfortable over time, and she doesn’t know how to go back to the independence she knew before. Her family leans on her, and when Fletcher enters her life, she finally finds someone she can lean on. And just like in Emma, that friendship becomes confusing when other feelings come into play. I enjoyed the Austen references at the beginning of every chapter, as well as the similarities between Holly’s story and Austen’s novel.

What I disliked: Nothing. It was a charming, feel-good novel overall.

Final thoughts: Finding the Rainbow is a pure comfort read, complete with a sweet romance, family drama, literary references, and that charming small-town setting. I can’t wait to see what comes next in this series!

Disclosure: I received Finding the Rainbow 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.

painting the moon

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

Noelle took a few steps back to sit on the couch, to wish herself into the painting. To those summers spent in England, where everything remained safe, intact.

Not that she didn’t appreciate her life now. But lately, she’d become…stilted. An unfulfilling job, a stagnant social life, where she only played a role of herself, a pretend version. But those precious English summers centered her, brought out her genuine self. And she craved that again more than ever.

(from Painting the Moon)

Quick Summary: Painting the Moon is the first novel in a series by Traci Borum set in the village of Chilton Crosse in the Cotswolds. Noelle Cooke returns to England after 14 years when she learns that her Great Aunt Joy has died, leaving her a cottage and an art gallery in Chilton Crosse. She plans to take care of her aunt’s affairs and return to her job in San Diego, but she discovers a locked room in the cottage and her aunt’s journal, revealing a history of secrets and betrayal.  Noelle also finds other reasons to stay, including Adam, whom she loved as a teenager.  But it’s possible that the magic of those early summers in England cannot be recaptured, and digging into her aunt’s past and the reason she cut herself off from the rest of the world in the last years of her life may be too much for Noelle to bear.

Why I wanted to read it: I wanted to escape to the Cotswolds and life in a small village, if only in the pages of a novel!

What I liked: I was swept up into Noelle’s story right away. Borum does a great job portraying life in a small town, where everyone knows everyone and is like family. Noelle seems to have been drifting since losing her mother and grandmother and losing touch with her aunt, but staying at her aunt’s cottage, forging a friendship with her aunt’s gardener, Mac, rekindling her friendships with Adam and Jillian, and trying to find a way to save her aunt’s art gallery put her on the path to making herself whole again. Borum enables readers to get to know Joy through her journal and her paintings and to see Noelle evolve as she puts all the pieces together, rediscovering her artistic soul. Her relationship with Adam is important to the story, of course, but I liked that there was more to this novel than that.

What I disliked: It was hard for me to believe that Noelle would take so long to read through her aunt’s journal, especially since none of the entries seemed long and there was a mystery for her to uncover. Too many years have passed and too many questions have been left unanswered, so if I had been in Noelle’s shoes, it would have been impossible for me to wait that long. Maybe a single read-through wouldn’t provide all the answers, but I definitely couldn’t read it one entry at a time.

Final thoughts: Painting the Moon is a solid start to the series, with an intriguing mystery, beautiful descriptions of the artistic process, endearing villagers, the sadness and regret of a romance that never had a chance to blossom, and the hope and freedom that comes from finding oneself. Borum has created a village readers will want to return to and characters they will want to revisit, and I can’t wait to read more.

Disclosure: I received Painting the Moon 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.


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

Every light in the room went dark. A single spotlight illuminated her on stage as though she were the sole woman on earth. Unrivaled. Incomparable. Matchless. The room immediately fell to a hush, the only sound the low murmur of people in the room whispering as though they knew something auspicious was about to happen.

Then she started to sing, and everything changed.

(from Longbourn’s Songbird)

Quick summary: Longbourn’s Songbird takes Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice to the Deep South shortly after World War II. In Meryton, South Carolina, Will Darcy spies Elizabeth Bennet taking a dip in Netherfield Pond and is immediately drawn to her beautiful voice. Despite persuading her sister, Jane, to break up with Charles Bingley and setting his sights on Longbourn Farms, Elizabeth thinks there’s more to Will Darcy than meets the eye. But the schemes of Caroline Bingley and George Wickham and a heartbreaking secret from Elizabeth’s past threaten to keep them apart. Longbourn’s Songbird is more than just a Darcy and Elizabeth love story as author Beau North fully immerses Austen’s characters into a postwar society where soldiers are haunted by the war, women are still seen as the property of their husbands, and racism and poverty abound.

Why I wanted to read it: I was intrigued by the setting and time period and wanted to see how Austen’s characters would fare in post-World War II America.

What I liked: I was blown away by this novel. North seems to get the setting just right, and there are so many layers to this story, but it never feels overdone. Moreover, I loved her take on Austen’s characters, particularly Richard Fitzwilliam’s PTSD and the reason why Charlotte Lucas is willing to marry someone like the “holy roller” Leland Collins. Bingley’s backstory and how it comes full circle with Collins was so well done, as was North’s portrayal of Anne de Bourgh. North makes the secondary characters come to life while creating a Darcy and Lizzie readers can’t help but love.

What I disliked: Nothing! I breezed through this book in almost a single sitting.

Final thoughts: Longbourn’s Songbird is among the most unique retellings of Pride and Prejudice that I’ve had the pleasure to read. Yes, there is a passionate love story (more than one, actually) at its core, but it’s so much more than that. North takes the societal constraints of Jane Austen’s time and finds the similarities in the postwar South (even discussing her inspiration and reasoning in a Q&A at the end of the book, which I really appreciated). It was amazing to see how well Austen’s characters and plots fit into this setting, and North’s attention to detail makes for a rich novel. Definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year!

longbourn's songbird banner

Disclosure: I received Longbourn’s Songbird from Meryton Press for review.

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

Mailbox Monday — October 19

Welcome to Mailbox Monday, the weekly meme where book lovers share the titles they received for review, purchased, or otherwise obtained over the past week. It is now being hosted at the Mailbox Monday blog.

Here’s what I added to my shelves over the last couple of weeks:

For review:

prejudice & pridePrejudice & Pride by Lynn Messina — from Martin Publicity

You know Darcy: rich, proud, disapproving, standoffish. Bennet Bethle knows Darcy, too — at least, the type. As a fundraiser for the Longbourn Collection, an art museum in out-of-the-way Queens, he’s met a lot of heiresses. Watching the aloof beauty swat away all comers at his museum’s gala (including himself, even though he didn’t make the attempt), Bennet figures he’s got her all sized up. He knows exactly how this story plays out.

But this story isn’t all that it seems. Despite her air of indifference, Darcy’s interest has been piqued by the irreverent Bennet, who finds himself frequently in her company while her friend Charlotte “Bingley” Bingston plans a ball at the Netherfield hotel to benefit the museum. Well, plans a ball or woos his brother — it’s hard for Bennet to say because Bingley’s motives are murky. One thing, however, is crystal clear: He doesn’t like Darcy.

And yet somehow that becomes murky too.

In Prejudice & Pride, Lynn Messina takes the genres she does best — chick lit, the mashup, Regency romance — and weaves them into one delightfully modern tale with a gender-bendy twist.

Longbourn’s Songbird by Beau North — from Meryton Press

In the autumn of 1948, young millionaire Will Darcy comes to the sleepy, backwater town of Meryton, South Carolina, to visit his best friend, Charles Bingley. When Darcy becomes enchanted by a local beauty with a heavenly voice, his business dealings with Longbourn Farms may close the door to his romantic hopes before they are given a chance to thrive.

Still healing from heartbreak, Elizabeth Bennet takes solace in her family, home, and the tight-knit community of Meryton. That foundation is shaken when Will Darcy makes a successful offer to buy the family farm. Blinded by hurt, will Elizabeth miss the chance to find in him the peace and comfort her heart truly needs?

Confronting the racial, economic, and social inequalities of the times, Longbourn’s Songbird is an imaginative romance inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice and told through the lens of post-WWII America, a story layered with betrayal and loss, love and letting go.

Unexpected arrival:

the japanese loverThe Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende — Atria Books

In The Japanese Lover, Isabel Allende offers an exquisitely crafted novel about the extraordinary relationship between Alma Belasco, a Polish girl transplanted to San Francisco in the face of the Nazi invasion, and Ichimei Fukuda, a gentle Japanese-American boy sent to an internment camp run by the United States government. Their love can only be shared in secret, but their devotion lasts for a lifetime.

Sweeping between San Francisco in the present day and Europe and the United States during the Second World War, The Japanese Lover explores race and identity, abandonment and reconciliation, while powerfully evoking both the horrific acts and selfless deeds of which humans are capable.

What books did you add to your shelves recently?

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

port of no return

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

Her dishevelled state alarmed Contessa, but she could well understand it. She curled an arm around her friend and sat and wished that life were not so cruel, even though they knew it was, and worse, that there was nothing they could do about it. They sat, without speaking, grappling with the loss. They were beyond denial and so, with acceptance, came a slow torturous sorrow.

(from Port of No Return)

Quick summary: Port of No Return opens in 1944 and follows Ettore and Contessa Saforo, who are managing the best they can to care for their children in German-occupied Fiume, Italy. Their town is close to the border with Yugoslavia, and when the Germans lose control of Fiume, Ettore is forced to flee to the hills to escape the Yugoslav Partisans, who are hunting down anyone who worked for the Germans. Meanwhile, Contessa must get her mother and young children out of Fiume and hope that her husband will meet them. The novel details the struggles of the thousands of Italians displaced following World War II and the atrocities committed by the partisans.

Why I wanted to read it: I’d never read about Tito and the Yugoslav Army and never heard of the foibe massacres, so I was intrigued.

What I liked: According to the acknowledgements, Michelle Saftich interviewed her father and other Italians who were displaced due to the war, and this shows in her painstaking attention to detail. I could picture the displaced persons camps — the grief, the hunger, the despair, and even the hope. There was a sizable cast of characters, encompassing not only the Saforo family but also the friends they made along the way, yet I felt like I got to know them all. Saftich provides enough historical information so that someone unfamiliar with the details of the politics can easily follow the story, and those details are skillfully woven into the narrative.

What I disliked: The children’s dialogue often seemed a bit too mature for their ages, but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story. The timeline seemed to be in chronological order, but toward the end, the timeline moved forward and then back a bit, which was somewhat jarring. However, the dates and locations are indicated at the beginning of each chapter, so that made it less confusing.

Final thoughts: Port of No Return is a heartfelt story of family, love, and survival. Saftich’s characters are believable and likable, and their experiences make readers ponder the meaning of home when there is no physical home left. It is difficult to grasp all that these families, especially the children, endured, but Port of No Return shines a light on the experiences of thousands of people, acknowledging not only their struggles but also their resourcefulness, their courage, and their belief that a new life was on the horizon.

Thanks to Italy Book Tours for having me on the tour for Port of No Return. To learn more about the book, connect with the author, and follow the rest of the tour, click here.

Disclosure: I received Port of No Return 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.

These are all books I read over the summer that have been patiently waiting to be reviewed, so in order to clear them off my side table and feel accomplished, I figured some mini reviews were in order!

the war within these walls

Source: Public library
Rating: ★★★★☆

The War Within These Walls by Aline Sax, illustrated by Caryl Strzelecki

This young adult graphic novel chronicles the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943 from the eyes of a teenager, Misha. When he can no longer stand to watch the disease, starvation, and violence take the lives of the Jews forced to live within the walls of the ghetto, he decides to join the resistance fighters planning to stand and fight the Nazis as they prepare to liquidate the ghetto. The War Within These Walls combines a first-person narrative with dark illustrations to emphasize the desolation and despair in the ghetto. It’s a powerful novel, and although I read it in one sitting, the images still haunt me months later.

emma, mr. knightley and chili-slaw dogs

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★☆

Emma, Mr. Knightley and Chili-Slaw Dogs by Mary Jane Hathaway

A fun modern-day retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma set in a southern town where people take their garden parties and Civil War reenactments seriously. The novel centers on old friends, Caroline, a journalist who leaves her job to care for her ailing mother, and Brooks, a journalism professor dealing with his own family issues, who must contend with their changing feelings for one another amidst all their disagreements. It was fun to pick out all the allusions to Austen’s novel, and there are recipes, too!

darcy and elizabeth lost in love

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★☆

“Darcy and Elizabeth: Lost in Love” by Mary Lydon Simonsen

A sweet short story based on Pride and Prejudice by one of my favorite authors of Austen-inspired fiction. While touring Pemberley with her aunt and uncle, Elizabeth Bennet gets lost in a garden maze. Darcy is still dealing with Elizabeth’s rejection when he returns to his estate, and both are surprised to encounter one another. “Darcy and Elizabeth: Lost in Love” was a quick read that made me feel sad that it was over but satisfied at the same time.

almost persuaded

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★☆

“Almost Persuaded: Miss Mary King” by P.O. Dixon

This short story inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice focuses on Mary King, the heiress who catches Mr. Wickham’s eye but who luckily manages not to be trapped into a marriage with the scoundrel. Tired of competing with the Bennet sisters, Mary finds herself easily charmed by Wickham. It was nice to get a glimpse of a secondary character that isn’t paid much attention, but I was surprised to see a bit too much of her in a steamy seduction scene. My only complaint is that it ended too soon, and because I’d grown to care for Mary a bit, I wanted to see if she ever got her happy ending.

bits of bobbin lace

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Bits of Bobbin Lace by Maria Grace

This was a free download from the author’s website that features bonus chapters from her Given Good Principles series of novels inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I’m a big fan of the series, so it was fun to revisit the characters again. I especially liked how the bonus chapters featured a wide variety characters, including Mr. Darcy’s parents, Elizabeth’s parents, Charlotte Lucas, and even Mr. Bingley’s sister, Louisa. However, you’ll definitely have to read the series first so you can appreciate these extras.

a tale of two matchmakers

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★☆☆

“A Tale of Two Matchmakers” by Marilyn Brant

This very short (and free, on the author’s website) story is inspired by Jane Austen’s Emma and involves a matchmaking fairy named Sylvia. Sounds odd, but it was sweet, humorous, and took only a few minutes to read. The story is set at the Box Hill picnic, and Emma tells the fairy about all the “matches” she has made, but Sylvia sees what Emma does not. It’s a fun little scene that is oddly satisfying given its brevity.

the poignant sting

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★☆☆

“The Poignant Sting: Homage to Jane Austen’s Emma” by Sherwood Smith

This is a short sequel to Emma, which mainly focuses on Emma Knightley’s friendship with Jane Churchill, both of whom are expectant mothers. I really enjoyed it, but it felt like it ended just as it was getting started.

amish knit lit circle

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★☆☆

“Amish Knit Lit Circle: Pride & Prejudice (Episode 1)” by Karen Anna Vogel

This is a short story about a group of women, some Amish, some not, who get together to knit and discuss books. I liked the writing style, and the characters were intriguing. However, despite being “Episode 1,” it felt like I was missing something. And then it ended pretty abruptly.

Have you read any of these? What did you think?

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

the unthinkable triangle

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

Eyes tightly shut against the horrifying future, Darcy dug his fingers in his hair, his temples pressed hard between cold palms as though to force out thoughts that tore and slashed and hounded him into a world so dark that, by comparison, insanity seemed a generous blessing. Yet, as he knew full well, there was worse to come.

(from The Unthinkable Triangle)

Quick summary: Joana Starnes’ latest novel, The Unthinkable Triangle, is a variation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice that imagines what could have happened if Colonel Fitzwilliam, Mr. Darcy’s beloved cousin, proposed to Elizabeth Bennet first and was accepted. Can Darcy put aside his feelings for her for his cousin’s sake, especially when events conspire to ensure they frequently cross paths?

Why I wanted to read it: I’ve been a fan of Starnes’ writing since The Subsequent Proposal, her clever mashup of Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion.

What I liked: I loved The Unthinkable Triangle from start to finish. Starnes is not afraid to shake things up, and she certainly isn’t afraid to torture poor Darcy! She infuses so much emotion into these pages, yet it never feels overdone. She makes the premise completely believable and made me truly worried about how it was all going to play out. But most of all, I loved getting into the heads of these characters, feeling their joys and their sorrows. Starnes puts Darcy and Elizabeth through new trials, lets readers get to know secondary characters like Colonel Fitzwilliam and Georgiana better, and introduces intriguing original characters, some sweet and some filled with malice.

What I disliked: Absolutely nothing! It has the perfect mixture of passion and despair.

Final thoughts: The Unthinkable Triangle is another winner for Starnes, and again she made me believe that another outcome could be possible. Her writing is beautiful, seemingly effortlessly moving from hope to regret to despondency and back again and taking readers along for the tumultuous ride. The Unthinkable Triangle is a contender for my Best of 2015 list and easily makes my list of all-time favorite Pride and Prejudice variations.

Disclosure: I received The Unthinkable Triangle 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.


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