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I am so excited to welcome Joana Starnes back to Diary of an Eccentric today! I became a fan of hers after devouring and absolutely loving The Subsequent Proposal, in which she brilliantly blended Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion, and The Unthinkable Triangle, in which she seriously (and again, brilliantly) had me worried about Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth’s happily ever after. Joana is back with Miss Darcy’s Companion, which I will be reviewing here this summer. I can’t wait to read it! Please welcome Joana as she shares an excerpt from the novel and graciously offers a copy to one of my readers.

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Miss Darcy's Companion front cover_V4Many thanks, Anna, for welcoming me here today on the blog tour for my latest Pride and Prejudice variation, Miss Darcy’s Companion.

In this story Elizabeth and Mr Darcy’s acquaintance does not start at the Meryton assembly with a most ungentlemanly comment. Instead, they come across each other in a fashionable townhouse, where the recently bereaved Miss Elizabeth Bennet is temporarily employed as a governess to Colonel Fitzwilliam’s nieces and nephew. But the children’s mother, Lady Stretton, is about as pleasant as Lady Catherine de Bourgh towards her social inferiors. So what are knights in shining armour to do when faced with a damsel in distress?

Before long, at his cousin’s persuasion, Mr Darcy rather reluctantly agrees to let his dear sister have a say in choosing her companion. Georgiana would much rather not have Mrs Younge. In fact, she would greatly prefer Miss Bennet.

I hope you’ll like the following excerpt. Having been detained by family obligations, Mr Darcy finally joins his sister and her new companion at Pemberley to learn what they have been up to in his absence. Despite Miss Bennet’s young years and obvious inexperience as a lady’s companion, she seems a good choice. She is cheerful, kind and outgoing and might help Georgiana conquer her shyness. But is that all she is? Or is Mr Darcy to discover that he has bitten rather more than he could chew?

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“You will find that I have become quite the walker, Brother. Lizzy and I have ventured further than I have ever gone before.”

“Escorted, I hope,” Darcy frowned in expectation, and Miss Bennet promptly reassured him.

“Of course, Sir. I have not seen the need in my Hertfordshire rambles, but here it was a different matter. The paths were unknown to me, and besides I had your sister’s welfare to consider.”

“I appreciate your diligence, Miss Bennet. And I expect this good practice to continue even when you have grown familiar with the area, regardless of whether Georgiana accompanies you or not.”

At that, Miss Bennet’s eyes flashed briefly towards him.

“I am quite accustomed to looking after myself, Sir,” she replied, but for all her civility of manner, Darcy could not fail to detect the mutinous undertones.

Riled in no small measure, he shot back:

“Are you now! Pray tell me, how would you fare if you were to come across ruffians or simply twist your ankle? Self-sufficiency is one thing, Miss Bennet. Recklessness is quite another. You will not leave the formal gardens unescorted, and that is the end of the matter,” he said flatly and reached for his cup of tea.

A heavy silence fell. Miss Bennet’s eyes were trained upon her plate, and Darcy could only wonder if they hid distress, remorse or further rebellion. Across from him Georgiana fidgeted, casting uncomfortable glances from her companion to her brother. This riled him too. For the second time since his arrival he had been cast into the part of the unbending ogre, and he did not appreciate it in the slightest. Which was one of the reasons why he morosely observed, “If we are to go riding, Georgiana, perhaps you ought to go and change.”

His sister required no further prompting and stood to do as bid. Her glance still averted, her companion dabbed her lips in readiness to follow, presumably thinking herself likewise dismissed, but Darcy was quick to disabuse her of that notion.

“Miss Bennet, a word, if you please.”

She kept her seat and her back stiffened, but still did not look up when she was spoken to. This sort of conduct bordered not merely on a level of insubordination he was not accustomed to, but was beginning to skirt the edges of downright incivility.

Darcy took a deep breath to calm himself. In living memory he had not lost his temper with one of his people and, by Jove, a slip of a girl would not provoke him into it today. Lady Stretton might have been a nuisance in so many ways, but perhaps she had the right of the matter in one respect at least. He would have known where he stood with an experienced companion for Georgiana – much more so than with a young lady freshly out of the schoolroom and scarcely accustomed to working for a living. Most certainly he would not have had this sort of trouble from the likes of Mrs Younge. He might have to remedy that error and reconsider Miss Bennet’s employment. But that was for another day. For now, he sought to regulate his voice to deliver sensibly and calmly:

“If we get to know each other better, you will see that I do not seek to rule my household with an iron fist, Miss Bennet. However, I do expect my people to obey sensible requests. And also to look at me when spoken to.”

She did as bid at last, only to shock him into momentary silence. Unshed tears glimmered in her eyes and it was Darcy’s turn to look away, caught between embarrassment and exasperation. Heavens, what now? Was she distressed by his forceful manner or were they tears of indignation at being ordered about? She must have reflected, with either sadness or vexation, that she would not have had to bend to a stranger’s will, had her father been alive. The notion struck a chord, because of Georgiana. How would she have fared, had she found herself dislodged from her place in the world, deprived of protection, forced to earn her keep? It did not bear thinking and, thank goodness, it would never happen; the Darcy name and fortune would always be her shelter, come what may. The young woman before him had none of those advantages. And only the likes of Lady Stretton would blame her if she still struggled to adjust to a very different way of life. Darcy cleared his voice.

“Forgive me for distressing you with my forthrightness, Miss Bennet. I only had your safety in mind. I should not wish to be forced to write to your pa–… your relations that you have been harmed whilst your welfare was my responsibility,” he offered mildly, and was pleased to see that the altered manner had the desired effect and her strained countenance softened.

“‘Tis I who should beg your pardon, Mr Darcy. I fear that my upbringing has had a major flaw, in that it has not taught me the virtues of unquestioning obedience, but rather the opposite. It does not serve me well under the circumstances,” she concluded with a conscious smile, which Darcy mirrored.

“I suppose I should find it in me to be grateful for the practice. A time might come when Georgiana’s mind is different from my own. But let us not hasten that day if we could help it and, for the sake of household harmony, pray do not make a habit of questioning my requests. With some degree of effort, I might be able to disguise some of them as suggestions, but that would not apply to all by any means,” he added, only partly in jest.

Her earnest reply showed she had grasped his meaning: not just light-hearted repartee, but a structuring for the future.

“I thank you for your understanding patience. All I can say, and it is not in my defence, quite the contrary, is that in your welcoming household I found it all too easy to remember how it felt to be my father’s daughter. Lady Stretton had never allowed such licence. Not everyone would.”

“Not everyone has a young sister whom they would not wish to imagine in trying circumstances,” Darcy owned candidly, then stood. “Speaking of which, I should not keep Georgiana waiting any longer. Pray find yourself a cheerful way to pass the time, Miss Bennet, and I urge you to consider allowing one of my grooms to help you overcome your reservations about riding. Derbyshire is best seen on horseback and someday you might find pleasure in joining us.”

“I would only slow you down, I fear. In my most sanguine hopes I cannot imagine mastering anything faster than a canter. Enjoy your ride, Mr Darcy and, once again, I thank you,” she added softly and was gone, leaving him in a far better frame of mind than he had been but a half-hour ago.

So much so that when he found Georgiana by the stables, already in her riding habit and waiting for him, he met her troubled glance with a light chuckle.

“Do not look so concerned, sweetling, I have not devoured your Miss Lizzy for breakfast. She is safe and well, awaiting your return.”

Georgiana’s brows shot up at the uncharacteristic levity but she made no reply, presumably because a groom was by then approaching with their mounts. With a nod of thanks to the man, Darcy helped his sister into the saddle, then leisurely swung into his.

“So… all is well?” Georgiana tentatively asked as they took to the road together.

“All is well. But pray tell me, is she always so wilful?”

“Not that I have noticed,” his sister laughed lightly in response. “But then I am nowhere near as strong-willed as you, so there was little risk of our tempers clashing.”

He conceded her the point, although that brought a different reason for concern. Of course, Georgiana could benefit from the good example of a more outgoing nature, but if she was led by a stronger character, all manner of mischief could brew should she be led in the wrong direction.

Darcy snorted. He had hoped to share the responsibility of his sister’s welfare with a female companion engaged for the purpose, yet there he was instead, in charge of not one but two young ladies of a trying age. His aunt Malvern might have had the right of it. Everything would be a great deal easier if he married.

He snorted again, less audibly this time, lest he should attract Georgiana’s notice. The matchmaking matrons of the ton would laugh themselves into a stupor if he, who had so far resisted all their concerted efforts, should be brought down by a couple of young lasses. Heaven help him if Georgiana and her companion should try his patience enough to goad him into matrimony!

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I hope you enjoyed the excerpt and that you’ll like the full story. Please leave a comment with your email address by Sunday, June 5 for the chance to win a Kindle copy of Miss Darcy’s Companion, available internationally. Thanks for stopping by and many thanks again, Anna, for the lovely welcome at Diary of an Eccentric, you’re so kind to have me as your guest!

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About the author:

Joana Starnes lives in the South of England with her family. She has published six Austen-related novels:

  • From This Day Forward ~ The Darcys of Pemberley ~ A Pride & Prejudice sequel
  • The Subsequent Proposal ~ A Tale of Pride, Prejudice and Persuasion
  • The Second Chance ~ A Pride & Prejudice – Sense & Sensibility Variation
  • The Falmouth Connection ~ A Pride & Prejudice Variation set in Poldark territory
  • The Unthinkable Triangle ~ A Pride & Prejudice Variation, where loyalty comes at loggerheads with love
  • Miss Darcy’s Companion ~ A Pride & Prejudice Variation

They are available on all Amazon sites.

Books by Joana Starnes at Amazon.com
Books by Joana Starnes at Amazon.co.uk

You can connect with Joana Starnes on

http://www.facebook.com/joana.a.starnes
http://www.joanastarnes.co.uk
http://www.twitter.com/Joana_Starnes
Or visit ‘All Roads Lead to Pemberley’ on Facebook, for places, events and titbits that have inspired her novels.

Click the banner below to follow the blog tour for Miss Darcy’s Companion!

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

I’m thrilled to announce the recent release of Darcy’s Magical Message, which is the final episode in Barbara Silkstone’s The Witches of Longbourn trilogy (Pride & Prejudice & Witches). I was excited to work with Barbara on this project as her editor, as I was intrigued by her quirky and humorous writing style. I laughed all the way through the book, and since I jumped into the trilogy at the very end, I now want to go back and read it from the beginning.

Here’s more information about the trilogy, and be sure to check out Barbara’s blog, Second Act Cafe.

darcy's magical messageDarcy’s Magical Message (Book Three)

Buckingham Palace will never be the same as Darcy risks all to rescue Lizzy from the clutches of the Prince Regent and Lady Anne Darcy’s fatal spell. Fiona Feelgood has reasons to regret casting the prince under a love spell. Can they rescue Herman the Hermit before Lizzy turns to dust? Beware of Caroline Bingley as she lurks the palace halls in search of witches for the London Anti-Magic Tribunal! Will Lizzy overcome her habit of changing adversaries into potted plants? And where is Wickham?

Buy: Amazon, iTunes, Nook, Kobo

Enjoy the entire trilogy!

darcy's royal dilemmaDarcy’s Royal Dilemma (Book One)

Fitzwilliam Darcy’s first spell has gone wrong, and he arrives at Netherfield with a small jewel box possessing the power to topple the British monarchy. Desperate to find a witch to undo his botched magic, he is attracted to Elizabeth Bennet—but hijinks ensue as Miss Fiona Feelgood, a darling little love witch, enters their lives.

Buy: Amazon, iTunes, Nook, Kobo

lizzy's love apprenticeLizzy’s Love Apprentice (Book Two)

Can a union between two strong willed witches find a happily ever after in the world of Regency? Should Lizzy Bennet accept Fitzwilliam Darcy’s hand in marriage? And will one of the most powerful witches in England—who also happens to be Darcy’s mother—accept Lizzy as worthy of her son? Or will the curse she placed on Lizzy prevail? Amid the chaos, can Lizzy succeed in teaching Fiona Feelgood a few Lessons in Lovability?

Buy: Amazon, iTunes, Nook, Kobo

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

A Fine Stout Love.indd

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

She could never have envisioned an instance in which he would read it or, stranger still, that it would invite his addresses. Such had not been her intention — she had never desired his good opinion — but it flashed upon her with sudden, startling clarity, neither was his admiration unwelcome now that she gained it. The world pivoted on her answer.

(from A Fine Stout Love and Other Stories)

Quick Summary: A Fine Stout Love and Other Stories is the first volume in Renée Beyea’s Pride & Prejudice Petite Tales short story collections. It is comprised of five short and clean romances that successfully show the passion between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. “Words in the Wind” has Lizzy chasing notes that lead her to a graveyard. “A Fine Stout Love” puts verses penned by Elizabeth about Mr. Darcy into his hands and presents the story from both points of view. “Neither Slumber Nor Sleep” finds our hero and heroine in scandalous yet hilarious circumstances. “Gold, All Gold” is a supernatural sort of story in which Lizzy visits Mr. Darcy’s dreams. Finally, in “Eden Unashamed,” a poem written by Mr. Darcy to Lizzy makes its rounds of the Bennet household and has a dramatic effect upon each member of the family, particularly Mary.

Why I wanted to read it: I can’t get enough of Pride and Prejudice variations (obviously!), and lately I’ve been in the mood for short stories.

What I liked: A Fine Stout Love and Other Stories is a delightful collection of sweet and passionate stories that had me smiling and even laughing throughout. I enjoyed all of the stories, but my favorites were “Neither Slumber Nor Sleep” and “Eden Unashamed” because of the humor. Beyea’s writing is fantastic; it helps if you’ve read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, but she manages to say so much about the characters in so few words.

What I disliked: I only wish there had been more stories! I can’t wait for the next volume, What Love May Come and Other Stories, due out this winter.

Final thoughts: A Fine Stout Love and Other Stories is like a love letter to Pride and Prejudice. Beyea’s love for Austen and her characters shines through, and the poetry showcased within the stories is beautifully crafted. It’s a charming and fun collection and a welcome addition to my library of Austen-inspired tales.

About A Fine Stout Love and Other Stories

Discover what happens when Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy meet fancy and fantasy in this novella-length ensemble of Regency stories.

– What if two inexplicable trails of words led to the Meryton churchyard on the same blustery morning?
– What if Darcy stumbled across suggestive lines of verse following Elizabeth’s stay at Netherfield?
– What if a rumored engagement so thoroughly shocked Lady Catherine that she could not interfere?
– What if Elizabeth learned the last man she would ever marry was the only man she could marry?
– What if every Bennet family member read the love poem Darcy intended only for his bride?

With all the intimacy and lyricism of a chamber concert, these five whimsical shorts will inspire the heart, prompt a smile, and entice readers to many happy returns.

Buy it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords

About the Author

Renée Beyea holds an undergraduate writing degree from Taylor University and a Master of Divinity from Fuller Seminary. She serves as full-time wife, mother to two sons, and ministry partner with her husband, an Anglican priest and chaplain. Her free time is devoted to crafting stories and composing poetry that delight the senses and touch the soul.

Connect with Renée via email, her website, Facebook, and Goodreads

Giveaway of 8 copies, open internationally until May 19

Click here: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/721c271532/

Blog Tour

5/2: Excerpt & Giveaway at From Milton to Pemberley
5/3: Guest Post & Giveaway at So Little Time…
5/4: Excerpt & Giveaway at Half Agony, Half Hope
5/5: Review & Giveaway at The Calico Critic
5/6: Guest Post & Giveaway at Austenesque Reviews
5/7: Guest Post & Giveaway at Babblings of a Bookworm
5/8: Review & Giveaway at Delighted Reader
5/9: Review & Giveaway at Austenesque Reviews
5/10: Interview & Giveaway at Savvy Verse and Wit
5/12: Review & Giveaway at Just Jane 1813
5/12: Excerpt & Giveaway at Laughing with Lizzie
5/13: Review & Giveaway at Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell
5/14: Excerpt & Giveaway at My Kids Led Me Back to Pride and Prejudice
5/15: Excerpt & Giveaway at Best Sellers and Best Stellars
5/16: Review & Giveaway at Margie’s Must Reads

Disclosure: I received A Fine Stout Love and Other Stories from the author for review.

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

sbsafrontcover

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

Reading the words of a woman in love did not cause those same feelings to blossom in her chest. She was in the peculiar state of both knowing herself, and not.

(from Side by Side, Apart)

Quick summary: Ann Galvia’s Side by Side, Apart is a unique take on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. A sequel of sorts, the novel takes place 11 years after the marriage of Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. However, an accident leaves Elizabeth without any memory of her marriage or her children. The last thing Elizabeth remembers is Darcy’s proposal at Hunsford, so she can’t possibly understand how or why she would have married him. Forced to be in his company, Elizabeth realizes the Mr. Darcy she married is nothing like the Mr. Darcy she once knew, and she must piece together the mystery of how she became Mrs. Darcy.

Why I wanted to read it: I can’t resist Pride and Prejudice variations, and the more unique, the better.

What I liked: Galvia’s clever plot drew me in from the first page. Elizabeth wakes up in an unfamiliar house, in her nightgown, and doesn’t understand why Mr. Darcy is in her room. Galvia does a fantastic job getting into Elizabeth’s head as she struggles to assume her role as mistress of Pemberley, and most importantly as a wife and mother. It was heartbreaking to see Elizabeth unable to feel what she should for Darcy and her children, but it was delightful to see Elizabeth’s feelings for this older, more mature Darcy evolve. I especially enjoyed how this novel took place more than a decade after the events of Pride and Prejudice, so there were numerous new characters, from Perry, Elizabeth’s maid, to the children, and I had no inkling of how things would unfold.

What I disliked: Absolutely nothing! Even though I wish the novel had been longer, it was entirely satisfying.

Final thoughts: Side by Side, Apart is definitely a contender for my Best of 2016 list, and if I were to compile a list of my favorite Pride and Prejudice-inspired stories, it would likely be toward the top. It’s definitely a novel to savor on a lazy afternoon with a cup of tea, though I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. I was so attached to Galvia’s Elizabeth and Darcy, as well as their children, that I would love to see her revisit them again in the future.

Click on the banner below to check out the rest of the stops on the Side by Side, Apart blog tour!

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Disclosure: I received Side by Side, Apart from Mertyon Press for review.

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

tasa's song

Source: Review copy from Caitlin Hamilton Marketing
Rating: ★★★★☆

As she drew out the deepest of notes and boldest of chords, from lightly melodic to sharp and unyielding, and the song asserted its melancholic voice, she felt her tears fall, unrestrained, down her cheeks.

(from Tasa’s Song)

Quick summary: Tasa’s Song spans the years 1933-1947 and follows Tasa Rosinski, whose peaceful life in Eastern Poland is torn apart by war. Linda Kass, inspired by her mother’s childhood, tells the tale of a young Jewish girl whose passion for music and the violin, the happy memories of her parents, and the love of her cousin, Danik, help her stay strong as the war leaves her without a home and forces her fractured family underground.

Why I wanted to read it: I have a weakness for World War II novels, especially those set in Europe and with a strong female character in the lead.

What I liked: Kass opens the novel with Tasa’s family having to run from the approaching Germans and then takes readers back in time, when Tasa’s father was so sure that the political turmoil following the rise of Hitler would leave their village and their lives unaffected. Kass does a fantastic job developing the characters of Tasa and Danik as they leave their small village for an education in Brody and the warm home of Frau Rothstein and then are brought back together by the war and find solace in their love for one another. Shortly after Germany declares war on Poland, Tasa’s village and the surrounding area become part of the Ukrainian Republic, and Kass shows the confusion and the chaos over the course of the war as control of the area frequently changes hands between the Germans and the Soviets.

What I disliked: The novel opens with a bang, but quickly backtracks to Tasa’s childhood and then moves forward chronologically, and that slowed the pace a bit. There also was a bit too much description in spots, particularly at the beginning, but somewhere around page 60-70, I finally felt invested in the characters, and the pace picked up. It didn’t prevent me from enjoying and appreciating the novel, especially since I really enjoyed Kass’ writing overall. It might’ve just been my mood at the time, so I’m so glad I kept on reading!

Final thoughts: Tasa’s Song shows the various changes that occurred in Europe in the years before the war and how signs of trouble brewing were visible but not always taken seriously. The novel emphasizes everyday life in wartime, how people became immune to the sounds of the fighting after a time, how they waited for months or years to receive letters from loved ones, and the moments of hope that shone through the dark clouds of loss. Despite all that Tasa endures, she never gives up, never stops fighting, and never stops hearing the music inside of her. She is definitely a character I won’t soon forget.

Disclosure: I received Tasa’s Song from Caitlin Hamilton Marketing for review.

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

weeping women springs

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

“There must be another way to protect our country that doesn’t involve the death of all of our young boys.”

“The world hasn’t discovered it yet.”

“They haven’t looked very hard. Maybe that’s because all the young men keep offering themselves up for war. Perhaps because they keep sacrificing themselves. It doesn’t have to be this way.”

(from Weeping Women Springs)

Quick summary: Weeping Women Springs is a novel about an isolated town in New Mexico known as Hope Springs, where just a taste of the water from the spring will make you feel hope, maybe even heal you, and you’ll never want to leave. No one knows the reason why the spring water has such a magical effect on people, but the residents go to great lengths to protect their secret. However, Hope Springs’ wartime losses draw attention to the town, and the grieving women are no longer able to draw strength from the water. Tamara Eaton takes readers on a journey from the early days of the United States’ involvement in World War II through the Korean War and beyond as the women of what once was known as Hope Springs remember how things were before the wars and explain how they did their best to honor their men and pick up the pieces left behind in the aftermath.

Why I wanted to read it: I liked the idea of a World War II novel with a bit of magical realism.

What I liked: I enjoyed how Eaton told the story in the voices of the women of the town: Liv, who is strong, determined, and outspoken, puts the needs of the town first, and ultimately becomes a leader in the Council; Maxine, who runs the general store alone after the deaths of her parents and marries her high school sweetheart just before he goes off to war; Ruth, who often butts head with Liv and whose desire to find happiness is at odds with the goals of the Council; and Susie, who loses herself in books to escape her grief. Eaton also includes the journals of Anna, whose three sons all went off to war. Even though the women are revisiting the past and telling their stories to a journalist, Eaton manages to put readers into the center of the town and into the heads of each of the characters, feeling the excitement right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the despair that accompanies their losses.

What I disliked: At times I found parts of the story hard to believe, mainly the actions of the Council in controlling the lives of the townspeople and the extreme actions of the grief-stricken women. However, it did make sense in the context of the story and in the way the characters were developed, and it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the novel.

Final thoughts: Weeping Women Springs is a thoughtful, complex tale of the sacrifices made on the homefront during wartime, with those left behind forced to contend with the fact that their loved ones were never coming home. Eaton shows how war rips apart people in the literal sense and also tears apart the lives of those who never set foot on an actual battlefield. The women are able to go on because of their devotion to their soldiers, the routines they adopt to honor their memory, and the town’s ability to hide from the outside world. And when their way of life must come to an end, Eaton shows how they still manage to move forward.

Disclosure: I received Weeping Women Springs from the author for review.

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

lost among the living

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

Someone should write a poem, I thought, about the women. Not just about the men marching bravely to war and dying, but about their wives, their girls, their mothers and sisters and daughters, sitting in silence and screaming into the darkness. … Someone should write a poem about the women. But I already knew that no one ever would.

(from Lost Among the Living)

Quick summary: Lost Among the Living, the latest novel by Simone St. James, is an atmospheric tale set in Sussex, England, in 1921. The novel is told from the point of view of Jo Manders, whose husband, Alex, went missing in The Great War when his plane went down. She is an unofficial war widow, and without a body to claim, and therefore no widow’s pension, she takes the role of paid companion to her husband’s aunt, Dottie Forsyth, who is focused on two things: selling the art she bought while touring the Continent and finding a wife for her wounded son, Martin, who is only now returning from the war. Not long after she arrives at Wych Elm House, Jo sees the ghost of Dottie’s daughter, Frances Forsyth, whose mental illness and mysterious death sparked numerous rumors about the family. Jo is determined to find out why Frances keeps appearing only to her — even if it means she must come to terms with the fact that she didn’t know her husband as well as she thought she did.

Why I wanted to read it: I love ghost stories, and I was intrigued by the connection to the Great War.

What I liked: So many times I stumble upon a novel that is supposed to be creepy, atmospheric, and suspenseful only to be let down. But St. James exceeded my expectations with her vivid descriptions (I could easily picture the mist and the blowing leaves that characterized the dreary landscape), and there were even a few times that I contemplated putting the book down because I didn’t want to read it while alone in the house at night. I thought the plot and the characters were well developed, and the pacing was spot on in terms of building suspense. I liked that I was able to put together some but not all of the pieces of the mystery, and the way St. James weaves in the war and Alex’s secrets was clever. The use of the first person viewpoint created even more suspense in that readers only know what Jo knows.

What I disliked: Nothing! If I hadn’t been so busy, I probably would’ve read this book in one sitting.

Final thoughts: Simone St. James is a new-to-me writer, and as soon as I finished Lost Among the Living I determined that I must read her previous novels, which all seem to be equally suspenseful. I loved her writing here, particularly the passages that describe the intensity of Jo and Alex’s relationship, which enable readers to feel Jo’s grief and the frustration inherent in not knowing Alex’s fate. I also liked that while there was romance and passion, Lost Among the Living is at its core a ghost story, but it’s so much more than that. St. James shows the impact of the war on the returning soldiers and the women whose men never came home, as well as the blurring of the boundaries between social classes and how greed and selfishness can tear families apart. It was a deeper, richer novel than I expected and a strong contender for my Best of 2016 list.

Disclosure: I received Lost Among the Living from NAL for review.

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

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