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Source: Cedar Forge Press
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Robbie reached across and touched my arm. When he didn’t draw his hand back, I told him about my frights. “Maybe,” he said, “we all practice our dying, in different ways, at different times, but there’s no way to avoid the thought. Write it if you can.”

(from The Belle of Two Arbors)

The Belle of Two Arbors is a sweeping historical novel that takes readers on a journey between Glen Arbor and Ann Arbor, Michigan, and sometimes beyond, from 1913 to 1978. The book is presented as a memoir of the fictional poet Martha “Belle” Peebles, whose entire collection of poems, or “songs,” are found in a trunk, along with the memoir, after her death. The novel chronicles Belle’s life, from her mother’s tragic death when she was 14 until the end of her life and beyond.

Belle’s mother was a fan of Emily Dickinson and encouraged Belle to write. Although devoted to her younger brother, Pip, and her Papa, Belle decides to leave Glen Arbor to attend college in Ann Arbor, where her lifelong friendship with Robert Frost begins. Her friendships with Robbie, Ted Roethke, and Wystan Auden enrich her life and inspire her work, and they share their poems and letters over the span of many years. Dimond chronicles Belle’s work, her role as a caregiver, her complicated love life, her desire to preserve the natural habitat in Glen Arbor and expand the family’s stove works, her battle with sexism in academia, and more.

The Belle of Two Arbors is an ambitious novel that was just a bit too long for me at nearly 700 pages. Dimond’s prose is great, and Grimes’ poems (Belle’s poems for the purpose of the novel) are well done, but it felt like there were a lot of scenes and details that, though well written, just did not further the plot.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the novel overall because of Belle. What a fantastic heroine! She was brave, strong-willed, ahead of her time, a pillar of strength among her friends and family, a source of encouragement and love. She had dreams and figured out ways to achieve them. She managed the ups and downs of love without being overly romantic or dramatic. Her interactions with historical figures were fascinating. If it weren’t for the extraneous details that hindered the flow in certain places, I would have loved this novel, but even so, I think it is worth giving a try for Belle alone.

Check out The Belle of Two Arbors on Goodreads and Amazon, and click the banner above for more details about the book and to follow the blog tour.

Disclosure: I received The Belle of Two Arbors from Cedar Forge Press for review.

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Source: Review copy from the editor
Rating: ★★★★★

The Darcy Monologues, edited by Christina Boyd, has been on my must-read list since I first heard that it was being released. It is a collection of 15 stories inspired by Jane Austen’s beloved hero, Mr. Darcy of Pride and Prejudice, and it exceeded all of my expectations. I have plenty to share with you today in addition to my review, so I’m not going to profile each story, but I will say it is a collection that has a little something for every reader who has ever fancied Mr. Darcy.

The Darcy Monologues lets readers see things from Darcy’s point of view, and it is divided into two sections: The Regency and Other Eras. What I loved most about the collection, besides the fact that it gathers in a single volume some of the best authors of Austen-inspired fiction, was the sheer creativity within these pages. In addition to more traditional Darcy and Elizabeth tales, this collection features a fairy tale mash-up with Beauty and the Beast; takes Darcy to World War II, a radio station in the 1960s, and a stagecoach in 1860 California; and portrays him as a school principal and a baseball player, among other things.

I absolutely adored this collection and never wanted it to end. I skipped around while reading, mixing the Regency stories amongst the other eras, and I definitely can see myself reading these stories over and over again. I loved reading something new from some of my favorite authors, like Beau North, Joana Starnes, and Jenetta James, to name a few, and it was delightful to be introduced to authors I’d never read before and hope to read again. These authors see the depth of Darcy’s character and understand why readers love him so much, flaws and all. The entire collection will make readers weak in the knees with deliciously sweet and sexy renditions of their favorite Austen hero. The Darcy Monologues will definitely be on my Best of 2017 list!

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Today, I have the pleasure of welcoming Lory Lilian to Diary of an Eccentric to express her appreciation for the work of Jenetta James. Please give her a warm welcome!

Lory Lilian

Admiring the Long and the Short from Jenetta James by Lory Lilian

When I heard about the team of authors involved in The Darcy Monologues, one of the first things that aroused my curiosity was Jenetta James’s story. It made me wonder if Jenetta’s poignant, rich writing style would shine as equally strong in a short story as it did in her two full-length novels — Suddenly Mrs. Darcy and The Elizabeth’s Papers. The answer is yes — it did! LOL!

My curiosity and eagerness of reading anything new from Jenetta — and especially a story from Darcy’s POV — should be clear for everyone who has already enjoyed her beautiful novels. I became acquainted with her writing in 2015, when she published her first book — Suddenly Mrs. Darcy, which is an excellent forced marriage scenario. And I became her fan the moment I read the astonishingly beautiful The Elizabeth Papers — a fabulous journey between the present to past, a closer look into the Darcys’ blissful marriage and their intimate thoughts, fears, and their joys. It is a story that blows the reader’s mind. If you read it already– you will surely understand my meaning. If you did not read it yet — I beg you to do it and let me know if I was right or not!

Jenetta is a newer addition to the world of JAFF, but one that added talent, class, and value to this community. And as much I loved her beautiful short story in The Darcy Monologues, I look forward to another longer project as soon as possible!

I am a huge fan of Jenetta myself. I adored both Suddenly Mrs. Darcy and The Elizabeth Papers, and I was delighted to see that she had written a World War II-era story for The Darcy Monologues. And I am especially excited to have her here today to answer a few questions! Please give her a warm welcome!

Jenetta James

Jenetta, can you share with my readers a six-word memoir about yourself?

Cheerful reader, unexpected writer, hopeless dancer

How did you come to be inspired by Miss Austen, as both a woman and as a writer?

I first encountered Jane Austen as a teenager. It is hard to read it and not be touched by the quality of the writing. I love the simple, light touch of her prose and the clever ribbon of satire that runs through it all. All of her novels are so well composed, which I admire. As a woman, I admire her industry. It takes a lot of focus to write novels in any circumstances, and Jane Austen managed to do it to such a standard in a man’s world.

Your story, “Reason to Hope,” and Jane Austen, what do you think makes them work together? What do they have to say to each other?

When I submitted my story to Christina for editing, it was nameless, and she christened it, “Reason to Hope”. It is a short tale of love in wartime, set in Meryton Hertfordshire in 1943. I grew up in that neck of the woods — being born in Hertfordshire and living most of my childhood in Cambridgeshire — so I know the area pretty well. I’ve often wondered how the world of Pride and Prejudice would work if you just picked it up and put it, lock, stock, and barrel in a different time period — but kept the location the same. The idea of using wartime society for the backdrop came to me after reading Beau North’s debut Longbourn’s Songbird, where she sets the story in the post-war South Carolina. It got me thinking that wartime Britain had more in common with the Regency than first meets the eye.

There is the threat of war, the upheaval occasioned by evacuation and military service, the shifting of social mores and the rigid class structure. I knew from my childhood that the area had several airbases operational during the war (many of them, still so), and the idea was born. Our hero is a Group Captain in the RAF, stationed close to Meryton and Elizabeth is at Longbourn with her family, working in the land army. Just like the original, they are thrown together by unforeseen circumstances and they need to get over a few hurdles before finding themselves, as well as each other.

The modern-day woman appears as besotted as ever by Mr. Darcy. What were the attributes that you felt you needed to include in the Mr. Darcy character in your story?

Group Captain Darcy has spent the war dedicating himself to service. He has made more sacrifices than those around him realise and he is inevitably a more rounded character than the Fitzwilliam of Jane Austen’s early chapters. He has done more and met more people in more equal circumstances. But at the point in which he encounters Elizabeth, he remains superior and condescending in his attitude. What she doesn’t realise, but the reader is allowed to glimpse, is that this Mr. Darcy has sacrificed almost all of his peacetime life for the war-effort. He has focussed on his duties to the complete exclusion of his personal life. He is nobility personified, but at the time, he needs Elizabeth to teach him about himself.

Why do believe Austen’s stories still speak to modern-day readers?

Well, I think it’s because people are people and love is love, wherever you are from and whenever you are alive. Thinking about transplanting Pride and Prejudice into different time periods brings this into focus. The themes that govern people’s emotions are like a thread running through history — it isn’t that Jane Austen speaks to modern life — it is that she speaks to life in general.

What can readers look forward to reading from you in the future and how can readers stay in touch with you?

I am currently working on two projects – another Pride and Prejudice inspired story which I hope will be ready for release later this year (*she says, hopefully*). I am also working on a non-Jane Austen related romance which I hope will be finished at some stage in the next decade. My previous novels are Suddenly Mrs. Darcy and The Elizabeth Papers. I love hearing from readers and I can be reached on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jenettajameswriter/ or Twitter: @JenettaJames

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About The Darcy Monologues

“You must allow me to tell you…”

For over two hundred years, Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy has captivated readers’ imaginations as the ultimate catch. Rich. Powerful. Noble. Handsome. And yet, as Miss Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” is established through Elizabeth Bennet’s fine eyes, how are we to know what his tortured soul is indeed thinking? How does Darcy progress from “She is tolerable: but not handsome enough to tempt me” to “I thought only of you”?

In this romance anthology, fifteen Austen-inspired authors assemble to sketch Darcy’s character through a series of re-imaginings, set in the Regency through contemporary times—from faithful narratives to the fanciful. Herein “The Darcy Monologues”, the man himself reveals his intimate thoughts, his passionate dreams, and his journey to love—all told with a previously concealed wit and enduring charm.

Stories by: Susan Adriani * Sara Angelini * J. Marie Croft * Karen M Cox * Jan Hahn * Jenetta James * Lory Lilian * KaraLynne Mackrory * Beau North * Ruth Phillips Oakland * Natalie Richards * Sophia Rose * Joana Starnes * Melanie Stanford * Caitlin Williams

Check out The Darcy Monologues on Goodreads | Amazon

Check out The Darcy Monologues playlist on Spotify and the Pinterest board

Follow on Twitter using the hashtag #TheDarcyMonologues

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Giveaways

I am thrilled to offer my readers two fantastic giveaways!

One winner will win the grand prize of 24 paperback books, each one autographed by the author, and mailed to the winner’s home.

The second winner will win their choice of either a Pride and Prejudice pocketbook or a Pride and Prejudice Kindle Fire Case with stand (Pride and Prejudice Book Cover Case for Amazon Kindle Fire 7″ and 6″ – Kindle Fire / Fire HD / Fire HDX tablet).

All giveaways are international. To enter, please use the Rafflecopter link.

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April 3 / My Jane Austen Book Club / Launch Post & Giveaway

April 10 / Babblings of a Bookworm/ Book Review & Giveaway

April 17 / The Reading Frenzy / Guest Post & Giveaway

April 20 / My Love for Jane Austen / Guest Post & Giveaway

April 24 / Margies Must Reads  / Book Review & Giveaway

May 1 / From Pemberley to Milton / Book Review & Giveaway

May 8 / Just Jane 1813 / Excerpt Post & Giveaway

May 15 / Austenesque Reviews  / Book Review & Giveaway

May 22 / Austenesque Reviews  / Guest Post & Giveaway

May 25 / Of Pens and Pages  / Book Review & Giveaway

May 29 / More Agreeably Engaged  / Book Review & Giveaway

June 5 / So Little Time  / Book Excerpt & Giveaway

June 12 / Diary of an Eccentric / Book Review & Giveaway

June 19 / Book Lover in Florida / Book Excerpt & Giveaway

June 26 / My Vices and Weaknesses  / Book Review & Giveaway

July 3 / Savvy Verse & Wit / Book Review & Giveaway

Disclosure: I received The Darcy Monologues from the editor for review.

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Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★☆

Maybe even in a fictional reality I was destined to never find happiness.

(from Attempting Elizabeth)

Jessica Grey’s Attempting Elizabeth follows Kelsey, a 23-year-old student in California who is a bit obsessed with Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. She’s convinced that no guy in her life could ever measure up to Mr. Darcy, and reeling from a breakup with a Wickham-type, Kelsey doesn’t quite seem to know who she is and what she wants. She has her own mortifying Pride and Prejudice-like moment at a party, in which she insults Mark, the hot Australian bartender, only to learn that he’s a friend of her roommate’s boyfriend, and now she can’t seem to avoid him.

Kelsey and Mark constantly butt heads, though the more she learns about him, the more her opinion of him begins to change. After an incident that takes her back to her recent failed relationship, Kelsey aims to take her mind off her troubles with a book. Pride and Prejudice, of course. She falls asleep while reading Darcy’s letter to Elizabeth and somehow ends up in the book itself. Soon Kelsey finds herself navigating this alternative world, her desire to become her favorite heroine in all of literature, and her feelings for Mark while trying to determine what is real — and, most importantly, trying to find herself.

Attempting Elizabeth was a fun and fast read. I’m sure a lot of us voracious readers have wondered what it would be like to step into our favorite books or inhabit our favorite characters. Would we stay there if we had the chance? Would we try to alter the events of the novel? Would we miss what we’ve left behind, or worry about ruining our favorite stories? And wouldn’t it be fantastic to meet the characters and see them as the author pictured them while writing? It was fun to follow Kelsey through Pride and Prejudice as she learns important truths about herself through her experiences as Austen’s characters. I couldn’t help laughing out loud when Kelsey said or did things that were very unlike Austen’s characters. Their reactions were thoroughly delightful.

There were times when Kelsey got on my nerves, but that made her feel more real to me. Overall, it was a creative, sweet love story that kept me wondering throughout. Although I felt the book ended somewhat abruptly, I liked how Grey made the supernatural aspects of the story seem believable. I also liked that such a lighthearted read on the surface had some deeper meaning underneath, namely the significant impact that books can have on our lives, shaping our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

Disclosure: Attempting Elizabeth is from my personal library.

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Source: Review copy from HarperCollins
Rating: ★★★★★

For here, in this battered and stubbornly beautiful city, where death and destruction fell from the skies night after night, she had finally found a home. Here was the one place in the world where she truly belonged. And that alone, she decided, was reason enough for thanksgiving.

(from Goodnight from London)

I really enjoyed Jennifer Robson’s trilogy set around the Great War (check out my reviews of Somewhere in FranceAfter the War Is Over, and Moonlight Over Paris), so when I saw that her next book was set during World War II, I knew I had to read it — and I was not disappointed! Goodnight from London is the story of American journalist Ruby Sutton, who arrives in London in 1940 to cover human interest stories for Picture Weekly. She left behind a lonely life in New York to pursue her career, and she soon comes into her own with the help of her new friends, editor Kaz, photographer Mary, and the secretive Captain Bennett.

Ruby believes she will bring an outsider’s perspective to her stories, which are being sent back to her New York weekly as “Dispatches from London,” but it’s not long before London feels like a real home to her. She endures the Blitz along with everyone else, finding comfort in Londoners’ ability to “keep on keeping on” even after they’ve lost everything but their lives. Robson follows Ruby over the course of the war as she finds love and friendship and matures as a writer and a person, forcing herself forward even as the war and her past catch up to her and threaten her newfound happiness.

I loved Goodnight from London, especially its plucky heroine, Ruby (who was inspired by Robson’s grandmother), and her determination to make something of herself no matter what. Robson has created a strong supporting cast of characters as well, especially in the sweet but mysterious Bennett and his charming godmother, Vanessa. Robson beautifully sets the scene of London during the Blitz, making readers feel like they are truly accompanying Ruby as she seeks out the good in the midst of so much destruction and is brave enough to move closer to the action in order to understand the importance of sacrifice, not only by the soldiers, doctors, and nurses but the everyday person as well.

Robson is a true storyteller, whose passion for her subject matter shines through in every page of the novel. If I hadn’t been so busy and distracted lately, I likely would’ve devoured this book in one sitting. Goodnight from London is an emotional tale for sure, and while I enjoyed the romantic aspects of the story, I’m glad Robson kept Ruby, her courage and determination, and her wartime experiences at the forefront. Definitely a contender for my Best of 2017 list!

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for inviting me to participate in the blog tour for Goodnight from London. Click here to follow the tour.

Disclosure: I received Goodnight from London from HarperCollins for review.

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

“Well,” Darcy said with a grin, “if it means harassing you, I shall seek her out directly.”

“William…” Richard turned his eyes to his boots, his face pained.

Darcy’s grin widened into a smile. The normally unflappable Colonel Fitzwilliam was as close to blushing as he had ever seen. There might be great sport in this.

(from Courage Requires)

Courage Requires is the continuation of Courage Rises, a sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in which Melanie Rachel separates the Darcys early in their marriage, with Mr. Darcy on a mission with Colonel Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth back at Pemberley in the midst of an influenza outbreak. Courage Requires finds our beloved couple reunited at Pemberley and preparing for their first child.

Elizabeth is dealing with incapacitating morning sickness, which has her husband worried about whether she will survive the birth. But the prospect of inviting the Hawke sisters, Sophia and Evelyn, to Pemberley for Christmas, along with Colonel Fitzwilliam and his family, brightens her spirits. Elizabeth is immediately charmed by the elder sister, Sophia, who is a bit like Elizabeth in that she is strong and impertinent. But her past as a political pawn of sorts and the shadow on her reputation force her to carefully and uncertainly navigate society. Meanwhile, Evelyn has trouble controlling her tongue, as her sheltered upbringing, her frustration with her sister, and her curiosity about learning and medicine often spur inappropriate outbursts. While Darcy worries about Elizabeth and Colonel Fitzwilliam comes to terms with his feelings for Sophia, Elizabeth must contend with disloyalty among the servants and her influence as Mistress of Pemberley.

I enjoyed Courage Requires as much as, if not more than, Courage Rises. It’s no secret that I’m a sucker for a good Colonel Fitzwilliam story, and Rachel does a great job portraying him as a man scarred by battle but still hopeful of finding happiness. He accepts the reality of his position as a second son, but he’s willing to stand up to the earl regardless of the cost. I loved the teasing banter between Darcy and Richard, and of course, the colonel as a charming suitor. It was nice to see Darcy and Elizabeth happily married, with the best of their traits rubbing off on the other but still passionate in their disagreements. But where the novel shines is in its original characters, namely Sophia Hawke. I couldn’t help but admire her for her strength after all she’d been through, and her connections to the Fitzwilliam family were clever and seemed believable. There was so much going on in this book that I didn’t miss the absence of the rest of the Bennets at all, and I’m very much looking forward to reading more from Rachel.

Don’t forget to check out Melanie Rachel’s guest post, with excerpts from both books and a giveaway, here.

Disclosure: I received Courage Requires from the author for review.

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

“My approach to being brave, Georgie, is to pretend that I am even when I do not feel it, and soon I find that I can manage quite well.” She smiled, recalling an old conversation with her husband. “And as William can attest, my courage always rises when someone, or something, tries to intimidate me. Perhaps it is just plain stubbornness.”

(from Courage Rises)

Courage Rises, a continuation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, is set about four months after the marriage of Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy. Author Melanie Rachel separates our beloved couple early on; Mr. Darcy is headed to London for several weeks on business. But unbeknownst to Elizabeth, her husband has been asked by his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, to help him pay a debt of honor. While Darcy, Bingley, and the colonel are searching for the sister of a fallen soldier, Elizabeth is back at Pemberley dealing with some troubles of her own. Uncertain of herself in her new role as mistress of a large estate, Elizabeth is forced to make some tough decisions as an influenza outbreak hits the tenant farmers — and Mr. Darcy’s sister, Georgiana, is one of the many who have fallen ill.

Although Darcy and Elizabeth are apart for much of the novel, they are always on each other’s minds, and their bond is strengthened. While I typically enjoy watching the newlyweds navigate life’s challenges together, I applaud Rachel for portraying their marriage realistically in that they can’t be together every moment of every day, and for showing that they can stand strong on their own — and that their love for one another is so strong that they contemplate what the other would do were they there in person. I really enjoyed seeing Elizabeth become the true mistress of Pemberley, making decisions she believes are right while knowing even her husband would question them. Meanwhile, Darcy has become a family man, wanting nothing but to finish his work quickly and get back home. But he can refuse his cousin Richard nothing, and they set off on an adventure with many unanswered questions. There was plenty of excitement and intrigue as the men uncover the trials and tribulations of the Hawke sisters.

Courage Rises was a real page-turner! As a Pride and Prejudice sequel, I had no idea what was going to happen, and that had me up way past my bedtime trying to find out. I enjoyed the numerous original characters, from the feisty Miss Hawke to John, Pemberley’s groom, and Mr. Waters, the apothecary who works side by side with Elizabeth during the outbreak. Most of all, I liked how the ending wasn’t a cliffhanger, though it gives readers plenty to look forward to in the sequel, Courage Requires, which I will be reviewing here on Monday. Stay tuned! (And in the meantime, please check out this guest post by Melanie Rachel, featuring excerpts from both books and a giveaway!)

Disclosure: I received Courage Rises from the author for review.

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Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★★

“Father needs me at Schulpforta. Mother too. It doesn’t matter what I want.”

“Of course it matters. I want to be an engineer. And you want to study birds. Be like that American painter in the swamps. Why else do any of this if not to become who we want to be?”

A stillness in the room. Out there in the trees beyond Frederick’s window hangs an alien light.

“Your problem, Werner,” says Frederick, “is that you still believe you own your life.”

(from All the Light We Cannot See)

Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, All the Light We Cannot See, is set during World War II and alternately tells the stories of two teenagers caught up in the confusion and chaos of war. The novel follows Marie-Laure from her days as a young girl accompanying her father to the museum where he worked in Paris to her life in the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where she lives with her great uncle. Meanwhile, readers watch Werner as he grows up in an orphanage in a mining town in Germany with his younger sister, where his love of learning takes him on a journey from fixing and building radios to attending a school for the Hitler Youth to designing and using systems to weed out the resistance.

The novel opens in 1944 as the Americans drop incendiary bombs on Saint-Malo, forcing both 16-year-old Marie-Laure and 18-year-old Werner to separately fight to survive. Doerr takes readers back and forth in time, gradually peeling back the layers of each story and making readers anxious to see how they will converge. There is so much depth to this novel, from the legend of the Sea of Flames to the mini-cities Marie-Laure’s father painstakingly creates to help her navigate the world after she loses her sight, from the haunting voice of the French professor that Werner’s first radio picks up to the brutal lessons he learns as he joins the military to achieve his dreams and avoid a bleak future in the mines.

Doerr’s prose is beautiful and haunting as he portrays two characters who are thrust into impossible situations, alone, at such a young age. It was both fascinating and heartbreaking to watch Marie-Laure and Werner navigate their strengths and weaknesses amid so much terror and helplessness and evolve from those experiences. I was able to connect with both characters at various points in their journeys and feel their emotional turmoil, knowing that, given the setting and time period, the ending would be bittersweet at best. All the Light We Cannot See is a strong contender for my year-end roundup of the best books I read this year.

Serena and I hosted a six-part readalong of the book at War Through the Generations. Here are the links if you’d like to read and/or participate in a more in-depth discussion of the book, but beware of spoilers: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4, Week 5, and Week 6.

Disclosure: All the Light We Cannot See is from my personal library.

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