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Archive for the ‘historical fiction’ Category

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.

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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.

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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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fall of poppies

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

We were a wounded people — walking wounded — with some of us more scarred inside than our exteriors revealed. Who and what was going to glue us together again?

Love.

(from “After You’ve Gone” by Evangeline Holland in Fall of Poppies)

Quick Summary: Fall of Poppies is a collection of stories by nine contemporary best-selling authors all set on or near Armistice Day, November 11, 1918. Each of these stories beautifully tell a tale of love and hope, but also loss and pain. These stories detail the ways in which World War I, or the Great War, forever upended lives. From a young girl who finds love while helping create facial masks for wounded soldiers to an airman whose fear of loneliness prompts him to make a spontaneous offer right before going into combat, Fall of Poppies shows the impact of war, both the horrifying and the uplifting.

Why I wanted to read it: I’m drawn to stories set during the Great War, and I’ve enjoyed novels by several of these authors in the past.

The Stories: “The Daughter of Belgium” by Marci Jefferson * “The Record Set Right” by Lauren Willig * “All for the Love of You” by Jennifer Robson * “After You’ve Gone” by Evangeline Holland * “Something Worth Landing For” by Jessica Brockmole * “Hour of the Bells” by Heather Webb * “An American Airman in Paris” by Beatriz Williams * “The Photograph” by Kate Kerrigan * “Hush” by Hazel Gaynor

What I liked: I loved all of the stories in this collection, and it was hard to choose my favorites. The settings are varied, including an abandoned hospital in Belguim, an estate in England, the sky above the trenches, and various places in France, and the characters are all unique and memorable in their personalities and circumstances. This variety, coupled with the ability of each of these authors to quickly pull readers into their stories, made me want to read the entire book in one sitting but also made me glad that the chaos of daily life forced me to savor these stories over a longer period.

What I disliked: I only wish that I could’ve spent more time in each of these stories to see how the characters fared years after the war.

Final thoughts: People have a tendency to remember exactly where they were during important dates in history, and Fall of Poppies shows where the characters in each story were — both physically and emotionally — when the Great War ended. In the aftermath of the war, countless people wondered how to move forward and rebuild their lives after they lost so much, but these stories show that even in the midst of all the grief, there was a sense of relief and hope. At a time when I’m culling tons of books from my library and keeping very few new arrivals in the interests of space, Fall of Poppies has earned a permanent spot on the shelves and likely will be re-read at some point. Definitely a contender for my “Best of 2016” list!

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on the Fall of Poppies tour.  Click here to follow the tour.

Disclosure: I received Fall of Poppies 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.

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jane and the waterloo map

Source: Review copy from Soho Crime
Rating: ★★★★☆

My brother snorted. “Why should any person wish you harm?”

“Because of what I have seen.” I gazed at him soberly. “Because of the Waterloo Map.”

(from Jane and the Waterloo Map)

Quick summary: Jane and the Waterloo Map is the 13th book in Stephanie Barron’s Being a Jane Austen Mystery series, but only the second one I have read. Set a month before Jane Austen’s 40th birthday and told from her point of view, the novel takes readers to the Prince Regent’s London residence, Carlton House, where she has been invited by the Reverend James Stanier Clarke to tour the library. While on the tour, Jane finds Colonel McFarland, a hero of Waterloo, dying on the floor. While waiting for help, McFarland utters the phrase, “Waterloo Map,” and Jane is swept up into a mystery in which she must determine the importance of a watercolor map and who would kill to possess it.

Why I wanted to read it: I really enjoyed the previous installment in the series, Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas, and since they are pretty much standalone novels — with editor’s notes to explain historical details and highlight certain parts of the backstory — I couldn’t resist this one.

What I liked: For the most part, Jane and the Waterloo Map, is a standalone novel, but I am glad I read the previous book because the artist Raphael West, whom Jane meets in the last installment, is drawn into this newest mystery with Jane. I love that Jane gets some help from her family as well. Barron does a great job creating a complicated mystery and unraveling the threads at the right pace. It’s a treat to be taken along for the ride, following the twists and turns and not figuring everything out before the end. The inclusion of historical facts, particularly Jane’s visit to Carlton House and Clarke’s strong suggestion that she dedicate Emma to the Prince Regent, creates a fuller story and makes Jane believable as a heroine and sleuth.  But most of all, I appreciate the heroine she has created in Jane Austen, from her cleverness to her determination, from her unwillingness to be pushed aside because she is a woman to her thoroughly entertaining first-person narrative.

What I disliked: I thought the book opened a bit slow, and it took me a couple of chapters to be pulled into the story, but I knew I was in for a treat and was not disappointed overall.

Final thoughts: Barron is a creative storyteller, and she brilliantly weaves together fact and fiction. I really need to find the time to go back to the beginning of the series and read them all in order. However, given that Jane is approaching the last years of her life, I am especially curious to find out how Barron continues the series and what kind of trouble our heroine will find herself in next.

About the book:

Jane Austen turns sleuth in this delightful Regency-era mystery

November, 1815. The Battle of Waterloo has come and gone, leaving the British economy in shreds; Henry Austen, high-flying banker, is about to declare bankruptcy—dragging several of his brothers down with him. The crisis destroys Henry’s health, and Jane flies to his London bedside, believing him to be dying. While she’s there, the chaplain to His Royal Highness the Prince Regent invites Jane to tour Carlton House, the Prince’s fabulous London home. The chaplain is a fan of Jane’s books, and during the tour he suggests she dedicate her next novel—Emma—to HRH, whom she despises.

However, before she can speak to HRH, Jane stumbles upon a body—sprawled on the carpet in the Regent’s library. The dying man, Colonel MacFarland, was a cavalry hero and a friend of Wellington’s. He utters a single failing phrase: “Waterloo map” . . . and Jane is on the hunt for a treasure of incalculable value and a killer of considerable cunning.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indiebound | Goodreads

Photo credit: Marea Evans

Photo credit: Marea Evans

About the author:

Stephanie Barron was born in Binghamton, New York, the last of six girls. She attended Princeton and Stanford Universities, where she studied history, before going on to work as an intelligence analyst at the CIA. She wrote her first book in 1992 and left the Agency a year later. Since then, she has written fifteen books.

She lives and works in Denver, Colorado. Learn more about Stephanie and her books at her website, visit her on Facebook and Goodreads.

Giveaway:

Grand Giveaway Contest

Win One of Three Fabulous Prizes

In celebration of the release of Jane and the Waterloo Map, Stephanie is offering a chance to win one of three prize packages filled with an amazing selection of Jane Austen-inspired gifts and books!

Waterloo Map Blog Tour Prizes x 500

To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on any or all of the blog stops on Jane and the Waterloo Map Blog Tour starting February 02, 2016 through 11:59 pm PT, February 29, 2016. Winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments and announced on Stephanie’s website on March 3, 2016. Winners have until March 10, 2016 to claim their prize. Shipment is to U.S. addresses. Good luck to all!

To follow the tour, click the banner below:

JANE AND WATERLOO - Blog Tour Horizontal

Disclosure: I received Jane and the Waterloo Map from Soho Crime 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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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.

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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.

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