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Archive for the ‘read in 2012’ Category

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

There was another round of applause and then Higgins got to work with the silver tray, distributing glasses of the cocktail which Dame Pamela had named the Fitzwilliam Fizzer.  There was also a non-alcoholic alternative that Dame Pamela called a Pink Bingley but it wasn’t proving quite as popular as the Fitzwilliam Fizzer but it got everybody talking about cocktails.

‘I think a Wicked Wickham would slip down rather nicely,’ Roberta told her sister Rose who had the good grace to blush at such a suggestion.

‘What about a Tickling Tilney?’ Doris Norris suggested.

‘Or a Wentworth Wallbanger,’ Roberta said.

(from Christmas With Mr. Darcy)

From this passage, it’s easy to see that Christmas With Mr. Darcy is a lot of fun, and even though it’s a bit early for seasonal reads, the chilly fall weather should help get you in the right mood.  I’m not a big fan of seeing Christmas trees, ornaments, etc., on display before Halloween, but how could I resist an early Austenesque Christmas?

Christmas With Mr. Darcy is the novella sequel to Victoria Connelly’s Austen Addicts trilogy: A Weekend With Mr. Darcy, Dreaming of Mr. Darcy, and Mr. Darcy Forever.  Connelly brings the heroes and heroines from each of these novels together for a special Christmas Jane Austen Conference at Purley Hall, hosted by Dame Pamela Harcourt, an actress known for her portrayal of Elizabeth Bennet, Marianne Dashwood, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and Fanny Dashwood in TV adaptations of Austen’s novels over the course of her career.  From the preparations for the conference to the discussions and activities, Connelly brings the conference to life and makes die-hard Austen fans wish they could enjoy such companionship.

Readers will catch up with Dame Pamela, Robyn, Dan, Katherine, and Warwick from A Weekend With Mr. Darcy, Kay, Adam, and Gemma from Dreaming of Mr. Darcy, and sisters Sarah and Mia from Mr. Darcy Forever, along with such unforgettable characters as Doris Norris and Mrs. Soames.  Connelly merges these characters together seamlessly, while incorporating new dramas.  Mia is worried that something isn’t right with her sister, Sarah, and Katherine is worried that Warwick is hiding something from her…again.  Dame Pamela is upset that her brother, Benedict, is coming to Purley Hall uninvited and wonders what trouble he’s gotten into this time.  Moreover, things are disappearing, and when Dame Pamela’s newly acquired three-volume first edition of Pride and Prejudice goes missing, chaos erupts.

I gobbled up Christmas With Mr. Darcy in just a couple of hours, curled up on the couch under a warm blanket, and I enjoyed it so much, I wish it had been a novel instead of a novella.  Although the mystery was pretty obvious, it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the Austen talk and the Christmas charm.  With all the discussions about Austen heroes and film adaptations, it’s clear that Connelly knows what it’s like to be an Austen addict.  I think you need to have read the previous three books to understand all the connections, so if you enjoy contemporary romances with plenty of Austen references and endearingly flawed characters, what are you waiting for?

I should mention that Christmas With Mr. Darcy was my very first e-book, which I read on my husband’s Nook Tablet. It was a mostly pleasant experience, just “mostly” because there’s nothing like the smell of a physical book. I don’t think I can give up the sound of turning pages and the scent of paper and ink…and I don’t think my husband wants to share his Nook. But I’m glad I gave it a try!

Disclosure: I received Christmas With Mr. Darcy from the author for review.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Source: Review copy from Glagoslav Publications
Rating: ★★★★☆

But at that moment I only had the sensation that they were pushing us, me, off a cliff to our deaths and I was clinging on with my hands and legs and my stomach, refusing to give up and not wishing to believe that this was the end, but simultaneously realising to the point of terror that this was inevitably going to happen.  I might have been, could have been somewhere quite different now.  But is it possible that there is something else on Earth, when this is happening here?

(from Khatyn, page 202)

I must admit that when I picked up Khatyn by Ales Adamovich, translated from Russian by Glenys Kozlov, Franes Longman, and Sharon McKee, I assumed it was about the Katyn massacre of Polish nationals by the NKVD in 1940, but it actually is about the massacre of the residents of Khatyn, a village in the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (now Belarus) in 1943.  Regardless of my mistake, after reading that Khatyn was censored in the USSR but is finally available uncensored and in English, I knew it was going to be an intense book.

Khatyn is a novel narrated by Flyora, a former Soviet partisan from World War II who, accompanied by his wife and son, is reunited with the members of his detachment on a bus traveling to the Khatyn memorial.  Because the My Lai massacre that occurred in 1968 during the Vietnam War is mentioned, the book is set around that time.  Flyora has gone blind, so even though the men he fought alongside have changed over the years, he remembers them as they were more than two decades ago.

Much of the novel takes place during World War II as Flyora remembers the horrifying things he witnessed and endured as a teenage partisan.  He recounts the time he dug through a grave to find a rifle so he could join the partisans, his “love” (more like hero worship) of Kasach, the commander of his detachment, and how a battle with the Germans left him temporarily deaf and dependent on Glasha, who later becomes his wife.  When the Germans surround the detachment and Flyora and Glasha are separated from the group, they head toward Flyora’s village, and after finding the village burned to the ground, they make their way to the marshy “islands” where villagers and wounded partisans hide from the Germans.

A search for food eventually leads Flyora to the village of Perekhody, where talk of the Germans surrounding villages, locking the inhabitants (including women and children) in sheds and barns set afire, and mowing down those who try to escape with machine gun fire becomes a reality for him.  These pages, in which Flyora witnesses the massacre, detailing it from the moment the Germans march in until he and a few others are forced to drive the cows out of the village, leaving the burning, screaming people behind, are probably the most intense I’ve ever read.

Khatyn is a novel that made it hard for me to sleep at night because I was so disturbed by its contents. However, there were some sentences that didn’t make sense, but whether due to typos or wrong word choices by the translators, I can’t say. “But we were so lightly packed together that I could not raise my hand to wipe it away.” (page 208) Did they mean tightly? “Several limes I felt a tug at my sleeve, as if a dog was pulling at my elbow.” (page 296) I assume they meant times? There were enough of these kinds of sentences that I couldn’t ignore them, but they honestly didn’t affect my reading or make the story less interesting.

The late Adamovich was a partisan himself, so his firsthand knowledge of the movements of the detachments and their inner workings made the novel come to life.  He did a great job showing how Flyora went from being young and cheerful, eager to be a partisan, to someone old before his time, exemplifying the ways in which war alters people forever.  Moving between the war memories and the bus reunion enabled Adamovich to comment on the war.  Flyora has numerous philosophical discussions with a friend, Boris Boky, about how the Germans justified the killing because they believed the villagers were “Stalinist bandits,” the concept of “we” and how people outside this group could be considered not worthy of even living, and how the massacre at My Lai could have occurred during the Vietnam War after all that was known about the destruction of these Soviet villages during World War II. However, these discussions grew tiring by the end of the book, and the last eight to 10 pages were difficult to get through, mainly because the grotesque, inhuman acts witnessed by Flyora stood on their own without any need for commentary.

Still, Khatyn is an important book that deserves a place on the shelves of anyone fascinated by the history of World War II.  It’s definitely not for the faint of heart, though.  It’s the kind of book that gives you nightmares, and when you wake up and realize you were only dreaming, you cry for those for whom the burning agony was a reality.

Book 34 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I received Khatyn from Glagoslav Publications for review.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Source: Public library
Rating: ★★★☆☆

I had not forgotten, but Miss Elizabeth Bennet is a creature I scarcely know any longer. How very far away she seems! How little she knew of life, all the while congratulating herself on her clever perception and insight into the world and its ways!

(from More Letters From Pemberley, page 241)

More Letters From Pemberley is the follow up to Letters From Pemberley, a Pride and Prejudice sequel comprised of letters from Elizabeth Darcy to her sister Jane Bingley during her first year of marriage in 1813.  This time around, the letters span the years 1814 to 1819, and their recipients include Jane Bingley, Aunt Gardiner, various new friends (who are very similar to characters from other Jane Austen novels), and even Mr. Darcy himself.

Jane Dawkins does a great job telling a story through letters, showing all the work it takes to run an estate the size of Pemberley, giving readers a glimpse of Elizabeth and Darcy as proud parents, and portraying the arguments and tragedies that accompany an otherwise happy marriage.  When tragedy struck, I was as heartbroken as Elizabeth, and I even questioned whether the book could have a happy ending, but thankfully, it wasn’t a complete downer.

There is more of a plot to this novel compared to its predecessor, and I was glad that the letters were written to other characters, rather than just Jane.  While it was a pleasant reading experience, I enjoyed the first book more, maybe because this one felt like more of the same, but without the charm and the lightness of those carefree newlywed days.  I wonder if including some letters to Elizabeth from some of the other characters would have broken up the monotony a bit?

Still, I would recommend More Letters From Pemberley to lovers of Austen-inspired novels, simply because the Darcys face trials and heartache.  Of course, I’d like to think they live happily ever after, but I’ve grown tired of sequels that portray a marriage that is nothing but sunshine and roses.  Dawkins shows that tragedy touches many people; the Darcys are not immune, no matter how much they love each other, and Elizabeth’s reaction was so honest and real.  After turning the last page, it even made me miss writing letters and anticipating their arrival in the post.  What a shame that letter writing will soon be a lost art!

Disclosure: I borrowed More Letters From Pemberley from the public library.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Source: Public library
Rating: ★★★★☆

Mr. Darcy has taken it into his head that his wife’s portrait must hang next to his in the gallery at Pemberley and wishes to visit the Summer Exhibition at the Academy with a view to selecting a painter. For my part, I told him, there are already more than enough Darcys hanging in the gallery, and in any case, why go to the trouble of taking a likeness of merely tolerable beauty? A face once taken was taken for generations, I pointed out. Mr. Darcy, who slowly becomes used to my teasing, replied that it is intolerable that my memory so perfectly recalls events it should have forgotten long ago.

(from Letters From Pemberley, page 34)

Letters From Pemberley is an epistolary continuation of Pride and Prejudice that is a pure comfort read. It contains the letters written by Elizabeth Darcy to her sister Jane Bingley during her first year as Mistress of Pemberley, from February to December 1813. I read the book in just a couple of hours, and it was a pleasant way to spend an evening.

The novel basically is a one-sided conversation, as only Elizabeth’s letters are featured, but Dawkins does a good job showing how Mr. Darcy has changed since their marriage and the stresses Jane must endure in living so close to their mother. Elizabeth’s fears about entering society as Darcy’s wife are detailed in the letters, and of course, readers see her become more and more comfortable in her role.

The best part about this little book is how Dawkins plays homage to Austen characters in other novels, as Darcy’s neighbors at Pemberley closely resemble such characters as Sir Walter Elliot, Anne Elliot, and Lady Russell from Persuasion, Emma and Mr. Knightley from Emma, and the Dashwood sisters from Sense and Sensibility. Readers come to know these characters as Elizabeth describes dinner parties for her sister in great detail, and I thought it was fun to pick out the references to Austen’s other novels and even her own life.

There’s not much else to say about Letters From Pemberley as there isn’t too much that happens plotwise. It’s just a fun Pride and Prejudice sequel that provides a couple of hours of light reading spent with some beloved characters. I enjoyed it so much that I was excited to see that Dawkins wrote a sequel, More Letters From Pemberley, and I quickly gobbled that one up, too. Stay tuned for that review!

Disclosure: I borrowed Letters From Pemberley from the public library.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Source: Public library
Rating: ★★★★☆

‘As you are so much older and wiser than I am, I must of course defer to your judgement.’

‘Not so very much older,’ I said.

‘And not so very much wiser,’ she said saucily.

I smiled, but I would not give her the satisfaction of laughing.

‘I may be allowed to be a little wiser, I suppose,’ I said.

‘You may.  But not where bonnets are concerned.’

She teases me and bedevils me, she exasperates me and infuriates me, but what would I do without Emma?

(from Mr. Knightley’s Diary, pages 179-180)

Of course, after I finished Emma, I immediately searched for books inspired by Jane Austen’s novel, which is now among my all-time favorites.  I wasn’t ready to let go of the fascinating characters that inhabit the small village of Highbury, so you can image how delighted I was to come across Mr. Knightley’s Diary.  I enjoy reading Amanda Grange’s retellings of Austen’s novels through the eyes of her heroes (read my reviews of Captain Wentworth’s Diary and Henry Tilney’s Diary), and this one didn’t disappoint.

Emma Woodhouse is George Knightley’s much younger sister-in-law, a spoiled young lady who is constantly told how beautiful and clever she is…by everyone except Mr. Knightley, of course.  Mr. Knightley is a bachelor who thinks it’s high time he found himself a wife, but he’s just not captivated by any of the women of his acquaintance.  None of them have the open countenance he so desires in a wife, and he hasn’t yet found a woman whose company delights him like Emma’s does.  When a good friend asks him why he doesn’t just marry Emma, he seems appalled at the notion.  She is 21, and he is 37, and he’s known her for what seems like forever!  Moreover, her attempts at matchmaking people obviously unsuited for one another — namely the reverend Mr. Elton and Miss Smith, a recent acquaintance of Emma’s who lacks a fortune and whose parentage is unknown —  has caused nothing but arguments between them.

However, it doesn’t sit well with Mr. Knightley when Frank Churchill, the stepson of Emma’s former governess and dear friend, Mrs. Weston, comes to Highbury and begins flirting with Emma.  One might think there’s something untoward going on, especially when he observes secretive glances between Mr. Churchill and Jane Fairfax, a woman he thought might be a suitable wife, or one might think that Mr. Knightley is jealous.

Mr. Knightley’s Diary stays true to Emma when it comes to the characters and the plot.  While readers aren’t sure the truth about Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice given the misinformation Elizabeth receives from Wickham and might see Captain Wentworth as being a bit harsh toward Anne for much of Persuasion due to his anger over their broken engagement, Mr. Knightley is presented as a perfect gentleman from the very beginning.  Well, as perfect as one can be when having to scold the heroine for her bad behavior.  He doesn’t appear to have a tale of woe, so I thought it might be difficult to tell the story through his eyes.

I love how Grange lets Mr. Knightley express his frustration with characters like Mr. Woodhouse and Mrs. Elton through his diary while acting very polite toward them.  Those characters in particular are annoying, so this makes Mr. Knightley seem more real to me.  Grange also enables readers to see Mr. Knightley’s flaws.  Although I may wish to think of him as perfect, it’s kind of hard to impress the woman you love when you’re always pointing out her flaws and refusing to flatter her.

However, the word “saucily” is overused in describing Emma’s remarks to Knightley, though their bantering is great in developing the romantic tension.  While I really enjoyed Mr. Knightley’s Diary, I do have a hard time believing that Austen’s heroes would have kept diaries that depict conversations in so much detail.  I understand there are some challenges to telling a story through diary entries, though.  It also might be hard for readers to completely follow the story if they haven’t read Emma, but why would you even want to read this one without first reading Austen’s masterpiece?

I enjoyed the afternoon I spent with Mr. Knightley’s Diary, and I appreciated Grange’s take on one of my favorite literary heroes.  I only recently finished Emma, but this book made me want to re-read it very soon.

Disclosure: I borrowed Mr. Knightley’s Diary from the public library.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Source: Public library
Rating: ★★★☆☆

“I know I shall have to learn to carry my memories … wherever I go, but I will not turn my back on Pemberley.  It is our home, and to it we must return.”

(from The Pemberley Chronicles, page 338)

The Pemberley Chronicles is the first in a 10-book series that continues Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  It covers the first 25 years of the marriages of Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy and Jane and Charles Bingley, including the lives and loves of the other Bennet sisters, Colonel Fitzwilliam, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, Charlotte Collins, Georgiana Darcy, and all of the children born to them.

Rebecca Ann Collins opens the novel after the Darcys and the Bingleys have been united in marriage, and I found it to be a slow start due to the repetition of how perfect Mr. Darcy is for Elizabeth, how wonderful and generous a man Mr. Darcy is, how happy Darcy and Elizabeth are, how close Elizabeth and Jane are, how much they love the Gardiners, etc.  I was determined to finish it, though, because the fourth book is sitting on my shelf, and after about 50 pages, I became invested in the story and the characters as Collins focused more on the industrialization of England and the societal changes it brings.

Darcy grows increasingly frustrated with many of the other wealthy landowners near Pemberley, especially those whose estates were only recently purchased and who care more about money than the land and their tenants.  They begin enclosing their estates, driving their tenants out, and leaving them to beg on the side of the road and even die of starvation.  Darcy also is upset about the environmental pollution impacting the streams and picturesque beauty of the land he so loves.  He helps the Gardiners buy a manor in Derbyshire to be closer to their niece, Elizabeth, but also to remove their children, particularly their young daughters Caroline and Emily, from the excesses of London society.  Later, Colonel Fitzwilliam returns from the colonies to join the reformist movement, stand for Parliament, and speak out about the use of child labor in the factories popping up in the major cities and other injustices inflicted on the poor to help wealthy businessmen get ahead.

For the most part, I enjoyed getting a glimpse of Austen’s characters years after Pride and Prejudice ends, but I found it difficult to keep track of everyone’s ages, especially as their children grew up and married.  It also was difficult at times to keep track of all these children, as Collins focuses on the children of the Darcys, the Bingleys, the Gardiners, and the Collinses, in particular.  Because there are so many, Collins only scratches the surface of who they are, except for Caroline and Emily Gardiner, who are fairly well developed.  Taking a peek at the rest of the books in the series, however, it looks like these characters will be covered in more detail later on.

The Pemberley Chronicles goes a bit overboard when it comes to the perfection of the marriages of the Darcys and the Bingleys.  Of course, we want them to live happily ever after, but it would have been more believable and exciting for Darcy and Elizabeth at least to have butted heads about something over the course of 350 pages.  However, Collins did make me curious enough about the children to want to continue the series, even though I’m pretty sure Elizabeth, Darcy, Jane, and Bingley will take a backseat as they age and their children and grandchildren take center stage.  This isn’t a perfect Pride and Prejudice sequel, probably because it tries to accomplish a lot in terms of following several characters and their children in a time of political and social upheaval, but I’m sure I’ll enjoy the series more as Collins’ original characters make the story more her own.

Disclosure: I borrowed The Pemberley Chronicles from the public library.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★☆

All morning I struggled with the sensation of stray wisps of one world seeping through the cracks of another.  Do you know the feeling when you start reading a new book before the membrane of the last one has had time to close behind you?  You leave the previous book with ideas and themes — characters even — caught in the fibers of your clothes, and when you open the new book, they are still with you.

(from The Thirteenth Tale, pages 289-290)

The Thirteenth Tale is a novel after a book lover’s heart.  It’s a hard book to describe because there are so many twists and turns, and I don’t want to give anything away.  The primary narrator is Margaret Lea, an amateur biographer who works in her father’s antique book shop.  Voracious readers like myself won’t have any trouble connecting with her because she talks a lot about her passion for books and all the classics she’s loved over the years.  Margaret prefers to read classic novels, so when England’s most famous contemporary author requests her as a biographer, she doesn’t know what to expect.

Vida Winter is an eccentric author whose most famous book, Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation, actually featured only 12 tales, making the world curious about her and the missing tale; the lone copy sold before the mistake was caught and “thirteen” was removed from the title is in the possession of Margaret’s father.  Margaret isn’t familiar with Miss Winter’s work, but she knows that Miss Winter is a consummate storyteller, as any journalist who inquires about her past is told a fanciful story that is obviously not the truth.

Margaret agrees to hear the story of the elderly and ill writer, but naturally, she is skeptical about Miss Winter’s ability and willingness to tell the truth and first asks for three details that can be verified.  The narrative then shifts between Vida’s story of the unbelievably odd Angelfield family and Margaret’s research, which takes her to the ruins of the home where Vida says her personal story ended and her life as Vida Winter, author, began.

Although the book started a little slow — I was anxious to “meet” Vida Winter — Diane Setterfield’s beautiful prose hooked me from the first page.  There were times when I felt there were too many details cluttering the narrative, such as the few paragraphs devoted to Margaret sharpening her pencils before sitting down to transcribe the stories she’d heard from Vida that day.  Yet, Setterfield has a way with words, making me feel the emotions and see the images of which she writes and bringing the eccentric and deeply troubled characters to life.  Aside from all the talk about books and reading, I wasn’t that interested in Margaret’s personal story and the family secret that has haunted her since childhood.  I just didn’t buy the depth of emotion she felt.  I almost wish that Vida’s story was the only story told, but I understand the purpose Margaret served in tying up some of the loose ends in Vida’s tale.

The Thirteenth Tale is somewhat of a gothic novel, with the creepy characters, a house that seems unwilling to let go of its inhabitants, and even some ghosts.  Jane Eyre is mentioned frequently, and even though I missed many of the parallels between this novel and Charlotte Brontë’s while I was reading, in hindsight they aren’t too hard to pick out.  I also didn’t figure out all of the twists beforehand, and wanting to solve the mystery of who Vida Winter was before she became a famous writer made me not want to put the book down. A passion for stories and whether the truth is best made known are central to The Thirteenth Tale, and readers will find that they won’t easily forget the unique, well drawn, and complex characters created by Setterfield.

Disclosure: The Thirteenth Tale is from my personal library.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Source: Review copy from Glagoslav Publications
Rating: ★★★☆☆

“Why are you saying these things, Zoya Ivanovna?” – I say and my hands are trembling. – “Am I burdening anyone?  I work two shifts to support her.  And she only was at the nursery for three months, and she doesn’t go to kindergarten.” – “You should be grateful the foreman lets you work two shifts.  And mind you: in America they drive people like you into the street.  They don’t stand on ceremony with mothers like you.  Go and think it over,” – she says, – “Or it’ll be too late.”

(from The Time of Women, page 129)

The Time of Women by Elena Chizhova won the 2009 Russian Booker Prize and is finally available in English, translated by Simon Patterson.  It is set in the Soviet Union in the 1960s and follows the story of three elderly women who live in a communal apartment with a young woman and her illegitimate daughter.  Antonina works hard to put food on the table and leaves her daughter, Suzanna, baptized Sofia by the “grannies,” at home in the care of Glikeria, Ariadna, and Yevdokia.  Though very bright and a budding artist, Suzanna is mute, so Antonina keeps her away from the school offered to the children of the factory workers for fear she will be institutionalized if her condition is discovered.

The grannies remember the country before the Revolution, before communism, and they remember the starvation during the Leningrad blockade of World War II.  They come from different social classes, but each of them knows what it means to be hungry and scared and how it feels to have lost their families.  They talk freely of their experiences and their tragedies in front of Suzanna, who internalizes and merges these stories with the folk tales she is told.  The grannies grow to love Suzanna, and when Antonina falls ill, they must go to great lengths to spare her from a hard life in a Soviet orphanage.

I have never read a book about the post-Stalin Soviet Union, so I was intrigued by The Time of Women.  Though it seems that people no longer live in fear of the secret police, living conditions aren’t ideal.  People are still hungry and must line up for food, there is a waiting list for apartments, and the factory workers are searched when they leave to make sure they aren’t taking home food and drink to their families.

However, this was a difficult novel to read.  It took me about 40 pages to get used to the shifting point of view between mother and daughter.  There was a mixture of the first person and third person, and several times I had to figure out who “I” referred to.  It was difficult at times to keep track of the various characters, especially those who only turn up here and there, and to gauge the year and the setting.  Chizhova assumes the reader is familiar with the history of the Soviet Union, and because I prefer historical details mixed in with the fiction, I felt lost at times, which was helped along I’m sure by the disjointed structure of the narrative.

There also was an overuse of ellipses, and the conversations were confusing because the speaker would change mid-paragraph.  I wonder whether these issues have anything to do with the quality of the translation?  There is no way for me to tell, but I have read many translated works, and I never felt as confused as I did while reading this one.

Still, I can’t help but feel that The Time of Women is an important book.  It certainly has much to say about the lives of people in the Soviet Union before, during, and in the years shortly after World War II.  I thought Antonina’s story was heartbreaking; she worked so hard to care for her daughter and the grannies that she really had no life outside the factory and their home.  I don’t feel like I ever really knew Suzanna, aside from an oddly placed chapter set when she is older that breaks up an otherwise more linear narrative, and the last chapter from her point of view is rambling folklore of some sort that probably was meant to be symbolic and meaningful but went right over my head.

The grannies were the most intriguing characters, with their stories and their arguments.  When they are chatting, it feels like you are sitting down with them at the table, listening to the tales of sorrow that shaped who they are.  Even when they are moody and demanding, you can’t help but like them and respect them for all that they endured.

What struck me most was the difference between the generations.  Chizhova pits the grannies, who have seen unspeakable things, experienced starvation and loss during the war, and are skeptical of communism, against the younger generation like Antonina, who has her eyes set on the day when one can go to the store and enjoy an abundance of food and other goods without needing money.  The younger generation believes the ideal is possible because they lack the wisdom and the years of the older generation, while the truth is somewhere in between.

Book 33 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I received The Time of Women from Glagoslav Publications for review.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★★

“Mr. Knightley loves to find fault with me you know–in a joke–it is all a joke.  We always say what we like to one another.”

Mr. Knightley, in fact, was one of the few people who could see faults in Emma Woodhouse, and the only one who ever told her of them: and though this was not particularly agreeable to Emma herself, she knew it would be so much less so to her father, that she would not have him really suspect such a circumstance as her not being thought perfect by every body.

(from Emma, page 12)

Finishing Emma was a bittersweet moment for me, as it meant that I have now read all of Jane Austen’s novels and now must be content with re-reading them again and again.  Which I will do, of course, I love them that much.  I’ve long heard that people either love or hate Emma based on their feelings for the heroine, and thankfully, I found much to like in this book…even when I wanted to shake some sense into Emma or hang my head in disappointment at her actions.  I was surprised that my love for it rivals my love for Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion, and I couldn’t help but fall in love with Mr. Knightley.

Emma Woodhouse and her father are the most important people in the town of Highbury.  They keep a small circle of friends and don’t venture too far from their home at Hartfield, as the elderly Mr. Woodhouse is so worried about his health and that of all his loved ones that he wants everyone to eat gruel with him and always is complaining about drafts.  Emma has long been told that she is a handsome and clever girl, so she has a bit of a swelled head, and despite the protestations of Mr. Knightley, her brother-in-law, 16 years her senior, that she is not responsible for successfully pairing her former governess, Miss Taylor, with the widowed Mr. Weston, Emma insists that she must make one more match.

She thinks Mr. Elton, the local curate, should be paired with Miss Harriet Smith, a new friend of unknown origins who already likes a farmer who returns her affections.  Emma means well, but she manipulates Harriet into believing she should refuse Mr. Martin’s proposal and makes her think that Mr. Elton has feelings for her.  Of course, what Emma believes to be true is only in her imagination, and the truth of the situation makes Emma think twice about matchmaking…for a little bit anyway.

Things get interesting when Mr. Weston’s son, Frank Churchill, comes to Highbury and seems to set his sights on Emma, who can’t decide whether or not she’s in love, though it doesn’t matter because she insists she has no need to marry given her fortune, the fact that she already is essentially the mistress of her own home, and that she is so beloved by her father.  Mr. Knightley doesn’t like Mr. Churchill, and since Mr. Knightley is such a perfect gentleman and a good judge of character, you just know there must be a reason.  When Emma’s matchmaking exploits blow up in her face, she learns what it means to be in love even as she fears it may be too late for her to find happiness.

Oh, how I loved this book!  Austen did a fantastic job holding a magnifying glass over a small village, emphasizing their comings and goings and all of the gossip and painting such complete portraits of so many characters.  There are the ridiculous characters, like Mr. Woodhouse and Miss Bates, who babbles on and never lets anyone else get a word in; the intriguing characters, like Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax, the niece of Miss Bates who is quiet and disliked by Emma; and the obnoxious characters, like Mrs. Elton, who calls her husband “Mr. E” and can’t take no for an answer when it comes to Jane Fairfax and her future as a governess.

I couldn’t help but love Emma; she was self-important and manipulative, but she did have good intentions where Harriet was concerned.  I’m not surprised she thought so highly of herself, given how everyone but Mr. Knightley kept telling her how wonderful she was.  And Mr. Knightley!  When Harriet is slighted at the ball by Mr. Elton, and Mr. Knightley, dead set against dancing, comes to her rescue, I just about melted. I also loved the conversations between him and Emma, where he doesn’t mince words and tells it like it is. Emma does have some hard lessons to learn, and while he is critical of her, you can tell he has her best interests at heart.

As in her other novels, Austen also touched upon some serious subjects.  Social class was a major theme, with Emma indicating that she couldn’t be friends with Harriet anymore if she were to marry Mr. Martin, given his status as a farmer; Miss Bates’ standard of living as a poor spinster; and Jane Fairfax preparing for a life of service because, with both parents dead, she lacked a fortune.  Austen did a great job making these heavier topics obvious, but lightening the mood with the humorous characters and Emma’s matchmaking antics.

I could continue praising this book forever, but let’s move on to the discussion.  Blodeuedd from Book girl of Mur-y-Castell read Emma with me, and we decided to ask each other some discussion questions.  These are the questions I posed. BEWARE OF SPOILERS!

Where does Emma rank among the Jane Austen novels you’ve read?

Blodeuedd:  This is only my third Austen novel. And I do find it too hard to rank those I have read, I know the stories too well. I’d just say it’s one of her better novels, but then they are all good. 😉

Anna:  I’ve read all six of Austen’s novels, and it is difficult to rank them, especially my favorites.  Emma definitely is in the top three, though I suspect that whether Emma, Pride and Prejudice, or Persuasion is my favorite will depend on my mood at the time I am asked.

What did you think of Mr. Knightley? Is he as appealing to you as Mr. Darcy or Captain Wentworth?

Blodeuedd:  Mr. Knightley does have another sort of appeal than Darcy or Wentworth, but then all Austen’s men have their good sides and their bad sides. And I do like Knightley, there is just something calm over him, and he is waiting for her to see him. I have to like him, as much as her other men.

Anna:  That’s true, they all have their strengths and weaknesses.  What I liked best about Mr. Knightley is that, unlike Mr. Darcy or Captain Wentworth, you never wonder about him.  You know from the very start that he is a perfect gentlemen, one of the best men with whom Emma will ever be acquainted.  He may be quick to point out Emma’s faults, but when he calls Emma out on something, he’s right.

Did you like Emma as a person?

Blodeuedd:  I do like her too. Sure she should think before acting, but she does not mean bad. The things she sometimes says, well to be honest, I would think them too. So I do not find any faults in her. I guess I see a little of myself in her at times.

Anna:  For the first quarter of the book, I thought there was no way I was ever going to like her, but you’re right, she means well, and she grew on me after awhile.  She appears to have learned many lessons from her meddling, so there is hope for her.

What did you think of the secondary characters, Mr. Woodhouse, Miss Bates, Frank Churchill, in particular?

Blodeuedd:  Mr. Woodhouse, there I do feel sorry for Emma. His constant fear of things, it would be so tiresome. And he is not letting her leave, even if she wants to be there, think of the things she is missing because of how he is. He is not letting go.

Miss Bates, she does mean well too, but after listening to the audio I am more annoyed than ever. There it truly showed how it would be to listen to her.

Frank Churchill is an ass, there is no other way to put it. He did wrong by Emma and well he is an ass.

Anna:  I agree about Mr. Woodhouse and feeling sorry for Emma.  She can’t even marry without feeling guilty for leaving him.  On one hand, he’s ridiculously funny, but on the other, he’s quite sad.  Miss Bates was annoying, but I also pitied her.  She really needed a friend, I think, and Emma shouldn’t have insulted her like that.  Frank Churchill…you’re right, he’s an ass, but I don’t think he’s as bad as the villains in other Austen novels.

What did you think of the pairing of Emma and Mr. Knightley?

Blodeuedd:  It’s not a couple I would have guessed for, ok I would have guessed since it’s obvious, but you get the point. They are friends, so in that way they are suited. They know each other, but do I believe there is a burning passion? No, not really.

Anna:  There doesn’t seem to be a burning passion, I agree, but I think they are well matched.  Mr. Knightley is older and wiser, which Emma needs, and she will certainly add some excitement to his life.  I think it’s romantic in a way that no matter what Emma did wrong, Mr. Knightley couldn’t help but love her.  I think we all need someone like that, to love us despite our flaws.

Did any parts of the story surprise you?

Blodeuedd:  I can’t say it did.

Anna:  I agree, though I was a bit surprised by how the romantic declarations are made in dialogue, compared to Persuasion, where Anne reads Wentworth’s letter but when they walk together and discuss their love for one another, it sort of happens off the pages.

Did you have a favorite scene or passage?

Blodeuedd:  I do like when he goes all “badly done Emma!” on her. That passage hurts and I feel so sorry for her. When listening if felt like he was yelling at me. Poor Emma.

Anna:  I did feel a little sorry for her, but Mr. Knightley was right.  I loved when Mr. Knightley asks Harriet to dance when Mr. Elton refuses to dance with her.  That was so sweet, as well as the right thing to do.

The description on my copy of the book says Emma is often considered Austen’s most flawless novel. Do you agree or disagree?

Blodeuedd:  It is good, so for that yes it would seem flawless. But what makes it more flawless than her other books?

Anna:  That’s a good question, wish I knew!  I think her handling of the characters and various plots was flawless for sure.

Have you seen any movie adaptations of Emma? How did they compare to the book?

Blodeuedd:  I have seen…well a lot. Some good, some not as good, but I enjoy them, and I would say they are as good as the book sometimes. That is horrible to say, but I just love Austen movies. A lot. I am not going to say how much, but they can be so good.

Anna: I’ve only seen the Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam version from 1996, but I thought it was well done.  He was a great Mr. Knightley, in my opinion.  I watched it the day I finished the book.  I know what you mean about loving the movie adaptions.  They bring the characters and the time period to life.

Visit Book girl of Mur-y-Castell for the rest of our conversation!

Book 6 for Explore the Many Genres of Jane Austen Challenge (Books by Jane Austen)

I was saddened to learn that Shanna from Existing’s Tricky lost her battle with cancer in April. To honor her memory and her love of books, I am determined to complete her challenge. May she rest in peace.

Disclosure: Emma is from my personal library.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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

Perhaps it was time to adjust her way of thinking and start embracing the possibilities of life with a man who wanted to take care of her.  But Kara was not completely convinced that she would be able to overcome her apprehensions.  After all, she reasoned, no grown woman ever truly believes she will find happily ever after, because any relationship that begins with a handsome prince usually ends up being just another fairy tale.

(from Diary of a One-Night Stand, page 157)

Diary of a One-Night Stand isn’t the kind of book I normally read, but having read and enjoyed To My Senses several years ago, I thought I’d give Alexandrea Weis’ latest novel a try.  For the most part, I wasn’t disappointed, and I gobbled this one up in its entirety on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

The novel is just as steamy as you would expect given the title and the cover, and Weis wastes no time getting the characters in bed.  Kara Barton is a 41-year-old attorney who goes back to work after her husband, Cal, falls ill and has to pull back on his workload.  Kara isn’t happy with their marriage; Cal is perceived by Kara as overbearing and a mostly hands-off father to their young daughter, Simone.  On top of all that, she doesn’t have much of a relationship with her mother, Helen, who was an alcoholic and had a string of failed relationships with wealthy men.

The novel opens with Kara getting ready for her tryst with Scott Ellsworth, a 51-year-old businessman whom she met at a political fundraiser.  They knew right away they wanted one another, and she agrees to meet him in his hotel suite.  When their night of passion is over, Kara wants to go back to her life, but Scott wants more from her.  Scott has a reputation as a ladies’ man, and when he becomes a client of hers, Cal warns her about him and grows increasingly suspicious.  It’s not long before what was supposed to be a one-night stand throws Kara’s life into chaos, and she must decide who owns her heart, even as she worries that Scott is hiding something from her.

I think Weis did a great job developing Kara.  I felt like I knew her, though I didn’t agree with her decisions or thought processes.  I never felt like I knew the real Cal or Scott, and at times, I wondered why she allowed them in her life.  The only thing that really bothered me about the book was the neatly tied-up ending; given all Kara had gone through, it didn’t sit well with me and felt like an easy out.

Diary of a One-Night Stand is a well-written, quick read about a woman who is feeling her age and wanting to be beautiful, desirable, appreciated, and spoiled by a man.  She’s a strong woman who can take care of herself, but she never felt like an equal in her relationship with Cal, insisting they got married and had a child because he demanded it.  It’s easy to understand how she could get caught up in a relationship with Scott, but like many people, Kara confuses sex, lust, and loneliness with love.

Although I’m not a fan of graphic sex scenes, it made sense that they were included in a novel with lust and adultery at its core.  What I appreciated most about the novel was Weis’ focus on older characters, as most of the hot-and-heavy novels I’ve read have main characters in their 20s or 30s.  The novel did take me outside my comfort zone, but I think it’s good to read something different every now and then.

Disclosure: I received a copy of Diary of a One-Night Stand from the author for review.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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