Archive for the ‘read in 2013’ Category

holidays at pemberley

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

…suddenly this lady who had never valued the importance of love in a marriage could not bear to think of herself wed to anyone other than the only gentleman who had ever stirred her heart.

(from Holidays at Pemberley, page 73)

It’s been a delightful week reading Alexa Adams’ trilogy of Pride and Prejudice retellings that remove the pride and the prejudice, highlight the humor, make Lady Catherine likable (gasp!), turn Mr. Bennet into a matchmaker, and shine the spotlight on two minor characters from the original Jane Austen novel.  The trilogy began with the love story of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy in First Impressions: A Tale of Less Pride & Prejudice, where Mr. Darcy never slighted Elizabeth but still had to overcome the obstacle that was the rest of the Bennet family, and continued in Second Glances: A Tale of Less Pride & Prejudice Continues with the courtship of the more refined Kitty Bennet by the dashing and reckless Sir James Stratton.

In the final novel, Holidays at Pemberley, or Third Encounters: A Tale of Less Pride & Prejudice Concludes, Adams turns her attention to Elizabeth’s best friend, Charlotte Lucas, who thankfully has been spared a lifetime of putting up with Mr. Collins but still longs for the independence and security afforded by marriage.  This novel goes back to where First Impressions leaves off and continues beyond the events in Second Glances, with a focus on Charlotte’s visits to Pemberley, where Elizabeth hopes she will hit it off with David Westover, the rector of Kympton and a man from Charlotte’s past.

Charlotte doesn’t expect to marry for love.  As she nears 30, she just hopes to get married.  But the more she sees the love between the Darcys, the more she laments the lack of it in her own life.  Her family has nearly lost all hope of Charlotte ever finding a husband, especially when she returns home without having secured Mr. Westover’s affections.  Mr. Westover has never entertained the idea of marriage, as he is too focused on his scientific research and his parish duties, but a misunderstanding involving Charlotte and some meddling by his sister may change his mind.

I loved spending Christmas with the Darcys and their family and friends in Holidays at Pemberley.  Adams’ story is told in the tone and spirit of Austen, and her original characters are so charming and seamlessly integrated, I had to remind myself that they weren’t Austen’s creations.  Every time I read Pride and Prejudice, I feel bad that Charlotte thought Mr. Collins was the best she was going to get, so I like when these Austenesque novels reimagine a happier life for her.  I didn’t know what to think about Mr. Westover at first — he’s not a Mr. Darcy or a Sir James Stratton — but he grew on me in the end.

These were the perfect books to read during this busy time of year, as they were each under 200 pages and were impossible to put down.  Adams keeps the romance to a minimum, focusing instead on the misunderstandings, the humor, and the diversions so enjoyed by Mr. Bennet.  I read these books with a smile on my face (how could I not, when Mr. Bennet and Lady Catherine forge an odd friendship?), and as predicted, I was sad when they came to an end.  I’ve read too many Austen-inspired books to count, and Adams’ novels are among my favorites in the genre.  I  highly recommend this trilogy for Austen fans who prefer their reimaginings to be witty and charming, free of sex scenes, and reminiscent of Austen herself.

Book 17 for the P&P Bicentenary Challenge

Disclosure: I received Holidays at Pemberley from the author for review.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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second glances

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

Mr. Bennet narrowed his eyes with suspicious glee, “You did not watch their departure from a distance, did you?  The very picture of the rejected lover?”

“Certainly, sir, if it brings you joy, then I’ll happily say that I did.”

“Very good!  The image is quite priceless, be it true or not!  What shall I do for amusement when all my daughters are married?  Lovelorn gentlemen are the most diverting entertainment!  Come in, Sir James, come in!  We shall have a glass, and you will disclose the entire predicament.  And do not leave out any details just because they make you look foolish, for those are the very best parts!”

(from Second Glances, pages 128-129)

Second Glances: A Tale of Less Pride & Prejudice Continues is the sequel to First Impressions: A Tale of Less Pride & Prejudice and picks up the story a year after the first book ends.  This reimagining of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice focuses on Kitty Bennet, who has been at school in Bath with her younger sister, Lydia, at the recommendation of Mr. Darcy.  Before leaving school to join her good friend Georgiana Darcy for her first London season, Kitty has a chance meeting with Sir James Stratton, who is instantly smitten with the young woman when she gives him a fiery and passionate talking down.

Kitty doesn’t give Sir James a second thought until he arrives at the Darcy’s townhome, and she learns he is a longtime friend of the Darcys.  All of the good manners she developed at school are lost under Sir James’ watchful gaze and teasing banter.  Sir James is not shy about his intentions, and while Kitty understands that she should be honored and flattered by the attentions of someone of his high social standing, she refuses to be forced to marry him because of his title and fortune.  And when it looks like she is warming to the man, he makes a reckless and impulsive decision that causes Kitty to question whether she can trust him.

Second Glances is a delightful novel, from Alexa Adams’ beautiful and playful use of language that brings to mind the style of Austen herself to her intriguing original characters.  I couldn’t help but fall in love with the adventurous and exciting Sir James myself, and I could understand why he was a bit too much for Kitty to handle at first.  The banter between Sir James and his best friend, Simon Brooks, who hits it off immediately with Georgiana, was hilarious as they recounted their childhood antics.  Adams does a wonderful job portraying Kitty’s evolution as she becomes less like Lydia and more like her elder sister, Elizabeth Darcy, though without Lizzy’s impertinence.  There’s also much to love about Adams’ teaming up Sir James, Mr. Bennet, and Mr. Wickham on a mission to save one of the Bennets from potential ruin, and so far, Adams is the only Austenesque author to make me actually like Lady Catherine.

I enjoyed Second Glances even more than First Impressions, and I do believe they need to be read in order to best understand how Adams has made these characters her own while also staying true to the original novel.  The novels are short and well-paced, and Adams mirrors Austen in her humorous observations of the characters and their circumstances.  I can’t wait to finish the trilogy later this week with Holidays at Pemberley, though I know I will be sad when I am finished.  My only complaint so far is that the books are too short!  Adams’ fondness for Austen shines through in these novels, and I’m not ready to let go of her version of these characters just yet.

Book 16 for the P&P Bicentenary Challenge

Disclosure: I received Second Glances from the author for review.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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first impressions

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

“If she is really as wonderful as you say, certainly she will not wait forever for you to make up your mind.  She has a duty, after all, especially when one considers her familial circumstances, to marry well.  She must find it rather insulting that you look so far down upon her relations; do you really believe she will remain available once another man has expressed his interest?”  Georgiana had never spoken to her brother so forcibly and was surprised he did not seem to mind, let alone call an immediate end to the conversation, as she had feared.

(from First Impressions, page 120)

Alexa Adams is quickly becoming a favorite of mine among the authors of Austen-inspired fiction.  Once I picked up her novel First Impressions: A Tale of Less Pride & Prejudice, nothing could pry it out of my hands.  First Impressions is a gentle retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice that first imagines what would happen if, at the Meryton Assembly, Mr. Darcy does not slight Elizabeth Bennet but instead asks her to dance and ends up enjoying himself.  From there, Adams imagines what would have happened had Mr. Darcy not interfered with Mr. Bingley’s relationship with Jane Bennet, Mr. Bennet was warned to keep his daughters away from Mr. Wickham, and Mr. Collins makes a more suitable match, sparing Charlotte Lucas a lifetime of putting up with his ridiculousness.

Surprisingly, removing all the tension of the original novel doesn’t cause the novel to fall flat.  Adams’ Mr. Darcy finds himself confessing to Mr. Bennet the reasons he is wary to marry his favorite daughter, with amusing results, and she sends Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mr. Darcy’s formidable aunt, rushing off to Longbourn, this time for a different reason.  And Caroline Bingley, in a very satisfying twist, gets her just desserts.

First Impressions is a short, satisfying novel that focuses on the humor, the romance, and the ridiculousness of certain characters. I loved how Adams, just like Austen, gives the characters their privacy, not even allowing readers to witness Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth’s first kiss.  Like Austen, Adams’ narrator talks directly to the reader, and it’s little touches like this that I found so delightful.  First Impressions was the perfect book to keep me company on a cold, snowy day, and as the snow approaches again tomorrow, I plan to be under a warm blanket nursing a cup of cocoa and reading the second book, Second Glances.  I’ll be finishing this week with the third book, Holidays at Pemberley.  Who better than Mr. Darcy to get me in the holiday spirit?

Book 15 for the P&P Bicentenary Challenge

Disclosure: I received First Impressions from the author for review.

© 2013 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: ★★★★☆

Yes, she could hurt me.  She’d already done so.  But what was one more beating?  A flogging, even?  I would bleed, or not.  Scar, or not.  Live, or not.  But she could no longer harm Ruth, and she could not hurt my soul, not unless I gave it to her.

(from Chains, page 247)

Chains is the first book in Laurie Halse Anderson’s Seeds of America series set during the Revolutionary War.  The novel follows 13-year-old Isabel, a slave denied the freedom promised to her and her younger sister, Ruth, when their owner died.  The girls are sold to a Loyalist couple, the Locktons, and taken to New York City shortly before it is invaded by the British in 1776.

Isabel is determined to secure their freedom, and she foolishly believes a fellow slave, Curzon, when he tells her that his master would be able to help in exchange for information about the Locktons’ involvement in plots against General Washington and his troops.  When Ruth is sold and shipped to the West Indies, Isabel finds herself locked in a battle with the cruel Madame Lockton — a war as fierce as the one being fought between the Patriots and the British and every bit as deadly.

Anderson’s novel is geared toward middle-grade readers, but there is much for adults to admire as well.  The passages from relevant historical documents at the beginning of every chapter were informative and paved the way for further research.  Anderson doesn’t sugar-coat the cruelties of slavery and war, but she doesn’t go overboard with graphic descriptions either.  The punishment inflicted on Isabel at the request of Madame Lockton is horrific, yet it emphasizes Isabel’s status as property and makes her evolution into a strong young woman who reclaims her scar for herself all the more satisfying.

Chains is a novel rich in historical detail, from the confusing plight of slaves in choosing sides to the vivid description of the fire that tore through the city, leaving hundreds homeless as winter approached, and the deplorable conditions endured by the Rebel prisoners after the invasion.  Anderson brilliantly tells the story in the first person point of view of Isabel, which not only lets readers get to know and care about her but also allows for an objective portrayal of both the Americans and the British, neither of which were the “good guys” when it came to the treatment of slaves.  Isabel’s strength carries the book forward at a brisk pace, making it somewhat disappointing when this installment ends without a satisfying sense of resolution.  But that’s okay because the second book in the series, Forge, is waiting patiently in my to-read stack.  I can’t wait to see where Anderson takes Isabel next.

Book 3 for the American Revolution Reading Challenge

historical fiction reading challenge

Book 36 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I borrowed Chains from the public library.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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the theory of opposites

Source: Review copy from Get Red PR
Rating: ★★★★☆

“Please come with me.  Write this book.  Tell this story.  At the very least, we might change our lives.”

I can feel my own heart, just like the frozen one on the pedestal in front of me, come to life, beating with anxiety, beating with fear, beating from the utter terror of taking a leap that might change everything.

“I like my life,” I say finally.

“Actually,” she reminds me, “you sort of don’t.”

(from The Theory of Opposites)

Allison Winn Scotch’s latest novel, The Theory of Opposites, is a whirlwind journey through two months in the crazy life of Willa Chandler-Golden.  Willa, whose father insisted she be named William after his brother despite being born a girl, has grown up living — though not fully believing — her father’s beliefs that there are no coincidences in life and that people do not have free will.  She has always gone with the flow, followed whatever course is easiest, because whatever will be will be, according to her father’s bestselling self-help book, Is It Really Your Choice? Why Your Entire Life May Be Out of Your Control.

Willa believes she and Shawn have a happy marriage with no arguments, and she takes her infertility issues mostly in stride.  But then she loses her job at the ad agency because she can’t make adult diapers sexy, her ex-boyfriend friends her on Facebook, and she obsesses over a wine bar receipt she finds in Shawn’s wallet dated from a night when he was supposed to be playing a pick-up game with his friends.  Having been taught that whatever is meant to be will happen and whatever happens is meant to be, Willa is paralyzed when Shawn suggests a two-month break from their marriage.

Willa reluctantly goes alone with her best friend Vanessa’s plan for Willa to write her own map for life, change her master life plan, and prove that there are some things in life she can control.  As part of the project, Willa is forced to deliberately choose the hard way over the easy way every time.  She must confront her feelings for Shawn and the reason she and Theo broke up so many years ago, answer important life questions for her 12-year-old nephew when she doesn’t have her own life under control, and navigate the latest upheavals in her dysfunctional family.

In The Theory of Opposites, Scotch blends humor with more heavy topics, like infidelity, infertility, and a whole lot of regret.  I liked Willa from the very first page.  Her first-person viewpoint is so fresh and honest, and even while I couldn’t relate to her specific circumstances, I could understand her.  However, the limitation in the first-person point of view is that readers don’t really get a chance to know Shawn and Theo aside from the superficial, and it was easy to get lost in all the conflicting and sometimes confusing philosophies bandied about by her father and Vanessa.  (Of course, that also helps readers understand why Willa was so confused about everything.)

The Theory of Opposites is a quick read about finding oneself among the chaos of life and discovering you had the strength to make the tough decisions and reach out for what you wanted all along.  It’s about taking chances and not letting predictability, reliability, and safety rule the choices of your heart.  Willa’s family is over-the-top and unbelievable, but Scotch made me believe them.  It’s easy to get lost in a novel when it reads like an old friend confiding in you.  Scotch is a talented storyteller with a knack for creating memorable characters, and despite Willa’s crazy family and her misguided logic, there is plenty of wisdom to be found within her story.

Disclosure: I received The Theory of Opposites from Get Red PR for review.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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the pursuit of mary bennet

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

I had tried to change, and it was so like Jane to have noticed and acknowledged it.  The change had come about gradually, after my exposure to both Jane’s and Elizabeth’s happy, contented lives.  And after I’d begun to read and learn more of the world.  I envied my sisters their happiness and knew I wanted it for myself.  If not with a husband, then doing something on my own, independent of my family.

(from The Pursuit of Mary Bennet, page 36)

The Pursuit of Mary Bennet is a sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice that was impossible for me to put down.  Pamela Mingle beautifully transforms the once foolish, boring, bookish Mary into a young woman who is every bit as lovely as her older sisters, Elizabeth Darcy and Jane Bingley.  As the middle of the five Bennet girls, Mary always felt alone; Jane and Elizabeth had each other, and Kitty and Lydia were inseparable.  While Kitty expects to receive a proposal from Mr. Bingley’s close friend, Henry Walsh, Mary is expected to travel to Newcastle to care for her sister Lydia Wickham’s baby when it arrives.  She has no desire to do so, but she assumes that as the spinster sister, she will be expected to go wherever she is needed.

Those plans are foiled when Lydia arrives at Longbourn, very pregnant and sans husband.  To protect her unmarried sisters from Lydia and Wickham’s latest scandal, Jane whisks Mary and Kitty back to the Bingley estate until the child is born.  Jane recognizes the changes in Mary — and she isn’t the only Bennet sister to notice Henry Walsh’s growing interest in her.  Kitty is furious that Mr. Walsh would rather talk to Mary, so she does everything in her power to grab his attention, and despite having long resigned herself to being unattractive and dull, Mary refuses to be ordered around by Kitty and stands her ground.

Mary sees the love matches made by Jane and Elizabeth and will not settle for anything less, but she has a lot to learn about love (and loss).  In true Austen fashion, when Mary begins to understand herself and make peace with her mistakes, another scandal befalls the family — and Mary stands to lose everything that is dear to her.  Told in the first person from Mary’s point of view, The Pursuit of Mary Bennet is a charming novel about a young woman who has spent so much time in the shadows of her sisters but finally recognizes her true self.

Mingle doesn’t try to imitate Austen but stays true to her characters, and I loved getting inside Mary’s mind, especially when she thinks about pouring a teapot over her mother’s head.  Although I never tire of Elizabeth and Darcy, I was glad to see Jane have a bigger role in this novel.  Mingle’s original characters are intriguing, from the attentive and gentlemanly Mr. Walsh to the suspicious Amanda Ashton, and her use of Lydia and Wickham to lay even more trouble at the Bennet family’s door forged an even stronger bond among the elder Bennet sisters.

The Pursuit of Mary Bennet was such a pleasure to read.  The first person narrative made it a refreshing take on Pride and Prejudice, and Mingle does a wonderful job turning Mary into a likeable, well-developed character.  I grew so fond of her Mary, I didn’t want the book to end.  Even as Mary discovers love, romantic and familial, she has bigger plans for herself.  She doesn’t want to be dependent on her parents, and she grows strong enough to make her own choices about her future.  Austen’s Mary is mostly in the background, but Mingle brings her front and center, makes her conscious of her faults, and creates a young woman we can relate to and even admire.  The fact that Mary’s love story subtly parallels that of Elizabeth and Darcy is just the icing on the cake.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on The Pursuit of Mary Bennet tour. To follow the tour, click here.

Book 14 for the P&P Bicentenary Challenge

Disclosure: I received The Pursuit of Mary Bennet from William Morrow for review.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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among the janeites

Source: Review copy from Mariner Books
Rating: ★★★★★

We are a tribe, we Janeites.  We name our children and our pets after people who never existed, treat an elderly screenwriter like a rock star, and seek twenty-first-century life lessons in two-hundred-year-old books, or the tarot cards based on them.  Our love for Jane Austen unites us, and yet sometimes it seems that we all love something, or someone, different. … We make our Austen into a reflection of our own preoccupations, a teller of our own stories.

(from Among the Janeites, page 225)

Nearly 200 years after her death, Jane Austen, her novels, and her unforgettable characters remain immensely popular.  She wrote only six novels, yet hundreds of sequels, re-imaginings, and modern-day re-tellings have been published.  There are battles over which film adaptation is the best and which actor is Mr. Darcy, Mr. Knightley, etc.  Fans dressed in Regency attire attend the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of The Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA), learn the dances of the period, and even tour Jane Austen’s England.  In Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom, Deborah Yaffe explores the fandom of Jane Austen, literary genius and pop culture phenomenon.

Yaffe was 10 years old during the summer of 1976 when she read Pride and Prejudice for the first time.  Initially enjoying her solitary, isolated love for Austen, as the years went by, Yaffe discovered a community of other Janeites that goes beyond the JASNA conference and The Republic of Pemberley website.  Yaffe explores this varied and far-reaching community while she prepares to go all out for the ball at the 2011 JASNA AGM in Fort Worth by having a Regency gown made and assembling all the other authentic articles of clothing necessary to complete the experience.  This was a big step for Yaffe, who never felt a desire to dress up but wanted to be an active participant in this aspect of the Austen fandom.

Interspersed with Yaffe’s own journey in Austen fandom are profiles of the people she meets along the way.  Yaffe interviews Baronda Bradley, who has accumulated an entire wardrobe of Regency gowns and wears them throughout the JASNA AGM, and Sandy Lerner, the co-founder of Cisco Systems who sunk millions into the purchase and restoration of Chawton House, once owned by Edward Austen Knight, to create a library dedicated to the writings of English women from 1600-1830.  The book also features several authors of Austen-inspired fiction, Austen bloggers, academics whose scholarly careers have been devoted to Austen, several Austen fans with interesting and controversial theories about Austen’s novels and characters, and even a woman who uses Austen’s novels in a therapy group for people whose relatives have borderline personality disorder.  Even if you don’t believe Mr. Darcy had Asperger syndrome or that each Austen novel has a subtextual story rife with sex and other shadiness, Among the Janeites is a fascinating book about the global fascination with a literary great.

Yaffe covers so much ground in the book, so many different viewpoints and degrees of Austen obsession, that I found it difficult to put down.  This is no dry academic study; Yaffe gets in the trenches and really gets to know these people so her readers can do the same.  And despite the differing opinions and the battles that have emerged within the fandom, she shows how all Janeites are united in their love for Austen and the novels that have captured our hearts, and in some cases, taken over our lives.

Among the Janeites is a fantastic study of Janeites, from the most subdued to the most radical, and I found myself frequently nodding in agreement and laughing out loud.  As my husband watches my collection of Austen novels expand to include the annotated editions and my collection of Austen-inspired fiction grow to epic proportions, I must admit I was delighted to read him passages from the book and say, “At least I’m not that obsessed.”  Yaffe’s sense of humor and adventure shine through, making her personal journey fun to follow, and it was nice to see names I recognized from the blogosphere mentioned.  Among the Janeites is highly recommended for all lovers of Austen — from those content to stick to the original novels to those who can’t get enough of all the Darcy-related trinkets — and would make a perfect gift for the Janeite in your life.

Disclosure: I received Among the Janeites from Mariner Books for review.

© 2013 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: ★★★★☆

As we hurried back to the old district of Lyon, I understood that look on Ghislaine’s face.  I saw how the occupation had changed us; how the Resistance had brought together people from every level of society and turned us all — from the aristocrat to the simple farmgirl — into counterfeiters, thieves, and murderers.

(from Wolfsangel)

Wolfsangel is the second novel in Liza Perrat’s L’Auberge des Anges series about women connected through the generations by a bone angel talisman, but it is a standalone novel.  The novel opens with 89-year-old Céleste Primrose attending a memorial service commemorating the tragedy that occurred in the French village of Lucie-sur-Vionne on June 8, 1944.  Céleste blames herself for the horrors that happened that day at the hands of the Wolfsangel, the Das Reich division of the Waffen-SS, and Perrat takes readers back to 1943, when Céleste Roussel was just 19 years old.

Céleste lives with her mother and younger brother, Patrick, at L’Auberge des Anges (The Inn of Angels), the farm that has been in the family for generations.  Despite the German occupation of their village, her brother and his best friend, Olivier, refuse to give up their Resistance activities.  Céleste hates the Germans as much as the other villagers and wants in on the action, but her impulsiveness and fiery temper make Patrick and Olivier unsure whether she can handle the work and concerned that she would slip up in her words or actions.  So she continues to work on the family farm and tries to steer clear of her cold and bitter mother, who, with her husband in a labor camp, continues her illegal business in order to keep the family fed as the Boche requisition the villagers’ food, animals, and supplies.

When Céleste catches the eye of a German officer, her sister, Félicitié, a nun whose convent is involved in the Resistance, suggests that she use the soldier’s affection to their advantage.  It’s not long before Céleste is in over her head, and her feelings for Martin conflict with her Resistance activities and her struggle to save a desperate family rescued from an abandoned hut near the Vionne River as well as her own loved ones.  With no end to the war in sight, Céleste must balance her two selves at a time when villagers are being denounced to the authorities and not even the people they’ve known their whole lives can be trusted.

Wolfsangel is fiction but based on a real tragedy that occurred during World War II, and Perrat explains the inspiration for the novel in a much-appreciated author’s note at the end of the book.  The novel has so many layers, from Céleste’s complicated relationships with her mother and Martin and the everyday hardships of living amongst the enemy to the fear and excitement of resisting and the horrible, unavoidable consequences of doing so.  Perrat made me feel as though I was in Lucie-sur-Vionne, with the tension among the villagers as the Germans take what they want from whomever they want, and the villagers learn that one of their own is feeding the enemy occupiers information about their black market activities.  I appreciated that even the fictional aspects of the story were believable, with no clichéd easy escapes or happily ever afters.  This is war, after all.

Perrat’s characters are well-developed, and she shows the good and the bad on both sides.  Those who performed heroic deeds did so knowing there would be reprisals and that innocent people would die for their actions.  The relationship between Céleste and her mother also is well done, from the harsh words and hard feelings to the tenderness that comes from true understanding.  Céleste simultaneously being softened by first love and disgusted by her feelings felt true to her character, and her evolution from innocent farm girl to hardened, battle-scarred survivor is beautifully portrayed.  That Perrat manages to infuse hope into a story of such unimaginable evil is amazing.

Wolfsangel is a powerful novel about the unthinkable ways war changes people, especially when it’s right on your doorstep.  Perrat shows the many ways people can submit or fight back, how they can lose themselves in grief or find hope among the ruins, and how guilt can color every breath they take for the rest of their lives.

Thanks to France Book Tours for having me on the tour for Wolfsangel.  To follow the tour, click the banner below.

wolfsangel tour

About Wolfsangel:

Seven decades after German troops march into her village, Céleste Roussel is still unable to assuage her guilt.

1943. German soldiers occupy provincial Lucie-sur-Vionne, and as the villagers pursue treacherous schemes to deceive and swindle the enemy, Céleste embarks on her own perilous mission as her passion for a Reich officer flourishes.

When her loved ones are deported to concentration camps, Céleste is drawn into the vortex of this monumental conflict, and the adventure and danger of French Resistance collaboration.

As she confronts the harrowing truths of the Second World War’s darkest years, Céleste is forced to choose: pursue her love for the German officer, or answer General de Gaulle’s call to fight for her country.

Her fate suspended on the fraying thread of her will, Celeste gains strength from the angel talisman bequeathed to her through her lineage of healer kinswomen.

The decision she makes will shadow the remainder of her days.

A woman’s unforgettable journey to help liberate Occupied France, Wolfsangel is a stirring portrayal of the courage and resilience of the human mind, body and spirit.

About the author:

Liza PerratLiza Perrat grew up in Wollongong, Australia, where she worked as a general nurse and midwife for fifteen years

When she met her French husband on a Bangkok bus, she moved to France, where she has been living with her husband and three children for twenty years. She works part-time as a French-English medical translator.

Since completing a creative writing course twelve years ago, several of her short stories have won awards, notably the Writers Bureau annual competition of 2004 and her stories have been published widely in anthologies and small press magazines. Her articles on French culture and tradition have been published in international magazines such as France Magazine and France Today.

She has completed four novels and one short-story collection, and is represented by Judith Murdoch of the Judith Murdoch Literary Agency.

Spirit of Lost Angels is the first in an historical series set against a backdrop of rural France. The second in the series – Wolfsangel – will be published in November 2013, and Liza is busy working on the third novel in the series: Midwife Héloïse – Blood Rose Angel.

historical fiction reading challenge

Book 35 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I received Wolfsangel from the author for review.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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the lavender garden

Source: Review copy from Atria
Rating: ★★★★★

“Jean, find the Armagnac and I will try to tell Emilie more of what I know.  And, unfortunately for me” — Jacques made a sound somewhere between a groan and a chuckle — “it is everything.  I’ve been thinking since you left, Emilie, whether the rest of it should go with me to the grave.  But then” — he shrugged — “how can you make sense of the present if you do not know of the past?”

(from The Lavender Garden, page 207)

The Lavender Garden is a dual-narrative novel by Lucinda Riley set in Gassin, France, in 1998, when Emilie de la Martinières inherits the château and vineyard that has been in her father’s family for centuries.  She is torn between selling the property or undertaking a massive restoration project when she meets Sebastian Carruthers, a British art dealer whose grandmother knew Emilie’s father and stayed at the château during World War II.  Emilie’s father was 60 years old when she was born, and he died when she was 14, so she doesn’t know anything about his wartime exploits, just that he’s revered as a hero.  Emilie turns to old family friend and former vineyard manager, Jacques, who is the only one who knows the tragic events that transpired there during the war.

Riley transports readers back to Paris during the Nazi occupation.  Constance Carruthers, a British filing clerk turned SOE agent, is unable to make contact with her assigned Resistance network and finds herself at the home of Edouard de la Martinières just as he’s playing host to high-ranking Gestapo, SS, Abwehr, and Milice officers.  Unable to fulfill her SOE duties for fear of compromising Edouard’s position in the Resistance, Constance plays the role of his second cousin on an extended visit, during which she befriends his blind sister, Sophia, and catches the eye of the sinister Colonel Falk von Wehndorf.

Emilie travels between the château and the cold English estate where she lives with Sebastian to piece together her family history and forges an unlikely friendship with Sebastian’s wheelchair-bound brother, Alex, who is hidden away in a separate wing of the home.  As the secrets of the de la Martinières and the Carruthers families are revealed, Emilie must come to terms with the past, sort through the lies in the present, and forge a new future for herself.

The Lavender Garden is a complex novel that kept me guessing until the end.  Both narratives are interesting and well-developed, though I felt more invested in Constance’s story, from the action and suspense inherent in a tale of intrigue and resistance to Sophia’s tale of forbidden love and desire to be seen as a woman, not a weakling whose blindness has made her dependent on her brother and the kindness of a virtual stranger.  Emilie was a harder character to like because readers know right away that she is blind to the truth, though I couldn’t help but root for her as she gained strength from the story of her aunt and the woman who risked it all to protect the de la Martinières family.

Riley’s prose is beautiful, painting a portrait of a château that has been through as much as its inhabitants and serves as a symbol of their strength.  She enables readers to feel a part of both narratives, with her rich descriptions and well-developed characters.  The characters are fascinating on their own, but when put together in such a carefully constructed, intricate plot, they become unforgettable.  I was completely swept up in the novel from the very first page and finished it in a day.

The Lavender Garden is about love and betrayal, war and all its gray areas, and how one’s purpose in life can be found in the most unexpected places.  It’s hard to find a dual-narrative novel in which the modern-day story holds up as well as the historical story, but Riley connected both in a way I didn’t expect and made me like both of her heroines for different reasons — Constance for her sense of duty and loyalty, and Emilie for her determination to create something wonderful from the tragedy and loss of war.  I enjoyed The  Lavender Garden even more than The Orchid House and can’t wait to  read more of Riley’s work.

historical fiction reading challenge

Book 34 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I received The Lavender Garden from Atria for review.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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life after life

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★★

There was a giant thunderclap, a great cracking noise as the wall of hell suddenly split open and let all the demons out and then the tremendous suction and compression, as if her insides, her lungs, her heart and stomach, even her eyeballs were being sucked from her body.  Salute the last and everlasting day.  This is it, she thought.  This is how I die.

(from Life After Life, page 287)

Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life depicts the many lives of Ursula Todd, who is born on February 11, 1910, during a blizzard, dies shortly after, and is immediately born again.  Ursula will experience the falling darkness of death and be reborn on that same snowy night more than a dozen times over the course of the novel.  From illness to accidents to war and more, Ursula fumbles through life and death, plagued by nagging feelings of impending doom, déjà vu, and the knowledge that she must somehow do something different this time.

Every time Ursula is reborn, more layers are added to her character, and readers can assemble a clearer picture of her parents, her relationships with her siblings, and her kinship with Aunt Izzy, the black sheep of the family.  Atkinson brilliantly sets the novel during the World Wars, providing a backdrop of social upheaval, grief, and severe hardship for many.  She takes readers to London during the Blitz, to Germany during Hitler’s rise to power, and to a desolate, hopeless Berlin as World War II draws to a close.  Ursula lives ordinary lives, and she lives extraordinary ones, too, socializing with Eva Braun in Hitler’s Berghof or working tirelessly during the bombing raids in London.

Like most people, Ursula experiences moments of great happiness and great pain, but Ursula is unique in carrying the heavy burden of many lifetimes of past mistakes and even moments of inaction that changed the course of her life and the lives of those she loves.  Atkinson makes readers think about whether getting to do it all over again (and again) would be a blessing or a curse, whether such power could (or should) be used to change the course of history, and whether we’d just keep making the same mistakes without end.

Life After Life is a beautifully crafted novel whose impact on me has not lessened in the weeks since I finished it.  Atkinson has created an amazing character in Ursula — someone so ordinary and so endearing yet called to something too big for us to wrap our minds around.  If I hadn’t grown to care for her, to cheer her on every time she struggled through another life, and if Atkinson had not set the book in such a fascinating time period, it might have grown as tedious as the title sounds.  But in Atkinson’s skilled hands, Ursula and her story (gift? plight?) will not be easily forgotten.  Life After Life is a powerful, brilliant novel about how seemingly insignificant events can change the course of your life, and because being given a second (or third or fourth) chance doesn’t mean we’d get it right (whatever “right” means), we can only live the best way we can in the here and now.

historical fiction reading challenge

Book 33 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: Life After Life is from my personal library.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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