Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘read in 2014’ Category

stella bain

Source: Personal library
Rating ★★★★☆

Publisher’s summary: It is 1916, and a woman awakens, wounded, in a field hospital in northern France.  She wears the uniform of a British nurse’s aide but has an American accent.  With no memory of her past or what brought her to this distant war, she knows only that she can drive an ambulance, and that her name is Stella Bain.

As she puts her skills to use, both transporting the wounded from the battlefield and ministering to them in hospital tents, the holes in Stella’s psyche gnaw at the edge of her consciousness.  At last, desperate to find answers, she sets off for London to reconstruct her life.

She is taken in by Dr. August Bridge, a surgeon who becomes fascinated with her case and with the agonizing and inexplicable symptoms that plague her.  Delving into her deeply fractured mind, Bridge seeks to understand what terrible blow could have separated a woman from herself.  Together, they begin to unlock a disturbing history — of deception and thwarted love, violence and betrayal.  But as her memories come racing back, Stella realizes she must embark on a new journey to confront the haunted past of the woman she used to be.

In a sweeping, dramatic narrative that takes us from England to America and back again, Anita Shreve has created an engrossing and wrenching tale about love and the meaning of memory, and about loss and redemption in the wake of a war that devastated an entire generation.

My thoughts: I really liked how Shreve focuses on the experiences of women during World War I and acknowledges that they might not have been in the trenches but still put their lives on the line and suffered the consequences.  By telling the story from Stella’s point of view when she has no memory, readers see how the war took its toll on her, and through her drawings, Shreve emphasizes the complexity of memory.  The novel is about more than the war and shell shock; it is about the difficulties women faced when they sought independence from the confines of marriage and home.  I might have loved this book, but the ending was a bit flat, though satisfying overall.

Disclosure: Stella Bain is from my personal library.

© 2015 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

I’m going to finish this week in blogging by FINALLY posting reviews of two books I read last summer.  These books have been staring me down for months, but I just haven’t been motivated to blog about them.  Well, I figured it was time for me to share a few thoughts on them so I can finally put them away.  Stay tuned for the second mini-review on Friday.  Also, I may not be around much for the next month or so, as I’m busy with some freelance editing projects.  I can’t wait to tell you all about the books I’ve been editing!  Anyway, on to today’s mini-review:

once we were brothers

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Publisher’s summary: Elliot Rosenzweig, a respected civic leader and wealthy philanthropist, is attending a fund-raiser when he is suddenly accosted by Ben Solomon and accused of being a former Nazi SS officer named Otto Piatek, the Butcher of Zamość.  Although the charges are denounced, his accuser is convinced he is right and engages attorney Catherine Lockhart to bring Rosenzweig to justice.  Solomon reveals that the true Piatek was abandoned as a child and raised by Solomon’s own family, only to betray them during the Nazi occupation.  But has Solomon accused the right man?

Once We Were Brothers is the compelling tale of two boys and a family who fight to survive in war-torn Poland, and a young love that struggles to endure the unspeakable cruelty of the Holocaust.  Two lives, two worlds, and sixty years converge in an explosive race to redemption that makes for a moving and powerful tale of love, survival, and ultimately the triumph of the human spirit.

My thoughts: I had such mixed feelings about this book.  The narrative set during World War II was very interesting, as was the quest in the present to bring a Nazi war criminal to justice.  However, I had some issues with the structure of the narrative.  Despite all the time constraints on the legal side, Ben insists on telling the story in chronological order, and with Catherine always cutting him short, it seemed to drag it out longer than necessary.  And the author would insert information/statistics about the Holocaust into the dialogue, which was unnecessary and felt forced.  I also felt it was unnecessary to focus on Catherine’s life outside of the case; I didn’t find her to be very interesting.  I liked the book overall, but it could have been a great book if it had been structured differently, without Catherine’s story and without all the shifts from past to present.

Disclosure: Once We Were Brothers is from my personal library.

© 2015 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

Read Full Post »

jane and the 12 days of christmas

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

“Perhaps,” I said unwillingly, “they are mere caricatures, and thus demand nothing more.”

“Your Darcy is no caricature,” he retorted.  “Nor is Willoughby.  I have met that gentleman’s like on countless occasions, in the gaming hells and ballrooms of London — petted, indulged, weak, and subtle.  That is where you excel, Miss Austen — in the subtleties.”

(from Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas)

Quick summary: Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas is the 12th book in Stephanie Barron’s Being a Jane Austen Mystery series.  I can vouch for it being a standalone novel because it’s the only book in the series I’ve read so far.  It’s Christmas 1814, and Jane Austen, along with her sister, Cassandra, her mother, and the family of her brother, James, are invited to spend the holidays at The Vyne, the lavish estate belonging to her old friend, Eliza Chute, and her husband, William, a member of Parliament.  They are barely into the celebrations leading up to Twelfth Night when an accident occurs that Jane and another guest, the artist Raphael West, suspect to be murder.  The stakes are high, given that the Treaty of Ghent — which is intended to end the war between the British and the Americans — has gone missing, and the fact that The Vyne is snowed in means that the murderer is a fellow guest.

Why I wanted to read it: I’ve heard such good things about this series, and I can’t resist a novel with Jane Austen as the heroine.

What I liked: Barron’s portrayal of Jane Austen felt real to me.  She is 39 years old, celebrating the success of Mansfield Park, and currently working on Emma.  Readers see varied opinions about her career, with Mr. West obviously a fan of her novels and her brother scoffing at her success.  Barron also portrays her as a loving and fun aunt, playing billiards with her nephew and spoiling her niece with gifts for her new doll over the twelve days of Christmas.  We also see a Jane who is not afraid to speak her mind and whose powers of observation enable her to write realistic characters and piece together seemingly small details to solve a complicated crime.  The characters at The Vyne are all intriguing, and while I had my suspicions about them, I was happy that I hadn’t figured it all out on my own.  I enjoyed all the twists and turns of the mystery and was happy to just go along for the ride.

What I disliked: There were a few places where the narrative slowed down a bit, and it was hard to keep track of all the characters at first, but neither of those issues prevented me from enjoying the novel.

Final thoughts: Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas was a fun novel, with some dark characters, some ridiculous characters, plenty of historical details, and even a bit of a love story.  Jane’s astute observations of the people she encounters make her the perfect sleuth.  I definitely plan to work my way through the rest of the series.

Disclosure: I received Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas from Soho Crime for review.

© 2015 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

Read Full Post »

another place in time

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

“After inquiring after her health, I made Miss Elizabeth an offer of marriage.” William chewed on his lower lip. “Things did not turn out as expected.”

“In other words, your proposal was so obnoxious she refused you.”

“I shall admit it was not my best effort, but I take issue with your calling my offer ‘obnoxious.’ I was honoring Miss Elizabeth with my attention, and everything I said was true.”

“Just because something is true, doesn’t mean you have to say it,” Chris said, rolling her eyes.

(from Another Place in Time)

Quick summary: Christine O’Malley, a community-college English professor in Baltimore, thinks the man who interrupts her panel at a Jane Austen conference complaining that his side of the story is absent from Pride and Prejudice is merely an actor, but he insists he is Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley. It seems impossible that William could have traveled to 2012, and not just because he’s supposed to be a fictional character, but after explaining the ins and outs of time travel, Chris finds herself in Regency England, where she is supposed to help William win over Elizabeth Bennet and keep him on the novel’s timeline. But she also must sort out her feelings for William’s cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, given her very modern ideas and the fact that they are running out of time. Another Place in Time is Mary Lydon Simonsen at her best, blurring the boundaries between the past and the present and breathing new life into Austen’s timeless characters.

Why I wanted to read it: I’ve been a fan of Simonsen’s since I read Searching for Pemberley, which grabbed my attention by combining a story about Pride and Prejudice with one involving World War II. She is one of my favorite authors of Austen-inspired fiction because she’s not afraid to take risks, like putting Austen’s characters into completely different time periods or even turning them into werewolves.  I enjoyed her previous time-travel novel, Becoming Elizabeth Darcy, so I knew I had to read this one, too!

What I liked: Another Place in Time isn’t really a retelling of Pride and Prejudice, and I liked that even though William and his romantic troubles play a big role, much of the novel is about Chris, how she gets to live out her dream of visiting Jane Austen’s time and hanging out with her favorite literary characters, and how she overcomes a heartbreaking loss.  It was hilarious watching William and his sister, Georgiana, navigate modern-day Baltimore, and I burst out laughing at some of the souvenirs he brought back to Pemberley.  Chris had an advantage over them in that she knew how different the two time periods were, but it was still amusing to watch her pretend to be a Regency lady.  And the awe she felt when meeting Elizabeth…that’s exactly how I would have felt!

What I disliked: Nothing!  I read this book in one sitting, it was that good!

Final thoughts: Mary Lydon Simonsen is one of my go-to authors for unique Austen-inspired fiction, and Another Place in Time is probably my favorite of all of her novels so far.

Disclosure: I received Another Place in Time from the author for review.

© 2015 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

Read Full Post »

Happy New Year!  The Girl and I wish you all the best in 2015!

I read 80 books last year, which was an amazing feat given how busy/stressful last year was for my family.  I’m still finding it hard to find time to read/blog/read blogs, but I’ve given up trying to plan it all out; I’m just going with the flow these days.  Despite all the chaos, I did manage to finish all of my reading challenges, so YAY ME!  Here’s my list of favorite books from 2014, keeping in mind that all of them were read last year but not necessarily published last year.

My Top 10 of 2014

the winter guestThe Winter Guest by Pam Jenoff

(from my review) Jenoff unflinchingly details the struggles of living in an occupied country, the atrocities committed by the Nazis as they liquidated Jewish neighborhoods, and the danger of ignoring what’s happening in your own backyard.  She deftly balances the excitement of taking action with the horrors and loss inevitable in war, and she makes a story that happened decades ago relevant in the present day.  The Winter Guest is about the bonds between sisters and twins, the destructive nature of secrets, loyalty and betrayal, and the need to preserve wartime stories of courage and resistance before those who know exactly what happened are gone.

jane austen's first loveJane Austen’s First Love by Syrie James

(from my review) Jane Austen’s First Love is a satisfying novel that gives Jane the love story that many of us imagine she had.  But more than that, it’s a portrait of a young woman who was ahead of her time in many ways, whose brilliantly composed stories and characters have stood the test of time.  James shows Jane Austen as a normal teenager, with a desire to act older than her age, an impulsiveness that prompts her to make poor decisions, and a romantic nature that ensured she truly felt the things she wrote about.  The few letters that survived provide the only glimpse we’ll ever really have of the real Jane, but James does such a fantastic job creating a believable inner narrative, I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn’t actually inside Jane’s head reading her thoughts.

first impressionsFirst Impressions by Charlie Lovett

(from my review) It can be difficult for authors juggling a dual narrative to make them equally appealing to readers, but Lovett had me hanging onto every word of both stories from the very first page. I thought it was creative how Lovett puts Jane Austen at the center of a mystery that takes a sinister turn. The friendship between Jane and Rev. Mansfield is beautifully portrayed, and Lovett even makes Sophie’s story, though wild and over-the-top, completely believable. Despite the darkness of the mystery, there are light, heartwarming moments throughout the book, from the scenes where Uncle Bertram passes on a love of books and reading to Sophie to the scenes where Jane shares her writing with Rev. Mansfield.

the fault in our starsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green

(from my review) Looking at the world through the eyes of a girl who is facing the end before she’s really had a chance to live makes you ponder what it means to be truly alive and to fall in love.  The Fault in Our Stars makes you appreciate the little things and think about what it means to remember and be remembered.  I didn’t expect these characters and their love story to affect me so deeply, but it’s definitely a novel that will stay with me for a long time.

the annoted persuasionThe Annotated Persuasion by Jane Austen, annotated and edited by David M. Shapard

(from my review) The Annotated Persuasion is the perfect book for Austen fans or readers who simply want to delve deeper into the story of Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth.  Shapard covers so many topics that it’s impossible to list them all, but it’s obvious he has done his homework in order to provide a comprehensive analysis of the novel.  Most of all, I loved revisiting one of my favorite novels, and I loved it ever more the second time around.

the sea gardenThe Sea Garden by Deborah Lawrenson

(from my review) The Sea Garden brings to life the ordinary people who did extraordinary things during the war, from the young women who proved they could hold their own as secret agents to the farmers who allowed Allied planes to land in their fields.  Lawrenson captures the desperation of wireless operators running from the Gestapo and those who spent years trying to find out why their loved ones disappeared during the war, as well as the blurred lines between hero and traitor.  I found myself lost in this story from the very beginning, with rich descriptions of the various landscapes and plenty of mystery to keep me guessing.

jane austen cover to coverJane Austen Cover to Cover by Margaret C. Sullivan

(from my review) I loved everything about this book, but most especially I loved that it was more than just cover images.  Sullivan definitely did her homework, and it’s obvious how much she enjoyed this project.  I learned a lot about how books were made in Austen’s time and how much the process has changed, and I had a few laughs as well, particularly at a cover of Persuasion that portrays “the Napoleonic-era Royal Navy Captain Wentworth as the commander of a 1960s-era New England schooner” looking “like he fell off an Old Spice bottle.”

for such a timeFor Such a Time by Kate Breslin

(from my review) For Such a Time was the first book in a long time that I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning to read, and for that alone it deserves 5 stars.  It was an enjoyable novel (or as enjoyable as a novel about the Holocaust can be), and it read like a thriller toward the end.  I just got lost in the story and followed the characters through times of despair, hope, bravery, sorrow, and joy.  Even if I couldn’t believe the outcome, I wanted to, and I applaud Breslin for taking a chance and telling a story about hardship and courage, love and faith, and a fight for freedom.

somewhere in franceSomewhere in France by Jennifer Robson

(from my review) Somewhere in France is at its core a wartime romance, but it is so much more than that.  Robson brings to life the battles at home and abroad and shines a light on the women who got their hands dirty and put their lives on the line for the war effort.  Robson keeps the narrative off the actual battlefield, but the descriptions of the ambulance runs and the casualty clearing stations are just as powerful as stories told from the trenches.  Once I started this novel, I couldn’t stop and read its nearly 400 pages in one sitting.  I fell in love with the characters and was captivated by the atmosphere Robson created, and while I haven’t read too many World War I novels, Somewhere in France ranks among the best I’ve read so far.

grand centralGrand Central: Original Stories of Postwar Love and Reunion by Alyson Richman, Jenna Blum, Sarah McCoy, Melanie Benjamin, Sarah Jio, Erika Robuck, Kristina McMorris, Amanda Hodgkinson, Pam Jenoff, and Karen White

(from my review) Grand Central seems to perfectly capture the postwar atmosphere in a big city, with the chaos in the train station and the roller coaster of emotions within each character.  The changes in society, especially in regards to women and their romantic relationships and career aspirations, also feature prominently in some of these stories.  I was impressed not only by the character development in these stories but also by the ways in which the characters crossed paths with one another, which emphasizes how well this collection is structured.  If you love novels set during World War II or have loved novels by these authors in the past, you’ll definitely want to get your hands on a copy.

******

Despite having a busy year that involved graduating from 8th grade, applying to high schools, and starting her freshman year, she still managed to read 25 books (not including her in-class assignments)!  Of course, she hasn’t had time to write reviews (or start the blog she had been working on), but here are her top picks for 2014.

The Girl’s Favorite Books of 2014

the girl's best of 2014

What were your favorite books of 2014? If you’ve posted a “best of” list, please feel free to link to it in the comments so I can check it out!

© 2015 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

Read Full Post »

jane austen

Source: Review copy from Sterling Publishing
Rating: ★★★★★

Jane Austen is one of the greatest novelists in English Literature. On the surface, her six published works appear simple romances; yet each is utterly distinct and each is complex in a different way. Her novels delight on first reading, but every further reading yields new and unexpected riches. As a result no individual reader ever exhausts her books, and each period sees something that speaks especially to its own concerns. The novels become new for every generation.

(from Jane Austen: Her Life, Her Times, Her Novels, page 5)

Quick summary: Jane Austen: Her Life, Her Times, Her Novels is a book all Jane Austen fans will want in their personal libraries. Oversized, with padded covers and glossy pages covered with artwork from Austen’s era, this biography details Austen’s life and loves, historical events that occurred during her lifetime, and her career as an author. Chapters are devoted to each of Austen’s six novels, as well as her early writings, her unfinished works, and Lady Susan. Todd even discusses “The Cult of Austen,” which touches on the film adaptations and spin-off novels. As a bonus, the book includes three envelopes containing removable memorabilia, including copies of Austen’s handwritten drafts, a letter to her sister, a handwritten note detailing the profits from her novels, and more.

IMG_20140418_215635Why I wanted to read it: There’s no way I could resist a collector’s edition biography, especially one with removable documents!

What I liked: This is a beautiful biography, which sums up Austen’s life and novels without going overboard on the details. The presentation is beautiful, from the illustrations to the removable documents.

What I disliked: There were confusing references to “Susan,” the early version of Northanger Abbey that Austen submitted for publication in 1803 and later was forced to buy back from the publisher, as Lady Susan, one of her earlier works, which was not published until 1871.

Final thoughts: Jane Austen: Her Life, Her Times, Her Novels can be read in one sitting, but readers will want to savor it. It’s a book that I can see myself returning to, simply to enjoy the illustrations and the removable memorabilia, and it would make a perfect gift for the Janeite in your life.

Disclosure: I received Jane Austen: Her Life, Her Times, Her Novels from Sterling Publishing for review.

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

Read Full Post »

first impressions

Source: Review copy from Viking
Rating: ★★★★★

“A good book is like a good friend. It will stay with you for the rest of your life. When you first get to know it, it will give you excitement and adventure, and years later it will provide you with comfort and familiarity. And best of all, you can share it with your children or your grandchildren or anyone you love enough to let into its secrets.”

(from First Impressions, page 28)

Quick summary: Charlie Lovett’s new novel, First Impressions, is a feast for bibliophiles and especially fans of Jane Austen. In 1796, Jane Austen forges a friendship with Richard Mansfield, an elderly clergyman and writer who shares her love of the written word and with whom she shares the early drafts of her manuscripts. In the present, Sophie Collingwood is reeling from the loss of her uncle with whom she shared a love of books, as well as the loss of his massive library, which was supposed to have been hers. While deciding what to do with her life now that she’s graduated from Oxford, she takes a job in an antiquarian bookshop owned by one of her uncle’s friends, and she’s almost immediately thrown into a mystery when two customers request her assistance on the same day to find the second edition of A Little Book of Allegories by Richard Mansfield. As Sophie pieces together the story behind the rare book, she is forced to question whether Austen is truly the genius behind Pride and Prejudice, choose between the incorrigible American with whom she shared a passionate kiss and the sexy publishing executive helping her track down the book, and even run for her life.

Why I wanted to read it: Who could resist a book about the love of books? And the premise that Austen may have stolen the plot of Pride and Prejudice is both clever and intriguing.

What I liked: It can be difficult for authors juggling a dual narrative to make them equally appealing to readers, but Lovett had me hanging onto every word of both stories from the very first page. I thought it was creative how Lovett puts Jane Austen at the center of a mystery that takes a sinister turn. The friendship between Jane and Rev. Mansfield is beautifully portrayed, and Lovett even makes Sophie’s story, though wild and over-the-top, completely believable. Despite the darkness of the mystery, there are light, heartwarming moments throughout the book, from the scenes where Uncle Bertram passes on a love of books and reading to Sophie to the scenes where Jane shares her writing with Rev. Mansfield.

What I disliked: Nothing! This book grabbed me from the start, and it was a good thing I picked it up on a vacation day from work, as I gobbled it up in one sitting.

Final thoughts: First Impressions is an exciting novel about cultivating a lifelong love of reading, collecting antique books, and all that can be accomplished through a marriage of the minds. It’s a fun, fast-paced novel that seamlessly blends the past with the present and will make readers long for libraries amassed over the generations, the smell of old paper and ink, and the promise of adventure within the pages of a book. Definitely one of the best books I read this year!

Disclosure: I received First Impressions from Viking for review.

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »