Archive for the ‘read in 2015’ Category

the unexpected consequences of love

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★☆

On the surface, her day-to-day life was happy; she laughed and joked and behaved like a completely normal person. Other people regarded her as cheerful, up for a laugh, and extroverted.

But that was on the surface, purely for public consumption. Unaware of her past — simply because it was no one else’s business but her own — what they didn’t realize was that there was a permanent chunk of ice embedded in the center of her heart.

(from The Unexpected Consequences of Love)

The Unexpected Consequences of Love is another winner by Jill Mansell about a woman unwilling to ever let another man into her heart and a man hellbent on squeezing through the slightest crack in the wall she’s built around it. Sophie Wells’ last relationship is a mystery to all except her best friend, Tula, but it was tragic enough for her to swear off men altogether and focus all her energy on her photography business. Sophie catches the eye of Josh Strachan when her job brings her to his grandparents’ hotel in St Carys, and he is determined to convince Sophie to give him a chance, even if it means digging into her past.

Meanwhile, Josh’s grandfather’s efforts to win back his ex-wife take a hit when the man he wronged sets his sights on her; Tula can’t take Josh’s friend Riley’s attentions seriously because she needs a reliable man, not a womanizing surfer; and Riley’s aunt, Marguerite is on the prowl for husband No. 4 while harboring a deep secret.

Mansell never lets me down when it comes to her characters. They often stumble their way through life, but that’s what makes them feel real. Mansell’s plots are clever and full of just the right balance of seriousness and humor. Sophie’s last relationship is shocking and sad, and it’s easy to understand how she would be stuck in limbo. I loved all the little twists and turns in each character’s story, and Sophie being forced to finally confront her past was so beautifully handled that it brought tears to my eyes.

The Unexpected Consequences of Love is about finding love when you least expect it, realizing what’s been in front of you all along, and the many ways one’s prejudices can complicate matters of the heart. Once again, Mansell has proved to be a master of the romantic comedy.

Disclosure: The Unexpected Consequences of Love is from my personal library.

© 2016 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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three amazing things about you

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★★

For a short while, they sat together in silence while everyone else laughed and chattered around them. Then Hallie put her phone down on the table and adjusted the oxygen tubing behind her ears. ‘Anyway, make the most of every day, that’s what I’m going to do. Make more of an effort, stop worrying about what could go wrong, just go ahead and do more things, have a couple of adventures. Before it’s too late.’

(from Three Amazing Things About You)

Jill Mansell’s Three Amazing Things About You follows three women: Hallie, who has cystic fibrosis, is in need of a lung transplant, writes an online advice column, and is in love but can’t act on those feelings; Tasha, whose anxiety makes it difficult to handle the fact that her boyfriend is an adrenaline junkie; and Flo, whose job as a companion for an elderly woman leads to an unconventional living arrangement and an unlikely romance with a man whose obnoxious sister puts a damper on their happiness. When the novel opens, Hallie is on her way to the hospital with the promise of a new life, and Mansell takes readers back in time to show how these women’s lives will converge.

Three Amazing Things About You is a beautifully written tale that stays funny and lighthearted despite putting the characters into some tough situations. Hallie is an inspiring character who keeps on living regardless of the limitations of her condition. The secondary characters, as always, are fantastic — from the feisty Margot to the hilarious banter between Joe and Carmel to the pampered feline Jeremy. I don’t want to say more about the plot or the characters because I don’t want to give anything away. Mansell kept me on the edge of my seat throughout the novel, as I knew it would eventually return to the opening scene and I had no idea what was going to unfold.

Mansell has another winner with Three Amazing Things About You. In fact, of all the Mansell novels I’ve read so far, this was my favorite. (It also made my Best of 2015 list, but I am woefully behind in posting non-blog-tour reviews.) I was worried that this book would be too sad for me, but I shouldn’t have been, as Mansell manages to insert plenty of humor and liveliness into Hallie’s story. I’m still working my way through Mansell’s back list, but I’m doing it slowly so I can savor these little treasures!

Disclosure: Three Amazing Things About You is from my personal library.

© 2016 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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open house

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★☆

‘No thanks. I’d rather walk.’

So much for largesse. Enraged, Marcus demanded, ‘Why?’

‘Don’t you remember?’ Nell hoisted the bulging, end-of-term haversack containing far too many textbooks on to her shoulder. ‘People like us shouldn’t accept lifts from people like you. If we did,’ she added sweetly, “we might start getting ideas above our lowly station. And that would never do.’

(from Open House)

Jill Mansell’s Open House begins with a spat between 15-year-old Nell O’Driscoll and the Earl of Kilburton’s arrogant son, Marcus. The O’Driscolls have a reputation in the village and almost enjoy being the subject of local gossip. Fast forward a decade, and Nell finds herself working for Marcus, the new earl, as he prepares to open the family’s castle to the public. Marcus sees Nell in a different light, but old hurts and secrets force her to keep her distance. Meanwhile, Nell’s best friend, Hetty, is struggling to rebuild her life since her husband left her for a successful novelist — who has no qualms about parading her sex life through the media, even if it means hurting Hetty and Tony’s teenage daughter, Rachel, whose crush on Nell’s younger brother, the suave Derry, pushes her down the wrong path.

The myriad characters Mansell worked into this novel — from Hetty’s ex-husband’s obnoxious mistress Vanessa to Marcus’s over-the-top, whiny sister Jemima — were all thoroughly entertaining. There was a lot going on in this novel, but it never felt like too much. Mansell even describes various people in the village who hardly make an appearance, but doing so paints a richer portrait of life in a small town, where everyone’s business is known by everyone and where gossip runs rampant. Even when I have a pretty good idea of how it’s all going to play out, Mansell always manages to throw in a few surprises.

Open House is an utterly charming, feel-good novel from start to finish. Mansell never lets me down, always providing an enjoyable novel with plenty of humor, romance, and even some weightier moments. She perfectly balances the numerous subplots and secondary characters, which I usually find just as interesting as the main story. Her characters are endearingly flawed, and I can always relate to them in some way. Like the many Mansell books I’ve read before, Open House had me laughing out loud and never wanting it to end. Mansell is my go-to author when I’m in need of a pure comfort read.

Disclosure: Open House is from my personal library.

© 2016 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Happy New Year! I hope you all had a lovely holiday season filled with family, friends, and great books! Today I’m spending a much needed lazy day at home, and I’m looking forward to a cup of peppermint tea and a book. But first I want to reflect on my past year in books. I read 63 books last year, which is a pretty big accomplishment given how busy I’ve been with work and my daughter’s schedule. My blog has sometimes taken a back seat, but in the past year, I’ve taken a more laid back approach, just doing what I can when I can. In fact, I still have a few reviews to post for books I read a few months ago, but I’ll get to them eventually.

My Top 10 Favorite Reads of 2015, with links to my reviews:

the mapmaker's children

The Mapmaker’s Children by Sarah McCoy

longbourn's songbird

Longbourn’s Songbird by Beau North

three amazing things about you

Three Amazing Things About You by Jill Mansell (review coming soon!)

the unthinkable triangle

The Unthinkable Triangle by Joana Starnes

bianca's vineyard

Bianca’s Vineyard by Teresa Neumann

mistaking her character

Mistaking Her Character by Maria Grace

the race for paris

The Race for Paris by Meg Waite Clayton

the prosecution of mr. darcy's cousin

The Prosecution of Mr. Darcy’s Cousin by Regina Jeffers

after the war is over

After the War is Over by Jennifer Robson

a peculiar connection

A Peculiar Connection by Jan Hahn

Honorable Mention: These are the other 5-star books I read last year, with links to my reviews:

Pride, Prejudice & Secrets by C.P. Odom

Pride and Prescience by Carrie Bebris

The Matters at Mansfield by Carrie Bebris

Even in Darkness by Barbara Stark Nemon

Suddenly Mrs. Darcy by Jenetta James

Young Jane Austen: Becoming a Writer by Lisa Pliscou

A Will of Iron by Linda Beutler

What were some of your must-reads in 2015?

© 2016 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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seeking the star

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

She remembered dark days, too. The hopelessness felt like looking up from the bottom of a deep, narrow well, into a light that was impossible to reach on her own. But, sooner or later, she’d had to make a choice: keep living that way and die a slow, painful death of the spirit or decide to live and to do more than simply exist. She’d chosen to get up, dust off, and move along, day by day. She hoped, soon, that Ben might choose that path, too. But she couldn’t choose it for him.

(from Seeking the Star)

Quick summary: Seeking the Star is the third book in Traci Borum’s series set in the village of Chilton Crosse in the Cotswolds. Each of the novels in the series focus on different characters, so they can be read on their own. Those who read them in order will enjoy seeing the characters from the previous installments while getting to know new ones. This time around, Borum introduces George and Mary Cartwright, an older couple who generously take in the man found passed out in the snow in front of their house. Ben obviously is running from a tragedy in his past, but the Cartwrights welcome him into their home, no questions asked, assuming he will open up to them eventually. As the village prepares for Christmas and the Dickens festival, Ben slowly becomes part of the Chilton Crosse community and learns that he isn’t the only one who has suffered a horrible loss.

Why I wanted to read it: I fell in love with Chilton Crosse in the first two novels in the series, Painting the Moon and Finding the Rainbow, so I couldn’t resist reading this one, too.

What I liked: Borum paints a beautiful picture of a small but bustling village in the midst of holiday preparations. Everyone knows everyone else, and everyone wants to know more about Ben. The Cartwrights are the kind of people you’d love to have as neighbors; they are kind-hearted and generous, but they give you plenty of space. Ben soon finds he can’t say no to their offer to stay in their cottage until after the holidays, and just as much as the Cartwrights help him, he helps them. Borum does a great job portraying a broken man who doesn’t know what to do with his grief and guilt, and I appreciated that the Christian aspect of the story wasn’t too heavy-handed.

What I disliked: I really wished it was longer, and while I was satisfied with the ending overall, I hope Borum finishes Ben’s story later in the series. There is so much more left to tell!

Final thoughts: Seeking the Star shows how the holiday season isn’t a happy one for everyone, and while it is a tale of loss, it also is a story of hope. Mary has learned to live with her grief, and she shows Ben that it is possible to move on without forgetting one’s past. There were plenty of light-hearted scenes about the village’s holiday celebrations to keep the story from getting too sad, and readers who enjoyed the first two books will be happy to see where Noelle and Holly are now. Borum has created a delightful village with characters that are as intriguing as they are endearing, and I can’t wait for the next installment.

Disclosure: I received Seeking the Star 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.

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blame the mistletoe

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★☆

“Their mother is vulgar, their younger sisters are senseless, and their father is a fool to think his jokes about his family are in any way appropriate. No, they are not worthy of our association.”

“Does my past not prove to you that our own family is not without its flaws as well?”

(from Blame the Mistletoe)

Quick summary: Sarah Johnson’s Christmas novella, Blame the Mistletoe, is a delightful retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in which Georgiana Darcy convinces her brother to pursue Elizabeth Bennet, and the pair, along with Mr. Bingley, return to Netherfield Park for the holiday. An accident on a mistletoe-gathering adventure puts Elizabeth on the path toward thinking she might have misjudged Mr. Darcy, but Mr. Wickham’s presence in Meryton — and his tense interactions with the Darcys — leave her feeling confused. In the midst of holiday preparations, a sleigh ride, and strategically placed mistletoe boughs, can Darcy win Elizabeth’s heart?

Why I wanted to read it: I’ve been in the mood for Christmas stories this year, and I couldn’t resist the Austen connection and the gorgeous cover!

What I liked: Blame the Mistletoe weaves Christmas traditions into a retelling of Pride and Prejudice. I loved getting a glimpse of Mr. Darcy helping the Bennets hang a mistletoe bough, and I wished I could have enjoyed the sleigh race alongside the Bennet sisters. Johnson jazzes things up by putting Wickham at a card table with Darcy, Georgiana, and Elizabeth. I also liked how Georgiana pieced together what was bothering Darcy and Bingley and was willing to point out her flaws as a reason for Darcy not to miss out on his chance at happiness. Elizabeth’s encounter with a drunken Wickham in Meryton and the outcome of Mr. Collins’ interference in Darcy’s affairs are scenes that are not to be missed!

What I disliked: I wished that the story had been longer, not because there was anything missing, but because I got so wrapped up in Johnson’s version of events that I didn’t want it to end.

Final thoughts: Readers will enjoy Johnson’s portrayal of Austen’s characters and how she incorporates mistletoe into the story. The pacing is well done, so despite the brevity of the story, the plot doesn’t seem rushed. I read Blame the Mistletoe on a recent day off from work, curled up on the couch with some peppermint tea, our Christmas tree in the background. It was the perfect book and the perfect setting to put me in the Christmas spirit.

Disclosure: Blame the Mistletoe 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.

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I read a lot of Jane Austen-inspired short stories and novellas recently, so in order to catch up, I thought I’d do another round of mini-reviews:

four days in april

Four Days in April by Maria Grace

This Pride and Prejudice-inspired short story opens after Darcy’s failed proposal and imagines what might have happened had Elizabeth responded to his letter by writing him one. I love Grace’s writing, so I wasn’t surprised that I enjoyed it. I loved their conversation in Lady Catherine’s drawing room, where they said so much without saying much at all. It lives up to the promise that one can read it while enjoying a cup of tea, and while I was satisfied with the ending, I wouldn’t have minded it being longer. (This is a Kindle freebie.)

sweet ginger

Sweet Ginger by Maria Grace

Inspired by Emma, this is the story of Harriet Smith, how she ended up at Mrs. Goddard’s school, and how she met Robert Martin and his sisters. I enjoyed getting a glimpse of the Martins’ home life and especially how Harriet — so in need of a loving family — immediately fit right in. Grace shows readers how truly wrong Emma was in persuading Harriet to turn down Mr. Martin’s proposal. I was glad to see Harriet take center stage.

half agony half hope

Half Agony, Half Hope by Maria Grace

This story aims to fill in the gaps in Persuasion, rather than re-imagine the novel. My favorite scene was toward the end, when Anne, Lady Russell, and Elizabeth are discussing Anne’s upcoming marriage, and Captain Wentworth shows up and offers his opinion when Elizabeth attempts to persuade Anne against getting married before her. That was a laugh-out-loud moment! (This book is available for free on the author’s website.)

teatime tales

Teatime Tales by Leenie Brown

This is a collection of short stories mostly inspired by Pride and Prejudice, though there is one inspired by Mansfield Park. It lives up to the promise of being “a bit of fluff to brighten your day.” My favorite stories were “A Music Room Meeting,” where Colonel Fitzwilliam gets his happily ever after, “From Tolerable to Lovely,” in which Darcy and Elizabeth’s first meeting plays out much differently, and “A Battle of Wills and Words,” in which Colonel Fitzwilliam learns the hard way what happens when one tries to spar with Elizabeth Bennet.

Have you read any of these? What did you think?

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

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